Friday, January 13, 2012

Chapter 2: A Rendezvous with Destiny

Interview with Roxy Smothers, 1973:

As we were leaving the club, now a bloody shambles, we saw Emeric emerge from a back room with large can of kerosene. With a disconsolate look on his face, he said, “Looks like it’s time for that insurance fire I always planned for a rainy day.”

The great herd of humanity that was our party ran out into the street, towards a large, dilapidated truck that Chicolini had brought around. This truck had been found for von Schnitzel by our Freedonian “cameraman” and was one of those vehicles, and I use that term with extreme liberality, that was really a self-propelled Swiss cheese and an old one at that. But it did have a great deal of movie-making equipment and even a large, powerful sound system, all lifted gratis by the light-fingered Chicolini, no doubt, who was also charging von Schnitzel and exorbitant rental fee.

It was then that we noticed that we were trapped between numerous police cars that we could hear approaching from the north of us and a large torch lit parade along the cross street to our south.

Von Schnitzel and Hummingbird came up with an escape plan that owed more to Charley Chaplin than Harry Houdini. We rigged up the truck with fascist bunting we tore down from the nearby windows and then jumped on board to act as if we were making some sort of propaganda film. With that we boldly drove up to the police line holding back the enthusiastic crowds.

Wagmore walked up to policeman and said we had been engaged by the Marshal to film the parade from the inside. While the flatfoot was trying to wrap his block-headed mind around that idea, I purred that the Marshal had wanted me, an American movie star to make sure that his message got to the people in the states. Then von Schnitzel closed the deal, demanding the name of his superior and saying he would see the man broken if we were delayed any further. The flatfoot meekly complied and waived us through.

A break in the parade line opened up and we rolled through. I was perched on the hood of the truck, making my best Betty Grable. Oh there were cat calls but I noticed that as soon as we passed, a huge cheer let out. When I turned around, there was Zoya staggering drunkenly behind the truck, trying to do ballet steps in time to the marching bands. The moose Hozzenka was behind her, trying to steer her like a yacht with busted rudder. But when the crowd saw her, the cheering went up in earnest, “The Swimsuit Girl! It’s the Swimsuit Girl! Here in Graustark!” I couldn’t believe that little hussy had upstaged me, no wonder this part of the world was in such a mess!

As we neared the review stand, a Graustarkian official ran up and said that Marshal Rhododendron had invited me up to the platform as his guest. By the binoculars around the flunky’s neck, I guessed that his official duties entailed spotting dates in the crowd for the Great Man.

Realizing that the last thing I wanted was to be separated from my friends and put in the middle of a bunch of second-rate Nazi wannabes, I coyly prevaricated and then up went the cheer as Zoya stumbled by. The official’s eyes shifted to her and he bobbed a half-hearted apology to me, something like, “better luck next time,” and off he went, steering Zoya towards the randy dictator on the stand.

At first I was upset by being so maddeningly upstaged again. I mean really, what kind of morons were here, ME losing out that little tart? Well I guess you could say she was pretty in a backward, most-women-around-here-look-like-toads-so-she’s-the-best-we’ve-got sort of way, but I mean really! Then I realized that she would probably end up shot by dawn and I felt much better about the whole evening. The only bad thing was that the brutish but effective Hozzenka and Wagmore, who I was finding more interesting by the minute, decided to stick by her side, bluffing his way past the review stand guards with credentials he lifted from about a half dozen fascist officials.

So the truck slowly moved forward in the midst of that big chanting crowd. No one seemed to question our presence with von Schnitzel and Chicolini filming like mad and Hummingbird booming out a soothing narrative of praise for the Marshal, his voice resonating over the truck’s loud speakers.

Suddenly a little SS man who was sitting in the review stand, leapt up, and shouted that he recognized that voice, and ordered the truck to be stopped.

At this point, Hummingbird muttered, “Damn, it’s Schwarz, I knew him in Spain. We’re going have to shoot our way out of this!”

At this statement, the Shmengy boys suddenly remembered their time in Chicago. They both reached quickly into their instrument cases and the skinny Shmengy pulled out his tommy gun and started spraying the stage - I saw the Marshal himself fall down in the hail of bullets. Meanwhile, the fat Shmengy turned around and blasted away with a pump shotgun at the motorcycle troops behind us.

All hell broke loose then.

“Why in God’s name did you do that?” I cried.

