Classic Round Robin

~ Music of the Soul ~

Chapter 7
by Tunnel Dweller 7

 

There was an uncomfortable silence as both Catherine and Vincent tried to imagine such a meeting.  Blue eyes met green ones in nearly identical looks of deep concern. 

"We can't, Vincent!"

He agreed.  "The only way such a meeting ends well is if Amos's wife is not also Avram's wife.  If there are two Gerdas."

Catherine nodded.

"How certain was Amos?" Vincent asked.

"He's not certain at all.  That's why he asked me to help him find the truth."

"He is afraid to ask his wife—Gerda—himself?  That, in itself, tells us …"  Vincent's voice trailed off.

Catherine finished the thought for him.  "… how afraid he is."

"Yes."

"It is frightening," Catherine said.  "To discover the love you've built your life on …  That there are …"

"Secrets."

"Yes."

Vincent didn't need the bond to know, in that moment, that Catherine was thinking of Lisa.

"It takes a rare person," he said, "to discover a … secret … like that … and to … to …"

"Cope?" Catherine said, a quizzical gleam in her eye and a slightly mischievous lilt in her voice.

"Yes."  He hung his head. 

"Not a rare person, Vincent." Catherine took his hands in hers and kissed them, a repetition of a gesture from that night on the balcony when he had thought all was lost and she had taken his breath away.  As she did again.  "Not a rare person.  Just … love."

He rested his forehead against hers, overwhelmed for a moment by all that he felt for her and from her.  But Catherine switched quickly back to what he privately dubbed her "lawyer-mode."  There was a problem.  And Catherine, confronted by a problem, was, he knew, unstoppable.

"But that was different, Vincent," she insisted.  "What Lisa wanted—needed—from you … It was … different." 

She ended on an apologetic note and was startled by his unexpected grin. 

"Yes, dear heart.  There was no danger of a "cat fight" over me."

"Oh, I don't know, dear heart!" Catherine retorted.  "There was a moment or two when I might have scratched her eyes out." 

She took advantage of his momentary astonishment to brush the briefest of feather-light kisses against his mouth and hurried on before he could retreat into his characteristic shy solemnity.  "But what you and I have … it is different from what Lisa wanted.  I think Amos and Avram—what they each feel for the woman they married … if … if she is the same woman ..."

"It will not coexist peacefully."

"No."

"And bringing Avram and Amos's wife together suddenly …"

"… could cause more of an explosion than that chess set Paracelsus doctored."  Again, she felt an elation at having coaxed a brief grin from him.  But, that surge of happiness was out of tune with the problem at hand and was quickly stifled.  "We'll have to find another way.  And quickly.  Because Winterfest is just around the corner.  It would be terrible if they met unexpectedly there."

"Or if Amos decided not to come … out of fear," Vincent added.

"Yes.  He might do that.  I don't see how he could come … not knowing."

"We must find the truth, Catherine.  Surely there is some way."

"Other than engineering an explosive confrontation?  There must be, Vincent.   It may just be a research project.  Heaven knows, I've done enough of that lately.  Let me look into it a little."

"Is there anything I can do to help?"

She smiled at him, that luminous smile that was more a matter of eyes and heart than anything else. 

"You already have, dear heart."  Catherine rose from the shallow rock bench and held out her hand.  "Walk me to the threshold?  I think I can sleep now."

It was long before Vincent slept that night, however, with shining eyes and soft full lips coming between him and the sheep he was so desperately trying to count.

***

"Catherine!"  The voice on the phone was full of a joyful surprise.

"Hi, Jenny.  How are you?"

"Fine!  I'm fine.  To what do I owe this rare and unexpected pleasure?  Don't tell me you're finally going to take me up on that lunch invitation!"

"I wish I could, Jen.  Soon.  I promise.  Right now, I just need some information."

"I should have known it was too good to be true.  What is it this time? Art gallery?  Ghost buster?"

"Sort of.  Maybe."

"What?  Another gallery?  Did you find more paintings?"

"No.  Not a gallery."

