Home > Chapter 32 > Chapter 32 – A Lot About Eilat

Chapter 32 – A Lot About Eilat

Tina took for granted that she was accompanying Chloe to Eilat, and Chloe didn’t try to dissuade her.  Spending the night on the beach with her lover appealed to her.  They met Avi at the Tel Aviv bus station and boarded an Egged bus to Eilat.  Chloe felt uneasy as the bus rumbled down the highway.  She usually tried to avoid long bus trips inside Israel.

“Wouldn’t it be ironic if after everything we’ve done, we died in a bus bombing?” she whispered to Tina.

Tina didn’t answer, just raised an eyebrow.  Doubly ironic for her, Chloe reflected.  She wouldn’t be the first Palestinian victim of an attack against Israel, but she might be the first with an Australian passport.  Not a distinction she would want, for sure.

Just before noon, they reached Eilat, a completely different kind of beach city than Tel Aviv and Jaffa.  It reminded Chloe of Virginia Beach, where her family had sometimes gone in the summer, with its tacky tourist places.  Men were constantly pawing at her and Tina.

“I thought I was too old for that kind of attention,” she said to Avi, after the third man had tried to coax her into the bushes with him.

“If you can breathe, you are not too old,” Avi said.

“I guess that will help with what we’re here for,” Chloe observed.  “Go ask one of those guys where we should go.”

He obeyed.  The conversation didn’t take long, nor would the walk to the neighborhood the man had indicated.  Chloe wanted Avi to be their pimp, trying to sell them to one of the houses, but he refused.  “I’ll be a client,” he said.  “We can split up and cover twice as much ground and maybe find this woman Vicki.”

“If you have sex, I’ll tell Maya,” Chloe teased him.

“Don’t worry,” he said.  “I can’t afford it anyway.”

Chloe was enjoying the sibling-like banter, but she noticed Tina was being very quiet.  She pushed aside the tension building in her gut and looped her arm through Tina’s.  “I don’t think I’m going to be believable,” she said.

“You will when I’m done with you.”  Chloe was glad to see a mischievous sparkle in Tina’s eyes.  They ducked into a hotel bathroom and Tina went to work with eyeliner and blush.  Chloe was unexpectedly pleased with the result.

“Maybe I’ll do this all the time,” she said.

“I like your laugh lines better,” Tina said and kissed one of the now hidden lines at the corner of her mouth.  They exited the hotel arm in arm.  Chloe stole a look at Avi, who had parked on a bench to wait for them.  He seemed okay about hanging out with a lesbian couple.  She kind of wanted to ask him about it directly, but it would be too much like talking about sex with a son.

Avi took one side of the street, and Chloe and Tina the other.  They agreed to meet in two hours.  They would try to find Vicki, but if they couldn’t, they would try to find anyone who knew Nadya.

Tina couldn’t even get through the doors, because everyone assumed she was Palestinian.  “No locals,” they all told her.  Chloe wondered if that referred to Israelis as well as Palestinians.  She had once seen a movie about Algerian Jewish prostitutes in Eilat, but that had been years ago.  Possibly the explosion of immigrants from the former Soviet Union had put those women out of business, or pushed them up the food chain.

Chloe was an oddity.  No one in these places had seen an American woman looking for work before.  The bouncers did not turn her away themselves, like they did Tina.  They went and checked with the owners, and the owners or managers would take her into their offices, mostly to flirt, which she didn’t do well.  When they asked her how she came to them, she answered that her friend Vicki told her about them, and then they all threw her out because they didn’t know any Vicki.

The fourth bell they rang was answered by a Palestinian security guard.  When Tina told him in Arabic what they wanted, his expression turned fatherly, though he was not much older than she was.  “Arab girls do not do this work,” he said.  “It is not right.”

“But it’s okay for you?” Tina replied.

“I protect the girls from men who want to hurt them,” he said.  Chloe wondered if he believed that made it okay.

“Is the owner here?” she asked.

“Wait,” he told her.  A few minutes later, he opened an inner door for her, as all the other security guards had done.  As Chloe walked through it, she saw him leading Tina back outside.  She hoped Tina would be able to get some useful information from him.  So far, this whole escapade had been a big waste of time.

