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The Legends Trilogy Part 1. David

There were so many things I wanted to explain about how Starsky and Hutch made their individual decisions to join the police and also how Starsky first met Traff. And ultimately how the guys started to work together. So, I set about writing this Trilogy. It's the longest thing I've written and has taken me a long time to fine tune. I hope you like it. Some of it is violent, some of it deals with sex (warning there, and I will put a warning at the beginning of each chapter if there is content I think some people may find offensive - they are red blooded young men, when all is said and done!). But I have tried to deal with the things that the two guys in their late teens/early twenties encountered. Things that no-one so young should really have to deal with, but which shaped the men who Starsky and Hutch became.

My thanks to Karen B for her wonderful words of support, to Jill for beta reading Part Two - "Ken" and to my wonderful Brook, without whom I just couldn't write.

Disclaimer - as is usual, no money is made from this, its written purely for pleasure. I don't own them but I borrow them and use their bodies for my (and your) pleasure. Hehehehe!

This first story introduces Major Sharpe who some may remember from one of my first stories - The Major Incident. Ever wondered why Sharpe hated Starsky so much?

Chapter 1

‘Starsky, eyes front and centre’ O’Malley the drill Sergeant yelled at the new man on the base. He stood on the front rank of the 12 men now standing at attention and his eyes had roamed around his new surroundings.

‘Just where they’ve always been’ the dark haired boy muttered almost under his breath.

‘What?’ O’Malley’s eyes drilled into the handsome young man’s eyes seeing only defiance and self assuredness.

‘Nunthin Sarg’.

O’Malley stood over the young man, hands on his hips. He’d seen the young 18 year old swagger cockily into the Major’s office hours earlier and he’d smiled to himself.

Another one of the “chosen few”. Thinks he’s Gods gift to this man’s Army an’ he’s out to show us old hands just what a great guy he is. Just like all the other young guns I’ve had through here. And now it’s my job to show him just how small, insignificant and ultimately expendable he really is.

‘Again?’

‘Sir nuthin Sir’, Starsky replied promptly and more accurately, squaring his shoulders a little more as he heard a stifled snort behind him.

‘That’s better soldier! You think you’re the most important guy here, do ya? Drop and give me forty’ O’Malley ground out.

The young man dropped to the ground, stretching his long legs out behind him and placed his hands at shoulders width beneath him, commencing the press ups and counting them out under his breath. Why did he always have to open his mouth? Why the hell couldn’t he just keep it buttoned? Always the same. Always some cute, sarcastic, clever remark, and then the consequences. And now this, in front of his new unit too. He could feel the eyes of the others boring into the back of his neck and redoubled his efforts to execute the push ups strong and fast. He felt a boot in the middle of his back and the strain on his arms doubled as O’Malley leaned lightly on him.

‘You’re gonna find a few things are different here, Private. First. We don’t answer back. Second. We do what we’re told without question. Third. We follow orders. Got that?’

Starsky counted forty under his breath and lay on his belly in the dirt waiting. The boot ground into his spine.

‘I didn’t hear you soldier. I said did you get that?’

‘Sir, yes Sir’ Starsky said loudly trying hard not to pant with the added exertion. Behind him he heard the snort again and this time O’Malley heard It too. He got to his feet and stood smartly to attention, the 35lb kit sack on his back pulling at his shoulders.

‘You got something to add Cade?’

‘No Sir No’ the blond haired man’s voice sounded loud and clear behind Starsky.

‘Then keep it buttoned soldier. Tomorrow we’ll be starting with reveille at 5:00am, out on the parade ground by 6:00 and…tonight you’ll be in bed by 9:00 ….’.

‘Or home by half past’ Starsky’s mouth formed the words before he could bite them back and he cast a brief look sideways without moving his head as O’Malley approached him again.

‘This must be some kind of record soldier. Two interruptions in as many minutes. Is there nothing between your ears? Don’t keeping it buttoned mean nothing?’ He paused and Starsky wondered whether he should answer or whether the drill Sergeant was being rhetorical. He decided on the latter as the big man continued. ‘Maybe I can help you son’ he bent closer to the young man and took on a fatherly air.

‘Maybe I can do something to help you understand. Would you like that Private Starsky?’

The brunet looked at the man in front of him and decided this time the sergeant required an answer.

‘Sir yes Sir’

‘Then I hope you take this in the spirit in which it’s given’ O’Malley said more quietly. ‘You’re gonna run. Five miles, full pack. Once around the perimeter and perhaps at the end of it you’re going to have too little breath to come at me with wise cracks again. This Army needs men who shudup and listen, not comedians. Got that?’

Starsky tried to keep his tone even although his temper flared. ‘Sir, yes Sir’ he ground out through clenched teeth.

The change was not lost on O’Malley and the big man saw in the brunet something of the recruit he had been all those years ago. Despite what the young man might think now, O’Malley was indeed trying to help. On the second rank, he caught another noise and the tail end of an ‘Oh Jeez!’ He pushed his way though the front rank to the man standing diagonally behind Starsky and stared down at the other soldier. He’d been in the unit for a month now and he too had trouble keeping his feelings on command decisions, the weather, the food and anything else to himself. O’Malley liked him too, but recognised that both he and Starsky would need firm handling.

‘Got something to add Trafford? Coz I don’t recall opening this up for debate’.

Emerald green eyes stared straight ahead as the soldier answered smartly in the negative, but O’Malley wasn’t mollified. He saw the same defiance he’d seen earlier and knew he needed to knock it out of this man too. Stepping back he dismissed the young solider.

‘You too Trafford. If you want to make a friend, you’ve got five miles to do it. The rest of you, dismissed’.

‘But Sarg its ten to nine. You said we had to be in out bunks by nine’ Trafford argued quietly.

‘Then you’d better start running fast, though I doubt even a super soldier like you can run five miles in ten minutes. The rest of you men…don’t wait up!’

The rest of the unit dispersed as Starsky and Trafford looked at each other and shrugged. With a last look at O’Malley, Starsky held out a hand to the other man.

‘Wanna show the visiting team the sights?’ he said, squinting up into the darkness as the rain started to fall.

‘My pleasure’ Trafford said as they both set off at a comfortable jog into the gloom.

The rain started to fall steadily from the darkened sky as the two men jogged along in companiable silence. To anyone looking at the two, they would swear they were in fact twins. Both stood a whisker shy of 6’ and were of lithe, muscular stature. Both too had dark, chocolate brown hair, and if they’d been permitted to grow it longer than the regulation buzz cut, they would have discovered that both men sported curls that their mothers adored and they would do anything to be rid of.

‘Dave. Dave Starsky’ the 18 year old grunted in introduction.

The other man took it in a firm warm grasp. ‘Tom Trafford. Traff to friends. What brings you to this paradise?’

Starsky snorted. ‘Just lucky I guess. I left school, bummed around for a while and did the biker thing, but I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere. And then this guy was standing at a promotional display in the mall. I got to reading the information he gave me about the Army and it looked good’.

‘They gave ya the hard sell did they? The “we’ll make you into a real man " line?’

‘Uh huh. and then I got to boot camp an’ realised it aint like they sell it to ya. There’s always someone telling you what to do, when to do it, and how to do it -- and you've got to do it. An’ I just can’t keep my damned mouth shut!’

‘Tell me about it’ Traff said with feeling.

‘An’ the other thing they don’t tell ya in the bumph is that in the Army, you work the hours you’re told to work, you work "overtime" with no additional pay, you’re supposed to do what you're told to do an’ ya live where you're told to live, and you'll deploy where and when you're told to deploy. Which is how I ended up here’.

‘Sounds like me. I turned 18 an’ I had to get outa the place I was living. My Dad was military through an’ through. I swear if you chopped in half he’d have it written through his middle. Anyhow, he went out to work one day. Didn’t tell me he was going to war. An’ he didn’t come back’.

‘Jeez that’s tough. My Dad was a cop. He was shot on duty an’ my Mom cou….well, I ended up living with my aunt in Bay City Cal’.

‘My Mom died when I was born. I never knew her’ Traff said matter of factly.

‘And the place ya had to get out of?’

Traff snorted. ‘Orphanage. So I went from one institution to another. Don’t tell me. You were picked out at boot camp an’ sent here’.

‘Uh huh. They said I could shoot well enough and they needed snipers. An’ did I want some excitement? You too?’

‘Yup. I managed to get five outa six slugs into the bull an’ next thing I know I was in the Major’s office ‘n’ they’re doin’ this hard sell thing about how my country needed me’.

‘How long have you been here?’ Starsky asked, stumbling slightly in the dark and rain.

‘A month. One month of pure joy! The guys are ok. Ya have to watch a couple of ‘em. They think they’re Captain Marvel or sumthin. But the rest are sound enough’.

‘O’Malley seems a bundle of laughs’.

Traff grinned. ‘He’s a pussycat when ya get t’know him. He does care. He just makes us tough it out coz that’s what it’s gonna be like over there’.

‘Over where?’

Traff stopped running, bending over to get his breath. He looked at the other boy with pity in his eyes. ‘Didn’t they tell ya?’

‘Tell me what?’

‘What this place is an’ where you’ll end up’

Starsky stopped, also bending over to catch his breath. In the distance he could see the lights of the nissen huts and he stole a quick look at his watch. 11:45. ‘No, they omitted that little snippet’ he grunted. ‘Care to enlighten me?’

Traff heaved a big sigh. He put a friendly hand on his new friend’s shoulder. ‘We’re being trained as snipers’.

‘I know’.

‘Well where in this country would we need a sniper?’

‘Dunno. I never thought. I just enjoy firing guns. Shit! Why do I get the impression I’m not gonna like what I hear?’

‘Coz that’s about the size of it Chief. The reason they need a whole bunch of snipers is coz we’re being shipped off to ‘Nam in four months time’.

Starsky stood upright, trying to assimilate the information. ‘Nam? As in Vietnam. Jungles; rain; all those film reels we keep seein’?’

‘Uh huh. We have the dubious honour of seeing the world – through the crosshairs of a rifle’.

‘Shit! No wonder the other guys at boot camp didn’t seem real sorry that they weren’t chosen’.

‘Well there are some good points’. Traff said as they started to jog the final leg back to the base.

‘T’riffic? Somehow I’m not sure I believe ya’.

‘Oh there are. We’re classed as SPCs – Specialists. So although it ain’t exactly a promotion we do get a bit more in our pay packet. An’ although you won’t believe it now, we don’t have such tight regulations as the rest of the grunts. We even get to go off base to the bars at weekends’.

Starsky looked skeptical. ‘Don’t exactly sell me on the thoughts of getting’ shot to death in ‘Nam’ he grumbled.

‘No? Well wait till ya tell the girls you’re doin’ undercover missions for Uncle Sam. Drives ‘em wild! Believe me Chief. What those girls at Mo’s Bar can do with an ice cube ain’t worth mentionin’. Traff grinned as Starsky’s face lit up.

‘Now that’ he said happily ‘is definitely something to get shot at for. Hey! I got something to celebrate at the end of this month’.

‘Yeah? What?’

‘I turn 19’.

Traff regarded the dark haired boy. ‘Funny, you look older’.

Starsky stared levelly back into the emerald green eyes. ‘Yeah, you too. How old are ya?’

’19 four months ago’ Traff replied.

‘Well, old man. Race ya back to the bunk house. I want a hot shower an’ bed’ Starsky grinned, sprinting ahead quickly his backpack bouncing uncomfortably against his back.

O’Malley was waiting for the two young men when they got back. They were soaking wet, the rain dripping off their noses and eyelashes and their clothes were stiff with the rainwater. The Sergeant ushered them inside without a word and directed them to the showers before handing them cups of steaming coffee.

‘You missed supper. Get washed up and then get to bed. You’re up again in five hours’ he said gruffly before turning in his heel and leaving.

Starsky walked into the shower room, peeled off his dripping clothes and hung them up in the drying cabinet before turning on the hot water and ducking under the shower. The running water warmed him through and eased the tense muscles in his shoulders. The news Traff had given him had been a shock, but, he reasoned, if he joined the Army, he’d have to see action, and right now, the action was in ‘Nam. He tried to shut out the pictures he’s seen on the news reels about the conflict and instead concentrated on the present. Time to worry about oversees later. Girls. Traff had told him that their unit was a magnet for the girls, so for that he was happy.

The water started to run cold and he got out, wrapping one of the rough green towels around his waist. Traff was doing the same and each boy appraised the other. Both were well muscled and both had a fur of brown hair across their chests, fading to a thin central line which disappeared below the waistband of the towel. But whereas the hair decorating Traff’s chest was thick and straight, Starsky’s hair formed brown curls across his chest’.

Traff grinned. ‘Yay, Curly boy’ he said, regarding his new friend with some humour in his emerald green eyes. He spoke in a soft Boston accent which Starsky found oddly calming.

‘That’s me, like a freakin’ poodle’ Starsky agreed with a chuckle, his own New York accent still strong despite spending the last four years of his life in California.

They dried quickly and got into their regulation green boxers and vests before padding out of the shower room and into their bunk house. The lights were out and there was the sound of eight other guys all softly snoring and dead to the world. Traff pointed at a lower bunk on the right hand side of the room and whispered.

‘That’s yours. I’m over there’ he pointed at the far corner of the room. ‘Sleep well’.

Starsky walked over to his bunk and carefully put his kit back at the foot to unpack properly in the morning when he could see and wouldn’t disturb the others. He pulled back the sheets to his bunk and looked around for his pillow. He knew there should be one, but there wasn’t and he bent down to look under the bunk just in case. Nothing there either and he looked across the small space to the next bunk. He saw the blond fuzz on top of Cade’s head as the young man turned over and was sure he saw the grin on the man’s face before he presented the back of his head.

The brunet paused, torn between having it out with the blond that he’d taken an instant dislike to, or making do with what he had and keeping quiet so that the rest of the bunk house could sleep. Looking at the other sleeping guys, and realising he now had only four hours of sleep ahead of him, Starsky decided to let sleeping blonds lie. He’d get even later. He lay his weary body down on the hard mattress and rested his head on his folded arm.

He wondered what his Mom would think if he knew he was going to see action in ‘Nam. He’d forgiven Rachel Starsky years ago for sending him away from New York. He’d been young and even more impetuous then and had taken his neighbours gun and gone in search of his Dad’s killers. A couple of his Dad’s cop friends had picked him up and locked him in the cells overnight as a short sharp shock. But in the morning, his Mom had made the heartbreaking decision to send her eldest son away for his own protection. At the time – he was only 14 – Starsky had hated her for her decision, feeling abandoned. But as the months went by, the hatred faded to unhappiness and then to understanding. He could never hate his Mom, and now he wondered what he could tell her to stop her worrying too much. Sleep overtook him though and he dreamed of guns and blonds and shouting Sergeants.

Chapter 2

Four hours later Starsky was rudely awakened at 5:00am by a clattering of pan lid on pans and O’Malley’s dulcet tones telling them to rise and shine. After 8 weeks of basic training, and before that boot camp, Starsky was used to this type of alarm call and he was instantly awake, bounding out of bed and standing to attention at the foot of the bunk, shivering slightly in the cold of the very early morning. O’Malley stood at one end of the bunk house, his stick under his arm, ready to commence the day.

‘What are the army values?’ he called loudly

‘Loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honour, integrity and personal courage, Sir’ the men reeled off like a host of green clothes parrots.

‘And what is the warrior ethos?’

‘I will always place the mission first; I will never accept defeat; I will never quit; I will never leave a fallen comrade behind, Sir’ they chorused loudly.

‘Stand at ease’.

Each man placed their feet shoulder width apart, their hands clasped one inside the other in the small of their back, their right foot never moving. O’Malley walked down the length of the bunkhouse, then back again, taking in each of the ten men.

‘Stand easy’

They let their arms fall to their sides.

‘And rest’.

They stood relaxed and waited for O’Malley to tell them their orders for the day.

oOo

One day blended into the next during the following weeks of training which the men endured in the specialist unit. The Army had, during the past few years discovered the usefulness of snipers in major war zones and now this base, on the Mexican border was used to train young recruits who’d shown an aptitude for marksmanship. While their basic training had been the same as for every other recruit, they were now expected to partake in extra exercises in shooting anything from pistols to semi automatics and to riffles and rocket launchers. Starsky and Traff both scored equally highly on all the different weapons they used and became popular with all the other eight men in their unit save one.

From the first moment Cade had seen Starsky, he had take an instant dislike to the handsome young soldiers. He hated the fact that Starsky and Traff had such an easy rapport with all the other men and also to some extent with the drill instructors. While all the drill sergeants used the same techniques of training; yelling and shouting and generally putting their soldiers down was the standard Army approach to training efficient fighting machines, the two dark haired boys seemed to be able to let the noise and chaos roll over their heads, coming back from each gruelling training day with a smile on their faces and a joke always on their tongues. While Cade took every insult thrown at him as personal, Traff and Starsky laughed it off and in doing so, they made their comrades feel better, talking over problems, making light of discomforts and generally leading their team.

And all the while, Cade looked on from his self imposed exile, never missing the chance to put Starsky or Traff down. But while Traff had been with the unit for months, Starsky was still seen as the new recruit and the blond soldier saw him especially as fair game.

After one particularly tedious, hard day, during which the unit had been left doing a 10 miles run in full pack through a rain storm, Cade had once again decided that the time was right to get his own back on the popular boy. He waited until Starsky was at his super, then snook back to the bunk house and took the safety catch off the brunet’s rifle. After they’d all eaten, O’Malley took the unit back to their bunks for final kit inspection and as each soldier stood at the foot of their beds with their rifles in present position, he took each weapon in turn and checked it for operational efficiency and cleanliness. As he got to Cades, O’Malley made some observation about the amount of mud still adhering to the stock of the weapon and shouted at the blond that he was slovenly and shoddy. Handing the weapon back, Cade’s cheeks glowed red with embarrassment, but he knew he’d get his own back pretty soon. In Cade’s eyes, the only one in the unit who deserved the shouting was standing right beside him.

O’Malley took Starsky’s rifle next, expecting the perfection he’d seen in the young soldier from day one. Only Starsky’s anger marred an otherwise perfect soldier, but deep down, O’Malley knew that anger could also benefit a man out on the jungles of ‘Nam. He put the rifle to his shoulder, sighting down the barrel and his finger slid into position against the hair trigger. As he was about to give the weapon back, his finger snagged on the trigger and unexpectedly the rifle boomed into life sending splinters of wood flying left and right from the hole made in the bunk house wall. Soldiers too flew left and right as they ducked behind their beds to take cover and O’Malley’s face paled.

Recovering his composure quickly, he flipped on the safety and flung the rifle back at the shocked soldier.

‘Are you trying to kill us ya fuckin’ moron?’ he yelled, his face inches from Starsky’s.

‘Sir, no Sir’ the boy said in a shocked voice. He never left the gun with the safety off. As young as 4 his Dad had taught him about gun safety and how to leave weapons. It was second nature to him to always check that weapons were left unloaded and with the safety on. He heard a stifled snort and looked sideways. Cade had his hand up to his mouth and his shoulders were shaking. The blood boiled in Starsky’s veins but he knew now was not the time to get even with the blond. He concentrated instead on what the drill sergeant was telling him and caught up with the part where O’Malley was telling him that he was a liability and would spend two days in solitary to help him focus his mind. As he was marched from the room, he saw once again the grin of satisfaction on Cade’s face and his hatred of the blond grew more intense.

oOo

It was a more careful brunet who emerged from the stockade two days later. O’Malley had been to visit him and had asked him if anyone could have sabotaged his weapon and although the drill sergeant knew Starsky was lying when he denied it, he couldn’t force the information out of the young man.

And so Starsky was back to join his unit for the final exercise of the training. It was a 2 day route march to an unknown destination out in the desert and at the end of it would be a marine type assault course. The first day went well although it was exhausting as the soldiers were once again in full packs and had to cover 25 miles at a reasonable pace in the hot sun, before setting up tents in the dark and cooking a meal over an open fire. The men slept well that night although it was cold. The desert air was frigid and in the morning, Starsky awoke to see his breath misting in front of him. His clothes were damp and cold but he took the discomfort in his stride and by 7:00am, they had broken camp and were once more on the move.

By midday, they reached their goal which was an area used by the military for training marines. The testing ground looked like an over sized assault course and O’Malley drew his unit around him and explained what was going to happen.

‘Right men. This will be the last exercise we do together. This is a pass or fail day. Not all of you will complete the course, but for those who do, there will be a passing out ceremony and a ticket to active duty. For those who don’t make the grade, there’s still the regular units’.

Over the next ten minutes, the drill sergeant outlined what each man would be expected to do. The test took the form of physical activity, while they cleared various obstacles and at marked points they would be expected to fire at chosen targets. The whole exercise would be done under battle conditions and there would be soldiers firing blanks at them and the simulated noise of battle around them. They had a specific time to get around the course and they were to act as one unit. After checking they were clear in their instructions, O’Malley blew a whistle and the exercise was on.

Traff set out in the lead with the other nine men stringing out behind him, Starsky automatically taking up the rear position as the guns stated to blow off on either side of them.

The first obstacle was an eleven foot high wall which they had to scale. This was something Starsky hated. Most things he could cope with, but heights scared him witless and Traff and one of the other guys helped him over as he swallowed down his fear in the heat of the battle.

Over the next hour, they went through their paces, climbing, jumping, balancing and belly crawling their way across the obstacles, pausing at the respective points to loose off round after round into given targets. While Starskys bullets always hit their mark, more often than not into the bull, others were not so careful and twice, Cade missed the target altogether, his panting and gasping making his aim wide and off mark. He looked around him, expecting a wise crack from the brunet, but none came. Starsky was too involved in his own performance and his commitments to getting his team through the exercise to worry about cheap jibes. And yet that seemed to fuel the blond’s anger even more.

The last obstacle of the course was a submerged concrete tube which they had to get into and swim through to the opposite side. The tube was about 10 yards in length and the water was dark, greasy and murky. Traff, who was still leading paused and got the men into order.

‘Ok, it’s a tough one but we can do it. Just take a deep breath an’ follow the guy in front. When you get out at the other side, haul yourself outa the water and then pull the guy behind you out. Got it?’

The nine other men nodded and got themselves into order, Traff first and Starsky still bringing up the rear. Right in front of him Cade shivered as he waited for his turn.

One by one, the soldiers lowered themselves down into the grimy water, took a lungful of air, and disappeared into the murky depths, emerging gasping and spluttering at the far end of the tube as Traff counted them out. The young soldier was busy helping to haul bodies out of the water to leave the way clear for the next soldier through and finally it was Cade’s turn.

‘You next’ Starsky said.

‘I know’.

‘Well go on. They’re all waiting. We’re still on the clock ya know’ the brunet urged impatiently.

Cade licked his lips apprehensively.

‘It’ll be ok’ Starsky said. ‘I’ll be right behind ya. If ya get stuck I’ll help’. He saw the pale face and the shaking hand and he could tell that the blond was scared out of his wits.

‘C’mon Cade. It’s easy’.

‘It’s easy for you. You’re so fuckin’ perfect it’s all easy for you’ the blond muttered viciously.

Starsky snorted. ‘Yeah right! So easy for me. Shut your pie hole Cade an’ just swim huh. Or are ya too yellow? Want me to go tell O’Malley that you’re shittin’ yourself huh?’ He said it not unkindly, more to get the soldier to move and start the obstacle. It had the desired effect. Cade lowered himself into the water and disappeared below the surface as Starsky too plunged in.

The water was tepid and greasy and it stung at the brunet’s eyes as he submerged, the water filling his ears so that the sounds of the gunfire and explosions above ground were muffled and distorted. He took a deep breath and set about following the quickly flashing boots of the man in front. Although he knew the tube was finite, it was still eerie and he had the feeling immediately that he could drown at any moment.

