Victory Gardens – Chapter 104

Novel

Papa and Mutty go to see Hearst, who tells them he’s not sure he can  still prevent the danger to Manny.

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If there was a benefit to Esther’s having to rest, it was that Manny didn’t have to worry for her safety outdoors. He had gone to great lengths to install bars on the windows and good locks on the doors, and instructed Esther to keep the front and back doors locked at all times. He didn’t specify why, and fortunately, she didn’t ask assuming that similar safety measures were required here as in New York.

That didn’t stop Manny from worrying for his own safety, particularly when he left the house. Each time he went to daven, learn, shop or take care of things, he had one eye in front of him and one behind. The constant vigil was exhausting and nerve-wracking, but what choice did he have? Suddenly the friendly faces he’d become accustomed to passing each day, and even smiling at, appeared sinister, each one of them transformed from a normal person into a potential attacker. Even the visits from Schwester Selma brought less joy than they should have, although her reports were, baruch Hashem, consistently positive. His worry for the present was multiplied by his concern for the future. He didn’t know how much longer he could live this way, but knew that he was doing his best under the circumstances and just had to daven for their safety until they could leave.

On this particular morning, he didn’t even get a chance to look over his shoulder. Two brawny men pounced upon him right outside his house. They had obviously been waiting for him, knowing that he left the house when the street was deserted. Before he realized what was happening and before he could gather his wits and figure out how to try to summon help when no one was around, they’d taken up position on either side of him. Each man grabbed an elbow in an iron clasp, and with a menacing threat that if he opened his mouth his wife was in danger, they propelled him down the street to an unknown location. To his own surprise, Manny maintained his composure and he prepared himself for whatever fate awaited him.

He had no idea where he was being taken. All he knew was that his feet weren’t really touching the ground, and that there was no possibility of escape. The men chatted with him in English as though it was a perfectly normal thing to be surrounded by two goons on a street in Jerusalem; they must have thought it made the odd situation look better.

As they entered a lively street, Manny didn’t bother looking to the right or the left to see if anyone had noticed his abduction. He was busy mumbling Kriyas Shema under his breath and preparing for his fate, fully aware that his very life was in danger.

In this manner they reached the main road of Yaffa, where Manny assumed some sort of vehicle would be waiting to take him somewhere else. He prayed for a miracle, of course, but he also prayed for Esther and their child, shuddering at the possibility of that child being born an orphan. He was surprisingly unshaken — he was calm, accepting and aware of everything happening around him, taking mental pictures of his surroundings to bring with him into the next world.

He wondered about Papa and Mama and Mutty, thoughts and memories flashing through his mind like a rapid fire slide show, how they would react when they heard of his fate. He hoped Mutty was coping well. He’d be the “man” of the family now, caring for their elderly parents and probably running his printing press as well.  Manny would never see him marry, or know his children either.

Up ahead, Manny noticed an elderly man speaking with another taller man. The sounds of the street were preternaturally clear in his state of heightened awareness. All his senses were on high alert. And that was when the sound of the man’s voice came to him as though it were being delivered through a special microphone designed especially for him. And it was a voice he knew well. A voice that had rescued him once before. And there he was, turning his head now to see Manny and his strange companions. His kind, wrinkled face registered recognition, immediately sizing up the situation and taking hold of the arm of his companion, speaking to him in a ferocious whisper.

Manny and his abductors came closer to the place where the elderly man was standing and were about to pass him by. Just at that moment, a hand reached out and grabbed his shoulder with an iron grip, nearly pulling him out of the grasp of the thugs.

“Rothstein, isn’t it?” the old man said pleasantly, maintaining his firm hold on Manny’s shoulder. “It’s so good to see you again. I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”

To be continued . . .