If you traveled of late to the tip of Long Island you might have seen where Shyler Louckheim stood staring through his round, rimless glasses at the two fish who were practically hopping out of his seaside pond. As eager as dogs, they wagged their tails. Shyler reached into the pocket of his gaberdine and pulled out their favorite treat: turkey jerky. At the sight, the pair did hurl themselves out of the little wavelets and then fell back, puffing up their bodies in gratitude and anticipation. Shyler tossed the salty scraps and watched fondly as the fish gulped them down. “All right, Bernard,” he said to the one, more brown than green. “All right, Grace,” to the other, more green than brown. “Start fucking.” This they did not do, although Grace turned her fins forward in what might have been an invitation. Bernard, however, ejected a stream of salt water and deflated; he swam away with some disdain. Louckheim, known not only on Long Island but along the whole of the Eastern seaboard as the Sushi King, also deflated with a drawn-out sigh. Could it be? He asked himself—and not for the first time. Was his fugu a faggelah?
The sun on this Montauk morning was high and bright, but gave little warmth, like one of those new lightbulbs that had been installed all over the Louckheim estate. Shyler wrapped his orange and black Princeton scarf three times around his neck and shivered. Not from the cold, but because peering down, into the depths, he caught a glimpse of something peering back at him. It was, of course, the octopus that lived at the bottom of the saltwater pen—giant-sized, like out of a horror movie. It ate all the crabs he flew in especially from the West Coast. Once, while he watched, it reached up and snatched a bird out of the air and like an evil Doctor X or Doctor Y or even a Nazi injected it with some kind of poison. He, along with M.M. Suzukki, also flown in, had tried to capture it for two years. Once, they had lured it with a Maine lobster into a glass cage, at the sight of which Louckheim performed what all the servants of the estate thought was an Irish jig. But the next morning the cage was empty, save for the unhappy lobster’s shell. Kagiana declared Mr. Suzukki. Which in the English-speaking world meant keyhole. Now he saw the creature staring up at him, with a large, horizontal eye that seemed to be blinking in triumph. He shivered once more and put a fourth loop of the scarf around his neck. He didn’t go to Princeton. He didn’t go to any college. The octopus was the blue blood.
Not that Shyler lacked upper crust pretentions. Why else name his rolling grounds and the chateau atop them Belmont Manor? Why else, on his subterranean court, take up the game of squash? Why, indeed, a walk-in closet full of Balenciaga shoes and bags and gowns, one of which his wife, Melody, had actually worn to breakfast? We need not stop there: a Bentley and chauffeur, who sat on the other side of the glass and whose name—he could not say so for sure—might have been Mike; a Rolex Cosmograph, on which he was always pressing the wrong button and which ran three minutes late; and three chefs, one Italian, one French, and one Japanese, a plump, middle-aged man with large ears who was always mooning about Shyler’s daughter, Josephine, whose picture he kept, in cellophane, above his cutting board.
Time out for a word about this chef, whose name was Haru Kariku, Harry for short. He, too, had been flown from Tokyo to JFK on the Louckheim private jet. If you have begun to gather that the prince of Belmont Manor had an inclination for the Japanese Isles, or at least for those living in them, you would be correct. Those polite people were his cup of tea. Naze?
This is why: In 1935 the family Louckheim fled from Berlin to Warsaw, no need to give the reason. Then, in September 1939, they managed to make their way from Warsaw to Kovno in Lithuania. Ditto. There they all, including Lorenz, Shyler’s teenaged father, would have met their fate had it not been for the Japanese consul, who took one look at their unhappy faces, not to mention the pitiful punims on a few thousand of their co-religionists, and wrote out transit visas to Japan. May we, like grandfather Louckheim, kiss his shoes. Off on the Trans-Siberian Railway! The lovely spa of Vladivostok! Then the storm-tossed Sea of Japan, so full of tuna, and at last the port of Kobe, founded by the Empress Jingu not long after the flight of that other refugee family, whom those of another persuasion call Joseph and Mary and Jesus Christ.
After Pearl Harbor, most of those immigrant Jews were sent to Shanghai, but the Louckheims were among the handful who adapted to life in their new home. Shimauma, Zebra, was born in 1960 and changed his name to Shyler when he arrived in America 10 years later. Do not listen to those who say that sushi became an American craze because Mr. Nakajima at the Kawafuku Restaurant began serving raw fish around that time. It was Louckheim, no more than a teenager himself, who first thought of lowering the sodium content of soy sauce and putting the seaweed inside the rice. Is it any wonder, then, that when the great H. Kariku was forced from his position at the most famous restaurant in all of Tokyo, he should find himself strapped into the seat of a Gulfstream Jet, one stop to JFK, no questions asked?
Back to that Montauk morning, without a cloud in its sky. Shyler turned his back on the smooth surface of the saltwater pond and began to walk up the gravel path toward Belmont Manor itself. Bang, bang, bang! A crew were putting together a dance pavilion. Real mahogany. The orchestra was going to cost him $70,000, with a premium of $10,000 if they went past midnight. To either side, his servants were stringing colored lights from tree to tree. One-dollar-fifty a bulb. In the little glade, shaded from the sun, skilled workmen were applying gold leaf to the pillars of the chuppah. Twenty-seven dollars an hour, including one out for lunch. And who knew flowers, those simple seeds of nature, cost more than Scotch salmon, $55 a bunch?
“Josephine,” he’d said to his daughter. “I am making you an offer that you would be a schmuck to resist. I will sit down this minute and write you a check for $250,000 so that you and Hershel can begin together a nice life, plus take a vacation to Bali. Then we will have a simple wedding at City Hall. Only don’t cash the check until I tell you.”
How she ran to him! Were those tears in her lopsided eyes? He had to step back, flummoxed, because with her arms around his neck he could feel her body parts, not excluding her breasts, pressed against him. “Yes, yes,” he murmured. “In the old country we would call this a hontoni okaydoku, a real bargain. Okie dokie?”
To his amazement she said no. Hershel didn’t care about money. Only the study of the Torah. And the Rebbe, who had taught his son this love of God’s word, would be insulted. And that wasn’t all: Melody came after him, whirling both arms so vigorously that the tiara slipped sideways on her head. “What? City Hall! Like what you put me through? With all those pregnant bitches and their hangdog grooms lined up in the hallway? And you, you son-of-a-bitch: They had to hand you a tie!”