Stowing the fear deep inside him, he launched himself off and followed Cade’s heels, feeling the deep burn inside his lungs as the oxygen was swiftly used up. The tube seemed to go on for an eternity and soon Starsky started to panic a little. He hated the feel of the water around him, cocooning him in a deathly embrace and he longed to pull pure clean air into his lungs. Ahead he saw light and with renewed vigour, he struck out for it, his arms pulling him along strongly now that his target was in sight.

But as he started to surface, he felt his way blocked. Looking up, air bubbles streaming from his nose, he saw the bulk of the blond soldier in the exit to the tunnel. He pushed against Cade’s heels, but instead of the big man getting out of the way, he felt Cade kick downwards against his head.

Struggling now with his lungs almost at bursting point, he tried to push past the other man’s body to get to the surface. But Cade had seen his chance to get back at the popular soldier and did his best to obstruct the brunet.

Starsky felt his head start to spin, the tunnel of light becoming a mere pinprick in his consciousness as he gave up the unequal struggle with the water. As he felt his lings screaming for air, he made a last effort to push Cade out of the way before darkness surrounded him for good.

Chapter 3

Traff saw Cade standing waist deep in water at the mouth of the tube and shot forward. ‘What’re ya waiting for soldier?’ he yelled.

‘My hands are numb. I can’t get out’ the blond whined as he held his hands up for help.

Two of the other guys took hold of him and pulled him from the hole as Traff yelled at him. ‘Where’s Curly?’

Cade flopped down onto the ground like a stranded fish. ‘He was right behind me. I don’t think he can swim too well. He’s probably still back at the beginning of the pipe. Some loser he turned out to be’.

Traff looked back but couldn’t see anybody still at the mouth to the tube. It didn’t sound like his friend. So far as Traff was aware, the only thing Starsky was afraid of was heights, and even that fear didn’t stop him tackling the obstacles on the course. He bent down by the murky pool and stared into its depths. He saw nothing and was about to stand up again when he caught sight of the flash of something shiny and metallic floating in the depths. Swiftly, he plunged his arm into the water, his fingers questing and grasping hold of some sodden material.

‘Over here. Help needed’ he grunted out loud as other hands snaked down into the water next to him. They hauled as if their lives depended on it and finally the sodden limp body of the brunet broke the surface. Traff heaved it out of the water and rolled Starsky over onto his back, noting the pale face and the waterlogged appearance, the brunet’s lips and the area around his eyes having a blue tinge. He pushed his fingers against Starsky’s neck feeling for a pulse but came up empty. Swiftly, he unbuckled the brunet’s helmet and loosened his collar.

‘Help me get him breathing’ he muttered as Cade looked away. Alan Merryweather knelt by Traff’s side. The younger man looked on in horror, but he swiftly shook himself and stooped down to help.

‘Merry, you do the compressions an’ I’ll breathe ok?’

At a nod, they commenced the resuscitation, working hard over their fallen friend as the rest of the unit looked on, hushed. Despite the fact that they were all wet and cold, sweat started to drip into Traff’s eyes as he concentrated on getting life back into the limp form before him. Even the simulated sound of the battle seemed to recede into the background as seven of the nine men in the unit concentrated on the drowned soldier, willing him to take another breath.

Curious at what was going on and wondering why the whole unit had come to a sudden halt, O’Malley trotted over to the group and bent down just as the two first aiders were commencing the third round of compressions. As Merry started to press down rhythmically on the brunet’s chest again, Traff searched the young handsome face for signs of life, urging his friend to breathe. At last relief flooded through Traff’s body as Starsky’s eyes fluttered open and he coughed a mouthful of dirty tepid water out onto his uniform. He groaned and rolled onto his side, quietly vomiting the murky water out of his body as the drill sergeant looked around.

‘What the hell happened here?’ he thundered once he’d established that the young soldier would be ok. He watched as two of the soldiers helped Starsky to his feet and led him away to the hospital tent to be checked out fully.

Traff stood and looked directly at Cade. ‘Yeah JC. What the hell happened?’ he asked coldly.

The blond backed up but was quickly stopped by the rest of the men closing ranks.

‘It wasn’t my fault. He couldn’t swim’

O’Malley stared at him in disbelief as the blond blustered on. ‘He was right behind me. He said he couldn’t do it. I tried to encourage him but he just froze. In the end I said I’d show him how it was done, and got into the water. I thought he was gonna follow me’.

‘Well he did, but it looked to me like you weren’t for letting him up’ Traff spat out. ‘An’ he could swim just fine. You knew that. What’s this all about JC? What’s your little game huh?’

James Cade’s face fell. He knew he’s been rumbled and now the blood boiled in his veins. ‘He deserved it’ he shouted defensively. ‘He deserved everything. He’s always there, top of the class like some fucking machine. He needed someone to give him a shock – take him down a peg or two. He had it coming to him’.

‘And you thought drowning him would be the answer wise guy? You could’a fuckin’ killed him, an’ what the hell’s he ever done at you? You were the one who sabotaged his rifle. You were the one who played all those tricks on him’ Without pause for thought about the consequences, Traff took one step closer, pulled his fist back and brought it crushing down onto the blond’s jaw. Cade took a step back and Traff delivered another telling blow to his stomach, bending Cade over so that he gasped and lost his breakfast on the ground in front of him. Traff was warming to his task but as he wound himself up for another punch, his fist was caught from behind. O’Malley held it in a strong grasp.

‘There’s only so much I can overlook, son’ he said gently. ‘Go see to your man, then be back on the parade ground with the rest of the unit in an hour’.

‘But what about him?’ Traff ground out, looking at the gasping blond in front of him.

‘He’s my problem. Now go’ O’Malley said.

oOo

An hour later, and against the advice of the medical officer, Starsky was back in the line up with his unit on the parade ground, as O’Malley had ordered. He was still pale and he wheezed some when he breathed, but once he’d learned that Cade had wilfully stopped him from surfacing, the brunet wanted to face the blond soldier and show him he wasn’t afraid.

The unit fell in to attention, more comfortable now that they’d had chance to change out of the wet clothes and into snug dry uniforms. They stood shoulder to shoulder, proud to have lasted the course as O’Malley and the camp commandant, one Major Sharpe walked down their line, inspecting them. The surly drill sergeant had a half smile on his face. This was one unit he wouldn’t forget in a hurry, and although he was proud of nine out of the ten men, he was also sorry that probably half of them would never make it back from Vietnam, such was the ferocity of the fighting.

The Commandant stood back and appraised the men, then muttered something to O’Malley. The drill sergeant nodded, smiled then ordered the men to fall out. He followed them back to the small barracks and waited till they’d all sat down expectantly.

‘Despite you being the worst, most unprofessional, slovenly, sloppy unit I’ve ever had the misfortune to take through this training, I’m here to tell you that almost all of you have passed this training phase. Only two of you will be returning to normal duty at the end of today’.

The faces looked back at him expectantly and O’Malley felt a surge of pride at these young men who were ready, willing and able to go to a foreign land and put their lives on the line for their country.

‘Stevenson’.

‘Sir, yes sir’ the young ginger headed man stood up at full attention, knocking over the chair in his rush.

‘Stevenson, you will return to your previous unit. I think you realise that you didn’t make the grade as a marksman. In fact I’d go so far as to say that you couldn’t hit a barn door if you were sat on the hinges! I’ll be having words with your CO about who put your name forward for this training. It was unfair of them to raise your expectations. But in every other area of training, you can be assured that you have passed with flying colours. Dismissed’ He saluted the young soldier who nodded curtly and marched from the room, determined not to let his fellow soldiers see the tears in his eyes.

O’Malley continued. ‘The other failure, and this time I use the term I its full glory is you Cade. Stand up when I address you!’

The blond man stood rigidly to attention, but he had a look of disbelief on his face as though the drill sergeant had called the wrong man.

‘Never in all my years of training have I seen such an out and out display of cowardice and jealousy. If I had it in my power, I’d dismiss you from the Army right now. But that is not something open to me. Instead, you will report back to your previous unit where you will be placed in the stockade for 1 month while you contemplate your behaviour’.

Cade’s face coloured to the shade of a tomato and he was about to challenge O’Malley, but then thought better of it. Instead he looked sullenly ahead.

‘Dismissed soldier. The MPs are waiting for your outside’.

Cade jumped at the mention of the tough police, but turned smartly on his heel to leave. Finding that his way took him past Starsky, he paused, but then decided that he was more afraid of O’Malley than he was conscious of the brunet. As he marched in front of the young man, Starsky kept his eyes front and managed to keep the grin off his face.

The drill sergeant continued.

‘For the rest of you, you have all passed this phase of the course and from now on, you will all carry the rank of SPC. You will behave in a manner which befits your new rank at work and also when you are off duty. You have one days R&R tomorrow before returning here for further instructions. You will be shipping out the day after tomorrow. Is that clear?’

The young men in front of him glowed with pride. ‘Sir, yes sir’ they chorused smartly.

‘Stand at ease’ the sergeant said almost affectionately. ‘And rest. Now, get out of my sight before I change my mind and boot you all back to basic training!’

The unit reeled out into the open air where there was a general whoop of victory and much backslapping. They made their way back to the bunk house they’d been assigned for the night and picked their respective bunks.

‘So what’re we gonna do to celebrate?’ Merry asked as they all lounged on their bunks relaxing. They were all sore, tired and sore some more. But each of them was full of pride at having made it through the course and come out the other side relatively unscathed

‘Drink, get laid and drink some more’ one of the others piped up.

‘Well its um….its my birthday if we need any more reason to celebrate’ Starsky said quietly. He’d never really been one to celebrate his birthday too much, but now he had the urge to spend time with his new friends. They’d been through a lot together and he was eternally grateful both to Merry and Traff for dragging him out of the water.

‘Yeah? Well that’s settled. Tomorrow night we’re out on the town, if this place even has a town to go out on’

Chapter 4 -

ENORMOUS WARNINGS FOR GRAPHIC SEX IN THIS CHAPTER, IF IT OFFENDS READ NO FURTHER AND SKIP ON TO CHAPTER 5

At 7:00pm the next evening, he eight men were washed and dressed in their civvies as they made their way out of the barracks and towards the small town nearby. It was even more apparent now that Traff and Starsky were almost like twins. They’d both dressed in butter soft, well worn Levi jeans and had added white shirts, opened at the neck to reveal and expanse of furred chest. From a distance they both looked older than their 19 years and both walked with a confident, almost swaggering gait which made their lean, tightly denim clad hips sway alluringly.

The previous evening, while Starsky had taken a shower and turned in for an early night to recover from his drowning experience, the others had got together and had a small collection for him, amassing enough to give the birthday boy a night to remember. Now, as they entered the nightclub, Traff looked around him, appraising the joint to see if it had what he needed.

He walked over to the bar and ordered drinks for the others and had a quiet word with the bartender, who nodded and pointed at a door in the corner of the room. Traff disappeared, emerging five minutes later with a smile on his face. He walked up to the small group of men and pulled Starsky to one side.

‘Um, the guys an’ me wanted you to have a good night on your birthday so we um….we had a little collection an’ your presents waitin’ outside that door’.

The brunet had the grace to blush and mumbled some words of thanks as the rest of the men grinned, adding a few choice comments as they pushed him towards the door. He opened it and Traff pushed him through, closing out the noise of the bar.

In the dark corridor behind the bar, a young oriental girl stood waiting, a welcoming smile on her face.

‘Well hello there. I’m your birthday present’ she said in a soft sultry voice.

‘Um….hi’ the young man said, lost for words. He fidgeted, not really knowing how to proceed. But the girl beckoned him and set off up the steps at the end of the corridor. Starsky followed the woman back to her room, a mixture of excitement and apprehension flooding though his veins. Oh my God. His friends had assured him a good time, but this! He was at a loss. A prostitute? Shit, he’d never been in this position before, although he’d often fantasised when he was alone in his bed. But what was he supposed to do? Did he tell her that he’d never really been with a woman before? Oh sure, there had been the odd dalliance with girls behind the bike shed. And there had been that one time at Pete’s party with his sister. But that had been more about her seducing him rather than the other way around. And at the end, the 14 year old Starsky just couldn’t control himself, the whole event taking less than five minutes.

But this woman was different. She must have had countless men in her time. And that was the operative word. Men. Despite what he thought of himself and the years that his dark hair and muscles leant to his appearance, Starsky was not exactly a man. He snorted to himself.

What the hell are you doing Davey boy? What of she laughs at ya? What if….Oh my God. What if ya can’t get it up? Shit!

Starsky walked into the room and looked around. It was unlike anything he’d anticipated. Having watched black and white films where the man always took the woman to some seedy motel room, he’d expected something similar with grimy walls and a threadbare rug. In actual fact, Yokino’s room was small and well decorated, close carpeted and smelled of jasmine and lilies. There was a large bed against one wall, covered by a faux fur throw and piled high with white pillows edged in lace. The room was lit softly by a lamp on the night stand, the shade a deep crimson which leant a soft pink light to the surroundings. This was the most feminine room the brunet had ever been in. And it exuded sex.

Yokino turned and appraised her new client. Starsky appraised the woman. She wasn’t what he thought a prostitute should be either. She had a kind, sweet face decorated with just a hint of make up and her slim frame rippled beneath a silk kimono decorated with chrysanthemums. Her long black hair hung down her back and was cut in a short fringe at the front. It was difficult to put an age to her, but Starsky decided she couldn’t be more than 25. She smiled at him.

‘Your friends must think a lot of you, I don’t come cheap’ she said in a heavily accented voice.

‘Yeah, um…we…erm…’ for once, the brunet was lost for words and he looked at his feet, his self confidence having been left outside the room.

Yokino took hold of his chin and pulled him to her as she planted a delicate kiss on his lips. ‘Would you like to make yourself more comfortable?’

Starsky nodded and fumbled with the buttons on his shirt, his hands shaking a little in anticipation. Softly the woman drew his hands away and started to unbutton the buttons herself, kissing each portion of Starsky’s chest as it revealed itself. He sighed against her. She pulled the shirt from the brunet’s waistband and continued her work until the shirt was open down the front and she pushed it over his shoulders so that it fell to the floor behind him. Without thinking, Starsky laced his hands into her hair and pulled her to him so that he could kiss her deeply. She responded, moaning into his mouth as his tongue started to explore, shyly at first and then with more passion he pressed the centre of his body against her.

He felt her hands on his waistband now and realised that he needn’t have worried about achieving an erection. Now his only worry was maintaining it for any length of time as her hands worked their way into his tight pants. He shuddered beneath her grasp and moaned and she looked up into his face, uncertain. She read apprehension and stopped her exploration for a moment.

‘Is this your first time?’ she asked gently with no hint of recrimination in her voice.

‘No!...no its…erm….well it the first time erm…..properly’ he finished in a strangled whisper, blushing furiously.

She pushed him away gently. ‘You should have said. It’s so long since I had the chance to educate’. She took his hand and walked with him to the bed. Putting her hands on his bare shoulders she pushed him down so that he was sitting on the edge of the mattress. She knelt on the floor between his knees and looked up into his face, seeing the uncertainty which tempted her.

‘Do you want to learn, or do you want something else?’ she asked.

He swallowed. ‘Learn?’

‘About just how good this can be. The pleasure you can give and receive with a little practice’ she said softly as she unbuttoned his flies and his cock sprung free.

‘I erm….I hadn’t really…..oh shit’ he gasped as her lips closed around his dick in a practiced embrace.

Yokino worked her lips around his manhood, surprised at just how big this boy was. His essence filled her and she set to work in earnest, licking, sucking and flicking her tongue around the tip. He moaned again, his head thrown back as she pushed softly into the small entrance and tasted his excitement.

He’d always taken the lead; he’d always been the one to call the shots and set the pace which was usually frantic, his climax coming in minutes. And he’d never really worried about how the girl felt. It was his pleasure at stake wasn’t it? But now, he felt himself a bigger part of the proceedings. As though he was a participant in the most important thing in the world and the world revolved around this room, this woman and what she was doing to his body. She played him like a violin, bringing him to the very edge of his control before backing off and allowing him some time to come down before the next assault on the centre of his body. He’d never felt this way before, his heart hammering in his balls, the fullness and heaviness almost intolerable in their exquisite torture. He balled his hands into the fur throw and threw his head back again, calling her name as she brought him almost to climax again with her talented mouth. She gently took his balls in her hand, stroking the smooth skin and gently massaging the tender contents of the sac as he ground his hips forward, seeking more and more pleasure. Feeling the cock in her mouth harden to the consistency of purple marble, she raised her head and looked down the length of his sweating body.

‘Not yet, my love’ she whispered.

Panther like, she crawled up the length of his body until she was leant over his raptured face.

‘Oh my God you’re fantastic’ he gasped as she leaned over him and planted a kiss on the sweat beaded forehead.

She giggled. ‘The night is young. We’ve only just begun and soon you’ll be begging me’. She rolled over onto her back and pulled him on top of her, his jeans puddling around his ankles as she opened the front of her kimono. He kicked his ankles free of the material and knelt above her. Starsky hitched a breath as he saw her perfect pale skin in the warm pink light of the bedroom. He dipped his head and kissed the hollow of her neck below her throat, licking a wet line down between her breasts as she sighed beneath him.

He’d never worshipped a woman’s body before, always being in too much of a hurry for his own gratification, but now he found pleasure n the little gasps he heard her making. He discovered how his kiss could make her sigh; how his tongue rimming her navel could make her arch her back and how she gasped when he took each pink rosebud nipple in his mouth and alternately sucked and gently bit down. And the more noises she made, the more aroused he remained. He needed no instruction, seeming to know intuitively what she needed and what would give her the most pleasure.

Ducking down further, he was amazed to find that unlike the girls he’d had in school, this woman was very carefully trimmed between her legs and he ran his tongue over the pink bare skin as she shivered below him. Running his tongue lower, he dipped into her secret places and she hummed, groaning and wrapping her fingers into his short curls as she ground his tongue into herself. Starsky lapped at her moisture, sucking on her clit as she whimpered, her body shuddering as she arched her back and thrust herself towards him.

He paused and looked up at her.

‘Don’t stop’ she said breathlessly. ‘Please don’t stop’.

‘I thought it was me supposed to be begging you’ he grinned wolfishly. He’d never considered that giving sex could be so fulfilling, but he found himself longing to have her plead with him to take her.

Starsky went back to his task, licking and sucking until Yokino was shivering and shouting his name out into the room, her voice raw with emotion. He put one hand on her stomach, the other hand insinuating a finger into her. She moaned and ground her hips against him until he added a second and then a third, filling her so that she moaned again. He moved his fingers inside her, experimenting and as they touched that most sensitive G spot she shouted out, her voice rough with emotion. Tenderly, Starsky worked her body some more, his own needs temporarily forgotten, although his cock stuck out thick and long between them.

Finally he knelt above her, his dick springing to attention again as he prepared himself. He smiled at her and she nodded. Slowly he dipped his body down to hers and felt the head of his cock nudge at her entrance. He almost came there and then but with a superhuman effort, he summoned all his self control and pushed steadily inside her, feeling her body close around him in a moist warm embrace. He sighed as he felt himself seat fully inside her. He was bigger than average and he’d never had a woman who could accommodate all of him before. Even though he wanted to enjoy himself, he’d still always been considerate enough to not hurt his girls and consequently he’d never really let himself go.

But now, with Yokino, he realised she could take his whole length and for a moment he relished the feeling of being fully inside a woman. Yokino seemed to be holding her breath and very slowly Starsky started to withdraw almost his whole length before pushing back inside again. His pace picked up as the woman arched her back and pushed up to meet his thrusts until he was slamming into her with reckless abandon, his balls slapping against her body, his whole world now centred on the pleasure from his cock. Amazingly he lasted for almost four minutes before finally he felt his balls tighten and his cock shuddered as he shot his load deep inside her. But even then, he didn’t stop, instead slowing his pace down gradually until he felt her own climax and then her body relaxed beneath him.

He lowered himself down until he lay at the side of the breathless woman and rested his head on her shoulder as she ran her fingers through his hair. They kissed, Yokino stroking the hairs on his chest and further down his body until he felt himself growing hard again. Four times during the night they took pleasure in each others bodies until they had no energy left; nothing further to learn. And together they fell into a satisfied sleep.

Hours later, Starsky awoke to find himself alone. He looked around and saw Yokino once again dressed in her kimono.

‘I was going to wake you’ she said. ‘You have to be dressed and back at the base in an hour’.

‘Uh huh. We’re shipping out today’ the brunet said, his voice still thick with sleep. He shuffled off the bed and started to get dressed. He smiled at the woman and kissed her once more before he went to the door.

‘Thanks’ he said simply.

She put her arms around his waist and held him tight. ‘Be careful’ she whispered and he felt her push something into his pocket. He looked questioningly at her and took the wadded up money from his pocket.

‘Happy birthday’ she said. ‘I enjoyed it as much as you did’.

Chapter 5

The eight men sat uncomfortably on the hard bench seats lining the walls of the troop transport plane ferrying them to Vietnam. Their departure from their base on the Mexican border had been low key, but O’Malley had been there to see them off, the drill sergeant snapping smartly to attention as the big plane started to roll down the runway.

Their first couple of hours in the plane were taken up with nervous excited chatter as the soldiers talked over their missions and what was likely to be expected of them, but as the tedious journey continued, one by one they lapsed into silence, using their kit bags as pillows as they lay down on the hard metal floor of the plane and tried to get some sleep.

Traff and Starsky sat in one corner, talking companiably about any topic that sprang to mind. Starsky gave Traff a blow by blow account of his night with Yokino at the bar and Traff grinned, slapping his friend on the back when Starsky explained that she’d even given him his money back.

They talked about their childhoods and Starsky explained how his dad had been killed and how he’s come to live in New York and Traff talked about his childhood in Boston. But eventually even their close friendship and eagerness to find out abut each other became slow and onerous and they too succumbed to sleep.

Hours later, the soldiers were awakened by the sound of the landing gear dropping and locking into place. They stretched and sat back up onto the hard seats as the wheels of the plane touched down in Saigon. Starsky had spent five years of his life in the balmy warm weather of the Californian coast, but nothing prepared him for the heat and humidity that hit him as the door of the plane opened and he took his first look at Vietnam. The moisture in the air seemed to wrap itself around him and sap the energy from him before he’d even set foot on solid ground and the scent of damp, hot vegetation drilled into his senses. It was a smell he would never forget to his dying day and one that would never again be associated with pleasant thoughts.

As a man, the group shouldered their packs and walked down the ramp of the troop carrier and to the waiting army trucks. Each one was an open backed wagon which could carry over twenty men at a push and again, the brunet and his friends found themselves on hard metal seats as their driver set the truck in motion and they rumbled off into the countryside towards CanTho and the Mekong Delta.

Everywhere he looked there were strange and almost exotic sights and if he blotted out the destruction and the looks of pain and hunger on the villager’s faces, Starsky could almost enjoy the experience of being somewhere so incredibly foreign. But as they started to travel further south and into the deep lush countryside they had a rude awakening of what this war was all about. The truck was rumbling in convoy down a red sand road with pot holes deep as crevasses when overhead they heard the dull roar of a plane engine. The sergeant who had been at the airport to collect them, and who had been in ‘Nam for seven months, looked skywards, squinting into the sun and shading his eyes with his hands.

He waited until he could identify the plane overhead, its bulk flying ever closer and yelled at the men in the truck.

‘Welcome to ‘Nam! Everybody out and down’.

