CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

February 10, 1971

Seven Days

They were in Okinawa, at the Special Forces base there. They'd been whisked off the plane, into a truck, then to some building where they were finally allowed to shower, get some clean uniforms, and eat. They were examined by doctors, but there were no other questions from anyone. Through it all, they were kept separated. From each other, hell, from everyone except the doctors and the MPs.

Hannibal sat in his room, staring at the four concrete block walls. No windows, one door. Nothing in it but an old cot and an overhead light. The light had been dimmed, but not shut off. He imagined it was some kind of storage room. And he imagined BA and Wiley were similarly accommodated.

He hoped they were behaving themselves. They sure as hell didn't need any more charges brought. Then again, they'd already been charged with a capital crime, so what difference would another brawl make? He couldn't wait to see how they supposedly aided and abetted the enemy. Or was that from not having the money? Did they think they turned it over to some confederate on the other side?

Other than the reading of the charges, back at Nha Trang, no one had said anything to them. Nothing more about what was going to happen, where they were going. He figured they would be sent back to Bragg for trial. What would happen after that...

He didn't know anything else. He didn't know where Morrison was. He could be at Bragg already, waiting for his own courts martial. He didn't know what had gone wrong. No. No, he knew what had gone wrong.

Every. Fucking. Thing.

He lay down on the cot, arm over his eyes. Didn't think so much as let his mind drift. Drift over the last...shit. Three weeks. Seemed like three years. Twenty-one days since they'd left for this mission.

One week since Face.

He'd done his damndest not to think about that. Not...emotionally. Hadn't always worked. He had time now. Time to think about all the things he might've said. Things he might've done. All the things he should have and shouldn't have.

Hannibal was not a man to dwell on things he couldn't change. It wasn't...productive. He'd lost a lot of men in battle. A lot of good men. And he hadn't allowed himself to wallow in self-pity over them. He couldn't, not if he was going to lead other men the next day, the next hour.

But he'd never been stuck in a small room with nothing else to do, either.

And what about BA and Wiley? They weren't the types to deal easily with this confinement. They would be thinking, as well. Angry at the way the Army was treating them, beating themselves up for the way they treated Face. The only one who'd even made an effort to befriend him was Murdock.

Murdock.

Damn, he must be going crazy, wondering what had happened to them. Did he even know they made it back? About the charges?

Did he know about Face?

Shit.

Tomorrow he'd demand an attorney. Somebody who could find Murdock, make sure he was okay. At least get hold of Murdock's CO. Make sure somebody was keeping an eye on him.

He looked up at the door, with the single small window, high up, idly wondering what time it was. He needed to sleep. God only knew what would happen tomorrow. He had to be on top of things, ready to deal with them.

He had his two boys here to take care of.


*****

February 14, 1971

Twelve Days

He scratched another mark in the wall. It was hard, because the wall was really stone, and he had only a small pebble, but it made a deep enough scratch so he could see it.

This was Scratch Number Twelve. He put an additional little mark on it. Fourth day here. He sat back, thinking.

Valentine's Day.

He closed his eyes. He would take Dao Quy to a fancy restaurant. Maybe in Cam Ranh Bay. They had some really nice ones there. Most off-limits. Only officially, of course. They'd get a table in a secluded corner. Candlelight. The fanciest food on the menu.

And roses. Had to get roses. Were they even in season now? Wouldn't matter in LA; you could get roses any time. Next year. This year, he'd find something. Maybe a necklace instead. Yeah.

A necklace to go around that beautiful soft neck...

A shadow appeared in the entry. He sighed. He looked up at the ceiling, carefully keeping his hands up over his head, as the guard silently unlocked the stocks around his ankles. It took him a minute to stand and get his balance; too long for the guard.

He figured by the time he was done here, he'd have a permanent dent in his back from those rifle butts.

He stepped carefully along the passageway, finally stepping out into the mist. He looked around as he was prodded down to the small clearing. He sat down, not looking at the other prisoners. He might make it out of this; they wouldn't. They were Hmong, and the less he had to do with them, the easier their deaths would be.

He was handed a dented cup with some kind of liquid in it, and some small pieces of...animal. He swallowed them whole, just to get them down, then slowly drank down the liquid. He carefully put the cup down, arm's length in front of him, and placed his hands flat on the ground. He'd stay that way until he was told to move. He'd learned that real quick.

Today, for some reason, he wasn't taken back inside the caves right away. Instead, he was shoved further down the slope, where a small creek went through the camp from the mountains. He stopped at the edge, daring to turn and look at the guards. Was this it? Already?

One guard stepped forward and pushed. He lost his balance, fell into the creek, hitting the rocks on the shallow bottom. Damn! It was ice cold, so cold it hurt. He floundered to his feet, looking up at the guards who were now laughing, making washing motions.

Bath day.

Apparently that quick dunking was all they considered necessary for hygiene. Still chuckling, the guards pointed their rifles at him, motioning him back up the slope.

Dripping wet, he was once again locked into the stocks, and left, shivering, in the cold shadows of the cave.


*****

BA looked around the cell, lip curled in disgust. At least it had a window. But he still hadn't seen the others, except at a distance. He was midway down the long hall. He'd seen Wiley in a cell closer to the main hub, and Hannibal had been taken further toward the end. The other cells, as far as he'd seen, were empty.

