Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 57 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.
“Elka is not answering this time.” Adi dropped the phone onto a pile of towels and continued folding. “I guess I’ll try again soon.”
This was the fifth day since Noa had disappeared. Adi had returned to her own home by now, but every day she was back at Racheli’s place for a few hours, trying to make headway with her in tracking down Noa.
Racheli peeked out from the kitchen. “Yehudis, go help Adi,” she said. “I don’t feel comfortable that she’s folding our laundry. Where’s Esty?”
“She’s watching Chana’le.” Adi’s face was creased with worry. “Do you think I did the wrong thing by not calling the police? I don’t think Elka can help. She just wants to settle accounts with Noa.”
“In any case, the police will tell you to first check all the other places where Noa could be before they take any action,” Racheli said. “I know how it works. A nine-year-old kid from this neighborhood once disappeared for three hours, and the police did not come before the parents called all the friends to find out if they knew anything. And that was regarding a child, not an adult like in this case.”
“What happened in the end with that boy?”
“His friends had no clue where he could be, so the police finally agreed to get involved. They eventually found the boy in Ramat Gan. He got mixed up with the bus numbers and had no money for a return trip and no phone with which to call home.”
“So maybe I should try and call a few mutual friends,” Adi remarked. She abandoned the washcloth she was folding. “Maybe Noa went to one of them or said something to one of them.”
But none of the friends she called had heard from Noa for at least half a year. Adi seemed to be the last one she had been in touch with.
They looked at each other from two sides of the window.
“I don’t know how much time I have,” Noa began, “so I’ll make it short. But pay attention to the details I’m telling you, and try to remember them. It’s possible that they will soon discover in Russia computerized proof of the contacts between your husband and the Mafia even before he arrived in Russia. These are falsified proofs that were planted, and you can easily refute them if you prove it.”
Chaiky gaped wide-eyed at Noa.
“I have a friend named Adi Milner. She lives in Tel Aviv. She should have a programming notebook, with a purple cover. Inside there are clear written instructions, and she should also have the laptop computer where almost everything was done. She also knows the final code for confirmation. If she doesn’t have these things and she has no idea what you’re talking about, tell her that they are in the black suitcase, in the baggage check at the Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“I might understand, but I won’t remember anything.” Chaiky’s fingers were trembling as she gripped the window frame. “Maybe before anything, tell me how you have all this information, and what is the connection between Noa the ba’alas teshuvah from Yokne’am to my husband’s trial in Russia?”
“It makes no difference. If you do what I tell you, you will help him.”
“You understand that it’s pretty hard for me to accept what you are saying at face value.” Chaiky’s lips trembled. “I know you for half a year already, and all of a sudden I find out that I really have no idea who you are, and now I hear that you also have a connection to our own personal mess…Who are you, anyway? And why do you expect me to believe you?”
“Because I want the best for you,” Noa said quietly. She could hear angry knocking on the door of the library behind her.
“And what did you want until now?”
“What was best for myself.”
“And you suddenly changed?”
“I haven’t changed.” Noa’s voice suddenly took on that familiar undertone of impatience. “But if I want to be able to live with myself for the years to come, I want to know that your husband gets out of this mess. Do you have a pen? Here, write this down: Adi Milner, computer, notebook, code, suitcase at Tel Aviv Bus Station.”
But Chaiky wrote nothing down. “I want to know what your connection to this story is.”
“I know people who are involved in your case, and I have heard things from them, here and there.”
“I want proof,” Chaiky finally said. “Prove to me that all these details won’t get my husband into more trouble.”
Noa sat down on the nearest chair. “The monkey with the broken leg at the Biblical Zoo.” She didn’t look at Chaiky. “The red pacifier that went into the garbage the night before first grade. The picture of you at age four crying and holding the turtle that you found in the yard, and your mother didn’t let you bring it home… Should I think of more proof?”
Chaiky stared at her, white-lipped. “It can’t be,” she whispered. “You aren’t Anna.”
“That’s right, but I once was.” Noa didn’t smile. “And you aren’t Chaya’le anymore, either, even though you once were. Not much of those good old times are left, and that’s a shame.”
Yoel parked on the corner of the street, not moving his eyes from the car parked a few yards ahead of him. The two people sitting in the car looked rather bored. They talked, smoked, ate something, talked on the phone, and then began it all over again. He considered calling Chaiky to ask if his presence was needed or if he could go home, but he was curious to know how the mysterious incident inside would play out.
Suddenly the door of the car opened, and one of the men emerged. He was talking into his phone, and while he talked he slammed the car door behind him and began walking toward the main entrance of the community center. He stopped, took a step back toward the car, and then again turned around and hurried toward the building. This time he didn’t return, and Yoel saw his friend slip out from behind the wheel and lock the car doors.
