Commentary Magazine


The Assassins Joke

Plotkin and Teitelbaum can’t get a break. They open a dry-cleaning business and no one drops off clothing. They open a deli and the slicer breaks. They try a newsstand and all the city’s newspapers go on strike. Desperate and broke, Plotkin says, “Teitelbaum, let’s become assassins.”

“Assassins?” says Teitelbaum. “Where do you come to assassins?”

“We were sharpshooters during the war, right?” Plotkin says. “We know our way around a gun and we know how to aim. Let’s give it a shot.”

“Fine,” says Teitelbaum. They rent a nondescript office and tell an old friend from the neighborhood who’s mobbed up that they’re interested in “wet work.” Then they sit.

Two weeks later, they get a call. “Generalissimo Martinez is in town,” says a voice. “He’s at the Statler Hotel. He goes to the bar in the lobby every night at 10 for a brandy. Kill him and we’ll pay you $25,000.”

On Thursday, at 8:30 p.m., they arrive at the Statler bar. They have pistols tucked in their belts, and they are wearing fedoras and
black suits. They each have a Coke and eat some peanuts.

9 rolls around. They stiffen their spines and get ready. Plotkin watches the door to 33rd Street; Teitelbaum watches the door to the lobby. People come in, people go out. No guards, no Martinez.

9:15 comes. Then 9:30. They’ve finished the peanuts. Their anxiety grows.

9:45. And then it’s 10.

“Where is he?” Teitelbaum says.

“Gee,” says Plotkin. “I hope nothing bad happened to him.”

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