B.A. studied the landing zone looking for Murdock’s chopper. Spotting it, he carried the young Vietnamese girl to the Huey. With one arm he wrenched open Murdock’s door.
“Hey, whatcha – – ?”
“No time, Murdock.” B.A. handed the girl up to the startled pilot. Murdock struggled to keep one hand on the control stick while sliding the girl across him and on to the floor. “Whatever happens, you gotta look after her. She got nobody in the world. You got it?”
“Got it, B.A.,” Murdock said, smiling down at the frightened girl, trying to reassure her. He turned back towards B.A. and looked him in the eye. “You got my word, man.”
That was all B.A. needed. He slapped Murdock on the shoulder, slammed the door to the cockpit, and ran back to join his unit.
Murdock checked that everyone was on, and lifted the Huey into the blue sky. He turned to the girl- – she looked about five or six- – kneeling between him and the co-pilot and asked her in Vietnamese what her name was. Delighted to hear her own language, she smiled at him and told him her name was Lin.
Murdock smiled back and said in his best Bogart impression: “Well, schweetheart, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
The girl giggled and clapped her hands. “Funny man,” she said.
Murdock sighed. It figured that the kid’s only English had still managed to peg him just right.
“Funny man, indeed,” he said with a smirk. “Have you heard the one about the duck…”
In spite of the fact that she didn’t understand much English, Lin’s laughter echoed through the chopper’s cockpit, dancing over the beating of the blades, the moans of the wounded villagers, and the bursts of gunfire that dogged their flight back to base.
“Oh, Murdock, she’s adorable.”
Murdock smiled at the gaggle of nurses that had gathered around him in the Officer’s Club.
“This here’s Lin. Her village was evacuated this morning, and she was trusted to my care by the Baracan one.”
“B.A.?” one of the nurses said with a smile. “He’s such a big teddy bear.”
“Yeah, Julie, but don’t let B.A. hear that,” Murdock said as he lifted Lin up on to the edge of the wooden bar.
“Hey, Sudsy,” Murdock said waving the bartender over.
“What can I do ya for, Cap’n?” the jovial sergeant said. He nodded politely at the nurses.
“I know for a fact that Faceman ‘liberated’ some ice-cream from a general in Saigon this week, and I also know that you’re keepin’ it for him.”
“Yessir, Cap’n, that’s right.”
“I don’t think Face would refuse ice-cream to such a pretty girl, do you?” Murdock asked.
Sam “Sudsy” Slopczek was already pulling out a bowl and a spoon. He bent down and took a gallon pail from the small freezer behind the bar.
“I don’t think the lieutenant would mind at all,” Sudsy said digging out a hefty scoop of vanilla and plopping it into the bowl. He watched Lin’s eyes grow wide as he pushed the bowl across the counter toward her. She looked at Murdock with questioning eyes. He thought for a moment and spoke to her in Vietnamese, then switched back to English.
“I don’t know the word for ‘ice-cream’, sweetheart, but it’s good stuff. Trust me, you’ll love it.”
She picked up the spoon in her small hand and took a tentative stab at the ice-cream. She lifted the spoon to her mouth and stuck out the tip of her tongue, gently licking at the white substance. She pulled back at the sudden coldness, but smiled as the sweet taste settled on her tongue.
“I think she likes it, Murdock,” a petite blonde nurse said, smiling as she watched the girl lift another spoonful to her mouth.
“Any chance of us nurses getting some of that ice-cream?” she asked conspiratorially.
“Nancy, you’re a charmer, but I think you’ll have to wait til Faceman gets back. However, I’d say your chances are very good,” Murdock whispered, giving her a friendly squeeze.
“What the fuck’s that gook doin’ in here?” A harsh voice cut through the air and silenced the crowd. Lin’s spoon hovered between the bowl and her mouth. She didn’t understand much English, but she knew the word gook. She knew someone was talking about her. A drop of melting ice-cream clung to the bottom of the spoon. She looked up at Murdock.
Murdock turned around to address the man that had spoken. A red-faced marine was pushing his way through the crowd, flanked by two heavy-set soldiers.
Murdock sighed. Potter, Matheson, and Knox. And drunk to boot. He didn’t get along with those three at the best of times, and this definitely wasn’t the best of times.
