Authors: Howard Shrier
Tags: #General, #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective
“Any message there?”
“No. Just make them disappear.”
“Same way as the others?”
“Sure,” Sean said. “Go with what you know.”
mericans like two things in their politicians: height and hair. Marc McConnell had both. In the photos posted on his website, he generally looked two or three inches taller than the other men around him. His hair was thick and smartly combed, grey at the temples, the rest dark brown with strands of grey threaded through like filigree.
According to his biography, he was forty-two, born and raised in Boston. A triple eagle, having gone to Boston College High School, Boston College itself and then BC law school in Newton.
“What kind of lawyer?” I asked Jenn.
“Human rights and international justice.”
“Let’s hope we don’t need him. What else does it say?”
“Married his high school sweetheart, the former Lesley Austin-Smith, fifteen years ago.”
“Just once, I’d like to read about a politician who married a slut he picked up in a bar.”
“Oh, and look, she’s an heiress too. Lucky girl, her father was—honest to God, they use this phrase—a shipping magnate. They still have magnates?”
“I think George Steinbrenner was one.”
“Wait,” Jenn said. “Maybe not so lucky.”
“I just Googled her separately and this one old article … one sec. Oh God.”
“Cystic fibrosis. It runs in her family. Two out of three kids got it, she and her sister. The brother didn’t for some reason. The sister died at twenty. But Lesley was four years younger and as she was getting critical, medicine had advanced to the point where she could get a double-lung transplant. She was nineteen years old.”
“So if they were high school sweethearts, he was with her through all that.”
“Yes. She was only the third to survive the procedure in Massachusetts, it says.”
“You live in Boston, you have the money, you’re bound to get the best care. How long ago was this?”
“She’s forty now, so twenty-one years, which is amazing. It defies a lot of the stats I read. Not that many are still alive fifteen years after transplant.”
“The new organs give out?”
“No, the organs are fine. They get cancer from all the drugs they have to take.”
“Do the McConnells have any kids?”
“Which means no, because politicians always flaunt their kids. They’re photo ops from birth.”
“Maybe the drugs affect fertility too.”
“If they do, I’m sure you’ll find out. You’ve been doing amazing research.”
“I’ve had plenty of time while you’ve been out.”
“Was there a pout behind that?”
“Not at all. You should get to see Boston.”
“See if McConnell has any events coming up. We can both get out.”
She moved her wireless mouse and clicked. “Aha. The congressman and the missus are both planning to attend Slow Art Day at the Institute of Contemporary Art between eleven and two tomorrow.”
“Slow Art Day?”
She moved and clicked again. “It is, and I quote, a global grassroots movement that encourages people to look at art in a new way, by spending a few minutes looking at each piece, really taking it in and making a connection with it, instead of rushing through. It says here the average person spends eight seconds looking at each object or exhibit when they’re not regular museum-goers. They wind up taking in too much info and they get tired and grumpy.”
“It says that? Tired and grumpy?”
“It does. And not inclined to visit again. They want people to take their time, just see one part of the museum instead of the whole thing, and see the rest another time.”
“In other words, it’s not a global grassroots movement, it’s a membership drive. Does it give the name of McConnell’s PR person?”
“It lists the museum’s and—yes, here’s the congressman’s too. Tim Fitzpatrick, communications adviser. You want to try the
Globe and Mail
“Not on a political operative. He’d check it before he returned the call. Let’s just go. Come up and shake the congressman’s hand. Ask why David wanted to meet him. See the look on his face.”
“And check out what an heiress wears on Sunday,” Jenn said.
Rubin’s Kosher Deli was on Harvard Street in Brookline, in the middle of the stretch of Jewish shops we had canvassed. A plain place with red vinyl booths and tabletops sticky with rings from soda glasses and coffee cups.
I walked in and looked for a burly bearded man in his fifties, which is how Rabbi Ed Lerner had described himself on the phone when he’d returned my call. “Look for me in a window seat,” he had said, but there was no one fitting his description at any of the booths at the front. I took a seat at one, assured the waitress that I was meeting someone and ordered coffee to start with. It had just arrived when a heavy man with a salt-and-pepper beard came in the door, breathing heavily. He looked around, saw me and raised his eyebrows.
