Part 1
 

The Blind Man

 

1
 

“He hasn’t gone crazy. He doesn’t owe money to shark loans. He’s not addicted to drugs. He doesn’t smoke or drink alcohol. He doesn’t even have a lover, male or female. He’s straight, so no worries there. And he’s not a spy, either.”

            “Then I don’t get it. Why is he acting like that?”

            “He’s trying new things… checking his boundaries. He wants to know to what extent a person can take control over his own destiny.”

            “And that’s why he wore a dress for a job interview?”

            “Yes. It’s also why he got a tattoo; bought a parrot; prayed in church; sprayed graffiti; rode an ostrich; started learning Chinese; adopted a homeless person; sold pizza; grew a mustache; jumped off a moving taxi, and God knows what else.”

            “A moving taxi? What happened to him?”

            “Just a few scratches. He’s fine.”

            “All right. I get the picture. You can stop now.”

            “In short, you don’t need to worry. He’s simply reached a decision to try and do something extraordinary every day and post something about it on some internet blog. Turns out, he already has quite a following.”

            “That’s just sad.”

            “I can think of worse things.”

            “Yes, you’re right. My sister, Hanni, her son let her know last week that he has a boyfriend; told her he’s gay. She was shocked. He served in a combat unit and everything. And Nitza’s daughter… You remember Nitza, don’t you? She’s friends with your mom, too. So Nitza’s daughter got back from India, changed her name to Moon, shaved her head, and started wearing a robe. And if that’s not enough, her other daughter wrote a book about female genitalia. I can’t bring myself to tell you the actual name. Also, I just heard my daughter’s best friend has an Arab boyfriend. At least he’s Christian and not Muslim, not that I’m racist or anything. We’re all human beings, but you know what I mean, right?”

            “I try not to judge people. Life’s complicated and we each come up with our own solutions.”

            “Oh, well. What about you? Married? Family?”

            “Recently divorced.”

            “I see. Pity. The main thing is you like what you do for a living. Your mother said you’re a good boy. She also said you’re not doing so well, financially speaking. Too bad.”

            “I’m doing all right. So does your son.”

            “Yes, my son. I just don’t understand why he’s doing it.”

            I may not be a psychologist, but I figured he was doing it for all the usual reasons: he got tired of his routine, his plans didn’t work, maybe he was disappointed in himself, or in his friends, family, his life. He felt trapped… felt that his plans were all predetermined. He gradually became depressed, went looking for some meaning, declared war on the natural order of things, and tried to find creative ways to change his destiny. I could appreciate what he was trying to do―it took courage―but I wasn’t sure I could explain that to his mom.

            “I understand there’s this unsolved matter with a girl he’s been wooing for a long time,” I finally said.

            “Nirit. I don’t understand why he’s so hung up on her. There are so many nice, available girls looking for a man. He’s been on his own for too long. I’m just worried about him.”

            “He’s just going through some soul searching. It’s natural. It happens to a lot of youngsters his age. I don’t think you should be worried.”

            “I really appreciate it. You’re very polite and generous. I’ll recommend you to all my friends.”

            “Thanks.”

            “How much do I owe you?”

            “Nothing. It was an easy case and you’re my mom’s friend. Next time.”

            Shosh rose and slowly walked out of the room. I sat and waited. It took less than three minutes for the phone to ring.

My mom was on the line. “Why for free? Why? Is this any way to do business?”

            “She’s your friend. I did her a favor.”

            “So, give her a five or ten percent discount, but don’t do it for free. Too bad, but never mind. I’ve spoiled you too much. You have to be a little tough. Did you talk to Emil?”

            Emil was a Kung Fu instructor, a colleague of my mom’s, who was a national karate champion at the age of twenty. She’d been nagging me to start training with him for the past few weeks.

            “Not yet.”       

            “Now that you have your own investigation office, you need to get back in shape. I know it’s only temporary and you’re still working on developing your artistic career. Still, you need to take care of yourself.”

