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EASY ESSAYS
Syndic Literary Journal

AA ~ The Adventures of Henrietta Fine ~ Chapter Eleven

Note from the Publisher

Chapter Eleven is the Final chapter of The Adventures of Henrietta Fine.
I thank author Paul M. Levitt for writing such an entertaining and insightful historical novel and then asking Syndic Literary Journal to serialize its publication. 
I also thank Elizabeth Mansfield for her brilliant narration and for providing us all with a lesson about the “Art of the Spoken Word.”
~ LeRoy Chatfield, Publisher of Syndic Literary Journal
Note to Syndic Audience: If you know family members, friends or colleagues who would like to be subscribed to Syndic Literary Journal, I would be pleased to enroll them. Please send me their:  email address, first and last name. Send to: [email protected]

 

 

The Adventures of Henrietta Fine

By Paul Levitt

Narrated by Elizabeth Mansfield

Published by LeRoy Chatfield

 

Chapter Eleven

              The Beggar’s Opera greeted me as I let myself in the front door.  Carolyn, stretched out on the couch, was listening to highlights on the radio.

            Peachum:  “Secure what he hath got, have Macheath peached the next sessions, and then at once you are made a rich widow.”

            Polly:  “What, murder the man I love!  The blood runs cold at my heart with the very thought of it.”

            The next air was one of my favorites, “Now Ponder Well, Ye Parents Dear.”  I used to play it on the violin.  Carolyn sat up, reached out a hand, and drew me down next to her.  Kissing my cheek, she said that she had something to tell me.  Her absence from Rodman’s funeral was preying on her.  She wanted me to know that “good Catholics” honor their dead, and that she had begged A.R. to appear at the cemetery to “show his respects.”  When he had refused, citing the bad publicity it might cause, she felt that she couldn’t drive out by herself.  Although still angry, I told her I understood.  Carolyn had all the right instincts, but all the wrong training.  She had been taught to defer to her husband and always be dutiful.  The result:  While he was keeping mistresses, she was keeping the house.  I explained that I would be leaving, moving into my mother’s apartment.  She urged me to stay, but I told her it was time for me to be on my own. 

            “Arnold’s in the kitchen,” she said simply, reading my mind.

            He sat hunched over the sports page, fortified with a bottle of milk and Carolyn’s chocolate cake.  I closed the kitchen door as he finished one glass of milk and poured another.

            “Milk, it’s good for the digestion.  The only thing better’s figs.”  He belched.  “Pardon my greps.”

            “Do you have a minute?”

            A.R. devoured a wedge of cake at least four inches thick and washed it down with several gulps of moo juice.  Wiping his mouth on his linen napkin, he neatly folded his paper and for the first time since I’d entered the kitchen looked at me.

            “There’s a test I can take—to get into college.” 

            “You want out?”

            “I don’t want to be a dumb dame.”

            “But you’re one of us now, one of the gang.”

            “Thanks, but no longer.”

            “Hey, membership is like a tattoo.  You can’t get rid of it without losing your skin.”

            Whenever A.R. felt used, he always fought back.  I could see the storm clouds forming.  I could also imagine what a black person must feel, branded for life by the color of his skin.

            “I paid my dues—and my debts.”

            Nearly choking, A.R. said, “Have you lost your mind?  Let me remind you that Salvatore Zucania is waiting for a diamond from you.  It’s only because of me that he hasn’t roughed you up.”

            “Do you think I have the stone?”

            “No.”

            “Then please convey that message to Sal.”

            “I have—over and over.”

            I decided now was the time to start playing my hand, one card at a time.  “You and I both know that he’s threatening me to get at you.”

            “You’re talking through your hat.”

            “Mr. Boritski made the phony gem, which you gave to me with the others, and which I gave to Zucania and Masseria.”

            “What’s your proof?”

            “Logic and common sense.”

            “Why would I want the stone?”

            “Not the stone, the money.”

            “You think I fenced it.”
            “So do the Sicilians.”

