The Bagel Shop Owner’s Nephew – J. Tynan Burke

The Bagel Shop Owner’s Nephew – J. Tynan Burke

Last night, Murray called with another bunch of prophecies, so Yonatan Kaplan hasn’t slept yet. He stayed up preparing dossiers on some doomed socialites instead. Now it’s a little after dawn, Friday morning, and he’s standing in line outside Fox’s Bagels with a thermos and a tote bag. He’s shaky from too much caffeine and too little sleep, but he doesn’t regret it. The socialites will die this weekend, according to Murray, and Murray’s got a good track record. When they do die, the obituary writers will call the Morgue—The Pre-Morgue Clipping Service, Yonatan’s business—to buy the dossiers, expecting the usual thoughtfulness and prescience. So it had been best to begin the work immediately.

The line shortens when a gaggle of tourists leaves Fox’s. Yonatan steps forward, fills his thermos lid with hot tea, and covers a yawn with the hand still holding the thermos. He thinks back to Murray’s sneering tone when he ‘apologized’ for calling so late, his fake sadness that Yonatan would stay up all night working. It doesn’t matter if Murray made a lucky guess or if it was knowledge from Murray’s divine gift—either way, it’s rude to mock a man for doing his job. Yonatan takes a big drink of tea and frowns. Fucking prophets. They’re nothing like what you read about.

The line shortens again and it’s Yonatan’s turn to enter the shop. The woman in front of him holds the door, and he nods to her as he steps inside.

Yonatan is welcomed by a burst of humidity, which carries the smell of fresh onions and the accumulated yeast of three generations. He’s also welcomed by a new cashier, a young man of maybe twenty who shares the owner Shay’s big ears and too-skinny frame. The hunger in Yonatan’s gut is replaced with a rarely-felt electricity, once debilitating, though he has learned to weather it. For him the closest analogy is the shock of a new and severe crush settling in, but he’s not gay, trust him, he’s checked.

This young man, whose name tag reads ‘Stephen,’ is perhaps a Tzadik Nistar.

“Morning,” Yonatan manages, stepping to the counter. “One of everything, please.”

Stephen raises an eyebrow over a baggy eye. “Like, one everything bagel, or…”

Yonatan cringes and tries to twist it into a smile. “Sorry. Bad joke I have with Shay. One of each kind of bagel, please.”

Stephen counts off on his fingers. “So one plain, one poppy, one sesame, one onion…”

“And one everything,” Yonatan finishes.

Stephen collects and bags the bagels. “I don’t get it.”

Yonatan shrugs. “I said it was a bad joke. Is it even a joke? Who knows how these things start.” Yonatan knows. He tried making a pun five or six years ago after a long night of drinking. “Shay might remember. Do you know Shay, uh…” He points at the name tag like he just noticed it. “Stephen?”

“Uncle Shay? I sure do. It’s Steve, though. That’ll be fifteen dollars.” Steve beeps some buttons on the register.

“You know what, Steve, why don’t you add another poppy.”

Steve wraps the extra bagel while Yonatan observes. No piercings or ink that he can see. That’s good, it’s one of the rules Adonai actually cares about any more.

The register beeps again. Steve says, “Eighteen dollars.”

Yonatan hands him a twenty and puts the bagels in his tote. “Nice to meet you, Steve. Tell Shay Yonatan says hi.”

Out front, Yonatan leans against the wall and takes two deep breaths while his gut settles. It turns to growling, sour with too much tea and too little food. Much better, easy to address. He returns to the Morgue and goes straight to the computer, where he opens a password-protected document and types an addition to a long list of names, in a column headed ‘CANDIDATES’: Stephen ‘Steve’ Fox, ~20, Lower East Side, NYC. And then, at long last, it is bagel time. Poppy, toasted, with leftover veggie cream cheese.

Later he’s on the office couch, taking a little break and reading a space opera, when the landline rings. It’s barely audible over the Norwegian black metal he put on to stay awake. His watch says eight-thirty, but he decides to take it anyway—it can’t be any less interesting than the exposition dump he’s at in the book, or the Page Six profiles he’s avoiding. Off goes the music and in goes a bookmark. The bookmark has an Emerson quote he likes. He can read part of it sticking out: Time and space are but physiological colors which the eye makes, but.

