I’ve often wondered if the stories surrounding my birth and adoption are as embroidered as Auntie Lilli’s table runners. My adoptive mother, Doatsie, aka Dorothy Gish, a well-known actress of the time, hardly spoke of it, claiming the near-death circumstances of my origins relegated her to tears. I do know she, husband James Rennie, and sister Lillian were in Great Britain in September, 1939 when the last Kindertransport of Jewish children arrived in the country. The Reich Association of Jews in Germany coordinated these emigrations for children whose parents were in concentration camps or no longer able to support them or worse, for homeless children and orphans. My Auntie Lilli tells me I was among the latter. I arrived from the train bundled in the scarf of a 16-year-old girl and it was first assumed I was born en route. An examination revealed the girl could not possibly be my mother and so, bereft of papers, I was temporarily christened Unknown Infant Boy.
My mother, a softhearted impulsive little thing, prevailed upon her indulgent husband to adopt this mystery child. Though no documents from Kindertransport survive (I suspect my mother destroyed them,) I do have the yellowed adoption papers with the small looping characters of mother’s signature, and my father’s bold sweep of acquiescence. I was now “someone.” I was James Franklin Rennie, or Jamie to all that loved me.
Soon after the adoption my parents divorced, WWII escalated and mother returned home with baby (and Auntie Lilli, of course, for the sisters were rarely separated) in tow. In New York I was taught to be a little gentleman; everything but the ridiculous Lord Fauntleroy velvet breeches! My mother’s acting career still flourished, and Auntie Lilli, who never seemed to age, played a plethora of roles both onstage and the celluloid that first captured her beauty at the age of 18. I went to good schools, but never abroad. Whenever mother considered it, Auntie Lilli would bring up the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic or the heinous possibilities of another war. I’d crossed one too many treacherous borders early in life. She was damned if I’d endure more. And so, I remained close to home, doted upon but never spoiled, for my two sister mothers were strict when it came to social graces. Auntie Lilli loved music and paid for piano lessons, whether I wanted them or not. Mother encouraged, and I submitted to, painting and dance so long as I could play baseball. I still recall my two diminutive white-gloved fans, pale pert faces shaded from the harsh Brooklyn sun by enormous brimmed hats. My mother would become so passionate she’d ball up little fists and bounce on her perch, muttering expletives under her breath until Auntie Lilli, aghast, beseeched her to hush.
It was only natural that I’d become an actor, too, having had an affinity for it since grammar school. Auntie Lilli warned of the hardships, the rejections, but I think she was secretly pleased. They say as a baby my eyes were dark as coal but in time softened to an expressive hazel that turns green in certain light. I grew quite tall which seemed to surprise many, though I don’t know why. I had stage roles all through high school and graduated to Off-Broadway my freshman year at NYU. Though my agent said I had an “odd look,” she booked many commercials and bit parts. It was a slow ascent. It seems slow, still, but as Auntie Lilli often reminds me, “What you get is a living, what you give is a life.”
My adoptive father, James Rennie, had been a constant affable presence in my life. It was a shock to my system when he died of heart failure in 1965. I was 26, certainly a man by then, but for a time I felt rudderless, and sought solace in what I knew, taking every available part in every corner of the world, even after little Doatsie’s health began to fail. In 1968, my darling mother died from bronchial pneumonia at a clinic in Rapallo, Italy. Auntie Lilli was by her side. I was in Switzerland, filming my first substantial role. I chartered a plane, but progress was delayed. I missed her last words to me, thereby fulfilling Auntie Lilli’s grim prophecy that I might one day travel too far from home.
I still lose myself in work, but Auntie Lilli is never far from my thoughts. Advancing years have not slowed her down. She is adventurous and intrepid, fiercely independent. She is my link to nebulous beginnings and a cultivated, magical past. She is my family.
(Jamie Rennie can be adapted to other stories and time frames after discussion. Now Voyager, sail thou forth...)
Stefano Morcelli, the head of the mafia that had run the streets of New York for the past six decades, has been murdered and his body was left on display for all of the city to see. This did not sit well with his daughter, the now mafia queen, Giorgina. She will stop at nothing to find out who had taken the only parent she had ever known. In Giorgina’s eyes, everyone is a suspect and there are no rules she won’t break in order to find the truth in the sea of deception and traitors that is called New York City.
