Pincus, the Shamus
By Barry S. Willdorf
Rabbi Moishe Hunter had habits one could count on. Every morning after spending precisely one hour on his treadmill and another quarter hour unwinding in a steaming shower, he'd wrestle a pair of blue jeans over his fifty-four inch girth, don tzitzits (fringes worn beneath an outer shirt, a religious reminder) and a white shirt, adjust his yarmulke to cover his bald spot and wrestle on a pair of pointy-toed western-style boots. At precisely eight forty-five, his staff would deliver a tray to his office holding a French press filled with very hot espresso, a plain croissant and the morning Times. When the weather was clear and warm as it was on the very last of his mornings he'd carry the tray to his balcony where he expected to be undisturbed until nine-thirty, while catching up on current events.
Witnesses claimed to have seen him leaning over the railing with his binoculars. They speculated that he must have been coveting the lush vineyards and pregnant orchards that had not yet succumbed to subdivision sprawl. At some point, he must have turned toward the casino's new garage as a single shot struck him dead on in the forehead. No one admitted seeing or hearing anything amiss. His coffee was cold by the time they discovered him.
I was just sitting down to a lunch of brisket, a nice piece of pickle and a shpritz of seltzer leftovers that my Bess had put aside for another dinner. (You just can't leave stuff like that lying around expecting that it will make it to another supper not around me anyway. All these years she keeps on doing it. I keep on pinching it. She gets mad. I end up taking her out to dinner.)
The phone starts ringing. I don't want to talk. I've got a morsel of the salty beef rolling over my tongue. Who wants to talk, you got your mouth around brisket? Still, I pick it up.
"Is this Sam Pincus?"
"Who wants to know?"
"Sammy, boychik, is that you?"
There's only a limited number left who call me boychik, and a boychik, I assure you, I am no longer. The voice is unmistakable. "And might this be Labe 'the Lip' Birnbaum?"
"Lance, to you, Pincus."
Birnbaum left the old neighborhood immediately after he finished law school. Decided he'd like to spend the next forty years wandering in the desert. So he moved upstate, to a backwater town in cowboy and Indian country called Rickets. He changed his name from Labe "the Lip" to Lance. Made himself into a big macher (big shot.) Got elected DA. Then justice of the peace.
"Lance shmance," I say. "You think just because you moved to Druchus (the sticks) you're going to fool anybody with that name? You're as much a 'Lance' as I'm a 'Hopalong.' So to what do I owe the honor of Your Buckarooness interfering with my delicious brisket lunch?"
"You still read the papers, Pincus?"
"You called me up to discuss the news?"
"You didn't hear by any chance about the recent murder of a chief of the Yuwok Indian tribe and a possible connection to their gambling operation up here?"
"Sorry Birnbaum. So, how's by you anyway? Last I heard you grew your gray hair into a ponytail and contracted a case of environmental shpilkes (ants in your pants).
"Well, that's true enough, Pincus, but that's not why I'm calling. I need a shamus and there's no one I know who's better qualified for the job."
"You mashugganah (crazy), Birnbaum? What I know about Indians you could write on the inside of a book of matches that is if you could find a book of matches these days."
"But Pincus, you know something about gambling."
"You bet I do," I said. "I know that gambling and murder go together like love and marriage, horse and carriage, you can't have one without the other."
"And you know something about Jews."
"Come clean, Lip. What are you driving at?"
"Well, this particular Indian chief who ended up very stiff, he happened to be Jewish."
"Tell me more, Lip."
"I knew I'd get your attention, Pincus."
He convinces me to take a little trip. Agrees to toss in a fancy room, with a king size bed no less.
"Mind if I bring Bess? I think she'd like to stretch out on a king size bed for a change, especially in a casino. Besides, I'm going to have to take her out to dinner tonight anyway."
"I could say 'no' to Bess?"
"Well, Lip, it's not like she didn't say 'no' to you enough times back when."
"How do you know she always said no, Sammy?"
"Lip, go down that road, you'll need a proctologist to remove my shoe."
So with that all cleared up, Bess and I get in the car and drive.
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For continuation, go to Page Two
from the August 2008 Edition of the Jewish Magazine