|The Black Madonna |
of Częstochowa, Poland
“People who say that are usually Jewish or anti-Semites.” I told her. “Not all Semites are Jews,” she snapped. It was, I will admit, a very confusing distinction.
Her name was Linda Czerwinski and she had the straight, turned-up nose, high cheekbones and the smooth, creamy skin of your average Polish girl under thirty. She was a nurse at Mount Sinai hospital where I had met her when I had to take a deposition from one of her patients. In her white uniform, especially those white stockings that clung to well-turned calves, she made my libido dance the dervish and I asked her out.
On our first date she invited me into her apartment. “I’ve asked you here so that I may perpetuate the legend of the Polish woman.”
“What legend is that?” I asked. She had already begun to unbelt, unbutton and unzip me. By the time an hour was over I had the legend fully committed to my memory, complete with visual images, verbal communications and footnotes.
“We have to do everything and be better at it than most,” she told me in dead earnest. “Not like you Jewish boys whose mothers tell you how wonderful you are every time you move a muscle. Our men have to get their reassurance with this,” She patted me there. It was a unique piece of wisdom and I promised to remember it, especially if she provided me with periodic reminders, which she did with great enthusiasm. Often, because she knew how it moved me and how the usual pantyhose destroyed my reveries about what went on above the hem of that white uniform, she would wear white stockings fastened to a garter belt, a sight to make every Polish boy a patriot. Recalling the image made my heartbeat bang against my ribs and brought about other changes in my anatomy. I felt myself getting very anticipatory. When Linda slipped on the staircase at the hospital, I really put myself out to get her a good settlement. We got $35,500, which was pretty fine since the only clinical sign of injury was a black-and-blue mark on her right tush cheek, which I personally cured with gentle loving care. She hated the neck brace that I made her wear in public for four weeks, but she liked the diathermy, which she claimed made her sexy.
Since that was her normal state, it was impossible to confirm. Notwithstanding our relationship, I still took my third. Business is business. “I hope I’m not recommending a headache,” Linda mused aloud.
“Why a headache?” There was a long pause at her end of the line. “She made some remarks that I don’t think you would take kindly. You know what I mean. About your people.”
“So what else is new?”
“Don’t let it prejudice your willingness to help her.”
“You know me well enough to know that I never let hate, bigotry or prejudice interfere with the normal pursuits of my practice. Besides, some of my best friends are Polack shiksas,” I snickered volubly, then lowered my voice. “Does she wear white stockings and a garter belt?” I didn’t get the reaction I expected. Just simple avoidance. My antenna sprouted into the ether. Something was awry. “I wanted to help her out. She’s staying with me at the moment.”
“Did she have a misstep?” I asked hopefully. “Nothing like that. It’s something very big. She hasn’t told me. But she did say it involved a great deal of money.”
“And because any good Polack believes that all Jews care about is money, my name came to mind.”
There was a belligerent edge to the remark. I often get touchy on that subject. Besides, there was something in Linda’s attitude that was sending strange signals. Maybe she had acquired another guy on the trip, someone that desperately needed her ministrations. “Maybe we should forget it, Miltie?”
“Lets not. It might ruin my people’s reputation.” She might have understood, but I wasn’t sure. I was being snarky and I think it floated over her gorgeous head.
“Her name is Karla Smith.”
“What happened to the tongue twister?”
“Her father changed his name legally when he came to this country. She’s from Montana.”
“Montana? There must be a Polish joke about that.” I was trying to get her back on the banter track, thinking that I might have misinterpreted my earlier conclusion.
“This is not a joke Miltie,” Linda said, showing rare attitude. “With her father gone, she’s thinking about not going back home. Not until this other matter is settled.”
“The money matter,” I prompted. “It’s all very mysterious. But I do believe her when she says it’s very big and very important. She’s that kind of person. The kind of person that would rather not say than tell a lie.”
“Not like you Miltie. Not anything like you.”
“There’s another ethnic slur in there somewhere,” I said. “On the one hand you tell me that she’s as right as rain and on the other you say she’s a Jew-baiting Polack.”
