An hour later, the rains filtered down to a drizzle. The jungle rustled as the drips pattered from canopy to canopy, and when it finally slowed, the team packed up and headed out.
Two trails were crossed, well worn and slick, and they covered tracks by stirring sticks and brush in the mud. Jungle boots had easily recognized patterns on the sole. They continued north for an hour, and then took a late afternoon break.
Garner settled back, watching lumps of water gathering on leaf tips, hanging suspended until reaching some critical mass not to be denied. Each broke free, snapping into a pearl that splashed the mulch below. The air tingled, and a freshness filled the jungle. He thought he caught a whiff of ozone, but hadn’t heard the thunder. He rolled to the right, quick and heavy, down the hill.
Whooosh KLAAMMMM! The rocket-propelled grenade came in off the back trail just as he recognized the movement for what it was. It passed a foot above where he’d been sitting and hit the tree, exploding in an eardrum-bursting roar. The shaped charge punched all the way through, making the tree lurch, as pulp absorbed the explosion. Wooden slivers pierced packs and flesh alike. Garner blew backwards, and his hands, which were covering his eyes, lit with fiery needles. Then it expanded, marching up his left arm and shoulder to reside in a pulsing purity of pain in his side.
Whooosh KLAAMMMM! Another rocket, maybe two, came in. Small arms rattled, and he came out of shock with Djuit shaking his fiery shoulder. "Garnah! Garnah! Come! Come! We go!"
He looked around. Members of the team were scurrying everywhere. He spotted Whean heading north, as Reynolds, Kehn and Kui fired into the jungle along their back trail. The M-79 sounded and its sharp explosion cracked somewhere south. Movement came towards him, and he rolled as adrenalin dissolved the pain, like salt in a boiling cup of water. He was on the west, downhill side, and spotted encirclement twenty meters out. He locked against a tree, bringing three down in rapid fire. Others stopped and rolled, tumbling in the mulch, working lower downhill, trying to get around the side.
Dodge’s whistle broke through the fire, and Garner turned at the signal to retreat while pulling two M-33 baseball grenades from his harness. He pitched them down the hill, and after they went off, ineffective rifle fire answered back as the flanking movement slowed.
Then it was up and out, heading north with covering fire as the team coagulated, running in line. He took mental notes, counting heads as he ran. Djuit showed red along the butt, but had no limp. Garner felt blood run down his shoulder, but couldn’t find the wound. Pain was down and biding time, like a mugger waiting in the shadows with an ice pick.
He ran, tripping on Djuit, who was stumbling just ahead. Both of them went down, with Kui and Kehn piling in. They struggled up, and then went down again as heavy rifle fire came from behind. All of them rolled to the sides and started shooting from behind the nearest trees.
Again, figures moved, and he fired three round bursts. The NVA were single minded, and he begrudged their tenacity for killing. “Let us run! Let us run, you bastards!" He screamed at the top of his lungs. His adrenaline pump was overflowing, and he locked his sights on them and fired as the rest of the team wheeled behind, firing over his head from cover. Then Dodge blew on the whistle again, and they all moved out. Garner turned, ran three steps, and stumbled into Dodge, who went down as he was hit with three bullets. Garner’s eyes widened as blood bubbles frothed from Dodge’s nose and mouth.
"Dominique! Djuit! Kehn! Phe! Carry Phil! Jim, get Covey and an LZ. Get us the hell out of here! Kui! Whean! You stay with me! You others, move out! NOW!"
They wheeled again, and Garner threw Dodge’s pack aside, pulling out grenades and ammunition. He filled his pouches as others fired, and then threw grenades when done. Now, he fired as the others finished gutting the pack. Then he wedged a claymore in the mulch, popped the fuse and ran. Stock delays were twenty seconds for a running claymore. It burned, as the team retreated and the NVA advanced. He looked back and saw it go off as half a dozen neared.
Now Garner dug into Kui’s pack while on the run, setting another claymore as they caught up with the others. The second explosion rattled the jungle, and Reynolds motioned northwest, down to the LZ. "Twenty minutes!" He said.
Dodge was limp, and stripped of gear as the four Yards carried him by his legs and arms. They panted, stumbling, dropping him on his side. "Phil! Phil! We’ll get you there, Phil! Hang on, boy! We’ll get you out!"