“Mad Hatter, we are inbound your location. ETA, 2 minutes. Wait one and pop smoke to identify.”
“Copy Dragon Lead, will pop smoke in one. Standing by.”
The choppers continued inbound to the pickup zone. In the lead chopper the Crew chief tapped the shoulder of his pilot some forty seconds or so later, pointing ahead and to the port side of the chopper. In the distance red smoke could be seen rising from the ground.
“Mad Hatter, I see red smoke. I say again, red smoke. Acknowledge.”
“That’s affirm, Ghostrider. Red smoke at our location.”
Correcting the course toward the smoke, the pilot prepared to drop to hug the treetops as he made the run in to collect the individual who seemed to be aptly named. Perhaps it was the mission label.
“Chief, keep an eye out. This one’s going to be no cake walk.”
Almost immediately the reply occurred, “Sir, we have what looks like another heavy NVA patrol off to the right about 1 or 2 klicks and moving fast. Those guys on the ground are going to have a lot of company pretty damn soon.”
Those ground pounders were going to be mighty pissed if we didn’t pick them up. Whipping my head around to the right I took a look see at what the crew chief was talking about. We started seeing muzzle flashes so they were obviously trying to shoot us from that far away. They looked like a bunch of ants who just had their anthill kicked over.
“Mad Hatter, this is Ghostrider. We have what appears to be a second reinforced NVA patrol inbound your location no more than 2 klicks out. Get your people to the LZ now! We’ll be coming in light on the skids and you’ll have about a minute before I have to dust off. Ghostrider lead out.”
“Two, this is Lead. Come in light and wait one before dustoff. We have inbound NVA.”
“Crew chief, lock and load if you haven’t. Be ready on those 60’s.”
As we came over the tree line the LZ came fully into view. Christ, the damn postage stamp was so small it could barely be considered a landing site! It was going to be a stone cold bitch getting both birds in there at once.
“Two, this is One. I’ll take the front end of the clearing, you take the back. Come in perpendicular to me or we’re fucked. Copy?”
Flaring out over the top of the canopy I edged the slick taking us over the LZ before I started my descent. I could see our trade already making their way toward us. Bringing the bird down to the ground I could feel it rocking side to side from the draft as I tried to keep it stable without fully touching down.
I got a double tap on the back of my helmet from the crew chief letting me know when everyone was aboard, “Let’s di di mao, Sir.” He yelled over the noise.
“Two…One. Light on the skids and heading for daylight.”
“Roger One, I’m no more than ten behind you.”
I could feel the sweat trickling down my neck, the cyclic felt slippery in my hand.
“Daniels, keep sharp on that sixty…I don’t want any surprises.”
Clearing the LZ we rose above the treetops before I dipped the nose of the bird and started to head in a rush for the barn. Checking over my shoulder I could see that Two was clear as well and was joining me on my port quarter.
“Two, this is One. Go to max power and let’s di di the fuck outta here.”
We were looking for any signs of hostile activity as we climbed above the trees. Off in the distance there was a little smoke rising from some unseen source.
“Hey, Groundpounders. You the guys responsible for that?” my crew chief asked.
They looked off into the distance and seemed especially pleased with themselves.
“More or less.” the woman answered for them, what she was doing up here, toting a rifle and a pack and seeming pretty sure of herself was a first for me. She wasn’t Vietnamese either. Her accent was American so what the hell she was doing here was anybody’s guess.
I could overhear them through my crew chief’s headset as they yelled to each other.
“Hey, Lyon. Think we might wangle some time to take a break when we get back to MACV?”
“I’ll see what I can do, Trank.” I heard the woman answer.
“Cool. I don’t care what they say about you Sarge, you’re the best.”
Sarge? She was a sergeant? That one guy looked like an Air Force officer and she was telling him what to do.
Now that we were on our way back we were breathing a little easier, not a lot, but easier. The Groundpounders were trying to get some shuteye now that we were carrying the ball.
I and my number two had just cleared the LZ if it could be called that and leveled at cruising altitude and speed. Barely topping the trees meant that we would be over and past most any threat before they could react to our location. They might be able to hear us coming but they couldn’t see us until we were right on top of and then past them. The trees would block most of their opportunities for a good shot so all we would be subjected to was sporadic AK fire. Of course, they could still get lucky. Once we passed into Laos we could lift a bit. Hell we had to clear the mountain passes so we would be lifting anyway.