            “Who’s your source?”

            “As I told you, Suzie and I entered Ahab’s office just minutes after he was killed.  The killer, who knows?  But the buyer . . . among Truffa’s notes—” I deliberately broke off in mid-sentence to let A.R. complete the thought.  His response took me by surprise, though it was as good as a confession.

“For you to leave knowing what you know, it’ll cost you ten thousand.”

“I see:  You’ll buy off Masseria with my money.  You’ll leave me a pauper.”

            “Stay a thief.”

            All my sleuthing, all my questions about the diamond and Mr. Truffa, had been for this moment.  Even so, I chewed over what to say without risking my skin.  A lot of things take a back seat to self-preservation.  I decided to bluff before playing my ace.    

“I realize, of course, what you’ve done.  The farm, Fallon, housing me here . . . no amount of money can really repay what I owe you.  Those people who say you lack feeling are wrong.  You’ve been generous to me and I won’t forget it.”

            “But you are forgetting it.  After taking my eats, you’re walking out.”

            “It’s time.”

            “Not till I say the dinner is over.”

            “Call me when you’re serving caviar.”

            “I could flavor things so you’d never get a swallow of college.”

            Whether he was threatening to disclose my larcenies or to actually injure me, I didn’t know; and I wasn’t going to ask.  Instead, I went straight to the heart of the matter.

            “You sold one of the Farouk diamonds to Truffa.  For how much I don’t know.”

            Profusely sweating from gluttony or guilt, he said, “I gotta change my shirt.  Don’t go away.”

            I cut a small slice of cake and read the sports page.  When he returned, wearing a new white shirt, still wrinkled from the folds, he had also changed moods.  Instead of threats, he dished out compliments.

            “You got brains, Henny.  I admire I.Q.”

            He paced from one side of the room to the other, finally stopping at the icebox to remove a box of chocolate éclairs.

Devouring one in two bites, he seemed restored to his previous sourness.  “Remember what I’m always telling you, when two people know something, eleven know it.  So how can I be sure nine others won’t be put in the know?  I got enemies.”

            “You could throttle me,” I said, testing his temper.

            “If you’re smart enough to figure out the con and gutsy enough to tell me, you must have some insurance.  My guess is you wrote down the whole story and left it in a safe place.  Right?”

            Wrong!  I’d made no arrangements at all.  But I sure as heck wasn’t going to tell him.  He’d just come up with my out.  “They don’t call you the brain for nothing.  You’re right.  It’s all written down.  If I don’t return, the letter gets opened.”  

            Consuming another éclair, he tried to outfox me by asking where I was going once I moved out.

            “If I tell you that, you’ll know who has the letter.”

            “No one else knows?”

            “How about feeding me one of those chocolate hot dogs?”  A.R. reluctantly passed me the box, which had one éclair left. “For you or for me?” I asked.

            “You didn’t answer me.”

            “All right, I’ll eat it myself.”

            As I nibbled away, he ran his tongue over his teeth, either out of hunger or gorge.  Since both nourished him, I could never be sure of the difference.

            “Never mind, kid, I know you’d never rat.” 

            He gloomily surveyed the empty box.

            “You always taught me, hush-hush.”

            Tossing it in the trash bin, he sat down at the table across from me, and cut himself another slab of Carolyn’s chocolate cake.  “I didn’t have breakfast,” he said.

            “Some breakfast!”

            Probing his teeth with a toothpick, he stopped long enough to remark that the diamond he’d sold to Truffa had disappeared.  Smacking his lips and swallowing the results of his dental excavations, he asked, “Do you know who has it?”

            I felt certain that telling him what I knew would have led to the death of Brad Gillespie, to say nothing of my own fate. As much as I wanted to see Brad pushing up daisies, I had learned to keep my trap shut.  Besides, if I had finked, I couldn’t blackmail Sal, a pleasure too great to forego.

“A.R., how many times do you expect to collect on this diamond?  Truffa paid you—”

            “Peanuts!”

