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This page last viewed: 2017-08-15 and has been viewed 4041 times
Rating: PG13 (Only a few swear words)
Summary: A mission in Viet Nam
Any comments welcome
No infringement on copyrights intended.
Delta Base, Viet Nam
21st May, 1970
"We gotta problem, Col." Sgt. Boscoe Baracus burst into the office without knocking. It was a standard Army issue Quonset hut office. Two small windows for light, six Army green file cabinets, the desk, the lamp and three chairs were all that had been issued. The framed photos on the walls belonged to the man behind the desk. Col. John Smith had been reading reports and did not seem upset at the interruption.
"What's up, BA?"
Sgt. Baracus, BA to his comrades, handed the Col. a communiqué. After reading it, the Col. leaned back in his chair and pulled a cigar out of his desk drawer.
"I want a four man team. It'll need to be volunteers, this is not going to be an official mission." Smith drummed the fingers of his left hand on the desktop.
"I'll go." BA growled.
"We'll have to do it quick. In and out as fast as possible."
"Face'll want to go." BA continued.
"Ask him, don't tell him, understand?"
"I'll ask him, but he'll want to go."
Hannibal continued to drum his fingers. "We'll leave at first light."
"Yes sir." BA didn't salute. BA rarely saluted, he just turned on his heal and stormed out.
"Face!" He bellowed across the compound. Heads came up and stared after the big black Sargent.
"Where's Face?" BA growled at a corporal.
"In there. What's up?"
"Nothin' but trouble." BA muttered.
BA found Face on the phone in the communications shed. "I need to talk to you." It was said in a half whisper.
Lt. Templeton Peck, "Face", nodded and held up one hand. "That's right. Three cases of Scotch."
"Face!" BA said louder this time. Again, Face raised his hand, palm out, in the universal sign to stop.
"No, three, as in one, two, three. That's my final offer."
BA was rubbing a fist into the palm of his other hand. "This is important, hang up." He growled.
"What?" Face said into the phone, putting one hand over his free ear and hunching his shoulders as if that would make a better connection over the staticy line.
"Face!" BA muttered in his best intimidating voice.
"Done!" I'll expect you no later then Wednesday." There was a pause and then, "Okay, great. Bye." Face hung up the phone and had to glare up at the Sargent towering menacingly over him. "Gee, BA, if you hadn't rushed me I could have gotten him down another case."
"We got more important things then one of your scams."
Face tried to look as though his feelings were hurt. "What could possibly be more important?"
"Murdock's bird went down. 3 confirmed dead, 3 captured." Face went ashen and was glad he was still sitting, his stomach was twisting into a knot. "Col.'s arranging a rescue."
"I want in." Face stated.
"I told him you would. 5 men, we leave at dawn."
Face stood up so suddenly that BA had to take a step backward. Face pushed past him toward the door. "I'll get everything ready."
The team was ready an hour before dawn.
John "Hannibal" Smith stood right at 6 feet tall. His light brown hair was going silver early. His vibrant blue eyes missed nothing. Now they looked over the team assembled before him.
Lt. Templeton Peck, Sargent BA Baracus, and Privates Jimmy Douglas and Danny Curtis waited in different degrees of anxiousness. Fingers tapped, weapons checked, shoulders rolled; all showing that each man was ready to move. There had been many more volunteers then was needed, so BA chose the other two men's name from a hat. Ray Brenner stood in the background. He wanted to go, too, but he was left here to field calls from HQ.
"All right," Hannibal started "we do this quick and quiet. Anybody want to back out, now's the time." Hannibal studied each man. They all watched him back, expectantly.
"Good." Hannibal said. BA didn't wait for any orders, he just went to start the jeep. The other three piled in the back, Hannibal up front with BA clamped a cigar between his teeth.Less then an hour later they met a navy patrol boat at the edge of the river. Each man found a place to relax as they went up river. It was only 0600 but it was already muggy and would be a hot day. They needed to save their energy for what may lay ahead. The morning was spent getting to the crash site. As the day progressed the men migrated across the deck of the patrol boat to sit in any patches of shade they could find. Hannibal was in the wheelhouse with the navy pilot staring up river with an unlit cigar firmly between his teeth.
Just before noon they pulled up to see half of the helicopter was submerged in the murky depths of the slow moving river. The pilot had fallen short of land by less then 5 feet. "We came up river as fast as we could." The Lt. of the patrol boat was saying. "But Charlie got here first. We got here just in time to see them head three of our guys into the jungle."
"Didn't you go after them?" BA questioned.
"We tried, but we were already too far behind. I don't know what it is you guys expect to find. They're long gone."
"Did you see our guys?" Hannibal asked.
"Only a glimpse. Two tall guys. One had a jacket with a big cat on the back, and a short guy that was really fair, you know, tow-head."
Hannibal tried not to let his relief show. Murdock was okay, the other was maybe Noah Simms. Murdock had been flying 3 guys from Bravo Company back to DaNang and Hannibal didn't know them very well. "Where'd they go into the jungle?" He asked, lighting his cigar.
The pilot maneuvered his boat close to shore. "Right there." He pointed to a place where the jungle foliage had been hacked away to form a faint trail.
"Face." But before Hannibal could even speak Lt. Peck was over the side of the boat, slogging threw the waist deep water and made his way up to the trail. Jimmy and Danny right on his heels. "I'll need you guys here when we get back." Hannibal said to the navy Lt.
This young Lt. felt bad that they had not been able to stop the capture of the 3 Army men. "We can come by twice a day, 0700 and 1900. If we're a little late, don't panic, this isn't a bus route. If we're not here in 20 minutes, wait till the next pick up time."
Hannibal looked at his watch. "Give us 3 days before you start. If we're not back with in 10 days, you can stop looking for us." Hannibal puffed on his cigar. "But don't worry, we'll be back."
"Man," BA grumbled to himself. "He's on the Jazz."
The trail was faint, but that didn't stop Face. He may have been raised in the city, but Hannibal was certain he was part bloodhound. His blue eyes were constantly moving back and forth, looking for the out of place, the unusual. He spotted damaged branches, crushed leaves, and places where the trail had been widened to allow someone to pass. He led on steadily.
Jimmy stayed right behind him, so close he would sometimes brush up against Face. Face was looking up the trail. It was Jimmy's job to watch their feet. Making sure Face didn't trip over half buried rocks, or bang into low hanging limbs, or miss a booby trap. Not that Face ever did. He pointed out the few that they had encountered at the start of the trail, and Jimmy passed the word back. BA disabled them and the group moved forward.
Being always on the hunt, wary for dangers, using total concentration was exhausting work. Hannibal forced Face to stop as it neared dark. Hannibal saw that Face wanted to go on. "Come on Kid, you're good, but even you can't track in the dark, and we don't want to miss anything and have to back track." Face nodded. The realization that they were truly stopping allowed the fatigue to seep into his bones. He just sat where he was on the trail. Danny and Jimmy made dinner from the rations, and one of them brought a plate to Face. He accepted it without comment, ate in silence, and then rolled onto his side to sleep.
