(author's note: these chapters are not sequential. I am posting snippets due to reader demand. Please note the singular.)
Here, he was being offered the opportunity to leave behind the carrion that Poland had become. It couldn't be worse elsewhere, thought Roman. Of course he'd go.
Erik was still talking about Organization Todt; how it made use of reliable workers from, as he diplomatically put it, 'foreign territories', to assist in Germany's grand engineering plans.
Roman interrupted him. "Thank you, Herr Hecht. I am ready to go," he said. There was an awkward silence as Erik looked at Anna and she gazed at her son. Then she rose, raised her wine glass, and toasted survival.
As Roman packed his pen, some clothes and his sketching kit into a small canvas knapsack that evening, his mother stepped into his room. "There are other important matters for you and I to talk about," she said. "Very important. But sometimes, when Erik gets talking...." she let the thought trail. "Tomorrow. Only you and I. We'll finish the wine," she said with a wink.
After another night on the floor at the foot of his bed, Roman awoke early to an empty household. The morning's silence was broken only by the familiar street sounds of the occasional siren and, once, a single gunshot. Just after noon, he heard quick booted footsteps mounting the stairs and an emphatic knock at the door. A courrier handed him an envelope addressed to him in Erik's tidy handwriting.
Roman, it read, a Todt convoy leaves this evening for work assignment in Stettin. It is my opinion that this represents a safer option than awaiting the next convoy, which departure and destination is unknown, and therefore potentially more hazardous. Stettin, after all, is relatively peaceful at this time. A Todt adjutant will collect you within the hour. In order to see you before your departure, I have ensured that your mother will be able to free herself from her duties for a very short time.
It is a pleasure to know you, and I hope we will soon meet over the chessboard again in more normal times.
Roman had little time to make any further preparations. As he began writing a short letter to his mother, he first heard, then saw, a troop truck with screeching brakes in front of the building. Through the window, he watched an officer with an enormous belly amble into the building just as a small sedan pulled up behind it. His mother hurried out of the back seat and up the stairs as Roman slung his knapsack over his shoulder and waited by the door. The three converged on the small landing, and the large man's belly took the space of a fourth.
No, he told Anna, he could not give them a few minutes of privacy; after all, he had a truck full of volunteers and a tight schedule. "We will spend a nice short time here together," he leered, and his small eyes wandered from her ankles to her bosom and back.
His mother folded her arms and spoke quietly in Polish.
She whispered his name, and said, "This is too sudden. I am afraid to let you go. But it is for the best; it is safest."
The fat man interrupted. "But maybe," he growled in Polish, "If you have a few private minutes for me, I can find you a few for him."
She scowled at him, and brought out a large, bulky envelope for Roman. He slid it into his knapsack. The officer laughed a large breath of garlic, and motioned down the stairs. It was, he said, time to go then.
As Roman hugged his mother awkwardly, the fat man from Todt shifted his elbow just slightly enough to brush her breast.
She shook her head.
"Roman," she said tightly, "The envelope is important. Read it very carefully when you have the time. I should not have kept such a secret from you." Her eyes betrayed a flickering combination of fury and sadness.
"All documents are carefully checked," muttered the officer.
Roman nodded and told his mother that they would see each other soon. "Maybe here. Maybe in Paris. Maybe London," he smiled. "Somewhere."
The fat man ordered them to go, sending Roman first. He followed last, with a leering stare at Anna's backside. He pulled up the tarpalin at the rear of of the truck, and Roman hopped in. He looked back at his mother, who was silently crying and fluttering her fingers in a small wave.
He saw her shout something as the truck started with a bellow. Her words were lost, but Roman blew a kiss and put on his bravest smile as the truck rumbled away down the cobblestone street.
The words which were swallowed by the sound of the engine were the very last words they would ever share.