That evening. I watched with anticipation as Schlabach built us a small cook fire. Mom cooked our supper over that fire, and as we ate, my eyes never left the fire. I watched it burn to ashes and wished it would hurry up and die out. I could see that Siegie watched it too. Mom seemed distracted, but I knew she would get over it once the raid started.
Finally, we finished supper. As Mom cleaned the dishes, the Colonel scooped some black ash into his hand. He went to the rear-view mirror on the fire truck and covered his face and hands with ash. Over his shoulder he told Mom, "You need to put on some dark clothing and tie your hair back."
Mom changed into darker clothing while Schlabach finished covering his face. When she was ready to put on the black ash, he said, "Be sure to put it on your cheekbones. the bridge of your nose and across your forehead. Put it especially heavy where you tend to sweat most."
She put on the ash as instructed and covered her hands. He inspected her for a few seconds. He said, "Wait here."
He went to the fire truck and returned with a short-billed cap. He said, "Put this on over your hair and put as much of your hair under it as possible. Your hair is too light."
Again. she did as she was instructed. She asked with a nervous tremor in her voice, "Well. how do I look?" He sucked on his lower lip and leaned his head to one side. He nodded twice and asked, "Can you carry one of these gas cans when its full?" He pointed to two five-gallon gas cans on the back of the fire truck, "It'll weight about forty pounds."
"I've carried two milk pails before."
"I think these may be heavier than that."
"Well, I'll just have to manage."
"All right. But remember, we're going to have to move quickly once we get the gasoline, and it's going to take us several trips."
She nodded, "I'm ready. Let's go before I change my mind."
He looked at us and said, "Boys, stay in the car, and don't let Luther out. If we get shot at, I want you be in the car and out of sight."
When he said, "shot at", my stomach quivered.
He squatted by the fire and drew the layout of the streets of Anklam as he had seen them during the day. He showed Mom where the trucks with the gasoline were parked. He told her how he planned to get to the trucks and away from them. He asked, "Do you have any questions?"
She shook her head.
He went to the fire truck. He came back with a five-foot piece of small diameter hose. He blew through one end of it to clear it and said, "Our siphon hose."
She nodded and asked, "Where're the cans we're supposed to fill?"
He said, "Two are on the fire truck. The other is on the first truck we're going to hit."
"You mean we're going to steal it. too?"
"No," he said, "we're just going to borrow it." He grinned, and the moonlight reflecting off his teeth made a stark white crescent in his blackened face. He sobered a moment and said, "Listen to me. If I should get shot and be unable to move, leave me behind and take the fire truck. After you get out of town, take one of the batteries out of the fire truck and put it in your car. Put all the gas cans on your car and try to get to safety."
My stomach turned over when he said that. For the first time, I had doubts about my mother going off on a commando raid. I looked at Mom. I was afraid to say anything.
She said, "Stop! I don't want to hear this. You just make sure that neither of us gets shot."
He shrugged, "It needed to be said."
"I don't care. Let's get this over with." She turned and looked at us. "Boys, get in the back seat of the car and stay there!"
Siegie and I took Luther with us. We got into the car. We put him in the front seat. Siegie opened his window, and we both looked out of it as Colonel Schlabach and Mom left the factory parking lot and disappeared into darkness.
I was on the verge of crying out, "Mom, come back," but I didn't. I looked at Siegie out of the comer of my eye. He didn't look like he was going to cry. His elbow was resting on the window frame, and his head was casually leaned against his hand.
I was afraid to speak because of the tightness in my throat. I waited a few seconds and cleared my throat. I asked, "Siegie, do you think they'll make it all right?"
His face was in the shadows, and when he turned to look at me, I couldn't see his face. He shrugged and said, "Sure, why not?" He paused then asked, "Don't you think they'll make it?"
"Yeah," I said with more bravado than I felt. I snapped my fingers, "It'll be easy."
We were silent after that. I was glad because the tightness in my throat got worse. We watched for a long time, so long in fact. that Luther fell asleep in the front seat. I listened for gun shots while not really wanting to hear them.
Not many clouds were in the nighttime sky, but occasionally one passed before the moon, and the night became very dark. The darkness seemed to magnify sounds. Somewhere, not far away, I heard someone singing. I heard a loud report and thought at first that it was a shot, but when no repetition of it occurred, I reasoned that it must have been a door slamming somewhere. I hoped fervently it was a door slamming. In the distance, toward the Oder, I heard the rumble of big cannons. At this distance, the rumble was soft like distant thunder, but it was still frightening.
Another cloud passed before the moon. I heard a scuffling of feet and labored breathing. Siegie heard it too. We leaned out of the car looking back in the direction Mom had left. We couldn't see anything. Suddenly, they were at the car, Mom and Schlabach. Mom sat her can down with a thud.
Puffing, she said, "I can't believe I carried that thing this far."
He had carried two, and he was breathing heavily. "You did a good job," he said, "but we're a long way from being finished. I'm going to pour these two cans into the tank on the fire truck. You go ahead and pour yours into the car tank." He moved off quietly into the dark. I could hear him removing the gas tank lid from the fire truck.
I heard Mom removing ours. I heard the gas as it gurgled into our tank. The odor of gasoline drifted to me at my perch in the window. I whispered, "How'd it go, Mom?"
"Not very well, Manny. Soldiers were everywhere. I thought we had been caught several times."
"Are you going back for more?"
"We've got to."
"Mom," I began. My voice wavered.
"Not now, Manny. I've got to get this over with."
I leaned out t the window farther to see what she was doing.
I scratched my head to think of something to say to make her talk to me. I swallowed hard. Colonel Schlabach came back with his cans. Mom left with him before I could think of anything to say. I heard Siegie sigh, "Bye, Mom."
We looked out of the window for a long time after they left. We listened for shouts, or shots, or the noise of their return. After a while, we grew tired of looking out of the window and sat down on the seat to wait. I watched the moon as it moved ever so slowly past the door frame of the car.
Suddenly, I felt the familiar smooth surge of acceleration as the fire truck took up the slack in the tow rope and pulled us with it. I sat up in the seat. I realized that I had fallen asleep. I looked out the window at the moon. It had moved across half of the sky and was far from where I had seen it last.
Mom said, "Lie down, Manny, and go back to sleep. We're on the way out of Anklam. We're headed for Gustrow."
I mumbled, "What about the gas?"
"I'll tell you about it in the morning. Now lie down and go back to sleep."
I lay down as she instructed and closed my eyes. It didn't seem like too much longer when the lurching of the car woke me. Light filled the sky. The fire truck turned off the road, and Mom steered after it.
She fixed breakfast for Siegie and me, supper for her and Schlabach. She gave Siegie and me a brief description of the gasoline raid. She hadn't completely removed all ...