Hannibal watched him for a moment, his thoughts interrupted by BA. "You got a plan Col.?"
"Yeah, rescue the guys and run like hell."
BA stated at Hannibal for a moment. "Great plan."
"It's just the start of a plan, BA. We'll get those boys back."
"I know we will." BA said with such conviction, that even Hannibal believed him. "I'll set the perimeter guard, maybe you oughta get him out of the trail." BA pointed to Face.
"Nah, leave him. He's as good there as anywhere and I don't want to wake him."
On the trial, somewhere north of Delta Base
At first light the team was already assembled and ready to go. Hannibal made sure everyone ate, always aware that you never knew when you might get your next meal. They took their same positions on the trail. Face out front, Jimmy hot on his heals, then Hannibal, Danny and BA bringing up the rear. The trail was wider here; indicating it was more traveled. The enemy was heading somewhere; the question was, how far away.
Face could move more quickly now, too. It seemed unlikely that the enemy knew they were being followed. They had only set the booby traps at the front of the trail to slow down the navy boys. Now they were on the move, Face just keeping an eye out to insure that they didn't leave the trail or take a different route.
Face kept turning his head as if trying to determine what a distant item on the trail was. Jimmy Douglas recognized the movement. It meant that there was something out of place, but not necessarily human. This was were he started to look for booby traps. What neither of them expected to find was a body. Face almost stumbled over it, and would have if Jimmy hadn't grabbed his arm and jerked him back. In Face's mind, the object on the trail was not a threat, or a clue, so he kept his gaze to the far horizon.
But when Jimmy grabbed his arm, he was forced to look at the object at his feet.
"Oh my÷" His voice drifted off.
Jimmy put his hand up in a fist to get the guys on the back trail to halt. Then he knelt down and touched the body. It was still warm. He rolled it over and saw the face, eyes closed. Face looked away, back up the trail. Jimmy moved up a little to put his fingers under the throat, to find a pulse. There was none.
Hannibal moved up to where Jimmy and Face had stopped. He looked
down at the body.
"Know him?" He asked.
Jimmy reached inside the shirt to find the dog tags. "Mike Hastings, Bravo Company." Face said in a soft voice. Jimmy was reading the tags and nodded his head.
Hannibal held out his hand, and Jimmy put the dog tag in it. You took one, left the other with the body for identification. Danny and BA had moved up the trail. Now they all stood around the body.
"We should do something." BA said.
"We don't have time." Hannibal said just as softly.
"We can't just leave him here." BA growled.
"We have to." Hannibal said with regret in his voice.
They stared down at the dead soldier for just another moment. "BA, move him off the trail, cover him up, but so we can get him later, after we rescue the other two, we'll bring him out with us."
BA nodded and slapped Danny Curtis on the arm lightly to help him. Out of the corner of his eye, Hannibal watched Face. Face crossed himself, his lips moving in silent prayer and then he reached down and touched the body.
"Let's move out." Hannibal finally said, taking a step forward, causing the Jimmy to move, which in turn caused Face to move.
"There not far ahead of us, Col." Face said. "Mike must have been slowing Žem down."
"Then let's catch up, Lt."
"Yes, sir." The pace Face set was really amazing. It was a half jog that kept them all puffing slightly. At about an hour before dark, Hannibal called a halt. They were all tired.
"But, Col.÷." Face started.
"That's it, Face, were done for today."
Jimmy and Danny were sitting in the dirt, resting, and heads down, breathing hard. BA was leaning against a tree; he was tired, too. He dropped his pack the minute they stopped.
"We still have light for at least an hour." Face was pacing, living on adrenaline.
"No, Face, stand down." Hannibal was fishing in his pockets, looking for a cigar.
"We have to get to them, Col." Face kept on, his tone was worried.
Hannibal took a deep breath to keep from snapping at his second in command. Face was concerned for his friend, but Hannibal was concerned not just for Murdock and the other man, but for the team. They couldn't fight the enemy if they were exhausted.
"We'll get them, Face." Hannibal said softly. He reached out his hand and gently laid it on the younger man's shoulder. "We'll get them tomorrow. We're close, right?"
Face nodded. His body was coming down off its endorphin high. His muscles were fatigued; he was hungry, thirsty, and emotionally drained. Hannibal could feel the shoulder under his hand tremble. Face was close to exhaustion.
"We'll camp here for the night. BA, Danny you're on first watch, Jimmy make us something to eat. Face, sit down, before you fall down."
Face dropped his chin to his chest. His head didn't want to stop; not while they still had light, but his body didn't want to go on. Finally Face surrendered to the inner war. He dropped his pack and sat on the ground, leaning his back against a tree. He tried not to sigh as he took the weight off his tired legs.
Hannibal reminded himself not to let Face set the pace on the way back. Or any other time again, he thought with a chuckle. I'm not 20 years old anymore.
That night as they rested Hannibal let his thoughts wander. He thought about this young Lt. of his. Face was a study in contradictions. He had a baby-faced innocent look and a heart that was full of larceny. But even the larceny was tempered with fun and compassion. He'd sell you swampland in Arizona, give half the money to charity, and make you laugh about it when you found out you'd been had.
He was an orphan without a family, but wouldn't let the men around him become his family. He was outgoing and personable, but cold and calculating at the same time. Hannibal knew little about his past, Face wasn't one to open up easily, but he knew somewhere, under that tough guy exterior was a nice guy. A good man with a good heart. When Face had first joined the team, Hannibal had begun to doubt if he'd ever see the good side of Face.
Face had been an angry young man. He would lie and steal and never look back. His record in the army was not a bright spot in the military annals. It almost seemed like Face had a death wish, and Lt. Peck spent quite a bit of time either in the brig or on report for every infraction under the sun both minor and major. But Hannibal had liked him from the moment he met him in that tennis club that Face had gotten a group of bored Seabee's to build.
Slowly, Hannibal had put those conman skills to good use. Redirected the energy to constructive purposes, and Face had mellowed a little.
The final touches had not come from Hannibal though. They came, by what if Hannibal was honest, was a lucky accident. Hannibal, however claimed it was all part of his plan.
The final touches that made Face fun to be around, came on the day that Hannibal got mad.
There had been quite a few internal squabbles going on. Too much testosterone in one place without enough of an outlet, as if a war wasn't enough. But his six pilots were not helping the matters any. They had taken on a superior attitude. As though, being a pilot made them better then anyone else. And that didn't sit well with guys that were dumped in jungle and left to fight their way out by guys that got to come back to base and sleep in clean sheets every night.
When Hannibal discovered this little power play going on, he made a command decision. The pilots were no longer to have their own housing. Officer's quarters were rearranged and each pilot was assigned into a different barracks. In with, gasp, the lieutenants. To the pilots, this was a fate worse then death. Then to make matters worse, he assigned each of them to follow a Lt. around. Do what they did, help out, when they weren't in the air, they were symbolically handcuffed to their assigned Lt.
