The Cuckoo Clock – Chapter 8

Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 8 of a new online serial novel, The Cuckoo Clock, by Esther Rapaport. Check back for a new chapter every week.  Click here for previous chapters.

Copyright © Israel Bookshop Publications. 

 

They sat in the stylish waiting room of Rosenblit and Etzioni, Attorneys at Law, Eliyahu perusing his ever-present pocket Chumash, and Elisheva clicking the clasp of her pocketbook open and closed. It was quiet; aside for the secretary seated at the front, no one else seemed to be there.

“Attorney Rosenblit will be finishing his meeting momentarily, and then he’ll be with you,” the secretary had told them two minutes earlier. “In the meantime, why don’t you take seats?” She’d placed a tray with some high-quality, crystal-style disposable cups and a bottle of Coke in front of them.

“Do you want a drink?” Eliyahu asked his wife.

“No, I just want to know what they want from us.” Elisheva took a tissue out of her bag. Then she put it back in and took out her cell phone. Then her wallet.

“It’s about a business matter,” the lawyer had told her the day before. When he’d called, Elisheva had grabbed the phone and dashed back down to her parking lot refuge and her recent acquaintance, the cat. “A grant of sorts that the couple getting married might be able to receive.”

“What’s involved in getting this grant?” she had asked, backing up from the cat and waving with one hand at the neighbor from upstairs who was crossing the parking lot to toss her garbage bag in the dumpster.

A truck was reversing out of the parking lot next door to the grocery which adjoined Elisheva’s building, and the lawyer’s words had gotten swallowed by the din. “Pardon me?” Elisheva said. She hadn’t heard a word he had said.

“Your couple meets certain criteria, and I think the grant would be suited for them,” the lawyer had said, somewhat impatiently. “I’ll be happy to explain it all when you come to my office. Is tomorrow evening at nine good for you?” Elisheva had hesitantly agreed.

When she’d told Eliyahu about it that evening, he suddenly became suspicious—far more than she herself was. “Certain criteria? What kind of criteria?” he’d asked. “He probably wants to persuade us to invest the money for the couple’s apartment in some magical real estate deal, and being that the amount of money is so minimal anyway and I don’t take these kinds of risks, he will be very disappointed. It’s a waste of our time.”

“You really should be the one dealing with him, not me,” Elisheva had replied apologetically. “I just didn’t want them to call and disturb you in kollel, so I gave my number. But I can go myself if you want. I won’t sign anything without you.”

But Eliyahu had shaken his head. “There’s no reason for you to waste your time or energy either. I’ll find out exactly who this Rosenblit is, and what field of law he specializes in. If it’s investments, you’ll just cancel the meeting.”

That afternoon, he’d returned from kollel with some reassuring information. “I made some inquiries,” he said as he hung up his jacket. “Rosenblit is a well-known guy, and it seems he’s someone serious and reliable, not the type to be involved in shady deals. So maybe it’s worth our effort to hear what he has to say. Do I know…?”

So they’d made the effort, and now they were waiting to hear what he had to say.

 

“Why only us?” The knob on the door across from them moved, and Eliyahu closed his Chumash and slipped it into his jacket pocket. “I didn’t think of it until now, Elisheva. Why only us? What about Peretz’s parents?”

“Good question.” She drummed her finger on the low glass table. “If it’s something relating to Tzippy and Peretz, then his parents really should also—”

“Rabbi and Mrs. Potolsky?” The lawyer emerged from his office, limping slightly, accompanied by a nattily dressed young man. “I’ll be right with you, okay?”

They stood up hesitantly, and Eliyahu kept his eye on the lawyer’s retreating back as he escorted his visitor to the door. Then the lawyer turned back to them. Despite his limp, he had an authoritative air about him. He was neither young nor old. His hear was brown, with a reddish tint, though it was starting to gray. A small knitted yarmulke rested on his head.

“Welcome,” he said, and motioned them into his office. They entered the wood-paneled room and sat down quietly. Rosenblit settled in his chair across from them, moved a stack of papers to the right, and leaned back.

“I know you have no idea what exactly you are doing here,” he said with a smile, “but I hope I bear some good news for you today.”

Elisheva saw Eliyahu’s face cloud over even more. He hadn’t trusted the man since the minute he’d heard about a “business matter.” Well, his only experience in the business world did not generate positive connotations for him.

Rosenblit folded his hands. “The truth is, the fact that I’m facing only you right now is purely for comfort’s sake. If you accept my client’s proposal, you will surely need to consult with your mechutanim, the Stockhammers. But for me personally, it is easier to work with just one side. I know that in your community it is accepted for the kallah’s parents to bear most of the financial burden, so that’s why I reached out to you.”

