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Rendezvous Page 2

by Nelson DeMille

  In any case, we needed to run because we’d given away our positions with all that firing, and we were deep in enemy territory, so when you fire, you’ve got to get the hell away fast.

  No one likes leaving dead guys behind, but this wasn’t regular combat stuff where you recover dead and wounded at all costs; this was long-range recon and getting left behind is definitely a possibility.

  We ran about a hundred meters along the path, and Andolotti called out, “We could be running right into an ambush.”

  Dawson replied through heavy breaths, “I’d rather do that than get picked off later. Move it!”

  We came to the bend in the stream, and I ran out to the edge of the bank where I saw a brass cartridge sparkling in the sunlight. I picked it up and saw it was a 7.62 millimeter, most probably from a Draganov. I didn’t need evidence, but somehow finding the cartridge made me more certain that I hadn’t been hallucinating. I put the cartridge in my pocket.

  We moved quickly back to the path, where we saw a few footprints in the damp soil. Reluctantly, but with the knowledge that it was her or us, we pressed on.

  We moved at a half trot for about an hour, but by then, we knew we weren’t going to find her. She would find us.

  We’d been moving away from Rendezvous Alpha, which we could make in the three days left before our dawn rendezvous time, if nothing went wrong.

  You never go back on the trail you took in, so we headed into the woods and chopped our way through brush until we intersected a trail that headed in the general direction we needed to go.

  We moved as quickly as we could, but the heat and fatigue, and fifty pounds of gear, was slowing us down.

  We took a few minutes’ break every hour and pushed on until dusk, not saying much, but I’m sure everyone, myself included, was thinking about why the lady hadn’t blown me out of the water. I had a few answers to that, and it had less to do with a sudden feeling of compassion on her part and more to do with fucking with our heads.

  The sun had sunk into Laos, and the enemy moves at night. We heard trucks and tanks rumbling somewhere to our right, then heard men chatting and laughing not far away. If I’d had a radio, I would have called in artillery on them. Actually, if I’d had a radio, I would have called in choppers to get us the hell out of there right after Muller and Landon got hit. But the lady had left us mute and deaf to the outside world.

  We moved more quickly away from the enemy troop movements and about an hour later, we found a small hill covered with tall elephant grass where we set up a defensive perimeter, for what it was worth. We were six lightly armed guys, surrounded by massive numbers of enemy troops. Plus, one sniper, who knew we were there, but who wanted to keep us for herself.

  We ate some dehydrated rations reconstituted in their pouches with tepid canteen water. No one said much.

  About midnight, we took turns sleeping and keeping watch; two up, four down. But no one slept much. Near dawn, I was on guard duty with Sergeant Dawson, an old guy at thirty, who was on his second tour, and probably his last.

  He said to me in a quiet voice, “You sure it was a woman?”

  I nodded and grunted.

  “You sure? You saw tits and stuff?”

  I almost laughed. I replied, “I saw her in my field glasses. It was a woman.” I added, “They make good snipers.”

  He nodded. “Had one in Quang Tri once. Killed four guys before we blew the shit out of her with rockets.” He added, “We found her head.”

  I didn’t reply.

  He asked the obvious. “Why didn’t she nail you?”

  “Don’t know.”

  “Maybe it’s like … maybe there’s a two-guy-a-day limit on her hunting permit.”

  “Not funny.”

  “No. Not funny.” He asked, “You think we gave her the slip?”


  “Me neither.”

  And that was the end of the conversation.

  • • •

  We moved out at first light and headed south toward Rendezvous Alpha.

  About noon, we got to believing that we might make it. There were no more big streams to cross, just a few little brooks that were choked with good covering brush, and there were no open areas on the map that we couldn’t avoid. But then we noticed that the trees and the brush started to look a little sick, and within half an hour, we realized we were in an Agent Orange defoliated area that wasn’t marked on the map.

  Pretty soon we were moving through a dead zone of bare trees and brown, withered brush that offered no concealment. Dawson said, “Lieutenant, we got to go back and around this defoliation.”

