Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 15 of a new online serial novel, Night Flower, by Esther Rapaport. Check back for a new chapter every week. Click here for previous chapters.
Copyright © Israel Bookshop Publications.
The newspaper editor subtly fixed his gaze on a detailed work of art that depicted Napoleon’s final battle in Russia. But when the silence grew prolonged, he turned to look at the master of the household, who continued to sit with a small smile playing on his lips.
“Mr. Rosenberg?” Vasiliy, the reporter, asked, a trace of impudence lacing his words. “Did you hear the conversation?”
The man looked at the reporter as though he were a pesky mosquito that had suddenly appeared in the hall. “Where do you have this recording from?” he asked curiously, and cast a fleeing glance behind him, to his bodyguards. They were silent.
“The wiretap was not on your line; it was on his line,” Antonovich said, mildly apologetic.
“Someone apparently had an interest in this person.”
“Apparently,” Nikolai said, and then he finally gave a full smile. “And so, what do you want from me?” He reached for the box that was placed at that moment on the table, and took out a fat cigar, wrapped in thin green paper. With a fluid move, he pushed the box gently toward Sergevsky, the editor.
“If we could get a reasonable explanation for this conversation, we’d be most pleased,” the editor said, not touching the box. “Just to remind you, our newspaper apologized and issued a correction that you have no connection to Judaism, and now it looks like that apology was unnecessary.”
“Oh, people are so shallow.” Rosenberg took a lighter out of the pocket of his smoking jacket. “It’s not the one with the diamonds that you wrote about,” he sneered at Vasiliy Antonovich. “It’s just a simple one, like yours.” He lit the cigar and leaned back. “People are so shallow,” he repeated again. “They believe everything they hear. They hear ‘Abraham’ and they think it really is Abraham…”
“So, you lied to the Jew, Mr. Rosenberg?” Vasiliy decided not to let the man evade answering by enveloping himself with ambiguous words.
“If you must know, it was a code that was intended to identify the two of us.” Rosenberg puffed deeply. “You can ask him as well if you plan to write up another expose about me and want more accurate details.”
“It’s hard for me to get to him, because he’s imprisoned at the moment.”
“Imprisoned?” Rosenberg coughed and took the cigar out of his mouth. “Well, the Jews are corrupt, as we all know. It didn’t take much for him to get arrested.”
“Did you know that that was what would happen?” the reporter asked.
“Know? No. I didn’t know.”
“Do you have any connection with his incarceration?” The reporter tried a different approach.
Rosenberg fixed him with a piercing glare. “No,” he said, “but the meeting that was arranged for today was not meant to address the issue of the Jew Shlomo Struk, right?”
Vasiliy gazed back at him. “I have one more question,” he said, ignoring the tycoon’s narrowed eyes. “Regarding your son…”
“If I answered your last family question that these are not matters of your concern, then why do you think I’ll give you a different answer now?” Rosenberg seemed to suddenly lose his patience. “But fine. I’m beginning to understand the breeding ground upon which your dreadful mistake was cultivated.” He smiled sourly at the two guests. “I’ll think about how to compensate your newspaper,” he said, and at that moment, a pleasant chime resonated through the hall. “Your forty minutes are up, but I’m sure you won’t refuse to drink something in honor of the conclusion of this unpleasant incident.”
The meeting ended far more convivially than how it began. Rosenberg and his two guests sipped glasses of Smirnoff together and parted with handshakes and big smiles.
“You put the pressure on him,” Sergevsky said as they settled confidently into the Volga and left the complex. “But that wasn’t a bad thing. I’ll hire you again.”
Vasiliy sat frozen, his eyes fixed on the snowdrifts that lined the road. Inside the vehicle it was warm, and he took off his gloves and tossed them into his lap. “He was afraid of our last question,” he said. “Did you notice? Attempting to answer it would have complicated things for him.”
“But he was able to evade that one, too,” the editor said. “In any case, he certainly saw that we’re not such boors when we conduct research on someone. Your proofs were irrefutable, each one of them, and I will note that you were a nudge. You did a good job.”
Back in the grand estate, Nikolai Rosenberg was using the same compliment for the journalist.
“He’s a real nudge, that Vasiliy Antonovich,” he said, as if to himself, and looked at the vodka in his glass. Then he threw back his head as he swallowed the drink down, and filled another glass. His two bodyguards didn’t move, as though they hadn’t heard a word.
A week and a half later, Vasiliy Antonovich was killed in a car accident.
“Yes.” Menachem immediately identified the voice of Yoel Brodsky. “How are you, Yoel? Is everything okay with Dovi? We heard that you drove them back last night from Rambam Hospital.”
“Right. Dovi’s fine, baruch Hashem, although I suggested to my sister that he should rest at home for a few days.”
Menachem frowned into the phone. “If my brother were here, I’m not sure that he would agree that that is necessary. They did tests and saw that everything in the brain was fine.”