“You heard me, Flyboy,” the man yelled, still pushing his way across the room. The crowd at the Officer’s Club was thick and no one seemed particularly willing to let the drunken marine pass easily. “What’s that gook doin’ in here?”
“Lieutenant Potter, that’s no way to speak to a young lady,” Murdock said, his words measured out with barely restrained anger.
“She’s a fuckin’ gook. You sit up in the sky. You don’t see what they do to our boys down there.”
Murdock turned back to the counter and smiled at Lin. The drop of ice-cream that had been hovering on her spoon, fell like a white tear. Murdock snatched it from the air, catching it on the tip of his finger before it could add another stain to her simple dress. Murdock held his finger up and licked the drop of ice-cream off the tip.
“Mmmm,” he said. “That’s good.” Lin’s dark eyes peeked around him, looking for the man with the angry voice. Murdock took the bowl of ice-cream and the spoon and handed them to Julie.
“Don’t be afraid,” Murdock said to Lin in Vietnamese. He kissed her on top of the head and gently lifted her down from the counter.
“Nancy,” Murdock said in a low voice, “take her with you back to the hospital. I’ll come for her when this is done.”
Nancy looked down as Murdock pressed something into her hand. It was his gun.
“If anyone tries to stop you or tries to touch this child, shoot them.”
“I asked you a question, Captain,” Lieutenant Potter said.
Murdock turned to face the stocky marine that stood red-faced in front of him. He smelled like he’d fallen into a brewery. Murdock leaned casually against the counter, watching the nurses disappear with Lin through the back door that Sudsy held open for them.
“Sorry, Marine, it’s hard to hear you with your head stuck so far up your ass,” Murdock shot back.
The crowd laughed appreciatively, then turned back to their drinks as Potter fixed them with a look that could shatter glass.
“Your special forces buddies ain’t here to save you this time, Flyboy. Your ass is mine,”
“Really, Lieutenant, I had no idea you swung that way.”
Murdock easily ducked the swing that the sputtering lieutenant aimed at his head.
“Temper, temper!” Murdock cautioned, dancing out of the way and heading towards the door. He knew Sudsy hated it when the place got busted up.
“I’m gonna take great pleasure in pounding you into hamburger.” Potter and the other two marines followed Murdock outside.
“That’s so common. I’ve always thought of myself much more as a steak tartare kind of guy.”
Overhead the thunder of incoming choppers could be heard. Murdock knew the A-Team should be on one of them. Hopefully, he’d have some backup in no time. He didn’t really relish the thought of trying to take down three drunken marines himself, particularly thugs like Potter, Matheson, and Knox, but he would if he had to. With any luck, he wouldn’t have to.
“Face! B.A.!” The two soldiers looked up as they spotted one of the nurses racing across the tarmac towards them.
“What’s up, Nancy?” Face asked, catching her by the arm as she ran up to them.
“It’s Murdock,” she shouted over the sound of helicopters winding down. “He’s in trouble.”
“Crazy man’s always in trouble,” B.A. said shaking his head.
“No, B.A., I mean it. He was looking after that little girl you sent back, and a bunch of marines decided to pick a fight.”
B.A.’s eyes narrowed, dark and ugly.
“Where is she?”
“She’s with the nurses. She’s fine, but Murdock’s back at the Officer’s Club settling things with the marines.”
Face reached out and pulled the pistol from her waistband.
“This is Murdock’s,” Face stated. The Woody Woodpecker bandana tied around the handle was unmistakable. “What are you – -“
“He told me if anyone tried to lay a hand on the girl, shoot them. I don’t think he was kidding.”
B.A. and Face exchanged glances. They knew which group of marines this had to be. They’d dealt with them before.
“Problem, gentlemen?” Hannibal said quietly coming up behind them, his gaze shifting to the gun in Face’s hand. None of them had heard him approach.
“No, Colonel. No problem,” Face said hastily tucking the pistol into his waistband.
“Nothin’ we can’t handle,” B.A. said. Face and B.A. nodded at Hannibal and took off towards the Officer’s Club.
Hannibal looked thoughtful as he pulled out a fresh cigar and lit it.
