Hawley kept walking, not looking back. He could hear Sandman, Willie and Jaybird in the brush behind him, but he didn’t turn around to look. He kept his eyes forward, leading the way, not on the trail where someone might wait to ambush them, higher up the ridge, but not on top, where someone might see them moving, pig trails, maybe a boar, he followed its tracks, carefully shifting his weight from boot to boot, so the sole didn’t slid and start a noisy rockslide. Everything quiet, just the rustle of leaves as his team followed him. The boars tracks were decent, fresh, he hoped to run into it, and if he did, he’d kill it quietly, gut it and feed it to his team. They hadn’t eaten in days, every since the ambush that should have killed them. Hawley had not idea how they got out, and no one had talked about it, not even when they slept. He would stop and sleep when he heard them take up positions, and he’d start up again, when they began to rustle. It was suicide to talk out here with so many murderous north Vietnamese regulars, murderous little skeletons in khaki and pith helmets who would gut you as much as Hawley wanted to gut that boar. He would too, if the boar turned on him. He’d stick him with his knife and even if the boar screamed, it was just a boar, anyone could kill it. The key was that no matter what happened, Hawley couldn’t say anything that sounded human or he’d give their position away. That’s why Willie, Jaybird and Sandman were quiet. They’d sit down and smile at Hawley if he had that Boar roasting on a pit. It would be just like old times, whole lifetimes before the ambush.
Another mile along the ridge, moving so slow, nothing heard him sneak up on it. Least alone the boar, who was digging up roots. Hawley crept up, slowly but damn if the boar didn’t pick up his sent, and then boar was coming to him, top speed. Hawley cracked it on the head, to stun it, then put his foot down on the neck and drove his bayonet into its heart. Barely made a sound. He sat down and opened it up. There wasn’t time to properly field dress it. But it was a lot lighter without its guts. Willie, Jaybird and Sandman didn’t move up to start a fire, though they waited while he slit it open. He knew there wasn’t enough time to field dress it. Still if Willie, Jaybird, and Sandman weren’t saying anything, then it still wasn’t safe to cook. So he tied the legs and feet to two ends of a stick and balanced it on his shoulders, and kept walking to camp.
The way he looked at it the boar deserved to be gutted because it was out there by itself. It didn’t belong to any team, no one depended on it, just out there itself. Killing was just removing another selfish bastard who only thought of himself. And that’s when he decided that he would share the boar with the whole camp, not just Willie, Sandman and Jaybird, not matter how they complained. He’d walk right up and roast it on a spit, and he’d carve the meat off himself, handing out selfish meat to every unselfish soldier who was there for his brother soldier. Everyone but the useless staff officer who sent guys out on missions and didn’t blink if no one came back. Maybe he’d slice off the rear of the hog and give that to him.
He saw the little party they would have so clearly that when he saw the stacked logs and sandbags of the special forces camp, he just announced who he was and what he got, telling him to don’t shoot. Then he just walked in with the boar, and found a fire going at the mess, and just set up the boar and started roasting. People were asking him questions, and he told them, told him where and how far they walked, and if he accomplished his mission.
“Mission was bullshit.”
No one argued with him. They’d all been on bullshit missions and nodded like they knew exactly what he meant. They sat around happily waiting to eat the meat he cooked. An officer wandered in and asked who he was and where he’d been. So he told him what he told the other men. But the officer didn’t seem satisfied. He asked about his buddies, Willie, Jaybird and Sandman, and Hawley told them, they’d be there. Soon. They weren’t far behind. “Better not eat all the meat, they’ll want some.”
The officer gave him some water. When the officer left and the other men became quiet. Someone offered a warm beer which he took, but he kept watching the direction where his friends were coming. They couldn’t be more than a half hour behind. So after an hour of eating and staring, he picked up his rifle and started out to look for them, but one of the biggest soldiers, stood up and told him to stop. When Hawley asked him what happened, the big soldier looked sad and said they’re dead.
“Dead? When? Where?” He wanted to run down the trail. They couldn’t be far. He didn’t believe it. They would have heard something.
The big soldier looked even more sad, and tipped up his helmet. “Three days ago. Laos. The lieutenant confirmed it.”
That made no sense until they explained to Hawley he’d gone nuts.