So it was going to be a million-dollar wedding. Literally. And he without a penny in the bank. At least, he thought, optimistically, he wouldn’t have to pay for the main course. When the Rollmop, Lars Böner Captain, steamed into Turtle Cove, 50 chefs would be standing ready, each with a razor-sharp shobu-buchu in hand. Shyler came to a halt while a tingle ran over his body. In the eye of his mind: a halibut, flipping, flopping, as it was divided into threes and the head lay with what remained of its thoughts on the ground. He quivered now from head to toe—as if he were a surf clam, or perhaps an oyster, while some giant or god was slurping him down. Shifuku! Heavenly bliss. He shook himself awake and trudged on, thinking, pessimistically, that all of those sushi superstars were going to have to be paid. In advance.
“Fool! Fool!” he addressed himself, half aloud. “Putz!” That was because he recalled the scene, only one week in the past, when instead of having to pay one of these master chefs, the chef was offering to pay him.
“Thirty-thousand,” said Mr. Watanabe. “Cash.”
“For Bernard?” asked Mr. Louckheim.
Shyler had looked down to where Grace was forming, with her rubbery lips, a kind of moue. But her mate never took his eye off the visitor, perhaps with the notion that he, too, possessed a pocket of jerky.
“Fifty-thousand. Top offer. Half now. Half when babies.”
Would there ever be babies? Shyler wondered. Grace produced eggs, all right, but Bernard kept scorning her with his sperm. Still, he could not erase the vision of these waters filled with fugu fry, at $10,000 a head. He’d seen how, first in Kobe, then Tokyo, customers spilled into the streets, willing to pay any price for this Nipponese version of Russian roulette.
“Drop dead!” he’d told Watanabe, though now, as he approached the ramparts of Belmont Manor, he was kicking himself: Fifty-thousand might be a drop in the bucket but it would pay for plenty of those gift baskets that Melody, at that very moment, was assembling on the shop floor of Tiffany’s.
Through an open window he heard the voice of the bride-to-be.“Oh, no!” she said, as her laughter rang out over the lawns that the gardeners, who had voted to form a union, were cutting so slowly that they might as well be using scissors. “Not again! You poor darling!”
Who was she talking to? Hershel? That kid, with his pale face and his moles, was rocking over his prayer books. But his father, may he be blessed, was going to lock up every fish joint in Williamsburg. At that thought, Shyler stopped at the foot of the staircase and involuntarily rubbed his hands together. Sushi for the Satmars!
“How can I help you? If you were here, I’d put something cold on your forehead and sing to you. Would you like that? Too-ra loo-ra loo-ral—”
His daughter! She was cooing like a pigeon! Now Shyler took the stairs by twos.
“Wait a minute,” Josephine said. “That’s not Swedish. Let me think—”
Swedish? What the hell? Panting, Shyler reached the top of the staircase and turned toward the open door of Josie’s bedroom.
“Jag Mick Gig Ut en Afton. I learned that just for you. La! La!”
The father stood in the doorway, staring at the young girl who sat with her legs crossed like a yogi and her hair falling in loops down her back. Her frilly nightgown was open in the front with plenty of—look up at the ceiling, Shyler Louckheim! Look down at the floor!—décolletage. What a mystery, this girl. Was she beautiful, like Debra Paget in The Ten Commandments? No, she was not. To start with, one of her eyes was lower than the other. Not like in Picasso or anything like that, but just enough to make any passerby look twice. Her bottom lip, like a cut of belly lox, was three times larger than the upper one, which hardly existed. Shyler knew that hidden behind those tangled tresses, one of her ears was pointed, like an elf’s, and the other was not. Yet, for all this asymmetry, men were always falling in love with her. She was like a puzzle that invited all those who saw her to put back together, and when they did they discovered that they had created Helen of Troy. For a moment longer he stood frozen, while a blush, like the red tide in Fort Bond Bay, spread over him. That warm embrace: Her breasts had been unbalanced, too.
“Oh, Larsie! When you come back, I am going to make you Happy Liver Tea.”
“Larsie! Who the hell are you talking to?” With those words, Louckheim bolted into the bedroom, with all its stuffed pandas, and ripped the gold-plated iPhone out of his daughter’s hand. Staring back at him from the screen was the captain of the Rollmop, the flagship of his fleet. Was it the lighting? Or did he look a little green around the gills?
“Böner!” the Sushi King cried. “Where the hell are you? Why are you talking to Josephine? And how come your face is all green?”
“Sjösjuk,” said the captain, with a groan.
“What? Seasick? Again!”
“Don’t yell at him, Shysie. You know he has a delicate stomach.”
“I’m the one with the bellyache! And you’re singing lullabies to him! Listen, Böner, I don’t want to hear any excuses. Where are you? Where’s the rest of the fleet? You are due back here tomorrow. The next day at the latest.”
“Ja, ja. We come, boss. Many crab. Super tuna. Nätten alla fulla.”
“Huh? Does that mean what I think?” Louckheim directed those words to his daughter, who began to consult the pages of a small, dog-eared dictionary.
“It means, um, wait a second: Nets all full.”
Had the score of his employees been able to peek through the window of Josephine’s bedroom, they would have seen, among the stuffed dolphins, their employer once again performing, with many knee slaps, a jig from the Emerald Isle.
“Super tuna? And halibut?”
“Boss, got manga hälleflundra.”
“What about butterfish? What about barracuda? How about gobies?”
“Got em! Grupperare, too!”
Louckheim, though no longer young, kicked his own buttocks with his heels.
“Happy to hear it! Now turn around. You and the rest of them. Be careful with those fish. Don’t touch a hair on their heads. You get them here by tomorrow night, you get paid double. A bonus for Böner! You understand? I want my pen full of seafood! Full steam ahead!”
The Swede did not reply. For a minute he looked directly into the lens of his own camera. Then he threw up all five of the köttbullar, with peas, that he had for lunch.
“Oh, no!,” cried Josie. “It’s his liver, Papa. It gets squeezed or something.”
“I don’t care about his liver. I care about lumpfish. What the hell, Böner. What’s going on?”
The captain, blond, as one might expect, and with a damp moustache, had turned the color of a pistachio nut. He moved his fingers, as if trying to speak in sign language. Then he managed to say, in little more than a whisper, “Stora vagor.”
There was a rustling sound as Hershel Stamboul’s affianced went through the pages of her Swedish-English, English-Swedish dictionary. “It means,” she said, “Big waves.”
“What are you talking about?” the lord of the manor shouted into the iPhone. Then he went to the window and stuck his head out. “Where are you? The Georges Bank? I’m looking out the window. Not a cloud in the sky. What’s your problem?”
