Angelique: Book Seven
D. J. Belt
Copyright: Original story and characters, copyright D.J. Belt, March, 2014.
Disclaimers: Violence and mayhem, sex (not graphic-sorry!), neat locations, humor, mean bad guys, love and lust, etc. It’s all here! Oh, yeah. ALT. Novella length, and it is complete.
Comments: email@example.com. Write, if you wish. Glad to hear from you!
Here it is, the next installment in the Angelique saga. French-Israeli (and former Mossad assassin) Angelique and her American spouse, Laurie, travel to Israel, where Angel joins forces with an old friend in a deadly confrontation against an old nemesis.
“Der ergster sholem iz beser vi di beste milkhome.”
“The worst peace is better than the best war.”
–Old Yiddish proverb.
Shavit Marina, Haifa, Israel.
“This place rocks! I damn sure ain’t in Kansas anymore.”
Allison Caldwell, or Allie, as she preferred to be called, descended the ancient stone steps – steps that a Crusader might have trod almost a thousand years before – and dropped to a wooden pier. Soft thumps echoed beneath her sandals as she strode the length of the dock, and her canvas shopping bag bounced against her side. She was looking forward to a romantic meal with Maurie on the boat and an even more romantic interlude afterward, if all went according to plan.
Beneath the warm Mediterranean sun, sailboats of all sizes, ages, and types rested along the pier. Many were rigged for sea; bright colors, blue sail covers, rope neatly coiled and stowed, and the tell-tale signs of live-aboard couples and families decorated their decks and rigging. Some flew the white and blue flag of Israel; Allie slowed and admired one for a moment, then resumed her trek down the dock toward the sailing vessel Rachael, moored near the end of the pier.
She smiled at the name. Rachael. Although Maurie was only in his mid-forties – and looked younger – he was already a grandfather. His daughter had given birth two years ago and named the girl Rachael. The boat was named for her. She laughed when she recalled how completely the charming, black-haired and black-eyed little girl had won his affection in a moment’s time. Men, Allie thought. They’re pushovers for grandkids. She laughed as she added, and younger women like me. I guess that’s a good thing, right?
At the Rachael’s side, she pulled off her sandals and held them in her hand as she stepped over the safety railing and walked across the deck. “Maurie?” she called. “I’m back.”
She did not hear an answer, so she stepped through the companionway hatch. There, she froze, and she stared in disbelief as she beheld the disorder in the cabin. It was not like this when she left.
“Maurie?” she said, although her voice seemed, to her, weak and thready. “Maurie?”
She had one leg through the hatch; her bare foot rested on the top rung of the ladder. She lifted it from the wood, and something sticky made it adhere to the step. She looked down, and she almost passed out. There was blood on the sole of her foot. She felt dizzy. A moment later, she was sitting on a seat in front of the hatch, attempting to catch her breath as she fought down the grip of terror tightening around her chest. Her hands shook as she dug into the pocket of her shorts for her cell phone; slowly, she dialed Maurie’s number. A moment later, she heard it ring. Again and again, it rang; then, it stopped. She hung up, took a deep breath to calm herself, and dialed the number for the emergency services. She was suddenly thankful that Maurie had made her memorize it on the first day they’d landed in Israel. A moment later, a voice answered, speaking Hebrew. She did not understand more than a few words. “Do you speak English?” she asked.
“Yes. What is your emergency?” the voice replied.
“Something awful has happened. There’s blood everywhere, and my boyfriend is missing.”
“Where are you?” the voice asked. “I’ll send police.”
“Oh. Ah, the sailing vessel Rachael, slip twenty-four, at the Shavit Marina.”
“I’m sending police now. Do you see anyone injured there?”
“No. There’s nobody here but me. The place is a wreck, and I see blood on the entrance ladder.”
“Are you hurt?”
“No. No, not me. Oh, God. I’m so worried. Something’s wrong, I just know it.”
“What is your name?”
“My – ? Oh. Ah, Allison Caldwell.”
“Yes. Police are responding, Ms. Caldwell. Stay where you are, if you are safe. Do you understand? They will be there in a few minutes.”
“Yes.” She managed a weak ‘thank you’, then hung up. It had been a mistake for them to come to Israel; she realized that now. Maurie wanted to see his granddaughter, though, and he said it was the best place for them to buy their boat before voyaging to the Greek islands. He never hinted to her that this could happen. For some time, she sat aimlessly on deck, afraid to enter the cabin. She did not know what she would find in there.
She shook herself from her disbelief when she heard footsteps on the dock. A male voice said, “Ms. Caldwell?”
“Yes.” She turned. Two Israeli police officers were standing on the dock.
“Did you call for help?” one asked.
“Yes. Come.” She waved them aboard, and they stepped over the safety lines. They were both young, tall, and all business. Allie pointed to the companionway hatch. “There. My boyfriend’s missing. It’s a wreck in there. There’s blood on the ladder. I don’t know what happened. I was shopping. I just got back.”
One officer sat with her as the other one drew his pistol, then eased himself down into the cabin.
“How long were you gone?” he asked.
“Not long. Thirty minutes, an hour maybe.”
“Your boyfriend’s missing, you say?”
“Yes. This isn’t like him. He was here when I left him. Now the place is trashed, and there’s blood on the ladder.”
“What’s his name?”
“Maurie.” She looked up at the policeman. “Maurie Ben Shalev.”
“Of course. Now, give me a description of him, won’t you?”
The other police officer emerged from the cabin and holstered his pistol. “Nothing,” he said, and listened as Allie described Maurie. Then, he asked, “Do you know who might have done this?”
“No. We’ve only been in country a few days.” Allie felt strangely numb, as if she were in a dream. She heard the voice question her again.
“What does your boyfriend do for a living?”
“He just retired.” She looked up at the officer. “He was Mossad section chief in Paris.”
“Mossad?” The two officers exchanged glances, and one repeated, “Maurie Ben Shalev, you say?”
“I’ll make the call.”
One officer left the boat. The other officer knelt next to Allie. “I know this is frightening for you. Do you have anyone to stay with you?”
“No. No, the only person I know here is Maurie.” She sighed deeply, then leaned back. “I met his daughter, but – ” She shrugged. “Only once. She lives at Caesarea, down the coast a little bit.”
“Well, my partner is calling Mossad. They’ll send someone to you.” She shot a questioning glance up at him, and he said, “They take care of their own. Until someone gets here, I’ll stay with you.”
“Do you think I’m in danger?”
He shrugged. “Perhaps,” he said. “Until we discover what is going on, we should be careful.”
Tel Aviv, Israel. Mossad Headquarters.
“Sir, have you got a minute?”
The Old Man looked up from his desk. “Simon,” he said. “Come in. You look upset.”
“I just got a call from the Haifa police. It’s about one of our own.” At the Old Man’s raised eyebrows, he continued. “Maurie Ben Shalev.”
The Old Man’s expression fell. “What about him?”
“He’s missing. The police suspect foul play.”
The Old Man groaned as if in pain. He ran his fingers through his head of thick white hair and leaned back in his chair. “He and his girlfriend were my guests at dinner just last night.” He looked up at Simon. “What happened?” Simon recited the known facts of the case. It just took a few seconds. The Old Man asked, “What about the girl? Allie, her name is.”
“She’s all right. We need to take her underwing until this is sorted out, though.”
“I agree. Do you have anyone free in the Haifa area? You’d probably better make it a female; they’re going to be spending a lot of time together.”
“We have Shoshana Klein. She’s here, but we can have her there shortly by helicopter.”
“Miss Klein?” He studied Simon. “Are you sure that’s wise? She’s been rather, ah – unpredictable lately.”
“She’s just been cleared to return to duty. Besides, it’s babysitting. How hard can that be for her?”
“Yes, all right. Tell her to pack a bag, and get her there as quickly as you can.”
Simon nodded and left the Old Man’s office. He stared at his telephone, then reached for his directory of telephone numbers. “I suppose I’d better make a call.”
Paris, France. Café Angel, 13 Rue d’Espoir.
In the darkened, empty bar, Angelique sounded soft chords on the baby grand piano and hummed the melody to a song. It had a mournful, languorous quality about it, and Parisians, she felt, loved such quality in their music and art. Perhaps it was because such music, over a glass or two of wine, induced in them a sentimental, dreamy mood – a perfect mood in which to contemplate the pain and joy of life.
She closed her eyes and felt, rather than watched, her hands coax the music from the keys. By this time, it was instinctual; she didn’t have to think much about it. She smiled; yes, that was it. It was coming together. In a couple of days, she’d have the song perfected and add it to her act, play it to the dim lighting and the low buzz of conversation and the clink of glasses and the scattered applause with which her customers greeted her every evening. Café Angel, in the Latin Quarter of Paris, was her bar, and above it was her home, a quaint, spacious apartment in a curious neighborhood buried deep in the center of a legendary city. Paris, the City of Light, people called it. And Café Angel was her solace, her home, her refuge, and her life. But not her light. That title was Laurie’s, and that light kept her sane, optimistic, grounded. Law-rhe, she whispered. She loved even the sound of the name as it rolled off her tongue.
A pair of arms snaked around her chest and squeezed. A cheek brushed the hair from her neck, and lips kissed the skin near her hairline. She shivered, even as she smiled at that. A kiss there always did unhinge her. She stopped playing. “Laurie,” she said.
“Hey, hot stuff,” the voice near her ear replied. “Good morning.” Angelique smiled at the accent; it was not often that American English was spoken here.
“You slept late,” Angelique noted.
“Yeah. No French class today. It was cancelled. Teacher’s sick.”
“Ah. I am sorry for that.” Angelique turned on the bench and faced Laurie. “But no matter. Your French is becoming rather good. One holiday will not hurt.”
Laurie smiled at that. She plopped her slender frame onto Angelique’s lap. “That’s a good thing, huh? I mean, considering that I didn’t speak hardly any French when I first came here.”
“Has it been already a year and a half?” Angelique asked. “I cannot believe it.”
Angelique laughed. “No. It seems only yesterday that we first met.”
Laurie touched Angelique’s nose with the tip of a finger. “Good answer, lover.” Her expression changed from intimate to bright. “Hey, you hungry? I’m gonna walk down the street to the bakery. Never mind, I know what you like. Coffee’s brewing.” She shot a look of mock seriousness at Angelique. “You. Me. Upstairs. Fifteen minutes. Breakfast. Don’t be late.” Laurie kissed her, then bounced from her lap and headed toward the bar’s front door. “Later, gator.”
“As you say,” Angelique said. She watched Laurie unlock the door, and she said, “Oh, Laurie?”
“And after breakfast, what shall we do?”
Laurie grinned. “Use your imagination.” With that, she opened the door, stepped out into the street, and locked it behind her.
“Such a bad girl,” Angelique muttered as she returned to her music. In a moment, her cell phone buzzed with a text message. She lifted it from the top of the piano and tapped the screen. It was from Laurie. It read: Yes, I am bad and U love it! She laughed as she placed her phone down. Laurie knows me too well, she decided.
An hour later, Angelique rolled over in bed and kissed the bare skin just beneath Laurie’s rib cage. “I must work.”
“Oh. Okay, I got it. The old love-‘em-and-leave-‘em trick, huh?”
“I must practice more.”
Laurie held out her arms. “Then come here, and we’ll practice more. We’re already dressed for it.” She eyed Angelique’s nudity. “Or not.”
“No, silly. That song,” she said, “is in here until I master it.” She tapped the side of her head as she sat up and looked for her clothes. “Thank you for the breakfast,” she added.
“Hey, thanks for the romp in the hay,” Laurie replied as she watched Angelique dress. “So, I take it you enjoyed breakfast?”
“Yes, they were sweet buns.” Angelique paused at the bedroom door. “And good pastries, also.” Before Laurie could come up with a retort, she laughed and slid through the door.
Laurie sat up in bed. “Man,” she said. “She knows me too well. She’s even stealing my jokes now.” She stretched as she looked around the room. “Oh, yeah. Now where the heck did I throw my clothes?”
Back at her piano, Angelique heard her cell phone ring. The muted sound of the ring-tone brought her out of the moment; she opened her eyes and looked over the pages of music spread across the top of the piano. She grumbled, lifted the phone from its place atop the sheet music, and glanced at the screen. Her heartbeat quickened when she beheld the prefix. It was a call from Israel. She answered it.
“Angel?” a voice asked in Hebrew. “Is that you?”
Angelique smiled at the sound of the voice. She recognized it; a man for whom she entertained profound respect, a man for whom she’d once worked. “Yes, sir. Shalom. I am pleased to hear from you,” she replied.
“You won’t be, I’m afraid, when you hear my news,” he said. “It’s about our dear friend Maurie. It seems that he’s gone missing in Haifa.”
A thrill of horror caused Angelique’s gut to knot. “What happened?” She listened, then asked, “And Allie? What of her?”
“She’s safe. She’s in the hands of the Haifa police. We’re sending an agent to protect her. She’ll be under guard constantly until we sort this out.”
“What can I do?” she asked.
“Nothing yet. We’ll keep you informed. You’ll break the news to Allie’s sister?”
Angelique could imagine Laurie’s response. “I will,” she said.
“Shalom,” the Old Man said. The connection broke.
Angelique pressed the ‘off’ button and stared at the phone. Then, she rose and climbed the stairs to the apartment above the bar, where she knew that Laurie had resumed laboring, her nose in a book, to improve her grasp of the complexities of the French language. The conversation would be painful. She hesitated at the top of the stairs, then opened the door and entered the apartment. “Laurie?” she called.
“Hey. I’m here.” Laurie looked up from the kitchen table, and her expression fell when she saw Angelique’s face. “Oh, oh. What’s wrong?”
“We must talk, Laurie. Something bad has happened.”
Haifa, Israel. Shavit Marina.
Shoshana Klein stepped from the automobile, opened the back door, and lifted a shoulder bag from the seat. The driver leaned toward her. “Try to behave yourself, won’t you?” he asked.
She wiggled her middle finger toward him and replied, “Kiss my ass and hand me my water, please.”
He laughed as he tossed her half-full water bottle to her. “Hydrate, Shoshana. That’s the best cure for a hangover.”
“What makes you think that I have a hangover?”
He shot her a teasing grin. “You look like hell. Besides, you always have a hangover. Now go to work. I’m late for a wedding. Shalom, bitch.”
“Mazel-fucking-Tov, Rudy.” She slammed the door, and the car pulled away. She drank deeply from her water bottle, shouldered her bag, and headed toward the network of docks harboring the mass of sailboats sheltered in the marina. The sailing vessel Rachael wasn’t hard to spot; it was the one with the Haifa police officer standing beside it. She halted near him, dug into her pocket, and offered out her credentials. “Mossad,” she said. “Shoshana Klein.”
He inspected the credentials, then nodded and gestured toward the boat. “She’s in there. You took your time getting here.”
“I was in Tel Aviv. I just arrived. So, what’s up here?” She listened to the officer’s statement, then climbed over the safety rail and dropped to the deck. “Allison Caldwell?” she called, as she looked into the hatch. “Are you in there?”
A woman appearing to be in her late twenties, with blonde hair and a healthy, outdoorsy look, emerged from the forward stateroom and stood by the hatch. “I’m Allie,” she said.
“Shoshana Klein. Mossad. I’m here to protect you.” At Allie’s wave, she descended into the cabin and threw her bag onto a seat. “Here’s my identification,” she said, as she opened the wallet and held it out.
“Okay,” Allie said. “I guess that’s cool.” She shrugged. “It’s mostly in Hebrew. I don’t read Hebrew. Sorry.”
“Trust me. I’m Mossad,” Shoshana said. “So, what’s up here?”
“I’m just cleaning up. The place was a wreck when I found it.”
“Are you living aboard?”
“Does that hatch secure from the inside?”
“Yes. There’s a lock.”
“Decent.” Shoshana studied the inside of the cabin. “Nice boat. Where are you sleeping?”
“Then I’ll sleep in here.” She pointed. “For anyone to get to you, they’ll have to come through me first.”
Allie blinked in shock. “Do you think I’m in danger?”
Shoshana shrugged. “Who knows? Until we figure out what’s happening, we have to assume that you are.” She pulled off her jean jacket and threw it on the seat. Allie could see that she wore a shoulder holster rig with a pistol beneath one arm and a pocket containing two additional magazines beneath the other.
“Well,” Allie said. “At least you’re armed.”
“That’s not all, honey.” She yanked back the zipper on her weekender bag, and from it, lifted a short-barreled pump shotgun and a box of shells. She opened the box and loaded several shells into the shotgun, then placed the wicked-looking weapon on the bench seat. “Tight spaces,” she said. “Shotgun works good in tight spaces.”
The police officer stuck his head into the companionway hatch, noted the weapons, and raised an eyebrow. “Do you have this under control?” he asked. “I need to go.”
She gave him a nod followed by a comment in Hebrew which Allie did not understand.
He waved good-bye and withdrew as Shoshana faced Allie. For a long, silent moment, the two women stood in the cabin, eyeing each other. Finally, Shoshana managed a smile. “So,” she said. “A maidel mit a vayndel, huh?”
Allie blinked at her. “I beg your pardon?”
“It’s a compliment. Yiddish. It means, ‘a cutie-pie with a pony tail’. My grandpa used to speak Yiddish to us kids.” She shrugged. “A lot of the time, we didn’t know what the hell he was saying either, so don’t feel bad.”
Allie snickered at the attempted humor. “In that case, thanks, I guess.”
Shoshana held up her almost empty water bottle. “You got any more water?” she asked. “I’ve got to hydrate.”
“Bladder infection?” Allie asked.
“STD, I think.” She watched Allie’s eyes widen, and she waved a hand. “Just kidding. I’ve got the worst fucking hangover I’ve had since my sister’s bat mitzvah.”
“You got drunk at your sister’s bat mitzvah?” Allie asked.
Shoshana replied with a wry grin. “I was raised in a very dysfunctional family.” She looked around. “Where’s the bathroom? I’m nauseated. I always puke on boats, anyway. I figure I might as well do it now and get it over with.”
“Angel, what do we do? We can’t just sit here and do nothing.”
“I will pack a bag. Mossad might yet call me.”
Laurie grasped Angelique’s arm. “Do you mean go to Israel?”
“Angel, you can’t go to Israel. You have enemies there. You’re supposed to be dead. What if you’re recognized?”
“If they need me, I will adopt disguise. It will be fine.”
“Oh, yeah. That’s reassuring,” Laurie countered. “And what am I supposed to do?”
“Stay. Watch the bar. I will keep you informed.”
“Horse manure,” Laurie said. “I’m going with you. Hey, that’s my sister down there. Right now, she’s alone and she’s probably scared witless. She needs me.”
Angelique opened her mouth to protest, then closed it again. Laurie’s expression was one of determination, and she knew her well enough to know that she meant what she said. Instead, she agreed, “It is a good idea. Allie will need you. I will put it to Mossad, if they call. In the meantime, why do you not call Allie? She would take comfort in hearing your voice.”
“Good idea.” Laurie rose from the table to seek out her cell phone, and Angelique went to her desk and found her pack of cigarettes. She rarely smoked, but did so when she was upset or in deep thought about something. She was both of those things now. As Laurie held the phone to her ear, Angelique stepped onto the balcony and lit a smoke. The act calmed her, and she focused on the news she’d received. Israel, she thought. Maurie. What had happened to her dear old friend? As she mentally shuffled through the possibilities, none of them reassured her. And with each possibility, the ache in her chest grew in intensity.
Allie puttered about the boat’s interior, pretending to put things into their places, but in reality, attempting to keep from going crazy and breaking down in tears. To keep her mind off Maurie, she indulged her curiosity and studied her companion. Shoshana Klein, Mossad agent, she thought. Now here’s a study in contradictions. Like Maurie, like Angelique, like Esther, she was Mossad; but she did not possess the suave smoothness of Maurie, the reserved self-discipline of Angelique, or the kooky charm of Esther. She seemed rough; a hardness permeated her manner, in counterpoint to her feminine stature and pleasant features. Here, Allie decided, was a deep story waiting to be told.
Shoshana sat, at the moment, with her back against the wall of the main cabin, facing the open hatch. Beyond it, the sky was blue with puffy clouds. Birds called in the distance as the sound of water lapping against the hull provided a soothing background noise. She was not looking at the weather, though; her eyes were shut, and her legs were stretched out with the shotgun resting in her lap. Allie noted that she appeared to be in her late twenties or early thirties and seemed very fit and lean, like Angelique. Her dark hair was collar-length and shaggy, unlike many of the younger Israeli women she’d seen. She pondered her recollection of the young female Israeli soldiers visible on the streets, their luxurious, long hair a strange counterpoint to their military uniforms and the deadly weapons they carried slung across their backs or resting against their hips as they walked in groups.
Allie’s gaze came to rest upon Shoshana’s shoulder, where several long, vicious-looking, healed scars radiated from beneath her tank top and traveled down her upper arm. Above it, another scar ran along the side of her face, in front of her ear. Allie wondered about those, then put the thought aside. She plopped down on a seat, pulled her knees up beneath her chin, and sighed as she kept her vision focused on her companion. Her musings were interrupted by Shoshana’s voice.
“What’s the matter?” she asked.
Allie blinked in surprise, then looked up at Shoshana’s face. The eyes were open, and the dark orbs were focused on her. “Nothing,” she said. “I’m just really worried about Maurie.”
“Well, he’s not sitting in my lap,” Shoshana said.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to stare.” A moment of silence passed, and Allie broke it with, “May I offer you something to eat?”
“Oh, God, no,” was Shoshana’s reply.
“Still hung over, huh? How’s about some water, then?” Shoshana’s head shook, and her free hand held up a half-empty water bottle. “Hot tea? I’m having some. It’s no trouble.”
Shoshana managed a quick smile. “In that case, I’d like that. Thank you.”
“Yeah, sure.” Allie rose and lit the stove burner, then drew some water into her teakettle. As she waited for it to boil, she noted that Shoshana had closed her eyes again. She doubted that the woman was asleep, though; she seemed to know everything that was going on around her.
In a few minutes, they were seated at the table, mugs of tea in front of them. Allie studied Shoshana’s face and noted the grunt of appreciation when she sipped her tea. She decided that now would be a good time to talk.
“What’s going to happen, Shoshana?” Allie asked.
“I’ve no idea,” she replied. “Right now, my purpose in life is to make sure you stay okay. I’ll be with you until this situation with your boyfriend is resolved.”
Allie thought about that as she sipped her tea. Then, she asked, “What does ‘resolved’ mean?”
“That means,” Shoshana said, “until we rescue him or find his body.” She glanced up at Allie. “I’m sorry. I have a way of being totally thoughtless when I speak.”
“That’s okay. At least I know that you’ll tell me what you think, and not beat around the bush.”
Shoshana crinkled her eyebrows in puzzlement. “Beat around the bush? Ah. I think I understand.” She showed a whisper of a smile. “From where does that expression come? The burning bush?”
“Hell, I don’t know. In Kansas, we’ve got expressions for everything.” They fell silent for a moment, and then Allie glanced at Shoshana. “Speaking of the burning bush, how’s your STD?”
Shoshana rumbled with laughter, then looked up at Allie. Their eyes met and the gaze held. “Allison,” she said, “I think that you and I will get along well.”
“Call me Allie.”
Two Israeli police officers entered a shop on Beit Hanum Street. The proprietor threw his hands into the air and spoke in Hebrew. “Oh, thank God. Come. I found him out back, in the alley.” As they followed the plump little man through the shop, he huffed to the officers, “I think he’s dead, but then, what do I know?”
They emerged into a back alley, and the shop proprietor pointed. The officers approached a pair of legs protruding from behind trash cans, and they studied the scene. One officer knelt and held two fingers to the man’s throat. “Yes,” he said. “Dead.” He noted the clothing; the body was wearing shorts, sandals, and a polo shirt stained in blood. He pulled a pair of gloves from his back pocket and thrust his hands into them, then proceeded to search the man’s pockets. From one, he pulled an Israeli passport. He flipped it open, studied it, then handed it to his companion.
The second officer sighed as he read the information contained in the passport. Then, he keyed his radio and said, “This is unit twelve. We’re reporting a dead body in the alley behind One Twenty-Seven Beit Hanum Street. Middle-aged male. Looks like blunt trauma to the back of the head; obviously, a murder. His passport identifies him as Maurie Ben Shalev.”
Allie had changed into long pants with a drawstring tie and donned her hiking sandals, and she busied herself packing a shoulder bag with enough to last her a few days. Shoshana had insisted; she felt that they should be ready to leave in a moment, should the need arise. She glanced around the forward stateroom as she made a mental inventory. All was in order and neat. Her gaze lingered on the bed which she had shared with Maurie for the last few days, and she fought down an ache in her chest and the urge to weep. “I’m ready,” she called. She did not get an answer. Shoshana was not in the main cabin.
She peered through the hatch. Shoshana was near the back of the open cockpit, speaking on her cell phone. She watched as her bodyguard hung up, shoved the phone into her pocket, and entered the hatch. Her expression was severe. Allie couldn’t determine whether it was from her hangover or the conversation she’d just had. “What’s up?” she asked.
“I just got news. It’s not good.”
Allie’s hand covered her mouth. “Oh, God,” she said. “Tell me.”
“The police, they found a body. Looks like murder. They think it might be your Maurie.” Shoshana watched Allie’s eyes close, and she grasped her by the arm. “They’re not sure. It might not be. They want to hear it from you. We’ll go to the morgue. A driver will be here in about fifteen minutes.”
“Yes. Yes, okay,” Allie managed to say. She sat heavily on the bench seat and clapped her hands over her face. After a moment’s hesitation, Shoshana placed her hands on Allie’s shoulders and pulled her close. She felt arms snake around her waist as Allie held to her and buried her face in her shirt.
“Keep strong,” Shoshana said. “It is the fear, the not knowing, that hurts. It may not be him.”
“What if it is?” Allie whispered. “What if Maurie’s dead? What will I do?”
Shoshana stared through the open hatch at the blue sky. “Do? You will grieve and you will keep living, one hour at a time, until you find your joy again.”
Allie looked up at Shoshana. “And you know this – how?”
“I am no stranger to loss.” She rested a hand on Allie’s head. “Come, now. Get yourself together. The car will be here shortly.” She lifted a baseball cap from a hook on the cabin wall and handed it to Allie. “This is yours? Good. Wear it. Sunglasses, also, if you have them. And bring your light jacket.”
Allie nodded her understanding, and she stood. She washed her face in the sink as Shoshana exited to the deck. A moment later, Allie threw a canvas purse and her jacket down on the deck, handed out the hatch-cover, and then climbed out of the cabin. She slid the hatch-cover into place, clicked a massive padlock closed, donned her cap and aviator sunglasses, and slung the strap of the purse across her body. “I’m ready,” she said. As Shoshana turned to leave, Allie placed a hand on her arm. “Thanks,” she said. “For being here, I mean.”
Shoshana managed a pained smile. “Of course,” she said. “I will not leave you until this is over.”
They stepped over the rail, walked the length of the dock, and stood at the stone steps, waiting for their ride. For a while, neither spoke. Finally, Allie attempted conversation. “This is the first time I’ve been to Israel,” she said. “It’s a beautiful country.”