"A ghost buster, then?!  Really?!  Cathy, I told you, there's no way—!"

"Not a literal ghost, Jenny.  Not like Kristopher."

"Who wasn't a literal ghost!"

"N-no," Catherine said, hesitantly, the thought of a certain inexplicable oil painting far below the city streets reminding her there were more things in heaven and earth …  She shook her head in a sudden sharp dismissing movement.  There wasn't time for rehashing old ghost stories just now.  "I can't explain, Jen."

"So what else is new?"

"I just need to know … how would I go about tracing a Holocaust victim?  Or survivor?"

"Which is it, Cathy?"

"That's just it.  I don't know.  I need to find out if this … person—if this person was killed in the camps, or if the person might have survived the war."

"What do you know?  A name?  Which camp?  The year this "person" was rounded up?  Or his or her home town?"

"Some of that.  And I might be able to get more."

"The more you know going in, the easier it will be.  But it's not going to be easy, Cath.  The records … they're sketchy in a lot of cases."

"There are records, then?" 

"Some.  And a few years from now, it might get a lot easier.  There's talk of computerizing them.  Someday, you might be able to get your friend Edie to sit down at a terminal, type in a name and read everything we know right off a screen to you.  But, for now, it doesn't work quite that way."

"How does it work?"

"There are organizations … collecting data.  It's like genealogical research.  In some ways."  Jenny's voice held a hint of sadness.

"In some ways?" Catherine asked.

"There are a lot of family trees whose branches were just—cut off."

"Yes."

"And a lot of people who went through hell.  You don't—  You can't always trust their memories."

"But there must be some documentation!"

"Yes.  Some.  You could try Yad Vashem."

"Yad Vashem."  Catherine wrote it down.  "What's that?"

"Holocaust Museum in Israel.  It's been there since … I don't know.  The early fifties.   One of its missions is to collect and preserve the records.  Maybe somebody there could help you."

"Okay!  Great!  That's great."

"And … I don't know the exact name.  But there are plans in the works for a Holocaust Museum to go up on the National Mall in D.C.  There should be people you can talk to.  I can get you a number.  Then … you just do your thing, Cathy."

"My thing?"

"Charm everybody in sight—or over the phone—until somebody gives you what you want."

Catherine laughed.  Coming from anybody else, a comment like that might have seemed snide and mean-spirited, but Jenny's love for her friends was her most vivid personality trait.

"Thanks, Jen.  I'll do my best Jenny Aronson imitation and see where it gets me.  And we'll have lunch soon.  I promise."

"Okay.  I'll get you that number.  And good luck.  But I'll hold you to that lunch promise.  And I warn you, I'll want to hear all the secrets when we do!"

Catherine hung up, and her laughter died. 

I know you do, Jen, she thought.  That's why we don't have lunch more often.

***

Secrets. 

So many secrets.

There were days, Catherine thought, when she longed to live in the sunshine—but they were usually the days when some commitment Above prevented her from spending time with Vincent.  When he was with her, no sacrifice seemed too great.  When he wasn't …  They would figure it out.  She was determined on that, at least. 

Meanwhile, she had promised to help someone else figure it out.  And she didn't think she really had time for the mills of the research Gods to grind slowly on.  This was going to have to be resolved quickly.  Suspense in matters of the heart was just too hard.  Fortunately, she thought, she had managed to avoid promising Amos that she wouldn't speak to his wife. 

Which is how she came to be standing in front of the door to the Beiber's apartment that evening.  The Silver Symphony was playing tonight at one of the many parties at which the group entertained throughout the holiday season.  Mrs. Beiber, if she were home, would be alone.  Catherine had no idea how to broach the subject, but she knew it had to be done.  One either moves toward love or away from it, Catherine.  There is no other direction.  These people needed to know in which direction they were moving. 

Catherine knocked firmly.

The door opened, and Gerda Beiber stood there, surprised and questioning. 

"Ms. Chandler!"

"Catherine, please.  Hello, Mrs. Beiber."

