Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 62 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.
“After kollel? You went to the nursing home to find him?”
“Yes.” Eliyahu patted the head of the child closest to him. Meir was standing there, taking a drink before returning to cheder for the afternoon.
“I think he’s our key figure here. He is the one who sold the raffle tickets to your father, and Jalib blurted out his name to me on the phone when I tried to question him further about his delusional dream.”
“He said that because you asked him about the renovation work he did at the nursing home. I know that Emmanuel was very involved then; I saw him talking to the workers and the foremen.”
“Could be, but in any case, when I pressed Jalib to try and remember why he dreamed specifically about us, and how he was so sure that it was us, he mentioned the nursing home and Emmanuel.”
“Maybe,” Elisheva froze for a second, “maybe my father is doing it all?”
Eliyahu smiled. “If you know that your father has this kind of money hidden away in some secret bank accounts, then it really is possible that it is him. Now we only need to figure out why he is choosing such a convoluted way to give his daughter these gifts.”
“This renovation is actually for him.”
They were both quiet.
“Well, of course this is just a wild guess, because it really doesn’t make sense that it is my father.”
“And my strongest suspicion of Emmanuel is based on the fact that he disappeared the minute he caught sight of me.” Eliyahu was pacing up and down the large kitchen.
Elisheva took two sandwich bags out of the drawer, and put some cookies in one and a fistful of cereal in the other, for Meir and Yitzy’s afternoon snacks. “It really is strange,” she mused.
“I don’t intend to run after him all day and all night, Elisheva, okay? I tried, I called, I asked about him at the office, and I asked your father to tell him we’re looking for him, whenever he sees him next. But that’s it. For now, I’m leaving him alone…”
Elisheva nodded slowly. “You know, I asked my father a few weeks ago to try and find out what Emmanuel’s connection with U’shemartem is, but my father couldn’t really engage him in conversation.”
“Maybe you should talk to your friend, and see if she spoke to the director of U’shemartem again. Find out what happened with that.”
“I spoke to her briefly this morning. You saw how the day started here… I’ll call her again this evening.”
“Did you tell her about the Arab contractor’s proposal?”
“What did she say?”
“That it’s really strange, but I shouldn’t be too creeped out about it.” Elisheva grinned. “She suggested that I go for art therapy. She says it’s very liberating; her words.”
“Does she think this Jalib story is just our imagination?” Eliyahu’s face grew somber.
“No, she believes that he came and suggested what he did, but because I was talking to her as I was getting ready for work, I must have been huffing and puffing a little too much.”
“So she does believe it.”
“She believes us, but not the stuff that we’ve won.” Elisheva laughed. “She took the contractor’s phone number from me, and Rosenblit’s number, and the number of the lawyer who arranged the procedure with the apartment for us… Let’s see what she finds out.”
“Give her Emmanuel’s number also,” Eliyahu advised. “He doesn’t answer me.”
“I can’t know for sure, but I’m pretty certain about it.”
“These mosaic tiles are very cute, but they do what they want,” Blumi grumbled, bent over the frame that she was trying to fill in with shades of bronze, gold, and silver. “Are you sure that this glue is the right one for this, Batsheva?”
“Yes,” her daughter replied, studying her mother’s work. “Is that what Goldy gave you?”
“So she knows about these things. I mean, she’s a crafts teacher.”
“She’s not just a teacher; she’s a therapist. But still, maybe she got mixed up.” Blumi grasped another little tile that had slipped out of place.
“I don’t think she’d get mixed up about something as simple as glue,” Batsheva said. “And it’s really nice, Mummy. Really.”
“I’m not sure it will turn out to be something I’d agree to hang on a wall here, but at least it’s good for my fingers.”
Batsheva studied her mother’s fingers with a trace of suspicion. “Is something wrong with your fingers, Mommy?”
“Chalilah, but I’m not getting younger, you know. At age forty-five I’m certainly allowed to start exercising my fingers, if we don’t want them to start rebelling against me in another forty years. Not that now they know exactly what to do, but…” She smiled, and for a moment, the images of two of her brothers rose in her mind. They would surely have scoffed had they heard this last sentence, and said mockingly that anyone who doesn’t train her fingers in cleaning and cooking should definitely find something else productive for them to do.
“I never liked cooking,” she suddenly murmured.
“What?” Batsheva asked, pushing away her chemistry notebook.
“I dreamed of doing other productive things. I dreamed of being a tour guide, or solving mysteries… You know what it reminds me of? Elisheva’s phone call this morning. Strange things are happening there…really odd…”
She looked at the incomplete picture on the table and then said, “Nu, art teachers don’t get angry if you don’t do your homework, right? I’ll continue this during Goldy’s workshop, and maybe she’ll have some tips about what to do with these tiles that have a mind of their own. Please open that drawer behind you, Batsheva, and give me the little orange notebook that’s on the pile of papers.”
