Read The Sunset Gang Online

Authors: Warren Adler

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The Sunset Gang

BOOK: The Sunset Gang
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BOOKS BY WARREN ADLER

Banquet Before Dawn

Blood Ties

Cult

Death of a Washington Madame

Empty Treasures

Flanagan's Dolls

Funny Boys

Madeline's Miracles

Mourning Glory

Natural Enemies

Private Lies

Random Hearts

Residue

The Casanova Embrace

The Children of the Roses

The David Embrace

The Henderson Equation

The Housewife Blues

The War of the Roses

The Womanizer

Trans-Siberian Express

Twilight Child

Undertow

We Are Holding the President
Hostage

SHORT STORIES

Jackson Hole, Uneasy Eden

Never Too Late For Love

New York Echoes

New York Echoes 2

The Sunset Gang

MYSTERIES

American Sextet

American Quartet

Immaculate Deception

Senator Love

The Ties That Bind

The Witch of Watergate

Copyright ©
1977
by Warren Adler.

ISBN 978-1-59006-099-5

All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced
in any form without permission. This novel is a work of fiction.
Names, characters, places, incidents are either the product
of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.

Inquiries: WarrenAdler.com

STONEHOUSE PRESS

To my mother and father and their generation,
unsung but glorious

Yiddish

When it was first organized, the Sunset Village Yiddish
Club met once a week. Members talked in Yiddish, read passages from the Yiddish
papers to each other, and discussed, in Yiddish, the works of Sholem Aleichem
and Isaac Bashevis Singer that they had read during the week--in the original
Yiddish, of course. The members enjoyed it so much that they would sometimes
stay in the all-purpose room in the Sunset Village Clubhouse, where the
meetings were held, for hours after they were over, talking in Yiddish as if
that language were the only logical form of communication. Finally they had to
increase the meetings of the Yiddish Club to three times a week, although most
of the members would have preferred to attend every day.

There were a great many reasons for the phenomena, their
club president would tell them. His name was Melvin Meyer, but in the tradition
of the club, he was called Menasha, his name in Yiddish. He had a masterly
command of the Yiddish language. Both his parents had been actors in the heyday
of the Yiddish stage, when there were more than twenty Yiddish theaters on the
Lower East Side of New York alone and they were showing at least three hundred
productions a year.

"There is, of course, the element of nostalgia,"
Menasha would explain to the group pedantically, his rimless glasses imposing
in their severity. "It is the language of our childhood, of our parents
and grandparents. To most of us it was our original language, the language in
which we first expressed our fears, our anxieties, our loves, and the language
in which our parents forged our childhood. The link with the past is
compelling. And, naturally, there is the beauty of the language itself--its
rare expressiveness, its untranslatable qualities, its subtlety and
suppleness--which makes it something special simply in expressing it and
keeping it alive."

To both Bill (Velvil) Finkelstein and Jennie (Genendel)
Goldfarb, Menasha's words were thrilling, but merely suggestive of the depths
of their true feelings. They had joined the club on the same day and, they
discovered later, for the same reasons, some of which Menasha had expressed.
Their respective spouses had lost the language of their forebears and showed
absolutely no interest in the activity as a joint marital venture. Besides,
they were much more disposed to playing cards and sitting around the pool
yenting with their friends.

Because they had joined on the same day, they had, out of
the kinship of newness, sat next to each other and were able to start up a
conversation on the subject of their first day at the club.

"It's amazing," Genendel had said when the
meeting had adjourned, "I haven't spoken it since my mother died twenty
years ago; yet I caught every word. God, I feel good speaking that language. It
brings back the memories of my childhood, my mother, those delicious Friday
nights."

"Oh those wonderful Friday nights," Velvil had
responded, his mind jogged by the dormant images now sprung to life, the
candles, the rich rhythm of Yiddish speech, the smells of fricassee and honey
cake. He looked at Genendel as someone familiar, someone perhaps that he had
known in his youth or at least someone recognizable to his spirit. She was
smallish, thinner than his wife Mimi, who had allowed herself to run to fat.
Lines were embedded in Genendel's tanned face, but when the light hit her at a
special angle, the wrinkles disappeared and with them the years. She looked
then like a young girl. When he told her this after they had become intimate in
their conversation, she pursed her lips in mock disbelief and punched him
lightly on the arm. But he could see she was pleased.

