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arty? Lew Schlicter here,” a voice over the phone, a voice with an oddly metallic ting to it, began. “How go things, pal?”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Schlicter, but do I know you?”

“You don’t, but I’m hoping you soon will. Eli Black, you know, the novelist, gave me your name and number. Said you were a hell of an editor. I’ve got a novel of my own that needs some cleaning up, and I’m hoping you can help me with it. I’m prepared to pay top dollar.”

I wasn’t sure what top dollar was, but I have two kids at private colleges and am always on the lookout for extra money.

“Why don’t you send the manuscript to me, Mr. Schlicter? I’ll take a look at it, and let you know if I’m able to do you any good.”

“I don’t know any Mr. Schlicter,” he said, “It’s Lew, Marty. I assume it’s O.K. to call you Marty.”

It wasn’t, but I said, “Sure, Marty will be fine.”

When Schlicter’s manuscript arrived, it turned out to be written—scrawled would be more precise—in longhand, with a ballpoint pen, on yellow legal-pad pages, with lots of illegible corrections made with a soft-lead pencil. No shortage of food stains festooned its pages. I counted stains left by four different condiments and a number of what I took to be peanut-butter smudges, and I thought I spied a touch here and there of chopped liver. A mare’s nest, an Augean stable, a genuine hekdish is what the manuscript was. Reading it all was hopeless; touching it felt unhealthy.

I did skim through some of Schlicter’s pages, enough to recognize he had written a crime story set in Chicago. The hero, a character named Bill Berkson, was a police lieutenant, a tough little guy who had been a decorated war hero in Korea. From what I could make out, he was chasing down a famous black preacher who specialized in brutal murders of young women. The preacher bore a fairly obvious resemblance to a local civil-rights leader. Lots of violence was included, in crude but strangely convincing, sick-making detail. Windpipes were broken by karate chops, kneecaps were shot out at close range, a woman was slashed from the vagina up to the sternum. Berkson, a Jewish cop, took no crap.

Much as I could use the money—I suppose I would have charged Schlicter five grand for the job—I felt his manuscript beyond editing, or at least any useful editing I could do. I also wanted no part of its author, whose too vivid imagination for violence put me off. I waited three days before calling him.

“Mr. Schlicter,” I said, “Calling about your manuscript. Sorry to say that I don’t have the time to give it the care it needs. I don’t think I can help you.”

“Look, Marty,” he said. “My wife killed herself over the weekend, and I’m not in such hot shape. Cut me some slack here, kid. Don’t make a final decision until we’ve had a chance to talk more about this. Are you good for lunch any day next week?”

We met the following Thursday at the Belden Deli on Clark near Fullerton. I arrived on time. Schlicter was already there. He looked to be in his seventies; he was small and wore a baseball hat with 101 Airborne Division and its insignia above the brim. He had one of the most obvious sets of false teeth I’ve seen, which gave him a somehow slightly menacing smile. What was he doing smiling, I wondered, if his wife had died the week before?

Schlicter kept his hat on. He treated the restaurant table as if it were his office. He had a Sun-Times spread out, a legal pad on which he had been writing something or other, two ballpoint pens, and what looked to be a privately printed book. I had brought his manuscript with me. It was in my briefcase. I started to bring it out.
“About your novel,” I said . . .

“Plenty of time to talk about that, Marty,” he said. “Whattya eating?”

The waitress, a woman well advanced into late middle age, knew him well. “The usual?” she asked. “Tongue on rye, thin slice of onion, rinse of lemon, and coffee black?”

“I’d prefer to have you, Cheesecake,” Schlicter said, “but since that’s apparently not possible, yeah, the tongue and coffee will do fine.”

He turned to me. “So tell me, Marty, you born in this city?”

“I was,” I said. “You?”

“Brooklyn. Flatbush, actually.”

“I’m sorry to hear about your wife.”

“OD’d. She was a pillhead, my wife. We weren’t married long. Three years. My second marriage. Big mistake. But about my novel. What do you think?”

“Very readable,” I lied. “But it needs a fair amount of work.”

“I don’t go in much for revision. Too impatient, I guess, to get the story written, get all of it down on paper. What’ll you charge me to clean things up?”

“My hourly rate is $75. Or I could give you a flat figure.” Somehow, in his presence, I forgot my resolve not to get involved with this guy and his unhygienic manuscript.

