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BLOOD ON THE RISERS
A novel of conflict and survival in special forces during the Vietnam War
By MICHAEL O'SHEA
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2013 Michael O'Shea
All rights reserved.
The tall golden coastal grass below danced and swayed in an eerie cadence with the crisp winter wind. Warden Nicholls quickly banked the gray Piper Cub to his left, diving through the billowing gusts toward the small herd of Javelina frantically scurrying for cover. He flashed a mischievous grin, gunning the engine to heighten the scavenger's pace. The portly lead sow squealed sharply in terror ... her thick, black, spiny bristles fully erect as she crashed headlong into the mustard green thicket of thorny mesquite and prickly pear. Coveys of nesting bobwhite quail scattered wildly into the brisk morning breeze. Nicholls eased back on the controls, laughing heartily as he left the surly band of marauders desperately burrowing for cover. He had been airborne since just before dawn, searching the vast expanses of the King Ranch for his favorite prey ... outlaw hunters ... human predators of the brush.
He turned south, staying close to the tall deer-proof fences, erected at great expense to keep the cattle and deer in, and the poachers out. Peering through faint spider cracks in the yellow plexi-glass ... he strained keen eyes to get a good count of the mature bucks chasing the large herd of whitetail into the thickets below. The swollen necks of the suitors verified the emerging ritual, each dutifully intent on expanding the endless herds of whitetail on the Ranch.
Local hunters had waited all summer, sweltering in the South Texas heat ... cleaning and sighting-in their favorite rifles ... longing for the spicy taste of venison sausage, flavored by the smoldering embers of roasting mesquite. Chill blue northers blowing down from Canada provided the necessary testosterone, enticing both the hunter and his prey with the blustery elements of dominance. Adrenaline saturated the dense, frigid air.
Nicholls continued south, past the ponderous Big House, headquarters for the world famous King Ranch. He skirted the sleepy town of Kingsville below, carefully scanning the dusky skies ahead for the jet aircraft practicing touch and go maneuvers at the Naval Air Station just south of town. Pulling up on the stick, he keyed his mike ...
"Ahhhh, Sierra one-niner ... this is Birddog twooo-three ... aahhhh ... I'm gonna' ease over to the Brimmers stretch and check out the sanderas below the creek bed."
"Roger two-three," crackled the reply, "I'm about fifteen from the loop, and I'll head that way to cover."
The Game Wardens stationed near the Ranch worked in tandem ... a necessary tactic derived from years of experience working to uncover armed infiltrators. They thrived at performing their dangerous job, tracking and apprehending wetbacks and trophy hunters, both intent on not getting caught in the pursuit of their prey. They were damn good at it ... and the outlaws knew it.
Miles away, two prone figures peered quietly over the caliche mound into the barren creek bed below. Their squinting eyes focused on the two doe and nimble yearling grazing cautiously on the salty grass clumps scattered throughout the arroyo. The trio took turns nudging the fallen mesquite limbs away from the meager but welcomed meal.
"It's colder than a witch's tit," Jim whispered. Shuddering, he turned his large head away from the gusting swirl of chalky dust, in time to see his friend mouth a silent reply.
Jim nodded with a sardonic grin, then returned his attention to the deer meandering below. The boys held their vigil, as they had done since before dawn, shortly after sliding under the fence just south of the Brimmer place. Clad in jeans and worn Letterman jackets, they continued to scan the surrounding brush for any sign of movement. An occasional clumsy armadillo or scavenger jackrabbit were the only intruders to their stoic watch ... teasing them with sudden anticipation for the crescendo that would signal the end of the hunt.
"He's out there all right ... I can smell him," Jim whispered.
Mike drew a slow, deliberate breath through his chilled, moist nostrils.
El muy grande. He smiled, twitching his nose as the moisture trickled to his mouth. "Just don't miss, Jimbo."
Mike's veiled words had barely left his tight lips when the trio below set into a brace ... their erect ears pointed directly at the boys on the dusty crest above. Mike eyes widened, sensing the compromise of their position. Breathing ceased ... taut muscles strained as wide eyes surveyed their perimeter. Then, as if on cue, the deer rotated in unison and turned their attention to scrub brush thicket behind them. With broad haunches poised to bolt, the deer stood motionless, glaring at the muscular intruder crowned with a magnificent rack of antlers. He stood silent ... yet ominous, surrounded by the thick underbrush and scraggly mesquite trees ... his horns glistening, despite the early morning haze.
Mike heard the faint click of Jim's safety releasing the trigger lock on his .308. It was his shot to take. The big ones always belonged to him ... it was understood. He didn't even bother to touch his safety. Jim wouldn't miss. He never did.
