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The Cost of Living
About the Author: Saul Golubcow has been at work for the past few years writing a series of stories about Holocaust survivors in the United States, trying to show complexity of character within each survivor and within the survivor communities. What, he wondered thinking about one of his favorite genres, the detective story, would it be like to portray a Holocaust survivor as a private eye in America 50 years ago? In "The Cost of Living," he addresses trauma and resilience, and loss that can never be regained.

That morning, May 11, 1972, I had completed my first-year law school exams. I thought an afternoon out watching a ball game with my grandfather was just what I needed. I planned to pick him up, quick lunch, and out to Shea Stadium to see the Mets take on the hated Dodgers.

I burst into his office. The sign on the door’s smoked glass read: FRANK WOLF DETECTIVE AGENCY. Grandfather was sitting in his swivel chair with feet propped on his desk cluttered with newspapers, magazines, and books. He was reading a Ross Macdonald novel. Bookcases covered every wall.

“Hello Zaida,” I said using the Yiddish word for grandfather. “Tell Lew Archer you’ve got to go because I’ve got plans for us!”

Grandfather didn’t answer. When he read, he didn’t like to be disturbed. I chose to risk his annoyance and announced my plans for the afternoon.

“Nuh,” he said with a pinched smile. He spoke English with a cultured European accent. “I know for you to talk into my reading means to go to the Shea must be important. But how can I help you? You see,” he said with a sweeping gesture, “I am at my occupation. Can I leave the office on a business day?”

It may have been weeks since anyone had walked into his office unannounced. He was lucky to get a call a week from a prospective client. But if the truth would hurt Grandfather’s feelings, why shouldn’t I speak around the truth?

“Zaida, you deserve a half day off once in a while. If a client calls or comes to the office, I’m sure they’ll try again tomorrow.”

Grandfather nodded as if what I said made sense. He slowly rose and straightened his fedora hat and suit jacket. “We will go,” he said giving his baggy pants one final hitch. “A half day off will be good for the health.”

I shook my head vigorously, opened the door to leave, and came face to shoulder with a man about to enter the office. He was well over six feet and wore a grey, three-piece suit. His dark brown hair with some silver at the temples was short and razor cut.

“Mr. Wolf?” the man asked glancing from me to Grandfather who shot me a look that said, “Do you see what I almost missed?”

“I am Mr. Wolf,” Grandfather said bowing slightly.

“Wesley Post, New York Mutual Insurance.” Post plucked a card from his vest pocket and handed it to Grandfather who looked at it and then pointed to me.

“Mr. Post, my associate, Mr. Gordon.” Post handed me a card. I gave Grandfather a surprised look. He beamed at Post who in turn beamed at me. We all moved back into the office. Grandfather sat down behind his desk and Post seated himself in the guest chair. Since there were no other chairs in the office, I stood.

“I’ll get right to the point,” Post began. “A Joseph Stein was shot to death last Monday morning in his butcher shop. Did you happen to hear about it?”

Grandfather’s brows furrowed for a moment. “In Boro Park, on the 13th Avenue?”

“Right,” Post said leaning back in his chair and crossing his legs. “The case seems open and shut. A bunch of young toughs tried to hold up his store. They got nothing but killed Stein while they were at it. Stein’s partner, a Mr. Kacew, saw it just as the gang members were fleeing. The thing is that Stein just three months ago took out a $100,000 life insurance policy with us. He was 60 years old, but since he passed the physical and was quite willing to pay the high premium, he was given the policy.

“Nothing seems to be out of order in Stein’s death. But when a man takes out a large policy and dies three months later, we investigate. Normally, our own people handle it. But in this case, we would like to call you in. You see, Mr. Stein was an Orthodox Jew and didn’t speak English well. His widow also speaks English poorly. We note from your ad in the Yellow Pages that you speak their language. If you would agree to investigate, we are willing to pay $1000 plus another $9000 if you should discover something favorable to our company. Can you help us?”

Grandfather did not hesitate. “Mr. Post, to solve anything one needs the will and the effort. You will be glad to hear that we can give you both.”

“Great, I’ll have a contract and a check out to you by courier tomorrow morning. When will you begin?”

“Ah, that shall depend. Could you please tell me when Mr. Stein, may he rest in peace, was buried?”

This story appears in our MAY 2021 Issue
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