            It’s only temporary. That’s what I used to tell everyone. “Just ‘til I get my literary career in motion.” Even the office sign said, 1134 11th Floor, Room No. 34. I never advertised. My name passed by word of mouth. I had enough work to make a living, but still had enough free time for my other career. “I’m in pretty good shape. I ride my bicycle a lot. I walk. Sometimes I go out for a swim.”

            “I’m talking about combat fitness… being able to attack. You’re rusty. All your lethal instincts are dormant and life’s one big war. It doesn’t matter what you do for a living, there are always ruthless enemies just around the corner.”

            A girl with black, disheveled hair entered the room. She wore a bright purple dress and large blue sunglasses, and she looked at me suspiciously. Behind her stood a tiny white dog that wagged its tail with lightning speed. I motioned for her to sit down.

            “Gotta go, Mom. I have an appointment.”

            I looked at the girl who sat in front of me. Something didn’t fit. I was waiting for a client, but imagined someone else entirely.

            “All right, all right. Take care of yourself. We’ll talk later.” She hung up.

            “Everything all right with mom?” asked the girl with the blue sunglasses.

            “She warned me about ruthless enemies.”

            “She’s right. There are a lot of ruthless enemies out there.”

            That girl with the wild black hair and tight purple dress didn’t look like a schoolteacher; not the kind I used to have, anyway.

            I smiled. “Something to drink?” 

            “Alcohol?”

            “At noon? I’ve got coffee or raspberry juice.”

            ‘Tempting, but I think I’ll pass.”

            The white dog, a kind of miniature poodle, gurgled oddly.

            “Is he sick?”

            “His name is Goddard. He suffers from reverse sneezing. It mainly happens to him when he’s excited.” The dog eyed me warily and retreated to the corner of the room. “Say, can you tell me where sexy Diana is sitting?”

            Diana was the new law secretary next door. All his secretaries were nice and beautiful, while he was mean and ugly.

            “Are you her friend?”

            “Yes, we’re friends. From back in the army. You know something? I think you’re her type―tall; skinny; narrow, handsome face; manly chin; beautiful hands; a bit dorky, but with an interesting, manly twist. You two could be a cute couple.” She glanced around the room. “I imagined a fancier office.”

            There was a knock at the door and a woman with brown hair tied in a black rubber band and wearing large hoop earrings entered the room. She was a little short and chubby, and her face was stern and she was a little short and chubby; this was the customer I’d been waiting for.

            The girl with the blue sunglasses looked at the other woman. “Wow, cool earrings. Where’d you get them?”

            “What? I don’t remember.”

            “But you have to do something with your hair. Women just don’t do that with their hair, anymore. Plus, it’s not complimenting your body. I bet you could look much taller with the right hairstyle. You’ve got a strong face. Oh, and I just love your lipstick.”

            “Am I interrupting anything?” The customer looked at me, embarrassed.  

            “Diana is working in the office next door,” I told the girl with the blue sunglasses. 

            “Oh, sorry. I’ll be off, then. It was nice meeting you. Do you like music? I have a band. You could come see our show tomorrow. Diana will be there, too.”

            She fished out an invitation from her bag, pushed it into my hand, and stormed out the door with Goddard, the miniature poodle, chasing her. The invitation had a photo of her wearing yellow shorts and a tight green tank top, holding an electric guitar. “Z-Box Live at the Go-Go Bar in a special show celebrating their new EP,” was printed beneath the photo. I put the invitation in my drawer.

            “Ariella Grober?”

            “Yes. Sorry I interrupted your meeting.”

            “An unplanned meeting. Can I offer you something to drink?”

            “No, thank you. Perhaps just a glass of water.” She looked out my office window. “Beautiful view you have here.”

            A pale winter sun hung in the gray-blue sky and the sea, peeking between the tall hotels hiding the shoreline, appeared quiet, yet restless.

