<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="1252"%> Little Fireworks
Chapter 9

It was quiet for the next few days. Which meant that they hadn’t gotten anything out of Dautzenberg. He had acted on his own; Stash and the others didn’t know a thing about it.

“That’s not good,” Karlheinz said. “Now we’re going to have to be especially careful. The Americans will be here in a few weeks, and the brownshirts will certainly be laying a few of us in the earth before then, if they can find the slightest thing to hang on us.”

They talked about it and ate their soup and watched out the window. Far to the west, over Dusseldorf they estimated, fire was raining down from the heavens. Silver pinpoints flashed in the sun, namely B-17 bombers flying in formation.

In between, over, under, and all around, there were bunches of little puffy clouds, marking each bomb that went off. But they couldn’t hear anything. It was far away and the wind was coming from the east.

“They’ll be heading this way shortly,” Phantom’s mother said. “So hurry.”

Someone called from the kitchen, “Greetings to you all!” A man was standing in the doorway, small and thin, with a worker’s cap on his head.

“Karl!” exclaimed Anna Spormann softly. Her spoon clattered to the floor. She jumped up and they threw their arms around each other.

Karl had hitched a ride from Dortmund on a truck. He would have to get back on it again later that night, but he stayed for a bowl of soup, which he ate slowly. He asked about Heini Spormann and the others. He said, “I need to talk to a few people at the factory. I have pamphlets in my bag, hot off the press. There are some here for you, too.” At that he looked straight at Phantom and Karlheinz.

And then the sirens went off, Full Alarm. “You tell Stash and the others,” Karlheinz told Phantom. He said to his mother, “Bring Karl to the Niehus’ through the bunker. I’ll wait in the emergency tunnel and let you through. We’ll meet in the passageway under the tracks.”

Karlheinz was an Air Defense Assistant at the factory, and he needed to get going right away. Phantom ran with him.

Anna Spormann and Karl waited a few more minutes, then hurried along with all the other people from the Quarter into the bunker.

Phantom informed Stash and all the others up to Makevka.

“So things are going well for you,” said Karl two hours later, as they were all assembled in the larger room off the passageway under the tracks: Stash, Ewald Stumpe, the short Mr. Pottmann, and Phantom. But then they sent Phantom to the surface to keep watch.

It was dark now. He crouched in front of the storm sewer cover. He heard the heavy bombers humming their way towards the Ruhr. The artillery started up, spotlights and beams flitted through the sky – the usual.

Three hours later they brought him back down below. Karl needed to meet his ride to Dortmund at 3 o’clock, at the crossing behind the factory’s quarry.

Phantom went with him. Silently they made their way through Dohmann’s thicket, past the quarry. They got to the crossing at exactly 3 AM. From where they were standing they could see the whole Ruhr area. The horizon was glowing. “The reason they’re bombing the houses,” Karl said, “is that they want to save the factories, because they expect to get here before the Red Army does. And that, unfortunately, is likely. The Americans are already at Paris.”

The wind brought to them the sound of explosions. “Gas bombs,” Karl said. “They burst like balloons.”

Then he talked about how important their fight was, even if the results didn’t promise to be spectacular. “The fight will still go on after the war, since the old classes will still be there, and they will buddy up with the old classes of the Western allies, and together they will try to deceive all the people all over again. They will argue about the collective guilt of the German people, and will say that the Resistance has been senseless and purposeless. But we, the few people who are still able to offer resistance, will show them that opposition is correct and necessary and possible, and from which standpoint it needs to be carried out. Thus we shall show that we are the only ones qualified to build a new Germany.”

“But the time will come,” Karl continued, “when they will name Hitler in the same breath as Stalin.” He put his cigarette out. “I’m sixty years old,” he said, “and I won’t live through too much more. You will have it hard. But the Soviet Union will be there. Don’t forget that.”

