Monday, 2 October, 11:32 PM
The home of Jack and Betty Hubert
Rachel stood with her guest in our foyer, chattering through her introductions like a squirrel on amphetamines. “He’s my client, a key figure in the industrial district renewal, and he may be implicated in the murder of Alex Weber, and as you know, he was hand-in-glove with the mob, not Karl, but Weber, but he actually had nothing to do with …”
“Rachel, settle down! Let’s get right to the bottom of this.”
She took a deep breath and began again. “Okay Jack. Karl needs someone living on site to cover his back door, so to speak, which really isn’t simply his back door—”
Another deep breath. “He has space in his residence block where he could furnish a proper flat for the two of you. The position would include butler and domestic services as a cover for your being there, but he really needs high-level security on site, twenty-four-seven.”
“You say he’s gotten into it with the Mob?” I stroked my chin whiskers and analysed the ramifications for a long moment. “Jolly good! What say you, Betty? Do you feel like coming out of retirement for a time?”
Betty’s large, blue eyes gazed at me, her expression quizzical. “Nothing against ‘Life With Father,’ mind you,” she replied in her mild Cockney brogue,” but I’ve grown just a bit weary of the good life. If there’s some action to be had, let’s have it.”
Betty and I smiled our mutual understanding. So I put it to Rachel with my attempt at a penetrating stare, “This bloke seems square with you?”
“That he does, Jack.”
I looked hard at Karl and read the desperation in his eyes. “We’re your couple, Mister Adams. I’ll be your gentleman’s gentleman, and my Betty will be your housekeeper. One thing I want to make perfectly clear, though—”
“Before assuming you’re hired, tell me why Rachel’s so fired up about you, of all people, helping me.”
Betty looked at me as if to say, “What have you gotten us into?” But I trusted Rachel’s judgement.
“Like Rachel, I was an intelligence analyst for the Israeli Mossad. Retired at twenty years in the service. My speciality was communications analysis.
“Once, when I was working on a particularly thorny problem at home, Betty happened to look over my shoulder. Well, after a few seconds of thinking about it, she came up with the key to the whole thing. Could’ve knocked me over with a feather.” Karl responded to my bit of levity by maintaining a straight face. Or perhaps I should say he didn’t respond at all.
Despite my failed attempt at humour, I continued, undaunted, with our verbal resume. “I tried to get her on with the service, but since she’s not Jewish, my employer wouldn’t hire her. Not to waste such a valuable resource, I encouraged her to continue unofficially helping with my work anyway.
“That was about the time I became acquainted with Rachel, and we hit it off rather well. Not wanting to risk any appearance of infidelity, I introduced her to Betty, and they quickly became fast friends. Kindred spirits, so to speak.
“Well, for years I had flirted with my Jewish heritage, and I finally began reading the Torah and the Talmud in depth, studying, if you will. I became vaguely unsettled when I noted several instances where the two works didn’t seem to agree, and began considering throwing the whole religion thing over the side, so to speak.”
Karl broke into my story, “Is this going anywhere Hubert?”
I crossed my arms and stared down my nose at the short man, trying to appear formidable. “If you don’t mind, Mister Adams, I am trying to address your stated concern.” He seemed unintimidated, but resignedly nodded for me to continue. “On looking back, I don’t think it was coincidence that I was assigned to gather data on an Israeli businessman whom the government suspected of sedition. The religious elements of our government view Messianic Jews with marked suspicion. You see, he was quite vocal in his belief that Yeshua, called Messiah, was in fact God incarnate.”
“Yes, I see. But let’s skip all the religious crap and tell me why you’re so qualified to take care of my security.”
“Excuse me, Mister Adams, but that religious ‘crap’, as you call it, explains why we should be the ones guarding your security.”
“I don’t see how, but continue, I guess.”
“Anyway, not having been reared as a religious person, I couldn’t understand what the flap was all about, so I assumed there were some other grounds for suspecting him of sedition. I watched Mister Levin for over a year, gathering exhaustive data on his business and personal life, but in the end I couldn’t find a single fact that suggested he was anything but a very good man. His behaviour was exemplary. He doted on his family and fulfilled every responsibility of Israeli citizenship.
“I finally concluded that he was either staunchly upright, or a very good actor, evil beyond imagination. Betty, whose judgement I trusted implicitly, believed the former, but I didn’t know. To discern the truth, I stepped out of my roll as covert investigator and visited him at his office. I’m afraid my interrogation was rather pointed as I tried my best to trap him in his words. But he seemed completely honest, even transparent, when discussing the most private aspects of his life.”
