The Gold Coin
Morris WeissIn New York City in the early nineteen hundreds you could buy a large schooner of beer for a nickel. A free lunch came with it. This morning, Jake the tailor was first at the teller's window. He laid down a five-dollar bill."Mister, please give me a gold piece, a shiny one if you got it. It's for my grandson's bar-mitzvah present."Jake was a young-looking grandfather. Tall and slim, his brown hair and pin-striped mustache were just starting to grey. His blue eyes examined the gold piece. It was about the size of a penny. Hurrying out of the bank, his long strides soon brought him to his cleaning store. It was a small place: a sewing machine beside the entrance, a pressing board with hand iron in the center. The customers' clothes hung on racks in the rear.Jake rolled up the sleeves of his white shirt and put the clothes brush on his striped trousers. Jake always dressed like the matinee idol he once dreamt he would be. Now he began his ten-hour work day. Two o'clock: his wife, Ida, brought hot soup and sandwiches.
"Two more weeks," smiled Jake, "our Louis will have his bar mitzvah."
"Thirteen years already," sighed Ida. "He's supposed to be a man. Yes, maybe in the old country. Here the children come to the parents till they are middle-aged."
While Jake and Ida were chatting this Thursday afternoon, a badly crippled beggar was making his rounds. A tombstone must have fallen on the poor man. He had a brace on his twisted knee. On his right foot he wore a large-heeled orthopedic shoe. The right side of his face was flattened in. There are many handicapped people limping along. However, what was unusual about this beggar was his right arm. It was only half an arm. His fingers dangled limply where his elbow should have been.
After canvassing the city for many years, the old beggar established a route. Each day he covered specific territory, making stops like a rent collector. Every Thursday about three o'clock he was at Jake's door. He had been doing it for years. When Jake would see him he would hurry over and give him a penny.
This Thursday after lunch Ida went home. Three o'clock the beggar opened Jake's door as usual. Jake was at the door talking to a customer. He quickly handed the beggar a coin.
Later that evening Jake was fumbling for the gold piece. He took out all his change, but it was not there.
"Gevalt, my heavens," he screamed. "I lost it."
Ida scrambled out of bed. "Jake, what happened?"
"Louis' gold piece. The gold piece is gone."
"Stay calm Jake. You never lose anything. Look again."
Jake held out all his change. "Look, it's not here. That's it."
"Yolt, stupid," shouted Ida. "Who puts a gold piece together with pennies and nickels? You must've given it to someone."
"Wait, wait," exclaimed Jake. "I gave it to the old beggar. Maybe he won't notice it."
"Dumbbell," shouted Ida. "Who won't notice a gold piece from a penny?"
"Maybe he'll bring it back next Thursday," said Jake.
Ida grimaced. "Bring it back? He should live so long."
The loss kept Jake awake half the night. In those days some people worked all week for five dollars. It was a long wait until Thursday came again. That day Ida stayed after lunch. Three o'clock, four, five: the beggar did not show.
"Five years," grumbled Jake. "Never missed a Thursday. Now I'm positive he got it."
"I was already positive last week," said Ida.
Jake gritted his teeth. "Even if it cost me money, I'll find that son-of-a-bitch."
The neighborhood learned of Jake's calamity and of his determination to locate the beggar. A couple of people had seen the beggar at one time or another. Monday morning Joe, a cab-driver, came into the store.
"I work the night shift," he told Jake. "Six o'clock I take the subway to get my cab. A couple of times that beggar was on the train. He got off at Pitkin Avenue, so he must live around there."
"Joe, please try to find out where he lives."
That night when Joe was near Pitkin Avenue station he pulled into the taxi stand. He asked the other taxi drivers. One responded.
"That crippled man lives in that big house three blocks up the street."
Joe drove there. It was a big corner apartment building with two entrances. He stopped at the superintendent's apartment.
"Do you know the crippled man with the short arm?" he asked the super.
"He's upstairs," said the super. "Perhaps I can help you."
"Thanks," said Joe. "I came to see the beggar."
The super glared at him. "Beggar," he exclaimed. "That's Mister Lilly, the landlord."
Joe hurried up to his apartment. He rang the doorbell. The beggar opened the door as far as the inner latch allowed.
"The tailor wants his gold piece," said Joe. "He will be here to see you."
The beggar pulled out his wallet and peeled out four single dollar bills. Then he took out a handful of change and counted out ninety-nine cents.
--- From "Men and Women of Letters"
An Anthology of Short Stories by Letter Carriers
John Yewell, Editor,