"Thank God you're telling me that in Yiddish,"
she said. "If my David would hear it, he'd think you're flirting."

"I am."

She put a hand over her mouth and giggled like a girl. It
had not seemed possible to her that anything could occur beyond their
lighthearted banter, their kibitzing in Yiddish. She dismissed such thoughts as
idle and forbidden speculation. And yet they would sit for a long time after
the meetings were over, discussing their lives, their children, their fortunes.
At first their exchanges had been purely factual, filled with the details of
their biographies.

"I worked for the Veterans Administration as a lawyer,
and hated every minute of it," Velvil had said, "but I was frightened
to death." He was surprised to have told her that. He had never referred
to being frightened except to himself, characterizing his long term as a civil servant
merely as "an easy buck with no hassle." What he really meant, he
knew, was that he had been too scared to leave the government. "But I had
two kids and it was safe. So we lived in Flatbush and the kids grew up and we
waited out my pension. Not very exciting. My parents had greater dreams for me,
but they had scrambled so hard for money that they made me paranoid about
it."

"Are you sorry you stayed with the government so
long?"

Why is she probing my regrets, he wondered, yet
understanding the special poignancy that Yiddish could inject into such
inquiries.

"Of course I regret it. But I went through the motions
for my family."

She, too, could understand that kind of sacrifice. She had
also longed for other things.

"I wanted to travel," she said, lifting her eyes
to his. He had all his hair, she noted, and a part of it was still black. It
was his most striking feature. A handsome man, she concluded to herself,
feeling a faint stirring, a mysterious memory of yearning.

"Once we did go on a packaged B'nai B'rith tour of Israel. I loved it, not necessarily because of my Jewishness but because it was exotic. It
all looked like a movie set. David, after the first day, didn't tour. He hates
touring. And I love it. That's why we never went anywhere else."

"I love to travel," Velvil said suddenly, knowing
it was true, although he, too, had never traveled.

"Where have you been?"

"Not very many places," he said. But it was
important for him to be scrupulously truthful with her, like strangers meeting
on a train who say things to each other that they wouldn't dare say to anyone
they really knew. "In fact, no place. My wife would never leave the
children."

Sitting in the back corner of the room after the meetings
adjourned, losing all sense of time, they picked through their lives with care
and detail as if embroidering a tapestry.

"I have a son and a daughter," Genendel told him.
By then their Yiddish had returned to them in full force, their vocabulary
amplified, dredged up from some secret place in their subconscious. They could
be both fluent and subtle, the little nuances delicate but sure. "They
were good kids. All that's left now is merely the loving of them."

"Yes," he responded, his heart leaping because
she had struck just the right chord. "I must remember that way of putting
it. Mimi thinks there should be more, extracting the last bit of tribute,
making them always feel that they haven't done enough somehow, keeping that tug
of guilt in force, always taut. She whines to them constantly on the phone. I
tell her she's wrong, but she insists that daughters must care more. We have
two daughters. I keep telling myself I love them, but I sometimes have doubts.
They are not really very nice people."

"What a terrible thing to say!"

"It's the truth." He blushed, wondering if she
sensed the special joy of telling it. He had vowed to himself that he would
never express anything but the truth in Yiddish, in this special language
between them.

"Where is it written that parents should love their
children and vice versa?" he had pressed, the Yiddish rolling easily off
his tongue.

"It is a forbidden thought," she responded, but
the idea of it intrigued her. David, her husband, had always been the
sentimentalist, the worrier. It was he who fidgeted when the children didn't
call at their accustomed intervals.

"The Ten Commandments talk of 'honor,' not love."

"So you've become a Talmudic scholar in your old
age," she bantered, a sure sign that they were growing closer, he thought.

Finally, after it had become apparent that it was getting
on past the time of propriety, they said good-by. He was conscious of his hand
lingering for an extra moment in hers, followed by a light squeezing response.
He walked her to the driveway and watched her as she moved into the car. Then
he stood for a long time observing the red tail lights until they disappeared
into the darkness.

His condominium was close enough to walk to and, after she
left, he could feel the exhilaration in his step, a springiness in the legs
that seemed uncommon in a man nearing his sixty-ninth birthday. He thought of
her now with great intensity. He had willed himself to think of her only in
Yiddish, as if she were his special possession and he had to guard her reality
in the privacy of his own thoughts. He was certain that there was something
stirring in him, a dormant plant, struggling for germination beneath the soil
of time.

