An excerpt from my novel, Honey Ko, now in editing.
May 30th, 1968
Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam
Frank turned at the top of the steps to wave goodbye to Sam when an odd pressure seized his chest. His smile changed to a look of surprise as the impact of the sniper’s bullet spun him into the side of the helicopter. Warm blood trickled down his chest. He looked for the source of the warmth and saw the red spot above the edge of his flak vest. His knees buckled and he crumpled, sliding to the ground where he lay motionless, his cheek searing against the hot tarmac as the helicopter crewman pulled the ladder up and screamed at the pilot to take off. His eyesight blurred and his life slipped away into the growing darkness. He thought he felt Marie’s lips brush his cheek. A tear fell from his eye as he whispered, “Marie.”
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Sam’s face broke into a broad grin when Frank turned and waved. He raised his hand to wave back when Frank jerked and spun around. He watched, unbelieving, as Frank fell.
“Frank!” Sam dropped his tool pouch and raced across the tarmac.
He reached Frank as the helicopter crewman yelled over the rotor noise.
“We gotta get outta here, man. Get him a corpsman!”
Sam knelt to check Frank’s wound. “Oh, man, Frank, hold on man, hold on, hold on, buddy.”
More shots, and metal splinters flew from the helicopter’s door. Sam ducked against the spray of fragments and rotor wash and looked around as the chopper lifted. Otis crouched nearby, his eyes wide.
“Otis, damnit, move! Why the hell are you sitting there? Get a corpsman, quick! Go find Lopez. Tell him Frank’s shot!”
Sam ripped his shirt for a bandage to stanch the blood streaming from Frank’s chest.
“Frank, Frank, can you hear me, buddy?”
Sam felt for a pulse as tears blurred his vision. Christ, man, my hands are shaking. I can’t see. Calm down. Calm down.
“Where’s your pulse, Frank? Frank!” He checked again. “Damn. He’s not breathing.”
Sam rose and lifted Frank over his shoulders. He took off for the ops shack just as Otis reappeared with Lopez. Otis pointed and yelled, but Sam heard nothing. Another step and his back burst into excruciating pain ripping a groan from behind his clenched teeth. He stumbled but staggered a few more steps when another burst of pain buckled his knees. He fell hard. His helmet flew off as his head slammed into the tarmac. Frank rolled from Sam’s shoulders and over his head, forcing his cheek into the jagged concrete of the hot tarmac.
Sam’s mouth filled with blood and he spit out a tooth. He tried to crawl over Frank to shield him but his legs would n’t move. He reached out to pull him closer but the effort brought agonizing pain. A moment later he felt nothing. Strange. You’d think two bullets would have a lasting impact.
Blood pooled beneath him, spreading fast.
He coughed and turned his head to Frank’s still body and called to him.
“Frank. Frank. Wake up, Frank. Please be okay, buddy.”
Otis reached his side and knelt to help him while Lopez checked Frank’s wound. He lifted Sam’s head into his lap and brushed away flecks of dirt and loose tarmac and blood on his face. The pool of blood beneath Sam spread, an ominously dark red that soaked into the cracked tarmac and stained Otis’s uniform.
Shots rang from the perimeter as Marines pursued the sniper and two H-1 Hueys fired rockets into the brush.
Sam looked up at Otis, anguish contorting his face. “Where’s Frank? Frank? Frank? Wipe my eyes, will you, Otis, I can’t see. It’s dark. ”
Otis choked back tears and pressed his lips to Sam’s forehead. “Hang in there, Sam. Don’t you die on me, buddy. Don’t you dare die on me.”
“Okay, Otis.” Sam coughed again. Blood bubbled from his mouth, dribbled down his cheek, onto his neck, and dripped onto Sam’s leg.
“Otis. Take the chain from my neck…give it to little Lucy…my boy…my boy has one just like it…give the ring to Marie…it belonged to Susanna.”
He coughed again, a dying, rattling cough. “I’m thirsty, Otis.”
Otis nodded and pulled the canteen from his belt. He loosened the cap and brought the canteen to Sam’s lips. Sam was fading fast; his lips barely moved. Otis looked at Lopez who shook his head.
He pressed his forehead to Sam’s and held him in his arms and cried. “Goodbye, Sam. Thank you for being my friend. I’m going to miss you, buddy.”
Sam stared past Otis into the blackness, his last words barely audible in the blood gurgling in his mouth. “Frank is dead, Otis…. What am I going…going to tell Marie?”
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Marie blinked rapidly behind closed eyes as she slipped from dreamless sleep into nightmare. Her heart raced and her hands clenched and unclenched; her head tossed side to side. With a cry of despair, she sat up and turned toward Frank’s pillow and reached for him but touched only air. Her lips moved in silence and she sobbed. Her breath came in a whisper.