From beyond the door, I could hear Goddard’s gurgling sounds gradually fading down the corridor.

 

 

 

2

 

“Remind me. How did you hear about me?”

            “Ruthie recommended you.”

            “Ruthie?” I took a bottle from the small refrigerator at the side of the room and poured Arriella a glass of water.

            “Ruth Wulf.  Daniela’s friend from the bakery shop.”

            “Oh, yes.”

Ruthie had dated an insurance agent who had faked a burglary to her house and had stolen jewelry worth tens of thousands of dollars. I had located him at the airport an hour before he had boarded his plane.

            Ariella reached for the glass of water, but instead of taking a sip, she nervously drummed it with her fingers and twisted it left and right.

I moved the laptop a safe distance away. I loved my laptop―a Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 13 I had bought at great personal expense and had spent my nights writing my books on. “So, how can I help you?”

            Ariella released the glass of water. “It’s a sensitive matter…” 

            “I don’t want to ruin my reputation; I’m known in the community as a tough, heartless man, but I’m willing to make a special effort in your case and try to come up with a little sensitivity.”

            She smiled. It was a small, restrained smile, but enough to miraculously change her face’s entire appearance.

There was something misleading about Ariella’s look, which walked a fine line between ugly and beautiful. Perhaps  it was the way she wore her hair or her unfashionable glasses. Or maybe her proportions gave her a coarse, slightly rigid appearance. But when she smiled, everything fell into place for her. She had a winning smile.  

            “I haven’t been sleeping for the past few weeks.” She returned to nervously turning the glass of water from side to side. Unfortunately, the smile disappeared and took the magic with it.  “I heard something I shouldn’t have. I know something I wish I didn’t.” She lowered her eyes, deeply embarrassed. “I’m not sure I’m doing the right thing. I’ve dialed your number several times, but have changed my mind at the very last minute every time.” She paused, but looked straight into my eyes.

            She spoke slowly and took long breaks between sentences. Sometimes, she waited for my reaction, but I remained as quiet as a fish. I would’ve been happier if she had gotten to the actual point of her visit more quickly, but I let her keep going at her own pace. I didn’t want to rush her or make clever remarks. I realized she was walking on a thin line and even the slightest gust of air might make her fall.

            “It’s about a murder case,” she finally said, almost in a whisper. She looked straight at me, examining my reaction, needing to be sure she was in good hands.

I remained expressionless, not moving a muscle. I’m known in the industry as the number one expert in hiding emotions. I remained politely indifferent and occasionally muttered something like, “Hmm…” or “I see,” but my heart sank and my head filled with clever plans of how to get rid of her as fast as possible. I didn’t have any intention of handling a murder case. I’d take missing persons, cheating husbands, forged wills, telephone harassments, embezzlement, divorce, theft, fraud… anything but murder. I had no intention of dealing with the evil spirits that came with violent death cases. I wanted to sleep well at nights and a murder case was a sure recipe for nightmares.

            “Well, probably a murder case,” she added, rocking the glass of water from side to side.

            “Careful.” I pointed to the glass that was about to fall off the table.

            “Oh, sorry.” She raised the glass to sip from it, but changed her mind midway and placed it back on the table.

            “You need to be clearer.” 

            “I’m not sure this is about murder, but I think it is.”

            “That’s still a little vague.”

            “Right.”

            Another silence. It wasn’t my favorite kind of conversation―a little heavy and not going anywhere―but Ariella’s case both deterred and piqued my curiosity.

            “Would you like to hear more details?”

            “That could help.”

            “What details must you know?”

            “We could start with the murder victim.”

            “I don’t know who he is.”

            “Excuse me?”

            “That’s the mystery that needs solving.”

            “I see. So what do you know?”

            “I know who the killer might be.”

            “Why not go to the police, then?”

            “It’s personal.”

            “I need more details.”

