Copyright: Original story and characters, copyright D. J. Belt, December, 2014.
Disclaimers: This one is fairly gory. R-rated, I suppose. ALT, too.
Comments: I'm at email@example.com. Feel free to drop me a line, if you so desire. Thanks so much to everybody who stuck with me through seven Angelique stories. Your enthusiasm has kept me going. Here's the eighth one. I hope that you like it! And a special ‘thank you' to one of my German readers, who gave me much wonderful help on this story. Vielen Dank, Anne!
Synopsis: Angelique finds that Hamas has identified her as a former Mossad assassin, and an ISIS leader has dispatched a relentless psychopath to track her down and kill her. She and Laurie must decide whether to flee Paris or stand their ground and fight, and their decision results in unexpected, bloody, and heartbreaking consequences.
Angelique, Angelique: Book Two, Angelique: Book Three, Angelique: Book Four, Angelique: Book Five, Angelique: Book Six, Angelique: Book Seven
Northern Iraq, late summer, 2014.
Al-Hasim took pride in the gleaming, razor-sharp edge on his machete's blade. It was an odd weapon to be carrying in the arid country of northern Iraq, a land devoid of the jungle plant growth which usually required such a tool, but he did not need it to sever vegetable matter. For Al-Hasim, the machete served another, more gruesome purpose.
He strode from a bullet-pocked house, walked across the courtyard, and stopped in front of a group of his fellow soldiers. Militants, fighters for jihad, whose job it is to cleanse the land of traitors and unbelievers, and who were well-paid to perform that task. He nodded greeting to them, and they replied with grins and murmured words. Then, Al-Hasim looked down at the ground before them.
A prisoner knelt in the dirt, his arms tied behind him. He had been roughly handled; Al-Hasim could see the marks of a beating on his face and chest. The prisoner's eyes were wide with terror. He pleaded with Al-Hasim for his life, invoking his wife, his children, and his mother. He had to care for them; who would feed them and protect them if he was murdered?
“This is an execution, not a murder,” Al-Hasim replied. “You are a traitor to the people of Islam.”
“How? I am a devout Muslim,” the prisoner gasped. “I was an official of the government before the invasion. I worked for Saddam Hussein.”
“You worked for the Americans, did you not, when they infested this land?”
“I was merely a translator for them. I speak English. I had to feed my family. My job was gone.”
Al-Hasim drew his machete. The slow rasp of it leaving its sheath caused a distant cluster of women and children to wail in anguish. Their pleas and howls caused the more squeamish among those present to shift nervously or look away. It caused Al-Hasim to show the hint of a smile.
The prisoner was visibly trembling. He said, “Please! For the sake of God!”
Al-Hasim's body twisted, and he summoned all his strength as he brought down the blade. He felt the thud of blade into flesh; he watched the head roll in the dust, and he saw the body fall to one side as the dirt reddened with blood. He had practiced this motion many times, and had perfected it on many prisoners – those who did not submit to The Islamic State – ISIS, as they were known in the western press, or those who had befriended the western infidels, the soldiers of the Great Satan, as they had stormed across the land. As the shrieks of women and children echoed around him, he raised his blade to the sky and closed his eyes. He had just terrorized an entire village into submission with one act, and he wanted to savor the moment. He loved terror. He was addicted to it. Terror gave him power over others. Terror, in all its glorious horror. Terror, in all its awful majesty. To him, terror was the ultimate weapon, and he derived an almost sexual pleasure from the feeling of invincibility, of godlike power that it afforded him.
A close voice caught his attention. “The boss wants to speak with you.”
“I'm busy,” Al-Hasim replied.
“He said, ‘Now',” the messenger urged.
Al-Hasim's arm dropped. He sighed in resignation, then wiped the blade of his machete clean on the garments of his victim. As he sheathed it, he walked to a waiting truck and seated himself in the passenger's seat.
“Where is he?” El-Hasam asked.
“He is at Raqqa,” the messenger replied.
It promised to be a long drive. “It must be important.”
“I have no idea.”
He put the truck into gear, and they pulled out onto the road. As the messenger ground through the gears and the truck settled into a constant motion, Al-Hasim leaned back and closed his eyes. It must be important; why else would he withdraw him from the field? Yes, there was an important job waiting. He just hoped that it would include travel. He was tiring of the arid, sparse country in which he'd recently found himself.
It was dark when the truck stopped among a cluster of buildings. Al-Hasim roused himself and shot a glance toward the messenger. At his nod, they both got out, stretched, and walked toward a lit building with two sentries outside the open door. They spoke briefly with the guards, then entered. A moment later, the boss emerged from a back room and gestured toward the rug-covered floor.
“Sit, and we'll have tea. I'm glad to see you again, Al-Hasim.”
As they settled onto the rugs, the boss asked, “I trust that you're consolidating those villages across the border?” At Al-Hasim's nod, he smiled. “Good, good. Tell me, how would you like to take a little trip?”
Al-Hasim looked up. “To where?”
“I was thinking of France.”
Al-Hasim smiled, a response noted with pleasure by his boss. He'd been wanting to rid himself of this arid dust and taste the luxuries of Europe again. “And what,” he asked, “would I be doing in France?”
The boss opened a satchel and produced a folder of papers. He dropped it on the carpet between them, opened it, and lifted a sheet of paper with a computer image printed on it. “Looking up an old friend.”
Al-Hasim took the paper from his boss's hand and turned it around. “Who is this?”
“Our colleagues in Israel suspect that it's someone you know rather well.”
Al-Hasim glanced up. “Oh? I don't recognize them. Two western women sitting at a grave. So what?”
“A Zionist grave, at their military cemetery in Jerusalem.”
“I can see that the headstone inscription is in Hebrew. I repeat my question: so what?”
“Can you read Hebrew?”
“The grave belongs to one Angelique Bat-Ami. I am told that the inscription lists her as a soldier, but we suspect her true identity: assassin for Mossad.”
“So, you have a picture of two western women visiting the grave of a dead Mossad assassin.”
“Tell me, if you were supposed to be dead, would you be curious to visit your own grave?”
“I suppose.” Al-Hasim studied his boss. “Do you think that one of these women is this assassin?”
“One of them kept referring to the other as ‘Angel'.”
At that, Al-Hasim's jaw dropped. “The Angel of Mossad?” He thought about it for a moment, then cast the paper down among the others. “That bitch is dead. It's common knowledge. She died years ago. Look, there's her grave. Those visitors are just relatives or something.”
The boss's smile was indulgent. “She has no family in Israel. No living relatives. So, who are they?” He shuffled among the papers, then passed several pages across the rug. “Study them closely.” As Al-Hasim studied the pictures and sipped his tea, his boss resumed speaking. “Describe to me The Angel of Mossad as you remember her.”
“The height of an average man. Not pretty, not ugly. Very physically fit. Brown hair, cut short. Light-colored eyes.” He added, “An excellent hand-to-hand fighter.”
“Yes. Now, study the picture of the two women. Not the red-haired one; she's American or Canadian, we think, from her speech. Study the other one.”
“Black hair to her shoulders. Glasses. Slender. So what?”
“The height of an average man. Speaks English, and Hebrew with an accent. She was also overheard speaking Arabic to a shop-keeper. Appears very physically fit. Could be the proper age.”
Al-Hasim looked up. “Do you think that this is The Angel of Mossad? That she somehow, by some miracle, survived our fatwah ? I don't see proof.”
“Now look at the photograph of her ankle. Yes, that photograph, the magnified one. Luckily for us, she was wearing sandals. Do you see the scars dotting her foot and ankle?”
“Yes. So what?”
“So, it is reported that she suffered an injury when she was a Zionist soldier.” He pointed at the picture. “To her left foot and ankle.”
As Al-Hasim studied the photographs, he felt a thrill of excitement begin in his gut. Could it be? He looked up. “From where are you getting this information?”
The boss smiled at that. “Ah, a skeptic? From our agents in Jerusalem.”
“Can you trust these agents?”
“They're Hamas. Yes.”
“She is originally French. Where better for her to lose herself, to hide from our vengeance?”
“France is a big place.”
The boss pulled a packet from his satchel. “Go through Turkey to Istanbul, and then by train to France. Here is money, your passport, and contact information for when you reach France. We have cells of jihad fighters hidden across that country, buried among the Muslim communities there. You'll meet with one of the cells, and they'll guide you onward.”
Al-Hasim thought about it as he finished his tea. Then, he placed his cup on the carpet and looked at his boss. “And if I am able to find her?”
“A bloody and public execution would be manifest justice.”
“That,” Al-Hasim said, “is my specialty.”
“Then travel safely. Begin tomorrow.”
Paris, France, in the Latin Quarter.
Laurie Caldwell leaned her motor-scooter against the stone wall beneath a sign which read, ‘Café Angel, 13 Rue d'Espoir' , entered, and shut the door. “ Bonjour, Maurice, ” she called out as she stepped around two delivery men restocking the bar with bottles.
The bar's manager smiled. “Laurie,” he replied in French, “how was school?”
“The more I study French, the more confused I become. Is that common?”
“Yes, yes.” Maurice waved a hand in dismissal. “We French don't understand French, either.”
That got a chuckle from the delivery men. One said, “I'm from Ivory Coast. I've been speaking French all my life, and nobody around here understands me.” He assumed a puzzled expression. “Come to think of it, no one back home understood me, either.”
The baby grand piano in the corner of the bar fell silent. A third voice joined the conversation. “I think she has made excellent progress.”
Laurie bowed theatrically, then dumped her messenger bag and her helmet on the table as she smiled at Angelique. “Thank you, Angel. At least one person here thinks I've improved.”
Maurice shrugged. “I think you've improved, too. We just still don't understand you.”
“Oh, yuk, yuk.” As Laurie walked behind the bar, she snagged a coffee mug from the shelves and placed it beneath the spigot of the coffee urn. Angelique seated herself at the bar and watched Laurie as she prepared her coffee. Laurie turned, leaned against the bar, and asked, “So, is anything happening today?” She shrugged. “Besides work this evening?”
Angelique looked at Maurice and said, “Do you mind if I speak English to Laurie?” At his pleasant shrug, she returned her attention to Laurie. For a few seconds, she said nothing; she merely looked. She always loved to look at Laurie. The slender figure, the warm brown eyes, the red, pixie-cut hair, the stylish top over skinny jeans and brown leather boots; Laurie seemed to blossom more every month – no, every day – that she lived in Paris. How different she looked – and sounded – from when she first arrived. Then, she was a typical girl from the American heartland, a tee-shirt and tennis shoes and pony-tail kind of girl. Now, she daily seemed more at ease in her skin as a European woman, both in look and in speech. The one Midwestern trait that she hadn't lost – and hopefully never would – was her innate optimism. How did she put it? She was a glass-half-full kind of girl, always seeing the best in things. To Angelique, that was refreshing.
As Laurie sipped her coffee, she kept her eyes on Angelique. Finally, she said, “What's going on?”
“Oh!” Angelique shook herself from her thoughts. “In English, Laurie. It is good you are back. I am having our lawyer come to visit.”
Laurie squinted in puzzlement. “Nothing serious, is it?”
“I hope not,” Angelique said. “But I like to be prepared.”
“For what?” Laurie asked. “Is this about our marriage? There's not a problem, is there?”
“No. Our marriage is in order.” She smiled painfully. “In France, anyway. In most other countries, still not.”
“Yeah. I don't think it's legal in Kansas, either. So, what's up, if it's not that?”
Angelique took a careful, deep breath, then spoke. “I am having how-do-you-say?” Angelique squinted in thought, then spoke. “Ownership – yes, ownership of this bar and our apartment put into a trust. The three of us will share, you, me, and Maurice.”
Laurie cocked her head as she considered that news. “Okay,” she said. “Why?” Then, she waved a hand. “I mean, it's your bar, Angel, and Maurice is as much a part of this place as you are. You can do whatever you want. But – ?”
“I may have to leave suddenly. For a long time, perhaps.”
Laurie's expression fell. “Is your past coming back to haunt us again?”
“I fear so. I have spoken with Ronstein. He has information...”
“Ronstein? Oh, yeah. He's the Mossad section chief here in Paris since Maurie retired, right?”
“Yes, yes,” Angelique acknowledged. “He had heard certain things. He was kind enough to warn me.”
“Aw, shit.” Laurie rinsed out her coffee mug and thumped it into the dish drainer. “I thought we were done with all that looking-over-our-shoulder crap, Angel. I thought we were done running from your past.” She leaned against the counter and folded her arms across her abdomen. “We'll never be done, will we?”
“You knew that, Laurie.”
“Yeah, I did. I just didn't want to believe it.” She stewed silently, then said, “Okay, if we have to run, we have to run. But why make me part owner of this bar? Why not just you and Maurice? I mean, you two are this bar. I just work here.”
“You are married to me,” Angelique said. “And we share the apartment.”
“But I didn't marry you for what you have,” Laurie countered. “I married you because I love you.”
“I know. But if anything happens to me – ”
“You mean, ‘If The Angel of Mossad's famous luck finally runs out – '”
Angelique nodded. “Yes. Then I will leave income for you.”
“That's sweet of you, Angel, but this bar is Maurice's living, and he has a family. A wife and kids. He needs the income. I can take care of me.”
“But you work here, and we live upstairs.”
“If anything ever happens to you, Angel, I won't be around here anymore.”
“Pardon? I thought you loved Paris.”
“I do,” Laurie said. “I love Paris more than words can say. But if you aren't here – I mean, it'll just be too painful to stay here.” She sniffed loudly and wiped her cheek with her sleeve. “Everything here reminds me of you. Everything.” She strode from behind the bar, picked up her messenger bag and her helmet, and headed toward the back stairs to the apartment. “Look, I don't want to talk about this shit right now. Just split it all between you and Maurice.” With that, she clumped up the stairs, entered the apartment above the bar, and closed the door.
Angelique and Maurice watched her leave. Then, Angelique looked at her old friend and noted the puzzled expression on his face. In French, Angelique said, “That didn't go well.”
“I didn't understand it all, Boss. Just a portion. What's she upset about?”
“Laurie doesn't want any of the bar or the apartment. She wants you and me to share.”
“What? Why? I mean, this place makes a profit, and that's a nice apartment.”
“She says that you have a family to support, and that she can take care of herself.”
Maurice thought about that. Then, he leaned across the bar-top to Angelique. “You married a good one, Boss. Don't ever let her get away.”
Angelique managed a weak smile. “I'm trying. God knows that I'm trying.”
“But sometimes, it seems that nothing you do is right?”
Maurice clapped Angelique on the shoulder. “Welcome to marriage, my friend.” Then, he roared in laughter, a laughter echoed by the delivery men.
Angelique looked at Maurice. “So, how do you deal with things like this?”
“I drink. Is it too early for a glass of wine?”
Angelique glanced at her wrist-watch. It was time for lunch. “It's never too early for a glass of wine.”
“You're learning, Boss.” He set two wine glasses on the counter, uncorked a bottle of red wine, and poured it out. Then, he looked at the delivery men, raised an eyebrow, and held up the bottle. At their enthusiastic replies, he placed two more glasses on the bar and filled them. As everyone raised their glasses, Maurice said, “To the women in our lives.”
One of the delivery men said, “And to our wives too, I suppose.”
Amid snorts of laughter, they drank. When Angelique placed her wine glass on the bar, she said, “I think it was an actor who once said, ‘It was a woman who drove me to drink, and I've never had the courtesy to thank her for it.'”
“If it was a saying about drinking too much, it probably was an actor,” Maurice observed.
“Indeed.” Angelique rose from the barstool. “Excuse me, my friends. I believe that I have, as they say in Kansas, ‘some fence to mend'.” With that, she left the bar and ascended the stairs to the apartment on the second floor.
Al-Hasim opened his suitcase and stood patiently as the customs inspector examined its contents. The official asked, “Where are you bound?”
“France,” he said.
“Family,” he replied. “I have family living now in France.” He shrugged. “A short visit.”
The customs official nodded understanding. “Sometimes, I think we have more Turks living outside of Turkey than inside.” He studied the passport, closed it, and looked down at the cover. “Egypt? Well, Mister Akbar, have a pleasant trip.” He handed the passport back to Al-Hasim. “You're not flying? You're taking the train?”
“I want to see the country between here and there,” Al-Hasim said. “Besides, I have much more time than money these days.”
“You and me both,” the customs official said. His colleague closed the suitcase, and Al-Hasim lifted it from the table. “You'll be there in a couple of days. Travel well.”
