Monday, April 23, 2012
Chapter 10: Where the Metal Meets the Road
Interview with Roxy Smothers, 1973:
Our escape from Strelzov proved to be far more adventurous and far more noisy that I thought it would be. After all, we were supposed to convince the king to get out of town before it was surround by the Germans. Instead, we had to wait around for a day and more until “everything was ready.” What “everything” was, I had no idea. They said it had something to do with finding enough fuel for the King’s escort but more likely it was due to Ruprikt not being able to find one of his favorite shiny cufflinks.
As a result, by the time we were ready to leave, on September 9th the Germans had dug in around most of the city. The only road open was to the east. But we couldn’t go that way since the day before, the Transbalkanian Reds had invaded with help and encouragement from Uncle Joe Stalin.
By the way, I later met Stalin, simply beastly man, no manners, hated women, and smelled of cheap pomade, Turkish cigarettes, and old beet soup. Plus he couldn't dance worth a spit.
So it was decided to follow Broni’s plan and sneak the King, along with that Teacup of the Apocalypse, out of the city to Hentzau. That meant crossing German lines.
Fortunately, Puppyface Andrei arrived. He had been trying to open the railroad to the south with his tin choo-choo. He said it was a few miles down the tracks but cut off from the city by German lines. He walked into Strelzov to see about coordinating a sortie to open line back up.
So the plan was that the King’s Walloon Guards and the Capital Motorized Brigade would stage a showy breakout attempt. Meanwhile, Puppyface would guide the King and the rest of us on foot down to an old brefnish brewery or distillery about a mile south of Strelzov, trying to keep communications with the south open, albeit tenuously. Once we reached it, Andrei would radio his train to run in scoop us up and off we would go.
We left the city in the early morning of September 9th. Unfortunately, this was the same day that the Germans decided to begin a full blown, bang-up attack on the cities defenses. As it turned out, it was quite a fortunate turn of events for us. With all the noise and confusion from the attack, we were able to slip out without anyone being the wiser.
Other than the enemy patrols, the city-wrecking assault guns, and the King doing a Johnny Weissmuller impression, it really wasn’t too bad a walk.
Excerpt from And A One and A Two, My Life Following the Demon Rhythm of the Polka, the unpublished autobiography of Stanislaus Shmengy
So this war thing is not so bad for couple of poor Leutonian brothers who are in Army and not getting shot. We get to ride most places with stuck-up Zendarians but since we Majors of the Sergeants, we get to order them around and get best of the food. Even better we get to shoot lots and lots of Non-Talker Nazi Fascist Germans along with some stinking Graustarkers and couple scaredy-cat Sylvanians. Even when Prince Hetman Bronislav take stuck-up Zendarians away to fight for him, we still get to ride with rich people inside car and not on fender or nothing. Then we get to Streltzov and what do you know, we get to stay in fancy-pants hotel with toilets in little rooms on the inside. Plus we not having to sleep in bed crowded with relatives and livestocks. Also they having place in basement of hotel where bombs not to drop on us. Is real nice way to fight war, excepting for there nothing to eat in basement but fish eggs and bubbly wine which is not strong enough to see nothing that not there like good brfnisz back home.
Then we hear stinking Transbalkanias now invade us from east and they take over all of Leutonia since most soldiers are in west fighting Non-talker Nazi Fascists. This give Yosh and me good laugh for who but stupid Transbalkanian would want Leutonia. Hey, maybe now we get to live in nice refugee camp.
But then rich people come and say we got new mission to do and have to leave city. This not so good since lots and lots of Non-Talker Nazi Fascist Germans along some stinking Graustarkers and even couple scaredy-cat Sylvanians have by now whole city surroundeded with lots of tanks and cannon not to mention much aircraft and balloons attack. Also rockets.
But Post Master he say we can get out down railroad track, sneak past Nazi Fascist lines and get to old Brfnisz Works. There we meet with armored train that take us all way to Hcentzov, there to stop Nazi Fascist plot over little cup from Hell and saving whole world maybe.
And who we have as guide but pretty boy Milna who is making much moony eyes at Roxie Movie Star so we wonder if he too busy trying to make yeybachny with her to get us out of city to his train.