And Face had been assigned HM Murdock. Murdock was they best pilot around. Not just the territory, but the whole country, maybe in the entire Army. If it had wings, Murdock could fly it. If it had an engine, he'd try to give it wings and fly it. In the sky he was a genius, on the ground he was a mess. He drank, he fought, he gambled, and he whored, anything to pass the time. So being assigned to this new kid with a fresh face and catholic upbringing was the worse thing that could happed to Murdock. And to Face. The two of them hated each other.
Then, low and behold, they found they had a lot in common. They even learned to like each other. Soon, they were running scams together, playing off each other's strengths. Murdock brought out a more intellectual side of Face. Face had an amazing calming influence on Murdock. The ŽTerrors of DaNang' had just become Žbad boys', mellower and calmer. Going out and getting drunk became having a few beers. When they fought, they fought together, back to back. They didn't gamble, they ran scams. And they didn't whore; they chased girls, like a couple of teenagers. Together they were a couple of boys playing at war. Separately, they were deadly, angry men.
It wasn't a side of them that Hannibal liked to look at. Hannibal knew that Face was pushing himself for one reason. Face had lost his best friend. Maybe his only real friend.
They ate and slept and kept watch threw the night. Face insisted they were close, so they knew the enemy was near. They question was how close. By Hannibal estimation they could only have been a few hours behind when they found Hastings. But the enemy knew where it was going, knew if the trail was booby trapped, and knew the destination.
What the enemy didn't know was that Smith's team was hot on their trail. Close enough that Hannibal worried. He kept the camp quiet. There was no telling where the enemy had camped for the night.
Somewhere on the trail.
"We were close last night, Col." Face said as he came across the remains of the enemy encampment in the late morning the next day.
"How far behind?"
"Three hours, probably less." Face's eyes wondered up trail. "The prisoners have slowed them down."
This was true. Murdock and Simms would do what they could, without getting in trouble, to slow their captors down. "Then let's move out, gentlemen."
BA came up behind Hannibal as Face took point. "Got a plan, yet?"
Hannibal grinned as he readjusted the pack on his shoulders. "Same as before, BA. Hit and run. When it changes, I'll let you know."
"Man," was all BA could grumble. They both knew there could be no formal plan until they knew where Murdock and Simms were.
It was in truth only two hours before they caught up with Murdock, Simms, and the 5 Viet Cong men holding them prisoner. Now they had to move very quietly down the trail, but as they approached a clearing there was a small prison camp.
Hannibal had the team wait in the jungle and scouted the area himself. He checked the layout of the grounds, the buildings, and the number of men. There were at least 20 VC and maybe 6 or 8 prisoners. This would not be easy. And then it started to rain. "Great." Hannibal muttered.
"Okay." Hannibal said as he crouched with his team around him. "The rain is good and bad. It'll drive most of them inside, that's good. It makes it harder for us to get around, that's bad. It will also make it harder for them to get around, that's good. The guys inside may not know where coming until we're almost on top of them, that's bad, but then neither will Charlie, and that's good."
The team nodded their heads at all the appropriate times, but the general feeling in the air, was Žget on with it'.
"Face, I want you, and that nifty little sniper rifle of yours, up a tree. And when we charge the place, shoot anything that ain't us."
"Or our guys being held." BA growled. Face just gave him a blank stare that said Žas if you needed to tell me that.'
"BA you go left, Jimmy go with him, and then go around to the back. Danny you'll go right. I'm going straight in."
"Do you think that's the best way, Col.?" Face asked.
"Yeah, you'll be giving me all the cover I need. BA you're headed here." Hannibal pointed to a map made of stones in the mud at there feet. "I think all of the prisoners are being kept there. Danny, you'll sweep these buildings, Jimmy these. Stay away from these two." He pointed out the barracks and the mess tent. "I counted 6 prisoners, but there may be more. I didn't see Murdock or Simms, so be on the lookout for them. It's almost dark, we'll go in, make the hit, and head back here. BA's going to booby trap this area so use care coming threw here. If we get separated we'll meet up again where we left Hastings. Danny you and Jimmy will be in charge of the prisoners. Get them down this trail as far as you can before dark. As soon as it's dark, stop and hide just off the trail, got me?"
"Yes sir." They said in unison.
"This is nuts." Face muttered. "We're outnumbered four to one."
"Yeah, I know." Hannibal said with a grin. "Doesn't seem fair to them, but÷"
"He's on the Jazz." BA muttered.
"Don't worry, Face. With you in a tree with that fancy gun, and surprise on our side, we'll do fine." Hannibal turned his attention to the rest of the team. "Keep on your toes, boys, this will be exciting." He looked down at his watch. "Okay, fan out. We go in 20 minutes, and keep quiet."
The other four members of the team nodded and headed out to take their places. As Face started away he felt Hannibal's hand on his arm. He looked up into the older man's vivid blue eyes. "You take care, Lt., once they figure out where you are, they'll be gunning for you."
"I know, I'll be okay." He gave a small half smile and then looked away. "You just find Murdock, he's not up for a stay away from home, he like's his clean bed too much."
Hannibal nodded, they both knew that Murdock had been on the edge too long, and it wasn't the lack of clean sheets that would push Murdock over.
Face disappeared into the jungle and Hannibal again looked at his watch. 15 minutes.
Face found a sturdy tree and after slinging his rifle to his back he quickly climbed up it. Briefly he wondered what kind of tree it was, then laughed to himself, as if it made a difference. He reached to a higher branch to pull himself up, startling some furry mammal and almost giving himself a heart attack. The creature scurried off with a chattering rebuke and Face took three deep breaths to calm down.
The branch he was on was wide enough to lay on. His legs braced against the truck of the tree, he made himself comfortable. He pushed up the sight on the rifle, and looked threw the scope. Slowly he viewed the compound before him. At one point he put down the rifle and reached out to snap off a twig, whose leaves were blocking his view. He picked up the rifle again, and slowly made a pass from one end of the compound to another. He focused on each door and window. He wiggled once more to insure his position was secure and glanced at this watch. 10 minutes.
BA took a deep breath. From here he could see both Jimmy and Danny. Hannibal was just out of his view around a small hill, and Face would be invisible in the trees. Now was not the time to worry about them, he needed to worry about the job at hand. He could see the compound before him. He looked at the ground cover between himself and the first building. Last thing you wanted to do in a mission like this was to trip on your own feet and fall on your face. He took a deep breath and wiped the sweat off his brow onto his shirtsleeve. He planned to go in yelling. As a psychological advantage he knew that the opponent was often unnerved by seeing 5'10, 300 pounds of muscle-bound black man come charging straight at you. He grinned at that. Good. He looked at his watch. 5 minutes.
Suddenly an angry VC officer came out of one of the buildings. Before him he shoved a man to the ground. Murdock, his hands bound before him had to put his arms out to keep from falling face first into the mud. The man was shouting. He pulled a gun and held it to Murdock's head. "All of you come out." He shouted again.
A guard ran out and pulled open the door to a small building. He waived a gun inside and slowly 8 men came out and made a line in the rain.
"You will watch. I am going to kill this man. He is a pilot.