Al-Hasim smiled as he left the customs table and headed toward the train platforms. His Egyptian passport hadn't failed him yet – at least, in Muslim countries. Let's see if it works this time in Europe, he thought. As he passed a bar, he hesitated, then entered. He sat at a table and ordered a beer. When it came, he studied it carefully, then slowly, luxuriously took a drink, savoring its flavor. It had been a while since he'd had a beer, and it tasted wonderful. Why is it, he wondered, that religion always forbids those things which are most pleasurable? No wonder religious men are always killing each other, he decided.
He looked at his reflection in a nearby mirrored wall. His hair and beard were cut short, and he was dressed in a western manner. In short, he appeared every inch a respectable Egyptian businessman, not the rough and brutal jihadist of the Islamic State that he had been just a few days before. In a way, he decided, he was a businessman; his business was terror. Terror, the magic pill which rendered a population submissive to his will. Terror, the weapon which would vanquish the enemies of ISIS and render the Great Satan, the western countries, aghast and afraid. And it was himself, Al-Hasim, who would be the instrument of this terror. He would find a way to make it happen.
Angelique entered the apartment by the back door, the one at the top of the stairs from the bar, and closed it quietly. She glanced around, and she saw Laurie sitting on the sofa with her French language books open in her lap. Laurie looked up. For a moment, her expression reflected enigma; then, she patted the sofa cushions next to her. “Come, sit. We need to talk.”
Angelique nodded agreement and settled onto the sofa at Laurie's side. She kicked off her clogs and watched Laurie as she closed her books and set them aside. Then, Laurie turned to her, crossed her legs, Indian fashion, and faced Angelique.
“Laurie – ”
“Angel – ”
They both smiled. Angelique said, “You speak first, please.”
“Thanks.” Laurie rested her hand on Angelique's knee. “Look, I'm sorry about getting pissed off, but I hated where that conversation was going.”
“I understand,” Angelique said. “But it is one which must be had.”
“I know that, too. That's what pisses me off, I guess.” She grasped Angelique's hand. “Look, our life here is just so beautiful. I love it. And we have to leave? That makes me really mad.”
“No, Laurie. I perhaps must leave. Not you. You can live here, work here. Prosper here. You are doing so well.”
Laurie's eyes widened. “What? You expect me to let you disappear, just like that? Hell, no! If you leave, I'm going with you.”
“Laurie, it will be dangerous. I will be safer alone. You can remain here, work here, live here in Paris, have the life you love so much.”
“We can meet from time to time, to be together in some quiet place. And you can run Café Angel for me, live here in the Latin Quarter of Paris, as you so love to do.”
Laurie closed her eyes, breathed deeply, and then looked at Angelique. “Listen to me, Angel. You're not thinking clearly.”
“But it is logical, no?”
“No!” Laurie crawled into Angelique's lap, straddled her thighs, and rested her hands on Angelique's shoulders. “Listen, now.” When Angelique opened her mouth to speak, Laurie placed a finger on her lips, silencing her. “No, Angel. Listen. We are married. That means that we're together, through good and bad. I will never leave you.”
“But Laurie, it will be dangerous.”
“I went into a fight at your side in Israel, Angel. I killed two people. You and Esther taught me to fight. I'm no weakling.”
“I know, but if you are near me, you are in danger.”
“If I'm not near you, I'm in bigger danger. I got taken by people who wanted to get to you through me. You rescued me. If you hadn't been there, I'd be dead now.”
“They took you because of me.”
“They took me because they were assholes. You saved my butt. Twice. Now, maybe I can help save yours. Angel, we're strongest when we're together. Apart, we're weaker. If there's danger on our horizon, we need to face it together. We need to stick together.”
“You are not afraid?”
“Of course I'm scared, but not of what's out there. I'm scared of living without you.”
“But we will still be married. We will still be together, from time to time – ”
“From time to time isn't good enough. Not for me, it isn't.”
“And you do not want to share in the bar, this apartment?”
“I didn't marry your stuff, Angel. I married you.” She poked Angelique in the chest with a finger. “You.” She hesitated, then blurted, “And, yeah. As part of the deal, I got your past, too, I guess. But hey! I'll take it, if it means having you.”
Laurie waited for Angelique's reply. For a long, silent moment, they remained so; Laurie straddled across Angelique's thighs, arms around her neck, her gaze on Angelique's face. She watched the enigmatic, searching expression as her lover wrestled with conflicting emotions, with silent thoughts to which she so often struggled to give voice. Then, their eyes met and locked. Laurie waited for a moment, then said, “Cat got your tongue?”
“Is that one of those Kansas expressions?” Angelique asked.
“Yeah. So, talk to me. What are you thinking?”
Angelique spoke slowly. “I believe, then, that you do not like my idea.”
“You believe right.”
“You are wishing for us to stay together, here?”
“It could be dangerous for you.”
“I don't care.”
“And dangerous for me.”
“That, I care about. That's why I want to be near you. To help protect you.”
“And if my luck does not hold? You told me in Jerusalem that it would not last forever.”
“Don't listen to me. I was being a whiner. Your luck rocks. The Angel of Mossad will live forever.” Laurie touched her forehead against Angelique's. “Because she's just that good at what she does.”
“At killing people?”
“At surviving. Hey, it's a neat skill set to have when the bad guys are after you.”
“Perhaps they will hurt you instead of me.”
“I'm safe. I sleep with one bad-ass girl, remember? An ex-Mossad assassin.”
A hint of humor raised the edge of Angelique's mouth, made her eyes twinkle laughter. “You do?”
Laurie smiled. “Yeah.” She held a hand over her mouth. “Oh, darn. I let the cat out of the bag, didn't I?”
“Do I know of her?”
Angelique raised an inquisitive eyebrow. “Tell me of her. Is she how-do-you-say? Hot?”
“ Beau? Hell, yeah. She's smokin' hot.” Laurie ran her fingertips along the side of Angelique's face, then through her hair. “Nice hair. Red-brown. Just past the shoulders. I like it that length, y'know. Pretty hazel eyes. Nice, enigmatic smile, sort of like the Mona Lisa. Mysterious Jewish girl. Sexy accent, too.”
“Oh? Sexy in what language?”
“All of ‘em. She speaks five.”
“Ah. And what else do you like so much about her?”
“Oh, you want to hear all about it, huh?” Laurie ran a hand across Angelique's ribs, beneath her top. Her fingers trailed across healed scars. “Smokin' body, with just enough scars to be dangerous sexy. A gym rat. Man, you should see the muscles. Abs that I could just eat, they look so good.” She traced her fingers along Angelique's upper arm, along the contour of muscle. “Kickin' dragon tattoo on her arm. Gives her just enough of a bad-girl persona to make me hot.” Laurie sniffed. “And she smells good, too. Lavender? Hibiscus? What is that?”
“Menthol,” Angelique whispered. “I hurt myself in gym yesterday.”
“Okay, so she's clumsy. Nobody's perfect.”
The corner of Angelique's mouth curved up in a mischievous smile. “And this woman, she pleases you at night?”
“I'm gettin' wet just thinking about it.”
Angelique spoke in a hoarse whisper. “And her name? Tell me.” She added, “Quickly, please.”
Laurie snickered. “I only know of two ex-Mossad assassins in Paris, and I'm not sleeping with Esther, so it must be you.”
“Shut up and kiss me.”
“I thought you'd never – ”
Laurie's thought was silenced by Angelique's kiss. It was frantic, and it seemed never-ending. For some time, the apartment fell into intense quiet. Finally, Laurie came up for air, panted heavily, and managed a coherent thought.
“I swear to God that if we're not butt-ass naked and in bed in about ten seconds, I'm gonna start without you.”
Angelique gripped Laurie's bottom with both hands and rose from the couch. As Laurie began shedding clothes, Angelique carried her down the hall and into the bedroom. When she shut the door behind them with a foot, a trail of Laurie's clothing – a top, a bra, and two socks – had been dropped behind them to mark the trail.
Raqqa, Syria, on the bank of the Euphrates River.
“Al-Hasim, it is good to hear from you. Where are you?” The boss pressed the cell phone against his head as he listened for the reply.
“I'm still in Istanbul. They won't let me into the European Union. With an Egyptian passport, I need a visa.”
“Hm. That could pose a problem.”
“Can't you buy one?”
“No. Let me think about it. I'll call you back. Just wait in Istanbul for now.” He heard a disagreeable grunt from Al-Hasim, then heard him hang up. The boss lifted his tea glass and drank as he considered the problem. And as he did, he stared out the window. His gaze came to rest on a long, low row of buildings at the other end of an open square. He smiled as he noted the activity at the building. It was his gift to his men, the brave warriors of ISIS. Morale was essential to a successful fighting force, and good morale required three ingredients. The first was victories, and ISIS had achieved victories aplenty to inflate their pride. The second was pay. Thanks to black market oil sales, extortion, and bank robberies, ISIS had plenty of money to pay aimless, dispossessed young Arab men to fight for them. They could make more in ISIS than they ever could in a more peaceful endeavor in their home cities; as a result, ISIS had no shortage of fighters.
And the third ingredient? The boss smiled as he contemplated the buildings. He was the proud owner of the largest brothel in Syria, a brothel stocked with young women stolen from among the defeated Yazidi and Christian populations of northern Iraq and Syria. They were forced to serve his fighters for a time, then beaten until they converted faiths. Once they did convert, they were eligible to be married off to his fighters for the equivalent of perhaps twenty-five dollars a head. Not a bad price for a bride, when his average fighter made perhaps two hundred dollars a month to wage jihad for him. Yes, it was a good racket.
But the master stroke of genius was the Al-Khansaa Brigade. Tradition and culture required men and women to stay separate on most occasions, and not to touch. This hampered his management of the brothel and the searching of females at checkpoints around the city, as his soldiers were loath to touch the women. But women could do those chores for him.
Women jihadists? Now there was a concept. He had formed a separate brigade of female fighters and trained them in the art of war. Then, he had released them onto the local population. Clad head-to-toe in flowing black robes, armed to the teeth, they were sent to enforce strict dress codes among women, to search females at checkpoints, and to deal with the infidel women sent to prostitution in the brothel. And they proved as ruthless and enthusiastic as the men in the enforcement of their world-view. They whipped offending women bloody in the streets for immodest dress; they ran the brothel with an iron fist, and they were known to carry out executions with surprising gusto. And among the most enthusiastic of the female jihadists, surprisingly, were women raised in the United Kingdom. They had risen to prominence in the Al-Khansaa Brigade; they ruled with determination and killed with ruthless joy. Yes, they surprised even the boss and surpassed many of the males. How odd, he mused, for Muslim women who had been raised in the decadent societies of the west to renounce preoccupation with comfort and beauty and flock to his ISIS flag to wage jihad. And they all spoke English, and they all had UK citizenship. A ticket to travel around Europe relatively unhindered.
The boss smiled. He had just found the solution to Al-Hasim's dilemma. He placed his tea glass on the carpet and called for his secretary. The man entered and waited for the boss to speak.
“Ask the leader of the Al-Khansaa Brigade to visit me, please.” He held up his tea glass. “Now. And I am in need of more tea.”
The sheer white curtains danced softly as a breeze entered the bedroom window. On the large antique four-poster bed, Laurie lay pressed against Angelique's side. For a time, neither one moved or spoke. They were still and silent, consumed by the luxury of each other's near presence, the touch of bare skin, and the rhythm of lovers' heartbeats.
Laurie stirred. Her hand slid across warm, smooth skin as she turned just enough to rest her chin on Angelique's chest and study her lover's face. After a few moments, Angelique opened her eyes. She snickered at Laurie's close inspection and tightened her arm around Laurie's lower back. “I once had a cat who used to look at me so,” she said.
“What happened to it?” Laurie asked.
“Who can say? It was a cat. They come and go as they will.”
“Well, I don't do that. You're stuck with me for good.” Laurie felt Angelique's arm tighten around her body, a silent ‘thank-you' to her sentiment, and asked, “So, are we agreed, then?”
“You and me. Together. Whatever comes, we face it together. And we face it here.”
“We are agreed.”
Laurie smiled at that. “Damn,” she said. “My sister was right. Make-up sex rocks. I'm still tingly in all the right places.”
“We were how-do-you-say? Making up?” She eyed Laurie. “Did we fight?”
“No,” Angelique said. “We only talk. A fight is when someone is hurt.”
“I was hurt,” Laurie said, “to think that you'd want to leave me behind.”
“I was only frightened for you.”
“We are agreed: we are stronger together.” Angelique smiled. “Always.”
Laurie's cell phone rang, and she groaned as she stretched for the bedside table and found it. She held it to her ear, rolled onto her back, and rested her head on Angelique's abdomen. “Hey! Esther,” she said, “what's up? Oh, that's right. I almost forgot. See you in half an hour. ‘Bye.” She hung up, then looked at Angelique. “Esther's meeting me at the gym for my krav maga lesson. You coming?”
Half an hour later, Laurie and Angelique walked into the gym. Raul, the gym's manager, greeted them, and Laurie stopped at his office door.
“Is Esther here yet?” she asked. “You know; short blonde hair, spiky. Blue eyes. Very blue. Israeli.”
“Oh, yes. The krav maga girl.” He pointed. “In the corner.”
In a minute, they'd stowed their bags and met Esther at the mats. Angelique greeted her in Hebrew, then switched to English. “So, how is Laurie doing?”
Esther laughed. “You don't have to worry, Angel. Your protege is learning quickly.”
Laurie said, “I'm going to get warmed up, you two.” She pointed at Esther. “Maybe this is the day where I finally kick your butt.” With that, she trotted off to the treadmills.
Esther smiled at the challenge, then looked at Angelique. “She might, you know. She is becoming that good.” She grew puzzled at Angelique's expression and asked, “Is everything all right?”
In answer, Angelique grasped her friend by the arm. “I have spoken with Ronstein. He fears perhaps that my cover is no good any more, that I may be a target. He has heard things.”
“Are you going to go into hiding?”
“No. I will meet whatever comes, here.”
“What can I do to help?”
“Step up Laurie's training, and quickly. She may need it soon.”
“Done.” Esther placed her hand over Angelique's. “I am with you. Anything you need.” She eyed Angelique. “Anything. I mean it.”
“Thank you, Esther. I will perhaps call upon you.”
“I'll be there.”
“Do you still have your pistol?”
“Of course. And my silencer, too. A gift from Mossad. They never asked for it back. And yes, it's clean and oiled.” She shrugged. “But only twenty-five rounds of ammunition.”
“Keep it handy.”
Esther smiled. “Of course. And you? Keep my telephone number handy.”
With that, Angelique smiled her thanks and headed to the treadmills to begin her exercise.
As Angelique ran on the treadmill, she would occasionally steal a glance toward the mats and watch Laurie. She was learning quickly, and demonstrated skill with her fists, with her kicks, with her take-downs. It was her proud and stubborn nature that pushed her, Angelique decided. Laurie would be damned if she'd fail or be beaten for long, and she refused to be a victim anymore. No doubt the torture she suffered at the hands of the CIA – torture she bore for Angelique's sake – was a strong motivator. She was determined never to be mistreated again, and it showed.
Some time later, Angelique was hanging inverted, doing abdominal crunches, her headphones blaring music in her ears, when she felt someone tap on her forehead. She opened her eyes and saw Laurie laughing at her. When she pulled the earphones from her ears, Laurie said, “Damn, what are you? Bat-Girl, hanging upside down?”
“You are ready for our weight training?”
“Bring it on, Bat-Ho. I can do anything you can do.” She grinned. “Okay, almost.”
A couple of hours later, they sat at an outside table at a little restaurant, consuming gyros. Laurie looked up from her meal. “Esther double-kicked my ass today. I'm sore all over.”
“Yes,” Angelique said. “But you are doing well. I am proud of you.”
“Thanks. That means a lot. So, what's up for this weekend?”
Angelique thought about it. “Perhaps practice with weapons, in the country.”
“Damn, Angel. You're really serious about this. Whatever Ronstein told you must have really scared you.”
“I am, by my nature, cautious.”
“Not that cautious,” Laurie said. “You're spooked. I can see it. And that scares me, because you don't spook easily.”
At that, Angelique fell silent and concentrated on her lunch.
