Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 68 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.
“Is this the Potolsky residence? Is one of your parents at home? Okay, so please leave a message that Meir Rosenblit, the lawyer from Ramat Gan, called. Tell them that I found out some information on the subject… Yes, they know what I’m talking about, of course. So please tell them that after making some inquiries, I understand that Korman in Australia had a business partner who worked very closely with him on all his decisions. So they should try to speak to him, and perhaps he can shed some light on this whole matter. His name is…”
Dear Mrs. Hartstein,
As per your request, I continued making inquiries at the offices of the Jewish organization, U’shemartem, in the United States. I learned that the apartment that was raffled off is actually located in Jerusalem, and a family named Kushner, from Philadelphia, was the winner. From a perusal of the correspondence of the organization, I understand that the Kushner family agreed to keep the win a secret, because someone contacted the organization with the unusual request that they announce that the Potolsky family of Bnei Brak had won (without a raffle) a different apartment. This person’s name did not appear anywhere, and it was likely erased as part of his contract with the organization. In addition, there was no mention of the size of the donation that he gave the organization in exchange for their agreement to this. But from the information I have amassed, I learned that he is Australian, and he lives in Sydney. Based on the investigations I have done, allow me to venture that he is the former partner of Mr. Alexander Korman, whose name is…
“You, again?!” Emmanuel literally shouted. “Leave me alone, Potolsky! Just leave me already! Stop chasing me all day and all night. What do you want from me? I didn’t do anything bad to you!”
“Chalilah,” Eliyahu said. He’d incidentally emerged at that moment from the elevator on the second floor of the senior citizens’ home. “We never said such a thing. And honestly, I didn’t plan to meet you here, Emmanuel, so you can’t say I’m chasing you, and certainly not all day and all night. We met totally by chance.”
“Chance, chance, chance,” the man sneered scornfully. Excited yipping from the bag that he held accompanied his words – but provided a rather discordant note. “So what are you doing here, huh?”
“I came with my father-in-law,” Eliyahu said, pointing with his chin to the room. “He spent the day with us, and now he’s coming back here.”
“Oh, you came with him? So where is he now?”
“He’s in his room already, with my wife. I was delayed downstairs, leaving a message at the receptionist for your in-house doctor.”
“So he was in your penthouse today, or what? Ingrates.”
“Chalilah,” Eliyahu said. “We don’t mean to make light of what you did for us, Emmanuel. Because of those tickets you sold to my father-in-law, we won an apartment.”
“Yes,” Emmanuel said, slowly releasing his breath. “So you remember that.”
“Did you sell tickets to everyone here?”
“Are you starting up with me again?” Once more Emmanuel’s voice rose a few octaves. “No, I didn’t sell tickets to everyone. Only to your father-in-law. I like him, okay? Any complaints about that?”
“No, of course not. We are very grateful, Emmanuel, as you were such a good shaliach. My children are thrilled in the new house.” Eliyahu’s voice was soothing. “It was very crowded in our old apartment, you know.”
“Well, sure. That’s why your father-in-law didn’t want to come live with you. That’s what he told me.”
“Now baruch Hashem, he comes more often. As someone who has been here for a few years, Emmanuel, you surely also realize that it makes him happy.”
“But that’s how it is when an elderly grandfather is together with his family. You should just know,” Emmanuel’s voice suddenly took on a warning – almost threatening – tone, “that if you neglect him here and sit in your fancy new house all by yourselves, then you might discover that this whole raffle was actually a mistake, or something to that effect.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Eliyahu looked at the closed door of his father-in-law’s room. Elisheva was also inside there. “It wasn’t a legal raffle?”
“Sure it was legal, as legal as possible.”
“So why are you saying that it might turn out to be a mistake?”
Emmanuel chuckled. “Oh, those who have money, they can do anything.”
“Who are you talking about, U’shemartem?”
“Nah, not them. It was the Australian guy, who still hasn’t given me the final payment.” He continued on down the hall, and Eliyahu doggedly followed him, half a pace behind the man.
“Why didn’t he pay?” he asked delicately.
“Why? Because. Ask him. Maybe he is annoyed because of the story with Jalib.”
“Who is this Jalib?” Eliyahu asked.
“A contractor who worked here. He was actually pretty excited to get work like that, without too many questions or requests, but he was disappointed that you didn’t want him. What happened—you got suspicious, eh?”
Eliyahu walked alongside him, thanking Hashem in his heart for the sudden shift in Emmanuel’s mood, which perhaps was due to the delinquent payment from this mysterious Australian guy. “Wouldn’t you have suspected such a story, Emmanuel?”
“Maybe,” the man said, shrugging. He tapped with his left hand on the hairy little head that poked up from the bag in his right hand. “One second, my little pet; in another minute we’ll get to my office, and you’ll be able to get out. Maybe I’d become suspicious, Mr. Potolsky, but why walk away from it? Why? Someone is giving you a gift—accept it!”