The office was a converted dining room, big, white and comfortable.  The woman sitting behind the graceful desk of polished dark wood reminded Chloe of her grandmother.  Her gray hair was pulled back in a bun and Chloe was sure an old-fashioned corset held her huge bust completely rigid.  She gestured Chloe into a red velvet arm chair.

“What are you doing here, really?” she asked in heavily accented but perfectly clear English.  “We have never had an American come here looking for work.”

“I’m surprised.  This is what I do in the States,” Chloe said innocently.

“You are a Jew,” the woman stated.  How could she be so sure of that? Chloe wondered.  It was like Israelis had a sixth sense for Jewishness.  “Jews in America do not do this.”

“Some do,” Chloe said.  She spun a tale of a feminist whorehouse in Berkeley, drawn on the true story of a woman in her writing group, who got a temp receptionist job in what turned out to be a brothel.  The old woman appreciated the story, though she didn’t necessarily look like she believed it.  She told Chloe to wait, asked her if she wanted tea.  Chloe accepted.

The woman was gone for ten minutes.  Then the door opened and a man came in.  “At HaAmerikayit?” he asked her, and looking at his face, she felt a raw terror.  He meant her harm, she was sure.  Almost against her will, she nodded.

“Come with me,” he ordered, taking her arm in a tight grip.  For a moment, she thought he was opening the door that led to the front room, and she felt relief.  But then she found herself led into an inner room, where a four-poster double bed loomed.

“Take off your clothes.”  The man’s gesture helped her understand his Hebrew.

“I don’t speak Hebrew,” she said, hoping against hope that somehow this would derail his intent.  She started toward the door.  He wrenched both wrists behind her back and she had a moment of absolute panic, that he would have handcuffs, she would be imprisoned and raped, all the horrible stories she had heard about what happened in places like this were about to happen to her.  What was she thinking, imagining she could play private eye?  She wanted to scream, but she realized it wouldn’t help her, no one here would come to her rescue, the people who might want to would be afraid to, and the people who could wouldn’t want to.  Silently, she cursed Rania, who sent her here, and Fareed, who was the reason she was involved in this case, and herself for staying in this country so long, and Tina for not being here to help her.

The man shoved her against the wall.  He pressed his body against hers, one hand pinching her right nipple, the other crawling between her legs.  She felt his erection against her hip, and his stubbly face was all over hers as he pressed his mouth on hers and his tongue roughly forced her mouth open.  She started to literally gag on the smell of his stale cigarette-breath.  She couldn’t breathe.  She felt faint and then she thought, not a bad idea, and let herself collapse.

Maybe it was the fainting spell which convinced him she was scared enough, or perhaps he never intended it to go any further, but suddenly he was unlocking the door and shoving her out the front door, where Tina was cozily smoking and speaking Arabic with the kindly security guard.

“Don’t come back,” the man yelled at her.  She couldn’t talk.  She stumbled down the sidewalk and heard Tina quickly taking leave of the security guard.  Tina ran after Chloe and put her arm hesitantly around her shoulders.  Chloe shrugged it off.  She leaned over and retched.  Tina stood close to her, one hand hovering over Chloe’s shoulder, waiting for permission to touch her which Chloe couldn’t give.  She felt like she could barely stand up.  She wanted to curl up in a fetal position and scream and cry, she wanted to be in her house in Azzawiya right now.

She couldn’t believe how filthy and violated she felt, and how terrified she was, yet she wasn’t even raped.  She thought about Nadya, and how many times she was raped in her two-plus years here.  How did she endure it, day after day?  It must have felt like a recurring nightmare.  And she was pregnant, presumably by someone who raped her.  Especially when she had a daughter in Uzbekistan whom she could not see, another child surely would not seem like a blessing to her, but a curse.  Chloe suddenly felt sure that Nadya’s pregnancy was the key to her murder.  She just had to find the lock it fit.

Amid the thoughts swirling in her brain, Chloe was vaguely aware of Tina, still waiting for her to communicate in some way what she needed.  What did she need? Chloe wondered.  What was there in the whole world that could make the hideous parasite she had allowed into her body shrivel up and leave her a place for herself again?  She looked into the face of the woman who, fifteen hours earlier, had made her feel like the most blessed dyke in the Middle East.  She tried to read in Tina’s eyes if the evil she had encountered had transmogrified her own face somehow.  In the other woman’s expression, she read only concern, not revulsion.  I’m going to keep it that way, Chloe promised herself.

