The Unlikely Hero
The Unlikely Hero
Andrew Wursted was a coward. A poltroon. A sniveling, groveling, spineless jellyfish, Nixie Wagner said. He couldn’t escape it. He had tried. All his acquaintances thought he was. Or so it seemed. And sometimes he suspected they were right.
Andrew lived with his mother in a small turn-of-the-century two bedroom apartment, the upper floor of a Victorian home, on Hempstead. A little over six feet tall, broad shouldered and narrow waisted, physically, Andrew cut an imposing figure.
“You are an extrovert, my son.” Sarah Wursted had said, smiling. “But a timid one.”
“What do you mean, Mother?”
“You like people. I know that. You will find that out, too. Right now, they scare you. They won’t always.” Sarah had laughed, hugged her only son.
“Remember when you had the mumps? The doctor said that is what caused your partial deafness.”
“I know, Mother. But I don’t see . . .,”
Sarah sighed. “People make fun of you because you are hard of hearing, Andy. You must adjust to that. Learn to laugh at yourself. Then they will laugh with you, not at you. You must not be fearful. They can do nothing to hurt you, my son.”
Maybe Nixie Wagner was right. Maybe he was a coward. He certainly struggled with fears. Haunted by the memories of his father walking out when Andrew was a child, he frequently questioned his mother about courage, duty, honor, things a father would have addressed—had one been present. Sarah Wursted had always been quick to reassure her son, “You are every bit as courageous as your father. It is early yet. You will see. You will do your duty as you see it when the time comes.”
“Daddy, no,” Andrew had whimpered, “Don’t go.” He had trembled with fear. Wursted had looked at his son, wondered what he could say to one so young. How to explain? Maybe there was no adequate explanation. Was this the last time he would see his only child? Wursted reached out, placed a weary hand on his son’s shoulder. Well muscled. Stocky. Moshe took pride in his only son, his broad shoulders, his athletic build, evident already in spite of his young age.
“Obey your mother, son. You will be the man of the house while I’m gone.” Moshe had looked up at his wife, made an effort to smile. “Sarah, be strong. For the boy.”
“Did you take your yarmulke, Moshe?”
Wursted nodded. He couldn’t look Sarah in the eyes. His yarmulke lay on the bureau, no sense in arguing with his wife now. He could think of nothing more to leave Sarah, and he’d have no use for it where he was going. He’d never been religious anyway. Sarah had always been the fervent one. He had a tallis and phylacteries somewhere. He never bothered to wear them. It had been a constant source of friction between them.
“Where will you go, Moshe?”
“Like we talked, Sarah. The oil fields. McPherson, Kansas. They’ve hit another strike there.” Sarah had nodded wordlessly. She hadn’t been able to think of anything to say that would persuade Moshe to stay. She had tried anyway.
“You are not well, Moshe. I worry about you. Things are bad. I know that. We need money. I know that, too. Maybe I can find a job, somewhere.”
Not demonstrative, Moshe had smiled at Andrew, shook his son’s wet hand. Sobbing, Andrew had thrown himself into his father’s arms. Moshe had held his son for an instant, felt the searing ache in his chest, felt his breath ebb away like the tide, the hot tears well up and burn his eyes. Panting, pushing Andrew into his mother’s waiting arms, Moshe shook his head, turned around, hurried down the stairs and out the front door, holding in the sobs of depression, waiting until alone on the street to vent his anguished cries of guilt, fear and loneliness in the cool night air.
Two years had passed. They had had no word from Moshe, not even a postcard. Then there had been the note. A barely legible scrawl. Sarah had read, I am sorry to tell you, your husband Moshe Wursted is dead. He worked here cleaning the crude oil storage tanks. The strong fumes is what killed him. He passed out. Doc said it was respiratory arrest. I’m sorry to tell you. I thought you should know. We buried him in town at the Evergreen Memorial Cem. She hadn’t been able to read the signature. “Andrew, come here, Precious.” Sarah, weeping, had pulled Andrew against her chest, hugged him tight.
“What’s wrong, Mother?” Andrew saw the letter in Sarah’s lap. She had told him through her tears. They had both cried and held each other until the tears ceased.