He spy's for your government. Do not think you can stop me.
All of you will watch this." The VC officer was shouting, but as
he yelled he waived the gun, pointing it at each of the men in line.
Now, he brought the gun back in line with Murdock's neck. He pulled Murdock up until he was kneeling before the man. On his knees Murdock was almost as tall as the VC officer who was standing behind him was. "You will die now." The man said with venom in his voice.
Murdock thought briefly if it would be better to close his eyes or leave them open. He didn't want to miss anything in the last few moments of his life. He flinched when he heard the gun cocked. ŽIt is funny the things that pass threw your mind at a time like this,' he thought, Žmaybe I should pray or something.' But at that moment he couldn't even think of how to pray. He just looked at his hands, and the rope that bound them and the mud beyond them and thought that soon his blood and the mud and the rain would all be mixed up together.
BANG! Murdock fell into the mud.
Hannibal watched with horror as he saw Murdock fall face first into the mud. His stomach lurched and he ran forward with a primal yell. He happened to glance at his watch. Dammit. One minute early.
The other three didn't wait either. Hannibal's yell was matched by a scream of "NO!" from BA's position. BA charged forward with his AR15 blazing. He needed to be careful not to crossfire into Danny, or swing too wide and hit Hannibal or Jimmy or the prisoners. But he had seen Murdock go down. Vengeance was an emotion that BA understood very well. Hell hath no fury like BA Baracus.
The smile that crossed the lips of the blonde man in the tree was not a pretty one. His eyes were cold and his face hard, as he looked thew the scope of his rifle and slowly squeezed the trigger a second time. The guard closest to the prisoners fell into the mud beside the VC officer.
Murdock had to turn his face to keep from breathing in the mud. ŽHey!' he thought. Then he said it. "Hey! I'm breathing." He rolled onto one side, and marveled that he was still aware of what was going on. "Is this what it's like to be dead?" he said. "No, this is what it's like to be rescued." A big grin split his face. He stayed flat to the ground and listened to the sound of gunfire. At that moment he'd never heard anything so beautiful.
The prisoners didn't know what was going on until their guard hit the
ground. A voice came from the pilot they thought had been shot.
"Get down!" he yelled in their direction.
Well trained military men that they were, they were belly down in the mud in seconds. Bullet's whizzed around them as VC came from out of the other buildings.
Hannibal and BA reached Murdock at almost the same instant. He was lying on his back now, trying to wiggle his hands free of the bindings.
"You ain't dead?" BA asked with astonishment in his voice.
"Nope." Murdock grinned holding his hands up to be untied. Bullets came toward them, but suddenly the ones coming closest to them stopped and a strangled cry was heard from the mess tent.
Hannibal looked down at the VC officer, still holding the revolver in his hand. A neat hole in his left temple. Face and his fancy rifle had been very efficient.
Hannibal and BA hauled Murdock to his feet. "We'll untie you later, Captain. Move out."
Jimmy and Danny were coming up quick. Hustling the prisoners along before them. Single, quiet pops were heard and one by one the firing in their direction stopped completely. The three men and the 9 freed prisoners headed out to the jungle.
Hannibal took a quick look around and then entered the officer's barracks, a quick sweep there and then into the communications shed. He gathered up papers and logs as he went, shoving them into his shirt.
Face carefully looked down the site of his rifle. The VC officer was down, then the guard by the prisoners. Then the one in the mess tent. He saw Hannibal move toward the barracks, and gave an inward groan. "Get out of there." Face said under his breath. He swung the rifle up and took out the man coming from the office where the Officer had come from, watching as Hannibal went in. When Hannibal moved to the communications shed, Face followed him his gun. Hannibal never even seemed to notice the man coming from his left, from the barracks. Face noticed, taking him down with a single shot. Hannibal had to step over the body when he left. Then Face swung the gun back the way he had come and took out the one by the kitchen. Then the one coming across the compound. He and his rifle were smooth and calm. Not like the wide-angle spray of the AK15 that BA and the others used. His was one shot, right were he wanted it.
His mind flashed on a poem. ŽWhere are all the good men dead, in the heart or in the head?' He would have chuckled, but it would have ruined up his aim. ŽWith my aim,' he thought, Žit's where ever I want it to be.' He was vaguely aware of Hannibal heading for the jungle. His careful sighting down the scope, however, did not let him see the 3 men coming up on his right from beyond the encampment perimeter. If one of them hadn't thrown a shot up at him, he wouldn't have known they were rushing toward him.
Face slung his rifle over his shoulder, shimmied down the tree. His pack was left behind as he took off into the jungle.
They didn't stand and regroup in the jungle clearing where they had made the plan less then half an hour ago. BA stood watch and pointed out the booby traps he'd laid and then took up rear guard. Jimmy Douglas took point and with the 9 men in the middle, they headed as far down the trail as they could get in the half-hour before dark.
As they stopped for the night, Hannibal took a moment to meet each man. He looked them over, asked if they were okay. The men were from many different units, two were Australian infantry, and this energetic commander who had just rescued them impressed each of them. They each felt the interest being paid them, and were grateful. What most didn't realize, except Murdock and Simms, was that Hannibal was assessing each man.
Hannibal was doing more then boosting morale. He was looking for wounds, fatigue, malnutrition, anything that would slow them down on the trail. They could only go as fast as the weakest man could, and Hannibal was attempting to discover that weakness, now. Murdock's face showed signs of bruises, his wrists chaffed and bleeding from the bindings, but he seemed reasonably undamaged. "You okay, Captain?"
"Yeah, he didn't interrogate me long. Once he discovered I was the pilot I think he wanted to use me as an example to the others." Murdock swallowed realizing just how close to death he had come.
A strong hand gripped his shoulder and Hannibal's blue eyes gazed into worried brown ones. "You did good Captain. You and Simms kept your heads, and kept yourselves as safe as you could."
"We weren't expecting to be rescued quiet so quick, Col."
"We'll you know me, never put off until tomorrow."
"Thanks for coming so fast."
Hannibal gave a chuckle, his quad and calf muscles were still tight from their long, fast pace. "My pleasure. Rest up Captain, we still have a long way back."
Danny and Jimmy divided up the rations and passed them out. Hannibal let the chatter of the excited men go on for just a few minutes before ordering a quiet camp. The VC would be looking for them, no sense bringing trouble to the front door. BA and Danny took up the first watch, paying special attention to their back trail.
"Keep an eye out for Face." Hannibal said softly as they passed by him.
"Face?" Murdock asked softly as he moved over to sit next to his commander.
Hannibal looked down at the pilot. The big eyes and soft smile made him look younger then his years. Murdock had been in Viet Nam for too long. He'd come over early, as Hannibal had, had flown some missions for the "Company", and had seen too much. As the stress started to mount Murdock had developed some strange personality quirks. At first it was the usual, drinking and fighting, that most of the men succumbed to out here. Later, when Murdock started talking in different voices and pretending he was different people, most of them thought it was a joke. When he started to talk to bugs and his socks, many of them started to give him a wide berth. No one quite knew how much was a gag and how much was real and it made them uncomfortable.
