Samson’s Delight

IMGP1189

Photo by Chloe Sobel

This short story contains racial and ethnic slurs.

 

“When’s that kike getting here?”

“I wish you wouldn’t use such language, Henry.”

“Why not? You’ve read the Protocols, same as me. They can’t be trusted, Gerry.”

Gerald Thompson fiddled with his pocket watch that was always a minute behind. He glanced at his business partner, who was taking another swig of whiskey. Gerry was unsure of the origin of Henry’s misplaced hatred for Harold Bernstein. Perhaps it was the way Harold kept himself, always clean-shaven and in the embrace of a perfectly tailored pinstripe suit, while Henry practiced an unkempt look of stubble and untucked shirts. Perhaps it was Harold’s money and influence. Or, maybe, it was just the resilience of his people when it came to surviving.

Each day brought more news of European Jewry overthrowing their German captors. A different camp was being liberated every minute, not by the advancing Allied forces but by the prisoners within, tired of going to their deaths like — as a captured Goebbels put it so eloquently before making himself a cyanide-flavored egg cream — cows in a slaughterhouse. Thompson had heard that when the Americans and Soviets finally did arrive, there was nothing left of the guards except a few teeth and some tufts of hair. With Himmler and Goering taken out by the underground resistance, it was said that old Adolf himself was running scared. Berlin had fallen.

Thompson glanced at the newspaper on the table and the three big headlines it contained:

AUGUST 6, 1945

1 MILLION AMERICAN CASUALTIES RESULT FROM INVASION OF JAPANESE MAINLAND

FDR DECIDES TO SEEK FIFTH TERM AS TRUMAN RESIGNS VICE PRESIDENCY; STIMSON SET TO REPLACE HIM

ALLIED INVESTIGATORS DELVE DEEPER INTO CHURCHILL ASSASSINATION

Violence, bloodshed, and loss, all to make the world safe for democracy, Thompson thought, sighing as Henry hiccuped and poured himself another drink. A summer breeze rolled in through the cellar window with the sounds of New York traffic. Dust fell from the ceiling. One floor above, men traded their week’s pay for lowered inhibition. The stylings of Glen Miller crackled from a phonograph somewhere outside the room. The horns of “In the Mood” swelled as Henry swallowed his glass of whiskey in one gulp.

“Where is that shifty son of a b—”

His slur was cut off by a knock at the door. Thompson sat up straight, correcting his purple knit tie that hung level with the bottom of his breast pocket. “Come in,” he said, in the professional voice he always used when in the company of clients.

The wooden door creaked open, revealing Harold Bernstein, the richest and most influential Jew in the United States.

Harold was the man who had singlehandedly paid for the bombing of German train tracks when no one else, not even the military, would go through with the operation. The death camp revolts all across Europe had started a wave of Jewish pride across the world, especially in America. The concept of the “Invincible Yid” had begun a campaign for the election of a Semitic president, with Bernstein as the front-runner. Still, all this came with a healthy dose of backlash: people rioting, burning Jewish literature, painting swastikas on storefronts even though their country was fighting so hard against that fascist symbol just across the pond. The world is full of paradoxes, thought Thompson.

Harold was in his usual custom suit with a fedora perched comfortably on his head, both a navy blue subtly marked with white pinstripes. The carnation in his breast pocket was a deep shade of red. He wore the smile that made him endearing to so many people. Gerry had often heard individuals refer to him as the “Jewish Humphrey Bogart” for a few reasons: his rugged good looks, his slight New York accent, and, of course, his money and notoriety.

Behind Harold was a man of immense build, wearing a navy suit of his own. He reminded Gerry of a strongman he’d once seen at a circus as a young boy growing up in Illinois. The expression on the man’s face was a curious mix of utter sadness and complete apathy. Gerry could make out a faint scar on his forehead that looked something like this:
golem

Probably from some gruesome knife fight, Gerry thought.

Harold stuck out his hand, and Gerry shook it enthusiastically.

“So nice to see you gentleman,” Harold said in the slow, measured voice that made so many women want to line up and fuck him. ‘You’ came out as ‘Ya.’

“I hope this wasn’t an inconvenient time for you, Harold,” Gerry said. “I know how busy you are, with the election and all.”

Harold swiped the air with his hand in a don’t-mention-it sort of way. “Of course not, Gerry. I always have time for old friends. Besides, it’s such a nice night for a drive, I was already planning on exploring the city before you rang.”

He sat down opposite the two men, removing his hat and placing it on the right side of the warped wooden table. The hulking gentleman took a lurching step so that he stood right behind Harold, staring at the other end of the room. Gerry couldn’t help but feel a sense of unease from the strange man’s presence, and found himself staring absentmindedly at him until Harold brought him back to his senses.

