The first time he called he told me this whole long story about meeting me at a party and seeing me in the library and being in the same English class as my roommate Piper. By then I was too embarrassed to tell him I didn’t know who the hell he was, so I said, yeah, sure, lunch would be fine.
When I interrogated Piper about him, she said, “Michael Wedlan? Oh yeah. Real cute. Real smart. Nice guy. But not your type.”
“Why isn’t my type cute, smart, and nice?” I asked.
“I think Michael was in Vietnam,” she said. “All his English compositions are about jungles and mutilated bodies.”
“Oh,” I said, the corners of my mouth grimacing downward. “Not my type.”
It was 1972, and in the interest of school spirit, I’d done my share of protest marching and candle lighting and banner drawing,
but I could never quite work myself into the proper frenzy. I descended from a long line of mild-mannered, extremely pleasant people who, having successfully escaped the pogroms of Czarist Russia, promptly dedicated their lives to avoiding anything smacking of politics. Other students were so passionate about hating Vietnam. But I didn’t want to hate anyone. I was having a good time.
Michael suggested we meet at the YMCA cafeteria. In my three years at the University of Illinois I had dined in many of the finer culinary establishments in town—Burger King, Steak ’n Shake, the dorm—but never the YMCA. I stood in front of the TODAY’S SPECIAL: CREAM OF MUSHROOM sign, surrounded by sounds of scraping chairs and clinking silverware, waiting for someone who might have been a soldier in Vietnam, someone who might have actually napalmed babies and burned villages.
What if the guy was insane? The papers were filled with tales of crazy Vietnam vets. What if I was about to have lunch with a crazy man?
The more I thought about it, the more the idea appealed to me. Plenty of women knew men who would kill for them. But I was about to meet one who knew how.
Piper had instructed me to look for a sort of tall guy with sort of dark hair and maybe green eyes. "That’s it? Nothing more specific?" I said.
"If you mean will he be carrying a weapon and have a jagged scar across his face—no, Franny, probably not."
As I was checking my watch and thinking maybe soldier boy wasn’t showing, a tall dark-haired man with green eyes walked up, radiating confidence with his straight posture and square shoulders, like someone had stuck a yardstick down his back.
He was wearing a white shirt, rolled up at the sleeves and tucked into his jeans, which surprised me. I guess I was expecting fatigues.
"Oh good, you waited," he said, guiding me toward the cafeteria line. "Do you know what you want to eat?" This was a man who got right down to business.
I stared at rows of little dishes filled with balls of egg salad. "It all looks so healthy." I said the word healthy like the food was repugnant.
"You’re not into health food?" he said.
"Not unless I can wash it down with a Twinkie."
Michael paid for his tuna fish sandwich and glass of milk, and the red Jell-O, Coke, and French fries on my tray, after saying hello to the salad lady and greeting the cashier. He was awfully friendly for a killer.