            Ariella emitted a short sigh, as if I was forcing her to give a testimony, then began to talk about the case in a series of brief, emotionless descriptions. “A man I know broke into a clothing store in the middle of the night. Someone surprised him inside. He shot him and ran away. I’d like to know if the person who was in the clothing store and got shot died as a result.”

            “Where did it happen?”

            “Haifa.”

            “When?”

            “Many years ago.”

            I took a closer look at Ariella. Was she serious? The case seemed weirder by the moment, but I still decided to probe further. I knew she might be withholding vital information, but that every word she had told me was the truth and her decision to come and seek my help had been extremely difficult and painful.

            “How many years, exactly?”

            “It was during the late sixties.”

            I leaned back in my chair. “Many years ago, indeed.”

            “Yes, but I just found out about it.”

            “And you want to find out whether the man who got shot over forty years ago is dead or alive?”

            “That’s right.”

            “Why is it so important to you?”

            “Like I told you, it’s personal. We won’t be able to work together if you don’t respect my conditions.”

            And we won’t be able to move forward unless I know more details. I realized there was no point in teasing her; she was in a sensitive emotional state.

            “You said you know who the shooter is?”

            Ariella shifted uncomfortably in her chair. She grabbed the glass of water with both hands as if it were a life preserver. “What’s important for me to know is whether the person who was in the store lived or died, that’s it.” She pressed her lips together in a tight line.  

            “And if we discover there actually was a murder and the identity of the victim… what would you do then?”

            “Leave that to me.”

            “Do you have the store’s name and address? Is it still open?”

            “Yes, it’s open.”

Ariella gave me the details she knew and I wrote them in my little spiral notepad with a white cover. I still wasn’t sure if I even wanted to handle the case. A murder that had taken place so many years ago would be a nightmare to handle. The sensible, logical aspect of my personality wanted me to let it go; nothing good would come from handling a murder case that had taken place so long ago.

Still, there was something about Ariella Grober that fascinated me. The tougher she tried to appear, the more vulnerable she seemed. I wanted to please her. I wanted to impress her. I want to see her magic smile again.

It was all the wrong reasons to take on a murder case.

            “It could get very expensive.”

            “I just got a large inheritance. I’ve set aside enough money for the investigation.”

            “All right. Let me check out a few things first and we’ll talk in a few days.”

            Ariella raised the glass to her lips and drank the water with a single gulp.

 

 

 

3
 

Hezi Schulman was forty-five minutes late. He leaped his way into the coffee shop; he always bounced like a little grasshopper. Hezi was skinny and bald with a constant smile on his face. He had a unique dressing style based on a defiant combination of loud colors and geometric shapes. Today, he wore a thin sweater with blue and yellow hexagons and had a black kerchief with white stars wrapped round his neck.

Hezi liked being noticed and constantly thirsted for an audience’s attention. He sat in front of me and flashed his captivating smile.

I couldn’t be angry at him. He was a charming man everyone simply had to forgive. I smiled back at him, curious to know how he’d react to the daring plan I was about to introduce. He didn’t know the purpose of our meeting and I hadn’t given him any details over the phone. I’d just said I had an idea he might find interesting.

            The idea had begun to form in my mind about a week ago when Victor, my agent, had gotten a call from my publisher, who had let him know they’d gotten me an interview on the Channel 2 morning show. Victor had been worried and had hurried to call me. “You and your brilliant ideas. Now I’m in trouble. I should never have cooperated with your nonsense.”

            I’d reassured him. “Don’t worry. I’ll think of something.”

Actually, I’d had no idea what to do. He was right; it was all my fault. I’d decided to publish my new book under a pseudonym in order to separate my two careers―writer and private detective; I didn’t want them to conflict. The detective’s name was Michael Krieger and the author was Daniel Bloom. The book had been published four months ago and had gotten a single positive review, posted on a minor website, edited by Victor’s nephew. It was my second book and it seemed my literary career simply refused to take off.

