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Run With The Wind

Synopsis: Sarah, a young widow with a crippled son faces the twin enemies of poverty and infantile paralysis. Galveston turns worried eyes to Europe and the rapacious onslaught of Adolph Hitler, and his promise to murder millions. 

The world erupts into war and American oil tankers are sunk as German submarines patrol the Gulf. Sarah, secretary and assistant manager of Galveston Pilots Guild, finds herself embroiled in the dangers of a world war, while at the same time longing for the day when her son will defeat polio and realize his dream to go to the beach and Run With the Wind.

CHAPTER 1

 

There was no way Sarah Jacobs could have believed that within fifteen minutes there would be a dead man in her front yard.

She was on her front porch, fretting, waiting for her ten-year old son who should have been home by noon. She knew where he’d gone, pier fishing at Offats Bayou using a private pier owned by a family friend. It was nearly an hour past, and Sarah was anxious to return to her job as secretary and assistant manager of the Galveston Pilots’ Guild, but she was reluctant to leave until Benji was home for the afternoon.

A freighter that had had an engine room fire was returning to port, and she hadn’t yet done all that was needed to ensure a safe entry into Galveston’s harbor.

She rose from her chair as she’d already done a number of times, and once again looked down the street toward Broadway, leaning outward into the sun, shading her wide-set dark eyes with her hand.

“Finally!” she said aloud.

Benji was still two blocks away, but her crippled boy was moving rapidly, his straw fishing hat bobbing as he limped awkwardly along, sunlight flashing off his aluminum wrist cane. Sarah waved, noting that he seemed to be moving faster than usual. “Good thing!” she thought. “He’s late! He knows how busy I am!”

Benjamin spotted her on the front steps and waved back. Sarah’s forehead crinkled as she thought he might have shouted, but if he had, the distance diminished any sound. She turned back to the porch shade, regained her seat in the rocker and picked up her glass of iced tea, rubbing the wet glass across her forehead. She wished the ancient creaking overhead fans could turn faster.

Sarah’s thoughts briefly moved away from her anxiety about the incoming ship and her son’s tardiness to the pride she had in the strong personality of her crippled boy, and the progress he’d made against infantile paralysis. Benji had begun walking at only nine months, and a half-year later the toddler was running all about the house. Then, polio had struck with devastating suddenness.

Doctors promised her he’d never walk again, but they had been wrong. He still needed a brace, on his left leg from the knee down, and he used a wrist cane; but he could walk. Sarah’s son often told his mother that one day that brace, and the cane, would be stored in an attic room, to be forgotten along with other braces he’d outgrown.

Sarah once again rose from her chair and moved to the porch edge, leaning outward and again squinting against the midday brightness. There was rarely much traffic on the crushed shell 51st Street, and today she saw only one car, three blocks away, beginning a slow turn toward her, a block behind her son.

She saw Benjamin step off the curb heading to their side of the street just as a tour jitney turned onto 51st Street. It honked noisily and Benji scrambled back, dragging his rusty ‘fishing’ wagon over the curb as the jitney passed. Sarah heard the driver shout rudely, “Out of the way, Jew-boy!”

The tour jitneys, open-sided, gaudily painted buses, picked up tourists at the beach or along the seawall and for a few coins provided a “historic” tour through Galveston’s residential areas. Sarah knew the spiels used by the jitney drivers rarely touched on anything remotely historical or accurate.

The car Sarah had seen earlier was now fully onto 51st but was still moving slowly. Benji shouldered his rope harness and again pulled his wagon into the street and headed across.

The tour jitney slowed, preparing to stop in front of Sarah’s house, and she moved back to the deep shade and her rocker, hoping the jitney driver would not see her. She recognized this driver and knew that he always stopped and shouted about the “once-rich Jews” who lived here, adding in a sneering voice to derisive laughter, “Everybody knows that in Galveston the Eye-talians have all the sin and the Jews have all the money. Well this is one Jew family that ain’t rich no more! Look at that old house! It’s almost falling down! They don’t even have enough money for a coat of paint! That old house is gonna fall down any day now; they won’t have to wait for a hurricane!”

Sarah knew that had the driver seen her, his ‘spiel’ would have been longer and more insulting.

