Note: This chapter won’t make sense unless you’ve read the prologue to the novel.
May 30th, 1968
Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam
Their last stretch of duty in Vietnam was at an end. Frank was departing for the USS Midway on the first chopper; Sam’s flight was later in the afternoon. They would sail to PI with the aircraft carrier the following day. One week in Vietnam had turned into three and Frank was anxious. The feeling of doom that had haunted him since his last trip hung over him like a dark cloud. His nerves were on edge. He jumped at every burst of gunfire from the perimeter. The backfire of a jeep had made him dive for cover under an aircraft tow tractor. He wouldn’t feel safe until he was with Marie again.
His heart raced at the thought of seeing her again. He fingered the ring and necklace she had given him as he was leaving Olongapo. The ring had belonged to her grandfather, and she wanted Frank to have it. She had clasped it around his neck and told him to be careful, she didn’t want to lose the man she loved. A few more days and he’d never have to leave Marie again. He looked around to make sure he wasn’t forgetting anything then climbed the boarding ladder.
He paused at the top of the steps and turned to wave goodbye to Sam when an odd pressure seized his chest. The impact of the sniper’s bullet spun him into the side of the helicopter. He looked for the source of the pressure. A dark, wet spot was spreading above the edge of his flak vest. His knees buckled and he crumpled. He fell to the ground and lay motionless, his life slipping away in a pool of blood. Frank’s vision blurred. In the deepening darkness blotting out the blue, cloudless sky, he tried to reach for the image of Marie hovering just beyond perception. He couldn’t move. He struggled against the paralysis gripping him but it was no use. Darkness carried him away as he murmurred “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.
“Frank!” Sam dropped his tool pouch and raced across the tarmac.
He reached Frank and knelt beside him. “Oh, man, Frank, hold on man, hold on. Hold on, buddy.”
More shots, and splinters flew from the helicopter’s door. Sam ducked against the spray of fragments and looked around. 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 pressed a wiping towel to the wound to stanch the blood streaming from Frank’s chest. “Frank, Frank, can you hear me, buddy?”
He 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. “Damnit. He’s not breathing.”
Sam looked around for Otis and the Corpsman but didn’t see them. He couldn’t wait; Frank was bleeding to death. “Okay, Frank. I have to get you out of here. Hang on. You’ll be okay.”
As he lifted Frank, Otis called out, but Sam heard nothing. He fell as the second bullet ripped into his back.
“I’m leaving Spain, Susanna. I’ll be away for a year.”
“I know, Samuel. You told me you wouldn’t be here forever.”
“I don’t want to leave you. You’ve made this a home for us, a place I feel comfortable….
Hey there, don’t cry. Oh, sweetheart; I’ll wake up every morning and feel you next to me
seven thousand miles away.”
“That didn’t help; I need a tissue. It won’t be the same here without you, Samuel. I’m going
to set my clock to yours so we wake up together.”
“You won’t return to Barcelona? You’ll stay here?”
“Yes. I’ll wait for your return.”
“I’m so glad. You make me happy staying here while I’m away. I love our little
bungalow. I wish we could stay here forever.”
“Forever is a long time.”
“Forever isn’t long enough for me to love you, Susanna.”
“I’ll love you beyond forever, Samuel.”