Monday, August 24, 2009

DBTL 22A: Ticket to Ride

This is the latest installment in the Drowned Baby Timeline, an alternate history where Adolf Hitler drowned at birth and where World War II never took place. The largest state in Central Europe is the Polish Commonwealth, which includes the historical Second Polish Republic, eastern Germany, and the former Soviet republics of Byelorussia and Ukraine. Following victory in the Second Soviet War, the Commonwealth is experiencing a cultural renaissance . . .

Odessa, Ukrainian Devo, Polish Commonwealth
22 January 1946

"Ringo!" exclaimed Shlomo Kaminsky. "Where the hell have you been? We go on in half an hour!"

"I got lost," Ringo Gold admitted sheepishly. "I forgot the name of the club. And when I told the cabbie it was next door to Donov's restaurant, he asked me which one. It turns out there are a dozen restaurants in Odessa called Donov's."

"Don't the owners get angry at each other?" asked Leon Svirsky.

"The same man owns all of them," Gold explained.

Leon blinked. "Well, I guess that would explain why they're all called Donov's, if Donov owns them all."

"The owner is named Roy Krokowski," said Gold.

The others looked at him in bewilderment.

"The cabbie explained it," Gold said. "After the Communists were driven out, the new city government sold off a bunch of state-owned restaurants. This fellow named Krokowski bought some of them, and since the Communists had built them all on a standardized plan, he decorated them all the same, and gave them all the same basic menu and the same name."

"So why Donov's and not Krokowski's?" said Herschel Grynszpan.

"The cabbie didn't know," said Gold.

"Hang on," said Shlomo, as he recalled the meal they had eaten, "you mean they all serve nothing but Hamburg-style steaks and French-fried potatoes?"

"That's what the cabbie said," Gold confirmed. "He said there were only four to start out with, but in the last six months Krokowski has made enough money to buy eight more. He's even planning to open new ones in Kiev and Kharkov."

Colonel Tadeusz Paruszewski burst into the dressing room. "Where's Ringo? There you are! What, not into your outfit yet? Come on, hurry up, it's only twenty minutes to showtime! Mach schnell, mach schnell!" The Colonel continued to harangue them in his Dutch-accented Polish, throwing in scattered words from half a dozen other languages as he chivvied them out of the dressing room and up the stairs to the stage.

It was their first gig in Odessa, but there was a sell-out crowd at the club. They had a top-ten hit called "Hot and Heavy" (inspired by Herschel's ex-girlfriend Elena) that was getting airplay all over the Commonwealth. Soon the club was throbbing to the beat of Ringo's drums as they filled the place with fast-paced klezmerol music. The audience started screaming as soon as the curtain lifted, and they didn't stop until it came down again two hours later. Shlomo and the others did two encores, then made a strategic escape out the stage door to a waiting cab.

"The Ambassador, please, and step on!" Shlomo called to the cabbie. Then he lurched back in his seat as the cab leaped forward.

Five hair-raising minutes later, they were at their hotel, and Ringo (the only band member who was currently carrying any cash) left the cabbie a big tip. As they made their way through the lobby, a balding middle-aged man in a conservative suit approached them. "Shlomo Kaminsky?" he said.

Shlomo was impressed by the fact that the man addressed his comment to the right Vonts. "Yes," he said.

The man said, "My name is Leonid Banchek. I'm--"

"You're the President of Otown Records!" exclaimed Leon.

Shlomo was impressed. The Odessa-based record company was another formerly state-owned business that had been sold off by the city government. Banchek had adroitly capitalized on the klezmerol craze to build Otown into the largest record company in the Commonwealth, leaving the more conservative Warsaw companies to play catch-up. Banchek's stable of Jewish-Ukrainian acts had even developed their own distinctively melodic variety of klezmerol which was known in the scene as the Otown Sound.

Smiling, Banchek added, "And I'm here to offer you a recording and touring contract. Otown will sponsor a tour of Europe and America for the Vontzim, and release your next ten singles."

Shlomo said, "Colonel Paruszewski is our manager. If you've got an offer to make, you should make it to him."

"I already have," said Banchek. "He turned it down."

"He what?" shouted Leon. "Why?"

"He gave me a number of unconvincing reasons," said Banchek, "and that made me suspicious, so I did some checking. It turns out that 'Colonel Paruszewski' is in the Commonwealth illegally. If you tour outside the country, he can't go with you or he'll run the risk of not being allowed back in."

Shlomo turned to look at his bandmates, and he read the same message in each of their faces. Turning back, he said, "Mr. Banchek, you've got yourself a deal."

"Like hell you have!" bellowed a Dutch-accented voice. "I've got an ironclad contract!" the Colonel stormed as he burst in through the lobby doors. "Get your worthless skin out of here, Banchek, or I'll have hotel security throw you out!"

"An impartial jury might decide that your accounting trickery with the band's finances represents a breach of contract, Colonel Paruszewski," Banchek said calmly. "Or should I say, van Kuijk."

The Colonel glared at Shlomo and his bandmates. "You try to dump me, and I'll sue your sorry yid asses into the poorhouse!"

Shlomo laughed at his soon-to-be-ex-manager as he and the others followed Banchek out the door. "We've got a ticket to ride," he said, "and we don't care."

(Thanks to Mike Davis for the Otown Sound.)

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