The serialized 1940s adventures of our favorite fictional Forest Hills neighbors paused for a bit while author Anthony Dobranski recovered from a health setback. But now he’s back, and so are Enos and Dorothy! You can catch up on or refresh your memory about chapters 1 through 10 here, download the handy e-book – or dive right in.
by Anthony Dobranski
Contrary to what Major Farmer had first told him, Enos stayed working in the Dr. Richard Cook’s sound division for a second week. With his knowledge of electronics and amateur radio, Enos moved to a new project, involving bomb fuzes. These were sophisticated mechanical devices, nothing like the burning fuse on a firecracker.
The team had already been working for a while when Enos joined it, and Dr. Cook wasn’t giving any new lectures to explain the job. Enos learned what they were trying to build in bits and snatches, in and near conversations with two technicians directing Enos on how to set up experimental microphones. A high-flying bomber might drop bombs on lower-flying aircraft, but only direct hits could do damage. You could use a timer, but that was unpredictable. A fuze triggered by a microphone would use the sound of the plane’s engines, causing the bomb to explode close to a plane instead of relying on a direct hit.
"The force of the nearby explosion could cause as much or more damage," said the younger technician, no older than Enos, with slicked gray-black hair. "The same idea works for bombs over buildings, too."
"Don’t you want the bombs to hit buildings?" Enos asked.
"Sure. But if they just hit the ground," the technician said, "half the explosion goes into the ground. Think of it like fireworks. In the air, explosions go on all sides. Like this." He cupped his hands in a ball, then pulled them apart with spread fingers. "If a bomb hits Town Square, it blows up Town Square and the first floor fronts of buildings. Thirty feet above Town Square, it’s twice as strong, so it knocks down the buildings. If it works. It’s been difficult. The British started the work two years ago. We’re working with them, and we’ve got several fuze projects going. Not just acoustic, but triggered by radio waves and even by light."
Enos wanted to know how a fuze could see light, but the technician was on to something else, and Enos had plenty else to do.
For Enos, building the experiments and prototypes was the end of the job, but the technicians and scientists viewed it as the start. Over time he began to feel like a poor toymaker in some fairy tale, making toys for all the children. Here the children were balding, in lab-coats or gray suits old enough to still have pant-cuffs, but they still delighted in their secret world like all children, even as they tried to bring it into our own.
On Friday he got a phone call at the lab.
"Fella, where they keeping ya?" Ray Michaels said. "I had to call three times just to get the right switchboard."
Enos hid his smile. "Good to hear from you, Corporal," he said with seriousness. "How can I help you?"
"Ha! Brass got your tongue? Keep it simple then. Ice Palace, eight o’clock? And stay out with us tonight. It’s gonna be too cloudy to stargaze."
"I can certainly try, sir."
When Enos left work, it was still light, the bits of sky between the clouds a cool white-blue. Fall had come in strongly this week, the air much drier. Campus trees were shedding leaves now, and the soft shushing rolled northward with him as he walked over to the Hot Shoppes. Enos only knew thick trees from the Colorado forests where his family camped on vacations. Leaves in a fine campus in a big city delighted him. He was regaining his good mood.
The wind picked up as he went inside the Hot Shoppes. The warm diner smelled of people, coffee, fry grease and cigarette smoke. He took a stool at the counter, but didn’t recognize the waitress. He ordered a full dinner, chicken soup, mashed potatoes and a swordfish steak in mushroom sauce. Enos found Eastern food a little bland, but saltwater fish wasn’t so common in New Mexico. It was his indulgence of the week, compared to his usual meat and lettuce sandwiches.
He had brought an Evening Star with him, left behind on a chair in the hallway near his lab. The battle for Stalingrad had turned as vicious as anything in the Pacific, with fighting block by block in the streets, among the rubble of buildings from incessant bombing. The Nazis kept trying to drive tanks into the city but so far the Soviet resistance and counterattack had repelled them. A Russian attack from the northwest was keeping the Nazis from advancing, and things would only get worse for the Nazis as cold Russian winter came.