While he crosses the Morgue, he steps over a spilled pile of clippings, and growls. Always more work, dossiers to build, Tzadikim to chronicle, things to file. Sleep, somewhere in there. And the phone keeps ringing, and he almost yells something passive-aggressive at it, but no, that’s more something his father would do. With a silent glance back at the clippings he walks the rest of the way.

“Pre-Morgue Clipping Service, this is Yonatan.”

“Thank you for answering, Yonatan. I hope it is not too early.” A woman, British? Her voice seems far away, like a long-distance call in some old movie.

Her comment reminds Yonatan that he stayed up all night, and he stifles a yawn. “It’s no trouble at all, Ms…”

“How rude of me. My name is Ariel.”

Like the mermaid? Yonatan thinks. He can’t help himself—he’s never met a woman with that name before. He gets a stupid grin at the idea of talking to a cryptid.

“How can I help you, Ariel?”

“I am looking for somebody, of course.”

Yonatan clears his throat and recites a spiel. This happens. “I’m sorry, Ariel, but this isn’t that kind of place. We do collect information on people, but we don’t release it until they’re deceased. I can refer you to several good private investigators.”

A pause, then Ariel continues. “Yes, of course, how silly of me—he is deceased. Or that’s what I’ve heard. I was hoping you could tell me, and then if… I am looking for his remains.”

Yonatan bites his lip. This feels like the sort of thing that will involve lawyers, maybe family drama. He should have let it go to voice mail. “Why don’t you tell me who you’re looking for, and leave me your contact information, and I’ll get back to you,” he says, a little too quick, to get her off the line. He wonders if the machine that records his calls is still working. He hasn’t had to check in a while.

“I’m sorry, have I said something wrong?” She sounds sweet, like she doesn’t know.

And maybe she doesn’t, maybe there’s a language barrier or Yonatan is maybe cranky. A saying of his mom’s pops into his head, Make sure to offer somebody an offramp before they drive too far down stupid street, so he does. “Did you mean to say you’re looking for his grave, instead of his remains?”

Another pause. “That is probably the better word. We wish to pay our respects.”

“Alright.” He explains the fee structure, and takes down a credit card number and the name of the man in question: John Miller, possibly died ‘quite recently’, near San Francisco. It startles him—that’s the name of a Tzadik Nistar. And about a million other people, of course. Anyway, last he checked, John the Tzadik was alive and living in San Diego. Still, something feels off about Ariel, so after he hangs up, Yonatan decides to download the call from the recorder. He finds the device inside a junction box by the front door, warm and smelling like hour-old tar. It’s fried. His assistant Sarah comes in a minute later while he’s digging in the wiring with a flashlight between his teeth. He turns and asks for help, and accidentally blinds her.

While they extract the recorder together, he brings her up to speed on the socialites’ dossiers. Could she pick up where he left off, and also run to the gadget store for a new recorder? There’re fresh bagels in the kitchenette. He grabs his space opera and goes home without telling her about Ariel’s call. She doesn’t need to know, she isn’t a Searcher. From the privacy of his apartment, he sends an email to the Searcher who follows Miller, checking in. Finally he goes to bed.

Asleep, he dreams—who doesn’t? Sometimes he has one of the dreams everybody gets, like having a test he forgot to study for even though grad school was six years ago. Once he had an entire month of dreams where every day was Saturday and he had to follow his dad’s Shabbat rules, which he never had to in real life. His dad didn’t go all Haredi—instead of ‘Haredi’ you can say ‘ultra-orthodox,’ if you want to piss his dad off—until after the terrorist attacks really started to ramp up in America, around when Yonatan was starting college.

This morning’s dream is about a maple tree. He’s squatting on a crook in the branches, up where the trunk first splits, with a magnifying glass and a clipboard. The clipboard holds a chart, the scientific names of bugs on the left and numbers on the right. He’s a scientist doing a population survey. He counts tiny black ants through the magnifying glass, writes the number next to their species name. The name’s in Latin, and he wishes he knew how to pronounce—

Of course he knows how it’s pronounced, he’s been studying liturgical languages for years. This is a dream. He straightens out his back and stretches. Even here, it hurts from all the time he spends at his desk. He should really get a better chair.

“What are you doing? Don’t just squat there if you aren’t going to work.”

Yonatan looks down. The source of the voice is a park ranger in iridescent green, like a beetle with a chip on its shoulder, gender indeterminate. While the ranger glares, Yonatan inspects some leaves. Aphids are munching on the cellulose while lady-bird beetles munch on the aphids. He’s too distracted to count them, so he hops onto the grass and brushes crumbled bark off his shirt.

