Another short chapter here, perhaps time for tea.
Los Angeles, California 15 August 1955
And perhaps not surprisingly, the Old Man remained on Saul Rosenthal’s trans-polar flight – and he’d not, apparently, deplaned at any of the intermediate stops even once – yet he was nowhere to be seen by the time the SAS DC-4 landed and taxied up to the Intermediate Terminal at Los Angeles International. And yet not one of the crew seemed to notice or, more precisely, to even care that the old fellow had simply disappeared. An exasperated Rosenthal collected his luggage inside the terminal then, still looking over his shoulder, he took a cab to Union Station to wait for his train, the usual early morning northbound Coast Daylight to San Francisco. Then, a few minutes after Rosenthal checked-in at the Southern Pacific counter, the Old Man reappeared once again – though he remained out of sight – both making the long walk out to the platform with the Old Man lost in the shuffling crowd while keeping a few meters behind Rosenthal. After Saul made it out to his car he then noticed the Old Man was now behind him again and – now both surprised and angry – he turned to confront him – yet before he could utter one word the Old Man simply vanished into thin air.
“What the Hell!” a startled Southern Pacific porter cried loudly – as he too had observed the disappearance.
“You saw that too?” Rosenthal said, turning to face the porter.
“Of course I saw him, Mister. I ain’t blind, ya know! It was like poof!” the porter said, making a little explosion with his hands, “ – and then he was gone!”
“He’s been following me for days!”
“Then I s’pose I feels right sorry for you, Mista.”
Rosenthal boarded the car and found his seat; he tried to regain his composure but as soon as the train began to slowly pull out of the station the Old Man appeared just outside his window, down on the platform again – only now he was waving up at Rosenthal – now, in effect, taunting him, and more troubling still, making no pretense to hide. Rosenthal glared at the Old Man as the train gathered steam, sure of only one thing now. This Old Man existed. He wasn’t some kind of shared delusion, because the porter having verified the sighting confirmed that. And if he existed, well then, the Old Man had to be vulnerable, didn’t he? All Rosenthal had to do was be prepared for the Old Man’s next visit – and then it would be time to turn the tables.
Anders and Tilly met him at the Third Street station in San Francisco, and together they took the cable car out towards the sea, all the way out to the Sutro stop by the hospital. The sun was shining bright in the late afternoon and a fresh sea breeze was coming ashore, so they walked the last little bit to the Sorensen’s ‘Little Dutch House’ – as it was now affectionately known by all who dropped by for a visit – and while Anders wanted to talk about conditions ‘back home’ no one had the slightest problem seeing that Rosenthal was, after almost three days of constant travel, now utterly exhausted. With that decided, Anders took Saul to the guest bedroom and left him to find sleep, then he and Tilly went to the kitchen to make their supper.
“Perhaps it is just me,” Anders said as he prepared a tri-tip roast for the oven, “but Saul looked quite unnerved, as if something or someone has been bothering him. Perhaps on his journey…?”
Tilly smiled, her trained psychiatrists eye taking charge of the moment. “I’d say it is not just you, Husband. Did you see his hands?”
“No? Fidgeting, was he?”
“Yes,” Tilly said as she prepared the baby’s bottle, adding: “and he kept looking over his shoulder, as if he was expecting to find someone following him.”
“You know his history as well as I. Do you think the Germans might still be after him?”
“I would not be surprised,” she replied. “The question that comes to mind, however, is simpler still. If he is in danger, does that not put us in danger, as well?”
Anders sighed. “So what if it does? He is our friend.”
“You will need to talk to him tomorrow, see what this is all about.”
“And what if he is in danger? Then what?”
“I’d not care so much if we were talking about just the two of us, but that is no longer the case. We have Theodore to think of now, and the new student will be arriving next week…”
“Dear God, is summer over already?”
Tilly shook her head as she checked the temperature of the formula on her wrist. “You would know that if you stopped working twenty hour days.”
“It has to be the Germans, you know? They will hound us to the ends of the earth. They will never rest until we are all dead and gone, shoved into their crematories…”
Tilly turned and looked at her husband, only now she almost imperceptibly shook her head. He was getting worked up again, growing increasingly irrational as dark hatred burned away at the edges of his soul. “Are you going to services tomorrow?” she asked, trying to divert his attention away from the immersive paranoia crowding out his thoughts.
Anders sighed, opened the oven door and put the roast in. “Yes, yes. I somehow feel a need to. Especially now.”
“Oh? Why now?”
“Because of Theodore. I must…we m-must work to instill in him the values we left behind, when we left our home.”
Despite her discomfort Tilly nodded. “Well, I’m off to feed the little monster. Could you wash the lettuce, please? Perhaps make that nice salad dressing of yours?”
“Oh yes, of course…”
She smiled as she left the kitchen but as soon as he assumed she was out of earshot the talking began again. He was speaking in Danish now, his thinking consumed by images of gas chambers and gestapo agents chasing them through endless night, and she leaned up against the wall, trying in vain to hold back the tears that always came for her at times like this.
She had to find a way to help him through his madness, but now that his outbursts were growing more vocally troublesome she understood that she was running out of time to act. What would happen, she wondered, if such an outburst came during a procedure? And when would the hallucinations begin, as they almost inevitably would? And if they did, then what would she be able to do? Such madness, if left unchecked, would soon grow to ruinous proportions, a conflagration of the soul that would take all of them down.
