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Murmers in a Darkened Room
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Synopsis Kevin Mallaghan has returned from Vietnam and joins an Irish gang in Boston. He has a successful couple of years until a serious mistake during a poker party raid puts him on the run from the Boston Mafia. Without a specific plan, he travels west and ends up hiding out in a religious community in Southern Colorado. Jenny Wechsler lives in Philadelphia and graduates from college with a business degree. But the best she can do for a job in the 1970’s is as a frustrated clerk typist. Then she meets and takes up with a cross country contract trucker, Andy Keffler. One day he tells her he has a ‘ticket’ to haul a piece of earth moving equipment from Maryland to the town of Holmanburg in Colorado, and then a second pickup in Pennsylvania for the return, and invites her to come along. However, trucking across America turns out to be less of an adventure than Jenny expected, and she gets out of the cab, the trip and her relationship with Andy Keffler in Holmanburg. A young Mexican illegal headed for a Holmanburg restaurant owned by a family member is saved from the INS by Mallaghan, and results in Jenny and Mallaghan meeting. But revenge is trailing Kevin Mallaghan and when it finally tracks him down Jenny’s life is suddenly in danger as well. Now Mallaghan must find a way to get Jenny out of the line of fire and then to look to his own survival. *** The following is taken from the first chapter of the novel. MALLY - Vietnam Corporal Kevin Mallaghan, Mally, from almost the moment he stepped off the transport into Saigon, had about a month to go before his Vietnam vacation was over. This was supposed to be his last patrol and his plan was to be ultra careful. Ostermann was their new squad sargent. “The last part’s got two ‘n’s,” he told them at the first meeting. “So that’s the German part and means I know what I’m doing.” The twelve of them were outside Ostermann’s tent, standing, squatting, sitting on the ground, most of them smoking. It was late afternoon, the air hot and packed with the usual racket of trucks going and coming, helicopters pounding the air and big transports in and out of Tan San Nhut airport. “The ‘Oster’ part is Dutch,” the Sargent was saying, voice raised to top the racket. “Which means I haven’t got a clue.” “Shit,” Merriman, standing next to Mally, muttered. “Half the Pentagon must be named ‘Ostermann’.” There wasn’t much to laugh about in Vietnam, but this was worth a sarcastic chuckle. Ostermann was replacing Sargent Kinley who had stepped out of the line to drop off a present for the Cong and set off a Bouncing Betty that blew him home in a body bag. “Sargent Kinley was not the preferred way to get out of this crappy country, men,” Ostermann said. “So let’s go out there and save America and your loved ones from communism and get back here just like we left, maybe a little smellier.” The next day’s mission was to secure a small village with a name that sounded like ‘Poor Hat’ to Mally, and Ostermann admitted that his map wasn’t certain where it was. That afternoon a JetRanger had left the squad in a small clearing some forty miles north of Saigon, and the squad laid low in the surrounding jungle until dark. Now they were about an hour into the patrol. The jungle held onto the day’s heat and discomfort dragged on all of them, along with bugs they could only brush away, not slap at. Arkley was maybe three yards behind Mally, and Sellers after Arkley. They were on point and at least ten yards ahead of the rest of the squad. Jerry Arkley had been in country for about five months and was as good at moving almost silently through the jungle as he was going to get. He knew to gently push the heavy foliage aside rather than wading through it and to move from tree to tree for cover. He was good enough for Mally. Norman Sellers was brand new at the game, and this his second patrol. Put on the point crew by Ostermann, Mally's instructions had been short and simple; “We’re hiding from them, so push slow, don't wade, go tree to tree. And sometimes they shoot off rounds to locate a response, so don't fire your weapon unless one of us does. If you have something to say, something to do with the mission, whisper, otherwise mouth shut. It’ll also keep you from breathing bugs.” He would have preferred either one of the black guys, Suffman or Speller, in his point crew, both of them mean looking and fighters. There were two Southern kids in the squad, Hershuck from Alabama and Kipple from Mississippi, both dumb as rocks. Neither had gotten out of high school with a diploma, and started out vocal about “Niggers” and “Jews”. A few bruises from Suffman and Speller took care of the first issue. And after Ravner’s few moments with an MP patrol on a leave night in Saigon, Mally didn’t hear about Jews again from them. That night, six of the squad, including Ravner, Suffman