In a year or less, that might be the kind of battle Enos would see, in close quarters in bombed cities. The mission to Germany he would finally get would be nothing like the religious mission for which he had learned German. Maybe the bombs that made the rubble Enos would fight in, would be the very bombs he was helping to invent.
Enos appreciated the importance of the work he did, even if his real ambition was to fight in Europe. This more direct connection troubled him. It showed Enos that Major Farmer was right to be concerned, no matter how trivial something might seem.
A month before, Enos had been walking through the streets of Forest Hills, on his way to a night’s stargazing in Rock Creek Park. Stopping to listen to a good violinist, he’d spied a masked man peering through a window. He’d given chase, and fought hard with the man, though the man escaped him. The home had been hosting a party for some Bureau scientists and their families, including his newest friend, Dorothy Sharpe, who had helped patch him up.
Just after the fight, Enos met Major Frank Farmer, investigating the report of the masked man. He told Enos that the Army was concerned about a spy trying to discover secret war work. The spy had already murdered one man over the summer, a Bureau scientist named Harding, at a Glen Echo dance. Major Farmer had asked Enos to keep an eye out since then. Enos had found one odd coincidence. Just before his death, Harding had flirted with Dorothy’s married sister, Shirley Ashe. That hardly seemed significant but he reported it to be thorough.
Enos had taken Dorothy to a dance at Glen Echo, hot and cramped in the summer ballroom but still a wonderful night, the most fun he’d had in months. Smoky bars were not for Enos. He hoped they would organize some winter dances in the city. He imagined Harding at Glen Echo, being strangled, and somehow thought of the tall, dark fellow that Dorothy had spoken to in Glen Echo. But that was just his own bad feeling. He liked Dorothy a lot, but their different religions made marriage impossible. For his own part, Enos was still very hurt about his canceled engagement, and in a wry way, he regretted waiting around in social Washington rather than heading to war.
"Enos? May I join you?" It was Dorothy, her thick dark hair under a pert mauve hat. He stood to shake her hand. She took the counter stool next to him. "I’m only staying a minute," she said, "but I’m falling asleep. Figured a cup of coffee wouldn’t hurt so I don’t trip on the way home." She took off her jacket and gloves. She wore a frilly white blouse and looked primped and pretty, not dressed for the kind of manual war-support work she had told him about.
"Did you not go to work today?"
"Oh I did!" she said. "That’s right, you don’t know. I’m working here at the Bureau now. As of Monday." She leaned over and whispered. "I think Eleanor had a hand in it." She frowned. "They’ve got me trying to build – well, things. And, can you keep a secret? Honestly, I’m not at all happy about it."
"I’m not sure you’d understand," she said, putting a drop of cream in her coffee. "I’m not sure I understand. I suppose, in my old job, I was doing things I’ll never do again. Here, this feels like much more how my life was supposed to be. I can even walk to work, for goodness’ sake. I suppose I should be grateful that I can do something no one else can do, but I feel –
"Like you’re getting off easy?"
She pursed her lips as if her cigarette had turned sour. "I wouldn’t say that. More that it was nice to have the chance to see what else I could do. Does that make sense?"
"Sure. I understand how you feel. A lot of it. Honest. Hey – do you have plans tonight? Some pals of mine are meeting at the Ice Palace. Have you been there yet?"
"Once with the family. You’re meeting soldiers there?"
"It’s a madhouse downtown Friday nights. Up here it’s more friendly, but still lots of young people. Sometimes we go out after." That usually depended on whether the guys had met anyone or not, but he decided not to mention that.
"Enos, this is totally unexpected. I’d love to come. What time?"
"Oh gosh! What’s the time?" She stood. "Five-forty? Just enough time to freshen up!" She left two nickels on the counter and bolted out the door.
© 2015 Anthony Dobranski