Title: Judgment Night
Summary: Trapped in the jungles of Vietnam, BA learns that he may have jumped to conclusions about the team's new lieutenant. This is a story set in the universe of Skeletons and referenced in that fic, which can be found at the ateamfanfic dot org archive.
Disclaimer: The A-Team characters belong to Stephen J. Cannell and Universal.
Warnings: Violence; injury; swearing, sexually suggestive situations (non-graphic), adult themes.
Da Nang, 1969
BA Baracus sat glowering behind the wheel of an army jeep. He needed to get out of Da Nang and back to Firebase Nancy. He had too many projects to complete to be spending his day sitting in the heat and humidity of some Vietnamese slum. Hannibal wanted all the unit's weapons checked out completely before the team's next mission; BA also needed to rebuild the PRC-25 so Ludwicki wouldn't get electrocuted if he tried calling HQ during a storm; and Ray Brenner had been complaining that the radio in the hooch kept losing AFR during the rock songs, but never when Perry Como was singing. Plus BA had promised to help some local villagers with rebuilding the school that had been destroyed in some VC shelling. And he had to write a letter to his Mama so it would arrive in time for her 50th birthday. BA Baracus was a busy man. He had more important thing to do than play chauffeur. Especially for some fancy-pants, rich, white-boy, asshole lieutenant only two months in country who had ordered BA to wait outside some unnamed building on a stinking, filthy street in Da Nang.
In sum, BA Baracus was pissed.
He checked his watch for the third time in the last five minutes. 16:38. Two hours since that jerk had gone into the building. There was no way they were going to make it back to the firebase before the sun set, and BA was not happy about the prospect of driving to the base in the dark. There had been too many reports of VC activity along the road. Even coming down that morning, they had been wary; the lieutenant had stayed in the back of the jeep, scanning the passing jungle for any signs of enemy activity.
Grudgingly, BA admitted that the L-T had good eyes. Glancing over at the M-14 sniper rifle that the lieutenant usually carried, BA conceded the rich boy was probably the best sharpshooter BA had ever seen.
But little good that would do them driving through the jungle at night. No matter how good the lieutenant's eyesight, he still couldn't see in the dark.
BA slammed his hand against the steering wheel. Hannibal would be furious if they were late back to base. No supply run was worth this risk. BA could even hear the lecture Hannibal would give:
"I am not going to be the one to tell Mama Baracus that her baby boy died because of his own stupidity."
It wouldn't even matter if BA tried to blame the lieutenant.
"He's just a cherry, BA. He needs your guidance. It doesn't matter that he's got bars on his shoulders; you're the voice of experience."
Damn, damn, damn. BA pounded the steering wheel again as his fury grew. Forcing himself to take a deep breath, he took another look at his watch.
That did nothing to quell BA's anger.
He hammered the wheel again, this time striking the horn. When the loud blast finished, BA stood up in the driver's seat and yelled at the entrance of the building.
"PECK! GET OUT HERE, SUCKA."
The object of BA Baracus' ire nearly missed the blast of the horn and his sergeant's yell. At that moment, Templeton Peck was otherwise occupied.
Still, despite the moans of the dark-haired, Asian woman above him, Peck heard BA's bellowing voice. With a groan, Peck rolled over and pulled away from his companion.
"Sorry, darling. That's my cue."
"We not done," the woman said evenly in clipped English.
Peck reached for his boxers and the pants of his jungle fatigues. "I know, I know. It's just that you don't know Sergeant Baracus like I do. If you ever want me coming back, you'll understand that I've got to go."
The Vietnamese woman pouted. "No boom boom, no deal."
Hearing that, Peck groaned silently. Why couldn't BA be a little more patient? Turning to Madame Cao, the lieutenant decided to plead his case. "Look, the deal was made before. The boom boom was extra." Peck reached for his t-shirt and pulled it over his head.
"No," Madame Cao insisted. She reached over and ran a hand along Peck's back. "You part of deal. Always part of deal."
Tucking his shirt into his pants and buttoning them, Peck answered. "I don't have a choice."
As if to prove Peck's point, BA's booming voice sounded through the back window. "PECK! DON'T MAKE ME COME IN THERE!"
"See," Peck said. Then in a more conciliatory tone, he added, "Next time, I'll stay longer. I'll catch a bird over. Okay?"
Madame Cao nodded.
Peck breathed a sigh of relief. Madame Cao controlled the black market supply of a number of hard-to-get products, especially scotch, that passed through Da Nang. Burning bridges with her would have effectively cut off Peck's ability to perform the miracles his new unit seemed to expect from him.
"Wonderful, darling." He leaned over and gave Madame Cao a kiss. Actually, he had to admit that "sealing the deal" with her was a lot more pleasant than most negotiations. Peck did not exactly consider himself inexperienced sexually – the opportunities at boot camp, airborne and Special Forces training had pretty much ended that notion – but the woman had taught him a number of new things that would serve him well in the future. "Til next time."
Peck leaned over and quickly donned his socks and jungle boots. Grabbing the jacket of his fatigues, he stood up and started for the door. Turning back, he gave an appreciative glance back at Madame Cao's naked, lithe body displayed on the bed.
'Damn, Baracus,' Peck thought. 'Why couldn't I get a sergeant with some sense of timing?'
To the woman, he asked, "The boxes are out back?"
She nodded. "Three box cigar. Box scotch. Jacket. Radio."
"That wasn't the deal," Peck said, trying to suppress his exasperation. "It was four boxes of cigars and four boxes of scotch." At least Madame Cao had left the jacket and radio in the mix.
"You no finish. So it three box cigar and one box scotch."
Peck thought fast. The cigars could wait. Hannibal would just have to cope without his Cubans and smoke what he could get on base. She had also left out Murdocks' comic books, but those could wait, too. If the pilot got upset, Peck could blame BA. The scotch, however was a completely different matter. That, he needed. He could not wait.
"Keep the cigars and comics for now, but our deal was for four boxes of scotch. When I come back, I'll get the cigars."
"No," said Madame Cao curtly.
Peck decided he was going to have to give BA Baracus a lesson in how to avoid cratering a deal.
Crossing back to the bed and leaning over it, Peck smiled at the woman. It was his best, I'm-going-to-tell-you-how-the-world-works smile. Peck just hoped she would be convinced. "You know I have a huey at my disposal. If you don't want to do the deal, I can always find a supplier in Quang Ngai. They'll appreciate my dollars."
Peck had no idea if she believed him, but it was the best he could do. Quang Ngai was not like Da Nang, which was overflowing with supplies dropped off by the merchant marines. Still, the threat of losing dollars was powerful.
There was a silence, and Peck held his breath hoping BA wouldn't yell again. Finally, Madame Cao nodded. "Very well, three box scotch and radio. But you return."
Peck smiled. Three boxes of scotch probably would suffice. Four would have been easier, but that was as good as he was going to get at the moment. He gave her another kiss, this time short and on her forehead.
"Of course, darling. I'll be back as soon as I can."
"PECK! I'M COMIN' IN RIGHT NOW!"
In the bedroom, Peck shrugged apologetically and backed toward the door. Stepping out into the main room of the building – for all appearances, an abandoned husk – he looked toward the front to see BA entering. Shaking his head, Peck started to cross the room.
He almost hesitated when he came close enough to see the snarl etched across BA's face. Peck swallowed and forced a grin to his face, then said casually, "Hi, BA. You looking for me?"
BA continued to mutter angrily under his breath as the jeep sped up the darkening, narrow track through the jungle. The lieutenant stood silently in the passenger seat, scanning the passing jungle with a CAR-15 at the ready and the sniper rifle slung over his shoulder. From time to time, when the rutted road leveled off enough for the jeep to run smoothly over the road, Peck would remove his left hand from the top of the windshield and run it over the large, red welt forming under his eye.
Dang fool deserved it for dragging BA to Da Nang just to get a piece of Vietnamese ass. BA didn't see the girl, but no girl was worth the trouble and the risk of getting stuck out in the jungle at night.
The rich boy had not complained since BA had cold-cocked him in the building. Peck had gone down like one of Murdock's choppers, but had just continued to smile that pretty-boy smile and told BA to bring the jeep around the back of the building. Then he and BA had loaded some boxes into the vehicle and left Da Nang. Peck had not said a word since.
BA wasn't sure how to handle this. When he bashed superior officers, he usually got thrown in the brig, threatened with a court martial or ordered to undergo one of Hannibal's creative punishments. Silence, though, was not a reaction he ever received.
Especially not from some kid lieutenant right out of training.
Oh, BA knew Peck's type. The sergeant had watched the way Peck sucked up to Colonel Morrison and General Ludlum. Peck weaseled his way into their good graces, talking about fine wines, golf and tennis – rich men's sports in BA's eyes – and exotic places. Morrison and Ludlum ate that garbage up. Even Hannibal seemed to be under Peck's spell at times.
Well, BA Baracus wasn't falling for it.
Peck could wheedle his way into the good graces of the command. He'd probably be gone pretty soon anyway, given some cushy promotion to a desk job in Saigon, well away from any danger. Of course, he could still claim that he'd been in Special Forces, bragging points that he could use at cocktail parties and other events. Hell, with those looks, Peck would probably run for office. A Republican, of course, who could claim that he had fought in Vietnam even though he spent almost no time in danger while the poor white kids and the blacks and Mexicans took the heavy casualties.
Yeah, BA had Peck all figured out. Murdock and Ray sometimes wondered what Peck was doing in Vietnam, but BA knew. Just scoring some brownie points. Like a tourist on vacation.
Peck just needed to learn that BA Baracus was no tour guide.
BA growled ominously as his anger rose. If he broke the rules, he got sent to the brig. Guys like Peck . . . they'd break the rules and come out smelling like a rose in the middle of the Mekong Delta.
"Just ain't fair," BA muttered.
