Copyright 2017, Dean Adams Curtis
Sukimoko: The Next Installment
(Chapters 4-8, not included. Below are chapters 9-18)
For your reading enjoyment, this installment is ad free.
General MacArthur stands in his suite atop the Manila Hotel, thinking about the role he must now play, the character he knew he would be required to play, the role he had prepared for.
It seems to him as if he’s been prepping for this moment his entire life. He thinks back to stories his father told him.
In 1889, a month after Commander Dewey led a surprise attack on the Spanish fleet that lay at anchor in Manila Harbor, his father, General Arthur MacArthur, Jr., advanced northward toward the center of Manila, leading his men up the Pasay road, as two other generals led their men in assaults northward simultaneously.
The force that his father commanded was one of three forming a large part of the newly formed U.S. 8th Expeditionary Force sent quickly to the Philippines after Dewey’s successful surprise attack on the Spanish. During their assault, his father’s men encountered and overcame Spanish resistance from blockhouses, trenches, and woods, as they advanced to their objective, the town of Malate, then at the southern entrance to Manila, now a part of the city, where his father’s men held bridges until reinforcements could arrive.
He looks south out a window of his suite and sees the Malate area and the shore of the vast Manila Bay sweeping southwest. His thoughts are interrupted by a report from his key aid General Sutherland.
“We still have a strong hold of the ground in Bulican,” says Sutherland. “But the Japs are making steady gains on the ground through Tarlac.”
MacArthur readies to give the order he knows is necessary. He feels as though his father is beside him, watching him as he replies.
“Spread the word. Orderly retreat of all U.S. personnel from Manila. I want everyone on the other side of Manila Bay on the Bataan Peninsula and in Bulican, inside a perimeter protecting Clark, Subic, and Corregidor.”
Sutherland stares at him, stunned.
“It must be done,” MacArthur responds to the look on Sutherland’s face. “So do it, now.”
From the back seat of a Nash Rambler sedan, looking out over her car-mates at vehicles stopped ahead in a traffic jam on a straight road through rice paddies in the province of Bulican, just north of Manila above the bay, the rice seller’s eldest daughter Juanita sees a disturbance ahead. Occupants of vehicles before her, hurry to get out of them.
Through the windshield, she sees planes appear and bombs explode. In unison, all in her vehicle seek their door handles, exit the vehicle, and rush off the road, diving into rice paddies, wet on one side of the car, dry on the other.
A plane flies over, impossibly loud to her ears. A bomb explodes. Then Juanita then hears nothing. Nor does she see anything, as instinct has forced her eyes tightly shut as she buries her head beneath her arms. What she does feel is the sensation of weightlessness as the earth’s response to the bomb has thrown her a foot into the air.
Smack. Her face hits dirt as she lands from the bomb repercussion. She shakes her head as she opens her eyes and sees three planes flying away, gaining height, not turning.
Explosion. The gas tank of a car. She hears muted cries from suffering humans over a loud ringing vibrating her ear drums.
Near her, into her view of the vanishing aircraft, lifts the soiled head of a red-haired American soldier.
“I’ll never get used to that,” the American says to her, words she perceives just barely over the high-pitched ringing, in English that her brain works to understand.
“Yesterday, damned Japs bounced me on the tarmac at Fort McKinley airfield.”
The man notes that the girl is recoiling away from him in a snakelike shimmy.
“Sorry,” he says, rising to his knees, “Rocky Riddle, United States Far East Air Force, or FEAF for short.”
Juanita’s body, pumped by adrenaline, prepares for flight.
“Do you speak English?”
His question reaches her cortex. She realizes she does. At the same time, she sees no obvious place to run. Her mouth moves as her jaw checks out its condition, and her lips open.
“Is that the car you were in?”
Juanita follows Rocky’s gaze. The Nash Rambler is a twisted smoldering hunk of metal with tires ablaze.
“I’m sorry.” Rocky points her attention to the burning vehicle behind it. “My truck. After the Japs destroyed all our aircraft at Tarlac, I was put in charge of shifting the radio equipment to Clark. From pilot to trucker.”
He is talk talking to her again, as if they have been long acquainted. She finds herself asking an irrelevant thought. Are all American’s like this?
“I'd better check what radio gear I can salvage,” Rocky concludes.
She stands, and stumbles toward the remains of the Rambler, looking for her neighbors.
What she finds of her deceased neighbors immediately nauseates her. She staggers back into the paddy, the ringing in her ears is less, but she’s dizzy, and now there’s a buzzing.
She vomits, staggers, then vomits again.
The buzzing grows louder.
She realizes she is crying, uncontrollably. Tears cloud her eyes. She sees a blurry figure rushing toward her and throws up her arms.
