Monday, June 01, 2009

Another Chapter...

My apologies for dropping off the face of the earth. I haven't, it just seems that way.
We're in the middle of packing and waiting for the ok to move into the new house, still not there!!
So I haven't had time for much writing, blogging or anything!
I thought I'd post Chapter Four of Yesterday's Tomorrow to give you something to do...!
Remember, feedback is always welcome! (If you missed the first three chapters or just want to refresh your memory - scroll down or check the archives!)

Chapter Four
Luke groaned and ran a hand over his face, scowling down at his muddy boots. He stood alone in his father’s office, hoping to catch a moment with his father. His muscles burned and his body begged for sleep.
“Oh good, you’re still here.”
Luke turned at the sound of Dad’s voice. A smile crossed his face. “Not for long. I’ll crash somewhere for a couple hours, then get a ride out.” He bent to retie the laces of his boots, pulling the frayed strings tight, rose and stretched his arms high over his head, forcing out the tension in his shoulders.
“Not taking Jonno with you?” Dad dumped a stack of files on the already cluttered desk.
Luke shook his head. “Not this time.”
“Be careful.” His father’s brow furrowed and Luke grinned at his worried expression. Dad never stopped fussing. He was worse than a woman.
“I’m always careful. But, for the record, what I’m not, is a baby-sitter. I gather you met Caroline’s new room-mate.”
His father laughed and sank down into the chair behind his desk. “She seems nice enough. And pretty. Driving her up here couldn’t have been that painful.”
Luke crouched on the floor beside his pack. He foraged through it and checked his equipment. Camera, film…he reached further inside and found his knife. He’d strap it to his ankle later. “She never shut up from the minute we met. Well, once she recovered from our introduction that is.” He was unable to hold back a chuckle. “She…uh…sort of wound up in my apartment instead of Caroline’s. But she didn’t know it.” He heard his father’s short intake of breath and looked up.
“Luke—what did you do?”
“I didn’t know who she was.” Luke rose, his joints cracking. The memory of the horrified expression on Kristin Taylor’s face made him grin again.
“Please don’t tell me you pulled a gun on her…” Dad emitted a low groan and gave his face a vigorous rub. “Oh, Luke.”
Luke swung his pack over one shoulder and flicked hair out of his eyes. “She survived. She’s got nerve, I’ll give her that much.” He laughed and checked his watch.
Dad let out his breath, resting his head in his hands for a moment. “Maybe you could help her out. Pass her name along to an editor or two.”
“Why would I want to do that?” Exasperation crept into his tone. Dad was forever looking out for the underdog. Champion of lost causes. He ran a youth group for years, their basement full to overflowing with teens, most of them rebels, outcasts, looking for trouble. His father found them, drew them in, and gently guided them toward Jesus. Then Luke turned thirteen, his mother walked out, Dad joined the Army, and all their lives changed forever.
“It’s just a suggestion. She seems like a very determined young woman. Asked good questions. Very respectful of everyone, and the boys talked to her. I like her.”
“Then you play chauffer.” Luke cleared his throat and veered his gaze from Dad’s pointed stare. He let out a long sigh. “Fine. I’ll think about it.” For a millisecond. The less he saw of the aggravating young woman with the penetrating gaze and a mouth that ran on rocket fuel, the better.
His father raised an eyebrow, a slow smile starting. “I think you actually like her.”
Luke snorted. A fly buzzed around him, the low hum annoying. He smacked his hands together, flicking away the now dead object of his irritation. “You’ve been inhaling too much anesthetic.”
Dad’s chuckle was deep and touched a chord. “You’ve got to give people a chance at some point, Luke. Lord knows, you need all the friends you can get.”
“I’ve got friends.” Luke snapped. “Kristin Taylor is not going to become one of them.”
Dad laced his hands behind his head and smiled. “Whatever you say. She’ll figure things out on her own. They all do, sooner or later. I just hope she knows what she’s in for.”
“Of course she doesn’t. None of them do.” Luke rubbed his temples, willing his headache away. He needed real food, a full night’s sleep and then some. A decent meal around here would take a miracle, and satisfactory sleep was always out of the question.
Kristin Taylor’s face flashed across his mind. Headstrong and determined, she didn’t have the slightest clue what Vietnam was really all about. He’d bet in a few weeks that overconfident smile would be gone.
