I’d lost something indefinable, aside from my illegally promoted scout sergeant. I’d lost something like a loyal friend, but it was deeper than that. I moved through the jungle, low and almost on full automatic. How had the young black man eaten his way into my very being? Had it been the innocent acceptance of any plan I came up with, as long as it had an interesting name? Had it been his willingness to do any job assigned without complaint or comment?

I went down at the sound of gunfire just ahead, and to my right. Over toward the river. But I had seen nothing, not even the flaring brightness of tracer fire or muzzle flashes. I waited a full five minutes, with Fusner and Nguyen at my sides, hunkered down flat, the same way I was. We got up, almost as if there had been some signal, but there’d been none.