and Speller, had had a few beers and four of them decided getting laid would be a good idea. Ravner told Mally he would rather have another beer, and Mally agreed. They both lit cigarettes and were crossing the street when two Military Police stopped them. “You two got passes,” one of them asked. They were both good sized and fit looking, which seemed to Mally to be a requirement for the job in Saigon. “Passes? Yeah, we got passes,” Ravener said. “and we’re headed across this street to that bar,” and he pointed and started to go around the two of them. Mally followed but an arm came out and stopped Ravner while he looked at the passes they were both holding up. “Ravner, huh. You a Jewboy?” The two patrolmen were in dazzling white, top to bottom. White American authority. Size plus an IQ of 60 or less, Mally thought, feeling himself tensing. Hershuck, Kippler and two others were on the sidewalk and had turned to watch. “Ethiopean,” Ravner said. “But we don’t have a farm. So I’m a Falasha.” “Farm? What’s a Falasha, Jewboy? In the time it took Mally to wonder how a five seven, maybe five eight kid from the Bronx could be Ethiopian, Ravner had mashed his left fist into the patrol man’s crotch, and the twist was a windup for a right to the other one’s stomach. They both went down, right there in the middle of the street, a bloodless fight over in maybe two seconds, incurious traffic going around the four of them. Mally had put a hand out, pushing Ravner behind him, and squatted over the first patrolman. He was cupping his crotch, eyes squeezed shut, twitching. “Jesus, guys,” he said, Chesterfield clipped in a corner of his mouth, “this traffic is terrible, they don’t give a shit who they run into. So go keep your stories straight. After all, he’s just a little Jew. No account in your book, right?” Yeah, either of the black guys or Ravner, for his point crew. But he had Sellers, and in Vietnam you took what you were given. Grunts didn’t argue. The silence was a heavy blanket in the jungle heat, bird noises with tiny echoes the exception to the near absolute of silence and underlining it, giving everything around them an eerie, unreal feeling. Then, without warning, rapid fire sprayed shards of threat. It sounded like a Browning to Mally, but it wasn't coming from the squad behind him. Then a blunt sound, as if a stomach had been punched. Mally was crouched behind a tree, Arkley just a few feet away, hunkered down but craning his head to look back toward Sellers. A second later his head exploded, telling Mally that the fire was coming from both sides. He flattened himself under the fat leaf ground cover, breathing as slowly as possible through his open mouth. As quickly as it had begun, the firing stopped, The silence was almost peaceful, such a dramatic difference that it felt surreal as if life had been speared into outer space. But it was a strained peacefulness and in seconds it was split by a single shot, a crying out and then a staccato splattering of sound, but this time entirely yards behind them. The Cong focus was now on the rest of the squad and there was a firefight underway. When Sellers had gone down he had apparently twisted and fallen to within a foot or so of Arkley's lifeless form. Sellers was silent but there was enough moonlight that Mally could see the glistening, rapidly growing pool of blood drenching the fatigues at Seller's stomach. Obviously there was no way that Sellers could move on his own. Mally would have to get out of this by himself, but he didn't want to leave Sellers to be picked up by the Viet Cong and die screaming. He squirmed as silently as possible under the racket of the firefight until he was within reach of Seller's thigh. Pulling his jungle knife out of its scabbard he quickly sliced it into Seller’s thigh and across at least one artery. Then he turned and as quietly as he could crawled away from the corridor of enemy firing. After about twenty yards or so he realized there were no longer sounds of shots being fired coming from the squad behind him, that all of it was from both sides. He brought himself up to a crouch and began moving at a pace faster than his crawl until he figured he was at least a hundred yards away from the ambush. He had a field compass and getting it out turned to his left moving west, again in a crouch, continuing until he estimated he was about a quarter-mile away. Then he turned south, toward Saigon. South was the only viable direction and he knew it was an odds against bet that he could get there without running into more Cong. But two days later he heard the flapping sound of a big wash on a line. It was coming from his right and descending, and he raced through the jungle towards it. Five minutes later he was at the edge of a small clearing, clean fatigues all around him, a helicopter swirling the air and anything loose on the ground. He lit his first cigarette in two days.
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