Sarah had endeavored to keep her son occupied. Swimming was the only thing Andrew seemed interested in, and that young lady. What was her name? Ah yes, Wendy. Wendy Moscovitz. A good Jewish girl. From a good Jewish family. They were in the synagogue every Sabbath.
“Can I go swimming today, Mother?”
“Yes, Andy. Be back in time for supper.”
Afraid to jump, grab hold of the rope suspended from the tree branch, swing out over the tepid scummy water and let go, “Hey Wursted, c’mon, you weanie. You ain’t a scardy cat, are ya?” He always ignored the cat calls, worked his way down through the brush at the water’s edge and eased himself in. Andrew grew confident in the water, able to swim like a fish. Easily the strongest swimmer in the group, in the water he found himself the object of grudging admiration; on land he found himself the object of gross ridicule. Even on the playground Andrew had been the target of the school bullies who took pleasure in tormenting him for his recreant proclivities and his Jewish heritage.
Andrew saw Wendy Moscovitz at school. “Wendy, do you think, uh, would it be alright, uh, if I uh . . .?” He had rubbed his patched shoe in the grass. “Well, would you like to, um . . .?” He couldn’t get the words out but Wendy had smiled, waited patiently, until Lester Sundstrom appeared. Always immaculate, carefully dressed in the latest fashions, popular in school, president of the Glee club, although not a jock, Lester slammed Andrew regularly, especially in front of Wendy.
“Hey, Wursted. We’re going to the malt shop. We’d ask you, but you probably couldn’t fit in the booth. Besides, I’d have to loan you the money for a shake.” Caustic chortles. Wendy always had a bright smile and a pleasant greeting for Andrew; Lester always had a ready line and a proffered arm for Wendy. And she always took it.
Gathering war clouds brought a rainfall of prosperity. Still, Andrew struggled to find work. Sarah exhorted her son. “You have to ask for yourself, Andy. Everyone faces their own fears. We all are afraid to ask a stranger for a job. If they say no, if they laugh, you keep on to the next place, you square your shoulders, you go in and you tell them you can do what they need. You must force yourself, son. You can read their lips, Andy. You can ask them to repeat, to speak louder.”
Andrew strove to please his mother but somehow words failed him as he stood in front of a prospective employer. Stammering and stuttering, he felt his face grow red, his eyes welled up and he invariably spun around and ran from the office, leaving the employer staring after him shaking his or her head in puzzlement.
“Will you ask, Mother?” Dinner over, Andrew had decided to seek his mother’s direct intervention. He had picked up the dishes and followed his mother out to the kitchen. Sarah cleaned offices at night in the Hoover office building downtown.
She had stopped at the sink, put the dishes on the wooden counter and turned to stare at her son.
“Ask what, Andy?”
“You know, ask, down where you work.”
“Andrew, you know I would love to have you work there,” Sarah paused, a little exasperated, a little worried. Much better if Andrew learned to fend for himself. Besides, the Hoover building might not be the best choice for her son. There were people there that, well . . ., she wondered what to say. She had heard the rumors, the muttered comments.
She made her decision. “Yes, my son. I will ask, tomorrow. I go in to work tomorrow night. I will go in early and ask my boss.”
The building management, thrilled with Sarah Wursted’s work, had been only too happy to accommodate her. They had hired her son without even an interview. Andrew was ecstatic. He had showed up early for his first day on the job and listened intently, struggling to watch the elderly man’s lips and his hands at the same time as he showed Andrew how to work the elevator controls, what to do if the elevator mechanism broke down and how to interact with the elevator passengers.
I love this job, Andrew smiled. The smell of grease and ozone from the electric motors and switch gear on top of the elevator cage that wafted into the car through the ventilator shaft in the ceiling, the whine of the electric motors, the soft click of the switches; every thing about this job. Well, almost everything. Andrew threw the switch that stopped the elevator. Another lever moved, the door opened. Several people smiled, nodded at Andrew as they stepped across the threshold and moved to the rear of the elevator, making room for the last two. Nixie Wagner stepped in, a cigarette dangling from her heavily lipstick smeared lips. She looked around the elevator and stopped her gaze on Andrew Wursted. Her thick lips twisted in a sneer as a small man with a peculiar limping lopsided gait stepped aboard. Norbert Tacklebury also smoked a cigarette, blowing blue clouds of acrid smoke toward Andrew. The sudden mixture of smells: perfume, cigarette smoke, cologne, grease, and body odors made Andrew cough. As Wursted blinked his eyes and grimaced, a sharp staccato cackle rattled out of Tacklebury and Nixie elbowed him in the ribs.
