Ruiz stepped out of Mamasan Linda's into the blinding sunlight and smack into a soft curvy female body, nearly knocking her and himself off their feet.
Together the two fumbled with an armful of packages, saving them from tumbling to the ground.
"Sorry, sorry!" he said concentrating on getting the parcels' center of gravity back.
"That's okay." she said laughing.
Ruiz looked up quickly, a little startled, into the face of the young woman for the first time and he thought his legs would give out.
She spoke American. She was American. And she . . , she was ... a beautiful American!
He took her all in in a heartbeat. Her rich wavy brunette hair, just kissing her jaw line, her flawless skin. A petit little thing with gentle swells and curves in all the right places, with blue eyes that seemed to trap him, seemed to look right into his heart.
He stared as her moist pink mouth lifted into a smile. Felt her amused giggle wash over him.
"Weren't expecting an American were you?" she deduced easily from his surprised gawking.
"Uh, no. no ma'am. I wasn't." answered Ruiz, finally tearing his eyes away from her out of politeness.
"Ruiz?" she asked, reading his fatigues.
Ruiz looked down at his chest as if seeing the name tag for the first time.
"Oh, yeah, Alberto Ruiz, that's me." he shrugged, offering up a nervous smile.
He glanced over his shoulder at the entrance of the bar expecting the rest of the guys to file out looking for him and rob him of this moment.
"I'm, Kelly." she said dragging his attention back to her.
"It's very nice to meet you Kelly. Where . . ?"
"Hey, Roo . . , " said Doc making Ruiz jump, as he sidled up beside him, giving the petit brunette the once over, "... hello." he said, smiling sweetly at her.
Ruiz's shoulders slumped.
"Hi." she smiled back.
"Uh, Doc, this is Kelly. Kelly this is, ‘Doc'." introduced Ruiz quickly.
"Kelly? Where you from? And what the ‘heck' is a pretty young thing like you doing in a nasty place like Vietnam?"
"I'm from Amory. Mississippi. I work over at the Embassy. Been here about a month."
"A month," Doc glanced at Ruiz, "Why, she's practically a newbie, ain't she, Ruiz. Needs some lookin' after till she knows the ropes, ain't that right, Roo-ees."
Ruiz shot Doc a glance that would freeze ice.
"Well at least I didn't call her an FNG." snorted Doc in amusement jamming his hands deep into his pockets, plainly seeing Ruiz was taken with the pretty girl.
"What's a ‘newbie'?" asked Kelly trying to read Alberto's face.
"Uhh, Doc! Don't you gotta be someplace ‘with' the guys'?" warned Ruiz as subtly as he could.
"Oh, right. Yeah . . , completely forgot. Thanks for reminding me. Uh ... He's a great guy, Kelly . . , always so concerned for others. Big heart. I gotta go round up the guys for ... something," he flashed them a peace sign and headed back into the bar, "we have to leave soon ... Roo." he called over his shoulder before slipping back into the smoke filled bar of mamasan Linda's.
"He seems nice."
"Who, Doc? Yeah, ... he's great." mumbled Ruiz.
"Well . . ." she sighed, glancing around.
"So, you work at the embassy. . .?" he had to say something to keep her from going.
"Yes. I'm a clerk."
"That sounds nice." Oh man, that was lame, he thought and fumbled awkwardly trying to find something more intelligent to say.
"Where are you headed?" he asked quickly.
"Back to the embassy, actually. I'm just on my lunch."
"Oh." he was crestfallen.
Kelly glanced at her watch. "I've got time for a coffee."
"Yeah?" his face lit up and she nodded, returning his enthusiastic smile.
"Then you can walk me back to the embassy."
"Sure!" he smiled excitedly.
Doc eased himself back down onto the chair with a smug grin that got everyone's attention.
"Why do I think you're up to something, Doc?" asked Percell, reaching for a freshly delivered beer.
"Suspicious nature?" answered Doc and the grin widened.
"Are we going to have to beat this out of you Doc?" shot Taylor dragging his attention away from the intriguing neck of the boom-boom girl perched in his lap.
"I suppose I could tell you but Ruiz will probably kill me."
The others leaned forward in unison. Doc grinned contently about having them all hanging on his every word.
"Well?!" drawled Percell finally.
"Well, fellas, our little buddy Ruiz' has got himself a girlfriend." announced Doc, smiling at the confused faces surrounding him.
What? Huh? came a mix of surprised responses and they looked around, realizing that Roo was not among them.
"What the hell you talking about, Doc?" challenged Danny, not believing Hockenbury.
"You don't believe me, go check it out for yourselves. He's outside with her . . ." he began.
"... right now." He finished as the table emptied.
Ruiz and Kelly headed off along the crowded sidewalk unaware that they were being watched.
"It was very nice meeting you, Kelly. I enjoyed spending this time together." said Ruiz glancing at the guard standing rigidly at the embassy gates.
"I had a nice time too, Alberto. Thank you." she said, taking the parcels he'd carried back for her.
"Maybe I could see you again?"
"I'd like that ... A lot." she answered, meeting his bright eyes.
"I meet you at the café. Tomorrow. 1300H hrs. Okay for you?"
"1300H hrs. Yes sir." she gave him a little salute.
Before he could control the impulse, Ruiz took her hand and kissed it softly.
It surprised them both and to cover his own shock, he added with Don Juan flare; "Adios pequeñita. Until tomorrow then." and hurried away before he did anything else to blow it with her.
"Adios Alberto." she called as the guard swung the front gates closed.