A truck turned into the street. It drove slowly to the crossing, with headlights dimmed to two slits. Karl picked up his empty bag and walked into the middle of the intersection. The truck came closer. Karl walked to the side. The truck drove slowly past him. The cover on the back of the truck was raised. Karl threw the bag inside, ran after the truck, and was pulled up by the arms into the back of it. The cover came down shut again. The truck shifted into a higher gear and rumbled off, headed towards the Ruhr.

Phantom headed back. He stopped at the little brook in Dohmann’s thicket to take a drink. He lay down in the grass and pulled his jacket over his head. He was asleep in no time.

He came back the next afternoon. His mother wasn’t home. He whistled over to the Ronsdorfs’, but nobody stirred there either.

So he went to the Trietsches’. They there all there, in Erna’s kitchen, laughing, talking, and drinking. “He was standing there like this,” Erna Trietsch was saying. She positioned herself in front of the wardrobe, leaned on an invisible cane, raised her left shoulder in rhythmic time, closed one eye, and blinked and blinked with the other one, holding her right hand behind her back. She was imitating Hugo Beck.

In the middle of all the laughter and the back-and-forth chatter Phantom managed to figure out that Hugo Beck had been named the new boss for the factory’s security guard. He would be serving the commissar, he would get a War Service Cross no less, and that of course was reason enough for a party.

“Give us the good life,” sang Sparks and ThinMan. Grandpa Thiel tried to do a little dance, but it didn’t work. He slipped and fell into the coal bucket. Everybody was shrieking from laughing so hard, and Phantom noticed that he had arrived too late to get into quite such a party mood.

He went over to the Russians’ barracks. The chain link fence between the men’s and the women’s area was already full of holes and places to cross.

Stash was sitting in front of the barracks. “What’s the story with the pamphlets?” Phantom asked. Stash nodded.

They meandered over to the loading ramp and sat down behind a couple of crates. Stash took a piece of paper from his pocket. “This is intended for soldiers. Yes, there will still be many cars full of soldiers rolling through town, from east towards west, and the opposite way too. The pamphlets should board the trains. Also they should go to the artillerymen here in town, and the other soldiers in the area,” Stash said.

Phantom read: 'Comrade, you don’t want to die for Hitler anymore. You want to live, and help save the people and the republic... join Free Germany with our comrades here. Win and unify all the honest and responsible men among you – officers, subordinates, and privates together, in our unstoppable movement... Save your life for the journey back into a free Germany. Work for the rebuilding of our homeland. Then you can be proud of what you’ve done to help..' etc etc.

“Give me a couple of those,” Phantom said. “We’ll see what happens.”

Stash said, “You should act sensibly. Caution is the most important thing now. There’s no point in putting anybody else in danger.”

They sat around in Bohr’s shed reading the pamphlet, and deciding how they might be able to distribute it.

The military trains mostly went by at night now, not during the day as in earlier times. They used to stand at the train station and wait, and the soldiers, who still sang in those days, would throw things out the window to them – pieces of commissary bread, and chocolate. Sometimes the trains even stopped and the soldiers got out and talked with them. They would swap things, for instance cigarettes for a pot of pea soup. The other children would throw letters onto the train, 'Dear uncle soldier, how are you doing? My name is Horst and I have an older sister. Please write me back soon.'

Then later, when the soldiers no longer sang In the Homeland, in the Homeland, these same children would throw packages in to them, with cigarettes, homemade bonbons, toffee, scarves, socks.

“We need to wait on either side of the Dreizehnbogen at night, run next to the cars, and pound on the sides. When they open the windows, we shove the pamphlets in,” Phantom said.

The Dreizehnbogen was a bridge, maybe 60 feet high. A train could only cross it very slowly. The trains would begin slowing down a quarter of a mile away. Just before the bridge, they would be going at about walking speed.

“Not just shove them in,” Sugar said, “write letters. Put the pamphlets in them, make a little package for them. Then they’ll be happy and they won’t toss it right out.”