“Lieutenant Jarvis,” he said.
“Yes, sir, Colonel?” Nancy said turning to Hannibal.
“Is there anything I need to know?”
“Um, I don’t think so, sir,” the nurse said awkwardly, eyes following the direction that Face and B.A. had taken. “I’d better get back to the hospital.”
“I’m heading over there myself,” Hannibal said with a smile. “I’ll walk with you, Lieutenant, and you can fill me in on what’s been happening.”
It wasn’t exactly an order, but from the determined look in the colonel’s clear blue eyes, Nancy knew Hannibal expected answers from her. They started walking towards the hospital, watching as the sky began to darken with the threat of rain.
In the area that doubled as a makeshift basketball court behind the Officer’s Club, Murdock was holding his own. His nose was bloody from where the marines had gotten in a few good shots, but so far they were each making a play for him on their own.
Good thing they’re drunk, Murdock thought. If they ever figure out how to attack together, I’m dead.
He neatly side-stepped a round-house kick aimed at his head by Potter.
A familiar voice floated through the small crowd that had gathered to watch the fight: “Murdock, how many times have we told you not to play with marines? You don’t know where they’ve been.”
“But they asked so nicely, Face, I couldn’t refuse,” Murdock said with a grin, keeping his eyes on his adversaries. No point getting distracted looking for Face. It was enough to know that backup was here.
“Three to one, though; those aren’t very good odds,” Face said thoughtfully.
“You collectin’ bets, Face? Still tryin’ to hustle marines?”
“Nah, you know I like a challenge,” Face said smoothly. Potter’s head whirled around as the crowd burst into laughter. Murdock took advantage of the distraction to land a solid right cross to Potter’s jaw.
Face gave Potter a little wave and continued: “No, I’m just wonderin’ why they haven’t figured out there’s three of them and only one of you.”
“I don’t think they can count that high,” Murdock said dodging a wild charge from Matheson.
“Peck, why don’t you shut your mouth and come help out your girlfriend here,” Potter yelled angrily as Knox landed a glancing blow to Murdock’s chin.
“Sticks and stones, gentlemen,” Face called back, slipping off his jacket and his sidearm. He pulled Murdock’s pistol from his pants and handed the pile to a young nurse who had stopped beside him to see what was going on.
“Would you be a dear and watch that for me?” Face said, flashing her his most charming smile. She took the items he handed her and nodded, speechless. She was still very new. She’d only heard about the handsome young lieutenant by reputation.
Face casually walked through the circling marines and stood with his back slightly turned to Murdock so they could keep an eye on all sides.
“Where’s the Baracan one?” Murdock asked under his breath.
“He’s around,” Face returned. “You okay?”
“If you’d prefer to handle this on your own, I can…” Face gestured off to the sidelines.
“Nah, since you’re here, it’d be a shame to waste such resources,” Murdock answered glibly.
“And what exactly are we doing here?”
“Defending a lady’s honour,” Murdock said, voice suddenly tight and humourless. “Seems our marines get a blast out of gettin’ drunk and makin’ little girls cry.”
“She’s a goddamn gook,” Potter spit out.
“She’s a little girl that you scared half to death and her name is Lin,” Murdock yelled back. Face frowned. He didn’t know the girl’s whole story, but he knew what he’d seen at the village. It had been a tough day. He’d also heard the marines took it pretty hard on a Recon patrol.
“Talk to your friends, Captain. They’ve seen it. Kids with big smiles and hugs, clinging to the legs of soldiers til the grenade pops and blows their legs off. Women with machine guns under their skirts. North Vietnamese, South Vietnamese. There’s no difference. The VC are everywhere, killing us all.”
The crowd fell silent.
“A miniature gook sittin’ in our club eatin’ ice-cream,” Potter said bitterly.
“Yeah, that makes her a real threat, don’t it?” Murdock fired back. “Especially after the VC wiped out most of her village.”
Murdock and Potter continued to glare at each other, adrenaline coursing through their veins.
“Ice-cream,” Face said slowly, the specifics of what Potter had said just registering in his brain. “Murdock, did you break into my private stock?” Out of the corner of his eye, Face saw Murdock give an almost imperceptible nod. “I’ll have to have a word with Sudsy about that.”
