When Allen Dorfman was gunned down in the parking lot of the purple Hyatt in Lincolnwood, my grandfather took great pride in the fact that one of our own was still high enough in the mob to rub out. See, he said, not all the Jews have moved to the North Shore to become dentists. Dorfman was on his way back from lunch, his stomach bloated with Porterhouse, his Cadillac waiting. He’d been indicted again. Dorfman was the syndicate’s chief accountant. He ran the Teamster’s pension fund, the mightiest unregulated bank on earth. Dorfman seeded the clouds that rained mob money on sunny Vegas. The other clouds he bought off. Or had deposed of by other means. But above all, Allen Dorfman was a keeper of secrets. Five, six, seven, federal indictments and still he hadn’t sung.
The eighth was the charm. Dorfman was looking at fifteen to twenty at Leavenworth and he wasn’t a young guy anymore. Conviction would have been a death sentence. The FBI had wiretaps. Why take chances? The boss, Joey the Clown Lombardo, decreed it. Joey the Clown whose children Dorfman had bounced on his knees – they loved each other like brothers – Cain and Abel, the Dago and the Kike. Nothing personal, Allen. You and I both know this is nothing personal. For the good of the body, sometimes a neck has to go. Your neck, my neck, a neck is a neck.
They shot Dorfman seven times in the back of the head.
We used to see him Sunday mornings at Walker Brothers having breakfast in a corner booth. He wasn’t a big man, but his hair was. Dorfman’s hair was huge, towering. It took a man to wear his hair like that. And he sported a wisp that unfurled across his forehead, buffantlike. And that hair lorded above Walker Brothers on a Sunday morning. Everybody pretending to love their omelets and waffles and family time. But Dorfman’s glitz was impossible to ignore. He radiated guts. And for a man with so many secrets, he talked like a megaphone.
‘Hey, Howard? You don’t come by? We’re cousins and you don’t come by?”
And cousin Howard befuddled, shrugs, and says, ‘Allen, you know how it goes, the wife, the kids’ – pausing, pausing – ‘the day job.’
‘You know what you are, Howard?’
‘No, Allen. Look, I’m sorry, I –’
Quiet at first. Dorfman’s eyes water a little. This is all about disappointment, about family, about loyalty, about the ties that bind. ‘Howard, Howard, Howard.’ Then he wiggles a little in his seat. ‘Howard Wasserkrueg, you’re a wart on my ass. I should have strangled you in your crib in ’38.’
‘You can’t say that the man doesn’t have a certain style,’ my grandfather said. We were four tables away and by now the din of forks and blather had risen again. “And look at the man. He works with the scum of the earth, yet he breakfasts with his own people. I’d say that’s class.’
I scootched over to get a better look, the leather under my sweaty thighs made that ripping noise. Dorfman was chewing. He had a little powdered sugar on his nose.
‘He makes money for the scum of the earth,’ I said. ‘Off the backs of the little people.’
‘At last,’ my grandfather nearly boomed to the entire restaurant, ‘the boy shows some sense! It’s the way of the world.’ And he grinned, the way he would, with only the bottom part of his mouth. Then he harpooned an egg yolk with his fork and brought it to mouth.
My grandfather had big dreams and he talked of them often. His heroes were Mayor Daley, Dick Butkus, and Barry Goldwater. He said a man had to be bold. If you didn’t risk failure every hour of every day what good were you? There was no virtue higher than boldness and a kid who didn’t understand this basic economic principal was doomed. My grandfather was a great panda of a man. I used to stand in his size twelve shoes. They were like wearing a couple of rowboats on my feet and I’d swish around and try and walk. His boldness has bankrupted three businesses, including his father’s insurance company, and he was, that year, 1986, on his way to sinking a savings and loan.
‘The man shoots people,’ my grandmother yawned. ‘Look at what they did to poor Artie Adler. Didn’t they find his head in the sewer under Wacker Drive?’
‘He doesn’t shoot people, his people shoot people,’ my grandfather said. ‘There’s a difference. If I say go out and shoot somebody and you go out and do it, you’re going to blame me? Dorfman’s got charisma. You’re going to blame a man for having charisma? Show me a man with charisma and I’ll show you – ’
‘Seymour,’ my grandmother said, ‘There’s egg on your shirt.’
My grandmother took a napkin and dipped it in her water glass, reached across the table and pressed it against my grandfather’s chest like she was staunching a wound. And in a way she was. My grandfather’s despair would manifest itself at the oddest times. Even here, even now, at Walker Brothers, in the presence of the great Allen Dorfman. His wife doesn’t love him. She’s never loved him. Even his grandkid doesn’t love him. Sometimes feared, sometimes worshipped, more often ridiculed, but loved, never. He was alone in this world with all his boldness. And even now I’m a failure to him. All I do, all I ever do, is think about things I half remember and repeat them to myself in the dark. My grandmother dabs my grandfather’s chest, him dead, long long dead, and her still dabbing his chest with a wet napkin.
‘Though I suppose that’s why they nailed Christ himself up in the first place, right? And didn’t he himself direct an underground organization made up of thugs and lackeys willing to follow his every whim and dictate? You see, charisma’s rare. It’s got to be stamped out the moment it rears its ugly head. Isn’t that right, Bernice?’
My grandmother blew her nose.
He turned to me. I was no longer paying attention. I was busy carving a leery mouth into my last pancake.
‘Anyway,’ I said. ‘Why doesn’t Dorfman have a nickname? How important can he be?’
‘Jews don’t have nicknames,’ my grandmother said.
And my grandfather vanquished, returned to the dregs of his breakfast.
If I had my way, I would have rooted for Dorfman to be finished off at Walker Brothers. There was so much plate glass to come crashing down. So much beautiful chaos to be had during breakfast on a Sunday morning. My grandfather and I loving it. This is it, boy, this is what we’ve been waiting for. The gunfire, the overturned tables, the whimpering aftermath. And we were there. We nearly got knocked off by Joey the Clown when he did in Allen Dorfman at Walker Brothers. For the good of the body, the accountant must go. Can’t you see it? Allen Dorfman bleeding among his own people, his bold martyred hair in a pool of maple syrup? The things that happened have nothing on the glory of what didn’t.
And so we wait, my grandfather and me, for the imploding of the glass.
And my grandmother double-checking her hair, tsking. What absolute nonsense. Even a mob hit would bore her. Dorfman bored her. My grandfather especially bored her. She’d been a dancer, my grandmother, a show girl. I have a picture of her dressed only in feathers, her right leg raised impossibly parallel to her body, her slim bare foot rising above her head like an arrow.
That’s your grandmother?
My grandfather spotted her in a kick line at a show at the Oriental Theater on West Randolph in the early ’30s. She’d dreamed of Broadway, of Paris. He took her away from all that. He rescued her. She never danced again. In Chicago or anywhere else.