Unlike Jim, the size of the rack never mattered to him. He was there for different reasons, relishing the moment ... the beauty of the wild before him, and more importantly, the exhilaration his best friend was experiencing at this climatic moment. Intent on shedding those lingering remnants of puberty, he struggled with his emotions ... confused in the paradox of his emerging manhood. He didn't mind shooting Javelina. They were horrid creatures ... short, squatty, dirty, and reputed to be quite vicious. They even looked mean ... their sharp curved tusks a constant threat to man and beast alike. But deer ... they were different. He drew from deep within to mask his compassion each time they had them in their sights. Today would offer no exception.
The elusive Lord of the brush strode proudly down the rise and into the pack. Proclaiming his arrival with a loud snort ... he strutted confidently over to the large doe, slowly circling behind her. Mike braced for the shot, but as the buck continued to move alongside his prospective mate, he knew the time was not right. Jim was very deliberate ... he would wait for the clear shot. He prided himself in not wounding animals and allowing them to run off and die a lingering death. He knew exactly where the shot would be ... just below the head, in the middle of the neck ... clean ... painless ... final.
The buck continued to circle in front of the tense doe, then abruptly turned to face her. His towering rack remained erect ... his mere presence demanded submission. He took two more steps and stopped. Neck to neck ... Muy grande ... finally in clear view for a broadside shot.
The deafening report startled Mike. The result left them stunned. The doe dropped hard to the creek bed, quivering wildly as the warm blood spewed from the gaping wound above her eye. The startled buck sprang vertically into the air, leaped over the frantic pack ... bounding up the embankment into the safety of the heavy brush.
"Ya missed!" Mike yelled. "Ya hit the wrong fuckin' one!"
As Jim had squeezed off the round, the massive buck dipped his head to nudge the reluctant doe. The hollow-point projectile shattered the far antler, exploding with fragments of metal and chunks of ear into the head of the anxious doe beside him.
Within seconds, silence settled over the arroyo. The distinct aroma of spent gunpowder lingered, oblivious to the gusting wind sweeping through the brush. Below the boys lay the product of their quest ... a quivering doe ... suffering, and near death. Jim sprang to his feet, scampering down the jagged incline to the wounded deer below. Mike uncovered the deer trolley and followed him down ... kicking up clouds of white dust in disgust along the way.
Jim leaned down and picked-up the shattered antler. "Fuck! I can't fuckin' believe it!" He grunted, slinging the remnant of his trophy deep into the bush.
"Been huntin' long?" Mike quipped. "You'll like it when ya' learn how."
Jim drew his long Buck knife from its scabbard. "An' fuck you too!" he snorted. "The sombitch moved right when I shot ... fuckin' bastard!"
He knelt down beside the shuddering doe. With one powerful motion of his Buck knife, he cleanly severed her jugular. She responded briefly, tensing outright with a spastic contraction, emitting her final froth-filled gasp. Jim rolled her over on her back while Mike positioned a mesquite branch behind her neck. He picked up her front legs and slid them behind the branch, exposing the chest cavity for field stripping.
"Dad's gonna' be pissed," Jim grumbled, spreading the doe's legs.
He made a stab incision between her teats, careful not to rupture her draining bladder in the process. Mike noticed the milky secretions flowing uselessly from them, and for a moment, his thoughts fell back to the playful yearling that only moments before had entertained him with his carefree antics.
"Gemme' a hand," he demanded, handing Mike the bloody knife.
Mike bent over, inserting the blade into the bloody hole. He pressed forward, ripping through cartilage and bone, gasping as the sharp odor fermented the crisp air. Jim pulled the intestines and other organs free, directing his friend to sever the last remaining tissues. They grabbed the bloody mess, shuffling over to the nearest thicket where they lobbed the evidence as deep into the prickly pear as possible. Jim scooped up a handful of caliche, rubbed the dirt over his forearms and through his hands, absorbing the globs of thick blood and membrane.
"Been here too damn long, let's get her on the trolley!" Jim ordered.
Mike tore the plastic trash bag, pulling out the parts to the makeshift frame. The boys had fabricated the strange looking device from Jim's brother's bicycle tire and some scrap aluminum they had scrounged up at his dad's welding shop. Mike thought it looked more like a one-wheeled rickshaw, but Jim didn't know what that was ... so they called it a trolley.
The boys struggled to balance their load, starting then stopping several times as the uncooperative corpse mocked their attempt to escape, sliding off the slick frame from one side to the other. They cursed one another, while youthful adrenaline interfered with their speedy departure.
Less than a mile away, Warden Kruetter eased his gray Plymouth off the old Loop Road and onto the narrow coarse asphalt of Farm Road 84. The long, straight blacktop stretched for miles, bordered on the right by the King Ranch fence line, and on the left by the endless rows of milo farmed by Brewster Walton and his bastard sons.
He scanned the thick brush, looking for movement or any colors that did not blend in with the winter landscape surrounding the ranch. The supercharged Plymouth idled slowly past the dry culverts, spooking only a few cottontails and horned frogs in its path. A dim morning sun glared through the light haze, intent on burning off any lingering low clouds before noon. He glanced at his watch, mindful of the daily rendezvous for taquittos and coffee at Pearl's around nine. With an hour to spare, he turned his attention back to the brush line and the critters within.
