John Strausbaugh, Stories




Bullet to the Moon





Chapter Twelve







 I went out on the porch and struck up a Lucky. I watched White pull the second Clipper up. Sarge circled it, flopping his tail around. Agent Green stepped out behind me. She called Sarge. The mutt bounded up the stairs. She shooed him in the house and closed the screen door behind him.

"Don't want him wandering off before his family takes the house back," she said.

She came over to stand at the railing near me.

"Gonna miss this place," she said. "Grew up country. Not nice like this, but country."

"You sure threw a haymaker into us speaking up all of a sudden," I said.

She give me a little shrug.

"You know if Mr. Spitz's boy in the Pacific?" I asked her.

"Mr. Spitz's boy is nobody knows where," she said. "Was at the allied naval station in Alexandria, Egypt up to a few months ago. Volunteered to help sail a two-man mini-sub from Tunis over to the Gulf of Gela in Sicily, where we knew the German navy's been testing some fancy new hardware. Junior and his partner were going to take as many pictures and gather as much info as they could and hightail it back to Tunis. They never came back. On the books they're MIA. Naval intelligence says they're probably on the bottom somewhere. Nickname for minisubs is suicide rides."

"Too bad for Hitler," I said.

Green reached in a big front pocket of her flowered house dress.


She held out a small piece of chamois wrapped around something and cinched with a rubber band. I laid it on the railing and unwrapped it. A brand new set of lockpicking tools, shiny steel, machine tooled. Real swank compared to my old handmade tools that was wrapped in a old flannel under the mattress back in Brooklyn.

"Keep those with you, might come in handy."

"I thought this job was cooked."

She turned to me.

"You hear an ah-ooga?"

Jones and Brown came out. They had their trenchcoats and fedoras back on. Brown was still looking raw and sheepish.

"We'll split up between the two cars," Green told them. "Go separate routes to the rendezvous. You two take the first car."

She went inside as Seymour Spitz banged out the screen door.

"You come with," he told O'Grady. "You go with the others," he told me. He went down the steps.

As he was passing me, O'Grady gave the lid of my hat a tap with that big pinky ring of his. It felt like a ballpeen cracking my egg. I saw pinwheels.

"Easy, ya big ape," I said.

He tumbled the rocks in his chest.

Jones, Brown, Mr. Spitz and O'Grady pulled away in the first Clipper. White and Smith came out in their G-man getups.

"Hop in," White told me.

"Gotta pack my things," I said.

"What things?"


"Three cartons of Chesterfields in the trunk."

"Not my brand."

"Get in." He jerked his thumb.

I crushed my smoke in the Huntington Beach ashtray. Then I picked up the ashtray and slid the butts and ash over the edge of the porch into the bushes and slipped the ashtray in my pocket. Souvenir of my vacation in the country.

I strolled down to the car. White sat behind the wheel like a Macy's dummy in a G-man costume.

"Pop the trunk, sport? Need a smoke."

He sighed and reached me the keys out his window. I was just yanking his chain. I already had six packs of Camels stashed all over my person.

The trunk was about as big as my room at the boarding house back in Brooklyn. Army-style duffel bags was piled in it, but I didn't see any smokes. I leaned in to push the duffels around.

Just as I did a bullet punched a smoking hole in the lid of the trunk, zzzz-wang!, right about where my noggin was a half-second earlier. A hair-second later I heard the pop of a rifle somewhere out in the fields. A dime-sized circle of sunlight fell through the hole onto the back of my hand.

I froze for and then I guess animal instinct kicked in and I dove into the trunk. I curled up on the duffels. Three more shots punched the car, pwang zwing pwang.

Up in the front White's semiautomatic hand cannon squeezed off quick shots, pap pap pap. I heard him shove open the passenger door and dive to the ground. More bullets peppered the car. I heard one shatter a window. Up on the porch the screen door banged. A pair a M-1s started squirting rounds, brrrap-pap-pap. I knew the sound because the gals walking shore patrol on the waterfront by the Pierrepont shed carried them and once in a while they shot target practice at the crap floating by in the river.

"Jeepers!" Smith called from the porch. "Stay down! Don't move!"

The M-1s stuttered some more shots. I heard White's pistol off at a distance now. Bullets stopped hitting the car. I figured the shooter was keeping his head down. My heart was tripping like a fire alarm bell.

It got quiet for a long time, except for Sarge, who was up on the porch yapping. I heard someone scramble up to the car on the safe side.

"Jeepers?" Smith said in a low voice.

"I give up," I said.

"Jeepers it's me."

"I mean I give up smoking," I said. "It's bad for my health."

"Just lay still."

Things got quiet again for a long time. Even Sarge calmed down.

Then there was a single pistol shot out there in the fields somewheres, followed a few seconds later by two quick ones, pip-pap. It made my stomach queasy. I been around hard guys and their gunplay enough in my life that I knew what that was about. First shot to drop the sniper, then two more, probably in the head, to make sure he stayed dropped.

