Abe had been sulky all through the ride to Coney Island. 

Yes, he loved and respected Bubbe. Hadn’t he agreed to give up an afternoon of surfing in the Atlantic’s frigid, invigorating waters, to meet a girl in whom he had, to tell the truth, very little interest, just because she’d asked him to? But this was too much! 

Always a natty dresser, Abe had appeared in the spacious parlor of the Levine home, looking snappy in his pinstripe gray suit, an expertly folded silk handkerchief peeking out from his pocket. His light-gray fedora sat on his head at a perfect angle, and his black-and-white, two-tone shoes gleamed. 

Before he left, he knew, he was expected to appear before Bubbe and get her final approval. He was surprised to find her not in the usual flowered-print housedress that she wore for lounging on lazy Sunday mornings, but in a crisp blue suit and apricot blouse. A matching apricot-and-white hat perched jauntily on her head. 

“Where are you headed, Bubbe?” he asked cheerily. “A lecture? A concert? A mah-jongg tournament?” 

She gave him a laughing glance. “Abie, I’m coming with you.” 

“What?!” 

Her tone was that of a schoolmistress explaining something to the class dunce. “Abe, if this is going to go anywhere, you’re going to need my help. I knew Yeruchum Freed years ago, and after spending Shabbos in his house, I see he hasn’t changed. He’s like no man you’ve ever met, and if I leave you with him by yourself, it’s just not going to work.” 

“But Bubbe—” 

He’d protested, remonstrated, declared that it was silly, impossible, would make them all look ridiculous. 

And then, inevitably, he’d helped her into his automobile. 

They had been quiet throughout the five-mile ride down Ocean Parkway: Abe, moody and glum; his Bubbe thoughtful, the faintest hint of silent laughter in her eyes. 

He parked in front of the unostentatious wooden building that housed the Freed Hotel. Giving his Bubbe his arm, he walked up the stairs. He took a deep and refreshing breath of sea air, mourning the loss of a gorgeous Sunday afternoon for a snatch of a second, and rang the bell. 

Bubbe, at least in one thing, had been correct: Abe Levine had never met anyone quite like Yeruchum Freed. 

The whole experience seemed surreal. It was like something out of a strange, disturbing, and yet interesting dream — the kind of dream where you wanted desperately to wake up, and yet were reluctant to because you so badly desired to know how it would end. 

A heavyset woman opened the door, staring at the two of them as if determined to memorize their every feature. As she led them through the foyer and hallway into a large dining room, Abe had the distinct feeling he was being watched, though there was, eerily, no sign of anyone in the hotel.