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AA ~ The Adventures of Henrietta Fine ~ Chapter Four

The Adventures of Henrietta Fine  ~ Chapter Four

By Paul Levitt

Narrated by Elizabeth Mansfield

Published by LeRoy Chatfield


            A.R., I discovered, was none other than Arnold Rothstein, the gambler reputed to have fixed the 1919 World Series.  Although he made a pretty bundle on the series, he had simply followed the smart money.  When he saw the betting shift to Cincinnati against the favored Chicago White Sox, he knew the fix was in.  A thickset, well-mannered man, he spoke and dressed like a banker.  His cheeks were chalky and his forehead deeply creased at the junction of the eyebrows and nose.  He kept his shiny black hair slicked back and parted on the left.  Most striking were his large soft-brown eyes, which narrowed whenever he felt he’d been cheated.  Women must have found him exciting.  I did, but I wanted to tell him to trim the black hairs that grew from his nose.  On the drive south through the Skita State, I talked a blue streak:  about Pop’s dying and Uncle Sam and Mom’s isolation and my lucky silver dollar Babe Ruth gave me and my fear of dead birds and Charles Courtney and Lily and why I was named Henrietta.  What I said must’ve sounded funny because A.R. frequently laughed; and yet he seemed awfully distant, hardly speaking at all.  When I had run out of things to say, I asked him why he’d engineered my escape.

“You have to lay low until the bust and the robbery are out of the papers.  In the meantime I’ll get you Bill Fallon.  He’s the best mouthpiece in America.”

            I knew the popular slogan, “Get Fallon and go free.”  But I knew too that lamsters have a tough time proving their innocence.  What a mess.  Harry had also promised to get me a lawyer.  How could I possibly explain all this to him?  And my mother! 

            A.R. must have sensed my concern, because he asked, “What’s eating you?”

            When I explained, he told me that numerous times he’d been in serious trouble himself, and Fallon had invariably managed to spring him.  But I knew from the papers that Arnold Rothstein never helped anyone unless there was a payback.  

            “I still don’t understand why you took an interest in me.” 

            “I hate injustice.  I can smell it a mile away.  You saw me trying to talk Sully out of taking you in.  I could tell you were gonna be framed.”

            “What’s in it for you?” I brazenly asked, not for one second believing his line.

            “I have a big heart, Henny.  Everyone says the same thing:  You need money or a fix or some other kind of help, see A.R.”

            I listened—and worried.

            The last hour of the drive we sat in silence.  The morning light dispelled the darkness.  All I could see were scrub oaks, pines, and an occasional shack peeping out from the woods.  As we approached Vineland, vegetable and dairy farms began to appear, and orchards and feed lots.  Although a sign said that Vineland covered sixty-eight square miles, it looked to me as if the whole town could fit easily into five. 

            The chauffeur turned into a street called Delsea Drive, drove a short distance, and pulled up under a great copper beech glowing purple and red in the morning sun.  Removing two bags from the trunk—one leather, one cardboard—the chauffeur put the first in front of the house and the other under his arm, saying he’d find a place to stay down at the train yard.  The hideout was certainly no mansion.  The paint had fled years ago and the corrugated tin roof was more rust than metal.  A porch ran across the front of the house and down one side.  Met by a short balding man in a vest, with a gold chain stretched from one breast pocket to the other, I could see that the chain supported a Mason’s lavaliere and that he also had a ring with the same insignia. 

            “I heard it went sour.” 

            “Nathan,” said A.R., “shake hands with Henrietta Fine.  She’s a pal of mine.  Henny, this is Nathan Boritski.”

            As we shook, he asked, “Whatsa kid doin’ here?”

            “She’s working for me.”

            “I ain’t got much room.  Gurrah pulled up an hour ago.”

            A.R.’s neck muscles grew taut and his voice dropped off to a venomous whisper.  “The plan was for him to return to the city—and hang out in the Bronx!”

            Mr. Boritski took a handkerchief from his pocket and started dabbing his forehead.  “He said someone ratted . . . he said Vineland was safer.”

            “The cops must’ve had a plant at the party.  But that doesn’t explain who got off with the rocks.”

            Boritski shrugged his shoulders and, throwing me an unfriendly look, led us inside.  When I saw the furnishings and the rooms a name came to mind:  Castle Woe.  On one side of the house were two bedrooms, separated by a bathroom.  The mattresses, stuffed with rags, rested on rusty springs that squeaked so loudly that even the most passionate couples would have abstained.  On the other side of the house, the rooms, front to rear, were the parlor, the sitting room, the dining room, the kitchen and pantry.  Gurrah had taken the back bedroom; I settled into the front one.

            In back of the house stood a chicken coop and a small forge, where Nathan Boritski plied his glass trade.  An outsider could have been excused for thinking that the owner of this place was a homesteader.

            Gurrah’s presence rankled A.R.  Taking out a bankroll as fat as a fist, he peeled off some bills and told me to buy a toothbrush and clothes.  I took the hint.  Since he wanted me out of the house, I’d do just as he suggested.

“Just walk down Delsea Drive to Gordon’s ready-to-wear store ’cause they sell dirt cheap.” 

            On the road, I heard a flutter of fowls.  Taking a gander, I could tell that someone was disturbing the birds in the ramshackle coop.  I figured it must be a farmhand and went on my way.  Two hours later I returned, having bought a number of things not at Gordon’s but at Arlan Norman’s Bargain Store.  A.R. and the jowly Gurrah were in the parlor hunched over talking, no more than six inches apart.             

            The parlor and sitting room furniture, I swear, dated from the Civil War.  All the pieces—sofa, armchair, rocker, and four chairs—were covered in bilious green terry with piped backs.

            “C’mon in, Henny.  I want you to meet Mr. Shapiro.”

            Jacob “Gurrah” Shapiro had a reputation as a cold-blooded murderer who would scrag his own kid if the money was right.  People who fought with him usually ended up dead.  A hulking, hot-tempered, balloon-faced, loud-mouthed ignoramus, who could hardly speak English, he was given the moniker “Gurrah” because whenever he wished to dismiss someone, he’d give the person a punch or a kick and shout, “Gurrah’d a here,” meaning:  “Get out of here!” 

            Mumbling something about a “punk,” he scowled and, twisting his lips contemptuously, made me feel I’d be dead by morning.  He was shoeless, and his socks looked like silk.  Juggling my packages, I put out my hand, which he grudgingly shook, excused myself, and went to my bedroom.  A short time later, I returned to the parlor. 

            “Sit down on the couch, Henny,” said A.R. with particular kindness.  “Jacob and I . . . we’ve been having a talk.  You’re a good egg, so I’ll be perfectly frank.  After the Waldo Avenue theft, Jacob brought the diamonds to Rodman’s place and hid them in the fish tank for safekeeping.  The Sicilians were to take possession of them once the booze was unloaded and counted.  But when the cops interrupted Hank’s party, Gurrah went to your room and found the diamonds missing.”  He paused to look at Gurrah.  “Isn’t that what you told me, Jacob?”

            “Yeah, dats how it happened.”

            “Someone made off with fifteen of them, leaving one behind, the one the cops found.  Maybe Masseria will be willing to overlook the loss in exchange for hard cash.”

I wondered why A.R. would be telling me about the heist.  Then it hit me:  They thought I had the stuff!  “You don’t think I took the diamonds?” I gasped, knowing full well they did.

            “Where’s da gems stashed?” asked a scowling Gurrah.

