"Weren’t you afraid?” I can’t help asking. “Didn’t you realize it could be dangerous?”

“I didn’t care. I felt like if no one cares about me, why should I care?” Shimmy looks me straight in the eye. “If I could go back and choose differently, I would,” he says. “It was the worst mistake of my life, and I’ve made a lot.”

“So why did you do it?”

“Look, Weiss, in my place you wouldn’t have done it. I’ve thought about that a lot, about the differences between you and me. I used to imagine what it would be like to change places with you. If I had parents like yours, or if I was as smart as you — who knows? I don’t know why I did it. I was following my feelings, not my brains. The guy’s name is Tzion. The work he wanted me to do was easy, and it paid well. By the time I realized who Tzion really is and what it means to work for him, it was too late.”

“Too late?”

“After I started learning mishnayos with you and Chaim, I didn’t feel so good about what I was doing. It made me feel bad that I was going from something kodesh to something I was pretty sure was illegal. I started to care what you thought about me. Well, a little bit, anyway. And I imagined what would happen if the police arrested me for helping Tzion. My father would be so ashamed of me. For sure you wouldn’t want to have any connection with me. Also, I don’t want to go to jail.

“So I informed Tzion that I was finished, that I didn’t want to work for him anymore. He acted like he didn’t understand. He offered me more money. I told him it’s not the money. I just don’t want to be involved with him anymore.”

“So what did Tzion say when you told him you’re quitting?”

Shimmy’s face darkens and he winces. “He beat me up,” he says matter-of-factly. “He said I can never walk away from him. I have to do what he tells me to, or else.”

“Or else what?”

“Can’t you imagine?”

“This is a terrible story,” I tell Shimmy, “but where does Zalman fit in?”

Gutman looks at me with the saddest expression I’ve ever seen on his face. “That’s when I realized that the man is truly evil,” he says. “I was stupid. I was so afraid of Tzion that I went back to the house on the beach.”

“And?”

Shimmy’s eyes cloud over. “He laughed at me,” he says bitterly. “There were some men with him and he made fun of me in front of them. Tzion joked that anyone who wants to quit has to bring a replacement. The others thought that was hilarious, but I felt humiliated and I wanted revenge. That’s when I thought of Zalman, poor dumb Zalman, who would gladly give his life for candy. A joke on Tzion.” (Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 709)