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"Negative, Jolly," Court replied. "We're under fire from the side where the down trail is located."
"Phantom, this is Spectre," Gunship Charlie Branski broke in. "Maybe we can help. if you put that beacon on minimum distance and lay it in the middle of the helipad, we can maybe vector the Jolly down on top of it.
Our fire control system is out but our radar is okay. You copy?"
"Roger, can do," Court said.
"We're game," Joe Kelly answered.
"Get on with it, then," Branski said.
"I've got to get the beacon to the helipad," Court said to Wolf, who was busy shooting.
"Can you cover me?"
"They've got that pad zeroed in like they got us zeroed in.
We need some air support in here or we're dead." He said it so calmly, Court asked him if he was sure.
"Dead sure. They're gonna charge any time and we're gone."
Court looked around and spotted the Flaming Arrow pit.
"You have any thermite grenades?" he asked Mister Sam, who said he did.
"Spectre, Phantom. If I light up the Arrow, can you vector Phantom Zero Three in for a napalm run?"
There was a pause while Branski checked with his crew.
"Roger that," he answered. The infrared detection system still worked.
"I need at least five," Court said to Mister Sam.
"Got 'em," Mister Sam said, patting his ammo satchel.
"Zero Three, you ready for a napalm run?" Court asked Tanaka.
"Sure. Only one small problem. Ain't got no napalm and there's no way I can put a strike fighter in there."
"You got w.i.l.l.y Petes and fuel in your drop tanks?"
"Affirmative ... ah ha, good boy. Can do," Tanaka said with obvious excitement in his voice. He realized Court wanted him to fire his white phosphorous marking rockets to provide hot flames to ignite the fuel from the drop tanks that would burst when they smashed into the ground.
"You're Flaming Arrow-qualified, aren't you?" a voice from the ABCCC broke in.
"I will be on my first pa.s.s," Tanaka replied.
Court raised up and looked at the Flaming Arrow platform.
It hung askew, shredded and torn by fragments. He lay flat and said to Wolf and Mister Sam, "We gotta toss these out to make a V pointing at those guys. I'm in the middle, I'll throw long, you throw short." They agreed and each man took a grenade.
Court checked that the Spectre table nav and Tanaka were ready, and on his count they pulled the pins and tossed the grenades. They roared and threw up great flashes of illumination and white smoke.
In seconds Tanaka's jet flashed across the karst. Eight loud bangs sounded on top of each other as he rippled off his remaining rockets.
From under his wings the two fuel tanks tumbled to the ground, and a burst of fire erupted from the 20mm gun he carried under the belly of the airplanes In a roar of engines, he was gone in the clouds. They could smell the diesel fumes of the JP-4 jet fuel.
Nothing happened. The shooting had slackened slightly as the jet roared overhead, then resumed. Court thought he saw figures gathering for a charge.
"Here they come!" Mister Sam yelled.
"What's going on down there?" Joe Kelly yelled on the radio.
Court was too busy shooting to answer. Then a wisp of black smoke appeared at one edge of the jungle, then another, and a third, then with a gigantic whoosh the entire jungle went up in red flames that boiled hundreds of feet into the air, burning into the clouds. The reflected heat made the three men press into the earth, gasping and covering their heads. There were loud screams from the inferno that died off immediately. Two human torches staggered out and fell in ghastly heaps.
The wet jungle could not sustain the blaze, but it had been enough.
There was nothing living where the fuel had sprayed and ignited. They lay still for several minutes as it burned out.
The three men climbed to their feet, too awed at what they saw to speak.
Although the heavier leaves and palm fronds were too wet to burn, the heat had dried and curled them and all the small underbrush and gra.s.s was blackened cinders. What had been a green and impenetrable jungle was now a black and brown shriveled horror. On the far side they saw Hak's men start toward them, pointing their rifles and sweeping aside the cinders, looking for survivors. There were none. Mister Sam went to the bunker to get the two Powerses. Court called Tanaka.
"It worked-my G.o.d, but it worked!"
"s.h.i.t hot," Tanaka said. "But now I got to make it to the tank before I flame out. I don't want to see how far I can fly on no fuel."
Joe Kelly came up on the radio. "Tanaka, is that you, you sorry son of a b.i.t.c.h?"
"Kelly, you b.a.s.t.a.r.d, I've saved your dumb a.s.s again. Remember, green sparrows never wear pants. Red-Tagged b.a.s.t.a.r.ds Hang Together, Ta ta, off to the tank." And he was gone.
