Plantains crackle in the iron skillet on his little stove. He turns them, pours a bit more rum over them, sprinkles the pan with coarse brown sugar traded off one of the island steamers. The Portuguese ship to come will bring white sugar and European flour, but it has been some time since he has seen such finery. Now he has only pounded taro root for flour, to go with the heavy-grained sugar.
The smell is rich and sweet. Rum is like a blanket for sin, covering many flaws with the bright-edged gleam of desire. The old man worries at the browning fruit with an old wooden fork. He pretends the Lieutenant is not overhead. He pretends the men at the camp are not violently restless. He shakes the pan, then slides the food onto a cracked china plate in Cunard livery.
This for the Lieutenant, he tells himself. One of the treasures of life here along the straits. The Japanese have raised their rising sun from Madras in the west to Seattle in the uttermost east. Surely the Emperor has no need to take note of his subjects here. Surely this little offering of gold will please Lieutenant Ichiro in his god-king's name.
The old man looks up to see one of the van Eekhout men staring at him. "Goed, breng hier het over," the man says in Dutch.
No, the old man mouths. He will not give up his slim, sweet treasure to some adventurer. Not with the Lieutenant upstairs.