Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Chapter 6: All God’s Children Got Guns

Diary of Zoya Bupkis

September 3, 1939

Dear Diaryushka,

Well there I was in command of an army! Who would have thought that a simple country girl like me would become an army commander! Well, all right, it wasn’t much of an army, just the Shmengys and about a dozen villagers and it was only for a day, but still…

Everyone seemed to think that the village was in danger of being attacked because of the Grand Duchess living there and because a big road that went from Grauheim to Strelzov ran through the southern end of town. So the Grand Duchess called out the militia and put me in charge.

She even made me a temporary, honorary colonel or something even though she thought it wasn’t quite proper for girls to be in the army where they don’t wear bustles. But the title was still written down and had her official seal and everything. She gave out lots of titles and ranks, even to the Shmengys. Of course, she couldn’t bear the thought of Leutonians being officers so she made them Sergeant Majors, which I guess meant they were only studying to be sergeants like at University but it did mean they got to wear lots of stripes on their sleeves.

She also told me to train the men. Now, even though I am an officer, I wasn’t ever really trained or anything except someone showed me how to salute. But I figured that a little bit of exercise never hurt so I began teaching the men using the Vaganova Technique. We started simply with a few demi pliés, tendues, and ports de bras, followed by pirouettes and pas de deux. Some of the men showed some real talent, working their way up to sautés, changements, sisonnes and even grand jeté en tournant. These last movements proved especially useful, as it turned out, since it made them much harder for the Germans to shoot them. I think the tutus I was able to fit on them also confused the Germans’ aim quite a bit.

Fortunately, the Grand Duchess had lots of guns and bullets in her basement. Previously, these had been for her hunting safaris but now were mostly used for taking care of household pests. She said the Lewis machine guns were especially good for rooting out clogs in the plumbing. I was puzzled about all the hand bombs she had and asked what she used those for. “Why, fishing, my dear, what else?” was her response.

The other thing that was good was that the Shmengys could shoot the guns really well, even for being stupid Leutonians, so they showed the men how to do that. I asked Skinny Shmengy if they had learned to shoot so well in the Army but he said no, they learned to shoot that way living in Chicago.

Mr. Hummingbird and Mr. Chicolini were also very helpful, coming up with all sorts of ideas of where to plant hand bombs and hide trenches filled with pointed sticks.

Mr. von Schnitzel came up with a plan to dress up the scarecrows out in the wheatfields on the west side of the town with some of the old uniforms that the Grand Duchess had lying about the chateau. He laid the scarecrows down in the wheat, rigged up to a frame that he would pull up suddenly using the village steam tractor. He thought this might surprise the enemy into thinking there were a lot more soldiers defending the village.

We all worked really hard the whole day, except the Professor who kept trying to figure out meaning of all the scribbled notes in the little book he took from the little German back in Emeric’s. They did have the best drinks there, you know. Lest you think the Professor was a shirker, he was trying to figure out what the little book said about the chalice or bowl or whatever it was. The German he took it from must have had terrible penmanship since it took so long for him to figure out what it said. Occasionally, the Professor would look up and say things to nobody in particular, things like, “Why they had a run in with the Ruritanina Postal Service in the Himalayas!”

To which I responded, “Yes they will deliver absolutely anywhere!”

Then he said the chalice or bowl or whatever might be some sort of key which I thought was just plain silly, how could you fit a bowl into a lock? I noticed that the Professor was very good at taking things from other people’s pockets and opening locks with hairpins but not particularly good at, well, professory things. I suspect he would do better teaching locksmithing rather than archeology or astrology or whatever it was he teaches.

All in all, it was a very exciting day but scary so I didn’t sleep very well last night and everyone was up by dawn getting into their assigned positions, ready to fight the invaders.

Well, at least we thought we were ready…

Excerpt from The Sun’s Also Shiny, The Great American Novel, by Ernest Hummingbird:

As the morning sun rose, so did the mists of dew, vanishing like the peace that was evaporating from the soon-to-be wartorn Earth. The Writer knew what was coming. He had seen it from the deserts of Tigre in Abyssinia to the banks of the Ebro in Spain. Death was stalking him, stalking them all now. But Death would also be coming to meet the Germans. He had made sure of that. His plan was perfect.

The Germans would come down the road that ran south of town, probably in a long column with their reconnaissance troops in front. He could hear the motors thrumming in the distance already.

The road was the only way they could come. To the south and north were thick forests. To the west, except for the road and a set of railroad tracks running north to south, there were a few small wheatfields and then nothing but swamp. No tank could come through there and infantry would take days to cross the mire.

No, they would come down the road. Into the traps and the fire of his men. It would be perfect. He sipped on his flask of bourbon while he considered their position.

First they had dug a trench across the road, just before it crossed the railroad tracks. They filled the trench with stakes and then covered the trench. If motorcycles led the column, as he knew they would, they might miss spotting it and crash into it.

Chicolini prepared the next traps. Chicolini was good at coming up with ways to kill and the Writer wondered about where he learned the skill. But he didn’t ask Chicolini. That was something one didn’t ask a man about, sort of like asking him the circumstances when he lost his virginity. Oh, a man could volunteer the information, maybe brag about it, or make up stories about it, or at least hide the embarrassing parts of it. But one didn’t ask a man about it…

Chicolini placed several grenades under the railroad ties. Any vehicle going over them should trigger them. The Writer approved. Then they buried grenades in the road on the other side of the tracks, connected by wire so that any vehicle or anyone on foot would trigger them. They got the wire from the Duchess’ piano. She didn’t like that but he promised to return the wire when they were done. They would probably need to tune the piano after that though.

There was a windmill on the side of the road, just beyond the spot where they placed the grenades. The Writer put Chicolini in the windmill with a Lewis gun. He had also given Chicolini the case of empty scotch bottles from his room. They had filled them with brefnish, the local flammable drink, and put cloth wicks in the bottles. The Writer invented something like these when he was in Spain. He had used them to blow up some of Franco’s tanks. Only he used gasoline then. You couldn’t drink gasoline; he knew - he tried. The Writer knew he wouldn’t get credit for inventing them. That was probably for the best, a Hummingbird Cocktail should describe something creative, some work of art, or at least something someone actually drank.

Across from the windmill was an old roadside shrine. The Actress was there along with Tura. She had insisted that she be allowed to fight.
Tura had not. He had to be found. He was hiding under one of the beds in the chateau. His nails carved grooves in the floor as the Leutonians dragged him out to join the fight.

The Actress had come up with the idea of dressing herself and Tura up as ghosts. They would hide in the shrine and spring out when any of the Germans got past Chicolini’s traps. It might disorient the attackers and maybe even scare them. It sounded like a hare-brained plan but it showed that she had guts. She also insisted that they give her some of the grenades. That showed she had brains. Guts and Brains. And gams. Beautiful, shapely gams that went all the way up…The Writer shook his head to clear the thought of the Actress - such thoughts were dangerous at times like these. Death was approaching. On swift legs. Swift, shapely legs, perched on high heels, with her skirt swishing back and forth….What was he supposed to be thinking about? It was so hard to think straight what with all the whimpering that Tura was doing. That and all the bourbon he had drunk that morning.

He was in a copse of trees just beyond the shrine. He had taken one of the Duchess’ elephant guns, the .416 Rigby, the gun he first used when he was hunting elephants in Alabama because there the Tusca-- wait a minute -- that wasn’t right, he had never been to Alabama. Who had said that? Maybe he shouldn’t have so much bourbon this morning. On top of the Scotch last night… No, on second thought, he should have had that much.

The Professor was there in the copse of trees with him. The Professor looked uncomfortable. The Professor was a thinker not a fighter. The Writer, he was a lover not a fighter. But he was also a fighter, so don’t get any ideas…

The Fat Leutonian was perched in the church tower with his anti-tank rifle.
From there he had a clear shot up most of the road. The Fat Leutonian was an eater but the writer hoped he was also a fighter. A big, hungry, grotesquely fat fighter.
Some of the village militia under his brother, the thin Leutonian, were inside a couple of cabins at the end of the village. They would open fire on any German who managed to get to the village itself. The Dancer was in the center of the village with the rest of the militia as a reserve. They were right by the tavern. He had to stop back every half hour or so to make sure they were still there. And that the tavern vodka supply hadn’t been tampered with.

All of the women and children and old men, went off to hide in the woods as they had done since time immemorial. All that is except the Duchess who stayed in the Chateau with her loyal butler. Also staying was the old man Yoda who said, “Damned will be I if filthy Non-speakers drive me my home from I let.”

Over in the fields to the west of the village, he could see the Director was perched on the steam tractor prepared to pull his mannequin army out of the weeds, to make the Germans think a flank attack was coming. The Writer didn’t approve of this part of the plan. It was too subtle and the Fascists were not noted for their subtlety.

But there was no time to argue the point. He heard the rumbling of the engines. Death was now coming down the road - at 40 miles per hour. And Death wasn’t wearing high-heels or swishing a skirt this time.

