Returning to some of the themes of Sentries, Paulsen tells a harshly taut story, set in a Mexican border town, about two people who meet on the edge of oblivion. Manny is an orphan who skitters along the border desperate to cross to the other side, if for no other reason than to escape the chicken hawks who prey on boys his age. Robert is a sergeant who crosses freely between Mexico and the US, but he is seeking another escape--into the bottle, in carefully controlled drunks to obliterate memory of Vietnam. The two meet three times: once when Manny tries to pick Robert's pocket and is allowed to go free; once when, pulled together by inner compulsions they cannot identify, they spend a day in each other's company, if not together; and finally, on the border itself when the ultimate answer to their dilemmas presents itself, and, in his own way, each goes free. Told from the point of view of both protagonists, the details of the story are familiar ones, and the style seems a bit too imitation-Hemingway. Paulsen, however, is skilled at pace, incident and characterization, and he uses these to pull the reader to the memorable--and powerful--last scene in which Robert's destruction is Manny's salvation. Graphic details and some harsh language make this a book for older children and teen-agers who will not want to put it down.