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Authors: Stephen Mertz

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Cambodian Hellhole

BOOK: Cambodian Hellhole
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Stephen Mertz



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© 2012 /
Stephen Mertz


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The Castro Directive


M.I.A. Hunter Series:


M.I.A. Hunter

M.I.A. Hunter: Cambodian Hellhole

M.I.A. Hunter: Exodus from Hell

M.I.A. Hunter: Blood Storm

M.I.A. Hunter: Escape from Nicaragua

M.I.A. Hunter: Invasion U.S.S.R.

M.I.A. Hunter: Crossfire Kill

M.I.A. Hunter: Desert Death Raid

M.I.A. Hunter: L.A. Gang War

M.I.A. Hunter: Back to 'Nam

M.I.A. Hunter: Heavy Fire

M.I.A. Hunter: China Strike

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"Go with us as we seek to defend the defenseless and to free the enslaved."


—from the "Special Forces Prayer"


Tra Vinh Province,

South Vietnam: 1971


ergeant Mark Stone's six-man combat patrol trudged through a jungle that teemed with humidity, life, and the stench of rot.

Torrential rains had soaked the ground, making each boot-sucking forward movement laborious. The jungle was a dense wall of brilliant green splashed with patches of wild orchid and Jacaranda on either side of the narrow game trail. Vine-wrapped trunks of palm, balsa, mahogany, and eucalyptus reached up out of sight.

The patrol was four kilometers from its base camp at Duc Pho.

Twenty paces back, Stone reacted instantly to the abrupt, deafening burst of fire that dropped the point man, and this "routine" patrol suddenly went all to hell. More automatic fire blazed at them from either side of the trail.

Stone caught a glimpse of the man nearest him, drinking buddy and RTO SP4 Jess Lynch, diving to the mucky ground like the rest of the men. Stone did the same before the point man's body came to rest, twitching wider the impact of incoming rounds.

Stone swung his rifle around and kept cool, counting gunners, figuring the muzzle flashes, scanning for trajectories as projectiles and shouting shattered the air. He freed a frag grenade from his combat webbing, yanked the pin, and let it fly in a looping overhand. He saw the lethal egg touch down some fifteen yards away.

On target.

Fire and shrapnel added to the chatter of the guns, and his patrol was weighing in with answering fire of its own now, each man falling back upon his training and experience, covering his own ass. They were still a team, but at the moment, until they could establish some communications and bring partial order out of chaos, it was each man for himself.

A burst of bullets gnawed the undergrowth a foot from Stone's face, driving him back deeper into meager cover. He fired an aimless blast from his M-16, wishing to hell that the enemy would show himself and provide him with a living, breathing target.

Movement in the jungle to his right. A rustling, rattling sound that had to be produced by man. No animal alive would move so clumsily, producing sounds of metal clanking into tree trunks. Stone shifted his position, ready to defend himself against the flanking movement that was coming. . . .

And he heard the hand grenade as it touched down no more than three feet from his outstretched hand.

No time to think, to plan the movement. He was up and diving, rolling, knowing he was dead if he remained in place, and very likely dead before he could find another place of shelter. Automatic weapons opened up before he took the second loping stride, hot feelers brushing flank and shoulder as he moved—and then the world disintegrated in fire and thunder.

Stone was airborne, twisting as he catapulted through the darkness, somehow clinging to his rifle as he landed on his back. The breath was driven from his body by the stunning-impact, and for a moment he lay where he had fallen, trying desperately to clear his head.

His ears were ringing, deafened by the blast, and yet he knew that they were coming for him. It was S.O.P., and only common sense, to follow up the power drive with swift and deadly force. Destroy the enemy while he was down and disoriented.

Stone had used the trick himself a score of times, and it had always worked.

He struggled up into a combat crouch, almost overcome by sudden dizziness, aware of salty blood inside his mouth. No time to double-check his weapon, to see that it was functioning. The darting shadows in front of him were closing rapidly, their rifles winking automatic fire.

Stone reacted by the numbers, letting instinct do it for him, holding down the trigger of his M-16 and sweeping left to right, waist-high. The first man-shadow stumbled, reeling, and went down. A wild burst from an AK-47 raked the palm fronds overhead and showered him with mangled vegetation.

Number Two was closer when the stream of M-16 rounds impacted on his chest and blew him backward, out of serious contention. He was dead before he hit the ground, and Stone forgot about him instantly, his full attention focused on the lone survivor.

And he almost made it.

