Anne Caryl

The Gold Train Connection
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Chapter One

The plane dipped its wings twice and plummeted. Maxine heard the screams, as she had every night. Then Humphrey Bogart threw his arms around Ingrid Bergman and they stared into the dizzying rush of clouds.

“I never should have come with you this time,” he told her.

“No, Rick," she said, tears washing her exquisite face. "I like this ending better. We’ll be together always."

Then the lovers turned to Maxine as she tried hard to blink awake before the aircraft hit ground.

She couldn’t, though, and the impact jolted her. She jerked upright, sending the startled cat fl ying into the nightstand. The dreamvanished.

“I’m sorry, Avrom. I just can’t do it," Maxine whined into the dim morning light. "I can’t fly."

The cat regained its senses and leaped up onto the bed again, paced in front of her waving his gray striped tail beneath Maxine’s nose. Maxine corralled the animal, hugged him to her and buried her facein his warm fur. "What can I do, Bertram? I really can’t go with him. I can’t get on an airplane."

Bertram set his paws against her chest, pushed and squirmed in vain.Until last year, the animal had been nameless. "Cat," she used to call him. Then, when things warmed up between Maxine and her employer, Dr. Abraham Sorkin"Avrom" she decided the cat needed a name. A good Jewish name. After all, when she and Abraham were married . . . .

Maxine released the cat and pushed the bedding back, then stretched her legs over the bedside and sat up. She caught sight of herself in the dresser mirror: a middle aged, pudgy, red headed sissy in Elvis pajamas.

Elvis flew, she told herself.

“And look where it got him," she said out loud. “He’s dead."

Maxine opened the nightstand and retrieved a small plastic binder from its depths. She opened up a newspaper article she’d placed inside the notebook last year. "Two Killed in Bombing of Women’s Clinic," it read.

"Two men are being sought by Denver Police as 'persons of interest' in the overnight explosion of a women’s clinic which killed two people. The clinic, owned y Dr. Abraham Sorkin, was a recent target of pro-life protests. Killed in the blastwere Reverend Leonard Soudo of Hope Tabernacle Church and Paige McKenzie, a member of Soudo’s congregation. Both have been identified as suspects in thekidnapping of Sorkin’s nurse, Macie Stone, prior to the explosion.”

“You got through that, you big baby." Maxine folded the newspaper piece again and returned it to the nightstand. She turned back to the mirror, studying her reflection. Abraham saved her from the clinic fire.He pulled her from the building and went back for his young nurse Macie. So what if he had been involved with those creeps to begin with? She owed him. She shook her head at the middle-aged woman who staredback at her.

"Suck it up."

After dressing in her starched whites, Maxine gulped down a cup of Sanka and opened a can of fishy cat food for Bertram. Then she headed out to the bus stop. If she was late today, it would the third time this week.

Macie was already hard at it when Maxine arrived, seated at her desk, her head bent over a ledger. The younger nurse was plump, dressed in blue scrubs with pink hearts printed over them. Maxine frowned. As much as she loved Macie, she wished she could get the girl to dress professionally.

Macie had been different before the kidnapping last year. She’d worn white pants suits then and had been pencil thin. But after that crazy preacher held her to get Abraham’s research notes, and, as it turned

out, to get Abraham himself, Macie changed. Of course, part of that could have been the pregnancy and childbirth. Maybe she didn’t have the time to keep herself up as she did before. Still, after what they wentthrough together, Macie was like a dau--like a younger sister.

“Is the old man here?" Maxine ventured, peeking around the corner toward the door to the examining rooms.

“Dr. Sorkin has been here since eight," Macie answered. "He poked his head out a minute ago to remind me of that, and to ask me if I noticed that you had not."

 

“That old goat." Maxine ducked into the bathroom to run a comb through her hair. Old goat. Sorkin was far from it. He was seventy--not young, but then what was young? Seventy was the new sixty, which was the new fifty.

Avrom had told her that one of the patriarchs, Methuselah, lived over nine hundred years. Maybe Dr. Abraham Sorkin had a few wrinkles, but didn’t that give him character? And Avrom was balding on top, but if she was honest, she was too.

Avrom, Abraham, she must remember not to use the familiar nickname in public, Abraham had big, strong hands, warm, dark eyes and, after Maxine’s extensive input, had acquired an appreciation, if not a liking for the music of Elvis Presley.

