Summer Snow, Chapter Two
William T. Hathaway
is honored to serialize the first three chapters of the
(Avatar Publications, ISBN 0-9738442-3-X)]
that night in Bishkek a man and a woman lay sleeping.
The bed was small, and their sighs and dreams and murmured
sound of a gunshot woke the man. Groping for consciousness,
he didn't know where he was or who the warm, softly breathing
woman snuggled next to him was. Maybe he'd dreamed the
shot. He closed his eyes and spooned in closer to her,
hoping it had been a dream and she was real. A short burst
of gunfire. Not a dream: the unforgettable hammering of
an AK-47. A scream from outside. That was no dream either;
it was death, as familiar as the AK. A kill shot sounds
different from a wound, more abrupt; the cry doesn't come
out of pain but the shock of farewell.
were they? Where was his rifle?
filled the room, searing his eyes. The Oriental woman
looked lovely but death-pale in the shadowless flash.
Concussion fell on them in a smothering slap, then fled,
taking the light. The room wobbled. Satchel charge. Sappers
must've broken through.
the darkness the woman wailed.
was one thing for the bastards to try to kill him; those
were fair rules of the hard game: he was the foreign invader.
But they'd better leave her out of it. As he sat up, she
clutched his waist; her long black hair flowed over small
breasts. She babbled a language he didn't understand but
knew said, Protect me.
was his rifle?
gun bursts, long and ripping. Brass casings plinged onto
pavement. She clung tighter. But these shots were outgoing:
maybe the machine gun was friendly.
from down in the street--Russian. Soviet advisors with
the North Vietnamese? Penetrating downtown Nha Trang,
Tet Offensive. How many? Had to be at least a battalion
to have Russians with them. Then his odds were low. If
now was his time to die, he was ready; his bags stayed
packed. But until then...he'd see what he could do.
were they blowing? Something down the block.
Madsen rolled out of bed, naked, vulnerable, groping for
his M-16. Not there...nothing. Now he couldn't protect
revved. Metal screeched, pushed over concrete. More shouts.
The machine gun tore holes in the night.
sounds weren't close, though, and no rounds were coming
in their direction. The danger wasn't critical, unless
the VC started a house-to-house search. In that case she'd
be better off without him.
held her to him, stroked her shoulder, and kissed the
corners of her liquid eyes. The dark delta between her
legs caught his sight.
memory of a few hours ago brought back a flood of others.
There's nothing like the primal act of mating to put reality
into perspective. A third of a century returned in a flash,
jamming the pieces of his life back into place. This wasn't
Vietnam, it was Kyrgyzstan. He didn't meet her in a Special
Forces bar but at the embassy...Ainoura. And he wasn't
in his twenties anymore but in his fifties. Instead of
an infantry advisor, he was now a State Department foreign
aid official. But somebody out there was turning Bishkek
into a combat zone.
picked his slacks and polo shirt off a chair and put them
on. They were civilian, felt flimsy. He stepped to the
window to pull back an edge of curtain; she hissed no,
but he did it anyway. It was her curtain, but he had to
see how close they were.
looked out over the sprawling Central Asian capital and
the Kyrgyz Air Force base across the street. At the corner
a metal gate had been blown open. It had been part of
a walled perimeter, had blocked a road leading into the
base. Next to the guard house lay a soldier, chest dark
with blood, a stubby rifle strapped across it. Two trucks--a
pickup and a semi--were driving over the runway. A machine
gun was sandbagged atop the cab of the pickup, and the
men behind it wore ski masks and long robes in the eighty-degree
heat. He moved toward the door. To defend her, he had
to get the rifle.
go," said Ainoura, her English returning. She folded
her arms over her breasts.
keep them away from here." The force of ancient reflexes
was propelling him out. His brain knew he was in Kyrgyzstan,
but that didn't matter, part of him was still back in
Vietnam, had always been there, and that part was in charge
now. Combat again. No choice.
be back." He waved, but it was half a salute; then
he was out the door, running on automatic pilot.
full moon filled the hot, deserted street with silvery
light. Rows of ramshackle three-story apartment buildings
stopped at the wall of the air base. Wisps of cordite
smoke floated and swayed; the acrid incense of death,
its odor brought back airstrikes in rain forests, mortar
barrages in rice paddies. The war of his youth seized
him and dragged him back into battle.
