Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 11 of a new online serial novel, Divided Attention, by Esther Rapaport. Check back for a new chapter every Thursday or Friday. Click here for previous chapters.
Nava sat near the radiator, studying for her dinim test. Every so often she stopped and listened to the voices coming from the kitchen. It was unbelievable; it was almost one in the morning and her parents were both still up. That she was still up at this time was no great surprise; a high school student (baruch Hashem!) often goes to sleep late. But her parents? They were usually sleeping long before twelve!
But the serious discussion in the kitchen was obviously not taking Yael and Manny Cohen’s bedtime into consideration.
“Look,” Yael said as she poured milk into her husband’s third cup of coffee. “She didn’t just call out of the blue. She’s not prying for the sake of it. She’s talking about something specific, but trying to probe gently to see if it’s even an option.”
“Maybe she means their Danny?” Manny asked with a thread of hope in his voice.
“I don’t think so.” Yael set the coffee in front of her husband and sat down again. Unlike him, she sufficed with a cup of hot water and only a bit of sugar added to it. Coffee was not on her menu. “She’s talking about a child she met while at work.”
“Maybe it’s just a distraction? Maybe they want to go somewhere and leave their son here?”
“Do you want Danny to become another Yossele Schumacher? No, thanks.” Yael gave a bitter laugh as she stirred her water and sugar. “But I told you, I don’t think that’s the case anyway. She wasn’t asking about a three-year-old.”
“How old is the kid she’s talking about?”
“It could be nice, no?”
“I think that’s maybe a bit too old.” Yael thought about Nava. Wasn’t it hard enough for her with a nephew who was so different from her friends’ nephews? Would she be able to deal with a foster brother of the same type? Ugh. If it would work out in the first place. “It’s not like a little boy whom you can mold into whatever you want. This is a child who has been growing up in a warped lifestyle for several years already. It will be much harder to straighten him out.”
“Did you tell her about your reservations?” Manny looked at his empty cup but did not rise to prepare yet a fourth cup. Even without it, he doubted he’d be able to sleep that night.
“Not exactly,” Yael said, as she collected the two mugs. “In any case, Rina wants to come over tomorrow around lunchtime. I guess she’ll give us some more details then.”
“So why are we even discussing this now? Let’s wait for tomorrow. Lunchtime, you said?”
“I think so.”
Neither of them knew that she’d be busy then with something else.
“We’re not going to wait any longer, kid. Another minute and I’m going to pick up the phone and call the police. You’ll talk to them pretty fast, I imagine.”
The principal shook his head doubtfully and looked at Rafi quietly. “Are you afraid to tell us who sent you? We guarantee that nothing will happen to you, b’ezras Hashem. Maybe first you should tell us who you are?”
No response. The questions passed far over Rafi’s head; they didn’t even register in his ears. He stared at a large black stain on the front of the desk and felt his throat aching badly.
“Maybe he’s not a hundred percent normal,” the compassionate principal remarked.
“What else are you going to make of him?” his companion scoffed impatiently. “Deaf, not a hundred percent normal; we just don’t know how to deal with him. I’ve never worked with this age, but the police have juvenile investigators and they know how to talk to them. He’s smarter than you think!”
But Rafi wasn’t smarter than Reb Nechemia thought. He simply knew how to withdraw into himself without paying any attention to what was going on around him. That’s what had helped him stay quiet until now; that’s what helped him survive every single day.
“We won’t gain anything from calling the police,” Yaakov Cooperman remarked, “although they’ll tell us to bring him to them anyway.”
“Won’t they want to come and try to catch his partner?”
“That other one? He’s long gone. He left this kid to our mercies and ran.”
“Wasn’t he afraid that the kid would tell us everything?”
The private investigator laughed bitterly and looked at Rafi, who was sitting and staring at them or the walls, as though the entire conversation had nothing to do with him. “It’s not for naught that he chose this kid as a partner. He obviously knew with whom he was dealing. Alright, kid, up you go.”
A few seconds passed until Rafi’s sleepy, unfocused brain processed the order. He rose slowly. Reb Nechemia opened the door and Cooperman held tightly to Rafi’s limp hand.
As soon as the door to the building opened and a burst of cold air hit Rafi’s face, his senses—the senses of a small, trapped animal—roared back to life. He allowed himself to be dragged along by his captors, but his eyes silently assessed the distance to the gate. His head was cold because his hat had been left inside, in the locked office, but Rafi didn’t allow himself to speak. At least they wouldn’t know what his voice sounded like; let them continue thinking he was mute, or who knew what else…
They didn’t think he was mute, but they didn’t know him well enough to know what his classmates knew: that Rafi Zimmer’s behavior at any given second meant nothing as far as what he could do a second later. He could be silent one minute and then, without warning, start shouting at the top of his lungs. He could be sitting passively in a corner of the classroom, and the next minute, he could be kicking someone mercilessly, and then he could suddenly disappear as quickly as he’d come. Everything was sudden and spontaneous with Rafi, and there was no way to plan ahead with him. “He’s a little imp,” Mrs. Davidi would say repeatedly. “An imp and that’s it.”
Even Mr. Cooperman was convinced by Rafi’s trudging and his closed, sleepy expression; he also relied a little too much on his muscular hand holding Rafi’s limp wrist.
And that’s why he unguardedly opened the back door of his car with one hand and directed Rafi inside with the other.