“Well, what are you waiting for, dummy?” Wagner leered at Andrew, her features contemptuous. “We haven’t got all day. Get a move on!” The women in the elevator glared at Wagner; some of the men, those who shared an office with Tacklebury, smiled, a little embarrassed. One stony faced man, a slight bulge, almost unnoticeable, under his gray worsted jacket, laid a hand on Andrew’s shoulder. Wursted jumped, startled, looked up and the man nodded. “Go ahead, son.”
Andrew nodded and threw a switch.
“A kike lover,” Wagner elbowed Tacklebury again and nodded toward the stony faced man. He returned her glare. “I’d watch my step if I were you, Miss.” One of the other ladies leaned over to whisper in Andrew’s ear, unaware he was hard of hearing. Andrew jumped visibly.
“I’m sorry, Ma’am. Would you repeat that please?” He leaned forward from his stool to watch the lady’s lips. She repeated her floor and Andrew flipped the switch as the elevator approached her stop.
“Y’ have to yell at the kid. He’s deaf as a stone, you know.” Tacklebury roared and the lady huffed and glared at him as she pushed past.
“You are the most disgusting, reprehensible . . .,” she stopped in the corridor, pressed her lips together in an angry grimace and spun on her heel glowering at Tacklebury and Wagner. “May I suggest you, and your—” she dragged a pointed glare up and down Nixie Wagner, “—companion, consider the stairs next time.” She flashed a smile and flipped a ‘so there!’ nod at Andrew and turned to walk away as Andrew closed the elevator door and started it downward to its next stop.
Wagner, stung by the stranger’s reproach, began railing at
Wursted. “You disgust me. You are a useless weakling, an albatross around the neck of society.” Wagner continued ranting as Andrew’s face grew red. Don’t cry. Refuse to cry. He could feel the tears building up behind his eyelids and fought to keep them confined.
“I’m very sorry if I said or did . . .,” he held out a hand in apology. He feared Wagner and Tacklebury more than anything in his life; he didn’t know how to cope with their biased bitterness and racial hatred. A groan of sympathy, or disgust, from the back of the car escaped Andrew’s hearing.
“You, and people like you, are the reason for all the troubles we have nowadays.” Wagner began to espouse her favorite dogma, the pros of Hitler’s Nazi regime and the benefits of Aryan supremacy. Tacklebury gripped Wagner’s arm. “Shut up, you fool!” he hissed. The stony faced stranger stepped in front of Wursted.
“That’ll be enough, you two.” He turned to face Andrew. ”Stop the elevator, son.”
Confused, embarrassed, feeling shame, Andrew obeyed, flipped the switch and the elevator ground to a halt. He moved a lever and the elevator door silently slid to one side, the elevator and corridor floors eighteen inches apart.
“This is where you two get off.” Andrew stared at the stony faced man, aghast. Would he lose his job over this?
Tacklebury sputtered, “You can’t do this! I’m handicapped. I can’t walk down twelve flights of stairs. I have an appointment. I’ll report this to the management.”
“That’s a great idea,” Stony face said. “Save me the trouble.” He pointed to the open door and fixed a commanding stare at Wagner. “Watch your head.” He laughed as she and her cohort, sputtering and spewing venomous insults, knelt struggling to reach the corridor floor with their feet.
Sunday morning dawned with the sound of birds chirping and the smell of eggs frying in the Wursted kitchen. Sarah had the radio on, the volume turned down low. Music wafted out the speaker. Background singers sang “LSMFT, Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco.” The announcer stopped the regular Sunday morning programming to make a special announcement. Sarah took the eggs off the burner and sat down on a stool beside her radio. Andrew was still in the bathroom as his mother’s hand flew to her mouth stifling a scream of shock. He came into the kitchen, saw his mother sitting on the stool, tears coursing down her cheeks.
