Sitka Federal District
Ruth Endlemen-Coen’s eyes fluttered open. She could hear the sound of a ringing phone even over Danny’s buzzsaw snore. She scowled at her husband of fifteen years as he peacefully slept, unburdened with ringing telephones and anything that wasn't his own dreams. Her scowl was one of envy. Just once -- just for one night -- she would have liked to have slept as deep as Danny did every night. She wouldn't have to worry about ringing phones or crying children. Just blissful oblivion.
She slipped out of bed and found her slippers before padding towards the still ringing phone. This time of night, it could only be someone from Washington. Ruth peered at the clock on the wall through sleep blurred vision. 5AM Sitka time which meant it was 9AM on the American east coast. Somebody just starting out their work day had something that couldn’t wait for Ruth to get to the office four hours later.
Ruth snatched the phone off the cradle and answered in American, “Someone better be dead, dying, or the United States better be undergoing another fucking presidential coup.”
“Morin' to you too, Ruthie. A little birdie told me Greenleaf is at the White House right now. He's getting the approval coming back to Alaska to call for a constitutional convention.”
“Shit,” Ruth spat.
The southern-tinged voice on the other end was Joe Dawkins, Undersecretary for the Department of the Interior and Ruth’s boss. Greenleaf was Ernest Greenleaf, governor of the Alaska Territory and chauvinist on all things Alaskan statehood.
Ruth sighed and transferred the phone to the other ear. She glanced at the photos on the opposite wall. There were plenty of her and Danny and their two boys, but also photos of old men and women in black and white photographs. Portraits of Ruth’s ancestors in the days they called Germany home. Photos of Ruth and her brothers when she was just ten, photos of the entire Endlemen-Moses family outside their Sitka homestead in the days before the great migration began. Her Uncle Bob held a hand drawn sign in the photo "Welcome to Sitka: Home of the Frozen Chosen."
“If Greenleaf wants to make Alaska a state, that’s fine with me,” said Ruth. “My issue is he’s building statehood on the backs of four million Jews. Four million Jews, over a quarter of which are rightful US citizens and the rest in some murky limbo where they are citizens of Sitka in particular, but nothing else in general.”
“Save the speeches for the politicians,” said Dawkins. “I’m giving you a heads up because I don’t want some reporter trying to sandbag you and catch you off guard, okay. If they ask for a statement you tell them you are simply a federal employee, Alaska statehood is not your concern and you have no comment. Do not go on the record, Ruthie. I’m serious.”
Ruth bristled in silence as Dawkins continued to lecture her. His early call wasn’t the first step of some plan to change Greenleaf’s mind. No, it was a simple warning to keep her big yap shut. It was demeaning, standing here in her pajamas and slippers as a middle aged man talked to her, a thirty-six year old mother of two, like she was some child. Okay, she knew she had something of a track record when it came to the topic of statehood. She’d made it well known to anyone who would listen her thoughts on the matter. If the people she told in the past just so happened to be reporters, that wasn’t her fault now was it?
“You understand me, Ruth?” Dawkins finally said. “I need you to promise me you won’t go on the record to the press.”
A moment of silence passed. Ruth looked up at the photos on the wall again. She’d been here in the cold and snow for over twenty years, before people like Dawkins even knew where the hell Sitka was. How in the hell could he tell her to not fight for this place and these people?
“I promise,” she said, a smirk forming on her face. “To not go on the record to the press.”
“So who killed Albert Einstein?”
Levy ignored Jake’s question as the two detectives rode the cage elevator up to the fifth floor. Sitka PD Central was a seven story dump of a building that sat at the corner of Lake Avenue and Gold Street. Bookings, holding cells, and the city jail comprised the basement and first two floors while the detective bureaus comprised floors three through five. While Sitka PD had six precincts that dotted the island, all investigations were ran out of Sitka Central. The third floor was all OCB – Organized Crime Bureau – territory. The fourth floor was home to narcotics, bunco, and vice. The fifth floor held the violent crimes bureau which included homicide, robbery, and sex crimes. The top two floors held administration. Whenever something came down from the bosses, it always was said “Seventh Floor wants this done," and in Levy's humble opinion Sitka Central would run much better without the top two floors.
