Sins of the Family Chapter Eleven

After the evening broadcast, Joe called Bob over to his desk. His moribund look was even more stern than usual. He looked up over his glasses at Bob and nodded at the chair next to him.
Bob settled uneasily into a metal folding chair, sensing disapproval in Joe’s attitude. While his boss did not smile much, Bob could always tell that everything was in general acceptable. A pleasant grunt meant he acknowledged Bob’s interviews were professional. Today, however, he knew something had not met Joe’s standards of broadcast journalism.
“If I had seen that report first,” Joe said, “it wouldn’t have gone on the air.”
“Why not?”
“It was absolutely nothing. That’s why not.” Joe sighed. “To ask him about Jews when he’s alleged to have killed a union leader is like interviewing Richard Nixon about playing poker.”
“If I had asked him about the actual charges, his lawyer wouldn’t have allowed him to speak.”
“A lawyer, whom I understand, you got for him.” He nodded. “Yeah, I heard about that.”
“Everybody has a right to a lawyer.”
“Listen, this whole thing stinks. You’re cozy with the granddaughter of a guy accused of killing somebody, and you’re out there reporting on it.”
“Other than this interview, can you fault my reports on the Schmidt case?”
“No, but…”
“And about that interview, at least we had it. Nobody else had an interview, no matter what the topic.”
“Nobody else has a reporter playing around with the granddaughter.”
“This is my private life you’re talking about.” Bob stiffened. “I’ve given you years of good service, and I think I deserve to be treated with respect.”
“All right, don’t get your back up.” Joe slouched back in his chair and eyed Bob. “I think someone else should cover the hearing tomorrow.”
“Fine.” Bob stood. “Then two weeks from tomorrow, I’ll find employment elsewhere. I’ve stayed at Forty-three longer than most reporters. Maybe it’s time I looked around for an anchor position somewhere.”
“Sit down, you can cover the hearing.” Joe almost smiled. “If you’re going to take it that way, then forget it.”
Bob sat, not quite knowing if he had won the confrontation as he continued to glare at his boss.
“You know the surveys as well as anybody. You’re Knoxville’s most popular broadcast reporter. You’ve got across-the-board demographics. Old ladies want to mother you. Men want to go fishing with you. Teen-aged girls think you’re cute. If word got out you were available, every station in town would make you an offer by noon.”
Bob nodded, realizing now he had, indeed, won.
“In the future I’ll check with you before interviews of this kind are aired.” He paused, taking time finally to consider the ethics of the situation, and shrugged. “And you’re right. I shouldn’t cover the hearing. Let me do the morning report and explain why I’m turning it over to Betty.”
“Thanks. That’s the Bob Meade I know.”
“If that’s all…” Bob stood to leave.
“One last concern.” Joe raised his hand and wrinkled his brow. “I hope you aren’t holding back anything you know about this story.”
“Of course I am.”
“What?” Joe’s eyes widened.
“My journalism professor always said if you’re reporting everything you know you don’t know enough.” Bob leaned over the desk. “Listen, I met Jill before her grandfather ever became the hot story of the summer. I’ll not betray her trust in me to air information that’ll give you a few extra overnight points but in the long run won’t make a bit of difference in the outcome of this case.”
“Having a girlfriend has given you a backbone.” Joe released one of his rare smiles.
The next morning Bob stood in front of the federal court building in Knoxville facing the camera.
“Federal Judge Marvin Copland begins hearing arguments today in the controversial Heinrich Schmidt deportation case. Among the witnesses today will be Mrs. Eva Moeller who alleges Mr. Schmidt, long-time Gatlinburg businessman, murdered her husband, a union leader in the early nineteen forties in Nazi Germany.” Bob smiled. “This will be my last report on this story. Because of personal connections I have with the Schmidt family, Channel Forty-three has decided to bring in anchorperson Betty Sargent to report further developments to avoid an appearance of conflict of interest on my part. Thank you for your understanding in this matter.”
