Fat Fallon

Damon Runyon

October 1907

“All soldiers go to heaven when they die,” said Private Hanks as he sat on the steps of one of the barrack halls out at Fort Logan, carefully fishing what he called the “makings” of a cigarette from his blouse pocket. “I bases that opinion on my own dope,” he continued. “I got it figured out that the Lord wants people in Heaven who appreciate their surroundings, and after the army a soldier is sure able to do that.

“There’s one man I’d like to meet up there. He’s down in Arizona now, commanding a penny-ante post on the desert, and I don’t suppose he’s got much show of getting to heaven from there; but if he does I’d like to be on the reception committee to meet him and say: ‘Come in, Fat; here’s a harp and some wings, and the gang’s all here waiting for you.’

“Flash Fat Fallon’s the man I mean—the whitest white man I ever knew. I take off my hat to Fat, and so does everyone that ever soldiered with him. He’s a captain now, and I hope he’ll live to command the army.

“Fat commanded B troop back in them days when the war business was doing well over in the islands. That was before we led with our jack and caught Mr. Aguinaldo’s ace, and when everybody worked but Otis.

“We had one squadron of cavalry there to about ten thousand infantry and artillery, and that one squadron gave the finest imitation of one man being two different places at the same time you ever saw. We were out ahead of every flying column; we did a little rear-guard duty for provision trains; a little outpost duty; a little reconnoitering duty; a little barrack duty, and a little everything else that nobody else could do.

“Say, I went into B troop weighing about one hundred and fifty pounds, and as soft as mush. I came out weighing one hundred and twenty-eight, but I was like cold steel all the way through. I was so tough my face hurt me. We had them little native horses for mounts; and you got so strong that you’d get off and carry your horse once in a while, to give it a rest.

“Flash Fat was a lieutenant then, just from the Point, and nothing but a big, good-natured kid. He was the only officer we had with the troop, and he was all the same private out in the field. He slept with us and ate with us and joshed with us and belonged to the family generally. I’m telling you right when I say Fat used to go out and stand outpost in his turn just like the rest of us. The troop always worked separate from the rest of the squadron; in fact, the whole squadron wasn’t together for over a year.

“Flash got the name of Fat when he was a kid and used to be that way. We tied the ‘Flash’ on him just to be doing. He was a kid always, and I’ll bet if you dropped in on him down there in Arizona right now you’d find him out playing ball with the gang, or up to some other stunt like that.

“When we was in barracks in Manila, before the gugu blow-off, Fat was captain of our ball team and played catcher. We led the Eighth Army Corps league, too.

“I’ve seen that bunch of huskies playing ‘run, sheep, run,’ ‘duck on rock,’ ‘old sow,’ and things like that, with Fat right in with them, busier than a man with four hundred dollars and a thirst. If it was too rainy to be outdoors, like as not you could happen in our barracks and find Fat and a crowd playing miggles on the floor of the barracks. They used to act like a bunch of school kids at recess all the time, and at headquarters they called us Fallon’s Failings ; but they had an all-fired healthy regard for us on the firing line.

“You couldn’t tell Fat from a private out in the field. He never wore any mark to show any difference, and he was just as ornery looking as the rest of us. He carried a carbine, and was always right where the guns were going off. Fat was one of the few officers I’ve seen who ever gave a private credit for doing a little thinking for himself.

“In them days a troop or company commander didn’t always wait for orders from headquarters before he made a move. The troops was pretty much scattered, and the officers had to use their own nuts.

“B troop was a rough, tough outfit, recruited in a hurry in Frisco for the war, and Fat didn’t have no snap at first. He made his hit with us one day in barracks, when he called down a big stiff named Devaney for something. Devaney got mouthy when he thought Fat was out of hearing and was telling us what he was going to do to Fat when he got out of the service. Fat heard him and steps up, quiet-like, and says:

“‘You needn’t wait until you get out, Devaney. If you think you can trim me, come back of the barracks and try it. If you do, I’ll see nothing’s done to you for it.’

“Devaney couldn’t renig. A big bunch of us heard it, and he couldn’t sidestep talk like that. He’d been posing as a fighter ever since he came into the troop, and he had most of us buffaloed. So he went back of the barracks with Fat, and for some five minutes there was the prettiest scrap I ever see. They was about the same size and heft, but there wasn’t nothing to it from the minute they put their hands up.

