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Gimel

On the eleventh Daze of Christmas, 

Preston Lang gives to us. . .

Gimel by Preston Lang



Leif went home with the Gelfand brothers for winter break. They let him light the candle then raised a cold ones to those hardcore Maccabees. 

When their father came home, they ordered Chinese. Ari and Ben always said their dad had been a killer: IDF sniper, Mossad, personal bodyguard to Rabin’s mistress. 

Clearly that was just crank-yanking. Mr. Gelfand was short, pink, and round—a lot less Krav Maga than croque-monsieur. He’d come to America in the eighties and made a fortune selling futons and neck pillows. 

Now, he ladled out the chow fun.  “Your name is Leaf?” he asked. “Like on a tree?”

“No, like Leif Erikson.”

“The Viking? We’ve got a Norseman in the house for Chanukah.”

His laugh was a light giggle. The brothers rolled their eyes.

“We’re going up to the card room, Dad,” Ben said.

The brothers were gamblers. When Leif first met them, he’d hoped they were rich idiots who threw money at bad odds. But they were sharp. Unless you were a pro, you didn’t play poker with them. And even on random wagers—Latin-Grammy prop bets, which girl was wearing a thong—they won a lot more than they lost.

“You ever spun dreidel?” Ari asked.

A week earlier, Leif had bought eleven different kinds—a pair of each—so he was all set when Ari took out a standard wooden model; blue, red, purple, and green on the faces.

At first, they just played for chocolate. Soon, the gilt stood for real money.

“How about the value of a coin doubles every time nun comes up?” Leif suggested.

“And that was the night the Viking changed Chanukah forever,” Ben said.

Ari won two rounds, giving a little victory dance each time, a 360-degree shimmy. The dreidel wouldn’t go gimel and Leif was down $750 when he made the first switch. The stakes grew, rising from the hundreds to the thousands. Four, five nuns in a row.

“Where the damn gimels at?”

Now the brothers were paying close attention, watching his hands and his eyes. Just after Ben threw another nun, Leif took a slug of beer and slipped the second dreidel into his mouth. Ari threw shin. They were all-in, with close to twenty-grand in the pot.

“You’ve gotten pretty quiet, man,” Ben said.

Leif took a drink down the wrong windpipe. A few coughs and he’d swapped dreidels: the dead one in his mouth, the gimel-heavy model ready to fly. He spun it on the tip. Wobble, wobble: Gimel.

“Get ‘em all,” Ben said—a gentleman in defeat.

Leif spun once in imitation of Ari’s victory dance. While his back was turned, he slipped the loaded dreidels in his jacket and retrieved the original.

“I’ll write you a check,” Ari said.

These were men who honored their debts. Leif had the paper in his pocket before they headed out to the city.

“Don’t wait up, Dad.”

*** 

Leif stood out in the cold while the brothers went to bring the car around.

“It was good meeting you, Norseman.”

Leif hadn’t noticed Mr. Gelfand until he was right by his side.

“Uh oh. You got a little stain on your jacket.”

“It’s nothing,” Leif said, reflexively putting one hand over his pocket.

“Let me have it. We can clean the—”

“Really, Mr. Gelfand, it’s—“

All of a sudden words weren’t coming out of Leif’s mouth, air wasn’t coming in. 

Mr. Gelfand held his windpipe between the thumb and forefinger of his left hand. With his right, he’d emptied Leif’s pockets of the dreidels and checks. “You lose the money back to my sons. I don’t care how—bet them you’ve got a schmeckle bigger than a bottle of ketchup. Understand?” 

Leif managed a slight nod.

The brothers pulled the Jaguar in front of the house just after their father released his grip.

“Chag Sameach, boys.”


Preston Lang lives in New York with his wife and daughter. He's published three novels and a bunch of stories. For more go to prestonlangbooks.com.