Interview with Roxy Smothers, 1973:

Now, you may ask, darling, whatever possessed me to get involved in the fight that day. To be honest, I wasn’t really sure back then and am still not entirely sure today. Now as you know, I have never been one to run from a fight, whether it was a contract dispute with a greedy studio exec or a fascist blitzkrieg of a near-helpless little nation. Ruritania may not have one of the more fashionable places on earth but it had been my home briefly and I had found that most of her people were exceptionally kind, in a quaint, eccentric way, chiselers like Broni notwithstanding.

So I suppose that is how I found myself that morning, crouched behind the shrine to the Saint of Perpetual Fatulence or whatever, with a purse full of hand grenades, dolled up as if I was about to meet Topper. Of course, Tura was hardly Cary Grant and it wasn’t a kindly old gentleman that I was waiting for.

I could see the German column coming down the road. There were four motorcycles with those little cars on the side, two by two, followed by a couple of small cars crammed with troops and a big armored vehicle with wheels in the front and tracks in the back.

The first two motorcycles hit the hidden trench at high speed, crashing into heaps of bodies and twisted metal. The rest of the column skidded to a stop. The remaining motorcyclists jumped off their bikes and crouched down in the weeds along the side of the road.

Then I heard the shot from Fat Shmengy’s anti-tank rifle. It made a loud clank of the front of the half-track. Although it didn’t seem to do any damage, it must have rattled the Blockheads inside because they too tumbled out into the road.
It wasn’t long, however, before the Krauts sorted themselves out. Several groups on foot began moving into the village, using any cover they could to avoid the machine gun fire that Chicolini was shooting at them from the windmill.
They also got a big mortar set up and began firing shells into the church. Despite hitting it several times, Fat Shmengy kept firing away, seemingly no worse for the artillery coming his way. Maybe his fat cushioned the concussion from the mortar shells.

Suddenly the two scout cars made a dash forward. They jumped the narrow trench and the first one hit Chicolini’s grenades as it crossed the railroad tracks. The car rolled to a stop just in front of me. It showed some signs of damage but the crew seemed unscathed but was clearly disoriented.

I grabbed the cringing Tura and we charged towards the car, our ghost costumes billowing about us in the smoke from the damaged car. Tura’s terrified wailing actually added to the effect and the disoriented Aryan Supermen ran from the car in panic. I ran after them and tossed a grenade their way. One of them fell when the pineapple burst behind him.

What? Oh, heavens, darling, why would you think that was the first time I ever killed or maimed anyone? Tosh!

All the while, Hummingbird and Barqueless were taking pot-shots at the approaching Germans with the big elephant guns. Hummingbird began dropping the Krauts with considerable frequency despite being obviously three-sheets to the wind.
The other scout car had tried to follow but Chicolini began lobbing the fire bombs at it. It quickly turned aside and the crew dismounted and rushed towards the windmill.

This was what von Schnitzel had been waiting for; he pushed the tractor forward as fast as it would go. The uniform-clad scarecrows popped up, startling the advancing troopers who went to ground.

Then out of the morning mist, I made out the silhouettes of several large objects lumbering through the swamp. The biggest was one of those walking tanks like the one that Skinny Shmengy had destroyed during the parade in Graustark. Two smaller walking vehicles were on either side. These looked like the front ends of fighter planes on top of mechanical legs with big cannons and machine guns perched atop their shoulders. They moved deliberately and without hindrance through the swamp. No tank could have crossed it but the big pads at the end of their legs must have spread the weight more evenly. So Hummingbird’s plan wasn’t so perfect after all.
We didn’t have much time to think about this. The mortar finally got a direct hit on the church steeple. Only a panicked yelp of “Chicago Bang Bang!” indicated that Fat Shmengy had managed to escape in the nick of time.

The smaller walkers fired their machine guns into the wheat field, easily shredding the scarecrows. Von Schnitzel dropped the ropes linking the tractor to the scarecrow device and throttled the ancient tractor forward. As he passed the wrecked church, Fat Shmengy jumped, or rather oozed, onto the tractor.

The smaller walkers moved into the village. Skinny Shmengy and his men fired at one but the bullets bounced off the steel frame. The walker returned the favor with its machine guns and several of the militia men fell. Oddly, most managed to avoid being hit by pirouetting out of the line of fire. These survivors headed away from the fight, leaping in unison over the intervening walls and hedges with enormous grace.

The other walker moved the center of the village, firing into the cottages, setting several on fire.

The big walker fired its cannon into the windmill. As the thin wooden mill disintegrated, the force of the blast shot Chicolini out and he landed at my feet. The Germans were coming towards us. I wrestled the cameraman to his feet and we headed toward the abandoned scout car. Tura was already behind the wheel preparing to drive off.

“Hold it, you chump. Don’t even think of scramming in that breezer without us!” I shouted.

This startled Tura enough to give me time to dump Chicolini into the car and dive in after him. Tura then tore off into the center of the village.

Overhead a whirring sound could be heard. Distracted by the fighting with the walkers, we didn’t notice the hovercraft streaming through the air. This was the same one that had pursued us from Graustark. On the top of the hovercraft, I could see a malignant little twerp in black uniform and at his side was that dish-water blonde floozy that Hummingbird had charmed in Emeric’s. Unfortunately, I had no idea where the blowhard scribbler was so he could repeat his performance.

The hovercraft landed in the very center of the village, not far from the gates of the chateau. The Nazi Munchkin and cut-rate Marlene Dietrich jumped down from the craft, followed by a big bald man with a long beard and dressed in flowing robes covered in arcane symbols. He was flanked by, of all things, a bunch of Oriental looking geezers in orange robes. Two inhumanly large green creatures with large scars crossing their bodies followed.

“Holy Karloff, what the heck are they?” I wondered out loud.

As this group marched toward the chateau, a squad of rather nasty-looking SS women fanned out from the vehicle, shooting at anything that moved.

“Colonel” Zoya finally decided to do something. She ordered the small party of remaining militia to attack the hovercraft. This ended rather abruptly when the SS dames showed a definite lack of respect for the fine art of the ballet. Zoya and what was left of her boys came tumbling back towards our spot near The Three-Legged Toad. The survivors fired a few shots in the general direction of the enemy before quietly heading out of town, leaving us behind.

Soon, we saw Skinny Shmengy’s men retreating towards us as well. There were several big tanks coming down the road, probably called in to help by the reconnaissance troops. Their cannons blasted everything around them.

Meanwhile, as Von Schnitzel later told me, Fat Shmengy got the tractor up to the chateau, tractor-driving being one of the few talents that Fatty had, aside from eating everything in sight and being beaten to a pulp by tiny old men. Von Schnitzel realized that with the walkers showing up, any chance of our stopping the Nazis was nil so he figured that somebody should go save the crazy old bat, just to frustrate the Krauts if nothing else.

They pulled into the courtyard just as the hovercraft was landing outside. The old lady was coming out of the chateau with Mausvarmr behind her. As expected, the Duchess looked about as pleased as if someone had spit in her buttered klopkies, but simple annoyance at trespassers wasn’t the problem. Before von Schnitzel could say anything, he noticed that Mausvarmr had a shotgun pointed at the Duchess’ back.

“What is the meaning of this?” von Schnitzel shouted in his most frightening tone of voice.

Although the butler paled a bit at the tirade of Teutonic temper, he gamely spoke up, “I am Volksgoth, Herr Direktor. It is time my people were freed from this anarchic mongrel excuse for a nation and joined in a greater Aryan state with the help of our German cousins. Taking a valuable hostage can only assist in the struggle to achieve that end.”

Von Schnitzel blustered but the butler stood his ground. All the noise that von Schnitzel made did keep the little man’s attention so that Fat Shmengy, who had never dismounted from the tractor, could slip the thing into gear. Using his extensive posterior muscles, he shifted the gears into reverse and nudged the throttle. The big behemoth – the tractor, that is, not Shmengy – shot backwards and rolled right over the flatfooted footman. Von Schnitzel was able to pull the Duchess out of the way at the last moment. Once the tractor rolled to a stop, there was very little left of the dirty little Fifth Columnist.

“Mausvawmw, considew that youw two week notice!”

Then the gates to the courtyard burst open and the two huge green creatures lurched in. The little SS man strode toward Eric and arrogantly asked, “Well if it isn’t Herr Schnitzelman. All right, where is the cup of the Krugans?”

While all this was going on, we were trying to figure out how to best get way to get out of town without getting our heads blown off. The tanks were approaching fast and their shells were screeching in faster and faster.

Suddenly, the world turned upside down and I felt myself hurtling through the air. I felt a huge impact as I hit the ground and I felt like I was going unconscious. I tried to see what had happened. I realized that I was no longer in the scout car. It was sitting a few yards away from me on its side and it was burning. I noticed that Tura and Chicolini lay beside me unconscious. I felt myself beginning to fade as well.

