Skip to content

Saving Mrs. Feingold

Saving Mrs. Feingold

– Fiction by Susan Breall –

Featured in issue 15 of Dreamers Magazine

I kept hearing a low drone. I turned over in my sleep and moved all the way to the right side of the bed. The noise was constant, like the buzzing of a loud mosquito. I found myself trying to incorporate the noise into a dream I was having about new construction work being done on my back deck. Eventually I realized that I was hearing my front door buzzer. I looked at my watch and saw that it was two a.m.

When I left the District Attorney’s Office to become a judge thirteen years ago, I thought that I would never have to worry about late nights again. No longer would I have to bother with cops calling at two in the morning, asking for me to come down to some god forsaken murder scene. Never again would there be late night interviews in interrogation rooms with stale coffee cups and snickers bars. I was wrong.

I had search warrant duty, and this was my last night to be on call. A police inspector phoned me at midnight to say that he and his partner would drop by in a half hour to have me review a search warrant that needed my signature. After he phoned, I must have fallen asleep. I grabbed my robe from the bench at the foot of the bed, wrapped it around myself tightly, and walked down the stairs as the door buzzer continued to sound.

“Sorry to wake you” said the cop without sounding sincere. “We need to search a house before someone makes off with what could amount to millions in stolen gems.”

“Let me see the warrant” I said yawning and motioning for the cops to follow me into the kitchen. I usually liked to review search warrants in my kitchen because the overhead light was decent, and I could avail myself of a snack while reading the warrant.

“Are either of you hungry? Want a cookie?”

“No thanks.” The older cop answered for both.

I sat and looked at the front and back pages of the warrant to make sure the date and signature lines were in their proper places. Next, I numbered the pages so that no one could ever accuse the police of inserting an extra page of unread information into the warrant after I signed it. Finally, I dated and initialed each page before beginning the task of reading the actual contents of the warrant.

I looked at the front page of the warrant to make sure that the location the police wanted to search was described with enough specificity. The address listed was 1168 Glen Street. I stopped reading. I stared hard at the address. I knew that house. It was old Mrs. Feingold’s place. I read further down the front of the warrant and saw that the cross street listed was Garfield. The search warrant lacked any actual description of the Feingold place as I knew it. Left out of the portion describing “place to be searched” was the fact that the oak trees lining the front of the house were once well pruned and cared for. No where did the warrant mention the fact that the wild English cottage garden in the front yard had started to spill over onto the sidewalk. There was no mention of the tangled vines that had climbed up the side of the house and dangled over a retaining wall. The sidewalk itself was cracked in places from the overgrowth and undergrowth of roots and vegetation. An old lounge chair was left to rot by the front entrance.

“I know this address” I said to the cops waiting for me to finish reading. “I know this house. It’s right up the street about five blocks from here. It’s right next door to the house where I grew up.”

“Yes, it’s close by,” the cop said without emotion. The proximity of the location meant that he could get to the targeted house sooner to conduct the search. Once he completed the search and typed up his report at the police station, he was done for the night. I continued to read the warrant to see if there was probable cause for the search – to see what possible connection to a crime the Feingold place held.

Two months earlier a large jewelry heist took place across the bay in San Francisco. The circumstances of the robbery made all the local papers. According to the search warrant, one of the two suspects was Mrs. Feingold’s grandson. Her grandson and his accomplice were arrested on suspicion of murder as well as robbery because the night security guard was accidentally shot and killed when both suspects fled the scene of the crime. A confidential reliable informant recently reported that these men stopped by 1168 Glen Street the night before they were captured. The jewelry was not recovered. A large blue diamond, worth thousands of dollars, was among the items stolen. A thorough search of both men’s apartments last week came up empty. There was some speculation that the jewelry store owners were somehow involved in the heist, and eager to collect a hefty insurance check for the stolen items.

I felt a strange malaise knowing that the police were about to trample all over Mrs. Feingold’s house at 1168 Glen Street. The house had once been a beautiful, well kept, Tudor mansion. Years ago, when Mrs. Feingold had money, she would buy thirty pumpkins every year at Halloween for all the neighborhood kids to carve. After her husband died, she had to mortgage her home to pay medical bills. The bank was about to foreclose.

“Raise your right hand. Do you solemnly swear under penalty of perjury that the information in this search warrant is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?”

“I do,” they chimed in unison. I handed them the warrant to sign in my presence. I then signed and dated the front and back page.

“Thank you, ma’am, sorry to disturb you.” I led them to the front door.

