Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 52 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.
It was early afternoon when Yoel parked his car near the community center in Yokne’am. He had popped over for a surprise visit to his sister and her children, to see how they were; maybe he’d order some pizza if he saw she hadn’t prepared lunch and they hadn’t eaten yet. But only Dovi and the baby were home, along with the girl who lived with them. There was a tantalizing aroma of something baking in the oven, and Dovi’s face was stained with ketchup, though he ran to clean it off before going back to cheder for the afternoon.
They didn’t know when Chaiky would be home, so Yoel decided to wait for her here, outside the community center. After waiting ten minutes, however, he gave up and called her.
“Chaiky, are you going to be at the community center for a while?”
“I don’t know,” she replied, sounding a bit disoriented. “Why, did you need something from me?”
“I just wanted to visit. I’m parked outside the community center now. So, should I come back another time?”
“No, no,” she said hastily, sensing that it would not be wise—or nice—to send him away after he’d made the effort to come all the way there. “The truth is that a few interesting things have happened here, and they are just telling me about them now. I’d want to hear your take on them. I’ll be out in two minutes, okay?”
“Fine,” he said, and leaned back. He wondered how long “two minutes” was, in female language.
It wasn’t as long as he’d feared. After four and a half minutes, he saw Chaiky walking down the path, Naomi’s hand tucked into hers. They climbed into his car.
“Hello, Yoel.” Chaiky’s voice was tight.
“Hi. Regards from your house—it smells delicious there, and everything was calm and quiet. Since when does Dovi go back to cheder in the afternoon?”
“They started after Pesach. You were at my house? It’s good you’re telling me, because I thought I would take advantage of the opportunity and do a little shopping, but I didn’t know what was happening at home. Let me just call Rachel to make sure it’s okay with her.”
“I’ll take you shopping for whatever you need. Where to?”
“The truth is that Yokne’am doesn’t have a store where I can find what I’m looking for. I need some things for the kids for the summer. I didn’t have a chance to get this errand done before my trip. I’d appreciate it if you could take me to Haifa, and I’ll come back by bus.”
“We’ll see about that,” Yoel said as he made a right.
“Yoel,” she said after a few minutes. Naomi’s face was glued to the window. “Do you remember that during the last few weeks that I was working, there was someone working with me named Noa? Did I ever mention her to you?”
“I don’t remember.” He shrugged. “Maybe you told me, maybe not. Why?”
“At first she came to our library because she said she needed books for a Jewish philosophy paper she was writing.”
“Strange. She couldn’t find a more expansive library wherever it was that she was studying?”
“Believe me that I didn’t think about it. Elka, my boss, was sure that she had been sent by the central management of all the community centers in the country, to see if we were deserving of a special grant for the way we manage our facility.”
“Nu?” He turned off the road they were driving on.
“Now it turns out that she wasn’t at all connected to the grant. It was all a lie.”
“Whose lie? Is she to blame because that’s what your boss thought?”
“Elka didn’t decide it out of the blue. All the details…it all fit in. They also spoke about it indirectly a couple of times…” It was no wonder Elka had been hovering solicitously around Noa all day, and had forgotten the person who had brought the center to where it was today.
This time it was final; she had been defeated. There was no way to escape what she had to do. And what about poor Chaiky? If the notebook would somehow find its way to Struk, it could save them, but on the other hand, it would implicate her, big time. And she had no interest in spending the lion’s share of her life in Shlomo’s Struk’s place.
You’ve already lived your best years, young lady, a voice inside of her jeered. Even Chaya’le, that baby you loved so much, has long overtaken you.
The car was waiting on the shoulder of the road. No one pushed her into it; she knew they wouldn’t dare. After all, despite all the ups and downs in her relationship with Grandfather over the years, she had always been his favorite and most efficient grandchild.
But it was foolish to stand here on the sidewalk without moving, and there was also no point in signaling to the few passersby that she was in trouble. If the Israeli police would be called to the scene, she wouldn’t be in that much better shape.
With effort, she lifted her feet and climbed into the car. The woman sitting in the back beside her gazed out the window, expressionless.
“Where are we going?” Noa asked, not sounding the slightest bit afraid, even though inside she was quaking.
“To finish what you have to finish.”
“And after that?”
“Your grandfather will tell us then.”
“I just spoke to him.”
“Yes, we know.” The woman’s laugh was harsh, grating. “He will probably want to meet you. He is very angry.”
They spent the next forty minutes in utter silence.
“Where are we going?” Noa asked finally.
“You got the answer already.”
“But you’re not going there.”
“Where to?” The woman looked at her.
“To the place where I have to finish the work.”
The woman laughed again. “Do you think you are going to decide where to finish the job?”
“It doesn’t make much of a difference who decides what, but there is only one place where I can do it.”
The car stopped. It was a red light. “Where?”
“Only through the computer I worked at,” she said placidly. “In Yokne’am.”
“At your ridiculous community center?”
“Apparently. And if not, then in Struk’s house. There was a changeover of computers there, and I don’t know where the computer through which I sent the material is right now.”
“Through which you didn’t send the material.”
“I sent everything,” Noa protested. “We just need a few rather complicated steps in order to release it. But I have to do it from there.”
