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I think I know, now, why he was scared

Dread

By emmastark

Rated:               ~R~

Copyright          2001
Disclaimer:        All original TAT characters belong to Stephen J. Cannell and Universal. 

Warning:           Violence, war situations, language. 

Comments:        Please
S
ummary:         Vietnam -- 1971.  Camp 213.

 

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Dread

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Hannibal's been gone for forty-seven days.  We think he's alive.

 

I used to think in years and semesters, weeks and months, but I don't anymore.  Just days.  That's the longest.

 

Maybe it's the army that gets you thinking that way.  Or maybe it's just wars.  Counting days 'til you're back in the world. 

 

Alvarez and Rory are watching Murdock work on BA's hair.  He's been braiding all morning, tight, narrow little braids that run along BA's scalp.

 

BA's hair has gotten so long.  Funny, kind of, to see him with two inches of Afro.  He's always kept his head shaved, the whole time I've known him.  Out in the bush, he'd use that big knife of his like a straight razor.  Intimidated the crap out of the cherries.  Me too, in the beginning. 

 

Murdock's hair is even longer.  It curls a little, on his shoulders and around his ears.  He's always pushing it back from his face, like he misses his cap.

 

Alvarez scootches up against the bars of his cage while the guard's down at the other end.  "Hey, HM," he says.  "Where you learn to do that dreadlock shit?"

 

BA glares at him.  "Ain' dreads, man.  's cornrows."

 

"A'right, I get you, Sarge, I get you.  No disrespect.  We just don't got any black guys in Oregon, so I don't know nothin' about your heads, y'know?  Where you learn that, HM?

 

Murdock looks over at Alvarez, all serious.  "We've got lots of corn in Texas."

 

Rezzie narrows his eyes a little, looks like he wants to follow that one, but the guard comes back our way. 

 

Watching.

 

Alvarez rubs his hands over his eyes and Rory coughs and Murdock keeps braiding.  Lenny is muttering to himself, but Mikey and Boomer are quiet.  Looking out at something on the tree line.  Birds, probably.  They talk a lot about birds.  Mikey knows all kinds of birds, here.  Vietnamese greenfinch and pittas and the black-throated laughingthrush. 

 

I've been in charge for forty-seven days.  Since they took Hannibal... wherever they took him.  We know there are cages on the other side of the camp.  And one of the huts always has a guard on the door, so he might be in there.  At least if he's there, he's out of the rain.  It's been raining for nine days, now, and just finally stopped this morning.  I hope he's there.

 

I hope he's alive.

 

Colonel Ryder was in command when we got here.  Of the prisoners, I mean.  The highest ranking officer.  But when they... when he died, Hannibal took over.

 

Both of them were all into discipline.  Hannibal had never done that with us.  We hopped to, but no formalities.  No locker inspections or polished boots.  I polished mine, but that was just because I liked them that way.  But when Ryder died, Hannibal went army on us.  Crunches and push-ups every day, unless we were sick.  Even if we could only do five at a time.  Memorizing stuff, and he'd test us on it.  Pledge allegiance and baseball stats and old poems.  Sweeping the fucking cage with our fingers.

 

He wasn't wrong, though.  It pissed me off, when he first started, but... it's real easy to fall apart here.  There's nothing.  Just nothing.  We're in a five foot by five foot by five foot piece of nothing with bamboo bars around it.  Your mind starts... turning around on itself.  The rules and the structure gave us something to hold onto.

 

Every night after Hannibal got in charge of things, he'd take me aside for our "briefing." 

 

Briefing.  The first time he said it, I just looked at him.  They'd just brought me back, after one of their interrogation sessions, and I thought maybe I was hallucinating.  Can you hallucinate stuff you hear?  Briefing.  I couldn't figure out what the hell for.  We weren't doing anything.

