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Saturday, August 17th 2013

5:36 PM

Character Profile #3: Moses Kubielski, a.k.a. Peter Wessel

 Moses Kubielski- age 48, (Harvey Keitel-esque, with a hint of Carl Reiner) AKA the “wild-eyed wanderin’ Jew,” by Serena and “Cueball Kabeesky" by various Bisquites, real name Peter Wessel; owner of the Winston Theatre and Hamm County Beverage Co. (“This beer’s made to sell, not to drink.”).  An only child born in the USA of parents who came to the US from Dublin, Moses is an American citizen and US Navy veteran who returned to Germany in 1932 (at age 24).  In the course of his life, he’ll be, in his own words, “...bullshat by the Navy, Nazis, Rotarians and Reds, all telling me their version of the same song: “Do it our way, or else.”  Somewhere along the way, partly because of stories his father told him as a child, he began to see himself as a kind of knight-errant, destined to do battle against the stifling influences of civilization as he’s experienced it.  He perceives most of society’s regulation (his term is “thought slavery”) as anathema to the individual.

He becomes increasingly unwilling, then virtually unable, to take life, in its relative evanescence, seriously.  This is, of course, much easier to carry off with lots of money in the bank, but not every rich man is up to it.  Moses is essentially fearless.  In his perpetual quest for liberty, however, he’s frustrated in his love of women; his mother, Lídia, Sarah and Serena, enlightened through his liaison with Maxine, and, finally, fulfilled, in her way, by Linda.  He’s learned, from his only-child boyhood, the utility of always examining his options as he defines them before making important decisions.  His leitmotif, in fact, is “What are my options?”  During the years 1946-56, he transfers this predisposition to Jack.

He’s a New Yorker, first, last and always.  So he talks freely, with irony and humor.  He’s a funny man, but you know he’s angry when he fixes his steel-gray eyes on you in an unblinking stare.  He’s slow to attack; reflecting his ring style of counterpuncher, he times his response to aggression.  He has a loving nature, probably inherited from his mother’s Irish bloodline.  It’s this propensity to love that leads to his involvement with a series of interesting women with problems to match.  He also brings his full capacity to love to bear in his mentor relationship with Jack.  

Moses’ parents came to the US in 1905; his father married Sarah Dressler, a first-generation Irish girl of Jewish parents, while at the University of Dublin.  They settled in Manhattan’s Gramercy Park; Moses was born April 17, 1908.  Dr. Wessel worked at NYU, first as an instructor in the Philosophy department, then as a tenured professor.  Moses, who had become an excellent amateur boxer, joined the Navy at 19 after a lackluster freshman year at NYU.  He served a four-year enlistment from 1928 to 1932, becoming an Aviation Machinist’s Mate “striker” and continuing to box in Navy competition.  Toward the end of his enlistment, while a Seaman serving at Guantánamo Bay, he became involved in an affair with Lídia Tanner, a beautiful Cuban girl and the wife of the Chief Petty Officer for whom he worked.  When Chief Tanner learned about the affair, he arranged for false charges of larceny to be filed against Moses.  He was court-martialed, and found not guilty.  The process, however, soured Moses on the Navy, and he didn’t reenlist.  He returned to his parents’ home full of hostility, for both the Navy and the US, and, after a couple of professional fights as a light heavyweight in depression-era New York, decided to head for Germany, where he also had citizenship. 

He arrived in Germany in the winter of 1932, as Hitler and the National Socialists were taking control of the state.  While working in his uncle’s tailor shop, he met an aide of Erhard Milch, the Secretary of State at the Air Ministry.  Milch oversaw, among other things, the development of pilots in the sub-rosa Black Luftwaffe.  The aide, in the light of Moses’ experience in aviation maintenance, arranged to have him interviewed as a candidate for flight training.  He underwent flight training in Russia and Italy, and was commissioned as a Fliegeringenieur.

Completing his training in 1933, he was assigned to a fighter wing based near Frankfurt.  His squadron was equipped with Heinkel 51 biplanes.  At the opening of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, his squadron was ordered to a base near Seville to provide cover for the Junker 52 transports that would bring Franco’s Nationalist troops from Morocco to the mainland. 

In the fall of 1936, during takeoff on a maintenance test flight over Seville, Moses’ plane’s engine exploded, and he crashed.  His right leg was badly broken.  Dieter Brück, an Abwehr (Military Intelligence) agent who chanced to be returning to the airfield via a nearby road, pulled him from the wreckage before it exploded.  He was returned to Berlin for surgery on his leg.  His acquaintance with Dieter Brück in Spain led to his being recruited by the Abwehr to return to the US as a covert agent. 

In early 1937, the Abwehr resident agent in New York requested assistance in carrying out his mission against East coast defense contractors.  Because of his background in aviation, his fluent American English, and his ability to reenter the US legally on his own passport, Moses was recruited for the post, and was in New York by mid-March.  He assisted the resident, Emil Kramer, for four years in a variety of espionage assignments.  In July, 1941 he was ordered, in the seriously ill Kramer’s stead, to the German Embassy in Washington.  The Chargé de Affaires gave him $3 million, in $100 bills packed in 2 large suitcases, which was part of $5 million that had been sent from Germany to Washington for use in a plot to defeat FDR in the 1940 election.  He was to take the money to Kramer, who would use it to pay off an IRA group for assassinating Winston Churchill.  The assassination was to take place during Churchill’s meeting with FDR in Newfoundland in August. 

Having become increasingly disenchanted with Nazism, he decides to abscond with the money.  On arriving at Washington’s Union Station, he boards a train to Baltimore, sitting out the war there using pre-prepared credentials identifying him as Moses Kubielski, a motion picture projectionist.  While there, he meets Sarah Green, an alcoholic librarian, who introduces him to literature, notably Faulkner and Hemingway.  Their affair, stormy and doomed, continues until Moses’ departure in 1946; he pays for Linda, Sarah’s daughter, to go to Johns Hopkins.  He had decided to return to Cuba and live in Havana, where he was headed when his car broke down in Bisque.  His infatuation with Serena Mason and Bisque led to his staying, and prospering, there. 

The unexpected appearance in Bisque of Dieter Brück (alias Paul Pulaski), his old friend from the Abwehr, opens the door to yet another adventure to this well-worn thrill junkie.  Brück, now a KGB agent assigned to penetrate the nearby Savannah River nuclear plant, hints that he wants Moses to help him defect.  Even if he weren’t inclined to help Brück, he knows that his past is now vulnerable to exposure.  He must leave, and so must Brück, if only to preserve his legacy to Jack.  Besides, as he says to Jack, “I’ve been a merchant long enough.” 

Moses responds to the opportunities that are thrust upon him.  He’s a remarkable human being, possessing hard-won wisdom and a tenacious capacity for love.  His Bisque experiences change him, but asymmetrically.  In spite of his parental-like love for Jack, he is, at bottom, an irrepressible adventure addict- individualistic, self-centered, prone to vice and attracted by danger.  He’s courageous, pragmatic- much more responsive to the demands and needs of his immediate circumstances than to those of any overarching moral code.  After all is said and done, irrepressibility carries the day- “Viva Yo.”


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