Just before I blacked out, I noticed some sights that at the time I thought were delusions but turned out to be real. Waggsie had some how climbed up on the back of the hovercraft unnoticed and was now pummeling the guard there. Skinny Shmengy was standing astride the top of one of the small walkers, blasting away with his Chicago typewriter into the cockpit, idiotically laughing with glee as the glass canopy shattered. The last thing I recall was a strong hand on my shoulder and a deep voice telling me to lie still, help had arrived.

It was Hozzenka.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Chapter 5: Mourning Becomes Woowa

Diary of Zoya Bupkis

August 30, 1939

While Mr. von Schnitzel and the Professor were playing with the bowl or chalice or whatever it was and the lighter, I thought how wonderful that this thing would be for magic lanterns shows, like when I was child in Hentzov. Of course, the heat ray part of it might singe the screen a bit. While I was trying to work this out, I looked out the window and noticed that more and more soldiers and police cars were arriving at the Museum. They soon began gathering in the large car park behind the Museum. There was Bronislav yelling at them and pointing all around the neighborhood. Then he held up several pictures, one was of Roxy and another was that gollywogged swimsuit picture of me! Will I never live that down? Roxy noticed this and said something about the heat being on but actually I found it a bit chilly in the old mill in which we were hiding.

A group of Walloons then surrounded an old factory just behind the Museum and began kicking in the doors and running in side, yelling “Hut Hut Hut.” Then we could guns shooting and grenades going off, all the while they kept yelling “Hut Hut Hut” which I think is Walloon for “kill” or perhaps “chocolate” or something like that.

Mr. Von Schnitzel suggested that we needed to leave soon or else we would be nabbed since it looked like they were searching the whole neighborhood.

We began arguing about the best way to make our escape.

Skinny Shmengy noticed some children playing just outside of the mill and he suggested we bribe them to distract the soldiers and police so we could sneak out.

This suggestion was so sensible that we could not believe it came from a stupid Leutonian and so ignored it.

Things really got tense when we notice a big brown lorry pull up in the lot and several men in postal uniforms got out and reported to Bronislav.

That was when von Schnitzl pointed to the large water tower on top of the factory which the Walloons were searching. He told Chicolini to go steal a car or lorry and then he told the Professor to point the beam from the bowl or chalice or whatever it was at the water tower. A thin bright red beam flashed out toward one of the tower legs. The leg turned bright red and suddenly it began to buckle, sort of like when Sister Otilia’s wooden leg, the one she got because of her gout, became too infested with termites and she toppled over in the middle of the combined evening vespers and cage match at the Convent. Well the same thing happened to the water tower but the results were almost as dramatic. The whole tower collapsed and a huge cascade of water came down on all of the men gathered in the lot. Bronislav made a particularly dramatic sight since he was standing on some sort of box which was washed away before him and he sort of hovered for a moment before coming down into the great pool of water and began flopping around like a fresh carp when its thrown in the frying pan alive. The postal lorry was knocked over onto its side and all the postmen were washed into the next street over.

While all this was going on and everyone yelling and trying to sort themselves out, we sneaked out of the mill, and ran to a lorry that Chicolini had quietly rolled into the alley behind the mill. We pushed it further down the street until we were sure that no one could hear us and then sped off out of the city.

There were a couple of police autos that were starting to set up roadblocks but Mr. Chicolini was very good at driving around them, through people’s vegetable gardens and clothes lines and cows and the like, and it got to be very fun to see whether he could avoid the next obstacle or not. Usually he did.

Soon we were out into the countryside. Mr. von Schnitzel told us something about a letter of introduction to the Grand Duchess, the King’s sister, who had written some sort of novel that he was hoping to make into a motion picture. He felt that if we could make it to the Grand Duchess, we could possibly find refuge with her.

Now I had once performed, or rather my ballet troupe had performed for the Grand Duchess. She was a very nice elderly woman, dressed in black for her late husband who had suffered a fall down the stairs or inadvertently eaten rat poison or something. But I did remember that she lived nearby, in a small chateau near the Graustark border, just about 20 kilometers to the southwest of Zenda. It was in village called Ktorevitsa.

I began giving directions and we only got lost two or three times.

About midday, we were traveling down one of these roads when we heard a tinkling sound, It was so pretty and reminded me of my childhood, sort of like the man who came around to sell frozen pickled tripe to us in summer. But then I noticed that Fat Shmengy had sat up and was pointed behind us, calling out excitedly, “Chicago Bang Bang! Chicago BANG BANG!” At first I thought it meant he had to use the WC and he had seen a tree that Leutonians favored for that business but then the others began looking back.

Behind was a man on a bicycle. He was round and middle-aged looking in a brown postal uniform with a large satchel on his back. He was ringing the little bell and waiving to us with a big friendly smile on his face. Everyone in the lorry got very quiet and the Shmengys began playing a slow dirge on their instruments.

Mr. Chicolini at first seemed not to notice the postman so the bicycle began to close in on us. When we called for Mr. Chicolini to hurry up, he seemed nearly paralyzed by fear when he saw the postman. Even when he belatedly sped the lorry up, the bicycle stayed close behind, the postman barely breathing hard to go as fast as us.

Mr. von Schnitzel then said that there was no use in trying to run from him and so we pulled over.

Like all the postmen we had met, this one seemed very kindly and spoke in a soft voice, “Well, at last I’ve found you. We have been looking for you for some time. Inspector Bogush will be ever so glad to see you. Now please get down from there and I will signal for other transportation.”

Everyone except me and the Professor and Chicolini got out of the lorry. Then Mr. Tura and Mr. von Schnitzel began to do such a strange thing, that I burst out laughing. They began to slap each other’s hands and alternated this with claps, all the while calling out a nonsense rhyme, something like “patty-cake.”

The postman got a suspicious look on his face but stared in fascination at the two. Then suddenly, they both turned and tried to hit the postman. Mr. Tura missed and struck his hand against the side of the lorry. Mr. Tura then ran off shrieking and cringed behind tree. Mr. von Schnitzel struck the postman hard but this barely seemed to hurt the man.

Suddenly everyone was hitting at the postmen, from the front, side and rear. All of these the postman managed to avoid, moving just like Bluebird in the Third Act of Sleeping Beauty. Finally Fat Schmangy tried to jump on the postman. The postman dodged this as well but the thought of what nearly happened to him, the effect of all that Leutonian falling on him, must have shaken his nerves for there was a look of fear and confusion on his face. That was when Roxy hit him. Then I hit him. He began to retreat from us towards the woods when Fat Shmengy, who hadn’t - or couldn’t - get up from his fall, rolled along and struck him right at the knees. The postman crumpled down and Fat Shmengy continued to roll over him, just like a big steam roller. The postman was very still after that but the creases in his uniform seemed much sharper.

The Professor checked the postman’s heartbeat and said he was still alive only unconscious and somewhat flat.

Von Schnitzel quickly gathered up the postman’s identification badge and his postal satchel. It had a small submachine gun in it, a lot of letters, and a big pork sandwich, which Fat Shmengy immediately gobbled up in one bite. We gathered this up and moved the postman and his bicycle into the woods and then quickly drove off.

I realized that the satchel had real letters in them and so I insisted, since I was still a Government Official, I was now responsible for delivering them. Everyone was very cross at me for this but since I was the only one who knew where Ktorevitsa was, they had to listen to me. It was a wonderful feeling, having everyone to listen to me for a change, even if it meant Roxy said to me a lot of short words with lots of “K” sounds in them at me.

Just after we finished delivering the last letter, we began to hear the sound of tingling bells behind us. They were the same bicycle bells as before but sounded far more urgent. When we looked behind us, there were two postmen on bicycles. They were younger than most of the postmen we had seen and were big in a muscular unShmengy way and had very unpleasant looks on their faces. They also had big guns strapped to their backs.

Mr. Chicolini noticed them as soon as the rest of us did and sped up. The lorry leapt forward but the postmen just began peddling faster. They gained on us.

Then we approached an intersection with a road coming from our left. As we approached we could hear the sound of bicycle bells tinkling from that road and as we neared the intersection, we saw two more postmen, just like the two following us, approaching. They looked very cross too.

The Professor and von Schnitzel fumbled with the old bowl or chalice or whatever it was and Bronislav’s lighter. Soon a beam was coming from the top of the bowl. Von Schnitzel grabbed at the bowl or chalice or whatever it was and flashed the beam onto the wheels of the two oncoming bicycles. The tires made loud popping noises and the two postmen tumbled over the tops of their bicycles, collapsing into the road.

The Professor said that he never guessed Mr. von Schnitzel’s aim could be so good, for the director was very ham-handed most of the time. That was when Mr. von Schnitzel trained the beam from the old bowl or chalice or whatever it was around the woods beside us and at a tree overhanging the road behind. The woods immediately burst into flames and the large tree collapsed into the road. The two postmen who had been following us slammed into the tree and flew into a crumpled heap beyond it.

“Terror gives me strength,” Mr. von Schnitzel explained.