“Least you’re less expensive than a shrink. What would the flat fee be?”

“$8,000,” I said, and held my breath.

Schlicter whistled. “For that kind of dough you must be good,” he said.

“I’ve been doing it a long while,” I answered.

“Deal,” he said, and pulled a wad of bills out of pocket. “Suppose I give you a grand now, and the remainder when you finish, or if you prefer I can pay you as you go along?” He counted out ten one hundred dollar bills from the wad in his dirty fingernailed hand.

I’ve been told two kinds of people carry $100 bills around, thieves and criminal lawyers. Lew Schlicter, so far as I knew, was neither. Then it occurred to me that I really didn’t know what he did. So I asked him.
He took a beat-up wallet out of his back pocket from which he extracted a business card, which he handed to me. Along with giving his phone number and address, it read:

Colonel Lewis Schlicter
Mercenary

“A joke?” I asked.

“Not really,” he said. “I worked for Blackwater in Iraq. I’d still be there, but for a bum leg, which is a story for another time. I also served in Korea, and in the 1967 war in Israel, and in Vietnam. I put in a couple of decades with the Chicago police, worked there as a detective, in vice.”

“You’ve had an interesting life,” I said.

“It’s had its moments,” he said. “You been in the Army?”

“I was too young for Vietnam,” I said.

“You’re Jewish, right?” he replied.

“With this face,” I said, “I would be taken for Jewish even if I wasn’t.”

“You go to shul?”

“No,” I answered, “but my two daughters were bat mitzvah.”

“Where at?”

“Beth Emet in Evanston.”

“Ah,” he said with a slightly sneering smile, “Reform Judaism, which I’m told is the Democratic Party platform with holidays added.”

“I grew up going to a conservative synagogue, Ner Tamid, in West Rogers Park.”

“Whaddya make of those Jewish schmucks who feel that Israel isn’t entitled to protect itself from the Arabs?” He pronounced Arabs with a long A. “I’d like about ten minutes alone with each of them.”

“I suppose they want Israel to be morally better than any nation that ever existed, even if it means the nation’s destruction.”

“Idiots is what they are, jagoffs.”

“I’m sorry about your wife,” I said, changing the subject. “How old was she?”

“Thirty-eight,” he said. “I knew she was a pillhead when I married her. We both thought I could help her. We were wrong, both of us. An addict remains an addict.”

Our food arrived. Schlicter pushed his papers to the side. I settled for coffee and a piece of strudel. He tore into his tongue sandwich. I’m not all that squeamish, but truth is I’d rather not be in the same room with a tongue sandwich. His dirty nails clutching the soft rye bread didn’t help.

As Schlicter ate, he belched out opinions: on blacks (“Time for these bozos to stop screwing around and get serious”), on gays (“I feel sorry for the poor bastards”), on women (“Most, you know, are strictly in business for themselves”), on politicians (“lower than thieves”), on the Irish in Chicago (“Crooks, every last one of them”). He didn’t seem to hear my occasional attempts to get into the flow of the conversation. He seemed not so much to speak as to ejaculate words.

I left with Schlicter’s manuscript still in my briefcase and a copy of his privately printed memoir, which had the title Embattled. I promised to have an edited version of his novel in six to eight weeks.

The memoir described his life, from growing up in Brooklyn, the son of immigrant Jewish parents, through his army and police days, with a rich helping of his current views. In it one learned that his father, who was a presser, committed suicide when Schlicter was twelve. His mother, who also worked in the clothing trades in New York, raised Lewis, an only child, alone. Life was never easy, money always a worry. The streets of Flatbush toughened him up, so he claims, for he was small and often picked on. “From the beginning,” he wrote, “I never got the concept of a ‘fair fight.’ Fairness has nothing to do with fighting, at least as I understand it. Someone one wants to fight you, he should know straightaway that you are out to kill the momzer. As a kid, when push came to shove, if I had to I would scratch, bite, kick you in the nuts, poke your eye—whatever it took. When it came to fighting, I didn’t go in for playing pattycakes. To this day I still don’t. Fool with me, expect trouble.”

