Israel Bookshop presents Chapter 56 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.
“She’s crazy,” Chaiky whispered, almost hypnotized. “Totally crazy.”
“Who?” Yoel drove on. Although they hadn’t discussed it, he was already halfway back to Yokne’am.
Chaiky recovered. “What would you say, Yoel, if someone with whom you are not on friendly terms—quite the opposite, actually—all of a sudden starts sending you warm messages and reminding you about your good old days together?”
“And there never were any good old days?”
“No,” she replied firmly. “She brought me a gift after Yisrael Meir was born, and we spoke for a few minutes, I guess in friendly conversation, but she’s not talking about that now. She’s talking about all the pleasant days we spent together, and the long conversations that we had, and…” She tried to remember what Miri had relayed. “And how good it was to work with me, and how intelligent I am.”
“Well, I’m sure it’s wonderful to work with you, just like I am sure that you are very intelligent.”
“Ah, yes, my completely impartial little brother. I know you are loyal to me.” Chaiky smiled. “But in all my interactions with her, she never displayed any loyalty or appreciation to me. On the contrary.”
“Is this the woman you were speaking about earlier? I’m asking you this for a reason.”
Chaiky was silent for a long moment. “Yes,” she said heavily. “And you’re right. Everything about this is strange, very strange. She also told Rachel something about a report that I should look for…I cannot figure out what she is talking about, and honestly, I really don’t want to try and get into her brain to find out. Wait, my mother-in-law is calling me for the fourth time. I hope everything’s okay with Shlomo, because this looks urgent.”
“That’s what she asked you to tell Chaiky?” Elka hurried to Miri’s side, and they both dashed down the stairs to the first floor.
“And she didn’t say who the person with her was?”
“No, but I think she’s a supervisor or something from the Foundation.”
Elka stopped and stared at Miri. “What makes you think so?”
Miri was confused. “I don’t know. I realized at one point that Noa was connected to the Foundation, so I thought that if she was dropping in all of a sudden, with a stranger, that’s a sign…”
“It’s not a sign of anything,” Elka said sharply, and stopped two feet before she would become visible to anyone standing at the secretary’s desk. “That’s what I was given to understand, and I very much want to understand why they wanted me to understand it that way. Noa is not from any supervisory board—it’s all nonsense. And I’m very, very upset with her.”
Too bad all this has only come to the light now, Miri thought to herself. At that moment, Elka moved ahead to the desk, where she came face to face with Noa.
“Elka!” Noa exclaimed with a smile that immediately froze when she saw Elka’s hard stare.
“Yes, Noa?” Elka looked her up and down coolly. “Did you want something?”
Noa smiled her regular smile, but Miri could see that her right eye was twitching.
“I saved a few things on the computer here, and I forgot to back it up for myself,” she explained. “All my photos with Chaiky, and the choir songs that Chaiky taught and I played for them. I want to take it all out. You’ll let me access the computer, right?”
Elka stared at Miri, and Miri stared back.
“Who’s this woman?” Elka asked after a moment, pointing with her chin to the woman standing on the side with her arms folded. She hadn’t taken her eyes off the little group the entire time.
“This is my friend. She’s very curious to see the files that I left here.” She hesitated for a minute and then mumbled, “Unless you object because of confidential information.”
“Of course we object!” Elka didn’t know what was on the computer or how confidential it was. She just heard the word “object” and pounced on it. She wanted to ask about the Foundation, the grant, and about Noa’s sudden disappearance, but something in Noa’s expression was pleading with her to postpone the interrogation. Noa gazed into her eyes, and Elka suddenly discerned that she was signaling or asking something, but Elka didn’t know what it was. Besides rambling on about pictures and choirs, what exactly did Noa want?
“I think we should call Chaiky,” Elka said finally. Too bad Chaiky had left; she’d been there until two and a half hours ago. “You know that in principle, she is responsible for the management of this place, even if there was a time when things were a bit different. She’s responsible for the computers, and I will leave it to her to decide on all these matters.”
Was she just imagining that Noa breathed a sigh of relief?
“She’s on the way here,” Miri said quietly.
“So we will wait for her,” Elka said. She turned to the stranger who was with Noa. “You can sit down in the meantime, madam.” She pointed to the chairs placed along the opposite wall. “There are chairs there. You, too, Noa. Sit there and wait.”
The two walked over quietly to the chairs, but as soon as they sat down, an angry argument broke out between them. They kept the volume down, however, and Elka and Miri couldn’t understand a single word. But their arm motions were enough. The woman took out a phone and began calling a number, before she stopped and said something to Noa.
It looked like Noa was trying to defend herself, but at the same time, she didn’t seem particularly nervous.
