"So you see, Mr. McCall, I need help."
Robert McCall studied the man sitting on the couch in front of him. He looked to be exactly what he said he was, a retired science teacher: middle aged, white beard neatly trimmed, a hint of a German accent. But Robert's inner warning bells were deafening him. Control, sitting next to Hermann Schmes, looked comfortable and relaxed, as usual.
So Schmes was Control's boyhood friend who just happened to appeal to him for help in a personal matter? Nothing about that sounded right to Robert. Control might have boyhood friends – who knew? – but to have kept in touch and offered help to him? No, his gut told him that something was exceptionally wrong here.
He smiled at Hermann Schmes, "Tell me more about your problem and I'm sure I can help you."
Schmes swallowed hard and glanced at Control, seemingly for support. Control nodded at him and Schmes nodded back. "It made me go over things in my head and I saw that all the members of my family have died in suspicious circumstances within the last two years."
"Only that recently?" Robert asked. He glanced at Control, "You two have known each other how long?"
Like a flame making its was onto a wick, Control's smile flickered awake. "We became friends when we were about seventeen, eighteen. Hermann came to the United States to go to school here. We played the occasional game of stickball together. So that's what Hermann – forty something years, about?"
Hermann nodded and kept his head low, not meeting Robert's eyes. Something was very amiss and Robert didn't care for it one bit.
"Ah," Robert smiled as warmly as he could, "Please continue Herr Schmes, tell me more about your problem." Robert hoped his voice was still sincere, but he caught Control glaring at him for an unguarded moment.
"My younger brother, Hans, stayed in Europe after the war and we kept in sporadic touch. You know, my life and his were so different. Well, he died less than two years ago. They said a wild animal killed him when he and his family were traveling near the Black Forest on a vacation." He shook his head and peered at Robert, his face pale, his eyes worried and forlorn, "His death was suspicious. The Black Forest is not filled with dangerous animals. No wild animal was found at all, much less one the size of a huge wild dog."
Hermann cleared his throat and Robert saw that the man was terribly upset. Whatever else might be going on in that room, Hermann Schmes was sincere.
"A few months later, my brother's widow, her son and his wife and children were in a car accident. All of them, my whole family that was left in Europe, were killed. The car went off a mountain road. No reason had been found for the accident and so the police have blamed driver error." He shook his head, "I was overwhelmed with grief, but still it didn't seem to me to be more than simply a great misfortune for my family."
Robert nodded in agreement. "There's more?"
Hermann passed his hand over his pale face, and Robert saw he was shaking. He rose and poured a small glass of brandy for the man.
"Drink this." Handing the glass to Hermann, he sat back down opposite him.
Control's hand was on Hermann's back; it was as comforting a gesture as could be expected from the Company man. Robert felt his own uneasiness increase. There was a missing piece to this puzzle, but it had nothing to do with Hermann's story, nor with Control's obvious respect and affection for the man.
"Eight months ago, my only daughter, Frieda's husband was on a business trip with his boss and other men from his law firm. They were in New Hampshire hunting deer. It looked like he had disappeared at first. He didn't show up in the hunting lodge for breakfast one morning and they simply couldn't locate him. The police brought in dogs to find him, but for some reason the animals were spooked by something and were useless. It took three days to find what remained of Eric's body."
"Remained?" Robert couldn't believe it.
"Yes," Hermann gave off a shaky breath, "He too was found to have been mauled to death by an animal."
Robert mulled on that piece of information. It was a bloody strange coincidence that two members of one family were killed that way. He tried to rationalize it. It could happen he supposed. But still…
Hermann leaned back onto the couch, his face was deathly pale.
"I've already checked with the New Hampshire authorities," Control said, "there was no other record of another mauling anywhere in the State that year, or of any dangerous animal sightings. The wild animal, if there was one, had only one victim."
"My Ruby, my wife, and I," Hermann's voice shook, "had our hands full. Frieda couldn't handle that her husband died in such a way, so we took her and my two grandsons into our home until she could get back on her feet." Hermann became quiet as tears streamed down his face. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped at his eyes and nose.
Robert waited for the man to continue. Obviously there was still more bad news to come.
"Ach, my Ruby died two weeks ago. We thought she had a heart attack, what with all the upset with Frieda and the boys, and the house to take care of. Also, Ruby was troubled that the same gypsy men kept showing up wherever she went. We all thought she had been driven to a heart attack, even though she got good health reports from her doctor. All the stress, we thought, had done it –."