They followed him as he jumped from the vehicle and leapt into the ditch which lined the road. Starsky and Traff hunkered down next to each other, jamming their helmets on their heads as they ducked their heads low. The plane flew low over the road and started firing, the bullets from its machine gun sending a tramline of divots running up the sandy road, kicking up sand and dirt on either side of the truck, which remarkably remained unscathed.

Up ahead, Starsky could see a group of villagers, frozen like rabbits in the headlights of a car. As the bullets came closer one of the women screamed and clutched her baby to her bosom, but her feet refused to move. The brunet stared in horror as the bullets bore down on them and made a snap decision. He nudged Traff and nodded and without thinking the two young soldiers, followed by three of the other men in the unit dived out of the ditch and ran hell for leather up the road. Starsky targeted the woman with the child and literally dived at her, knocking her down onto her back and covering her and the child with his body as he saw Traff, Merry, Tugs and Driver do the same. The soldiers remained pinned down as the dirt kicked up around them, and then, as suddenly as it had started, the strafing run ended and there was silence, broken only by the muffled sobs of the villagers.

Shyly, Starsky knelt up as the woman slithered out from beneath him, still clutching her child to her breast.

‘Cam on bon, cam on bon’ she kept repeating over and again, ducking her head down in a little bow. Starsky stared at her. She could be cursing him for all he knew, but somehow he didn’t think so. He smiled at her and touched the baby’s face with a grimy hand.

‘Cute’ he said softly, seeing the fear in the woman’s eyes. She was young, no more than 15 or 16 and suddenly Starsky had an insight into how these ordinary folk were managing under extraordinary conditions.

He looked around, seeing the others picking themselves up and patting the dirt from their clothes.

‘Are we all in one piece?’ he asked generally.

‘All apart from my nerves’ Merry responded wryly. ‘Some welcome huh?’

Starsky grinned. ‘Yeah. Looks like it’s gonna be an exciting kinda place’.

They retraced their steps back to the truck where the sergeant in charge was staring at them.

‘What the fuck did you think you were doing solider?’ he spat out at Starsky and Traff.

‘They were scared Sarg. We were just tryin to….’

‘You were trying to get yourselves killed, that’s what you were trying to do. Now get back in the truck an’ shuddup’ the Sergeant thundered.

‘But Sarg, ain’t that what we’re here for?’ Traff asked, confused.

‘No soldier, it aint. You’re here to fight the enemy, not waste your life on some two bit villagers who’d probably kill ya as soon as look at ya. Now get back in the truck an’ try to get yourselves back to the base in one piece huh?’

The men piled back into the vehicle and the rest of the three hour bumpy ride was accomplished in relative silence and without further incident. Their drive took them further south and as they drove the vegetation closed in around them. Villages seemed fewer here and the rice fields had given way to miles and miles of jungle, the perimeter of which bordered the road and seemed to close in around them. Starsky tried to peer into the gloomy depths, but it seemed almost impenetrable and he wondered just how they were expected to conduct a war thought all the trees and lianas.

Finally, after an exhausting ride, the truck drew into a clearing surrounded by green army tents, each neatly bordered by a set of white stones. It had obviously been there for some time and luckily the whole camp had not had to bunk out and move. The sergeant showed them to two tents, each sleeping four men on the north side of the camp and Traff, Starsky, Merry and Tugs ducked inside one and put their kit on the four narrow camp beds, looking around. The tent was big and quite spacious. They could stand up inside it and the four beds were arranged around a central tent pole, decorated with hooks for various bits of kit. A stove stood at the centre for heat when the cold winter finally arrived. Each bunk had a small cabinet next to it and was covered by a sheet and a blanket.

‘Home sweet home’ Traff said as he flopped down on his bunk and laced his hands behind his head.

‘You call this home?’ Starsky asked, amused.

The dark haired man snorted. ‘After some of the orphanages I lived in, this is the Waldorf. We got everything we need. A bunk, a blanket an’ hopefully some chow. By the way, where is the mess tent?’

An hour later, the four men, plus the four from the other tent were summoned to the Major’s office, a smaller tent on the other side of the compound. They were surprised to see the same Major who’d been on their final test ground in Mexico and he smiled at them coolly. Major Sharpe was a tall man, standing well over 6’. He seemed to be Army though a through – a career soldier if ever there was one. He had his blond hair in the most severe buzz cut Starsky had ever seen, leaving him with the appearance of being almost bald. His face was florid, the red cheeks and forehead contrasting sharply with the green of his uniform and the red colouring extending down his neck and into the depths of his shirt. His features were sharp and rodent-like and he reminded Starsky of nothing more than a rat.

Startling pale blue, almost colourless eyes stared out of the thin face edged with sandy blond eyelashes and Sharpe’s lips were thin and mean. His body was a muscular mass and his neck seemed not to exist, the illusion being of a head set atop shoulders with nothing in between.

He sat behind a large substantial regulation wooden desk and did not look up as the men filed in and stood to attention, waiting for him to notice them. He kept them waiting for almost three minutes before he looked up, put his pen down, sat back in his chair and appraised the new additions to his unit. His eyes roved over the two ranks of men before him, seeing eager faces and questioning eyes. His own eyes stopped on the two men centre front. Both had the same physique – lithe, muscular and almost cat like. Both also had ruggedly handsome faces for young men and both had piercing eyes, although one set was a stunning emerald green and the other an intense sapphire blue. The two gems in his unit? He wondered.

For the next 15 minutes, Sharpe gave them the run down of the unit, the area and the missions they were currently running. The men were to have one day to rest and recuperate from their journey, then they would be on active service and two of them would be running a covert mission. All eight men stiffened at the mention of what maybe their first job and Sharpe smiled to himself. Lambs to the slaughter. Only the best survived and he had a reputation for wanted the best from his men. He knew he was known as a tough son of a bitch. In fact he nurtured that reputation, cherishing it. And yet, to those of his men who deserved it; those he personally selected, he could be kindness itself.’

‘Sergeant Lomas tells me you were attacked on your way here’ he said matter of factly, his eyes raking the men in front of him.

Traff took it upon himself to answer for the group. ‘Yes sir. There were a group of civilians caught in the live fire. We decided to help, Sir’.

‘You decided to help?’

‘Sir, they would have been killed otherwise’ Tugs piped up from the back.

Sharpe’s eyes hardened. ‘No kidding! So you thought you’d risk thousands of dollars of tax payers money spent on your training by trying to get yourselves killed?’

‘No Sir. But we couldn’t just leave ‘em’ Starsky said defensively.

The Major turned his focus on the handsome soldier. ‘You’ll do exactly as your superior officers tell you, soldier. And if they tell you to leave a bunch of civilians you’ll fuckin’ well leave ‘em. Got that’.

‘But sir….’

‘I said, have you got that?’ Sharpe ground out.

Reluctantly Starsky backed down. ‘Sir, yes Sir’ he said without enthusiasm.

Sharpe sat back again in his chair, liking the attitude of the young man, but being careful not to show it. As he dismissed the young soldiers, his eyes lingered on the two dark haired recruits. They looked right. Young, eager……pretty.

Starsky, Traff, Merry and Tugs returned to their tent having thrown down some supper and a beer. It had been a long journey and they were all more tired than they could ever remember being, but the excitement of the new place, and the adrenaline of their first brush with the Vietcong made them remain awake, talking quietly and contemplating what the mission Sharpe had mentioned could be.

Chapter 6

Next morning saw the eight men back in Sharpe’s office at attention as he once again kept them waiting before looking up.

‘Ok men. We have a situation south of here. We have a search and destroy mission on the Delta and we will be teaming up with the Navy river patrol boats in order to stop Vietnamese soldiers from landing on the far bank. I require two men to go on the mission which will require snipers to assist the ground troops’. He looked at the young faces, all of who were eager and ready for their first mission.

‘Trafford. Starsky. Get your kit together. Your jeep leaves in ten minutes. The rest of you, fall out. You’ll get your turn later’.

The unit saluted smartly and Traff and Starsky quickly made their way back to their tent, followed by Tugs and Merry.

‘You guys get all the luck’ Tugs said as he watched his two friends started getting their rifles and ammunition together. Starsky looked up and grinned. ‘What can I say? Some of us got it. An’ when ya got it ya flaunt it!’

‘Yeah, well don’t flaunt it too much. Ya might get more ‘n’ ya bargained for’ Traff said tightly.

Starsky stopped his packing. ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’

‘Nuthin. Just don’t go flauntin’ it too much huh. ‘Specially round our CO. Trust me huh?’ Traff said cryptically.

Starsky shrugged his shoulders, wondering what the comment was meant to mean. But right now, the excitement and nerves of his first live mission was more important and he loaded his rifle onto his shoulder and followed his friend out of the tent.

Sharpe was waiting for them by the side of his tent. ‘Your target today is a set of enemy positions along the Delta. Vietcong have been shooting our troops for the past couple of weeks as we try to cross the river and we need to be out there, picking them off. I would have preferred to use bombs and just blow then to hell, but the powers that be insist we take this quietly. You’ll be taking up position and picking them off one at a time using your sniper training. Watch your backs. Watch each others backs and do your job. Any questions?’

‘How many of them do we expect?’ Starsky asked.

‘We have no intel. on that. Best guess, no more than 15 or 20. Get in, shoot, get out, clear?

They both nodded. ‘Clear sir’ the said, determined their first mission would be a success.

They followed the directions given to them by the sergeant and pushed their way down a narrow, overgrown path that lead away from the bunch of tents. The air was heavy and damp and the reek of hot vegetation and damp earth filled their nostrils. The humidity of the place was oppressive. In the jungle there was no wind; no cooling breeze to lift their hair and get circulation to their scalp. Every movement made them sweat and it seemed that even breathing was an effort in that fuggy environment. The route march lasted no more than twenty minutes but by the end of it they were breathing heavily, hot, wet and desperate to get out of the cloying heat.

The view they had of their mode of transport, however, had Starsky wondering whether he could in fact walk to their destination. In front of them, it’s noise masked by the tall trees until now, stood a Huey, the Army’s preferred method of transport into and out of hot zones. He stood stock still staring at the helicopter, his vertigo reaching new heights. He’d managed quite well in the troop transport plane. There had been no windows and with the jokes and camaraderie of his friends he could almost forget that he was hanging in the sky. But the Huey had no doors, just openings at the back and a large bench seat with what he thought looked incredibly flimsy seatbelts. And this, he knew was just to keep him anchored as he leaned out, his leg braced on the runners as he took aim and fired. Shit!

Traff saw the look of terror on his face and pushed him forward.

‘C’mon Curly boy. Ya can do it. Trust me, when ya get up there an’ into the thick of it, you’ll feel like Superman’.

Starsky licked his dry lips and forced a weak grin onto his face. ‘I always wanted to be Captain Marvel’ he joked as he set off on wobbly, rubbery legs.

They got into the Huey and Starsky fumbled with the lap belt, securing extra tight across his waist as he heard the rotors start to build up speed. He closed his eyes and tried to stop the bile that reached up into his throat. Only the thought of the unending jokes he’d have to bear if his friends knew he’d thrown up inside the ‘copter kept him from losing his breakfast and as he felt the bird take off, throwing him forward against his lap belt he groaned low in his throat, closing his eyes and breathing deeply. He felt a warm hand surreptitiously close on his at his side and give it a reassuring squeeze and he chanced a quick glance at Traff.

‘See, as easy as pie’ the young man assured him, smiling.

‘Uh huh. I usually prefer my pie to stand still and be at ground level’ Starsky ground out. But still he felt confident enough to open his eyes and stare with sick fascination at the treetops flashing past below the ‘copter. And suddenly it didn’t seem quite so bad to be up there with the birds. He even managed to lean a little way out of the seat to look further down, seeing small clearings with single houses, rice fields, more trees and then in the distance the sparkling green expanse of the Mekong Delta.

The ‘copter started to fly lower as it approached and the co-pilot turned to them.

‘Ya ready? Glad to be outa the numbha ten?’

Traff looked blank. ‘Say again’.

The co-pilot grinned. ‘Jeez, they sent a couple’a FNGs to do a man’s job?’

Starsky leaned in to Traff. ‘Are they talkin’ English?’

The co-pilot held out his hand and the men shook it. ‘Hi, I’m Freddo. The pilot’s Rabbit. How long ya been here?’

‘A day’ Starsky yelled over the noise of the rotors.

‘Hells bells! Ok, you’ll get used to the lingo. Numbha ten. Means anything bad, usually the fuckin’ red dirt that gets everywhere. Even you’re dicks’ll be covered before too long. FNGs are you guys. Newbies. So. Are ya ready for target practice?’

‘Uh huh. Point us at ‘em’ the young soldier yelled and got his rifle into position.

During the next hour the Huey patrolled up and down the river bank as the crew of four looked for any signs of the life hidden in the rich vegetation of the delta. Rice paddies formed a patchwork quilt effect on one back while on the other, lush vegetation and trees of every shade of green dipped down to the waters edge. The two snipers in the back of the ‘copter waited patiently, their rifles poised as they took out one position after another, their scores increasing as they shouted out the umbers to each other. It mattered not to them that they were killing men who they’d never met and who they would never know. They were fighting for their country and because their CO had given them a task.

An hour later, Traff had five confirmed kills and Starsky eight. Both men were grimy, sweating profusely and hyped up on the adrenaline from their private little battle. The Huey made one more sweep up the side of the river as Traff and Starsky’s eyes scanned for tell tale flashes of metal. They were beginning to relax when suddenly they saw a hail of bullets coming their way. The pilot swung the ‘copter viciously to the left to avoid the incoming, but Traff, who had been sat at that side and had unbuckled his belt to get a better firing position was taken by surprise. He slid almost all of the way out of the seat before Starsky realised what was going on. He had kept his belt securely fastened but had slackened it somewhat. Now he leaned over as far as he could go and managed to brush the waistband of Traff’s pants with his finger tips. He cursed as his friend slipped further away.

‘Hang on’ he yelled as he saw his friend’s hands scrabbling at the doorway to the Huey.

Carefully, he hooked his feet underneath a heavy box of ammunition in the well of the copter and unbuckled his seat belt. He leaned further over just as the copter took more evasive action. The bird slewed sideways again and Traff made a desperate effort to hang on to the frame of the door. But his hands were hot and wet with sweat and he let out a strangled cry as he felt himself falling sideways.

With a titanic effort, Starsky launched himself sideways and as Traff’s body started to fall out of the copter, he grasped his wrist and held on. Now, with the Huey flying almost sideways, Traff whole body weight dangled from Starsky’s one hand and he could feel himself too slipping towards the opening.

‘For fucks sake straighten her up’ he yelled at the pilot. But the man was having problems of his own. The Freddo was now slumped half across Rabbit having caught one of the bullets aimed at the copter. He was fighting with the controls to the craft while trying to prop the co-pilot up and out of the way. But there was an ominous red bloom across Freddo’s chest and as Starsky watched, Rabbit pushed one last time and the co-pilots’ body slumped forward, lifeless. With both hands free to fly, Rabbit managed to get the bird under control, straightening the craft so that Starsky could get back some of his equilibrium. He leaned further out now, his legs re-anchored beneath the heavy box and reached out with his other hand.

‘Traff, reach up pal’ he yelled as Traff’s terrified face turned up towards him. He saw his friend try to fling his arm over his head, but the hand came up short and Starsky only managed to brush finger tips before Traff fell back.

‘One more time. C’mon Trafford, ya son of a bitch. Reach!’ he yelled and Traff fling all his body weight behind his swing upwards, knowing this was either the time when the other solder would catch him, or he’d end up ditched in the water and at the mercy of the enemy.

With a Herculean effort, Starsky leaned out a few inches more and as Traff’s hand came into sight, he made a mad grab for it, almost overbalancing himself in his effort to save his friend. Their hands grasped each other and Starsky panted with exertion before wondering what to do next.

‘I haven’t the strength to live you lift ya. Hang on. Just hand on’ he yelled at the dangling man. He saw Traff’s pale face nod once and twisted to look over his shoulder.

‘Can ya set us down somewhere?’ he thundered at the pilot.

‘Not unless you want to be a POW. Can you hang on to him?’

Starsky nodded. ‘for Gods sake fly quicker huh? I can’t hang on for ever’.

The next five minutes were the longest of Traff and Starsky’s young lives. With ever manoeuvre of the Huey, Starsky could feel his body slip and slide. His hands were damp, their grip precarious at best. But the thought of letting go of Traff’s wrists was more than he could bear and he gritted his teeth as he clung on with every ounce of strength.

Below him, Traff dangled dangerously, never again looking up. He couldn't face the look of desperation on Starsky’s face and his only thought was that if the brunet did eventually drop him, he wouldn’t want Starsky to be left with the sight of his frightened eyes fixed on his friend. And so he kept his chin ducked down on his chest and his eyes closed as he felt the air whistling past him and when the Huey finally started to drop down below the tree tops, he lost his hold on consciousness.

When the copter finally came to a rest on the ground, the pilot had to get out and physically disengage Starsky’s hands from around Traff’s wrists. Both young men were almost catatonic with shock and the older pilot raced off through the trees to get help. As they were left alone, Traff groaned and opened his eyes, seeing the deep indigo ones above him. He had little strength left to speak, but managed to pant out a weak ‘thank you’ before unconsciousness overtook him again. And from his perch laid across the bench seat of the Huey Starsky whispered ‘No problem pal. I gotcha buddy’.

Chapter 7

From that moment on, the two men were inseparable. Starsky having saved Traff’s life had created a lasting bond which nothing would be able to dissolve. The remaining 6 men on the unit even termed them “the twins” but in a friendly, comradely way. And the duo didn’t mind in the least.

Over the coming months, they ran more missions always successfully and always together. Sometimes Merry and Tugs came with them, if more men were required and although the other two were close, they didn’t have the rapport that Traff and Starsky had. They worked so closely that on occasions there almost seemed to be some sort of telepathic connection between them.

Although there was never anything like a safe day in the jungles around the camp, there was never another incident like the first helicopter one, much to the two men’s relief, but each mission brought it’s own set of criteria; its own danger; its own brand of excitement. And they were up to each and every hurdle.

By the end of their fifth month of active duty, and after running more than twenty five missions behind enemy lines either taking out enemy positions, or riding shotgun for various convoys though the jungle, Merry, Tugs, Traff and Starsky were called into Sharpe’s office.

Their CO had always been fair with them and the brunet tried to like him. But there was something about the way the big ginger haired man treated him that made him shudder. In the early days at the camp, Sharpe had tried to single Starsky and Traff out, giving them extra rest days and allowing them to pick and choose the jobs they wanted to take on. Neither man had enjoyed the extra attention and Traff had been more than reticent about going into Sharpe’s tent. Starsky had thought about asking Traff about his reaction, but something had always come up to stop him, and as the months passed and they settled into the rhythm of life in the jungle, he let it pass.

The days passed in the same fashion. If there was a mission to run, they would be up at the crack of dawn, breakfast and out, returning whenever the mission was completed, to a cool shower, supper and their bunk. Sharpe was always there to welcome them home, even escorting them to the showers to make sure, Starsky thought, that they weren’t too damaged. And in all the time he’d run the missions, there had only been a couple of injuries to bother about. On one occasion, Traff had been winged by a stray bullet from a Vietnamese sniper before Starsky had taken him out. And on another occasion, Starsky had twisted his ankle badly while trying to run to cover a Jeeps position. It was an old injury that he’d sustained while at school, the ankle always being his weakness, and Sharpe had helped him limp into the shower and had even stood back and watched as the young soldier had washed and towelled himself dry. At the time, Starsky had thought it was just Sharpe being a good and conscientious officer. In later times, it would all make sense.

Now the four men stood to rigid attention in front of the large wooden table as Sharpe shuffled their files in front of him. He looked up.

‘Trafford, Merryweather, Starsky and Tuggleworth. I’ve been reviewing your files, as I do periodically and I’ve just counted up that between you, you have more than 200 confirmed kills. On top of that, you have all, on more than one occasion, put your lives on the line for your fellow soldiers both in this unit and others’. Sharpe stood up formally as the four men looked quizzical.

‘I’ve had confirmation this morning from HQ and it gives me enormous pleasure to award each of you the field rank of Corporal’.

Starsky felt as though he could have been knocked down with a feather. He’d never expected a promotion and hadn’t really looked for it. Despite the discomforts of the jungle and the dangers of his job, the excitement he got from the role and the friendship he’d fostered especially with Traff meant more to him than rank. But still, Corporal Starsky! It was certainly the icing on the cake.

Each man in turn took a step forward and accepted the new shoulder insignia from their CO, saluted and stepped back into line. At the end of the brief ceremony, Sharpe saluted them all.

‘As a thank you, I’m also awarding you a weekend pass to Chong Dai. You have from 18:00 tonight and I expect you back in camp on Sunday at 18:00. Dismissed’.

The four turned smartly on their heels and filed out of the office and back into the camp before Starsky’s face split into a broad grin.

‘I never had anyone need to salute me before. It’s kinda nice. I could get used to it Corporal Trafford’.

Traff grinned back. ‘Well don’t look at me Corporal Starsky. I ain’t salutin’ your sorry ass. I’m out for fun, fun, fun. We’re out on the razzle this weekend and we’re gonna get us some hot chicks’.

‘In Chong Dai? What’s that miserable, flea infested place got to offer? An’ look what happened last time you got me hooked up with a hot chick’ the brunet smiled. ‘That was one night to remember!’

‘Didn’t hear ya complainin’ too much Chief. And there’s enough bars in the village. We’re sure to get ourselves a little diversion. They tell me that these Vietnamese girls are like contortionists. They can reach places other girls can only dream about. An’ they’re cheap. Roll on tonight. I’m hittin’ the first bar we get to an’ I’m gonna get so pissed’.

Starsky laughed. ‘Don’t get too pissed otherwise you’ll never get it up. An’ if the girls are as good as ya say they are, you’re gonna need all your…um….faculties to enjoy yourself’.

Traff winked. ‘Ya got a point, Curly boy. Maybe just half a bottle of bourbon then. An’ after that I’ll show ya what a stud can do’.

The brunet looked around faking consternation. ‘Stud? Where’s the stud? Ya got someone else comin’ in, or what?’

Traff thumped him hard on his shoulder and pulled him down into a headlock, rubbing his hands through the curls that had grown back to almost half their usual length. One good thing about Sharpe’s outfit. He didn’t seem too concerned with the petty rules of the Army, and that included allowing his men to have longer than regulation hair.

As the two new Corporals trotted off to their tent, Sharpe stood at the doorway to his, smiling. He turned and started to pack his kit bag. Maybe Traff and Starsky weren’t the only ones who’d have a good time this weekend.

At 18:00 precisely, the men loaded themselves into the waiting Jeep they’d been assigned and drove off through the torrential rain towards the village. The road had all but disappeared in the monsoon like conditions, the wheels churning up the red mud and sending it cascading out behind the jeep. But with the roof up and fuelled by their recent promotion, the four men inside were all in good spirits. They sang a couple of the more ribald songs along their way as Starsky, who was driving negotiated his way around the water filled potholes in the road, the vehicles bumping along sometimes up to it’s axles in water and red, liquid mud.

An hour later, they drove down the small main street of the village, its sides lined with wooden shacks and larger wooden buildings containing bars, stores and a couple of whore houses. Half way down the main street, the brunet drew the vehicle to a halt outside a bar sporting lantern outside that blew in the gusts of wind driving the rain almost vertically up the road. They got out and read the sign above the door.

Lucy Chows. Best Bar in Town. All welcome.