“You gonna chit-chat, or you gonna fight?” someone from the crowd yelled.
Face and Murdock glanced at each other.
“Fight!” they yelled in unison and flung themselves onto the nearest marines, which happened to be Matheson and Potter. The four men went down in a flurry of legs and flailing arms. Knox hesitated a moment, then took a step toward the action. He was pulled up short by someone holding the back of his shirt. He glanced behind him to see that he was being held by a large angry black man with a bad haircut.
“Now it’s three on three,” B.A. said, bringing his fist down on the marine’s head. The man crumpled to the ground at B.A.’s feet.
Face and Matheson were rolling around on the ground, trading awkward punches. The marine was taller and bigger than Face, but the lieutenant was more agile and more adept at fighting bigger opponents. He managed to get his feet into a position to push Matheson off him, and the two went at each other swinging.
Murdock and Potter had disentangled themselves and were circling like two wildcats.
“You’re a goddamn gook sympathizer, Captain. That’s what you are. Hangin’ with the Vietnamese, speakin’ their gibberish. It makes me sick to wear the same uniform as you,” Potter said.
“It would take two of my uniforms to fit you, Potter,” Murdock said, still circling. “Guess that makes me twice the man you are, huh?”
Potter paused for a moment, thinking there was something wrong with the pilot’s reasoning, but the whiskey was making him hazy. He forgot to duck the punch Murdock aimed at his chin. Potter reeled from the blow, then lunged forward catching Murdock around the waist and using his weight to carry them both. Murdock hit the ground and kept rolling, using his arms and legs to propel Potter backwards over his head. The marine lieutenant landed hard in the dirt. Murdock rolled to his feet.
Meanwhile, Face and Matheson staggered together at the far end of the court. They were fairly evenly matched with Face’s speed making up for Matheson’s bulk. Both men were breathing heavily.
“You know this is nothing personal, Marine,” Face said as he threw a punch at Matheson.
The marine partially blocked the blow that bounced awkwardly onto his shoulder. “Sure, Lieutenant, I got no beef with you. Not with the Cap’n either. He’s pulled our asses out of more firefights than I can count.”
“Then why are we fighting?” Face asked as he ducked a lazy punch from Matheson.
“You gotta stick with your unit, right? The L-T’s had too much to drink, seen too much. He’ll feel lousy tomorrow, but…”
“But he’s part of your team,” Face said throwing his fist into Matheson’s ribs. He connected, feeling the hard knot of bone against his hand. Face brought his knee up and smashed Matheson’s chin hard against it. The marine fell to the ground heavily and didn’t get up.
“Makes perfect sense, Marine,” Face said breathlessly. He leaned over with his hands on his knees for a moment, then realized that someone was standing beside him. He looked up to see B.A. staring down at him.
“You been here the whole time?” Face asked, wiping one hand across his face. It came away covered with sweat and a trace of blood.
“Yup,” B.A. said.
“You take care of Knox?”
“You even break a sweat?” Face said straightening up.
“Nope,” B.A. said with a grin.
“Should we give Murdock a hand?”
“Nope. Let him finish it.”
“So what are we here for?” Face asked.
“To keep it honest.”
Face nodded. They were living in the most fucked-up place in the world, but there still had to be rules. Rules to stand against the days when the world blew up around you. Rules for the days when you didn’t know whether to be afraid of little kids or whether to pity them. To pick them up and save them, or shoot them. Days when you needed to hit someone so badly just to connect with another living human being. Days when getting drunk seemed like a pretty damn reasonable answer to the world outside. They all had those days.
The sky overhead had grown darker as clouds began to roll in. A light rain had begun, but no one paid it any mind. It rained all the time here, it seemed. It was as ordinary as dying.
Face looked over to where Murdock and Potter were still trading punches. Murdock’s lip was bleeding freely, his nose a bloody mess. He looked like he’d probably have a shiner in the morning. Potter wasn’t in any better shape. His face was bleeding and he’d lost a tooth. He was moving like he might’ve cracked a rib.
Potter was breathing heavily. The rain landed on his face, drops of blood and water spattering his uniform.
“You just don’t get it, Flyboy. It’s a different war on the ground,” Potter said, swinging wildly at Murdock’s head.