Instead of answering, the captain turned his camera upward, where a thunderhead, whose crest looked as if it had been shaved by a barber, took up the whole of his screen. What was that? A lightning bolt? A frightened bird dashed from left to right. “OK, OK. So there’s a little weather. You’re on the Rollmop, top of the line, not the S.S. Dramamine. You got your orders. Get going, cowboy! Bring ‘em back alive!”
“Ja, ja, Boss,” came the reply; but the boss did not hear it since he had tossed the phone back to his daughter. Now, at the door, he turned to her.
“As for you, Josephine Louckheim, why aren’t you reading prayers or something the way Rabbi Stamboul says, instead of singing Too-ra, loo-ra? You’re marrying a Satmar, for Christ’s sake. They have rules. Not to mention the whole of the Williamsburg market—and Red Hook, too.” He stomped off down the hallway, somewhat pleased with himself because out of the goodness of his heart he had not told the bride that she would have to have sexual intercourse through a hole in the wedding sheet.
Now he sat in his bedroom, on the edge of his king-sized mattress, and punched a number onto the telephone. “Hello? Hello? Is that you, what’s your name? Mike? Get the Bentley ready. Yeah, yeah, strawberry soda is fine. We’ve got to be in the city by 2 o’clock.”
Next, in the walk-in closet, he fought his way through the bastions of Balenciagas and the fluffy stuff by that wop, Versace, though he heard somewhere he was dead, and plucked out a modest black business suit for himself. True, the pants were striped, but that might have been an instinctive response to his given name or, more likely, a half-conscious tribute to his childhood hero, Hirohito, who always appeared in a tux. He even put on a tie—yes, the very one that the kind clerk at City Hall had given him before he was allowed to say his vows. Paisley pattern. Into his athletic bag he stuffed his squash whites and squash shoes and a pair of athletic socks. Now the racket, imported from England, and three of the small black balls. Could he pass as a goy? Close enough, if you did not look twice. Unlike Hirohito, he did not wear, atop his horseshoe of hair and shiny scalp, a derby hat.
Down the stairs. What was that? Coming from the kitchen? The sound of weeping. He knew very well the weeper and the cause. Yet—that goodness of his heart again—he changed course and headed toward H. Kariku, the source of the river of tears.
“What’s up, Harry?” he called out to the distraught chef, who lay head down on his counter, as if awaiting another chef with a knife.
“No work. No thoughts. Want to die.”
“Come, come, Harry. You’ll be paid this Friday. Guaranteed. Do you see the butlers and maids walking around in tears? I am the one who ought to be going boohoo. Just think about what is happening at Tiffany’s this very minute.”
“Haru no care about money. Spit on money. Make shit on dollar bill.”
“Excuse me, Master Chef. I should have known. But that other problem—our little secret, eh? That will be solved by Friday, too.”
What Shyler referred to wasn’t hush-hush between just the two of them. All 50 of the Itamae in his empire, from Stonington up in Maine all the way down to the crab joint in Baltimore were in on it. The secret to his success? Why people lined up in Philadelphia just as they had in Tokyo and Kobe? Every morsel of rolled up mackerel, every sliver of salmon draped over a snow-white bed of rice, had been swimming in his saltwater pond less than 24 hours before appearing on the plate. Parasites? Phooey! Nothing from the Sushi King would ever be frozen. Minus 31 degrees! Minimum 15 hours! He’d take a shit, too: on the FDA!
“Flesh fish coming?” asked the chef, looking up with his wet eyes. “Flyday?”
“Absolutely. Böner is on his way now. He’s got plenty of hälleflundra.”
Still, surprisingly, the tears kept coming. What was bothering the man now? He tried to wipe his cheeks with his white kappogi, but the sobs continued, and his large ears turned red. Then Shyler saw how two candles were burning, as if in memoriam, on either side of his daughter’s photograph.
Mr. Kariku looked up in the same direction. His whole body shook with a sigh. “She marry Jew,” he said.
The employer reached forward and grasped the shoulder of his employee. In sympathy, he squeezed. He thought of the skinny boy, chinless, beardless, the handfuls of moles like flies on the surface of his skin. Rocking, always rocking. He gave a sigh of his own. “It’s business,” he said.
Mike was waiting at the side of the Bentley. Louckheim slid onto the back seat, which was still warm, or so he imagined, from where Melody had sat when she’d been driven into town that morning. He ran his hand over the leather, as if at long last he were being allowed to touch his wife’s behind. Then he caught sight of the chauffer’s face, stern, silent, in the rear-view mirror. “Friday,” he announced. “Payday.”
Mike turned on the engine, which purred like a milk-full cat. “The Country Club?” he asked.
Where else, thought Shyler, would he be going with a squash racket and his white woolen socks? He nodded and pushed a hidden button. The glass partition slid closed.
The Country Club. And right in the middle of the city. Typical goyisher understatement. Ironical, too. Sort of like the stiff upper lip. And like, in the war, Keep Calm and Carry On. Once, and only once, Bump Stuckslager III, had asked him to stay for dinner after their match. Maybe because the Jew had beaten the gentile, 9-6, 9-4, and then, in an engagement worthy of the Maccabees, 9-1. Or because he had agreed to pay this managing partner of Bain Capital 9% interest. Here was the appetizer: Pepperidge Farm Goldfish in a glass bowl. Here was the main course: Easter ham, with pineapple slice. It had occurred to Shyler on that occasion that the Goldfish were, at his expense, some kind of joke.
“Vanderbilt Avenue,” Mike announced. “The Country Club.”
“OK, pick up Madam Louckheim on 57th Street, you know at—Tif-Tif-Tif”: it was like having a stroke; he couldn’t get out the name. “Then meet me here in an hour in an hour and a half.”
That would be all the time needed, he assumed, to complete his business. 9-0: no mercy. In and out, with a million dollars in his pocket.
And so it came to be, but with a catch—and not the kind that Lars Böner was bringing home in his nets. The Sushi King emerged from the Bentley and with one hand gave a wave to the doorman, while he used the other hand to cover his nose, which as it happened was large and with the curve of a Wakizashi, the ritual sword of Japan. Scurrying by, Shyler could not help but note how the hulking man, with his rows of buttons, was looking down his own nose at him. He hurried through the wood-paneled lobby, hung with portraits of what he assumed were Ivy Leaguers, and pressed the button for the elevator. How shabby his surroundings: the dim chandeliers with their drooping crystals; the dust motes adrift in the shafts of sunlight; brass fittings tarnished and peeling; and, under his feet, in the carpet, moth holes the size of quarters and silver dollars. Here he was, all decked out in paisley and pants, a shiny stripe down the side, while around him the swells had patches on their elbows and threads coming up from their collars. Barbarians, he muttered under his breath. That’s what these Christians are.
