As we now know Bill realizes that he had been captured and interrogated by someone, ostensibly Chinese, but not exactly from the Viet Kong
I’ve been pondering how Bill ends up in the hands of the Chinese, well, I know how he does, and this needs to be put down.
Some pieces of the puzzle are coming together.
Davenport arrived at the airstrip where I was waiting in a makeshift building, with windows, easy chairs, a self-serve bar, and best of all air conditioning. Waiting for the chopper that was bringing in my replacement from Singapore airport.
He didn’t normally come to see us off so I thought it either odd or just a change of heart. He had brought the shiny Cadillac, an ostentatious piece of Americana that never failed to capture the local’s imagination.
Davenport was, I soon discovered, a man who liked to impress upon the world how great America was. I hadn’t the heart to tell him it failed on me.
He had crisp fatigues on and looked as though he had just stepped out of the shower, very clean, very cool, and very refreshed. The car’s air-conditioning would have helped. We all got that first ride from the strip to the camp in that car, and it was memorable, to say the least.
The driver stayed in the car, engine running, as he stepped into the lounge. “Chandler.”
“Sir.” No snapping to attention, neither of us was in uniform.
“There’s been a change of plans.”
“Sir.” This didn’t sound very good.
“Your replacement is not coming. Some trouble on the plane over. Can’t spare a man so you will have to fill in. I’m sorry.”
I went to say that I’d done my rotation, but the look on his face told me it would fall on deaf ears, so instead, I shrugged, let the driver, who had appeared out of the car as if on cue, collect my case, and followed Davenport out to the car.
It was definitely cooler in the car. Davenport slid in the other side, the driver closing his door, then got in himself. I had to close my own. We headed back towards the camp slowly.
“We need 6 men for this op, Bill. I’ll find some way of making this up to you.”
I shrugged. “If you say so.”
I’d been looking forward to getting out of the jungle and getting back to civilization, as well as Ellen, who had been waiting patiently for the last six months. She would not be very happy when I finally got to tell her.
“Oh, but the way, I took the liberty of calling your wife and apologizing on your behalf and said you’d probably be another week at the most. She didn’t seem to mind. She sounds like a nice lady.”
“She is. She has to put up with me.”
“Yes. We all have that problem.”
I listened to the hum of the air conditioning, the only other sound inside the car. Usually, Davenport had a symphony playing over the radio, but not today. He seemed different, more aloof, but, then, after the altercation, I had with him recently, we hadn’t spoken much after that. Not unless we had to.
“The job isn’t difficult,” he said when we were nearing the compound. “Another prison camp, and this time the intel is solid. Buggers were careless and we’ve got some pictures. The only problem is getting there. It’s going to be a bit of a hike.”
Another of his understatements. I could remember the last ‘bit of a hike’. “When do we leave?”
“First light tomorrow. Chopper to the drop zone then a day’s march to the camp. RV at the drop zone from day 4 till you get there.”
“Who’s in charge?” I’d run the last operation so I was hoping it would carry forward.
“If you’d been staying instead of being a last-minute replacement, it would have been you. Instead, we had to bring in a couple of specialists who have been on the ground here quite some time. They know the terrain and the people.”
New guys. I hated new guys. Especially those who purport to have experience on the ground. Invariably they didn’t and I’d had words with Davenport more than once about it, especially when we had such a high attrition rate. I believed it was only a miracle that I had lasted this long, and I was now tempting providence this time around.
“I hope they are better than the last two.”
“They are. I picked them myself. At least you will be there to keep them on the straight and narrow.
Which was exactly what I didn’t want.
Back at the compound, I dragged myself back to my old quarters, hoping they hadn’t given away my billet just yet. It was a hut if you could call it that, which had seen better days, but it kept the rain out.
I shared it with another soldier, or ex, I didn’t really know, and he was not the sort of man you asked, and even less talkative than most. I knew his name was Barry McDougall, that he was Scottish, he didn’t wear a kilt and had killed men with his bare hands, one in a barroom fight.
I was not surprised. He was six feet six inches tall, all muscle, and always surly, and unlike many of the English that had come and gone, didn’t complain about the heat.
I dumped my bag on the locker at the end of the bed and sat in one of the two well worn easy chairs. Barry was in the other, reading.
He lowered the paper and looked at me. “Back, huh?”
“Miss the chopper?”
I got up and went to the fridge. One of the perks of the job. An endless supply of cold beer.
“Get me one too.”
I did and passed it to him, the sat down again. He took the beer and went back to his paper.
“Seen the new guys,” I asked.
A voice from behind the paper, “Yes.”
“Another fun run in the jungle then?”
“Looks like it.”
We drank in silence. What more could be said?
There is more but I have to let the words jumble around in my head while I sleep. More on this tomorrow!
© Charles Heath 2018-2023