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This page last viewed: 2017-04-25 and has been viewed 1849 times
By Leia Fee
SUMMARY: Murdock is missing on a mission and all the team can do is wait.
WARNINGS: Bit of cursing and angst.
The fog had descended with
such startling suddenness that several people had stopped what they were doing
and gone outside to stare at it.†
"Some weather isn't
it?" Face swiped a hand through the fog.†
"How high up d'you reckon it goes?"
"High enough that the
choppers are gonna be coming back on
instruments," Ray predicted.† He
swept his gaze across the featureless sky.†
"Jeez, I'm glad I'm on the ground today."
"Well they're not due
back for another half hour yet.† It might
have lifted by then."†
Face was still staring up at
the fog and
"It's not like we won't
hear them when they get back," he pointed out.
Face nodded and turned back
towards the still invisible hooch.
Compared to outside, the
normally dingy structure was a haven of light and warmth and welcome and even
B.A. scowling at them from across the room did nothing to dispel the image.
done getting soaked?"
"Yeah, we're about
"When's that fool supposed to get back?" †
"Murdock went out with
the last flight.† They should be back
pretty soon.† Fog might hold them up a
B.A. snorted.† "He crazy enough to
think this weather's fun.† I seen
him the last time we had weather like this.†
He was talkin' to it!"
Face laughed.† "I remember.† Don't worry B.A.† This time tomorrow we'll be in not-so-sunny
Cam Ranh Bay."
It was a little over half an
hour, but not so much over that anyone had started to worry, when the familiar
sound of rotor blades broke the damp silence.
The fog had thickened to a
penetrating drizzle and the rotorwash from the
descending helicopters whipped it into a spray which drenched anyone standing
People poured out of them
and walked, or limped, across the landing area, many of them supporting or
carrying one another.† The ships' crews
jumped out and began the post-landing checks on the helicopters, scrambling
around and under and on top of them.†
Medics milled about in the chaos, trying to identify those that needed
When most of the crowds had
dispersed and the people coming from the helicopters were reduced to a trickle
of crew and pilots,
"I'm sorry...† Really.† He was right behind me...† And then he wasn't..."
The fog seemed to have
penetrated right to
"I don't know.† I don't know, he was right there."
A taller man came up from
behind and put his hand on the distraught pilot's shoulder.
"Go sleep, Owl."
The smaller man nodded and wandered off still looking dazed. †
"Colonel Smith?† Lieutenant Johnson," the remaining man
introduced himself.† "I was co-pilot
on Owl's ship."
"What happened to
Johnson sighed.† "Honestly, I dunno.† Him and Shay took fire bad at the LZ getting the last of the wounded on board, and a couple of their instruments were out.† They could still fly though so it weren't a problem 'til we hit the weather.† Murdock said it was fine, said he'd just stay real close, keep visual contact."†
Johnson shook his head.† "Fog like that and no instruments... Hell to that--I'd have put down in the nearest spot I could find and taken my chances with the VC on the ground."†
He sighed again.† "But, jeez, you know what Howlin' Mad's like--no ways was
he not going to fly home.† He was singing
'Summer Holiday' over the radio.† Said he
wanted to make sure we knew he was there.†
As if the fact we weren't damn near overlapping blades
weren't enough of a clue.† Anyhow
it seemed fine and we didn't have far to go.†
Then we starting taking fire from the
ground.† God knows they couldn't'a seen us from down there, must have just been
firing blind at the noise.† Didn't last
long, not really, but when we sorted ourselves out again there was no Murdock."
Johnson shrugged helplessly.
"I mean, I don't even know if he got shot down, or just lost in the fog, or what.† We're going to back out an' look soon as this lifts, but I don't--" He didn't finish.† "Look, I got to go sleep if I'm flying again later."† Shoulders slumped, he turned and headed into the camp. †
"This isn't going to
lift before dark,
"Murdock can look after
himself until tomorrow."† He allowed
no doubt to enter his voice.† He would
not allow himself or his team any doubt that they would find him.
suddenly exploded.† "I told
him!† I warned him!† If he made us miss our leave..."
Ray's prediction proved
correct and when full dark fell the camp was still shrouded in the dense
fog.† The team sat quietly in the
bar.† It was better than the dismal
silence in the barracks but not by much.†
The day's action had not gone well and the place was half empty.† Those that were there seemed listless and
morose, staring into their drinks or out at the fog.† A group of pilots, normally the most raucous
group of all, were talking quietly amongst themselves in worried tones.† Someone had a map out on the table and was
sweeping a finger across it, pointing out some detail to the others, who nodded
In deference to his rank
Johnson stood up from where he was leaning across the table.† Several of the other pilots moved to do the same.†
ease."† The group settled back down but still watched
"Sir?" Johnson asked.
