"Whoooooa-yeeeeaaah!" Johnny McKay exclaimed as he pulled back on the stick, sending his bird higher into the air.
A glint of sunlight caught his eye, pulling his attention to a downed chopper barely visible through the dense jungle canopy. McKay thought it was a chopper. He couldn't really see it well enough to be certain. Perhaps it was just his subconscious trying to remind him that he wasn't flying in friendly air. Something moved, and he intently scanned the ground. There! He thought he could see...yeah. McKay pulled back on the stick just as the VC fired. He hadn't bothered to aim, and McKay didn't really need to take any evasive action, but he did anyway, just for the hell of it. The 40mm projectile swooshed past the bird and exploded harmlessly in empty air. Man! Only a lunatic would volunteer for this shit! McKay laughed. Guess that made him perfect the job.
"Hot damn! Now THIS is what I was trained for!"
Okay, so it wasn't combat. He was really just a glorified mailman, but it sure as hell beat counting the cars jammed onto an Indianapolis cloverleaf. It was worth dodging a little ground fire to be looking down on the jungle instead of the concrete and asphalt that he'd left behind in the city. McKay grinned as he thought about returning to HIS city. He let his imagination wander. Man-o-man! Johnny McKay roaming the streets of Saigon as a civilian. Life was gonna be good! Damn! He'd really missed this place - he'd really missed the action. Oh yeah! Anything, anywhere, anytime - if ever there was a company motto with Johnny McKay written all over it, it was Air America's.
Tan Son Nhut rose up in the horizon and McKay pulled his attention back to the present long enough to get his bird on the ground. It didn't take long to transfer his meager cargo and settle the paperwork, and soon Johnny found himself alone on the tarmac waiting for "someone" to show. Before he'd left Thailand, his new employer had told him that someone would meet him when he landed. McKay glanced at the swarm of people buzzing around him. Not spotting anyone that seemed to have any particular interest in his arrival, he headed over to his chopper to give it a final once-over before heading into Saigon on his own. Perhaps he'd luck out and be able to find an old buddy to help sneak him onto the base. Rubbing his hands together in anticipation, he thought about the look on Goldman's face when he found out that Johnny was back.
"Welcome back! How's it feel?"
McKay started and spun towards the voice. He was pleased to see a familiar face looking back at him, but more than a little surprised... and relieved. He'd half expected that Goldman waiting for him on the ground. He'd gone out of his way not to warn anyone of his arrival, hoping to keep the word from slipping out and reaching his buddy. Johnny didn't want anything to ruin the perfect moment when the L-tee opened the door of his hootch and found himself face to face with his old bunkie. He was delighted that it was Brewster, not Myron, that greeted him.
"Feels great, sir!," McKay responded, saluting.
Brewster almost smiled as Johnny reverted into military formalities, and McKay realized what he'd done. He sheepishly pulled his hand down and held it out to the Colonel. Brewster grasped it firmly and enthusiastically shook hands with his former chopper jockey. Johnny grinned as he found himself taken aback by the warmth of the greeting. Brewster had never seemed overwhelmingly fond of him. Perhaps the old man had actually missed the irrepresible Johnny McKay.
"How was the trip over?" Brewster inquired as he released Johnny's hand.
"Aaah! Beeauuutiful! Took some ground fire flying over what looked like a downed bird just before crossing the Fence, but nothing to worry about," Johnny responded, grabbing his duffel from the chopper as Brewster nodded in the direction of a waiting jeep.
"Anxious to get you're old off-duty place back in order?" the Colonel inquired.
"Yes, sir!" Johnny replied."Um, sir, you mind if ask...um, how'd you know I was coming in today?"
"Mmm," was Brewster only response as he focused on the road ahead.
The seconds crawled by, and McKay began to wonder if that was all the reply that he was going to get. He began to tense up as the silence allowed his imagination to mull over all the mystery surrounding the events of the past few weeks. Within in days of quitting his job calling traffic, a couple guys had shown up out-of-the-blue to offer him a job with Air America. Johnny'd heard a little about them during his tour, mostly just rumors though. He wouldn't have had a clue how to get a job with them, but there they were, offering to send him back to where the real action was, rescuing him from the tedium of everyday life. He began to wonder how exactly the events that had gotten him back to Nam had been set into motion, and who was behind it.
