Thursday, 27 December 2012

Another peek at "A Dollar for The Ferryman."

 With "Bloodstone" in the bag; it's time to pick up "A Dollar For The Ferryman" again... so here's a little bit more of the emerging story.
Our two main characters, Stacey and Sandman have escaped unscathed from the airplane crash in the previous posted segment, and are now on foot in enemy territory...

          It was a strange noise in the early dawn that brought Stacey and Sandman out of their fitful sleep. It was a different sound from the sporadic sounds of the jungle around them. It was the grumble of heavy machinery.
          Stacey opened her eyes and looked cautiously out over the rim of the low ditch that surrounded the dry rice field where they had spent the night. Nothing was stirring out there. Remnants of the night fog were being dissipated by the rays of the early morning sun. She glanced at Sandman. His eyes were cautious. Should they investigate the sounds? Did any of the enemy… if they were indeed, enemy, even know that they were there? The wreck of the Beech had burned out during the night. It had to have been nothing less than pure luck that the conflagration hadn't been spotted by the enemy… if, in fact, there were any enemy about at the time.
          Under cover of the patchy mist, could they risk investigating the source of that noise? It sounded like trucks, the throaty diesel roar of heavy machinery. Were they friendly? If so their problems were over; but, if they were unfriendly, they had to radio it in. Cautiously they crept out over the parapet of the dry ditch, and moved off, creeping through the undergrowth in the direction of the noise. Carefully; so as not to reveal their presence, Stacey and Sandman crawled towards the edge of the tangled undergrowth, and furtively parted the thick hedgerow.
          Not ten feet away from their position they saw a road. It was choked with military vehicles of every description… mostly Russian equipment; all painted up in the strange hieroglyphics of the North Vietnamese Army… and all of it was heading south. There was another road coming down from the north, joining the first road at a busy intersection. Jesus H Christ! This must be a major branch-off route for the Communist armies heading south on one of the northernmost feeders to the Ho Chi Minh trail.
          He glanced at Stacey. Any radio transmission… even brief; would be a dead giveaway, using the Guard channel on their small survival radio. With the going price on a pilot's head in the Vietcong marketplace, the enemy would mount an all-out search to find them if the transmission was intercepted. The camouflaged tanks, trucks, heavy guns, truckloads of troops thundered by, churning a cloud of dust that mixed with the ground fog as Sandman and Stacey crouched in the undergrowth wondering what the hell they should do next. He motioned silently that they should get away from this road as quickly as possible. Carefully. They retraced their route to the relative safety of the ditch. Sandman glanced at Stacey.
          'We've gotta call this in. Be ready to move if they pick up the transmission. She nodded silently.
          He pulled out the survival radio and clicked it on.
          'Bird-dog from Sandman,'
          He whispered breathlessly.
          The reply came over almost instantly.
          "Come in, Sandman."
          Thank the Good Lord. Bird-dog was already in the air.
          'Gooks. Thousands of the little bastards; and heavy equipment… half a klick west of my location.'
          "Roger, Sandman. We'll drop some gravel. Blink your mirror."
          'Wilco. Stand by.'
          Sandman searched through the pockets of his survival vest until he found the small rectangular mirror with the hole in the centre. Searching the sky, he spotted the little plane circling high above and out to the west. He took a sighting on the airplane through the hole in the mirror, and flashed the reflection of the low sun at the high-flying airplane three times.
          In a couple of minutes that seemed like hours, the radio crackled again;
          "Roger, Sandman. Position marked. Bird-dog out."

          Five minutes later, they heard the unmistakable roar of a flight of Skyraiders approaching from the east. Nicknamed Sandy, the Douglas A-1E Skyraider was the oldest prop-driven combat airplane in the Air Force's inventory; but it carried one hell of a punch.
          The Sandy pilots came roaring in. Their arrival was never supposed to be a secret. If the enemy knew an area was seeded with gravel they went nowhere near it. And rightly so. Gravel was a nasty little touch introduced during the Vietnam War. It was a small, innocent-looking explosive mine contained in a small green or brown camouflage fabric pouch, and containing coarse ground glass. It was released in large numbers from low-flying aircraft. When dropped; no fuse was required because the explosive became shock-sensitive after dispersal… it was capable of being detonated without a fuse on contact. To allow them to be handled and dropped from the air, the mines were stored soaked in the chemical, Freon. Once released from their container, the Freon would evaporate in between three and eight minutes, thereby arming the mines. These devices sent out a web of feelers in all directions, very much like the tentacles of an octopus. Brushing one of the feelers was not necessarily fatal, but the explosion could neatly rip off an arm or leg. Further refinements to the tiny mine sometimes included its camouflage in the form of dog turds; a form employed with considerable success in keeping the NVA off the Ho Chi Minh trail.
          On the first pass they heard the menacing rattle of the little mines dumping nearby. Immediately the sound of small-arms fire opened up from the road. Completely ignoring the barrage, the Skyraiders roared in low, making pass after pass, and seeding the entire road area. They also dropped a thick line of Gravel across the hedgerow, thus protecting Sandman and Stacey from any advance by the NVA towards their hideout. This certainly protected them, but also limited the direction in which they could move.
          They could plainly hear the high-pitched, excited voices of the North Vietnamese rising above the growl of the traffic, but no figures appeared; they were far too busy trying to avoid being blown up by the Gravel. Sandman and Stacey crouched in the ditch and breathed a little more easily. Bird-dog had them zeroed in. The SAR guys knew where they were; but, as to whether they would risk a dust-off this close to the road was another matter. They would just have to wait and see what would be decided.
          As the morning progressed and the last of the early morning mist dispersed; "Just wait and see" was becoming untenable. The NVA were cautiously probing the undergrowth at the roadsides and scanning the surrounding open tracts of undergrowth for any clue as to why the Skyraiders had laid an area denial corridor between them and the countryside to the east. Several of them were cautiously moving through the scattering of Gravel, watchfully scanning the surrounding terrain. From their concealed position in the ditch, Stacey could make out at least six figures in tan uniforms... two of whom were wearing officers' green pith helmets bearing the red communist star shining brightly in the morning sunlight. She and Sandman crouched lower in the ditch. There was nowhere to run without being spotted. The NVA were casting around in a typical search pattern. They knew there was somebody there. Stacey glanced at Sandman.
          'Fuck this, Alex. We're not going to just roll over and let these little assholes give us a long vacation in the Hanoi Hilton.'
          She drew her sidearm, and cocked the hammer. Sandman was about to say something when the survival radio crackled softly.
          "Sandman from Sandy Three... Sandman from Sandy Three; Come in."

