Monday, April 30, 2012
Chapter 11: Curious Parentage
Interview with Roxy Smothers, 1973:
As the sun was coming up, the battle still raged around Strelzov but it was clear that the Germans were getting the worst of it. The fields around the Bosko suburb were littered with smashed and burning tanks. The filthy fascists would not be getting into the capital today.
We saw that the road south was relatively open. So after a brief discussion, we decided to continue with our original plan of having the motorized troops act as a decoy, heading south on the main road while we took the King and Bobo Frnko down smaller side roads.
Waggsie and Tura both still had their SS uniforms. Puppyface, who could speak passable German donned another German uniform. Chicolini found a dead Sylvanian and grabbed his uniform, the blood stains not being too noticeable for a usually slovenly Sylanian. They would act as our “guards” and the rest of us would be VIPs (Very Important Prisoners) in case we hit any snags in our trip.
Just as we were setting off, Waggsie fired off one of the rockets as going away present. It smashed into a long column of tanks with great force, destroying several of them.
We loaded into one of the communications trucks from the rocket battery. Again, thanks to Waggsies’ purloined code books, we were able to figure out where most of the enemies ahead of us were located and avoid them. Along the way, we tried to help the motorized brigade with radioed warnings of enemy positions and though they still took a beating, they kept moving south.
Heaven help me but it was Zoya who showed us the way. She had grown up in Hcentzov Province, in some backwoods cabin so she knew most of the back roads. She occasionally would blather about the pretty kinds of birds you would find this woods or the sound that a particular burbling spring would make but the occasional rap across the noodle with a rolled up copy of the Strelzov Tattler (Sunday edition with the sales insert) kept her focused.
Because of an occasional air patrol, we would have to hide in the woods that often lined the roads. Now I had never been to this part of Ruritania when I was married to Broni and I realized how different the countryside here was, dank forests and swamps, so very different from the charming royal forests in the north. They were dark with strangely twisted trees and an air of menace. No wonder Zoya was so odd.
The other problem we had was that the woods were full of vines. King Ruprikt was still got up in his Tarzan outfit and, at every stop, would go for a swing. It usually took us the better part of an hour to get him back, especially after we ran out of bon-bons to coax him back into the truck. When we stopped for the night, we had to tie him to the spare tire to keep him from wandering off.
We got up early the next day. Zoya said we should reach the forest she grew up in by about sunset. The city of Hcentzov was just beyond that forest. About the middle of the day we accidentally drove into an enemy checkpoint in a small village. Having been eavesdropping on the Germans all this time, it came a surprise when we turned a bend and there was a large mechanical man astride the road. Soldiers in funny pointed caps hovered around it.
Chicolini must have been distracted, probably trying to come up with his next con job, since we nearly drove right into one of the walkers despite Waggsie yelling repeatedly for him to stop. A burst of machine gun fire from the walker in front of the truck finally got his attention.
The soldiers swarmed around us, poking long bayonets in Chico’s and Waggsie’s faces. I could see that the soldiers weren’t Germans, or Graustarkers, or even Sylvanians. They had big red stars on their cap and I could just make out that the village inn, which they were using as a headquarters had a big red flag with a yellow sickle on it hanging from an upper window.
Oh, these weren’t Germans. They were Transbalkanians with the odd Ruski advisor. Reds!
Now everyone back then in Hollywood knew some Commies but these tended to be whiny writers and bad waiters. These thugs were very different. They looked about the size of a house and block-headedly brutal.
There was a large group of civilians being kept behind a make-shift barbwire fence. A commissar was haranguing them on the wonders of class struggle and saying they would learn more when they arrived at their re-education camp three miles below the Arctic Circle.
An officer yelled at Chico and Waggsie in broken German, asking our business, so Waggsie and Tura go into the whole SS act, going on about what an important mission they were on and how Comrade Stalin had ordered complete cooperation. The discussion ended with Waggsie and Tura being escorted into the inn to see the General. This didn’t look good.
While this was going on, Hozzenka and her boys slipped out of the side of truck and ran to hide behind a stone wall near the village inn. Zoya followed after them, calling out in a loud whisper, “Wait for me, Hozzenkushka, I am your commanding officer!”
Too bad I hadn’t rapped her noggin a little bit harder, I thought. Fortunately they got there just before another of the armored walkers moved up behind our truck.
Just as Zoya and Hozzenka and the brigands began to move toward the inn, with some sort of mayhem intended no doubt, several Reds noticed them and charged over with their bayonets. When the soldiers shouted at them for their business, Zoya responded by claiming to be a troupe of traveling acrobats looking to entertain the brave comrades.