Outside of the always opaque OCB, Levy had bounced around the other various departments as a detective. He’d gotten his start as a plainclothes cop working bunco, busting conmen and fraudulent fortune tellers Unter Tage. From there it was a two year deployment in narcotics followed by a wild three year run in robbery. His work on the Hebrew National Bank job helped springboard him to a plumb posting in homicide, and he’d been a murder police ever since. Levy had never personally gone back and looked at his numbers, but he knew enough based on memory to know his clearance rate had to be skewered higher than the average shamus Sitka entrusted to solve their murders. He was competent and knew how to avoid political shitstorms. Unless he fucked things up royally he could stay in homicide until he reached his 30th year of service and pulled the pin.
“I know who killed Albert Einstein,” Levy finally said, pulling open the cage door as the elevator halted on the fifth floor.
Jake perked up and looked at Levy expectantly
Jake furrowed his brow. “What?”
Levy pulled out a cigarette and lit up. “What do you mean what? You don’t remember the papers all last spring? Albert Einstein was some egghead yid who was president of Germany in the 40’s.”
“Really?” asked Jake. "So, a fake name on the registration."
“Yeah, considering the real Einstein died back in April. Wouldn't be the first time someone didn't put down their real name at a flop like the Disraeli.”
The two detectives walked down the hall towards the homicide unit. The fifth floor was quiet at this time of morning, just past seven in the morning, the last hour before shift change. The day squad hadn’t come in, and the night squad who hadn't left for the day were hunkered down and watching the clock, praying they could get through the last hour without being called out. No such luck for Detectives Levy and Abrams. Because of the call to the Disraeli the sun would be well into the sky by the time they were done with their paperwork.
Back at the crime scene Jake waited for medical examiners to show up to take possession of the body. Levy and Moose Moskowitz canvassed the residents of the sixth floor of the Disraeli Hotel for any potential leads. All they got were bleary-eyed people grumbling they hadn’t heard anything so please leave them alone. The ME’s had shipped the body to the city morgue where Dr. Feldenstein would do an autopsy later today. After that it was breakfast, Jake’s treat as penance for conjuring this murder with his words. Levy had opted for waffles at the all night diner. Seeing Moose Moskowitz in his lumpy, all-brown uniform killed his taste for latkes.
They walked into the bullpen of the homicide unit and found a sleeping Detective Mel Horovitz the only one "on-duty" at the moment. Horvitz had his feet propped up on his desk, his blazer wrapped around his front as cover. The bullpen contained twelve desks sectioned off in pairs facing each other. In the corner, behind glass, was Captain Katz’s office. The current squads were broken down into three eight men shifts. Twenty-four total detectives assigned to work and close the 150 plus murders Sitka City had every year. Broken down that meant every detective worked between 6 and 8 homicides a year. Levy, Jake, and the six other detectives on the nightshift would switch to the day shift of 8AM to 4PM in a month’s time, they’d stay there for three months before taking the evening shift of 4PM to Midnight, and then another three months before switching back to nights.
Levy took his porkpie hat off and rubbed the thinning, curly dark hair underneath. No yarmulke underneath his hat like Jake. He couldn’t remember the last time he wore one. His cousin’s wedding back in ‘52? That was probably it. He placed the hat and his coat on a rack beside the door and walked towards his desk. The desk across from his belonged to Detective Hiram Berg. Berg worked the afternoon shift this current rotation, so he and Levy were like ships in the night as they passed each other. But that didn’t stop them from their game.
On the corner of the workspace they shared was a small travel sized chessboard in the middle of a game. Levy played black and Berg was white. The rules were only one move could be made by each side per shift they worked. The current game had been going on for two weeks now and to anyone who knew the game it appeared that Berg had the upper hand. But that was Levy’s intent. He was playing a King’s Indian Defence, ceding control of the middle of the board to white and lulling Berg into a false sense of superiority. In a few more moves Levy would pounce on Berg’s pieces and surround his king. Levy surveyed the board with his hands on his hips. After about a minute of calculation, he moved a bishop to H6 for his turn that day before going towards the big board.
The large chalkboard took up almost the entire far wall of the room. Written on it was a variety of information – squad schedules and changes, reminders of upcoming training classes, even some scribbled bets and odds on that night’s Heshie Roth fight – but most important were the list of names and detectives that formed the grid. The twenty-four detectives of the homicide unit were broken down into a twelve square grid, each square representing a detective paring. Underneath the pairings were names and numbers – homicide victims and case file numbers – that were were color coded. Names and cases in white chalk were closed, names in pink chalk were still unsolved.
