General Trinh is delivering papers
by: Walter Guest
"There are many VC, Chin Way," Minh said. 'Chin Way' was as close as the Rhade could come to pronouncing Kincaid.
Kincaid spread out the latest large scale Signal Corps map of the area. "Show me where." With the help of Phouc he had picked up enough Rhade and Minh had picked up enough English so that now they could communicate well enough.
"Here," Minh said. His finger traced a line on the left side and paralleling their line of march ahead. "And here." He indicated that the VC were also along the right side of their route. Minh, the village chief, had become one of General Trinh Won's most trusted leaders.
"How many?" Kincaid asked.
"Twenty, thirty here." Minh pointed to the uphill side. "Maybe twenty, twenty five here."
Say fifty, Kincaid thought. That was more than he had expected. He and Minh together had only thirty five. Still, thirty five Rhade were worth a lot of VC. Hadn't they been killing them at about a ten to one ratio"
Kincaid studied the contour lines on the map. Their route had been along the foot of a hill. Charlie was way above them on the left and slightly below on the other side. The drawing showed heavy brush on the hill and sparser growth on the flat. They had a lot of cover on the up hill side to work their way behind the ambushers, but getting back out would be another thing. If they tried to hit the VC on the downhill side, all the defenders would be above them.
"These VC are good soldiers, Chin Way," Minh said, as if reading his mind.
They had sent Minh out here with ten men hours before the main probing force was due to pass through. Two recent patrols had been ambushed by the VC in this area. Kincaid and General Trinh didn't want to take a chance with another patrol, so Minh had been sent ahead to screen the route.
They were miles into unsecured area, down off the highlands that the Rhade preferred. The objective had been a VC supply dump. Knocking that out would have made it tougher for Charlie to send patrols into the highlands.
Kincaid tried to find a way around the blacking force. The trouble with the Signal Corps maps was that they didn't show trails. He knew the reason. The maps were drawn from aerial photographs. Anything hidden by tops of trees would not be shown on the maps. He couldn't find a new route.
"Is there a way around them?" he asked Minh.
"Yes, Chin Way," Minh said, "but then they would be behind us."
He was right. It would be foolish to push it. The main reason they had been able to maintain a ten to one kill ratio was that they didn't take foolish chances. But the ten to one kill ratio was a thing of the past. The recent ambushes had hurt and hurt bad. George Salazar had been killed in the last one.
"What do you think?" he asked Minh.
Minh shrugged. "There will be other days, Chin Way."
"We came a long way to go back with nothing."
"Better that, Chin Way," Minh said. The Rhade never used two words where one would do.
Kincaid chewed on the end of a stubby cigar. It was not lit.
"Three more went this way." Minh's finger sketched a line on the map off to the right, into the flat land.
Kincaid tried to think how they could turn that to their advantage. Three Viet Cong were slim pickings, unless... "An officer with them?"
Minh nodded, grunted, and said, "Maybe so."
"You think so?"
Minh grunted an affirmative.
A line officer would have to be with his men in and ambush attempt. That would be no line officer out there, that far from the action. Kincaid believed it was a field grade officer. Not only that, it was a field grade officer with a special interest in the goings on. That made him more and more curious.
The plan appeared full grown in his mind. "Can you find their trail?"