Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 30 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.
Martin rubbed his eyes and stared at the table. He’d fallen asleep, and it was no wonder. He was in a severe sleep deficit from these past few days.
The conclusion of the day was that in another month, the clothing sale for needy families would be held at the Ohr Chaim hall. The clothing suppliers were requesting that Mr. Perl contact the directors of the hall to finalize the date.
This assuaged Martin’s conscience a bit. If Perl himself had arranged most of the matters, then clearly, he’d planned to pay for it.
The vouchers for the chicken would come straight here to the house, and Perl was supposed to send them to the families. Martin had already leafed through the binder in the drawer, and it had not been a problem to find the list of beneficiaries and their addresses. He would do it—no problem. Unless, of course, Perl would suddenly return from this never-ending visit to Mexico.
Maybe the time had come to resume trying to figure out what had happened to him.
Martin stood up and stretched his arms to loosen his muscles. As a first step, he could look for something in the house relating to Mexico. Letters, books, people’s names…
Wait–what about that message that had appeared the first time he’d opened the computer? The message for the anonymous “Hinda”? It was surely that same Hinda who had visited with her husband and nearly broken down the door, until he’d had to scare her off with threats that he’d call the police.
The email message had said that she should reach out to a certain person if Perl would disappear, but he was sure that that address was in America, not in Mexico.
His phone rang.
“Hello?” he answered, still stretching his left arm. Up, down, bend, and roll backward. It wasn’t Dan’s number; who could be looking for him?
“You spoke to my friend a little bit ago?” It sounded like a teenager.
“Who is this?”
“A friend of the guy you spoke to before.”
“If you know that I spoke to him, what is the question about?”
“Nothing. I just wanted to make you an offer.”
“Nu?” He stopped exercising his arm.
“Remember when you went out with us once, at night? We’re going to do it again. Do you want to join us?”
“What’s involved?” Martin asked cautiously. This was a trap. It was not them. Or it was a loyalty test, and it was them.
“Regular stuff. Slash as many tires as we can, and maybe also some exposed water pipes, and spray graffiti on the walls. You have other ideas? But no arson; we don’t do that.”
Graffiti on the walls. What would they write—“Death to the Arabs”?
If he didn’t want to do that, why write it?
He was better off doing more effective things in his spare time, like searching for clues to Michoel Perl’s whereabouts, for example.
“I don’t think I’m interested,” he said quietly.
“First of all, I don’t want to take the risk. Second, I don’t think it’s right.”
“Why? Because it won’t help?”
“Well, that’s also true.”
“And what else?”
Martin didn’t answer.
The silence stretched on for a few more moments, and then the other person ended the call.
The tiny office of Yaron Kornblit was extremely crowded. Yaron would never be able to get a handle on the mess that always surrounded him, yet he was still an excellent agent. Although none of the physical elements around him had a fixed place, the details in his head were amazingly organized in list form. He didn’t miss a thing.
Someone knocked on the door of the little room, and Yaron raised his eyes from the report that he had been perusing. “Yes?” he murmured.
Gil squeezed himself inside. “I just spoke to Shaker.”
“Nu, is he preparing a tasty shake for us?”
“No. He may have suspected something, but I’m not sure.”
“What was the subject of the conversation?”
“I offered him to join us.”
Gil laughed and moved the plastic chair, considering whether the conversation would be long enough to make it worth clearing the piles of stuff from the chair and sitting down. “Dan and Co., of course.”
“What would you have done if he would have agreed?”
“Cancelled it a few minutes later. His conversation with Dan was awful, for him, and in their place I would cut off contact with him.”
“Why?” That comment put all of Yaron’s senses on alert.
“Because he didn’t talk like one of them at all. Either he’s trying to put on a front, or there’s been a significant change somewhere. Or…” He hesitated for a second. “Or it’s not our Shaker in the first place.”
“Let’s review all the options.” Yaron pulled a brochure, with a centerfold photo of many people, out of the pile next to him, and placed it atop the report he was working on. “He isn’t at this conference,” he said, tapping on the stiff cardstock. “I can’t decide if it means something or not. So what were we saying? Oh, yes, let’s review the options you listed: When you say ‘trying to put on a front,’ I understand what you mean. But what kind of change are you talking about?”
“It sounds like he’s sorry about that incident, and he claims there was no intent involved. He thinks that no one should sink to the level of terrorists. And most remarkable—that those who are looking for him are right, on their part.” He smiled.
