- 2014 Community Novel Project of the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library
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Downloading Superimposed Chapter 6 by Dennis E. Smirl
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Read Online: Superimposed Chapter 6 by Dennis E. Smirl
July 22, 1944
Salvatore had never been so scared in his life – not even when he was inside a burning bomber that was falling out of the sky.
The Germans had taken everything from him – including his belt, shoelaces, and any shred of dignity. Now he was in a darkened room that stunk of blood, vomit, and human waste. Getting out of whatever hellhole they’d thrown him in seemed impossible. But staying there meant he would die.
There was just enough light that he could see a chair and a bucket that was probably meant to be used when he had to attend to nature’s call. There was no food in the room, no water, and no place to lie down except on the filthy wooden floor.
He sat on the chair and put his head in his hands. Why the hell had he volunteered for the Army Air Force? Selective Service had classified him as 4-F. There was no way he could have been drafted. And considering that some people thought he was nothing but an oversized dwarf, he’d been forced to beg the Army, even write to a congressman, to get a chance to be part of his generation’s war.
Now instead of dying a hero’s death – or better yet, returning to the states as a decorated warrior – he was probably going to be shot or decapitated as a spy. Or maybe they’d take him to Berlin to be interrogated about the H2X RADAR, where he’d either tell the Germans everything they wanted to know or be tortured to death.
Of course, he knew that if he did talk, as soon as they’d pumped him dry, they’d take him out and kill him just for sport. He began to cry. He was quiet about it but couldn’t stop the heaves and shudders and tears. He’d gotten himself into the worst mess of his life because he wanted to be a hero, and now he was crying like a baby instead of taking it like a man.
Long hours passed before the door opened and the handsome SS officer walked in, flanked by a sergeant and a corporal.
“Get up, schweinhund. Schnell.”
Salvatore stood up to his full height of 5’ nothing and squeaked, “What do you want?” The officer smiled.
“We are going to take you outside and shoot you. What else would we do with a spy?”
“What?” Salvatore almost shrieked. “You said you were going to take me to Berlin and make me sketch schematics of the RADAR unit.”
“Ja, but I called Berlin,” the SS officer said. “They know everything they need to know about the H2X. Anything you might know is useless. So we will shoot you as a spy. It will give my men good practice, shooting such a small and insignificant target.”
“Wait a minute,” Salvatore begged, sweat replacing the tears on his face. “The H2X is old stuff. It’s obsolete. What you don’t know about is the follow-on RADAR, the…” he searched frantically through his mind for a term. “…the M-80. That’s the next RADAR. It’s a real firecracker, a hundred times better than the H2X. Take me to Berlin. I’ll tell you everything if you just don’t shoot me.”
The SS officer looked puzzled. “Firecracker? I do not know this word.”
“Sorry. It’s a small explosive device we use in celebrations of our independence. When something is very exciting we use the term firecracker.”
“You Americans and your stupid language.” The SS officer smiled at his own sophistication. “And you are such a coward that you would give up the most prized secret of your Army Air Force to save your worthless life? You Americans are so weak – and your country will lose the war because of cowards like you.”
“I can give it all to you,” Salvatore said. “It can put your Luftwaffe a hundred years ahead of where it is now.”
“You are lying.” The SS officer turned to his men. “Take him out and shoot him. Schnell.”
“Wait! This new RADAR is so powerful it can see through the walls of buildings. It can show you where people are hiding,” Salvatore extemporized as the German soldiers started dragging him to the door. “Why, if you looked into a bank, it could show you where the gold was stored. Yes, you could see right through the walls of a vault.”
“Halten.” The SS officer pinched the bridge of his nose. “If you are telling the truth and can show us how this new M-80 RADAR works, you might live out the war. But if you are lying, I will drag you to the guillotine myself.” He turned to the soldiers. “Take him to the staff car. We go to Berlin tonight.”
First Lieutenant Vincent Black was in a dark mood. His squadron had taken off from Martlesham Heath before sunrise, cruised across most of Germany, and missed their bomber escort rendezvous by fifty miles.
He blamed it on Major Humphries, the squadron Executive Officer, who was a lot better at flying a desk than a P-51. Vince knew Humphries wasn’t the best navigator in the squadron. On the other hand, if the Squadron Commander had assigned Vince as lead pilot, they damn well would have made their rendezvous, and maybe had a chance to blast a few more Krauts out of the sky.
Instead, Humphries had led them to the outskirts of Berlin, and after getting two aircraft blown out of the air the squadron broke into flights of two, and headed for cloud and cover. His wingman’s Mustang had been first to get hit. An 88 millimeter shell burst right under its belly, shrapnel pierced the 85-gallon fuel tank behind the cockpit; and in less than a second, the shiny fighter had turned into a flaming ball of wreckage and incinerated its pilot.
Vince checked his gauges. Everything looked good. The big Merlin engine was running smooth as silk, and all that was between him and the relative safety of his home airfield was about four hours of flying over Germany.
