[ trotter ]

by lt. mac

. . . ~RapRapRap~ . . . ~RapRapRap~

"Lieutenant Goldman. Sir." the timid voice called through the door.

"Whaaat!" snapped Goldman coming off his pillow, no longer able to ignore the intruder.

"Um, sir, it's Alvin, sir, er, Private Trotter, sir."

Goldman screwed up his face trying to read his watch in the dark.

"Go away." he said rolling over and snuggling down into his pillow. "But, sir. I *have* to talk to you . . ."

. . . . . . ~RapRapRapRap~


Goldman snapped his covers back and sat up, rubbing a knuckle in his eye.

"Get in here, Alvin. This better be good!" His sleep-puffy eyes stared at the young private.

"Uh, sir. Yes, sir . . . ," Trotter didn't know whether he had to salute an officer sitting in his skivvies or not, "I just, well sir, . . . uh."

"Spit it out, private, before I'm drawing a pension . . !"

"Uh, yes, sir. I just came to tell you that you can't go out on the mission in the morning, sir." blurted Trotter as he pushed his big black framed glasses back up the bridge of his nose.

"Huh?" grunted Goldman, too sleepy to be more articulate.

"I had a dream, sir."

". . . Go away, Alvin." groaned Myron, rolling back under his covers pulling them up over his head.

"But, sir, . . I."

"Go away before I do something bad to you." came Goldman's muffled response, cutting the skinny, nervous private off before he could start.

"But . . ."


The door slammed. Goldman was asleep before Trotter was down the stairs.

Distraught that he hadn't gotten the significance of his dream through to his Lieutenant, Private Alvin Trotter, 1st Class, came up with a plan ‘B'. . . .

Bright and early the next morning, Sargent Anderson, decked out in rain poncho and helmet, splashed through the mud to collect the L-tee and get on their way.
He stood a moment just shaking his head, looking at Goldman's hootch. You could not see the door for the sand bags piled against it.
Anderson grinned as Taylor, Percell and Ruiz sauntered up in their rain gear and helmets. The three exchanged a questioning glance when Anderson just shrugged and shook his head.

"L-tee!" hollered Anderson.

"Yeah, be right out!"

They listened to him clomp around inside.

"We're gonna leave without you, now." called the Sargent.

"I'm coming. I'm com . . ."

They heard the thunk as he hit the barricaded door.

"What the fuck?!" followed the thud.

The men were hanging onto one another laughing as he rammed at the door a couple of times but couldn't budge it.

"No disrespect, L-tee, sir, but, y'er holdin' up the war, now!" Anderson kept at it.

"Anderson . . !"

The men around the Sargent all struggled to wipe the grins off their faces as Goldman threw open his window and stuck his head through.

"What the hell is this?!!??" he was boiling mad. (More humiliated than angry.)

"Is this someone's idea of a joke?!"

"Percell, Taylor. Go get the L-tee out of there." nodded Anderson standing there hugging his rifle, grinning as Goldman disappeared inside and slammed the window shut.

"Man is he pissed." chuckled Percell, sending bags tumbling to the ground.

"Yeah, well, you're laughing now, but he is going to ride our asses out there today like nobody's business, man." predicted Taylor.

"Taylor, you put somebody up to this?" asked Percell suspecting their resident practical joker.

"I ain't that crazy!"

The door rattled.

"Move it, guys!" came Goldman's muffled, angry voice.

"Yes, sir."

The last of the bags were cleared away and Taylor opened the door to reveal Lieutenant Goldman standing framed in the door, eyes flashing and jaw twitching. The men who'd gathered to watch held a collective breath, waiting . . .

Goldman adjusted his helmet and marched out.

"Let's go, Sargent. We don't want to keep the war waiting, do we." he said flatly as he stormed by Anderson, not daring to meet his eye because he knew damned well that Anderson was grinning that grin of his.

Goldman stood off to the side facing away from the chopper as the men climbed in.

"Move it, soldier!!" screamed Anderson watching Private Trotter coming along like he was taking a stroll in the park.

Goldman looked over his shoulder, watching Trotter's progress, or lack there of. The lanky kid had just bent over to untie and retie a perfectly knotted lace.

"Trotter!" yelled Goldman, drawing everyone's attention, including the twitchy young private.

"Get your butt over here. Now!" he barked.

Like a dog knowing it shouldn't have shit in it's master's shoe, Trotter made his way over to the L-tee.

Anderson settled himself on the floor of the Huey's bay, feet resting on its skids and watched Goldman grab the kid by the radio pack straps and yank him out of ear shot and proceed to tear a strip off him.

"Anderson! Do we have a problem here?" yelled McKay, impatiently.

"You'd have to take that up with the Lieutenant, Lieutenant."

"That poor sap." commented Taylor as they all watched Goldman just laying into him.

"D'you think *he* sandbagged the L-tee's hootch?" asked Percell, not able to take his eyes off Goldman in full rant while Trotter stood slouched, totally dejected under the barrage.

"Listen up now, ladies. Y'keep your wisecracks to yourselves now, y'hear?" warned Anderson recognizing the signs that Goldman was running out of steam.

"I'm serious!" he emphasized.

"We hear ya, Sarge."

They all busied themselves checking gear and weapons as the two approached the chopper.

"Nice of you two to join us." yelled McKay, ignoring Anderson's warning and smiled when everyone glared at him.

"Shut up, McKay!" snapped Goldman as he turned and hauled Trotter up into the bird with him.

"Sit down, shut up and don't move!" he shoved the soldier to the floor and squeezed in beside Anderson as the bird lifted off the ground.

"See you in 3 days. Don't be late, McKay." yelled Myron over McKay's shoulder as the men hopped out.

McKay glared at Myron then nodded over his shoulder at the motionless Trotter.

"What's with him?"

Goldman turned to see Trotter's myopic eyes watching his every move from behind his black framed glasses. He pointed to the ground, giving Trotter a threatening look. The Private unfolded his gangly limbs and climbed out.

"I think he's got a crush on you, Myron." laughed McKay seeing Goldman's reaction.

"He said he had a dream . . ." Goldman started to explain.

"He's dreaming about you?" McKay shook his head.

"Not those kind of dreams, you pre-vert!" Goldman snapped at the suggestion.

"Hey, my best dreams are about you." continued McKay enjoying teasing Goldman, knowing he was so goadable.

"Shut up, McKay," Goldman grumbled, not liking how the day was starting.

"72 hours." he shouted as he headed out.

"Sargent!" he called Anderson over as he fished his terrain map from his shirt. They squatted together looking over the coordinates they were to recon.

"We could save ourselves a lot of grief if'n we skirt these mountains, L-tee." suggested Anderson as he traced a calloused finger across the map in Goldman's hand.

"That'll add about 15 klicks, Sargent."

"L-tee, no disrespect, now, but 15 klicks on basically flat ground compared to 5 or 6 straight up would be considered the lesser of two evils."

"Alright, Sargent. We'll skirt the mountains. And make camp at the mouth of the valley."

"Start out again at first light." nodded Anderson in agreement, finishing the thought for the officer.

"Okay, let's move ‘em out." said Goldman, stuffing the map back in his shirt.

As long shadows edged across the valley floor, Bravo Company came to the end of a long day's hike and set up camp for the night. Set perimeter watches, and rested up to start all over again in the morning.

Percell sat propped against a tree, his gun resting ready, across its exposed roots.

"Hey, Trotter." he called softly, seeing the private staring across the camp at Goldman and Anderson.

"Trotter." he called a little louder.

"Huh?" he grunted, startled.

"What's up with you, man?"

"Nothing." he answered defensively.

"C'mon, Alvin," Percell gave him one of his disarming grins, "what's up with you and the L-tee?"

"Nothing, honest." he shook his head and looked down at his hands.

"Did you bag his hootch last night?"

Alvin leveled his glasses at Percell and gave him a guilty little grin and shrug.

Percell glanced around, looking for eaves droppers.


Again Trotter shrugged his bony shoulders.

"Lieutenant Goldman thought it was stupid." he mumbled.

"Ah, Alvin, c'mon. You can tell me. I won't tell anybody."


"Sure . . ." said Percell warming up to this shy, nervous kid they'd all sort of chosen to ignore. He kinda had body bag written all over him and no one wanted to get close.

Trotter looked across the moonlit clearing trying to spot where the L-tee had moved on to. He released the breath he didn't realize he was holding when he spotted him sitting with his back to a tree having a smoke.

"He smokes too much."

"Who . . ?" Percell glanced off at what Trotter was staring at. "Yeah, well everybody does here. So, are you gonna tell me why you sand bagged the hootch?"

"He shouldn't be on this mission!" Trotter answered gravely.

"It's what he - we do, Trotter. He's just doing his job. Like the rest of us."

"But something bad's going to happen."

"Why you say that?" Percell asked as he scanned the perimeter shadows.

"Cause, I saw it . . ."he seemed to shrink into himself as he said this.

Percell looked into the young man's worried eyes, not sure what the kid was getting at.

"Saw it . . ? Saw what, how?" was all he could say.

"In a dream. I saw a terrible thing happen to Lieutenant Goldman in a dream."

Percell's mouth twitched around a smile as he shook his head.

"A dream . . ? Alvin, lighten up, man. It was just a dream." he looked back out through the trees still grinning.

"Yeah, like when Sargent Fairchild stepped on that mine a month ago."

"Forget about that, Trotter, you probably had the dream *after* it happened, man."

"Percell, how y'doing?" asked Sargent Anderson coming up behind them and resting a hand on Danny's shoulder, doing his rounds before catching a couple hours of shut-eye.

"Doin' okay, Sarge."

"Trotter, turn in now, son. We've got a long day ahead of us tomorrow."

"Yes sir, Sargent. Good night, Danny." and he slinked away.

"Keep an eye on him, Sarge." Percell motioned with a nod at Trotter's disappearing form.

"Why's that?" asked Anderson squatting to chat a spell.

"Talking crazy, I guess." he said keeping his eyes on the shadows.

"Well now, Percell, we can all start to talking a little crazy if we're here long enough."

"He *just* got here, Sarge."

"I hear you, Percell. So what kinda crazy talk is he saying?"

"Said he had a dream ‘bout something bad happening to the L-tee."

"Is that a fact?" grinned Anderson.

"Yes, sir." Percell chuckled knowing it sounded stupid.

"Well now, I better get right over to the L-tee and warn him, huh, whaddaya say?"

"Your neck, Sarge." smiled Percell tonguing his toothpick to the other side of his mouth as Anderson patted him fatherly on the thigh and crept away.

Once Anderson had checked the sentries, he went to Goldman to report.

Goldman was slumped down against his gear, chin resting on his chest, knees drawn up, asleep. Anderson shook his head and grinned to find Trotter curled up on the ground at the L-tee's boots.

"L-tee." whispered Anderson, coming down beside Goldman who woke instantly.

"Yes, Sargent?" he blinked his bleary eyes.

Anderson pointed at Trotter. They both looked at him a moment, baffled by his peculiar ways.

"I don't get this kid, Zeke." whispered Goldman shaking his head and grinning, seeing the way the kid's glasses were are screwy on his face cause he was sleeping in them.

"He bagged your hootch, didn't he?"

"Yeah, and do you know why . . ?"

"He had a dream that something awful was going to happen to you?" Anderson grinned when Goldman looked at him suspiciously.

"How did. . ? Oh, never mind."

"It's kinda cute, L-tee." shrugged Anderson.

"No it's not!" said Goldman wondering about Anderson sometimes.

"Well L-tee, I look at it this way; he's a kid, needs some looking after still and it can't hurt to let him *idolize* someone - should have been me, mind you, but for some reason, he's taken with you, sir. Likes' them stripes you're carrying I reckon." he chortled when he saw Goldman's face.

"You can have him, Sargent."

The two of them jumped when Private Trotter sat bolt up and yelled; "Grrreeeennnnaaaaddddee.!!"

Anderson dove for the kid and clamped a big calloused hand over his mouth, sending the boy's glasses flying, before he could make another sound.
Seconds later, to everyone's shock, the night lit up like the 4th of July. Mortar fire came down on them like rain, sending them scattering and diving for cover.
Ruiz grabbed the pig and was laying down fire in an arc into the trees. Covering his 6 and 9, Johnson and Percell were squeezing off rounds.

"CeaseFire! CeaseFire!!" screamed Goldman trying to be heard over the weapons.

Anderson released Trotter who sat blinking dumbly at him.

"Son, I don't know whether to kiss you or kill you myself." he said panting from the adrenaline rush.

"What the hell was that?!" asked Goldman scooping up Trotter's glasses and handing them to him.

"Are you alright, L-tee?" squeaked a concerned Trotter.

"I'm fine, Private. How'd you . . ?"

"Dream, sir." he mumbled self-consciously as they gave him the once over.

His startled blurt had given the guys a split second warning that saved their lives.

"Dream, huh?" humoured Goldman, eyes scanning their perimeter.