Once out of sight of the embassy, Ruiz stopped to rest against a building to catch his breath.
"Dios." he mumbled laying a hand over his heart and felt it racing.
The guys were piled in the jeep and about to pull out as Ruiz came racing up the street to catch them.
"Where have you been? We were about to leave without you." hen-pecked Taylor sliding over to make room for Ruiz beside him in the back.
"Yeah Roo ... Tell us where you've been ALL afternoon." drawled Hockenbury leveling a gaze at the man over his glasses.
"I went for a coffee."
Percell looked from Taylor to Doc then to Ruiz, all the while a grin tugging at his mouth.
"Coffee? Is that what we're calling *it* now?"
Ruiz sat sullenly midst the laughter.
"Yeah, Percell, Y'drip." laughed Taylor to a round of groans as the jeep bounced its way out of Saigon heading for Tan Son Nhut.
"Who'd y'have ... ‘coffee' ... with, Roo?" asked Doc, getting a kick out of watching Ruiz squirm in silence.
"Roo? You hiding something from us?" asked Percell joining Hockenbury in teasing their friend.
"Ain't hiding nothing, Danny. Just went for a coffee. Alright." warned Ruiz staring straight ahead avoiding everyone's eye.
"I'm going back to see that lil' doll, Charlene tomorrow!" announced Taylor.
"Charlene? I thought her name was Crystal." called Doc across the open jeep.
"Maybe when you were with her, Doc." laughed Marcus, finding that funny.
On their way to their barracks after signing their jeep back into the motor pool, Bravo Company was intercepted by Sgt. Anderson.
"Turn in early, guys. All passes are canceled until further notice and we're going out on patrol at first light."
"But, Sarge....!" they all whined in beautiful harmony.
Ruiz thought his heart would stop. He was meeting Kelly tomorrow.
"Now, settle down. We're only going out on a quick snoop'n'poop. You'll be back in the EM-club by sun down." cajoled Anderson before turning and walking away.
"Man, this sucks," grumbled Ruiz, "Sarge. . ." he trotted after the departing man.
"Sarge, got a minute?"
"Walk with me. I'm heading in to see the L-tee."
"Any way of getting out of this mission, Sarge?"
"What's the matter, Ruiz? You sick?"
"No, Sarge. I mean, yes Sarge. I mean ... No." he finally settled, not able to lie.
"Okay, now that we've figured that one out, you wanna ‘splain to me why you don't want to come with us tomorrow?"
"Never mind." mumbled Ruiz walking away, more dejected than ever.
"Now, hold up a minute, son. Talk to me. It's my job to keep my people happy as best I can. What is it?"
Ruiz looked around for eavesdroppers.
"It's a girl, Sarge."
Anderson smiled at Ruiz a moment before speaking.
"A ... girl?!"
Roo ducked his head, feeling the embarrassing heat rising in his cheeks.
"Ruiz? One of Mamasan Linda's boom-boom girls? Her name wasn't Daphne was it?"
"No, Sarge, Kelly ain't one of Mamasan Linda's girls. She's an American. She works at the Embassy." Ruiz blurted out before his nerves failed him.
"Well, now . . ." Anderson propped his hand on his hips and looked around, "Ruiz, I'm right happy for you and - what's her name? Kelly? But we're here courtesy of the United States Army and we answer to them. Not the American Embassy. So you'll just have to go see her when the Army says you can."
"I was supposed to meet her. She'll be waiting for me."
"You'll be out humpin' the boonies tomorrow, Ruiz, she's going to have to wait."
"Good morning, Jean." smiled Kelly as she stepped into the office.
"Somebody's pretty happy this morning." noticed the older woman, sipping a fresh cup of coffee.
"I met someone. A G.I.!" explained Kelly excitedly , getting herself a coffee.
"Oh, oh . . ." mumbled Jean before turning to her typewriter and looking busy.
"What's that supposed to mean?" asked Kelly surprised by the woman's comment.
"Nothing ... huh, just remembered I had some stuff to get done."
"Jean . . ."
"Look, Kel, it's just not smart getting involved with a g.i., okay . . ."
Praying that Victor Charles was not waiting in the thick ground fog, the nervous grunts spilled from the chopper and headed quickly and quietly for the shadowy tree line. The bird had leap frogged over half a dozen LZ's to confuse the VC before expelling its cargo.
Now squatting in the dense underbrush, all eyes were on the Lieutenant. Strict noise discipline was in effect and they watched as the sweeps and flicks of his every hand gesture issued instructions. Misinterpretation could spell death for a man or an entire platoon.
Moving in a north easterly direction, Bravo Company prowled silently through enemy territory. Not a branch rustled, not a twig snapped in the eerie terrain. They moved like spectres through the mist.
Point man, Marcus Taylor raised a fist as he went smoothly down on one knee, waited until the Sarge and L-tee moved up the line to join him.
He pointed at his eyes then straight ahead of him. The two scanned the swirling wall before them trying to see what Marcus had spotted. Anderson suddenly noticed the moving grey shapes among the mottled patches of grey and green. He tapped Goldman and pointed them out to him. The enemy moved about unaware of their presence, no more than 10 meters away from their position, but one slip up from anyone in Bravo Company now, and the young Americans were never going to see another sunrise.
As Goldman studied his map, pinpointing their exact location, Anderson slipped back up the line motioning for the men to make it back to the LZ.
Once the Lieutenant had the coordinates locked down, he gave a nod, and he and Taylor followed the path the rest of the squad had made back to their landing zone.