Salvatore was getting carsick. The Kubelwagen rode more like a lumber wagon, and the road they were on wasn’t in good repair.
The Germans had put him in the left rear seat, and then tied his hands in front of him. They hadn’t fed him. They’d given him water when he asked for it, and he’d asked too often. He needed to urinate or he was going to wet his trousers – again. His painfully full bladder was really bothering him.
Finally, he asked, “Could we please stop? I have to relieve myself.” The officer turned back to tell Salvatore that he’d just have to hold it.
Vince Black was wishing he was back in England. He wanted something hot to eat, even though he hated the English cuisine – except for fish and chips – and he really wanted a beer, even if it was warm.
The loss of Second Lieutenant Jamison, his wingman, was beginning to sink in. It was so senseless, so wasteful. They hadn’t fired a shot and all of a sudden the guy was dead, blown out of the sky like a quail on the wing.
He thought about the load of ammunition in the wings of his P-51. Twenty-seven feet of canvas web holding .50 caliber BMG rounds for each gun – “Give ‘em the whole nine yards,” was the saying back when he was in gunnery school – and after flying almost six hours, he still hadn’t squeezed the trigger on the control stick.
Then, in the early morning distance, he saw a plume of dust rising into the sunlight. It had to be a vehicle – maybe military. If so, he might not give ‘em the whole nine yards, but he could give them a few feet of .50 caliber ammo.
He throttled back, pushed the nose of the P-51 down, and started a wide turn to the left. He’d make his strafing run from behind, no more than a hundred feet above the ground so he could keep his guns on target longer.
Pesha heard the sound of the Kubelwagen before he heard the American fighter. He hated the Germans; he hated the sounds their machines made; and mostly, he hated the war they’d started.
Six years earlier, at fourteen, he had a fine job in Greece, seeing to the needs of rich Americans and Englishmen. He’d been making enough so he could save a little, and learning their language so that one day he could immigrate to America and make a fortune there. After that, he’d planned to come back to Europe as a rich American tourist and have some young Gypsy teenager getting whiskey and bottled water – and nubile young women – for him.
But the Germans had destroyed his dreams. When things went bad, he’d escaped into the mountains, but they had captured his parents and his sisters. They’d taken his family to internment camps where they were imprisoned and eventually worked and starved to death for the simple crime of being a Gypsy.
Yes, he hated the Germans, almost more than words in any of the several languages he knew could express.
He stood in the shade of an oak tree, watching the progress of the German vehicle, wishing he was riding and not walking. Then he decided that such was the fate of a poor Gypsy orphan. He did not think he would ever be rich. In fact, he doubted he would ever be so wealthy as to sit at a table and eat his fill of meat.
When he heard the second engine sound – that of an American fighter – he looked up and saw nothing. Then he dropped his gaze to the horizon. The American was low, and behind the Kubelwagen. Suddenly, he saw bright flashes from the wings of the fighter and heard the roar of the machine guns. Pesha smiled. The American pilot was strafing the German vehicle.
Salvatore never really heard the sound of the guns – he only felt a huge impact as one of the .50 caliber rounds ripped through his right side just above his hip bone.
At the same time, he saw – or heard – the effect of other rounds hitting the vehicle. The driver’s head exploded; the soldier beside Salvatore was shot through the chest and almost cut in half by the huge machine-gun bullet. He saw the officer lurch forward, and then there was blood everywhere, and the Kubelwagen was swerving out of control, each time more violently.
Then the vehicle flipped over and threw Salvatore from the wreck. He lay on the hard ground, stunned for a few moments. Then he realized that the bullet hadn’t killed him. It had gone through the fat on the side of his abdomen, leaving a bloody tear, but he wasn’t dead!
His hands were still tied, but maybe he could get away from the wreck and the German guns. He had to keep walking until he found a place to hide and heal. Struggling to his feet, he staggered toward a grove of large trees and heard a voice behind him.
It was the voice of the SS officer. Salvatore glanced over his shoulder, but never slowed his painful steps. The officer was on his knees, bleeding, fumbling for the pistol at his belt. Salvatore tried to ignore the pain and walk faster. He hoped the officer was wounded so badly he wouldn’t pursue and would simply try to stop him with his command.
Salvatore looked over his shoulder again. The SS officer had crawled away from the wrecked vehicle, tried to stand, fallen, and now was following on his hands and knees, still shouting.
“Halten! Halten, Americanischer Schweinhund!”
Salvatore’s strength was failing. He was still on his feet, but he wasn’t gaining any ground. Barely putting one foot in front of the other, he was no faster than the officer who was crawling in pursuit – an officer who had a Luger in his hand. He didn’t look back. He tried to move faster, took several labored steps, and then felt two solid impacts on his back. It was as though someone had hit him with a baseball bat. He dropped to his knees and then fell face forward into the dirt, clawing at the turf, still trying to escape.
Pesha watched with a combination of anger and horror as the SS officer shot the American and then collapsed. He waited a few moments and then ventured out from behind the tree that had hidden him. He wanted that pistol, and he wanted whatever spare bullets the officer might have on him. He also wanted what might still be of use in the smoking wreckage of the vehicle.
