Life went back to normal—if that’s what you want to call it—after the slide. It’s a war zone around here, but we’ve only battled the weather.
The sky is thick with rain clouds, making the jungle smell like an old, musty cellar.
Construction has come to a halt except for a last-ditch effort to save what’s already built. Most of the road crew was sent back to base camp knowing the monsoon season will win. Earl and I are on clean up duty.
“Well if it ain’t my man,” he shouts, as he slides out of his bulldozer. “What gifts of glad tidings is Harry boy bringing me today?”
“Not what you’re expecting,” I answer. “There’s to be a little VIP visit from Colonel Merrill. You know the name?”
“Yessiree, do I know that name,” Earl answers. “They say he’s Mr. slick-as-ice. You don’t get to be a colonel at his age with just luck.”
This visit from Merrill is about as welcome as a hangover. Last night I inventoried my stash of explosives and ammo. I was tired, so I just threw a tarp over the boxes instead of packaging them. Now I have to worry about Merrill snooping around. We talk on our way to the mess hall.
“Now don’t go bullshitting me that someone like Merrill is here because he cares,” Earl gripes.
“Probably wants to know why Stilwell’s Road’s not done. Rumor has it we’ll be gearing up to push the road to Hukawng Valley by January.”
“Hell,” Earl punches a fist into thin air. “I hope that man’s as smart as they say he is. We’re moving mountains out here. In the states it’d be like building a dirt wall ten feet high, from Frisco to New York. Someone plumb forgot his brains if he thinks we’ll be that far by January.”
Monkeys in the overhanging branches howl and screech nervously, tossing their stinky durian fruit onto our path. “Some day I’m going to get my hands on one of those pesky critters.” Earl watches them swing away in search of cover as the sky opens in a thick downpour. We stop talking and hurry to the mess hall basha.
Dodging the rain water dripping down from the poorly thatched roof, we slide into a corner table. Earl props his elbows on the table and clenches his hands together, looking weary.
“Lester Jones done get hauled back to base camp by the porters yesterday. He got the fever real bad. It was mighty painful watching him drag himself out of bed each day. He’d just take his time, real slow, like he was letting the day move him along. Then one day, he dropped to the ground; his eyes went swimming in the back of his head. He was so hot with fever it done steal the cold out my hand.”
Earl sighs, resignation plastered all over his face. “Harry, I been thinking. You did such a fine job writing that letter for Reginald’s family. Well, I may be asking you for another favor soon.” He waits, then adds, “I’m going to do everything it takes to get this road built for men like Reginald, and I pray the Lord spares Lester.”
Outside, the warm monsoon rains pour down like it’s been building up for weeks. Inside, I’m torn. Earl’s dedication to building Stilwell’s Road is as great as my determination to destroy it. How many men will die if it is built? How many will be saved when I blow it up? I feel so lonely; I can’t talk to anyone about my plans, so I think about the young prostitute in Ledo.
“I am loyal to no one but myself. It is the only way to survive,” she had said.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish