John Strausbaugh, Stories




Bullet to the Moon





Chapter Seven








Clucking chickens and a barking dog woke me. Who knew how long I snoozed or how far we drove. I just knew we were stopped, and I could hear chickens and a dog, and smell hay and manure. Wherever we was it still wasn't Brooklyn.

"Rise and shine."

Smith unhitched the blindfold and I blinked around. The Chevy was backed into a barn. I never been in a barn before but it looked like they always did in the moving pictures. Bales of hay, chickens poking around on the floor, rakes and such hanging on the walls. What they don't show you in the movies is the stink. It was like somebody busted a big bottle of ammonia in there. Later I learned that was the smell of the chickens' business. I guess if you're born to it you get used to it. When Al Falfa went into the city I bet it stank to him.

The barn doors was open and I could see grass and trees and the sun just starting to poke its head up behind some low hills in the distance.

"Say, what is this?" I asked Smith. "Now where the heck are we?"

Smith took my elbow in her good hand. Her fingers went all the way around easy.

"Come on, chum. Mr. Spitz'll explain."

The thought of Seymour Spitz out there on Al Falfa's farm was even daffier than me being there.

"I don't need Mr. Spitz to explain, toots. I need Mr. Spitz to let me get back to work before I bust my parole."

Smith stepped us around some chickens. "I don't know anything about that. Please don't call me toots."

"Don't go get feelings, doll. It'll spoil your act."

"Don't call me doll."

She pulled me outside. It sure was a farm, all right. Green and brown fields with pockets of trees here and there rolled a long ways to the horizon, which was pink and red with dawn. The barn was big and red and had a advertisement painted in white on one side that said CHEW BIG RED. The farmhouse nearby was tall and white with a lot of gables and porches and gingham curtains in the window. It looked like Currier and Ives slept there. There was a couple of large, low sheds where I guess they hid the other cars, and off to one side a fenced-in area for whatever animals wasn't standing in it at the moment, and behind the house a windmill turning real slow in almost no breeze. The air was wet with dew and smelled like grass and dirt and something else, like the taste a radishes. A rooster crowed somewheres sounding just like they do in the cartoons and some birds chirped in trees.

Seymour Spitz, Brown, Clarence and O'Grady was standing at the bottom of the farmhouse porch steps. They was with two new guys who looked like Brown, big-shouldered Joe Colleges with hairdos flat as aircraft carriers. They had the sleeves of their white shirts rolled up and their ties loose and they both held mugs of joe. A collie sniffed around Clarence's pants. He kept kneeing it away and it kept coming back. Love at first sight.

It was just about the most cockamaimie collection of hoodlums I ever seen.

I walked across the damp grass.

"Mr. Spitz I gotta talk to you."

"Not now, Bigelow. I hear you done all right last night."

"That's what I got to talk to you about, Mr. Spitz. You ast me to do a job of work. I done it. I got to get back to my regular job now."

Seymour Spitz looked at me with those rain water eyes.

"What they blow at the end of a shift down on the docks?" he asked.


"A whistle? Sireen?"

"One of them horns goes ah-ooga," I said.

"Klaxon." He turned to Clarence. "Clarence, you hear a klaxon go ah-ooga?"

Clarence sneered and shook his head.

Seymour Spitz looked back at me. "You?"

"Mr. Spitz I."

"Job done when I go ah-ooga," he said. He waved a thin hand at the new Joe Colleges. "Meet White and Jones. I could murder me some scrambled eggs. Let's eat."

What could I do? You didn't ride a racketeer like Seymour Spitz very far before you got a icepick in your ear. If Seymour Spitz said we wasn't square yet that was the end a that conversation. He kept the books.

The farmhouse looked like Grandma Moses lived there. The rooms was all big and airy and the furniture was all plain and country. Framed portraits of Jesus and a lacquered fish on a plaque and needlepoint horsies on the walls. A shiny mahogany Victrola next to a big box Philco in the sitting room with a sofa and a couple of stuffed chairs wearing lacey antimacassars.

The dining room was big as a basketball court, with a long table you could seat both teams around. A big bowl of white and yellow flowers sat in the middle and places were set at one end.

A colored lady wearing a flower print apron come out of the kitchen with a big coffee pot in one hand and a platter of steaming biscuits in the other.

White said, "Everybody, meet Verandah. Verandah, this here's a bunch of desperate characters you don't want to know."

"You got that right," Verandah cracked. She put the stuff on the table and went back into the kitchen.

