We spent the rest of the day under cover at the quarry, waiting for the sun to go down. A squadron of Russian fighter planes flew over us, and several times we saw lone fighter planes looking for something to strafe. Somewhere several miles behind us, back toward the Oder, we heard the Russian assault cannons barraging our defense lines.
We all dozed, and I awoke to the sound of Gunther snapping his fingers. He snapped his fingers and clenched his fists. Then he ground his knuckles into his palm. Finally, he walked back and forth between the fire truck and the car and said, "We've got to get out of here. Is everybody ready? Is everybody ready?"
We loaded our blankets and cookware into the car. The fire truck engine roared to life. I heard the gears grind as Gunter shifted into first gear. The fire truck surged forward. The car lurched forward with a sound that went, "Sprunge."
Gunther stopped the truck and came back to the front of our car. He bent down out of my sight. When he straightened up, he cursed. He came back to Mom's window. We need to be very careful as we drive. I don't have the tools to mend it."
Mom asked, "Is it going to break?"
"Probably, but I don't know how long it will hold. We'll have to see if we can find something to fix it in the next town."
Mom put her hand to her forehead and asked quietly, "What if it breaks on the road?"
He made a wry face and said, "I'll just have to leave you with the car while I try and find something to fix it."
"Oh, no." She said quietly.
I asked, "Are we going to get left behind, Mom?"
"I don't know, Manny."
My voice started to rise as I asked, "Mom, what if the Russians .... "
"Son, you ask too many questions. Just sit back and watch Luther."
I didn't say anything more.
This time when the fire truck pulled out, it moved slowly.
Shortly after we returned to the road, the sun had set. I opened my window and rested my elbows on the window frame. I peered into the darkness watching the darker forms of trees flit by in the night like things almost remembered.
We drove for several hours before we stopped at a crossroads. Mom wanted to read the notices that travelers had posted there. She saw a couple of notes from people who had lived in Altdamn but nothing about Grandpa and Grandma.
We had a meal at the crossroads. We didn't have a fire. We just had bread dipped in grease, some hard-boiled eggs that Mom produced from somewhere and some water. Gunther had pulled off the road some distance past the crossroads. As we sat eating, we saw other people stop at the crossroads to read the notices. They were barely more than shadows. We could hear them better than we could see them. I don't think they knew we were nearby, but it was odd to me to sit and watch them. It was like looking at a motion picture of us stopping at the crossroads. They whispered the same things and asked the same questions.
"Do you see any names you recognize?"
"No. Yes, watt a minute. No, the name is spelled differently."
"Here's a pencil. Put a note to Wilhelm that says Grandpa Schmidt turned north here on the way to the Baltic Sea. He'll know where we're going."
Their flashlight wiggled a few times, and then they were gone, their wagon wheels grinding over the cobblestones. I heard Mom take a deep breath and hold it. She let it out slowly. She said, "Hurry up. Let's get out of here."
Gunther eased the fire truck gently back on the road ahead of us. The car twitched and lagged a little farther behind. I lay back and watched the stars through the window. I went to sleep without realizing it only to be awakened by the slowing of the car. I thought we had come to another crossroads, but when I looked out the window, I couldn't see a crossroad ahead. Instead, I saw some Army vehicles beside the road.
Siegie awoke also. He said, "Manny, I see a jeep over here on my side of the road. What's on your side?"
"I can see an Army truck and a small trailer hooked on behind it."
Gunther stopped the fire truck. He came back to Mom's window, and he said, "I thought we had come to an Army checkpoint, and I slowed down, but this is not a check point. These vehicles are abandoned. Let's take a few minutes to see if anything was left with them that we might use."
That was all the invitation that Siegie and I needed. We scooted out of Siegie's door and headed for the truck. Gunther went over to look at the jeep.
When we got to the truck, Siegie went into the cab. I went into the rear. I found a helmet and a blanket. I went back outside. Siegie climbed upon the trailer at the rear.
I asked, "Did you find anything?"
"Nope. Nothing. How about in the trailer there?”
“Nope. It's clean.
“What is it that you have?"
"Just a helmet and a blanket." As I climbed down, I stepped onto the cable that connected the truck to the trailer.
It had a heavy metal spring in the middle, and it swayed when I jumped on it. I said, "Siegie, come and look at this spring." He came, and we jumped on it together.
Gunther called quietly, "Come on, boys. Let's get going."
We left: the cable and went back to the car. Gunther
asked, "What did you find?"
I said, "Siegie didn't find anything, but I found a helmet and a blanket."
Gunther said, "Get rid of the helmet. Someone might want to know where you got it. Let's keep the blanket. We might be able to use it."
I objected about the helmet, but he said, "Toss it."
He asked, "What were you boys laughing about behind the truck?"
I said, "We were jumping on a cable that has a spring in the middle. It went up and down."
He straightened up and asked, "A cable? With a spring in the middle?"
"Yeah," Siegie said, "it was neat."
He said, "Show me."
We took him to the rear of the abandoned truck and showed the cable to him. He said, "Well, I'll be damned. This is wonderful. You boys have made a fantastic find."
Siegie asked, "What?"
"Oh yes. This is exactly what we need to replace the damaged tow rope between the fire truck and the car. See! It has a loop on each end made of metal and a spring in the middle to handle tension. It's perfect. Manny, go get my tools. We need this cable."
It took him half an hour, working in the dark, to remove the cable from the truck and trailer. He attached it to the fire truck and the car. When he was through he said, "I don't think we're going to have any more problems with the tow rope breaking."
When he started the fire truck and pulled back out on the road, the smooth surge of acceleration confirmed his statement. We rolled on through the rest of the night without fear.
Just around sunrise, I dreamed I was back in Berlin with the air raid sirens blowing. I jerked awake out of the dream, but the sound of the sirens stayed with me. I sat up to complain to Mom. She rolled down her window. As she did, the sound of the sirens became louder.
I asked, "Mom, where are those sirens coming from?"
"We're just pulling into Gustrow, Manny. It looks like Gustrow is having an air raid."
The fire truck stopped. Gunther came back to the car. He said, "I want to park the truck and the car off the street in case emergency vehicles come down...