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Authors: Alexander Yates

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BOOK: Moondogs
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“I told you. That’s not work.”

She was running out of things to say to this. “It might keep you up. Give you a better chance of sleeping tonight.”

“I can keep myself up. I’ll pack.”

“All right.” She kissed him on the mouth.

“Just twelve more mornings.”

“I know.”

and descended a concrete ramp to the loading dock. The boxy beige minivan was late, which would have been early yesterday. She put her weight into opening the heavy armored door, said good morning to everybody and climbed aboard. Jeff, the regional security officer, rode shotgun. He turned in his seat and glared at her, jabbing a thumb at his chest. Monique looked down and saw that her badge was dangling there for everybody to see. She pinched open her blouse and dropped the badge inside. Jeff grinned and gave her a thumbs-up. “No Joe today?”

“Nope.” Instead of giving the tired
excuse, or the more legitimate
excuse, she just let the word hang.

Traffic was worse than usual. McKinley Road, EDSA and Roxas Boulevard were all stop-and-go. She stared out the window as they passed boarded-up nightclubs, girly bars and the tall, sooty looking Department of Foreign Affairs. The bay was calm beyond the concrete promenade. The fishing boats looked almost beautiful as they trembled in early light. She could see the embassy up ahead—a big patch of green, conspicuous among pastel high-rises. When they got closer she made out high walls and an armored jeep with a roof-mounted machine-gun trained on the street. Beyond the walls was a stretch of wet grass, weeping yellow trees and a flagpole still pockmarked with Imperial Japanese bullets. The main building, the chancery, was long and white like a plantation house. Everything else on Roxas Boulevard looked out, toward the sea, but the embassy faced inland, as though arriving from it.

The shuttle pulled up to the high walls and was surrounded by private guards. One gazed into the windows to check faces. Two more looked under the hood while a fourth circled them with a mirror on wheels, looking for bombs in the undercarriage and rims. More guards, as well as Filipino soldiers, stood behind the high electronic gates. The chancery itself had bulletproof glass, blast doors and a small detachment of U.S. Marines. It all made Monique uneasy.

“So,” Jeff’s booming voice startled her. “I assume you heard about Chuckie?” Chuck—her boss at American Citizen Services. And no, she hadn’t heard. “Ain’t that a bitch, after going through all the trouble to get an easy post like this?”


“Temporary duty yonder—they’re sending the poor boy to Kabul for the whole summer. Only gave him a week to get ready!” This information meant more than it seemed to. “I mean, my question is, why do you need someone from ACS in Afghanistan? The local YMCA needs a consultant?” Jeff grinned. He either didn’t notice or ignored her expression, and kept talking. The shuttle drove through the final gate and then up to the chancery steps. Monique looked out at the bay again. She knew at that moment, without being told, that her vacation was off. She’d be in Manila through May, and straight through to the rainy season.

Chapter 4

Efrem Khalid Bakkar is asleep. He’s in his bunk, in a big tent, north of Davao City. It’s where he’s supposed to be. Skinny Vincent, his bunk-mate, isn’t there. He’s had the shits ever since the division left Basilan, and they boil up worst between midnight and dawn. The sickness leaves Skinny hollow, and grumpy, but Efrem doesn’t mind. He enjoys the extra privacy, and though Skinny is his friend, they aren’t that close. Efrem isn’t that close with anybody.

So he’s asleep, and happy, getting the bunk all to himself. But then someone shouts. More than one someone. Not yet dawn and goddamn Manileño officers are hollering. They move through camp in hollow moonlight, sounding tougher than they are. “Step it up you dreamy
faggots! Brig Yapha’s back from Manila, and he wants to see the boys of Boxer Division grown into men by breakfast-time!”

The officers must mean Brig Yapha’s breakfast and not theirs. Efrem’s unit wanders into the predawn wearing pajamas of various colors. They find the mess trailer dark, stoves cold, cooks asleep on tabletop bedrolls. Returning to the big tent they dress, grumbling among crisscrossing flashlight beams. Efrem’s boots are overlarge so he stuffs rolled socks into the toes and tripleknots them. Before he’s done Skinny Vincent stumbles in, stinking awful, shouting big news. “It’s not just Brig Yapha!” he yells, breathless. “They have
the man
coming to see us—they have Charlie Fuentes!”