Robert's mind was whirring. "Did you say gypsy men?"
"But because she died at the market, after calling for help, saying that men were following her, the police insisted on an autopsy." Hermann's face puckered into a mask of grief. "They found a hole in her heart, as if something had passed through it, like a bullet, but there had been no bullet wounds. There was no sign that she had been shot, other than she was dead. They told me that her heart might have spontaneously ripped a hole in itself, but they have no real explanation for it."
Robert saw the look of sorrow deepen on the man's face. His eyes burned with emotion. "When they showed up at Ruby's funeral, I saw them standing in the distance, that's when I realized that it was them that did it. They were the ones responsible for all the hell I was going through. The gypsies had come back to fulfill their curse on me."
Seeing that Hermann was nearly overcome with emotion, Robert turned to Control. "What gypsies, what's that to do with this?"
"Hermann is convinced that a band of gypsies he had trouble with a few years ago is behind all of this."
"What?" Was this now to become a story of a man who has lost his reason out of grief? And why would Control take up with this type of yarn? He stared at his old friend. "Tell me what you mean."
Control patted Hermann on the shoulder as the other man wept. "I'll tell him this part." He leaned forward, closer to Robert. "A group of men showed up in his neighborhood some years ago, and offered to do repair work on the driveways at a reduced price for a few homes in the area. They said it was to make their name known and start their asphalt contractors business on the right foot in a new area. But they insisted that anyone who wanted to take them up on their spectacular low price would have to sign up that day. A few people accepted their offer, including Hermann. It soon became evident that their work was substandard, they never finished the jobs, but they did cash the checks and run off."
Robert thought for a moment. "Yes, I do seem to remember such a news item some years ago. People were cheated out of thousands and were left with no driveways. They had no recourse because the contractors disappeared."
Control nodded, "Right. Well, it turns out that it was a scam by a group of gypsies. They hit a number of places before coming to Hermann's neighborhood, stealing from home owners before the police even realized it."
Robert noticed that Hermann was silent with his head down, his eyes averted. He was very ashamed of something,
Control continued. "But Hermann suspected that the prices for the work were way too low and he called the police the moment they didn't show up on the job. Most people wait a week before reporting a problem, but because Hermann called the authorities right away, and because his records were so detailed, including the license plates of the contractor's car, the police were able to arrest the group. Hermann won a large judgment against them in court and they had to pay all the people back. Their people also went to jail for a few months."
Robert glanced at Hermann and saw that the man still looked extremely uneasy.
"Before the men were sentenced to jail, they said that a curse would be put on Hermann and that they would have revenge."
Robert sighed. Has everyone gone mad? "You're afraid of a gypsy curse?"
Hermann pounded his fist on his thigh. "I'm afraid of their revenge. My whole family is dead, and I don't want anything to happen to my grandchildren or my daughter. If it were my own life I wouldn't care. Meine Tochter und die Kinder, I fear for them. Evil has befallen my family, Mr. McCall, and I don't care what it's called. Revenge or a curse, I want it to stop before anyone else dear to me dies!" He glared at Robert and the truth of his sentiment was unmistakable.
"You're right, there are too many deaths with too many unusual circumstances not to take the threat seriously. I shall help you Mr. Schmes."
Hermann's face froze in astonishment for a moment, then he smiled. "Thank you." He turned to Control, "And thank you, sir."
Robert filed away the fact that Hermann just called Control 'sir.' "Tell me, what does your daughter think of your theory?"
Shrugging, he answered, "She is distraught enough over the loss of her husband and now of her mother. We both have seen the gypsies at the funerals, and she has also seen them around our home, but I don't think she has any idea about it. She is putting all her concentration into taking care of her sons. They are feeling my wife's loss on top of their father's death very keenly." Tears begin to silently flow down his face again. "It has been difficult."
"I'll need any information you have on the gypsy clan." Robert said, trying to get the man's mind on the job at hand.