"Send up a couple of flares, Sargent. Let's see what's still out there, shall we?"

"Yes, sir."

The flares made a rapid ascent, arched and descended in eerie silence, sending shadows dancing in the trees.
Ruiz stared hard at the moving shadows wondering if the movement before him was real or imagined. The muzzle flash answered his question and he leveled his M-60 and let ‘em have it.

"Cease fire, Ruiz. You've got them on the run, son." said Anderson coming up behind him.

"Man, my heart's still in my throat, Sarge." he complained, grimacing up at Sarge.

"I hear that." agreed Anderson.

"What the hell's up with Trotter, man, he psychic or something?" asked the little Puerto Rican, absently reaching for his crucifix.

"Don't know . . ."

None of them got any sleep that night and they all new that the morning march was going to be even more grueling that the first day's.

As first light crept smoothly over the ridge above them, Bravo Company kept an eye on the trees while they shrugged into their gear and ate cold C-rations.

"Well, they certainly know we're out here, L-tee" said Anderson as he and Goldman stared down at their map.

"Head for high ground . . ." said Goldman leaving the statement up in the air, open to approval or challenge.

"That just might give us a chance to get by their check points. Charlie's gonna be on his toes if he thinks we're rolling down the middle of this valley."

"Then, up it is."

"Aborting is out of the question?"

"I already thought about that. Too much riding on this one, Sargent."

"Yes sir."

"We'll split up. A couple of us will stay down here, keep them thinking we're sticking to the valley floor, while the rest climb."

"The ones going up will need a head start, L-tee." suggested Anderson knowing that those men going up will not be covering any great distance.

"Would half an hour be enough?"

"Sounds good."

"Alright, Trotter and Ruiz will stay here with me. You get the rest of the men up the mountain. We'll give you half an hour head start then break camp and meet up with you about 5 klicks down the valley."

"Yes, sir. Percell, Taylor . . ." he headed off to collect his men.

Goldman glanced up from the map he was studying to see Trotter hovering, gnawing nervously on a nail.

"Get your gear together, Alvin. We're moving out in half an hour."

Johnson, on point, discovered the overgrown foot path about half way up the side of the mountain. From its state of neglect, it was evident it was not being used by the VC, who were meticulous about their routes and pathways.
At this level, they were above the valley's canopy and grass fields yet still covered by the foliage clinging to the rocky ridge.
They struck out along the path not needing to climb any higher. Still cautious, they began to cover the 5 klicks in steady, smooth and uneventful progress as the 3 left behind started moving through the valley below them.

"Alright, Ruiz, Trotter, look sharp, we're moving out." said Goldman, checking his watch and hoisting his carbine.

"This feels really bad, Lieutenant, sir." whispered Trotter cinching the radio pack straps tighter.

"Yo! Trotter, stop weirding yourself out, man. We've done this tonnes of times, not a problem, right L-tee." said Ruiz trying to ease Alvin's nerves and steady his own.

"Just don't do anything stupid . . ." started Goldman and clamped his lips into a thin line seeing Trotter cringe at his abruptness.

" . . .okay, . . . just check with me first before you do *anything*, understood?" he smiled, feigning patience.

Trotter nodded, sending his helmet wobbling on his head.

"Okay, let's go."

He moved out in front, Trotter behind him with Ruiz, toting the ‘pig', bringing up the rear.
They wove their way through the trees cautiously, watching for any VC movement among the limbs. Stepping from the tree line the three slipped silently into the dense, tall-as-a-man elephant grass.
Goldman scanned the high ridge, not expecting to catch sight of Anderson and the men, but wishing he could. He stopped suddenly, raising a fist and dropping to a knee. He waved the other two forward. They trotted up to him and both dropped to a knee beside him. Not chancing voices carrying, Goldman communicated with hand signals. He thought he'd heard something and wanted them to stay alert for everything and anything.
Trotter grabbed L-tee's arm as they all heard the crackling. Goldman and Ruiz exchanged questioning looks as Trotter sniffed the air loudly.

"It's smo . . ." he started before Roo slapped his hand over the kid's mouth.

Goldman raised a finger to his lips giving him a stern but silent ‘shush'.

He could now smell the smoke too.

The VC had set fire to the field of grass to flush them out. The sound of burning grass was growing closer as the hungry flames licked at the dry blades.

Ruiz licked nervously at his lips.

"L-tee, we gotta make a run for it." he suggested in a hoarse whisper, not caring if the VC heard him.

"That's just what they're counting on, Ruiz. They're trying to flush us out."

"Can we go back the way we came?" asked Trotter thinking back the way they came was safe cause - that's the way they'd come . . .

"Soak your bandanas down, wear them over your mouth and nose when the smoke starts getting really bad. Now, let's move. Stay low, we're gonna have to climb out of this if we can." said Goldman, ignoring Trotter.

"Yes, sir." the two answered.

"Let's move out. Head for that break in the rocks up there." said Goldman, pointing at a possible escape route in a craggy outcropping high above the valley floor about 300 yards to their 2 o'clock, should they become separated or have to go it alone.

"Sarge!" called Percell from the tail of their line. All heads turned and all spotted the fire and smoke as they went down on one knee.

"Flushing them out, Sarge."

Anderson anchored himself against a tree trunk and scanned the tall grass below. He spotted movement and watched intently trying to tell if it was VC or Goldman and the two soldiers.

"Shit!" he hissed under his breath.


"They were waiting like we thought."

"Do you see ‘em, Sarge?" Percell's eyes were wide with worry.

"I see movement but can't see who."

"They gonna make it, Sarge?" asked Johnson.

They fell silent when the AK-47's began firing below them.

The smoke was getting thicker as the three, with bandanas knotted over their mouths and noses, raced for their lives through the grass. As the other two stumbled on ahead of him, Ruiz turned and squeezed off a steady spray of bullets from the M-60, the empty shells popping out as he fanned the massive gun back and forth.

Goldman skidded to a stop when he heard Ruiz's cry of pain.

"Shit! Trotter, keep going! Go!Go!Go!" he shoved the private along the path as he bolted back to find Ruiz.

The man was trying to get back on his feet clutching his side.

"Ruiz!!" Goldman dropped to his knees beside him.

"I'm alright." he said bravely.

Goldman hauled the M-60 into his arms, got a good hold on it and sprayed the wall of grass around them, the gun's powerful kick and reverb numbing his hands, vibrating him so hard his helmet bounced off his head.

"Go! Get to the cliffs!! Go!!" screamed Goldman and squeezed off another round, he was rewarded with screams of pain beyond the wall of tall grass around him.

Trotter flew from the grass field like it had spit him out and he stumbled pell-mell up the trail that climbed into the mountain crevice.

Anderson watched as Private Trotter came flying out of the field and make a bee-line for a break in the rocks, disappearing from Anderson's view below their ridge. He saw Ruiz step from the grass field next, turn as the burst from his ‘pig' went silent.

"Come on, Ruiz, come on!" pleaded Anderson, feeling helpless.

He watched as Ruiz glance down at his blood covered hand and stumble off in the same direction as Trotter did.

"Johnson, Doc! Back track about a klick, Ruiz and Trotter are on their way up, Ruiz's been hit! Go!"

"What about the L-tee?" asked Percell through teeth clamped down on an ever present toothpick.

Swirling smoke stung his eyes as he shouldered the pig, scooped up his rifle and helmet and ran.

He felt the heat of a bullet whiz by his head, ducked and tripped.

Shiiiit!!" he hissed, going down in a tangle of arm, legs and rifles.

He scrambled awkwardly to his feet trying to keep from losing the M's 60 and 16 and plowed on. He broke through the edge of the field, slowing, a little bewildered by its abrupt end.

"There he is!" yelled Anderson, not taking his eyes off Goldman, "Nooooo!" he screamed, rising to his feet in panic.

Goldman glanced around looking for his two men, but could not see them and before he was aware of it, a trio of VC rushed out of the grass at him, tackling him to the ground, one wielding a knife.

Trotter met Ruiz coming up the trail.

"Where's Lieutenant Goldman?!" Trotter cried, seeing Ruiz alone and bleeding.

"Don't know, man." answered Ruiz sagging against a rock in pain.

"Oh, no!" moaned Trotter and pounded off down the path heading back to the grass field.

He saw the VC tackle Goldman to the ground as he came off the path, hitting level ground.

Anderson gripped the binoculars tightly, feeling powerless.

"Oh, Jesus." he groaned as he watched gangly Private Trotter lope towards the struggling L-tee.

As he raced at the men beating at the Lieutenant sprawled on the ground, Alvin wriggled out of the radio pack and, swinging it, clobbered two of the VC soldiers across the side of the head with a clang, sending them toppling like bowling pins into the tall grass. Goldman pulled out his pistol and dispatched the third.

"Lieutenant!!" Trotter grabbed Goldman's hand and hauled him to his feet.

The two raced for the mountain trail as bullets zipped by them. Trotter tried to work his arms back into the radio pack straps as they flew up the path nearly falling. Goldman grabbed the bulky radio and Trotter, keeping him from taking a nose dive into the dirt. The M's16 and 60 lay forgotten in the grass.

"Taylor!" cried Anderson seeing the two clear of the field, ". . . let that puppy rip!!"

The muffled whomp of his 40mm M-79 ‘Thumper' was followed by a deafening explosion as its grenade found its mark.

Goldman and Trotter charged up the rocky path until they thought their lungs would explode, but forced themselves to keep going.
They stopped when they found Ruiz perched on a fallen tree, doubled over clutching at his side.

"Ruiz." Goldman trotted to a winded halt beside him, resting a hand on Ruiz's back, glancing back down the winding trail.

Trotter dropped to his knees wheezing deeply, still struggling to get the radio pack back on.

"Just need to rest, s'all." said Ruiz.

"We gotta get going, man, can you move?"

"Sure." grunted Ruiz coming to his feet.

"Let's go, Trotter." said Goldman untwisting a tangled strap for Trotter before wrapping an arm around Ruiz as the wounded man slung an arm around his shoulder.

"Yes sir, Lieutenant." answered Trotter looking nervously back down the trail still having his feelings that something bad (or worse than this) was still going to happen.

The three huffed and grunted up the path, glad that they could not hear anyone coming up the trail behind them. They did however duck for cover when they heard the rushing approaching footsteps from up the trail and were relieved to see Doc and Johnson making their way down the trail to them.

Dock tended to Ruiz's wound and jabbed him with a disposable ‘serette' of morphine and they headed out. Goldman waved him off when he offered to poke at his cuts and scratches.

The four found Anderson and the others waiting, camouflaged in the foliage along the trail.<
They eased themselves to the ground accepting offered canteens of much needed water.
Anderson squatted before them with a grin on his face.

"Roo-eez! How ya doin' m'man?"

"Never felt better, Sarge." he gave him a dopey grin.

"Trotter. You nailed that VC right good."

"Aw, Sarge. . ." shucks'd and shrugged Trotter self-consciously under the Sargent's gaze.

"No, it's true, the L-tee here, looked like a goner until you went charging in there like John Wayne. Proud of you son. Y'done good." he patted Alvin's leg, proud of the young man. He turned his attention to Goldman's grime and blood-smeared face for a moment.

"You okay, L-tee?"

"I'm fine, . . ." he breathed heavily, " . . . don't know about the radio though."

Myron motioned at the dented box that Trotter had used to clocked the two VC with.
Anderson fiddled and poked at it, a knob and dial were missing and another knob fell off in his hand. Trotter groaned guiltily.

"It's okay, it's okay . . ," said Anderson calmly, " . . . but we gotta think about dee-deeing outta here, L-tee."

Goldman glanced around at the tense faces watching him.

"We'll have to get Ruiz back to the LZ. We're gonna have to spare two guys. The rest of us will get down to the other end of the valley and get the intel on the VC highways MACV thinks are out there."

"I'm okay, L-tee, I don't need to go back." argued Ruiz not wanting to break up the squad.

"Don't worry about that now, Ruiz. . . . L-tee, no disrespect, now, we'll be down three men, and no ‘60' . . ."

"Yeah, and they know we're out here too, L-tee." added Johnson.

"We have our orders." said Goldman frustrated, trying to be the unquestioning leader the Army wanted him to be.

"We've scrubbed missions before, sir." lipped-off Taylor.

Goldman climbed to his feet, feeling the burden of his command, looked at his men, scanned the terrain . . . .

They needed to complete this recon mission. The VC maze of trails and roads running through the country were allowing their forces to keep their troops well fed and very well armed. Kept them a very healthy, clever and mobile enemy. If this recon mission netted the intel expected, HQ would approve a major air strike that could cripple this leg of the VC highway system - for a little while at least. The success of this mission could make a difference, he knew it. He made up his mind . . .

"We . . . keep going." his chin lifted stubbornly, his lips pressed into a thin line of determination as the men reacted around him.

"Alright. Settle down." barked Anderson.

