Congrats to Ted Grosch, Darren Perdue and Scotty Stets, whose World-War-II-era spy-camera-winning war stories follow, in alphabetical order by author.
FERMI by Ted Grosch
The lock turned over with my skeleton key in unison with the unexpected footfalls coming up the stairs. The soft tread of Italian leather, Enrico Fermi, I realized an instant before he stepped out of the stairwell. Gladys so filled my thoughts, I hadn’t heard his approach while in his office. Short, balding, and somewhat wiry, he didn’t look like a Nobel Laureate, despite the three-piece wool suit. He looked tired and bedraggled from his trip to Los Alamos. The belted, brown suitcase hung from his hand like a dead weight. He wasn’t due back for another week. Groves hadn’t said anything about him returning. Had he come to review the list of compromised documents in Heinrick’s safe?
I sent up a prayer of thanks that I’d gotten out of his office when I did and for the burst of adrenaline keeping me going now, and strode toward him.
“Dr. Roma. You’re back early.”
His eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly and I read the question what are you doing outside my office?
I reached for his handbag. “Let me help you with that. I’m glad I caught you while making my rounds. I need your expertise.”
He lifted a brow and said in a thick Italian accent, “Changing equations on my blackboard again?”
I froze, my hand on the briefcase handle. “I . . . Anderson—”
Fermi snorted. “Anderson could not find his way out of a wet paper bag.” A gleam appeared in his eye. “I owe you one, and I don’t owe many people.” His gaze turned contemplative. “Genius shows up in the strangest places.” I opened my mouth to deny the accusation, but he waved his free hand while shoving the handbag into my still-waiting grasp. “Your secret is safe with me. All I want to do is get to my office and lie down for a few hours.”
The guy was too smart. If he discovered Gladys in her drugged state, the jig was up. We walked a few paces while I racked my brain for what phantom documents would grab his attention.
We reached his office and I stepped between him and the door. “I have come into possession of what I think are falsified research documents. They pertain to Heinrick’s murder. I would like you to take a look. I had planned on getting Anderson to take a look at them before making my report to Groves, but . . .”
Fermi’s gaze bored into mine with an intensity I’d seen him turn on his staff. It took all my courage to keep from looking away.
“Do you have a woman in my office, young man?” he asked.
Leave it to a hot-blooded Italian to guess I was using his office for sex. “Yes--no, not exactly,” I stammered.
“Dr. Nichols fell ill and she’s resting on your sofa.”
He studied my face. “Take my luggage to my dormitory room. I will be there presently.”
He chuckled and grasped my shoulder, starting us in the direction of the stairs. “I will not go in.” He placed his other hand on his breast. “I promise. I will go to the lab, then my room. Have her out by,” he glanced at his watch, “eight p. m. That will give me six hours of sleep—” he winked, “—and you, six hours to accomplish whatever you need done.”
I couldn’t believe my luck. I would be up long before he awoke. “I understand.”
His hand fell from my shoulder. “Next time, don’t use such a serious excuse. You caught me off guard--another thing that rarely happens.’
“No, sir. Thank you, sir.”
He waved his hand with a flourish. “Nonsense. We’re all under pressure to win this war. But tell anyone I was so accommodating and I will deny it.” He winked again and propelled me forward as he pealed off back down the stairs.
LUCAS’ POKER THEORY by Darren C. Perdue
No Man’s Land, France 1918 (1815 hours)
The day was filled with mortar shells and bullets, and the coming night was proving to be no better. Both sides were weary from battle and lack of sleep and neither side wanting to give in.
“You know Alvin, I’ve been thinking.” Lucas Ray said to his buddy Alvin Ponder.
“There’s a first time for everything, Lucas.” Alvin paused to reload his M1917 Enfield rifle. “Tell me, buddy, what are you thinking about this time?”
“Well, I was sitting here wondering if those German fellers know how to play poker?”
Alvin laughed out loud for a moment and snorted it back. He looked at Lucas thoughtfully for a moment. In the distance they heard three successive whoomphs.
“Incoming!” Lucas yelled as loudly as he could. Then he got on his knees and covered his head. Mortar shells hit the ground and exploded all around them, showering the area with mud, stone, sticks, and human debris. Blood fell in a red shower and a hand landed near Lucas, who back crawled away from it. He shook his head to clear his thoughts.
The allied side sent its response with mortar shells of their own. Silence fell over the area as both sides reloaded.
“You were saying?” Alvin asked.
“Yeah, poker. You see, there has to be a more civilized way of determining who wins this war. I was thinking maybe the country’s leaders meet face to face for some high stakes poker.”
Alvin looked at Lucas for a moment.
“Don’t look at me like that. It sure beats the hell out of us shooting at each other and destroying the land around us.” Lucas stood up and waved his arm. “Look at no man’s land. It is one hundred yards of destruction. Why are we even bothering to fight over it?” Bullets flew through the air like angry hornets. One hit Lucas’ helmet and set him on his ass in the mud.
“Lucas!” Alvin shouted as he ran to his friend. Alvin cradled Lucas in his lap and gently slapped his cheek. “Lucas, talk to me buddy. Are you okay?”
