On November 28th 1981, Frank Wallace was finally captured.
It was a cold, rainy afternoon in eastern Oregon; a powerful low pressure system had settled over the area, and rivers as far away as the Idaho border were bursting their banks, while rockslides in the mountains had killed eight people, including a group of college kids on a foolhardy hike.
The arrest was anticlimactic. Frank, clad in dirty jeans and an olive green jacket, a brown knapsack slung over one shoulder, was walking along the edge of Route 15 toward Price. A passing police officer recognized him as the vagrant who held up a gas station a week before, spun around, and pulled in behind him. Frank, weary and sore, soaked from the rain, paused, the thought of resisting too tiring.
"Put your hands up!" the officer cried, his revolver in his hands.
Frank sighed and put his hands up.
"On your knees!"
No one knew then just who they had in custody. In fact, it wasn't until March of the following year that the feds came for him in the form of a general and a group of army regulars. Frank was sitting in his cell, trying to muster the energy to pray, when the door at the end of the block clanged open, and the sound of many footsteps rang through the concrete silence. He knew without even looking up who they were and what they wanted. He'd been dreading this moment since 1969.
Frank went on looking at the floor, as if the cracks were the most interesting thing in the world.
"Captain Frank Wallace?"
Frank looked up. On the other side of the bars stood a short, craggy-faced man in
"Hi, Bill," Frank said
They loaded him into a plane at Pine Hill and started the trek back to Washington. Frank didn't like being chained like an animal, but he could at least understand it; with his expertise, he could take the plane easy.
William Connor sat beside him, smoking a cigar and staring grimly into the gloom. It was dusk when they took off, and now, an hour later, it was pitch black outside.
"Funny business, this," Bill said, puffing on his cigar. "We've been after you since '69, and I still don't know just what the hell for."
Frank didn't speak. The plane shook slightly back and forth. It was lulling. He might sleep. It had been a long time since he had slept well. Now that it was all over, he just may.
"I imagine it has something to do with that village you and your boys wiped out, but no one's said."
Frank snorted. The village was Le Ka, a collection of straw huts arranged around a clear stream way back in the jungle. On June 18, 1968, it was home to fifty people. On June 19, it was gone.
"Come on, Frank. You gotta know somethin'. Why in the hell would Uncle Sam piss millions of dollars and twelve years away just for that? The other guys got off."
"They were bought off."
"What do you mean?"
Frank sighed. "That village..."
"It was..." Frank stopped, at a loss for words. "Something happened there."
Frank Wallace sat on the bleachers overlooking the parade grounds, a cigarette between his thin lips and a yellow legal pad on his lap. A bunch of the guys had scraped together a game of baseball, and a few were sitting a few rows down from Frank, listening to Stars and Stripes on a little transistor. Or trying to. The reception was awful.
The sun beat relentlessly down, and Frank was thinking about heading back inside. He was almost done with his letter home. When he was, he thought he might take a nap.
Before he could decide, a grunt came running from the direction of HQ and jumped onto the bleacher. "Captain Wallace! Major Turner wants to see you! Now!"
In Frank's experience, Major John Turner didn't send a guy running after you unless it was important.
So Frank ran.
At HQ, Frank was whisked into the Major's spacious office. There, the man himself sat behind his desk, a queer expression on his face.
"Wallace," he greeted, "shut the door."
Frank did as he was told. "You wanted to see me, sir?"
"Yes," Major Turner said, "sit down."
"About twenty minutes ago, an old gook who's kept his eyes open for us came speeding into the base on his bike, screaming something about an emergency. He said something major was happening in Le Ka, murder, mayhem, that sort of thing."
Major Turner sighed. "I don't know. Whatever it is, I want you to take some boys and go check it out. It's only about two miles. Be quick and quiet about it. Report back here at once. And do not engage. If you can help it."
