John Strausbaugh, Stories




Bullet to the Moon





Chapter Nine






  Standing there on the straw was the natsy flying gizmo from yesterday, all shot up and dented. Same pointy nose, only dinged up now. Same bent-back wings with the iron crosses on them. Same swastikas on the tail. Same no propeller or engine of any kind you could see, just a hollow tube under the tail, like a big cigar tube.

"Recognize it?" Jones asked me.

"Do I!" I said. "What the heck it doing here?"

"Dame was supposed to fly it here," Seymour Spitz said. "Only she broke it."


Seymour Spitz and the Rushmore boys all looked at Smith. She looked at her shoes and made a aw shucks face.

"That was you?" I said.

"I'll say it was," Jones said. "Why, before the war Agent Smith held the women's world air speed record three years running."

I put my hand on my hat again.

Jones said, "Agent, will you tell them what they're looking at?"

"Messerschmitt Me-X 777 light interceptor jet," Smith cooed, grinning at the dingus like it was a bouncing baby. "The krauts flew their first jet aircraft in 1939, and if Hitler hadn't sidetracked them they'd have fifty different models of jet fighters and bombers in the air by now and our boys would be in a real hard place. As it is they got plenty. This little baby was produced in the underground slave factory at Thuringen." She glanced at me. "That's in Germany. Anyway, she first saw action against our bombers last year. The fuselage is basically one big turbojet engine with a pilot on top, completely revolutionary. Genius really. For speed and acceleration she beats the pants off our fastest Mustangs and Spitfires. She's got her flaws. Not very maneuverable with the balls out, range is limited and the power plant and fuel tank don't leave a lot of room for armament. Also, to keep the weight down, she's got no armor. You could slingshot spitballs through this skin."

She held up her bandaged mitt and grinned shyly.

"Caught a piece of shrapnel on its way through the cockpit yesterday," she said. "But the armor's not important. She was designed for one job only, to dive down on our bomber squadrons like a plague of mosquitoes and cut them to ribbons in one burst. Then run like the dickens for home. For that she's a dilly of a tool. Our bombers been taking heavy hits ever since this baby first appeared."

"How'd you get your mitts on it?" I asked.

"Spitfires knocked this one into the drink in the Channel. Luckily an American destroyer was there to fish her out. They brought her to a navy research station out on Long Island. She sat in a hangar out there for a few weeks with our designers crawling all over her figuring out what makes her tick. Last week they moved her under wraps to Floyd Bennett. Parked her in a secret shed. Besides the people in this room, not half a dozen others knew she was there. Took my first test flight in her under cover of dark five nights ago. Our side needs firsthand experience in how she handles and what she can do. Yesterday's daylight run was the ultimate test, see how well she dodges ack-ack."

"Not very top secret," I said. "Me and all a Brooklyn and the east side of Manhattan watched."

"Yeah and not one of you knew what you were looking at," Jones said. "It was an acceptable risk. Plus we knew the Home Guard would shut the whole city down in case the invasion was on. Made it easy for us to slip out with no one looking."

"But I thought you was taken into custody when you landed," I said to Smith.

"Don't be a dope," Seymour Spitz said. He pointed his thumb at Brown. "The arresting officer."

"Cute," I said. "So what's it doing here?"

"After yesterday things was too hot in the city to leave it there," Seymour Spitz said.

"Remember, nobody knows who we are," Brown said. "Not Hoover's boys, not the spies from the other side, nobody. But after yesterday you can bet they're all looking for us. So we hide out here."

My brains was scrambling to make sense of all this hooey. I looked at Seymour Spitz and saw he was just about topped up with me and Clarence asking questions. I thought I better keep shtum. I didn't want a smack.

"The point is," Jones said, "jets like this are the reason we can't just fly an atom-bomb up Hitler's nose. These things are giving our bombers a real pasting all over Europe. Our chances of getting a B-29 through to where it would do some good are one in a million. If we got shot down over somewhere like France or Belgium, which we probably would, well, we'd put a big ding in a place we're supposed to be on the same side of."

"Why ain't we got any of these gizmos?" Clarence asked.