            “—and now you want to grab it again.”

            “Henny, here I’ve been saying you’re smart as a whip.  You want me to tell you what being in the rackets means?  It means collecting several times over on what isn’t yours!”

            Furious, I silently cleaned the crumbs off the table, washed the dishes, and grabbed a towel, which I slowly twisted.

            “What’s wrong, kid?”

            “You almost got me killed!” I shouted.  And all you did was shrug and say the Sicilians were trying to pull a fast one.  It was my life that was at stake, not yours!”        

            “What dya mean was?  It still is?”

            “Not since I made a deal with Zucania.”

            “A deal?  No one told me.”

            “I learned all my tricks from you.”

            “You’re bluffing!”

            I put down the dish towel and took out of my pocket an Eatmors chocolate that I’d been saving for later.  “Here, this is for you.”

            A.R., caught between incredulity and appreciation, decided on the latter and flashed his dentures in the widest grin I’d ever seen him fashion.  Smiling didn’t come natural to him; that I can tell you.  “I’ll miss you, kid.  You’re a great counterpuncher.  I ought to know.  I just threw at you all I had, and you came up aces.  How you managed it, I don’t know. When are you planning to leave?”

            “Next week sometime.”

            “If you ever need work, you know who to call.”

            “Thanks,” I replied, with a lump in my throat.  We shook hands.  Reaching the door, I turned and said what I’d long had in mind.  “Your family will love you, you know, even if you’re not a big shot.” 

            I’ve often thought of that moment and felt glad that I said what I did.  Here was a notorious racketeer who had one goal in mind, to make as much money as possible—not in order to buy silk shirts and suits from England, but to prove to his family that he was no bum.  Another dream gone astray.

            When I left, he was unwrapping the Eatmors.

            Next stop was the Roma restaurant in Brooklyn and a rendezvous with Salvatore Zucania.  I decided to look good while doing the dirty.  Slipping into my single-breasted beige knitted wool jacket and skirt, I topped off the outfit with a dark red beret.  Jauntily I took a cab to the restaurant.  On the sidewalk, two black buskers, no older than nine or ten, were tap-dancing and singing:

            “A good man is hard to find, / You always get the other kind.”

            I dropped four bits in their cap and entered the Roma.  It was a small place.  The few tables were covered with linen tablecloths that had seen too many washings. Each had an empty wine bottle supporting a candle.  A fan turned slowly overhead and a grandfather clock ticked softly in the corner.  The decorations consisted of daguerreotypes, in cheap frames, portraying Roman monuments and scenes, like the Coliseum and St. Peter’s and a lot of rubble called classical ruins.  Zucania was sitting, as one might expect, with his back to the wall.  But this time he would really be up against it. 

            He looked worried, for good reason.  Besides what I might do to him because of the rape, he owed his boss a diamond.  Time was running out.  He smiled without gladness.  “How ya doin’, kid?  I was really surprised to hear from ya.  What’s up?”

            I lied.  “You’re going to be a father.”

            The cigarette he intended to light never reached his lips.  “You gotta be kiddin’!” 

            “That’s one of the chances you take.”

            He snuffed out the weed. “I know somebody, a broad in Coney.”

            “Not on your life!” 

            “Right here in Brooklyn dere’s someone.”

            “No, Sal.  I’m having the kid and you’re paying up.” 

            “How do I know it’s mine?”

            “You don’t.”

            He laughed the laugh of the saved.  “Den forget it.”

            Through the front window, I could see the buskers.  “You rave, you even crave to see him laying in his grave,” I said.

            “Huh?”

            “For thirty thousand dollars, I’ll walk out of here and never rat.”

            “You must be crazy!  Duh average jerk don’t make dat much in twenty-five years.”

            “Frankie Yale makes his boys marry the girls they knock up.”

            “I ain’t one of his boys.  I work for Masseria.”

            “Thanks for reminding me.  Let’s eat.  I want two portions of ravioli, on separate plates.  I’m feeding two.”