He saw Control about to answer, but Hermann, his face brightened with hope started talking right away. "Their name is Banga, I remember it like it was yesterday. I think that they have only come to this country in the past year. The more I think on it, I remember that when my brother died, fourteen months ago, I am sure that I saw them in Germany, at his funeral. I had thought it was only because of the upset at the deaths that I saw them. It was my first time back in Europe since the War and I thought the stress was affecting me that I see them there. Also, when I go back again for his family's deaths, to take care of the funerals, I remember I saw the same ones there again, too. But now I know that my mind was not playing tricks on me. The gypsies were there and have now come to this country following me!"
Wait a moment, there were discrepancies, Robert saw. How can the gypsies Hermann sued years ago be the ones who just came from Europe? Why would they kill his brother in Germany? The bells and whistles that were in his head when Control introduced Schmes as a friend, were going off loud and clear.
Control put his hand up over his eyes and sighed deeply. "Hermann, didn't we agree that I would do the talking about this part of the story? Didn't we?"
Robert turned to Control and eyed him with nothing but rancor in his heart. "My dear old friend, are you – impossible as it is to imagine – are you hiding something from me?"
Hermann, with fear plainly apparent on his face, looked back and forth from Control to Robert. His voice became pleading. "But to the problem must I give all of the story for anyone to decipher the answer."
Robert knew the man's upset must be tremendous, his English was beginning to sound more and more like his German mother tongue.
Hermann grabbed at Robert's hand. "Please sir, my family needs your help. I am nothing, what I want is nothing, but there are two young innocent boys whose lives are in danger, as is my daughter's, a sweet young woman who never in her life gave us heartache for one day." Tears were streaming down his face. "Please Sir I beg you, not for me, no, for the children you must to help. I you beg. I know what not else to do. Bitte braucht Herr. Bitte. You must to help them." He collapsed onto the couch and wept.
Control spoke in a gentle voice. "Don't worry, Robert has promised you that he'll help, and he's a man of his word." Hermann brought his eyes up to fall on Robert's face, and asked wordlessly for confirmation.
Robert tried to smile. "I will do as I promised to the best of my ability. But for now, we'll give you a moment to calm yourself. Our mutual friend and I will go into the other room to discuss some aspects of this case." He got up and beckoned Control to follow him, "I shall help you, this I promise."
He gestured for Control to proceed him into the back room.
Closing the door, Robert let his anger out. "What's this you're getting at, what games are you trying to play, man? I want the truth, or you're out on your bloody backside. Since when do you have old, trusted friends?"
"Other than you?" Control tried for a smile and when none was received back he hooked one hip on the edge of the table, rubbed his brow and shrugged. "I've known Schmes for decades, after the war. That is true."
"But not a childhood stickball friend from the infamous and oft quoted old neighborhood of your youth?" Robert permitted the sarcasm in his voice to pour out.
Control again flickered a smile. "Well no. I met him years after the war."
Robert let his mind race ahead. "What is your relationship with Schmes then, if not boyhood chums? And why the blasted fiction of gypsy contractors?"
"Don't get so dramatic, old son. Calm down and I'll tell you the facts."
"Ah, I'd look forward to it, but the problem with you declaring the truth, is that you have a definite believability deficit right now." Glaring some more into Control's irritatingly calm demeanor, he repressed his anger with enormous effort. "Well then, has Hermann had trouble with thieving gypsies who then menaced him with revenge?"
Control played with his bowtie. "Yes and no."
"Thieving gypsies?" Robert kept the edge sharp on his words.
"Actually no," Control sighed.
"Gypsy curses of revenge?"
"Actually yes." Control stood up. "Look Robert, the man needs help and I know him. He's worried about the safety of his family and I was hoping you'd help."
"What's your connection to him?"
Robert caught a dark shadow pass over Control's face.
"That, I'd rather not get into."
Robert tried to catch his eyes, but Control looked away. Chortling with derision, Robert said. "Oh National Security is it? That old chestnut?"
"Old debts, all right? I pay my old debts. Even if the higher ups forget that there is such a thing as giving their word, I don't!" He stared at Robert so hard that it cut through Robert's own anger.
Robert took another way towards the truth. "I need to know everything in order to be able to help. I can't go into anything blindly, that never works and you know it."
Control paced the small room. "All right. The truth, the whole vile truth."
Robert crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the wall. "That would be refreshing for a change. Do go on."