“I used to think so, too,” Shoshana said. After a second’s thought, she added, “Sometimes I still think that.”
“And sometimes, you don’t?”
Shoshana replied with an enigmatic glance. “Our car is here.” She pointed. “You first.”
Allie remained silent as the car wound through the Haifa streets. She spent the time watching the people, pondering the Hebrew script on the street signs, marveling how alike – and different – Israel seemed from anywhere else she’d been. As the car pulled into the parking lot of a hospital, she felt a sense of dread build inside her, a dread that only deepened as the car halted behind the building. Morgues, she thought. I’ve never been in one before. I wonder if it’s like it is in the TV shows?
In a few minutes, they had exited the car and were walking through a hospital corridor. They entered a door, and the Mossad driver greeted the police officer in Hebrew. He motioned toward Allie, then switched to English for her benefit and announced her purpose. Allie glanced around, took a sniff, and decided that it wasn’t like the TV shows. It smelled odd and seemed to be in a run-down condition.
A morgue attendant pulled open a massive door and disappeared inside a room. A moment later, accompanied by a puff of chill air, he emerged, pushing a gurney. On it, a human form rested beneath a sheet. The officer spoke to Allie.
“We began the inspection already, you understand. I hate to ask this of you, but if you could identify the body, we would be appreciative.”
“Of course,” Allie said. She swallowed hard, and she began, involuntarily, to shake. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m just cold or something.”
Shoshana stood beside her and placed an arm around her waist to steady her. “Can you do this?” she asked.
“Yes. I’m ready.” The hell I am, she thought. If it’s Maurie, I’m going to die.
Shoshana pulled her close to the gurney as the police officer snapped on a pair of rubber gloves. Then, he grasped the edge of the sheet and pulled it down to the corpse’s waist. Allie stared hard at the face, then felt her legs turn to rubber and buckle. Shoshana caught her and held her upright.
“It’s not him,” Allie said. “That’s not Maurie.”
“I didn’t think so,” the police officer said. “But I had to know for sure.” He handed her an Israeli passport. “He had this in his pocket. It identifies him as Maurie Ben Shalev. Is this your boyfriend’s passport?”
Allie took the passport from his hand and opened it. She looked at the picture; it wasn’t Maurie. It was the dead man in front of her. The name, the date of birth, all was Maurie’s, though. She flipped through several pages of the passport, then handed it back to the police officer. “No. That’s not his passport.”
“Yes. The picture’s not his. There are no entry stamps in the passport for his recent travels. He came to Israel last fall. It’s not in there. We went to Greece last summer, late. That’s not in there, either. Italy, too. That’s not there.” She pulled her own passport from her back pocket and showed it to the officer. “See? We went to Greece and Italy together. Look at the stamps.”
“I see. Thank you.” He handed Allie’s passport back to her. “A false passport. I suspected that, as well.”
“You didn’t think this was Maurie?” Allie asked. “Why not? Did you know Maurie?”
“No.” The officer hesitated, then confessed, “Not to be indelicate, Miss Caldwell, but, ah – ” He pulled back the sheet. “Your boyfriend is Jewish, yes? This man is not circumcised.”
“Oh. I guess not.” She looked at Shoshana. “Well, that’s a relief. I mean, that it’s not Maurie, not that he’s not, ah – ”
“We understand.” Shoshana looked at the officer. “Is that all you need?”
“One more thing. The clothing, over there. Is that your boyfriend’s clothing?”
Allie was led to the table. She looked at the bloody clothing. “No. No, that’s not his.”
“Thank you, Miss Caldwell. We’ll find you if we need more, or if we hear something.”
Allie felt her world turn black. She had no idea where she was, but it seemed restful. She wanted to stay there, but a persistent tapping at her cheek would not let her. Slowly, she felt her ability to think return to her. A voice spoke, but it was distant. Finally, she gathered enough of her thoughts to open her eyes. Shoshana’s face was just above hers, and Shoshana’s hand was responsible for the gentle, steady tapping upon her cheek. “What – ?”
“You passed out.” Shoshana quit patting her cheek, and she brushed the hair away from Allie’s forehead. “Are you all right?”
“I guess. Where the hell am I?”
“You’re in the morgue.”
“Holy shit. Am I dead?”
Shoshana laughed as she grasped Allie’s hand and pulled her to a sitting position. “I think not. We’re done here, and you need something to eat. Your blood sugar is probably crap.”
Allie stood, then glanced at the body five feet from her. It wasn’t Maurie. That means he’s still alive. An intense feeling of relief flooded through her. Her worst fears had been unfounded. “Hell, yeah. Suddenly, I’m hungry.”
“Let’s do something about it, then,” Shoshana said. “Come with me. Lunch is my treat.”
“Sir, we’ve got a lead on Maurie, I think.”
The Old Man turned from the window where he had been studying the Tel Aviv skyline and the blue of the Mediterranean Ocean. “Good, good. Tell me.”
“One of our agents, Siyyid Habim, reported two known members of the Eternal Martyrs Brigade shot to death in an Arab neighborhood on the outskirts of Haifa. They were found in a car on the side of the road. He’s familiar with those maniacs. He said that they were talking about getting their comrade released from the Damun Prison at Beit Oren, near Haifa. They were going to use a hostage – a Jew of some importance – and work a trade.”
“How is that tied to Maurie?”
“A body was just fished from the water in the harbor at Haifa, on the edge of Shavit Marina. An Arab. He’s been identified as a member of the Brigade, too.”
“The Eternal Martyrs Brigade,” the Old Man said. “A bunch of fringe maniacs in a country filled with fringe maniacs. It’s not bad enough that people like that shoot missiles at us every day from Gaza and Lebanon; they have to come into Israel and cause trouble. So, they identified Maurie somehow and tried to kidnap him. Obviously, he got one at the marina, then killed the other two later in the car and got away.”
“That’s my thought, sir.”
“How is Miss Caldwell doing? Is she safe?”
“Shoshana’s seeing to it, sir.” He hesitated, then added, “I hope.”
The Old Man smiled. “Shoshana will do fine. This will give her a sense of immediate purpose. She won’t fail us. She’ll protect that girl with her life.”
“If she can stay out of trouble.”
The Old Man laughed. “Always the pessimist, Simon?”
“A realist, sir.”
“Have a little faith, will you?”
“Now you sound like my mother.”
“All will be well. Now, let’s see if we can find Maurie, shall we?”
Angelique sat on the balcony of her second-floor apartment above Café Angel, in the dim glow of a nearby street-lamp. She pulled her sweater closed against the remnant of late spring chill in the air, and she crushed out the stub of a cigarette. She worried about Maurie, and she hated the fact that, at the moment, she was helpless to do anything about it. After all, she was over three thousand kilometers from Israel. Besides, she was retired now. She had made that vow to herself, but more importantly, she had made that vow to Laurie.
She looked at her left hand. On her ring finger, she wore a simple, inexpensive gold band. Married. She had never believed that it would happen to her. She still didn’t, sometimes. The preceding year, the government of France had legalized same-sex marriage. That Christmas season, just before the end of the year, she and Laurie had married in a simple civic ceremony at the City Hall. It had taken fifteen minutes. Afterward, they had bought the rings at a jewelry shop in the Latin Quarter, just up the street from where they lived, and then hosted their friends over for drinks and celebration at Café Angel.
She studied the ring, rotated it back and forth on her finger. Married. And Laurie wore an identical gold band. A simple gold symbol of commitment and love, two things upon which Angelique had given up. What an improbable pair, she thought; her and Laurie. Different nationalities, different religions, different backgrounds, and yet, they seemed to work together. Laurie, born and raised in the heartland of America. Angelique, born and raised in France and hardened in the conflict raging in her adopted Israel. A fish and a bird, she thought. She remembered, as a child, her grandmother’s admonition that two such different animals may love each other, but where would they make a home together? Here, Angelique thought. In Paris, in the Latin Quarter, above the bar she owned; that’s where. In her life, before Laurie, she had loved desperately, but never successfully. What made this one different? In an instant, she knew the answer.
It was Laurie who made this work. For that, she owed Laurie a debt that she could never repay, though she tried on a daily basis. Yes, they raise them well in the American mid-west; a woman of heart, of courage, of adaptability and intelligence. They also raise them stubborn, she decided; perhaps that’s why Laurie’s still here. She’s just too stubborn to admit that she misses her native Kansas and her family. Well, whatever it is, Angelique was glad that Laurie was by her side in the night and every new morning when she awoke. And when she had shyly suggested marriage to Laurie, the girl had accepted instantly, enthusiastically, without hesitation or qualification. ‘I’ll marry you in a heartbeat,’ she had said, ‘and I’ll love you forever.’ Maybe it was that optimism that she so cherished in Laurie. We French, she thought, are accused of being fatally cynical about life; Laurie is so fresh and optimistic. Perhaps that is the magic ingredient.
The balcony door opened behind her, snapping her from her thoughts. She felt a hand on her shoulder. She smiled; she knew to whom the touch belonged. “Laurie,” she said. “What have you heard?”
“I just spoke to Allie.” Laurie sat in the chair next to her. “The body in the morgue wasn’t Maurie.”
“Thank God,” Angelique said.
“He’s still missing, but Mossad and the cops are looking for him. And Allie’s on the boat, being guarded by a Mossad agent.”
Laurie wedged herself between Angelique’s knees, sat on the low, wrought-iron table, and faced her. “What’s going to happen?” she asked, as she rested her hands on Angelique’s thighs.
“They will keep Allie safe until they find Maurie.”
Laurie leaned forward. “Do you think he’s – dead? Be honest with me.”
Angelique sighed. Yes, she thought. “I do not know, Laurie. Perhaps. I pray not. He is tough; he can handle himself. If anyone can survive a kidnapping, he can.” She forced a smile as she studied Laurie: the pixie-cut red hair, still damp from her shower; the slender figure, the oval face. “After all, you survived that, yes?”
“Yeah. Twice.” Laurie shrugged. “But I had you to rescue me.”
“Mossad is good.”
“But you’re the best.”
“If they ask,” Angelique said, “then I will go.”
“No,” Laurie countered. “If they ask, then we will go.”
Angelique held Laurie’s hands in her own. “As you say. Now, we should try some sleep.”
“I don’t think I can.”
“Then lie down with me, yes? You need rest; you do not know what tomorrow brings you.” She leaned forward and looked into Laurie’s face. “Lie down with me?”
Laurie softened. “Yeah. Sure. Let’s do that.” Together, they rose and left the balcony. A moment later, the living-room light clicked off, and only the yellow glow of the street-lamp remained to illumine the scene.
“So, where are we now?”
Shoshana glanced up from the gyro on her plate. “Haifa, still. In a Jewish neighborhood, but in the old part of town.”
Allie nodded. “It’s beautiful here. Really neat little neighborhood.”
“We’re near shopping, too.” Shoshana wolfed another bite of gyro, then mumbled, “And the driver is watching us. We’re safe.”
Allie looked up. Sure enough, the car was across the street. The driver sat inside. “You guys are going to a lot of trouble for me,” she said. “Thank you.”
“We take care of our own. And The Old Man seems to know you.”
Allie watched Shoshana eat, and she smiled. “See? A meal is a good cure for a hangover, too.”
“Oh? Is it a good cure for the STD?”
“I don’t know,” Allie said. “I’ve never had one of those.”
“Cautious?” Shoshana queried.
“Just lucky, I guess.” They shared a grin, then Allie’s expression fell. “How will we ever find Maurie? What if he comes back to the boat and I’m not there? He won’t know where to find me.”
“Allie, listen. Maurie is experienced. He will contact us, and we’ll hear about it.”
“But he’s not contacting us, is he? That means that he can’t. And do you know why he can’t? His cell phone is still on the boat. I called it, and I heard it ring.”
“Relax. It’s not the only phone in the world. I’m sure he’s fine. He’ll contact us when he can.”
“I hope you’re right.”
Abu Al-Makar squinted his eyes against the sun and studied the foothills creasing the land. To the north was the city of Acre; to the south, Haifa. In the distance ahead of him, beyond the rolling hills, was the blue of the Mediterranean Ocean. None of that concerned him now, though. He was wondering where the three men were that he had sent to kidnap Maurie Ben Shalev. They should have been back long ago. He lit a cigarette as he contemplated all that could have gone wrong, and the list was much too long for his comfort.
From the farmhouse behind him, footsteps approached. He glanced behind him as he rested a hand on the handle of the pistol beneath his belt, then relaxed. “Mohammad,” he said. “Any word?”
“None. And they do not answer their phones.”
“They should have been here by now,” Al-Makar said. “Call Yousef, at the marina. See what happened.”
The man turned and walked inside the farmhouse. A few minutes later, he returned. “I spoke with Yousef. He says that the police were there, at Ben Shalev’s boat. And the police found a body floating in the harbor.”
“Was it Ben Shalev?”
“No. It was one of ours.”
Al-Makar sighed. Incompetent idiots. “Did they at least get Ben Shalev?”
“He thinks so. They did not get his woman, though.”
“A minor failure. She’s of little importance.” He waved a hand in dismissal. “Just his girlfriend. I thought she might be useful to us, being an American citizen.”
“Ah. I get it. If the Israelis won’t release Rahim from prison in trade for the Mossad official, the Americans might pressure them to release him for the woman.”
Al-Makar smiled. “Mohammad, you’re learning.” He returned his gaze to the distant foothills and the wide expanse of buildings which constituted Haifa. “Now, we need to discover what happened.”
“I will get my motor-bike,” Mohammad said, “and be on my way.”
“Thank you,” Al-Makar said.
After Mohammad left, Al-Makar walked into the farmhouse. His wife was inside, finishing the cleaning of the meal dishes. She looked up when he entered the kitchen, and she froze. She knew what the look in his eyes portended.
“Go to the bedroom,” he said, “and wait for me.”
Without a word, she left the kitchen. He took one more look through the window, then followed her into the bedroom. He would be finished long before Mohammad returned with news.
Mohammad stopped his motor-bike on the edge of the road in an Arab neighborhood just outside Haifa and watched the Israeli police poking about an abandoned car. The police would not let him get near, but he could see what he had to see from a distance. They were pulling a body from the car; another one rested on the floor of a nearby van. They were bloody; whatever had happened inside that car, it must have been violent. Blood spattered the inside of the windshield. The plan had gone horribly wrong, and undoubtedly, Ben Shalev had escaped captivity. He edged into a small crowd of Arabs watching the scene, and he nudged one. “Did anyone see what happened?” he asked.
“No,” he said. “We heard gunshots, and we came out to find them like this.”
“How many gunshots?”
“Two.” The man thought. “Yes, two.”
Two gunshots, two dead bodies. Ben Shalev must be more dangerous than they had guessed, if he had managed to disarm one, then shoot them both. Mohammad slowly circled around the scene and studied the faces of the people in civilian clothing. He did not recognize any of them as belonging to Maurie Ben Shalev; but then, he had only studied a picture of him taken from some distance. He knew that his boss, Abu Al-Makar, was more familiar with the man, but his boss was not here. Perhaps he should be.
Mohammad returned to his motor-bike, kicked it into life, and rode away from the scene, back toward the orchards and farms outside the city.
Maurie Ben Shalev crouched in the bushes and watched the crime scene and the spectators gathered nearby. He was not watching the authorities, though; he was watching the locals. Eventually, he saw what he had wanted to see: a young man of agitated countenance approaching the scene, questioning some of the locals, then returning to his motor-bike and quickly leaving the scene. That had to be the messenger, arriving to find out what had happened to his comrades. He’s found out, and now he’s going to report to his boss. That’s the man Maurie wanted.
He had not had a chance to report in to Mossad; his cell phone was on the boat. For the moment, he was on his own. He left the bushes, circled around to the back of a house, and snatched a shirt off a clothesline. He quickly discarded his own bloodied shirt, donned the new one, and chose a motor-bike from the cluster on the corner. In thirty seconds, he’d hot-wired it, kicked the kick-starter, and ridden it in the direction of his quarry. He rode fast, and caught sight of the young Arab ahead of him. When he saw the man stop at a farmhouse, he halted his motor-bike, rested it in a ditch, and approached the house through an orchard.
He studied the house and its surroundings, judging its weaknesses and strengths. Here, he decided, was the person responsible for the attack on the boat. Undoubtedly, the man was an official of some extremist organization. He would take charge of the situation and use any telephone they had to call Mossad. Hopefully, the phrase ‘taking charge’ would not include killing all of them. There was information to be gathered from these people.
He approached the house from a corner, where visibility would be least. As he reached the outside wall and flattened against it, he paused and listened. He could hear sounds of life. He slid to a window and peered inside. In the front room of the house, a young man paced and smoked a cigarette. It was the young man he’d followed from the Arab neighborhood. He crouched low and made his way along the wall to the back of the house. The window was open, and he peeked into the room. Quickly, he lowered himself to a crouch and sat in amazement as a crash of conflicting thoughts assailed him.
He had recognized the man in the room; it was Abu Al-Makar, an official of the Eternal Martyrs Brigade. He was sure of it, although he’d not seen the man in a few years. If he could take him alive, it would be a coup for Mossad. Right now, the man was at his most vulnerable and least attentive to his surroundings; he was in an act of copulation. The woman, Maurie did not recognize, but it did not matter. The young man in the front room was a liability; he would have to be dispatched first.
Maurie made his way around the farmhouse to the front room, and again peered through the window. The young man was flipping the channels on a television set, and the volume was low, but audible. He rose, walked to the front door, and tapped on it. A moment later, the door opened, and he was face-to-face with the young man. He watched the expression of puzzlement turn to horror as he recognized Maurie, then reached for his waist-band. Maurie raised the pistol he’d taken from his captors and jammed it beneath the young man’s chin as he snatched the pistol from the waistband and stuffed inside his own belt. Then, he gripped the front of the man’s shirt and pulled him through the door. In Arabic, he growled a warning.
“Don’t cry out, or you’re dead. What is your name?”
“Mohammad,” the young man said.
“Right. Now listen to me, Mohammad. Who’s that man in the back room? Who?”
“Al-Makar,” Mohammad managed to stammer.
“I thought so. Give me your cell phone.”
“I don’t have one.”
Maurie jammed the pistol harder beneath his chin. “Lies. Give it to me, or I will kill you and take it.” Mohammad reached into his pocket, produced a cell phone, and Maurie snatched it from his hand. “Now get on your motor-bike and get out of here. Don’t come back, and don’t look back unless you want to die. Do you understand?”
“Go.” He grasped Mohammad by the front of the shirt and slung him toward the road. Mohammad staggered, then backed away from Maurie and ran to his motor-bike. As he kicked it alive and rode it onto the main road, Maurie peered inside the house. It was quiet, except for the telltale sounds of a squeaking bed from the back room. Perfect. This would work. Maurie walked through the house and paused outside the door. He eased the magazine from the pistol’s handle, assured himself that he had ammunition, then slid it back into the handle. Then, he stepped back a pace and kicked open the door.
Al-Makar was atop a young woman. He froze as he stared in Maurie’s direction. The woman screamed and attempted to get up, but was pinned by Al-Makar’s body. She began shrieking something in Arabic, and Maurie motioned with the pistol to shut her up. Al-Makar placed his hand over her mouth, said a few words, and then looked at Maurie.
“Who in hell are you?” he asked. “What do you want?”
“I want you,” Maurie replied. Al-Makar made to rise, and Maurie shook his head. “No. Stay just where you are.” He pulled the cell phone from his pocket, dialed a number, and placed it to his head. A moment later, he began speaking. When Al-Makar heard him speak Hebrew, his eyes widened and his jaw dropped. He stared into the barrel of the pistol pointed at his head and listened to the conversation. Then, when Maurie placed the phone aside on the dresser, Al-Makar studied him with an expression which dripped hatred.
“I thought I recognized you. Mossad?”
“It’s been a while, Al-Makar.”
“Your Zionist friends are on their way here, I suppose?”
“They’ll be here shortly.”
“At least let my wife up. Let her dress. This is humiliating for her.”
“Stay as you are. She is protecting your life. She’s the only reason I haven’t blown off your head.”
Al-Makar managed a smile. “No. I know Mossad. You want me alive.”
“Well, there’s that, too. Don’t worry; we’ll deliver your wife to her family. It’s you we want.”
“Let us see,” Al-Makar said, “whose people get here first – yours, or mine.”
“Are you expecting Mohammad? That punk kid with the motor-bike? I sent him packing.” Maurie held aside his shirt-tail and exposed the handle of Mohammad’s pistol. “He ran like a rabbit. I killed the three you sent after me. Who else is left?”
“Who else, indeed?” Al-Makar smiled as his gaze shifted to the hallway behind Maurie.
“I don’t believe you,” Maurie said.
The bolt of an AK-47 clicked behind Maurie, and Al-Makar began laughing. A moment later, footsteps sounded in the hall, and something hard jabbed into Maurie’s back.
“Don’t be heroic,” Al-Makar said. “I only want to trade you. I won’t kill you unless you make trouble for me.”
Maurie raised his hands, and someone behind him snatched the pistol from his hand. “In that case,” he said, “I accept your offer of hospitality.” He pointed toward the cell phone on the dresser. “Just let me call my wife and tell her I won’t be home for dinner.”
Al-Makar rose from the bed as his wife snatched the bedsheets and pulled them across her body. He faced Maurie, picked up the phone from the dresser, and turned it off. “You left the telephone on. Very clever.” He pulled Mohammad’s pistol from beneath the waist-band of Maurie’s shorts. “Oh, and that American woman?” He smiled coldly. “She’s not your wife, and we have her. As long as you cooperate, she’ll stay well.” He considered Maurie. “If I were you, I’d be worrying about whether your government will trade you for my cousin Rahim.”
“If they do?”
“Then you and that woman are both free.”
“If they don’t?”
Al-Makar shrugged. “Then you both die. It’s that simple.” He turned toward his wife, who was behind a curtain, dressing. “Hurry, woman. We leave now. The Zionists will be here soon.” Then, he smashed his fist into Maurie’s cheek and watched him stagger against the wall. “That’s for seeing my wife naked,” he said.
S.V. ‘Rachael’, Shavit Marina, that evening.
Allie looked up from her book. On the other side of the cabin, facing the main hatch to the deck, Shoshana rested. Her head leaned against the bulkhead, her eyes were closed, and her breathing was regular. She was asleep.
Quietly, Allie rose. The sun had just set, and the marina security lamps had clicked on. They cast circles of light across portions of the docks. The various boats around them were sheathed in shadows, alternate glimmers of white amidst streaks of darkness. She could barely discern music in the distance. She stood on the ladder and rested against the edge of the hatch rail; it was a beautiful evening, and the warmth of the day was ebbing. A coolness tinged the air about her.
She decided that it was time to close up the boat for the night, and she leaned down to find the hatch-boards which would cover the entrance to the cabin. In the distance, she heard foot-steps on the dock, and she wondered if it might be her neighbors, two boats down. They were live-aboards, and were always coming and going.
The footsteps quickened into a run, and she squinted into the darkness. Two figures were running toward her, and she felt her gut knot in fear. She reached for the hatch-boards, and she had just managed to slide the lower half into place when the boat rocked from side to side with the impact of two sets of feet leaping the safety lines and landing in the cockpit.
A hand grabbed her shoulder and pulled her backward. As she fell against the table, she heard Shoshana rack her shotgun and fire through the hatch. In the cockpit, someone screamed. She shot a glance at Allie. “Is the foredeck hatch shut?”
“Oh, my God. I left it open.”
She struggled to rise, but Shoshana was quicker. In a moment, she was standing at the entrance to the forward stateroom, looking up at the hatch. It was open, and someone was attempting to remove the screen. Slowly, as quietly as possible, Shoshana cocked the shotgun, then whispered, “Kill that light.” Allie turned off the cabin light, casting them into darkness, as Shoshana tiptoed into the forward stateroom. She fired the shotgun up through the foredeck hatch, and a second later, a thud sounded on the foredeck. She turned to Allie. “Sorry about the screen. Lock that hatch.”
As Allie squeezed past her and pulled the foredeck hatch shut, Shoshana reloaded her shotgun from the box of shells on the table, then stopped and listened. Something or someone was making a scraping noise in the cockpit. She climbed the ladder, her shotgun leveled at the darkened cockpit. Then, she scrambled through the hatch. One more shot sounded, and Allie heard quick footsteps across the top of the boat’s cabin. She climbed the ladder and froze at the sight of a man sprawled on the deck. He did not move, and a dark liquid pooled around him. A second later, she heard a muffled bang from the boat’s foredeck. Shoshana rose, returned her pistol to the holster beneath her armpit, and carefully picked her way across the top of the cabin, hanging on to rigging with one hand and her shotgun with the other. She dropped down next to Allie and said, “Let’s get the hell out of here.” When Allie did not move, Shoshana shook her and repeated, “Now! Let’s get our bags and leave. They may not be alone.”
“Oh. Right! Yeah,” Allie said. She slid down into the cabin, and Shoshana followed her. A moment later, they’d grabbed their bags and jackets, slid the hatch-covers into place, locked a massive padlock, and climbed off the boat. As they tread the boards toward the ancient stone seawall, Allie whispered, “Don’t you think we should tell somebody about this?”
“I’m sure the neighbors are calling the police. Those shots were loud. I’ll call Mossad as soon as we put some distance between us and your boat. First, we hide. Then, we call.”
They walked briskly through the marina parking lot, then across a wooded field. In the distance, they could hear traffic noise. “There. That way,” Shoshana said. “Main road. There’s got to be a bus stop.” As they reached the street, Shoshana stuffed her shotgun into her bag, then slung the strap over her shoulder. “Come. I can see a bus stop there, on the far corner.”
They crossed the road and hustled to the bus stop. As they waited, and as Shoshana studied the schedule, she said, “Put your jacket on.”
“I’m not cold yet.”
“Put it on. Cover your arms and chest. Haifa has a large Arab population, and some Haredim – the ultra-orthodox Jews. You know, the black hats? If we have to travel through their neighborhoods, they might get offended if they think you’re immodestly dressed, and cause us trouble. And I don’t want to attract attention.”
“Wow.” Allie slipped on her hooded sweat-shirt and zipped the front. “I guess I have a lot to learn, huh?”
Shoshana nodded. “But I’ll teach you. Stick with me.”
“Trust me, I’m going wherever you’re going.”
“Good. The bus should come shortly.”
“Just out of curiosity, where are we going?”
“Safe house. I know the address.” She fished her cell phone from her pocket, dialed a number, and began speaking in Hebrew as Allie plopped down on the bench to wait.
Laurie huffed as she took mental inventory, then nodded in satisfaction. She had managed to pack sparsely, but everything Angelique had suggested was in her bag. On their bed, she’d thrown together her cell phone, some cash in Euros, her passport, and a light jacket. She was as ready as she could be.
She stepped into the hall and walked toward the living room, then halted and listened. Angelique was speaking in Hebrew, and she knew that she was on the telephone, receiving news. When she heard her hang up, she entered the living room.
“You heard from Mossad, didn’t you?”
Angelique looked up. “Yes. We leave soon. In early morning, a driver from the Israeli Embassy will be here to take us to the airport.”
“Wow.” Laurie considered the implications of that statement. “Then we’re going to Israel, huh?”
Laurie sat on Angelique’s lap and rested an arm around her neck. “It’s that bad, huh?”