“Why, hello there Mr. Louckheim! So nice to see you. And how are you today?”
It was Louie, the Black elevator operator, without doubt the last of his kind in all of Manhattan, if not the civilized world.
“I’m doing OK, Louie, thanks for asking. And how are you?”
“Just fine, Mr. Louckheim. The sun is up in the sky, that’s all I ask.”
The old gentleman swung the gate closed and, without the passenger having to say a word, they began to descend into the bowels of the earth. Shyler noted how Louie’s brown scalp was gleaming, even in the light of the 20-watt bulb screwed into its socket by the thrifty board of directors. He thought, philosophically, how his own white scalp was shining, too.
“’Course, things might be just a tad better if I were able to get my hamachi toro, served up uramaki style: rice on the outside.”
The ride down was a bit bumpy. The cage alarmingly shook. Retribution?
“My apologies, Louie. You go in a couple of days from now. Ask for the yellowtail belly. It’s on the house.”
They glided to a smooth stop. “Good luck against Mr. Stuckslager!” Louie called out, as the only Israelite on Vanderbilt Avenue walked off toward the athletic center.
“Thank you,” Louckheim replied, over his shoulder. “But I won’t need any luck to take care of that guy. 9 to 1! Ha, Ha, Ha!”
The laugh died on Shyler’s lips the minute he stepped into the locker room. For there stood that goy himself, Bump Stuckslager III, stark naked and staring at himself in a full-length mirror. Tall, minimum 6 feet 2, and thin, with an Adam’s apple in his neck and snow-white hair piled up on his head like maybe a judge in England or Louis Quatorze. How come, the restaurateur wondered, and not for the first time, you never saw a fat person in one of his places, only the ones with ribcages, like the specimen before him. Could it be because he charged $9 for a single soft clam and hamburgers were more or less free?
Bump from Bain Capital whirled round to greet him.“There you are, Louckheim, you old devil,” Stuckslager cried in a voice that could be heard in the concourse of Grand Central. “Going to have mercy on me today?”
Shyler shrunk back, caught in the searchlight beams of those bright blue eyes, the way an aircraft is spotted the moment before it was shot down. His own eyes, the deep brown of Abraham’s sons, darted away. For what he had seen was the doughty shlong of his opponent, large as palomino’s, with the tip of the foreskin puckered like a pair of lips. Not only that, the force and counterforce of Stuckslager’s motion made it swing back and forth, like a straphanger on the Lexington Avenue express.
To avoid this metronome, Louckheim retreated to a locker and began, in a series of shy maneuvers, to remove his own clothes: padded jacket, city hall cravat, button-down shirt. Off went his Testoni loafers, with the buckle—solid gold!—that his wife had given him in happier days, and his socks. Now the Hirohito trousers and now, the moment of truth, the shorts in the style worn by boxers. What was this? Stuckslager III, was coming over, still in his birthday suit.
Hopping on one foot, Shyler put the other through the loop of his jock strap. That was when the giant’s head loomed over the door of the locker and those twin blue beacons looked down to where his own putz had made a dash for the safety of the testicular sack. “Ha! Ha! Ha! Why, hello there Bump, old boy! I didn’t see you.”
“Hullo, what’s this?” exclaimed the billionaire, gazing down to where the Sushi King was still hopping as he tried to get his other foot through the second elastic band. “Want a hand with that?” He gazed some more. “Though I daresay you may not need it.”
At those words a blood-red curtain fell over Shyler Louckheim’s eyes, a curtain woven from the threads of 2,000 years of persecution. Beneath his breath he muttered a solemn vow: that, 9-0, 9-0, and so forth, he was going to smite this uncircumcised dog. Then, more loudly: “Ha, ha, ha: I’ve got to get a new one the next time I drop by the Jockey Club.”
“Yes, you do that. I’ll just pop into my things and we’ll head off to court six. Oh, by the way, I’ve brought the usual contract. We can sign it before we get down to the real business, which of course will be the thrashing you’ll give me with that devilish underhand twist. Oh, and there’s just a wee codicil, a tidbit that shouldn’t take up any of our time.”
“Tidbit? Wee?” Was he talking about the contract, or—?
“Don’t worry, old bean. Everything’s drawn up just as before. You’ll walk out of the Country Club with a million dollars in that satchel.”
“Music to my ears, Stuckslager Three. Music! I’ve got a wedding to pay for. Do you know what light bulbs cost these days? Or a klezmer band?”
“Yes, your daughter’s wedding. That’s why we are going to have the minor addendum.”
The Episcopalian had by now retreated to his own locker and begun to don his fair apparel. His shorts and his collared shirt both had a crest, something with swords and the kind of cross favored in goyisher circles. He called back across the room. “To do with the collateral, you know.”
“The collateral? What do you mean collateral? We have an arrangement. The Swede is coming in tonight, the latest tomorrow, and you get 10% of the catch. Ten million dollars’ worth of sushi-grade seafood gives you your $1 million, plus, you know, the bottom feeders, flatfish and flounders, for your interest.” He did not add that what he actually delivered weren’t the bottom feeders but the poor fellows who had gone to their maker and floated on top.
“Well,” said Bump of Bain, “what if he doesn’t come in?”
“Who? Lars Böner? He may have a weak stomach, but he’s never missed a deadline yet. Not only that but nätten alla fulla.”
“It’s not my idea, old chum. It’s the board. Sticklers, you know. Naturally, we looked into your property but it turns out that—” The next words the wasp spoke in a whisper: “The manor is mortgaged.”
“Yeah? So what? So’s the Country Club. And you stole the land from the Indians.”
“Come, come. No reason for a tiff. What we’re asking is a formality. We aren’t the least bit worried. Not with Lars Böner at the helm!”
“A formality? OK, what is it?”
“My daughter? What do you mean, my daughter?
“Josephine J. Louckheim. Josie for short.”
“Are you nuts? Are you crazy? Collateral? You’ve got to be talking about somebody else.”
“No, no, old sport. Is the J not for Julius?”
The Sushi King, who had already pulled his sport goggles over his specs, staggered backward. He wanted to cry, Help! Police! Sex trafficking!” But he stood, mouth agape, without a word coming out of it.
From thin air, pen and paper appeared. “Just sign here,” Bump said, pointing to the bottom line. “You needn’t have a care in the world. It’s, you know, academic. You can count on good old Lars.”
“I don’t get it,” said Shyler, taking hold of the Montblanc Starwalker. “You want her for what? Like maybe sing a song in a review?”
“No, no, old chap. For her hand in marriage.”
