John Strausbaugh, Stories




Bullet to the Moon





Chapter Eleven







 "You Mexican?"

I opened one eye. It was day. Clarence was standing by my cot.


"Gonna sleep all day?"

"What's it to ya?"

"Not me. Boss wants ya."

"What's up?"

"Nothing that don't stink."

Everyone was gatherted in the parlor wearing long mugs. Even Verandah was there, sitting in one of the old lady chairs with the antimacassar. Only Brown was missing.

"What I miss? Bad news?"

I looked at the big Philco.

"Yeah but not on there," Seymour Spitz said.

"We got a message," Smith said. "Washington's trying to decide how and when to let it out."

"Dirty rats," Jones said. "Atom-bomb's too good for them."

"Somebody want to tell me?" I said.

"Japs hit our fleet off Samoa," Smith said. "Aichi dive bombers escorted by Zeroes. They dropped some kind of gas bombs. Something new. Exploded a couple hundred feet above the deck. The gas settled on our boys before they could even get their masks out. Numbers are still coming in but it looks like practically the entire crews of one carrier and half a dozen other ships dead. Apparently it's a quick way to die but a very nasty one."

Everyone looked at the floor. I looked at the top of Seymour Spitz's balding head and thought about his boy in the sailor suit.

"Tell him the rest," Seymour Spitz said.

Smith looked at White. He looked at Jones.

"Krauts hit too, practically the same time," Jones said. "Remember those K-1 rockets I told you about yesterday? That you thought was strictly for the funny papers? Yeah well they got um operational a lot quicker than we thought they could. Launched a dozen from somewhere near Calais this morning. Pounded the English port of Southampton. Half the town's rubble. Hate to think what would happen if they got their atom program operational just as quick."

"Why that burg?" I asked. "Why not London? Ain't that where Churchill and the bigwigs is?"

"Because our side been feeding them false information that we're massing at Southampton for an invasion across the Channel," Verandah said.

She stood up. She reached behind her and untied her apron. I felt my eyes getting big as pie plates.

"Those were dummy ships in the harbor," she said, folding her apron. "Brits been quietly evacuating the city in stages for a month. The real invasion force is being put together somewhere else. They'll report huge losses, let Adolf think he made a big score."

"He should laugh with his liver on his tongue," Seymour Spitz said.

Seymour Spitz was the only one in the room not staring at Verandah with their chin on the floor.

Clarence growled, "Say, what's the gag?"

Verandah give him a look.

Seymour Spitz lifted his face.

"No gag," he said. "Kids, meet Agent Green."



I guess all our jaws didn't have to drop to the rug when he said that. Colored people was in the soup same as the rest of us. A whole generation of colored boys went off to the fight. For the first few years they had their own colored ground units and colored flyers' squadrons, but then as the war sucked up more and more bodies the army couldn't be that organized anymore and threw whoever they had wherever they thought they was needed. I couldn't picture white soldiers taking orders from colored officers. Most of the guys I knew would rather lose the war. But otherwise they was all in it together.

On the homefront there was plenty of colored Rosie the Riveters. Eleanor Roosevelt invited a bunch of them to the White House and gave them some kind of blue ribbon.

Not that you could blame me and Clarence for doing double takes. Where we come from, about the only colored ladies we ever said boo to was gangsters' coochies. Most of them was dope fiends who didn't say much back.

"Nobody told me nothing about no dinge being in on this," Clarence said.

"Shut it," Seymour Spitz said. "Her and me running this caper, see?"

Clarence shoved himself away from the wall where he was leaning. He had his angry rat face on and his mitts jammed in his pockets.

"Nobody said nothin to me about takin orders from no spook," he repeated.

"Wanna nother slap?" Seymour Spitz asked him. Seymour Spitz's face was cold and hard as a hatchet. Him and Clarence did a eyeball standoff for a few long seconds while we all watched. All except Agent Green, who just kept folding her apron. Clarence kept it up about as long as a guy could have a staring match with Seymour Spitz. Then all the stuffing went out of him and he leaned back on the wall.