"You have something to say, Sergeant," Peck said sharply, speaking for the first time since they had left Da Nang.
BA knew he should have held his tongue, but the little twerp had pissed him off. "Yeah, I got somethin' to say. You had no right draggin' me out here for some roll in the hay with some boom boom girl."
"That's what you think it was?" Peck asked.
BA shook his head. Peck was trying to pull a con. He was about to tell BA it wasn't what it looked like. As if Peck's mussed-up hair and wrinkled clothes were not a dead giveaway. Normally, Peck was spit-shined. Only times he wasn't were when he was scrambling away from some girl's bed. BA had already seen that when Peck had climbed out the window of the supply depot or when he snuck out the back door of that general's house in Saigon after nearly getting caught with the man's wife. And that was only what BA had seen in just two months.
"Don't try to deny it, L-T. I know what I see. I got eyes. I ain't some stupid ghetto trash you can trick with rich-man's lies."
Instead of reacting as BA expected – a lot of denials – Peck rolled his eyes and shook his head. He said nothing, focusing his attention away from the sergeant and on the passing jungle.
'Okay,' BA thought. 'If he wants to play it that way. Don't deny it. That tells me exactly where he's comin' from.'
BA glanced down at his watch and realized that it was getting more difficult to see in the twilight. Just about 18:10. They had at least another 45 minutes on this road. At least 30 minutes of that was going to be in complete darkness.
"Dang fool, rich boy, white, privileged, no sense, kid officers," he mumbled under his breath.
Peck's voice cut through BA's own mental ramblings and the sergeant's eyes shot up from the face of his watch. He was not sure what he was supposed to see at first, but then something moved in the trees at eleven o'clock. BA tried to get a closer look, but could not see what it was.
The distraction in the trees concealed another danger. With BA's eyes on the movement, he took his eyes off the road and never saw the mine.
The explosion roared beneath the jeep's right front tire, and the jeep vaulted into the air as if it had hit a spring. As the vehicle flipped in the air, BA saw Peck lose his grip on the windshield and sail out of the jeep. The boxes in the back of the jeep also went flying. BA did not have much time to think about where they had landed, because he suddenly realized that the jeep was about to hit the ground and he was in the unfortunate position of being between the jeep and the ground. Scrambling to free himself of the machine, BA shoved himself from the driver's seat.
As he leaped out, BA felt his right foot catch on one of the pedals – accelerator, brake or clutch, he had no idea. Even over the sound of the crashing jeep, he heard a crack as his leg wrenched free and he struck the ground hard with his left shoulder. His head struck with only slightly less force.
He managed to retain consciousness, but the impact left him dazed. Dimly aware of his surroundings, he did manage to note that the jeep had landed just behind him in the middle of the road. Even confused, BA realized that he was fortunate that he did not have a broken neck or was not trapped underneath the vehicle.
Still shaking the cobwebs from his head, he tried to rise. But the slightest pressure on his right foot sent him crashing back to all fours on the road.
At that very moment, a volley of automatic gunfire rang out. The bullets ripped just above BA's head. He thanked God. Had he been standing, he would have been cut in half.
To his left, in the direction of where the jeep had come, BA heard an answering volley. The short bursts of a CAR-15, easy to distinguish from the Kalashnikovs of the VC, signaled that BA was not alone.
As BA pondered the thought, the sound of the friendly fire came closer. Then BA heard boots drumming frantically along the road. He started to raise his head, but ducked as a shadow passed over him and a dark figure struck the ground.
Simultaneously, another explosion rocked the road. The jeep shook from the force of the blow.
"Get up, Sergeant," said an angry voice. "We can't stay here."
Peck. The thought dawned in BA's mind. That was Peck's voice.
Still confused and in pain, BA knelt on the road and tried to get a grasp on everything going on.
"DAMN IT, SERGEANT! GET UP AND MOVE YOUR SORRY ASS!"
'Why the hell was Peck screaming?' BA wondered. He didn't move.
"YOU WORTHLESS PIECE OF SHIT, MOVE!" Peck punctuated his yell by kicking BA square in the ass.
That got a response. 'How dare that rich-boy, prick touch him?' BA's mind roared. With a growl, BA rose, pivoted on his good foot, and took a swing at the blond hair.
Peck ducked under the punch and somehow managed to lean into BA's right shoulder. Wrapping his left arm around BA's waist, the lieutenant used his right arm to pull BA's right arm across Peck's shoulders. The motion was awkward because Peck still held the CAR-15 in his right hand.
"You can hit me later, but right now, you've got to move," Peck said. Tugging at the sergeant with his arm at BA's midsection, the lieutenant took a step away from the damaged jeep. The weight that otherwise would have landed on BA's injured leg came down on Peck's shoulders. With his right arm now free, Peck pointed the gun behind him and fired randomly at a copse of trees on the far side of the road. Looking over his shoulder and catching flashes of light from the trees, BA realized that was where the VC were hiding.
The enemy had them dead to rights.
On one side of the road was the VC. On the other was a swampy field and some distant trees. Maybe if they reached the trees, they might be safe, but there was enough light at the moment to make them sitting ducks. As Peck dragged BA into the field, the thought came to the sergeant that if there was VC sniper in the far trees, this field would soon be his permanent resting place.
Ignoring the pain, BA surged forward. As he placed weight on his right foot, the pain surged through him and the leg gave way. He nearly toppled, but Peck somehow managed to bear the weight and keep BA upright.
"Not so fast," Peck hissed. The kid's voice was strained from the effort. "You knock me off balance and I won't be able to shoot."
BA glanced to his side. Peck's face was red and drenched in sweat from the effort of bearing BA's weight. The sergeant wondered how Peck was managing to help BA across the swampy ground and, at the same time, fire behind at the enemy. BA also knew that if they fell, they probably would never get a chance to rise again.
The bullets continued to whip around them and it was then that BA realized that Peck was dragging them in a serpentine fashion. Looking over his shoulder, BA also noticed that he could not see any pursuers. The cover fire Peck had managed to lay down had kept the VC at bay.
The trees loomed closer.
Their surroundings began to dim. Whether it was the light or the fog in BA's brain from striking the ground, he wasn't completely sure. But as he took a step forward, his good, left foot caught on something in the swampy water and caused him to stumble forward. Once again, the slight lieutenant managed to keep BA from falling.
"Come on, Baracus," Peck urged. "Keep moving. Almost there."
BA was so tired and dizzy. The soft ground almost seemed inviting.
"Lemme rest," he said in a dazed stupor.
"NO! YOU WILL KEEP MOVING, BARACUS!" Peck screamed, sounding remarkably like one of BA's drill instructors in basic training.
BA began to grow annoyed with the constant. He tried to shove Peck away. "Jes' lemme lie down for a moment."
"NO!" Peck roared. Then in a quieter, almost-feral voice, he threatened, "You stop now, Baracus, and I'll make sure every enlisted man between Da Nang and Saigon knows how the great BA Baracus couldn't keep up with some white, rich-boy officer."
Again Peck's taunt sent a plume of fury coursing through BA. The anger carried him forward and he surged toward the waiting trees. Barely conscious, BA heard the continuing rat-a-tat-tat of the machine guns, but he no longer noticed any bullets. He had only two thoughts as he ran.
Getting to the trees was one thought.
Strangling Peck once they got there was the other.
And then they were there. The dark canopy enveloped them, as the swampy field gave way to brambles, low-lying vines and mud.
BA began to stop, but Peck pushed on. "We need to find a place for you to hide," the lieutenant hissed through gritted teeth.
They stumbled forward into the trees, which grew denser as the field faded behind them. With each step, BA's good foot either sunk into the dark, oozing muck or caught on vines that seemed intent on impeding his path. He shoved at the branches and leaves that blocked his path, but they struck back, scratching at his face and nearly knocking his helmet off his head.
"Dang it, you fool," BA hissed at Peck. "Don't need to go no gettin' cut up like this . . . They ain't followin' us this deep."
Some gunfire not too far in the distance abruptly told BA otherwise. Peck said nothing, but in the dimming light, BA saw the kid smirk slightly.
"There," Peck said, the smile disappearing. Without warning, he shoved BA to the ground beneath a tight copse of vines and bushes.
Unprepared, BA stumbled again and, before he knew it, found himself in nearly waist-deep water. The foul odor, a combination of rotting vegetation and algae assaulted his nostrils. Recovering his balance, he found himself nearly face-to-face with a wall of vines and branches.
"Wha–" BA started to say angrily as he swung around. Peck still stood on solid ground above the murky pool.
"Shut up, Sergeant," Peck growled in a low whisper. "Duck underneath. Is it hollow inside?"
BA looked back at the branches. Maybe Peck was right. Most of the branches seemed to skirt the top of the pool. Using his injured foot, BA felt for some more underwater, but he met no resistance. He dropped a hand under the branches, reached up and felt air on the opposite side.
"I'll be . . ." he mused aloud.
"Stop playing tourist and get the hell inside," Peck ordered.
BA spun back. "What about you?" From the size of the pool and the shape of the branches, he could tell there was no way two men could fit in the hollow.
"I'm going to lead our friends on a little chase," Peck said with a grin. His teeth flashed in the little light left.
"That's suicide," BA barked. One man alone in the jungle with VC hunting him had no chance. Especially one as green and out-of-place as Peck. BA grasped for the lieutenant's shirt, thinking maybe there would be room. The motion caused the sergeant to overbalance and he came down on his injured leg.
Before he could scream in pain, Peck shot out a hand and covered BA's mouth.
"Shut up," Peck whispered. "You got that?"
BA almost bit Peck's hand, but realized that would attract the VC. He nodded.
Peck pulled back his hand. "Now get behind those branches." As he spoke, he pulled the sniper rifle from his shoulder. BA was about to ask what had happened to the CAR-15 , but Peck cut off that thought. "Don't make a sound and they'll go right by you."