“Mother? Mom! What’s wrong? Are you alright?” Andrew held his mother by her shoulders, peered into her eyes. She stared off into space, hearing her son, but not seeing him.
“Oh my, no, oh my, no, it can’t be.” She muttered over and over.
“Mom! What’s wrong? Speak to me.” Andrew, alarmed, shook his mother’s shoulders until she turned her shocked gaze on her son.
“The radio.” Sarah motioned to the silenced appliance. “It was the president. He says the . . .,” Sarah wiped her forehead with a shaking hand. Andrew shook his head, pointed to his ears, fairly shouted.
“You have to speak up, Mom. I can’t hear you.”
He tipped Sarah’s chin up so he could better read her lips.
“. . . the Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor. This morning. I guess just a short time ago. He says there have been many casualties. They don’t know how many yet. Some ships have been damaged. Some sunk. He says he will ask Congress for a declaration of war.”
Andrew stood straight. He stared first at his mother, then the radio as if in disbelief. He spun, headed for the apartment door. He had to know more. He couldn’t hear the radio unless its volume was turned up full, and they couldn’t do that in this house early on a Sunday morning. While it was their first day of the week, it was the rest of the residents’ day off.
“Where are you going? Andrew! Where are you going, son? Don’t leave. Don’t leave right now.” Sarah, suddenly frightened, rose from her stool, followed Andrew down the hall.
“To buy a paper. I’ll be right back.” Sarah, her appetite gone, turned off the stove. The eggs rested in the frying pan, a bright sunny yellow in a greasy brown sky. The kippers, cold and mushy, lay on two plates. She went to the bathroom and rinsed her face in cold water. She came out and sat on the edge of the overstuffed chair crowded into the small space they called a living room. Sarah wrinkled her nose, placed a hand over her stomach. The odor of breakfast cooking in the morning, normally such a pleasant smell, settled over the room in a heavy cold greasy layer leaving her feeling queasy. An ancient foreboding gloom, inexplicable, descended over Sarah. She sat silent wondering about the future, the past, Andrew, her race. Clattering steps grew in volume. Andrew rushed into the room, a newspaper tucked under his arm. He unfolded the special edition and showed his mother the second coming headlines.
Andrew couldn’t sleep. He joined his mother and they sat up most of the night listening to radio reports and talking softly. Andrew reading his mother’s lips, rising periodically to put his arms around his mother and comfort her.
“I have to go Mother. We’re at war. You heard the president. At least let me try.” Andrew pleaded with his mother. She desperately tried to persuade her only son not to enlist in the military. Andrew had spent half the night talking with his mother, trying to persuade her to see things his way. Sarah had too many memories to swallow his youthful ideals about war. She could still remember the First World War, her father and his family’s struggles in Palestine, then Germany.
“No, Andrew. I cannot allow this. You must not. You are all I have. You cannot go. Your father . . .” She swallowed, pressed a damp cloth against her tear- stained cheeks.
“You have told me many times I would do what was right when the time came, Mother. The time has come, I think. I must serve if there is some way I can.”
“Of course I have, Andrew. And I know you will. But . . . .” Sarah’s voice dwindled away. Her fingers dug into the arms of the overstuffed chair. She knew her son was right. He had to try. He would be less than a man if he did not. She rose to her feet. She would not allow her son to see her weakness any longer. If she must cry, cry she would, but in private.
“I will always be very proud of you Andrew, no matter what course you choose, because you are my son, if for no other reason.” Sarah smiled up at her son, her chin quivered, and she left the room. She heard his footsteps as he hurried down the stairs and, sobbing, she buried her head in her arms on her pillow, hoping, praying she wouldn’t have to bury her only child.
“I’m sorry, son.” The Army recruiter shook his head at Andrew, bellowed “Next.”
Wursted met with the same response at the Marine Corps desk, and then the Navy recruiter turned him down. The lines were long and Andrew was discouraged, tired. A group of men were standing near the door of the recruiting facility talking. Andrew approached, watched as one man spoke, his voice lost in the excited din of the recruiting station, but Andrew caught the words ‘Merchant Marine’. He realized with a start what they were talking about and determined to follow them to the Merchant Marine offices downtown.