Excerpt from The Sun’s Also Shiny, The Great American Novel, by Ernest Hummingbird:

The truck drove on into the waning day, one of the last days of peace that the continent would know. Ironically, the day was perfect. The lengthening shadows of the beautiful setting sun was merely a metaphor of foreboding for the coming darkness that the Nazi armies were about to bring to Europe.

They had escaped from the secret policemen by following the Writer’s plan which was perfect, of course. Realizing that the truck was too familiar now, the Writer suggested they exchange it for the next convenient vehicle they came across.

When they passed a small omnibus, Chicolini forced it off to the side of the road. Fortunately, there were no passengers and the driver gladly ran off when the Director waived the postal bag at him. Another of the Writer’s plan that was perfect.

A short time later, they arrived at the village. It was small but orderly with a fine whitewashed church and stone tavern. It was a rich village.

The chateau was on a hill at the end of the long single street. It was not large but had the dignity that age and being a true home sometimes gives to such places.

The Writer suggested they get the lay of the land before approaching the Grand Duchess. Of course, the others agreed. They went into the tavern. It was called The Six-legged Toad. It was crowded; a gypsy troupe had arrived earlier that day and was trying to entertain the crowd. The villagers seemed more concerned with the radio that was broadcasting the latest news of the coming war.

The crowd got quiet when the Writer and his friends entered. The Writer went behind the bar and began mixing drinks. He mixed them Manhattans for everyone and, even though he had to use pickle brine instead of sweet red vermouth, they were perfect.

With the first taste of the drinks, the villagers treated them like lost relatives. They told the Writer of their lives in the village, their hopes for a good harvest, and their fear of the war that seemed now bound to come. They told him of their love of the Grand Duchess who was like a grandmother to them and how they would all die to protect her. It was a good village. Not particularly smart but good.

A serving girl, a pretty young blonde, seemed particularly interested in the Fat Musician. She hung on his arm and kept rubbing his vast belly, saying, “So fat, must be rich man. You would make any wife happy!”

The Fat Musician gurgled a bit and moaned, “Chicaaagoo Baanng Baang.”

Chicolini fit in as well. He looked at one of the pretty dancing girls and ordered a bottle of wine and a dozen oysters. He took her by the arm and led her towards the back door. Her partner, another dark eyed beauty grasped his other arm.

“Make-a dat another a bottle of wine and two-a dozen oysters.”

Then he noticed the old gypsy fortuneteller coming toward them.

“Make-a dat two more bottles of wine and three-a dozen oysters.”

Suddenly, the radio behind the bar crackled to life with an emergency broadcast.

“This is Radio Strelzov. The Prime Minister today rejected the ultimatum presented by Germany, Graustark, and Sylvania, stating, ‘While this government strenuously condemns any act committed against the law of nations, the demand presented in this ultimatum would destroy the sovereignty of this nation and make us slaves to the fascist governments. To this we can never accede.’

“The governments of Great Britain and France have today reaffirmed the guarantees given earlier this month to both Poland and Ruritania in the event of an attack by an unfriendly power.

“In related news, the Minister of War again denied that the Royal Regalia were stolen by German agents. He noted that they had been removed to a safe location during the present emergency….”

A bearded man in dark clothes stood up and said, “Things sound bad my people. We should pray.”

They all began crossing themselves and followed him to the church.

Excerpt from And A One and A Two, My Life Following the Demon Rhythm of the Polka, the unpublished autobiography of Stanislaus Shmengy

Now as many school child know, official faith of Ruritania is Greco-Roman Catholic Church, only church in world in communion with both Rome and Constantinople, excepting that neither Pope or Patriarch is willing to admit it. Our faith is old and full of much holiness with big willingess to fight for faith since have done so many time especially against filthy heathen Turk.

Now big part of demonstration of faith of willingness to fight for faith is done by wrestling. Every service one man chosen to demonstrate faith. So we know when Bobo Mrko the village priest - “Bobo” is Ruritanian for “uncle” which is what all priest are called - says for everyone to go to pray, I think this good way for us to ingratitude us with villagers since I know wrestling will start service.
In Leutonia, this wrestling is done against bog boar and Yosh was best bog boar wrestler in whole province. So when Bobo Mrko calls out that winner of two throws out of three get two years off time in Purgatory, Yosh strip off shirt and I find big vat of axle grease, very big vat. I also find several brush and cover Yosh torso with grease.

Unfortunately, custom is different in Zenda Province, they being hoity-toity and stuck-up. So they no wrestle boar, only each other. And they don’t grease up before wrestle either! So they all look at Yosh very strange when he come forward. But Bobo Mrko say we all God’s Children and they must accept strange Leutonian ways, now matter how barbaric or ignoramousious. He call out for challenger and tiny old man come up.

I laugh and say, “Dadu, are you sure you want wrestle Yosh. He squash you like beet weevil.”

Old Dadu just grumble, “Stupid Leutonian are you! Kick your fat brother’s dupka I will,“ and he strip off shirt too.

They gather in front of church. When Bobo Mrko give word to start, Old Dadu run up and kick Yosh in throat. Yosh gurgle and fall down.

“One fall to Dadu Yoda!” says Bobo Mrko.

Yosh get up and get in position. When Old Dadu run at him again, he ready. He grab Old Dadu in arms in big hug of bear. But I guess I put too much grease on him since old Dadu get squirted out of his arm like he watermelon seed getting spit out. Old Dadu fly way up and over roofs of village. Over forest and into swamp.
“One fall to the Fat Leutonian!” says Bobo Mrko.

I think fight over since old Dadu now miles away. But suddenly, we hear big rumbling and see old Dadu running up path from swamp. When he about a yebach pitch length away, he yell and come leaping at Yosh, strike him in belly and Yosh fall down and make big hole in the ground.

“Second fall to Dadu Yoda! Two years off Purgatory!” cries Bob Mrko and everyone cheer. Even Yosh and I figuring that Old Dadu closer to Purgatory than Yosh so is OK.

All our foreign friends watch, looking confus-ed and much shaking of heads. When they see old Dadu beat Yosh, Professor ask, “Are all the old men in Ruritania so….”

“Psychotic? Yes,” answers Roxy the movie star.

Then we hear shots coming from Grand Duchess House so we all run there quick.

Interview with Roxy Smothers, 1973:

Well, when we heard the gunshots coming from the chateau, we all took off at a run. Except Fat Shmengy who was struggling to get out of the small hole he created when the old man blasted him into the ground - they had to bring out the village tractor to do that.

As we ran, Hummingbird began, “That sounds like a.416 Rigby, the gun I used when…

“I know, I know, it’s the gun you first used to hunt elephants in Alabama because there the Tuscaloosa.” He wasn’t happy about my comment but then his “deep introspection” was beginning to wear on me.

When we made it to the gates of the Chateau, we could still hear the occasional shot but otherwise nothing seemed stirring. Von Schnitzel knocked on the door and a thin middle-aged servant answered the door.

“We are here to see the Grand Duchess. I have a letter of introduction,” said von Schnitzel waiving the letter he had received in response to his offer to make a film out of the Grand Duchess tedious, probably non-existent book.

“Please do come in and I shall inform Her Royal Highness.”

I spoke up, “Excuse me, eh ….”

“Mousevarmr, ma’am. My name is Mousevarmr.”

“Well, Mousevarmr, we couldn’t help but hear the gunfire. What is going on?”

“Her Royal Highness does not like servants to do jobs that she feels she can handle herself, as you Americans say, she is a real do-it-yourselfer.”

“So what home improvement project is she working on?” I asked.

“Removing some of the bats in the attic.”

“With an elephant gun?”

“At her age, with her eyesight, she says it is the most effective method.” He said with a straight face.

He took us to a large reception hall that was filled with a vast assortment of dead stuffed animals. Now when I had previously lived in Ruritania, I had never met the old gal. She was something of a recluse after the death of her husband. He was some sort of count or baron from Sylvania and turned out to be a dreadful beast. Within a year he was found dead under mysterious circumstances. There was mumbling of a cover up and she was whisked off for a safari to Africa that lasted about five years. There has been bad blood and a couple of wars between Ruritania and Sylvania ever since.

When the old bird finally made an appearance, my jaw nearly dropped to the floor for the Grand Duchess was the spitting image of Queen Victoria, down to the widow’s gown and veil and the disapproving look. Apparently, she thought old Vicky was the absolute end-all in fashion.

“Weww? What can I do fow you, Heww von Schnitzew?” She asked.

“Good lord, she really is King Ruprikt’s sister,” I mumbled.

Unfortunately, her hearing was excellent. She turned her disapproving look on me and asked sarcastically, “And who might this chawming cweatuwe be?”

“I’m an American movie actress, Roxy Smothers.”

“Weww, Woxy, you don’t mind if I caww you Woxy, do you? You know Woxy, it’s not powite to mumbwe in a big woom wike this. Some peopwe, not me of couwse, might have a pwobwem heawing. But I’m suwe someone wike you isn’t used to being in a pwace wike this, yes?”

Looking around at the hall filled with stuffed dead animals, I had to agree, “I can safely say, I’ve never been in a place so grandiose, so De Mille.”

