Hours of Operation: Mon - Fri 8:00am - 8:00pm


Chapter 1


  Mabel Sheridan was ready to put a pistol in her mouth and pull the trigger. Fortunately, she lived in New York City which has very strict gun control laws. She didn't own one and didn't know anyone who did.
  Even if she could find somebody who had one it wasn't the kind of thing you could ask to borrow. "Excuse me, I just need it over the weekend in case I feel like blowing my brains out, if not I'll return it Monday, thanks." 
  Being the lifelong bureaucrat she was she could appreciate all the red tape involved in purchasing one. It was exactly the type of thing she would have come up with herself.
  She went down a list of her other options but none of them were very appealing. Some were too messy, and some were too uncertain. Some just seemed too painful.
  Twenty-five years ago she had put herself through college waiting tables. Because of one drunken fool named Arnold Chaplin she had lost everything and was right back where she had started. 
  No matter how hard she tried she couldn't figure out exactly what had happened. The facts didn't add up.
In less than three months she had gone from a respected businesswoman with a bright future, to a broke unemployed has-been with a semi-serious death wish. 
  Maybe everything that had been taken from her wasn't earned legally, but that didn't make losing it any easier. 

  "Anybody counting days? Arnie Chaplin raised his hand. "Hi, I'm Arnie and I'm an alcoholic, I have 12 days." He braced himself for what he knew was coming "Hi Arnie" came the cheery reply. 
  He didn't want to be here but had no choice. His boss was trying to get him fired. He was in an outpatient program at Bellevue Hospital set up especially for city employees with drug and alcohol problems.
  Arnie had worked for the New York City Department of Records and Retention for almost 19 years. It was a mind-numbing, soul sucking job that came with great benefits, decent pay, and a terrific retirement plan. Every time the city felt it needed a few more warm bodies to oil the wheels of the bureaucracy they would put an ad in the paper and thousands would show up to take the civil service exam. If they passed, they were put on a waiting list. 
  It took a certain mindset to appreciate a job like his and Arnie had it. There was no way he was going to be forced out when he was so close to the wet dream of every city worker. Full retirement with a lifetime of paid benefits. He was 44 years old and needed 18 more months to get his pension.
  He could feel the hot breath on the back of his neck of those thousands of people waiting by the phone to take his job. Arnie had spent too many years with a fake smile plastered on his face kissing the right asses to lose everything now. The problem was he had literally put his lips on the wrong ass.
  Arnie would have made a perfect criminal. He was so nondescript a witness would have had trouble identifying him in a lineup. He was average height and average weight with an average build. No tattoos, no visible scars and few redeeming social graces. His eyes and hair were both brown and he agonized over the fact the former was getting dimmer and the latter was thinning at an alarming rate. Absolutely nothing about the man stood out. If someone were pushed into having to say what he looked like, the best they could probably come up with was, "pasty white guy".
  Arnie was a very senior civil servant which meant it was harder to get him fired then it would be to pull splinters out of a porcupine. This had not stopped the head of records and retention, Mabel Sheridan from giving it her best shot. As far as Arnie was concerned, she was stupid, venal, vicious and vindictive. The perfect city employee.
  R&R as it was affectionately known among its workers was housed in a humongous warehouse in Long Island City just outside Manhattan. It was aisle after aisle of nothing but floor to ceiling racks with thousands upon thousands of cardboard boxes containing all the records of all the people who had ever worked for the City of New York, past and present.
  There were four other satellite warehouses scattered throughout the five boroughs. Through talent and sheer force of will Mabel Sheridan had managed to claw her way to the top. 
  She wasn't just another pretty face, Mabel was smart and disciplined and 10 years ago had made an end run around all her contemporaries and presented her budget director with a feasibility study she had worked on for over a year in her own time. She had shown him a proposal to buy half a million dollars of high-speed scanning equipment matched with an IBM mainframe to digitize the contents of all those thousands of boxes.
  This would save the city of New York literally tens of millions of dollars a year. Of course, the idea of computerization had been kicking around the bureaucracy since the invention of the microchip, but nobody had come up with a way to make it worth the budget directors while. The brilliant part of Mabel's plan was she demonstrated to him and his board how he could slowly slash the budget of R&R by almost 40%. He could then keep all those savings for himself to dole out to other departments as he saw fit. This would of course increase his mojo. Everybody won except the workers in records and retention whose jobs would eventually be eliminated as the records were digitized. The budget director jumped for her idea like a suicide off a bridge.
  Mabel was immediately bumped up three levels, given an award and told to expedite things ASAP. Of course, she had to deal with the rest of the city bureaucracy, so it took a year to get all the computers and scanners. Another year to negotiate new work rules with the unions and another year to train a select group of employees. Mabel was given kudos from all her superiors for the speed with which she was implementing her new system.
  Arnie had spent his entire career in records and retention. This was unusual. Most people couldn't take the daily grind of getting requests for a record, slowly wandering around until they found the right box, pulling the folder, making a copy of it and sending it off to the correct department. They were then expected to return the folder to the exact place it had been taken from. The odds of that happening all the time were about the same as sensitivity training taking hold in the terrorist community. At a certain point almost everybody who worked there would put in for a transfer to another department.
  But Arnie had stuck it out year after year and slowly gained something he'd craved his entire life, respect. By the strange unwritten rules that governed life in R&R he'd become a legend. He had pulled off a feat only his fellow employees could comprehend and appreciate. Arnie had served almost 19 consecutive years in the department. He was the Iron Man of records and retention.
  To his surprise Arnie had also become the "Go To" guy in R&R. He seemed to have a natural ability to ferret out records nobody else could find. A pretty much useless talent in the real world but a mark of genius if you worked where he did. Over the years he'd unofficially acquired the trappings of someone above his pay grade. He even had his own desk and phone hidden away deep in the stacks.
  He spent most of his days cutting his coffee with vodka from a bottle he kept hidden in a box he'd marked with the name "Hiam Drunc", he thought this was hilarious. Arnie liked to keep a buzz going all day but like any good drunk he knew his limits and was careful to stay sober enough to always get the job done.
  Whenever Arnie's phone rang, he knew it was going to be one of the floor supervisors or foremen who absolutely had to have some record and wasn't going to ask any questions about how he acquired it. Arnie even had access to city owned vehicles in case he had to go to another warehouse. They came with these great placards you could put on the dashboard stating this was an official vehicle on city business so he could park anywhere without worrying about getting a ticket or getting towed. He'd swiped one of them years ago for his personal use. Life was good.
  He always came through with the missing record no matter how long it took and in the underground economy of R&R the supervisor owed him a favor. Arnie used those favors to keep things exactly as they were. He was exempt from the daily grind of work and his back was protected by those above him.


