Jungle Buddies

From the jungle floor Dick looked up at the Army medic who was working on him.

A young Lieutenant squatting beside him lit a cigarette and put it between Dick's lips.

Beyond them, Dick could see a G.I. holding the boy's hand. A shaft of sunlight struck the boy's face, making him squint.

"What are you doing here, Marine?" the Lieutenant asked. "So far from your sector?"

Dick smoked. "They wasted our patrol."

"When?"

"Three days ago. Maybe four. I'm not sure. How is it, Doc?"

"You'll make it," the medic said. "Be cool. We've called for a chopper."

Turning his neck was painful, but Dick wanted to see the sniper who had shot him, dangling head down from the tree limb he was tied to. He had been hit several times and most of his blood had gushed out onto the leaf mold below. The remainder dripped slowly, like oil from a drained crankcase.

"Take care of the kid," Dick said. "I killed his mother."

"What?" said the officer.

"After the ambush. I hid in the bushes…hours, I guess. I heard noises and thought they were coming back. So I cut loose a burst."

"Tough."

"Yes, sir. I thought of dumping the kid, too, so he couldn't tell on me. But, hell, he's just a little boy."

"Yeah. You been out here with him all that time?"

"Uh-huh. When I saw you guys, I thought we had it made. I got careless, and that goddamn sniper…"

"Take it easy," the medic said.

Dick tried not to inhale the smoke too deeply. "You think they'll understand?

About the woman, I mean. I didn't mean to do it."

The officer patted his arm. "Sure. They'll understand."

"We ate some snakes and things. You got any chow?"

The Lieutenant looked at the medic. "I don't think he should put anything in that stomach," the medic said.

"I mean for the kid," Dick said.

"Oh, sure."

The officer called to the soldier holding the boy's hand. The soldier dug a candy bar out of his pocket and gave it to the boy, Dick lay on the jungle floor and watched the boy eat candy.