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Authors: Graham Salisbury

Tags: #General Fiction

Under the Blood-Red Sun (9 page)

BOOK: Under the Blood-Red Sun
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In Japan, Papa told me, Grampa was very well respected. He had a lot of friends. But he missed Papa and came to the islands. When he got here he was pretty lonely and hardly spoke to anyone, even to Papa. Then he met Charlie and went back to his old self. Grampa learned to speak English from Charlie.

You had to love that old man. He did what he wanted, no matter what. And he didn’t always back away from trouble, like Papa wanted me to do. If Grampa had been me, he would have busted Keet Wilson’s nose already. I was sure of it.

Thunder on the Moon

Toward the end
of October something very strange happened. Billy and I had gotten off the bus after school and were walking up to our street. When we got there we saw a brand-new car, a blue Cadillac, waiting to turn out onto the main road.

“Whose car is that?”

“I don’t know,” Billy said, “but it must have cost a couple of bucks.”

“You can say that again.”

“I don’t know, but it must have cost a couple of bucks.”

“Shuddup,” I said, poking him with my elbow.

When we got closer, I saw that the driver was Mr. Wilson. Billy and I both waved, but Mr. Wilson just glared
at us, giving us the worst stink eye I’d seen since we beat the Kaka’ako Boys.

“What’s
his
problem?” I whispered to Billy.

“Who knows?”

I turned away as we walked past. It was so strange. He’d never been like that to us before. When I couldn’t stand it anymore, I glanced back to see if he was still looking at us. He was. You could see his eyes in the rear view mirror.

“He’s still looking,” I said.

Billy turned to see for himself.

We started walking again.

Just then the car’s tires squealed. Billy and I spun around and saw the Cadillac backing up, coming toward us fast. We jumped out of the way as the car slid to a stop. Mr. Wilson leaned over and rolled down the window.

“Come here,” he said.

Billy and I stood there gaping at him. I thought he wanted Billy, because Mr. Wilson hardly ever said a word to me.

“You,” Mr. Wilson said, pointing his finger at me.

“Me?” I stepped closer to the window and leaned down. Mr. Wilson glared back at me. His neck sagged over the collar of his starched white shirt.

“Listen to this, boy,” he said in a low voice. “You people are walking on mighty thin ice around here.” I didn’t even breathe. For a moment, he wagged his finger at me without saying anything. Then, in almost a whisper he said, “You tell your father I don’t want to see any more of that Jap crap around my place … you understand?”

I nodded.

Mr. Wilson stepped on the gas. The car spit dust and little rocks out when it took off.

“What did he want?” Billy asked.

My hands started to tremble. “I don’t know.… I better go home.”

I hurried down the road toward my house with Billy running to keep up.
Jap crap?
What did Mr. Wilson mean?

•   •   •

We ran up the trail, through the trees, and burst out into the open. No one in sight. What was Mr. Wilson
talking
about?

Lucky barked. Up by the chickens. Billy and I took off toward the commotion.

Kimi, jumping up and down and clapping her hands, was watching Grampa standing there slowly waving his giant flag back and forth, back and forth. He’d tied the ends to a long pole, and at the top of his lungs was singing
“Kimigayo
,” the Japanese national anthem, the slowest song in the history of the world. And tied around his shiny cannonball head he had another white piece of cloth.

“Grampa! What are you
doing?”

Grampa stopped singing and glared at me, looking me over from head to foot, scornfully, like he was considering how to slice me in half. Then he started singing again.

“Grampa, Mr. Wilson heard you, and saw that flag. He yelled at me and said he didn’t want to see any more
of that … of that … of that stuff around his place. You gotta stop!”

Grampa cut his singing off in the middle of a word and walked toward me in that boastful way the movie samurais do. He stopped right in front of my face.

“Ojii-chan
,” I said, much more softly, more respectfully. “Mr. Wilson … please … Mr. Wilson saw you and he’s very mad. I know it sounds stupid, but he said he didn’t want to see any Japanese stuff around here.”

