Watchtower, Pt. 3
Paul and Annie walked in to the cacophony
of the cabin. Caroline was in the kitchen sorting lunch, Jim was regaling Peter
and Kelly with stories in the great room, Kermit was the bartender, while Steadman
and Ryker sat back and drank in the family experience. Both men were bachelors
with no close relatives.
"What are you drinking, Annie, Paul?" Kermit asked.
"White wine for me, Kermit," Annie said, standing to the side.
please," Paul replied.
Paul guided Annie to the edge of the kitchen counter,
facing her to the great room, and in a quiet voice began to explain subtle changes
in the furniture since the last time she had been there.
"Here you go," Kermit
said, handing them their glasses.
Paul skilfully guided Annie to the couch
in front of the fire. He stood and listened to his brother talk.
up at Paul and noticed a nervous tic beginning. He would put his right hand to
his left shoulder and rub his fingers on his sweater. This was something he started
doing in Vietnam to dry his fingers before taking a shot. Kermit walked into the
great room casually and stood in eyesight of Jim, trying to catch his attention.
As soon as Kermit got near Paul, he understood. Suddenly, Paul brushed by him,
walked to the kitchen and left the cabin. Jim stood quickly as did Matthew and
"What happened?" Andrew asked.
"What did you say to him?" Matthew
"It wasn't Jim. It was Peter." Kermit said, softly.
did I do?" Peter asked, standing.
Annie stood too, reaching for her son.
you go to Fragrant Garden before you came up here?" Kermit asked.
into her son and sniffed.
"Yeah, but, what did I do?" Peter asked, looking
at everyone, not comprehending.
"You set off a memory, sweetheart." Annie said,
putting her hand on his arm, gently.
Kermit walked to the closet and grabbed
his coat and Paul's, as well as a flashlight.
"You want me to go with you?"
Jim asked, following him to the door.
"Nah, he's going to be embarrassed enough,
anyway. Don't wait lunch for us. Send the kids back if we're too late. But, Jim,
keep Annie here. Paul needs her just as much as he needs us." Kermit said.
right, I know. I hope we have enough scotch for the rest of the day." Jim joked.
"See you soon." Kermit said, as he left the cabin.
Jim turned and took a
deep breath to try to answer his nephew's questions. Kermit followed the footprints
in the snow, walking as fast as he could, remembering that there were several
more inches on the way and the flakes were getting bigger. Paul didn't have much
of a head start, but then, he knew where he was going. Kermit found him at the
lake sitting on a bench, shaking from the cold.
He walked up slowly and put
the down parka over Paul's shoulders. Paul turned around quickly, the coat falling
onto the snow. He looked at Kermit without recognition.
"Paul? It's me, Kermit."
Kermit said, softly.
Paul stood and walked backwards away from Kermit, his
hands in the air.
"Paul? It's me, Kermit. Come with me, please; it's snowing
and it's cold. You'll get sick without your coat." Kermit said, holding his ground.
Paul continued to back away until a large tree stopped his progress. Kermit
stood, not moving, staring casually back at him. Suddenly Paul slid to a crouch
in the snow, his hand brushing back his hair.
"Ah, man, I'm sorry," Paul said,
his breath hanging in the air.
"It's all cool. What was it that set you off?"
Kermit asked, walking towards him.
"Peter smelled of mung bean, fish sauce,
and that Thai basil, which was on everything." Paul said, quietly.
went to Fragrant Garden this morning." Kermit said.
"He didn't know." Paul
"No, he didn't. What did you remember?" Kermit asked, gently.
looked up at him; his face darkened and he shook his head. He stood again and
walked away. Kermit picked up Paul's parka and followed at a discreet distance,
watching the shaking increase. Kermit smelled the smoke as Paul lit a cigarette
and kept walking. Paul picked up the pace as they trudged through the snow following
an existing trail. Kermit looked at his watch and noted it was just one o'clock,
as he continued in Paul's wake.
Paul walked with his hands deeply dug into
his trouser pockets. The thick wool sweater was covered in snow and he squinted,
looking through the snowflakes and the cigarette smoke. He wore insulated ankle
high Merrills, but the snow was up to his mid calf. He kept walking, following
the path around the lake. It had been years since he had done it and this seemed
as good a time as any. It was so quiet and clean. The only sound he heard were
his footsteps, the only smell, his sweat through his sweater.
in Paul's footsteps. His parka was unzipped half way down and his hands were comfortable
in its pockets. His boots were waterproof, but he could feel his toes getting
cold. They continued to walk. When they reached the point opposite the cabin it
was getting hard to see. The sun was low, the shadows were pale, and the snow
continued. Paul stumbled to his knees twice and once tripped, falling face-first
into the snow. Kermit hung back, hoping Paul would ask for his help, but knowing
he would not.