"So," White said, "dig in."

We all grabbed biscuits and the coffee pot began to make the rounds.

I looked around at everybody tying the feed bag on like we was at a church social.

"Anybody wanna say where this is?" I asked.

"Well," White said through a mouthful of biscuit, "now you're here let's call it Wise Acres."

Brown chuckled.

"A nice out of the way spot where we can do our business," Seymour Spitz said.

"What business is that?" I asked.

They all just shoved biscuit in their cakeholes.

"You at least say what state we're in?"    

"What you care?" Seymour Spitz said.

Verandah came back out with a platter loaded to overflowing with scrambled eggs.

"Is there bacon?" White asked her.

She shot him a look.

Jones spoke up. "Let's go over the ground rules. This place may feel remote to you, but it's not that remote. We don't know who might be nosy parkering around. So no one goes wandering without expressed permission. We're all bunking here in the house. You'll find clothes and toiletries in your rooms."

"Smokes?" I asked.

"There's a carton on your bed. But the family we're borrowing the place from asked that you don't smoke inside. They're religious."

Clarence sucked a tooth and reached inside his jacket.

"Fire that up and it'll be the last one in your coffin," Mr. Spitz told him.

Clarence put his hand back on the table.

"Oh and stay out of Verandah's kitchen unless invited," Jones said.

Verandah padded in on cue with bacon and sausages piled on a platter and slapped it on the table.

"Anybody want juice?" she asked.

"Please," Brown said.

"Then I invite you to come on in and squeeze it yourself," she said.

The collie trotted in. It put its face in Clarence's lap and made goo-goo eyes at the bacon he was pushing toward his puss.

"Get away, ya mangy mutt," Clarence growled. I knew how he felt. Where him and me came from, we didn't get too friendly with dogs. Dogs was usually killer bruisers keeping us off someone else's property. They'd as soon chew your throat out as be your pal.

Verandah reappeared and slapped a glass of orange juice in front of Brown. "He ain't mangy and he ain't a mutt," she said. "Cmere Sarge."

The mutt trotted over to her.

"Sarge belongs to the family," White explained.

"Yeah and I'm sure they don't want him associating with lowlifes," Verandah said, eyeing Clarence.

Outside a vehicle grinded its gears. Sarge barked and ran out.

"That'll be our shipment," Seymour Spitz said.

Through a window I could see a moving van backing up in front of one of the sheds.

"I best go see they don't break it unpacking it," Verandah said.

"Mr. Spitz I don't want to be a nervy nelly," I said.

He cut me off. "But you sure would like to know what's going on. Yeah I know. It'll be lost on O'Grady and Clarence, but you might get something out of it."

He looked at Brown and Jones. "Wise em up."

We all wiped our mouths and got up and followed the Joe Colleges outside. The sun was all the way up now in a blue sky that made the fields and trees shine really green. Just like I never knew the country got so dark at night, I never knew it was so bright in the daytime. It made my eyes water the way the only shadows were under the trees.

Verandah was watching a pair of apes in overalls unload something the size of a sports car under a tarp and wheel it into one of the sheds. We walked to the other shed. Brown threw open the door and we walked in. At first it was as dark inside as the Three Bells. I blinked a few times. Now I could see it was decked out like a hayseed schoolhouse, with a couple rows of wooden chairs facing a rolling blackboard, and a table with papers piled on it to one side. Smith closed the door behind us and it was cooler and darker inside.

I wasn't too surprised by the classroom setup. Seymour Spitz would be the kind of racketeer who liked to plan his affairs meticulous and clockwork. Once I helped pull a job with another Jew, Herschel Barthels. He had kinky hair and was dark as a spade, so they called him Hershey Bar. He also set up a classroom and drilled his team a six hoodlums like we was in the third grade. And all we was doing was emptying the till in a flower shop. You would of thought we was knocking over Fort Knox.

Jones stood at the blackboard and the rest of us all took a seat. I reached in my pocket.

"No lighting up in here," he said. "It'd go up like a box of lucifers. We'll break in a while."

Seymour Spitz was looking at me. I put my hands in my lap.

"I know some of you wondering what we're all doing here," Jones said, looking straight at me. "Well now you get the answer. Don't blame me if it knocks you for a loop."

Outside, Sarge started to yap. Someone knocked on the door. Smith threw it open.

Miss Abbondando marched in out of the sunshine.

I didn't faint off my chair, but I don't know why.






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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