I dunno th'exact words, but there's some old sayin' like "Life's a comedy for th'man who thinks, an' a tragedy f'th'man who feels." Like I said, somethin' like that.
S'right now, I'm thinkin' -- thinkin' -- 'bout th'past couple o'days... an' laughin' my fool butt off.
Part One -- The Grab
Look, I'll be honest with ya. Whenever I got a choice 'tween doin' th'so-called "right" thing, an' doin' somethin' th'easy way, I go f'th'easy route. Even if -- hell, 'specially if -- th'easy way ain't necessarily legal. I get some weird kinda rush about breakin' th'law. It's almost a fever, or an addiction. I don't like gamblin', or binge eatin', or hookers or booze or drugs... none o'that crud. I get my rocks off doin' whatever it is that I wanna do when I know I ain't supposed t'be doin' what I wanna do!
Make sense? No? Ah, well.
Let's jus' say that in my time, ol' Lefty's done all sorts o'illegal things. Some's jus' small things, like runnin' a stop sign or a red light. Whenever I can, I'll do th'chew'n'screw bit at a diner or a reg'lar restaurant. Sometimes it's more serious stuff, like findin' a wallet an' keepin' it, or maybe cheatin' on taxes, when I bother declarin' income at all! But in sixty-plus years on this planet, I ain't never done nothin' real bad. Well... almost never.
So two days ago, I'm walkin' down by th'docks, gettin' th'simple kinda exercise that keeps me in shape like a boychik half my age... while wearin' my new suit, no less. A few feet ahead o'me, I see this homeless slob -- a tall schvartze -- trudgin' along carryin' a brand new, expensive-lookin' suitcase, an' I says t'myself, "Lefty, what's wrong with this freakin' picture?" y'know? I mean, Handsome here's sportin' a beard with th'remains o'his last few meals hangin' on it like Christmas tree ornaments, an' he's got long, kinky hair that looks like it ain't seen shampoo since they started sellin' Head & freakin' Shoulders! An' his clothes? Lord knows what color his pants were when they first came offa the rack, an' add t'them a pair o'broken vinyl shoes, no socks, an' a stained overcoat 'stead of a shirt. And this (th'overcoat) in mid-freakin'-August, no less.
So th'fancy briefcase sticks out like a sore thumb. It was a big sucker, too, an' all sorts o'possibilities started flashin' through my mind, y'know? It can't be his, I figger. He prob'ly swiped it. So even if I did have a normal-type conscience -- an' trust me, I don't -- I still woulda felt okay 'bout swipin' it from this guy.
And o'course, I did swipe it from 'im!
I followed 'im kinda discreetly for a while. He was walkin' away from th'waterfront an' toward th'city itself, so I figgered I hadda make my move soon or witnesses'd start pilin' up like pigeon droppin's on a statue. Luck'ly f'me, th'guy steps in 'tween a couple o'big crates t'take a leak, an' while he's doin' his business, I swoop by an' snatch th'case.
Nothin's ever too easy, o'course, so even as I'm makin' th'grab, Handsome's sixth-freakin'-sense or somethin' kicks in, an' he whips around -- still relievin' himself, only now on my shoes, fer cryin' out loud! -- t'take the case back. Luck'ly for ol' Lefty, the sun's in his eyes, so he doesn't get a good look at me, an' he don't see it comin' when I smack 'im as hard as I can right in the puss with th'case itself! Ha!
I take off like a bat outta hell, hearin' 'im moanin' and groanin' like a wounded animal as he lays there in his own urine. An' no, I don't look back, are you nuts? Lefty's no shmendrick.
Screw it, at least he's still alive, right?
Couldn't wait t'get home t'see what kinda goodies I got.
Part Two -- The Take
So here I was, in a fancy hotel room 'stead o'th'kinda motel rooms I'm used to, y'know, thanks t'the welcome run o'good luck I had at the dog track a few nights back. (It's how I bought my new suit, too, y'know?) I decide to be a fresser, an' call down t'room service an' order myself a thick'n'juicy hunk o'prime rib. After hangin' up th'phone I plunk Handsome's suitcase down on top o'th'bureau and start checkin' it out.
It ain't heavy, considerin' its size. An' not so surprisin', it's locked. The "locked" part just makes me laugh; I'm a pro, remember?
I get it open in a few secs, and find that somebody's wrapped an entire bedsheet 'round this whatever-it-is f'paddin', so it won't bang around too much in the suitcase. I take th'bundle out o'th'case and put it on th'bed t'give me more room t'work.
As I unwrap th'sheet, a funny smell -- like spoiled meat -- starts t'invade th'room. "Oy," says me, "This ain't good, Lefty!" Inside the sheet is somethin' long an' thick, wrapped up in some taped-up butcher paper. It ain't too big, and it's too long'n'narrow t'be, like, a human head or somethin', I figger, as I start laughin' nervously. "A freakin' head? You seen too many movies, Lefty!" I remember thinkin'. Then again, there was that rotten stink...
