The heart of a gypsy, p.1
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       The Heart Of A Gypsy, p.1
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           Roberta Kagan
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The Heart Of A Gypsy


  The Heart of a Gypsy

  Copyright©2012 by Roberta Kagan

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author.

  The characters and events in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

  I would like to dedicate this book to my family, whose undying love and patience keep me going. Also to my wonderful friend and the best editor on the planet, a woman who never lets me get away with anything, but I love her for it: Karman Moore.

  And…

  …to a people whose blood runs through my veins and whose spirit lives within my soul: The Romany.

  The Heart of a Gypsy

  By: Roberta Kagan

  Chapter 1

  A SMALL VILLAGE IN NAZI-OCCUPIED POLAND

  A man lay unconscious, buried in the bowels of a Nazi jail, his blood pooling on the cool cement floor as he lay fighting for his life. For the moment his captors had forgotten him, as outside the soundproofed prison cell they conversed amongst themselves.

  “I have a date tonight with that plump little blonde we met at the picture show last week,” a lofty Nazi guard said. His scalp showed through his sparse blond hair in the florescent office lighting as he perched himself against the side of the window ledge.

  “Oh ja! She had nice big breasts; you think you’ll get laid?” his fellow officer asked as he stirred a cup of steaming coffee. He was not as tall as the other man, and he sat with his feet up on the wooden desk at the end of the hallway. A book of matches lay on the desk. He struck one and lit a cigarette.

  “Of course; with my good looks how could she resist?”

  Both men laughed.

  “I’m going to see my fiancé’s family in Munich; I don’t know if I told you that or not.” The guard took a puff of his cigarette.

  “No, actually you didn’t. If I were going to Munich, I would be sure to make a visit to Heim Hockland.”

  “Yes, I just might. Why not? Those girls are just waiting for virile men like us to give them proper Aryan babies, and of course, we must oblige.”

  “But of course.”

  “After all, are we not the superior race? It is our duty to spread the Aryan seed.”

  ”Our duty and our pleasure…”

  They laughed again.

  Back in the prison cell, Christian Stearn was catapulted into consciousness by the wild beating of his heart and a brutally throbbing headache. He strained to open his eyes. They were fused shut, caked with dried blood. An awareness of his surroundings crashed down upon him like a bolt of lightning, and the reality of what had occurred flooded his memory. His chest ached when he tried to take in a deep breath. The air was smothering, stagnant and foul. As he gazed across the room, still too dizzy to focus even though his eyes were well adjusted to the darkness, he saw the empty, deteriorating carcasses of insects imbedded in the mold in the walls. It seemed as if the entire cell might close in on him as he realized he was surrounded on all sides by streams of thick gray-green slime that had dried into the dirty charcoal-colored cement. With both hands he tried to lift himself up to a sitting position. As he did, he felt something small and sharp. Curious, he picked it up and studied it. It was a tiny oval shape, and even with the lack of light it appeared to be sickly mustard yellow spattered with dried blood. Christian brought it closer to his eyes. As the object came into focus, he felt his stomach turn with the knowledge that it was a human fingernail. Someone, probably the former occupant of this cell, had lost his fingernail trying to claw his way out. No matter what happened, Christian knew he must hold on to his sanity. The headache grew stronger as he tried to move. He must stay rational; he must remember why he joined the resistance in the first place and stick to his convictions. But in his present state, it all seemed so far away and hard to remember. It had been his life’s goal to live by his principles. If he changed that now, all of his work would have no meaning. Christian was scared. The pain was becoming intolerable, but no matter what they did to him, he must never betray his colleagues. Besides, he realized that even if he did, the SS would kill him as soon as they got whatever information they were after. And then another would suffer the same fate. And if they did spare him, he could never respect himself again. He would be a traitor to all he believed. No, he decided, it would be better to die here, to die this way, than to live as a coward or a traitor.