Paul came to a stop when it became too dark to continue. He knew
they were a good forty-five minutes from the cabin without bushwhacking through
"What's wrong?" Kermit asked, walking up to his side.
dark to walk any further. I'm trying to remember what shelter there is around
here. I'm sorry, Kermit, I wasn't thinking." Paul said, turning to face him. Kermit
saw the beginnings of a panic attack on Paul's face as the darkness increased
"It's okay," Kermit said, turning on the flashlight and shining
it at Paul's chest.
Paul smiled and visibly calmed down. The path was just
wide enough for the two men to walk side by side without walking into each other.
It wasn't easy going. The snow was almost up to Paul's knees. It was a heavy wet
snow that made each step very difficult. An hour later they could smell the smoke
from the fireplace and see the wan light from the porch. They trudged on and finally
walked into the cabin.
Jim looked up from his work at the kitchen table when
he heard the footfalls on the porch. Matthew and Andrew were playing cards in
the great room while Annie was curled up on the sofa reading. The door opened
and in walked Kermit and Paul.
"Hi," Jim said, standing up to walk over to
"Hi," Kermit replied, draping Paul's unused parka over a chair before
removing his own.
The card players looked up and smiled to see their friends
return and resumed their game. Annie put down her book and listened to the conversation,
resisting the urge to go to Paul. Jim had told her that Paul still had some things
to work out and she needed to give him space. Paul simply stood staring at his
boots. The snow started to melt and large clumps fell off his sweater onto the
"Paul, you need to go in and take a warm shower and get out of your
wet clothes." Jim said, softly.
Paul nodded quietly and walked to the bedroom
and shut the door. Kermit removed his wet boots and put them in the box by the
door. He walked to the counter and made himself a large scotch. He took a sip
and then walked to the front of the fireplace. Jim followed with his own glass
"Did he say anything?" Jim asked.
"Not a word except to apologize
for getting caught in the snow at dusk without a flashlight." Kermit replied.
"That must have thrown him," Matthew said, quietly.
"Yeah, he got a little
anxious. You know, that's a big lake. What time is it?" Kermit asked, too tired
to look at his watch.
"Quarter to six," Andrew replied.
"I don't hear the
shower." Annie said, softly.
They listened to the quiet cabin and heard only
the crackle of the fire.
"I'll go," Jim said, walking towards the bedroom.
"I guess, I'll fix dinner," Annie said, with a sigh.
"May I help you?" Kermit
"Of course, thank you." Annie replied, offering her arm.
the dishes." Matthew said, not looking up from the game.
"We will?" Andrew
asked with a grin.
"Yes, we will." Matthew confirmed.
Jim opened the door
of the bedroom and was surprised that there were no lights on. He shut the door
behind him and waited quietly as his eyes became accustomed to the darkness. He
took a tentative step forward and found Paul's boots. Jim crouched, picked them
up and the socks he found nearby, and put them next to the wall, away from Annie's
path. Standing quietly, he didn't move for five minutes and then he heard it;
a faint moan from the far corner. Jim turned on the light by the bed and looked
up. Paul was crouching on his haunches, bare feet flat on the floor, his head
in his hands. Jim walked over to him and crouched as well.
to be in the shower." Jim said.
"Can't move," Paul whispered.
"What do you
mean?" Jim asked, seeing for the first time how wet Paul was from his afternoon
"Headache," Paul replied.
"Do you have your medication?" Jim continued.
"No, you kidnapped me, remember?" Paul joked, weakly.
"I'll be right back,"
Jim said, standing up.
He walked to the lamp, turned it off, and walked into
the great room.
"Annie, did you by any chance bring his migraine meds?" Jim
"Yes, I tucked them into my purse." Annie replied from the kitchen.
"Would you talk to him, please? He's sitting on the floor in the corner, one
o'clock. Kermit, you need to help me get him up and out of those wet clothes."
"What do you want us to do?" Matthew asked.
dinner," Annie quipped over her shoulder.
Andrew looked at Matthew and sighed.
Annie opened the door and vectored to Paul, kneeling at his side. Kermit took
off his dark glasses and turned on the bedside light. He found a set of pajamas
and walked with Jim to Paul's side.
