Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 34 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.
A busy signal. And then again it was busy. Finally, on the third try, Blumi reached her husband.
“Gideon? Gideon, where are you?”
“What do you mean, where am I? I’m on the kitchen porch. I had an urgent call to take.”
“I don’t like it when we are with my family and you go out for urgent calls, but whatever. The point is that I need your help now.”
“Fine, I’m done. I’ll go back to the dining room. But wait, where are you?”
“Shhhh…” Blumi pleaded into her cell phone. “I don’t want them to figure out that you’re talking to me. I want to leave.”
“Yes, let’s go back to the hotel. I can’t go back to my brothers right now. Tell them something, whatever you want to make up…oh, and don’t forget my pocketbook. The mustard-colored one. It’s on the couch.”
“I don’t understand, Blumi,” he whispered. She hoped he’d understood and gone back into the kitchen, and that this conversation was not taking place in front of the open eyes and ears of her older brothers. “Where are you? Here in your parents’ building?”
“Zichronam l’vrachah. No, I went out for a few minutes. I’m downstairs now, near our car. I want you to come down so we can leave.”
“But what should I tell them?”
How could someone who was so smart in business not understand something so simple? “I don’t know; tell them whatever you want! That I left for a few minutes, and I can’t come back right now. That I’m not feeling well, and I feel like I’m going to collapse. I don’t know what, but could you just come down already?”
“Blumi, what happened to you? Why are you going to collapse?”
“I’ll explain it to you, but come down first. Because very soon it might really happen to me.”
He went back into the dining room. His brothers-in-law turned to him as he came in. “We’re discussing if it’s worth selling the buildings in Yerushalayim,” Beri said. “I was involved with them this past year, when my father couldn’t do it anymore, but I don’t really have the energy for it. And it doesn’t seem that anyone here wants to continue handling the tenants and all that.”
“The buildings in Ramot?”
“We should check what the story is with real estate there,” he said, distractedly, “and if it’s worth continuing to hold the assets or not. You don’t need the cash right now, do you?”
“No,” three voices replied. Gavriel was quiet.
“So for sure you shouldn’t run to sell. But check it out.”
The brothers continued talking between themselves, no one even mentioning Blumi.
Gideon turned to the couch and took his wife’s bag. “I think we’re going to go now.” His words silenced the others. “Blumi doesn’t feel so well, and she wants to go back to the hotel to rest a bit.”
“Hey, where is she?” Beri asked, standing up. “She said she was going out for a minute, but she’s been gone a while already.”
“When did she say that?”
“Before. When you were in the kitchen.”
“It was when you couldn’t find Abba’s silver yad,” Shmulik told Beri. “She said something like, ‘One minute’ and then left.”
“So she must have gone into the bedroom to search more thoroughly than me.” Beri looked toward the hallway. “What happened to her? Was it in the bedroom?”
“No, she left the house,” Shmulik said. “Didn’t you see?”
“I didn’t notice,” the oldest Katz brother said apologetically. “She took it so hard that I couldn’t find the yad after just a few minutes of looking around? Where is she, Gideon? Did she go lie down?”
It was enough for Gideon. “It’s alright, she’s downstairs,” he said. “And I don’t think she’s in such a bad state. B’ezras Hashem she’ll feel better; don’t worry. We’ll be in touch a little later, okay?”
He went downstairs with the pocketbook.
Blumi took a deep breath when she saw him, glancing at the windows of the apartment upstairs. “It went over okay?” she asked as they got into the car. “They weren’t very confused or surprised that I’d left?”
“No, I don’t think so. Beri was a little worried about you, but I calmed him down.”
Blumi was quiet as the car began to move.
“What’s the story with your father’s silver yad?” Gideon asked when they got to a long traffic light at the Rabi Akiva and Chazon Ish intersection.
His wife, who had been staring at her mustard pocketbook, turned to him suddenly. “Why? They said something to you about it?”
“Only that Beri looked for it for a few minutes and didn’t find it, and then you hurried out somewhere.”
“And what do they think? Do they know where it is?”
He shrugged, gripping the wheel. “They weren’t really talking about it. First of all, no one searched the place too well yet. It must have been moved somewhere else, or maybe you forget exactly which closet it was in.”
