Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 24 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.
“Hashem will give us a prize? Do you mean s’char?”
“Yes. And I’ll buy you a good prize, too.”
“And are you also going to get a prize?”
“I think,” Dovi mused thoughtfully, “that your prize will be if Abba comes back. Right it’s a punishment that they took Abba, and when he comes back it will be a prize?”
“We don’t know why Hashem does all kinds of things,” Chaiky replied with effort. Rachel appeared in the doorway of the kitchen. “I think it is better for us to call this a ‘challenge.’ A challenge that Hashem sent us to see how we behave when it is hard for us.”
Naomi entered the house just then, with her regular announcement that she was “starving,” bringing the discussion to an end, and everyone trooped into the kitchen. Rachel offered to set the table. Lunch was tomato and rice soup that Chaiky had cooked the night before, and she’d added slices of frankfurters to it in the morning.
“You didn’t make this soup for such a long time, Ima!” Naomi exulted as she chose the orange bowl for herself. “Rachel, do you like tomato-rice soup? We love it, and Dovi sometimes even eats three bowls of it!” She brought the spoon close to her mouth.
“Naomi.” Chaiky was tense as she gently stopped her. “What did you forget?”
“A brachah. Baruchatamelolamborminmezonos.”
“Well, I imagine that it takes time to teach them,” Rachel observed. “But it’s such a shame, Naomi, that that’s how your talking to Hashem looks. You know Who gave your mother the strength to cook, and the ability to prepare such delicious soup, and to buy all the ingredients?”
“It’s only because Ima didn’t have time to talk to her when she came home,” Dovi claimed, and then, almost teasingly, he filled his spoon with soup and made the brachah loudly and clearly.
After lunch, Chaiky went to rest, as usual, but this time, she felt less guilt than usual because she knew that someone was with the children.
She got up nearly two hours later and discovered, once again, the sickening smell of bleach and the wet floor. How had Rachel managed to time her floor-washing to exactly the minute that Chaiky woke up? Her head began to spin, and she retreated into her room and opened the windows.
She heard voices from the dining room. Based on the snippets she heard, the children seemed to be showing Rachel their photo albums. “And this is me with Bubby Struk on my second birthday!” Naomi explained. “She bought me this teddy bear, but it tore already. It was actually a really cute bear.”
“This is Bubby Struk? Your father’s mother?” Even without being there, Chaiky knew that Rachel was bending closer to the album and closely examining the photos of the person holding Naomi in her arms. Suddenly Chaiky found herself holding her cell phone and dialing her mother-in-law’s number.
“Chaiky, how are you?” She heard the surprise in the tone. Of course her mother-in-law was surprised; when was the last time Chaiky had called her? On Monday after Dovi had fallen, to report that they had been to the doctor for a checkup and that everything was fine. But besides for that? It had been months.
“Baruch Hashem, I’m fine.”
“I’m glad to hear that.” Dina Struk leaned on the wall of the shoe store and observed her two youngest children. Yaakov had a slight orthopedic issue and he needed to wear a very specific shoe. So once a year they traveled to this big store in Haifa, and the twins enjoyed riding up and down the escalators there. That’s just what they were doing now, enjoying the escalators and waving vigorously to her from the floor above. The fact that their mother was worried and preoccupied, because Shlomo’s lawyer had resigned the day before yesterday for the final time, didn’t bother them too much. They were children, and as much as they knew the situation, and davened for the release of their older brother, they were still too young to grasp the extent of the problem. Anyway, they didn’t feel a very strong bond with Shlomo. After all, he had gotten married when they were about a year old, and he and Chaiky hadn’t made the effort over the years to invite them over much and to develop close ties with them, like Menachem and Goldie had.
“Are you home?”
“No, I’m in Haifa. We went to buy Yaakov shoes.”
“Oh.” Chaiky stood up and walked over to the window that overlooked the side yard. “Whatever, I wanted to tell you that there’s someone staying with us for a few days…”
“Oh, yes.” Dina was suddenly alert. “What about that, actually?”
“What about what?”
“About what your brother told Menachem. I didn’t find anyone, even though I did look into it. So you were able to find someone?”
“Uh, no,” Chaiky said feebly. “It’s someone else who is only here for two days, not permanently. She’s a nice girl I met at the hospital when I was there with Dovi.”
“And her last name is Struk.”
“Struk? Interesting. Which Struk?”
“I wanted to ask you if there’s maybe a family connection; she has no idea.”
“Which Struk are they? From which city?”
