The Money Lender (#5)
To see more literature about Zen and the Art of Investigation:
The Money Lender
by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)
If you haven’t read the previous issues:
Part 17 Tim
Tim Murphy’s parents secured a $40,000 loan from the bank, using the title to their home as collateral. His father optimistically said, “We’ve got ten years to pay it off at a little more than $400 a month. Hell, with my new chainsaw, I can make that much on weekends!” When Tim reminded him that he needed a license to do that, he said, “Well, it’s about time we got one. ‘Murphy and Son.'” He laughed. He did not know the hoops he would have to jump through in order to obtain such a license. Mr. Murphy was born in Iowa and was a Marine Corps veteran.
He put his faith in God and the Corps. His medals, badges, and assorted “fruit salad” combat ribbons were neatly mounted on silk and suitably framed and hung in the living room where he could look to them for inspiration. As he considered the display, he’d joke, “It adds a touch of class to our old furniture!” And as he prepared to meet this newest challenge, he looked up at the frame, saluted it, and said, “Semper Fi!”
One of the overlooked benefits in conducting financial matters with mobsters is that the government is kept unaware of the transaction and therefore cannot interfere with it. Of the two antagonists, the mob is often the lesser of two evils. The bank issued the Murphys a check which they were willing to cash without a fee. Mr. Murphy accepted the cash which had been put in a large manila envelope. The fingerprint man showed up at the Murphy home on the date and at the time he said he would be there. He took the envelope, counted the money, shook hands with Mr. Murphy, and pointed a finger at Tim. “Keep your nose clean, young man. Get another job. You’ll get a decent reference.” He turned to Mrs. Murphy and explained with gentle sincerity, “It doesn’t hurt our business to plant a thief in a competitor’s office.” And then he left and it was all over.
“Did you hear that?” his mother said cheerfully. “Mr. Lonigan will give you a good reference.” She picked up the pad of payment coupons the bank had given them and put it the china cabinet. “You can help your dad on your days off.”
Tim Murphy forced himself to smile at their good fortune and went to his bedroom and pushed his face into his pillow and sobbed.
Nature has ways of helping those who are suffering psychologically. The sobbing allowed Tim to keep his lungs functioning. Gradually, however, the muscles that accommodated the gasps and gulps became exhausted by the exertion and a benevolent Providence would then allow him to sink into a slumberous exile, far from the scene of his grief. Tim had just gone beneath the surface when his mother interrupted nature’s plan and called him to come to the table for an early dinner, an invitation he could not keep. He sat up, feeling that his head was as heavy as a bowling ball and that his chest had been compressed between the teeth of a giant bear trap. He could not fill his lungs with breath. His hands were cold and stiff.
His father came into his room and sat on his bedside. “Son, you’ll upset your mother if you don’t come down.” Then he put his glasses on and got a good luck at Tim’s swollen eyes. “Maybe I’ll just bring up a plate for you. She made pork chops just for you.”
“I can’t eat, Dad. I’m innocent. I never did what I was accused of doing.”
“All the more reason you need to keep your strength up. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve wasted enough time spinnin’ our wheels. Gotta get you a job. Gotta get me a tree trimming license. Maybe even hire a private detective to find out who framed you.” He patted Tim’s shoulder. “I’ll bring you a plate, or you can throw some cold water on your face and come down.” This seemed to be an order and Tim dragged himself to the bathroom to shower and let the cold water pummel his face.
He ate dinner, complimented his mother on the excellence of the meal and, sufficiently refreshed, returned to his bed to resume sobbing into his wet pillow.
Mr. Murphy noticed that the time, being only 3 p.m. gave him the opportunity to call the Business License Division. He spent twenty minutes listening to recordings telling him which button on his phone to push and finally reached a woman who, he surmised, was preparing to leave for the day. She tried to be brief, and he tried to scribble down each instruction she gave.