"You're as crazy as tha' fool pilot, Peck," BA hissed. "They'll kill you out there."
"Maybe. But maybe better they do it than you do . . . Now get inside . . . I'll circle back when it's all clear." Peck shrugged and flashed a devil-may-care grin.
BA shuddered as he saw the smile. He'd seen it too often on Hannibal right before the colonel ordered them on some crazy maneuver, like a classic half-pincer movement inside a guarded perimeter filled with NVA regulars.
'Aww . . . Damn . . .' BA thought as he lowered himself into the murky water and came up on the other side inside a tight circle of vines and branches. 'I'm trapped with Hannibal Smith, Jr. . . . and it's a crazy, rich-kid, pretty-boy version of him too.'
For an instant, BA almost felt sorry for the crazy fool. But the sounds of footsteps and quiet voices – VC soldiers tracking their quarry – sent any further thoughts of Peck flying from BA's mind.
Trapped in his hiding place, BA closed his eyes and said a silent prayer. If the trackers found him here, he'd be a dead man . . . his body probably butchered and left behind as a warning to other Americans.
The footsteps halted on the muddy bank of the small pool. BA heard a short exchange in Vietnamese, only a few feet to his right. They were so close, he imagined he could feel their breath as they spoke. In turn, BA tried to still his breathing completely. He opened his eyes, but he could not see through the dense tangle that surrounded him. He prayed the same was true for the enemy, but the fear persisted. He tried to turn to see if there was an escape route.
As he did, his shoulder brushed against the branches, sending out a ripple through the water.
BA knew it was over.
Any second, one of the trackers would see . . . would know . . . there was no escape.
The crack of the gunshot just confirmed that.
Peck watched the body pitch forward and land in the foul water. In the dimming light, he could see the shapes of the other three VC soldiers scatter for cover.
Their attention diverted by the sniper, the VC began firing in Peck's direction. For the moment, he knew BA was safe. Why had the enemy soldier started for the tangled branches? Had he spotted BA? The hiding place was perfect. Or was it? Peck didn't know, but one shot from the sniper rifle had ended the threat.
'Time to get moving,' he realized. A tree limb next to his head snapped under a volley of bullets to emphasize the need to move. Peck dropped from his perch, landed lightly on his feet and sprinted through the thick undergrowth. As he ran, he pulled out his dog tags and let the little sun left in the sky flash on their steel surface.
The chase was on.
Voices and trampling feet followed his path. Through the vines, he could see the shapes of the three VC soldiers racing after him.
'Come and get me,' Peck thought
Light on his feet, he skipped over the tangled mass of roots and vines that coated the jungle floor. One hand gripped the chain on the dog tags, whipping them around to make a tinny sound as they clanged together and to let the sunlight reflect off the metal.
The sound of gunfire, some exploding tree bark and pieces of what were once leaves flying just at the edge of his field of vision told Peck the ruse was working. They were following him deeper into the jungle and would probably be unable to find BA's hiding place again. Just as Peck had planned.
Now it might be nice if Peck could figure out how to not get killed.
As if in tune with that thought, another batch of leaves exploded just over his head as he continued to run through the trees and bushes. Branches scratched at his face and tore at his uniform. Small rivulets of blood mixed with the sweat that poured down his forehead.
This was getting ridiculous. Time for part two.
Peck stuffed his dog tags back under his collar. Picking up the pace, he sprinted ever faster through the jungle. He did his best to keep an eye out for obstacles in his path that might send him sprawling, while also trying to keep watch on the pursuing soldiers. He had no idea how long he ran, but after awhile, he could see that his pursuers seemed to be falling back. They were still back there, but now they were following his trail only.
Time to end it. Cliched though it sounded, it was time for the hunters to become the hunted.
Nearly out of breath, Peck saw a clearing up ahead. He charged across the empty space and dove for cover on the opposite side. Diving to the ground behind a fence of fallen trees, Peck somersaulted and twisted, positioning himself so the barrel of the sniper rifle now faced the direction from which he had come.
Peck peered through the scope of the rifle and waited.
A hundred yards in front of him, the trees parted. Three dark shapes slowly peered into the open clearing. From his hiding place, Peck saw the figure in front raise an arm, point to his right and say something in Vietnamese. In response, one of the other figures slipped back into the jungle.
Did they recognize this as an ambush? Too late now. Peck had no choice. If he moved from behind the trees now, they would spot him. He would be dead before he took two steps.
The leader conferred momentarily with the second figure and then looked into the clearing.
"Damn it," Peck muttered under his breath. "Come on . . . Just a little more." He needed the soldiers to step into the clearing. He had to take them both down before they could react and scramble back to the trees for cover.
Peck saw the leader bob his head and both soldiers stepped forward. The leader moved slowly. His head shifted to the left and right, a hunter looking for signs of his prey.
Behind the fallen tree, Peck took a deep breath, let out half and peered through the scope. As the leader stepped into the thin grey light, his face became visible. Sweat beaded the leader's upper lip and his eyes continued to swing from side to side, never focusing on one spot. The man's lips moved quickly – a quiet, but abrupt order. Then he turned his head to the right.
Peck squeezed the trigger.
He did not see the leader collapse because he had already spun the M40 toward the second soldier. In a smooth movement, Peck slid the bolt into place and fired his second shot. Without waiting to see the bullet strike home, Peck turned and began to scramble to the denser cover of the trees behind him.
He expected to hear the popping of an AK-47 behind him. He expected a stream of bullets to fly by his head and tear into the leaves in the bushes around him.
Nothing. Only silence and the sound of his own breathing.
Reaching the protection of the denser trees, Peck jumped over one that had fallen, slid around its neighbor, and pressed his back against the trunk. His throat dry and his t-shirt soaked with sweat, he stayed there and willed his breathing and heartbeat back under control.
Still he heard nothing.
'Where is he?' Peck thought. There was another soldier. He must have heard the shots. He must be out there.
The jungle stayed silent, almost unnaturally so. Not even the sounds of the birds or monkeys chattering in the trees. The only noise was the pounding of his heart.
He remained still. Waiting for some telltale sign of the third soldier.
Maybe the man had been a figment of his imagination? Maybe there were only two.
He leaned forward and inched his head around the side of the tree.
The bark exploded above his head even before he heard the sound of the rifle. Leaves, ripped from the tree, flew into the air.
That was not a figment of his imagination.
Peck flung himself against the ground as bullets continued to rip through the leaves and thud into the ground just beyond his outstretched hands. Another thunk, this time followed by a small spray of wood, told him that a bullet had struck the stock of his rifle.
He was pinned down with no escape. Peck waited for a bullet to strike home.
BA had heard the splash and then felt something solid against his torso. It took a minute for it to register but then he realized what it was. A body. A VC body. Every few seconds, it bobbed against him. Thankfully, in his hiding place, he could not see the body. His head was behind the branches, in the air bubble.
'I'm stuck here with a dead body.'
That thought came unbidden, over and over.
'A dead body.'
It brushed against him again.
BA bit back the bile that was rising in his throat. There might be more VC out there. If he started puking, they might hear.
Besides, puking was a sign of weakness, and his Mama had not raised a weakling.
He was stuck here. Stuck with a dead body. And he had no idea if Peck was alive or dead.
That last thought rang home as he heard gunshots in the distance.
Peck lay flat, arms prone on the wet jungle floor, still waiting for the fatal shot. Rotting leaves pressed against his cheeks as he forced his head down. The bullets continued to slam into the ground, spattering mud onto Peck's rifle and arms. But there was no pain. No sound of bullet striking flesh.
Peck could only wonder why. Was the soldier toying with him? Taunting him with 'almost, but not quite' rounds? No. VC snipers shot their victims – first in one arm, then in the other. Sometimes they moved limb by limb, letting the wounded soldier scream until he bled to death.
Turning his head without lifting it, Peck looked behind him and suddenly understood. The sniper had fired too early. When Peck had dropped to the ground, the fallen tree had created a wall. The sniper had to shoot over that wall, but could not get an angle to strike Peck if he remained where he was.
But how long would that last? Sooner or later, the sniper would move or reinforcements would arrive.
He slid along the sloppy ground to the edge of the tree. It was nearly dark, but his blond hair might attract attention. Peck had a sudden thought. He scooped a handful of mud and ran it through his hair. He coated it as best he could, praying it would obscure his hair. Slowly, carefully, he peeked around the edge of the tree.
In the darkness, he could see no sign of the sniper. The jungle was eerily motionless and silent.
Peck tried next to get a sense of his surroundings. He was obscured from the sniper by the tree. To his left, about 20 feet away was another set of trees, but there was a clearing in front of them. Behind him, he realized for the first time, was a small creek.
The creek was too open. The sniper probably expected him to run in that direction, because it was away from the shooter, but once he reached the creek, he would be open game for anyone on either side.
He could not go that way. He had to go for the trees.
The next question was how fast. Did he crawl on his belly, hoping the sniper detected nothing, or did he run? Running would make noise, but if he crawled and was spotted, he would be a sitting duck.
Peck formed a plan. He felt around in the mulch until his hands found a rock. He started to sling the sniper rifle across his shoulders, but stopped. It would slow him down and might make him visible, but he felt safer with the rifle in his hands. He had dumped the CAR-15 when it ran out of ammunition.
He looked again. Still no sign of the sniper. Peck prayed silently that the man had not gone back for reinforcements. He only had about a half-dozen rounds left for the sniper rifle and he had only two magazines for his M1911. That was about 24 bullets total. If an entire unit of NVA regulars - or even a dozen VC - suddenly came at him, he would have no chance.
Oddly, his next thought was about Hannibal. What would Hannibal think when he got the news that Peck had been killed? He would probably go ballistic, but at who? Probably the next poor private who got in Hannibal's way.
Peck did not want to see that. Then he realized how absurd the thought was. If he was dead, he would not see Hannibal's reaction.