Fully expecting this claim to be followed by a volley of Bolshevik bullets, I turned away. And noticed that Puppyface had left the truck and wandered over to the prisoners. He had an adorable but very dangerous look on his face, a sort of My-Honor-Won’t-Let-Me-Stand-by-and-See-These-People-Suffer-So-I’m-Going-to-do-Something-Incredibly-Brave-Yet-Stupid look.
Then I noticed the really big Walker that was in the village square just in front of the inn. Chicolini stood beside it arguing furiously with the dismounted driver who towered over the Freedonian. This couldn’t end well either.
Then Hummingbird said, “Don’t worry, I know just what to do. It will be perfect.” Then he leapt out of the back of the truck.
I didn’t feel reassured.
Excerpt from The Sun’s Also Shiny, The Great American Novel, by Ernest Hummingbird:
They were in a tight squeeze; carrying the King and Kurgan Treasure and now trapped in Red roadblock. How to escape? The Writer knew the answer, there was only one answer. The perfect solution to any problem. He would offer them drinks.
The Writer rolled out of the back of the truck. He pulled out his cocktail shaker, the one with the dent where it took the bullet instead of his heart that day along the Ebro. He quickly mixed up a batch of Maiden’s Prayers, using some leftover brefnish instead of rum and drippings from the crank shaft instead of triple sec. The drinks were perfect.
He stood alone in front of the metal walker, its twin machine guns aimed directly at him, waited for the wrong mover to cut him in half. He waggled the shaker next to his head, the universal sign that the bar was open. The Writer knew his Reds. A hatch on the front of the walker popped open and the driver gestured greedily for a drink. Soon, other guards noticed this and began to wander over, their officer having left to escort the disguised Professor and Actor into the headquarters building.
Then he saw the Young Officer by the prisoner pen. He knew the Young Officer would try to rescue the prisoners. An open assault would have caused a massacre. But he saw the look in eyes of the Young Officer. He new that look, it meant trouble. With a Capital T. That rimes with D. That stands for Death. My old friend, thought the Writer, Death. But not today, Death would stay home, nursing a hangover like you get when you mix scotch and vodka, about a half gallon each. No, Death would not win today, the Writer had the perfect solution.
Before the Young Officer could act, the Writer sent the Fat Musican to knock out the guards remaining at the prisoner pen. He warned the Fat Musician that it must be done quietly. It was a wonder how a man as big as the Fat Musician could move so swiftly, so silently, but the Writer had that effect on people. The Fat Musician rolled over the first guard, his fat smothering the unsuspecting sentinel, crushing him. The Fat Musician took out the next guard, fairly flowing along the side of the wire, propelled by gravity, the second most powerful force known to nature, the first being the need for a drink.
The Movie Star came out of the back of the truck, all eyes upon her. She didn’t look at the Writer, knowing she could not resist him and there was work to do now. There would be time later for her to lose herself in his magnificent beard.
She coyly began flirting with the guards, distracting them from the nearby fight. She hiked up her skirt and placed her shapely leg on the foot of one of the walker, asking if they could take a picture of her and Writer inside these fine products of Soviet Science. The Reds readily agreed.
She and the Writer got in the walkers.
The Skinny Musician saw his chance and went over to the wire with a big pair of wire cutters. But the only problem wrong with this plan was that the Skinny Musician was an idiot. He cut the wrong strand, and it coiled around him in perfect circle. This alerted two of the guards and the commissar who was obviously a sissy since he didn’t drink the Writer’s drink. They charged towards the Skinny Musician who flailed around with the strands of the barb wire tube in which he was trapped. He tipped over onto his head and the coiled wire sprang him back. The movement was not without Beauty, it was a movement that could be described as slinky. Finally the Skinny Musician caught the commissar in his coils and subdued him. The Young Officer took out the remaining two guards with a burst from his submachine gun fire.
On the other side of the prisoner pen, the crew of a heavy machine gun prepared to fire. They were too late. The Fat Musician rolled towards them, an inescapable Doom that crushed them both and there weapon of Death.
The Young Officer lead the prisoners out of their pen.
A large explosion shattered the office of inn.
Then they heard the shot of heavy caliber cannon. Chicolini was at the controls of the big walker, having stabbed the driver in a disagreement over chipped paint. He had turned the gun onto the Headquarters and was preparing another round.
The soldiers who should have been guarding the Headquarters were all distracted by the acrobatic performance of the Dancer. Her sinuous twists and turns distracted them from the unenthusiastic flourishes that the brigands tried to aid to her performance. When the firing started, the brigands turned their guns on these soldiers, who gave up without fight.