"You come home so late from those meetings,
Bill," his wife would mumble as he slipped in beside her. He never
succeeded in not waking her.

"We're working on a special project," he said.

"So late?" Then she would hover off, snoring
lightly.

When it became apparent that three days a week was not
enough time for them, Velvil suggested that the four of them socialize.

"Have you told her about me?" Genendel said,
looking at him curiously. She wondered why she had said it in quite that
manner, as if they were engaging in a conspiracy.

"No," he had answered. "And you?"

"I tell David about the club and its activities,"
she answered. She knew she was growing wise about her feelings concerning
Velvil, but she could not stop them, nor did she care to.

The couples met at Primero's for dinner, as they had taken
two cars. It was a Sunday so they had to wait on line for nearly an hour before
they could be seated. Perhaps it was the wait that had soured the meeting.

"We were ahead of them," Mimi told the
headwaiter, her lips tight with anger. She could not abide being bested.

"They were a fiver," the headwaiter said. His
arrogance had deserved a challenge.

As always when she did this, Velvil was embarrassed. He
poked her in the small of the back.

"Don't poke me. He could seat four very easily at a
table for five. God forbid you should lose one lousy meal," she said
loudly, knowing that the headwaiter would hear.

"Mimi, please."

"You should be telling him," she snapped.
"Why should I have to fight with him?"

"It's all right really," David Goldfarb had said.
He was a smallish man, bald with a fringe of white hair around his pate and a
benign, kindly look on his face.

"It's not all right," Mimi said, huffing and
continuing to direct a withering gaze at the headwaiter. "You don't
squeak, you don't get the oil."

Velvil looked hopelessly at Genendel.

"I'm sorry," he said in Yiddish.

"It's all right," she responded in Yiddish.

By the time they were finally seated, the wait and the
altercation with the headwaiter had put them all in a gloomy mood, particuarly
Mimi, who could not let it go.

"They take advantage," she said, tapping the
table with her forefinger. "You let them get away with it once, they take
more advantage."

"Why don't we forget about it and enjoy the
meal?" Velvil said. It was simply her way, he tried to tell Genendel with
his eyes; she is not a bad woman really. But he wondered if that was true.

"You like it here in Sunset Village?" Velvil
asked David, who was either not very talkative or had simply been cowed by
Mimi's performance.

"Actually it's not bad," he answered. "Not
bad at all."

"He has his regular gin game. He likes the sun and the
pool." Genendel patted her husband's hand in a gesture of reassurance. A
flash of anger stabbed through Velvil. She must have seen his frown and quickly
withdrew her hand.

"So you really like the Yiddish Club?" David
asked after a long stretch of embarrassed silence.

"It's really quite wonderful," Velvil said,
smiling at Genendel.

"It could be Greek to me," Mimi said. "It
seems like an odd waste of time, keeping a dead language alive."

"It's not dead at all," Velvil said, annoyed at
her obtuseness. He suddenly realized that he was no longer rationalizing her
actions, her words. Watching her, he felt her bitterness. Did she know? he
wondered. Could she feel it?

"Yiddish is quite beautiful, really," Velvil
said, watching Genendel. "She's not always this bad," he said
suddenly in Yiddish. "I'm sorry it's not working out. It wasn't a very
good idea."

"All right," Genendel responded in Yiddish.
"At least we gave it an honest try."

"What are you two jabbering about?" Mimi said
with a mouth full of salad.

"We're illustrating the possibilities of the
language," Velvil said.

"It's still Greek," Mimi said, spearing some
lettuce leaves.

"Actually, I like the sound of it," David said.
He was a pleasant man, very bland and eager to please. He looked frequently at
his wristwatch as if he were anxious to depart.

When the steaks came, the conversation turned to the
couples' children, the common denominator when all else failed. Velvil winced,
knowing what was coming.

"My girls married well," Mimi said, directing her
gaze at Velvil as if in rebuke. "But then they set their hearts on it.
Bill always worried too much about security. They're always fighting among
themselves, all the time, but underneath it all they love each other. I'm sure
about that. They both live in Scarsdale. Huge houses. They each have three
kids, all doing well."

Not the pictures, Velvil thought in Yiddish. Please not
that. He saw her pocketbook on the floor beside her, a vile time bomb.

BOOK: The Sunset Gang
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