When Batsheva handed it to her, Blumi said, “I started it this morning. Alright, so Rosenblit really knows nothing, or so it seems. I don’t have any way to track down the clock buyer, unless I hire a real private investigator.”
“The clock buyer?”
“Wait, I’ll tell you everything; just a second. Not that I’m totally ruling out the idea of asking for help from a detective agency, in the event that I can’t get any more information. But first let’s see what I can find myself.”
Her sixteen-year-old daughter gaped at her, clueless.
“U’shemartem did not want to talk about the apartment under any circumstances, and were really disturbed by my phone calls. So maybe I’ll stop badgering them. Meanwhile, I have to check who this Korman from Australia is, and I must speak to Elisheva’s Arab.”
Blumi looked fondly at her daughter. “I’ll make us each a cup of tea, and then I’ll tell you everything.”
Twenty minutes later, they were sitting on the couch, Batsheva’s chemistry notebook long abandoned. “That’s an amazing story, Mummy!” Her eyes shone like they hadn’t in a long time. “It’s so intriguing.”
“You think so? I agree.” Blumi cleared away the cups and wiped down the little coffee table with a paper towel. “So what do you think? Should I start with the Arab or Australia?”
“Who do we know in Australia…?” Batsheva murmured. “Do we have any family there?”
“Not any that I know of.”
“So will you try the Arab contractor for now?”
But the Arab contractor was in no hurry to answer. The phone rang and rang, over and over.
Finally, someone picked up. “’Allo?” said a thick voice.
“Hello, is this Jalabi the contractor?”
“Jalib,” the voice all but sneered into the phone.
“I wanted to ask you something,” Blumi said, as Batsheva listened carefully, trying to understand. “You offered the Potolsky family in Bnei Brak to renovate their apartment?”
The Arab cut her off. “Don’t want to talk about it.”
“But we do want to talk about it.”
“So go to Emmanuel.”
He hung up.
Blumi was silent for a few seconds, and then she put a heading on a new page in her notebook: Emmanuel. “There, I got something,” she said with satisfaction. “Now we need to try and find someone from Australia, and ask if he knows anything about Korman the millionaire. I wonder if his name was Emmanuel. I imagine that it was, and I have a good detective instinct.”
“What do you mean ‘was’?” Batsheva asked curiously.
“He passed away already.”
“So why did the Arab send you to him?”
“Maybe it was a curse of some type.” Blumi scanned the lone word she had written. “So, what do you say? Who do we known in Australia?”
“Sydney, if I’m not mistaken.”
“I think…” Batsheva hesitated. “I think that Devorah Reichenhold from my class has a sister-in-law who’s originally from Australia. From Sydney. I don’t know how big the Jewish community is there, and if she’s even heard of him, but if he was a millionaire, and a frum one…”
“I don’t know how frum he was, exactly,” Blumi said, closing the notebook. “But you may as well try. Do you mind calling her to ask?”
Batsheva’s hesitation lingered for a few more moments. “Alright,” she said finally.
Devorah Reichenhold promised to ask her sister-in-law right then, and Batsheva and Blumi spent the next few minutes enveloped in tense silence, as though a judgment on their lives hung in the balance. Blumi packed up the supplies for her picture in the special case, and Batsheva opened her chemistry notebook, but all the rustles and movement failed to dissipate the curiosity hanging in the air.
Batsheva leaped for the phone the second it rang. “Devorah?”
“Hi, Batsheva. My sister-in-law said the name is familiar, and she thinks he is the owner of the Momes shoe factory in Sydney. Have you ever heard of those shoes?”
“Yes,” Batsheva replied. “I once had a pair of Shabbos shoes from Momes. Very expensive, but high quality. What more does she know about him? Like, would it be typical for him to commemorate his parents’ names in all kinds of strange ways?”
“So we made up that she’ll call you directly, and you can ask her anything you want.”
“Really? Thanks a lot. I hope it wasn’t too much of a bother for you.”
“No, it’s fine,” Devorah reassured her. “But it will take a few minutes, because she has to call her mother and ask her for more details.”
The minutes dragged on and on, and finally, after nearly an hour, Devorah’s sister-in-law called. Korman, yes. Not Emmanuel. Alexander—that was his first name. Alexander Korman. He was traditional. A millionaire, with no children or family. He donated to all kinds of causes, including frum community institutions in Sydney. Especially in commemoration of his relatives. But in the last four years, the man had stopped donating in memory of his relatives, and only gave continuing donations to existing causes. Unfortunately, he had gone completely senile.