Karl shifted his weight and sighed deeply every minute or so.
“I must say, his genuineness took me aback, and when he began presenting his reasons for believing in Yeshua as the divine Son of God, why, I simply listened. Before I left that day, I had come to believe it myself.
“When I shared with Betty what he had told me, she readily agreed with my conclusion, since she didn’t hold to the historic Jewish preconceptions. So we both began studying the Christian scriptures. A couple of months of that, I became quite uncomfortable with my work for Mossad. So with Betty’s blessing, I applied for and received early retirement.
“We continued our friendship with Rachel, strained as it was from our insistence upon talking about our love for Yeshua. But that love wouldn’t allow us to abandon Rachel to her disbelief. After two years of watching us grow in our Lord, she had to admit there was something genuine about the changes she had seen, and she wanted the same thing for herself.” Despite Karl’s glazed expression, I continued sharing with him.
“I had thought the change in our lives—that’s Betty’s and mine—were remarkable. But Rachel was positively transformed. And those changes didn’t escape her supervisor’s notice. When he confronted her about it, she didn’t hedge in the least, but told him all about her Messiah.
“Well, to sum up, that got her canned. And not only that, but the man considered her a security threat and did his best to have her silenced … permanently. The resourceful girl that she is, Rachel managed to slip out of his clutches and disappear to the United States.
“We soon followed her to San Francisco and continued our friendship and fellowship.”
“So, how does all that religious crap,” Karl emphasised the word, “crap,” simply to spite us, “qualify you to guard my security?” His persistent, derogatory reference to our faith demonstrated more than simple unbelief. The man obviously sported a real vendetta against Christ, Christianity, and religion in general.
“Why, it explains how we separated from the intelligence service, and speaks to our character.”
“I wouldn’t brag about my faith if I had any. Too many televangelists have fragged their followers out of too much money for me to find religion much of a character reference.”
“Nevertheless, what we believe or don’t believe has no effect on our competence. And we are quite good at our security work.”
“I don’t seem to have much of a choice, do I, old chap. Against my better judgement I’ll give you a try, but what about salary and benefits?”
“Oh, we’ll take a salary, all right, but our taking the position doesn’t depend on what you tell us about it. Rachel has already pre-screened you, or you wouldn’t be standing where you are.”
“Okay then, but you mentioned some condition.”
“While you’re technically our employer, to do our job properly you must understand that you will do what we tell you. No reservations.”
He still looked sceptical. “I … guess so.”
“Right! Was that a yes, or a maybe?”
“Okay. I’ll go with you for now, but any more preaching and you’re out. Got it?”
I glanced first at Betty, then at Rachel. Detecting no obvious reservations in their expressions, I resolved to continue. “If you’ll just give us a moment, Betty and I will throw a few things together and follow you to your place. We need to perform a complete security survey before doing anything else. Does your block have a rear entrance?”
“My … ‘block?’”
“The building where your flat is located.”
“I’ll never get used to the way you Brits talk. Yes, there is—”
“We’ll follow you to a spot some distance from your ‘apartment,’ where you’ll join us to point out the rear entrance. Then we’ll deliver you back to your car and you’ll drive home and park as usual, letting us into your flat at the entrance you’ve shown us.”
Twenty-five minutes later, as we approached the rear door of Karl’s block, Betty pointed ahead of us. “What do you make of that?” I looked in the direction she pointed and finally spied a glint of reflected light. I must have appeared comical as I squinted and otherwise screwed up my face until finally I made out what seemed to be a dark-coloured van parked in the equally dark alley of the next street, barely visible, but with a direct view of Karl’s rear entrance.
If I had appeared comical, the likelihood of the faceless occupants of that van circumventing our well-thought scheme certainly was not. “Mister Adams, would you mind sliding down below your window sill?” His silent obedience surprised me.
With him seated on the rear floorboard, back against his door, we drove on past the mysterious van and turned left onto the first street. I thought it best to circle back and park on the street, behind of the van.
I dialled the police, to be greeted with, “Third precinct, officer Gordon speaking.”
“Hello. I would like to report a suspicious vehicle loitering in the neighbourhood.”
“I need your name, address and phone number.”
“The name is Hubert Milford … .” I gave my mobile number and an address that I supposed might supply a view of the van in question.
“Why do you think it’s suspicious? Could be visiting someone around there.”
It might have sounded queer, had I asked the constable to wait while asking Karl for information. So not knowing the district at all well, I had to be clever. “Right. The block in which the van is parked has facilities for parking more securely elsewhere, so there is no legitimate reason for anyone to be there.”
