“If that’s what Fallujah is, then what’s the band with all the Mexican kids in it?”
“Fine, so you’re following orders. That still doesn’t explain the llama.”
“I send you out looking for WMDs and you always come back with hoagies instead.”
“This is my rifle, this is my gun. This one’s for … Wait a second, I always mess this up. Which one’s for fighting and which one’s for fun?”
“You can call it torture, but to me it just feels like getting to third base.”
… and Beetle looked closely at the butt of his rifle. It entranced him: the blood dripped languidly from the wood, as if from a cracked gutter after a gentle spring rain. Sarge lay crumpled on the mess-hall floor, with one of his boots thrown to the side, revealing a rancid sock, infested with holes. Beetle’s sanguine dreams throbbed throughout his lank body, and opened him up to memories. It had been so long since he had remembered anything. There was Penny, probably still at home, but no longer a fit of giggles in the back of his coupe. A woman now. A lady, with dreams of her own. Hardington Creek, with its cold shock of water spilling through his childhood. He could feel it in his spine, just as he did in those days of truancy and hope. The Jigger, a castle of penny candies and gleaming silver soda fountains. His seat there, second from the left, perhaps it missed Beetle the most. And Mr. McCarson, attached to the counter, stirring his Postum and looking down at Beetle, who was fresh from the recruiter’s office. “It’s hell, kid, or the closest thing to it on this earth,” he told the boy. And Beetle just smiled and shot the man a friendly salute. Mr. McCarson had been “over there” and, as Beetle’s father would remind him, had left a bit of himself “over there,” too. As the memories emerged from their cocoon, Beetle focused on what Mr. McCarson had said. Hell? Hardly. This was like anything in life that matters. It was both ripe and rotten, an embarrassment of potential. Beetle hovered over Sarge’s body and traced the man’s outline on the floor with the tip of his boot, until he came upon the pool of blood. Like a string of Morse code, the flicker of the florescent lights tapped out a reflection of Beetle’s face in the pool. It was the face of a soldier, true. But it was something else, too. It was the face of the future.
“Really? The clap? From Otto?”