Maxine caught a whiff of coffee. That was what she needed now, morethan anything.

“I didn’t sleep last night," she said to Macie as she came out, closing the ladies’ room door behind her.

Macie stood and poured some hot coffee into a tall mug with a bedraggled cat image on the side. I don’t do mornings, the mug read. She handed it to Maxine. “I didn’t get much sleep either. Weslie was up anddown all night. What about you? What kept you awake?"

Maxine smiled at the mention of Macie’s baby. Weslie Ciel was six months old now and, though small, showed no ill effects of last year’s nightmare, being kidnapped and nearly blown up before she was even born. A tiny white tooth had just popped through in the middle of Weslie’s grin, and Maxine could not be more proud if . . .

“Maxine?" Macie cocked her head and waited.

“What? I’m sorry, what did you say Macie?"

“What kept you awake?"

Maxine hesitated. Tears welled and she couldn’t hold them back. When they finally gushed through, the words tumbled out on top of them.

“The plane crashed. I tried to stop it, and Ingrid Bergman looked so frightened, but I couldn’t do anything and the plane . . . Humphrey Bogart said he was glad he was there with Ingrid, and Elvis flew all thetime but I--"

“What in the world are you talking about?" Macie pulled a tissue from the box on the counter and handed it to Maxine.

“Thanks,” Maxine squawked, wiping her eyes. She blew her nose and

squeezed her hand around the wadded tissue. “It’s just . . . I can’t go with

Abraham, Macie. I can’t.”

Macie turned away. Maxine was sure the younger nurse was

laughing.

“It’s not funny. That trip is my wedding present from Abraham.”

Macie put her hand on Maxine’s shoulder. “I know, Maxine. I’m sorry.

It’s just . . . you have a way of saying things that—”

12 ANNE CARYL

“I can’t help what I say when I’m upset. Abraham needs to go back—to

the place where his mother died and the house where he lived as a child.

He says he needs to connect the parts of his life. And I want that for him,

Macie. And for me. Until he does that, there is a part of him I can’t reach.

A part he holds back.” Maxine honked into the wadded tissue again. “But I

cannot fl y to Poland with Abraham, Macie, and I have to tell him that.”

“And you don’t think he’ll understand?” The younger nurse batted

at Maxine’s hand poised at her lips. “Don’t chew. It makes your hands

look older.”

Maxine considered this for a moment. What was it that what’s-his-name

said in “Citizen Kane?” Oh yeah.

“Old age is the only disease that you don’t look forward to being

cured of,” she said.

Macie smiled. “That’s funny.”

“It’s from a movie.” Getting old was humiliating. And what made her

hands look older were the brown spots spiraled at the base of her thumb.

Liver spots. But she did want her hands to look nice for the ring, and . . .

her eyes teared again. “What am I going to do, Macie?”

“You’re that scared of fl ying?”

Maxine nodded. “But I’m even scairder . . . more scared . . .” she

slumped her shoulders, dropped her chin to her chest. Her hands felt

like iced lead. “I’m even more afraid of being alone. Of not having

anybody.”

The phone rang—one short, rude, interrupting ring and then

stopped. Wrong number, probably.

Maxine looked up at Macie. The girl was shaking her head.

“You don’t understand, Macie. You’re young and . . . more to the point,

you’re married.” Maxine sniffed. “I just want what you have. I want a lover

and . . . and a friendship. I want a soul mate. I want—”

“Me, too.”

“Macie, if I don’t make this trip, I’m afraid I’ll lose Abraham.”

“Have you considered praying about this, Maxine?” Macie was staring

into her eyes now. It wasn’t fair. There was no escape.

“Of course.”

“Maxine,” Macie’s voice had a touch of giggle in it. “I don’t think ‘Oh

God, I don’t want to fl y in an airplane’ qualifi es as a real prayer.”

* * *

Abraham Sorkin sat tapping with his ballpoint at his scarred wooden

desk. In three months he would be a married man. In 90 days he would

return to walk the grounds of Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp. Two

THE GOLD TRAIN CONNECTION 13

new journeys to begin. No, that was wrong. One new journey and the

conclusion of an old one. Maybe, when the new journey started—when

he was no longer alone—the nightmares would stop. Or maybe it was the

end of the old journey which would lay to rest his ghosts. He had dreams.

Horrible dreams. Dreams in which he was the monster.

They were always the same, the nightmares: Abraham walked between

wooden bunks stacked three-high, and the cold wind whistled by his ears.

