I decided a day or so ago to post a few chapters of the yet to be titled second book in the Gary Cannon Series. These are draft chapters and likely to change as they have had limited editing. I will also caution the reader as there are small pieces that are continued narrative from Killing Sanford so, if you have not finished or read Killing Sanford, I would stop here.
For those of you who did read the first in the trilogy, a majority of this book will be dedicated to filling in the gaps left from the end of Gary’s training to the time period before the start of Killing Sanford.
MARCH 29, 1967
The helicopter rose into the darkness. Above them gunships circled providing cover. Clearing the tree tops the craft picked up speed and banked left. Gary looked down and watched the LZ disappear. The second of five LZ’s the helicopters would slide into in the black night. Gary’s team would hop off the bird as it hovered just above the grass at the fourth LZ.
Until they reached their stop the team would wait, taking last moments of solace, allowing their minds to wander. Soon their thoughts would be singularly focused on the mission.
Gary took stock of his team. Pony sat in front of him AK-47 in his hands, long legs hanging from the open door. His size fourteens looked tremendous even in comparison to the skids just below them. Pony sang loudly, his rendition of “When a Man Loves a Woman” barely audible above the deafening noise of the rotors as they beat against the humid air. Thoughts of Pony’s off key singing made Gary thankful for the noise produced by the machine carrying them.
Pony’s pants rippled wildly in the rushing wind as he let his feet swing idly like a kid sitting on the edge of a table. As if he felt Gary’s gaze, Pony turned and stopped singing just long enough to give him a wink and thumbs up. Gary nodded back.
Bud leaned against the rear of the cabin, the door gunner above him and to his left. Bud’s eyes were closed. His right hand held lightly to the knife secured across his chest, left hand clutching the 150 round drum of his Stoner 63 keeping it from moving as the Huey maneuvered in the night.
Keogh was next to Bud. Like the rest the whites of his eyes were like beacons in the night in contrast to the face paint he wore. Keogh’s head never stopped moving, watching the left side, then the right side. Each time the craft banked or changed elevation Keogh grinned ear to ear.
They dropped into the third LZ, and Gary felt his stomach rise up to his mouth. The helicopter paused as the pilot counted down from eight. On the pilot’s command the machine propelled them back above the dizzying height of the trees.
As they cleared the canopy Gary could see one of the gunships had taken fire and was giving back. The fuselage mounted mini-gun spat fire like the end of a torch. The face of the gunner was visible as they came alongside and passed the gunship.
“Poked the sleeping bear, eh Pope. Those fuckers.” Pony yelled to Pope. Pope nodded, smiling.
Before they boarded the Hueys, and as they readied their gear, Gary learned the team called Cervantes, Pope. Cervantes, the team’s medic had become something of a good luck charm. As Pony had said, “With his blessing, we won’t get so much as a mosquito bite on our ass.”
Even in the darkness Gary could see Pope’s eyes were narrowed to slits. Everything and everyone seemed to be under his constant suspicion.
The pilot signaled back to Gary that they were nearing the drop point, and Gary signaled to the team. Brock came to life from his resting position in the door frame opposite Pony. He grabbed the wad of tobacco from his mouth and pitched into the jungle far below. He checked the AK-47 in his lap and adjusted the straps of his pack.
For the fourth time that night, the helicopter began a rapid descent into an LZ. This time as the skids just disappeared into the grass six men jumped free of the doors from each side. Two groups of three men circled away from the now ascending aircraft and headed for the tree line.
After regrouping in cover the six men waited, listening as the thumping of the helicopters faded into the distance. After silence had fallen on them like a blanket in the darkness, the team waited.
Grouped with their weapons bristling out like a deadly porcupine each member scanned the jungle for noise or movement.
After a check of his watch, Gary signaled to Keogh, and the team moved out. Keogh lead the way, followed by Bud, Pony, Gary, Brock, and with Pope watching the backdoor.
As they worked deeper into the jungle, the last lingering of moonlight faded. The six men moved slowly on in single file with Keogh making periodic checks on his map and making adjustments after sighting with his compass.
