Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 32 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.
Someone knocked at the door. Martin looked through the peephole and saw a frum bachur, wearing a black hat and jacket, standing there. The boy’s body language conveyed tension, or nervousness.
Martin went back to the computer. The boy began to ring the intercom, and the device hanging on the wall in the office room kicked in. Martin stared at it for a minute, biting his lip, and then pressed the red button, cutting off the recording a moment after Perl’s voice began its endless recitation of, “I’m sorry, I can’t speak to you right now…”
“Excuse me?” Now he could hear the visitor’s voice clearly. “Mr. Perl?”
Martin rustled the paper he was holding and said, “I’ll talk to him instead of you, Mr. Perl, okay? Yes, good afternoon, who are you?”
“Eitan Baron. I live here in the neighborhood.”
“What are you looking for?”
“Reb Michoel Perl.”
“I see. But he doesn’t feel so well. Maybe I can help you instead?”
“Oh.” The youth sounded even more uneasy than he looked from the peephole. “I…I learn in the Kletzkin yeshivah in Netivot, and I came home for an off Shabbos. The administrator of the yeshivah asked me to see how Reb Michoel Perl is doing, because he hasn’t been able to reach him for a long time. I understood from my father that no one around here has seen him for quite a while either…?”
“Did your administrator ask you to give him a message?” Martin asked with interest. It really was time to start interacting with the people who came here. It wasn’t a bad strategy: Perl wasn’t feeling well, and he was the secretary, or even the caregiver; it was perfect.
“Well, he wanted to hear how he’s doing and if he’s in Israel, because he’d like to speak to him. Or even come visit.”
“So you heard him yourself a moment ago,” Martin said. “And as I told you, he’s a bit weak right now. I’m his secretary; if you tell me what it’s about, perhaps I can help.” Of course, this wouldn’t work with people like Hinda, because relatives would never go for a stranger reporting to them that Michoel “didn’t feel well, and you can’t see him; I’m the new secretary, and you can’t come till further notice.” Especially as the relatives were already suspicious about what was going on here. But with other people, this could work beautifully.
“I…I don’t know what it’s about,” Eitan replied, tittering nervously. “I imagine it’s about his donations. But I don’t really know.”
“Donations? Money for your yeshivah?”
“Yes. But…oh, forget it, I didn’t mean to say anything.” The boy was getting more embarrassed by the minute. “I’m not sure that’s the issue. I just said it.”
“Alright, it doesn’t matter. And when you say ‘yeshivah,’ you mean a religious institution, right?”
“I see. Look, if it’s about money, go to your administrator, give him my direct number, and I’ll discuss it with Mr. Perl. You say he usually makes a donation to the yeshivah? Is it related to his non-profit?”
“I don’t know,” Baron replied.
“So let the administrator call my number, and I’ll check with Mr. Perl about what we can do for you. Okay?”
Would Perl be happy with the liberties Martin was taking for himself, doing so many things under Perl’s name?
Martin smiled to himself. For some reason, he imagined the meeting with the homeowner as a friendly, congenial encounter, in which he would thank the man for the comfortable accommodations he’d provided without knowing it. Perl, for his part, would thank Martin for his help and his dedicated handling of his chessed organization, which would have been left rudderless without him.
Martin preferred not to think about the risk of Michoel Perl getting angry at the insolent and illegal invasion of his home and property. He had nowhere else to go right now. What did Perl want – that he should turn himself in to the police? So that they should deport him from Israel, totally unjustifiably?
Martin jerkily tore off the carton packaging from the tray that he’d warmed up for himself, discovering schnitzel and seasoned farfel. He sat down at the kitchen table, staring at the food.
Instead of getting weighed down by all of this, he’d be better off investing his energies in better things. First of all, his search for Michoel Perl had taken some fascinating turns, because it seemed that he’d disappeared a long time ago, and hadn’t told any of his acquaintances where he was going and for how long.
True, at this point, there was no particular action that he could take on this front, aside for sitting and waiting for a phone call from Senor Monsenego from Mexico. But in the meantime, he could see in the emails who else was waiting for donations, and he could try to deal with it on Perl’s behalf. It seemed that before he left, he had made the effort to leave the impression that he was home and functioning normally.
And Martin was happy to help him maintain that image.
In the interim, if he’d be very bored, he could send important messages to his friends. His former friends, to be more precise. True, that wouldn’t exactly be a perpetuation of Mr. Perl’s ways, but for some reason, it was clear to him that Mr. Perl would not be in favor of the “price tag” activities – not at all.
And today, he himself was also wondering about the whole thing.