Down went the Starwalker, shattering on the tiles and turning the Nikes of the Squash King from white to blue. “Madness! Insanity! Is it a joke? She’s marrying Hershel Stamboul the day after tomorrow! He’s got a beaver hat!”
“Steady on, old sausage. It’s not my idea. We’re doing this for my son.”
“Your son?” Shyler gasped. “You mean Stuckslager Four?”
“Yes. It seems he took a shine to her at Princeton. Tiger Inn, you know. Met her at bicker. Says he can’t get her out of his mind. No appetite. Tosses in bed. All that nonsense.”
“Well, that’s because one eye—”
As a magician draws a hare from a hat, Bump plucked a new pen out of the blue. “Here you are, old crumpet. Moniker on the dotted line. Just to humor the lad, you know. Put on a bit of a show.”
Don’t do it, Shyler Louckheim: That’s what the angel on one shoulder was whispering. Oh, go ahead, said the devil on the other—or was it the other way around? Which one had the best advice? He did dream of moneybags last night: That was an omen; he could walk out of here with a million dollars in his tote. Then maybe Melody, in the back seat—but Josephine! With a Princeton boy! What would Rabbi Stamboul say? The whole Williamsburg market!
What at length Louckheim said was, “It’s too hard. I can’t make up my mind.”
“Bloody hell! Oh, pardonnez moi. Tell you what, you old blighter: Let’s allow the match to decide it. You win—odd’s on favorite, you know—and we’ll just let settle on the usual one-tenth of the catch. I win—ho, ho! I wouldn’t put 2 pence on that!—and the lass will stand in case of forfeit. Couldn’t be simpler, eh? Bob’s your uncle!”
Bob? His uncle was Shmully, may his name be blessed. Still, he couldn’t help the grin that was spreading beneath his goggles and his nose. This was a piece of cake. “You’re on, Buster!” he declared and picked up his Dunlop Hyperfibre and swung it three times in the air.
His opponent picked up his weapon, a decrepit thing that seemed to be missing two strings. Thus did the two men walk out together: David, who you may not know was only 5-foot-6, was about to vanquish Goliath.
Ladies and gentlemen, the debacle. The score of the first game was 9-0, as predicted, but the person with the 9 was Bump Stuckslager III, and the person with the zero was the Sushi King. “Ha, ha, ha,” laughed the latter as he bent over his wobbly broomstick legs. “Just getting my second wind.” But things went no better in the next set. He double hit the ball with his Dunlop, or he carried it on its strings, or his shot—it was like being in a thunderstorm—kept hitting the tin. “Foul! Foul, old bugger!” Stuckslager cried, and did so correctly, whenever his stumbling antagonist got in his way. Meanwhile, Bump’s ball kept dying in the corner or bouncing twice before Shyler could get to it. 9-0 yet again.
Once, toward the end of the third set, Louckheim was able to serve. How his heart leaped up in anticipation of getting a point: And indeed, he used his fabled twist to send the ball whizzing from front to side to back wall, where it spun like a Persian dervish and could not be returned. Alas, as the Bain billionaire pointed out, his foot had been outside the service box. No point: It remained 8-0. Stuckslager prepared to serve for the last time. The ball came off his loose strings with such violence that it hit the wall and rebounded with even greater velocity. Shyler could only stand there, like a man awaiting execution, as the black bullet zoomed toward him, striking him not between the eyes exactly but just above them, where the devout members of his faith affix a small black box. 9-0. Lights out.
“That’s the match, old fruit.”
S struggled to open his eyes, and did so. But he must have still been in a delirium because he saw, instead of his opponent, a sort of simulacrum of the managing director: the same Adam’s apple, the same jutting chin, the same piercing blue eyes, and—who knew?—perhaps the same shlong.
“Louckheim, you bounder: I’d like to introduce my wee bairn. Princeton, class of ’21. Tiger Inn, you know.” Louckheim blinked and blinked again. “You mean, this is Stuckslager Four?” he managed to say. “A bump off the old block?” Louckheim sat up.
“Pleased to meet you, sir!” the young man exclaimed. He was standing on the other side of the glass, almost spread-eagled, with his racket—but he called it a racquet—in one hand.
“Bumpie’s been taking the piss out of someone on court four. Good match, lad?”
Louckheim, with stars still whizzing by him, asked, “Is this the one who met my Josie?”
At those words, the face of the younger Stuckslager lit up, showing some 400 teeth. “I’ll say!” he ejaculated. “Jo-Jo and I met at bicker, you know. What a pip, eh? We were great chums at lawn hockey and I haven’t been able to get that face of hers—you do know she has one brown eye and one green one, pretty rum that, eh?—well, I can’t get it out of my mind. There’s a mystery there, there is, can’t put my finger on it exactly, but it’s up there with the Mona Lisa. Not just the eyes, you know. No, sir! As a matter of fact one of her breasts—”
“I dare say! Short for Josephine, who was the bird of that fella, what’s his name? Starts with an N. Bit of a Froggie. She was a real pal for me in history class. Got me through real proper. Gentleman’s C. Little plaid skirt in lawn hockey. Ever notice that one leg is—”
“All right, Bumpsie, you run along now. There’s a popsicle in the fridge upstairs.”
The boy stood straight and made a salute. The 400 teeth came out blindingly again. “Well, toodle-doo, sir,” he said to Louckheim. “An honor to meetcha!”
The conquered and conqueror were now alone. The former addressed the latter: “What just happened? I don’t get it. How did you learn to play like that?”
“NCAA Intercollegiate Champion, out of Lehigh. Club champion here last 20 years.”
“Then all those other times? You let me win? This squash game wasn’t cricket.”
“Sorry if the match was a damp squid, old top. Had to be done.”
“But why? I’ve got a hyperfibre! And woolen socks! Why did you do this to me?”
“Why? I’ll tell you why.” With those words the managing director seemed to grow a half a foot taller. He towered over the Sushi King the way the steeple in a Bessarabian town might over a nearby schul. Then he leaned down, glowering. His eagle’s nose raced toward him like the blade of a guillotine. His words, as he hissed them out were less reminiscent of the British Isles than the Lehigh Valley. “Because you killed Christ, you fucking kike! And sooner or later we’re going to kill all of you!”
Shyler Louckheim rode back to the main floor in what the locals called the lift. He did not say a word, while Louie looked up at the flickering bulb and hummed, in his baritone, a folkish tune. The satchel, filled with images of Presidents McKinley and Cleveland, he held close to his chest. In his ears there rang, and rang again, the last thing he remembered Bump Stuckslager III, saying: “Remember, old teapot, I’ll drop by in a day or two. You’d best have the catch ready, with interest, or you’re going to find yourself in a sticky wicket.”