“Devaney never laid a mitt on Fat. He never had a peek-in. Fat stalled him for awhile, just cutting his face to ribbons with jabs, until he got him good and bruised up, and then he put him out cold.

“There wasn’t any one else in the troop wanted any doings with Fat after that, and Devaney was one of his best friends.

“It was a picnic out in the field with Fat, from one way of looking at it. A hike with us was one long josh. We kidded each other, and we kidded everybody that came along. We went into a fight like it was all a joke, but I’ve seen Fat sit down beside a guy that’d been bumped off and cry like it was his own brother.

“One time in October we was in Manila, resting up for a few days after a hike down Imus way, when we gets orders to take part in an expedition up the lake—Laguna de Bay. They was going to clean out the towns along the lake. B troop was the only part of the cavalry to go along, but there was a lot of doughboys, so we figured we’d mostly guard wagon trains.

“Fat comes up that night with his eyes bulging out.

“‘Say,’ he says, ‘we’re not cavalry any more. We’re hoss marines. My orders is to load you on a casco, and we’re to be towed up to the lake by one of the army gunboats.’

“And that’s what happened, all right. We left our horses in Manila and loaded up on one of the big, pot-bellied cascoes that’d hold a regiment. Then a crazy old side-wheel steamer that they’d fitted up with a field gun and called a gunboat hitched onto us. They was a bunch of jackies from the Olympia under a lieutenant on the side wheeler.

“Fat told us that we was to cruise around the lake until the troops attacked a town from the land side, and then we’d go after ’em from the water side—catch ’em coming and going, you know.

“It wasn’t bad on the casco, because they was only about sixty of us and they was lots of room, but the idea of cavalrymen being turned into hoss marines give us a pain in the neck.

“We took it like we took everything else, though, as a big josh. Going up to the lake, we had a picnic playing sailors. We’d stand on top of the casco and hail all the boats that passed, like regular sailors, and I guess we made them jackies on the tow-boat pretty tired.

“Fat knew what town we was to hit first, but his orders was to cruise off and on until we heard sounds of firing from the land side. Laguna de Bay is what you might call a young ocean strayed away from its ma, and you can do a lot of cruising round without hitting land, if you want to.

“We knew we’d have to monkey around that lake two or three days, anyhow, before the troops got up, so we made ourselves right to home on the casco.

“Away down in the hold someone found a lot of old pumpkins, or squash, that the owners of the casco had left there, but they wasn’t no good to eat, so we didn’t disturb ’em.

“The first night we was out on the lake, just trailing along behind the tow-boat and smoking and talking, Fat says:

“‘Fellers, when we get back to Manila again, you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to organize a football eleven and play these college dubs in the volunteers. I hear ’em around the English club telling how they used to play back in the States, and they’re figuring on organizing elevens when it gets cooler. We skinned ’em playing baseball, and we can skin ’em at football. I used to go some myself at that game when I was at the Point. Anybody know anything about it?’

“Not many did. Some used to play it when they was kids at school, but that was so long ago most of them had forgotten it. But we was for football if Fat said so, and we talked over all kinds of plans before we went to sleep.

“‘Say, loot,’ says big Peterson, ‘ain’t that the game where they has yells?’

“‘Sure,’ says Fat. ‘I’ve been thinking over a lot of hot ones for us, too. We’ll have yells, and don’t you forget it. Here’s one I thought of the other day. It’s part Spanish, part Filipino, and part United States:

“‘Zooput! Zooput! Masama—

Cosa este, no soledad—

Razzle, dazzle, siss-boom-ah!

B troop! B troop! ’Rah! ’Rah! ’Rah!’

“Fat had a voice like an army mule braying, and it wasn’t no manner of music that came from his throat when he turned it loose; but it sounded good to us. The jackies on the tow thought we was bugs for true. You couldn’t see land on either side, you see, so there wasn’t no danger of the enemy hearing us.

“‘Here’s a good one, loot,’ says Corporal Benson, who was quite a poet, but all right at that:

“‘Doughboys, doughboys,

Haw! Haw! Haw!

Cavalry’ll eat ’em

Raw! Raw! Raw!’

