Welcome back to His Brother’s Keeper, a fictional mystery series set in 2000, in New York. I’ve decided to periodically lend my blog to a friend, Eva Hirschel. Eva doesn’t have a social media presence but she does have a mystery that she wanted to publish serially on-line, so I’m giving her a hand. (If you’re just tuning in now, I suggest that you start at the beginning – here is the Table of Contents). Here is Part II, Chapter 3. Enjoy!
Promptly at five, I pulled up in front of Jack Gelberman’s building. I was anxious for the puzzle pieces to come together, and I wanted to see if I was right about the role that Chayale had perhaps unknowingly played in this saga. The storm seemed to have passed and I paused for a moment, enjoying the feeling of the Florida sunshine on my skin through the car window. It stayed lighter longer down here; in Brooklyn it would have already been twilight in this post-daylight savings time of the year.
Interesting thoughts, but nothing more than procrastination. Just go see him, I told myself. Get this thing resolved already. Yet I knew some of my hesitation to get out of the car had to do with not wanting this to end. Deep inside, I was enjoying myself. Maybe it was the sense of mystery, maybe it was the joy of the hunt, maybe it was the vague thrill of danger, whatever it was, I was having fun. I was feeling more alive than I’d felt in a long time. As much as I wanted answers, I was going to miss this whole Gelberman thing when it was over.
With some reluctance, I got out of the car and walked back up the stairs. On the way, I crossed paths with a large woman in a white gym suit decorated with gold nautical appliqués. As we passed on the staircase, she nodded hello. What a concept, saying hello to strangers.
I rang the doorbell, waited, then rang again. With a sinking feeling, I knocked loudly, then yelled his name. No answer. I rang again. Maybe I was just early. Maybe he was just late. I started to breathe rapidly and my heart began to race. Was he lying inside, helpless, or even worse? Maybe it was my fault; maybe my visit put him in danger.
As I debated whether or not to call 911, a voice came from the parking lot below. “Hello? Dear?”
I looked over the railing and saw the woman I had just passed calling up to me as she opened the door of her large, white Cadillac.
“Hello, dear. Are you looking for Jack?”
“Have you seen him?”
She nodded. “Yes, he just left about fifteen minutes ago. I saw him leave when I came in from walking Pucci.”
I exhaled in relief that at least he was safe. “Was he expecting you?”
“Yes, he was.”
“He looked like he was in a big hurry. I’m sure he’ll be able to explain when he calls you. He’s such a polite man.” She leaned on the door of her car and threw her purse inside.
My grandmother was always complaining about the nosiness of the neighbors at her condo, where the retirees had nothing better to do than keep tabs on each other. I figured it was the same here. “Was he alone?” I asked.
She scrunched up her face, as if to rewind her mental videotape. “Let’s see, yes, I’m sure he was. Yes, I would have noticed if someone was with him. He’s such a solitary type, you know? It would have been unusual.”
I smiled at her. “We must have gotten our signals crossed. Thanks so much.”
“My pleasure, dear,” she replied. “It’s nice that Jack has some visitors. He kind of keeps to himself, you know? We asked him to join the board of the condo association, but he declined. Didn’t want to join the book club, or the bridge club either. Oh well. A loner. What can you do? It’s not like we didn’t try, right?” She shrugged, waved, slid into her white Cadillac, and drove off.
They say bad news comes in threes. Sometimes it comes in fours.
Frustrated by Jack Gelberman’s absence, I drove around town for a while, finally going in to a diner for coffee and a lousy tuna sandwich with too much celery. Back in the hotel room I turned on the news to catch the update on the coming rainstorm and sat down on the bed to listen to my voice mail messages that I’d missed by accidently leaving my cell phone in the car while I ate. The first message was from Jack Gelberman: “This is Jack Gelberman. I assume that by now you will have been to my apartment and discovered that I am not there. I am terribly sorry. Something unexpected has turned up, something that needs my immediate attention. I will be in touch with you as soon as possible. Thank you so much for your concern regarding Sarah.”
The second message was from Simon: “Hey, Abs. Hope everything is fine down there. Don’t panic, but it looks like Hannah does have chicken pox. I called Dr. Martin, who confirmed it. Not to panic. Hannah is feeling okay, just a little itchy. It doesn’t seem too bad. I bought calamine lotion and dabbed it all over. I’m trying to keep Caleb away from her, which is of course useless. Don’t panic. I’ll keep her home from school, it’s all set up with Ronit. No need to panic.”
Clearly, Simon was in a panic.
As I put down the phone, I caught the weather report.
“Heavy rains expected throughout central Florida tonight and tomorrow. Flood warnings are in effect for Hillsborough County. The airlines are reporting some flight delays. We will keep you posted as the situation progresses.” I clicked the mute button, and went to look out the window. Dark storm clouds had again filled the sky. And outside, a man with a dark beard in a white car was looking up at me.
Where was my x-ray vision spy telescope when I needed it? For that matter, where were my guts? V.I. Warshawski would have found some way to get out of the room unnoticed, maybe by crawling through the air duct into the next room or onto the roof, sneak down the stairs, around the other side of the car, and take the driver by surprise. But that’s probably because she had a gun. And she was a fictional character. Instead, I walked to the sink and splashed cold water on my face, then walked back to the window and took another look. Still there. Whoever he is, he looks like a religious Jew, so he can’t be dangerous, right? Strange, maybe fanatical, but not dangerous. But fanatics of any stripe were generally dangerous, and I had no idea who this man was.
Trying to be responsible rather than heroic, I called the front desk and asked to speak to the head of the security.
“The what?” the clerk replied. “We don’t have nothing like that. Can I help you with something?”
“Can I speak to the manager?” I asked.
“I’m the night manager,” he answered.
“Okay then, here’s the thing. I know this sounds weird, but there’s a man in a car in the parking lot looking up at me.”
“Hey, look, lady, we don’t run a dating service here.”
I didn’t know whether to laugh or scream. “I mean, like, he’s stalking me.”
“We can’t get involved in domestic disputes.”
I was beginning to really lose my patience with this cretin. “Look, this is serious.”
“Should I call the police?” the clerk asked, still unfazed.
“No, but can’t you do something about him?”
“No ma’am, I cannot leave the front desk. But I can call the police.”
“No, no, never mind,” I answered, as that seemed like an extreme reaction, and put down the phone. I didn’t want to waste time at a police station filling out forms and trying to explain myself.
There was only one thing to do. This man didn’t seem dangerous, just way too curious. And I was getting mighty curious myself. I grabbed my keys, purse, and cell phone, twisted the handle, and opened the door.
[To be continued…]