Designated Targets

Designated Targets

by John Birmingham

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345457158
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 12/26/2006
Series: The Axis of Time Trilogy
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 218,951
Product dimensions: 4.18(w) x 6.91(h) x 0.99(d)

About the Author

John Birmingham is the author of Emergence, Resistance, Ascendance, After America, Without Warning, Final Impact, Designated Targets, Weapons of Choice, and other novels, as well as Leviathan, which won the National Award for Nonfiction at Australia’s Adelaide Festival of the Arts, and the novella Stalin’s Hammer: Rome. He has written for The Sydney Morning Herald, Rolling Stone, Penthouse, Playboy, and numerous other magazines. He lives at the beach with his wife, daughter, son, and two cats.

Read an Excerpt

Designated Targets


By John Birmingham

Random House

John Birmingham
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0345457145


Chapter One

TUPELO, MISSISSIPPI

Lordy, thought the boy. It's a miracle for sure.

He was seven and a half years old--the man of the house, really, what with his daddy being away in Como, and he had never seen anything like the fearful wonder of the newly chiseled monument.

here lies jesse garon presley.

deeply beloved of his mother gladys, father vernon,

and brother elvis.

a soul so pure, the good lord could not bear

to be apart from him.

born jan. 8, 1935,

taken unto god jan. 8, 1935.

Despite the unseasonable heat of the evening, gooseflesh ran up his thin arms as he read the words again. Whippoorwills and crickets trilled their amazement in the sweet, warm air. With a pounding heart, the boy inched forward and muttered hoarsely, "Jesse, are you here?"

The stone was cut from blindingly white marble that fairly glowed in the setting sun. The inscription had been inlaid with real gold--he was almost certain of that. He ran his fingers over the words and the cold, hard stone, as if afraid to discover that they weren't real.

It must have cost a king's ransom . . .

An enormous bunch of store-bought flowers had been placed upon a patch of freshly broken earth that still lay at the foot of the monument. Hundreds of tiny beads of water covered the petals and caught the last golden rays of daylight.

He dropped down on his knees as if he were in church and stared at the impossible vision for many minutes, heedless of the dirt he was getting on his old dungarees. He remained virtually motionless until one hand reached out and his fingers again brushed the surface of the headstone.

"Oh, my," he whispered.

Then Elvis Aaron Presley leapt to his feet and ran so fast that he raised a trail of dust as he sprinted down the gravel lane, away from the pauper's section of the Priceville Cemetery, a-hollerin' for his mama.

"He'll probably get his ass whupped, the poor little bastard." Slim Jim Davidson smiled as he said it, peering over the sunglasses he had perched on his nose.

"Why?" asked the woman who was sitting next to him in the rear seat of the gaudy red Cadillac. You didn't see babies like this every day. Slim Jim had seen to the detailing himself. The paint job, the bison leather seats, everything.

"For telling lies," he said. "Headstones don't just appear like that, you know. They're gonna think he made it up, and when he won't take it back, there'll be hell to pay."

The woman seemed to give the statement more thought than it was really due. "I suppose so," she said after a few seconds.

Slim Jim could tell she didn't approve. They were all the same, these people. They'd bomb an entire city into rubble without batting an eye, but they looked at you like you were some sort of hoodlum if you even suggested raising your hand against a snot-nosed kid. Or a smart-mouth dame, for that matter.

And this O'Brien, she was a helluva smart-mouth dame.

She'd kept her trap shut, though, while they'd been watching the Presley kid. In fact, she seemed to be fascinated by him. They'd been waiting in the Caddy up on Old Saltillo Road for nearly an hour before he showed. Long enough for Slim Jim to wonder if they were pissing their time up against a wall. But the kid did show, just as his cousin said he would. And he'd heard O'Brien's stifled gasp when the small figure first appeared, walking out of a stand of trees about two hundred yards away.

"It's him, all right," she said. "Damned if it's not."

Slim Jim had grabbed the contract papers and made to get out of the car right then and there. He'd had enough of sitting still. His butt had fallen asleep, and he was downright bored.

