THE EXTERMINATOR - LEWIS J. PETERS
Mazel tov. Yiddish slang - “Good fortune”; especially at weddings.
“What-ho, Pater!” chimed Archie as he burst through the front door.
Just moments before Archie’s father had retreated swiftly to his study. This had been on seeing the cavalcade of sports cars careering up the long gravel drive. Archie’s words now echoed round the large empty hallway but received no response.
Archie. Archibald. Chayyim Levinson loathed his son’s first name with a vengeance. His dearly departed wife had insisted on bestowing it on the infant. For the sake of a little peace, he went along with her when she insisted it would make him more English, more likely to succeed. But he hated it.
Likewise, Chayyim had acquiesced when Archie’s mother wanted him to have an expensive private education. Supporting Archie at Oxford University, too, made him feel as though he was carrying out his wife’s, by then, last wishes.
“I say, father!” Archie’s cut glass vowels reverberated around the mansion as he shouted once again.
Chayyim reluctantly emerged from his study and forced a smile. “Archie, my boy. I didn’t hear you arrive.”
“Father, your hearing gets worse. You really are going to have to get one of those new fangled hearing aid thingies.” Archie did not wait for a reaction, “Listen, old boy, you don’t mind if some of the gang camp out here for the weekend, do you? Party at Foxy’s tomorrow night but he hasn't the room to put us all up.”
“Oh vey, Archie, is a little warning too much to ask?” Chayyim replied.
Archie was not listening. Quickly turning from his father, he gave brisk directions to the tumult of young things that had followed him through the front door. A wind-up gramophone strapped to the rear of Archie’s Crossley Sports two litre blared outside. As flustered staff emerged and started to busy themselves with the unexpected guests, Chayyim retreated once more to the study.
Chayyim Levy was a rich man. His fortune had been made from identifying an opportunity and seizing it with relish.
Levinson Pest Control Ltd was not a glamorous company. However, the money it generated allowed Chayyim, as desired by his wife, to anglicise his surname and enter society. He had long been aware there was a glass ceiling he could never break through but the recent depression had been weathered and he played the role of an English country gentleman with, he believed, aplomb. Not bad, he felt, for the grandson of a Russian peasant emigré.
Chayyim’s inspiration to start the business had come to him at his wedding. In accordance with Jewish tradition, the formal part of the proceedings came to a close when he broke a glass and the guests shouted, “Mazel tov!” His new bride had instantly shrieked in horror as a large brown rat, panicked by the commotion, shot through the hall. Opinion was mixed about whether this was a bad omen for the marriage. For his part, Chayyim saw, in a moment of intense clarity, how he could make his way in life.
Chayyim became dedicated to achieving success in his new business venture. He proved to be as ruthless at eradicating competition as he was in eliminating vermin.
To Archie, the trappings of wealth acquired by Chayyim were ostentatious. His father had become infatuated with the Orient. Chayyim’s particular pride and joy was a small but expensive collection of Ming Dynasty porcelain. Archie perceived it as being obviously nouveau riche. In his eyes, his father was incapable of demonstrating the sophistication required to impress those who mattered.
Archie’s mother died when he was fifteen. It was term time and he was at boarding school. His parents had gone on an extended trip to the Far East. The curt telegram from Chayyim told Archie there had been a storm in the South China Sea, during which his mother had been swept overboard.
Mother and son had been very close but Archie knew the value of maintaining a stiff upper lip. His tears and muted sobs were confined to the small hours when he was sure the rest of the dormitory slumbered.
Peace descended with almost palpable relief on the house after Archie and his friends departed for the gathering at Foxy Aspley-Guise’s place. For Chayyim, the preceding twenty-four hours had been a purgatory populated by vacuous youth and noisy chaos.
Over lunch in the great dining room, Archie had taken his father to task for continuing to live alone in such lurid, crumbling splendour. Chayyim battled with himself to maintain a polite veneer as the argument, conducted in front of Archie’s friends, became heated. Archie had goaded, “Really, Papa, you have no taste. You think this architectural mish-mash is so wonderful but you will always be trade and you simply do not know your Bauhaus Modernist from your Gothic Perpendicular.” Chayyim had leapt up, the force pushing his chair over, and stormed out of the dining room.
The beleaguered staff struggled to meet the needs of the guests but they found themselves being baited unmercifully. Encouraged by Archie and alcohol, the ad hoc house party became raucous. Chayyim had been on the verge of calling the police as the revellers decided to decamp to Foxy’s.
It had turned 3:00 A.M. when Chayyim was startled into wakefulness by the front door banging. He quickly realised from the ensuing commotion that it was Archie and his friends returning from the party. Chayyim dozed fitfully while half-listening to the sounds of drunken revelry downstairs. It was clear there was no mood to bring the debauchery to a close and sleep it off.
Suddenly, there was a loud crash. In a single movement, Chayyim was out of bed, cloaked in his dressing gown and running down the stairs. He could only think of the porcelain collection.
Bursting through the gallery door, he immediately saw a dishevelled Archie and a small coterie of his friends. Archie was clutching a half-empty bottle of whiskey in one hand and a broken cigar in the other. Unsteady on his feet, he struggled to focus on his father.
“Oops,” was all Archie could muster. On the floor in front of him was the wreckage of a smashed plate.
“No, no, no, not the Ming,” screamed Chayyim as he fell to his knees to examine the pieces.
Looking at the fragments of pattern he was, at first, puzzled. Chayyim then realised the broken artefact was, in fact, a commemorative Mazel tov plate from the wedding. Although of no financial value, he had always kept it with the rest of his collection.
Furious now, Chayyim got up and screamed at Archie, “You clumsy, drunken,useless schlemiel! All of you get the hell out right now!”
Chayyim looked out into the early daylight. The only car to remain parked on the gravel drive was Archie’s Crossley Sports. His friends had cleared out.
Father and son sat across from each other at the dining table while breakfast was served. The physical symptoms of Archie’s horrendous hangover were obvious to his father and the servants. A long silence was eventually broken by the older man.
“I am so disappointed in you, Archie,” intoned Chayyim, “I have provided you with everything a young man needs, and more. This is how you thank me. My home is invaded by a rabble and, in a drunken state, you destroy the things that are precious to me. Your mother wanted you to be an English gentleman. Look at the monster you have become.”
There was no apology.
“You have done nothing out of love for me. Your entire purpose has been to make me the person you can never be,” said Archie. “Well, let’s have a little honesty. You hate me and I don’t love you. Mother never loved you, either. I feel nothing but contempt. I have taken your allowance for months but I have not been anywhere near college.”
“Then it is over,” interrupted his father, “You are not my son. Take your ridiculous sports car and go. That is the last thing you shall have from me.”
By the time Chayyim heard the front door close behind Archie, he was comfortable in his favourite study easy chair. The Crossley Sports roared into life. Briefly, there was the sound of spinning wheels then the gravel crunched as the car moved off. The engine note rose and fell as the gears changed. Once more, the revs ascended as the car continued to accelerate.
As the distance between house and motor vehicle increased, the roar started to fade. Chayyim pictured the car reaching the end of the drive before the sharp turn through the wrought iron gates and out on to the main road. Suddenly, the sound of a loud explosion overrode all else.
Chayyim did not rise from his seat. Elbows firmly planted on the chair’s arms, his index fingers slowly rubbed the bridge of his nose.
It had been simple enough to disable the brake mechanism of the Crossley. Indeed, it had been almost as easy to ensure that Archie’s mother fell over the deck rail of the liner during the storm.