Run With the Wind

A Story of WW II Galveston
(Publication scheduled for early 2019)
This is the story of a  young  Jewish widow who inherits a crumbling Victorian mansion and  decides to remodel it into apartments. . One day, a mysterious but handsome stranger, with an ever so slight German accent, moves into one of the apartments  and into Sarah’s life.
Sarah’s son, crippled by polio, is a focal point of her life. When, at age 4, he is fitted with full braces for the first time, and takes the first  steps he has ever taken in his life, he tell his mom, “Someday I’m gonna go down to the beach and run with the wind.”
The stranger with the accent learns of Benji’s affliction, and works diligently with the boy so that, indeed, he may, one day, Run With the Wind.
Does he do this because he sees this as a way to Sarah heart, or is he indeed interested in helping a crippled boy? Or, is something more sinister involved as the United States careens toward WW II?

Chapter 1
Late July, 1938
Galveston, Texas

On this supremely hot, still afternoon Sarah Jacobs was sitting in an old wooden rocker on her porch, waiting for her son to return from fishing at Offats Bayou.

In less than 15 minutes there would be a dead man in her front yard.

Earlier, Sarah had driven to the ferry landing, crossing to Bolivar on a mission to find Gus, one of the older channel pilots, who had an annoying habit of going off on benders, usually at one of Bolivar’s beachside beer stands. August Morton had spent a lifetime on the upper Texas coast, and knew intimately every shoal, inlet and channel between the Neches and Brazos Rivers, as well as the entire Trinity Bay system. When sober, there was no channel pilot more experienced or competent among the entire roster of the Galveston Pilots Guild.

Sarah was secretary and assistant general manager of Galveston Pilots. Early this morning a radio-telegram told of a tanker that left port only the day before was now returning for repairs after an engine room fire. She needed Gus to pilot the crippled ship, and had left the grizzled old channel veteran in a café, eating the breakfast she’d bought and drinking quantities of black coffee. He promised to clean himself up and arrive sober at the coast guard docks by noon for transport to the crippled oil tanker.

On the return ferry crossing she noted how still the water was. No dolphins followed or ran ahead, and even the ubiquitous gulls were calmer than usual. All the signs for an oppressively hot and still afternoon were present.

Sarah went to the Guild offices, made a number of telephone calls to complete arrangements for the crippled tanker, and then drove home, thinking she’d make a late breakfast for Benji. However, Rae had already given her son his breakfast, and permitted him to leave, heading to Offats Bayou, about 12 blocks away.

Rae had been brought to the crumbling 22-room mansion while barely out of childhood. There had been any number of servants in the old days, along Sarah’s large family. However, now there was no family other than Sarah and her son, and the  only servant left was Rae, She lived rent-free in two rooms over the old carriage house, and “day-maided”,  for several of Sarah’s neighbors.

Benjamin, once paralyzed with polio, today used only a wrist cane and one short brace on his left leg. His passion was fishing, and he pulled his gear in an old wagon, using a rope harness he’d devised. Sometimes Sarah took him and one of his friends to one of the back bays, but often he went alone, using a pier at Offats Bayou owned by a friend of Sarah’s.

She was now waiting for Benji to return. He’d told Rae he’d be back by lunchtime, but it was an hour past noon. Sarah was beginning to think about driving over to Offats as she sat on the porch of the house she’d been born in.

Sarah rocked slowly, and longed for the return of the southeast sea breeze. A glass of iced tea on the floor beside her had rivulets of condensation streaking the glass. The two ceiling fans that still worked creakingly stirred the hot air.
She picked up the tea and took a sip, rubbing the cold glass across her brow. Where was Benjamin?

Her nagging worries about Benji along with her earlier worries about Gus and the crippled tanker were overshadowed by a longer-term issue, one which crowded into her thoughts almost constantly.

She needed money.

Benjamin, stricken with polio in his second year of life, had undergone years of doctors, hospitals and therapy. He was better. However, the treatments and the doctors and the hospitals had been expensive, and Sarah’s trust fund was now for all practical purposes depleted.

Benjamin would need further treatments. How could she pay for it? Moreover, college loomed in the future.

Sarah, at 33, had been a widow for 9 years. Glenn, her gentle, gentile husband had died in an accident at sea in their second year of marriage. During their first year Sarah’s father died of his own hand, never having the opportunity to meet his grandson.

Money, she again thought, as she ground her fist into her forehead. I’ve got to start making more money! She pushed strands of her short dark hair away from her forehead, damp from this day’s heat and humidity, and thought about the current level of government spending in Galveston.

The United States was clearly preparing for war. Galveston was being fortified. Fort Crocket on the seawall had been activated and huge cannon bunkers were being built. It was rumored that the new air field near Offats Bayou would soon be taken over by the Army, and new runways added. There was a blimp base being built across the bay in Hitchcock, Government contractors and Army officers were bringing their families to Galveston. Housing was at a premium, and many chose to live across the bay, commuting across the new 2-lane causeway.

Perhaps, Sarah told herself, I could rent out parts of this old house. As this thought occurred, she arose from her rocker, and walked to the gate. She again looked down the street for Benji, then turned and looked up at the old house she had lived in all of her life.