But O'Brien shook her head. "Not here."

He'd bristled at that. His temper had frayed during the long wait. Long enough even to make him feel some sympathy for the cops who'd had to stake him out once or twice. But he took her "advice" because it was always worth taking.

Her advice had cost him a goddamn packet, too, over the course of their relationship. But along the way, Slim Jim Davidson had learned that you had to spend money to make it. Problem was that up until recently, he didn't have no money to spend. None of his own, anyway. And spending other people's money had sent him to the road gangs.

Mississippi was a powerful reminder of those days. The air tasted the same as it had in Alabama, thick and sweet and tending toward rotten. The faces they'd driven past in town had brought back some unpleasant memories, too. Hard, lean faces with deep lines and dark pools for eyes. The sort of uncompromising faces a man might expect to see on Judgment Day. They'd sure looked that way to Slim Jim when they trooped in from the jury room.

Well, that felt like a thousand years ago. Now he could buy and sell that fucking jury. And the judge. And his crooked jailers. And the whole goddamned state of Alabama, if he felt like it.

Well, maybe not the whole state. But he was getting there. This Caddy was bigger and more comfortable than some of the flophouses he'd crashed in during the Depression. He had an apartment in an honest-to-goddamned brownstone overlooking Central Park back in New York, and a house designed by some faggot architect overlooking the beach at Santa Monica, out in L.A. He had stocks and bonds and a big wad of folding money he liked to carry in his new buffalo-hide wallet--just so's he could pull it out and snap the crisp new bills between his fingers when he needed to remind himself that he wasn't dreaming.

Hell, he was so rich now that when those C-notes lost their snap, he could give them away and get some new ones.

Not that he ever did, of course. Ms. O'Brien would kill him. And she was more than capable of it. No doubt about that.

She'd insisted that he pick up the Santa Monica house as a long-term investment, too, even though he thought it was kind of down-market, given his newly acquired status.

"You can stay at the Ambassador if you don't like rubbing shoulders with your old cell mates down on the piers," she'd said. "Believe me, Santa Monica will come back, and you need to diversify your asset base. Waterfront property is always a sure bet."

Yes, indeed, and Slim Jim was fond of sure bets. After all, they'd made him richer than God. They'd also delivered him a conga line of horny babes, a small army of his own hired muscle, and the slightly scary Ms. O'Brien.

Thinking about the slightly scary Ms. O'Brien sitting next to him there in the Caddy, however, led naturally to thinking about the slightly scary Ms. O'Brien sliding her body over his in a king-sized hotel bed. But that was a dangerous line of thought, he knew. Because Ms. O'Brien wasn't inclined to get anywhere near a bed with Slim Jim Davidson, naked or not.

He'd tried feeling her up once, and she'd nearly broken his arm for it. She'd snapped an excruciating wristlock on him without even breaking a sweat, no doubt a party trick she'd picked up back when she was a captain in the Eighty-second MEU. And she'd kept him locked up, gasping for breath and nearly fainting away, while she explained to him the facts of life:

One, she was his employee, not his girlfriend.

Two, she would be his employee only for as long as she needed to be, and she would never be his girlfriend.

Three, she could kick his scrawny ass black and blue without bothering to lace up her boots.

And four, she . . .

"Mr. Davidson?"

Slim Jim jumped, feeling guilty and worried that she might have figured out what he was thinking. But no, luckily she was just dragging him out of his slightly bored daze.

"Elvis has left the cemetery," she announced. She said it in a singsong way, and it seemed to amuse her more than it should have. But Slim Jim had given up trying to figure her out.

"Let's go over it one last time, just to be sure," she said, pulling out a flexipad.

"Oh, please," he begged. "Let's not."

O'Brien ignored him, and his shades suddenly flickered into life. Windows opened up on the lenses and seemed to float in the air in front of him. Some carried photographs of the boy they'd just seen. Others were full of words. Small words in large type. She'd learned not to burden him with too much text.

Bitch thinks she's so goddamned smart . . .