It wasn’t just my sleep they had disturbed. It was my psyche. I already felt bad for Mrs. Feingold, having heard that the bank was about to foreclose on the house she had lived in for thirty-seven years. Now, on top of the foreclosure, the house was about to be legally ransacked, and I was the person who sanctioned this act. I wondered how long it would take the police to rummage through all three floors of the home. Houses like hers had multiple bedrooms, hidden corners, and closets. I also wondered whether the police would look for the jewelry in the outside areas surrounding the house. The search warrant gave them permission to search the house, the basement, and the garden. I remember how Mrs. Feingold once buried her dishes in the back yard for seven days to get rid of the taint of non-kosher food after her niece, a friend of mine in middle school, smuggled sweet and sour pork into the home from Tang Long’s Chinese Deli and served the food on several of Mrs. Feingold’s dishes. I smiled, thinking that Mrs. Feingold knew how to bury dishes, utensils, and other things in the back garden.

I didn’t think I would be able to go back to sleep. I began to wonder about the ethics of signing a warrant to search a house of a neighbor I had once known. Although I hadn’t had anything to do with the family since I carved pumpkins at the house as a child, and although there was nothing technically improper about signing such a warrant in the middle of the night, I felt bad. I felt like I used to when I was a lawyer handling family violence cases. I would handle case after case, never having the luxury of time to step back and wonder why family violence exists in the world. I used to think about the adage of the man who, while sitting at the riverbank, saw a person drowning. The man ran and pulled the body out of the river. A few moments later he saw two more people floating by. He pulled the next two from the river. He kept pulling drowning bodies out of the river all day long. A young boy came by and asked him where all the drowning people were coming from. “I don’t know” he said. I am too busy pulling them out of the river to think about that.” As a lawyer I was always so busy trying to help drowning people that I never had time to figure out how they ended up in the river in the first place. I fell back to sleep wondering how Mrs. Feingold ended up in that very same river.

I woke up at noon and changed into sweatpants and a t-shirt, ready for a jog. I knew it was better to head in the opposite direction of 1168 Glen. It went against all my training as both lawyer and judge to go over to the Feingold house on my own without acting on official business. Still, I found myself headed towards the exact place I needed to avoid.

When I reached the opposite side of the street from 1168 Glen, I saw Old Mrs. Feingold bent over in the driveway, wearing a faded pink dress, picking up loose papers that were scattered about the front of the house. The front door was wide open. It was too dark to see inside the house from across the street.

“Hey Mrs. Feingold, are you alright?” I yelled loudly from the other side of the street.

“Not good. Not good.” She said as she continued to clean up the mess. I walked across the street.

“I used to live right next door to you. I’m Rachael Wachtel. Let me help you pick this stuff up.”

“Rachael. Yes. I remember. Thank you. I have so much to clean up. They made such a mess. It’s terrible. A shame. A terrible, terrible shame.”

I bent over and picked up the rest of the papers scattered about the overgrown garden and front porch. I noticed how the front porch was beginning to sag down the middle. When I was done gathering up trash Mrs. Feingold invited me into the house.

“It’s a terrible shambles child. But please come in. It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?”

I knew it was wrong to walk into that house. The house was a small part of a large criminal case, and I was the person responsible for authorizing the entire mess inside – the mess that Mrs. Feingold now had to clean up. Yet, I did not refuse her invitation.

When I entered, I noticed a pile of sixty or seventy books scattered about the floor. Coats were thrown across the banister near the hall closet. A broom and a dustpan were leaning against the wall in the living room. The drapes were pulled closed, and the house seemed old and dark and empty, despite the clutter. I stopped to look at a large black and white framed photograph of Mr. Feingold on the wall in the hallway.

“He was a handsome man, wasn’t he?”

“Extremely handsome,” I said as I continued to gaze about the first floor.

“Come into the kitchen. Let me fix you something.”

After a bit of minor protest, I sat down in her kitchen and ate half of a tuna sandwich. She then handed me some clove candies and began to tell me all about her nighttime ordeal. She told me how she had been woken up by pounding on the door at three in the morning. She started to sob as she described the way the police officers tore apart her home.

“Mrs. Feingold, did the police find anything?”

“Nothing. They find absolutely nothing.”

“Did they look in the garden?”

“They even dig at my garden. Can you believe them? Like I am some kind of animal. I have lived in this country for forty-five years and they treat me this way.”

“Did you know what they were looking for?’

“At first, no. But then they kept saying ‘jewelry, the jewels, the jewels. Where did Solomon hide them?’

I keep telling them I have no idea.”

