Authors: Stuart M. Kaminsky
Barry wondered why the man had not simply gone to the house and seen his grandfather. And then Barry wondered how the man had known he would be behind the JCC playing ball. Unless the man had followed him from school.
“What message?” Barry asked as Mike grounded hard to third. The third baseman had trouble with the ball, but Mike ran like a turtle.
“If he and his partner do not stay out of my business, something very bad will happen to you or your sister or your grandmother,” the man said.
Barry looked up at the man and backed away.
“Just describe me to him,” the man said. “He will understand. Remember, an even swing, not up and don't take bad pitches.”
The man turned and walked slowly away from the field toward Touhy Avenue. Barry watched him, wanting to run, but not wanting to run home alone. He watched until the man disappeared on the sidewalk and then Barry picked up his books, told his team he was feeling sick enough to barf, and ran for the low iron fence. He scrambled over the fence into the large open field of weeds and ran toward the block of high-rises on Kedzie. His grandparents had friends who lived there. A lot of retired peopleâJews, Catholics, even Hindus and one or two Chinese and blacksâlived in the towers.
Barry ran, sneakers turning mud-black, jeans a soaking mess. He took off his Cubs cap as he ran and jammed it into his pocket, starting to lose his breath as he ran in the humidity and the weeds. When he cleared the field and found himself in the concrete courtyard of one of the buildings, he stopped, panted, and went for one of the buildings. The Chinese man in the dark glasses stepped out from behind a pillar, adjusted his glasses, and took a slow level swing with an imaginary bat. And then he was gone.
“So?” the woman asked, looking around at those gathered in the living room of the small apartment. There were eleven of them, all but two were young men. They sat on the sofas and the floor. They sat silently listening to the dark-haired woman. It was clear to her that at least two of the men, possibly three would vote with her simply because they loved her. It was also clear to her that at least three or four would vote against her because they drew the line at actual violence against people.
“So,” said Ahmed, who was within a year of finishing medical school. “We murder two of them. Then they murder three of us and soon â¦”
“They murdered Ramu,” the young woman said. “They murdered two others who had nothing to do with our cause. To them, all Arabs are the same. We have no choice.”
“It's too soon,” said a small young woman on the sofa. She spoke very quietly.
“We raided their temples only last night,” said a thin young man with thick glasses.
“And Ramu was murdered almost as soon as we finished,” the young woman countered. “We may have a spy among us.”
“We have no spy,” the young man in glasses said. “We know each other. They must have followed him.”
The young woman looked at him as if he didn't exist and then one of the young men, Mustafa Quadri, whom she counted on, said, “We have to organize. We have to blame the skinheads again.”
“Two members of the Jewish Defense League,” she said. “Perhaps three. We know who they are. We know they probably killed Howard. We kill three of them.”
“To warn them,” a dark man named Omar said supportively.
“To kill them,” the young woman said. “We vote.”
The vote was against her call for murder. Only three voted with her. Hands went down.
“All right,” she said. “Those of you who voted against honorable vengeance should leave now. Those who voted for it should remain.”
“You are destroying our organization,” a young man said, standing.
“The organization remains,” she said. “What we do outside of it is not your responsibility.”
One of the three who remained was the tall Arab with the scarred face. He walked to the door with a decided limp, closed it behind those who had departed, folded his arms, and leaned against the wall to listen to the young woman. He had no intention of participating in what she might be planning. In fact, though he was easily the most militant member of the Arab Student Response Committee, he would see to it that whatever she might devise would not take place for at least a week. He had his own plan and had already murdered three of his fellow Arabs to ensure that it would work.
There was a new, neatly painted sign at Maish's T & L. It was in red letters. It was pinned to the wall behind the counter and said, “Thank You For Not Smiling.”
There was little at the T & L that Said could eat so he simply said that he was not hungry. He sat alone with Lieberman at one of the booths. The place was nearly empty. Maish and most of the Alter Cockers had returned to Mir Shavot and had begun the cleanup, probably arguing about what they could do about this outrage and reluctantly concluding that they should leave it to the police.