“Interesting statement.” Yaron looked for a stapler to attach the brochure with the photo to the report he’d written up a few minutes earlier. Of course, he couldn’t find one. He sufficed with pushing both items into a plastic bag and placing them on a side shelf. “The main thing is, how long did you talk for?”
Gil smiled again. “Enough time.”
“Do you have his location?”
“Yes. Looks like he is in a house. Should I send a team over?”
Yaron was quiet for a minute. “Not yet,” he said, scratching behind his ear. “Not yet.”
Hinda walked into the hall in Bnei Brak, clutching her small, old evening bag. A few of the sequins on the side had already fallen off, but she still liked it. Someone hurried over from the other side of the hall, grinning from ear to ear. Penina.
“Hi! How are you? I miss you!”
“Baruch Hashem, wonderful. How are you, Penina? How is it to be home?”
“It’s fine, baruch Hashem. I’m trying to manage without you. It’s not easy!” Penina laughed and led Hinda over to the mechitzah. “Here’s Simi, with her mother-in-law. Chevi is also here already.”
“Mazel tov! Loads of nachas!” Hinda offered her hand to Simi, who shook it politely.
“Thank you,” she said. “Amen. And here’s the little one.”
“He’s adorable!” Hinda complimented, remembering the hospital visit she and Dov had made to Penina about a month before. Dov had gone to visit Simi in the hospital himself. Hinda had been too tired, after sending off Penina and her husband. As a parting gift to them, the night before they’d left, she’d taken Batsheva to her room for the whole night.
Now, though, she was regretting not having made the effort to join her husband in visiting Simi.
“Do you have a place to sit?” Simi asked.
“I’m sure I’ll find one easily,” Hinda replied with a smile. “Don’t be busy hosting me now, Simi. You’re busy with your little one—it’s fine.”
Simi replied with a grateful smile and turned back to the conversation with her mother-in-law.
Someone patted Hinda’s shoulder. “Mazel tov,” she said. She looked like a carbon copy of Penina, except for the little dimple on her right check.
“Mazel tov!” she said. “How are you, Chevi?” It was a good thing Penina had already clued her in to the arrivals, because Dov’s daughters all strongly resembled each other.
“Baruch Hashem.” Chevi gripped the hand of her two-year-old. “Say hello!” she instructed.
“Hello, Aryeh!” Hinda greeted him. Most of Dov’s grandchildren were girls, and of the three princes, two were named Aryeh, after Dov’s father.
“You remember his name!” Chevi exclaimed. “Come here, Aryeh, don’t run away from me!” She began to chase the little boy.
Penina called something while rocking her beautiful carriage—Hinda had vaguely heard how much Dov had paid for it—and Chevi laughed. Then Penina began waving vigorously in the direction of the hall’s entrance. Another woman entered, and made a beeline for Penina and her carriage. A moment later, she turned around, as if Penina had just whispered to her to be polite to Hinda.
Which daughter was this one? Not Chevi…not Simi…obviously not Penina… What was Dov’s fourth daughter’s name?
Yael! That was it.
“Nice to see you, Yael.” Hinda greeted her.
Penina was glowing like a mechuteiniste. “You brought the kids?” she asked her sister.
“I only brought Aryeh; he’s with Chaim,” Yael said, pointing with her chin to the men’s section, where her husband stood. “And the rest are in school. Don’t I deserve a morning off? Come, let’s wash, okay? I’m starving, and I don’t see the bris starting yet. Uncle Feivish isn’t here, and I know they want him to be sandek.”
“Great, so I’m also going to wash,” Penina announced. “Can you watch Batsheva for a minute?” she asked Hinda, as she straightened the baby’s blanket. “There’s our table.” She pointed to the corner table and flitted over to the sinks, near the entrance.
Hinda led the carriage toward the empty table. There were purses on some of the chairs, and she didn’t want to sit down before being sure of what was happening here. If she wasn’t mistaken, this diaper bag matched the carriage of today’s guest of honor, Simi’s baby. There was also a stack of three snowy-white cloth diapers there. The elegant bag on the chair beside it surely belonged to Simi’s mother-in-law. And the other three seats would obviously be for Penina, Chevi, and Yael.
Okay, so where did that leave her? Which seat was she supposed to occupy? As she stood there contemplating the chairs before her, the mohel suddenly came in. (Uncle Feivish must have just arrived.) Hinda breathed a tiny sigh of relief; at least for now, the awkwardness over the seats had been deferred.