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Hold The Anchovies

Harris Tobias
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Gordon Rowlinson
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Jeromy Henry

The War Radio


James Shirk

Tyler Latimore twisted the dial, trying to relocate the frequency at the lower end; it had changed several times since he first replaced the decrepit tubes in the old Saba radio, but it had always come back.  It better.  Tonight he was unveiling his find to Carter, his cell leader.

The pawnbroker he bought it from told him it was an antique German set, but it was so much more: somehow it was still tuned into the past -- he had heard it.  Third Reich nationalist military music, Hitler’s speeches, Goebel’s addresses were all there, in one-hundred percent German.  The oddest thing was he could understand it, and he’d never taken a German language course in his life.

The radio was “special”.

“Are you sure?” Carter asked for the second time.

“Of course I’m sure, sir,” Tyler replied as the man’s skeptical eyes peered at him from across the room.  “You don’t think I’d make up something like this do you?  Wait a sec, it’ll come on.”

He resumed adjusting the dial; his face mere inches away from the illuminated faceplate (as if getting his shaved head closer might help).  Why the hell was he having so much trouble?

At 89.1 on the dial, the radio hissed, and he stopped turning.  He cocked his head.  Nothing there but a faint voice, and it spoke in English, talking about the recent dust-up with the North Koreans and their threat to send missiles against the U.S. west coast -- that’s not what he was looking for.  When he first got the radio, the signal came in above 110 on the dial.  Not any longer; it kept moving lower.  If this continued, it would soon be beyond the lowest frequency on the set.

Was it already?

God, he hoped not.  Since joining the Seattle cell of the national skinhead group known as “Die Wahrheit” (the Truth), he’d done little to distinguish himself.  But now he had the radio, and it was quite possibly his last chance to make a name for himself -- if he could only get it to work again.

“Well?” Carter snorted.  The man wasn’t known for his patience.

Tyler had one thing going for him:  The leader was into the occult; especially as it related to anything promoting the Aryan messages of the Third Reich (it was another way he emulated Hitler).  However, he had little tolerance for supplicants using his other-worldly proclivities to get on his good side.  More than one novice had suffered a brutal beating by his personal SS for lesser reasons, and there were two of them stationed just outside the den doors.  “Sorry, that’s not the right frequency either.  Please, just give me another minute.”

The cell leader looked at the clock hanging on the wall beside the unfurled swastika flag.  “One minute.  That’s it.”

Tyler’s hands shook, but he forced himself to turn the knob slowly; he didn’t want to zip by the frequency now.  It wouldn’t be smart...or healthy.

At 87.4, he thought he heard something, but then it faded.  On he went.  87.2, 87.0, 86.8.... Varying degrees of hiss, but no reception.  Nothing.

And then he came to the end of the dial.

“Times up.” Carter said rising from the chair.  He wasn’t a tall person, but he was wide.  His combed, dyed-black hair stuck to his forehead -- just like the Fuehrer -- and beneath an equally wide nose sprouted a small moustache, completing the emulation.  He shouted over his shoulder.  “Get in here.”

Two burly men -- both dressed in camouflaged pants, combat boots, and sleeveless t-shirts -- hustled through the door.  The taller one, the one with the double lightning bolt tattoo on his left shoulder, eyed him as he came in.  The man had a bad attitude.  They took up positions behind their leader and stared straight ahead.

“Latimore, I’ve given you plenty of leeway, because I’d hoped you wouldn’t disappoint me, but--.”  He sighed like he was sorry.  Tyler doubted his sincerity.  The leader had some S&M issues.

“Your little demonstration here proves that whatever you heard before was nothing but a re-broadcast of some kind, an old radio show perhaps.” Carter spun a finger up in the air for emphasis.  “Your belief that it was something else speaks of weakness, your inability to separate truth from fiction.  I’m sure you understand my disappointment.  After all, the essence of Die Wahrheit is built on absolute truth between members.  No excuses.  If you can’t do that, I have no use for you.”  He winked one of his big, fleshy eyelids.  “Do I?”