"But, Sarge!"

"Shut. Up!" warned the Sargent coldly.

The men clammed up knowing the Sargent meant business.

"L-tee, can I talk to you a minute?" asked Anderson, subtly herding the young officer away from his cluster of men. Once out of ear shot, Goldman met Anderson's questioning eyes.

"Don't start with me, Zeke."

"No, sir. Wouldn't dream of it, sir." he agreed, taking Goldman by surprise.

"Then . . . what?"

"I'd like to volunteer to go on alone. You and the men should get back to the LZ. The area's too ‘hot', sir."

Goldman was shaking his head before Anderson was finished.

"No way! Out of the question. The squad stays together, Sargent. Together. We'll spare the two men to get Ruiz back to the LZ, if we have to. But I'm not sending a man out there alone."

"But, L-tee. . ."

"Together. Is that understood?"

"Yes, sir." shrugged Anderson, knowing when to back off.

"Now go check and see if Ruiz can really keep up like he says. I'd rather keep the whole team together."

"Yes, sir." nodded Anderson.

After Ruiz made a scene about being left behind, and winning, they all headed out. As the afternoon stretched into evening, the men understood why the VC had abandoned this route. It's angles and inclines were treacherous and exhausting. They'd seen increased activity below them on the valley floor. The men were quiet, making very little small talk. It took all their concentration to not twist an ankle or fall right off the bloody path. Only Private Alvin Trotter seemed oblivious to the perils. He slogged along the path with the rest of the platoon lost in his own little world. He was running his moment of bravery over in his mind, smiling to himself.

"Trotter!" snapped Anderson as the young soldier drifted by him.

"Yes, sir?" he jumped coming back to the present with a start.

"Keep your mind on your work, you can day dream about your girl back home some other time."

Trotter blushed flaming red as the men snickered.

By late afternoon,Goldman sent Taylor and Percell out to scout farther up the trail to find a safe and secure spot to make camp for the night. The sun was setting below the mountains across the valley from them pushing shadowy fingers across the valley floor and it would soon be too dark to travel any farther in safety.
By twilight, Taylor and Percell found a bombed out section of cliff with an over hanging lip of rock and dead roots that would serve as natural cover from above and the bowl of the crater the bomb left was clear enough for the eight man team to hunker down for the night and feel relatively safe. The men needed a good night's rest to ready themselves for the next day's part of the mission.
From the noise and hub-bub they'd witnessed all afternoon, it was evident to them now that this mission was going to net some crucial recon information for HQ. There was a sense of excitement in the men, mingled in with the fear. They'd never really gotten a close look at the VC engineers at work on the trails and routes until now. The VC were relentless. If a road was bombed in an American air strike, they were back in the area within 12 hours repairing the damage made to their life lines.

The sun had dropped quietly behind the mountains and taken the heat of the day with it. With the dark came a steady wind that swirled down off the ridge and swept into their makeshift camp.The men tried to ignore the chill of their sweaty clothes as they settled in for the night.

"Percell, take Trotter here and set up claymores around the perimeter. 50 yards out. 10 feet intervals."

"Yes, sir. C'mon, Alvin." Percell answered and nodded to Trotter to follow him.

"Ruiz, how are you feeling?" asked Anderson, checking in on the spunky little Spec4.

"I'm okay, Sarge. Doc's keepin' an eye on me real good." he nodded, grinning happily.

"That's good. . . Doc, c'mon here . . ." Anderson gestured to their bespeckled medic, " . . . you sure you ain't over medicating him?" he thumbed over his shoulder at Ruiz.

"Just gave him a shot so he could get a good night's sleep." shrugged Hockenbury.

"You keep a close eye on him, Doc, y'hear."

"That's what they pay me for, Sarge." grinned Doc.

"I hear that." agreed Anderson and walked off.

"L-tee, anything out of the radio?" asked Anderson coming to squat beside the officer who sat fiddling with the contraption.

"Not a thing. I'm hoping we can at least transmit even if we can't receive."

answered Goldman around a cigarette, squinting into the smoke rising into his eye.

"We've had worse things go wrong . . ."commented Anderson before changing the subject, ". . . I've got Percell and Trotter setting claymores around the perimeter and the first watch is all set."

"Alright, Sargent. Get yourself some shut-eye. Wake me when you're on watch."

"Yes, sir. I'll just wait for Percell and Trotter to come in."

Goldman nodded and went back to poking at the radio as Anderson crept away. "Shit!" Myron whispered as the antenna came off in his hand.

After giving up on the radio of the night, Lieutenant Goldman, found himself a natural hollow in the hill wall and curled up and slept.
He woke suddenly, heart skipping a beat, before he realized Sargent Anderson was squatting over him watching him sleep.

"Ze . . .!" he started but stopped when he saw his Sargent raised eyebrows and wide grin.

When Goldman moved to sit up, he became aware of an arm draped over his shoulder and a leg hooked carelessly over his own. There was a warm snoring body snuggled up against his.
Anderson covered his mouth to keep from laughing out loud as he watch Myron's eyes go wide in surprise.
Young Private Trotter had made a point of staying very close to his L-tee, to keep an eye on him and in his sleep had nuzzled up to the officer.
Anderson burst out laughing at the expression on Goldman's face as he rolled over and shoved the clingy private away.

"What the . . .!? Trotter! Jesus Christ! Back off man!!!" snapped Goldman getting the heebee-geebees from the kid.

"Avalanche! Avalanche!" squawked Alvin as he fell backwards still in his dream.

"Sleep well, L-tee?" asked Anderson through his chuckles.

Goldman sat up taking a cautionary look over his shoulder at the drooling, fuzzy headed private.

"What's up with this kid?!" he shivered still weirded out.

"Trotter. . . Alvin." called Anderson.

"What?" answered the sleepy private as the heat of embarrassment crept up his neck and cheeks

"What's up with the avalanche?"

Trotter blinked trying to focus on the two faces that floated before his eyes. Lieutenant Goldman's stern face came into focus and his dream came back to him in a rush. He lunged at the officer in panic.

"Lieutenant Goldman! Sir!! Oh, my, Gawd! Sir, we've got to go back. Now. You're in big trouble." he babbled about three inches from Myron's nose.

"Private . . . get a grip on yourself, now." soothed Anderson patting the boy's shoulder.

"Just forget about it Alvin, it was just a dream. We're all a little nervous about this, so just relax."

"But, s . . ." he stopped when Goldman gave him a tight-lipped glare.

The early morning air was still cool. The sun had yet to break over the hill tops to burn off the night's dampness. The men sat silently eating cold rations with little enthusiasm. Anderson was making his morning rounds going about lifting drooping spirits with personal comments and encouragements that were always appreciated by his men. They almost came to expect the fatherly attention from their Sargent . . .

They all froze a moment knowing the high whine meant danger. Their limbs finally responded to the panic signals their brains were sending off and they dove for cover.
The explosion rocked the ground, loosened rocks and stones in the hill wall, sending dirt and rocks bouncing and rolling down on the Americans.
Taylor dropped a missile into his trusty bazooka and sent it screeching into the valley foliage. It found a target setting off a chain reaction of explosions. Heartened by this, the men mustered their courage and sent a volley of rounds down the mountain.

"Cease fire!" screamed Anderson over the racket.

"We're moving out before their aim improves. Johnson, take point. Doc, make sure Ruiz keeps up."

They were on their feet and moving in seconds.

Anderson relaxed a little as they moved quickly down the path and heard a mortar shell explode behind them out of range.
The VC probably thought they were still at the camp. He figured they'd have men scaling the valley wall beneath their camp with intentions of over running the camp. He grinned thinking about the perimeter claymores they'd left behind they'd have to get by first.
So, risking twisted ankles and nose dives right off the path, Team Viking trotted away from their camp, crouched as they moved in silence along the overgrown path.

Private Trotter was growing more and more frightened as they made their way along the treacherous path. Something bad was going to happen. He could feel it. He turned to see where the Lieutenant was, not liking being this far ahead of him.
Oh, he knew they all thought he was nuts but he'd seen too many of his dreams come true to be dissuaded from his convictions. The scene from his latest dream still played before his eyes.

"Incoming!!!" The far away warning reached him. He staggered to a stop and watched the men around him dive for cover.

The blast blew him face first to the ground, skinning his nose when he hit. He heard a sharp cry cut off moments before he felt the ground rumble beneath his prone body.

Two panicked voices rose briefly above the din but were quickly drowned out by the building roar coming at him. He looked up to see Sargent Anderson rush past him back down the path. As he sat up, wiping at his stinging nose, he watched him skidding to a stop at the edge of a billowing dust cloud. He rose up on wobbly legs and approached the Sargent and saw what he saw.

" . . . avalanche . . ." he mumbled breathlessly.

A wide chunk of the path was missing. Gone.
He stared down into a gaping hole where a section of wall and path had collapsed and been swept down the hillside to the valley floor.
Johnson, Trotter and Anderson stood on one side of the fissure, Doc, Ruiz and Taylor stood across from them on the other.
Spc4 Percell and Lieutenant Goldman had been swept down the hillside with the loosened rock, uprooted trees and debris.
Stunned, none of them moved or spoke.

The Lieutenant felt the impact of the RPG and nearly lost his own balance as he watched Spc4 Percell drop awkwardly to his knees and in surreal slowness, watch him pitch forward, hands thrown out to break his fall, but Danny continued to fall forward and down as the ground fell away beneath him. Goldman sprang forward grabbing at Percell's webbing to hoist him back from the sudden lip but his added weight broke another slab of rock away and the two of them were falling, crashing, tumbling and slamming their way down the hill in the rock slide.
The two men were struck with rocks and branches and shrapnel-sharp debris careening earthward along with them. They choked on thick airborne grit, cried out as debris gouged at their flesh.
The senses knocked out of him, Percell, landed like a discarded rag doll, sprawling face down in the dirt, his body criss-crossed with cuts and bruises. In a winded daze, he did not feel the bouncing rocks and projectiles rain down on him, nearly burying him completely.
Goldman had been swept over the lip of the path feet first when the ground fell away beneath him. He'd tumbled down the wall, losing sight of Percell below him. Rocks and sticks bit and gouged at him. His fatigue jacket and t-shirt rode up his torso and he rode the rocks on bare flesh, most being torn from him on the way down. He somersaulted to a jarring stop at the bottom of the slide. He curled into a protective ball as rocks and dirt and branches rolled and crashed on top of him. He gasped in pain as the roots of a tree rammed into his ribs, knocking the wind out of him. He lay curled up, motionless as the rest of the wash piled up around and over him.
Dust and grit danced in the sudden silence, in shafts of sun light that lay across the two dazed, half buried soldiers.

Anderson squinted through the settling dust, trying to see if he could see where the two men had ended up. It was too far down to tell, the canopy of trees too thick to see the valley floor.

"Sarge?" called a wide-eyed Taylor, not believing what just happened. "We gotta go down there, Sarge" added Ruiz, looking down the chasm but not seeing the bottom.

Anderson turned and looked at Trotter for a moment.

"What else did you see in that dream of yours, son?" questioned Anderson, turning on the pale private.

Danny sucked in a mouthful of dirt and went off in a coughing fit until tears were leaving wet trails down his dirt and dust crusted face. He slowly turned onto his side sending a little avalanche of debris rolling off his cut and bruised back, shaking his head to clear the ringing in his ears.
He rose weakly to his knees and rested back on his heels a moment sucking in fresher air. With a grunt he pushed himself to his feet, stood weaving dangerously for a moment nearly toppling over again. Testing his arms and legs he was relieved to find nothing broken. He just felt like one giant bruise.
Squinting, he looked up at the path the slide had left down the hill side trying to see where he'd been just moments before but couldn't see up far enough. He looked around for his helmet and weapon but found neither.
Suddenly he crouched hearing noises just beyond the trunk of the fallen tree that had followed him down the slide. He listened for a direction. There. He heard it just on the other side of the tree trunk. Sounded like someone in pain. And he remembered feeling a tug on his webbing from behind before he started falling and realized that whoever had grabbed at him had probably gone over the cliff with him. L-tee!
That's who'd been behind him when the shell hit and broke the section of ground away.
He scrambled over the tangle of roots scanning the mound of rock and rubble as he listened. A boot! He dove at the rocks and garbage with his bare hands.

"L-tee!?" he called wrapping a hand around the man's ankle and squeezed.

A weak moan managed to rise to meet him.

Goldman was pinned awkwardly beneath the slide and unable to use his arms to dig himself out.

"I got you, L-tee. I'm gonna get you outta there. Hang on!" yelled Percell beginning to dig furiously to free the trapped man.

"I'll go sir!" volunteered Trotter stepping forward.

Anderson shot a hand out and grabbed a fistful of the private's shirt thinking he was going to leap over the lip of the broken path and follow the two missing soldiers down the hillside.

"Just stay put, son, y'hear?"