Sometimes it made Hannibal uncomfortable. But not Face, Face acted like Murdock was that annoying little brother that tagged after you. It bugged him a little, but not enough to put a stop to it. If Murdock was happy, then Face was happy. And Murdock was usually a happy guy, when he was around Face.
"Where's Face, Col.?"
"Quiet, Murdock, get some sleep."
Murdock was quiet for a few minutes, but then he sat up next to Hannibal again. "Col.?"
Hannibal sighed. He wanted a smoke. His was trying to listen to the jungle noises, keeping track of BA and Danny, he didn't want to talk to Murdock, and he didn't want to think about Face.
Hannibal sighed again and looked down at Murdock, the fear and the confusion was plain in the pilots' eyes. "His position was over run, Murdock. He took off into the jungle."
"We gotta find him, Col."
"Quiet, Murdock." Hannibal hissed when Murdock's voice started to rise above a whisper. "He knows where the rendezvous point is. He'll meet us there."
"What if he's captured?" Murdock started again.
"Pipe down, Captain, that's an order." Hannibal growled under his breath. "He's fine. Get some sleep, now. We're heading out at dawn."
Murdock lay still on the ground, but he didn't sleep. His thoughts turned over and over in this mind about the young Lt. who had become his friend.
He hadn't liked the young man when they had first met. Maybe it was a bit of jealousy; Face was handsome, with blonde hair and blue eyes and still a little beefy from playing high school football. He had a great smile, and the All-American good looks. Everyone seemed to like the new Lt., even the old timers that didn't like anybody until they'd survived the jungle for at least 3 months. But then Murdock noticed something about this nice young Lt. from California.
Face didn't seem to really like any of them. He was pleasant, cordial, and accommodating, but he didn't join in and pal around with any of them. He was a little distant, and didn't share his Žstories from home' like the other guys did. And Face didn't mind scamming the other guys, either. And the young Lt. didn't seem to care whether he lived or died. It wasn't exactly a death wish, more like he didn't care one way or the other.
When Hannibal put the two of them together, Murdock figured one of them would kill the other in a matter of days. But instead Murdock found himself in a strange position. He found himself liking the younger man. When you got past the gloss and bravado front that Face put up, he was just as scared and insecure as any of them, maybe more. Then Murdock found himself being both older and younger brother to the young man.
Face admired the pilot, even if he was goofy. Murdock was smart, often called brilliant. But Face made him feel like someone was interested in him, for what he thought, not just that he was the hottest pilot around. The young Lt. spent a lot of time listening to what Murdock had to say on any subject. They found themselves talking about music, art, politics and girls. They talked about things they never told anyone else. Murdock had come from a screwed up family, who didn't, but they had money. Murdock had private flying lessons at 14, a good education, and exposure to a lot more then the Face did. And Murdock loved to share this information to the young man who paid such close attention.
Soon they were fast and furious friends. They went every where together, did everything together. They went past being comrades and friends and become brothers. Face had joked one night, after Murdock had mentioned that his father had taken off when he was 12 that maybe Murdock's father was his father, and they really were brothers. But they were both drunk and Murdock doubted Face remembered saying it the next morning.
But Murdock remembered, and had taken the young man under his wing. It was a strange relationship. Murdock mentoring Face, while at the same time Face watched over Murdock, keeping the pilot from slipping to far into the delusional world he liked to live in.
Now, Murdock was laying in the mud and thought about his friend. Face had come out here to rescue him, and what if he had been captured? What if Face was out there, now, wounded or dead? Murdock's mind replayed the days of capture on the trail. He hadn't been treated too badly, but he was scared and hungry and tired.
Murdock thought about how he and Noah had held Mike Hastings hand while he died. Mike hadn't made a sound. Only the slow tears running down his cheeks showed how much pain he had been in. Mike died shortly after they had started down the trail, God, was that just this morning? He just stopped. The VC tried to threaten him, make him go on, but Mike just sat down, then laid down in the trail. A few minutes later he was dead, probably from internal injuries.
By the time morning came, Murdock had worried himself into quite a state. He did the only thing he could do; he pulled off one of his socks, made a puppet over his hand and began to have a long conversation with it, pretending it was Face.
Somewhere on the trail, back to Delta Base
They had stopped on the trail. 10 minutes every hour to rest and drink water, even though it had not stopped raining. Hannibal again stopped to talk to each man as they sat on the ground, easing their legs and slowing their breathing. The pace was not quite as fast as the one Face had set going in, but it was close.
Hannibal paused to stretch his back. "This the run like hell part of the plan, Col.?" BA asked with a little bit of a grin in his voice.
Hannibal gave a full grin back. "This is advancing away from the enemy, Sgt."
"Shit, this is retreat if there ever was one." BA snorted, he never took his eyes off the back trail.
They weren't moving as fast as they had coming in. The rescued were tired, and hungry. Most had not been captives long, but the lack of food and water during their stay was showing now. They weren't trying to hide. The trail was obvious, and the VC would know to follow it, even if the rain covered their tracks. At each stop, BA placed a booby trap, or sometimes he placed what looked like a booby trap, so the enemy wouldn't know if they had missed something less obvious. They had to slow the enemy down and hope they got to the river first. But the VC would know they were headed back to the river, and Hannibal just hoped that they didn't make an end run around them and end up in front.
"Still no sign of Face." BA said softly.
"Crazy fool's talking to his socks." BA growled.
"Are the socks talking back?" Hannibal asked.
BA paused before he answered, as if judging to see if the Col. had slipped over the edge, too. "How would I know, I don't listen to what that fool's doing. He's nuts, and you should have sent him home ages ago."
"He's not really nuts, BA. He's just doing it to get a rise out of you."
"Well, I'm gonna rise my fist to his nose if he don't quit putting that sock in my face and asking me stupid questions."
Hannibal had to chuckle. If nothing else, Murdock and his antics were lightening the mood just a little. He checked his watch. "Time's up, move out."
Once during the trek a single shot was heard in the distance, then silence. Hannibal ordered BA to hang back a little more, but there was no one following them.
BA did. He waited patiently, one ear toward the retreating column of men the other back down the trail the way they came. He knew in his heart that the shot concerned Face. He only hoped it was Face doing the shooting, not someone shooting at Face.
When BA had come to Viet Nam he had been an angry young man. The race wars of the early sixties were still fresh in his teenage mind. He joined the Army because it was a good way for a poor kid from Chicago to get training and experience. But he soon realized that black men didn't advance far or fast in this white mans Army. It seemed all the officers were white, and all the black men were grunts. BA Baracus wasn't going to take any crap from them. So what little progress he made up the ranks was removed when his temper got the better of him. Until he met Col. John Smith.
Col. Smith didn't see BA as a black soldier. He saw him as a soldier and one with exceptional qualities as a mechanic. Race, religion, background or anything else didn't matter to Col. Smith, what mattered was what you could bring to the unit. After BA had been arrested for punching a major, Col. Smith had fought to get him in the unit, and then quickly laid down the law. "One for all, and all for one." The unit first, then God and country.