He was tracking onto the target, squeezing off instinctively, when suddenly the assault rifle was slammed out of his grasp and yanked away. A heavy round punched through his shoulder, spinning Stone around and dumping him facedown onto the marshy earth.

He tasted death, the gritty, grim reality of dying, and a portion of his mind, was wondering when a life of sorts would flash before his eyes. If it had time . . .

A rough hand on his shoulder spun him around, face-up and looking toward the sky. A human silhouette blocked out a portion of sunlight, looking tree-tall from his worm's-eye perspective, and then Stone was focusing upon the muzzle of the weapon that was leveled inches from his face.

I'm dead
, he thought, surprised that it no longer terrified him. He was numb, deprived of fear, of any conscious feeling whatsoever.

Our Father
. . .

Something came upon them out of the treeline, sweeping in from Stone's peripheral vision, taking the North Vietnamese regular on his blind side, lifting him off his feet with one hand as the other brought a Ka-Bar knife around and into play. From where he lay, Stone saw the long blade sever windpipe, jugular, carotid artery. And then it was raining crimson on him, saturating his fatigues, running down his cheeks in bloody rivulets.

More hands upon him, but familiar now, and almost gentle. Up above his own, a face swam into focus, and he recognized Jess Lynch.

"We're getting out of here," Lynch told him, but the words were lost on ears still ringing with grenade concussion. Stone understood him all the same.

He clutched at Lynch, and pulled him close, his whisper fierce through clenched and bloodied teeth.

"I owe you one, Jess."

"Forget it, man."

But there was no forgetting. Ever.




4-057894S345 5/11/72 ICS IPMRNCZ CSP LSAB 2134845304 WU TDRN WASHDC 44 5-11 1 130 EST











Chapter One

Southeast Asia, the Present


aybreak, and the jungle comes alive. Nocturnal predators are banished by the first pale light of dawn to hidden dens, and their selected prey are able to relax their guard, breathe easily again. Another set of hunters are abroad now, forest denizens who thrive on light instead of darkness, basking in the warmth and shunning shadows.

For a man on watch, the hour of dawn is perilous in the extreme. Despite his best intentions, he experiences a creeping sluggishness, a deep, involuntary letting-down that has been built into his genes from prehistoric times. Sentries at their posts must be on guard against the siren song of sleep—or they may never wake again.

Mark Stone was counting on the natural reactions of the sentries, rooting for the hours of tedium that made them careless, lax about their duties on patrol. He needed that small edge to guarantee himself the crucial element of surprise. Without it, he was looking at a death trap there, beyond the trees.

The small encampment might have been abandoned, judging from a first glance, but two full days of recon in the area had proven otherwise. There was a military presence here, albeit casually maintained . . . and there was something else.

else had brought Mark Stone across six thousand miles to penetrate the reeking jungle hell of Vietnam. Ten years and more after the cease-fire, after "peace with honor," he was coming back to finish what was started in another time, another life.

Mark Stone was picking up the pieces, trying desperately to salvage lives that somehow had been forgotten in the rush to disengage from Vietnam. Across the years, there had been more than ten thousand eyewitness sightings of Americans and other Westerners in hostile custody, and not all of those sightings could be passed off as mistakes or drunken ramblings. In the face of U.S. government inaction, someone had to shoulder the responsibility of seeking out the long-forgotten missing. Mark Stone had volunteered.

It was the least he could do for men who had responded to their nation's call and then been thrown away like so much dirty laundry, forgotten, covered up. He would not rest while any one of them remained in hostile hands.

Not while he lived.

They called Stone the M.I.A. Hunter. He returned periodically to Southeast Asia in search of American missing-in-action prisoners of war for the families of such men. Stone did not accept these rescue missions for money. He made no profit whatever from the danger. His fees covered expenses and personnel. The M.I.A. Hunter's motivation was that Stone had once been a P.O.W. himself; he knew what it was like to starve in a bamboo cage under a scorching sun and the sadism of the guards. Stone's living expenses came from a career as a successful Los Angeles private investigator, but this had become more and more a sideline as the far more meaningful M.I.A. work took up more and more of his time. He was well connected in the international soldier-of-fortune community, and had at his disposal a roster of twenty-seven men, a network of seasoned, battle-savvy mercs like Hog Wiley, the raunchy East Texan, a light-weapons and hand-to-hand combat expert, or Terrance Loughlin, a melancholy ex-S.A.S. commando; the tough-as-nails Britisher was the best demolitions expert for hire anywhere.

BOOK: Cambodian Hellhole
6.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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