Rick Brooks  Author/Cartoonist


Below is an illustration and a passage from BATTLE LINES UNDRAWN.

Chapter One


     The Oldsmobile was running on fumes, and we nearly coasted into the Mobil station off I-35 just outside of Lamoni.  Chet shut off the ignition and turned to me, “Well, Steve, what’s in the bank?”

     I opened the ashtray and found three dollars and fifty-three cents.  “I think this will get us back to Ames.”  I rolled down the window and handed the money to the gas station attendant.

     In the back seat, Billy Jenkins sat up, rubbing his eyes and wiping saliva from his mouth.  “Are we home yet?”

     “You sound like my kid brother,” Chet said.  “We’ve still got a few hours, and it’s not time to eat yet, so you can go back to dreamland.”

     Jenkins sunk back down into his seat.  I opened the car door.  “I’m going to use the latrine.”

     “Listen to you.  Army talk already, and you don’t report until next week.”  Chet laughed.  “I’ll stay here and guard Sleeping Beauty.”

     I asked the attendant, a high school kid, for the restroom key.

     “It’s hanging behind the counter,” he said, pointing inside. “You fellas look like you been on the road a while.  Where you been?”

     “All over.  Colorado. Arizona.  Even down to Texas.”

     “Man!  That sounds great!”  The kid smiled and stared at the gas nozzle in his hand.  “I wish I could get out of here.  There ain’t nothing here.”

     I nodded and headed for the counter.  Chet Walters, Billy Jenkins, and I had graduated from Ames High School in May.  We had won our district in football, made the state basketball tournament, and been crowned state champs in track.  Chet, our class president, had organized a committee that put together the nicest prom the school had ever seen.  The Class of 1956 had made our school and town proud.

     Now none of that seemed important.  The life ahead of us was large and frightening, and the accomplishments of high school, which had meant everything a few months ago, seemed as insignificant as a playground game of Red Rover.

     I finished my business and got back in the car.  “You ready, Chet, or do you need to use the facilities, too?”

     “I’m fine.  Let’s get this show on the road.”

     We rode in silence for twenty miles.  I tried the radio and got nothing but static.  We were still too far from Des Moines to pick up WHO clearly.  Even if we could, there’d be nothing but farm reports this early in the morning.  I looked at the fields alongside the highway.  Acres of tall Iowa sweet corn flashed by at 60 miles per hour.  They would be ready soon.  Combines would harvest the corn, and eventually it would be blown into the silos rising over the fields like monuments.

     Chet, Billy, and I had been best friends ever since kindergarten.  After graduation, Billy had worked in his parents’ restaurant busing tables and washing dishes.  Chet’s dad, who’s a big cheese with the Department of Transportation, had gotten Chet and me good jobs working on a highway crew.  We had spread tar and shoveled gravel ten hours a day, sweating in the midwestern humidity and heat.  Our wiry bodies thickened, and the sun blistered our skin before baking it brown.  As the summer came to an end, we each put fifty dollars in the ashtray of the 1955 Oldsmobile Holiday Coupe that Chet’s dad had bought him as a graduation present, and we set off on our journey.  We camped in the mountains of Colorado and the deserts of Arizona, and we visited my Uncle Slim’s ranch in the Texas Panhandle.  Now that the money was gone, it was time to return home for a few days before Billy and I left for the army and Chet started college.

     “My old man wonders why you aren’t going to college.” Chet’s voice broke the silence. “Think about it, buddy.  You and I could rule that place just like we ruled high school.”

     “You know I can’t afford it,” I said, looking straight ahead.  “Mom and Dad still have two kids at home once I’m out of the house.”

     “My old man has connections at the college.  He could get you a work study job that would pay your tuition.”  He looked over his shoulder to see that Jenkins was still sleeping.  He continued in a conspiratorial whisper, “The army will be good for Billy-boy.  It beats cleaning dirty dishes for the rest of his life.  But you could do a lot better.”

     “I figure I should go ahead and volunteer before I get drafted.”

     “Just join ROTC the way I am,” Chet said.  “When I graduate I’ll do my military time as an officer with a cushy desk job.  Sure beats going in as a grunt.”

     “I know you have it all figured out, but this is the way I’m doing it.”  I said it in a way that Chet knew I was finished with the discussion.  He shrugged and turned his attention back to the road.

     I didn’t know how to explain to Chet that the last thing I wanted was a cushy desk job.  After twelve years of school, I didn’t look forward to four more.  Maybe I’d go to college someday.  That’s what the G.I. Bill was for.  For now though, I was ready for something important.  Communist demons were ready to destroy America’s way of life, and someone had to stop them. 

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