“You’ve gotta be kiddin’ me! There’s not a Felicia Burkowitz in the whole darn Hermann phonebook!” a frustrated Mustache Guy cried, pushing the hefty book away from him. Roger’s bony hand slammed down on it to stop it from sliding off of the well-polished diner’s table. Examining the page it was open to, he said,
“Wait a minute – there’s six people with the last name Burkowitz in here. Why don’t we go talk to them? None of them are Felicia’s, but at least one of them has got to be related to her, right?”
In a heartbeat, Mustache Guy stopped throwing a fit and started smiling.
“Yeah!” he exclaimed. “This is why I keep you around, Rog, ‘cause you’re so darn smart!”
The two friends sprung up from their seats at a booth by the front window of Chelton’s Diner. This was the first place they stopped after driving from The Tilghman Library to Hermann. Mr. Chelton, the owner, graciously let them see his phonebook. After Roger’s bright idea, they sprinted, holding the phonebook open between them, to the payphone in the back of the restaurant. For the three other customers in the diner, the sight of a skeleton and a man with a ten-foot-long mustache running past them, each with one hand on a phonebook, was an unwelcome deviation from their usual daily ritual consisting of sitting at the counter and each nursing a single cup of coffee for an hour while making small talk about the weather and the many potholes decorating Hermann’s roads. Roger and Mustache Guy did not notice Mr. Chelton shaking his head in quiet disapproval of their behavior.
Upon winning the race to the the phone, Roger reached his bony hand towards it, but the receiver was snatched away from him by one end of Mustache Guy’s mustache. He had used his facial hair like a whip to retrieve the phone and hold it up to his head. With the other end of his mustache, he dialed the phone number of Mabel Burkowitz.
“Hello?” answered a high-pitched, raspy voice through the receiver.
“Hiya. Is this Mabel Burkowitz?” asked Mustache Guy impatiently.
“Speaking. May I ask who is calling?
“Sure. Folks call me Mustache Guy. I’m looking for a girl named Felicia Burkowitz. Any relation?”
“Felicity, you say?”
“No, Felicia,” corrected Mustache Guy.
“Hm, I don’t know any Felicia’s. Sorry I could not be of more help.”
“That’s okay, thanks anyway. Bye-bye,” sighed Mustache Guy as he pushed the redial lever with his mustache. “No dice.”
Next up was Carl Burkowitz. The mustache dialed his number swiftly. On the second ring, Mustache Guy had a revelation.
“Hold on!” he said. “That’s the same num-”
But it was too late.
“Hello?” answered a familiar, high-pitched, raspy voice.
“Hey again, Mabel. It’s Mustache Guy.”
“Oh, hello again. What can I do for you now?”
“I’m looking for Carl Burkowitz.”
“Why, Carl’s my husband!”
“Figured as much. Sorry to bother you again, Mabel.”
Next, after examining the remaining numbers to ensure they were not duplicates, Mustache Guy dialed Dennis Burkowitz’s number.
“Hi. Dennis Burkowitz here,” proclaimed a self-important baritone.
“Hiya, Dennis. I was wonderin’ if maybe you know a gal named Felicia Burkowitz?”
Dennis thought long and hard (making irritating humming noises the whole while) before boldly announcing,
“Absolutely not. And I was just at a family reunion last week. Not a single Felicia in the bunch. Sorry, mate.” He hung up before Mustache Guy could thank him.
Grenwald Burkowitz and Jerry Burkowitz knew nothing of Felicia, either. That left the amateur detectives with only one lead: Kerry Burkowitz. They both breathed deeply before dialing her number. Seven rings rang out before she picked up. Mustache Guy waited with baited breath for her to say something, but he lost the standoff.
“Uh, hello? Is this Kerry Burkowitz?”
Again he waited and again she kept mum. Finally he said,
“I’m looking for a Felicia Burkowitz. Do you know her, by any chance?”
Silence. Mustache Guy grew nervous as he listened to Kerry quietly breath. His anxiety expressed itself in the form of word vomit.
“She,” he began without knowing what was going to come out of his mouth next, “she ran off with my brother sixteen years ago and got hitched. So I’m trying to-“
Roger cocked his head, curious as to why Mustache Guy suddenly stopped talking.
“She hung up on me!” he explained. “You kiddin’? Not one of these Burkowitzes has anything to do with this Felicia chick! She grew up in this town and not one of them is her aunt or cousin or mother?!”
At the mention of the word “mother,” Roger felt a sudden panic wash over him; if he had ears, they would have turned red hot.
“I’ve got to call my mom!” shouted the skeleton, realizing for the first time since he and Mustache Guy set out for adventure that he had not spoken a word to her. All he had done before leaving was jot down a quick note and leave it for her to find in the mailbox: Going on an adventure with Hardware Guy, be back sometime. He wrestled the phone from the mustache’s grip.
