Again, he flashed on the scene. A gray-haired man slumped across a table, one arm extended. Liquid pooled around an upset tumbler.
Kincaid shook his head. He inhaled the smoky scent of his whiskey. The vision wafted away.
“Heeere’s Johnny!” squawked the big green parrot in the corner. Two men seated at the bar laughed.
The bartender shook his head. “He ain’t said that in twenty years.”
“Damn, Paddy,” said one of the men. “What you been teachin’ that bird?”
“He probably heard it on TV,” said Paddy. “You clowns watch a lot of re-runs.” Everyone laughed. The bartender went back to washing glasses.
The door opened and a man in faded jeans and western shirt sauntered in. He stood quiet for a few seconds, then headed toward Kincaid’s table.
“Here’s Johnny!” cried the parrot.
“May I join you?” asked the stranger, hand on the back of a chair.
“Sure,” said Kincaid. “Do I know you?”
“Yes, you do.” The stranger ordered beer. “Something on draft will be fine.”
Kincaid studied the man. Someone he knew in the Army? No. Too young. Then the gates of memory creaked open.
“Jesus,” he whispered. “I remember.”
About a mile from Vinh Long the lead truck hit a mine. Machine-gun fire scoured the convoy. Men bailed off trucks, returning fire, taking cover. Kincaid managed to stop short of the next truck, then jumped out. He staggered as something whacked his right leg. He went down.
An armored personnel carrier lurched off the road and headed for the front of the convoy, gunner hammering away with his fifty caliber. As it passed Kincaid’s position the vehicle burst into orange flames and slid to a stop. Black smoke rolled skyward. Men screamed. One rolled off the side and ran. His uniform was smoking; he had no helmet. An NVA gunner ripped off a long burst, shredding the man. Blood misted the air.
Explosions sprayed shrapnel. Hot metal bit into Kincaid’s arm. He flinched and cried out. High pressure air screamed from punctured tires. The explosions stopped. Rifle fire flared, then faded away. It grew quiet, save for the moans of the wounded. Kincaid peered around the flattened tires. He saw a man hunkered down next to an embankment. Another soldier lay in the road, not moving. Smoke blew across the road. He smelled burning diesel fuel, burning flesh.
“Medic!” called someone.
“Keep yer shirt on!” cried Doc Myrtle. Kincaid grinned. Doc would take care of him.
“Here they come!”
Rifles cracked. Machine-guns rapped out short bursts. Bullets hit the truck. Kincaid crawled backwards and tried to make himself smaller.
A man knelt beside the truck. “How you doin’, buddy?” It wasn’t Doc Myrtle. This guy wore fatigues, but not American jungle fatigues.
Two men in light-colored uniforms ran crouching out of the brush. One fired into a GI lying next to the road. There was no way the NVA could fail to see Kincaid under the truck.
“I’m here to help you, Kincaid,” said the stranger.
“Watch out! There’s two gooks…”
“They can’t see me.”
“Oh, Christ,” moaned Kincaid. “I’m off my fucking nut.”
The man smiled. “No. You’re not.”
“I’m outta my head. I’m dyin’.”
“No. Not yet.” The man looked at the two NVA. Kincaid closed his eyes and waited for the bullets. After a moment he opened one eye. The gooks were gone.
Kincaid stared at the stranger. “Jesus.” He wiped his face with a dirty hand. “Now what?”
“Nothing. Just believe. Believe and live a good life. I’ll come for you one day.”
And then he was gone.
Doc Myrtle knelt beside the truck. “My man Kincaid,” he said. “You ain’t gonna die on me, are you?”
“No. Jesus said I won’t die today.”
“Jesus said that?” Doc chuckled. “You been smokin’ weed again?”
Kincaid gripped his drink; heart hammering. “You’ve come for me?”
“This is it? I’m dying?”
“Your friends will believe you’re dead.” A shadow crossed Jesus’ face. “As will your son.”
Kincaid’s fear ebbed. “He’ll be okay. We’ve talked. I even told him about the ambush. About you.”
“Did he believe you? Did any of the others?”
“Others?” Then Kincaid remembered. There had been two others.
Kincaid sat down next to his father’s bed. “I saw the doctor.”
“That quack? He tell you I’m dying?” Pain clouded the elder Kincaid’s eyes.
“You won’t last the night, Dad. Your liver — all your organs — are shutting down.”
Sudden tears streaked the old man’s cheeks. His voice cracked. “Damn you. Damn you for telling me that.” Gnarled, trembling hands gripped his son’s arm. “I’m going straight to Hell.”
Kincaid shook his head. “No. You ain’t.” In a low voice he told the story of the ambush. When he finished, his father lay quiet for a long time.
Finally, he whispered, “You saw Jesus?”
“Your father believed you?”
“I think so. His fear was gone. He died peacefully, just before midnight.”
“There was one other,” said Jesus.
The woman was pinned in her car, impaled by the end of a guard rail. She reached out. Kincaid hesitated, then took her bloody hand in his.
“I’m going to die.” Blood foamed on her lips, stained loose strands of blond hair.
Kincaid brushed the hair back, looked into her eyes. “There’s nothing I can do. Nothing anyone can do.”
“I’m afraid.” Her voice was that of a little girl. “I’m so afraid.”
There wasn’t much time. He began to speak of the ambush and Jesus. She died even as he finished.
“That was well done,” whispered Jesus. He smiled. “I need helpers.”
Kincaid raised his drink, put it back down. “I’m to be a disciple?”
“More like a partner.” Jesus stood up. “Shall we go?”
Halfway to the door, Kincaid looked back. A gray-haired man lay slumped over the table. Whiskey pooled around an upset tumbler, drizzled to the floor. He turned away.
“Take it away, Doc!” wailed the parrot.
JR Hume is an old Montana farm boy who writes science fiction, a little fantasy, some weird detective tales, an occasional poem, and oddball stories of no particular genre.