Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.


Chapter Four Hundred and Seventy : Moxie

CHAPTER FOUR HUNDRED AND SEVENTY

For the next three months, she did exactly what she was told. She ate what her mother fed her; she worked out as Perses told her to; she joined the martial arts group that Colin ran; she meditated on forgiveness; she baked and baked and baked and baked; she slept like a baby only to wake up and do it all over. One day, she came out to breakfast.

“I’m ready,” Candy said.

Perses raised his eyebrows at her.

“I’m strong,” Candy said with a grin to his eyebrow challenge.

Perses gave her a nod. They went to an attorney and sued to get Candy’s clothing back. They even got a cash settlement for the house and her half of Jazmyne’s pension.

The day after she’d declared that she was strong, Candy had started working with Cian and Eoin in their bakery shop. She’d started slow with a wedding cake order business. She’d make a wedding cake here or there; it was nothing big. Her mother worried and Perses had great ideas. The three of them went together to drop of the first cake, the second, but the fifth cake Candy was able to do on her own. She reveled in the look her mother and Perses had given her when she came home and told them all about it. They loved her and they were proud.

When she got the money from Jazmyne’s pension, she bought into the bakery shop. Now a full partner, she hired bakers to make specialty cakes which she sold to the chef owned restaurants. It took a lot of work and “moxie” (that’s what Perses called it), but Candy had landed all of the big gourmet restaurants in town. Just last week, they’d closed on a deal with the biggest owner of pub houses in Denver for cakes made with their craft beers.

Perses had stood with her for every decision. They’d debated the pros and cons but when it came down to it, he always made sure she was making her own decision. He demanded that she decide. More than once, he’d flown into a fury at her for wanting someone else to make her decisions for her.

She wasn’t afraid of his fury. She was forged in rage and hatred and disgust. His pushing and prodding, her mother’s love, and Candy’s moxie had exorcised these invaders from her cells and soul. She was now immune to their effects.

But Perses had to be sure. When she’d smile at him, he would laugh at himself and at her.

She looked up when her mother’s husband walked toward her.

“Perses,” Candy said.

“Are you sure?” Perses asked.

Candy nodded. With her nod, he stepped aside and the social worker came to sit next to her.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” the social worker asked. “Jazmyne has lost all parental rights. Their mother is dead. There are no relatives. You won’t be proving anything to anyone.”

“I know,” Candy said firmly. “I don’t feel like I have to prove myself to anyone.”

“This isn’t something you can start and stop,” the social worker said. “It’s not like a cat that you can take back to the pound.”

“I’d never do that,” Candy said.

“If you offer to take these kids in, you have to be ready for whatever they dish out,” the social worker continued.

“I’m ready,” Candy said. “My parents live next door. We will do it together.”

A flash of panic shot through her. She glanced at Perses. He gave her a nod and the panic faded.

