“Max, he’s gone. He’s gone.”
“Who’s gone, Abe? I can’t understand you when you talk so fast. You sound like you’re still living in a Polish shtetl with that accent. Speak American or Yiddish.”
Abe Siegel was out of breath and sweating, even though he’d been stocking the freezer at the Ginsburg and Gold Delicatessen. G & G, as it was known, was the most popular delicatessen in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, N.Y. It was conveniently located on Pitkin Avenue, at its intersection with Amboy Street. Its specialties appeared in huge letters on signs around the building.
“I waited for you this morning. You were late, just when I needed you,” Abe said, catching his breath.
Max looked at his watch. It was 5:35 A.M. The breakfast crowd wouldn’t start arriving for more than an hour.
“Five minutes. Big deal. So who’s gone?”
“Irving, my son. He’s a missing person.”
“He’s a certified public accountant, please.”
“How do you know he’s missing? Maybe he’s working. Did you think of that?”
“I can’t think of anything else. He never misses Sunday breakfast with his mother and me. If only he had a wife and family. Maybe better now he doesn’t.”
“Maybe he found a girl and, you know …” Max made the universal gesture with two pumps of his fist indicating intercourse.
“Not my Irving. He’s a catch, a professional man. He wouldn’t, you know …”
“Let’s start over. Two days ago, he misses breakfast with his mommy and daddy. Today you yell at me for being a few minutes late and tell me Irving is missing.”
“I think they took him,” Abe said.
“Who is they?”
Even though the deli was free of customers, Abe gestured with his chin to the booth where six mobsters, regular customers of Max Kalb, always sat when they came in for lunch, which was every weekday. Abe looked around, checking for someone or something.
“Oznayim la’kotel,” Abe said, whispering in Max’s ear.
“The walls have ears? Are you crazy? We’re the only ones here. Moishe is picking up the whitefish.”
“I’m telling you, it was them. The Boys.”
“I’ll play along with you. Which one grabbed Irving? Was it Harry Novitch, Big Tony Massari, Johnny Carpinelli, Benny Reznick? Maybe it was Marco Cavilleri or Moe Levinstein.”
“I need your help, Max,” Abe said.
“How did I get so lucky? If you think Irving is missing, you go to the cops. You don’t even have to go down the street to the station. They come here for lunch.”
“You helped Johnny, you know, The Fish. I know you helped Benny, too. Why won’t you help me?”
“If there was something I could do, I would, Abe. You know that. But a missing person? Whooh. That’s an order taller than one of our stacked pastrami sandwiches.”
“Please. I need your Max Kalb touch to find Irving. He’s in big trouble. I know this.”
“How do you know he’s in trouble and got taken by –” Max hesitated before he finished his thought. “A person or persons unknown?”
“You sound like a cop, a private eye, a gumshoe with a yiddishe kop, like in the stories.”
Max stared at Abe. “So?”
“Oh,” Abe said. “He was supposed to testify against some big shot mob capo at a trial next month.”
“What mob guy?”
“I can’t say.”
“You could get killed just by saying his name.”
“That’s ridiculous. It’s only the two of us here and I won’t tell you said the name.”
Abe looked around the deli. It was still empty, except for the two countermen.
“The newspaper,” Abe said.
“That’s the guy’s mob nickname?”
Abe lowered his voice to a whisper. “No. The trial that’s been in the papers, you know.”
“Ah, the murder and tax evasion charges against –”
“Don’t say the name, I told you.” Abe’s voice was loud enough to have been heard by everyone who might have been in the deli, but no one else was there.
“Him,” Max said.
Abe nodded in a gesture of finality.