Bright umbrellas dotted the farmer’s market in central Munich, creating a rainbow of slightly faded but still festive colors. The shouts of buyers haggling for fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats on the cold December Saturday filled the air. By mid-morning, tired patrons of the market, having been up since before dawn, began to shuffle into Munich Brau Biergarten for sandwiches and beer. Rows of people sat family style on long picnic tables taking a well-earned break and enjoying their repast.
Johann was wiping down the bar with a damp rag when he saw Albert walk through the doorway. His immediate reaction was happiness, which was quickly replaced with fear. Johann frantically looked around to see if any of the boys, who often hung out at the Biergarten on Saturdays after a tough week at school, had noticed Albert’s arrival. Since their critical discussion the day of the Volkisch rally, Albert had been staying away from his friend—in fact, the whole Thomas family—to avoid causing them problems for associating with a Jew.
Even so, Albert couldn’t keep a smile from his face as he pulled up a barstool at the far end of the bar. Johann continued polishing the bar as he slowly made his way to where Albert sat. Glancing furtively around, Johann hissed at Albert in a whisper, “What are you doing here, Albert? You know it’s dangerous for us if you’re seen talking to me.”
Albert waved away his friend’s concern and leaned toward him. “My ‘problem’ looks to have been solved! And with it, our problem will go away as well.”
Johann frowned, appearing to rub at a particularly stubborn stain on the bar. “Are you crazy? What do you mean?”
With a grin, Albert gave Johann a quick recap of his dinner with Herr Talmud and his hopes of going to Switzerland—which would effectively remove Albert from the local scene and keep him safely away from Johann and his family. As Albert laid out the situation, Johann wiped in slower and slower circles, and his frown began to change into a smile. By the time Albert finished his narrative, Johann had all but forgotten his concerns. “Albert, that would be wonderful!” he exclaimed, then clapped his hand over his mouth and looked around to see if anyone had heard.
Albert was grinning and nodding when a thought hit Johann, and he deflated like a punctured balloon. “But... Switzerland?”
Albert put his hand on his friend’s arm. “I know. But it’s not so far away. Since I will no longer be the center of attention, I think we will be able to see each other when I come home to visit my family.”
“Yes. Maybe so,” Johann said, not entirely convinced as he went back to polishing the bar.
Behind Albert, the senior class boys were toasting each other. They were filled with the optimism and hope of young men preparing to make their way into the world in a few months. Johann drew Albert a beer, then excused himself from taking the overflowing garbage pail to the trash bin outside. As he was emptying the last scraps out of the bucket, Werner von Wiesel rode up on his bicycle.
Hoping to avoid his classmate, Johann turned to walk away. But Werner called out to him. “Wait just a minute, Johann!” His back to Werner, Johann grimaced. He wanted nothing to do with the bully who had threatened him if he stayed friends with Albert. But the boy was becoming increasingly influential at school. There was no way Johann could ignore him without reprisals.
Walking up to Johann, Werner put his hand on Johann’s shoulder. “Johann, I want to apologize for what I said about you and Albert.”
Johann turned, his eyes widening with incredulity. “What?”
“No, really. I’ve been thinking about it. There’s no reason you and I can’t be friends.” Werner smiled and laughed nervously as he extended his hand to shake.
Johann wasn’t buying it. “What do you want, Werner?” he asked, ignoring the proffered hand and being as brusque as he dared to be.
Werner looked at Johann for a moment, and Johann could practically see the wheels turning in the boy’s head. Then Werner leaned toward Johann. “Okay, look,” he said conspiratorially. “I remember hearing you and Albert talking about this compass of his. I want to get a look at it.”
Johann frowned, thinking hard. “Compass? Uh, I don’t know what you’re talking about, Werner.”
Werner expression turned serious, his patience evaporating. He grabbed Johann by the front of his shirt and pulled him close. Through clenched teeth, he said, “Don’t play dumb, Johann. I want to see the compass, and I will see it.” Then he pushed Johann away roughly, so the boy fell to one knee. Werner turned his back on Johann and strode into the Biergarten while Johann dusted off his trousers and straightened his clothing. When he was satisfied with his appearance, he reclaimed his empty garbage pail and followed Werner back inside.
