Classic Round Robin

~ Music of the Soul ~

Chapter 2
by Tunnel Dweller 2

 

Avram Kozinski sat at his dining table with his head in his hands. He stared without seeing the worn formica covering the table. These days, he felt as worn as the table.

“What have I done? What have I done?”

The phrase repeated in his mind like a mantra, but was no way as calming. He hadn’t been in so much trouble since Dachau. Back then, he was 24 years old, an aspiring violinist hoping to get into the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, with an entire life yet to be lived. Instead, war changed his plans, and changed him. Rounded up with other Jews, he was sent to two other camps before ending up at Dachau. It should have been the end of him; perhaps it was.

The commandant there learned of his talent and decided to spare his life for a bit to enjoy personal performances put on for him. Morning, afternoon, or even the middle of the night, Avram never knew when he would be commanded to make an appearance. For better effect, the commandant rustled up a worn black coat with tails, likely taken from another Jewish prisoner’s personal effects, and requested that Avram wear it over his prison uniform. It made for a rather comical sight, if one could find humor in such a place.

After a while, the commandant, tired of his new bemusement, but in a rare showing of some humanity, did not send him to the ovens. Instead, he had Avram be a loader - one of the men who loaded bodies into the ovens so they could burn. It was exhausting, hot, demoralizing work, and it kept you alive as long as you could do it. But it came with a price. The other prisoners considered you the lowest of the low. More than once, Avram got pummeled, spat on, and was basically shunned as if he was unclean. He’d made it out of Dachau alive but the Avram that once played the violin was no more.

“I must get down to see Father. They must be warned.” He spent his energy getting back home. He hated that he used the subway tunnel. He took a chance that someone might see him and wonder where he was going. But he could not take a chance that someone would follow him home. He knew the tunnels well enough that he could get to his five story walk up via the circuitous route of tunnels below. So even if someone saw him enter the tunnels, they would have no idea where he was – whether he stayed Below or came back up, or where he came up. But it was unfair to potentially interest someone going Below and possibly exposing the community.

He hadn’t been able to stop then. The subway entrance was a ways from the main hub, and he needed time to think. Especially before confronting Father. He thought best when alone, so he’d made his way to his apartment. The five flight climb nearly did him in; and, at first, he’d just sat at the table breathing heavily. Finally his body calmed down, and then his mind took off. Fear clutched onto his thoughts until he couldn’t see any hope or possibility for a positive outcome to his present situation. And then he remembered he may have exposed the tunnels. It was one thing to mess up your own life, but those good people didn’t deserve to go down with him.

He stood, inhaled deeply, straightened up, and took his first step toward his trip to face Father.

***

“Who is it, Vincent? What is his name?” Catherine was stunned by Vincent’s news. To think a helper might be a murderer - it caused a chill to run up her spine.

“No. Not … yet.” Vincent’s head shook slightly in refusal of her request. “I will contact you soon.”

He turned to leave, and Catherine grabbed his arm to keep him from leaving.

“Vincent, this man is from my world. He is subject to our laws Above. You need to tell me his name so he can be brought in. He must answer our questions, answer for what he did if he is the one who killed that man.”

“He may be from your world, Catherine,” Vincent replied. “But he is our friend, and we owe him a debt. I wish to speak to Father, and to him; and then I will tell you what you need to know.”

With one last look at Catherine, outlined by the light of her basement entrance, he turned and walked away.

Catherine stood, exasperated, before turning on her heel and heading back up the ladder.

***

Vincent strode into Father’s chamber as he called his name. Father was seated in his favorite chair, books piled high as he seemed to be searching for a particular passage. He looked up. “Ah, Vincent! Your arrival is most auspicious! I’m looking for a source of a passage I heard from Cullen, of all people! It has to do with …”

Vincent quickly interrupted. “Father, I must speak to you about an important matter.”

Father stopped mid-sentence. “What is the matter, Vincent?

He handed Father the photo Catherine had given him. “Do you recognize this man?”

Father inspected the picture carefully. “Yes, yes I do. I believe that is Avram. Why? What are you doing with a picture of Avram?”

“Catherine brought it to me. She says he is a suspect in a murder Above.”