“Do you think Beri and I both got mixed up about that?”
“I don’t know. Or maybe it really was stolen. The house was empty a lot lately, you know. Although it’s strange that a thief should come and take it, but then leave without touching anything else there…”
She opened her bag and rummaged around for a package of tissues. “We’ll talk about it in the hotel…” she whispered. “And I hope they won’t realize that I was a little too interested in it, and that I’m the one who knew where it was supposed to be.”
“I think Beri also thought he knew where it was. They won’t blame you any more than they’ll blame him.”
“But at least if they blame him it will be harmless. With me, though…”
“With you, what?”
“I really am…” She coughed. “Guilty.”
“Guilty? Why? Were you supposed to guard over it from London? Hide it in your bag? Sit in an empty house morning, noon, and night to make sure a silver yad didn’t disappear? Or maybe someone expected you to worry about it in those confusing moments before the levayah?” He fired off the possibilities one after another. “Really, Blumi, you don’t think anyone is thinking such ridiculous things, do you?”
“That’s the problem,” she moaned into her tissue. “You don’t know how many ridiculous things can be real.”
No one sat shivah for Alexander Korman. He died exactly as he’d lived—alone and childless. He had only his business partner and executor, who had been like a dedicated brother to him, and his Korean aide, who was as much like a son as possible.
Now the two of them stood in the middle of the entrance hallway to his huge, silent house. The furniture, which he had instructed in his will to donate to a well-known charity organization, was already disassembled and packed, filling all the passages in the five-story house. Movers came in and out, but the quiet atmosphere had apparently affected them, because aside for a few terse instructions and a grunt here or there, they didn’t make a sound. Outside, there was a large sign already posted on the gate: “For sale.”
Joe Ludmir, the partner, looked from side to side with dry eyes. How many hours had he spent with Alex in this house? The two of them had so much in common. How many dreams that they’d conjured here had come true? How many more had remained unrealized?
“Do you still need me here, sir?” Sam’s voice broke the silence.
Joe shook his head. “I don’t think so, for the moment. They seem to be finishing.” He smiled with effort. “Will you begin looking for other work, Sam?”
“I don’t know,” the Korean said. “I still can’t think about life without Mr. Alex. I’ll go visit my family, and then maybe I’ll start to look for new work. As you realize, it’s not that urgent for me now.”
“I understand completely,” Ludmir said. “But you know, Sam, I would suggest that you put all the money he left you into savings. It’s not a good idea to start spending it, because then you’ll discover how quickly it can all go.”
“Of course!” The devoted employee nodded, almost offended. “You know that I don’t drink, Mr. Joe.”
“True. But still, watch over that money that you got.” He smiled, maybe to lighten the gravity of his words. “And who knows? Maybe in ten years, I’ll need your services. You were an excellent aide.”
“I wish you to age in better health than Mr. Korman did,” the Korean replied warmly, and the two parted.
After escorting him to the door, Ludmir walked back inside the house and sat down on the large leather armchair, listening to the sounds of the movers that wafted into the large room. Alexander had actually had a good end, because they had been together the whole time. True, at the time of his sudden passing Joe hadn’t been present, but throughout the years Alex had had an extremely loyal and devoted friend: him.
He picked up the phone and pressed a few buttons to bring up Alex’s contacts. A list of people who had sent condolence wishes and bouquets of flowers appeared on the screen. Some of them were marked off—the ones he had already thanked. He was down to about half the list.
The next call that awaited him was to Israel.
“Is this the Potolsky residence?”
Elisheva, amidst the noisy afternoon tumult in her tiny apartment, could hardly hear the caller. Moreover, the man was speaking English. “Yes, yes,” she said as she pulled the wire into her room.
“I’m calling from the residence of Alexander Korman, of blessed memory.”
“Oh.” Elisheva choked up for a moment and sought the right words. “Yes… We were so sorry to hear of his passing. He was a very generous person.”
“Indeed. We received your note and wanted to thank you for your participation in our grief,” the man said. “You mentioned that you could learn for his soul for the year, is that right?”
“Yes, my husband would be happy to arrange that. Would you know if Alexander ben Peretz is his full name, or if he has another name?”
“I don’t know what exactly his full Jewish name is,” the man said. “But I can check.”