“Is Maurie – ?” She couldn’t quite bring herself to say the word ‘dead’.
“No. He is taken. Mossad suspects that his captors will attempt to trade him.”
Angelique sighed. “For a very bad man. I fear that it will not happen.”
“And my sister? What about Allie?”
“She is safe.” But only for the moment, Angelique thought. “They tried to take her, also. Her bodyguard got her to a safe house in Haifa. She is well.”
Laurie touched her forehead against Angelique’s. “Thank God for that.” She felt Angelique’s arms tighten around her. It felt reassuring, comforting, a balm to Laurie’s fear of what might be. As long as Angelique was present, all would be well. “I’m packed,” she said. “Are you?”
Angelique kissed her, then motioned that she wanted to rise. “I will be in ten minutes.” As she walked toward the bedroom, she was halted by Laurie’s question.
“This is going to be dangerous, isn’t it?”
She turned and contemplated Laurie’s question. “Yes,” she said. “I would think so. But then, you are brave, no?”
Laurie managed a smile. “No.”
It was Angelique’s turn to smile. “I think yes. You must remember, I have seen you in difficulty before. Always, you win.”
“Whatever happens, we’ll see it through together.”
“Yes. Together.” Angelique nodded, then entered the bedroom to seek out her bag and begin packing.
Simon entered The Old Man’s office holding a tablet computer. “Sir,” he said, “it’s news about Maurie Ben Shalev.” At his boss’s nod, Simon placed the tablet on the desk and touched the screen. A video clip began playing. A man in a military field jacket, wearing a black-and-white checkered keffiyeh head-cloth which left his face exposed, began speaking in Arabic, then switched to English.
“The Eternal Martyrs Brigade is holding a Zionist enemy of the people. We will graciously not execute him if the Zionist authorities co-operate with us. Our demand is simple and is this: We will trade him – alive – for my cousin Rahim Al-Makar, now being illegally detained in Damun Prison. You have seventy-two hours to deliberate and decide if you accept. If you do not decide by that time, we will execute this Maurie Ben Shalev according to the will of God. We also have his woman, an American citizen, whom we are holding captive. Twelve hours after he dies, she will die, if Rahim is not delivered to us. So let it be done in the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate.”
The video ended. Simon patiently waited for The Old Man’s thoughts. Finally, they came.
“That damned Al-Makar. He’s a rabid dog, but he’s a lucky one. Or a clever one. And he’s lying about Allie. She’s safe. I got the word a little while ago.” He looked up at Simon. “Analysis? How did this go so wrong? Their internet and phone chatter betrayed their plans to kidnap Maurie. We should have had every eventuality covered. What about our decoy?”
“Somehow, they identified the proper Maurie Ben Shalev at the marina, deduced that our decoy Maurie was just that, and killed him.”
“So now, we have to rescue the real Maurie from Al-Makar. Do we know where he is?”
“No, sir. The farmhouse was empty when we arrived. We just missed them, I think.”
“Seventy-two hours isn’t much time in which to find him.”
“We’re analyzing all the communications chatter we have regarding the Martyrs Brigade and Al-Makar. With luck, something will come up.”
“We’ll need more than luck.” He rose from his desk and walked to the window. The skyline of Tel Aviv and the blue of the Mediterranean Ocean beyond it presented a spectacular sight. “We’ll need an avenging angel.”
“Where would we find one of those?”
“God will provide,” The Old Man said. “In the meantime, I’m expecting a charter flight in from Paris in the morning. Please conduct the passengers here, to me. And let me know if you hear anything more regarding Maurie.”
Haifa, that evening.
Allie followed Shoshana as she led her through a bus transfer and a ride through several different Haifa neighborhoods. They sat side by side in the seat, their bags on their laps, in quiet conversation. The bus wound through the zig-zag streets, up and down hills. Finally, Shoshana tapped Allie’s arm. “This is our stop.”
They descended the bus steps. Shoshana pointed at a residential street lined with apartments, houses, and shops connected by chest-high garden walls. A lovely little neighborhood, Allie thought. They hefted the straps of their bags over their shoulders and hiked up the road, then stopped at an apartment building.
Shoshana fished a key from her pocket as they entered the building and climbed the steps to the second floor. They turned right and halted at the first door. “This is a safe house,” she whispered. “Mossad maintains several in the Haifa area. This key fits all of them. Easier that way.”
“Who’s here now?”
“You and me. Welcome home,” she teased as she opened the door. “Don’t turn on the light yet.”
Allie closed the door and stood in the darkness as Shoshana lifted a curtain aside and peered through the window. “As I thought,” she said. “We were followed.”
“Oh, hell. What do we do?”
“Nothing. Wait until he leaves.”
Allie peered over Shoshana’s shoulder. “That guy? On the motor-bike?”
“And if he doesn’t go?”
“I will deal with him.”
The motor-bike started, and he gunned it and left. Shoshana smiled. “Good choice,” she said. “Let’s make ourselves at home. We should be safe for tonight. He doesn’t know which apartment we’re in.”
“How can you be sure?”
“He didn’t see the lights come on.”
“Gosh,” Allie said. “There really is a method to your madness, isn’t there?”
In reply, Shoshana simply smiled. She carried their bags into the bedroom and threw them both on the bed. “There should be everything we need here. Turn on a light and take a look around.”
Allie was glad to have something to occupy her mind and distract her worries. She turned on the floor lamp behind the sofa, poked around in the front room, opened cabinets in the little kitchenette, and popped open the refrigerator door. “So who stays here, usually?”
“Oh, whoever Mossad wants to hide.”
“They didn’t leave us much in the kitchen.”
“That figures. They’re supposed to stock these places.”
“Do we at least have a shower here?”
“I hope so,” Shoshana said. “I could use a shower. But then, you’ve probably been thinking that about me for half a day now, huh?”
“Oh, no.” Allie laughed. “Honestly, you smell fine. I’ll go check on the shower thing.”
She walked into the cramped little bedroom, then found the bathroom. Yes, it had a shower. Yes, there were towels in the cabinet. Yes, a twist of the valve and a moment’s wait proved that they had hot water. She would enjoy this; one thing most boats lack is a decent shower, and the Rachael was no exception. She stuck her head into the living room. “We’ve got hot water and towels. You can go first.”
Shoshana had her shotgun in hand, and she rested it on the little kitchenette table by the front door. “You first.” She shrugged. “You’re my guest. It’s only polite.”
“In that case, thanks. I’ll leave some hot water for you.”
Shoshana contemplated, for a moment, suggesting that they conserve hot water by sharing the shower, and she quickly decided against it. Instead, she merely said, “Thank you.”
Allie snickered. “I thought for a second that you were going to suggest that we shower together.”
“Me? Never would I say such a thing.” She managed an innocent smile. “Perish the thought.”
Allie laughed. “You know, for a hard-ass chick, you’re very endearing when you blush.”
“I’m not blushing.”
“Yeah. Right. I’ll be out in two shakes.” Allie closed the bedroom door. A minute later, the shower started. As Shoshana puttered about the kitchenette, she allowed herself a wicked little smile. By the time Allie emerged, freshly scrubbed and toweling her hair dry, Shoshana had prepared dinner. She pointed to the kitchenette counter. “Couscous and sausage. It’s not much, but it will do. Enjoy.”
“Are you eating?”
“Later. Now, I need to shower.” She checked the lock on the door and threw a heavy bolt closed. “Do you shoot guns in America?”
“Me? Yeah. I’m from farm country. We grow up with guns. Why?” Allie looked up from her dinner.
“Shotgun. Here. If anyone knocks while I’m in the shower, you don’t open the door. I don’t care if it’s Moses himself; you come and get me, and keep the shotgun by you. Right?”
Allie gulped. “Okay. Right. I can do that.”
Shoshana nodded, satisfied with the answer, and disappeared into the bedroom. She kept the door open as she undressed and headed for the shower. Allie, suddenly alone, attempted to keep her worry from overcoming her by studying the motley collection of books on a shelf as she picked at her bowl of couscous with a spoon. Hebrew, she thought, and German, and Russian. Aha! Here’s one in English. Oh, heck. It’s a western. Now that’s funny, she decided: Mossad spy types reading westerns. One would think that they’d read spy novels, instead. Nope, she thought; maybe they don’t like to take their work home with them. She decided to give the western a try, and she kept the paperback book tucked beneath her arm as she rinsed her bowl in the sink and put it aside.
She was on the couch, huddled with the open book beneath the glow of the floor lamp, when Shoshana entered the room. She was freshly scrubbed, wearing hiking pants and a sport bra, and held her shoulder holster in one hand and a bowl in the other. She plopped down on the couch and dropped the holstered pistol on the end table. “So, how is the dinner?” she asked.
“Yummy.” Allie eyed Shoshana’s physique. “For a girl with washboard abs, you cook pretty good.” At Shoshana’s questioning glance, she explained, “I thought that girls with abs like yours never ate anything and spent all day in the gym.”
“You don’t have such – ‘abs’?” Shoshana teased.
“Oh, heck no. My sister’s the beanpole in the family. I actually have to watch my weight.”
“You look very nice, though.”
“Thanks.” Allie closed the book. “This all seems so unreal. I still can’t believe that it’s happening.”
Shoshana placed the bowl aside and faced Allie. She crossed her legs in front of her and scooted closer. “It will be all right,” she said. “This is frightening for you, I know, but all things are temporary. A few days, and it’s done.”
“Do you think Maurie’s all right? Please be honest with me.”
“I don’t know,” Shoshana said. “I guess he is fine. Look, if they had wanted to kill him, they would have done it at the boat. They took him for a reason. Alive, he’s worth something. With them, yes, it’s hatred, but it’s business, too.”
“And me? Where do I fit into this?”
“You’re business. With you, they can trade you. You’re American; maybe your government will give them something in return for you.”
Shoshana shrugged. “What’s to say? I’m an Israeli Jew. Me, they want to exterminate. You, they want to barter.”
Allie’s gaze rested on the Star of David dangling from a little gold chain around Shoshana’s neck, bright against the tan of her skin. Like Esther, like Angelique, like Maurie, she was intimately connected to this tiny land consumed by ancient divisions and vicious hatreds. “So, how did it all start?”
“This. All of this craziness.”
Shoshana laughed. “From me, you want a four thousand year history lesson in five minutes? No, don’t ask me. What do I know?” She shrugged. “With me, it’s an accident of birth. I was born to Israeli parents. That’s it. Here I am. I could just as easily have been born a Palestinian Arab in Gaza, or a Kansas girl on a farm, like you. This is what I got.”
“A fatalist, huh?”
“A realist. One plays the hand one is dealt, and tries to make the most of it.”
“So how did you end up here?”
“Oh, that. I got a call from my boss. He said, ‘Go and guard this person.’”
“You know what I mean. How did you end up doing this?”
“Mossad? I was in the army. We get chosen. I showed promise, I suppose. And I have no close family ties. Mossad likes that.”
Allie quieted for a moment, then looked at Shoshana. “May I ask a personal question?”
Shoshana shrugged. “If you like.”
“You aren’t married?”
She glanced away. “No more.”
“But you were?”
“A different question?” Shoshana asked.
“Okay. Why does your hand shake like that?”
Shoshana glanced down. “Shit,” she said. “I need my medicine. Excuse me.” She rose and left the room. A minute later, she sat down with an opened water bottle. “It will stop in a little while.”
“I’m sorry if I was intrusive,” Allie said.
“No, no. It’s all right.” Shoshana resumed her cross-legged place next to Allie. “To answer your first question, my grandfather used to say, ‘Aleyn iz di neshome reyn.’ It’s Yiddish. It means, ‘Alone, one’s soul is pure.’”
“And that’s why you’re alone now?”
“I am one who lives totally in the moment, Allie. I’m a Mossad operative; for me, there is little future and no past. There is only now.”
“That’s really sad.” She locked eyes with Shoshana. “But sad can still be beautiful.” She poked the couch cushion between them with a finger. “So, which one of us gets the bed tonight, and which one gets this brick to sleep on?”
Shoshana leaned closer to Allie. Her eyes were dark, intense, and teasing. “We can share the bed – if you like.”
Allie felt her cheeks radiate heat. She glanced down at her lap. “Gosh. Is that a proposition?”
“Yes. It is.” She rested her hand over Allie’s. “Have I embarrassed you?”
“You just caught me off guard.” She glanced up. Shoshana was close. The dark eyes, the disheveled hair, the scarred body; she was a sad, beautiful, broken thing, and Allie felt her heart melt. “Wow,” she whispered as she touched Shoshana’s cheek. “Finally, a totally honest person. I love it.”
“There are not many of us,” Shoshana said.
“Tell me about it.” She was suddenly very conscious of Shoshana’s hand on hers. Their fingers intertwined. “So, you felt the vibes between us, too, huh?”
“Gotta love those vibes.” She leaned forward and kissed Shoshana, who responded cautiously, but sweetly. “I can’t believe that I’m about to do this with you,” Allie said. She looked into Shoshana’s eyes, and she smiled. “Yeah, I can. I’m totally about to do this. Oh, hell. I’m so doing this.” She wound her fingers into Shoshana’s hair and pulled their faces close. The kisses turned increasingly passionate, ever more uninhibited. An intense quiet permeated the little apartment, punctuated only by their breathing.
Shoshana managed to whisper, “If you have doubts – ”
“Like you said: tomorrow is tomorrow. Now is now.” They closed the space between their bodies and merged into one long, never-ending kiss as Shoshana crawled into Allie’s lap. Slowly, Allie lay back on the couch and pulled Shoshana down to rest on top of her. As they settled back on the couch, a hand clicked the floor lamp off.
After a long silence, Allie asked, “So, is that invitation to share the bed still good?”
In reply, Shoshana rose, pulled Allie up by her hand, and led her through the darkness to the bedroom. The door closed behind them. A minute later, it opened again, and Shoshana snuck into the main room, naked. “Damn, damn, damn,” she whispered. She fumbled in the darkness for her shoulder holster and her shotgun, found them, and headed for the bedroom.
Allie shed the last of her clothing and yanked the bed covers down. She had one knee on the bed, when she froze. A crash sounded in the main room, followed by a yelp. A string of colorful curses in mixed Hebrew, Yiddish, English, and God-knows-what-else floated through the darkness. Allie’s heart pounded in her chest. Oh, good God, she thought. They’ve found us, and they’re going to kill her and take me, and –
“Shoshana?” Allie called. “What’s wrong?”
Shoshana stopped at the door and breathed deeply to calm herself. “I stubbed my toe. Damn, that hurts.”
Allie appeared at the door. “Is that all? Jesus, girl. You scared the shit out of me.”
Shoshana was hopping on one foot. “It hurts!”
“Let me see.” She pulled Shoshana into the room, hit the light switch on the wall, and knelt. She examined Shoshana’s foot, gently flexed the toes up, one by one. “That one?” She looked up and saw her nod. “It’s not broken,” Allie said. And damn, I like the view from here, she added silently.
“It still hurts.”
Allie rose and clicked off the light. “Trust me. In five minutes, you won’t be thinking about it.” She grasped Shoshana’s wrist and pulled her toward the bed. The door slammed and the lock clicked. A moment later, mutual, naughty laughter sounded. The bed squeaked from the weight of two bodies, and then, an intense quiet filled the apartment.
Hours later, Allie opened her eyes. In the dimly-lit bedroom, reflections of a car’s headlights moved across the ceiling, white lines broken by the window’s shades. When she turned to her side, she beheld Shoshana’s face, very near her own. Allie had to smile at the sight; such a hard-ass when she’s awake, Allie thought, but she looks sweet, almost innocent as she sleeps.
For a little while, she watched Shoshana sleep. Then, she sat up in bed, combed the hair out of her face, leaned over her companion, and studied her. The scars on Shoshana’s shoulder and arm, fully displayed now that she was free of any clothing, seemed tracks of white which trailed haphazardly across the contours of her skin. Allie’s eyes traveled downward. She beheld another healed scar across her abdomen, between her navel and the top of her dark triangle of pubic hair. Pain, Allie thought; a scarred body housing a scarred soul. And there’s something intensely beautiful in all that scarred pain.
Her eyes traveled across Shoshana’s body to the night-stand by the bed. Her pistol lay there, unholstered, ready. Next to it, her shotgun was propped. A Mossad operative, Allie thought, here to protect me. She swallowed a snicker as she thought, ‘Feel safe tonight – sleep with a Mossad hottie.’ Yeah, I should put that on a tee-shirt, she decided. Boy, would it sell.
Then, the next thought sobered her. But I already sleep with a Mossad hottie, don’t I? Maurie. He’s a swell guy, and he could be hurt or dead, and here I am, cheating on him. Cheating? She considered Shoshana’s sleeping form, watched her chest gently rise and fall as she slept. This isn’t cheating. Maurie and I aren’t married, and we haven’t sworn monogamy. This is just – just extracurricular. Just the moment happening. This is between her and me, and something that I so needed right now – the intimacy, the reassurance of a human touch. This has nothing to do with that lovely man. Then why do I suddenly feel so guilty? How come my conscience is barking at me?
She snorted in disgust. It’s just my damned conservative, church-going, Midwestern upbringing, telling me again what I can’t do. If it feels right, it’s wrong. If I celebrate being sexual instead of denying it or having a guilt trip over it, it’s wrong. If we’re not married, it’s wrong. If we’re both girls, it’s wrong. If I’m seeing someone else at the same time, it’s wrong. Whatever I do, it’s wrong. I thought I’d left all that baggage behind me. Guess not, huh?
She studied Shoshana again. I wonder, she mused, what her upbringing was like? How she feels about us being together this way? And I wonder whether she’s doing battle with the nagging voices of her upbringing? Allie smiled. She doesn’t seem to be. I’m the one here that can’t sleep, not her. And damn it, I’ve got to pee now, too.
She swung her legs off the bed, stood, and went into the bathroom. When she came back to bed, she heard Shoshana mutter something and saw her move an arm. “What’s that?” she whispered.
She lay down in bed next to her and scooted close, and only then realized that Shoshana was still asleep. She listened, but could not make out the words that she whispered; they sounded Hebrew. The expression on Shoshana’s face was tense, unhappy. Allie pulled her into her arms and spooned her, felt the warm tingle of skin and the reassurance of touch, held her and kissed her shoulder, then her neck. The whispering stopped, and Shoshana became still. A few moments later, she turned her head and spoke.
“Is anything wrong?” she asked.
“No. I just needed to hold you. I like holding you. It feels good. I feel safe with you.”
Shoshana’s hand found Allie’s, and they interlaced fingers. “You are a very sweet lover.”
“Right back atcha, kid,” Allie whispered.
“What does this mean, ‘Right back atcha, kid’?”
“It means, ‘I think the same thing about you’.”
“Oh.” She was silent for a moment, then said, “You have a boyfriend, but you like women? You have been with one before, I think.”
“It shows, huh? I like who I like. Gender has nothing to do with it.”
“You are wise,” Shoshana said. “An old soul in a young body.” Her voice seemed dreamy, detached.
“And you’re tired. Sleep, Shoshana. It’ll be tomorrow soon enough.” And this will end, she thought. As if in silent agreement, Shoshana’s hand squeezed hers, then released it as her body relaxed and she began to breathe in a slow, regular cadence once more.
Haifa, the next day, late morning.
Yousef sat astride his motor-bike, watching the open windows of a second-floor apartment in a pleasant Jewish neighborhood. The streets wound up and down the hills, and the buildings and houses were clustered together with walls and gardens between them. Cars and trucks passed by from time to time, and occasionally, pedestrians walked the streets, including a man wearing the traditional black clothing and black fedora hat of the ultra-orthodox Jews.
Yousef dug a cheap cell phone from his pocket and dialed a number. After a moment, he spoke in Arabic. “I followed the two women from the marina, like you said. Yes, I’ve discovered where they’re staying. I think they’re still here.”
“Give me the address,” the voice on the phone said.
Yousef dictated the address. “Now give me my money,” he demanded.
“I’ll see you at the marina in the afternoon.” The call terminated.
Yousef shrugged, then kicked his motor-bike’s kick-starter. It coughed into life, and he accelerated it. As he passed the apartment, he glanced to his right and saw the driver of a car lean out of his open window and glance at him. Yousef’s chest tightened in panic; the man looked like Mossad. Before he could react, the car door flew open in his path. He could not brake; he collided with the door at full speed. He flipped over the door, slammed down onto the trunk of a parked car, and fell to the street. At first, he felt nothing; then, a blinding pain overcame him. He had trouble moving or speaking, and the scene blurred into an unreal, puzzling experience. A moment later, the driver was kneeling by him, speaking to him in Arabic. Yousef glanced toward the man and saw him withdraw a syringe from his shirt pocket. A sharp pain creased his neck, and the man withdrew his hand. Then, he stood and began speaking in Hebrew to someone as he pulled a cell phone from his pocket.
Yousef descended into a dreamlike haze. The voices which echoed around him seemed distant, unintelligible. He was at peace, though. He felt that all was well. A moment later, he tried to draw a breath, and could not. He panicked, but could not move. He fought for air, but only managed to gurgle as the driver bent over him, a concerned expression on his face. As Yousef died, lying bloody and broken and drugged on a Haifa street, the last thought he had was of his mother.
In the second-floor apartment, Allie glanced out the window. “What the hell just happened?” she asked. “There’s been an accident. There’s a man lying in the street. Oh, my God! That’s our driver out there with him. We need to help.” She turned toward the door, but Shoshana grabbed her arm.
“Don’t bother. He’ll be dead by the time we get there.”
Allie stared at Shoshana. “What?” she said. She studied the expression on her companion’s face, then shook her head in disbelief. “What do you mean? How do you know that?”
“Because that wasn’t an accident. And stay away from the window, please, Allie.”
Allie glanced through the window at the scene unfolding below them, and she backed away a few paces. “Shoshana, what’s going on here?”
“That fellow on the motor-bike is the one that followed us here from the marina last night.”
“Who is he?”
Shoshana shrugged. “Probably a member of the Eternal Martyrs Brigade. He was leaving to report our position. Rudy, down there, took care of him.”
“Holy shit. This seems unreal.”
“It’s real. Get used to it. You’re a target.”
It took Allie a moment to digest that. When she did, she nodded understanding. “Okay. What do you want me to do?”
“Follow my lead. Stay close to me. On my life, I swear that I’ll keep you safe.”
“I know you will.” She touched Shoshana’s face, then pulled her close and kissed her. They embraced, and held each other. “Well, at least the bad guys don’t know where we are, huh?”
Shoshana sighed. “Don’t be sure. Right before Rudy got him, I saw him make a phone call.”
Allie wilted. She plopped down on the couch. “Great.”
From one side of the window, Shoshana watched the accident scene below them. She fished the cell phone from her pocket, dialed a number, and had a lengthy conversation in Hebrew. Then, she hung up. “Do you hear the siren?” she asked. “Ambulance is coming. Police, too. Rudy will handle it. We have to stay out of sight.” She crossed the room and sat next to Allie. “And I have news of Maurie.”
Allie raised her head, and her eyes met Shoshana’s. She attempted to intuit the nature of the news from the expression in the dark eyes, but she couldn’t. She swallowed hard, then asked, “What news?”
“It’s confirmed. He’s been taken by the Eternal Martyrs Brigade. A man named Abu Al-Makar, to be exact. He wants to trade Maurie for a cousin being held in Damun Prison. He gave us three days to comply, and one day has already passed.”
“What happens if – ?” Allie asked. She noted Shoshana’s silence and said, “Never mind. I don’t want to know.” She began, very quietly, to weep. “We never should have come here.”
Shoshana pulled Allie to her and held her. “Was it your idea? Coming to Israel, I mean?”
“No. His.” She wiped at her eyes. “I don’t know why. He must have known that he had enemies here.”
“He’s Israeli,” Shoshana said. “And we Israelis have a deep connection to this land. Besides, you met his daughter, did you not?”
“Yeah.” Allie managed a smile. “I could see how much he loves her. He must have really missed her when he was in Paris, all that time. And that grand-kid...”
“He has a grand-child?”
“A girl. A real cutie.”
“Grandparents and their grandchildren. A mutual admiration society, I think.”
Allie looked at Shoshana. “If he dies – ” She could not finish the sentence.
Allie rested her head on Shoshana’s shoulder and buried her face in her neck. “How – do – you know?”
“We Israelis are good at what we do.” A moment later, she added, “And what we do best is survive.”
Laurie watched, wide-eyed and fascinated, as the scenery sped by her window. Angelique sat by her side in the back seat of the SUV, silent and brooding. The driver spoke to Laurie in English, pointing out a few of the sights and chatting about Tel Aviv as he guided them through the traffic and took them toward Mossad’s headquarters building. After some time, Laurie looked toward Angelique, then took her hand.
“Hey. Are you okay?”
Angelique glanced toward her. Her eyes were hidden behind dark glasses, and her expression was unreadable. “Yes.”
“You must be totally freaked out, huh? I mean, it’s been a while since you’ve been here.”
Angelique smiled at the expression. “I thought I would never see this land again.”
“And here you are.” She squeezed Angelique’s hand. “Talk to me if you need to, right?”
A silent nod thanked Laurie for the sentiment. Then, Angelique returned her gaze to the street outside the automobile.
Shortly, they pulled into a parking garage beneath a building and stopped. The driver turned off the car, escorted them through a door, into an elevator, and eventually, led them down a hall. He gestured toward a door. “Good luck,” he said.
They opened the door and met a secretary at a desk. She made a phone call. A moment later, The Old Man appeared in a doorway, beamed at the sight of them, and spoke in English. “Ah, Angelique Bat-Ami,” he said. “So pleased to see you well.” He lowered his voice and added, “Although not under these circumstances.”
“And you, sir,” she replied. “And do you know Laurie Caldwell?”
The Old Man turned to Laurie. “Ah, yes. The young American about which I have heard so much. How do you do, Miss Caldwell?” He raised an eyebrow. “Or is it now Mrs. – what is your French surname, Angel? Halevy? I understand that you two got married in France. How does that work, if I may ask?” He whispered the next thought as if confessing a secret. “You’ll forgive? I’m just a creaky old fellow now, and it’s a new world out there. I have to learn these things.”
Laurie laughed. “I thought about becoming Laurie Halevy, but Angel and I decided, ‘What’s in a name?’ The legal hassle to change my name would have been horrible.” She shrugged. “We’re committed, that’s what counts.”
“Yes, yes. I always say that if you have to be committed to an institution, marriage is a good one.” He motioned toward his office. “Come. Let us speak in confidence.”
They entered his office, and he closed the door. “I had hot tea brought for us.” As he poured out three cups of tea, he began talking. “I must confess that I had misgivings about getting you involved, Angel. I know you’re retired now, and it’s dangerous for you to return to Israel, since you were once identified as a Mossad – ” He deliberated over the word ‘assassin’, and discarded it. “Operative. And a very successful one, I might add. Your reputation became legend. Milk? Sugar?”
“Yes, thank you,” Angelique said. “Maurie is my dear friend. I will do whatever I can.”