In a conference room inside the court building, Bob met with members of the family and Jeff Holt, who pulled out a notepad and studied it for a short time before speaking.
Jill looked at Bob, smiled and leaned into his shoulder.
“I heard your report this morning,” she whispered. “I’m sorry. I hope it doesn’t hurt your career.”
“It would have hurt it more if I hadn’t stepped aside.”
“I’ve done a lot of thinking on how we should proceed with this case, and I’ve come to certain decisions,” Jeff said. “I want to share them with you now.”
“Go ahead.” Ed took Carol’s hand and squeezed.
“First thing, Peter, you won’t be translating for your parents,” Jeff said. “This is no reflection on you. The court has appointed an interpreter for both sides. This way we know everything is on the up and up. Second, Mr. Schmidt will not take the stand. I’ll tell the judge he’s had a stroke and his ability to communicate varies from day to day and, well, we don’t know how much he’ll be able to understand at any given time.”
“Good.” Greta nodded.
“Third, we have some serious side allegations that I don’t want to get tripped up on.” Jeff looked straight at Rudolph. “Now you already told me that your brother Heinrich was a member of the Nazi party, correct?”
Peter translated the question, and Rudolph raised his eyebrows and said, “Ich erinnere mich…”
“He says he doesn’t remember saying that…”
“Tell him to cut the crap,” Jeff snapped. “Yes or no?”
When Rudolph received the translation, he smiled, looked at Jeff and nodded.
“Nazi and Gestapo?” Jeff asked straight to him.
Again Rudolph nodded.
“Good.” He looked around the room. “We’ll bring this up first. Lay it on the table. Don’t let the other side spring it on us. Sure, he was a Nazi, a Gestapo agent, but hat doesn’t prove he’s a murderer.” He inhaled. “As far as testimony goes, it’s her word against his about what happened that night, right?”
When no one concurred, Jeff repeated, “Right?”
“As far as we know,” Peter said.
“I don’t like that phrase.” Jeff shook his head. “Interpret this question to everyone so they clearly understand. I don’t want any surprises. Do they know of any stories, any information at all that could pop out and bite us?”
Peter translated to his parent and Rudolph. Franz looked at Jeff and raised his hand.
He told the story about Heinrich being beaten by the milk maid’s husband. Heinrich sat up.
“I don’t want that told,” Heinrich said. “I am a strong man. Never anything happen to me like that except one time. No one has to know that story.”
“If we don’t tell it, the prosecutor will, Mr. Schmidt,” Jeff said with professional authority.
“I don’t want people to know that,” Heinrich said in a huff.
“Don’t worry, Dad.” Ed put his hand on his father’s shoulder. “It’s going to be all right.”
Peter proceeded with the story and after hearing the translation, Jeff frowned.
“That might give motivation.” He paused to shrug and added, “but it also reflects poorly on the character of Hans Moeller.”
“And don’t forget Hans was a drunk,” Greta offered with eagerness. “Everyone in this room from Oberbach has seen Hans Moeller drunk. We can say so to the judge. I can tell the judge all sorts of stories about what Hans did when he was drunk.”
“If you testify about Hans Moeller, then you have to testify about your husband, and I don’t think you want to do that,” Jeff said. He looked at Helga, Franz and Rudolph. “Can you testify to Hans Moeller’s public drunkenness?”
Peter interpreted the question, and all three nodded yes.
“Very good.” Jeff stood. “There’s no such thing as bad information in a trial, as long as you bring it up, take responsibility for it and, you say, so what? But if you’re hiding something from me and the judge, the prosecution brings it out and proves it, you might as well buy your ticket for Germany right now. Understand?”
After Jeff left the room, Greta turned to Bob and Jill and shook her head.
“He isn’t as nice as he was in my living room.”
“You don’t win cases by being nice,” Jill said, hugging her.
“You win them by being tough in court,” Bob added.
The hearing began. After opening statements, the prosecutor called Eva to the stand. The court-appointed interpreter stood by the box with his hands folded in front of him.
