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New York Times bestselling author David Robbins, “the Homer of World War II” (Kirkus Reviews), catapults readers into a daring wartime rescue in this unforgettable new novel
Locked in the notorious Los Baños Internment Camp southeast of Manila, Remy Tuck, his headstrong nineteen-year-old son Talbot, and their community of Allied internees battle starvation and sadistic punishments by the Imperial Japanese Army. Defying the guards at every turn, Tal watches beautiful Carmen through the window of her room above the camp, where she is trapped in her own prison, a sex slave for the Japanese army. Without speaking, they fall in love. As the tide of the war in the Pacific turns against their captors, the camp grows even more dangerous, and Remy and Tal enact a courageous plan to save their fellow prisoners and the woman Tal loves from certain execution.
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David L. Robbins is the bestselling author of nine novels including War of the Rats, Last Citadel, and The End of War. He divides his time between Richmond and his sailboat on the Chesapeake Bay. He is currently writer in residence at his alma mater, the College of William and Mary.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
REMY TUCK had not seen his own reflection in three weeks. He’d lost his shaving mirror in a poker game to a man with jaundice. Remy hadn’t tried to win the mirror back. Lately, he played only for food.
He sat under a giant dao tree near the barbed wire, rolling dice on a plank. The faces of the internees around him told him enough of what he must look like. Scooped-eyed and hollow-cheeked, three of them bet with Remy for the prize of an egg, while the rest read or dozed. One of the gamblers, a former mechanic for Pan Am, tipped his sharp chin up away from their game. Remy stopped rattling the dice to gaze through the dao’s branches into the dispersing mist of a warm December morning. The far-off hum of an American plane—the Japanese had no presence anymore in the Philippine sky—added its burr to the calls of birds and insects in the scrub and bamboo inside the camp, the jungle outside it. Remy put down the dice. The whine of the airplane shifted to a higher tone. Something dived their way.
Remy rose first. He stepped out of the shade of the great dao. The tree provided him a favorite, cool place to sit, read, or run a quiet game of craps away from the guards and the Catholics.
He pulled down the brim of his old fedora to better search the lush horizon for the plane. At age forty-five, his eyes remained sharp, though fading sight was common inside the wire, where vegetables had grown scarce. Remy squinted to squeeze more distance into his vision. By the engine’s winding he expected it to come in low. This would be a fighter, not one of the big bombers that hammered the Japanese garrison in Manila every few days. Remy scanned west, beyond the fence. Three miles off, slips of fog clung to the forested slopes of Mount Makiling. To the north on terraced hillsides, bent Filipino farmers trod behind carts hauled by scrawny carabao, water buffaloes. Everything’s starving, Remy thought, except the fat dao tree.
Others moved out of the shade with Remy to find the plane. One of the dice players, the old piano player, black McElway, spotted it first. He said with a chuckle, “Hot diggity dog, look at ’im.”
The twin-tailed fighter appeared out of the northwest, above the bay, a green sliver returning to Mindoro from a dawn raid over Manila.
“Everybody,” Remy announced, “inside.”
The fifteen men and women under the tree got to their feet. Some had to reach down to help the ones slowed by the blue ankles of wet beriberi.
Remy hurried beneath the dao to the plank. He snared his dice and the egg he’d been about to win. He returned the egg to McElway, who offered a broad, rickety mitt for a grateful shake. Remy gripped the man’s elbow to hustle him and the rest along before any of the two hundred Japanese guards came to do it for them.
Everywhere in the camp, internees scurried for the two dozen sawali-and-nipa barracks. Guards on the dirt paths clapped, beating a rhythm of urgency. They shouted at anyone they observed meandering, “Bakayaro!” Idiot. Some brandished bayonets, jabbing them in the air as if they would skewer any malingerer.
Nearing his own barracks, Remy lagged for one more glance at the fighter coming hot and steady. The plane traced the earth so closely it blew through the smoke from a chimney in the village. McElway climbed the few bamboo steps into the barracks. The old man tugged Remy behind him.
“Come on, man. You don’t want that trouble.”
Remy made a beeline for the cubicle he shared with McElway and four other bachelors. Throughout the barracks, the ninety-plus men already inside shambled for their own bunks, grumbling at being forced under cover by a hotrodding pilot. Before Remy could poke his head out the window, the fighter screeched past, shaking the sawali walls and bamboo timbers.
Remy hopped up to his top bunk. He stuck his hat on a nail. The snarl of the fighter faded quickly southward. Remy smelled exhaust. Dangling his legs, he pictured the view from the cockpit, of speed and freedom, turning this way or that, no bayonets or wire fences. He imagined a horizon, the soft curve of the world.
“He’s coming back!”
