John Strausbaugh, Stories




Bullet to the Moon





Chapter Twenty-Four







      At some point out in the middle of the Mediterranean the tub came to a stop and a much smaller and crappier fishing boat pulled up alongside. Sea monkeys lowered Smith to it on a stretcher. She slept through it. Then the rest of us got ready to climb down a rope ladder. The captain shook all our hands and said death to Hitler.

"Signor Speetz, please tell to America how many Italian peoples hate Nazis and fascists. Next time you bring more Americans and give them real wallop in the labonza, si?"

"You bet," Seymour Spitz told him.

On the smaller boat the sailors stuffed us all down in the boiler room and we went tearing across the bouncing waves. We stayed down in there the whole rest of the day and a long while into the night. The sea got rougher and rougher. We bounced and rolled around like clams in a bucket. Clarence and me got sick in separate corners.    

When they finally come to fetch us up to the deck it was pitch black out and the sea was all tall waves and a stiff wind blew raindrops like bullets into us. Not too far away a light blinked on and off. It rode the waves up and down. The wops piled us all into a dinghy and a couple of them jumped in with us. They winched us out over the side and down. The guineas in the dinghy with us rowed like mad, up the hill down the hill up the hill down the hill, and that blinking light gradually got closer. We could make out the sub and a bunch of American sailors having a hard time standing on it. We finally reached it and they hauled us aboard and down inside. The captain said the water was stinking with natsies and dived the boat but quick.

I wouldn't say Agent Green was sorry to see us, but she took it real hard to not see Fritz. Seymour Spitz conned her and God let her down in the miracles department. I could of told her they both would do that. Where I come from folks know all about God and gangsters welshing on them. You would of thought Negroes did too, but they got their own ways.

Smith laid up in the sub's infirmary the first three days and nights. She didn't miss nothing. Rest of us did what we could to avoid each other inside that tin can. Green was mad at Seymour Spitz. Seymour Spitz and Junior was mad at each other. Clarence was just mad per usual.

The fourth day Smith was able to wobble around the corridors some, with a lot of white stuff wrapped around half her head. That night when the captain come up for air she joined me and Seymour Spitz up on the tower. That Milky Way was up there, same as before, and I gawked at it same as before.

"Gee, Barney, they don't have stars in Brooklyn?" Smith ribbed me.

"Barbara Stanwyck," I said.


"Skip it."

"How's the bean?" Seymour Spitz asked her.

"It'll do till they can screw on a replacement," she said.

"You're all right for a G-man."

He saw me looking at him. "What? Spit it out."

"I was just wonderin," I said, stepping careful, "why you let Junior sign up in the first place."

"Don't be a dope, Bigelow," he snapped. "I had it all set up to keep him out of it. Spread a lot of cabbage around to do it. He up and do it behind my back."

"He's patriotic," Smith said.

Mr. Spitz snorted.

"He just hardheaded. Knew I didn't want him in it. That's why he did it. That boy been fightin me since he was six years old."

"But you still put us through all this to rescue him."

He waved one of his thin gray hands and made a hard face at the sea.

"You'll have to answer to the War Department for stringing us along," Smith said.

"Compared to Creepo? I'll take the War Department," he said. He give her a glance. "Ain't happy we lost the fairy though. I'm eager as you all to shove a atom-bomb up Hitler's snout."

Smith looked out at the dark water and her good eye got a little bleary.

"I couldn't keep her nose up."

"Don't kick yourself, tough guy," Seymour Spitz said. "Seemed like a good idea at the time."

"Well at least we slow um down," I said. "That good, right?"

The both of them just look out at the water. I knew they was thinking it might not be good enough. We was all thinking that.

A sailor pop his head up.

"We got company on radar. Going back down."

Seymour Spitz climbed down first. Snuffy put her hand on my arm.

"You okay, Barney? Get enough air?"
"Sure," I said. Funny thing. After what we been through, being shut up inside that tin can didn't hardly give me the yim yams anymore. It almost felt safe. Especially in Snuffy's bunk with her big arms and legs half squeezing me to death. Yeah, it sure was a funny thing.
Newport News was still a ghost town when the sub pulled up at the docks. No navy brass band come to greet us. I guess we wasn't exactly conquering heroes.

What there was was a big black sedan and a navy shore patrol jeep parked on the dock. A gang a federal marshal dames stood waiting around the sedan as we step ashore. A bruiser big as Snuffy, in a dark double-breasted suit and brown shoes and fedora, stood out from the pack. Snuffy stood behind me. She was wearing a smaller white patch over her dinged eye now. I felt the two of them give each other the once over.

"Mr. Spitz, you're with us," the federal broad said.

Clarence stepped between them and glowered up at her.

"Say, what is this?" he growled.

