In Chapter One, Miri and her aunt were visiting Mrs. Mintz in the nursing home. Miri was interviewing Mrs. Mintz for an article she wanted to write about Miami during World War II. Mrs. Mintz revealed that she knew of a German man who had been a collaborator with the Nazis during World War II and who was still living in Miami. Miri was intrigued but her aunt told her not to ask any more about it. It sounded dangerous.
Though I usually dreaded our weekly visit to the nursing home, the next week I was eager to speak with Mrs. Mintz again. I was imagining all the excitement when my column would come out: “German Collaborator Nabbed by Miri Belsky.”
Mrs. Mintz was seated in her wheelchair in her usual spot by the fountain. Her blue eyes were ablaze. Aunt Bella handed her a pink carnation.
Mrs. Mintz whined. “You know I need a new house dress. Mine is in threads. Can’t you see that? I have no one to help me. No one cares.”
Aunt Bella smoothed her blanket. “We’ll try to get you one for next time, dear.”
“Your visits are so infrequent.”
Aunt Bella smiled. “So nice to see you.”
I wanted to say, what do you mean infrequent? We come twice a week, every week.
After another 20 minutes of listening to her litany of complaints, Aunt Bella asked, “Miri, do you want to come to see some of our other friends upstairs?”
“I’ll come soon. I wanted to ask Mrs. Mintz some more questions – if that’s okay, Mrs. Mintz?” I tried to catch her eye.
I sat down near her wheelchair, turned on the recorder and waited.
She frowned. “What is that for?”
“Oh, remember I wanted to record your recollections about Miami during World War II?”
Mrs. Mintz was quiet and I feared she was refusing to share with me when suddenly she began speaking. Her voice had a lilt I’d never heard before.
“I must have been around 8 or 9 when my best friend, Rebecca, and I were playing our favorite game close to the beach. We used to pretend we were pirates and we’d use the bushes and a little wooden platform as our pirate ship. We were standing there looking over the coast for other ships when we heard voices. I motioned Rebecca to duck down. There was a young man we knew. He must have been 18 or 19 years old. He was a neighbor. He wore his navy service uniform. He was speaking in low tones to another man and the wind carried their voices to us. The words the man spoke sounded like Yiddish, but he wasn’t speaking Yiddish. I realized later that it was German.
“This cold angry tone of his voice was frightening. He used the word kill in English and smiled a wicked smile. We both sensed danger. We stayed hidden in our pretend pirate ship behind some bushes.
“After they left, we headed towards the beach to collect shell treasures. Rebecca was the one who saw it first. There was an envelope lying on the ground. It had words scribbled in another language on the front of the envelope.
“I brought it to my father and I remember he opened the envelope and pulled out a paper. He read it and then he turned pale. He told me it was good that I had brought it to him and I saw him lock it in our family safe. The safe was hidden behind a portrait of my great-great-grandfather.
“One night, I heard my parents whispering about the letter. My mother said, ‘Joshua, that letter should be brought to the authorities. Don’t you think? The man who dropped the letter is a traitor. He’s working with the Nazis against our country.’ I shivered when I thought of the man in the immaculate American Navy uniform with the cold angry voice.
“‘I think we should not say anything. That letter could get our whole family killed. Those men are dangerous. We will keep it in the safe until this awful war is over. Then we will take it to the police.’
“My parents were killed in an accident before the end of the war and the letter lay in the safe, forgotten for all these years, until you reminded me, Miri, with your questions.”
I felt my heart racing. This was a big story, a really big story, and I could write it. “So where is the letter now?”
Mrs. Mintz sighed. “I don’t know. Our family home was sold long ago.”
“Do you think it’s possible that the letter could still be there?”
“It’s 1994 now! That was fifty years ago. I don’t know if the letter is still there.”
“Who lives there now in that house?”
“I don’t know.”
I asked her for the address and Mrs. Mintz rattled off the address of her old childhood home. “It’s located on a very quiet deserted street. My parents liked the privacy.”
Mrs. Mintz sighed. “It would be good if you could recover the letter. You could take care of what my parents weren’t able to do.”
To be continued…
Susie Garber is the author of Denver Dreams, a novel (Jerusalem Publications, 2009), Memorable Characters…Magnificent Stories (Scholastic, 2002), Befriend (Menucha Publishers, 2013), The Road Less Traveled (Feldheim, 2015), fiction serials and features in various magazines including A Bridge in Time, historical fiction serial (Binyan Magazine, 2017). She writes the community column for the Queens Jewish Link and she writes the Queens page for Hamodia. She works as a writing consultant in many yeshivos and she teaches creative writing to students of all ages.