To the young Asian, Sam said, "Sir, were hospitable as hell. But generally Philippine military arent served here."
"Luckys from Vietnam," the colonel said.
"Vietnam. You lost?"
"No, not lost," the man said.
"This guy," the colonel said, "is already a jet pilot. Hes a South Viet Nam Air Force captain."
Sam asked the young captain, "Well, is it a war over there, or what? War?budda-budda-budda." He made his two hands into a submachine gun, jerking them in unison. "Yes? No?"
The captain turned from the American, formed the phrases in his mind, practiced them, turned back, and said, "I dont know its war. A lot people are dead."
"Thatll do," the colonel agreed. "That counts."
"What you doing here?"
"Im here for helicopters training," the captain said.
"You dont look hardly old enough for a tricycle," Sam said. "How old are you?"
"Im getting this little Slope his beer. You like San Miguel? You mind that I called you a Slope? Its a bad habit."
"Call him Lucky," the colonel said. "The mans buying, Lucky. Whats your poison?"
The boy frowned and deliberated inside himself mysteriously and said, "I like Lucky Lager."
"And what kind of cigarettes you smoke?" the colonel asked.
"I like the Lucky Strike," he said, and everybody laughed.
Suddenly Sam looked at young Seaman Houston as if just recognizing him and said, "Wheres my rifle?"
For a heartbeat Houston had no idea what he might be talking about. Then he said, "Shit."
"Where is it?" Sam didnt seem terribly interested - just curious.
"Shit," Seaman Houston said. "Ill get it."
He had to go back into the jungle. It was just as hot, and just as damp. All the same animals were making the same noises, and the situation was just as terrible, he was far from the places of his memory, and the navy still had him for two more years, and the President, the President of his country, was still deadbut the monkey was gone. Sams rifle lay in the brush just as hed left it, and the monkey was nowhere. Something had carried it off.
He had expected to be made to see it again; so he was relieved to be walking back to the club without having to look at what hed done. Yet he understood, without much alarm or unease, that he wouldnt be spared this sight forever.
Excerpted from Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson. Copyright © 2007 by Denis Johnson. Published in September 2007 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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