“Not just anybody can get a chain saw and start trimming trees,” she chirped officiously. “You might want to operate on your wife’s head but unless you’re licensed by the state, you’d be smart to leave her head to licensed medical professionals. So I’m telling you that you need a variety of things. Just to start the process you need to form some kind of limited liability company – call the Secretary of State’s office to get details for that – get good references, and apply for a City business license, get an Employer’s Identification Number issued by the IRS, have completed State registration forms with the Federal Bureau of Land Management, which will require additionally that you pass an arboreal examination. Tree trimmers are not the uneducated types who cut down Christmas trees. You have to be able to identify the tree you’re trying to cut down. Some are protected. You need liability insurance provided by an accredited agency. Suppose a branch you cut damages somebody’s property? Or you cut yourself or one of the occupants of the home? Or cut into a high-power electric line? There are requirements for Workman’s Compensation Insurance you must meet. You need to be able to dispose of the debris… a chipping machine, a hauler to remove said chips, a permit to dispose of said debris at an approved site, and approved equipment and storage facility for keeping said equipment, office space that can contain your business records, and annual reports filed by a certified public accountant. As I said, call the Secretary of State’s office in Carson City. They’ll give you more details. Thank you for calling and have a nice day.”
Mr. Murphy had not cried since his days in Operation Desert Storm when his best friend was killed. He hung up the telephone, went into the bathroom, buried his face in a bath towel to muffle the sound, and began to sob. As far as Murphy & Son was concerned, the filial relationship had undergone spontaneous abortion. He knew that there were illegal aliens who barely spoke English who went around trimming trees. They had met none of these requirements and law enforcement officers would drive past their jury-rigged pick-up trucks and trailer hitches and say or do absolutely nothing. He recalled those years of R.O.T.C. enlistments on campuses across the country. The guys in service said that the letters stood for Run Off To Canada. When he stopped crying, he welcomed the feel of cold water on his face and he wondered how he’d like the climate up there. “I can drive trucks. I could re-train for an 18-wheeler license. I could be an ice-road trucker.” Then he felt the heart pains and took a pill.
His wife looked at him as he swallowed the pill. “We’re in trouble, aren’t we?”
“Yes,” he said. “We’ll have to cut back on everything. I can still do some trimming… under the table of course… if the illegals don’t turn me in. I can collect aluminum cans. We only have to stretch until I can get through to the V.A. and get an appointment to see a heart doctor and then maybe I can collect disability payments. We’ll be ok then. We can raise rabbits. I’ve got friends in the produce departments of two different markets who’ll let me have some good garbage to feed them. It won’t be much except meat on the table and some spending moneyfor necessities. We’ve still got Tim’s old rabbit hutches that we keep hoses and stuff in. I’ll go clean them out now.”
Mrs. Murphy, as usual, tended to be more pragmatic. “I heard the gals talking in line at the supermarket. There’s a market for yoga clothes for oversized women. I’ll get Tim to print me up some business cards and I’ll make the rounds of the yoga places and health clubs. Who knows? It might turn into something. You could be a big help picking up stuff and delivering the finished products. I’ll go to the fabric store first thing tomorrow and see what all’s involved… patterns and fabric.”
Some good deeds have an effect that is opposite to the one intended. While the rational person might suppose that such enthusiastic support of his family members during a time of crisis might lessen the burden that so oppresses him, the person who is suffering observes their effort and his burden increases proportionately. Tim did try to apply for other cashier positions, but the scandal surrounding his dismissal had sizzled through the business community’s grapevine as though it were a lit fuse. He might as well have shouted, “Fire in the hole!” when he asked for an employment application. People smiled, backed-off, and tossed his application in the trash.
Nothing that involved money could even be considered; and in a gambling town, everything involved money. There were other positions, of course. But a man would have to look at least competent; and in the days and weeks that followed, Tim lost weight, had insomnia, and began to shake uncontrollably. His father watched him open an electric bill and thought that someone with Parkinson’s Disease could not possibly have trembled more. His mother’s sewing machine hummed for many hours each day, and by the end of the month, she began to receive income from the sales of the garments. Tim showed her how to record income and expenditures in journals and to post the data into individual ledgers as accounts receivable and/or payable. She had new business cards printed: Her particular sales attractant was emblazoned on the new cards. “We pre-wash the fabric before sewing. These garments WILL NOT SHRINK!” Fat girls needed to know that.
Tim would hear her sewing long into the night. He and his father collected aluminum cans and earned $102. which they applied to the first repayment coupon. There were only 119 more payments to go. His father feared, not without reason, that neither he nor Tim would live to see that number decline to 118. Overcoming his humiliation sufficiently to consult his parish priest, Father Raul Leon, Tim made an appointment to seek guidance.