In a flash Yoel was also outside his car. If those two goons were going inside, then he belonged inside as well. He ran after them and arrived just in time to see them striding inside authoritatively.
“Where is Noa Rose?” the one on the right asked, looking around him. His guttural pronunciation of the letter r disclosed his Russian origins.
Yoel did not see Chaiky. The two walked over to the door at the far end of the ground floor and joined another person who was standing there. They knocked at the door—not very gently—and then one of them began to beat on it with his fists, as his friend hollered in Russian.
It took Yoel exactly two seconds to decide what he was going to do, and he walked over to them.
“Excuse me,” he said icily. “Who are you, and what is this brutal behavior all about? Please leave, now!”
They didn’t even deign him with a glance.
Yoel raised his voice. “I am asking you to leave right now!” Where was Chaiky? Behind the locked door?
One of the two men began to jiggle the knob aggressively, and then began working on the lock.
Yoel glanced around and then turned his head toward the secretary’s desk behind them. “I think you should call the police,” he said to the secretary. “These people think they are at home here and that they can do whatever they want.”
The two men stopped at once. “What? The police?” one of them asked, in heavily accented Hebrew. “We just want to speak with the person who is inside here. We’re not doing anything wrong.”
“Then don’t act like people who are doing something wrong.” Yoel stood with his arms folded beside the door. “My sister is inside and she is the manager here, and if she decided to lock the door, you have no right to open it forcefully.”
“Your sister?” They both gaped at him for a moment, before bursting out in laughter. “It’s not your sister,” one of them said, spinning his finger at his forehead in a clear sign of what he thought of Yoel. “And you shouldn’t get involved.”
They went back to working on the heavy door, shouting in Russian the whole time.
Yoel walked backward, keeping his eye on what was going on. At the same time, he neared the entrance of the building. He passed by the secretary’s desk. “It would be a good thing if the police came now,” he said aloud. “They are the ones who should be dealing with these kinds of people, not us.”
He didn’t stop to see if his recommendation had been acted upon, because the sound of a wailing siren suddenly filled the air. The noise got louder and stronger, and all Yoel could do was stand aside as three figures suddenly dashed by him as they raced outside. He turned toward the door and managed to see their car pulling away with one door still open. Within a few seconds, the car was gone.
He waited another half a minute and then pressed a button on the remote control in his pocket. Immediately the siren fell silent.
“No need to call the police for now,” he said, walking back to where the three strangers had just been standing. He found himself facing Chaiky, who seemed very confused. The large door was still closed.
“You’re not in that room, Chaiky?” He looked at the door questioningly. “I thought I was saving you! They’re gone, baruch Hashem.”
“So where are the police?”
He chuckled. “That was the siren I have in my car, the Zaka siren.”
“You’re a Zaka volunteer? You never told me.”
“Is that all you have to ask me right now?”
She smiled sheepishly and hurried over to the closed door. “They’re gone, Noa,” she said, and put her ear to the door. “Noa? You can come out.”
They heard the key turning in the lock, and the door opened. “Are you sure?” Noa asked coolly. “Or are they outside?”
“My brother said they drove off.”
“Good, then I will also be going. Just, if you don’t mind, Chaiky, take my phone and throw it into the garbage outside, so they shouldn’t be able to track me again. This is the fourth time I’m throwing out my phone.”
“Is that why you didn’t answer any of my calls?” Elka asked, approaching. Miri, at the desk, shouldered her pocketbook, still pale. “Or was it because you were afraid that you wouldn’t have any satisfactory explanations for me?”
“We’ll talk, Elka,” Noa said hastily. “And then I’ll also apologize. But now I have to go.”
Elka held her ground. “No, what you have to do is talk to me!”
“And me,” Chaiky added. “You don’t intend to dump all this jumbled information on me and then disappear into some mysterious fog, right? I want to know what you did here for half a year, and why you didn’t reveal to me until now that you are Anna, and why—”
“My time is precious, Chaiky,” Noa said, glancing at the door. “I might be able to make sure that those proofs against you should not be planted in the end, but in order for that to happen, I really have to go. I promise I’ll be in touch.” She didn’t even look at Elka, keeping her gaze fixed on Chaiky.
“When?” Chaiky asked, somewhat feebly, as Noa began walking toward the door.
“Tomorrow,” Noa called back. She put her phone down on a chair standing in the hallway.
“Sure,” Elka sneered. “She’ll never call you, Chaiky.”
“Maybe she will,” Chaiky said, staring at the doorway through which Noa had just disappeared. “Maybe she will.”