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By Robert Elmer
ZondervanCopyright © 2006 Robert Elmer
All right reserved.
Chapter OneKapitel Eins
MAY 1961: SIX YEARS LATER ...
Sabine groaned when she rounded the corner, adjusting the crutch clamps around her wrists and arms. Up ahead, it looked like construction workers had begun tearing up Brunnenstrasse once more. Maybe this time they wouldn't stare at her as she limped by on her walking crutches, more like canes that strapped to her forearms. In the past six years, since getting out of the hospital, Sabine had heard all the cruel jokes. So what? She could walk okay, now, even with the brace on her right leg that no one saw. And she couldn't stay home the rest of her life, just like she couldn't stay in the hospital. This was 1961, after all.
So she gripped the handles of her crutches a little more tightly, took a deep breath, and stared straight ahead. She would ignore them, just as she always tried to ignore the neighborhood spy, Wolfgang. Did you get a package from the West? Comrade Wolfgang would want to know. A visitor? Wolfgang would report it to the government. Out too late? Wolfgang was always watching. And the people he watched usually received a visit from the Vopo security police, or worse.
Ja, compared to Wolfgang, theseconstruction guys seemed pretty tame. Or she hoped they were. But no spy and no construction workers would keep her from visiting her brother, Erich, at the hospital where he worked. If she had to circle around the block on Bergstrasse, that would probably add half an hour to her walk. Not this time.
To the right, a large older apartment building cast a ragged shadow across the street. The top two stories had collapsed in an American bombing raid during the war, leaving crumbled piles of stone and rusting, twisted steel. That had happened years before Sabine was born, but things didn't change very quickly in East Berlin. Not like in the western half of the city.
But not to worry. It looked like the construction crew up ahead had taken a break. One of the men sat in the back of his truck, hands clasped behind his neck, eyes closed in a midday nap. The early summer sunshine hit him in the face. Fine. The others had left their pile of water pipes on the sidewalk, blocking the way with a sign that read "CAUTION! NO ENTRY!" in big block letters. But who knew when they would return? Everyone seemed to have cleared out for lunch. A typical hardworking Tuesday in the Soviet sector of East Berlin.
Limping past the warning sign, Sabine glanced down. Flimsy boards covered part of a gaping hole in the sidewalk. An unsteady ladder slanted down about ten feet to an exposed pipe. From top to bottom, they'd laid a canvas tarp out like a slide.
Careful, she cautioned herself as she stepped past the sign. Without warning, a board gave way, launching her right over the edge. Sabine could hardly yelp as she fell; the best she could do was to plant her crutches on the tarp, like a skier sliding down an alpine slope.
But a good deal less graceful. She lost her balance and slid down the slope on the seat of her pants, crutches waving like windmills. The tarp pulled loose, and an avalanche of dirt followed her down, down, down - she slammed into a crumbling brick foundation wall, crutches first. Ouch.
"Ack!" Sabine coughed and struggled to breathe. She'd bent the tip of one crutch, but it was still usable. The brace on her leg had loosened up a bit, but no problem there, either. Had she broken anything? Her arms moved all right, though she'd twisted her right elbow a bit during the tumble. If that was all she'd injured, she'd been spared.
Thank you. She breathed out the words in a quick prayer and struggled to rise. Had Wolfgang seen her fall? She hoped not. No telling what the workers would do to her if they found her down here. How soon would Erich come looking? He knew the route she would take, but he might just think she'd forgotten about visiting. And he might be too busy to worry about her.
A couple more loose bricks fell with a thunk.
Excerpted from Beetle Bunker by Robert Elmer Copyright © 2006 by Robert Elmer. Excerpted by permission.
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