Men in thin striped shirts—men little more than skeletons—crouched on

the fl oor around a stub of candle and recited old Jewish blessings.

Then the dream changed, and he was outside in snow the color of

saffron—snow that bit his toes through holes in his shoes. Outside, looking

at bodies, bloody bodies piled against the hospital wall. Bergen-Belsen

Concentration Camp. Hell.

Saul, Abraham’s older brother, had given his word. He had promised

their mother that they would survive. And so, when the S.S. man came

into the barracks, when he turned his nose up at the smell and the fi lth

and asked,

“Any among you know anything about medicine?”

Saul raised his hand. Saul said he would help in the camp hospital.

And in exchange, Saul and little Abraham got beds in the warm end of

the building. They got food when the rest of the prisoners got fl avored

water soup.

And Abraham survived. Sometimes, over the years, he’d almost wished

he hadn’t. A kapo had no right to survive. A traitor, A turncoat, that’s

what he was. If only he could erase the past. But it was impossible. It was

impossible because Abraham’s memories were only these . . . slow-paced

scenes of the men around the candles, and snatches of other times . . . But

they vanished before Abraham saw them clearly. And the ghosts would

continue to plague his dreams. Pointing their accusing bony fi ngers at

him. Spitting their curses at him until he could walk the grounds of the

camp again, confront them and put them to rest. Then, maybe, he could

be a free man. Free to live his life with his bride.

Maxine knocked before entering Abraham’s offi ce. He jumped.

Maxine was sucking in her bottom lip.

“What is it, Maxine?” She looked as if she would cry any moment.

The image of Maxine’s ninety-three-year-old mother suddenly fi lled his

thoughts. “Is it your mother?”

She shook her head. Why had he thought it might be that? Maxine was

fl ighty. She cried over dead mice. So what did you say to a crazy Gentile

woman who burst into your offi ce looking like the world was about to

end? Looking like the world was ending and it was your fault?

“You look like you just ate the maror,” Abraham said.

14 ANNE CARYL

Maxine frowned at him. What had he done?

Maror.” Abraham looked up at Maxine, cocked his head and raised

his eyebrows in question. When she didn’t respond, he continued. “The

herb Jews eat at the Passover Seder to remind us of the bitter life in Egypt.

You keep saying you want to know about the Jews, so I tell you.”

“Horseradish, right?” Maxine made a face at him, and Abraham

laughed. She wasn’t angry, then.

“So, Maxine, that one you know. And the sour face?” He took her right

hand and kissed the fi ngers. You should not bite your nails, Maxine. You

are so fond of bright polish. And you will chip a tooth, or break one off.

That would be a shame. Up until now they are all yours, yes?”

“You old goat. I suppose you size up all your brides looking into their

mouths like horses.”

“Goats, horses—your love for animals is endearing.”

Maxine frowned again and Abraham stood, drew her close and rocked

in a silent dance. Then he pulled back and tilted her chin up so that her

eyes met his. “Three months, beloved. You have your passport already,

yes?”

“Yes, but—”

Maxine bit her lip and drew a smudge of blood. “Yes.” She was

breathing hard now. “But, Abraham . . . Avrom . . . I don’t think I can

possibly—”

“Possibly what?”

Maxine stepped on Abraham’s foot and he winced. She fl uttered her

hands in the air, took a deep breath and plunged ahead. “I’m afraid—”

“Again with the fear of airplanes. I thought we had won that battle,

Maxine. I though we had decided you were more likely to get killed in a

car.” Abraham paused. Maxine was shaking her head. “Okay, so you don’t

drive. But the bus, Maxine. You could be killed riding the bus.”

“But . . .” her voice trailed off and Abraham thought perhaps he might

win this time.

“I was just saying I need to do some major shopping before I can

fl y anywhere, Abraham.” She put her thumbnail to her lips again and

paused. “And then, there is the wedding. It is only three months away. I

don’t see how—”

Maxine was stalling, hinting at something. Abraham hit his forehead

with his palm. “Old fool! Of course you cannot expect Maxine to get

all this accomplished in three short months. A wedding and a trip. Too

much, too much.”

He paced the width of the offi ce before returning to Maxine and

grabbing her in a tight embrace. “A civil ceremony, that’s what we’ll

have. A small one, with just a few friends. Then we can have the blowout

THE GOLD TRAIN CONNECTION 15

when we return. A canopy and all the trimmings. What do you think of

that, gelibte?”