So we go, just before sun come up. Down railroad tracks in dark with Mr. Professor dressed as Nazi Fascist SS man in front. Before we get far, we hear noises behind and old man wearing only cloth around yarblinkas comes up swinging on broken telephone lines like Jungle King swing on vine. You know what. This King Himself. Yosh and I pretty surprised you bet since King supposed to leave with Motorized Brigade which is now moving up road to get out of city too.
King after getting down yodeling from tree say he come with us to meet with queen who is dead but King think she still alive so maybe she wampyr since he is King and he should know if wife around or not. Also with him is great Holy Man High Bobo of Streltzov, head of whole Ruritanian Church.
Yosh say in warning, “Chicago Bang Bang.”
I say, “I know, no cursing around the holy man or have to do much penance of whacking self in face with carp fish.”
Pretty movie star Roxy explain that when King little boyshik he go on safari to Africa with royal parents and they forgetting him in jungle, he is raised by monkeys which beside improvement he not notice difference. But he come back as young man and is great hero to all Ruritania for many years and is now King.
Yosh and I very honored to protect King and Holy Bobo, so we promise shoot lots of Nazi Fascist for them.
“Oh how nice,” say King and we two very happy Leutonians.
We continue to go down side of railroad tracks and get to right where our lines end and enemy begin. We could see big tanks and lots and lots of Non-Talker Nazi Fascist Germans along many stinking Graustarkers and even more scaredy-cat Sylvanians all over place, attacking city. Whoo boyshik!
There is much banging and boomings with many Non-talker German tanks being blowed up since our boys hide many anti-tank gun and rifle in buildings so surprise Non-talking Germans real good!
Then we hear some enemy coming up tracks. We hide in bushes and they are almost past us. Then bad thing happen.
Now Yosh is known in all Leutonia as winning loudest fart contest at Spring Festival to Celebrate Not Starving to Death in Winter or Getting Cholera. His fart echo over whole province, it very impressive. But when we all hiding from Non-talking Nazi Fascists is not good time to show how good he fart. But Yosh now fart really loud anyway. Must be fish eggs and bubbly wine he not used to. Enemy, they being stinking Graustarkers turn and yell at us. I get up and shoot machine gun, a couple fall. Then Mr. Hummingbirdy and Yosh get up in middle of track, back to back and shoots both their big guns. Since Stinking Graustarkers all in line coming up trail, many killed by one bullet. We shoot and shoot till all dead. It good time.
We go down road some more and then we see big, big tank, bigger than our whole village with big big gun. It shoots at city. Shell bigger than Mr. Klopnik’s beer wagon, is shooted. It go over city and hit Post Office which all tumble down. This not so good. How they able to kill so many Postmans?
We get angry and run up to mortar that firing. King swing on vine and knock over gun crews. We then shoot mortars at Nazi Fascists and killing many. Then we try shoot at big big tank but it no good. Big big tank turns to shoot much machine gunnings at us. This not good but then our boys back in lines shoot anti-tank gun at big big tank in side. Big big tank make big big boom and get all blowed up.
Then we get to brfnish works, a couple of Post men there to welcome us but they look worried, very worried. This not good.
Interview with Roxy Smothers, 1973:
After the gunners were so kind as to blow up the enormous tracked vehicle with the huge gun, our way was much better lit. We passed by it as round after round of ammunition went off like some fireworks display. I saw that written on the side was the name, Frederich der Grosse. Not so Great now, are you Freddie?
With the light from the fires, we were able to find our way easily to the brefnish works.
It was hardly what one would call a fortress. It was a big sturdy building made of brick. It looked like it had been rather hastily abandoned as it had been; there were trash and old barrels scattered about outside.
There were only about a half dozen Postmen inside. They had been here the better part of three days, since the first German troops arrived on the outskirts of the city. They spent that time keeping themselves hidden from the Axis onslaught and occasionally calling to the gun batteries inside the city telling them where to shoot at the advancing enemy.
The postmen were led by our old friend, Mr. Bogush, who was visibly upset by the destruction of the Post Office building. Zoya became visibly upset too, when Mr. Bogush said he didn’t have any cookies with him.