For the first time, BA saw equity at work. Experience and excellence were rewarded; slackers and kiss-asses were disciplined or shipped out. It worked, and BA was a loyal follower, and soon became a good leader. BA led and trained the young men under him. The new kids, fresh off the boat learned to respect and admire BA just as BA had learned to respect and admire Col. Smith.
And BA had learned not all officers were bigots, or stupid, and eventually, not all of them were white. He learned he had to work with in the system to get things done. Then he'd met Face. Lt. Templeton Peck, who took all the rules that BA had spent 4 years learning and threw them out the window. You wanted something, needed something, find Face and he'd get it for you. No forms or requisitions just tell him what you needed and it was taken care of.
Early on it had made BA uncomfortable, afraid that the brass would find out, and come down on the unit, but Face was smooth. And BA began to like the young, headstrong Lt., even if he did seem to have no respect for his own life. BA worried about him now, worried that Face wasn't take the care he should, that he was out there, alone, maybe wounded, maybe dead. Or worse, captured. BA worried, silently, and waited patiently, as long as he could, then followed along behind the rest of the group.
They only made it half way back to where they had left Mike Hastings body before night fell and they had to make camp again. Hannibal again insisted that they keep quiet and soon all but those on guard were asleep.
But he didn't sleep. What if they were leaving Face behind?
What if Face was injured? It was the not knowing that made it so hard.
Hannibal noticed that Murdock was still awake. The both sat, side
by side, under a large tree, sheltered from the rain, and kept watch down
the back trail. Silent. Still. Waiting.
Caught in the rain and having made numerous attempts to elude his pursuers Face had found himself disoriented. At first he was sure he was going the right way, then convinced it was the wrong way and turned 180 degrees and went back. In time he realized he needed to take a break and make a plan. His best courses of action usually involved going up a tree, so he did, and he waited in silence. As he rested and collected his thoughts his ears picked up a noise. He closed his eyes and cocked his head to bring the sound in better. Damnation. VC. He pulled his rifle up and adjusted the scope and sited down the trail. There were seven of them, following his trail. Well, at least they weren't following the team. Face let his breath out slowly to calm his beating heart, and focused on the one with the most brass on his shoulder. Taking out the leader was a good way to dissuade the troops. He sited, let out his breath and squeezed the trigger. The officer went down, and the six others ran back the way they had come. Face, now knowing the direction he needed to go, scurried down the tree and ran as fast as he could.
That night Face lay silently, too. His body covered in mud he
covered himself with leaves, to keep the chill of the night rain away.
He was separated from his unit, alone, with no supplies. But, he
grinned to himself; he was alive and unhurt. It could be worse.
On the trail
It had stopped raining, but the humidity in the air was almost as bad. Sweat poured off the men and Hannibal made sure that the all drank at each break. They made it back to where Mike's body had been left. Danny Curtis pulled the poncho from his pack and they wrapped the body. Then the got the field stretcher from BA's pack and carefully placed Mike on it. Hannibal watched with a detached silence. They were treating Hastings more like he was wounded then dead. Four of the rescued men volunteered to carry the stretcher, and they headed back out. Hannibal waited at the end, only BA remained with him, watching the back trail. Still no Face.
"He should have been here." BA said softly.
"Maybe he's behind us." Hannibal returned.
"Yeah." BA paused. "Maybe." But neither of them believed it.
BA turned when he heard someone from the group approaching.
"You traded me for Face, was it a good deal?" Murdock asked the pain obvious in his voice.
"We got you, and eight other guys, Murdock. And we don't know we lost Face, yet."
"Sure." But Murdock didn't believe it either. His face was cold and hard, but he turned back and joined the column of men pressing forward.
It was almost time to stop. They had been heading into the setting sun and Hannibal could see the trial was taking an up turn here. He decided to make camp and the bottom of the other side of this hill. His head came up when he heard murmuring from the line of men.
There, standing at the crest of the hill was the silhouette of a man with a rifle across both shoulders his wrist loose over the stock and the barrel. It was a most unmilitary posture and the man was obviously no threat. It took a moment for Hannibal to recognize the man. Face.
Hannibal let out a breath he didn't know he'd been holding. As each man passed him on the trail, they touched Face's arm or his hair and he gave them a grin and a nod.
Murdock still hadn't noticed as his head was down while he moved sluggishly up the trail.
Hannibal passed Murdock and went around the stretcher-bearers to get to Face.
"Hey, kiddo, where you been?" His soft tone belied the worry. Face appeared to be uninjured, but he was covered in so much mud and grime it was hard to tell.
"Playing follow the leader. What have you been doing?" Face tone was light, too, but he was tired, the fatigue showed in his eyes.
"Playing hide and seek. Tag, your it." Hannibal touched the shoulder gently and then left his hand there. It was a simple gesture that said a lot between the two men. Face gave the Col. a halfhearted smile.
"I don't want to play anymore, I want to go home, and take a bath."
"Well, gee Face, I hope so." Hannibal said with a grin. "Your filthy, kid."
Face grinned back. "Pot calling the kettle black, don't you think?" Face gave a glance up and down the length of his commander. Hannibal gave a laugh, the first since this whole mess began. Just then the four men carrying Hastings body passed them, and Face and Hannibal had to step off the trail to let them pass. They turned to watch them go by.
It was at that instant that Murdock looked up. He saw Face, there in the tree line. It took him a moment to realize that it wasn't a figment of his fertile imagination. Face was back.
"Face!" Murdock let out a shout and rushed up to greet his friend in an enthusiastic hug. The force of the embrace sent them both tumbling to the ground in a heap at the Col.'s feet.
"Gee, Murdock, good to see you too." Face said as he tried to untangle himself from this undignified pose. Finally he had to relent and let Murdock hug him. Murdock put his hands on Face's shoulder, ran them down the length of his arms, put one on each side of his face and gazed into the blue eyes.
"Your ok? You're not hurt? Not shot or dead or anything?"
"I'm fine." Face said softly, as he looked back into the brown eyes that seemed to be examining him from the inside out. "You?"
"Me?" Murdock got to his feet in an excited bound. "I'm just peachy-keeno little bro. Never better." With a grin he bounded down the trail to find a canteen for Face.
BA had come up and put a hand down to aid Face in his rise to his feet. Then he bent down and picked up the rifle, knocked from Face's hands during the exuberant welcome.
"You otta hang on to this, it's a mighty handy thing to have." BA checked the weapon to be sure that no mud had gotten into the firing mechanism or the bullet chamber, then handed it gently back to its owner with a soft smile.
"Yeah." Face took it back with a nod.
"You sure you're okay?" BA asked. BA was good at reading people. He didn't talk much himself, so he was good at reading body language, he liked to listen to what people didn't say.
Face's head came up and he smiled at BA. Not one of those phony grins he used when conning people, but the little light smile that just touched his eyes. The one that seemed to say thank you far better then words ever could.
"Yeah, just tired." Face finally said.
