McShane realized the situation was ideal. By now the remainder of the soldiers were dozens of meters ahead of the three strays. It would allow the team more time for the ambush and increase their chances for success. And there was an additional bonus he hadn’t really planned on. They would dispatch the two soldiers, then snatch the old man who McShane figured was a platoon sergeant or company first-sergeant and likely a valuable source of intelligence.
McShane quickly cupped his hands around Wormington’s right ear. „You hit the shorter soldier, I’ll get the other, the one without a helmet. Then we’ll snag the old man.“ Wormington nodded.
Turning their attention back to the trail, McShane gripped the pistol firmly and sighted on the first of the approaching soldiers. Just as he was about to fire, the three NVA suddenly stopped, directly in front of their position. The old soldier began yelling at the others again. They were standing so near, McShane could have reached through the brush and untied the old NVA’s bootlaces.
As the sergeant turned away in obvious disgust, leaving the soldiers standing alone, McShane and Wormington stood erect. They leveled the Hi-Standards over the chest high hedgerow and fired two, unheard shots.
The hollow point round from McShane’s pistol struck the soldier nearest him in the left ear. Mushrooming upon impact, the bullet ricocheted off the back of the NVA’s skull and exited with his right eye in a brilliant red mist. The soldier crumpled to the ground.
Hit in the mouth, the other soldier spun backwards. Shattered teeth and bits of gum dribbled from his bloodied mouth. For a brief instant, Wormington stared in disbelief at the havoc the hollow point had created. He’d hoped for a nice clean shot to the head. Instead, the soldier’s mouth had been blown all over his face.
Before the sergeant had time to react, McShane lunged from the brush and encircled his left arm around his neck and squeezed the mouth shut with his right hand. Leaping from their position, Wormington and Ngo each grabbed one of man’s legs and together they carried him a few meters into the jungle. They shoved him down at the base of a tree. Ngo quickly blindfolded their captive while McShane stuffed a cravat into his mouth and handcuffed him.
„Stay here with Ngo, Dave. I’ll send Trang and Loc back to help you. Then head for the craters. I’m going back to clean up our mess.“
McShane returned to the trail just as Trang and Loc pulled the last of the bodies into the foliage.
They took the dead soldiers‘ weapons and rucksacks, then rummaged through their pockets for letters or diaries.
„Trang,“ McShane whispered. „Take Loc and help Wormington with the prisoner. Meet us back at the craters. Billy and I will clean the trail.“
Trang and Loc covered the bodies with brush and deadfall then backtracked to the tree. Billy stood lookout a few meters down the trail while McShane scraped the teeth and tongue into the brush with the edge of his boot, then kicked dirt over a pool of blood. He didn’t want to leave any evidence of foul play behind that would compromise the team when the NVA returned to investigate the soldier’s disappearance.
McShane was covering up the last of the gore when Billy suddenly rushed up to him and grabbed him by the arm. He quickly yanked his startled team leader into the hedgerow. His M-79 man held his index finger to his lips. McShane then heard the clanking of canteens. The two men crouched low and waited. He frowned as a line of NVA began filing past their hiding place.
Fortunately, it was only a six-man security squad, no doubt looking for their lost comrades. It appeared the soldiers were going to continue on down the trail. McShane and Billy began to stand, but one of the NVA stopped abruptly and knelt down. He unsheathed his bayonet and began scraping dirt away with the blade. From what McShane could ascertain from his position it appeared the shuffling feet of the squad had churned the dirt and blood into crimson mud.
Puzzled, the soldier continued his investigation, following the strange reddish brown goo with the tip of the bayonet. McShane paled when the soldier started probing the brush where he’d kicked the tongue and teeth. The NVA pushed aside the brush with the blade of his bayonet.
By now the squad was standing around their comrade, curious to see what he’d find. McShane repositioned the selector switch on his CAR-15 to full automatic and fixed the sights on the NVA soldier. Billy hurriedly extracted the 40mm HE (High Explosive) canister in the chamber of the M-79 and replaced it with a buck shot round. McShane prayed the soldier wouldn’t discover the grizzly remains. The NVA, however, was persistent. He had two other members of the squad get down and help him search beneath the underbrush. Christ, McShane thought, it’s only a matter of time.
A bewildered expression crossed the inquisitive soldier’s face as he began to pull his hands out. Suddenly, he let out an ear-piercing scream. Dangling from his outstretched hands was a strand of pink gum still clinging to a pair of teeth. He flung the remains into the air. One of the other soldiers found the tongue and more teeth. The squad exchanged nervous glances then began probing the hedgerow with the muzzles of their AKs. One of the soldiers looked directly at McShane and froze. Pointing, he screamed to the others to attack.