Over the next week, Angelique arranged for a steady stream of contractors to troop into their little corner of the world. They installed wrought-iron bars on the front windows of Café Angel and strengthened the locks on the front door and on the apartment doors. As they were finishing work, Laurie took Angelique aside and pointed toward the baby grand piano tucked into a corner of the bar, the place from which Angelique nightly entertained her guests with a variety of songs and music. On the back of the waist-high partition which separated her piano from her patrons, two workmen had just finished installing a sheet of metal. They were applying paint to it.
“What's that?” Laurie asked. “And why?”
“This is where I sit, every night. It is known that I am here. Only Sunday and Monday nights, when the bar is closed, am I not here. If I was your target, where would you look for me?”
“I see what you mean.” Laurie watched them work for a moment, then said, “What about upstairs?”
“The apartment? The locks are better now. Already I have high-impact glass in the windows. There is nothing else to be done.”
Laurie leaned against Angelique's side and wrapped an arm around her waist. “Then let's start living our lives again. It's almost time to open the bar. I'm going upstairs to change for work.”
“Yes. I am with you.” On the way up the stairs to the apartment, though, Laurie noticed that Angelique kept looking about the bar, as if seeking that which she'd forgotten.
Istanbul, Turkey. Several days later.
Al-Hasim opened his hotel room door to a persistent knock. In the hall, he saw an ISIS acquaintance accompanied by a female in full niqab and abaya , her face and body covered in loose black cloth, only her dark eyes showing. The man beamed. “Brother, it's good to see you again. The boss sends his greetings.”
“It's about time,” Al-Hasim said. He embraced the man, then gestured toward the woman. “And who is this?”
“She,” the man said, “is why I am here.” He raised an eyebrow. “May we come in?”
“Forgive my rudeness,” Al-Hasim said as he stood aside.
They entered, and the man dropped a canvas travel bag on the floor. He gestured toward a chair and bid the female sit, which she did, silently resting her hands in her lap and observing the scene. The man said, “The boss sends you a ticket to travel freely in the European Union countries.”
“I don't understand. Is it a visa?”
“In a manner of speaking.” The man lifted a folded document from his inside jacket pocket and presented it to Al-Hasim. “Congratulations,” he said. “You're married.”
Al-Hasim's jaw dropped. “I'm what?” He glanced down at the paper. It was a marriage certificate witnessed by the proper authorities. Only the space for his signature was blank. “What is this?” he asked.
“Sign it.” The man produced a pen. “Boss's orders. This is Salama, a member of the Al-Khansaa Brigade in Raqqa. She's now your wife.” He perceived Al-Hasim's disbelieving expression and continued, “Although she is Arabic, she was raised in the United Kingdom. She speaks fluent English and Arabic, and she has UK citizenship and a UK passport. With her as your wife, you can now travel with freedom in Europe.”
Al-Hasim studied the female draped in black, then spoke. “You are Salama?” In reply, she simply nodded. “Al-Khansaa Brigade?” Again, she nodded. “And you're here to get me around Europe?” Once more, she nodded. “We're married?”
At this, she spoke for the first time. “Supposedly,” she said. At that, she rose. She pulled off her head covering and tossed it on the chair, then wormed out of the black robe which covered her clothing. She was dressed in a military top and pants, and her boots showed much wear, although they were well-polished. At her hip, she wore a hunting knife with an eight-inch blade. Her hair was cut rather short, and her face, although attractive, radiated a stare laced with defiance and challenge. “But don't go getting any ideas about us having sex.”
Al-Hasim glanced at the messenger. “I feel married already,” he said.
The man roared in laughter, then dropped a bulging envelope on the table. “Money for your expenses. My job is done. I'm leaving now. Pleasant journey, Al-Hasim.” He nodded toward Salama. “And wife.” With that, he walked out the door and shut it behind him.
For a long, silent moment, Al-Hasim and Salama stared at each other. Finally, he said, “Do you have a passport?”
She produced her British passport from her back pocket. As he reached for it, she pulled away. “This is mine,” she said. “Your new passport is in the envelope with the money.”
He opened the envelope and saw the stack of Euros. Atop it was a passport. He opened it and saw that it was a British passport with his picture and particulars in it. “My name is now Hasim Ali?”
“My last name,” Salama said. “Since we're married, we should have a common last name, should we not?”
She shot him a narrow glance. “It's on my passport, Hasim.”
He slipped the passport into his pocket as she picked up her canvas bag and dropped it onto the bed. “I'm tired and hungry,” she said. “I could do with a meal, and then a hot shower before we find the overnight train to France.” She eyed him. “Do you wish to take your wife to dinner, or do I go by myself?”
“You're a woman. You can't go by yourself. You need a male escort in public.”
“This is Turkey. I can do any damned thing I please except run naked through the streets. And I don't need that fucking niqab and abaya to hide behind here, and I don't need a male escort. So get over yourself. Now, are you coming, or not?”
“You're almost as much of an insane bitch as your commander.”
“And you're a typical male asshole, aren't you?”
“You disrespectful whore. I could have my way with you right here, and you couldn't do a thing about it.” He approached her, and she backed away from the bed. “You're my wife. I have the right. I think I'll take it.”
“Touch me, and I'll kill you.”
“You need a lesson on who the man is here.” When he swung at her, he hit only empty air. A second later, she jabbed the hunting knife to his throat. She met his angry gaze with her own, and she growled a warning to him.
“If you try, you might succeed. But you'll only have me once, because I'll kill you in your sleep. I swear it.” Al-Hasim could feel the tip of the knife's blade against his throat. She pressed, and he felt a twinge of pain. She pressed harder, and the pain increased. He backed up, and she stayed with him until he was pressed against the wall. When he had nowhere else to go, she smiled, a wicked smile. “Now, I hope that we understand each other, husband.”
Al-Hasim grinned. “Salama,” he said, “I think that I'm beginning to like you.”
“Yes,” she agreed. “I'm a charming girl.” She backed away and watched him touch his throat, then examine the blood on his fingers. “And we're a pair made in heaven, aren't we?” As she sheathed her knife, she said, “What's the matter, husband? Did you cut yourself shaving?”
“It would appear so,” he said. “Now, how about that dinner?”
A man with a cautious, perceptive gaze and a practiced, nonchalant manner entered Café Angel and wandered to an empty booth. He had not been seated long when a server with short red hair, a pleasant manner, and a thick American accent halted by his table and tucked her tray beneath an arm.
“Bonsoir, monsieur,” she said. “Que voulez-vous boire?”
He smiled at the accent and replied in English. “You are Laurie, are you not?”
“Yeah,” she said. “Wait a minute. Let me guess the accent.” She squinted at him, then said, “Israeli, right?”
He laughed. “You're good.”
“And you want to talk to Angel, right?”
Again, he laughed. “You're very good.”
“I'll get her for you. In the meantime, what can I get you to drink?”
“Ah. A glass of red wine. Whatever.”
“Coming up, one red and one Angel.”
She scurried away, leaving a very amused customer behind her. He watched her swing by the bar and call an order to the bartender, then weave between the tables and stop at the baby grand piano in the corner. Angelique was playing a vaguely familiar melody, and as she played, she leaned toward Laurie and listened. Then, she looked up. The customer smiled at her, and she nodded. A few seconds later, Laurie stopped at the table and deposited a glass of red wine before him. “She'll take a break in a few minutes.”
“You bet. L'chaim, ” she said. Then, she hustled away to tend another table.
He sat, lost in thought and listening to Angelique play the piano and sing, until he became aware that the music had stopped and a smattering of cheers and applause rose above the clink of glasses and the hum of conversation. As he looked up, Angelique slid into the seat at his booth. A moment later, Laurie breezed by the table and set a glass of cognac before her. She smiled her thanks at Laurie, then turned her attention to her visitor. “Ronstein,” she said.
“Angel. Good to see you.”
“So, what news?”
“It appears that Al-Hasim was spotted in Istanbul yesterday evening boarding an express train to Paris, under the name Hasim Ali.”
Angelique winced. “You're sure it was him?”
“Yes. He was cleaned up, but it was him. He came into Istanbul from God-knows-where under his own passport, but left with a new one, a British one.” Ronstein smiled. “And a wife.”
“Good for him.”
“His wife is a British national, but also Arabic. With his marriage to her, he can travel quite freely in Europe. It'll be harder to keep tabs on him.”
“Who is this wife?”
“The British think it's one Salama Ali. She left the UK about six months ago to join the Al-Khansaa Brigade. Obviously, if you're their target, you have two to deal with now.”
Angelique's expression did not change, but she pondered that thought for a moment. Then, she spoke. “What can Mossad do to help me?”
“We've tailed them into France, but since we're not in Israel, we have to walk carefully.” He hurried to add, “That's the bad news. The good news is that we're working very closely with your French government.”
“What, with the police?”
“Sort of.” Ronstein smiled. “The Sous-direction de l'anti-terrorisme. The SDAT.”
“There is no one better in France.”
“Yes, and they sent us a good man. In fact, he's to meet us here.”
As the café's front door opened and the little bell above the door tinkled, Angelique looked in that direction. “Tall? Light hair?”
“Yes, that's him.” Ronstein turned around and waved. The man stopped at the booth and shook Ronstein's hand. “Good to see you, Bruno,” Ronstein said. “May I introduce Angelique Halevy, formerly Angelique Bat-Ami?”
Bruno shook Angelique's hand. “Pleased,” he said. Ronstein slid over, and Bruno sat. “So, what language are we speaking?” he asked.
Ronstein laughed. “I'm adequate in French. Let's stick to that.” He glanced toward Angelique. “Bruno knows everything that we know.”
Laurie stopped by the table, and Angelique looked at Bruno. “What are you drinking?” she asked.
“Ah. Coffee, please.” Laurie nodded, and headed toward the bar.
Angelique studied Bruno for a moment. He appeared in his thirties and very fit. A soldier, she thought, more so than a policeman, but members of the SDAT usually were of a military background. He seemed quite at ease and self-assured; that was good, Angelique decided. He's experienced. She said, “What is to happen?”
“Well,” Bruno said, “We've had a man on Al-Hasim and his companion since they entered France. We'll tail them when they leave the train, and we'll keep them under watch. If we see anything to be concerned about, we'll telephone you.”
“Are we sure that they're after me?” Angelique asked.
Ronstein said, “Yes. We've had good intelligence.”
“In other words, Mossad has ears among ISIS.” Ronstein smiled, but didn't reply. “Do they know my name, and where I live and work?”
“This,” Bruno said, “we can't say for sure. I assume that they'll hunt for you when they get settled here.”
“Can't you just pick them up?” Ronstein asked. “Make them disappear?”
Bruno shook his head. “This is France, not Guantanamo Bay. There are laws. We can't just pick people up and throw them in jail forever. We must catch them with proof that they're conspiring to do something. Or catch them in the act.” He looked at her. “Off the record, do you own a gun?”
“Yes,” Angelique said. “A few, courtesy of Mossad.”
“Do you need anything?” Ronstein asked.
Angelique sipped her cognac as she thought. Then, she nodded. “I need at least a hundred rounds of nine millimeter ammunition, hollow-points. Two protective vests, the kind worn beneath clothing. One for me, one for Laurie. And I need to be able to talk to you both at any time, day or night.”
Ronstein and Bruno traded glances. “That can be done, Angel,” Ronstein said. “But are you sure that you want Laurie around? It may be dangerous, if they actually get close enough to try to kill you.”
Angelique said, “Laurie is tougher than she looks. She's becoming proficient at krav maga, and she's an expert shot. In Haifa, a couple of months ago, she was by my side in a shootout with the Eternal Martyr's Brigade. She killed two of them.” Again, Ronstein and Bruno traded glances. “Oh, which reminds me. I also need a pump shotgun for Laurie, and a hundred rounds of ammunition. Short barrel, a combat type, with a stock.”
“I can get you that,” Ronstein said.
A moment of silence fell over the table. “Well, it's settled, then,” Bruno said. “We'll haunt Al-Hasim and his new bride and see what comes. And we'll all stay in touch. Agreed?” Three heads nodded.
“All right, then,” Ronstein said. “You'll get a delivery from us tomorrow, Angel.”
“Thank you.” She rose from the table. “I have to get back to work. Please, stay if you like, and enjoy. And thank you both.” With that, she left the booth and returned to the piano. As she seated herself, she got a few cheers and whistles from her customers, a sentiment that she returned with a smile and a “Merci” . A moment later, she sounded some soft chords on the piano, and she began to hum the first stanzas to a tune.
“Lili Marlene,” Bruno said. “That's a song from The Great War.”
“Which war was that?” Ronstein asked. “We've had so many.”
Bruno nodded toward Angelique. “So, that's your retired assassin, is it? What makes her such a target?”
Ronstein shrugged. “My former boss knew her better. All I know is that Mossad recruited her when she was a paratrooper sergeant in the army. The assassination section of Mossad was a mysterious, hidden group of people. They acquired a fearsome reputation, and hers was tops. ‘The Angel of Mossad', she was called. One bullet to the forehead was her trademark, and she was like a ghost, the way she managed to kill her targets and disappear afterward. One job went awry, though, and she was identified. A fatwah , a death decree, was issued and a reward was offered for killing her. Mossad staged her death in Israel and a public funeral under her Hebrew name, Bat-Ami. Then, we relocated her here, in Paris, to live quietly. From time to time, she took free-lance work for us and others, but I think it became too much for her. Now, all she wants is to be left alone.” He motioned toward the piano. “To play her music and to live quietly with her lover.”
“Her lover? That American girl? Laurie?”
“Hm. Are there a lot of these retired assassins around?”
“There's one other here in Paris. You'll probably meet her if this operation comes to blows.”
Bruno smiled. “I can't wait.”
Al-Hasim strolled along the Paris street with Salama on his arm. She wore a woman's business suit and a scarf loosely covering her hair, the image of a proper, modern Muslim wife on a noon-day stroll with her husband. To passers-by, they seemed the happy couple.
To the SDAT agent one half-block behind them, though, they were the object of deep interest. He watched them enter a mosque, and he popped open his cell phone. Then, he lit a cigarette and hung out at the street corner until he witnessed them leave, about a half-hour later. Again, he opened his cell phone and reported as he began walking down the street after them, keeping about half a block behind them.
Behind him, a young man of Arab descent left the door of the mosque, crossed the street, and followed. After a few minutes, he pulled a cell phone from his pocket and dialed a number. A block ahead of him, Al-Hasim took a call. When he hung up, he directed Salama's attention toward a store window display, and they conversed quietly. Half a block behind them, the SDAT tail halted and loitered against a wall until the young Arab man approached him.
“Hey,” the young man said. “I have something you might want to buy.”
The SDAT tail shook his head as he kept his attention focused on Al-Hasim. “No, you don't. Go away.”
The young man raised his voice. “Hey, that's no way to talk to me.” He began making a scene. “Who do you think you are?” he shouted, as he gestured wildly.
The SDAT tail looked around, and he saw passers-by looking at them. “Go away,” he repeated, as he pulled a wallet from his pocket and flashed his credentials. “Or get arrested.” When he looked back, he saw that Al-Hasim and Salama were gone. He turned on the young man in fury, but the young man just laughed, then ran down the street toward the mosque. He huffed, then pulled the cell phone from his pocket and reported, as he hurried down the street where he'd last seen Al-Hasim and his wife.
“Angel, it's Ronstein. Bad news. SDAT lost them. They're watching their hotel and the mosque now, but so far, they haven't shown up yet.”
Angelique listened quietly. Then, she said, “Thank you. I'll be ready.” Then, she hung up and dialed another number.
Eight blocks away, in a cramped but cute little apartment that she shared with her French lover, Esther answered her cell phone. She held a short conversation in Hebrew, then hung up. Across the table from her, Claire asked, “Hebrew? An old friend?”
“Angel,” Esther said. “She needs my help. I'll be back as soon as I can.”
“Is there anything I can do?” Claire asked.
Esther considered the question, then stood. She leaned across the table and kissed her. “No,” she said, and stepped into the closet. A moment later, she emerged, pulled on a shoulder holster, and jammed a spare magazine of ammunition into her back pocket. At Claire's pale, aghast expression, Esther said, “It's probably nothing.”
“Now I begin to understand how Laurie feels,” Claire said. “Please be careful. I don't want to see you in hospital again.”
“I'll call you when I can.”
Esther slipped on a fleece running jacket to hide her shoulder holster. At the door, she kissed Claire again and embraced her for a long, silent moment, then wordlessly, quietly slipped out of the apartment. After she'd gone, Claire wilted, sat heavily in the chair, and rested her head in her hands.