"Yes, sir." mumbled Trotter, shoulders sagging.

The six on the ridge dropped into a squat as random bursts from AK-47's cracked in the morning stillness.

"Taylor, back track along the path, see if you can find any access to another trail or something that might climb above this washout."

"Right, Sarge."

"Keep your head down."

"I hear that, Sarge." he turned and silently sprinted down the path.

"How ya doin' Ruiz?" called Anderson to his spunky little specialist.

"Ship shape, Sarge."

He gave Anderson a stubborn smile. Doc nodded silently in agreement, clapping Ruiz on the shoulder and smiling proudly at his patient.

"Good." nodded Anderson scanning the immediate area almost hoping for inspiration to strike. He'd never lost any of his men to a land slide before and wasn't sure how to handle it. He didn't know if they had survived the fall. He was itching to get down there and find them. The way their luck was going, they might have rolled right into Victor Charles' lap.

He examined the ridge above their position, hoping Taylor was successful in finding a route. The path was missing a 15 - 20 foot section that they couldn't vault over. The ground didn't seem all that stable as it was. He looked down at his feet and noticed for the first time, the fine cracks and fissures spidered out around his boots.

"Back up! Back up. You too." he shouted shoving Johnson and Trotter about 15 paces back from the edge.

Ruiz and Doc backed away from the edge carefully too when they noticed the cracks all around their feet.

With a grunt and one final shove, Percell dislodged the splintered tree trunk that had the L-tee pinned to the ground.

"You okay, L-tee?" he asked helping the wobbly officer into a sitting position.

His hair was full of leaves, twigs and grit, clumped and matted into sweaty spikes.

He looked up into Percell's dirt streaked face, blinking a moment.

"Uh . . , yeah, I think so . . ." he squawked dryly. He flapped and wriggled his limbs weakly, relieved to find he hadn't broken anything in the fall either. He hocked up a throatful of gravelly phlegm and spit.

"I think I ingested 5 pounds of dirt." he rasped as he inventoried his scrapes, cuts and bruises. He pulled open his tattered fatigue shirt to see the raw spots across his ribs.

"You're wearing about 10 pounds of it."grinned Percell beneath his own layer of dirt, swiping at the L-tee's shoulder sending a cloud of powder into the air.

Goldman grinned, reaching out and ruffling Danny's hair sending a mini avalanche down the man's face.

"Haven't had a good look at yourself lately have you?"

The two chuckles as they helped each other to their feet. Percell put a steadying arm around Myron's shoulder as the man swayed dangerously on his feet.


"I'm okay." answered Goldman waving his concern away and stumbled awkwardly around the debris to see if he could see up the slide to where his men were.

"Can't see ‘em from here, sir."

"Where's your ‘16?"

"Lost it on the way down, sir. Sorry."

Goldman stood with his hands on his hips, thinking. They couldn't stay there, someone was going to come looking. He looked at the tear streaked face before him. Took in the loyal blue eyes.

"Don't worry about it, Percell. We've just gotta get the hell out of here. Cause dollars to doughnuts, someone's gonna come looking."

"There's been sporadic gunfire just to our echo, L-tee. Maybe we should just keep moving up the valley to the recon coordinates?"

"Good idea . . ." agreed Goldman, glancing up the side of the hill, wishing they could communicate with the men topside, " . . . let's move out."

The two froze in their tracks and stared at one another as they heard the sharp sound of rifle bolts being snapped into place. The distinct nasal Asian voice chirped and squawked madly at them in rapid fire phrases.
They turned slowly together, clasping hands atop their heads, to face their captors.
Percell glanced quickly at Goldman, to see if he was seeing the same thing.
A deadly semi-circle of AK-47 rifle barrels pointed at them from the foliage.
Goldman blinked his one good eye in disbelief. Behind the guns were the faces of children. None looked older than 12 or 13.
The scruffy, bony youth directly in front of Goldman and Percell rattled off another volley of words the two G.I.'s could not understand.
He repeated his last barrage. this time gesturing wildly at the two Americans.

"What's he saying, L-tee?" asked Percell.

"Stick ‘em up?" shrugged Goldman.

"They're gonna have VC crawling all over ‘em, Sarge."

"I hear that." said Anderson swiveling to glance into Johnson'd worried face.

"Sir, shouldn't we go down there and get them, Sir? Sargent?" chimed Trotter, feeling somehow like this was all his fault.

"That's a great idea, Trotter, but how do you propose we do that?" snapped Anderson a little more curtly than necessary.

"I'm sorry, Sargent." mumbled Alvin, eyes big behind the lenses.

A rustling over head ended the exchange and they watched as Taylor, all lanky arms and legs came sliding through the vines and branches to land gracefully on his feet beside Johnson, flashing a huge grin, giving Johnson a one-potato, two-potato fist.

"Well now, well now, " grinned Zeke, "nice of you to drop in, Taylor. How's the trail situation up there?"

"Not as clear as this one, Sarge. Those last few feet are a little tough." but he was still smiling.

"Could Ruiz make it?" asked Anderson quietly.

"Yes sir." nodded Marcus with confidence.

Zeke nodded, accepting Taylor's assessment.

"Alright then, tell ‘em where to go." said Anderson nodding across the newly formed gorge to the two remaining soldiers.

Doc and Ruiz didi'd out of there double time and found their way along the high path without any trouble.
Ruiz's side had started bleeding again from his climb but he insisted that he would be fine.
So, now that Anderson had most of his ducklings gathered, he had to think of what they were going to do about the two that had been swept away.
Were the alive, hurt, on their way to a P.O.W.camp, . . . dead?
Anderson didn't think the L-tee could handle the experience of a prison camp again and he knew an experience like that would probably kill a sensitive kid like Percell.

"Alright, listen up now. . . we gotta keep moving. The VC are going to keep adjusting their guns until they hit us and we can't afford to have the trail blown out from under our feet again.. If the L-tee and Percell are okay, they'll be on the move and heading for the recon coordinates."

"If they're alright." mumbled Trotter.

"You got something to say, Private?" challenged Anderson, getting tired of the kid's defeatist attitude.

"No sir, Sargent." he shrugged awkwardly, feeling everyone glaring impatiently at him.

"Good. Let's move out. Johnson, you're on point. Let's go ladies."

The junior leader clammed up suddenly blinking curiously at Percell then stared intently at Lieutenant Goldman, studying his face.
The L-tee took an involuntary step back as the youth marched up to him and with a dirty, bony hand fished down the front of the L-tee's fatigue shirt. Goldman glanced nervously at Percell, who just shrugged.

Finding his prize, junior pulled out the chain and yanked of Goldman's dog tags.
He squinted at the little rectangles of aluminum.

"elle. tee . . . Go, Gomin!" he managed and grinned happily up at the very puzzled soldiers.

"You elle tee Gomin!!" repeated the happy smudged youth.

Goldman gave the kid a confused smile, eyes scanning the other kids as they crowded around, rifles forgotten.

"Yeah, I'm Lieutenant Goldman . . ." he shrugged, wondering to himself just what the hell was going on.

"You come to village. Get Miss Devlin." Goldman remembered the day instantly. McKay had left Alex at a ville that the VC later destroyed. She'd wanted to take the little swarm of kids with them but the kid had refused.

This scrawny bag of bones was . . . was . . .

"Henry!" blurted Goldman, smiling at the beaming kid who nodded enthusiastically.

"Henry, we have to get out of here, it's not safe."

"You come. We hide you. VC not far." said Henry grabbing Myron's hand and tugging him along after him.

One of the littlest of the children reached up and slipped her hand shyly into Percell's and led him off after the others. He smiled down into the little face that peeked up at him with curiosity. Unable to resist, he hoisted her into the air and settled her in the crook of his arm where she perched and stared at his face and eyes in amazement. "Henry. We have to go that way." thumbed Goldman over his shoulder as the boy pulled him along behind him.

"No, Gomin. You safe this way."

"No, Henry. . . Henry!" he jerked the kid to a stop and squatted beside him.

"Look, Henry, I have men I'm suppose to meet back there. That way."

"VC that way, elle tee!"

"Do you know how many?"


"Henry, give us rifles. We . . ."




Goldman hung his head a moment in frustration.

"Henry? Is there a way around the VC?"

Henry looked into the L-tee's eyes, judging him then slowly nodded.

"Can you take us?"

"If you take message to Miss Devlin."

Goldman's jaw muscles worked as he met the kid's gaze.

Before he could answer, a scabby-kneed boy of about eight came racing into the clearing, eyes as big as saucers. He gestured and hopped about excitedly and the kids all looked off in the direction from which he'd come. Percell felt the ripple of fear sweep through the kids. The little girl in his arms wriggled free and joined the other children.

"L-tee. This doesn't feel right."

" . . . Henry . . ?" asked Goldman coming to his feet reaching for his revolver.

"Didi mau! Didi mau!!" squeaked Henry, scattering the children in all directions.

"Gomin, come!!!" he called to the two men as he shot through a tiny opening in a thicket.

The two soldiers squeezed through the child-size opening in the bushes, thorns tearing at their skin and clothes. They pushed on, ignoring the beads of drawn blood soaking into the fabric of their shirts and pants. They were in a growth of ‘wait-a-minute' vines and it's razor sharp thorns.

"Stop!" whispered Henry urgently, raising a hand to silence the two Americans.

Goldman froze, hunched over in the process of working himself deeper into the vines. He smeared a trickle of blood from a thorn slash under his eye as it ran down his cheek.
Percell hissed as he felt a thorn gouge a deep furrow across his spine as he squatted to wait, ignoring the blood that began to run down his back.
They listened to the approaching enemy troops. Goldman licked nervously at his lips, eyes wide with fear, expecting a bullet to punch through him any second.
Goldman and Percell exchanged nervous glances as the muffled sandaled feet shuffled by their thicket only a few feet away.
The Lieutenant turned at Henry's insistent poking at his leg. The kid's eyes were bugging out and he was pointing past Percell.
‘what!' mouthed Goldman before he followed Henry's point and stare. His stomach lurched and his hand went to the nape of his neck.

A thorn of the tangle vine had snagged the small towel he usually draped around his neck. It was now hanging there at the edge of the bush at the trail.

Percell noticed the L-tee's expression change and smoothly swiveled to see what the two sets of wide eyes were staring at. He nearly swallowed his toothpick when he saw the towel hanging snagged on the the thorn. He spun back around, his eyes as wide at the other two's were.

Johnson on point raised a ‘halt' fist and Anderson trotted up their shortened line to his side.

"Got a decision to make here, Sarge." he nodded to a fork in the trail.

Anderson scanned the canopy below them a moment before answering.

"Alright, Johnson, check ‘em out. We'll take the one that goes down to the valley floor. If Percell and the L-tee are okay, we'll be meeting up with them down there."

"Yes, sir." nodded Johnson and headed off to scout the trails.

Zeke was worried about his two missing men. He looked back at the Team Viking members sitting or squatting quietly, waiting for orders. Poor Ruiz, thought Anderson, he looked exhausted leaning against Taylor's shoulder. Thankfully the new bandages Doc Hock had applied were not sopping up blood as quickly as the first ones had. The wound seemed to be clotting.
It was alot to ask, he knew, but if only they could get through the rest of this one without any more mishaps or injuries. He'd run all out of promises to make to God so he'd have to depend on good ‘ol American know how and a whole lotta luck.

"Coming in." came Johnson's disembodied voice seconds before he reappeared.

Anderson rose from his squat to greet him.

Goldman slowly began to pull his Colt .45 from its holster.

Shaking his head, Henry clutched at Goldman's wrist.

"Gomin, no!" he whispered sharply.

And before Myron could argue with the boy, Henry wriggled past him, practically crawled across Percell's thighs and grabbed for the towel.
He tumbled from the thicket of vines and thorns into the middle of the passing VC party.
The two Americans listened to the shouts of surprise turn to chattering and nervous laughter. Myron and Danny exchanged cautious smiles, both thinking that Henry might have pulled it off.
Their smiles dropped at the distinct sound of something solid hitting soft flesh, followed by the child's squeal.
Percell's eyes pleaded with the L-tee to do something. Anything! Goldman grimaced, struggling with his choices. Pulling the Colt free, setting his jaw, he squirmed back through the bush to Percell.

"Stay here." he hissed, clicking off the safety.

"Like hell!" disobeyed Percell defiantly in his CO's face.

"Perc . . ."

Both cringed as a second blow drew a scream from the boy.

Goldman pushed his way through the vines ignoring the razor sharp thorns slicing through his skin.

He came out onto the path raising his gun hand, cocking it to load a shell into the chamber. With stone cold precision, he killed the three men crowded around the child laying prone at their feet. They were dead before they crumpled to the ground.
He took out another two as they lifted their rifles and returned fire. As they toppled to the hard packed earth, Percell lunged at another, dragging his knife fatally across the man's throat. He let the body sink to the ground as the few remaining members of the small VC party, thinking they were outnumbered, scattered, vanished silently into the trees, taken quite by surprise by the American ‘ambush'.

