Welcome to His Brother’s Keeper, a fictional mystery series set in 2000, in New York. I’ve decided to periodically lend my blog to a friend, Eva Hirschel. Eva doesn’t have a social media presence but she does have a mystery that she wanted to publish serially on-line, so I’m giving her a hand. (If you’re just tuning in now, I suggest that you start at the beginning. If you’ve been following along but lost the thread since it’s been a while, here is the last installment before this one). Here is Part I, Chapter 19. Enjoy!
I stared at the list of incoming mail. Something didn’t make sense. My first thought was that my computer had somehow melded the list of my incoming mail with mail I had previously sent, though I didn’t see how that was possible. My next thought was that maybe I had gone to the Mail Sent list instead of Incoming Mail. But that wouldn’t explain it either. On my computer screen was a list of my new e-mail. There was mail from my parents, mail from Leah, mail from Meira, mail from someone I didn’t know, and six e-mail messages from myself. My parents were fine, currently enjoying the many varieties of smoked fish available in Norway and letting me know about Cousin Ida’s hip surgery, about which my grandmother had already informed me. They asked me to send her flowers in their names. My mother went on at length about a fascinating book she was reading about Israel. In caps, so I wouldn’t miss her enthusiasm, she wrote that I absolutely had to read this book, that while we knew about Hannah Senesh and her brave martyrdom, there were all kinds of other heroes mentioned in the book that she’d never heard of, these guys named Itzik Gilboa and Shlomo Gur, and that reading this book would give me a whole new perspective on the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel. It sounded interesting, but any extra-curricular reading would have to wait until I was done with the Gelbermans. Before I could forget, I quickly went to iloveflowers.com and chose a flower arrangement to be delivered the next day to Cousin Ida’s hospital room. I charged it to my credit card, and signed the card from my parents, the kids and Simon and I. Pathetic that at this age I still needed to be reminded about things like this by my parents. Then it was back to my email messages. Leah wrote to let me know that she thought I would really like the sermon she was giving this Shabbat, would I like to meet her for lunch sometime this week, and how was my study of Chasidism going? Meira had some interesting information that I would have to take a closer look at later. The mail from the unknown sender was an advertisement for spy software, which I didn’t think I needed quite yet in my career. And then there were the six e-mail messages with my own address as the sender.
All six e-mails contained the identical message:
Leave the past alone before you destroy the future. Do not meddle in things you do not understand. You have been warned.
For a moment I thought that perhaps the messages were from Simon, a bad attempt at humor. But though Simon knew enough about computers to have made these messages look like they were from me, this wasn’t Simon’s style. This had to be for real. Someone was trying to scare me. And whoever this someone was, they had done a good job disguising the source of the messages; there was no way for me to figure out who really sent this threat. I considered calling Simon to ask him what he thought, and whether he would be able to trace the messages, but I thought it unwise to bother him for the time being.
First I wrote a note for Shuki. Despite my misgivings and premonitions of foul-play, it seemed after Shuki’s meeting with the super that my young client truly was Sarah Gelberman. Forged driver’s licenses were difficult to come by and took more planning than I would give her credit for. With the license number the super has given Shuki, he should be able to obtain a good bit of other helpful information. In the note, I asked him to use the moving company’s computer to check the DMV records on Sarah Gelberman. I didn’t even know what I was looking for exactly, but I figured that it couldn’t hurt to learn as much as possible. Shuki had done this once before for me on another case, and his boss either didn’t mind, or didn’t know.
Hunched over the keyboard, my legs resting on the garbage can under the desk, I read through the mail from Meira again. Reliable as always, she had sent me scans of the documents from Yad Vashem. I printed them and searched for some important clue, but couldn’t make much sense out of them since they weren’t in English. I had also asked her to see what she could find out about the branch of the Gelberman family that had gone to Israel, or Palestine as it was then known, in the 1930’s. While it was a long shot, in genealogy you never knew what information would be helpful. From what I had gathered so far, it seemed that Ruchel and Yitzhak Gelberman left for Palestine, and for all intents and purposes dropped off the face of the earth. That would make sense, given the divergent direction they had chosen in following the call of Zionism. No doubt, as the writer of the essay in the Halizch Yizkor book had implied, their choice had not pleased Ruchel’s father, the rebbe.
Meira had been able to unearth some information about the effort to bring in refugees from Eastern Europe, against the wishes of the British. Many of those involved had been arrested by the British and put into jails, which made them heroes to the local Jews. But the name Yitzhak Gelberman hadn’t surfaced yet in any of her research. She promised that she would keep going and would let me know. I had faith that she would come up with something–she was a tenacious researcher. She didn’t accept easy answers, nor did she have any patience with what might look to others like dead ends. I knew that slowly but surely progress was being made. This is how it goes in my line of work, lots of frustrating baby steps, even occasional steps backward, but then, when you’re least expecting it, great lurches forward, brick walls that suddenly shatter, opening up roomfuls of further doorways to explore and sometimes even actual answers. I just had to take it easy and slow, stay calm and cool, and eventually things would fall into place.
But then I remembered the six ominous e-mail messages. Who was so threatened by what I digging up, and why? Why the secrecy? Who was involved? What was I getting myself into? And what could I possibly destroy by what I was doing?
All the work I had done before this job had been straightforward. Yes, some jobs required more diplomacy than others. Sometimes I had had to carefully and skillfully extract information from people who didn’t want to give it. I had had to be creative about tracking down information that people didn’t want unearthed, or that petty bureaucrats couldn’t be bothered sharing. For some jobs I had had to use my best detective skills to figure out where the right information could be found. But never had I been in danger of any kind. Never had I been threatened or told to stop. I felt like I was entering a whole new world, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to be there. Yet despite the emailed threat, it was still hard to believe that anyone could be so threatened by genealogical research on a Chasidic dynasty that had come to its end during the Holocaust, and which might or might not have some living, now non-Chasidic descendants. Maybe there were people who didn’t like the Halizcher teachings or philosophy, but surely not so much that they would do something violent or harmful. But I had to admit that a part of me welcomed the thrill of it, the adrenaline rush caused by the combination of anger, fear, and excitement.
When Simon finally came home, he found me still at my desk, staring at the screen. He spent a few minutes trying to untangle the obscured source code on those six e-mail messages, but while he was impressed by the sender’s ability to manipulate computers, he wasn’t successful. Eventually, we left the computer alone and went upstairs to bed. It didn’t take us too long to forget temporarily why we were angry at each other.
[To be continued]