Clarence knew what it was. We all did. It was just like Snuffy said. If we come back with Fritz the feds would of wink at Seymour Spitz stringing them along. But we didn't, and Mr. Spitz had to take the fall.

He turned to Junior. Junior's face was all sharp ice. I don't think they said twenty words at each other the whole week in the sub. Junior give his dad a look a contempt and anger only a son could get away with showing Seymour Spitz.

"Tell your ma I be along by and by," Mr. Spitz told him. "Tell the boys you run the shop for now."

"Yeah? Think the United States Navy have something to say about that?"

"Applesauce. Your sailor boy days is over. You done your part and then some."

"Says who?" Junior said.

"Says me."

"Utsnay," Junior said.

Seymour Spitz stared at him a bit. Junior stared him back. They was talking at each other but I didn't think they was listening. Must of been them ears.

Seymour Spitz turned back to the fed dame and held out his wrists.

"Cuffs necessary?" she asked him.

"I'm a real desperado, doll," he said.

She shrugged and slapped them on him. I notice she didn't make them tight.

Seymour Spitz looked over his shoulder at Green.

"This thing over, you come work for me," he said.

"Not on your life," she said back.

The dame folded him in the back seat. Before she could shut the door, he leaned forward and give me a once over with them gray eyes.


"Yes sir Mr. Spitz."

"Ah-ooga," he said.

We watched the sedan roll down the dock.

Two young dames in uniforms with white SP helmets come away from the navy jeep.

"Seaman Spitz? Come wth us, please."

Clarence made his tough guy face at Junior as he strolled to the jeep.

"What?" Junior snapped. "Cross your eyes at me again, you little rat. Just try it."

We never seen him again. Couldn't say bad riddance.


God let Agent Green down, but the US Army Air Corps come through on its own hook. During the eight days we took coming back across the ocean, a B-29 named Adelaide's Sis dropped a atom-bomb on the Jap town of Kagoshima, and then the Honeybucket flattened Nagoya. When we pulled into Newport News Eleanor was expecting the emperor's surrender any minute. She made it clear Tokyo was next if he didn't come across but quick.

It was the first good news Americans heard in years. Even Green was perked up by it. She had a son and a daughter in the Pacific. Everybody was saying that with the Japs mopped up the allies could throw everything they had at the natsies and bust the war in Europe open finally. The big debate was whether or not to try to use atom-bombs there too. Some folks argued it was one thing to break a bunch a rice bowls in the Orient but something else to knock down the great cathedrals and castles a Europe.

Me, Smith and Clarence they shoved back in our old rooms on top of the hospital. They wanted to put Smith in a bed next to O'Grady's but she fought them off. She was a tough gal and healing up good and she didn't want to be cooped up in the sick ward. Every night at lights out she snuck into my room or me into hers. If they wanted to know how good she was bouncing back all they had to do was watch me hobbling around in the mornings.

Seven days in a row we was debriefed by every kind a G-man, military intelligence officer and bright gal from Washington there was. They raked us over every little detail a everything that happened until we was hoarse. Then they told us to repeat it. Clarence boiled over on the second day and every day after that. If they didn't take his pepperpot off him when they first checked us in I know he would of put holes in somebody long before that week was out.

Japs surrendered the middle of that week. Me, Smith and even Clarence sat by the Philco listening to Winchell reporting from the shindig in Times Square. Agent Green come up with a bottle a champagne. Clarence left the room when she come in.

"His chip get any bigger he won't be able to get up off the ground someday," she said.

"Don't mind him," I said. I told her what Gus said about the organ grinder's monkey. She laughed like it the funniest story she ever heard.

Her, me and Smith drinked the bubbly out a little water glasses. Tommy Dorsey's all-girl orchestra come on and Smith threw me around the floor like a rag doll. Winchell read a cable from Winston Churchill congratulating America for defeating the Japs. It ended with something to the effect that the forces of evil had casted the world into perpetual night but we was now seeing the first rays of a new dawn and soon the sun of freedom and democracy would shine over all a Europe again.

Then Winchell said Churchill sent the cable from his war bunker, and London was under rocket attack. The Heil Hitlers' response to the nip capitulation was throwing every rocket they could get off the ground at the city and the English coast. It sounded like they was getting a awful pasting.

The Dorsey orchestra come back on and played "We'll Meet Again," followed by "God Save the Queen." Smith bawled and Green teared up too.

"We done what we could," Green said.

"I should of flown around the ack ack," Smith said. "Headed out to sea in the first place and come back in low."

"Mr. Spitz told you to go," Green said. "Bringing Fritz back wouldn't of changed what's happening tonight."