Panting near hyperventilation from the peaking adrenaline that coursed through his body, Goldman stood, arm locked straight out before him. He scanned the walls of green that seemed to be closing in on them, tried to listen for the enemy but the blood rushing in his ears, deafening him.

"L-tee. . . L-tee? . . . L-tee!" Percell gave the officer a shake.

Myron blinked at the Spc4 a moment before looking around at the bodies. He holstered the gun as he went down on one knee beside Henry.

"Oh God." unaware of the whine escaping his lips as he looked down at the boy.

His skull had a sickening dent in it, his lifeless staring eyes bulged bright red with hemorrhaged blood. Goldman's hands fluttered above the child unwilling to make contact.

"He's dead, L-tee." said Percell quietly laying a hand on Myron's shoulder.

Myron nodded silently, not trusting his voice. Percell pulled him to his feet, pulled him away from the body.

"L-tee, Sir? Y'gotta forget about it, sir." encouraged the Spc4 turning Myron around, forcing him to look at him.

Goldman looked into Percell's penetrating pale eyes, feeling empty, not wanting to think, not wanting to move any more.

"Danny . . ."

"L-tee?" Percell reached out and rested an understanding hand on Goldman's forearm. Myron backed away from Percell's touch quickly.

"Get out of here."


"Go. Find Sargent Anderson. Get out of here." he rubbed slowly at his arms as if chilled although sweat sheened on his skin.

"And leave you here?" squawked Percell, perplexed.

"I get people killed, Danny," his eyes flashed briefly at the confused Spc4, " . . . Alex . . . too many men to name, and now . . . this kid . . . Henry." he squatted, hugging his arms, shaking his head slowly from side to side.

"L-tee . . ."

"I don't want you killed too, so . . , go."

"L-tee . . ."

"Would you just get the fuck out of here, Percell." he yelled.

Percell dropped the rifle he'd taken from a dead Viet Cong, stooped and hauled Goldman to his feet with two hands.

"I ain't goin' no place without you, L-tee!!"

Goldman tried to break free but could not, Percell's fingers only dug deeper into his arms the more he struggled.
Goldman took an awkward swing at Percell, his fist grazed clumsily across the man's jaw. Percell didn't flinch, just stood and took it. Brown eyes flashing, tears threatening to spill, Goldman shoved at Percell and punched at the hands that gripped him like a vice, before he was reduced to wracking sobs.

"Fuck." he moaned against Percell's chest and cried. Percell wrapped his arms around him.

"What ‘IS' the matter with you, man?" asked Francis in his Memphis drawl, turning around to glare at Trotter.

"Sor *hick*, sorry. I always get hiccups when I'm hungry. *hick*."

"Then eat something!"

"It's *hick*, it's not that simple. They only go *hick*, go away if I eat and go to sleep right *hick*, right away."

"What happens if you only eat?" asked Doc, curious now.

"You *hick*, you don't wanna know."

"What? Uncontrollable farting or something?"

". . .*hick* . . ." Trotter suddenly found a loose button on his shirt fascinating.

Doc turned away so Trotter wouldn't see him smiling. ‘man, this kid's one walking fuck-up." he mumbled to himself.

". . . *hick* . . ."

The men trudged on in silence, keeping an eye on the sinking sun.

They would be on the valley floor by dusk and able to set up camp for the night.

Anderson stepped to the side of the line and observed his men shuffle by.

" . . . *hick* . . ."

They all looked,

" . . . *hick* . . ."

mighty tired, he thought. He hoped they could get,

" . . . *hick* . . ."

a good night's rest. He didn't know what tomorrow held in store.

" . . . *hick* . . ." as Trotter wobbled past him.

"Private Trotter, you hitting the sauce back here?"

" . . . *hick*, . . No, sir!" he stopped sharply kicking up a little cloud of dust.

" . . . *hick* . . ."

"Why are you . . ."

"Every time I get too hungry I get them sir." explained Trotter before Anderson could ask the obvious question.

"Don't ask him why he doesn't just plain eat, Sarge." grinned Hockenbury.

"Thanks for the tip, Hockenbury." nodded Anderson.

" . . . *hick* . . ."

"You're welcome, sir." Hockenbury gave him a casual two fingered salute and moved along

Anderson fell in beside the private.

"We're setting up camp when we hit the valley floor, you . .,"

" . . . *hick* . . ."

". . . you can eat and rest then."

"Thank you, Sargent." he grinned happily at Anderson.

" . . . *hick* . . ."

Anderson just shook his head and moved back up the line.

" . . . *hick* . . ."

Danny gave Myron a consoling pat on the back as Goldman collected himself, wiping tears and snot away with grimy hands. Myron cleared his throat, embarrassed, stood a moment, hands on hips. Danny busied himself collecting the scattered AK-47's, giving the Lieutenant room. Avoiding looking at Henry, Myron shuffled aimlessly around looking for something useful to do.

"Here, L-tee." said Percell, handing him a rifle.

"Thanks Danny." he sighed, meaning more than just the rifle.

"Don't mention it," answered Percell, answering for more before glancing at the darkening sky, "we should put some distance between us and this before it gets too dark."

"You're right." agreed Goldman sadly.

Percell moved off past the lieutenant eager to be away from this . . crime scene. Goldman braved a final look at the boy's brutally mishapen head, turned and followed.

Percell walked ahead in respectable silence imagining himself in the L-tee's place.
Hell, they couldn't pay him enough to be an officer. He could never see himself handling things the way L-tee did. He couldn't discipline the guys so ‘diplomatically'. He couldn't imagine ‘not' being one of the guys, being outside the circle. Couldn't imagine making the life or death decisions.

"Percell." Goldman's raspy whisper penetrated his reverie.

He slowed his pace as Goldman fell into step beside him.

"We better find some cover for the night."

Percell looked at the L-tee in the deepening gloom. The face that looked back was cold, blank, withdrawn.

"Yes, sir." he answered curtly and looked away.

Shutting down, the guy's shutting down. Percell was worried.

"Set the trip flares and claymores 50 yards out in a radius formation."

"Okay, Sarge." answered Taylor before slinking off into the growing shadows.

"Doc, you and Taylor take the 1st watch. Wake Johnson and me at 2200 hours for the next one."

"What about, Trotter?" whined Doc resentfully.

"Now, son, you and I both know he ain't the best person here to be covering our tails."

"Yeah, well, maybe it's time he carried his own weight." griped Hockenbury.

Doc and Taylor took the first watch.

Hockenbury, still annoyed with their oddball newbie, belly-crawled quietly to the kid's side and watched bitterly as he slept deeply and, damn him, peacefully, his mind yet undisturbed by unwelcome dreams.

"Trotter, man, you are some piece of work." whispered Doc, shaking his head, watching the slack mouth suddenly purse distastefully.

"He's dead, L-tee." mumbled Trotter, hugging himself in his sleep.

"What?" Dock leaned closer.

"Put some distance between us and . . ."Trotter began.

Doc glanced up and saw Johnson watching him. Doc shrugged and gave Johnson a mischevious little smile.

"Trotter, you sandbag the L-tee's hootch, man?"

"Mission's going sour."

"Sour, huh, how?" encouraged Doc.

"Body bags." Trotter rolled over onto his back still deep in sleep.

Johnson sat up rubbing sleep from his eyes giving Hockenbury a questioning look.

"Men are going to die this time. Nobody's coming back. Not this time."

"Trotter, man, you're dreaming." chuckled Doc, trying to warm the chill dancing up his back.

"PFC Trotter. Alvin. Serial #K7R00369P...K.I.A. June 15th, 1969." he scratched at his crotch, oblivious.

Doc raised big eyes to Johnson, saw Ruiz sitting up too, listening in silence.

"You're wrong, Alvin." said Doc using the kid's name for the first time.

"No hope. All is lost. Call in an air strike!" Trotter rolled over, back to Doc, sucking in a loose snorey breath.

What the hell was that all about wondered Hockenbury as his tired eyes scanned the secretive shadows surrounding them.

They could be a branch length away from an attacker. These people these Viet Cong ‘were' the jungle. Edgey, he crab-walked away from the premonitionary private and threw his concentration into watching the crazy shadows meet

Percell lay curled on his side, rifle clasped in one hand, finger curled loosely around the trigger. He lay in that place between wake and sleep where things around you registered but you just filed them away instead of reacting; The bugs feasted, his rot itched, his body ached, his mouth was dry, his stomach growled and he was still alive. Hadn't ended up like that poor kid, Henry. Yet. He inhaled hot, green jungle air and sighed heavily, feeling sleep inch itself a little closer.
Goldman lay with his back pressed against Percell's. He lay there wondering for a moment who's sweat it was that was trickling down his ribs. He felt Percell sigh against him in the dark.
Myron was exhausted but sleep evaded him. Closing his eyes only sharpened the focus on the images he was trying to leave blurred. He was still embarrassed to have bawled in front of Percell, in front of an enlisted man. Hated himself for it, imagined that his father would have been ashamed of him had he known.
‘fuck him.' came a sudden contradictory thought. I'm trying too hard to be something I think he wants me to be. And it's killing me.
The me I was before all this insanity. He shuddered despite the heat. He sank into himself to try and catch the elusive entity known as sleep.

Thick cold ribbons of ground fog weaved their way among the dripping trees, blanketing the jungle in an eerie silence.
Percell sat up quietly, scanning the shrouded foliage around him. He nudged the L-tee who came awake instantly.
Myron blinked the last of sleep from his eyes as he looked at the alien world around him.

"Great." he grumbled, climbing stiffly to his feet. He fished in his pocket and pulled out his compass.

"This stuff's pretty thick, L-tee."

"It'll be good for cover, but the sun's going to burn it off soon enough."

"So we better hustle. . ."

"I hear that." he said absently concentrating on the compass.

He looked at Percell when he snorted and realized what he'd said when he saw the man trying to hide his amusement.

"C'mon, let's go," he smiles easily pocketing his compass, "if we're lucky, we'll find them by midday."

"Shouldn't have left my rabbit's foot at home." commented Percell following Goldman into the mist.

Doc gave Alvin a wide birth whenever walking by the kid. Their somnambulistic chat really weirded him out. Had him fighting off nightmares whenever it was his turn to sleep.

"Hey, Alvin," Ruiz sauntered up to the kid who sat hunched over the dead radio poking and fiddling at it.

Trotter squinted up at Ruiz without speaking.

"I've been thinking about all that stuff you said last night, y'know."

Trotter's face dropped.

"Wwwhat do you mean ‘ssstuff I said last night'? I didn't say anything last night."

"Sure you did. In your sleep."

"No. No. No. No, no, no, no." he repeated rapidly to himself as he bent over the radio with greater enthusiasm.

"Hey, Doc," called Ruiz, "Tell the dude what he was saying last night."

"Forget it man, too weird."

Trotter looked nervously from one man to the other.

"I thought about it, Trotter - You said we had to call in an airstrike. But how are we supposed to do that if the radio's busted? You're wrong, man."

"Oh, no, no, no, no." moaned Trotter looking at his surroundings, seeming to only to be noticing them for the first time and surprised at where he was.

"Trotter?" Ruiz waved his hand in front of his face. No response, "el loco, man." mumbled Ruiz and walked away.

He froze in his tracks, turned slowly and looked down at Trotter. The radio in the man's lap began to squelch and hiss.

"We can call in an airstrike now." said Trotter close to tears as he looked up Ruiz.

Anderson gave Trotter a curious glance as he passed him and sidled up beside Taylor and Johnson.

"Taylor, you ‘n' me's movin' out."

"Alright, Sarge."

"Johnson, you stay here with the guys. Keep your ears and eyes open. We're gonna get ourselves some Life Magazine snap shots. Hell, might even help stop the war," he said shrugging at the camera hanging around his neck, "We should be back in two - three hours, so, sit tight."

Johnson nodded and watched the two fade into the milky fog.

"Should we try going around it?" asked Danny looking over the bright green algae floating on the swamp stretching out before them.

"May take too long. We're going to have to cut through it."

"Yes, sir."

"They won't think to look for us in the middle of this, I don't think."

"No, sir." agreed Percell following behind Goldman.

The warm stagnant water was to their knees and rose steadily as they advanced, sending swells through the mossy film that undulated around them.

"Wish I had m' bug juice." commented Percell solemnly, giving the green slime a leery eye.

"Think I still have my lighter." Added Goldman trying not to think about the gelatinous black blobs that might be attaching themselves to their bodies right now.

They made steady progress in silence, both watching and listening for any approaching enemy troops.
Goldman was startled out of his focus on the trees when Percell thrashed about for a moment and ‘glooped' below the surface.
Myron splashed around grabbing at things below the water's gooey surface, mostly slippery water-logged branches and vines.

"Percell!? . . . Peerrccceeellll!!!" his fingers closed around cloth and he hauled the coughing, sputtering man to the surface.