"Some outfit this is," he muttered.

"Klan meeting over?" Verandah said. She looked at me. "See, Mr. Bigelow, this what they call undercover work. You white folk say and do things around a colored maid you wouldn't if there was other white folk around. It's like it don't count if it's just the help around to see or hear it. Mr. Spitz only one in this room who knew."

"Well I'll be," Jones said, shaking his head.

"Anybody let anything good slip around ya?" I asked her.

"Mr. Bigelow, you all just about the boringest white folk I ever met."

She turned to Clarence.

"I don't like being near you any more than you like me, Mr. Carancala. I don't like criminals and thugs. I am a Christian woman. I raised two good boys and two Christian daughters only to see them all get sucked into what a lot of my people think is a white people's war. But they are good young men and women and they love their country even when it don't love them back, so they are proud to serve and I am proud of them for it. I will do anything to help my children come back safe and whole. That mean I must use every ounce of patience the good lord gave me when dealing with you, Mr. Carancala, then I will do it. Just don't make me do something I have to ask the lord's forgiveness for later. Capisce?"

Clarence stared at the carpet making rat faces. He slid a hand in his jacket pocket reaching for smokes, felt Mr. Spitz eyeing him, and let his hand drop. You could see him boiling inside. I knew a lot of little guinea monkeys like him who was real blowtops about the coloreds. To them just the sight a chocolate was like a red rag to a bull. I don't know. Maybe it was because a lot a them was just this side a colored themselves.

The G-men didn't seem to give too much of a hang. They was youngsters and college kids, brang up a different way from us mooks. They probably used to working with coloreds on the war effort anyways.

I knew Seymour Spitz didn't mind. The Jews and the coloreds had a understanding. Heck, a lot a Jews acted like they wished they was colored. Look at Jolson. They was both chosen people. The whole rest of the world chose to dump on them. No wonder they was fighting the heil hitlers. If America went natsy they'd be the first to get the chop.

Me, I could take or leave the spooks myself. Long as they kept to themselves and didn't bring no trouble outside their own kind, live and let live I figured. I was as poleaxed as Clarence to meet a colored lady G-man, but at least she was a growed-up G-man. I take her over the college men and boy scouts.

Sarge barked outside. A car pulled up in front of the house. Here come more bad news, I thought. I didn't know why I thought that. It was just that kind a morning. Bif flatfoot steps come across the porch. The screen door slammed. Then Brown the boy scout was stading in the doorway to the parlor. He looked around at all the glum faces looking back at him.

"What?" he said.

"What nothin," Seymour Spitz growled. "You what. How'd it go with Beemerman?"

Brown blinked at him.

"Beemerman's dead," he said.


Clarence was the first to react.

"Good news at last," he sneered.

"How'd it happen?" Agent Green asked Brown.

Brown looked real puzzled to hear that question out of her. Mr. Spitz growled and went through the whole business of making introductions again. Brown looked poleaxed like the rest of us. Something about the way his jaw set and eyes got a little pinched around the corners told me he was as unhappy as Clarence was, only he was hiding it. Nothing in the boy scout code about loving the coloreds, I figured.

"Tell us the whole story," Green said when Mr. Spitz finished with the introductions.

Brown blinked at her and opened and closed his mouth a few times. He was still flabbergasted.

"Sometime today be nice," Seymour Spitz growled.

Brown collected himself.

"I picked him up when he left the Antlers," he said. "Trailed him to a phonebooth down the road. He made one call. I followed him on various country roads for approximately an hour. I marked my map if you want to see the route. Standard evasive manuevers but I stuck with him. He came  to a crossroads west of a town called Darling Falls. It's a good forty miles northwest of here. He parked at the crossroads. I stopped about five hundred yards short and crept up. Ninety minutes later another automobile arrived. Gray Packard. Parked nose to nose with Beemerman's. His handler got out. The two of them met on the far side of their cars from me. Brief discussion. Then a pistol shot. One shot. Close up, not twelve inches of space between them. Beemerman goes down. Handler bends down out of my line of sight. I presumed he was rifling Beemerman's pockets. Stands up, gets in the Packard, drives away. Beemerman's lying on his back when I get there. One shot clean through the heart."

