My last name is Books. Never liked it. There was once a band called The Books. I’ve never heard their music, though.
Bogus is a Books, too, my father’s eldest brother’s son. They don’t talk, my father and my uncle, although they often use Bogus and me to convey messages to one another: ‘Did you see such and such classmate on the six o’clock news? They indicted him on three counts of—’ or ‘Your son smells like the gutter, you should be ashamed,’ stuff like that. But they haven’t spoken without a proxy for at least half a decade.
One day Bogus and I went down to the VFW hall on the riverbank next to the reassuring cluster of radio antennae. We wore our Scouting uniforms, crisp, freshly laundered, to hear the old men sing, Grandpa Books included. Both our dads were going, too, sitting at tables on opposite ends of the baroquely-columned banquet room, naturally. It didn’t matter that Bogus was in uniform, my uncle would drink and drink and hardly remember the night. He worked as a history teacher at the local Catholic institution, American Penitence Preparatory Academy (APPA). My father was content living off the small trust his mother left him, as he sought to live out his dream of riding in every elevator in the city. He was slowly designing a bunker to be installed beneath our backyard. We were all virtually certain he would never break ground. He stockpiled food, magazines, board games, DVDs in the garage and attic. He was in it for the long haul, he said.
Bogus and I saw our fathers from a distance and chose to ignore them. They did not see either of us—each had plenty going on, women to talk to and drinks in hand. Instead, we approached our grandfather, who sat alone at a table in the very front, watching a video on a peculiarly small laptop.
‘Hello, bitches,’ he said to us as we approached him. We both wrapped our arms around him seated in his chair. ‘Enough, enough,’ he said. ‘It’s good to see you two.’
‘I saw you yesterday, Grandpa,’ Bogus said.
‘Then why’d you hug me like that, you little queen?’ This branch of the family had some cognitive dissonance issues with affection.
‘What are you watching?’ I asked him. ‘Is that Richard Nixon?’ asked Bogus.
‘It’s Ed Sullivan,’ Grandpa Books said.
‘Ed Sullivan? That sure looks like Richard Nixon,’ said Bogus.
‘Nope, that’s Ed Sullivan. In 1967.’
‘Is that you, Grandpa?’ I asked. His younger self stood in the middle of four other men, each clad in all-black tuxedos and top hats. They sang a sort of doo-wop version of ‘Light My Fire.’
He presently raised his eyebrows, a sign of his being impressed to at least some small degree.
‘Good eye, kid. I’m not a looker like that anymore.’
‘Oh, come on, Grandpa, you pull,’ Bogus said.
‘Not like I did on the fair circuit.’
‘But that was 60 years ago, Gramps,’ Bogus said.
‘My point exactly. Hmph.’
Bogus, quickly distracted from this exchange, sighed and tapped my shoulder: ‘Look.’ He pointed back to the entrance and standing there was Mike Gannon—14 years old, Coke bottles on his face, Prime Guardian of Young Defenders Platoon 244, one of the very biggest assholes I knew and ever would know. His ‘junior big-N-tall’ camo fatigues hung from him like a toga.
‘That chubby kid’s been stomping around here all week,’ Grandpa said.
‘To what ends?’ I asked.
‘He was asking around about confirmed kills.’
‘The sick fuck,’ Bogus offered.
‘Did he talk to you?’ I asked.
‘Sure did. I fed him a pack of lies.’ Grandpa was a lifer, he won an Army DSC, had killed scores of men and boys (‘But never a single woman in my life,’ he always said, he seemed certain of this) in Vietnam and elsewhere. ‘Told him I worked for Stars and Stripes, like in that movie. Don’t think he bought it, everyone was laughing so much.’ He was definitely CIA.
‘Oh God, he’s coming over,’ said Bogus. Like a monster movie monster, he seemed to blink across the stained, gaudy carpet right to our table.
‘Hello again, fella,’ said Grandpa.
‘Gannon,’ I said.
‘Dingo,’ he replied.
‘Still making the documentary?’
‘Funding fell through, so that’s on the back-burner for now. I’m making up for lost time, getting the badges I’m missing. Just got the Mogadishu Badge.’
‘Splendid,’ Bogus said.
‘Yeah, it’s pretty cool. Working on my Grenada Badge now.’
‘So why you here, exactly? Nobody here fought there.’
‘Yeah, no, sure, but I’m outlining my Warrior project,’ which was their equivalent to Eagle—just as ours was Armageddon Scout.
‘Isn’t that, like, years away for you?’ ‘You can never start too soon, that’s the first page of the manual. The committee lauds initiative. And some of these guys could keel over any day now, their wisdom lost to the record, sand buried over it all.’
‘So you’re working on…an oral history?’
‘Sure, something like that. I think it’s gonna end up a screenplay, though.’
‘Oh, the movies, huh?’ Grandpa said.
(‘Grandpa, don’t,’ whispered Bogus.)
‘Sure thing, sir. Best way to inform the masses, I think.’
‘Don’t you mean indoctrinate?’ I retorted, and went ignored.
‘Music is the truest path to the soul,’ Grandpa said. ‘Everybody pretends they like tbe movies but no one actually does. Lawrence of Arabia isn’t good for much, a dark room for scoring, maybe. You know I could have been a musician? I toured the world when I wasn’t busy saving it.’
‘You are a musician, Grandpa,’ I said.
‘He’s playing tonight,’ Bogus said.
‘Oh, goody.’ Gannon wriggled his thumbs.
‘You always gonna just pretend, little boy, or you ever gonna do the real thing?’
‘He means enlist,’ Bogus said.
‘He’s fourteen, Grandpa,’ I said.
‘Oh. I have cataracts. And flat feet.’
‘Cataracts? At your age? At age fourteen?’
‘I have many gifts, but also some deficiencies, I’ll be the first to admit. Nevertheless, I’m prepared to stand my ground and give my life to my country, should it ever come to that, should any of those foreigners ever touch down here upon our sacred soil. I drill twice a week after school. I’m the Junior Liaison to the Committee for the Coordination of Local Defense.’
‘I’m not familiar with their work,’ Grandpa said.
‘CCLD? I’ll get you some literature,’ and Gannon reached with both arms into the deepest crevices of his own clothing. ‘It’s somewhere in here.’ Silver coins fell to the floor, along with a copy of Maxim that must have been 20 years old, it had a woman called Shannyn Sossamon on the cover, I’d never heard of her.
‘This is so embarrassing,’ Gannon said.
‘That’s really all right,’ Grandpa said
‘You’re fine,’ Bogus said.
‘I should really get back to the Platoon,’ Gannon said, although there was no sign of any of them here.
‘You do that,’ I said.
‘Dingo.’ He disappeared into the back of the room like a poison gas vacuumed out from the air. ‘What a schmuck!’ said Grandpa. The lights flickered. Most people gave this no mind, as that was typical for the place—for this entire side of town, really—but Grandpa shut his computer, collected himself, and headed backstage. Bogus and I took his table for ourselves. We kicked the coins and the Maxim under our chairs. From multiple tables over we could hear Gannon holding court. ‘CK, God, CK! Crazy that Chris Kyle and confirmed kill, same letters, you know?’ The old men around him gaped in astonishment.
‘Why, that’s true!’
‘I never thought of that.’
‘Meant to be.’
I took a deep breath and tried to work myself down so I could enjoy my Grandpa in his recital. But I knew this: Gannon was the truest enemy I had. I hoped to kill him someday. I hoped to kill him in front of all my fellow End Scouts, in front of all my friends. But they’d only be watching. They’d let me do the killing myself. I’m certain of it.