 

He went over exercise schedules and duty rosters.  Alvarez has to keep an eye on Rory's leg.  Mikey needs to teach Boomer Morse code if it takes him the rest of the fucking war.  BA's got to eat the rice they give us even if it moves and Murdock's got to eat it even if it talks.

 

Little stuff.  But little stuff is kind of everything, here.  I've seen guys cry just because it started to rain. 

 

I miss California.  It almost never rains in California.  It'd be a much nicer place to host a war.  This isn't a real nice place.  Maybe it would be okay, with a roof, and without all the guns, but I have to say, I'm not really sold on it.

 

Lenny's got his arms wrapped around his knees and his eyes closed.  His mouth is moving, like he's saying something to himself over and over.

 

Lenny's not doing too good today.

 

When they first dumped us here, at Camp 213, this guy Owens leaned in close and said, "We're all broken here.  Ryder's in charge, bird Colonel Marine they shot down over Du Song.  Everybody's gotta communicate, it's the rule.  What's goin' on in the world?  Is there still a world?"

 

Hannibal talked to him.  I was thinking about that word he used.  I mean, you think eggs, right?  Broken is broken.  But people are more like car windows.  I've found that out.  Everything keeps smashing into you and spider webs of cracks go out and you get more and more shattered every time, but shattered is different than broke.  Broke is when the pieces all fall.  And a window can be pretty shattered before that.

 

Owens used the wrong word.

 

Anyhow, Hannibal kept telling me this stuff.  Briefing me.  And mostly it was about the guys, but some of it was about war and resistance.  Sun Tzu and Gandhi and the Army Training Manual.  What to do if this happened and what to do if they did that.

 

That's when I got it.

 

They were going to take him away, too.

 

I should have known from the beginning, but...  I think that sometimes there's things you don't know because you don't want to know them.

 

The VC aren't stupid.  Even though most of them don't speak any English, they can see what makes us strong.  That leadership and discipline were helping us keep it together.

 

That Hannibal was helping us keep it together.

 

He looked at me when they took him.  And for the first time in the whole time I've been with him, there was fear in his eyes.

 

He covered it real fast.  Said, "Make sure Murdock is in bed by nine," over his shoulder and I said, "Don't forget to write."

 

Murdock's hands don't shake as he works on BA's hair.  He gathers little wisps of it and adds them to the tight lines of braid that run down BA's scalp.

 

BA is just sitting there and letting him do it.  His legs crossed under him, Murdock on his knees behind.  Every once in awhile, Murdock strokes his hand over BA's hair, smoothing it.

 

Lenny is by the bars again, talking to himself.  Out loud, now.  Prayers and profanity all mixed up together.  "Thy kingdom come, little gook bastards.  What the hell are we going to do, nobody says that to me, lead us not, motherfucker..."

 

He gets loud and I tell him to shut up and he looks at me all mad and crazy, but he shuts up.

 

The VC guard looks at me, too.

 

BA and Murdock look at me.  Murdock's hands hovering over BA's head and trembling.

 

They've been sticking by me this whole time.  Since Hannibal's been gone.  Done what I say.

 

I try to be... well, like Hannibal.  I'm his XO, so it's not like I haven't led guys before.  But it comes natural to him.  He always seems like he was born with that cigar in his mouth, shouting out orders and making plans.  I prefer shooting holes in his plans to making my own.  But necessity is a mother. 

 

Like Hannibal always says.

 

Shit, I wish he was here.

 

I've been talking to BA.  Every night, telling him things.  And it fucking scares the shit out of me, because I'm not Hannibal... I don't know every fucking thing, fucking "Art of War," Patton, Napoleon.  So I'm telling BA things, but I know it's just a washed out version of what Hannibal told me.  I mean, what am I going to tell him?

 

I tell him he's got to let Murdock touch him.  Stay close, keep him grounded.  Lenny's losing it, and there's not much we can do about that.  Boomer keeps talking to him through the bars of his cage, but when they separated Lenny out, he just started freaking.

