Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 63 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.
“Senile?” Eliyahu checked the sign on the Ramat Gan building he was standing next to. Yes, this was the address the nursing home director had given him. “Four years? Are you sure?”
“Absolutely, unfortunately. That’s what they told Blumi.”
“This doesn’t sound good…” Eliyahu bit his lower lip. “If it wouldn’t be so late, I would pop into Rosenblit’s office. I think it’s right in this area.” He walked into the stairwell. Interesting. He had expected to find that Emmanuel lived in an old, neglected building with peeling paint. Instead, he found a neat, relatively new, well-kept place. There was nice lighting, a landscaped garden, and a metal plate on the mailbox bearing the name “Emmanuel Ben-Tal.”
He wondered if this Emmanuel had also won an apartment in an obscure raffle.
“Maybe it isn’t too late. Try,” Elisheva suggested. “It’s only 8:30. We once had a meeting with him in the evening. Lawyers work all kinds of hours. They don’t always finish work at five o’clock on the dot, like in lots of other offices.”
“Try. I just feel like I can’t stand this subterfuge anymore.”
“Really? Why? Do you think someone had bad intentions here?”
“I don’t know, good, bad, but I do know that someone has been mixing into our lives on a regular basis for more than half a year now, and it needs to be checked out.”
“Okay,” he agreed. “Let’s see when I finish here with Emmanuel. Maybe I’ll have time to stop in at Rosenblit’s place.”
On the third floor, Eliyahu knocked at the door once, twice, and a third time, but was met only with a heavy silence. After a pause, he pressed on the bell, and recoiled when he heard the loud, jarring chime resonate through the house. He hesitated for a few seconds before pushing the bell again, but then he did it.
The door opened a crack; the thin chain of the bolt ensured that it would not open any further.
One of Emmanuel’s eyes peered out. “Yes?” he asked coldly.
“Emmanuel, I want to speak to you.”
“I imagine you didn’t come here to see which pictures I have hanging on the wall of my house.”
“Can I come in?”
“No.” The eye flashed angrily. “Absolutely not.”
“Just for a short conversation? I’m not accusing you; I just want to ask you something.”
“Accusing?! Is there something to accuse me of?! Have I done anything bad? All you got out of it was good. Such chutzpah!” And the door slammed shut.
Eliyahu hesitated before ringing the bell again. He made it a short ring, so it should sound less demanding. And another one.
The door opened again. “What do you want, Potolsky?”
“I didn’t express myself correctly, Emmanuel. You didn’t do anything wrong, and that’s what I meant to say – I am not accusing you, because there’s nothing to accuse you of. I just need help with something. Can you help me out?”
“No.” The door slammed shut with finality.
Eliyahu had plenty of time to pop over to Rosenblit.
“Oh, Rabbi Potolsky!” The lawyer, who had emerged from his office for a moment, remembered Eliyahu’s face well. “Are you waiting for me?”
“Yes.” Eliyahu rose from the seat that the secretary had pointed him to a few minutes earlier. “Could I ask you a couple of short questions?”
“Relating to that story?”
“Yes. It is very important to us.”
The lawyer studied him for a long moment. “Fine. I’ll call you in, in another minute or two, okay?”
Eliyahu sat down again. Rosenblit was reliable; everyone had told him that. He would not abet a conspiracy of any kind. Yet, even if this could not actually be called a “conspiracy,” what did he know about the whole story? Eliyahu wanted to find out.
“The story with the wedding was only the beginning,” Eliyahu said, when he was seated in front of the lawyer’s desk.
“What do you mean?” Rosenblit inquired. Sincerely? Eliyahu could not tell.
“It was the first of all kinds of strange things that happened to us.”
“Strange things? Good or bad?”
“Well, seemingly good.” And Eliyahu shared the story, starting with the raffle from U’shemartem and concluding with the Arab contractor. The dreamer. “May I ask you, when did Korman first contact you?”
“Nearly a year ago.”