"Are you okay? What happened?!"

Gagging and blinking, Percell looked around them, fear in his eyes. "I saw . . ." hock, spit, "I saw a snake, L-tee!!!" he slapped at the green slime around them.

"Percell! Percell! Calm Down!!" yelled Goldman grabbing Percell's arm tightly. Fighting to remain calm himself, trying to keep his own childhood fear from overtaking him.

"Yes. . , sir." gasped Percell, eyes still scanning the soup around him.

"Hold still." ordered Goldman, inwardly cringing at a leech stuck to Danny's forehead.

He fished around in his pocket and found his lighter. Frowning, he held it to the grizzly creature's little slimy back. Danny grimaced as it fell and bounced off his chest into the water.

"We're gonna be covered." he turned a pale face to Goldman.

"And we'll get them off as soon as we're out of this, deal?"


They turned and headed off.

"I think I swallowed a gallon of this crap water."

"Been taking your pills?" asked Goldman.

"Sort of . . ."

"Oh, oh."

"I feel sick, L-tee."

"It doesn't affect you that fast . . . does it?" Goldman gave him a questioning squint.

They crawled deeper into the undergrowth.

"No wonder them fly boys can't see any of this from up there. There are at lease three canopies of trees! Perfect cover." whispered Anderson laying down his 16 and unslinging the Nikon. He checked the aperture and f-stop and held it up to his eye.

"Hope the click of it ain't loud enough for them t'hear, Sarge." fretted Taylor.

Anderson gave him a ‘we'll-soon-find-out' look and refocused his attention on the scene laid out before them. A battalion's worth of soldiers milled about all looking intent on their duties. Some prepared food rations, laying out rows of long packets of rice. others stock-piled ammo for the RPG's and rifles.
Another section of the immaculately maintained compound held an impressive fleet of trucks - all being loaded with supplies and men - soon to be transported further south along the Ho Chi Mien Trail. In one area a squad of men drilled, others rehearsed assault maneuvers. In another a few practiced their aim, firing at paper cut-outs of what looked alot like American G.I's.
Zeke didn't waste time or try for Pulitzer Prize compositions. He simply recorded what he saw laid out before him, quickly and quietly.

"Let's go." he nudged Taylor.

When they had a healthy distance between them and the camp, Zeke rerolled the film and pocketed the canister. If he had to ditch equipment, he could lose the camera and still bring back the vital intelligence photos.

"Let's take the scenic route back, see what other options we've got if we need to beat it lickety split."

"I hear that." smiled Taylor nervously as they di-di'd out of there.

The jungle's heat and humidity by midday had them gasping for every breath. Percell stumbled and landed on his hands and knees on the muddy bank, relieved to be out of the swamp. Goldman waded through the last few feet himself and joined Percell, sinking down on his knees beside him.

"You okay?" he managed.

"Yeah, you?" asked Percell, squinting at Goldman, through a trickle of sweat.

"I think my lungs need to be rung out."

"I hear tha . . ." he began.

He turned to see the L-tee smiling at him. The two laughed. (good ole Zeke).

Percell gingerly unbuttoned his shirt and peeled it off.

"Oh Gawd!" he groaned staring helplessly down at a glistening leech clinging hungrily across a nipple.

Goldman grimaced at it too as he dug into a soggy pocket and pulled out his lighter.

"Hurry up, sir, please." begged Danny looking away, unable to watch.

Myron, face pinched in disgust, held the flame against the revolting blob. It gradually curled up, smoking a little, before releasing its grip and dropping off.

"Try and stay still, Percell. I don't want to burn you." warned Goldman.

"Yes, sir . . ."he said as he watched with morbid curiosity now.

The two of them flinched as Goldman's newest victim popped and splattered bright blood. Percell whined deep in his throat. Goldman swallowed back rising bile as he focused on the last of the ‘visible' leeches.

"I can feel ‘em all over my legs, sir."

"Well, just hold on . . ." answered Myron through clenched teeth, watching the charred little body tumble away, "okay, . . . drop the pants."

Eventually, Percell stood before his CO in his skivvies with his pants down around his ankles and happily leech free. Only reddened spots, some trickling a little blood remained.
As Percell pulled his pant back up and fastened them, Myron finally peeled off his own shirt.

"Christ!" he hissed, seeing his own torso peppered with the bloated black bodies. He handed the lighter over to Danny.

Taylor raised his fist and went down on one knee, head swivelling to pick up sounds clearer.

"Taylor?" asked Zeke, hunching over the Spc4.

"Voices . . ," he listened a moment then pointed, "through there. Close."

The two crept forward to investigate, keeping low in the underbrush as they went. They froze when they heard a second, larger party approaching from their 4 o'clock. Marcus followed Zeke deeper into the bamboo stand. Zeke positioned himself, wanting to have the smaller party in his sights.
He could make out the well worn path leading away from their hiding place, and followed along it expecting to see a scouting party of 2 or 3 VC or NVA approaching.
He stopped so abruptly, Taylor bumped into him.

"Sarge?" asked Taylor in a whisper.

Zeke stared for a second, not trusting his eyes. 2 G.I.'s. ‘MY' two G.I.'s.

"Company's comin', Sarge." warned Taylor, beginning to see movement off to their right.

"Give me a C-ration can."

"A what?"


"I didn't bring any."

"Shit!" Anderson looked around on the ground at his feet.

"What's going on?" asked Taylor.

"Look!" nodded Anderson working the lens off the camera.

"What the . . !?"

Anderson and Taylor watched as Percell, squatted beside Goldman burned leeches from the man's pale legs.

"They're right in the mi . . !"

"I know." agreed Zeke cutting Taylor off.

He hefted the camera lens in his hand, gauging its weight.

"We gotta warn ‘em, Sarge!"

"I know." He stood and, unconsciously holding his breath, lobbed the camera lens at the two oblivious G.I.'s like a grenade.

Just a couple more, L-tee." reassured Percell glancing up at his CO.

Neither of them thought anything of what an Officer with his pants down around his ankles and one of his men kneeling before him, might look like. They just wanted to be rid of the hideous little black creatures that were clinging to their flesh.
The two flinched as the mysterious incoming projectile slapped against a tree, bounced and rolled to a stop about 3 feet away from them. "L-tee!" grunted Percell, wrapping his arms around Goldman's legs and tackling him to the ground.
They lay together a moment waiting for the little orb to explode and tear into them but nothing happened. They knew that ocaissionally there were duds, that this might be one of those times where luck was on their side.
Waiting a moment they both finally chanced a look at the harmless lump, not believing what they saw. That wasn't a grenade!
Percell was the first to scan the surroundings and he gawked in surprise, spotting a frantically gesturing Anderson.

"L-tee," he tapped the L-tee's leg with the back of his hand, "look." Goldman sat up reaching for his pants and saw Anderson and Taylor. He hopped up hoisting up his pants and began buttoning them as the other two dropped from view.

"What's the . . ."

"VC!" hissed Percell grabbing the L-tee's arm and pulling him head long into the trees.

Once again the two were lying in a heap together. They lay perfectly still where they were landed. Unconsciously their grips on one another tightened as the approaching voices reached them. Their wide eyes met a moment. ‘This was TOO close', their mutual looks said.

Zeke wished himself deeper into the earth beneath him, hoping their cover was thick enough. He hoped he'd warned the others in time.
He was still a little stunned about spotting his two missing men. They looked a little banged up but otherwise in one piece.
He pressed his face into the dirt as the group of Viet Cong, the size of a scouting party, shuffled by.

The small patrol made its way by both pairs of G.I.'s, oblivious to their close proximity.
But it was a long five minutes before Zeke slowly raised his head, cocking an ear, listening for any more approaching surprises. Charlie had moved on and they were in the clear, for now. He came to his feet with Taylor on his heels and the two trotted to the stand of vegetation they'd seen Percell shove Goldman into.
Zeke grinned happily as he peered down at the two grimy, surprised faces that looked up at him.

"Sarge! Are we glad to see you!" beamed Percell as Zeke pulled him to his feet and Taylor helped Goldman to his.

"Danny!" Taylor threw his long arms enthusiastically around his buddy. They back slapped each other with gusto.

Taylor was so happy to see them he even threw his arms around the L-tee before realizing what he was doing.

"Good to see you , sir!" he stepped back, smiling awkwardly as Goldman gave him a genuine smile.

"You too, Marcus."

"The two of you okay?" asked Zeke giving them the once over.

"Nothing a little R'n'R can't fix, right?" said Goldman consulting Percell with a glance.

"Yes, sir!" agreed Percell with a big smile.

"We could use some water, Sargent."

Taylor and Zeke handed over their canteens.

"Where are the rest of the men?" asked Goldman after a long drink.

"'Bout two klicks north."

"What are you two doing out here?"

"Playing spy." Zeke grinned, giving his brow a double twitch as he shrugged and gestured at the camera. And remembering it, he bent and retrieved the now dirty and dented lens he'd pitched at them.

"Hope they don't dock my pay for that."

The four arrived at the camp by late afternoon to stares of disbelief.

"Percell!" called Hockenbury hurrying to meet him.

"Hey, Doc!" answered Percell returning the man's hug.

He was soon nodding and hugging the others as the crowded around him.

"Lieutenant Goldman!" Private Trotter approached cautiously not believing his own eyes.

Goldman chuckled seeing the look on the kid's face.


"Lieutenant. You're not dead. But I . . . you were . . !"

"Hey, L-tee, how you doing?" asked Ruiz cutting off the Private.

"Good, Ruiz. How are you? How's the side?" asked Goldman.

"I'm okay, sir. . . Trotter got the radio working."

"He did?" said Goldman with genuine surprise, "You did? That's great!" He smiled at Trotter and patted him on the shoulder.

"You're not dead." mumbled Trotter as the men surrounded the L-tee to welcome him back and check his condition out for themselves.

Trotter drifted away in a daze. ‘Lieutenant Goldman was still alive'. Had his premonitions been wrong? They'd never been before. He moved away from the happy huddle and found some shade to sit in. He needed to sort this all out. Maybe they *were* all going to make it back alive.

Favouring his bandaged side, Ruiz eased himself down beside Trotter, worried about the gangley kid.

"What's up, Alvin?" he elbowed him gently to get his attention.

"Everything's all mixed up." answered Trotter sincerely perplexed by the state of things.

"You're in the Nam, man. Everything here's all mixed up."

"Tell me again what I said last night?"

"Trotter. Relax. Stop worrying. Everything's going to be alright. You'll see."

Trotter watched Goldman and Percell who sat enthusiastically eating c-rations listening to Sargent Anderson give them a summary of things.

The gnawing feeling wouldn't go away. He had to do something.
He dug into his pocket and pulled out a flat oval blue stone, worn smooth from handling.
He stared at his Lieutenant as his fingers worked the familiar shape. It was cool in his hand. Never seemed to heat up no matter how long he held it.
It was his lucky stone.
He thought he might get the L-tee to carry it just till they got back to the base. He'd need it back then.

"Excuse me, Ruiz." said Trotter as he got to his feet.

Ruiz just shook his head as the young soldier stumbled away.

" . . . and we could see the clearing. The bird could come in there." Goldman said glancing quickly at Percell as he spoke to Zeke.

"Good. It's too risky to try and make it back to the LZ. Too many VC crawling around." agreed Anderson as Goldman stuffed the coordinates map into the pouch pocket of his pants.

Trotter hovered on the perimeter of their conversation, not wanting to interrupt, swaying slightly from side to side as he nervously switched his weight from foot to foot.

Percell up-ended his canteen, ignoring the chemically taste of the treated water.

"Hey, Alvin." sighed Percell feeling a little more refreshed.

"Hey, Danny." he gave the Spc4 a twitchy smile.

"What's up, man?" asked Percell twisting the cap back on the canteen.

Anderson and Goldman glanced up at him too.

"Um, uh, uh, uh . . . nothing." he finally blurted and scurried away.

Anderson just shook his head.

"He's a strange one." said Goldman before jamming a handful of crackers into his mouth.

"I hear that," agreed Anderson, watching Myron a moment before continuing, "I have to say, he's laid some pretty weird stuff on us since this mission began."

"Oh, yeah? Like what?" asked Myron, giving Zeke a sideways glance.

"Well, sir. I'm starting to think that sandbagging you in your hootch was a *good* idea."

"Ha! I'm not *that* bad an officer am I, Sargent?"

"No, sir. On the contrary. Just seems we wouldn't have nearly lost you twice already. AND we ain't home yet, tha'sall." answered Zeke reaching over and running a finger over a jagged rip in Myron's fatigues.

"Yeah, well . . ."

"Lieutenant Goldman, sir." Trotter was back.

Myron and Zeke looked up at Trotter standing over them.

"Alvin." nodded Goldman.

"Sir, I don't want to bother you, sir, but, but, I, I, I. Need a favour." he sputtered painfully.