“And I have to pick up the pieces and bring the bodies back to base. I hump more than supplies, you know,” Murdock said blocking Potter’s punch, and shoving him backwards. The rain was pounding down more forcibly now. Potter slipped in the slick soil and fell to his knees.
“But they’re not your men!” Potter cried, still on his knees. “Bradshaw and Thompson and Hennighan. They trusted me. I led them into that village.”
Potter got up, staggered, and threw a wild punch at Murdock’s head. Murdock easily side-stepped it. The rain was steady, warm, and grey. At the edge of the crowd, Face retrieved his weapons and jacket from the young nurse, who gratefully took the opportunity to leave for shelter. A few others joined her, running for the dry warmth of buildings. But mostly, the crowd stood silent, letting the rain wash over them, entranced by the scene in front of them.
“It should’ve been me,” Potter yelled at Murdock. “It should’ve been me that bought it. I was in charge. I sent them in there. Carter, Peters, Frenette. All dead because of me. Because of the goddamn gooks.”
“You didn’t know, Potter,” Murdock said seriously, still keeping his defenses up. “It wasn’t your fault.”
Potter, fists clenched in front of him, shook his head, raindrops falling from his wet hair. “They left their children behind. I sent men to check on the kids. I was checking the map when the grenades started goin’ off. Screamin’ and blood and pieces of my men. Just pieces. Kids were sittin’ on a goddamn pile of explosives. Their own kids.”
Potter swung at Murdock half-heartedly, the fight mostly gone out of him. Murdock caught the marine around his back, and the two of them slipped to their knees on the wet, muddy ground. Murdock held the struggling man tightly in his arms.
“How could they do that to their own kids, Cap’n?” Potter asked. “Six guys dead. Three little kids. Smiling. Waving. So happy to see us. How could anyone do that?”
Murdock just shook his head, felt Potter shaking as he leaned into the pilot’s shoulder.
“I don’t know, man,” Murdock said softly. “War doesn’t make sense. Too much dyin’ on all sides.”
Murdock looked up helplessly, saw Face gently herding people back to the Officer’s Club, no doubt promising a round on the house for everyone that would forget about this little incident. On the edge of things, Murdock caught a glimpse of a familiar shape lingering in the dark and the rain, almost imperceptible among the shadows. The tip of a cigar glowed faintly, then disappeared. For a moment, Murdock wondered if he was seeing things. Against his shoulder, Potter’s muffled sobs started to subside.
B.A. had roused Knox and Matheson and was holding them each by a sleeve. They looked like two bedraggled cats pulled from a mud bath. Murdock held Potter until the man slumped backwards away from him.
“Ah, shit,” Potter said, taking a swipe at his eyes. “Goddamn cheap whiskey.”
He looked up, not quite looking Murdock in the eye. “Tell the girl I’m sorry. Just a fucked-up day.”
“I’ll tell her,” Murdock said. “And what happened wasn’t your fault. The VC will use anyone, but not everyone is VC. There’s a reason we’re here. You gotta keep believin’ that. It’s kids like Lin that we’re here for. To keep them alive.”
Potter nodded weakly.
“If you tell anyone about this, I’ll beat the shit out of you,” Potter said as Murdock helped him to his feet.
“Not on your best day, Marine,” Murdock said, rubbing at his broken lip.. Knox and Matheson each took one of Potter’s arms and helped him away. The three of them disappeared into the rain.
Murdock walked slowly over to where Face and B.A. were waiting for him. The adrenaline had worn off, and he was starting to feel the fight in every inch of his body.
“Don’t like gettin’ wet, fool,” B.A. said gruffly. He put his hand on Murdock’s chin and took a look at his rapidly swelling eye. “Need to get you inside, get you somethin’ for that eye.”
“It’ll be fine, B.A.,” Murdock said, pulling back.
“Faceman’ll take you back to the hooch, get you fixed up.”
Face looked momentarily surprised at B.A.’s order. He looked longingly towards the Officer’s Club. “But, B.A., I was going to…”
“Don’t care, Faceman. Murdock needs tendin’ to and I gotta check on Lin. You wanna drink, there’s scotch in my footlocker,” he said starting to walk away.