“And he asked you to find a couple with those names, or did he give you our information right away?”
“He said he’d waited seventeen years to find a couple with these names, and only after your daughter got engaged did he reach out to me. Why?”
“Because someone made some inquiries in Australia on our behalf, and it turns out that for the last few years before his passing, Korman was not at all lucid.”
“Not lucid?” Rosenblit leaned forward.
“That’s what they say.”
“Why is it nonsense?”
“Because I spoke to him! Documents, signatures, certificates—he sent it all to me, and everything was squeaky clean, as I think you saw for yourselves.”
“Did he speak Hebrew?”
“Yes. A rather good Hebrew. With a European accent.”
“Who says it was him?”
“Rabbi Potolsky.” Rosenblit was not enjoying this conversation; that much was clear. “If I speak to a person who identifies himself with all the legal means, I have no reason to assume ‘it is not him,’ as you are trying to insinuate.”
“I have another question.” Eliyahu ignored his cell phone, which began to ring. “Let’s just say that the man indeed was suffering from dementia, or something similar. He still has a tremendous fortune and all that, and all his paperwork is valid. Is it not possible that one of his children, who was probably his caretaker, could make phone calls in his stead?”
“It is certainly possible, but he had no family. And it was the voice of an elderly man.” The office phone also began to ring, making the atmosphere that much more tense. “So it was not his son.”
“So who was responsible for him in his final years?”
“You are basing your claims on rumors, Rabbi Potolsky.”
“And if those rumors are true?”
“Then how am I supposed to know who was responsible for him? He was the one who reached out to me, personally, without any middleman.” Rosenblit hesitated for a moment. “You know something? It is possible that even if here and there he was not lucid, he had good moments, and that’s when we spoke.”
“You spoke a lot?”
“Not much. Most of his instructions came by fax.”
Eliyahu was quiet. “Do you know a person named Emmanuel Ben-Tal, Mr. Rosenblit?” he asked, after a moment.
“No. How’s he connected?”
Eliyahu sighed. “He’s connected to two of the other stories.”
“Sorry. I can’t help you more than I already have.” He reached for the phone, which had begun ringing again.
Eliyahu pushed his chair back. “Thanks anyway.”
It would have been more apt for him to say, “No reason to thank me,” Eliyahu mused as he made his way out, but actually, perhaps there was something. Because during the course of the conversation, the lawyer had causally conceded that it was possible that someone else had identified himself as Korman.
But who could both identify with his name and present his documents, and sign all the checks and withdraw money from his bank account?
In his office, Rosenblit answered the phone. He did not usually answer at this hour, but the discomfort caused by this meeting had to stop.
“Hello, I’m calling from London. My name is Mrs. Hartstein.”
“I wanted to know if you have any connection to Mr. Alexander Korman of Sydney, Australia, the owner of Momes.”
“Connection?” Rosenblit was happy to hear that his voice sounded calm and stable. “He passed away a few months ago, ma’am.”
“But did you have a connection with him?”
“My relationship with my clients is confidential.”
“I understand. Were his parents’ names really Peretz and Tziporah Genendel?”
He cleared his throat. “All matters relating to my clients are confidential.”
“I understand. Tell me, please, if he was senile, who could have used his name to withdraw money from his account?”
“All matters relating to my clients are confidential, ma’am,” he repeated coldly.
“I understand. Thank you.” Detective Blumi disappointedly hung up the phone.
Rosenblit remained standing in his office for a long moment, and then walked out and looked at the waiting room. It was empty. Potolsky was gone. Too bad. He was pretty sure that the two conversations had been timed.
The question was if they were perhaps right. Was it possible that he had been a partner to a scam of some kind, without being aware?
He went back to his desk, looking for the email address where he’d received the message about Korman’s death. He had to check who had dealt with the money matters and the factory after the demise of the lonely millionaire. Perhaps there were distant relatives, who could tell him the truth about Korman’s final few months.