The priest looked at Tim’s emaciated condition and was gentle. “I cannot help you to repay your debt,” he said, “but I can tell you that if you allow your health to deteriorate, you are, in effect, committing a kind of suicide. This demonstrates more clearly your lack of faith than if you shouted your contempt for Our Lord from a street corner. When Our Lord begged for wine and they gave him vinegar, he did not spit it in their faces. So you must regain your strength by eating the food that is served to you. And instead of lying awake nights worrying about you and what happened to you and who did what to you, you should use that time to thank God for giving you a burden to carry that tests you, so that you can prove yourself, and you should pledge to do all that you can to carry that burden proudly. It is by carrying burdens that we learn the weight of our faith.”
At first, Tim thought that the advice was nonsensical; but then he decided to try it. He forced himself to eat and lulled himself to sleep with prayer; and he began to think more clearly.
Part 18 Joshua
A newcomer who brings no skill or talent to his admission has few opportunities to harm his enemies or to gain the goodwill of those who hadn’t particularly cared, one way or the other, how happy or unhappy he was. It was by extraordinary luck that Joshua accomplished both of these objectives at one and the same time.
Two days after he was admitted to ZCS, a strong wind blew up the dust that gave Sandyville its name. Abbot Jy Shao wore a gauze face mask and tried to limit the amount of dust that he breathed; but the old wooden structure and the evaporative cooler that blew water-cooled air into the rooms, also delivered intolerable quantities of dust. Joshua, still in possession of his $2000 good-will parting gift plus the $2000 he salvaged from the blank-check theft, called a landscape supply business and ordered two truckloads of cedar chips that he and a few monks spread around the Zen Center’s barren acreage.
Jy Shao watched the spreading of wood chips and called Chuan Yi into his office to ask why the new man was doing this. Chuan Yi did not know and offered to go out and put a stop to it. “No,” Jy Shao said, “it may help to keep the dust down.” He had already noticed a lessening of blowing dust in the Center’s immediate vicinity. The men continued to work, and then, miraculously, Jy Shao suddenly stopped coughing. The wind was still blowing, but it didn’t contain the troublesome dust. He summoned Joshua to thank him for his ingenious solution. “The wood chips could not have come cheaply,” he said, “so you must tell me what we owe you.”
“Master,” Joshua said humbly, “the improvement in your health has already repaid me.” Joshua spoke with a sincerity that bore the attractiveness of relief. He knew that he should never have tried to cheat Rick out of his ten percent of the final five money-orders, and certainly he should have told him about the additional two-thousand dollars he wangled out of Lonigan, but Rick did, after all, ultimately receive the ten percent due him, and that the Lonigan money had been spent so wisely – for after all, Rick did respect Jy Shao and Rick respected so few people on the planet – that any portion of it that he might have claimed, he would have willingly donated to the cause. In performing one good deed for one good man, he thought, he had absolved himself of cheating a clever but a not necessarily good man.
When they left the Abbot’s office, Chuan Yi summoned his assistant, and the two of them approached Joshua to remind him to prepare a commentary on Nagarjuna’s twenty-four verse Nirvana poem. Fa Tian gave Joshua photocopies of the philosophic verses. Joshua looked at the papers and raised his eyebrows. “Really?” he asked as he folded them and put the pages into his tunic pocket. Then he proceeded to recite from memory the twenty-four verses, although he deliberately gave the 14th verse as the 15th and vice versa. “Did I make any mistakes?” he asked.
“No,” Chuan Yi said. “Your recitation was splendid… just splendid.”
“Oh, my!” Joshua said. “You must not have been listening. I twisted the fourteenth and fifteenth verses around.”
“I hope you won’t twist them when you write a comprehensive commentary this weekend,” Chuan Yi retorted.
Joshua immediately went to the library to ask Fa Dao to call Rick. Since Joshua understood that he would not be permitted to speak on the phone, when Fa Dao exchanged greetings with Rick, Joshua shouted, “Tell him they took my car keys.” Rick asked him to relay the information that he’d be there at 5 p.m. Saturday afternoon and would have him back at noon on Sunday.
Joshua waited for the master to come to the dining room and respectfully reminded him of the agreement. “Yes, yes,” Jy Shao said, “and be sure to let the cook know that there will be one less for Saturday dinner and Sunday breakfast. We have blueberry pancakes on Sunday mornings… with real whipped cream.”
“Next week” Joshua said sternly, “with your permission, I’d like to measure your window and the vent that comes into your room. I know you don’t like special treatment, but you have so much insight to give and I’m just selfish enough to want to learn all I can from you. I’ve got a vested interest in your health, so to speak.” He winked. “What I’m saying in a roundabout way is that I want to install a very small, just for one room 110 volt… nothing grand… air conditioner so that you could change the filter regularly. And also keep that outside air from blowing in.”
