Louis had a raincoat folded over his left arm so she didn’t see his ring, but he had obviously been hitting on her. Now, with the mention of a wife, she wasn’t so sure.
The colorful, well-lit gallery, which was so often dark as she strolled home from the radio station, drew her in on this bleak afternoon. Philadelphia, the city of her birth, could be so colorless — friendly, blue collar, but drab. Then, when she least expected it, she found fruit and color, sunshine and warmth, wherever she looked. She was astounded by the bright reds of tuna at the fishmongers, the yellow blaze of trash barrel fires in the Italian Market, the perfect azure blue of water ice.
It was there, the Italian Market, which she knew best. She loved South Philadelphia, where her family settled after emigrating from Italy and where her grandfather Giuseppe became a bread baron. It was where her father, Joe, followed in his floury footsteps.
Palumbo’s Bakery was known throughout the city, its crusty, seeded loaves popular on restaurant and kitchen tables from Center City to West Philadelphia, from South Philly to the Great Northeast. But Janice had fame of her own, a minor celebrity in a city of minor celebrities. Her radio show, broadcast locally on the NPR affiliate but not yet picked up nationally, featured stories from all over Philadelphia. She extended a tentative hand, halfway hoping the man didn’t know her already.
“Janice Palumbo,” she said.
“Oh, how nice to meet you,” Louis said knowingly. “You certainly don’t have a face for radio.”
“Why would you say that? Just because someone’s in radio they’re not attractive enough for TV?”
“Uh, not at all,” he stammered. “Well, maybe. You never know. I mean, how could you know, ya know? All a listener knows is the voice, right? I like your voice. I’m a fan.”
Louis hadn’t meant to offend her but knew he was blathering.
“I meant nothing by it,” he said.
Janice willed herself cool. She adjusted her bag and started to button her coat for the walk home.
“Whatever,” she said, dismissing him, but Louis sought to salvage the conversation.
“You’re very good,” he said.
She hesitated, wondering what she was on the ropes for, but continued anyway.
“I wanted to tell stories that I was interested in, stories people would listen to, without them being distracted by me,” she said.
You’re not that hot, Louis thought, but he let it go.
“You’ve got a point,” he said. “You’re very distracting. That is, you look very nice.”
He was stammering again and looked up just as Janice turned away, embarrassed for the both of them.
“But I’m a critic anyway,” he continued. “Just ask my friend over there.”
Track lighting beamed off the glossy wood floors and Herman’s bald head. Glancing over, Louis saw that Herman was beaming, too. He must have made a sale.
“Actually, I’m a rabbi. Louis Abrams, of B’nai Tikvah in Apple Hill.”
“Nice to meet you. My boyfriend, ex, actually, is Jewish. We met here.”
Janice half hoped to run into him tonight but also hoped she wouldn’t. Dr. Stephen Golding was a veterinarian whose job at Penn kept him late most nights, one of several strains that pulled at their relationship, and a chance meeting wasn’t likely.
“I’ll assume you’re Catholic,” Louis said. “Tough to make it work. I’ve counseled a good number of mixed couples and the Jewish-Catholic thing, always a little tough. If you’re a quote-unquote good Catholic you go to Mass, take communion, and believe that Jesus was the Son of God. It’s what sets us apart. I imagine that was a problem for your friend.”
Janice was a lapsed Catholic but didn’t consider herself any less good.
“Pretty good, Rabbi,” she said.
“Well, I don’t know how good. You’re in this line of work as long as me, patterns develop. You see things. Didya date long?”
Janice squirmed a bit, uneasy suddenly with the conversation. Had he been hitting on her? She wasn’t sure. The rabbi seemed nice enough, but she collected her things to go.
More about BAD RABBI
Inspired by actual events, Bad Rabbi is a work of fiction.
Rabbi Louis Abrams is the kind of man who’d schtup one’s wife, grown daughter, even grieving, widowed mom.
Thing of it is, he’s also a pretty good rabbi. The lead rabbi of a large South Jersey congregation, Abrams is a committed clergyman who holds a regular Tuesday night rap session, leads a local Boy Scout troop and is considered a pillar of the community.
But Abrams, a womanizer whose reputation off the bimah clashes with the charm and conviction he radiates from it, finds that his tightly controlled world comes undone when, after meeting a Philadelphia radio personality, he isn’t just fornicating but fallen in love. To sustain his new relationship, Abrams concludes that he must get out of his marriage but that a messy public divorce would ruin him. His solution: to have his wife, a prominent local businesswoman, murdered in the midst of a robbery.