Tyler slowly shook his head.  What had he done?  There was no way out of this now except to man-up and take a beating -- someone worthy of being in the cell.  “I’m sorry it’s not working tonight,” he said, “but what I heard before was real.” “The voices were from the heroes of our beloved fatherland, and they were being delivered from the past.  I tell you, it was a sign that our mission is pure and that our goals are just.”  He hung his head.  “I won’t take back what I heard, but I’ll accept whatever punishment you feel necessary.”

“Of course you will,” Carter said, raising his right hand and motioning toward him with a flip of his finger.  “Of course you will.”

The two men edged around the leader.  The shorter one stepped behind Tyler and pinned his unresisting arms behind him while the tall one planted himself in front.  Tyler winced as the one in front reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a set of home-made brass knuckles; light from a dangling overhead bulb reflected off its sharp ridges.  This was going to hurt, hurt bad.

It seemed like forever, but the beating took less than five minutes.  When it was over, he was on his knees, pushing at a broken molar with his bloody tongue and looking up through his one unclosed eye.  Carter had retaken his seat and was looking at him with a thin grin.  “You lied, but at least you have some courage, I’ll give you that.”

Tyler spit blood.  “It was all true, whether you believe it or not.”

Music suddenly burst from the radio.  The men, startled by the sudden eruption of sound, flinched.  They all looked to the corner where the radio sat on a table; its dial shining brightly in the darkened basement.

A woman’s voice broke in.  “We interrupt the broadcast of this Johannes Brahms symphony to alert our Berlin citizens that a fresh wave of Allied planes approaches from north of the city.  Please take shelter or necessary precautions at once.  Repeating....”  She said the same thing again three times, before the music resumed.

“What the hell,” Carter said rising from the chair.

“That’s it!” Tyler yelled scrambling to his own feet.  “That’s the station I told you about.  I told you it was real!”

The cell leader snapped his head around.  “Nonsense, that’s not real.  It’s an old radio show or something.  Like that H.G. Wells ‘War of the Worlds’ broadcast.  It’s not real.”

A distant thump lightly shook the floor.  “Oh, yeah, what’s that?” Tyler said.  He couldn’t believe the glee in his own voice.  He’d been vindicated, and in the best possible way.

Carter’s eyes searched the room, as though he expected an answer to issue from the dark.  “It’s nothing.  It’s a tremor, a seismic tremor is all.  Coincidence, nothing else.”

Another thump, this time closer.  Accumulated dust from the open ceiling beams, drifted down from overhead.

“Sir?” one of the big men said.

A third thump.  Almost on top of them now.  The lights flickered, and the sound on the radio jacked to new levels.  “Nehmenabdeckung! Nehmenabdeckung! (Take Cover),” the voice yelled.

Tyler was screaming now, jumping up and down and pounding his chest -- his expression not a product of gut-wrenching fear but of sheer jubilation.  They didn’t believe him when he showed them the radio; didn’t believe him even after he didn’t give in from the beating, and they still didn’t believe him even now with the bombs dropping.

He ran to the window.  Seattle was awash in flames.  American B-17 bombers flooded the night sky, highlighted in the beams from search lamps crisscrossing the heavens.  He was right!  They should have believed him. 

The next incendiary bomb tore through the small house, its delayed detonator fuse allowing it to penetrate to the depths of the basement before it exploded.  When it was over, there was nothing left but an old radio resting in a thirty foot crater at the end of the block where Tyler Latimore used to live.

Although U.S. Radar stations never picked up signals from any incoming missiles, the damage to Seattle was obviously the product of a foreign assault.  Predictably, the U.S. military retaliated with tactical nuclear weapons against North Korea a half-hour later.

Read more stories by this author

2011-08-27 21:56:26
good. liked the twist. no suprise ending.

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