Monday, 29th May 2023 - 16:52:07 pm

Bob Douglas set the Huey down and switched off the engine. He turned to the young second lieutenant sitting alongside him. "This is it," he said.

They were in a clearing large enough to land three helicopters and no larger. There wasn't a sign of any ground facilities or for that matter, civilization. A near naked man, wearing only a loincloth and carrying an assault rifle, came out of the trees and stared at them with little interest.

Douglas' only passenger was Second Lieutenant George Salazar. The lieutenant looked around the clearing. "I was hoping you were making an emergency landing," he said.

"Yeah," Douglas said, "it doesn't look like much. But this is the main chopper pad. The transports come in on a strip about ten miles that way." He pointed out the nose of the chopper. "This is closer to their main base."

"What do I do now?"

"We wait. They know we're here. They"ll send someone out pretty soon."

Douglas knew the lieutenant was full of curiosity about everything. All of Kincaid's new men were. He waited for the questions to flow.

Salazar whistled a tune off key. It sounded like "Moon Over Miami." He scratched himself in three places. His right hand kept twisting a signet ring on the ring finger of his left hand. He fidgeted in his seat. Finally he turned to Douglas and asked, "Are you CIA?"

"Yep," Bob Douglas replied, imitating a taciturn westerner he'd seen in a movie once. Actually he was a contract flyer for Air America, but Air America was owned by the CIA which meant he worked for the CIA, at least indirectly.

"Are there many blacks in the CIA?"

"Nope," Douglas replied. Besides him, he knew one other pilot and two maintenance men in his division of the CIA.

Salazar scratched, whistled, twisted and fidgeted some more. Finally he asked, "Can you tell me what's going on here?" He waved at the tree line.

"I told you. We're waiting."

"I mean the operations out here. How long have you worked for Kincaid? Do you know him well? How many men does he have? I've heard he's conducted operations in Laos and Cambodia. Is that true? Do all his...?"

"Okay, okay," Douglas interrupted him. "You"ll learn about most of that stuff soon enough. I've flown for him about four months. When I started he was a first lieutenant and only had five other Americans out here. Now he's a major and has twenty Americans. Every time I flew in someone who out-ranked him, they had to give Kincaid a promotion because the Rhade wouldn't listen to anyone but him. No one knows how many Rhade he has but we've flown in enough equipment to outfit several thousand men."

A jeep drove into the clearing.

"Here's someone," Douglas said.

A dark skinned man dressed only in a loin cloth pulled the jeep up to the helicopter.

Douglas helped Salazar offload his large canvas suitcase. The man in the jeep looked at the suitcase with his head tilted to one side. "Been better you left that behind," he said.

Salazar was surprised to hear the man speak English. He would have sworn he was a native at first glance. But now that he looked at him more closely, he could see the western features. "I heard that," Salazar replied. "I wasn't sure it was true."

"It's true," the man said.

"This is Captain Lou Gorski," Douglas said. "He's been with Kincaid since the beginning. This is George Salazar, Lou."

Gorski nodded. "You've got good skin color," he told Salazar. "Wouldn't take you long to go native if you wanna." He turned to Douglas. "You gonna hang around" Lunch is about ready."

"I got nowhere else to go."

Salazar got into the back of the jeep with his outsized suitcase. Douglas climbed in front. Gorski waved to a couple of armed Rhade as the jeep entered a trail in the woods.

"So how's it going?" Douglas asked.

"Last night it was bad," Gorski replied. "We lost Phillips and twenty Rhade."

"God damn. That is bad. Wasn't Phillips with Kincaid in Special Forces?"

"Yeah. He's all broke up."

"How'd it happen?"

"That's what we'd like to know. Seemed like Charlie knew we were coming. Seemed like he knew when and he knew where. Kincaid is sure they were tipped off."

"Who does he think did it?"

"We've got some ARVN observers with us. Kincaid lets them in our planning sessions. Or it could be from the office of the province Chief. We have to clear some operations with him."

They were coming to a paved road. Gorski stopped the jeep just before it cleared the brush at the side. "Check it, will you?" he asked Douglas.

Douglas went forward and peered both ways along the road. "We've secured the area for miles around," Gorski told the young second lieutenant, "but the highways are open to anyone. We wouldn't want a passerby to report a Rhade driving a jeep in the woods."

Douglas turned and waved Gorski across, getting back in as he came abreast.

"Do all the Americans dress like you?" Salazar asked from the back of the jeep.

Gorski drove into the brush on the other side of the road. "It's optional," he said. "We've got an American compound now. You can live with the natives or live with the Americans."

"Can't they shoot you if they capture you out of uniform?" Salazar asked.

"It doesn't matter," Gorski replied. "If they even suspect you're with Kincaid, they"ll shoot you either way. It makes you a tougher target dressed like this. Phillips was in uniform. Look where it got him."

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