'Okay,' he thought. 'I don't want it to happen, even if I don't have to see it.'
In one swift motion, he spun and threw the rock toward the creek behind him. Without waiting to hear if it struck anything, he spun back and began racing to the trees to his left.
The crack of a gun shot echoed around him. He did not hear any bullets, though. 'Maybe he bit on the fake.'
He was nearly at the trees. Just a few steps more.
His foot caught on something.
Peck looked down, as he began to stumble, and saw the tiny wire.
He saw the movement from his left, and did his best to twist. But he could not get completely out of the way. Something strafed his left side, sending him falling to the ground. Pain shot through his ribs and he gasped for breath. He wanted to stay there, but then another thought popped into his mind.
'The sniper's still out there.'
Trying to ignore the searing pain, Peck scrambled for cover. He slid behind a tree. He sat, back pressed to the trunk, and looked over his shoulder in the direction that he had come.
The booby-trapped tree branch was now hanging in view. The blades that the VC had set along the branch reflecting the rising moonlight.
Peck ran a hand along his left side. It came away slick with blood. He had no way of telling how deep the wounds were. He tried to take a deep breath, but a sharp pain cut him off about halfway. He knew at least one rib was broken.
He couldn't run far. In the dark, it was nearly impossible. In the dark while injured, it was suicide.
'You don't have many options, do you?' he thought. 'No. They're disappearing fast.'
Peck made his call. He tossed the rifle onto the ground about five feet away, and pulled out his sidearm. He lay down on the ground, his arms crossed under his head. The hand that held the gun was beneath him, the barrel resting in the crook of his opposite arm. He put his head on the ground and looked in the direction of the booby-trapped branch. Then he emitted a pained groan.
He groaned again, realizing that it did not take much effort to make it sound convincing.
This time, he heard something. A shadow appeared behind the branch. Peck wanted it to come closer so he could get off a good shot. As it was, the shot was going to be a little risky, because he could not line it up with the handgun's sites.
He tried not to think of what he would do if there was more than one VC.
He remained motionless, but groaned once more.
The shadow moved forward, passing around the booby trap. Peck could see the rifle in the soldier's arms. A sniper rifle, like his. That was a good thing. Had it been a different rifle, Peck would have known the sniper was still out there. The bad thing was that the rifle was aimed directly at him.
The shadow said something in Vietnamese that sounded suspiciously like an order.
Peck had no idea what he was saying, but figured it was something he needed to pretend to be incapable of doing. He groaned again.
The shadow stepped closer. Peck could see the man's features for the first time. He looked young, maybe even younger than Peck.
The VC gave another order and too one more step, this time directly into the path of Peck's sidearm.
Peck pulled the trigger. As soon as the shot was off, he pushed back from the ground as hard as he could and rolled away.
There was a loud explosion as the VC's rifle went off. The ground where Peck had been lying exploded in a mass of mud and leaves.
Then there was silence. Peck was on his back, gasping for breath. The effort of jumping had left Peck in agony. His side felt like it was torn open and he could feel the heat and the wetness of his blood running down his leg.
'I just want to die,' he thought.
But he couldn't. He had to get back to BA, and they had to get back to their base. With more painful effort, he managed to turn back in the direction of the VC. The man lay motionless. On his hands and knees, Peck crawled to the figure. He did not have to check for a pulse to know the man was dead. The man's dead eyes reflected the moonlight. Peck could make out the surprise in the man's face. He had realized just before the bullet struck home that his wounded quarry was far more dangerous than he appeared.
Peck took the man's gun and checked the body for ammunition and anything else that might be useful. The sniper rifle was American, the same model as Peck's, so the 10 additional rounds would come in handy. Then Peck also found a small first aid kit, also American issued. It had a few bandages, some gauze, and four tablets of aspirin. Peck downed the tablets dry. He then took the gauze and packed it against his wounded side. He pushed as hard as possible to staunch the flow of blood. Eventually, it seemed to slow, so he wrapped the bandages tightly around his midsection to hold the gauze in place. He also stripped the dead VC of his shirt - just in case he needed something else to use for a bandage. Then he felt along the ground until he found his own rifle. Using the right side of his fatigues, he did his best to wipe it clean of any mud.
By this time, the aspirin was beginning to kick in. It did not remove the pain completely, but dulled it. Now, instead of a searing fire that felt like he was being sliced by razor blades, he felt only a strong ache. That, he could get used to. It was a painful struggle to stand, but Peck managed.
He glanced at his watch for the first time since this ordeal had begun. It was too dark to read, so he pulled out a lighter he always carried. 18:10. Peck paused. That couldn't be right. It had to be later than that. He shook his wrist and looked again at the watch, then realized the hands were not moving.
'Must have broken when I was thrown from the jeep.'
With a sigh, he gave up trying to figure out the time. Then he began the slow hike back to BA's hiding place.
BA felt trapped. He was still hiding behind the branches and vines, with a dead body resting against his chest. He had never been claustrophobic, but he felt like he was going crazy. And he had no idea how long had passed since the dead NVA soldier had landed in the water next to him.
What if the VC came back to collect their dead? They would focus on the pool. Somebody would see BA. He needed to move. It had to be dark now. And he wouldn't go back. Just in case Peck came back.
'Peck is dead.'
He tried to suppress that thought, but it was hard to ignore. That stupid fool had run off with a bunch of VC on his tail. In the dark. Even supposing Peck survived being shot, he still would have to find his way back, and, no matter how good he had been in the field, BA doubted some rich kid from Los Angeles was going to be able to maneuver his way through the jungle to the pool.
No, BA was on his own.
Another gunshot echoed from the distance. Then there was more silence.
BA was losing his battle. He did not want to panic. BA Baracus did not panic. But he was in the dark, alone, and there was a body right next to him. He had to get out. He had to.
He flailed against the branches, trying to break through them. Then he dropped down into the water and tried to come up on the other side of the branches. His shoulder struck the dead VC, and he sank back down, striking the muddy bottom of the pool with his good foot. He pushed off the bottom but again hit the body, which was blocking his rise. His lungs began to feel the strain. He pushed off again, and using all of his strength, shouldered the body out of the way. Gasping for air, BA broke the surface.
Crawling out of the pool, BA lay prone on the ground. His lungs filled with the fresh air. He took a few minutes to recover before he looked around and tried to get his bearings.
This part of the jungle was nearly pitch black. He could see some moonlight faintly through the jungle canopy, but it barely penetrated.
It was probably a good thing. BA did not want to see the dead VC.
He tried to think. Usually, he left that for Hannibal, but he needed to get new cover - preferably dry - and wait until it got light. And he could not go too far, on the slim chance that Peck was still alive.
BA shook his head. Fool kid. This was all Peck's fault, but he still didn't deserve it. Nobody did. Not the guys from BA's neighborhood. Not even some rich white boy.
He started to stand up, but the pain in his ankle reminded him why he had taken cover in the pool in the first place. BA stayed on his hands and knees, and began to crawl. His knee struck something hard and he felt around on the dark ground.
A gun. Of course, the VC had been armed. BA picked up the rifle. Then, shoving aside his revulsion, he checked the body and pulled out a few magazines.
Without standing, BA dragged himself to the treeline. He looked in the direction of the jeep wreck, but could only see the outline of the vehicle. He could not see any signs of movement, which gave him some comfort.
Still, he knew better than the return to the wreck. The VC may have booby trapped the vehicle. Their booby traps were inventive, unpredictable, and deadly. BA had seen men fall to their deaths into holes filled with spikes and others be impaled when tripped wires sent bamboo whips swinging into their midsections. None of those would be in the jeep, but there were plenty of explosive booby traps they might use for unsuspecting grunts who investigated the wreck.
BA looked around the jungle. He had to move away from the pool in case the VC came to collect the body, but he would stay relatively close. He could take cover in the trees. In this darkness, if he remained silent, a large contingent of VC could walk right by him and never know he was there. Taking care to put no weight on his foot, he slid along the muddy ground and braced himself behind some thick trees. These would do.
He let out a deep sigh, tried to ignore the throbbing in his ankle, and settled in for a long night.
Peck ignored the pain in his side as he hiked back to where he left BA. He stopped a couple of times to catch his breath; he had pushed himself to his limits during the race through the jungle. He never sat down, however. He was afraid that, if he did, exhaustion would overcome him and he might not get back to BA.
After these short rests, he would continue to try to find his way back to BA. His only light came from his ever-present cigarette lighter, but he used it sparingly, only when he had doubts if he was going in the right direction - and then only to look for signs of the earlier chase.
The moon was high by the time Peck reached the location of the small pond. He found the body of the first VC that he had shot. Peck leaned close to the pond and ignored the daggers that stabbed at his ribs. In a very low voice, he called out, "BA, it's all clear."
There was no answer.
"BA?" Peck asked again, just a little louder.
Still no answer.
Peck used his rifle to poke through the branches. Nothing.
He pulled out the lighter and flicked it on. He looked at the ground. Someone had been moving, but there was no sign of a struggle. BA was injured; he couldn't walk.
Peck had given him an order to stay hidden, and he had disobeyed it. Now Peck was all alone, injured, and in the middle of the jungle possibly surrounded by hordes of Viet Cong.
BA had crouched low when he heard the sound of someone moving through the jungle. Whoever it was was making little effort to be silent.
Only the VC would be so brazen.
BA readied his rifle, aiming it in the direction of the noise. He could barely see the person; it was little more of a shadow in the darkness. He felt a sinking sensation in his abdomen. The figure could not be Peck; some of Peck's blond hair would have been visible even in the limited light.
'Fool, kid,' BA thought again.
The shadow stopped next to the dead VC. BA thought it said something, but could not make out the words. He said something else.
'Did he just-?'
No, it was BA's mind playing tricks on him. The shadow had noted call BA's name. Peck was dead.
