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Authors: Graham Salisbury

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BOOK: Under the Blood-Red Sun
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Billy bunched up his lips and shrugged. He dropped his glove and tore a blade of grass into tiny pieces, then tossed them away.

Mose and Rica

Mose and Rico Corteles
were lounging on the grass like a couple of lizards when Billy and I pulled up in front of the school in Mr. Davis’s shiny blue four-door Ford. My family didn’t have a car, just Grampa’s old bike. So it was lucky I could catch a ride with Billy. Otherwise it was the bus or a two-mile walk.

But this was the last year of that. Next year, in the ninth grade, Mr. Davis wanted Billy to go to Punahou, the
haole
private school—the white school. Keet Wilson and Jake already went there. Billy was supposed to start this year, but he fought like crazy to get out of it. So he got to stay one more year with us at Roosevelt.

Actually, what Billy really wanted to do was go to McKinley, a high school the
haoles
called Tokyo High because they had so many Japanese. They also had a first-rate
baseball team, the Mick Sluggers. Billy went to all their games.

Our school didn’t even have a baseball team, so Billy and I got together with a bunch of friends and played on our own. Most of the time we played against two other homemade teams, the Kaka’ako Boys and another team called the RBIs. We called ourselves the Rats. Rico made that up.

Billy’s one big dream was to pitch in the majors—he wanted to be on the New York Yankees. He figured he could get good enough someday, and so did the rest of us. He could pitch like the Yankees’ Red Ruffing, almost, or like Whit Wyatt on the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Anyway, there was Rico the lizard in front of the school, and Mose, dozing in the sun next to him.

Rico, who was Portuguese and played first base on the Rats, was Mose’s cousin. He sat cross-legged with his elbows on his knees, chewing on a wooden match. He always had some of those in his pocket, even though he didn’t smoke.

Mose was stretched out, propped up on his elbow. He played center field, which fit, because he was pretty quiet and liked to keep to himself.

The two of them looked like lazy bums, or else troublemakers. But they were pretty smart, and worked hard in school, except, of course, in Mr. Ramos’s class, because Mr. Ramos was an easy teacher. He was also their uncle.

Mose and Rico liked to show off and look tough. Rico had a scar on his chin from when he went downtown with his father. A year ago Mr. Corteles had taken Rico and
Rico’s sixteen-year-old cousin, Esther, downtown to pick up Esther’s mother. Mr. Ramos was with them.

Anyway, while they were waiting around for Esther’s mother to get off work, six drunk army guys came up and tried to drag Esther off with them. Esther screamed and Mr. Corteles grabbed one of the men. Mr. Ramos and Rico jumped into it, too, trying to push and shove the army guys away. One army guy slugged Rico and sent him flying into the gutter, where he hit his chin. Rico said the guy then went after Mr. Ramos.

Mr. Corteles managed to free Esther, but by the time the police got there, the army guys had already pounded him. Rico’s chin was cut and bloody, and Mr. Ramos had a broken knuckle on his punching hand.

Now Rico hated the army, but he liked the scar. It looked good on him, and he told everyone he got it in a gang fight. Except, of course, when Mr. Ramos was within hearing distance.

Mose was an easygoing guy, but he could look mean if he wanted to. He always rolled the sleeves of his shirt up to show off his muscles.

But the thing about Mose and Rico, and Billy, too, was that they would stand by you no matter what. That was what the Rats were all about. Those guys were like brothers.

Rico pointed his gangster chin toward me and Billy as we walked up to them. “Heyyy,” he said. Billy walked kind of stiff because of how he fell when Keet had pushed him.

“How much you and
haole
boy pay that chauffeur to
drive you in that limo-zeen?” Rico said, tipping his head toward Mr. Davis’s car as it drove away.

“For me to know and you to find out,” I said. “What? You jealous?”

“Shhh,” Rico said with a lemon-sour look on his face.

“Hey—us two is hot shots,” I said. “We pay good money for that chauffeur.”

“What you two is, is dingdongs.”

The bell rang, but we took our time shuffling into school. Mose, I noticed, had a small paper lunch bag, which seemed funny because we always ate cafeteria food.