The Writer and Movie Star turned the guns of the walkers. With the legs of her walker canted at a seductive angle, the Movie Star called out, “Drop your weapons, comrades!” The Reds did so.
It was Perfect.
Interview with Roxy Smothers, 1973:
Wagsie later told me what happened inside the inn. After Waggsie started name-dropping to the officious little snot who commanded the roadblock, the little Commie rat tried to impress the new allies. He told them that the General would love to speak with them, especially about a problem that just came up.
It seemed that they had caught a spy, a tough old bird who wouldn’t talk, and knowing the fame of the SS at interrogation, would the Herr Officer mind giving some advice.
With little choice, Waggsie and Tura followed the officer into the headquarters. There they were introduced to an incredibly fat, Shmengy-sized Russian General, in monumentally oversized hat. He expressed his warm fraternal feeling for Dear Old Adolph and admired the efficiency of the Nazi security apparatus. He asked them to help break the spy who they had caught wandering apparently aimless in the nearby woods. They showed Waggsie the contents of his pockets, several large electronic devices of advanced design and obscure purpose and a gold and gem incrusted cigarette case with a large “G” on the lid.
That was when the brought the spy in. He was an thin old man with a thick mustache and shock of white hair. Waggsie immediately recognized the face of Nikola Tesla, Ruritania’s most famous scientist.
Around the turn of the century Tesla had been one of the most famous men in the world, appearing everywhere with lectures about his inventions, about free electricity, and about the use of robots to free man from menial labor. Then something happened to him during the Great War, no one knew what. But once Ruritania was liberated from the Central Powers, he retired from public life and concentrated on research at the University of Hcentzov. He became a virtual recluse often disappearing into the countryside for long periods of time. It must have been on one of these walks that the Commies grabbed him.
When the old man saw that Waggsie was handling his cigarette case, Tesla flung himself on the Professor, screaming for the return of his dearest property. This was surprising since Tesla had never met Waggsie so the cigarette case must have been extremely important to him or else Tesla was an amazingly good judge of character. The guards roughly brought the under control.
Hoping to gain time, Waggsie asked for a pair of pliers and a pinapple to use for interrogating the prisoner. When asked what they would be used for, Waggsie went into such an imaginative description of the intended torture that even the Russians blanched and Tura fainted.
Fortunately, the Reds had no pineapples. But they did have grenades that looked something like pineapples. Waggsie picked up one of the grenades. He menacingly approached Tesla who stood silently defiant.
That was when shots began to ring out below. This was Puppyface who had begun firing his submachine gun.
The General and several of his officers ran over to windows to see what was happened, their backs to Waggsie and the prisoner. Waggsie pretended to fumble with the grenade and then lofted it over his shoulder. It landed at the General’s feet. Waggsie hit the deck and Tura tackled the old scientist.
The blast shred through the office, killing the General and his staff. The remaining guards were trying to recover when the shell fired by Chicolini from the big walker blasted a corner of the building. The guards gave up.
Tesla shoved Tura off him and said it was good thing the world was going to end, he was sick of being manhandled by ruffians.
Diary of Zoya Bupkis
September 12, 1939
Now that I am back home, I am very happy. Oh not as pleased as if I had been coming home as a prima ballerina or married or something and certainly not with all sorts of fascists and Nazis and Communists chasing me.
This is how I came home. We had the fight with the Russians and Transbalkanians who Roxy referred to rather colorfully as Dirty Reds, although they didn’t seem to be any more unwashed as any of our peasants, least of all Leutonians but I guess Americans are very particular about cleanliness what with all their soap and detergent advertisements.
After we freed Doctor Tesla and the other people, the King and Doctor Tesla began arguing about the dead Queen, Gigi. Apparently, Doctor Tesla was sweet on Queen Gigi, when she was alive that is. Both old men were very angry and they went at each others throats. It was very strange to see two such old men fighting like that sort of like an Easter Pageant.
While they were fighting, a big cigarette case fell out of Doctor Tesla’s pocket and several pictures. One was an old picture of a Can-Can dancer and the other was a picture of Bronislav!
Tesla knelt down and picked the pictures up with great care, wiping the dust from them. He made a soft crooning sound about his beloved queen and his dear, dear boy.
Roxy shook her heard, “You mean…Bronislav is Tesla’s son? That would explain a lot!”
“Yes, he is our love child. Gigi was the great love of my life, she was worthy of so much more than this idiot King!” Then Doctor Tesla flung himself on the King and they wrestled a bit before we could separate them again, Andrei holding the Doctor back.
