An Excerpt from HONK HONK, MY DARLING, Chapter 3, “Shoot the Moon”
I turned down Adler Street, looking for Bork’s. I passed a grocery store, a closed mitt camp, a guess-your-weight booth, and a liquor store, then turned a bend and saw the silver barrel of a cannon hanging 15 feet over the sidewalk. Unless some admiral had dry-docked his battleship here, it looked like I’d found the Human Howitzer. A high plank fence surrounded the lot, but the door was unlocked, so I pushed my way in.
The lot had that “lived-in” look, like an Army motor pool had lived in it for the better part of a decade. Metal drums were scattered around as if by some heavy-industry Easter bunny, plus crates, boilers, tires and scrap metal. Puddles of mud, oil and who knew what else made walking dangerous. And amid all this dismal grime stood a firm-jawed blonde man in a spotless silver jumpsuit, staring off into the distance, looking like a Viking captain at the helm of his rowboat.
He didn’t notice when I entered the yard. I cleared my throat a few times and kicked a stray can or two, but our intrepid hero still stared into the distance, his crash helmet tucked under his arm. When I got close enough to tap him on his silver shoulder, I managed to scare him silly.
“Sorry about that,” I said. “You Berndt Bork?”
“I didn’t hear you come up,” he said. “Then again, my hearing ain’t what it used to be.”
“Am I interrupting practice?”
“Yep. Gotta get back on the road soon, earn some spread. With our boys winning in Europe now, it won’t be long before people will be able to handle an act like mine again. For a while, people just didn’t like a guy with a German name driving around with a big cannon.”
Sounded like a cheap rationalization to me – stage names are as common as head lice among kinkers – but I wasn’t this guy’s confessor. “I’m looking for someone, Addie Carlozo. She been around here?”
His face turned suspicious. “And who the hell are you, barging onto a guy’s lot and asking questions?”
“Just a joey doing a favor for someone. I ain’t looking for trouble.”
“Yeah, I don’t know you from Adam.”
“Name’s Rex Koko. Tell you what. You just answer my questions, and I’ll help you out, Buck Rogers. I’ll go over there and be your net-sitter for a while, as you practice your . . . jumps? Shoots? Bangs? Whatever you call ‘em, your whoooshes through the air.”
Bork sighed and looked off in the distance again. I don’t know much about this kind of act, but I thought his whole cannon apparatus was mighty impressive. Resting on the flat bed of a long-haul truck, it was shiny as a newlywed’s frying pan and studded with a couple thousand rivets. The truck was up on wooden blocks, and held down against recoil with ropes and stakes like Gulliver on a beach vacation. From the look of it, Bork could slap on the wheels and drive his peashooter to any circus or county fair he wanted. But after sitting for a couple years, it was going to be that much harder for man and machine to hit the road again.
“All right, clown, I’ll level with you. Boots was here for about a week. Then last Sunday she disappears. No note, nothing. Easy come, easy go.”
“Meaning . . .”
“Meaning, one day she just showed up at my door, ready to bunk up. I’d met her once or twice, but we barely knew each other, and she showed up here like she was expectin’ a surprise party or somethin’.”
“Where’d she go?”
“Search me. I wasn’t going to follow her. She was a looker, but from the start I knew she wasn’t going to stick around. She had those kind of eyes that were always searching for the next chump to latch on to.”
“You knew she was married.”
“Sure, I knew it. Said her old man wasn’t doing it for her anymore, since he didn’t hit the trapeze. Things were pretty ugly at home. She said he was always ready to hit her.”
“Don’t know. She had such a mouth on her, there were times I thought of hitting her myself. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not my style. But she was one mouthy, demanding broad. Helluva temper, too.”
“Do you know her husband?”
“Not really. Just the name.”
“And you got no idea of where she went?”
“No. I’m telling you, that’s all I know. Now, I’d like to get in one more flight before lunch. You gonna net-sit for me? Head that way.”
Bork strapped on his reinforced aviator’s cap and climbed up the ladder near the opening of the cannon. With a well practiced move, he grabbed the metal handle on top of the barrel, lifted himself up and slid himself in feet first, slick as a wiener in a bun. Satisfied that everything was OK, he gave me a thumbs up and disappeared inside. I started to walk down the lot to where his safety net was strung, stepping carefully among all the puddles and debris, which were such a contrast to the sleek sheen of Bork himself and all his gear. Maybe he galvanized himself every night before he went to bed.
Behind me I heard a crack, then a massive thump that made the ground shake. Turning around, I saw something was screwy. From where I was, it looked like Bork’s truck and cannon had fallen backward, off its blocks. The barrel was no longer aimed straight above me, but instead was pointing up and off to the east. The instant I thought of running back to do something—anything—to help Bork, the cannon fired. Whistling in an eerie way, the Human Howitzer flew by so quickly the expression on his face was a blur. All I could see was the flash of the sun off his goggles before he passed from sight, headed for an unpleasant rendezvous with something solid a couple of streets over.