Mike and the Bentley were double-parked outside. Shyler gasped to see that every inch of spare space was filled with boxes from Tiffany’s, each one of them a robin’s egg blue. Even the trunk, yawning open, was filled from top to bottom. The chauffer greeted him by saying, “The rest are coming by van.”
Hidden inside was Melody Louckheim, neé Kleiderman, with one of the Tiffany bows as a lark in her hair. A happy mood, Shyler thought, hopefully, as he wormed his way into a spot beside her. Then he saw the necklace, mit rubies, mit diamonds, that she had treated herself to and which twinkled like Christmas decorations around her neck. The cat purred. They inched forward, into the traffic.
“Did you have a good game?” Melody asked in a conjugal manner.
“Kicked ass!” Shyler declared.
Then he rocked backward as his wife stabbed him with the javelin of her elbow.
“Maybe so,” she announced. “But that doesn’t mean you can grab mine!”
The wedding day! And where was Shyler Louckheim at dawn, when the sun jumped like a porpoise out of the sea? Down at the saltwater pond, where Bernard and Grace, the colors of his daughter’s eyes, were wiggling on their tails to get his attention. M.M. Suzukki crouched on his knees at the end of the dock. He was dangling what looked like a rubber tire into the water. “Not tire,” he explained to his employer. “Ricorice! Tako hungry. Grab hold. Take bite. Get stuck.”
And why was the eight-armed mollusk so miserable? Why did it float beneath the surface, staring up at the two human beings with its baleful eye? Because there was nothing for him for him to eat. Oh, he’d taken a few swipes at Bernard, and one at Grace, but they’d puffed themselves up so that their spines grew sharp and pointed. Not only that but a kind of racial memory reminded him that something about them, it might be in the liver area, made their whole species indigestible.
Next question: Why, in this vast seaside pen, was there nothing to eat? If you have a head on your shoulders, you have already guessed. The fleet, Lars Böner captain, had yet to come in. And the wedding, the joining of the Louckheim and Stamboul clans, was due to take place in a matter of hours! All the work had been completed. The chuppah had been decorated in the Satmar style, with strings of stereoscopic lights. All 50 of the itamae, the master chefs from up and down the East Coast, had arrived and were busy setting up their chopping stands and sharpening their knives. Some were cross-legged, offering prayers. Half the band had driven up in an old Volkswagen van—best not let Rabbi Stamboul see that!—and were practicing on their clarinets. High up, atop the ramparts, the ex-Mademoiselle Kleiderman was trying on one gown after another, throwing down the rejected models and stamping on them with her feet as if they were grapes. All the way down at the water’s edge, the Sushi King could hear her high-pitched cries.
Yet to come in? But Böner and his boats were now two days overdue! Stora vagor. Stora vagor. The words kept sounding in Shyler Louckheim’s head like the castanets the musicians were shaking up on the bandstand. He remembered the big waves, he remembered the lightning, he remembered the flight of the frightened bird. On Josie’s iPhone nothing appeared but a blank screen. “Hello? Hello? Larsie! Larsie! Where are you? What’s happened to you? Answer your Jo!” But no answer came. Louckheim drove over to the Coast Guard Station at Montauk Point and listened over the headphones: The only thing that came through was static, which did not help the tinnitus that plagued him and that also sounded like castanets. “Big storm two days ago right here,” said the Junior Grade Lieutenant, pointing to the exact spot on the map where the Rollmop had been dragging her nets.
“How big? Like a tsunami?”
“Hurricane Beynish. We got 15 distress calls. Sent out two cutters. Helicopter had to come back because the fog rolled in. I’m sorry, Mr. Louckheim. You had best prepare yourself for the worst.”
“We’re searching. We haven’t given up. But it could be the whole fleet.”
“What? All? All my darlings?” The Sushi King felt a strange sensation in his knees, as if they had been carbonated. “Do you mean the Sawbuck? The Simoleon? The Lucy Mae?”
The young lieutenant turned aside. He looked as if he, too, were about to collapse.
“But he said he had super tunas! And crabs!”
There were no crustaceans, nor any chordates where Shyler Louckheim stood all morning long staring out to sea. No fearful wife, eager for the first glimpse of her missing mariner, paced her widow’s walk with a faster heartbeat or more anxious eye than the lord of Belmont Manor as he waited for Lars Böner and his boat to appear on the horizon. Alas, all the prayers of the master chefs, some using bells, were of no avail. The sun, now high in the sky, looked down with the pitiless face of an Aztec god on the empty seaside pen.
“Shy! Shy! Get up here, you bastard! Your daughter’s about to get married!”
Louckheim looked over his shoulder. What a sight met his eyes. The stroboscopic lights on the chuppah were flashing, even in broad daylight. At least 1,000 guests were milling about with glasses of Dom Perignon in their hands. There was the governor of New York state. And there the majority leader of the United States Senate, partial to bento boxes, chatting with a justice of the Supreme Court. Children were running about blindfolded, tripping over the decorative tortoises scattered across the lawns. Hunched beneath his beaver hat, the Rebbe. Rocking from force of habit, his son.
In the midst of it all, the aforementioned daughter, with puffy sleeves like in the musical Oklahoma, smiling with her uneven teeth. The musicians struck up Mendelssohn.
“You heard me, you fucking fish monger! Get up here right now!” That was the former Melody Kleiderman in a Coco Chanel, flour-white, with a train held up by the tan young man she had imported from Thailand. You would have thought, and she might have thought this herself, that she was the bride.
Shyler Louckheim heaved such a sigh that it might have rivaled the gusts of Hurricane Beynish. He turned to join the festivities, but not before Bernard, with Grace right beside him, spat twin currents of salt water that struck him in the breastbone. For he had, in the pockets of his tuxedo, no jerky, neither turkey nor beef.
The ceremony began. A lot of the usual nonsense, Shyler thought, praying and singing and carrying on: Then his breath caught in his throat when they broke the ritual plate because, Jesus Christ!, it was a Qing Dynasty porcelain. The groom went to the chuppah. Then the bride. They put a towel or something over her face—Louckheim could not help peeking to see if there was a hole in it—and then everybody, including himself, walked around Hershel Stamboul, one, two, three, and all the way up to seven times, while he, with his moles like raisins in soda bread, checked to see if there were loose threads in his hat. Meanwhile, this one and that one were talking in languages no American knew, with more mumbo and plenty of jumbo until—well this was it, boys. Hershel, fils, started fumbling around for the ring; Shyler distinctly heard him say the words betrothed and Moses and Israel, while at the exact same moment he heard somebody or something go TOOT and then TOOT once more.
