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The Waiting Game

The Waiting Game

Author SnowFlake December 2002

Rating: PG-13

Summary: A vignette -- a few moments in time for the boys in Vietnam.

Disclaimer: None of these characters belong to me no matter how much I wish they did. I only borrow them. I have made no financial profits off this story and if you want to sue, all you'll get is the lint in my pocket.

Warnings: A few bad words.

Feedback: Yes, please.

 

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

 

So here's the deal, Hannibal had said in the sticky heat of the tactics tent the previous evening. We're going down the valley, at first light tomorrow. He'd tapped his finger lightly against a spot on the map of central Vietnam that covered most of the wall. The spot he'd indicated had been full of different colored pins.

 

Despite the door flaps having been tied wide open into the Vietnamese night, the muggy air in the tent hadn't moved much, and Murdock had felt the sweat running down his back. From the looks of it, everyone else in the briefing was suffering as well.

 

Face had been sitting on the edge of the desk, silently listening to Hannibal outline the operation. When he'd seen the location of their insertion, he'd narrowed his eyes and taken the cigarette from his lips. But before the objections had made it out of his mouth, he must have thought better of it, because he'd remained silent.

 

The orders were to find and destroy the fuel depots that intelligence had reported were hidden along the trail. Piece of cake, Hannibal had grinned. Face had rolled his eyes discretely at Murdock as he'd crushed the cigarette under his boot.

 

That morning the Hannibal had been the last one out from the slick, landing on his knees on the muddy ground, holding the M-16 clear off the ground with one hand. The rest of the men had been moving towards the relative safety of the jungle vegetation when Murdock saw the thumbs up from him, and he'd been out of there. Pulling up, gaining altitude as fast as possible.

 

His day had been filled with menial supply drops and an aborted troop insertion. That LZ had been hotter than hell. Good thing one of the NVA bastards was impatient and started firing too early. Had Murdock been on the ground, they'd have been dead meat for sure.

 

It had been a day like any other.

 

Then the call had come, and they were going back. The countryside had been sailing past deceptively slow below him, green and brown and deadly. He spotted the smoking remains of three blown bridges on his way. Someone had been busy down there.

 

The pick-up was a few klicks northwest of the insertion point, and the Huey had banked slightly as he made the final course adjustment. The thick, black smoke that billowed up from four places along the river had told him the intel had been correct this time. Only question now was, how successful had the operation been?

 

Success out here wasn't based on the enemy body count, or how much ground you gained, or the number of depots blown up. The only thing that mattered in Murdock's mind was how many of the guys he'd brought out there made it back alive.

 

The clearing seemed ridiculously small for two slicks as they swooped in. The rotor wash tore the leaves off the nearest trees, making them whirl around the two helicopters like discolored snow. He forced himself to slow his breathing as the sun-scorched grass was flattened to the dry ground when the slick touched down gently.

 

All there was to do now was wait.

 

They didn't power down, had to be ready to move as soon as the guys showed up, or at the first sign of trouble. Whichever came first. He went through the motions, checked the systems, just to keep his mind occupied.

 

Once upon a time, he'd been good at waiting. Not any longer. He hated waiting. Hated it with a goddamn passion. He hated it more than the inedible glop that was supposed to be C-rat turkey stew, more than the dreams that woke him every night now, hell, even more than that bastard staff-sergeant in the mail room who held his Superman comics hostage. He simply didn't like waiting. He checked the systems again. Being stuck on the ground, waiting, even in his slick, was worse than anything else.

 

Anything else.

 

He could take sidling into matchbox-sized LZs, slicing through bushes and branches as he went. No big deal. Did that every day. Could take the overloaded slick threatening to fall out of the sky when he pulled up a bit too steeply. He could even take the tick-tick-tick of bullets piercing the old girl.

 

But the waiting. Nope. Uh-huh. Made him feel like he was about to lose his foothold in reality, like his fingers wanted to grab onto something (someone) and hold on for dear life. The mental equivalent of aquaplaning was a hell of a lot more frightening than the regular kind.

 

He glanced back at Henderson. The gunner's knuckles were white around the handle of the machine gun, his index finger softly stroking the edge of the trigger. Murdock couldn't see his eyes, but he knew they were racing back and forth along the tree-line. Just the other week a gunner down south had opened fire on a squad that was moving up on the slick that was going to carry them back to base. Three dead. Four, if you counted the gunner who'd blown his brains out two days later.

 

One of the kids who flew left seat with him to log hours had once asked Murdock how the hell he did it; how he managed to stay so cool, how he managed to shrug it all off when he got back to base. Murdock had grinned. You'll get the hang of it, kiddo, he'd answered. You learn.

