John Strausbaugh, Stories




Bullet to the Moon





Chapter Twenty-Two








  Smith wrassled that rocket like a champeen. She wanted to fly it like a glider and it wanted to drop like a rock. She done her manly best, but it was winning. The nose kept pointing at the water. It looked dark and hard as asphalt. I could make out a bunch a rusty tubs lined up at the docks. I couldn't tell which was the one we come on. Even in daylight one rusty tub would of looked like the next.

"One good thing," Smith said. The bouncing made her voice shaky. "They won't hear us coming."

Yeah, that was true. Them searchlights was still feeling around off to our right. In the dark no one would see or hear us until we was smashed to smithereens.

The water was racing up at us. The ship pointed its needle nose at it like a dart at a dartboard. Fritz was whimpering and sobbing. Smith's face was shiny white with fear.

"Come on baby come on doll come on toots," she crooned.

Your brains play a funny trick when you about to die. Your brains tell you it ain't really happening. It's just a picture show you watching, or a bad dream. Nothing to worry about. You ain't really gonna crack up. Setting on the count's lap watching that water coming up at us but quick with the air screaming around us and Smith begging it come on baby come on darlin my brains got real quiet. Don't worry, Jeepers. It ain't real. All I could see out a both little windows was water and Smith was shouting my name but my brains had their fingers in my ears and was humming boop boop ditum datum wadda. And they fwam and they fwam and

I think it was the wing on Smith's side caught the water first. Then the nose slammed down. Then the tail flipped up behind us and we was cartwheeling. The plane was flipping and skipping across the water and we bounced around like rag dolls from ceiling to floor and I heard pieces tearing off outside and Fritz was screaming and I must of banged my head because there was a blinding white flash like ack ack exploding right in my face. And they fwam and they fwam all over da dam.



It was a dame's voice. Kind a deep but not bad. Reminded me a one a them whistles they blow in the orchestra. Whaddyacallit. A oh boy.

My ears was buzzing. My eyes seemed to be glued shut. Some natsy rat was sticking a bayonet in my back, different places all up and down my backbone.

"Barney, you still with us?"

Snuffy. The dame's name was Snuffy. I got one eye unstuck. Her big puss was right over mine. Her face was pasty and she had a ugly red gash over one eye and her greased down muddy hair was all over the place. She looked really worried. I figured I should do something about that.

"Sure," I said. My voice sounded funny in my buzzing ears. "Who's Barney?"

She grinned with relief.

I got my other eye open. The cockpit was upside down. I was lying on the ceiling. Fritz was propped beside me holding his face. We bobbed on the water.

"How's your noggin?" I asked Smith. That gash was ugly.

"Solid as a rock," she said. She didn't look it. She was awful pale and pasty.

She hauled me to a sitting position. That invisible natsy stabbed my back in six places. The buzz in my ears was fading and I heard water gurgling in.

"We sinking?"

"Sure are," Smith said. "Let's scoot."

She reached for the hatch wheel.

Fritz shrieked like a lady.

"Halt! Is underwater! Look!"

He pointed at the upside-down windows. There was only water out them. We was laying low in the water and sinking slowly. Open the hatch and we sink a lot faster.

"Bomb doors," he said. He pointed behind us and over our heads. Now that the belly of the plane was the ceiling they was the escape hatch.

He reached a shaky hand up to the dashboard and flipped a switch. Nothing happened except more gurgling. He muttered some kraut and yanked a lever next to the switch. Nothing happened again, except that the whole dingus began to tilt toward its back end as it took on water. He said something dago that sounded filthy and yanked and yanked on the lever.

We heard a hydraulic sound and fresh air whooshed into the cabin. It tasted like floating garbage but it was air. We could hear harbor noises. A seagull somewheres nearby. A buoy ding-dinging somewheres not nearby.

"Outin zie," Smith said.

She hauled me to my knees. We crawled back past the seats through a tangled mess of broken parts and wiring. Cold water sloshed around our hands and knees. I saw my Luger laying in three inches of dirty water. I grabbed it up and stuffed it in the pocket of my organ grinder monkey outfit.

The bomb doors was open like a skylight and I could see the sky. The stars was starting to fade.

Smith stood up in the opening and hauled me up by my pits. That natsy stabbed and stabbed.

Air that was fresh and damp and tasted like the air at Coney Island cooled the sweat on my face. I looked around. We was out in the middle of the harbor. It was still night. Them tubs at the docks looked a long ways off. The part of the ship we was in was broke off before it got to the tail and sinking by that end. One broke off wing floated next to us. A seagull stood on it and looked at us.

Smith hauled herself out and dove straight in. The seagull flew away. Fritz pushed up out of the bomb doors beside me. Smith came up treading water.