“Is Monseigneur Garcia behind this?” the abbot whispered cautiously.
“No, Master. This is just from one humble monk to a great illuminated one. Homage, it’s called.” He snickered as he passed Chuan Yi on his way out.
Joshua never had any difficulty in leaving the Zen Center on Saturday afternoon and driving away with
Part 19 Aaron
Harold Aaron Weitzman’s psychological distress proceeded in indirect proportion to his physical recovery. He had been receiving no less than half a dozen calls a day from various individuals who either informed him that he now qualified to receive his wife’s two million dollar life insurance policy with its doubling “double indemnity,” or who demanded that he give thatmoney to her parents along with the down-payment on the house, the title of which was now in his name only, and at least half of the money he had received as wedding gifts. Rebecca’s father had constructed a conspiracy theory in which Stella, Paul, and Aaron had arranged the entire scenario from Rebecca’s pregnancy to her profitable death. Friends with whom he tried to talk, to relate the horrible near-death experience he had had, counseled him, “Look, it’s not so bad. You two were headed for a divorce that wasn’t exactly amicable. This way you’re not stuck with alimony and you’re a helluva lot richer than you were a few weeks ago.” Such insensitive and insulting remarks were the nicest comments he had gotten. The rest were hateful slurs and threats to take the matter up with Civil and Rabbinical courts.
Father Salazar asked Harold (the name Aaron insisted upon using), “Does it bother you that Stella and Paul visit you so frequently?”
“No,” Harold protested. “Why should it? They’re the only people I know and trust.”
“I ought to tell you that Stella threw up in the ladies’ room and Mrs. Blumenthal deduced that she was pregnant. Your in-laws are promising to make life difficult for her by way of putting pressure on you.”
“Let them try. I can also circulate copies of Rebecca’s autopsy that proved she was pregnant before we got married.”
“You wouldn’t do such a thing!” the priest was startled by the harshness of the retaliation.
“Normally, no, I wouldn’t. But I’m here, broken and in pain, and all they want to talk about ismoney. I’m really trying not to get hooked on the pain killing pills the doctors prescribe; but suddenly I hear that I’m a needle using heroin junkie. I know I’m lucky to be alive. I know that Rebecca died instantly. Yes, I was driving. And yes, she wanted me to go even faster. I should have said no, but we were having fun for the first time in months. We crashed and that ended the final Act of our lives. Stella Buchanan saved my life. She gave me her blood and she and Paul Oteiza got me to a hospital. I never saw either one of them before the accident; but now, they’re going to be dragged into court as accomplices to murder and extortion and God knows what else. What do you expect from me? Sweetness and love? I’m trying to do the Christian thing and forgive; but some people won’t let you forgive them.”
“I’m sorry,” Father Salazar said. “We all ought to be more concerned with the living. Have the doctors told you anything about your recovery?
Harold scoffed “I’m never going to walk right again and what I thought was the least of my bone breaks – my wrist – the doctor tells me is a Colles’s fracture that is going to require specialized surgery. There were also broken bones in my right hand. I’m not complaining about my problems. It’s what they’re going to do to Stella and Paul that has me half-crazy.”
“Wouldn’t it be better to have the phone removed?” the priest asked?
Half an hour later the room had no telephone service and Harold’s cellphone was shut off.
The next day, Paul and Stella drove down again from White Pine County.
Harold asked Stella to sit on the left side of his bed. “Promise me you’ll come to me immediately when you have any problems whatsoever. Promise me. Come right away.” He tried to sound less serious. “You gals tease a guy and just when he’s interested, you start living a secret life.”
She giggled. “I’m playing hard-to-get.”
“How can I repay you for what you’ve already done?” he asked earnestly. “How will I ever be able to repay you for the trouble you may have on my account in the days ahead. I owe you my life. I seem to be owing my life to lots of people these days. They’re charging a fortune for just making a few repairs. You saved the whole enchilada, and you haven’t asked for anything. So, what do I owe you.”
“Nothing but a quick and complete recovery. I didn’t do what I did for money. I did it because a human being helps a helpless creature. Please don’t insult me by offering me money.”