They were not going to engage the enemy on this trip out, they were merely gathering intelligence for MacV. And now it was a done deal, Bravo Company was bringing that information home to them.
A quiet resolve settled over the men as they squatted or knelt motionless, concealed in the tall elephant grass as the climbing sun quickly burned off the protective cover of fog. They waited silently for their ride to swoop in and lift them out of there. They were all coming home from this mission.
As they clambered into the chopper for the ride back to base, Ruiz glanced regretfully at his watch. 1430H hrs. He would have met Kelly over an hour ago. What would she be thinking?
Among the relaxed mood of men on their way back to base, Ruiz sat in a miserable funk. They were heading back to Tan Son Nhut but he was still miserable. F.T.A.! he thought angrily ... That's it! He was going to go into Saigon tonight if he had to be A.W.O.L. to do it! The thought cheered him up a little.
Jean looked up as Kelly dragged herself into the office.
"So, how was lunch? Must have been great, you're nearly 2 hours late."
Kelly didn't answer her. Just crossed to her desk and began working.
"Kel? How was lunch?"
"Fine." was all she said.
"What's wrong then?" asked Jean, starting to worry.
"What do you want me to say? You were right. I should have listened to you?"
"What happened? Did he do something?" asked Jean, getting angry imagining a thick headed grunt trying to force himself on the sweet girl that sat across from her.
"He never showed up! Didn't even have the decency to tell me to my face that he wasn't interested." said Kelly, hurt and angry by the whole thing.
"Oh . . ." Jean nodded sympathetically, having seen all kinds of rejection and ‘desertion' from service men at first hand.
"I really liked him . . ." declared Kelly as if defending her feelings.
"Maybe he had to go out on a patrol or something?" sympathized Jean unconvincingly.
"He seemed like such a great guy, Jean. How could I have been so stupid to think . . ." she was too close to tears to continue. Was surprised at the strength of her emotions over a man she'd spent maybe a couple of hours with.
"Don't let him get to you honey. They're all bastards! Take it from someone who's been there. Just remember that and stay away from ANYBODY in the military ... Say, Kel, do you know Gordon up in immigration? He was asking about you the ... . . ."
Kelly tuned the woman out and busied herself with the back log of paperwork she always seemed to be facing. She'd lose herself in her work and not think about Alberto. Not think about anything. Except maybe transferring back to the states as soon as she could.
"Can't you drive any faster, Taylor?" complained Ruiz, squinting into the late afternoon sun, eager to get into town and visit Kelly.
To Ruiz's great annoyance, they'd ended up stuck on base for another week before they were given passes to go into Saigon.
He was dying to see her again. Could picture her clear, smiling blue eyes. Smell her clean hair, feel the smooth warmth of her skin.
"Come on, Marcus."
"What's the matter witchoo, Roo!? You want me to run over all these people?" asked Taylor, gesturing at the foot traffic all around them.
Ruiz grinned sheepishly and shrugged, "Just shut up and drive, man."
Ruiz hopped out of the jeep before the engine had dies and headed off, intent on his mission.
"Yo! Roo. Where the hell you going in such a hurry?" called Percell, jumping off the back of the jeep.
" ... Coffee. Just going for coffee."
Ruiz shouldered his way through the crowd, ignoring the laughs and catcalls from the grunts climbing out of the jeep.
About three blocks from the Embassy, Ruiz stepped into a tiny shop and bought presents for Kelly.
With an armful of parcels, Specialist 4th Class Alberto Ruiz approached the American Embassy.
The imposing Marine posted at the gate sized up the approaching infantry grunt in a bored glance.
"Excuse me." called Ruiz through the foreboding iron bars.
"Yeah?" came the Marine's baritone response.
"I'm here to see a girl that works here. Name's Kelly . . ."
The Marine gave Ruiz an up and down once over again before glancing back at the Embassy's front doors.
"Miss Travers isn't in presently."
Ruiz stared at the man a moment wondering how far he'd get if he lost his temper right now.
"Do you know when she'll be back?"
"I watch the gates buddy, not the social lives of the staff."
"Look, man, could you tell her that Alberto Ruiz was here to see her?"
"If I remember." answered the Marine indifferently.
"Can I leave these with you, for her?" asked Ruiz pushing the parcels through the gate at the Marine before he could say no.
"Hey!" cried the Marine grabbing for a falling box.
"Thanks man. Tell her I've gone for a coffee." added Ruiz, spirits sinking.
Dejected and not in any mood to sit and take the ribbing he knew the guys would be giving him, he wandered aimlessly through the streets.
Deep shadows were filling alleys and corners before he decided to stop and have something to eat. He knew he had to be back for the jeep ride back to the firebase before curfew but for now, he just wanted to be alone.
He found his way to the café he and Kelly had sipped coffee at. He sat at the table they'd shared. He smoothed the wrinkled tablecloth, remembering how good it felt to sit and talk with her. They'd talked about everything and nothing. He sat listening intently as she told him about the way things were back in the States. Appreciated when she didn't sugar coat the truth.
She told him about her family and asked about his.
They talked and laughed for hours before he had to hurry off to catch the jeep back to base.
They'd had a good time. A great time. Back home people might have said they'd ‘hit it off'. In Nam, it was only a couple of people spending time together. There was no room for plans. No certainties.
Ruiz was lost in his reverie as the waiter set down his order before him. His stomach growling brought him back to the present.
He began to eat halfheartedly as he watched the sun sink behind the rickety buildings around him.