“I’ll need your key, B.A.” Face called after him. B.A. just snorted and kept walking.
Back at their hooch, Murdock had stripped out of his uniform and was wearing clean dry pants with a rough wool blanket draped loosely around his shoulders. Face had changed completely into dry clothes and was sitting on his bunk smoking a cigar. It was just the two of them.
It had been Hannibal’s idea to bunk the pilots in with the teams to build comradery So far it had resulted in several fist fights, one broken nose, and numerous death threats. Oddly enough, Murdock seemed to be fitting in with his teammates better than the rest of the pilots, who were an eccentric bunch.
“Guess B.A. knew you could pick the lock,” Murdock said from his bunk beside Face’s. Murdock took a swig from the bottle of scotch Face handed him.
“Seems that way,” Face said. “Think he counted the cookies his mama sent that time? We only snitched two.”
“Nah, B.A. just knows ya too well.”
“I guess.” Face blew a smoke ring casually into the air. Murdock took another mouthful of scotch.
“You know B.A. hates it when you drink from the bottle,” Face said reaching for two glasses. Murdock grinned, put the bottle to his lips again, then poured a healthy amount into the glass Face handed him. He poured a second glass for Face.
“Yeah, I can almost hear him: ‘get a glass, fool’,” Murdock said capping the scotch and setting it on the floor.
“How’s your eye?” Face asked.
Murdock pulled the cold compress away from it and squinted at Face. The lieutenant gave him an appraising look.
“Well, I’ve seen you look worse. ‘Course you were face down in the mud bleedin’ from both ears at the time, but still…” Face let his voice trail off as he took another drag on the cigar.
“You shoulda seen the other guy,” Murdock said, putting the cloth back on his eye and wrapping the blanket more tightly around his shoulders.
“Hate to break it to you, friend, but ~you~ were the other guy.”
Hannibal stepped through the doorway out of the rain.
“Am I interrupting something, boys?” Hannibal said shaking water off his jacket and crossing the floor to Face’s bed. Face pulled a fresh cigar from his shirt pocket and handed it to the colonel. Hannibal sat down beside Murdock.
“B.A. wanted me to tell you that Lin is fine. He’s made arrangements for her to stay with the Sisters of Charity at Our Lady of Sorrows Mission. The nurses are looking after her in the meantime.” Hannibal spit out the end of the cigar and pulled out his lighter. The flame leapt brightly in the small dark space.
“Good to know,” Murdock said nodding and sipping on his scotch. The sisters were kind-hearted, and far enough away so as not be any real threat to the Viet Cong. The mission was generally left alone to do its work of looking after orphans of the war. About once a month, B.A. insisted on making them all head down there to play baseball with the kids. For an afternoon, life seemed almost normal. Baseball and laughter.
“So you had a tangle with a marine, Captain,” Hannibal said. It wasn’t a question.
“Nothing I couldn’t handle, sir,” Murdock said. “And I had a bit of help.” Hannibal reached over and pushed aside Murdock’s hand that held the compress.
“That’ll be a nice shiner in the morning. I hope it was worth it,” Hannibal said puffing on the cigar.
Murdock smiled. “Yessir, Colonel. It most definitely was.”
The rain stopped sometime after midnight. Murdock opened his eyes. The steady patter of rain dripping off the buildings had been replaced by an emptiness that Murdock found strangely disconcerting. He preferred the rain. Its sounds filled up the night. He could get lost in the drumming of its fingers against the wooden roofs. He could let it wash away the images from his mind. The men. The bodies. Death all around.
“You okay?” Face whispered.
Murdock turned his head and saw the lieutenant was studying him in the moonlit room. Murdock nodded once. Face was turned on his side, eyes watching, taking in everything. They lay like that in silence for awhile- – Murdock staring at the dark ceiling above him, listening to the other men breathing in the darkness, Face watching him silently, not asking for anything, offering his presence as a touchstone.
Murdock turned back towards Face.
“You think Potter was right?” he whispered. “That I don’t know what it’s like? Don’t see things the same way?”
Face shrugged. “You’ve never seen things the same way.”
Murdock glared at him across the beds. “I’m serious.”