            “I’m waiting to hear what you intend to do about this tomorrow,” Victor had barked at me over the phone. “I don’t want to get into trouble with Channel 2. It’s a huge opportunity to promote the book and I won’t have you ruining both our reputations.”

            I had called Esther, a childhood friend who could think outside the box and who had occasionally helped me handle complex investigations. Esther had a sharp mind and a creative way of thinking. I loved consulting with her.

            “Where are you?”

            “Zihron Yaakov, installing a cooling system for a renovated coffee shop.”

            Esther was a certified electrician. She’d liked putting her hands on electronic equipment and electrical circuits for as far back as I could remember. She had good hands and had always liked taking apart and putting together complicated machinery.

            “Lots of work?”

            “Yes. I need to study a new cooling system I’ve never installed before. They paid eighty thousand Euros for this baby.”

            “Seriously? I had no idea it was so expensive.”

            “It’s a sophisticated cooling system with a unique humidity control technology, inner lighting, glass doors, and wood shelves. It came in from Italy yesterday. Real fancy.”

            “When will you be finished?”

            “I have two more days of work. I also need to reinstall all the coffee shop electrical systems.”

            “Is Alma with you?”

Esther had a two-year-old baby she was raising with her partner, Michel, a mountain of a man with a heart of gold who had spent most of his adult years living with a Native American tribe in Canada. Alma’s original father was a musician that had gotten Esther pregnant and had run away to America.

            “She’s with Michel. My mother is helping him out. How are you? Is everything all right? Working on any interesting cases?”

            “There might be something new. I still haven’t decided if I’m even taking it, but I called to consult with you about something else.”

            I explained to Esther, who knew all about my secret decision to publish a book under a pseudonym, about the television interview problem.

            “Let me think about it a little. I want to finish installing the thermometer and then I’ll be free. Call me in an hour.”   

             When I called again an hour later, she had come up with the idea of a double. “You need to find someone who can portray Daniel Bloom, but you need to be very careful and calculated when choosing him. He has to fulfill two conditions. He has to be someone you absolutely trust and he has to be an interesting person, someone unique, charismatic, amusing, and smart. Otherwise he’s―”

            “Hezi Schulman.”

            “What?”

            “He’d be perfect for the part. Well done. Great idea. I’ll talk to him.” I finished my conversation with Esther and hurried to schedule a meeting with Hezi.

            Hezi was an actor and playwright who had spent the last ten years in New York. He’d arrived back in Israel a few weeks ago. No one knew him. He didn’t have any money and he always craved attention. Most importantly, we were cousins. Second-degree, but I could always count on family.

We had met ten days ago at his sister’s wedding. He had sat next to me and we had started talking, quickly moving from subject to subject from literature, women, death, and espionage, to philosophy, sex, art, business, and marriage. There wasn’t a single subject he didn’t have an original and decisive opinion about. When we’d parted, we’d promised to keep in contact. 

            I looked at Hezi. He was my only hope of pulling off the plan I’d concocted. If he refused, I could be in some serious trouble.

            Before I could introduce the idea to Hezi, he had already started telling me all about his new initiative―a play he’d written, inspired by the book, The White Flag Principle, by Shimon Tzabar, a satirical book, which claims it’s better to lose a war and explains how to run a failed foreign policy and train your army to lose.

            “I met with a concessionaire of a new alcoholic beverage called ‘Piemos’ and offered to mention the drink twelve times during the play if he agrees to invest. I almost convinced him until he realized we were talking about the theater and not television. He told me I should put it on the internet. Idiot.” Hezi continued to explain every detail of his business model and how he planned to raise the funds for the play.

Then, in a sharp change of subject, he told me he was looking for an apartment in the Kerem HaTeimanim neighborhood and that was how he he’d met a real estate agent he’d spent last night with. She was a good looking girl, but with a really small chest. She had a four-year-old son and in the morning, when he had woken up in her apartment, the child had followed him everywhere and wouldn’t stop kicking him. He said he was a little violent, but also somewhat of a genius, interested in zoology and building complex models of prehistoric animals.