We could hear the sounds of the battle raging outside. The Germans, together with a host of Graustarkers and Sylvanians were going after the southern suburb of the city with hammer and tong. But, by the way it sounded, our boys were giving back as good as they got.
The suburb called the Bosko district was a fairly well-to-do, upper middle class one filled with sturdy stone and brick buildings. The Ruritanians had made each one into miniature forts with all sorts of mines and anti-tank guns hidden in them. The troops were also were using what were being called “Hummingbird Cocktails,” flaming bottles of alcohol to set the Axis vehicles on fire.
Realizing that we had some time on our hands before the train arrived and with the enemy tanks just outside, we decided to make ourselves as comfortable as possible but in the quietest way possible.
Von Schnitzel and, of all people, Tura went outside to help keep watch as well. They warned us that some sort of tank, a self-propelled gun I think von Schnitzel called it, had parked just outside the building.
In meantime, the King, still in his loincloth, asked for a drink, to which Hummingbird happily complied. He made us a Cointreau Sidecar, only using brefnish instead of cognac, sawdust instead of sugar, and instead of the Cointreau, the oil used to lubricate the distilling machines. The drink was amazingly good and I thought what a waste it was that he devoted his life to literature when what the world needs far more is good bartenders.
Seeing Hummingbird working with the old brefnish gave Chicolini an idea but one of a far more homicidal nature. He and a couple of the postmen went to work on making some sort of flame thrower to take care of the vehicle outside.
The Professor, who was apt to wander off on his own, usually to steal a small fortune or military secret, did so now, still in his SS uniform.
Puppyface went to the radio and called to his train. When he got done, he had a decidedly despairing look on his ruggedly chiseled face.
“What’s the problem, Macho Gringo?
My train, the Shmigly, reports that it cannot reach us. It was spotted and attacked by German aircraft earlier this night and was heavily damaged. It has retreated down the tracks about thirty kilometers and may have to run further south to get away from the German planes. We are on our own for now.”
Immediately upon hearing this, the ever resourceful, if hulking, Hozzenka took her thugs and went off in search of a loose German truck she could pocket for our escape.
I turned to Andrei, “Don’t blow your top, hep cat. I’ve been in rougher spots before. Have one of Hummingbird’s drinks. It’s good for what ails you.”
As I handed the glass to him, I could see a vibration coursing through the shimmering liquid in the glass. A deep methodical thrumming could be felt running through the whole building.
Suddenly, the doors to the loading dock were flung open with a crash. In strode a half dozen big gray metallic forms. Robots!
Now I do want you to know that what I am going to say may seem a bit prejudiced against robots and I don’t want you to think me bigoted; I support civil rights for sentient machines just as much as anyone in Hollywood. But you must realize, back in those days, we weren’t used to having household appliances talking back to us. Also, and I don’t mean to stereotype but most robots back then really were the products of mad scientist and usually up to no good.
And these particular robots were in fact Nazi robots. They were lead by one particularly nasty looking one who seemed to have a human head in a fish bowl on top of the tin can of a chest. Its face had that familiar sideswept haircut and ridiculous little mustache that we’ve all come to associate with evil more than bad barbering. I learned later that this particular creature was cyborg, part man and part machine, with the human part made from what today we would call cloning. And the material it was made from was that of old Adolph himself. It was called the Robofuhrer. This thing was man-sized with big scissor-like claws and a squeeking little call box on its chest that squawked out orders to the others along with rants about German racial purity and a thoroughly horrible rendition of the Horst Wessel Song.
Behind this was a much larger robot, dressed in big peaked cap and oversized leather trenchcoat. This was the Gestapobot. It also had a large antenna coming out of its back and I guessed that it must be used to track down enemy radio transmissions. Puppyface’s call to his train was what probably brought them down on us.
Behind them we could see at least six other robots, the chorus line or foot soldiers, if you prefer, each with some sort of machine gun for a left arm, the right arm being used exclusively for sieg heiling.
Of course our first reaction was to unload on them with everything we had. Several of the postmen began firing with their rifles but the bullets either bounced off and lodged harmlessly in the metal skin of the machines.