Immediately I could see that she like most Radziwill was dumber than a stump for she seemed to think I gave her a compliment. Then it slowly dawned on her that might have at one point been related but I didn’t hazard to clarify, not knowing how she felt about Broni.

Von Schnitzel interrupted while there was still a smile on her face. He went into a big spiel about how he was so moved by the Grand Duchess’ manuscript, he knew he had to make a film of it, to teach the world the tragic love story of Barbara Radziwill and King Sigismund of Poland. He hoped she would agree to give him the right to make this epic, a tribute to the Radziwill family.

You could see how she loved to be buttered up like that and Eric had her eating out of his hand in a few minutes.

Oh, pwease, we awe now awtists togethew, call me by my Chwistian name, Woowa.”
“Of course…Woowa.

No, not Woowa, Woowa.

“Of course…um….Laura.”

No, no, not Waura, Woowa!” She was beginning to lose her patience with us when Tura interrupted.

“Have no fear, madame. The leading roles are in the best of hands. Roxy will be playing Barbara Radziwill.”

“Excewwent, she’s pwacticawee a Wadziwiww hewsewf.”

“Only by contamination,” I muttered.

“Who wiww be pwaying King Sigismund?”

This was the in that Tura was waiting for, he loved advertising himself, “Why that great Polish actor, Janusz Tura!”

“I’m sowwy, who?”

“Well, perhaps in this part of the world, news of high culture may be lacking…”

“No, I fowwow aww of the theatwe and opewa news in Euwope and I can assuwe you that
I have nevew heawd of him. But I am suwe with such a fine diwectrow as Heww von Schnitzew, he’ww be fine, whoevew the heww he is.”

Unfortunately, at this point she noticed the Shmengys at the back of the hall, with Fatty still shirtless and oozing axle grease and mud.

“Good Word, awe those Weutonians? You can smeww a Weutonian fwom five weagues away! I nevew undewstood why we’ve kept that wwetched pwovince! The west of you awe wewcome to stay hewe but I must insist that they stay eswewhewe.”

Mousevarmr suggested that they could stay in the stall used for keeping the milk minks but she would have none of that since the Shmengy’s presence would make the brefnish go off. They finally agreed that they could stay in one of the villager’s barns nearby. None of the rest of us had any objection to this arrangement.

Surprisingly, neither did the Shmengys.

“Hey, Duchess Lady, if there is no krapluga on floor, is better than home!”
“Chicago Bang Bang!”

Mousevarmr showed us to our rooms, which were large and extensively, if eccentrically furnished, with statutes of bog spirits and stuffed vultures. Just before retiring, Mousevarmr provided von Schnitzel with a document that the Grand Duchess had prepared for him, a Mandat. This was an official document issued by a member of the royal family for everyone in the kingdom to provide whatever the bearer requested. It bore her signature, “Rula Radziwill, Grand Duchess of Zenda.”

“Well, one mystery solved.”

“One final thing, Herr Direktor” Mousvarmr added. “Since the Grand Duchess feels her time on this earth may be limited, she requests that you begin filming as soon as possible. To that end she places this palace and all her estate at your disposal. Also, when she received your letter she took a fancy into supporting film-making so she has several 35mm Debrie Parvo cameras with sound system and several hundred miles of 35mm film.”

Never before and never after did I see von Schnitzel cry but there he was in the hall of that palace balling like a baby.

Finally, he squeaked out, “We start shooting tomorrow!”

“Tomorrow?” I cried, “We don’t have a script!”

“We will tomorrow! Mousvarmr, please take Mr. Hummingbird his typewriter and a case of Scotch and then lock him in his room. Don’t let him out until we have a script or he is dead. Either way, we win.”

I dreamt that night about vultures and greased whales but it was otherwise a restful night.

Mousvarmr, who seemed to be the only servant in the whole place, came and woke us for breakfast. There was pleasant smell of frying potato klopkies but when we reached the breakfast table, there was Fat Shmengy with several dozen empty plates in front of him.

The Grand Duchess was not pleased when she was told she would have to wait until Mousevarmr could get additional potatoes from the next village. “What tewwibwe times these awe! No bweakfast, wumows of waw, and I hewe thewe is even a showtage of oyestews!”

There was still plenty of coffee and so we went to work. There were some old royal dress outfits, both male and female, in the palace that did the trick for wardrobe and the script that a bleary-eyed and hiccupping Humminbird handed to us was actually quite good. We even managed to pry Chicolini away from his gypsies to do the camera work.

After a full morning we heard the sound of a large car coming up the drive-way to the Chateau.

I was shocked to see it was Bronislav’s limousine with that rat Raoul behind the wheel.

He strode confidently into the hall where we were filming, that damned cigarette still clutched in his slimy fingers.

“Miss Roxy, what a pleasant surprise! I had no idea you were here.”

“If not what brings you here, you malignant excuse for a cabbie.”

“Oh ho, still fiery as always. No, Roxy, not for you. The Prince knows that war now is inevitable, he’s given up looking for you. He sent me to fetch his great aunt out of the way of potential capture or worse, she being so close to the border. I am to take her back to Strelzov personally.”

Although this made sense, I couldn’t figure out why a louse like Raoul would stick his neck out even if ordered by Broni. Hummingbird must have felt the same way. The writer had appeared from his room bearing a large glass of the hair of the dog. He immediately interrupted and offered Raoul a drink.

“I am sorry but I do not drink alcohol.”

Hummingbird, his mixology kit already in full display, stood uncomprehending at the driver’s words. The perfect martini in his hands began to shake violently as his whole world view suddenly shifted. Fortunately, Chicolini came to the rescue, sprinting out of nowhere to down the drink.

By this time, the Grand Duchess had arrived. She was adamant that she would not leave her home or her people just because of the inconvenience of a war.

Raoul, his shifty eyes showing the calculations going on in his brain, shifted his tactics. He offered to take us to the capital, assuring us that Broni no longer had any intention of betraying us to the fascists; he was too busy preparing for the war.

“Scram, bus driver,” I finally told him and the little rat climbed into the big limo and drove off.

Then I realized that he was headed out of town on the road leading not to Strelzov but to the Graustark border.

“That stinkin’ son of a sea cook! He’s off to rat us out to the Krauts.”

We talked a bit about what to do but couldn’t come to any conclusion.
Instead, for lack of anything better to do, we went back to filming and put in one of the best day’s work I’ve ever had. Tura was actually pretty good. Even von Schnitzel didn’t scream as much as usual.

I had a rough night, tossing and turning and then being awaken early by Mousevarmr. He told me that there was grievous news and that the Grand Duchess had ordered all of her people to assemble in the Chateau forecourt.

After dressing, I went down and there was a huge crowd of villager gathered in front of the Chateau.

Bobo Mrko and another man in rich traditional dress, some village official no doubt, escorted the Grand Duchess to a small platform set before the villagers.

The priest spoke first, “We have received reports that, at five o’clock this morning, Germany has attacked Poland and a fierce battle is now raging along that nation’s borders. Our Minister of War has declared a full mobilization of all reserves in preparation for an attack against us. He believes that we shall be attacked next.”

“My peopwe, hawd times awe coming. We must giwd ouw woins for battwe. I caww now fow the mobiwization of aww abwe bodied men in my domain to dwive off these nefawious wuffians!”

There was a big cheer from the crowd and everyone calling out loyalty to the Crown and death to the invaders. Dear Lord, how were these rubes going to stop Hitler’s panzers; they were doomed.

“Feaw not, my woyaw peopwe, we have the assistance of wegulaw twoops to twain you in defeating the enemy.

Suddenly, two figures appeared in rough approximations of Ruritanian army uniforms. One was thin and one was very fat.

“Hey, Duchess Lady sign our ticket! We no get shot!” Skinny Shmengy crowed as he waived his Tommie gun over his head.

“Chicago Bang Bang!” said Fat Shmengy patting the stock of his anti-tank rifle.

“And we even have with us, a fowmew high govewnment official, a wesewve officew in the awmy to wead you.”

I felt my stomach churn when I saw the thin, lithe figure approach the platform, an oversized officers uniform nearly drowning her small dancer’s figure.

It was Zoya.

Then I heard the sound of an engine droning overhead. I looked up and far above us in the dawn sky was a reconnaissance plane. On its wings were large black crosses.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Good Bye to Guns: Pulp WWI Game

To take a break from posting the adventures of Roxy Smothers, I'm posting some "test" shots of the game table for a game I'm running at Cold Wars this year.

It's a pulp World War I game, set where else but Ruritania. Here's the description:

S-192 - Goodbye to Guns or All's Quiet on the Ruritanian Front, 1918

Sat. 12:00 PM, 4 hrs, 12 players
Pulp 28mm, Rules: Astounding Tales/All God's Children Got Guns

Amidst the chaos of the Great War in the Balkans, a brash young
American ambulance driver attempts to rescue his true love, a
downed Ruritanian aviatrix. But standing in his way is not only the
might of the Central Powers but also numerous rivals for this
popular lady's affections. It's a love story -- with poison gas.