Hannibal left his hand on Face's shoulder and gave a little squeeze as they started down the trail.
Hannibal pushed them on past dark that night. He knew they wouldn't make the river tonight, but he wanted to be close enough to get there by the 0700 timeframe tomorrow.
Face and Murdock had been inseparable on the trail down. Where
Face trudged, Murdock bounded. Murdock chattered away and Face nodded
his head at appropriate times. Now, the guard set, they settled down for
hopefully their last night out here.
As they lay down to sleep Murdock kept talking. His voice lowered.
"Quiet, gentlemen." Hannibal said as he made a pass threw the camp, and they settled down again. But in just a few minutes they were back at it, their voices lowered to half whispers. Something Murdock said caused Face to laugh, and Hannibal passed back by them. He was standing a few feet away, his voice soft. "Quiet down you two."
This was met by equally soft "yes sir" from both of them. Hannibal went on making his rounds. He checked the guards; the trip wires and then back to camp to rest. His ears picked up two voices in whisper. He made his way outside the perimeter and came up on them suddenly.
Murdock let out a gasp as Face reached for his handgun. "This is not a slumber party, you two. Quiet down or I'll separate you."
"Yes sir." They chorused softly.
"I'm not going to warn you again." He said in the best command voice he could master in a whisper.
"Yes sir." The chorused again, with more sincerity in their voices.
Hannibal stood over them and shook a finger in their direction. "I'm not kidding. Go-to-sleep." For a moment he felt like a father chastising two wayward 8 year olds. And for a moment they felt like it. But all three of them grinned and Murdock and Face kept their word and were silent for the rest of the night.
On the trail, just north of the river
The ragged group was ready to go before dawn. At the first touches of light lit the sky enough that they could see where they were going, they moved down the trail. Hannibal wanted to be at the river before the 0700 deadline. He did not want to be in the jungle one-hour longer then he needed to be, let alone 12. The 8 prisoners took turns carrying Hastings body, as they had no guns.
Face had again taken point, eager to lead the way back to the river after a lecture by Hannibal to keep a much slower pace then the one he might normally have set. Jimmy and Murdock took the left flank, Murdock having borrowed Face's side arm. Hannibal took the right with Danny and BA continued his position on rear guard. They were all anxious and wary, certain that if anything was to happen, it would happen now, in the last hour before the river.
Tension mounted the closer to the river they got. Getting the men to rest was next to impossible, but fortunately there would be only one stop on the trail today. Just as the sun broke threw the morning clouds to show a bright clear day they reached the river. Hannibal had the men dig in. "Everybody stay down, no matter what." He ordered.
It was almost time for the patrol boat.
Soon this ordeal would be over.
The waiting was the worst.
It was hot.
It was muggy.
The boat was late.
They were tired.
They were hungry.
Men squirmed, trying to be quiet.
It was so very quiet.
Suddenly the air burst with noise. Half the men stared out at the river. The patrol boat. Hannibal stood up on the bank and waived with a grin. The navy pilot waived back and began to bring the boat in as close to shore as he could, maneuvering around the still half-sunken helicopter. Hannibal stuck a cigar between his teeth and brought his lighter up to have his first smoke in 5 days. BA had come to stand beside him, watching Danny slog into the river to grab a rope to pull the boat closer to shore. "I love it when÷"
Suddenly the air burst with a different noise. Gun fire. Face lunged to his feet and charged into the foliage with a scream that even caused the navy men to flinch. Jimmy had thrown himself further into the ditch along the river at the first shots, but then started to follow.
"Crazy kid, don't have no fear at all." BA growled.
"Get Žem on the boat BA, we'll give you cover." Hannibal said as he took up a position between the rescued men and the jungle. BA didn't wait to hear the other words that Hannibal muttered under his breath, he only knew that he was didn't want to be Face when he got back.
Jimmy and Face dashed into the jungle with guns blazing. Jimmy's
gun blazed. Face could only pop off one shot at a time, but it was
enough to send the VC off on the run.
In only moments the gunfire stopped. They were both breathing hard and turned and grinned at each other. "Shit Lt., you're nuts." Jimmy said.
"Who do you think is crazier, me or the guy that followed me out here?"
Jimmy had to laugh with irony. "I'm not here to think, sir."
They jogged back to the river, Face keeping an eye on their back trail to insure that the VC did not rush them again. As they got closer, Face could easily see the storm clouds in Hannibal's eyes. "Help the rest get on the boat, Jimmy."
"Yes sir." And then Jimmy slid off the bank into the river. Hannibal and Face stood guard on the riverbank until all the men, and Hastings body was loaded on the boat. Not a word was spoken.
"Load up Lt."
Face jumped down into the water. BA, Jimmy and Danny were on the deck of the boat, poised to prove cover. When Face got half way to the boat he heard Hannibal enter the river. Face passed his gun up, and then strong hands grabbed his wrists and hauled him to the deck. BA pulled him up easily, but growled at him. "You need a keeper, boy." Face reddened under the chastisement. BA had never had a lot of respect for rank, but he received an approving pat on the shoulder.
In a moment the same was done for the Col. "Let's get the hell out of Dodge." Hannibal said to the he navy Lt.
"Yee haa." The Lt. replied and pulled away from the shore creating a rooster tail from the stern of the boat. "Man, I never thought you'd pull it off. How many guys you bring back? Eight, nine? Man, that's amazing. Col. you're the greatest. I've heard some stories about you, but I never really believed it before." The Lt. kept up the chatter, not waiting for an answer, never even realizing it was a one sided conversation. In his mind he couldn't wait to get back and tell how he had been there when Col. Hannibal Smith pulled 9 POWs out of the jungle.
It took the same 3 hours to go down river to the landing that it had
taken to get there only 5 days before. It seemed longer to the 5-man team.
They were tired, hungry and dirty.
To the 8 rescued men, who were just as tired, dirty and hungry, it was the best journey ever.
Murdock was in a state of limbo, his emotions mixed. He was happy to be alive, and wondered why he was when 4 other members of the downed helicopter were not. He spent the ride down the river questioning himself. What could he have done differently? Why him, why was he here sitting on the deck of this boat, and Mike Hastings was over there lying under a sheet? Face sat next to him and put a comforting hand on his leg. "I'm glad you made it back, Murdock." Face said softly, as if reading the pilots' mind.
"Me, too÷I mean÷"Murdock faltered, grinned, and started again. "I mean, I'm glad you made it back, too."
Face returned the smile and they sat on the deck in silence, both trying to rub the cramps from their tired legs.
The boat began to take on an air of frivolity as the navy boys turned up their radio and passed out chocolate bars to the men. All but Murdock, and Face and Hannibal joined in the fun.
Ray Brenner, two medics and a transport truck met the boat. Having been called by the navy Lt. Ray planned ahead, as usual. He was a good officer. Level headed most of the time. It was a wonder why he stayed with Smith and his crazy antics.
"Good job, sir." Ray said as he waited beside the truck while the men loaded up.
"We did okay." Hannibal said softly.