Control glared at him for a moment and looked away to half sit on the table again. "After Germany surrendered, Hermann Schmes worked with America as an informant against people who were guilty of war crimes. We used him and assured him a life in the United States and promised protection from people who weren't too thrilled with him testifying against them. Now that it's forty years later, the men upstairs have forgotten all about their promise to one little man. I inherited Schmes from my predecessor, who got him from the OSS after World War Two. The boys in charge don't feel any obligation to keep the government's word concerning a war that ended before most of them were born. But I haven't forgotten my obligations." Control set his jaw.
It was true. Robert had found that people dismissed anything that had happened before they were born as unimportant, pre-history. "So this is all War related?"
Control nodded. "Schmes came to the Company asking for help, he's sure that the gypsies he's seen around his increasingly unhappy home are directly related to people he had dealings with during the War. The fine fellows at the Company told him that he's senile. That's why I've brought him to you."
"Well, the odds certainly do seem against him." Robert's mind flicked a switch. "Forty years, so we're speaking of the Second World War? Schmes is too young to have been involved it that, surely?"
Keeping his eyes hooded, Control said, "Hermann was a conscripted teenager during the war. He was a great help in prosecuting a man who went mad and killed twenty Allied soldiers at the end of the War. That man was also was responsible for other atrocities. Hermann was there to witness everything that happened. Lieutenant Otto Diestl went on a killing spree when he became more and more violent after…" He looked directly at Robert, "Diestl ordered his troops to kill a gypsy tribe by the name of Banga in the Parczew Forest. Schmes was a member of that squad."
"What! Schmes is a Nazi?" Rage overtook him. "You've brought a Nazi into my home and asked me to help him? How dare you! You're bloody mad Control if you think that I, in any way, am going to help a damned Nazi. I want you and him to get out!"
He charged towards the door of the room but Control inserted his body in front of him and barred his way.
"Wait McCall. Wait, damn it!" he pushed his hands against Robert's chest, "Aren't you wondering why I, of all people, would help a Nazi? I have more reason to hate them than you."
That fact cut through his rage. It was true, Robert realized, Control had never voiced anything but loathing for Nazism.
He looked deeply into his old friend's face and took a step back. "All right, you have one chance to explain to me why you are having any dealings with such a man. And I warn you, if you say he was just following orders, I shall –"
"By the end of the War, the Reich was desperate for men," Control interrupted, "Schmes was seventeen when he was called up and sent to serve with Diestl and his company. His father had already been killed and he, his mother and younger brother were starving. He had been indoctrinated into Nazism since the age of nine, when they took power. He became a Nazi because that was all he knew. Think of it. At that same time I was his age, I was still in school, still with the childish wish that the war wouldn't be over before I could try my hand at battle. I didn't understand what war was, and he was already fighting in combat." Control took a breath, "Think of yourself at that age, what you went through when you lost your mother and had to deal with it. Place going into battle on top of that. Think of what he had to deal with."
Repugnance still swept through his body. "But he was a Nazi and no excuses will undo that."
"No," Control said," But, unlike so many others, he recognized that Nazism was wrong and kept a journal of everything he witnessed. When the Allies entered Berlin, he volunteered that information to the OSS and worked with us for years to prosecute Nazis. His information helped to clear up many other related crimes too."
Robert processed the information. Seventeen? At seventeen he had been at school preparing for a career in the military. As of that point in his life he had never seen combat, or seen anyone die in front of him. At seventeen he was barely capable of getting over his mother's passing, much less having to witness combat deaths in person. Seventeen? The fact that his father kept him from seeing his mother at the end had all but still unhinged him at that age.
"McCall, I inherited the task of protecting Schmes as part of my duty when I became Control. I wasn't thrilled that I had to help a former Nazi. But I've come to know Hermann over the years. He's ashamed that he was associated with the Nazis, and fortunately he was too young to have spent much time following the orders of the Reich as a soldier. I've come to like him, and I think I've afforded him more forgiveness than he's given to himself."
Robert tried to think straight. "I don't know that I can forgive ."
"I'm not asking you to. I'm asking you to help a man whose family is in danger when no one else cares."
Helping people had become his goal and Robert couldn't, in clear conscience, let anyone suffer when they were innocent of any wrongdoing themselves. "All right Control, I can almost understand your position, but I am withholding my unconditional support of the man. I'll look into his problem on behalf of his daughter and grandchildren. There's something untoward going on and they are innocent and I should not let them be harmed."
Breathing a sigh of relief, Control extended his hand to his friend and they shook. "Thank you, Robert. I would never have brought Schmes here if I thought he wasn't worthy of your time."