I still have some final touches to do on the lake and the roads but otherwise ready to go. The tower is the new GW Skullvane Manse. The ruins are GW also, from the original Mordheim set. The trenches, for the most part, are Miniature World Maker latex pieces and the mountains are modified Lemax Halloween decorations.

The Battlefield

Our Hero, Young Ernest Hummingbird, at the Wheel of the Homing Pigeon Truck

The Red Baron's Aerodrome

The Ruined Graustarkian Town of Glottelstaap, the Central Power's Main Position

The Nefarious Dr. Krueger's Tower

Batstaffel Leaving the Tower

Turkish Reserves on Mt. Gummo

The Austrian Position on Mt. Zeppo Barraged

G8's Battle Aces Back the Attack

American and Ruritanian Troops Advance

Arditi Avanti! The Italian Army on the Attack

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Chapter 4: The Benefits of a Royal Education

Interview with Roxy Smothers, 1973:

What did you say about zeppelins? No, I shouldn't say that I’d been around an awful lot of exploding zeppelins, not more than anyone else. You see back in those days, airships were simply everywhere, so you couldn’t swing a dead cat with exploding an airship with it. This was all due to the shortage of liftwood after the Great War. That would be the World War Number One, and don’t you dare ask me if I remember that one. Why I was just a chi -- a mere dream in my parents’ minds when it ended.

Of course, the good old US of A had a monopoly on helium at the time, so everyone else used any sort of lighter-than-air gas they could find. Dangerous hydrogen was the most common but there were others even worse; I think Siam had one that used the methane from zebu flatulence, for example.

So, you see darling, it really was nothing remarkable to have a flaming zeppelin falling on your hotel in the early hours of the morning. As it happened, we didn’t see much of the aftermath. Mr. Bogush trundled us off in a mail van, being careful to disarm us before we got in. Then we drove in circles around the city for several hours. At first I thought it was ruse to keep pursuers off our trail but then I realized that he was actually performing the morning mail delivery!

Around nine in the morning, Mr. Bogush finished his rounds and took us to the central part of Strelzov to the Ministry of War. Unlike the post offices in Ruritania, the Ministry was not very threatening, being an old palace of some minor member of the Royal Family from ages ago.

Bogush led us through several sentry points to a large vestibule at the rear of the building on the first floor. Now Bronislav, who was fairly brave, in a calculating, wouldn’t-stick-my-neck-out-unless-it-paid-me sort of way, was deathly afraid of heights. He used to get woozy from sitting in the Royal Box at the Opera - of course, he turned that one to his political advantage, saying he would much rather sit with the common folk in the regular seats than with all the hoity-toity upper class ones. Oh brother!

As we entered the vestibule, I saw that it was packed with young women who were ostensibly there to be interviewed for a job as Bronislav’s personal stenographer. That's when I knew things were pretty bad for the louse. Bronislav's favorite way of relieving stress was to carry on with young women and he used the excuse of interviewing for Ministry jobs. If they pleased him enough, he would occasionally follow through with a job. I seem to remember he fobbed one of his brainless floozies off on the Ministry of the Arts as a yodeling inspector or something.

By the number of pretty girls flocking about that vestibule in their best dresses and clutching steno pads, I knew Broni was probably feeling very low. Good! I thought I might get the pleasure of twisting the knife in his guts a bit.
Now in addition to the girls, there were several sentries, all heavily armed and dressed for field duty, instead of their normal dress uniforms. Last night's zeppelin raid must have really rattled the rat if he had even his ceremonial Walloon guards ready for combat.

I should mention that there were several Royal Guard units in Ruritania. The most prestigious was the Royal Walloon Fusiliers. It seems the original Ladislas Radziwill, who became the legendary King Vlad, when he made that famous wrong turn after Vienna in1683, had brought a regiment of Walloon mercenaries with him. Once an idea penetrates the thick Radziwillian brain, it stays there, so for nearly two and half centuries, the royal bodyguard was recruited exclusively from the more entrepreneurially violent elements of Belgian society.

Then I noticed Raoul, Broni's chaffuer, the man who filled me in on Broni's betrayal. You might think I would feel some gratitude to Raoul but I absolutely loathed the man. If Broni was a rat, Raoul was a weasel, in the weaselist meaning of the word. He never did anything from a good motive, always out for himself. Besides that, he smelled of lavender - I mean really how can you trust a man who smells of lavender?

He was tall and thin, and of an indeterminate ethnicity, which given the odd mix of population in that part of the world, was probably Eskimo, if I had to guess. He always seemed to be waiving a cigarette about in an arrogantly nonchalant manner. When he saw me, a crooked smile passed over his lips and I was suddenly assaulted by a wave of flowery odor as he brought his lavender impregnated hide over.

"Why, Ms. Roxy, it is so good to see you back in Ruritania," he virtually slithered, "But you do look like you've had some ...exertions? Some new conquest? No? What a pity.”

"Can it, cabbie, I'm not in the mood.”

“That was the excuse you gave me when you rejected my help in getting even with the Prince for his infidelities. I always regret that we did not develop a closer ... relationship at that time."

“Well, Raoul, getting even with Broni by having an affair with you would have been like taking strychnine to cure myself of a hang-nail."

I pushed past the beast and moved towards the door to Broni's office. I was stopped by Lemkocz. Lemkocz was Broni's aide, a humorless officious prig of a man with no lips or neck discernable. When he saw me, he immediately moved to block the door.

"Out of my way, I need to speak to your boss, Lem-crotch.”

“’Lemkocz,’ ma'am, it's pronounced... No, I shan't correct you; you would only pronounce it in an even more horrible form. His Royal Highness cannot be disturbed; he has important matters of state with which to deal."

I heard a series of giggles from inside Broni's office interrupt the Neckless Wonder. “Really busy, eh, Turtle Boy. Out of my way!”

I pushed past him, not realizing that the rest of our crew, which now equaled in numbers one of the smaller New York boroughs flowed in with me.

There was a girl in the office, of course, pretty and youthful with that enthusiasm and hope that Broni loved to destroy. One of my maids, Mrs. Villyach. when I was living in Ruritania, suggested that he might be part vampire. No not vampire, just plenty of wolf.

I booted the dame toot sweet.

Then my eyes came to rest on my ex-husband. Broni sat at an ornate desk with his head bent over what must have been a resume, saying “So, Miss Pupwikosh, you wike pina cowada’s and wong wawks in the wain...”

Now Broni, like all the Ruritanian Radziwills spoke with a most appallingly speech impediment, pronouncing all R’s and L’s as if they were W’s. This too, the famous “Radziwill Lilt,” was another legacy from King Vlad, who was noted for brainless courage and utter lack of verbal articulation.

“Where’s my money, you lousy two-timer!”

He jumped up in surprise but recovered quickly, “Weww, Woxy, what a pweasant suwpwise. What bwings you back to Wuwitania?”

“Well Broni, darling, in the US, there’s a little tradition called ‘alimony.’ I’m here to collect.”

“Fowtunatewy, Woxy, we awe in Wuwitania and siwwy ideas wike “awimony” awe simpwy not done hewe.”

“Yeah, well you still made me a promise and how to you think the King would feel about the loss of family honor that comes from breaking your word.

Lemkocz had sneaked in and decided to go into his usual toady routine, “I think the King’s intervention is unlikely. He is hardly aware of what day it is. Yesterday, he mistook the Prime Minister for bowl of oatmeal.”

“Weww, that weawwy is an honest mistake. The Pwime Ministew is vewy easy to mistake for a boww of powwidge. Huhuuuuu.”

I interrupted their levity, “Listen Buster, what if I tell him about how you tried to get me killed with that cockamamie plan to sneak me over the border.

“Now you awe getting hystewical, Woxy. I twied my best to get you hewe safewy. Why I sent one of my best agents to assist you.”

At this point, Zoya lept into his lap and began smothering him with kisses and endearments, “Oh, dearest, dear heart, dearest Snooki Pookie Umkins. How I missed you so. Aren’t you proud of the good job I did on my mission?”

With great difficulty he disengaged himself from the clinging ballerina, sliding her over into Lemkocz’s hands who hustled her out of the office.

“When’s the wedding, Bronislavushka?” She called over the flunky’s shoulder which connected directly to his head.

Broni’s frustration with all these interruptions had brought him very close to the edge now, his face bright red and the corner of his upper lip beginning to twitch so much that it threatened to give him a black eye.

Surprisingly, it was Skinny Shmengy who broke the tension.

“Hey Mister, will you stamp ticket?”


“I get ticket from postman says me and brother Yosh must report to Army or be shot. You in Army, right? You can stamp our ticket say we report like we supposed to, right?”

“Chicago, bang bang?”

Broni looked at them with such open contempt that I actually felt sorry for the annoying brothers.

“Defenistwate these mowons!” he called to his guards, ordering them to conduct the traditional Ruritania form of summary execution by throwing the victim out a window.

“But Your Royal highness, we’re on the first floor.”

