Nov 04 2011
The name is Jake Balins. True, my birth certificate says differently: Jacob Balinsky. But no one ever called me Jacob, except maybe my rabbi, and I lost parking privileges at the synagogue, shortly after my Bar Mitzvah. My teachers all called me “Jack,” and my mother calls me “her little Jackie.” But that doesn’t fly so well in my business, nor does it fit so neatly on business cards. Neither does Balinsky. On top of that, they charge by the letter when they stencil your name on the office door. So it’s Jake Balins, understand? My business? I’m a private detective. Yeah, not the kind of business where you’d expect to find a nice Jewish boy, but only my mother thinks I’m nice, and she tells all her friends at the bridge club that I’m training to be lawyer.
It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, late August, but the muggy Cleveland summer was already competing with the blustering winds of autumn. I was wearing my gray suit with a shirt that used to be white, its collar unbuttoned, and a blue striped tie dangling loosely around my neck. I was crumpled, stale, and almost sober, and I was hoping that no one would notice.
Despite my impersonation of Columbo’s stunt double, I was feeling pretty good until I got within a few feet of my office. Then all the alarms went off. You know the buzzing in the back of your head, that sixth sense you get when you’ve been on the job long enough. There was no denying it. I knew what was coming.
As I approached the door, I was assaulted by the mixed fragrance of Ben-Gay and Vick’s Vapor Rub. Either the Senior Citizen’s Center had relocated their Bingo Parlor, or my mother had a piece of gossip that couldn’t wait till my parole hearing.