Fritz clambered out and dove in. I stood there in the bomb bay a sec. The ship give a big belch and tilted under me.

"Now, Barney."

I climbed up and held my nose and jumped in. The water was cold. My shoes and clothes and the Luger in my pocket sent me straight down. A big mitt clamped on my arm and dragged me up. When my head pop up Smith slid her elbow under my chin and backstroked us the short ways to the busted wing where Fritz was already flopped with his golden head right in the middle of a iron cross. Smith pushed me up and slid up beside me on her belly. Then her eyes rolled into her head.

The body of the rocket give an other burp. Then it tipped its bashed nose up in the air and sank down backwards and vanished.

Fritz and I laid there on our backs. The wing was barely afloat under our weight and leaking air bubbles. The harbor was quiet. No natsy gunboats or wop version of the coast guard come to save us. We was gonna have to swim for it when that wing sank. Or maybe the sun would come up soon and somebody spot us. The sky was definitely turning a dirty gray.  

Fritz rose himself on his elbows and looked at Smith.

"She is?"

"Passed out. Be okay. She's tough."

Fritz laid back down and looked at the sky some more.

"Signor Barney, I ask you a demand please. Where you take me?"

"Why, to America, ya dope."

"But why? Why I?"

"Ain't you heard, Fritzy? You and your rockets key to winning the war."

He leaned up again looking genuinely surprised.

"I? Nein."

"You ja. Heard of a cute little gizmo called the atom-bomb?"

"We heared rumors. Is tip top secret. Cute I think no."

"Well you put some atom-bombs in some a your rockets, you win the war."

"I see." He got a very serious look on his big soft puss. "So I stay win war for Hitler, or I go win war for Sam's Uncle."

"Uncle Sam. That's the drift."

He thought some more.

"Va bene. I come win war for you."

"Ain't like you got a choice," I said. "But say, ain't you and your dad top natsies?"

"My father si. Big fascist. Love Hitler. Love Mussolini. I not. They bad guys. Also my father bad guy I sorry for say. I not bad guy."

"Oh yeah? We heard about your little frolics, Fritzy."

His pale pie face got hot red splotches.

"Lies! Verdammt lies!"

He smacked the wing with a big white hand and the whole dingus tilted.

"Hey, cut it out," I said. "You wanna sink us? Anyways, if they such bad guys, why you work for um?"

He sighed.

"Signor Barney, in my family my father is Fuhrer. Capisce? He say, I do. He say go Polytechnic University, I go. He say work for Goering, I do. But I not Nazi. You take me America, I make rockets for you. You fly to moon, make forty-ninth state. You fly atom-bomb up Goering's skirt."

"You ain't a fan of Goering?"

He made a face like a toad was on his tongue.

"Goering is buffone. Clown. We call him Princess Goering. He belong in circus. He is crime against aeronautic. He and der Fuhrer, ach mein Gott. Clowns in circus. Every week they ask something new. Make jet plane. No, make rocket. No no, make very big bomber plane. All times order change. Nothing finish. It a very big miracle I get this build." He stroked the wing lovingly and sighed. "I come, we build tanti more."

I looked at the rusty tubs at the docks. They still looked a long ways off. I didn't see us paddling this sinking wing there. Not with Snuffy laying there like a beached whale. The air was getting brighter. Someone find us soon. Someone who was a question, though.

"I got a demand for you," I said to Fritz. "Anyone else know how to build this dingus?"

"Dingus? Ah. Nein. Yes plane. Fuel no. I only know solid fuel recipe. Recipe? Formula? Is brand new big improvement than liquid fuel. Capisce?"

"I got a lesson in it," I said. "You the only one."

"In world."

"But there's notes. Stuff written down?"

"With Rovini spies all over? Are you mad? No no no."

"You know about Rovini?"

"Is Napoli. Is everything crooked. Everybody know Rovini and Rovini spies."

"So if you go it all goes with ya?"

He tapped the side of his goldleafed loaf. "Ja. In here. All here."

"Jeepers," I said.

Fritz winced and flopped back down. The wing near capsized under him again.

"I feel not so good," he groaned. "Inside."

Smith coughed and blinked her eyes open. Well, one eye. The other was swole shut under that nasty gash on her forehead.

"You still with us, Snuffy?"

"Sure," she croaked. "Who's Snuffy?" She give me a weak grin.

The seagull come back, flying circles above us in the dirty gray sky. He cawed at us. Fritz coughed. They sounded the same.

"Signor Barney," he said. His voice was getting awful weak. "Not to worry you friends. They tough guy like Cagney picture. My soldier not so much. Reserves, ja? Old men. Tired. German, Italian, no different. Not big fighters. All young men fight this front, this front, this front. Verstehen?"

