"You want to die, GI?" Her bullets showered the doorway. Both of us crashed to the floor. The light goes out. Neither of us wanted to die in that sweltering hole. A tear fell on my fist. I hurled her against the wall.
This isn't the text of "Gunfight at Fort Hustler," in the August issue of Soldier of Fortune (The Journal of Professional Adventurers). No, no, no. These are just the subheads for the text, subheads being those little boldface phrases editors throw in to break up type, as in: Reilly's bullets hit his face
The text is even better. "At first, her eyes were wide with terror, but then she closed them, as though submitting her fate to my hands."
And so on. You get the idea. So do 150,000 readers a month, according to editor/publisher Robert K. Brown, who adds: "That's not an audited figure. If they don't believe my figures, f--- 'em."
Brown, who admits to "a weakness for blondes," and a yen "for one more war," is sprawled in a hotel armchair in Levis, cowboy boots and a black-faced watch he wears on the inside of his wrist. He is 47, this hombre, and he's here in Washington to point out, at a press conference he called on Capitol Hill, that his staff has scored some intelligence coups in Afghanistan, retrieving four Russian bullets, a gadget from an armored personnel carrier and an incendiary device Brown calls a "fire stick." Adding: "Score: Soldier of Fortune, one -- CIA, zero." Viscid, beige matter
Now, in the hotel room, Brown reaches for a cocktail glass into which he spits a viscid, beige matter generated by the wad of snuff he has dipped from a canister with lid reading "Soldier of Fortune." He has a froth of gray hair he combs forward over a bald spot. He has two scars on his right jaw from a rocket attack 22 clicks west of An Loc. He talks as if he's trying to make his mouth look slightly smaller than it is.
Once, you understand -- for eight months in Vietnam as an Army Special Forces captain -- he was more than the man who would be king. He was the king. But that's another story. (Besides, "I don't have a king complex," he says.) Just now, he's the only pulisher to start a successful male adventure magazine since the war in Vietnam. His Chinese concubine
"About 17 percent of our readership is in law enforcement, and 50 percent are either Vietnam veterans or on active duty."
It's suggested that another contingent of the readership might well be the people who buy 12-gauge riot guns with folding stocks, H&K assault rifles with 10,000 rounds of ammunition, boot knives, "Death From Above" paratrooper T-shirts, commando wallets, nunchaku sticks, Nazi belt buckles, garrotes, wiretap devices, blowguns ("silent -- like a whisper on the wind . . .") and all the other stuff advertised in the magazine.
"That's probably accurate," Brown says. "The average man feels he has no way of influencing policy. They worry about economic collapse and international disorder. They become frustrated and fearful."
And they read Soldier of Fortune.
"It's an adventure magazine. Okay, you get into this Walter Mitty thing. Well, what's a Walter Mitty? Military? Ex-military? It's like the old Argosy, the old True. It always intrigued me where they went wrong -- all those male adventure magazines, Saga or Bluebook, male this and male that. You had Lt. John Smith with his Chinese concubine sinking the Japanese navy . . ." (He spits again, with the wary intensity of a dental patient.) Rounds cracking overhead
But World War II got old. And nobody believed that concubine stuff in an age in which you could watch real firefights on the evening news. So in 1974 Brown started Soldier of Fortune in Boulder, Colo. He had a new twist. This wasn't a magazine to cater to the grimy nostalgias of aging vets. tThis was a trade journal for "professional adventurers," the assumption being that the readers were, in fact, the same people that the other guns 'n' guts magazines wrote about.
Brown ran endless copy on southern Africa, with Rhodesia getting biggest play. Nearly every issue would have a lock back at Vietnam, too. Plus all kinds of helpful hints on combat markmanship, hand-to-hand fighting and other mayhem. He even managed to finally get himself into a firefight in Rhodesia, as described in the August issue.
"As the first AK rounds crack overhead, I come to a micro-second conclusion: corn stubble makes a lousy cover . . . What the hell am I doing here? And not even getting combat pay" Very simple. I'd been trying to get a shot at some terrs [terrorists] during five trips to Rhodesia over the last six years."
