11 Down

Tom Slater finally had some time to relax. He picked up an old Stars section from the Post Standard and folded it into crisp quarters. He had four minutes to enjoy the last New York Times crossword puzzle he would ever attempt.

A kid from 76th Squad named Winger burst through the door. Winger had run cross country for F-M and had been one of the best in the state when he graduated. Even so, Slater could see the perspiration running down his face and the throbbing veins. This kid had come far and fast.

“Sir. We need help. Quickly. There were hundreds of them. We couldn’t take them all. There were only twelve of us–the 61st, 67th, and us. They sent me back for reinforcements.”

“You were trying to clear the Cicero Walmart?”

“Yes, sir. They got us front on and closed us off from behind when we distracted. The guys from the 61st–Homer, Gomer, Cooter, and Stoner cleared me a path out, but they… I saw Gomer get it.”

“What about other squads in the area?”

“It was just us and the 67th today. It was supposed to be clear. Only the 61st came when we called. Zack was thick and he kept coming.”

It had been at least 25 minutes since Winger left the scene. It would take another forty to get more there. He had only ten squads in reserve. They would not be enough. They wouldn’t get there in time. He knew how it would end. He dispatched Winger to round up the 43rd through 51st squads for a level 3 search and rescue. If Winger was surprised by the level 3—pull out at first danger—he did not show it to the captain.

Slater sat back down at his desk, shaken. He picked up the newspaper again, but his heart wasn’t in it.

11 Down: Tienanmen & My Lai, e.g.

Slater swore loudly, threw the puzzle in the trash, and wished for the first and last time he had never volunteered to stay behind.

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