"Nothing here," he thought, easing down on the accelerator.
Picking up speed, he reached down to roll up the window. The brief glimpse of a reflection deep in the brush eased his shiny boot from the accelerator. The Plymouth rolled to a stop. After a slight moment of tense contemplation, he backed up for another look. A trail of broken, bent brush, led back into the thicket beyond. Stepping out of the sedan, he unhooked the hammer loop from his sidearm and moved cautiously out into the weed line. The low-lying sage could not hide the intermittent tire tracks left in the patches of dirt between them. He smiled as he scanned the thickets on either side of the trail, listening intently as he moved forward into the mesquite grove ahead.
Here comes Santa Claus ... here comes Santa Claus, he hummed slowly, peering cautiously over the rims of his silver aviator's sunglasses. "Gotch yo' asses this time," he smirked. "No way out a' this one ... you dumb-ass sons a' bitches."
He followed the trail through the brush when he finally spotted the source of the reflection ... the windshield of a pea-green '59 Fairlane, backed into a thick clump of sage and brush, obviously to avoid detection from the road.
He moved quickly to the car, empty with the exception of a yellow and green box of .308 hollow points lying in the floorboard in the back seat. He felt the hood of the car for heat, repeating the license plate number as he ran back through the brush to his car.
"Birddog two-three, Birddog two-three ... this is Sierra one-nine, one-nine, over."
"Aaaahhh ... Roger one-nine, this is two-three, over."
"Two-three ... aaahhh, we may have some fence traffic over here on 84, just south of Sarita Creek." He scanned the brush again before continuing. "If you pop the plug and come in from the east along the creek, you may be able to spook 'em. Don't have a body count, but they're not bow hunters ... that's for sure. I'm gonna' pull back down the road so they think they got a clear shot back to town."
"Aaaahhh ... Roger one-nine. I'm about ohhh ... one-zero out. This is Birddog two-three ... out."
The boys made their way along the barren creek bed towards the fence, cursing the patches of soft mud disguised below the thin layer of dust and silt. Jim's huge arms began to ache as his heart pounded the cadence with every step.
"Daligas ... we gotta' hook 'em up Shorty!" he shouted. "What'saa matter? Your damn leg broke or what?"
Mike didn't answer, tightening his grip on the slings, as the trigger guards on the guns bounced on his back, etching painful red welts with every awkward step. He steadied the load with his other hand, crouching even lower to help push the trolley along. Their pace quickened, aided by a long flat section of the winding creek ahead ... every turn concealing a potential hiding place for a ranch fence rider or game warden. Coveys of quail and dove scattered into the breezy sky, screeching a warning to the critters ahead as they circled away from the odd procession below. Moist patches of mud flew off the tire, splattering Mike as he struggled to keep up. He figured they still had a quarter mile to go and that it was time to make a change.
"Jimbo! Let me take the lead for a while. Here ... take the guns."
Jim gently lowered the struts to the ground, breathing heavily as he walked back and took the guns from his exhausted friend.
"We need to stick another wheel on this sonbitch," Mike remarked. "Who designed this piece a' shit anyway ... Alfalfa?"
"Fuck you ... and the horse you rode in on. You're the one that came up with the damn ricketdy-shaw idea ... shit for brains," Jim replied.
"Rickshaws have two wheels, dumbass. It's too hard to keep this fuckin' thing balanced!"
"You sound just like an old fuckin' lady ... bitch, bitch, bitch."
"Ooooohhh Shit! Get Down!"
Mike grabbed Jim's shoulder pulling him down hard as they fell to the ground. They both felt the sudden rush of air following the silent intruder as it disappeared over the ridge.
"Think he saw us?" Jim asked, flicking the chalky dirt off his unshaven face.
"Donno Jimbo ... he had his throttle back ... didn't see him 'till he was right on us. He was comin' right down the creek bottom ... maybe he didn't, but I ain't gonna' stick around ta' find out," he added.
"Well ... fuck! Ain't this just a fuckin' bucket a shit?" Jim shook his head. "What the fuck else could go wrong ... must be on somebody's shit-list today." He peered up into the empty sky, "We'll know for sure in a minute ... if he comes back ... we're dead meat. Gotta' move ... get the shit out a' Dodge. I figure we got about ten minutes max to hit the fence line ... fifteen if we're lucky ... pack it up ... Daligas!"
Leaving the deer lay was not an option either boy considered. They had killed it, and they would eat it. They knew the Sky Warden was on the radio calling for ground support. Th e challenge was to reach their car before help could arrive.
"Sierra one-nine, this is Birddog two-three, over."
"Birddog ... Sierra, go."
Excerpted from BLOOD ON THE RISERS by MICHAEL O'SHEA. Copyright © 2013 Michael O'Shea. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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