They walked up the two steps and pushed open the rickety door and the blast of light and noise hit them like a physical presence. The bar room was quite large, with the bar itself extending right down the long side of the room. It was lined two deep with soldiers from other units all ordering drinks, their arms round girls or their eyes scanning the joint for local talent. Starsky and Traff pushed their way into the bar, their ears becoming acclimatised to the sound of foreign voices trying to sing American songs. In one corner, a small wizened Vietnamese man was playing discordantly on a battered upright piano, although the tune was indecipherable and at small tables dotted across the room, painted girls sat, smoking cigarettes through long malacca holders and screwing their eyes up as the acrid smoke sent tendrils roof-wards.

Getting themselves a bottle of bourbon and four glasses, they sat down at one of the unoccupied tables and poured drinks.

‘To four pretty heavy dudes’ Traff said, raising his glass. The others followed suit and there was a merry clinking of tumbler against tumbler before they all downed the fiery liquid in one.

Starsky looked around the room. The girls who were sat at tables all looked pretty enough, but the MO at the camp had cautioned them against some of the local talent, saying he didn’t take kindly to having to treat cases of the clap alongside all the other jobs he had to do. Idly, the brunet wondered how he was supposed to know which girl was clean and which wasn’t. It wasn’t like he was going to ask them and he didn’t think asking them for a certificate would go down too well either. But he’d been without sex for almost six months and right now he didn’t really care what she had or what she looked like. He had an overbearing urge to fuck something – the appearance was almost secondary.

In the far corner, he could see a group of girls who had just walked in. they seemed a little different to the other girls in the room. They were better groomed. Their hair was brushed and gleaming and their clothes less threadbare than most of the others. He nudged Traff and nodded at them, winking and Traff nodded back.

Target identified Corporal. Acknowledge when target acquired.

Three large shots later, and with some dutch courage inside him, Starsky stood up carefully. The absence of hard liquor on camp meant that the quarter bottle of bourbon he’d consumed had gone straight to his head. But the other parts of him were working adequately, so he had no worries that his R&R would be compromised.

He looked around and at the bar he saw a familiar broad back and expanse of hair. He bent down. ‘Hey Traff. Did ya know Sharpe was here this weekend?’

The soldier’s head came up sharply. ‘No. Aww hell! What the fucks he doin’ here?’

‘Well so long as he don’t get the girls, I don’t care’ the brunet said quietly.

Traff snorted. ‘I don’t think ya got much worry on that score Curly’.

‘Say what?’

Traff shook his head. ‘Nuthin. Where’re ya goin’?’

‘The john. Grab us some girls. I’m ready for getting groiny if ya know what I mean’ Starsky grinned.

‘Getting’ groiny! Oh my God, I’ve created a monster. One night with Yokino an’ you think you’re Valentino’.

‘Don’t. My Mom said I looked like Paul Muni’.

‘Yeah right. Ya got his money too? Ok. You go drain the main vein an’ I’ll do the serious stuff’ Traff said, standing up and watching his friend weave a little uncertainly towards the small bathroom in the corner. A moment later, another pair of eyes that had been watching also made their way across the room.

Inside the small, dirty bathroom, Starsky was in the middle of the main event when the door was pushed open and Sharpe walked in, coming to stand in the stall next to his Corporal.

‘I didn’t know you’d got R&R this weekend as well Sir’ the young soldier said for want of something else to talk about.

‘Even Majors have to have some down time, soldier’ the big man said, unzipping himself and doing the necessary.

Starsky couldn’t fail to notice how Sharpe’s eyes roved over the small dividing wall to glance at the younger man’s body and the curly hared soldier wished he could finish up quickly and get himself tucked away again. He looked away, but could still feel his CO’s eyes on him.

‘So you’re gonna have a good time Starsky?’

‘Oh um….yeah. That’s the plan Sir’.

‘With the girls?’

‘Uh huh’.

‘You could always give them a miss and um…’

‘And what, sir?’ the young man said naively.

‘Corporal, I could have you promoted to Major before the years out, for the right price’.

Starsky’s heart started to beat a staccato rhythm. Was Sharpe intimating what he thought he was? No, surely not! And yet….Pieces of the jigsaw started to fit. The times Sharpe had been so solicitous in helping him to the shower when he’d been injured; the times he’d had his pick of the jobs. There was no way that he would be tempted by the man. Hell there was no way he’d be tempted by any man, let alone an overweight ginger haired creep like Sharpe.

But how could he refuse? His confusion ran deep. He wanted to be a good soldier, and that meant obeying, right?. But he wanted to be a good fighting machine, answerable to his men and to his unit. And he didn’t want that to come at a price. Certainly not one as repugnant as this.

‘I um….I’m just happy to have made Corporal Sir’ the young man stammered, starting to zip himself up hurriedly. A large hand shot over the small dividing wall and soft as a whisper it grazed his cock.

‘Girls can’t give you everything son’.

The terrified soldier took a step back, out of the reach of Sharpe’s questing fingers and completed zipped himself up. He started to back away, wanting to yell at the creep to leave him alone, but still very aware that this was his senior officer and that in the Army, his CO more or less ruled his life. His troubled indigo eyes darted from side to side, looking for some means of escape, but coming up empty. And slowly, Sharpe was bearing down on him, closing the gap.

Starsky felt his throat dry as he fought for some composure and an idea of how he could deal with the situation. He knew there were men who liked other men, and that amongst some career soldiers, homosexuality was more common than the Army would like to let on. And he knew that months without women led some of the men to give each other a little hand relief - nothing in it, no strings attached. But he never thought he’d have to face it himself. He felt sick to his stomach and his knees felt weak. He was just about to turn and make a bolt for the door, when it was opened and a brown curly head looked around it.

‘There you are Curly. Oh and hey, Major Sharpe Sir. I didn’t know you were here’ Traff said with false jollity. He’d seen Sharpe follow Starsky to the men’s room and knew he had to do something to get his friend out of there. The time Traff had spent in orphanages and other institutions had left him with more than a passing acquaintance with gay men and their needs and the thought of the big CO forcing himself on to Curly was more than he could bear. He was more aware of Sharpe’s previous behaviour and had seen the warning signs. He’d tried to warn his friend without actually coming straight out with it, not wanting to be laid open to slander charges, but Starsky was either too trusting or not sufficiently worldy wise to understand.

Starsky looked round, relief flooding through his veins as he backed quickly out of the room. ‘See ya later Sir. Back at camp’ he said pointedly and followed Traff’s retreating back out into the crowded room. Traff took hold of Starsky’s arm, feeling a slight tremble.

‘Are you ok Curly?’

‘Huh? Oh…yeah, yeah, why wouldn’t I be?’ blustered the young man. The incident was too fresh and the escape too narrow to want to talk about it now. He was grateful to his friend for coming to his rescue, and he knew deep down that Traff knew what had been going on, but he wanted to forget. And the only way he could think of forgetting was to go somewhere and get laid, quickly.

Chapter 8 - MASSIVE WARNINGS FOR SEX - IF OFFENDED, PLEASE SKIP TO CHAPTER 9

Traff escorted Starsky through the crowded bar towards two girls standing a little apart from the rest. They were petite, black haired Vietnamese girls who had wide deep brown eyes and not too much make up. They both wore simple silk print shift dresses and giggled seductively behind their hands as the two soldiers approached them. Traff winked at the brunet.

‘I got us a pair of twins. How’s that?’

‘How will we know who’s is who’s? Starsky asked. The encounter with Sharpe had left him feeling unbalanced and off kilter and he took a while to catch on to what the emerald eyed man was saying.

‘I don’t think that’s gonna be a problem. Turns out Ai and Di.u haven’t been in the game very long and they share a room. They don’t speak a lot of English but from what I can glean, they don’t mind sharing the bed if we don’t’. He grinned.

‘Ya mean we both…..with them…..on the same……oh!’ Starsky ended lamely.

‘Well if ya don’t want, I could have ‘em both to myself’ Traff countered, knowing his friend wasn’t likely to pass up the opportunity for a hot night.

‘No, no…its fine…its just erm….oh hell, nuthin. Whatever….just go for it’ Starsky agreed and followed the two still giggling girls as they wound their way through the crowd to the door. From the door of the washroom, Sharpe watched them go, a deep scowl on his face until he saw a group of young Vietnamese boys at a table near the bar. He straightened his back and started to make his way towards them.

Traff and Starsky followed the girls down the street through the still driving rain, arriving minutes later at a small wooden house at the edge of town. Ai pushed the door open and they stepped inside. Starsky had expected a kind of hovel, but instead it was rather like stepping into a polished cigar box, the floor, walls and ceiling all being polished, seasoned wood which gave the place a warm and intimate effect. There was only one room, set out in “rooms” divided by simple furniture and against the far wall was a large bed decorated with a colourful patchwork quilt. The girls said something to each other in Vietnamese, then started to unselfconsciously get undressed, the rain-wet silk shifts falling to puddle on the floor.

The two men looked on in admiration at the pale, naked girls. The girls stared back and advanced on the two soldiers, snaking their arms around masculine shoulders and bringing handsome faces down to their level to kiss.

Ai started to unbutton the front of Starsky’s shirt as he nuzzled her neck and he shivered in anticipation as her hands caressed his flanks and flat stomach. She dipped her hands to his waistband and practiced fingers unbuttoned the button and unzipped his fly, snaking inside to caress his burgeoning erection. Glancing sideways he could see that Di.u was also providing a similar service for his friend and idly he realised that far from being off putting having another couple in the room with him and his girl, there was some turn on in the soft sounds of the love making.

He could hear Traffs’ soft mutterings and could make out ‘Ohh yeah’ and ‘uh huh’ as Di.u explored the young muscular body

Ai pushed Starsky back towards the bed and he sat down on the hard mattress as the girl sat beside him, pulling him backwards so that she could kiss down the length of his chest to his navel. This time, he wanted the pleasure all for himself. This was no birthday present, no learning curve. This was a woman providing services for hard cash and he was going to enjoy the service to the full. He lay back as her soft pink tongue rimmed his navel and trailed lower and he sighed, growling low in his throat as he felt the familiar tightening in his balls. She kissed lower, but instead of the expected, she missed his cock altogether and kissed right down the length of the inside of his left leg, leaving a wet line of passion on the hot flesh. She paused at his ankle and even that received attention before she changed legs and continued her way up the inside of his right leg. She stopped and bent his knees slightly so that she could snake her tongue around and kiss the sensitive skin behind there and he sighed, wishing she'd move further north and give his erection some attention.

‘Please….oh nnnnn God!’.he moaned, the sighed deeply

He ran his fingers through her hair and she looked up and smiled at him, whispering something in her language. He had no idea what she said, but the sound of her voice and the movement of her luscious lips was enough to make him want her even more.

At the side of him, Traff was also pushed down onto the bed as Di.u ran her hands through the hairs on his chest and giggled sexily. Starsky could feel the other man’s shoulder against his and for a moment he felt it odd to be on the bed with another couple. Di.u leaned down and kissed down the line of Traff’s neck to his shoulder, then crossed from one man to the next. Now Starsky had two warm mouths on his body, one licking and sucking at his nipples, sending flashes of electricity through his body, while the other mouth started to lick delicately at the tip of his cock. Traff rolled onto his side and grinned as he saw the look of rapt attention on his friends face. As Di.u continued suckling at the small brown nipples nestled in the fur of Starsky’s chest, he ran his fingers lightly up and down her back, dipping lower to burry the between her legs. She squealed and parted them slightly, but carried on giving attention to the other man.

Starsky felt himself pushed to one side, rolling over onto his left side with one girl at the front and the other at the back. Ai shuffled down his body so that she could take him in her mouth and he cried out in ecstasy as her tongue flicked over his tip, sending small lights flashing behind his eyes. As her hand started to pump his erection up and down, while her mouth continued it’s exploration, Di.u was licking down the length of his back, sending shivers down his spine. He felt her hands delicately parting his butt and stiffened as he felt her tongue lapping at his puckered opening. No-one had ever done such a thing to him. He’d never really thought about having it done, but now, with the steady pressure on his anus and the sucking and pumping at the front, his body went into overdrive and as he felt Ai take his balls in her hand and run her fingernails lightly down his sac, he lost all control, shrieking out into the room as the centre of his body tightened and he shot his load down the girls throat. She gulped greedily, pumping him until he was completely spent, then gently licked down his length and took each of his balls in turn into his mouth to gently suck on them too.

‘Ohmygodohmygodohmygod’ he mumbled to himself as his body reverberated from the orgasm.

Behind him he heard Traff moan and realised that Di.u had turned her attention to his friend. Now Traff was receiving the same sort of treatment, but because the bed was quite small, Ai had to lean over Starsky's body to get to Traff. It brought her nipples within range and he gently took one and flicked his tongue over the hard nub. Ai yelped and Starsky bit down gently, bringing his hand up to massage the other breast and squeeze that nipple too. Ai ground her body against Starsky’s as she licked and kissed down the back of Traff’s body.

Curiosity got the better of the brunet, and Starsky rolled over so that he could see the girls working their magic on Traff. The curly haired soldier had his eyes closed, his mouth open as he panted and his head was thrown back in ecstasy. Di.u went down on him again and he too managed to hold out only a couple of minutes before his own noisy climax shook him.

The four lay, entwined like a heap of puppy dogs, satiated and pleasantly numb as the warmth of their climaxes started to leave their bodies. Slowly Starsky started to play with the thick curtain of Ai’s black hair and she lay against him with her back to him as he spooned into her. She in turn spooned into Traff and Traff into Di.u, each caught up in the other’s warmth.

Within half an hour, Starsky’s hand was once again wandering over the girl’s body, his own having fully recovered and needed more excitement. He raised himself up and breathed warm breath down the back of the girl’s body and she sighed against him, pressing her butt into him again. Slowly, Starsky raised himself up so that he was kneeling and Ai brought herself onto her hands and knees. Without any other foreplay, the brunet positioned himself behind her and brushed her moist opening. She sighed again and with one smooth movement, he pushed himself into her. She groaned and pushed herself back against him, grinding his erection further into her and at the side of them Traff turned lazily and looked at his friend.

‘Again?’ he asked, his voice thick with lust.

‘Oh yeah. And again. Betcha I can hold out longer ‘n’ you’ Starsky grunted, beginning to slowly pull out of his girl.

‘You should know better than to bet me anything’ Traff muttered, pulling Di.u on top of him. She willingly complied, positioning herself over Traff and sighing as he slid into her.

And now the four found a steady rhythm, conscious of each other but at the same time wrapped up in their own erotic world. Time had no meaning and for Starsky it was difficult to know where one body ended and the next began. He remembered throwing back his head and finding Di.u’s mouth on his, her tongue pushing into his mouth and wrestling his for space while he pumped himself into her twin. He moaned into her and at the same time picked up the pace as he rammed himself home into Ai. He gasped for breath, sweat trickling from his brow as he felt himself ready for another climax and beside him he heard Traff howl, the lithe body stiffening as he shuddered his own orgasm into Di.u. It was all Starsky needed and he let himself go as he too pumped his seed into his girl before collapsing back utterly spent onto the bed. He rolled off Ai and she kissed him gently on the lips before curling up beside him and falling into an exhausted sleep. He was about to close his eyes and follow her when he heard a tired voice at his side.

‘Ok stud. You won this time. But we have a replay before morning huh?’

Chapter 9

Monday saw the four men back at the camp and ready for the next round of missions, rest days, camp food and sleep. Tugs and Merry had gotten themselves a couple of girls over the weekend too and Starsky and Traff chuckled when the other two men told them of their escapades. Yep, all in all, they’d all had a pretty cool weekend pass and for a while, Starsky could even forget the encounter with his CO.

About 11:00 on the Monday morning, Sharpe’s Corporal came to their tent, where they’d been lounging on their bunks and regaling each other with stories of how good their respective girls had been. Corporal Millin had been Sharpe’s aid for almost a year and the young, fresh faced boy had always had a worn and hunted look which Starsky had put down to homesickness and poor diet. Now, as he looked at the teenager again, he suddenly realised that the deathly pale complexion and the dark circles around Millin’s eyes might, in fact, be due to the Corporals extra curricular activities. He felt bad for the young man and sat up as he came into the tent.

‘Corporal Trafford. The Major would like to see you in his office right now’ he said formally then relaxed. ‘He seems pretty pissed Traff. I wouldn’t hang around huh?’

Traff grinned at him. ‘Wouldn’t want to keep the CO waiting would we? What’s the old goat want?’

Millin snorted. ‘You’re askin’ me? Like I ever know anythin’! Just get your butt over there quick’.

‘My butt huh? Is that what this is all about?’ Traff said, flashing a sideways look at Starsky who stifled a laugh. He got off his bunk and departed, trotting across the compound quickly and arriving at the Major’s office tent smartly. He ducked inside, stood to attention and saluted.

‘Corporal Trafford reporting as ordered Sir’ he said as the Major looked up.

‘Corporal I want you on the Jeep waiting out back now. There’s an urgent escort job come up and I want you to take charge. The Sergeant will fill you in. Dismissed’.

‘Isn’t Starsky part of this Sir?’ Traff asked. He’d never been sent on a mission alone before. In fact it was unheard of.

‘I said alone Corporal. Is that clear enough? It’s a small escort duty. Nothing dangerous. They just want one man riding shotgun. Are you sure you can handle that? Or shall I ask one of the cooks to go instead? I’m sure they’d be able to handle it’.

Traff stiffened. ‘No, Sir. I’ll head back and get my gear’.

‘No need. They have rifles in the jeep and they’re waiting. Dismissed’.

Traff saluted, turned on his heel and left, wondering what this was all about. As he got into the truck and was driven away, he saw Millin heading back to his tent.

‘Sharpe wants the rest of you in his tent now’ he announced to the three remaining men…..and don’t ask me what for, I still don’t know’ he continued as he saw Tug’s mouth open.

The three men walked quietly across the compound and presented themselves at Sharpe’s tent, saluting and standing to attention.

‘Stand easy’ the Major said. ‘I have a special mission for the three of you. Its top secret and you will take it. Senator Thorpe’s son, Mark was with the 7th Battalion. They were stationed outside Chong Dai. Two days ago the entire camp was attacked and Private Thorpe its believed has been taken prisoner. We know the Vietcong have a large facility on the outskirts of Nah Am. It’s your mission to get in there, get Private Thorpe out and get your asses back here. Got that?’

‘How do we go in Sir?’ Starsky asked, his concerns with Sharpe temporarily forgotten.

‘You’ll be flown in by high level plane and make a halo jump to within a mile of the facility. From there you’re on your own. Corporal Starsky, you will be in command of the operation. You now the drill. Look after the men under your command and get them back safely’.

‘Where’s Traff?’ the brunet continued, calculating odds.

‘He’s on another mission. He won’t be joining you’.

‘But Sir. We always go o…’

‘Do you have a problem soldier?’ Sharpe thundered, his face and neck reddening.

Starsky bit back the comments, torn between questioning the decision and wanting to know why Sharpe had split them up. ‘No Sir’ he replied quietly. ‘When do we ship out?’

‘An hour. You’ll walk to these co-ordinates, then the loach will pick you up and fly you over to the plane. You go in light, fast and careful. Any questions?’

‘What happens if we don’t find Thorpe?’ Merry asked

‘Don’t even go there son’ Sharpe shot back and lowered his eyes back to his work.

The three men quickly got sufficient kit together and started to walk through the jungle towards the ‘copter pick up point. They were quiet, each harbouring their own thoughts about the mission. This was what they’d trained for, but it felt odd to be one man light and it set a sombre air over the mission, as though they were somehow doomed before they’d even started just because Traff wasn’t with them. Starsky had dark thoughts about the Major. Would Sharpe really be petty enough to split him and Traff up on the strength of the snub Starsky had given him in the bathroom? Surely not! Surely his military career would have been on the line if his sexual preferences were made public. The brunet put the dark thoughts out of his mind, instead concentrating on the mission. Sharpe had put him in command – an honour, and at the same time so much responsibility. He looked at Merry and Tugs. There was no animosity. They took his command as read and were willing to follow any orders he cared to give. But did he really want to order his friends around? He didn’t think so. Instead, he would try to operate as a well oiled machine. Get in, grab Thorpe and get out. Simple!

Starsky eyed the Loach with mistrust. Smaller than the Huey at least this copter had doors, although it was very much smaller than the other bird had been. The three got into the back and the single pilot flipped them a quick salute and lifted off as the brunet made a swift, self conscious grab for the door handle. He snorted to himself. Some fine, brave commander you are Davey boy!

The copter flew them to the aircraft and they changed vehicles. The plane was basic and they suited up, the patchwork of jungle and rice paddy clearings all too familiar now as the soldiers looked down on the terrain and soon the plane started to slow down. Nah Am was not too far from the village that Starsky had visited the weekend before and he saw it now in the far distance as they turned south west – the only civilisation fro miles around. As it slowed, the men jumped and landed without too much drama and as they packed their chutes, Starsky lead his men out of the drop site, remembering the pilot’s directions.

‘You have a day. A loach be back at the same drop zone at 20:00 tomorrow. The orders are to wait around for 30 minutes then return whether you’re with them or not’.

‘Gotcha’ Starsky replied curtly, aware that Sharpe hadn’t mentioned that little snippet. And stupidly, he’d never thought to ask. He shouldered his pack and with a nod, set off walking into the jungle.

The air once again was oppressive and as he looked upwards through the towering trees, the curly haired soldier caught glimpses of a sky that was grey and heavy with unshed rain. It was the beginning of the rainy season now and each day started bright and hot. The temperature rose steadily throughout the morning, culminating in highs over 100 degrees although the humidity was also over 85 percent. By 14:00, the clouds started to gather and one hour later, the heavens would open and the deluge would begin. Starsky looked at his watch – almost 15:00. shit, you could set your clock by this weather!

The started to walk, picking up the pace. Although they’d lived in the climate now for almost 6 months, the brunet and his friends could never quite get used to it. Movement made him sweat. Breathing made him sweat. Hell, even thinking seemed to have the same effect. His clothes were always damp and even in the relative cool after the rain, there was no respite from the wet and his clothes never truly dried out. He was wet, uncomfortable and tired for most of the time but with everyone else, he ploughed on regardless.

The jungle in this stretch of the country was more dense than it was around his camp and vegetation grabbed at his booted feet so that he tripped and staggered through the vague paths made by unidentified animals. Behind him, he could hear Tugs and Merry cursing under their breath as they too fought their way through. They came to wide, but slow moving river and Starsky crouched, his hand held up and fisted as he signalled his men to stop. Cautiously he crawled forward on his belly until he could see up and down the overgrown river bank. There was no sign of life and he got quietly to his knees as he prepared to plunge into the greasy looking green tinged water. Tugs and Merry followed him until they were all waist high in the murky depths, rifles held two handed, high above their heads. The bottom was slimy and slippery and the current tugged at their bodies, but the water wasn’t cold and the strength of the current wasn’t sufficient to pull them off their feet. They had almost gained the other side when Starsky heard a twig snap on the bank in front of him. He froze and felt the others come to a halt behind him.

Uncertain whether this was an animal or whether they were about to be ambushed, the brunet made the decision to plough on quickly, reasoning that they would have more ability to fight of they gained the bank. He pushed on, the water giving resistance and making him struggle to put one foot in front of the other. Progress was agonisingly and frustratingly slow and he longed just to be able to launch himself full length and swim for the bank, knowing that would be quicker, but he needed to keep his rifle dry at all costs and so was left with no option but to fight the current.

Slowly they made their way to the bank, the breath whistling in their throats as they looked left and right, scanning for any sign of what had made the noise. As Starsky started to climb the greasy bank opposite, he heard another noise and caught sight of a small deer fleeing into the undergrowth. Was that it? Was that what he’d heard? His nerves relaxed a little as he reached down and started to pull Tugs out of the water. Merry came next and they stood on the bank, regaining their breath and taking stock of their position. Looking at his compass, the brunet took another bearing and set of on a line diagonally through the dense undergrowth. Above him the rain started to fall, lightly at first but within minutes the drops were large and fat and spattered off his helmet, deafening him as they plinked against the metal and bounced off the leaves above him.