“I didn’t say that. I said that she had made some remarks that indicate… well, that indicate...”
“That she hates hebes.”
“Nothing is black and white, Miltie. That’s not God’s design.”
God’s design? It sounded ominous. “Where did you say you met her?” “Jasna Gora.”
“Sounds like a rock group.”
“It’s near Czestochowa.”
“Gesundheit.” When she didn’t laugh, I knew that something had changed. Yet she knew she owed me some explanation and I waited to see what form it would take. Aside from her delicious sexuality, she was a deeply sensitive girl, totally without real guile...
“It’s the great spiritual center of Poland, the religious heart of the country. There is a monastery there and the famous painting of The Black Madonna, which has miraculous powers. I was there.”
This was no tourist’s explanation. She was clearly enthralled. Apparently my sweet little Polack shiksa had found religion.
“You can’t believe the spiritual force of it, Miltie,” she lowered her voice. “It’s changed my life. I’m not the same person, Miltie.”
Heart of Gold
By Warren Adler
I abhor slurs or stereotyping of race, religion and other common groups that are ridiculed at a minimum, or worse...This novel is being read at a time when we are seeing threats and actual acts of hatred toward our Jewish communities...and others... Reading the beginning of this book, my personal ire was high from reading headlines such as the following...
Leaping to West Coast: 29 Bomb Threats Against Jewish Targets Across U.S. in Fifth Wave
Where does the hate come from? It's one of the reasons I love reading books like this one where confrontation is made!
When Milton Gold meets a new client, Karla Smith, a Polish immigrant, he knows two things--he was surprised that he was instantly attracted to her... and second, that she hated Jews.
So why seek out a Jewish lawyer?
I loved the character Milton Gold and his evolution through the book from a shady, shyster lawyer...to...well, I'll just say a quite different person. His sense of humor in dealing with those who tried direct or indirect references to his being Jewish, adds a splendid, cleverly played diversion of what was to come...
Karla Smith, whose name came from a legal change when her father had come to America, had learned her hatred and prejudice at the feet of her father, as he told her story after story of being take to Auschwitz, describing the camp in detail and what he was assigned to do. He also told her about the various people there in prison, including the Jewish, Polish and Germans, describing each of their roles there.
One of the demands of Karla's father was that she attend and become an active Catholic. At the same time her father became more and more withdrawn from the world. But as he grew ill, he became worse in explaining what she was to do and where she should go after his death...She was to go back... She was to find her inheritance...
The only thing, Karla felt there was so much more about what her father was telling her. It seemed to be more a quest, than to find money for her future. But she had no idea what he had been trying to explain to her...
What she did know was that when she went back, she was to have hired a Jewish lawyer to help, and she would be looking for gold coins... suitcases full of them... Estimated value $100 Million...
Milton had just been ousted by his partner in an apartment manager scam, so he was ripe for accepting Smith as a client, even though it was hate she showed toward him and, I felt, annoyance, that she didn't know why her father had demanded she hire a Jewish lawyer...
Then Gold started the game...of giving back what he saw he'd be getting...
“Can I see you today?” Her insistence was compelling. It was then that I remembered what Linda had said. Instantly Smith’s image was embellished with a riding crop poised in pudgy fingers over a beefy palm and a swastika adorning the upper arm of a brown coat.
“I’m not sure,” I said, deliberately dangling the uncertainty just to make her as uncomfortable as her advance notices made me.
“Maybe a quick lunch?” she asked.
I felt the pressure of her determination. Not frantic, just intense. Her suggestion triggered a sense of mischief.
“Just tell me where. I’m a stranger to New York.”
I cleared my throat to mask a chuckle I could barely control. “Moishe’s.” It was a Jewish delicatessen on Third and 20th. She repeated the name, giving it a totally wrong inflection. This time I laughed out loud. She ignored me.
“Let’s say one.” It was after twelve. Wherever she was, she would have to hustle. I said goodbye and hung up feeling good about my little joke...