Soldiers look up from what they’re doing to stare gape-mouthed at Skinny. Charlie Fuentes? Hero of the Ocampo Justice films? Biggest action star in the republic? “Yeah, right,” someone grumbles, “quit dreaming.” And the tent gets noisy as men suggest different ways for Skinny to fuck himself.

“No dream,” Skinny insists, “and no lie. Honest to God!” He shakes a little, and goes pale. He’s either excited, or still very sick.

“How do you know?” Efrem asks, not looking up from his bootlaces.

“I heard it. Overheard it, firsthand,” Skinny says. “I’m up at the officer’s latrine and first lieutenant’s flexing in the stall right next to me. Second lieutenant runs up and says he’s got a radio call from Brig Yapha. First lieutenant says bring the radio here because I can’t quit now and won’t be done soon. Second lieutanant does but it won’t fit under the stall door, so he just high-ups the volume. They shout all about it. Brig Yapha says we have guests coming for inspection. A bunch of reporters, and Charlie-fucking-Fuentes! He says it twice—loud.”

The tent quiets down. They all come from different islands but not a one of them has ever missed an Ocampo Justice film. Charlie Fuentes stars as Reynato Ocampo, the hardest cop in the country, maybe in the whole damn world. The one and only Mr. Tough Knocks, the Dirty Harry of the Wild Wild East, old Snaggletooth himself. They’ve all been to movie houses to watch him stick up for the unstuckup for, fixing the
nation one dead criminal at a time. They’ve all seen him press Truth, his famous shitspilling pistol, into the foreheads of men who deserve it.

The silence stretches until it breaks into excited crosstalk, soldiers peppering Skinny with questions. Tell us what you heard again, not so fast this time. He’s coming to inspection? Fuentes? The Ocampo Fuentes? Himself? This morning?

Efrem keeps his eyes on his laces, but they won’t tie right. His fingers are shaking. He was nine when he saw his first Ocampo movie—first movie he ever saw. Back when his adoptive mother was still alive, back before he’d picked a side in the war, back before he’d switched sides. He’d been a little boy seated in the back near the projectionist. And Reynato Ocampo was the biggest man in the theater, so big they had to wheel the projector forward to squeeze him onto the screen, so bright they twice replaced the buzzing bulb that lit the film.

the Boxer Boys stand stock still on a marching green south of camp. It’s not a proper marching green. The Armed Forces of the Philippines have leased the land from a Davao-based sugar concern and it slopes irregularly to the east. Tenant farmers tend rice some kilometers down the way, paying the soldiers no mind. A lone carabao munches reeds in a fallow paddy. A boy walks the mounds between, followed by an underfed but energetic puppy. Beyond them all is a tree line of unclaimed, cowering jungle.

Efrem’s in the front row, with soldiers spanning the green behind him and to either side. Hundreds of dirt-eaters, killer grunts, pride of the AFP. He looks sharper than usual this morning. Back straight, eyes forward, custom Tingin rifle shouldered. Beretta oiled and holstered snug. Dented helmet high. Boots tight as he can get them. The inspection’s late, but when it comes he’ll look his best.

Time passes. The sun wallows in low clouds over treetops. It’s mid-April, still very much the dry season, but tell that to this drizzle starting up. Somewhere down the line a soldier sits and the officers give him twenty kilometers of marching with a pack full of ruined cinder blocks. They promise the same for the whole division if another knee
grazes ground. The drizzle thickens to rain. Most of the soldiers prefer rainwater to sweat so they leave their plastic ponchos in their packs. They whisper freely under the patter. Skinny Vincent’s story ricochets down the line.
Charlie Fuentes is coming
. The rumor makes it to the far end of the division and comes back an hour later as a rumor that the president’s been overthrown. Some of the men who have family in Manila start to get upset. Officers calm them down by radioing Metro Command. The president is fine. She’s breakfasting with Chinese businesspeople.

