By Esther Rapaport
The newspaper editor subtly fixed his gaze on a detailed work of art that depicted Napoleon’s final battle in Russia. But when the silence grew prolonged, he turned to look at the master of the household, who continued to sit with a small smile playing on his lips.
“Mr. Rosenberg?” Vasiliy, the reporter, asked, a trace of impudence lacing his words. “Did you hear the conversation?”
The man looked at the reporter as though he were a pesky mosquito that had suddenly appeared in the hall. “Where do you have this recording from?” he asked curiously, and cast a fleeing glance behind him, to his bodyguards. They were silent.
“The wiretap was not on your line; it was on his line,” Antonovich said, mildly apologetic.
“Someone apparently had an interest in this person.”
“Apparently,” Nikolai said, and then he finally gave a full smile. “And so, what do you want from me?” He reached for the box that was placed at that moment on the table, and took out a fat cigar, wrapped in thin green paper. With a fluid move, he pushed the box gently toward Sergevsky, the editor.
“If we could get a reasonable explanation for this conversation, we’d be most pleased,” the editor said, not touching the box. “Just to remind you, our newspaper apologized and issued a correction that you have no connection to Judaism, and now it looks like that apology was unnecessary.”
“Oh, people are so shallow.” Rosenberg took a lighter out of the pocket of his smoking jacket. “It’s not the one with the diamonds that you wrote about,” he sneered at Vasiliy Antonovich. “It’s just a simple one, like yours.” He lit the cigar and leaned back. “People are so shallow,” he repeated again. “They believe everything they hear. They hear ‘Abraham’ and they think it really is Abraham…”
“So, you lied to the Jew, Mr. Rosenberg?” Vasiliy decided not to let the man evade answering by enveloping himself with ambiguous words.
“If you must know, it was a code that was intended to identify the two of us.” Rosenberg puffed deeply. “You can ask him as well if you plan to write up another expose about me and want more accurate details.”
“It’s hard for me to get to him, because he’s imprisoned at the moment.”
“Imprisoned?” Rosenberg coughed and took the cigar out of his mouth. “Well, the Jews are corrupt, as we all know. It didn’t take much for him to get arrested.”
“Did you know that was what would happen?” the reporter asked.
“Know? No. I didn’t know.”
“Do you have any connection with his incarceration?” The reporter tried a different approach.
Rosenberg fixed him with a piercing glare. “No,” he said, “but the meeting that was arranged for today was not meant to address the issue of the Jew Shlomo Struk, right?”
Vasiliy gazed back at him. “I have one more question,” he said, ignoring the tycoon’s narrowed eyes. “Regarding your son …”
“If I answered your last family question that these are not matters of your concern, then why do you think I’ll give you a different answer now?” Rosenberg seemed to suddenly lose his patience. “But fine. I’m beginning to understand the breeding ground upon which your dreadful mistake was cultivated.” He smiled sourly at the two guests. “I’ll think about how to compensate your newspaper,” he said, and at that moment, a pleasant chime resonated through the hall. “Your forty minutes are up, but I’m sure you won’t refuse to drink something in honor of the conclusion of this unpleasant incident.”
The meeting ended far more convivially than how it began. Rosenberg and his two guests sipped glasses of Smirnoff together and parted with handshakes and big smiles.
“You put the pressure on him,” Sergevsky said as they settled confidently into the Volga and left the complex. “But that wasn’t a bad thing. I’ll hire you again.”
Vasiliy sat frozen, his eyes fixed on the snowdrifts that lined the road. Inside the vehicle it was warm, and he took off his gloves and tossed them into his lap. “He was afraid of our last question,” he said. “Did you notice? Attempting to answer it would have complicated things for him.”
“But he was able to evade that one, too,” the editor said. “In any case, he certainly saw that we’re not such boors when we conduct research on someone. Your proofs were irrefutable, each one of them, and I will note that you were a nudge. You did a good job.”
Back in the grand estate, Nikolai Rosenberg was using the same compliment for the journalist.
“He’s a real nudge, that Vasiliy Antonovich,” he said, as if to himself, and looked at the vodka in his glass. Then he threw back his head as he swallowed the drink down, and filled another glass. His two bodyguards didn’t move, as though they hadn’t heard a word.
A week and a half later, Vasiliy Antonovich was killed in a car accident.
Esther Rapaport is a prolific author whose novels include Diamond in the Rough, Divided Attention, Behind the Scenes, Without a Trace, Dance of the Puppet, Blood Brothers, and The Kenya Conspiracy. She resides in Israel. Stay tuned for the next installment in next week’s Five Towns Jewish Times or visit 5tjt.com for more.