Schlicter took a pass on college and went into the army at the age of eighteen. The Korean War had begun. He fought in it, and received a Purple Heart. He liked everything about the military life – the discipline, the manliness, the camaraderie – and thrived. He went to jump school, became a paratrooper, and wrote a few lyrical pages on the joys of jumping out of airplanes. In his memoir he claims to have killed three North Koreans, two with his rifle, the third—“up close and personal,” as he puts it—with his bayonet. Having taken another life, he argues, is one of the distinguishing marks of a human being, and he adds that he doesn’t quite trust any man who has never been under gunfire. He emerged from the Korean War a staff sergeant, and stayed in the army, passing the test that got him into officers-training school.

By the time of Vietnam, Schlicter was a captain. He is very bitter in his memoirs about his country not supporting the war in Vietnam, and is especially vehement about the student protesters against the war. “No one will ever convince me,” he writes, “that they had any motive higher than saving their own asses.” Because the protesters carried the day, he adds, America has been going downhill ever since: “Honor, authority, standards,” he notes, “all kaput.” Schlicter got his second Purple Heart in Vietnam, this time for a leg shattered by shrapnel. In 1975 he was given an honorable discharge, with the rank of lieutenant colonel, with full benefits.

Schlicter’s memoir quickly glosses over a first marriage, to a Chicago woman named Marge Lederer, with whom he had a daughter named Bette. Why they divorced and when is left unremarked on; so, too, his relationship with his daughter. The two simply disappear from his memoir. After the army, he gets a job on the Chicago police force, and is soon working vice. He is sentimental about prostitutes, contemptuous about the men who pay for sex, feels the solution to the drug problem is to invoke the death penalty for drug dealers. He never mentions family or friends. Most of the passing figures who are mentioned in the memoir are fools, crooks, or by his lights moral idiots. Reading all this, I got the impression that Lewis Schlicter was alone in the world. At no time does he ask, or even indirectly attempt to induce, sympathy for himself. Yet by the book’s end I found myself feeling sorry for him.

“How did you come to know Eli Black,” I ask Schlicter at our next meeting. This was also at the Belden Deli, three weeks after our first meeting. I was here to show him the work I had done on the first eighty pages of his 368-page manuscript. This time he was wearing a baseball cap with Fifth Armored Division, the logo and the motto “Hell on Wheels” across the front.

“Met him at an Friends of the Israel Defense Forces dinner. I’d heard of him, but I hadn’t read any of his novels. I tried later, but without much luck. He doesn’t seem to go in for telling stories, Eli. Mostly goes in for philosophical schmoozing, which is not my cup of kreplach, if you know what I mean.”

“Did you see him often?”

“Four, maybe five more times.”

“What do you suppose he wanted from you?”

“I would tell him Mafia stories, about working vice in Chicago, stuff like that. He gobbled it up, pumped me for more information. He called me his ‘reality instructor.’ He hangs out with academics and intellectuals. Obviously doesn’t get around much. Whether he’ll use any of what I told him in his own books I have no way of knowing. Nor do I much care.”

He quickly glimpsed the pages I gave him. My work was fairly radical; I didn’t so much edit the original manuscript as I rewrote it, in the interest of clearing and cleaning up much of what he had written.
“Looks good,” he said, putting the typescript on the seat next to him in the booth. “I’ll read it tonight or tomorrow and get back to you. Here’s a little something on account,” he said, and reached into pocket and pulled out a wad of bills. He peeled off five hundreds and handed them to me.

“Did you get a chance to look at my memoir?” he asked.

“I did,” I said. “Strong stuff, full of interest. You mention a daughter. Does he live in Chicago?”

“In Rogers Park,” Schlicter said. “Her first husband, a schmuck named Kravitz, ran off with another broad, leaving her with two little girls, one autistic.”

“I’m sorry to hear it,” I said.

“The way of the world,” he said. “Villains and frauds never in short supply. My daughter’s OK. I help her out a little.”

I brought another ninety or so pages of his manuscript to our third meeting. The novel was obviously autobiographical, at least insofar as its hero cop Bill Berkson was clearly modeled on the life and had the opinions of Lewis Schlicter. Berkson was a police lieutenant, a man who could not be conned nor took any crap off anyone. He was a loner, though made to seem attractive to women. He radiated violence, and had no difficulty beating up thugs, either by hand or, as on three different occasions thus far along in the book, pistol-whipping them.

At this meeting, Schlicter, after shaking hands, took off his 101st Airborne hat, revealing a stark, rather shiny bald head. He noticed my staring at it.

“Whaddya expect,” he said, putting the flat of his hand atop his pate, “feathers?”

