Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 29 of a new online serial novel, Outside the Bubble, by Esther Rapaport. Check back for a new chapter every week. Click here for previous chapters.
Copyright © Israel Bookshop Publications.
The search results for the word “Mexico” in Perl’s inbox revealed an airline ticket for April fifteenth. After some more nosing around, Martin discovered a few strange messages:
Mr. Perl, we need approval for the order of 500 kilograms of chicken from Rabbi Schwadron’s shechitah.
Five hundred kilograms of chickens? What was an old man doing with five hundred kilos of chicken?
There were also two messages on this subject in recent days, as well as some messages about discounted clothing for families, and stipends from the Oros Fund for Children, in regard to summer vacation. The most recent messages were basically saying that if Michoel would not give the final approval, they would consider all the initiatives for discounts and stipends to be null and void.
Martin stared at the screen. The messages about stipends for children especially captivated him. “Stipends are for the rich,” Brian, a black kid, had said when they were leaning on the gate of the school and had torn off a sign that was hanging there. At the time, young Martin had asked him what a stipend was. It was the first time he’d seen the word. “It’s when rich people give other rich people a bit more money,” Brian had spat, crumpling the torn ad. “You’ll learn about life, my friend.”
Martin picked up his new phone from the table, wondering if he could find out if Michoel Perl had indeed flown to Mexico in the end and, most importantly, if he’d returned. It was a shame about all these stipends that would not be approved, because for some reason, he did not get the impression that they were for rich people, just like the discounted clothing was surely not for the well-heeled.
At that moment, a message popped up onto the small phone screen: Is that you or not? Dan.
Martin smiled to himself. Sure it’s me, he tapped out in response. You ever heard of someone who says it’s him and it’s not him?
Was it you who spoke to me and wanted to find out about the injured Arabs?
It was me. Martin tensed. Was Dan writing, or was it a front?
Why do you care about them?
The question made Martin fume. He didn’t text anything back, instead choosing to call the number on his screen. This time, he didn’t leave the house; the outing from the night before, and Gronam’s appearance, had been enough for him for a week, if not a month. And the police? He hoped they would not jump at every number that contacted Dan.
“Yes?” Dan’s voice said carefully—or at least it sounded that way.
“They are humans!” Martin replied, without any introduction. “And even if sometimes we have to show them the direction, that doesn’t mean we can sink to the level of terrorists.”
“Terrorists… Wait a minute, so that accident with Rudy was actually an intentional act of terror?”
Martin felt his back stiffen. “Not at all,” he said cautiously. Was Dan asking seriously, or had he become a collaborator with the authorities? “I didn’t mean to do anything, and Rudy didn’t either. It’s very distressing that he hit innocent people!”
“Really.” The other boy allowed for a significant silence. “Without mentioning your name on the phone, I’m not sure I’m speaking to who I think I’m speaking to. I thought I was talking to one of our right-wing activists, who was about to be deported from the country, and suddenly he sounds like a radical leftist, who likes people and animals on two legs! Yuck!”
“Who’s talking about animals? I’m talking about two innocent people who were walking on the street, not doing anything wrong, and Rudy hit them, totally by accident! The fact that I’m very nervous about the people who want to deport me is unconnected.”
“Yes. You know what? If they think that I wanted to murder them, then for their part, they are right for wanting to deport me from here!”
Dan was quiet. “You should know,” he said after a moment, “my phone is totally protected from wiretapping. I should have told you that before—silly me. But you can say what you really think.”
Martin snickered. “That sounds like a real collaborator sentence, from the books. But even if I take what you said as the hard truth, it doesn’t change my opinions. I’m going to repeat what I said before: It’s a shame they were injured. I didn’t want it to happen. That’s it.”
“You know, this is beginning to sound almost like we’re in Russia or something.” Dan sounded genuinely frustrated. “No one knows whom to believe! Who’s the traitor here, you or me?”
“Not me,” Martin replied, in all seriousness. “And even if you are, I didn’t change the truth for you.”
“Let’s end our friendship here, Martin,” Dan said, suddenly shaking off the whole thing. “It was nice knowing you, adventurous Canadian. Come back to us when you decide with more clarity what your political views are. Or maybe it’s just better that you don’t come back. People like you are a danger.”
Martin didn’t have time to protest before the call ended.
And this time, the feeling of solitude was more powerful than ever.
He was alone, with the evasive shadow of Michoel Perl, and suddenly, he really, really wanted to find him and bring him home.
That, for now, was something he could not do. But he could confirm the orders of the chickens, the clothing, and the distribution of stipends. Yes, he could do that.
And without thinking for another minute, he did it, as if doing something in the name of Michoel Perl would bring him back to life.
A minute later, a new message popped into the box:
How are you paying? With your credit card?
How was he paying? And why on earth did he have to pay for 500 kilos of chicken?! Was Perl planning to eat it? There wasn’t enough room in his freezer for even a tenth of that.
Where will you put the merchandise? he replied with a question of his own.
The answer came a moment later: We’re not putting anything anywhere. We are sending vouchers to your families, and they come to the grocery stores with them. Unless you prefer to change the distribution method. For us, this is preferable; this way we work with everyone through our regular suppliers.
Martin hesitated, and then typed: Do you have the credit card details?
Yes, they replied.
Which one? he asked.
It ends with 0562, they answered.
Martin took a deep breath; fortunately, they were making it easier for him. He quickly typed: Yes, put the order through with that credit card, please.
If Perl would come to him with a complaint, well, then he’d return the money to him. Grandma’s inheritance should be enough. But it was hard to believe Perl would have any complaints, if he was the one who had placed the huge orders in the first place. It seemed that his world revolved around “his families,” perhaps for lack of any other family.
The ones in charge of the stipends for the children and the clothing suppliers didn’t give him quite such an easy time; they demanded the credit card number. They noted that they were waiting anxiously for Perl’s approval because they had spoken to him about the details more than three months ago, and why was he delaying? But in any case, they wanted the credit card number again.
It wasn’t so complicated. Martin was ready to bet that Perl had kept his credit card number someplace on the computer, so he made a search for all files that included the digits 0562. The computer came up with eleven files, and Martin scanned them quickly. In the sixth file, a simple Word file oddly named “Aunt Berta’s Ice Cream Recipe,” he found the credit card information under a pasted photo of a white ice cream cake with six layers.
He confirmed the two purchases, and in a flash, had withdrawn twenty-five thousand shekels from Perl’s account. It was fun to be a philanthropist!
But half an hour later, there was an irritated-sounding message that the payment had been declined.
Oh, boy. Was there not enough money in the organization’s account?
If he ignored the messages, and things began to go haywire, people would notice that something was not right with Michoel Perl. Who knew how many of the needy people on his lists were waiting for these distributions…and now they wouldn’t get anything. If they didn’t get anything, they might start reaching out to people and raising a hue and cry… And people would start to wonder why Perl had stopped his activities.
He needed this to work!
After a moment of hesitation, Martin tried again. But this time, he changed the amount for payment to fifteen thousand shekels, and then added his own credit card information for ten thousand more. Let it be from the inheritance. Grandma would always give charity; she’d say that G-d helps those who are compassionate.
He wondered what Grandma would think if she knew what he was doing. He was sure she’d be happy and would say that it was helping her soul.
Though right now, he felt that these donations might also be in memory of Michoel Perl’s soul, not only Grandma’s.
Right after he sent the new information, there was no response. For a few minutes, Martin was afraid that this payment had failed as well. But then he got two digital confirmations, one after another.
The transactions had been successfully completed.