"I want to come out
with you tomorrow on the search."
"My men and I have some
leave due and if we choose to take it on a little aerial tour, that shouldn't
be a problem should it?"
"Uh.† No, sir.† I shouldn't
expect so."† Johnson still looked
bemused but not inclined to argue.†
"I'll see you tomorrow
By unspoken agreement they
all headed to bed early, though
"Fog's gone," he
said as he joined them beside the stove.
Nobody had much to say as
they half-heartedly heated up some breakfast and sipped coffee.
It was about half an hour later and just starting to get light when there was a loud banging on the door.†
"Just doing the
pre-flights now," he said instead.†
"If you want to grab something to eat 'fore we go you've probably
The rotor noise sounded
louder than ever in the early morning quiet and nobody bothered to speak as the
helicopter began a zig-zag path overflying
their route of the previous day.†
He looked across at the
others.† Ray sat silent and motionless,
his eyes closed but his body tense.† Face
was leaning forward in his seat, staring out of the open door.† B.A. was stubbornly looking at his feet, refusing
to even glance outside and
At least they'd know, he told himself.† At least they weren't sitting back at the camp wondering if the search party had found anything yet.† Wondering if he and the team were sitting drinking their coffee while others were looking at the burnt out remains of a downed helicopter and a dead crew.
That is enough, he told himself firmly.† You wouldn't let any of the others wallow
like this, so cut it out.
He pressed the intercom
switch on the headset Johnson had found for him.
"How close are we to
where the attack happened?"
on top of it.† If the chopper was hurt bad,
they'd have had to put down near here.†
If they got lost..."
The other pilot joined the
Mad may fly crazy but he's not reckless.†
I reckon if he got separated he'd have looked for somewhere to land and
sit it out.† Probably we'll find them sat
in some clearing fast asleep."
The optimism sound forced
and Johnson clearly didn't share it.
"He might have tried to
get above it.† If--"
Johnson broke off to listen
to a radio transmission, but he didn't really need to finish.† Everyone on board had spent enough time in
the air to know the risks such a move would have presented.† Last flight of the day meant Murdock would
have been low on fuel and with unreliable instruments and no supplementary
oxygen for altitude, any attempt to climb high enough to escape the fog would
most likely have been fatal.
The intercom clicked on
"We got a bearing on
some disturbed vegetation round what looks like a clearing.† Could be a crash site.† We gonna go check
As the helicopter swung
round to change course Hannibal tried to keep himself from running down a list
of possible outcomes, but the expression on the others' faces showed the same
mix of hope and apprehension as he was sure was all over his own.
They flew over the clearing
"Yup, there's our missin' Huey."†
Johnson's voice came over the intercom.††
"No sign of movement though.†
I'm gonna put us down up the other end of the
clearing.† Looks like there's room."
It was all
"We need to do this
carefully," he warned aloud.†
"We're probably not the only ones been looking for our guys."
Quickly and efficiently he
handed out his orders, all concern about being a helpless passenger gone.† He decided the best thing would be for the
Huey crew to stay put in case they needed a quick getaway.
"B.A. cover our right.† Face
and Ray on the left.† I'll look the
chopper over for traps."
Really that was more B.A.'s specialty
but the lack of anyone to greet them had given
He approached slowly.† The helicopter was peppered with holes and
had obviously landed badly.† It sat
listing to one side with the right skid twisted and crumpled beneath it.† All four doors were open and it was obvious
His persistence was rewarded
when he slipped his hand beneath the instrument panel and pulled out a hastily
written note, in Murdock's distinctive large, scrawled handwriting.
Greeting to all would-be
Sorry we had to duck out
early but we had company coming and decided to leave before we had to be rude
and turn down their dinner date.
If you're not
Hugs and kisses from all
"Anything?" Face asked as soon as he was close enough to be heard. †
The ride back to base was
quiet, everyone lost in their own thoughts and not sure whether to be relieved
that Murdock and the others were still alive or depressed by the failure of the
search.† All of them realised
there was no chance at all of finding them while they were on foot, and no one
bothered to suggest they try.