Skinny Shmangy, in between machinegun bursts, pointed at Hummingbird and said “He told me to. And that voice is so rich and otorototif, I just had to obey.” That actually made sense, whenever Hummingbird gave an order, whether for a sandwich or a casual murder, people seemed to want to comply.

Tura, who was driving the truck, hit the gas and I flew off into the street. Seeing a mass of enraged goose-steppers now heading our way, I called genteelly out for the fellows to please halt and allow me to reenter. When this didn’t work, I yelled, “HOLD IT YOU MUGS! DON’T FORGET THE DAME!” I then hotfooted after them, high-heels and evening gown notwithstanding, having been well-trained for such exertions during numerous outings on sale days at some of the better Los Angeles clothing stores.

At this point, Tura tried to pull past the two light tanks that were in front of us. Now Tura had insisted on driving, claiming that he was an expert driver, even raced a few times professionally. What we found out later was that Tura never got more than the Polish equivalent of a learner’s permit and barely knew how to start a car, let alone drive in a high-speed escape. He told the whole lie to show up Hummingbird, who had nearly broken the land speed record in 1935, failing only due to wind resistance caused by his magnificent beard (not that he would have shaved it in any event).

But somehow, Tura slid the truck over onto the sidewalk and got us up next to one of the tanks, where its main gun couldn’t swing around enough to hit us. Chicolini went hog wild, throwing first his knife and then a flaming roll of acetate film into the turret of the tank. Whether it hurt anyone inside or not, it must have scared the hell out of the crew of the tank which swerved wildly and crashed, blocking the street behind us. Of course, von Schnitzel went apoplectic at the waste of his precious film.

There was another tank in front of us, and it swung its turret around and fired its gun point blank at us. Fortunately due to the dilapidated condition of the truck, the shell passed directly through several of the many rust holes and went harmlessly on its way to destroy a corner pastry shop.

By now the crowds had cleared the streets, running off panic-stricken at all the shooting. This left the street to a horde of soldiers and police who were charging at us, blasting away at us. The only thing that saved us for the moment was the wrecked tank and leveled pastry shop holding up their progress.

Then a weird shadow loomed over us. I turned and saw one of the strangest sights I had ever seen outside of a Hollywood cocktail party. It was a tank, big and bulky, but standing a good two storeys high on four spider-like legs.

“One of Hitler’s secret super weapons,” said Hummingbird, “Looks like he really has it in for old Ruprikt.”

Funny, but that little tidbit of knowledge didn’t comfort me. The walking tank fired once and it sheared the wheels and whole undercarriage off the truck. At this point, Chicolini threw another canister of film, discus-like onto the tank. It struck right near the point where the gun came out of the vehicle wall. Skinny Shmengy trained his heater on the disc and it went up in puff of flame and smoke. Lucky for us, it must have gone off right near the gun’s ammunition. There was a terrible rumble inside the tank and a sudden explosion; the big thing toppled over into the street just a few yards from our now ruined truck.

Chicolini turned and was about to fling another roll of film into the remaining tanks in front us. The shocked crew that had just seen this super weapon so easily destroyed hoofed it out of there like a politician running from the Vice Squad.

Just then a large object flew over the street and exploded with amazing force about a block from us, wrecking more buildings and hopefully reducing the population of fascists in our vicinity.

“Hey, dat musta been anudder of them Super-a-Duper Weapons, Huh? Maybe one of doze Buzzer-a-Bombs,” Chicolini offered. Another incredibly load explosion went off a few streets away. Things were really getting too difficult now

Although the road was clear for the moment, our truck was wrecked and walking out of the city was going to be impossible. Chicolini jumped into the tank and began to slowly proceed down the street out of town. The Shmengys, not having a better option, shrugged and jumped onto the back of the tank as it moved along at snail’s pace. Not wanting to be part of a slow-speed chase, I began to look around frantically for some other way out.

At that point, a stylish sportster came out of nowhere and made a screeching stop just inches from the wrecked truck. Hummingbird was behind the wheel, he held open the passenger door and said with an irresistible smile, “Can I offer you a lift, Roxy?”

I tried to be just as nonchalant, “Well, I usually don’t accept favors from newpapermen but my taxi does seem to be a little late….” I hopped in and then von Schnitzel and Tura shoved their way in as well.

“This isn’t exactly the escape I planned,” said an irritated Hummingbird. Still we sped off down the street. However, as we rode around the slow-moving tank, there was a sudden thump and a ripping noise as the rag-top gave way and Skinny Shmengy fell, accordion and tommygun and all, into out laps.