“Jonah Geller?” he said.
I got up and extended my hand. “Thanks for coming.”
“Sorry I’m late,” he said. “I ran into someone outside who absolutely, positively needed to know why I left Adath Israel. It’s no one’s business but in this community, it’s everyone’s.”
He was about five-eight and easily 200 pounds, maybe 220. Early fifties, a mop of curly hair under a skullcap that looked more African than Jewish, brightly coloured and raised up on a circular brim. His eyes were a shade between green and blue.
“You going to eat,” he said, “or just have coffee?”
“I could eat.”
“And I, as you probably guessed, can always eat. I should stay out of places like this but what can I say? There is no better food in the world than deli. A soup, a sandwich, a pickle on the side. This is how man was meant to eat. This man, anyway. And everything’s kosher, by the way, in case you observe.”
He waved the waitress over and she greeted him with a big smile. “Hello, Rabbi. I thought maybe you weren’t coming in today.”
“Did the world end and I missed it? I was just held up outside.”
“You need a menu?”
“Nope. I’m going to start with a matzo ball soup,” he said. Then he looked at me: “You like a good matzo ball soup? Yes? No
insult to any of your family members but you won’t find better than here. And if you promise not to tell my daughter,” he said to the waitress, “I’ll have a pastrami on rye and an order of latkes.”
“What size sandwich?”
“And you, sir?” she asked me.
“Have a sandwich,” the rabbi said. “Don’t make me look bad.”
I told the waitress I’d have the same thing as Rabbi Ed and she said she’d be back in a few minutes.
“If my daughter had her way, I’d be eating poached salmon on mixed greens,” he said. “Granted, I could lose a few pounds, but we all have our vices. Pastrami is mine.”
“There are worse.”
“I know. I heard them all in my years as a rabbi.”
I could see why people would confide in him. He seemed warm, hearty, down to earth. A sizable man with a rumbling baritone.
“So,” he said. “This is terrible news about David Fine. For him to drop out of sight is totally out of character.”
“You hadn’t heard about it till now?”
“Being away from the shul, I’ve been a little out of touch. And that was my main connection to him.”
“When did he join?”
“He started coming maybe four years ago. He would have been in grad school, I guess. Shabbos services at first, and then a few other things, like our communal Friday-night dinners.”
“How well did you know him?”
He looked toward the kitchen, nostrils flaring as if trying to scent out our lunch. The waitress wasn’t in sight. “Adath Israel was a big congregation. Too big in the end, over a thousand families from the two dozen we started with. It’s one of the reasons I left. But we don’t have to get into that. You want to know how often we spoke.”
“Not much at first. I could see right away he knew his stuff, and enjoyed doing it too. Especially the Torah service. He sang out, which not everyone does. Put his heart into it. You’re smiling. Why are you smiling?”
“Because everyone describes him as shy, introverted. I’m having a hard time picturing him singing.”
“Then picture it this way. A bright young man, very gifted, with tremendous responsibilities. Entirely self-imposed, you understand, but still very real. And once a week he can come and envelop himself in his tallis and close his eyes and sing melodies he has known since childhood.”
“You’re making me want to come.”
“So you’ll come to my new shul.”
“Where is that?”
“At this point, it’s more a question of when. I’m hoping to start something new, a little different, a little more intimate. There’s a place I have my eye on. But some things still have to come together. Another story for another time.”
“Did he ever come to you for guidance?”
“If he did, could I tell you? If David is in trouble, I would want to do everything I could to help him. But there is also the matter of confidentiality.”
“Trust me, Rabbi, he is in trouble.”
“You know this for a fact?”
“Is that the same as knowing?”
“It is for me.”
“Are you by any chance a student of Kabbalah?” he asked.
“Okay. Are you familiar with Donald Rumsfeld?”