Court put the beacon in the helipad and called Spectre, who said they had a good fix. Minutes later Jolly Green 32 clattered out of the sky and touched down with a great whir and buzzing.
One Pi jumped out while the other and the crew chief manned the guns.
Court turned to help Mister Sam and Wolf carry Babs Powers on an improvised poncho litter. She looked pale and thin. Her leg was bound with blood-soaked bandages. Jerome Powers looked pale and distraught and seemingly oblivious to his wife's presence and condition. The PJ ran up and helped them steer the litter to the door of the big helicopter. He was dressed in camouflaged fatigues and wore a dark helmet with boom mike.
He stooped to take a quick look at the patient. Court saw his face twist in sudden comprehension and pain. On his helmet was painted his name: Dominguez.
"Barbara, oh Barbara," Dominguez breathed to himself, so low no one heard him in the noise of the helicopter. He carefully took her hand in his and looked at her with anguished devotion.
He had removed her picture from his wallet and started carrying it in a plastic case in the flight-suit pocket over his heart. This was the young Barbara Westin he saw now.
"You the helicopter guy?" she shrieked, not recognizing Dominguez.
"G.o.dd.a.m.nit, what took you so long? Get me out of this s.h.i.t hole." She jerked her hand free.
"Come on, get a move on," Jerome Powers yelled. Dominguez looked up in sudden recognition and was flooded for an instant with the conflicting memories of a teenager seriously in love.
But only for an instant.
"Shut up and get out of the way," Dominguez ordered.
Powers did not get a clear view of his face.
"See here . . ." Powers started, but Court cut him off and gave him an impatient push. "Get a move on, a.s.shole."
They moved the stretcher to the door of the helicopter, where PJ Two and crew chief Dan Bernick reached down to bring it aboard. Powers fussed and climbed in after his wife.
Manuel Dominguez turned to Court and Wolf. He had a dazed look on his face, and an odd half-smile. Her face has changed. That's no longer the girl in the photo.
"You okay?" Court asked.
"Yeah. Yeah, as a matter of fact, I am." His dazed look was rapidly changing to amus.e.m.e.nt. "I just saw what I used to think was the most beautiful girl in the world," he said wryly.
He started to laugh as he swung aboard, and was roaring above the noise of the blades when the helicopter lifted off.
Soon, bits of a torn-up photograph fluttered from the door.
0&30 Hours ]LOCAL, SAt.u.r.dAY 2 NOVEMBER 1968 HANOI CITY HOSPITAL.
HANOI, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM.
Flak Apple ignored the hot pokers of pain as he straightened his back and stood tall in front of the newsmen. It was all over now.
He had done what he could for his fellow POWs. Dancer had to take it from there. Now it was his time, time for his feelings and thoughts.
The tension and strain of his prisoner predicament was being overridden by his sickness over the killing of King and Kennedy. He blinked in the lights and tried to focus on the faces of the newsmen, to make eye contact, but no one outside of the j.a.panese and Connert would hold his gaze. The j.a.panese looked friendly, even sympathetic. Connert looked like a man about to explode.
"Yes, I have a confession," he began as cameras whiffed and shutters clicked. I confess to being a black man brought up in the United States. I confess to seeing and hearing some people say black men cannot function well and black men cannot contribute to the United States. I confess to a pain that penetrates deeper than I ever thought possible when I heard Reverend Martin Luther King had been shot and killed by a white man.
I have seen the news articles from American papers presented to us that show pictures of American students and professors and congressmen waving the Viet Cong flag and saying this is a bad war and the United States is wrong and Ho Chi Minh is right. I confess to thinking long and deep about those things right here in Hanoi."
Things were going so well that Thach risked a glance at the Chairman, who sat in the back row. His earlier frown had disappeared. The Chairman's normally inscrutable expression was almost benign. Behind him, Thach noticed the Chairman's aide from the War Office entering. Far from inscrutable, he looked to be bursting with information.
"And I have one final confession-the most important confession of all,"
Connert suddenly had a suspicion of what was to come and jumped to his feet.
"Just a minute!" he shouted. "Just a minute. How are you going to protect this man? How do we know he will remain alive after his confession? He looks very sick. You said yourselves he has a nurse. He is, after all, one of your most important prisoners. Can you guarantee after this confession that he will be alive a year from now? Alive and available for us to meet with him a year from now? the whole world is watching.
Can you guarantee this?"
Thach looked at the Chairman, who nodded almost imperceptibly. "Yes, we can guarantee that. He is, after all, departing with you," Thach said.