“So am I.” Face kept his voice low. “Things ~are~ different in the air. Different doesn’t mean better. Your job is different. You’re there to keep people alive, get them to safety, take care of the wounded. You being there lets us do what we have to do on the ground, knowing you’ll come back for us, that we’re not alone.”
“So Potter’s right then.” Murdock rolled onto his side and looked across at Face. Face could see the dark outline of the bruises around Murdock’s eye.
“That’s not what I’m saying,” Face said adamantly.
A harsh whisper cut through the darkness: “Whatever the hell you’re saying, hurry it up and shut up!”
Murdock and Face exchanged a glance, rolled quietly out of their beds, grabbed their boots, and slipped out the door. The night air was cool and damp after the rain. It smelled rich and green, like living things. They sat side by side on the step in front of their hooch. A lighter flared in the darkness, and the scent of a cigar filled the air.
“Do you sleep with those things?” Murdock asked turning to stare at Face. The lieutenant just grinned.
“Listen to me, Murdock,” Face said. “Some of the pilots don’t seem to care what happens on the ground. That’s why they’re having a hard time fitting in. They don’t want to know. It’s easier not to know.”
Murdock nodded. Just fly. Up and down. Don’t look in the back. Don’t watch the men. Don’t see the bodies being hefted in. Don’t watch the blood trickle across the floor. Don’t listen to the screams. Ignore the bullets shattering against the chopper. If it were only that easy to block the world out.
“But you’re different,” Face continued. “Even if you’re not there to see it all, you know what’s happening. I know B.A. didn’t have time to tell you what happened in Lin’s village, but you had a pretty good idea. And I know you can see exactly what happened to Potter’s men, even though you weren’t anywhere near there.”
Murdock closed his eyes and nodded. God, how he wished he could keep the images away. Smiling faces. Hands extended. Guns slung lazily over the marines’ backs. Just kids. And then the sound of thunder. A bloody hand. Holes in flesh. The flutter of a chocolate bar wrapper. He felt Face’s hand on his shoulder.
“It’s not a contest about who’s gone through more,” Face whispered. “We’ve all seen more than enough. Done more than enough. Don’t you go thinkin’ that you haven’t been through enough ’cause I know you have. I’ve seen you have to use your gun. We’ve both had to…” Face’s voice trailed off. Murdock opened his eyes and looked into Face’s. They were more green than blue in the greyish light. Murdock had never seen anyone’s eyes change so much. Shifting with the light. Blue-green like the jungle washed with rain.
Murdock knew what Face was saying. They’d both killed. It was a war. It came with the territory. And the chances were good that they’d both do more killing before their tours were up. Especially since Hannibal insisted on Murdock doing some field training with his twelve man A-Team. He wanted Murdock to know exactly what to expect from them on the ground, to be able to anticipate their moves so that he could be where he was most needed when the time came. He didn’t have their Special Forces training, but Hannibal was doing everything he could to make sure Murdock was every bit as prepared as any other member of his team. It was only a matter of time before he was put to the test on the ground as well as in the air. When the time came, Murdock hoped he would be ready.
“And you know, Murdock, there’s one little girl and a big angry black man who are eternally grateful for you being there tonight. That’s gotta count for something.”
“It does. More than you know, Face. Thanks,” Murdock said. The two of them continued to sit in silence listening to the sounds of a camp asleep. Face puffed thoughtfully on his cigar.
“Know what would hit the spot right now?” Murdock asked.
“It’s the middle of the night, Murdock. Kitchen’s not open.”
“Ice-cream. Vanilla ice-cream.” Murdock grinned wickedly and was pleased when Face matched him tooth for tooth.
“You know, that does sound good, and I’m sure that Sudsy probably forgot to lock the back door of the Club,” Face said rising to his feet.
“Sudsy never forgets,” Murdock said getting up off the steps.
Face pulled his lock-pick set out of his pocket and waved it at Murdock.
“I’m sure he forgot tonight.”
Murdock flung an arm around Face’s shoulder and they headed for the Officer’s Club.
“Cigars, lockpicks – – man, what else do you sleep with?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?”
Their easy laughter carried lightly on the breeze.
The barest hint of pink began to seep over the horizon, bathing the world in light, birthing the sun anew.