JULY 3, 1982
For a second straight night Gary had slept without waking. He breathed a sigh of relief having slept without the nightmares coming to him. The peace was double edged as he still felt the effects of an immeasurable amount of scotch that he had ingested with Neil in the hours before passing out.
“Thank God it’s Saturday.” Gary whispered to himself.
“For sure.” Came a voice from over his shoulder.
Startled by the words, Gary momentarily forgot about the pounding in his head, the taste in his mouth and the ringing in his ears. He stood and stepped away from the bed. Searching his memories Gary remembered eating with Neil, and calling a car to take them away to some club Neil knew.
The face staring at Gary from the normally cool side of the bed was a face Gary could not remember seeing before. The woman’s dark hair frizzed out wildly as she looked around the room and looked at Gary.
“I…” Gary started.
“I don’t know your name either love. Not even sure what fucking city I’m in.”
“Nice to meet you again, Dallas.”
“No, you’re in Dallas. I’m Gary.”
Gary reached for his cigarettes on the nightstand, pulled one from the pack and lit it.
“Can I get one of those?”
“Didn’t catch your name.” Gary said as he handed the pack over.
“Robin.” She said as she lit a cigarette.
“Well Robin, I’ve got one hell of a headache so I’m heading in the other room to find some aspirin.”
“If you’re not heading to the bathroom, I’d like to get in there I’ve got to pee like mad. When you find that aspirin, could you bring me two?”
“I’ll use the one in the hall, help yourself. I’ll see what I can do about that aspirin.”
Gary ashed in the tray on the nightstand, and watched as Robin got from under the covers, and walked naked to his bathroom. He admired her body, tan save the bright white tan lines of a very small bikini.
With her nakedness gone from his sight, Gary’s hangover was brought back to the first priority and he padded down the hall.
After Gary hustled Robin out the door and found his apartment empty again, he headed back to the bedroom and his bed.
In bed with eyes closed, Gary tried to go back to sleep. The droning of incessant pain and discomfort deep within his head made rest unachievable.
Thoughts of Neil flooded his mind. Gary snickered when he thought of sneaking up on him in the desert scrub of Baja. Memories of Neil and his smart assed comments, and his rejection of everything normal, his unwillingness to be an adult.
Learning of Neil’s cancer had dealt Gary a grievous blow. Neil had been in Gary’s life longer than Gary’s own father. The reality of his life had taught him that each life has an end, and Neil’s would be no different. Gary laid, ashamed of his anger to Neil’s news. Neil had chosen to meet his end on his terms.
Gary drifted off to sleep. His sleep would be troubled, he would wage war. Again and again he would see those he had lost, and those he had taken.
APRIL 2, 1967
Keogh moved them quietly forward. Gary’s body was alive with energy and anticipation. Every nerve ending, every cell in his body focused to an absolute purpose. Each step, each time he moved his weapon, each time he brushed a leaf or branch quietly to the side, he felt total confidence that he was precisely where he had always been intended to be.
The last four days as the team had patrolled deeper into the unforgiving jungle Gary fell back on the long days of training he had received over the last two years. In the time before they boarded the helicopter at dusk and since Gary had become more acquainted with his team.
Of the five, Keogh he knew the best. A California boy, Steve Keogh was just under six feet tall, a tan complexion with hair the color of corn silk. Keogh was the most high strung of the bunch, always on the move, and always alert. While Keogh might have looked the quintessential surfer part, that was not the case.
Keogh had first glimpsed the waves of the Pacific Ocean long after he had crossed the country from Barstow to Fort Jackson in South Carolina to report for Basic Training. Raised a Baptist, Keogh had been taught to love God, Country, and USC football, in that order.
Keogh carried a shortened M-14, and handled with the speed and ease of a man carrying a submachine gun. A Beretta pistol rode securely in a holster on his waist and a Mossberg pump shotgun was carried strapped to the side of his pack. Gary felt Keogh to be the most well rounded of the bunch.