“What did the security guard tell you?” she made herself ask in a normal tone of voice.  Tina looked taken aback, but after a second’s delay, she answered in a comfortingly conversational voice.

“He said the owner bribes the immigration police with money and sex,” she said.  “It’s not illegal to run a brothel here, if all your workers are legal.  But if they had Palestinians working there, they would have problems from the regular police, or maybe the SHABAK.  He wanted to get me a job in his cousin’s restaurant.”  She laughed a little.  Chloe tried to laugh too, but it didn’t come out right.  Tina glanced at her, and then hurried on with her story.

“I asked him about the girls who work there.  He said men always bring them in the middle of the night, usually in groups of six or eight, and the owner has sex with each one in turn.  The ones who don’t please him, he sends back to the man they came with.”

“Can the girls who work here go out by themselves?” Chloe asked, as if Tina were the one with inside knowledge.

“He said some of them can, the ones who have been here a while.  They can’t go too far because the immigration police will find them, and if they run away, the people who own the house will come after them and hurt them when they bring them back.”

“Hurt them how?”

“He said there are places they can press, that cause enormous pain without leaving any marks.”  She shuddered to tell it.  “He told me he doesn’t do that,” she added.

“What difference does that make?” Chloe asked hotly.  She found herself infuriated, that Tina only cared about whether an Arab man was participating in the abuse, rather than that the abuse was happening at all.

“It doesn’t,” Tina said.  “I don’t know why I even brought it up.”  She touched Chloe’s arm lightly, and the touch made Chloe want to dissolve in tears.  She turned away from Tina’s hand.

“It’s almost time to meet Avi,” she said.  “We probably only have time for one more house.  Let’s hurry.”

“I don’t want to go to any more brothels,” Tina said.  “They give me the creeps.”

“They give you the creeps?” Chloe snapped.  “You’re not the one who … we can’t quit now.”  Despite her fear, raging like Niagara Falls through her blood, she didn’t want to stop looking.  She had forged a stronger connection with Nadya through her experience.  She had to find out what had happened to her now, and she knew this place held the answer.

She marched faster, leaving Tina panting a little to keep up.

“Well I’m not leaving you alone again,” Tina said as Chloe headed up the stone stairs of the next house.  “Wherever we go, we go together.”

“You’ll get no argument from me,” Chloe said, ringing the bell.

“Vicki yesh?” she boldly asked the young woman who opened the door.

Ken,” the woman answered, opening the door wide.  “Vicki!” she yelled.

Chloe’s head reeled.  After all that had happened, could it be so easy?  But maybe it wasn’t the same Vicki.  She had no idea how common a name it was among Eastern Europeans.

At makirah otam?”  The woman who had answered the door was asking a woman with frizzy blonde hair if she knew them.  After some quick eye contact with Tina and Chloe, Vicki gave a little nod.

Tov.”  The other woman walked away.  Chloe looked around the large living room.  Several small groups of young woman sat around, playing cards or doing each other’s hair and nails.  The windows were covered with heavy curtains, but one of the women was perched so she could just see through the slit from which a tiny gleam of light penetrated.  A lone man sat in a corner, smoking and watching everyone.  Vicki led them to a sofa across the room from him.  Chloe deliberately positioned herself so she couldn’t see him.  Let Vicki worry about discretion.

At hachaverah shel Nadya?” Chloe asked immediately.  Are you Nadya’s friend?  She didn’t want to waste time if this wasn’t the right Vicki.

“Nadya?” Vicki looked startled.  “Ayfo Nadya?”

“Do you speak English?” Chloe asked hopefully.  Vicki shook her head.  Chloe wasn’t able to manage much finesse in Hebrew, but she scraped up the words for “Nadya is dead.”  Vicki looked sad, but not surprised.

“Nadya made big trouble,” Chloe understood her to say.

“Trouble for whom?” Chloe asked.

“The man who ,” but Chloe didn’t understand the rest of the sentence.  This wasn’t going to work.