  I replied, “We don’t know how big the area is. It might be a full day detour, then we’re not going to get to Alpha.”

  He nodded and looked around. He said, “At least Charlie ain’t around here. They don’t like the defoliated areas.”

  “Neither do I.”

  We took a break, spread out, and got down, as per standard operating procedure when a patrol is stopped.

  Smitty pulled a jungle bar out of his packet and bit off a piece of the chalky, so-called chocolate. He said, “That bitch.” Meaning the sniper, of course. “That bitch could have wasted us all back there in that napalm area. She could’ve wasted at least you, Lieutenant, back at the stream, and maybe a few more of us. What’s her fucking game?”

  I didn’t reply, and neither did anyone else.

  I was getting a bad feeling about this place, so I stood, put on my rucksack, and said, “Saddle up and move out.”

  Everyone stood, and Andolotti unzipped his fly and said, “Hold up. Gotta take a quick piss.”

  About midstream, he pitched backward and landed with a thump on his back, still holding his thing, which was still streaming yellow piss.

  We all hit the ground and lay frozen on the dead, chemical-smelling earth.

  I called out, “Andolotti!”

  No reply. I turned my head and eyes toward him. His chest was heaving, and I saw blood around his mouth. He gave a final heave and lay still.

  From the way he’d been thrown backward, I knew he’d been hit square in the chest, so I knew where the shot had come from. Through the dead vegetation, I could see a slight rise in the land about a hundred meters due west. I called out, “Follow my tracers!” I took aim from my prone position and fired a long burst toward the rise. Every sixth round was a red, streaking tracer that looked like a laser beam pointing toward the suspected target.

  Dawson, Smitty, and Johnson joined in with long bursts of M-16 fire, and we raked the hill, while Beatty, who had the grenade launcher, popped three phosphorous grenades at the hill, setting the dead vegetation ablaze.

  I shouted, “Outta here!”

  We moved back quickly in a crouch, firing to cover our retreat.

  Beatty slipped another phosphorous round in his grenade launcher and was about to get off a hip shot when the launcher flew out of his hands, and he went backward like he’d been hit by a truck.

  Dawson yelled, “Beatty’s hit!”

  I shouted, “Move back! Move back!”

  I was about ten meters from Beatty, and I could see he was still alive. I hit the ground and started crawling toward him, then saw his body jerk in three quick movements. A fourth shot hit his grenade launcher and a fifth shot threw dirt in my face. I got the message and got the hell out of there.

  I joined up with Dawson, Smitty, and Johnson. We ran like hell until we came upon a dry gulley, which we dropped into. We moved in a crouch through the gulley for a few hundred meters until I gave the order to stop. This wasn’t the direction we needed to go, so I ordered everyone out of the gulley, and we moved quickly due south, toward our rendezvous point, which was still about thirty kilometers away.

  We got out of the defoliated area and entered a place that had been carpet-bombed by B-52s. The forest had been blasted to splinters by the five-hundred- and one-thousand-pound bombs, and craters as big as a house dotted the landscape.

around us were twisted pieces of steel, almost unrecognizable as once being vehicles. Pieces of rotting corpses lay everywhere, and the surviving trees were draped with body parts. Some sort of carrion-eating birds were feasting and barely noticed us.

  The sun was sinking, and we were near the end of our physical limits and our mental endurance, so I ordered everyone into a bomb crater. We lay along the sloping earth walls of the crater, caught our breaths, and drank from our canteens. The place stank of rotting flesh.

  Dawson grabbed an arm and flung it out of the crater, and then made the standard joke and said, “So, we count the arms and legs, divide by four, and we got a body count.”

  No one laughed.

  He finished a canteen of water and informed us, “Two bad things about bomb strike zones. One, Charlie comes looking for salvage and pieces of people to bury. Two, the B-52s sometimes come back to the same place to get the guys looking for stuff.” He added, unnecessarily, “We gotta get outta here.”