I thought about Scarecrow, the poor sap, telling me what a big risk he was taking for Theldy. And how, brother. I wondered who Theldy was gonna get to dance the hula hula with her now.

"The package?" Green asked.

"Not on him," Brown said.

Green nodded.

"Say, anybody ever gonna tell me what was in that package?" I asked.

Green eyed me. "Strip of microfilm. Phony technical specs on how to make a atom bomb blow. Close enough to the real deal it'll fool their science boys we hope. Lead um down a blind alley."

"They got a funny way a thankin him for it," I said.

"They probably figured he'd done all he could for them and it was a risk letting him live," Agent Green said. "Important thing is he delivered it. Let's hope it keeps them chasing their tails a good long while."

"Or they know you got him to hop the fence and they killed him for it," I said. "They let him hand over your package just to prove it. Threw it in a ditch on the drive home."

Agent Green raised one eyebrow at me.

"How about that?" she asked the younger Gs. "Any reason to believe they onto us? Any of you spotted?"

Brown squared his jaw.

"No way," he said.

"Sure there is," I said. I could feel Smith staring at me but I couldn't keep shtum. "Beemerman told me so."

Everyone stared at me while I told what Scarecrow said about his handler and Brown. Brown's square All American face went red.

"You talked to his handler?" Green asked him.

"No. Yes. He spoke to me," Brown flustered. He looked like a big, embarrassed puppy dog that made near the paper but not close enough. "Last week, in town outside the diner. I was parked up and across the street. He and Beemerman did their meet and walked off in opposite directions as usual. I watched in the mirror while Beemerman got in his car. I was getting ready to turn around and follow him, SOP, when his handler leaned in my passenger window. Asked if I could bust him a quarter for the phonebooth. I told him no. He walked on and I pulled out. That was it. Whole conversation couldn't have lasted ten seconds. I swear."

Green eyed him for a couple breaths.

"And you didn't report this why?"

"I really didn't think he was onto me," Brown said. "To him I was just any Joe sitting in a parked car. I was sure of it. But I knew if I reported it everyone would worry that he busted me and want to end the mission. I didn't want it to end. I think the world and all of this mission."

Now we all stared at him for a couple of breaths. Then Clarence muttered, "Oh for the love a Mike. Job is cooked. You cooked it, boy scout."

"Shut up you little rat," Brown snapped, leaning over him with his jaw and fists balled up.

"At ease," Agent Green said.

We all watched her thinking and nodding to herself.

"So what's the play?" Seymour Spitz asked her.

"Bring the other car around," she said to Agent White. "We're pulling up stakes."

"So that's it?" Brown cried. "You're taking the yardbird's word for it? He's been grousing he wanted to go home since we got here. What if he's just trying to scuttle the mission?"

Seymour Spitz turned his face at me. His gray eyes bored into mine. It felt like he was shoving ice picks through my peepers and out the back of my loaf.

"Nah," he said. "He wouldn't do that. Knows what would happen to him if he did." He turned his face at Brown. "You the one fouled up."

Brown threw his hands in the air and acted disgusted.

"Enough," Agent Green said. "Move."

The Gs started to bustle.

"The Messerschmidt?" Smith said.

"Leave it. Movers'll come collect it."

Smith sighed. White and Jones banged out the screen door.

"Cmere," Seymour Spitz growled at Clarence. "Want a word with you."

The two of them went off toward the dining room.

Brown stood there red-faced in the middle of the room. O'Grady hauled his mountain up out of a chair. He put his sack of potatoes real near Brown's face.

"Nice work," he rumbled.

Brown turned on his heel and banged out the screen door too.

"We're in it now, Rushmore," I said to O'Grady. "Last chance to make a break for it. You and me, what you say?"

He blinked his .22s at me and his smashed nose made a sound between a snort and passing wind.








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All material on this website is copyrighted and may not be republished in any form without written permission. Copyright © 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