Everybody turned to where a Plymouth Gran Fury, 1987 vintage and dented in two fenders, pulled up on the hillock above the chuppah. The doors sprang open and Stuckslagers III and IV, climbed out. “Halt at once!” cried the elder Bump. “Stop this load of tosh!”
“Got to throw a spanner in the works, right Pa?”
The Sushi King stormed up the lawn to confront the pair. “What the hell are you two doing here? You’re not invited!”
“We’re not? Look here, old kipper, it’s time you read the contract.” With those words, Stuckslager III, pulled out the document, hereafter known in legal annals as the Codicil of Court Six. “Hope we’re not too late.”
“OK, OK,” said Louckheim, after he’d glanced at the fine print through his emperor-style spectacles. “So you got an invite. What the hell do you want?”
“You know that very well, old pudding.”
“I’m not your old pudding or your kipper, either. I ought to sue you for hitting me in the head with that serve. Now tell me what you want or turn around and get out of here.”
“Well, I only want what is my due, according to this contract. The two days, you know, are up.”
What two days? What are you talking about?”
“Tell him, Pater. Take the piss out of the bloke!”
“Very well, Bumpsie. That I shall do.” So saying, the Lord of Bain drew himself up to his full height of 6-foot-2 or even higher, and threw out his arms. A thousand pairs of eyes were fixed on him, including the mismatched ones of the bride and the chocolate brown ones of the groom.
“I have arrived,” said Stuckslager, “to claim my pond of fish!”
A universal exclamation filled the air. Above the hubbub, one voice rang out above all the others. “What pond of fish? You can see for yourself: Lars Böner, that Swedish schmuck, hasn’t come in yet. Wait a day or two. You’ll get your mackerel.”
“I’m afraid by the letter of the law those days have already passed. It is your daughter, Josephine, that I am here to claim—oh, not for myself, of course: but for the lad here.”
“Help!” cried Shyler Louckheim. “Police! White slavery!”
The younger of the two Stuckslagers—and who can say what happened to I and to II?—stepped forward, his face red and gleaming. “Greetings, Pa,” he said to the squire of Belmont Manor, while holding out his hand. Louckheim looked down at it as if it were a snake.
“Pa? Have you lost your mind? She’s about to marry the son of the Satmar Rebbe.”
“Oh, those two,” IV replied. “Bit of a rum match, eh? Like chalk and cheese.” He thrust an arm with a pointed finger at the end of it toward where the scion of the Stamboul clan was already backing out of the chuppah. “That’s not a Princeton man.”
Inexplicably, and to the wonder of all, the intercollegiate squash champion and his son both started a serenade:
Tune every song and every voice, Bid every care withdraw
Let all with one accord rejoice, In praise of old Nassau
Louckheim started shouting before they could reach the refrain: “Wait a minute! Wait a minute! This isn’t notarized. It’s worthless. Not enforceable!”
In praise of old Nassau, my boys, Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!
Bumpsie was the one who had continued; but his father was calling out to the justice of the Supreme Court, who was just refilling his glass of Dom Perignon. “I say, Clarence, old chap! Will you come up here for a moment and peruse this document for us?”
The justice, wearing robes the color of his skin, made his way to the Gran Fury and put on his reading glasses. “Hmm, hmm,” he said, as he went over the text. Then he looked up. “Quite right, old man. Quite right. Brilliant. Don’t need no notary.”
The fizzing returned to Shyler Louckheim’s knees. He fell on them and clasped Bump about his own. “Why are you doing this to me? Why this hard heart? My only daughter! And the Red Hook franchise!”
Stuckslager III, bent down. His voice was soft. Was that a tear in his eye? What he said was, “You called me a dog. Very well. Since I am a dog, beware my fangs.”
“I didn’t mean it. It’s just, you know, an expression.”
“Get up off your knees, you fucking Shylock, and get ready to give away that daughter.”
But there was no need for the bride’s father. IV had already stormed to the chuppah and, as if he were waving the heel of his lawn hockey stick, chased the previous groom all the way down to the water’s edge. Then he turned to his classmate. “Hullo, there, old girl,” he said to Josephine Louckheim. “Will you marry me?”
She looked up him, so blue-eyed and blond. “Oh, Bumpsie,” she cried. “I think I will.”
“Smashing!” said her father-in-law to be, who had just arrived himself at the stereoscopic lights. “Top of the morning to all!”
The Satmar Rebbe stepped between the loving couple. “This is very sudden. Should it not be discussed? Is it allowed? That is the question. What would be the word of the Rambam? Or Eleazer of Worms?” He fell silent, in rumination. All those about him fell silent as well. At last he looked up from under his beaver. “Yes, it is permitted. Of course, there must be first a conversion.”
“Capital idea!” cried the Fife of Bain. “You don’t mind, do you, Josephine? We’ve got a jolly good service over at St. James.”
The Rebbe shook his head. “A misunderstanding. Take no offense, but this goy has to convert to our religion.”
“What!” exclaimed III, jerking backward as if someone had slapped his face and he now had to fight a duel. “Bumpsie convert? With a circumcision? Buggar all!”
“You heard the Rebbe, God bless him!” cried the Sushi King. “We don’t need your kind in the family. Now hike back to your Plymouth and get out of here.”
“Never mind,” said the associate justice, holding up a new glass of champagne. “I’ll do it. No charge.” He turned to where Josie was standing, her bouquet in her hand. “Do you, Josephine Louckheim …”
Suddenly a cry rang out. “No, no. You stop!” A new figure ran in under the chuppah. It was the great master, Haru Kariku, in his white uniform and his tall chef’s hat. “I no care. I become Jew. You marry me, pretty girl!”
“Oh, Harry!” Josie declared. “That’s so sweet!”
“Hello? Hello?!” That cry came from the down at the edge of the empty saltwater pen. It was Hershel Stamboul. “What about me? I’ve got the sheet ready and everything.”
All eyes turned to where Josephine, not yet a bride, was already blushing. “Oooo, when you say that I get hot all over. Hershie! Harry! Bumpsie! I don’t know what to do.”
And the band played on, with new hit parade sensations and old Yiddish favorites like Mairzy dotes and dozy dotes, with even the gentiles chiming in at liddle lamzy divey. Still, the girl sat lost in thought. What would her choice be? Everyone stood stock still in anticipation. Even the sun, looking down in wonderment, stopped its rotation around the earth—or was it, several in attendance speculated, the other way around?
At last Josephine, neé Louckheim but about to be either Stuckslager or Kariku or Stamboul, made an announcement. “I know! A test! Like in Goldilocks or that play, you know, with the gondolas. My hero has to be valiant. He has to be brave. He has to be the one who dares to eat a blowfish!”