Carrying the Stoner machine gun, Bud always followed Keogh. The firepower he could lay down in an instant made him a huge asset to the team. If Keogh opened up the jungle to a hive of NVA or VC Bud would be right there over his shoulder tossing ball ammo at two thousand miles an hour.
A New York city kid, Bud signed up for the Navy when he was just seventeen. William Williams Jr. grew up never knowing his father or paternal grandparents but resenting them both for the name choice. In 1960, after his mother lost her cleaning job, the family moved in with her brother. Bud’s uncle Cleon had laid the Bud moniker on him to his great pleasure the name stuck. Only his little sister called him Willy.
As a poor black kid in the city with limited options Bud saw the Navy as an opportunity to see a world beyond his reach. When a recruiter visited his school Bud signed up after seeing the blue waters of the Pacific that looked so different from the ones he had seen off of long island.
The young boy’s unfortunate circumstances would play to his advantage as if they had been ordained. Bud’s mother had struggled to keep Bud busy as a boy, her work hours meant Bud spent his time at the YMCA, where he learned to swim.
The water suited Bud, and he would hold his breath and sit on the bottom of the pool, winning bets with other kids. When new life guards came around Bud would feign helplessness at the bottom causing panic.
In the Navy, Bud’s strength as a swimmer led him to the UDT program and eventually to SEAL Team Two. Swimming lessons at the YMCA started a path that led Bud to deployment to Vietnam in 1963. After three years sloshing through the mud in and around the delta, Sanford recruited him, and he more than tripled his fee for risking his life.
Bud was an exceptionally large man, and carried the extra weight of the light machine gun and its ammo with ease. His calm and cool way contrasted Keogh as much and the pair’s hair color.
Gary had instantly liked Pony. A tall drain spout thin kid from Colorado, and an avid horseman Pony had earned his nickname his first week of basic training. He had carried it with him through Ranger school at Fort Benning and through Recondo once in country. Gary thought him lucky he had not earned a name like jibber jabber, nonsense, or pie hole. Pony knew no strangers, and everyone knew Pony.
Doug “Pony” Kristopovich loved explosives. Pony grew up on a ranch owned by his father and his father’s three brothers. When Pony was thirteen the four men were working hard to clear a section of the ranch of its timber. Pony had been helping remove the trees, he had spent the early part of the summer with an axe and saw as his best friends. With the felling completed they set to remove the stumps, many of which were pulled either with horses or tractor.
On a bright clear afternoon, they discovered a stump with its roots firmly entangling a great granite boulder. Pony, his father, and the uncles broke chain after chain trying to free the old tree from the intended path of their fence. The next morning, sore and exacerbated from the previous day’s folly, Pony’s father introduced him to the love of his life, dynamite.
Pony always carried more grenades, more claymores, and more white phosphorus grenades than anyone. In addition to the two LAW rockets Pony carried, he had an M-79 grenade launcher. Gary had been told both would get a workout at any opportunity. Likewise he would horde any kind of special charges that passed through Phu Tuc, and delighted in using ChiCom grenades they discovered while on patrol.
Brock seemed to Gary as one who would be tough to win over. Carrying the PRC-77 radio, Brock was their lifeline to the outside. Only five foot three Brock’s fuse was as short as his stature. Brock was a mean spiteful little man, hard as nails, and as dependable as sunrise.
Brock was a Marine through and through. The son of dairy farmers, Brock understood long days and short nights long before his Marine Corps life. Brock was the only man Gary knew in country not to have complained about the heat or humidity, Brock was happy to be away from the North Dakota winter.
A gambler, Brock would bet on the color of the sky. He carried a pair of dice in his shirt pocket, “Just in case Charlie wanted to toss some bones.”
Only Brock came close to possessing a shell as thick as Pope. Most of what Gary had learned about Pope had come second hand through Keogh or Pony. Another member of the team from California, Pope had grown up blocks from the ocean in Santa Monica. George Cervantes had followed his older brother Domingo in to the Navy.