The jitney’s gears ground and it began moving slowly. Sarah once again left her chair, this time walking down the porch steps. She opened the rusting wrought-iron gate as Benji pulled his wagon through, then reached down and hugged him, knocking his straw hat onto the walk.

The jitney completed its turn at the corner.

Benjamin breathlessly pulled away from his mother’s embrace and pointed at his wagon. “Nothing today, mom,” he said, his voice trembling. He spoke rapidly. “All I caught was hard-heads and piggy-perch. I gigged some crabs, but I lost my gig and the bucket turned over.” Sarah looked down at Benji. “You didn’t get your brace wet with saltwater, did you?” She silently reminded herself to make sure he cleaned and oiled the brace later, after supper.

Benjamin shook his head at her question and turned, looking back along the street, his brown eyes widening as he saw the car Sarah had noticed earlier, a dark sedan, less than a block away.

Sarah heard the sound of an accelerating engine, looked and saw the car begin to move rapidly toward them. Benjamin buried his head into his mother’s skirt, his hands clenching and bunching the cloth.

Sarah, annoyed that Benji was hampering her movements, turned toward the porch steps, keeping her eyes on the suddenly accelerating sedan, pulling her son with her as the fishing wagon overturned, spilling its contents. Sarah stopped at the top step, still holding Benji. She looked back to the street.

The dark car sped through the intersection and turned sharply to the left, their side of the street. Dust and particles of shell scattered as tires sought purchase. Sarah pushed Benji farther onto the porch and he fell.

The car jumped the curb and, engine roaring, crashed through the wrought iron fence and turned toward Sarah and her son, lurching into a stop fully into her weed-strewn yard. Crushed shell dust floated around the car, settling in a fine patina on the car’s polished blue surface.

Sarah stood resolutely at the top step, determined to face what might now be danger. She heard her son making a frantic scramble across the porch, noisily dragging his cane by its leather strap.

There were shouts from the jitney. The bus lurched to a stop. Gawking tourists began climbing out.

Sarah heard the rusty hinges squeal on the heavy leaded-glass front door and knew Benji had opened the door.

She remained on her old house’s front steps, her fright turning to fascination as a man climbed from the car. He moved slowly, almost as if exhausted. He was hatless, tie askew, his suit jacket unbuttoned. He turned strangely staring eyes toward Sarah and her son, and they locked with Benjamin’s as he stood at the opened front door. Sarah heard the door slam and knew Benji had fled inside.

The focus of the man’s eyes moved to Sarah. He nodded to her in what could almost have been a greeting as he stood, weaving, holding onto the car’s door, his left hand extended. His face contorted into what might have been a smile as his unbuttoned suit jacket suddenly gaped open. Sarah saw the man’s shirt soaked dark red and knew it was blood.

The injured man moved slowly around the open car door, holding onto the doorframe with his right hand while his left remained extended. Sarah thought it might be an odd form of a greeting. The man staggered and fell sideways onto the fender.

A woman from the tour jitney, overweight, wearing tight, sweat-stained orange-colored rayon slacks opened Sarah’s front gate. Others, behind her, began pushing and crowding into Sarah’s front yard. There was excited chatter.

The man’s lips moved once more as he pushed himself upright. His left hand was still extended, and his lips moved again, but Sarah heard no sound over the nattering of the tourists crowding into her yard, evidently assuming this was a show that had been arranged for their entertainment. Sarah saw one man bend down and pick up Benji’s prized two-piece fishing rod, snug in its leather case. He slung the strap across his shoulders.

The man by the car shook his head in what appeared to be frustration as he tried to push himself off the fender. He fell to his knees.

Sarah now knew. The man needed help! Her thoughts swung from fascination to concern.

She raced down the steps, two at a time, as the man crawled toward both her and the gaggle of tourists flooding through her front gate.

Sarah pushed tourists aside, threading her way through them, shouting, “Get out! This is private property!”

No one listened. The orange rayon-slacked woman was ahead of Sarah and screamed as she watched the man collapse onto his face, then roll over onto his back.

Sarah reached the now prone man, shoved the overweight woman aside and knelt at the side of the stranger.

His dark eyes were blank, staring sightlessly into the brassy August sky. He was dead.

 

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