“Now, Mrs. Moeller,” the prosecutor spoke in a measured cadence for the interpreter’s benefit. “Please tell us what happened the night of August twelfth, nineteen forty, at your home outside Oberbach, Germany.”
Eva nodded curtly as the interpreter told her what the prosecutor requested. Her voice was high and shrill. Her hard eyes pierced the audience.
“I’ve never seen so much hatred in someone’s eyes before,” Jill said, leaning into Bob’s ear.
He looked over at Greta and watched her pull a worn lace handkerchief from her purse.
“Jenner mann und…”
“That man and two of his men came to my house.” The interpreter began Eva’s story. “They pushed their way in…”
“Objection,” Jeff interrupted. “It’s been forty years since this incident, and I seriously doubt the witness can definitely say my client is the same person who entered her home so many years ago.”
As the interpreter translated Jeff’s words to Eva, her lips pinched in resentment. Language spewed fast from her mouth, “Ich wurde kie…” Waving in contempt at Greta, Eva added, “Uns ich wurde jene…” She ended with a spitting noise. The interpreter’s mouth dropped as she looked at the judge with antagonism.
“Go ahead,” Judge Copland urged him.
Clearing his throat, the interpreter proceeded with caution.
“I’d recognize those horrible eyes anywhere. It’s been forty years, and he’s a fat bald old man, yes, but he can’t hide that hate in his eyes and the smirk on his lips.” Sebastian paused as his face reddened. “And I’d know that stupid cow of a wife of his anywhere.”
Greta put her hand to her cheek as Bob and Jill put their arms around her. Wiping tears from her eyes, she shook her head.
“Why would this woman say such terrible things about us?”
“She’s been hurt, Grandma,” Jill said.
“She’ll be finished soon,” Bob added, “and it’ll all be over.”
“Objection overruled,” Judge Copland said. “Let the record show that Mrs. Moeller identified to the best of her recollection the defendant as the man who entered her home on August twelfth, nineteen forty. Continue.”
After the prosecutor nodded to her, Eva told more of her story, “Sie haben Hans…”
“They took my husband Hans into our bedroom and slammed the door shut,” the interpreter translated. “They said they were from the government. They said Hans and the woodcutters’ guild were bad Germans because they didn’t follow the Fuhrer’s commands.”
“Did they identify themselves as members of the Gestapo?” the prosecutor said.
Eva nodded with vigor as she listened to the interpreter’s words and replied, “Ja haben sie Gestape…”
“Yes, they said they were Gestapo.” Tears filled her eyes as he continued. “They beat up my husband. I heard him screaming. I banged on the door, but they wouldn’t let me in. Then they cut him and made him bleed and then my Hans, my beautiful Hans, died.”
“Objection.” Jeff stood and pointed at the witness stand. “By her own testimony, Mrs. Moeller says she wasn’t in the room so she is only speculating what actions were taken out of her presence.”
Eva screamed at Jeff when she was told what he declared.
“Den nachten morgen…”
“The next morning when they finally let me in the room, there was blood on the floor!”
Beginning his cross-examination, Jeff approached the witness box and matched Eva’s icy glare with his own cool stare.
“Mrs. Moeller, why was it the next morning and not later that night you went into the room?”
“Sie haben mich aus…”
“They threw me out of my own home,” the interpreter translated.
“Is it possible, because of your highly emotional condition, they thought it would be best for your own well-being to spend the night with loved ones?”
Eva spat an expletive, “Ich werde sie ficken!” which the interpreter refused to translate.
“Mrs. Moeller,” Jeff said, leaning in on her, “have you always had problems with bouts of hysteria?”
“Objection,” the prosecutor said.
Jeff turned to the judge and raised his arms, rolling his eyes.
“Your honor, it’s obvious by Mrs. Moeller’s outbursts that she easily loses control of her emotions to her own detriment.”
Looking at Eva again, Jeff expanded his earlier question.
“Is it not possible that your husband had been confrontational when the man you described as Mr. Schmidt tried to question his activities?”
