Gunther stopped the fire truck. He climbed down from the driver's seat. He glanced back at us, seated his hat firmly on his head, and picked up his leather case. He walked over to the officer who was flanked by two soldiers with rifles at the ready. He and the officer exchanged salutes.
The officer questioned him and pointed at the fire truck. Gunther took out a map and pointed at it. He asked the officer questions.
I looked at Siegie and asked, "You think he's going to take off his hat?"
"Maybe so. What do you think Mom?"
Mom had her handkerchief in her hand. She sat with it pressed against her forehead. She said, "I hope not, Siegie."
The soldiers still had their guns at the ready. I looked at Mom and Siegie. I raised one eyebrow and said, "I think we should be ready for a gun battle."
Mom's voice was stern, "Manny! Don't make the situation worse than it already is."
"Just the same," I said, "I'm going to hide underneath the blankets."
As I turned away from looking at Gunther and the soldiers, I heard men's voices raised. I dove for the blankets.
Siegie said, "Hey, wait a minute! They're laughing."
I raised up.
He said, "Yeah, and Colonel Schlabach is laughing too." I climbed back up into the window with Siegie. I corrected him, "Gunther is laughing."
"Nah, Colonel Schlabach is laughing."
"Huh uh It.'s Gunther."
Mom exclaimed, "Boys, please! "What are they doing now, Siegie?"
As Siegie described the scene, Gunther had his hand in the air and moved it down as if it were an attacking plane. He pointed at the fire truck and the car. He and the soldiers laughed. He looked at us and winked.
The Army officer described a strafing incident. Soon Gunther and the soldiers were laughing again. They talked for about a half an hour and took their maps out again. The soldiers appeared to be giving Gunther directions. He appeared to be sharing information with them. The officer pointed down the road in the direction we were headed. He pointed to a spot on Gunther's map. Gunther marked it, and he and the soldiers shook hands. The officer and he exchanged salutes. Gunther turned away from the soldiers and started toward the car. The officer reached over in the back of the jeep and pulled out a machine gun. He pointed it at Gunther. He shouted at Gunther.
Siegie squeaked, "Yipe!"
Mom moaned behind her handkerchief, "Oh, God! Look out, Gunther!" She kind of wailed his name with her voice rising on each syllable.
I couldn't take my eyes away from the scene. Gunther stopped and looked over his shoulder. The officer shouted something at him. Suddenly, Gunther smiled and nodded his head. He walked back to the officer who turned the butt of the machine gun toward Gunther and handed it to him. Gunther took the machine gun. He saluted the officer again. The soldiers climbed back into their jeep. They pulled away leaving Gunther waving at them.
He walked casually back to the car, put his booted foot on the running board and rested the butt of the machine gun on his thigh. All us, Mom, Siegie, and I asked questions.
Mom said, "I thought they were going to shoot you. Why did they pull us over?"
Siegie asked, "What were you talking about?"
I asked, "What took you so long, and what's the machine gun for?"
Gunther laughed and held up a hand. He said, "One question at a time."
Mom asked, "Why did they pull you over?"
He said, "First, they questioned me about why I was not in Gustrow. They wanted to know how I got out here without a pass."
"What did you tell them?"
"I told them I had to deliver the fire truck to Castle
Willigrad, that I had a mandate and orders from a higher authority that made it imperative that I do whatever is necessary to get the fire truck and my family to Castle Willigrad."
"What did they say?"
"The officer asked me if the higher authority I mentioned wasn't simply a desire to save my own skin and not help Germany defeat her enemies."
"What did you say?"
"I took a chance. I had overheard the same officer in the jeep, when he was in town, say something about lost causes. I suspected that he and his men were a part of the convoy we passed a little while ago and that they had left the convoy and were on the run."
Siegie asked, "Well, what did you tell them?"
"I told them, 'Hell yes,' I was trying to save my skin and my family's. Then they started laughing. They told me that they were on the run, too."
I asked, "Why did they give you the machine gun?"
Gunther had been grinning. He sobered and said, "They told me that the area around Gustrow is surrounded by a number of Army units from different places. All those units are waiting for orders from the Gustrow Army Commandant to group together and form a line of resistance from Gustrow south to hold the Russians."
Mom asked, "Are any soldiers down the road from us?"
Gunther nodded his head. He said, "That's why they gave me the machine gun. A panzer unit is a few miles ahead of us. The soldiers suggested we get under cover and wait until that unit moves out. The panzer commander has orders to stop anyone trying to go past his check points."
Mom asked, "What's the machine gun for?"
"Extra protection…in case we get into a gun battle." He stopped and looked at Mom. He asked, "Are you alright? You look a little pale."
Hesitantly, she said, "I'll be alright. I was afraid we were about to have a gun battle a few minutes ago. Now you have a machine gun in case we do have a gun battle. It seems like a gun battle is inevitable."
Cautiously, he said, "It may be. It hasn't been so far, but
we have to be realistic about it."
"I... I suppose so."
"Don't worry. I'll keep this up front with me." He set the machine gun down and leaned it against the car. He said, "The officer told me about a farm not far down the road where we might be able to hide for a while. We really need to see it before sundown."
Mom nodded in silent agreement.
He asked, "Are you going to be okay?"
She nodded again. She said, "Guns terrify me."
"Well, don't worry about it for now. We need to go about five miles down the road to an intersection and turn west. About three miles down that road is a dirt road that will take us to the farm ... is everyone ready?"
Gunther said, "Okay. Everybody hold on tight."
He picked up the machine gun and strode back to the
front of the fire truck. I saw the fire truck sway to one side as he climbed in. Smoke belched out of the exhaust as the fire truck roared to life. Then came the smooth surge of acceleration as we pulled onto the road again. I was a little disappointed that we didn't have a gun battle, but I was glad that Gunther wasn't hurt, and most of all, I was glad we were moving away from the Russians.
We were still under the canopy of trees as we rolled down the road. The light was dim under the trees. I looked over at Siegie. who had his head leaned into the window and the wind blowing in this hair.
I said, "Pssst. Siegie, did you see that machine gun?"
He pulled his head out of the wind, and he opened his eyes wide. He said, “Oh, yeah! And did you see the size of that ammunition clip stuck into it?"
"Yeah, it was monstrous." My eyes were big.
"Just imagine shooting that thing."
"Yeah, I bet it'd cut down a tree."
"Oh yeah! At least a tree."
He made a motion as if he were shooting the machine gun. "Boy, I'd really like to get my hands on that gun."
Both our eyes got bigger, and we looked at each other and nodded our heads,
It wasn't long before we arrived at the turn off. We turned and bumped down a dirt road. The trees were thick above us on this road too. Gunther saw the barn and he stopped the truck in the middle of the road. He and Mom went to look at the barn.
The barn sat at the edge of some pine trees. Part of it stuck out into a meadow which had green grass and a plowed field. The barn wasn't large, maybe thirty feet long probably fi...