Being fully engaged in his morning lecture, Andy brought in a surge of revitalized energy that spread across the auditorium like wild fire. He could see it in his students’ eyes, and the momentum just kept building. Contrary to the last two workdays, this one flew by, and by the time he was ready to wrap it up, he was officially caught up with all his current schoolwork. He felt it was time to bring the book back to focus. That meant he had to reach out to Karl. He stared at the phone on his desk, but he knew he had to have what Karl asked for before he could make that call. He checked his wristwatch. Too late for HR, he reckoned and resolved to stop by his former student on his way in the next morning.
“Professor Spencer,” Nadine startled him from behind as he stumbled across her empty cubicle.
“Hi there,” he said, staring at the large cup in her hand. “I was just in the neighborhood…”
“I was about to call you, but I’m still waiting to hear from my friend at M.I.T. It turns out there are two… well, actually three.
“Two Howards, and one Harvey Katz right here on our little campus,” she chuckled. “Is that so?” Andy said.
Nadine nodded. “I can give you all the information I have right now.” She hopped into her cubicle and anxiously cleared out random items from her desk.
“No need to go crazy over this. Why don’t you email me all the information you have when you hear back from your friend?”
“I’ll call her right now,” Nadine reached for her phone.
“It doesn’t have to be right now. I can wait a couple of days,” Andy gently pressed her hand down. “You finish your coffee break first,” he smiled. Nadine took a deep breath and let go of the phone.
By the time he made it to his office, an email from Nadine was waiting in his inbox. “Howard, Howard, and Harvey Katz,” he smiled. Now that he had the bargaining chip, he could call Berlin. Karl’s voicemail message kicked in after the fourth ring. He was about to hang up but the beep prompted him to respond.
“Gutenmorgen, Karl. Dieses ist Andy. I have some good news. I got what you asked for, three H. Katz’s, maybe more coming. If you can… I mean, I’d appreciate it if you could get me that interview with you know who. They’re ready to pull the plug on the book if I don’t produce a final draft by November, and it sounds like they’re serious about it this time… so call me!” He hung up with some sense of relief that the ball was out of his court, but at the same time he hoped his message did not sound too desperate, knowing that even the slightest hint of weakness could bring out the Nazi beast in Karl. He leaned back in his chair and stretched his arms as far as they could reach. His work was done, and he had the rest of the day to come up with an endgame strategy that would fit his daily schedule, despite the lack of conclusive evidence in sight. He cleared his desk with full intentions to begin working on a final draft.
Let’s see, he checked his calendar.
“Tuesday’s Nate’s day,” he said and looked up the wall clock almost in panic, but to his relief, it was much earlier than what he had suspected. The old weekly ritual is too sacred to be called off. The thought of it brought a smile to his face, but a recap of last week’s meeting revived what he had managed to avoid for days. He tried to fight it off at first, but the vivid images of Sarah and her family in the dark ghetto shattered the gates of his consciousness and resurfaced. He fell back in his chair, knowing he would never be able to help them escape an inevitable fate like he had promised.
He realized that the effect of his busy agenda strategy was starting to wear off, and that he would have to find a permanent solution to bring matters to a close. But he knew that true closure would only be reached when he confronted the matter at hand. He looked at the computer screen in front of him and considered going where he’d sworn not to go again, then swallowed the saliva in his mouth and logged in to the database.
He typed Sarah’s father’s name, turned his eyes away from the screen, and waited ten long seconds before he dared to look back. The search produced a long list of unique records; each had the full name in bold print followed by date of birth, date of death, and a small paragraph summarizing the life in between. The first dated back to the late eighteenth century and the rest followed in chronological order. Andy scrolled down the list to the one born in 1879, a Ruben Birrenboim close enough in age to the one he was looking for. He skimmed through the next five, all Eastern European victims of the most atrocious genocide in modern history, yet none of them fit the profile. When he noticed a similar pattern in the sixth record, he was somewhat convinced the man he was after existed only in his mind. He continued to skim through without paying much attention to details until he read the line at the bottom of the record.
“Died along with his wife Perla, who refused to let him leave without her, in an early experimental killing method that involved using carbon monoxide from the exhaust fumes of a running truck.”
“It can’t be,” he whispered, then turned back to the top of the page. He could feel his heart pounding in his temples as he read the dates.
“Born September 17,th 1888, died April 1941. That’s impossible!” He pressed his fist against the desk. The pain in his knuckles forced him to retain composure. “I’m either losing it or someone is messing with my head.” He rubbed his fingers as he walked to the window and peeked through to make sure he was not being watched. When he spotted no suspicious observers, he walked back to his desk and proceeded with the search. The next one on his list was Sarah’s mother. He skimmed through to the right record but did not find the contradiction he had hoped for. If there were any doubts with his first inquiry, they all perished with this one. Perla Birrenboim’s record simply confirmed the tragic fate she had shared with her husband.
Andy looked away from the screen and felt grief lurking in his veins as if he had just found out he had lost close family members in sudden misfortune. He shut down his computer with the grim conviction that he could not pursue the inquiry then slowly walked away from his desk. His hands were shaking.
On the way out, he pressed himself to give the matter a rest, but no matter how hard he tried, he could not stop wishing he could make his way back to war-torn Warsaw and fix the evils he had just read about, even if it meant changing the course of history in the process.
“That’s not possible,” he mumbled just as a perfect parking spot cleared in front of his car, right across from Pat’s pub.