A nice short chapter for you today, perhaps a half cup of tea long so nothing to get all worked up about. Not read the Eighty-Eighth Key yet? Well then, you might get lost on your way as we’re getting closer and closer to the main arc of that story once again. Have fun, and Happy Holidays!
Copenhagen, Denmark 13 August 1955
Saul Rosenthal looked up from his morning newspaper, then he looked out his office window – lost in thoughts about The Magic Mountain. Thomas Mann had died the day before and he was surprised he’d found the news, well, more than a little upsetting. While Mann’s work hadn’t really exerted a tremendous influence on his own life, his books, especially his Zauberberg and Faustus, had defined the twentieth century for him and put the calamitous events of the 1920s and 30s into a context that still eluded most observers. More importantly, Mann had been a willing participant in a long running scheme during the war to broadcast news of importance to those caught inside Nazi Germany, and Rosenthal had funneled information to Mann for use in those BBC broadcasts, so in this minor way their indirect relationship lasted from early 1942 until the war’s end. They’d even met, though only briefly, after the war, when the author still lived in Southern California. Now Mann was gone and it felt to him that a great voice had too soon grown still. And somehow, in the moment Rosenthal read of Mann’s passing, he’d felt more than empty again, more like the world had suddenly proven itself hollow after all – then in a flash he remembered the same feeling had crushed him once before, for this was exactly how he’d felt just after he’d learned of FDRs passing.
But there were other pressing matters laid out on his desk that morning, as well.
There was a new letter from Lloyd Callahan to consider; he’d written that Imogen was hallucinating more frequently, and now Lloyd was openly wondering if Tilda Sorensen, because of her long friendship with Aaron Schwarzwald and family, might be the best physician to treat her – given current circumstances. Saul sat back and considered the question, in the end deciding that in order to make the best decision he needed to see Imogen in the flesh. He sighed, thought that perhaps it was finally time for a return trip to San Francisco. There were simply too many other matters that needed his direct intervention there now, and after hesitating for months he realized he could no longer avoid making the journey.
Because most troubling of all, his brother Avi had just shown up at UC Berkeley – after a brief stint at a research facility in Israel, and that could only mean one thing. Sooner or later Avi would make his play for Imogen, and that when it was time Avi would remind all concerned that he had, after all, been married to Imogen before the war. With that trap sprung and his undermining the Callahan marriage accomplished, there was little doubt that Avi would force a return to Israel with Imogen in tow, so the question facing Saul now was how best to intervene – and stop that from happening. Could he simply expose his brother as the fraudster he’d always been and hope to expose him through subterfuge, or would he have to take more direct action?
Which was a course of action he really dared not take. Not now. Because of his brother’s political ambitions, Avi had developed contacts within the Mossad, so any action he took against his brother might lead to direct intervention, and that he simply could not risk.
But he kept asking one question over and over: why had Avi left Israel – now. He’d heard rumors of some sort of sexual impropriety, yet that kind of nonsense was very unlike his brother. Avi had made enemies, of course, both in Denmark and in Israel, but that only meant he’d have to devote precious resources to finding out what his brother had been up to.
Then again, maybe it was time to take Imogen over to Berkeley, and perhaps up to the Livermore labs, use his contacts within that community and see if she might not be welcome as a professor once again. It was worth a try, especially if she was losing focus again and falling into her peculiar hallucinations. Some blasted old man in a black loden cape, and with some sort of magic cane he used to control the weather! Really?
But…what if he could strengthen her grip on reality again?
What was the best way to do that?
Then he considered that it might be time to finally open the new store in San Francisco. He would need such a venture to justify his comings and goings there, and if he was indeed going to start meddling in Imogen’s life again he would need the cover such a going concern might offer.
“Ah, well,” he said as he brightened to the chorus of phantoms dancing in his mind’s eye, “perhaps it is time to visit young Harald again.” He liked the boy and thought he still might turn into a decent lad – with a little timely encouragement, anyway, so he thought about his options then called SAS and booked a one way ticket on the airline’s new trans-polar route to Los Angeles. Then he sent along a telegram to Anders Sorensen advising when to expect him.
Saul Rosenthal had worked behind German lines during the war and had inadvertently crossed paths with intelligence services since the war’s end, so he wasn’t completely unsurprised when he picked up a tail on his way to the airport in Copenhagen early the next morning. Was it, he wondered, the Mossad? Or had he angered the Americans one time too many?
But then at one point he thought he saw an old man in a black loden cape watching him, and yes, this old man had a curious looking cane in hand, too – yet the next time he tried to catch a glimpse of him the old man had simply disappeared. Rosenthal took a deep breath and tried to steady his nerves; he wasn’t typically given over to hysterical flights of fancy – yet he’d seen what he’d seen. The question lingering now, after the encounter and that bothered him all the way to the airport, was simply this: What would it mean to discover that Imogen’s ‘Old Man’ was real?
‘And what on earth could he possibly want from me?’
So, now he had another issue he needed to talk to Imogen about…let alone one more reason to keep his guard up as he made his way through the airport. But soon enough, as the shiny new Douglas DC-4 taxied to the runway and took off over the Baltic Sea, he pondered the voyage ahead. Denmark to Greenland to Nova Scotia, then on to Chicago and Los Angeles – just a day in the air compared to a week at sea to New York, then another three or more days by train to San Francisco. And no U-boats to worry about on this crossing!
He was lost in thought soon after takeoff, thinking about how he might go about opening his first real outpost of the music company, when the idea hit him. Imogen always seemed to best respond to life when she was writing music, but she had – according to Lloyd, anyway – lost all interest in composing.
Yet even more importantly, what could he do to spark a renewed interest in music?
A new piano, perhaps? But no, there was no real lasting purpose there, was there?
No, he had to…
…but wait. No, this is too simple, but what if…
…what if he could convince her to teach young Harald? Maybe that would give her a renewed since of purpose, and what if I can get her involved teaching again? Is that how I counter Avi? What else could I do to stop him?
Could I get her to finish it?
But…what about the earlier concertos? Could we not sit together and score them? I could publish them, too, couldn’t I? That might earn her some serious money, too, so why not give it a try?
The stewardess served him smoked salmon and a cucumber salad and he sat back in his seat, rather pleased with himself. This was the first time he’d crossed the Atlantic by air and all in all it wasn’t as bad as he’d expected. He pulled out his copy of Death in Venice and started in on the novella again, smiling as he thought about Mann’s well developed sense of irony, then he felt the urge and decided to try out the facilities. He unfastened his seatbelt and walked aft to the WC – and there on the last row he saw the old man in the black loden cape – and curiously enough the son of a bitch was staring at him with a wide grin spreading across his face.
© 2021-22 adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkühnwrites.com all rights reserved, and as usual this is just a little bit of fiction, pure and simple.