Chapter 5: Johnny Paul Campbell
Johnny Paul Campbell was born into a poor family in the hills of West Virginia. He didn't want to work in the coal mines, so his prospects were about as bleak as freezing rain in February. When he was seventeen, he asked his mother to sign a waiver so he could enlist with the Marine Corps. Now, that was back in 1964, and his mother had said that if he wanted to go off and get himself butchered in some rotting jungle, he would have to wait another year. She certainly wasn't going to sign his death warrant.
One year later, the night before Johnny Paul's eighteenth birthday, his grandfather stopped by with a jug of moonshine. They sat on the front porch and sipped the liquid fire out of mason jars.
"That's a nice burn ... ain't it, Johnny Paul?" his grandfather said.
"It sure is, Papaw."
"Is this your first taste of the water of life?"
"Well, I'm mighty proud to be here for your first taste. God willin', you'll have a grandson of your own one day, and you'll be there for his first sip just as I'm here today for yours."
"I'd like that, Papaw."
"You know, Johnny Paul, us Campbell men always been fighters. It's in us. It's in our blood and in our bones."
"Now, my Papaw died chargin' San Juan Hill in the Spanish American War, and my Pa fought in the first Great War. I was in the second Great War, and your Daddy fought and died over in Korea. Sometimes a man gets called to war, and maybe he dies and maybe he doesn't. Women don't much understand it, and I reckon men don't either. But that's how it is."
"Yes, sir. I see what you mean," Johnny Paul said. They both took a long draw from the moonshine and let it sink in good and deep.
The next morning, Johnny Paul woke up with the taste of corn liquor in his mouth. He walked the six miles into town, met with the recruiter, signed some forms, and within a couple weeks he was at Parris Island, South Carolina. The Marine Corps immediately realized Johnny Paul had exceptional abilities as a soldier, and after a short stint with an infantry unit, he was placed in the sniper training program. He made a damn fine sniper.
They paired him up with a guy from Cincinnati named Robert Kettering. U.S. snipers operate more efficiently when they're paired up -- it's a tried and true formula. One is the shooter, and the other is the spotter. The spotter must keep the shooter up to speed on any number of variables such as target distance, wind direction, and wind velocity. The shooter is then able to process this information and make the necessary adjustments to land a round on the target.
Campbell and Kettering worked well together, forming a highly capable killing machine. Sometimes when they were out on an assignment, they would lie absolutely motionless for hours at a time, melting seamlessly into the background. They crawled like snakes, some days moving only a few meters closer to their target. It was this single-minded focus that made them so lethal.
A group of government scientists selected Campbell and Kettering as subjects in a highly classified, highly experimental procedure. As far as Campbell and Kettering knew, they were simply receiving a series of vaccines. The doctors informed them that another sniper team had caught a nasty bug out in the field, and that's why this precautionary measure was necessary.
They were confined to base for six weeks while undergoing a regiment of daily injections. They were also required to sign a stack of confidentiality papers, swearing them to complete secrecy regarding the procedures. That wasn't an issue, though, because neither of them remembered anything that happened inside the medical facility except for the occasional fragments of bizarre dreams.
The dreams were actually hallucinations caused by high doses of laboratory grade L.S.D. Based solely on anecdotal evidence from the Haight-Ashbury scene, government scientists were exploring something called 'Group Telepathy Phenomena'. According to documented firsthand accounts, some party goers who ingested lysergic acid diethylamide (L.S.D.) acquired the ability to transmit and receive emotions, thoughts, and even visual and audio stimuli between one another. The duration of this phenomenon was said to last anywhere from a few minutes to several days.
It seems odd that the United States military would initiate such an elaborate undertaking based on the far-out tales of a few hippies, but the potential military applications justified the risks. Having troops in the field that could instantly transmit thoughts and visual data across vast distances would give them an exponential strategic advantage. Not to mention that U.S. spies had informed the top brass that the Russians were already conducting research in the field of telepathic communications. There was just no way they could let those commie bastards beat them to the punch.
So, Campbell and Kettering became unwitting guinea pigs in the crazy government experiment. Doctors injected them with a tranquilizer that put them into a hyper-relaxed state of consciousness. Some minutes later, the L.S.D. was administered in liquid form -- one drop under each of their tongues.
The scientists tweaked the doses, and when they felt like they had it just right, they isolated the two soldiers in separate rooms. One scientist showed Campbell a picture of an AK-47. He told Campbell to transmit the image to his partner who was on the other side of the building. Campbell asked if he could have a picture of fried chicken and mashed potatoes instead. Then he pulled the E.E.G. electrodes off his head and lapsed into a hysterical laughing fit.
Meanwhile, another scientist was asking Kettering what image his partner was seeing at that very moment. Kettering asked the scientist if the hippopotamus people were friendly and then went into a rambling monologue about how he was still in love with his ninth-grade English teacher, Miss Clark.
