Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 45 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.
In the morning, Michoel felt much stronger than he had in the past few days. Almost all the products that Rob, the male nurse, had bought him last night bore familiar American hechsherim, and that confirmed his conclusions regarding which country he was in.
The good meal was having the right effect, baruch Hashem. He washed his hands and stood up to daven, happy to see that he was able to remember most of the davening by heart. He felt bad that he hadn’t remembered to put on tefillin for a few days—and that he had no idea where they were. But he would demand from the staff again to get his belongings. And if they were not here—maybe he really had come here following a serious trauma—he would ask them to get ahold of tefillin for him somehow. Maybe from the other guy who kept kosher.
He passed the nurses’ station and went down to the director’s room. The door was locked again, and this time, no knocking or turning the handle got it to open. He studied the door, from the floor to the top of the doorpost, and went back up to the ward. This time he stopped at the nurses’ station.
“Yes, sir?” a dark-skinned nurse asked sweetly.
“I’d like to speak to the people in charge here,” he said. “Where is Skulholt now?”
“Do you mean the director or the CEO?”
“There are two Skulholts?” he asked. Then he remembered the inscription on the façade of the building. “Oh, I think his name might be Gilbert? I saw that name on the sign outside.”
“That’s their father,” someone behind him said, and Michoel was glad to discover that it was Rob, the sympathetic, bespectacled nurse. “And he has two sons: Edmund is the CEO, and Jerry is the doctor.”
“Oh, only one of them is a doctor?”
“Yes. But they both have pharmacist’s degrees.”
“I want one of them. Actually, I’d be happy to speak to both, but for now, I’ll do with whichever one is available first.”
The dark-skinned nurse chuckled. So did Rob. “I’ll check,” he promised. “In any case, I think that the doctor included a conversation with you on his schedule, so I believe it will happen at one point today.”
“Okay,” Michoel said. “So maybe until that happens, I can speak to you? I get the impression that the staff here is not very interested in giving me information. Not about this place and not about my condition…”
“I can certainly give you information about the place. Regarding your condition, only the doctor can do that.”
“Excellent,” Michoel said. He had no idea how much he sounded like his regular self. He folded his arms and leaned on the desk. “Let’s start with what you can tell me. What is this place?”
“An alternative healing medical center.”
Michoel slowly repeated the words, letting them roll around on his tongue. “What does alternative healing include?” he asked, after a moment.
“Medications that Skulholt, the father, has produced, and whose recipes he taught to his sons; psychological and psychotherapeutic therapies; and, mostly, restraint.”
“Restraint! From what?” Michoel remembered the young man and the phone. “From phones? Mirrors?”
“Nice grasp,” Rob complimented him. “From cameras and mirrors, to put it more precisely.”
“But what’s bad about them?”
“I’ll leave that explanation to our doctor. One thing I promise you, though: you won’t leave the conversation with him without clear answers.” He smiled again, lowering his glasses and rubbing the lenses with the edge of his sleeve. “Now I need to get on with my work, okay?”
“Fine,” Michoel said. Then he remembered something. “But listen a minute—I have something important to discuss with you before you go. Do you have any idea where my belongings are? There is something in my bag that I need urgently, even before the sun sets.”
“You’ll have to ask the doctor about that,” Rob said. He began to walk away. “I think that patients’ personal belongings are also recorded in their files. I wasn’t here the week you arrived, but if I understood correctly, you came here unconscious, in serious condition with a head trauma, without any belongings or identification.”
This private investigator knew nothing about Mike’s life. At first he’d said a cult, then he’d said that there was a more remote possibility that was worth looking into—an eating-disorder clinic. He’d spoken to three friends of Mike, and they’d said something about this.
But Mommy and Daddy did not know what he was talking about, because Mike, as far as Becky could see, did not have any eating disorders. He usually finished all his food, and even took doubles; he also noshed plenty between meals.
Besides, as Mommy had asked, who had persuaded Mike to be hospitalized? Who wants to be hospitalized just to be force-fed?
Later, though, Mommy had said quietly that she had noticed some strange things about Mike recently, and when she thought about it, they were all connected to food and weight. He had been a bit pale, and had gotten thinner, but she hadn’t noticed that he was eating differently. And besides, only girls suffered eating disorders, right?
The investigator had laughed and said that most eating-disorder sufferers were girls, yes, but not all. And that he did want to look into this option.
In the end, he’d gone, and left Mommy and Daddy with some questions for them to think about. He said he’d call tomorrow to hear their answers, so he could decide where to start searching. Mommy and Daddy had argued a bit, which Becky could never stand. Daddy had said that it was the ridiculous cult, Mom had said it was the eating-disorder hospital, and Becky had decided to go into her room and look up in the Encyclopedia Britannica what types of eating disorders there are, and which made the most sense for Mike to be suffering from. If that was really what was wrong with him.