“I guess it’s time to go, then,” he says, pocketing his magnifying glass.

“I guess so,” says the ranger.

“What’d I do wrong?”

“I just don’t like people climbing in my tree when they don’t have a good reason.” The ranger puts their fists on their hips, a superhero pose.

“Just this tree?”

The ranger spreads their arms. “There aren’t any other trees.”

Yonatan sees he’s in a field, wild grasses stretching to the horizon. He looks up at the maple appreciatively. It’s well-pruned and healthy. “You must be very dedicated to your work,” he says.

“We all do what we must.” The ranger rolls their eyes and bows. “But seriously though, thanks for your part. Now get going.”

Yonatan nods, climbs into the Ford Explorer he hasn’t owned for ten years, and drives off to the lab.

He wakes and showers, and by the time he’s finished, the sun has set and it’s Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest. Many in his neighborhood, inside the old borders of the Manhattan eruv, observe it; a quick glance out his apartment’s paint-flecked window confirms their absence on the streets. Yonatan rarely observes; he’s usually busy with Searcher work, and today is no exception. The only concession he makes is accessing the office remotely, which is not really a concession at all. He looks back at his laptop, at an email from Sarah. Executive summary: she finished the socialites’ dossiers and got a new call recorder set up. The old one only broke that morning, so they have Murray’s call, but nothing after.

Yonatan goes to make a cup of tea and heat up some leftover beef pad see ew. The tea is black and steeps in his favorite mug, also black, to match his jeans and hoodie—even your favorite tea is black, his dad jokes. Text on the mug reads The Chosen Son. It’s half-blasphemous, a birthday present from his mom a few years ago. Shh, don’t tell your father, she said with a wink. They’re still together. He’ll never understand it. Carrying his dinner back to his computer, he stubs his toe, and narrowly avoids saying “God damn it,” choosing instead the more respectful “Fuck!”

There’s a reply in his inbox with bad news about John Miller. During a business trip to San Francisco this week, Miller was beaten into a coma. He died of his injuries just this morning. Yonatan blinks twice. He hopes that Ariel wasn’t asking about that John Miller, but can’t really convince himself it’s a coincidence. Then he reminds himself that people usually call right after a death—it’s the Morgue’s whole business model. Difference is, nobody ever asked him about one of the Tzadikim before.

To still the dread creeping over his scalp, he plugs his phone into his sound system and resumes the Norwegian metal playlist. The part of him that isn’t freaking out hopes it annoys the upstairs neighbors. They’re always clomping around at four in the morning. What are they, meth heads?

He sets a couch cushion on the floor and sits, closing his eyes and counting breaths. He wishes there were a Searcher manual to consult, but theirs is an oral tradition, a secrecy born from the historical necessity to hide. The next best thing would be to ask Leonard, his old mentor and thesis advisor, but Leonard’s been dead almost a year. Upon reflection, Yonatan knows Leonard would just repeat the fundamental rule about Searching: If somebody asks for information about a Tzadik Nistar, you must provide it.

Yonatan’s no good at following rules he doesn’t grok the need for, but the rationale behind the rule is obvious, to somebody who knows the history. His thoughts go to his first real Searcher meeting. It was in a faculty bar that the university had shoved into a basement.

“So you’ve passed the hard part of the test,” Leonard had said. “Now for the oral portion. Explain, in your own words, the Tzadikim Nistarim.”

Yonatan nodded. “An old Talmudic legend. Thirty-six righteous people who are so great, they keep God from trashing this place. If some day only thirty-five people held that honor, God would wipe us out.”

Leonard tut-tutted. “Please, use one of the other names, around me at least.”

“Does… Adonai actually care?” The word felt funny in Yonatan’s mouth.

“There are things Adonai cares more and less about. The work I do with the Tzadikim, securing the life of creation—it’s more important than, say, Shabbat, if you need it to be. But Adonai’s name is a matter of basic respect.”

Yonatan glanced at his vodka tonic. “Sorry, Leonard. I’ll work on it.”

“Thank you. So these Tzadikim Nistarim, they’re special?”

“One could even be the Messiah,” Yonatan said. “A Tzadik Nistar doesn’t know they’re a Tzadik Nistar. Some say it’s a metaphor to encourage you to behave well—you never know when you might turn out to be one.”

Leonard waved his hand. “But…”

“But you say they’re real.”