When the top brass read the progress reports, all funding for the project was pulled. Campbell and Kettering were returned to active duty, and soon after, they received another highly classified assignment. They were to cross into Cambodia and find a remote outpost where a French ex-patriot named Fonteyne Laurent was scheduled to rendezvous with several high ranking North Vietnamese officers. The Frenchman was a double agent who was going to sell sensitive U.S. Intelligence to the enemy. Their top priority was to terminate Laurent, and if the opportunity presented itself, they were authorized to take down any of the North Vietnamese officers.
Campbell and Kettering found the location exactly where their intelligence said it would be. By day, they remained motionless in the thick vegetation that surrounded the outpost. Ants and centipedes crawled over their bodies. Mosquitoes feasted on their blood as they stewed in the tropical jungle heat.
On the second day, Kettering said matter-of-factly, "It's fuckin' hot out here."
"What the hell, buddy? We're supposed to be in silent mode," Campbell whispered.
"I didn't say anything," Kettering countered.
"I just heard you say, 'It's fucking hot out here.'"
"I didn't say it," Kettering objected, "I just thought it."
"Then how in holy hell did I hear what you were thinking?" Campbell inquired.
"I don't know. I've been hearing crazy shit since early this morning. At first, I thought it was the heat, but now I know it's not," Kettering confided.
"What have you been hearing?"
"I heard all about what you did with Sally Gale in the bed of your Papaw's pickup truck the day before you left for the Marines," Kettering explained.
"How?" Campbell said.
"I think we can hear each other's thoughts," Kettering said.
"You're crazy as a shithouse rat."
"Maybe I am, but I've not been talking this entire time. I've just been thinking the words, and you've been hearing them clear as day," Kettering said telepathically.
"What in the hell's happenin' here?" Campbell said without saying anything.
"The vaccines," Kettering spoke silently. "They did something to our brains when we were getting vaccinated. I'm sure of it."
"Well, I reckon there's worse things. How much do you know about Sally Gale?"
"I know where her cute little birthmark is."
"I'll be damned."
Campbell and Kettering passed the time by telling the kinds of stories guys tell each other when they're alone ... except, of course, they were speaking telepathically. They talked about pretty cars and fast women, bar fights they had been in, high school football heroics on those long-ago Friday nights, and the big fish that got away. Things like that.
When the sun finally set, they slithered just inside 150 yards of the outpost. The intelligence report had told them that Laurent would most likely be arriving by jeep sometime the next morning. One of the guards in front of the main entrance was smoking. They could see the cherry glowing in the inkiness, and they could smell the tobacco on the breeze.
"This is gonna be a chip shot for you, buddy," Kettering said with his brainwaves.
"Well, it's not the shootin' part that's gonna be tough. It's the gettin' away part that has me worried," Campbell replied, also using his brainwaves.
"Yeah, we're in pretty damn close. There's heavy machine guns and mortars set up all around that place. But this spot gives us the most angles to acquire the target."
"I reckon you're right."
Just after 0900 hours the next morning, Kettering saw a vehicle on the dirt road approaching the outpost. Their man was in the passenger seat, sipping a can of soda pop. The jeep came to a stop at a checkpoint on the outpost's perimeter and then proceeded to drive through the main gate and park. Laurent exited from the passenger side. A man that looked to be a North Vietnamese Captain walked outside to greet him, flanked by armed guards.
"Wind is comin' right to left -- maybe a knot or two," Kettering telepathically initiated the acquisition procedure. "Target is 135 yards out. Shooter ready?"
"Ready," Campbell confirmed telepathically.
The .30-06 round tore through the morning air at 2,910 feet per second, and Laurent dropped instantly. Before anybody could register what had happened, Campbell swung the crosshairs onto the Captain and took him down as well. One of the guards picked up on the muzzle flash of that second shot, and the machine guns opened up on them.
"You did it now, buddy!" Kettering yelled, no longer bothering to use telepathy as he whirled around 180 eighty degrees and took off into the jungle.
"Reckon so!" Campbell yelled back, right on his heels.
Bullets sizzled the water vapor in the air and ripped through the dense foliage. Incoming artillery blossomed all around them, and the earth splashed and rolled as if it were liquid. Kettering fell, and Campbell rushed to get him back on his feet, but he was hurt bad. A piece of shrapnel had cut a Cheshire Cat grin across his neck.
Campbell could feel his friend being swept away into a frothing sea, and the waves churned wildly, carrying him high into morphing clouds and then dropping out from under him, letting him free fall, surging upwards again like liquid mountains to catch him and coddle him in their bubbly warmth.
The wild energy that stirred this strange sea into a frenzy vanished all at once, and the towering peaks and plummeting valleys leveled out into an impossibly smooth plane of glass. Kettering floated on his back and stared upward into a vast unblinking eye. He saw his own image in that dark and incomprehensible pupil. His reflection became grainy, and he felt himself being absorbed into the colossal eye. Then he was part of it, seeing through it, staring down to the bottom of that gentle sea, through the other side of the Earth, through space, through the ages. At the end of everything was a furious tranquility.
Campbell slung his dead buddy over his shoulders in a fireman's carry and hauled ass to the extraction point where a chopper was waiting. When his service to the Marines was done, he went home, married Sally Gale, and took the first job offer he got. It was from a nearby coal mining company that needed a third shift security guard.