Deflated, he sighed and said, “I know. But do it for me for the satisfaction of the tinkwing sound.”

So several of the guard came and tossed Skinny Shmengy through the large window behind Broni’s desk. It was an impressive throw; Skinny Shmengy skipped about three times across the lawn before being stopped abruptly by the garden wall.

As if to reassure us of the well-nigh indestructibility of Leutonian musicians, he called out, “Hey Prince, how you get grass so soft and even, it like warm, fleecy blanket.”

Skinny’s meditations on the lawn care were interrupted when his brother was propelled through the window after him. Or at least partially propelled, for the fat man got about half way through the broken window when he became firmly lodge in the building’s superstructure. A whole platoon of Walloons failed to propel him one way or another out of the wall. Eventually, several tanks from a light armored brigade were needed to pull him out.

Before all that, Lemkocz returned with a look more sour than usual on his face.

“Your Royal Highness, I fear I must report…”

“Spit it out, Wemkocz. I don’t have time to pussy-foot around.”

“You have a cat, too?” called out Skinny Shmengy from the garden.

“Shut up!”

“Well, Highness, it seems there were reporters at the King’s morning audience. “


“Foreign reporters.“


“One’s you haven’t bribed.”

“Oh. What did the King say?”

“They asked him about the assassination attempt on Marshal Rhododendron.”

“Good Woord, what did he say?”

“He said, and I quote ‘Whododendwon? Isn’t that a puwpwe fwowew? I hate puwpwe fwowews. Especially whododendwons. I didn’t twy to kill the evil weed, but I would wove to meet the ones who did, you just can’t find a good weed-kiwwer when you need one!’”

Broni seemed to shrink into his chair, “And thewe’s no chance the wepowtews figuwed out the King was talking about gawdening?”

“No, Highness, they thought it was an apt analogy for the current political crisis.”

Broni buried his head in his hands and he began shaking all over. It was wonderful. He suddenly stopped and spoke to Lemkocz without looking up

“Wemkocz, Woxy has a smug gwin on hew face doesn’t she?”

“Yes Highness.”

“I thought so.” He turned to me and shot a look of intense hatred at me. “I don’t know why you awe feewing so satisfied. Because of youw wittwe adventuwe, waw is almost guawanteed, a waw that will be a disastew for this countwy.”

“Don’t get me wrong, I love Ruritania and especially its people…”

“Hey Prince, if there’s anybody you want me and Yosh to shoot for you, just let us know?”

“Shut up!”

“Well, I love MOST of the people. But I don’t think I have anything to personally worry about. I am a citizen of a neutral power.”

“You fowget, Woxy, you stiww have Wuwitanian citizenship and a connection to the Woyal Famiwy so you awe in this thing up to youw pwetty wittwe neck!”

“Well, Highness, perhaps some deal could be made with Graustark, some individuals could be sacrificed for the better good,” Lemkocz suggested.

“We could shoot them if you want,” echoed in from the garden.

“SHUT UP! You’we the fiwst ones who’we going to be sacwificed.

Von Schnitzel finally interrupted, “Don’t be too hasty, Your Highness. Appeasement has not worked to dissuade the Nazis so far. Perhaps, if you had a weapon of enormous power, one that would ensure your victory.”

“You awe the movie makew, yes? What kind of faiwy tawe awe you making up now?”

“Well, Your Highness, the Professor here has evidence that the Germans are desperately searching for an artifact of enormous power; one so powerful that they were willing to sacrifice one of their zeppelins and some of their most elite troops to find it. One that is in your possession already!”

Von Schnitzel prodded Wagsie into producing Dr Greun’s notebook. The Professor then went into a lengthy discussion of an ancient tribe, the Kurgans, who appeared out of the depths of Asia over 4000 years ago, building strange earthen mounds throughout the Ukraine and into the Balkans, into Ruritania. Little was known about them save that they worshipped strange, unknown gods with terrible blood sacrifices. At some point, these beliefs led to their destruction, having tampered with Things That Man Was Not Meant to Know. But it was clear that an artifact from the Kurgans was part of the Royal Regalia of Ruritania from the time of the nation’s origins in the dim past. It was taken by the Turks when they first conquered Ruritania in the Middle Ages and was returned to the possession of the Ruritanians by King Vlad when he liberated the nation. It was a chalice of simple design made from an unknown metal.

“But thewe is no chawice in the Woyaw Wegawia?”

Wagsie showed him the sketches in the notebook and Broni broke into a paroxysm of laughter. While trying to catch his breath, he showed the notebook to Lemkocz who looked at it with bewildered amusement.

“Why that’s the Golden Chamberpot of Saint Blekva! I hardly think this is some great mystical item. The Kings of Ruritania have been relieving themselves in it as part of the coronation ceremony for nearly three hundred years. A symbol of contempt for evil, that sort of thing.”

We tried to persuade them, at least, to investigate it but Broni was hardly convinced. Finally, Lemkocz suggested, “Highness, perhaps the Germans do have some interest in this item. Hitler is hardly a rational man. Perhaps we could use this item in our negotiations. The Regalia are in the Royal Museum in Zenda. Since Zenda is close to the Graustark border, we could take a look at it while at the same time arranging a surrender of undesirable persons that might resolve the present crisis.

“I wike youw thinking, Wemkocz. Two biwds with one stone, eh. Awwight evewone, we awe going on a wittwe twain wide.”

Once the tanks got Fat Shmengy out of the wall, we were taken, under heavy guard, to the train station. For an instant, I almost felt a degree of assurance for there was the big armored train Shmigly and puppyfaced Andrei on the siding, striding back and forth. He practically flung himself in front of Broni as we arrived.

“Your Royal Highness, I must protest your actions! How dare you imprison Miss Smothers, who is so innocent and beautiful and lovely and simply wonderful ..”

Broni looked slyly at me, “So found youwsewf a wittwe souveniw, eh Woxy?”

Then he turned on poor Puppyface, shouting “Wieutenant, you wiww shut youw mouth and obey owdews. Get this twain weady to twavew, IMMEDIATEWY!”

“I will, Your Royal Highness but not before I speak my mind. We Milnas are poor but we are a proud family, an old family. We came here as hussars with King Vlad. We may be poor but we are proud. Proud and poor. But not poor in our pride. And proud of our proverty….

“Wieutenant, can you give me the Weadew’s Digest vewsion of this?”

“Yes, I accuse you, Bronislav Radziwill of the dishonorable treatment of a lady and so I challenge you.” And here, the young dear actually struck Broni across the cheek with his gloves. It was absolutely wonderfully romantic! Of course, that only lasted for a moment for I realized poor Puppyface was doomed. If Broni didn’t just execute him, he would shoot him dead. You see Broni had been on the Ruritanian Olympic Team in ’36 for pistol-shooting and had scored a Bronze medal. Plus, he would probably make sure Andrei’s gun wasn’t loaded.

Broni fixed a steely eye on him. “Awwight, Wieutenant, enough funny stuff. Get this twain moving and when once we awwive in Zenda, considew youwsewf undew awwest.”

Puppyface saluted Broni and then turned and saluted me. “It was worth it… for you Roxy.” Then he turned and looked at Broni, “Until we meet on the Field of Honor, Sir!”

Wow, I thought. He really is an idiot.

Excerpt from The Sun’s Also Shiny, The Great American Novel, by Ernest Hummingbird:

The train rolled quickly through the heat of that summer day. A breeze fanned the Writer’s cheek as he jotted down his thoughts on all that had transpired. The notes were perfect.

As the miles rolled by, he realized that he hadn’t had a drink in some time. So he got up and went back to the command car, where the Prince and his entourage were. The guards knew not to stop him.

He went into the command car and found the Prince’s private supply. The writer began mixing drinks. The drinks were perfect.

The Prince and his aid were making plans. It was clear they didn’t believe the story about the chalice or the chamberpot or whatever it was. The only thing the writer knew was that if he ever got hold of the thing, he probably shouldn’t mix drinks in it.

The Prince planned on giving in to the fascists. He would surrender the musicians, harmless fools that they were. He would blame it all on the Actress, his ex-wife, claiming it was all a plan to discredit him. He would give them the artifact as a sweetener.

The Writer interjected, “How perfectly clever and ruthless. But your plan isn’t perfect.”

“Who awe you… say this dwink is wondewful.”

“It’s a Doble Daquiri. My favorite bartender in Havana, Constantio Ribaldiquin invented it just for me. I think the hint of maraschino liqueur is what gives it its unique fruity taste.”

“It is wondewful. But who awe you?”

“Just a simple traveler on the byways of life, and an occasional scribbler, Ernest Hummingbird is the name.”

“Why, I wead youw book, the one about the owd man and the big fish.”

“That’s right The Old Man and the Big Fish. I won the Pulitzer for that one.”

“But why do say my pwan isn’t pewfect?”

“What if they are right, that the artifact does have power? The Nazis won’t stop, they’ll just test their new weapon on your country. Care for another drink?”
The Prince slipped into silence, contemplating the Writer’s words. The Writer handed him a new drink. It was perfect.