 

Yeah, you learned.

 

You learned pretty quickly not to look too closely at the guys climbing in; you fix your eyes somewhere just to the side of them, or far behind them. Watching them, but not seeing them, get in. They're loud and wild and cocky and confident. And scared to death. You drop them off, and then they're gone, and youíre gone, and itís every man for himself.

 

You do your job, you fly, and you stay put. Don't think about it. Even when you see the tracers burn through the air, straight at you; your name written on each and every one of them. Even when your brain screams at you to get the fuck out of there, you stay put. Because you have to. Because you're the only lifeline the guys have.

 

And you don't turn around, you don't look when they're loading in the dead and the wounded, 'cause it might just be someone you know. Or knew. You keep your eyes on the tree-line, looking for muzzle flames. Hands and feet ready to pull her up and out on a seconds notice. You just fly.

 

But sometimes your eyes betray you, and you forget all that. You just forget to look away.

 

The tree-line outside the Huey was suddenly moving. Murdock saw the gunner's hands jerk the M-60 away from the approaching men.

 

He spotted Hannibal's cropped, white-blonde hair in the group of moving soldiers, crouching down behind the cover of a slender tree, methodically laying cover-fire into the thick underbrush behind them. Murdock couldn't see any muzzle flashes from the invisible pursuers, but that didn't mean anything in this dense vegetation.

 

Face made his way past Hannibal towards the slick. About twenty steps later, he turned back and crouched down on one knee. The ejected shell casings from the M-16 rained down next to his boots as he fired into the trees on full-automatic, allowing Hannibal and the rest of the squad to advance towards the waiting Huey. The men scrambled madly to reach the cargo bay. In one smooth, economic motion Face allowed the empty clip to drop into the grass next to the shells, and fitted a new one.

 

C'mon, Face!

 

Murdock could hear Henderson fire the M-60 in the back, heavy staccato bursts, trying to provide some kind of cover for Face as he made his way to safety. Hannibal shouted something over his shoulder. Face fired a last round, and then he too was moving. Finally.

 

From the of the corner of his eye Murdock saw the other slick take off, fully loaded, its nose down in a dangerous angle trying to pick up speed. One second short of disaster the pilot managed to gain enough altitude and made it over the tree tops at the far end of the clearing.

 

Thirty feet. C'mon move!

 

The Plexiglas windshield fractured as a jagged bullet hole suddenly appeared at the top of it, Murdock flinched as sparks flew from the electronics panel above his head. Several angry red lights came on in front of him and colorful curses rang out loudly from the co-pilot's seat as the smell of burned plastic and oil filled the cockpit.

 

Twenty feet. Move it, Faceman!

 

The dry ground around the slick was whipped into a haze by bullets, but Murdock ignored it, his full attention was on Face jumping some unseen obstacle. In the back of his mind Murdock registered the radio communication. It was going crazy with reported hits and yells to get the fuck out of there.

 

Fifteen feet. Please, God, please.

 

But God must have been busy elsewhere, because Face's rifle went flying from his hand, disappearing somewhere under the belly of the Huey, as the bullet knocked him to his hands and knees.

 

The blur of the rotors against the blue sky above Murdock suddenly separated into individual blades, slicing leisurely through the humid air, the frantic voices on the radio lowered and slowed, until the meaning of the words was lost on him.

 

Murdock could see Face's gasp, his fingers trying to dig into the dirt, as if looking for something to hold on to. The taped-together dog tags danced in wild slow-motion around his neck in the rotor wash. Through the glass of the windshield (so close, so damn close) a pair of blue, frightened eyes met Murdock's.

 

Sometimes you forget every single thing you've learned and you just keep looking.

 

Face's eyes remained locked with Murdock's even as B.A. hauled his teammate towards the back of the slick. Then the two disappeared out of Murdock's sight, and time suddenly stopped acting crazy. The sound of the machine gun was heard over the engine and the alarms that were going off all over the cockpit. (Afterwards Murdock couldn't remember seeing anything but B.A.'s bulging arms pulling Face up by the front of his flak jacket. He must have been there, all 200 pounds of him, but Murdock couldn't remember it. Only his arms).

 

He dared a quick glance in the back to make sure Face and B.A. were safely inside (Hannibal was already getting Face out of the flak jacket, but was roughly pushed to the side by the medic) before he forced the slick to move. She shuddered and howled in pained protest over his rough treatment as he gave everything he had to get out of there as soon as he possibly could.

 

He fucking hated waiting.

 

 

~ The End ~

 

 

(all I can say is: let's hear it for Kevlar-lined flack jackets!)


The Waiting Game by SnowFlake

 

 


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