“Good,” the social worker said. “Let’s go meet the kids.”

~~~~~~~~

Saturday afternoon — 2:30 p.m.

“You’re sure?” Bernie, Sandy’s grandfather, asked.

They were standing under the awning in back of Sandy’s studio.

“You ask me that every time,” Sandy said.

“Technically, it’s money laundering,” Bernie said.

Sandy turned to look at him. She pointed at his chest.

“I earned every one of those fucking coins,” Sandy said

“That may be true, but they were earned in the commission of a crime,” Bernie said.

Rather than respond, Sandy squinted at him. Bernie’s hand went to his chest and he coughed. Sandy put her hand on his upper arm.

“Bernie?” Sandy asked. Instantly, she felt awful. Her grandfather was at least ninety years old. “Are you okay?”

“I just saw your grandmother in your face,” Bernie said. He glanced at her. “Scared the crap out of me.”

Sandy laughed. She always forgot what a ham Bernie could be. He grinned at her. Shaking her head at him, she turned back to look at the parking lot.

“Tell me about this one,” Sandy said.

“This is a journal from an author,” Bernie said. He said the name but Sandy could only decipher the word: “Lidia.”

“And this Lidia?” Sandy asked.

Bernie said her name again, but to Sandy’s American ears it sounded like a slur of syllables. She gave him a vague smile, and he openly laughed at her. She grinned at him.

“I will say that you truly are the best of Seth and Andy and my darling wife,” Bernie said.

“But not you?” Sandy asked.

“If you were my granddaughter, you’d know the name Lidia …” he said the slur of syllables again.

She laughed.

“Maybe it’s because I am your granddaughter that I put up with your crap,” Sandy said with a grin.

He impulsively hugged Sandy. He was taller and thinner to Sandy’s tiny, thick frame. She had this feeling that she was hugging a scarecrow. He let go of her.

“Why do we care about this Lidia’s journals?” Sandy asked.

“Lidia is an amazing author,” Bernie said. “One of a kind. She would have won a Pulizer if she wasn’t killed in the gas chamber at Sobibór. She was in the running for her first book. Her second was almost guaranteed the award.”

“And the journal?” Sandy asked.

“Personally, I think it’s a test,” Bernie said. “I think he has the novel or knows where it is. He says the journal will make clear where the second novel is located.”

“Why not sell it before now?” Sandy asked.

Bernie sighed. He gave Sandy an impatient look.

“I mean besides the fact that he was able to keep its location from the Nazi’s all while managing to survive a concentration camp, and then immigrating to the United States …”

“And making a life here and trying to put it all behind him and …” Bernie said.

They stood in sad silence for a moment.

“Mostly, it was something that belonged to his mother,” Bernie said. “Seth gave me the papers that Maresol had found in the walls of the O’Malley house. I …”

Bernie lifted a shoulder.

“They smell like my beloved,” Bernie said. “I wouldn’t want to part with anything that reminded me of my love, now, long gone.”

“But why sell it now?” Sandy asked. “Why sell it to us?”

“He needs the money now,” Bernie said. “If it goes to auction, it will be at least a year of authentication and then the lawsuits will start. The Polish government will say it was stolen from them by the Germans. The German government will claim that it belongs to them. Israel will say that it’s a part of her estate which was given to their museum in her name. After a hundred lawyers argue for a hundred weeks, it will take at least another six months at auction, and then they’ll have to find the book.”

“He needs the money,” Sandy said.

Now,” Bernie said. “He wants to see Israel before he dies, before his wife dies. What we give him today will get him to Israel. When we find the book, we will give him enough to live out the rest of his life in comfort.”

“Like the watch we bought last month,” Sandy said.

“He heard about us from the watchmaker’s son,” Bernie nodded. “Approached me at the JCC.”

“Why aren’t you buying it?” Sandy asked. “Seth says you’re loaded.”

“My granddaughter wants to launder some gold coins,” Bernie said with a laugh.

Sandy grinned.

“What better way than have her launder some evil money than use it to help people who, like her, have survived real evil?” Bernie lifted a shoulder in a shrug. “A few old people live out their lives in peace, and the world gets to look at the treasures they snatched from the clutches of the Nazi’s.”

Sandy nodded, but her face was cast with worry.

“What did you do with the watch?” Bernie asked.

“I donated it to a group that buys girls and boys from sex traffickers,” Sandy said. “They sold it for close to three and a half million dollars. Czech Republic wanted it for their national museum. It was on their wish list. They got in a bidding war with a collector from Austria and one of those Russian oligarchs. We had the provenance so everyone wanted it. A Czech citizen coughed up the last million.”

Sandy thought for a moment before nodding.

“How many girls is that?” Bernie asked.

“About thirty-five. Fifteen boys, too, I think. The boys are always bought with more secrecy because the world has such harsh judgements about them. I don’t really know how many,” Sandy said. “Our donation stipulated that they purchase US kids; they are more expensive. The group kept about half of the money for the aftercare for the kids. A bunch of them were kidnapped or missing. So, they went home after they were released from the hospital. They’ll still get help — education, therapy, whatever — if they need it. The group sent me pictures of the family reunions. They were … Didn’t Seth show you?”

Nodding, Bernie smiled.

“That’s incredible,” Bernie said.