"How do we know?" Smith said. "If Hitler knew we had him…"

We finished off the bottle real quiet. Green left a little later. Me and Smith sat in the dark with the Philco on. It was the last I saw of Green. She got sent off on a new assignment early the next morning.

After a week of debriefings even the G-men dames could tell our stories in their sleep and they threw in the towel. In the bare office where they grilled us a lady G-man said to Smith, "You're excused, agent. You two gentlemen wait here a minute."

"When we get out a here?" Clarence exploded, smacking the table we sat at.

The G-man gal raised a eyebrow. She seen Clarence blow up plenty a times by then.

"I just told you. In a minute."

"I mean when we blow this whole dump? Ain't I done my part?"

"Didn't they tell you? Your medal's in the mail."

"Stick the tin, sister. A ticket to Grand Central do me fine."

She went out. Me and Clarence lit Chesterfields. I been thinking for a few days by then how I sure was gonna miss them machine-made rollos when they finally let me back to civilian life.

"Say Clarence, what you gonna do you get back to the city?" I asked.

"What's it to you?" he groused. "Don't think cuz you play hero I crossed you off my dance card, bud."

"Never dreamed of it," I said.

The door open and O'Grady come hobbling in on a cane. He looked at me and Clarence with them little .22 holes a his and dropped himself in a chair like a ton a boulders.

"Nice to see ya on your pins finally," I said.

He blinked his bullet holes at us.

"Somebody swipe my ring," he rumbled. "If it was one a youse, you be sorry."

"Knock it off," Clarence said. "What I want with that dime store paste?"

O'Grady stared at me. I tapped my Chesterfield in my ashtray a lot.

The door open again and now Miss Abbondando marched in.

"Aw what is this, old home week?" Clarence said.

She looked same as ever. Same hairnet, same cheap outfit, same sensible shoes. Same look on her kewpie doll face, like us three mugs was the last characters she wanted to be in a room with.

Funny, seeing her now didn't get a rise out a me in the old way. She just seemed like any other dame in a frumpy outfit. She could of been any one of the gal G-men, or Eleanor Roosevelt for that matter. I didn't feel anything at all for her.

I guess Ernestine was such a big old gal she just crowded Miss Abbondando out a me.

"Gentlemen," she said. She still didn't sound like she mean it. She slapped that beat up briefcase a hers on the table and slid out some papers.

"Now what?" Clarence grouched.

"In reward for your service in the war effort, however fouled up it was, your government is expunging your criminal records," Miss Abbondando said. "No more parole, no more court appointed war work. You are free men. The government is handing you a clean slate. I fully expect the three of you to foul up again at the first opportunity, but it ain't my decision to make. Sign here."

I looked at Clarence. He scowled at me.

"Beats a medal," I shrugged.


Me and Ernestine sat together on her bed that night, holding hands like schoolkids. While me and the other lugs was signing them papers, she was hearing about her new G-man assignment. She was heading off to the West Coast in the morning.

"Can't say any more than that," she said. "You going back to Brooklyn I guess."

"I guess so," I said. "Don't know anywhere else."

"You got a gal there?"

"Sure," I said. "Whole harum of um."

She leaned on me. We got quiet again. After what I just went through, the next bit should of been a snap. But it took me a while to build up the courage.

"Say Ernestine," I said.

"What, Joe?"

"Gimme your hand."

"You're holding it, dope."

"Other one."

She held out her big left mitt. I hauled O'Grady's pinky ring out of my pocket. I thought it would fit her ring finger, but her mitts was almost as big as his. I did some shoving and she did some giggling. I switched it to her pinky and it slid on like it was made for it.

Looked a lot better on her than it did on him.

"You gone all soft on me, Joe?"

"Like a rag doll."

She held it up and admired it.

"What kind of stone is it?"

"Ain't got a clue."

"He ever figures out you took it…"

"I'll hide behind you."

She grinned and squeezed me.

"I can't tell where I'm gonna be while the war's on," she said.

"I know," I said. "I'll be waitin."

She hugged me. I felt a couple ribs shift.

"Promise me one thing," I said to her. "You go jumping into any more fancy flying gizmos, check the gas."

"I promise," she said. "Now you promise me one thing. Promise me this ring is the last thing you ever lift. Promise me this experience made an honest man out of you and you won't go back to your old crooked ways."

I squirmed my shoulders under her arm.

"That's two promises," I said.


Truth was I had no idea what I was going to do with myself. I been bent all my life. A mook like me at my age didn't just pick up a lunch pail and go whistling off to work like Honest Pete.

But I said to Ernestine, "I promise."

"Harrumph," she grinned.
She punched my arm with her left fist. That ring hurt like heck.

The End



I periodically add more stories to this site. If you'd liked to get an alert whenever I do that, use the RSS feed at the bottom of the home page, or click here and send me your email address.

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