General Trinh is delivering papers

  by: Walter Guest



After they had been moving about twenty minutes some firing broke out to their right and behind them. Kincaid checked his watch. Their long file should be on the move. He tried to estimate where the firing came from. He guessed about the middle of the file in their original position. It should have been about where the rear would be now if it had moved on time. There were a few bursts from M-16s, an answering burst from and A-47, then silence. The firing did not start again.

Kincaid's patrol was the first to reach the reassembly point. They ignored their prisoner during the anxious minutes of waiting for the main force to arrive. No matter how easy the mission and this was not an easy mission, there was always the chance that something serious could go wrong. There were always these nervous moments of waiting. But then the point man came into view. He waved and came toward them. He was soon joined by the rest of the force.

The news was good. Some men near the end of the column had spotted a few Viet Cong coming toward them. They fired some shots, maybe hitting one. Charlie had pulled back, not to be seen again.

Kincaid could return to the matter of his prisoner. He did not want to question the man back at the main base. Some of his people might get squeamish if the questioning got rough. This was as good a place as any.

"Think we can stay here a while?" he asked Minh. He tried to never give orders to the Rhade in the field. The system functioned better if he worked through the Rhade leader of the unit.

Minh sent out nearly a third of his men as pickets. Kincaid could see that he expected trouble. He hoped they wouldn't have to be here long. He went over to the Viet Cong officer. One of the Rhade had been guarding him in the shade of a tall tree.

The prisoner looked sad. He realized there was little chance of his being rescued now.

"Who are you?" Kincaid asked him.

There was no reply. He would not meet Kincaid's eye. He merely stared into space. His expression had been open when he was trying to stall. It was now cold and dour.

"You will talk," Kincaid told him. "You know that. You have probably heard stories of how these savages," he waved an arm to indicate the Rhade, "persuade people to talk. The stories are true. I have seen them at work. I hope you don't make me witness that again."

He paused but the man did not reply.

"We are alike, you and I. We lead these men but we can never be a part of them. There is something about men like us that will always keep us alone even when we are surrounded by friends." Kincaid nearly choked on his words. He had to stop and turn away. His intention was to con the prisoner into talking, but in the middle of his spiel he discovered that what he was saying was the absolute truth. From the first glance, he had felt a strange affinity with this man. The truth of it nearly overwhelmed him until a cynical voice inside told him to go with it, to twist it to his own use.

He turned back. The prisoner was now regarding him with interest. "But in a crowd, you and I would recognize each other." Kincaid wondered if he had the same look, the piercing eye of a hawk ready to scream down from the sky. Then he knew he did. "In another time, in another place, we would drink together. We would not say much, but we would drink together and be pleased with the company. You know that to be true."

The man blinked his eyes and nodded almost imperceptively.

"How important can this war be to men like us? Should we give our lives to it when we have the choice? The war ended for you today. Whether you live or die here, the war is over for you. I offer you the choice to live on."

The prisoner stared at him without expression.

"Do you think your decision here today will have the slightest effect on the outcome of the war? Don't be silly. You could just as easily effect the course of the sun.

"Tomorrow the sun will shine through the trees. There will be a slight breeze against our skin. Sweat will trickle down our backs. Don't you want to be alive to enjoy it? To feel it?"

The trace of a sneer appeared at a corner of the man's mouth. Kincaid felt he was losing him. He was becoming desperate.

"Ten years from now; five years from now; all this will be over and forgotten. The same countries who now fight now could be allies then. What we do here changes nothing. All I need is the name of the man who informs on us. Give me that name and you will live. Who will know you did it?"

The sneer became more pronounced. "You will know," he said.

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