Harold responded by raising her hand to his lips and kissing it. “Thank you,” he whispered, “for being an angel. No human being I know would have done a fraction of what you did.”
As he held Stella’s hand to his lips, Arnold Goldman made a long-overdue appearance. Stella got up from the only chair beside Harold’s bed to let Arnold sit down. Paul, who always sat with one haunch on the bedside, got up too. Together he and Stella indicated that they’d go to the cafeteria and would be back in an hour or so. Arnold sat down and sighed, “You… you crazy guy… I ought to be mad atcha’.” He explained that after waiting a few hours in the heat, he and Michelle assumed that the newlyweds wanted time alone or else had found the Gatlingsburg Track and were having a good time. There certainly had been no distress signal given. “I’ll be honest. I was a little pissed that you two ran off without us. But Michelle calmed me down.” They had seen no smoke such as might be seen from a crashed ATV. “We did look over the area, but finding nothing, we figured that you’d call me… somebody around there had to have a satellite phone. Look, we knew that no matter where you were, you were an intelligent and resourceful guy.”
When he finished speaking, Harold said, “If one good thing came out of that near death experience, it was that a veil was lifted from my eyes and I could see people clearly… their goodness and their evil. I thank God I was spared what might have been years of anguish working for a piece of shit like you.”
Arnold, disgusted at what he regarded as a slur against his good name, left the hospital without saying another word.
Father Salazar found the atmosphere in Harold’s room much improved when the phone no longer intruded into their study of the Catechism. Harold had agreed to take his first Holy Communion as soon as he was able and, of course, when the big congregational event occurred. He was hoping to make the September ceremony.
The days passed as Paul and Stella regularly visited him, cheering him by talking about what he began to call the “Three Cs” – cattle, cholla, and Catholicism. Harold was convinced he still had a few barbs in his hand and Stella would probe with a magnifying glass and tweezers and iodine that darkened the pieces. She did find a few pieces that had irritated him, vindicating his complaints to the nurses who said that there were no remaining pieces there. Paul’s cattle no longer had access to the circular watering trough and he decided to sell them rather than drive the small herd north. And after learning from the priest about the threat to Stella’s reputation that the Blumenthals were formulating, he apologized for having done his Christian Duty to someone who did not require it, but, he quietly added, “As long as there was a chance you needed the extra push through the Pearly Gates, I had to act. I’m sorry if I upset your family.”
Harold answered, “I’m not.”
For several weeks he had listened to his mother relate his father’s complain that he was entitled to some of the insurance money. After all, he lost a week’s work coming to Las Vegas to see him, plus hotel and plane fare. She, too, thought that she should be reimbursed for the hike in health insurance premiums she was certain she’d sustain because of the expense of his injury. Rebecca’s body had been shipped immediately to Philadelphia where it could be buried in her family’s plot and it cost money to have this done. Blood Tests had indicated that she was not intoxicated when the accident occurred and a sonogram showed the first trimester form a fetus. The coroner released her body as quickly as possible. “Aaron,” his mother insisted, “you surely are responsible for the air fare… for all of us.”
Harold agreed. “But I cannot pay until I receive some money,” he responded logically.
On the day that the doctors told him that he was fit to become an outpatient and the accounting department advised him that his insurance company had notified them that he’d soon reach the limit of his coverage, he had a long talk with Paul and Stella. “I’m fit to go home,” he said. “But as luck would have it, I don’t have a home.”
“How much longer will you be confined to a wheelchair?” Paul asked.
“At least another month. I can’t use crutches or a walker.”
“That’s a long time to wheel yourself down and back the Strip,” Stella joked.
When Harold smiled, Paul added, “I wish I could take you to my place, but I live in a trailer… a small one… as small as the one Stella was livin’ in when she rescued you. You couldn’t get a wheelchair through the door much less turn it around when you did get it inside. And Stella’s in a motel room.”
“Where will you be living later on?” Harold asked Stella.
“I’ll find a room and a job in Ely or maybe up in Winnemucca. I’ll be ok.”
“I don’t want you to be just ok,” Harold said. “I’ve got all that Shoshone blood in me now and I owe it to the tribe to take care of you.”
“You owe me nothing,” Stella said. “And you’ll insult me if you try.”
“Noble sentiments. But I hear you’re preggers. Is that true?” He happened to look at Paul.
“Hey! I’m not the daddy… I wouldn’t mind being the daddy, but that honor belongs to a younger man, I’m afraid.”
