But The Dude and Friends are back...with this week's keyword, BOTTLE.
Sometimes The DUde let me drive, though not without criticism, while he rode regally in the TC's cupola.
"TC...uh, it's a straight road, you know?"
"What? We're still on the road, right?"
"Yeah, but don't you think the locals would prefer the asphalt torn up in kind of a straight path?" Tanks are hard on just about everything under the treads.
Sonny was riding the loader's hatch. "Waalll, TC...lookin' back, we's looking lahk we's a couple'a big ol' rattlesnakes, walking sahd bah each...hey, TC, watch the..."
Te ditch seemed to have moved a little closer to the road...sneaky Asian terrain feature! - and Ship of Fools suddenly tilted sideways to the left, high-centered on the pavement's edge.
"Aw, crap." I gunned the engine, and gave it some right turn, to try to get the left treads to bite and pull us out.
"TC, don't do that, please." The Dude's voice as quiet and reasonable. That was scary. I thought he might kill me next. "Shut it down, TC."
I killed the big Continental, The silence descended like a big, wet heavy blanket. Or maybe that was just the tropical air, in the presence of a roadside ditch, the conduit for sewage.
I climbed out the driver's hatch, and joined TC and Sonny, who were standing on the sloping rear deck, looking at where I'd placed us. Biff had his head out the cupola, and he was trying hard not to grin. He failed.
"Ah, well," said The Dude.
Since something interesting had happened, on a road in the middle of nowhere, a crowd of Vietnamese civilians appeared. I wondered where they all came from, and so quickly. The inevitable Coke-hawker set up a stand, conjured out of thin air.
Any excuse for a party, and the best excuse was to see Americans being good-naturedly dumb. I smiled and waved, and most of the Viets waved back.
"Had to give you a challenge, Dude," I said. "It's all yours."
The Dude gave me a look of exasperation tinged with pity. "We're going to have to call on our betters to get out of this one. Sonny, would kindly ring up the New Guys, and ask them to hasten along to lend a helping hand?"
"Ah shur will, Dude...we'all's jest looking reel happy here, jest lahk a dead hawg in the sunshahn, ain't we?"
Biff quickly said, "I'll do it. I think the New Guys only speak English."
Sonny folded his arms and grinned. "Ah'm bah-linggel!"
The Dude walked to the back of the deck, and carefully jumped down, to avoid landing in the noxious ditch. "Well, then, Sonny, would y'll gimme a hand with the tow cable?"
Sonny's words were drowned out by a sudden burst of gunfire. "Down!" The Dude yelled. Sonny went headfirst through the loader's hatch, and I tried to slip back into the driver's position, missed, and landed headfirst in the ditch.
"TC? You OK?"
I sat up,...stuff dripping off me. I was in defilade, the bank above my head. "Yeah. Wonderful." I squelched smellily up the bank to peer over the edge.
The Viets had disappeared, even spiriting away the Coke stand, except of one. A VC from Central casting, black pajamas, coolie hat, and all, was weaving down the road toward us. In one hand was an AK-47, and the other held a bottle. As I watched, he took a swig, raised the rifle, let off a couple of shots, and fell on his butt.
The turret rotated slightly. "I got the coax on him, Dude," came Biff's voice. "Shall I?"
The Dude's voice came from behind the tank. "Wait. Stay on him."
Charlie was scrambling untidily to his feet, a desperate expression on his face. He dropped the bottle, and peered at the bottle....and then he raised his eyes heavenward, an unmistakable thank-you in any language, and hugged it. He hadn't spilled a drop.
Leaving the AK in the road, we walked...well, sort of...toward us. I raised my head higher when he was about ten feet away, and he suddenly stopped, eyes wide. Then he took a sniff, and promply vomited.
"Thanks," I said.
Charlie replied in a slurred torrent of Vietnamese. He waved the bottle.
"What's he saying? Does he want to chieu hoi?"
The Dude stepped around the other side of the tank. His .45 was loose in his hand, pointed at the ground. "No, TC, he's not talking abut surrender. The way you smell, I can see why. No, he's asking if you want a drink."
Charlie held out the bottle to me, and spoke again. It was jack Daniels, and it looked good.
"He says you have to use your own cup."