Today she saw a crumbling 22-room Victorian mansion. The house had been built by her grandfather in the late 1880s, and fifty years of wind, salt air and inadequate maintenance had taken its toll. She was going to need to borrow money for repairs if she was to rent any of the rooms.

The thought of money brought great-Uncle Levi to mind. Would he even consider helping with a loan? Levi Weismann, President and founder of one of Galveston’s more prestigious banks, was Sarah’s grandfather’s brother and hers and Benjamin’s sole surviving blood relative. He had been incensed when a 22-year old Sarah married a gentile, but, following Glenn’s death and Sarah’s subsequent presentation of her infant son to the Rabbi, he had warmed.

Sarah returned to the porch, shaking her head, and again looked back down the street toward Broadway for her son. There he was, still 2 blocks away, his aluminum wrist cane flashing in the sun. Sarah waved, noting he was wearing his straw fishing hat, which she knew he hated but wore at her insistence, at least when she was watching.

Benji spotted her on the front steps and shouted, though she could not make out the words. She remained standing on the porch steps thinking how proud she was of her son, and the progress he’d made against the enemy of infantile paralysis.

She was beside her son in his battle every step of the way. Progress was painful and slow. Setbacks were common. Months and then years passed. Ever so slowly, ever so mind-numbingly slow, there was improvement. At first, there was movement in his hands. Then, months later, he could move both arms.

Sarah never stopped fighting. She would win! Her boy would be well! She railed at the fates, and at God, if there was one, over such torture for her boy as she endlessly massaged the baby’s paralyzed limbs.

One day he was fitted with leg braces, and Sarah cheered and shouted and wept, along with the medical staff surrounding Benjamin, now 4, when he took the first steps he had ever taken in his life.

“Mama,” the 4-year old boy said to Sarah, “someday I’m gonna go to the beach, and run with the wind!” Benji was now nearly 10, and Sarah wished and hoped and believed that one day her son would fulfill his dream.

As Benji stepped off the curb onto the crushed-shell street a tour jitney turned the corner, honking. The driver shouted rudely. Benjamin stepped back onto the curb.

The jitneys, open-sided and gaudily decorated, picked up tourists from the beach or the excursion trains, and brought them through residential areas, passing by Galveston’s many fine and well-maintained Victorian mansions. The drivers shouted an “historic” spiel about each.

Sarah’s run-down home had recently been added to the itinerary, and the so-called “spiel” was insulting at best. Sarah recognized the driver of this particular bus, whose spiel was one of the more obnoxious ones. He always stopped his bus in front of the mansion as he shouted insulting references about the “once-rich Jews” who now lived in the dilapidated house. He made a point of noting the rusting wrought-iron picket fence and the weed-strewn yard, which proved, he shouted, that those who now lived here had fallen on hard times. He always added, to derisive laughter, “Now those rich Jews know how we poor folks feel!”

Benjamin crossed the street behind the jitney and Sarah stepped down to meet him, opening the gate as Benji moved past. She hugged her boy as she heard gears grind and the bus began to move away. Benji’s hated straw hat fell onto the walk.

Benji pointed at his wagon. “Nothing today, mom. I had some good bait, too. All I caught was hard-heads and piggy-perch.”

Sarah looked up at the sound of another approaching vehicle. A dark-colored late-model sedan moved slowly around the corner and headed toward the curb on Sarah’s side of the street. Moving slowly and inexorably, it climbed the curb and pushed against the fence. The uprights snapped as a section of fence collapsed.

She heard shouts from the jitney: “Look at that!” The jitney stopped half-way into its turn. Sarah knew without looking that the tourists were all gawking, open-mouthed.

The car came to a stop halfway into the weedy lawn. Sarah and Benji, rooted to the front walk, watched in fascination. There were more shouts from the tour jitney. People began climbing out. Several had cameras.

The door of the sedan swung open. A man climbed slowly, wearily, from behind the wheel. He was wearing a hat and a dark, heavy business suit, He turned toward Sarah and Benji. His jacket gaped open, showing a blood-soaked shirt as he moved around the opened car door and staggered. He fell sideways onto the fender. His hat tumbled to the ground.
Somewhere, a woman screamed.

Pushing himself upright, still leaning against the fender, the man looked at the slender woman with her arms protectively around her crippled son. His eyes, dark and staring, seemed to bore into Sarah as his lips soundlessly moved. She studied his face. It seemed he was trying to speak.

His mouth moved again, and again there was no sound. He shook his head in exasperation, and tried to push himself off the fender. He fell onto his knees and began crawling forward. Sarah took a step backward, pulling Benjamin with her.
The struggling man was nearly to the walk. Sarah released her son and leaned forward, reaching toward the bloody man as he fell face forward and rolled onto his back. His eyes were opened wide, staring into the brassy, hot sky.

Several tourists from the jitney ran up. There was another man among them, wearing a white shirt and slacks. He leaned over the prone figure and reached inside the man’s jacket.

Tourists in their shorts and gaudy shirts crowded around. Cameras snapped. An overweight woman, in tacky overly tight green rayon slacks, sweat staining the crotch, bent over and looked into the man’s face. She screamed.

He was dead.