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Tony Hillerman

Finding Moon

AN APOLOGY, ACKNOWLEDGMENTS, DENIAL, AND DEDICATION

To my fellow desert rats, my apologies for wandering away from our beloved Navajo canyon country. The next book will bring Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn of the Tribal Police back into action.

I acknowledge the help of Professor Jack M. Potter, University of California anthropologist and author of Wind, Water, Bones and Souls: The Religious World of the Cantonese Peasant, and of Bernard St. Germain and Rick Ambrose, who patrolled the Mekong in the Brown Water Navy. Thanks, too, to Sgt. Chris Hidalgo of the New Mexico National Guard for familiarizing me with a vintage armored personnel carrier. Finally, thanks to my friend and cardiologist, Neal Shadoff, for helping my fictional physicians sound genuine.

The denial: While former members of C Company, 410 Infantry, will recognize some of the names herein as those of our fellow grunts, I have borrowed only the names of these old friends and not their personalities. All characters herein are fictional.

This work is dedicated to the men of C Company and to all those who earned the right to wear the Combat Infantry Badge.

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia, April 12 (Agence France-Presse)-The United States abandoned its embassy here this morning, with six helicopters sweeping into the embassy grounds to evacuate the ambassador and his remaining staff.

The action came as the last resistance of the Cambodian Army collapsed and Khmer Rouge troops poured into the capital, many of them riding on captured tanks and trucks.

The First Day

April 12, 1975

SHIRLEY WAS GIVING MOON the caller-on-hold signal when he came through the newsroom door. He acknowledged Shirley with the I’ll-call-’em-back signal, threw his hat on the copy desk, sat down, and looked at D. W. Hubbell.

“Nothing much,” Hubbell said. “AP has an early tornado in Arkansas. Pretty mediocre, but it could get better. Things are still going to hell in Nam, and Ford has a press conference scheduled for eleven Washington time, and Kissinger issued a statement, and General Motors-”

“What did Henry say?”

Hubbell did not bother to look up from his duties, which at the moment involved chopping copy from the teletype machine into individual stories and sorting them into trays. The trays were variously labeled PAGE ONE, SPORTS, FEATURES, FUNNY, SOB STUFF, and PIG IRON-the pig iron being what Hubbell considered “seriously dull stuff that the League of Women Voters reads.”

Hubbell said, “What did Henry say? Let’s see.” He glanced at the top item in the PIG IRON file. “Henry said that Dick Nixon was correct in declaring we had won the war in Southeast Asia. He said the North Viets were just too stubborn to understand that, and the press was playing up the current setbacks to make it look like a disaster, and it was going to be the fault of the Congress for not sending more money, and anyway don’t blame Kissinger. Words to that effect.”

“What looks good for the play story?” Moon asked, and sorted quickly through the FRONT PAGE tray. The United States seemed to be evacuating the embassy at Phnom Penh. Moon saved that one. The new president of South Vietnam, something-or-other Thieu, was picking a fight-to-the-death bunch for his cabinet. Moon discarded it. A bill to put a price ceiling on domestic oil production was up for a vote in a Senate committee. That was weak but a possibility. The South Viets were claiming a resounding victory at Xuan Loc, wherever that was. He tossed that one too. Senator Humphrey declared that we should establish a separate U.S. Department of Education. There’d be some interest in that. The Durance County Commissioners had moved the road to the ski basin up a notch on the priority list. Most of the 28,000 subscribers the paper claimed would be interested in that one. And then there was a colorful, gruesome feature on the plight of refugees pouring into Saigon from points north.

It was good human interest stuff, but even as he read it Moon was conscious of how quickly these accounts of tragedy from Vietnam had become merely filler-like the comics and Ann Landers and the crossword puzzle. A few years ago they had been personal. Then he’d searched through the news for references to Ricky’s Air Mobile brigade; for actions using helicopters, for anything involving the Da Nang sector where Ricky’s maintenance company was stationed. But since Ricky resigned his commission in 1968, Ricky had been out of it. And since 1973 the United States of America was also out of it. What was left of the war was a distant abstraction. As Hubbell had described it once, “Just another case of our gooks killing their gooks.” In the press across America, and in the Morning Press-Register of Durance, Colorado, the war was no longer page one.

But it was still page one sometimes at the Press-Register-until last month. Ricky was still in Nam, a player on the sidelines. That made Moon interested and made him think the Press- Register’s readers would also be. Now Ricky was dead, no longer running R. M. Air and fixing helicopters for the Army of the Republic of Vietnam just as he had fixed them for the U.S. Army. Probably the same copters, in fact. But as Ricky had said in one of his rare letters, he was “getting a hell of a lot more money and a hell of a lot less aggravation from division headquarters.” There was a kickback to ARVN brass, but Ricky considered that “the equivalent of an income tax.”

Ricky had said more. He had said, Come and join me, big brother. Come and join the team. Join the fun. It would be like old times. He’d said, South Nam is going under, and fast. Soon there’ll be no more fat contracts from ARVN, but there will still be plenty of need for what R. M. Air can offer. Help me get this outfit ready for the change. And he’d said (Moon remembered the exact words), “R. M. Air is no good for slogans. We’ll rename it M. R. Air, for Moon and Rick, and call it Mister Air. I’ll do the business, you keep the engines running. Come on. With all that money she’s married to now, Mom doesn’t need you anymore. But I do.”

Which was just Ricky buttering him up. Their mother had never needed him. Victoria Mathias wasn’t a woman who needed people. And neither did Ricky. But bullshit or not, Moon had enjoyed thinking about making the move, even while he was wondering why Ricky had invited him. But he had never answered the letter. There hadn’t been time.

“That Arkansas twister is looking better, Hubbell said, inspecting the copy now emerging from the teletype. “The new lead says they got thirteen dead now.” He waved the paper at Moon, looking mildly pleased with himself.

“It’s still a long ways to Arkansas,” Moon said. “Doesn’t the city desk have anything better than the ski basin road yarn?”

Hubbell described the local news menu without enthusiasm. A one-fatality car-truck collision, vandalism at an elementary school, a roundup on candidates in an upcoming city council election. Hubbell yawned and waved away the rest of it.

Moon picked up his stack of Please Call slips. The top one was from Debbie: Call me right away. It’s an emergency. Debbie’s emergencies tended to such matters as being out of fingernail polish. This one probably had something to do with reminding him of her birthday, which was tomorrow. But he dialed her office number. Her answering machine kicked in, her sweet voice inviting him to leave a message.

“Debbie, how about-” he began. But Shirley was bearing down on him, and Shirley did not approve of Debbie. “I’m at the paper,” he said. “I’ll call later.”

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