I was half-way through my peanut butter and banana sandwich, and a quarter-way through the daily Jumble, when I got a call from Mr. Ludnick’s secretary, Gertie. She said Mr. Ludnick wanted me to start planning the firm’s St. Patrick’s Day Party. Even though I’m the Chair of Special Events (and Junior Bookkeeper), I wasn’t sure I’d be asked to spearhead this important project. We’d had a few mishaps at previous parties (food poisoning, injuries, code violations, a hospitalization, lawsuits, etc.), and since I’d organized those events, some thought I bore responsibility. Not so long ago, coffee room scuttlebutt suggested that Hank Hampermass would be assuming party-planning duties. Hank was an intern from the local community college and woefully inexperienced for such a large responsibility, but his great uncle was one of the firm’s founders. Fortunately, a botched wisdom tooth extraction left Hank with a temporary paralysis that made his speech slushy, and whatever words he was able to spit out were accompanied by dollops of thick saliva. Since the surgery only affected the right side of the mouth, one could stay relatively dry by staying to Hank’s left. He’d been assigned to a quiet basement office where he spent his days filing papers, eating soft foods, and calling his dental malpractice attorney, who, like the rest of us, could distinguish only about half of what Hank said.
I was eager to rehabilitate my reputation amongst my colleagues at Hampermass, Ludnick, and Bernstein, the small accounting firm where I’d been toiling away since leaving dog grooming school four years prior. This would be a challenging project as I knew little about St. Patrick’s Day, Irish people, or leprechauns. I was aware that Notre Dame employed a leprechaun as their mascot and discovered, after making several calls to their athletic department, that he could not be rented out for any reason. I found this difficult to believe. “Not even for a funeral?” I asked, thinking that if the answer was yes, I’d have some wriggle room and make an offer to secure the little guy’s services at our firm’s “memorial.” The woman on the line accused me of being a prankster from Ohio State and threatened to contact the authorities. I quickly hung up and Googled “little man,” “party,” and “rental.” I was directed to an escort service, which didn’t have a leprechaun but was eager to send a policeman, fireman, astronaut, or vampire, with varying fees depending on how much clothing I wanted removed.
I was discouraged but not ready to give up. I phoned my mentor, Mendel Schlossman, who’d brought me to H, L & B, only to leave it three years later. He had a pending lawsuit against the firm for the severe food poisoning he’d contracted at his retirement party. Even though I’d organized the party, Mr. S. directed his rath toward the firm, as well as the owners of the party’s venue, the Tiki Tavern and Dance Bar (now in bankruptcy).
He answered the phone on the third ring. “Yes,” he said, “Can I help you?”
“It’s me, Mr. Schlossman. Marvin.”
“Oh, Marvin – yes, yes. When I saw the Caller ID, I was hoping someone from the firm was calling with an offer to settle the lawsuit.”
“No, I’m sorry. It’s just me.”
“No one wants to see this go to court. I’ll spill every secret I know. Do you have the authority to settle, Marvin?”
“I don’t think so,” I said. “I don’t even have my own parking spot.”
“Then no secret is safe,” he said. “Ludnick’s ancestors owned slaves.”
“I thought his family was from Hungary.”
“Yes, they had Hungarian slaves. You don’t read much about them, do you?”
“No,” I admitted.
“You never saw a Hungarian version of Roots did you?”
“Is there such a thing?”
“My point exactly!” he exclaimed. “This is a story that needs telling. After I blow the cover off this thing at trial, the press will turn over every rock to get the story of the Ludnicks’ crimes against those poor Hungarian slaves. I can only imagine how watery the goulash must have been.”
Mr. Schlossman has high blood pressure and I tried to settle him down by asking about his wife, Sylvia, and their recent four-month trip to Florida, which he described as “better than a stretch in prison, depending on the prison and your cellmate.” I then steered the subject to the upcoming St. Patrick’s party and the difficulty I was having securing a leprechaun.