The loss of one helicopter
wasn't nearly enough to disrupt the routine of the base and as none of the
remaining members of the team had to heart to follow up on their leave without
Murdock, they found themselves, for the second day in a row, idling about the
base with nothing in particular to do.
It was noticeable that, in
spite of the apparently normal pace of operations, there was a distinct tension
in the atmosphere.† The contents of
Murdock's note seemed to have circulated round the entire base before the
search teams had even returned and, while no one was incautious enough to
express either hope or doubt about the missing crew's return, there were many
glances cast towards the perimeter.†
Conversations drifted towards discussions of hiking speeds through the
jungle, safe routes between enemy positions, survival tactics.
B.A. tinkered with a jeep
which Face had discovered had somehow 'disappeared' off the inventory a few
weeks ago.† Ray talked half-heartedly
about taking it into the town to get some real food to replace the dull rations
they'd been eating all week.† Face sat in
the back, with his feet dangling over the tail of it, apparently writing a
letter, although at the moment he seemed to be averaging about one word an hour.
The fog had not returned but
the sky was overcast and dusk came early.†
When the light faded too much for Face to write by or B.A. to work by,
they joined him in simply staring out into the fading light.† Ray tried to tune in the jeep's radio but
found only static and abandoned the attempt.
As full dark fell, Face gave
an almost imperceptible shake of his head and turned to go inside.† Hannibal put a hand on his shoulder.
"They're going to make
it back, Lieutenant."† No
doubt.† No hope.† A plain fact.† He wouldn't allow himself to believe anything
Face nodded, but it was a
token gesture.† He didn't believe it.
A moment later B.A. rose too. †
take a walk."
Ray jumped up to join
him.† "Mind if I come along?"
B.A. shrugged and they
Murdock."† Almost a prayer,
whispered to the empty night.† "Come
† He'd been asleep barely an hour.
Well, some battles you
can't win.† He gave a shrug and stood up, reaching for his
Outside the air was
still.† Even the usual nighttime noises
of the base seemed absent.†
"Sir!"† He saluted hastily.† "Sorry, sir."
The sergeant looked at him
oddly but didn't comment other than to say, "Yes, sir."
For no reason he could name,
Slowly the cacophony died
away and in the tense, not-quite silence he could hear the incongruous sound of
"This old man, he
played two..." An odd, lilting tune, almost a nursery
rhyme.† "He played
knick-knack on his shoe..."
Slowly, a smile spread
knick-knack-paddy-whack, give a dog a bone...†
This old man came rolling home..."
"Captain Murdock!† Report!"
The singing stopped abruptly
and was replaced by a laconic drawl.
this is Howlin' Mad out here, and if you can keep
your gunner, and I can keep my co-pilot from getting each other shot then I
think we might do okay."
"Stand down," he
waved at the perimeter guards.†
"Murdock, get yourself back the right side
of the wire, will you?"
silhouette appeared before them, taller this time, and waving vigorously.† Slowly,
others joined it and eventually eight men, two of them leaning heavily on the
others, made their way back inside the perimeter.† They were tired and filthy and staggering
with fatigue, but no one was missing.
Murdock limped to a halt
into front of
By now the noise had woken half the base as well as drawn the attention of those who had not yet made it to bed.† A small crowd was formed and as people slowly realised the cause of the disturbance a racket of cynical, but relieved, catcalls and cheers broke out.
Again, pilot rumour proved to be the fastest thing on base and Johnson
and the others appeared from nowhere and were soon laughing and slapping the
returned men on the shoulders.† "You
broke another chopper H. M.?† Jay-zus, what is it with you?†
You on commission from
Swaying from the
enthusiastic physical greetings, Murdock returned a dizzy grin.† "Sure, you should sign up.† You'd have made a million by now."
Johnson's response was
drowned out by a bellow from somewhere near the back of the crowd.
"Git out the way!"
his way through the throng, people jumping to left and right to avoid him.
"You made me miss my
Murdock spun, wide eyed as B.A.
grabbed him in a rough bear hug that left the already dazed pilot staggering.
"Now Faceman's gonna have to scam us twice as long next time!"† He turned back to where Face and Ray were hurrying along behind him.† "Right?"
Face dodged around him and
slung an arm across Murdock's shoulders.†
He grinned broadly.† "Right.† No
problem.† I mean this poor war-weary
crew's gotta deserve a break with their good pals,
Ray laughed, reaching out to
grasp Murdock's arm.† "Good to have
you back.† Told you the weather wasn't
going to hold, didn't I?"
grinned.† "Guess next time I'll take
my foghorn along."
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