copyright © 2002by R.D. Weber Protocol-17 ®TM All rights reserved.
SEATED IN THE car, Josey stared out the window as they wound their way through the city, down I-90 east, and onto Lake Shore Drive South. Mounds of dirty slush were piled high along the highway, cloaked in a shawl of freshly fallen snow. Five inches already and the sheeting snow continued to pelt the city. Uri briefed her as they drove. He was young, all of about twenty six years old, with a jovial disposition. His features were handsome, but sharp. His brown eyes, alert and cautious. As the car curved past the Museum of Science and Industry, Josey again peered out the car window. Her breath fogged the cold glass, trembling against it. Thinking of her father, she sighed and paused for a moment, then drew a heart-shaped figure on the frost-edged glass with her finger.
Their car pulled to the curb and Josey walked east from 58th street, and into the quads. The University of Chicago's campus was huge, several square blocks. Her father's office was housed in the Divinity School, Swift Hall. A handsome, Gothic, limestone building with massive archways and porticoes, even castle-like turrets. The winter-dried vines of ivy, crawled like skeletal fingers across the old brick and colonnaded limestone.
A blanket of snow swaddled the barren shrubbery and dusted the rooftops. Angels could have folded their wings, coming to rest on such rooftops. But the snowfall was heavier now, relentless. It almost concealed the city's grimy face and soiled undergarments in a virgin white wedding gown.
Josey followed a flagstone path across the quad, past freeze-dried flowerbeds, where bare earth lay like a fresh grave.
* * *
In Swift Hall now, outside the door of her father's office, Josey's hand reached for the doorknob. She hesitated.
The sound of muffled music and grainy, slightly quivering voices filled her ears. Although she hadn't heard her father's voice for years, nor the song, she recognized both immediately. The song was Bei Mir Bist du Schoen (means that youre grand) by the Andrews Sisters: her father's favorite. She entered. Her father stood behind his desk, singing and directing with a ruler as his baton. Outside, the wind, with its invisible baton, conducted a chorus of haunting voices. She swallowed audibly as she took in the sight of him. Max Schulman was a typical professor with a dark bristle of eyebrows, and a dark moustache thinning to a gray-speckled beard. Curly, white hair laureled his balding head. And marble-black piercing eyes peeked out from his dark-framed eyeglasses. His face radiated with the inner glow of the peace that dwelt within. Max paused as if sensing her presence. His smile warmed the room and her heart. She ran to him. They held one another for a minute which seemed at the same time, far too long and far too fleeting.
Max held Josey at arm's length, studying her. "Gott, how you've grown, Josephine!" She blushed and shrugged, soaking in a father's love, a father's attention. Max shook his head. His eyes glistening, he continued, "If only Muta could see you, daughter. She would be so proud." Then a look of confusion washed over his face. "But these clothes ... don't they pay you a decent wage, girl?"
Josey laughed and explained. "Low profile, Tateh. My cover is a foreign student. Didn't they tell you?"
Max Schulman turned, removed the needle from the record, and motioned for Josey to take a seat. Every inch of each wall was covered in overflowing bookcases. His desk was littered with papers. And on his desk, seated as if on her throne, sat a large, overfed, black Angora cat--Lilith. Purring softly. Somnolent. Indifferent.
"Ah, yes, the clandestine machinations of your profession. Its no matter, you look none the less for ware on the outside. But tell me, Josephine. Are you happy?" As he said it, Josey's eyes slid away. "Just as I thought. I can see into your heart, mayan tokhter." He moved around the desk and pulled up a chair at her side. He took her hand in his and held it tight. Tears welled up in her eyes and she broke down in deep sobs, finally throwing her arms around him. He held her close and stroked her hair. Pressed his cheek to hers.
Her pain, her fear and loneliness, bled into his arms. Regaining her composure, she slowly began to speak, "I'm sorry, Tateh ... so sorry. I'm too old for this!" She stiffened, the hatred returning. "Those bastards ... they killed Zio Lotti! Not with their own hands but just as surely. I just needed you, needed you so badly that--"
Max interrupted her, and reaching out to grasp her chin, he held her eyes. "Never apologize for being a human being, foolish girl. I know that you think ice water runs in your veins. And maybe, by now, it does. But sometimes you need to let it melt a little, no?"