Meanwhile, Raka, astride a bicycle, had been tracking the smell of the Shamir. Attracted by a sudden spike in negative energy, he paused his quest to investigate. The negativity of any sort pleased him. Dismounting, he walked his bicycle toward the source of power at the back of the Biergarten and cautiously peered around the corner of the building. He was just in time to overhear most of Johann and Werner’s exchange about the compass.
The hatred in Werner’s consciousness tasted pleasant, almost sweet, on Raka’s tongue as he considered this development. A human boy with the same objective—though certainly not the same motive—as himself. And a boy in whom fear and hatred simmered, just waiting for something to bring it to a boil. This was just too good to be true. Raka relished the thought of turning the boy into a minion who would do his bidding. He would have to come up with a plan to pull Werner to his cause.
A dormant blackthorn bush at the side of the Biergarten gave him an idea. He broke off a short twig that held a hard, long spike. From a gland in his throat, he secreted a toxic venom, then spit it onto the thorn. Looking furtively left, then right, he affixed the lethal barb onto the outside of the handle on the right side of Werner’s bicycle. He knew that to some this secretion could be deadly. But to those who were steeped in hatred and negativity, it would have a different effect.
His plan set in motion, Raka left his own bicycle leaning against the wall and walked to the front of the building, where he entered and found a place to watch his target. He spotted Werner with his friends at the end of one of the large family tables.
Johann stood unhappily in the kitchen area. He didn’t much like the idea of Albert going to Switzerland, even though he could see it was probably a good thing. And he didn’t want that Werner was interested in Albert’s compass. But there was nothing he could do about either situation now. With a heavy sigh, he placed several paper-wrapped ham sandwiches and bottles of beer into a sack to take to his father who was working nearby.
As he walked past Albert, he said, “I’ll be back in a few minutes. I want to talk more about your news.”
From his table, Werner was preparing to approach Johann once again. But seeing he was about to leave, he waited and tracked Johann’s movements with interest. As Johann made his way out of the Biergarten, Werner went to the back of the building where he had left his bicycle.
Out front, Johann put the sack into the wicker basket on his bicycle. He shivered in the December chill as he mounted his bike and began the short ride to deliver lunch to his father and the clerks.
In the back of the Biergarten, Werner wrapped his scarf around his neck and face to protect himself from the chill air as he rushed to mount his bike. He grabbed the handlebars, then yelped with pain. The bully stared at his hand and saw a thorn sticking in the palm of his hand. He plucked the barb out and angrily threw it to the ground as he began pedaling to catch up with Johann. He’d give the boy one more chance to get Albert to show him his compass.
As he pedaled, the venom from the thorn began coursing through his body. The effect was immediate. His face turned crimson. Nostrils flared, and his eyes bulged. His muscles and veins strained against his skin.
He felt a rush of hatred and anger toward Johann. “Who was he to say no?” he asked himself. Werner gripped the handlebars harder as he raced to catch up with Johann.
Wanting to see how Werner would react to his venom, Raka also had slipped out of the Biergarten. He laughed in satisfaction when saw the boy grasp his handlebars, then flinch. As Werner rode away, Raka mounted his bicycle and followed a small distance behind. He smiled to see the boy’s aura become suffused with red; a sure sign the venom had the desired result.
Johann pedaled his way down the uneven cobblestones, crossing Thal and turning onto the Marienplatz. Riding parallel to the streetcar tracks, Johann began to apply his brakes as he saw a streetcar speeding toward him in the distance. He knew they went at a good clip along this stretch of their route. Suddenly, Johann heard a sound behind him. He glanced over his shoulder to see a bicycle rider rapidly gaining on him, his face obscured by a fluffy scarf, overtaking him. He recognized Werner shaking his fist. “You Jew-lover, this is what you get when you defy me!”
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish