John Strausbaugh, Stories




Bullet to the Moon





Chapter Twenty-Three








 It was dawn when the lugs pulled the little mahogany boat up to the pier where our tub was parked. They tied it up to some soggy wood steps that led down from the pier to the water. A couple sea monkeys scrambled down them steps to help. Way up above on his rusty tub the captain leaned over a railing in his dirty shirt and cap waving at us to hurry up. Seagulls was flapping around in the pinky blue sky and yelling. The natsy fighter was still circling, higher up in the bright shy. Antique trucks and hand carts was rolling around the dumpy waterfront starting their day, wops waving their arms in clouds of exhaust and shouting at each other.

The sea monkeys helped the meatballs carry Smith up to the pier. I leaned on somebody and hobbled up behind. We went up the gangplank onto the boat. The captain met us at the rail. He jabbered at the guys carrying Smith. They hauled her through a door and I saw them head down a stairwell. I was gonna follow when the captain grabbed my arm.



"You give Hitler pop on button, Signor Jeeps?"

"Yeah we knocked his block off."

"Bravo. Come."

"Gotta get a doc for the dame," I said.

"No time," he said. He nodded his captain's hat toward the waterfront. A couple of military trucks, a couple of jeeps and a personnel carrier was pulling into the crowd a wops. There must of been a hundred kraut and wop soldiers in them. I couldn't see if they was old and tired like Fritz said. I could see they all carried rifles and squirt guns.

The captain led me up some stairs to the wheelhouse. There was a big steering wheel in there and some dials and other equipment. Windows went around three sides. On a ledge under one window was a bottle of that Good 'n' Plenty liquor and some little glasses. The captain eyed it and licked his lips before he backed out and closed the door behind him.

Creepo was standing at a window. The sun coming up over the dumpy buildings of Naples glowed on the top of his bald head and on his silver suit. He watched the soldiers climb down out of the trucks. Wop stevedores was giving them the business, waving their arms in their faces.    

"That should keep um busy a while," he said. He turned and eyed me up and down.

"Look terrible, sport."

"Better than some," I said. "Dame could use a hand."

"She get one," Creepo said. "Where Seymour?"

"You better than me," I said.

His eyebrows lowered. He could make his round face look as hard and sharp as Mr. Spitz could.

"What that crack mean?"

"You set this whole thing up," I said. "Onliest question is why he played along."

Creepo eyed me some more and I watched him thinking there was about a hundred ways he could have his meatballs do me just for speaking to him like I was. Not too long ago that look would of give me the mimis. Now I didn't care. I was wet to the bone and tired to some place deeper and harder than bone. I remembered how nice and peaceful it felt when I was sinking to the bottom of the drink. If that was all there was to it then I didn't know what always scared me about it.

Creepo said, "Talkin out your hat, little man. Had a square deal me and Seymour." He shrugged. "Blowed up. Happens sometimes."

"You say so," I said.

"I do say so. Wanna watch the mouth, sport. I ain't in a Christian mood. See them krauts? Be up my nose for weeks about this. Gonna have to butter lot a bread to get them back in line."

We both watched out the window while kraut and wop soldiers used their rifles to shove their way through the crowd and the exhaust toward the rusty old tub that floated two docks over from this one.

"Shoulda knew Seymour balls it up," Creepo said. "Never was a for real tough guy."

"Wasn't his fault," I said. "Adolfo crossed you both."

Creepo lifted his eyebrows in surprise and then lowered them back into his tough guy scowl.

"So you say. Maybe. Might of catched second banana fever. Know what that is, sport? Guy take orders long time, get to thinking maybe it his turn give some. Like a head cook work in a restaurant long time figure he due to open his own. His name out front. Only in our business you can't just quit and start up new. Only way up through the boss."

Creepo shook his head and sighed, like a dad with a bad son.

"So how he foul up? Don't tell me Seymour got the drop on him."

"He sure did," I said.

Creepo give me his back. He walked over to the bottle on the ledge and poured some Good 'n' Plenty in two of the little glasses.

"Adolfo got the brains of cannoli," he said over his shoulder. "Think he clever dick. Now look. I don't got Seymour, nobody got the fanook, natsies all stir up. We all over the falls in one barrel."

Yeah, maybe that was how it was. And maybe not. I reached in my pocket and hauled out the Luger. Creepo turned with the two little glasses in his hands and saw me pointing the gat at his tie. He didn't look surprised or scared.

"Or it was all a setup," I said. "You crossed everybody."

"Wanna have a care with that thing, sport," Creepo said. "It dripping on your shoe."

I let my eyes slip. He wasn't kidding. Drops a sea water fell from the barrel to the floor.

"Pull iron on a fellow best be sure your powder dry, tough guy," he said. He held one of the little glasses at me. "I let it go cuz I know you have rough night. Have a snort. You all overheated in your brains."

I felt like a stupe pointing a dripping gat at him, but now it was showing I didn't know what else to do with it. So I just kept pointing it at him.

"No?" he said. "You a pledged man? Okay. Here's mud."

He poured the one glass in his mouth, then the other. He put them back on the ledge and let out a breath. I could smell the licorice from where I stood.

"Anyways you wrong about this thing," he said over his shoulder. "Me and Seymour had a square deal I tell ya. I deliver the fanook to Seymour. Seymour deliver hisself to me. Up and up."

There was a crackle of rifle fire like fireworks over on the waterfront. Some soldiers shot their guns in the air trying to break up the crowd that blocked them from getting on the rusty tub next to ours.

"My people keep them occupied a while longer," Creepo said. "We got time to finish our little chat before they get here and you gotta figure what you gone tell them. What else you wanna know?"

What else? What else didn't I want to know? I picked the big one.

"Why you bring Mr. Spitz here?" I asked. "How he cross you?"

"What you care?" he said. "Dirty double-crossing kike sold me out to feds. Partners how many years. We done good together. Seymour think up the schemes, I make sure all the mugs stay in line. Nobody could touch us."

"Yeah, I heard stories," I said.

"Then he decide he don't want to be partners no more. Okay. Only had to say so. Coulda broke it up clean." Creepo made a wop hand-washing gesture. "No. Give me up instead. Then he tell me not to worry, Creepo. Judge bought. DA in the bag. Next thing I know they shippin me in irons back to this dump."

So the rumors we passed around all them years was true. The Brain did cross the Butcher. I didn't have no reason not to believe it. That was how them big racketeers was. If Seymour Spitz didn't do for Creepo, Creepo would of eventually done for Seymour Spitz.

"You spent all these years planning how to get him back?" I asked him.

"Me? Nah. Elephant never forget, but I didn't have no plan. Then I hear what Altobello up to with his rocket planes and it come to me in a flash. I see opportunity to shtup the heil hitlers and get mine back on Seymour all in one."

Yeah, that sounded like something a gangster would dream up. Heist the rocket scientist. Use him as bait to get Seymour Spitz over. Then give Seymour Spitz what coming to him. Vendetta.

"What you plan to do to him once you got him?" I asked.

He shook his head.

"You don't wanna know, sport."

No, come to think of it I sure didn't. But I did have one more question.

"How you know he'd go for it?" I asked. "Come all this way and hand hisself over?"

Creepo grinned. It was the grin of a hard guy who thinks he been real clever and is awful pleased with himself.

"Ah well, that the hidden clause of the contract only me and Seymour knows," he said.

I heard the cabin door behind me open. Creepo looked past me.

"Maybe he tell you hisself," he said.

One of his meatballs step in. Followed by Clarence. Followed by Seymour Spitz. Followed by Adolfo. Followed by another meatball.

Mr. Spitz and Clarence looked beat and their wop opera outfits was filthy but otherwise they didn't look no worst for the wear. Adolfo had a bloody rag tied around one arm to match his swelled up jaw. He looked hangdog and even unhappier than me to be standing in a small room with Creepo Vini.

Seymour Spitz scowled at me and my Luger.

"Put that down before you hurt yourself, tough guy."

"Only if he drop it on his toe," Creepo said.

I let my gun hand fall.

"Mr. Spitz, I thought you was goners sure," I said.

Clarence sneered.

"Keystone krauts and guinea Home Guard all the way," he said. "We shot our way out no sweat."

"Bravo Seymour," Creepo said. "Knew you make it back. Had to, right?"