The cat jumped from the desktop onto the floor. At first milling about her, then rubbing against her legs and curling its tail languidly around her calf.
The blood returned to Josey's cheeks. And just as a sunlight filigreed cloud signals hope, a faint smile broke through her storm-clouded face. "Of course, youre right. Can we have dinner tonight?" Max's eyebrows rose like question marks, he chuffed. "Well, yes, if you can fit me into your schedule that is?"
A tumbler clicked in Josey's brain. Back to business. She rose and paced about the office and halted. Turning to her father, she asked, "Did you receive the book from Benjamin?"
Outside, a gust of wind soughed through the eaves of the building. A singular note played through an ice-carved flute.
"Why, yes. A singularly remarkable book it is. As remarkably vile as it is complex and mysterious."
"How, so?" Josey asked.
Speaking as Professor Schulman now, he continued, "I've made the study of man's religions and beliefs my life's work. As the man once said, 'I do not know as much as God, but I know as much as God did at my age.' Some books demonstrate man's finest hour, man's noblest achievement. But others ... demonstrate his darkest hour, his basest instincts."
"And this book?"
"You already have seen the results of its evil."
"Only the evil of men," Josey said. "Men driven by greed and ambition. There's nothing particularly supernatural about that."
Max frowned, his face creasing with anger. "Dont be so quick to discount evil as a true force in this universe, as a separate entity. There are those, even theologians, who deny its existence; call it a metaphor. There are those who devote their lives to battling it. Some run from it. Others, by their nature, align themselves with it unwittingly. There are those who, knowing of its true existence and its black heart--still seek it out."
Josey took a seat, listening intently. "It's those seekers who are most dangerous, Josey. Seekers who understand its power and know how to use it. Evil reversed is Live; and Live is their motto. Dr. Carl Sagan referred to our reptilian nature, imbedded deep in our genetic makeup. These seekers are hybrid throw-backs, scaled over with a vicarious appetite for ever more intense stimuli. Their tolerance level increases with each injection of perversity. They become addicts, addicts of raw sensation and experience: an aberrant Gnois. If you intend to confront such men, it doesn't matter a tinker's damn whether you truly believe or not." Josey looked puzzled, tilted her head.
For a moment the mere thought strangled their voices into separate silences.
Max broke the silence. "You don't have to believe or understand thermonuclear energy to be vaporized by a ten-megaton warhead do you? And there are those who believe that the symbols in this book can act on a quantum level, as does the brain itself, unleashing forces we don't fathom, can't truly fathom."
"But you can't believe--"
Her father stepped on her words, his eyes glaring at her, and then, looking inward, he spoke: "Believe? Most certainly. Just as I believe in the ancient studies of our faith, Tokhter! The Kabbalah!" He bowed his head; his fingers ran across a volume of the Zohar lying on his desk.
The word flooded her mind with memories. Josey recalled now with crystal clarity occasions in her childhood when she had been awakened in the middle of the night by cries from her parent's bedroom. Mother would come to reassure her, that it was nothing, her father had had another one of his night terrors. Josey would toss and turn and eventually fall off to sleep. But even now she could hear her father's voice, as it had risen in a keening wail of terror, the babbling of a man trapped and tortured by things he could not name. Dybbuks. Ghost-Demons of the night.
"Yes, Tateh." Josey saw this was getting nowhere. Her father had perhaps spent too many hours alone with his thoughts, alone with arcane knowledge. "Do you have the book in a safe place, then?"
He patted his jacket pocket and said, "Right here, I've never let it out of my sight."
"So how do I fight them, Tateh?"
"Their weakness is their pride, their vanity. If you insist upon flushing them out, I suggest that I place notice in the academic journal announcing a talk on the book as part of our lecture series. You sit back and wait."
"Said the spider to the fly?"
"Yes, but make sure you don't become the fly!"