“Two, One. How’s your fuel?”
“I’m good for the distance, One. So long as we don’t need to play any games on the way.”
It sounded like we were both in the same boat. We were pushing the edge of our range just to get back to the MLS to refuel, and we still had to cross the neck of Laos to do it. What these crazy fucks were doing up near Bai Thuong and Thahn Hoa I don’t even want to know. I just wanted to get me and my guys back across the mountains and the neck of Laos to Bueng Kan in one piece to refuel and then make our way on to Udorn. From there these crazy ground pounders could take transport back to wherever, they would be out of my hair and no longer my problem.
To make this whole mess even worse the woman who was with these crazies seemed to be the one giving the orders. I know, what the fuck anyway? A woman would you believe and I was pretty sure she was Caucasian to boot. What the hell she was doing up here was still bugging me. Maybe she never heard that women aren’t supposed to be in combat zones. These guys couldn’t be Army. With her along they had to be some kind of black ops team. The tall one still reminded me of a high ranking Air Force officer of some kind but he wasn’t doing so well. He took the orders she was dishing out, whenever he wasn’t sleeping. They kept waking him up whenever he began to move a little and then popped more pills into him so I figured he’d been hurt and they were keeping him asleep to try to ease the pain. This whole trip seemed kind of strange, especially after the briefing we received prior to coming up here. Double fuel load, half of it in the form of drums of av-gas, light on weaponry and the fastest birds we had. That should have been enough to tell us we didn’t want to go on this mission. If I never saw this part of Vietnam again it would be far too soon. I think we could readily confirm that those ground pounders had to be out of their minds. On the plus side though, we were so far North that the NVA never expected a flight to come hopping over the border like this so while it was nerve wracking, it was relatively peaceful and we took very little flak... coming in anyway...
We still had to get out.
Most of those free riders had no insignia or rank showing. They acted like military but they could just as easily have been some kind of agency pukes. They had a Chinese with them too, judging from his uniform but, the way they watched him I’d say he seemed to be more of a prisoner than a guest. This was a weird group. Once we got back, I’d certainly like to know what role that woman played in this little farce. When will these people learn the North is no place to play even for the big boys? I was feeling fortunate that they hadn’t wanted us to head up China way, we were close enough to Hanoi to turn my hair grey.
We made it to the MLS, landed just before our turbines began to cough as they asked for more fuel from tanks which had been manufacturing it out of thin air for the past fifteen minutes. We refueled while the woman and most of the others watched everything like they still expected it to go to hell in a hand-basket. We completed fueling in less than twenty taking on a light load but more than enough to get home. Baring unfriendly action, we could now make it safely back to Udorn. I had a chance to stretch my legs and back, as well as grab a sandwich and a cup of coffee which was more than that team did, they were still munching rations and drinking water. Once we were back in the air they seemed to relax a little.
We were heading SW toward our destination when about five minutes out of Ban Rai and just inside Thailand we start taking a little fire. It wasn’t just a couple of Cong sympathizers shooting at us with AK’s, but some heavy MG fire. Some fuckers must have seen us traveling Northeast after we picked up our extra fuel going in then they let someone know and which allowed them to set up a welcoming committee along our probable path of return. We broke off to evade the fire, took to the treetops and raced away. No foul. At least the hits didn’t seem to have done anything. Besides we were over Thailand and they were probably already fading North fast for the border with Laos.
“Two, you good?”
“Roger One, we’re fine. You?”
“Took some hits, but everything seems okay as far as t can tell.”
It wasn’t another ten minutes when my main board began to light up like a Christmas Tree. It was slow at first, so we nearly missed the warning signs. Fuckers must have nicked a hydraulic line. We weren’t smoking yet, but she was starting to get a little sluggish on the controls. With my cargo I opted for discretion rather than valour.
“Scarface Base, this is Scarface One. Do you copy?...”
“I say again, Scarface Base, this is Scarface One – do you copy?”
“Unit calling, you’re breaking up.”
I didn’t like the idea but I took it up another five hundred feet since the extra altitude might help my signal get back to base.
“Scarface Base, this is Scarface One Inbound, ETA twenty or less. Took some fire coming off the neck of Lao. Two is fine, I took some hits. Put Sandy on call, my board is starting to look a lot like Christmas.”