He'd been told some Army attorney would be coming to see him this afternoon. Just what he needed - another damn officer to stab him in the back. He wanted to talk to Hannibal, and Wiley. Find out what Hannibal intended to do. Make sure Wiley was okay. He'd been looking pretty bad, sitting in that cell.

He stepped over to the window. Not much to see. Empty lot with a tall fence around it, barbed wire on top. Beyond that, he could just make out some buildings in the distance. He could hear planes, too.

That made him think about Murdock. This was going to hit him hard. Real hard. Especially when he found out Face was dead. BA felt bad enough about that, and he hadn't even liked the guy that much. He felt guilty about that. Nobody seemed to like him that much, just buddied up to him when they needed something. BA was never sure if Face knew it or not. Or if he cared.

But Murdock liked him. At least, up until the last. BA didn't know what happened, but they'd started steering clear of each other. Murdock had, anyway. But then, Murdock was getting strange toward the end. Talking to himself. A lot.

BA had seen a lot of shit over there, but that...that scared him.

He stepped away from the window. He wondered if anyone had bothered to let his mother know where he was. Maybe that lawyer could see to it. Make himself useful. BA didn't think he'd be of any use otherwise. He knew they'd been railroaded somehow. He wondered what happened to Morrison. He should've been able to clear it all up.

Damn. He needed to talk to Hannibal, see what he knew.

He looked through the bars, up and down the empty hall. Faintly, he could hear voices from down the way, coming from the other blocks.

Okay, then. If he wanted to talk to Hannibal, there was only one way to do it.

"HANNIBAL! HEY, I WANNA TALK TO MY CO, MAN! HANNIBAL!!"

He heard footsteps running down the corridor, but he kept yelling. Heard Wiley join in. He grinned. What the hell would these guys do? Put them in solitary?


*****

March 5, 1971

1 Month, 3 Days

Murdock sat across from the Fifth's compound gates. The barracks behind them were empty now, the gates locked, the colors returned to Bragg. He smiled, bitterly. A lot of the guys were still here. Different quarters, black baseball caps instead of their berets. Business as usual.

He adjusted his own brand-new baseball cap. One of the SF guys had given it to him, said they all knew Hannibal and the others had gotten screwed. Wanted him to know they all thought of him as "a member of the club".

Big deal.

He'd almost asked the guy if they'd ever told Face that. But there was no point. If Face had come back, they'd've backed him right along with the others. They were like a family that way. Fight like hell between themselves, fight even harder with outsiders.

He looked up at the sky. Morning moving fast toward noon. And he'd better get moving. He had a transport to catch, down to Saigon. He could've mustered out, gone back to the World. But he couldn't. Not now. He was too far gone for that, and he knew it. He could slide by over here; lots of guys acted strange over here and nobody cared as long as they could still do their job. But that was here. Back in Texas...

He didn't want to keep running grunts out to get killed. He didn't want to go home. And he had to make up, somehow, for the awful thing he'd done. That Awful Thing. Murder was bad enough; but he'd fucked Hannibal and BA and Wiley when he fired that gun. Taken away their only chance...

And now the Army was going to kill them.

No one could tell him when the trial was actually going to start. He'd been interviewed; that was hard. He'd told them what he knew, what Hannibal had told him. Fat lot of good that did. He'd tried to tell them what he'd overheard, but they didn't believe him. Said it didn't mean anything, since Morrison and Curtis were both dead. Said they understood why he'd want to help, but he could get in real trouble lying to them.

So he told them. Told them exactly what happened that night. That's when his CO intervened. That's when all this talk about going home started. When they quit sending him up so often.

Practically grounded him.

Well, if they didn't want him, he knew who did. He'd flown for them before. They didn't care what the Army said. They needed pilots, now more than ever.

So he was going to Saigon. And talk to a man he knew.

A guy named Cheney.


*****

May 6, 1971

3 Months, 4 Days

Face looked up, startled.

Footsteps.

Nobody came in here during the day. Not unless they got bored, needed a distraction. He fought the shiver. He really didn't need another beating. Not after yesterday. But maybe it was just boredom today. Yesterday they'd been mad about something. He didn't know what; he still hadn't figured out their lingo. But they'd definitely been mad...

He couldn't believe his eyes when he could make out who was coming in. He closed them tightly, then looked again, just to make sure.

Another American.

He almost forgot, but quickly put his hands up above his head as the guards scowled at him. Be careful. He didn't want his carelessness taken out on this guy. Whoever he was. Looked about the same age.

He felt jealous when he saw the new guy still had his boots. Then ashamed as he was stripped of them.

The new guy's legs were quickly locked into the stocks on the other side of his 'room'. The guards gave him a kick in the shins before they walked out.

Face put his hands down, and the two men looked each other over in the semi-dark. Face found himself fascinated at the sight of another round-eye. It had been so long...and that he was here, with Face. Not only another human being, but another American...

"Been here long?"

He jumped at the sound. Beautiful. Beautiful English words.

"I said, you been here long, buddy?"

He almost didn't answer, wanting to hear the words. But that wouldn't be polite.

"About three months now." His voice came out in a scratchy whisper. Out of practice. Murdock would laugh at that.

The new guy nodded. Then he smiled. A tired smile, but a smile.

"My name's Kyle. Kyle Hanson."