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Authors: Stuart M. Kaminsky

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BOOK: Lieberman's Law
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“You're threatening me,” said Kim.

“You are a very perceptive young man,” said Lieberman softly. “I turned the tape recorder off long before I did it.”

“You are the Jew cop. Liebowitz,” the man in sunglasses said calmly. “You are the one who has been talking to our clients, costing us business. I've heard of you.”

“It's nice to be famous,” said Lieberman. “The name is Lieberman.”

Three quick honks of a car horn. Lieberman nodded the trio out into the rain. He turned and smiled sadly at the Parks, who were pressed close to each other. Mrs. Park raised her hand slightly in what was probably a wave.

Lieberman ushered the three onto the street and into the back seat of the unmarked blue Geo. It took about ten seconds. Lieberman closed the door and slid into the passenger seat. He was almost as soaked as Hanrahan who gunned the car into the dark wet traffic almost colliding with a bright, white, double-parked Lincoln Town Car.

“That your car?” asked Hanrahan, nodding at the Lincoln as they passed it. “Bockford Towing gets them in minutes around here, even in the rain.”

“I'll book 'em,” Lieberman said, running his hand through his hair and glancing back at their silent prisoners. “We'll get you to the church on time.”

“Meet you back at the station at noon?” asked Hanrahan, now driving merely recklessly instead of insanely through traffic.

“Make it one,” said Lieberman. “I've got an appointment too. You three comfortable back there?”

The three men in the back seat started to talk in Korean.

“Silence,” said Lieberman, half turning in his seat and pointing his gun at them. “I might think you're planning some kind of escape. You don't want me to think that. You have long lives and short prison terms ahead of you unless we find you're wanted for something else.”

The young man directly behind Hanrahan said something in Korean. He was clearly frightened. The one in the middle, with sunglasses, answered him with two or three clipped words and the frightened one grew quiet.

“I think, Father Murphy, that we have a winner in the back row.”

Hanrahan nodded. If one of them was wanted they would work him over, make a deal with his lawyer, get better counts on his partners. On the other hand, all three of them could be back on the street the next day. The ways of judges and lawyers were a mystery to Hanrahan. He checked the car clock and his wristwatch. He had a little over half an hour to pick up Iris and ten minutes after that to get to St. Bart's. There was just enough room between the Bekin's truck and an old Dodge. Hanrahan sloshed through, heading up Broadway.

“What the hell is hypotonectosis?” asked Hanrahan.

“Made it up,” said Lieberman.

“Why didn't you just give him a real disease?”

“Spring is the mischief in me,” said Lieberman.

“What?” asked Hanrahan.

“Robert Frost,” said the bespectacled prisoner. “It's from Robert Frost.”

Lieberman looked at Kim.

“English major,” Kim said.

Lieberman sat forward and shook his head. He listened to the torrent of rain on the car roof and thought about his lunch meeting with Eli Towser. Capturing the three in the back seat was like eating a strawberry danish at Maish's compared to what he expected from Eli Towser.

In spite of the faded jeans, the red-and-black flannel shirt, and the little black
kepuh
on his head, the beard gave Eli Towser away. He was not just a Jew, he was very much an Orthodox Jew. In fact, he was not just an Orthodox Jew, he was also a rabbinical student and had come highly recommended by Rabbi Wass of Temple Mir Shavot. Since Rabbi Wass was neither Orthodox nor particularly brilliant. Lieberman had been suspicious of the lean young man who had appeared at his door a little over a month ago. The young man had introduced himself seriously, touched the mezuzah on the doorway and entered.

Eli Towser, no more than twenty-five years old, had explained that he and his wife made a modest supplement to his scholarship, she with the money earned by a part-time job while she too went to school, and he by tutoring Jewish boys for their bar mitzvah and Jewish girls for their bat mitzvah. Towser had been dressed more seriously the day he first met Lieberman, Bess, and their grandson Barry. Winter had just made up its mind to depart but left a late chill behind and the young man before them had worn a black suit, hat, and coat.