“Copy, one. Alerting Sandy and the Thais now. Can you make it to U? (He pronounced it “ou” as in “you”) What’s the damage?”
“Looks like they nicked a hydraulic line. Pressure decreasing, getting sluggish. No smoke yet.”
“Copy, one. We’ll have Scarface three and four in the air in less than one and they’ll come to cover your six the rest of the way in or if you need to put it down somewhere. ETA yours, seven or less.”
My bird was getting increasingly sluggish, causing me to need to concentrate on keeping everything in check. I could taste the coppery tang of blood mixed with sweat. I discovered the blood was from my lips where I bit them in frustration. I was also beginning to have this urgent need to piss. Looking ahead of us, I could see the gun-ships approaching now. Letting out a breath I didn’t realize I’d been holding I was never so glad to see those two. If I could keep it in the air 15 minutes more at most, we would be home. Got to try and keep it flying.
“Crew Chief. Tell our passengers to prepare for a hard landing and give them the drill just in case they haven’t been through it in a while.”
“Yes, Sir. Hey, you ground poun...” his mic cut off as he began passing instructions to the hitchhikers we picked up.
I and my co were becoming increasingly anxious and it was taking both of us to control this beast. We were down to maybe five minutes when we got another call.
“Real sluggish now. Getting harder to control auto-rotation.”
“Copy. Three reports you’re starting to smoke”
“Thanks, I really wanted to know that. Copy base”
I finally opted to crank the throttle to emergency military power to try and overcome some of the flight stabilization problems I was having. I backed it off a little trying to find a happy medium where I could control it best; all the while I continued beseeching my bird, “C’mon you bitch. Stay in the air”
The base was in sight now. I could see the Thai’s fire brigade preparing for our arrival. The birds near my pad were being evac’ed so if my bird went up the fire wouldn’t spread to them. Time seemed compressed. I guess I’d been concentrating more on the bird than I had on the time.
“Base, this is One.”
“Hydraulics are pretty much gone, coming in hot and heavy. I’m holding this one together with spit. Crash team ready?”
“Roger One. Team is ready.”
I don’t know why that didn’t give me any relief. I could smell the smoke now. Even at max power we were having a hard time controlling her and the engine seemed to sound a little different. Maybe they hit something on it too. The tail boom was swinging back and forth like some psychopathic clock, constantly threatening to go into a complete spin. My feel for the hydraulics was getting worse so they were probably pretty much fucked. Best I could do, get it over the pad, chop the power and pray. This time it was going to hurt.
I could hear my crew chief yelling at everyone to hang on tight, “as soon as the chopper lands, get the fuck out and away, ASAP. Let the crash crew do their jobs.”
I continued to psych myself and was as ready as I was going to get. We were in as good a position as I could hold the bird but we were rushing the pad. At this point we were only about 30 or 40 feet off the ground, dropping down as we were just sliding over that oil slick which was our landing spot while my co and I tried to keep the nose slightly up. I could see guys on the ground cringing as we reached the pad.
Our altitude was down to fifteen or twenty feet when I began to chop the power only to have the engine seize a split second prior to my hand following my brain’s command.
We dropped like a fucking rock even with the blades beginning to free rotate. Before we could hit the ground the fucking hydraulics finally seized so, suddenly, we didn’t even have the rotating blades to slow our drop. It wasn’t far but it hurt like a son-of-a-bitch.
The tail boom impacted first, then the skids. Just then I was thrown forward in my straps like I’d been kicked in the back by a mule, I saw one of the rear rotor blades flying across the field like some demented bird or maybe a boomerang. I remembered hoping it wouldn’t consider returning. My bird flopped over about forty five and I heard one of the main rotor blades ping off thudding to the ground somewhere not too far away. I guess it could have been worse, the blades could still have been rotating and gone who knows where. I suppose I blacked out for a few seconds only to come to, when I felt someone pulling at me to get me out of my seat. Before I was extracted the blackness took me again.
Awareness came back to me slowly. As I did my normal internal check, I noticed that I hurt like hell all over, especially where those straps grabbed me when we hit. I vaguely remembered the touchdown and getting thrown forward in my straps. That would explain the sore shoulders and neck, but it didn’t explain why I felt like my whole body had been put through a clothes wringer.