There was some murmured consultation on her right side and in front of her. She didn’t bother to listen. She felt overcome by a certain malaise. How had Adi put it? It’s not good to be the stick that bangs on a vessel; the G-d of the Jews—or rather, her G-d as well—doesn’t like when people behave that way. Fine. So she was trying to evade the job of being the stick. Now she’d see if it would work.
“Where is your laptop computer?” the woman beside her asked finally.
“What does that mean?”
“It means that just like I got rid of my old phone, I got rid of that computer.”
“Where are all your things?”
“I wanted to make life easy for myself,” Noa said with a wry smile. “I threw it all away. And when I need or want something, I just buy it.”
Her captors conversed again, more animatedly this time. Someone spoke on the phone, maybe with Grandfather. The car was now pulled over onto the shoulder, and Noa leaned back and closed her eyes.
Lunch was over, and Racheli had finished listening to the girls talk about tests, contests, friends that had said the wrong thing, and the braids that had come undone in the middle of class. She entered the room where Adi was sitting, and found her perusing the purple notebook.
“So, what is it?”
Adi raised her eyes. “I’m not sure,” she said. “Something about computer programming. There are a bunch of lines here that I really don’t understand. Who writes things in notebooks today? Which programmer doesn’t have a computer to take all these notes?”
“Maybe someone who doesn’t trust computers that much.”
“With all the backup options available today?”
“With all the hacking options available today. Apparently there are things that your friend did not want discovered on her computer, huh?”
“Maybe,” Adi said doubtfully. She turned back to the notebook. “More than half of it is empty, and on the last page there are these doodles that Noa used to draw whenever she needed to concentrate. She must have written all these things down. Wait. What’s this? There’s an address here. The Bais Leah Community Center, Yokne’am. 8 Harakefet Street…Elka Cohen.”
“Sounds frum, if you ask me—both the place and the lady’s name. Your friend wasn’t Chareidi, was she?”
“Not at all. Over the years I wasn’t even sure she was Jewish. She came from Russia as a little girl. Only this week she told me that she had recently discovered that she actually is Jewish.”
“Maybe that fact is connected to this place. Do you want me to try and track down this Elka and to hear from her if she has any idea what is going on or what happened to your friend?”
It was actually quite easy to locate Elka Cohen from Yokne’am, but it was much harder to get her into a conversation. She was unbelievably suspicious, and Adi, trying to be nice on the phone, signaled to Racheli with her eyes that she wasn’t getting anywhere. It was like hitting a brick wall.
“Which notebook?” Mrs. Cohen seemed pretty determined not to understand.
“I found a notebook, and your name is written in it. It’s full of notes about computer programming, or so it seems.”
“I know nothing about computers, ma’am. I have no idea why someone would write my name in such a notebook.”
“Perhaps you know the person whose notebook it is?”
“Who is it?”
“I think it belongs to Noa Rose. Do you know her?”
“Noa?!” Elka had been dozing on the office chair in Chaiky’s office, and the phone call with these strange questions had disturbed her nap. But now, she sat up so suddenly that the room began to spin. “Noa Rose?”
She was overtaken by a coughing fit that lasted a full ten seconds before she was able to restore her voice to its normal tone, instead of sounding hoarse. “You know her?! Who are you?”
“I’m her friend,” Adi said. “Is she by you?”
“No, not at all. Where can I reach her? I have some very important things to tell her. Can you let her know that I’ve been searching all over for her?”
“Not really. I’m not sure where she is right now, either.” Adi rifled through the notebook. “But she wrote your name down, along with the address of some type of community center.”
“Some type of community center… And what did she write besides that?”
Adi looked at the scribbled-up page. “That’s all it says here,” she said. “Your name and the address. The rest of the pages are filled with programming language. What connection does Noa have to your community center?”
“That’s something I’m trying to find out. Where are you friends from, Haifa?”
“No, I’m from Tel Aviv. So you have no idea where I can find her to give her back her suitcase?”
Oops—she had just shared a piece of information that she didn’t have to, and Elka immediately caught her in her net.
“Suitcase?” Elka stood up and pushed the chair back into its place. “Which suitcase?”
“She was by me.” Adi wasn’t happy to be giving information to this anonymous Elka. Racheli could say what she wanted about the community center in Yokne’am sounding Chareidi, but she didn’t trust anyone who had been in contact with Noa before she had arrived in Tel Aviv. “And her bag stayed here. I found the notebook inside it. Do you want me to send it to you?”
“What for? It’s not mine.” Elka paced back and forth in the little room. “But what about her? Where is she?”
“She disappeared—I told you. I’m considering calling the police, even though she said it’s not necessary.”
“She said that? When did she say that?”
Adi leaned on the bookshelves in the room that was actually a closed porch; it had been cleared in order to give her some space of her own. This time, Elka’s question was laced with a bit of worry, not only anger. It was interesting how Noa was able to evoke the same emotions among all those she had been in contact with: anger and insult, combined with fear for her safety.
“She called me a few days after we parted, and told me she was in trouble, but that I shouldn’t call the police.”
“The police. That’s actually an idea. After they find her safe and sound, I am going to sue her for deception and lying for the purpose of…I don’t know what for, but for something. That much I can tell you!”