WHEN DARK CLOSES IN (Historical Fiction)
1967 – Saigon, Vietnam
“I could really jack up the cost of this job if I did it at home in my uncle’s garage. But here, I can’t collect, or set my own hours. At least the parts and coveralls are courtesy of the Army. You think they appreciate our expertise, Mac?”
A soldier hunched over machine parts, cleaning and oiling. “Hey man, we’re government commodities now. Dispensable and replaceable, you know?”
The Lieutenant’s voice boomed from across the road. “Bradley! You finished with that jeep, yet?”
“Almost sir.” he called back. Starting up the motor he listened to the sound. “Sounds better now, sir. She sputters a little, but still got some life in her. Till her sweet rump gets all shot up, and scattered to parts unknown.” he added.
“What was that?” asked the lieutenant.
“Uh, nothing, sir! Just thinking out loud. Do you think I could be relieved now to go get some dinner?”
“Yea, knock off.” The lieutenant looked at his watch. “Report back in two hours.”
“Thank you, sir.” Scott saluted and walked down the road to a café frequented by the military. Chopsticks and soy sauce were laid on a small table tucked in a corner. He ordered his food, propped his booted feet up on a chair and leaned back. While waiting for the food he rested his head against the wall and closed his eyes. A large ceiling fan circulated the humid air and smells that settled in the dim place. The weariness and drain of a long day took its toll and he was almost fully asleep when he felt a warm hand on his arm.
“You one sleepy soldier boy. Yes?” The girl said, smiling. She laid the plate of food down in front of him and he picked up the fork and started eating. She moved over behind his chair, hooked her long lithe fingers and hands into his muscled shoulders, and began to massage them; making deep penetrating circles, working down his back.
“I make you feel better?”
He had to admit the massage felt good, and she was something to look at with her long, cinnamon colored hair flowing down her back, locks draped over her bare shoulders. Her eyes were a translucent steel-gray. The tight, short red skirt crept seductively up her thighs as they moved in rhythm with her forearms.
“Just here for the chow, sweetheart.” he said, smiling. “You don’t look like other girls I’ve seen around here. Are you Vietnamese, or…?” He said between bites.
“My father. He was French man. Come here with French militia. My mother, part Chinese, part Vietnamese. My name, Suki. It …how you say in your country, nickname?”
“Yes. Cool name. Uh…Listen Suki, I didn’t come here for…well, you know, the entertainment.”
“What your name?”
“Scott. And thank you for the massage, but…I have to hurry and get back.”
“That O.K. Maybe, I see you again?” She glanced over towards the bar at the bartender ‘boss’ with the snarly, screwed up face, watching her.
“Bye, Scott. Have other customers waiting.”
He nodded, and watched her make her way back to the men hanging over the bar. She used her practiced approach on another, and minutes later they headed up the dark stairway to a room upstairs, his arms wrapped around her like an octopus.
There was a sense of longing and loneliness, an emptiness and deep ache in the pit of his stomach. He wanted only to be back home in Seattle with Jennifer. He hated this place, this war, the country, the constant monsoons, and stinking town.
It had only been a week since he last wrote Jennifer, but he would write again when he got back to the barracks. He hoped his letters were getting home.
Ten minutes later the soldier came down the stairs, rumpled, looking content.
As he walked back to base a transport helicopter touched down. The bodies of dead soldiers were being unloaded, identified and carefully placed into body bags, their personal belongings collected, and placed into smaller bags with identification tags. It all seemed so cold, so routine anymore. Unload, identify, match up, zip up the body or remains, and send home.
One soldier stood by, anxiously waiting, watching. Grime and grit covered his face and bloody uniform. His eyes looked wild, fearful, as if still out in the bush. He grasped the shirt of his friend.
“Smithy! We’re here. They’re going to fix you up. Hang on. I’ll make sure they take real good care of you. Smithy! Did you hear me?” Shaking Smithy, he pleaded, “Smithy?”
He looked up at the medic. “You will, won’t you? Work on him right away?”
Smithy’s body went limp, his eyes glazed over, staring up at no one, nothing. They just stared. His body was lifted off and laid with other still, lifeless bodies.
The medic turned to the soldier, and said, “Look man, he’s gone. I’m sorry. We have to get him unloaded so we can get to the wounded that need immediate attention. Smithy will be taken care of. Why don’t you help me collect his things and we’ll get him ready for the trip home. What’s your name fella?”
The soldier was quiet for a while. He wiped his dirty sleeve across his face, as if trying to wake up from a bad dream. “Rakowski. Sam Rakowski. Smithy always called me ‘Rack’. He said I could shoot the rack off a running bull moose. I like to hunt. We were good at it. Together, hunting the Cong. We got a lot of em, Smithy and I.”
The medic just nodded. All of them casualties.
Looking over at Smithy’s lifeless body, ‘Rack’ asked, “What am I going to do now? Who’s going to help me hunt the Cong?”
Scott was suddenly thankful he was not in that unit. He walked back to the broken down jeep. Maybe Mac was still cleaning engine parts.
To be continued…
Joyce E. Johnson