<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="1252"%> Little Fireworks
Chapter 11
The Arrangement

So now it was three in the cave, and pretty soon there were going to be more.

The fourth was Berti Bischoff, who was first friend, then foe, then friend again, the way it went in these times. And so it went.

Berti Bischoff, who was the son of Mr. Bischoff the teacher, had been in the same class as Egon Ronsdorf, Animal’s older brother, who fell in the war last year. Berti used to hang out at the Ronsdorfs’ more often than at his own home. He ate there, he slept there. He was like a brother to Egon and Animal. But then he started going to high school, and a few things changed.

Next he joined the 07’s, which was already a matter of treason. Berti and Egon had both played right wing on the A string with TuS 98, a workers’ ball club. After the club was banned for the third and final time, the players in 07 waited for the good men from TuS to come their way, but of course none of them would even think of joining those jocks. None, that is, except Berti.

Egon forgave him for that. “Teacher’s son,” he said. “Sooner or later they all change sides. It’s still much better that he’s playing soccer and not handball, or tennis, of all things.”

Anyway, Berti was soccer crazy. Now, everybody in the whole area had a thing for soccer, quite a thing for it actually, but Berti even more so. He lived soccer from morning till night. He knew every player in Germany. He sketched plays in his little notebook, he positioned men here and there and tried out the latest tricks. You never saw him anywhere without his ball. In other words, his defection to 07 was at least understandable.

But little by little he turned into a real pain. He knew everything better than everyone else, and not just in matters of soccer either. That’s the way things go when one is going to high school and the others aren’t.

Finally things got so bad that Egon threw him out. They didn’t see him anymore for a long time after that, until Phantom and the others were forced to join the Youth.

They proved themselves to be totally unfit for Hitler Youth, the way their fathers had proved themselves to be totally unfit for military service. But eventually the brownshirts changed their minds about that, because they needed ever more soldiers, and they were already beginning to fish for them in the Youth.

And so it was that Phantom Spormann, Animal Ronsdorf, ThinMan Niehus and Sparks Krach had to show up at the Youth House one Saturday afternoon.

“Fall in,” someone called.

They saw there all the other town misfits: loud characters, with well-known and much-feared names. Absolutely all of them were there except for two or three maybe. They were sitting in a room full of banners and pictures of Nazis. They were listening to a speech being hammered at them by a thick red-faced man, whom they dubbed the Misfit Director. “Even if your fathers are traitors or whatever, and even if you yourselves aren’t much better, it is now high time to make up for past mistakes,” etc etc.

Ballsass, an enormous brute from another part of town, 14 years old and two times a father already, asked in between if this was something like a penal batallion.

“Shut your trap!” the fat one bellowed. “We’ll drive out these slogans of the enemy yet.”

Then he began again on the defense of the people, the youth above all, etc etc.

Phantom wouldn’t have paid any attention at all, had he not spotted Berti Bischoff. He was sitting between several others at the table in the front of the room.

And then it came. “We will be forming two units out of the young men present, and the leader for Unit 1B will be,” – and at this Berti jumped to his feet – “Berthold Bischoff.”

“I didn’t think it could get as bad as this,” ThinMan said later.

But Animal laughed scornfully. “You just wait,” he said. “It’s going to get even worse.”

And Animal was right. On the very next Saturday they had to march around for an hour, lie down, stand up, and afterwards in the Youth House, Berti Bischoff made a speech just like the fat one last week. “All the influence of your parents will have to be erased, traitors that you are,” etc etc.

That evening Phantom was waiting in front of the Bischoffs’ house, sitting on the fence. When Berti Bischoff finally came walking up, Phantom said to him, “Listen, we understand that you have to babble like that when the brownshirts are around. March around, too, and stuff like that, at least at first. But pretty soon this has got to stop.”

“What?” shrieked Berti. “What do you think you’re doing here like this, you ought to be ashamed,” etc etc.

Phantom stood up. He said, “You heard what I said.” And then he left.

But the next time things were even worse. Phantom, Animal, ThinMan and Sparks had to go through the punishment exercises routine. They had to march past Berti with their hand held high – the Nazi salute. And during the hour of instruction Berti called Animal’s father names, including “Bolshevist enemy of the people.” That, of course, was going too far.

Animal suggested, “Let’s just kill him, zack zack, and then hang him by his feet. The old method. That’s the only thing these guys understand.”

Phantom, however, was of a different opinion. Of course they would have to punish him, but it should be gentle at first. More like fun and games. If he didn’t straighten up after that, well, then of course you could go a little bit further. And he told them about his plan.

It had to do with Berti’s passion for soccer. The others thought it was a very good plan, particularly Sugar, who could hardly stop laughing over the idea.

A couple of days later, in the afternoon, they went over to the TuS field, which was very close to the Bischoffs’ house. They had a genuine leather ball, with a genuine inflatable rubber core, stitched together with genuine leather laces.

