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Thursday, January 22, 2015



    Keeping Secrets
A Cold Case

@ Copyright 2015 Capital Street Books
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

            Jaffa, Israel, 1949
            Yosef Ashkenazi stepped out from his apartment and breathed in the mixture of the fragrances that are Jaffa.  As he scanned the ancient city’s labyrinth of sun-drenched, cobblestoned streets, he smiled thinking how in just two months of living here, the once-alien smells of this ancient Mediterranean port had become so familiar, anticipated, and welcomed, as had its diverse sights and sounds.
            He had walked down many of its lanes and through its alleyways, but had yet to see everything that the biblical city offered.  A surprise seemed to greet him at every turn and corner: the ancient, stone houses that huddled together along the narrow, meandering lanes; the alluring smell of flowers with exotic names, Tziporen, Rafakot; the lulling sound of the nearby sea as it rolled in to shore and pulled back; the admixture of Eastern European and Middle Eastern cooking that wafted from the houses’ windows and flowed down the circuitous streets.
            The chants of the monks from Jaffa’s innumerable churches converged with the call to prayers of the muezzin from the minarets of the mosques.  Christian and Muslim houses of worship interspersed between countless synagogues. 
            There had been a light rain the evening before, and the streets’ cobblestones still glistened.
            Yosef had fallen in love with the old city.  It was a place where he could begin anew.      
            His life before Jaffa was a secret; one he had in common with so many others here.  Yosef was a sturdily built man whose physique hid many facts about him.  He always wore long sleeves – even on hot, summer days – to hide the tattooed numbers on his wrist.  There was no shame; he just did not want to be reminded.
            Yosef Ashkenazi had arrived by ship in the new State of Israel only six months earlier, after spending more than a year in a detention camp on the island of Cyprus.  There had been a blockade by the British who ruled the land.  Those captured on the high seas trying to enter were taken to the Cypriot camps.
            A few years prior to his arrival in Israel, this strapping man had been an emaciated, living skeleton with deep-set, lifeless eyes, who had survived the war in a concentration camp in Poland.  Since his arrival, he had languished for a couple of months in a transit center at Atlit near Haifa. 
            In his home county, Romania, Yosef had been a primary school teacher.  His hope was to teach again.
            “Right now, we have teachers,” the man from the Jewish Agency told him when he arrived.  “What we really need are people to be firemen, postmen, construction workers.  Our country has grown by more than a million people in one year since the state was declared.  We were only 600,000 here a year ago.  When you learn the language, you can apply again to be a teacher.”
            “Sorry. Nothing today,” Yosef shouted in the door at Federman’s clothing shop, as he delivered the mail down winding Bar-Kochba Street.  He made it a habit to tell everyone, one way or the other, if they had mail or not.
            “I know what it’s like to not get mail for years,” he told a colleague.  “It’s important to people.  If they don’t get anything, I try to spend some time talking to them.”
            Even though there were no uniforms yet for postal workers in the new country, Yosef made sure that his pants and shirt were properly pressed.  He did have a hat supplied by the post office, but that was all.
            Every morning, he went to the city’s main post office, where he helped sort mail, placing letters for those on his route in order of address.  As he left one residence or business, he would check to see what he had for the next person.  Today, there was a postcard for Jean Sachar from France.  Amos Abramson, the house after that, received nothing.  Nevertheless, he would go in and chat with Abramson for a few moments.
            After that, the next stop on the route, Holy Land Numismatics, was one of his favorites.  He would stop and talk for a few minutes with the owner, Daniel Sobelowicz, who had come to Jaffa 30 years earlier, also from Romania.  Yosef had collected stamps as a boy and thought that maybe he could start collecting coins once he had some money.  
            He checked his bag one more time to see if there was any mail for Daniel.  Nothing.  
            He opened the shop door. “Nothing today¼
            Yosef gasped.  He saw a sight that only a few years before, when he was still in the concentration camp, wouldn’t have shocked him.
            The contorted, unmoving body of Daniel Sobelowicz lay sprawled on the shop’s cracked, gray tile floor next to a broken glass store counter.  Blood covered the dead man’s suit and tie.  More crimson encircled the corpse on the floor like a halo.  Blood also ran along the grout lines between the tiles.
            The little shop was in shambles.  The store’s merchandise – rare ancient coins – was strewn throughout.  Shelves, as well as several chairs and a heavy wooden table, had been overturned.  Invoices and other papers littered the floor.