Rocky tackles her to the dry paddy, his body atop hers. Still full of adrenaline, she tries to buck him off.
“Stay down!” Rocky shouts at her, his face pushing hers once again into the dirt. “More coming!”
And come they do, three Japanese Mitsubishi Zeros are on a strafing run, two machine guns fire from each plane, one per wing, six machine gun barrels spewing bullets toward Juanita and the humans, which she sees from ground level are causing fountains of water and blood to fly up as they impact a filled rice paddies and people.
The bullets seem to tear open reality and time, as to her, the instant stretches into a horrific lengthened and heightened scene, as the bullets impact ever closer and then sizzle around her.
Later, she follows Rocky, dazed, drained, joining others in the process of checking the condition of humans they find, as all walk westward along the road, gathering up those who can walk, giving aid to those who are still alive.
“Wait,” Rocky calls out to those around him. His attention is focused on a Ford tractor, intact, and running. “Whose tractor?”
No answer. A man who is walking with them, a dozen yards off, moving through a rice paddy, stops at a bleeding body beneath the water.
“Maybe his,” says the man, as he pulls the body of a man from the water and drags him to a levee that helps surround it. Rocky joins the man and the bloody body, checking for a pulse.
“He’s gone,” Rocky announces.
She finds herself examining Rocky as he starts leading those around him.
“We’re on our own here, folks…”
He’s not a tall man. He’s actually the same height she is, give or take an inch.
“I’m going to use this tractor to haul U.S. Army Air Force radio gear to Clark, under orders from General MacArthur…”
What he lacks in height he makes up for in muscle.
“Any tractor we can rig, we’ll use to carry the wounded.”
He has red hair everywhere she can see.
The morning of December 9th dawns over Valenzuela beaming out under a just previously gray overcast and light rain, creating orange and rose clouds and slice of rainbow.
Maria catches her breath at the sudden beauty. She looks at the flowers around her in Sukimoko. There colors look especially bright.
As is their nature, Maria thinks, to attract and offer pollen. She touches a bright pink pedal gently, then glances across the street where Irene has a line of customers for the dwindling supply of rice in her various bins. She combines the words once again, a mental habit, the words that she combined to name her sari-sari shop, sukimoko, those words being suki, su and ki, combined to mean valued customer, mo and ko, equating to you and me. She hoped it would be “catchy”, and thus was “sure to catch on” as the American, Persephone Bloom, had said.
Nobody has come to Sukimoko since everyone in the neighborhood came by during the evening hours yesterday and bought out all her necessities products, and nobody is in the mood to shop for frivolous niceties.
Maria’s worried about Juanita, her niece, who raced off this morning with the neighbors on a mission that Maria considered to be dubious at best, and of course, given the circumstances, more dangerous than it would usually be.
But what could she do? She had advised her sister Irene against the strategy, making contact with the Philippine Scouts and her father, who had departed from her family half Juanita’s lifetime ago.
Maria wonders whether she should have gone with the neighbors and Juanita, to try to get Emiliano and Francisco to somewhere safer. But where? She wished she knew more about what was going on. At least…
Her thoughts are interrupted by a group of three U.S. Army trucks moving fast past Sukimoko and the rice seller’s shop, heading north through Valenzuela toward Bulican. She wonders again, ‘Will my boys and I be safe here.’
Then, for the first time in maybe three years, she found herself wishing her husband was home, rather than below the deck of a ship somewhere in Manila Bay, working on an engine in an engine room, black from grease.
Maria becomes aware of Emiliano, who is looking up at her, from a seat where he has been sucking on a cherry flavored shaved ice cup.
He begins to cry.
“What is it, Emil?”
“I’m scared, Nanay.”
“I know you are,” Maria says, sitting next to him. “Everything will be okay, I promise.”
But then she looks heavenward, with Emiliano looking up also.
“Hindi,” Maria says firmly. She focuses on her son. “I don’t want to lie to you. I don’t know what will happen now. All I know is that I want you and your brother to stay close to the shop and be good boys. I need both of you to help me. Can you do that for me, Emiliano?”
Her six-year-old nods.
“Glad you’re not telling the boy lies,” says the voice at the door. The back lit figure is immediately recognizable to her, via his voice, and by his tall silhouette. Somehow her kuya ("coo-yah"), her big brother, had inherited the tall sprout from the diverse Aquino family lineage.
It was grandmother Irene Aquino who had married the common boy from the provinces of Malabo, one of the Visayan Islands, a group in the middle of the Philippines, south of the big northern island of Luzon, and the nation’s capital Manila, where Maria’s grandmother Irene was a social butterfly, and Valenzuela was a garden city.
“Claro!” shouts Maria, rushing to him, throwing her arms around him.
“Magundag umaga, sister.” Her brother replies, absorbing the impact of his sister’s sudden embrace as if he were the trunk of a large tree.
