The keyword for today's bit of short fiction is DROP.
The Christmas Drop
The Corps done us good, and they remembered that even at Oceanview, hard by the Z and the South China Sea, it was still Thanksgiving. They ran some tracks up the beach, convoyed by a brace of M48s, and loaded to the gills with mermite cans.
And the cans held hot turkey dinners, with corn and cranberry sauce. Plus beer. Cold...well, cool...beer.
"Hey, TC, want to take a walk?" The Dude placed himself between me and the lowering sun. I'd been drowsing, and thinking of home, and wondering what civilian skills would accrue from commanding a tank. The list started out short, and didn't get much longer, so I was grateful for the interruption.
"Sure." I got up, and dusted sand from my pants. The Dude motioned me to turn around, and he shushed the sand off the back of my blouse. "Thanks."
There weren't too many places to walk in Oceanview. Taking a stroll around the perimeter wasn't a good idea, since Charlie would love to celebrate his Thanksgiving by bagging an American turkey or two, so we went down to the swimming pool.
We passed the other tank in my section, the New Guy tank. It was still clean, and the crew still smelled human. That would change, if they lived long enough. They waved, and I waved back. So did The Dude, with a single extended finger.
The pool was an old bomb crater that had blown the water table and remained full. It didn't have any inflow or outflow, so it was kind of green and murky, especially with a hundred guys using it for bathing and lounging, but you take that which you receive in Viet Nam, and you're grateful. Besides, it was easy to clean the scum off the top with a frag or two. Didn't do much for the sludge at the bottom, though, except add a bit of jagged metal. Shower shoes were a must.
Well, at least it was wet.
When we'd gotten a few yards away from the tank, The Dude asked, "Hey, man, your DEROS is coming up, right?"
I nodded. "End of January." Back to the World.
He pulled out his dogtag, and fingered the peace symbol he'd hung on the chain. It was jeweled, and the tiny gemstones sparkled the Asian light. He sand softly, mostly to himself, "We gotta get outta this place..."
It was an old song now, but still the Viet Nam anthem. I chimed in. "...if it's the last thing we EVER do..."
"Hear about the Christmas drop?"
"Rumors. I'll believe it when I see it." Scuttlebutt said that everyone with a January DEROS would be on the freedom bird to celebrate Christmas in the States.
"It's true, this time. Got a friend in S1. He saw he confirmation."
"Yeah, right." Christmas drops, Independence Day drops...tales told to keep the grunts hopeful. Somehow the dreams never came true, and it was still 365 and a wakeup.
"Have I ever lied to you?"
"Uh...yeah? How about the sure thing deep overhaul trip, with the tank?" Our previous 48 had just about died of old age, and The DUde had it on best authority that we'd go to the rear, and stay with the tank while the maintenance tail worked their engine-changing, turret-lifting magic.
Instead, they just gave us a new tank. Well, new to us.
"Oh, right...well, aside from that?"
I started counting on my fingers. The Dude was a veritable fountain of rumor and innuendo, and if we believed it all we'd all be generals now. "Ok, how about when..."
"Okay, okay! But this is the real deal. Christmas drop. You'll be gone in three weeks."
"Watch out, World!"
"Think we'll get a nugget?" The Corps was running out of veterans willing to extend, and new TCs were shake-and-bake creations from tank school. Some of them were remustered amtrackers, which was kind of a nightmare. An amtrac was a big aluminum box designed to carry riflemen over the beach, and crewing one was a job for herbivores. Tanks were for killers.
"I don't know, Dude. I hope not. Nothing I can do."
"Yeah, there is."
I knew where he was going, but he was the crazy one, not me. "No."
"Going to go back to school?" The Dude kicked at a lump in the sand, and a jagged piece of steel skittered out, raising a small roostertail on its bounces.
"Maybe. Grow my hair long,pretend I have a deferment, see what this free love stuff is all about."
"Pretty much worth what it costs, TC."
"Kind of want to see for myself, though." Viet Nam had consumed a lot of my life. The girl I left behind chose not to wait.
"Makes sense." We stopped at the edge of the pool, and tried not to breathe too deeply. As long as you didn't mind the smell and the weird color of the water, it was a pleasant place to stand and talk.
The Dude slipped the peace charm back into his blouse. "Smoke some weed, too. You can jump right in. Forget all about this place."
"What;s it like?"
"Weed?" I was curious. I didn't think I'd ever really want to try the stuff. Beer is best.
"I don't know." The Dude shrugged. "never tried it."
He shook his head. "Would you believe, this is the high spot of my life?"
"The pool?" I tried to make a joke out of it, and failed.
"No. Being here. Nothing else is ever gonna touch it." For a minute he looked like he was about to cry.
"So that's why you keep extending? They'll send you home someday, though."
He laughed. "They try. I get on the plane, fly down to Tan Son Nhut, and then get back on another plane headed north again. Once I've missed the freedom bird they don't know what to do with me, so they just let me stay."
"Probably figure you'll be a bad influence on the hippies." The sun dropped behind the evening thunderstorms building far inland, and the temperature suddenly dropped. It was almost chilly.
The Dude looked at me, and in his eyes I suddenly saw Biff and Sonny less than a quarter of the way through their tours, and the crew of the New Guy tank, all clumsy in hope and bravado and fear.
"Ah, the hell with it. What's Christmas without water boos and Charlie and burn detail?" It seemed that everywhere was downwind from the guys tasked with burning the contents of the 50-gallon drums we used in the crappers.
"Thought you might say that. Here." The Dude reached into a pocket, and pulled out a wad of crumpled paper. My extension request. "My pal in S1 gave them to me."
And he handed me a pen. "While you've still got a buzz on."
I signed, using The Dude's back as a desk. "I'll regret this in the morning."
The Dude folder the papers, smoothing them out, and put them back in his pocket. "No you won't," he said. "You'll regret it now."
And he pushed me into the pool.
When I got my head back above the dreadful water, he was standing there, watching me. "Thanksgiving Day, TC. Thanks."