cover of book DragonBait by Robert Flanagan
The ASA Trilogy: Book II

Dragon Bait

Based on the author's first-hand experience, Dragon Bait is a fictional account of the Viet Nam War and other diverse worldwide locations experiences of the soldiers of the U.S. Army Security Agency (ASA), an intelligence entity that no longer exists. It is the second volume of a planned trilogy.

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From “FTA,” chapter 3 of Dragon Bait, Book II in The ASA Trilogy.
This scene is set in Asmara, Eritrea (Ethiopia): 1960-1961

The long rainy season was past, the little wet three months away.  Banks of clouds, mere false threats, hovered along the escarpment rim.  Where the plateau crumbled away toward the flats about Zula—becoming in one final, half-serious effort the shores of the Red Sea—the threat seemed imminent.  But it had not rained for days.  The ditch was dry where the soldier lay.

You wanna get up, Mac” Winter called.

"Naw, he don’t.  Can’t you tell when a man’s in his element?”  Harry Spruance spoke with a firmness grounded in experience.

"Get up, Mac!"

"Leave ’im alone.  Least he ain’t pukin’ in the squadbay.”

"We can’t leave him out here.  First Sergeant’ll have his ass.  And the goats’ll eat his clothes.”

The myth of the voracious goats—ubiquitous, omnipresent when least desired—was learned early-on during a tour in Asmara, and never forgotten.  No one dared ignore the sad tale of  Sergeant DeMaione.

“You got a terminal case of empathy, Dave.  Or just plain dumbass.  Goat wouldn’t touch Ratty Mac’s clothes, doncha know.  Anyhow, didn’t you never see ’im like this before?  Hell, he looks natural in goat shit.”

The object of this early morning discourse moved in halting mimicry of a live being, one hand clawing feebly at the dry, red soil in the streetside drainage ditch.  Tiny puffs of dust arose from his efforts. like vapor from a miniature volcano rising from a fissure in the earth’s bowels.  His fingers twitched in spasm, clutching at something present only in his muddled mind.  The twitch reminded Winter of a pianist’s finger exercises.

“Get up, you silly shit.  Day Trick’s making formation.  Bus’ll be here soon.”

There was a desperate, almost disbelieving quality to Winter’s urging.

“Jesus, Dave, ain’t you got no sense of propriety?  Man’s found a fuckin’ home.  Leave him be,” Spruance insisted.  He probed a boot into the scrabble at the roadside, nudging loose pebbles and dirt in a small avalanche that cascaded into the ditch. 

Winter heard a whoop and looked up.  Teklai stood on the third floor balcony of Operations Company barracks with two other houseboys.  The three of them were laughing and pointing, chattering in what served them as language.

“Hell, Harry.  He’s disgracing us in front of the goddamned Ethis.  Let’s get him out of there.” 

Harry Spruance’s disdain was clear.  “Teklai’s been in the ditches,” he said.  Winter was too new at Kagnew Station to credit the non sequitur. 

Ratty Mac flailed at the sides of the ditch, going down for the third time.  Waves of red dust closed over his sinking body until he became suddenly still.

“Who’s that?” rose from the peremptory grave.

“Get up, Mac.  It’s Dave Winter.  Give me your hand.”

“You can’t drink for shit, Mac,” Spruance scoffed.

“Harr-r-ry?  That you?”  Ratty Mac turned his head grotesquely far in an arc toward the sound, burrowing his nose into dust and rock chips.  “Where am I?”

“In front of the company.  Get up outta the ditch, Mac.”

“Yeah.  Near the company.  Missed by tha-a-a-t much,” Spruance chided, holding his thumb and forefinger a quarter-inch apart before Mac’s unseeing eyes.  Harry held no brief for losers, and he would cut Ratty Mac no more slack now than he would in a poker game in Club 31.

MacGantree had struggled onto his back, and his hands pawed pitifully, futilely at the high, fast-moving clouds that would be over Somalia in an hour.

“Harry . . . Dave!  Are my eyes open?” he croaked.

“No, you simple asshole.  You’re drunk.”

“Thank God,” the prostrate soldier said, shuddering deeply.  “I thought I was blind.”

There was a screech of brakes behind them in the street, the sound a worn, tired alarm.  Spruance and Winter turned to watch the Military Police advancing on the ditch.