“Nein,” she replied.
“Didn’t that man, whoever he may have been, and his associates find it necessary to use force against your husband for their own protection?” Jeff said, his voice becoming firmer.
“Your husband was much taller and larger than the man you described as Mr. Schmidt, wasn’t he?”
“So therefore, the man you described as Mr. Schmidt might have had to exert such force to account for the trace of blood you described on the floor?”
Eva’s head shuddered as she wept.
“And is it not true that your husband was a known alcoholic in the town of Oberbach?”
“Objection,” the prosecutor said.
“Your honor,” Jeff said, walking toward Helga, Franz and Rudolph and gesticulating their way, “I plan to bring witnesses who will testify to the fact that, indeed, Mr. Moeller’s own inability to overcome his addiction to alcohol drove him repeatedly to engage in socially unacceptable behavior, actions which very well could have resulted in the accident that led to his unfortunate demise.”
Jeff turned back to Eva.
“Can you deny that after the man you described as Mr. Schmidt and his associates left the house your husband may very well have gone out of the home to seek alcohol and, as he had done many times before, become intoxicated and fell down an embankment, knocking himself unconscious, whereby bears could maul him to death?” He wagged a finger at her. “Remember, you testified you were out of the house the rest of that night and could not possibly know what occurred. Don’t you believe each man is responsible for his own behavior? Don’t you know your husband was responsible for his own death?”
After the interpreter translated Jeff’s question, Eva bounded to her feet and tried to clamber over the witness stand, her arms flailing at Jeff. Guards subdued her and forced her from the courtroom.
“I will call a ten-minute recess to allow Mrs. Moeller to compose herself,” Judge Copland said.
Bob surveyed those around him. Ed put his arm on Carol’s shoulder. She was trembling with her eyes closed. Greta stared off into space, emotionless. Heinrich, Bob could swear, was smiling smugly. In the hallway, Jill leaned against the wall and sighed. After a few moments she focused on Bob and wrinkled her brow.
“It just struck me. Shouldn’t you be at work? I mean, if you’re not covering the hearing for the station…”
“I took the day off. I had some hours coming, and I thought you’d like someone to talk to.”
“You’re so sweet.” She reached out to squeeze his hand.
“Don’t say that,” Bob said, his eyes teasing her. “That’s the kiss of death. Every time a girl tells me that I’m sweet I never see her again.”
“You don’t have to worry about that.” Jill looked down.
When the hearing resumed, Jeff deferred any more questions for Eva and put Rudolph on the stand with Peter acting as his interpreter, though he was not needed.
“Mr. Schmidt, was your brother a member of the Nazi party?”
He nodded without emotion.
“Let the record show Mr. Schmidt indicated the affirmative,” the judge said.
“Was he employed by the Gestapo?”
He nodded again.
“Let the record show Mr. Schmidt replied in the affirmative.”
“Did your brother ever discuss the death of Hans Moeller with you?”
Rudolph shook his head.
“Let the record show Mr. Schmidt replied in the negative.”
“Did you know Hans Moeller?”
He nodded.
“Let the record show Mr. Schmidt replied in the affirmative.”
“Had you ever been in Mr. Moeller’s presence when he was clearly out of control of his behavior because of drinking too much alcohol?”
Rudolph smirked as he nodded.
“Let the record show Mr. Schmidt replied in the affirmative,” the judge said, a dullness entering his voice.
“No further questions.”
After the prosecution passed on cross-examination, Jeff called Helga to the stand. Jeff smiled and winked at her.
“How would you characterize your brother-in-law Heinrich Schmidt?”
After the interpreter translated, Helga said a sentence in German which she had used many times in talking to Jeff.
“Heinrich Schmidt was hard-working.”
“Was he held in the same esteem by the rest of his community?”
She nodded after hearing the translation.
“Let the record show Mrs. Bitner replied in the affirmative.”
“Did you know Hans Moeller?”
“Did you ever observe him in an extreme state of intoxication?”
“No more questions.”
The prosecutor stood to cross-examine.