The ferocity of the downpour hammered loose leaves from the trees and they too fell to the jungle floor so that it was as thought the men were walking through a green snow storm. Larger twigs and branches that had become dislodged rained down with the droplets and within seconds all three men were drenched, the rain trickling down their collars and seeping through their trousers to run in rivulets into their boots. They squelched onwards, deafened now by the tropical downpour, their visibility reduced even further but the curtain of water surrounding them.

There was never really a chance for them to see or hear the small raiding party of Vietcong who came up behind them. They had no way of protecting themselves or hiding. They never heard the shouted command in stilted English to halt, but they did come to a rapid stop when the shot ricocheted above their heads.

Starsky dived for the ground, his training taking over from his conscious mind and he heard his friends do the same behind him. He waited, his heart hammering in his ears until he saw the shiny toe of a boot in front of his nose and looked up into the face of the enemy.

Note to the readers the tortures described in the next few chapters are authentic and were used extensively on POWs during the Vietnam war.

Chapter 10

'Starsky, David Michael. Corporal 231-51-3155. United States Army'.

Defiant eyes shone straight ahead as the curly haired soldier tried hard to keep the fear from his voice.

They had been marched though the jungle at a punishing pace as the seven Vietcong guerillas kept their tarnished, old fashioned, but still deadly rifles trained on the three men. They’d been relieved of their own weapons and now had their hands laced behind their heads, making walking even more difficult and exhausting. The guerillas knew where they were going well enough, but it seemed to the terrified men that they were being marched round and round in circles. The rain poured down as they squelched along in their boots which were already drenched from their walk through the river.

Eventually, they were brought to a ragged halt at the edge of an opening in which there were various tents, wooden nissen huts and some animal cages arranged around a central open space. There was a large concrete building at the back, stretching back and filling almost all of the large clearing and in the distance they could see more of the cages. The place had been cleared of trees and now, as the sun shone down again, the soldier’s clothes steamed in the heat.

Starsky bent down to suck in his breath, but was forced upright by harsh words and the butt of a rifle being brought down forcefully on the back of his neck. He yelped and cursed but straightened, leaving his hands still on his head. They were pushed forward and directed to a larger tent in the very centre of the compound.

So this was Nah Am. Not exactly the paradise that Starsky had imagined and as he took a second to look around him, he realised that one or two of the cages that he’d thought were for animals were in fact inhabited by naked men, their bodies thin and wasted and covered in sores and dirt. He shuddered and swallowed down the nausea and fear as he was pushed into the tent.

At the far end of the canvassed enclosure there sat a small, monkey faced little man wearing the Vietnamese army uniform and peaked cap. He looked up as the three men were pushed to the front of his desk and listened as their captors rattled off a string of sentences during which he nodded

‘Dung, dung, lOi ich’.

He looked at the prisoners and said in heavily accented, though understandable English. ‘Who is in command?’

‘That’d be me’ Starsky said as confidently as he could.

‘And you are?’

‘Starsky. Corporal. 231-51-3155. United States Army’.

‘Prettily said Corporal. Just what you Americans are taught to say, yes?’

Starsky, Tugs and Merry stared back defiantly but remained quiet.

‘I’m General Mai. You will get to know me quite well, I think. What was your mission?’ His voice was low and silky smooth with an ominous evil quality.

Starsky snorted. He too had the sickening feeling they would get to know Mai and his goons. ‘Starsky, David Michael. Corporal 231-51-3155. United States Army’.

‘You will become as tired of telling me that as I will become of hearing it. Maybe tomorrow your discomfort will have argued with you long enough for you to answer me’. He looked over the American’s shoulder.

“Tn anh l g? đợt bay, phi vụ”

The soldiers behind them took hold of each man by the arms, forcing their hands behind and up until their wrists were level with their shoulder blades. Thus incapacitated, they were pushed out of the tent and towards the wooden nissen hut. Inside, their escort let them go and they stood still, waiting.

The hut was small, separated into much smaller rooms by stout wooden walls and now one of the soldiers opened a door to the first pen. It was no more than 8 feet square with no furniture, no toilet, nothing. The soldier mimed them taking off their clothes and Starsky shook his head vigorously.

‘Never on a first date’ he said to cover his fear. He was going to hang on to as many of his belongings as he could for as long as he could.

Without warning, two of the soldiers took hold of him, pulling his arms behind his back and holding him steady as the third rammed the butt of his rifle into the brunet’s stomach. He gasped, bending over and strings of silvery saliva strung from his lips to drop in wet beads to the ground. Tugs sprang forward to help Starsky but the guard turned on him and smashed the rifle into his face. Tugs screamed and his hands flew to his broken nose, trying to stem the blood that coursed down his face to drip from his chin. There was a general noise and an air of confusion as the three soldiers struggled and shouted.

‘Leave him alone ya yellow bastards’ Starsky grunted as the rifle landed on the back of his neck. The blow caught at his exposed nerves and as suddenly as the rifle descended, the brunet’s world winked out.

How much later, he didn’t know, Starsky awoke to dark and the stench of sweat and the warmth of human bodies that were too close to him. He pushed the closest one away, his eyes still closed against the sickening headache, but someone caught hold of his wrist and held it.

‘Hey Curly, easy now’ a familiar voice hissed.

The brunet forced open his eyes and looked up into Merry’s face. He grunted and tried to sit up, but the soldier put a hand on his shoulder, forcing him to remain on his back.

‘There aint too much room in here. Just lie easy a minute an’ come around some more’.

‘Al? Whadappened?’ he asked, his voice thick and unsure.

‘You met the business end of the rifle’.

‘Oh yeah! How’s Tugs?’

‘Been better. He aint gonna win a beauty pageant any time soon, but he’ll make it’ Merry leaned to one side and Starsky could see the third soldier sitting propped in a corner, his head back as he tried to stop the ruby droplets still dripping from his smashed nose.

Forcing himself to sit upright, the brunet looked around him. They’d all been stripped of most of their uniforms although mercifully they’d been allowed to retain their boxers and vests. They were being held in the same tiny wooden room that he’d seen before the world winked out, but with three of them in there, they’d been reduced to one lying, one sitting with knees drawn up and one standing or kneeling. There was no window and no ventilation and the only light came from a single overhead light embedded in the ceiling giving a harsh white light that flickered continually on and off.

‘How long was I out?’ Starsky asked.

Merry blew out his cheeks. ‘Tough to say. Probably a couple’a hours. We were getting a bit worried. You were well and truly out cold! How’re ya doin?’

The brunet checked himself over. Lifting his vest to reveal a red and blue bruise across his midriff. He prodded it, winced and decided against conducting the experiment a second time. ‘I’m good. I’ll survive. You?’

‘They haven’t laid a finger on me yet. Guess I got that pleasure to come huh?’ Merry laughed nervously.

‘Hey, we’re all shit scared. But we’re gonna get outa here, ya got that?’ Starsky said seriously. He was 19. He was in command and now it was his responsibility to make sure his men were ok.

Merry looked skeptical. ‘Did you see those fuckin’ cages? How long d’ya think those guys have been sayin’ that?’

‘I said we’ll get outa here. An’ I mean it’. Starsky gave a lop sided grin. ‘Hey, have I ever lied?’

Merry snorted. ‘There’s always a fi….’

His words were cut off as the door was yanked open and a guard stepped inside, grabbing Starsky firmly by the arm. He tugged and said something unintelligible.

‘Hey where’re ya takin’ him?’ Merry shouted as Tugs tried to get himself to his feet. A rifle was pointed at them and Starsky held up his hand.

‘S’ok guys. Me an’ the nice soldier are gonna take a little walk, that’s all. Be right back’ he grinned to cover up the sheer terror he felt.

‘You take care’ Merry said quietly.

‘Don’t go anywhere’ the brunet grunted as the soldier pulled him out of the tiny room. He was marched back through the compound in the growing gloom to the tent where he’d first met General Mai. Ushered inside, the soldier at his back stood him in front of the desk as the General looked up. Starsky hoped the small man couldn’t see the nervous shake in his legs or hands. He balled them into fists to keep himself still.

‘Do you have anything to tell me?’ he asked pleasantly.

‘David Michael Starsky. Corporal. 231-51-3155. United States Army’. He stood at attention, his eyes never wavering from a spot above the General’s head.

‘Corporal, I’m a patient man, but there comes a time when I need answers. Do we have to start causing you pain? It would be so much easier if you would just tell me why you were sent here. Your American Government doesn’t care about you. Do you think there is anyone in the White House who even knows that you exist? Just tell me why you’re here and you can be on your way’.

‘Corporal David Michael Starsky. 231-51-3155. United Sta…….’.

The General cut him off with rapid fire commands and Starsky felt hands holding him still. His clothes were ripped from him and he was pushed down until he was sitting on a hard wooden chair.

He felt his heart rate hike up several notches and he tried to stop his body from trembling, but the fear ate at him and he looked at the ground desperate not to let these bastards see how terrified he was.

‘Trung u’

Ropes circled his wrists and ankles, lacing him to the chair and another loop was passed around his chest. He fought against the bonds with all his might, but they were strong, the rough hemp rope digging into his flesh. He yelled out as he saw the big generator brought into the room and the soldiers set about impassively attaching electrodes to his chest, his back above his kidneys and between his splayed legs to clamp on his scrotum. There was even one attached to each earlobe. He struggled again, breathless with exertion as he watched the general switch on the generator, his hand hovering over the handle.

What would it feel like? He’d heard stories of excruciating pain, but was that right? What sort of pain would it be? He’d always been able to cope quite well when he’d broken a limb, or come off worse in a fight. Would he cope with this? His dog tags rattles against his chest betraying his shivering body.

‘Why were you sent here?’

‘David Michael Stars…….arrrgh’ he screamed as the electricity coursed through his body. It took his breath away, his lungs spasming until he thought his eyeballs would fall from his head. The pain went on and on and all he could do was scream, his breath finally giving out as the General turned off the current. His body sagged against its bonds and he sucked a lungful of air in gratefully. His arms and legs continued to jerk as muscles groups fired against his will. He raised his head and grinned. He knew now what it felt like.

‘Starsky. Corporal Serial numb……ungh….arghhhhh’ another bolt hit his body full on and he jangled in the chair, screaming more to let himself know that he was alive than to ease the pain. Again the general flipped the switch and again he sagged against his bonds, sweat trickling into his eyes and down his bare chest. He groaned, his head feeling as though it would explode.

The General crossed the small distance between them and took a hand full of wet curls, forcing the young man’s head up so that he could see into the pain filled eyes.

‘Your Government doesn’t care if you live or die. Why make it difficult for yourself? If you don’t tell us, one of the others will’.

The brunet gathered the saliva in his mouth and spat it directly at the older soldier. It was tinged with blood and he realised belatedly that he’d bitten his tongue. The air was redolent with the smell of cooked meat and it was only when he looked down his body and saw the burns and blisters at the point of each electrode that Starsky realised that it was his flesh that was charring. A puddle beneath the hard wooden chair also gave evidence to the fact that he’d lost control of his bladder.

He concentrated hard on making words, but he was exhausted and his mouth refused to work properly.

‘Go t’hell’ he mumbled, screaming once more as the man at the controls flicked the switch. A dozen times the General paused to ask him the same question, telling him over and again that his government didn’t care about him; that he as a useless piece of shit and that even his Mother wouldn’t care if he lived or died. Towards the end of the session, the young curly haired soldier couldn’t really differentiate between the times when the current was flowing, and when the switch had been flicked off. His body reverberated now to every touch; every movement. His skin crisped around the electrodes and the sickening smell of burned flesh pervaded the tent. And finally, mercifully, his body told him that enough was enough and despite the General’s attempts to revive him, Starsky remained unconscious.

Chapter 11

He came back to consciousness this time in a different place, his body trembling uncontrollably as it tried to cope with the shocks it had endured. He opened his eyes and groaned softly, his hands wrapping around his chest as he struggled to breathe.

‘Easy there Curly. Just lie back. They did a real number on ya’ Merry said worriedly. What happened?’

The brunet passed a hand over his eyes and tried to swallow but his throat was dry as sandpaper. ‘Drink’ he croaked looking at his comrade.

‘Sorry pal. No can do. We got transferred from the Hilton to the Waldorf just after they took ya an’ the room upgrade didn’t include water, or food for that matter.

Starsky forced himself into a sitting position. He was on a bunk of sorts. Or rather it was a wooden bench fixed against one wall of the slightly larger cell. This one had the same sort of bench against the other wall too so at least two of them could sleep simultaneously. The front wall of the cell was made of bars and he could see out, although the view of the dirty grey wall opposite was not exactly inspiring. ‘Where are we?’ he gasped.

‘In the main prison part. They took Tugs away’ Merry said, the strain in his voice more marked now.

‘Oh shit, when?’

‘Bout an hour ago. What did they do t’you?’

‘Hooked me up to the mains an’ tried to force me to tell ‘em what we were doin’ here’ Starsky said, examining the large burns on his chest. Somehow, he’d got his BVDs back and fortunately they covered the family jewels although he felt as though they were on fire. He decided not to look for the time being and concentrated instead on his surroundings.

‘Did you get a look around on your way here?’

‘Not much. It was dark. There’s one long corridor with cells down one side. Some have got guys in, some are empty. The guys I did see looked erm….well they could do with some TLC’ Merry advised him.

‘Uh huh, somehow I don’t think we’re gonna get a massage an’ a night of hot sex’ Starsky said grimly. His body was stiff and sore as though he’d been beaten with a bat or had survived a road traffic accident. In a way he was proud of himself that he’d managed to endure the torture without breaking and it made the pains in his body easier to bear. In fact, when he thought about it, they weren’t quite as bad as he’d imagined they’d be. Oh sure, he hurt as though he’d had a prize fight with the world heavyweight champion, but he could walk, talk and breathe. And then it hit him. This was just the first round, and he somehow guessed that General Mai wouldn’t want to stop there. He shuddered and the fear once again gripped his chest.

He jumped and looked around as the door grated open and the two soldiers flung Tug’s limp body onto the floor of the cell, closing the barred door behind them. Merry left his side and shuffled over and gently rolled the unconscious man onto his back. Tugs moaned but his eyes remained closed. He was wet and his breath seemed to bubble in his chest. Merry thought he looked like someone who’d drowned, but how could that happen in the middle of the jungle?

‘How’s he doin’?’ Starsky asked struggling to get up.

‘Dunno. He’s comin’ round I think. He’s shivering like he’s been swimmin’ or something……hey Tugs. John…..c’mon pal, wake up huh?’

Tugs eyes flickered open, a look of pure terror in them. He squirmed away from his fried and tried to curl into a ball away from Merry’s hands. Gently Starsky leaned over and touched his shoulder

‘Tugs…John….listen to me. You’re back in the cell buddy. You’re safe. Can you tell us what happened?’

Tugs gurgled and rolled onto his side, coughing up blood stained water. He gagged and gasped, then rolled back onto his back and closed his eyes.

‘I’ve never known anything like it’ he whispered in a terrified voice. ‘I was…..I was so fuckin’ scared. They t tied me to a wooden bench so tight I c couldn’t move. They shouted at me to open my mouth, but I wouldn’t….didn’t want to make it easy for ‘em, so they stuck something….think it was a rifle barrel or a stick in my mouth an’ pushed. Then they stuffed my mouth full of some kinda cotton gag. I felt something like a …a wooden log or stone got shoved under my neck. They’d put a blindfol….oh….shit’ he whimpered. ‘They tied it over ….. over my eyes an’ I couldn’t see a damned thing, but I could hear ‘em walkin’ round me…..I could smell ‘em. Then they held my head an’ I felt water on my face. It…..I can’t…can’t….’

Starsky held his hand on Tug’s shoulder. ‘Easy soldier. Easy John. S’ok. Just rest. Tell us if ya want, but don’t get all bent up. You’re safe now’. The soldier trembled against the brunet’s hand, but he hitched a breath and continued.

‘The water….. ran down my throat and up my nose an’ I couldn’t breathe coz of the fuckin’ gag in my mouth was wet too. I couldn’t get any air an’ thought I was gonna die. An’ all the time they were tellin me you didn’t care about me, You were in charge an’ ya didn’t care, an’ I was gonna die. They kept….they kept pourin’ the water an’ I couldn’t breathe. It was like I was drownin’ an they never let up. I kept passing out, but they’d just wait till I came round. I coughed up crud an’ then they’d start again….Oh fuck I was so shit scared….I never told ‘em…..honest I didn’t Curly…. Couldn’t even remember why we were here. Couldn’t think of anythin’ but the next breath’.

Merry and Starsky exchanged horrified looks, only imagining what it could have felt like, and very aware that they too might have to deal with the treatment.

For the rest of the day, they took turns holding the numbed soldier as Tugs floated in and out of consciousness. There were times when he shouted out and thrashed his arms, knocking them out of the way and other times when he lasped into a nightmare world where he curled into their comforting bodies. Slowly his body succumbed to a fever as the fluid filling his lungs turned to pneumonia.

Over the next few days they came alternatley for Starsky and Tugs. The brunet hated the fact that they picked on the other soldier. He was getting steadily more sick and the NVAs seemed to take a fiendish delight in waterboarding him over and again. The fluid in his lungs now stopped him from breathing freely and whenever the door to the cell clanged open, he would cower away, feverish and semi conscious. Starsky yelled at them to take him instead, but they ignored him, knocking him and Merry out of the way until one day, perhaps ten days into their incarceration, Tugs did not return.

Starsky and Merry were picking their way through the meagre bowlful of rice that was their daily allowance. It was cold and tasteless, but they ate anyway, conscious that they had to keep up their strength. Whilst Merry had still remained untouched, Starsky had had two more sessions of electricity before the soldiers changed tack. On that day they’d taken him from the cell to a different room in the prison building this time. They’d forced him down and had tied him to the chair same as always. But this time, instead of hooking him up to the generator as he’d come to expect and loathe, they fastened his bare feet down to the legs of the chair and placed them in bowls of water. The absence of any painful stimuli was almost worse than the current flowing through his body and he’d yelled at them, fighting to get away. And then he was left tied in that state for a whole day, his body getting stiffer and more sore and his nerves more and more frayed. At the end of that time, the General had some back into the room and had casually asked him why he’d been sent.

Starsky started to rhyme off his name and number so the soldiers had taken his feet from the water and ripped the softened big toe nails from their beds. The pain was exquisite and he’d screamed louder than ever, unable to bear the feeling of the air and water on the bleeding, raw nail beds. And then they’d dragged him back to his cell and left him. But the pain didn’t end there. Over the course of the night, as the nail beds dried out, the skin tautened and stretched leaving his feet feeling as thought they were being dipped into fire.

In the three days since the start of this torture, he’d been releived of another 6 nails and was unable to walk properly, his feet a mass of blood and yellow matter.

And so when the door to the prison wing grated back, he looked up as the guards came to the front of his cell and levered himself to his feet. He’d expected Tugs to be brought back to them and braced himself to once again deal with the moaning, the sickness and the fear in the man’s eyes. But his time, the guards were empty handed.

‘Where’s Corporal Tugs?’ he yelled at them, not expecting a reply.

The yellow faced man look impassively at the two captives before dragging his finger over his throat. He didn’t need any English to make it clear that Tags had finally been killed by the water treatment.

The two remaining soldiers lapsed into silence, on the one hand mourning their friend, and on the other, thankful that he was out of harms way and had had an end to his suffering. Merry paced the cell.

‘Where the fuck is Sharpe?’ he ground out. ‘Why the hell doesn’t he send someone to get us out? Goddamned Senator’s son. I just hope that git Thorpe is worth it!’

‘Hey, Merry. Save your strength’ Starky rasped. In the twelve days since they’d been taken, he been taken for one sort of torture or another each day and his voice was a hoarse parady of what it used to be. His body too was suffering, not only from the burns and wounds but also from the lack of food and water. One bowl of rice and two small cups of water were designed to be just above starvation level and he could already feel that he’d lost weight and had the beginnings of a low grade fever. But he kept that to himself. Merry was already tearing himself up because the soldiers seemed to be ignoring him and taking Starsky and their now dead friend instead.

That night they slept fitfully. The lights never went off in the prison block and there was always some noise, either moans from men in other cells or the screams of those who’d been taken for further questioning. It was all designed to wear down resistance and the brunet smiled grimly to himself as he thought how effective it was.

The fear that both men had felt upon being captured had not gone. In fact with the treatment Starsky had received it mounted day by day. “Living on his nerves” as his Ma would have said. He had a constant pain in his stomach and felt nauseous most of the time, but still he continued to force the rice and water down in an attempt to keep strong, never doubting that they would soon be set free.

oOo

Tom Trafford walked back into the camp after the “small escort duty” that he’d thought would be an overnight afair had lasted almost two weeks. It had taken him deep into the enemy territory and he’d served his purpose on a number of occasions by firing at disguised enemy positions and taking out the enemy snipers. He felt pleased with himself and had even managed a night in a small local village with a very pretty young girl who was more than accommodating. But now, after a half hour trek through the jungle back to camp hauling his pack on his back, he was looking forward to a luke warm shower, a cold beer and to catch up on things with his friends.

Walking into his tent, he saw that the other three bunks were tidy and looked as though they had not been slept in for at least a night. Curious because kit bags were still there, he walked over to Sharpe’s tent and confronted Millin.

‘Where’s the guys?’ he asked.

‘Guys?’

‘Starsky Tugs and Merry. Where are they? The tents empty’.

Sharpe heard Traff’s voice and came out from his inner sanctum, plastering a sympathetic look onto his face.

‘Ah, Corporal. I’m glad you’re back. I regret to inform you that your three friends were sent on a top secret mission. They were due back thirteen days ago. Traff, son. We’ve heard back that they’re dead’.

Chapter 12

Over the next two weeks, the life in the POW camp fell into a monotonous and painful cycle. The General had taken to bringing Starsky before him each alternate day and over the course of time, the young Corporal had been relieved of all his finger and toe nails, most of the nailbeds now suppurating and infected. The General had now become acquainted with Merry too and the young man had also been subjected to the electrical treatment and also to less painful but still coercive methods.

At one point Merry was gone from the cell for four days. During that time Starsky was beside himself with worry for the other guy and had tried to question the guards who had come with his rice and water, but to no avail.

When Merry was returned to the cell, he was disorientated, pale and almost delirious, but the brunet could find no fresh wounds on his body. Merry slept round the clock immediately upon his return and it wasn’t until he’d woken that he’d managed to tell Starsky that the General had had him taken to a room where he was stripped of his clothes and sat upon a hard wooden bench. His arms were tied loosely behind him and his ankles were placed in metal cuffs linked by a length of metal bar. Ropes were looped around the bar and over the young soldiers shoulders and pulled tight so that he was pretzelled up, his head between his knees and is back bent forward so that the strain on all his muscles started a slow burn.

And then he’d been left in that position. At first he wondered what was happening to him and he’d tried to take his mind away to another place, but the soldiers refused to let him sleep and had given him tiny sips of water throughout the four days he’d remained tied. Never once did they let him up, so that in the end, when the ropes were removed, he’d collapsed onto the floor, his body refusing to move from that uncomfortable position. When they’d forced him to straighten out, the pains were so incredible that he’d passed out, there and then.

The brunet could hardly believe his ears. He’d heard about varying sorts of barbaric treatment, and had suffered some of it himself, but nothing compared to that. He couldn’t get his head around what it must have been like for Merry to be tied into one position for so long.