God, I loved this city, especially in the fall. Always in that season I forgave her her cranky moods and bouts of meanness, forgave her her tough old indifferent hide. She was the perennial whore with the heart of soft putty, indiscriminate as hell in the choice of those she took to her bed. Yet she took them all on with equal passion and enthusiasm. No prejudice in that big baby. Hell, you couldn’t blame her for getting fed up once in a while. Even the impending threat of bankruptcy and all the mismanagement corruption and crime in play felt like the Big Apple was simply going through a bad hangover which was sure to disappear as time went on. That’s the way Wise Willy put it.
A fat little man, Moishe himself, led me to a table for two adorned with a pile of sour pickles on a bed of sauerkraut in a brown plastic dish. Facing the window, I munched on a pickle and waited, watching for her through the Star’s inverted triangle. I knew it was her by the way she moved, carrying with her this air of single-minded, unstoppable purpose, like a racehorse with blinders crossing the finish line. How dare she look like that? I thought. A glob of pickle stuck in my throat and I had to cough it into my fist. Something hard inside of me was heating up. A sour backwash of anger bubbled into the back of my throat. This was no unattractive lady, and it only irritated me further to find myself assessing her objectively. She was on the delicate side, with dark curly hair clipped short and close to the head like a boy, although she wasn’t masculine in any way. In tight corduroy beige jeans and a brown turtleneck, her tight curvy figure moved with liquid grace as she came forward, growing cautious as she got closer, slowing as she approached the entrance. There she stood for a moment, nostrils flaring as she soaked in the peculiar odors, eyes squinting as she surveyed the unfamiliar conglomeration. She was, of course, equally out of place.
A number of people turned to look at her. Maybe it was the way my face mooned up at her. Or maybe it was Linda’s description, but she picked me out quickly and came toward me.
“Milton Gold?” she asked.
When I nodded, she slid into the seat opposite me, smiled tentatively and met my gaze with total confidence. Close up, I could see flecks of yellow in her large brown eyes. Her nose arched gently to wide nostrils, below which her lips peaked in a cupid’s bow. A good tan covered her olive skin and made it two or three shades darker. Of course, she definitely did not look like the cliched image of the Polack Nazi Jew-baiter that I had conjured up in my mind as a result of my conversation with Linda. The surprise only fed my anger. “I hope this place meets with your approval,” I muttered.
“Good as any,” she replied, unhitching her pocketbook from her shoulder and putting it on the table. Then she looked around again, making a more careful inspection of the surroundings. I half expected — and probably wanted — her to sniff her contempt. She didn’t. I decided it was because she felt superior to it, out of it, an uninvolved visitor. This conclusion did not do wonders for my disposition. Before we could get on with the obligatory small talk for openers, a henna-haired middle-aged waitress slapped two grease-stained menus on the black plastic table. She picked hers up, glanced at it with indifference, shrugged, and then put it down again. The waitress, typically impatient and intimidating, stood over us, pencil poised over her order book. “They make a helluva kosher corned beef sandwich,” I said, with a mischievous accent on the “kosher.” “The real thing.” I felt the urge to twist the knife.
“I’ll have a roast beef on white with mayonnaise and a glass of milk,” she said. I wondered if this was her way of getting even.
“You’re not serious? This is a Jewish delicatessen.” My remark obviously puzzled her. I exchanged confused glances with the waitress.
“Sure about the white, hon?” the waitress asked. When the Smith girl nodded, she lifted her pencil and pointed to the window. “This is Kosher Bosher baby. Milk’s only for the Goyim.” She snickered. “But we can do you coffee, iced tea, all kind of soda...” “What she means is that they don’t mix meat and milk,” I interrupted. “An ancient tribal hangover from bygone days.” I looked up at the waitress.
“She’s from Montana.”
“That explains it,” the waitress said, “you look like iced tea.”
“Fine,” she nodded, either ignoring or not understanding the little greenhorn by-play. I ordered a corned beef sandwich and a diet cream soda and the waitress padded away on her thick rubber soles. When she had gone, Karla Smith folded her hands on the edge of the table and we looked each other over. I felt certain that I was as much of a shock to her as she was to me. I noted that she wore a tiny silver cross high on her neck, just under the turtleneck fold. “Linda told me what you did for her,” she said slowly.