“She’s going to kill me for not calling her for so long!” He proceeded to dial her phone number, wincing after each press. With a shaking hand, he held the receiver up to his skull and waited. She answered, after half a ring,
“If this is Roger, I am going to kill you for not calling me this week. If this is not Roger, how may I help you?”
“Mom, I am so sorry!”
“I’ve been worried sick, Roger! What were you thinking, not calling me? Not even telling me you were leaving! Just a little note and then you disappear for a week?! What has gotten in to you?!”
While skeletal son pleaded for maternal forgiveness, Mustache Guy retreated back to the table (after all, there is little more uncomfortable than listening to another’s familial dispute). He slammed the phonebook shut in frustration and silently fumed. He grabbed the heavy book with his mustache and, with some effort, raised it and placed it on the counter by Mr. Chelton’s cash register. At the same time, he was staring at the wedding announcement, which he and Roger had cut out of the library’s newspaper. Slowly his fury dissolved as he read and reread the clipping.
At last Roger returned, having received quite an earful from his mother. He slunk down into his seat.
“Rabbi Walter Meshiem,” said Mustache Guy, under his breath.
“Huh?” questioned Roger.
“Rabbi Walter Meshiem,” repeated Mustache Guy, a little louder.
“Who is Rabbi Walter Meshiem?” the skeleton demanded.
“He married Limburger and Felicia! If we can find his synagogue, we can ask him about the wedding! Maybe he knows where Felicia and Limburger are!” bellowed an ecstatic Mustache Guy.
“Sure, yeah! That’s brilliant! Good thinking, friend. We just have to make sure to find a phone each day from here on out, because I have to call my mom every night and tell her where I am and if I’m alright.”
Fortunately for the burgeoning inspectors, there was only one synagogue in Hermann. They found the address in the phonebook, hopped into the truck, and sped to it. Three blocks away, Mustache Guy slammed on the breaks and parked by the curb outside of synagogue, at which point he and Roger bolted for the front door. A sign declaring Kehilat Hanahar: The Little Shul by the River went unread in their haste.
This enthusiastic reception came from the towering figure who threw open the door before the junior detectives had even finished knocking. The greeter stood nearly seven feet tall, was garbed in a black two-piece suit with no tie, a bright blue swede kippah atop his head of hair (which was just on the verge of turning from black to gray), and a tiny pair of glasses perched on the bridge of his nose which looked particularly absurd in contrast to his huge, saucer-like eyes, and wore his facial hair as a mustache which grew all the way across his face, from sideburn to sideburn, but kept his chin clean shaven.
Mustache Guy was fairly certain this was Rabbi Walter Meshiem, but, just in case, he said his greeting in such a way that it kind of sounded like a question,
“Shalom, Rabbi Meshiem?”
“What can I do you boys for? Come in!”
The Rabbi’s identity was confirmed, and his warmth apparent. Roger and Mustache Guy shared a look and followed the Rabbi inside the shul.
“Sit down, boys! Here, take these” – he said, handing them a bowl of baby carrots, – “you look like you could use a little something to nosh on. You’re all skin” – he pointed at Mustache Guy, – “and bones,” – he pointed at Roger, “I kid! I kid! But seriously, have some carrots. What can I help you with today, boys?”
“Well Rabbi,” began Roger, crunching into a baby carrot, “we were hoping that you would be able to tell us a little bit about a wedding you performed.”
“Gladly! Of course! I’ve done a wedding every week for the past couple of months – except for the first week of April, when I went up to the mountains to do a little snowboarding. When was it?”
“Sixteen years ago,” answered Mustache Guy, holding out the newspaper clipping.
“Oy vey,” the Rabbi muttered.
“I know that was a long time ago, but it would really help us out if ya could try to remember it,” pressed Mustache Guy.
“No, no, of course I remember it! How could I forget? In all my years as a Rabbi, I’ve never had anyone cancel their wedding the morning of! Until them, of course. Actually, until her – she’s the one who called and canceled. I never heard another word from the groom. Poor schmuck. I always figured she up and left him at the last minute.”
Did he just day what I think he said? thought Roger. He and Mustache Guy exchanged stares.
“You mean my brother never got married?” asked Mustache Guy in disbelief. “What the heck has he been doin’ all these years?”
“Your brother? That man was your brother? Zayt mir moykhl. What became of him?” responded the apologetic Rabbi.
“Dunno. Haven’t seen him since he ran off an’ got married. Least, I thought he got married,” said Mustache Guy, staring at the floor.
Roger remained speechless.
“Why don’t you ask Kerry?” offered Rabbi Meshiem.
This got Mustache Guy’s attention. He snapped,
“Your brother’s would-be vayb, Kerry Felicia Burkowitz. She still lives in Hermann. Never left. Right down the road and the around the corner from here, she is.”