Another long line. Andrew took his place and waited, shuffling forward as the line grew longer behind him, shorter in front.
“Hurry up an’ wait, hunh?” The man in front of Andrew turned, laughed as he spoke, tapped a pack of cigarettes on the palm of his hand.
“Want a smoke?”
“No thanks.” Andrew nodded, smiled. He wanted to talk, ask questions. Maybe later. A short stocky man sat a desk, a wooden chair at his right. He waved Andrew at the chair, said, “Have a seat”. Wursted removed his hat as he sat down. The man immediately fired questions at Andrew; he tried to answer; the questions came too fast. Then the man took a break, said, “Well, we haven’t got all day, son.”
“I’m sorry, sir, I couldn’t catch what you said. If you could look directly at me, I can read lips.” Andrew felt the red heat escape from beneath his collar and climb up his neck.
The recruiter jerked his head around and looked at Wursted. “You gotta be kiddin’. You mean you’re deaf? Well, this beats all I ever heard.” Andrew twisted his hat in his hands.
“I’m sorry, son,” the recruiter shouted. The men waiting in line stared and Andrew leaped to his feet and ran from the room to the sounds of mild laughter.
Out on the sidewalk, Andrew felt a rush of discouragement and fatigue. Defeated, he turned his footsteps toward home, reflecting that his mother would be happy that he wasn’t going anywhere. He shuffled along, his hands shoved deep in his pockets; his head bent low studying the cracks in the sidewalk as he walked when a cracked voice spoke nearly in his ear.
“Got turned down, did ya, bud?”
Andrew turned to stare at an old man leaning against the door jamb of a café sucking on a toothpick.
“They turn ya down, did they? The recruiters?”
“What’s your name, son?”
“Wursted. Andrew Wursted.”
“Well, Andrew, I might know where you can serve, if you’re of a mind to.”
Andrew brightened up. “Where?”
“Hear of the Coast Watch? It’s a group that’s getting set up to man watch stations all along the coast. If you’re interested, follow me. I was just going back to the office.”
Andrew trailed after the man, reluctant to engage in conversation but curious all the same. They came to a nondescript building with a few men loitering outside, almost all old men, a few younger men mixed in. Andrew followed the man inside where he was introduced to another desk jockey.
It didn’t take long for the interviewer to discover Andrew’s handicap. “I don’t know, Mr. Wursted, we need people who can see well, and hear well too.”
Spurred on by rejection, Andrew insisted, “I can hear, when the sound is high enough, and I can read lips. And I have excellent eyesight, in fact, I’m far sighted. Test me, you’ll see.”
“Wait here a moment.” The man at the desk stood and walked to the rear of the room, where Andrew could see him engage another person in conversation. After a moment, he returned to his desk. “We will take you, on a trial basis. You’ll have to report here tomorrow morning at 6:00 am for orientation and we’ll set you up with someone to train you at that time.”
Andrew could hardly contain his excitement. He rose and shook the man’s hand. “I’ll be here, sir. And thank you.”
Sarah was relieved to hear her son had joined the Coast Watchers, and that the military had refused him because of his handicap. Andrew worked at his day job, daily tolerating the muted abuse and racially rancorous insults of Wagner and Tacklebury, and met his trainer at the Coast Watcher headquarters in the evening. They left together for their post where Egbert VanSchuyler taught Wursted how to use the radio telephone to contact the police and the U.S. Coast Guard. He coached him on what to call in about and who to call, the police for emergencies and suspicious behavior on land, the Coast Guard for the same things on the water. Throughout the lonely hours on their post, VanSchuyler and Wursted talked of the war, Andrew’s dad—Egbert had suffered similarly during the depression but had survived the travel, loneliness, hunger and manual labor to return home to his family—Andrew’s job and the unwarranted persecution he experienced at the hands of racially prejudiced people.
The superintendent opened the office door. “Wursted, step in here please.”
“Yes sir?” Andrew knew the man as his boss, stern, friendly, but felt intimidated by him all the same. He walked stiffly through the doorway. Angus Orthway turned to face him.
