Dirty CopperBy Jim Northrup
Fulcrum PublishingCopyright © 2014 Jim Northrup
All rights reserved.
This was going to be a bad one, Luke thought in the first seconds of the ambush. The Marines were in a rice paddy, knee-deep water, ankle-deep mud. The VC were in the tree line about seventy-five meters away, shooting.
The point man of the fifteen-man patrol went down hard. Damn, it was Smithson, thought Luke, while firing his M14 at the Vietcong. Another grunt, Martinez, jerked with the impact of bullets; he went down. The white muzzle flashes told Luke they had at least three automatic weapons. He also saw single-shot rifles winking, he heard bullets snapping by.
The enemy rounds were mostly striking near the front of the column. The second fire team was doing a low crawl to the left, behind the rice paddy dikes. The third team crawled to the right; both were trying to flank the enemy as they got out of the kill zone of the ambush. Luke's two machine guns were firing thirty-round bursts at the Vietcong. The tracers were bouncing in crazy red arcs as they hit. The 3.5 rocket team was shooting Willy Peter and high explosive rounds at the enemy's automatic weapons. Boom, BOOM, boom, BOOM.
Luke — a squad leader at only 20 years old — watched his grunts moving; they had been taught well.
The fire team on the right had it easier because their dike was taller and they could scuttle on hands and knees. The other fire team could only move in team rushes: two men shooting, two men moving, two shooting and two moving, The M79 man was thumping his way down the tree line, marking his trail with 40mm explosions: thump, thump.
The whole thing was happening in slow motion, but Luke was moving at normal speed, crouching and firing his rifle while moving toward the radioman. Bent, as they called Benton, was handing the microphone to Luke.
Luke slid down behind the dike; he saw the green tracers zipping overhead and beside him. Bent rolled over and was again shooting at the Vietcong. Luke got on the radio, the sounds of the ambush fading.
"India, India One, ambush at Checkpoint Two."
"India One, India, gotcha, help's on the way. Need eighty-ones?"
"Yeah, south of Checkpoint Two, will correct."
The noise of the battle returned as Luke sat up and continued shooting at the muzzle flashes as he waited for the spotter round.
With a bang and a whooshing sound the 81mm mortar round slammed into the paddy on the other side of the tree line. For a brief instant the exploding round looked like a white Christmas tree. The burning white phosphorus began sizzling into the water.
"Left fifty, fire for effect!" Luke yelled into the microphone.
The mortar's high explosive shells began arriving with their characteristic sizzle-sizzle-whump, whump sound when they exploded. Great gouts of the tree line were being thrown up in the air, branches were flying, shrapnel was making the pit, pit, and pit sounds as it sliced through the underbrush. The smell of gunfire was in the air. After sixteen mortar rounds, they stopped firing.
The Marines kept shooting, although there were fewer muzzle flashes. Luke could hear his men changing rifle magazines; some were throwing grenades at the tree line, the crack sound of them added to the cacophony.
Six VC broke from the right side of the tree line — the seventh was being carried by one of them. The fire team was waiting, and by now a machine gun had joined them. As soon as the enemy came out into the open, the Marines opened fire. The black-clad bodies seemed to be doing a dance as the bullets hit them. They fell in mid-stride, seven black heaps in the water and mud of the rice paddies. They had almost made it to the dike that would have protected them from the bullets.
The left fire team got up, fixed bayonets, and began assaulting through the tree line. An occasional burst of rifle fire signaled their finds.
"Fire in the hole," was heard just before a grenade cracked inside the tree line.
"India, India One, I need a medevac, throw some ammo on that bird!"
"India One, Roger — on the way."
The firefight was over and Luke ran to check on his wounded Marines.
The first one he came to was Roberto Martinez. No doubt he was dead: one of the rounds had torn a large, jagged hole in his head. The corpsman had put two battle dressings around the wound, but it had continued to bleed. Luke saw more battle dressings on his chest and around his right leg; he noticed the two riflemen from his first fire team were guarding the body. He moved up to Jack Smithson, who had been shot in the neck and through his right arm. The corpsman was tying off the battle dressing around the arm.
Jack was holding a battle dressing tight to his neck — he was still conscious and was trying to smile at Luke. His smile was dreamy looking because he had been given a shot of morphine. It looked like the round had passed through the soft tissue of his neck, didn't hit anything vital.
Luke said, "How you doing, Jack?"
"I got a stiff neck and my arm don't work. Fuck, that's my jacking off hand too."
"Relax, we got a bird on the way, you can learn how to use the other hand at the naval hospital."
"Yeah, round-eyed nurses there."
"I got to check on the rest of the squad. See you later."
"Semper fi," said Jack.
Luke scanned the killing zone and saw the doc working on another Marine on the ground. Luke hadn't noticed him before and felt guilty as he ran to the Marines clustered around the wounded man.