If she lasted that long.
He had to agree with his father though, Kristin Taylor was attractive, no doubt about it. Even that thought irritated him. Attractive or not, she’d do well to stay out of his way.
He pushed her face out of his mind and strode to the door. “See you, Dad. Take care.”
“You too, son. Watch your back. I’ll be praying for you.”
Kristin hid behind the medical building and watched Luke push through the doors. She kept an eye on his tall frame as he strode through the darkness toward one of the dustoffs still on the landing pad. He struck up a conversation with two GI’s doing repairs on the helicopter. She inched forward until she got close enough to hear that they wouldn’t be taking off anytime soon. Luke swore softly. Then he asked the pilot if he could borrow his radio.
Kristin crouched behind some picnic tables and waited, unable to hear anything else. Who was he calling? Luke thanked the pilot, picked up his pack and strode off in the direction of the camp’s perimeter. Kristin quickened up her pace and followed him, stopping every time he did, and holding her breath when he turned around. Although hidden in some bushes on the side of the road, she felt sure he could see her. Impossible.
He hovered near the gates of the base camp, crouching down every now and then, scratching the soil with a stick. Kristin’s muscles started to stiffen after a while, boycotting her hunched position. Eventually the flash of headlights on the road outside the gates caught her attention. They flashed once then darkness reigned again. Luke rose.
Kristin moved to get a better view, and her shoelace snagged on a branch. Dang. She took a minute to fix the problem then skirted out on to the road again. Luke had disappeared.
Where did you go, Mr. Maddox?
As she debated her next move, a hand clamped around her mouth, preventing her from screaming.
“Do you have a death wish, Miss Taylor?” Luke’s warm breath in her ear sent chills down her spine. He held her from behind, one arm pinning her against his chest, the other covering her mouth. She bucked against him, legs flailing. He tightened his hold. “If you kick me again, my gun might accidentally misfire. That would be a…what was it…oh yes…a rather unfortunate miscalculation on my part.”
Kristin slumped against him, her heart thundering. Luke eased his grip. “When I let you go, you don’t scream and you don’t run. Got it?”
Kristin nodded. Sinking her teeth into his hand wasn’t out of the question.
He released her and stepped back and she stumbled away from him. She bent over, putting her hands on her knees as she tried to catch her breath. Slowly she raised her eyes to his. “Are you crazy?”
The moon slid out from under a cloud and illuminated the dusty road. Luke’s eyes glinted in the soft white light as he pushed his pistol back into the holster fastened around his thin waist. “Sometimes. Why were you following me?”
“You said you were going to a firebase. I wanted to go along.”
“After I told you no.” He made an annoying tut-tutting sound and shook his head. “You don’t take orders very well, do you, Miss Taylor?”
Not from you. Kristin folded her arms and bit her lip. His blazing eyes scorched her skin. The moon disappeared again and she was grateful.
He rubbed his bearded chin, looking thoughtful. “You know, not less than twenty-four hours ago, I believe you told me you wouldn’t be bothering me again. Guess what? You’re bothering me.”
“You’re infuriating.” Kristin ran a hand down her face, pushed hair out of her eyes and summoned calm.
“Then we have something in common.” His low chuckle shot her blood pressure skyward again. “Go back to bed, Miss Taylor. It doesn’t stay quiet around here for long.”
Kristin huffed. Fine. She wouldn’t get any further here anyway. But she vowed then and there to find out what Luke Maddox was really up to. Then he’d be sorry.
The sound of incoming helicopters woke Kristin from sleep. She tumbled out of her cot and ran after the nurses, fear sticking in her throat. The pulsating whir of the chopper blades vibrated through her body. Medics sprinted past, their shouts carried on the wind whipped up by the helicopters, yelling out information to the personnel receiving the incoming wounded. Kristin observed the scene being played out before her, fascinated. It almost felt like watching a movie, but the taste of dirt in her mouth smacked of reality.
She set her gaze on the medical building and mustered courage. She had a job to do. This was a story. Slowly she inched in toward the doors and let herself inside.