The taxi pulled up in front of the Embassy.
"Well, I better get going, I have lots to do. Thanks for lunch and the tour, Gordon." said Kelly practically running for the Embassy gates, eager to put distance between her and her obnoxious coworker.
"Hey, Kel, if you're not doing anything for dinner . . ." purred Gordon swaggering confidently up to the gate to join her.
"Uh . . ."
"Miss Travers. There are parcels here for you." said the Marine posted at the gate, ushering her and Gordon into the compound.
"Parcels? You sure they're for me?"
"What are they?" asked Gordon, poking a nosy finger at one of them.
"A Specialist 4th Class Alber . . ." began the guard ignoring the man.
"Ruiz!" gasped Kelly, beaming at the Marine.
"Yes, ma'am." smiled the guard, infected by her bubbling joy.
"Where is he?" she asked looking around as the guard thought a moment.
"Uh, all he said was that he was going for ... coffee?"
"Coffee?" snorted Gordon.
"Oh ... Oh, gosh, how long ago was this?" she asked excitedly grabbing the Marine's hand.
"Maybe an hour ago, I guess."
"An hour?!" she cried, "Gordon, sorry, I can't have dinner with you. I'm busy. Oh my goodness." she gasped.
And before either could stop her, Kelly raced through the gates and down the street.
‘please let him still be there, please' she prayed, speeding towards the café. Their café.
Ruiz rose as he set down his beer and took one final drag on his cigarette. He was fishing in his pocket for his MPC's when he heard a voice call his name. He froze, waiting to see if it was real or if he'd imagined it.
‘It can't be!' he thought.
"Alberto!" her happy cry reached him.
His breath caught in his throat as he turned to see her running towards him.
"Kelly ... I . . ."
She cut him off rushing into his arms, pressing hungry lips to his. He returned the kiss as his arms hugged her tightly to him, her warm curves fitting perfectly against him.
"Oh ... Alberto." she sighed breaking the kiss to catch her breath.
"Kelly, I'm so sorry I didn't come the other day . . ."
"That doesn't matter, you're here now." she smiled happily at him.
"I couldn't . . ." continued Ruiz wanting her to know that it had totally been out of his control.
"It's okay, you don't have to explain." she caressed a frown from his face.
"I missed you. Thought about you every second." he confessed.
"Uh . . , would you ... would you like to have dinner, or something?"
Kelly stared up into Spc4 Ruiz's dark eyes. Seeing her own feelings reflected there.
"I would like us to go back to my apartment." she finally said, her eyes never leaving his as she watching for his reaction to her bold suggestion.
"Are you sure?" he asked reaching up and brushing her hair away from her face.
"More than I've ever been about anything in my life."
"Okay." he managed before he was overcome by the urge to kiss her again.
The Embassy guard watched impassively as Gordon crawled into the back of the taxi, slamming the door shut, barking directions at the Vietnamese driver.
Gordon sat forward leaning over the back of the driver seat watching the signs and people milling about the streets.
"There! Over there!" he pointed to the dingy facade of Tran's ‘Beaucoup Bar', "Wait here! he threw money at the driver and climbed out.
He glanced around nervously before stepping inside.
The bar was bathed in red light, shadows bled across faces and bodies. He scanned the crowd as he moved deeper into the pulsing den. A short, sweaty, balding Vietnamese man bustled his way over to his side and ushered him to the bar.
"Mr. Gordon-san. You come drink at bar. No want no trouble. You drink free."
"Don't want a drink, Tran."
"You no can have boom-boom girl, Gordon-san. You play too rough. No want trouble. You put Tran out of business. Drink Mr. Gordon-san and dee-dee."
"I'm not looking for one of your stinking whores tonight, Tran." Gordon laughed as two girls spotted him and hurried away.
"Come drink with me." coaxed Tran nervously.
"I need two men to do a job for me."
"I have friends." he led Gordon to a private room behind the bar. The door clicked shut and the music dropped to a muffled throb.
"I need to teach an American G.I. a lesson."
"G.I.? No want trouble, Gordon-san." whined Tran.
"Here's where they can find him." continued Gordon, ignoring Tran's protests.
"Tell them to have some fun." he grinned, presenting Tran a skull-like grin.
"It cost beaucoup money." countered Tran seeing a way of making some quick money for very little work.
"I have money. You know that."
Tran nodded, remembering the money Gordon had willingly paid to repair the girl he'd nearly beaten to death.
"I get you the men."
"Just give them the address and give them what you think they're worth." Gordon pulled out a choking wad of money and handed most of it over to Tran.
"They do number one job!" smiled and nodded Tran wrapping his greedy hand around the bills.
"Tell them not to hurt the girl ... too badly. I've got my own plans for that one . . ."
Gordon breezed back through the bar, stepped into the cab.
"Back to Embassy, boss?"
"No. Take me to 28 Diep Street." he smiled smugly.
"Okay boss." agreed the driver, afraid of the American that just climbed back into his taxi.
Ruiz followed Kelly up the narrow flight of wooden stairs and down the dimly lit corridor to her apartment door.
Unlocking it, Kelly quickly led Alberto inside and he swung the door shut behind them as they embraced.
Ruiz lowered his mouth to press against her inviting lips, his tongue greeted by hers.
Kelly moaned against his mouth as his hands circled her waist and glided up her back, pressing her body against his.
Kelly leaned back against the wall as they broke from the kiss and smiled up into the smoldering dark eyes that were riveted on her.
She looked away, blushing hotly, glad for the shadows that hid her face.