“Look who I found down at the end of the street,” Claro says, indicating Francisco, who is kicking the dirt of the street nearby.
“Francisco!” Emiliano shouts, as he rushes through the Sukimoko sari-sari shop door and tries to wrestle Francisco to the ground, with the opposite of his intention as the outcome.
Emiliano almost cries out for his mother’s attention, but sees her entering Sukimoko with his Tito Aquino.
“What are you doing here, Claro?”
“Mahal kita to you too, sister.” Claro says, taking a bottle of cola from the little cooler by the cash register. He opens it with the opener attached to the cooler. “Love you too. Ahhh! You keep them the coolest of anyone else around, sister.”
He stares at her staring at him. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a coin, smacking it on the counter. Maria still stares at him.
“Okay, I’m going to join the resistance.”
“What?” Maria asks, “What resistance?”
“MacArthur has ordered the Americans out of Manila, which will hopefully save the people here from being slaughtered.”
Maria sees that Francisco and Emiliano are in the Sukimoko doorway listening. She frowns at her brother’s harsh wording, but he continues as if he doesn’t notice, which of course he does, as there is no expression of sister’s that he hasn’t seen and long ago adjusted to.
“And Quezon has ordered resistance to begin in all Philippine provinces, I’m heading for Mount Arayat and the forces assembling under the leadership of your old boyfriend.”
The emotions that Maria experienced at her brother’s allusion to James Cruz surprised her.
Claro analyzes his sister’s reddening face, but says nothing more, as her boys are listening.
“No!” Maria shouts at Claro. “You can’t join him. Stay here with me and the boys.”
“I’ve already sent word, sis. Where’s that greasy husband of yours?”
“Don’t talk about him like that,” Maria says sharply. “He is doing honorable work, which is more than can be said about some of your sidelines.”
“Now, sister, don’t start,” Claro requests. “The young minds attend us.”
“For tonight, then.”
Down the street from Sukimoko, and from his elevator warehouse, Anthony Bloom pulls his deep blue Chevy up to the gate outside his home, pulled shut across the driveway and locked. He puts the Chevy into neutral and yanks up on the emergency brake. He gets out, unlocks the padlock, unwinds a length of chain, and pushes the wrought iron gate open, keeping alert eyes open for his wife, or any sign of trouble.
Inside, the downstairs of the house is dark, except scant glow through the windows from the post-sunset deep red light reflected off the low clouds. He looks into dim lit areas, thinking he might see his wife, or a threat. Nobody is in the greeting area, the living area, the dining area, or the kitchen. The lower bath is dark.
“Sweetheart,” Anthony Bloom calls upward as he ascends the stairs. Silence.
He calls out his wife’s name. “Persephone?”
No reply. He approaches the master bedroom.
He does hear something. He opens the bedroom door and finds his wife weeping in their bed.
She sees him, and her sobbing stops with a gasp.
She instantly levitates and is into his arms.
They hold onto each other tightly. He kisses her hair, at the crown of her head.
She feels his kiss like jolt of electricity that runs down throughout her entire body, to her loins, at the same time, she catches a slight smell, a familiar fragrance.
Her lips rise to his, and sweeping across them, give him a jolt of erotic electricity that ignites him.
They escape the horrible external reality of their living situation, which neither of them is yet even remotely ready to face, into a heated cocoon of lovemaking, enwrapping one another, thrusting away all but their present. It was as if their first time, but with the benefit of practice.
Deep in the night, holding a tight cuddle, Persephone whispers to Anthony, “I smelled her on you again.”
“Whoever she is, whatever her name, it ends now. We need to hold onto one another and focus on how we get out of here.”
“I agree, My Love. I'm sorry.”
Undercover Japanese agent, or with more precision, Naval Intelligence Captain, Yoshi Imai, is daydreaming behind a bar in Manila, serving as a bartender at the Intramuros Golf Course clubhouse, looking out at the rain gray sky and wet darkened rocks in the walls of the old Spanish fortress which the golf course surrounds.
Yoshi is daydreaming of his gardening days, raking rocks into patterns, creating sukiyama, artificial mountains within sandscapes and featuring bonsai trees he had crafted since his childhood.
Back in Japan, he was at the top of his class in everything, but due to the influence of a peaceful uncle who died during his childhood, he had gained a love of gardening that became his passion.
Until the militarists began the war, that is. Soon after, his former classmates, who knew of his brilliance and his sociable way of getting along with everyone, contacted him. They had joined the secret kempetai after school, all the smartest had joined, and had formulated an astonishing secret plan in which Japan followed up on military successes in China and Korea, by liberating Southeast Asia and the South Pacific of colonialization by European countries.