  As Christian was finally able to sit up, propping himself against the wall, he began to feel nauseous. First his throbbing head began to spin and his vision blurred. Then his stomach turned and he lost control, vomiting in the ill-smelling bucket filled with human excrement that sat on the floor beside him. He felt as if he would retch forever and never be rid of this hellish feeling. For five long minutes he continued to cough and gag, and then, spent, he leaned over, curling up on the floor. As he lay there in the dank cell he remembered what the SS officers who’d hunted him down said to him as they arrested him, “You are an Aryan, you stupid fool. Why would you turn on us? This is not your war.” Christian had been taken by surprise by the arrest so much so that he hadn’t felt the pain as they kicked him in his chest. Instead his eyes fixed on their gleaming black leather boots, the silver buckle with the eagle head sparkling in the sunlight. Such cruelty was beyond his comprehension, and even though he had experienced it firsthand he still could not make sense of it. But he knew that what they had done to him was nothing compared to what they were capable of doing. He thought, “Are they not men made of flesh and blood? How can any person inflict such suffering on others and feel nothing?” He knew about the suffering of the Jews in the camps; he’d heard about it numerous times, but he still found it impossible to grasp the reality. In his opinion, the whole world had gone mad, and all under the direction of one man. Perhaps Adolph Hitler was the devil. Before the war, believing in Satan would have seemed silly to him, but now he wasn’t so sure. After all, he had witnessed pure evil; he’d looked into the faces of men his own age, wild with sadistic rage, and caught up in the frenzy. It was on one such occasion that he’d made the decision to risk his own safety and join the Ezra Foundation, a part of the Jewish underground that helped Jews to find safe havens in Europe. In the beginning Christian was fortunate he was capable of financing his own missions. For over a year, he’d led the way though Poland, Austria, Germany, and Belgium, with desperate people by his side. It was a careful dance. Although he took a considerable risk of arrest, he’d paid off guards with his own money, and then led groups of desperate people through Nazi-occupied Europe. Christian tried to be cautious, but he realized that at times he was reckless; still, he was proud to say that he had helped many on their way to freedom. Christian was not the only non-Jew involved in Ezra; he knew that there were others who felt as he did. And then there were those willing to help for a fee. He didn’t mind lining their pockets if it saved a life. Money was plentiful to him, and he could never put monetary value on a human being. But now his father had cut off his trust fund, and if by some miracle he survived this arrest, he would have to find a way to finance his work on his own.

  Christian wondered if the Ezra Foundation might have been infiltrated by a spy who had turned him in. This was quite possibly the case. After all, people were starving, and there was a hefty reward for informing on an enemy of the Reich. It distressed him, but he knew that no one could be trusted. A sharp pain shot through his chest. It was true it was not his war, but he could not stand by and watch as innocent people were slaughtered. Besides, he had a secret, a shame beyond compare. And he would fight to erase it from his life. At twenty-five, Christian was an idealist; he believed he could single-handedly righ
t all wrongs. And no matter how often his mentors had warned him, he had never truly believed he would be caught. He had secretly thought himself invincible. Now he was captured and in enemy hands, locked away in their prison, at their mercy. Laughing sadly to himself, he thought, “Mercy from the merciless.”

  He strained to remember how it had happened, how he had been caught. In the last memory he had, he had been buying a pastry from a street vendor. After taking a bite he’d crumbled the paper sack that the sweet roll had come in, and thrown it into a trash can. Then, before he’d realized what was happening, four SS officers had grabbed him. It took three to hold him as they battled him to the ground. The street was crowded, filled with people. Everyone stood gaping, but no one moved to help him. Then he saw her.

  The girl. She was hiding behind a tree watching. The SS were too busy thrashing him to notice the petite gypsy lass, but he had noticed. He remembered those eyes, clear and black as midnight, wide as a full moon, her mouth slightly agape in horror as they beat him into submission. It had taken four of them, all armed and pistol-whipping him, to bring him to his knees. She did not turn away; she did not run. Even now he cringed as he recalled how embarrassed he’d been at appearing so weak in front of her. Christian had been in the middle of the street as they’d stood around him, kicking his chest and abdomen. The blows had left him broken and unable to get up. But seeing the lovely gypsy girl, his face had grown hot with humiliation, and before he could think any further, he’d blacked out.