Getting the ball was the hardest part about the whole plan. There hadn’t been any soccer balls for a long time. People played with balls made of cloth, stuffed with straw. They were duds, with no give to them at all. After half and hour they would be lying flat on the ground and wouldn’t roll an inch. The 07 team had two real balls, locked up in a locker somewhere. But Bubi von Boethen, the druggist’s son, who had been lame since he was very little – he had a soccer ball.

It was yellow calf’s leather, rubber core intact and unpatched, like brand new, not too light, not too heavy. Bubi had this ball as a bribe for the kids on the street, so they would play with him. In exchange for three hours of playing Don’t-Lose-Your-Temper with Bubi, he would lend the ball out for one hour only. This arrangement was only made with exactly three kids at a time, because Bubi always played the fourth.

So Phantom, Sugar and Sparks had spent two afternoons of three hours each, playing Don’t-Lose-Your-Temper. Since it wasn’t possible to cheat, and since Bubi usually lost, they also had to put up with insults, spitting, and clods of dirt thrown at them. It didn’t matter, though, because now they had the ball.

The closer they got to the field, the more excited they became. They stayed in the middle of the field, in sight of the Bischoffs’ house.

Phantom held the ball high on his right foot. He let it bounce lightly from knee to knee a couple of times, head knee foot foot head head. He kicked it lightly over to Animal, who, shoulders back, chest forward, arms straight and high over his head, caught it on his chest. He let it fall to his feet and, foot foot foot, kicked it lightly into the air, caught it on his head, let it roll to his left shoulder. He ducked, shoulder to head, held it there a moment, then let it roll to his feet again. Then he kicked it to ThinMan, who caught it on his left thigh, then rolled it to his right thigh, and back and forth and back again, all the while running back and forth. It looked funny, but it was pretty hard to do and it was part of ThinMan’s style.

Phantom and Animal were playing for the Braves. Szepan and Kuzorra, as Fritz and Ernst called themselves when they were out on the field, let the ball roll. Sparks the goalie was Kress from the Dresdeners SC. He fended off the high balls with outstretched arms. He dove for the low balls with his arms crooked. ThinMan, who always had to go for something exotic, was Dvoracek from the Vienna Rapids. He called it the Viennese Flat Pass, his dainty way of tripping along, arms out straight, fluttering his hands gently like wings, working the ball with his thighs.

The wind was still. The distinctive flop flop sound, which only a genuine soccer ball makes, carried a long way. Berti Bischoff heard it too.

Phantom saw how the curtains were drawn back. Shortly the window opened. Berti called out, “Where did you get that ball?”

“Belongs to us,” Animal called back. He was playing Diabolo, with his body bent way over, his arms almost touching the ground.

Berti watched for awhile, then shut the window. “He’s not coming,” Sugar said.

“Just wait,” Phantom said.

They played some more with the ball, let it sail through the air, close to the ground, high off the ground, half-height. Then the window opened again. “I have to watch little Klaus,” Berti called. “Could somebody help do that for awhile?”

“I’ll come,” Sugar called.

The others dashed to the goal. While Phantom and ThinMan were shooting and Sparks was defending, Animal went to his jacket lying next to the goalpost. He pulled out from under it a 60-pound iron ball they had picked up once during their scavenging rounds. He laid the ball right in the middle of the penalty shot line. The ball was about the same size as the soccer ball. It looked like it, too, painted up with yellow fields and black laces.

As Berti came out and ran towards them, head slightly forward, the sleeves of his shirt rolled high, glancing to the left and the right, out over imaginary grandstands, well by then the real ball was already hidden under the jacket by the goalpost.

Sparks was standing in front of the goal, leaning forward, arms bent slightly. Animal was standing five yards away from the ball. Phantom was off the field, by the goal. “Berti,” he called, “shooooot!”

And Berti ran from the middle of the field. He went onto his tiptoes a couple of times. Then he headed at full speed towards the ball.

Since long ago there hadn’t been any soccer shoes around. People played in their gym shoes. Berti Bischoff too. Then came a cry something like a wounded bull.

Berti didn’t want any help. He just lay on the ground and pounded himself with his fist.

Animal and Sparks took hold of him. They stood him on his feet, but Berti buckled under, shrieking like crazy. Animal said, “Naa, Hitler Youth don’t cry.” Berti spit at him. Sparks said, “Can’t you take a joke?”

Even though he resisted, they took him home.

“What’s the matter?” Sugar asked.

“He missed the ball,” Phantom said.

They sat Berti on the sofa. As they were leaving, Phantom said, “It’s one to one now, and the end of the game, as far as we’re concerned.”

The next Saturday only Phantom and Animal showed up. Berti Bischoff had his foot in a cast. Marching was cancelled. During the instruction hour they sang songs.

Later, as they were leaving, Berti held the two back at the door. “One to one,” he said, “understood. Wait, I’ll come with you.”