“I don’t say, Yonatan, I know. And I know you can feel it—you picked one out of a full lecture hall.”

Yonatan grunted. Both men sipped their vodkas. Leonard put a hand on the table. “Eschatology aside, the archive is still a brilliant career opportunity, you know. I’m old, and I need an apprentice. And—this is just a personal observation—I don’t see academia in your future.”

Yonatan snorted and then agreed. So began his life with the Searchers, who identify and chronicle these Tzadikim, and provide information about them whenever it’s requested. Yonatan jokes that it’s in case Adonai ever loses his phone book. And they have a simple principle: always provide the information. After all, you never know who might be asking.

Well, as Leonard liked to remind him, one has principles so one can follow them in uncertain situations. Thinking about the present, Yonatan adds, But that doesn’t mean one has to like it. This situation is uncertain as fuck. Miller was murdered. Why is Ariel drawing his attention to it? She doesn’t sound like a prophet, or not like any he’s talked to. More importantly, has somebody begun knocking off the Tzadikim? He hopes not—it’s onerous enough locating the replacement when just one has died.

He can only see malign interpretations… but maybe that’s just him. Breathing, he knows that he doesn’t actually need the answers to do his job. All he has to do is get Ariel the information on Miller, and follow the procedures for when a Tzadik Nistar dies: Adonai will give a different righteous person a promotion, and the Searchers will re-examine their Candidates. They’ll check their premonitions from afar, and consult the prophets; if there’s sufficient evidence about a Candidate, people will follow up in person and see how they feel. Then, like so many things, it will conclude with an argument on the Internet.

Yonatan stands and returns to the table.

While he picks at his noodles and finishes his tea, he contemplates his tepid mug. The Chosen Son. When he’s done eating, he goes to the Morgue to pull Miller’s file.

An NYPD detective surprises him at the Morgue around eight. She introduces herself, Detective Corazón Lopez, can she come in and ask some questions? Yonatan flashes guiltily to the documents about Miller he was scanning, but he hasn’t done anything wrong, he doesn’t even know why the detective is here. Even so, he wants to tug nervously at his collar like Bugs Bunny, but he hides it, says yeah, asks if she wants some water or tea. She says no, and so he doesn’t get anything for himself either. They sit at the card table in the kitchenette.

“An interesting business model,” Lopez says, “selling dead person facts.”

“Newspapers used to have departments like this,” Yonatan says. “Probably half our archive is stuff we picked up from the Times when it went under.”

“I did not know that.” Lopez produces a notepad from her tan leather jacket and jots something down. “You oughta put that on your website.”

Yonatan frowns. “Takes some of the mystique out, don’t you think?”

Lopez smiles back. “Might make people like me less curious. Don’t you think.”

What is this? Yonatan shows his palms. “Can I help alleviate that curiosity?”

“That’s the idea.” Lopez looks out of the kitchenette, at the room of rolling stacks, the hallway down the middle crammed with file cabinets and banker’s boxes. Her shoulders relax and she leans in. “Alright. There’s been some suspicious deaths these last few months. Medium-profile, local celebrities.” She’s clearly not talking about Miller, which only barely reduces Yonatan’s anxiety. “One of us noticed that the obits came out pretty quick, pretty detailed, like they’d been researched beforehand. We called the writers, they told us about you.”

Yonatan nods, his mouth dry now, and he wishes he’d gotten water after all. “It’s what I—we—do, detective. We identify notable and interesting people and prepare dossiers. Sometimes they die unexpectedly, and that’s when we’re most in demand. It’s morbid, but it’s a niche we proudly fill.” He hopes the normalcy of business-speak is as comforting to her as it is to him.

“You seem to get awful lucky. Look, we know you solicit tips about people to profile, it’s right there on your website.”

He scrunches his face. “And the NYPD thinks a tipster might be involved in this?”

She shrugs. “Sounds crazy, right? But it’s worth looking into. We think they’re all the same perp, and you’re linked to them too in your own way. We were hoping you could tell us about the tipsters.”

“We have a policy against that.”

It’s Lopez’s turn to show her palms. “You wouldn’t want to seem uncooperative, would you? And do you have any idea how easy it would be to get a warrant?”

He doesn’t, but pissing off the cops does seem riskier to the Morgue than compromising on this, and there are no Searcher rules about the prophets. “Sure. Alright. Give me the names of the deceased and I’ll see if anybody mentioned them to us.”