Grampa’s eyes were icy under the white headband, which was made of two old handkerchiefs tied together. Billy stood off to the side, his eyes about to pop out of his head.

“We are
Japanese
, confonnit.…
Japanese!”
Grampa looked at me like it was all
my
fault. Then he flicked Kimi a quick wave with his chin and started back toward the house. Kimi followed, refusing to look at me.

Mr. Wilson’s angry eyes were still scaring me half to death. But Grampa’s song was only part of it. Mama had the rest of the story when she got home from work. She brought the Wilsons’ thrown-away newspaper for me to read to her. She could read Japanese, but not English. Whatever was on the front page, she said, it made Mr. Wilson very angry.

I sat down at the kitchen table and spread the paper out in front of me. “The Germans sunk one of our ships,” I said.

Mr. Ramos had told us about the sinking in school, but I was only half listening. I hadn’t realized it was an
American
ship.

“Read,” Mama said, the look on her face flat.

U.S. D
ESTROYER
I
S
S
UNK BY
T
ORPEDO OFF
I
CELAND

Washington, Friday, Oct. 31. (UP) The Navy Department announced today that the destroyer USS
Reuben James
was sunk last night by a torpedo west of Iceland.

No further details are available at present.

    In a photograph just below the headline, the
Reuben James
sat peacefully in a glassy harbor. The sailors were dressed in white and lined up on the deck. Below the photo it said
FIRST U.S. WARSHIP SUNK
.

Mama stood there with her arms crossed, looking out the window. Finally, she went over and opened the back door and called for Kimi to come inside.

•   •   •

Very early the next morning, before the sun came up, Lucky started barking under the house. I could hear her through the floorboards beneath my bed.

Grampa sat up on his mat.

“Something’s wrong with Lucky,” I said. I couldn’t find the lantern, so I just grabbed a box of matches and ran down the back steps.

It was too dark to see, but I knew where Lucky slept. She heard me crawling toward her and whined between barks. When I got close, I took a match out and struck it. Three sets of small red eyes froze and stared back at me.

Mongooses.

“Ghaaaaa!” I said, and they scurried away.

The match went out and I lit another one. Why were mongooses bothering Lucky? I crawled closer.

“Lucky … you little rabbit.”

Four squirmy pups nudged at her belly. Actually, they were more like four wet blobs. They must have just come out, or else Lucky had licked them. I’d never seen puppies so new.

Grampa crawled up beside me.

“The mongooses were trying to get at them,” I said.

“Uhnnn.”

The puppies looked like they were born too early, their ears nothing but furry tabs. They looked more like rats than dogs. “Is there something wrong with them?”

“Nah,” Grampa said. “They born blind … and deaf … but pretty soon eye come right, and ear.”

“Got to build a fence, or something,” I said. “To protect them.”

Grampa studied Lucky’s puppies a moment, his face soft and hard at the same time. He wasn’t very interested in animals as pets, but he was soft on any kind of babies. He even felt like that for baby chicks, even when he knew they would soon grow to be as cranky as he was.

Grampa and I watched the puppies fumble around Lucky’s belly, trying to drink. Then we crawled out from under the house. The sky had changed, just barely, going from black to purple. Grampa’s rooster started to crow.

Mama must have heard Lucky’s barking too. The light from the kitchen window spilled out over the grass. The cool scent of ginger from the jungle filled the air as Grampa and I clomped up the wooden steps.

“Lucky had puppies,” I told Mama. The screen door slapped behind me and Mama scowled. She hated loud noises like that. “Sorry,” I said.

Kimi was sitting at the kitchen table. “I want to see,” she said.

“Later,” Mama said. “Too dark now.”

“You got any extra chicken wire?” I asked Grampa. “I need to make a fence.”

“No need fence,” he said. “No need dogs, confonnit. Take ’um on the boat … drown ’um.”

I turned to Mama, and she raised her eyebrows. “Who can pay to feed dogs?”