“We’ve monitored your progress. Mr. VanSchuyler feels you’re ready to take a watch station of your own.” He waited, watched Andrew’s face.
Andrew read his lips, too ashamed to ask Mr. Orthway to speak up. “You mean I won’t be standing watch with Mr. VanSchuyler any more?”
“Don’t you think you’re ready?”
Andrew saw his mistake. “Oh, yes sir. I’m ready, and willing. I can do it Mr. Orthway.” He felt sadness, struggled to hide it with a smile. I really liked spending time with Mr. VanSchuyler. I s’pose I can still visit him when I’m off duty, he thought
Andrew sat on the bench in the tower and stared out over the deserted beach. He listened to the wind howl. It sure was cold tonight. He tugged his jacket tighter around his shoulders. He watched the surf crash against the corrugated sandy surface washing it smooth. He reflected that early January weather chased even the heartiest souls off the beach. Bored most of the time, Andrew spent each lonely night fighting off sleep and a sense of deserted fearfulness, playing his binoculars over the beach and scanning the water stretching out to the horizon. On nights he was off he watched the movie newsreels, saw the horrors of war portrayed on the screen, felt relieved that he had been turned down by all the military.
He saw sudden movement to the right of the tower and stared through his binoculars. A man and a woman were walking on the beach. Now what are they doing out here on a night like this, he wondered. They appeared to be talking, or maybe arguing. Why did the man look so familiar? And then it hit him. The limping lopsided gait. The peculiar walk of Norbert Tacklebury. Now what would Tacklebury be doing on this beach late at night? He wondered who the woman was. The wind blew her windbreaker around her figure but her hood obscured her face. Tacklebury waved a flashlight seaward as they walked. He handed the flashlight to the woman, it looked like he shouted at her, and waving his arms angrily, he turned and stalked off the beach, limping toward the distant sand dunes and the highway.
Andrew continued watching as the woman made her way across the beach toward some rocks piled up at the water’s edge. She climbed the wet rocks and Andrew’s curiosity mounted. A dangerous rip tide ran at the base of those rocks. She better be careful out there. Andrew felt a creeping dread as he saw her make her way across the rocks toward the crashing surf. The woman slipped and fell into the surf, her screams for help lost in the howling wind. Andrew dropped his binoculars, alarmed, and leaped down to the beach. Recovering his balance, he pounded across the open stretch of sand, reached the edge of the rocks and threw himself into the fast running tide. With powerful strokes he reached the floundering woman and brushing aside her flailing arms, threw his arm over her shoulder and around her neck. He shouted encouragement to her. “You’re fine. You’ll be alright. Kick. Kick.” He pulled her weak, struggling body through the roaring surf into the shallow water.
Andrew stood up at the water’s edge, looking seaward, retracing their passage with his eyes. He shook the water out of his hair, wiped the stinging salt water from his eyes. He stared further out to sea, squinting to penetrate the shrouding darkness. He watched a wake develop further out in the smoother waters. A whale? The water boiled where no disturbance should be. What is that? A periscope broached the surface and Andrew stared in shocked surprise. Not sure of what he was looking at, he waited, watched, apprehension growing upward from the pit of his stomach. The shining black metallic bulk of a submarine’s conning tower broke the surface. He knew instantly. A submarine. Seen that in the movie newsreels. He bent over, kept his eyes fastened on the surfacing sub while asking the lady if she was okay.
“I have to get back to my post,” breathless, amazed, Andrew shouted over the crashing waves, “Got to make a report.” He dropped her hand and raced back across the beach, scrambling up the tower ladder. He grabbed his radio telephone and called the police. Mr. VanSchuyler would be proud of me now. The police dispatcher listened not certain he was hearing right. He repeated what Andrew said, yelling to be heard.
“That’s right. I’m telling you, I saved the woman, but there’s a submarine surfacing just off shore. Hurry. Yes, I will.” Andrew swung his glance to the woman on the beach. She seemed to ignore the advancing waves washing over her legs. Rising to her knees, she appeared to be staring out to sea at the surfacing submarine.