“I can imagine,” he said. “The real leprechauns stay in Ireland. They control the toll booth industry. Very lucrative.” Mr. Schlossman had been one of the firm’s senior accountants before being forced into early retirement.
“I see,” I said.
“And they only work for small gold coins that you toss into their little buckets.”
“I don’t need a real one,” I said. “As long as he’ll wear a little green suit and dance a few jigs, I think I can get by.”
“How much do you have in your leprechaun budget?”
“About two hundred.”
“In gold coins or U.S. currency?”
“Dollars,” I said.
“Sold!” he barked.
Mr. Schlossman told me that he could dress up in a way that no one in the firm would recognize, despite the fact that he’d worked there for forty-two years. He also said it was a way to get back some of the money he was owed for the pain and discomfort resulting from his retirement party.
“What about the outfit?” I asked.
“Sylvia can sew like Betsy Ross. I’ll look like the real deal. One thing, Marvin. You’re not serving that crabmeat dip again, are you?”
Mr. Schlossman’s food poisoning was so bad that a scan of his small intestines was featured in the fall edition of GQ (Gastroenterologist’s Quarterly). He made seventy-five dollars from it. They offered a hundred for a photograph of his anus, but he declined. “A man has to draw the line somewhere,” he’d said. “And mine is drawn down the crack of my ass.”
I explained that he had nothing to worry about. There was no crabmeat on the menu and the party would be held at Murph’s Magic House.
“Sounds classy,” he said. “I’ll do it.”
On the day of the party, I arrived at 5 PM to make sure everything was in order. St. Patrick’s Day was still a week and a half away, but it was cheaper to schedule an earlier date. Murph had also discounted the food, and threw in a plate of something he called “Greencakes.” “Go easy on those,” he told me.
Despite its name, I’d never seen a magician at Murph’s Magic House. I help with their bookkeeping and once told Murph that their name might mislead people into thinking they could see a man trying to escape from handcuffs or a woman being sawed in half.
“Depending on when they come, they might,” Murph said, and I went back to working on some amortization figures.
Murph was sweeping peanut shells off the floor when I got there. He’s a big man, over six feet tall and probably close to two hundred and fifty pounds. His hair is thick and slicked back, and when the light hits it just right, you can see shades of blue in the black. He touches it up with shoe polish.
“I’m going all out for you, Marvin,” he said. “I whipped up a Shamrock punch made from green food coloring and the leftover booze from last night’s bachelor party. I’ve also stocked the bathrooms with toilet paper and fresh condoms.”
I thanked him for his attention to detail. Three women came out of the back office. Murph pulled them to the other side of the room, talked softly, and gave them each a piece of paper, which they folded and stuck in their purses. Then they hurried off, their high heels clicking across the floor, a cloud of perfume trailing behind them. Murph told me they were his nieces. He says that about all the women that come in and out of his office.
Murph went to make some calls. “If anyone comes in asking for me,” he said, “tell them I’m on vacation. Lenny will take care of you.”
Lenny is Murph’s assistant manager. He’s also an amateur body builder with dreams of acting in TV commercials.
Mr. Schlossman arrived promptly at six. If it weren’t for his inch-thick glasses, I’m not sure I would have recognized him. He was wearing a green suit with a white shirt and green bow tie. A green derby sat atop his mostly bald head and he sucked on a pipe that looked like it could blow soap bubbles. I marveled at his outfit, especially the fuzzy red chin-strap beard.
“That’s because it’s the real thing,” he said. “Go ahead and give it a tug. But gentle, Marvin, gentle!”
I tugged and, sure enough, his skin moved right along with it.
“How did you grow that in eight days?”
“Lots of testosterone,” he said. “It’s from my mother’s side. She looked like Lincoln.”