She does. The computer says they’re all names from tips, all tips from Murray. He explains it to her, and she takes it down, standing behind him while he works.

“Does Murray have a last name?” she asks.

“Probably, but I don’t know it.”

“Do you at least have his phone number?”

“I do… he called last night, actually.” Yonatan deflates. “He gave me three names, some local socialites.” Maybe he shouldn’t mention the details, that Murray said they won’t last the weekend. He doesn’t want to get the police involved in knowing the future, he’s seen that old movie Minority Report. But human life is sacred, certainly more so than company policy, even this company.

“I have a recording,” his conscience helpfully adds for him, settling the matter. His brain catches up and he says, “I should warn you, Murray thinks he’s psychic. He says lots of crazy stuff… and he said they might die this weekend.”

Lopez stares at him like he admitted he has bodies in the freezer, but don’t worry, he has a permit. “So hard to find good help. Can I get the recording?”

Yonatan stiffens. “I need to know I’m not liable for anything, that the Morgue—that’s what we call it, I know, I know—isn’t in trouble, or else you’ll need that warrant.”

“Mister Kaplan, these people could be in danger.” She sighs and takes out her phone. “The D.A. is working tonight. You got a lawyer we can hammer something out with?”

Yonatan copies down a phone number from the computer. His lawyer keeps Shabbat, no work and no phone calls, but his assistant can fetch him. Lopez trades her business card for the number. “Have the D.A. call this—it’s my lawyer Joel’s assistant Kacy. Tell her Yonatan Kaplan says to get Joel ASAP, it’s a matter of life and death.”

After Lopez leaves Yonatan sinks his face into his hands, tugs on his hair. This is more murders than he’s used to dealing with on a Friday night, which is zero. He needs a drink and something that wasn’t cooked yesterday. Randomly he texts the woman he’s newly dating, Dinah. She gets right back to him, she’s free. They meet at a diner off 1st Avenue that smells like frying sausage and somebody else’s Tabasco.

“Every time we eat you get steak,” Dinah says when their food arrives, his steak and eggs, her Greek salad.

“I like steak,” he says. He takes a bite and finishes his beer. “I used to be a vegetarian, did you know that?”

“I did not,” she says.

“I had a Buddhist phase starting in undergrad. Ate a lot of hummus.”

“A real rebel.” Dinah eats some of her salad and drinks her own beer.

“You have no idea.” Yonatan flags down a waiter and orders another drink.

“Why’d you stop? Being vegetarian,” she says.

“It was hard,” he says with a forced whine.

She laughs. “And a Ph.D. wasn’t?”

“Different hard. When you find the right thing to care about, something that clicks…” He shrugs.

“I hear ya.”

While they eat, Yonatan’s mind keeps drifting to Ariel, and to dealing with the cops, and he keeps shoving the thoughts down. He’s only half surprised when he blurts out, “What are you doing after this?”

Dinah smiles. “Nothing, you?”

“I’m in a whiskey-and-cartoons kind of mood,” he says.

Dinah looks into her empty beer glass. “It’ll have to be your place, they’re fumigating my neighbor’s, ew.”

“My TV isn’t very big,” Yonatan says.

She puts her hand on his, says with a fake, over-earnest tone, “It’s not the size that matters, it’s the company.”

The door is unlocked when they get to his apartment, and when Yonatan turns on the light he finds the place trashed—books and clothes everywhere, the kitchen table turned over, his not-very-big TV smashed. Dumb as a cow, he walks inside. “What the fuck!”

Dinah stays put in the door frame. “I assume it’s not normally like this.”

“No…” Yonatan holds up a hand and searches the apartment to confirm it’s empty. It doesn’t take long, it’s not that big. “You can come in if you want. Try not to touch anything.”

She looks relieved. “Oh, thank god. I gotta piss but it seemed like a bad time to ask.”

He points her to the bathroom, and while she’s in there he does a more thorough search. There’s a note on the fridge, scrawled on the back of an envelope. Murray says hi. Dinah joins him while he’s staring at it.

At the same time, they both say she should leave, and they share a sad laugh. She zips up her coat. “This wasn’t a very good date, Yoni.”

“I’ll do better next time.” He’s already got his wallet out, rummaging for Lopez’s card.

“You better.” She kisses him, quick but not a peck, and leaves.

Yonatan jams the door shut and calls the detective. She picks up and says that Joel should call any second to fill him in. Yonatan tells her about his apartment, about the note. She says she’ll send somebody over. His phone beeps, and he switches calls.

