Hawley screamed for them to wait but even the door gunner couldn’t hear him. The sound of the chopper was too loud. They yanked him on board, holding his arms and legs. The cabin shuddered and wobbled as hopper lifted up out of the grass. Hawley legs dangled outside the bay, and bits of metal flew from bullets smacking the door. Still Hawley screamed for the chopper to wait, that they were just behind him, three men, all friends who had walked out of the Cambodia. The door gun got hold of the back of his pack stood up and began pulling him in. When his ankles cleared the edge of the cabin, the man holding him sudden let go and slumped the corner. Hawley fell on hard metal, and lay there clutching as the chopper wobbled back and forth, fighting for air and avoiding bullets. Above the tree line it leveled out, and Hawley pushed himself up, starting to crawl to the pilot to tell him to turn around. That’s when he got a good look at the door gunner slumped in the corner, blood faced and still.
They wouldn’t tell him anything about his team when he arrived at the base camp. They hustled him into the aid station, and started to pump fluids into him, dehydration they said, but then the doctor stuck a syringe into the fluids and when Hawley asked what it was, he said, “vitamins,” and winked. The world suddenly got dreamy. All the voices were liquid, pouring like syrup from their mouths, and he could swear he could hear Jaybird laughing in the other room. Somehow without anyone telling him, he knew they’d made it back and were all doped up like he was, feeling no pain. His feet didn’t hurt like they’d been running for three days. His swollen ankle he twisted on tree root was still swollen and ugly from where the tendons tore, but it felt fine. Even the cuts on his hands and knees crawling along the riverbed, weren’t aching like someone had rolled a granite boulder over on them back and forth. It was all good, and he wasn’t even pissed they dropped him in the wrong part of Cambodia, he’d gotten out alive. When he woke up the next day he was still feeling no pain, but it was beginning to wear off. Before it did, he wanted to get out with his team and self-medicate at the bars that had strung up outside the camp. But whenever he asked to see Willie, Jaybird or Sandman, the nurse or orderly, had to tell him he had to talk to the talk, like it was a very big deal just to tell him which of beds set up the rows of tents, housed his buddies. They were close by; Hawley could hear them laughing, so as impatient as he was he, just let it go. They hadn’t him a morning supply of medication and slipped back into a stupor that half wide awake dreaming, and half sleep. The third day there were less pills, and his mind was coming into more focus. They led him in to talk to an intelligence officer, a Captain Quinn, who asked what happened, and Hawley told him the same story he’d hear from everyone else, but he knew they did that, interviewed team members separately to compare their stories. When the pick-up went right they’d go over the story on the ride back on the chopper, but this time they’d been separated. So Hawley was deliberately vague on time and area, just sticking to the main truth, that they’d been dropped in the wrong area. Quinn wrote all this down with great interest. Even had the decency to shake his head like he knew they fucked up. Instead of it being unoccupied valley next to another valley where the Vietcong were camped they either dropped them into the wrong valley or the Vietcong had moved. Soon as they began to descend they’d taken fire. The chopper pilot tried to pull up but the chopper went down, and they jumped out of the burning machine. Quinn wrote this down too on his pad. He showed Hawley reconnaissance photos of the burned chopper. The photos were so detailed you could see the depressions in the grass from the dead bodies before the vc pulled them away. Hawley pointed at the photos, explaining how his team slipped past the perimeter that that had encircled them then it was one long foot race back to the Vietnam part of the border and extraction. At this point Quinn looked surprised, asking again if everyone made it out. All three other men, and he read their real names. Hawley told him nick names, Jaybird, Willie and Sandman. He still thought the intelligence officer believe him, so he explained that it had been along run, and they’d been spread out. Hawley up out front on point, but he could hear the brush breaking from the men on his team following him, how Hawley hear them talking, telling him how they were just behind him, how for days they camp and slept and worked they way back from Cambodia to the Central Highlands where they finally made radio contact, the Army made there last and worst fuck up saying there had only been one man to pick up. Hawley expected Quinn to get made about this too, but Quinn wasn’t taking any of it down. All his papers were folded up and sitting on his lap and he was just staring at Hawley.
That was the last time Hawley saw Quinn. The next captain was a doctor. A psychiatrist. He had a little folder too in which he made notes, and first thing he did was ask Hawley to tell the whole story over. Hawley wasn’t stupid. He knew they were going to deny the whole thing. After a few moments of not talking, the shrink nodded, folded up his notebook and said he’s be back tomorrow.