The story so far: Katka and Paul arrive at Ellis Island.
Paul bit his lower lip and did not look at her. He reached for the inside pocket of his jacket and pulled out a thick, folded piece of parchment. “There is something else.” Fumbling a bit, he undid the left pocket of Katka’s gray wool coat. He slipped the parchment inside and patted the pocket gingerly. “Don’t lose this. On this paper is the name of the train you are to board. It is written in English. Tucked inside is American money.”
Katka stared directly into his face. She tried to keep her voice free of the desperation she felt. “I thought you were coming with me.”
“I hope to come with you,” Paul said. “That is my intent, Kat.”
Kat. He called her Kat again.
“But it is possible I will get delayed here.”
“Are you ill?” Her voice was hard, almost angry.
“People who are sick always lie about it. My father lied to my mother. My mother lied to me. If you’re sick, tell me, Paul.”
“I’m not sick. And I have no desire to lie to you, ever. Sometimes I don’t tell you everything. But that is not the same as lying. If I leave you, it is not by choice.” He grabbed her hand and squeezed it, a little too tightly. “Katka. Do exactly as I say. No more questions. Understand?”
She nodded and he released her hand, which felt oddly cold from his touch. Instinctively she reached for her pockets.
“Do not open that pocket,” Paul said. “Do not open it until after you see the doctor. They will send you to talk to some officials who will ask you questions. Don’t mention me, but otherwise answer them truthfully. Show them the letter from your uncle, and when they ask if you have money, show them what is in your pocket.”
“Will they let me through?” Katka asked. “What if they don’t?” Her hands were shaking. She clasped them behind her back.
“You will get through. When you do, they will tell you how to find the train to Chicago. In Chicago you must change trains. Take the train to Duluth, Minnesota.”
“Chicago. Duluth. Minnesota.” She repeatedly the words slowly, memorizing the way Paul pronounced each syllable.
“Duluth is a town in Minnesota. Like Zirovnica is a town in Slovenia. After you get through the checkpoints, move slowly, and I will look for you. If more than an hour passes, you must go without me. Board the train. Buy some fruit and bread. Rest. Guard your money and your trunk. Your uncle will be waiting for you in Duluth. I have already sent word.”
“Yes,” she said quietly.
“Now there is just one more thing. When you are safe with your uncle, when he takes you to his home, he will ask you a question and there is only one answer.”
“There is never just one answer.”
“In this case, there is only one question and only one answer. It alludes to an old proverb. Your uncle will ask, “What do you do after you tell the truth?”
“Run,” Katka said.
“I see you know it. It is a familiar saying. But the answer you must give is, “Run to the fields.”
“Run to the fields.”
“Then you must ask him to fix the lock on your trunk. Can you do that? Promise you won’t forget.”
An immigration officer beckoned the line to move forward. “It is time to part,” Paul said. He looked at her and touched her chin, playfully. He paused, as if about to speak, but thought better of it.
“What is it, Paul?”
“Do not call me Paul. Not here.” He looked off in the distance, scanning the crowd. “Remember, when they ask you questions, tell them you are traveling alone.”
“I’m a little frightened.”
“You are a tiger in the night.”
“I only pretend to be. I’m a mouse, scurrying about in a ramshackle cottage.”
“No. You are a tiger who knows what it is like to be a mouse.” Paul looked behind him. He looked to the side. “I will see you again,” he whispered. “I promise.” He disappeared behind a mass of people and was gone.
Paul knew he was in trouble. When he left Katka, he went immediately to the designated place. Elizabeth was there, waiting, just as she said she would be. She wore a long black skirt and a white shirt with long sleeves and ruffles up the front. Her large-brimmed purple hat had a pink ribbon.
“They know you are here,” she said. “Someone tipped them off. Switch suitcases.”
He put his suitcase down, and picked up hers instead.
“Good luck. If you don’t make it out, we will find another way. Find the guard named Tommy O’Sullivan. He will know the code.”
“Watch that the girl gets on the right train. She is going to Chicago, then Duluth, Minnesota.”
“I’ll see to it.”
He tipped his hat to Elizabeth.
“I’ll take that,” she said, holding out her hand. He gave her his hat. “Your coat?” He handed it to her and walked into the crowd. When surrounded by people, he knelt down and opened the suitcase. He found a new coat and hat, and quickly put them on. He closed the suitcase, put his hand in the inside pocket and breathed a sigh of relief.
As he stood up, he felt a hand on his shoulder. Turning, he saw a man with a shock of yellow hair, wearing a black suit with a white bow tie. “I do hope you’ll come quietly this time, Mr. Schmidt. We’d hate for you to disappear.” The man marked the left sleeve of his coat with the letter “A.” Anarchist. Then he circled the letter.
“I am a citizen of this country. I have done nothing wrong.”
“Of course you haven’t,” the agent said. “Everyone’s an innocent.”
Tomorrow: Chapter 3 continues.