Eliyahu was quiet, and Elisheva saw that he really wanted to say something but for now, was restraining himself.

“Before I explain exactly what this is about, I want to make sure that there is no mistake here. So let’s just clarify a few details about the engaged couple: the chassan’s first name is Peretz?”

“That’s right,” Eliyahu replied.

“And your daughter, the kallah, is Tziporah Genendel?”

“Yes. I see that the subject of the names, especially first names, plays a significant role here,” Eliyahu said. “Why is that?”

The lawyer poured a cup of water for himself from the pitcher on his desk, but didn’t take a sip from it. “My client is Alexander Korman from Australia. He has no children or family, and is a Holocaust survivor; he’s almost ninety years old. He wants to do something to commemorate his parents, Hashem yinkom damam. For nearly seventeen years he has been working on a very specific project toward this goal. His parents’ names were,” he nodded toward them, “as perhaps you’ve guessed, Peretz and Tziporah Genendel.”

The silence in the room was deafening.

Eliyahu spoke first. “Peretz and Tziporah Genendel Korman, not Stockhamer.”

The lawyer smiled. “He didn’t expect to find a couple that would also share the last name. Believe me, as it is, when I took on this client, I thought the whole idea was impossibly farfetched. Did you know that there are currently in Israel only 862 people with the name Peretz, of which only 259 are not married? Among other Jewish communities around the world, only one other couple was found to have these names, and they are married already, disqualifying them…”

“How did he get to our children, if they have not yet gotten married and are not registered anywhere as a couple?”

“He mapped out all the single men with the name Peretz and waited to see who they would get engaged to.”

“In the whole world? You said he’s nearly ninety years old.”

Rosenblit smiled. “Today he’s nearly ninety. Seventeen years ago he was seventy-something, and already then, he employed several people to deal with this matter. Aside for searching official databases, they contacted community leaders in areas with large Jewish populations, and key figures in Chassidic courts like Belz, Vizhnitz, and Ger, who happily agreed to find out for him if a couple bearing these two names became engaged.”

Eliyahu fell silent and then passed a hand over his forehead. “I hear,” he said. “And maybe, before we ask any more questions about this interesting story, you can please tell me what your client from Australia is offering?”

“I don’t know when you planned on making the wedding,” Rosenblit said candidly. “So I have no idea if this is even an option for you. And please, don’t be so suspicious, Rabbi Potolsky. This winter will mark ninety-one years since my client’s parents got married, and he wants this couple to get married on the same date—Rosh Chodesh Teves.”

“That’s less than five weeks from now!” Elisheva gasped.

“If you agree to make the wedding then, he will pay for all the wedding expenses.”

***

Bratislava, 1948

 

Anatoly Stachov returned to his office; as if in perfect synchrony, the Jew appeared a moment later.

“Come in and close the door,” the Russian said, rubbing his hands together. The Jew entered.

“Remind me who you are here on behalf of?” Anatoly asked.

“On behalf of myself,” the Jew answered causally. He approached the desk.

“But you told me at our earlier meeting…” He played with his fingers as he raised his gaze to his guest. “And the committee…what was that?”

“The Agudas Israel Rescue Committee. But it really doesn’t matter, sir.”

“Something does matter here. Tell your superiors that this kind of communal organizing is going to cease soon.” Anatoly lowered his voice. “This situation, where everyone does what he wants, will be banned far sooner than you think.”

“That’s quite clear to us. And until then, we are using the time as best we can.” He pulled out his wallet.

“As you wish.”

“I understand that you visited Lucius Jan’s orphanage this morning. Did you check there for me?”

“Yes, yes,” Anatoly said. “I did look. Something interesting is going on there; the director and his assistant declare that there are no Jewish children in the place, but one of my friends told me that one of the boys spoke to him, and he does sound like a Jewish orphan.”

“Did you try to speak to the boy?”

Anatoly smiled indulgently. “I called him over, but he didn’t utter a word. The director and the assistant claim that he came to them at the age of two months, even before the war broke out, and that they know who his parents are.”

“Mr. Stachov, I believe you know a lie when you see one.”

The man chuckled. “Absolutely.”

“So, is their story true?”

“I don’t think so. But how can I prove something?”

The Jewish man bit his bottom lip. “What did the boy tell your friend?”

“I didn’t quite understand. But my friend got the impression that he was a Jewish boy.” His eyes were fixed on the wallet. “He tried to ask him something about his mother, if we met her.”

The Jew looked at him. “Here is the sum we discussed,” he said simply, placing the bills on the desk. “I imagine that you can help us further clarify this matter, is that right?”

“Certainly.” The Party member stuck the bills into his pocket. Then he glanced at the closed door. “And as I already told you, the sooner we both can be finished with this, the better.”

 

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