Hinda walked home from the grocery, wondering what they were supposed to do with Martin today, and if he was expecting them to keep him busy. Yesterday, she and Dov had discussed the issue until 2:30 in the morning, and they’d agreed on a general plan. They would not go to the police for now, but they might do so if they didn’t succeed in tracking Michoel down soon.
Today she’d go to Michoel’s house to try to figure out what had happened there. It was true that Martin had been living there for weeks, and claimed he’d checked the house from basement to attic, and that there wasn’t a clue about such a long disappearance. But she knew Michoel better, and she might find something, b’ezras Hashem.
Dov and Martin showed up together after Shacharis. Hinda did not ask if Martin had joined him in shul or if they had just met on the stairs. Instead she sat the boy down at the table, next to her husband, and served the two breakfast.
“I slept very well,” Martin said, after eating in silence for a few moments. “My grandmother once said that a clean conscience is the most comfortable pillow in the world. Maybe my conscience cannot be entirely clean, because I still withheld this information about your uncle not being in the house all this time, but…”
“But you brought us more information,” Hinda said quietly from her place near the sink. “And we appreciate that.”
“What are your plans for now, Martin?” Dov asked.
“I thought about it a lot this morning.” The youth smeared a thick layer of butter on a slice of bread, and then spooned some eggs on top. “And that’s what I was starting to tell you now. If they are going to deport me anyway, I don’t have to wait for them to do it with all the bells and sirens and media and I-don’t-know-what else. I have a visa to go to America. I thought I could go meet with Shimon Weisskopf and try to find Michoel Perl myself.” His eyes were lowered.
“It’s a nice idea,” Dov said thoughtfully. “The question is if you have where to start. We also spoke to Weisskopf, but he really has no further information that can be helpful.”
“I still think that when you meet someone face to face, for an official meeting, you can get to many more details than when you’re speaking with him on the phone,” Martin said confidently. “If he can tell me what Perl planned to do in America, and what he usually did on trips of this kind, it would be very helpful.”
“It would also help me if you spoke to Monsenego from Mexico, and tried to find out which flight Michoel Perl was supposed to take to go to America from there. This way, we can check if he flew or not.”
“Your ideas are good ones,” Dov said in his not-very-polished English. His wife spoke a much better English than he did, yet he was still able to understand all that Martin was saying. “Sounds like you were a detective trainee at some point or something!”
“Almost.” Martin suppressed a smile of his own. “I was actually involved in collecting ..
“Here in Israel? During your computer studies?”
“No, in Canada.”
“What did you learn?”
Surveillance. Collecting information about the people who worked with John Wilke—Brian’s greatest enemy. Collecting details about random people, though to this day, he had no idea what the group even wanted from them. “Information systems, things like that. We were also involved in programs about people’s personal information.”
“Sounds like something almost on a government level.”
“Yes,” Martin murmured into his coffee cup.
“How old are you, Martin?”
“Then you were very young when you learned this in Canada.”
Martin put down his empty cup. “It was a year ago.”
“You give the impression of being a gifted young man.”
“I don’t know if I’m gifted, but I’m definitely talented.” He ran his right hand through his too-long hair. “And I’d love if you would give me the chance to fix some of the damage I’ve done, and let me go out to search for Michoel Perl.”
“Let’s talk about this later, at around lunchtime, Martin, alright?” Dov stood up and took his suit jacket off the hook near the kitchen door. Then he added, “And if I want to put things on the table openly, one of our main considerations here is financial.”
Near the sink, Hinda gave a cough. He glanced at her fleetingly and continued, “I’m not sure that we have spare money to invest in this adventure. As I said, you seem like a talented young man, but as long as I’m not convinced enough that you’d have a serious chance of tracking down Michoel, I may prefer to use the money toward a private investigator, further down the line—if it comes to that.”
“Of course, there’s nothing personal here,” Hinda added from where she was standing. “You seem like an honest person and all. But this is something we need to think about.”
“I didn’t mean that you should pay for it,” Martin shot back. “My grandmother’s inheritance is enough for me to travel on my own dime.”
“Maybe it would be a good idea for you to allow the authorities to deport you,” Dov said with a laugh. “Let them pay the ticket, eh?”
“For all I know, they might put me on a plane, and then force me to pay the ticket anyway.” Martin wasn’t laughing. “But I told you, I don’t want you to pay me anything for now. The expenses are on me. If I find your uncle, we’ll talk then, okay?”
Dov bit his lips for a long moment, and then another one. “You’re very generous, young man,” he said. “But your grandmother’s inheritance is meant to serve you in the future, not for you to waste on—sorry, I keep using this word; please don’t get offended—on this adventure, when the outcome is not at all certain.”
“I can travel without asking you, too, you know,” the boy replied with a faint smile. “Let’s think about it, okay?” Dov put a hand on Martin’s shoulder. “If you insist on going, I do want to talk about the possibility of you finding him, and then we’ll happily pay you part of the expenses.”