"We threw all our best brains into the bomb. Now we're playing catch up on these. Our side has collected a handful of them, and our boys have taken them apart and screwed them back together. We got a pretty good idea how they go now, thanks to Agent Smith here. We're working on a prototype that expands this basic airframe into a super-long-range jet bomber that'd have a real chance of getting through any interference the Luftwaffe could run and drop an atom-bomb down Hitler's trousers. But even if it flies right out of the crate, it could be a year from now."

"A year we ain't got," Seymour Spitz said. "Show em."

Jones led us over to a card table standing in some straw beside the gizmo. Blueprints the size of newspaper pages was lying on it. The top sheet was a technical drawing of what looked like a giant dart. It showed it in different views and cut open to show a lot of technical business inside. There was a lot of kraut writing all over the sheet, and a swastika in the lower right corner.

"Know what a rocket is, Bigelow?" Jones asked me.

"I seen Flash Gordon's in the funny papers," I said.

"Well, they're real, too," Jones said.

"Applesauce," O'Grady rumbled.

"And the krauts are way ahead of us on them. This baby here they call the K-1. K for Kali, the Hindoo goddess of death and destruction. Hitler likes the magic hoodoo."

"Shteyner afzane beyner," Seymour Spitz muttered. We all looked at him. He waved a thin hand at us.

"Figuring out the right fuel's been a problem for them, and the gyroscopic guidance system," Jones said. "But it's krauts we're talking about here. They live to tinker. And they've got all the best aeronautics brains from the rest of Europe working for them as slaves. If they can get enough of these babies in the air, it's goodbye England, goodbye Turkey, goodbye North Africa. Goering's had them working around the clock on this. It could be flying any day now."

"And," Smith said, "it's a pea shooter compared to this."

She rolled up the top sheet to show the blueprint under it. It was a rocket, like the K-1, only it had wings and a tail, like the jet. And little round windows up near the nose. It did look like Flash Gordon's jalopy.

"The MK-1," she said. "M for Mond, the kraut word for moon. K for kugel. That means bullet. Mondkugel."

"Moon bullet?" Clarence said.

Smith shrugged. "Guess they ran out of Hindoo hoodoo."

"A rocket-bomber," Jones said. "This thing'll fly all the way out of the atmosphere, way higher than anything we got can reach. Then they sail back down and drop bombs anyplace on the planet. They call it MK because they even got plans to fly it to the moon. They say Hitler's sick of being stymied trying to conquer this planet. Now he wants to be first on the moon. Turn it into a Nazi fortress. Fly these things down on us from up there. He's convinced the key to conquering the world is conquering the moon."

"Get oudda here," Clarence scowled.

"It's entirely feasible," Jones said. "Once they get this thing in outer space the rest is monkey work."

"You get what this means?" Seymour Spitz asked me. "Picture them loading this thing with atom-bombs and flying it anywhere they want. They could drop bombs on Washington, New York, London England. Why, we couldn't do a thing to stop them."

"We weren't too worried about the MK program until recently," Jones went on, "because everything we knew about it told us they couldn't get the thing off the ground unless they severely limited the payload to just a few bombs. But if those are atom-bombs, even just one atom-bomb, it's a whole other story."

"But they ain't got the atom-bomb," I said.

"They do now," Jones said. "Or anyway they will soon. They had their own atom program, but they were stuck way behind us. Couple of technical hurdles they just couldn't jump, mainly because Hitler had most of their best brains working on these other things. He never got fully behind their atom program. Called it Jew science and the Jew bomb. So they had a lot of catching up to do. Then a couple months ago we caught a dirty quisling inside our program. He's been feeding them our secrets for at least a year."

"What kind a low rat would do that?" Clarence scowled.

"Ask Bigelow," Brown said. "He met him last night."

"Scarecrow?" I said.

"Defense plant where he works has a small secret division doing atom work," Jones said. "Not even the rest of the workers in the plant know about it. That's where he's been leaking information to the Nazis."

"Whyn't you do for him last night?" Clarence scowled at Brown.

"Got a use for him," Seymour Spitz said. "After that who knows."

"Anyway," Jones said, "if he passed them the know-how we think he did, Hitler could have his own atom-bomb pretty soon."