“What is this whole song and dance supposed to be all about?” Elka murmured. “And how did it possibly happen that instead of shaking Noa by the shoulders and demanding explanations for the whole charade she played here for half a year, I just send her to sit down there without asking her anything?” She raised her eyes to the two uninvited guests and then sank into Miri’s chair. Miri remained standing.
A few moments later, Rebbetzin Fliegman’s lecture came to an end, and a stream of women began descending from the second floor. They walked across the lobby, blocking off any view of the chairs with the guests. Elka escorted the lecturer outside, casting irritated glances over her shoulder. Miri smiled at the women as they passed by, and began to pack up her things as her workday came to an end.
When Mrs. Fuchsman and Mrs. Kleiner left, last out as always from every lecture, the space between the desk and the chairs became clear again. Miri saw the woman pacing up and down and speaking on her phone. Noa was leaning against the wall with her eyes closed.
A moment later, Elka walked back in and glanced witheringly at the woman. “I’m going to ask her who she is exactly,” she said authoritatively to Miri. “There’s a car parked right outside the door, and I don’t like the way it looks. There are two people sitting inside it, they really don’t look like our type, and they seem to be waiting. I want to know what is going on here.”
At that very moment, Chaiky appeared.
“Chaiky!” Elka’s eyes lit up. “How are you, Chaiky?”
“Baruch Hashem,” Chaiky replied. A small smile tugged at her lips at the sight of Elka’s excitement at seeing her. But she grew serious very quickly. “Elka, my brother is outside. I have no idea what this story with Noa is, but there are two guys outside who look very…”
“That’s what I just said a second ago!” Elka exclaimed. “And I want you to talk to Noa. I want you to put her in her place. Maybe you will understand some of the nonsense she’s been spewing. She tells me she wants to take pictures from the computer of you two together, and files of some performance you made together…”
“A choir,” Miri corrected, but Elka didn’t even hear her, because Noa was back at her side, with the woman right at her hip, of course. Far too close for comfort.
“Chaiky, it’s good to see you.” Noa proffered her hand, and Chaiky shook it weakly. “Elka says you need to decide about this, and I really don’t know what the problem could be. Can I go into the library and take out the pictures that I saved on the computer there? I understand that Elka doesn’t want strangers to see the center’s confidential information, but why shouldn’t I be able to go in myself?”
“You have pictures on the computer in the library?” Chaiky asked slowly.
“Yes. At first I didn’t remember if they were on the computer in your office, but then I remembered that I must have saved them in the library. Can you come help me find them? You know that computer far better than I do.”
Chaiky took a deep breath. It was a good thing they’d dropped Naomi off at home, because she felt like she was about to scream, and it would not be good for Naomi to see her mother losing it. What was this all about? Chaiky knew what was on the computer in the library? She had never touched it, to the best of her recollection! That computer had been purchased while Noa was the librarian, and Chaiky hadn’t been involved with anything in the library since then!
Maybe Noa really wasn’t normal?
Chaiky stared at Noa. Noa stared back. The woman murmured something. Rachel had been right; it was Russian. But Noa ignored the woman and continued staring at Chaiky with a look that could only be interpreted as…pleading.
And maybe it was all a charade?
“Fine,” Chaiky said and again took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I will go into the library with you.” Maybe Noa wanted to tell her something without the woman overhearing. Maybe that was the meaning of her strangely disjointed sentences.
“No.” It was the first time they all clearly heard the voice of the anonymous escort. “No. Noa will go in with me.”
Chaiky looked at Elka.
“No, ma’am.” Elka knew how to be assertive when she wanted to be. “You are not going in. I have no idea what your friend Noa wants from our computer, but if Chaiky agrees to let her in, that’s fine. You, on the other hand, are not going in. Clear?”
And suddenly, the woman did not even try to conceal her Russian. A torrent of furious words poured out of her mouth, and she directed the deluge at Noa.
As she listened to the loud Russian words swirling around her, Chaiky instinctively knew, with a sudden, remarkable clarity, that somehow, in some way, this whole business was connected to Shlomo. She had no idea what Noa’s role in the story was, and she also did not know what gave her such confidence that her gut feeling was correct altogether, but yes, everything was clearly pointing in that direction.
She looked at the arguing women somewhat desperately, and saw that Elka was also confused. But the one who stopped it all was Noa herself.
“Look,” she said. “My…er, companion doesn’t want me to go in with anyone else. Would you let me in to the library myself for five minutes? I’ll just take out the files. It’s in Windows. I’ll open Windows, take the files I need, and then I’ll be done. Okay?”
Chaiky closed her eyes tightly and then opened them. “Okay,” she said.
“Fine,” Elka seconded, and handed Noa the key.
The door to the library was slammed shut, and the woman stood guard in front of it, gazing at her watch. She was so focused on counting the seconds that she didn’t realize that Chaiky had left the secretary’s desk area and entered Room Six, the room that had a window into the library.