Charles Devonshire paced the deck of the ocean liner he'd boarded sixteen days before. His shoes clacked along the wooden planks while he dodged passengers and scanned the horizon for approaching vessels that might have his father aboard. Once again, he saw nothing except rippling water and frothy whitecaps under the uneven ranks of patchy clouds. He sighed; for at least today, he wouldn't be dragged to his personal prison back home.
With a slight stagger from tossing waves that slammed the ship, Charles neared the bow, where he snatched a copy of The New York Times that had been wedged into a coiled rope. He unfolded it and gripped the edges as it flapped in the cold, salty breeze.
BATTLE OVER PALESTINE CONTINUES!
The world's longest feud has intensified as Jews are rapidly claiming the Arab-dominant territory as their Promised Land, while fleeing post-war hatred generated by Nazi propaganda.
The news tightened his gut, like the time he'd been caught six years before, sneaking into Father's wooden chest of anti-Semitic literature. Even at age ten, his stomach churned with nausea when he'd read the ugliness in the propaganda pamphlets.
When a gust of wind sent shivers to his chest, he wadded up the newspaper because the headlines confirmed what the ship's crew had warned passengers about: Palestine had become a battleground for the most volatile landgrab in history. No wonder passengers had been whispering among themselves and praying more with each passing day.
Boots pounded behind him on the newly swabbed deck. The stomping halted as he turned to see a steward; the sway of the ship didnt budge the man's rigid stance.
"It's after six," the mate said, his hair fluttered under his cap. "No one under eighteen on this deck, little sonny."
Charles had already been fed up with jealous peers who'd taunted him with names such as runt because he'd graduated high school two years early. But instead of walking away, he pulled his fabricated passport from his pocket and struggled to hold it still.
The steward adjusted his spectacles, crouched over and squinted at the photo. He eyes pierced Charles as he straightened. "You don't have glasses like the person in that picture. And the description says red hair. Off with the hat."
Charles removed his cap and pulled his glasses from his pocket while he juggled the wadded newspaper. "Sometimes the glasses give me a headache. I dont use them for reading, mister."
Raising his brows, he hoped the steward would look into his frosty-blue eyes and see him as an innocent passenger. It worked at the train station in Los Angeles, when their attendant also disbelieved he was eighteen.
The steward gave a tight nod. "Sorry to trouble you, sir." He pivoted a half circle and left.
Watching him leave, Charles stooped to retie the laces on his shoes, which bulged from lumps of cash under his feet. The discomfort served as a nagging reminder of his escape from the hostile recruitment of Father's anti-Semitic group. When he straightened and saw the orange sun recede toward the waterline, his eyelids drooped. But it didn't ease his throbbing head while he questioned his sanity for traveling eighty-six-hundred miles to escape his parents' abuse. And there'd be no guarantee of finding wrongdoings from their past, which he'd come to suspect originated in Palestine.
Light mist prickled his face and caused him to blink faster. A Jewish father and his boy, both in black and wearing their distinctive caps and curled hair, passed by. As they disappeared around the corner, he pondered the irony of being on a ship filled with Jews; the very race Father spent his life trying to teach Charles to hate.
Since his appetite had fled, he decided to descend to his quarters. He spiraled down a few dozen steps into the musty common area, and nodded to a young Jewish couple before opening the curtain to his bunk. The last few weeks of fighting the Atlantic's rough waves made sleep difficult, and reading had become his best sleep aid. So he sat on his bed, clicked on his flashlight, and flipped through the preadmissions papers from the Technion University, where he hoped to earn a degree in engineering and dig into his family's past. By chance one day, he'd found a hidden photograph of his parents next to the university's sign, holding him in their arms as a baby. But they had told him that his baby pictures were lost in a fire. And even more mysterious was the writing on the back: 'some day we will return from whence we came.'
Beams of light sliced through his porthole, illuminating his closet-sized area. He dropped his flashlight and gazed out to sea, but intense rays forced him to look away.
Passengers in the barrack-style quarters murmured from thundering echoes outside. Charles slid his curtain open, glanced down the narrow aisle and watched people stagger from their bunks. His heart raced as silhouetted bodies bumped cots, while others waved flashlights and argued with one another.
Finally, he deciphered the booming reverberations outside: "By decree of the Royal British Government, you are ordered to shut down your engines and prepare to be boarded!" The commanding voice repeated at regular intervals while the ship's motors that had hummed for weeks faded to silence, and the vessel slowed to an eerie crawl.
Queasiness beset his stomach again. He thought he'd designed a perfect getaway in the months it took to process his grandfather's inheritance before Father could steal it. And last night's nightmare gnawed his insides; somehow Father had tracked him all the way out at sea.