"Get me a glass of water, would you? It's
almost too late for the medicine but I can try." Annie said, concerned.
walked quickly to the bathroom and returned with a cup of cold water. Annie helped
Paul swallow his medicine and then held his hand. His eyes were closed and he
"We need to get him out of those wet clothes." Jim advised.
Jim and Kermit picked Paul up and carried him to the bed. They stripped him,
dried him, and dressed him in his pajamas. Annie pulled up a chair to the side
of his bed to be near him. Jim pulled up the comforter to Paul's chin as he appeared
to fall asleep.
"I need to stay with him for the next few hours or so. Would
one of you give me another glass of water, this time in a plastic cup?" Annie
"Sure, sweetheart," Jim said, walking to the bathroom.
see how the guys are getting on with dinner," Kermit said.
"Oh, yeah," Annie
said, with a small smile.
Kermit squeezed her shoulder, put on his glasses,
and walked back into the great room. Jim walked in and put the cup of water on
the bedside table.
"Ah, Annie, he looks so tired," Jim said, standing next
She stood and embraced him, surprised by his emotions. She rubbed his
back in large circles and felt him relax.
"I do love him so, Jim. It really
hurts that he can't talk about it to me." Annie said, into his shoulder.
know you do. He's been that way all of his life. He internalizes everything to
protect those around him. He is fiercely defensive of his loved ones. He'll get
through this, I know he will, he just needs us to help him and he is unsure that
that's okay." Jim explained.
"I'm glad you and the boys are here." Annie said,
stepping back out of the embrace.
"They are boys, aren't they? Speaking of
which, I should go check on them. Would you like something? Do you need anything?"
"A cup of tea would be wonderful." Annie replied.
"A cup of tea
it is." Jim said, kissing her on her cheek.
She heard the door shut and reflected
how similar her husband and brother-in-law were. Both intelligent, brave, and
in many ways, sentimental. She smiled, and put her hand out to Paul, who moaned
softly at her touch. He rolled onto his side away from her and whispered almost
silently 'Bull Run'. Annie frowned and thought to ask Jim when he returned. Jim
walked into the great room and rubbed his eyes gently. He looked up at the other
three men, not knowing exactly what to say.
"Matthew, Annie would like a cup
of tea, please." He asked.
"Of course," Matthew said, turning back to the stove.
"Kermit, what do you think has him upset?" Jim asked.
Kermit looked at Andrew
who looked at Matthew who remained silent.
"Gentlemen, you have more to fear
from not telling me than you have from anyone else for disclosing information."
Jim said, in a low voice.
"Bull Run?" Andrew said, questioningly towards Matthew.
Matthew looked at him and nodded imperceptibly. Kermit sighed, and poured himself
"What was Bull Run?" Jim asked.
"Paul has to tell you. I will say
this. Imagine the worst day in your life, bring your best friends, and multiply
it by infinity and you may be close." Matthew said, pouring water for Annie's
The fact that Matthew's hand was shaking did not go unnoticed by Jim or
any of the team members. Matthew handed Jim a mug of Constant Comment tea. Jim
picked up Annie's book from the couch and walked into the bedroom. Paul had started
his first phase of the migraine; the unsettled sleep. Jim put her tea on the bedside
table and handed her the book.
"I'd like to stay." Jim said, softly.
like that," Annie replied.
Jim pulled a chair up to hers and stretched out
his legs. Together they watched Paul sleep. It was painful as he tossed and turned.
He spoke in French and Vietnamese at different times but did not wake up. Clearly
he was agitated but it didn't wake him, so Jim let him go.
"Bull Run," Paul
Jim sat up in his chair, suddenly alert. Paul started to breathe
faster and then woke up. He swung his legs over the bed and looked at Annie and
Jim. He started to speak but fell into paroxysms of coughing. Annie knelt in front
"Jim, rub his back." Annie instructed.
"Paul, you have to relax.
This is the medicine making you cough. You will be all right. Jimmy is here."
At the mention of his brother's name, Paul opened his eyes and
looked for him.
"Hey, little brother. Ya gotta take it easy; will you do that
for me?" Jim asked.
Paul held onto the sheets in iron fists. The perspiration
rolled down his face and mixed in with tears as he tried to slow down his breathing.
He relaxed into Jim's back massage and started to hum. Jim smiled and looked up
at Annie, who seemed confused.
"When he was little and scared, he would hum
to feel better." Jim explained.
"Drink some water, Paul." Annie said.
handed her the plastic glass and she helped Paul take a few sips. She handed the
glass back to him. Paul shut his eyes and fell slowly back onto the pillows. Jim
adjusted the sheets and rubbed Paul's chest slowly as he used to when they were
children to calm his younger brother.