            “How would I know?  They looked to me like decorative stones for the fish.” 

            “Ah!” shouted Gurrah, as if he had just struck it rich, “den you knew dey were dere.”

            Why did I open my trap!  I began to run my fingers along the piping of the furniture, feeling the valleys and thinking:  “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”  One thing I knew for certain:  The guy who wrote that line wasn’t sitting across from A.R. and Gurrah. 

            “Remember in the car, Henny, you asked me why I came to your aid?  Well, what I didn’t say was that I had to know if you copped the jewels.  Jacob has got himself a point.  The smeller’s the feller.  You just said you knew they were in the fishbowl.”

            Gurrah removed a roscoe from inside his jacket and moved toward the door.  Leaning against the jamb, he started spinning the cylinder, which was the only sound in the room.   

            To this day I can’t explain why, but at that moment, sitting there, being accused of lifting their jewels, I heard myself say, “They’re in the chicken coop.”

            Gurrah looked as if he’d sat on a needle.  “What da hell dya mean?”

            “Go look for yourself,” I said, hoping I’d have a chance to escape. 

            “Show us!” said A.R.

            “I’m allergic to feathers.  Once was enough,” I replied. 

            A.R. called Nathan and told him to keep an eye on me, while he and Gurrah went to the coop.  What began as a lark was becoming a goose chase.

            Gurrah started babbling.  “I am not happy.  She comes in here, like none of yer business, and right out says da ice is in da coop.  I am thinkin’, who would believe it?  Da coop is so far off da mark, dere is no reason even to look.”  He lit a cigar.  “I do not wish to get my shoes dirty in chicken shit.  But I also do not wish for you to think I am picky.  So if you do not mind da stink and da shmuts, we will take dat stroll.”

            A.R. gave him a long look.  “Right.  Get your shoes.” 

            “I’d rather go barefoot,” he said, removing his socks, “den mess up my Oxfords.”

            “Okay, Coakley,” A.R. snapped, using a favorite expression, and rudely pointed at me.  “Where in the coop?”

            “In one of the nests . . . or maybe underneath?  I was so nervous I can hardly remember.”

            The two of them went out the back door.

            Mr. Boritski was no conversationalist, nor was he a careless jailer.  Each of my questions was met with a grunt; and he never budged from the door.

            “Lived here long?”


            “Like this part of the country?”


            “You part of the gang?”


            On their return, A.R., shoeless, told Gurrah to wash off his feet.  He then nodded to Mr. Boritski to take a powder.     

            “My hat goes off to you, Henny.  Smart move putting the rocks in the nesting straw.  We recovered them.”

            I was so scared and surprised, a trickle of pee escaped, wetting my pants.  A.R. was cradling a handkerchief, with a number of diamonds.  Drawn to their pale blue radiant light, I lifted one up and rolled it around in my palm.  Just this sparkler, I knew, could put Mom and me on easy street.

            “I’d rather have this than the booze,” I said.

            “So would Masseria and Zucania.”

            Handing A.R. the diamond, I fixed my eyes on his.  “Are you going to croak me?”

            A.R. just laughed.  He knotted and pocketed the hanky.  Out of the corner of his mouth, he said confidentially, “I want you to do me a favor.”

            “Glad to,” I gushed, grateful that I hadn’t been topped.

            “Outside.  We’ll talk.  C’mon!”  Telling Gurrah that we’d be back “in a shot,” a phrase that wobbled my knees, he took me by the arm, opened the front door, and led me down the road, past a road sign pointing to Carmel.  We walked saying nothing.  The air, heavy and hot, buzzed with insects.  I began sweating.  Was it the heat or my fears?  What happened next nearly caused me to faint.  A.R. put his arm on my shoulder and gave me an affectionate squeeze.  “I knew you were clean ’cause you had no way to get the stuff out.  Unless you swallowed it or . . . but you’re not that kind of girl.”

            “You sure had me worried.”

            “I was trying to smoke out that four-flusher.  But you were no chump.  You had him pegged.  How did you know?”

            Know what?  I wasn’t about to tell him it was just a wild stab, so in hopes of buying some time, I said nothing.  Finally, the silence grew so loud I had to reply.  

            “Well, the one thing I can tell you is I’m no fortune teller.  The proof was right there.”

            “Smart kid,” he said, “you noticed too.”

            I had no idea what he meant, but as long as he figured I did, I decided to play right along.  “Yeah, it was pretty obvious.”

            “Who would’ve thought?”

            “Did anything else make you suspicious?” I asked, trying to figure out his thinking.

            “Yeah—him saying he couldn’t stand the stink and the shmuts.  In his whole life, Gurrah never visited a chicken coop.  So how would he know, unless he’d just gone in there to hide the stuff?”

            “My feelings exactly.”

            “His shoes were probably in the other room covered with bird crap.”

            “That’s my guess.”

            “Henny, you’re a real smart kid.  I like brains.  That’s what they call me on the boulevard, the Brain.  We ought to hook up.  I can use someone who’s good around locks.  The Owney Madden gang has a kid.  He climbs through heating vents and transoms, and easily gets lost in a crowd.  I’ll go Owney one better.  I’ll use a girl.  Who’s gonna look twice at you?”

            I didn’t know how to take that last comment, so I just let it slide.

            “Now about that favor . . .”

            I couldn’t imagine what he would ask for.  On the one hand, I owed him for helping me slip the leash and for not rubbing me out.  But on the other hand, I didn’t want to get thick with A.R. and his friends.

            “Masseria and Zucania are waiting for the diamonds.  I want you to be the new paymaster.  You’ll have the stones tomorrow, after Nathan cleans and polishes them real nice.  I’ll tell Zucania he can collect from you here at Boritski’s.  Gurrah and I will return to the city together, in the same car.  That way the rotten double-crosser won’t get in your hair.”


            The next day, he led me to Mr. Boritski’s forge, where Nathan had made the gems sparkle.  At the moment they lay on a chamois cloth.  Reaching into his pocket, he withdrew a linen handkerchief, spread it out, and counted fifteen diamonds, absent the one the cops took.  Before knotting the hanky, he added several thousand dollars, for the loss of the sixteenth stone.  “This goes to Masseria,” he said, handing me the priceless bundle.  “Fifteen of them.  And cash!”

            “What if they want more dough?” I said suddenly terrified.

            A.R. smiled and in the European manner pinched both my cheeks.  “Leave that to me.”  To pacify me further, he added, “What do you need to keep you content, while you’re here on the lam and doing business with me?”

            A.R. had grands; that much was clear.  So I decided to ask for the moon.  I told him I wanted my mother to join me—in a house of our own.  But A.R., who never missed a chance to double his bucks, replied by pointing out that the nearby village of Carmel, twelve miles away, lacked places for visitors to stay overnight.  He would therefore buy Mom and me a farm there, and we could rent rooms—and give him a cut. 

            “In that neck of the woods,” he said, “you can get a farm and the fields and the woods and the streams that come with it for less than a grand.  What do you say?”

            “We have an apartment in the city.  Mom may not want to give it up.”

            “I’ll pay for that, too, until you decide which place you like better.”


            That’s how Mom and I landed in Carmel.  Named for the mountain in Israel, where the prophets Elijah and Elisha walked among the vineyard slopes, Carmel was originally called Beaver Dam—until the land developers, idealists, philanthropists, and immigrants arrived. 