            Sal ordered wine and spaghetti for himself.  I asked for mineral water.  Leaving the table, I went outside and invited the two buskers into the restaurant.  “Your lunches are on me.”  A five spot placated the waiter, who balked at serving Negroes.

As I returned to my seat, the waiter was pouring the wine and aqua minerale.  Sal said, “Dya call dis powwow to tell me ya got one in duh oven when dere’s still the little matter of Mr. Masseria missing a diamond?”

            “First things first,” I said enigmatically.

            I sipped my drink, saying little.  While we waited for the food, Sal glared at his fingers, occasionally nibbling at a nail.  A runty guy, he looked like a rat ready to pounce.  He shared that image—and quality—with A.R.  Both were calculating men driven by greed, trying to prove their worth.  When the two plates of ravioli arrived, I told the waiter to give them to the buskers.  Sal bristled.

            “My appetite seems to have gone away,” I said.

            “Yeah, I noticed.  Well, ya can just pay for what ya ordered, because I ain’t.”  He stood up to leave.

            “Sit down, Sal,” I said sweetly.  “We haven’t settled the matter of hush money.”

            “Just for knockin’ you up?”

            “No, for killing Federico Truffa.”

            “Never met him.”

            He fiercely shoved his chair under the table and turned to go.  I lunged across the table, grabbing his arm. 

            “I wouldn’t leave yet, Sal.  We haven’t made any arrangements for your funeral.”

            “If you wasn’t a dame,” he said shaking off my hand, “I’d break yur nose for a crack like dat.”

            “I was just doing you a favor, Sal.  When Masseria and A.R. learn you killed Truffa, what kind of flowers shall I send to the church?”    

Zucania sat down—and drew out a knife.  “See dis?  I could just march you into duh backroom and. . . .”

            I felt sure he was faking, but just to be safe, I took up where A.R. had left off.  “I wouldn’t, Sal.  Someone else knows.  If I don’t return, your luck has run out.”

            Putting his knife on the table with a napkin over it, he snarled, “Let me see yur hand!”

            “And if you don’t like my cards?”

            “It’s yur cut,” he viciously punned.

            “A.R. knows I’m here.”

            “Duh hell wid A.R.!”

            “You’re braver than I thought.”

            “I’m waitin’!” 

            “Those kids seem to be enjoying their meal.  They’re mopping up the sauce with the bread.”

            He reached across the table and slapped my face.

            “That just cost you another five thousand dollars.”

            The waiter, seeing Sal slap me, rushed to the table.  I grabbed the napkin covering the knife.

            “Mr. Zucania,” I said, “needs another.  This one seems to be soiled.”

            “Mr. Cibo,” responded the waiter, shaking his head, “he don’t like shivs in his restaurant.  If a cop should drop by—“

            Sal quickly put it away.

            “Please, pay the gentleman,” I said.

            As Sal paid the bill, I itemized the cost.  “Here’s what you’re paying for.  My college education and the kid’s.  An apartment.  My debts, which come to ten grand, and my silence.”          “Ain’t you jumpin’ to conclusions?”

            “That’s how I get my exercise.”

            “Always duh smart-aleck,” he said, “now put up or shut up.”

“You wanted the stone so badly that when Truffa told you he’d sold it, you refused to believe him, resorting to torture. But Truffa wouldn’t talk.  That’s why you burned him to death.  Poor Federico!  And poor Sal!  Once the cops know . . . you can imagine the rest.  It’s all written down, Sal, including the statement of a witness who saw you leaving Jungle Alley shortly after the murder.”

            Never before or since have I extorted money from anyone; but I must admit, it felt awfully good.  Maybe that’s why the Lord reserves vengeance for Himself:  because it’s so sweet.

            Sal wiped the sweat from his face.  “Since you got it all figured out, right down to coverin’ yur own ass, what’s your price?”

            The two kids came over to thank me.  I told them Sal was their host.  When they thanked him, he just scowled.