"I think he's down for a while. Your
tea is on the bedside table. I'm afraid it might be cold, now. Would you like
me to warm it up or, better yet, would you like to join the guys and me? " Jim
"I'll be out in a few minutes," Annie said.
"All right," Jim
replied, leaning over to plant a kiss on her head.
Jim walked to the door and
took one last look at Paul before leaving the room.
"How is he?" Kermit asked
from the kitchen.
"He's asleep. It is Bull Run that he's worried about. He
actually said the name out loud. Paul also spoke in French and Vietnamese before
waking himself up." Jim replied, draining his remaining scotch before making a
The silence was almost deafening. Jim looked first at Matthew, who
stared at the floor, then Andrew, who was chopping onions, and finally rested
on Kermit, who was stirring the ground beef for the spaghetti sauce.
the sauce coming?" Annie asked, walking silently into the kitchen.
browning the beef, Andrew is almost done with the onions, and then we need more
direction." Kermit said, concentrating on the stove.
"Matthew, what are you
doing?" Annie asked.
"I'm looking desperately for a job." Matthew admitted.
"I think the fire in the great room needs tending to." Annie said.
do that," Matthew said, walking out to the great room.
"Andrew, would you put
the pot of water on the stove?" Annie asked.
"Sure," Andrew said.
shall open some wine." Jim said.
"Thank you, Jim. Would you make sure there's
some sort of juice in the fridge for Paul? He's going to want some when he wakes
up next." Annie said softly.
"Yes, I will." Jim said.
"Now, Kermit, let's
get going on the sauce." Annie said, walking up behind him.
later, they sat down for dinner in the kitchen. Kermit had placed two Coleman
lanterns on the table and then turned off the overhead lights. The conversations
were quiet and full of reminiscences.
They were interrupted by a thud from
the bedroom. Kermit stood quickly.
"Let me go," Kermit said, already half way
to the bedroom.
He walked in and found Paul sitting on the floor. Shutting
the door behind him, Kermit walked up to Paul and crouched next to him.
the carpet?" Kermit joked.
"Dizzy, hard to stand up," Paul said, softly.
your headache?" Kermit asked.
"Still there. Are you real?" Paul asked, looking
"Yeah, I'm real," Kermit replied with a smile.
"Where are your glasses?"
Paul asked, closing his eyes and leaning his head against the bed.
"In my pocket.
Just perfect lighting in here for me. We're eating by lantern in the kitchen.
I'm a happy man. Are you thirsty? There's water here on the table for you." Kermit
"Annie won't let me have water during a migraine. I need the sugar,
so she gives me juice. Juice, please," Paul said, beginning to breathe hard against
"Okay, hang in there. I'll be right back." Kermit said.
move anyway." Paul whispered.
Kermit left the room and walked quickly to the
fridge to get some juice.
"How is he?" Annie asked, fearfully.
has discovered his legs are like rubber. I don't know what woke him up but his
head still hurts and he's thirsty." Kermit said, pouring a rocks glass full with
"Do you need help getting him back into bed?" Jim asked.
don't think so." Kermit said over his shoulder, walking back to the bedroom.
walked into the bedroom and shut the door behind him. He walked over and knelt
in front of Paul.
"Hey, big guy. Here's your juice." Kermit said.
his eyes and reached for the glass. Kermit kept his hand on the glass, helping
him. Paul swallowed, closed his eyes, and leaned his head back again on the bed.
Kermit stood up and put the glass on the bedside table.
"Okay, Paul, let me
help you stand up so we can get you into bed." Kermit said, reaching to pull Paul
to his feet.
Paul opened his eyes and looked up. He clasped Kermit's hands
and felt himself being pulled upright. Immediately, Kermit put his arm around
Paul's back and walked him to the bed. He helped him sit down then slid his legs
under the sheets. Paul rolled onto his left side and fell asleep. Kermit walked
out of the room, closing the door behind him, and rejoined the others.
finished dinner and Jim, Kermit, and Annie walked into the great room while Andrew
and Matthew did the dishes. It was warm and cozy by the fire and soon, Kermit
was asleep. Jim sipped brandy, watching the fire, and Annie continued with her
book. Half an hour later, Andrew and Matthew walked in with glasses of brandy
and sat near the fire.
"I'm going to bed. I'll see you all tomorrow." Annie
The men stood as well, each kissing her on her cheek,
before she walked into the bedroom. Jim looked down at Kermit, who was still asleep,
stretched out on the floor in front of the fireplace. He pulled a throw blanket
from the back of a chair and spread it over him.