            Talk about small:  The town had only one street—Irving Avenue—with a few rutted roads branching off.  Why folks had gone to the trouble of naming it was beyond me.  The townspeople talked about going downtown or uptown, a stretch of no more than a few hundred yards.  The street had two buildings of note, the shul, Beth Hillel, built in 1908, and Columbia Hall, which served as a library, lecture hall, and dance pavilion.  It was here that the anarchists and Socialists, fervently preaching atheism and a redistribution of wealth, tried to forge the locals into a union of workers.  The town, divided between factories and farms, was slowly giving way to the former; and the factory workers were the more radical and well-read of the two.  The farmers, who grew mostly rye, string beans, strawberries, peppers, vegetables, buckwheat, and corn, also raised cattle and poultry.  It seemed a great many of them were putting their future in eggs.

            Carmel was a close-knit community, not without its enjoyments:  dances, amateur concerts, operettas.  I particularly liked the hayrides to Maurice River and Parvin Lake.  It was on a ride to the river that I met Ben Cohen, the first boy to give me a tumble.  But I’ll come to that part of the story soon enough.

             Our farm stood across the street from the shul and next door to the butcher shop, which served only kosher.  The house stood about fifty yards from the road and was approached by a gravel drive that ran back to the barn.  Since most of the lawn was actually weed, parking space presented no problem.  A screened porch bounded the house on two sides.  The front door was entered by crossing the porch.  Inside, one faced a steep row of steps leading upstairs to a U-shaped hallway.  At the base of the U was the bathroom; on each side, two bedrooms.  The first floor was divided in half.  On the south side was a large dining room, with a pot-bellied stove, and an attached bunkhouse that served as a kitchen and pantry.  On the north side were the two downstairs bedrooms, separated by a bathroom with a toilet, sink, and a large cast iron basin for bathing.

            Just outside the kitchen, in a cleared area of the yard, a badly warped table supported a scrubbing board, a used cake of Boraxo, and a brush.  A few feet away stood a pump, with a wooden tub to catch the overflow water and provide a place to wash and soak clothes.  Three chicken coops and a barn were abutted by woods.  A path led into the trees; but it was not until later that I discovered the stream and the arrowheads and the beavers and the damn poison ivy.

            Whatever the price for the house, it could not have been much, because A.R. never squawked; he just took out his wad, unfolded C-notes, as he might have paper napkins, and scribbled something in the black book he always carried.  A couple days later, I met Mom at the train station in Bridgeton.  She had left New York’s West 23rd street depot at 8:45 a.m. and arrived less than two hours later at 10:18, right on time.  She was carrying not suitcases but an enormous reed basket, the kind you see the babushkas unloading when they get off the boats at Ellis Island.

            When we embraced, Mom started to cry, saying she feared she had lost me.  “When Mr. Houdini called, I could hardly breathe.  My Henny arrested!  Then when you rang and said you had run from the officers, I sat down and said Kaddish.” 

            “It’s all a mistake, Mom.  I’ll explain to you later.”

            She looked at me skeptically.  “Mothers, you know, love their children even when they’re thieves.”  

            I embraced her again.  “Honest, Mom, you needn’t worry.” 

            A.R., who was to return to the city the same day, waited for us in the parking lot.  I took one handle of the basket and Mom the other, as we schlepped it out to the car.  A.R. courteously asked Mom how she had managed the basket all by herself.  She replied that the taxi driver—”a nice Italian boy”—had carried it right to the train.             

            “He must have hit you up good,” A.R. responded, putting the basket in the trunk of the car.

            Mom seemed puzzled.  “Why would such a well-mannered young boy want to hit me?”

            A.R. looked at Mom as if she were some oddity.  “I mean, Mrs. Fine, he must have asked for some hefty tip.”

            “He refused to take any more than the fare.”

            “You kidding?  He must be new to this country.” 

            When we arrived at the farm, A.R. carried the basket into the house and made some crack about not wanting a tip.  He told Mom to furnish the place as she liked.  “Whatever you need.  Beds, pots, silverware, mattresses.  Whatever.  Just charge it to me.  I have an account at Brotman’s in Vineland.  He’ll deliver.”  Promising to get word to Harry that I was safe and would not need a lawyer, he said he would also inform Masseria and Zucania to collect the stones from me at the rooming house.

            The sign we posted at the foot of the path said:  “FINE: GUEST HOUSE.”  It was my idea.  I thought it was cute; but at sixteen we think that every dumb thing is sooo cutesy.  Mom telephoned her relatives to relay our address; and I called Mr. Courtney, to tell him how to find me, should he ever be in this part of the woods. 

            Taking my cue from all the pulp novels I’d read, I had poured the diamonds and cash into an old sock and stashed it all in the bottom of a flower pot.  Over the next several days, I can’t tell you how many times I checked to make sure they were there.  The moment I got up and the last thing I did before bed was to check on the loot.


            The same day that Brotman delivered a household of goods, our first boarder showed up, an Italian house painter, Jimmy-Jimmy.  He disclosed neither his age (thirty?) nor his surname, and spoke with an accent, though his comprehension of English was good.  His passion, gin rummy, drew other players.  At a penny a point he cleaned out more than one of the gamblers who gathered each night on our porch.  I never could tell whether his name resulted from his desire to repeat it for the listener’s sake—”Mya name’s Jimmy-Jimmy”—or from some belief in its magical powers; because whenever he was losing at cards, he would keep repeating, Jimmy-Jimmy, Jimmy-Jimmy.  And more often than not the invocation really worked:  His luck would soon start to turn.

             A second boarder, a man in his forties, moved in a few days later.  Mr. Joseph Schneiderman, a tailor, had grown up in the Moldavian section of Rumania and as a teenager had followed his family first to Argentina and then to Philadelphia.  He had come to southern New Jersey in search of needlework, which someone had told him was plentiful.  He arrived carrying a suitcase and a black bag that looked just like the kind doctor’s carry when making house calls.  It held needles of every imaginable shape and spools of thread.  Whereas Jimmy’s hands were always spotted with paint, Mr. Schneiderman’s were never without a thimble, which he constantly fingered, as one might an amulet or a charm.  Both Mr. Schneiderman and Jimmy-Jimmy worked “downtown” (our house was “uptown”), at the corner of Irving Avenue, just before it splits off toward Vineland and Millville.  This corner had two factories, across the street from each other.  One made men’s clothing and the other produced nurse’s uniforms, dyed blue, and periodically dumped the used dye in the river.

            The last two boarders moved in the day after Mr. Schneiderman.  A married couple, they arrived in Vineland by train; but unable to find adequate lodging, they hired a farmer, with a wagon and horse, to bring them and their luggage to the new rooming house in Carmel.  Her name was Mina, which she said was short for Minoshka, the name her father gave her, the Czar of All Russia.  Her friends, she observed, called her the Princess.  She was about twenty-five, with long blond hair and a bosom that bounced when she walked.  Her husband was considerably older, maybe forty-five or fifty.  He was over six feet and strikingly debonair in tweedy jackets, slacks, white shirts, and silk ties.  A pipe with rich-smelling tobacco was rarely far from his mouth, and he walked as if someone had welded a rod from his derrière to his neck.  His name—LeRoi Goddard—sounded like one of those fancy hyphenated English monikers that dukes always use; and in fact he said that his family had descended from the Dukes of Stratford and that he had held (his word) the Chair of Surgery at Harvard College.  Initially, I wondered if that meant he was a waiter, but he called himself a scholar and used the title Professor.  His starchiness led me to call him the Prof. 