“Where exactly is this allegedly suspicious vehicle?”
“It has been parked for some time in the alley just north of Division Street, between Second and Third Avenues. Look for a dark-coloured van. I can’t make out a brand or number plate from here.”
“We’ll have a blue-and-white unit there in a few minutes.” And the line went dead.
Moments later, my mobile warbled and I opened it to recognize the voice of the officer with whom I had just spoken. “Who am I talking to?”
“This is Hubert Milford, how may I help you?”
“Okay Mister Milford. This is Officer Gordon. Just checking the phone number.” And the line went dead again.
Twenty-five long minutes later, red and blue lights flashed on the dark buildings bordering the alley. I stepped out of the Rover, walked to the corner, and spied a patrol car parked by the van. Two uniformed policemen with very long torches peered through its front windows, one on either side. The policeman on the driver’s side began talking with someone through the window, then waited while the driver passed what must have been some sort of identification to him. He examined it carefully by the light of his torch, spoke at length to the mysterious driver, handed back his papers, stepped back from the van, and watched as its headlights blinked on and it slowly moved away. The officers finally returned to their car, shut off their emergency lights and backed down the alley after the van. Our way was clear to proceed.
After returning Karl to his own vehicle, we drove back to the end of his alley and parked our Rover. We walked to his rear entrance, talking quietly between ourselves, and when he finally opened the heavy steel door he welcomed us into his home. “Well, this is it … at least the lower floor. I live upstairs, or maybe I should say up elevator.” He briefly chuckled at his own humour.
Gesturing proudly at the first room, he explained, “This used to be a side alley, for fire escapes from these two buildings.”
I noted a sewer access cover half-way down the corridor, and a fire escape leading to an upper level. “Are that sewer access and fire escape still functional?”
“They are. I had some work done down below when I renovated the place. It goes to a catwalk along the sewer, and gives access to the pipes coming out of my building.”
“I see that the corresponding fire escape to the neighbouring block has been removed and its fire exit closed with newer bricks. Is the sealed opening visible from the inside?”
“Checked it myself. It’s all covered over with panelling. Had a hell of a time finding the spot, even when I knew it was there.”
Betty and I exchanged glances, silently agreeing to ignore his course language, and thankful that it was not even more colourful. “If the sewer access cover is moveable, your security is compromised.”
“I’ll admit I didn’t think of that. I don’t want to weld it shut, so I can use it for maintenance. What would you suggest?”
My brief university major in engineering helped answer the question. “If we weld a cross bar to the top of the cover, it can be locked in place so no one can gain entry from beneath.” Karl withdrew a pen and small notebook from his breast pocket and jotted some notes.
Betty pointed towards a large object at the back of the room, so I said, “Tell me about that machinery. It appears to be a dynamo and petrol tank.”
“It’s a diesel-electric generator with enough fuel to supply power for five days of normal usage, or a month of minimal power draw. It was pretty expensive.” Of course, that fact had not been lost on me.
We turned left into a doorway near the outer entrance, that opened to a room equipped with a fair amount of security and surveillance equipment, and a rather complete maintenance shop. After a few minutes examination, I said, “This should do quite nicely for our work. What of the contractor who installed it?”
“Solid as the Rock of Gibraltar. The guy has a reputation to uphold.”
The next room was used for storing emergency provisions, and past that we discovered what were to be our own rooms, though incomplete. Betty said, “A couple of days’ work and they’ll be ship shape, or at least adequate to our needs. There’ll be time for improvements in due course.”
After touring what there was of our future flat, we finally entered what Karl called “The Foyer.” An anti-room of sorts, it contained a receptionist’s desk, a few tasteful chairs along the wide corridor, and at the end, a large, open lift with a wrought iron gate.
I’ve never been fond of lifts, especially the open variety, and Karl must have observed the trepidation in my face. “Just step on the platform, it’s perfectly safe.” We did so, then he added, “Stand away from the gate while I close it and press the ‘UP’ button.” Of course, I had no intention of standing near any edge of that dangling contraption. After he pushed the button, we heard a large relay slam shut, and felt the whole structure vibrate as a winch began pulling us upward, quite slowly, to Karl’s flat.
As my eyes approached floor level, I was taken aback by the expanse of open space. Betty voiced my reaction in her inimitable fashion. “Gol! Would you look at the size of the place.” The lift shuddered to a stop and Karl opened the gates, allowing us to step into a veritable wonderland of residential splendour.
The sounds of soft, new-age music and running water, and the scent of fresh blossoms filled the air as we scouted the flat for security provisions already in place. “How are you equipped with surveillance cameras and microphones?”