Slim Jim sighed, and read through the briefing notes again. Some of his reluctance was for show, though. He never really got tired of the amazing gadgets these guys had brought with them.

"Elvis Aaron Presley, age eight and a half. Mother's name, Gladys. Father's name, Vernon," he recited. "Dead brother, Jesse. Attends school at East Tupelo Consolidated. Father jailed for fraud. Asshole tried to ink a four-dollar check into forty . . ."

O'Brien shot him a warning look, but he hid behind the shades, pretending he couldn't see her.

"Daddy's out now, away in Como, Mississippi, building a POW camp for the government. Mama takes in sewing when she can get it. Local yokels call 'em white trash behind their backs . . ."

Slim Jim laughed out loud, glancing out across the ragged fields of corn and soybean that stretched between the cemetery and the edge of the town. "Ha! There's a fucking pot calling a kettle black if I ever--"

"The notes, Mr. Davidson. Just review the notes," said O'Brien.

Slim Jim returned to the readout for what felt like the hundredth time. He'd heard about some big-time grifters who worked like this. Getting so far inside the heads of their marks that they knew what was going on in there before the chumps realized it themselves. He could sort of see the point.

O'Brien had helped him close some amazing deals these last few months. But damn, it was hard work. Nevertheless, he plowed on, reciting most of the notes from memory even though the words still hung there in front of him.

"Gladys drinks in private. She finds her comfort in the church. Her first love was dance, her second music. But she's kind of a fat bitch now so . . . Sorry! Sorry . . . She gets around in bare feet and old socks so her kid can have shoes. Elvis, he's aware of his family's low standing. It eats him up and he wants to rescue them. It always tickles him when his mama says she's proud of him."

In spite of himself, Slim Jim couldn't help but warm to the little prick. They'd listened to his music all the way down here, and you had to admit, the kid had a gift. Or would have.

Then again, maybe he wouldn't. If Slim Jim bought him a ticket out of Tupelo now, gave him enough money for a comfortable life, maybe the kid would never sing a song worth a tinker's crap. Not that the thought really bothered him. Those songs were recorded by an Elvis from another time. No, this was all about who was gonna get paid for them.

Not some asshole called Colonel Tom Parker, you could bet on that.

Nope. "Slim Jim Enterprises" would be latching itself on to this particular money tit. And if the kid never became an actual recording star, just because he grew up rich instead of poor, well, who gave a damn? Slim Jim had grown up in a town a lot like this, with a daddy a lot like Vernon. And if some asshole had turned up on their doorstep, offering to buy them out of poverty, Daddy would have been trampled to death by the entire Davidson clan rushing to sign on the dotted line. And to hell with the consequences.

Slim Jim was only vaguely aware of the deepening dusk as he sat in the Caddy, chanting his way through O'Brien's notes like some kind of mad priest. Yeah, Tupelo is a lot like home. Besides the two main roads in the center of town, every street was a strip of dirt or gravel. Clouds of dust would rise from them in summer. They'd turn into rivers of mud during the spring rains. Most folks would have worked the Roosevelt program during the Depression, cutting brush, fixing roads. Most, like Gladys Presley, wouldn't ask for handouts, but would accept what was offered. The men would all be factory workers and sharecroppers.

Now most of them would be in the army or working in the war industries. Poor but honest, they'd think of themselves. Screwed and stupid was how Slim Jim would have put it.

A guy like Vernon Presley he could understand. He knew the type. He'd have had good intentions, but not enough character to see them through. Slim Jim wished they could deal with Vernon rather than Gladys. It was a laydown that they could sneak a signature out of old Vern, just for a crate of beer and a hundred bucks.

But O'Brien had been a real ballbreaker on that particular subject, even more so than usual. There'd be no grifting the Presley family. They'd get the industry standard percentage, and Slim Jim would take the industry standard cut. It was a shitload of money to be tossing away to a bunch of dumbass crackers, at least to his way of thinking. But she'd given him that stone face of hers again, and he'd buckled. She was a scary bitch--and bottom line, he was rich because of it.