            “You’re duh mudder of my kid,” he said.

            Minutes before, he wanted me to have an abortion; now he was proclaiming his fatherhood.  The rotten hypocrite!

            “It’ll cost you thirty-five grand.”

            “You said thirty!”

            “You shouldn’t have hit me.”

            He lit another cigarette.  I could see he was thinking it over.  So I left the table and looked at the pictures on the wall.  One of them was a castle prison, identified as a scene from the opera Tosca.  The scene certainly captured the mood between me and Sal. 

            When I sat down, he said, “It’ll take a few days.  I stash my dough out of town.”

            “The cash is only half of it.”

            “Dere’s more?” 

            “To clear my name, I want the missing Farouk returned to Masseria.”

            “So does Mr. Masseria.  I don’t want him thinking I’m holding out on him.”

            Even though I knew I was taking a chance, I said, “If you’ll swear on your mother’s sacred honor that you’ll return the stone to Masseria and rough up some S.O.B.—without killing him!—I’ll get you the ice.  But not till you cough up the dough.”

            “Ya know where it is?”

            “Don’t ask, Sal.”                    

            He ran his hand over his face, which registered confusion and anger.  Sal was not happy. 

            “How do I know ya ain’t already told A.R. about who did in Truffa?”        

“You don’t.”

            “Maybe he’s even wise to dis meetin’.”

            “Maybe.”

            “I could make ya tell me who’s got duh stone.”

            “You could.”

            I agreed to what he was saying in order to cause him to worry.  I wanted him to ask himself, “How come she’s acting this way?”  And conclude, “She must have all her bets covered.”  I just hoped that his fear would persuade him to pay me rather than croak me.  It was a gamble for him—and for me.  The taut muscles in his neck and face showed the strain he was under.  I realized my little game could backfire.  He had come this far, why stop now? 

            “Giuro sull’ onore di mia madre,” he said grudgingly.  “Ma dopo, omertà!”

            From working in the rackets, I knew that he’d just sworn the oath of oaths—and sworn me to secrecy.

            “Till the grave,” I said.   

            “How do ya want it?”

            So accustomed was I to thinking like mobsters, for a moment I thought he was asking me how I wanted to die.

            “In small bills, nothing larger than a twenty.  Put the cash in a suitcase and bring it to the Rothstein house.  I’ll need it by Monday.”

            “And duh stone?”

            “When I see the dough.”

            Sal quickly left.  I thanked the waiter for his timely intervention and stood in front of the restaurant, watching the kids tap-dance.  They were singing another song.

            “Toyland!  Toyland!  Little girl and boy land!”

                                                                        ******

            On Monday, Sal showed up in the afternoon with a cardboard suitcase.  A.R. was shaving and Carolyn napping.

            “You didn’t break the bank buying that piece of luggage.”

            “Always wid duh smart stuff,” he said. 

            I told him to return in an hour, which would give me enough time to count the loot and scrape up what I needed.  Then, carrying a brown bag, I led him down to the park on Riverside Drive.

            “Yuh bringin’ yur lunch along?”

            “Yeah, hot off the streets.”

            He sniffed.  “You smell somethin’?

            “No, why?”

            “Never mind.”

            When we reached the park, I stood admiring the view.  The leaves had already begun to turn orange and red, and the river looked like silver plate. 

            “Not bad, eh?”

            “Quit stallin’.  Duh stone, Henny, duh stone!”

            “First things first.”  I handed him a piece of paper with Brad Gillespie’s name and address.  “This is the guy I want clobbered.”

            “And if he ain’t home?”

            “Ask the housekeeper.  She’ll know where he is.  But don’t you dare lay a finger on her!”

            “How about a fist?”

            “Very funny.”

            “Den how come you ain’t laughin’?  Now give me duh ice.”            

            I looked around.  An elderly couple was strolling our way.  Pinned to the man’s jacket lapel was a Cross of Lorraine.  He probably had a son who fought—and died—in the war.  I waited until they had passed.