  When he regained consciousness under the charge of his enemies, they began hammering him again. The SS had called him names, mostly “traitor,” yelling in deafening, guttural German. They’d hit him in the face, chest and stomach with clubs. Blood had spurted from his nose and mouth. Christian had watched as the crimson fluid flew across the room and landed on one of his tormentor’s pants legs. Until now, he had never experienced pain like this. It devastated the spirit. As he sat in the cell, waiting and wondering what was in store, he feared the inevitable. They would return soon, and the torture would begin again. With all the strength his mind could muster, he fought the terror that came bubbling up in his chest. If he were to preserve his sanity, he must make every effort to divert his thoughts. He must not dwell on what new torture they might have planned for him. So he allowed himself to escape into thoughts of the girl. With a concerted effort, he concentrated on remembering her long black curls and her colorful skirt. What color was it, that full flowing silk skirt she had worn? With effort, he forced his blurry mind to remember. Although he could not see it, his eyes squinted as he recreated the vision. Watercolor shades of blue, very light to vivid and dark, blending together and combining with just a hint of cranberry. Yes, that was it. The dress had fallen about her like a calm wave. Standing there, she had reminded him of a picture of a sunset. God’s paintbrush had created this delicate creature with painstaking perfection. Thoughts of her brought a smile to his face, and as it did, he felt the reopening of the previously torn flesh on his lips, causing him to wince. Christian tasted the salty, bitter flavor of iron, and he raised his hand to wipe away the blood where he split his lip anew. He tried to block the sudden rage of hunger and thirst by playing this game with himself. But his throat felt like sandpaper and his tongue was thick and coarse, like sandpaper. “I am sure to die here and in terrible agony,” he thought. Christian trembled with the inevitability of his situation. Alone in his black, deserted cell, he allowed himself to cry. Conscious of the tears running down his chiseled cheeks and strong jaw, he marveled that he had once considered himself a hero. Now he was reduced to no more than a simpering child. “It will do no good to feel sorry for myself,” he thought. “Either way they will kill me. The best I have to hope for is that it will be quickly and soon.” Weeping was not an indulgence that he would allow himself again; it would only weaken his resolve. Wiping the tears from his face, he tried to find inner strength; he would need it when they returned, and he knew they would return. It would take all he had not to betray the others, but he must be sure that he did not give in, regardless of what they did to him. He knew it would not help; he was already doomed. Because he was so disoriented from the constant beatings, he was unaware that there were iron bars over a small open window in his chamber, so it came as a surprise when he heard a whisper coming from the outside.

  “Shhh, come here. I have food for you, and water also,” a sweet female voice said. It was a moonless night, so there had been no prior light from the porthole to attract him. Or perhaps he had been so disoriented that he just did not see it, for now, as he looked up, a small flicker of light from the stars was present in this dungeon. For a moment his heart leapt with hope. Even the slightest illumination in this blackest of cells brought a new perspective, and with his youth he found some promise in it.

  It took a moment for his eyes to adjust, but when they did, he realized that it was her. In the shadows he could make out just enough to see that it was the gypsy girl who had been there at his arrest the previous afternoon. Could he be hallucinating? Had all of their hammering at him addled his brain? His hearing was becoming more acute as listened more closely. Now that he began to focus on the world outside of the small window, he heard the rustling of a tree in the summer breeze. Crisp leaves chattered softly in the wind. An owl hooted in the distance, mingling with the quiet belching of a frog. How could he have missed this before? Crawling slowly on his knees at first, he came to the window. Against the pain in his legs and back, he held on to the slimy wall and pulled himself upright to look out of the metal bars. Like a glimmering radiance in the shadows, she stood before him, holding a white woven basket in her feminine hand. Not trusting his sight, he rubbed his eyes in disbelief. If I am dreaming, he thought, then let this delusion never end.