“Joel? Hey, before we start, uh…” Yonatan tells Joel about the break-in.

After a pause, Joel takes a few false starts and sighs. “ ‘Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve got me into!’ What was that, Laurel and Hardy?” Joel makes ancient references when he’s nervous.

“Never watched it. I don’t suppose you can tell me everything’s gonna be okay?”

“Right, sorry.” Yonatan hears Joel flipping through papers. “Honestly I can’t see how the break-in changes anything on my end, for this Murray business. You’re fine, legally. The cops weren’t bluffing about the warrant though, that would be easy to get, so you had the right instincts, to cooperate. Judges don’t like being pulled in after hours.” A little edge of resentment to Joel’s voice at the end. “So you’re fine, and the Morgue is fine, but you should probably get used to hearing from law enforcement more. They’re jealous of your tip line.”

Yonatan grunts. Half the Morgue’s revenue must come from prophets’ tips, prophets who are usually shady as fuck, who’d bolt at the first sign of the cops. But saving lives is the right thing to do. Hopefully he’ll only scare away people who are trying to pass murder plots off as revelations. Then again, what if the murder plots are the revelations—? Best not to go down that road, not sober at least.

“Oh, one more thing,” Joel says. “They want you to call Murray so they can get a trace.”

Fucking fuck. “I don’t really want them to hear… I don’t really want to hear what he has to say, even.”

“Is this about your, er, other archive, Yonatan?”

Joel isn’t a Searcher, but Yonatan’s told him about it. Joel just thinks it’s a run-of-the-mill weird sect. Spilling Adonai’s secrets is unwise, but so is keeping secrets from your lawyer. Yonatan rubs the back of his neck with his free hand. “Yeah, and Murray’s not making us look good.”

More paper-shuffling on Joel’s end. “I’ll write it up so the cops can only use or store information pertaining directly to the investigation. They hear weird stuff all the time anyway. Well, not weird, but, you know.”

“Unusual,” Yonatan says, his old offramp tic.


“Joel? Sorry I made you break Shabbat,” Yonatan says.

“I’m not in love with it either, but hey. You’re not the first client who’s done it, but you are the first in a long while that I’m not mad at for it. I’ll talk to the D.A. and sort out the paperwork we’ll need to get you through the weekend. You and I can talk insurance and everything Monday.”

“Great. Thanks.”

“You got somewhere you can stay?” Joel says.

“I’ll probably end up at the Morgue tonight. Worst case there’s always my parents’.”


Yonatan says goodbye and starts packing an overnight bag. Over by the wall he finds his mug—still intact, lucky him—and the space opera he’s been carrying around. The bookmark’s fallen out of the novel, and he can see the full Emerson quote now: Time and space are but physiological colors which the eye makes, but the soul is light: where it is, is day; where it was, is night; and history is an impertinence and an injury if it be anything more than a cheerful apologue or parable of my being and becoming. Now is not the time to figure out what chapter he was reading, so he slots the bookmark in under the title page, and puts the book in the bag.

At the Morgue some hours later, Detective Lopez and two techs sit at the card table with bulky headphones, and Yonatan leans against the wall, shoulders clenched, cordless phone pressed to his ear.

“So you got a pretty big mouth, huh?” Murray says when he answers. “You get my message? The cops there right now? ‘Cuz I’ll hang up.”

Yonatan has practiced this in his head. He pretends to humor Murray’s ‘delusions.’ “Wouldn’t you know if they were?”

“You sound tense. Guess my friend’s visit did that.” Yonatan hears a snap! like Murray is chewing gum. “But I know you wouldn’t talk about this in front of the cops. Don’t even have to use my gift.”

For once, it’s a good thing that Murray is an asshole. Yonatan holds back something sarcastic. “So what is it you want?”

“A little loyalty, please,” Murray says. “How much money have I made you guys with my tips? And all so selflessly.”

“What’s going on, Murray?”

“I give you names, right? Most of them are, ah, preordained. But every so often, some of them… I know a guy who wants you to know those names.”

Yonatan squints at nothing, confused. “Why?”

There’s the snapping sound of gum again. “He’s in love with these people, but all fucked-up like. He wants them to die beautiful, right, so they gotta die soon. And he wants them to have a real good obituary. He knows about you guys somehow, used to write at a paper I think, he’s a fan of your work. Well before he knocks ‘em off he has me call you, to make sure all the research is in the can.”