“Murder? Surely not! Avram wouldn’t hurt the proverbial flea!” Father watched as Vincent began pacing. Funny how Father almost thought it comforting to watch Vincent do his ritual worrying by pacing.

“There is a witness, Father.”

“A witness? Who saw Avram kill this man?”

“Not exactly. I believe Catherine said he was seen leaving the area in a hurry with blood on him. He was followed until the subway, where he was seen entering the train maintenance tunnel past the tracks. I, too, find it hard to believe Avram could do such a thing.”

“He was followed? Good heavens, police could be swarming the tunnels looking for this man! We must get organized and make sure we have enough false walls up to protect us.” Father pulled out a piece a paper from his stack and prepared to jot down a list of things to do.

“The station Avram used is a considerable distance from us. I believe we will be safe enough at present. We can send out Cullen and a few others to make sure.”

“I wish to go visit Avram, Father. I need to hear from him what happened.”

“And if he says he killed a man? What then, Vincent?”

“Then I will grieve for the friend I knew, and give Catherine his name and address. He must answer for what he did, if he did it. But I believe there is another explanation, Father. Catherine wanted his name; she was quite upset that I wouldn’t tell her. But you, of all people, Father, know how easy it is for those in authority to assume guilt. And Avram knows injustice better than you. He deserves no less than for us to hear his side before I take any action.”

Father looked upon Vincent with tender concern and with pride in his loyalty. “Go, my son. I’ll message Cullen to organize a group to go to check the tunnel area. You’ll report to me when you get back, won’t you?”

“Of course Father.”

“No matter the hour?”

Vincent nodded, turned, and left Father’s chamber, determined to find the truth.

***

Catherine unlocked her door, entered the apartment, and collapsed on her couch.

How could Vincent do this? He knows this is my job - to investigate cases, talk to witnesses, ferret out information wherever I can. To knowingly withhold information about someone Above whom he knew - how could he do that to me?

She breathed in deeply, exhaled slowly. She repeated this until finally getting her bearings and feeling more in control.

She knew Vincent was honorable. If he felt this person needed his protection, there must be a reason. But Vincent saw only the best in people; she knew from bitter experience that sometimes, people let you down.

I need to trust him on this. Heaven knows, he’s been right before. Look at Stephen Bass. Ironically, it was me who wanted to see the best in Stephen, to believe he had changed, when it was Vincent who felt something was terribly wrong. I was so certain it was jealousy speaking, ignoring who I know Vincent to be, and I put myself and Vincent in danger as a result.

But this is my job! Joe will expect some kind of progress tomorrow, and I will have to lie and tell him nothing. It’s one thing to lie about my personal life, but to lie about something so important, the identity of a witness … Catherine sighed. This double life she led was only getting more difficult. She was growing less confident by the day about how long she could continue this juggling act and not give something vital away.

She got up and headed to her bedroom. Morning would come soon enough, and facing Joe with little sleep would do nothing to help the situation. She went into the bathroom, removed her makeup, and brushed her teeth. She stared at her reflection in the mirror, seeing her face reflect the pain of Vincent’s evasion.

***

Avram made his way slowly because he was tired, and because it was dark. It was late for him to be out, but he felt that strongly about warning the community. His slowed pace gave him more time to think about what he would say to Father. It was not going to be a pleasant visit. Father took the safety of the tunnel community very seriously, as he should. To think that he, Avram, would endanger them, well, it was hard to believe.

As he got closer to the outer perimeter of the hub, he saw a figure in the distance. It didn’t take long to recognize Vincent’s form. Vincent stopped and let Avram draw nearer. Avram looked up at Vincent. “So we meet, my friend. Why am I not surprised?”

Vincent looked back, silent.

“Shall we go see Father? I will speak to you both.”

The trip to Father’s chamber was made in silence. Vincent’s tall, lean form next to the smaller, stocky frame made a contrasting sight. Avram’s nerves increased with each step closer. He wished to get through this as quickly as possible. What would happen after, he couldn’t predict.

Avram entered Father’s chamber ahead of Vincent. Father turned, expecting Vincent, and was startled to see Avram.

“Avram! What brings you here?” Father said, hoping the artifice of his statement didn’t show through. But Avram knew.