And so that’s what they did. Sugar began on the first piece from a pad of paper: 'Dear uncle soldier, here is some tobacco for you, and a pair of socks. We don’t go to school anymore, because it’s gone. We are bombarded day and night. Please stop fighting. Come home. I don’t believe in victory for us. Nobody here believes that anymore. Signed, a starving and freezing child.'

“You, a starving and freezing child,” Sparks said. “That’s stupid. Cross that out.”

“Sounds too whimpery to me,” Animal said. “How about if you say: 'Death to the Nazi pack! We’ll smash the little Hitler doll to the ground' etc etc.”

“Oh come on,” ThinMan said, “we have to sound like dear little children. 'Papa come home' etc etc. It’s good, the way Sugar wrote it.”

They argued about it. Phantom was also on Sugar’s side.

Animal got overruled and everybody wrote, in their own handwriting of course, five copies of the letter. But they left out the starving and freezing child part. They signed it instead with names like: your Horst, or your Edda. They wrapped packages of socks and tobacco, with the letter plus pamphlet stuck in the middle.

It was Phantom’s and Animal’s turn the first night. They lay by the tracks and waited.

The first military cars came rolling by at some time after midnight. In front the cars had their doors open. They contained guns and artillery stacked under planks. There were kegs, canisters, various and sundry. Then came the Officers’ Wagon, and then cars for the horses and men.

They didn’t need to pound on the cars after all. Most of them had their doors half open. They ran after them and looked in. The cars carried men lying asleep in piles of straw.

They threw two packages in each car, and that was that. The same thing twice more that night.

The next night it was Sparks’ and ThinMan’s turn. After a couple of nights of that they only had five copies of the pamphlet left.

“We’ll use these in the immediate vicinity,” Phantom said.

On the hill just south of town there was a large antiaircraft artillery installation. Large artillery equipment was mounted in flat troughs, and there were barracks, scattered about in the wild, with a six-foot-high barbed wire fence around the whole affair. Nobody got in there except someone like Inge Vordamm for instance, or maybe also the relatives of Air Defense Assistants. So sometimes the little brother or sister of an Air Defense Assistant could tag along to visit, but only on Visitors’ Day, which was Sunday.

Phantom wanted to give the rest of the pamphlets to the artillerymen there. They were a colorful troop of Air Defense Assistants, older corporals and youngish officers.

It was for this reason that he was headed, on a Sunday afternoon, just before the end of the shift, to Grandma Bertram’s place. She was the godmother and only existing relative of Inge Vordamm. He took a bottle of red wine with him, and two thimblesful of real coffee.

He sat down on the window seat opposite the old woman. She was also sitting on a window seat. They were both looking out the window. “Red wine and coffee you bring Grandma Bertram. Did you bring a coffeecake too? Just like Little Red Riding Hood and the wicked wolf? What do you want? Nobody ever visits me, even though I’ve belonged to you all my life.”

“Oh, that’s not true,” Phantom said, “I’ve talked to you in the bunker, and a couple of days ago Makevka was here and Olga Pottmann, and we brought you wine, and...”

“What did you say? Wine?” interrupted Grandma Bertram. “What’s that for then? Tell me about the outside world. Is the war nearly over?”

Phantom explained that the Americans had taken Paris. They had heard little from his father and the others etc etc. The same things that Grandma Bertram heard every night in the bunker.

“And ours?” the old woman asked. “Where are they? Americans, have you ever heard of such a thing.”

“The Red Army is sitting somewhere around Koenigsburg,” Phantom said, “but that’s about three times as far away as Paris.”

“Americans!” the old woman shrieked. “Negroes with knives! They’ll slit our throats. Why aren’t our own hurrying, then?”

Grandpa Thiel was strolling along on the other side of the street. He waved at them. “See that old rascal?” Grandma Bertram asked. “He too, like me, doesn’t want to die before he has seen our own arrive here.” And the old woman started up again, “Absolutely nothing is going right here, oh my, when I only think of it, not a single worker has been willing to die in action, they all just succumb to the gang of brownshirts, it’s about time, long overdue” etc etc. It was quite awhile before she came to a stopping point.