Myron and Zeke exchanged a quick look.

"What kind of favour?" asked Goldman cautiously.

"Would you please do me the favour of, of, of carrying this for me until we're back at base, base. Sir? Please?"

He stuck his hand out under the Lieutenant's nose. Goldman peered down at the little blue stone for a second then squinted up at Alvin.

"It's a rock."

"Yes sir, it's a rock, it's lapis lazuli, and it's a good luck charm." answered Trotter squatting beside Goldman.

Zeke snorted then quickly busied himself retying a boot lace to avoid the look Myron shot him.

"Uh, a good luck charm?"

"Yes, sir. It's not heavy, you won't even know you're carrying it. Please, sir?"

Myron looked at the smudged baby face, with its pleading eyes behind those black framed glasses and softened.

"Alright, Alvin. But *just* till we're back at base, right?"

"Yes, sir. I'll need them back then."

Myron slipped the dice-sized stone into his breast pocket as he watched Trotter walk away.

"Guess you can all put your guns and grenades away, L-tee's got himself a good luck charm." drawled Hockenbury.

"Shut up." chimed Goldman and Anderson together not bothering to look at their cynical medic.

"Well, we ought to try out the radio even though we'll have to wait till morning for our ride. It'd be too dark by the time it got out here, and it's going to take us a good two hours to get to the PZ. Hopefully before full dark."

"Good idea." agreed Anderson coming to his feet, following Goldman.

"Dakota One. This is Dakota 2-6. Over."

~Dakota Over, go ahead, 2-6. Over.~

"Request pick up at first light at these new coordinates; Lima 3-2-7-niner. Repeat, Lima 3-2-7-niner. Over."

~Can do 2-6. Blue Velvet will pull into the station at 0730 hrs. Over.~

:Roger that, One. We'll be . . ."

!Zapppp! !Shboing! !Crackle! !Fizzzzz!

"Shiiiit!" yelped Goldman, stumbling back, dropping the handset as the radio literally exploded. Sparks and bits of its body flew in every direction. Tubes blew, springs sprang, wires, flashed and melted. And the radio's short lived second life was gone in a final puff of smoke.

Myron glanced at his hand still feeling the sting from the shock he'd received.

"You okay, L-tee?" asked Johnson as the guys gathered around the charred remains of their radio.

"Yeah, I'm fine."

"Maybe you ought to give that *good luck* charm back, L-tee." suggested Hockenbury helpfully, grinning at his CO.

"No, no, no. Don't you see," argued Trotter, "this would have been a whole lot worse if he *hadn't* been carrying the stone."

"Okay. So the L-tee's covered, Trotter, what about you? What's protecting you now?" asked Doc raising a questioning eyebrow, getting the kid all spooked.

"Knock it off, Doc!" warned Zeke.

"Hey, Trotter, man . . ," Ruiz motioned the kid over, "I can lend you one of my Santeria beads. They'll protect you."

Ruiz selected a string of beads from the collection around his neck and gave it to Trotter to wear. He gave Doc a disgusted look for scaring the kid.

"Alright, ladies. We're moving out to make the PZ before dark. Got ourselves a limousine ride in the sky at first light, now let's boogie. We've got a bit of ground to cover before we make camp. Let's move it, moveit, moveit!"

It took them 2 hours to cover the 4 klicks south to the PZ. Another hot, bug infested night was fast approaching and they busied themselves setting up perimeter defenses and set up watches.

"I'd like to take a watch, sir." said Trotter, meeting Zeke's steady gaze.

" . . . Alright, son, you'll get 3rd watch, how's that sound?" offered Anderson.

"Great, Sir!" Alvin grinned happily.

While those on watch scanned the vegetation before them, the others sat around talking quietly or trying to get some sleep before their own watch.

"Those beads helping, Alvin?" asked Doc casually.

Trotter shifted uncomfortably, "They're great, why?" he asked suspiciously.

"No reason, just askin', s'all." he shrugged.

"Some people believe in things you can't explain, man!" snapped Ruiz defending Trotter AND his own superstitions.

"Actually, Ruiz, I am a believer. I am."

"Yeah, right." mumbled Ruiz not believing him.

"There was this one time, when I was a kid, . . ." he took a deep drag on his cigarette, blew out a plume of smoke, "this old shoe shine man, lived in a rickety old shack, in the swamp just outside of town. He used to come into town every Tuesday and shine up them business mens' shoes just fine. Anyway, I had this little black dog, Jake. No, Jasper . . . ? No, Jimmy! that little black dog's name was Jimmy," he nodded remembering it now, "Dad named him after Jimmy Cagney. Pure black from nose to tail, except for a little tuft of white on a toe of his front left paw . . ," he drifted off, thinking about it.

"And . . ?" asked Taylor, caught up in a story ‘about home'.

"Huh? Oh. And, well, one day, this old shoe shine guy just stops coming to town," he began again, shrugging one shoulder, "People started talking. Speculating on things . . . Gets so bad they ask the sheriff to go look for him. They say the old fella could be hurt or sick, or worse, some thought. But he won't do it. Uh-uh, says he ain't going into them gosh-darned swamps to look for nobody! Them swamps ain't safe he says . . ." Doc took a final puff of his cigarette and dropped it into a puddle of sauce in an empty c-ration can. It extinguished with a little hiss.

"What does that have to do with *believing* in stuff?" challenged Ruiz.

"I'm getting to that," said Doc, grinning to himself, "Now, I'm, like 10 or 11, right, and I hear this; ‘them swamps ain't safe' from this big tub-o-lard sheriff and think, *cool*, okay, maybe at 10 I said *neat-o*, but I just knew I was gonna go look for the old shoe shine man. So, I pack a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and an apple, hop on my Raleigh, with the plastic jet stream tassels attached to the handles and away I go. Don't tell a soul where I'm going. I'm just gone. I tell Jimmy; ‘stay, you can't come with me, them swamps ain't safe'."

"You went alone?" questioned Ruiz.

"Hockenbury's *still* working on finding friends." teased Taylor.

"Ha-ha. You wanna hear this or what?"

"Okay, okay."

"Okay, so I get to the edge of town, wondering if this is such a good idea and here's Jimmy - he goes racing by me down the path that leads down into the swamps. So, I'm like ‘Oh, shit!', right. Okay, at 10 maybe I said ‘oh heck' or ‘oh gosh', but my dumb ass dog's gone racing into the swamps. I gotta go get my dog, right? So I start pedaling down this path and calling for Jimmy. I'm 10. I'm alone. I'm scared . . ."

"Did a ‘gator eat your dog, Doc?" piped up Percell.

"No!" answered Doc, indignant over the soft chuckles around him.

"Then what happened?" asked Johnson, right into the story.

Doc, happy to be back on track, paused for dramatic effect before continuing.

"I hear Jimmy start barking . . . scared barking, y'know.," the guys nodded in the dark, "then he starts going totally ape-shit, like he's fighting a pack of wolves. I'm so scared by now that I ride off the path and smack right into a tree, front wheel's bent to shit! I'm in the swamps and I'm on foot and my little dog's off ahead somewhere, just ‘a howling and snarlin' likes he's rabid or something. So I call to him; ‘come on, boy!' I call, ‘come on now, be a good boy.' Then he lets out this yelp, like the time daddy closed the kitchen door on his tail. And he keeps yelping and he's getting closer, he's coming right for me, all the time howling! I'm about to shit my pants, it's getting dark and all of a sudden this little white dog bolts right past me. And he's outta there. Gone. And the place is dead quiet. I'm thinking; ‘where the hell's Jimmy?' Did he get in a fight with this white dog or something? Well, I'm sorry, there was no way I was going to go any further into the swamp to look for that dumb-ass dog. I know I'm already in for it good when I get home and my folks see my bike anyways. So, more mad than scared, I haul my bike back to the road. The sun's setting, it's all twilighty out, fire flies are blinking, y'know and I see that little white dog sitting and shivering on the curb. Shivering enough to make his tags rattle. Sounded a lot like Jimmy's tags. See, Jimmy was terrified of thunderstorms and would hide under the back porch and shake. We just had to listen for him if we were looking. And now, here's this dog doing what Jimmy always did . . . Guys, I swear, I nearly shit my pants. My little black dog, Jimmy was sitting there, trembling, scared to death. He had turned *completely* white."

There was a beat . . . then everyone spoke at once.

"You're making that up." said Taylor in disbelief.

"Maybe." shrugged Doc.

"That's a stupid story." mumbled Ruiz.

"Any of you do any better?"

"Hey, wait a minute, they ever find that old guy?" asked Alvin, not really sure if Doc was only telling a story.

"Yes they did. and he was dead. They said his hair had turned completely white. Said he looked like he'd been scared to death."

"Doc, you are so full of shit." groaned Percell.

Zeke, sitting propped against a log, snorted to himself at the exchange. Myron, stretched out beside him, glanced up at the man.

"Believe in ghosts, L-tee?" asked Zeke folding his arms across his chest.

"Not sure, Sargent. You?"

"Hell, yes.. After some of the things I've seen here. But I'm never gonna go around admitting that to folks, but, yeah."

They were quiet for a while before Myron looked up at Zeke.

"I thought I saw my mother once . . ."

"No kidding . .?" whispered Anderson respectfully.

Myron, nodded silently and snuggled down for some shut-eye, his watch would be coming soon enough.

"I got a better one than that," began Percell in his raspy voice, "back in the Montana foothills, this is a true story, not like Doc's dumb-ass one. I was thirteen . . ."

"Yeah, right." groaned Hockenbury.

"Shut up, Doc, we sat through yours didn't we?" disciplined Johnson.

"But mine *was* true." whined Doc.

"Shut up, Doc." they all turned on him then turned their attention back to Percell.

"When we was kids, me and m'little sister used to play up in the foothills. We'd ride out there and have the time of our lives," he grinned to himself at the memory, "There was this big old cabin up there, probably abandoned 50 years. The roof was caved in in some places. But it was perfect for a couple of kids to play in."

"Where were the owners?" asked Johnson.

"Don't know. Nobody knew . . . they just weren't there one day."

"Was it a family?" asked Roo.

"My dad told me that it had belonged to a couple that had a little boy. The land around them parts is beautiful. Can't imagine anyone just up and leavin' it. . . Anyways, me and Susie are playing in there one afternoon, see, and we don't notice this storm rolling in OR how late it's getting."

"Oh, a storm. A storm, that's a good one, Danny." cynical Hockenbury slurred.

"You ever been outdoors during a storm in Montana, Doc? . . . then shut up."

A few snickered.

"Anyways, we're racing around in this place havin' a great ol' time when Susie ducks into one of the rooms to hide ‘n try and scare me ‘n stuff. Well, there's this flash of lightening and this huge clap of thunder that nearly scared the hot water right out of me and then Susie lets out this scream. She's screaming; Danny, Danny, Danny! and I'm running around trying to find her. All the time the thunder and lightening are just filling the sky. And the rain's just pounding down. I finally find her in the little back room just standing there staring at the window and pointing at it . . ."

"What did she see?!" asked Johnson, feeling a chill lick up his back.

"It was the weirdest thing . . . there were little muddy hand prints along the bottom panes of glass. We went around to all the rooms of the house that had glass still in the windows and over all the bottoms of the windows were the same kind of muddy hand prints. Fresh . . ."

"WwwoooOOOoooOOOoooOOO!" Taylor let out a ghostly impression, breaking the spell. The men listening all laughed and snorted like kids at camp.

"Alright, you guys, knock it off. Charlie ain't gonna be the one losing sleep over your summer camp ghost stories."

The night's blackness was giving the jungle over to the shadows of morning.
Ruiz woke to Taylor's hand resting softly on his shoulder.
They sat together watching those not on watch come back to the world from wherever their dreams had taken them.
Anderson, who some thought just never slept, had already worked his way around the perimeter checking on everyone. They had decided to leave the claymores and ‘toe-poppers' where they'd planted them hoping they might take out a VC or two down the road.

"Alright," started Anderson as the men sleepily gathered around him and the Lieutenant, "the bird should be on its way. AND we all know that means the party's just gonna get going."

"Yeah, my sphincter's already getting excited about it." commented Taylor to a round of laughs.

They joked about the risks, whenever they could, and laughed at the gruesome humour. Cause either you laughed about it or you lost it.

"I'm sure your trousers and the rest of us appreciate that, Taylor." smiled Goldman shaking his head.

"Yes, sir."

"Alright, we're goin' in in 2's," continued the Lieutenant on a more serious note, "Doc, Ruiz, you get to that bird first while we cover you. Percell, you and Trotter get in there, right on their asses."

"Careful you don't push us out the other side." grinned Ruiz.

"Taylor, you and I get up to the bird and we cover for Johnson and Sargent Anderson as they move in."

He looked around at the men.

"Watch the tree line. Just cuz we didn't have any company last night, don't mean that Charlie ain't around," added Anderson driving the point across, "that Huey's going to attract attention."

