Monday, 29th May 2023 - 14:57:28 pm

Hao kept his head down as he looked over at Kincaid. He had heard it too. Two men were coming down the trail toward them. They were coming fast. Kincaid signaled to wait. The signal wasn't necessary. They worked together so well that no word or sign was ever necessary. They both knew what had to be done now.

Kincaid and Hao were in heavy brush at the edge of a jungle trail. Dawn was just breaking. They had been in this position all night. Their main force was up the trail in the direction from which these men were coming. The main force had let these people through. Kincaid and Hao would have to let them through also.

The two men on the trail, both armed with automatic weapons, were talking in loud voices as they passed Kincaid's position. Good, he thought, that meant they did not suspect that this Special Forces interdiction team was in the area. They were about thirty meters past when automatic weapons opened up from the way they had come. Kincaid could hear that most of it was from M-16s. There was some answering fire from AK-47s but not much.

The VC down the trail had turned and were coming back. When they were nearly opposite Kincaid cut down the lead man with a burst of three. Hao did the same for the one behind.

"Was that you, Kincaid?" The radio ear plug crackled in his ear. It was Lt. Phillips, the team leader.

"Affirmative," Kincaid replied. He and Hao used the Russian made AK-47s when they were blocking so Charlie couldn't identify who was shooting by the sound. Neither side could know who was doing the firing. "Scratch the two you let by."

"Two or three more coming your way. We're pulling out."

Kincaid relayed the information to Hao by hand signals. "That's a big fat Roj," he said quietly into the radio.

They had to get out of there fast. There was no chance of surprising the ones coming their way with the two dead VC in front of them on the trail. Worse, they'd know exactly where they were.

Hao started out first, squirming backward through the heavy undergrowth by the trail. When he was clear of the worst, Kincaid followed. The brush was always heaviest by the trails because Charlie always pushed what he cut to the sides. That provided good cover for ambushers. It also made the trails easier to find.

Once Kincaid was clear of the heavy stuff, Hao started toward the landing zone. Hao always went first on the way back. He could move more quietly and had a better sense of direction. Kincaid let him get almost out of eyesight, about ten meters, before starting after him.

"We're on out way out," Kincaid said into the radio. He carried only a satellite set that weighed less than a pound. It had a limited range most of the time. On rare occasions, when conditions were just right, the transmissions could be heard in the base camp about a hundred kilometers away.

"We hear you," Phillips replied. Lieutenant Phillips was casual about his communications. He didn't insist on the strict radio discipline that most team leaders required. Kincaid liked it better that way even though it wasn't the way it was taught at the Special Forces school.

Kincaid had spent less than two years as a basic training drill instructor. That gave him the rank and time in service to get into the Special Forces school. When he graduated, he was sent to Viet Nam. He had been on these hunter-killer teams for six months.

The teams were made up of half American and half Vietnamese personnel. Kincaid had been teamed up with Hao for the last three months. Both of them had resisted switching to other partners in that time.

Hao was short and slight, about five feet one or two inches and weighed around a hundred and ten pounds. Most of the other Americans didn't want to team with Hao because of his size. If they got hit, Hao would have a hell of a time carrying them out. Kincaid looked at it the other way. If Hao got hit it would be easy to carry him out. And besides, he figured if he worked with Hao there would be less chance that either one of them would be hit. That was the most important thing.

Hao was thirty four but his face made him look fifteen years younger. He wouldn't look out of place on a high school campus. His complexion was darker than most Vietnamese because he was a montagnard. He came from a tribe somewhere around Pleiku, in the highlands. The other natives in their unit were ethnic Vietnamese. They shunned Hao somewhat, calling him ‘moi' which Kincaid learned meant ‘savage.'

Hao could speak French and English fluently. He had worked on a plantation for the French and later on road construction for the Americans. He had learned his employers languages so well that he worked as an interpreter for both.

When Kincaid had asked him why he had volunteered for Special Forces, Hao had told him, "To avoid the draft."

Kincaid laughed and Hao joined in but Kincaid had the feeling that he wasn't quite getting the point. He also got the impression that, despite his flip attitude, Hao took great pride in what he was doing and that pride was shared by the people he had left back home.

They had been going toward the landing zone about an hour when a single shot rang out behind them. Hao stopped. Kincaid caught up to him. It was still early morning but they could already feel the heat of the day. Hao sprawled out with his back to a tree. Kincaid joined him. He wanted to drink some water from his canteen but it was too early for that.

"That was from this side of the trail," Kincaid said.

Hao nodded. "About half an hour behind us."

The radio squawked. "Was that you, Kincaid?"

Kincaid had disconnected the ear plug so the sound came from the tiny speaker. He pushed the talk button. "No. They're on our tail. About a half hour behind."

"Watch you ass."

He gave Hao a wry look. "Thanks," he said into the radio.

They rested another couple of minutes in silence before Hao got up and started off again. Kincaid followed when he was barely visible. The undergrowth was heavier here so they had to keep closer together.

Hao stopped several times when he heard noises. Most often they were caused by wild chickens. Once they flushed a resting boar. Another time they had to wait for a twenty foot python to cross their path. Sometimes it was small birds. The sounds of the jungle magnified in the silence so that even a small bird could make them wary.

A single shot rang out behind them. Hao froze in his tracks. Kincaid checked his watch as he closed up. Hao squatted where he was.

"It was an hour exactly between shots," Kincaid said. He sat in a tiny clearing. It was already warm enough that his shirt was soaked with sweat.

"Time for a break."

"Is that what they're trying to tell us?"

"Are they about the same distance back?"

Kincaid shrugged. "Sounded closer to me."

Hao nodded. He thought so too.

Kincaid pulled out the radio and pushed the talk button. "That wasn't us."

"Didn't think so," came the reply.

Hao studied the trail behind them. There was nothing to see.

Kincaid took a sip from his canteen. It was the first that day. The water was warm. It tasted foul.

"We could take them," Hao said.

"Oh yeah?"

"Only a few in front. Maybe only one or two."

"How do you know that?"

"Why else would they shoot? To warn us? They're telling the ones behind where they are. They're asking for help because they can't take us alone."

Kincaid thought about it a minute. "Maybe," he said.

"For sure," Hao said. "We could take them."

"And how far back are the others? How long would it be before a whole battalion is on our ass?"

Hao shrugged and grinned.

Kincaid wasn't sure if Hao had been serious about turning and fighting. If he had agreed Hao might have laughed at him for being so foolish. He grinned back. "Let's get the hell out of here, tiger." They called each other 'tiger' when one felt the other was getting too heroic.

Hao started out again. He quickened the pace. Kincaid had to struggle to keep up but he managed.

They heard the shots behind them every hour but the sound got no closer. Around noon their pursuers had fallen behind. It was too late then anyway because they had reached the main group at the landing zone. The choppers came in and took them to their base at Nha Trang.

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