BA began to pull the trigger.
His finger stopped. The figure seemed to be doing something near the pond, almost as if it knew BA was hiding there. Then a light flickered on.
Standing out in the open with a light like only a fool would.
It had to be.
"Over here," BA called out in a low voice, before adding, "And, Fool, kill that dang light."
Peck had shaken his head as he heard BA's voice. "Fool." It was not exactly foolish to try to see if BA was alive using the only light source Peck had. But he was not going to argue. He just had to let it slide. If he reacted, it would only embolden BA. Not that would stop him much. What was next? Was BA going to call him a "cherry"? Probably.
As he flicked off the lighter, Peck made the decision not to mention his wounds to BA. They hurt, but were hardly life-threatening. The last thing Peck needed was a lecture about being a "cherry" and not noticing booby traps. So he moved slowly to where he had heard BA's voice, but made an effort to hide being injured.
It was a good hiding place, one that Peck had overlooked as they had ran into the jungle. The trees formed a tiny copse that allowed them coverage from every direction, but with enough gaps that they could see 360 degrees. The moon was sufficiently high that they would be able to see any VC, or at least their shadowy forms moving through the jungle or along the road.
"You dang fool," BA muttered as Peck entered the copse.
Peck slowly sank down to the ground, doing his best to ignore the pain shooting along his side. "I see you missed me," he said, sarcastically. "Just like I see you listened to orders."
"Fool orders, too," BA said. "Leavin' me like some sittin' duck with the VA while you go off runnin' through the jungle. They coulda had me. That one was looking at me in the pond."
"You're welcome," Peck snapped back. He leaned his back against a tree and let out a deep breath.
"Uh . . . yeah . . ." BA sounded sheepish, as if he had just remembered what had happened to the soldier who had seen him. Then he sounded like he was trying to change the subject. "So what now?"
Peck started to sigh, but a stabbing pain in his side cut it off. He paused, then added, "I guess we wait."
BA hated waiting. His ankle was throbbing; he was pretty sure it was broken. That was Peck's fault. If they had left Da Nang earlier - and if BA hadn't been so mad - they would have seen the ambush before it hit the jeep.
"Any idea what time it is?" Peck asked from BA's right.
BA snorted. "Thought you was the super-soldier. Can't you tell from the moon and stars?"
"Humor me, BA."
So the rich kid wasn't perfect. BA looked up at the stars. "Probably about 20-hundred."
It was too dark to tell if Peck nodded, but he said, "Okay . . . about eight hours til morning. Maybe we can get the jeep running."
BA snorted. "No way, fool. That jeep ain't goin' nowhere. 'Sides, Hannibal will have a slick up in the air at first light. Probably with that crazy fool Murdock flyin' it."
"Murdock's not crazy," Peck said.
"Course he is." BA rolled his eyes. "Any man goin' 'round believin' elves live under his hootch is crazy."
"It's just his way of getting to you," Peck said. "And if there are no elves, how did Murdock's dirty socks disappear overnight and get replaced with new ones?"
"Right, they came from elves," BA muttered. "I just don't remember seein' you runnin' 'round in green tights and pointy shoes."
"Murdock don't need nobody feedin' his foolishness," BA continued.
"It's harmless," Peck protested. "What's the big deal?"
"The big deal is we need Murdock's head in the game - just like we can't go off on your fool runs like this."
"This wasn't a fool run," Peck shot back. BA was surprised. Except for Peck yelling while they were fleeing the jeep, BA had never heard the lieutenant sound so angry.
"Yeah, right," BA said. "You-"
He bit back his words. There was a hum in the distance. Something was coming down the road.
Peck heard the noise, too. He had been using the debate with BA as a way of distracting himself from the aching in his side, but now he focused on the noise.
"You think it's one of ours," he whispered.
There was a long pause. Peck thought BA was trying to figure out the sounds. It was definitely an engine.
"Don't think so," BA said. "Don't sound like a jeep, and ain't no tank. We'd better get down."
Peck agreed. He grimaced as he lowered himself to the wet ground.
"Why does the damn jungle have to be so wet?" he muttered.
"Shut up, fool," BA answered. "They're comin' closer."
Peck knew that. On the road, he could see some lights. A small truck approached the wrecked jeep.
"Gotta be VC," BA whispered.
Peck nodded. Only the VC would move so brazenly through this area. 'Keep going,' he prayed. 'Keep going. Don't stop.'
The truck stopped.
Peck readied his rifle. How many bullets did he have left? About 15 in the sniper rifle, and then the magazines for his sidearm.
Through the scope on his rifle, he could see several shadowy figures climbing off the truck. He tried to see if he could identify the leader.
That was something Hannibal had once said. 'Take out the brains, and the brawn can't function.'
It was just too dark to make out anything. If they were going to start shooting, they would probably have to take out the brawn as well as the brains.
"How many shots do you have?" he whispered to BA.
"Not enough," came the reply.
"Okay," Peck said. "We stay down and hope they go right by."
As silently as they could, they both pulled leaves over their prone figures. Special Forces 101. Peck made sure his rifle was down, the metal covered so it did not reflect any light.
The pain in his side was growing in intensity. He couldn't think about that. He needed to push the pain away, focus on the VC.
The shadows were moving around the jeep. Peck could hear voices jabbering in Vietnamese, but could not make out any words. Not that his limited Vietnamese would help much.
Some of the figures were approaching the line of trees. One had lit a small torch. Peck lowered his head, doing his best to make sure any of his pale skin was hidden.
His heart was pounding so hard, he was sure the VC would hear. How could they not.
The footsteps came closer. He heard the leaves of the trees ripple as the VC entered the jungle. The torch waved in the air, only five feet away. Peck could see the illuminated face of the VC soldier holding the torch.
'Don't look down.'
He could feel sweat running down his face. It itched, and he wanted to wipe it away, but he remained frozen, every muscle taut.
The soldier with the torch barked something at the others, and then they turned, and headed back out of the trees.
Peck forced himself to remain still. He did not even move his head to get a better look at where the VC were going. It could be a trick, he reminded himself, even as the voices seemed to get softer.
He waited. Next to him, BA stayed still also.
It had to be 10 minutes before Peck even turned his head so he could look back through the trees at the road. He moved slowly, so as not to make any noise.
The truck was still near the jeep and Peck could see the shadows moving around the wreckage.
"Layin' traps," BA whispered.
Peck didn't respond. The less words said, the better. But he understood what BA meant. The VC were probably rigging the jeep to explode. If American soldiers searched the wreckage, they might trigger the device - a grenade with the pin compressed by a box; a trip wire to a device under a wheel.
Nobody moved in the immediate vicinity of their hiding place.
"'Kay," Peck finally whispered. "We don't move until they leave."
They did not move again for at least 30 minutes. BA's muscles were cramping from holding so still, and the pain from his broken ankle felt like a dagger stabbing his lower leg.
Finally, he heard the rumbling of the truck engine again. The shadowy figures of the VC climbed back into the truck. One, two, three . . . BA counted until he got to 12, the same number of shadows that had climbed off the truck in the first place. Then the truck's headlights turned on and it drove off down the road.
BA waited another five minutes before he sat up. He leaned against a tree.
God, his leg was killing him. It was like when he was a kid and broke his leg playing pee wee football. It had taken a long time for the coach to get a stretcher, and his Mama had yelled at the coach the entire time for letting 'her baby Scooter' suffer. BA been teased mercilessly for weeks - until he clubbed Jimmy Jefferson with one of his crutches.
BA reached down to try to see if he could feel where the break was. Big mistake.
He tried to swallow a yelp, but a little of it escaped. It came out more as a quick, high-pitched noise than an actual cry of pain.
Peck was on him in an instance. His hand again cupped BA's mouth.
This time, BA did bite back.
Peck let out his own sharp cry as he fell back. He stumbled back, and fell to the ground.
"Don'cha do that again, sucka," BA growled.
"For Christ sake," Peck muttered. BA could make out the lieutenant a few feet away. "You want to give us away?"
"Ain't no one out there," BA said, rolling his eyes. "They're gone."
"Oh, and how do you know that? They could've left a few guys behind to watch the jeep."
BA shook his head. Cherry officers were the worst, especially when they were know-it-all rich kids like Peck. "Twelve VC got out of the truck. Twelve VC got back in."
There was a momentary silence, punctuated by an "Oh."
Peck broke it first. "You're leg hurting?"
"Yeah," BA replied. "Busted the ankle."
"I . . ." Peck sounded hesitant. "I . . . well, maybe I could make a splint. We'd need to use the lighter, though." He paused again. "You sure they're not out there?"
"Yes," BA said, frustrated. "Didn't you think to count?" For good measure, he muttered, loud enough for Peck to hear. "Damn fool cherries."
"Okay, okay," Peck shot back. "No, I didn't count. I was trying to see if I could get a shot at the leader."
BA snorted. Like that was possible in the dark. "Cherry."
Now Peck was starting to get mad. His side was aching, he thought he could feel the blood flowing from the wound again, and BA kept calling him a 'cherry.' After four weeks of patrols with Hannibal Smith's A-Team, Peck knew how to handle himself in the field. If he made mistakes, he would hear about them from Hannibal. He didn't need BA's attitude. Especially right now.
"You know, BA, this 'cherry' just saved your life," he finally said. "How about some gratitude?"
"Yeah, right, thanks," BA said derisively. "If you hadn't dragged me on your booty run, wouldn't be in this mess, would I?"
Peck felt his fury begin to rise. No, he had to keep it in check. Getting angry had gotten him into a lot of trouble in his life. He was no longer the angry kid. He was a soldier - an officer and a gentleman, right? He would not get into an argument.
He sighed. "It wasn't a booty run. It was a supply run, BA. You know that. Full authorization from Hannibal."
"I'm sure," BA said. "And Hannibal knew about the girl. And the contraband you takin' back ta base."
