Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 47 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.
Noa stared icily at the woman, and then immediately turned around, but just beyond the doorway to the store, she saw a few figures standing in the shadow beneath the awning. So she was surrounded.
Grandfather had won.
But she wouldn’t capitulate quite so fast.
Noa turned back into the dim interior of the store. “Excuse me,” she said politely to the woman blocking her way. “I want to pass.”
“You’ll ask your grandfather to excuse you in a few hours, when you get to him, because you’re not going anywhere,” the woman replied with a smile. “You’re coming with me now. I was informed that you have a rebellious nature, but I still suggest that you come with me without making a fuss, if you have a pair of eyes and any sense.”
“Excuse me.” Noa pretended not to have heard a thing. “I need to get my things.”
“Things?” The woman looked at Noa, who was carrying just a small tote bag. “Where are they?”
Noa nodded vaguely toward one of the corners in the store. Excellent. She had no idea when they had begun following her here, but it did not seem that this woman knew where her things really were.
The woman threw a few words to the men standing outside. Noa did not even make the effort to listen. She walked further into the dim bazaar with a confident step, and this time, no one blocked her path. Feverishly she rummaged in her skirt pocket, passing by the shelves packed with all kinds of clothing. She picked up her pace, happy to see that the store was both very large and very messy. Behind her, she saw her guard standing and staring at her.
She bent down behind a circular rack of clothes, and with two presses on the phone, she got to Adi’s number. She only hoped she was home now!
Her wordless prayer was answered. “Hello?”
“Adi? I’m in trouble, in a clothing store at the Central Bus Station.”
“Noa? Is that you?”
“Yes. Remember the code TK4125#224611, okay?”
Behind her she heard brisk footsteps. “Here, my bag is here!” Noa cried and stood up, running to the other side. Without looking backward or trying to listen to the noises, she knew that her pursuer was running behind her.
“Say it again?”
“Should I call the police?”
“For now, I don’t think so. They won’t dare do anything to me because—” The phone fell to the floor that was covered in layers of dirt and skittered away when Noa bent down once more. She found herself next to the entrance again. She couldn’t go outside now; they were literally blocking the door. She made a dash toward the right, where she remembered there being a counter with a register of sorts. Yes. There was something there; a saleswoman with a veiled headdress was sitting there, looking totally indifferent to the chase taking place in her store.
“Where’s there a door?” Noa whispered. “Besides the front door.”
The saleswoman didn’t say a word. She rose heavily from her place, and without even taking one step, she stuck her hand out and moved aside a broad metal rack, on which several garish yellow shirts were hanging. Suddenly the darkened space was flooded with sunlight, and Noa leaped through the opening. The door slammed shut behind her and she made a sharp right turn, away from the bus station.
She raced into one of the nearby alleys, hoping that her pursuers would not decide to choose the same one. She ran, stumbling, weaving between the streets and alleys. She knew the game was up. Now she and Grandfather were tied, but she would change that yet. She would reach a safe place, and then she would contact him personally, and clarify her position and the reason why she had launched this game of cat and mouse. She would do what he wanted her to do so desperately, and then she would part from him forever.
With tired eyes, Noa stood on the curb and stopped a cab. “To Be’er Sheva,” she said, and sized up the driver somewhat anxiously. He didn’t look like the kind of person that Grandfather employed.
The trip southward was smooth, with no interruptions. Noa tried to imagine how her pursuers had reacted the minute they realized she had absconded through the side door. Who had begun to chase her, and who had remained behind to report to Grandfather that his rebellious granddaughter had once again slipped away?
But she would contact Grandfather and present him with the facts: The code was no longer exclusively in her hands, and now, she was not the only one who could expose what was in the hard drive from a distance. Anyone who had the code could choose what would suddenly appear on the computer screens of the investigators in Russia—the parts that would incriminate Shlomo Struk…or the parts that would report Grandfather’s role in the whole affair. So yes, Grandfather would get what he needed from her—but it wouldn’t be exactly as he liked it.
Because if she wanted to break off from this chokehold of her family, and forge her path in the world on her own steam, she had to make sure that it would be a secure path. And the only way to do that would be to have the final say with Grandfather.
Adi was double-locking the door when the taxi honked downstairs. With one hand she clutched Chana’le, and in the other she lugged the folded carriage. It may have been foolish to take a baby on a rescue-spy-search-aid mission, but she didn’t have where to leave her and she had to find out what was going on with Noa. If it would take too long, perhaps she would ask Racheli Korman to come from Bnei Brak to take the baby. Or perhaps she could ask Racheli for help?
