Hill of Secrets: An Israeli Jewish mystery novel

Hill of Secrets

 

Michal Hartstein

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2009 by Michal Hartstein

All rights reserved

ISBN: 150057788X

ISBN-13: 978-1500577889

 

 

 

To my husband and my son

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

 

 

I would like to thank my parents, Adina and Asher Kruk, for their support, and to my dear friend, Orit Reuven, for her patience and understanding
.
I would like also to thank Yuval Gilad and Yael Shachnay, who helped me editing the book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1
          
 

 

Monday,
5.18.2009

 

A month before Meir Danilowitz got up in the middle of the night to shoot his entire family and then himself to death, I divorced my husband. My name is Hadas Levinger; I am thirty-three years old and am a detective in the Israeli Police. Although, if you ask my mother, she would better define this situation as, "a successful lawyer who decided to throw her career in the trash to become a cop."

After a year serving on the force, during which I did not take one day off, I decided to use all the vacation days I had left to go to London and forget the gloomy reality of my life. Did I ask too much? Some museums, some theater, lots of much needed serenity. I had to relax and distance myself. I just needed to get away—from my stressful, all-consuming job, from Alon, my uncompromising commander, from my somewhat overinvolved family, but mostly from Yinon, the man I loved and had not stopped loving for the last seven years.

I was perusing the email I’d been sent from the travel agency, comparing the different deals. Everything was too expensive for a police officer, but I knew I had to run away. I fantasized about losing myself among the bizarre shops and street artists in Covent Garden, about napping on a bench in the shade of Kensington Gardens, but then my cell phone rang.

It was Alon.

I was sure he had a problem with the Vaserano indictment that I had brought to him the day before.

"Good morning," I said pleasantly, hoping to set a positive tone.

"Levinger." He ignored the niceties, as he usually does, and got straight to the point. "Drop whatever you're doing and go to Harduf Hanechalim 6 in Givaat Shmuel."

"Alon—" I paused for a moment, fearing that every word I said might be interpreted as disrespect. "You remember I'm on vacation, right?"

"Are you at home?"

"Yes."

"Are you going anywhere?"

"Yes."

"Where?"

"London."

"When?"

"I don't have a ticket yet…"

"Great. So get down here as quickly as possible—the vacation’s off."

I rummaged through my closet and managed to find some sort of appropriate attire—something that I wouldn't have to answer to my mother about later on. Alon refused to tell me what this was about, but the urgency in his voice made me worry that I may be filmed by the news that day, and the last thing I needed was a lecture from my mother about the way I looked and how dare I go on television like that.

I think I'm pretty quick, even compared to men. During the whole of my five-year marriage, Yinon never had to wait for me (I, on the other hand, sometimes waited ages while he finished getting ready), but I apparently wasn't quick enough for Alon, who kept calling me every five minutes.

On his third call, I was already starting my battered old Fiat.

"Levinger," Alon said, "how's it going?"

"I'm on my way, but I'm out of gas."

"You're not out of anything; you probably still have a quarter of a tank and you're just stressing out. You only have to get to Givaat Shmuel."

"The yellow light’s been on for two days now."

"Why d’you always leave everything to the last minute?" he huffed.

"Well, I didn’t think my car would be leaving the driveway during the next two weeks…" I tried to retort.

"Okay, but make it quick. You can even go to the competition," he joked, and I knew he wasn't angry. When the Dor family son was born forty- three years earlier, they didn't imagine that his name would be the name of a chain of gas stations.

Thirty-five minutes after Alon's first phone call, I arrived at the address that he had dictated to me six times in the last half hour. It was a small alley perpendicular to new Givaat Shmuel's main street, about 200 meters from the building my sister lives in. Despite this, I was not familiar with the street. I only ever came to Givaat Shmuel to visit my sister. It wasn't exactly the place for shopping or leisure.

In the last couple of years, Givaat Shmuel had become a stronghold of the middle class Religious Zionist public. About two-thirds of my classmates from the religious high school I attended had moved to this neighborhood in the past decade, and that alone was reason enough to steer clear of the place. This was not the best location for misanthropes; you needed social resilience of the kind that I have not yet managed to acquire.

Outside, two police cars were parked in blatancy, and the people of the neighborhood began gathering around the building. Even before I understood the magnitude of the event, I knew it was a matter of minutes before our dear friends from the media would arrive at the scene.

It was also clear to Alon, and once he saw me arrive, he nearly dragged me into his car that was parked on the curb near the building's entrance.

"Levinger," he said with a serious tone, "I'm giving you an opportunity here."

I felt like this was the investigation that would finally establish my place in the unit.

"I was deliberating about who to give this case to, and I chose you, despite the vacation that I know you're cancelling because of me."

I smiled.

"No need to smile; actually, the other investigators are pretty busy right now."

My smile vanished.

"But not only because of that. As far as I recall, you're the only detective in the department with a religious background."

"Ephraim and Asher are religious."

"Ephraim and Asher are buried in other investigations."

"Why would you need a religious background?"

"I have a feeling we need someone who is familiar with the neighborhood and the community. Doesn't your brother live around here?"

"My sister...don't tell me you want me to involve her in the investigation?"

"Of course not, but I'm sure she could help you get closer to the community."

"Religious Zionists—knitted yarmulke wearers—are not like Haredi Jews. It's not a closed community. I don't think I'll be needing that sort of help."

"Maybe we should continue to the crime scene?" He changed the subject.

"Maybe we should."

"Before we go up, I must warn you it's a very rough scene. One of the roughest I've ever seen, and I'm sure the worst you’ll have seen." I was already nervous so I didn't stop him.