Al-Hasim and Salama entered a Lebanese restaurant, wormed through the crowded aisle between tables, and approached a closed door in the back, near the restrooms. At his knock, a young man opened the door, perused the two faces coldly, and raised an eyebrow. At the mention of Al-Hasim's name, the man stepped aside and admitted him entrance. “But not you,” the young man said to Salama.
“She's with me,” Al-Hasim said. “She's Al-Khansaa Brigade.” At that, the young man relented. He led them out the restaurant's back door, through an alley, and into a run-down apartment building. Inside, they were admitted to an apartment on the ground floor. Only after the door was locked did the young man speak freely.
“I am Rabi. No last names here, please.” He pointed and said, “You are Al-Hasim, and you – ?”
“I am Salama. We are traveling as husband and wife.” At his puzzled expression, she added, “I am a British citizen. It helps.”
“Ah,” Rabi said. “Well, then. Let us have tea, and we'll discuss your purpose in Paris. I think we'll be able to help you out.”
“The boss said that you'd be able to provide us with what we need.”
“That,” Rabi said, “depends on what you need.” As they sat on low divans in a corner of the room, Rabi excused himself and retreated to the kitchen to see to the making of tea for his guests.
Salama and Al-Hasim glanced around the apartment. The front room was cramped and in a somewhat run-down condition. They both suspected that there was another, larger room attached, one whose entrance could be hidden if the French authorities ever raided here, but they did not see the entrance. It was well-disguised.
Al-Hasim looked at Salama. “Nothing to say?”
“I'll speak when the occasion demands it.”
“I'm sure you will,” Al-Hasim said. Since that remark was accompanied by an amused smirk, Salama replied with a similar little smile.
“Humor,” she said. “I do so love it.”
Rabi returned with tea and set the tray down. He served his guests, then served himself last. Then, he sat. “Now,” he said, “The boss said that you have a target here. What target?”
“Who, is more accurate,” Al-Hasim said.
“All right, then. Who?”
“The Angel of Mossad,” he said.
Rabi's expression reflected surprise. “She's supposed to be dead.”
“I heard that she wasn't.”
“Yes, I heard that, too. Perhaps a year ago, a young man who attended our mosque, a Palestinian, became convinced that he'd actually found her. Some French Jewish woman who owns a bar in the Latin Quarter. He tried to kill her. He ended up dead.”
“He tried to blow up her place of business one evening. He got the suicide vest from us, and he made the explosive himself. He was a chemistry student at the university. His vest malfunctioned. He was shot.”
“Once in the forehead?” Al-Makar asked.
“I don't know. It just so happened that a couple of Jews and several Americans were in the bar that night. The police declared it a terrorist act. The news stated that a member of the Israeli embassy staff who had diplomatic immunity was the one who shot him.”
“Mossad, no doubt. But so what? That doesn't prove that this woman is The Angel of Mossad.”
“Ah! But this is curious,” Rabi said. “Before he tried to blow her up, he attempted to kidnap her twice. First, at knife-point, and secondly, at gun-point. Both times, she easily disarmed him and then beat him severely.”
“This woman beat him?”
“Yes. He also said that she spoke pretty decent Arabic to him.” He touched his own chest, just beneath his throat. “And she wore a Star of David, here. But the best is yet to come.” He sipped his tea. “He said that he overheard other people addressing her as ‘Angel'. All this he told me in secret, because he did not want others to beat him to the reward for killing her. I personally doubted his story, because he was so anxious to collect the money that he would have believed anything.”
“So, is she? The Angel of Mossad, I mean?”
Rabi shrugged. “Who's to say? No one knows what she looks like.”
At that, Al-Hasim smiled. “I do,” he said. “It's been several years, but I've seen her face.”
“Would you remember her?”
“Most assuredly,” he said. “Can you show me this bar?”
“Would you like to go now?” he asked. At their nods, he said, “I will take you. And I suppose that you wish to have a weapon on you, just in case?”
“Not yet. But can you provide us with what we need when the time comes?”
“Of course, if your needs are not too extravagant.”
“Then let us go.”
“That's the bar,” Rabi said, as he pointed through the window of a beat-up van.
“Café Angel?” Salama said. “Really?”
Al-Hasim glanced at her. “Why? What's wrong with that?”
Salama huffed in exasperation. “If The Angel of Mossad is alive and hiding in Paris, is she going to name her bar ‘Café Angel'? I'd think not.”
“Hm.” Al-Hasim thought, then said, “I need to see this bar owner's face.” He looked at Salama. “Go inside. Have a drink or a coffee. Take some pictures with your phone and text them to me.”
“Why don't you go in?” Salama asked. “You're the one who knows what she looks like.”
“Use your head,” Al-Hasim said. “If I know what she looks like, don't you think that she knows what I look like?”
“Oh, yes. She knows.”
Salama considered Al-Hasim for a moment, then asked, “This is personal for you, isn't it?” He did not answer in words, but she could see the truth of it in his eyes. “What happened?” she asked.
“It was several years ago, in The West Bank. I was at my cousin's house; he was then a high official in Hamas. It was late in the evening; his family had gone to bed. He and I were sitting up, having tea. I went to the bathroom, and when I returned, a figure stood in the room, three feet in front of my cousin. Black, from head to toe, and face covered. My cousin was leaned backward, a single bullet hole to the front of the head. He was dead. I was not armed; in a rage, I attacked this person with my fists. I found myself outclassed in a hand-to-hand fight, but I was able to pull the balaclava from the assassin's head. For what seemed to me an endless moment, we stared at each other, face-to-face. I saw that it was a woman, but with short hair, brown. Hazel colored eyes. Young, perhaps in her twenties. She was not an Arab; she was too western in her features. She must have been a Jew of European descent.”
Al-Hasim fell silent for a moment, then finished his story. “She was a good fighter, very good. She injured me in just a couple of seconds. She refrained from killing me, though. I believe that she was more intent on escaping than in killing. She had done her job, after all; I was unexpected. I rose to attack her again, but a pain like fire burned my chest. I looked down, frozen with shock at what I saw. She had slashed me open with some sort of knife.” He opened his shirt, and showed his audience the healed scar across his chest. “From arm to arm. I gushed blood, and in the confusion, she escaped.”
“One bullet to the forehead, you say?” Rabi asked.
“The signature of The Angel of Mossad,” Al-Hasim confirmed. “It was her.” He curled his fist into a ball and punched the side of the van. “I had that Zionist bitch in my grip for a couple of seconds, and I lost her.”
Salama opened the van's back door and stepped into the street. “I'll be back,” she said. With that, she turned and walked down the street toward Café Angel as she pulled the scarf from her hair and fashioned it around her neck in a stylish manner. Her hand touched the handle of the bar's front door, and she paused. There were iron bars on the glass windows, and she suspected that the glass was high-impact. It might even resist a bullet. Inside, she could see patrons sitting, and she could hear music. She smiled, and she said aloud, “I really am looking forward to a drink.”
She pulled open the door and stepped into the bar. Instantly, as the little bell tinkled above her head and as she felt the atmosphere of the place, she smiled. A comfortable little neighborhood bar, she thought, not unlike a British pub, but somehow very different. A nice little place, full of old, worn wood and familiar fixtures. She slid onto a stool at the center of the bar, near the place where the servers loitered as they waited for the bartender to fill their trays with their guests' wishes. After a moment, the bartender, a large man, turned to her and spoke in French. She ordered a beer and mumbled ‘Merci' when it arrived.
As she sipped it, she observed everything. She saw the patrons, mostly locals. She watched the servers, the ‘bar-girls', hustle back and forth with coffees, espressos, and drinks. And she glanced at the pictures behind the bar. Famous people had visited from time to time. She recognized some faces, black-and-white celebrity head shots with an autograph scribbled across the corner, and other faces, she did not. One picture, though, caught her eye.
It was a picture of two young women and a man sitting on a low stone wall. They were wearing green military uniforms, and one held a sniper's rifle in her lap. The man, she did not know; and one women, the one with long blonde hair pulled back in a pony-tail, she did not recognize. The third, though, quickened her pulse. A young woman with light eyes and brown hair cut rather short. A face not classically pretty, but never homely; a face full of – of what? She studied the picture. Character? Strength? Determination? She couldn't put a word to it, but she felt moved by the expression. Especially those light eyes. She focused on the uniforms next. What country's army was that? She squinted, and she saw lettering over a breast pocket on a uniform shirt. The lettering was Hebrew. Israeli army.
The piano music, which had been a soft melody in the background, suddenly attracted her attention. A voice began singing; a woman's voice, husky, mellow, full of emotion, expertly crooning an old Edith Piaf song. Salama looked toward the piano, and was stunned. The woman at the piano had longer hair now and was wearing a beret on the back of her head, but that was –
Salama's gaze fixed upon the picture again. Those light eyes! She swivelled around on her stool and looked at the musician. The sleeveless top which she wore revealed well-defined upper arms. The arms of an athlete, Salama thought. Or a professional soldier. Or, she suspected, a former Mossad assassin.
She sighed deeply, then cast a glance toward the front windows. Outside, the dark had fallen, and the cobblestones of the street were lit by the halos of street-lamps. In the distance, she knew that Al-Hasim waited for word, waited for his pictures, waited for his proof that the woman who owned this bar was his old nemesis. Until a moment ago, she was firmly convinced of the idiocy of the idea. Now, she was just as firmly convinced that Al-Hasim was spot on. She had just found The Angel of Mossad, playing a piano and singing old tunes in a little neighborhood bar in The Latin Quarter of Paris. This was a problem.
She opened her cell phone and pretended to study it, but snapped a picture in the direction of the piano. When she magnified the picture, the face was still viewable, but a little fuzzy. Perfect. She sent it to Al-Hasim. Then, she sent one more text to a different number, a one-word text: ‘dilemma'. As she closed the phone, someone sat on the bar-stool next to her. She turned, and came face-to-face with a young woman with short, spiky blonde hair and two of the bluest eyes she'd ever seen. She attempted a smile and a nod.
“You ordered a beer,” the blonde said, in English. “Are you British or American?”
Salama laughed. “I'm British,” she said. “And you?”
The blonde studied her for a moment, then answered, “Israeli.”
The blonde pointed at the scarf about Salama's neck. “And you're Muslim, right? Snuck into a neighborhood bar for a beer? Don't worry. You're secret's safe with us. To me, you look like a Presbyterian.”
“Yeah, right.” Salama raised the glass. “I'm really a Hare Krishna. You know, I'd forgotten how enjoyable a beer can be.”
The blonde tapped her glass against the beer glass. “I'm a whiskey kind of girl, myself. Bottoms up.”
They sipped their drinks, and Salama placed her glass on the bar. She smiled as she mused, “I suppose it is all rather hypocritical of me.”
“Oh, think nothing of it. I'm sure there are some Baptists in here, too.” The blonde jerked a thumb northward. “And at Notre Dame Cathedral, the priest is probably visiting his girlfriend.”
“Or his boyfriend,” Salama corrected. “So we're surrounded by hypocrites, I take it?”
“Yes. I'm Esther,” the blonde said. “One of the biggest ones.”
“Salama. Very pleased to meet a fellow hypocrite.”
“So,” Esther said, “you don't look like your typical neighborhood Parisian.”
“I'm just in Paris on holiday, but a friend told me to look up this bar. She said that the piano player was marvelous.”
Salama pointed at the picture behind the bar. “Tell me, is that young woman in that picture – the one with the rifle – is that, ah –?” She pointed at the piano, and the woman seated behind it.
Esther smiled, a cagey smile. “It could well be. Look at the picture again. Who else do you see? Look carefully.”
Salama accepted the challenge and studied the picture. Then, she looked at Esther, and her jaw dropped in surprise. “That other – that's you, isn't it?”
“You're good,” Esther said. “And that was years ago.”
“And here you are, Esther.”
“Yes.” Esther knocked back the last of her whiskey, then slid the glass to the bartender. Then, she leaned close to Salama, as if to reveal some profound secret. What she said next chilled Salama's blood.
“We Israelis stick together. When someone hunts one of us, they hunt all of us.” Then, she smiled as she gave Salama a little pat on the arm.
“I'm sorry? I don't understand – ”
Esther fixed her with those intense blue eyes. “Oh, I think you do. Enjoy your beer, Salama.” She waved to get the bartender's attention, then pushed some Euro bills across the bar. “Hers and mine, Maurice,” she said. “It's my treat.” With that, she received another whiskey, then she slid off the bar-stool.
Salama sat for a moment, dumbfounded at the conversation, then glanced around. Esther was nowhere to be seen. In that moment, she had disappeared. “Oh, well,” Salama said, and tipped up her beer. She was pleasantly losing herself in the music when her cell phone vibrated in her pocket, bringing her back to reality. She looked at the phone, and beneath the text she'd sent which read, ‘dilemma', was an answer: ‘explain.' In reply, she merely tapped in ‘will call', and sent it. Then, she erased all three texts. After that was done, she finished her beer, threw a Euro note on the bar as a tip for the bartender, and asked for the location of the toilet.
British Embassy, Paris.
An embassy staffer, a member of the MI-6 British intelligence service, leaned back in his office chair and studied the text message he'd just received. After a thoughtful pause, he picked up the telephone receiver on his desk and spoke to the operator. “Get me the Israeli Embassy, please.”
Salama entered the bathroom and took possession of an empty stall. Then, she dialed a number on her cell phone. “Nigel?” she said.
“Here,” the voice answered, in a British accent. “What's your dilemma?”
“We've actually found his target. She's here. I'm going to have to report this to him. How should I proceed?”
“Do what you have to do to maintain your cover. Let me know where and how he's going to attempt the hit. Play it cool.”
“Right. Later.” She hung up, then emerged from the bathroom and passed by the piano. On the way, she smiled and placed some money into the wine glass on Angelique's piano. Angelique, as she played, studied her with those light eyes, then nodded and smiled a ‘thank-you'.
A few minutes later, she knocked on the back door of the van. When she climbed inside, Al-Hasim was studying his cell phone. “What the hell is this?” he said. “Can't you get a better picture?”
“Perhaps you'd like to ask her for her photograph?” she said.
He shot her a dark look, then returned his attention to his phone. In a moment, he rendered his verdict. “This is her, I'm sure of it.” He looked out the window. “She's dead.”
“How do we proceed?” Salama asked.
“In the same manner in which we've proceeded a hundred times before,” he answered. “Let's go back to your place, Rabi. I have that list for you. And I am in need of five trustworthy young people from your cell.” He smiled. “And a machete.”
“A machete?” Rabi asked.
“Don't ask,” Salama said.
That night, after the customers had left and the bar had received a quick clean-up, Angelique and Laurie climbed the stairs to the back door of their apartment. Inside, as Laurie threw the bolt on the door, Angelique unzipped a large cloth bag and examined its contents. Laurie joined her at the table. “What's that, Angel?”
“A loan from Mossad.” She extracted two vests and gave one to Laurie. “Does this fit?”
Laurie slid it on and fiddled with the velcro straps. “I suppose,” she said.
“Like this,” Angelique said as she adjusted the straps and snugged the vest onto Laurie's torso. “Yes, it looks right. Does it feel so?”
“I don't know what ‘right' should feel like.”
“Can you move in it?”
“I'll get used to it, I guess.” She watched Angelique try her own vest on, and she said, “Are these really necessary?”
“Yes.” Angelique placed several boxes of ammunition on the table next to some empty pistol magazines. “A pistol, for you,” she said. “And silencer. And also for you, this.” She pulled a pump shotgun from the bag. It was short, compact, and deadly-looking.
“Damn.” Laurie studied Angelique's impassive expression. Beneath the practiced coolness, she could sense deep emotion. “Okay, Angel. Truth time here. What are we about to walk into? Another blast from your past?”
Angelique nodded. “Let us go to bed, Laurie. I will tell everything.” She tapped the shotgun with a finger. “And tomorrow morning, load this and put it behind the bar.”
The next evening, business at Café Angel went much as anticipated for a weekday evening. Toward the end of the night, the crowd thinned out, leaving perhaps a dozen patrons in the bar, drinking, socializing, and listening to Angelique play and sing.
At a booth located in the middle of the bar, a young couple rose to leave. Angelique watched with vague interest as they said a few words to the bar-girl, Henriette, and paid her. As they approached the front door, Henriette pulled a towel from her apron pocket and began wiping the table. Then, she leaned forward. A moment later, she stood, holding a back-pack. “Hey!” she shouted as she held it up. “You forgot your back-pack.” She walked toward the front door, holding it out. “It's heavy!” she said.