Murray pauses to chew wetly, then continues, “You should take it as a compliment, Yoni! Look, just chill, okay? Think how many of those weirdos I’ve, what’ya call it, revelated, for your little side project.”

A headache tightens around Yonatan’s crown, and he puts more weight against the wall. He looks at Detective Lopez and sees her looking back at him. Keep him talking, she mouths, and shrugs like this is a normal sort of evening for her. Maybe it is.

“Is that some kind of threat?” Yonatan says.

Murray laughs. “Like anybody would believe me if I told them, or even care about your little list. Lemme tell you something.”

Yonatan clears his throat and swallows what comes up. “Okay.”

“I’m a slimy little card sharp, but you…” Murray laughs. “I’m dirty, yeah, but I really can see the future too, and you’re the one who thinks you’ve got a direct line upstairs? On account of some old legend? You know where I see you? The fuckin’ nuthouse.

Silence. If it was just Yonatan he’d hang up, unplug the phone, and go make some bad decisions at a bar. But he’s got a job to do, so he repeats himself, stalls for time. “Is that a threat? What is it you want?”

Murray chuckles. “Hey, you’re the one who called me.

Yonatan looks and sees Lopez giving him a thumbs up with one hand, and miming hanging up with the other.

“You know what? Never mind. Go fuck yourself, Murray.” Yonatan ends the call and swings the phone down, pressing it into his leg.

Lopez walks over. “Well done, Mister Kaplan,” she says, sticking out her hand.

Yonatan stands up straight and shakes it. “Thanks. Uh, I could really…” He releases her grip and flaps his hand around aimlessly, noticing a tremor in his fingers.

She nods. “Gotcha. Don’t disappear, OK?”

He folds his arms and nods back, realizing halfway through that it makes him look like the genie from that old TV show. The techs undo whatever they did to his phone line as he watches, and right before the door closes behind them, he remembers to call out his thanks.

He can’t go home, so he does his best to make the Morgue comfortable, unpacking his book and changing into pajamas. He boils filtered water to make tea. A peek in the paper bag from Fox’s shows that Sarah left him the second poppy-seed bagel, which he toasts and eats with butter. He finds where he was in the novel and, until his hands stop shaking, he reads. Then he works, cataloging the spilled clippings he noticed that morning, and pondering Ariel. It feels like he might know even less about that situation than he did a few hours ago. He resolves to consult other Searchers before he reaches too many conclusions. Meanwhile, the very next step is clear. He copies Miller’s file, removes the Searcher-related information, and adds the police and coroner’s reports he was sent.

That done, he yawns and lays down on the couch. He must’ve fallen into a dreamless sleep, since when he wakes up to the ringing phone, it’s light out. With all that’s going on, he figures he should answer.

“Pre-Morgue Clipping Service, this is Yonatan.”

“Thank you for answering again, Yonatan, and on a Saturday.” It’s Ariel. He recognizes the accent, and the far-away sounding connection.

“How can I help you?”

“I know it has only been a day, but I was wondering if you were able to get the information on Mr. Miller for me.”

“I was,” Yonatan says. “I’m sorry to say that Mr. Miller has passed. I can email our file to you right after I run your card, if you’d like.”

“Dreadful news. And I would appreciate that very much. You’re fast—you must be very dedicated to your work.”

He raises his eyebrows. “We all do what we must,” he tries.

“Yes, and thank you for your part.” Ariel sighs. “I have more people to check on… hopefully the news will be better. It’s almost three dozen names, so I’ll use the email form on your website, there’s no rush. And…”

She hesitates, and Yonatan swallows.

“One last question,” she says. “I see that you take suggestions for interesting people to research?”

“That’s right. You get a finder’s fee after their information’s requested, if you were the first to suggest them.”

“Well. You should keep an eye on a young man who’s just moved near you, Stephen Fox. Consider this free of charge—I imagine he’ll be around long after you’re gone. Have a good Saturday, Mister Kaplan.”

The line goes dead. Yonatan can smell burning plastic. The recorder must have gotten fried again. He takes a few calming breaths and flexes his fingertips out, deciding he can deal with all this tomorrow or maybe Monday. Meantime he’s earned a break. He disconnects the dead recorder from the phone line, and then disconnects the phone entirely. For now he’ll read his book uninterrupted; if Adonai has truly chosen this gray morning to count his Tzadikim Nistarim, he can always knock.

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