The Cervantes boys were the sons of a mechanic, it only made sense that Domingo would follow in those footsteps. Once in the Navy he trained as an aviation mechanic and had spent the early part of the previous year off the coast of Spain aboard the USS Forrestall.
While George would follow Domingo to the Navy, George was not destined to be below deck on an aircraft carrier. As Domingo kept Crusaders airworthy, George learned about the leaches and boobie-traps of the Mekong.
A member of SEAL Team One, Pope and Bud had their share of east coast, west coast banter. That banter was as close as Pope got to friendly.
Yet in the four months since Pope’s arrival the team had escaped injury of any kind. Save for the fate of their previous team leader, whatever that might have been. Obviously no one on the team considered that fate to be unlucky as they all still considered Pope to be their talisman.
In the four days since the team had leapt from the Huey they had taken a circuitous path through the jungle, steering clear of well-traveled routes, and heading for a specific area of operation. Their first order was to gather intelligence, the capture of a prisoner had been given great emphasis. They were after a big fish, and to this point no one had been able to find him.
The group came to a stop. Keogh checked the map, and looked at his compass. Gary noticed Pony had raised his nose to the air, his eyes widened and he motioned for them to go to the ground.
At first Gary was confused, Pony’s reaction had been so unconventional. Laying in the thick soggy mulch he first noticed it, the smell of cigarette smoke.
Having noticed for the first time the presence of the enemy in the area, Gary’s pulse quickened. He gripped the forearm of his rifle a bit tighter, noticed the weight of his ruck holding him down a bit more, and thought about how he might best move when the time came.
Feeling the light breeze lazily flowing through the foliage, Gary guessed an approximate direction, and made careful adjustments to his position. To his right Brock had his AK up, the stock against his cheek, its barrel poking out into the darkness. Gary could see each man in the group from Pope on his right to the faint outline of Keogh to his left.
Each man the picture of tranquility, weapons ready, and focused. Giving up their position would compromise their mission, the first order would be for them to remain un-noticed. However if discovered all six of the men were prepared to project the maximum amount of violence possible on their enemy.
As time passed the smell of cigarette smoke gave way to the light murmur of conversation. Two voices quietly carried through the jungle. The noise gave way finally to its source, three men all walking casually, fifteen to twenty yards to the left of where Keogh had taken up his position.
One walked in front alone, and two walked side by side, quietly carrying on a conversation. Each of the men carried rifles, two SKS’s and one AK47, the rifles were slung, the men expected little.
The trio passed conversing, and they were gone. The three men swallowed up by the dark and the jungle again. The team had remained concealed.
Keogh was the first to move, he stepped forward making deliberate and quiet steps. Then came back to the team, who had moved to better secure their area.
“There is a well-traveled trail just beyond that line of brush.” Keogh whispered to Gary, using a knifehand to indicate direction.
Gary looked at each of the men, and looked in the direction the group had disappeared to, “Bud, did you catch what they were saying?”
“Sounded like there is a camp back that way.” Bud, the only fluent speaker among them, motioned with is head in the direction the three had come from.
“They’re on their way up the mountain. Some LBFM to go see.” Bud winked at Gary.
“Let’s get eyes on the camp. After we size that up we can decide if there’s value.”
The rising of the Sun only lightly illuminated the area the team had set up in. The six men had formed a perimeter at a vantage point that allowed them to overlook the small camp.
The camp turned out to be an unassuming thatch roofed hut. Three men stood watch around the hut. Since dawn Gary had noted a group of eight that formed up and moved out on patrol to the west. Thirty minutes later a second group of twelve followed in the same direction.
Gary lowered his binoculars and watching the last of the twelve disappear into the meek light of the triple canopy. “Tunnels?” Gary asked Pony.
“Has to be. Fuckers.”
“After dark, we’ll snatch one of the sentries.”
“Pass the word down, tell Pope to get some sleep. Two hour rotations, Keogh, Brock, Bud, you, then I’ll grab a couple.”
Pony nodded, and quietly moved off to relay the order. Gary checked his map, looking for exfiltration LZ’s, double checking rally points in case they made contact before dark.