All the men crowded into the hall to rush to the south-facing windows. Alone, Remy hurtled to the back doorway. Here he had a view across the southern grounds of the Los BaÑos camp, between the guards’ office and one of the married barracks. Four guards there watched the fighter bank wide above the jungle. Mount Makiling caught the plane’s engine noise and threw it back across the camp in echo. None of the men in Remy’s barracks cheered. The Japanese would not stand for that loss of face.
The plane leveled its wings. Other fighters had buzzed the camp, but those pilots had stayed on course after their joyride and disappeared. None had done this, come back.
The four Japanese outside their office sensed something different, too. They ducked behind their bamboo porch. Elsewhere in the camp, other guards scurried and shouted. The fighter bore in, menacing behind its slow, swelling roar.
In the barracks, someone hollered, “What the hell’s he doing?” From Boot Creek, cuckoos and bush doves flitted out of the tangle of palms and acacias; an indigo egret flapped away, spooked. The fighter dropped below the level of the foliage along the ravine. Remy lost sight of it.
No guards stood in the open hoping for a one-in-a-million rifle shot. The hidden plane closed in, trembling the floorboards under Remy’s sandals.
Outside the southern fence, a storm of wind and knives mowed through the treetops above Boot Creek. The stones of the ravine drummed and split. The bedlam halted as fast as it started, to begin again in the next moment farther along the ravine. This second burst stopped quickly; a third barrage did the same. Then a long rip of bullets pelted the remaining length of the creek.
The next instant, the fighter followed its guns. Only fifty feet above the camp, it blasted by at a speed that beggared any machine Remy had seen in his life. The men in the barracks leaped across the hall for the opposite set of windows to see the American go. Remy in the doorway watched this amazing thing; when the war and internment started, no one in the camp had ever seen a single wing plane, only the bi-winged versions. Now this modern wonder climbed, acrobatic and straight up, with a howl of everything American that Remy needed it to be, swift, unyielding, harshly potent. When the pilot turned the twin-tailed fighter onto its back in a snappy barrel roll, Remy shook a fist beside his hip to keep the gesture out of sight of the guards.
McElway sidled next to him. “You got the best view.”
Remy raised his nose, reluctant even to point. “Nah. He’s got the best view. His gets to change.”
The old man showed moon-pale teeth. “What do you reckon that fella was doin’ shootin’ up the creek like that? Three short ones. Then that long one.”
“Showing off. Telling the Japs to go screw themselves. I don’t know.”
The piano player raised a fingernail yellow as his teeth. “That there, I think. That was Beethoven’s Fifth.” He dotted the air with his finger. “Dun dun dun daaah.”
Remy considered the old man’s lean face. Mac kept himself shaved, a rarity in the camp. He’d cozened a whole year out of a single razor blade. McElway was one of the few Allied negroes living in Manila when the Japanese captured it in January ’42. They’d asked him to sign a statement supporting Nippon’s efforts to free all races in Asia, including his own. If he would sign, they’d leave him alone. Mac patted his piano, said “Paalam” to the Filipinas in the whorehouse, and got on the truck with the other Americans.
Remy hadn’t considered the musical quality of the strafing run. The pilot banked one more time, then flattened his wings for another sortie.
“This flyboy looks harebrained,” Remy said to Mac, “so maybe you’re right, Maybe it was Beethoven.”
Topsy Willets, once a stout fellow who’d lost all but his double chin, shouldered his way between Mac and Remy. He stuck his head out the door to see the fighter returning. In Manila, Topsy had been manager of Heacock’s Department Store and a regular at the University Club. He’d been a clever merchant, a transparent poker player.
“Right about what?” Willets asked.
Mac told him his guess about Beethoven’s Fifth.
Willets shook his head. “I like Clem’s idea better.”
Clem, a carrot-topped Scots merchant seaman, had missed getting out of Manila by two days before the city fell. He got drunk and was late for his ship. Last week, he went to see one of the internee doctors, who told him he had dysentery. Clem’s room was next to Remy’s. He’d taken to moaning at night.
The week before, that same doctor had killed a family’s dog to add it to that day’s stew rather than see food meant for the internees go to keeping a pet alive. A son from the family beat him up over it. The doctor swore he’d do the same again and did not understand such selfishness.
Willets said, “Clem figures it’s Morse code.”
Mac recast the musical notes: “Dot dot dot dash.”
“That’s V,” Willets said, raising two fingers. “For victory.”
Clem’s right, Remy thought.
He stepped out the door, onto the topmost bamboo tread.
Last month, sixty-year-old Scheyer was punished for standing outside while American planes were overhead. Scheyer had been manager of the Wack Wack Golf Course. Before the air raid, he’d eaten some flowering bulbs that turned out to be indigestible. Twenty minutes later, with the planes coursing past, he walked a few paces from his married barrack...
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Book Description World Pubns, 2009. Hardcover. Condition: New. Seller Inventory # DADAX1223004627