"You are. Hasn't anyone ever said that to you before?"
"It never meant as much coming from them."
Ruiz reached out and tucked loose hair behind her ear, leaned in and nuzzled the soft skin beneath her jaw.
She tilted her head to one side to offer up more flesh for his mouth to cover. She moaned at the sensations his mouth sent through her body.
"Oh, Ruiz . . ." his mouth was there claiming hers before she could say any more.
Finally tearing himself away from her, Ruiz straightened up and glanced around, squinted in the dark.
"Are we in your apartment?" he joked, a little breathless.
The two giggled, realizing they hadn't gotten farther than the front door.
"Show me around."
"Not much to see, really."
"For me it is."
"Oh, yeah, you're right, I'm sorry."
Taking Alberto by the hand, Kelly led him into the main room and turned on a table lamp.
"This is the living room ... , the kitchen's behind the curtain." she said pointing, " ... the bathroom's over there and . . ."
"Bathroom! With a bath tub!?"
Kelly giggled at his excitement.
"As a matter of fact, it does. It's one of those big old claw foot kind."
she said with a sparkle in her eyes.
Ruiz grinned and raised approving eyebrows at her.
" ... and ... this is the, bedroom." she led him into the room, flicking the wall switch as they entered. A small bed side lamp, draped in a purple scarf, sprang to life, bathing the room in velvety shadows.
They stood a moment in awkward silence.
"Want a cold beer?" said Kelly, needing to fill that growing silence.
"I'd love one." he accepted readily, not sure why he was suddenly so nervous.
"Make yourself comfortable." she said motioning to the sofa as she went into the kitchen to get the beer.
Taylor clomped into the hootch, wet towel hanging around his neck, toothbrush clamped between his teeth. Glancing around at the cots, he whipped the towel from around his neck and pitched it at his rack.
"He's still not here?" he snapped at no one in particular.
"Nope." answered Percell, not looking up from the comic book he was reading.
"Chasing a damned skirt! Gonna get himself latrine duty at this rate ... What are we gonna tell Sarge?"
"Nothin' if he don't ask."
"You *know* the Sarge, Danny, he's gonna ask."
Lying stretched out the length of his rack, propped up on one elbow, Danny, finally looked up at Taylor, watched him pace a moment before finally settling on his own cot.
"Just tell him he's in the shitter." Danny suggested with a shrug.
"Or in the shower."added Doc, coming and sitting on the foot of Percell's bed.
" ‘sides Marcus, he said he'd find his own way back, remember . . ," said Percell, grabbing the neck of his t-shirt and pulling it off, "... I'm going to have a shower." he added grabbing a towel as he rolled out of bed.
"Sarge'll know. I just know it."
"We'll just cover for him, Taylor, relax already."
"Sarge'll know." continued Taylor ignoring them.
"Sarge'll know what?"
Percell stopped mid-stride as Sargent Anderson pulled open the screen door. ‘shit' thought Percell, how much had he heard?!
"Uh, know when we're back out on patrol." blurted Hockenbury giving Taylor a nervous look.
"Yeah, Sarge . . ." added Percell, striking a casual pose and looking all interested.
Anderson noticed their behavior, glanced quickly around the room but chose to ignore his suspicions. He'd let them all think they were getting away with whatever it was they were scheming.
"Kick back and enjoy yourselves tonight, ladies. We're on stand-down orders. Some simple duties tomorrow, that's it."
"Aw, that's great, Sarge." grinned Percell.
"Yeah, thanks Sarge."
"Right then, , , You all be sure to see the duty roster on my door 0700H hrs, sharp."
He took a long look around the room again ... ah-ha ...
"... and make sure Spc4 Ruiz hears about the stand down order too. He's probably in the showers or the can ... right?"
"Yeah shower." / "Yeah shitter." came two different answers simultaneously.
"Which is it? Shower or Shitter?" he looked at all the overly blank faces around him, "Taylor ... ?"
Anderson fought back a grin as Taylor twitched and gazed up at him.
"Sh, shitter, sir."
Anderson nodded slowly, "He feeling alright?"
"Might be a touch of the flu, Sarge." offered Hockenbury innocently hoping it sounded believable.
"Well now ... you tell him to get himself over to the dispensary if he's sick. Y'hear me?" he said as he pushed the screen door open.
"Yes sir!" They all leapt at that parting order as Anderson left the hootch.
Taylor flopped backwards across his bed with a groan.
Percell gave Doc Hock a quick grin, "Quick thinkin', Doc." and headed for the showers.
Kelly and Ruiz sat together on the sofa, Ruiz's arm around Kelly's shoulder, her head leaning back against it.
She stared up into the liquid brown eyes that gazed at her.
"Kiss me, Alberto?" she asked.
He leaned over her and kissed her deeply, their tongues gliding, caressing. Ruiz slowly laid a gentle hand on the swell of her breast, cupped it. Kelly sighed against his mouth with pleasure as he rubbed his thumb across her responding nipple.
Kelly slid slowly from his side, smiling against his mouth that tried to follow her without breaking contact. The farther she worked herself down into the sofa cushions, the farther Ruiz leaned until finally they were stretched out together on the sofa.
Propped up on an elbow above her, Alberto held Kelly entranced in a deep, lingering kiss. He worked at the buttons of her blouse as she pulled the tails of his shirt from his belt. Her hands found their way inside to roam his smooth, warm skin.
