A Good Day In Spookville Redux
Author’s Note: I don’t write much fiction. I wrote this a while ago, and have revised it many times. It was posted on Medium back before I had many fans, so I am dusting it off for Veterans Day. Although I was in Vietnam, and did work for the CIA, it’s not strictly autobiographical. Most of it is fiction. Like Hemingway, I think the best parts are the made up parts. I tried to capture the conflict within the confict. You be the judge. mce
The inherent violence of being human.
Spookville isn’t a particular place in space and time. It is everywhere, always. Wherever there is war, mayhem, intrigue, “national interests” or oil you will find Spooks.
I was a Spook twice; both times reluctantly, but a Spook nonetheless. That’s how I learned about Spookville.
I guess I should define Spook. Well, the term covers a lot of ground. Spooks are creatures that work for the many intelligence agencies — military, civilian, and secret — that hover invisibly and ubiquitously all around us, all the time. They operate beyond good and evil. They just follow orders. They are true believers. Often they are sociopaths or even psychopaths. I found them to be crazy and dangerous as waltzing cobras.
I know this one guy who was the model Spook Mercenary.
His name was Ian. He learned the trade in Rhodesia doing his worst to keep it from becoming Zimbabwe. He was in the Rhodesian Special Forces. His specialty was terror, torture, and assassination. Hell of a nice guy. Oxford educated. Clever, charming, witty. Folks owned a big farm in Rhodesia.
Over a friendly beer in Da Nang, he told me a story.
We were out in the bush looking for a witch doctor that was stirring up the local kefirs.
Kefirs, I asked.
Means nigger in English, he said.
We were three, traveling alone and light. Broke into his hut about two AM. Never heard us coming; no one ever did. As he jabbered in horror, we cut his three wives’ throats. Now he was crying and begging and declaring his innocence. He died slowly.
Maybe he was innocent. Didn’t matter. Never does when you’re on a mission.
Best thing, it was still early so we got back to our base camp for breakfast. It was great. They had real bacon.
He might have been describing buying a car for all the emotion involved. It was just one more song of Spookville, lingering in the smoky air. Nothing special.
Now Ian worked for the Company up in the Laotian hill forts as a sniper. It’s good to have marketable skills I guess.
I met many Ians. Brits, French, Israelis, Aussies, others, mostly former special ops guys with experience in Ireland, Nam, Laos, Palestine, the Congo and all over Africa. They all saw it as just a well-paying job. Nothing personal.
I doubt they had souls. I know that the Company men I worked for didn’t. They were the Zombies of Empire.
Personally, I got kidnapped back into Spookville. I was working out my tour in comfort in San Francisco. Life was good.
Alas, I had made an enemy of the regimental colonel, so when he got an inquiry for an officer with a certain background, I popped right into his OD pinhead.
I immediately got orders to report to Travis Air Force Base — just that; no destination. I felt a centipede of Spookiness crawl up my spine. Travis was the gateway to Vietnam, Republic of. Not good.
I had done a tour there in 1969: ten miserable months as a field intelligence officer moving from unit to unit. It was a bad year altogether, but the summer was horrible. I’ll never forget the debacle of Death Valley. Talk about a huge clusterfuck.
That was my first introduction to Spookville, but as a lowly 1st LT I was only on the fringes. In fact, I got moved so much and didn’t speak the language that the lowliest grunt knew more of what was happening than I. I just made up my reports based on chitchat and what I thought my superiors wanted to hear. What a way to run a fucking war.
Of course, all of Vietnam was a deadly nightmare, mostly imaginary, only real when metal met flesh.
So I did my time and went back to the world to coast through the rest of my tour as a staff officer at First Army HQ in San Francisco. I thought I had it made. How wrong I was.
Now it was 1972 and most American combat units (including the entire Marine Corps) had come home. No doubt that’s why the NVA decided to invade the south on April first. 50,000 NVA regulars with armor and artillery smashed into mostly ARVN forces and, for a while, it looked like the end.
Finally, it was the Spooks that broke the invasion. Spooks who acted as advisors; mercenary Spooks (like Ian) who fought as regular soldiers; indigenous Spook mercenaries like the Hmong, Spooks who terrorized the NVA behind their own lines; and, of course, assassin Spooks who sniped NVA officers. It was a regular Spookville jamboree. They loved it.