Ruprikt lept up and grabbed the chain of an overhead crane. Screaming in his best Tarzan voice he swung over the top of the fray. But rather than hitting any of the enemy, he slammed face first into the loading dock doors. As luck would have it, this was the best thing that could have happened. Four of the robots were still outside. With the king flattened up against the doors, these were temporarily locked outside.
We turned out attention to four inside. Skinny Shmengy blasted away with his tommy gun at one of the chorus line robots. Fortunately, the heavy bullets of the Chicago typewriter, fired at close range, rattle through the metal sheeting covering the robot. Smoke began streaming from it as it caught fire.
Fat Shmengy blasted the other robot minion directly in the chest with his anti-tank rifle. It was rocked by internal explosions as the heavy bullet pierce its vitals.
Far more terrible was the big Gestapobot which was a good 12 feet tall. I rolled one of the barrels towards the big robot. The robot had turned to face Chicolini who was coming up behind it. The barrel therefore hit the thing from behind and took the big machine out at the knees. It then lay on the floor, trying to right its vast bulk.
Andrei, following the King’s example, grabbed one of the crane hooks and swung over dropping a hand grenade on top of the prone robot. The grenade went off, igniting the brefnish contained in the barrel. The lower portion of the Gestapobot went up in the blast. The upper portion, still flaming from the blast clawed its way relentlessly toward us.
Meanwhile, Tura was outside trying to decide what to do. He realized he had two grenades left. Since he was well hidden, he felt he could act with impunity. He decided to toss one of his grenades at the self-propelled gun, which was open-topped. Of course he did so with his usual method of clamping one hand over his eyes and throwing blindly. As in the past, this method worked surprisingly well for him, the grenade landed on target, and the tank burst into flames.
As Tura ducked for cover, a troop of Gruastarkian fascists advanced toward to burning tanks. Suddenly, Hummingbird appeared and led them off towards a nearby rocket battery.
It was about this time, that Hozzenka and her brigands returned. She had easily found several trucks to chose from, several having been left behind after transporting soldiers for the attack on the city. She quickly over powered the driver of one and they drove back to the brefnish works.
As she was returning, she realized that there were several bulky grey figures. These were three of the robots. Unfortunately, the way she discovered them was by plowing her truck into one of the big machines. It didn’t do much good for either the truck or the robot. She and her men got out and began trading fire with the remaining two robots.
Back inside, I ran to the doors to help the King keep them closed. The King had his faced pressed closely against the door, mostly form the impact when he first hit it. But this was doing a surprising good job of keeping the door closed as well as making his speech a fraction more understandable.
Andrei joined me there after his successful dive bombing of the Gestapobot. Fortunately, only one of the robots remained to hammer at the doors. The remaining three, who Hozzenka had encountered, had been in search of another entrance.
While all this was happening, the Robofuhrer advanced against the postmen, slashing away with deadly claws. Three of the brown-clad agents went down in bloody pulps. Bullets from the rest continued to bounce off, but they still tried, hoping that a large volume of fire would at least distract them.
Chicolini came up behind the robofuhrer and doused it with brefnish from one of the barrels he was working on. Some smoke curled out of it but it was not shorted it out. What it did accomplish was to draw the attention of the Robofuhrer to Chicolini. He knocked the Freedonian down, and the robot dictator began slashinging away at the driver with its razor sharp claws.
Chico yelled, “Shoota da fishbowl! Shoota da fishbowl!”
Yosh through some magic of empathy of the English-impaired was able to discern that Chico was ordering him to shoot the Robofuhrer’s glass cowl. The big
anti-tank bullet cracked and the fishbowl shattered into a thousand pieces, the brain of the pseudo-Schickelgruber along with it. The robofuhrer collapsed, right on top of the crawling, still flaming Gestapobot. The two went up in a burst of flames.
In the meantime, Skinny Shmengy had grabbed the jerry-rigged flame thrower and dragged the hose out a side door. There was only one remaining robot there. He quickly torched the hulk, laughing maniacally about being finally allowed to shoot someone.
Outside, Hozzenka used some of her dynamite to destroy one of the robots.