"Sure," Seymour Spitz said. He jerked his head at Adolfo. "Brung this along. Figured you'd want it back."

"It's all lies," Adolfo said.

Creepo tilted his round head at him.

"What is?"

"Whatever that little fink told you," Adolfo said, eyeing me.

"I think not," Creepo said. "I think you got ideas too big for your brains. Too bad for you. Snort, Seymour?"

Seymour Spitz waved him off.

"No? How bout your monkey?"

Clarence sneered at him.

Seymour Spitz scowled at me.

"Where the others?"

"Smith's down below," I said. "Dinged her loaf pretty good."

"The other others?"

I shook my head. Seymour Spitz give me his hard and icy face.

"How you lose him?"

I explained how the rocket run out a pep and Smith ditched her in the drink and we had to swim for it. "We was all in when Creepo's boys showed up and fished me and her out," I said. "Fritz went down before they could reach him."

I waited for Seymour Spitz to boil over. Grouse about how me and Smith fumbled it and lost the war. Then, if I was lucky, tell somebody to put a bullet in me.

Instead, he got a thoughtful look on his mug, rubbing his chin and nodding.

"Shouldn't of told the dame to take that gizmo," he said, half to himself. "Should of known she crack it up like the last one."

Creepo's eyebrows crawled up his bald dome.

"Big of you, Seymour," he said. "Didn't used to admit when you foul up."

"Didn't use to foul up," Seymour Spitz grumbled, still half to himself.

The captain rapped on the outside of a window. He looked antsy. He did the wop thing of talking with his hands through the glass at Creepo. You didn't need to know guinea to translate what them hands was flapping. Soldiers was crawling all over the nearest tub. They had the sea monkeys over there lined up on the deck. The captain a that boat was waving his hands at a kraut officer.

Clarence scowled at Seymour Spitz.

"Boss? We go before they shut the whole dump down?"

Seymour Spitz woke himself up.

"He's right, Creepo. Let's finish this thing."

The deck under our shoes start to shake as the tub's big engines cranked on. Looking out the window behind Creepo I could see sea monkeys scurrying around the deck throwing fat ropes around.    

"Same old Seymour," Creepo said. "Always in a rush."

"Quit it," Seymour Spitz said. "Where is he?"

"Near," Creepo said.

"Show him to me," Seymour Spitz said. His face was harder and more dead serious than I ever seen it. "Show me my boy."


Clarence's jaw dropped to the deck. My head started spinning again. All nine innings of this game they was throwing nothing but screwballs. I knew from day one it was funny business. But I never saw all the pieces coming together in one big puzzle till that minute.

I remembered me walking into the back room of the Three Bells and it dawning on me that the sailor in Times Square was Seymour Spitz's boy and that was why Seymour Spitz had a beef with me. I remembered Mr. Spitz telling me about family and handing down the empire and all that business. I remembered Agent Green telling me about Mr. Spitz's boy gone missing off Sicily. And Fritz talking about Creepo's spies and everything being bent.

"Seymour Jr. didn't go down the drink," I said out loud. "Krauts had him."

Clarence said, "What? Who?"

"Clam up," Seymour Spitz said.

"You maybe not as stupe you look," Creepo said to me. "Wop navy got him first. Spotted his little sub off Sicily. His partner go down with the ship, but Junior a survivor, like his dad. Wops hand him over to SS. SS bring him to Napoli. I hear about it cause I got people all in the SS business like I got people everywhere else around here."

"That's when you come up with this caper," I said. "What you do, give a guard a fish to let Junior crash out?"

Creepo eyes me coldly.

"Something like that. Now I holding Seymour's boy. I reach out to some peoples who reach out to some peoples who reach out to Seymour."

"You tell him you'll trade Junior for him," I said, still dropping the pieces into the puzzle. "You knew Mr. Spitz would come."

"I know my kikes, sport," Creepo said. "One thing about the kikes is family, see? Tell him, Seymour. Why, family is everything to them. They got nobody else. Everybody else in the world hate them. It ain't only the natsies like to get rid of every kike on the planet. They know that. So they lie and cheat and cross anyone else and never a care about it, but they give anything for family. Even a kike as bent as Seymour had to come for his boy."