“Father, I suspect you well know what brings me here.” Avram looked at Father, gestured toward a chair as if to ask permission to sit. He should stand and face Father like a man would do, but after everything that happened today, he lacked both the strength and the energy to do it. Father briefly nodded, and Avram sat in a disheartened heap upon the chair.

 “I came to tell you about some events that have happened, and a story leading up those events. But before I begin, I must warn you that I may have exposed the tunnels to danger. I may have been seen entering the maintenance tunnels of the subway this evening. You must be on guard, and protect yourselves. I can’t tell you how sorry I am that it happened. I came to warn you so you could prepare.”

“We have already started on that, Avram.” Father drew another chair forward, indicated a chair from the far wall of his chamber for Vincent to bring closer, and the two were soon seated in front of Avram. “Tell us your story, Avram.”

Avram took a deep breath to steady his nerves and began.

“I came to America after the war, a broken man. There was no one left for me to go home to in Poland, and I had no desire to stay in Germany.” He drew back his sleeve to show the tattooed number on his arm.  “America seemed like a good idea. I thought perhaps Americans did not feel about Jews the way so many in Europe did. I could begin a new life, a better life.  But when the war ended, all the returning GIs needed work and we new immigrants faced a tough time finding a job. What skills did I have? Playing violin wasn’t really something sought after and I no longer had my violin. So I did what odd jobs I could find, and played an occasional party when I could find a violin to borrow. But the music did not bring the pleasure it once did. I used to live for music. My soul resonated to the sounds I made with my violin.” At this comment, Avram closed his eyes, reliving a moment. “I would soar to heights only my imagination could see.” Slowly, his eyes reopened.  “Gone. All that was gone.” Arvin waved his hand, dismissing that part of his life.

Father had suspected Avram was a survivor of a concentration camp. But he respected the man’s privacy and hadn’t pressed for information that was painful, private. He did not think it was pertinent to his decision to accept Avram.

Father poured a cup of ever-present tea and placed in on the corner of the table next to Avram. A man could not get through the telling of such a story without a cup of tea to give him fortitude.

Avram smiled wanly at Father’s gesture. He placed a hand around the cup for warmth, but did not bother to sip from it. He continued his story.

“I managed to eke out a living for a number of years.” He shrugged. “Eh, a single man does not need much. But then something happened, and it was after that when I first came to the tunnels. I was in the corner deli picking up some sliced meat when I bumped into a man. I looked up to apologize and I froze. Staring back at me, equally frozen, was a man from my past. I don’t know who was more startled, him or me. I left. Soon after, I started getting threats. Every where I went, he was there. I left my little apartment and went underground, as they say, but in my case, it was literal. I found the tunnels.” He looked at Father. “I found you.”

“Vincent, I don’t know if Father ever told you, but I spent three years here in the tunnels.” He looked at Vincent. Vincent looked at Father, a question in his eyes, then back at Avram, and silently shook his head no.

“Well, I did. Those three years saved not only my life, but my sanity. This community, this life, must be protected. It is salvation for so many. That’s why I came tonight. To protect it, after so carelessly putting it in possible danger. But I digress.” Avram glanced down, giving himself a moment to collect his thoughts.

“Your Father accepted me, believed I needed safety for my life, and never once asked me for an explanation. I’m sure he expected one would come eventually. He just didn’t realize it would take thirty years to hear it.” At this, Father shrugged and raised an eyebrow.

“Eventually, it was safe for me to return Above, and so I did, and became a helper to repay the generosity and friendship I received. I thought the past was finally in the past, and would allow me some peace. And it was, for many years after that. But last month, I had the bad luck to discover my tormentor was still around.” He sighed. “You’d think a man who was lucky enough to survive Dachau would have enough luck left to not get tripped up twice by the same man. But what do I know of luck,” he shrugged.

At the word “Dachau,” Vincent looked up sharply. He knew from his reading the inhumanity suffered there. He suspected Avram had suffered something during the war. He just didn’t know what. For Avram to have survived Dachau - it was an incredible feat and testament to the man’s inner strength for him to be such a caring and giving man. How could he be a killer? Before he knew it, the question slipped out.

“Avram, did you kill that man?”

Avram looked sadly into the gentle blue eyes of his magical friend.

“Yes, I did.”

 

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