Kyrgyz soldier at the gate was dead, staring upward with
eyes dull and distant. Thirty-five years ago, John Randall
had lain like that in a rice paddy while Jeff held his
hand and apologized to his corpse. A wave of remorse,
still fresh, swept over him.
of the sentry's tan uniform was stained ruddy brown, and
without blood his skin was pale. About eighteen, he'd
been trying to grow a mustache. Even in death his _expression
held the hopeful curiosity of youth. The boy would have
wished other than a chest full of holes for himself. So
would his family.
could see human figures behind the curtains of dark apartments,
but no one came out. He peered through the twisted gate.
Across the runway the raiding trucks halted in front of
a building. Toward them, down the airstrip, drove two
Kyrgyz police jeeps, sirens shrilling.
the back of the pickup a raider leveled a recoilless rifle,
a long tube for firing rockets, at the police jeeps. Fire
spewed from both ends. The round skipped off the runway
and exploded in the air, a brief yellow blossom in front
of the jeeps.
defenders swerved and turned. They fired pistol shots,
their little pops puny compared to the recoilless rifle.
the invading pickup, the RR loader slid another rocket
into the tube; the gunner corrected his lead and shot.
This round hit a police jeep broadside, knocked it over,
swallowed it in fire. Bodies tumbled through the blaze
and black smoke. Flames danced on the concrete; in their
orange light a man writhed and screamed, the sound high
wished he could snuff out the fire, cup the dying man
in his hands, and blow life back into him. Take him home,
God. Take us all home.
other jeep turned 180. As it fled, machine gun tracers
chased it, ricocheting off the runway like shooting stars.
The gunner found his range, and lines of light plunged
into the jeep. It drove faster, trailing wails, until
the driver slumped over the wheel. As it veered and slowed,
a policeman leaped out, fell, staggered to his feet, and
ran. Lights sparked toward him, seeking him; he whirled,
arms waving, a dervish in the stars. Jeff thought he would
be hit, but he kept running and finally disappeared in
nodded his congratulations after the running man.
gun tracers skipped back to the jeep, silencing the cries.
The Kyrgyz Air Force troops shot up a mortar flare, which
burst open in the purple sky and cast a stark, swaying
glare onto the land.
dozen raiders in gas masks leaped from the back of the
semi. One of them threw something against the door of
the building; the others flattened against its wall.
door blew in. Two of the raiders ran to the hole, tossed
in grenades. Instead of an explosion, gray smoke curled
out: tear gas. Coughing soldiers emerged from inside the
building. A machine gun burst dropped the first three
in the doorway; the other two raised their arms in surrender.
They paused, gagging, until their need for air pushed
them forward. They stepped over their piled comrades and
raised their arms higher. The machine gun crumpled them
over onto the others.
raiders ran across the bodies and into the building. Jeff
was starting to dislike them.
force troops peered around the corners of barracks, shouted
back to those hiding, all of them confused and frightened.
One hoisted his automatic rifle around a corner, sprayed
a full magazine wildly at the trucks, then ducked back.
More sirens...the chuffing of a helicopter.
checked the civilian streets and saw they were quiet;
there was no assault outside the base. Ainoura was safe.
raiders emerged from the building carrying a heavy object
on a wooden pallet. Straining, they lifted it into the
semi, then climbed in after it.
Kyrgyz Air Force helicopter, louder now, flew around a
hangar and passed low over the trucks. The thieves on
the pickup swiveled their machine gun skyward. The chopper
hooked back, leveled out, and opened fire on the pickup.
Phosphorescent streaks met in both directions as they
dueled. The rising tracers from the truck fell behind
the chopper: the pickup gunner's lead was off. He corrected,
sparks flew as he hit the fuselage, but he was too late.
