The worst has happened. Last night, during his night watch shift, Ben packed up his things and left Base Camp. Private Harvey woke up earlier this morning to find a note attached to the mulberry tree with a knife:
As some of you know, I’ve been suffering from a strange illness. Since my first encounter with the giant turtle, I haven’t been feeling like myself. My back has become a huge scab and awful thoughts invaded my dreams at night. I fear for my safety as well as for yours. I refuse to go back to Twenty-nine Palms for further tests and experiments, I’m sorry. Today, I’m leaving behind my friends and the PondPatrol Mission.
Perhaps will meet again,
Ben was absent without official leave (AWOL). Or like we Marines like to call: U.A. (unauthorized absence). Sergeant Palmer was furious. - Did any of you ladies know about this? - he asked angrily. We were just as surprised. I knew Ben was up to something the night before, but I never thought it was going to end up this way. The sarge reported the news to Major Munsch who lost his coolness over the radio. - Alan! How could you let this happen? For crying out loud man, how could you? - the Major screamed through the air waves. Dr. Johnson suggested that a search party should be dispatched, but Sgt. Palmer disagreed: - He’ll be back… He’ll be back soon enough - said the sarge doubtfully. As the day went on, we started to notice that Ben took a lot of stuff with him, including most of the gaze from the medical supply pallet. We woke up today with a radio transmission from our helicopter pilot. - PondPatrol Hotel, this is Little Bird 1, I have special instructions from Mission Control, do you copy? - said Jill through the radio. Roy copied the location of the drop off point and passed the message to the sarge. Within minutes Roy, the sarge and I were driving the Jeep towards the Abrams River. The helicopter landed and the doors opened. Then I saw the seriousness of the situation. The helicopter had brought the Military Police to the Ridge. MP Sgt. Steiger was here. Accompanying him, a tall MP Private, called Lochman, got out of the helicopter handling a German Sheppard search dog. We found out that Major Munsch was not kidding around. He had considered Ben a deserter. - How’s this possible? I asked in shock. The shorter of the two MPs, Sgt. Steiger, replied: Private Kaplan left and remains absent from your unit and his place of duty. By his letter we determined he has no intent to return. That makes him a deserter. No need to wait 30 days. We are here to find him and arrest him. - said the MP sergeant. Roy and I were confused. We stood by the Jeep while the sarge worked out some details with the Military Police. If Ben's disappearance wasn't enough, now he was being charged with desertion. - Dammit Ben - I thought to myself. - We drove back to Base Camp were the MP dog picked up Ben's scent. Sergeant Palmer then instructed Roy and I to follow Sergeant Steiger's orders. With Private Lochman on the lead, we followed the dog down the tall grass heading north. We walked for about 3 miles and stopped by one of the blown up caves close to Camp 1. - Have the dog check out the hole, Lochman. - said Sgt. Steiger. Roy and I just watched. The German Sheppard sniffed around the dead grass for a while. Ben must've been here... - Roy whispered. I elbowed Roy in the ribs in order to quiet him down. Sgt. Steiger picked up his pistol and stood by Private Lochman. - Looks like we're right behind him - said the tall blond while getting the dog to move on. We kept walking. For miles we followed a zigzag pattern, going up and down hills and streams. It was like Ben knew that someone would follow him. We started heading south towards the River again. It's May and another rain shower was approaching the Mulberry Ridge. Sgt. Steiger ordered us to pick up the pace. - We must be 10 minutes behind him. If the rain starts there goes our fresh track. - said Lochman. Ben was smart. In a few hours we arrived at the River bank and the rain started. - I lost it! - yelled Lochman frustrated. Check around those rocks - said Sgt. Steiger. - Nothing! - yelled Lochman again, standing at a wet large rock by the river. The melting snow from the Ridge caused the Abrams River to flow high and relatively fast. The dangerous high water levels and the strong river current made it seem that Ben had been dragged down river. - I hope your friend jumped in the water and drowned. That's what deserters deserve. - said Sgt. Steiger while pointing his finger at me. I became mad. He had no right to say anything like that about Ben. I was infuriated. I was about to attack Sgt. Steiger, but Roy grabbed me and calmed me down. - You touch me son and you're history! - said the PM Sergeant. I could not believe it. - Calm down Harris! There's nothing we can do now. Besides, you're gonna get in trouble. - said Roy quietly. The search ended right then. The rain had stopped and the two PMs started to head back to Base Camp. I went to wash my face by the river and then I noticed a few broken branches upstream. It could've been the Giant Turtle or Ben. I heard Sgt. Steiger yelling for me to get going. I didn't have much time left. I walked passed the broken branches and then I knew Ben was ok. I found a footprint of his boot under the water. I hurried up and met up with the others on the trail. - What are you grinning about Corporal? - asked Sgt. Steiger. - Nothing...nothing at all, Sir! - I replied wiping the smile off my face. Good luck Ben.