Tura suddenly got another burst of courage, especially since his enemy had its back turned. So he ran up and tossed his last grenade at the last robot. It went off but did little damage to the machine.
The machine turned and knocked the cowering actor to the ground. Tura shrieked in that glass-breaking high pitched whine of his and curled himself into a ball.
Hozzenka and her men continued to fire at the robot but with little effect.
Finally, just as the machine was going to crush Tura, its head exploded. There was a little rumbling and a small Ruritanian tankette came rolling out of the early morning gloom, smoke still coming from the barrel of its small cannon. Behind it followed numerous soldiers, Walloons and Ruritanians of the Motorized Brigade.
They ran over to the prostrate actor and their officer shouted, “Madam, we heard your screams and rushed to your rescue. Your plight inspired us to break through the enemy to rescue you…Oh, I’m terribly sorry, Sir. Do you happen to know if there’s a lady around here somewhere that needs rescuing?”
Excerpt from The Sun’s Also Shiny, The Great American Novel, by Ernest Hummingbird:
Of course, the drinks he made for the King were perfect. But then he heard the sound of the battle. And he knew he must go to it, even though it might be a rendezvous with Death. He took a large canteen and filed it with his martinis. After he drank that he filled it again. He was ready now, ready to face Death as he had some many other times, in China, in Spain, in Ethopia, driving home from the corner bar.
He saw the burning tanks. He saw the cringing Actor. Then he saw the Graustarkers, fascist fanatics, wearing the uniform of the Grethungi Bund. Evil pure evil as bad as the SS. He waited till they moved past him. Then he came up behind silently, like their destiny approaching in silk bedroom slippers, the comfy kind that don’t make any noise.
When he was sure they hadn’t noticed him, he called out,”Hello boys, I’m a famous war correspondent and I want to ask how you feel about the war. I want to ask you what it means to be a Man in an Age of Alienation.”
The fascists swung around to see him. Their surprise was total. So was their confusion since the Writer used a lot of big words. Not that the Writer understood them, he just used them the way some people use galoshes, to keep their feet dry when they’ve had too much drink and couldn’t wait to get to the bathroom.
One of the fascists, a fat officer, strode over and asked for some identification.
“Why, I don’t need identification. I am Ernest Hummingbird, the author.”
There were gasps of amazement. A look of recognition followed naturally enough by applause.
“I read your book!” shouted the fat man.
“The Old Guy and the Big Fish?”
“No, the other one, Who Is The Bell Is Ringing For?”
Ah yes, I was nominated for a Nobel for that one. At least in my mind. Well, boys, how would you like to sit around and talk about me? I promise you it will be the best experience of your poor pathetic bitter lives.”
Then the Writer noticed the Professor was across the road at a battery of the guided rockets. The Professor was still in disguise and he was trying to convince Nazis to fire the rockets at targets he selected. Of course, the Professor was failing. The Writer knew the Professor could use his help, like everyone else in the world could use the Writer’s help. It was that kind of world and he was that kind of Writer. A good one, the writer that is, not the world, which could be very bad. Or very good. That was a writer’s job to tell people what was good about the world and what was bad. And also to drink a lot. That was good.
The Writer told the fascists to follow him to a more convenient spot to hold their impromptu book club. So he led the whole force, about a platoon in size over to the rocket battery.
The director was there, pretending to film the rocket battery in action. Perfect. The Writer suggested that they all gather round for a picture.
“You never know when you’ll be lucky enough to meet me again,” the Writer told them.
So the Graustarkers and the Germans all gathered around with the writer while the Director fumbled with the camera. The Professor went around the back of the crowd and hung grenades of the belts of some of the soldiers. Then he pulled the fuses and ran.
There was a hissing sound but the Writer told them not to worry, it was heat of his fevered imagination steaming in morning dew. They liked that.
Then the Writer excused himself, saying he would do a better job at setting up the photo shoot. The Writer and the Director then jumped behind one of the trucks.
The grenades went off, killing most of the posing soldiers. The few that remained thanked their stars for surviving the blast. That is until the Writer fired his hunting rifle at them. Filled with buckshot, it killed the remaining survivors.
Yes, the Writer had a rendezvous with Death that night. And, once again, Death was the Writer’s bitch.