Unimpressed with the compliment Robert managed to speak. "Right." He threw a disapproving look at Control and cleared his head. "You said Schmes was a part of a squad that murdered gypsies late in the war?"
Control nodded. "That's why we used the idea of a thievery ruse with you. Hermann is positive that the gypsies he's seen resemble the people that the others in his platoon shot." He stood up and caught Robert's eyes. "Hermann wasn't one of the men who shot the clan. He was on the sideline, vomiting. That came out in Diestl's trial."
Robert's unease at helping a former Nazi threatened to bloom in his chest. "Don't split that hair to me, of all people. He didn't stand up to stop the atrocity and therefore he was just as guilty as the ones whose bullets drew innocent blood."
Control winced, "All right McCall, I agree, but I thought you should know all the facts for when you have to deal with the gypsies."
Shaking his ire down, Robert agreed. "I do need to know all the facts. Why does Schmes think it's the same family of gypsies? Do they have a certain way of dressing, some sign that they're of that same clan?"
"Hermann insists that they look exactly the same as the ones that were killed. He says the sight of leader of that gypsy clan from forty years ago has been burned in his brain. One of the men who was at the funerals looked to be the splitting image of him. He also says that one of the women killed, a young woman, was of such beauty that she haunted his dreams for years. He says her doppelganger has also been near his home and at the funerals.
"Then it is a blood feud of some sort. The people involved are related to the band that his platoon killed at the end of the war."
He did a fast calculation of what he might need for this assignment. "I'll want Kostmayer for this, and access to all of the old records."
Control wiped at his forehead. "Kostmayer is available, but as for access – I can't give you that. It's high security, high clearance codes. "
Not caring a whit about Control's blathering concerning security, Robert went towards the phone in the corner of the room and picked up the receiver. "I'll have Kostmayer and your personal clearance codes. I'm doing this as a favor to you, don't forget. Since your own people are turning away from helping Schmes, then it's up to me and I need to have a look at everything."
Control shook his head, "Look Robert, you know I can't –"
"I'll need a few hours for Mickey to gather the information, then you can change all your codes. Since no one cares about Hermann Schmes then no one will notice that anyone has accessed his information." He made his smile cold and dialed Mickey's number. "I need the information in order to help save the family of your friend, Herr Schmes." He held the receiver out to Control. Then he lifted one brow, hoping it would make his point.
Control turned away for a moment, then faced him again and took the phone. "Fine, Kostmayer will have my clearance codes until six tonight. Then it'll be locked down."
He listened, then spoke into the phone. "Kostmayer, you're going to be busy with McCall for a few days."
Mickey hurried through the gates of Washington Square Park. It was already ten after two and he was running late. The damn traffic downtown was getting worse every day!
He walked a few yards and sat down on a park bench with a clear view of the Arch. As he had hoped, the paths were full of students, mostly female, enjoying the autumn sun. At least if he had to wait for his friend there was going to be something easy on the eye to watch.
The Halloween season always brought out the crazies. The park had more than a few people of indeterminate sex dressed in outrageous costumes. Mickey had a great view of everyone. Ten enjoyable minutes had passed before Mickey recalled why he was there. Where the hell was Stefan? He'd said to meet him here at two when he spoke to him earlier.
He still didn't fully believe the coincidence that had McCall wanting this particular information when, just a few days before, Nick had told him about seeing Stefan Kowalski again. He'd said that Stefan was back in the country and teaching at NYU to finance his research into verbal histories and customs of gypsy families from Poland before WW2
A blonde, carrying an armload of books came into the park and started in his direction. Tall and slim, she was a real looker. She came level with him and stopped, "Do you mind if I sit here?" Her green eyes glittered with intelligence.
Hell, if McCall was going to chew him out for being late, it might as well be for the best of reasons. He made sure to put on his most inviting smile. "Sure."
She sat down and let her winter coat fall open. He couldn't help but notice the way her sweater fitted perfectly, emphasizing her trim figure. Opening a book and ignoring him, she began to read.
A couple of times, from the corner of his eye, Mickey saw her glance in his direction and tried not to let on that he had seen. She didn't stand a chance, he been in the business too long and it would be a cold day in hell before an amateur could check him out without his knowledge.