“This is Andrew Wursted of the Coast Watch. There’s a submarine just off my station.” Andrew yelled into the radio telephone.
The Coastguardsman on watch said, “What’s your location, Wursted?”
“What?” Andrew yelled back, his excitement mounting. He checked the volume knob, made sure it was turned all the way up.
“I said, What is your location, Wursted?” The Coastguardsman shouted back.
Andrew rattled off the location and number of his station.
“Stay on station, Wursted, a Cutter is on the way.”
“Yes sir, I will.” Andrew laid the radio telephone down, turning his attention back to the woman.
“Get off the beach, Miss.” Andrew shouted at her over the roar of the surf. He waved his arm at her as the submarine leveled out on the surface. He grabbed his binoculars, focused them on the submarine. He could see the Rising Sun insignia on the conning tower. The woman rose to her feet, began running toward the tower. Wursted waved her on, picked up the radio telephone again.
“The submarine is Japanese,” he shouted as the Coastguardsman answered.
“Yes, did you hear me? The submarine here is Japanese. I can see the Japanese flag on the side of it.”
“Stay there, Wursted. Keep on the radio. Keep us informed. You should be able to see the Cutter soon.”
“Yes sir.” Andrew focused his binoculars on the sub again. The woman was at the foot of the tower ladder. Andrew saw the Japanese crew scrambling across the submarine’s deck toward a menacing deck gun. Andrew yelled, “C’mon, hurry.” He dropped his binoculars, scrambled down the ladder to help the lady up.
The Japanese crew fired a shot at the beach. Andrew and the woman reached the floor of the tower as the shell screamed over head. Andrew threw himself over the woman’s prostrate form. The shell arced angrily over the tower, crashed and exploded in the sand dunes between the tower and the beach access road. Andrew heard a siren wailing off in the distance.
The Japanese crew left the deck gun and scrambled across the deck for the safety of the submarine’s interiors.
The woman shuddered and cried, her wail eerily matching the approaching siren’s.
The submarine began to plunge beneath the surface. The water boiling along her sides as she crash dived.
“Are you okay, Miss?” Andrew rose from his protective position, resting his hand on her shoulder.
“I don’t know,” she whimpered, clutching at his arm.
“I have to see what’s going on, just a minute.” Andrew stood, grabbed his binoculars, peered into the inky blackness, saw the water close over the submarine as it submerged. He scanned the horizon, saw the roiling bow wake of a ship moving fast across the surface. It must be the Coast Guard Cutter.
“Here, Miss, let me help you up.” Andrew lay his binoculars down on the bench.
“Thank you for your help. I might have drowned out there.” She pushed her hood back off her face. Andrew bent down to grasp her elbow, saw her face in the darkness, the shadows of her eyes, the too large nose, jutting jaw line supporting large, wrinkled, sneering lips, prominent chin, smelled the heavy makeup, the lingering odor of cigarette smoke.
“Miss Wagner?” Andrew was too shocked to say anything else.
Wagner went from her knees to her feet instantly at the sound of her name. She half spun, glanced seaward, saw the flash of depth charges, heard the distant boom as they plunged to a preset depth and exploded sending a giant plume of salt water and debris into the coal black sky. Andrew stared.
“What are you doing out here?”
“That’s none of your business, Jew.” Wagner snapped. She had recognized Wursted. The sound of his voice. His imposing size.
The police siren wound down, stopped altogether. Two squad cars pulled off the beach access road. Andrew turned away from Wagner, stepped to the rail, waved the fast approaching officers to the tower.
Nixie, fearing the Coast Guard and the police, clasped her windbreaker about her, spun around to the tower ladder. Wursted stood in the ladder opening, blocking her way, uncertain himself, what was going to happen.
“Move out of the way, creep.” Wagner pushed at Andrew as the police officers started up the ladder.
“What’s going on here? The first officer to reach the tower looked from Andrew to Wagner and back.
“I have to leave, now. I’ve got an . . .,” Wagner, suddenly cowed, hesitated searching for an excuse, an alibi for her presence on the beach.
“Nobody’s going anywhere Ma’am, until we get this cleared up.” The officer looked at Andrew, motioned him to sit down.