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Nick was not blind to how it sounded, dismissive of the actual pertinent issue. It was like guilt wracked a bullet into the chamber of his own gun, forced his own hand to aim, and *fired*. Jamie was a smart man though, one of reason that he’d surely understand that his own hands were truly tied. “Then you must understand why I continue to operate as I am. Could I aid you if I were caught? Would I be able to help the next soul that wandered my way? It’s something I highly doubt.”
Kneeling down to be more at eye level with his friend that had sunken down to the floor, he shook his head reassuringly. “You’ve certainly reversed our roles, my friend. I hope your optimism returns.” The statement was not to be derogatory, but rather enlightening and hopefully instilling some hope into the other man. His expression held solemnity moments after though, because hope was what these people had until it was stripped away, it was a terrible fickle thing. “You’ll make it, and you’ll live in their honor.” He concluded.
“Jamie, they are going to tie your hands. I’ll ensure that they cause you no further harm.” He stated before he stood, they’d need to continue this facade until they were in a more stationary setting. Nick beckoned for two soldiers to come back in, instructed them to tie the man up and hold him in the storage room in the back.
Morning came and his small platoon was given the order to continue their trek forth until they’d arrived at their destination, a small watch post on the outskirts of the city. Nick hadn’t so much as seen Jamie since their depature, however, a prior arrangement was his only means of assuring the other would be alright.
That evening, Nick didn’t care too much to eat. However, he figured somebody else might have been, given a measly potato stew was never quite that filling. He summoned for Jamie specifically and when he was brought to him, he waited until they were left in his office to speak. “I’m sorry that I hadn’t seen you since we left. Are you hungry?” He pushed the plate towards the other, food untouched beneath the table napkin.
Jamie looked a little worse for wear, but dare he say that he’d actually seen far worse. That didn’t ease the concern Nick held in his heart for an old friend, and this possibly being the worst of his fears. He had a feeling, no, he knew there would come a moment that he’d cross paths with someone he knew before the war. It was a nightmare he had often, facing the reality of his position, the things his bannermen had done, what his country was becoming.
Nick moved to the other side of the table, back towards the window with the purpose of blocking the other from eyes that might wander in from the outside. His palms pressed into the tabletop, leaning in slightly. “And you believe they will not wonder why you are speaking German with me?” Nick of course, did not mind, many others however, felt they were defiling the language, and Nick did not want to trigger outliers or encourage malbehavior. “I will stick with English. It’s fine.”
His earlier question certainly sparked a fire, and no one could blame the man for his chosen words. “You know that was not what I meant…” He attempted to correct the other, douse the flames. “I only wished to know to offer my condolences appropriately.” It wasn’t to say that those people were undeserving of his sympathy, did he appear that cruel?
Jamie seemed to have finished throwing low blows his way, despite how true or disconnected they may have been. “I didn’t give the orders…”
But you could have stopped it all the same if you had only stepped outside.
The thought he had made him swallow, his mouth and throat suddenly a desert. “I’m sorry.” He began, “I should have monitored the situation, but am I truly the monster you now paint? Is it hard to believe that there might be a few of us that want to do what we can to save as many as we can? That hates what we’ve become?” Despite the passion behind his words, Nick retained his calm demeanor, standing up right.
“You’ll have to stick with us until we’ve reached the eastern gate. Once we cross, I’ll help you.” He couldn’t guarantee this meant being able to escape, nobody could make it far on their own in this turmoil; and letting Jamie run off would have be the equivalent of shooting him in the head. There were far too many willing to throw the sheep out to the wolves. However, working under his watch until they found a better solution would be the best alternative.
“Lauter!” an officer boisterously proclaimed, the bottle of beer jabbed towards the ceiling overhead, some of the sinful beverage sloshing over the lip. Some of the droplets kamikazing only mere inches from where the Captain’s hand currently rested, the trajectory points creating small darkened blotches within the natural wood surface of the table. Another officer commandeered the record player, forefinger and thumb twisting the knob that lifted the volume to unreasonably high proportions. “Sehr laut!” He sputtered in choked, drunken laughter. Now, Stairway to the Stars was nothing short of a Glen Miller classic, but listening to it at this volume made his head rattle, making him painfully all the more aware of the lack of sleep he’d gotten the night prior.