We spoke briefly about the weather, the latest scandal in Chicago politics, ordered our lunches, then he said: “I read your editing. I like a lot of what you’ve done. You’ve made me more presentable. You’re good, Marty, and I appreciate it.”

“Glad to hear it,” I said. “I’ll continue.”

“Only one thing,” he said. “Don’t sand down all my rough edges, if you know what I mean. Leave me a little more as I really am.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I notice you’ve made my hero Lieutenant Berkson more of a gent. You cut way down, for instance, the scene where he interrogates the two black gang leaders.”

“He beats the hell out of them even before the interview begins. He brutalizes them.”

“They’re monsters.”

“That may be, but they’re still kids—eighteen or nineteen, by my reckoning. Berson is your hero. You can’t have him behaving like a monster himself.”

“You ever see what these gang leaders are like? You have any personal experience of these what you call ‘still kids,’ guys who’d as soon shoot you as spit?”

“I don’t have any such personal experience,” I said. “But I think I know the limits of violence you need to set for a character in a novel for whom you want readers to sympathize.”

“I notice also you question me on the extent of detail I gave to Minister Ebenezer Rowe’s illegitimate children. Why? I’m curious.”

“I know you want to point up Rowe’s deep hypocrisy, his claims to be for the underdog while robbing from the poor and giving to himself. But I wonder if you’d do better just to mention his illegitimate children and not go into his neglect of them at the length you do? I wonder, too, if one illegitimate child wouldn’t be more believable than the four you’ve given him? Even with bad guys you have to remain plausible.”

“Would it shock you to know that the man I modeled Ebenezer Rowe on has more than four bastards floating around the south side?”

“Look,” I said, “I’m not arguing about reality, only about what works in a novel. Sometimes the two are not the same thing.”

“Let me go over this new batch of pages, and I’ll get back to you on them. Forgive me, but I didn’t bring any cash with me. I’ll take care of it at our next meeting. OK?

“Sure,” I said. “Not a problem.”

Turned out it was a big problem. Three weeks later, with Schlicter’s manuscript fully edited, I found I couldn’t reach its author by phone. I called at all hours but no answer. On a Wednesday afternoon I drove to his apartment, on Damen near Belmont. No response when I rang his bell. I asked a neighbor, who entered the building as I was leaving, if he recently saw Mr. Schlicter, and he said that he hadn’t seen “the Colonel” for some while. Possibly he was on vacation, but nearly four weeks had by now gone by, which was a long time for a vacation. Was he evading me? Did he not have the money to pay the remaining $6,500 due for my editing? Was I going to have a collection problem?

Schlicter had never mentioned friends or anyone else with whom I could get in touch to find out his whereabouts. Then I remembered his daughter, who lived in Rogers Park. I discovered there was an Audrey Kravitz on Lunt. After I ascertained that she was in fact the daughter of Lewis Schlicter, I explained I couldn’t locate her father.

“He’s in Louis Weiss Hospital. He’s had a stroke. A serious one. His left side is paralyzed and he’s lost much of his ability to speak.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“Are you a friend of his?” she asked.

“Not really. We did some business together.”

“Are you planning on visiting him?”

“I think maybe I will,” I said. “Any chance you might like to join me?”

“I go every afternoon, around two. I can meet you there in the lobby.”

Audrey Kravitz looked to be in her early fifties, small, mousy, wore little makeup. A look of permanent anxiety was in her eyes.

I suggested we head to the hospital cafeteria for a cup of coffee and so she could fill me in on her father’s condition. Before she did, though, she told me how important her father had been to her. Her mother had died when she was thirteen, and her father, though still in the army, arranged for her to live with her mother’s sister Evelyn and paid for her upkeep. Later, when he was out of the army and working for the police in Chicago, she moved in with him.

“It wasn’t easy on the boys who came to take me out, I’ll tell you,” she said. “My dad was if anything very over-protective. But even then I knew he did it out of love. He seems hard shell on the outside, I know, but inside, at least to me, at least to those he loves, he’s always been a pussy cat.”