“Start from the beginning, son. What happened?”
The radio telephone rang as Andrew explained about seeing Tacklebury and Wagner on the beach. Wagner, restrained now by another officer, began spewing rancorous racial epithets, cursing, struggling with her captor.
“Excuse me, sir,” Andrew stared at Wagner as he picked up the radio telephone.
“Wursted.” He was surprised at how calm his voice was.
“Just wanted you to know, Wursted, the Cutter radioed in, looks like they claimed a kill.”
“What do you mean?” Andrew asked.
“You helped them sink a Jap sub, son. Congratulations!”
Andrew almost dropped the radio telephone.
“Can I use your radio telephone, Wursted?” The officer held out his hand.
Andrew paused. “We’re not supposed to let anyone use this, sir.”
The officers roared. “Official police business, son. It’s okay.”
Andrew handed the radio telephone over. The officer called the station, requested a car to pick up Norbert Tacklebury for questioning.
“We’ve been collecting evidence against these two for some time.” The man who wore the gray jacket in the elevator spoke. An FBI agent? Andrew stared, speechless. He clapped Andrew on the back. “Good work, son. You helped us collar an important Nazi spy.” Andrew smiled and blushed, embarrassed.
“Wagner and Tacklebury aren’t talking, yet, but we suspect they were signaling that Japanese submarine. It may have been sent to land saboteurs on the beach. Looks like you thwarted their plans.”
The newspaper reporter closed his notebook. “Certainly an extraordinary story, Mr. Wursted. Thank you for all your time, and congratulations. Let me shake your hand, sir. You’re a real hero.” Flushed, embarrassed, Andrew fought to hold back tears of happiness. He hated being so emotional.
“Oh, Andy. I’m so happy for you, my son. Imagine! If your father were here, he would be so proud.” Sarah Wursted clasped her hands, overjoyed at her son’s success.
At the mention of his father, Andrew sobered, his chin quivered, he bit his lip. Would the pain never go away? He smiled at his mother.
“Thanks, mom. I guess you were right all along. I wonder about Miss Wagner and Mr. Tacklebury. They hate me because I’m Jewish and deaf, yet they’re Americans, and they helped our enemies. Now they’re in prison. I don’t hate the Japanese, yet I’m responsible for the sinking of a Japanese submarine. And I’m still free.”
“I think war takes many forms, Andy. Some people war against others because of religion, or race, or money, handicaps, a number of other reasons. They fight each other because of fear, or hatred, or envy. Maybe it is no different among nations.”
There was a knock at the door. Sarah stood and crossed the small room almost apprehensively. So much had happened in so short a time. Her world and that of her son had changed so dramatically, in so many unimagined ways. She found herself struggling to cope emotionally. She placed her hand on the glass doorknob, turned it and pulled the door open slowly. A smiling blonde young lady stood in the doorway holding a small gift wrapped box in her hands. Wendy Moscovitz offered one white glove clad hand as she said, “Good day, Mrs. Wursted. Is Andy home?”
“Why, yes, he is. Hello, Wendy.” Sarah took Wendy’s hand in both hers. “Please come in, won’t you?”
“I just wanted to stop by and, uh, tell Andy how . . . . “
“Andy! Look who is here. You remember Wendy Moscovitz, don’t you?”
Andy stood and crossed to the door. He could feel embarrassment mixed with a surprising sense of pleasure teasing the butterflies in his stomach. He found himself facing his dream date, and no words would come. Some things never change, he thought wryly as he reached for the offered gift.
Monday morning. The elevator door opened.
“Good morning!” Andrew smiled at the passengers as they filed aboard. The elevator filled instantly with a cacophony of happy chatter, all directed toward Andrew Wursted.
“What floor, please?” Andrew smiled broadly beneath a small framed letter hanging on the elevator wall. He flipped the appropriate switches, the elevator door silently slid shut, the cage groaned, rose to begin its daily journey as the passengers jostled one another, leaned over Andrew to read: To Andrew Wursted, for exemplary courage above and beyond the call of duty. My thanks, and that of the People of The United States of America for your fine example of citizenship, and courage in the face of the enemy. Signed, Franklin D. Roosevelt, President.