Posted by: Thomas Drinkard | February 25, 2012

Prologue to “Where There Were No Innocents”

The novel is available on Amazon at  Reviews have been good.  One review (not on Amazon) was 4 stars because the reader didn’t realize  until the end that the book was a work of fiction. So much for people reading disclaimers…


I’d been handed a routine mission, but it ended in fire and blood.
I was a Special Forces Captain, one of the legendary Green Berets, assigned to the premier covert operations unit in Southeast Asia, MACV-SOG; performing a duty that was little more than a junior finance clerk’s task.
It pissed me off. I looked out the aircraft window, remembering how it had happened.
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’ll pay 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. You’ll count the money and meet your aircraft. Good luck.”
When I left my quarters, it was a bit after 0430. 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.”
We exchanged salutes and, as he drove away, I boarded the little L-20 Beaver.

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, boring flight, we hope.”
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, on my right, 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 and ripped it away. The plane flipped over on its back. I grabbed the briefcase handle and drew my pistol, yelling 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 the straps, cut them 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. No flames yet.
“We’ve got to get my buddy,” the pilot yelled.
“I’ll go back to check. You get out of here and find a fire truck. Now!”
I pushed him away. Covering my nose with my left arm, I started back through the door. Outside, I could hear the pilot shouting.
“Over here, over here.”
The co-pilot was dead. Time to get out before a fire. I looked over my shoulder as I started through the door. 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 aircraft, which lay like a dead seagull on the runway.
And me.
I’m not a particularly good marksman with a pistol. The one I was carrying, 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 to a two-hand stance with the money bag dragging at my left wrist. I cranked off three or four shots as fast as I could pull the trigger. 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. Someone had finally been called in to stop the guerrilla attack. Damned good shooting.
I managed to walk to the fire truck that had come to put foam on the Beaver. 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. I looked up. He was wearing a green beret with the 5th Special Forces Group’s identifying flash.
“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.
“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 another magazine. I was standing out there with an empty pistol with a pissed-off VC heading my way—until his head blew up. Damned good shooting.”
We went to 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 related 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, ammunition and another weapon to go with the pistol.”


  1. Nice one, Thomas. Fast-moving and lots of insubordinate profanity 🙂


    I’m not a particularly good marksman with a pistol. The one I was carried, I’d never shot [the one I carried or the one I was carrying]

    (I’m a typo fiend)

    • Me, too. I have no idea how that one slipped past.

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