An exclamation rose from a thousand throats. Then cheers and applause. For a moment the three suitors stood mute, staring at each other. Then Bump Stuckslager IV put up his hand. “I’m for it!” he cried. “Lay on Macdonald!”
“Good show!” shouted his father. “Bully for you!”
Then the two of them, their arms linked together broke once more into song:
Wow, Wow, Wow-Wow-Wow, hear the tiger roar!
Wow, Wow, Wow-Wow-Wow, Rolling up a score!
All was now in a frenzy. M.M. Suzukki raced down to the waterfront and, pushing the hapless Hershel to one side, held a drumstick up over the surface of the sea. First Grace, then Bernard, jumped willingly into his net. The next thing you knew the heads of both fish were chopped off by the shining blade of the master Chef’s yanagiba. Then Harry really got to work, carving away like a Michelangelo of the mysterious East. Less than a minute later he set before the intrepid IV, a plate on which were laid out, like the petals of a chrysanthemum, the slivers of Grace’s transparent flesh. Around the circumference of the platter were the eggs that were never to be fertilized by her reluctant spouse.
“Hey! How do you use these things?” said the Princeton man, fumbling with his wooden chopsticks. “Oh, never mind!” Then he opened his mouth, in which the myriad teeth were shining brighter than the lights of the chuppah, and popped in a handful all at once.
“By Jove, he’s done it!” said the proud Pa.
“My champion!” exclaimed Josephine, embracing him with unequal arms.
“Do you,” began the associate justice, addressing the winner of the contest, “Bump Stuckslager IV, take this woman—what’s her name again? Josephine! Josephine Louckheim to be your lawfully wedded wife?”
“I—I—I” Bump started, then came to a stop. “What the hell? My lips! They’re going numb.” Then, without another word on this earth, he fell to the ground. The surgeon general, also one of the guests, ran forward to take his pulse.
“Fin,” he announced, as if at the conclusion of a French movie.
“A Daniel! An Abraham!” declared Shyler Louckheim, breaking into one of his Gaelic jigs. “A Bernard Baruch!” He threw his arms around the Japanese chef and kissed him on both cheeks, also like in a French film. “Hot dog! You did it! You marry her! Become a Jew!”
The great chef removed his high hat. He undid the binding on his robe. Then he picked up the razor-sharp blade of his yanagiba, but instead of dealing with his foreskin, as everyone with some interest expected, he plunged it into his belly. “Tokyo,” he muttered, through the blood that was filling his mouth. “One disgrace already. Two: black eye. Unbearable shame.”
Haru Kariku had committed Hari Kari.
Now the guests began to run toward their limousines and the two or three helicopters that were warming up their engines on the far lawn. Above all the tumult, the thin, wavering voice of Hershel Stamboul reached the scene of carnage. “That leaves me! Here’s the ring. Here’s the sheet. I’ll marry Josephine!”
“That’s the ticket!” came a cry from the chuppah. “The Louckheims will lock up Crown Heights!”
What the few guests saw now eclipsed anything ever seen in our solar system. For out of the depleted seaside pen there rose first one long white rubbery arm and then a second one and then, amazingly, a third. Next in this horror epic there came a terrible sound of suction: In a single instant the Satmar suitor, beaver hat, moles, and all, disappeared into the deep.
Time to ring down the curtain? Not quite. Under the chuppah the bereft bride stood weeping, while her mother attempted to console her by ticking off the abominations of the wedding night she had just managed to escape. Her husband, meanwhile, managed to console himself by repeating the names of the establishments up and down the east coast still under his control. “Let’s see: there’s Sushi Boy, that’s up Maine, and Open Sashimi! in Delaware, and that new fraternity joint in Jersey, Kappa Takka Maki.”
What was that? Everyone on the lawns, including Mike the chauffeur and Pornthip Thongsuk, the thin-boned young man that attended to Madam Louckheim, looked up toward where the Gran Fury was parked. Except that the two-tone V8 had long gone, with the corpse of the Princeton man laid out in the back.
TOOT once again.
All heads now swiveled in the opposite direction, down toward where a blistered and battered ship was limping toward Turtle Cove. The Rollmop! And a little further off, taking water and with her bow staved in, the Lucy Mae. It took no more than half an hour for the flagship to putter up to the saltwater pen, reverse direction, and open her bulging nets. Out came the catch, jumping, it seemed, in jubilation: the mahi and mullets, the varieties of snapper, two dozen pompanos, and a lonely jolthead porgy. No need to mention the salmon, the albacore and the male and female flounders. They thrashed about in their new surroundings, gasping and gaping and now and then eating each other. The very air over their habitat took on a silvery sheen.
Now a clanging sound rang out all over the eastern half of the peninsula and all of Montauk Point. The 50 chefs were sharpening their shobu-buchus. That tintinnabulation, like the ringing of church bells at a wedding, made all the fleeing guests stop in their tracks. Hoorah! they cried, and soon enough were tucking in their napkins and dipping bonito and skipjack into their wasabi sauce.
Did we mention wedding bells? The associate justice adjusted the black frames of his spectacles and cleared, yet again, his throat. You have already guessed the groom. There stood the captain, tall at the taffrail of the Rollmop, shading his eyes.
“Oh, Larsie! Larsie!” Thus spake the bride. She ran down the slope of the lawn, past the ornamental tortoises, and cried out one last time. “Larsie!”
“Ja! Ja! Lars är här!”
With that he leaped like Errol Flynn from his listing craft and into the arms of his härlig brud.
All’s well that ends well, then, though the Sushi King, while smiling manfully as the occasion demanded, was saying to himself, over and over: “The Sawbuck. The Simoleon. Not insured!”
Oh, lift the curtain for just one more moment. Without a shirt on, his skin shining in the brilliant sun, stood a native of the nation of Cameroon. The sweat ran across his chest, his shoulders, his arms. His muscles rippled as he wrestled with thick coils of rope.
“Who’s that?” asked Josephine.
Lars squeezed her even tighter. “Det där? Det är Jimmy fran Afrika.”
Josie squeezed him back. But she looked over his shoulder at the newcomer. She blinked her green eye. Then, slowly, her brown one. “Hello, sailor,” she said.
We have tried to grant your every wish
Make your choice from this pond of fish
Take your rice on the outside or within
Laughter, my dears is never, no never, a sin
Leslie Epstein teaches creative writing at Boston University. His three Leib Goldkorn books were recently published as The Goldkorn Variations: A Trilorgy (no typo).