For the rest of the day, the young soldier slept fitfully and over the course of the next two days, their captors left them alone. But on the morning of the third day, things made a dramatic change for the worse.

They had been quietly talking in their cell. Just normal stuff. Anything to keep their minds occupied and to stop brooding on when the next round of torture would start. They were discussing schooldays for want of a better subject and Starsky had just begun to describe a particularly beautiful girl he’d known, when the sound of the door to the cell block grated ominously open. The young men stiffened, their hearts hammering as they fought to keep their composure. General Mai and four soldiers stood outside their cell and at a rapid command from the CO, their cell door creaked backwards as the five men entered.

Without warning, two of the soldiers forced Starsky back against the far wall of the cell, their hands rough on his thin frame, a rifle across his throat so that he could neither move nor look away. The other two soldiers forced Merry up against the barred wall of the cell and General Mai looked at Starsky.

‘You have been particularly quiet when we’ve been questioning you corporal. I tip my hat to your bravery’ he said softly.

‘Gee thanks, I aim t’please’ the brunet spat out, using bravado to cover his fear.

‘But I wonder just how quiet you will be if you see another hurting because of your stupidity and stubbornness’ he looked pointedly at Merry, who hitched a breath and stared defiantly back.

‘Don’t you fuckin’ lay a finger on him’ the brunet growled, struggling to get rid of the soldier’s hands holding him back.

Without a second look, Mai nodded to the two soldiers holding Merry. While one held the struggling soldier against the bars, the other took his rifle and started to swing it against Merry’s legs, from shin to hip. The young man screamed repeatedly as Starsky yelled at them to stop, but his shouts were in vain. Over and again, the rifle butt landed with a sickening crack against Merry’s legs as the brave soldier shouted, cried out and was then reduced to strangled whimpers as he sagged against the man holding him up. Within minutes, the blood was running freely and grey and bloody bone could be seen poking through the damaged skin.

Starsky continued to struggle against his own soldiers, shrieking and yelling at them in his efforts to get them to stop the vicious assault as Mai looked on, an expression of pity on his face.

Finally, as Merry blessedly lost consciousness, they stopped the horrendous attack and let his body slump to the floor. Mai took a step back and surveyed the broken soldier and the one whose breath was now coming in ragged sobs.

‘Let his pain argue with the both of you. We will be back’ he said and the five men departed as quickly as they came.

Starsky ran to his friend’s side and tried to straighten out the young man’s broken body. Merry moaned softly as the brunet tried to straighten his legs and his eyes flickered, but did not open.

‘Oh Jeez buddy, I tried to stop ‘em I swear I did’ Starsky whispered as he ran his hand over Merry’s sweat damp brow. He decided to move the young soldier onto one of the wooden benches, knowing that when Merry came around, the move would be entirely too painful, but still, as he took hold of the thin frame and lifted it, Merry screamed out in his delirium.

Laying the broken body down, the brunet examined the extent of Merry’s injuries. His legs weren’t broken so much as reduced to so much pulp, blood, shards of bone and other unidentifiable matter oozing from the wounds. Right there and then, Starsky knew his friend would not make it and over the course of the next three days, he gave up almost all of his own ration of water as he encouraged the feverish soldier to sip and he washed away the blood from his legs as much as he could. The young man remained unconscious for the most part, moaning and tossing in his sleep, any movement causing him to cry out. Starsky sobbed against him on more than one occasion, terrified at the prospect of being left alone and angry at his helplessness. Why hadn’t he told them? Why hadn’t he saved Merry from this? What was so fucking important about some Senators son who he’d never met and might already be dead?

On the evening of the third day, Merry opened fever bright eyes and looked around him.

‘Hey Alan, how’re ya doin’ buddy?’ Starsky said softly, wiping his friend’s forehead with a damp cloth ripped from Merry’s own vest.

‘Not…..good.’ Merry gasped. ‘D Dave…not goin’…t’……make it’.

‘Hey sure you are. Stay with me huh? We’ll get outa here. I promised we would’ Starsky soothed, his hand never leaving Merry’s arm.

‘S Starsky?’

‘Uh huh?’

‘If y ya get back…..tell my Mom…..I love her’.

‘You can tell her yourself. We’re getting’ out’.

‘N no….not’.

‘Oh shit Merry. Alan c’mon stay with me buddy. I….fuck, this is all my fault! I should’a told ‘em. I should’a….’

The injured boy used up his remaining strength as he pulled at Starsky’s arm. ‘Wouldn’t have it…..any other….way. Thankssss’ he gasped. And then his eyes rolled back into his head, his hand falling down to lie lifeless on the bench.

Starsky closed his eyes and sobbed for his friend, for his loneliness and from shear terror at what was now waiting for him. Throughout the night he kept his vigil by the body of his friend and in the morning when the guards came to take the corpse away, he stood stiffly and painfully to attention, saluting his fallen comrade.

From then on, things took a different turn. More often now, he was left for long periods without food or company as the days turned to weeks, and while the periods without torture were welcome, he found it difficult to keep his mind occupied. His fingers and toes were infected and he could neither walk well, nor pick up and hold things without intense pain. When eating, he was reduced to lapping the food from his bowl like a dog, his finger tips too sensitive to handle the soft mushy rice. But he tried to keep his spirits up and when the guards were not around, some of the prisoners, despite the fact they couldn’t see each other, sang songs and shouted jokes up and down the corridor.

On the sixth week of his incarceration, the General again sent for him and the soldiers came to drag him away to a different room completely. He was pitifully thin now, sores breaking out across his body and the lack of water led to hallucinations and confusion, but as he stood between the soldiers, swaying slightly, but refusing to fall, the General walked into the room to stand in front of him.

‘Haven’t you had enough yet Corporal? Your country has washed their hands of you. Your commanders have told us we should kill you now. They don’t want to know you any more. So why hold out? Why not save yourself any more pain? You only need to tell me why you’re here and we’ll let you go. Tell me, soldier. Why are you here?’

Starsky glared at the man. He’d been told so often that he was a no good dirty American piece of shit that sometimes he almost believed it. But he couldn’t believe that his friends had forgotten about him, or had washed their hands of him. He swayed.

‘C corporal David Mmmmichael Starsky…… 231-51-3155. U united States Armmmmy.’ He mumbled as clearly as he could. Mai slapped his face and tried again.

‘Who sent you? Why? For what purpose?’

‘N no purpose…..wanted t’see the world’ the brunet tried to grin.

The soldiers took hold of him and forced Starsky down onto a bunk bed in the corner. He was forced face down onto the bunk with his ankles trapped into stocks attached to the foot of the bed, across the top of the metalwork. Next they tied a rope tightly at his elbows so that the circulation was in danger of being cut off and with the rope then pulled up to run through a hook in the ceiling they hoisted the brunet off the bunk bodily. Starsky grunted, sweat beading on his body and dripping onto the stained mattress below as his body weight hung from his tightly bound arms. There was no way he could ease any of his weight from ankles and his elbows. His breathing became constricted and he was in danger of hyperventilating. He screamed out in agony and the scream added pressure onto his already overstretched rib cage.

The pain was literally beyond description and he groaned with every breath he tried to take, the pains lancing through his arms, chest, back and legs until his whole world was a flaming red blaze of agony.

But after about 10 or 15 minutes the brunet noticed some improvement in his circumstances. The soldiers stood by impassively and the General remained in the room, gently cleaning and trimming his nails, but Starsky’s body became used to being held in this position, tied up so tightly, with his nerves in his arms pinched off. Slowly his whole upper torso became numb. The relief was indescribable and for the first time in a quarter of an hour, he breathed a little easier, his head hanging down in exhaustion so that his curls brushed the dirty mattress. The General peered up at him, into his face.

‘Tell me why you’re here’.

‘F fuck you’ the curly haired soldier sobbed, name rank and serial number forgotten in the blessed relief from the pains.

The General nodded at the soldiers and swiftly, they cut the brunet down. Now however as they released the ropes, the procedure worked completely in reverse and once again the spears of fire coursed through his body as he writhed on the bunk, unable to stop the miasma of pain. Tears of anger, fear and pain coursed down his cheeks unchecked and Mai looked on, a small smile on his face.

He took hold of a handful of curly hair and gently lifted Starsky’s head. ‘A few more sessions may help your memory’ he said softly as the soldiers hauled him up again.

Chapter 13

‘Stand to attention in front of a superior officer’ Mai yelled as the starving soldier stood outside the cage he’d been moved to. Starsky looked around him, his eyesight blurry. He’d gone for three days straight without food and with only three cups of water and now his stomach felt as though it was touching his backbone and his tongue had swollen in his mouth. His vest had been ripped from him, leaving only his green regulation boxers which were grimy and torn and after the last round of torture, he’d been taken outside the prison block and stuffed into one of the small cages he’d seen on his way in. It was no more than three feet square and he’d been unable to stretch out or straighten his legs or sit upright. There was no cover and he was at the mercy of the elements, either baking in the sun, dripping wet from the rain, or shivering in the relative cool of the night.

He’d watched fatalistically as the soldiers had brought out a long trestle table into the middle of the compound. They set up a chair in front of it, facing him and had started to set out a feast. Bowls of fruit, a whole chicken, steaming bowls of rice and noodles, platters of fish and soft fried fritters nestled on a snowy white table cloth and General Mai had strutted out from his office and sat down at the table.

Two soldiers opened Starsky’s cage and dragged the pitifully thin man from its interior, standing him in front of the table as Mai poured himself a glass of red wine. He held it up in toast to the brunet who stared at it longingly. It had been seven and a half weeks since he’d been captured and during that time, the most he’d had to eat was a bowlful of steamed rice each day and a few cupfuls of tepid dirty water. Now he swayed on his feet as his stomach rumbled and cramps assailed his guts, the sight of the food both tempting and sickening.

He staggered forward, then stopped himself as Mai yelled at him again. ‘Stand to attention in front of a superior officer’. Slowly, he brought one foot next to the other and straightened his back, fixing his eyes on a point in the middle distance, just as he’d done at boot camp all those months ago. And he thought that was torture.

The sun was at its height as he continued to stand. There was no shelter, but his body had long since stopped sweating, instead going into reflex to conserve what little energy and moisture he had left. The sun was hot on his shoulders and he felt them start to burn, his shoulder blades sticking out proud from his skin. He breathed deeply, trying to keep his concentration as Mai tore off a chicken leg and started to gnaw at it, wiping his lips delicately with a white napkin. A banana followed, then another glass of wine and finally, the brunet’s body gave up its unequal struggle with gravity and he slumped to the floor as he struggled to suck in air. He convulsed, the fever he’d had for the past weeks now weakening him further until he could do nothing but shake on the ground.

Immediately the soldiers were upon him, hitting him with their rifle butts and kicking at his prominent ribs and backbone. He refused now to scream. Screaming seemed to drive them on and silence was the only means of defiance left to the young soldier. Grimly he concentrated on getting through each successive blow until the soldiers tired and picked him up, throwing him bodily into the cage again. He slumped against the bars and allowed himself finally to succumb to unconsciousness, the various wounds on his chest, back and limbs seeping blood.

General Mai continued his feast undisturbed by the assault on the brunet and after completing his meal, he looked up and grinned at the approach of two of his men escorting two girls into the compound. There was nothing like a good meal with fine wine, accompanied by some afternoon delight. The twin girls looked at the small, monkey like man with some distaste. But this was a living, and the General paid well. They walked carefully past the small cage and looked down at the bruised and bloody body inside before stepping on into the tent.

Three hours later, with the sun lowering in the sky, they emerged with a handful of dong, giggling now that their weekly ordeal was over. The General had a mean streak and liked to inflict a little pain if the service he was provided with was not up to standard. This time, fortunately, they had been in good form. They walked on, past the cages as Starsky slowly raised his head and watched. It had been a long time since he’d seen a female and it was refreshing to hear a girly laugh. He rested his head against the bars and closed his eyes again as they walked on, but the girls looked a little more carefully at the cage’s inhabitant, muttered something behind their hands, and hurried off.

oOo

Tom Trafford was busy in the camp as he had been on every single day since he’d lost three of the best friends he’d ever had. His heart broke the second Sharpe had told him of their deaths, explaining that theirs had been a top secret mission and he was unable to tell Traff anything of where they’d gone, or why. Traff had pressed him for details, pleading to be allowed to go make sure – that maybe they’d survived, but Sharpe had been adamant and Traff had finally realised the score. Sometimes war meant he couldn’t know the bigger picture. He didn’t accept it, but he understood it.

And so he went mechanically out on his missions, shooting, dodging, returning. But nothing had any meaning any more and he began to take more and more risks, making a reputation for himself as a maverick to the extent that none of the other men wanted to go out into the field with him.

Today, he was recovering on light duties after he’d been winged by a bullet fired at a Loach from a ground sniper. He’d fired back and killed them, then spent the morning in the infirmary having his arm cleaned and bandaged. Now he was sitting outside the front of his tent staring moodily into a cup of coffee as he heard a commotion. He looked up, wiping a hand over his eyes. He didn’t want noise. He didn’t want company. He just wished they’d all leave him alone.

But the noise was getting closer now and as he looked again, seeing a group of soldiers laughing and joking around two very pretty and remarkably similar looking girls. Something about them made his stand up and look harder at them. Not that he’d had countless girls in his time in Chong Dai, but did he know them? He thought he did and he found himself walking more quickly towards them. As he got closer her saw that they seemed to be twins, long dark hair held back in loose pony tails down their back and suddenly the memory came back to him. A bar in Chong Dai. A night with his friends – his heart gave an uncomfortable lurch. With Starsky, Tugs and Merry.

He cleared his way through the group of soldiers using his rank to clear them out of the way and he pulled the girls towards his lonely tent. Away from the noise he looked at them and they gazed agitatedly back at him. Ai – yes he remembered her name now – pointed at him and then at his eyes and screwed her eyes up as she shook her head. What did she mean? No eyes? One eye? Wrong eye?….wrong... His stomach turned a somersault. He pointed at his eyes and shook his head and Ai nodded. He pointed at himself, then at his eyes, then put his hands up, palms outwards as he shrugged his shoulders. The sentiment was clear. Where is Starsky? Where’s the guy with the other colour of eyes? The one that looks like me.

Ai pointed back the way she’d come, through the jungle and he shouted at her, grabbing her arms as she nodded vigorously.

‘Have you seen Curly? The guy who looks like me? Have you? Where? Can you show me?’ he yelled at her and she and her sister nodded again, pointing more animatedly now. She bent down and drew in the dirt a room? No…a cage with a body in it. Oh my God! Was that Curly?

Swiftly he motioned for them to wait there while he ran to Sharpe’s tent, pausing for only the briefest knock before pushing his way in. Sharpe looked up.

‘You’d better have a damned good explanation for bursting in here like a Corporal’ he said.

‘I think Curly…Starsky is alive. I think I know where he is’ Traff blurted out.

Sharpe’s face blanched. ‘How do you know this?’ he asked.

‘There’s some girls. We knew them they…um…well they told me they’ve seen Curly. He’s alive. We can go rescue him’ Traff said excitedly.

‘Which girls?’

‘They’re um…well they’re whores from Chong Dai, but I believe ‘em’.

Sharpe grinned coldly. ‘So you’re gonna base a rescue mission on the information from two little pros who don’t speak any friggin’ English? Over my dead body Corporal. Now get those whores off my base now’.

Traff looked at the Major as though he’d grown two heads. ‘That’s it? You’re just gonna dismiss this? You’re gonna give up on three of your men?’ he asked.

‘I’m using my skill as a seasoned tactician to cover the odds and decide on a course of action. Dispassionately and logically. And you, soldier, would do well to learn from me’.

‘Learn? You cold hearted bastard. Those are my friends out there. An’ if you’re too “institutionalised” to do anything to get ‘em back other follow orders dispassionately and logically, then I will’. Traff turned on his heel and made for the door as Sharpe yelled after him.

‘Traff? Trafford. Corporal Trafford get your ass back in here now’.

But he was talking to the young soldier’s back as Traff walked out of the tent and back to his own. He started packing equipment into his kit bag. An extra pair of clothes, some bandages, tape, gauze, two extra water bottles, some k.p. rations. He paused. Was that all he’d need? As an afterthought, he packed the rest of his bag with extra ammunition and his semi-automatic revolver, slinging his snipers rifle over his shoulder. Ducking outside, he looked at the girls again.

‘A name. Can you give me a name of the place?’

They looked at him blankly and in desperation he bent down and pointed at the drawing in the dirt. ‘Where? A name? Where is he?’ he asked them.

Ai looked uncertain. ‘Nah Am?’ she said, pointing at the drawing. He kissed her, then stepped back.

Traff sighed. Shit! Nah Am was at least four hours north of the camp, closer to Chong Dai than to the base. He looked around then had an idea. Stopping only to give whispered instructions to one of the other men on the base, he set off into the jungle, the pack on his back. He pushed through the vegetation, feeling it pulling at his clothes and kit bag as if trying to stop him from getting to his destination. There was no way he could walk trough the jungle to Nah Am. It was too far and he’d be exhausted by the time he got there. And he felt he needed to be in as good shape as possible if he was to rescue his three friends. He plunged on, his spirits renewed now he had evidence to say that at least Curly was still alive. Thank God. Now someone keep him alive till I get there, please?

At last, he came to the helicopter clearing and sighed his thanks as he saw the loach on the landing pad, the pilot sitting relaxed and drinking coffee.

He waved and the pilot waved back, recognising the young corporal.

‘Hey Traff. What brings you here? I’m not due out for hours’.

‘Callaghan. I need your help. Can you fly me to Nah Am?’

‘Nah Am? Hell that’s an hour’s flight north. Whatcha want to go to that godforsaken place for?’

‘I think Curly, Tugs an’ Merry are there. An’ I want to get ‘em out’.

‘Yeah? Has Sharpe sent ya? Are ya goin’ alone?’

Traff looked down wondering if he could trust the pilot. But there again, who could he trust? He needed the loach.

‘Sharpe doesn’t know. He forbid me to go. But I need to Cal. I know they’re alive. Please? I need your help pal’.

The pilot put down his coffee cup. ‘If you think they’re alive that’s all I need. Climb aboard. We can be there in 50 minutes’.

Chapter 14

Traff leapt down from the Loach as the copter’s runners touched the soft earth and flipped a quick salute at the pilot who hovered briefly and then took off again. It wasn’t the wisest thing in the world to remain in Nah Am unless you had too. More then a few copters had been shot down in these jungle areas and the pilots were never heard from again.

Traff shouldered his pack, took a firm hold on his rifle and set off through the lush dank vegetation following his compass bearing. Repeatedly he went over the conversation he’d had with Sharpe, or, more accurately, the shouting match he’d had with his superior officer. He knew he’d blown any chance of further promotion and knew he’d face more than a couple of days in the stockade as a result of going AWOL. But the thought of maybe finding his friends alive again drove him on and he made good time through the tress, vines and waterways on the way to the camp.

Slowing as he reached the outskirts of the camp he gazed at the unforgiving, desolate looking place. The wooden nissen hut looked dark and brooding in the clearing, but behind it, the huge concrete structure of the main prison wing made him shudder. It was long and low and had an evil feeling to it which made the young soldier shudder. There was a smell of death and decay in the air that left him with a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. In front of the prison there were small cages arranged in a wiggly line, out in the open and designed to have no cover or shade at all. He looked at each of them realising that these were the structures that Ai had drawn in the dirt. These were where Starsky was being held, and he hoped Tugs and Marry wouldn’t be to far away.

There didn’t seem to be any guards patrolling the perimeter of the camp, but looking at the weary bodies in the cages closest to him, Traff didn’t think the occupants would be in any fit state to make a bid for freedom anyway. Most of the bodies he saw were thin to the point of emaciation and were covered in grime and festering sores. Flies buzzed around the cages, giving an extra hellish dimension to the lives of the occupants, but from this distance, Traff couldn’t decide whether Starsky was one of those he could see.

Keeping himself to the shelter of the tree line, he got down on his belly and took his monocular from its case. Holding it up to his eye, he ran down the length of the cages, stopping at each one to scrutinise the man inside. So many of them looked like living skeletons that he was beginning to have serious doubts as to whether he’d find his friends alive or not when his gaze caught the next cage to the end of the line.

It was set a little apart from the others and was set half in a large puddle of muddy water, it’s inhabitant being made to sit in the wet as there was no other place for his to go. Traff raked the monocular up from the ground and hitched a breath. Curly! But oh my God, what had they done at him? This wasn’t the health vital young soldier who he’d last seen. This was a pitiful specimen of humanity, huddled sunken eyed against the bars of the cage.

Traff so desperately wanted to run out into the open right there and then to free his friend, but he knew that, despite there being no sign of a guard, there would be armed men around. And it wouldn’t do for the rescue party to be killed at the last hurdle. Instead, the curly haired man swallowed down his need and huddled further back into the vegetation, biding his time until the cover of darkness. He sent out a silent message to his friend to hold on, the settled down to watch.

Towards mid afternoon, Traff watched as a small monkey faced older man strutted out into the hot sunshine, accompanied by two soldiers. Traff had to bite back a shout as he watched the two armed men reach into Starsky’s cage and pull his friend out so that he was kneeling between them.

The brunet no longer had the strength to stand. Neither did he have the inclination. His feet were so infected and painful that any movement of his toes, ankles or legs sent lancing pains though his lower body. And so as the rough hands hauled him out, he collapsed onto his knees in front of the General. He forced his head up, too defiant to let the little man see how exhausted he was and too proud to look at the shiny boots.

‘We have a new game for you’ Mai said clearly, making Starsky jump slightly.

As the brunet soldier looked, General Mai drew a revolver from his side holster and flicked the barrel round, making a satisfying ratcheting noise in the heavy afternoon air.

The General tossed the sidearm to one of the soldiers, who took it and cocked the weapon, grinning as he held the muzzle against Starsky’s head. The exhausted man looked up at Mai through bleary dehydrated eyes and snorted softly.

So, it had come to this. The end. Thank God for that! Starsky had no idea how much more of the General’s treatment he could take and now, despite the hammering heartbeats in his chest, he welcomed the end, embracing the thought that despite everything that had been done to him, he had won. He hadn’t told them anything and so he had played their sick game and won. He wasn’t a prisoner any more. His spirit would be free because he’d endured.

‘Why are you here?’ Mai asked in a bored manner.

‘Davvvvid Mmmmichael Ssst….’

Mai nodded and the soldier pushed the muzzle of the gun into the brunet’s temple and pulled the trigger. Starsky braced himself wondering how it would feel to have his brains blown out. Would he feel it? Would he have any recollection? His body tensed at the metallic click of the trigger and……..nothing.

His body sagged as the adrenaline flooded his veins. The chamber of the gun had been empty. Oh my God. They were playing Russian roulette with him! He let out a desperate sob, almost disappointed that the shot hadn’t been fired. He was so ready to die, and this at least seemed the easier way out!

The General was looking back at him, laughing. He nodded to the soldier and again the trigger snicked against an empty chamber, and again Starsky flinched away from the noise as Mai enjoyed the entertainment.

How many more times? Six chambers. Two shots taken. He rode out bogus shots three four and five. All came and went without the expected explosion. It had to be now. Had to be this time. Number six, surely.

Suddenly drawing on reserves of energy that he didn’t know he had, Starsky half stood and grabbed the revolver from the surprised soldier’s grip. Kneeling in the dirt he brought the muzzle round and levelled it at Mai’s head as the General looked on in bewilderment. Starsky grinned. This was his chance. He knew the soldiers would be on him in a trice, but at least he’d have taken out that evil son of a bitch. He held the revolver two handed and squeezed the trigger as Mai laughed back at him. The gun failed to respond, all six chambers were empty!

