all-demanding emperor was a recent invention and that for three hundred years had been the puppet-joke of Edo, while in Kyoto stronger, subtler men ruled and only tolerated an emperor as a useful fiction, a figure around which to build distracting (and therefore helpful) ceremonies?

He knew too: the war is lost. All our armies have been crushed. No island has been successfully defended. We die here for nothing. It would be comic if it weren’t so stupid. It’s a racket, a jest, for the seven men who run Japan to chortle at over sake.

But still he ran.

He was visible for no more than seven seconds. The Americans fired quickly, and he felt the hot whisper of bullets pushing the air to the left and right as they plunged past. The earth erupted around him and filled the air with grit that assailed his nose and throat.

The bullet that would kill him did not find him.

He slid to earth behind a hummock, gulped for air, then heard a series of blasts from the draw below.

He slid to the crest of the hummock and watched from a hundred yards out as an American raced down the hill with a big automatic rifle-they had so many different kinds of weapons!-sweeping quickly, sending cascades of bullets into counterlaid spider holes whose existence only the captain himself knew, as he had designed them.

It was over in seconds.

The big hairy beast yelled and gestured and two men came down the hill and another few around it, as they joined in the middle of the draw, and the American ordered them into a hasty line and led them forward.

The captain saw it then: flamethrower.

The last two Americans in line had the flamethrower. One of them wore it on a harness, a cluster of tanks centered on his back, so heavy with jellied fuel that he bent under it and held a tubular nozzle with a pistol grip, which concealed a pyrotechnic igniter, literally a match that when struck would unleash the spurting fuel. They would come up the draw, pivot left, and under covering fire burn out the gun pits. Then the Americans would blow the steel door into the bunker and burn that out too.

The captain reached for grenades. They were absurd things, called Type 97s, unreliable and untrustworthy. Cylindrical and grooved for fragmentation, they were designed with four-and-a-half-second fuses, which meant they either had one-second fuses or six-second fuses, if they detonated at all. You primed them-this was beyond comedy!-by first pulling a pin, then smashing their fuse housing hard against your helmet and driving a striker through a primer to light a powder train.

He almost laughed.

We are the Yamato race and we cannot build a hand grenade to save our lives. The men joked, We can survive the Americans, but…our own grenades?

But the Buddha smiled. He pulled the pin on the first cylinder, smashed its fuse housing against a stone, the striker flew and lit the fuse, and it sizzled to life. He held it one second (so dangerous!) then threw it over the crest. He repeated the process, and heard the first detonate. Possibly a cry was lost in the explosion. The second grenade he didn’t hold, on the sound principle that no two in a row would work properly, but just hurled it, and it was the right decision, for just an instant later it went.

The captain pulled himself over the crest of the draw.

All the Americans were down. One of the boys with the automatic rifle was shrieking hysterically, his left arm bloody. Two were still. The flamethrower operator was trying to regain his feet.

The captain shot him first. He put a stream of five 8 mm Nambu slugs into him, and another burst into the assistant, even though that man was down. He shifted to the automatic rifleman, who labored with the bloody arm to raise his weapon, while behind them his loader tried to grope for a dropped carbine. The captain finished them in one long burst. Then he rotated to the downed leader and put a burst into him. He raced down the draw, went to the flamethrower operator, who unbelievably, still breathed. He fired into his head and tried not to notice and, when that proved impossible, not to feel shame at the impact of the bullets on the young face. Then he pulled his bayonet and sawed the hose through and tossed the pistol-like igniter housing away.

No blowtorches for his men today.

He spun and began to race back to the blockhouse.

Earl somehow regained consciousness. He was not dead. He tried to reassemble what had happened, and finally identified it as either an errant mortar shell or grenades. He shook his head, trying to drive the jangles of pain out, but they remained. His hip throbbed. He looked down and saw blood. His canteen was punctured twice, there was a groove cut in the brass keeper of his web belt where a bullet had spanged off, and a bullet had grooved his side, a slow leakage of blood accumulating on his heavy USMC twill shirt. He looked around.

Gone, all gone.

Fuck, he thought.

Finally met a Jap smart as me. Smarter even, goddamn his little monkey soul to hell.

The draw was quiet, though the noise of the firing was close at hand. The Japanese still held the blockhouse; his flanking thrust had been defeated. He’d gotten four men of Able Company wiped out and himself damn near killed, and only because, now that he thought of it, he must have heard the chink! of a Jap arming his grenade that got him to the ground before the first blast, and he now realized there were two blasts.

He looked about; his Thompson was a few feet away. He picked it up, blew sand out of the trigger assembly, and rotated down the safety. No need to check the chamber for he carried it in combat with a round sitting there, the bolt held back. He started up the draw.

He climbed the crest, pivoted, and could see nothing. Ahead lay a crest line, where a hummock of black sand was anchored by a netting of scraggly vegetation.

He lurched ahead, slipped once, then got around the hummock to find himself a hundred yards or so from the blockhouse. Three gun pits, sandbagged revetments reinforced with palm, held gun crews with riflemen, all working frantically to keep their fire up. The guns hammered away like industrial implements.

Earl didn’t pause a second. It wasn’t in his nature. He had the advantage of surprise, and he was on the first pit before the men realized. He fired a long burst, the gun steamy and jumpy in his hands, and just cut them down.

A man in the second pit, thirty yards farther out, rose to his racket, fired at Earl, and the bullet banged off his helmet, the helmet itself flipping away. Earl fired from the hip, catching him, then raced to the pit, firing, and as he reached it ran dry of ammo and so leaped in, using his gun butt. He drove the heavy thing forward, smashing a Jap in the face, spun sideways, and smashed another. He returned to the first with several savage butt strokes, his heart empty of mercy.

Around him, the world lit up. Nambu fire from the third pit. Earl went down, reached for his own grenade, pulled the pin, and threw it. As he waited for the detonation, he hastened through a magazine change. When the grenade fired off, he rose to see three men with a light Nambu racing his way and he took them down with a raking burst. He rose, ran through fire to the third pit-why he wasn’t killed was a mystery he’d ponder for the rest of his life-and finished the clip on the wounded men who struggled within it. When the gun ran dry, he killed two wounded men with his gun butt, not a thing you’d tell a child about, but a necessary part of the job.

He sat back, exhausted, sucked in air that was heavy with the chemical stench of this goddamned place. He saw the blockhouse lay a few yards away and knew he’d have to blow it. Yeah, with what? No grenades left, no satchel charge, no bangalore torpedo, no flamethrower. Then he flipped a Jap over-the body was so light!-and found a pouch of grenades. He knew the Jap grenades were no good, but maybe a bagful would do the trick. He reached for his Thompson and saw why it had quit. A wedge of sand had jimmied the bolt halfway back. You’d have to scrape for a month to get it cleared.


He took a breath and ran to the blockhouse, squirmed along the back of it, his shirt scraping the concrete. He could hear its guns working the slope. He found a chamber, and peeking in, he saw a black steel door.

Earl pressed himself against the wall, took out one of the Jap grenades. With his teeth, he got the pin out. Then he slammed the end of the thing against the wall, felt it fizzle, and watched the dry thin smoke of burning powder pour out of it.

Oh, shit, these things scared him.

He dumped it in the bag, tossed the bag flush against the steel door, and headed back across the sand to the gun pit.

Вы читаете The 47th samurai
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