Fisch and Berl remain in Bruno’s home, gathering their strength. Gassner shows Bruno a telegram inquiring as to the two men’s whereabouts. Bruno admits that the men are in his home.
* * *
Gassner glared at his protégé, his ice blue eyes honing in like lasers on Bruno’s warm, dark face. “Let’s start at the very beginning, shall we?” He leaned back in his chair and folded his arms across his chest. Bruno knew he wasn’t really angry, but he had to put up a show for decorum’s sake.
Bruno told Gassner everything that had happened since the brothers had come to the office nearly a month earlier.
“If you would have seen them, Dagfin,” Bruno was so involved in telling the story that he barely realized he had just addressed his boss by his given name, a signal to Gassner how seriously Bruno felt about the situation. “If you would have seen them, you’d have done the same. The older one was dragging his leg behind him, the other one seems to have some brain damage, they were dirty and hungry and —”
“I know what desperate people look like,” Gassner interrupted. “I see them every day, same as you, but I don’t bring them home. Why them?”
Bruno confessed that they reminded him of the Sperlings themselves when they were brought in, and if he didn’t admire and respect his boss before, he’d have started that moment, when Gassner sighed and said, “I understand. Sometimes it touches a nerve.” Even without a Jewish heart that responded instinctively to those in need, on some level Gassner really did understand.
“Well, at least we have good news for the Rothsteins in Palestine,” said Gassner, plucking the telegram from Bruno’s hand. He gave Bruno his firm, no-nonsense stare. “This cannot happen again, do you understand me?”
“Perfectly, sir. Just one more thing — when you tell the Rothsteins Berl and Fisch are alive, can you ask them to send ship tickets?”
“Out!” Bruno hurried out of Gassner’s office, quickly closing the door behind him but confident Gassner had taken his last words to heart.
Gassner turned to his telex machine and typed out the brief message, informing the Rothsteins that Berl and Fisch were alive and well. He’d wait to hear back from them before entering into any negotiations. He could imagine their surprise and shock, receiving a reply only minutes after sending off their own message. Sometimes it happened like that: roads that seem impassable suddenly opened with ease. You saw it sometimes in his line of work, but not very often, so on the rare occasion when things went smoothly one could afford himself a moment of satisfaction, until the next crisis came along.
* * *
Yehuda Rothstein wasn’t stupid. He could hear all the whispering and murmuring going on, all the conversations that stopped when he came into the room. He saw the two puppies, as he referred to them in his mind, staring at him with a mixture of fear and hatred. Everyone blamed him because Kalonymous had run away, even though he’d had nothing to do with it. He hadn’t told his Ima and Abba to send Kalonymous to Uncle Emanuel’s house, but if they would have asked him, he’d have said they shouldn’t send Kalonymous to a place where there wasn’t space to move around. Even he knew that wouldn’t be a good idea. He knew how much time they all spent outside, and he couldn’t imagine lasting a day in that stuffy house. It had even crossed his mind to volunteer to go instead of Kalonymous, but he couldn’t get past the sting of being punished for something he honestly believed he didn’t do.
But anything would be better than the silent blame he faced every single day. Everyone blamed him now, and he’d run away himself if he could think of anywhere to go. He just wanted the bad feelings to stop, so when he heard that Mr. Zayit was planning to travel to Jerusalem to make some deliveries, an idea started to cook in Yehuda’s mind, and by the time the day came, Yehuda’s plan was ready.
He remained awake until the first light, and with the stealth of a point man eased out of the house and across the fields to Zayit’s barn. He knew Zayit had already loaded the wagon the day before and that he kept a blanket in the back, so he positioned himself between the packages and covered himself completely with the blanket. There was a fifty-fifty chance Zayit would find him, and even if he did, once Yehuda explained why he was stowing away in the back of his wagon, Zayit might agree to take him anyway.
As it happened, Zayit did not find him right away. After a cursory check that all was in order, and with the sun not yet all the way up, he didn’t notice Yehuda’s form beneath the blanket. The day was warm and the cart swayed back and forth like a baby’s cradle, and before too much time had passed, Yehuda, exhausted from his nighttime vigil, fell into a deep sleep.
To be continued . . .