By Esther Rapaport
Long after Prisoner Struk had left, Josef Podernik, the interrogator, sat and toyed with the ashtray on the table. He didn’t exchange a word with the interpreter, who, commendably, waited in silence.
“So, it’s like this,” the interrogator said suddenly, after 20 minutes of thought. He rose to his feet. “Get me a transcript of today’s interrogation in Russian and in English, but put it in Rosenberg’s file, not the Jew’s file. Right now I don’t want it to fall into his lawyers’ hands.”
Two hours later, he was already in his office in the C.K.P. building, the location of the Russian Federation’s investigation commission on Bauman Street in Moscow. “Get me Bernie from the Financial Crimes Investigation Unit,” he ordered the secretary and went into his cubicle. There, surrounded by glass partitions, he sat down in front of his computer. He clasped his short beard in his closed fist.
“What’s happening, Josef?” Pavel, his neighbor to the left, knocked on the partition.
“Nothing special,” Josef replied, mildly irritated. If they would invest in better quality partitions here, then that annoying Pavel would not be able to disturb him now.
“The Zhid’s keeping you quite busy, eh?”
“Do you want some help with your interrogations?”
“No.” He had formed a team of successful investigators and really had no need for Pavel. “One minute, I have an incoming call. Hello?”
“Podernik? It’s Bernie. What did you want?”
“To find out about the recording you gave me.”
“Yeah, what about it?”
“Has it been tested for authenticity?”
Bernie’s tone was laced with rebuke. “Of course, Podernik.”
“So why is it cut off?”
“What difference does it make? You have exactly what you need there, don’t you?”
“No. I need the rest of it. Do you have it?” It was inconceivable that they should expect him to investigate this incident without giving him all the information.
“No, we don’t have it either.”
“Can you get it?”
“It won’t be simple, because it wasn’t our own wiretap. Before we got the preliminary information about the diamond smuggling in the airport, we had no idea about this story and didn’t know we’d need to assign surveillance.”
“So where is the recording from? You don’t mean to tell me that you violated the agreement with Rosenberg and touched his lines.”
“Of course not.” Bernie fell silent.
“So what is the source?” Just yesterday evening, Josef had been so happy with the new evidence, but that euphoria had dissipated by now.
“What difference does it really make? You got evidence — deal with it.”
Josef scowled. “I’m not one of your lackeys,” he said icily. “So don’t give me orders. As the interrogator in charge of this file, I am asking to know the source of this conversation.”
“I’m not your underling either,” Bernie replied, disliking both the words and tone Podernik was using. “With all due respect to your success in investigations, you’re just a minor officer in the C.K.P., so don’t make any demands of me, you hear?”
“What can I do that I know, as well as you do, that it is possible that Rosenberg has friends in our office, and they made sure to erase the rest of the conversation in the event that it incriminates him too mu—”
Dial tone. Bernie, in his anger, had hung up on him.
Josef Podernik stuck the ear buds into his ear, pressed the red button, and listened again to the conversation that he knew by heart by now. The Jew answered. Rosenberg began to speak, the Jew ostensibly not knowing who it was. Rosenberg introduced himself as a Jew, using a fake first name. The word “Abraham” must have been a code word between them.
And if Rosenberg himself was making the contact, then the Jew must be deeply embedded in the inner hierarchy of this mafia.
What was said later in the conversation that scared them so much that they had been able to destroy the evidence?
Josef took a deep breath, overcoming the offense to his dignity, and asked the secretary once again to get the antipathetic clerk from the Financial Crimes Unit on the phone.
“Good, you’ve decided to make up with him,” Pavel piped up from the other side of the glass. “Listen to me, Josef; everyone’s sold. Everywhere. That’s how it is in our Russia. Don’t believe a word he says, and don’t believe yourself either.
Josef wanted to reply, but just then the clerk transferred the call to him. That was fast; Bernie apparently wanted to resolve this little tiff with dignity as well.
“I’m sorry, Bernie,” Josef apologized first. “I have nothing personal against you. I know that you are an honest person and they won’t be able to buy you off.” That might or might not have been true. “I was talking out of frustration. I have to get that missing segment for the investigation, do you understand?”
“Yes, yes,” Bernie replied, his hoarse voice softening somewhat. “Look, I’ll try to find out some more, but take into account that it might take some time.”
“Whatever it takes.”
Josef Podernik hung up the phone, ignoring the knocking on the wall to his left. He stuck the earbuds into his ears again and listened to the short clip for the umpteenth time. He was ready to wait patiently until he found out how this recording had gotten to the right people, and then he would try to find out who did the erasing, what they erased, and why they had done it.
But he didn’t have to muster up too much patience. The very next morning Bernie had an answer for him about who had turned over the recording.
It was Iliya Antonovich, a security officer at the airport.
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.