Mickey stretched out his legs and leaned back against the bench. He was just running through a number of possible openings to talk to the blonde when he heard, "Hey, Mick, sorry I'm late! It's been a long time, buddy."
Stefan, his usual shaggy beard blowing in the breeze, was walking towards him, waving frantically. Mickey stood and waited. With his customary exuberance Stefan grabbed him into a bear hug against his stocky body. Mickey saw his friend's expression change minutely when he felt the automatic at Mickey's side, but he managed to hide his discomfort.
"Yeah, it's good to see you too. Don't worry. I was late too," Mickey glanced over at the blonde, pleased to see an expression of regret there. Then it hit him. Oh shit! She probably thought he was gay now. "I couldn't get a parking spot."
Stefan followed his gaze and Mickey saw the way his friend's eyes lit up at the sight of the attractive woman. "That's good." Stefan said, then shrugged, "Okay, you said when you phoned that this isn't a social call, that you needed some information. What can I help you with?"
With one last glance towards the girl, Mickey led the way through the park. It was bright, but a cold wind was picking up so they walked quickly, "When Nick told me he'd seen you, he said that you were working on information about gypsies from Europe."
"That's right. But their real name is Roma or Sinti not gypsy."
"Okay. I need some information about a family of those people. I was told they came from Poland originally but they're here in the city now. And somehow, they always seem to know when a member of a certain family dies." Mickey almost expected Stefan to laugh when he said the last part, but instead his friend nodded.
"Yes, there are rumors that certain of the old families had second sight and could foretell the future, hence the tradition of crystal balls and palm reading."
Mickey saw a dirty water dog vendor by the Arch. "Come on, Stefan, I'll treat you to a frank."
"You always were a bad influence on me Mickey. I hardly ever eat stuff from street guys anymore."They stopped at a vendor whose cart looked clean enough. "Since you're buying, I'll take two, with the works," Stefan grinned.
Mickey laughed. "Me too."
Hands filled, they ate as they walked.
"I know a lot of gypsies were wiped out during the war."
Stefan nodded, his mouth full. "Call them Roma, Mickey." He chewed quickly, "Yep, and most people aren't aware of it. On December 16th 1941, Himmler issued the order to have all Roma in Europe deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, it was ordered that all Jews and Gypsies must be unconditionally exterminated. On August 1st, 1944, four thousand Roma were gassed and cremated in a single action there. The Roma remember it as Zigeunernacht. It happened six years after the Jews suffered through Kristallnacht.
Mickey stopped walking, he felt the hotdogs roll in his stomach. "Jesus, I had no idea. It was that bad?"
Nodding, Stefan stopped and faced him. "Oh yeah, real bad. We still can't tell how many Roma died in the Holocaust, which by the way, is called the Porrajmos, in Romani. It means 'The Devouring'."
"Damn, that's a hell of a good name for it."
"Yeah." Mickey saw Stefan shiver and they started to walk again.
"I'm doing what I'm doing because most of the Nazi documentation still remains to be read and analyzed even now, over forty years later," Stephen said, "Hell, many murders of Roma weren't even recorded since they took place in the fields and forests where whole communities were run down and trapped. No one really knows how many Roma were living in Europe before the war. The Nazi Party's official census of 1939 estimated it to be about two million, but no one thinks that's accurate. United States research puts the number of Romani lives lost by 1945 at between a half and one and a half million."
The number hit Mickey like a punch to the gut. "You mean that there's a chance that three quarters of all the gypsies in Europe were killed?"
"Roma, Mickey, call them Roma, they deserve that much respect. The world hasn't cared all that much about how the Roma, the Sinti people, had suffered and been murdered during the War. Hell Mickey, not one damn person was called to testify on behalf of the Romani victims at the Nuremberg Trials. No war crimes reparations have ever been paid to the Roma."
"Why not?" Mickey asked.
"Their customs and traditional nomadic lifestyle made it difficult to keep track of them or to have any documentation about what their existence was like before or after the War. Eichmann took over their resettlement along with Jews as early as 1939. From 1942 they were transported to the camps. After the war, the ones that were left faded out of sight, living in forests or the mountains to survive."
"So it's possible that the family we're interested in survived the war by hiding out?"
"It's possible – what's their name?"
"Banga." Mickey noticed Stefan looking at him strangely. "What's the matter?"
"Are you sure about the name?"