“Is that the best you can say about your brother-in-law, that he was hard-working?”
“Objection,” Jeff said.
“Mr. Holt brought up questions of character of the defendant.” The prosecutor turned to the judge. “It is only fair to hear testimony about all facets of his character, Your Honor.”
Helga looked at her sister, then at Jeff and squared her jaw.
“You could not swear under oath that you thought your brother-in-law was an honest man? A decent man?”
After the translation, Helga looked the prosecutor straight in the eyes.
“Could you describe Hans Moeller as a hard-working man?”
Hearing the question translated, Helga looked a bit surprised and shrugged her shoulders.
“Was Hans Moeller an honest, decent man?”
Helga giggled and shook her head.
“Let the record show Mrs. Bitner replied in the negative.”
“No further questions.”
Jeff next called Franz who maintained his serene countenance. Turning to look at Eva, Jeff asked his next question loud and clear, so Sebastian would be sure to translate it for her.
“Did you work cutting trees with Hans Moeller?”
After the interpreter spoke to him, Franz nodded.
“Let the record show Mr. Bitner replied in the affirmative.”
“Did Hans Moeller miss many days of work?”
He nodded again.
“Let the record show Mr. Bitner replied in the affirmative.”
“Why did he miss those days of work?”
Franz spoke in a soft voice, and the interpreter translated, “He was drunk.”
“Objection,” the prosecutor said. “This is hearsay evidence.”
“Your Honor, allow me to ask the witness the source of his information.”
“Very well.”
Jeff turned back to Franz. “Who told you Hans Moeller was too drunk to work?”
“Hans did,” the interpreter translated his reply. “He liked to talk about how much he drank. He thought it was funny.”
“He liked to talk about other things, too, didn’t he?”
“Objection,” the prosecutor said.
“Oh, I think you’ll like this one.” Jeff turned to look grimly at him.
“Withdrawn,” he said, wrinkling his brow.
“Proceed,” the judge said.
When Jeff returned his attention to Franz, he asked him to relate the milk maid story, which he did. Eva smiled with smug satisfaction, Bob noticed, while Greta and Heinrich turned red in embarrassment.
“Grandma insists that incident happened before they got married,” Jill whispered to Bob.
When the interpreter finished translating Franz’ story, the prosecutor stood, looking as though he were at a loss for words.
“No cross-examination.”
After the lunch break, the lawyers began their summations. The prosecutor stood to face Judge Copland.
“Your Honor, ladies and gentlemen, before you today is a valiant lady who has spent most of her life tracking down the man responsible for the death of her husband forty years ago.”
As he pointed to Eva, Greta shook her head.
“Don’t worry, Grandma.” Jill patted her hand. “It’ll be over soon.”
“Will it?” Greta looked at Jill with sad eyes.
“Mrs. Eva Moeller is to be commended for her efforts in searching mailing lists, telephone books in every country of the world,” the prosecutor continued as he walked over to stand by Eva. “She did not give up until she found Heinrich Schmidt who has been hiding out in our very own Smoky Mountains.”
Bob watched Ed frown as he leaned over to whisper in Carol’s ear. “I don’t call running a shop with a lighted water wheel hiding out.”
Carol nodded, but Bob could not tell if she were entirely sympathetic to Heinrich’s situation.
“This man, who was a Gestapo agent of Nazi Germany, is an undesirable and must be deported,” the prosecutor said. “Unfortunately, we cannot try him for the crime of murder. But we can make sure he does not stay in this country which took him in and gave him a living for many years.”
After the prosecutor took his seat, Jeff stood and slowly walked to Eva.
“Like the prosecutor,” he began, “I have many feelings for Mrs. Eva Moeller. But my feelings are sympathy for losing one’s mate early in life and sorrow that she has misspent the rest of her life blaming an innocent man for the unfortunate accident that took her husband’s life.”
Eva stiffened as Sebastian translated what Jeff said.