Levy crossed his arms as he watched Jake write underneath their name: “M1955173 - ‘Einstein’' in pink chalk. Murder number 173 for the year 1955. Shit, thought Levy, they stood a good chance to top over 200 by year’s end. Levy counted ten names above Einstein. Of those ten only two were still pink. Einstein made for the third open unsolved on their books. Far better than most other pairs on the board. That was the best thing to Levy about the big board. You could tell right away which detectives were solving cases and which were just soft humping them. The Rabinowitz-Greene team were either the worst or unluckiest duo on the board, twelve pink cases and only one white to show for it. But Levy had been there before. His 1949 year saw him go 0-8 on murders. That year the Unter Tage had been ripped apart by a shtarker gang war. Every single murder Levy caught that year was a victim of the war. No way to trace the killers and no cooperative witnesses. Nobody saw shit, nobody said shit, and nobody got arrested or convicted. His repeated requests to OCB for info on the victims were, as far as he knew, still under consideration pending approval from a supervisor. Maybe he’d get those files before 19 fucking 70.
“So who killed ‘Albert Einstein’, Detective?” Levy asked his partner, an eyebrow raised. “How about we find out?”
Ruth held an umbrella over her head to fight the slow, steady drizzle coming down from above. Her large purse sat in the crook of the arm that held the umbrella. In her other hand was a briefcase. She wore a trench coat over her dress to keep it protected from the elements. She was downtown at the corner of Lake Avenue and Trout Boulevard. The federal building and her office was just down the block, cars passed by on both streets while the rain seemed to not deter the throng of commuters walking the sidewalks on their way to work. Ruth had taken the train in from Chichagof Island that morning. It probably wasn’t any faster than driving into the city, but she liked the time to sit on the train and think. To plan what she wanted to do with the information Dawkins had laid on her lap hours earlier.
She glanced towards the federal building again. City hall sat directly across the street from it, Sitka Central next to it on the corner of Lake and Gold. She checked her watch and saw it was just past nine now. Uncle Bob would be into work by now. That was good. She could make this first little salvo and then consult with him. Because if there was one man who could see all the angles, it was Robert Moses.
The payphone door slid open easily enough. Ruth stepped in and shut it behind her. She shook the rain from her coat and umbrella before fishing through her purse for change. Ruth fed the machine a dime and waited for the operator to pick up.
“Eydish oder Rusish?” the voice on the other line asked.
“Yiddish,” replied Ruth.
“How may I direct your call today?”
“Connect me with OXford145, please.”
Ruth heard the silence and fuzz, followed by a steady purr of a phone ringing.
“New York Times, Sitka Bureau. How may I direct your call?”
“I’d like to speak to Artie Mayfield.” said Ruth.
“Who should I say is calling?”
Almost a minute of silence until she heard the nasal voice of Arthur Mayfield.
“A good Sabbath eve Ruth, my dear. It is my honor, no, my privilege to be conversing with you on this Sabbath eve. What in the manner of answer, solution, or resolution can I provide for you today, Sabbath Eve?”
“Artie,” she said in America. “Drop the Yiddish.”
Though he would never confirm or deny, word was Baltimore native and Times reporter Arthur Mayfield jumped headfirst into his Sitka bureau assignment by learning Yiddish from an old German professor at Johns Hopkins. The problem? The old Jew’s Yiddish was even older than him, early 19th century and very formal. This left him with a stilted and very redundant way of speaking Sitka’s primary language. The joke was if Artie Mayfield could order a pizza in thirty minutes or less it was on the house.
“What can I do for you, Ruth?” he asked in his native tongue.
“Governor Greenleaf is in DC this week. This is deep background, but he’s drumming up federal support for a constitutional convention back in Juneau. He wants Alaskan statehood soon.”
“Where does that leave Sitka?” Artie asked. Ruth could hear something in the background, a soft scratch that was probably Mayfield writing notes.
“Nobody knows yet, but if Alaska gets statehood it’s because of Sitka’s population. All these Jews that fled and were born here, they deserve citizenship as much as our goyish friends in Juneau or Nome. So if the governor’s plan is to call a convention, you can bet Sitka will have representatives there. Whether we’re invited or not.”
“How much of this can I use?”
Ruth could hear the excitement in his voice. She remembered Dawkins words. No comment on the record. On the record.
“Keep me anonymous, Artie, and you can use it all.”
“Perfect. I gotta let you go. I need to start making calls back to DC and New York. It’s already the afternoon there.”
“Happy hunting,” Ruth said with a smile on her face. “Keep in touch.”