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Pepper Herman




            The aerosol-like mist blanketed the air, coating the trees with a fine spray, as Captain Robert Marchand released the last of the defoliant and turned his helicopter back to the base.  Although helicopters weren’t normally used to spray “orange”-- it was too dangerous for that type of aircraft -- Rob’s talents were needed, so the army didn’t give a crap about protocol.

            This was Rob’s last mission in ‘Nam and he was damned grateful it was over.  He clenched his fists in anger.  In eighteen months of service he saw buddy after buddy perish.

Those who survived were so fucked up that not one spark of determination was left in most of them. Grave morale problems led them to drug abuse and worse.  What the hell were they fighting for anyway?  No one cared.  Abandoned, like so much trash tossed aside.  The army used them in an unjust war, while they were the unwilling scapegoats.

            His mind reflected on a particularly dangerous mission where he attempted to extract a buddy in trouble.

Although Octavius Gumbs was normally a crackerjack at disarming dangerous weaponry, Rob recalled how Gumbs found himself in a mine field where any false step could have been fatal.  He sent out a distress flare which was picked up by an aircraft and reported back to base.

            Rob responded to the report and made the tricky rescue.  He remembered the relieved look on Octavius’ face when he finally lifted him into the helicopter, and the way Octavius kept saying over and over, “I owe you one man, I owe you.”

            His thoughts wandered to Cate -- the softness of her skin, the sweet smell of her brown hair as it brushed against his cheek, and her slight southern drawl that he liked teasing her about.  He missed the closeness and the laughter.  He missed their exchange of roses -- a shared symbol of dedication and love.  Emerging from the helicopter, he heaved a sigh.  It was over, thank God, the rescue missions, the days of spraying defoliants so ‘Charlie’ couldn’t hide and the fear of not surviving each mission -- over.  But the anger and bitterness remained.  He unceremoniously spit the taste of it out of his mouth and onto the tarmac.

Chapter 1


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