Posted by: Thomas Drinkard | April 9, 2011

Prologue to “Where There Were No Innocents” — Prequel to “Piety and Murder”

Where There Were No Innocents is completed, but not yet published.  It is with an editor at LazyDay. I will update this blog when the book is ready for download.

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Prologue

What a challenging mission.

Here I was, almost three months into a Vietnam tour in 1967. In a war zone, cash paymaster for troops all over the country.

I was a Special Forces Captain, one of the legendary Green Berets performing a duty that was little more than a junior finance clerk’s assignment.

I was assigned to the premier covert operations unit in Southeast Asia, MACV-SOG, and functioning as a pay officer.

It pissed me off. I looked out the aircraft window, remembering how I’d gotten here.

The Executive Officer for SOG, a lieutenant colonel, had called me to his office.  When I reported to him, he had a smartass grin floating above his starched fatigues and spit-shined boots.

“Captain Brinson.  I have an important mission for you.”

He paused, maybe expecting I’d say something. I did.

“Yes, Sir.”

“You’re going to be the paymaster for the troops who want to be paid in cash.  Lieutenant Baldwin, from the finance section has contracted a case of dysentery and can’t travel for hours from place to place in remote locations.  I nominated you to replace him. What do you think of that?”

“When?” I said.

“You’ll meet your transportation tomorrow.  Finance Section will handle all the details. Check in with them. Do you have other questions?”

“No sir.”

“Dismissed,” he said.

Prick. I did have other questions, but wouldn’t ask the jackass.

The asshole hadn’t even identified the division properly.  It was the MACV-SOG Comptroller.  I talked to the branch chief, a Lieutenant Commander.  He was a little surprised, but arranged everything and loaned me a Browning High-Power 9mm pistol and one magazine.

“Brinson, you’ll take off from Tan Son Nhut in the morning at 0600. You’ll need to start in Da Nang and work your way south.  It’ll take you two days.  I’ll have someone meet you here at 0500 and give you the briefcase and a weapon.  You’ll count the money and meet your aircraft.  Good luck.”

When I left my quarters, it was a bit after 4:30.  So early that the stench from the fish market nearby hadn’t had time to rise to its full olfactory grandeur.  Nasty enough though. The traffic was still light enough that I didn’t choke on blue haze hanging above the streets.

The unfortunate soul who met me in the Comptroller Branch was an Army sergeant.  We counted the money, I signed for it and he drove me to Tan Son Nhut.  The briefcase, full of cash, was shackled to my left wrist.  I had the key but was tethered to the thing, like the Ancient Mariner with his albatross.

“Sir, I’ll pick you up when you return.  Just call.”

“Thanks.”

We exchanged salutes and, as he drove away, I boarded the little Cessna 0-1 Bird Dog.

The aircraft was already warmed up, so we were airborne almost immediately after strapping in.  I was given some headphones, and the pilot, an Army first lieutenant, gave me the flight plan in brief.

“Captain, we’ll land in Nha Trang to refuel in about two hours, then be on our way to Da Nang. We should be there about noon, or so. Settle back, it’ll be a long—and we hope—boring flight,” he said.

He was right about boring.  The little one-engine workhorse drummed along above spotty clouds.  Green hills, green valleys and slopes sparkled with thousands of miniature lakes—artillery shell holes filled with rainwater. Deceptively peaceful.  The South China Sea was beginning to be visible in the distance to the east.

The pilot spoke.

“Something’s wrong.  Captain, make sure you’re buckled in—the control tower in Nha Trang says there’s been a mortar attack, but it’s supposed to be over. We’re landing, but going in fast and hard.”

He was right. I watched out the window. As our two wheels touched down, we bounced a bit and something that looked like a short telephone pole hit the tip right wing from behind.  The wing ripped away and the Bird Dog flipped over on its back. I grabbed briefcase handle and drew my pistol.  I yelled at the pilot as I cleared the harness.

“Get the hell out of here, I smell gasoline.”

I glanced through the flight deck door and saw that the co-pilot was hanging upside down, bleeding heavily.  Something had hit him in the right temple.

The pilot was struggling to get free of his harness. I grabbed his harness, cut it away with my sheath knife, dragged him to the door and kicked it away. Cool, fresh air rushed in.  The stench of gasoline was growing though.  No flames yet.

“We’ve got to go back in, we’ve got to get my buddy,” the pilot yelled.

“I’ll go back to check.  You get the hell out of here and get a fire truck. Now!”

I pushed him out, covered my nose with my left arm and started back through the door. I could hear the pilot yelling.

“Over here, over here.”

I looked over my shoulder as I started back into the aircraft.  A Jeep with MP markings was barreling across the runway.  The pilot ran toward it, waving both arms.  He was cut down by machine gun fire.

The vehicle was heading toward the Bird Dog, which lay like a dead sea gull on the runway.

And me.

I’m not a particularly good marksman with a pistol.  The one I was carried, I’d never shot, but the asshole standing behind the machine gun in the Jeep wasn’t aiming at me. He was aiming at the airplane, trying to make it explode. I jumped to the tarmac and went into a two-hand stance with the money bag hanging from my left wrist.  I cranked off three or four shots as quickly as I could. One of my first rounds hit him in the right thigh. He grabbed his leg and swung the weapon toward me.  I fired three more times and hit him in the throat.  He dropped, gushing blood over the driver, partially blinding him. The vehicle swerved away.

I ran away from the plane, pausing and firing at the driver until the 13-round magazine was empty.

Now what, Brinson?

The driver, wiping blood from his eyes, aimed the Jeep at the airplane for an explosion run.  His head dissolved in a red spray of death. I heard the rifle’s crack.  Someone, a marksman, had finally been called in to stop the guerrilla attack.

I managed to walk to the fire truck that had come to put foam on the Bird Dog. I sat there, on the truck’s running board, head down, trying to keep the pulse pounding in my neck and chest to a minimum. The briefcase shackled to my left wrist threatened to drag me to the runway.

A pair of jungle boots and camouflage fatigue pants were in front of me when I opened my eyes. The owner was wearing a green beret with the 5th Special Forces Group’s identifying flash.

“My name’s Bill Abner,” he said

I stood, introduced myself and told him where I was assigned and what I was doing in Nha Trang, lifting the briefcase to make the point.

“I’ll be moving down there in a couple of weeks.  I’ll be working in OP-35.  We can have a few beers together,” he said.

“This stupid paymaster duty was supposed to be a boring piece of crap. I was given this pistol mostly as a formality.”

“Did pretty well with it, though, but you’ve gotta thank one of our snipers for greasing that last VC. Let’s go by the headshed and call Saigon.  In this damned war, shit happens fast.”

“I’m going to need some ammo and at least one more magazine.  I was standing out there with an empty pistol with a pissed-off VC heading my way—until his head blew up.”

We went to the 5th Special Forces Group headquarters near the end of the runway.  I called the Comptroller and explained that he needed to inform the bases that pay would be a bit late.  When I told him the details about the shootout, I waited for a reaction.  There was dead air on the phone for several seconds.

“Do you need a replacement? Can you go on?” he said.

Tempting as it was, I was now determined to complete this bullshit assignment.

“No sir.  I do need transportation and another weapon to go with the pistol,” I said.

 

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