He answered all of their questions and assured them that Barry's being bar mitzvahed in a Conservative temple would be no problem, and they came to a price. Bess took care of the payments and Barry had reluctantly prepared. If there had been no reluctance from a twelve-year-old boy, Abe would have worried. For the first four sessions—two per week, after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays—the rabbinical student and the resigned boy, who bore a distinct resemblance to his father, were left alone in the Lieberman kitchen.

They practiced. Much of what Barry had to learn was simply memorization. His reading of Hebrew was going slowly. The whole process was about to go even more slowly.

Now sitting among the early lunch crowd at Kopelman's Kosher Restaurant, Lieberman said “Eli,” as he pushed aside his bowl of rice pudding, leaving just enough left to delude himself that he was indeed eating with moderation.

The rabbinical student was methodically dipping mandel bread cookies into his coffee. With each dip, Towser smoothed down his beard to make room for the dripping delight. Four pieces of the almost oval cookies remained on the plate.

Lieberman had to speak loudly to be heard over the early lunch crowd at Kopelman's Kosher Restaurant. Lieberman felt the first twinge of a coming stomach ache. He was getting them more and more often. Two blocks east of them on Devon was the T & L Deli, owned and run by Abe's brother Maish, but the T & L wasn't kosher. Kopelman's was.

Towser had consumed a lunch that would have made Marlon Brando proud: salad, pot roast, a side order of kishke, and a large glass of orange juice before coffee and desert.

“Yes?” asked Eli, reaching for a second piece of mandel bread.

“You have any idea of why I asked to have lunch with you?”

“To
take
me to lunch,” Towser corrected, pointing a piece of cookie across the table at Lieberman.

At the table inches away from them, one of the two women working on their kreplach soup said, “Be sensible, Rose. If he were cheating, would he give you her name?” Lieberman thought it a distinct possibility that Rose's husband would give the name of the woman he was having an affair with. It would depend on how smart the husband was and how much Rose was willing to pretend not to know. A few more details and Lieberman could have given a definitive answer.

“None at all,” Towser answered Lieberman with a small smile of anticipation.

“Politics,” said Lieberman, nodding at the waiter who had come to refill Towser's cup and offer coffee to Lieberman. Lieberman had been a master of restraint for over a month, rigidly watching his diet, eating the inedible, drinking massive amounts of water, moderate amounts of coffee and envying all who could consume enormous quantities of fat and salt without being warned by their doctors about blood pressure, cholesterol, and inflamed intestinal walls. Today Lieberman had eaten a toasted onion bagel with nothing on it and a bowl of cold beet borscht with no sour cream. He had consumed a small bowl of rice pudding and was now working on coffee.

Towser paused mid-dunk to look at the man across the table who had taken pains to tuck his holster and pistol well beneath his armpit under his jacket. There would be no hint of anger or intimidation. Abe had promised Bess.

“Israeli politics?” Towser asked.

“In a sense,” Lieberman answered, dreading the rest of the conversation and smelling a brisket being served to the betrayed Rose and her sympathetic friend.

“You are the president of temple Mir Shavot, aren't you?” Eli Towser said.

“My wife is,” said Lieberman. “I adroitly managed to escape that trap, only to find myself maneuvered onto the building committee.”

“I've seen the new temple on Dempster,” said Towser. “Very contemporary.” There was a faint touch of criticism in Towser's observation.

“It used to be a bank,” Lieberman said.

Towser dunked and nodded his head.

“You're a good teacher,” Lieberman went on, his hands in his lap. “Barry's learned a lot and he's learned fast.”

“Thank you,” said Towser. “Am I here to get a raise?”

“No,” said Lieberman, “you are here to be told politely to stop teaching your own political views to my grandson. Your job is to prepare him for his bar mitzvah.”

Towser put his piece of mandel bread aside and leaned toward Lieberman. “There is no line between the politics of Israel and the process of being a Jew,” said the young man.

“What we want is a bar mitzvah for my grandson,” said Lieberman, trying to ignore the smile of recognition from a man in a booth across the room.

“And he'll have it,” said Towser.

“He's talking about driving Arabs out of Israel, a return to war against the PLO,” said Lieberman. “He doesn't even know what he's talking about and you've got it in his speech.”

“Where it belongs,” said Towser.