Did I mention how handsome Andrei is, even though he is only a Lieutenant and I am a Colonel, I wonder if I could walk out with him? Oh, I know he is sweet on Roxy right now, but she is so much older than he. So much older. And he is very athletic and I am athletic too. Maybe I should ask him to exercise or something. Plus I am sure he is not as Roxy would say a two-timing rat like Bronislav who isn’t even a real prince now but the son of a mad scientist.
Then Doctor Tesla said we could all die since Queen Gigi was no more, having been killed in the Great War, there was nothing left for so he was glad the German were coming to open the door to the Otherworld were the sleeping demons lay.
Everyone began talking all at once, asking him how he knew about the gate and would he help stop the Germans. But Doctor Tesla remained firm that he wanted to die and the whole world should die with him.
Then the king interrupted and said, Weww, genius. Since this is a gate to the othew wowwd with aww sowts of spiwits, why not use that supew sized bwain of youws and waise Gigi from the dead.”
Tesla then got very quiet and you could see he began thinking very hard about. His face brightened and he shouted, “That just might work! I will help you and save my beloved Gigi at the same time!”
Roxy said, “My God, Ruprikt actually persuaded a genius. Tesla must be mad.”
We loaded all of the freed prisoners on the Russians’ trucks and wagons and set off with the big walkers protecting us.
We were still several verst from Hcentzov but it felt more and more like home with each passing minute.
I began to recognize our dear old forest that I grew up in with all its great twisty trees and wonderfully burping swamps. Soon the truck we were in turned off the road and began moving through the woods, the steering wheel turning on its own and not letting Mr. Chicolini drive where he wanted. I said that Mamushka knew we were here and we would be home soon!
The others seemed upset that we were going through this forest this way. The Shmengy brothers were actually very scared with Fat Shmengy pulling out rosary beads and fingering them to a frightened chant of “Chicago Bang Bang, Chicago Bang Bang, Chicago Bang Bang” which was quite a peculiar way to pray but then I guess God can listen even to Leutonians.
They all seemed really upset when I mentioned how Mamushka used to make the cottage walk around the forest on big chicken legs.
Skinny Shmengy got very upset and started telling them stories about Baba Mishka, silly things about being a dread witch. How silly but what do you expect from stupid Leutonians.
Now they got really frightened when they saw some of the tree people walking through the forests and Mr. Tura began screaming when, out of the forest gloom popped up a shadowy figure with a long pale face and large fangs.
“Oh Uncle Nosferatu! How good to see you again!” I cried for he was my favorite “uncle” from among the forest people.
Finally we turned into the path to the old stone cottage in the middle of the stand of birch trees. The truck stopped and the door to the cottage creaked open.
Everyone else was sitting in the truck and shaking with fear over what would come out. At first they saw a dark shadow and heard a cackling laugh.
Mamushka was still as beautiful as when I last saw her which was now almost a year ago. Her long dark hair fell in waves over her shapely figure. Most people who saw her said she looked about thirty but I thought she didn’t look any older than me and I am twenty-one.
Skinny Shmengy said, “Hey, who’s the doll? Wawooo! Wawoo! Woof Woof!”
Now Mamushka looked over at him and I could tell she wasn’t happy. She waived her hand and Skinny Shmengy turned immediately into a wolf, a small skinny wolf that wasn’t very bright.
Fat Shmengy stood up for his brother, “Chicago Bang Bang!” he called crossly at Mamushka.
Mamushka’s face softened and she said, “Don’t worry brave but fat Leutoni. I shall return your brother to his proper form but only after we have had a chance to speak. I don’t want him to interrupt again.”
Everyone seemed happy with that even Skinny Shmengy Wolf who began sniffing at his own poop.
Then I noticed that Mamushka was very quiet and looked at the King. Finally she sighed and said, “Hello, Ruppie.”
The King looked at Mamushka and said with a big smile on his face, “Oh Mishka, its been a wong time. How is ouw chiwd?”
Now Mamushka had always told me my Papa was a great hero who had hidden in our forest during the War after his wife had been killed and how she helped him defeat his enemies and how he had wanted her to come and live in a big palace but she could never leave our forest but said that he will take care of me when I got older.
Then I remembered when I was six years old how Papa had come to visit. And now I realized that the King was him! That’s why he seemed so familiar and not just because his picture was on the money and postage stamps!
Who would have thought that a simple country girl like me would be someday be a real Princess?
“Oh Papushka!” I cried and threw my arms about him
Then he said with the greatest love, “Oh, you wittwe bastawd!”