            Mom and I had adjoining bedrooms upstairs, as did Jimmy-Jimmy and Mr. Schneiderman.  The Prof and the Princess slept in separate rooms downstairs.  My bedroom had one great advantage, a metal air vent in the floor that opened on the Princess’s room.  Though not as pretty as Lily, she was no prune face; and she could play the piano like Myra Hess.  Mom had bought an upright piano; it was on wheels and could be easily moved.  Normally it stood in the dining room.  But each morning the Princess rolled the piano into her room and played Schubert and Chopin.    

            The food, every bit of it kosher, was all cooked by Mom; I washed the dishes.  She prepared kreplach and kugel, kishka and kasha—and numerous other Jewish foods, including fresh-baked challah, every third day.  Mr. Schneiderman loved it; but Jimmy-Jimmy wanted ravioli and pasta. Finally, Mom convinced him that kreplach was the Yiddish version of Italian ravioli.  The Prof and the Princess persuaded themselves that in a previous life Mom had been chef to Hillel; her food therefore befitted their stature and rank.  The truth was that although Mom could make a pretty good Jewish dish, she knew little else.       

            Upon her arrival, the Princess had announced that she was a medium who could summon the spirits, and asked for permission to use our dining room a few nights a week to hold séances.  Mom, without pausing, agreed.  The Princess said that in Russia, Rasputin had passed on to her his magical powers.  How that came about, she never explained.  The Prof, smoother than cough drops, did most of the talking, while she stood by looking innocent of any deceits.  Harry’s warnings ran through my head. 

            At the first séance, which the Prof and the Princess had advertised with handbills (admission:  five cents), eight men and two women showed up, not counting Mr. Schneiderman and Jimmy-Jimmy, who were admitted for free.  The Princess had hung dark shades over the windows, covered the dining room table with a green felt cloth, which made it look like a pool table, and put a red candle in front of her chair.  She didn’t appear until everyone was seated, the lights were turned off, and the Prof had given us a lecture that sounded to me like phonus balonus. 

            “I would remind you,” he said, “that spiritualism is not a new invention.  It goes back at least as far as the Old Testament, where Saul asked the witch of Endor to bring forth the spirit of Samuel—and she did.  In our own modern age, believers in the spirit age include Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who has lectured widely on the subject; Sir Oliver Lodge, the famed British physicist; William James, the eminent psychologist; and of course Thomas Edison.”

            The Prof asked that we each give our names and say something about our employment.  When it came to me I really laid on the schmaltz, claiming to have come to south Jersey in search of my Uncle Sam, a man of high ideals kidnapped by capitalists.  No sooner had we finished our spiels than a few bars of violin music were heard.  I knew that the Prof and the Princess owned a Victrola, as did Mr. Schneiderman, but I couldn’t tell for sure if their phonograph was the source.

            Jimmy-Jimmy asked, “Dov`è la musica?”

            The Prof must have understood, because he replied, “Through certain peculiarly endowed individuals known as psychics or mediums, the human spirit can communicate with us.  Obviously the spirits feel the Princess’s presence; they are being playful, bringing us music.  She will be here in a minute.  Please do not speak to her or touch her.  She will be wearing slippers, silk stockings, and a diaphanous dressing gown, revealing nature’s loveliness beneath, so you can see in the candlelight that she’s concealing nothing on her person.  As she enters the room, I will turn off the lights.  She will quickly go into a trance, at which time her spirit guide, Walter Stinson, will make his presence known.  Walter is the Princess’s brother.  He was killed in a train accident in St. Petersburg, but his personality has survived physical death.”

            A rustling preceded the Princess’s entrance.  Suddenly she was standing there, wearing a shmatte so thin that I could see stretch marks next to her navel.  She sat down, put her head back, and before you could spell Mississippi, passed into a trance.  At least that’s what it looked like to me.  A moment later, another voice spoke through her mouth.  I knew, from what Harry had told me, that the sitters were expected to believe that some dead person was using the medium’s body to speak.  A good trance medium, therefore, had to be able to use different voices.  Walter’s voice was rough and raspy, and he frequently swore.  Immediately, Mr. Schneiderman asked:

            “Can you read my mind, Walter?”

            “Yes, but you wouldn’t want me to spill the beans about that!”

            I had to laugh.  Since when did Russian nobility talk about beans? 

            One of the sitters asked, “When you relax in the spirit world do you surround yourself with pretty girls?”

            “I’m only twenty-eight.  Whenever pretty girls are around, I’m in no mood to relax.”

            Someone else wanted to know:  “Do you never age?  Are you always twenty-eight?”

            “Yes, that’s why it’s good to die young.”

             “What’s it like up there?”

            “Just like down below, but free of hurt and hunger.”

            “You dance . . .”

            “The Charleston.”

            “. . . and do the hootchie-cootchie?”

            “Every night.”

            “But if you’re just a spirit, just air, without a body, how do you . . .”

            “Do the hootchie-cootchie?  With spirit!”

            Everyone laughed, including me. 

            “Now really, Walter!  I mean . . .” said the Prof, before being cut off.

            “Bump and grind.  Press and sweat.  Stay and roost.  Take your choice.”

            One of the two women sitters (Mom had remained in her room) remarked that she found this kind of talk far too risqué.  But that didn’t stop the off-color patter.  It continued until Mr. Malcolm Bird, a reporter for the Vineland Evening Journal, asked:

            “If you have supernatural powers, why not make yourself visible?”

            “I am visible.”

            “How can you say that?”

            “You hear me.”

            “But what do you look like?”

            “Just listen and see.”

            Mr. Bird scribbled some notes.  “I’m not interested in philosophy.  The newspaper I represent is looking for proof that mediums can actually cross over and speak to the dead.” 

            “I believe there’s a Mr. Irwin among you.” 

            Mr. Irwin, a railroad worker, lurched forward against the table and said, “I’m here!”

            “You had a son, lost in the Great War.  Isn’t that why you came to the séance?”

            A pop-eyed Mr. Irwin replied, “How did you know?”

            “He’s here with me.”

            “Dear Jonathan!” cried Mr. Irwin.

            “I’m safe now, Dad.  I’ve crossed over.”

            Ecstatically, Mr. Irwin put out his arms and started pawing the air.  Tears welled up in my eyes to see this wrinkled, railroad man in overalls trying to touch his dead son.  “It’s my boy,” he said in amazement, repeating this line as he turned to each of the sitters.

            “I think of you and mother every day.”

            By now, Mr. Irwin had entered a realm of the mind where no one could follow.  Utterly transported, he shouted, “It’s a miracle.  The Princess has done it.  She has reached my dead son.  The spirit lives!”

            The séance broke up when a disembodied hand appeared, eliciting gasps and one or two shrieks, and the Prof announced that his wife was coming out of her trance.  Sure enough, she opened her eyes, looked around, and silently walked to her room.  Mr. Bird begged for an interview, but the Prof wouldn’t allow it.  “Once the séance has ended,” he said, “my wife needs time to recover.  If you wish to see her, mornings are best.”

            The other sitters were equally enthusiastic, except perhaps for the women, who said they were unaccustomed to such language. Jimmy-Jimmy kept asking in his broken English if spirits played cards; Mr. Irwin beamed happily, saying that death had now been defanged; and Mr. Schneiderman, shaking his head, twice remarked, “I’m skeptical but I don’t know how to debunk it.”

            The next morning, Mr. Malcolm Bird showed up in a downpour and asked for the Princess.  He was wearing a rumpled raincoat and hat, and carried an umbrella.  The Prof asked him to wait until she had finished her toilet, a statement that I took to mean nature called.  It wasn’t until I had heard the phrase several times that I realized it meant only that she was still getting dressed.  When she asked to see Mr. Bird alone in her room, I excused myself and made for my vent.