The young couple froze in shock, then ran from the bar in a panic. As Angelique watched, she felt her gut tighten into knots. “Henriette!” she shouted. “Throw it into the street. Now!”
She turned and looked at Angelique. “What?” she said.
“Throw it out the door! Down! Everybody down!” Angelique screamed. “Run!”
Laurie dropped her server's tray and bolted over the bar. She slid over the worn wood and landed on the floor next to Maurice's leg. A second later, it felt to everyone inside Café Angel as if a malevolent god had shaken the building with all the violence he could muster and a roar which would have awakened the dead.
Angelique's ears were ringing. She opened her eyes and realized that she was staring at the ceiling. The bar was filled with acrid smoke, and pieces of the bar's interior lay scattered about her. The side of her face felt numb. She touched it, then looked at her hand. There was blood on her fingers. It took her a few seconds to regain her senses. Slowly, she rose to her knees. Through the ringing of her ears, she could hear vague shouting, screaming, and moans of pain. She looked above the partition, and the vision which greeted her broke her heart. She sobbed, an involuntary sob, then felt a black anger rise in her chest. She yanked the top on the piano bench open and withdrew a pistol. Then, she rose. “Laurie!” she shouted. “Laurie!”
“Yeah,” a voice answered, between coughs. “What the hell just happened?”
The front door flew open, and three young men wearing face coverings charged inside. They began wildly spraying rounds from AK-47s across the interior of the bar, and the first one fell backward from two rounds from Angelique's pistol. She ducked and rolled to the edge of the partition. Then, she fired three more rounds. A second assailant fell.
Laurie bobbed up from behind the bar, leveled her shotgun, and took half the face off the third assailant with a blast from her weapon. She racked the shotgun and shouted, “Angel!” as she spun around to face the front door. “They came from that van, outside.”
Angelique jammed her pistol into the waist-band of her jeans and rose. She sprinted toward the front door, only slowing to snatch an AK-47 from one of the downed assassins. At the front door, she paused, then bolted into the night. Laurie slid over the bar and followed. A moment later, a very shaken Maurice rose from behind the bar. As he wiped blood from the cuts on his face, he gasped at the destruction.
His formerly orderly little world was a mass of twisted pieces of wooden tables, chairs, pieces of benches, broken glass, and patrons. On the floor, several people lay. He made his way around the end of the bar, stepped over debris, and looked around him. His mind vaguely registered the two-tone sirens of the Paris police in the distance. Someone had called; perhaps he had better call, too. No, on second thought, perhaps he'd better see who's still alive and render what aid he could.
Then, he looked down at his feet. In his foggy thinking, he registered something which looked quite familiar, and yet not familiar at all. It was a pair of black jeans, and part of a Café Angel apron. What? And the shoes – who wore those shoes? And why did she take her jeans and shoes off? Then, he looked again, and he realized that the jeans had legs in them. But no top. Much of it was missing. At the waist, bits of unrecognizable, twisted flesh emerged. Loops of entrails, things that he could not name. Who wore those shoes, those jeans? A name hit him: Henriette. A memory flashed in his mind of her holding up the back-pack and calling to the young couple. Henriette. But where was the rest of her? Slowly, he looked to his right, and he saw the dark wood of the bar peppered with bits of whitish-red something-or-other. A tangled lock of her black hair was attached to one lump of flesh. Henriette, he thought. Sweet little Henriette, who wanted to go to university and study psychology. He looked again and saw her arm lying against the bar, the hand still grasping the straps from the back-pack. He wiped his face with his hand, and looked down at his palm. Bits of her flesh clung to it. He fought down a sudden urge to vomit.
He slowly became aware of moans, of pleas for help, of weeping, and sought out the source of the sounds. He found them all around him. As the sirens neared, he snatched a stack of clean bar towels from behind the bar and began using them to cover wounds as he muttered reassurances that the police and medical people were only a moment away.
In the darkness outside, a van started its engine. As its headlights cut on, its rear tires squealed. Angelique charged the van and attempted to yank open the driver's door, but the forward motion of the van pulled the door handle from her grip. Angelique shouldered the AK-47 and emptied it into the back of the van, but it did not slow or stop. By the time Laurie caught up to her, Angelique was standing in the road. She watched the van go, then grabbed Laurie by the arm and pulled her back toward Café Angel's open door.
Inside the van, Al-Hasim was cursing quite enthusiastically. “I thought you told me those morons were trained in Al-Qaeda camps,” he shouted in Rabi's direction. “They didn't last two minutes.”
“What the hell did you just do?” Salama screamed. “You bombed the bar! I thought we were only going to watch them tonight. You moron! You should have discussed this with me!”
“Why should I discuss anything with you?” Al-Hasim said. “You're just my visa, anyway. Shut up.”
“They were Al-Qaeda trained,” Rabi shot back, as he concentrated on driving the van. “Who the hell had guns inside the bar? Did you know they had guns? What is this, the fucking wild west? Who the hell keeps guns at the ready in a French bar?”
“You should have known your enemy,” Salama said to Al-Hasim. “You're an idiot. You just lost the element of surprise. Now, they'll be all over us. This will be on the world news. A terrorist act, they'll call it. Not only will it be much harder to get close to them, they'll all be hunting us: Mossad, the French, INTERPOL, everybody. Congratulations, Hasim. You really fucked this up.” In reply, he backhanded her. She bounced off the side of the van and came to rest on the floor. She wiped at her mouth, then said, “If you ever do that again, I'll kill you.”
“You say that a lot,” he remarked. He looked at Rabi. “Get us to a safe place. The streets will be crawling with police in a few minutes.”
“They're crawling with police now,” Rabi said, as flashing lights passed him. “Now what?”
“Now, we change the plan and try again, until we finally get her.”
Bruno ducked beneath the yellow crime scene tape, flashed his credentials to the police at the café's door, then stepped into the carnage. He was pale, and his expression was aghast. “Angelique?” he called out.
“Here”, a voice replied.
He followed the voice and found Angelique, Laurie, Maurice, and Emma, another ‘bar-girl', huddled at the back of the bar, receiving the attention of a paramedic. His eyes met Angelique's, and for a moment, they stared wordlessly at each other. Then, he turned, held up his credentials, and said, “SDAT. Who's in charge here?”
“I am,” a uniformed officer said.
“A knapsack bomb. Immediately afterward, three men with AK-47s entered the bar and began spraying the place with bullets. All three were killed by – ” He pointed toward the little knot of people in the corner. “The bar owner killed two. That girl with the short red hair killed the other one. I don't know what they're doing with guns.”
“Forget the guns. What's the cost here?”
“Who can figure? The bar is wrecked. In human terms, we count at least eight people with injuries serious enough to go to hospital, and eight or nine dead. Three assailants, and five or six civilians. One was an employee.” He pointed. “That's what's left of her. She was holding the knapsack. Those in that little group in the back have only received minor injuries.” He tapped Bruno on the arm. “Who did this?”
“Terrorists connected to ISIS, we think.”
“I can't tell you everything, but this bar is Jewish-owned.”
“A terrorist act, then?”
“Yes. Excuse me.” He left the police officer and huddled down next to Angelique. “We'll get him, Angelique.”
For a moment, Angelique did not respond. Then, she slowly turned to Bruno. Her eyes were ice. “He is a dead man, Bruno. I promise you that.”
“We're seeking him now. We'll find him.”
“You had better find him before I do.”
“Let's find him together.” He placed a hand on Angelique's shoulder. “And when we do, you can have him.”
“Done,” she said. “Just don't get in my way.” She looked up, eyed a new arrival, and said, “Well, Ronstein. Mossad didn't see this coming?”
“I just heard, Angel. I'm so sorry,” Ronstein said. He approached the group.
“You had no idea of this?” Angelique asked.
“No. Thank God you're alive.”
“Henriette isn't. Look at her. She – ” Angelique buried her face in her hands to cover an involuntary sob as Laurie rested a hand on her shoulder. After a moment, she looked up. “I didn't protect her. How do I tell her parents? How do I justify this?”
“You don't, Angel,” Bruno said. “It was terrorism. Mindless, blind terrorism.”
“It was deliberate. I was the target. I should have died, not her. She was an innocent.”
“The good news is that he didn't get you,” Bruno said. “The bad news is that he'll try again.”
Angelique looked up. “I'm counting on it.”
That night, no one slept. Police and emergency people poked and prodded through the wreckage of Café Angel until the dawn hours. Officials of the city government showed up, spoke with the news reporters to insure that their faces would be on camera, asked questions, and made promises before they left. And, with the rise of the sun, Angelique's insurance adjustor arrived. She paled at the extent of the damage, and at the appearance of the bar's owner and her employees.
“We'll take care of restoring the bar,” she said. “And we can replace some of the lost income, too.” She shrugged in apology. “It will take some time, I think. Is your apartment upstairs all right?”
“I haven't looked,” Angelique said.
“I'll take her upstairs,” Laurie said as she rose. Together, they ascended the stairs to the apartment as Angelique focused her attention on Maurice and Emma.
“You should go home, Maurice. By now, it's on the news. Your family will be worried.” She looked at Emma. “You, too.”
“We're here with you,” Emma said. “I don't have family in Paris, except you guys.”
Maurice waved a hand in dismissal. “I spoke with my wife. She knows we're okay.” He looked around. “What now, Boss?”
“Now?” Angelique looked around the bar. “Now, we rebuild, better than before.” She watched coroner's agents placing Henriette's remains in a body bag. “We attend Henriette's funeral, and we weep for her. Then, Laurie and I have something which we must do.”
“Do you know who did this, Boss?” Maurice asked.
“I believe so.”
“Why?” Emma asked. “Why would they do this? Is it because you're a Jew?”
“More,” Angelique said. “It's because of who I was in Israel.” She stood. “Maurice, Emma. You two will restore the bar. Work with the contractors and the insurance people. Make sure you pay yourselves enough to live on. See that it's well done. Emma, you can live upstairs for free, if you like, and care for our apartment. Laurie and I may be gone for a very long time.”
“We'll see you again, won't we, Boss?”
“I don't know.” With that, Angelique turned and slowly ascended the stairs to the apartment above the bar. Maurice and Emma watched as she entered the door and quietly closed it behind her.
Emma looked at Maurice. “Who was she in Israel?”
“It's a long story,” Maurice said. He gestured toward the bar. “Come. Let's have a drink, and I'll tell you. That is, if there are any unbroken bottles.” He attempted a smile. “Oh, that's right. The sun's coming up. You don't drink in the morning, do you?”
Emma stood a bar-stool upright and settled on it. “I think I just started,” she said.
A town in western Kansas, United States.
County sheriff Bill Caldwell stepped from his office, then paused as his cell phone rang. He glanced at it and noticed that it was his wife. He held it to his ear. “Hey, hon. What's up?”
“Oh, Bill,” Michelle said. “Turn on CNN. Now. I mean it.”
“What's going on?”
“Just do it.” Her voice cracked. “I gotta go.” She hung up.
Sheriff Caldwell strode into the conference room, turned on the television, and flipped channels until he saw the familiar CNN logo. He listened to the broadcaster's words and he saw the pictures, and his chest tightened and his eyes watered. “Oh, God damn,” he said. When the broadcaster spoke the words, “Café Angel”, he sat heavily on a chair. “Laurie,” he whispered.
His cell phone rang again. He looked at it. It was his wife. For a moment, he didn't want to answer it. He feared the news. Then, he took the call. “Michelle,” he said. “I'm here.”
“I just talked to Laurie. She's all right. Oh, Bill! She's okay.”
“Was she in the bar?”
“Yes. She and Angel survived the blast. One of her friends got killed.”
“You mean that little French girl with the purple hair?”
“I don't know. Bill, we need to go there now. Or we need to get Laurie home, one or the other.”
“Hang on. Don't freak out yet. Let me talk to Angel and see what's up.”
“Michelle, listen to me. We'll do whatever we need to for them, you know that. But I've got a feeling that Angelique is going to handle this her way, with her Mossad buddies at her back. If we're there now, we'll just get in the way.” He heard Michelle huff, and he added, “Laurie and Angel are okay. That's the main thing. Let me check with them, please.”
“Oh, my God. Angel's on TV.”
“What? Hang on.” He glanced up at the television, and he saw Angelique being interviewed by CNN. She looked ragged and she had several cuts on her face closed with paper sutures, but she was alive and standing. That reassured him. She was speaking French, then suddenly looked straight into the camera and switched to what sounded, to Bill, like Arabic. He had no idea what she said, but the cold steel in her gaze chilled his blood.
As the interview ended, the CNN news correspondent turned to the camera. On a split screen, the news-desk personality held a finger to her earpiece, listened for a moment, and said, “We are just told that she spoke briefly in Arabic. The translation, roughly, is this: ‘Al-Hasim, you missed, you coward. Try again.' Do we know who this Al-Hasim is? No? I'm sure we'll be looking into that.”
Bill Caldwell saw the look in Angelique's eyes, and he knew. She meant what she said. He'd seen coldness in people's gazes before, but this was intense. He was suddenly glad that his name wasn't Al-Hasim. He left the conference room and returned to his office. On his desk telephone, he slowly dialed an international number and listened. Then, a voice answered him.
“Angelique, it's Bill Caldwell. I just saw the news. You okay?”
“Yes, yes. Thank you. And Laurie is well.”
“You need anything from us, you just ask, okay? And I mean it. If we got it, you got it.”
“Thank you, Bill. You are kind.”
“And you remember what I told you when I was in Paris. If you two need a hideout for a while, you know where to come. Right?”
After a moment of silence, Angelique said, “It may come to that.”
“Well, you be careful in what you do next. Is Laurie around?”
“Yes, she is here. A moment, please.”
A moment later, Laurie's voice came across the phone. “Dad?”
“Yeah. You okay?”
“Yeah, I'm okay. Listen, we're good here. Tell Mom not to worry, will you?”
“Yeah, right. That'll be the day. Do you need us to come there? We can be on the next plane.”
“No, Dad. Our apartment's okay. The bar downstairs is totally trashed, but we got insurance. We'll rebuild.”
“Okay, if you say so. Listen, one more thing.”
“You keep Angel from doing anything crazy, will you? Tell her to let the authorities handle it.”
“Hey. I can tell her, but – ”
Bill managed a chuckle. “Yeah, I know what you mean. I been married to your mother for thirty years now. Take care, will you?”
“Sure. You rock, Dad. Thanks for calling. Love you guys.”
“Love you too, Laurie. ‘Bye.” He hung up the telephone, then rose from his desk and headed down the hall to the conference room to view the news again.
Al-Hasim paced and brooded. From a table in the corner of the apartment, Salama watched silently. In her eyes, he could read contempt. He had botched the job, and she no longer respected him. After another glance in her direction, he wondered if she ever did. Headstrong bitch. He watched her answer her cell phone, and she spoke in English. Then, she hung up. “Who was that?” he demanded.
“An old friend,” she said. “From England. She works here, in Paris. She wants to meet for lunch. I said yes.”
“You should have checked with me.”
“Why? I'm just your visa, right? What do you care what I do?” She stood up. “I'm going out for lunch. I'll be back in a few hours.”
“You can't go out. It isn't safe. There's police all over.”
She shot him a laughing glance. “It's you they seek, not me.”
“Bitch,” he said.
“Asshole,” she retorted.
He took a step toward her, and she turned and flashed her knife. “I'll gut you like a sheep,” she warned. “And the French will give me a medal for doing it. So keep your hands off me.”
“Get the hell out of here, Salama,” he said. “I'm tired of your insolent tongue, anyway. I don't need you.”
“Yes, you do.”
“No,” he said. “I have a British passport now, thanks to you. So watch your step.”
She slipped her shoes onto her feet and wrapped her head-scarf around her neck. “Try not to get arrested before I return,” she teased. Then, she let herself out of the apartment.
Rabi stepped from the kitchen. “That one is a devil,” he said. “Are all Al-Khansaa like her?”
“Some are worse,” Al-Hasim said. He thought for a second, then said, “I don't trust her. Get one of your friends to follow her. See what she's up to.”
Nigel sipped his coffee as he considered Salama's presence across the café table. After some silence, he asked, “What the bloody hell went wrong?”
“He didn't share his plans with me. I was as surprised as you were when that bomb went off.”
“You can't be surprised. You need to be informed. Find out his plans, damn it.”