“Howdy! Boy, are we sure glad you found this car,“ Skinny said.

“We?” I asked, with sudden foreboding.

The car lurched to its side as a huge weight struck us.

“There’s little brother,” exclaimed Skinny Shmengy as he reached over the side and grabbed the huge Shmengy’s fat wrists and yanked him in the tiny sports car.

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

Now, I had not mentioned that my brother Yosh was one of the largest men in province of Leutonia. And by large I do not mean big and muscular. Oh, he was strong but he also loved potato klopkies and ate them by the gross. He was said to be best klopky eater in all Leutonia, maybe in whole kingdom of Ruritania, also one of fattest.

So when we jump from tank I make it, but Yosh do not. I manage to hang onto his hand and he ran along beside car, hooffing and pooffing, “Chicago. Huff. Bang. Puff. Bang. Wheeze.”

Finally I pull him in…

Interview with Roxy Smothers, 1973:

We were suddenly deluged by a cascade of fat clarinetist that pushed me and Hummingbird face first into the windshield. But somehow, the car continued to run at high speed out of town, despite the enormous load we were carrying.

We could hear sirens and gunshots and roaring engines all over the city. I doubted if we would ever get out of this alive. But then I remembered that I hadn’t seen Zoya since all the excitement started so maybe she was caught or even dead already. Well, maybe it wasn’t such a bad night after all…

Diary of Zoya Bupkis

August 26, 1939

…We went outside and although things were still a little fuzzy, the cool air did clear my head a bit. It was still the best party I was ever at, so many happy people were on the street, for some reason it was so crowded that I had to walk down the middle. But everyone seemed to know me, so famous a ballerina I had become, so I tried to do some dance routines for them but it was difficult with all the trucks and tanks in the street too. But everyone was cheering so I must have given a good performance. Then someone introduced me to an old bald man in a uniform who smelled of cheap cigarettes and chloroform. He had me sit next to him and I thought it was a surprise party for me or something.

But then the old man put his hand on my knee and I was about to tell him WHATFOR when there was Stash Shmengy on a truck in front of me playing on his accordion. But then his accordion caught fire and the old man fell down and was screaming. It was funny almost like the scream that Sister Perpetua used to make whenever the piece of metal in her head, the one that she got in the Great War, started moving around.

That was when things got confusing again. Everyone was pushing and yelling. And someone asked, “Is the Marshal dead?” I thought I was at a cowboy picture when I heard that. But then someone answered, “No, he is still alive but he has lost his pinky toe!” And I wondered how does someone misplace their pinky toe, don’t they usually, you know, go along with?”

Fortunately the professor was there and so was Hozzenka and we ran off the stage and got into an auto, it was a nice big one with little flags on the front fenders. We drove off but the traffic was terrible. There were all sorts of lorries and autos and even tanks rumbling through the streets and we had to make many sharp turns to avoid them. The Professor did this quite well and I shall have to ask him to teach me to drive some day. Wouldn’t Bronislav be impressed?

We turned down an alley and came to a big field filled with some parked lorries. It was dark and the professor stopped the auto and turned off the headlights. It got very boring and I was sort of hungry so I got out of the auto. I saw a big lorry that looked like it had a Popsicle on top so I thought it was an ice cream vender. I ran over to it but it was just filled with a lot of radios and other machines. Then I saw a button that I thought said “Lunch” and so I pushed it. Suddenly there was a loud whooshing as the Popsicle caught fire and flew up into the air. It flew over some house that were on the edge of the field and exploded with lots of lights and booms and all sorts of things like that.

I was so surprised, I cried out, “Ooooh! Fireworks, for my party? How sweet!”

I was so happy with the fireworks I went over to another popsicle truck that was nearby and pushed the lunch button again. Whoosh it went again but this time, it flew over the field to where there were lots of tents and tanks and funny things that looked like big metal puppets. This time it exploded much nearer the ground and all the tents fell down and caught fire and the Popsicle hit one of the metal puppets and it blew up along with a several tanks that were parked nearby.

“Uh-oh,” I thought, “I don’t think that was in the program.”

Then the Professor grabbed my arm and took me back to the auto. Then we drove all over the place with the professor dodging other autos and things for what seemed like hours. There were also lots of bangs and booms but I don’t think there were any more fireworks for me that night. But it was still The BEST PARTY EVER!

