So, here I am, a history professor being asked to consult on a cold case dating back to 1933.
I have to admit I’m intrigued and Abe Rosen, the homicide detective working the case, seems to be the kind of guy I’d choose for a friend.
I like him. I like his sense of humor and his down to earth manner.
And as we walk to get a sandwich, we talk sports.
Turns out, he’s a hockey fan. I can picture us, improbably, of course, going to a game—or, more likely, playing together in my hockey league.
He seems to feel the same way. “Do you follow the Leafs?”
“Yeah, I’m a masochist,” I deadpan.
“I sometimes get tickets to the games. We should go sometime.”
“I’d like that.” It’s a nice dream.
By this point, we’ve made it to the coffee shop and bought our roast beef sandwiches and coffees. I go to pay, but Abe waves me off.
“I’ll put it on my expense tab,” he chuckles.
“Do you have one?”
“Naw, but you’re doing me a favor.”
“You’re assuming I’ll be able to help,” I remind him.
“Well, if you can’t, then you can buy a round of drinks when we take in the game.”
The way he says it, I know we’re going to be friends. He and I are cut from the same cloth.
The excellent sandwiches pleasantly surprise both of us—they’re piled high with thinly sliced beef and served on a fresh poppy seed bun. I add mustard to mine—and pepper—lots of pepper.
We sit wordlessly enjoying them. After Abe finishes his, he reaches into his inner coat pocket and draws out an envelope and passes it across the table to me.
“See what you can make of this, Scott. It’s from Emma Gladstone, the wife of the suspect.”
I open the envelope, take out the letter and spread it out on the table to read.
To whom it may concern:
I have lived with this guilt ever since my husband Bert confided to me that he killed a police constable during the Depression.
He and his friend, Jake Goode, robbed a pharmacy on Queen Street and were surprised by a policeman. Bert and the police officer exchanged gunfire and the officer was hit.
Bert made me promise not to say anything because he was afraid Jake would kill both of us if he thought we’d talk.
My husband told me he wandered the streets that night looking for a place to hide the gun. He was near a huge laundry business and kept walking past it until he came to a park. There was a baseball diamond there. He crawled under a wooden press box, and buried the gun as deep as he could in the dirt.
Shortly afterward, Jake Goode was arrested for another robbery and was sentenced to ten years in Kingston Penitentiary. Bert, however, totally reformed and never committed another crime.
Jake died in prison. Bert turned his back on his past and never returned for the gun.
I hope this letter is found someday and helps bring closure to this case,
I sense Abe watching me—out of the corner of my eye, I see him fidgeting—folding and unfolding his paper napkin. “So, what do you think?” he asks.
I look up into his earnest face and have to smile. “I think you’re the kind of guy I’d like all cops to be.”
He smiles ruefully—I guess he figures the same too.
“Thanks, Scott—appreciate that—but seriously, have you got any clues?”
“Sort of—Look, I don’t want to get your hopes up—but I know a guy.”
“Ha ha,” he laughs merrily, “When you’re a cop, that’s music to your ears.”
“Yeah, well like I said, don’t get your hopes up—this guy was almost ninety—and that was two years ago. He may be dead now.”
“Who is this guy?”
“A local man. I met him through a student. He’s a living relic of the Depression era. I was lecturing on the rise of Fascism in Germany during the Thirties and we were studying its effects around the world—even here in Toronto.”
Abe’s eyebrows lift. “Really—Fascism here, in staid, old Hog Town?”
“Did you ever hear of the Christie Pits Riot?”
He shakes his head. “Can’t say as I have.”
“It’s not a pretty chapter in Toronto history. Chinamen, Italians and Jews all had a hard time of it back in the day.”
“I know—my Zayde used to tell me how Jews weren’t even allowed to swim at Toronto beaches.”
“To tell the truth, Abe, back then, Jews weren’t even allowed to join the police force.”
He softens. “I know what you’re trying to say Scott—but I didn’t grow up in a bubble—I was constantly hassled on my way to Jewish shul, and I’m not immune to the occasional barb—even now, from fellow cops.”
I nod and take a deep breath. “Okay—you want to know—well, here goes. That year, 1933, was a summer of hate in Europe with Hitler spouting his anti-Semitic tripe. Back home here, it was a warm Wednesday night in August with a doubleheader baseball game—and one team predominantly Jewish.”
“Sounds like a potential powder keg,” he whispers.
“It was. During the game, some teenagers began waving a bed sheet with a painted swastika on it. The Jewish players found it offensive and before long a fight breaks out, with the Italian players jumping in on the side of the Jews.”
“How bad was it?”
“It involved 10,000 people and went on for about six hours.”
“Believe it or not, nobody got killed—but the real victim with the black eye was the city—Toronto the Good—its reputation forever sullied.”
“So, how does this tie in with my case?”
The grandfather of one of my students—Harry Greenspan, witnessed the riot. He was ten at the time. I interviewed him and recorded his observations.”
“Okay…” he says dubiously—still unsure of where I’m going.
“I think the park mentioned in your letter was Christie Pits—I vaguely recall there was a large laundry nearby.”
His eyes widen. “Wow, that’s great! And the old guy would know if there were a press box there in 1933.”
“Oh, I’m pretty sure he’d be dead certain about it—after all, he was at the riot—the day after Bert supposedly buried the gun under the press box.”
“Bingo!” he shouts. The coffee shop patrons give us curious looks.
“Sorry,” he adds sheepishly.
“Don’t worry about it—like I said, I’m not even sure Harry’s still alive, or if he’ll be able to help.”
“But if he is, this may be the break I’m looking for.”
I stand up, getting ready to head back to class. “I’ll give you a call when I know something.”
His eyes are shining. “I knew Mar was right—she’s got a nose for things.” He lays an index finger aside his own rather large proboscis.
I just grin, shake my head, and clap him on the shoulder as I leave.
“And don’t forget about the hockey game, “ he calls after me, “I’ll try to get tickets.”
I salute him without looking round, raising a hand high in the air.
I feel like I’ve taken a step into the past and can feel the excitement at where this adventure’s going to take me.
to be continued……
© 2017 – 2018, John J Geddes. All rights reserved.