Adi slammed the trunk of the taxi closed and climbed into the car. “The new Central Bus Station, please.”
Within seven minutes, she was paying the driver, and she emerged into the steamy street. She placed Chana’le in the carriage; the baby continued sleeping angelically. Adi stood stock-still for a moment, perusing the passersby. No, Noa was not among them, and she still wasn’t answering her cell phone. Adi pushed the carriage into the building, passing by the security guards. Everything looked calm and normal; no one seemed aware of the drama that had taken place right here half an hour ago—and which could still be going on at this very moment.
Adi had always been the thorough type, and when she did something, she did it all the way. For a full fifty minutes she searched through the whole place, going up and down in the elevators and checking all the floors, corners, and bus platforms. Only then did she decide that she was ninety-nine percent certain that Noa was not there.
So where was she?
Adi looked to her left and to her right, straining her ears to hear any Russian talk. But the only language she heard was Sudanese. On a bench near the optical store that sold sunglasses on sale for just 590 shekels, an old lady sat and gazed at the bundle of helium balloons tied to the entrance of the store. “Excuse me,” Adi said, approaching her. “Did you perhaps see someone around here who looked like she needed help?”
The woman raised her eyes. “Help?” she asked. “What kind of help?”
“Rescue, protection, something like that.” Adi spoke quickly. “A woman who was being chased. Did you see such a thing? Was there any type of commotion here just before?”
“Not at all. How old is this woman? Young?”
“Not very. Something like thirty-five.”
“That’s very, very young!” the woman declared, and then began to think. After a few seconds she said, “No. I didn’t see anything. Call the police; that’s your best bet.”
“Thanks,” Adi said.
The woman squinted at her. “Are you sure this person was really here?”
“That’s what I thought,” said Adi, “but it doesn’t look like it.”
“Why doesn’t it look like it?”
“Because people here are saying they didn’t see anyone or anything like what I’m describing.”
“And who told you that this person was really here, and that this whole chase really happened?”
“So maybe that wasn’t accurate?” the woman asked, and stretched out slowly on the bench.
Adi looked at the shiny floor. Maybe it wasn’t accurate? But…why shouldn’t it be? What reason in the world could make Noa ask for her help and then give her misinformation about her location?
Chana’le let out a tinny wail, and Adi sat down on the bench next to the woman and pawed around in the carriage bassinet for a pacifier. Was Noa in danger now? It was hard to believe. After all, as she’d started to say before the call was suddenly cut off, it was her grandfather who was looking for her. On the other hand, Noa was really, really making an effort to avoid those who were hunting her down so diligently. Maybe that phone call had been deliberately misleading? Noa had said something about her home phone possibly being tapped. Maybe she wanted her grandfather’s people to think she was at the Central Bus Station, so they would move away from wherever she really was?
Adi remained seated on the bench, rocking the carriage mechanically. It wasn’t a pleasant experience to feel like a fool who came charging over in alarm because of a phone call from a friend, without thinking it through first. It was pretty clear that Noa had no idea what her phone call would lead to. Unfortunately, Noa could not be expected to think about others, certainly not at a time when she felt threatened and was on the run.
The baby fell back asleep, and Adi suddenly didn’t have an ounce of energy to schlep back home with her. She lacked the money for taxis, except, of course, when she was putting too much trust in people instead of using her common sense.
Her phone rang, and Adi discovered that not only did she not have the energy to walk half an hour home, she didn’t even have the strength to check who was calling her. But she picked up a hand to wipe away the tears that suddenly pricked at the corners of her eyes, and at the same time glanced at the screen. No, she couldn’t answer Racheli’s call right now, sweet and understanding as she was. Adi would cry, and Racheli would think it was because of her loneliness and the financial problems and the pain and everything. Adi wouldn’t be able to explain that she’d just been insulted by a friend—that was all.
But somehow, Racheli’s smile, even without Adi being able to see it, drove Adi to stand up, and to push the carriage toward the exit of the bus station. She vaguely remembered that there was another exit that would spare her the more roundabout route home, and would shorten the distance significantly. She tried to remember exactly where that exit was.
Finally she found it, a small door in a remote corner of the station, next to the counter where people could check in their belongings. She wanted to walk through the door, but something inside the baggage room caught her eye. There was a pile of suitcases there, and the one closest to the counter was black, huge, and very, very familiar-looking.