“Where are my manners? Gerry, Henry, this is Samson. My associate — of sorts.”

“N-Nice to meet you, Mr. Samson,” Gerry stuttered. Samson did not answer, and continued to stare into the far end of the cellar, which was covered in a darkness even the Manhattan marquee lights outside could not penetrate.

“He doesn’t speak. Not unless I give the command, anyway,” Harold said with a slight chuckle, like he was making a joke the other two men couldn’t have hoped to crack.

“Why the fuck not?” barked Henry. He snapped his fingers at Samson, attempting to provoke a response from the behemoth.

“Samson isn’t like other men, Henry,” said Harold with a twinkle in his eye. “Now, shall we get down to business?”

Unsatisfied with this response, Henry grumbled something about Harold’s large nose that could smell a dime from a mile away and poured another drink as Gerry placed his hands on the table and began to speak.

“As you know, with the Pacific War cooling off, there’s talk of Americans beginning to buy automobiles from the Japs. From what we hear, their factories are practically sweatshops run by un-unionized workers, slaving away night and day for pennies on the dollar. People aren’t stupid, Harold. Soon they’re going to wise up and want cheaper cars. The American auto industry can’t take a hit like that. We can’t take a hit like that.” He lit a cigarette and sucked in deeply. The smoke escaped his nostrils like a clever dragon guarding a precious treasure.

“The fuckin’ slanty-eyed bastards got the drop on us and they know it,” burped Henry. “We’ll be ruined.”

Harold reached into his pocket and took out a fat cigar and a book of matches. The outside flap read: Leipzigs Delicatessen You Gotta Be Meshugge Not to Eat Here!

As he lit the cigar, the glow in Harold’s eyes brightened. So many of the ignorant mistook this glow for greed, but Gerald Thompson knew better. It was ambition. Harold Bernstein had more money than he knew what to do with. No one was really sure how he’d gotten that rich, but that didn’t stop the rumor mill from cranking out tall tales faster than Babe Ruth could hit home runs.

Some said he’d been the one behind the bank robberies of the Depression; that gangsters like Dillinger and Nelson were working for him (and that he’d simply faked their deaths at the hands of the FBI, setting them up with comfortable lives in Cuba so they’d never feel the urge to snitch on their boss). Others said he’d won his riches fixing games in the casinos of Atlantic City and some city out west called Vegas. Some newspapers went so far as to call him a “Messiah for the Modern Age,” but that phrase was mainly said by his own people and adoring fans — his enemies mostly just wanted him dead.

Whatever his origins, guys like Bugsy Siegel and Mickey Cohen checked for Harold Bernstein under their beds before going to sleep every night. In short, he wasn’t a guy to be fucked with — but he was also a guy who could help a fella out.

Harold took a few puffs of his cigar before speaking. “So, you came to me for help.”

Gerry put out his cigarette. The crackle of swing music droned on from the other room.

“Please, Harold,” Gerry said. “People come to you when they’re in jams. We’ll pay you whatever it takes — with interest, of course.”

Henry hiccuped in agreement.

“Our business is going to go down the tubes if we don’t do something about this competition,” Gerry continued. “All this rationing has left the public with more money in their pockets than the ‘20s. We need to be the ones on the other end of the demand, not the Jap rats. I mean — we put them into camps in the middle of the God-damned desert like—” he almost said “like Jews”, but caught himself— “crush their spirits, but they still manage to encroach on our territory. First Pearl Harbor, now the economy. Next thing you know there’ll be a Japanese Secretary of State.”

“That’ll be the day a Negro becomes president!” Henry blurted, which gave him and Gerry something to laugh about. Harold remained impassive.

Gerry lit another cigarette. “I heard rumors about a super weapon, but Roosevelt was too cowardly to use it on them,” he said. “They say that’s why Truman resigned, the two had a big disagreement over it. I don’t believe all this spending-more-time-with-his-family nonsense. If only they’d used it, we’d have the upper hand.”

Harold still said nothing, but Gerry suspected the Jew/gangster/philanthropist/presidential hopeful knew more about the secrets of the American government than most. He pressed on:

“So whad’ya say, Harold? Will you give us a hand here?”

Harold flicked the ash from his cigar and placed it back in his mouth. “I think I have just the answer to your little dilemma.”

At this, Gerry’s face brightened, and his nerves relaxed. Harold reached into his suit jacket and brought forth a black, leather-bound book. Placing it on the table, he slid it to Gerry, who picked it up and began to leaf through it. Each yellowed page was dog-eared and filled, corner to corner, with strange markings and runes. Henry made no attempt to look on, but stared at Samson.