"Come in.  Come in.  Amos isn't here, you know.  The Symphony—it plays tonight on the Upper East Side."

"Oh, yes.  I forgot."  Investigating ADAs got a little too skilled at prevarication, she thought, as the lie slipped easily from her mouth.

"He will be sorry to miss you.  May I give him a message?"

"No.  That's all right, Mrs. Beiber.  I'll speak to him another time.  I just wanted to ask him.… A friend of mine … a violinist … who hasn't played in years … since … since the war ..."  Catherine knew that for the Beibers and the Langers and others like them "the war" would forever mean their war.  Korea and Vietnam—neither could hold any place in the consciousness of those that had lived the nightmare of World War II.

"A violinist?"

"Yes."

"Who survived the camps?"

"Yes."

Gerda Beiber didn't so much invite Catherine in as retreat from the doorway and leave space for her to enter.  There was an unfocused quality about the woman's movements down the small hallway.  She groped for an armchair and sank into it.  The look in the eyes she raised to Catherine's face was one of infinite sadness but not of fear.

"So.  It has come."

"Mrs. Beiber—"

"I think, Ms. Chandler, that you are about to tell me that is not my name."

"Gerda …"

"He is alive?  Avram?"

"Yes."

Gerda nodded.  "I am glad," she said simply.  "He is well?"

"He is … physically healthy, but ..."

"That … is all I could buy.  That is all he promised me."

"He?"

"The commandant." 

"You bought Avram's survival?"  Catherine was confused.  "But … the Germans … the money … I don't understand."

Gerda grimaced a little at Catherine's look of confusion.  "There are always … things … to trade.  If one is young and … pretty.  And willing to die a little."

It was the tone of the older woman's voice as much as her words that made her meaning clear to Catherine.

"You traded your…self…for Avram's life," she said.

"Yes.  He—" The disgust in Gerda Beiber's voice made it clear who "he" was.  "He promised to spare Avram if I would ..."  Her voice hardened.  "I was lucky."

"Lucky!?"

"Yes.  Lucky.  He could have taken what he wanted.  And killed us both anyway.  So many of them did.  So many girls ..."  She sighed.  "Women and war, Ms. Chandler.  They do not mix well.  But he was … kind to me.  In his way.  I was ...  There was food.  Clothing."

"I understand."

"Do you?  Do you?"

"You did what you had to do to survive."

"I did what I had to do to keep Avram alive!  He promised me.  My life for Avram's."

Catherine was silent.

"Have you ever loved anyone, Ms. Chandler?" 

The old eyes seemed to burn.  In the face of that demanding glance, Catherine spoke a simple truth. 

"Yes.  I have loved.  I do."

"Would you have refused?  If you could have purchased one more second of life for the man you love?"

This, too, demanded a simple, honest answer, and again, Catherine gave it.  "I would give my life for him."

"That is what I did.  Gerda Kozinski died in the camps."

***

"She's adamant, Vincent.  She won't see him."

"And she doesn't want Amos to know?"

"I think she realizes that's an untenable position.  He's the one who sent me there.  In a manner of speaking."

"He will not let it drop."

"No."

"She wouldn't—?  Catherine!  Sometimes … for those in untenable positions … they see a way out … and they take it.  We cannot—"

"No, Vincent.  Whatever she says about having "died" in the camps, Gerda Kozinski is a survivor.  I don't believe she would ever take that way out."

"They must work it out, Catherine.  They must!"

"Dear heart—"

"Rolley!  Avram!  Both with such great gifts.  Both given up because others did not survive something they did.  By chance or by sacrifice.  They survived!  And, for years now, they have been punishing themselves for something that was not their fault.  And Gerda—what must she have suffered?  What has she given up?  It's like a cancer.  It must not be allowed to take Amos, too."

"No.   I agree."

"But … how?"

"That, my love, is another question entirely.  But don't give up hope.  Remember …

Hope is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—"

Vincent sighed, but—as always—poetry was a comfort.  And doubly so that Catherine, knowing this poem was one of his favorites, knew it by heart and was able to quote it to him.  Hope was needed now, certainly, he thought.  But it was there.  As Emily Dickinson well knew.  He skipped to the last stanza as he took up the recitation.