He jerked as the chopper riddled him, then slid limply
down. The chopper widened its fire to the rest of the
pickup. The recoilless gunner and loader crouched and
covered their heads before they died. A spatter of dark
holes appeared on the roof of the cab.
raider leaped from the back of the semi and lifted a long
cylinder from the bed of the truck. He adjusted the firing
tube over his shoulder and aimed its missile at the chopper;
a flash illumined his masked face. A blazing dart reached
the aircraft, which exploded into a furious sun, silhouetting
its frame and four humans in fire, and fell to earth,
crashing with a whomp of aluminum on concrete. The chopper
bounced once, rotor still whirling, tail breaking loose
and dangling, then crunched down into a flaming hulk.
A door gunner freed himself, stumbled out, and hobbled
a few steps before fire covered him and brought him to
the ground. The blaze filled the cockpit; strapped in,
the pilot flailed his head and arms. Jets of light sprayed
from the wreck with loud cracks as rockets and cartridges
cooked off in the inferno. A rocket spurted along the
runway and exploded against a hangar. The pilot sat still,
dad who won't come home, thought Jeff. What happens to
the kids? His father--killed in Korea after the peace
talks started. He saw again his mother's face that never
lost its grief. Here he was, still at war, caught in the
grip of the fever again. That's what happens to the kids:
they grow up to be soldiers.
fuel flames washed over the runway, spread toward the
trucks. The pickup burst ablaze from its own leaking gasoline.
A wounded raider tried to limp away, but his robes caught
fire. He stumbled and fell, then crawled frantically before
being engulfed. Chanting aloud, he raised his hands beseechingly,
then prostrated himself in a final bow of prayer.
Could be. Or maybe Taliban, Jeff thought. The jihad comes
to Kyrgyzstan...spreading like those flames.
they were stealing, he didn't want them to have it. Especially
terrorists. He had to try to stop them, even if they killed
him. Death might be an improvement. Lots of things were
worse than dying, and he'd been through some of them lately.
chopper burned next to the pickup, the two enemy crews
side by side. Gouts of flame burst from the hangar as
a plane inside ignited.
tide of fire on the runway reached the semi; the truck
was rolling, its wheels blazing circles. As it raced beyond
the fire's edge, the SAM man ran and leaped onto the back;
comrades' arms pulled him in. The truck turned and drove
them. No matter what it takes. Jeff looked down at the
young sentry; flies had found his drying eyes, and he
smelled of the decay we all carry inside us.
you won't need this, maybe I can settle a score for you...and
for lots of other people, Jeff told him as he pulled off
the submachine gun, still warm and wet from his gushed-out
life. He unbuckled and took the web belt holding the ammunition
pouches; it was too small, so he hooked it over his shoulder.
submachine gun looked like an Uzi, but its rough metal
work showed it to be the Czech prototype the Israelis
had adapted. Jeff had fired the Israeli improvement at
Bragg...a long time ago. He couldn't remember where the
safety was. He found a switch and flicked it. The barrel
was too short to be accurate at distance; he'd have to
wait till they were close. A dark exaltation surged through
him as his combat instincts took over. Death was no big
deal. Not theirs. Not his own.
the sky the flare sputtered and went out, leaving them
in moonlight. The troops lofted another, a soaring stem
of sparks that burst into a radiant blossom. Jeff glanced
toward the air force barracks, hoping for signs of a counterattack,
but saw only soldiers huddled in shadows. Guys, it's good
you can see, but it takes more than looking. Fight back,
darted into the street and tried to push the blasted metal
gate shut. Still hot, it burned his hand. He pushed it
with the gun butt; it closed but swung back open when
he released it.
returned to the sentry: Need your help. He dragged his
limp body to the gate and laid it against the metal to
prop it shut. The boy didn't mind. From their side it
might look barricaded; they'd at least slow down.
wooden guard house had been scorched and half blown down
by the initial explosion at the gate. He took a chair
from it, leaned it against the concrete wall, and stood
on it. It wobbled but held his 190.
sixty meters, the semi was close enough for him to see
a masked face behind the wheel. He aimed at it, squeezed
off a burst, and punched holes in the hood. Either the
battle sight was off or he'd lost the skill. He aimed
the next burst at the roof. It shattered the windshield
and the face behind it. Must be the battle sight.
the truck swerved, the man next to the slumping driver
grabbed the wheel. Jeff tried to give him three across
the chest to match the sentry's. He missed. The man lowered
his head to a crescent above the hood and kept steering.
