Monday, January 24, 2011


What was that noise? Ben wondered. It was faint—barely louder than the roaring in his ears. But it sounded almost like people screaming—how could that be? And why did his hands feel sticky?

The scream-like noise was louder now, and there was something else, a strange rising and falling tone, like from one of those old European movies his zaideh, his grandfather, used to watch. But why were his hands so sticky?

The screaming—it was clearly screaming—got louder. The odd tones, Ben realized, came from an ambulance siren.
But why was he covered with gore?

He raised his head, looked around. Dozens of people, dead and dying, lay in the ruins of a café. A few staggered outside into the street. He must help them, he realized, and turned to kneel beside a pale young man. Choking sounds came from his bleeding, ruined face.

Ben saw that the man had swallowed his tongue. He reached into his mouth, wincing as he realized that he, too, was bleeding—that his hands and arms bore numerous cuts.

Blood dripped into his eyes. It was hard to see, but he must get his tongue out. Somehow. The screaming was overwhelming, crowding out even the sirens.

It must have been a bomb, he realized. That was it. A suicide bomber! Rachel was visiting and they had just ordered dinner. Where was Rachel? Where?

Oh God! Please! Please! No! No!

Ben sat up in bed, dripping with sweat.


Kicking off the sopping sheet, Ben turned to look for the alarm clock. The glowing red digits should have been to his left on the nightstand next to the bed.

Nothing there but his glasses. He put them on, then swiveled his head until he saw blue digits glowing in the darkness off the foot of the bed.

Of course. He was in a hotel room. In California.

It was a little after five. He’d slept almost six hours. His meeting was at nine, and they’d probably be a little early. Might as well get up, he told himself. Find the gym, get his heart pounding, a nice sweat going, a long hot shower, some coffee.
                                 *  *  *
It was ten to nine and Ben was on his third cup when the Beit Joseph people entered the hotel coffee shop.  He was expecting only three, but there were five people. They hesitated at the door, looking around, unsure of themselves. The tables were filled with noisy families with young children; the lone solo diner was a robust, red-headed, fair-skinned, smooth-shaven man an inch or two under average height and dressed like a tourist in an open-necked sport shirt, faded jeans and well-worn Nike running shoes.
The newcomers looked at each other—had they gotten the wrong hotel? Was it the Red Lion Hotel Anaheim or the Anaheim Plaza Hotel Suites?  Or were they simply too early?

Ben stood up and waved.

They trooped over, four men and a woman, all over forty and under sixty, neat and tidy in business attire. Ben decided that the bearded man about fifty had to be Rabbi Hank Kimmelman. The tall, graying, blue-eyed, good-looking fellow? A lawyer—probably the congregation’s president, he concluded. The short, very pretty, dark-haired, slightly zaftig woman—an educator. Perhaps a college professor. Maybe the synagogue treasurer. The other two were older.
More reserved, harder to read. Probably the money guys, he thought. Businessmen.

“Rabbi Ben Maimon?” ventured the bearded man, extending his right hand. “I’m Hank Kimmelman. We exchanged emails—”

“Call me Ben.” They shook hands.

“This is Dr. Tova Levine, our immediate past president,” Kimmelman continued. “Gary Burkin, our president,” he said, indicating the tall, handsome man. “And board members Aaron Ferguson and Manny Seddaca.”

Ben shook each hand in turn, then looked around the room. “We’ll need a larger table.”

“I’ll handle it,” Ferguson said. He headed for the cashier’s desk, all but breaking into a trot.

“I apologize for meeting in such a goyishe place,” Rabbi Kimmelman said. A place suitable only for gentiles.

“I understand. We’re fifty miles from your shul in a place no Jew would come to eat. I’m getting that whether you hire me or not, discretion is vital.”

Kimmelman and the others exchanged guarded glances.
“You come very highly recommended.”

“Thank you. Your email said that you knew my grandfather, of blessed memory?”

Olav hashalom—may he rest in peace. He taught Talmud my first year at J.T.S. Just before he retired.”

“So he would have been in his eighties. By then he was bald and his beard was white. Otherwise, I look just like him.”

Everyone smiled.

“So, Dr. Levine—”


“—you’re still at UCLA in… the Political Science Department?”

Tova’s mouth dropped open. “How did you know that?”

“When I got Rabbi Kimmelman’s email, I visited Beit Joseph’s Website. It hadn’t been updated in a while, but you were listed as a board member.”

Tova smiled. “But—”

“I Googled Tova Levine and discovered five in Southern California. Two were very young, judging by their Facebook pages. One was awaiting sentencing on drug charges, one a pediatrician and one teaches at UCLA.”

Kimmelman said, “But I introduced her as ‘Dr. Levine.’ How did you know she wasn’t the pediatrician?”

“Because she’s put on a few pounds lately—forgive me, Dr.
Levine—Tova—but your jacket is a little tight—and the sleeve has a faint odor of old tobacco smoke. So I guessed that you might be trying to quit smoking—”

“—and no pediatrician would smoke,” Kimmelman finished.
“I told you he was good.”

“Okay, what do you make of me?” Burkin asked, as Ferguson returned with a waitress.

“I can seat you now,” she said, and the group followed her to a booth across the room.

After everyone had ordered, Burkin looked at Ben. “Rabbi Maimon—” Burkin began.

Ben said, “You’re an attorney. Managing partner in Burkin, Turner and Overstreet. You’ve made a reputation handling criminal cases, and you seldom go to trial.”

“You’ve done your due diligence.”

Ben shrugged. “Now please, before we go any further, can you tell me why I’m here? What is this all about?”

Burkin and Kimmelman exchanged glances.

“Someone got into our bank account,” Kimmelman said.

“How much did you lose?”

“That’s the crazy thing. He didn’t take anything.”

“Then how do you know that—”

Burkin said, “Someone deposited over two million in one of our accounts. We’d like you find out who.”

“And why,” Tova said.

“And if we can keep the money,” Ferguson added.

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