Although he didn’t understand a word of it, Gerry had the strangest feeling that the book was something not to be held for more than a few seconds, like putting one’s hand on a hot stove, or looking at one of his father’s dirty magazines when he was a kid, something tempting and forbidding all at the same time. Putting it back on the table, he slid it to Harold, whose cigar was now a smoking nub resembling the barrel of a recently discharged firearm. Harold’s smile was knowing, but his eyes were still gleaming with enigma and determination.

“I— I don’t think I understand,” Gerry said, a little annoyed. Was Harold pulling his leg?

Harold leaned in and lowered his voice, his smile never wavering. “Are you gentlemen familiar with the story of the Golem?”

Another breeze slipped in through the window, chilling Gerry to the bone, despite it being August. The merry music of the phonograph had stopped dead.

Henry slurped down another glass of whiskey. “The hell you talking about, Bernstein?” he demanded.

“The Golem, my dear gentlemen,” Harold began, “is a being made from the earth inscribed with the holy name of God — the Jewish God, course,” he added, smiling. “They’re meant to be the protectors of my people when the going gets rough for us — help create a level playing field, so to speak.”

He really is messing with us, thought Gerry.

Harold must have seen the thought on his friend’s face, because he continued, “I’m talking about a robot, a drone, an automaton. Something that will do your bidding, no questions asked. In other words: free labor, no strings attached. I can provide you two with a workforce of unsleeping, uncaring, undying factory workers. No unions, no strikes, no pay. 100% profit.”

Gerry’s eyes had moved from Harold to Samson.

“That’s right, Gerry,” Harold said. “Samson here is a Golem. Made from nothing but the dust of my attic. He feels no pain or emotion. Only follows my instructions. Like a toy.”

Samson’s gaze remained unyielding. Gerry pointed to the black tome on the table: “So that book…”

“Is a cookbook of sorts, yes.”

“How…? Where…?”

“The Nazis unearthed a great many things during their occupation — some things that could have won them the war if their minds hadn’t been so clouded by hatred and power,” Harold said. “They could have used the very weapons my people created to wipe us out indefinitely. My only regret is that we couldn’t use it against the sons of bitches.”

Anger flared for a moment in his eyes, briefly replacing the mystery.

“Once the revolts ended,” he continued, “it was just a matter of finding out what valuables the Krauts had stolen and getting the items to the States. As you know, I have a way of getting what I want.”

Gerry thought of all the Jewish refugees who arrived in America and Palestine every day by the boatload. The European homelands in which they had lived for hundreds of years had forsaken them. The world had forsaken them. They’d left behind murder and death for new beginnings. As they walked down the gangplank, Gerry imagined, they carried with them items in their suitcases and coat pockets that held value to the religion as a whole, previously plundered items that were now back in the possession of their rightful owners — though many would undoubtedly be lost to the annals of history. The images of golden angels and candelabras flitted suddenly into Gerry’s head — clear and bright as day — and were gone before he could remember where he had seen such things. Had he ever seen such things?

Henry snorted. “What Jewish hocus-pocus are you trying to pull here, Bernstein? You expect us to believe that crock of shit?”

The whiskey bottle was empty, and only a few sips left in the cup. Henry raised the glass to his lips, only to start dry heaving. He ran to the wastebasket and relieved his stomach and liver of all the whiskey he had consumed. Gerry crinkled his nose as the stench of vomit filled the room. Harold didn’t seem to mind, simply smiled. Samson had not reacted and continued to stare.

“Still hitting the bottle pretty hard, I see, Henry,” Harold laughed. The drunken man staggered back to the table, using it to balance himself. “Please have a seat and we’ll negotiate the details of our agreement.”

Henry plopped into his chair, wiped the corner of his mouth, and was silent. Yellowish chunks of his last meal clung to the lapels of his tweed jacket. Gerry had removed a pad of paper and pen from his pocket. “So how much are we talking, Harold?”

“It’s not money I want, Gerry.” Harold leaned in again. “It’s votes. You’ve seen the riots. Sure, they’re small now, but just wait. It could happen again here, you know. I’m sure of it. First come the restrictions, then the segregation, then…” Harold Bernstein’s smile faded for the first time during the meeting. Sitting back in his chair, he continued, “I know I can do some good if I’m president — keep the peace, ya know? I already have dozens of Samsons tracking all the escaped Nazis. Most of them are in the jungles of South America — including the one who shot Churchill in his bed. Maybe even Hitler and that pretty little bride of his. Fucking cowards. I want their heads. Every single one. An eye for an eye. Never again will my people be the scapegoats for mankind’s wrongdoings. It’s a crazy world we live in, gentlemen, and I hope to be the bright beacon in such a world, make this country a nation on a hill or whatever the hell Winthrop called it…”

Silence next. Gerry had been clinging so tightly to Harold’s words that he nearly toppled out of his seat when his partner spoke next.