Twenty minutes later, Frank had a group of eight men. Their names escaped him even then. Jordan was one, a scrawny little hippie type with big, thick glasses, and Davis, a tall colored with the beginnings of a mustache creeping across his upper lip. They were all young; the oldest was twenty-two.
Frank gave them the lowdown, and by noon, they were moving out.
The march through the brush was time consuming but peaceful. No VC had been seen in the immediate area since the summer of '66, a full two years. At first, they thundered through like elephants, but the closer they got to the village, the quieter they became. Finally, when they were within a half mile, the signs of chaos began to show. Smoke hung lazily in the still air, and the faint sound of screams and panic drifted through the undergrowth.
"That Charlie alright," Davis said from behind, "motherfucker's up to somethin'."
"Shhhh," Frank hushed.
Ten minutes later, they were to the road into Le Ka. The village was ahead, around a sharp bend. Frank led his men into the bush on the other side, and they crept, ever so quietly, to the treeline. The smoke by now was choking, and the screams were terrible.
Just ahead, screened beyond the foliage, was Le Ka. Frank looked back at his men. "Alright," he whispered, "Davis, I want you..."
Someone grabbed the back of Frank's vest. He spun around, and was faced with something beyond description, a putrescent horror with dirt-caked features and glowing red eyes.
Frank hit it with his rifle butt, the head coming apart like a rotted pumpkin.
"The fuck!" someone screamed. Frank turned, and saw that suddenly they were surrounded by things that jerked and shuffled, growled and spat.
"Ambush!" Jordan screamed.
Davis lifted his M16 and opened fire, catching one of the things in the chest and knocking it back.
Frank and the others followed suit. In less than a minute, it was over, the soft jungle floor littered with body parts and corpses.
"The fuck were those things?" Davis screamed.
"I don't know," Frank replied, "but there're more of 'em in the village. Hear?"
Moans, coughs, gurgles, screams.
"Sounds like people hurt," Davis said.
"C'mon," Frank said, "let's go see."
The village was in flames. Here and there, a body lie prone or supine in the street. Elsewhere, others shambled to and fro like those things.
Where they victims or enemies?
Frank didn't know. So he called out to one.
When it turned, Frank knew in an instant that it wasn't friendly, that it wasn't a victim, hell, that it wasn't even human.
"Look out!" Davis called.
Frank, however, saw; they were surrounded again, this time by forty, fifty, or maybe sixty of them. They all toddled, they all had those hellish red eyes, and they were call soaked in blood.
"There's too many!" Frank cried, scared for the first time in a long time. "Retreat! Retreat!"
Like a bunch of scared little boys hurrying home through darkened streets after seeing a horror flick at the theater, the men of Company G fell all over each other. After a quarter mile, Frank managed to calm them and restore order. He called in for an airstrike...
"...And that's when it happened."
"What?" Bill asked.
"They swarmed us."
"No. Our guys. American boys. They just popped up around us, screaming and pointing guns."
"What happened next?"
"They took us prisoner, and marched us to a big troop carrier they had. Took us about twenty miles overland to their base. Kept us there for about a week before turning us loose."
Bill looked puzzled.
"Come to find out, per Major Turner, we stumbled right into the middle of an army experiment. Some new chemical agent or something. Trioxin 2-4-2. One variation in a line of variations."
"And they blamed you?"
Frank sighed. "Yep. They had a little cover story whipped up, but the whole Le Ka Massacre thing fit better, so that's what it became."
"Really?" Bill asked. "And how did you wind up on the wrong side of this thing?"
"Well," Frank said, "I wouldn't have it. I threatened to go public. One day in '69, when I was on furlough, these guys jumped me on the street and threw me into a van. They drove me out to the desert and were gonna shoot me. It was evening, and I guess there was a rattlesnake nearby. They took their eyes off of me..."
"I see," Bill said.
He didn't believe him. Frank sighed. It really didn't matter at this point. In a matter of days he'd be dead anyway.