He circled around, approaching the SS officer from behind. He watched to see if the man was breathing. Slowly and laboriously, but he was breathing. Pesha pulled the stiletto from his belt, knelt on the German officer, and sunk the slim blade into the man’s back – again and again – until the bastard shuddered, and lay still.
He checked the American. Such a small man – and yet… Weren’t Americans supposed to be big and strong and fed with corn? He and the American were almost the same size. Even for a Gypsy, Pesha was small. He turned the American over. The man stunk of blood and piss.
“Help me,” the American whispered, blood dribbling from the corners of his mouth.
“It is too late for that,” Pesha said. “I can only pray for you.”
“Then tell them I died brav…”
The American’s head rolled to the side, and his eyes stopped seeing the beauty of the huge oak tree towering above him.
Pesha checked the American’s pockets. Nothing. The SS had cleaned him out. He walked back to the officer. In his pockets, Pesha found a wallet with an identification card, a few Marks, the picture of a pretty girl, and a set of American dogtags. He read the name: Salvatore T. Caló. An Italian name. He made plans. A name like that would explain his dark, Mediterranean appearance.
Yes, Pesha the orphaned Gypsy would vanish, and eventually a bearded and dirty Salvatore T. Caló would show up at the American lines, just as the war was over. They’d never send an escapee back into an airplane except to discharge him and send him home – back to America.
What better way to achieve his dreams?
Chapter 7 will be published next week at https://www.tscpl.org/community-novel
About Dennis E. Smirl
Dennis E. Smirl has been an Air Force officer, a salesman for a Fortune 500 company, a school psychologist, a computer science instructor at several community colleges, and a business owner. Married to his college sweetheart for almost half a century, he has spent time in Mexico, Japan, and South Vietnam, but prefers to take family vacations in the USA and Canada. A writer for as long as he can remember—he attempted a first novel at age ten—his first taste of national publication was a race report written and published in 1965. Beyond his interest in writing science fiction and mysteries, he has had a lifetime interest in horseback riding, auto racing (as a driver), golf, photography, computers and information processing. He has written nine novels and more than seventy short stories and novellas, and hopes to have all nine novels—and perhaps a couple more—available through Amazon print and Amazon Kindle within the next two years.
An Interview with Dennis E. Smirl
What is your writing background?
I’ve been writing fiction–off and on–since I was in the sixth grade. I took creative writing as a freshman at PSU and was hooked. Life intruded for a while, then I took some more creative writing courses, and I’ve been writing steadily since the mid-1970s.
What sort of work do you usually write? (Fiction, Poetry, Nonfiction, Genre?)
Fiction almost exclusively. Every now and then I dabble in trying to write podcast plays.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
Start with John D. MacDonald. Add in Donald Hamilton. Fast-forward to the present and include Robert Crais, Kinky Friedman, Carl Hiaasen, John Scalzi, just to name the tip of the iceberg.
Are there books, poems, or stories that have inspired your own writing?
Several. But one that stands out: The Mote in God’s Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. Niven is a Washburn Alum (Grad school) –Yay Washburn!
Why did you want to participate in the Community Novel Project?
For the sheer fun of it.
Have you ever written fiction in collaboration with other authors before?
Several times. One story “Dream in a Bottle” with Jerry Meredith won some real money in the Writers of the Future Contest, and then got anthologized in a “Best of…” collection, and… Hey, more money!
Do you usually write in a burst of inspiration, or is your work carefully outlined?
I tend to write from an idea that I don’t outline or write down. If I do that, I usually shelve the project. It takes the ‘discovery’ out of the process.
Did writing for the community novel differ from the norm?
Not really. I had a good idea where I was going with my chapter and wrote the first draft in one sitting.
What do you like about the premise and characters of this year’s Community Novel Project?
The flash-back (or past history) sections. I found myself caught up in the WWII narrative.
What challenges you about them?
Trying to make the characters ‘real’ within the historical setting.
What was your first reaction when you saw the chapter before yours?
The authors were right on the story line, keeping true to the original premise while adding some inventions of their own. Well done.
What do you like most about the chapter that you contributed to the 2014 Community Novel?
It doesn’t flinch at the ugly reality of war. If you don’t want to see death, dying, blood and human beings ripped asunder by explosives and flying shrapnel, don’t throw a war.. throw a book-reading party, instead.
What do you hope happens or doesn’t happen in the chapters that come after yours?
Keep the two narratives flowing in the manner of two streams that will eventually merge in the final chapters.
What sort of writing can we expect from you in future?
More novels. I’ve written seven science-fiction novels, two detective novels, and three volumes of short stories and novellas.
Are you currently at work on any writing projects?
I’m working on the last chapters of my third detective novel. The first draft should be finished by the middle of April. I’ll take a short break and start work on my next challenge. A western with a tentative title of MY BROTHER’S KEEPER. Yee-haw!