the briefcase

by Shivesh Patel

Hiding in Plane Sight, a photograph taken by Jessica Zighelboim (grade 11)
audio: read by the author
               I  vividly remember that time so long ago. It was December 31, 1941, and I was only 21 years old. The world was in stir due to the occurring war in Europe. I, in fact, was going to Europe to see the war first hand and document what I saw, as well as deliver a secret message. The war had just escalated to a higher point due to the United States declaring war on Germany and its allies.  In order to get to Europe as quickly as I possibly could, I would have to book a ticket on an ocean liner; however, there were very few sailing to Europe. I got very lucky, as I won a ticket onto one of the most prestigious ocean liners on the sea, the RMS Ulysses. This behemoth of a ship was the largest and fastest ocean liner on the sea, and it was sailing its third voyage ever. 

           I boarded the ship the Ulysses on December 31, 1941, two days before that fateful day. I boarded its massive smokestacks towering over the busy docks of that port in New York City. Upon entering the ship, I could smell the pungent scent of newly furnished rooms and carpet. The gilded ceiling towering over the dark oak grand staircase. The ship was beautiful, and very appealing to one’s senses. I traveled down the stairs down to the lowest level of rooms. This deck was deep below the ship, and it had an ash like smell, producing a gray atmosphere. I navigated down the halls and arrived at my room. I opened the door and dumped my luggage onto my tiny bed. I then inspected my abode for the next 5 days. It was a closet-sized room, with a bed and a nightstand packed tightly together. I shook my head in dismay, and then unpacked my luggage, making sure that I still had the important cargo that I would be taking to Europe with me. 

          I withdrew a briefcase from my bulky suitcase and opened it. Inside was a large, waterproof envelope, containing important documents that could decide the fate of the war, and all of those that participated in it. I did not open the envelope, as it would compromise its waterproof integrity. I stowed the envelope back into the briefcase, and then slid the briefcase under my bed. I then got a change of clothes and headed back onto the top deck of the ship. 

          It was two days after I had boarded the RMS Ulysses when I discovered the threat to the documents’ safety. I had descried at least five figures in whom I was supposed to avoid. These people were in search of both me and those documents. I veered away from these hunters at every glimpse. Later that day, however, I would be exposed. I was heading to dinner at around 7:40 pm, when I bumped straight into one of the men that was keeping an eye out for me. The briefcase, which I was bringing to keep safe with me, flew straight out of my hands and landed on the floor with a thud. The man backed away and said, “My dearest apologies sir, I was not looking where I was going.” He then backed up and picked up my briefcase. He inspected, commenting on its rough alligator skin cladding. He then slowly handed the briefcase back to me, and I thanked him quickly and ran off. 
After I dined that day, I returned to my room late at night, my knuckles white from clenching to the briefcase. I opened the briefcase up and looked inside, confirming that the documents were still sealed away. I then tried to fall asleep, but all I could think about was the man that I bumped into today. What if he knew that I was the one with the documents? What if he and his troop were marching up to my door as I thought? What if they figured out what my true intentions were?

             The next day was the final full day out at sea in the journey. Even though the journey was almost over, and I could deliver my documents to Europe, the impending fear of getting caught engulfed me. Before I headed up to the top deck of the ship to admire the sunrise, I took the documents out of the briefcase and hid them inside the nightstand. As I got to the edge of the railing, I spotted not just the sunrise on the horizon, but something much more horrifying. A white streak in the ocean’s deep blue waters was quickly approaching the British ocean liner. This white streak was a torpedo. The torpedo struck the side of the vessel with a loud boom, followed by the sound of crunching and groaning metal. I quickly went into a panicked state, as I had left the documents in my cabin, leaving me with two choices. The first choice was to run back to my cabin, grab the briefcase, and get to safety. The second option was to leave the documents and face the punishment that would await me in Europe. 

           I could not possibly leave the documents, I had to run back to my cabin and get them. I darted down the decks of the ship and got down to the deck that my room was on. There was not doubt that the ship was going to sink, as the water in this level was already up to my knees. I opened up my room and quickly snatched up the floating briefcase. I hurried back onto the top deck of the ship, where everyone was bunching up near lifeboats, desperately trying to get onto one. I had to wait around 10 minutes before I found myself a spot on a boat. I was just about to climb to safety when I grabbed from behind and pulled back onto the deck. My greatest fear was unfolding before my eyes, the hunters had found me. 

          “Mr. Müller, where do you think you're going with those blueprints?” This was what the man I had previously bumped into said to me. I replied, “I’m afraid you're mistaken, I know of no Müller.” One of the men scoffed and snatched the briefcase out of my hands. He opened it up, inspected it, relatched it, and handed it back to me. “It's not him,” he said, “Let him free.” The men released their grip on me and apologized, stating that they were looking for a German spy who was smuggling some classified documents back to Germany. I accepted their apology and hurried back out onto the upper deck of the ship. I looked around and saw that one lifeboat had room left on it.

        I jumped into the lifeboat with barely any time to spare, as 10 minutes later, the RMS Ulysses was below the water. I could not believe that I had escaped the ship and the men that had me hostage. I wondered how that one man did not see the folder with the documents in them. I unlatched my briefcase and looked inside. At that moment I had realized my horrifying mistake: I had taken the documents out of the briefcase and hid them in the dresser, the dresser that was now traveling down 10,000 feet to the bottom of the ocean. Ever since that day, I have been haunted with my failure. The documents contained the information necessary for Germany to construct their jet engine airplane. Without these documents, Germany was never able to construct these planes. This means that I was the reason why Germany lost the war, I failed my mission to smuggle in the documents containing Germany’s key to success. 


Shivesh Patel (grade 9)

My name is Shivesh Patel, and I am a freshman. When not at school I enjoy reading books, writing stories, playing the trumpet, and hanging out with my little brother. In school, I take part in Robotics, due to my passion for engineering.

 how do you resonate with your piece? Why is it personal to you?

I would like like to say that I am proud of the piece that I have written and believe that it is one of the more creative ones that I have come up with. This piece is personal with me because at the time of writing the story, I had been reading a ton about WW2, and I thought that writing a story about it would be cool.

what motivated you to write this piece?

I was motivated to write this piece because I enjoy writing and telling stories. Also, I felt as though I should at least try to create an interesting story that would at least be interesting.

what artists and/or writers inspired or influenced your work?

The authors Alan Gratz, Erik Larson, and Neal Bascomb’s stories about WW2 have heavily influenced some of the concepts and ideas expressed in my short story. I feel as though their way of writing historical fiction is impactful and interesting.