"Kelly, you're so beautiful." whispered Alberto, brushing hair from her temple, running a finger tip along her cheek as she worked at the buttons of his fatigue shirt, peeling it open to reveal his chicory,
Ruiz moaned as she hugged him to her, feeling the lace of her bra against his skin. His mouth claimed hers and the two, with hands
exploring and mouths tasting, drove one another closer to the brink.
With reluctant willpower, Kelly pressed a trembling hand against Alberto's naked chest and gently pushed him away.
"What is it?" he asked, afraid he'd done something wrong.
"Nothing ... Let's ... let's go to bed."
He stared into her wanting eyes, raised her hand to his lips and kissed it like he had the day they met.
" ... Okay." he rose smoothly to his feet, pulling her with him. He held her close to him, breathing in her warm perfume, feeling her soft curves against him as they moved towards the bedroom.
The apartment door burst open spinning the startled couple around to see three men rushing in at them. Ruiz shoved Kelly ahead of him
towards the safety of the bedroom as the men lunged him.
"Lock yourse . . ." he began before he was tackled to the floor by two of them.
With a scream, Kelly bolted only to be stopped by the third intruder leaping at her and driving her forcefully up against the wall.
"Kelly!!!!" hollered Ruiz helplessly, trying to deflect the blows raining down on him.
The man 'handling' Kelly, grabbed a handful of her hair and yanked her backwards off her feet. She howled in pain and anger as she landed heavily on an elbow. Hand still tangled in her hair, her captor began
dragging her across the floor towards the bedroom.
"Alberto!" she cried out, unable to break the man's grip.
"Bastard!!!" screamed Ruiz in a rage.
He kicked and punched his way to his knees and then to his feet as
Kelly was dragged closer to the room. He elbowed a nose and kneed a groin to free himself and lurched like a mad man after Kelly and her captor.
The pain across his temple registered after he found himself sprawled across the floor. He lost sight of her as his eyes filled with his own running blood.
Blindly, he wrapped a shaky hand around her delicate ankle in a last ditch effort to save her.
Ruiz howled in pain as a sandaled foot slammed down across his wrist and suddenly she was slipping from his grip.
He tried to crawl after them but a kick to the ribs flipped him off his knees. Another to the belly left him in a helpless fetal ball gasping for air. Tears and blood ran down his face as he watched the man shove Kelly into the room and slam the door behind them.
"No!" he gasped trying to climb above his own pain.
Struggling weakly, he made another attempt to get to her. A driving blow this time left him crumpled in a dazed and bloodied heap, of no help to Kelly now . . .
Scaly blunt fingers dug into her throat, pinning her down against the mattress. Gasping for air, Kelly fought weakly against the hand that mauled at her breast, tried to free herself from the knee wedged between her legs.
Oxygen supply being cut off, Kelly began seeing spots, her limbs felt like lead. She was no longer able to fight against the man above her.
Dying. I'm dying she thought peacefully, welcoming it as the freedom from this nightmare. She went limp beneath her attacker in a faint.
Frightened that he may have killed the American woman they had only been paid to scare, he jumped off the bed and raced from the room.
Blurting nervously at his partners, he helped them drag the Ruiz's bloody body out the door and down into the deserted alley. They dumped him behind a heap of rotting trash and slinked back to the bar to drink and brag about how they'd 'taken care' of and American G.I.
Kelly lay splayed across the tousled bed, shallow raspy breathing the only evidence that she was alive.
Ruiz lay where he'd fallen, a small pool of blood collecting beneath his head. What started out as a fairy tale evening, had ended in a nightmare.
Percell woke surprised to see Ruiz's rack still empty. He sat up sluggishly, swinging his legs over the side of his bunk and slumped a minute, listening to the familiar sounds of the waking camp around him.
Worry for his friend gnawed at him. Yes, Ruiz said he could find his own way back, but staying out all night after curfew wasn't like him. Percell was starting to suspect the worse. They never should have left him alone in Saigon, he thought. He was a feisty little guy but one against who knows how many was never good odds.
He pulled on his fatigues and worked his bare feet into his boots.
Time to fess-up to the Sarge, he thought.
Heading for Anderson's quarters, Percell spotted his N.C.O. already up, dressed and nursing a steaming cup of coffee in the mess tent.
"Good mornin', Sarge."
"Percell." nodded Anderson.
"Mind . . ?" motioned Percell before sitting opposite the man.
"Make yourself comfortable. What's up?"
"Well, Sarge . . ." began Percell, glancing quickly towards the front gate as a jeep drove up. Nope, it wasn't carrying Ruiz.
Suddenly he didn't want to get his buddy in trouble. Going A.W.O.L. was serious.
"Spit it out son." encouraged Anderson more patiently than he felt.
"Uh . . ," Danny concentrated a moment picking at a sliver sticking up from the table top, "... Ruiz ain't back from Saigon yet, Sarge."
Anderson lowered his mug slowly.
"Sarge. Please don't tell the LT. He doesn't have to know. Ruiz's never done anything like this before."
"I think the LT might notice one of his men missing, don't you?"
"Yeah but, could we kinda sorta handle this without involving an officer? I'm awful worried about him, Sarge. This ain't like him. Ain't like him at all. I think he's in trouble." blurted Percell getting all worked up.
"It's alright, Percell. Settle down ... meet me at the motor pool. Keep it quiet. I'm gonna pay me a little visit to the L-tee."
While Percell trotted off to tell the guys what they were up to. Anderson sauntered casually into the dispensary.
"Corporal . . ."
A young frazzled soldier looked up from a stack of files and papers.