The short-order cook, Terrill, wearing a white apron, took Lieberman's order for a lean corned beef with hot mustard and a cup of coffee. Neither was good for his stomach, but there were things on the menu much worse.
“Those two old men are staring at me,” said Said calmly, hands folded on the table top.
“Alter Cockers,” said Lieberman, “Part of the furniture. Probably haven't heard yet about what happened or just don't have transportation to get to the temple. You want a salad?”
“That would be fine,” said Said. “No dressing.”
Lieberman called out the order. Terrill grunted back.
“This food will kill you,” Said said, watching Lieberman eat when he was served.
“So I've been told,” Lieberman said. “By my doctor, my wife, my daughter, a few friends, and some people I don't even know. To live without pleasure is to not live at all.”
“Is that from your Torah?” asked Said as the salad was placed before him.
“Columbo,” said Lieberman. “You think this Student Arab Response Committee tore the temple apart.”
“I think it is a possibility, at least a possibility for some of them,” said Said. “We are dealing with angry, intelligent young people without a homeland. They are attacked, called names by your press and people, suspected of all acts of supposed terrorism, awakened by phone calls in the middle of the night with threats.”
“And for all this, they blame the Jews?”
“They are not anti-Semitic. We Arabs are Semites too. They are not against Jews. They are against Israel and. against the American Jews who support it with their dollars. Against the government of the United States, which protects Israel. Do I look like an Arab?”
“Not particularly,” said Lieberman, feeling a definite discomfort in his stomach.
“Could you mistake me for a Jew?”
“Could,” said Lieberman.
“Semites. We are all Semites. Were we to band together in the Middle East we could build an economic empire to rival Western Europe, Japan, and the United States.”
“Umm,” said Lieberman, eyeing the last bite of sandwich and then wolfing it down.
“You've heard this before?”
“Frequently,” said Lieberman. “Right now I don't care about it. I care about finding who desecrated the place where my family and I worship, where I get the only damned sense of sanctuary from what I see every damn day. I care about getting our Torah back if it still exists. I think you'd feel better if you had a half pastrami instead of pieces of lettuce.”
“Were your parents born in this country?” Said asked.
“No,” said Lieberman. “My mother's parents were from the Ukraine. Had a farm north of Kiev, a few miles from Chernobyl. My father's parents were from Vilnius in Lithuania. Does it make a difference?”
“Yes,” said Said. “My parents were born in Cairo. I was not taught by them to hate Jews. I was encouraged by them to become a successful American.”
One of the two Alter Cockers at the table set for eight called over to Lieberman, “Where's everybody? Where's Maish? This a holiday?”
Lieberman explained and the two men had a conversation and stood up and walked over to the booth.
“Nazis?” asked old Braverman, squinting through amazingly thick glasses. He was thin and stooped and almost completely bald.
“Nazis,” Braverman confirmed, looking at Moscowitz who looked ten years younger then Braverman, though both were seventy-six.
“Maybe Arabs,” said Moscowitz, looking at the two policemen.
“Nazis,” insisted Braverman, “maybe working with Arabs. Arabs are crazy. They blow themselves up. Nazis don't die for their hate.”
Said sat silently. Old Braverman's sleeve was pulled up. On his arm was a still-vivid concentration camp number.
“Shoot them dead on sight, Lieberman,” Braverman said with calm certainty.
“Let's go to the temple instead of sitting here repeating ourselves, see if we can help,” Moscowitz said, taking Braverman's arm. “I'll call my daughter-in-law. She'll take us.”
As Moscowitz turned, Braverman said, “Well, was I right or was I right? Arabs or Nazis. Or maybe the Klan.”
“I don't know,” said Lieberman.
“There's right and right,” said Moscowitz, as he and Braverman went to the pay phone near the washrooms to call Moscowitz's daughter-in-law.