“How? He doesn't trust me, I think.”
Nigel shot her an amused look. “Pillow talk, dear. You're ‘married' to him, right? Use your, ah – feminine wiles to extract the information.”
“That pig? Don't make me vomit.”
“Look, dear. You need to deliver him to us. To do that, use every weapon at your disposal. Yes, including that one. We need to know. There can't be a ‘next time', or more will die.”
Salama looked toward the street. Eight dead. Several injured. My fault, she thought. I should have known. “I can't go back to Al-Khansaa after this,” she said.
“You won't. You'll be useless to us after this. You'll go back to your nice little life in London with a pocketful of money and the thanks of Her Majesty's government ringing in your ears.”
“Small comfort. Tell that to the people who died last night.”
“Well,” Nigel said, “at least it wasn't quite as bad as the Goldenberg Restaurant attack back in ‘82. There, it was grenades and machine guns. Six dead, twenty-two injured. Here, it was less.”
“Yes. He didn't get his target. That means he'll try again. We need to know his plans. That's your job. Get us the intelligence that we need, so that we can get him.” Nigel leaned across the table. “Give me your mobile.”
Salama placed her cell phone on the table. “Why?” she asked.
Nigel picked it up, popped it open, and pulled out the battery. He withdrew a small chip from his shirt pocket, inserted it into the phone, and reassembled it. Then, as he passed it across the table, he said, “We can now keep track of you at all times. Make sure you keep it on and stay close to him, will you, darling?”
“How close?” she asked, coldly.
Again, Nigel gave her that amused little smile. “As close as you need to be to get the job done. You, ah – you are on birth control, aren't you?”
“MI-6 got me the subcutaneous implant before I joined Al-Khansaa,” she said. “Just in case of a forced marriage. Or a rape.”
“Well, there you are,” he said. “Ta-ta, dearie. Do stay in touch with us, won't you?” With that, he threw some Euro notes on the table, then rose and left.
As she watched him leave, she finished her coffee. Those MI-6 types, she decided, are all insufferable pricks. Then, she looked at the time on her cell phone. “A little shopping,” she said, as she left the table. “After all, I am in Paris.”
“Did you get a different van?” Al-Hasim asked.
Rabi nodded. “The old one was full of bullet holes.” He smiled. “So that was The Angel of Mossad, huh? She's rather hard to kill. She survived that blast and shot up our van.” He snickered. “And she taunted you on the news. I saw it.”
Al-Hasim shot him a deadly glare. “Did you get what I wanted?”
“Tonight, then.” He glanced at his watch. “And where's that bitch Salama?”
Rabi shrugged. “She's a woman. She's probably shopping. Relax. She'll come back.”
“She's not a woman. She's a damned devil.”
The apartment door opened. “I heard that, Hasim,” Salama said. “You really must learn to speak more quietly if you're going to insult someone.”
He turned on her. “And you should quit lying to me. Who did you meet?”
“An old college friend.”
“A man. You lied.”
“Are you spying on me now? I went to college with men, Hasim. We English tend to do unspeakable things like that.”
“Sometimes I wonder if you're even Muslim.”
“Sometimes I wonder if you're even human. So, what insane plan have you concocted next? Clue me in, Hasim. Perhaps I can help you.”
Rabi hurried toward the kitchen. “I'll make some tea. We'll talk about tomorrow.”
Salama raised an eyebrow. “Oh? What about tomorrow?”
They sat, and Rabi served tea. Then, Al-Hasim began speaking. “I have eyes on our target. People are creatures of habit; our target has habits, too. I know where she goes every day. I'll hit her then.”
“When and where?”
“Why are you so interested?”
Salama threw up her hands. “Fine, fine. If you don't want to tell me, then that's fine. Just go and screw things up again. After all, I'm just your visa.” She rose and went to the back of the apartment. “I'm going to use the bathroom and then take a rest. You boys can plot all you like. Have fun.” With that, she entered the bathroom and closed the door. Inside, she turned the lock, then ran the water. She opened her phone, tapped out a text message, and sent it. A moment later, she got a reply: an exclamation point. MI-6 had gotten the text. She erased both messages, washed her hands, and then went to the little couch in the back room to lie down and rest.
“Angel, you can't just sit here all night.”
“And why can I not?” she asked.
Laurie righted a bar-stool and sat next to Angelique, at the damaged bar. “Because it won't solve anything.”
“It does. It helps me to think.”
Laurie pulled the amaretto bottle across the bar and poured herself a shot. “About what?”
“He has to die, Laurie. The sooner, the better.”
“I agree,” Laurie said. “But we have to let the French SDAT do this. If we kill him, it's a crime.”
The bar's front door opened, and the little bell above the door tinkled again as it closed. Bruno stood just inside the doorway. He glanced around, then shook his head as he spoke in French. “A mess, huh? But your windows didn't shatter.”
“High-impact glass,” Angelique muttered.
“A good idea. You must have been anticipating such a thing.”
Laurie turned on her bar-stool and faced Bruno. “Once, a man threw a – ” She gestured, as if searching for a word.
“Cobblestone,” Angelique said.
“Yes. Cobblestone through the window. It hit me here.” She pointed to a scar above her left eye.
“Ah.” He approached the bar, pulled a bar-stool close to Angelique's free side, and sat down. She wordlessly passed him the amaretto bottle as Laurie fished an unbroken glass from behind the bar and slid it to him. He poured a shot, then downed it and said, “Angelique Halevy, how would you like to kill this man?”
“I live for it,” she answered.
“Then you might get your chance. We have word that he will try again. Tomorrow, when you go to the gym.”
“We don't know. All we know is that.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“How do you know this?”
“The British have an asset close to him. I can't say more.”
“On the street? In broad daylight?” She considered it. “A car bomb, most likely, somewhere along the route we walk every day.”
Bruno raised an eyebrow in surprise. “It makes sense. Do you take the same route every morning?”
“Yes. It is shortest.”
“Take a different one,” he urged.
“Don't let anyone park in front of the gym tomorrow morning.”
“Do you think he will put it there?”
“That,” Angelique said, “is where I would put it. Big plate glass windows, that glass will be like shrapnel to anyone in the gym.”
“He can detonate such a bomb from a block away or more.”
“He'll be close. After it explodes, he will come in with guns, like last night, here.” She looked at him. “He wants me, Bruno. My head on a stick. My death will be public and bloody. He'll make sure of it. It's what he does.”
“We'll be waiting for him.”
“And I'll be the bait.”
“Unfortunately, yes. I'll come here in the morning and see you again. In the meantime, lock the door behind me. Do you need guards on your apartment tonight?”
“No,” she said. “High-impact glass and reinforced locks. Second floor. We're safe enough.”
“As you wish. Good-night, then.” He offered his hand, and she shook it. After he left, Laurie locked the door behind him.
“Let's go to bed, Angel,” she said, in English. “Although I don't think I'll be sleeping.”
Wordlessly, Angelique slid from her bar-stool, took Laurie's hand, and walked with her to the back stairs. On the way, she detoured to her baby grand piano. She propped open the lid and stared into the instrument's body, noting the tangle of piano wires. Then, she tapped on a key. A dull klunk sounded. She looked at Laurie.
“My piano, Laurie,” she said. “Ma belle piano. Il est ruiné.” Very softly, she began weeping.
“We'll get you a new one,” Laurie whispered. “I promise.” She looped an arm about Angelique's waist and pulled her close. Then, she led her toward the stairs to their apartment, one story above their heads.
The next morning, Laurie answered a knock at their apartment's front door. Bruno was standing on the stairwell, and he entered. “Are you ready, Angelique? Laurie?” he asked. “Are you armed? And are you wearing your vests?” When he was given a positive reply to all three questions, he said, “Well, then. Let's go. And we'll be near you at all times.”
Laurie slipped a loaded magazine into the handle of her silenced pistol, cocked it, and clicked on the safety. Then, she slipped it into her gym bag. She stuck a second magazine into the pocket of her zip-up hoodie, then shouldered her bag. “Let's do this,” she said.
“I am with you,” Angelique said. When Laurie turned to leave, she was halted by Angelique's hand on her shoulder. “If there is trouble, you stay behind me, yes?” she said.
Laurie opened her mouth to protest, then saw the earnest, almost pleading look in her lover's eyes. Her manner softened, and she said, “Yeah. Sure. I will, I promise.” A second later, she added, “Whatever happens, I love you.”
Angelique hugged Laurie to her, held her with an almost frantic strength. “I love you, also,” she said. Then, they exited the apartment and locked the door behind them.
Al-Hasim wiped at the side window of the van. “Don't you ever clean these windows?” he asked.
Rabi shrugged in reply. “We only stole this thing yesterday,” he said.
“I can't see.”
“You're not looking, then. I can see the gym's front door clearly.”
“Shut up, you two,” Salama said. “I can't hear myself think with all your whining.”
“When this is over,” Al-Hasim said, “I just might kill you.”
Salama shot him a deadly glance. “The feeling is mutual, Hasim.”
“Look!” Rabi said. “There's parking space in front of the gym.”
“Then get that car in there. Call your driver. Where is he, anyway? I thought he was anxious to be a part of this.”
“I'll call him.” Rabi dialed a number on his cell phone, then conducted a rapid conversation. He looked up and said, “The traffic's bad. He'll be here in a few minutes.”
“A few minutes, “ Al-Hasim growled. “I'm working with morons.” He looked at Salama. “And what's so funny?”
She was sitting on the van's floor, laughing. “If you don't see it, I'm not going to tell you,” she said.
“Ah!” Rabi pointed. “Here comes the car. He's in front of the gym.”
Al-Hasim pulled his cell phone from his pocket. “And is he parking?”
“No. He's just sitting there. He needs to park it and get away from the car.” Rabi's cell phone rang. He answered it, then looked at Al-Hasim. “He says there's a police ‘no parking' barrier up in front of the gym. He wants to know what to do.”
Al-Hasim smiled. “Tell him to just sit there for a moment.” As Rabi repeated the order into his phone, Al-Hasim dialed a number. When he pressed the ‘send' button, the car exploded with a horrific bang. The windows shattered and the doors blew open. Several car alarms nearby started sounding, and the gym's front window showed a gaping hole. As Rabi watched in horror, he saw the outline of the driver, sitting in the driver's seat and enveloped in flames. After a few seconds, the flaming body fell from the car onto the street, where it continued to blaze. Slowly, Rabi turned. His eyes were wide with disbelief and his mouth moved, but made no discernable sounds.
Al-Hasim turned on a speechless Rabi in fury. “What the hell was that? That was nothing! That was hardly enough to break their glass. Who the hell made that car bomb, anyway? I thought you people knew your craft. What a piece of shit.”
Rabi found his tongue. He waved his hands in the air as he screamed, “Akbar made it. He said that they taught him to do those things in Afghanistan.”
“Well, they didn't. When I see that Akbar again, I'll kill him.”
Rabi gestured toward the burning car. “You just did.”
“Well, then. It's settled.” He listened to the cacophony of police sirens sounding in the distance, and he saw blue-uniformed men on the street with weapons. “So get us out of here. Now!”
“I thought we were going inside, after her,” Salama said.
“We can't. The police are almost on top of us.” He fumed for a moment, then said, “It's almost as if they knew we'd try this.”
Rabi started the van and pulled onto the street. He headed down an alleyway and came out onto a busy street in the next block. They went no more than a few feet before the traffic halted and they were closed into the jam of cars and trucks. Police cars sped by, their two-tone sirens blaring and their lights flashing. Rabi turned to Al-Hasim. “What do we do now?” he asked.
“Just sit still and pretend that it's another normal day for you,” Al-Hasim said. “They won't notice us.” He shot a warning glare at Rabi. “Relax, man.”
“So,” Salama said. “What now, oh Wise One?”
Al-Hasim whirled around and faced her. “Now? Now, you get out of this van and go and look to see if we got our target. If she's still walking around, our job isn't done.”
“Why don't you go?”
“She knows who I am. You go.” He slid the van's door open. “Now. Meet us at the apartment when you can.”
Salama rose from her place on the floor. “I hear and obey, honored husband.” She stepped from the van and navigated her way to the curb between stopped cars.
Al-Hasim watched until he was satisfied that she was heading in the proper direction, then leaned against the wall of the van's cargo space. He stewed in silent thought until Rabi's comment brought him back to reality.
“She's your wife?” he asked.
“My mother keeps telling me to get married. I'm not sure I want to.”
“Rabi,” Al-Hasim said, “there's hope for you yet.”
“Ah!” Rabi said. “The traffic is clearing.” He put the van in gear, and they moved forward.
Angelique and Laurie had just entered the gym when Angelique looked behind her. She saw the car stop in front of the police ‘no parking' barricade, and she saw the expression on the driver's face – the eyes, the beard. She felt her stomach tie itself into knots and the hair on the back of her neck bristle. She snatched Laurie by the arm and pulled her inside. “Everybody get down!” she shouted. “Down! On the floor! Now!” She dragged Laurie into Raul's office just as the car bomb detonated. The explosion was deafening, and she could hear the front glass windows shatter. When they stepped from the office a second later, Angelique had her pistol in her hand. Laurie pulled the pistol from her own gym bag, and they waited for the assault. It did not come.
The air inside the gym contained traces of gray smoke, and the smell of explosives was pungent. Shards of glass covered the floor near the front window. Several people inside the gym were sprawled on the floor in various stages of shock, disbelief, and injury from glass shards. Angelique pressed a towel over a deep laceration on a young man's chest, then placed his hand over it. “Hold this,” she said. “Tightly, now. We will have help soon.”
Raul staggered from his office. “What the hell was that?” he said between coughing fits.
“Car bomb,” Angelique said. To Raul's exasperated stammering, she replied, “Meant to kill someone in here.”
“What? Who? What are you two doing with guns? And how did you know? You and your friend were shouting for everyone to get down a second before it went off.” He leaned down and grasped Angelique's shoulder. “How did you know?”
“Because I'm Israeli. We're too damned familiar with such things.”
Laurie grasped Raul's arm. “Listen, Raul. Do you have more towels?” she asked. “People are hurt.”
“What? Yes, yes. I'll get some.” He turned toward the locker room as the two-tone sirens of the Paris police filled the street. Laurie lifted Angelique's pistol from her hand with a word of warning. She stuffed them into her gym bag just as the first officers entered the front door.
Twenty minutes later, Angelique and Laurie were sitting in the back of the gym on a wooden bench. Several police were gathered around them, and a police inspector in civilian clothing was interrogating them. He was not amused.
“You're telling me that you were the target of this bomb?” he said. “How did you know the car was about to explode, if you didn't have something to do with it?”
“I could tell,” Angelique explained. “I am Israeli. We deal with these things all the time.” She wiped her face with her towel. “Many years ago, I survived a bus bombing in Jerusalem.” She looked up at him. “My sister did not.”
“And what are you doing in Paris now, if you're Israeli, as you say?”
“I'm French, as well. I own a bar several blocks away, on Rue d'Espoir.”
“The one that got bombed recently?” At her nod, he said, “So you were the target?” Again, she nodded. “Why?”
“Because of something that happened in Israel.”
The inspector studied her for a moment, then huffed, “And you expect me to believe this?”
Angelique fixed him with a hard stare. “I don't give a damn what you believe.”
“You're talking to the police here, you know,” he said. “We can make things unpleasant for you.”
Angelique waved a hand to indicate the scene around her. “More unpleasant than this?”
The inspector pointed to Angelique and Laurie. “Handcuff them both. We'll take them to the station.”
From behind him, a stern voice sounded. “I wouldn't do that if I were you, Inspector.”
“What?” He turned, and faced Bruno. “Why not? Who the hell are you?”
Bruno produced his credentials. “SDAT. This is an act of terrorism. That means that we're in charge here. These two young ladies are well known to me. They're all right.”
“Well, then.” The inspector said. “Who did this?”
As Bruno led the inspector aside and briefed him, Laurie and Angelique leaned back on the bench. Laurie spoke in French. “Well,” she said. “This is fun.”
“Bureaucratic idiot,” Angelique mumbled. A nearby police officer squelched a snicker, and she smiled at that. “See? He agrees.”
The police officer leaned down and whispered, “We call him, ‘Inspector Clouseau'.”
The inspector and Bruno finished speaking in whispers and returned to the bench. “Well,” Bruno said. “I see that Al-Hasim hasn't killed you yet.”
“Did you catch him?” Angelique asked.