There was just one slice of cheesecake left. “It’s for Abba,” Dina Paksher had told her children. “Did you hear me, children? We’re saving this piece for Abba!”
Now, at one fifteen in the morning, with the children deeply ensconced in their beds, Reb Nechemia sat in front of the plate containing that final piece of cheesecake.
“Thanks,” he said dismally, raising his fork.
Dina, his wife, didn’t ask anything yet. She waited for her husband to recover a little before he shared the events of the evening—or rather, the night.
Finally, Nechemia gave another sigh and began to speak. “Don’t ask what happened,” he said, and indeed, Dina remained silent. “Such a conniving little mind! I never saw such a thing! Either he’s got an incredible acting ability, or it’s something else, but he managed to get away! And he didn’t slip out of my hands, although that I could see happening. But he got away from Cooperman!”
Dina tried to imagine the scene, but was unsuccessful. She couldn’t picture the fleeing child, or Cooperman, for that matter, as she did not know either of them.
“Maybe drink your tea,” she suggested. “Oops, I left it on the counter. My head…!”
“Sit, Dina, sit down. I’ll take it myself,” Nechemia said as he rose. “Sitting and doing nothing just makes me more depressed.” He carried the cup over to the table. “And to think that I made him tea! What a waste!”
“He drank the tea?”
“To the last drop.”
“Was it really a little boy?”
Her husband nodded.
“Not one of your students, I hope.”
“No, baruch Hashem. He didn’t even look like any of them. He looked like a little hippie—hair to his shoulders, wet clothes, no coat; he wasn’t wearing anything warm, except a hat.”
“And what does Cooperman say?” Dina nudged the plate of cheesecake closer to her husband.
“He’s seething with fury. That boy made laughingstocks out of us! One minute he was in Cooperman’s hands, and then, a split second later—and don’t ask me how—he broke free, crossed the street in seconds, and disappeared. We were totally unprepared!”
“Totally. Between some buildings. We searched for a few more minutes, but we knew it was futile. How would we find him in all those backyards? Cooperman drove around with his car a little, and I did the same with mine; we split up the streets.”
“Nothing. I don’t believe we’ll ever be able to find him.” He cut a tiny piece of cake with his fork, made a brachah, and ate silently as he collected his thoughts.
“Maybe the police will be able find him using your description?” his wife attempted.
“I doubt it,” Nechemia replied, rubbing his forehead. “I don’t think they know him from previous crimes, but he seems to have all the criteria for a future as a real criminal if he’s gotten started on the right foot like this—as far as he’s concerned, of course.” His words were laced with bitterness. “It’s really a shame. If he was my student, I would say that I could expect great things from him; he seems to have many strong qualities. But instead, he’s going to grow up to be a criminal because of the environment he’s being raised in. I have no doubt about it.”
Ronny walked into the living room and slumped into the big armchair. His mother’s sleepy voice called out from her room, “Who’s there? Ronny, is that you?”
“Yes, it’s me!” he replied in a low voice.
“You’re back from your night out?”
“Yes, but I’m leaving again soon.”
His mother murmured something about the late hour, but nothing more. She glanced at the luminescent digits on the clock on the night table and didn’t say a thing. Yes, it was almost three in the morning, but aside from hoping that her son wasn’t doing anything illegal, she was powerless when it came to his activities. It wasn’t like saying anything would have helped in any way.
Ronny bent over to tie his shoelaces. It was better—just to be safe—to get out of here, so if Rafi would give over his address, they wouldn’t find him at home.
He hoped with all his heart that if Rafi had been caught—and he had no idea if that had happened or not—he would remember to keep his mouth shut. But who knew what kind of pressure had been applied to him? It was possible that the police were already on their way over.
He left the house, walked down to the street, and headed for Rafi’s house. The street was totally empty. No police car—or any other car—was on the road at this hour.
Ronny stood opposite the doorway to Rafi’s house and knocked lightly. Silence was the only response. Was Rafi home, burrowing under his covers? Or was he still far away? Had he gotten into the school and hidden himself there? Was he still in the tree? Trapped in the hands of someone who had ambushed him in the building?
His plans had gotten messed up, Ronny conceded to himself. How had he let himself become swept up by his initial successes? Why had he come again, without suspecting that they’d laid an ambush for them? After all, he hadn’t thought that the school’s administration wouldn’t react at all to what had happened!
Now, in any case, only one thing mattered to him: If Rafi had squealed, the police were already on the way to his house. The knocking and ringing of the doorbell would alarm his parents. They would think that he’d gotten involved in a violent fistfight again, not knowing that he’d gone a step further this time. For some reason, the thought didn’t frighten him, but the idea of spending time in a prison cell did not enamor him at all.
He returned to the street, crossed it, and leaned calmly against a gate, which afforded him a view of Rafi’s building. If Rafi had gotten away, he should be arriving home very soon.
But Rafi didn’t come. At that moment, he lay curled up behind a large baby carriage that was resting under the steps of a building. He didn’t know how to get back to his neighborhood. There were no more buses, and even if there had been, he didn’t have money for one. After running for fifteen minutes behind buildings and trees that looked like huge monsters in the dark, he decided that it would be better to wait for daylight. He had entered this building, crept through a pile of junk that was stored under the stairs, and hoped that in the morning, he would be able to find his way home and that no one would be looking for him anymore.