She could, she realized, talk to him about these things and then watch his reaction. Promethazine might be warranted if he became combative – but the side effects of this drug would put an end to his surgical career. There were other drugs in development and many researchers both here and at Stanford were focused on this field, but if Anders was indeed drifting into schizophrenia any prognosis with a good outcome was hard to imagine.
She thought of little else as she fed Theodore, though at one point she had wanted to reach out to their rabbi – but instantly thinking the man under the robes probably had little patience for wives intervening in the affairs of their husbands. Was he simply another man caught up inside yet another paternalist cult, a misogynist hiding behind his musty old religion to justify a stale worldview?
She caught herself then, caught herself falling into what she now considered her own Old World thinking. ‘This is California!’ she told herself. ‘People don’t think like that! Not here!’
And Saul isn’t exactly a moron, she said, grinning at her own foolishness. ‘I can talk to him, see what he thinks. We have – all of us – trusted him with our lives, so who better to talk to about these matters…?’
He realized the instant he saw her that you didn’t need to be a psychiatrist to know that there was something terribly wrong with Imogen. She’d always been an impeccably dressed woman and had taken great care with her personal hygiene – but not now. Now she was a model of self-neglect. Her hair was a frightful mess and she smelled, badly. Her clothes were dirty, bordering on filthy, and there was dirt seemingly caked into the pores of her skin. When he leaned close to give her a hug he found that her breath was tinged with deep foulness, that her gums might be infected. Even Tilda seemed shocked, but then again he’d just learned that neither Anders not Tilda paid the Callahans much attention these days, not since Lloyd had bought this accursed house down amongst the artichoke groves between Monterrey and Carmel. Even the color of the house was foul! Putrid green, almost the color of pea soup – but with a dreadful white asphalt shingle roof, and there were quite literally flies everywhere! Huge black things with ferocious appetites!
Yet in a very curious way Imogen seemed rather happy.
Happy to be alone with her son – at least most of the time. Happy to be tending her artichokes and the almost endless blackberry brambles that encircled the property. She even had a piano, a dreadful little upright affair that sounded a little like braying donkeys, but it was in-tune and at least she was playing again. She had even, wonder of wonders, begun teaching young Harald the basics and he wasn’t bad. In fact, he was showing real talent, at least that was Saul’s impression after listening to the boy play for a half hour. But why Gershwin, for heaven’s sake! Chopin, of course. Debussy – if you must. But Gershwin? What would follow? Elvis, perhaps?
But just now Lloyd was away – again – and as it happened he was off to Japan and Hong Kong on one of his long trips, so he’d not return for more than a month and that put the seed of an idea to work. ‘I’ll buy a house up in the city, maybe put the house in the boy’s name. Entice her back to civilization that way, perhaps? And they can keep this wretched hovel, come down and play in the dirt when the mood strikes, all while still enjoying the fruits of civilization, only on a daily basis…’
“Imogen?” he asked – when Harry stopped playing. “Might we go for a walk? Just the two of us?”
She shrugged noncommittally – at least until Harry went over to play with Tilly and the baby – then she stood and grabbed a shawl and made for the door off the kitchen, leaving Saul to make his excuses as he chased after her.
When they were well away from the house Imogen turned to confront her old friend – but when she saw the look on his face she crossed her arms protectively over her chest. “What is it?” she said. “What’s wrong?”
He walked up to her and took her hand in his. “Show me around, would you? While we talk?”
“Why? Are you going to tell me how ashamed my father would feel if he saw me now?”
“No, I wasn’t, but now that you mention it, would it matter how he felt?”
She shrugged. “What do you want to talk about, Saul?”
“The Old Man. The man in the black cape.”
She stiffened instantly, then turned to face her house. “Tilda told you?”
“She did. Years ago.”
“God damn the meddling bitch!”
“What can you tell me about him?”
“I’ve seen him, Imogen. He followed me all the way from Copenhagen, on the airplane and through Los Angeles. I assume he’s nearby even now.”
“You…what? You’ve seen him?”
“Yes, and I know for a fact that other people have seen his comings and goings, as well. You are not imagining him, Imogen. He’s real. Very real.”
“Real?” she sighed, almost breathlessly. “Are you certain?”
And he had the impression, if only for a moment or two, that he’d been looking at her as if she was little more than a reflection locked away inside a mirror – and that somehow he’d just thrown a hammer through the mirror. Now he mirror had shattered before his eyes and fallen away, and what was left was the Imogen he’d known once upon a time, his irrepressible, brilliant best friend from Copenhagen. He looked at her and smiled – and then, quite unable to help himself – he enfolded her in his arms and held her as tears of relief came to them both.
And when, a few minutes later, she pulled away she was almost a different person than the disheveled housewife he’d first seen only an hour or so ago. Now her eyes were bright and searching, her native inquisitiveness shining through once again, but then she looked down at her hands – and shook her head.
“Are these mine?” she asked, her voice full of the sudden awakening she’d just come through.
“They are. But listen closely, because I have a plan…”
“My dearest Saul,” she said, kissing his cheek gayly. “But of course you have a plan. You always have a plan, don’t you…?”
© 2021-22 adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkühnwrites.com all rights reserved, and as usual this is just a little bit of fiction, pure and simple.