Mose walked over to Billy and put his arm on his shoulder. “How’zit,
haole boy?”

“Not bad,” Billy answered. Billy didn’t seem to mind being called
white boy
all the time. He always had a shy grin when you said it. Anyway, even if he did mind, he would never tell you to knock it off.

“Your daddy’s car pretty sharp,” Mose said. “I like that shiny paint. You never said your daddy was rich.”

“Naw … he’s not rich.”

“Sheee, all
haoles
are rich.”

Billy looked over at him, not knowing what to say. Billy was so easy to tease sometimes—so serious about everything.

Mose raised an eyebrow and nudged Billy. “That’s all right. You can be rich … so long as you buy us all one soda pop after school, yeah?”

“Sure,” Billy said.

“Naah,” Mose said, cracking a smile. “Come on, I only joking. Hey, I got something for you.” He pulled a brand-new baseball out of the paper bag. “Me and Rico
wanted to give you this because you beat the Kaka’ako Boys for us. That felt good, man, really good.”

The Kaka’ako Boys were a bunch of too-young-for-varsity baseball fanatics like us, stink-eyed mitt-punchers who were getting ready to play for the Mick Sluggers at McKinley. They were also pretty tough guys. On the Rats, I was the only Japanese, but the Kaka’ako Boys were
all
Japanese. They lived down by Queen Street, near the ocean, and some of them were from fishing families, which is how I got to know them. Mose and Rico could think of nothing better than to wipe the bases with Kaka’ako baseball caps.

Billy’s eyes widened. He took the ball from Mose and rubbed it in both hands, like he was working it down, getting it ready. You could tell Mose had choked him up. “Thanks …” Billy said to Mose and Rico. “I … it’s a nice ball … thanks.”

Rico grinned, his white teeth gleaming. He tapped Billy’s shoulder. “You okay, Billy. If I could pitch like you, I could get rich.” Then he got serious. “Hey, how you got that limp?”

“Gang fight,” Billy said. I hoped Rico would be happy with that. I didn’t need him getting upset about Keet Wilson. An eye for an eye was the way Rico went through life.

“Rich
haoles
don’t get in no gang fights,” Rico said, punching Billy’s arm, but not hard. “Makes a good story, anyway, yeah?”

We scuffed into class and settled down in the back row, screeching our wooden desks on the floor as we fell into them.

•  •  •

Right after lunch, Rico, Mose, and Billy went outside and sat in the shade, but I went to talk to Mr. Ramos about my science project. I told him I wanted to do a demonstration on pigeons.

Mr. Ramos fingered his fat knuckle, which had never healed right after the fight downtown. “That’s a good idea, Tomi, but what’s so special about pigeons?” He smiled.

“You ever seen a tumbler fly?”

“Never even heard of a tumbler.”

“So, there. That’s a pigeon. Not many people have seen those kind. They do somersaults in the air … while they are flying. You wouldn’t believe it. They go around and around and flip. It’s crazy. Someone must have bred that into them hundreds of years ago. I’d like to research that and—”

“Okay, okay,” Mr. Ramos said, putting his hands up. “How could I turn away that kind of enthusiasm? So … what about the rest of those juvenile delinquents you run around with? Are they even
thinking about
it?”

“Sure,” I said. “But they don’t want to talk about it. Someone might steal their ideas.”

“I should have thought of that,” Mr. Ramos said. “Well, get them to tell
me
. I won’t steal them.”

He was okay, Mr. Ramos.

And he was smart too. Mose told me that out of all his hundreds of relatives, Mr. Ramos was the only one who’d ever gotten a scholarship to college. And not only that,
he got it from the famous University of Notre Dame. On the mainland.

Mose said Mr. Ramos was actually a lawyer, but he gave it up after his sixteen-year-old brother got arrested and sent to reform school for robbing a store. “It really got to him,” Mose said. “He blamed himself, you know. He said he should have spent more time with his little brother. Maybe he could have prevented it.”

