Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 61 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.
For the fifth time, Pavel passed by the opening between the glass partitions and rubbed his chin. Josef Podernik had been sitting at his desk for more than half an hour already, in the same position. He was providing no entertainment or anything of interest for Pavel.
Josef was indeed sitting, wrapped in his thoughts, and he knew that something here was not right. Every mystery has two ends that eventually tie in to one another, while here, there were two seemingly separate issues. Yesterday once again, the hearing regarding Struk had ended with nothing. The Jew was being presented as having been tricked, while on the other hand, there were remarkable pieces of evidence linking him to the Mafia—pieces of evidence which he did not deny. Rather, he disputed their significance.
The problem was that it was impossible to prove that he wasn’t right, because not one piece of evidence that they had was one hundred percent airtight. It had taken a long time for him to figure out the real objectives of the regular informer, Ilya Antonovich. He was ostensibly a Mafia personality, but being that his brother, a journalist, had been struck down by the Mafia, he sought revenge and had became an informer on them. He’d been summoned to the CKP twice for a conversation; they’d spoken openly, and Podernik had questioned him, promising him maximum immunity. The man refused to testify at the trial, of course, but here, he’d said everything.
Josef suddenly shook himself out of his thoughts and then languidly pulled over the pages on which he’d taken notes during their conversation. Why was all the evidence that Ilya had found against the Mafia relating to the Jew Struk? Was it only because he hated Jews? Why wasn’t he able to do a complete job, once he was doing the job already? And where was the correspondence between Struk and Rosenberg that he had talked about so much? Of course, he had logically explained that this was all very risky business for him, and even what he had extracted had been at great effort. That was all true and clear and understandable.
And yet, why was it that Antonovich had failed to produce the juiciest pieces of evidence that Josef so badly needed?
Antonovich was very confused when two CKP agents came to his workplace office and asked him to join them. He was even more confused when he found himself facing Josef Podernik, whom he knew so well.
“We spoke just a week ago,” he said as he sat down on the chair that was offered to him and folded his arms defiantly. “What happened now?”
“What happened is that your story of taking revenge against those who harmed your brother turns out to be not quite accurate. I discovered that you were estranged from this brother for twenty years already. So why did you decide to risk yourself, and your status in the organization, to avenge his death and give us so much information? Besides, what happened is that I decided that your excuses aren’t impressive enough. How does a person take such risks for the least relevant pieces of evidence? If you’re already taking the risk, you couldn’t bring me that thing that would finally incriminate Rosenberg and Struk? And it happened also that you promised me solid proof from Struk’s computer, but there is nothing there, period. Our experts have dug into the bowels of that computer. No letters and no diamonds.”
“So you brought me here to tell me all this?”
“No. I brought you here to tell you that you’re under arrest for obstructing an investigation. And for something else.” He pulled out of his file the immunity document that he was signed on, and tore it into pieces. “The immunity that I promised you is no longer. I gave immunity to the Ilya Antonovich who was helping us expose the innards of Rosenberg’s Mafia, not the Ilya Antonovich who does whatever Rosenberg tells him to do. It’s not like you even need the immunity.”
Ilya Antonovich maintained a placid demeanor, but his face suddenly took on an unnatural pallor.
“The words ‘I didn’t know’ are not acceptable in court. This is not first grade!” Podernik scolded, and Avigdor, the translator, conveyed his message to Shlomo, on the witness stand.
“I understand,” Shlomo said quietly.
“And let’s say your lawyers are right and next week they will present to the court clear proof that certain people falsified your connection to the diamonds. And let’s say that indeed, you did not know that these diamonds were illegal. But didn’t they ever teach you that you are never allowed to accept a package from a stranger to bring onto a plane? In Israel they don’t ask you if you know the source of every item in your luggage?”
“They do… And if they would have asked me that here, I would have answered them,” Shlomo stated simply. “I knew there were diamonds there; I knew that they had prepaid very high customs tax, and I didn’t hide that at all. I just had no idea that the diamonds were illegal. But no one asked me anything; they simply opened my suitcase, found the diamonds, and arrested me.”
His lawyers, Yuli Andropov and Michael Ovitz, exchanged glances.
“Indeed, it is too bad they caught you before they asked their questions.” Podernik smiled. “This way we would have had more reliable information as to what extent you were aware that Rosenberg had used you as a courier for the illegal diamonds, or not.”
Again Shlomo’s lawyers looked at one another. Something about Podernik’s demeanor was different today. He was behaving as though the option that Shlomo had done it all without being aware of the significance of his actions, had been absolutely proven. What did he have up his sleeve? Why was he doing their work for them?
“But let’s put aside the issue of whether or not there is significance to the fact that you may not have known that you were being used as a courier for illegal diamonds. I would like to move on to a totally different subject. I want to know what you know about a person named Ilya Antonovich.”
“Objection, Your Honor! He cannot extract information from the defendant by trying to connect a new person to the discussion at hand!” Ovitz shouted. “That is not right!”
“Objection overruled,” the judge said. “The question is irrelevant to what was said beforehand, and the defendant needs to answer it.”
“I don’t mind answering it,” Shlomo said, “because I don’t know such a person.”