“Does anyone here speak English?” she asked Vicki.  Vicki shook her head vigorously, and cast a nervous look around the room.  Great move, Chloe told herself.  Probably Vicki didn’t want anyone else to know what they were talking about.  The girl by the window called out something in Russian, and suddenly everyone was putting away their nail polish and straightening up the magazines lying all over the room.

“You must go,” Vicki told them.

“Do you have a telephone?” Chloe asked breathlessly.

“No.”  Vicki was pushing them toward the door.

“But we have to talk more,” Chloe insisted.  She would not go without a way to get hold of Vicki.  Tina pulled a scrap of paper from her purse, scribbled on it, and thrust it into Vicki’s hands.  “Bye,” she said brightly in English.  “Good seeing you,” and she dragged Chloe out the door.  Just in time, it turned out.  A minute later, they watched a burly man in a leather jacket open the front door with a key.

“I need a drink,” she told Avi when they met at the beachfront.  They ducked into a café.  Chloe ordered red wine for herself and Tina, casting a defensive look at Avi, who prided himself on being straight-edge.

“I found out one thing,” he said, sipping a lemonade.  “No one I met knew Vicki, but one guy knew Nadya.  He wired money to Uzbekistan for her.  She wired fifty dollars home every two weeks.  But the week before she left Eilat, she sent a thousand.”

The jingle of Tina’s cellphone interrupted Chloe’s musing about where Nadya would have gotten a sum like that.  Tina looked at the number quizzically, then punched “Talk.”

“It’s Vicki,” she whispered, handing Chloe the phone.

“What do I tell her?” Chloe whispered back.  Tina shrugged.

“Hello?” Vicki was whispering too.  In her discombobulated state, Chloe could not remember one word of Hebrew.

“Talk to my friend,” she said in English and thrust the phone into Avi’s hand.  He looked doubtful.

Allo?”  He listened for a few seconds, then told Vicki to hold on.  “She wants to meet us in two hours,” he reported.

“Where?” Chloe asked.  He repeated the question into the phone.

“Somewhere near, but not too near,” came the answer.

“How would we know?” Chloe grumbled.  “What about that Friends place?  Ask her if she knows where it is.”  After a hurried consultation, Avi said goodbye.  “She’ll be there,” he said.

“I hope so,” Chloe said.  “With luck, Alexandra will be there too.”  And then maybe she would be too distracted to think about her near-rape.  She felt unsteady, like any minute her fragile calm might explode.

Friends was a dingy waterfront diner, with six plastic booths and a Formica counter with stools.  One lone customer munched a sandwich while reading a Hebrew newspaper in a corner booth.  The woman lounging behind the counter more or less matched the description Rania had given of Alexandra Marininova.  She looked up from a Russian-language magazine when the three settled themselves on cracked vinyl stools.

“Are you Alexandra?” Chloe asked when the woman approached.

“How do you know me?” the woman demanded in Hebrew.

“Tell her Rania sent us,” Chloe instructed Avi.  Alexandra’s eyes scrunched up when Avi mentioned the Palestinian policewoman.

“You are police?” she asked.

“No, no,” Chloe jumped in.  “Our friend is in jail,” she struggled in Hebrew.  “We need you to help us.”

“I already told the police, I don’t know anything about the girl who used my passport,” Alexandra said to Avi.

“Tell her we don’t believe her,” Chloe snapped.  Fortunately, before Avi could speak, Vicki walked through the door, dark lenses covering two thirds of her face while a babushka hid her hair.  They relocated to a booth near the back.  Alexandra kept her eyes on her little pad when she took their orders.  Chloe looked longingly at the pictures of ice cream sundaes on the menu, but she couldn’t face Avi’s disapproval yet again.  She ordered two baskets of fries for them all to share.  When Alexandra brought them, Chloe looked around the restaurant, now deserted except for them.

“Ask her if she can sit with us a few minutes,” she told Avi.  “Tell her we need her to translate from Hebrew to Russian.”  She was almost sure Alexandra would refuse, but the woman perched on the edge of the bench, even helping herself from the fries Chloe passed toward her.  Everyone likes to be needed, Chloe reflected, plus she must be curious about what we’re doing here.