"Sure," I said. "Thanks."

The seagull dive bombed the water near us, dipped his beak, come up empty. He cawed, miffed. The end of the wing gurgled and tipped under the water.

"This thing sinking," I said. "Guess we gotta swim for shore."

The both a them groaned. Fritz raised hisself up on his elbows and looked at the rusty butts of them boats and sighed. He slid off into the water and started doing some kind a dog paddle toward the tubs.

"Up for a swim, Snuffy?"


She winced and shoved herself off. She tread water a few feet from me. I held my breath and slid in.

She wrapped a big old arm around me and started backstroking. Soon we caught up with Fritz. He was struggling. His chin was barely out of the water. He turned his face at me.

"Truly I feel not so good inside," he gasped.

I swung a arm out and grabbed the back of his braces. Smith chugged along and Fritz paddled behind us and I could tell the both a them was barely keeping their heads up. We wasn't making much headway. We was gonna die.

"Snuffy, let me go," I said.

"Nuts," she gasped.

"Gonna get drowned, I as lief not do it carried like a baby," I said.

"Signor Barney," Fritz gasped, spitting sea water, "zip yam hole."

Smith's grip on me was tight. Fritz was barely paddling anymore. She was hauling us both and not making much headway. She kept rowing her arm out and down and out and down but we didn't seem to be moving. She was gasping ragged in my ear. Fritz was a dead weight in my hand.

I wondered if Fritz was right and Seymour Spitz made it out a that hangar. He was gonna be steaming when he found out we let Fritz drown. We was probably lucky we was going down with him.

A low wave splashed over our heads. I got a mouthful that tasted like salty diesel fuel. We all coughed and spat. This is it, I thought. I wondered what the wops called Davy Jones' locker. My fingers lost their grip on Fritz.

Smith stopped rowing. She give a sad sigh in my ear.

"Sorry Barney," she murmured. "I couldn't keep her nose up."

"Nuts," I said.

That's when the natsy fighter plane zoomed over us. I didn't even hear it coming, and then there it was, roaring like an express El right over our heads. Its belly and wings shot over us so close it looked it I could reach up and paint swastikas on it, only they was already there. It screamed past us and I turned my head and watched it begin to climb a fast, tight curve up into the gray sky.

"FW 190," Smith said. Her voice was dreamy, like she was talking in her sleep.

"Si," Fritz said. "Focke-Wulf 190. Is not so good design."

I watched it begin to turn back toward us in the sky. Pilot must of spotted us. We was cooked for sure now. He banked around and come screaming down toward the water on a long curve like the first car in a out a control rolly coaster, aiming straight for us.

And then a little open motor boat swam up between us and the plane. It was a pretty little thing built out of dark wood. Looked like floating mahogany furniture. The three lugs standing in it was all big young meatball gangsters in dark suits and ties that could of been Adolfo's brothers.

They leaned over at us and jabbered guinea in hushed voices and reach down with all their hands. The fighter was still screaming right over the top of the water, straight for the little boat. They got hold of Smith first. Her arm went limp around me and slid off as two of them hauled her up. I saw her eyes roll up into her head and she passed out again and they drug her over the side.

They reached down at me. I couldn't reach up. I was all spent to my last buffalo. My arms and legs felt weak as the water they was in. I couldn't move them. The meatballs was waving their hands at me as I sank. I just couldn't reach out.

The water closed over me. I could still see them up there on the other side waving and jabbering. I could see the belly and wings of the fighter as it shot by right over them. The wind from it flapped their ties and mussed their greased down hairdos.

But down here where I was everything was quiet and peaceful. The water wrapped its arms around me and hugged me down toward the bottom. I sank like it was a big feather bed and I was gonna take a nice, long sleep.

Then a pair a big mitts grabbed me by the armpits from below me and pushed me up. My head broke the surface. Them young gangsters was leaning over me babbling like monkeys. They grabbed my arms and the scruff of my neck and pulled.

The big mitts fell away behind me. I turned my head in time to see the Count's big white face go under. His baby blues stared into my eyes. I tried to give him a look that said thanks. I thought I could see a you're welcome in his eyes. Then he was gone.

The meatballs flopped me on the deck like a fish. They wasted some time arguing in wop with a lot of hand action. Finally one took off his shoes and jacket and dove over the side.

Me and Smith laid there side by side. Her eyes was closed. She was breathing okay, like she was just having a nap. One of the gangsters unfurled a blanket and spread it over us. The natsy fighter plane was making a big loop overhead. The pilot wasn't going to shoot us. He was just out to spot us. He must of had orders not to shoot because he might hit Fritz.

The meatball in the water come up for air and argued some more with the ones in the boat and went back down. He did that three more times before he give up.



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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