“‘Fine,’ says Fat. ‘Let’s all practise them two.’

“And with him leading us, we sat on top of that casco just churning up the water with them yells. The jackies on the tow had the field gun trained on us in case we started to board ’em. We kept it up until we was all hoarse, Fat and Benson making up new yells until we had about a dozen.

“Next morning the blamedest storm come up, and in about ten minutes we was shy a tow. The rope busted, and the side-wheeler went chasing off by itself, leaving us limping along by our lonely.

“They wasn’t no danger. That old casco wouldn’t founder and it couldn’t tip over, so we didn’t care a whoop. When I woke up I heard the fiercest sort of a racket on top of the casco, and I could make out Fat’s voice. He was hollering:

“‘Lower away the capting’s gig!’

“‘Port your helm, Mister Johnson.’

“‘Ladies first in the life-boats.’

“‘Toss me some light preserves.’

“And a lot more like that. When I lamps on top to see what was going on, there was Fat with a half-dozen of the fellows having the time of their lives playing sailors. Fat was standing in the bow of the casco, which was reeling and tossing like it was drunk, and was yelling through his hands at the others, who didn’t seem to be doing much of anything except see how reckless they could get climbing over the boat.

“One feller was playing lookout at the stern, and he’d holler:

“‘Breakers ahead, sir!’

“‘Where away?’ Fat’d ask.

“‘Three sheets in the wind,’ says the lookout.

“‘Luff, you lubber, luff!’ bawls Fat, dancing about on the edge of the bow until I expected him to go heels over tea-kettle into the lake. Then he’d sing:

“‘A sailor’s life is the life for me!’

“Down in the hold someone was bellering:

“‘Oh, Capting Fat of the Hoss Marines

Fed his soldiers on pork and beans!’

“A stranger would’ve thought he was in the tack house for sure.

“The storm kept up ’most all day, and nary a sign of our tow did we see. Fat decided that we’d be pirates and prey upon the vessels that come across our path—only none come. We made Private Barnes come through with a white undershirt, the only one in the troop, which he were because he said the blue shirts scratched him, and we h’isted it for a flag, after tearing out a square in the center to represent black.

“We had an election of officers, and Fat was made captain and me first mate. Fat called himself Bloody Biscuit, the Loose Character of the Laguna, and I was Jiggering Jasper, the Pie-eyed Pirate of the Peskyhanna. We had Renegade Rube and Three-fingered Jack and Desperate Dave and Gory John; we had Stephen Stubbs, the Squint-eyed Scout, and all the other names you ever read in the yellow-backs. Fat had a christening of the boat. Someone had a bottle of pickles in his haversack, so we busted that over the bow—inside the boat, so the pickles wouldn’t escape—and Fat says:

“‘I christen thee the Bum Steer.’

“We ran everything shipshape, too. We’d talk about ‘shivering our timbers’ and ‘dashing our toplights,’ and we’d jerk our forelocks and say ‘Aye, aye,’ to each other. If we’d only had some stray vessels to board, it’d been great.

“We figured some on making Barnes walk the plank because he kicked about tearing his shirt, but we finally compromised on making him sit in the bow for two hours to represent the figurehead.

“Along toward night the storm goes down, but still we couldn’t see our tow. We drifted all day, and was in sight of land and going in nearer to it all the time. We had plenty of grub and tobacco to last us a few days, and so we wasn’t afraid of being lost. When night comes on, we could see the lights of the houses on shore, and Fat decides that we needs some lights ‘aloft.’

“‘So’s our tow can run into us,’ he says.

“Well, we didn’t have nothing but candles, and they wouldn’t stay lit without covers. Fat has a great idea.

“‘Go down and get them pumpkins and we’ll make jack-o’-lanterns,’ he says.

“We did. Everyone that had a candle gets a pumpkin and carves a scary-looking devil-head out of it. We h’isted them lanterns on sticks or hung them over the sides, and I’ll bet no such looking craft was ever seen around that whole archipelago.

“Fat was as pleased as a kid with a new toy.

“‘That’s real piratical now,’ he says, and I don’t doubt it was.

“We was drifting along slowly about a mile from the shore. Little towns fringed that lake clear around, and we could sometimes hear voices. Every one of the towns was an insurgent stronghold, and some were supposed to be well fortified, which was why they was sending a strong force to take ’em.

