Probably not what it first appears, maybe not even the second. An opening chapter.
|Manny Brenner owned and ran a delicatessen in Avenue T, Brooklyn, New York. It wasn't especially well known, but there were customers who rated his pastrami on rye as more than passable. There were even one or two, who sang the praises of his matzo ball soup. But the restaurant, which he had inherited from his maternal uncle, was not his real passion, for Manny was a man consumed with a burning hatred.
In 1937, some thirty five years ago, he had been a gangly youth of 15. Travelling from his native Germany, he had come to America, to stay with his rich uncle Lewis Wachsmann. Manny's mother had prevailed on her sibling to find a position for her bright boy, Immanuel. The position had been washing pots and running errands, but it was a job. A job with prospects!
Knowing her brother very well, Ruth Brenner thought it unlikely he would ever produce an heir. She knew for instance, that Lewis' grizzled business partner Mendel Wolf Schenkel, who was more than twenty years his senior, was also Lewis' partner in other, more verboten ways. Shrewdly, she reasoned that her eldest son could well inherit a good business if he worked hard and learned its intricacies. She had been correct in this, though she had not lived to see it. In July 1942, Ruth Brenner, her two youngest sons, and her daughter Sophie were all murdered in the Bełżec extermination camp in Poland.
So Manny hated the Nazis, and especially any who had worked in the camps. He devoted all of his spare time and money to hunting down those who had escaped justice. His work was secretive and difficult, because Manny did not believe in the protracted justice of law. When he was sure of both identity and guilt, hunter became executioner.
In his cluttered office, Manny was taking his morning coffee and LEO, (Lox, Egg and Onions). Idly he sorted through the mail. His hand froze on a heavy white envelope, trembling slightly. Recognising the handwriting, he felt a frisson of excitement. Only three times before had he received such an envelope. For a long moment he stared at it, through his heavy lensed glasses.
The first such had arrived in March 1965. Imagining it to be a job application or similar, Manny had opened the envelope to discover a photograph of an SS Officer, one Sturmbannführer Max Lischka. There was also a small white card on which was written the name of a bank, and the number and pass code for a deposit box.
Initially Manny had panicked, for, as far as he knew, no one was aware of his secret hunts. But then curiosity crept in, and he convinced himself that whoever had sent him the photograph was unlikely to be setting up a trap. He reasoned that, if someone were trying to trap him, and it didn't work, they would just try something else till they succeeded. In short, he convinced himself that it was okay to do what he really wanted to. He went to the bank, and retrieved the deposit box. It contained a wealth of information about Liscka's aliases, and movements since 1945. On top of this pile was a white card, on which were recorded the current name that Lischa was living under, and an address. Below all the documents were $10,000 in crisp new notes.
After a few weeks of checking the documents, Manny concluded that genial Andrew Groves, who ran a factory making Christmas decorations in the Michigan town of Frankenmuth, was indeed Lischka. With a Smith & Wesson revolver, purchased for the purpose, Manny put two .38 special calibre bullets into Max Lischka's skull.
It was nearly three years later that another envelope, card. and deposit box address arrived. The same neat handwriting. This time the box held $20,000, and Manny had to travel to Córdoba in Argentina, to execute SS-Unterscharführer Heinrich Kleffner. Two years after that it had been the turn of 'Gasmeister' SS-Oberscharführer Franz Sametreiter.
Manny opened the latest envelope, and meticulously inspected the picture of SS-Oberführer Werner Klausner. He took the card that came with the photo and read it. Handwritten bank details, just as before, but then he noticed something. The card had a watermark. Holding it up to window, Manny could see it clearly. The watermark was a rose. Manny stared at it for some time, then he locked the door to his office, and opened the safe. Retrieving the three previous cards, he examined each in turn. All three had an identical rose watermark.
Not for the first time Manny asked himself, who was sending him this information, and how did they know he hunted and killed Nazi war criminals? He wondered if the watermark was a clue, but he couldn't see what its significance might be. Sighing, he put three of the cards back into the safe, then carefully locked it. The latest card, Manny slipped into his calf skin wallet. He took his battered attaché case from its home between two filing cabinets.
“I am going to see my friend Mr. Bunbury.” Manny told his eldest daughter, Ruth. She raised her eyebrows, but said nothing. Ruth knew that her father would not be telling her the real reason for his leaving the deli in her care. Privately, she speculated that perhaps he had a mistress, but his absences were so infrequent, she thought this on the whole to be unlikely. For all she knew, he could be paying protection money to the local mafia. Her Uncle Raoul was a member of good standing in a local business fraternity, and Ruth suspected that her father had occasional dealings with him.
Manny took a taxi to the Foster Avenue branch of Lehman Brothers. He banked there himself, and was on first name terms with many of the staff. This did not however, include Mr. Sulley, the head Teller.
“Was this box opened recently?” Manny enquired, as Mr. Sulley lead him down to the vault.
“Mmm? Oh, yes. Last week I think, a young woman with a rather distinctive German accent. I noticed her because it was so pronounced.” If Mr. Sulley thought it odd that Manny did not seem to know the owner of the deposit box, he gave no sign of this. He always answered questions as if his thoughts were elsewhere, and he was being reluctantly drawn back to earth to answer.
“Can you remember her name?” Manny realised his questions were perhaps a little unorthodox, but he knew Mr. Sulley to be 'gossipy', and occasionally indescrete.
Again Mr. Sulley made his little 'back to earth' sound.
“Skoll, I think. Skoll or Scholl, something like that. You don't know her?”
“We occasionally do business together. I wouldn't say I know her well.”
Mr. Sulley nodded absently, then drawing out a box he placed it in front of Manny, and left with a parting invitation to summon him when required.
Having perused them thoroughly, Manny transferred all the contents of the box to his attaché case. There were only $10,000 in notes this time, However, beneath them, was a cashier's check in Manny's name for the sum of $250,000. He gave a low whistle. Someone wants you dead, Herr Klausner, he said to himself.
He deposited the cheque immediately, and was pleased to see the look on Mr. Sulley's face when reading the amount. Then he took another taxi to a small, respectable hotel in Bay Ridge. Manny had invested his money in several little businesses like this, and kept a room here for his own purposes.
Putting on a pot of coffee to brew, Manny spread the contents of his attaché case across the table, and pulling a sheaf of papers out, sank into a chair and began to read. As he had previously found, the reports were very detailed, and listed sources for verification.
After a preliminary skim through, Manny started to makes some phone calls. He booked a return ticket to Munich, and a couple of nights at the Hotel Torbräu. As Klausner had been active in Munich, that was where Manny would go to begin checking all the references. Though he had on previous occasions found that every single fact was accurate and checkable, this was someone's life. He was not about to change his habits.
He also rang his brother in law Raoul Giordano. The two men were good friends, and saw each other often. They had much in common, especially food, and Raoul ran a couple of restaurants. Manny was aware of Raoul's Mob connections, and had more than once made use of them.
“Raoul listen, I wondered if you could help me with something? I need a present for someone. It mustn't be old okay, so no antiques, do you have anything that might do?”
Translated this told Raoul that Manny wanted a gun, and that it mustn't be traceable, having no 'history'. Raoul laughed heartily, and said that he was sure that he could find just the thing, only enquiring when the 'present' was needed. Manny suggested a couple of weeks, and was assured that would present no problems. They finished their call, as was their habit, with an exchange of obscene jokes.
Manny poured another coffee, settled back and read through the report pages through again, slowly and thoroughly. He took notes. When, finally, he was done, it had grown dark. He tidied everything away, and called a cab to take him home.