True facts! That's the claim. Some guy in New York isn't reaching around a potbelly and a cigar to type out this thing as a fantasy. But fantasy wasn't the problem.
Daniel Gearhart was the problem. In 1976, Gearhart, a former Marine from Kensington, Md., answered an ad in Brown's magazine. He wanted to be a mercenary in Angola. He got there, but he never got a chance to fire his weapon, and he had a wife and four children, he told the Angolan court that sentenced him to death by firing squad.
"People accuse us of being responsible for recruiting 75 percent of the American mercenaries in Rhodesia, too," Brown says. "We don't recruit them. We just run the ads." He also runs ads that promise to show you how to turn a semiautomatic weapon into a machine gun. But: "We don't show them. In fact we insist on the warnings that go with the ads, to check with your local branch of the Bureau of Alchohol, Tobacco and Firearms before converting your Thompson .45 to full automatic" (choice of 650 or 1,200 rounds per minute).
And isn't Brown romanticizing war?
"I could put out a magazine saying how sh--- it is, but nobody would buy it."
And what about that Fort Hustler story? Maybe it's their Vietnam story for the issue, but isn't it right out of the old Chinese concubine mold?
"The author is a good writer," Brown says. He spits.
But how about stuff like "Her full breasts swayed lightly beneath the dark fabric . . ." It doesn't sound much like regulation Vietnamese anatomy. d
"Some of the girls had operations, those implants they get."
It's an interesting notion, the Viet Cong spending money for breast augmentation but . . . Sweaty palms, dry mouths
Brown himself started the magazine after a 20-year flirtation with the Army. He's the son of an Indiana steel-mill foreman who got an Army commission after graduating from the University of Colorado in 1954.
"I got out in 1957 and went to work on a master's degree. I did odd jobs. I worked as a logger, a hard-rock miner, a ranch hand, an armored car guard, a trail crew foreman . . . I got tied up with the Cuban revolution. I picketed against our sending arms to Batista, and silly s--- like that. In '58 I went down there to join Castro but I didn't have the right connections."
In 1963, he broke up with his wife and ran out of money. He went back to active duty for the "advanced" course at Fort Benning, Ga., "the longest course I could find." (He spits.) Then jump school. Then back to civilian life, a mail-order publishing scheme, and then, in 1967, active duty. Vietnam.
"I was an A-team commander with the Special Forces. It was very rewarding to me; the capabilities I had were used to the utmost. I had 1,000 people under me, our own troops. Vietnamese and the Montagnard mercenaries with their dependents. I was minister of defense, minister of health, education and welfare, marriage counselor, superintendent of roads."
He was king. He was in a half-dozen firefights, he says. Nothing heavy, though he did get wounded. He never killed anybody that he knows of. He says he's got one more war in him. "I had a chance to go to Oman in 1976, but I didn't like it. I'm not that much of a warlover that I'm gonna go anyplace. And I'm not gonna go and be a f---g rifleman. I'd like a command. I'd like an A-team again."
Right now, a magazine will have to do. The funny thing about these articles is that, except for the very brief firefight in Rhodesia, all the accounts of current adventures in the August issues . . . well, there are lots of sweaty palms, dry mouths, hearts pounding. There's even a "night black as Ho Chi Minh's heart." But nothing much happens.
"'Sorry we couldn't show you some action,' the commanding officer said."
And: "Two-five . . . negative! Do not -- repeat -- do not fire . . . out."
And: "Debay wants to charge into the contact, but we have no radio . . ."
Alas. These stories are to war what coitus interruptus is to love.
Then again, we can always snuggle up the to the Fort Hustler story:
"I was moved as one can only be moved by a woman crying in her sleep . . . She awoke to reaity lying flat on her back . . . my right hand bracing the pistol up against her forehead . . . As they placed her in one of the police jeeps, she looked back at me one final time and I could see that she was trying very hard not to cry."
Ah love. Ah war. And, of course, in both not only is everything fair, but coitus interruptus means never having to say you're sorry. Ah, soldiers of fortune.