            “It looks like he was killed even before the murderer ransacked the place.” Police Inspector Gilad Bar-Sela appraised the situation when he arrived on the scene only half an hour after the body was discovered by Yosef Ashkenazi.  He picked up a few of the coins that were on the floor and carefully examined them.
            Sergeant Ron Kleiner shook his head as he looked down at the old man.  “It never makes sense.”
            Bar-Sela nodded in agreement.  He squatted next to the body and looked at the massive head wound.  “Something blunt,” he said, his eyes searching the shop’s disarray for the murder weapon.
            The sergeant also looked around.
            Nothing in sight.
            The two men continued to peruse the small shop.
            “Any idea what the killer might have taken?” the sergeant asked.  “Since all this other stuff is still here.  All these coins have to add up to quite a bit of money.”  He looked down at the strewn items on the floor.  “It looks like the killer may have been searching for something in particular.”
            “That’s a strong possibility.  We’ll have to see if,” Bar-Sela paused to look at his notes, “if Mr. Daniel Sobelowicz had a complete listing of his inventory.  That’s probably the only way we’d ever figure out what’s missing from his place, if anything is gone.”  He continued to look around the small, dingy shop and sighed.  He knew better.  The old-timers rarely keep records, he thought.  They commit everything to memory.  And when they die, the memory dies with them.
            “Who called it in?” Bar-Sela asked.
            “The postman.  He found the body.”  The sergeant nodded toward Yosef, who was standing just outside the shop’s door.
            Yosef Ashkenazi looked distraught; a look that he had worn all too often in his recent past. 
            Ashkenazi told the police officers what little he knew.
            “If we need anything else, we’ll contact you,” Bar-Sela said after taking the postman’s address.   
            “Can we take the body yet?” the burly technician from the morgue interrupted.  He was standing next to a stretcher by the shop’s front door.  He had been there for more than half an hour watching the police. 
            A number of cigarette butts covered the ground around him.
            Bar-Sela nodded.
            The technician took another drag, blew out a last puff of smoke, dropped his lit cigarette on the sidewalk, and stomped it out.  He and an associate gingerly lifted Sobelowicz’s body onto the stretcher, and covered it with a sheet. 
            The men grunted under the weight as they carried Daniel Sobelowicz out of the shop.  
            Bar-Sela watched them take the body to the waiting ambulance.  He sighed deeply.  He was tired of death.
            “Sometimes at night, if I’m lucky, I don’t dream,” he had told another policeman. “Other times, I'm not so lucky.  I see bodies, tens of them.”
            He had witnessed so much death in the recent war for Israel’s independence.  More than 6,000 dead on the Israeli side alone.  Now an armistice negotiated by the United Nations had just been signed on the Greek island of Rhodes with the new country’s Arab neighbors, and he was hopeful that his children would never have to fight in another war.
            Next year, 1950, will be a better year, he thought.  A peace treaty will soon follow the armistices that were recently signed and the stench of death will end.
            Of course, he knew it wouldn’t end for him.  Never.  He had chosen to be a policeman and the bottom line was that people do awful things to one another.
            Death in war is cleaner, he thought.  People are fighting for or against something.  A cause.
            Outside the shop, the hustle and bustle continued.  People walked down the cobblestone lane.  They moved past the shop unaware of the tragedy that had taken place there.
            Death had been a part of the ancient seaport for eons, but Jaffa carried on.  The fact that the town still thrived was proof of that.  It was the oldest city on the entire Mediterranean, more than seven thousand years old.  In those seven millennia, it had seen a great deal of history, much of it violent.  Its legacy extended from the biblical story of the whale swallowing Jonah off its coast to visits during time of war and conquest by the likes of Sebastian the Great, the Crusaders, and Napoleon.
            There had been many battles and many had died up to the recent past.  Only the year before as the country struggled for its very existence, the nascent and ill-equipped Israeli army successfully fought to keep the historic city as part of the new country.
            One more murder, no matter how brutal, no matter how inexplicable, would not cause much of a stir in Jaffa, at least not for more than 60 years.


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About Me: I am a former journalist, having worked in Texas and Washington, DC.  In Washington, I covered the U.S. Supreme Court and the Department of Justice for a national radio network.

I also worked at the Justice Department as the spokesman for the Civil Division.

I was born in Ohio, but grew up in Texas. I currently live in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.


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