            Frankly, I thought she’d be dressed like a princess.  But instead she greeted Mr. Bird wearing a flimsy slip and nothing else underneath. 

            “Do you believe in love at first sight?” she said provocatively.

            “I . . . I . . . suppose so,” Mr. Bird stammered.

            “The moment I saw you, I felt peculiar vibrations.”

            Looking like a fawning puppy, he gulped, “Really!?”

            “You remind me of the disheveled professors one sees among the Cambridge bookstalls.”

            “I’m new on the job,” he panted, “just a fledgling reporter.”

            “You must be my age,” she said.  “You have a lovely smile.  And I like your hair, particularly the way it’s unruly.” 

            She used the word “unruly” as if it had some other, secret meaning.  Even I could tell she was vamping him.  By the time she got through, he’d be singing her praises in print, even if he believed she was bogus.

            “Your eyes bring to mind children’s songs and lemonade.  Tell me all about yourself, I so want to hear.”

            He stumbled all over himself relating how he’d once taught arithmetic and how he loved writing and books, which had led him to find a job as a journalist.  

            “What I like about you, Malcolm—you will let me call you Malcolm, I hope—what I like is that you’re open to new possibilities.  Another life.”

            By now she was shaping the putty that once had been Malcolm into the servant she wanted.  What a sap!  He fell hook, line, and sinker for her mush, and immediately launched his own flood of compliments.  You could have gagged on the sugar.  Given their expressions of mutual admiration, I was hardly surprised to see Malcolm drive up every day.  In the meantime he had written an article for the Vineland Evening Journal that claimed the Princess was the genuine thing, and that she could actually speak to the dead.  As a result, the requests for seats at the next séance ran into the hundreds.  The Princess and Prof would have takers for months.  I was glad, because then Mom needn’t worry about their paying the rent.  But though I enjoyed both her company and her séances, I knew she was peddling snake oil.  How she pulled off her tricks, I was yet to discover.  But this much I knew:  She was one darn good actress.  By the end of the week, Malcolm was worshipping at the hem of the Princess’s dress.  She had even renamed him, as I learned from my eavesdropping. 

            “I’ve had a change of mind,” she enthused, “I won’t call you Malcolm.  It sounds far too formal.  I’ll call you Birdie.  Unless of course you don’t want me to.”

            “No . . . no . . . whatever you like,” he gurgled.  “I’d be flattered.”

            “You’re such a goose, or should I say bird, blushing about a name.”  And here she became brazenly seductive.  “Now if I had called you dear or honey or . . . lover, you’d have cause to be flustered.”

            “Lover!  But we just met . . . I mean . . . a few days ago.”    

“I feel as if I’ve known you for ages.  Don’t you think we ought to be bridging the gap?” 

            Malcolm seemed dazed.  He tried to reply, but his words kept misfiring.  Finally, the Princess came to his aid, suggesting that as long as he had a car, they were free to drive out of town. 

            The next morning, Lily and Rodman appeared.  Hank had learned my whereabouts from A.R.  A dozen suns heralded their arrival, as they drove up in Rodman’s yellow car, with its yards of mirrors and windows and chrome.  She was wearing a sports dress:  a printed orchid-colored crepe de chine frock, softly bloused at the waistline, with the merest touch of lace trimming.  Her white sandals spoke of sand and seashells.  Rodman, ever jaunty, arrived in a dark blue double-breasted flannel jacket and white linen trousers.  A striped shirt and matching tie and handkerchief gave him the English look, which he took pains to cultivate.  Only his grey and white buck shoes and boater hat stamped him as a Yankee.

            “Are you wearing some kind of facial?” she asked from a distance.  But on closer inspection she could see that I was covered with sores.  “What happened to you?”

            “Poison ivy.”

            “We must take you out of this jungle as soon as we can,” she said breathlessly, “mustn’t we, Hank?”

            “The country’s where people go to retire, not live,” Rodman replied. 

            How come he was free and I was on the lam?  Before we reached the front door, I was interrogating them both about their escape from the estate, the results of the raid, Rodman’s friendship with A.R., and their own future plans.  When we reached the porch, I pulled up some chairs and made for the kitchen to grab the coffee pot that Mom always kept on the ready.  We relaxed sipping java and trading stories. 

            As I had guessed, they eluded the cops by easing out through the door in the library and making a dash through the underground passage to the bathhouse, and from there to a roadster that Rodman kept in a barn a mile or so down the road.  A warrant was immediately issued for his arrest.  But he hid until Bill Fallon convinced the judge that Rodman was no threat to public order.  Only then did Rodman turn himself in, and of course an hour later A.R. bailed him out.  The case had not yet come to trial; it was case number WA33165, the State of New York versus James Rodd, an alias that Lily concocted, and was to be heard, at Fallon’s request, in Westchester County.  Fallon hoped to minimize publicity by having the trial held out of town.  He also hoped to guarantee a hung jury by arranging a cash payment to one of the jurors.  Lily looked distraught as Rodman thanked his lucky stars for Bill Fallon and A.R. 

            “That horrid man!” Lily exclaimed.

            “She means A.R.,” said Rodman.

            “I just hope,” Lily said, “people don’t figure out that Rodd and Rodman are one and the same and come flocking to court.”

            At this juncture I told them that Fallon was trying to quash an order for my arrest.

            “Yours!” Lily cried.

            I explained how I’d gotten involved and how A.R. had figuratively bailed me out as well.  Although Lily frowned through the telling, I expressed my appreciation for his having bought Mom and me the farm.

            “Just wait until pay day,” said Lily.  “He’ll extract a usurious rate of interest.  He always does.”

            “That’s what I hear.”

            “Well, you’ve heard right.”   

            Moving on to other subjects, we chatted until Lily asked me about the boarders.  When I described the Prof and the Princess, she seemed excited and asked if she might meet them both. 

            “You picked a good day.  The Princess is giving a séance tonight.”

            “I’d rather,” said Lily, playing notes in her throat, “meet them before all the people arrive.”

            “Sure,” I replied, and arranged for a meeting a few hours later.  Quick as a wink, Lily had turned the Prof into jelly and Rodman had so charmed the Princess that she wouldn’t let loose of his arm.  When the two couples went for a walk, in opposite directions, I knew that Hank had the better arrangement.

            That night the Princess held her third séance and Malcolm behaved like a lap dog.  He even got into the act, reminding the sitters that they could see for themselves that the Princess was completely on the level.  With her arms in full view, he pointed out, she couldn’t possibly have materialized a comb and a watch, both of which had fallen onto the table during the course of the séance.  She, of course, claimed that they had come from the spirit world, as proof of life after death. 

            This particular evening, in honor of their guests, the Prof called on Walter to look into the future of Lily and Rodman.

            “The woman,” replied Walter, “speaks in a voice borrowed from Croesus.  She had better make up her mind.  Burning the candle at both ends becomes messy.  As for the man,” and here Walter paused, “I see a difficulty.  Water runs through his life.  A lake spawned him, an ocean carried him to war, a bay distances him from his lover, and a gaudy swimming pool stands as a grave reminder that wealth may arrive in the wrong vehicle.”

            “Why give us riddles?” said the Prof.

            “Mr. Rodman understands,” Walter replied, and refused to say more, even though asked.