Another hour and the officers allow everybody to sit. Discouraged, they stretch their glutes and kick grass. Two soldiers in the back row loudly discuss what they’ll do to Skinny Vincent if Charlie’s a no-show. They settle on tying him to something with something and pissing on him. Gravely, they chug canteens.

“Not my fault,” Skinny grumbles. “I just told you what I heard.” He looks around for sympathy and gets none.

But Skinny has nothing to worry about. The jeeps are coming. As always, Efrem sees them before anyone else can. Three jeeps thread their way along a wooded road. He glimpses metal and rubber through distant rain-whipped foliage. The drivers wear humorless expressions. Brig. Gen. Antonio Yapha sits in the lead jeep, combing runny yolk out of his mustache. On Yapha’s left is a short man in a modest workshirt, his chin patchy with salt-and-pepper stubble, gleaming orthodontic braces fencing in his ragged teeth. On Yapha’s right is someone completely different—a tall man in a formal banana-fiber barong, smooth cheeks flush with health, hair slicked back into a wave like petrol on the ocean. Efrem nearly drops his custom Tingin rifle. Charlie Fuentes looks
like he does in the Ocampo movies.

The other soldiers know about Efrem’s magic eyes, and when they see him staring—dilated pupils eclipsing his irises—they get excited. The officers make everybody stand and brush their trousers clean. Within a few minutes they all hear the puddle-splash and rumble of engines. The rain thins. Three jeeps emerge from the distant tree line and pass alongside the tenant farmers in their paddies. The boy with
the puppy recognizes Charlie, and waves, and Charlie waves right back. The rain stops. The sun comes out like it’s on a schedule. Skinny puffs up his chest and leers at the soldiers in the back row who are standing funny now because they really have to piss. The convoy breaks in front of the assembled division but the drivers keep their engines running. The second jeep back is filled with news people and they begin to dismount, fiddling with cameras and notebooks and battery-operated microphones. In the last jeep are men from the American-trained Light Reaction Battalion wearing ghillie suits of burlap and twigs that make them look like fuzzy, dirty animals. They jump out and secure the convoy by circling it and lying flat on their bellies, making themselves virtually indistinguishable from the mud and grass. This delights the newspeople, who stoop to take photographs.

But the men in the lead jeep take their time. Brig Yapha, looking fatter than before he left, hands a fresh cigar to Charlie and, oddly, to the short man as well. Charlie lights his with a wooden match and offers up the flame, but the short man declines and pockets his cigar. They dismount and approach the division. Yapha walks out ahead, puffing smokily, while the other two lag behind. They’re an odd pair, but they look something like friends. Shorty’s workshirt is only half tucked, and a tattered baseball cap shades his eyes. His hands are tiny, like a child’s hands, and he’s got a duckfooted walk, tennis shoes pointing opposite directions like they each want to go a different way. Efrem figures he’s Charlie’s bodyguard, given the pistol grip sprouting out the waistband of his jeans. Then he checks to see if his hero is also packing, hoping for a glance of Truth—that pistol so famous it gets second billing at the movies—but no such luck.

Heat follows the rain and wet soldiers steam like embers. They titter as Charlie approaches. The officers nearly forget to salute Brig Yapha as he rushes past, and he returns their gesture just as distractedly, with his cigar hand. Charlie reaches the far end of the line and begins the inspection, looking like Efrem’s uncle when he’d shop for engine parts in the Davao port market. A much more glamorous version of Efrem’s uncle. He moves among the men with generous grace, adjusting collars,
tugging too-long hair and giving easy words to thrilled and terrified grunts. Efrem cranes his neck to watch. Then somebody hisses his name and his head snaps back. It’s the brigadier general, moving up on him nose-to-nose, speaking, very strangely, in a whisper.

“Bakkar. I need your rounds, now.”


“Your rifle. Unload it.”

Efrem hesitates only briefly before doing what he’s told.

“The round in the chamber as well,” Brig Yapha says, not looking him in the face. “And your spare magazine.”

Efrem hands it all over without a word. Yapha stashes the ammunition in his deep vest pockets. “Now, you do whatever he tells you,” he says, taking Efrem by the elbow. “But not a damn word.”

BOOK: Moondogs
4.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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