"I'll sack out on the couch,"
Jim said, sitting down to take off his shoes.
"We'll see you tomorrow, then,"
Matthew said as he and Andrew took their brandies to bed.
"Good night," Jim
said, stretching out on the couch.
"Good night," Andrew replied.
up suddenly, he was shaking and perspiring, but he couldn't remember what he had
been dreaming. He got out of bed and walked quietly to the door. He opened it
and went into the great room, closing it softly behind him. The fire had burned
low, but there was still warmth and a glow radiating from it.
Jim and Kermit
both woke up at the sound of the door opening. Too many years of sleeping in dangerous
places made both of them wary. Paul walked around the edge of the sofa and sat
slowly in a chair near the fire. He seemed captivated by Kermit's still body on
the floor. Quietly Kermit got to his feet and faced Paul. Paul launched himself
at him, collapsing at his feet, sobbing noiselessly.
"I am so sorry, Kermit."
Paul said, softly.
Kermit dropped to his knees and looked at Paul. Jim sat
up, trying to follow the conversation.
"What's wrong Paul? Why are you sorry?"
Kermit asked, reaching out to his shoulders.
"It's my fault," Paul said, tears
still streaming down his cheeks.
Kermit looked at Jim and shrugged his shoulders.
Paul sat back on his heels, his hands digging into Kermit's arms, his eyes full
"What's your fault, Paul?" Kermit asked.
"I blinded you," Paul
blurted out, removing his hands from Kermit and burying his face in them.
looked at Jim. Jim stood and walked over to Paul.
"Paul, what did you do yesterday?"
Jim asked softly.
Paul stopped crying suddenly and looked up at Jim. His gaze
hardened and his hands formed fists.
"My team got ambushed yesterday, Major.
You should know, you ordered it." Paul said, getting to his feet quickly.
you need to calm down." Jim said, holding his ground.
Kermit stood as well,
unsure of what to do. Paul stared at Jim, his hands clenched at his sides; the
muscles in his jaw were dancing. He was breathing heavily, standing in his pajamas,
the top clinging to him, soaking wet. The only sounds in the cabin were the crackling
fire, the snores from Andrew, and Paul's heavy breathing.
"Paul, let's head
to your hootch and break open that bottle of scotch your brother sent you." Kermit
Paul looked at Kermit and blinked. He looked back at Jim and then
looked at the fire. He reached out to steady himself as a wave of dizziness spread
over his body.
"I gotcha, Paul. Have a seat," Kermit said, helping him sit
Jim walked into the kitchen and retrieved three glasses and the bottle
of scotch. When he returned he poured the three glasses half full. Paul had his
face in his hands, elbows resting on his knees.
"Paul, drink this," Jim said,
handing him a glass.
Paul looked up and took the glass with shaking hands.
He sipped it slowly and coughed. Jim rubbed his back and the coughing stopped.
Kermit crouched by him and put his hand on his knee. Paul reached out with his
right hand and covered it, still not able to look at either man.
"Man, I think
I'm losin' it." Paul whispered.
Jim glanced at Kermit briefly.
you need to sleep some more. It's two-thirty, do you want to sack out here or
in the bedroom?" Jim asked.
"I need to be with Annie," Paul replied softly.
"Okay, well, you know where we are. " Jim said.
Kermit stood and helped
Paul to his feet. Paul gave him his scotch glass and walked slowly to the bedroom
door. He took a breath and walked in. The room wasn't completely dark and he could
hear Annie's quiet breathing. Paul walked to her bed and reached for her.
what's wrong?" Annie said, waking quickly, feeling his still damp pajama top.
"Can I sleep with you?" Paul asked softly.
"You never need to ask, sweetheart."
Annie replied, lifting the covers and scooting back on the full bed.
into bed and rolled to his side, pulling the covers over him. Annie reached her
left hand out for him and drew him to her. Paul had started to shake from the
cold but when Annie curled her warm body against him he began to feel better.
She rested her arm under his, her hand on his chest. Listening to him breathe,
Annie relaxed after he fell asleep.
Paul woke up with Annie's head on his chest.
The sun was bouncing brightly off the new snow. He felt better, but the migraine
medication always took its toll on him, leaving him achy, tired, and sometimes
on edge. Carefully, he moved Annie's head to the pillow and went to the bathroom.