The Old Man handed them their tea cups, then lifted his own to his lips. “Yes, yes. I thought you might feel that way, but I involve you for another reason, as well.” He lowered his cup and considered Angelique with a suddenly penetrating glance. In response, she merely tilted her head in question. “Maurie’s captor is Abu Al-Makar. Rahim Al-Makar is his cousin, currently in Damun Prison. They want a trade; Maurie, for Rahim. They gave us three days. One day is already gone.” He looked at Laurie. “I believe that they wished to take Allie, too, but thank God, they did not get her.”
“What good would she do them?” Laurie asked.
“If they held an American citizen, perhaps your government would put pressure on us to free Rahim quickly.”
“I see.” Laurie looked at Angelique’s face, and was taken aback by the suddenly hard expression she found there. “So who’s this Al-Makar guy to you, Angel?”
For a moment, Angelique remained silent as she sipped her tea. Then, she said, very quietly, “The one that got away.”
“Oh, boy,” Laurie said. “I get a feeling that the next few days are going to be really interesting.”
The Old Man spoke with Angelique and Laurie, made phone calls to determine facts, and constructed a plan. At Angelique’s insistence, Laurie had been taken down to the basement shooting range to qualify with a pistol. When the meeting ended, Angelique made her way to the basement to qualify on her own, and to be issued a weapon.
She walked into the range, chose some safety glasses and hearing protection from the bins, and found Laurie and the range official together in conversation. “How,” Angelique asked, “did she do with the pistol?”
The Mossad instructor held up her paper target. It held the life-sized silhouette of a man. A tight group of shots clustered in the chest, and another group of shots clustered in the head. He asked, “Is she your understudy? You taught her well.”
“She was raised in Kansas. They all have guns there. Her father is a county sheriff. I taught her nothing.”
Laurie held up the pistol. “This thing rocks, Angel. And the silencer on the barrel makes it more accurate, too.”
He raised his eyebrows in surprise as he pictured, in his mind, an old western movie. “Remind me to be careful if I ever go to Kansas. Is it your turn, Ms. ...” He consulted his computer. “Halevy? Angelique Halevy?”
“Angelique Bat-Ami,” was the reply.
The instructor’s eyes widened. “I see,” he said. “A legend graces my range. All right, Ms. Bat-Ami, what is your weapon of choice?”
Half an hour later, they rode the elevator up several floors, then found another work area. This time a middle-aged lady greeted them, looked cautiously at the bag that Angelique carried containing their weapons, and held up a finger. “Ah. Angelique. That’s you?” At her nod of affirmation, the lady said, “The Old Man’s office says that you need a change of appearance. Come in.” To Laurie, she said, “You don’t need a disguise, young lady. Already, you’re a charmer.” She pointed to a waiting area. “Go, sit. Behave. I’ll bring her back to you when I’m done with her.”
Angelique snickered at that, handed Laurie the gun bag, and disappeared through a door with the lady. Laurie sighed, found a seat, and amused herself by flipping through a well-worn magazine. After a while, she hauled out her cell phone and dialed Allie. “Hey, Allie,” she said. “You okay? It’s Laurie.”
The voice on the other end of the conversation sounded relieved. “I know who it is, doofus. It’s great to hear your voice. And yes, I’m okay. I’m being guarded by one of Mossad’s finest.” In the background, Laurie heard an evil-sounding snicker.
“Is that your bodyguard? Ooh, is she hot?”
“Yes and yes. Just your type, my wayward little sister.”
“Stop it. I’m a married woman now – unlike you.”
“Hey, been there and done that. I’m a convert to the ‘friends-with-benefits’ thing now.”
“Speaking of which, have you heard anything?”
“Not much.” Allie was silent for a moment, then added, “Nothing new. I’m hanging on by my fingertips here, Laurie. I’ve never been so scared in my whole life.”
“Take heart, big sis. I’ve got a feeling that very soon now, you’ll get good news.”
“Yeah. Right. Forgive me if I don’t have that sunny optimism that you got born with.”
“So, what did you get born with, Allie, if I got the sunny optimism?”
Allie managed a snicker and a joke. “Sex appeal.”
“Kiss my grits. Okay, so in high school, I looked like the Wendy’s Girl. I admit it. I was a total dweeb. Carrot-top hair, braces, freckles, no boobs, and scrawny as a fence-post.”
“You’re still that way,” Allie said.
“Hey! I got rid of the braces, my senior year.” Laurie smiled; she could tell that Allie was feeling a little better. “And you got rid of your virginity long before that. Hell, I thought I was going to have to pay somebody to lose mine, until I finally got that boyfriend.”
“That stoner? What was his name?”
“Oh. Ah, Jason, I think.”
“You think? You don’t remember who took your virginity? God, Laurie. You’re such a slut.”
Laurie cracked up. “Look who’s talking. You slept with you-know-who on the first date in Paris.”
“Hey, it was Paris,” she said. “Besides, I sleep with everybody on the first date. So, did you get something out of it, at least? And I don’t mean a pregnancy or a weird rash.”
“Yeah,” Laurie said. “He bought me pizza and gave me some really good weed.” She laughed. “God, he was such a stoner, wasn’t he?”
“So, my little sister gave it up for pizza and weed? Wait until I tell Mom and Dad. They’ll be proud. At least you used protection, I hope.”
“Laurie! You could have gotten knocked up! Didn’t you listen to anything I told you?”
“Hey, I don’t think his little guys had enough ambition to even swim upstream, much less fertilize anything.” She snickered. “Men, huh? Jeez! Thank God I had enough sense to come out of the closet and chase women.”
“Stop it! You’re killin’ me!” Allie sighed. “I miss you.”
“I miss you too, dork,” Laurie said. “Don’t worry, huh? Everything will work out good.”
“Yeah. Keep telling me that, will you?”
“It will,” Laurie said. “I promise. You take care, and say ‘Hi’ to that Mossad hottie you got there.” Laurie snickered. “Give her a kiss for me, will you?”
“Okay, if you do the same with yours. What’s Angel up to, anyway?”
“Gettin’ a makeover.”
“Neat. Well, good luck with that. I love you, little sis.”
Laurie smiled at that. “I love you too, big sis. Take care. ‘Bye.” She terminated the call, then stared at the phone. Siblings, she thought. How two people could fight like cats and dogs growing up and then be so close as adults, she never could fathom. She filed that mystery away for future consideration as she returned her attention to her magazine. Since it was mostly in Hebrew, she contented herself with admiring the pictures and advertisements, and with wondering how anyone could actually read Hebrew.
She glanced up when the door opened, and the magazine fell from her hands. Angelique walked into the room as the ‘disguise lady’ followed and smiled at Laurie’s reaction. “Damn,” Laurie said. “You look so – ”
“Different, I hope,” Angelique said. And she did. Her hair, instead of the soft brown and russet-streaked style that Laurie knew, was jet black, as were her eyebrows. A pair of glasses gave her a bookish, gentle appearance, and a thin, hip-length coat would hide her pistol from curious eyes. “Shall we go?”
“Sure.” Laurie stood and hefted the gun bag. “Where?”
“To see your sister.”
Laurie perked up. “Well, hey!” she said. “We haven’t left yet?”
Shoshana snuck a peek through the window. “Lunch is here,” she announced.
“You ordered lunch? That was sweet of you.” Allie, curled up on one corner of the couch, glanced up from the television.
“Rudy was coming this way to check on us anyway. Chinese is okay?” she asked.
“That’s funny,” Allie said. “I’m in Israel, and I get Chinese carry-out.”
Shoshana snickered. “Have you tasted traditional Jewish food? I’m saving you from a fate worse than death.”
“Hm. I figured it was good.” At Shoshana’s disbelieving glance, Allie shrugged. “I always heard that if you get thrown in jail in New York City, you should tell them you eat kosher, because the food’s better.”
“Compared to jail food, I suppose it’s better. Compared to Chinese, it’s not.” Shoshana leaned down and kissed Allie. “I’ll get the door.”
She crossed the room to answer the knock at the door. As her left hand touched the doorknob, her right hand withdrew her pistol from the holster beneath her arm. Rudy entered, placed the carry-out bag on the table, and chatted for a moment. He declined an invitation to stay, and he left. She closed the door, holstered her pistol, and opened the top of the bag. “Lunch is served,” she said.
As Allie rose from the couch and walked past the window, an explosion from the street jarred the building and deafened its occupants. The curtains moved from the concussion, and the raised blinds rattled. “Jesus!” Allie shouted as she crouched and covered her head with her arms. “What the hell?”
Shoshana rushed to the open window and looked out. “Shit!” she said. “Rudy! God damn it.” She snatched her shotgun from the table and grabbed Allie’s arm. “Come on. Hurry, unless you want to die.”
“What’s – ?”
She dragged Allie through the apartment’s door and headed down the hall to the back stairs. “That was Rudy’s car.” She shoved Allie beneath the stairs to the next floor upstairs, and said, “Stay here. Don’t make a sound.”
“Where are you going?”
“We’re about to be attacked. If I catch them inside the apartment, they won’t have an escape.” She turned and strode down the hall. As she did, she pulled the cell phone from her pocket and made a call.
Allie listened. She heard footsteps and voices, and she peered around the corner. A moment later, she snatched her head back. There were two men in the hall, and they entered the apartment she’d just left. She peeked around the corner again and saw Shoshana emerge from the laundry room. She stood outside the open door, leveled her shotgun, racked it, and shot. The noise was deafening in the cramped hall. She racked it again, then entered the apartment. Allie heard a second shot and a shout – more like a scream in Arabic, cut short by a loud whack. Allie left the stairwell and ran to the apartment door. When she entered, she was stopped by the sight of a man lying on the floor in front of her feet. He was face down and not moving, and his back resembled ground, raw beef where he’d been shot. A pool of blood was widening around him. Shoshana had wounded his companion, and she had one foot on his chest and the shotgun pointed at his face. She was yelling at him in Arabic, and he was responding with a combination of screams of pain punctuated with the occasional word. Allie looked more closely; his shoulder was a bloody mess, and a gun lay on the floor.
She watched in horrified silence as the interrogation continued. Shoshana finally jammed the barrel of the shotgun into the man’s crotch and yelled at him. His eyes widened, and he began talking. She listened, asked some questions, and then nodded her satisfaction. She lifted the shotgun away from his crotch, leaned over him, and struck him across the head with the handle. He went limp, and blood began pooling on the floor beneath his ear. She took her foot off his chest, kicked his pistol across the floor, and placed the shotgun on the table. “Police will be here shortly. Mossad, too.”
“What do we do now?” Allie asked. She pointed to the man near the door. “Is he dead?”
“I don’t know. If he moves, tell me and I’ll shoot him again. Now let’s eat, huh?” Shoshana hauled a Chinese food container from the bag, threw Allie some chopsticks, and set the other container before her, on the table. “Do you want lo mein or chicken?”
“How can you eat at a time like this?” Allie asked.
“I’m hungry. That’s how.” She shrugged. “My hangover is gone.” She stuffed a wad of lo mein into her mouth and mumbled, “You’d better eat, Allie. If you don’t, you’ll be sorry later.”
“What, we might not get a chance later?”
“No. I mean that Chinese food tastes like shit when it’s cold.”
Allie blinked in surprise. The whole situation seemed surreal. It quickly became even more surreal when she realized that their neighbors were gathering outside their door, looking inside at the carnage, and talking among themselves. A woman at the front of the group, with a child sheltering behind her skirt and peering at them, said something in Hebrew. “English?” Allie asked.
“Yes. A little.”
“Police are on the way. Don’t worry. It’s all over now. Everything’s fine. Hunky-dory.” She looked down at the body just inside the door, then smiled apologetically. “It was just a little – ah, misunderstanding. You know; these things happen.”
Shoshana placed her takeout container on the table and held out her Mossad credentials. She held a short conversation with them, and they quickly retreated and cleared the hall. Then, she picked up her takeout container and wolfed another bite of lo mein. “God,” she mumbled as she chewed. “I’m not looking forward to the paperwork on this one.” She stepped over the dead man, walked to the window, and listened to the scream of sirens approaching their street. “Son of a bitch,” she said. “Rudy got it. His car is in flames. No way he got out of that. That’s too bad. I liked that guy.”
Allie said, “Shoshana? You’d better turn around.”
She turned. Leaning against the door-jamb, blackened, singed, and smoking, Rudy stared at her. He held his pistol in one hand; with the other, he managed a weak wave.
Shoshana approached him, set her takeout box on the table, and pulled him into a long, silent embrace. Then, she held him at arm’s length and smiled. “You look awful,” she said.
“What did you say?” He shouted. “I can’t hear a damned thing.” He motioned toward his ears, and Allie noted that he was bleeding from them.
He was led to the couch by Shoshana’s grasp on his shirt, and he sat down. She glanced out the window, pulled her Mossad credentials from her pocket, and tapped Rudy on the head. He looked up, then did the same thing as Israeli police clattered up the stairs and down the hall toward their apartment with their guns drawn.
Angelique’s and Laurie’s driver pulled the car to the curb. “What the hell?” he asked. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this. That’s at the safe-house.” He stepped from the car, then looked back. “Wait here. I’ll find out what’s going on.”
They leaned forward and peered through the windshield at the scene ahead of them. Several police cars were haphazardly stopped, blocking the street, and a fire team with a truck was extinguishing the last of the flames from a burning car. Angelique studied the street and the crowd of onlookers that kept at a distance and watched. An ambulance showed up, and two paramedics yanked a gurney from the back and hustled into the building as the Mossad driver returned to the car. He leaned into the open window and said, “Looks like Martyrs Brigade tried to take your sister. She’s fine. Shoshana got them both.”
Angelique pointed to the car. “Ours?”
“Yes. The driver’s a little messed up, but he’ll be okay, I think.” He shrugged. “Occupational hazard. He thinks that when he went upstairs, the bad guys probably slapped a magnetic bomb underneath his car, onto the petrol tank, and exploded it when he got back into the car. Good thing he was just about out of petrol, huh? That’s probably what saved his life.”
Angelique leaned closer to the driver. “You said, ‘Shoshana’? Is that Shoshana Klein?”
“Yes. She’s assigned to protect Laurie’s sister. Excuse me.” With that, he returned to the scene of the carnage.
Angelique leaned back in the seat and closed her eyes. Laurie watched her, then placed her hand over Angelique’s. She felt the gentle squeeze, the ‘thank you’ that Angelique was sending her. “So,” Laurie finally said. “I take it that you know this Shoshana?”
“Yes, from many years ago.”
Laurie waited for more explanation, but there was none. Finally, she said, “Okay, then. Anything I should know about?”
“She is skilled, experienced. Your sister is quite safe with her.”
Laurie leaned against Angelique. “Thanks, Angel. I don’t need to know any more than that.”
Again, she felt a squeeze from Angelique’s hand, a little unspoken ‘thank you’, and she managed a smile in reply. Like a sailor, Laurie thought, she’s got an ‘ex’ in every port, huh? Hoo, boy. This trip is getting more interesting by the minute. She glanced up the street, sat forward in the seat, and pointed. “Hey, look! It’s Allie!”
“Yes,” Angelique said. “I am glad to see her well.”
“You and me both,” Laurie echoed. She noted the person with her and asked, “And is that Shoshana?”
“Yes,” Angelique said. “She has not changed at all.”
As they neared the SUV, Laurie threw the back door open and ran to Allie. They embraced in the street as Shoshana immediately began scanning the vicinity for any threats. When she looked back toward the car, she squinted in puzzlement at the person standing on the sidewalk a few feet from her. She studied the face, the posture, the eyes beneath the black hair and glasses. Then, she allowed a smile to cross her face.
“Well, well,” she said. “Angel. I had heard that you were dead.”
“Not quite,” Angelique said. “I had heard that you were sober.”
“Not quite.” She shrugged. “I’m tolerable, and you’re actually alive. Miracles never cease, do they?” She cast a glance at Allie’s and Laurie’s enthusiastic demonstration, then back at Angelique. “So, do I get a hug, too, for old time’s sake?”
In reply, Angelique smiled and embraced her. When they parted, Shoshana slapped Angelique on the shoulder and said, “You take left. I take right.” Immediately, they began scanning their chosen sides of the scene for danger as the Mossad driver threw Shoshana’s and Allie’s bags into the back of the SUV and herded everybody inside the car.
As they pulled away from the scene, he steered down a street. “We have a new safe-house,” he said. “We’re heading there now. It’s outside Haifa a little bit.”
“Hopefully, it’s a little safer than the last one,” Shoshana said.
“How did they find you?” Angelique asked, as she slipped off her jacket.
“One of them tailed us and phoned it in, I think,” Shoshana said.
“You did not deal with him?” She opened the gun bag that Mossad had given them, extracted a shoulder holster, and began loading it with spare magazines and a pistol and a silencer.
“Rudy did,” Shoshana said. “But not before he made a phone call.”
“We are probably being followed again,” Angelique noted. “Al-Makar wants Allie. He will not stop until he gets her.” She handed a holster, two spare magazines, a pistol, and a silencer to Laurie, who slipped the holster onto her belt, at the small of her back.
Allie watched her stuff the silencer and the spare magazines into the back pocket of her jeans. “Damn, sis,” she said. “They actually gave you a gun? Send the women and kids to the hills.”
“She is an expert shot,” Angelique noted. She leaned forward and spoke to the driver. “Do you see anyone following us?”
“I have my suspicions,” he said, “but it’s too soon to tell. Let me make some more turns before we leave the city.”
Shoshana peered through the rear window. “The last one was riding a motor-bike. There’s one following, just there. White shirt. I saw him at the safe-house, too. He was in the crowd, watching.”
Angelique looked behind her, and she watched the motorcyclist for a while. When their car turned, he did, too, and he maintained just enough distance at all times – not too much, not too little. “He is our tail,” Angelique said. “We can deal with him in the country, so that there are no civilians around this time.”
“I know just the place,” the driver said.
“Do I want to know what ‘deal with him’ means, Laurie?” Allie asked.
“Nope,” Laurie replied.
“Well. Okee-dokey, then,” Allie said as she watched Shoshana reach behind them, unzip her bag, and extract her shotgun. “We’re racking up a body count today, I see.”
“As long as it’s the right people getting killed,” Shoshana said as she reloaded her weapon, “I don’t have a problem with that.”
The driver took them on a roundabout, jagged route out of the city. On the way, Angelique and Shoshana kept an eye on the motorcyclist who followed them at a distance. He slowed when they slowed, sped up when they did, and made all the turns that they made. Finally, they took a road out of the city, toward the hills and farmlands which surrounded Haifa on the land side. The driver slowed the car as he spoke.
“It’s coming up. We’ll try to crash him.” Then, he took a sharp right turn and squealed the SUV in a circle behind a high stone wall edging an orchard of olive trees. “Here!” he said, and Angelique bailed out of the car and slammed the door behind her. Shoshana warned Laurie and Allie with the wave of a hand.
“Keep down. This is an old trick, but it works.”
The driver listened. In the distance, he could hear the motorcycle speed up and approach. A whistle sounded, and he stepped on the gas and squealed the SUV into the middle of the road. Allie raised her head enough to see through her window, and was shocked to see the motorcycle so near. A second later, the driver laid it down on the road, but it was to no avail. He smashed into the side of the car. As the car backed up a little, Laurie could see the driver sprawled in the road, and the motorcycle on its side.
In a moment, Angelique was on him. She turned him over, pointed her pistol into his face, and spoke in Arabic. He was shouting and screaming, and his body was dotted with red, raw spots of road rash. His clothing was dirty. The driver threw the car into park, opened his door, and jumped out. Shoshana looked at Laurie.
“Laurie, come and help. Allie, you stay here. Be safe.” She jumped out, shotgun in hand, and ran to the driver. Laurie followed just behind her. As Angelique kept him submissive with her pistol pointed at him, Shoshana pulled a folding knife from her pocket and clicked it open. Then, she grabbed the chin-strap of his helmet, cut it, and yanked the helmet from his head.
He was a young man with a scraggly, short beard. He held his hands in front of him protectively and kept up a torrent of Arabic in a pleading voice. Angelique, by her demeanor, didn’t buy whatever he was selling. She grabbed his arm and looked at Laurie. “Get the other arm,” she said. “Help me get him out of the road.”
As Laurie and Angelique dragged him into the grass, the Mossad driver and Shoshana lifted the motorcycle and rolled it out of the road. Angelique interrogated the motorcyclist in Arabic. She kept her pistol in his face as Shoshana searched him, and she peppered him with questions. When he was not forthcoming, and when Shoshana pulled a pistol from his shirt and threw it on the ground near him, Angelique fired a shot into the ground next to his head. He screamed, then began chattering in rapid, panicked gasps. Angelique grilled him; he replied frantically. After a few minutes, Shoshana edged up to Angelique and spoke in English.
“That’s all we’re going to get from him, Angel. To hell with him. Let’s go.”
“One more thing,” Angelique said. “His cell phone.” she said. Shoshana probed his pockets and found a phone. She clicked a few buttons, then showed it to Angelique. That prompted another shouting match with the captive, one which Angelique cut short by leaning down and slapping him in the side of the head with the handle of her pistol as hard as she could. He went limp, and appeared unconscious.
“Now that’s the Angel I remember,” Shoshana said.
“We must go,” Angelique replied. She holstered her weapon, and she and Laurie climbed into the car. “Are you coming?” she shouted to Shoshana.
“A moment,” Shoshana replied as she pulled the pistol from beneath her arm. She shot the motorcyclist in the head, then turned and climbed into the car. “Now, we can go,” she said, as she holstered her pistol.
“Did you have to kill him?” Angelique asked.
In reply, Shoshana shot Angelique a jaded glance. “Yes, I did. Let’s get the hell out of here.”
The driver put the car into gear and turned out onto the main road, accelerating casually. “Another ten minutes,” he said. “Enjoy the drive and the nice day, why don’t you?”
“I’ll call this in,” Shoshana said as she found her cell phone. “Angelique, you’d better tell them what you found out.”
Laurie looked at Angelique. “What did you find out?”
“I found Maurie, I think.”
“And Al-Makar,” Shoshana added.
Angelique adopted her enigmatic expression. “Yes. And him.”
“So,” Laurie asked. “What now? We go and get Maurie, right?”
“And we deal with Al-Makar,” Angelique added.
Shoshana looked back from the front seat. “This is going to be personal for you, isn’t it, Angel?”
In reply, Angelique said nothing. Laurie, though, could read Angelique’s expression, and it was one of cold determination. She was not reassured.
Shoshana made a phone call, then hung up and turned in her seat. “We’re ordered to stay at the safe house and do nothing until we hear further.”
Allie huffed in frustration. “We’re just going to leave Maurie in those peoples’ hands?”
“For the time being,” she said. “But they won’t hurt him. He’s valuable to them. We’ll get him back. We’ve got a couple of days yet.”
Allie put a hand on Angelique’s arm. “Is that the way you see it, too?”
Slowly, Angelique nodded agreement. “Yes. Shoshana is right. He will be fine.” Privately, though, she wasn’t so sure.
Maurie sat in the corner of a room. It was empty except for the naked light bulb hanging from the ceiling. He sipped at a water bottle, then poured a little onto the palm of his hand and dabbed his face with it. Not only was the room incredibly stuffy, but he ached from the beating, delivered at gun-point, that he’d sustained earlier. It wasn’t a profound beating with an intent of doing serious damage to him; it was more of a ‘this is to show you who’s in charge, so shut up and behave yourself’ beating. He’d delivered a few of those himself during the years he’d spent in Mossad. The only difference was that with his beatings, he faced his target alone and didn’t have a minion with a weapon to back him up. That Al-Makar did hinted to him that he feared Maurie enough to not face him alone.
He thought of Allie, and he worried about her. Undoubtedly, when she’d returned from shopping, she’d missed him and called the police. That would have set events in motion – hopefully. He prayed that she’d have had presence of mind enough to tell the police that he was retired Mossad. He recalled Al-Makar’s assertion that he had Allie, and he silently prayed that Al-Makar was lying. If he wasn’t, and if they had mistreated Allie, he’d personally kill somebody for it.
He heard the bolt on the outside of the door slide back, and Abu Al-Makar entered. He threw down another water bottle next to Maurie’s leg. “For your continued health,” he said. “I don’t want you to die of dehydration before we can trade you.”
Maurie raised an eyebrow. Al-Makar was holding a pistol pointed at his head; otherwise, he would have considered attacking the man and taking his chances. “Trade me? For whom?”
“My cousin Rahim. You are familiar with him, I believe?”
“I helped put him in prison.”
“Yes. A fitting irony that you will help get him out, isn’t it?” With that, he left the room, closed the door, and slid the bolt home. Maurie finished the water in the old bottle, then cracked the top on the new bottle. I really am looking forward, he thought, to Allie and me getting a chance to sail that new boat. But first, I’m looking forward to getting my chance to kill that man. The next time somebody comes through that door, I’ll be standing on my feet.
Angelique’s cell phone rang. She withdrew it from her pocket and studied the number, then answered it. “Yes, sir?” she said.
The Old Man had called her directly. He wasted no time. “Angel, I’m sending someone out to assist you. He will take command. We’re getting Maurie back tonight.”
“I will be glad to have Maurie back, but we cannot allow Al-Makar to go free.”
“I agree. He’s far too dangerous.”
“Then how – ?”
“Patience, Angel. Wait for the briefing. Shalom.” With that, he hung up.
She lit a cigarette and thought about the conversation as she stood outside the safe house, shielded from the road by the SUV parked near the door. Eventually, she dropped the butt on the ground and stepped on it, and returned to the house. “I just heard from The Old Man,” she said. “We are to expect a visitor. They have a plan.”
“About fucking time,” Shoshana grumbled.
“Patience, never your strength,” Angelique noted. “Let’s make some dinner.”
“Cooking was never yours,” Shoshana retorted.
Laurie laughed. “It still isn’t,” she agreed. “I’ll cook. What do you guys have around here?” She entered the kitchen, pulled open the refrigerator, then poked into some cabinets. “Not a lot, from what I can see. Well, it’ll be sparse, but it’ll be something. Hey, Allie. Want to help?”
“Yeah. It’ll keep my mind off of – well, everything.” She rose and walked into the kitchen.
The Mossad driver opened the front door. “I’ve got to get back to Haifa,” he said. “Have fun, girls.” With that, he left.
Shoshana looked at Angelique. “So,” she said, “Is that a wedding ring?”
Angelique held up her hand. “Yes.”
“Who the hell did you marry? I thought you were – ”
“I am. I married Laurie,” Angelique replied, as she pointed toward the kitchen. “It is legal in France, you know.”
“I’m glad that it’s finally legal somewhere,” Shoshana said. She thought about that for a moment, then said, “She’s lucky to have you.”
“Thank you, but I feel lucky to have her.”
“You always were lucky. I envy that in you.”
Angelique pointed at the scars on Shoshana’s shoulder, evident beneath her tank-top and the strap of her shoulder holster. “You are not, I see. You did not have that, the last time I saw you.”
“I’ve got it now. Occupational hazard.” She lifted the bottom of her tank-top and pulled the waist-band of her pants down to expose a long surgical scar on her abdomen, beneath her navel. “You remember that one though, right?”
Angelique nodded. “I remember.”
“I can’t have children now, because of it.”
“I am so sorry to hear that.”