            I was reminded again how much Hezi Schulman liked to talk. His stories were always fascinating and funny and was hard to get him to stop. Luckily, at a certain point, he remembered I had invited him for an appointment to make him an offer.

            “You need to swear complete secrecy.” I leaned forward, impressing upon him the seriousness of my words.

            “I swear.” Hezi leaned back and joined his hands behind his head, waiting to hear the big secret. His movements were always sharp, dramatic, and unexpected.

A waitress that had been unlucky enough to pass behind the table, tumbled into his hand and the two coffee cups she was holding hurtled in the air and noisily smashed on the floor, splashing coffee in every direction.

Hezi’s sweater was soaked with coffee, but he didn’t seem to mind. On the contrary, it seemed he was enjoying the little drama he’d created.

The waitress, on the other hand, was embarrassed and hurried back with a towel and some chocolate cake on the house.

Hezi calmed her down and said that according to the Talmud, when a glass instrument breaks, the riches of the upper world descend to the lower world and our wishes come true. Besides, he had a spare shirt in his bag.

            After Hezi had replaced his hexagon sweater with a red and white striped shirt, I finally managed to tell him about my literary career and the book I’d published under a pseudonym.

            “Wow! You’re just full of surprises, aren’t you?”

            I told him about the television interview offer and the idea I’d come up with about him serving as my literary double.

He reacted with enthusiasm, waving his hands for emphasis. Luckily, no waitress was around. “I’m your ideal partner for this adventure. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to make your daring plan succeed.”

            I went over the many details and he wrote them all down in his notebook. I explained what my book was about, and how it and the main characters should be presented. I told him how I’d written it, how my idea for it had been born, and what everything in it symbolized.

He quickly wrote down notes and even added a few suggestions of his own.

            Then we went over his fictitious biography. We invented a few simple stories about a boy who had grown up in a village, moved to the big city, studied literature, worked every conceivable job, and then had gone on a long European train trip where he had written the book.

Hezi suggested I add an emotionally complex romantic affair with a war widow or the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor. “You need to deliver the goods and uncover some sensational event from your past. Otherwise, you won’t get any media attention.”

            I authorized him to add an emotionally engaging romantic affair of his choice.

            He smiled and shook my hand.

            “So it’s settled, then? Can I let my agent know you’ll be doing the interview?”

            “Sure. No problem. I was born for this part.”

            I offered to pay him, but he refused. “It’ll my pleasure. I’m doing it for fun and I’m opposed to doing business with family members. It’s no problem, really, I’m always happy to promote artistic projects in original ways.”

            I was happy and I trusted Hezi. The plan seemed perfect.

            I called Victor as soon as the meeting was over and let him know Daniel Bloom would love to come and do the morning show interview. I updated him with the details of the plan.

            Victor sighed. “You and your plans,” he said after a few moments of silence. “But just so we’re clear, if things turn bad, I’m letting you take the fall.”

 

 

 

4

 

“Why are we meeting on a bench in a dark side street?” I asked Jasmine.

            “I don’t want…” She held a large packet of Kleenex in her left hand and after a series of sneezes, finally managed to finish the sentence. “I don’t want my husband to know we’re meeting. He’s the jealous type.”

She wore a thin, black cardigan, a flowered silk scarf, a pair of faded jeans of the designer type, and her black beautiful hair was down, hiding her face.

            “What’s up? You’re not feeling well?”

            “I don’t know. Maybe it’s just allergies. My nose won’t stop dripping. It’s a nightmare.”

            “Jealous husband, huh?”

            “He doesn’t like it when I meet with my exes.”

            “Come on. It was a long time ago.”

            She shrugged and completed another series of sneezes.

