Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Rendezvous by Nelson DeMille

“Rendezvous” by Nelson DeMille, Dangerous Women Edited by Otto Penzler, Mysterious Press, Trade Paperback, $13.95

I’ve always enjoyed Nelson DeMille’s books, so I couldn’t wait to read this story. According to Penzler this is his first short story in 25 years.

The place is Vietnam, not long before we pulled out. The main character is an American infantry lieutenant on the last mission of his tour leading a ten-man Lurp (Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol). These guys spend two weeks out in Indian Country sneaky-footing it around counting enemy noses, hopefully without being seen or heard.

About ten days into the mission they come across an area that had been hit by a napalm strike. The place is littered with incinerated vehicles and crispy critters, human remains. They are supposed to count the vehicles and bodies. The problem is, the napalm strike destroyed all the cover; they are exposed. Suddenly both radiomen go down, without a sound. Sniper! Snipers are particularly nasty, because you never know where they are or who’s going to be the next target.

Both radios are destroyed. One round each took out the radios and severed the spines of the men carrying them. The lieutenant is puzzled because snipers usually like to take out the leadership first. Snipers also like to play mind games with their targets.

Now the patrol has no way to contact their command, so the lieutenant decides to make for one of the pickup points, Rendezvous Alpha, prearranged for just such an eventuality. Alpha is three days away from their present position. Along the way the sniper keeps knocking off two men at a time. The lieutenant gets a glimpse of this sniper on two occasions. It’s a young woman.

She keeps whittling away at the team until there is just the lieutenant and a sergeant left as they approach Rendezvous Alpha. The lieutenant thinks she is going to let one of them live to go back and tell the story. More mind games. But he doesn’t know which one. Then the choppers show up. It looks like they might both get out after all. Or not.

For a man that hasn’t written a short story in 25 years, DeMille does a terrific job. Characterization and description are bang on. The two scenes where the lieutenant is able to see the sniper are not to be missed.

In short, exciting.