For her, to her, or with her, I wondered. A flickering sexual impulse crossed my consciousness. “Everything, I hope.” I winked lasciviously. It made absolutely no impression. “We had…” I cleared my throat, mostly to add a little drama to my verbal missile, “… a brief involvement.”
“She didn’t say,” she responded with no-nonsense assurance. I wasn’t certain, but since I apparently was spoiling for a fight, I thought it sounded a little like contempt. “Well we did,” I snapped.
“It’s still none of my business,” she said calmly.
“It’s important.” I couldn’t think of why. Maybe it implied a certain level of acceptance in the world of Polack shiksas?
“Not to me.” Here I was trying to get her riled and she was doing it to me without effort.
“I’m seeing you only on her say-so, despite…” I paused, mostly to recover my perspective. I was only partially successful.
A brief frown creased her forehead. Suddenly, I couldn’t get it out. “Despite what?” she pressed.
“Never mind,” I said. I opened my palms. “Your smart Jewish lawyer.”
Soon Milton and Karla were preparing for a trip overseas, interestingly with Milton fronting the money??? By this time I had settled into accepting the prejudicial banter, believing that it was definitely required in the story being developed...But where was Adler going, I wondered...
Then it quickly became apparent that others knew--maybe it leaked when Karla had her father's documents translated, or maybe there had always been those who were watching, waiting... because, before long, Milton had been able to identify at least three different groups that were trying to get to Karla...and one had already attacked Linda, trying to find out information and she was recuperating in the hospital as they left the United States...
And the treasure hunt thrills begin! Karla had already made one trip to verify that there really was gold where she'd been told. But getting it out was the real problem. Still Karla kept her plans and thoughts about all that was happening close to her, refusing to even share with her lawyer, yet determined to have him involved.
The attacks and close encounters occurring in America were just the beginning as contact was initially made with the Polish Government to negotiate a settlement. Some were quite courteous and anxious to work with Karla, while others simply looked and acted like the thugs that they were...and the danger increased the longer they moved ahead with their efforts to get the gold...
The darkness of humankind who seek retribution, gold, or power that money brings were everywhere... and soon, Karla was hearing stories--stories about her father! Would Karla and Milton live through it all?
What I will tell you is that Milton loved Karla enough by the time it happened, to kill a man who was torturing her trying to make her give up the location of the gold... But readers will wait to know how Karla feels about him, even though they'd begun an intimate relationship fairly early in their trip...
While Milton is an open book, Karla is an enigma, frustrating Milton on a daily basis. Still, he struggles with his feelings for her, knowing he really knows nothing about her... Then he finds out that what he knows is not the truth...
Adler keeps readers guessing, holding their breath, and turning pages quickly, with his psychological suspenseful, intriguing story that is edgy, and unpredictable. I, too, was falling deeper and deeper into the storyline, hoping against hope that there was still time to have the book end like I wanted it to! OMG! What an outstanding story that pits country against countries, criminals against other criminals, while one ignoble but loving daughter and one shrewd Jewish lawyer walks (or sometimes runs) through each escapade, determined to follow the path that is being carved for them as each new individual and group shows their determination to obtain that gold!
A powerful ending that I was totally satisfied with...and that's when I knew I really, really loved this latest book by best-selling author Warren Adler!
Warren Adler is best known for The War of the Roses, his masterpiece fictionalization of a macabre divorce turned into the Golden Globe and BAFTA nominated dark comedy hit starring Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito. In addition to the success of the stage adaptation of his iconic novel on the perils of divorce, Adler has optioned and sold film rights to more than a dozen of his novels and short stories to Hollywood and major television networks. Random Hearts (starring Harrison Ford and Kristen Scott Thomas), The Sunset Gang (starring Jerry Stiller, Uta Hagen, Harold Gould and Doris Roberts), Private Lies, Funny Boys, Madeline’s Miracles, Trans-Siberian Express and his Fiona Fitzgerald mystery series are only a few titles that have forever left Adler’s mark on contemporary American authorship from page to stage to screen. Learn more about Warren Adler at www.warrenadler.com.