It was Nelson and he was dead. The corpsman had quit working on him.
The dead and wounded were lifted out by chopper; the Marines got more ammo. They continued their patrol but were now headed back to the company perimeter. The toll for the Marines was two dead, five wounded. The enemy body count was ten confirmed kills, four wounded and captured.
The patrol was walking through a village when it happened. Luke was looking in a dark hooch when he saw someone running toward him: the Vietcong had a rifle and bayonet and it was pointing at his guts.
Luke's stomach muscles tightened up against the oncoming triangle-shaped bayonet. Just before the sharpened steel touched him ...
* * *
Luke came back to the real world. His heart was thumping hard enough to be heard. His sweaty face had a sheen to it.
His flashback happened while he was sitting in the front seat of his squad car. Using the radar gun, Luke was trolling for speeders on the two-lane county road.
The '67 Plymouth had decals on the front doors identifying it as belonging to the Carlton County Sheriff's Department. A 383 was under the hood. Two huge revolving red lights sat on the roof, and a spotlight on the driver's side completed the job.
A Motorola two-way radio hung in the dash, a 12 gauge pump shotgun was clamped upright on the passenger side of the bench seat. The shotgun held four double-aught buck shells and was held in place by an electrical lock. A small silver button under the dash activated the lock; two other switches controlled the car's brake and backup lights. There was a nightstick under the front seat. A six-cell flashlight was wedged in the seat cushions.
Luke was wearing a deputy's uniform: a light brown shirt with a gold star on the left side, a brass nameplate above the shirt pocket. He had long, dark brown pants and Wellington boots. Around his waist was his wide leather gun belt. A .38 caliber M&P Smith & Wesson revolver rode on his right hip. He had a can of Mace on the left side, a nightstick ring, and a pouch on the left front held twelve more rounds of pistol ammo. Another pouch on the back of the belt held his chrome-plated handcuffs. In his briefcase lying on the front seat Luke carried two boxes of .38s, two boxes of shotgun shells. He also had an extra pair of handcuffs in there.
In the trunk of the car Luke had a Savage Bolt-Action .30-06; he had fifty rounds for that heavy caliber rifle.
Luke smiled when he thought back to how he came to be sitting in the squad car.CHAPTER 2
It was September of 1967; Luke was twenty-two years old, and had recently been discharged from the Marine Corps after five years' service. He turned down a chance to reenlist for six more years despite the promises that they would teach him Mandarin Chinese at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. He had survived thirteen months of combat and got out as a corporal with an honorable discharge.
He broke up with his longtime girlfriend, Judy, after she said he was drastically changed after the war. They didn't fight; she just said Luke wasn't there anymore. Luke was just numb, no feelings. He was working construction jobs because he liked working outside. Construction paid better than factory jobs anyway.
One evening Luke got a long-distance phone call from his maa. The call was collect, but Luke didn't mind paying for it because he was working and his mother wasn't. Alice Warmwater said, "The sheriff stopped by, looking for you."
"I didn't do anything, maybe drinking too much but nothing illegal."
"No, he wants to hire you; he got some of that LBJ poverty money and wants you as a deputy."
"Uh-huh," replied Luke.
"Think about it and give him a call."
"Aaniin dash in the brush?" Luke asked, falling easily into the old habit of Ojibberish, the mix of English and Ojibwe.
"Not much — a couple of funerals, a couple of babies born. We had a good sugar bush, the kids are okay. My dad's dance is next week."
"I can come home for that," Luke promised.
"Think about that deputy thing, it would be good for you to live here."
"I miss the little town of Sawyer since Judy and I broke up."
"Too bad, but she didn't really fit in. She laughed too much or not enough or at the wrong time."
"It wasn't her fault she was raised white. She said I was too different after the war, said I wasn't the Luke she knew."
"You will find a new girlfriend," she said. "More and more guys from the Rez are going to Vietnam; your brother Wabegan wants to go."
"No more for me, thanks. Tell Wabegan gego — don't," Luke said, while spitting out a short laugh.
"Call the sheriff, and oh, yeah — watch that drinking shit."
"Yeah, I'm tired of Portsmouth, Ohio, anyway."
"Come home, then," she said.
"Okay, Maa, see you next time."
"Or the time after next," she replied.
* * *
The following week Luke drove home to Sawyer. He greeted his maa and dad.
"You can have the couch all to yourself while you're here," Maa said.
Luke laughed as he saw his maa cooking food to help out for her dad's dance. This was a big event in the little village of Sawyer. They had only two of these ceremonies a year.