“Yes,” Shoshana said. “You’re sorry. I’m sorry. Everybody’s sorry. Maybe if you’d taken the shot two seconds sooner – ”
Angelique turned to the window. “I know. I see it, again and again, in my sleep, in my quiet moments. The hesitation, the question. But I was not sure.” She sighed. “I was not sure.”
“Always that was you, Angel. You and your principles. Don’t kill the innocent. Wait until you are sure. Always question.”
“It was so confused, the situation – ”
“It was war, Angel. The innocent always die in war. You never could get used to that.” Shoshana softened. “It was a confused situation, as you say.”
“Had I taken the shot sooner, he would not have shot you. It is my fault, and I live with that. I am sorry.”
“I live with it, too. But on one fact, you have been misinformed.” She studied Angelique’s face, then spoke softly. “The bullet they dug from me was not from an AK-47. It was from an Israeli sniper’s rifle, and you were the only sniper there.”
“But – but that is not possible!” Angelique said. “I did not aim at you.”
“The bullet was quite deformed. It was a ricochet. It must have been. That is the only logical answer.”
Angelique placed a hand over her mouth. “I am so sorry. So sorry.”
Shoshana nodded. “I’m sorry, too.” She watched Angelique wipe her eyes, and she softened. She placed a hand on Angelique’s shoulder. “Well, we’re just a couple of sorry women, aren’t we?”
“I suppose that we are.” Angelique managed a little smile. “Excuse me. I will just wash my face.” She left the room.
Shoshana stood by the window, considered the conversation, and decided that she hated herself. Why did she have to burden Angelique with that? She looked down at her hand. It was shaking. She was feeling nervous and unsettled. Damn it, she thought; she shouldn’t have gotten drunk. The last thing she needed to do was fall off the wagon again. It’s going to make tonight a long one indeed, even with her medication. She looked toward the kitchen and wondered if the previous occupants had left any liquor or wine around. After dinner, she’d look. Until then, she would just have to hide the tremor, and she’d pop a pill. She smiled sardonically at that thought. Better living through chemistry, as the doctors say.
As The Old Man had foretold, a car pulled up in the yard near the house, and a man emerged. At the door, he showed his Mossad credentials and introduced himself as David. His shoulder bag contained a laptop computer.
He set the computer up on the table and powered it on. As it whirred into life, he turned to Angelique. “Gather your people,” he said. “I’ll brief all of you.” He waited until they were all assembled, then said, “Thanks to the cell phone you took from that messenger on the motor-bike, we’ve located Abu Al-Makar. We assume Maurie’s with him. It’s a house in an Arab neighborhood on the outskirts of Haifa. Here’s a satellite photograph of the neighborhood.”
Angelique grimaced when she saw the image. “Crowded. Narrow streets. A great possibility of civilians getting hurt. And we are not Arab. We will be obvious. I do not like it.”
“Neither does The Old Man, but he’s emphatic that we get Maurie back. Oh, and Angel? He said, ‘No mercy.’ He wants Al-Makar dead and Maurie alive.”
“There is not going to be a trade?”
“No. He doesn’t want to chance it. If anything goes wrong, if both Rahim and Abu Al-Makar are able to get away after the trade, they can disappear and cause us a lot of trouble.”
“I understand.” She glanced at the window. “It is afternoon now. We eat, then we leave. I want us in place around that house as soon as possible.”
After dinner, David left the house, then returned from his car a moment later with another box. He clapped it down on the table and said, “Arab neighborhood. I brought Arab clothing for you ladies. Me, I look rather Arab, so I’m okay with just a keffiyeh.”
Angelique asked him – in Arabic – if he spoke Arabic. “Yes,” he answered in that language. “I speak it well enough. If anyone questions me, I tell them that I’m a Turk, here on a work permit.” He shrugged. “It seems to satisfy them.” She considered his face. He would pass. His skin was tanned enough, and he wore his hair and a close-cut beard in Arab fashion, although he was a Jew. She guessed that he spent a lot of time in Arab neighborhoods.
“Well,” David said. “Let’s begin. I want weapons checks first. Then, we dress and leave.” He turned to Allie. “We have to take Shoshana with us. You’ll be alone. I will show you the safe room, and you’ll have a gun. If anyone but us comes, challenge them. Make them show you credentials. If they try to force their way into the house, retreat to the safe room and lock yourself inside, and call us. Use the gun as a last resort.”
The SUV stopped on the side of a narrow street, behind a line of cars. From here, they could see the house in question, the house identified as the one sheltering Abu Al-Makar. He would not be alone; there would be others. The first order of business was to gain entry. Then, they could search the house room by room, deal with Al-Makar and any others from the Eternal Martyrs’ Brigade found there, and hopefully recover Maurie.
“I do not like it,” Angelique said. “There is too little known.”
“We have no choice,” David countered. “The Old Man wants this to happen tonight.”
“Then we do this.” She looked at the faces around her, grim expressions in the car, and said, “All weapons ready?” A chorus of nods greeted her. “Cover your hair.” At that, Shoshana and Angelique closed their abayas, their robes covering their clothes, about them, and donned the hijab to cover their hair. David flipped the white-and-black checkered keffiyeh head-cloth over his head and tugged the head-band down to hold it in place. Then, he outlined the plan. It was simple and ruthless, and depended on chutzpah and deception to work. Once the fireworks started, time was of the essence. They were in an Arab neighborhood; they’d best make their escape quickly.
Shoshana, Angelique, and David exited the car. As they did, Shoshana concealed her shotgun beneath her robe and pulled it closed. Laurie took her place behind the wheel of the SUV and waited for her cue. It would come soon enough. Her heart pounded in fear and her mouth went dry, but not for fear of her own safety. She worried for Angelique. So what if, in the past, she had been lucky? Luck runs out. Please God, Laurie thought, let it not be tonight.
David stopped at the door and knocked on it as Angelique and Shoshana stood behind him. He knocked again, and the door opened. A young man stood at the door. “What do you want?” he asked in Arabic.
“I’m looking for my cousin Ahmad. He lives here, no? Who are you?”
“I don’t know any Ahmad. He doesn’t live here. You’re mistaken.”
“But he lived here two months ago. My sisters want to see his new baby.”
“We rented this house a week ago. Ahmad isn’t here. I’m sorry, but you’re mistaken.”
“I think not.” David raised a silenced pistol and fired a shot into the young man’s chest. He collapsed like a rag doll, and David kicked the door open. They entered and spread out. Angelique extended her arm, pistol in hand, and Shoshana leveled her shotgun. Voices sounded from the hall, and a man entered the room and began shouting at them. A moment later, he was lying on the floor, screaming in pain and holding his leg. Shoshana barked a command for silence at him and shoved the shotgun in his face. He obeyed.
“Who else is in the house?” David asked.
“No one,” the man managed to reply through gritted teeth.
“Is Al-Makar here?”
“Who is that?”
“Don’t play games.” David shot him in the other leg, and he screamed again as Angelique shut the front door. She tapped Shoshana on the shoulder. “We clear the house,” she said in Arabic. Together, they paced the hall, their slow, silent tread disguised by moans of pain and the interrogation taking place in the front room.
She stopped next to a door, and she motioned with her eyes. Shoshana leveled her shotgun at the door, and Angelique turned the knob and pushed it open. The shotgun discharged, and Shoshana cocked it as Angelique entered, her arm extended and her pistol in front of her. Inside, a man lay on the floor next to a sleeping pad. Blood began pooling around him. She turned him face-up, then shook her head. “Not Al-Makar,” she said. She backed up to the door, peeked into the hall, and motioned with a hand. “Two more rooms.”
In the front room, David was having a heart-to-heart chat with the wounded man. He was leaned against the wall, gripping his legs and speaking in a strained voice. When Angelique and Shoshana returned to the front room, Angelique said in Arabic, “House is clear. What does our friend say?”
David stood up. “He says that Al-Makar and his prisoner are gone. They left this afternoon.”
“Where?” Angelique asked.
“He doesn’t know.”
“That’s a lie,” Angelique decided. She raised her pistol at him and put a bullet into the wall three inches from his head. “Where are they?” she asked. “Think carefully before you lie again.”
“I don’t know!” the man shouted. “In the sight of God, I don’t know! He did not say!”
“This,” Angelique told him, “is your last chance.”
“It’s the truth!” he pleaded. He watched her raise her pistol and aim it at his forehead. “All right! I heard him say something about Ka’am.”
David shot a glance at Angelique. “It makes sense,” he said. “It’s an Arab neighborhood, outside Haifa. Small. Mostly farming and such. He won’t be noticed there.”
Angelique considered that, then looked at their prisoner. “What was he driving?”
“I don’t know.” She stepped on his injured leg, and he screamed. “All right! An American car. A red Chevrolet. A big one. Old. Beat-up.”
“I don’t know. Do you know your license number?”
She leaned down and rifled through his pockets until she found his identification papers. She took a picture of it with her cell phone, then threw it in his lap. “Is there anything else you wish to tell us?”
“Just that you’re all dead. When Al-Makar hears of this – ”
Angelique’s pistol discharged, and his head jerked, then fell forward. His chin rested on his chest. From a bullet hole in his forehead, a trail of blood poured across his face and dotted his shirt. “He will not,” she said. She looked at her companions. “We should go, I think.”
Shoshana looked at Angelique. “So,” she said. “Did you have to kill that man?”
“Yes. I did,” Angelique replied. “He would have told Al-Makar that we were right behind him.”
David opened the front door, waved a hand, and the SUV pulled up in front of the door. They piled in, and Laurie pulled away. As David guided Laurie through the narrow streets, Angelique pulled the hijab from her hair. In English, she said, “I will make a report.” She found her phone and dialed a number.
“Now what?” Shoshana asked.
“Now?” Angelique listened to the phone ring. “Now, we go to Ka’am, find that car, and get Maurie back. But first, let us check on Allie.”
Khalis watched the house from a distance; he had been here since this afternoon, since he had followed the Israeli SUV from the Haifa streets to the nearby countryside. He had watched his companion get intercepted by the Israelis, and he had seen them kill him. After the SUV had left, he’d found his companion from the Brigade dead on the side of the road and followed, at some distance, the car to this house. It was time to report in to Al-Makar.
He opened his cell phone and dialed. A moment later, he said, “It’s Khalis. I’m at the Zionists’ safe house. They got into their car and left about an hour ago. It’s quiet.”
“Is anyone there?”
“Five left the car; only four got back inside. One must be in the house, alone.”
“This is perfect. I’ll bet it’s the American woman with the blonde hair. Go and check; if it is, capture her and call me. I’ll come and get her.”
“Understood.” He hung up, then studied the house. How would he do this? In a moment, he made his decision. He tucked his handgun into his waistband beneath his shirt-tail and started his motor-bike. A few minutes later, he was at the house’s front door. He knocked loudly, then called out in his limited Hebrew, “You home?”
A voice inside replied in English. “Who’s there?”
Khalis smiled. It was a female voice, and she spoke in English. It must be the blonde. He shouted in English, “Ah, Mossad. I come to see you maybe okay?”
“Show me your credentials. Put them under the door.”
“No, cannot. Open door, please?”
“Is okay. I am Mossad.” He knocked again. “Here is my papers. Open door, I show.”
The lock clicked, and the door opened a crack. A woman with blonde hair peeked out at him. “Where’s your ID?” she asked. “Show me.”
“Here is papers,” he said. He made as if to extract something from his pocket, then suddenly kicked at the door. It flew open, and he charged inside. As he extracted his pistol from beneath his shirt-tail, he scanned the main room for Allie. She had been knocked to the floor. At the moment, she was scooting away from him and attempting to rise to her feet. He raised his pistol at her. “Stop, or I kill. You are prisoner of Eternal Martyrs Brigade. You come with me.”
Allie stared in horror at the pistol pointed at her, and at the young man behind it. Prisoner? Oh, no, she thought. Not me. No way am I submitting to this guy. She rose to her hands and knees very slowly, very cautiously, and prepared to bolt toward the safe room installed in the closet of the bedroom. With luck, she could enter it and bolt the door before he could catch her. Her heart pounded in her chest, and her muscles tensed as she prepared to run. When he glanced down as he dug into his pocket for something, she made her move and ran toward the bedroom.
He was faster than she’d anticipated. He snatched a handful of her clothing and pulled her backward, and she screamed. She heard him shouting something in Arabic, and she kicked at him, hard. He grunted and released her. A second later, he slapped her in the side of the head with the handle of his pistol.
Allie saw stars. Her head felt like it would explode. She kicked again, hard, and connected with something important this time. He doubled over. She did not look back; she ran for the bedroom, slammed the door, and locked it. As he pounded on the door and shouted, she found the closet, entered, and closed the door. She ran the bolt home a second before he got there. In the darkness, she felt the walls around the door for a light switch, and found one. When she clicked on the light, she could see the door shaking from his repeated kicks. It seemed secure, though. She leaned against the wall, sunk down to a seated position on the floor, and held her head. When she looked at her hand, it was bloody. On the side of her head, at her temple, she gingerly touched a raised, bloody lump. He had dealt her a vicious blow.
The kicking stopped. She listened, and she could hear a faint voice speaking. He must be making a telephone call. Yes, a telephone call! She would do the same. She pulled her phone from her pocket. As she dialed Laurie’s number, her hands shook. She held it to her head and listened to the rings, one after another. Finally, Laurie said, “Hey, sis. What’s up?”
“Somebody’s here. I’m in the safe room. He’s got a gun. He’s inside the house.”
“Shit. You got your gun?”
“No. It’s in the living room, on the couch.”
“Are you locked in the safe room?”
“Yes. He tried to kick the door in, but he can’t. Where are you guys?”
“We’re on our way. Hang on.” She could hear Laurie in frantic conversation with the others in the car, and then she came back to the phone. “Keep that door locked. Sit tight. We’re on our way. How many are there?”
“Just one, so far. He’s calling somebody, though. Oh, Christ, Laurie. Hurry up!”
“We’re coming, Allie. Hang on.” The phone disconnected.
“Hello? Hello?” She looked down at the phone. “Shit! She hung up on me.” She put the phone in her pocket, then listened. She heard nothing outside, but she knew that he had not gone. She was trapped in a closet; he would merely bide his time. He did not know, though, that at this moment, four people were on their way here. That would be her only salvation. But what if they didn’t get here in time? She’d better think of a ‘Plan B’, and she’d better think fast.
She studied the inside of the closet. Most of it was wood, but sheet metal extended for several feet in either direction from the metal-lined door. Bulletproof? She looked at the back wall, and saw that the closet was unfinished; she saw vertical joists, electrical wiring, and thin wood. With luck, she could kick a hole through the wall, squeeze between the joists, and flee through the front door while he was in the bedroom.
She placed her back against the metal door and pushed against the wood with her feet. It did not move. She pushed again, shifted her position, and pushed with all her might, but she could not separate the wood from the joists. After a few minutes, she stopped. It was getting stuffy in the closet, and she felt herself sweating. How long could she last in here? Was there any ventilation? She studied the inside of the closet, but there was nothing in there which would help her, no tools or anything which would aid her escape.
Her head pounded with pain, and she became dizzy. She collapsed to the floor and sat, defeated, as she attempted to focus on anything but her aching head, and to reassure herself that rescue was near.
Abu Al-Makar stopped his beat-up red Chevrolet SUV at the door of the house, next to Khalis’s motor-bike, and entered the house. “Where is she?” he asked.
Khalis stuck his head out of the bedroom door. “In here. Closet. It’s a safe room.”
Al-Makar studied the door. “Yes. Metal.” He fumed for a moment, then asked, “Is she armed?”
“Does she have a telephone?” In reply, Khalis shrugged, and Al-Makar grimaced. “We must assume that she does, and has called for help. I don’t want a confrontation with Mossad here.”
“Why not?” Khalis asked. “We can fight them.”
“Idiot,” he said. “We’ll be outnumbered and trapped in here. We have to get her out of there quickly. It’s a good thing I anticipated a safe room. A lot of Zionist houses have them. Go and open the back of my car. Bring what you find there.”
Khalis left, and Al-Makar banged on the metal door and shouted in English. “You! Woman! Open this door and come out now,” he commanded. She was merely a woman; she would obey a man’s orders, wouldn’t she? He felt assured that he could bully her out of there.
He listened. For a long, terrible moment, there was dead silence. Then, a muffled, feminine voice replied, “Not by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin.”
He blinked in surprise. “What in the hell does that mean?” he shouted.
Allie’s reply was a scream. “That means, ‘Fuck you, asshole!’”
Al-Makar’s response was a string of Arabic curses which morphed into English as he pounded on the door with the handle of his pistol. “I will beat you senseless,” he shouted. “Open this door now! Hurry!”
He stepped back a few paces and fired his pistol into the wall around the door. The metal plating caused the bullet to ricochet and smash a mirror. He kicked at the door in his fury, then stepped backward. Where was that idiot Khalis?
He glanced toward the bedroom door and saw Khalis cowering from the ricochet. In his hands, he held an electric saw with a nine-inch blade. Al-Makar strode to him and snatched it from his hands. “Where is the other side of that closet?” he asked.
“Main room,” Khalis said. “Are you going to cut through the wall?”
“No, you moron. I’m going to sacrifice a goat.”
“That’s not much electric cord.”
“Idiot! Get the extension cord from the back of my car.”
Khalis left, and met Al-Makar a few moments later in the main room. He plugged in the cord as Al-Makar paced off the distance along the wall, then started the saw. He jammed it through the wall and began working the saw downward toward the floor as a shower of plaster and wood particles coated his shoes.
Inside the safe room, Allie cowered in a corner and tried to avoid the bite of the blade in the narrow closet. She watched in horror as the saw blade worked its way down the inside of the closet. It bit through a cross-brace and kept cutting. Then, she noticed that he was cutting between two joists which harbored an electrical circuit. She pulled on the wiring, encased in electrical conduit, and worked it around so that the conduit ran just beneath the saw’s intended path. Then, she stood back.
The blade cut into the conduit, and a shower of sparks flew everywhere. The saw stopped, and she could hear impassioned screaming in Arabic from the other side of the wall. She leaned against the wall and closed her eyes in relief; there’s no telling how many of the house’s circuits blew from that little mishap. Then, she opened her eyes and looked at the wiring.
It was smouldering, and acrid smoke from the electrical insulation was filling the closet. The saw began again, and the blade resumed chewing its way through the wall. Not only had it not worked, she was now coughing from the smoke. What seemed, at first, a good idea, had backfired on her.
She watched the blade began a horizontal cut in the wall. She knew that Al-Makar would be inside the closet in a few minutes, and that thought chilled her. After all, he didn’t seem like a congenial type of guy. She made her decision, and she slid the bolt on the door to the unlocked position. Then, she opened the door and made a dash for the bedroom window.
She was halfway out of the window when a shrieking Khalis grabbed her leg and pulled her back. She kicked at him, and her heel caught him in the face. He let go, and she fell through the window and landed in the dirt and grass. The fall knocked the breath from her, but she struggled to rise. She noted that the sound of the saw had ceased, and she ran toward the road. As she passed the corner of the house, an outstretched arm caught her beneath the chin, and she landed flat on her back. She was lifted from the ground by a very pissed-off Al-Makar, who said something in Arabic, then punctuated it with a backhand across her face. She fell, and was yanked to her knees. He struck her twice more in the face, then threw her against the side of his SUV. She bounced off the side of the car and collapsed in the dirt. She attempted to collect her wits as she numbly watched blood from her face spot the dirt. After a few seconds, she tried to rise. Al-Makar pushed her to the ground with his foot, yanked her hands behind her back, and pulled a zip-tie tight around her wrists. He zip-tied her ankles together, and the two men lifted her and threw her onto the floor of the SUV, behind the front seats. A moment later, Khalis climbed into the rear seat and sat with his feet on her as Al-Makar started the car and drove it onto the road.
“God damn it!” David shouted. “How the hell did they find her? How the hell did they know where our safe-house was?” He skidded the SUV to a halt just off the road as Angelique and Laurie threw open the car’s doors and bolted for the house.
Shoshana pointed. “Look! Ahead, there, heading away from us. Old red American car. SUV-type. That’s what Al-Makar is driving.” She opened the door. “I’ll follow and call you.” Before David could object, she slung her shotgun across her back, climbed astride Khalis’s motor-bike, and kicked it into life. She squealed the bike onto the main road and took off.
Angelique emerged from the house and approached David. “Yes,” she said. “They got her.”
“Damn!” David shouted. “Now he’s got them both. Collect our things. We’re out of here for good.”
“Where do we go?” Laurie asked.
He pointed down the road. “Wherever they’re going. Shoshana’s following them. She’ll report when she can.”
In two minutes, they’d collected their bags, thrown them into the back of the car, and headed out onto the road. They drove north, in the direction Shoshana had taken, as Angelique made a phone call to Mossad.
Shoshana drove with one hand as she flipped open her sunglasses with the other hand and slid them onto her face. Then, she shifted into highest gear and gunned the bike. Ahead, she could just barely see the red car, and she cursed the underpowered bike. Slowly, the tachometer needle rose, and the bike gained speed. It was a main road, so she shouldn’t come upon any stop signs. She just hoped that there were no traffic lights, either; she might have to run one or two to catch her target.
Inside the car, Al-Makar glanced into the rear-view mirror and growled a curse. “Isn’t that your motor-bike?” he asked Khalis.
The young man turned and looked. “I think so,” he said. “But who’s on it?”
“Idiot! That’s one of those Mossad agents.” He glanced again. “We’ll have to kill her. I’m going to slow down a little. Let her get close, then shoot her.”
“Never mind,” Khalis said. “She just turned off the road. I don’t see her anymore.” He shrugged as he turned around and settled back in his seat. “Maybe it wasn’t my motor-bike, after all.”
Shoshana down-shifted, gunned the motor-bike, and leapt a drainage ditch bordering an orchard. She zig-zagged between trees and ducked beneath branches, then leapt another ditch, landed on the road, and stood on the rear brake. The motor-bike skidded to a halt diagonally across the road. She pulled her shotgun around her body, ejected a shell, and pocketed it. Then, she pulled a shell in a gray casing from the loops on the weapon’s side and loaded it. It contained a single, solid slug with a lot of powder behind it; it would penetrate the sheet metal of a car with gusto, and it could crack an engine block. She racked the shotgun to chamber the round, then waited.
She could hear the car coming; sure enough, it appeared over the hill and approached her. It was going at a high rate of speed, and it slowed and swerved a little when the driver saw her in the road. Then, the car aimed itself directly at her and speeded up. Shoshana smiled. She had expected that. She tapped the motor-bike into first gear with her toe, held the clutch in, and waited. When the car got near, she released the clutch, and she ran the bike down into the ditch.
The motor died when it hit the ditch, and she rolled off the bike and stood up, shotgun in hand. The car swerved toward her, and she aimed and shot. The windscreen shattered into a mass of cracks with a huge hole in the middle. She’d missed the engine compartment. She racked the shotgun as she dodged and rolled, and came up just behind the car and shot again. The back of the SUV was peppered with little holes, a tail-light shattered, and the back window cracked, but the car continued on.
She climbed out of the ditch a very unhappy girl. She’d missed the engine compartment and hadn’t stopped the car. They still had Allie. She pulled the cell phone from her pocket and called Angelique to report the near miss.
Inside the SUV, Al-Makar shouted, “What the hell is that?” Khalis leaned forward and looked. His jaw dropped in amazement. In the road, ahead of them, was his motor-bike. Astride it was what appeared to be a female, and she had a weapon.
“Crazy bitch!” Khalis said. “What does she want?”
“She wants to kill us, you idiot. She’s going to shoot at us.”
“What do we do?”
“We run over her, that’s what we do!”
“No!” Khalis shouted. “Are you crazy? That’s my motor-bike.”
Al-Makar steered the car toward her. “I’ll get you another one.”
The shotgun discharged. The windscreen shattered, and Khalis’s head exploded. Blood, brains, and bone spattered the inside of the SUV, and Al-Makar gagged. He stared into the back seat; Khalis’s torso was there, slumped over, but half his head was gone, and his face was unrecognizable. “Shit!” Al-Makar said. “Crazy woman!” He heard another gunshot, very close this time, and the back window exploded. He ducked, then stepped on the gas. He would be at his farmhouse soon, gather his people and the prisoner Ben Shalev, and head to his backup hideout. Mossad would never think to look for him where he intended to hide until the prisoner transfer.
In the back seat, Allie was screaming. She was splattered with bits of Khalis, and blood was dripping from the back seat onto her shoulder. After a moment, she gained control of herself, took a deep breath, and shouted, “Get me out of here!”
“Shut up, woman,” Al-Makar said. “I don’t have time for you now. Be quiet.”
“Your asshole buddy’s bleeding all over me,” Allie countered. “Get me up, damn it.”
“Stay there. If they shoot at us again, you’re safer.”
“Oh.” Allie thought about that, then sighed. “Well, do something. This is disgusting. He’s like – leaking all over me.” Al-Makar swerved the car around a turn, and Khalis’s body fell to one side, away from Allie. “Thank you,” she said.
“Women!” he muttered as he looked into his side view mirror. He saw no one following; he smiled and slowed down a little.
David squealed the car to a stop in the road, and Shoshana climbed inside. Before she’d closed the door, he’d stepped on the accelerator, and the car took off. Angelique turned in her seat and studied Shoshana wordlessly.
“What?” Shoshana asked. “What’s that look for?”
“Did you get him?”
“No,” she grumped. “I blew out his windows and I think I hit somebody inside, but I didn’t stop the car.” She pointed. “He’s heading in that direction.”
“Yeah,” David said. “I see him ahead. He just took that left. He’s headed toward Acre.”
“Fuck!” Shoshana yelled. “Hurry up. We’ve got to get Allie back.”
“Take it easy,” David said. “We can’t just blow him up.” David looked at Angelique, who said nothing, but raised an eyebrow in reply. Then, he nodded and stepped on the gas. “But we can run him off the road.”
“Allie’s in that car,” Laurie objected.
“Better she gets a few bumps and bruises than she stays the prisoner of that maniac,” David said.
They crested a hill, and David slammed on the brakes. The car skidded to a halt. “Where did he go?” he shouted. “We lost him.” Everyone began scanning the countryside around the car for some sign of a red SUV, but they saw nothing. David touched a button, and the sun roof slid backward. He yanked some binoculars from the glove-box and climbed up through the sun-roof. “He’s got to be around here someplace,” he said. “He can’t have gotten that far so quickly.”
Angelique opened her door and stepped out. She shielded her eyes against the sun and studied the countryside; the farmland, the hills, the quiet roads, the occasional, lone houses, and the distant clusters of settlement homes. She saw nothing. She leaned against the car and crossed her arms across her chest. What would Al-Makar do now? He has both Maurie and Allie; he would be pleased with himself. He will gloat and boast. The Eternal Martyrs Brigade website will soon have another video. He’ll be wanting to trade his prisoners, and he’ll raise the stakes. Instead of just his cousin, he’ll want somebody else, too. In the meantime, we’ll just have to wait. The next move is his, now.
With a silent prayer for Maurie’s and Allie’s safety in her mind, she looked up at David. “Anything?”
“No.” He lowered his binoculars. “It’s time to stop and regroup.”