Mr. Schlossman wanted to rehearse a bit, so Lenny, who’d been doing push-ups on the bar, punched up some songs and Mr. S. danced. He was perspiring pretty heavily by the time “The Macarena” ended and I suggested he take a seat and rest. Lenny set him up with a tall glass of Shamrock punch, which Mr. S. drained in a couple long pulls. He said, “This doesn’t taste like the Green River I remember as a kid, but it will do.” He wiped his mouth with his sleeve and asked for another.
“The last party I went to was for my retirement,” he told Lenny between swigs. “I went straight from the celebration to the toilet and didn’t leave for a week. Do you know how much diarrhea one body can produce in seven days?”
I already knew the answer, so I excused myself. Even with Murph’s cleaning, the place looked a bit dank, so I turned down the lights and turned on the disco ball, which spun slowly from a beam that ran the length of the bar. Lenny followed my lead and turned up the music. Pretty soon the guests began arriving. My boss, and Mr. Schlossman’s current nemesis, Mr. Ludnick, entered with his wife.
“St. Patrick’s Day has always been one of my favorite holidays,” he told me as I helped him out of his coat. Mr. Schlossman crept up toward us. I wasn’t as confident in his disguise as he was, and I steered Mr. Ludnick and his wife to the food table.
“This looks delicious,” he said, “and I’m hungry.”
“Speaking of Hungary,” Mr. Schlossman said, “do they celebrate St. Patrick’s Day there?”
“Hungary?” Mr. Ludnick said. “How should I know what they celebrate in Hungary?”
Mr. Schlossman muttered something about plantations but I didn’t catch it. His speech was a little thick and I noticed that his eyes were somewhat wobbly.
Mrs. Ludnick said, “What a darling little leprechaun.”
“I’m not the darling kind,” Mr. S. said, “I’m the fighting kind.” He put his fists up, just like the Notre Dame mascot.
Mrs. Ludnick said, “Well I think you’re adorable,” and pinched his cheek.
I looked over at the bar where Mr. Schlossman had been sitting. Three empty glasses rested in front of his stool. He’s maybe 5’ 6”, around 140 pounds, and rarely drinks. I had to get the Ludnicks out of there.
“Let’s try some of these desserts,” I said, pulling them back to the table. “These are ‘Greencakes,’ made especially for the party.”
“Is that a shamrock on each one?” Mr. Ludnick said as he bent down to get a closer look.
I wasn’t sure what was on them. It looked like a piece of leaf. He picked one up, took a bite, and said, “Interesting. It has kind of a woody taste.”
While the Ludnicks sampled more “Greencakes,” I told them that I needed to attend to party duties. I put my arm around Mr. Schlossman’s shoulder and went with him back to the bar.
“I think you should stay away from the Ludnicks,” I said. “I don’t want you to blow your cover.”
Mr. Schlossman scratched at his beard. “Was I speaking with an Irish accent?” he asked. “Like a real leprechaun?”
“No. You sounded like you usually sound. But I think, because the music is so loud and Mr. Ludick doesn’t hear so well, that you got away with it. Why don’t you sit and rest for a bit. Then you can get up and mingle or dance or do whatever leprechauns do.”
I walked down to the other end of the bar and motioned for Lenny. “No more Shamrock punch for the leprechaun,” I said. “Nothing stronger than ginger ale from now on.”
I saw two men wearing overcoats come through the door. I didn’t recognize them and they didn’t look they were there for the party. I’d hung a sign stating that Murph’s Magic House was closed because of a private party, but these two might have been guests of other employees, or they might have just missed the sign. I went over to check.
“Hello gentlemen,” I said. “Are you here for the party?”
“Not exactly,” one of them said. He took out his wallet and showed me a badge. “Is there somewhere we can talk?”
This wasn’t good. I wasn’t sure why it wasn’t good, but when two policemen come to your party and need to talk, it’s probably not to tell you what a wonderful party you’re throwing. I guided them to a booth in the back, away from the crowd. They introduced themselves as Detectives Tanger and Olin. Tanger was older and seemed to be the one who’d be taking the lead. He asked my name, which I told them, and my “role with the organization.”