Peck fought to keep his voice even. "Hannibal knew about the trip and the supplies."
"Yeah? So tell me what was in those boxes? I heard the bottles, so some booze? What else?"
'Stay calm,' Peck whispered. He had been grilled before - plenty of times. He took a deep breath and counted to five for good measure before he answered. "Scotch for Major Harrison. And a new 'prick' for Ludwicki, so he doesn't get electrocuted if we need him to call HQ during a storm." Peck sighed. "The VC probably have the radio by now."
"Figures, only thing useful in the whole mess," BA said. "Can't believe you nearly got me killed for some booze."
"Goddamn it, BA, it's not just booze. It's currency." Peck could not stop his frustration this time. "You think it's easy to get all those things we need? Remember how you wanted that new M-60 two weeks ago? How do you think you got it so fast? Those things normally take three months, a half-dozen requisitions, and then - and only then - you might get one if some REMF clerk in Saigon hasn't decided to sell the whole lot on the black market for a hundred bucks."
"And booze changes that?" BA asked. It sounded more like a challenge than a real question.
"You damn well know it does," Peck shot back. "A case of scotch to the division quartermaster, a one-week pass to Hawaii for his contact in Saigon and, voila, instant killing machine."
BA didn't respond. Good. Peck decided he had won the argument.
"Now, do you want this 'cherry' to splint your leg, or not?"
BA stewed silently while Peck prepared the splint. It hurt like hell, but he wouldn't give that know-it-all the satisfaction of seeing weakness.
Once Peck had done what he could, BA sank back against the tree. He was sweating profusely and the inside of his cheek was bleeding from where he had bitten through the skin. But he had not said a word.
Peck flicked off the lighter and moved back over to his tree.
BA closed his eyes. Just for a minute.
Peck listened to BA's soft snores. He debated waking BA, but decided against it. Might as well let him sleep for a little while
This was actually better. If BA was awake, he would probably keep talking and Peck would have to fight being angry some more.
He knew he couldn't get angry. That was not the man he was now. Maybe it was the poor orphan and the guy who had been dumped by Leslie, but it was not the smooth, suave soldier. That guy just let the jibes and nasty comments slide off him with a sly grin, like he got the joke and appreciated it.
Peck let out a breath. It cut short as he felt a stabbing in his ribs.
That was the downside of letting BA sleep. The verbal sparring took his mind off the pain.
But with BA asleep, Peck might be able to check out the wound. He pulled out his lighter and flicked it on. Slowly, biting back at the pain, he peeled away the bandage. Under the flickering flame, he examined the injury.
'Don't panic,' he told himself. 'Look at it calmly.'
The blood was flowing freely again. Peck was sure that had happened when he had jumped over to quiet BA. He could see several slices to the skin; the bamboo whip must have had multiple blades. How he had avoided being impaled completely was probably a miracle. He ran his fingers over the wound, flinching at each touch. He didn't think any of his ribs were broken, but the blades had dug fairly deep and there might be some muscle damage.
He took out the shirt he had taken from the VC soldier. He tore it into a couple of strips. One strip he wadded up and pushed hard against the wounds to stop the blood. When he thought the flow was slowing, he wrapped another of the cloth strips around his midsection and tied it off.
The aspirin was beginning to wear off. So far, the pain had been more of a dull ache, with occasional stabbing when he moved quickly. But it was increasing.
Peck looked in the direction of BA's snores. Maybe he should say something. But then what? He would have to listen to more of BA's comments for a few hours. Besides, there was nothing BA could really do in the darkness. It could wait until morning.
How much longer would it take before help arrived? He looked up to see if he could tell anything from the stars, but it looked like some clouds had moved in. There was no moon, no stars.
He leaned his head back against the tree and sighed.
What was he doing here? Stuck in the jungle in the middle of the night was not what he had expected from his life. It had been less than a year since had been in school, with a student deferment that would keep him out of the war, and plans to get married to Leslie.
And then what? Leslie dumped him and he enlisted. Why? He must have been temporarily insane. He had convinced himself that this was a chance to do something 'real' with his life. And was the most 'real' thing you could do in the army? Go to Airborne and then the Green Berets. He could have arranged a desk job in Saigon, but why? He didn't need to enlist in the first place. He could have stayed in school if he wanted to sit at a desk.
'I must have been insane.'
This wasn't exactly John Wayne living larger than life on the beach.
Peck pulled his arms around himself. It was getting cooler. BA's snores continued. It would be nice to sleep for a little. Peck was feeling tired.
He debated waking BA again. Maybe it was his own turn to sleep. No. He could be the stronger one, show BA that he could be tough enough to hold down the fort during the night.
With that decided, Peck let out another sigh and stared out into the blackness.
BA cheered with the crowd as his Mama walked into the church social hall. She looked so surprised. A big banner reading "Happy 50th, Adele" hung along the wall. All of his Mama's friends crowded around her.
Then it was like time stopped.
His Mama looked up and saw him. Her jaw dropped a little and her eyes widened, and then became misty.
"Scooter . . . ."
"It's me, Mama," he said, crossing to her.
She wrapped her arms around him so suddenly that he almost lost his balance. He felt his beret go flying.
"Oh, Scooter . . . How?"
"I couldn't miss this," he said. "Your big birthday. Not even a war could keep me away."
She pulled out of the hug and touched his cheek. Tears ran down her face. Then she wrapped her arms around him again. Gripping him. Tight.
"Mama," he gasped.
He couldn't breathe. The air . . . The party hall began to grow hazy. The streamers and balloons melted into a wall of fuzzy color.
The colors disappeared altogether. He was in the dark. The jungle. Vietnam. His Mama's birthday was still a few weeks away.
But he still couldn't breathe. A hand was covering his face. Peck's hand.
"Shhh. There's someone out there."
Peck had heard the noise in the distance. It was not a vehicle, but something was definitely moving out in the direction of the wrecked jeep. He tried to see what it was, but without any moonlight, it was impossible.
His eyes seemed a little foggy, but it was probably the darkness. What was that noise? It didn't sound like a person. Or did it? Was that what a person moving around a wrecked jeep sounded like? He was not sure.
To Peck's left, BA let out a grunting snore.
They needed to be quite. More than anything else, they had to keep silent. Peck spun around and slapped his hand over BA's mouth to stop him from shouting something as he woke up.
"Shhh. There's someone out there."
BA said nothing, but pushed him away. Peck fell back, his side screaming in pain. He pushed himself to his hands and knees, panting.
"Where?" BA whispered.
Peck took a few shallow breaths. Every breath was accompanied by the stabbing pain. Finally, he panted, "By the jeep."
BA crouched against the tree. The moon had disappeared, so he could not see who or what was moving by the jeep. He could hear the same sounds that Peck had heard.
Had the VC come back? Had they left someone behind when they drove off before? BA had counted, but maybe his count was wrong. It had been dark and he had been counting shadows.
He heard the clink of glass. Probably the bottles of booze that had been thrown out of the jeep. To BA's right, he could hear Peck breathing rapidly.
There was a shuffling sound by the jeep. Like something big.
'That's not a-'
The entire road erupted in a ball of fire.
BA jumped back in surprise. The bright flash from the explosion blinded him.
Something was crying out.. It wasn't a human sound. BA blinked a few times and then looked back in the direction of the burning jeep.
The source of the noise was a water buffalo. Its entire side was on fire. The flames burned with a blue tinge, probably a mixture of gasoline and alcohol.
The animal surged forward toward the jungle, continuing to let out the loud groans that water buffalo made. The animal stumbled, then roared again. The flames continued to lick at its hide. In the light of the fire, BA could see the animal's wide pupils.
BA heard a loud crack.
The buffalo fell to the ground.
He spun in the direction of the noise. Peck was lowering his rifle. The light from the fire reflected off his pale skin and he was breathing heavily. His face looked slick with sweat.
"Why did you do that?" BA yelled, not caring if anyone heard them. "Why?"
Peck did not take his eyes off the dead animal, then said, almost like he was not sure of himself, "It was dying."
"You don't know that," BA said. Why? He knew Peck was right. But there was something in the way Peck responded that sent BA over the edge. In his mind's eye, he could picture a slightly older Peck in some wood-paneled room pointing at a mounted water buffalo head on a wall. Like it was a trophy. That just fueled BA's anger. "You don't know . . . It might have made it to the river. It might have known where to go."
Peck didn't say anything.
"You didn't have to kill it," BA said, finally.
Peck laid down his rifle. BA thought Peck looked funny, not like the always-confident guy from the base. Peck also appeared confused, like he could not figure out what to say. Finally, he just muttered, "I did what I had to do."
BA felt the familiar anger grow as he listened to the arrogant SOB. "That what you think? You think an animal like that has to be killed? For what? You going to take its head and put it on some wall? Bet that's where you think animals should go."
Peck shook his head and looked straight at BA, his lips forming something like a bemused grin.
"Don't give me that smug-ass look," BA snapped. "You think you're so much better than everyone else."
"I never said that," Peck said.
"Don't need to say it. It's plain on your face." BA could feel his nostrils flaring. He was going to tell Peck exactly what he thought. "You're like every other white boy officer. You come in thinking your shit don't stink. You stick around for a few months, then get transferred to some cushy job as a REMF where you'll brag about 'being in the shit.'"
"That true?" Peck said, looking at BA with a mix of confusion and amusement.
"Yeah," BA said emphatically. "And then you'll go home and everyone will act like you're such a big shot because you were in the Green Berets, but we'll know you were just a pretender. But you'll act the hero. Daddy will take you to the country club and all his white friends will buy you drinks and say how proud they are. And you'll tell them about what it was like bein' in the jungle; maybe you'll even tell them 'bout being ambushed. But you'll never tell them it was your own fool fault."
"I see," Peck said. "Daddy'll take me to the country club?"
"Course he will," BA said.