"Small war, word gets around," Brewster finally ellaborated
Damnit! Brewster wasn't giving him much, but then the Colonel never was one for small talk. Oh well, there wasn't any big mystery about the Colonel knowing McKay was back. It seemed Brewster always had the inside info on everything. Besides, there wasn't any secret plot behind all his good fortune. It was just his good old McKay luck - that's all. Johnny began to relax, then stiffened as he realized that if word had reached Brewster....
"Sir, Goldman doesn't know I'm back, does he? I was really hoping to surprise the guy."
Brewster shrugged. There was something funny in the old man's gesture that caused Johnny to pause, then he decided it was just his imagination and brushed it off.
"Speaking of the L-tee, I was hoping to hook up with the guy. Y'know, let him throw me a nice 'Welcome back, McKay!' party," Johnny hinted, hoping Brewster'd get him a pass to enter Camp Barnett. "You think..."
McKay paused. Brewster's demeanor had suddenly stiffened, and this time Johnny was sure it wasn't his imagination.
"Sir?" Johnny questioned, swallowing the knot suddenly rising up in his throat.
"Lt. Goldman and the rest of Team Viking were shot down on the way to their LZ a few days ago," Brewster stated matter-of-factly, his gaze firmly planted on the road ahead.
Johnny felt the blood drain from his body. It wasn't possible - not Myron. It WASN'T possible. God! After all the shit he'd gone through and survived, Johnny'd started to wonder if the guy was immortal. No, he couldn't be dead. The color slowly returned to Johnny's face as he remembered other times when the United States Army had assumed that Goldman was a goner. They'd underestimated the combined strength of the Goldman/Anderson team before and been wrong, they were wrong again.
"He and Anderson have turned up after some serious jams ...," Johnny began, speaking more to reassure himself more than anything.
"Anderson wasn't with the team," Brewster interrupted. "He's gone home."
McKay sat in stunned silence. His brain could barely fathom the thought of Goldman going into the bush without Anderson. The two'd practically been each other's shadows for as long as he'd known them. One without the other...the idea seamed incongruous. McKay intently scanned Brewster's face, desperately seeking information that would somehow fit all the pieces into something his brain could accept as real, but Brewster didn't offer anything more.
McKay nearly toppled out as the jeep stopped unexpectedly. He'd forgotten that he wasn't headed back to Camp Barnett. Finding himself in front of his old hide-out, he suddenly felt lost and unsure of what he was supposed to do next. Grabbing his duffel, he hesitantly climbed out of the vehicle. Brewster said something about getting settled and wished him luck. At least McKay thought that's what he said - the words hadn't completely penetrated the fog that seemed to have engulfed him. The jeep pulled away, and Johnny wandered inside, locking the door behind him.
He inspected the interior. The place had obviously been cleaned out after he'd been shipped home, but someone had thrown in a few essential pieces of furniture. Whoever it had been sure had a hell of a lot to learn about classy decorating. McKay chuckled as he thought about Goldman scrambling to get the place livable for his buddy's return. No, not Goldman, Goldman was dead. Anderson was home, and Myron was dead. He had to try to remember that.
Johnny sat down at a card table that had been set up in the center of the room. Setting down his duffel, he pulled out a carefully wrapped bottle of champagne. He'd planned to use it to toast his return at the "Welcome Back, McKay" party, but perhaps he'd just drink it by himself instead. Hmmm.... glasses? Johnny got back up to search the cupboards. Sure enough, his decorator had thought of everything - well, close enough, anyway. Pulling down a couple of coffee mugs, McKay sat one in front of his chair, and sat the other where Goldman would have sat. Pouring champagne into both mugs, Johnny picked his up and stood staring vacantly at the empty wall.
Damn Goldman! Despite never seeming to like his roomie much, Myron had been more of a friend than anyone Johnny'd had waiting for him back in the World. Everything had seemed wrong back in the World, perhaps because he'd felt so alone. So he'd come back to Nam. Myron was supposed to be waiting. Things were supposed to be just like old times. What the hell was Goldman doing getting himself killed while he was gone. Myron wasn't supposed to die. Yeah, it was a war - people died, but not Goldman. He was supposed to be waiting for Johnny to get back. Things weren't suppose to be different. Johnny wasn't suppose to be alone here, too.
"Here's to ya, buddy," Johnny whispered to the wall as he raised his mug in the air.