"I've heard it in the chillest land—
And on the strangest Sea—"

That deep voice was hope itself to Catherine.  She finished the verse:

"Yet—never—in Extremity,"
It asked a crumb—of  me".

"There's always hope, Vincent.  Never give up hope."

***

"There's always hope, Joe.  Don't give up yet."

Déjà vu.  After all these years—having strenuously avoided it in high school—was it her fate now to be a cheerleader? Catherine wondered wryly.  But she had arrived at the office to find Joe frazzled and despondent because everyone from the mayor's office to the MTA had been on his case about the material that kept disappearing from that subway maintenance room. 

"I don't know what they want from me, Cathy!" he'd announced in despair.  "I swear, I think Greg Hughes is gonna jump off the Brooklyn Bridge.  They didn't make this much fuss over those dead teenagers last year."

"I guess financial loss trumps lives when you have to answer to Wall Street.  But something will break.  You'll see."

"I don't see how!"

Rita Escobar stuck her head into his office.  "Elliot Burch is here."

For a moment, neither Joe nor Catherine could think of anything to say. 

"I … put him in the conference room," Rita continued.  "Do you … want to … talk to him?"

"Um … sure?"  Joe turned a questioning look on Catherine, who gave a confused little shake of the head, neither a definitive yes or no, and then shrugged. 

"Okay," she said and wracked her brain as she preceded Joe on the short walk to the conference room.  She hadn't seen Elliot since he'd taken time, in the midst of his grief over his father, to rescue her from the toils of the CIA.  She'd tried to make it very clear then…

He looked up as they entered the room.  Handsome and elegant, always seemingly delighted to see her.

"Cathy!"  He rose to give her a kiss on the cheek.

"Hello, Elliot."

"Burch," Joe greeted him with barely concealed impatience.  "What do you want now?"

"To report a crime."

"Give me a—"

"You're going to want to hear this," Elliot said.  "And then you're going to want to report to the MTA."

"The MTA?"

"It seems," Elliot continued, "that one of my sub-contractors on the new building on Water Street drastically underbid the job.  I give him credit for knowing I'd have ripped him to shreds …"

Was it her imagination, or was there an infinitesimal pause before Elliot went on.

"… if he'd started substituting substandard material.  So he didn't do that.  At least."

"Then what's the crime?" Joe asked.

"What he did do is start stealing building supplies."

"From the MTA?"

Elliot nodded.  "From the MTA.  He's downstairs.  With a lawyer.  And he's ready to turn himself in.  I will make full restitution.  My lawyers are authorized to cut a check right away and messenger it over to MTA headquarters on Madison."

"In return for … ?"

Elliot smiled at the suspicion evident in Joe's tone.  "In return for whatever consideration the DA thinks voluntary confession warrants."

Joe studied him for a moment.  "Okay," he said, at length.  "Okay."  He looked from Elliot to Catherine and back and nodded once.  "Okay."

As the door closed behind him, Elliot grinned at Catherine. 

"At the risk of sounding like Joe," Catherine said, "what really brings you here?

"You know, you do sound like Joe … and I have to say, it's not a—"

"Elliot." 

There was a warning note in her voice that he recognized.

"Cathy, I told you before.  I'm not the bad guy here.  I found out one of my associates was breaking the law, and I have reported it to the proper authorities.  Just because one of those proper authorities happens to be a beautiful woman and the love of—"

"Stop it, Elliot!  I told you—"

"And I told you … I don't seem to have a choice.  If there's somebody else, there's somebody else.  I can't do anything about that.  But it is possible to … to care … for someone.  Without expecting anything in return.  Isn't it?"

She studied him, an arrested expression in her eyes.  Maybe there were some people, she thought, who could benefit from Elliot's experience.  And someone who might benefit from hers.

"There is something you can do for me, Elliot.  If you would?"

"Name it."

"Make a contribution to the Symphony."

 

 

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