"HQ's about ready to have your ass for breakfast, sir. They're pretty hot to talk to you. I could only stall them for a couple of days."
Hannibal smiled. "I'll take care of them." He knew he'd been in trouble for going off on this unassigned mission.
Ray grinned. "I got a case of beers cooling for you guys."
"You okay, sir?"
Hannibal stopped to think for just a moment. Maybe it was the crash after 5 days of adrenaline high, so he took a deep breath. He nodded his head and smiled. The smile became a grin. That old familiar grin. "Yeah, Ray. I'm great. I'm better then great. Let's get these guys back to base."
Ray grinned back. "Yes sir." Ray went over to meet Face. "Hey, did you make a deal for 10 gallons of ice cream?"
Face grinned. "Yeah."
"I hope you agreed to 3 cases of Scotch, because that's what I gave them. It came in this morning."
"I wanted something special when I got back today." Face said
with a grin.
Ray shook his head, "What'd you want ice cream for?"
"Why not? Something different."
"Wouldn't you rather have the Scotch?" Ray asked.
Face laughed. "I can get Scotch any time I want. You try and get 10 gallons of ice cream out here in the jungle." Face's voice was full of pride.
Ray was amazed. When the Col. had said he was getting a new procurement officer Ray had insisted that they didn't need one, that he was doing just fine. But Ray had to concede. In his 3 years out here, he had never gotten one gallon of ice cream. Or half the other things that Face made materialize out here in the middle of nowhere.
The medic's checked everyone over in the back of the truck. Mostly minor complaints that would be cured with a cool shower, food and a few days off their feet. By the time they got back to Delta Base a party atmosphere had returned to the truck.
Even the body of Mike Hastings at their feet did not damper the mood. Hastings may be dead, but he was going home. They hadn't left him behind. His family would never wonder about an unmarked grave in a foreign country.
As they off loaded from the truck, Ray pointed out to the new men the showers and mess tent and assisted in getting them settled in and reporting back to their units that they were no longer POW's.
Ray then informed the camp, that in their honor an ice cream party was being held in the mess tent. The volume of the party went up a few more decibels.
Hannibal made another attempt to light a cigar after the last one had gone in the river during the firefight.
"Face when you're cleaned up and had some food I want to see you in my office."
Face started to open his mouth to apologize for tearing off into the jungle, but Hannibal held up a hand to stop him. "When you're done." Hannibal said simply.
Hannibal took the time to get a shower and change his clothes. Ray had put a covered plate of food on his desk, and he devoured it in moments. Hannibal was tired, he could feel the sand in his eyes, but he flipped threw the stacks of reports and memo's and communiqué's piled neatly on his desk. Ray had handled what he could in his Col.'s absence, but there were some things only he could handle.
The sound of the radio, turned up loud in the mess tent suggested that the party of the rescued men was in full swing. The Col. was not going to rain on their parade. Let them party. They deserved it. They had rescued 9 men, not to mention the stack of military information that he had stolen from the VC. Hannibal took a moment and smoothed those papers out, glancing at codebooks, maps and other documents that he couldn't read.
A light knock came at his door, "Enter" he said and Face came in. Cleaned and pressed, not a hair out of place. He looked perfect, if you didn't notice the dark circles under his eyes, or the haunted look in the blue depths.
"Have a seat, Lt." Hannibal said with a waive of his hand.
"Sir÷" Face started and then paused. "Col." he started again.
"Sit down, Face." Hannibal said more softly this time. "Want a drink?" Hannibal reached down into his desk drawer and pulled out a bottle of Scotch.
Face still hadn't sat down, but nodded his head. "I know I shouldn't have charged off like that."
Hannibal gave a smile. "Sit down, Face." This time the young man complied. He poured doubles into coffee mugs. "I did tell you to stay put. Your position was easy to defend. You didn't need to attack." Face nodded. "Any sensible person would run from the sound of gunfire, they train us to run toward it. I'm not as mad as I was this morning, but you not only put yourself in danger, but Jimmy, too. Gotta remember to think about the whole team, Lt." It was said as a good-natured lecture, a lesson to be learned. Hannibal shoved the coffee mug across the desk.
Face had put his head down and thought it over. He reached out and took the drink staring at the contents as if answers were hidden in the golden depths. "Yeah. I thought I was thinking of the unit, but I know I wasn't. Not really. I was just angry, I wanted to hit back."
Hannibal grinned and leaned back in his chair. He liked this kid, looking at him was like looking at himself 10 years ago. Okay, 15 years ago. "I know, you just need to be sure you choose your battles wisely. You have a tendency to go off half cocked."
"Me?" Face squeaked. "What about you? I saw you walking threw that POW camp, bold as brass, never even looking around you." He stared across the desk at his commander.
"I had you looking over my shoulder. I didn't need to look, did I?"
Face sputtered. He wanted to say something, but his mind was a blank. Somehow, he knew there was something wrong with the picture. Maybe, he just needed to put it aside, look at it later and see what had developed.
Face sat back in his chair and sipped from the mug. It made a nice, slow burn on the way down.
"You know, back home, I'm not old enough to drink?"
"Shit." Hannibal snorted and made half an attempt at making a grab for the cup. "Give me that, I don't want to be accused of corrupting a minor. How old are you?"
"20, I'll be 21 in December."
They sat in silence for a moment. "You did good out there, kid. I was worried when your position was over run. But you kept your head, and you got back safe."
Face blushed slightly at the compliment. "Thanks." Again the silence hung in the air. ŽMan,' thought Hannibal, ŽHe still blushes, he is young.' But he didn't say it out loud.
Slowly, Face leaned forward in his chair. He put the cup on the edge of the desk and rested his elbows on his knees, his hands hanging loose between them. He stared down at the wooden floor between his shoes. "When I get home, I don't ever want to shoot anybody ever again." His mind kept replaying those men he had slowly, calculatingly shot down, one by one, he could still see them falling into the mud. His stomach ached, and it wasn't from the Scotch.
Hannibal watched the young man before him, so young and so old at the same time. He didn't come over here for the grand adventure that so many of them did. He didn't seem to have the same patriotic fever that a lot of them had, that he himself still had. There was something else there, some other reason he had joined up and come over. Some other reason that he had conned his way into the Ranger's the month after boot camp. You were supposed to have 2 years under your belt before you could join the Rangers. This kid had two months, and 6 weeks of that had been basic training. "Don't become a cop."
Face popped his head up and grinned. "Not with my past. I'd never pass the background check."
"?" An eyebrow came up.
"Oh come on. They don't teach lock picking in officer training, now do they?" Face laughed.
Hannibal let out a laugh. "Guess I don't have to worry about corrupting a minor after all?"
"No, I don't think so." The sat in companionable silence, "Col. what are you going to do when this is over?"
"I'm a professional soldier, kid. I'll go where my country leads me."
Face sat back in the chair again. He sipped his drink. "I'll go where you lead me, sir." Face said softly. Hannibal shifted in his chair, felt himself puff with pride, and studied the man before him.
"I'd be honored, kid." And they toasted each other with their mugs and
finished their drinks in silence.
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