The interior lights flashed on and the captain's voice muttered over the intercom, but the daunting British accent outside and stammering voices inside, overpowered the ships internal speakers. Charles slipped his shoes on while his new friends roused across the aisle: an elderly rabbi named Jesse Rosenthal, his wife Elizabeth, and their grown son, Samuel.
As Charles crossed the aisle, the ship jerked and thrust him into Samuel's frail body. "I'm sorry, Samuel. I didn't mean to step on your foot."
"It is them again! They going to arrest us!" Samuel shrieked with a Hungarian accent, his eyes wide and shifting about. "The British harpoon the ship with the grappling hook. They will reel us in like-- Something boomed liked a massive door closing in a dungeon. "Hear that? That is boarding ramps. They will take us because we are Jews."
"Samuel, quiet down." Rabbi Jesse gripped his son's shoulder. "How could you possibly know this?"
Beads of sweat ran down Samuel's face. "Not again."
Charles backed up and steadied himself while Samuel bumped into several people who shoved and stumbled their way toward the portholes. Samuel clasped his hands to his head and paced. "We must think of something."
"Get out of the aisle." Jesse pulled Samuel's arm. "Everything will be okay. God is watching over us."
"God will watch you. He does not see me. Maybe I anger Him again."
"What are you talking about, Samuel?" Charles shouted as a gaunt gentleman passed.
Elizabeth drew the rest of their curtain open. "Samuel, come back and sit down."
"I try to enter Palestine eighteen month ago, after I escape Nazi prison ... Buchenwald."
Elizabeth gripped her scarf, her mouth open. Jesse put his palms out. "You didn't tell us about that."
"How could I, Father? You move to America before Nazis take Jews." Samuel whisked his finger starboard. "If we get caught by Brits, we will suffer. They treat Jews like prisoners."
Jesse shook his head. "If that is the British out there, they will not mistreat us. We are American citizens now, and allies. And you don't have to worry, you are with us."
The hall lights flashed on and off a few times.
"Attention all passengers." This is Captain Williams, a shallow voice scratched over the speakers. "We are anchored two miles off the coast of Haifa, Palestine. Please have your passports ready for inspection by the Royal British Navy. Stay calm and wait to be visited by a ship's officer and a British soldier. There is no cause for alarm. This is a routine inspection."
Samuel's warning might be right, but Charles couldn't relax knowing how Father could have used one of his cunning tactics to have the Royal Navy halt the ship.
After sitting with the Rosenthal family and watching passengers calm, a ship's officer and a British soldier entered the deck. When the soldier's tidy dark blue coat came under the light, the area hushed and everyone's demeanor stiffened. The intruder advanced and stopped at each person's quarters, demanding papers, his voice the only sound heard. Charles' forged passport held up so far, yet he battled with the image of Father pacing the main deck, his typical smirky face showing satisfaction, while waiting to have him jailed. Mother wouldn't be up there. She would've remained quiet at home.
After soliciting replies to suspicious questions from each passenger, the soldier turned to Charles. Charles broke eye contact and scanned the red stripes racing down each leg of the invader's white pants. A stiff hand almost hit his chest. "Passport. Religion?"
Charles held out his identification card. "I ah, don't have a religion, sir."
The soldier snatched the document. "You're from Los Angeles? He'd made no previous eye contact with any Jew before approaching, but he fixed an intense gaze on Charles. "You should not be traveling alone, lad, especially to such a volatile place. What's your purpose for traveling to Palestine?"
"Actually he is with us," Jesse said. "We are watching over the boy."
The soldier shifted his glare to the Rosenthals. "Silence! I didn't address you." He thrust his finger at Samuel. "Your son is not an American citizen!" He looked back at Charles with narrowed brows. "Are you with this family, lad?"
"Ah yes, sir." A wave of relief warmed his chest. Jesse had only known Charles for a few weeks, yet he vouched for him.
The soldier made a note on his clipboard, then had the rabbi, his family, and Charles escorted to a stateroom, where they were told the senior officer would question them further.
Charles leaned closer to Samuel as they followed the soldier. "It's going to be okay."
"That is easy for you to think. You are not a Jew. Everywhere I go, somebody wants to arrest me, torture my body, or kill me."
Those words resonated with Charles. He too felt anxiety from being pursued by someone with evil intentions. He could imagine the Nazis or Father inflicting harm on these Jews, but not the British. Nothing in the media had covered abuse toward people like Jesse and his family since the war ended.
With the thought of his new friends being treated like convicts, Charles tightened his jaw and stomped the steps as they ascended toward the main deck: the Rosenthals had made the lonely trip much more tolerable, insisting he join them at mealtimes. Jesse had even offered him a place to stay at his brother's home in Haifa. And Jesse was the opposite of Father: kind, understanding and enthusiastic about Charles pursuing a degree. Elizabeth recognized the interest he took in her husband's conversations about biblical prophecies concerning a mass regathering of Jews to Palestine. Rabbi Jesse boasted in the Scriptures as his reason for migrating to the Promised Land, she'd said.