“No. He's disappeared. Not to worry, though. We're tracking him. He won't get away.”
“He's ruthless and clever,” Angelique said. “He'll get away.”
Outside, Salama squirmed through the crowd and attempted to get as close to the gym's smashed front window as she could. She finally settled for a place just behind a hurriedly-erected police barricade, and studied the faces inside the gym. As she concentrated, a hand grabbed her arm. She whirled, her hand on the knife beneath her jacket. It was Nigel. He was furious. He pulled her aside, and they spoke in angry whispers.
“Why the hell aren't you with Al-Hasim?” he asked. “Now we don't know where he is.”
“I do. Relax. He's going back to the apartment. You can have him there.”
“Lead us there.”
“He's already suspicious of me.”
“I want Al-Hasim now. Lead us there. Give him to me.”
“And when you catch him, then what? Do you have any evidence to connect him to these bombings? Can you convict him in court?”
“We have you.”
“And if it becomes known that I can testify and get him convicted? Then what? Do you think he doesn't have friends in Europe? My life is forfeit.”
“It's a chance we'll have to take, dearie.”
“Kiss my ass, Nigel. Now, tell me – is she still alive in there? He wants to know.”
“Yes. She's fine.”
“I'll keep you posted, Nigel,” Salama said. “I have to report to Al-Hasim quickly, or he'll become suspicious.”
Nigel managed a smile. “Please do,” he said. He watched her fade into the crowd, and he lit a cigarette as he thought about the situation.
“What?” Al-Hasim yelled. “What do you mean, ‘She's fine'?” She can't be fine.”
“You buggered it up again, Hasim,” Salama said. “I saw her speaking to police.”
“Damn,” he snorted. “She's a Jinn, that one.” He thought for a minute, then added, “But a Jinn can be killed.” He looked at Rabi. “How many weapons and grenades does your cell possess?”
Rabi counted on his fingers. “Oh, several AK-47s, some hand grenades, and a couple of rocket-propelled grenades. Oh, and pistols, too.”
“Lovely. Get me paper and pencil. Here's what we'll do.” He took the pencil that Rabi handed him and began tracing a diagram on the paper. “There is an alley next to her bar. She lives above the bar. In the back, at the end of the alley, is a fence with stairs up to her apartment, and a garage which stores her car.”
“She has a car?” Rabi asked. “In Paris?”
“Yes. She has a car, idiot. And if she has a car, that means that she drives it from time to time. Now, we watch, and when she goes into the garage, she'll be trapped. She can't get out. We kill her with gunfire and grenades. Simple. Then, we attack and retrieve her body.”
Rabi grimaced. “And do what with it?”
“I have orders to make her execution nasty and public. I'm going to hang her body from the street-lamp in front of her bar with a sign crediting ISIS with the victory. Then, we can go home.” He looked at Rabi. “And you can go back to doing what you were doing.” He puzzled for a second, and asked, “What were you doing, anyway?”
“What? What the hell is that?”
“You know. Internet. I'm pretty good at it.”
“Do you make a living at it?”
“No. For that, I work in a pizza joint.”
“Whatever.” He looked at Salama. “And you and your fellow Al-Khansaa bitches can go back to running your whore-house and beating immodest women in the streets of Raqqa.”
Salama considered Al-Hasim with a jaded glare. “Hasim,” she said, “you're just the essence of nobility, do you know that?”
Rabi looked at Salama with renewed interest. “Really?” he asked. “Do you actually run a – ?”
“Yes,” she said. “But to use it, you have to be an ISIS fighter.”
“Oh.” Rabi seemed crestfallen. Then, he brightened. “Does it pay well, this ISIS?”
“Two hundred dollars a month and food,” Salama said.
“And you provide us with women?”
“Do you have online gaming?”
Al-Hasim said, “Don't push it.”
Rabi shrugged. “Oh, well. It was a thought.” He looked at Salama. “My mother keeps telling me to get a better job.”
“Here's a job for you. Get me these things.” Al-Hasim handed Rabi a list and some money. “By tonight.”
“Whatever,” he said, and headed toward the door of the apartment.
“Wait. Where's your weapons?”
“Back room,” he answered, then left the apartment.
Outside, Rabi stepped from the apartment building and headed toward the van. He scanned the list as he walked, and he muttered curses regarding Al-Hasim's poor handwriting. As he placed his hand on the van's door latch, he was tackled by two burly men in dark blue clothing and forced to the ground. His arms were twisted behind his back and handcuffed. Then, he was lifted from the ground and hustled into the back of a black panel truck.
Inside, he was slammed into a seat. “What's going on?” he stammered, in French.
The reply was in Arabic, although the speaker looked European. He held out two photographs, enlarged passport photos of Al-Hasim and Salama. “Do you know these people?” he asked.
“What? No! I've never seen them.”
The man jammed a Taser into Rabi's side and fired it. Rabi jerked and wriggled in his seat, then wilted as the Taser stopped. “Now?” the man asked. “I can do this all day, you know.”
“Yes, yes,” Rabi panted. “Inside.”
“Number eleven, first floor.”
“If they're not there, you're a dead man.” As Rabi was being strapped into his seat, he saw the man strap on a vest and pick up a rifle. Just before they pulled a black cloth bag over his head, he heard someone say in French, “Number eleven, first floor. All units take their places.”
Al-Hasim sat in silence for a moment, then looked at Salama. “We're leaving,” he said. “I don't feel good about this.”
“Leaving? No one knows that we're here.”
“Get ready to go. Now! We'll leave by the back door.” He cast her a disgusted glance. “And cover your hair, will you?”
Salama draped her scarf over her head and threw the ends about her neck, then slipped her hand into her jacket pocket to assure herself that her cell phone was there. MI-6 would track them and would tell SDAT where they were. At her first opportunity, she would excuse herself on pretext of using the toilet, and she would message MI-6.
“Where are we going?” she asked.
“We're going out of town until things cool down a little,” he said. “Then, we'll come back and finish the job.”
“You're too curious sometimes, wife,” he said. “Why do you want to know? Just shut up and follow me. That's what a wife is supposed to do.”
Salama huffed and swallowed her anger, then rose to follow Al-Hasim through the back door of the apartment.
SDAT officers kicked in the front door of apartment number eleven and threw in some flash-bang grenades. After they ignited, they charged inside. The raid didn't last long. Within a few minutes, the entry team commander was reporting to Bruno.
“No Al-Hasim. No Salama. We think they exited through the back door shortly before we got here. We did find three men and a rather extensive arsenal of weapons in the back room, though.” He added, “Also bomb-making materials.”
“They're on foot in the city,” he said. “We'll find them.” He opened his cell phone and dialed a number. A moment later he said, “Nigel? Bruno here. Where the hell are they?”
“According to our tracking, they're already north of the Seine River.”
Bruno closed his phone. “They're probably heading to their hotel,” he said. “Let's go.”
In the back of the taxi they shared, Al-Hasim looked over at Salama. “Are your bags packed?” he asked.
“We're going on a little trip. Today. Now.”
Salama smiled as she watched the Paris scenery outside the taxi's window. “How nice,” she said. “To where?”
“That's a surprise. You do like surprises, don't you?”
Salama raised an eyebrow in question. “It depends on the surprise. Give me a little hint.”
“All right,” he said. “Castles and good beer.”
Al-Hasim grabbed his bag, then picked up Salama's bag and headed for the door. “Come on, woman,” he said. “We need to leave now!”
The reply was muffled from behind the closed bathroom door. “A moment, please. I'm using the toilet.”
“You're always using the toilet,” he complained.
“I'm a woman. You're married now. Get used to it.”
He placed the bags on the floor. Slowly, silently, he approached the bathroom door and listened. He could hear whispered conversation in what sounded to him like English, and it infuriated him. He bent down and unzipped his bag. From it, he withdrew a silenced pistol. Carefully, he cocked it, then stood in front of the bathroom door. When he tried the door-knob, he found it locked. He kicked it open, and a horrified Salama looked up at him from the edge of the bathtub. Her cell phone was against her ear. Their eyes connected, and Al-Hasim could see in her face the confirmation of his suspicions. For a terrible, endless moment, they stared at each other. Then, he watched her slide her hand beneath her jacket. As she brought forth her knife, he drilled a bullet into her chest. She fell backward into the tub. He approached her and studied her, and he could see that she was still alive. “A secret lover?” he said to her. “You whoring English bitch. I suspected as much.”
She tried to reply, but could only gasp. A few seconds later, she closed her eyes. The tension left her body, and she relaxed. He reached down and pulled the cell phone and the knife from her limp hands. The phone was still on. He held it to his head. “Who is this?” he asked.
“Where's Salama? Who is this?” the voice replied. English, with a British accent. Al-Hasim smiled.
“This is her husband. She won't be talking to you anymore. If you ever call again, I'll kill you.” He hung up, and as an afterthought, pocketed the phone. Then, he stuffed his pistol and the knife into his bag, lifted it from the floor, and walked out of the hotel room.
Ten minutes later, Bruno entered the bathroom. He knelt in the tub next to Salama and felt her neck. She had a pulse. He called for medical assistance, then tapped her cheek. “Can you hear me?” he asked in English.
She opened her eyes and looked at him. He could see that she was in shock, and was probably bleeding out internally from the bullet wound in her chest. As others entered the bathroom, they pulled her from the tub, carried her into the main room, and rested her on the floor. She struggled to remain conscious. Bruno asked her, “Who did this?”
“Hasam,” she whispered. “Get him. ” Her eyes closed.
“Shit!” he said. He felt for a carotid pulse, then placed his hands on her bloody chest and began rhythmic compressions.
“One-way to Hamburg, please,” Al-Hasim said. “Next train.” The ticket-seller nodded and dutifully produced a ticket after she accepted his payment.
“Track twelve, in ten minutes,” she said. “You timed it right.”
He smiled at that. With a nod of thanks, he headed for track twelve as he glanced at his watch. It would be a long ten minutes.
As Bruno was washing the blood from his hands, a fellow SDAT officer entered and held out a cell phone. “It's the Brits,” he said.
“Nigel?” Bruno said, as he leaned toward the phone. “What the hell is going on?”
“How's Salama?” he asked.
“Dying. She's on her way to hospital, but it doesn't look good.”
“Did you find her cell phone?”
“What? No. Why?”
Nigel whooped in glee. “Then he's taken it with him. That's the first mistake that blighter's made.”
“Can you track him?”
“Yes. He's at the train station. Gare du Nord.”
Nigel toweled his hands dry, then called out, “Gare du Nord. Rapide!”
As the train slowly gained momentum and left the station, Al-Hasim noticed blue-uniformed men with submachine guns dispersing themselves throughout the station. He smiled; his luck had held out. By the time they'd figured out that he was on this train, he'd be in Belgium, then in Germany. There, the French authorities would have no power; the Belgians and Germans would have to start hunting him. And he knew well what a bureaucratic nightmare it would be for the various authorities to attempt to coordinate with each other. He was as good as gone.
In the train station's office, Bruno leaned over a perspiring manager. “How many tickets did you sell in the last fifteen minutes?” he asked.
“Oh, twenty or thirty,” he said, as he tapped furiously at his computer terminal.
“All right. Give me a list of those destinations. Names, too, if you have them.”
“No names unless they paid by credit,” the manager said. “But destinations, I can do.”
“Then do it now, man.”
In obedience, the printer began whirring. For the next several minutes, Bruno studied the list of tickets. Then, he pointed and looked up. “A one-way ticket to Hamburg via express train, just a few minutes ago.”
“How do we know it's him?” his associate asked.
“Let's see if he's heading east.” Bruno whipped out his cell phone and sought Nigel's number. After a short conversation, he hung up and smiled. “He's heading north-east. It's time to get the Germans involved.”
Headquarters, Grenzschutzgruppe 9 der Bundespolizei (Border Protection Group 9, German Federal Police), Hamburg, Germany.
Kurt Dahl, member of the elite GSG-9, stepped into his boss's office. Inside, three of his comrades had already assembled, and they exhibited an air of expectation. “What's going on?” he asked. “Another drill?”
“No drill,” he said. “We're going to help the French catch a terrorist today. Kurt, you speak French, don't you?”
“Not fluently, sir.”
“Well, Hades. You speak something, don't you?”
“English.” He shrugged. “Some, also.”
“That will do. You're our link with the French SDAT. A guy named Bruno. Here's his telephone number.” He shoved a slip of paper at Kurt, then tapped a few keys on his computer keyboard, and a photo and information appeared on the wall screen behind him. “And here's our target. A very bad guy. ISIS connections. The French think he's behind two bomb detonations in Paris.”
“Terrorism?” Kurt asked.
“Assassination,” the boss corrected. “He's after someone specific. He's missed his target twice, but he managed to kill several other people. He also shot his associate at a hotel just before he boarded the train.”
“If he missed his target, why is he leaving?”
“The French think that he's leaving their country for a little while to let things cool down. He'll be back to try again. We'll catch him when he turns up in Germany. Look, here's the train schedule. They think he's on the train which left Paris at 12:45. That puts him in Hamburg at around 20:00 to 21:00 tonight.” The boss stood. “If he makes it off the train in Hamburg, he'll disappear into the huge Arab community there. We'll never be able to find him. We've got one chance to do this right.”
“Boss, the train stops in Cologne, too. If he leaves the train there, we'll miss him.”
“We're trying to get the authorization to stop the train just after it crosses the border. It hasn't come through yet, so we plan on looking for him in Cologne or Hamburg.”
Kurt said, “Let me take a team onto the train in Cologne. We'll find him and arrest him.”
The boss smiled. “The French tell me that they're already working on putting someone on that train.”
Paris, France. Café Angel.
The door creaked open, and Bruno stepped inside. Laurie and Emma were sweeping broken glass and wood shards into piles. Laurie looked up.
“Angelique's upstairs,” she said. “I'll take you there.” She ushered him up the stairs to their apartment and brought him inside. Outside, on the balcony, Angelique sat. She stared out at the surrounding buildings, not moving, a cigarette in one hand and a wine glass in the other hand.
Laurie opened the balcony door. “Angel, Bruno's here.” In reply, she got only a grunt from Angelique. She shrugged in apology to Bruno, then motioned to a chair. As Bruno sat, he looked at Laurie.
“This concerns you, too. Let's have a chat.”
Laurie joined them and sat. For a moment, no one said anything. Then, Bruno leaned forward. “I'm sorry about all this, you know,” he said to Angelique. She looked at him.
“Did you get him?” she asked.
“Not yet,” Bruno said. “He's on an express train heading, we think, for Hamburg.”
“Can you not stop the train?”
“Actually,” Bruno said, “we had another idea.” He leaned toward Angelique. “How would you like to go after this guy?”
Angelique studied Bruno's expression with a glance of disbelief. Then, she lowered her wine glass. “If I pursue him, he will most certainly die.”
“That's our hope,” Bruno said. “Look, he's a smart one. The train will cross the French border into Belgium, where we can't chase him, then a little while later, into Germany, where the GSG-9 are preparing to collar him at the station in either Cologne or Hamburg.” Angelique raised an eyebrow in question, and Bruno gave her an answer. “All these borders are a pain in the ass. Different countries, different police, you get the idea. We thought that perhaps if we were to get a couple of good people onto the train before it left France, they could hunt him down on the train and, ah – ”
“Deal with him?” Angelique suggested.
“Well, yes. But we need someone who isn't a member of a particular country's police. A free agent, one might call it.”
“I've been told of your background. And,” he added, “you have a personal score to settle with him, right?”
Angelique glanced at Laurie, who said nothing. In her expression, though, she could read assent. She looked at Bruno. “When do I leave?”
“We,” Bruno said. “I'm going along. Also, I'm in contact with the German GSG-9. Don't worry, they know we're coming, and they're very good at what they do.”
“They should be,” Angelique agreed. “We Israelis trained them.”
“Then let's get started.”
“Laurie goes, also. I trust her ability. I want her at my back.”
Bruno considered Laurie, then nodded. “Let's go. We need to get you to the frontier within a couple of hours to get you aboard that train.”
As the train gathered speed, Al-Hasim eased back in his seat and watched the French landscape pass by. Buildings were beginning to thin out a little; they were easing out of the city. Soon, they would be on their way to the frontier. He glanced at the empty seats around him, and he chastised himself for his rash act at the hotel in Paris. Salama was a disagreeable woman, but she had spirit. With patience, he might have made her his wife in reality, and not just in name. He admitted to himself that she was good-looking, too. The English way that she carried herself around him stirred him a little. Well, he decided, it's too late now. Besides, he no longer needed her. He had his passport and his marriage certificate. He could travel where he would.