So Mr. Ramos quit being a lawyer and went back to school to become a teacher. “Those boys out there need somebody
before
, not
after
, they get into trouble,” Mr. Ramos told Rico’s father. Rico’s father said he was crazy, he’d make a lot more money as a lawyer. But Mr. Ramos said he would make enough as a teacher, and besides, money wasn’t the reason he was doing it.

I didn’t know anyone in school who wasn’t glad he’d made that change.

“Shoot, you going be president of the U.S. someday,” Rico said as I dropped down in the shade. “You just keep on kissing up to Mr. Uncle Ramos like that.”

I shoved him with my elbow, and he shoved back, then we settled down into our usual talk about nothing important.

But something was bothering Billy. He leaned against the stucco building with his knees up and his elbows resting on them.

After a few minutes Mose nudged him. “You pretty quiet today, Billy. Something wrong?”

“Naw …”

“Come on, I can tell.”

Billy glanced at Mose, then looked away. “I just hate to think I can’t go to Roosevelt next year, that’s all.”

We were all quiet a moment. It was a junk thought. The four of us had been together a long time. It would sure be different when Billy was gone, even if we still saw each other after school.

“It’s expensive, you know, that school,” Rico said.

“Yeah,” Mose added, “but
haoles
got the money.”

“Some do,” Billy said. “But
haoles
are just like anyone else—some poor, some rich, but most are just regular.”

“No kidding,” Rico said, shaking his head. I couldn’t tell if he was joking or if it was really news to him.

Billy practically rubbed his hands raw, working the newness off the baseball, like he was mad at it, or something. After a while, he stopped rubbing and put the ball to his nose to smell it. “You guys ever heard of the
Greer?”

Rico shrugged. “What’s that?”

“A U.S. destroyer. Yesterday a German submarine shot at it. They didn’t sink it, but they
shot
at it somewhere in the Atlantic.”

Billy tossed the ball from hand to hand, frowning at it. “Do any of you …” He thought for a second, then went on. “Do any of you think we’re going to get dragged into the war?”

Nobody said anything for a minute.

We all knew there was a war going on, but far away—between Japan and China. And also between Germany and France. Germany was winning and taking over all the countries around it. It was pretty bad, I knew that much. But I didn’t really think about it. Not like Papa, anyway,
who was very interested in it. And over at Billy’s house I saw magazines that had war pictures in them—burned cars and trucks, and busted-up towns, and tired, beaten soldiers. They even showed pictures of dead people. I couldn’t stop looking at those. But who wanted to think about it?

“Naah,” Rico finally said. “Why us? The U.S. not bothering nobody.”

“Keet Wilson told my brother that we’d be in the war before next summer,” Billy said. “And he said we’re all going to end up dead before we’re twenty-one.”

“Dead from what?” Mose asked.

“The Germans.”

“Stupit,” Rico said, shaking his head. “Why?” Billy asked.

“Listen.” Rico tapped Billy’s arm with the back of his hand. “Even if we got in the war, look—just on this island we got the stupit army, we got the navy, we got the air force and even the marines. No Germans are going to last long against those guys. And we got soldiers all over the mainland, too, I bet.”

Billy stared at his baseball, running the tip of his finger over the lacing. Rico was probably right. Army guys were all over the place. They had maneuvers all the time. Down on the west end of the island you could sometimes see smoke rising into the sky, with pursuit fighters above, circling like flies.

And last summer, Mr. Davis drove me and Billy up toward Wheeler Field and Schofield Barracks. You could see convoys of green trucks and jeeps raising dust on the red-dirt roads past the cane fields. We stopped to watch.
When Mr. Davis turned off the engine, you could hear shooting in the hills, little popping sounds and the rattle of machine-gun fire. It was strange to think of that going on while the rest of us went fishing and played baseball.

“Yeah,” Billy said. “You’re right … I guess it just feels funny that the Germans shot at one of
our
ships, that’s all.”

“Hey,” Rico said to Billy. “I know what you can tell that guy … what’s his name?”

“Keet.”

“Anyway, tell him to go down to Pearl Harbor and look at one of those new aircraft carriers.
Big
, man, and they got plenty planes. All that guy has to do is see one of those things and his worries will be over.”

BOOK: Under the Blood-Red Sun
11.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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