The unmistakable odor of anesthetic hung in the air, choked her and made her eyes water. Kristin moved out of the way and hoped nobody would kick her out. Doctors and nurses worked with speed and skill amidst the shouts from outside and the groans from the men being brought in. Their blood-spattered green scrubs gave testimony to the wounded they worked on. Metal clinked as scalpels were passed and trays of surgical equipment wheeled from one bed to the next. Gurneys were pushed in and out as the soldiers were triaged. Agonized moans mingled with the shouted commands from the colonel and the other doctors. Above it all, the helicopters kept coming.
The smell of blood and sweat coiled around the room, but she forced herself to stay. She couldn’t miss a thing. This was the stuff great stories were made of. As she watched another soldier being wheeled past her, his body blackened and littered with shrapnel, she backed off.
Kristin stepped outside and took deep breaths. Even at night the heat was stifling. Every now and then a breeze lifted off the ocean and wrapped itself around her. She stood near the landing-pad, shielded her face from flying dirt, and watched another helicopter touch down again, unload the wounded and lift off as smoothly as it landed.
She returned to the medical building, her pulse racing. Pushed up against a far wall, a story began to take shape in her mind. The harsh reality of war, what they don’t show you on television… She jumped as the colonel slammed through the doors from the operating room, his scrubs stained in dark red patches, barked instructions to one of the nurses and began checking the patients on the cots around her. You had to admire the way they all worked together, seeming to know just what to do next.
When the colonel looked her way, his silent warning told her this wasn’t the time or place to start asking questions. Instead, she skirted the perimeter of the long room and took mental notes.
The strong smells made her dizzy. Shouts of men in pain tugged at her heart. When a nurse wheeled another body bag past her, she brought a fist up to her mouth. Did they deal with this every day? The instinct to help rapped at her soul. With careful steps, she ventured further inside.
“Hey!” One of the nurses she’d bunked with called to her. She stood over a young man who thrashed about in the bed, almost pulling the intravenous out of his arm. Kristin joined her on the other side of him and met the nurse’s frantic eyes. “Can you just talk to him? Calm him down? I’ve given him a sedative. He’ll be out soon. I’ve got to see to the other guys.”
“Okay.” Kristin’s voice shook but she reached for the soldier’s bloodied hand and mustered a smile. “Hey, what’s your name?” All thoughts of the great story she would write vanished as she focused on his anguished features.
“Corporal Ryan Stone. Am I gonna die?” He stared up at her through wild blue eyes. His face was caked with dirt and blood. A long cut ran the length of his jaw, sutured but still oozing with blood in spots. A bandage wrapped around his head seeped blood.
Kristin didn’t dare hazard a guess at the extent of his injuries. She placed a trembling hand on his shoulder. “Take it easy. You need to relax.”
“They just came out of nowhere! We were on patrol and all of a sudden they started firing at us! We hit the dirt but…oh, man, where’s Klein?”
“Klein?” Kristin took a damp cloth from the aluminum surgical bowl beside his bed and wiped his sweaty brow. She looked around for water to give him to drink, but found none within reach.
“Klein, we call him Ozzie, the RTO, he was in back, with the radio…” His words slurred and she leaned in closer to hear him. “I think they got him. I think…they got Ozzie…” His eyes closed and Kristin drew in a breath, panic rising. She reached for his wrist and felt for a pulse. Nice and steady. She almost smiled. He was about the same age as Teddy. Hang in there, kid.
“RTO?” She looked at the nurse who’d come back over to check on him.
“Radio Telephone Operator. Thanks. I think we’re covered here.”
Kristin nodded, placed the cloth down and left the young man. Hot tears pricked her eyes. Another man began to yell and she crossed the room to stand by his cot, sweat trickling down her spine. He thrashed around, delirious with pain, his eyes full of fear.
“Hey, there. Hold on. You’re safe now.” As she took his hand, a vision of Teddy in uniform, sprawled across a red dirt road flashed across her mind. She almost saw his face, his eyes wide with fear. Heard the scream rip from his lips.
Kristin gulped air as nausea rose in her throat. The soldier’s grip on her hand brought her back to reality. She forced her attention back to him and began to talk again.
Later, she stumbled from the tent, found a secluded spot, and retched. Her pulse eventually slowed and rational thought returned. She had to find a way to keep her emotions in check.
She’d come here to report the truth.
And she’d just been slapped in the face with it.
Welcome to Vietnam. Welcome to war.

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