“He's twelve,” said Lieberman.

“My father bombed a British hotel in Jerusalem when he was twelve,” said Towser intently. “Jewish boys become men when they bar mitzvah. A thirteen-year-old stands with us in a minyan.”

Lieberman was far more familiar with what twelve-year-old boys are capable of than Eli Towser was. That was Lieberman's point. He knew how ready they were to follow a leader into violence and their own sense of group respect, survival, and often a creative or idiotic sense of honor or territory. A minyan, a gathering of ten adult, bar mitzvahed Jews needed in order to pray, required no political posture. “I don't want my grandson to be taught hate,” said Lieberman.

The man who had smiled at Lieberman rose from his booth, put down his napkin, and headed through the crowd.

“Over and over throughout recorded time, the Lord Our God has delivered us from those who would take away Israel,” said Towser, his eyes scanning Lieberman's face … “But he does not just deliver us with miracles. He tells us to take up sword and return to the days of Samuel. Do you understand Hebrew?”

“No,” said Lieberman.

Towser sighed and said, “First Samuel, chapter seven, verses eleven through fourteen: ‘… and the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel. And the cities which the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel, from (Ekron even unto Gath); and the borders thereof did Israel deliver out of the hands of the Philistines.' ”

The rabbinical student's voice was rising now. Rose and her friend stopped talking and tackled their food with religious intensity. The man from the booth made his way between tables and past waiters juggling steaming trays.

Everything smelled good to Lieberman. Everything looked like trouble.

“You told Barry that it was the responsibility of every Jew to be prepared to take arms against Arabs and anyone who supported them anywhere in the world,” said Lieberman.

“Yes?” said Towser.

“Sounds too much like terrorist rhetoric for my wife and me,” Lieberman said.

“And Barry's parents? What do they say?” asked Eli Towser, his white-knuckled hands now gripping the table.

“His father is a gentile,” said Lieberman. “He teaches Greek literature at Northwestern. He thinks politics stopped over a thousand years ago, but I bet he can quote you a line of Aeschylus to counter anything you come up with from the Bible regardless of which side it takes. My daughter Lisa, Barry's mother, is in Los Angeles seeking her Self. She thinks that a bar mitzvah for her son is a waste of time, a waste that probably won't hurt him. She walked out on her husband and left her kids with us.”

“So?” asked Towser expectantly.

The man from the booth across the room was now hovering over their table grinning widely. Abe pretended not to see him. He wanted his moist eyes focused on the rabbinical student.

“So, the decision is mine and my wife's. So we ask you to stop the politics.”

“I can't,” said Towser.

“I didn't think so. I've seen too many people, young and old, with the look you have in your eyes,” said Lieberman. “True believers.” Lieberman reached into his inner jacket pocket, pulled out his wallet and found a check, which he handed to Towser. It was all made out. “Payment in full,” said Lieberman.

“I'm fired?” asked Towser looking at the check, off guard.

“Dismissed,” said Lieberman.

There was more to say but Lieberman was certain it would have no effect. He could talk about the anger Eli Towser needed to control, but Towser would have responded with indignation and examples from Jeremiah, the Likud Party, and the
New York Times.

Eli Towser rose. People in the restaurant were looking at them. Most assumed it was an argument between father and son and lowered their voices to listen or raised them to drown out the battle. This was lunch time at Kopelman's.

Towser pocketed the check. “I deserve this payment,” he said.

“I agree,” said Lieberman with a nod to Eli, who walked away shaking his head. Lieberman looked up at the hovering man who was casting a shadow on his now tepid cup of coffee.

“Lieberman,” the man said jovially. He was plump, around Lieberman's age, early sixties, and had a pink, healthy face and a businessman's smile. His suit wasn't new, but it was definitely made from good material. Lieberman knew good material. His mother's father had been a tailor on the West Side on 12th Street even before it became Roosevelt Road.

Lieberman looked up, wanting very much to be alone, and not recognizing the man though Lieberman had a reputation in both the Clark Street Station and Congregation Mir Shavot for never forgetting a face or a name. It might take him a while and he might have to imagine a historical context, but he seldom missed.

BOOK: Lieberman's Law
4.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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