“This one I call the Million Dollar Cocktail. It was first made by Ngiam Tong Boon in a small bar near Singapore. It was there I met her, her dark eyes shimmering with the excitement of our meeting. Either that or from all the drinks I had given her.“

“How do you do that? I mean you tuwn evewy wittwe discwiption into something that sounds so pwofound?”

“It’s easy, that’s how life is for me. I simply experience what I write and write about what I experience. We’re in one of my novels now.”

“Weawwy? How does that wowk?”

“Well, it’s simple actually. We sit here and speak of art and the coming war, all the while the train takes us inexorably towards our destiny. Soon the train begins to slow, the clouds of steam billowing in the humid air and the wheels squealing like Tura the Actor.”

The train had halted near a siding. They had arrived in Zenda.
General Hulka was waiting for the Prince. The General commanded the main army guarding the border with Graustark. Although nearly fifty, the General had a boyishness about him that came from all his years as a cavalryman. He was not deferential to the Prince.

“Radziwill, what’s this I hear about you relieving young Milna. He’s one my best officers and one of the few that knows things about machines and such. I want him back! He’s a good boy from a proud family. Proud but poor…

“Spawe me, Genewaw. I’ve heawd aww about his wineage. I wiww weinstate him for the duwation of the cwisis.”

“Good. Then I would be willing to act as your second for the duel after we’ve won against Graustark.”

The Prince did not look pleased at the mention of the duel but changed the subject to the strategy for defending the country in case it came to war, as looked increasingly likely.

“Well, Radziwill, I say hit em hard now! The war’s already begun what with assassinations and zeppelin raids. I can take my cavalry across the border and smash’em before they know what hit ‘em!”

The Writer was curious. “General, how will your cavalry smash the enemy tanks?”

“With our torpedo lances, of course. A big charge of explosives near the front of the lance, rammed home by my brave cavalry and Boom!. Excellent drink, by the way.”

“Wouwd you say that was a pewfect pwan, Mistew Hummingbiwd? Now you see my diwemma. Ouw nation wiww be destwoyed unwess I can avewt this stwuggwe. Sacwifices must be made.”

The Writer said nothing. The Prince’s logic was perfect.

Diary of Zoya Bupkis

August 29, 1939
Dear Diarushka

Well I must say that yesterday took the prize alright! Puppy puke and oatmeal! Sorry to swear like that but I am so angry!!!!

First there was the whole zeppelin and stormtrooper thing, so I didn’t even have time for coffee or to do my make-up that morning. Mr. Bogush didn’t even have any cookies.

Then we just kept driving around and around for hours, when all I wanted to do was see Bronislav.

Then when I finally get to see Bronislav, does he say how proud of me he is for completing the mission? No! He doesn’t even return my kisses or set a date for our wedding or anything. He just has Lemkocz whisk me out while he talks to Roxy! Catnip with hairballs! Sorry about that one too.

It got worse though. They put us back on the train and off we go to Zenda of all places! And do we get to stay in the Hotel Metropol? No! Or the Europska Hotel? No! Not even Mrs. Billyash’s Boarding House. I mean there we are in the oldest, most beautiful city in Ruritania and where does Bronislav put us? He has us locked into the Big Grey Tower in the old Palace.

We were in one big room without any furniture and only four big stained glass windows in the walls and a trap door in the floor which was the only way in or out. There were several unpleasant Walloons guarding the ladder making sure we didn’t leave.

There wasn’t any dinner and there was only a bucket and a blanket when we had to use the W.C. The Shmengys kept talking about how nice it was there. Stupid Leutonians!

I kept sending messages that there must have been a mistake, that I should not be a prisoner, I was Bronislav’s fiancée. The guards all laughed at that for some reason.

We realized that something bad would happen if we didn’t escape. That was when the Professor said that there was enough of a ledge on the outside of the tower for someone to be able to climb down. But that someone had to be small and flexible and know how to balance since the ledge was very small and the tower very high. Roxy immediately said I should go. And I thought how nice that she had such confidence in me!

The Professor pulled out a large diamond ring and quickly cut away some of the glass from the window. I noticed that it was one of Bronislav’’s rings. I also noticed that the Professor was wearing Bronislav’s watch. And necktie. And that he had the little jeweled Easter egg that Bronislav displayed in his office. And a lot of Bronislav’s stationary and his gold pen. And then he pulled out Bronislav’s key ring, the one that had all of Bronislav’s most important keys, like the one to the safe in the National Bank, and the one to the Royal Regalia Display, and … the one to the Big Grey Tower! He told me to climb down and then come back up and unlock the trap door from the other side.

It didn’t seem like a good plan at the time but it was about the only one we had.

So I went out onto the ledge and it was very tiny and I slipped a little first but I did a little ront de jambe and managed to get back onto the side of the building. The others were looking at me anxiously as I climbed down.

About halfway down, I began to think about the past few days and I started thinking bout how cross I was with Bronislav. Why wouldn’t he set the date for the wedding or at least announce our engagement or stop locking me up in prisons? Then I thought about how close I came to getting killed and then I realized that I probably wouldn’t have survived if Hozzenka hadn’t been there to help me and that Bronislav had wanted me to go alone. Wait this was all wrong! Could it be? Did he want to get rid of me?

I began climbing furiously back up the side of the tower to tell the others what I had figured out about Bronislav. They were still there watching me and frantically whispering something to me, probably to be careful. When I finally returned to the top, I shouted, “And I don’t think all those girls really were stenographers!”
Roxy smirked a bit and said, “Lights have been on a while, now it looks like someone finally got home.”

I had no idea what that meant but I poured out my heart to them about how Bronislav had used and betrayed me. All the while, they kept shushing me, probably not wanting me to upset myself so.

Finally, Roxy took me aside and said, “Look, sister, I’ve found the best way to get back at a bum is hurt him where it really counts. With Broni, that’s his pride in how clever he is. Well, now we can show that would-be Machiavelli that a couple of gals are way smarter than he ever was.”

“Who’s this Machiavelli? Is he the man who sells Italian water ices near the Palace?” I asked.

Roxy suddenly got angry and said, “Just climb down the tower and let us out!”
Well the second time around was much easier and I was down on the ground in a few minutes.

Suddenly, there was a guard standing there, pointing his rifle at me. Then he squinted at me and said, “You are one of the prisoner, I recognize you from your picture.” He pulled out a copy of that stupid swimsuit poster. “You belong back in the tower.”

“I know, that’s where I am going.”

“But how did you get out, you should be locked away up there?”

“I know, that’s why I am going back up.”

The guard mustn’t have been very bright for he seemed very confused. So after awhile I did a pas ballone and kicked the guard right in the coup de pied.
Then I went up and there was more confusion with the two guards at the trap door.

So I did a saut de basque and while I was flying over them, I kicked them both in the head. Now I know it’s not very ladylike but I was tired and hungry and angry.
After all the guards were knocked out, I let the others out of the Tower. The Professor and von Schnitzel dressed up in some of the guard’s uniforms and we all marched across the square.

I wasn’t sure exactly what we were doing until Roxy assured me that we were going to get even with Bronislav by stealing the Royal Regalia.

We ran into a Walloon Captain but von Schnitzel got very curt with him and began waiving a stamped envelope about and saying he was a postman and would do terrible things to the Captain’s family if he interfered with “Official State Business.” The Captain got very sheepish and left us alone.

We went into the part of the Grey Palace that was the Museum where a large man, though not as big as Mr. Shmengy the Clarinetist stopped us and asked our business. It seems he was the curator of the Museum.

Von Schnitzel yelled a lot at him too and held up the stamped envelope and said that the Prince had sent us. When the curator doubted us, the Professor pointed out that he had an order signed by the Prince, on his stationary and everything (which was sort of strange because I saw the Professor scribbling on that same piece of paper on the way over). He also showed him that he had the Prince’s keys and ex-wife and girlfriend so of course they were official business.

The curator grew very flustered and apologized for doubting us. Then he turned off the alarms and left us.

We went right to work and opened all the glass cases and took out all of the Royal Regalia, including the Big Puffy Crown and the Silver Throwing Disk but everyone seemed to be very interested in a rather plain old cup.

Then we left when we heard shouting and running and that sort of thing. I am getting quite used to that sound these days.

We ran across the palace grounds and into the streets. A couple of blocks away, there was an old abandoned factory so we went in there to hide.

We could see the Palace and soon, all sorts of autos pulled up and Bronislav got out of one and ran into the Museum. When he came out he looked very cross and was yelling a lot at everyone.

I felt so naughty then. Roxy even slapped me on the back, in a nice sort of way and not like when she had done so as I had begun to climb down the tower. It was wonderful.

The Professor said we should wait a bit before trying to leave. While we were waiting, von Schnitzel asked for a lighter. Professor pulled several out with Bronislav’s initials on them.

The Director waived the lighter inside the old cup and a strange bluish light shown out against the wall. The wall began to smolder from the heat of the beam.