"Any requisitions needed filling in town, son?"
"Uh, check the clipboards, Sarge." he pointed vaguely at a wall holding a dozen or so identical looking clipboards.
"Thanks." mumbled Anderson casually grabbing a random clipboard from the wall.
From the dispensary, Anderson made a b-line to Goldman's hootch to find the man already busy with reports and stubbing a fourth cigarette butt into his ashtray.
"Morning, Sargeant." said Goldman stretching his back, grimacing at the tiny squeaks and pops of protest.
"What's up, Zeke?" Myron grabbed for another cigarette.
"Well, sir . . ." began, Anderson looking down at the clipboard, "guess I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Dr. Shively wants some supplies picked up in town . . ." he glanced sheepishly at the young officer, hoping he was buying it.
"Okay, then carry on. But report to me when you get back, we've got some mission details to hammer out before tomorrow."
"Yessir!" and he was out the door and heading for the motor pool.
Anderson just shook his head when he spotted all of Bravo Company standing around the jeeps.
"I can only take *one* of you with me. A platoon might attract a little attention, y'unnerstand."
"Sorry, Sarge." apologized Danny, the tips of his ears going red.
"Let's move out. The rest of you try and look like you don't know what's going on, will ya."
Anderson and Percell head off the base in silence, both lost in their own thoughts.
"You know where we're going, Sarge?"
"Let's say, I've got a hunch."
Percell stayed put in the jeep, gawking, as Anderson climbed out and stepped up to the imposing front gates of the American Embassy.
"Excuse me, Marine."
The flicking eyes were the only sign of acknowledgement in the stony face.
"I'm looking for a G.I. that might have been by here late yesterday or early this morning . . ."
The marine leveled his icy gaze at Anderson. Zeke gave him a hopeful smile.
"Y'see the fool's gone over the moon for a pretty little lady who works here. Name's Kelly ... Is it possible to speak with her?" continued Anderson when he saw the guard wasn't going to help him out without more work.
The marine sighed and looked around before stepping closer to the gate.
"Kelly hasn't arrived yet."
"Is she late?" asked Zeke looking at his watch.
Anderson rubbed at his face in frustration.
"Now, listen son, I know that there's no love lost between Marines and dumb grunts like me, but I think we might have a problem. You have to tell me where this Kelly lives."
The guard began to say something but froze and stared off over Zeke's shoulder. Anderson turned to see what had caught the guard's eye.
A well dressed American was climbing out of a taxi. He watched the man slam the door and rudely toss folded currency through the driver's window. The driver spat out the window as he sped away.
Zeke turned to see the Marine's face held in a mask of complete indifference as he pulled the gate open for the arriving man.
Gordon climbed from the taxi and felt a ripple of fear run through his stomach. [did they know?] he thought as he saw the soldier talking to the guard posted at the gate. He composed himself, putting on his air of superiority and headed into the embassy. He floated by the two of them without saying a word.
Anderson sighed and turned to leave in frustration as the guard clanged the gate shut.
The marine stood ram-rod tall, eyes locked with Anderson's.
"I'm off duty in 13 minutes. I'll take you to Kelly's myself - if she hasn't shown up by then."
"Thank you." Anderson nodded.
Zeke settled in behind the steering wheel to wait and 13 minutes later, the marine was relieved by the day shift . . .
The two in the jeep watched the marine make his way towards them.
"Is anyone watching from the building?" asked the embassy guard cooly as he climbed in, keeping his back to the embassy.
Percell glanced up at the building as the jeep barked to life and pulled out.
"Yes." he answered casually.
"2nd floor, far left?"
"He's the one to question if anything has happened. Turn left up here."
Zeke and Danny exchanged a silent glance.
The jeep bounced it's way through pot-holed streets, putting distance between it and the embassy.
"What's your name, marine?"
"O'Neill." he answered in a tone that discouraged any more questions.
Zeke pulled up to the curb across the street from a building O'Neill had pointed out to them. Not waiting for the two g.i.'s, O'Neill strode confidently across the street and headed up the narrow stairs.
‘Marines, sheesh." thought Percell shaking his head watching the guy take the stairs two at a time. He and Zeke double-timed it to catch up.
Senses on the alert, the three men approached the apartment door in cautious silence.
Percell shot Anderson a worried, wide-eyed glance when they spotted the splintered door.
O'Neill pressed himself flat against the wall on one side of the door and Anderson took the other.
On a count of three, the Marine swung out and kicked the door in.
They could plainly see the remains of a rather violent struggle.
O'Neill slipped smoothly inside with Anderson and Percell on his heels.
He drew his gun as he approached the closed bedroom door. Checking the safety on his pistol, he popped the flimsy bedroom door open with his shoulder.
A scream drew them to the body rolling off the far side of the bed to crawl beneath it. Zeke and O'Neill rushed at the bed.
"Kelly! Kelly! It's alright..." O'Neill dropped to his knees by the bed, reached under and hauled her out.
"O'Neill!" Zeke shoved the marine aside and eased a stunned Kelly to the bed. He politely and slowly drew her torn blouse closed as he took in the bruising around her throat.
"Can you tell us what happened?"
She blinked dumbly at him a moment not registering a word he said.
The three men watched uncomfortably as things started coming back to her. Watched the tears well up in her eyes. Watched her start to shake uncontrollably.
Zeke dragged the blanket off the bed and wrapped it around her.
"You're safe. Nobody's going to hurt you."
She began to cry.
"Do a search of the perimeter." ordered Anderson flatly sending the two from the room.