Maxine’s eyes teared. She pulled a tissue from her pocket and wiped

her nose.

How had Abraham known Maxine all these years and not have seen

before how dear she was? They were not young, after all. And it was

obvious she was overcome with emotion. Abraham patted her shoulder.

“Sentimental old woman.” He sat at his desk again and picked up a manila

folder. Maxine stood for a moment—he felt her watching him—then

started back to the reception area.

* * *

Maxine sat at the computer, staring at the ceiling . . . willing it to fall

on her head.

It didn’t.

Gelibte. Darling. Why did it sound so romantic in Yiddish? The old

goat didn’t play fair.

“So, did you two get it settled?” Macie asked.

“Well, we . . . no. He thinks I’m just worried about getting everything

done. Now he wants a civil ceremony and then a big hullabaloo when

we get back.”

“I see.”

“Macie, you don’t see. You think this is funny, but it’s not.”

“I’m sorry . . .”

“I was engaged to be married once before.”

“I knew that.”

Maxine ignored Macie’s response. “And I sent more airmail letters

through Uncle Sam than I can count. Then, he came home to Georgia

from ‘Nam and I hopped a plane. I wanted to surprise him.”

Macie nodded.

“But I was the one who got the surprise. His . . . his wife met me at

the door, big as a barn with their kid, and told me to get lost. Called me

a home-wrecker and lots of other things I don’t want to repeat.”

Macie sat chewing on her lip.

“If I had just not taken that plane . . .”

Macie opened her mouth like she was going to say something, but

then she just turned back to her desk. Maxine dabbed at her eyes with

a tissue.

“Excuse me?” A voice pounded on her now-throbbing head.

Maxine looked up to see a giraffe of a young woman. They got taller

every year, these kids.

16 ANNE CARYL

“I just get shorter and fatter,” Maxine said.

“Pardon me?”

“Thinking out loud.” Maxine hoped her recent tears weren’t evident.

“May I help you?”

“I’m your new pharmaceutical rep,” the woman said. She tossed a

business card onto the appointment book and inclined her head as if to

show Maxine what lay on the other side of the counter. As if Maxine could

see through the wood and whatever that stuff was the desk top was made

of that the red marker Maxine used sometimes wouldn’t come off of.

Maxine stood and peered over the counter. The girl really wasn’t

all that tall . . . she was wearing ten inch heels—at least. Heels Maxine

couldn’t even stand in. Heels on which Maxine would break her neck. But

men loved those things. Maybe she should try a pair . . . for Abraham. She

might look—” Maxine glanced down at the sensible white SAS oxfords

she wore.

“Ma’am?” The girl was staring at her.

She called me ma’am. “The doctor is busy right now,” Maxine said

through clenched teeth. “Please have a seat.”

The rep turned to the reception area, sank onto a blue couch and

crossed her incredibly long legs. Maxine bit the nail of her index fi nger.

The nail she had just polished to keep from biting.

Macie lifted her gaze from the green ledger book and whispered,

“Lying is a sin, Maxine. Shame on you.”

“And how am I to know he isn’t busy? He looked busy when I was

back there. Sometimes people can be busy when you think they’re just

sitting.”

Macie grinned.

“He looked busy,” Maxine insisted.

“A sin, that’s all I’m saying.” Macie bent over her ledger again.

Maxine studied the ragged fi ngernail, then pulled out a nail fi le from

her leopard-print tote. She pulled the rasp over her nail twice before

tossing it against a manila folder.

“I hate today,” she said, punching the intercom button.

“Yes?” Abraham answered.

“There is a young wom—a pharmaceutical rep here to see you,”

Maxine said.

“I am busy right now,” Abraham replied. “Tell her it will be . . . maybe

fi fteen, twenty minutes.”

A warm fl ush crept over Maxine’s neck. She couldn’t suppress a

giggle.

Macie looked up.

THE GOLD TRAIN CONNECTION 17

“He’s busy,” Maxine said as she picked up the nail fi le again. Score one

for the old lady.

“So . . .” Macie began. Maxine turned her head, but Macie didn’t look

up. “So, when are you going to tell him?”

“I just—”

“That you can’t fl y to Poland with him,” Macie fi nished.

The tears returned. “I hate today,” Maxine said.

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Anne Caryl
504 East Furry St.
Holyoke, Co. 80734