“You’re going to be six feet under in a bog somewhere.” Henry’s snub-nosed revolver was pointed squarely at Harold’s chest. “I don’t want to hear another word out of you, dog. You and your shifty kind can’t be trusted. I’ll be damned before I see a Jewish president in office.”

Harold’s blank expression remained unchanged. “Henry, trust me, you don’t want to do this. Samson would be all too delighted to squash your head in like a rotten pumpkin. You’re drunk. Now put the gun down.”

“MAGGOT!” Henry screamed as he pulled the trigger. Gerry whimpered and shut his eyes as the shot rang through the cellar. The sounds of New York traffic, Benny Goodman, and drunk men were muted by the roar of the gun. Gerry imagined a dark red stain beginning to spread across Harold’s pristine white shirt, his eyes wide with shock as he slumped forward onto the table, the myth of the Invincible Yid shattered with a single bullet. The stain will probably match his carnation, Gerry thought stupidly.

Upon opening his eyes, however, he beheld Harold Bernstein with a bemused look on his face, like that of a chess player deciding their next move. There was no stain on the white shirt.

Henry looked utterly baffled, staring at the smoking barrel of his gun, mouth agape. “How—?”

Harold shook his head, disappointed. “Samson?”

The colossus uncurled his hand to reveal a bullet in his massive palm, totally intact and slightly steaming.

“You know what to do,” Harold said calmly. There was some sadness in his words.

Samson moved away from Harold. With one giant step he stood next to Henry, who was still attempting to comprehend how his gun had failed to assassinate the Jew across from him. One swoop of the hand, and Henry’s head was encased in the left paw of Samson the Golem. There was no scream, only a crunch as the bigot’s skull caved in, submitting to the drone’s unnatural strength.

Samson moved back behind Harold as Henry’s lifeless body slumped forward, bits of brain and skull falling onto the table. Blood gushed from the wound like a busted sewer pipe. Gerry’s eyes were wide with fright, wider than an owl’s. “Hen— Hen— Hen—” But in his shock he could not speak the name of his fallen partner.

“I’m sorry, Gerry,” said Harold. “It really pains me to have done that.”

For the first time in all the time that he had known him, Gerald Ford Thompson finally locked his unimpressive brown eyes with the luminous blue ones of Harold Jonathan Bernstein. A pair of eyes that could lead a nation. Hell, he probably will.

“But you didn’t. Samson did,” whispered Gerry in his shock.

Harold nodded his head in solemn agreement. “Like I said: My people will no longer be the butt of everyone’s jokes. As long as I live and breathe, I’ll see to it that it never happens again.” He looked down. A tear rolled down his cheek. “Not now, or ever again.”

After a minute or so, Harold composed himself and straightened up, retrieving the book before it became sullied by the blood that was quickly spreading across the table, filling the little splits and nooks of the wood. He flipped through it until he found the desired page, and began to read aloud.

To Gerry, it sounded like Harold was speaking backwards, as if a record was being spun in the opposite direction; it was like nothing he had ever heard and it shook him to his very core. As Harold finished reading, Samson, the Golem, the strong man who wasn’t really a man at all, began to shrink and wither, like a punctured child’s balloon at a carnival. Like someone emptying an overfilled dustpan, Samson returned to the dirt of the earth from whence he came.

Softly, Harold said: “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

He swiped his hat from the table and perched it on his head. “Well, Gerry, it really was a pleasure seeing you and—” He gestured to Henry’s corpse.

Gerry had removed the pocket watch that was always one minute behind and begun to fiddle with it. Harold had one foot out the door when Gerry found his voice.

“Just tell me one thing, Harold. You never were going to help us out, were you? You only agreed to see us so you could get at Henry.”

Harold’s eyes flashed with mystery at the question, but his lips did not answer. Instead he asked a question of his own:

“Tell me, Gerry. What’s the name of the bar upstairs?”

Although confused, horrified, and bewildered, Gerry Thompson answered, “Delilah’s, I think.”

With a smile and a nod, Harold was out the door as a final summer breeze whistled in through the window, scattering the dust on the cellar floor.

 

Josh Weiss is a student at Drexel University.

print

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Amazing Stories | Short Story Review: Samson's Delight by Chloe Sobel - Amazing Stories - September 8, 2015

    […] first short story to be recommended to me as a potential candidate for the Sidewise Award is “Samson’s Delight” by Chloe Sobel, originally published last week at New Voices. So what did I think of […]

  2. “Child of the Sun” shines as retelling of Samson story | New Voices: The National Jewish Student Magazine - March 2, 2016

    […] in all that mishugas with Delilah and the Philistines. I was delighted to read the current issues, having written a short story inspired by the iconic strongman […]

Read previous post:
New J Street U president will work to hold Jewish organizations accountable

For Amna Farooqi, the newly elected president of the J Street U student board, what was once the elephant in...

Close