Featured Review on this writing by Serge Wlodarski


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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: November 27, 2019

A A A | A A A

Submitted: November 27, 2019




Traps  and Flowers


“CucChrysanthemum make you good wife, Captain,” the slight Vietnamese man said.

“I’m not a captain,” Starns replied, looking past the man standing just inside the open door. The young woman at a table arranging a small floral display glanced at him. 

“Poppa’s been trying to marry me off for ten years now,” she said, her pronunciation precise and lilting. She smiled at Starns.

“You sound almost American,” he replied, stepping into the room.

“We’ve met a lot of your soldiers these last few years,” she replied. “Some of them were nice.” She stepped away from the table, looking at Starns. “Most wanted just one thing.” She clipped a green stem, sniffed and adjusted a flower. “Poppa wants a dowry.” She stepped away from the table and studied her creation. “It’s not much,” she said, gesturing to the flower, “but it is pretty, and that’s something we all need.” She shifted her attention again to Starns. 

“Do you have many men?”

“I have a twenty-man platoon of Marines,” Starns replied. “We are here looking for Viet Cong.”

“Cong,” the man replied, stepping between Starns and his daughter. “What is Cong?”

Starns looked from the old man to the young woman, letting the question hang.

“The North Vietnamese soldiers. Don’t you call them Cong?” 

“No,” the man replied. “No soldiers here.” He looked at his daughter.

She watched her father’s face for a moment, then turned to Starns. “There are no uniformed soldiers here,” she said. “There have been men with guns. Some of them take our stuff, our food. Some want. . . “ She hesitated. “They dress in black and carry rifles. They say Americans are ac-quy, crazy, they are devils, and evil.”

Starns remained silent, looking from daughter to father and back. He walked to the door and looked out. 

“Black pajamas, huh? That’s what they told us to look for. When did you last see them?”

The old man shook his head,  shrugged. 

“They were here about the time we were planting. . . about six months ago,” CucChrysanthemum said. 

“You have a good command of American English,” Starns said. 

“I. .uh. . . schooled for two years in Hanoi.”

“I see. Wasn’t that difficult?”

“I thought for a while that I would become a nun.”

Starns nodded. “Changed your mind?”

She leaned against the table.“I found Catholicism difficult.”

Starns said nothing, then shrugged. 

“It would have protected you from the war.”

“War,” the old man repeated. “There is no war. . . not here. “

The door slammed open behind Starns and a big man wearing First Sergeant stripes leaned in. “Lieutenant!”

Starns swung toward him. “Yeah, Mac.”

“We got trouble,” the man said, “up the north trail.” 

“What kind of trouble?”

“Not sure yet. Coms not great. But the word sounds bad. There’s a runner on the way.”

Starns glanced back at the girl. 

“We gotta go,” he said, shifting his carbine to his shoulder and stepping through the doorway. 

“Close door,” the old man said. Starns shoved the rusty-hinged portal and heard it thump shut. He turned to the non-com.  “Now, tell me what’s happening.”

“Okay, EL-tee.  When you went in to talk to the old man, I split the platoon up and sent one squad west on the trail through the paddies. The other squad headed north. They radioed back a few minutes later that they had found another trail leading into the boonies. Said it looked old and not much used. I told them to recon . . .so they kept going. And. . . “

“And?” Starns barked.

“And one of the guys fell into a booby trap, L-t. A pit booby trap.”

“Jesus,” Starns said, shaking his head. “They all had booby trap training. Why the hell?”

“Yeah, L-t. Somebody got careless.”

“Where’s the jeep?”

“About ten minutes behind us. They picked up a load of ammo. I’ve got them headed this way hell-bent for leather.”

“Is our guy dead?”

“Not yet.”

“How bad?”

“Not sure. At least one through and through. “

“Any sign of Cong?”

The sergeant shook his head. 