            When the séance concluded, Lily and Rodman seemed pensive.  Their plans had called for them to return that same night to New York.  But suddenly Lily announced she wanted to visit Cape May and take a room at the Windsor Hotel.  Rodman, who loved nothing more than to pander to Lily’s desires, turned to me and said:

            “Well, pal, if you’re ever back in the city, don’t forget to stop by.  Here’s my card.  We’re off to Cape May.”

            “While you’re there,” I said, pocketing his card, “you might want to stop at the local vaude.  A cousin of ours, Ed Lowry, is doing a two-week stint as a comedian.  He’s good.  He steals his jokes from the best in the business.”

            “Maybe we’ll pop by and see him,” said Lily.

            Thanking everyone for the hospitality, they climbed into Rodman’s bright chariot.  Leaning out of the car, Hank slipped Mom a C-note and told her not to peek until he was gone.

            The next morning, the Prof said he had business in Bridgeton and hitched a ride with a farmer.  An hour later, Malcolm and the Princess drove off in the direction of Vineland.  I could just imagine what business they planned to conduct.  Watching their car turn onto the road, I was startled by Jimmy-Jimmy putting a hand on my shoulder.  He shyly asked me if I’d do him a favor.  His request was so modest, it brought a lump to my throat.  He wanted to buy a suit to court the seamstress Gabriella Baldini, who had moved from Rosenhayn to Carmel.  Someone had told him that Peccary’s store in Bridgeton was the best place to shop; but he feared that his imperfect English might prove an obstacle.  Would I therefore be willing to help?  Of course I said yes.

            Several days later we walked the six miles to Bridgeton.  Before leaving the house, I lit some punk and covered myself with citronella to ward off the skitas.  Even so, they rose in clouds from the marshes and woods.  Jimmy-Jimmy said “Zanzaras,” as he brushed them away.  It was late June and the fields shimmered with heat.  The dusty road powdered our overalls and coated our throats.  Jimmy-Jimmy kept spitting.  Pop had told me that expectorating, as he called it, was for barrooms and brawls.

            Passing Sobelman’s apple orchards and Schagrin’s pepper patch and Levitin’s ragged cornfields, we once or twice stopped to smell the wild honeysuckle and admire the ox-eye daisies, butterfly weed, and Queen Anne’s lace.  Occasionally we’d hear meadowlarks singing and we’d detour into the tall grass to look at their nests, causing the birds to feign crippled wings in order to lure us away from their young.

            During our walk, I asked Jimmy-Jimmy where he was born.  My question brought a mist to his eyes.  He explained that his family lived in Agrigento, Sicily, on a hilltop house made of stone.  The views looking out to sea gave him ideas of travel and faraway places.  On the hillsides below were astonishingly beautiful Greek ruins that attracted archaeologists to the site, and the occasional tourist party.  Jimmy-Jimmy told me proudly his father was a guide and spoke several languages.  His mother he said, was a frail angel sent to earth to care for his father and him.  But after she died, the father grew despondent and dependent on wine.  Before long, he had lost his job.  One day he walked down to the sea, stripped off his clothes, and wearing only a crucifix started to swim, farther and farther, as a number of people reported, until he disappeared out of sight.  He never returned.  Jimmy-Jimmy and an elderly uncle, who raised him, came to America after the war.  The uncle had died in a tenement fire.  I gave Jimmy-Jimmy a big hug, and we continued to Bridgeton in silence.

            When we entered the town, I spied a pump and suggested we wash off the dust and take a long drink of water.  A wooden trough caught the spillover from the pump.  While Jimmy-Jimmy slaked his thirst, I stood at the trough bathing my arms and feet, and splashing my face.  Suddenly a voice boomed out:

            “What the hell dya think yer doin’?”

            “Cooling off,” I answered simply.

            “That pump’s private property.”  

            “I thought the water was free.” 

            “Nothing’s free in America.  What are you, some damn Socialists?  You’re probably from Carmel.”

            “What do we owe you?” I asked.

            “A dime apiece.”

            “Jump in the lake,” I said, taking Jimmy-Jimmy by the arm and walking away.

            “I’ll call the cops,” he yelled.

            “And I’ll sue you for highway robbery,” I said.

            The front window of Peccary’s General Store displayed a bridal gown and a man’s suit that looked right for a funeral, also a shovel, rake, pickax, and hoe, which stood like reminders of what married life would entail.  Inside, the cedar floors exuded a rich smell.  The place overflowed with goods of every variety:  clothing, footwear, hardware, fishing rods, horseshoes, typewriters, eyeglasses, cosmetics, and, of all things, canaries.

            You might say business was slow.  The two of us were the only customers.  While we waited, I could hear the trilling of birds and Mr. Peccary coming from the storeroom.  A short man with a pug nose and flaring nostrils, he had skin as pink as a powderpuff.  He didn’t walk, he waddled.        

            “What kin I sell yuh today?”

            I chose to say nothing.  If Jimmy-Jimmy was going to make his way in this country, he needed to learn how to deal with the merchants.   

            “A suit, I’ma want.”

            “What size?”

            “Mya size.  You’re uh look at me.  Dat’sa my size!”

            “Well, Mr.—I didn’t catch your name.”


            “Well, Mr. Jimmy, if you don’t know your size, we’ll have to measure you.  Just lay down.”


            “On the floor, with your legs and arms extended like this,” replied Mr. Peccary, assuming a spread-eagle position.

            “Whata for?”

            “I just said:  to measure you.”

            “Is dissa new or sometin?  I hear never about sucha ting.”

            Jimmy-Jimmy got down on the floor, spreading his arms and legs.  I could feel my face changing color.

            “In America we use only the most modern methods,” Mr. Peccary said.  Taking a piece of chalk, he explained, “I’ll just draw your outline, so that we can measure you carefully for an eighteen-dollar suit.”

            Terrified, Jimmy-Jimmy sat bolt upright and repeated, “Eighteen dole-lars!”

            “Don’t worry, Mr. Jimmy, everything’s included:  the measuring, the tailoring, the color, and two pairs of pants.”


            “Just lay down flat.  That’s it.  Now don’t move, while I get your measurements.”

            I had to pretend not to listen.  The humiliation scalded me.

            “Hold still.  Good.  I’ve got it.  Okay, Mr. Jimmy, you can get up now.  Hm.  Judging from your outline, I’d say a forty-six.  Yes, a forty-six will do nicely.”

            Mr. Peccary turned to a rack of ready-made suits and removed a black one.  “Here, let me help you on with the jacket.  You know, Mr. Jimmy, it’s waffledorf material.”

            “Datsa good?”

            “The best.  They don’t make material like it anymore.  Bee-you-tee-ful.  Just take a look at yourself in the mirror.  It looks like it was made to order for you . . . the way it . . . hangs.  The casual look.  What all the best dressed people are wearing these days.  The long, loose, casual look.”

            “Don’t it seema a little too casual—like uh tent?”

            “No, no.  It’s perfect.  Doesn’t even need a stitch of tailoring.  Tailoring would only ruin the effect.”

            “How much you say dis suit cost?  Eighteen dole-lars?”

            “Just a minute, I’ll check to be sure.  The price list is right here, on my desk.”  Mr. Peccary seemed to select a paper at random.  “Oh, oh, a terrible mistake I’ve made!”

            “A mistake?”

            “This suit isn’t your regular store-bought black suit, Mr. Jimmy.  This suit is a forty-eight dollar waffledorf suit!”

            “Forty-eight dole-lars?” Jimmy-Jimmy exclaimed.