Smith come around and stood over the trunk looking down at me. She was wearing her G-man trenchcoat too, but she lost her hat. She was breathing real hard and her cheeks was flushed and her greased-back hairdo come undone and was hanging in her eyes.

"You know what?" she said. "Stay in there."

She slammed the lid and I heard her yank the keys out of it. A few seconds later a door slammed. She gunned the engine, jammed the gears and me and the duffels started bouncing around in the trunk like laundry in a Chinese tumble dryer. I figured she was driving out across the fields.

We stopped. I heard Smith and White's voices and doors slamming and then I was bouncing around again.

Eventually we hit paved roads and the rear tires sang under me. Smith gunned it. I don't know how fast we was going, but if the local constabulary spotted us they was either going to give her a big ticket or another blue ribbon for air speed. I shoved the duffels around and settled in. I slept on lumpier mattresses. Wind whistled in through the bullet hole above me, and a little light. Small places give me the heebies from my days pacing a cell, but this was one time I was happy to be stowed away. I watched the light flickering through that hole above me and thought about how that hole could be in my loaf instead of in the Chevy.



I couldn't tell how long we drove. Hour. Then we made a hard left and slammed me up against a wheel well and we stopped in a crunch of gravel. I heard doors open and slam and a key in the lid and then Smith and White was standing over the open trunk.

I let Smith haul me out. We was parked behind some kind of roadside joint, around the back with the trash cans and a couple of old jalopies rusting in weeds.

"Where are we?" I asked them.

"Come on, I'll buy you a beer," Smith said.

"You gonna smoke them all at once?" White said.

I was clutching a carton of Chesterfields to my chest like a kid with a doll. I didn't even know I grabbed them.

"Might try," I said.

The joint was a lunch counter whose happy days was long gone, if it ever had happy days. Dark, stinking of grease and stale fries. A counter, some booths and a few tables. We took a booth. They sat together facing the door. They blended into the dump like sore thumbs. The only other customer was at the other end of the counter, a guy in a baggy blue serge suit and lopsided fedora who looked like a traveling shoestring salesman, leaning over a plate of runny eggs and picking losers out of a scratch sheet for the dog tracks. One frowsy waitress who acted like she was bored with the job since about 1925 and a grizzled old bird slinging the hash over a fry stove that looked like it wasn't cleaned since the waitress' first day on the job. Some flies who acted as bored as those two.

Smith and White ordered burgers but my guts was in knots so I just asked for a Rheingold and a ashtray. After waiting a while for the ashtray I remembered I had one on me and slipped the Huntington Beach souvenir out of my pocket. Smith and White jacked up their eyebrows but didn't say anything. I lit up a Chesterfield.

The cook had a radio on and we sat for a few minutes just hearing the bad news. The casualty figures from the England massacre was still being added up. I wondered how many people knew it was all phony baloney. President Roosevelt made a statement from the White House to stop panicked rumors that was spreading around the East Coast cities from Boston to Miami that Hitler had rocket-bombs that could cross the Atlantic. Nothing yet about the Jap gas-bombs.

The waitress slapped plates in front of Smith and White and laid down three bottles of beer and shuffled off. Smith and White put their elbows on the table and dug into their burgers like they didn't know when they would tie on their next feedbag. In the city a genuine hamburg cost half a coupon book anymore what with most the beef going into cans shipped off to the fronts. Out here in the sticks anything they called hamburg was pulling a cart a week ago.

"You get through that nag, maybe one a you birds'll tell me what's going on," I said.

"Obviously the bad guys saw us breaking camp and made their move," Smith said. "Don't know why they only sent the one shooter, though."

"Yeah, I was wondering that myself," I said.

"Master race," White said. "Probably figured one of them could take all of us."

"Or maybe he was just supposed to pin us down a while," Smith said.

"Yeah but what for?" I asked.

They chewed and shrugged.

"Where's Green?" I asked.

"She'll meet up with us later," Smith said.

Come to think of it, I didn't remember seeing Clarence either. He didn't get in Mr. Spitz's Clipper and he wasn't with us. I was about to ask when the blower on the wall behind our booth rang. Smith and White froze. It rang again. The salesman looked over from his tip sheet. It rang a third time. Then it stopped.

Ten seconds later it rang again.

"You wanna grab that, Tracy?" the cook hollered from the back.

American intelligence.

White was already up and put the phone to his ear. He listened for a minute. He didn't say a word and his expression, or no expression, didn't move a eyelash.

He hung up. Come back to the booth and dropped a buck on it.

Smith wiped her mouth and jumped up.

White headed for the door. I dumped my ashes on his plate and pocketed the ashtray.

"Now what?" I asked.

"Don't know," Smith said, "but it's bad news."

"You birds get another kind?" I asked.






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All material on this website is copyrighted and may not be republished in any form without written permission. Copyright © 2009-2010 John Strausbaugh

All material on this website is copyrighted and may not be republished in any form without written permission. Copyright © 2009 John Strausbaugh