Alon took a deep breath and continued. "This morning, a few minutes before nine o’ clock, a call was received by the 100 police hotline. A woman named Aviva Levin called and said she couldn’t reach her daughter, Hannah, or her son-in-law, Meir. Hannah was supposed to meet her mother at eight o’ clock, and when she didn’t arrive, she tried to call her son-in-law's cell phone, to no avail. She called the granddaughter's kindergarten and the grandson's school and discovered that they were both absent that morning. She called Meir's workplace and heard that he missed a very important meeting scheduled for eight-thirty that morning. By that point, she was really panicked."

"Wait," I stopped him. "She didn't call Hannah's workplace?"

"I'm happy to see you're paying attention. Hannah hasn’t worked these last few years, since their second child was born."

"How many kids are do they have?"

"They had three kids." Alon used the past tense and I realized this was not going to be simple.

"I don't exactly remember their names, but the oldest was a boy, in second grade, their second, a girl, probably recently turned five and the baby girl was four months old."

My jaw dropped. Alon ignored it and went on. "While we requested Mrs. Levin to keep trying to reach them, we sent a patrol car to the family's house. Because we were unable to locate any of them, and since no one answered the officers’ knocks at the door, they broke in and found the entire family dead."

"Wow," I blurted out, horrified, even though I had already realized where this story was going. "Do we know the cause of death?"

"Apparently, gunshot wounds from a pistol belonging to the father."

I looked away. How could someone kill a four-month-old baby?

"Hadas, it's a rough scene, but there's no choice. If you want to be in charge of this investigation, you have to see it before it's disturbed."

I nodded and we exited the car. I saw that there were now even more curious bystanders surrounding the building. People still had no idea why there were two police cars parked below the building.

We went up to the fourth floor, to Apartment 14. A police officer was standing at the door, keeping passersby from entering. Alon waved his badge and we entered the apartment.

The first thing I saw was seven-and-a-half-year-old Ariel's body, lying between the living room and the dining room. In the dining room, two shocked policemen were sitting with distressed looks splashed across their faces. In the carefully designed living room, on a pastel-colored sofa, lay the father. The gun, which the shots were apparently fired from, was placed between the sofa and the coffee table.

I approached the gun and carefully picked it up. The barrel was covered by a makeshift silencer made of mineral wool, which was probably why no one heard anything.

We continued to the bedrooms, down the hall to Galit's room. The door was closed. Apparently, the police officers couldn’t bear the sight. On the door was a colorful poster: "Happy 5
th
Birthday Galit!" I opened the door. I couldn't have imagined a more painful contrast than that of the childish, pink room and the tiny little girl lying at the foot of the bed. By the way the body lay, I conjectured that she’d woken up and sat up before she was shot. A gaping red hole scarred her small body, and in her hand was still a (presumably brand new) Bratz doll. The doll and the girl were in a pool of blood.

"Do you want to take a break?" Alon asked me. I guess the worst was yet to come; I still hadn't seen baby Noa's body.

"No, it's okay," I breathed heavily. "I want to survey the scene and get out of here as soon as possible."

We continued down the hall and reached the parents’ bedroom.

On the double bed was the body of Hannah, the mother. I looked at her. She was a very beautiful woman. Even the bullet hole staining her forehead didn't tarnish her classic look of loveliness: long hair, now caked with blood; high cheekbones; and plump, colorless lips. Even though she had given birth just four months before, her body was apparently back to its previous shape, and it seemed as if she was lying on the side of the bed where she slept every night, her  lower half covered.

"Did anyone cover her?" I ask Alon.

"No, the patrol officers didn't touch anything."

At the edge of the room, right next to the bed and nearby Hannah's body, stood a small crib. I approached it with great angst. Even though I already knew what I would find in there, I wished that maybe they had all been wrong—maybe the baby had survived. My stomach churched and my face twisted at the horrifying sight carving its way into my eyes. In the crib was another dead body: the tiny, pale corpse of a baby lying in a small pool of blood.

I accidentally touched the mobile attached to the crib, and it began turning and playing the tune of a well-known nursery rhyme. The sight of the tiny, lifeless baby with four stuffed animals revolving above it to the sound of
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
was unbearable. I struggled with the mobile to shut it off but didn't manage to.

I stood above Noa's little body for several more seconds. I turned to Alon with tears in my eyes.

"I have to leave now," I said, choking back tears. I had to get some air.

I ran outside, to the hallway and elevator. I went out to the building's parking lot and again noticed the gathering of curious neighbors, mostly senior citizens and young mothers. Also, there was the broadcast van of one of the news channels. I know I couldn't be seen like this, but I couldn't help it. I hid behind two columns and puked my guts out. When I tried to lift myself up, dripping tears and vomit, I was so dizzy from the gruesome sights that I nearly fell over. Alon caught me
.

H"
ere." He handed me a cold bottle of water
.
I gulped it down
.

"
Thank you," I said, almost whispering. "I'm sorry about how I reacted, but it's just horrifying
."

"
Take it easy. One of the patrol officers didn't even make it as far as the parking lot
".

"
Don't tell me he threw up at the scene!" I was appalled by the thought that the crime scene had been tainted by the vomit of one of the officers
.

"
No." He smiled, happy to see me keeping my focus even in my emotional state. "He made it to the elevator.
"

"
Ugh."  I made a face
.

              "
Luckily for us, the building was cleaned today.
"

Alon gave me a few more minutes to calm down. The forensics team had just arrived, so he approached them and escorted them up to the scene. He came back about ten minutes later
.

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