Shutting the door, he turned on the light and looked in the mirror. He wasn't
really surprised at the four day old beard, but the harsh circles under his eyes
were unsettling. Paul padded quietly back into the bedroom and dressed. He walked
silently out of the bedroom into the great room. Kermit was sipping coffee in
the kitchen; Jim was still stretched out on the sofa.
"Coffee?" Kermit asked,
turning to see him.
"Please," Paul responded.
Kermit poured coffee into
a mug and handed it to him.
"Thanks," Paul said, taking a sip.
take a shower." Kermit advised.
"I know, I needed the caffeine," Paul admitted.
"How are you feeling today?" Kermit asked.
"Let's just say all heavy machinery
is out, and you probably shouldn't give me a steak knife." Paul joked.
a little tired; a little edgy?" Kermit assessed.
"Who's tired and edgy?" Jim
asked, brushing back his hair as he walked in.
"I am," Paul said quietly.
if I walked around the lake in a snowstorm, had a migraine, woke up in the middle
of the night, and hadn't eaten since yesterday's breakfast; I might feel the same
way." Jim said, taking a mug of coffee from Kermit.
"I woke up last night?"
"Yeah, no big deal," Kermit said, lightly.
Paul turned away
and sat at the kitchen table, staring into his coffee. Subconsciously he started
to tap the table with his left hand.
"Cereal, Paul, or can you eat something
more?" Kermit asked.
Paul didn't seem to hear him.
"Paul, answer Kermit."
"What? Sorry, Kermit, uhm, English muffin, if we have any.
Thanks," Paul said, looking up.
"You're welcome." Kermit said.
leaning against the counter sipping his coffee while watching his younger brother.
The tapping started again on the table.
"Jim, what do you want for breakfast?"
Kermit asked after splitting the muffins and putting them in the toaster.
eggs over hard, toast, if we have any," Jim said, not taking his eyes off Paul.
"Right," Kermit said, starting on breakfast.
Ten minutes later, Jim was
finishing his eggs while Paul continued to stare, neglecting his muffins. Kermit
refilled their coffee cups and started making a fresh pot.
said, as she entered the kitchen area.
"Morning, Annie," Jim and Kermit said.
Annie stopped at the table and heard the tapping.
"Morning, Paul," she said,
reaching for him.
He stopped tapping immediately, sliding his hand onto his
lap. He stood abruptly and walked by her into the great room and sat in a chair,
his right hand supporting his head.
"Give him a little time, Annie. He didn't
have a good night." Jim suggested.
Annie nodded slightly. Kermit handed her
a cup of tea and she sat down at the table next to Jim, who put his arm around
her and hugged her close.
"What? Hugging at the kitchen table? Where's Paul?
Even if you are his brother..." Matthew said as he walked into the kitchen with
Andrew in tow.
"Morning, boys," Annie said with a small smile.
Annie," Matthew said, leaning down to kiss her.
Andrew followed suit and then
took a mug of coffee from Kermit. They exchanged glances but not words.
would you like for breakfast?" Kermit asked.
"French toast," Matthew said,
"Great idea," Andrew said, sitting at the table.
have some too, Kermit, if it's not too much trouble." Annie added, quietly.
wish is my command, Madame. You boys will have to set the table. Jim, do you need
anything else?" Kermit asked.
"No thanks, Kermit, I'm going to take a shower,
and then have a brotherly talk." Jim replied.
Jim kissed Annie once more and
squeezed her hand before standing to walk to the bedroom. He emerged a mere fifteen
minutes later and walked up to Paul.
"Grab your coat; we're going for a walk."
Paul looked up and him and nodded silently. He stood up and walked
to the closet. He took his coat and walked outside without a word.
too far, I don't know what the weather is going to do and he's really unsettled."
"We'll either be in the wood shed or at the bench by the lake."
Jim said, walking out of the cabin.
Paul stood nervously, trying to zip up
his parka. His hands were shaking and he couldn't seem to figure it out. Jim walked
up to him casually and gently took the zipper, connected it, and zipped Paul's
parka up to his neck.
"Thanks," Paul mumbled.
"You're welcome," Jim said,
starting to walk in the cold morning air.
Paul followed reluctantly. Jim stopped
and handed him a cigarette, taking one for himself, and lit both. He turned around
and resumed walking. Paul followed silently. He looked up and saw they were at
the lake. The tall tree which had fallen the previous fall had been turned into
a natural bench last spring by Peter and his chain saw. Jim brushed the snow off
and sat down, smoking his cigarette. Paul walked over to him, but was too edgy
to sit down.
"Spill it," Jim ordered flatly.