"Do you have any thoughts as to who is the leader--"
Then the door opened. A tall man dressed in the traditional garb of the Lubavitcher movement of Hasidic Jews--black clothing, white shirt, dread locks, and a full beard--entered. His face was all hard planes--a prominent jaw line, a large angular nose, and glass-sharp cheekbones. But his eyes were warm, even kind, and his mouth full and generous. Powerful were his shoulders and arms as well as his large hands. But when he moved it was with a timid grace, as though he feared he would frighten strangers. His voice had a serious, but mellifluous tone. "O-hh, excuse me, professor, but someone is here to see you."
Lilith hissed and shot back behind the desk.
The professor looked bewildered. "To see me?" he asked, checking his appointment calender. "Yes, there it is. I'd forgotten." Josey nodded toward the tall man. "Oh, yes. Allow me to present Rabbi Jacob Yomach Goldstein, my associate. Rabbe, my daughter, Josephine." Josey stood and proffered her hand. But she noticed that even though the Rabbi smiled with his lips, his eyes were far away.
Max stood and moved toward the door. "Excuse me, won't you? I shouldn't be long. You could wait in Rabbi Goldstein's office, downstairs."
As she left, a diminutive man brushed past her, wearing a thin smile and carrying a walking stick. He was stooped over, had long disheveled white hair, and dragged his left leg as he moved. He appeared ancient, fragile as tissue paper. In a thick German accent he said, "Excuse me, Fraulein."
* * *
Seated in the Rabbi's office on the first floor, Josey pulled out a pack of cigarettes. The Rabbi, somewhat befuddled, rummaged through his desk drawers and found an ashtray. Josey lit her cigarette and blew a plume into the air as she spoke. "Have you been with my father long?"
The Rabbi stammered slightly. "Yes, about four years now. He's a brilliant man. His mind's still razor sharp."
"Yes, I know. Are you from Chicago?"
"My family moved from Brooklyn when I was a child."
"Big, traditional family I bet?" Josey noticed the family pictures on the wall.
"Traditional, yes. My father was a Rabbi, too. But not big." He studied the floor a moment, then looked up. "Just my brother and me."
Josey took a drag and winked. "Has he got a name?"
"Of course," he swallowed hard, "it's Samuel. He's a policeman. Rather a detective with the Chicago Police Department." Josey sensed the strained family relations in the forced tone of his voice. "A copper and a rabbi? Right some wrongs, save some souls," she said as she bore into his eyes, toying with him. The Rabbi wrung his hands, looked about nervously. Josey was having a little fun with him; she was bored.
Suddenly, he moved for the door. "I just remembered. I have a meeting." He paused and bowed saying, "I hope your visit is fruitful and pleasant. Shalom." He was out the door.
Josey sat chain-smoking. She crossed one leg over the other, counting away the minutes with each flex of her ankle.
After awhile, a feeling of dread leached into her. Fragmented thoughts ran across her mind like fire ants. She bolted from her chair and into the outer hallway. Empty... Nobody ... Zip.
At first, walking hurriedly, searching, listening and then, she heard it, the ding of the elevator. A muffled cry.
She broke into a dead run, screeching to a halt at the elevator door just as it closed.
Somehow she knew it, knew it in her gut, her father was in danger and in that elevator. Glancing up at the floor indicator, watching the numbers change as it rose steadily upward, she pounded the call button.
She ran for the stairwell, crashed through the door, and bounded up the stairs. Her Doc Martins slapping the concrete steps, layered echoes, intertwined in a chorus that followed her up the stairwell, barking at her heels.
She climbed two floors and realized this was hopeless(ten more floors to her father's office). She rammed the emergency bar of the exit door and tumbled sideways as she rounded the corridor back to the elevator door.
She heard it. Ding.
Standing at the door, lungs burning, she saw the doors begin to slide open. She took a step, hesitated and willed herself to move. Claustrophobia was her Achilles heel. She steeled herself and entered the elevator. Eyes searching everywhere, she strode to the rear, and turned sharply.
The elevator became sweltering; the air so thick Josey could hardly breathe. Beads of perspiration dappled her forehead.
Her blouse, equally damp with sweat, matted against the small of her back.
The devil was in the details and in an instant her world became obsessed with details: the sibilant hiss of the closing elevator door, the blinding-harsh overhead lighting, the jolt of the compartment and the creak of cables as it rose.
Third floor. Fourth floor ... Sixth floor.