“The former secretary of defence?”
“Yes. I’m not sure how closely you Canadians followed the Iraqi war but he gave a rather famous speech in which he
distinguished the things we know from the things we don’t know … you remember that?”
“Yes. The known unknowns, the unknown unknowns.”
“Exactly. Like Mr. Rumsfeld—and I am sure this is where the similarities end—Kabbalah teaches that there are many layers of understanding. Many layers of knowing. You may know in your heart that something has happened to David, but in my heart, I have to ask myself: What if I told you something that David wanted me to keep confidential, and then he turned up suddenly. Would I not have done him a tremendous disservice?”
“Can you at least tell me if there was something he confided?”
“Over the years, certainly.”
“What about more recently? Did you see him in the days or weeks before he disappeared?”
“When was that exactly?”
“Last day of February.”
“Let me think about that. I’m not always so good with dates. Ah, here comes the soup. Don’t tell your mother you liked this better.” He added salt and pepper to his without tasting it, filled his spoon, blew on it hard enough to send some of it back into the bowl and slurped it loudly. Beads of it glistened on his beard. When he spooned in half a matzo ball, I decided to wait until he had finished the soup before I asked any more questions.
The waitress came and cleared our soup bowls and said she’d be right back with our sandwiches.
“So,” he said. “Did I lie?”
“About the soup? No,” I said. “So can you think of the last time you spoke to David?”
He looked up at a ceiling tile. “The last time … at least a month ago.”
“After you left Adath Israel.”
“Now that you mention it.”
“Was it at your home?”
“It must have been. Yes, at home. In my study.”
“It must have been important then.”
“For him to come to your house.”
“A lot of people come to my house, Jonah. They come for dinner, to play guitar and sing, to welcome Shabbos, to say goodbye to Shabbos, to be with me and my daughter—who isn’t married, by the way. In fact, I thought for a time maybe she and David … but I guess there wasn’t a spark there. Maybe he just wasn’t ready.”
Was he long-winded or avoiding answering the simplest of questions?
“Did he seem different? Upset about something?”
“We’re veering back into ethical problems.”
“Please, Rabbi. His parents are going through such hell.” Might as well throw a little guilt on the fire. Always works on me.
“As his rabbi, I—”
“But you’re not his rabbi anymore. And you weren’t when you last saw him.”
“I may not have been the head of his congregation, but I was still his rabbi.”
“You won’t help me?”
He sighed. “I’ll tell you what. Come to dinner tonight. We always make room at our table, especially Friday night. In the meantime, I’ll think it over. See if I can help you without doing David any disservice. You know Bartlett Crescent?”
“Is it in Brookline?”
“Yes. Not far from here.”
“I’ll find it.”
“Good. And if you want to have a glass of wine or two, leave your car and come on the T. We’re just up from the Washington Square stop.”
ounds like a fix-up to me,” Jenn said.
“What are you talking about?”
“You and the rabbi’s daughter. Didn’t he mention she was single?”
“Just dropped it into the conversation.”
“In the context of David Fine. He wanted to fix David up, not me.”
“Oh, Jonah,” she sighed. “How naive can you be?”
“Why would he fix his daughter up with a guy who’s only in town on a job?”
“Because you’re so darn eligible?”
“I don’t think I’m rabbi’s daughter material.”
“Pshaw. That’s not Yiddish, I suppose? Pshaw? It could be. It’s one of those spitting sounds you make when you explain the food.”
I had come back to the hotel stuffed to the gills. The sandwiches at Rubin’s were huge. “They come in two sizes,” Rabbi Lerner had told me with a wink. “Large and larger.” Luckily I had only ordered the large. After the soup, I had barely finished half and brought the mountainous remains back for Jenn, who was eating it as I filled her in on the rabbi.
“So you think David went to his house the night he disappeared,” she said.
“We know he got off the trolley at Washington Square. The rabbi lives just up the street from there.”
“And he wouldn’t tell you anything more?”
“He didn’t even tell me that.”
“What makes you think it’ll be any different tonight?”