Authors: Batya Gur
A MICHAEL OHAYON MYSTERY
TRANSLATED BY EVAN FALLENBERG
Michael Ohayon laid A Suitable Boy, the heavy volume inâ¦
Here's the lineup. In spite of everything, we managed toâ¦
If you don't pull your head out of your ownâ¦
You see this guy?” Intelligence Officer Danny Balilty asked Mattyâ¦
After about a quarter of an hour waiting, Eli Bacharâ¦
Natasha had already been standing for nearly half an hour,â¦
No one seemed to notice the mobile unit as itâ¦
For a long moment Michael stood in the doorway ofâ¦
How insignificant is a parent's ability to ensure his child'sâ¦
What, should I just start talking? This is hard forâ¦
Michael sat in Arye Rubin's office at the end ofâ¦
On the stairs, on their way to the entrance ofâ¦
While the south Jerusalem street that curved away from theâ¦
The moment Michael entered police headquarters, he realized he wouldâ¦
You?” Rubin said, surprised to find Lillian standing in theâ¦
Just before dawn, Michael brought Benny Meyuhas back to hisâ¦
At seven-thirty in the morning, just as a sharp-tongued anchor-womanâ¦
ichael Ohayon laid
A Suitable Boy,
the heavy volume in which he had been immersed for weeks, especially the past two, during his vacation, at the foot of his bed. How was it possible to write a novel like this and at the same time live one's life? How suddenly familiar and true were the claims voiced by many women in his life, claims he had heard often enough from his only son as well, about the manner in which he lost himself in his work, how there was no approaching him while he was on a case. To create and write about some reality or to investigate it seemed suddenly to him like the very same effort, the very same anxiety.
A sudden noise cut his thoughts short. He hurried to the hallway, and from there to the bathroom. He had left the cabinet door under the sink open so that the dampness there would not grow moldy. The bucket he had placed under the sink had overturned, as if a cat had passed by. But no cat had passed by. The windows were shut and the blinds were closed and rain was pounding and a puddle of dirty water was gathering by the front door. There was no explanation for the overturned bucket. “The butterfly effect,” Tzilla would say had she witnessed the scene, which would be certain to irritate Balilty: “Effects again?” he would exclaim. “Butterflies again? Aren't you fed up with all that yet? What's the matter, aren't there any other explanations in the world? Let's see you, for once, just say âI don't know'!” Michael returned to his bedroom and glanced at the full packet of cigarettes lying next to the reading lamp on the small night table. He had not smoked the whole day. The first week of his vacation he had spent counting and rationing. Each day he had smoked two fewer cigarettes than the day before. Later, when he understood that he would need twenty days in order to quit smoking entirely while he had at his disposal only one last week to make his abstinence a fait accompli, he had stopped smoking all at once. Five days had passed since his last cigarette. Perhaps that was why he was unable to fall asleep. And now the overturned bucket had jolted him into wakefulness. He would return to his book, that would be best. One thing he could say about this book for sure was that its wonderful collection of characters and historical events managed, occasionally, to divert his attention from smoking.
At the very moment he managed to settle into just the right position and had nearly immersed himself in the book again, the telephone rang.
Every work of art must be the result of overcoming obstacles; the more meaningful its execution is, the harder the obstacles seem to be, as if the creator has been put to the test against the very right that was granted himâor that he took for himselfâto fulfill his own dream. Sometimes it even seems possible to think of obstacles and difficulties as the motivating force behind such creativity; in defiance, spiteful, as it were, but without whichâ¦Benny Meyuhas shook himself free of these musings, looking first at the monitor and then at Schreiber, the only cameraman he was willing to work with on this film. Schreiber's smooth, large, white face was shining when he lifted his head from the camera lens. Benny Meyuhas touched his shoulders and moved him gently aside in order to get a peek through the lens, and then he too saw the figure standing at the edge of the roof, near the railing, holding the hem of her white gown in her hand, her drawn and pale face turned to the dark sky. He lifted his head and pointed at the moon.
Rain had fallen all week, especially at night, and even though the weather forecasters had noted repeatedly that these rains were beneficial, welcome, appearing now in mid-December as the harbinger of a wonderful winter, Benny Meyuhas was beside himself; it seemed to him that the head of the Production Department himself had ordered this rain in order to prevent him from the night filming of
Iddo and Eynam,
or, as he put it, “to finish up already with that thing that's eaten up our entire budget for Israeli drama.” Just when Benny had lost all hope of completing these last scenes, which were being filmed in secret, if not absolutely underground due to the threatâwhich no crew member had actually mentioned but everyone knewâthat Matty Cohen, head of production, could at any moment appear on the set and put a stop to the whole project, the rain suddenly let up and the moon appeared, as if it had consented to perform its role and cast light on the path of Gemullah the somnambulist, the heroine of Agnon's story, as she sleepwalked at the edge of the roof and sang songs from her childhood.