Mickey crammed the last piece of his hotdog into his mouth and wiped his hands. Stuffing the napkin in his jacket pocket he pulled out a notebook, "Yep. Banga. B-A-N-G-A. They're from the Parczew Forest in the east of Poland."
Stefan stopped and turned to face him, "Wait a minute… You said that some of the family were in the city here…"
Stephen looked suddenly eager. "Do you know how to contact them?"
"Not yet. I was going over to immigration next."
"How will that help…" Stefan's voice tailed off. "Don't answer that. I forgot what you do for a living."
Mickey shrugged and Stefan grabbed his arm, "I'd really like to talk to them. They would be ideal subjects for my research. I've seen reports and overheard rumors that this family was completely wiped out in 1945. They were slaughtered by Nazis and buried in the forest in a mass grave. Other Romani caravans even sing a song about the Banga - "Te Lolirav I Phuv Mure Ratesa." The translation is, "May I Redden the Earth with My Blood." If there are any survivors, and if they could tell me what really happened…"
They had circled the benches and were heading back to West 4th Street, "Your information must be off. It could have been another group or a different branch of the same family." Mickey suggested, "There's evidence that these are direct relatives and they're named Banga."
"I must speak to them, they could tell me so much." Stefan's face was flushed with excitement.
"No. It could be dangerous." Mickey had a strange feeling of impending danger and he had learned a long time ago not to ignore those feelings.
Stefan stopped again but this time he refused to meet Mickey's eye, "My friend, it could be more dangerous than you think."
Mickey faced him annoyed, "What's that supposed to mean?"
Stefan met his stare now and Mickey was aware of the chill wind for the first time. "It means be careful. If they are somehow the same family they could be dangerous to you because you don't know their customs or their extraordinary gifts. There were rumors that the Banga family had special abilities…"
Mickey tried to laugh but for some reason – racial memory maybe – the sound died in his throat. Suddenly he felt awfully exposed, even the sound of the traffic close by seemed muted. Unconsciously he glanced around to make sure no one was too close.
"Okay, I'll be careful. You look after yourself too." Mickey fished in another pocket and found one of McCall's cards. "If you have any problems call this number. The message will reach me."
Stefan glanced at the card and laughed. "'Odds Against You?' What are you involved with now?"
"Never mind, wise guy. Just use that number if you need to get in touch with me. Okay?"
It was just beginning to get dark when Mickey climbed back in the van, picked up the phone and called McCall's mobile number.
Mickey could hear road noises in the background. "McCall, it's me. After I met my contact, I spent the time at Company HQ working Control's pass numbers. I've got the file you wanted on Schmes. It's got some real interesting stuff on him and his involvement during the war. What do you want me to do with it?"
"I'll look through it when I see you later. Did you find out anything about the gypsy family?"
"Yeah. It's kinda strange though. My buddy says that the Banga family was all wiped out during the war. He's certain there were no survivors. When I insisted that I'd got the name right he went all hinkey and said to leave them alone. Said there was something weird about them." Mickey noticed that McCall chose not to comment on that. Probably thought he would appear gullible if he said anything.
"How about immigration records?"
"They check out. A family by the name of Banga, is registered as having arrived at JFK from Hamburg, in January. According to their paperwork there are five men and two women. The men's ages range from late thirties to mid sixties, one of the women is nearly seventy and the other is much younger. Her date of birth makes her to be twenty tomorrow, on October 31st. The leader of the group is called Veshengo Banga. I've got copies of their passport photos for Schmes to look at. You never know, it might be that he made a mistake and is confusing what happened more than forty years ago with something more recent."
"Good. I'll let him look them over as soon as possible. I've got him here. Sterno is with me. We have collected Schmes's family now and are en route, taking them to the midtown safe house."
"I've got the Banga address." Mickey knew that an address could supply a goldmine of information for the investigation.
With extreme pleasure he imagined the look of surprise on McCall's face.
"An address for the family. It's in Westchester. They bought the house before they arrived, paid cash and transferred the money from a bank in Switzerland. You want me to check it out?"
"Yes. Thank you, Mickey, that would be very useful. When you're done there, come over to the safe house. I want to be there when you show those pictures to Hermann."
Mickey made some rapid calculations, "Sure thing, I'll take a look see at the gypsy homestead and then get to you. I should be there in a couple of hours. Later, McCall."