Lucas shook his head. “That hurt.”
“What the hell were you thinking standing up like that?” Alvin yelled at him.
“I was trying to make a point. You see? If this was a poker tournament, this would not have happened. The most that would have happened is someone would have lost a bit of territory with no loss of life.” Lucas looked skyward. All he saw was gray. Gray skies, gray trees, even the dirt looked gray. He did not see a single bird flying around.
“Have you noticed that sun has not shown its face in days out here? I think God is shielding his eyes from what we are doing to one another down here.” Lucas mused.
“Yeah, I’m getting tired of all of this gray. I can go the rest of my life without ever seeing the color gray again.” Alvin said.
“At least the sun would shine on a poker tournament.”
“How do you figure that?”
“We would not be killing one another and destroying the earth we are fighting over. God would not mind watching that contest. I think he would like how civilized we have become, playing poker instead of killing each other.”
Another barrage of mortar shells were launched at both sides. The ground shuddered and the wounded screamed for mercy.
“You know something Lucas? I am inclined to agree with you on that. I think God would like a more peaceful approach to war.” Alvin turned to look at his friend. Lucas lay on the ground, a peaceful look on his face. “Maybe next time, buddy. Make sure you mention your idea to God. I think he might like it.”
A CHRISTMAS CIGARETTE ON THE BULGE by Scotty Stets
Christmastime, 1944. The Bulge. Name’s Americo Curto, but friends call me Rex. I was tending to one of our boys leaning up against a tree. This kid was hit bad. Looked up at me and I could see what looked like chicken veins, like when ya butcher a bird in your backyard. So I took a big body wrap – nothing more than a glorified Band-aid really – pushed all his guts back inside the hole and wrapped it tight around his waist. Then I got up, walked around the other side of the tree. And balled my eyes out.
We brought him in the ambulance. I took him in. But when I came out, the driver took off on me! So I hoofed it back.
After a while the energy just drained from me – I couldn’t go on anymore. I spotted a tree with a snow drift and a worn out spot, you could see the bare ground. Figured I’d close my eyes for a bit. But not too long, Guys freeze to death if they sleep too long out here in the Bulge.
“Ahem!” I awoke with a start. I heard somebody from behind a big rock clearing their throat.
“Are you a Kraut?!”
“Vhat’s zis Kraut?! I’m a German Soldat!”
“No, regular army, Wehrmacht!”
“I’m a medic! Don’t shoot! Look!” I held out my helmet.
“Come on over! Have a smoke!”
Then in what seemed an eternity…
He came out, trudging over the cotton white drifts. He was irregular army to me. Early thirties, glasses. Obviously Hitler was scraping the bottom of the barrel to get anybody up to the frontlines!
He sat down beside me, laying his gun down. I held out a Lucky Strike, handed him a light. He dug through his worn field-coat and retrieved something. Looked like a tube or a cigar maybe? He handed it to me.
I opened it, stunk like cheese. I didn’t say anything, just smiled and thanked him.
We both looked around, coast was clear, started talking.
“Roosevelt’s a gangster – like Cagney, Bogart and Robinson! Vee see all your movies zey let us watch.”
“Oh yeah? Well, when I get to Berlin, I’m gonna shave off Hitler’s pussy bumper!”
“Vhat ist ‘pussy bumper’?
“Oh! ja, his moustache!” We laughed.
I pointed towards the sky. “Hey! look up there! A barrage balloon – that’s Goering!”
“Ja! ! Zat ist yust like Goering!”
“Ich heisse… umm… my name is Albert. Albert Krauss.”
“Hi, Albert, I’m Americo Curto.”
“Your parents named you ‘America’?”
“Americo…. But friends call me ‘Rex’.”
“Vell, it ist zo goot to meet you… Rex.”
“Yeah, you too, Albert.”
We shook hands.
And we just shot the shit for a little while.
“Rex, I live just outside of Frankfurt. Maybe after zis war ist over, you vill come und wisit my family?”
“Ja, I’d like that.”
I got up and shook his hand. Our grip was vice tight and I wondered if either one of us’d ever let go.
“Well, Albert… I hope that you survive all this.”
“Ja. Und I hope zat you survive zis too.”
He took off his glasses, wiped his eyes as they watered up. It was so cold I thought the tears’d freeze but more kept coming to warm them up.
“Merry Christmas, brother.”
“Merry Christmas, mein Freund.”
It was time to go – we both knew it.
Back to reality.
Back to war.
I got up and left before I cried too.
War is stupid. It’s a horrible thing to have to go through. But sometimes good stuff happens too. Imagine that: right in the middle of one of the bloodiest battles of the great WW2, here we were – a German and an American – sitting down sharing a smoke and trading gifts. Reminded me of that time during the first world war, the Germans and Brits coming outta their trenches celebrating Christmas together in a sort of makeshift armistice.
History repeats itself I guess. Albert and I had ours too, a few days before Christmas, during the Battle of the Bulge. Smack dab in the middle of a war that killed millions of people.