Two different families escape from the political tyranny of their respective homelands, the Josephsons from Sweden and Matias and Kurt Bauman, brothers from Germany and Austria Hungary, with the aid of a Viennese opera diva, Sophie Augusta Rose, and Jean Guenoc, a former Jesuit priest, family friend and protector and partisan of the French underground.
Their journey brings them to America in the throes of the industrial revolution during the 1890s and early 1900s. Ingrid and Olaf Josephson settle on a small wheat farm in North Central Minnesota to raise their children, Newt and Julie.
Among the Jewish entrepreneurs forced to leave Germany and Austria-Hungary, Matias and Kurt Bauman re-establish their transportation company in Chicago, Illinois.
In search of a secret list of insurgent social democrats, the bounty hunter assassin, Luther Baggot, tracks his victims to the American heartland. Following the murder of their mother and father, Newt, Julie, and their friends, Aaron and Beth Peet, hide from the killer in a Northern Minnesota logging camp. Believing the children have taken possession of the list, Luther tracks them down.
Fleeing to a central Minnesota town, the four young people come across a remote business location of Bauman Enterprises and meet Matias Bauman, who had been a friend and former political collaborator with Newt’s and Julie’s parents. He takes them all to Chicago where a different world opens up to them as they are thrust into the turmoil and violence of an urban society and economy careening into the new century.
The smoke from morning fires sifted from tall chimneys in wispy tendrils blending with the gray prelude to dawn. A thin stream of people began to stir from their shops and apartments into the streets to bring Vienna out of sleep.
Carrying a large carpet bag and with a leather trunk in tow, Sophie struggled through her front door and called out to an urchin bent on scavenging his breakfast.
“You, boy, schnell get me a cab from the Ringstrasse and three guilders are yours. You can buy your breakfast.”
The boy waved he understood and ran off, returning a few minutes later with a horse and cab in tow. She paid the boy to remain long enough to assist her in hefting the trunk to the driver, who positioned it behind him on the roof of the cab.
“To the wharf,” she instructed.
The horse pulled the cab at a brisk trot along the cobbled street, took the turn to the Ringstrasse and headed south along the boulevard through the sparse morning traffic of cabs, light coaches and carts and wagons.
Approaching the waterfront, they penetrated a fog rising from the river partially concealing a long row of warehouses and shipping offices that lined the wharf. Keening seabirds that had migrated inland swarmed overhead swooping in and out of the whitish tendrils where two steam ships and a tug and barge nudged the algae-encrusted pilings.
Sophie called to the driver to stop before the Wohlman shipping office and warehouse. She stepped out of the cab and the driver clambered down with her trunk. As soon as the cab pulled away, a plainclothes police officer walked over to her from a cavernous warehouse door where stevedores were transferring freight to one of the steamships.
“Guten Morgan, Fraulein Rose. Planning a little trip?” He barred her way.
“Guten Morgan, excuse me, please. I must buy my ticket.”
“Why are you leaving Vienna?”
Her haughty imperious glare did not intimidate him. “You are being impertinent. It is no business of yours. I’m performing in an operetta in Budapest.”
“We’re looking for a friend of yours, a Heinrich Wohlman. He was recently seen in your company.”
“Perhaps you are looking in the wrong place. Do you see him with me now?”
“Do not get surly with me, Fraulein. I can take you in for questioning and you will be detained. Your understudy will have to sing in the operetta for you. I’m certain the audience would rather see you appear on the stage.”
“I have many friends who are writers and musicians. Herr Wohlman is among them, but he and I do not often see each other unless there is a gathering at a kaffee haus. We have no personal attachment.”
“He was seen a week ago leaving your apartment - late at night.”
“So you have been spying on me. I will have the Emperor speak to your supervisor. You expect me to know where he is at this moment? Herr Wohlman has been writing a libretto for me for an opera in development by Johann Strauss. You may have heard of this composer.”
“Indeed I have Fraulein, but your answer does not satisfy me. We believe you met with Herr Wohlman in the ghetto last night.”
“Believe what you want. My boat is departing shortly. I do not have time to satisfy your curiosity. If you want to know more about the opera, I would suggest you call on Johann Strauss yourself. Guten Morgan, mein Herr.”
She shoved past him and marched through the door of the shipping office with indignant strides to purchase passage, completed the transaction, reemerged accompanied by the agent who carried her trunk, and went on board. Upon glancing back, she saw the police officer conferring with two men in plainclothes who had stepped out of another of the waterfront buildings.
As Sophie crossed the gangplank onto the main deck, she was greeted by a member of the crew who looked vaguely familiar, especially the twinkling blue eyes. “Wilkommen, Frauline Rose.”
Take away the beard and yes – “Heinrich, is that you? How clever.”
About the Author
Rob is a graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara and received his graduate degree in communications from the University of California, Los Angeles.
Rob worked as a business and management consultant to advertising, corporate communications, and media production companies as well as many others. Now retired, he resides with his wife in Southern California where he devotes much of his time to writing.
He is a recipient of the Samuel Goldwyn and Donald Davis Literary Awards. An affinity for family and the astute observation of generational interaction pervade his novels.
His works are literary and genre upmarket fiction that address the nature and importance of personal integrity.