The judge referred to his papers. “You brought this Antonovich into the hearing today, Podernik,” he said. “That will make things take at least an hour longer. So we will take a break now. What is this about? Is he a witness for the prosecution?”
“I don’t know.” For the first time since the beginning of the trial, Podernik looked a bit thoughtful. “I hope that he will be a witness for the truth.”
Shlomo remained sitting in place when everyone else rose. Andropov approached to speak to him, while the obstinate Ovitz ran after Podernik, who was heading for the corridor.
“What is this all about, Josef?” he asked. “I know your tactics since we learned law together. You’ve done well, there’s no doubt, but perhaps you can explain to me now how you plan to win this case when you keep putting it into the judge’s head that Struk, the one you are prosecuting, was caught because of an innocent mistaken and not because he intended to do something wrong?”
Podernik looked at him with that same thoughtful expression. “Look, Michael,” he said. “I’m a state prosecutor, and I’m looking for someone else, don’t you realize? Your client doesn’t interest me on a personal level, and lately, it seems to me that the time has come to shift the focus away from him a bit. I want a new prosecutor appointed on this case, and I will throw myself into the Antonovich-Rosenberg case.”
“No, don’t let them appoint a new prosecutor,” Ovitz said hastily. “It won’t be worthwhile for you. Who is this Antonovich, anyway?”
Podernik stared at him for a long time. “Well, the bribery inherent in the words ‘it won’t be worthwhile for you’ can put you into prison and get your lawyer’s license revoked for a few months at best. But let’s say that just like I wouldn’t want you to record what I said before, you wouldn’t want me to do it either. Who is Antonovich, you are asking? Someone significant.” He smiled. “And as long as I am the prosecutor on this case, you don’t expect me to give you any more details, do you?”
“When he was put onto the lists yesterday, we did some querying and found out that he works at the airport, and he has a clear and well-known connection to Rosenberg’s organization.”
“Well, then, if you know everything, do your work, and let me do my work as well.” And Podernik turned on his heel and began to walk off. “And Michael,” he added over his shoulder, “you’ll be able to do it well, because now it shouldn’t be particularly difficult.”
The lines froze for a moment.
“Do you believe me?”
“Yes.” His voice hardened. “Now I do. And it’s a good thing you remembered to tell me the truth. This way I know from the start that the notebook is in their hands.”
“Is it really in their hands?” Noa asked cautiously.
“Yes, you negligent girl. His lawyers spoke this morning at the hearing about solid evidence that they are going to present to the judge. Apparently they are planning to show them how the code that they found, I don’t know where, suddenly reveals in the computer things that weren’t actually there. That will bring the judge to the conclusion about who is responsible for all this.
“Nothing will happen to me; they won’t touch me. But lots of my people will be in danger now. I will need to pay a lot of money to extract anyone I want from this messy story.”
“Struk doesn’t interest me. This case has failed, as far as I’m concerned.” He was literally spitting the words. “It’s a shame I trusted you.”
“It really is,” Noa said, and fell silent.
It was the least expected response that Nikolai Rosenberg could have expected from his proud, conceited granddaughter, and so he asked, “What do you mean?”
“I mean that I’m getting older, Grandfather, and this life…of spies and under-the-carpet work and the whole mess…is not for me.”
“Jewish patsy that you are.”
“So I really am Jewish.”
“If Jewishness goes according to the mother, like your mother claimed it does, then yes.”
Noa was quiet.
“And you want to leave.”
“That’s right,” she whispered. But her voice was steady.
“Me, the work, the salary, the good life.”
“You see that I’m just messing you up, Grandfather.”
“That’s another point, and indeed, you will have to compensate me.”
“Where are you speaking from?”
She was quiet again.
“I’m not sending anyone after you.” He chuckled. “And I imagine you are neither in Be’er Sheva nor in Yokneam. How did you know that I sent you back a fax?”
“I’m not in Israel anymore, but when I was still there I called the post office from where I sent the fax to ask if something had arrived in return.”
“Well. I won’t chase you, but you’ll have to compensate me.” A loaded silence ensued. “If indeed, you really don’t want me to chase you.”
“How?” she asked again.
“You have savings, I know that. But I’m not sure how much. You can afford fifty thousand dollars, right?”
Noa was quiet. Before she’d left Israel she’d checked the account and taken out a bit of money. There wasn’t more than 200,000 shekels left. She’d really be penniless. “You really need my silly few dollars, Grandfather?”
“I need you to learn a lesson,” he said, a triumphant smile coming through the lines to Basel, Switzerland. “As your grandfather, I have to make sure that you learn something from all this. I’ll wait for the money in my account, two weeks from today. And good luck; don’t lose any more notebooks. Losing something always works out more expensive than its real value.”
Less than two days later the money was in Grandfather’s account. The Bank Hapoalim clerk in Israel did not like the phone order he received: to transfer all the money in Noa Rose’s fat bank account to another account in a Russian bank, but he had no choice. “Why not try some investments, Ms. Rose? We have so many worthwhile options for this money. It will be—”
But Noa had already hung up. As far as she was concerned, this was the only worthwhile option. Fortunately, she had three thousand dollars on her, so that she could start living with something.
She wanted to call Israel one more time, to say goodbye to Mira Brodsky and Chaiky, but her pride did not seem to allow her to do it.