            “Hold out your hand.”

            Sal did.  Opening the bag, I withdrew a small object that I plopped in his palm.

            “What duh hell’s dis?”

            “Shit wrapped in cellophane, with a diamond inside.”

            Utterly bewildered, Sal stood there staring at his hand.  It wasn’t until the smell of horse manure reached his nostrils that he realized I might not be kidding.  “Is dis some kind of joke?”

            “Peel off the crap and you’ll find a diamond inside.”

            He picked up a twig and poked the turd, revealing the filth-coated Farouk.  From that day to this, I don’t think I have ever seen anyone with a bloodier look.  He knew that he’d eventually have to take hold of the stone and dirty his hands.  Before he got the idea of wiping them on me, I dashed across the street, streaking for home.  At my back I could hear Zucania cry, “Porka putana!” the last words he ever said to me.

            Yes, I had taken Lily’s bribe, and having done so, I hated myself knowing that if Hank had lived and asked me to bear witness, I was honor bound to remain silent.  Why then did I take it?  Revenge!  Having put my own interests before those of my friend, I chose to take out my self-loathing on Sal, a target truly deserving of my hatred.  In such ways, I have since learned, we turn private displeasures into public disgust.

            At the house, I went straight to my room and pocketed ten thousand dollars, stuffing the rest in a duffel bag.  When A.R. came downstairs, I settled my so-called debt, which in fact was pure and simple extortion.

            “Where,” he suspiciously asked, “did you manage to find so much dough?”

            “Silence is golden.” 

            He seemed amused—I would even say flattered—that I would quote him.  Preparing to go out, he asked me to be sure to say goodbye to Carolyn.  I promised him I wouldn’t forget.  He pinched my cheek. 

            “You’re the real McCoy.  And let me tell you, kid, that’s not a small thing when there are so many other ways to be.” 

            A second later he was gone from my life forever.

            Carolyn helped me pack my valise.  Adding a few dresses and skirts of her own, as well as the costume jewelry she’d lent me, she pooh-poohed my objections.  I started to cry.  Her generous gifts revived memories better forgotten.  She called a cab and waited with me in front of the house.  It was closing time and the streets were crowded with people leaving work.  As I entered the cab, I told her that I would return often to visit and that I’d call her about our getting together to take in the theater.  A few seconds later, she was lost from sight.  I returned to my mother’s apartment.  Looking out the street window at the young doctors and nurses playing tennis, their promising futures in front of them, made me feel terribly lonely.  I never spoke to Carolyn again.  I read the newspapers every day.  Though A.R. was frequently in the news, I saw no mention of her.

                                                                        ******

            With the money I received from Aunt Anna and Sal, I opened fifteen accounts under different names at the New York Dime Savings and Loan, where the president, Mr. Sherwood, was known to be friendly to bootleggers.  One large deposit would have attracted the attention of the feds.  Mr. Sherwood was sitting in his office, a banjo hanging on the wall.  I slipped him a thousand, since a little grease never hurts.  On my way out, I asked him: 

            “You play the blues?”

            “It depends on the green.”

            We shook hands and I left.  The next day, I took the high school equivalency exam, which I easily passed, and enrolled in the new American dream:  success through education. 

            Before the fall semester at City College began, I made a quick trip to Carmel.  Crossing the road, I took a circuitous path to the porch door, which I silently opened and closed, making sure that the spring didn’t snap.  I wanted my homecoming to be a surprise.  A card game was in progress.  I could hear Jimmy-Jimmy repeating his name and insisting that the next game be played for a penny a point.  Vasily, the new hired hand, was grumbling about “bad cards,” while Mr. Schneiderman, as always, kibitzed, and my mother called for the cards to be cut.  As I stood there listening, I gathered that shy, timid Celia had become quite a pinochle shark.  Another voice came from the porch, Ben’s.

