A Boy And His Dog, Part IX

Jerry left the Continental Hotel experiencing a feeling that he was completely unfamiliar with.  He had exposed himself to me in a way that he had not with anybody else except once.  On that occasion he had gone to a Catholic priest and told him his story.  Jerry’s household was not very religious but Jerry did feel that his condition was suggestive of some forces at work that he knew nothing about.  The priest thought that Jerry was a kid who needed psychiatric help until Jerry turned his hand into a rather large paw.  At that point the priest nearly shit in his cassock and declared that Jerry was in need of an exorcism.  Jerry didn’t know much about such things but he knew that he didn’t need any of that crap, and so he lit out from there determined that he would never show anyone that trick again unless he was 100% certain that the person would accept what he saw.

Jerry was now as close to a real relationship as he had ever been, and he was troubled by the thought of the convoy to Cu Chi.  Jerry had been given no intelligence gathering missions in that direction but had heard of the great trouble that patrols and convoys had in that zone.  On his way back to 3rd Recon he began to make a plan on how to help Jerry survive the convoy.

The distance from Saigon to Cu Chi is less than fifty miles, and the worst part of the trip was a seven mile strip just south of Cu Chi.  Jerry knew that the South Vietnamese Army patrolled that highway and set up roadblocks here and there, and he decided to approach his Vietnamese counterpart, Captain Khanh, about getting him out to that stretch of road.

Upon returning to 3rd Recon Jerry obtained clearance for a weekend of personal time and then phoned Captain Khanh.  “Captain Khanh” came the voice over the phone in the musical Vietnamese language.  Jerry identified himself in Vietnamese and expressed his wish.  “You a crazy G.I.  Beaucoup dinky-dow!” Khanh said in the odd pidgin that had developed between the Vietnamese and Americans there.  “Nothin’ but snakes and VC out there.  You wanna they kill you?  Mebbe me too?  Mebbe Khanh sok mau you, put some sense in your head.”

“It’s OK Khanh.  I know what I’m doing.  You get me close to that stretch and i’ll get you some dead VC.”

“You drive a hard bargain, dinky dow G.I.  OK, Khanh help you.  You gotta address so I write letter to you momma-san, or girl friend?  Oh, Khanh forget.  You too damn crazy to have girl friend.”

Jerry laughed and thanked Khanh, and said that he’d be ready at dark, about 7:00 or 1900 military time, and then spent the next few hours in the research rooms leaning all that he could about the road to Cu Chi.

When the time came to move out Jerry was seated in a jeep next to Captain Khanh.  this would be an operation run completely under the radar, with neither the American or South Vietnamese militaries aware of its taking place.  The jeep’s headlights were reduced to thin slits which permitted only the most limited view of the road immediately in front of them.  There was almost no movement along this road at night, and Jerry and Khanh were counting on there being nobody looking for one unescorted jeep to be traveling into the lion’s maw on this particular evening.  The two intelligence operatives barely spoke to each other for the duration of the trip, as if the whisper of their voices would give them away when the hum of the jeep’s engine would not.

At last they arrived at the beginning of the most deadly stretch of the highway and Jerry tapped Khanh”s knee.  The Vietnamese officer pulled over to the side of the road and gladly shut off the engine.  Jerry stepped out of the open side of the jeep and disappeared into the gloom.  At about twenty feet from the jeep Jerry stopped and slipped off his clothes.  Then, in only a second or two, the human form melted and became that of a beagle.

Jerry chose the beagle because it had as many scent receptors in its nose as did a German shepherd, but as a smaller dog he would make even less noise and draw less attention.  Zero attention, in fact, is what Jerry was aiming at.  Additionally, the beagle can detect airborne scents as well as those attached to objects, which gave Jerry the ability to run along parallel to the road sniffing the air for the scent of humans or explosives while employing his keen eyesight to avoid branches and twigs that could give away his presence.

Jerry trotted along for the better part of a mile when he caught his first strong human scent.  Following that scent carefully he came to a spot where it was strongest, and here he could detect gunpowder and food smells too.  Jerry knew he had found his first covered tunnel, out of which a sniper could emerge to do his work and then disappear.  Underneath that tunnel lid was a virtual underground city with kitchens, hospital, armory and barracks.

Jerry ambled carefully back to the road, where he regained his human form and quickly built a small pile of rocks by the side of the pavement.  He then returned to the form of a beagle and scanned the scene of the tunnel from the road.  He could see the crumbled corner of a hooch, a rural house, that had once stood only a yard or two from the tunnel opening.   During the day that structure could be easily seen from the road, and Jerry made a mental note of that.

Jerry then moved on, adding four more miles of reconnaissance and fifteen more tunnel openings.  With a memory that bordered on total recall he noted some feature close to each tunnel that would be identifiable from the road and then ran back along the shoulder of the road until he could see Khanh sitting in the jeep.  The tired beagle slipped into the brush on the side of the road and found his clothing.  In a moment he was once again Jerry Warnock, who dressed and returned to the jeep.

“Khanh wonder you dead!” he whispered as Jerry slipped into his seat.  “We get out of here now?”

“No” Jerry replied.  “Drive a few miles up the road slowly, and I’ll tell you when to stop.”

“Dinky-dow, numba huckin’ ten G.I. get us both killed” the sweating Khanh said, but he began to move forward at about five miles per hour until Jerry’s eyes, which were changed into those of an Afghan hound for the occasion, detected his little rock pile on the road.  Jerry patted Khanh’s knee and he stopped.  Jerry checked the odometer, which they had zeroed at the beginning of their drive, and noted the miles and tenths.  He jotted down that number and the estimated distance to the crumbled hooch, and then signaled Khanh to continue.

After a little more than an hour Jerry signaled for Khanh to turn around and return to Tan Son Nhut.  “Now Khanh think mebbe we don’t die.  You still dinky-dow like hell, but Khanh like you again.”  Jerry smiled and punched Khanh gently on the shoulder.  Khanh turned the jeep around and began rolling as quietly as possible down the highway towards a hot cup of coffee, probably with a splash of Irish whiskey in it, a soft bed, and the unlikely result of being alive after this escapade.  They passed through an ARVN roadblock two miles north of the camp and drove up to the mother pool, from which they had ‘requisitioned’ the jeep.

“Thanks a lot, my friend” Jerry told Khanh.  “I own you a favor anytime you need it.”

“You kill beaucoup VC bastards”  Khanh replied.  “That thanks enough.”

Jerry walked across the ARVN camp, exchanging pleasantries with the nervous guards in their own tongue, and then passed into the American area.  The U.S. soldiers were accustomed to seeing this odd, solitary intelligence operative come and go at all hours of the day or night and paid little attention to him.

Jerry had the option of bunking in a barracks or a small hooch, and the hooch is where he chose to bed down.  He now headed straight to that hooch and pulled a map of the road that he and Khanh had just traversed out of a drawer.  Jerry made X’s at the various mile markers which he had just plotted, and in the corner of the map he listed in order the distance of each tunnel from the road and the closest landmark.  One was the hooch ruins, two was a six foot high tree stump that had probably been blasted by a howitzer shell, and so on.

When Jerry finished that task he walked over to the mess hall, had a modest breakfast, returned to his hooch and showered and then lay down to get a little sleep.  He thought about whether to give the map to me that day or wait until I was on my way back to Newport.  Just as Jerry began to drift off to sleep he decided that I was likely to lose the map in my wild weekend, and that Sunday was his best bet.  Jerry said a little prayer to the God he believed in in spite of the strangeness of his life and fell into a deep and contented sleep.

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