But it wasn't no head, o'course. Like I said, wrong shape. This thing was only a little bit bigger'n my...
I almost puke. Inside th'paper is some poor mamzer's left hand'n'lower left arm. It's pretty obvious that th'dear departed was a guy, from all the white hair on th'arm'... an' th'back o'th'hand, too. There's a fancy-shmantzy gold ring on his ring finger, which I don't pull off, fightin' all instinct, an' one more little detail I can't help but notice:
Whoever this unlucky soul was, he was one o'my people, an' he spent some time in one o'th'Nazi death camps... cuz there on his arm is one o'those damn tattoos I seen way too many of.
I ain't too religious, as y'mighta guessed, but this gave me the creeps. I hadda get rid of it. But since it was pretty freakin' obvious that th'luck I'd had at the track was now officially kaput, I figgered that if I just decided to toss it in th'nearest dumpster, some cop'd spot me disposin' o'th'evidence.
So I said t'myself, "Wonder if Handsome would want it back?" while I was callin' room service t'cancel my prime rib.
I'd kinda lost my appetite anyway, y'know?
Part Three -- The Meet
I wrapped that smelly sucker up in the sticky paper first, an' th'sheet second, and slammed that case shut. I took only a few secs t'wash my hands, an' off I went, headed right back t'the docks.
See, my mind was goin' a mile a minute, an' I was havin' all sorts o'creative flashes as t'exactly why this arm was in a suitcase like this. An' mixed in with th'flashes was all kindsa questions, some I could ask Handsome... but most he prob'ly woulda been clueless about. (I was still figgerin' he'd swiped th'case himself, y'know?)
The most unsettlin' thought was that this was some kinda freakin' trophy, maybe belongin' t'some professional hitman who'd kept it t'prove that he'd completed a mission, y'know? An' I sure as hell didn't want him lookin' for whoever'd ripped off his precious case, an' windin' up with me, right?
I was still on the outskirts o'th'heavier-trafficked streets, not yet even as far as th'docks, when I spotted Handsome, shufflin' along like the poor schnook he was. I hadn't been walkin' f'ten minutes! Maybe my luck wasn't totally gone, I figgered.
"Hey! Hey!" I yelled, when I'd almost caught up to 'im. A bunch o'people, Handsome included, looked t'see who I was yellin' at. I pointed right at 'im t'eliminate confusion, y'know? "You! Overcoat!"
He looked at me kinda funny for a sec, prob'ly wond'rin' what some old Jewish guy in a two-piece suit would be screamin' at him for. I mean, don't forget, he didn't really get a look at me when I snatched th'case. Then he saw th'case itself. His eyes bugged out an' he took off in th'other direction.
Maybe my spiffy suit made 'im think I was a cop, an' he figgered I wanted t'question him about the suitcase? Maybe he thought I was th'rightful owner, shall we say, an' that I wanted to "thank" him proper f'havin' ripped it off from me? Hell, did he even know what was in th'case?
I never had a chance to ask 'im any of that crap. I hadn't been chasin' Handsome for more'n a couple o'blocks before he darted into traffic an' got hit by one o'those brand-new Fords some wiseass decided to call a Mustang.
I was far from the only one who crowded 'round 'im t'see if he was dead. An' yeah, he was. Shame.
Even as I was wond'rin' "Now what?" I got my freakin' answer. A voice outta nowhere yelled "Hey, you!" an' my head swivelled around like that broad in "The Exorcist," only to realize exactly how Handsome'd felt not two minutes earlier.
There were two guys in suits -- cheap suits, not a dandy like mine -- pointin' at me. "Yeah, you! With the suitcase!" shouted one of 'em, th'taller one. "Don't move!"
Cheap suits, I said. These weren't hitmen. These were detectives. An' when a cop tells me t'do somethin' -- anythin' -- I do the freakin' opposite, y'know?
So I took off like a raped ape... but like a schmuck, I held onto th'freakin' case, can you believe it?
Not only did that make it look like th'case'n'me were "connected," y'might say, but it slowed me down.
I keep in really good shape, like I said. So even at sixty-three, I could usually outrun a couple o'middle-aged cops. On a good day, anyway.
But as y'may o'noticed, this wasn't a particularly good day f'me!
I dunno which one caught up t'me first -- ignore th'crap Hollywood churns out, y'never turn around when you're bein' chased -- but he tackled me like a NFL pro. I went down hard'n'smacked my head on th'pavement... and blacked out.
Part Four -- The Grill
I woke up sittin' on a metal chair, an' cuffed to a long table in a room I'd seen more'n my share of over the years. I even recognized the guy who handed me a cold coffee when I opened my eyes. Known 'im since he was a rookie. No kiddin'.
"Officer Kyle? Long time, kid. I see this room got another paint job."
"Here," he said, pushin' the coffee closer t'me. "You'd better drink this. You'll need to have your wits about you. You're in big trouble this time, Lefty!"
