Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 59 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.
“I guess I should start at the beginning,” Noa said.
She took a deep breath. “My mother was Jewish. My parents were killed in an accident when I was six months old, and I grew up with my father’s sister and her husband. When they moved to Israel, I came with them. I really believed them when they told me, back when I was in eighth grade, that I was not Jewish, and that’s why I totally cut off ties with your parents. And then eventually I ended up where I ultimately ended up…”
Chaiky frowned into the phone as she waited for Noa to continue her explanation.
“Less than a year ago,” Noa went on, “I got a job working in the computer department at the Culture and Community Foundation. I have a good head—you’ll forgive me for saying so—and over the years my grandfather liked to share with me some details about his business. And because I’m not holding back anything from you now, I’ll tell you that yes, I knew that most of his ‘business’ was not quite legal.”
Chaiky sat down absentmindedly on the chair that she hadn’t even noticed Rachel bringing over, still clutching an onion in one hand. Rachel took the knife away from her without Chaiky realizing, and in its place she placed a plate with a piece of cake, but Chaiky didn’t notice that either.
“Some of my grandfather’s business related to illegal diamonds, and I knew that he urgently needed a courier to transport a shipment of them out of Russia, but he preferred that it be a foreign citizen as opposed to someone from within. At that time, an email mistakenly came to my computer from someone named Chaiky Struk. I knew the name from some work-related matters that I’d dealt with at my job, but this time, it was a personal email, and the minute I scanned it, I realized that it had been sent to me by mistake.” Noa spoke in a flat tone.
“I don’t know who you intended to send that email to, but in it you complained that your husband was traveling to Russia and you were very unhappy with the idea, and that Russia scares you too much and who knew if something would happen to him there.”
Chaiky swallowed. “Me?” Yes, she remembered writing something like that to Yael, her friend from Petach Tikva. Did that email never reach its intended destination? Strange, but apparently that was what happened.
“So I conveyed the details to my grandfather,” Noa continued, “and then I forgot about the whole thing.
“A few weeks later, I heard that your husband had been arrested, and I got orders from my grandfather to leave my job and come to Yokne’am to be on site. I didn’t quite leave my job at the Foundation, but every two days I traveled to Yokne’am and began to hang around the community center, with the excuse that I was working on a report in Jewish philosophy and needed material from the library there.
“I began to prepare for the fact that I would need to integrate better there—and that’s when I discovered that Elka’s sister works in the accounting department of the Foundation. I sent her what seemed to be random information about the expected grant. Then I sent her a fax, as though by mistake; it was something that I prepared, and the intention was to make her—and by extension, her sister Elka—think that the center in Yokne’am would be visited by a representative from the Foundation named Noa. And then…”
Something in Noa’s voice changed a bit, as though she was about to feed Chaiky another unpleasant nugget of information. As though the fact that she had actively caused Shlomo’s arrest wasn’t enough. As if all the lies that she was reporting about so casually weren’t enough. “Then they asked me to plant some letters, as if they were from your husband, about the institutions he worked for. These letters were to be planted in the computer that the original correspondence had been sent from.
“To gear up for this, I left my job at the Foundation and moved to Haifa. And the next time I came to the community center, I asked Elka if I could get a job there. She heard the name ‘Noa’ and became very excited, exactly as I’d hoped for and even expected, and she hired me, but not before you also gave the okay. Remember that?”
“I remember,” Chaiky said, not understanding how she had formed and enunciated the syllables.
“So I was hired to work at the center, and I worked a lot on the computers there, until I realized that the computer I was looking for was the one that you had at home and used for your husband’s correspondence. I took it from you with some excuse, and did almost everything my grandfather had demanded of me, and then returned the computer back to you with another excuse.” She suddenly fell silent, and Chaiky did not know why.
“The strange thing is,” Noa said, after a minute, “that even after I finished the job for my grandfather, or almost finished it, to be more accurate, I didn’t want to leave the community center. I liked Elka.”
“It’s no wonder,” Chaiky wanted to say, but she couldn’t. She opened her mouth, closed it, and sat silently, staring blankly at the chunks of cake she had crumbled in her right fist. The information that Noa was pouring into her ears, without sounding the slightest bit sheepish or abashed, stunned her. If only she’d been able to record it all!
Shlomo had an MP3 with a recording option. She found herself wondering if they let him listen to Torah shiurim in prison. The prison he was in because of the ignobility of the person she was speaking to.
No, it was because of the carelessness of his wife. Of her, Chaiky! She was the one who had conveyed the information about Shlomo’s upcoming trip to Russia. Because of her, that information had fallen into Noa’s hands, and from there it had been sent to those horrible people in Russia…
Suddenly Rachel was beside her. She pried the cake out of Chaiky’s hand and handed her something small and electronic. “Record it,” she mouthed clearly. “It sounds important.”