As for Kravitz, she said, “He didn’t approve of my marriage, but neither did he forbid it. When my husband left, he said he didn’t want me to go after him for alimony or child support. He’d rather pick up the bills himself, and not have to deal with, as he called him, that momzer. Howard’s lucky he never had to confront my dad. He might have strangled him. When my second child, Vivian, was diagnosed with autism, he took her to Johns Hopkins for tests. Even as a baby, he was one of the few people Viv responded to in a close way. She’s twelve now, and needs lots of attention. Because he wants me to be at home for her, he won’t allow me to take a job. He pays all the bills. But I’ve probably been telling you more than you want to know.”

“Not at all,” I said. “So what’s the prognosis?”

“I spoke to the physician in charge, who thinks the chances of anything like a full recovery highly unlikely.”
“What does that mean?”

“Probably a nursing home, which I can promise you is not going to be his idea of how my dad wants to spend his last years, though he isn’t likely to have much say in the matter.”

We found Schlicter in room 512 connected to a number of machines by wires, taking oxygen through his nose. He didn’t greet us as we entered, but looked straight ahead. A television was playing, a soap opera with the sound off. The nurse told us it probably wasn’t a good idea to stay more than ten or fifteen minutes.

“How are you holding up?” I asked him, a dumb question, after positioning myself so that he didn’t have to turn his head to see me.

He grunted something indiscernible. Then he must have noticed Audrey standing to my side. His expression changed. He seemed slightly less agitated.

“Is there anything I could do to make you more comfortable, Daddy?” Audrey said.

“Ge, ge, ge get me out of here,” Schlicter said, with obvious strain.

“Any talk about when they’ll release you?” I asked.

He merely shook his head. Audrey stepped next to the bed, took her father’s hand and brought it up to her lips, holding it there.

Not knowing what to say, I finally blurted: “I finished your manuscript. Once you’re out of here we can go over it together. The ending is terrific. Powerful stuff.”

He didn’t respond.

Audrey leaned forward and kissed her father on the forehead. She asked if I might give them a few moments alone. I waited outside Schlicter’s room in the hall.

When she emerged, Audrey was in tears.

“My dad says he doesn’t want to live, not in this condition. I tried to tell him he would get better, but he wasn’t buying it.”

Ten days later I had a call from Audrey informing me that her father’s heart had given out at Louis Weiss Hospital.
“At least he was spared the nursing home,” I said.

“There’s going to be a memorial service,” she said, “at Anshe Emet a week from today, in case you want to come.”

I told her that I had her father’s novel, now completely edited, and asked her if she wanted it.

“Is it publishable, you think?” she asked.

“I’m pretty sure it isn’t,” I said, “though you can never tell for certain.” I didn’t bring up the $6,500 her father died owing me for my work on the manuscript. She had more serious financial problems than I.

I can’t say that I especially liked Lew Schlicter, but I felt moved by his death. His protectiveness toward his daughter and her children added a dimension to him I wouldn’t have known about but for his stroke. Beneath the hard shell of his strong opinions and angry view of the world lay a tender-heartedness, at least toward his own family, that I found touching. That he didn’t brag about it, or even bring it up, made it all the more impressive.  To its vast enrichment, life, I guess, doesn’t recognize the law of contradiction.

The memorial turned out not to be a memorial at all, but a four or five minute eulogy at the close of the Saturday morning service. The rabbi, an appropriately earnest-looking man, silver-haired, in his early sixties, spoke chiefly about Schlicter’s army service and work on the Chicago police force. He referred to him throughout as “Colonel Schlicter.” Kaddish was chanted by a heavyset cantor. I looked over at Audrey holding hands with her two daughters. Vivian, the child with autism, was finding it difficult to sit still. I left without saying goodbye.

The manuscript of Schlicter’s novel is in the bottom drawer of a metal file cabinet in my office. I read through most of it again last week, and once more concluded that no publisher is likely to be interested in it. A spoiler alert, then, where none is needed: the novel ends with detective Bill Berkson, in the tough black Chicago neighborhood called Englewood, dying by throwing himself before a spray of bullets that might otherwise have killed a black mother and her two young daughters. This, I thought, would have been the death Schlicter would have preferred over the one, lashed to wires and nearly speechless, he suffered alone in a hospital bed.

Had Schlicter lived, perhaps, he would have had his novel, like his memoir, privately printed. As things stand, after my own death, my daughters will discover it in my file cabinet, try to figure what it is, and no doubt will end up by disposing of it. I recall Lew Schlicter remarking that there was never a shortage of villains and frauds. He might also have included the world’s ample supply of sadness.

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