In a trice, the soldiers were on him, pulling him up and holding his arms behind him. He let out an involuntary groan as his knees buckled. They leaned into him, forcibly pushing his arms behind his back until his elbows touched and his shoulders felt as though they would pop out of their sockets. The impact on his chest was enormous; his arms straight and locked together so that he had to lean slightly forward to be able to take a breath. And then they tied them there, lacing them from wrist to shoulder so that Starsky could hardly even breathe in the stricture of the bonds.

Mai stepped forward and slapped him hard across his face. ‘Useless American pig! I’ve wasted enough time on you. From now on, you’ll be left to rot. I can waste no more time on you’.

He nodded at the soldiers who knocked Starsky’s legs out from under him and stuffed him back into the tiny cage. With his arms bound so tightly behind him, he couldn’t managed to get his balance and merely fell over onto his side and stayed there as tears of frustration pricked at his eyes.

From the sidelines, Traff witnessed his friend being brutalised and the only thing he could do was grind his fingernails into the palms of his hands so hard that small trickles of blood escaped and seeped into the band of his watch. The brunet wanted no more than to kill the whole lot of them for what they’d done to his friend. It reinforced his thoughts that Tugs and Merry had not made it when he didn’t see them in a cage too, but he refused to give up all hope, instead hunkering down to calm himself and wait for nightfall

Dusk in the tropics was a perfunctory affair, almost as though someone had get fed up of the light and decided to flip the sun’s switch off for a while. In the rapidly gathering gloom, Traff saw that Starsky hadn’t moved a muscle since the escapade earlier that afternoon. He seemed to be either unconscious or insensate and the stillness in his friend made Traff’s wait all the more difficult to bear. So near and yet so far! But darkness was gathering quickly now and so Traff started to make preparations for the escape.

Despite wanted to get out there as soon as possible, he waited a full thirty minutes after the camp was engulfed in darkness before venturing out of his hiding place. Regular as clockwork, the rain had once again fallen in a heavy, sultry blanket during the afternoon and now, although it had ceased, the air was damp and the night redolent with the smell of wet earth and the noises of water droplets hitting the mud.

Traff leaned down and grabbed a handful of the red mud and wiped it over his face to stop the moonlight from shining on his pale skin and giving him away. He inched his way out of his hiding hole and glanced left and right. There was no movement and no noise save for the soft groans and pitiful moans coming from some of the cages. Evidently the guards were away at their evening meal, happy in the knowledge that their caged “guests” were in no fit state to stage a mass getaway.

The brunet soldier hunkered down and ran a zig zag pattern through the line of trees until he was right opposite Starsky’s cage. From there it was only a few yards to get to his friend and push his hands through the bars.

Close up, the captive was in even worse condition that Traff had suspected, but closer inspection and triage would have to wait until they were out of the camp and far enough away to keep the guards from following them.

‘Curly’ Traff hissed at the semi conscious man lying in the hige puddle in the cage. There was no reply and he poked at the too thin shoulder.

‘Hey Curly….Dave. S’me. C’mon buddy. Gimme some help here’.

Painfully Starsky lifted his head, the extra strain on his bound shoulders showing in his face. Blurred eyes regarded his saviour for a moment before he truly understood that it was indeed his friend in front of him and not some mirage. And then the thin, but still handsome face split into a pained grin.

‘Mmmm you?’ he rasped .

‘Uh huh. Here, lemme get you outa there’ Traff whispered, glancing around to check on the guard situation. He went round to the front of the cage and looked at the padlock on the bars. Amazingly it opened in his hand. Obviously the NVAs didn’t expect Starsky to be able to go anywhere. How wrong could they be?

Traff swing the heavy metal cage door open and reached in. The only part of his friend he could reach was his legs, and reluctantly he took a hold of the brunet’s ankles, gasping as he saw the swollen and purple feet. OK Tommy, do that sorry thing later. Just get him out huh?

He pulled and Starsky moaned softly. Clear of the cage, Traff tried to get his friend up, but Starsky was unable to stand and in desperation, Traff flung the featherlight body over his shoulder and ran for the cover of the trees, closing his ears to the pitiful moans and the soft cries from the inhabitants of the other cages.

Chapter 15

Traff didn’t stop running until he was at least half a mile from the camp. His breath was ragged in his throat and his leg muscles burned, but he knew he needed to put as much distance between them and Nah Am as possible. Now he got to a small open glade by a fast flowing stream and gently he placed his semi conscious burden down on the ground.

Starsky rolled over onto his side, his eyes still tight shut as Traff fished in his pants pocket for his knife. He slit the rough hemp rope that bound the brunet’s arms so cruelly behind him and unwound it gently, wincing when the rope was caught in the deep and bloody furrows caused by the tightness of the bonds. Starsky groaned softly as the circulation started to flow again and started to mumbled under his breath

‘S Starsky, David Michael, Corporal serial nnnnumber 231-51-3155….’

Traff ran his hand over his friend’s brow.

‘Sssh Curly. C’mon buddy open your eyes, I gotcha, I gotcha now. You’re safe. You’re gonna make it’ he took a bloody wrist in his hands and gently started massaging some life back into it, but the simple action made Starsky flinch back, pulling at his arm as he mumbled his name and rank again.

Traff sat back and assessed the damage. Starsky’s hands and feet were bloody, infected messes, each finger and toe swollen, red and hot to the touch. Blood and pus oozed through other dried residues which seemed to have been caked there for some time. The brunet’s chest and back showed the outline of every rib and spine bone as the skin stretched taut over them. Traff assessed that he must have lost at least 15 or 20 pounds. Sores, cuts and bruises decorated the skin and added their own bloody patterns to the brunet’s body. What appeared to be burns also festered over the chest and back and Traff cursed, angrily wiping away tears of frustration that flowed down his cheeks.

Tenderly he picked up the emaciated body and held it close, rocking it like the kind lady at the children’s home used to rock him.

‘Hey Curly. Can ya hear me? Its me Traff. I gotcha Chief an’ I aint gonna let ya go. Can ya hear me, huh?’ he looked down into the handsome, though bruised face and slowly the indigo eyes opened a little and seemed to focus on him.

‘There you are! S’me Traff. I got ya now. Not leaving without ya’ Traff whispered.

Starsky’s face cracked into a painful smile. ‘Traff?’ he croaked.

‘Uh huh. In the flesh. How’re ya doin Chief?’

‘Didn’t think……make it’ the injured man forced out. It cost him and he panted with exertion, coughing painfully.

‘Well ya did ‘n’ I’m here now. We’re gonna get ya outa here to a nice hospital. All those cute nurses an’ a nice soft bed’.

‘Yeah? Sounds….nice’ Starsky breathed, his voice no more than an echo on the still air.

‘Curly, where’s Merry an’ Tugs?’ Traff asked softly, already braced for the answer.

A look of pain flashed across the other man’s face. ‘Dead…..bastards….killed ‘em’. The thin body squirmed. ‘Couldn’t stop ‘em. They…..’ he was stopped by another bout of coughing that robbed him of his breath and Traff held him and rocked him until the spasm had passed. He could feel the heat radiating from his friend and knew he had to do something in order to make Starsky fit enough to travel. Fit as Traff was, there was no way he could carry him all the way.

He lay his friend down and rooted through his kitbag for the supplies he’d brought from the camp, bringing out bandages, water and some rations. Ripping a piece of gauze he dipped it into the stream and started dabbing at the myriad of cuts and bruises, at a loss what to try to deal with first. He was pretty sure that none of the cuts were life threatening, but he felt that Starsky had a fever and it was probably as a result of pneumonia or similar. The hacking, bubbling cough told him that the brunet had a chest infection at least. And whatever he had in his pack, it didn’t include IV antibiotics. But he was trained, as they all were, as a field medic and so over the course of the next couple of hours, he set to, to wash, clean, treat and bandage as many of the wounds as he could. He winced again when he examined the brunet’s fingers and toes noting that all the nails had been removed. And even with his strong stomach, at one point he had to crawl off to one side to be sick, the sight and the smell of the infected flesh compounded with the fact that this was his friend being too much even for a trained soldier..

All during that night, after he’d finished with his triage, he fed Starsky powdered quinine and aspirin and frequent small drinks of water. He knew that any more than that would make the brunet even sicker, and only tiny amounts of food would be appropriate. Starsky slept fitfully, plagued by nightmares and hallucinations brought on by his fever but by morning, dressed in Traff’s spare clothes and with his various sores tended to in a fashion, Starsky started to awake and look around him.

The fever still burned in him and he seemed to view the world through a ripple of water, the trees wavering around him, but he recognised his friend properly now and tried to get himself into sitting position.

‘Traff?’ he whispered to the snoozing man.

The young soldier was instantly awake.

‘Curly. How’re ya feelin?’

‘M’fine….’ He looked at his bandaged hands and feet. ‘Well, maybe not fine, but…..’ A single tear forced its way out of his eye and fell unchecked down his cheek. ‘I’ve never been more glad t’see someone. You’re beautiful man!’

Traff snorted. ‘Now I know you’re feverish! But I’m glad I got you too Chief. I just wish I could’a got here sooner’.

‘Knew you’d never give up’ Starsky said, his eyes closing again. Even talking hurt, but it felt so good to be with his friend again, Traff’s hand gentle on his body instead of the harsh blows and maltreatment he’d come to expect. ‘Oh shit, look at me cryin’ like a baby……I was so scared Traff. So fuckin’ scared. Every single day. An’ then when….when Tugs ‘n’ Merry….well…..i guess I just wanted t’die too, but I didn’t tell ‘em nuthin’.

‘Nah, but I bet ya really pissed ‘em off’ Traff snorted to cover up his own tears. Jeez, some rescue party he turned out to be! He pulled himself together. ‘D’ya think you can walk some?’ he asked seriously. ‘We need to get as much distance as we can between you an’ that freakin’ General’.

‘I’ll drag myself if I have to’ Starsky grunted, although when he tried to get up, the pains in his feet made him up chuck into a nearby bush. ‘Shit!’ he cursed, wiping his mouth with the back of his bandaged hand. ‘Guess they did a real job on me huh?’

‘Yeah, you’re one helluva mess! Here. Lemme help ya’ Traff said, holding out a hand as he helped Starsky to his feet.

The brunet stood uncertainly, the world spinning around him as he swallowed down the burning bile in his throat. He was determined not to throw up again, and equally determined that he wouldn’t have Traff carrying out of the jungle. Cautiously he took a faltering step, riding out the pains in his toes and feet, then another. He stopped and grinned. ‘Won’t win a race, but I’m good t’go’. The brave words covered up the fact that he felt insubstantial, light headed and as though even breathing was too much of an effort.

Traff understood and gathered up his kit, stuffing everything back into his bag before standing next to his friend. ‘Sorry I didn’t bring a pair of boots for ya. Can you manage?’

‘Don’t think I could get boots on. Yeah, I’ll handle it. Lead on’ the brunet grunted, looking at his newly bandaged feet. The blood was already seeping through the white gauze, but the thought of putting anything rigid like boots on his feet was more than he could bear. He shuffled another step, sweat beading on his brow as he started to follow.

The going was slow. The heat in the jungle was overbearing and oppressive, sapping at their will and draining their bodies dry. Starsky had very little energy and despite an almost superhuman will, he needed to stop every few hundred yards to rest, have a drink and ride through the pains in his feet and the rest of his body. By midday that first day, they’d covered barely a mile and Starsky’s hair, which had grown longer since his incarceration, was plastered against his scalp and his breath was coming in ragged gasps, interspersed with periods of hacking coughing. Traff saw how grey his friend was and called a halt.

‘We’ve made good progress’ he lied as he sat down besides his friend. ‘Ya just need to rest’. Maybe we can wait till evening, then do some more’.

Starsky opened one eye and regarded the other soldier. ‘You’re a shit liar Trafford. We’ll never make it out at this rate. You should go on. Leave me here and come back when you have help’.

‘Up yours Curly! I haven’t gone AWOL just to leave you in the middle of this shitty place. We rest now, wait till evening, then we go on again huh?’

‘You went AWOL? I thought Sharpe had sent ya. He did didn’t….’ Realisation hit and he cursed weakly. ‘The yellow bellied bastard! He was just gonna leave me to die? Shit!’

‘You can kill him when we get back. Give ya some goal to work for huh?’ Traff grinned.

‘Goal? Don’t need him as a goal. Just need to get outa this hell hole’.

‘I know. Rest up now an’ we’ll try again tonight huh?’ Traff muttered, watching Starsky’s eyes close despite his anger. The eight weeks of incarceration had taken such a toll on his young body. He’d need more than a couple of days of recuperation to get fit again.

‘Whatever you say Pal’ Starsky mumbled, leaning his head back against the tree trunk at his back. He hadn’t the strength to argue. He had barely the strength to breathe. He felt responsible for the lives of Tugs and Merry and he so desperately didn’t want Traff to die because of him too. But he’d reason with the curly haired soldier later. Right now, he needed to rest.

By nightfall, the brunet’s body had seized up so that he could hardly move. His hands and feet were on fire and he felt as though he had a red hot band of metal around his head. Each time he blinked, fireworks exploded behind his eyeballs and when he swallowed, his throat was dry and sandpaper-like.

Traff was busy lighting a tiny fire and had heated some soup in a foil packet. He handed it to Starsky, but the injured soldier couldn’t hold it in his damaged hands. Instead, Traff, held it and fed it to the brunet, a spoonful at a time and then held a cup while Starsky drank. During the afternoon, it had once again rained and now the bandages on Starsky’s feet were sodden and muddy, the fabric rubbed at his already painful toes, but he refused to complain. Being out of the camp and in pain was far preferable to remaining a prisoner. He’d cope.

Traff helped him up and together they staggered on through the darkness, the jungle being almost pitch black in areas where the trees were at their thickest. They stopped several more times before morning, but by then Starsky’s reserves of energy were depleted and he was leaning so heavily on Traff that the soldier was more or less carrying him. They ploughed waist deep through another muddy river and as Traff pulled Starsky out of the water and up the bank, he knew he too needed to rest.

He managed to get them both into the cover of the trees and laid the semi conscious man down on the ground. Starsky barely moved now and Traff knew that he had to make something more than a rudimentary camp if the injured man was to stand any chance of getting out of the jungle alive. He took a piece of cord from his backpack and slung it tight between two trees about 5’ apart. Taking a thin but durable sheet of dark green plastic from his pack, he draped it over the rope to make a rudimentary tent, anchoring it down with fallen branches. He gathered fallen leaves and some ferns to make a soft bed of sorts and then stood back to inspect. Not exactly the Hilton, but at least the bivouac would keep the rain off them. He dragged Starsky inside and lay him down on the soft ferns as he made a small fire. The yellow flames instantly made the place a little more cheerful and gave Traff a chance to assess their situation. The soldier knew that the naked flame would be easily seen by anyone who was looking, but he had the impression that this part of the jungle at least was devoid of the Vietcong.

With a sigh, Traff sat down wearily. He felt as though he'd been ploughing through the dense vegetation for years and despite the fact that he'd found his buddy and rescued him; despite the fact that Starsky was right there by his side, he couldn't ever remember feeling so alone. He took off his boots and socksseeking a small measure of comfort from maybe treating himself to dry clothes - or at least getting out of his wet ones, when the breath hitched in his throat. He looked down and stared in horror at the fat black leech which had attached itself to his leg. He shuddered, repulsed by the slimy creature and took one of the glowing embers from the fire. Touching it to the slick black body it contracted and let go, plopping down onto the ground where he stomped on it with an obscene squelch. A nasty thought occurred to him and gently he started to undress the unconscious soldier next to him, bracing himself for seeing one or two of the leeches on Starsky’s legs. As he worked the trousers off he saw three of the black monsters on the brunet’s upper thigh on the inside, but as he moved the boxers to one side he recoiled at the sight of a whole mass of them attached like a black quivering ball the Starsky’s scrotum and the underside of his penis.

Chapter 16

Traff worked over his friend all night. Not all of the leeches had come away cleanly. Some had clamped down as he burned at their slimy bodies, and he could see that they had left their mouthparts embedded in the soft flesh. One of the first things they’d all learned early on about being in the tropics was that any sore or cut, no matter how small, could soon suppurate and become infected in the damp, warm conditions. By morning, Traff could see a thin red line of infection tracking down the brunet’s legs and Starsky was no longer responsive to words.

The young soldier was at a loss. Why hadn’t he tried harder to persuade Sharpe to let him rescue Curly? At least that way he would have had help and backup to get the brunet out. But now, it was just the two of them, and despite behaving like a hero, they were both still only 19 years old. Back home, in happier times, they’d be going to a ball game, or taking some pretty lady to a disco. Traff put his head in his hands. Those times seemed so long ago and he felt so very lonely and frightened.

He shuffled around so that he could take Starsky’s hot, shaking body in his arms, needing the comfort almost as much as Starsky did.

‘I wish you’d wake up for me Chief. I think I’m goin’ stir crazy here. What the fuck is this all about huh? What difference can the two of us make to this whole useless war? God I wish we were home! Just think about that Curly. Think about home huh? It’s November. Thanksgiving. Think about the turkey and the cranberries. What about Christmas? Bet ya got lots of nice things from your Mom and your Aunt Rosey huh?’

Curly? Dave? Aww c’mon Pal, gimme a sign here. I need you as much as you need me buddy. Why d’ya think I decked that guy Cade? Remember him? All that time ago when we were back home in the camp back home. Remember how ya nearly drowned coz of that geek? So I decked him. Nearly broke my hand but I hit him so fuckin’ hard. Coz he hurt you, an’ I wanted him to hurt coz he hurt you’.

‘I never had a friend like you before. Someone so close I feel like you’re my brother. An’ it hurts that they did all this to ya. I didn’t know. Honest I didn’t. That prick Sharpe told me you were dead an’ it wasn’t till Ai an’ her sister……what was her name? Twins…..they were twins. Ai an’……’ Traff’s voice tailed off as he became lost in his own thoughts.

‘Di.u….’ the sound was no more than a breath, but as Traff looked down, he saw a sliver of indigo peeking out from eyelids still at half mast.

‘Curly? Oh my God you’re awake! Oh shit am I glad to hear your voice?’

‘Did ya….really do that? Starsky whispered.

‘Do what?’

‘Deck….Cade’.

‘Oh boy did I ever. An’ he had it coming to him. Wasn’t till I was windin’ up for punch number three that O’Malley stopped me. Said there was only so much he could ignore!’

‘Trrraff?’

‘Yeah’.

‘Thanks……love ya man’.

‘Hey don’t thank me, just help me get ya outa here’ Traff said in desperation. The whispered thanks sounded so final it scared him.

‘Can’t….hurts….leave me’.

‘Leave ya? Jeez Curly boy! I couldn’t leave ya. We’ve got this far. Ya just need to hang on a while longer huh? Just another day an’ then we’ll be out’.

‘Day?’

‘Yeah, just one more day. An’ I’ll even carry your sorry ass outa here if I have to’.

Starsky’s face split into a weak grin. ‘Ssssorry ass….huh? When ya….put it like that….’

‘Well I do! So don’t go talking ‘bout leavin’ anyone huh? An’ most of all, don’t you go leavin’ me. I need ya Chief. I….’

Weakly the brunet raised his hand and put it to Traff’s face, the actions speaking more than a hundred words could ever do as the fingers trailed down the grimy, sweat soaked cheek. ‘I know. Just gimme …..’nother couple’a hours. I’ll be good t’go’.

And so Traff watched, wearily as his friend dropped back into a feverish sleep. He knew there was no way on earth that Starsky, despite his determination, would be able to walk out of the jungle. And there was also no way that Traff had enough energy reserves to carry him. But slowly an idea formed in the soldier’s mind and he got up to scout around.

Four hours later saw Traff making a makeshift stretcher out of two thin tree trunks he’d found fallen amongst the leaf litter of the jungle floor and the green tarpaulin that he’d used to make their shelter. He managed to bind the plastic onto the wooden shafts and even padded it with some of the fern type plants he’d found. They were damp, but at least provided some padding and now he pulled Starskys body onto the travois and started to bind it into place.

He soothed Starsky with kind words and gentle hands as he settled the thin body onto the pallet, but as soon as Starsky felt the ropes circling his body, his fevered mind took him back to the POW camp and the treatment he’d endured there. He cried out, thrashing weakly against the bonds as Traff tried to sooth him.

‘David Michael S….. number…..ungh…..noooo, no more, please? Nooo get ‘way from me….I….Davi….’

‘Sssh, s’ok. S’only me. Just rest easy Chief. I’m gonna try ‘n’ make it easier for ya. Ok? Curly…..no don’t fight it. Just lie still huh? Aww c’mon….Dave….David….Curly don’t fight it’ he urged.

Starsky’s cried tailed off into sobs of forlornness. In his delirium, he was back, tied to a table waiting for the next round of torture to begin, and no amount of soothing words from his friend would calm him. Eventually, Traff stopped trying, hoping that the curly haired man would lapse into sleep soon. Discarding all but his essential kit, he looped a length of rope around his body and started to pull the travois behind him through the jungle.

The going was tough, the vegetation and uneven ground making progress slow and agonisingly tiring. Every few hundred yards, the young soldier stopped, gasping for breath in the cloying heat and wiping at the sweat coursing down his face to sting his eyes. Several times he checked on his friend, making the brunet take small sips of water, but for the most part, Starsky was lost in a world of pain and confusion. His ramblings alternated between strangled gasps of pain as his body bumped over the uneven terrain, and mumbled name rank and serial number. And nothing Traff could do seemed to make the injured boy aware that he was as safe as he could be, and away from the camp.

By the end of that day, Traff estimated he’d gone no more than a couple of miles and he too was tiring more and more rapidly as the day went on. The humidity sapped at his energy and his water reserves were low. He’d taken to giving the semi conscious brunet sips from his own water bottle and had started to take his own drinks from any passing stream they came to, knowing it was unsafe, but aware that Starsky needed clean water more than he did.

Each night, he made camp as best he could, using large leaves to cover the two of them and on occasions lighting a small fire when he thought it was safe to do so. He felt lonely now that Starsky’s periods of lucidity were growing less and less and he began to talk to himself, just to let himself know he was still alive, and was still going to get them out. He constantly checked his compass, desperate to make sure they were gong the right way. Any deviation would mean extra effort, and he was tiring rapidly.

As the morning of the fourth day dawned, Traff could feel cramps start to roil around his guts and throughout the day he constantly stopped to either throw up or void his bowels, the energy leaving him with each attack on his system until by day five, he too was beginning to run a fever. He knew he should never have drunk the water from the streams without boiling it, but he didn’t have the luxury of a fire, and so he’d done the best he could with his water purification tablets. They made the water taste foul, and now, he realised belatedly, they were not particularly effective either.

Traff woke to a constant thud in his head. He opened his eyes and rolled over to look at Starsky who seemed deathly pale and very still. He forced himself to his knees and pushed his fingers into his friends neck. The pulse was there. Very slow and weak, but it was there nonetheless. Traff forced himself to his feet and fell back to earth as another set of fire coursed through his body. He crawled away to the bushes, but without food, he had nothing to bring up, instead heaving until he spat blood into the vegetation.

Great Trafford, just great! You’ve no time for this. Curly needs out right now. Now get your butt in gear and haul him outa this fuckin’ jungle huh?

Pep talk over, he pushed himself upright and took hold of the rope again. Both his shoulders were blistered from the constant pull, but he ignored that small pain and started to once again haul the travois through the trees. They seemed to be thinning a little now, although whether that was just his fevered imagination or not he had no idea, but the going seemed easier and for that he was thankful.