Chaiky stared at the MP3. She saw a few buttons in front of her, but her brain was not working properly. Rachel took the recorder, pressed something, and then gave it back to Chaiky. Chaiky tried to smile at her, and stuck the device in between the handset and her ear.
“It was a strange thing,” Noa repeated. “And my family did not understand why I was getting stuck here, but…I liked working with Elka, and even with you. Although you were cold to me—not at all similar to your mother—there was something about you that I liked.”
“A lot that helps me,” Chaiky muttered hoarsely, “when you are the one who planted letters in my husband’s name… What did those letters say? That he’s guilty of everything and that your grandfather is pure and white as snow?”
“On the contrary,” Noa said. “You’ll realize that the letters were not exactly planted, so don’t be so bitter when you talk to me. What’s happening now is that the letters are in the computer in a very, very encrypted way, and only my personal code can even show that they exist. Only once it is entered can they appear in a format that can be opened.
“You know, when I gave your husband’s name, I didn’t know exactly what my grandfather wanted from him. I thought the Mafia was just looking for a courier. Only later did I realize that they were actually looking for someone to get caught. The Russian higher-ups couldn’t keep quiet anymore about all kinds of illegal things that were happening there, and a very serious investigator was put on the case. It was obvious that with all my grandfather’s connections in Russia, no one would touch him or his close cronies, but they needed to throw the CKP some type of bone to make them feel like they had done something to pursue justice. All that my grandfather and his cohorts have done since your husband was arrested was to try to prove that he is one of theirs, and that the law enforcement has finally caught a serious criminal from their group, and that is supposed to keep the CKP quiet and happy for a while.”
“What a distorted mind,” Chaiky whispered. Something about the recording device that tickled her ear just above provided her with a bit of comfort. She didn’t need to make the effort to recall every detail about this very significant conversation; she could just go with the flow of the conversation, thinking and asking in an effort to understand. And maybe it would mean that she could actually help in some way.
“That’s right, but that’s the way they are.”
“I wasn’t talking about them. I was talking about you. You’re telling me all this in the same tone that you would tell Elka, ‘I went to Tel Aviv yesterday and bought forty new books.’ Don’t you feel even a drop of guilt?! Just like that, you take a man who you know is totally innocent, and get him into trouble, and only—”
“I didn’t know that that man is the husband of sweet little Chaya’le,” Noa cut in, still in that flat tone. “And when I was busy with the whole thing, I just didn’t think at all about people or their families. I thought only about what my grandfather was expecting me to do. But I already told you, the letters have not been sent, so let me talk, okay?”
“Well, why didn’t you send them?”
Noa was quiet for a moment. “I can answer you that I wasn’t sure about what I was about to do, and that I had pangs of conscience and all that. And maybe that’s even a bit true. A bit. But being that, in any case, you think that I’m the worst person in the world, I’ll reveal to you that the most significant thing is that I never finish a job for my grandfather without seeing payment. And that’s what happened now, as well.”
“Oh. Now you just need Grandpa’s check to finish your horrible job, huh?”
“No. Now even a check won’t help my grandfather,” Noa said, from her hotel room in Jerusalem. “Not when I know that you are the Chaya’le of my youth. I loved your mother; I loved you. True, there is no connection between who you were as a little girl to who you are today. You’ve totally lost that pleasant warmth that you had when you were little. You’ve become a doll, without emotions. But it’s still you.”
“You’re talking to me about a doll without emotions?” Chaiky shook her head.
“Yes, and don’t try to tell me that I’m also not a very emotional type—because my life didn’t let me stop and dwell too much on my emotions. I’ve learned to take from each stop in my life only what I need, and that’s it, without thinking about others. But your whole life has been smooth sailing.”
“Aside from this current stop,” Chaiky said sarcastically. “The stop where you once again entered my life is one that hasn’t been smooth sailing at all.”
“Could be, but still, try to be happy that it’s me, and that because of our past connection, I shared with you the information about the notebook and the code. Hopefully your husband will get out of this crazy mess because of it.”
Noa’s voice suddenly grew quieter. “And one more thing: I already told you that it won’t help my grandfather now to pay me; I won’t plant those letters no matter what. But one thing will make me change my mind about that.”
“What?” Chaiky stood up.
“If you recorded this conversation and you use it against me. Take care.”
Nikolai Rosenberg sat in his room and stared at the fax in shock. His two bodyguards stood silently, just staring at his arched, stiff back, as he read every word. When he finished, he started again from the beginning, and then straightened up.
“Send what I write now back to this number where it came from,” he instructed as he smoothly slid a piece of writing paper out of the leather case that rested beside him at all times.
I’ll check what you wrote, and if it is true, you will need to compensate me for the whole mess you made with your negligence. I invested a lot in this case, and I don’t know what will happen to us if it all falls apart. Contact me tomorrow night. I will not send anyone to you.