  I agreed and said, “Take five, then we move.” I took out my map and studied it.

  Smitty said to me, “Hey, Lieutenant, why’s she always missing you?”

  I didn’t reply.

  Johnson asked me, “You think she’s still on us?”

  I kept looking at the map and replied, “Assume she is.”

  I climbed to the rim of the crater and looked through my field glasses. I swept the area in a 360-degree circle, pausing every ten degrees to focus on any possible movement, any glint of metal, or a wisp of smoke, or anything that didn’t look like it belonged in its surroundings.

  I was a sitting duck, but I’d developed a fatalistic attitude in the last few days; she was saving me for last.

  She’d get Smitty and Johnson in whatever order she wanted, then Sergeant Dawson, whom she had identified as a leader, then me.

  I pictured her stalking us, like a big cat, slow and patient, then she struck. The survivors ran, and she ran after us. She was very fast, sure-footed, and quiet, and she knew just how close she could get without getting too close. The chances of us setting up an ambush were not good. All we could do now was run.

  I slid back down into the crater and said, “Looks clear.” I checked my watch. “Thirty minutes until dark.” I unfolded my map and studied it in the dim light. I said, “Okay, if we hustle, we can do five kilometers before dark and that will bring us to a rock slide area where we can spend the night.”

  Everyone nodded. Rocky areas were like natural fortifications, giving both cover and concealment, and usually good fields of fire. An added bonus was that Charlie avoided open rocky terrain because of our scout choppers so we weren’t going to meet him there. And with luck, our guys might see us from the air.

  The one downside was the lady with the gun. She had a map, or she knew the terrain, and she was smart enough to know where we’d be heading. Even if we’d lost her, she could guess where to find us. I mentioned this privately to Dawson.

  He replied, “Maybe you’re giving her too much credit.”

  “Maybe you’re not.”

  He shrugged. “I like rocks around me, and I like choppers overhead who can see us and get us the fuck out of here.”

  “Okay … saddle up.”

  Everyone slipped on their rucksacks and in ten-second intervals, we climbed out of the crater at different points and assembled quickly on the south side of the hole, then began double-timing away from the bomb-blasted area.

  A half-hour later, the ground began to rise, and flat white rocks stuck out of the damp brush-choked earth, like steps leading to an ancient jungle-covered temple.

  Ten minutes later, we were in a rock slide area with sparse vegetation. To the west were high hills and a ridgeline that had collapsed some time ago and created the rock field.

  We found a high point surrounded by good-sized slabs of stone and set up a small, tight defensive perimeter. Truly, you could hold off an army from here if you had enough food, water, and ammunition. We had extra food, water, and ammo, thanks to Muller and Landon.

  We settled in for a long night. We couldn’t light cigarettes, and we couldn’t light heat tabs to boil water for the dehydrated rations. So we mixed the stuff with canteen water and Dawson and Johnson, who were smokers, got their fix by chewing the tobacco from their cigarettes.

  About midnight, I took the first watch, and the other three guys slept.

  I took my starlight scope from my rucksack and scanned the higher ground to the west where the ridgeline ended. The starlight scope is battery-powered, and it gives you a green-tinted picture by amplifying the ambient light of stars and moon.

  I noticed a small waterfall cascading over the rocky ledge a hundred meters away. Then I saw a movement, and I focused tightly and held my elbows steady on the flat rock in front of me.

  She was crouched on an outcropping beside the waterfall, and she was easy to see because she was completely naked. She was drinking from cupped hands, then moved closer to the waterfall, and let the cascading stream run over her body as she ran her hands through her hair, then down her sides and legs, then back up to her rear end, then her crotch.

  I stared, transfixed at the sight. It was very sensual out of the context, but within the context it was grotesque, like watching a tiger languidly licking itself after a meal.

  I reached behind me and pulled my M-16 rifle onto the rock, took one last look, then brought the starlight scope and rifle together. By feel, as I’d been taught, I mounted the scope on the rifle and took aim.