  “Come on…over here, and take this bread,” the gypsy girl said as she held a small loaf which she pushed through the bars. Obediently he took it. Since he had not been given any food since they’d apprehended him, he was very hungry, and he shoved a large piece into his mouth.

  “Slow down; you’ll throw up if you eat too fast. You haven’t eaten anything and your stomach will not accept so much at once.” The moon cast a soft glow on her hair, and for a moment he thought she was an angel.

  “You’re right; I wasn’t thinking,” he said, feeling embarrassed that he had made such a fool of himself. Then he took the bread out of his mouth and began breaking off tiny pieces with his soiled hands, and chewing them slowly.

  “I brought you water too.” She passed a long thin container to him through the bars. “Listen to me,” she said firmly, staring directly at him to maintain his full attention. “It is important that you drink this now. I don’t want them to find this water vial here, and therefore I will take it back with me when I go. They must not know that you had a visitor or they will move you away from this cell, and maybe even from this prison, and then we will not be able to find you. I’ll bring more food and water tomorrow night, if we have not rescued you by then. Sip slowly, I’ll wait.”

  He did as she asked, watching her and wondering where she had come from, and why.

  When he had finished eating he attempted to speak, his voice coming out as a croak, “Who are you? And how did you find me?”

  “To find you was easy. I knew where they took you. Did you not see me watching? My brother is part of the Resistance - a partisan, a freedom fighter. We know that you also oppose the Nazis, and we plan to get you out of here.”

  “Who is your brother?”

  “You need not know that right now; just trust that we know what we are doing, and all will be well.”

  Handing her the water container, he watched as she turned and walked away.

  Now that he had found the window, his eyes were drawn to it. He watched the stars as he sat on the cold cement floor of the prison and wondered who these partisans were, and who had sent them to help him. The passing of several hours made him begin to doubt that the visitor was real. He thought that
perhaps his mind had, in all of its pain, created a mirage…a savior. Christian closed his eyes.

  There was no doubt he was tired. His head bobbed with fatigue, and Christian fell into a deep sleep. It was not until the guards opened the steel-barred door that he awakened. The terror of what was to come immediately obliterated all traces of sleep, and he was brought to his feet roughly by a giant of a man, unshaven and sweating profusely, with a bald head, carrying a thick club.

  The giant wheeled the club into Christian’s stomach. The blow took Christian’s breath away, causing him to double over. While he was incapacitated, trying to catch his breath, the guards handcuffed and pushed him along a corridor to a room with a large desk and several gray metal filing cabinets. He stumbled as he was pushed hard into a chair in the center of the room. Glancing around the room, he saw the picture of Hitler behind the desk, with his comical little mustache covering his upper lip and his arms crossed over his chest; he looked smug. On the wall to his left was the large red flag with the black widow spider in the center: the swastika, the symbol of the death of civilization.

  There was a loud clicking of heels against the floor. It broke the silence, striking terror in Christian’s heart. Then the Reichsmarshall entered the room in a pressed black uniform and shiny boots. He was a tall, slender man with light brown hair and pale, washed-out blue eyes that betrayed no emotion. Over one eye he wore a thick eyeglass that hung from a chain attached to his shirt. Christian noticed his long, thin fingers and manicured nails. This man seemed different from the thugs who had arrested him, more dangerous. He had a cool, maniacal viciousness that Christian sensed immediately. The others were drunk with newly-found power, while this man enjoyed the God-like status he believed to be his rightful place in the world. Christian shivered at the reptilian eyes that stared at him, while the handcuffs worked their way into the flesh of his wrists. An involuntary trembling, as if a cold, imaginary finger ran its nail up his spine, caused Christian to tremble, and he hoped the Reichsmarshall did not sense how vulnerable he felt.

 
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