Paul looked up quickly and
then turned away.
"We're not leaving this place until you tell me about Bull
Run." Jim said.
Paul spun around and stared at him. He pushed his hair back
with his left hand and smoked with his right. He turned around again, his back
to Jim. Jim watched Paul's shoulders bunch up. There was no doubt in his mind
that this was going to be hard for him, but there wasn't another option. Paul
started to pace in front of Jim. His right hand held his cigarette; his left hand
was in a fist. Jim waited for twenty minutes, watching Paul struggle until he
stopped and looked at him.
"Twenty-six," Paul whispered.
"What?" Jim asked,
straining to hear him.
"We lost twenty-six men that day. Operation Bull Run
was thought up by the MACV-SOG boys. Basically, they knew there was a bunch of
VC just on the other side of a small river about 20 klicks from our FOB in Kon
Tum. Team Apostle was to provide onsite intel and then there was to be an attack.
The attack was a feint from the south with a full brigade-strength attack from
the north. We were flown in five days ahead of strike day, just to set things
up." Paul said, pausing to remember.
"Just you, Kermit, Andrew and Matthew?"
"We picked up two men, uhm Kendricks the medic, and Foley, the radio/munitions
specialist." Paul replied.
He started to pace again in the heavy snow, a cigarette
hanging from his lips, his left hand clenching and unclenching.
a sniper mission as well?" Jim asked.
Paul stopped and turned to look at him,
his eyes narrowing into a squint.
"Yes, there was a PAVN colonel who was reported
in the area. Kermit was to take him out." Paul said, unzipping his parka.
resumed his pacing.
"The funny thing with planning a mission based on American
history is that no one saw the writing on the wall. Bull Run was doomed because
one side didn't do what they were 'supposed to do'. Yeah, well funny thing about
war, the opposition tends to surprise you all the time." Paul said bitterly.
followed orders?" Jim asked, prompting him.
"Hell, yes, well at least at first.
I led the men in. We did our recon, transmitted intel back and waited in the rain
for our orders. We were ordered to stay put except to off that PAVN colonel. Kermit
and I went out in the morning, God it was so damn hot and wet. Trying to keep
the gear somewhat dry was so hard. I was the spotter but I was also the reserve
sniper. I kept trying to keep my weapon and trigger hand dry. It became, I guess,
an obsession." Paul said, dropping his cigarette quickly when he burned his fingers.
Paul dug his hands in his trousers and continued to pace.
"You hit your
target, then what happened?" Jim asked.
"Kermit and I didi'd back to our camp
and waited. We didn't have to wait long. We were to hold position. Battalion had
four squads heading into our area. We were the hammer on the ambush. Unfortunately,
the VC didn't know that. We were easily outnumbered four to one. I called Command
to point out the obvious, but the Major who was in charge was dead, so I called
in an air strike." Paul said, his voice catching.
"You called in a strike on
your own position?" Jim asked, standing.
"I had no choice. It was becoming
Bull Run revisited. Besides, the only Allied forces in any danger were Team Apostle.
The squads on the north side of the river were fine." Paul replied.
twenty six men died...?" Jim asked.
"Two men were from my team, lest we forget.
Twenty-six men died because the fly boys overshot the target. Christ, Jim, it
was insane; dusk, bullets flying, grenades flying, bombs dropping. Then I heard
him cry out." Paul said, his voice low and quiet.
"Who?" Jim asked.
who else?" Paul replied angrily. "In addition to a normal bomb run, the flyboys
dropped what we called flash-bangs on their first pass. They blind you but don't
kill you. One landed in Kermit's foxhole. I will never forget his screams. The
pain from the burns to his eyes was excruciating, but he wanted to continue to
fight. He couldn't see well, Kendricks wanted to bandage his eyes but Kermit wouldn't
let him. In the end, we were all hit in some way or another. My God, there were
VC everywhere. I called for a dust off but there wasn't an LZ anywhere near where
we were so the Huey just dropped McGuire rigs. As we clipped on, Kendricks bought
it, as did Foley."
"So there you were again, the core Team Apostle, being lifted
to heaven." Jim said softly.
"Yeah, albeit one hundred and fifty feet below
the chopper dangling where any yahoo with a rifle could pick you off. I held on
to Kermit until we landed. After that, I have no memory for almost a week, I guess."
"I think you're ready to go talk to your teammates. Let's let them
fill in the blank spots." Jim said, walking up to him.
Paul looked up at him
and nodded slowly. They walked together through the snow until they got to the
cabin. Jim led and Paul followed as they walked inside.