“Junior Bookkeeper and Chair of Special Events,” I said.
Tanger jotted that down in a small notebook. “Good enough for us,” he said. “As the bookkeeper, you must know a lot about this operation. We’ve never met the boss. Is here?”
This wasn’t going to be good for me, or Mr. Ludnick. I discreetly pointed him out to the detectives. They took a quick glance and came back to me. Olin slid his business card across the table.
“This can be your get out of jail free card,” he said. “If you do what we ask.”
Before I could respond or even pick up the card, Mr. Schlossman yelled “Marvin!” so loudly that I heard it above the music. Mrs. Ludnick was tugging at his beard and giggling. He twisted away from her and ran to our booth. He plopped down and said, “She told me that my beard’s sexy and she put her hand on my thigh! I’m not sure I can go through with this.”
The detectives glanced at one another and then back at Mr. Schlossman.
“Who are these two?” he asked me.
“They’re detectives,” I said.
“Don’t say a word to them, Marvin,” he said. “My brother-in-law Sidney is a lawyer. He will help you.”
“Marvin can help himself,” Detective Tanger said. “We’re not after him. We’re after his boss.”
“Now that’s a different story,” Mr. Schlossman said. “Tell them everything you’ve got.”
Mrs. Ludnick suddenly arrived with a plate of Greencakes. “You can’t get rid of me that easily,” she said. “Look, I brought you treats.”
“Not now, sister,” Mr. Schlossman said. “Marvin and I are conducting business.”
Mrs. Ludnick made a pouty face. “Can I have a dance when you’re done?”
“Yeah, sure. Anything.”
“Okay. I’ll be waiting!” She left the plate and flitted away.
“All right, gentlemen. What would you like to know about the boss?” Mr. Schlossman asked.
Olin said, “Perhaps we should talk somewhere more private. We don’t want to tip him off that we’re talking about him.”
“I could care less,” Mr. Schlossman said. “Besides, take a look at him.”
Mr. Ludnick was sitting in a chair next to the snack table. He had green frosting on his chin and his eyes were focused on the disco ball.
“Okay,” Tanger said. “We can make this fast.” He flipped a page in his notebook. “How long have you known him?”
“Forty-two years. I know all his secrets,” Mr. Schlossman said.
“We’re most interested in human trafficking,” Olin said.
Mr. Schlossman smiled. “Finally! I’ve been waiting for someone to take an interest in the family’s dirty secret. ”
“What do you know?” Tanger asked.
“I know all about the slaves.” Mr. Schlossman tapped the table with his pipe.
Tanger put down his pen. “Slaves?”
Olin nodded. “Eastern Europe. Makes sense.”
“This is very important information, very useful,” Tanger said. “What was your position in the business?”
“Just another slave,” he said.
Mr. Schlossman placed his hands on the table and leaned towards the men. “I had clients in four states. You know how many miles I put on my car? And he only reimbursed twenty cents per mile.” He turned to me. “That’s well below IRS standards.” He stuck the pipe in his mouth and chewed on it.
Tanger cleared his throat. “So, you would go to these different states – ”
Olin butted in, “We can add something about crossing state lines.”
Tanger continued, “You would go to see these ‘clients’ in different states and, um, ‘service’ them?”
“No one could service them like I did,” Mr. Schlossman said proudly.
“Were you always wearing a costume?” Olin asked.
“What?” Mr. Schlossman took the pipe out of his mouth. “Why would I wear a costume?”
“People have all sorts of fetishes,” Olin said.
“Forget the costume,” Tanger said. “You did whatever you had to do. The important thing to remember is that you were the victim.”
“Damn right I was,” Mr. Schlossman said. “I gave my life to this organization. And you know what happened when I finally wanted out?”
The men shook their heads.
“They surprised me with one last ‘party.’ I ended up in the hospital for a week. My anus was stretched like a balloon.”