“I worry that we’re just encouraging the traffickers, you know, by paying them,” Sandy said. “But if it was 1817, I’d buy as many slaves as I could so I could set them free. It would have been a drop in the bucket. These kids are the same. And anyway, we publicly donate to advocacy groups and Seth regularly talks to legislators about human trafficking laws.”

Sandy nodded, and Bernie smiled.

“How will we know what he has?” Sandy asked. “I don’t speak Polish.”

Seeing a silver Lincoln Towncar car pull into the alley, Bernie waved away her concern. The car pulled into the slot in front of them. Bernie walked forward to greet the man. Unable to understand what they were saying, Sandy watched their movements as if they were pantomime.

The man got out. He was thin, but tan. He wore wireless glasses and an oversized blue suit. When he shook Bernie’s hand, his sleeve rose to show the alpha-numeric tattoo he’d worn since Auschwitz. Bernie said something about Sandy because the man turned to look at Sandy. The man assessed Sandy for a moment before a smile broke out across his face. His white dentures matched his bright, intelligent eyes. Bernie led the man toward Sandy.

“Sandy,” the man said in soft, clear English. “It is such a pleasure to meet you. We have known Bernie for a very long time. Seth, well, he is famous. His mother was a dear friend of my wife and mine. But you? You were hidden from all of us. Would you mind if I hugged you?”

Sandy shook her head. The elderly man gave Sandy a tight hug and released her. He said something to Bernie in some language. Sandy looked at Bernie.

“He says that you remind him that our suffering has allowed our children could live in peace in this beautiful country,” Bernie said.

Sandy blushed. The man gave a tattered bound book with a leather cover. Bernie nodded to Sandy’s pocket and she took out the 25 gold Kugerrands. She set them in the man’s hand in five sets of five coins. He counted the coins and put them into his pocket.

“This is just the down payment,” Sandy said. She leaned forward. “Bernie insisted.”

“Of course he did,” the man said with vigor. “He is protecting you.”

“When he’s sure of what we have, we’ll give you the rest,” Sandy said. She looked at his head. “And a haircut.”

The man put his hand to his head and then chuckled.

“In fact,” Sandy looked at Bernie.

Her grandfather’s head was already in the journal. Sandy hooked her arm through the elderly man’s elbow. She led him into the salon and quickly clipped his hair. She set him up with a shave while she worked on another client. She was so busy that she finished him up and sent him on his way without another thought. At some point, she noticed that Bernie was reading the journal at her table in the back. It was after seven o’clock before she could check in with him again.

The journal was sitting on the table, but Bernie wasn’t there.

“Bernie?” Sandy asked.

“Here,” Bernie said as he came in from the bathroom.

“What do you think?” Sandy asked.

“I think we’ve found a real treasure,” Bernie said.

Sandy smiled.

“How many jars of gold coins do you have?” Bernie asked.

“A few,” Sandy said cautiously.

She knew that if she’d told him outright, he would have admonished her. He grinned at her caution.

“Why?” Sandy asked.

“We’ll need most of one for this project,” Bernie said. “And … well, I’m glad we’re doing this. I think I might start kicking in for some of these items.”

“Won’t you risk getting caught?” Sandy asked. “I thought the beauty of this was that the items are technically ‘lost’; my money technically doesn’t exist; and …”

“I have my own hidden pots of gold,” Bernie said evenly. “Many of my friends do as well.”

Sandy chuckled.

“What?” Bernie asked.

“When you watch everything certain evaporate overnight …” Sandy started to quote him.

“You realize the importance of hiding a little security for yourself and your family,” Bernie said.

Sandy nodded.

“This is important work, Sandy,” Bernie said.

“Thanks for making it happen.” Sandy grinned at him. She nodded toward the journal. “What’s next for this?”

“I need to make inquiries,” Bernie said. “We’ll need to go to Poland, at the very least. If this journal is right, and if the Nazi’s never found it — which is a big ‘if’ — we’ll be buy a lot of kids and changing the face of Eastern European literature at the same time.”

Sandy smiled.

“Is Nash home?” Bernie asked. “His friend, Teddy?”

“They should be,” Sandy said.

“Would you mind if they helped me?” Bernie asked. “They know all about those computer programs and satellite imaging. Nash told me that he even knows someone who will sometimes let them look at real-time satellite imaging.”

“For this?” Sandy asked.

Bernie nodded. Sandy smiled.

“We have no secrets at our house,” Sandy said.

“That’s right,” Bernie nodded. “Aden took a spot on the board of the group you were referring to.”

“Secret group,” Sandy reminded.

Bernie grinned at her.

“Nash would love to help,” Sandy said. “But you have to tell him what’s secret and what is not. Teenage boys are incredible gossips, especially about this kind of thing.”

Bernie grinned at Sandy.

“I just need to close up and clean up,” Sandy said. “Would you like to come home with me?”

“Sounds fun,” Bernie said. “I’ll call Maresol.”

Sandy nodded. She went into the salon to check on things. Her assistant was just folding the aprons. The floor was swept. Pete and the cleaning crew he and his wife had started would be here in a few minutes. She gave the other stylist a hug and helped her out the front door. The assistant left behind the other stylist. Smiling to herself, she went to the back to find Bernie. He was chatting with Pete with the journal tucked nonchalantly under his arm.

“Good day?” Bernie asked when they started walking towards the Castle.

“Really good day,” Sandy said.

Bernie grinned and they continued walking in companionable silence.