"But you got these blueprints," I said. "So now our boys knock a few of these gizmos together, load up the bombs, and we beat em to the punch." I looked at Jones and Smith. "Right?"

"Wish it was that simple," Smith said. "These blueprints don't tell the whole story. There's a lot of specifics we don't know yet. And we're nowhere on the fuel. Our people are working hard and fast as they can, but the Nazis will be flying theirs a long time before we get ours off the drawing board."

"Washington has decided that if we can't stop them from getting rockets in the air," Brown said, "our best hope is to slow down their atom program, so at least they're not rockets loaded with atom-bombs. If we can trip them up long enough, maybe our side can catch up or even get ahead."

"That's where you come in, Bigelow," Seymour Spitz said. "We gonna help them lead the natsies astray."

"What they need us for?" I asked.

"We're G-men, not con men," Smith said. "Washington figured we could use the help of some guys like you."

"Why, you already helped," Brown said. "None of us could slip those papers on Beemerman smooth as you did."

"See that, Bigelow?" Seymour Spitz said. "You a hero already."

"Great," I said. "Can I go home now?"

Seymour Spitz ignored me.

"So gentleman," Jones said. He didn't sound like he meant it anymore than Miss Abbonbdando did. "We've got a multi-part mission. Part one, tripping up the Nazis' atom program, started last night."

"What's part two?"

"We'll get to it," Seymour Spitz said. "Let's eat lunch. Clarence is famished. Ain't you Clarence."

Clarence just rubbed the raw side of his face and looked like a rat.



Brown opened the shed doors and we all piled out. Sarge stood outside yapping and batting his tail.

I lit a smoke and looked around at the blue sky and all them green trees and green fields while the rest of them trailed toward the house. Smith closed up the shed and stood beside me. She threw me in her shadow. It was near as big as Rushmore's.

"Looking for an escape route?" she asked.

"Me? Nah," I said. "I was just waiting for the boys with the butterfly nets to show up."

She nodded. "I guess this all does sound kinda cuckoo."

"Sister, I never heard cuckooer. You as crackers as the rest, driving that dingus over the river?"

She grinned. "Never had a more exciting time with a joystick between my legs."

"You don't say. Was you really the Speed Gibson of frails?"

"Woulda licked most of the fellows, too, only they don't let the girl fliers compete with them."

"How'd you get into that racket?"

"My dad flies a crop duster," she said. She looked up into the sky like she expected to see him go by. "When I was little I rode in his lap. He let me handle the stick by the time I was 10. Bought me my first beat-up little racer for my sixteenth birthday while all the other girls were getting frilly dresses and charm bracelets. I guess I was winning races ever since. How about you? You just a crook or you got redeeming qualities?"

"Not so's anybody ever noticed," I said. "How you become a G-man?"

"When the war started my dad signed up with the air corps and talked them into letting me in, too. I thought I was going to fly a Mustang right up Tojo's nose, but they wouldn't let me near the front. I flew mail back and forth a couple of fields in California two years. I bucked it all the way up the line to get sent over, but they wouldn't. So when I heard about a chance to switch to intelligence I jumped."

"You like being a G-man?"

"It's more action. But I miss flying."

"You like driving that crazy gizmo, don't ya."

"And how. She beats the pants off the best racing planes ever. Maybe I'll give you a spin."

"Not me, dollface. I never flew in my life. If I was to start it wouldn't be in that contraption."

"Holy Mike, Jeepers, it's the twentieth century. They got flying machines and submarines and everything."

"Yeah and they ain't never get me in no submarine either," I said. "Say, your dad know what lowlifes you consorting with?"

She got quiet and serious like that.

"He got shot down over France six months ago. He could be okay. They saw a chute."

"One of them jet things got him?"

"You're not such a stupe," she said. She tilted her head at me. "Say, why they call you Jeepers?"

"They give it to me at reform school. I guess I said jeepers a lot."

"Lucky it wasn't gee willickers," she said. "Or heavens to betsy."

"Yeah." I felt myself blushing. "So what I call you?"

She put her big bandaged mitt on the back of my neck.

"Anything but toots, doll or dollface," she said. "Come on, we're not supposed to loiter out in the open. Nosy Parkers."

She pushed me towards the house.




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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