“You’ll see very few of them, but I can watch and listen to every cubic inch of the place.” Karl spoke with transparent pride.
“Are any of the devices wireless?”
“I see where you’re going, and no, they’re all hard wired. You might not have noticed in the security room, but I have a pretty elaborate RF detection gimmick, just in case any bugs get planted in here.”
As I looked up at his large, east-facing windows, he anticipated my next question. “Triple security glass, reinforced with microscopic Kevlar fibres. They’re transparent, except for a sheen in direct sunlight.”
“Is it always that dark to the east of here?”
He laughed proudly, then stepped to an electrical panel to press a button. I couldn’t constrain my reaction when street lamps suddenly appeared in the windows, with the pre-dawn light visible to the east.
Seeing my reaction, he said, “LCD shutters.”
I could only shake my head and remember to close my mouth.
Karl beckoned us to follow him to a wrought-iron, spiral stairway that led to a loft extending half the length of the flat. Before ascending the steps, I noticed Rachel hanging back, and realized she had not said a word since entering Karl’s quarters. Stepping over to her, I asked in a low voice, “Rachel, why so quiet?”
She glanced ahead at Karl, already on the steps, and then to me. “I have no need of attending this tour, and I should be about my work.”
“Oh, give it a rest for a while. You’ve got plenty of time for your spying. Relax and enjoy the tour.” I could tell my advice was not accepted, and thought a bit of levity might soften the moment. “Nervous about entering a single man’s parlour?” Her glare told me that I had either been completely off the mark, or too close to it. She silently turned about and removed her mobile from her bag to punch in a number.
So I followed Karl up the iron steps and to a writing desk near his bed, with a drapery hanging behind. Moving the fabric aside, he revealed a low, iron door in the wall. “This opens to the fire escape you saw in the generator room.
“The fire sprinklers I’ve got everywhere,” he pointed to various places below the open-truss ceiling “are fed by a thousand gallon water tank on the roof, so I don’t even have to worry about the city supply being cut off. Between that and everything else you’ve seen, security’s as good as it gets without being obvious. This place is self-sustaining for up to a month, with water and food storage, and alternate power.”
As Karl went on like a tour guide, I stood at the balustrade and noted the way he had used empty space to partition the floor area of his flat into three discrete, special-purpose zones. At the south-east corner was his formal office, with an oversized teak desk backed by a proportionately large black leather executive’s chair. I wanted to ask him why such a small man needed such large furniture, but restrained my curiosity.
Books of all descriptions lined the south wall, with a rolling library ladder providing access. Little wonder that the odour of old books added to the overall bouquet of the place.
Occupying the north-eastern quarter was a sunken conversation pit with enough space for comfortably seating at least fifty along its continuous, over-padded seat. West of that was a formal dining area in a “U” shape, open to the east. Seating people along both sides of the table, he could probably serve a hundred guests.
Of course, the area covered by the loft on which we stood was out of my view, but I understood it to contain his kitchen, laundry, spa, and gymnasium. When he paused to draw a breath, I voiced my curiosity. “Mister Adams, how many people can you entertain here at once?”
He paused momentarily. “Legally? Just a handful, because of the limited exit facility. But the fire martial sort of overlooks my parties because of my fail safe sprinkler system.” His pride in his residential masterpiece was plainly obvious. “Oh, I’ve had maybe two hundred here for parties.”
I pointed at the classic-looking sculptures on equally artistic pedestals that occupied the spaces separating his various zones. “Those are quite good. Are the sculptors well known?”
Karl took offence at my question. “Are they well know? Do such names as Degas, Rodin, Lipchitz, Archipenko, and Remington sound familiar?”
He pointed to a fountain with a life size sculpture of a beautiful young girl, perpetually pouring water from a pitcher on her shoulder into a birdbath. “At the intersection of the open spaces you will note an extremely rare example of marble fountain sculpture by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. He always worked in terra cotta, you know.” I restrained my curiosity about the paintings lining his walls, wanting to avoid a lesson in art appreciation.
The four of us eventually retired to the opulent conversation pit to discuss the specifics of our arrangement. Rachel looked to Betty and me. “Our best strategy is for me to remain anonymous. I’ll maintain a covert overview of Karl’s situation, while you remain visible as his domestic staff.”
I was concerned about Marty’s Mysterious Security Man knowing of Rachel’s working relationship with Karl. “Rachel, just who is the chap who recommended Karl to you? What do you know of him?”
