[ chickens ]

by pfc kory

McKay tossed a couple more aspirins into his mouth and chugged the last of the water in his paper cup. Crumpling the cup, he tossed it into the trash can and walked painfully towards his bird. Uuugh! The headache he'd been nursing all day just wouldn't budge. Johnny managed not to moan as he got close enough to see what was being loaded into his chopper. Chickens??!! Johnny couldn't believe they were making him haul live chickens. He started to shake his head, but stopped as the throbbing in his skull intensified. This had to be some sort of initiation - making the newbie haul live poultry on his first run. Hell! Why was it that he'd taken this job? At least he only had one run, then he could hit his bunk and try to sleep off the headache.

"Hey," the guy in co-pilot's seat inquired, "you all right, man?"

"Yeah," Johnny snapped.

He knew he was taking his bad mood out on the kid, but he didn't feel like apologizing for it. Pulling pitch, he spared a glance down at the Tan Son Nhut as he leveled out. Asking to be based out of Saigon had been a dumb-assed idea. It wouldn't have been like old times even if...well, things just weren't ever gonna be like they were when he was in the Army. He was a civilian now - an outsider. Perhaps he could talk his boss into a transfer. McKay'd heard good things about Vientiane. Laos was where the real action was anyway.

"What the hell's going on back there?" Johnny asked gruffly as he was pulled from his reverie by a commotion behind him.

"Ah, damn!" the co-pilot yelled. "One of the cages has busted open. We got a couple chickens going wild back there!"

"Shit!" Johnny spat out as one of the chickens picked that moment to slam into the instrument panel. "Goddamnit! Would ya get back there and help Chuck round 'em up?!"

The co-pilot twisted out of his seat and made his way back to the crewman who was desperately trying to herd the panicked poultry back into the cage. Another bird, or possibly the same one as before, slammed into Johnny's helmet, and McKay launched into a long string of profanity.

"What the hell you guy's doing back there?!" Johnny bellowed.

"The fuckers ain't so easy to catch, ya know!" responded the crewman.

"Goddamnit! Open the door and shoo the fuckers out."

"We're supposed to deliver these bird.." the co-pilot began.

"Ya, well, we ain't gonna be delivering anything soon. We're gonna be a flaming heap on the ground," Johnny caustically interjected.

Slam! The chopper dipped as a chicken hit the back of Johnny throbbing head, throwing his weight forward in the stick. The Huey didn't lose much altitude, but it was enough to make his point. As McKay unclenched his jaw, he felt the increased wind surging in from the opened door. The ruckus died down and the co-pilot crawled back into his seat, tossing Johnny a glance of "it's on you, man" before his slid his visor down. That was fine. So he'd lost a couple of chickens. He didn't care. Damnit! He just wished his head would give him a break. Aaaargh! Damn Goldman! It was his fault Johnny had a hangover on his first real day at his new job, and it would be Goldman's fault if Johnny got fired for dumping the chickens. What the hell was Myron doing going off and getting killed with permission like that?

"Hey," the co-pilot broke in, "there's our stop."

Johnny glanced at the ramshackle little village. Nam. Why the hell had he thought he wanted to be back here? Setting the bird down, he waited impatiently as Chuck distributed the remaining chickens, along with other supplies, to the grateful villagers. McKay could've gotten out to help - do the whole friendly American bit - but he just wasn't in the mood. He wanted to get back to Saigon, sleep off his hangover and ask for a transfer. His co-pilot signaled him to pull pitch and Johnny turned the chopper towards home.

Yep! Everything'd work out all right once he'd transferred somewhere else. If they didn't need a chopper pilot in Vientiane, perhaps they could use one in Bangkok. Hell! He didn't care where they sent him as long as he didn't have to spend many more nights in his place thinking about all the buddies he used to have. Yep, he'd be all right once he got out of Saigon.

Johnny was startled as a voice crackled over the comm and cleared him to land. It seemed like he'd just left the vill a minute ago. He couldn't believe he'd daydreamed the entire trip back. McKay smirked. His brain had brought him home on auto-pilot. Saigon was home. Arrrgh! He felt himself getting all sentimental about the city. It was too late, he was transferring out of there. Later. He decided he'd work it all out later as the touch of the shids on the ground seems to intensify his headache. Whether he stayed in Saigon or transferred, all he wanted to do at the moment was sleep off his damn headache.

"Give ya a lift," Johnny's co-pilot offered as the two men finished squaring away the bird.

"Sure," Johnny responded, a little startled by the offer in light of the treatment he'd given the guy. The fellow headed towards a jeep, and Johnny tagged along behind, climbing into the passenger side. McKay realized, as the guy took his seat, that he'd never even bothered to introduce himself.

"Johnny McKay," he announced, managing a pained smile as he offered his hand.

"Ya, I know. Jim Hansen," the driver replied, shaking hands with Johnny.

"Hey, man. I'm sorry for all that shit. Not much of a first day, was it?"

"Don't worry about," Jim responded curtly, then added a little more softly, "Sorry about your buddy. Heard he was a good guy. Lousy way to get welcomed back to Saigon."

Johnny nodded and let the conversation drop. He could tell the guy wasn't gonna hold the crappy flight against him. Johnny'd chat with him when he was feeling friendlier, maybe buy the guy a drink to make up for it. Leaning back, he closed his eyes and tried to relax. Things were gonna work out. He didn't know any of his fellow Air America guys yet, but wherever he ended up, he figured he'd find with some new buddies eventually.

The jeep lurched to a stop and Johnny roused himself long enough to tumble out of the vehicle.

"Thanks again."

"No problem. See ya around, man."

"Ya, see ya," Johnny responded before stumbling inside. Locking the door, he turned towards his bunk, then froze in midstep.

"About time you showed up!"

Johnny gaped as he stared at the face attached to the body sitting at his table holding a couple of beers. It was a little scraped up and there were bandages on one arm.

"Just what we needed - you back in town causing trouble," Myron laughed as he teased his old roomie. "You want this beer or not?"

Johnny grinned as moved forward to join his buddy at the table, his headache forgotten. Yep! Saigon was home, and everything was gonna work out fine!

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