A – Hi Dan, and everyone. I hope you’re being very careful when you give treatment to the cousins. Don’t cause any harm to people!
B – Shadow? Who is this, a new collaborator? How did you get into our group?
A – Trust me, I manage. I’m good at computers.
B – Oh, it’s you?
A – Makes no difference. But did you notice what I asked you?
G – Who are you to ask us to do things?
A – Who am I? Someone who uses his brains from time to time, and doesn’t follow the whole clan blindly.
G- Are you in Israel?
A – Listen, I’m telling you: You want to teach them a lesson? You want to deter them? Fine. But carefully. The guilt you will feel if you harm someone, even by mistake…
B – We won’t feel guilty.
A – Hey, hey, better think what you’re saying…
C – Hey, Dan, who hooked you up with this character?
B – Actually, a trusted friend… Oh, well, there are always mistakes.
A – Just listen to what I want to tell you: Nothing good comes from violence. Stop. Only real peace and mutual respect will accomplish anything. Revenge is a bad thing, and if it harms innocent people, it’s also cruel — never mind foolish.
G- Okay, enough. Where is Yachin? Get this guy off our group, and we’ll connect again.
A – I find it hard to believe it will help you, but go ahead and try.
“I didn’t send a team, I didn’t put him under surveillance, nothing,” Gil said with frustration, putting a thin file on the desk.
“It’s all fine,” Yaron Korblit said calmly. “You did what I asked, and you’ve carried out your obligation to your homeland. What more do you want?”
“It’s hard for me to grasp just an edge, and then to let go completely.”
Yaron fixed him with a stare. “Carrying out instructions is the most basic part of your training.”
“And if I give myself a free hand?”
Yaron’s face grew somber, and he didn’t answer.
“Not really a free hand,” Gil hurried to clarify. “But when I see text that looks connected to our issue here, am I allowed to read it, or do I have to close my eyes?”
“Gil,” Yaron said, pulling the booklet toward him. “All I did was order you not to send anyone to Shaker. We know that he’s in the home of someone named Michoel Perl in the German Colony in Jerusalem, and I appreciate the information. But that’s all the involvement I need from you right now. By the way, from the bit of research I did on this Michoel Perl – he’s an older guy, American, Chareidi, single, without any left or right orientation.”
“You agree with me that the change we’ve seen in Shaker needs to be explained.”
“Maybe.” Gil shrugged. “I’m not sure it’s a real change. And even if it is, it’s not that big.”
“It’s not big?!” Yaron opened the booklet to the first page. “You can see that you’re new on my team, Gil, and that I haven’t given you enough background on the headaches that this cute little creature has caused us in the past. The fact that he is sitting quietly is an amazing change. And that’s even before—”
“Because he’s afraid of being caught.”
“And beforehand he wasn’t afraid? He was arrested at least three times; he was warned; I—yes, me!—met with him personally and spoke to him…and none of that helped at all. And now—”
Gil was stubbornly indifferent. “There are those who only realize you’re talking to them in the first place after they get their first slap,” he said drily. “But actually, I’m interested in hearing what you’ll have to say about what I just saw…no, turn one more page…no, sorry, two more…yes, there, right side, at the top. What is this red notice?”
Korblit scanned it. “‘Beware of messages reaching members under the name Shadow – A Heavy Price for Price Tag.’ Sometimes it’s in English, and sometimes Hebrew. Do you think it’s him?”
“What is ‘Youth of the Land’? Is this their latest pamphlet?”
“It’s the next pamphlet that hasn’t been published yet. We received it from the printer a few minutes ago. Kobi Bar-Nir works with them.”
“So this is a really fresh story, from the past few days.” Yaron studied the ad. “Try to find out for me what he is doing that got them so annoyed, alright?”
“I don’t have to tell you what to do, right?”
“Oh, now I’m allowed?” Gil asked, making no effort to conceal his pleasure at the thought.
“Yes,” Yaron murmured. “But don’t get involved, and don’t write anything. Just read. And if there is anything interesting, print it out for me.”
Nothing good comes from violence. Stop. Only real peace and mutual respect will accomplish anything. Revenge is a bad thing, and if it harms innocent people, it’s also cruel — never mind foolish.
“And if I’m right, and ‘Shadow’ is our Shaker,” Gil muttered angrily, as Yaron sat and read all the sentences that the anonymous poster had sent hundreds of times, one after another, to a few friends of Martin Posner, “then I take back what I said. It’s a huge change; the guy has gone off his rocker.”
“You don’t sound particularly admiring,” Yaron said.
“That’s because I prefer stable people.”