By Sophia Hansen
The years haven’t been kind, but—Grete adjusted the eyepatch, making sure it didn’t ride on her cheekbone—kinder than I deserve. She glanced out the grimy window to the alley below.
“Oh, Schatzi, is that scar bothering you again?” Cook dipped her finger into a tin of salve.
Grete shrunk back, wrinkling her nose.
“Come here, little one,” Cook chided. “This isn’t going to hurt.”
“But it smells like old straw!” Grete protested. Cook fussed over her as if she were still seven. “And I’m not a little one. I’m nearly—”
“I don’t care about the calendar,” tut-tutted Cook. “You’ll always be meine kleine schatzi.”
“Well, your little schatzi spent the last twenty years trying to find someone who can bring back Klay. I’ve got a lead here in Chelm—information on a mystic rabbi—but I won’t be intimidating if I smell like a haystack.”
Cook sniffed. “Ladies shouldn’t be intimidating. You won’t catch a nice young man that way.”
Grete glared at the ceiling.
“Don’t you roll your eyes at me, Schatzi. I promised your dear mutti and vater that I would take good care of you, bless their souls.” Cook blew a kiss to the sky. “This lead, it’s a boy? If he’s single, invite him back. I can make a nice strudel.”
“No!” Grete winced at the flash of hurt in Cook’s eyes. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to yell. But this is the closest I’ve gotten to finding someone who can help. And for the last time, I don’t want a ‘nice young man.’”
She muttered, “I want Klay.”
As she expected, the lead wasn’t talkative, but a fistful of new złotych was convincing.
To be fair, her blond hair and blue eyes, er, eye, didn’t exactly scream “Hunting mystics with centuries-old secrets!” It helped that the informant didn’t believe the rabbi was anything more than an old crackpot. And he certainly wasn’t going to miss a chance to line his pockets. Just like the ones who’d sold out Klay’s maker.
Collaborators. Ptui. But she didn’t need to like him, just his info. And he had the rabbi’s address.
Another wasted night in Poland’s finest alleys. Best call Cook and have her hold that strudel. Grete headed for a pay phone.
Rough hands shoved her against the green telefon-box. “You’ve been seeking knowledge that is not for you.”
She struggled, but the grip tightened. “Don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Stop this quest. Leave the golem be.”
Her heart nearly stopped. “How did you know?”
“That’s my job. I keep these things secret… keep them safe. Get out of Chelm.”
“Hozai swine,” Grete spat as she peeled off her gloves.
“But Schatzi, are you sure he’s Hozai Latim?” Cook bustled after her, hanging up the jacket, putting away the weapons. “I thought they were just a legend. Myths spread to protec—”
“He practically showed me his papers.” She tugged off her boots, twisting the chunky heel to access its hidden compartment.
She mocked. “‘I keep them secret… keep them safe.’”
She pulled a purple bundle out of the hollow, unwrapping it tenderly. “The fool knows nothing of keeping a secret safe.”
“But if he told you to leave Chelm…” Cook looked as if she might burst into tears. “Maybe you should listen?” She sniffed, tossing curls that had faded from gray to white over decades of service. “I know, I know. Not without your Klay.”
Grete cradled the pot shard with a whisper. “You were supposed to be mine, forever.”
It was late afternoon by the time she found the rabbi.
“Such a nice girl. Why are you looking for trouble like this? You should be home, making dinner for your family.”
“That’s why I’m here, Rabbi. Klay was… family. He was destroyed because of me.” She reached for her boot and opened the secret compartment. Her hands trembled as she removed the dark velvet, embroidered with a gold E.
“Where did you get that?” The doddering facade fell away as the rabbi leaned forward, eyes bright and sharp.
“In Herr Engel’s room… after they… took him away. I used it to keep this safe. It was the only part that didn’t turn to dust.”
She unwrapped the earthen fragment—all that was left of her childhood friend. There were vestiges of writing, but the word was incomplete.
“If anyone can bring Klay back—”
“May I?” The Rabbi reached for the cloth, tracing the gold letter embroidered on purple. “Viktor Engel, of all the Khelemer khakhomim, you did it. Shall I, too, follow the wise men of Chelm?”
They collected and shaped clay until, on the sixth day, Rabbi Lowe declared, “We will finish before sundown.” He donned his vestments and began to engrave the final inscription.
The door slammed open. A man burst in, eyes as dark and wild as his hair. He brandished a gun at Grete. “Yente! I told you to leave.”
Hands up, she moved in front of the rabbi and his worktable. “I don’t want trouble.”
“You’re meddling in matters that are not for you.”
“Who is this? Why is he waving a gun?” Rabbi Lowe demanded.
Grete tried to hide her disdain. “Hozai Latim, he’s a Secret Keeper.”
The rabbi didn’t hide his disdain. “Feh! Hozai are to see the sacred. Not keep it hidden.”
The Hozai’s eyes landed on the clay form. “Rabbi, step away from that abomination.”
“Don’t stop, Rabbi. It’s nearly dusk.” Grete grabbed a bronze candle holder and dove for the Hozai. “A blessing on your… ” she bashed his wrist and grabbed the gun, “hand.” She backed to the table, keeping the weapon trained on him.
Something heavy and cold grasped her shoulder. Her knees trembled, and her heart leapt.
Mein Gott. Klay.
She’d moved heaven and earth to bring him back.
The golem advanced to defend her, but Grete stopped him. “You were my protector in Germany—when I was little. Now, I’m yours.”