Allie felt the car halt, and she looked up. Al-Makar slammed his door and opened the back door next to Allie’s head. He grabbed a handful of hair and lifted her head, then slapped a piece of duct tape across her bruised mouth. Then, he dragged her out of the car and cut off the zip-tie around her ankles. Without a word, he hustled her into a farmhouse, walked her past several staring men in the front room, and pushed her down a hall. He opened a door, pushed her inside, and forced her to her knees. Then, he grasped her chin, turned her head to face him, and spoke.
“Stay here. Keep quiet. No trouble, or I kill you.”
She mumbled something, but he merely shot her a puzzled look. After a second, he pulled the duct tape from her mouth. “What did you say?” he asked.
“I said, ‘Let my hands loose. It hurts.”
“No.” He slapped the tape back over her mouth. As an afterthought, he backhanded her across the face. She fell to the floor, and he left. The door clicked, as if a lock had been thrown. Allie slowly sat up, and she huffed in frustration. She could feel her nose bleeding again, feel warm blood trickle across her chin. She looked down; it was spotting the floor. She sniffed a few times, then struggled to a standing position. There had to be something around here to help her out of this situation. She would inspect her surroundings.
Unfortunately, there was nothing in the room except her. She examined the window, but it was locked and nailed shut. She was exhausted, and her head hurt. She leaned against the wall, closed her eyes, and allowed herself to cry.
After a while, the door locked clicked, and the door opened. An Arab woman entered. A traditional black abaya covered her body, and her hair was covered, but her face was exposed. She approached Allie cautiously, and Allie retreated into a corner and kept her eyes on her. The woman attempted a smile to put Allie at ease, then whispered a few words to her in Arabic as she peeled away the duct tape from Allie’s mouth. When the tape was off, Allie asked, “English?”
“Yes, a little,” the Arab woman replied. She tapped her chest. “Muna,” she said. “You?”
“Ali? A man’s name?”
“No. Not Ali. Allie. Oh, close enough,” Allie said.
“Okay. I take care of you, Ali-Allie. Wait.” She held up a finger in warning, then left the room. A minute later, she returned with a basin of water and cloths. “Sit,” she said. She pointed to a rug on the floor. They both settled, cross-legged, on the floor, with the basin between them. As she wetted the cloth and tended Allie’s face, she attempted conversation.
“I am Al-Makar’s wife. No, number two wife. Number one wife is in Gaza, with children. You married?”
“No,” Allie said. “Divorced.”
“Ah. You pretty girl to not be married. You got prospect?”
Muna’s eyes were large and inquisitive, her face very young. Her touch was gentle. “Maybe,” Allie said. “Nice guy, too.”
“Where is he?”
“I don’t know. Al-Makar kidnapped him.”
“What is this ‘kidnapped’?” Muna asked.
“Taken. Stolen. Gone. Like me.”
Muna’s expression revealed shock. “A Jew? Handsome? Nice smile?” She touched the hijab which covered her own hair. “A little gray here?”
“Yeah. That’s him.” She studied Muna’s expression. “You’ve seen him. Where is he?”
“I say too much,” Muna whispered. “But your man, he is okay.” She put a finger to her lips. “Shh. No more. Quiet.”
“Can you cut this thing off my hands?” Allie asked. “It hurts. Besides, I have to pee.” At Muna’s expression of question, she said, “Toilet?”
“Ah. Yes. Toilet. I take you. Stand up.” She helped Allie to a standing position and led her to the door. When she opened it, a sour-looking young man with an AK-47 slung over his shoulder stood in their way. Muna held a short conversation with him in Arabic, and he led them down a hallway to the bathroom. Muna entered with Allie and closed the door. “You use,” she said as she pointed at the toilet. “I must stay with you.”
“My hands?” Allie asked.
“Oh. Yes.” She pulled a folded knife from her pocket, opened it, and cut the zip-tie away.
Allie rubbed her wrists as she watched Muna fold the knife and put it away. “Damn,” she said. “You carry a knife?”
“Not allowed gun,” she said. “Use toilet, please. No time.”
A few minutes later, the bathroom door opened. The sour-looking man was still there. “My husband’s cousin,” Muna said. “So he is family to Al-Makar. Will not hurt us.”
“That’s nice to know, I guess,” Allie said. The man shushed them both, then led them back to the room and locked them inside. Allie turned to Muna. “Where is Maurie?”
“Oh.” She lowered her voice to a whisper. “Your man? He is here. Another room. I think we move again, maybe tonight. You maybe see him then.” She managed a smile. “He is okay, I think. I come back later. Bring food.” She turned to go, and Allie stopped her with a hand on her arm. Muna looked back at Allie and tilted her head a little, as if awaiting her thoughts.
“Thank you,” Allie said.
“Yes. Of course. I go now.” She patted Allie’s hand. “Be quiet. Be careful.” Again, she put her finger to her lips. She extended a hand, and in it, she offered out her folding knife. “For you,” she said. “The men, I hear them talking about you. Maybe you will need it.”
With that, she turned and knocked on the door as Allie slipped the folded knife into her back pocket.
The SUV was stopped in the shade at a road-side rest stop. Angelique paced and contemplated angry thoughts as she smoked a cigarette. They could do nothing now but wait for further orders from Tel Aviv, and her present powerlessness infuriated her. Maurie was kidnapped, and now, Allie had been taken by the same man: Al-Makar. The one that got away. If she hadn’t failed years ago, they wouldn’t be in this position now. It was her fault. And as much as she tried to convince herself that it wasn’t, that everyone loses a target or two, that she was young and inexperienced at the time and he was very clever, she couldn’t quite manage to assuage her self-incrimination.
David approached her. “Angel,” he said. “Tel Aviv is working on something. They’ll let us know.”
“Yes.” She did not look at him.
“This wasn’t your fault, you know. It was mine.”
“No. Shoshana was assigned to watch Allie.”
“And I took her from that duty. My fault.”
“Too bad, Angel,” another voice added. Both Angelique and David turned. It was Shoshana. “I know you’d so love to blame it on me.”
“It was your fault,” Angelique responded. “You. Your job to watch her. You failed. And you did not stop the car. What happened?”
“I missed,” Shoshana said. “There! You have it. I missed!”
“And to think I helped to train you,” Angelique said.
“Maybe that explains it,” Shoshana shouted. “The great Angel missed once too, didn’t she? And if she hadn’t, maybe we wouldn’t be here now.” Shoshana threw the stub of her cigarette aside. “You should have shot him when you had the chance.” She added a parting thought. “Instead of shooting me.” With that, she walked into the shade of some trees, sat down on a bench, and rested her head in her hands.
David held up a hand in caution. “Let her vent, Angel. She’s got a hair trigger lately. She’ll calm down in a few minutes.”
“What is wrong with her?”
“Her medicine, I think. It’s not working. And she’s on probation with Mossad. This screw-up may sink her.”
Angelique cast David a knowing glance. “I saw her hand shaking.”
She studied Shoshana, sitting in the distance, and sighed. Then, she walked to the SUV, dug into the back of the car, and rummaged in her bag as David watched her. As she straightened up, she held up a partially-filled bottle of vodka. “Here is the medicine that she really needs. Give her just enough, will you?” Angelique shrugged in explanation to the unspoken question on David’s face. “I stole it from the safe house.” She managed a grin. “The Arabs will not drink it.”
“Don’t bet on that,” David said. “And why don’t you give it to her yourself?”
“Maybe better from you. She hates me.”
“Don’t bet on that, either.”
It was David’s turn to smile. “When she heard that you were back in Israel, she lit up like a little kid.” He slapped her on the arm. “Go. Be with her. She needs company right now. You’re the best one for the job.”
Angelique looked toward the SUV. Laurie was leaning against the side of the car, and had witnessed everything. “Go on, Angel,” she said. “You two have things to work out. David and I will be here.” She smiled at the silent ‘thank you’ in Angelique’s expression, and watched her walk toward Shoshana with the bottle behind her back. Laurie looked at David. “So, what do you guys do around here for fun?” she asked. “I mean, besides chase bad guys?”
“I don’t know,” David said. He looked at Laurie. “Do you know any good jokes?”
She snickered. “Are you kidding? I work in a bar. I’ve got a ton of ‘em. You want one in French, or in English?”
At the bench, Angelique sat next to Shoshana. For some time, she watched her as she sat, head in hands. Then, she attempted conversation. “You know,” she said, “it was not your fault that Allie got taken. I spoke poorly. For that, I am sorry.”
“Whose fault is it, then?” Shoshana asked, not looking up. “I was charged with keeping her safe. I failed her.”
“And you were needed for the mission. David is in charge. His responsibility.”
Shoshana straightened up and rested her hands in her lap. “I didn’t keep her safe. I promised her that I would. I failed her, and now, she’s in the hands of that maniac.” She covered her eyes with a hand, and she sniffed loudly.
Angelique pulled a handkerchief from her pocket and placed it in Shoshana’s hand. “You are taking this very personally.”
“I shouldn’t?” She held up the handkerchief and nodded her ‘thank you’, then wiped her eyes with it.
“I suspect that, with you, Allie is more than an assignment. Yes?”
Shoshana nodded. “You’re perceptive. You always were.”
“And always, you wore your heart here.” She tapped her sleeve.
“It was mutual,” Shoshana said, then attempted a smile. “At least, last night it was.”
“I understand now.” Angelique nodded. “We shall get her back.”
“Shit.” Shoshana pulled a pill bottle from her pocket and opened it. A single pill fell into her hand. “I hate pills,” she noted. “You got any water?”
“No,” Angelique said. “But something better.” She held out the vodka bottle. Shoshana looked at it, then up at Angelique’s face. She managed a grin.
“You always know what I need.” Shoshana popped the pill, then unscrewed the bottle’s cap and took a swig of vodka. She swallowed, then said, “My grandfather used to say, ‘A man comes from the dust and in the dust he will end – and in the meantime, it’s good to drink vodka.”
“An old Yiddish saying, yes?”
“He was always yapping in Yiddish. Who the hell knew what he was saying?”
“So, what is that pill? Is it for your hand tremors?”
“A fancy new drug. It’s called ‘Fuckitol’. I still shake, but now I don’t care.” She took another swig of vodka, then passed the bottle to Angelique, who tilted it up and took a sip.
“What happened to you?” Angelique asked, as she lowered the bottle.
“I got messed up on drugs after I got shot. Painkillers, liquor. Got dried out. Then, last year, I got blown up.” She pointed to her shoulder. “Got addicted again, got dried out again.” She lifted the bottle from Angelique’s hand and took a swig. “There’s not much love left for me in Mossad. They’re about to kick me out. Medical disability.”
“There is a big world outside of Mossad,” Angelique said. “I live there now, and it is a rather nice place to be.”
“I’m all shot up now, and I’m crazy, too. I’m damaged goods anymore. Who would want me?” she asked.
Angelique put an arm around Shoshana’s shoulders. “We are all damaged goods.”
“What would I do? You, always the musician. What talent. Me, I’m good for nothing but killing people. A Mossad Rottweiler dog.” She took another drink of vodka. “And a diseased one, at that. I’m so tired, Angel. Sometimes I wish that they would just put me down and end it.”
“That would be a terrible waste,” Angelique said. She lifted the bottle from Shoshana’s hand and began to screw on the cap. Shoshana noted that and lifted the bottle from her hand.
“One more drink. A waste of what?” She asked. She tilted the bottle to her lips and drank, then handed it back to Angelique. “A damaged human?”
“We are all damaged.” Angelique turned to her. “Allie needs you. We need you. Help us. Please, Shoshana, pull yourself together.”
“A purpose?” Shoshana asked. “Temporary, but it will work.” She looked at Angelique. “And after we do that, then what? You and Laurie return to France. Allie sails off into the sunset with her boyfriend. What will become of Shoshana Klein?”
Angelique shrugged. “So they kick you out of Mossad. You will have a medical pension. Come to Paris and look us up. We will get you settled there. You can learn French and start a new life.”
“Do you remember Esther?” Angelique asked.
Shoshana brightened. “Oh, yes. Esther. My God, what a magnificent train wreck. Whatever happened to her? She was in the assassin program, wasn’t she?”
“She is out of Mossad. She lives in Paris now. She has a love, and she is earning money teaching Krav Maga.”
“A love? What lover has she ever kept for long?”
“She will keep this one. A poetess, sweet and gentle. They dote on each other.”
“Esther?” Shoshana raised her eyebrows in surprise. “Then it’s true. Miracles do still happen. Perhaps Paris does have a magic about it, hey? I could use a little magic.” Shoshana fell into silence for a few seconds. Angelique allowed her that and sat quietly, waiting for her thoughts. Finally, Shoshana looked at her. “You would actually do that for me?”
“Yes, yes. Of course.”
“I speak some French already. Not great, though.”
“You will become good. You are a clever girl. You will pick it up quickly.”
Again, Shoshana sat in silence. Then, she turned to Angelique and kissed her cheek. “Thank you,” she said.
“For – for what?” Angelique asked.
“For hope. It’s a beautiful thing.” She rose to her feet. “Now let’s go and get our friends back.”
Angelique stood. Together, they walked toward the SUV, and a waiting David and Laurie.
Maurie lay in the back of Al-Makar’s car, hands and feet bound with zip-ties, duct tape over his mouth, and a black bag over his head. He could feel the car twist and turn, and he could hear conversation in Arabic in the front of the car, but could not determine where he was. Finally, the car stopped, and he heard the rear door unlatch and rise. Rough hands pulled him from the car and carried him, then dropped him on the floor. They yanked the bag from his head and the tape from his mouth, then left and closed the door. He lay still for a moment, and he blinked and allowed his eyes to adjust to the dim light. Then, he struggled to sit up, and he examined his surroundings.
The room was not large, and was of cinderblock construction with light-colored paint on the walls. It looked like an abandoned work area. Windows, high and painted over, let some light into the room. By the strength of the light, he guessed that it was afternoon. He looked at the door, noted that it was closed, and guessed that it was locked. Then, he puzzled at a new sound in the room. He heard something, a soft sound, behind him. He hoped that it wasn’t rats. He scooted around, and his jaw dropped at what he saw.
Allie was sitting in a corner. Like him, her hands were bound behind her back and her ankles were zip-tied. Duct tape covered her mouth, and she was bloody. But she was awake and alert. Maurie finally managed speech.
“Allie! Are you all right?” In reply, he got only a muffled grunt. “Yes. Hold on, I’ll get that off your mouth.” He scooted to her, wormed himself into a kneeling position, and turned his back to her. A second later, he felt her face in his hands, and he grasped an edge of the duct tape and held it. She slowly pulled away from him, and he felt the tape come loose in his hands. She gasped, then spoke.
“Damn, that hurt. Maurie, are you okay?”
“I’ll do,” he said. He turned to her. “What happened to you?” His expression was aghast as he looked at her. “You’re bloody as hell.”
“Most of it isn’t mine,” Allie said. “And you look awful.”
“Did they beat you?” she asked.
“Some. Not as bad as you, I guess.”
“Did they – hurt you in any other way?”
Allie considered the question, then understood what Maurie had asked. “No,” she said. “Listen, there’s folks out there trying to find us.”
“I would imagine so,” Maurie said. “But they don’t have long.”
“What do you mean? They’ll trade us for those two guys in prison, and we’ll be on our way.”
Maurie slid down the wall and sat next to her. “The official position of my government is to never negotiate with terrorists. It’s the same with yours.”
“Oh.” Allie became quiet, and Maurie glanced over at her. Her eyes were closed, and a tear tracked its way through the dried blood on her cheek. “That’s it then, isn’t it? We’re dead ducks.” She sniffed. “Well, it was nice with you while it lasted, Maurie.”
“Don’t give up yet,” he said.
The door banged open, and Al-Makar entered with several comrades. “I knew,” he said in Arabic, “that it was a mistake to put you two in the same room.” He pointed to Allie. “Take her.” Then, he pointed a pistol in Maurie’s face. “And you, don’t try anything.”
Maurie could only watch helplessly as Allie was lifted by the arms and dragged from the room by two young Arab men. As she was pulled into the hallway, her screams were cut short by a loud slap. Maurie stared into Abu Al-Makar’s laughing eyes.
“You had better kill me now,” Maurie said, “because I swear that I will hunt you down and eat your heart for lunch.”
Al-Makar laughed, then turned and left the room. The door slammed behind him, and Maurie felt a panic grip his chest. Things were going to get very ugly, very soon, he felt. And his feelings were seldom wrong.
Allie was dragged into a neighboring room and dropped on the floor. One of the men turned her over, cut the zip-ties on her wrists and ankles, and threw her a water bottle. Then, they left. After the door slammed, Allie rose to her feet. She looked around, and she saw that this room was much like the one she just left, with one exception: it had a second door, a door which led to the outside. She tried the handle; it was locked. She cursed as she went to the interior door and tried that handle. It, too, was locked. She huffed in frustration, then crossed the room and studied the windows. They were high on the walls, too high and narrow to climb through, and the window on the door was barred. If only she could get through that door, she felt, she could get out of the building and find a telephone.
She wondered where she was as she studied the view outside the door. On the other side of a chain-link fence, she saw what seemed like a pleasant, clean little neighborhood. She could see people walking the street, and most of the men were dressed in the traditional black clothing and hats of the ultra-orthodox Jews. The women wore long skirts and sleeves, and often, she saw couples pushing a baby carriage. An ultra-orthodox neighborhood. That was clever, she decided; after all, who would think to look for members of the Eternal Martyrs Brigade there?
The door behind her opened, and a lone young man entered. He locked the door behind him. He carried an AK-47 slung across his body. He stepped forward a few paces, then pointed the weapon at her and said something in Arabic.
“What? I don’t understand,” Allie said. “English?”
“A little. Go over there,” he ordered, as he pointed to a corner of the room.
Allie slid along the wall to the corner. She kept her eyes on his weapon. “What do you want?” she asked.
He did not answer in words. Instead, he stepped close to her, pushed her against the wall, and thrust his hand into her top, beneath her hoodie. She gasped in surprise, then pushed him away. He replied with a slap to the face which stung her so much that she gasped at the pain and closed her eyes. She felt him unzip her hoodie and run his hand across her chest. This can’t be happening, she thought. This doesn’t seem real.
A second later, another thought screamed at her: Muna tried to warn me. And she gave me –
She dug into her back pocket, pulled out the folded knife, and clicked it open behind her back. Then, she opened her eyes and looked into his face. For a terrible moment, they seemed suspended in time, motionless, her hand on the knife, his hand on her breast. Then, she felt a strange sense of calm pervade her, and a burn of hatred filled her as she looked into his eyes. She despised this man. She would kill this man before he violated her. Her hand flashed up from behind her back, and she buried the blade of the knife into his neck, just where she guessed that his carotid artery dwelt.
Her guess was spot on. She felt the warmth of hot blood on her hand, and watched his eyes widen as she yanked the knife blade from his neck. He staggered backward; his hand left her chest and went to his neck. He could not stifle the spurts of blood which covered his shoulder and sprayed the air and the floor. Allie pressed herself into the corner of the room and watched in fascinated horror as he staggered, his face a mask of fear and pain and disbelief, and fell to his knees. He gurgled and tried to speak, but could not. Then, his bloody hands fell to the AK-47 by his hip, and he raised it. She watched as his hand flipped a lever on the side of the weapon. The barrel of the rifle swung toward her. Allie kicked at the rifle, and then kicked again at him. Her foot caught him in the chest, and he fell backward. Blood pooled at his neck and head, and his hands flailed helplessly. Then, his arms went limp. Slowly, he relaxed and lay still.
Allie looked around the room, then chose her course. The hall was probably filled with members of the Martyrs Brigade; she would not be able to get to Maurie. Her best chance was to get through the outside door and run like hell. But, she remembered, the door was locked.
She grasped the AK-47 and yanked it from the young man’s body. She remembered shooting shotguns and rifles in her native Kansas, but she’d never shot one of these things before. The door was not metal; it was wood. That was good. She raised the rifle, pointed it at the door lock from about six feet away, and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. Damn it, she thought; the safety’s on. Where the hell is the safety?
She looked down at the rifle, and remembered seeing the young man flip a lever on the side. She copied that motion, and the lever depressed. Then, she pointed the weapon at the door’s lock and pulled the trigger once, then again and again. The noise of the weapon was deafening in the closed room, but she ignored the ringing in her ears and concentrated on the door. Holes were appearing around the handle and the lock, and the door was being chewed up by the bullets. After eight or ten rounds, she paused and kicked at the door. It partially opened.
She became conscious, through the ringing of her ears, of excited voices on the outside of the hallway door. The handle wiggled, but was locked from the inside. Someone was yelling and pounding on the door. She shot into the door, and she kept firing until the rifle clicked impotently. Bullet holes riddled the door, and the voices outside the door elevated to screams. In reply, shots sounded from the hallway; more holes appeared in the door, and hunks of the wall about three or four feet from her began splintering and scattering across the floor.
It was now, or it was never, Allie decided. She kicked at the outside door a few more times, and it finally swung open. She dropped the rifle and ran through the door, across an empty parking area and a dirt lot, then fell to her stomach and wormed beneath the chain-link fence. As she rose on the other side, she saw several men exit through the door, gesturing and shouting. One raised a rifle, and another man slapped down the weapon. She did not wait; she turned and ran across the road. Cars slowed and honked, and several people shouted at her, but she did not slow her pace. She pounded across the asphalt road like a sprinter, arms pumping, then down the sidewalk, and burst through the door of a shop.
Inside, the startled shop-keeper stared. Several customers inside, mostly conservatively-dressed women, stopped in their chatter and gawked at her. Allie rushed to the counter and gestured frantically as she caught her breath.
“Do you have a telephone?” she shouted. “Please!” She noted their frozen shock, and she shouted, “Police! Police!”
That animated the shop-keeper. He said, “Ah! Yes! I call.” As he picked up his telephone, he pointed at Allie and directed some comments in Hebrew to his customers. One of them approached her and spoke in halting English.
“Come. You’re hurt. Sit.” She led Allie to a bench seat as another woman opened a water bottle, extracted a handkerchief from her pocket, and wetted the cloth. As she patted Allie’s face and chattered in Hebrew, Allie could see the shop-keeper in frantic conversation on the telephone. Eventually, he hung up and approached Allie.
“Police are coming. What happened? Oy, all this blood! You’re covered with it.” He held up a hand. “No matter. We take care of you.”
It seemed, to Allie, not long before she heard the screech of an automobile. The shop door opened, and two Israeli police officers entered. One of them said, “You again? Miss, ah – Caldwell, right?” He leaned over her. “You remember? The marina? We came to your boat?”
Allie couldn’t help but laugh when she saw a familiar face. “Oh, thank God it’s you!” she gasped, then began spilling, in panicked exhaustion, a most incredible story to the police officers and the assembled spectators.
Mossad Headquarters, Tel Aviv.
Simon burst into The Old Man’s office. “Sir!” he shouted. “We have it!”
“We have – what?” The Old Man asked.
“The whole bunch! The location of Maurie, Allie, and Al-Makar. Allie escaped. She’s with the police now.”
“Oh, thank God. Have you notified David and Angelique?”
“I have. They’re almost there.” Simon placed a tablet in front of The Old Man. “Here is the location. It appears to be a closed-down factory in a mostly ultra-orthodox neighborhood.”
“We’ll have to be careful. I don’t want a bunch of innocent black hats getting killed. And we can’t just bring the wrath of God down on them. Maurie is still their captive.”
“They’ll enter the neighborhood in disguise and try to enter the factory quietly.”
That brought a little smile to The Old Man’s face. “That,” he said, “sounds like a job tailor-made for Angelique.”
“And if it gets ugly?” Simon asked.
“Alert the IDF to stand by. The army can back them up if the Eternal Martyrs Brigade decides to fight.”
On the edge of the neighborhood, a black SUV sat, doors open. Inside, Angelique, David, Laurie, and Shoshana waited impatiently. When a van pulled up behind them, they exited the car and gathered around the van’s side door.
“Okay,” the van’s driver said. “The Old Man wanted you guys to have these things like, immediately.” He eyed the three women and the man gathered around him and said, “Going among the Haredim, huh? Those black hats are a strange bunch, if you ask me.”
“They feel the same about us,” Shoshana said.
“I imagine.” He gestured into the back of the van. “There’s your disguises. You can use the van to dress.” He hesitated, then said, “Ah, if you need advice on Haredi dress – ”
“I was raised Haredi,” Shoshana said. “I’ll dress them.”
Angelique stared at Shoshana. “I did not know that about you,” she said.
“Explains a lot, huh?” Shoshana said. “Let’s get this done. Maurie’s waiting for us. Come on, Angel. You and me first.” They climbed into the van and shut the door. On the sidewalk, Laurie looked at David.
“Did they tell you where my sister is? I mean, I know she got away, but – ”
“She is at the hospital.” He hurried to add, “She is just getting checked. She is not badly hurt.”
Laurie nodded, then waited in silence until the van’s side door opened again. Shoshana, dressed in an ankle-length skirt and a jacket with long sleeves, stepped out. She tied a scarf over her hair, then stuck her head in the van. “Angel? You coming out?”
Angelique stepped from the van, and David’s jaw dropped. Laurie began laughing hysterically, then halted when Angelique shot her a displeased glance from beneath her wide-brimmed, black hat, her dangling payot, or side-curls, and her false beard. She was dressed as a male, in black clothing and long coat. She glanced at Shoshana and said, “You are enjoying this, yes?”
“Yes.” Shoshana waved at Laurie. “You’re next. Come inside.”
Laurie shrugged, then climbed inside the van with Shoshana. David, on the sidewalk, spent a few moments studying Angelique’s disguise. “You look the part,” he commented.
“Thank you,” Angelique said.
“So, did Mossad issue you a schlong with that costume?” he teased.
Angelique snickered at the joke. “Be nice, David.”
“Yes, rebbi,” David answered. At her puzzled glance, he explained, “Hey, I consider you the spiritual leader of our little group.”
“In that case, you should pray that we do not end up in hell today.”
“Amen,” David said.
The van door opened, and Laurie stepped out. She was dressed in a long skirt and a top which covered her to her throat and her wrists. Over it, she wore a waist-length, loose coat which hid her pistol. Her hair was covered with a brimless, soft hat. “What?” she asked. “I’m a married woman. I have to cover my hair.” She shrugged. “What there is left of it.” She looped an arm through Angelique’s. “So, fella. You look hot. Want to go somewhere and make out?”
“If she doesn’t, I do,” Shoshana said as she exited the van’s door. “Your turn, David,” she said, then looked at Laurie. “Haredim don’t touch or show affection to their spouses in public, Laurie.”
“Well, hell,” she said, as she released Angelique’s arm. “Then how come they have lots of kids and seem so happy all the time?”
“They live on welfare and they don’t have to go to the military,” Shoshana said. “They should be happy. They divide their time between making babies and arguing over scripture.”
“Is that why you left that life?” Angelique asked.
Shoshana’s voice became soft. “It’s a long story.”
David opened the van’s side door and stepped out. He, like Angelique, was dressed in the traditional clothing of a Haradi male, and sported false peyot which dangled down the sides of his head in front of his ears. He pulled a baby carriage from the van and rested it on the sidewalk, then rummaged in the van and pulled forth a large pair of bolt-cutters. He stuffed them into the carriage. “Just in case,” he said. He flipped back a cloth and extracted two compact, loaded assault weapons with noise-and-flash suppressors on the barrels. “For you and me, Angel.” He stuffed them into the carriage. “Shoshana, where’s your shotgun?”