From the back a guy hung out and fired a rifle at Jeff,
but his aim was shaky. Jeff emptied the magazine at the
cab, bracing into the satisfying jolts of the recoil.
The crescent disappeared; the truck slowed and stalled.
dozen raiders jumped from the back. With their ski masks
and AK-47s, they looked to Jeff like hooded priests of
a religion of death. As he reloaded, his adrenalin rush
overrode the fear. He was back in action. All that mattered
was the mission: Stop them.
thieves leaned against the truck to steady their aim as
they fired their AKs; Jeff ducked as chips of concrete
stung his face. They were good. He didn't want to look
back over the wall, but he had to. When he did, a man
in rippling robes and black mask was running towards him
holding a grenade. He stopped and pulled the pin, but
as he raised his arm, Jeff sent him a burst. The raider
fell, the grenade rolled away, and he crawled for it as
Jeff traded fire with his comrades by the truck. Although
the man's wound was interfering with his crawling, he
was trying very hard to reach the grenade. As he seized
it, it went off, taking his arm and half his head away.
others redoubled their fire at Jeff, but now their bursts
were too long to be accurate. His proto-Uzi wasn't as
good as their AKs at this distance, but their truck offered
worse cover than his wall. He could see one thief's knees
as he knelt by the corner of the semi. When he hit them,
the guy toppled away from the truck. The man's legs just
flopped when he tried to move them, so he pulled himself
toward cover with his forearms. Jeff hesitated. This crawling
creature was a human being, like him, like the sentry.
But his side had started the killing. Jeff raised his
submachine gun and held the man in his sights. A voice
inside said, Don't kill him. But another voice yelled,
They're trying to kill you! He forced his finger against
the trigger and hit the raider again.
comrade darted out to rescue the man. He bent down, grabbed
his hand, and dragged him to the truck, then his body
twitched from Jeff's bullets. He fell on top of the other,
and the two lay humped together.
of Enemy, Jeff saw them now as pathetic humans. Ex-humans,
thanks to him. He wished he hadn't shot them--too much
death in the world. A feeling of dank foulness crept over
him, but he shook it off.
others pulled men out of the cab, one screaming, one still.
They tried to start the truck.
shot at the tires. Sparks flew from the hubs, but the
rubber stayed firm. He fired at the grille to puncture
the radiator, but no water ran out. Battle equipped.
from the base, dark figures in firelight, gathered at
the building and began shooting at the semi.
raider ran towards Jeff, his shawl flapping like a cape,
and threw a grenade. Jeff glimpsed its trajectory, jumped
down, and dived into the remains of the guard house, hoping
the plywood would at least slow the shrapnel. He lay head
covered, afraid to die. The grenade thunked to the ground.
Just as he thought it was a dud, it exploded.
blast of white heat singed his body; concussion lifted
him into the air, slammed him against the wall, jabbed
his eardrums. The roar battered them and popped his eyes
open. A wall was falling on top of him, the floor heaving.
He closed his eyes and saw a spray of light as a plywood
slab crashed into his head.
crawled out of the splintered guard house. He could hear
nothing. The smoke smelled like a thousand Fourth of Julys.
Running men could be almost on him. Expecting a grenade,
he glanced around the gate. The semi was rolling towards
him; those thieves who could move were jumping into the
and bleeding from shrapnel punctures, Jeff limped across
the street and hid behind a building. The semi slowed
at the gate, then pushed through, its Mercedes emblem
gleaming like a peace symbol. The gate nudged the sentry's
body and scraped past, leaving it in the road. The wheels
of the truck rolled over it, compressing it so that each
tire bounced less than the one before. The limbs jerked
under the wheels.
ran, too afraid to shoot. As he fled, he remembered a
saying of General Giap, the North Vietnamese commander
who had outsmarted the Pentagon: "Knowing when to
quit is half the battle."
2006 by William T. Hathaway