Peck leaned back and started to laugh.
Peck continued to laugh. "You're so full of shit. If you weren't already black, your ears would be turning brown."
Even with his injured leg, BA shot forward. He grabbed Peck by the collar and shoved him to the ground. Peck yelped as he fell backward.
"Don't you talk to me that way!" BA yelled. He balled his hand into a fist and drew it back, preparing to strike.
BA's leg exploded in pain. He shrieked. His vision blanked out, replaced with flashing white stars. He fell to the ground, rolled over, and clutched his leg.
He continued to howl in pain. Hot rivers of pain ran up his leg, shooting from the ankle to the knee. BA rolled back and forth, still holding the leg protectively. It took some time for what happened to register.
Incredulously, he said, "You kicked me."
To his right, he could hear Peck gasping.
BA turned his head. Peck was on his hands and knees. His head hung low and he looked like he was hurting.
"Why'd you kick me?" BA asked. "I've got a broken leg."
Peck coughed. "You didn't give me much choice." He turned his head so BA could see his face, which was pale and sweaty. Peck's eyes looked unfocused. "Look," he said, weakly, "can we just get through this night without killing each other?"
The searing pain in BA's leg told him not to argue. He remained flat on his back, only his head turned toward Peck.
Peck finally sat up. The supply of gasoline and alcohol must have been running out, because the light was dimming. Peck slid back, slowly, to the tree, and leaned back heavily against it.
"I didn't hurt you too much?" BA asked. The last thing he needed was to be sent to the brig by another officer.
"No," Peck muttered. "You didn't do anything."
BA nodded. "You shouldn't have laughed at me."
Peck snorted. "Maybe not, but you should've heard yourself." He lifted his head slowly, and looked up at the canopy of leaves. In a tired voice, he said, "You know nothing about me, and you act like you know my entire life."
"Been 'nough white boy officers through the base," BA said, starting to get angry again. "I know the score."
"Maybe you know about them," Peck replied. "But you don't know me. Country club? Hell, the only time I've ever been to a country club was one time I tried to caddy for some guys. Heard you can make good money doin' that."
BA didn't say anything. He just listened.
"They kicked me out after the third hole when they realized I couldn't tell a driver from a 5-iron," Peck said.
"So what?" BA shot back. "You ain't never been to a country club. That ain't the point. The point is you've got it better than most of us."
"Why? Because I'm white?" Peck said.
"Yeah! Don't you get it, Peck? You whites have it easy," BA explained. "Guys like you come and go all the time. They come in, do a few months, and then go off, all the time."
"A few months in Special Forces?" Peck asked.
BA hesitated. No, he hadn't seen it in Special Forces so much, but Peck was such a con artist, he probably rigged it so that he would get assigned to the unit. Any way, that was not the point. "Don't change the subject," BA barked. "It happens all the time. The rich white guys cycle in and out fast. So who's doin' the grunt work? Mostly blacks and Chicanos. And nobody cares. Nobody cares if its 'niggers' and 'spics' going back in body bags."
Now Peck got angry. "For Christ's sake, this isn't about black and white," he exclaimed, showing more emotion than BA had ever seen. The force of Peck's anger was shocking. Gone was the placid, almost mocking tone or even the tired calm. BA could no longer see Peck's face, but he was sure it was beet-red, the veins in his forehead were pulsing, and the muscles in his jaw were taut.
"You think anyone cares if I come back in a body bag? You think it's all about race? That only blacks and Chicanos are considered disposable? You've got no fucking clue.
"I die over here, and maybe one priest does a mass. Maybe. Probably someone from the orphanage who cuts mass short because he's got to get back to 50 screaming kids and make sure they've got rags to wear and slop to eat. Or maybe they don't even waste their time, and just let me get dumped in some grave at the Vet cemetery in Westwood with my name, rank, and date on a white cross that nobody will ever look at.
"So you think nobody cares if you die? Fuck you!"
Peck grew quieter. He sounded like he was gasping for breath again. After a minute, he added softly, "You'd have more people at your funeral than would ever show up at mine."
Peck fell back against the tree. He was out of breath and the entire jungle was swirling around him. Despite everything he intended, he had completely lost his cool. He had told BA everything - everything he had tried to leave behind when he enlisted. Everything.
He wasn't even sure what he had said. It had been a huge rant. Black and white. And then Peck had said stuff about a funeral, and a mass, and a cemetery. He had mentioned the orphanage; he was sure of that. Why? And why to BA Baracus of all people?
As far as Peck knew, only Hannibal had a clue about Peck's background. Right? Not because Peck volunteered any information. He just . . . He just figured Hannibal had checked him out. Peck had not told another soul. At least, he could not remember telling anyone. What had he told Murdock? It took him a minute to remember. Oh, right, something about how Peck was from California and left a girl behind - which was more or less, okay less, true. There was not much more to it.
BA's voice broke the silence. He sounded confused, unsure of what to say. "I . . . uh . . ."
"Shut up, Sergeant," Peck said. He did not want to talk any more. He did not want to think anymore.
BA felt like he had been gut-punched.. All that stuff about Peck had come totally out of the blue. BA was not even sure he could process it all. Peck had said something about a priest and an orphanage. Wow. Peck was an orphan. That . . . that just didn't seem to fit. Peck had been to college. Someone had said that.
BA had just assumed.
One of his Mama's sayings popped into his head. 'When you assume something, you make an ass out of 'u' and 'me.''
Oh, damn,' he thought.
He needed to say something.
"I . . . uh . . ."
"Shut up, Sergeant," came Peck's response. It was not angry. It just sounded tired. Weak. Defeated.
And then it hit BA. Peck had let them all believe he was some rich guy, because it was easier for him to face than the truth. He had been trying to hide who he was.
BA felt like a fool.
Peck was not sure how much time had passed in silence. BA said nothing, but Peck was sure the sergeant was still awake and looking in Peck's direction. But no words were exchanged.
He turned his head in the direction of the jeep, but he was overcome with another bout of dizziness. Peck shivered in the cold. His teeth actually began to chatter.
"Hey," BA said. "You okay?"
"Just a little cold," Peck replied.
"Cold?" BA sounded incredulous. "It's gotta be 80 degrees."
Something was odd about that. Peck tried to think of what it was, but he was confused.
"No, it can't be. It's colder than that," he insisted.
He heard shuffling as BA slid up beside him. In a gruff, demanding voice, BA asked, "When did you get hurt?"
"It's nothing bad," Peck said. His voice sounded a bit funny. "Just a few cuts."
BA shoved him to the ground. "Give me your lighter," he said.
Peck fumbled in his pockets. His hands seemed almost detached from his body.
'I'm in trouble,' he finally realized. He could not tell why, but he just realized that something was wrong.
BA pushed Peck's hand aside and found the lighter himself. He flicked on the flame and began examining Peck's side.
"You stupid fool, why didn't you say nothin'?"
Peck laughed weakly. "Suddenly you care, BA?"
"Goddamn it, Peck," BA said. "You saved my life, and I feel like a damn fool for what I said, okay? I'm the biggest fool in this godforsaken country and if my Mama knew how I'd been treatin' you, she'd take me out back and give me a hidin' like you ain't never seen."
About half of that registered to Peck. He chuckled at the idea of anyone giving BA Baracus a whipping.
"You're not a fool, BA," he said.
"Well, I feel like one, now," BA said.
Peck cried out as BA pressed down on a rib. "Stop . . ." he begged.
"I had to check for breaks," BA explained. "Don't feel none, but you're going into shock. I'm going to find something to put your legs on. Gotta keep them up. And then you gotta keep silent and calm. Keep that heart rate down."
'That makes sense,' Peck thought. 'Shock.' He could not remember exactly what that meant, but BA sounded like he knew.
Peck did not resist when BA lifted his legs and put them on something. It felt like a piece of wood or a rock. Peck could not tell. BA tilted Peck's head to the side.
"Wha-" he asked.
"Just to make sure nothing gets clogged in your throat," BA explained. "Now you just stay quiet, okay? It's just a few hours until Hannibal and Murdock get here."
Peck nodded, but then remembered something.
"Hey, BA?" he asked. "Tell me about your Mama. Anyone who can give you a hiding is someone I need to know about."
BA felt like an idiot, but he started talking. He never really talked about himself, but Peck had said more to BA than he had probably told anyone in the unit, so it was right to return the favor.
So he talked. He talked about growing up in Chicago. He talked about his mom and dad, and how his dad had been beaten to death for helping some neighbors. He talked about how angry he had been after that, and how, first chance he got, he signed up to fight. Not because he believed in the war, but because he wanted to fight someone and it was probably better to do it over here than in the World, where he'd probably get tossed in jail.
Peck stayed silent, listening, as BA talked. Good. That was another part of the idea. If BA kept talking, Peck would not. He would stay quiet and calm, lowering his blood pressure.
How had BA missed the signs of shock? He had heard Peck gasping for breath at times. And he had seen how pale and sweaty Peck had been. BA had even noticed that Peck seemed confused at times.
Those were all classic cases of shock.
But why would BA have thought of shock? Peck had never said anything about being injured.
'Dang stupid fool.'
The kid had hit a bamboo whip; BA had seen enough guys impaled on them to know the signs. What kind of fool gets hit like that and says nothing?
And then, suddenly, BA understood.
The same guy who did not want to reveal a past probably full of pain and rejection, who acted like he knew everything, and who only let the world see a picture of success and future promise would do anything possible not to appear weak.
Especially to someone who was already judging him.
'Dang stupid fool.'
But who was he thinking about? Peck or himself?
The next few hours crawled by. BA had finished describing some of his early missions with Hannibal, and had begun talking about his Mama's upcoming birthday and how his aunts were planning a big party at the church social hall, when he heard the unmistakable sound of a Huey. He instantly knew it was Murdock.
Only then did BA realize that the sun had risen.