Chapter 2

   In April of 1945 Geza Weiss weighed under 80 pounds, had typhus and scarlet fever and wasn't sure if he was dead or alive. He was at the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria.

  On May 5, 1945 the men of the 11th armored division of the US third Army liberated the camp. Geza Weiss was so far gone he was originally overlooked and left for dead.

  One of the medics found him as he was sorting bodies for burial and couldn't believe somebody in that condition was still clinging to life. He made it a priority to see Geza didn't die. Every spare minute he had he spent taking care of him. It was days before Geza was out of immediate danger, weeks before anybody was sure he would live. That entire time the medic did everything he could for him, he treated Geza like a brother.

  After six weeks the army moved on and the medic went with them. Geza was moved from the hospital to the rehabilitation ward and finally after several months was sent to a Displaced Persons camp where he met his future wife Rozsi Frank who had somehow managed to survive Auschwitz.

  Of course, Geza knew the medics name but after the war when he and Rozsi returned to Hungary they were behind the Iron Curtain. There was no way for Geza to even try to contact him. He never forgot and swore that someday he would find him and thank him. It took over 40 years.

 

  Rachel Weiss was born and raised in Israel by Rozsi and Geza Weiss.

  Her parents had somehow managed to get the better of the Nazi's. Then the communists who took over their country. Then the Hungarians who revolted against the communists, and finally the Russians who showed up to put a stop to that nonsense. In the end they made all those people unhappy simply by staying alive. They were good at not getting killed.

  Rozsi and Geza were married in 1946. They spent the next 10 years trying to put their lives back together in Budapest. They had two boys, Gyuri in 1949 and Miklos in 1951. When the Hungarian revolution rolled around in 1956, they figured enough was enough. Between the anti-Semitism, the bad economy and the fact the Russians showed no signs of calling it a day and going home. Geza and Rozsi packed up, took the boys, and in all the confusion snuck across the border to Vienna.

  They contacted the Jewish Relief Agency and were in Israel within six months.

  They settled in the resort town of Netanya which is on the coast just north of Tel Aviv.

  Geza became a professor of economics at the University of Tel Aviv. His wife stayed home and took care of the boys. As the kids got older, she went back to college to get her degree in accounting. For 5000 years when other people might kick up their heels if they had a little free time, Jews go back to school.

  Rachel was born in 1972. To say she came as a complete surprise to her mother and father was an understatement.

  She was born to be an artist. Rachel was one of those lucky people who knew what she was going to do with her life from the moment she could think. All through school she paid no attention to anything that wasn't directly related to becoming a painter. Of course, this left a long line of teachers, tutors, school administrators, and finally her parents totally pissed off.

  As a child Rachel was willful, difficult and downright unpleasant if anybody was trying to make her do something she didn't want to. She truly had the artistic temperament. Her parents had learned early on there wasn't much use in arguing with her once she'd made her mind up.

  Maybe it was because Rachel was so different from her brothers it took a while for her mother and father to figure out how to handle her. Her brothers were both good boys who instinctively understood what was expected of them and just did it.