His grandfather had rented a large tent for the doings. The bright colors told Luke this tent had once been part of a carnival somewhere. Since he was young, strong, and had experience in erecting shelters and tents in Vietnam, Luke helped raise it. Indians were arriving from all nearby Reservations. There was a lot of laughter as the people began visiting, and a lot of what was said was in Ojibwe. Luke understood quite a bit but was hesitant about speaking it. He vividly remembered being punished for using Ojibwe words when he was in Pipestone, the federal boarding school. When someone spoke to him in Ojibwe he answered in English.
Luke wanted to feel the drum beating against his chest again. As he settled into his chair to watch the proceedings, he saw two young women come in. Luke knew they weren't from this Rez, so he went up and introduced himself.
"Boozhoo, I'm Luke Warmwater, welcome to Sawyer." He shook hands with both of them. Right away he preferred looking and talking to the bolder one of the two, who said, "I'm Carrie East from Grand Portage. I go to University of Wisconsin — Superior. We heard about this dance." Pointing the woman next to her, Carrie said, "She is my friend from school — this is Meganikwe Brown from the Bad River Reservation in Wisconsin."
"Carrie East, isn't your last name Meeback?" Luke asked.
She laughed and said, "Nope, it's East," pointing with her lips in an easterly direction. Instantly Luke wanted to kiss those lips.
Luke said, "Let's talk some more when it's time to eat. I'll save you a couple of seats."
"Mii gwech," said Carrie. She looked down and saw he wasn't wearing a wedding ring. Who is this guy? she thought.
The singers began on the drum. Different ones got up and danced, but most just stayed in the circle of chairs and benches around the drum. The strong drumbeat reached everyone; old ladies would frequently stand up and dance in place, then sit back down. Luke knew these were members of the drum.
Every time he looked at Carrie across the tent, she was looking at him and smiling. And each time she looked at him she saw him looking at her. His big grin told her all she needed to know.
When it was time for the evening meal Luke met the two women at the table. The food was in the middle; the meal had been prepared by the women in the community. Luke and his two new friends ate wild rice, fry bread, deer, moose, and rabbit. They continued visiting, and Luke asked Carrie if he could see her again. She smiled yes.
After the dance Luke went home. He saw his maa washing dishes in the kitchen. He sat at the table and said, "I think I met someone."
"I know, I saw you two throwing eyes at each other all night."
"Her name is Carrie East. She's from Grand Portage."
"Who was her friend?"
"Meganikwe Brown from Bad River. I'm going to meet Carrie next week."
"Okay, Mr. Romance, don't forget to call the sheriff about becoming a deputy."
* * *
Luke and Carrie went out to eat and made plans to meet again and again. Luke told her of his plans to become a deputy. He told her he had to call Sheriff Johnson the next day.
Luke remembered the call and that meeting with the sheriff. They met in the sheriff's office in Carlton.
Ralph Johnson was the elected sheriff. He had been the chief deputy when Luke left for boot camp some years back. Ralph was in his late thirties, and Luke knew him from when he was growing up on the Rez.
They drank coffee together as they talked about the sheriff's job offer.
"I'd like you to join the sheriff's department, and become a sworn deputy of mine," said Ralph. "Interested?"
"Could be. I was a military policeman for a year and a half before I went to Vietnam," replied Luke. "I liked that work; tell me about this job."
"The duties are to enforce the state law in this county — we're sometimes called to assist nearby counties because we have mutual aid agreements. There are about twenty-eight thousand people in the county.
"We have six other deputies — four on the road, one deputy who handles civil affairs like subpoenas, and one chief deputy. Then, we have three jailers who also dispatch the squad cars. The city of Cloquet has ten sworn police officers, and there are two Minnesota state highway patrolmen who mostly work in this county. Questions about any of this?"
"No, but I always thought there were more deputies than that," said Luke.
"Well, we have a group of volunteers called the Rescue Squad, about twenty of them, and they help out with traffic control, searches, and sometimes they ride with the deputies on patrol."
"I see, and where would I fit in?"
"We'd like you to be a road deputy, but you'd start off working with the jailers — you'd learn how the jail operates, what logs are kept, how to dispatch the squad cars. Calls come in on the phone or radio, you log all of your activities. I'd like you to start once we get your uniforms and equipment. We provide your gun belt and everything you need, including handcuffs, a nightstick, a thirty-eight caliber pistol, ammunition and keys — the keys will fit the back door of the jail — squad-car keys, handcuff keys, and a key for the cabinet that holds all of the keys you'll need.
"We have a contract with a clothing store in Duluth where you'll get measured for your uniforms. Go down there tomorrow morning and they'll have your uniforms ready the following day. What do you say?"
"I think yes, Sheriff Johnson."
"Excellent. I'm glad to have you as a deputy, Luke. You'll meet the other employees of the sheriff's department in the next couple of days."
(Continues...)Excerpted from Dirty Copper by Jim Northrup. Copyright © 2014 Jim Northrup. Excerpted by permission of Fulcrum Publishing.
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