Chaiky took a deep breath. “I don’t know. Honestly, she doesn’t know too much either, because she has no idea who her parents are. She was abandoned at the hospital when she was a baby; apparently her parents couldn’t raise her because of her health issues…” A momentary silence. “But she’s actually fine today. Emotionally, cognitively, and even physically. She has some mild disabilities, but she manages very well.”
“Really! What a sad story.”
Chaiky swallowed. “Do you know of such a story in the family? About a baby that was abandoned?”
“No,” Dina said thoughtfully, “but I don’t know the whole extended family, especially the non-religious branches. Maybe they are related somehow, or maybe not. Not all the Struks are related.”
“That’s too bad.” Chaiky toyed with the shutter. Open, close, open, close. “She’ll be very disappointed. She was dreaming of finding relatives.” So the similarity between the two was just her imagination. In all honesty, despite the somewhat loaded relationship she had with her mother-in-law, she had to admit that such a story was very out of character for Dina Struk.
After a sleepless night, and a cup and a half of some vodka, Josef Podernik reached the conclusion that he should feel encouraged. After all, even if the recorded conversation was cut off, and the video from the hotel security camera was not complete, it was still strong enough evidence with which to open the trial.
True, under interrogation, the Jew was continuing to deny any criminal connection to Rosenberg. But faced with strong evidence, his denials would be insignificant. Now they just had to apply pressure on the director of the Financial Crimes Unit to search a bit more aggressively. Something about the way they were working didn’t sit right with him. Rosenberg—Jew or not, and it made no difference really—was probably oiling a few rusty wheels.
He would do two things right away in the morning: he would speak to the director, Chontaroshov, again, and he would start cutting through the bureaucracy to get a trial scheduled. The opening of the trial had already been postponed four times because of Struk’s lawyers. Now he would not allow this to happen. He would do everything possible to put the Jew on trial within the next month.
A few hours later, after a very heated conversation with Bernie, he was on his way out to his lunch break. And that’s when it arrived.
“Hey, Podernik!” Sasha, the secretary, called. “Someone brought this in for you!”
He was hungry, but Josef retraced his steps back to the desk. “Who is it from?” he asked when he saw the simple plastic bag. “The director?”
“No. Someone left it with the guard at the door. He just checked that it’s not something explosive and then sent it to our floor. Your name is on it, as you can see.”
Josef looked at the small electronic chip lying in the bag. He took it and went back to his little cubicle. He typed in his password and stuck in the chip.
I work for Rosenberg. I hate his Jews. This is what I found for you.
The investigator read the short lines, written in simple language, and clicked to continue. The screen switched to an email program. The exchange was dated October ninth, and the short correspondence at the bottom of the screen was in English, between two people, R and S.
S: So, I’m coming to Moscow in a week and a half. What’s with the diamonds?
R: Don’t contact me there. It’s dangerous for both of us. I’ll contact you.
R: At the right time. We’ll work the regular way.
S: And the payment?
R: The regular way.
Podernik didn’t even feel hungry anymore. He stared wide-eyed at the brief exchange. Someone was handing him what he needed on a silver platter—but, like always, it was only half a platter. There were no forms of identification in the email, and in any case, people could choose their own screen names, so even if the initials of the people having this conversation were perfect for him, such a thing would not be acceptable evidence in court.
But it gave him a new direction in which to look.
It would be complicated to search a private, Israeli computer, but he would do everything possible to get approval for it.
“Hello? Oh, Elsie! How are you?”
“Tell me, Rachel, how many days is it from Tuesday to Friday?”
“Good, and we made up that you were going to Mrs. Struk for just two days! Why are you still there if today’s Friday and it’s less than six hours to Shabbos?”
“Oh, yes,” was Rachel’s response. “Naomi, why are you dragging your Shabbos dress on the floor like that? Give it to me quickly!”
“Rachel!” Elsie snapped, “Are you with me?”
“Yes, sure. Don’t worry. I’m just getting the children ready. They are going to their grandparents for Shabbos. And they’re not my parents, by the way. So I’m just walking them there, and then I’ll get on the bus to Haifa. Do you think I’m not curious to get to the hospital already? But this time I really won’t nudge Chaiky, I promise you. I’ll just peek at her and their new baby, and I’ll wish her mazel tov, and then I’ll come right over to you.”
“What? They had a baby?”
“Yes, a little boy. And on Sunday I’m coming back here. Because she’s also coming home, and I’m sure she’s going to need my help.”