            I’d met Jasmine a little after I’d finished my highly impractical literature and philosophy university degree and had started writing profile articles about underground artists for a Tel Aviv local newspaper. Jasmine had been the fashion journalist. Many years had passed, but other than the allergy-inflamed red eyes, she remained the same Jasmine. Skinny and fragile, with a gentle self-indulgent voice, Jasmine dressed in her own unique style, which she’d once described to me as bohemian, elegant, and refined, but behind the fragile appearance hid a strong woman who knew how to get everything she wanted. In her own way, she always had.

            “How did you find me?”

            “I met your sister a few months ago at the pharmacy. We talked about you.”

            “She’s such a gossip-monger.”

            Jasmine was a highly-regarded journalist who, at the height of her career, had written for all the top women’s magazines. After she’d given birth to her twins, she had stopped writing and had left for Haifa with her husband, a doctor who managed one of the hospital wards in the city. Lately, she had started working again for the local Haifa newspaper.

            “So, how does it feel to write for a newspaper again?”

            “My sister told you that as well?”

            “Don’t be angry at her. She sounded very proud of you. She really admires you.”

            “Yeah? Well, I’m writing again, just for fun. They hardly pay me, but I do get some free merchandise. I kind of missed that, actually.”

            “What are you writing about?”

            “A bit of everything―consumer articles… mainly fashion, cosmetics, organic food. Anything I feel like writing about. They hardly have any money to pay, but at least they let me write about what interests me.”

            After we’d finished updating each other on all the missing details and occurrences in our lives, I came to the real reason I wanted to meet her. “Do you know a clothing store called ‘Peer’?”

            “Yeah, sure. It’s been around for ages. Shlomo and Ruthie are the owners. I think it’s been active for over fifty years. Their son is managing it now, and he’s turned it into a pretty nifty thrift shop. Do you want to shop there? Is that why you called after fifteen years?” She laughed.

            I explained what I really wanted from her.

            Jasmine blew her nose. Her phone rang, but she didn’t answer. “That’s my husband. It’s 10:00 PM already. I told him I was just going out for some cigarettes. I need to get back.”

            “So, what do you say?”

            “I don’t know. I don’t want to risk my position at the newspaper.”

            “It wouldn’t be for free,” I added.

            After another series of sneezes and an especially long session of blowing her nose, she said she still needed to think about it.

            “Will you call me?”

            “Do I have a choice?”

            We parted with a long hug. She smelled good, gentle and sensual. She held my hand for a few more seconds and left.    

It was almost midnight by the time I made it back home. I set my alarm for six-thirty and went to bed.

            I couldn’t sleep. All of the past days’ problems resurfaced in my mind. I thought about the new book I had started to write. I had written it slowly, in odd hours, barely made any progress and struggled with every word. Sometimes, I didn’t know why I even needed it. I thought about the landlady who wanted to raise the rent, again, because her realtor friend told her it was about time. She wanted to know by the end of the month if I was staying or leaving. I’d run the numbers in my head and they hadn’t added up in my favor. I thought about my recent relationship with an especially capricious girl named Abigail. What a catastrophe that had been! I’d had my share of temperamental girlfriends, but I’d never met anyone like her. She’d moved with lightning speed from joy to rage, rage to indifference, then indifference to tears. We’d had a few good months, at least when she’d managed to keep her wild mood swings under control. Then, everything had gone downhill and we had separated. Before I finally fell asleep, I was overwhelmed by memories from my time with Jasmine.

In what seemed like an instant, the alarm went off.

            I dragged myself out of bed and lay on the sofa, not really feeling like doing anything. I reached to pick up the remote that was lying on the floor and turned on the television. I deliberated whether I should get up to make some coffee or wait until I was more motivated. I didn’t want to miss my double’s appearance on the morning show, so I decided to wait. As it turned out, I had plenty of time and I was forced to watch the new products section and learn everything about a microwavable heated slipper, a grouper fillet with sauce on the daily recipe section, and a fashion piece about spring bridal dresses.