“They think I'm a Jew,” Said said. Lieberman nodded and worked on his coffee. “I'm as American as they are. Maybe more so,” Said continued, watching the men make their call.
“Two,” said Said. “Don't tell me you want to see their pictures.”
“If I don't tell you, how do I communicate the information?”
Said reached into his jacket pocket, came out with a wallet and opened it to a photo of a pretty, dark woman and two remarkably beautiful children, one a boy, the other a girl.
“Beautiful,” said Lieberman, handing Said his wallet open to a picture of his daughter and two grandchildren.
“Also beautiful,” said Said.
Lieberman took back the wallet and looked at the photograph as if he had never seen it.
“Not beautiful,” he said. “That's Lisa, my daughter, and her two kids. Lisa is too serious to be more than pretty and too stubborn to work on it. The kids are fine. Barry looks like his father, which is good, and Melisa looks like her mother which makes her, I'd say, on the verge of good-looking.”
“And now?” asked Said.
“You and I go see some of the people Howard Ramu knew,” said Lieberman.
Said nodded and opened his wallet to take out a five-dollar bill. Lieberman stopped him. “At Maish's, my guests don't pay.” On the way out, Lieberman called out his thanks to Terrill, who was nowhere in sight.
The phone was ringing.
Bill Hanrahan sat in his immaculate living room in his perfectly clean little house in Ravenswood not far from the Ravenswood Hospital. He and Maureen had raised their boys here, fought here, made love here, and very seldom had any visitors because of Bill's odd working hours and his drinking.
The phone was ringing.
Bill Hanrahan had been an alcoholic. He probably still was but he didn't drink, though he occasionally wanted to. A woman had died because of his drunkenness and he had stopped drinking with the help of AA and Smedley, his sponsor. Hanrahan had always been a big man. Without the booze, he had grown even bigger. He wondered why Iris, calm, determined, beautiful, even-tempered Iris wanted to marry him.
The phone was still ringing.
Iris said she didn't mind living in the house when they were married. They had made love here once, on the open-out couch in the living room, the couch on which he now sat looking at the phone. No, he couldn't keep living here. There were ghosts and memories on every shelf, in every corner, on every piece of furniture. He had kept himself busy the night Maureen left by cleaning house. The boys were already grown and on their own clearly wanting nothing to do with their drunk of a father.
He had never struck Maureen and never wanted to, though, ironically, she had frequently, toward the end, tears on her cheeks, slapped Bill, slapped him hard and he had taken it, knowing she was right.
He had cleaned the house better than she had ever done and he waited for years for her return, waited for her to come to the door and see what he had done, the shrine he had kept to their marriage and family.
The phone did not stop ringing.
Hanrahan had finally realized that she was not coming back. He had been attacked by a murderer during an investigation and was hospitalized with critical head wounds. Maureen had come. One of his boys, Bill Junior, had come. There had been no love in his eyes. A touch of sadness. A tic of regret. A quiver of sympathy. Maureen and their son had come once, heard that he would live and had departed after a few words of bitterness from Bill Junior. His younger son, Michael, had refused to fly in to see his father. Maureen had said little, but had made it clear that she had a new life, was seeing other men, had a decent job in an insurance office, and as a good Catholic, had no hope in seeking a divorce or annulment within the church. Instead, she had pursued a legal divorce and obtained it, though she told herself that she would have to live out her life in the eyes of the church still married to William Hanrahan.
Hanrahan picked up the phone.
“Father Murph,” said Lieberman from his car phone.
“Rabbi,” answered Hanrahan.
“I'm heading for Hyde Park with Said.”
“Be more specific and I'll meet you there,” said Hanrahan.
“How about you get the short list of neo-Nazis and skinheads and start paying them a visit instead?”
“Right,” said Hanrahan. “Watch yourself.”
“I'll check my well-groomed mustache in the mirror right now. Catch up with you later,” said Lieberman.
“Forget it. See you later.”