“Stel,” Harold said softly, “did Brant tell you he’s gonna marry you? I’ve heard the nurses talk.”
“Up to now he’s been a man of his word,” Stella said.
“But the nurses say he’s giving his word and more to a gal who works at the Blue Bison in Ely. That’s none of my business, but taking care of you is. I have to appear in person back in Philadelphia to gain access to some of the money that’s due me, but the insurance money is going to be transferred directly into a bank account. I knew there was two million on each of our lives, but I swear I don’t remember anything about a double indemnity clause. That’s four-million plus in my checking account. I called a bank and they’re sending over a vice-president with the papers that will open an account for me.
“What I’m hoping is that there is a house available somewhere in an area you two would like to live and that you’ll agree to buy it with my money and take me there to finish my recuperation. And maybe have Paul agree to go back to Philadelphia with me in case I have to be there for the sale of the house. The least I can do for you both is to get you a nice place. Paul, you’re getting up in years. Stel, you need a nursery room. I need space to clear my head so I can figure out what I’ll do with the rest of my life.”
Paul Oteiza shrugged. “I’d be a fool to say no. I do happen to know of a house that’s for sale. It could use some work, but I can handle it. It’s country style… No electricity and no indoor plumbing. No neighbors but a bunch of mustangs – if the BLM hasn’t killed them yet. We can put a commode inside for you so you won’t freeze your ass off. There’s a couple of acres of pine and mesquite on the property, so we won’t lack fuel. It has a pump handled well, but the water’s fine and we can install pipes and a gasoline generator to pump it into the house… or maybe a wind turbine. And it could use a lady’s touch. This here gal could spruce it right up.”
Harold nodded and whispered, “It sounds perfect. Stick around. The bank guy will be here and I’ll give you power to sign checks on the account.”
As they spoke, the bank executive entered the room. He overheard Harold’s last remark. He asked Paul and Stella if they would mind stepping outside the room for a moment. When they left, the bank executive said, “You’re not really serious about giving Mr. Oteiza free access to your money…”
Part 20 Aaron
A Rabbinical council had convened and in the presence of both the Blumenthals and the Weitzmans asked the hospital administrator’s if they could videoconference with Aaron Weitzman in his office.
Aaron, who was sufficiently recovered to be wheeled into an elevator and pushed into the office had asked Paul and a sheriff’s deputy to be present and also a technician from the Coroner’s office who was acting as an official spokesman regarding the medical conclusions reached upon examining the body of Rebecca Blumenthal Weitzman.
The administrator began, “I’ve been asked to call Mr. Weitzman by his chosen name, Harold. I’d appreciate it if you would honor his request.” He had moved Harold as close as possible to his desktop screen.
“What is it that you want to know that you haven’t already been informed of by state officials?” Harold asked.
The Rabbi who officiated at the wedding spoke first. He greeted Harold and said he hoped he was recovering nicely and wanted to convey his sincere condolences regarding Rebecca’s death. Harold saw Mrs. Blumenthal nudge him with her elbow. The Rabbi continued, “However we are all dismayed that you had an ongoing relationship, an most unsavory connection, to a woman in Nevada and contrived with Benjamin Weitzman to lure Rebecca out there. This wedding was a sham and the gifts and properties that resulted from such a fraud should be returned or equitably re-distributed.”
Mr. Weitzman interrupted the charges. “We understand that this woman is also pregnant. Aaron, my boy! What kind of double life were you leading?”
“About your double life!” Mr. Blumenthal shouted, “You’re not pulling the wool over my eyes any longer. I can see what you were up to. We want to know more about this woman you were two-timing my daughter with. Was she in on the so-called accidental death scheme? You’re not gonna get away with this.”
Harold held up his rosary. “Inasmuch as I now consider myself a Roman Catholic I can’t imagine why I’d be a party to any Rabbinical consultation. I haven’t asked for one and I can only tell you that Mr. Oteiza here, and the dear lady who gave me her blood and who is pregnant, but not with my child, unfortunately, do not have to be subjected to your insults. Mr. Oteiza has agreed to accompany me to Philadelphia when I am able to travel. As you know, the insurance company has paid the claim on Rebecca’s policy. The money is here in Nevada. As soon as I’m well enough, I’ll come east to complete the sale of the house and to gather some of my personal objects from home. I do not care to live there among any of you and am therefore establishing residency in Nevada. I deeply regret Rebecca’s death. I can tell you only that by the grace of God it was instantaneous. Also, I’ll let you know that when the Sheriff went back to the accident scene to recover her body, he gathered four pieces of her teeth. I have them and will keep them safe in memory of her. She was a good kid and no doubt deserved a better man than I. I think that’s all I have to say. We truly hoped to start a new life here in Nevada. That is the truth and either you learn to accept it or you will meet with a few attorneys at law. We have them here, too.” As he wheeled himself away from the administrator’s desk, he asked that anyone who had something to say was certainly free to say it.