The conversation was slow, because anything Chloe or Tina said had to be translated first into Hebrew by Avi and then into Russian by Alexandra, and then back.

“The house where you met her was not the first place Nadya worked,” Alexandra translated for Vicki.  “They bought her from another house.”

“Bought her?” Tina blurted out.

“Yes,” Vicki said nonchalantly.  “They take all the girls to a big room, naked.  There are many men, and they bid on each girl, one by one.  Sometimes if a man cannot afford a girl by himself, he will team up with two or three of his friends.”

“Were you sold that way too?” Chloe asked.

“Yes,” Vicki said.  “But the man I work for is not so bad.  He takes good care of us.  We have enough to eat, and we don’t have to work as much as some other places.”

“He must have been upset when Nadya ran away,” Chloe said.  When Alexandra finished translating, Vicki shook her head.

“She did not run away,” came the answer.  “The man who sold her came and took her back.”

“Took her back?  Why?”

After quite a lot of animated chatter, Alexandra said only, “She doesn’t know.”

“She told us Nadya made trouble,” Chloe said.  “Who did she make trouble for?”

“The man who sold her.  See, you have to pay back the expenses of your travel out of your earnings.  The people who bring you here come to the house where you are working every week and take money from your employer and only give you a few shekels.  The rest is to pay them back for your travel.

“But one time the man who brought Nadya didn’t give her any money,” Vicki said.  “He yelled at her that she knew why.  She argued with him and he hit her.”

“Does she know where Nadya got a lot of money to wire home before she left Eilat?” Chloe asked.  Vicki looked surprised when Alexandra translated the question.

“No,” she answered, “I didn’t know she did.”

“Ask her to describe the guy who sold Nadya,” Avi told Alexandra.  He took out a notebook and created a drawing based on Vicki’s description.  She looked over his shoulder and corrected a few things.

“You draw well,” Tina observed.

“Yes, that’s him,” Vicki said finally.  As soon as the drawing was finished, Alexandra stood up and swept up their dishes along with a half-eaten basket of fries.

“I have to close now,” she said.  Vicki departed quickly, not looking back.  Chloe approached Alexandra, money outstretched.  Alexandra waved her away, shooing them out the door.  They stood on the sidewalk, wondering where to go now.  It was balmy with evening just starting to fall, and throngs of young people played volleyball on the nearby beach.  Several groups of young men in army green, with their guns casually swinging at their sides, passed, laughing raucously at each other’s jokes.

“Well, at least we know what the guy looks like,” Tina said.

“And no idea where to look for him,” Chloe said.  “I don’t think we can hang around the brothels waiting for him to come collect his money.”

“Why not?” Tina asked.

“We could show the picture around the bars,” Avi suggested.  “Someone is sure to know him.”

“There’s certainly no shortage of them,” Chloe said.  They started aimlessly along the beachfront, heading for the nearest set of lights.

“Wait!”  Alexandra was hurrying toward them.  Behind her, Chloe saw the steel grate pulled down over the restaurant’s door.  “I need to tell you something,” she said when she caught up to them.  They looked around for somewhere to sit, but nothing presented itself.  They stood uncomfortably on the sidewalk.

“I didn’t lie to the police,” Alexandra began.  “After they came to see me, I looked through my things.  My old passport from Ukraine was not in my house.  I never noticed, because I have my Israeli passport now, and I don’t want to go back to Ukraine.”

“You think someone took it, without your knowing?” Avi asked.

“I know who took it,” Alexandra said.  She looked around, to the right and to the left.  “This man,” she said, pointing to the drawing Avi carried.  “He was my boyfriend.  His name is Dmitri.”

“Was?  But now he isn’t?”

“No.  I have not seen him for two years.”

“Did you know he was a trafficker?”  Alexandra shook her head emphatically.  “I knew he went back and forth to Uzbekistan,” she said.  “But he told me he was importing jewelry.  He even brought me things, like this bracelet,” showing them a delicate silver filigree bangle on her left wrist.

“He never talked to you about Nadya or any of the other girls?”

“No.  I would never have stayed with him if I knew.”

“Can you call and ask him to meet us?”

“No.  No, I don’t want to do that.  But I can tell you where to find him.”

Go to Chapter 33

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