"And then Vernon told Elvis he was responsible for his mama's ill health because of the bad birth . . . ," he continued, only half his mind on the task.

"No," O'Brien said. "We don't know for sure that that's happened yet, so it's better not to bring it up. But it's supposed to happen around about now, so just keep it in mind."

"Right." He nodded. "So are we gonna fuck this puppy or what?"

His lawyer rolled her eyes, but she leaned forward to tap on the glass partition that separated them from the driver.

"Okay," she said, raising her voice. "Let's roll.&

Continues...


Excerpted from Designated Targets by John Birmingham Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Designated Targets 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 42 reviews.
DWWilkin on LibraryThing 4 days ago
One thing in a book that relies on so much historical fact and then supposition, is the attention to detail. Do we think that the American and Japanese fleets can return from the area of Midway with damaged ships, settle into harbor in less than seven days and start stripping the new weapons from the future this quickly? Can we see these two fleets returning to their home ports and all the combatants returning to the complacency of routine so quickly? Can we see the events that take place in the book in one day in Pearl really happening in that one day? Can we see a fleet coming from the future and deciding that the Japanese who history tells us would gladly end the war for oil and had hoped that the USA would craft such a deal after the devastation of their initial onslaught are such a horrible enemy that they need to be defeated and that the limited ammunition that the people of the future should be expended on them? If all the great minds of the fleet could know about the attrocities of the Bataan death camps, and the sex slavery of the white women captives, why did they miss this analysis of the Japanese High Command. If the US had sued for Peace, the Japanese would have stopped their war. This then would leave the visitors from the future with enough firepower to destroy all the ships in an entire nations fleet, to pursue the real meglomaniacal ruler of the age, Hitler. How can one weigh the atrocities of the Japanese, verse the atrocities of the US (I can hardly wait till Birmingham with all the discussion of race and sex values of the WWII White superiority structure examines what the US did to Japanese Americans in such places as Manzanar, but I can only think that we may not see that discussed at all.) Getting rid of the Nazi high command (not German, but the Nazi's) would be a service to the world that any time traveller worth hald his salt could be proud of. It would be a blessing for the world. How many died in concentration camps, 11 Million? (The German with the son with the cleft palette sees it cleary-his son will be toast) How many died from Hitlers murderour assault into Russia where the attrocities of the Nazis rival those of the Japanese protrayed in the book. One thing that is bothersome is that we know that war is black, white and mostly gray. Certainly one can not preach a moral superiority in war. The US killed how many thousands at Hiroshima and Nagasaki? So trying to show righteous indignation over the Japanese attitude to war and not give the US any faults seems to be an imbalance in morality. What does that have to do with the story... Everything... The attitudes expressed in all the modern characters doesn't gel because of it. They end up more self righteous then the white naval officers of 1942... Then with the time continuity thrown off and some things so making no sense (If you have a temporal event, great, and if you have it cenered so it is a circle, fine, but then to have everything conform to that circle so the heroes (you know, the US) ends up with the greater amount of power, and the bad guys end up with a little bit, but only because then the circle has to not be a circle, though everything was in the circle... That is a part of physics that doesn't make sense just for a plot device, bad form...)
SimonW11 on LibraryThing 3 months ago
This, part two of th trilogy, is set some months after the events of part one. Set during World War Two The cultural differences between the Allies and theMultinational taskf orce from our near future stranded there is becomeing more and more apparent to both sided. and social stress is becoming a real problem. Amongst others Hoover of the FBI is gunning for the uptimers.The plot moves along nicely, there is plenty of action and good background reasearch. Stalin it seems is not happy at the predicted. fall of Communism and the Axis use this to get the Russians to change sides. unsupriseingly the missing ships of the Task force start showing up in the enemies hand.however the writing does struggles to be competent at times. with poor or hackneyed turns of phrase, for example at one point someone was blown to his feet and The characters continue puppet like to do exactly what John Birmingham tells them. At one point beyond all reason Churchill carefully explains to a group of British officers that the reason Britain must not be occupied by the Germans is because this would deny Americans a foothold in europe!
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