  Fortunately for everyone involved she'd been bought up in a traditional Jewish home, full of love and patience with a large dose of guilt thrown in for emergencies. Her parents were masters of this age-old child rearing technique and finally used it to steer their daughter in the right direction.

  Because it was necessary, and because it didn't seem there was any other way to get through to her. Geza and Rozsi slowly started the great wheel of guilt turning. It was made very clear to her she was becoming a disappointment. That it was her responsibility to start doing well in school even if she didn't like her other classes. Her mother and father had not suffered the way they had in order to bring up an irresponsible daughter. Science may never prove it but there's something in the genetic makeup of East European Jews that goes off like a tuning fork being rung when that perfect pitch of guilt is hit.

  So, Rachel did start to do better in school and as she got older, she even conceded her parents might have had a point. But that didn't mean she wasn't going to be a painter. It just meant she would get a job until she could support herself as one.

  Rachel was a real artist. Most people don't understand there's a difference between people who have some talent, and people who are so crazed by the creativity inside of them they keep trying to impose what they see on the inside, to what's happening on the outside.

  Since Rachel had been brought up by Holocaust survivors, people who were always looking over their shoulder for the next shoe to drop, she had a bedrock belief if there was a way for something to go wrong it would. She'd grown up in Israel, a country bursting with optimism about the future that was surrounded by about 1 billion enemies. The combination of all these factors had made Rachel about the happiest miserable person you would ever meet.

  At 18 she was a small woman, 5 foot 4 and with what her mother told her was a “decent enough figure”. She had short reddish-brown hair and striking hazel eyes. Her nickname growing up had been Shana Punim which meant “pretty face” in Yiddish. Rachel really resented that nickname. She thought she was more exotic than pretty. That was the year she started her mandatory two-year tête-à-tête with the Israeli Defense forces. She completed her duty, and by age 20 was put on reserve status.

 

  At 24 years old Rachel had a job as an art director at a midsize advertising company, her own apartment in Tel Aviv, and about 15 paintings even she thought might not be bad. She also felt she had paid her dues to her parents, her country, and anybody else who thought she might owe them something. It was time to get on with her life.

  In her own way she was as resourceful as her parents. She'd had her own small shows in Tel Aviv which got good reviews, but not raves. Rachel was after bigger fish, she purposely kept her best paintings back, she wasn't going to waste them on such a small market. She wanted them to be seen by the right people and to have an impact.

She had been a very busy girl over the last year or two, making friends with the secretaries at all the major art galleries in New York, London, and Tokyo. She would read the brochures of the gallery she was stalking at the moment. Check to see what artist was showing and call. She would explain her position as art director and ask about acquiring the rights to photos of some of the paintings. What Rachel was really after was the comings and goings of the gallery owners. She chatted up the secretaries to keep the information pipeline flowing. She knew the art scene in Israel was heating up and some of them were unofficially stopping by to see what was happening.

The art world is a pretty small place and through her compulsive networking she learned Abraham Rosenthal of the Rosenthal galleries in New York was coming for a “vacation” to Israel.

  Gallery owners are constantly on the lookout for new talent. They will steal each other’s artists without batting an eye. A lot of business is done under the guise of vacations or casually stopping by in some country where there are rumors of good work being done.

  Abraham Rosenthal was about to be ambushed and didn't know it. Rachel didn't know how good he was at not being ambushed. He'd spent a large part of his life ducking artists and wanna be artists who were always trying to find ingenious ways of meeting him. At this point in his life it was second nature for him to not be found unless he wanted to be. Rachel was up against a professional. The most she'd been able to find out was that Mr. Rosenthal was staying at the Sheraton Hotel in Tel Aviv.

  She would not have spent all the time and effort she put into trying to find and meet him, but he had one of the best galleries in New York and was known for nurturing new talent.

  Rachel had a plan A, a plan B. and even a plan C. to run into him and have him look at her paintings, but absolutely none of them had worked out. She finally had to admit defeat. It wasn't in her nature to get discouraged, but she was disappointed. She knew she had the talent; it was just a question of getting her break.

 

  Since it was Friday night Rachel was on her way to her mother and fathers house for Shabbat dinner. The driveway was already full with her parents and brother’s cars. They would be there with their wives and children. When Rachel opened the door, she stopped dead in her tracks. Her father was sobbing uncontrollably into the arms of a giant bear of a man. In a family with her history this could not be a good thing. But her mother, her brothers, and their wives all had the strangest looks on their faces, but they were happy looks. Her father just couldn't get control of himself. She turned with a questioning look to her mother who had tears streaming down her face. Her mother said to her “Rachel, you know your father and I don't like to talk about what happened during the war, but I'm going to tell you a story.”

  She then told Rachel about the medic who had saved her father's life. She held her daughter. “Rachel, your father found him, and he's come to visit us. I want you to meet Abraham Rosenthal.”

  Three months later she was on a plane to New York for her first real show.