Star jumps to her feet and starts throwing food wrappers away. Charlie's poking holes in an avocado with a fork, taking his time, going all the way around, and hands half of it to Star when he's finished, and they both eat in silence. There's not much else that needs to be said right now.
One day, I get on the phone with Bugliosi – "Call me Vince," he says. In the 40 years since Helter Skelter made him a bestselling author, Bugliosi has written 12 other books, the most recent being Divinity of Doubt: The God Question, which makes for a nice full circle. He started off taking on Manson, the Antichrist, and is now arguing that God's existence can't be proved. And a good number of these books have been bestsellers. As Manson likes to say, Bugliosi's a winner. He got over. And these days, he's still pretty sharp. Like Manson, he does tend to wobble off onto tangents, mostly about various unfortunate medical matters, but, unlike Manson, he always comes back to the here and now.
So what about the Bobby Beausoleil copycat-killing motive, which is the one Manson seems to favor?
Bugliosi dismisses it out of hand. "Oh, that. Well, you don't stab people 169 times and murder seven people to get someone out of jail." He goes on: "I agree there wasn't one single motive, but here's my view. I think everyone who participated in the murders bought the Helter Skelter theory hook, line and sinker. But did Manson himself believe all this ridiculous, preposterous stuff about all of them living in a bottomless pit in the desert while a worldwide war went on outside? I think, without knowing, that he did not." He pauses. "I do think one reason why he didn't participate in the murders is because he thought that'd immunize him or insulate him from criminal responsibility. But, of course, if you're guilty of conspiracy to commit murder and there is a murder, then you're also guilty of that murder. This is boilerplate law."
Later on, while I'm in bed watching The Big Bang Theory on TV, Charlie calls again. I've taken to sometimes ignoring him. Maybe I'd rather spend time with Sheldon, Leonard and Penny than with Charlie Manson. Maybe I don't want to listen to another of his far-out spiels designed, no doubt, to take me someplace I don't want to go. Star and Gray Wolf have urged me to go with the flow and see where it leads. No way.
Tonight, though, I answer.
"Breath in and breath out, breath in and breath out," he says. "I'm the last breath on Earth, man. Some people here want me to sign a do-not-resuscitate order. I wrote on it, 'Why should I?' A lot of people want me to die. Bugliosi wants me to die before him, otherwise I've won." And so their battle continues, at least in Manson's mind.
After her visit with Charlie one Sunday, Star and I drive around desolate Corcoran, stop at Kings Drive-In for a milkshake, then head over to the big community park, the only verdant expanse in the area, and find a bench to sit on. "I do not give one fuck whatsoever about 1969, personally," she says along the way. She starts thinking about Susan Atkins. "That bitch was fucking crazy. She was a crazy fucking whore. 'Oh, Charlie, I did this for you.' She didn't know what she was doing. That girl was just a piece of shit, a whore, and just plain fucking crazy psycho." She says this with such vehemence that I'm a little taken aback. I hadn't thought her capable of it, which just goes to show you.
It's cold on the bench, and she wraps her arms around herself.
Then she bobs her head and comes out with a little bit of a shocker, "a scoop," she calls it. "I'll tell you straight up, Charlie and I are going to get married," she says. "When that will be, we don't know. But I take it very seriously. Charlie is my husband. Charlie told me to tell you this. We haven't told anybody about that."
It's one thing to be here, doing what she's doing, visiting Charlie, buying him his quarterly goody box, getting him apple-cider vinegar for his fungus feet and going to target practice. In a way, I can see all of that. I've felt his hand on my skin, listened to him speak, seen him say more with his body than with his words. I know. But marrying the guy? Are you going to take his name?
"Yeah," she says. "My parents like Charlie. We were just talking and they said, 'If Charlie gets out, you guys can come stay here. You could stay in the basement for a while, and you could maybe build your own little house down by the creek.'"
Will there be conjugal visits?
"No, California lifers no longer get them," she says. "If we did, we'd be married by now. You know, that's the only thing I want. I just want to be alone. I don't want to be always in that visiting room with people staring at me. But that's the only time I get to see him, in that room, with people staring. It's hard. But things change, you know. And who knows what could happen?"
Another day, another call from Charlie.
"Star, Star, baby on the floor," he says. "We started all over with this one. The other ones know it all now. I don't need to say anything. They're moving in colors."
The others being Squeaky and Sandy?
This doesn't sound good, him viewing Star as some kind of project, a baby on the floor that he's starting all over with, teaching her from the ground up. It sounds like he has plans for her. And historically, his plans have never turned out well.
What about the marriage?
He snorts. "Oh, that," he says. "That's a bunch of garbage. You know that, man. That's trash. We're just playing that for public consumption."
It's not exactly a surprise to hear him say this. I've spoken to Manson a lot, and I know this is the kind of thing he does. And Star, too, I see, which is more of a surprise. But even that makes sense, once you understand that she's Charlie's baby on the floor, not Charlie's wife-to-be, but another one of his children, just like Squeaky and Sandy once were, with her just now taking her first little baby steps, him holding her hand and showing the way. At least, that's my perception of how it is. But we all know how perceptions are.
"I've always been pretty truthful with myself, as much as I can be under the circumstances," Manson says later. "But I'll never tell on nobody, not even me, man, so that's why I ain't never told nobody what really happened back then. I can't tell you right now. It wouldn't work if I did tell you, because it would change by morning. Everything is constantly changing, man. The mind is a universal thing. Charles Manson and Beethoven," he says before hanging up for the night. "It's just one little thought."
This story is from the December 5th, 2013 issue of Rolling Stone.
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