I went through my checklist. Still had arms and legs – check. Fingers and toes worked – uh, check. I could hear sounds around me, so my hearing was working if not yet okay. Cracking open one eye, I could see around me, so at least that one worked. Slightly opening the other – yup, it’s okay, too.
I decided about that time that all major systems appeared to be functional. I still felt like I’d been put through the wringer. I reached up to see if my head was bandaged, checking my torso along the way. I seem to be pretty much okay even though I hurt like a son-of-a-bitch. Next question, where exactly was I? Sniffing the air, and listening to the sounds around me, it soon became apparent. I was in what passed for a hospital here at Udorn. Okay, so just how fucked up was I? Couldn’t be too bad I figured, otherwise I’d probably be at Bangkok.
Just then I heard a noise off to my right, like someone clearing their throat. Opening my eyes fully, and turning my head I looked to see who was there.
Damn! It was that woman from the chopper yesterday, but now she was wearing Spec Ops camos and she had master sergeant’s stripes. What in the name of all that’s Holy was going on here?
“I see you’re awake. My team and I wanted to stick around until you came back from zombie land so we could thank you personally. That was a hairy frigging LZ, and you still got in and got us all back, even with the added thrill ride. I didn’t know we paid for E-tickets*. Thanks.”
“Ummm... Maybe I’m still all fu... screwed up, but did you say YOUR team? Women aren’t allowed in combat.”
The Sergent smiled. A rather sardonic and bittersweet smile, but a smile all the same.
“Sorry to burst your bubble pal, but I’m not a woman. Sergeant Lyon Stevens, 5th SFG. That was my A team you pulled out – and I think every one of them can attest to the fact that there are no boobs or other female parts on me.”
I laid back and shook my head, trying to clear the cobwebs out of my brain pan. I must have hit it harder than I thought. There is no way this “person” could be Stevens. To hear the other Green Beanies talk about this guy, he had to be 10 feet tall and look like John Wayne. And if scuttlebutt was true, he’d done more successful John Wayne walkathons than pretty much anybody in MACV-SOG.
“You’re Stevens?!! The same Stevens that fucked up Uncle Ho and his supply lines during ‘Shining Brass’? No fucking way!”
“Sorry to disappoint you sport, but I'm me. And yes, we ran a few SLAM missions then. Mostly we’re recon, LuRPs; but we have been known to do some ‘specials’ for CCN on occasion. Like the one we just came back from. By the way, I know your handle – Ghostrider – but just what is your name anyway?”
I sighed. Well, let’s see if he makes the connection. Damm idiot roomie at flight school who read comic books hung that damn moniker on me and I just can’t seem to get rid of it.
“Slade... Lieutenant Carter Slade.”
“Funny, I’d have thought the white suit would have stood out more,” Lyon snickered, “I read the comics too.”
“And I suppose that your chopper would be the replacement for the horse... Air Cavalry and all that. I would have thought it would have a little more white on it though.”
Double Crap! He has read them...
“Well, no matter. You risked your butt to pull ours out, and we appreciate it. We owe you one, Ghost Rider. You need anything, you let us know. Now I have to get the team and my guests back to Saigon. Apparently the package we brought out is rather important. Not to mention the prisoner we got. See you next time around.”
With that Lyon left me alone in the room and I continued to consider this unlikely turn of events along with the embarrassment of facing up to the rumored Green Beanie equivalent of Superman.
I am so going to hunt down my old roomie and smack the hell out of him.
Stupid damned handle he stuck me with! But I wouldn’t mind working with this Stevens. He obviously has his shit together. I mean, look at how his team treats him. There was a deference there and respect that only comes from being earned the hard way. I wonder if there is any way I can make sure I am teamed with them every time they need to go into Indian Country?
« t »
I left Lieutenant Carter Slade a.k.a. ‘Ghostrider’ and walked out of their hospital heading off to pick up my team once again so we could extract ourselves back to Saigon. I figured the lieutenant could pretty much handle himself from this point and all our reports had been filed so... I was glad he didn’t seem to be too bad off, despite being out cold when they dragged him out of what was left of the helicopter we had been in. Next step was picking up my team, the package, and then our prisoner before we hopped another ride the rest of the way to Bangkok and then Saigon. When I went to collect the package, he tried to bluff his way out of going with us.