“Was Heinrich Schmidt a Nazi? His brother said he was,” Jeff said. “Many Germans were members of the Nazi party. But not all Nazis even knew of the excesses of the Third Reich. Just being a Nazi does not make them undesirable.”
Bob studied Heinrich’s face. He thought he detected a smile on his old pursed lips.
“Was Heinrich Schmidt a Gestapo officer? His brother said he was,” Jeff continued. “Many men served their country as members of the Gestapo. But not all of them committed the heinous crimes documented as work of a precious few. Being merely a Gestapo officer does not make Heinrich Schmidt an undesirable alien in this country.”
Bob’s gaze went between Heinrich and Eva, each of them being eaten alive by their dark emotions, making him feel sorry for both of them and doubt his part in the defense.
“Did Heinrich Schmidt kill Hans Moeller? We were not there so we don’t know. Mrs. Moeller was there, forty years ago when she and, yes, Heinrich Schmidt were young people in the prime of life. I dare say neither of them bears even a faint resemblance to their former selves.”
Feeling Jill’s hand touch his, Bob glanced at her as she smiled with affection at him. Whatever he did, he decided, it was not for Heinrich’s sake but because of his love for Jill who was an entirely different person. However, Bob thought, giving into his qualms, the final effect of his actions was to side with this old man with the wicked turn to his mouth and he wondered what would happen to him because of it.
“In the light of lack of evidence, we could never find Heinrich Schmidt guilty of murder; therefore, there is no way we could hold him undesirable because of some man’s unfortunate accidental death forty years ago.”
Judge Copland took the case file in his hands and looked out at the participants of the hearing.
“This is a thick folder of evidence, and the testimony presented here was weighty. I refuse to rush to judgment.” He looked over at his calendar and squinted. “Considering this is Friday, I will adjourn until 10 a.m. Monday which will give me, I feel, sufficient time to come to a decision.” He rapped his gavel. “Hearing adjourned.”
As the court room cleared, Heinrich smiled with contentment. All was going the way he had anticipated. That was because he always won, he told himself. Then Heinrich became aware of his brother Rudolph sitting next to him, one hand around his shoulder comforting him with a gentle pat while his other hand found its way to Heinrich’s crotch.
Rudolph lean in and whispered with spite, “Do you know the real reason I came here? To help you? No, I don’t care about you. But I do care about the name of Schmidt. I didn’t want you coming back to Oberbach in chains for trial to make a laughingstock out of me.”
Heinrich winced as Rudolph punched him hard in the crotch while still patting his shoulder.
“I don’t know if you killed Hans or not, and I don’t care. Hans deserved to die, but if you did kill him you should have killed Eva too that night. You should have known she would have come looking for you.” Rudolph punched him again. “You’re stupid, sloppy and lazy.” A third punch was even stronger as the hand on Heinrich’s shoulder stroked him with affection. “You think you are smart. You think you are a winner. But you are disgusting. He never told you, but papa thought you were the most worthless human being he ever met.”
Helga leaned over to give Carol a hug. Carol smiled affectionately and returned her embrace. Jill turned to Bob, appearing contented in particular.
“I’m so glad Aunt Helga has been kind to mom,” she said. “You know, since they’ve been in the house, mom hasn’t had a single drink. And look.” She pointed to the Schmidt brothers sitting next to each other. “Even grandpa and Uncle Rudolph are getting along. Maybe all this is worth the pain if it brings the family together.”
Greta approached to her sister and tugged on her arm, muttering some command in German. Helga nodded but did not leave without giving Carol one last kiss on the cheek. Greta and Helga fussed back and forth in German every step out of the court.
“Thank you again for spending the day with me,” Jill said. “It seems I’ve been saying that a lot lately.”
“Maybe it’s time we had some time to ourselves. What would you like to do tomorrow? We could take a hike in the Smokies.”
“That sounds good, but first thing tomorrow morning I want to do something else.” Taking Bob’s hand, she headed for the door.
“Go to Clinton.”
“Clinton?” Bob stopped.
“That’s where you keep your father, isn’t it?”

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