He looked down at Peck. His eyes were closed. His skin was pale, with a bluish tint, and was slick with sweat, despite BA's attempts to keep him dry.
'Oh no,' BA thought. He added a silent prayer, 'Please, God.'
He reached out and touched Peck's neck, trying to find a pulse. It seemed like time stood still, the sound of the chopper ringing in BA's ears but nothing else moving or making sounds. And then, BA felt it.
Weak, thready, but a pulse.
"You stay alive, Peck," he whispered. "The cavalry's here."
BA reached for the tree and pulled himself up to his feet. He couldn't put any weight on his ankle, so he stood on one foot and grasped the trunk of the tree.
He had to get the attention of the chopper. Murdock would not see them in the trees. But there might also be VC out there. The Huey would probably attract their fire.
It did not matter. Peck's life depended on them getting out of here. He had saved BA's life the night before. Returning the favor was the least BA could do.
BA began to hop.
He hopped from the tree he was holding to another. He took a few breaths, and then hopped to another, and then another. With each tree, he approached the clearing.
And then he was in the clearing, hopping with all his strength. If there were any VC nearby, BA would be an easy target, but he did not stop. On one foot, he hopped up and down, waving his arms wildly over his head to get the attention of the approaching Huey.
"DOWN HERE!" he yelled. "DOWN HERE!"
The chopper looked like a speck as it came toward the clearing. He continued to hop, wave, and scream.
Finally, someone leaned out the side and gave him a thumbs up.
'Thank you, Jesus,' BA thought.
He backed away as the chopper lowered to the ground, whipping up a swirling cloud of dirt and leaves. Two soldiers jumped out, M-16s at the ready. As the cloud dispersed, BA recognized them - Hannibal and Ray.
"Over here!" BA yelled, waving them in the direction where Peck was.
They rushed to BA's side. Ray put an arm around BA's waist, and let BA put an arm over Ray's shoulder.
Hannibal looked at BA. The question was evident in his worried look.
"Over there, just behind those trees" BA pointed at where Peck was lying. "He's in shock."
Hannibal nodded, and turned to Ray. "Get BA into the chopper."
BA started to protest. He wanted to help, but Ray followed orders. He always did. He turned, and dragged BA to the chopper. BA climbed into the back, as Ray followed him in. Ray trained his rifle on the jungle, looking for signs of enemy movement. BA had eyes only for one spot in the trees.
"Is he okay?" That was Murdock's voice from the front seat. BA had never heard the pilot sound so worried.
BA ignored the question. His attention was focused entirely on the treeline. 'Come on, come on,' he thought. 'What could be taking so long?'
Finally, Hannibal emerged carrying Peck in a fireman's carry. The colonel showed no signs of struggling with Peck's weight on his shoulders as he moved across the clearing. As they reached the Huey, BA got another glimpse of Peck's pale face. He was awake now. BA could tell, even though his eyes were shut tight, and his teeth gritted against the pain.
BA tried to reach for the door, but Ray shoved him aside and reached down to help pull Peck into the chopper. Hannibal vaulted inside.
"Get the hell out of here," he ordered.
As the chopper lifted off, Murdock called back. "Next stop Da Nang."
'Back to Da Nang, ' BA thought. 'Shoulda just stayed there overnight.'
Murdock's co-pilot, who doubled as the airborne medic, left his seat and came back to begin working on Peck. He discarded the bloody cloth that Peck had used as a bandage and began barking orders to Hannibal and Ray. They blocked BA's view, though he could see Hannibal rolling up his sleeves, getting ready for a transfusion.
"Come on, kid," BA whispered. "Don't die on me now."
It seemed like the entire night had been a series of moments that felt like they lasted forever. The flight was more of the same.
Why was it taking so long? The Evac hospital should have been coming into view.
Finally, BA could take it no longer. "Come on, Murdock," he yelled. "Get this damn thing moving. He's dying."
He tried to sit up. If Murdock wasn't going to fly this bird right, BA would take care of things.
Strong hands grabbed him and shoved him down. Ray loomed over him. "Shut up and sit down," he said, his voice a low growl that only BA could hear. "Kid's scared enough. He doesn't need you telling him he's gonna die. Not when Hannibal's telling him to keep fighting."
BA grabbed Ray's sleeve. "He's gonna live, isn't he?"
"We're doing what we can," Ray said in a voice tinged with doubt. "But you've got to stay calm so we can work. Now let me take a look at that leg."
BA wasn't sure if that was just a way of distracting him, but a minute later, Ray jerked his ankle, causing BA to scream loudly and pass out.
When he woke up, he was in a bed, under clean white sheets, and with a heavy weight on his foot. BA lifted the sheets and saw the white, plaster cast.
"You're awake. Good."
BA turned his head to see Hannibal sitting in the chair beside the bed. The colonel looked tired, like he had been on a LRRP for several days.
"What happened out there?"
BA sighed, trying to remember. Everything was a bit hazy, foggy. Probably from whatever they had given him for the pain. Morphine, most likely.
He tried to remember the night before. Or was it another day. He had no idea how long he had been out. He started to ask, but then remembered Hannibal's question.
"We got a late start out of Da Nang and got ambushed by a group of VC. The jeep flipped and I got this." He motioned to his ankle. "Kid, I mean, Peck pulled me to cover and then played decoy until he'd taken them out. He saved my life."
Then it hit BA that he did not how Peck was doing.
"Hannibal . . . Peck?"
Hannibal nodded. "He's out of surgery. They had to give him a lot of blood, but think he'll pull through."
BA nodded too. 'Thank, God.'
Hannibal stood up and patted BA on the shoulder. "You'll have to give me the details later, but you did a good job. Peck probably would've died without you."
BA felt a sudden wash of shame. "Colonel," he said quietly.
"I didn't even know he was hurt," BA admitted. "He never told me, and even though I should've realized it, I didn't . . . Not until it was almost too late."
Hannibal looked away, but he did not seem angry. "You'll learn to figure Peck out. He . . ." Hannibal seemed to be searching for words, before he finally said, "Peck's different from you. He keeps everything bottled up, doesn't want to look weak. He's . . . complicated."
BA shook his head, but he knew what Hannibal meant. He had seen it for himself the night before. "It's like he's got lots of different faces. You think you know who he is, but there's another face underneath and it's nothing like what you see."
"That's a good way to put it," Hannibal said. "'Lots of different faces.' Anyway, you get some more sleep. Murdock or me . . . we'll let you know how he's doing when we get another report."
"'Kay," BA said. Then he remembered something. Just as Hannibal reached the door, BA called out, "Hey, did you really know Peck was bringing a bunch of booze back from Da Nang?"
Hannibal turned around. "Booze? No."
BA brow furrowed. Peck had lied about that.
Hannibal chuckled. "Not booze. Scotch. I knew Peck was bringing back some 10-year old single malt scotch to send to the personal aide to the brigade commander so he'd authorize a one-week leave."
"A leave?" BA said. "Peck just got here."
"Not for him," Hannibal said with a shake of his head, as he walked out the door. "For you. He said it had something to do with your mother's birthday."
Da Nang - Two Months Later
BA shook his head and looked at his watch. 16:30.
'Faceman may change faces like other men change their drawers, but he sure don't change the way he operates.'
Why did it always take so long to get supplies? He looked again at the building and glanced again down the street. Some kids were playing a game with some sticks before they returned to their tiny hovels.
Dang it. BA was a busy man. He had only been back from Chicago for a week, and the demands were coming from all over. Ludwicki was complaining that the new PRC-25 needed some rewiring so it could pick up a better signal. Ray needed his M-60 overhauled and was still demanding that BA fix the hooch radio. The motor pool had two trucks and a jeep with engines so clogged with jungle muck that they could barely function. And the village school still needed finishing.
He started to yell for Face to come out, but stopped.
Face deserved the break. That had actually been one of the best parts of returning from his leave. Seeing Faceman back on his feet had been a blessing. Kid had lost some weight while in the hospital and had some nasty scars on his side, but otherwise he seemed back to normal.
Hell, even from his hospital bed, he had somehow worked out a deal that got BA the pass to go see his Mama. BA had no idea how Peck had managed it. By the time the pass arrived, BA was in Japan for treatment. The pass let him finish his rehab in Chicago and spend nearly a month with his Mama.
'So let the kid have some fun.'
Besides, they had the chopper this time. Murdock was waiting for them and would give them a lift home. No more evening drives through the jungle.
It was funny. They had never really talked about that night. What was it? Just about two months, but it felt like a year ago. The only time it had even been mentioned was at the Evac hospital. BA remembered saying thank you for saving his life.
"It's all part of being on the team," Peck had said as he looked at BA from the hospital bed.
BA had protested. "No, man, it's not. What you did . . . and after the way I'd been treating you. I . . . I'm sorry 'bout all that."
"Don't be," Peck said, blithely.
"But after what you told me-"
Peck cut him off. "Sergeant, I probably told you a lot of things that night. Probably about half of what I said was true. Okay?" He waved his hand dismissively. "Whatever I said, it's probably just best that you forget it."
There was a small quiver in Peck's lip that told BA everything he needed to know. What Peck had said in the jungle that night was true. But BA also understood that Peck wanted to keep that past separate from his life in 'Nam. For whatever reason, even if BA did not understand, he had to respect that.
There had been no further discussion. BA had been sent to Japan and then to Chicago, while Peck recovered and then returned to the unit. And BA doubted there would be any further discussion. That was how Face wanted it.
BA checked his watch again. 16:38.
He really had things to do back at the base - and Face had been there for awhile. He should've been done with whatever he was doing. And there was Ludwicki's "prick" and Ray's M-60.
His patience gone. BA reached for the horn of the jeep and pressed it. The loud blast echoed through the streets. He waited, but nothing. Nobody emerged from the building. BA resorted to plan B.
"FACE! GET OUT HERE, SUCKA."