Shoshana pulled the shotgun from the van and placed it in the carriage. They threw a cloth over the tool and the weapons, then took final stock of their situation.
“Here’s the story,” David said. “We’re just two couples out for a stroll. I just bought this factory, and we’re checking it out, if anybody asks. Got it? Laurie, you don’t talk. Angelique, your Hebrew has an accent. You let me talk, if anybody approaches us. Shoshana, God knows we can’t keep you from talking. Good thing your Hebrew is perfect. Questions? Okay, weapons check.”
Angelique leaned close to Laurie. “Listen to me. If shooting starts, you stay behind me, yes? Do not get in front of me. Promise me.”
Laurie swallowed heavily. “Okay. Behind you. I can do that.”
Everyone was armed, and all weapons were accounted for. “One more thing,” David said, and slid the van’s door open a little. From a metal ammunition box, he lifted several grenades, and he handed a couple to Angelique and a couple to Shoshana. He pocketed two. “Done,” he said, as he shut the door. “Now, let’s make like two happy couples and go for a walk.”
“Two happy, non-touching couples,” Laurie corrected.
“I get to push the kid around, I suppose,” Shoshana said. “You men won’t do it. No, you’re just there to plant the seed. We women get to raise the little fuckers.” She peeked inside the carriage and said, “He has your looks, David. Oh, sorry. That’s his ass.”
“And he’s got your suave charm,” David retorted. “Maybe he needs more medication in his bottles.”
“Forget the medication,” Shoshana said. “I’ll just go for the bottle.”
“I’m a breast person, myself,” Laurie cracked.
Angelique held her coat open and looked down. “In that case, you are with me – why?”
When the group’s nervous laughter died away, David said, “Okay, let’s do this thing. We speak Hebrew only from here on out.” He looked at the driver. “Keep watch. We’ll be back.”
“Insha’Allah,” Angelique muttered. Shoshana and David echoed the same sentiment.
Laurie leaned close to Angelique. “What’s that mean?” she whispered.
“Arabic. It means, ‘If it is God’s will’,” Angelique whispered in reply.
“My sentiment exactly,” Laurie muttered, then went silent at David’s glance.
As a group, they turned toward the Haredi neighborhood – and the empty factory – and began a casual stroll down the street, occasionally nodding greetings to passers-by. They knew that they were inside the neighborhood when they noted that almost everyone else was dressed as they were, and when they passed signs posted in Hebrew and English which implored visitors to dress modestly if they chose to enter the neighborhood.
The walk seemed to take forever, but was, in reality, not far. They passed shops, stores, and the fronts of apartment buildings. Each member of the group seemed to walk with their own thoughts, and in spite of the pleasant smiles and occasional greetings to other pedestrians, a tension permeated the group.
Laurie had a desperate urge to cling to Angelique’s arm, but did not; she walked, as if out for nothing more than a pleasant stroll, in the company of the ‘man’ next to her. When she glanced at Angelique, she was amazed at how masculine she carried herself, how differently she walked than was her normal nature, how – how unrecognizable she was. Is this, she wondered, how it was for her those years ago, when she was a Mossad assassin? In this manner, did she gain close proximity to her target, then take their lives and fade away? What must be her emotions, her thoughts, right now? I so want to ask her, Laurie thought, but I don’t speak Hebrew. I so want to give her the reassurance of my touch, but I can’t touch her in public. God, I feel so alone right now. I just hope we live through today.
Abu Al-Makar was furious. He screamed oaths and threats as he stormed about the empty factory. The members of the Eternal Martyrs Brigade gave him wide birth, fearing that he might choose to eternally martyr one of them on the spot. How the American woman not only escaped, but killed one of their number, he wanted to know, but no one could tell him. This was totally unacceptable to him. He decided to investigate further by questioning the only person who had been alone with the prisoner: his wife.
He strode down the back hallways until he came to an office door. A Brigade member sat in a chair outside the office, an AK-47 across his lap. He acknowledged Al-Makar’s presence by standing. Al-Makar greeted him with a sour glance. “Is all well?” he asked.
“Yes,” the man said. “She is well.”
“Thank you,” he said. He entered the office and closed the door. It was empty, but in one corner, sleeping pads were laid out on the floor, and a lantern sat nearby, next to a little propane cooking stove. The floor had been swept and the room cleaned, and a rug covered the tile. Mona sat cross-legged on the rug, leaning against a cushion, and was reading a book. She looked up when he entered, and she closed the book and awaited his thoughts.
Al-Makar lost no time in his investigation. “Muna, you tended that American woman, did you not?”
“I did,” she said.
“Did you know that she had a knife on her?”
Mona’s eyes widened. “I saw no evidence that she brought in a knife with her.”
He stood in front of her. “Then where did she get a knife? She killed Najjar with a knife. His body had a deep cut on his neck. He bled to death.”
“I don’t know, husband. Did your men not search her?”
“You freed her hands, did you not?”
“Yes. She had to use the toilet. The binding was causing her pain.”
“How did you cut it? Something in the bathroom?”
“No. I cut it with my knife.”
She checked her pockets, then looked up. “I seem to have misplaced it.”
Al-Makar grasped her by an arm and snatched her to a standing position. “You gave her that knife, didn’t you?”
“Let go of me. You’re hurting me!”
“Answer me, woman. Was that your knife? How did she get it?”
“I don’t know! Perhaps it fell from my pocket.”
“Lies!” He pushed her against the wall. “She got that knife from you, and she killed Najjar with it. It’s your fault.” He raised a hand to strike her, but stopped at her screamed retort.
“Maybe you should ask what Najjar was doing in that room with her alone. Was he guarding her, or was he trying to rape her? I heard your beloved men talking about her behind your back.”
“Najjar was loyal. He wouldn’t go against my orders.”
“Najjar was a pig. He bothered me all the time when you weren’t around. He tried to have his way with me once. He only stopped when I held that same knife to his throat.”
“Lies again!” He slapped her, and she cried out and retreated into a corner of the room.
“I tell the truth, husband!”
He glared at her. “I’ll deal with you later. Make me some tea. I’ll be back.” As Muna watched, he turned and stormed from the room. After the door slammed shut, she wilted and fell to her knees on the rug, and she covered her face with her hands and wept.
As Al-Makar strode across the empty factory floor, a young brigade member approached him. “Pardon me,” the lad said,“but there are some Jews at the door.”
“What?” Al-Makar stopped in his tracks. “Jews? What do they want?”
“Those black hat type of Jews. Two couples pushing a baby carriage. He said that he wants to speak to whoever is in charge here. He says he just bought the building.”
“I don’t have time for this,” he said. “Get rid of them.”
“I tried. They’re stubborn.”
“All right. Show me,” Al-Makar said, and followed the lad across the factory floor. They went to a door, and the lad opened it. Al-Makar stared at two Haredi men with their women in tow. One was pushing a baby carriage. “No Hebrew,” Al-Makar said.
“English?” one of the men said.
“Yes. Some. Who are you? What do you want here?”
“We just bought this building this morning, and we want to inspect it. What are you doing here, anyway? No one is supposed to be here.”
“Business. I have permission of the last owner.” He squinted at the man, then at the second man. His gut warned him that something was not in order, but he could not put his finger on exactly what it was. “Who are you? Show me proof, if you own this place.”
“I am Jerusalem Bar Levi,” the man said. “And we have the sale document.” He reached inside his coat, then assumed a puzzled look. He looked at the other man. “Do you have it, Avi?”
“Yes. Right here.” The other man raised a silenced pistol and pointed it at Al-Makar. “Back up,” he said in Arabic, in a voice which seemed a little too smooth to be male. “Hands out.”
“Mossad!” The words spit from Al-Makar’s lips, and the young man next to him went pale. Before another second passed, the woman pushing the baby carriage leveled a silenced pistol. It thumped, and the lad next to Al-Makar fell backward. Al-Makar reached for his pistol, but he was pushed inside by the two Haredi men, and one dealt him a blow which made him see stars. When he opened his eyes, he was pinned against a wall. One of the men relieved him of his pistol; the other slipped a zip-tie over his wrists and yanked it painfully tight. Then, the larger of the two men rammed a knee into his stomach and made him double over. He fell to the floor and was dragged to the wall, where they pushed him, in a sitting position, against some pipes and zip-tied his neck to the pipes.
He glanced up in shock. The two women had entered the building, and one pulled a shotgun from the baby carriage and cocked it. Most shocking, though, was when one of the two men took off his hat, and his side-curls came with it. He – or rather, she – peeled off a fake beard. Al-Makar’s mouth dropped open in surprise.
“I know you,” he croaked. “But you’re dead. I saw you buried.”
Angelique knelt next to him. “Yes. I am dead. How many of you are here, and where is Maurie?”
“I have many here, and your friend is dead.”
“Lies.” Angelique shoved the pistol into his crotch, and he flinched in pain and fear. “How many? Where is Maurie?”
“Go to Satan, you damned Zionist bitch.”
“Say good-bye to your testicles.”
“All right!” His eyes, round and wide, stared at the pistol she had shoved into his groin. Sweat trickled down his face. “Back rooms. But there are many of us. You will never win. You will die.”
“You first.” Angelique smacked Al-Makar on the side of the head with her pistol, and he went limp. Blood trickled down the side of his face. She stood, and she gestured toward the hall. “Back rooms.”
David yanked the assault weapons from the carriage and tossed one to Angelique. Shoshana leveled her shotgun, and they spread out and stalked across the factory floor. Ahead, they could see hallways. Somewhere in those back rooms, they knew that Maurie was still alive. The trick would be to find him before the Brigade members killed him. They stopped at the hall’s entrance, then slowly paced down the hall, two on either side, their weapons at the ready, their attention focused on their surroundings.
As Laurie followed Angelique, she screwed a silencer onto the barrel of her pistol. She kept repeating, in the silence of her thoughts, Angelique’s admonition: if shooting starts, stay behind me. Right, she thought; stay behind Angel. I can do that.
They paused, and David nodded toward a door. Shoshana crouched by the door, twisted the knob, and pushed the door open. Nothing happened. She entered the room, and David and Angelique followed. Laurie was last in. The room was empty. They emerged into the hall again, and continued their slow journey through the office area of the factory. At the second door, a partially-opened door, Shoshana paused. She signaled that the room was occupied by several men. Through the doorway, they could hear the sound of a television, and some conversation and laughter. David made a hand signal to Shoshana, who nodded understanding. In a crouch, she stepped to the other side of the door. David withdrew a grenade from his pocket as he peered into the room. He quickly ducked backward, pulled the pin on the grenade, and tossed it. Shoshana grabbed the door handle and slammed the door. Few seconds later, amid screams of panic from inside the room, the grenade exploded with a deafening bang, and a window just behind Shoshana blew out, raining shards of glass across the hall. Then, she turned the knob and threw the door open.
They charged into the room and saw several men sprawled about the floor, in various stages of injury. The television, its screen shattered, sparked and crackled. David shot the men who still moved, his rifle sounding a pop-pop as he moved about the carnage. Laurie watched the ritual in horror, then looked up at Angelique. Their eyes met, and Angelique answered her unasked question.
“We are at war. We cannot leave the enemy alive at our backs. Stay close behind me.”
“Right,” Laurie whispered. Her mouth was so dry, she found that she could not speak properly. They filed out of the room and continued down the hall. As they turned the corner, David looked back at them.
“That grenade will bring them all. Be ready for a fight. Let’s find Maurie and get out of here.”
Distant, muffled shouts in Arabic began filling the factory, echoing inside the building, and they could hear the distant sound of feet pounding across the concrete floor. “That’s our cue,” David said, as he stood and waved them onward.
They hurried down the hall, attempting to open doors on the way. Most were locked. Those that were not, got the door kicked in and quickly inspected for occupants. As they turned a corner, a man with an AK-47 halted in the hallway in front of them and began shouting. Before he raised his rifle, Angelique shot him. He collapsed in the hall as three more brigade members filled the hall and began firing. David dropped one, and the other two retreated behind a corner. Angelique threw a grenade down the hall, bounced it off a wall, and watched it skitter around the corner. A second later, it went off. When they reached that place, the carnage was apparent. Both men were mortally wounded.
They attained the intersection of two halls and saw life at the other end of a hallway; several men with rifles and pistols, some with their faces covered with their keffiyehs, began shouting and firing at them. David and Shoshana took refuge against the far wall. Then, Angelique and David each popped a grenade, counted to two, and threw them in unison. The little round bombs bounced and clattered down the hall to the frantic shouts and cries of the distant voices, and the bangs of their detonations echoed off the walls.
Inside his locked room, Maurie could hear shouting and gunshots. He recognized the sound of grenades, and he guessed what was happening: the place was under attack. It could only be Israelis. He began banging on the door and shouting as loudly as he could in Hebrew. He kicked at the locked door and screamed until a voice outside the door said, “Maurie? Is that you?”
“Yes! Get me out of here.”
“Stand away from the door.”
Maurie didn’t need to be told twice. He retreated to the farthest corner of the room and curled into a ball with his hands over his ears. He did not know whether they had explosives or merely weapons, but he wasn’t taking a chance. A moment later, the bark of an AK-47 began chewing holes in the wooden door around the lock. After the rifle was emptied, the door was kicked open. The lock, surrounded by ravaged wood, bounced across the floor. Angelique entered and dropped an empty AK-47 on the floor.
She yanked Maurie to a standing position and embraced him. Then, she said, “Are you okay? You look awful.”
“Thank God you’ve come,” he answered. “We have to find Allie. She’s here somewhere.”
Laurie entered the room. “No, she’s not. She’s safe at the hospital. She’s okay.”
“She escaped?” Maurie asked. At their smiles, he nodded. “That’s my girl.”
“As Laurie would say,” Angelique said, “I believe it is time to GTFO.”
David led them out of the room and down the hall. On the way, Maurie lifted an AK-47 from a dead militant and snatched a spare magazine from the body of another. Quickly, silently, they made their way back down the hallway, around corners, and emerged onto the factory floor. On the other side of the expansive work area, past a litter of left-over pieces of machinery and large wooden crates, was the door through which they’d entered. Abu Al-Makar was still there, and appeared still unconscious; two of his companions, however, were attempting to revive him and free him. Angelique leveled her weapon, took aim, and felled one of them. As the other one rose and turned toward them, she wounded him. He fell against the wall, then staggered out of her line of sight, shouting frantic warnings as he did so.
David said, “Now! Make a run for the door,” and led the group onto the factory’s floor. They ran, frantically ran, constantly searching about them for danger, weapons pointed, and made it about halfway across the floor before the loud cracks of AK-47s began echoing and the zip and snap of near misses cut the air. Concrete dust and shards flew up where the bullets struck the concrete. David shouted and fell, then began scooting backward as the rest of the group took shelter behind wooden crates and pieces of work machinery. Angelique grabbed David by his shirt collar and dragged him behind the crates. He was holding his leg with one hand, and blood seeped between his fingers. She pulled his hand away, ripped his trouser leg open, and studied the wound. “Could be worse,” she said. She snatched the skull-cap from his head, placed it over the wound, and put his hand over it. “Keep pressure on it,” she ordered.
“Shit, this is bad luck,” he said. “I can’t run.”
“We’ll get you out of here.” Angelique rose to a crouch and studied the situation from behind a piece of machinery. “Make every round count. Maurie, David, take front. Shoshana, take right. Laurie, look behind us. If you see anything move, shoot it. I take left.” Immediately, they focused their attention in the directions Angelique had ordered. David scooted to a position of better advantage, lifted himself to a sitting position, and pointed his weapon toward the factory floor.
The shooting had stopped, although they could still hear occasional shouts in Arabic. “What do you think they’re up to, Angel?” David asked.
“I think they will attack,” she said. “The longer we remain here, the more likely it is that we will die.”
Maurie fired a couple of rounds, then ducked as answering fire pinged into the crates and through the air around them. “They’re coming, Angel. This is going to be ugly. We’re badly outnumbered.”
“Kill anyone you see,” Angelique said. As a chorus, they rose and began firing. Shouts and screams answered, and the cacophony of noise and shots became deafening and lasted for perhaps thirty seconds. Then, the shooting became sparse, and finally stopped. In the silence, Angelique asked, “Body count?”
“Two for me, I think.”
The very near cracks of an AK-47 sounded. Shoshana said, “Shit!” She fired her shotgun, then racked it and shot again. She leaned against the crate, shoved another two shells into the underside of her shotgun, and looked their way. “Two. They’re trying to flank us. I got one.” Then, she sank down to a seated position and winced in pain.
Laurie was at her side. She shook her and said, “What’s wrong?” She saw, though, even as she asked. Shoshana had clapped a hand over her side, above one hip. The material beneath her hand was reddening in an ever-expanding circle, and blood seeped from between her fingers.
“I got fucking shot. Damn it, that hurts.” She looked at Laurie. “Can you use a shotgun?”
“Are you kidding? Give me that thing.” She lifted it from Shoshana’s bloody hands.
“Then watch that way, cowgirl.” Shoshana pointed to their right as she pulled her pistol from beneath her jacket and cocked it.
“Silence,” Angelique ordered. They froze in their places and listened. Movement could be heard in the factory. Angelique whispered, “How many grenades left?”
“I have one.”
Angelique peeked above the crates, then yanked her head back down as bullets tore into the crates in front of her. “Throw them together. That way.”
She and Maurie pulled the pins on the bombs and slung them over the crates. Immediately, there were shouts and screams, followed by two explosions. When Laurie opened her eyes, she saw that Angelique was no longer with them. She gasped, “Where’s Angel?”
Shoshana looked around. “Hell, she’s gone to flank them. She needs somebody at her back.” At that, she winced in pain, rose to a crouch, and disappeared around the side of the crates, pausing only to pick up an AK-47 rifle from the body of the man she had just killed.
Angelique slid through the shadows, between crates and pieces of factory machinery. Every nerve was alive; every sense was strained to the breaking point. Her enemy was close, very close, and she must see him before he sees her. She sensed close humanity; she felt that she could almost smell them and hear the pulse of their blood. She eased herself around a crate, then froze. One meter ahead of her was a Brigade member. His back was to her, and he was peering toward his enemy. Slowly, she extended her weapon and tapped him on the shoulder with the barrel. When he turned, his eyes widened in panic. A second later, she shot him in the forehead. He collapsed, and she retreated around the corner. Her heart nearly leapt from her chest; she whirled, and found herself nose-to-nose with Shoshana.
“What – ?”
Shoshana put a finger to her lips. “I have your back,” she whispered.
“I lead,” Angelique said.
“Whatever,” Shoshana retorted.
Together, they paced at a crouch, slowly, silently, among crates, machinery, and shadows. They would move a few meters, then stop and listen and look. Then, they would move again. She motioned to Shoshana and pointed; Shoshana nodded. She’d heard it, too. It was a whispered, frantic conversation in Arabic, and it was taking place very near them. Angelique peeked around a crate. Three meters in front of her, four men were in disagreement about something. She guessed that, without Al-Makar, they were leaderless and in a confused state. She looked at Shoshana, held up four fingers, pointed in their direction, and drew her thumb across her neck. Shoshana nodded. She understood the order: Four men; they are to die.
Angelique lifted her weapon and sighted; Shoshana eased herself to Angelique’s right to get a clear shot. Her AK-47 was on safety, however; she clicked it off, and the men stopped arguing and looked in their direction. A second later, three were lying on the concrete and bleeding; the fourth ran. Angelique and Shoshana hurried forward, and as they passed the three casualties, they shot each one again. Then, Angelique pointed. “There,” she whispered. Shoshana gripped a crate’s edge and lifted herself up. When she peered over the crate, her blood ran cold.
Several men were rushing the crates where David, Laurie, and Maurie were taking refuge. Shots and shouts and screams echoed in the building. Angelique said, “We have to get back there now.”
“I’m behind you,” Shoshana said.
Angelique looked down. Shoshana’s hand was clapped over her right side, and blood covered her hand and soaked part of her skirt. She was leaving a trail of blood droplets on the floor. “Can you run?”
“Then we go.” Angelique took off at a run, and Shoshana limped behind her.
David and Maurie began shooting; Laurie did not see a clear shot, and knew that her weapon was only good for close range. She looked left, then right, then ahead, but saw nothing. Then, she looked behind her, and she almost wet her pants. A Brigade member, his face swathed in a black keffiyeh, charged around a stack of crates. He pointed his rifle at them, and she turned and leveled her shotgun. To Laurie, at that moment, time seemed to move with horrible slowness; she saw in vivid detail the dirty jeans, the man’s Elvis tee-shirt, the black keffiyeh showing only his dark eyes, the barrel of the AK-47 as he moved sideways across the open floor three meters from her, shouting something unintelligible. His rifle barked, and bullets tore into the wood of the crate beside her head. She did not think; she pulled the trigger, and he fell backward. The rifle clattered across the floor as he splayed against a metal support pillar and sank to the floor, coming to rest in a sitting position.
Laurie stared at him in disbelief. Holy crap, she thought; I just killed that guy. She had an intense desire to yank the keffiyeh from his face, to see his features, but she could not move. The best she could do was to gawk in fascinated horror at the body, and at the glistening wound in his chest which partially obliterated Elvis’s image on the tee-shirt.
“Holy crap,” she said. “I guess Elvis really is dead now, huh?”
Near footsteps shook her from her thoughts. She cocked the shotgun again, then pointed it to her left when she detected motion. A man appeared, rifle in hand; as she pulled the trigger, she felt a flood of dark hatred rise in her. She cocked the shotgun and fired again. Only wounded by the first round, the second shot tore into his chest, and he fell against a stack of crates, then crumpled to the floor. He did not move. She cocked the shotgun again, then remembered Shoshana’s habit of constantly reloading. Her hands shook as she slipped the rounds from the loops on the gun’s side and shoved them into the shotgun. At a noise, she whirled and leveled the shotgun. A quick hand snatched the barrel and pointed it up in the air. Just beyond the hand, Angelique’s eyes met hers.
For a second, they stared at each other in silence. Angelique looked to her left and perceived two bodies with shotgun wounds, and she looked back at Laurie. She knew what had happened. Then, Angelique released the barrel of the shotgun and said, “We leave now. You help Shoshana. She is hurt. Maurie, you help David.”
Maurie studied the distance between their position and the door. “We can’t make that, Angel.”
“Yes, you can. I will draw their attention. Get ready.”
Laurie felt her gut twist into knots. “Angel, no!”
“I shall be right behind you.” She placed a hand on Laurie’s cheek. “It will work. Help David and Shoshana.”
Shoshana leaned against Angelique. “I’m with you, Angel.” She looked at Laurie. “You and Maurie, run like hell. Get David through the door. I can’t run; I’m shot.”
Angelique considered Shoshana for a silent moment. Then, she nodded. “So it is. Are you ready?”
“Wait a minute,” Shoshana said. She pulled the magazine from her rifle and looked into it. “I’m almost out.” Maurie threw her the spare magazine he’d picked up, and she locked it into her weapon. “Okay,” she said. “Let’s do this.”
“Run!” Angelique said, then leaned up and began firing. Shoshana copied her move. Maurie and Laurie each grabbed one of David’s arms and pulled him across the floor. Maurie was shooting as they went, and when his rifle emptied, he cast it aside and used both hands on David.
Angelique divided her attention between her comrades’ progress and her own shooting, and when she perceived that they had exited the door, she tapped Shoshana on the shoulder. “Our turn,” she said. In reply, Shoshana gripped Angelique’s arm.
“Just in case,” she said, “I – I don’t blame you for anything. I never did. Please know that.”
Angelique’s expression softened. She placed a hand over Shoshana’s. “Thank you. And since we are confessing, I will make one to you.”
“I have never forgotten that night.”
Shoshana’s eyes widened. “Never?”
“Never. I always kept feelings for you, ever since then.”
“In that case, what are you doing tonight?”
“Breathing, I hope.” Angelique smiled in apology. “And I am married now.”
“Married. Damn it. Story of my life.” She nudged Angelique toward the door. “Well, let’s hurry and get this over with. They’re saving a seat for me in Hell.”
“Then let us hope that they have two seats,” Angelique said.
They sprang from behind the crates, firing as fast as they could pull their weapons’ triggers. Angelique could detect the pops and pings of near bullets as they ran. They reached the protection of the door-jamb, and Shoshana collapsed against Angelique. A near gunshot cracked, and Shoshana grunted. Her legs went limp, and Angelique grabbed her about the waist. Over Shoshana’s shoulder, she could see Abu Al-Makar, still zip-tied to the pipes, staring at them. He’d managed to turn his head and body toward them, and in his hands, he held a small pocket pistol. He raised the pistol toward Angelique slowly, unsteadily, as he kept his eyes fixed upon her. As Angelique hugged Shoshana to her chest, she saw a widening circle of dark wetness spread across her back. She looked at Al-Makar again, and their eyes locked. In that moment, a black hatred passed between them, a vicious electricity of mutual loathing which seemed to span the distance between them and connect them.
He was glaring at her, attempting to focus on her, the pistol in his still-bound hands, attempting to aim at her head. In his face, she could see the loathing written. He hated her, and he hated her kind. To him, she and Shoshana were nothing more than vermin to be eradicated. As she supported Shoshana with one arm, she raised her weapon with the other arm. It was a from-the-hip shot, very chancy, but she did it anyway. She saw the red dot of the laser sight dance across his forehead, and her finger touched the trigger.
A bang sounded. The side of his head exploded, and he went limp. The pistol bounced across the floor. Angelique stared in amazement; she had not fired a shot. She was certain that her weapon had not discharged. What – ?
From the shadows, a young Muslim woman emerged, a smoking AK-47 in her hands. It was pointed at Al-Makar. She closed with him, and she studied him. Then, she shot him again. She looked up from Al-Makar’s body, and she saw Angelique standing a few meters away from her, with her weapon leveled at her. “That pig was my husband,” she said in Arabic. She fell to her knees, placed the rifle’s butt on the floor, and rested her chin on the muzzle.
Angelique watched in horror. “No!” she shouted in Arabic. “There is no need for that!”
“I am dishonored,” the young woman said. “My family will not have me back.”
“You are a widow now. That’s honorable. Come with us. We’ll take you home.”
The young woman’s dark eyes focused on Angelique, an expression of regret, of sadness, of lack of hope. Angelique felt her gut knot in horror. The rifle discharged; the woman’s head jerked upward, and she hovered on her knees for a moment, then collapsed. The rifle was still in her hands. Angelique stared at the spectacle, dumbfounded. An overwhelming urge assailed her to either weep or vomit. Then, as she stared at the bodies, she became conscious of the burn of exhaustion in the muscles of the arm with which she held Shoshana. She had to see to her friend. She backed out of the factory door, allowed her weapon to hang by her side, and lifted Shoshana into both arms.