“Yes, but if it seems that someone is trying to harm you in some way, you do walk—or rather, run—away from it!” Eliyahu retorted.
“Why do you think you’re being harmed?” Emmanuel protested. “I wish some millionaire from Australia would start picking on me, and decide that he owes my father or grandfather lots of money, but just doesn’t want to reveal his identity!”
Eliyahu stopped. “What’s his name?” he asked sharply.
“I’m trying to decide if I should tell you.”
“We’re in any case on the verge of finding out who he is,” Eliyahu said quietly. “My wife has a friend who hired a private investigator, and he’s busy finding things out in Australia. We know for a long time already that that is the source of all this stuff. So if it’s improper for you to tell me who you are working for, then…”
“Who I’m working for? I don’t work for him! I don’t work for anyone, only Hakadosh Baruch Hu. I just did a few things for him.”
“Were you connected to the cuckoo clock also?”
“A little bit. I just told him that you were selling it, and he sent someone to buy it from you.”
“Oh.” Eliyahu nodded, digesting the information. “Well, in any case,” he said, quickly returning to the matter at hand, “if it’s out of line for you to reveal the name of that person, then don’t.”
“Out of line? It’s out of line that he hasn’t paid me! If he doesn’t keep to our agreements, then I don’t have to keep to the agreements either. So I can tell you that his name is…”
“Ludmir?” Elisheva rolled the name around on her tongue. “Ludmir.” She shook her head from side to side slowly. “I don’t know anyone by the name of Ludmir.”
“My friend,” her father spoke up.
“What, Abba?” She turned to him.
“He is my friend, from Bratislava. He told me that that is his name.”
“The boy who you spent the war years with?”
Her father nodded.
“When did he reveal his real family name to you?”
“Here, in Israel. His uncle found him.”
“And then you were in contact with him afterward?” Eliyahu asked, switching on the kettle in his father-in-law’s little kitchenette.
Eliyahu turned away from the kettle. “Sorry for asking, Abba, but did you…once lend this friend a big sum of money, or something like that?”
“No.” Elisheva’s father was firm.
“Never?” Eliyahu asked again.
His father-in-law gazed at him in silence.
“I’m sorry for nudging. It’s just that Emmanuel threw out some words about owing money to a father or grandfather from long ago…” He carried three cups of steaming tea to the table. “So I was just wondering…” he said delicately.
“I told you, no.” Elisheva’s father was reproachful. “I have never seen him since I came to Eretz Yisrael. And I never had any money.”
His daughter and son-in-law nodded silently.
“Ludmir,” Elisheva murmured. “In the message that the lawyer left for Chani, he said that the man’s first name is Joe. That’s also what Blumi just told me. What did Emmanuel tell you, Eliyahu?”
“Just Ludmir, without a first name,” he answered.
“Yosef Ludmir,” Yisrael whispered. “Gustav.”
“Joe is Yosef, right?”
“Probably,” Eliyahu said. “Maybe we should try and find out a bit about him to make sure that it’s the same person, before we get too sure about this. It might not even be him.”
“This Ludmir, this Gustav, did he like giving things to people, Abba?” Elisheva asked, as she placed an orange pill next to her father’s glass. “How do you remember him?”
“He always took care of me,” Yisrael Bentzion said heavily. “He was like my big brother.”
“Suddenly he decided to come back and be my big uncle?” Elishiva’s lips curled up in a crooked grin. “And in such a roundabout way? Strange, isn’t it?”
“If it’s even him,” her husband reminded her.
“If it’s him, of course. Would you like to meet him, Abba?”
“Are you already planning the emotional reunion?” Eliyahu chuckled. “What color will the balloons be?”
“Don’t laugh,” she said. “I have a very strong feeling that this is him. And even if my sixth sense was a little off kilter these past few months, maybe because of my burning desire to accept all this generosity at face value, now I’m sure that it is on target. This is Gustav, my father’s friend.”
“It’s not him,” her father said suddenly.
She turned to him. “Why do you think not?”
“Because Gustav only took care of me in Bratislava.” He sighed. “Here, in Eretz Yisrael, he…” He was silent for a moment. “He didn’t anymore.”
“You stayed alone…”
“Well, the Cohens wanted me to come to them.” He smiled.
“The Cohens from America?”
“That’s right. But I was already settled here, and things were very good for me, overall. So I just stayed where I was.”
“I don’t want to think what would have happened if you would have left the yeshivah in Bnei Brak and traveled to America… So, it can’t be your Gustav?” Elisheva insisted, almost like a child.
“Maybe it is…” Her father retreated somewhat. “Maybe he just got mixed up.”
“Mixed up? When would he have gotten mixed up?”
“Now. I think he meant someone else. Not you. Not me.” And suddenly, from within her elderly father, Elisheva discerned a little boy, weak and hurt. The child who, despite growing up, settling down, establishing a family, and making friends, nevertheless remained so very much alone.