A Common Enemy – Prologue

This is a new serialised story that I am writing and depending on the response to it, I will decide whether or not I can attempt to publish it. Hope you enjoy it ­čÖé

New York City, January 1967

The air was crisp. Sharp, even. It was a perfect winter’s evening for a New Yorker. Unfortunately, James was not a New Yorker. He hailed from the sunny South- Florida, to be specific. And winter in Miami was a far cry from winter in Manhattan. As he turned what he thought was the last corner before he reached his intended destination, he paused.┬áTo passers-by, he was yet another man confused in the concrete maze that New York City was. They didn’t care much for him. He was just another drop in the ocean.

Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath. Digging into one of the pockets in the trench coat, he dug out a shabby piece of paper on which the address was scribbled. He looked at it and double checked with the marker on the street. He was on the right path. Four more blocks and he should see the board- at least that’s what he thought. Medical clinics these had boards, didn’t they?

Exhaling loudly- probably a little too loudly even for himself- he continued on, all the while keeping an eye on the buildings, shops, and establishments as he passed them.

“The Post! The Post! Protest in Russia! Read All About It!”

James was taken aback by the sudden, almost angry outburst. He glared at the boy, who must have been about twelve years of age, rebuking him non-verbally for shouting in his ear. The boy – probably a runaway urchin, James thought- paid no heed and continued to look for any interested buyers. James thought it strange that the boy was selling the Post. He didn’t expect the Post to make nearly as much money in New York as the Times did. And vice versa when it came to Washington. Then again, he didn’t understand business or journalism, so he wasn’t going to bother pondering the answer to that quandary.

He did find, however, that his ┬ádestination had arrived next to him while he debated the merits of selling the Post in NYC and occupied himself with a mental note to punish the lad as and when he saw fit. A white signboard was present next to him, which read, “Dr. Claude Morstein, M.D., Physician”. Drawn on it was a huge cross- red in colour, as was tradition in the medical community. James never really understood the reason for the red colour- was it blood? was it muscle? was it love and compassion? He never knew what the colour meant. And he never bothered finding out. He had better things to do in life.

Climbing up the stairs, he couldn’t help but notice that Morstein had done well for himself. By the looks of it, he had an established practice and was pretty well-off financially. Arriving at the reception desk, he was greeted by a tall, blonde woman. James disliked tall women. He didn’t understand how men would want to marry such people when they practically towered over a few of the groom’s male friends. Some people called it regressive thinking, but James didn’t care. He had his opinions on how things should be and this was not supposed to be.

“Is he in there?” James asked.

“Dr. Morstein?” she asked back. And he didn’t like it. With every passing second, tall women in the world were losing his respect.

“No. I’m asking about Walt Disney.” he replied, in as casual and yet as sarcastic a tone as possible. He could see she was taken aback. He didn’t care.

Clearly flustered, she replied that he is, quickly gathering her composure as she did.

“Tell him James has come to see him.”

“You need an appointment to see him sir.” she ventured, a little nervously. James felt a pang of pity at having gotten her in this state.

“I don’t have an appointment,” he lowered his voice, “but tell him James from the US Army is here. I promise you he will allow me in.”

A little reassured by the change in his voice, she informed James that Morstein was with a patient and she would ask to let him in as soon as he was done. James agreed and found his way to the nearest chair. He saw a bunch of magazines lying on the table but didn’t feel like reading any of them. Closing his eyes, he took in the strong whiff of disinfectant. It had been such a long time since he had seen Morstein- he wondered how the meeting would go.

It had been a long time since he saw Morstein- twenty three years, in fact. James hadn’t heard from him since the war. He came to know last year that Morstein had moved to NYC. The instant he heard that, he was filled with an inevitable deluge of emotion. Anger that Morstein hadn’t attempted to call him, relief that he had made it out alive, happiness that they were going to meet again and nostalgia on remembering the old days. Immediately, James started to plan his trip to New York from his hometown of Miami, Florida. And the result was that after numerous delays and cancellations, here he was, less than fifty feet from his old friend and one-time nemesis.

“Mr. James!” the blonde woman called out, this time a little louder.

Suddenly waking up, he stared quizzically her. “You can go in now sir.” she said.

He nodded politely to her, hoping it would compensate for his brusque manner earlier. But he still disliked her enough not to say thank you. And he didn’t feel bad about it. He was not Canadian.

James paused for a second before the door. Involuntarily, he held his breath and in doing so, felt his heart beat like there was no tomorrow. James was not a nervous man and he could hold it together despite all this, but he didn’t like the idea “holding it together”. He didn’t want to be “holding it together”. He wanted there to be no situation that required “holding it together.”

Regardless, he straightened up, adjusted his tie, and pausing for a brief millisecond  with his hand on the door knob, he turned and entered.

The first reaction both men had was the same. It was in Manhattan parlance, the look over. A quick survey from head to toe of the other person. Morstein was neatly clad- a spic and span white lab coat adorned his navy blue shirt underneath and his black pair of trousers. James noticed he had gotten new spectacles. That was new. The office was spacious enough. There was a table, three chairs around it with a larger one for the doctor. A bed, complete with clean sheets on it, and a wash basin with soap. Despite not having been to many doctors, he couldn’t see a lot of them outdoing this room. It seemed, as his mother would put it, “clean as a squeak.” James had no idea what that expression meant but felt it was appropriate.

“Please, sit.” Morstein said, after a brief silence.

Taking his seat, James surveyed Morstein again. His face seemed significantly more older. Mature is what he would have called it- as if somehow practicing medicine through the years had made him wiser.

“Twenty three years, huh?” Morstein said.

“Twenty three years.” James replied, smiling a little.

“How’ve you been?”

“Been good. Yeah. You?”

“Doing okay.”

There was a brief pause. James was looking intently at a paper weight on Morstein’s desk.

“You had that in the war, didn’t you?” recalling from his still razor sharp memory of the same object.

Morstein turned his attention to the object of fascination. “Yeah. I did.”

“Nice to see you aren’t totally out of touch with your past.”

Morstein laughed. And James laughed with him. Neither was really sure what was so funny about that.

“Well,” Morstein said, “it’s one of the few things that haven’t changed.”

“Unlike your name, I see.” James remarked, casually picking up the name-board. It read, ‘Claude Morstein, M.D.’

Morstein seemed to take his time processing James’ sentence. James knew why he had to change his name. He just wanted to hear Morstein say it himself. ┬áMorstein looked down, contemplating on how best to put the response out. Slowly looking up, he sighed, smiled wryly and said, “Well, there’s not much scope in America for Dr. Klaus Morstein, ex- Nazi surgeon, is there?”

*****

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