~~~~~~~~

Saturday afternoon — 3:10 p.m.

“What are you saying?” Mike gasped and squinted at the same time.

Knowing this response, Valerie started panicking. Her head shook back and forth in quick succession. Eddie moved and Valerie looked down at him. The bassinette that had raised Rachel and Maggie and Jackie and … Her panicked revelry was interrupted by Mike’s hand on her arm.

“Valerie,” Mike said, in a low whisper to not wake Eddie. “What exactly are you saying?”

Valerie looked at him. She knew the betrayal and shock that reflected on his face. His face was red. His eyes were big and full of moisture. His mouth was partly open to handle the panicked breath he was working to control. She’s seen this reaction, his reaction, so many times that she started to panic in response to his face. He raised his eyebrows, and she swallowed hard.

“I …” Valerie started again.

His fingers tightened around her arm and he pulled her into the next room.

“Mike!” Valerie pried his hand from her arm. Continuing in a whisper, she added, “You’re hurting me!”

“You’re hurting me!” Mike whispered. “What is going on?”

“I …” Valerie shrugged and sat down. “It’s just …”

Mike shook his head at her. She looked at the ceiling and dropped her shoulders.

“You’re leaving,” Mike said.

Valerie nodded.

“Me?”

Mike’s single word was so laced with pain that she stopped looking at the ceiling and looked at him. After a moment, she shook her head.

“Did you have to think about that?” Mike asked.

Valerie gave a vigorous shake of her head. Mike was so relieved that he dropped on the couch next to her. After catching his breath, he turned to look at her.

“What’s going on?” Mike asked.

“I got offered a part to start … immediately,” Valerie said. “Well, soon.”

“Okay,” Mike said.

“I … I’m worried about …”

“Wait,” Mike said. “Before you get all caught up in how it’s all going to work out, answer me this.”

Valerie looked at him and nodded.

“Do you want to do it?” Mike asked.

Valerie nodded. “Since I was eleven years old.”

“Then the rest will work out,” Mike said.

“What about Eddie?” Valerie asked.

“What about him?” Mike asked.

“What about …” Valerie started. Mike held up his hand and she stopped talking.

“Everything starts and ends with what makes you happy,” Mike said. “Do I make you happy?”

Valerie nodded.

“Eddie?”

Valerie nodded.

“Jackie?”

Valerie nodded.

“This movie?”

“I think so,” Valerie said.

“Then the rest of it will work out,” Mike said.

“But …” Valerie said.

Mike lifted his shoulders in nonchalant shrug. She grinned at him.

“Come on,” Mike said. “You’re still healing from having Eddie and you’re exhausted. Everything will seem better when you get some rest.”

He led her back into the bedroom. She crawled into bed and was asleep in a moment. He watched her sleep. For a long, long time, their life was defined by chaos and betrayal. A moment ago, he was sure that chaos had returned. He blinked. Shaking his head, he climbed into the bed next to her.

For as long as he could, he was going to live this life with this incredible woman. Saying a silent prayer, he fell sound asleep.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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