“Then let’s go. The jeep can pick us up if they catch us.” Starns broke into a relaxed gait following the track of beaten grass leading north, the carbine in his right hand and the light pack rustling on his back. The bulky sergeant’s feet thumped alongside. “This will take us a while. I told the guys not to move Randy yet. He might bleed out.”


“Yeah. The Browning Automatic Rifle guy. Probably the biggest guy in the platoon.”

“Oh geez.”

The roar of the overtaking jeep caught them and as it pulled alongside they stopped to throw their gear aboard and jump into the rear seat. “Go-go-go!” Starns yelled.

Five minutes of crashing through weeds and scrub vegetation took them to a loose knot of marines in a huddle at what looked like a footpath headed into the deeper jungle. Starns vaulted from the jeep and ran to the pit. 

“L-t, stop!” one of the men yelled. 

Starns halted on the edge of the pit. He saw Randy, the muscular B-A-R carrier, sprawled on his back, an inch-thick raw wood pole protruding several inches from his chest, and two other similar shafts rising from his right thigh and his left calf. 

“Randy,” Starns yelled. “Can you hear me?”

An almost resonant moan rose from the pit. 

“You’re alive,” Starns yelled. “And we’re going to keep you that way.”

Starns scanned the soldiers arrayed around the pit. “Sergeant, who’s the smallest guy we’ve got. Somebody has to get into the pit and cut those pikes loose. We have to get Randy to the ship with those things still in him or he’ll bleed to death in no time. Who’s small enough to do that?”

The First Sergeant scanned the group.

Before he could answer a man Starns knew but couldn’t put a name to, said,  “I’m probably the smallest guy in the squad. I’ll try.”

Starns studied him.

“How much do you weigh?”

“About one-eighty-five, L-t.”

“Damn, “ Starns said. “You gotta work one of your little wire rope saws through those poles. You won’t have much room.”

“I can saw a lot of lumber, L-t.”

Still, Starns hesitated. He knew he was only slightly larger than the man he was studying and he doubted his ability to do what he knew had to be done. For moments nothing but the rustle of leaves and insect chirps cracked the forest silence. 

“Lieutenant,” a higher-pitched voice said. “I weigh half of what your man just said, and I am strong enough to work any saw. Let me do this.”

Starns scanned the group of Vietnamese standing at the edge of the clearing.  So intent on the plight of his soldier, he hadn’t seen the young woman’s arrival or registered her presence among the onlookers. He hesitated a moment.

“Thank you for your offer,” he said. “but this is a military affair and I can’t endanger your life.”

“It’s my choice,” CucChrysanthemum said. “I am in no danger in the pit. And I can free him. Let me.”

The worst they can do is court-martial me, Starns thought. 

“Okay, guys,” he said, “give her some tools and help her into the pit.” 

Within minutes she was outfitted with a lifting vest and lowered. She had no problem negotiating the space between the sharpened poles that appeared to grow from the pit’s floor and commenced sawing the stakes. Starns urged her on from the lip of the pit, feeding her bits of advice on using the coiled wire saw and how to fasten a rope sling to hoist the injured man from the pit. 

In less than thirty minutes Randy was in the jeep. Starns wasn’t convinced the man would survive, but he knew he had done everything in his power to save his life. He turned the task of transporting him to the beach to rendezvous with a helicopter over to Sgt. Macintyre and went looking for CucChrysanthemum.

He found her sitting at the bench with her father at their front door. 

Starnes addressed the old man.

“Your daughter did something very good today.”

He nodded. “She say she helped save soldier life. Said she cut stakes to free him from a booby trap.”

“Yes,” Starns said. “She is very brave.”

“Yes,” the man said. “And pretty too, yes?” He paused, giving his daughter an appraising look. “She can make a man very happy.”

This conversation is repetitive. “I think you should be proud of your daughter, sir. She is very brave and smart.”

The old man’s gaze settled on Starns. He raised his eyebrows.

“Got a cigaret?” 




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