Dead, she thought; Abu Al-Makar is dead, after all these years. The one that got away didn’t get away, after all. She carried Shoshana away from the building as Israeli Defense Force soldiers ran past her. Behind her, she could hear the bangs of grenades hurled into the building and the crack of shots. She walked with her friend’s limp body in her arms, walked aimlessly for a few seconds as IDF soldiers passed her by, their weapons raised, their faces intent. She halted; for the first time, she looked around, and was amazed to see a collection of military and ambulance vehicles in the distance. Backup had arrived. It was over. They had triumphed. Maurie and Allie were safe, Al-Makar was dead, and the Eternal Martyrs Brigade had a large dent driven into its ranks. And once again, she had survived. The Angel of Mossad’s legendary luck had held out for one more mission.
She looked down at her burden. Shoshana Klein’s luck had not held out. She was limp, unmoving. She could not tell if she was breathing. Angelique felt her legs turn to rubber and begin shaking. They gave way. With Shoshana in her arms, she sat down on the pavement and rested her friend in her lap. Shoshana’s eyes were closed. She put two fingers aside her neck, and she sighed in relief. “Oh, thank God,” she said.
Shoshana’s eyes flickered open. “What the hell?” she asked. “Did I get shot again?”
“Twice in one day?”
“This job sucks.”
Angelique smiled. “A new line of work, perhaps?”
“I’ve got a friend in Paris who said she’d help me with that.”
“Yes. I know her well. She will be glad to help.”
“Before Laurie comes over here, I have one more confession to make.” At Angelique’s raised eyebrow, she whispered, “I never forgot that night, either.”
Angelique’s eyes watered, and she felt tears wet her cheeks. “There must be a medic around here somewhere. Let me help you up.” She pulled Shoshana to a standing position and watched her eyes roll back in her head. Shock, she thought. She’s losing blood, too. She lifted Shoshana in both arms and walked toward the vehicles.
In a second, Laurie was at her shoulder. “Jesus, Angel!” she shouted. “What’s wrong with her? Let me get some help.”
She ran off, shouting. A few moments later, two paramedics met Angelique. She placed her burden down on their ambulance gurney and turned her to one side. “Gunshot wounds,” she said as she pointed. “Right shoulder, in the back. Right hip. She’s in shock, I think.”
“We’ve got her,” a paramedic said. “Are you all right?”
Angelique blinked in surprise at the question. “Yes,” she said. “Yes, I am well, thank you.” She hugged Laurie to her side as she watched them wheel Shoshana away. Then, they walked toward the cluster of vehicles.
Maurie was sitting at the back of an ambulance, being tended, as Angelique and Laurie approached. “You look rough, dude,” Laurie said.
“And you two make a lovely Haredi couple.” He pointed at the shotgun in Laurie’s hand. “Well, except for that.” He grinned as much as his beaten face would let him. “I don’t think that’s quite kosher. What would the rabbi say?”
“Hey,” Laurie said. “He’d probably say that it’s a rough neighborhood around here.”
Haifa, two days later.
Shoshana rested on her left side in the hospital bed, facing toward the windows. The television was on, the volume low, the language Hebrew. It was a news broadcast, and she only half-heartedly listened. Her shoulder and her side ached terribly, and she was counting the minutes until she could hit the button for her next dose of pain medication.
She became aware of a presence behind her; she heard no noise, but she could guess who it was. “Angel?” she said. “And Laurie is with you, I’m sure. Come in and visit.”
They walked into her line of sight. “How are you?” Angelique said.
“Yeah,” Laurie added. “You had us worried for a while, there.”
Shoshana managed a laugh. “Your luck is rubbing off on me, Angel. My side is just a graze.”
“And your back?”
“Luck again. My shoulder blade stopped that bullet. It didn’t puncture my lung. The bone is cracked, but that’s all.” She shifted a little in bed. “Good thing he was using that little pop-gun to shoot at us, huh? It couldn’t have been more than a twenty-five caliber.”
“You must be living right,” Laurie said. “Oh, speaking of which, we brought you a present.” She held out a paperback novel. “We didn’t know what kind of reading you liked, so we got you the dirtiest book we could find on short notice.”
Shoshana brightened. “Oh, thank you. Just what I needed in this place.” She accepted the book and tucked it under her pillow as a piece of bedside equipment beeped. “Oy! It’s about time.” She pressed a button, then explained, “My next dose of morphine.” She smiled. “Nectar of the gods. I love that stuff.”
“Are you hurting?”
“Constantly.” She cast an apologetic glance at Angelique. “I guess I’ll have to go to rehab again after I get out of here, huh?”
“I already spoke to The Old Man. He is very pleased with you.”
“Thanks for the good word, Angel.”
“It was the least I could do for an old friend.” Angelique placed her hand over Shoshana’s hand. “You know, that bullet was meant for me.”
“Hey,” she said. “That was the least that I could do for an old friend.”
Angelique leaned forward and kissed Shoshana on the cheek. “Thank you. I owe you much.”
Laurie leaned down and kissed Shoshana’s face. “Yeah. Me, too.” She laughed. “Why, Shoshana. I think you’re blushing. You, of all people, blushing?”
“Hey, I just got kissed by two good-looking women.” She shifted in bed again and grunted in pain.
“What’s wrong?” Angelique asked.
“They’ve got me catheterized, damn it.”
“It hurts?” Laurie asked.
“No. It’s frustrating. I can’t masturbate.”
After the laughter subsided, a new voice from the door joined the conversation. “Yeah, this has to be Shoshana’s room.” Allie joined them at Shoshana’s bedside. “How’s the girl doing?” she asked. “Well, other than not being able to flick the bean?”
Shoshana’s expression softened when she saw Allie, and her eyes warmed. “I’ll survive. Your face looks technicolor with those bruises. Still very pretty, though. How’s Maurie?”
“He’s sore as the dickens. Those guys beat him up pretty good. By the way, he sends his greetings.”
“He did not come?” Angelique asked.
“He’s in Caesarea. I sent him down there to visit his family while he heals, ‘cause he was so grumpy and uncomfortable, and he hurts too badly to work on our boat.”
“You didn’t go with him?” Laurie asked.
“I’m watching the boat.” Allie’s expression turned serious. “Listen, I wanted to ask you guys something. Did any of you see Al-Makar’s wife in that factory? She really was kind to me. Anyhow, I was wondering what happened to her. I wanted to thank her.”
Angelique opened her mouth to reply. She hesitated, then said, “I will look into it for you.”
“Thanks, Angel. She seemed awfully young. I don’t think she’d been married to him for very long.” Allie grimaced. “Why would she marry a guy like that? He was a total bastard, and he already had a wife and kids in Gaza, anyway.”
“She probably had no choice,” Shoshana said. “Often, it’s a deal between the husband and her family.”
“Gee, I’m glad we don’t do that,” Allie said. “There’s no telling who Dad would have married me off to.”
Laurie nudged her sister with an elbow. “Yeah. He always said that you couldn’t pick ‘em.”
“Look who’s talking.” Allie said. “Your boyfriend was such a douche, dad was actually relieved when you started dating girls.”
Shoshana said, “Sometimes, arranged marriage is happy. Sometimes, it isn’t. I have seen it both ways.” She watched the curious faces around her, and she said, “Do you three have a moment for a story? The morphine’s kicking in, and I feel pretty damned good. I probably wouldn’t tell you this except that I’m really high right now.” She fluffed a pillow beneath her head, then began speaking dreamily.
“I told Angel that I was raised Haredi, ultra-orthodox. It’s true. Two sisters, three brothers. My father was a Talmud scholar. Good little girl, that was me, so anxious to please. Well, when I was eighteen, I was married to a man I hardly knew. He was little older than me. The match was arranged, but they had to get my approval. After I spoke with this fellow a few times – always in company of someone, mind you; we were never allowed to be alone – they urged me to marry him. My father so wanted this; the boy was the son of his dear friend. I said yes, of course. What else was I going to say? No? I didn’t know him from Adam. Or from the snake, for that matter. So, we married. I got pregnant right away. He was so proud.” Shoshana thought for a moment, then resumed speaking. “Three months later, I lost the baby. He blamed me, said that I was unclean, impure, evil. Why else would God have done this to us, he asked, except to punish me? One night, he got too much into the wine, and we argued. I said harsh, mean things to him, and he beat me for it.” She sniffed, touched her eyes with the edge of her pillow-case, and continued, “The next morning, I told him I was going shopping. I ran off and enlisted in the army, instead. That was the last time I ever saw my family.”
“Not since then?” Angelique asked. “Have you tried to contact them?”
“I wrote to them when I was in training,” she said. “But I was dead to them. My sister, she wrote me back in secret and told me this.”
“How many years now has it been?” Laurie asked.
“It’s been thirteen years.”
Angelique said, “Perhaps it is time to try again. Do you still speak with your sister?”
“Write her. Tell her how you feel. She can talk to the family, perhaps.”
Shoshana glanced up at Angelique. “I fear the answer.”
“If you don’t write, you’ll never know,” Laurie said.
Shoshana thought for a moment, then smiled. “It’s just crazy enough to maybe work.”
“That’s the spirit,” Laurie said. “Write that letter. See you tomorrow. Take care.” She patted Shoshana on the leg, then tugged on Angelique’s arm.
“Until tomorrow,” Angelique said. “Shalom.”
“Right back atcha, kid,” Shoshana countered.
“Right back...?” Angelique looked at Laurie as they left the room. “Did you teach her that?”
Laurie snickered. “Hey, don’t look at me.”
Allie watched them leave. Then, she pulled up a chair and sat next to Shoshana’s bed. She leaned close and smoothed the hair away from Shoshana’s face. “About that night – our secret, right?”
“Always,” Shoshana whispered. “And among my memories, it will be a very sweet one.”
Allie glanced around to insure that they were alone, then kissed Shoshana on the lips. “Right back atcha, kid,” she said. For few minutes, she sat at the bedside, holding Shoshana’s hand in her own. In time, she saw Shoshana’s eyes grow heavy, then close. When she began breathing in a regular, soft little snore, Allie rose, walked to the door, and clicked off the lights. For a while, she stood at the door, looking back at Shoshana. Then, she walked down the hall in a slow, distracted manner, as if she was lost in the deepest of thoughts.
The next day. Mount Herzl, Jerusalem.
Laurie plopped down on a bench and rummaged in her shoulder bag for her water bottle. “This is wonderful, Angel. I’m glad you suggested sightseeing before we go back to Paris.”
“I wanted you to see Jerusalem, at least,” she said.
“You rock as a tour guide.” She drank from the bottle, then passed it to Angelique. “And you even knew how to dress us so’s we could go into the Arab and Haredim neighborhoods.” She looked down at her long skirt. “It’s comfortable, too. Jeans would have been hotter.” Laurie slipped out of her long-sleeved shirt and tucked it through the strap of her bag. Beneath it, she wore a sleeveless top. “I’ll get sun on my shoulders, at least.” She accepted the water bottle from Angelique and stuffed it into her bag. “So, now what? We’ve still got time.”
“Next, I wish to show you something. Come.”
Angelique stood and held out a hand to Laurie. She accepted it and got hauled to a standing position, and she slipped her feet back into her flip-flops. As they walked through a large gate, Laurie pushed the sunglasses up on her nose and took in the sight before her. “It’s lovely, Angel. What is this place?”
“Cemetery for the war dead.”
Laurie squeezed Angelique’s hand. “The graves go on forever.”
“Yes.” Angelique said nothing else. She led Laurie between rows of nicely-tended graves, each one surrounded by a stone border and surmounted by a rectangular stone engraved in Hebrew. From many, a little Israeli flag with black ribbons fluttered in the breeze. Laurie looked at Angelique’s face. The expression was enigmatic beneath her dark glasses, but Laurie could feel intense emotion contained within Angelique’s calm exterior. On and on they walked, and finally, stopped at a grave. “Here,” Angelique said. “Please, never forget this place.”
“Okay,” Laurie said. She considered the grave. It looked as the surrounding graves did; a stone border, vegetation, and a headstone inscribed in Hebrew. She looped her arm around Angelique’s waist and whispered, “Who is this?”
Laurie recalled the story that Angelique had told about her service as a paratrooper sergeant in the Israeli army; about her induction into Mossad and her career as an assassin; and about having to be spirited from the country when her identity was discovered and a fatwah, a death decree, was placed on her head by her country’s enemies. To disguise the fact that she still lived, her funeral was staged. This, Laurie realized, was the empty grave. “Read me the inscription, Angel.”
“If you like. Sit.” She pointed to a little plastic stool at the grave’s side – all the graves seemed to have them – and Angelique knelt by the headstone. Her finger traced over the Hebrew letters as she translated.
“Angelique ‘Angel’ Bat-Ami. Sergeant, Paratrooper Brigade. Born: France, 1982. Died: Gaza, 2008.” She removed her sunglasses and looked at Laurie. “Laurie, if anything happens to me – ”
“I promise, Angel. I’ll bring you here.” It’ll kill me, Laurie thought, but I’ll do it.
She looked away. Nearby, a young IDF soldier was placing little Israeli flags with black ribbons on the graves. At the moment, she was at the next grave. She looked up, and she smiled at Laurie. God, Laurie thought. She can’t be more than in her teens, and she’s a soldier in a country perpetually at war. Laurie looked at the seemingly endless rows of graves. Like so many here, she thought. Then, she glanced at Angelique, kneeling by the grave. She can’t be any older than Angel was when she saw her sister killed, and when she put on that uniform. She looked back at the soldier. The green uniform, the military beret snugged down over long brown hair pulled back into a pony-tail; she could have been a younger Angelique.
The soldier handed her a little Israeli flag and said something in Hebrew as she gestured toward the grave. “I’m sorry,” Laurie said. “English?”
“Yes, of course,” she said. “Would you like?” She offered the flag out.
“Thank you,” Laurie said. “I would, very much.” She accepted the flag, then leaned forward and planted it in the soil and vegetation over the grave, following the soldier’s example. When she sat up, the soldier knelt by her side. “Bat-Ami,” she said, as she read the headstone. “Daughter of the land, that name means. She is dear to you?”
“Yes,” Laurie said. “Very.”
“I’m sorry for your loss.” She pointed at the headstone. “Paratrooper sergeant. A brave soldier. You must be quite proud of her.”
“I am,” Laurie managed to say. “So proud of her.”
She stood and patted Laurie on the shoulder. “Shalom.”
Laurie smiled at her. “Shalom. Thank you.”
The young soldier resumed tending graves. Laurie could not speak. She removed her sunglasses and stared at the headstone. One day, she thought, I’ll be sitting here again. And on that day, I’ll have just buried Angel. And it will be just like today, only a thousand times more painful. I won’t hear the birds sing, or feel the breeze or the sun’s warmth; I’ll just be dealing with the giant, empty hole in my chest and wondering how I’ll survive without her. She sniffed, and she reached into her bag and pulled forth her head scarf. She buried her face in it, and she wept loudly, unashamedly. She could not restrain herself.
She could feel Angelique’s touch on her shoulders and hear Angelique’s voice in her ear. “It is all right,” she said. “I am not there; I am here.”
Laurie wiped her face with the scarf, then looped its length around her neck. “How much longer,” she asked, “until you are there? How much longer until I have to bury Angelique Bat-Ami for real?”
“I am Angelique Halevy. Angelique Bat-Ami is dead.”
“No, she’s not. The Angel of Mossad won’t die.” Laurie lifted the end of the scarf from her lap and pressed it against her face. Then, she looked into Angelique’s eyes. “She’s always coming back to haunt us and she always will, until her famous luck runs out and I sit here, mourning her for real. I know in my soul that it will happen. I just don’t know when.”
“This was the last time, I promise, Laurie.”
“No. It will be the last time when I bury you here.” As if to punctuate the truth of the statement, Laurie raised the back of the scarf to cover her hair. “And you will be at rest, and I will be a widow, and I’ll have to try to live without you. When will it be, Angel? A month from now? A year? A decade? When will your luck finally run out?”
Angelique wiped her cheeks with a shirt-sleeve. “It is that painful for you, to be with me?”
“There’s no place I’d rather be, though. It’s the price I pay to love you as much as I do.” She saw the unspoken question in Angelique’s eyes, and she voiced the only answer to that question that she could give. “And I’ll never leave your side until after I see you safely here, that last time.”
“You will love again,” Angelique said, “after me.”
“Never.” Laurie wiped her face with her scarf. “I’ll go back to Kansas, and I’ll die. And I’ll never – ever – love anybody as much as I love you.”
“And if I promise that the Angel of Mossad is dead?”
“Don’t make promises that you can’t keep,” Laurie said. “I know that she’s always there, just beneath the surface.” Laurie tapped Angelique’s chest. “And I understand now that whenever Israel calls, you’ll be there, because you love this land so much. And I never understood that until I came here with you.” She managed a smile. “Thanks for bringing me here.”
Angelique kissed her forehead. “You are a woman above all others.”
“I am not. I’m just a girl in love.” Laurie rested her head on Angelique’s shoulder. “This is a beautiful place, Angel. May I take a picture?” Laurie asked. “Is it okay?”
“I suppose,” Angelique said. “Here, I take one. Sit by the stone, and give me your camera.”
“Yeah, okay.” Laurie handed her camera to Angelique, then sat by the headstone. She held the little flag in her hands as she studied the headstone, as her fingers trailed across the inscription, and she heard Angelique take several pictures. Then, she looked up. “Good?” she asked, as she replanted the little flag on the grave.
“Good,” Angelique replied.
“I guess we have to go, huh?” Laurie said. She looked around. “I see that some headstones have rocks on them. What does that mean?”
“That means,” Angelique said, “that someone has visited and left good thoughts behind them.”
Laurie looked down. Next to her foot, she saw several rocks. She picked one up, dusted it off, and rested it on the headstone. Then, she stood and grasped Angelique’s arm. She took one more look, then leaned against Angelique’s side. “Let’s go,” she said.
Together, they walked down the silent rows of graves. Near the entrance, she saw the young soldier. “Excuse me,” Laurie called. The soldier came to her.
“May I be of help?” she asked.
“Yes. You were so kind to us. May I have a picture of you? I’ll make you famous in Kansas.”
The soldier laughed. “If you like,” she said. Angelique waved them to a spot about ten feet away, then watched as Laurie uncovered her head and posed with the soldier. After the camera clicked a couple of times, she hugged the soldier.
“Rav todot,” Laurie said. “Thank you.”
“Of course. You are a tourist in Israel?”
“Me?” Laurie smiled at Angelique. “Yup. That’s me. Tourist.”
The soldier looked at Angelique. “And you? Also tourist?”
Angelique engaged the soldier in a short conversation. The soldier laughed in surprise when she heard Angelique speak Hebrew, and replied with enthusiasm. Then, she hugged Angelique and left to join her comrades. Laurie took Angelique’s arm, and they walked toward the gate.
“Were you ever that young, Angel?” Laurie asked.
“Yes, yes. It is many years, though.” She pointed toward the city. “Our hotel is that way. You are hungry?”
They walked for a while, each occupied with private thoughts. Finally, Laurie broke the silence. “Angel, how do you handle it so well?”
“We can talk about it, if you like.”
“Yeah. I’d like.” She looked at Angelique. “You know I killed those two guys, right?”
“You never said anything about it.”
“I knew that we would speak of it when you were ready.”
“I guess I’m ready now. Can we talk about it over dinner?”
“Of course. And what would you like for dinner?”
“I don’t care. Make it exotic.”
“Then come with me,” Angelique said.
“Hey,” Laurie said. “We’re married now. Wherever we’re going, we’re going there together.” She held onto Angelique’s arm with both hands, and her step became buoyant and cheerful. “So get used to it, hot stuff.”
Angelique smiled at Laurie’s touch, and at her words. “I love you, Laurie,” she said.
Laurie laughed. “You’d better.” She puzzled over a thought, then said, “I wonder how Allie’s doing, all alone on that boat and with Maurie in Caesarea?” She glanced at Angelique. “What? What’s that look for? I know that look, Angel. You look like the cat that just ate the canary. Okay, what is it? Something about Allie? Come on, ‘fess up. Tell me.”
“Oh, it is nothing,” Angelique said. “I am sure she is well. If she was not, she would call you, yes?”
“Yeah, I guess so.” Laurie eyed Angelique. “Okay, why is it that I get this feeling...?”
“Laurie,” Angelique said, “you worry too much. Relax.”
“I’m calling her.” Laurie fished the cell phone from her pocket and dialed a number. After it rang, she said, “Allie? It’s Laurie. What’s up? I was worried about you, all alone on that boat. You’re at the hospital? Are you okay? Oh, visiting Shoshana, huh? That’s nice of you. Tell her we’ll be back in Haifa tomorrow, and we’ll see her then. Love you, big sis. ‘Bye.” She hung up. “You’re right,” she said. “She sounds fine. I just worry too much.” They walked a little further, and then Laurie puzzled again. “She is spending a lot of time at Shoshana’s bedside, though, isn’t she?”
“Well,” Laurie mused, “she and Shoshana were together a lot over the last couple of days, and...” Laurie’s jaw dropped. She shook her head. “Naw, they’re just buddies.” She shot a glance at Angelique. “Right?”
Angelique shrugged. “As you say.”
Laurie looked at Angelique. “Shoshana is kind of hot, isn’t she?”
“As you say,” Angelique agreed.
“And she likes girls, right?”
“As you say.” Angelique smiled. “But does Allie?”
“She’s been known to swing that way. Oh, hell yes, she has!” Laurie laughed, then pulled the cell phone from her pocket and pointed at a nearby bench. As they sat, Laurie began furiously tapping out a text on her phone. A minute later, she got a reply, cracked up in laughter, and texted again. After a few minutes of back-and-forth texting, she handed her phone to Angelique, who read the screen. It said:
Laurie: I just figured U out, U cheatin’ dog, and your secret is safe with me.
Allie: Busted! Thanks 4 keeping my secret, little sis. U rock!
Laurie: So does your new g/f. Got any dirty pics of her?
Laurie: Want me 2 send U one?
Allie: U R so funny.
Laurie: And U R such a slut.
Allie: U say that like it’s a bad thing.
Laurie: I am envious. Shoshana is hot.
Allie: And U R married. I’m not. So behave.
Laurie: Did they take her catheter out yet?
Allie: Stop!!!! U R awful!!
Laurie: ‘Bye. Love U, slut.
Allie: ‘Bye. Love U 2, bean-pole.
Angelique handed the phone back to Laurie. “You and your sister,” she said. “Bad girls. They are all bad like you in Kansas?”
“Dern tootin’,” Laurie said. “If you want good girls, go to Utah.”
“Thank you, but no,” Angelique said. “I much prefer a married woman.”
“Oh? And who is this married woman? Do I know her?”
Angelique laughed. “It is you, silly.”
Laurie grasped Angelique’s arm. “Good answer, lover. Now, take me to dinner.”
Haifa, the next afternoon.
Angelique and Laurie walked down the docks and stopped outside the Rachael. Laurie called, “Hey, Allie? Are you there?”
Allie’s head stuck through the open hatch. “Hey, you two. Come aboard.”
They climbed over the safety lines and dropped to the deck. “Been house-cleaning?” Laurie asked.
“Boat-keeping, more like,” Allie said. “I had disgusting puddles of blood to clean up, thanks to Shoshana’s marksmanship.” She waved a hand. “It’s a long story. Come on in. She’s here.”
“I thought so. The hospital said she’d been discharged.”
They entered the cabin and descended the ladder. Shoshana, in a bathing suit top and shorts, was relaxing in the cabin. Her arm was in a sling, and bandages partially covered her right side and her right shoulder. “How are you?” Angelique asked.
“I’ll heal,” she said. “And how is Jerusalem? Is it still there?”
“Boy, is it,” Laurie said. “Have I got some pictures to show you guys!”
Allie opened a cupboard and brought forth a bottle of wine and a corkscrew. “Let’s celebrate while we’re all still together. Let’s see – we need four glasses.”
“Three,” Shoshana said. “I’ll stick with water.” She shrugged at the curious glances. “I’ll try anything once. This week, I’ll try sobriety.”
“Hey! I’ll drink to sobriety,” Laurie said.
Allie leaned down and kissed the top of Shoshana’s head. “Good girl,” she said. “Three glasses, then.” She rested them on the table as Laurie popped the cork and poured the wine. Allie lifted her glass.
“Here’s to friends, the world over.”
“And to peace,” Shoshana added.
“And here’s to getting through the last few days alive,” Laurie said. “Thanks to Shoshana and Angelique.”
Shoshana laughed. “A rottweiler and an angel. We make a good team, huh? I’m mentally unstable, and you’ve been dead for years. Whatever is Mossad thinking?”
Angelique smiled at the joke. “Whatever The Old Man was thinking, I am glad you were at my side on that day.”
Shoshana considered that statement, then nodded in agreement. “Right back atcha, kid.”
“So, little sis,” Allie said. “When are you two going back to Paris?”
“Tomorrow,” Laurie said. “We’ve got a business to run, after all. You?”
“Maurie will be back in three days,” Allie said. “Then, we’ve got a week of sailing instruction. Got to get certified for blue-water sailing before we head to the Greek islands.”
“You?” Angelique looked at Shoshana.
“I’m getting some convalescent leave. Then, Mossad will evaluate me and decide whether I’m too crazy for them to keep around.”
“Did you ever hear from your sister?”
“Yes,” Shoshana said. She glanced around the table, then smiled. “She spoke with the family. They asked me to visit.” She laughed. “I suppose I’ll have to go and buy a long skirt, huh?”
“I have one,” Angelique said. “You can have it.”
“I’m keeping mine,” Laurie said. “Hey! I liked it. It was really comfortable and cool. I might wear it at work.”
“Little sis, I hate to break it to you, but you still have to wear underwear with those things.”
“Damn. Really?” Laurie said.
Allie elbowed Angelique. “Watch out. Next, she’ll be strutting around in high heels and garter belts.”
“And shaving, down there. ” Angelique said.
“You don’t, now?” Shoshana asked.
“Well... if you must know – ” Laurie said.
“I don’t, either,” Shoshana said. “It doesn’t look right to me, shaved. It reminds me of a plucked chicken.” She shrugged. “But with a beard, it reminds me of my rabbi. There’s no winning.”
“Mon Dieu,” Angelique said. “I am suddenly very happy that my rabbi does not have red hair.”
“It’s red, for real?” Shoshana asked. “I thought Laurie died her hair.”
“Not on your life,” Allie said. “She’s a redhead all the way. There’s a freakin’ forest fire inside her jeans.”
“Jeez, guys!” Laurie said. “Can we please talk about something else?”
“Darn,” Allie said. “That was a fun topic. Okay, we’ll be summering in the Greek islands. You guys up for visiting us?”
Laurie looked at Angelique, who shrugged and said, “Of course. Unlike Americans, we French actually take vacation every year.”
Shoshana looked at Allie. “What do Americans do instead of vacation?” she asked.
“Die early,” Allie said.
“Yup,” Laurie agreed. She held up her glass. “Here’s to the American Dream: work your ass off for peanuts, owe the bank, and die early and broke.”
“Everything I never wanted to do,” Allie said. She looked around the table. “We’re really a very lucky bunch, aren’t we?”
“And may it always stay so,” Angelique said. She held up her glass. “Here is to luck.”
“And friendship,” Allie said.
“And love,” Laurie said.
They looked toward Shoshana. She thrust her water bottle into the air with a laugh and exclaimed, “And here’s to just being alive. L’chaim, bitches!”
-djb, March, 2014.
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