“Still running that museum of yours, Doctor?” Landsman says.
Buchbinder looks up, puzzled, trying to place this irritating stranger with the blintzes.
“It’s Landsman. Sitka Central. Maybe you remember, I used to”
“Oh, yes,” he says with a tight smile. “How are you? We are an institute, not a museum, but that is all right.”
“No harm has been done,” he says, his supple Yiddish fitted with a stiffening wire of the German accent to which he and his fellow yekkes, even after 60 years, stubbornly cling. “It is a common mistake.”
It can’t be all that common, Landsman thinks, but he says, “Still up there on Ibn-Ezra?”
“No,” says Dr. Buchbinder. He wipes a streak of brown mustard from his lips with his napkin. “No, sir, I have closed it down. Officially and permanently.”
His manner is grandiloquent, even celebratory, which strikes Landsman as odd, given the content of his declaration.
“Tough neighborhood,” Landsman suggests.
“Oh, they were animals,” Buchbinder says with the same cheeriness. “I can’t tell you how many times they broke my heart.” He stuffs a last forkful of corned beef into his mouth and subjects it to proper handling by his teeth. “But I doubt they’ll trouble me in my new location.”
“And where is that?”
Buchbinder smiles, dabs at his beard, then pushes back from the table. He raises an eyebrow, keeping the big surprise to himself a moment longer. “Where else?” he says at last. “Jerusalem.”
“Wow,” Landsman says, keeping the straightest face he’s got. He has never seen the regulations for admission of Jews to Jerusalem, but he’s fairly certain that not being an obsessed religious lunatic is at the top of the list. “Jerusalem, eh? That’s a long way.”
“Yes, it is.”
“Lock, stock, and barrel?”
“The whole operation.”
“Know anyone there?”
There are still Jews living in Jerusalem, as there always have been. A few. They were there long before the Zionists started showing up, their trunks packed with Hebrew dictionaries, agricultural manuals, and plenty of trouble for everyone.
“Not really,” Buchbinder says. “Apart fromwell.” He pauses and lowers his voice. “Messiah.”
“Well, that’s a good start,” Landsman says. “I hear he’s in with the best people there.”
Buchbinder nods, untouchable in the sugar-cube sanctuary of his dream. “Lock, stock, and barrel,” he says. He returns his book to his jacket pocket and stuffs himself and the sweater into an old blue anorak. “Good night, Landsman.”
“Good night, Dr. Buchbinder. Put in a good word for me with Messiah.”
“Oh,” he says, “there’s no need of that.”
“No need or no point?”
Abruptly, the merry eyes turn as steely as the disc of a dentist’s mirror. They assay Landsman’s condition with the insight of 25 years spent searching tirelessly for points of weakness and rot. Just for a moment Landsman doubts the man’s insanity.
“That’s up to you,” Buchbinder says. “Isn’t it?”