Desertion In the Time of Vietnam
Desertion In the Time of Vietnam
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  • ISBN-13: 9780618091553
  • ISBN: 0618091556
  • Publication Date:
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Trade & Reference Publishers



Prologue: Waiting for Charlie Nebraska, 1958 Sonny is ten, I am eleven, and we have a plan. We're going to kill Charlie Starkweather. It's almost the end of January 1958. One of those dead cold winter days when there is no snow on the ground and the pale brown grass in the morning bends under a white frost and goes snap-crackle- pop as you walk. The sidewalks are slick with frost, so you can run a few steps and slide, run and slide all the way to school, your breath making little white puffs in the cold blue air. After you run awhile the cold glues your nose shut and you pull your jacket up and breathe inside it, warm secret breaths like under the covers in the morning, when your mother says you have to get up but you burrow down deep under the pillow and try not to think about the way the cold floor is going to feel when it hits your feet. Every time we stop to catch our breath we stand and whisper, making plans for Charlie. The rumor is all over town: Charlie Starkweather is coming to Scottsbluff. To our jail. To our little jail, in our little town. Starkweather and his girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate. Not prowling for kids to kill this time but prisoners now, in handcuffs and leg irons, surrounded by deputy sheriffs and cops. This, we are sure, is a temporary condition. True desperados can't be held in something as small, as fragile, as inconsequential as the Scottsbluff jail. Their escape, the escape that will be on every radio station in America tomorrow, vibrates like death in the air, like an arrow so close you hear it hiss before it bites deep into the bark of a cottonwood tree and sticks there, quivering. If our plan works, Sonny and I will make the front page of every newspaper in America with our pictures under big, black headlines screaming "Hero Kids Foil Starkweather Escape!" The first time we talk about getting our guns, Starkweather and Fugate have already killed ten people, starting with her parents and baby sister in Lincoln and a kid working in a gas station who wouldn't let Charlie buy a stuffed animal for Caril Ann on credit. They're being hunted all across the state and up into Wyoming. Pop has to walk my sisters across the street to church because they're scared Starkweather will get them. Pop was a boxer, a pro with a big right hook. His hands are broken and his nose is bent up and he's almost sixty, but he still knocks people out when they cross him. He's not afraid of Charlie Starkweather or anybody else, so when Pop walks the girls to church we know it's serious. We're scared first and then angry, the way people are when they're frightened. We know as much about Charlie as we know about Superman. He's a nineteen-year-old garbageman and Caril Ann is his fourteen-year-old girlfriend and you spell her name "Caril" with an "i" not "Carol" with an "o." Starkweather is five foot two in cowboy boots and has bright red hair which he combs like James Dean's, and he wears pegged black pants and a leather jacket. He can't see anything without his glasses, which are so thick it looks like his eyes are swimming back there somewhere, goldfish in an aquarium. In our nightmares he's the killer with the Coke-bottle eyes. Charlie Starkweather can't be held in a small-town jail. Anyone can see that. He will bust out with a pistol in each hand and jump in that big shiny black 1956 Packard he stole after he killed the rich guy in Lincoln. The car will be waiting just outside the jail and Starkweather will come flying down West Overland Drive past our house with the cops in hot pursuit, like on Highway Patrol with Broderick Crawford, and we'll be waiting for him. We'Todd, Jack is the author of 'Desertion In the Time of Vietnam', published 2001 under ISBN 9780618091553 and ISBN 0618091556.

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