Andrew and Matthew
stood up, as did Kermit. Annie kept silent, sitting on the couch. Paul and Jim
shucked their outerwear and walked into the great room.
"I need to talk about
Bull Run. What happened after we clipped into the McGuire rig?" Paul asked, standing
by the fireplace.
"Kermit started to struggle; the pain was so great. You took
your spare 'biner and clipped him to you as a safety. He kept struggling against
the pain. You held him until a few minutes later, when Kermit unclipped his line.
You took his full weight." Andrew said, softly.
"We landed at Kun Tum and we
were all a mess. Kermit was blind; you had two broken ribs, a fractured hand,
and a shrapnel wound. Andrew had a bullet in his hip, and I had one in my chest."
"I don't remember being hit or injured." Paul said.
your ribs when I landed on you in the foxhole during the air strike. I don't know
how you got hit but it was in your hip, I think. Your hand was caught in the pear
ring when Kermit released. His weight broke your hand. The medics couldn't believe
you were alive, let alone conscious." Matthew said.
Paul's face darkened as
he started to remember that day. He put both hands on the mantel and stared into
"Why did Paul yell at me this morning, Kermit?" Jim asked.
the whole stupid plan was started by a major out of MACV-SOG; Major McVee." Kermit
"I'm not him." Jim said, defensively.
"No, but you were a major
in MACV/SOG. Paul just got confused." Kermit explained.
Paul followed the conversation
closely, but still didn't understand.
"What are you talking about?" Paul asked,
irritated; turning around to look at them.
"You took a trip to Vietnam this
morning and thought Jim was McVee." Kermit explained softly.
Paul reached into
his pocket, pulled out a cigarette and lit it. Andrew and Matthew sat down in
the two chairs by the fireplace. Jim stood blocking the path to the front door.
Kermit stood blocking the path to the bedroom. Paul started to pace in front of
"What set you off yesterday" Jim asked quietly.
of mung beans. I demanded that the team eat Vietnamese food so we would sweat
the same smell as a Vietnamese person. I hired a cook, the whole nine yards. Every
day we ate mung beans." Paul explained, pausing to look at him.
his pacing, running his hand through his hair and rubbing his beard. The room
"Paul, I don't blame you. Man, how could I? You saved my life,"
Kermit said softly, looking at Paul through his dark glasses.
and walked up to him.
"I...thank you," Paul said, pulling him close for a hug.
Matthew and Andrew soon joined in and there was quiet in the room as Team Apostle
renewed their vows.
"Sweetheart?" Annie asked quietly.
Paul wiped his tears,
broke from his embrace with his mates and knelt before his wife at the couch.
"Yeah, babe?" Paul replied.
"I have loved you, from the first day I met
you at the restaurant to now and all of the days in-between. Please, don't ever
doubt that." Annie said, putting her hands on his face.
"I have never doubted
your love." Paul said, embracing her tightly.
"I don't know about any one else,
but I could use a drink and some lunch." Jim said, lightening the mood.
released Annie and stood up to walk to Jim. They embraced tightly and Jim whispered
something in Paul's ear that made the tears he had tried to hold in burst forth.
Paul volunteered to start the grill. He stood outside in the bright sunshine,
grilling steaks and smoking cigarettes. Jim was, again, the bartender. Annie made
a salad and Kermit helped with the grilled potatoes. Lunch was a feast. Andrew
and Matthew told stories of the few times that Team Apostle went on liberty. The
panic and terror was gone, replaced by a familiarity bred from true friendship.
"We gotta go back to town, Paul." Andrew said, standing from the table.
stood and embraced his two friends.
"Thanks for being here." Paul said, softly.
"Whenever you need us, there we'll be." Andrew replied.
outside to see them off. Andrew and Matthew got into the four wheel drive Kermit
had driven up in and left the cabin.
"You okay?" Jim asked Paul.
take a nap." Paul said, leaning against the cabin, watching them drive away.
mean before you fall down? Yeah, good idea." Kermit said, smiling.
you," Annie said, reaching for his arm.
Jim opened the door to the cabin and
held it open for Paul, Annie and Kermit to walk through. Kermit made a beeline
for the couch and stretched out. Paul and Annie walked into the bedroom and shut
the door. Jim made a pot of coffee
Kermit was still sleeping on the sofa, and
Jim was working in the kitchen when the door opened from the bedroom.
so, dinner and then a drive back home?' Kermit asked, waking up to the sound of
the opening door.
"Oh, yeah," Paul replied.
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