I’m sure, being policemen, Tanger and Olin had heard worse, but for the moment it didn’t look like it.
“I sat on a cushion for a month,” Mr. S. continued.
Tanger looked a little ashen. “We don’t need all the details right now.”
“I have pictures to prove it. They were in a magazine.”
Olin looked at Tanger and then back at Mr. Schlossman. “You were forced to pose in a magazine?”
“Not exactly forced. I got $75.”
The men shook their heads. Olin said, “It could help if we got a copy.”
“I have extras,” Mr. Schlossman said. “If I do all this, I assume there would be some sort of compensation?”
“We can’t pay you to testify,” Olin said.
“Then I’m out!” Mr. Schlossman said.
“We can pay you for the magazines and perhaps meals and parking at the courthouse.”
“I’m back in!”
Mr. Schlossman stuck the pipe in his mouth and said, “Gentlemen, I will see you in court.” He rose from the table and returned to the dance floor, where he performed an unsteady jig.
Detective Olin poked at one of the Greencakes. He broke off a piece and sniffed it. He pushed the plate to Detective Tanger. “Take a whiff,” he said. Tanger lifted a cake to his nose. He took a small bite, chewed it for a second, and spit it back onto the plate.
“There’s more weed in here than in my backyard,” Tanger said. “I’d say between this and the trafficking claim, we have enough to bring him in.”
They rose and told me they’d be in touch. I started to worry my party was going to be a bust, maybe an actual bust. They rousted Mr. Ludnick (who’d fallen asleep) and cuffed his hands behind his back.
“Why do you keep calling me ‘Murph?’” he said groggily.
Mr. Schlossman raised his arms in victory as the police escorted Mr. Ludnick out of the restaurant. Mr. Schlossman called out to Lenny, “Do you have ‘Hava Nagila’ over there?” Lenny thought it was some kind of pasta, but I told him it was a Jewish song of celebration played frequently at weddings and Bar Mitzvahs and less frequently at St. Patrick Day parties. While Lenny looked it up online, Mr. Schlossman pulled off his hat and shouted, “It’s me, everybody! Mendel Schlossman is back!” Mrs. Ludnick, who’d been in the bathroom and missed her husband’s exit, said, “I thought you looked familiar!” and tried to pull off Mr. Schlossman’s beard.
“Ow!” he cried. “I keep telling you that’s the real thing, lady!”
Mrs. Ludnick patted his cheek and offered to “kiss it and make it better.” Mr. S. squirmed away and told everyone on the dance floor to gather in a circle. Murph appeared at my side seemingly from nowhere.
“How’s the party going?” he asked.
I searched for the right word. “Well,” I said.
“All right,” Mr. S. announced, “We’re going to do the ‘Hora.’”
“Whoa,” said Murph. “What’s this about doing the whore?”
“‘Hora,’” I corrected. “It’s a Jewish dance.”
“Oh,” Murph said. “For a second I thought I got my days mixed up.”
Mr. Schlossman gestured for me to join the circle. Lenny found the song and the opening strains of ‘Hava Nagila’ bounced from the speakers. I thanked Murph for his work and told him I’d be by next week to reconcile the bank statements and settle up for the party. “By the way,” I said, “the police were here. You might want to really go on that vacation.”
“Thanks kid,” he said, and scrambled back to his office.
Mr. Schlossman grabbed me by the arm and we danced. This is a good party, I thought. Everyone, except for maybe Mr. Ludnick, was having a good time. Mr. S.’s face was getting red, but it looked good with his beard. It made him look ruddy and not necessarily like he was going to have a heart attack.
“Are you doing okay?” I shouted.
“I’m having the time of my life, Marvin!” He interlocked his arm with mine and spun me around. “You really know how to throw a party.”
“Thanks, Mr. S.”
“Just remember, you owe me $200,” he yelled over the music. “And I’d like the recipe for those brownies. Delicious!”