Clarence was still gaping at Seymour Spitz.

"If it was about your boy all along," he said, "what was all this other business?"

"When I reach out to Seymour I find he in Sing Sing," Creepo said. "Now we gotta get him outta there before we can get him here. Feds wasn't gonna release him and send him over here for Seymour Jr. But they sure would do it to get their mitts on a top natsy rocket scientist."

"For the love a Mike," Clarence said. "Everything we been doin was all hooey right down the line."

We all looked at Seymour Spitz. He was glaring at Creepo.

"But there's more," he said. "Ain't there, Creepo?"

Creepo made an innocent mug and spread his pudgy hands.

"Why Seymour, what you mean?"

"You was never gonna let me just hand Fritz over to the feds," Seymour Spitz said. "Adolfo didn't dream up selling Fritz to the highest bidder. He stole the idea from you."

Creepo's innocent mug went hard. It was like watching a puddle freeze over.

"What you think?" he said to Seymour Spitz. "I gonna do you and them a favor after the way you and them done me?"

"We had a deal," Seymour Spitz growled back.

"They get broke," Creepo said. "Same as partnerships." He shrugged. "If the feds met my price they could of buy him off me. Wouldn't let bad blood get in way a business. I got kids too, ya know. Got a daughter wanna get married someday. Was thinking whatever I got for the fanook make a nice dowry. Anyway, all that on the bottom of the bay now, eh?"

"Bring me my boy," Seymour Spitz said.

"You forget you on my turf, Seymour," Creepo growled. "You don't give orders here. You bark, I might bring you your boy a piece at a time."

They showed each other their hard faces. The temperature on the bridge dropped about forty degrees. We all froze. Except Clarence. His hand slid toward the pocket of his wop clown outfit. One of the meatballs holding Adolfo's arms let go and his own hand slid toward his own pocket. I got ready to hit the deck.

Clarence's hand come back out with Chesterfields. He shook the pack at the meatball. We all relaxed.

"Comical," Creepo said. He turned back to Seymour Spitz. "I understand how you feel, Seymour. Like me and my little girl. Who I gonna sell now to get her dowry?"

He pulled a pretend thoughtful face. Then he looked at Adolfo.

"There's you. Let the boys go to town on you, then sell you to the natsies. Explain to them how this whole caper was on you. They might give me something for you."

Adolfo gave his arms a big jerk and managed to yank himself away from the meatballs. He took two quick steps at Creepo. Creepo leaned away, looking scared for the first time.

Then Adolfo threw hisself on his knees in front of him.

"I didn't do nothing, Creepo," he pleaded. "It's all lies. Who you gonna believe?"

The meatballs lunged at him yanking big rods out of the pockets of their shiny wop suits.

Adolfo looked over his shoulder at them. He jumped to his pins quick for such a big lug. His hands come up as he did. He got one arm around Creepo's neck and swung around to face them.

In his other hand he was strangling Clarence's little lady killer. I didn't have time to wonder when the heck he took it off the little monkey. I just stared along with everyone else when he jammed it up against Creepo's temple.

"Back up," he said to them. Then he repeated it in guinea.

The meatballs pulled up short three feet from him and Creepo. Their gats was out. It was another Mexican standoff. Adolfo was a lot bigger than Creepo and gave the meatballs a lot of target, but they wasn't about to give him a excuse to blow a chute through their capo's melon.

Adolfo barked some guinea at them and tightened his chokehold. Creepo nodded at them.

They turned to me and Clarence and held out their guns. We took them. Adolfo said some more wop to them. They slowly got down on their knees and then laid on their faces in the middle of the floor.

I stood there holding two hand cannons with what must have been an awful dopey look on my puss.

Adolfo took his arm off Creepo's neck but kept the pepperpot up to his temple.

"What is this?" Creepo said to Mr. Spitz. "You and him throw in together?"

"Had a chat on the way here," Seymour Spitz said. "Come to a agreement."

So that was why Adolfo had Clarence's pepperpot up his sleeve. He never took it off him. Clarence just handed it over. Mr. Spitz and Adolfo had the double-cross all work out when they got there.

"You and me had a agreement," Creepo said.