The soft hum of the ventilation fan.
She wasn't alone after all. There in the corner, next to the control panel, stood a dignified little man. She took him in with a glance. His black overcoat was tailored; his complexion was pasty with a trace of pink like a baby's cheeks--no, more like an elf, with gray wisps of fine hair. His hands rested upon an ebony walking stick with an ornate silver handle. As he rocked on the balls of his tiny feet, he whistled the Disney song Heigh-HO.
"Floor please?" he said, turning with an innocuous but naughty smile.
"Twelfth floor, please?" she replied calmly, returning his grin. Two can play this game.
The surrounding walls seemed to crush in toward her like the plates of a hydraulic press.
Shrugging his diminutive shoulders, he lisped, "These old buildings and old elevators require patience." His watery little eyes stared, studying her, drinking her in.
Are you a patient person, young lady? You appear somewhat distraught. Can you relish this moment, the ecstacy of doubt? The intensity of the unknown? Can you? You little Hmeshe Kurve(hometown whore)!
She heard the words, but couldn't believe her eyes. His lips never moved. No--just that impish little smile. It must be my nerves, she thought. Then her eyes zoomed in on the walking stick. Yes, it was the same. Just like the one the old man had carried when he brushed past her in the doorway to Tateh's office. Same man, same stick?
Just as she was about to answer the elevator shuddered to a stop. The doors opened and in walked a bosomy dowager with her consort tucked beneath her arm: a miniature French poodle, followed by a gaggle of students. The room shrunk around Josey now. The thought of sharing this tiny compartment with this press of bodies terrified her.
She peered over the top of the old dame's wide-brimmed hat, stealing a glimpse of the little man. He no longer looked old and fragile but her instincts told her it was defiantly somehow the same man. Had to be. Her hand moved to the fanny pack around her waist; she slid her hand into the velcro pouch that held her weapon. The cold gunmetal bolstered her courage and bridled her phobia.
She felt something on her wrist, something wet.
She glanced down. There, against her skin, a tiny blotch of red, then another. Josey shook as the honed point of a blade ran between her shoulder blades. She looked up. A dark stain was flowering on the ceiling tile of the elevator cab.
A droplet landed on a young, female students nose who raised her hand to wipe it away. The girl looked down and screamed.
Like toppling dominos, the first the students, then the dowager, and finally her poodle, fell into panic. A chorus of screams erupted, the poodle threw back its head howling ... bodies pushing and shoving each other ... moving in a waive toward the door. Frenzy.
Josey pushed and scrambled upward. Using the cab's handrail as a foothold, she reached up, and pulled open the overhead trap-door. There, suspended from the steel cables--a body--her father. His body hung upside down, swaying. His right ankle lashed to his left knee--forming an inverted numeral four. His throat cut ear to ear.
The doors parted and the little imp, with the speed and grace of a whirling dervish, was out the door. He held a rose-colored book high above his head. Pointing it toward the blood-stained ceiling of the elevator, his voice changing from a lisp back into a thick German accent, he said, "My regards to, Tateh, Ms. Josey. Oh, and many thanks for retrieving my little book."
The world skipped a beat ... changing to slow motion.
Josey jumped down. As the semi-auto filled her hand, Josey fired a deafening round into the ceiling to get the mob down.
Everyone half ducked, half tumbled forward, everyone except the dowager, who like a true aristocrat, turned toward the gunshot as if to render her complaint. Her mouth caught the second slug, deflecting the shot so that the little man was bathed in a shower of old blood rather than steel-jacketed hollow-points.
Josey cursed the darkness. And as the elevator doors closed, the little imp bowed as if to make a final curtain call.
* * *
Somehow the little man had vanished into thin air. Uri, her partner, also pulled his own variety of magic. He appeared, flashing an FBI badge at campus police, and whisked Josey out of the building and into the car. The witnesses from the elevator were too panicked to protest or notice.
* * *
As he ran down the alley adjacent to Swift Hall, the little imp, Dr. Ordinaire, withdrew a long white wig from his pocket and pitched it into a trash can. Miraculously, he no longer limped, but sprinted away and into the swirling snow, his coattails flapping like a black, starched witch's skirt.
* * *