“I’m okay now, Sergeant. I’ll just arrange for a ride back on my own. You and your team can go ahead.”
“Sorry Sir, but that’s not the way it’s going to happen. My orders came from some General back in the States and they stated specifically that I and my team were not to allow you out of our sight and if you tried to argue then we were to place you under temporary detention and take you with us.”
He wasn’t too pleased to hear that and tried to argue. I showed him a copy of the orders, which I figured might become necessary. That’s the reason I broke protocol and carried them with me. I had them printed on flash paper so I could destroy them quickly if push came to shove and we were close to being captured.
He came; not happily, nor quietly, but he came.
As my team, the package and our prisoner returned to the flight line I couldn’t help but notice the pile of wreckage sitting amidst the other choppers. There was still that one big rotor blade sticking up out of the ground like a lost and demented blade of metallic grass. That got me to wondering how we got out of that part of the whole mess still alive and mostly in one piece. At least it didn’t burn or explode. There were a couple of fifty gallon drums and a hand pump out near it so I guess they were off-loading whatever was left of the fuel as a precaution now.
My team, the package and our prisoner finally reached Bangkok, trying our best to be elsewhere whenever we thought we had been spotted. There we gave up our prisoner and faced the music for not having properly protected the package in the first place despite the fact we were sent in after the fat had dropped in the fire. Go figure. Somebody had to save their own butt so we got the shaft. This Houdini must have been important since there were a bunch of the top brass here in Bangkok running around like chickens with their heads cut off. I think they’re going to wear out the phones and teletypes they had here. I’ll bet they sent a dozen messages if they sent one telling the world that the package was back and mostly intact. A pair of MPs became his escorts to make certain he was on a bird back to Saigon and then the States in the very near future. No one here seemed to feel our orders were particularly significant so I sent a message back to the originator of them telling them that the Bangkok hierarchy wouldn’t let us complete them and requested to be absolved. Unless otherwise notified before twelve hundred tomorrow, we would kidnap the package and return him to Saigon forceably.
We had our reply within three hours.
Next we took the God given opportunity to avoid all the hubbub and fade into the background where I plotted our way back to MACV. I managed to get my guys patched up a bit by the local medical guy then we got some ‘decent’ chow, anything’s better than rats, no not those four legged things... Rats... rations. You know, that stuff we trade off for real food.
“Loosen up. We’re going over the to Zoomie’s mess for some chow. I want you all to be on your best behavior while we’re there. That means you use the knife and fork, not your fingers, and I want the best table manners out of you that you could ever expect to offer. Got it?”
“Sure Lyon. You don’t want us to burn our bridges since we might be called on for a repeat performance which would have us eating here again.”
“You got that in one. That means no talking shop and no slurping the soup. Okay?”
“Yeah. Fine. You act like we’ve never been out in polite company before.”
“I wouldn’t know if you have. But I know what I’ve seen back at MACV and it won’t play here.”
The guys actually behaved themselves during the meal and afterward. I can’t vouch for how they acted while I was out scrounging up a ride to take us back to Saigon. I knew I had to come up with the means of getting us the hell out of here before MACV started charging us for R&R time. Besides, I wanted to get back to some semblance of the civilization we were used to, even if it did have some scary bangs, slams and pings every now and then.
Once I knew we had a ride I tried to see about getting us a little undisturbed sack time. Five hours later we were again awake and twenty minutes after that we were in a transport and on our way, having successfully hidden from the mucks who might or might not have been looking for us. E&E, escape and evade, baby. Escape and evade.
» » » » » »
L. J. STEVENS, Vol. One
T D Aldoennetti
with contributing authors
Kate Hart & Denise Trask
All characters in this work have no existence outside the imagination of the author and have no relationship whatsoever to anyone or anything bearing the same name or names. The characters contained herein are not even distantly inspired by any specific individuals known or unknown to the author. All incidents described or alluded to within this work are pure invention. No affiliations, involvements or gender assignations due to the use of any images contained within this work are to be implied, intended or inferred.
Cover image copyright Maps.com and shown for clarification of area in which the story begins it’s evolution.
DUTY CALLS, L.J. Stevens Vol. One Copyright © 2012 USA, Earth by R. A. Dumas.
All rights reserved.
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