            “But don’t you worry, Mr. Jimmy.  Once Horace Peccary makes a promise, he keeps it.  I promised you the suit for eighteen dollars, so eighteen dollars it is.”

            “Maybe I should try on da pants?”

            “I measured you, didn’t I?” snapped Peccary, trying to intimidate Jimmy.  “I ought to know what fits and what doesn’t.”

            “Yessa, but—”

            Interrupting, he said, “You go home and show the signora what you bought.  She’ll tell you how good it looks.”

            Slowly and pathetically, Jimmy-Jimmy tried to explain, “But . . . eighteen dole-lars . . .”

            “Quit stalling!  Just let me see the color of your money,” commanded Mr. Peccary, holding out his hand.

            “Non è possibile.”

            “You tried on the jacket.  That means it’s no longer new.  You try it, you buy it!”

            Jimmy-Jimmy desperately looked to me for help.  I felt that Mr. Peccary was quite capable of calling the cops.  Given the Carmelites’ reputation for Socialism and the suspicion of foreigners abroad in the land, I decided to emulate Huckleberry Finn. 

            “What Jimmy-Jimmy means, Mr. Peccary, is that before he can spend eighteen-dollars, he wants his betrothed to see him model the suit.  He’s just too shy to tell you himself; and of course she’ll need clothing—a wedding dress, for example—so why don’t we just hightail it home and bring her here before closing?” 

            Mr. Peccary grunted, “I’m open till six.” 

            Taking Jimmy-Jimmy by the arm, I thanked Mr. Peccary, and we skidooed out of town. About a mile down the road, Jimmy-Jimmy stopped dead in his tracks and announced there was something he needed to say.

            “I no likea duh lies.  When I playa duh cards, I no cheat.”

            “You have to fight fire with fire,” I said.

            “Fire?  I smella no smoke.  You talka lies no fire.”

            I decided that in light of Jimmy-Jimmy’s rectitude, the best response was retreat.  So I apologized for my fibbery.  When we reached the house, Jimmy-Jimmy turned to me and complained:

            “I needa suit still.”

            “We’ll buy it in Vineland,” I said, heading for the pump to wash myself off.

            As the water flowed over my head, I washed my hair and reveled in the liquid delight.  Sitting on the edge of the tub, I dangled my feet in the water and dreamed of the moment when the great mouthpiece Bill Fallon would call from New York to tell me that my name had been cleared.  From my vantage point, I could see into the kitchen.  Mom and Mr. Schneiderman were drinking tea, some of which he would pour into his saucer and then, when it cooled, return to his cup.  I had seen him do this numerous times.  Mom never said a thing, but I knew she regarded habits of this sort as uncouth.  That’s why I hesitated to persuade her that Mr. Schneiderman would make a good catch. 

            Deciding to join them, I went to my room to change clothes, and found a note from the Prof and the Princess regarding a “job.”  When I opened her door, they were both sitting.  She was wearing some shmatte, but he looked natty as ever, his pipe in his mouth.  Exhaling a cloud of smoke, he invited me in.

            “Henrietta, the Princess and I have just been discussing a two- or three-week tour we’d like to undertake in these parts.  We have in mind, Vineland, Millville, Woodbine, Stone Harbor, Wildwood, working our way south to Cape May.  We could use a clever assistant, someone unnoticed.”

            Intended as a compliment, his statement seemed to say: You’re no looker.

“What’s the deal?” I asked, thinking of A.R.

“The Princess, who has a whimsical sense of theater, would like to hold an outdoor séance.  She thinks we could draw quite a crowd, and you could be a great help to us.”

            “Is it dangerous?”

            “Nothing more dangerous,” said the Prof, “than releasing a dove or two into the air and rattling some pots and pans and maybe tooting a horn.  We’ll pay you two dollars a séance and provide free room and board.”

            Not wanting to abandon my Mom or become thick with these frauds, I replied, “Let’s try it once and see how it goes.  I’ll help you with Vineland.”

            The Prof looked at the Princess, who nodded.  That seemed to satisfy him, because he said I was hired.  Stupidly, I asked if Malcolm Bird would be writing any more articles praising the Princess and spiritualism.  It was the wrong question to ask.  Almost at once, the two of them got into a tiff about Bird.  I inched toward the door but was so mesmerized by what they were saying that I stood there transfixed, with my hand on the knob.

            “When I said it would be wonderful for you to share your gifts with others, I didn’t mean for you to take it that far!” snapped the Prof.

            “His articles are drawing us crowds.  I thought you loved it when the cash register rings.”

            “And don’t you just love sitting there in your see-through shift hearing the oohs and aahs of the sitters?”

            “We share something far more important.”

            “Yes,” he passionately said, his mind now somewhere else.  “You’ve given me a mission.  A cause.  A sacred duty to educate the world to spiritualism.”

            “I hope you don’t doubt my devotion to the cause.”

            “Doubt you?  I praise you!” he answered with a frightening fervor.  “You have ushered in a new religion.  You have made me feel what martyrs feel:  an exaltation.  Never underestimate my gratitude.  It is you alone who has proved that the human spirit does not die—that I won’t die!  Now, ask Walter—once again—what I may hopefully expect when I cross over?”

            Removing his pipe, the Prof stood still as a post, as the Princess slowly rolled her head back, closed her eyes, and said:

            “You’ve heard, Walter.  Answer from the other side.”

            Walter’s deep gravelly voice rang out, “A spirit life devoid of illness, impotence, and death!”    

            She was either one heck of a ventriloquist or the genuine article, because Walter sounded awfully convincing.  It spooked me.  This much I knew:  It was time for an exit.  In a sec I was out of there and into the kitchen, convinced that I’d rather hear one of Mr. Schneiderman’s stories about the old country than all this talk about spirits, which gave me the heebie-jeebies.

            Yelling hello to signal my presence, I bounded like an ape into their midst. 

            “What happened in Bridgeton?” Mom asked.

            “Nothing special.”

            “Did Jimmy-Jimmy buy a suit?”

            “They didn’t have his size.  He’ll have to find one in Vineland.”    

            “Mr. Schneiderman was just telling me a story.”

            What’s new about that, I thought.  The two of them could rehash the past until it came out a soufflé.

            “You want me to leave?”

            “No, no!” said Mr. Schneiderman.  “Life’s too short to have secrets.  Besides, what’s there to hide?  In five minutes everyone knows I love the opera and the Yiddish theater.  In ten minutes, they know my life story.  I can’t help it.  That’s the way I am.”

            What he said was perfectly true.  No sooner had he moved in than he had told us about losing his wife and his tailor shop, and about leaving Philadelphia to seek needlework in south Jersey.  He had made us all laugh by referring to Carmel as a pimple that a good many factory owners wanted to pop.  His heart remained in Philly, where he said one could find opera and concerts and theater.  The woods and the wilds, he lamented, were the last refuge of the slack jawed, those ignoramuses who quoted the Bible without comprehending and who hated anyone unlike themselves.  When I pointed out that the area was also home to a good many immigrants, he observed that as soon as their condition improved, they left for the cities.

            “I should never have become a tailor,” he said.  “When I came to this country, I was nine and wanted to be like my father, a teacher.  But someone had to earn enough for the family.”

            He took off his wire-rimmed glasses and rubbed his eyes.  Mom touched his hand. 