By early afternoon, when the rain started again, Traff was almost on his knees. His last reserves of energy were almost depleted and he managed to find a small tree under which to shelter as he pulled Starsky’s deathly still body to him. He lay down by the side of his friend, wrapping his arms around the cold body.

‘I’m sorry Curly. Can’t go on any more. M’beat. Maybe in a little while I can try again. Maybe I can still get us outa here. But if not... it’s been a pleasure serving with you Corporal’.

He put his head down on the damp earth and closed his eyes. Every muscle in his body screamed at him for release; just to shut down and not have to work any more. During the five days he’d hauled his friend through the jungle, he’d hardly eaten and only taken sufficient water to keep himself ticking over. Now his body shut down, ignoring his mind and started to try to repair the damage that had been done.

The two men slept, side by side as the rain pattered heavily through the curtain of vegetation above them. It splattered in big fat drops around them and the leaves it knocked from the trees fell to lie on their bodies as though the jungle was trying to wrap them protectively.

And that is how they were found three hours later, when Traff awoke to the sight of a gun muzzle inches from his eye.

Chapter 17

Traff felt hands on his body, pulling roughly at the neck of his shirt. He had neither the strength not the ability to stop them. His body had shut down and now all he could do was lie on the ground and await his fate. The hands had gotten to their destination now and he felt his dog tags pulled free of his uniform.

‘Aww hell, they’re our boys. Get ‘em assessed quick huh?’ he heard a voice ordering.

Now other hands were on him and weakly he turned his head sideways to see that two other soldiers in full battle dress were working their way slowly and carefully over Starsky’s limp form too. He closed his eyes and submitted to the exploration, too relieved and weary to say anything or help in any way.

‘This one’s in a real mess Sir. Looks like he’s had some pretty rough treatment. Tags say he’s a Corporal with the 8th Light. He needs hospital care right now or he’s a goner’.

Traff’s own soldiers concurred. ‘Exhaustion here and I think he may have malaria too. They both need to get out of here right now Sir’.

Traff summoned his remaining strength. ‘Together’ he managed to grunt. He opened his eyes and looked into earnest brown ones above him. The face containing the eyes smiled back at him. ‘We’ll get ya back Sir. How long have you been out here?’

‘Dunno…..six days?’ Traff responded weakly. ‘Where….?’

His young saviour grinned. ‘The road’s thirty yards thataway’ he pointed west. ‘Where d’ya come from?’

Traff felt the world shimmying around him, but he felt it important to get the last little bit of information out. ‘Nah Am’.

‘Shit….sir! That’s a helluva a journey’ he heard the young soldier whistle as Traff finally succumbed to his exhaustion.

oOo

‘Well good morning Tom, or should I say Captain Trafford?’

The older doctor dressed in standard Army greens looked down at the sleep befuddled man.

‘Huh?’

The doctor sat down. ‘I’m sorry. Let me explain. My name’s doctor Burton. You’re at the 7053rd MASH and you and your friend have been here for 4 days. While you were wiling your time away in the land of nod, your CO has been contacted and he tells me to tell you that you’ve both been promoted for acts of bravery in the face of combat. I have the honour of addressing Captain Trafford. Captain Starsky is laid over there in the corner’.

Traff closed his eyes, a thousand thoughts streaming through his head. They’d made it. They were out of the jungle and safe. Starsky was right here with him and still alive. Sharpe had been in touch and they’d both been promoted!...Wait a minute. Was that deserved, or was Sharpe trying to soften the blow? Was this done out of guilt for what he’d put his men through? Did he think he could buy them off so damned easily?

‘How’s Curly?’ he managed to rasp out. His head felt stuffed full of wool, but the pounding had gone. He felt hot, but at the same time so much more comfortable than he had……4? Sheesh!…..4 days ago. 4 days of his life just lost to sleep and fever. Who’d have thought?

Burton’s face turned more serious. ‘Well I won’t lie. For the first three days we didn’t think he’d make it. The guys who brought you in said you were coming from Nah Am?’

‘S’right’.

‘And he was held there? For how long?’

‘I think about two months’ Traff answered, felling the life returning to him a little.

‘Then that explains a lot. He’s not in good shape. The torture he endured has left him with a life threatening infection throughout his body. He may still lose some of his fingers and toes. He had other infected wounds; burns, cuts, some abscesses. He’s severely underweight. I would estimate he usually weighs around 150 - 160 pounds? He weighed in at just 102 pounds when he came in here. His shoulder was dislocated and he has severe pneumonia. He hasn’t been conscious yet, but I think we will have to deal with his mental state as well’.

Traff hitched a breath. ‘Is he gonna make it?’ he asked in a small voice. He was almost angry that after hauling himself and his buddy through God knows what infested jungle, Curly might still have the temerity to die! What was that all about? He was supposed to live happily ever after. He was supposed to be sitting up in bed, laughing and joking, just like the old days. Breaking him out of the camp was supposed to be the end of the whole saga. Now, it seemed, the escape was just the beginning. A single tear broke loose and trickled down his cheek and he snuffed angrily and wiped it away, unsure whether he was crying for himself or for his friend. God he was so fuckin’ screwed in his head!

Burton knew his patient was still weak and tired.’ Aren’t you going to ask about yourself?’ he asked gently.

‘What? Oh…right. So tell me Doc….’

‘You have exhaustion, you’re malnourished, dehydrated and you have a hefty dose of malaria. We have you on chloroquin drips and you need to drink plenty. I think you’ll find you have recurrent fevers for quite some time, but at the moment we have them fairly well under control’.

‘Can I see him?’

‘Captain, are you listening to me? You are sick. You’re a sick man and you need to rest. Do I need to make that an order?’

‘Can’t rest till I’ve seen him. I went through hell and high water to get him outa there. We’ve been mates since basic training. Please Doc, can I?’ Traff pleaded. He had an unaccountable urge to be by Starsky’s side, as though somehow being close would make the brunet pull through all the quicker.

Burton smiled. ‘What am I gonna do with you, huh? Wait there Captain and I’ll have a corpsman move your bed next to your friend. But try not to disturb him. He needs to heal…..and so do you’.

True to his word, Burton had Traff’s bed moved next to Starsky’s, but seeing his friend lying there so helplessly made him feel worse and more frustrated rather than better. He waited until the small tented ward was devoid of nursing staff, the eased his legs out of bed and fighting the dizziness and weakness, perched on the edge of the small bunk bed next to him.

Starsky’s eyes were closed, his face ashen. Bruises showed up darkly against the pale skin which looked clammy and damp. There were drips feeding into each arm and the hands from wrist to finger tips were bandaged with white gauze. White dressings also decorated the torso, covering large areas where Traff knew there had been infected burns and cuts. Other bandages surrounded his arms in places where rope contusions had suppurated and Starsky’s left arm was bandaged across his chest to rest and support the reduced dislocation of his shoulder. The soldier knew there would be more bandages beneath the sheet and blanket that covered his friend. He had an impulse to pick up the shattered body and hold it, willing life back into it. This felt so much like an anticlimax after the week in the jungle. They were supposed to sit up in bed and joke and everything would be ok again. But instead Traff felt lonely and angry. He sighed.

‘Come back to me Curly. I know ya can hear me. I need you Chief. I just want to hear your voice again huh? I just….just help me? Otherwise what’s it all been about huh?’ He sank to his knees by the bedside, his hands till holding Starsky’s arm. And that was where the nurses found him half an hour later, moaning as another fever took him and made him sweat and shake. Tenderly they placed him back in his bed and administered more chloroquin and sedative and soothed away the hurts.

oOo

Over the course of the next week, Traff started to improve enough that he was able to get out of bed for periods and wander round the MASH compound. It was a simple, tidy camp with a mess tent, various sleeping tents, latrines and a shower complex which dispensed hot water for half an hour every day. The days and nights were interrupted by the loud sounds of copters coming and going, delivering and collecting the wounded and Traff was amazed at the fortitude of the doctors and nurses who worked incredibly long hours round the clock. He was still weak and there were days, or parts of days which were given over to shivering and sweating and fighting the cramps in his guts until the massive doses of anti malarial drugs took effect, but he was going to pull through and he was back in the land of the living, doing normal things….or as normal as anything could be in the pointless conflict.

And on the morning of the eleventh day since he’d been there, he woke in his bed and started at the ceiling, then rolled over onto his side to check on his friend. For the past ten days, Starsky had remained lifeless almost, unmoving and unresponsive. The doctor had told him that every ounce of the brunet’s energy was going into the healing process and that only time would tell whether he’d pull through or not, although he had youth and vigour on his side.

Now, Traff sat up and made his way over to the simple bunk, as was his habit, sitting down and stroking the chocolate curls that had grown back riotously over the three months since his friend had been taken.

‘Time for a barber’s visit, I think’ he chuckled as his hands carded the curls affectionately. ‘It aint exactly regulation Curly’. He was just about to get up to go get a wash when he felt, rather than saw a tiny response. Looking closely, he saw the brunet’s eye twitch, then slowly, a sliver of indigo appeared. The sick man’s head rolled weakly on the pillow and he licked dry, cracked lips.

‘Fuck….reg’lations’ he whispered softly.

‘Curly? You’re back! Oh my God, you’re back! Nurse!...Doc, he’s back, he’s….oh shit he spoke….he’s back’ Traff yelled to no-one in particular and everyone in general. Burton and Candy, one of the nurses came running and elbowed Traff out of the way gently so that they could get to their patient. Over the next 15 minutes, they poked, prodded, listened and generally examined the young man and at the end of it, Starsky was once again asleep, but Burton had a grin on his face.

‘That guy is one helluva fighter! I think he’s gonna make it. I really do. He needs rest still, and his healing has a long way to go, but I think he’s gonna pull through’.

Traff sat on his bed and grinned. He thought he should feel elated. He thought he should be laughing and dancing up and down the ward, kissing the nurses and making a fool of himself. But all he wanted to do was to sit quietly, cherishing the moment and hugging it to him. Curly was going to make it! He could breathe easy for the first time in so many months. His friendship was strengthened, his friend was going to make it and he was happy. A quiet, happy euphoria held him as he lay back and smiled.

From then on, things started to look up. Over the next 48 hours, the brunet started to wake up for longer periods of time, although he was still looped on pain killers and when he slept, his dreams were all painful and terrifying. But he was back; he was going to make it and he was glad to have Traff with him.

Starsky didn’t have words to express his gratitude to his friend. What other man would have fought through the leech infested jungle for almost a week to bring him back to safety? He was sure he would never be able to repay that act of heroism, although he’d make damned sure that he tried.

But for now, Starsky was happy to be safe, looked after and with friends. He had nightmares where General Mai came to him and dragged him away to start the maltreatment over and again, but Traff was always there, waking him and giving him a drink until he’d calmed enough to roll over and drift back to sleep.

And slowly and surely, he started to heal.

Chapter 18

Over the weeks that followed, Starsky and Traff were moved from the 7053rd to the 19th Evac. That hospital was away from the front line and was more of a permanent affair with regular brick made wards and more substantial equipment. Traff continued to be treated for his Malaria and responded well, although he’d been informed that he would be shipped Stateside as soon as he was fit to recuperate. He’d managed a long talk with the doctor about his, and more importantly, Starsky’s health and although Traff was ready to be moved now, the medics and the young soldier both agreed that it would be detrimental to the brunet’s health if he was separated from his friend right now.

Although Starsky’s physical injuries were healing well, it was the mental scars which most concerned the medical staff. Finger and toe nails were growing back nicely and the antibiotics he continued to take were doing well at fighting the infection still inhabiting his young body. The burns were healing well and his shoulder no longer required strapping. But he still had nightmares each and every night and during the day, while outgoing enough for a lot of the time, was given to periods of introspection. During those times, he seemed lost to the world and not even Traff could get through to him.

Right now was one of those times. Traff and Starsky had been involved in one of the more popular card games – how many could be flicked into an empty bedpan, when their new doctor, a Major Cox walked into their ward. He nodded to Traff and sat down by Starsky’s side. The brunet didn’t look up, or acknowledge the presence in any way. The doctor reached out gently and shook the young man’s arm

‘Hmmm……Starsky…..Corpor….’ He mumbled before seeming to shake himself. His eyes cleared and he looked around himself as if seeing the doctor for the first time. He blushed and looked down at his hands. ‘Sorry’ he muttered.

‘That’s ok son’ the older doctor smiled. ‘It’s to be expected and it’s something I’ve come to talk to you about. ‘A lot of men who’ve suffered the same sort of treatment you did have a similar response and I was wondering if you’d talk to the unit psychiatrist?’

‘A shrink? Ya think I’m crazy?’ Starsky asked, a little too loudly.

‘Far from it’ Cox replied. ‘But sometimes talking about things helps’.

‘Uh huh? What if I said I didn’t want to talk about it? I’ve never been the touchy feely sort. I don’t want the whole “tell me about your Mother” routine. Don’t make me, Doc, please’. Indigo eyes leaded with the older man who sighed.

‘Ok. I can’t force you. And even if I could, it wouldn’t do much good if you don’t want to talk. But you need some way to get these thoughts out of your head, or at least in some kind of order so that you can start to process them. What about….have you though about writing them down?’

The brunet snorted. ‘Don’t think it’d make a bestseller, d’you?’

‘It doesn’t need to be a book. Just write down the stuff that occurs to you’.

‘Like I said, I don’t do “touchy feely”. I like instructions. I like to have facts’.

‘Well write down the facts. Write down what they did to you and maybe then you can start to make sense of it’.

Starsky looked troubled. ‘I dunno…..never done nuthin like that b’fore. It don’t feel right’.

‘How do you know unless ya give it a go?’ Traff offered.

‘I’ll think about it’ Starsky agreed begrudgingly and went back to his cards.

Cox smiled and stood up. ‘Good enough. Oh, Captain Trafford. There’s a visitor for you. Major Sharpe, your CO. He’s waiting for you in my office. He said he has to speak with you urgently’.

Traff stood up, glancing at his friend. Starsky had stiffened at Sharpe’s name but hadn’t looked up. He rested a hand on his friend’s shoulder. ‘S’ok Chief. I’ll deal with it’ he said softly and followed the doctor out.

He gathered himself as he walked into the room seeing the stiff upright back ahead of him. Sharpe turned as he entered and Traff snapped him a salute which held as much disdain as he could muster. Sharpe returned it and indicated for Traff to sit down.

‘I’d prefer to stand Sir’ he said stiffly.

‘Very well, soldier’ Sharpe sat himself behind the doctor’s desk and clasped his hands in front of him.

‘How’s Captain Starsky?’

‘Alive’ Traff grunted through clenched teeth. Being in the same tent as Sharpe made his skin crawl, but he fought to remain civil. He didn’t want the Major having any cause or excuse to reprimand him.

‘And you? How’re you doing?’ he asked.

‘As well as can be expected, sir’.

‘I see. Stock answer huh? Ok well. I’ll get to the point. HQ are asking that you and Captain Starsky file reports on his incarceration and your escape and the circumstances surrounding it. I’m here to guide you through the process’.

‘Guide?’

‘The forms are difficult and we wouldn’t want erm…..wouldn’t want the wrong information to get into the wrong hands, shall we say’. Sharpe’s beady eyes drilled into Traff’s emerald ones. ‘The incident was unfortunate but you both showed a lot of bravery and I have rewarded you for that. There aren’t many who would have made Captain so young or so quickly. You have a lot to thank me for’.

Traff’s mind was running circles. How could this rat stand in front of him and more or less tell him what to put in his report? And to bluster his way out of the situation telling him he’d promoted them……to shut them up! Traff made his decision.

‘Permission to speak freely sir?’

‘Of course’.

‘My friend, one of your soldiers, nearly died in that stinking prison camp for no reason. Two other men did die. There was never a Private Thorpe was there? You wanted us out of the way. You wanted to make sure that no-one knew your little perversions and in your sick mind….Sir….you thought the only way to do that would be to get rid of the evidence – Starsky. He was being punished for not wanting to provide, shall we say, a service for you that was above and beyond. The other two were just incidental weren’t they? And at the end of it all, when you knew he hadn’t a snowball in hells chance of coming back, you knew I’d came back and I’d be so…..’

‘That’s enough soldier!’ Sharpe’s face had assumed the colour of beetroot and he’d launched himself to his feet.

‘…..I’d be so upset for the loss of my friends that you’d be able to do what you wanted and I’d comply’ Traff finished, breathing heavily.

Sharpe came around the front of the desk, standing toe to toe with the young Captain and looking down at him. Traff refused to be intimidated and glared back at his CO.

‘You have no idea what I could do to you’ Sharpe sneered. ’You have no idea what I could do to your career, son’.

‘I think you have that the wrong way around, Sir. It’s my and Starsky’s report. We’ll put in it the truth. You have no idea what damage we can do to your career. But unlike you, we’ll use official channels. We’ll be telling the truth as we see it. And we won’t be trying to buy you, or blackmail you. That’s the difference between us…..Sir’.

‘You stupid little runt! You and your moral high ground. You think it’s easy? You think command is easy? I don’t have the luxury of a cosy little friendship like you an’ him got. I don’t’ have the luxury of goin’ back to my tent at the end of the day and laughing and joking with my friends. Because, soldier, in command there are no friends. No cosy chats, just cold hard decisions. And yes, sometimes I have to watch my back……any way I can’.

Traff grinned up into the red face, coldly. ‘And the sympathy vote won’t work either, Major. I’m gonna say this one and once only. Stay away from me. Stay away from Starsky and maybe….maybe…..we can salvage something from this sorry mess. But there again, I can’t promise’.

With that, the curly haired soldier turned on his heel and started to walk from the tent.

‘I didn’t dismiss you soldier’ Sharpe’s voice sounded behind him.

‘And I didn’t ask to be dismissed. But this is me, an' this is my back...walking out’ he said, stifling a grin as he pushed the tent flap to one side and left.

oOo

2 months later

Starsky looked up as Traff walked into the room.

‘Hey Chief, what’s happening?’ Traff said, appraising his friend. In the four months since he’d affected the rescue from Nah Am, Starsky had healed well, put most of his weight and muscle tone back on, and had managed to overcome some of the more debilitating nightmares. Bad dreams still plagued him, however and there were nights when he still awoke, drenched in sweat, moaning and pleading for the invisible hands to leave him alone.

During the ensuing months, both soldiers had been sent back to the U.S. and were now back at the base outside Bay City. Whilst Traff had been declared fit to return to duty but not to ‘Nam, Starsky was still an albeit reluctant “prisoner” of the base hospital. They had both filed their reports on the events in ‘Nam. And both had decided that they would tell the truth, but not all of it. Whilst their report was damning in its honesty of how Sharpe had handled the deployment of his men to Nah Am, they both agreed to leave out any reference to the fact that Sharpe had come on to the brunet. As Starsky wryly observed, it was bad enough that the Major “fancied” him without others thinking that Starsky might have been even remotely interested. And so Sharpe had been recalled from the camp, had been formally reprimanded, sentenced to twelve months in jail for gross misconduct and was told he was lucky to have avoided a court martial. Any prospect of a meteoric rise up the ranks for the Major was also now out of the question and whilst the two young soldiers felt vindicated, they also felt that they wanted to put the whole sorry incident behind them.

‘I’m just waitin’ Starsky grunted as he perched nervously on his bed. Today was the day the MO and the base commander were coming to see him to tell him what assignment he’d been given next. Like Traff he had signed on for three years and although he’d been terribly sick, he wasn’t bad enough to be pensioned off.

Traff had been offered, and had taken, a posting to the 8th Battalion as a bomb disposal technician. He enjoyed the challenge of learning the new skills and also enjoyed the excitement and adrenaline rush that came with each new job. But he worried still for his friend.

‘Looks like the waiting is over’ Traff said snapping to attention as the two senior officers walked into the room. Starsky too stood and saluted, then sat again at the nod from the CO.

‘Captain Starsky, how are you feeling today?’ the MO asked, checking his chart at the foot of the bed.

‘Fine Sir. I just wanna get outa here. Any chance?’

The MO smiled. ‘I think that can be arranged, although I don’t think you’ll be fit for anything too strenuous for a while yet’ He saw the brunet’s face fall. ’Now before you get yourself all bent over, hear out Colonel Kominski’ he nodded at the man next to him.

‘Son, I have an offer for you’. He held a sheaf of pages under his arm and Starsky recognised them as the journal he’d started back in ‘Nam at the request of Dr Cox. ‘I, and quite a few of my colleagues have been reading through your writings. They’re erudite, dispassionate and well written’ he said as Starsky blushed.

‘With our consent, we would like to take this one stage further. What you went through would have broken a lot of men. But you survived and now you’ve written down your experiences. But it’s not just about you. The Army feels that what you’ve started here would be valuable on two levels. First as a sort of manual on which to base courses on how to withstand torture. Second, as a manual on interrogation techniques. What do you say?’

Starsky rubbed his hands through his hair. ‘I don’t now what to say Sir. I mean, I wrote that stuff down coz the Doc back there said it’d do me good, an’ to an extent, I guess it has. But write something for others to read? I dunno’.

‘You wouldn’t just be writing Captain. We’d want you to lecture on your experiences too. If you feel comfortable with that’.

Traff snickered. ‘Oh my God! Curly, the professor! I can’t stand it!’

‘Shuddup’ Starsky growled. He came to his decision. ‘What’s the alternative?’

Kominski shrugged. ‘More time here. More time in therapy. Then maybe a pension’.

There was no choice. ‘Well don’t say I didn’t warn you sir. I may suck at this’.

Kominski smiled. ‘Somehow, I don’t think so’.

oOo

Epilogue. 18 months later

‘Are you sure about this Curly? I mean, you got it pretty good here. What d’ya wanna leave for?’

Starsky finished stuffing his kit into his bag. ‘There’s only so much of my own voice I can hear Traff. You got what you wanted. You have your dream job…….and I can’t abide havin’ to salute ya, Major!’

Traff snickered. ‘Never took ya for a sore loser. What’re ya gonna do?’

‘I got it all planned. I’m gonna join the police if they’ll have me’.

‘Police! Hell Curly, what d’ya wanna be a flatfoot for?’

‘Well for one think, I suit black more ‘n’ khaki. An’ second I’m not gonna be a flatfoot for long. I wanna be a detective’.

‘You’ve been watchin’ too many cop shows. Who d’ya think you are, Jack Lord?

‘No. I got it all figured. I’m gonna get myself a pretty little blond partner. It’ll be Starsky an’ Smith, not Hawaii 50

‘Whatever you say Chief. Colonel Kominski wants you in his office before ya go. Are ya ready?’

‘Yes Sir’ Starsky said with mock seriousness and with a final look around the small room that had been his home for 18 months, he picked his bag up and left.

Moments later, he was stood at attention in front of Kominski’s desk as he waited for his Co. He’d thought it was just a final goodbye and good luck talk, but he was surprised to find that not only was Kominski there, but also a couple of his men, Traff and another of the Majors from the unit.

Kominski stood up. ‘I know you’re leaving us today Captain. But I wanted to mark this occasion in two ways. First. For all the assistance you have given to the Vets who have come through these units, the intelligence you have given us on Nah Am and for the instruction you have given to countless men over the past 18 months, you will leave the Army with the rank of Major. Congratulations’.

Starsky looked unbelieving at the badge Kominski handed him. But his surprises weren’t over yet.

‘And as a mark of the respect of the men who have served with you and for you, we’d like you to take away the first copy of what will become a very valuable text book for this unit.

Traff clapped him on the back as Starsky reached out a trembling hand to take hold of the slim tome. The cover was plain black, the only decoration the words picked out in red.

“An investigation of Interrogation and Mind Altering Techniques” The name of the author was picked out beneath – Major DM Starsky.

-------fin------