Billy Joe Ramirez was thinking about his first kill in the tunnels. For some reason, he seemed to be doing that more frequently these days. But it never got old, and it always made him smile.
He was sitting in a corner of a drab Dunkin Donuts on 125th Street in Spanish Harlem, nursing a medium cappuccino while he stared absently at the passing multitudes. He closed his eyes, and he was there…
It had happened during his third trip into the tunnels. Other than the smell of excrement, sweat, and fear there had been no sign of enemy activity during either of the first two missions.
He was point on a three-man squad. As per their training, the number two and three guys were at least 5 yards behind, far enough to not be taken out themselves by any booby-trap or enemy fire. He had been inching along a particularly low and narrow segment on his hands and knees for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably no more than thirty minutes. He had a flashlight in his left hand, but he had decided to keep it turned off to avoid giving away his position. As he kept advancing, the darkness kept increasing such that he was barely able to see the six round M1917 revolver that was gripped tightly in his extended right hand. He was exquisitely aware of three separate sets of sounds: those of his own intermittent, deliberate, dampened movements; the scurrying and slithering of the invisible horde of insects, vermin, and reptiles that seemed to inhabit every surface of the underground channel; and the strangely stimulating thrumming in his temples. He was also acutely focused on listening for any fourth type.
The tunnel made an abrupt and unforeseen sharp left-hand turn. Just as he rounded the corner, he collided with someone coming around from the opposite direction.
He actually heard and felt their skulls make contact. The shock of the sudden encounter caused him to drop both his pistol and his flashlight. He heard a third object hit the tunnel floor. It sounded like metal. He figured that Charlie had probably dropped his gun too.
His army knife was sheathed comfortably on his right side at waist level. Like a gunfighter in the old West, he reached down with his right hand and pulled the knife out in a smooth, fluid motion, He could hear and sense Charlie rummaging furiously around for his weapon. He extended the knife like a sword in front of him and, supporting himself on his left forearm, he lunged forward and arced the knife rapidly up and down several times. The first blow hit only dirt, but the second and third yielded flesh, blood, and screams. He wriggled closer to where he now knew his quarry lay, and kept thrusting the knife furiously back and forth until the sounds and the movements ceased.
After he was sure that it was safe and there were no other enemy combatants nearby, he dragged the body out backwards towards his men. When they eventually lifted the corpse out of the tunnel entrance and turned it over, they saw that it was that of a Vietnamese girl. It was hard to tell because of all the blood and butchery, but she looked to be no more than 20 years old.
Like he said, that story never got old. And it always made him smile.
He opened his eyes, drained his coffee, and slipped anonymously into the crowd outside.