As a matter of fact, just then on that very night as the rain stopped and the moon appeared, Matty Cohen was on his way to the set, and at ten minutes to midnight was standing on the second-story catwalk in the narrow, open hallway above the storerooms, very near the doorway that led to the roof. The people on the roof, however, did not know this; no one had seen him pass by. As large and heavy as he was, his footsteps were always light and quick; he mounted the narrow metal steps quietly and passed by scenery and pillars illuminated by dim light from naked bulbs that created a mix of darkness and shadows. Matty Cohen stopped there, on the catwalk, and peered below to the long, narrow, darkened hallway on whose walls leaned pieces of scenery, their shadows climbing to the corners of the ceiling. Someone unfamiliar with the placeâa child, a stranger, even a new employeeâwould think this was the kingdom of the dead and might panic; even he himself trembled for a moment when suddenly he heard voicesâstrangled, whispering, but clearly voices. Looking down, he could see the silhouettes of two people, could hear their whispered murmuring, the voice of a woman, quite familiar though he could not identify it, protesting: “No, no, no, no.” He could not tell who they were exactly, apparently a man and woman, and in any event he did not give them his full attention at that moment. Perhaps they were a couple: love-thieves, yet another underground romance. From above he saw how they were standing so close to one another, the hands of the one, apparently the man, around the neck of the other, smaller person, apparently the woman, but he did not stop to take a good look at them; he merely leaned his head over the catwalk, peered at them, and continued on his way until, just before reaching the white metal door that opened to the roof, the cell phone in his pocket vibrated. If it were not for that call, Benny Meyuhas's production, the last bit of shooting on the roof, would have come to an end right then. But Matty Cohen could not leave Malka alone while Matan was suffering an asthma attack. He whispered the instructions to her, told her to call an ambulance, and hurried back the way he had come. He ran, so as to get there as quickly as possible; the third asthma attack that month, and the boy was only four years old. What could he have done? Stopped to check if the couple were still down there? Later he would chide himself, when he heard what had happened. But how could he have known? He had had an emergency on his hands.
None of the crew members on the roof heard Matty Cohen's footsteps, neither when he stopped by the white metal door nor when he turned around and retraced his steps.
“Nice,” Schreiber the cameraman whispered into Benny Meyuhas's ear. “The frame looks good, don't you think?”
Benny Meyuhas nodded, snapped his fingers before calling, “Action!” and moved aside for a moment to watch Sarah saunter, eyes half shut, the hem of her white gown gathered in her small hand, her steps measured and her mouth slightly ajar, singing the heart-wrenching song of Gemullah the somnambulist, its otherworldly purity glowing even in the middle of the noisy, dirty reality of shooting a film. Although there was no one on the roof apart from a skeleton crewâSchreiber, Noam the soundman, Benny himself, and Hagar, his right-hand womanâand no sound obscured Sarah's singing, he cupped his hand to his mouth and in a loud voice called, “Cut!” Schreiber stepped back and regarded him with an overt look of exasperation, while Hagar, who was standing at the corner of the railing, approached.
“Why? Why was it necessary to cut it here?” she demanded, a note of bitterness in her voice. “It was really perfect, soâ¦so beautiful!”
“Yes, it was beautiful,” Benny Meyuhas said, rubbing his eyes, “but not close enough to the edge. Not frightening enough.”
“Seventeen takes,” Schreiber muttered. “Seventeen takes since eleven o'clock and now it's one in the morning, past one in the morning, and we're still not close enough to the edge for him.”
Hagar gave him a furious look. “You? What do you care?” she chided him. “After midnight you get paid triple wages. So what are you complaining about?”
“Tell me, are you the only one who has a say around here?” Schreiber sneered. “Have you got special rights because you've been around so long? Was I talking about money? I have every right to say I think his demands are over the top. I was looking at the frame, wasn't I?”
Benny Meyuhas, lost in his own thoughts, was as usual deaf to the noise around him. He looked at the monitor and reiterated: “She isn't close enough to the edge. It's not frightening enough. I want her at the edge, I want it scary, so you think she's going to fall, I want a few breath-stopping seconds before you see she's okay. Sarah,” he called to the crouching young woman hugging her gaunt body with thin arms that poked out from the wide sleeves of her gown. “I want you to come right up to the edge.”