            “I’ve grown old,” he said, “in the service of needles and sewing machines.  I should have been a Rabbi, not a tailor.  A man should love his work.  I live one day a week; the other six I am dead.  The Sabbath . . . on that day I live.  In Roznov, where I was born, our family lived in one room.  And in this room my father, a Talmudic scholar, had his little Hebrew school, with twelve students.  By the time I was three years old I had learned to spell out the Hebrew words.  On Friday evening, on the eve of the Sabbath, I’d sit on my father’s lap and he would tell me old legends and sing ancient Hebrew songs.  ‘And now,’ he would whisper, ‘the week with all its evil is gone, all evil thoughts and passions departed, and from heaven the second soul comes fluttering down, to dwell within you on the Sabbath.’  Such mysterious words always scared me.  I would clutch at my chest trying to touch this heavenly soul.”

            He paused and closed his eyes.  Mom stared into her tea cup; I studied the grain in the table.  “Before retiring,” he said, “I like to sit and read the evening paper.  After a while, I fold up the newspaper, put away my glasses, and listen to my record of Fritz Kreisler playing the Beethoven violin concerto . . . and pretty soon I’m in Roznov . . . on my father’s lap.”   

            Luckily, the phone rang.  Excusing myself, I wiped the tears from my eyes and got on the honker.  A.R. was ringing up from New York.  We had agreed on a code, in case our party line proved tempting to snoops.    

            “Your cousin Amos is performing tomorrow night at eight.  If you’d like to see him, I’ll get you tickets.” 

            The meaning:  The jewels and cash would be collected at eight the following evening.

            Boy, was I glad!   At 7:45 the next night, while Jimmy-Jimmy and his friends sat on the porch playing pinochle, and Mom and Mr. Schneiderman were having one of their regular talks in the kitchen, I stood outside under the catalpa tree.  On Littleton Avenue, we had one also, and I used to pick the pods and pretend they were Havana cigars.  A little past eight, Joe Masseria and Salvatore Zucania pulled up in a black Avondale touring car, luxuriously appointed with Belgian brass trimmings and upholstered in heavy fawn broadcloth.  It had Gabriel snubbers, cowl parking lamps, and bullet-proof glass.  Two bodyguards, with facial scars and tattooed hands, slid from the car.  Each was wearing a coat jacket that bulged with a rod.  Asking my name, one of them knocked on the window, a signal that brought Masseria and Zucania out in the open. 

            Masseria, garishly attired in plaid slacks, a purple silk shirt, and patent leather shoes, had risen in the Mafia from gunman to one of the Mustache Petes (bosses).  Squat and fat, he had survived numerous attempts on his life, the most recent from the racketing bark of a Thompson sub-machine gun.  According to The Police Gazette, this porcine racketeer was both unstable and stupid—but not so his second in command, Zucania.

            Salvatore Zucania had emigrated from Palermo at nine with his hard-working family to the Lower East Side.  By fourteen he was a truant, schooled in violence and venality by poverty and tenement life.  Sal was both short—five feet, seven inches—and tough.  He had brown eyes, black hair, and a drooping right eyelid.  When I met him, he was a twenty-five-year-old ex-con, who murdered the King’s English.  Slender and dangerously handsome, he dressed like a doctor or lawyer.  But his fancy suits couldn’t hide his reputation for mayhem.  Modeling himself after A.R., who regarded crime as a business, he put profit before prejudice.  Unlike Masseria, he had no objection to working with non-Italians.  All money is green, he said, whether it comes from a Cohen or a Marcantonio.

            Wearing a tan summer suit, he carried an attaché case.  On his wrist, a gold Gruen watch.

            “Zucania’s duh name,” he said, extending a hand to me, “Salvatore.  Dis here is Mr. Masseria, ‘Duh Boss.'”

            We walked to the house, with the gorillas trailing behind.  Masseria said he’d rather not enter; he was in a hurry; he wanted the ice.  I pointed them to some chairs on the porch and went upstairs to my room, where I removed the geranium covering the jewels and the cash.  Counting them for the umpteenth time, I put them back in the sock, as Jimmy-Jimmy slipped into my room.  Something had to be up, because only an earthquake could make him leave a card game.  He would even complain when the other players paused to stretch or went off to pee.

            “Dey speaka Italiano.  I hear.  Duh fat short one, he no likea duh Jews.  He say takea da girl wid us.  Until duh stuff—whaddever dat mean—is for sure.  You no able to trust duh ebreos, he said.  He den makea duh sign of duh cross.  Duh second guy he say no.  He say she one of us.  But duh first one say he’sa duh boss.”

            “I’ll hide in the woods.  Tell Mr. Schneiderman!”

            Pausing just long enough to take my pocket book out of the closet, I bolted for the stairs.  Too late!  Coming up the steps was Masseria.

            “Tell me, kid, yuh know any good roadhouses nearby?  I want a steak as big as a steer.”

            “I haven’t lived here very long, but my guess is the closest would be Philadelphia.” 

            “That dump,” scoffed Masseria.  “It’s no better than Bridgeport.  C’mon, we’ll treat yuh to a porterhouse—and then bring yuh back.”  Pointing to the sock, he said, “The ice in there?”   

            “No, I’ll get it for you,” and took a step toward my room.

            As fast as a cobra strike, he grabbed the sock and opened the knot.  “Lyin’ kike,” he said, and counted the diamonds, fifteen, and the cash, five g’s.  There should have been sixteen, except there is money to cover the missing diamond.  At least yuh ain’t got sticky fingers.  For that, I’ll buy you a two dollar dinner.  Let’s go!”

            Seizing my arm, he led me down the stairs.  When I told him that I wasn’t feeling in the pink—a gross understatement!—he shoved me off the porch towards the car.  The others were cooling their heels under a tree. 

            “Get in!”

            Zucania, seeing me shanghaied, protested.  Masseria, furious, ordered the two apes into the car, where they hemmed me in like cement blocks.  I just sat there praying Zucania had the power of tongues.  Although the rear windows were rolled down, I couldn’t understand a word they were saying.  It was all Italian.  When Zucania slid in behind the wheel, I knew that his words had not won the war.              

            “Henny!” someone cried, as Zucania started the engine.

            Bounding out of the house and across the lawn, his black needle bag in hand and a gauze mask on his face—like those worn during the Spanish flu epidemic, which had killed millions a few years before—Mr. Schneiderman poked his head in the rear window.

            “What are you doing out of bed?  You know how contagious influenza is!”

            “Sorry, Doctor Schneiderman,” I said.

            “You’ll put these poor men into quarantine.”

            “Not if I don’t cough,” I said, and immediately began to cough, pausing only long enough to sing the ditty that most Americans now knew by heart.

                                    “I had a little bird

                                    Whose name was Linda;

                                    I opened up the winda

                                    And influenza.”

            Masseria cried, “Get her outta here!”

            The two bodyguards roughly ejected me from the car, which departed in a wheel-spinning cloud of dust.


Author Bio ~ Paul M. Levitt, retired English professor, lives in Boulder, Colorado and currently occupies himself with historical fiction. He has authored scholarly books, plays, and novels.  His fondest memories issue from writing radio plays for London BBC Radio and working with a number of outstanding English actors.

Narrator Bio ~ Elizabeth Mansfield  is a British actress and singer and has been working in theatre, radio, TV and film since the 1970’s. She has performed many leading roles in UK regional theatres and London’s West End, in plays, music theatre and musicals, winning an Olivier Award nomination for ‘Best Actress in a Musical’ and ‘Best Actress’ in the London Theatre Awards, for her performance in Marie, at the Fortune Theatre. Web Address:


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