"Nahh, don't you fret, boychik. I got an explanation f'all o'this."
One of the two detectives who'd chased me down earlier was in th'room with me'n'Officer Kyle. I just hadn't noticed 'im. "Don't be too sure of that, southpaw," he said.
"Southpaw? Why'd you call me that?"
"It's what they call a left-handed pitcher in baseball."
"No! Really?" I said, sarcastic-like. "Look, you yutz, I know what a freakin' southpaw is! I was a Sandy Koufax fan when the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn. But I ain't no southpaw!"
His eyebrows kinda knitted together as he looked at the copy of my rap sheet which was sittin' on the clipboard he was holdin'. "Then why the hell do they...? Oh. Allen Lefcowicz. Got it."
He studied my little resumé for a few secs, then dropped th'clipboard on th'table I was cuffed to. "So, what makes a small-time career criminal graduate to murder, Allen?" I sat silent for a bit, cuz I didn't have no lawyer there yet. The detective smiled liked he was readin' my mind. "Don't worry, that was just a rhetorical question, Allen. Nothing's official until your public defender arrives."
I couldn't keep my mouth shut, so I blurted out, "I didn't kill nobody! That dumb schvartze ran into an oncoming car! And don't freakin' call me Allen. Only people who knew me as a little pisher coulda got away with that, shmendrick!"
Th'guy came around t'my side of the table an' kicked the freakin' chair right out from under me. I was still cuffed t'the table, o'course, so I couldn't break my fall too good, an' landed hard. He bent down so we were face t'face, and his voice was like freakin' thunder in my ears. "I wasn't talking about the homeless man, Lefcowicz! I was talking about the man whose arm you severed, you sick little freak! And just for the record, yutz and shmendrick aren't going to cut it with me! It's Detective Streimekis to you, loudmouth! You hear me?"
"Yeah, I hear ya. An' you're breathin' in my face." He stepped away. "Well, help me up, willya?"
"Help yourself up, Lefcowicz." He glared at Kyle, who was gonna assist me, from th'looks o'things. "And don't you go near him, officer," he warned.
I picked up th'chair -- an' myself -- an' tried t'recapture a little bit o'dignity. "Streimekis, huh?" He nodded. "Lemme guess: Litvak?"
"Yup. Third generation Lithuanian Jew. Something to say about it?"
"Nope," I said, sitting down.
"Okay, here's what we've put together: For some reason -- and we're thinking robbery -- you decided to kill some old Jewish man... a Holocaust survivor, no less, you lousy...! We don't have an ID on him yet, but since you were so kind as to provide us with several fingerprints..." He laughed at his own little joke. "Anyway, keeping the arm was pretty stupid, don't you think?"
"Look, y'got this all wrong..."
"Shut up, Lefcowicz, I'm not done. That poor black guy somehow got the opportunity to steal the suitcase, and kept ahead of you for at least two days. And when one of our guys spotted a tramp with a pricey-looking suitcase, we decided to watch him as much as possible until the true owner showed up to reclaim his property. Which you did. So we didn't know of your involvement until you finally tracked down the guy who stole your grisly little souvenir, and chased him into traffic. So, Lefcowicz... Did you kill the old guy for his money? It would sure explain how you were able to afford the fancy digs advertised by the key in your suit pocket. Quite a notch above your usual accommodations, according to a few of the officers here. It'd explain the suit, too, for that matter." He inhaled and exhaled loudly. "Did I leave anything out?"
"Nope. Everythin's there. Course, s'all bullshit, but..." He looked like he was gonna come 'round th'table again an'smack me one, but he didn't. "Look, I paid f'th'hotel room and th'suit with dough I won at th'track a few nights ago." The detective chuckled, and even Officer Kyle smirked. "Look, guys, trust me on this one..."
That got a big laugh.
Part Five -- The Punchline
Like I said, all that was a couple o'days ago. My lawyer strikes me as bein' a total putz, so I ain't feelin' too good about this at all.
You prob'ly wonder why I'm takin' this bum rap so well, ain'tcha? Well, remember when I said "I ain't never done nothin' real bad," an' then added, "Well... almost never?"
Quite a few years back, I robbed a guy of twenty-three dollars in an alley... an' unfortunately, I hit 'im too freakin' hard on the back of th'head with a pipe... and he died. An' no one ever came after me f'that, so I guess this is karma's way of havin' a nosh at the expense of my tuchus.
Author's note: Regardless of whether or not "Lefty" Lefcowicz's public defender was a putz, Lefty was acquitted of all but a few minor charges. He learned his lesson and became a productive member of society.
Yeah, right. You didn't really believe that second sentence, did you?
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This story is dedicated to Will Elder, Harvey Kurtzman, Al Feldstein, Allan Sherman, Don Rickles, and countless additional Jewish comedians and comic book creators who gave me an appreciation for Yiddishkeit years before I ever heard the word.