“Not much, but what I do know I like. I met Howie through my professional association with the Mossad, and he would have quite a lot to lose by exposing me.” Then she addressed Karl, “What do you think of Marty. I know he’s Howie’s client. Is he a mate of yours?
Karl paused for a moment. “I’m not sure what you mean by ‘mate.’”
Shaking her head slightly, Rachel explained. “A mate is a crony, you know, a friend.”
Karl sighed tolerantly. “Marty and I are okay, but everybody has his price.” He thought again. “Yes, it wouldn’t hurt to keep tabs on him.” Then, looking pointedly at Rachel, “Consider that an assignment.” She said nothing, but nodded thoughtfully.
“Right,” I said, looking intently to my lady, “Let’s get on with it, Love.”
Tuesday, 10 April
The move went quickly, since all we had to transport was our simple wardrobe and other personal effects. Karl thoughtfully provided a temporary bed and partitions for us in his kitchen and pantry area, so we wouldn’t become asphyxiated in our own flat due to the fresh paint and carpet glue.
I had hoped our new employment would present some challenge, and even discovered a latent acting talent, playing to the hilt, the role of the proper English butler. As time passed, however, and Karl became comfortable with our routine of watching his back, we again wondered if our move had been wise. Though his desperation had persuaded us to join him, when he felt more secure, his disposition revealed a distinct, dark side. Not only were his business machinations somewhat shady, but he was not above manipulating his “help,” forgetting at times our true purpose for being there. Though Betty and I had tried to crucify, so to speak, our youthful pride, Karl regularly challenged our patience.
“Hubert!” Karl had taken to addressing me by my surname to complete the illusion of my being simply a domestic servant. “Senator Phillips will be here shortly. Escort him up here when he arrives. Are the hors d’oeuvres ready to serve?” Before I could answer, he called out, “Betty! Have you finished the cleaning yet?”
Betty’s face betrayed her annoyance at his suggestion that she was ill prepared for an important visitor. “I’ve already finished, Mister Adams.”
“Just check it again. I want everything perfect!”
“Are you suggesting that my housekeeping needs improving?”
“Look, I don’t have time for this! Phillips is already late, and I want him impressed with the place. Check it over again, white glove this time.”
“Yes, Mister Adams. I’m sure there must be something I’ve forgotten.” Her sarcasm was lost on our preoccupied employer.
I retired to the lower foyer, prepared to greet His Nibs, the high-profile Senator. Of course he was fashionably late, but when he finally arrived I opened the door to not only Senator Phillips, but to his entourage of very large, well dressed security men wearing dark spectacles and wireless ear-pieces. Without a by-your-leave, they barged through the door, ready for anything.
Senator Phillips was young, apparently in his early thirties. His physique and tailored attire could have been that of a male model. When he strolled in after having his security force examined the premises, I greeted him formally. “Senator Phillips, Mister Adams awaits you in his office.” Of course he had nothing to say to a mere domestic, so he proceeded straight to the lift.
When we entered Karl’s flat he marched over to the Senator with hand outstretched, “Senator Phillips, so glad to see you. Won’t you step over to my office.” He ignored the security blokes, who were never very far from their charge. When the Senator and Karl were seated, they spoke quietly for a moment, then he looked over to me and said. “Hubert, I won’t be needing you now.”
By no means would I have remained obtrusively in their presence, but since no one told the senator’s own security people to leave, I felt slighted. Swallowing my pride yet again, I exited to the security room where I might observe the proceedings more stealthily, deriving a certain satisfaction from thwarting Karl’s deliberate faux pas.
Friday, 9 November
Betty and I were about our domestic business when Karl withdrew his secure mobile. Apparently its silent ringer had vibrated his breast pocket. “Adams!” After a few seconds of listening to the caller, his face became ashen.
Breaking the connection, Karl looked at us and spoke without emotion. “That was Rachel. Markov has put a new contract out on my life, and he’s brought in a couple of Russian hit men.” His imploring expression made me want to snap a photo to remind him, in his more self-assured moments, why he hired us.
When we took him to our personal rooms, he quite literally cowered in a wardrobe until she called again, hours later, to explain it had all been a mistake. He used the most colourful language to convey his opinion of the false alarm, but much of it was to a dead line.
For some reason we did not understand, the man’s fear of death was far beyond what we would have considered normal. Partly from compassion, and partly from our duty as Christians, Betty and I used any opportunity to share with our employer what we knew of things eternal. Such knowledge had changed our lives drastically for the better, and we knew it could do the same for him. His response to our sharing, however, was open hostility, or more often, complete indifference.