We were soon driving out along a country road and passed by a tank that was parked by the side of the road. The funny Italian man was sitting on it and looked very sad but he got much happier when the professor stopped and gave him a ride.

We had to shift around in the seats so I sat up front with the professor. I remember thinking how very good looking he was….

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

The escape plan had been perfect. Of course he couldn’t help it if the others got things mixed up. Still, he had salvaged most it and here he was with the beautiful actress by his side as the drove away into the grey hills.

She turned her large green, trusting eyes to him and asked why he had ordered the gangsters to shoot at the stand.

He had hoped to kill the little SS man. He had seen the malignant little man in Spain and seen his handwork there too, nothing but death and pain. But he didn’t say that to her. How can he make her understand, she who came from a world of style and beauty, the ugliness that existed in the hearts of some men?

It was also difficult to talk with the fat man’s armpit shoving his face into the windshield.

They rounded a corner and another car, it was a large military staff car, sped into their path from a crossroad. He saw at once that it was the professor and the dancing girl, the one whose heart he had broken. They stopped briefly and the writer told the other car to follow. With luck, they would reach the border by dawn. He would get them all across to safety. It would be perfect.

Then the sound of engines, lots of engines. Cars and motorcycles by the sound of them, in hot pursuit. He hit the pedal and the sports car sped off.

He rounded a tight turn, taking it perfectly of course. In the rear view mirror, he saw that the professor didn’t do as well and drove off the road. The writer spun the sports car around immediately, making the difficult reversal perfectly. He saw that they would never get the big staff car back onto the road in time. He ordered the two gunsels to help him in tackling the approaching Nazis.

There were four motorcycles with sidecars approaching, followed by two other military vehicles. All were crowded with soldiers. As they neared, the writer opened up with machine gun and shotgun on them. The motorcycles went sprawling across the road. Then one of the cars was hit and burst into flames. The last stopped and then beat a hasty retreat. However, the writer could see that one of car’s crew was calling on a radio for assistance.

Realizing that the staff car was done for, the writer had them take it flags and other markers and place them on the sportster. He then had them retrieve the one undamaged motorcycle. Chicolini, who could drive decently thought not as good as the writer, was dressed up in an overcoat and helmet. Then to relieve the pressure on the sporster, the writer had the fat gangster dress up as a soldier as well. Once they had put the fat gangster into the sidecar, and then righted the motorcycle after it fell over, the rest loaded onto the sportster and they sped off. If they were stopped the disguises might buy a few minutes which he could use to their advantage.

They drove on through the forest towards the eastern border. The night was hurrying toward the growing dawn when they heard the noise. It was a loud whining sound like giant fans.

Then the writer saw it.

It was a large vehicle, certainly not a plane, more like an armored car but hovering over the treetops, held aloft by giant turbo-props that beat against the ever thickening summer air. He could make out the large swastikas on its side and the crewmembers readying to fire machineguns at his car.

He spun the steering wheel hard and the car spun around. He then reversed and spun around and drove forward again. All the while, bullets picked at the road around him, rising to a crescendo of death. He avoided them all, perfectly, and was able to lose the craft when he went under a canopy of trees.

He knew they were near the border, in that last big forest that went right to the crossing. The hovercraft was gone now, he felt he should feel safe but somehow his instinct told him that they weren’t out of trouble yet.

They came to the border crossing. It was a small place, a single hut and guard shack with one sleepy sentry on duty.

Fortunately, the actor was still in costume and when the surprised guard looked into the rear of the sportster, he was greeted by an all too familiar face with a small hairbrush mustache under his nose. The actor played his part well, screaming at the guard who quickly let them pass.

They were near safety now, only a few hundred yards from the border. But then the hovercraft returned. It must have radioed ahead to the guard post, for now a troop of the border guards tumbled out of the hut, firing at the car while overhead the hovercraft sped towards them, more fire spewing from its guns.

The writer knew his best luck was to cross the border and so he sped forward at full speed, Chicolini matching him on the motorcycle despite the heavy weight he carried. The hovercraft followed.

At one point, he knew they had crossed the border but the Germans didn’t seem inclined to stop at such niceties.

Then he saw that they were approaching more forest just over a railroad track. Getting to the cover meant safety so he pushed the car to its limits. Just as they were about to cross the track, he spotted a huge, armored train rushing down the track. He knew they wouldn’t be able to stop in time to avoid a collision. But he had a plan. It was perfect….

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