Then Phantom asked, “Is Inge Vordamm going to be visiting the sergeant at the artillery station today?”

The old woman tuned up again, “That carcass! Easier to try to keep a cat behind a hot stove in summer than to keep her in the house. All it takes is a glimpse of a uniform, at a distance even. It’s a wonder she still wears underwear. Her mother was a trotter like that too” etc etc.

Then suddenly she stopped. She said, “Spormann my young man, cut it with the conversation. You’ve got something in mind. You want to go to the artillery station and climb around on the cannons, yes, I see.” She was talking heatedly now. “How about if first we go to the town hall, and take three salvos. That ought to do it. Then the whole Hill, where all the big shots live, boom boom boom boom boom.” She aimed her crutch in the direction of the Hill.

Then the door opened and in walked Inge Vordamm. “What in the world is going on here?” Inge asked.

“Ah, my dear one, there you are,” said Grandma Bertram. “It’s not time for the shift to be over yet, you’re not sick, my little one?”

“Nonsense,” Inge said, “I’m in a hurry. I have to change clothes and be off again. And you,” she said, looking at Phantom, “wherever you are, trouble’s not far off. What are you up to?”

“I have something important to talk to you about,” Phantom said.

Inge went into the bedroom next door. There were two beds, a wardrobe with a mirror, a wash commode with a bowl and pitcher. Just like every other bedroom he knew. Phantom asked, “Do you have to go to the artillery station now?”

“’Have to’, that’s a good one,” laughed Inge.

Phantom said, “I’ve gone there once before as your cousin; would it be possible again today, since it’s Sunday?”

Inge laughed again. “Well, come along, it’s okay by me. But don’t be hanging around my neck.” Inge put on a flowered dress, and a smock over that. Then they left.

Grandma Bertram was still sitting at the window. “Boom boom boom boom boom!” she called out after them.

At the Forest Fun Inn they met Peppenelse, who was with a lieutenant from the artillery battery. “So what does Phantom want here, then?” she asked.

“Just to look around some,” Inge said.

“Him, and just look around. Yeah, right,” said Else.

Phantom said, “I want to go to the captain and wipe his ass for him once.” Both the young ladies started laughing very hard.

It was still shrieks and giggles as they came to the barbed wire gate at the installation. “That’s my cousin,” Inge said, pointing to Phantom. But they didn’t say what he had in mind for the captain.

They walked inside in a cloud of more laughter. “You must be out of here again by six,” the Air Defense Assistant called out after them. “I’ll tell you what to do with that idea,” Inge said. “No way do I plan to be out of here by six.” She went into one of the barracks.

Phantom wandered around. He met two young boys, each sixteen, wearing the Air Defense Assistants’ official uniform. “Could you show me around some?” he asked.

They showed him this and that gun, he could sit on the footstool in front of it, there was a crank, he could turn the machine to aim it, he could look through the sights etc etc, things that didn’t interest Phantom. Then they went into the two boys’ living quarters and played skat.

Later, in the toilet area, Phantom hung three of the pamphlets between the newspapers there for wiping with. “Now I want to go see how my cousin is doing,” he said to them.

He went over to another of the barracks. He found an empty room with a writing table in it. He put the last two pamphlets on the table.

He walked to the gate. He saw a couple of other civilians there, relatives, visiting on Visitors’ Day. He said to the Air Defense Assistant at the gate, “I’ll be waiting for my cousin at the Forest Fun Inn. Would you please tell her that?”

Inge Vordamm arrived some time after six, somewhat sullen. “Is something wrong?” Phantom asked.

“No.” Then she said, “See ya, I must be elsewhere.” Then she disappeared somewhere into town.

“So that too has been taken care of,” Phantom said that evening, as they were all hanging around in Bohr’s shed. He told them what had happened that day.

“Well, then,” Sugar said, “the war will be over soon.”