Mrs. Feingold, let me help you clean this place up.”

We started on the first floor. In the dining room we gathered up all the china and put the unbroken pieces back in the china closet. We collected the silverware from the floor and put each piece back in the silverware drawer. We cleaned up the front parlor. After that, we worked on the living room, gathering the books, and putting them in nice, neat stacks by the hall closet. The breakfast room and the two downstairs bathrooms were cluttered with papers, old ledgers, and debris. All the drawers and the cupboards had been emptied out. The coats and rainwear had to be put back on hangers. Every closet door was wide open. The first floor clean up seemed to take hours.

“I am so grateful for your help.”

“What do you think you would do if you ever found the jewels Mrs. Feingold?”

“Ahh,” she said with a long sigh. “I was thinking on that just now. I would make sure the insurance company paid the store owner for his loss. Then I would ask my sister in England to help me sell what jewels I find so that I can repay the bank and keep my house. She says that in parts of Europe you can sell anything…stolen or not stolen. Real or not real.”

As Mrs. Feingold told me her plan she winced in pain and sat down on the overstuffed brocaded chair near the foot of the stairs. “That’s enough work my dear. We’ve been at it a long time. Achh, my side hurts.”

“Shall I go upstairs and take a look at what’s left to do on the second floor.”

“There is too much to do child. Too much. See for yourself.”

I walked upstairs and saw similar chaos. Papers were tossed everywhere. Drawers were pulled out of wardrobes, emptied, and turned upside down. I went back to the bottom floor and grabbed a large plastic garbage bag from the kitchen. I looked over at Mrs. Feingold and saw that she had fallen asleep on her chair in the hallway. I climbed quietly back up the stairs to the second floor bathroom and started to gather up the plastic soap dish, used soap, and aspirin bottles that were scattered around the bathroom floor. I felt the inexorable need to put her house back in order.

I took a roll of paper towels that were under the sink and began to clean up cold cream that had spilled out of a jar onto the white hexagonal floor tiles. A rather large cold cream jar was laying upside down but unbroken near the mess. As I picked up the cold cream jar and turned it over, I noticed something unusual. There it was, plain as day, buried halfway inside the dense white cream towards the top of the jar, a thick gold band. I stuck my finger in the jar and removed the ring. Attached to it was a large green emerald. I dug deeper into the jar and could feel at least two other rings and a hard rock like object. I gathered the trash bag along with the white cold cream jar and went back downstairs. Mrs. Feingold was still asleep.

“Mrs. Feingold, what shall I do with all this trash?” I asked her, waking her out of her doze by gently shaking her arm and showing her the cold cream jar and the plastic bag.

Throw all that stuff out back in the outside garbage can, would you dear?”

“I will throw away the trash bag, but how about this old jar of cold cream? It’s good stuff. Great for arthritis and joint pain.”

“Is that so? I’ve had that old jar of stuff forever. It’s probably rotten by now.”

“Nah, it never goes bad. All you need to do is dig deep into the bottom of the jar and take out some of the cream. Then rub the cream into your aching knees and joints. It is a well-known fact that cold cream eviscerates all pain. The older the cold cream, the better for your joints.”

“You don’t say? I’ve never heard that before. I will try it tonight before I go to sleep. I really must thank you.”

“Mrs. Feingold, take care of yourself.”

As I left the house with the large bag of trash, I handed her the cold cream jar. I walked around to the back of the house where the garbage bin sat. I pushed the trash into the bin and walked over to the front through the overgrown garden weeds, then out onto the sidewalk. I was dead tired. I couldn’t tell if my mental and physical exhaustion came from the cleanup, from my sleep deprivation, or from something else. I took out of my pocket one of the candies Mrs. Feingold had given me. It had a strong taste of clove, without any sweetness. I savored it in my mouth, and thought, as the gloam ascended, that I had saved Mrs. Feingold from drowning.

About the Author – Susan Breall

Susan Breall

By day Susan M. Breall handles cases involving abused, abandoned and neglected children, By night she writes short stories. Her stories appear in numerous anthologies including: Running Wild Press, AB Terra Anthology, The Raw Art Review, Impermanent Facts, Beyond Queer Words, Paragon Press’ Marian Chronicles, and Kairos Literary Review. She is the 2022 winner of the Gateway Review Flash Fiction contest.

Did you like this story by Susan Breall? Then you might also like: 

Someone to Watch My Back
Pieces of You


To check out all the fiction available on Dreamers, visit our fiction section.

Like reading print publications? Consider subscribing to the Dreamers Magazine!