"Alright, everybody knows what to do. Sit tight. We'll be home soon." said Goldman.

"And you'll all be begging to come back out as soon as the bird lands." finished Anderson.

"You're such a card, Sarge." said Percell moving off to go over their moves with Trotter. ‘who knows what the kid's gonna do - run *at* the VC instead of away from them' he thought.

"Hey, Alvin, how you doing, buddy?" he asked pouring on a jovial, carefree air seeing the nervousness on the kid.

"Okay, I guess." answered Trotter failing miserably at looking nonchalant.

"It's okay to be scared, y'know." said Percell trying another tactic watching Alvin fingering Ruiz's beads against his lips.

"I'm . . . I ain't scared . . . much."

"Hell, *I* am . . . I'm scared every time I come out here."

"No" snorted Trotter, not believing him.

"It's true. And if y'ain't scared, man, then you're just plain stupid. Alvin, this is gonna be your first extraction and it *might* be under fire. So, you have to do exactly as I say, y'unnerstan?"

Alvin nodded.

Tension rippled through the clearing as the wind carried the distant sound of the approaching Huey. All eyes were on the eastern sky. The bird would be coming in against the sun.

"Alright people . . ! Look alive, now. . . Look alive!" yelled Anderson slapping a fresh magazine into his M-16.

Goldman and Taylor crept to the edge of the clearing, pulled pins and ‘popped smoke' for the bird to aim for.
Clouds of yellow smoke belched from the cannister shaped grenades to help guide the bird closer to their location and conceal the sprinting soldiers somewhat from enemy aim.

Goldman motioned for the men to move up and get ready to make the 5 - 10 metre run to the helicopter that sank to its belly in the high grass.

"Doc! GO!!" screamed Goldman over the roar of the idling chopper, waving the first two men into action.

Doc and Ruiz's rose to a crouched and ran towards the helicopter. They scrambled up into it with collective sighs of relief. They sank down against the back wall, clearing the doorway for the next two to hop on. Things were looking good . . .

"Percell!!" hollered Goldman motioning the man to get going.

"I can't find Trotter!" yelled Percell frantically.

"What!!? Jesus Christ!" Goldman raged. ". . . Taylor! Taylor!! You and Percell! Get your asses on that bird. NOW!" he thumbed at the Huey over his shoulder. (That fucking kid's going to get us all killed!')

"But, L-tee . . !" began Percell.

"NOW!!" barked Goldman.

Taylor grabbed Danny's arm and dragged him away. This was not the time for a debate.

"Anderson! Johnson! Cover them!!" yelled Goldman, turning and running into the jungle.

Taylor and Percell broke from the tree line and the jungle opened up around them. They sprinted through the grass, bent in half, not stopping to return fire.

Charlie had received his invitations to the party after all.

Anderson and Johnson pulled grenades and hurled them into the trees to their 6 and 9 o'clock and laid down some fire to cover the two men racing for the chopper.
Danny and Marcus leapt into the belly of the Huey as sparks flew off the frame and the door gunner slumped against the mounted M-60 with a pained groan.

"My gunner's hit!!" hollered Lt. McKay twisting around in his seat and giving Taylor a shove.

Taylor looked around wildly, confused, not understanding what McKay had said over the thunder of the Huey's revving engine. McKay pointed at the limp man.

"DOC!" screamed Taylor as Danny helped him pull the unconscious man from his seat. Doc pulled open the man's flack jacket as Percell climbed into the gunner's seat and began firing the ‘60 into the trees.

Lieutenant Goldman stormed back into their camp to find Trotter sitting calmly on a rock watching him approach.

"Trotter! What the *FUCK* are you doing!?!!!" Goldman screamed in anger.

"It's going to be okay, Lieutenant Goldman. You're not going to die." answered Trotter in a daze.

"Get your sorry ass up off that fucking rock or I swear, I'll kill you myself." promised Goldman.

"Tell my mom I love her." said Trotter with some finality.

"I DON'T have time for this BULLSHIT!!!" he grabbed Trotter by the collar when the young man wasn't moving fast enough for him and dragged him through the trees to the edge of the clearing.

"Anderson! Get on the bird. We're right behind you!" yelled Goldman crouching beside Anderson, hand still twisted in Trotter's collar.

"Move out!" yelled Anderson slapping Johnson on the shoulder.

"Damn it,we've gotta GO!" yelled McKay as a second volley of bullets clattered around his helicopter.

"Here they come, L-tee!" hollered Percell adjusting his grip on the chopper's mounted machine gun as he saw the remaining four Americans break from the cover of the tree line and storm towards them.

The four weaved and swerved through the thigh high grass as Percell and Taylor returned the enemy's fire.

"InComing!!" howled Anderson as he dove into the grass as the distinct sound of a RPG leaving it's launcher could be heard across the clearing.

As quickly as the men had dropped into the grass for cover, they were up again and running for their lives for the chopper, the kicked up debris still raining down on them as they ran. Johson bound into the bird first and turned to help Anderson scramble in after him.
The squad crouched or knelt in the belly of the helicopter and watched Private Alvin Trotter suddenly lunged at Goldman as a mortar round exploded behind them.
He slammed into Goldman driving him to the ground, taking most of the sizzling shrapnel across his back and legs, some pieces tearing into internal organs.

Zeke leapt from the Huey and charged for the downed men, with Johnson close on his heels.
A disoriented Goldman was struggling to get out from under Trotter's dead weight when suddenly the body was lifted away and hands were lifting him off the ground and hoisting him over a shoulder.

"I'm alright . . , I'm . . ." he groaned weakly but was ignored.

Zeke and Johnson with the two bleeding soldiers uncerimoniously over their shoulders, charged for all they were worth for McKay's lifting bird, already more than three feet off the ground.
Johnson handed Trotter up to waiting hands and was hauled in after him. Zeke hoisted a now limp Myron up into outstretched hands and climbed awkwardly onto the chopper's skids, nearly slipping off as it lurched and accelerated away from the increasing enemy fire. Taylor and Percell grabbed at him and dragged inside to safety.

"DOC!" Goldman sat up with a start, barking for the medic in his raspy scream, oblivious to the extent of his own injuries, looking around frantically before clammouring over legs and laps to get to Trotter's side.

"Doc?!" he looked at Hockenbury.

Hockenbury just looked at him and shrugged and went back to patching up the wounds across the boy's back and legs the best he could. Goldman knelt and stared down at the unconscious boy covered in blood, horrible gaping holes oozing dark blood.

After what seemed like the longest chopper ride of his life, Goldman was finally watching his medic and the dispensary orderlies gingerly placing Trotter and the wounded door gunner onto waiting gurneys and wheeling them away.

"Better come along to the dispensary too, sir." said Anderson watching as the wounded g.i.'s were taken to the dispensary.

"What?" he asked in a daze, looking at Anderson and Johnson and Percell as they hovered around him.

"C'mon, sir." Zeke said, taking Goldman by the arm and leading him to the dispensary.

After Ruiz got the okay from the medical staff to resume his service with a few days of light duty, Anderson shooed his squad away, telling them he'd let them know anything about Trotter and Goldman as soon as he knew.
He now sat beside a somber, freshly stitched up and bandaged Lieutenant Goldman, listening to the controlled chaos going on around them

. "Why don't you go get some rest, sir? I'll send for you as soon as there's any news."

"I'll wait here," mumbled Goldman, slouching back in the uncomfortable chair. The freezings they'd given him when they stitched up his arm and leg were wearing off and the dull throbbing was beginning to get his attention.

Myron glanced over at Zeke, seeing the fatigue in the lines of his face, "Go get cleaned up, Sargent. Get some chow in you." he looked down at his hands.

"Ain't . . ."

"That's an order, Sargent." pressed Goldman half-heartedly.

Anderson remained where he was, ignoring him.

Goldman was about to insist he go but the operating room doors swished open and a blood stained doctor shuffled out, stopping when he saw the two grubby faces looking up at him.

"Lieutenant Goldman?"

Myron came to his feet slowly.

"Your man's a real fighter, Lieutenant. He's still alive . . . the next few hours will tell. If he improves over night we'll be medivacing him to Japan in the morning. If he pulls through this, he's on his way home. His tour is *over*," he came up to Goldman and checked his bandages, "Go get some sleep yourself, you don't look much better than he does."

Zeke saw the young Lieutenant's shoulders slump with exhaustion.

"Can I see him?"

"He's still out of it . . . well, alright, but don't stay long." agreed the doctor pushing open the doors for the two men to go in.

"L-tee . . ," Zeke laid a fatherly hand on Myron's arm, "he could be out of it for a while. Why don't you go get some shut eye."

"I'm okay, Zeke," Myron gave Anderson a tired smile, "you should go tell the guys that he's out of surgery."

"Yes, sir." mumbled Anderson, knowing the L-tee wasn't going anywhere no matter how much he reasoned with him.

Goldman winced at the pain that bit into his arm as he reached for the straight back chair against the wall.

"Lieutenant Goldman?" came a tiny voice from the bed.

"Alvin!" whispered Myron hoarsely easing down onto the chair. "How ya doing?"

"Lieutenant Goldman . . , you're not . . ."

"No, and neither are you." he smiled at the kid.

"I don't know where Alberto's beads went." sighed Trotter.

"I'll see if one of the nurses took them, okay?"

". . .'kay." his voice cracked around a dry throat.

"I knew you were going to make it." said Myron taking Trotter's hand in his.

"You did? . . . How?"

"Cause I was sitting out there," glanced in the direction of the makeshift waiting room, "and I had your stone with me."

Goldman was rewarded with an wobbly, anesthetized smile from the gangley young man.

"Here. You better take it. You're going home in the morning Trotter, you should have it with you . . , Y'done good." said Goldman digging the cool blue stone from his pocket and pressing it into Trotter's hand, smiling to himself thinking of all the times he'd heard Zeke say that to some grunt in their platoon.

"I'm sorry I sandbagged your hootch, sir."

"Don't be. Get some rest now, I'll see you in the morning."

"Yes, sir. Thank . . . you . . . Lieutenant Gol . . ." he obeyed sleepily and was deep in dreamland before Goldman was even on his feet.

A gentle rain was falling as the Medivac helicopter revved up for it's evac mission. Bravo Company clustered around Trotter's stretcher as it was carried out to the waiting bird.

"You remember to write us when you get home, Alvin." said Johnson smiling warmly at the pale face that looked up at them all.

"Okay, Marvin." he smiled weakly.

"Watch out for ladders and black cats." teased Doc.

Trotter locked eyes with the medic for a moment and slowly smiled at him.

"His name was Twinkles and he got hit by a car . . . and he was brown."

The others looked at Hockenbury when a choked gasp escaped him.

"How'd you . . ?!" he began.

Trotter just smiled and turned his gaze to Percell.

"He drowned . . . Carter Talbot. 7 years old."

Percell let out a tiny snort of amazement, stunned. That *was* that kid's name. He'd forgotten until that moment. How the hell . . ?!

Ruiz lay one hand on Alvin's leg and held up the other, a string of beads dangled.

"Faith, man." The two shared a knowing smile.

"Take it easy, man." said Taylor, raising his hand in a peace sign.

Trotter nodded his thanks.

"You stay outta trouble now, son. Y'hear me?" said Zeke giving the kid a fatherly grin.

"Yes sir, Sarge." Trotter grinned back, knowing he would think about this man often in his life. Zeke nodded and winked as he backed away to join the others who stood at a respectful distance from the stretcher as Lieutenant Goldman stepped closer to it.

"You're going to be fine, Alvin. You're crazy, but you're going to be fine." Goldman let Trotter take up one of his hands and clutch it to his chest.

"Lieutenant Goldman, sir, you're going to be fine too. I know I was here to keep you safe this time, but she's here with you always."

"She . . ?" Goldman asked suddenly uncomfortable.

"You did see her that time, you know . . ." said Trotter as a tired smile blossomed on his face.

"What are you saying, Alvin?" asked Goldman leaning a little closer, needing to hear more.

"She loves you Myron," Trotter's voice came softly up to him, sounding older, "she misses you. And she's very sorry."

"We gotta go, Lieutantant!" yelled the medivac pilot as he climbed into the cockpit, startling Goldman.

"But . . how . . ? Alvin . . ?" Myron wasn't sure what to say, what to believe.

"Good bye, Lieutenant Goldman." Trotter's hands slid away from Goldman's as they carried the stretcher to the chopper. Goldman followed along side in silence. Watched as the orderlies slid it onto the deck.

"Alvin!" called Myron.

Trotter turned to look at him, a serene light in his eyes.

"Did she suffer?"

Trotter smiled sadly looking deeply into the Lieutenant's eyes.

"Only when she was alive."

"Lieutenant!" one of the orderly pulled at the officer's arm, guiding him from the landing pad so the bird could take off.

Myron stood in the rain, staring into the sky long after the bird was out of sight.

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