Mrs. Blumenthal pushed him aside to ask, “What about reimbursing us for the funeral expenses? Flying out there was expensive for all of us. Flying Rebecca’s body back didn’t come cheap, either. We already had the plot but you should pay for the stone.”
Paul Oteiza responded. “If you will submit invoices with receipts to me in care of General Delivery in Ely, Nevada, we’ll consider paying the claims.” He spelled his name carefully and stood up to end the discussion.
Later that evening, a local Rabbi named Emmanuel Cohen visited Harold. “Before you ask, yes, they – your in-laws – called me. We discussed the accident and I told them that there were many accidents with ATVs. Incidentally, a safer – and I mean only relatively safer – machine is the four-wheel off-road vehicle. I’ve read copies of the reports of your injuries that were sent to your mother. I don’t know why somebody in authority didn’t explain to them how Ms. Buchanan gave her blood to you and that the extraordinary way that this was done accounted for the puncture marks in both your arms. And as to the father of Stella Buchanan’s baby, she had an amniocentesis test weeks ago and Brant Chastain was proven to be the father. So she was pregnant before you and Rebecca even got to Las Vegas. I think it eased your mother’s mind to know the truth about that. I doubt that Mr. Blumenthal will accept such proof. Also, I’ve talked to the Sheriff’s men who went to the site. All I can say is that you were in the hands of God that afternoon. There isn’t a reason in the world why you should have survived. Divine Providence. That’s what it was. You were in the hands of the angels.” Then he looked at Harold and said, “You had what we call ‘a battlefield conversion.’ It happens more often than you think.”
“Why is that?” Harold asked.
“Because there are more Roman Catholic priests in the military than there are Jewish Rabbis. When a man is lying wounded with his life ebbing out of him and his dogtags blown off him, the Catholic Priest or even a Catholic medic will automatically baptize him. It’s what they’ve always done.”
“Ah,” Harold-Aaron said. “I wondered about it. I understand now.”
“Tell me where Mr. Blumenthal first got the idea you had another woman.”
“Damned if I know. Probably from Arnold Goldman, although Stella told Paul that while she had a little bout of morning sickness, Mrs. Blumenthal came into the bathroom.”
“For God’s sake, she saved your life an even took measures to protect Rebecca’s diamond rings. She gave you a pint of her blood. That’s not much but it probably did the trick, or so the M.E. told me. I tried to explain this to Joel Blumenthal and got an earful back. He’s not gonna let this rest.”
“You may find this hard to believe, but if they had been the least bit civil or sympathetic, I’d have let them have the whole goddamned thing. But they all turned out to be hyenas… all of them.” He sighed. “Especially the Blumenthals.”
“At first I thought you were being unreasonable, but after talking to him for two minutes, I was wondering if you had overlooked anything else of Rebecca’s that belonged to you. So where are you going after you leave the hospital?”
Harold smiled and thanked him. “I’ll be moving upstate to someplace in Lincoln or White Pine county by the end of the week. I’ll let you know my specific address. But if you’re ever up there or I’m ever down here, I’d like us to meet for lunch or something.”
“The climate in Nevada is salubrious. You’ll enjoy living upstate. There are four seasons up there. In Vegas you don’t need an overcoat. Up there you’ll need a parka or shearling jacket. As a matter of fact I do take the wife and kids north to Winnemucca for the summer. Down here we get so many people who have lung problems and need the dry air. But my wife’s parents died of tuberculosis and she’s terrified that I’ll contract the disease and bring it home to her and the kids. So when I go to visit a patient, I have to sneak there.” He smiled. “She’ll be delighted to hear that you’ve only got broken bones, torn ligaments, a concussion, cholla punctures, and by the time they take that cast off your foot, athlete’s feet.”
“Tell her I’m happy that she’s happy, and that it only hurts when I laugh.”
Harold had the distinct feeling that he’d meet Rabbi Cohen again.