After trudging up more narrow steps and walking down a long corridor, they entered a stateroom with fancy walnut siding and red velvet chairs lining the edges. The commander entered and positioned himself under a chandelier like a statue. Then he inspected Charles from top to bottom. "You may enter, but your Jew friends are not going to Palestine."
Charles heart plummeted to his stomach. Denied passage simply because they were Jews? This wouldn't do.
His rebuke died on his lips when Elizabeth faced her husband and crossed her arms. "I can't believe this. We're not criminals!" Her boldness reminded Charles how opposite she was from Mother.
Jesse crossed his arms over his chest like his wife. "I beg your pardon, sir. We have valid American passports."
"It doesn't matter. Our quota of fifteen hundred Jews expired this month. All others are considered illegal. I'm recommending Cyprus for your family until we find you passage back to the United States." The commander stiffened. "The boy goes to Palestine alone."
"That is prison!" The sweat on Samuel's face shimmered under the bright light above.
The commander removed his white glove and slapped Samuel's face with it. "Not another word out of you!"
Elizabeth snarled and stepped forward, Jesse stretched his arm across her chest. Samuel remained frozen as if he'd seen a Nazi.
"I'm an American non-Jewish college student. I'm relying on this family to sss-support me while I'm in school." He thrust his finger portside in the direction of the shore. "If they don't accompany me to Palestine, I'll make sure the American consulate opens an inquiry as to why you hindered an international student."
The commander raised his brows and paused. "If I allow these Jews into Palestine, what's stopping them from uprising against us? In case you haven't heard, we're sustaining attacks by Jewish freedom fighters in every sector."
Charles shook his head. "I'm just here to get an education. And the rabbi is assuming leadership at a synagogue in Haifa."
Another officer approached, clacked his boot on the wood floor and cleared his throat. The commander turned to Charles with a smirk. "Excuse us." He walked a short distance with the soldier. Officers in the background interrogated other Jews while Charles studied the commander's wrinkled face. The other officer pointed at them as he spoke, his mouth hidden from Charles' sight.
Charles focused on the commander's lips when they started moving: "Don't bother me with your uninsightful reasoning. The boy just raised a political threat you are not privy to. Their President Truman, is constantly nagging the parliament to let one hundred thousand Jews into Palestine. That would not go well with our Arab oil suppliers. I want no incidents with this ocean blockade." He shot a quick glance at Charles. "We need to be very careful with American citizens, like that young student." His wrinkles deepened. "They are all going to Palestine. Process their passes."
The officer saluted the commander, did an about-face and stomped off.
Charles resisted a grin, knowing he'd been instrumental in helping the rabbi join relatives in Haifa. Yet his heart ached to watch so many other innocent families hauled off the vessel; Jews who'd left everything in America for some barren desert in Palestine, just because some old historical book said they would regather there in the last days of earth's history.
The commander motioned his hand and another officer came and escorted them to the dining room, where non-Jewish passengers chattered and lingered. "I told you it's going to be okay, Charles told Samuel when the officer left."
Samuel's glossed-over stare repelled his reassurance.
Before he could reassure Samuel again, two soldiers entered the room and bolted toward Charles. Their boots slammed the oak floor in sync like a steady tribal drum. Charles gasped, and imagined the handcuffs in the soldier's belt-pouch on his wrists. He'd paid a lot of money to create a fictitious name and background history on his documents, and they were coming to ruin his master plan.
"Samuel Rosenthal?" the taller soldier said.
Charles let his breath out as Samuel hunched forward and looked toward his shoes. His statement about being hunted because he was Jewish made little sense to Charles since the Third Reich fell; the persecution was now uncalled for. Either the British apprehended Jews to appease Arabs, or some other underlying plot had to be simmering.
The soldier leaned forward. "I said ..."
"Yes, he's my son." Puffing out his large chest, Jesse nudged himself between the soldier and Samuel. Elizabeth planted herself next to her husband.
The soldier maneuvered around both parents and unbuttoned his handcuff pouch. "Samuel Rosenthal, you are under arrest for immigration smuggling." He whisked his cuffs out and fastened them on Samuel's wrists. The clicking sound made Charles clench his teeth.
Jesse threw his arms up, barely missing the arresting soldier. "What's the meaning of this?"
The other soldier moved his hand to his holstered pistol. Charles tried to think of something, but in the face of two armed warriors, his mind went blank.
THIS IS HALF OF THE FIRST CHAPTER. THANKS FOR READING.