          Sandman snatched at the radio.
          'Sandy Three from Sandman. Go to Baker Channel,'
          The reply came fast.
          "Sandman from Sandy Three... Fuck that. You figger they don't already know y'all there?' Blink me three."
          Sandman scanned the skies. They could hear the distant, deep drone of Sandy Three... where the hell was he? Suddenly Stacey motioned out the west. There! A solitary black speck orbiting about five klicks out. Sighting through the hole in the mirror, he caught the sun and wiggled the mirror three times. The radio crackled again.
          "Gotcha, Sandman. You didn't think we'd leave y'all with your butts hangin' out did ya'? Stand by to haul ass outta there, toot-sweet. I'm packing nape and I'm comin' in hot."
          The radio went dead. Out to the west the black speck was turning on a short roll in and the engine roar was rising fast.
          The tan figures out in the field hesitated. Whistles shrieked out on the road...
          With its engine supercharger shrieking and its propeller screaming; Sandy Three came howling in as a cacophony of small-arms fire erupted from the road. At a thousand yards out, Sandy three came streaking across the road at full-throttle; almost brushing the treetops, with smoke streaming from the wings as he opened up with all four of his twenty-millimetre cannons. The tan figures in the field disappeared in a maelstrom of bursting HE shells, boiling dust clouds; splatterings of blood, and God knows what else. Sandman and Stacey broke cover from the relative safety of the ditch and ran as hard as they could for the tree line to the east as Sandy Three released his ordnance of four silver, M-47 napalm canisters. Sandman's gut tightened. He had glimpsed that the fins had been removed from the silver canisters. This would cause them to tumble unpredictably and create a wider dispersion pattern for the napalm component. He grabbed Stacey's arm and yelled.
          'C'mon! Run like fuck! He's gonna fry the whole goddamned strike zone!'
          A dull, rolling "Ka-boom" hit them at the same time as the shock wave and a great blast of almost unbearable heat. They were hurled to the ground by the visible shock waves undulating over the terrain, and stared back, appalled by the nightmarish sight of the rolling and tumbling wall of exploding fire burgeoning up from the road and tree-line like a massive, deep-red, orange and yellow chain of chrysanthemum blossoms that sucked the very air from their lungs, leaving them gasping for breath, with their eyes and throats stinging from the stench of petroleum mixed with what smelled like burning plastic bags, rubber, and something else... yes, that was it... Sunday roast.
          The flaming cloud rolling up into the blue skies turned black as the thick, stinking smoke billowing up from the roaring furnace that used to be a jungle blotted out the sun. Sandman dragged his body across Stacey and pressed her into the ground. The exploding ammo on the trucks was flying everywhere. They lay like that for perhaps, ten minutes feeling the wind whipping over them as it was sucked out of the surrounding jungle across the fields into the dead area of the road. They could breathe more easily now; the warm smells of the jungle was easing their discomfort. Sandy Three came blasting overhead so low its black shadow seemed to be snapping at its heels, then whipped up into a sweeping climb away through the stinking smoke cloud.
          The survival radio crackled into life.
          "Sandman from Sandy Three... Sandman from Sandy Three; Come in. Y'all OK down there?"
          Sandman pressed the transmit button.

          'Sandy Three from Sandman; That's a Rog. S-H strike, right on the button. Outstanding! Thanks a lot.'
          "Sandman from Sandy Three... No sweat. Pleased to assist. Jolly green outbound to your position. Have a nice day! Out."
          Stacey glanced at him.
          'S-H strike?'
          He grinned.
          'Yeah! S-H strike translates to Sierra-Hotel, which translates to shit-hot!'
          He peered towards the devastation that had once been the road and tree line. There was no sound and no movement other than the crackling flames and pall of black smoke that was stretching across the western horizon. The drone of Sandy Three was becoming fainter as he headed for home somewhere across the border. He rolled off her and brushed a smear of dirt from her cheek. He pulled a smoke flare from his survival vest pocket and laid it on the ground.
          'So now, I guess we just wait for the Jolly. Jeez, I could murder a beer!'

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