            Slipping into the house, I saw that little had changed.  The room once occupied by the Prof and the Princess now held a small stove and shelves stocked with dishes.  The new boarders had complained that Mom’s cooking wasn’t kosher enough.  I guess when it comes to orthodoxy, no extreme is too great.  Mom’s room looked the same, except for a framed photograph on her dresser of Mr. Schneiderman, placed next to a wooden box holding the letters I’d written from New York.  My old room, adjacent to Mom’s, now belonged to Mr. Schneiderman, and his to Vasily.

             When Mom saw me, her joyful Yiddish expressions were followed by copious tears.  That evening, what had been planned as a modest meal turned into a feast.  I noticed that Mom’s once-delicate hands were calloused and sunburned and that she now seemed content kneading bread.  As in the past, we talked best in the kitchen, where she disclosed that she and Mr. Schneiderman were a “team.”  He would use hand gestures to indicate the cards that others were holding.  From New York to Carmel, everyone was seeking an edge.  The only difference between Mom and the others was the size of the stakes; the principle remained exactly the same.  I couldn’t help laughing.  America had come to Carmel.  For my part, I gave her a sanitized version of my adventures, omitting Cape May.  What was the point?  If I said I’d seen Aunt Anna, Mom would have asked about Uncle Sam, since I was always threatening to settle scores with him.  Besides, I planned to give Mom the money that I’d taken from the safe.  If I told her it had come from my aunt, she would have been on the phone in a minute thanking her for her wonderful gift.  So I said nothing.  Once the table was cleared, the accordion music and piano playing began, accompanied by singing and clapping.  I danced with all the friends Mom had invited, until all my elderly partners had quit from exhaustion, leaving just Ben and me. 

            We talked until dawn, sitting in the kitchen enjoying tea—and each other’s company.  The old affection was still there, as we reminisced about hayrides and horseshoes, Carmel and Claire, who had written to say that she was now in Chicago and planned to join an anarchist group active in Cambridge.  The Prof and the Princess, according to a news article about Margery the Medium, had apparently settled in Boston.  Perhaps the Princess and Claire would one day join forces.  Slowly, the discussion focused on me.  What had I been doing?  Did I like the city more than the country?  Ben had applied to the Woodbine agricultural school and been admitted.  Would I someday be returning to school?  I answered all his questions, telling him everything.

            Ben listened in awe.  I could see from his expression that my travels in the underworld both delighted and shocked him.  Outlaws and gangsters were the stuff of dime novels.  He marveled at my living such a life.  But as I unraveled my tale, I knew that I did not want to spend the rest of my life worrying about crops.  I was living proof of the song:  “How ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree?”  Under no circumstances was I going to trade concerts for calves, and Harlem for heifers.

            “You could go to college in Philadelphia; it’s closer.”

“Ben, I know you want me to eventually rejoin you in Carmel, and though I love you dearly, my home is now in New York City.” 

            “I’m still the same Ben.”

            “But I’m not the same Henny.”

            We talked for hours.  I omitted nothing, not even the rape.  He begged me to stay.  Trying to ease my way out, I said, “Who knows what will happen in the future?  We’ll just have to see.”

            “There are things between us that neither of us can ever forget.  Don’t be hasty.  Think about it.  Go to the city—and once in a while remember fireflies on summer nights.  If you change your mind, I’ll be waiting.” 

            Somewhere in a secret chamber of his heart, he believed in a Henrietta, who would always be there for him.  I heard people stirring; it was morning.  Before the screen door swung open and Ben walked out of my life, I kissed him, and we both cried.

            Aunt Anna’s nephew had pulled strings and arranged a probationary admission for me to City College.  The campus was prettier than I expected, particularly the Gothic buildings.  My first day, I asked some students how to find Professor Stefan Stein’s classroom.  At the bell, I took a seat.  He was lecturing on Captain John Smith’s idyllic seventeenth-century account of America, written to entice fellow Englishmen to set sail for the new world.