"Say, that's rough," Seymour Spitz said.

"You crawl back to America now?" Creepo asked Adolfo over his shoulder.

"Me? Nah, I like the setup you got here," Adolfo said. "Gonna enjoy runnin it."

"You think my boys come along?"

"Half your boys my boys already," Adolfo said. "Rest'll come along or be sorry."

"You ain't got the sand to ice me," Creepo said.

"Who said I ice you? Sell you to the krauts like you was gonna do me. Explain to them how this whole caper was on you."

I'll say this for Creepo Vini, he knew when he was beat. I could see it all over him. His round face got saggy and he kinda shrunk inside his slippery suit. Seymour Spitz was running the show now, and Adolfo was his second banana.

I should of figured Mr. Spitz wasn't going to play ball with Creepo unless he was in a corner with no way out. I guess I shouldn't of even been surprised him and Adolfo was on the same team now. Gangsters and racketeers played by their own rules. Basically, there was only one rule. Do the other fellow before he do you.

Out the windows, the soldiers was just about done rousting the sea monkeys on the other boat. Wouldn't be long now before they was on our boat. Maybe they was Keystone krauts and geezers, but they looked awful worked up.

"Where my boy?" Seymour Spitz asked Adolfo.

"Below," Adolfo said. He spat some guinea at the lugs on the floor. One of them nodded and got to his knees.

"He'll bring him."

"Go with," Seymour Spitz told Clarence.

The wop captain popped up outside the window behind Adolfo and Creepo. When he saw what we was all up to his eyes and mouth flew open. He started to waddle away quick.

Seymour Spitz jerked his chin at me.

I ran out. The captain and I met each other at the rail. He saw the two cannons in my hands and whipped his dirty captain's hat off and wrang it in his hands like a old dishrag.

"Signor Jeeper," he moaned.

"Taker her easy," I said. "Boys just roughhousin."

A look a relief washed over him.

"We ready to take it on the lam?" I asked.


"Hit the gas. Don't spare the horses."

"Si si, subito." He jammed his captain's hat back on and waddled away, yelling some orders down to his sea monkeys on the deck.

Clarence and two meatballs come toward me. As they stepped past me into the wheelhouse I looked at the little guy in the dirty sailor suit who walked behind Clarence. His ears was flat as I remembered them. He shot me a cold hard glance with rain puddle eyes and looked away. Then he stopped dead in his tracks and stared at me again. I saw him recognize me, even though it was years ago and he only saw me a few seconds. I guess you never forget the face of a guy who made you look like a mook in front of your girl.

"Come on," Clarence growled at him. He walked by me, his eyes hard. He was a chip off the old ice block for sure.

There was a commotion at the end of the pier. A crowd a sea monkeys and stevedores was jostling a bunch a the geezer black shirts and kraut soldiers, trying to keep them off the boat. Looked to me like subito wouldn't be too soon.

I stepped back inside. Seymour Spitz and Seymour Junior was standing beak to beak and just staring at each other with no expression while the rest watched them. It wasn't the most joyous reunion I ever see.    

"Treat you okay?" Seymour Spitz asked.

"What is this?" Junior asked back. "Playing hero?"

"You should talk," his dad said.

Seymour Junior looked around at the rest of us.

"This the cavalry?"

"Yeah and we come a long way to spring ya," Clarence growled.

"Who asked ya to?" Junior said back.

"You best scram," Adolfo said to Seymour Spitz. He pushed the lady killer into Creepo's temple. "I'll take this to the krauts. Ought to busy them long enough to give you a start anyways."

Outside there was a loud noise like a giant was tearing a big rip across the sky. We all turned. Through the windows I could see all the wops and soldiers point their faces up in the same direction.

A jet plane just like Snuffy's screamed in a straight line right over the docks. It was low enough them soldiers could of poked its belly with their rifles. The whole crowd yelled and hit the deck, soldiers and all.

"What the heck?" Adolfo gasped.

"Messersmith Me-X 777 light interceptor," I said. I wished Snuffy was there to see it. She probably never saw one in the air she wasn't driving herself.

The dingus zipped right along the docks in the direction of Vesuvius and then curled up into the sky. Like the pilot earlier, this one didn't shoot any guns. He was just looking. For us and Fritz.