“I can ask the Wilsons for scraps, or the Davises.… I can get it.…”

Mama studied me, considering it. “If you can feed ’um, you can keep ’um. But when they get little bit more old, you can only keep one. Give away the rest.”

“Okay, okay.”

“Who going drown them, anyway?” Mama said. “Not you. Not me, for goodness sakes. And not that poor old man sitting there looking mean.”

Grampa humphed, then got up to go light some incense at the
butsudan
. And probably to consult Grandma about what should be done about Lucky’s puppies.

When I came home from school later that day, I hurried under the house and found a perfectly squared chicken-wire fence around Lucky and her pups. It even had a gate to let Lucky in and out.

“Grampa,” I said, when I found him and Kimi out by the chickens. “Who built that fence? Did
you
do that?”

“Was my dogs, I drown ’um, you can bet.”

I smiled. He was such a bad liar. “Thanks, Grampa.”

“Watch out the damn mongoose,” he said, pushing past me, bumping my arm.

•   •   •

Billy came over later and stayed under our house practically all afternoon looking at Lucky’s pups. He went home and came back after dark to look some more.

“That one is Red,” he finally said, touching a pale tan one with a white saddle on it. Lucky got nervous and growled a little. Billy moved his hand away and Lucky looked up at him with forgiving eyes. The puppy twitched in its sleep, the light from the lantern warm and yellow.

“How come that one?”

“It’s the smallest.”

“Red Ruffing isn’t small.”

“Yeah, but Red Ruffing would pick the small one if he was picking.… How could he help it? The small one needs you the most.”

I shrugged. “Okay, it’s yours.”

“What is it, anyway?” Billy asked. “Boy or girl?”

“I don’t know. Take a look under its tail and see.”

“What do you look for?” Billy said.

“How should I know? Just look and see what you can see.”

Billy picked up the puppy and lifted the tail. Then he looked under the tails of the rest of the pups. “They all look the same.”

“All girls? Or boys?”

“I don’t know,” Billy said.

“Can’t you tell a boy from a girl?”

“You try, then.”

So I studied them carefully. Billy was right. “Well, anyway,” I said, “it’s your dog. Boy or girl.”

We finally got back out from under the house. Billy had to get home. I walked with him as far as diamond grass. We couldn’t stop talking about Lucky’s puppies. I was going to train one to shake hands, and Billy was going to teach Red to catch tennis balls.

“Good luck,” I said. “If Red is anything like Lucky, all he’s going to do is sleep and chew those balls to rags.”

Just then, the night sky exploded into rays of light. Searchlights. The mountains behind us looked flat and close in the beams that crawled along the ridges.

Billy read my mind. We took off for the banyan tree, stumbling through the ghostly jungle half-lit by the glowing clouds. I followed Billy up the massive trunk into the branches. We clawed our way to the top, where there was an opening in the leaves. My legs felt rubbery, I’d climbed so fast.

“Holy moly,” Billy said, gawking out toward the horizon. From where we were you could see the whole side of the island and miles and miles of ocean. There must have been fifty searchlights, some shining into the sky, some running along the mountains, and some blasting out to sea, scanning the water.

“Maneuvers,” Billy said.

“Yeah … incredible.”

Long, straight beams of blue-white light crisscrossed each other, back and forth, slicing through the black night. And far out on the ocean, you could see dots of ships caught like roaches in the powerful beams.

A breeze whisked up from the town below, bringing
with it the night smell of seawater and honeysuckle mixed together. I leaned closer to the branch, gripping it tighter, its sandpapery bark pinching my palms.

Then the lights went out.

The island turned black. Only small yellow lights from the city sparkled below, like distant camphires. Far away in the hills on the west end of the island, red flashes flickered in the sky, followed seconds later by rumbling sounds, like thunder on the moon.

“Those army guys never stop,” Billy said.

Night maneuvers. I listened to the eerie, muffled explosions. Strange. Kind of scary … like it was all happening in outer space somewhere.

BOOK: Under the Blood-Red Sun
11.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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