And I got to be part of it. Upon arriving at Travis I met the men I would be commanding, 22 very young men, none had been to Nam, all of them chopper crew chiefs and flight medics. Poor dumb fucks thought they were on an adventure.
I knew how properly fucked we were when instead of an Army officer; we were met and briefed by a CIA officer. We were headed to Spookville for sure. Many hours later, we landed in Da Nang, no longer in the Army, we were all property of the CIA.
It wasn’t that bad of a gig. We were to fly supplies up to the hill forts in Laos that were being pounded by the NVA and bring back wounded and certain Company merchandise. Valuable shit. Heroin to pay for future wars. My handler made it clear if there weren’t enough room for the wounded and the goods, the wounded would have to wait. See what I mean about no soul?
All I had to do was ride along with different crews to make sure everything went correctly. It was dangerous, but by Vietnam standards, not overly so.
Still, it would have been OK if not for Skip. His non-Ivy name was Lawton Knowles III. The Company was full of these Ivy League twerps. They all seemed to come from Harvard, Yale or Princeton, where they no doubt took degrees in anthropology or art history or Mandarin. All of the senior Spooks were Ivy so that’s where they recruited. They really thought they were in Laos at the end of a failed war trying to save Western Civilization. They were like feral children who had been granted a license to kill and room to practice.
Skip was about six foot, broad of shoulder and narrow of waist. He spoke Vietnamese fluently. He had short sandy hair and blue eyes. Even in Laos he wore khakis and polo shirts. His only concession to the mud and blood was jungle boots instead of boat shoes. He was the perfect preppy. You could easily imagine him escorting Buffy at some pretentious débutante ball or crewing down the Charles.
One evening at a base cap our Chopper developed a hydraulic problem and we had to wait there overnight for a part and a mechanic to reach us.
Now a Huey only needs three things to keep flying: the engine, the hydraulic system, and a pilot. That’s why they could take immense amounts of damage and keep flying. Bullets went straight through the beasts (unless they hit you), but as long as those three items remained intact off you could go.
As a result, we had to spend the night in camp. I figured it would be a night of cards and beer and solid sleep.
An hour after dark, the NVA lit us up with everything they had. A full out attack in force with mortars, light artillery, machine guns and small arms. They meant to overrun the camp.
We scrambled into the slit trenches. It lasted for hours, though it seemed shorter. Taking huge losses they managed to get past our mines and into the wire. They might have made it the whole way, but just before dawn a flight of Phantoms came up and napalmed them, causing them to retreat hastily.
Suddenly, it was dawn. Too suddenly, for the NVA had not had time to get their wounded out of the wire.
I was sitting on the edge of a slit trench near the wire. I was exhausted, dazed, somewhat deaf and angry. My normal condition after a battle. My M-16 rested on my lap, still fully loaded. You never knew when some supposedly dead gook would jump up and kill you.
And then Skip walked up to the wire, about 20 feet from me. I swear the shit head was wearing a pink Lacoste polo shirt and khakis. And they were clean!
I was covered in mud and blood. Where the fuck were you, I thought, when Natty Victor nearly kicked our collective OD asses? Back in some bunker, no doubt, chatting up your Spook buddies about what a valiant job we were doing.
Rage rose within me.
Then Skip knelt down by the nearest wounded NVA. I noticed the Beretta in his hand. Ivy Spooks never carried regulation Colt 45s, too common.
He leaned over the gook and spoke to him softly in Vietnamese as if he was talking to a puppy or a child. Then he stood up and calmly shot the man in the head.
A Tsunami of blood and rage crashed through my body. Maybe it was just one atrocity too many. Maybe it was the thought that the smug preppy bastard believed he was immune.
I don’t know, but I was furious.
He went to another wounded gook and repeated the process.
I yelled, “Stop it!”
When he stood up, My 16 was on my shoulder.
He looked at me like I was some worthless piece of dog shit and lifted the Beretta.
“Stand down LT, he said, or I’ll kill you right here and I’ll write the report that makes you the traitor you are.”
We fired simultaneously. The Beretta round grazed my shoulder. Thirty rounds of M-16 ammo riddled his body.
I walked over to take a look. He just looked surprised.
There were no witnesses.
It was a good day in Spookville.
I wrote the report.
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