            “If a man work but three days in seven,” she said, quoting Smith, “he may get more than he can spend unless he be excessive.”  In all these years, apparently nothing had changed.  The way to move men was to appeal to their greed.  “For our pleasure here,” Smith had rhapsodized, “is still gains.”  All the people I knew, mugs and menschen alike, would have thrilled to Smith’s hymn, but especially Rodman.  Like the good captain, Hank believed in the future, because its essence was dream—the dream of a fuller, richer life.  All you had to do was screw on your fists and range daily, as Smith said, into “those unknown parts” to hunt and to hawk.  For the poor fishers, unskilled with a net, there was—and still is—another conveyance for making a catch, an angle.  

            The lure of quick riches brought millions to these shores—and ruined thousands.  But it was neither recklessness nor rapacity that led Hank to his death.  He was victimized by his past—by the poor beginnings and hard necessities that made him dream of easy money and a woman’s soft embraces.  But just as John Smith’s paradise had been torn up to make way for city blocks and farm fields, Rodman’s had been trampled underfoot by Brad’s bovine stupidity and ancestral privileges.  Without old wealth and family ties, Hank was outclassed.  On that last afternoon, as he floated on his mattress, alone with his memories, he must have known how dearly he’d paid for dreaming that he and Lily could go home again, to build a life on a bootlegger’s bankroll.

                                                                        ******

            Although Hank’s melodies failed to make his Lady Fair leave her Castle Gloom, he sang a haunting tune that briefly set her dancing, as in times gone by.  In telling this story, I too have sung a song, a paean to the people and the passions of those former days.  In reviving the night music of lock picking and smuggling, of diamonds and dancing, I have resided in the house of the past, recording what I remember as true.  And yet, memory deceives, feelings intrude, words distort.  If the chroniclers are right that history is always a farrago of fancy and fact, I hope to be forgiven for making felonies fun and sordidness saucy.             

            I see now that a book, like a life, is a pastiche of plagiarisms.  To write mine, I have borrowed and bent.  Even Rodman and Pop mostly copied.  Hank modeled himself after the swells in their top hats and spats.  Pop followed in the footsteps of those who said they had left Poland for paradise.  Both fancied America the golden Medina, a hope long since sterile but once fecund as the rivers Capt. Smith fished.  Somnambulists of a vanished dream, they would surely feel, were they to pass through the garbage-strewn streets of this country, through the hungry and tortured cries of the night, that they had wakened on a fallen world.  Or would they?  Perhaps despite the omens drear, the land cold from the quickening of greed, they would still hear the varied carols of America singing. 

                                                                      Postscript

 

            Henrietta Fine, aged ninety, died in 1995.  When bank officials opened her safe-deposit box, they discovered little of value:  a one-line paragraph from a 1922 Long Island newspaper noting the death of Hank Rodman, found shot to death in his swimming pool; a 1924 Journal-American story regarding William Fallon, tried and acquitted on the charge of jury bribing; numerous 1928 articles concerning the murder in the Park Central Hotel of Arnold Rothstein, and the acquittal of the gambler accused of shooting him; several 1931 clippings about the killing in Albany of Jack “Legs” Diamond; a 1962 New York Times obituary about Salvatore Zucania, who died of a heart attack in Naples; an undated news item reporting “the shocking beating of the Long Island resident Brad Gillespie at the hands of an unknown assailant”; two letters addressed to Hank Rodman, signed Lily; a valentine postmarked 1972, with the name Ben Cohen; a theater program for Abie’s Irish Rose; a picture postcard of the ocean front at Cape May; and a typewritten manuscript entitled “The Adventures of Henrietta Fine.”         

            In my capacity as executor of Ms. Fine’s estate, I have taken the liberty of correcting her spelling, except of course in those cases where I could see the mistakes were deliberate; of adding a glossary of terms, since so much has changed since 1922; and of finding a sympathetic editor.  Given these endeavors, I have put my name on the title page, trusting the reader to allow me that vanity.

                                                                                                P.M. Levitt

                                                                                                Boulder, Colorado

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