“After supper we was all on top of the casco, and Fat started us in to practising them football yells again. No one thought about the noise. We gave them much better than the night before, and when sixty huskies are yelling all together out on the water on a still night it makes some disturbance, I’m telling you.

“We was having all kinds of fun when someone noticed the lights going out along-shore and mentioned it to Fat.

“‘Holy smoke!’ he says. ‘I forgot all about tipping our hand to the gugus. They’ll commence shooting in a minute.’

“But they didn’t. It was quiet as the grave, and all we could hear in toward shore was the lapping of the water.

“‘Oh, they’re just going to bed,’ says Fat, and we started in yelling again. We kept it up until midnight, with a few songs thrown in for good measure. Fat taught us to sing:

“‘Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest!

Yo, ho! and a bottle of rum!’

and that made a big hit with everyone. We sung all the old songs we knew, and they listened mighty good to us, too.

“Well, we finally got tired and went to sleep, leaving a couple of guards posted. Fat had all the jack-o’-lanterns thrown overboard, as the candles had burnt out, and there didn’t seem no chance of that tow picking us up that night.

“At daybreak next morning we was grounded on shore, having drifted too close in. We was near a good-sized town, but they didn’t seem to be no signs of life in it. Fat had a couple of men slip over and take a look at the town, but they said they couldn’t see a soul. They didn’t go in very far, for fear of a trap.

“We was eating breakfast when the old side-wheeler we’d lost hove in sight, looking pretty battered about the edges, but still afloat. She came in close to us, and the naval lieutenant in command of her bawls out:

“‘Where you fellers been?’

“‘Looking for you,’ says Fat.

“‘Well, we been a-looking for you, and so’s a whole brigade of soldiers—looking for your bodies. We was just going to fire guns over the water to raise you,’ says the naval man.

“‘Where’s the brigade?’ asks Fat.

“‘Right outside that town, and the old man’s sore as a boil,’ the lieutenant says. ‘You’d better go over there and report.’

“‘Any gugus in town?’ asks Fat.

“‘Gugus? I should say not,’ says the naval man. ‘That’s what the old man’s sore at. They ain’t a single enemy nowhere.’

“‘By the way,’ this lieutenant bawls, as Fat gives us orders to unload, ‘you didn’t notice anything funny around the lake last night did you?’’

“‘Nope,’ says Fat; ‘what do you mean?’

“‘Oh, nothing,’ says the navy; ‘only my sailors are a little superstitious, and they’ve got an idea they saw a new kind of Flying Dutchman last night.’

“‘Must have been smoking hop,’ says Fat, and the side-wheeler backs off.

“We falls in on the shore and marches through the town, which was as deserted as if no one ever did live there. They was a lot of swell trenches where they ought to been some enemy, but they was no enemy to be seen.

“About a mile outside of town they was a most inspiring sight. A whole brigade of soldiers was camped out, infantry and field guns and everything else—just laying there doing nothing.

“We created some excitement when we marches up, and old General Hill comes a-tearing across the camp with a bunch of staff officers.

“‘Glad to see you, lieutenant,’ he bawls at Fat. ‘Feared you were lost in the storm. Had a terrible time, I guess?’

“‘Awful,’ says Fat, not batting an eye. ‘Where’s the enemy, sir?’

“The old man looked mad in a minute.

“‘You tell us,’ he says. ‘Here I bring a whole brigade to take towns that your troop alone could invest without any trouble. Not a single insurgent or anyone else in sight in any of them. All the natives, peaceful and otherwise, have taken to the hills. I guess they got scared of us, but it’s the most remarkable thing I ever heard of. Men, women, and children—all gone. I was sure I had reliable information that this country was alive with insurgents, but they’ve gone, bag and baggage, leaving only their trenches. We’ve beaten this whole side of the lake and cannot find anyone in the towns. We caught some women who didn’t seem able to keep up with the general scramble, but they’re half crazy with fear. All the interpreters can get out of them is some nonsense about a spirit ship that cruised along-shore last night with a lot of screaming devils on board. They say that’s what caused the people to hide out, but of course that’s silly.’

“‘Well, what do you think of that?’ says Fat to us, after the general had gone.