We was all staring out the windows when Creepo made his move. He ducked away from Adolfo and made a run across the floor toward the door. He moved quick for a fat little mug.

Seymour Junior was quick too. When Creepo went by him he give him a football kick right on the shiny seat of his silver pants. Creepo stumbled forward and banged the top of his round dome on the door and went down in a puddle of fat man and silver.

"Been wantin to do that a while," Junior muttered.

"Lahss gehn," Seymour Spitz said.

Adolfo and a meatball pal hauled Creepo up. Adolfo held the pepperpot out to Clarence.

"Thanks for the loan."

"Don't mention it."

Adolfo held the empty hand out at Seymour Spitz.

"We square?"

Seymour Spitz looked at the hand. He didn't shake it, but he said, "For now."

Adolfo nodded and took his hand back.

"Same old Mr. Spitz. Give my regards to the boys on the Bowery."

They hauled Creepo out the door. The jet-plane made another screaming pass over the docks.

The captain come bustling in the door, all sweaty and out a breath.

"Okay Signor Jeeper," he wheezed. "Now we hit the horse."

Junior was scowling around at us all again.

"This tub the getaway vehicle? Think the navy have something to say about that?"

"No worry," the captain said. "Is Italian navy."

He waddled off shouting guinea at his monkeys. Junior scowled at his dad.

"Ma know you here? What you doing here anyway? Whyn't you just send these mutts?"

I watched Seymour Spitz's eyes twitch. I figured Junior was about the only lug in the world could talk to Seymour Spitz that way. I didn't know if his dad was gonna hug him or slap him.

"Son," Seymour Spitz said, "shut your yam hole."

I went out to the rail. The jet was circling in the sky, up higher now. The crowd on the dock was boiling again, a whole heap a wops jostling them soldiers. On the deck, sea monkeys was throwing off the ropes and hauling in the gangplank. I saw Adolfo and a meatball in the middle of the pack, with Creepo hanging by the arms between them. They was having a palaver with the wop soldiers.

The deck shuddered under my heels and the tub started to back out. I patted down my damp organ grinder costume for a smoke. Must of lost them in the drink. The captain come out to the rail. Him and me watched Naples sliding away a foot at a time.

"Arrivaderla," he muttered at the soldiers on the docks, "e va fan culo."

"Show me where they took the dame," I said.

He pointed down a flight of stairs and waddled into the wheelhouse.


She was on a cot in a small cabin. White gauze with a red stain was wrapped around her forehead and over her bad eye. Her skin was white as the gauze but she was breathing easy. She was a tough tomato. She could take a dented bean.

Somewhere down below us the engines rumbled loud. The deck shook and moved under me.

I sat on the edge of the cot and felt Smith's cheek. It was warm but I didn't think it was feverish. Her good eye rolled open. It wandered the ceiling dreamily and fell on my face.

"Hiya, Snuffy."

"Hi yourself, Barney," she whispered.

"Sleep good?"

"Yeah. This the old tub?"

I nodded.

She groped for my hand and took it. Even pooped as she was her grip still crushed mine.

"You got us out," she said.

"Nah," I said. "You did, Speed."

She give her head a little shake. Her eye rolled closed and I thought she was back out. But she said, "Fritz?"


When her eye open again it looked really sad.

"Mr. Spitz?"

"Yep. Clarence too. Long story for later."

Her eye rolled closed again. She sighed.

"Sleep," I said.

When I went to wring my hand out of that grip a hers it tightened like a vice.

"Ernestine," she whispered with her eye closed.

"Ernestine?" I said.

"You got a problem with that?" she croaked.


I figured I could keep calling her Snuffy anyhow.


I hesitated a sec. "Joseph. Joe."

"Joe Bigelow? What's wrong with Joe?"

"It was my old man's name," I said.

I crawled onto the cot with her and put my noodle down.

Right away I was dreaming that I was back sinking toward the bottom of the bay. Snuffy was with me. We was holding hands and floating to the bottom gentle as a couple a leafs. I looked down and Fritz was standing on the bottom. His golden hair waved around his pale baby face. He was waving us on down, with a big grin on his puss.



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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