 

I tell BA that he has to keep talking to everybody.  Communicate, that's the rule.  Owens was right on that.  BA's not a big talker, but I made him promise.  Hannibal would have ordered him, but I...  I don't know.  BA's been in longer than I have.  I give him orders, but it didn't feel right to order him about this.  He did promise me, though.  And shook my hand.  Murdock watched us and said "Blood brothers, you're blood brothers now."  BA said, "Tha's dirt, fool, not blood."  And Murdock shook his head, all serious, and said, "Blood brothers," then put his hand in his mouth and ripped it open with his teeth, before we could do anything, and put it over ours.

 

He makes me want to fucking cry.

 

"I don't measure a man's success by how high he climbs but how high he bounces when he hits bottom."  I told BA that, on that first night, and he just looked at me.  I guess I don't do Patton as good as Hannibal.  So mostly since then I've been trying to put things in my own words.  I talk and he listens to me.  I don't... I don't know.  Don't know shit.  But I keep talking.

 

Another guard comes over and talks to the one who's been watching us for awhile.  Murdock's hands keep moving on BA's hair, but I can tell he's trying to hear.

 

Lenny starts screaming at them.  They watch him like he's some animal gone crazy in the zoo.  Not even bothering to point their weapons his way.  He's screaming and crying and his nose is running.  He's got heat rash all over his neck.

 

"Lenny," I shout, "Lenny, shut up now.  That's an order, Lenny.  Shut up."

 

He looks at me with tears running down his face.

 

He was nice to me once.  When they threw me back in one time and I wasn't doing real good, he talked to me all night about the little league team in Fordham, Nebraska.  What color uniforms they had (blue with white numbers) and what the scores were in each game all season long.  The kids' names.  He'd been assistant coach right after he graduated from high school.  Right before he had to report in August.  They had a fucking pot luck after the last game, with hot dogs and potato salad and bottles of Coca Cola in a tub full of ice.

 

The guards look at me, talking, and Murdock looks from them to me and says, "Face..." kind of high in his throat.  His hands are trembling again.  They shake a lot now.

 

I tell him to keep working on BA's hair.  I make it sound like an order.

 

I know why Hannibal was afraid.  When they took him.

 

He was afraid for us, but that wasn't what was showing in his eyes.

 

That look was for himself.

 

Because he was going to be alone.

 

I'd never really thought about Hannibal needing us, but I guess he does.  Did?

 

Murdock told me the other day that he didn't know what tense he was in anymore.  That just... tied me all up.  To think of him as gone, or lost up ahead of us someplace, all by himself.  I grabbed his arm.  "Now," I said.  "You're now, you're right here."  And he looked at me.  You can see stuff in his eyes that you shouldn't know.  But he's not afraid to let you see it.

 

I'm... we're... not doing too great.  Bugs and malaria.  Rats.  Hurt, rain.  Starving to death, a handful of rotted rice at a time.  (We're all broken here.)  But... being together, with each other... it's helped us hang on. 

 

I don't know what I'm going to do without them.

 

It's stupid, I know it's stupid.  I've been alone all my life.  But since I've been with the guys, I've... they've made me not so alone.  They made me part of them.

 

I don't want to go back.

 

I feel like begging.  (Not the first time.  Sometimes you've got to press your teeth together to keep the words inside.)  I feel like begging the VC to let me stay, do any fucking thing (they have already), but let me stay. 

 

But that's not how it works.

 

I jerk when Murdock crawls up behind me and puts his hand on my neck.

 

He's done with BA's cornrows.  Smooth braids knotted tight and close.

 

He kneels behind me and strokes his hand over my hair.

 

"No," I tell him, but he takes little strands of it in his hands anyway, and starts to braid them.  And I let him.

 

I just let him.

 

They're going to take me any time now, and I want to remember what it feels like for him to touch me and what it feels like not to be alone.

 

BA comes over by us.  Close.  And I start telling him things.

 

Because he's next.

 

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~fin~


Dread by emmastark

 

 


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