When Connert sat down, he deftly pulled the magazine from the hands of the speechless Shawn Bannister. At last he had the POW list.
Flak looked almost pained at the exchange. This was something he had not expected. He had made up his mind during the night about what he was going to say, and was quite prepared to take the consequences by himself. Help from any quarter was a surprise. He continued as he had planned.
"I have been told I can leave Hanoi for the United States if I make a sincere confession. Therefore, my final and most important confession is ... that I am an American fighting man and I believe in G.o.d and my country and that if America has ills we will cure them by ourselves. I will not leave Hanoi without my fellow American prisoners."
There was shocked silence. Connert resisted the impulse to stand up and cheer. He worked very hard at keeping his face straight. "Well, Jeesus," was all Shawn Bannister said. He and Connert were immediately hustled out of the room.
When the room was cleared, the Chairman threw the mortar pouch in Thach's face and signaled to an aide, who marched him out the door.
Thach's biggest regret was that he could not ravage that Co Dust wh.o.r.e and leave her dying in her own treacherous blood. The Chairman then told the guards to return the criminal Apple to a cell in Hoa Lo and to allow the nurse Co Dust to return to her duties.
The colonel with the War Office finally approached the Chairman. "It has failed. Our troops, the troops of our Laotian comrades, and the special forces of the Soviets have all failed.
We have no prisoners. The site the Americans call Eagle Station remains in their hands." In silence, the Chairman departed the hospital.
The Chairman sat back in his Peugeot as the driver fought the hen's-nest potholes. He was well satisfied. That idiot Thach was finally removed.
It was obvious, the Chairman knew, that the black man would never do in public what they had to beat out of him in private. Thach should have known that. No matter, the film of the black man boasting would never get out. All the journalists present were sympathetic to the cause of freedom in North Vietnam and would not release anything that would jeopardize that concept. And the Chairman was satisfied that the arrogant GRU man had been shown that his vaunted Spetsnaz was not as invincible as he had boasted. The Chairman did not care about the radar site. The bombing was over. That long-nosed pig Johnson had a.s.sured the world of that. It would have been interesting to capture Americans for display in Laos, but that was not to be.
The Most important event of all had Occurred exactly as he had planned.
That idiot Touby had been killed, as he had hoped. Now Bunth could run all the poppy products down to the American pigs in South Vietnam without that grasping Touby taking nearly half for himself. He almost smiled. Every American GI who gave in to his product was one less his forces had to face.
The Chairman thought about the American election. His sources a.s.sured him that man Hum-free would be elected. That would be nice. The Chairman would like to see him crawl on his knees to Hanoi.
2200 Hours LOCAL, TUESDAY 5 NOVEMBER 1968 DOLLEY MADISON BOULEVARD.
It had been a hectic weekend. Political pundits had never seen such dramatic events. On Friday, Americans were convinced peace was at hand.
On Sat.u.r.day, South Vietnam backed out of the peace negotiations. Sunday was a quiet day of reflection. Then Monday had dawned on the United States, with the astounding poll results taken by Louis Harris that Hubert Horatio Humphrey was ahead of Richard Milhouse Nixon by 43 to 40.
Less than two weeks before, the same Harris poll had placed Nixon over Humphrey by 9 points, at 44 to 36.
But today was election day and polls meant nothing. Gut feelings would out when the curtain was drawn at the polling booth and 73,000,000 Americans pulled the handle for the man of their choice. When it was all over, Richard Nixon had beat Hubert Humphrey by a mere 500,000 votes, 43.4 percent to 42.7 percent. Yet that was four times as much as the 112,881 votes by which Jack Kennedy had beat Nixon for president in 1960. George Wallace, with ex-SAC General Curtis LeMay as his running mate, had garnered nearly 14 percent of the votes.
Despite the intense controversy, only 61 percent of the voting public had turned out.
Nixon remained in Suite 35H of the Waldorf in New York until 11:30 Wednesday morning, when Humphrey telephoned to concede defeat. That evening he telephoned Whitey Whisenand.
"It's for you," Sal said. "Do you know a Chapin, Dwight Chapin?"
Whitey took the call on the extension in the library. He and Sal had been pleased with the election results, and the idea of having a Republican Commander in Chief for at least the next four years.
"General Whisenand-good evening, sir. I am Dwight Chapin, one of the president-elect's aides. Mister Nixon would like to speak to you, sir."
Whitey decided it was no joke and waited for Nixon to come on the line.