“But I could fall that way,” Sarah said, standing. She looked around until her eyes met Hagar's, who was approaching her. “I couldâ¦” she muttered, “it'sâ¦”
“Don't worry, you won't fall,” Benny Meyuhas told her. “After all, in the rehearsal, you remember? We saw that you won'tâ¦Hagar,” he called to his producer, “take her to the edge and stand there with her.” Hagar zipped up her windbreaker, wrapped her arms around the girl's trembling shoulders, and led her back to the improvised railing, a stone balustrade they had had designed especially for the edge of the roof.
Benny Meyuhas looked up in search of the moon and noticed the antennas protruding from the String Buildingâa funny nickname for the long, rectangular edifice that had once been a string factory. In the meantime all kinds of temporary staircases and wobbly wooden galleries had been tacked on to it; the building sported secret entrances from the parking lot used only by the lucky few who knew of them, and rooms and large halls and even underground passageways that perhaps led to the main building, whose original name only a handful of people remembered: the Diamond Building. Leaning on the red-painted metal railing and looking outward from the roof, it was impossible to imagine what treasures and expanses the String Building held: not only Tirzah's office and the scenery storerooms that occupied most of its space, but also a carpentry shop and wardrobe storerooms and lighting and sound systems and even the magnificent Nakdi Studio, used for filming comedies and the big variety shows. And the small storerooms under the stairsâwhich only the most veteran employees knew aboutâwhere a remarkable number of things were hidden, and the hallways in which the largest scenery stood, among them scenes from the hometown of Agnon's heroine Gemullah (designed by Tirzah), including a village and hills and flocks of sheep that looked like the real thingâ¦and clouds and a sun and even the moon, round and yellowy; Tirzah had drawn them all. And the room that Max Levin discovered in the dig he initiated there, a sealed ground-floor room, hidden behind a wall, that contained an entire world: ten years earlier, when there had been a power failure and Max Levin had tapped on the wall, the sound he heard was hollow, so he tore a hole in the wall, peered inside, stood there, amazedâthat was how Tirzah loved to tell the story each time she repeated itâand he walked away without a word and returned with a shovel-tractor that excavated the space, and that was how the huge hall where they filmed the big Friday-night variety programs came into existence. Later it turned out that this hall had been an ancient and empty well that had served a spacious German home long since razed. They filmed there, and thanks to Max Levin they also strung pipes along the roof and invested in an air-conditioning system that Max controls himself to this very day. Even a new, state-of-the-art editing machineâcutting-edge, Max promised when he submitted the price quote to the Accounting Department and watched the horrified face of Levy from Accountingâwas stored there, in the room next to the carpentry shop. There, in the large halls used for painting scenery, the huge pillars that Tirzah built were stored, a few leaning over the door to the lighting room. It was Tirzah who had suggested using the scenery storeroom and the metal staircase to film the first meeting between Ginat and Gamzu, the heroes of Agnon's story, as a means of skimping on a set location. In this huge area, which was entirely the realm of Tirzah and Max Levin, head of Props, Benny Meyuhas's heart raced anew every time he entered. He wished he could use the whole space, every inch of it. There was even a den of sorts where they rested during breaks, with a huge poster of Kim Basinger hanging over the sofa on which the king of the stagehands lay most hours of the day. The long row of rooms on the interior side was known as the “transit camp,” for its resemblance to the shanties erected for new immigrants in the early years of the state, and in one roomâthe coolestâthey kept the sandwiches and beer. Benny had been working at Israel Television for thirty years and there were still secret places in the building he knew nothing about, but, as Schreiber said with a grin, as if joking, what is a television director anyway? The lowest rung on the totem pole. It was of no consequence to Benny Meyuhas, especially now that they had finally let him do what he really wanted. In any case, Max and Tirzah were the only two who knew every corner.
Tirzah. She was giving him hellâa full week she had refused to utter a single word to him about anything, good or bad. Two people living in the same house for eight years already, because they love one another, bound together by love and nothing else, nothing formal or external, no children, no property, no certificates signed by rabbisâand now she refused to exchange a single word with him. Every time he tried to explain, sheâ¦but she had in fact finished the scenery, even the huge marble pillarâsmooth and perfect, as if it had come from an open-air castle, just waiting to be filmedâwhich Tirzah polished and placed next to the scenery flats. Stunning. Who would believe that someone could deface it with red graffiti: THIS IS AN ASHKENAZI WHOREHOUSE? Some people don't even care about defacing beauty. On the contrary: to deface beauty is exactly what they want. It would even seem that the instinct to mutilate is awakened in peopleâeven intelligent, cultured peopleâprecisely in the face of great beauty. That was, after all, the theme of Agnon's
Iddo and Eynam
. There, too, beauty was destroyed, as if destruction could decipher its secret.