Joker survives to patrol out from Khe Sanh Combat Base. He shoots his squad leader dead when a sniper wounds Cowboy as bait.
I laugh and laugh. The squad freezes with fear because the sniper is laughing with me. The sniper and I are laughing together and we know that sooner or later the squad will be laughing too.
Joker is still laughing when his next novel begins. Across the wire at Khe Sanh he is calling out the Phantom Blooper, the legendary white Viet Cong.
Captured, Joker himself makes friends with the Vietnamese communists. Rescued and discharged he flees Alabama toward the liberated zone.
The only time I ever felt like I was being what an American should be and doing what an American should be doing was when I was a prisoner of the Viet Cong. I could be real there. I could be myself.
We never see Joker again. Gus Hasford died nineteen years ago this Sunday from diabetes then organ failure achieved with hamburgers, milk, cola and beer.
He lived in his car in Los Angeles while writing porn and developing The Short Timers in science fiction circles. He worked on its movie, published The Phantom Blooper, then started a hard-boiled series about a Marine who deals in books from the Old West.
It is a typical California twilight, clear, perfect, and balmy. You can smell sea air and pizza. White-clad window washers on scaffolds are lowering themselves down the face of the monstrous Tomb of the Unknown Veteran they call the Federal Building, a bald concrete monolith overlooking a veterans’ cemetery which extends to the horizon.
David A. Willson thinks that The Short-Timers is the great Viet Nam war novel. David doesn’t read them in French or Vietnamese but no one else will read more in English.