  She was still there, and she had put her right foot under the stream of falling water and kept it there for a few seconds before switching to her other foot.

  The four-power starlight scope made her look twenty-five meters away, but the actual distance of a hundred meters was a stretch for the M-16 rifle, which is made to spray bullets at shorter ranges.

  I put her in my crosshairs and steadied my aim. I was only going to get one shot. A very loud shot, since I didn’t have a silencer. Hit or miss, we’d have to get the hell out of there.

  She turned from the waterfall, and I could tell she was slipping her feet into her sandals. She stood there full frontal nude, my crosshairs over her heart.

  For some reason, I needed to look at her face again, to commit it to memory, to burn it into my mind. I looked slightly over the crosshairs at her face and saw that same disinterested, faraway look that I’d seen on the stream bank.

  She reached back and brought her long black hair over her right shoulder and squeezed the water from it.

  I focused again between her breasts and squeezed the trigger, just as she bent over to gather her black pajamas.

  The blast of the rifle sounded very loud in the quiet night, and the report echoed through the stones. Night birds and animals started squawking, and the three guys behind me were on their feet before the sound of the shot faded into the distant hills.

  I took a last look, but she was gone.

  Dawson said excitedly, “What the hell—?”


  Smitty said, “Holy shit!”

  Johnson asked, “You get her?”

  “Maybe …”

  “Maybe?” Dawson said. “Maybe? Maybe we should get the fuck out of here.”

  “Right. Saddle up.”

  We gathered our gear, and because we slept with our boots on, we were ready to move within a minute.

  I led the way down the south slope of the rock field. The going was slow and treacherous in the dark. A sliver of moon dimly illuminated the white rocks, and also illuminated us. I didn’t hear the shot because it was silenced, but I heard the ping of a ricochet against a nearby rock.

  We hit the ground, then got into a low crouch and stumbled along, zigzagging, dropping, rolling, doing everything to make ourselves a difficult target.

  Another shot ricocheted somewhere to our right, then another and another. I pictured her kneeling naked behind something, focused through her sniper scope, looking for movement and moon shadows, tryin
g to guess our line of movement, and now and then popping off a round from her Russian rifle just to let us know she was thinking of us.

  We came to a place where the rock slide entered a tree line, and we ran at full speed into the concealment of the forest.

  I took the lead, and we moved as quickly as we could through the pitch-black woods.

  We came to a wide trail over which a great many tires, tank treads, and rubber sandals had passed recently. Counterintuitively, I turned in the direction of the enemy troop movement, and we followed the trail south.

  About an hour later, I could hear the throaty sound of a big diesel engine up ahead, and the clank of tank treads.

  We slowed to a walk and followed at a distance, hoping they didn’t stop for an unexpected break.

  We traveled through the night, following the enemy army, who kept up a moderate pace. Before dawn, I knew, those vehicles and men would scatter into the jungle to hide from our aircraft and helicopters. We needed to make a detour around their day camp so I led my patrol east through the forest. We found a trickling brook that flowed down from the hills toward the coast, and we followed it for an hour, then cut south again, hoping to skirt around the bad guys, who were by now scattering into the triple-canopy forest.

  At dawn, we stopped in a bamboo thicket and rested. In fact, we were so exhausted, we just lay where we stopped and fell asleep among the bamboo and the bamboo vipers.

  • • •

  The midmorning sun and heat woke me, and I sat up, sweat running from my face and neck.

  Sergeant Dawson was also awake and was drinking what looked like instant coffee from his canteen cup. He asked me, “How’d you miss her? And why’d you shoot?”

  I replied, “I missed because I missed, and I shot because I made the decision to shoot. You got a problem with that?”

  He shrugged.

  I studied my terrain map, and Dawson asked me, “How far are we from Alpha?”

  I put the map away and said, “I don’t know where we are, so I don’t know where Alpha is.”

  He didn’t like that answer, so I said, “When we get moving, I’ll find some terrain features and locate us. Don’t worry about it, Sergeant.”


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