“Turn it down! We can’t hear anything from the outside!” The Staff Sergeant bellowed, the authority in his voice carrying over the music with ease in his sobriety. There was compliance admist the sea of general mumbles of discontent. “How much longer do we have to stay here in this shit hole?” The man sighed, pulling up a chair and near collapsing into it with weighted irritability. Nick tilted the stout wine glass to one side, wordlessly indicating that the question in itself was rhetorical. “They said it would be an hour, we’ve been here since this place opened.” “There were resistors that rallied at the eastern side of town, where we are likely to go. Unless you plan on abandoning your post and assisting them, your wisest choice is to be patient.” Nick lifted the glass, eyes examining the crimson liquid before knocking the glass back. The Staff Sergeant grew quiet, albeit to revel in his own discontent. “JUDE!” A voice yelled into the night from just outside their door, The Sergeant and Officers were the first to scamper to their feet and trickle out the door, the shot of adrenaline mixed with the anticipation of simply moving from their post riding on their call to arms. The shouting continued for a while, and Nick began to wonder exactly how many there were. He was more than capable of stepping outside with his men, but he’d already seen more than he’d like to in these dire times. He had no idea how much worse it was going to get.
The individuals that were gathered made six in total, all commanded to kneel. Some knew better than to disobey or dawddle, others were forced to the ground by either a ‘helping’ hand or the butt of a rifle. The Sergeant walked down the line slowly, observing those brought before him. “It’s dark out, so why the sneaking around?” He asked in English, the words were lucrative with vile intentions he likely already formed within the confines of his deranged mind. As if the unholstering of his Mauser wasn’t instilling enough fear all on its own. “Hm?” He hummed, leaning in really close to a woman’s face that made her flinch and break into horrific sobs. “I hate when they cry.” The Sergeant stated so calmly in his native tongue, there was an eerie silence that took over. He waited, villainous enough to allow that seed of hope to be planted before ripping it away within seconds.
BANG! The Woman’s body lurched back before the dead weight dropped face first into a crumpled heap. Blood seeped between the cracks and crevaces of stone, ultimately pooling around the entire upper torso. “Start with that one, on the end.” He ordered an officer who unholstered his own firearm, giving the victims no time to mourn their loss, their grief was quickly replaced by fear. BANG!
Nick stood at the second gunshot, plucking his coat off the backside of the chair and threading his arms meticulously through. A final shrug to ensure it was resting comfortably on his shoulders in the desired fashion. The last to follow were his gloves and hat. There were two gunshots that followed, one directly behind the other in quick succession, and this made him step out in the cold frigid air with haste.
Moving out onto the cobble street, he looked down the line of bodies, two individuals remained, even that was short lived as Nick watched the execution. The last man knelt down caught his attention though.
“Hold your fire!” He ordered, his voice weighted with authority that had the officer immediately drop his aim. Nick approached the other, squatting to get a better look; he fought against every fiber in his body to refrain from making an expression of shock, perhaps even horror. Jamie, the name echoed in his memory as he never forgot a face.
“This one lives.” He stood up right, “I want at least one of them to tell me what they were planning to do.” Nick made sure to say this in English, a hint of disapproval marked on the edge of his words as he looked to the Sergeant that was so quick to act. “I want a thorough sweep of the area and have it be conducted properly.” The men dispersed at the command, carrying out their newly assigned duties in seconds. “You.” Nick now addressed the man below him, “Inside.”
Nick walked behind the other until they were inside, door closed and locked behind them. He approached the other and as an old and dear friend, he might have given him a hug. However, that wasn’t an option at this very moment. Risk all too high. So he had to settle with the next obvious question. “Jamie, you shouldn’t have snuck out tonight…” He warned, although that might have already been made clear for the other with the unruly display. Nick grabbed the glass he used either, retreating to the sink and filling it with a fair amount of water. It didn't take long for him to return, handing the other the glass and gesturing for him to sit. "Those people outside, did you know them?"