"Kelly, can you talk about it?"
She nodded and sniffled a moment then finally in fits and starts got the story out.
Zeke was cradling Kelly against his chest when O'Neill clomped in, jaw set.
"We found him."
"Oh, my God! Alberto!" Kelly cried, hands going to her mouth.
"... alive?" was all Zeke said.
O'Neill gave him a curt nod.
"Kelly, we've got to get you to the embassy, have the staff doctor take a look at you, y'unnerstand?" said Zeke as he pilotted the dazed young woman from the bedroom and out the door.
They made it down to the street to find Percell already in the back of the jeep with the bruised and bloody Ruiz laying in his arms.
"Ma'ame." nodded Percell politely as Kelly's wide panicked eyes met his.
O'Neill climbed in behind the wheel as Zeke settled Kelly in the passenger seat then hopped in back with his men.
The jeep squeaked to a stop outside the embassy. The gates were already swinging open as Zeke and O'Neill jumped out.
"Get her inside. Get a doctor." said Zeke scooping Kelly into his arms and passing her over to O'Neill.
"Okay. What about your man?"
"We're taking him home. But thanks for asking, O'Neill. We'll be in touch."
O'Neill rushed up the embassy steps and disappeared inside as the gates closed behind them.
Zeke gunned the jeep and booted it back to camp.
"Kel . . ."mumbled Ruiz weakly, beginning to stir.
"It's okay, Roo. Kelly's okay, man." comforted Percell, patting his shoulder.
"Kelly!" he sat up straight, staring blindly ahead of him.
"Roo! Roo!! It's okay, man!! Chill, it's me, Percell, man. Sarge's here too. You're gonna be okay, man."
"Percell?" total confusion filled his eyes.
"You're pretty banged up, but you'll be okay."
"Ruiz, do you remember what happened?" asked Zeke over his shoulder, keeping his eyes on the road.
"Kel . . ."
He slumped back against Danny's chest in a fog.
"I ... I ... I was with Kelly and the next minute... Oh God . . !"
Percell tightened his grip on Ruiz as he felt the little guy beginning to tremble.
"He hit her . . ," he struggled with the words, " ... dragged her . . ."
"She's alright, Roo. Honest. We left her in good hands. We're taking you back to the dispensary on base."
"I'll be okay ." he said, trying to sit up.
"Stay put, son. That's an order." said Anderson glancing quickly over his shoulder.
"But . . ," moaned Ruiz squirming in Percell's arms trying to find a position to ease his aches, " ... I gotta see Kelly."
"In a couple of days."
"I gotta know she's alright."
"She's going to be fine, Ruiz. They didn't ‘get' to her. Now y'gotta settle down." said Percell, worried about his friend.
The jeep rattled to a dusty stop outside the dispensary.
With fresh bandages applied to his various cuts and scrapes and a shot of pain-killers, Ruiz found himself being ushered to his cot by a room of mother hens.
"Remember, anybody ask, he's got a touch of the flu. . ." said Anderson giving all of the guys the eye.
"Yes Sarge." they chimed in unison.
"You need anything, Roo?" asked Taylor settling down on the foot of Ruiz's bunk.
"No. I'm fine." grumbled Ruiz, hating all the attention.
"How did . . ."
"Heads up!!" came a short warning call seconds before Lt. Goldman came through the door.
Goldman watched the cluster of g.i.'s disperse suspiciously from around Ruiz's rack as the man rolled over and pull his blanket over himself with a groan.
"Lieutenant? What can we do for you?" asked Anderson congenially walking up to the officer, blocking his view of the room the best he could.
Goldman pinned Anderson with a questioning look.
"Uh, caught a bug or something . . ." Zeke shrugged realizing Myron had seen them huddled like a football team around Ruiz's rack.
"Hmm ... Alright, Ruiz, you sit the next one out. I want to see the rest of you on the flight line at 0700H hrs sharp. Routine patrol."
"Thanks L-tee." groaned Ruiz.
" ... Anderson, see you outside a minute . . ?" said Goldman turning not waiting for an answer.
"Ruiz alright?" asked Goldman before cupping a hand around the end of his cigarette and flicking open his lighter.
"Oh, just a flu bug, sir." said Anderson pulling his best poker face.
"Anderson ... ‘flu bugs' don't give you a black eye."
"No, sir. He'll be fine."
The two stood a moment staring at one another in silence.
"Alright. Let's just say I don't wanna know. So don't tell me. Just make sure it doesn't happen again, understood?"
"Good night, Sargent. 0700H hrs."
The jeep rolled to a stop outside the American Embassy.
Zeke and Ruiz climbed out and approached the gate.
"O'Neill." said Zeke stepping closer, giving the imposing marine a nod and smile.
"They're gone." said O'Neill before Zeke could say another word.
"Excuse me?" asked Zeke, glancing at Ruiz.
"They're both gone." answered the marine, obvious regret in his voice.
"Kelly. That Gordon fellow. Both gone. Transferred."
"But... ." started Ruiz.
"Sorry." was all O'Neill could say before stepping back from the gate.
"Okay ... Thanks." mumbled Anderson, taking Ruiz by the arm and leading the stunned man back to the jeep.
"I have to find her, Sarge." said Ruiz staring straight ahead as the jeep pulled into the street.
"No Sarge, you're wrong . . ." said Ruiz with conviction.
They rode back to camp in heavy silence. Zeke hoping that Ruiz could move past this and Ruiz plotting ways he could get himself shipped to Bangkok as soon as possible.