Replacing colonialism by one nation with another, he had thought at the time, several years ago, before they had swept him in after a weekend of sake, sushi, hot baths, and geisha services. He had brought several of the same women with him on his mission, one that he had designed, but had never intended to lead, to lay the groundwork for a successful Japanese invasion of the Philippines and its occupation thereafter. The geishas had already come in quite handy, extracting troves of information from drunks he served at the golf course bar.
Agent Imai only allows himself such luxury of thought because he believes he is alone, after wipe of tables, bar, and glasses. He is just about to place a bottle of vodka in its place above the bar, when a voice calls out.
Then, a shot is fired.
He is startled and momentarily covered with glass from the vodka bottle, blown apart by a bullet. He has instinctively dropped to the floor behind the bar. He forces his mind to think logically, the voice called out a word, familiar. Japanese.
His year of deception is over. Now all he needs to do now is survive his first contact with the Japanese marines.
“So, what now?” Persephone Bloom, always the pragmatic planner, asks of her husband Anthony, who she once thought was also a good planner but recognized his weakness in that area now, as they had a full warehouse of elevator components down the street and no customers. “There are no reports of allied counterattacks.”
“Don’t worry, Sweetheart, our boys will be coming to the rescue soon. We just have to ride this out.
With that confident statement, Anthony entered the bathroom and readied for a shower.
“Did you get some more Aqua Velva at Sukimoko today?” he shouts from the bathroom.
He doesn’t hear a response. “Hmm.” The sound comes from Anthony without him opening his mouth, then he closes the bathroom door.
In the second-floor bedroom of their home, as an afternoon breeze fluttered white lace curtains, Persephone sheds a tear. It is followed quickly by many more.
The kempetai agents are excited. Their long roles under cover while they have been here in the Philippines are now abandoned, yet still, they are in the clothing of their characters, and will return they serve as an intelligencer steering committee guiding the Imperial Navy and Army in the battle to free the land of the American colonial invaders.
They meet in the grand lobby of the Manila Hotel, then proceed across the room and up a flight of eight steps to the newly installed American elevators, with their placard announcing they were made in Ohio. The silent Filipino elevator operator takes them up to the top floor, to the suite vacated by Douglas MacArthur.
There, Japanese Naval Intelligence Captain, Yoshi Imai, first toasts the emperor with tea served by his geisha agents, then, as sashimi and sake are served, utters the first words of his new secret reign over the seven-thousand-island archipelago, “Watashi-tashi…,” he begins. A low flying flight of Zeros roars by overhead.
“We need to begin asserting control,” Yoshi say in Japanese.
Christina Ortegas enters the clubhouse bar at the Intramuros Golf Course in the heart of Manila. It's dead. One of the girls, the tall one with the incredible legs, who she had often noted the bartender setting up with clients, is now behind the bar, tending to it by stocking shelves with bottles of alchohol. Come to think of it, she ponders, I've been noticing something off with the girls that the bartender was pimping. While they all acted like Filipinas, they never would speak to her. And when she heard them talking with customers she could tell that they spoke Tagalog with a strange accent she couldn’t place. Maybe Chinese, or possibly Japanese.
For that matter, Christina thinks further...but her train of thought is cut short as the new bartender suddenly turns and looks directly at her. There's a deadly serious new look in the girl's eyes that chills her. She looks away quickly, out at the empty golf course. When she glances back, the new bartender is still looking at her. She turns and leaves the bar, intent on seeking company at the Manila Hotel.
Up in Bulican above Manila, a tractor pulls behind it a flatbed trailer with crates of radio gear and Filipinos. Rocky turns back from the driver’s seat of the tractor to Juanita, who is sitting on a crate at the front of the trailer, moonlight illuminating her eyes. “I’m sorry about your neighbors," Rocky says. "Where was it you were headed”
Rocky nods. “At this rate we should be nearing Angeles and Clark by dawn.”
From the rice sellers shop, Irene's 16-year-old daughter Conception watches as her cousins Francisco and Emiliano rush about playing war with sticks as guns. At that moment, beyond the boys, down the street, appears a scene that it takes her a moment to fully comprehend. Japanese troops, march toward her and the boys in formation. Francisco and Emiliano stand still and drop their sticks.Suddenly, a gray-haired Filpino man with a rifle steps between Conception and the two boys, and the Japanese, shouting at the newcomers with words she is too far away to hear.
The leader of the Japanese platoon steps forward toward the Filpino, who then aims his rifle. The platoon leader quickly swings up a pistol that he had been holding behind his back, and fires a head shot. Francisco and Emiliano back into the entrance of Sukimoko as the Filipino drops dead to the street.
Inside Sukimoko, Maria, who has been startled by the gunshot, grabs her two boys and hurries them out the back of the sari-sari shop
into their house, then shuts and bars the door.