Then, finally, it was Hezi’s  turn. The camera focused on the hostess, Vered Levi. I dimly recalled she was the daughter of a politician or tycoon that had won her fame following a steamy kiss with another girl on a chocolate snack commercial. Vered introduced Hezi as “Daniel Bloom, an author who has recently published his first novel, An Available Position.” She held up the book and presented it to the cameras. The cover had an image of a man dressed in a suit with a bucket on his head, wearing a tie with a fish print. The cover was black and white―only the bucket was red. Victor, my agent, hated the cover and claimed it deterred potential buyers.

Vered kept talking. “It’s the story of a sixty-five-year-old man, the manager of a respectable school, who decides one day to leave it all and embark on a new career, that of a vaudeville actor with a traveling troupe composed of people he met in a local amateur theater class. His family, friends, and former students are all sure he has temporarily lost his sanity and try to stop him.” Vered Levi put down the book and the camera moved and focused on Hezi for the first time.

For a moment, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I stretched up on the sofa. Dear God. What’s going on?

            “Hello, Daniel Bloom.”

            “Hello, Vered.”

            “Before we talk about your book, I just have to ask. What happened to you?”

Hezi’s head boasted a giant bandage and both his hands were plastered. “Oh, that. I had a little accident and broke both my hands.”

            “How did that happen?”

            “I fell off an elephant.”

            “What do you mean? You rode an elephant?”

            “Well, it’s a long story. Are you sure you’d like to hear it?”

            “If we can get the short version.”

            “As part of the research for my next book, I flew to Sri Lanka to participate in an annual elephant polo tournament. An extraordinary experience.”

            “Then what happened?”

            Hezi smiled in embarrassment. “A four-ton elephant went amok and ran into my elephant, and this is the result.” Hezi waved his plastered hands.

            “Dear God,” I said aloud. “He’s completely lost his mind.”      I was barely able to watch the rest of the interview, which dealt with his love of elephants and the game of polo. Hezi explained the rules of the game and spoke in great detail about the special shoes the players wore, a kind of boot called chukka. He had even brought one to the studio. Not a word was said about my book, the book we’d agreed he needed to promote. After all the preparations we’d been through, what was he thinking? I felt like choking the life out of him.  

            “Thank you for the fascinating conversation and good luck with your new book,” Vered said at the end of the interview. “Now, we’re going to meet a farmer from the north who is raising the largest bunny in the Middle East.”

            I turned off the television and waited a few minutes to calm down before I called him. “What the hell was that?”

            “What’s the problem?”

            “You didn’t say a word about my book.”

            “It’s in your best interest. Trust me. Don’t get upset.”

            “We agreed you would talk about the book and help me promote it, not about some elephant tournament in Sri Lanka.”

            “You don’t know anything about television and publicity. Talking about the book would’ve been boring.”

            “And why do you have a cast on both hands?”

            “I asked my friend who works as a hospital nurse to plaster my hands.”

            “You’re insane.” I slammed down the phone.

            I dragged myself to the shower, got dressed, made coffee, and tried to think of the day’s schedule. It didn’t work. I took a sip from the steaming coffee, doing my best to focus. The phone rang. Victor’s name blinked on the screen. I thought about ignoring the call. The last think I needed was to be screamed at because of the interview. Six rings later, I answered.

“Why does it take you so long to answer?” he screamed into the phone. As usual, he got straight to the point without any polite introductions. “They want to interview Daniel Bloom for a Seven Nights magazine cover story. Is it possible?”

            “Sure,” I said, without really knowing if it was possible or not, or even if I wanted them to.  I was surprised. I was sure Hezi had placed the final nail in my literary career’s coffin.

I didn’t have a choice; I had to call him again. As it turned out, he had been right, in his own twisted way.

            “See? You need to listen to me,” Hezi said with pride.

            “All right. Maybe you were right this time, but please try to focus on the points we decided on for the newspaper interview. If you’d like, we could meet again and go over the main ones.”

“No need. I remember all the details. Don’t worry."