They went out of the room, down the hallway. “I have to go in here,” Berti said, and he opened a door.

“Watch out!” Phantom shouted, but they were already surrounded: Hitler Youth Riders, toughs in heavy boots. They shoved both of them into the room, then down into the cellar.

They worked them over using the old method, finally with the boots. They regained their senses as water was being poured all over them. They dragged themselves home. They had to stay in bed for a couple of days.

Three months long they had to march around on Saturday afternoons, listen to garbage, and sing A Young Folk is Rising etc etc.

Once, as they were sitting on the street curb in the dust and the heat, from somewhere came the monotone tatatataretatata of an incoming train, and Berti said to Phantom, “Well you see now, things are finally okay between us. It’s the hard times, you know, they make you like steel.”

“Yeah,” Phantom said, “you’re right about that.”

Festus Kowalski was also there with them in Unit 1B, because his father was a Bible scholar, and off in a concentration camp.

“Listen,” Animal said to him one day, “every morning they’re taking your bread and your milk away from you, Ballsass and the others, as you head for your lessons. Want to get even with them, or at least with Ballsass?”

“How then?” Festus asked.

“We’ll play Territory,” Animal said. “We’ll catch him, off to the side. We’ll hold him down. You beat his ass blue. Completely simple. He’ll never know who hit him. All you have to do is wait till Saturday’s Youth session, and you say, “How about we go play Territory in Dohmann’s thicket?”

“Why did you ask me?” Festus wanted to know.

Phantom explained to him that they couldn’t do it, because Berti Bischoff would get suspicious. “But you, a Jehovah, he’ll be glad you want to play war.”

“You have something in mind,” Festus said.

Animal leaned against the wall of the house and said, “Of course, Festus. We want to help you.”

On Saturday, when Festus brought up the thing about playing Territory, Phantom said, “What is this, running around in the bushes and stuff. I’d rather stay here and listen to what Berti has to say. Schooling is damned important for us.”

Berti Bischoff smiled. “You’re both right,” he said. “A good game of Territory is also schooling, when you do it right. And next Saturday I’ll show you how, in Dohmann’s thicket. We’ll play against Unit 1C.” Ballsass and his people were in Unit 1C.

One afternoon that week Phantom headed over into his part of town, a settlement of colorful ramshackle buildings, situated where the Hill area bordered the southern forest. Ballsass was sitting with two of his people in front of a dissected bomb.

“Look here,” he said, “one of the people from Down Under is headed our way.”

He was wearing lederhosen, suspenders, white shirt, white socks – the native dress of the mountain rebels. A 20-year-old woman, Anna, large and dark and gypsy- looking, was sitting on a chest, holding Ballsass’ youngest in her arms.

Phantom sent a bottle of schnaps around the group He said to Anna, “My, but you’re looking fine.”

She laughed. “Ask the fat one,” she said. “Maybe he’ll give you a chance at me.”

Ballsass said, “I’ll say hello for you next time.” They all laughed, and drank.

“I have something to talk to you about,” Phantom said to Ballsass. He sent his people away.

“Anna, you stay here,” he said. Anna held the youngster high, took out a large and beautiful breast, and let it suck. Phantom watched. Ballsass asked, “Haven’t you ever seen tits before? So what do you want?”

The discussion was hard, and it took a long time. But finally they came to an agreement. Even Festus Kowalski would be satisfied with the arrangement. He would be left in peace from then on, and would get 20 Marks as reparation for damages. Ballsass, for his part, would get the frame of a BMW 250 motorcycle, currently lying in the Spormanns’ basement.

The next Saturday Alex Springorum, the leader of Unit 1C, didn’t show up. He was home lying in bed. He had suffered a bad fall on his way home the night before.

Ballsass said to Berti Bischoff, “I talked to Alex, and he said I should take over the leadership of Unit 1C for the Territory match.” Ballsass would position himself and his people in area 8, not far from the cave. He would have a briefcase, containing important information.

The rest of it went smooth as butter. During the storm trooper attack, Phantom, as troop leader, led himself, Berti, Sparks, and two others into the cave. Sparks and the other two were given orders to get back to the rest of the troops. Then Berti was in their hands.

Ballsass let his team be overrun, and that evening they all split up and returned home.

It was a long time before anyone was asking after the leader of Unit 1B. They lay Berti, naked, chained and tied down, in a junkheap. “If you open your mouth to cry for help, we’ll piss your throat full, and then you’ll drown.”

Half an hour later they let him go. “Makes you like steel,” Phantom said. Berti Bischoff was still terrified, eyes red. He couldn’t utter a sound.

“Two to two,” Phantom said. “And now I’ll whisper something to you.” Phantom leaned down. “We’re not alone. I trust I need say no more. Next time, you can depend on it, you better think twice.”

It was peace from then on. Phantom and the others no longer showed up on Saturdays, and Berti Bischoff did not report their absence.