“If your brother were here, lots of things would be different, but he’s not here.”
Menachem Struk could not argue with that logic. Besides, he had no interest in arguing with Yoel. As it was, their relationship was a bit tense. And truthfully, the fact that his nephew Dovi often missed school was not really his business, especially since he really didn’t know what the medical recommendation was in this case. He glanced at his watch; he needed to leave the house very soon.
Thankfully Yoel had no desire either to argue further, and instead, as he drove down a busy street, he got right down to the reason for his call.
“Listen, my sister doesn’t know that I’m calling you, but I thought it would be a good idea to get you involved; it’ll be more efficient than if I try to deal with this myself. See, we want to get someone to come live with her.”
“Live with her?”
“Yes. And she’s agreed, at least theoretically, but I haven’t found anyone suitable, and I don’t really know where to look and how. But your family has more connections than I do, so if you hear of someone who you feel would be a good choice to live in the house with them during this time, it would be great.”
“Whose idea is this?” Menachem didn’t mean to sound so critical, but that’s how it came out.
“Mine,” Yoel said quietly, stopping for a red light. “And Chaiky is ready, and my parents also agree that this is a good idea.” The light turned green.
And what about my parents? Menachem thought.
“My family will need to think about this, Yoel…you know, decide if it’s really a good idea.”
“Excuse me, but isn’t this supposed to be Chaiky’s decision?” A large truck with a load of gravel suddenly crossed the intersection in front of him, causing Yoel to brake abruptly.
“Of course, but maybe we should also consult with other opinions before she does anything rash. Like, for example, maybe you need to ask the baal habayis himself. Did you think about doing that?”
Yoel stepped on the gas, trying to make the next light. “Even if I thought about it, communication with him is not so regular. You know that it’s very complicated to ask him anything right now.”
“Sometimes we need to do complicated things, Reb Yoel.”
“If indeed they need to be done.”
Five to nine. Menachem looked for the key on the kitchen shelf and tried to end the conversation on a less confrontational note. “I suggest that you tell your sister that in the next fax she sends to Russia, she should ask Shlomo what he thinks about this idea.”
“I’ll tell her. And you’ll find someone good to live with her?”
“I’ll tell my parents. Maybe my wife will have a good idea. Now, if you’ll please excuse me, I’m really in a rush to leave the house.”
It was so good to be back home.
Chaiky gazed at her children sleeping at this late morning hour. Dovi’s head was still swathed in a huge bandage that had aroused Naomi’s envy when she’d seen him last night for the first time. “But I was at Zeidy and Bubby’s, and I had a really good time there,” she’d informed him.
“And I was in the hospital, and I didn’t like it there at all,” he’d replied. Then, after thinking for another moment, he’d added, “But it was nice that Ima was with me. It was just too bad that Rachel sometimes came to the room and took Ima away from me. She came a lot.”
She had come a lot. So much that Chaiky felt that she knew that face forever. Rachel was actually a very sweet girl, but the excitement at sharing the same family name with Chaiky just would not leave her.
“Well, I guess you’re not my mother,” she’d conceded. “That’s too bad. I was so excited when you came! I’ve never met any other Struk besides me. But tell me, who else in your family is named Struk?”
“My husband’s parents, of course.”
“So maybe I’m their daughter?” she asked doubtfully. “But if you’re too young, they are probably too old. They probably don’t have kids around my age anymore.”
“Actually, they do,” Chaiky said, and immediately regretted it. But it was too late.
“What? So I could be your sister-in-law? Maybe that’s why I look a bit like Dovi, because I’m his aunt?”
Chaiky was absolutely not ready to agree with the external comparison between Dovi and Rachel. “I don’t see much similarity between you and Dovi,” she said. “Rachel, there are other Struks in the world. It’s not such an uncommon name.”
“I know,” Rachel said and stared at the wall. “There are lots of Struks in the phone book, but I don’t dare call any of them. Besides, if my parents would have wanted, they would have come to look for me already. But it’s sometimes nice to imagine that it was all one big mistake, and maybe they didn’t know that I actually survived…” They were sitting on chairs outside Dovi’s room, where he was sleeping. “But Elsie said it wasn’t. When the hospital staff realized that my mind was really fine and that I wasn’t in such bad condition after all, they were able to contact my parents. But they said they had no energy to take care of me and it would certainly be better for me if I grew up with someone else.”
Chaiky felt a chill go down her spine at the indifference in Rachel’s voice.
“Don’t be angry at Elsie for telling me this. Because after I was angry at her for a whole year, she sat me down for a conversation—I was twelve at the time—and explained to me that it’s better to know the painful truth than to live with illusions. And I was living with illusions.” She sighed deeply. “Do you think that if I think now that we are sisters-in-law, that’s also be an illusion?”