He rose to seek out the bathroom and the dining car. Still, he decided, it's a shame. He did find her company stimulating. Perhaps, when he returns to Syria, he'll seek out a wife or two from among those other Al-Khansaa English women.
A helicopter lifted off from a helipad in central Paris, rose toward its assigned altitude, and turned north-east toward the frontier. It would be a couple of hours' flight. As Laurie looked down at Paris, she marveled at the scene. Buildings crowded the landscape, the streets were clogged with both motor and pedestrian traffic, and in the distance, she could see the Eiffel Tower and the Cathedral at Notre Dame. Paris; it was a marvel of a city, she mused. Nothing she'd ever experienced in her youth in Kansas or in her work in Washington, D.C. had ever prepared her for being here, but she had taken to Paris like a duck to water.
She leaned back in her seat and looked to her right. Next to her, Angelique sat quietly. Laurie rested her hand on Angelique's hand. “It'll be all right,” she said, as she adjusted the microphone near her mouth.
“Yes,” Angelique's voice echoed in her headphones. “We will make it so,” she said. Laurie wondered if that was to reassure her, or Angelique. The next voice in the headphones was Bruno's. He leaned forward from his seat across from them and spoke.
“Look, we'll be at the frontier in perhaps an hour and twenty minutes. The train passes into Belgium in two hours, then another two hours to Cologne. That's the first scheduled stop. We're arranging to slow the train near the border. That's where we board. The mobile phones I gave you two are programmed to track Salama's phone. Let's hope he's still got it in his possession and turned on. Once the train speeds up, we've got two hours to find him.”
“And deal with him,” Angelique added. There was something chilling in her tone of voice, a chill which gave Bruno pause.
“Yes,” Bruno agreed after a moment. “Now, a final check is in order. Then, I recommend that we rest. It's going to be an interesting day.”
Angelique went through the checklist: her protective vest was beneath her outer clothing, and her pistol was loaded and in a holster beneath her left arm. The strap of a small messenger bag crossed her torso; inside was a couple of extra batteries for the mobile phone Bruno had given her, a bottle of water, some extra magazines of ammunition, and her small concession to comfort, a toothbrush, toothpaste, and a hair brush. Her hand trailed down her leg to the soft, lace-up boots that she'd so often worn in work of this sort. Inside one boot, next to her ankle, rested a switch-blade knife with a six-inch blade. She turned her attention to Laurie.
In a cloth bag with a shoulder strap, Laurie carried her shotgun. It was loaded She, too, wore a small messenger's bag by her side, and in it rested her silenced pistol and several magazines of extra ammunition, and thirty more shotgun shells. She'd taken a lesson from Angelique and stuffed a water bottle and her toothbrush in the pocket. “You are ready?” Angelique asked, in English.
Laurie nodded. “I'm ready, Angel. I've got your back.” That elicited an enigmatic little smile from Angelique, the first Laurie had seen in two days. “It's good to see that Mona Lisa smile again,” Laurie added, as she peered over the tops of her sunglasses at Angelique. “I take it you got a kick out of that?”
“A kick?” she asked. “No. No one kicked me.”
“It's an expression.” She looked at Bruno, and saw the same confused look on his face that Angelique wore. “It means, ‘Did you find what I said funny?'”
“Ah,” Angelique said. “Yes.” She looked at Bruno and spoke in French. “American English. Everything's an expression. One becomes used to it.”
Bruno nodded agreement, then settled back in his seat and concentrated on a final check of his own weapon. Laurie studied the city's appearance outside the helicopter again, then returned her attention to Angelique. She interlaced the fingers of her hand with Angelique's, and she felt a reassuring squeeze in response. To her, it spoke volumes, and she acknowledged the message by leaning against Angelique's side. “This is my first helicopter ride,” she said. “Is it always so noisy and bumpy?”
“Sometimes, more so,” Angelique said.
“You've been on lots of ‘em, haven't you?” she asked. “In Israel, I mean.”
Angelique closed her eyes, and a wave of intense memory swept over her. For an instant, she could feel the hot wind coursing through the open doors, the ear-ringing whine and snap-snap-snap of the rotor blades as she sat on the floor of an IDF helicopter and dangled her legs outside the door, as the arid landscape beneath her feet whizzed by, as the helicopter, with a stomach-churning lurch, slowed and hovered above the dirt, as she dropped the few feet to the ground in a cloud of swirling dust, burdened with helmet and vest and with her sniper's rifle in her hands; as she broke into a fast run and led her squad to safety. She could almost feel the impact of the ground and the smell of sweat and fear as she fell forward to take a position among rocks and dirt while the helicopter, relieved of its burden, roared overhead and rose into the air, reaching for the safety of altitude.
Her eyes opened. War. She longed to leave it behind, to let it go, and yet it dwelt within her. And now, sick of war, she was heading into it again. What was the assassin's creed? The guilty die to protect the innocent. Seek out and deal with the rabid dogs of humanity. So be it, she decided. What is one more, after so many? And perhaps, after this one, Laurie and I can live in peace.
She turned her attention to the Paris skyline. No, she realized. I will never live in peace. Laurie was right. The Angel of Mossad will never die, and one day, her legendary luck will run out. She removed her sunglasses and looked to her left. Laurie was leaning against her, their hands clasped. She said, “Laurie, if anything happens to me – ”
Laurie squeezed her hand and met her gaze above the tops of her own sunglasses. God, those lovely brown eyes, Angelique thought. That was the first part of her I loved, when first we met.
“Angel, we've already said everything that needs to be said. It's okay.”
“Thank you, Laurie.”
“Right back atcha,” she said. “Now get some rest, will ya? We're going to need it.”
Angelique felt the Mona Lisa smile lift the corners of her mouth. “As you say,” she replied, as she donned her sunglasses, leaned her head back against the padding of the seat, and closed her eyes.
Al-Hasim stopped a train employee. “Why are we slowing?” he asked. “We have no stops until Cologne.”
“I don't know,” the employee said. “Perhaps it's the track, or a schedule problem. It happens.”
“Where are we?”
The employee looked at his watch. “Probably near the Belgian border.”
Al-Hasim grunted in reply and returned to his seat. He studied the scenery outside the window, then the slowing speed of the train, and stood up. He removed his bag from the overhead rack and carried it to another car. Then, he chose an empty seat near the toilet and settled into it with his back against a wall and a clear view of the front door of the car. As a final reassurance, he slid his hand beneath his sport coat and felt the handle of the pistol which was nestled there.
The train slowed to the speed of a fast walk as it crawled through a small station in a nameless town on the edge of the French frontier. As the last car presented itself, three figures ran across the platform and chased it. They lifted themselves, one by one, onto the steps at the back of the train. At that, the train lurched a little as it began gathering speed for the remainder of its journey toward Cologne, and then Hamburg.
In a moment, the door opened. Bruno, Angelique, and Laurie nodded thanks to the conductor, who eyed them suspiciously. “You look like weekend tourists,” he said.
Bruno displayed his credentials for the conductor. “That's the idea,” he replied. He produced a picture. “Have you seen this man?”
The conductor studied the picture. “What is he, an Arab?” At Bruno's nod, the conductor shrugged. “There's always Arabs on these trains.” He brightened. “Oh! He might be the one who asked me why the train was slowing.”
“Where is he?”
“I don't know his seat. He stopped me in the hallway.”
“Thank you.” Bruno turned to leave, and the conductor stopped him.
“Wait!” he said. “What do I need to do?”
Bruno considered the question, then smiled. “Ignore us. If you see us in the train, pretend you don't know us.”
“Right.” The conductor hustled away as if attending some important business.
Angelique said, “Laurie, stay here. If you see that man –” She pointed at the picture. “If he attempts to leave by this back door, kill him.” She looked at Bruno. “Let's go to the front of the train, then walk slowly toward the back. We'll try to find him. If he runs, he'll run this way.” She looked at Laurie, who swallowed hard, then nodded.
“I'll be ready, Angel.”
Angelique touched Laurie's cheek, a touch of soft reassurance, then turned and led the way as Bruno followed. Laurie watched them leave the car, then settled down on the seat nearest to the back door as she unzipped the cloth bag containing her shotgun, inserted her hand, and wrapped her fingers around the grip and the trigger housing.
Angelique walked along the aisles toward the front of the train, through car after car, and studied the passengers carefully. She saw no Al-Hasim, though. He was either at the front, or he was well-hidden. She checked her wrist-watch and saw that they had about an hour and forty-five minutes to Cologne. The race was on.
Al-Hasim emerged from a bathroom – now that the train was speeding up, it was allowable to use it again – and stopped in shock. Ahead of him, at the far door, a man and a women were entering the car. He did not recognize the man, but the woman – he knew that face. He would never forget that face. That Zionist bitch was a Jinn, for sure. A demon from hell – she was here, in front of him. She had to be looking for him. He backed into the bathroom and closed the door. Slowly, he turned the lock, and he waited. After a few minutes, he peered out of the door. They were gone. He stepped out, then walked forward to seek out his bag and change cars. Perhaps he could find a compartment which was not reserved and take refuge in there until they reached Cologne.
In the back car, Laurie looked up. “Did you see him?”
“No,” Angelique said.
“He's supposed to be on this damned train. Wait a moment. Perhaps – ” Bruno pulled his phone from his pocket and tapped at the screen. He studied it for a few minutes, then shook his head. “It shows Salama's phone very nearby. He's got to be here. Let's try it again.”
Laurie rested her shotgun in her lap and waited as Angelique and Bruno left the car.
About halfway through the train, Bruno extended his hand to open a door to the next car. He felt Angelique's hand on his shoulder, and he hesitated. She shook her head in silence, then pulled him back. As she did, she pointed toward the bottom glass panel in the door. On the platform of the train car, outside the door, the sun outlined the shadow of a man. She pulled Bruno back a couple of meters and whispered, “There is an empty seat here, but a bag in the overhead rack.”
“Do you think – ?”
“I can feel it.” With that, she grasped the handle and turned it. A second later, she opened the door, took a step through it, and then ducked back. In front of her face, a hand smashed the blade of a machete into the wood of the door-jamb. Angelique grabbed the arm, twisted it, and yanked the figure into the car. For a second, she froze. She was face to face with Al-Hasim. Their eyes met, and he bared his teeth in a grimace. His free hand rose, closed into a fist, and he swung at Angelique's head with all his might. She ducked, and he banged a noticeable dent into the wall. She beat him about the face with repeated blows of her fists as she kneed him in the groin. He yelled in pain and staggered toward the door. A moment later, he'd snatched the machete from the door-jamb, and he was facing her in the aisle of the train car as horrified passengers screamed and began running toward the opposite car door.
As Bruno urged the passengers to leave the car – the few remaining didn't need much encouragement – Angelique slowly backed down the aisle. Al-Hasim followed, his machete above his head, murder in his expression. Angelique's face held no such rage. Her expression was stony, her eyes cold as ice, her attention totally focused on the threat before her. When he finally lunged at her, she seemed ready for him. She grabbed his arm, twisted the machete from his hand, and dealt him a blow which sent him to the floor. Then, she kicked him in the face, and it sent him sprawling backward.
As he staggered to his feet, he withdrew a pistol from beneath his sport coat and extended his arm. Angelique snatched the pistol from his hand, yanked hard, and he screamed. His index finger was bent at an awkward angle; she'd broken his trigger finger when she snatched the gun from his hand. A second later, she stepped forward and smashed the butt of the gun against the side of his head. He collapsed into a ball in the aisle, and Bruno was on top of him. He handcuffed him, lifted him, and threw him into a seat. When Al-Hasim tried to stand, he was stopped by the specter of Bruno's pistol an inch from his face.
Angelique spoke in Arabic. “Sit down and rest, Al-Hasim. Or die now. I don't care which.”
“Arabic?” Al-Hasim said. “I much prefer English.”
“English, then,” Angelique said in English. “You are done.”
“You have nothing. You cannot hold me.”
“We only have to hold you until we get you somewhere less public,” Bruno said. “Then, I believe that you and my friend here have a private matter to settle.”
The conductor arrived, and he viewed the situation with wide eyes and caution. “Ah, is all well here?” he asked.
“Oh, yes,” Bruno said. “We'll be taking him off the train. I assume we haven't passed the border yet?”
“Yes,” the conductor said. “We're in Belgium now.”
Bruno cast a disgusted look Angelique's way. “This could be a problem.”
Al-Hasim managed a smile. “A little problem of national sovereignty? Oh, that's right. You're a member of the French National Police, I take it, not the Belgian. And you?” He looked at Angelique. “Nothing. That's right. Nothing.” He looked at the conductor. “Do you speak English?”
“Yes,” the conductor said. “Some.”
“Are you bringing in the Belgian police?”
He shrugged. “Of course. It is customary. Next town.”
“I am a member of the diplomatic corps,” Al-Hasim said. “I demand to be taken to the nearest Qatari embassy or consulate.”
“He's lying,” Bruno said. “He's a terrorist.”
The conductor threw up his hands. “I'll let the police settle this. In the meantime, I have a private compartment that you can use. That will let the other passengers come back into their car.”
Angelique and Bruno exchanged glances and nods. It seemed the thing to do. “I'll make a call,” Bruno said. “My boss at SDAT will talk to the Belgians. It will work.”
“And I will tell Laurie.”
“Well, I thought it would work,” Bruno said to nobody in particular. He looked up at two unsmiling Belgian police officers standing outside the door of the private compartment.
Angelique opened her eyes. She had been curled up on one end of the bench seat, motionless. “No word from your boss in the SDAT yet?”
Bruno shrugged. “I haven't heard.” He looked at his wrist-watch. “We should be entering Germany any time now.”
“Thank God for small favors.”
“What do you think the Belgians did with Al-Hasim?” At Bruno's shrug, she snorted in disgust. “He's probably free as a kite.”
The compartment door slid back. The head of the Belgian police detachment stood in the doorway and eyed his prisoners with cold satisfaction. “We're at the German border,” he said. “We'll hand you over to them.”
“Where is Al-Hasim?” Angelique asked.
“He elected to get medical care in Liège. You're in a lot of trouble, you know, assaulting and kidnapping a member of the Qatari diplomatic community. You're lucky he didn't want to make a case of it, or you'd be in a Belgian jail now. As it is, we'll hand you over to the Germans.”
Angelique shot a sideways glance at Bruno, and his eyes reflected the same question that bothered Angelique. She voiced it. “Why the Germans?”
“Because he's a member of the Qatari consulate in Hamburg. Therefore, the Germans can deal with you.”
As the policeman began sliding the door shut, Bruno asked, “Did you actually see a diplomatic passport?”
The door slid back open. “What was that?”
Bruno looked up. “Did he show you his diplomatic passport, or did you just take him at his word?”
The policeman stammered a little, then said, “No. Why would he lie?”
Bruno exhaled slowly, then spoke. Barely-controlled emotion colored his speech. “Because he is a terrorist, you fucking idiot. Two bombings in Paris, and a murder. We had him. You let him go. Congratulations. He's running loose in your country now.”
The policeman's face colored bright red. His moustache seemed to quiver. Then, he slammed the door and walked away. Bruno leaned back in his seat, then cast a glance at Angelique. “What's that smile for?” he asked.
“Was I smiling?”
“Yes. The oddest little smile. I can't read it.”
“Laurie tells me that it is my ‘Mona Lisa' smile. She can't read it, either, but she likes it.”
“It becomes you.”
“Thank you, Bruno.”
He looked at his watch again. “What's this?” he said. “The Germans are always on time. Now, they're late? They haven't been late since the Franco-Prussian War.”
Angelique glanced up. “No, they're here.”
The compartment door slid open. A man with sharp, intelligent eyes and a mischievous smile entered and leaned against the door-jamb. “Is one of you Bruno?” he asked in English. Angelique could detect a prominent German accent.
“That's me,” Bruno said. “Are you – ?”
The man held out his hand. “Kurt Dahl, GSG-9. Welcome to Germany.” He shook hands with Bruno, then turned to Angelique. “And you are?”
“Angelique. Good afternoon.”
“You are SDAT?”
“No. Mossad. Former.”
Bruno stood. “Kurt, you are speaking with a legend. Now, where's my pistol, and where did those Belgians leave Al-Hasim?”
“I'll fill you in. We're tracking him, and we've intercepted his phone calls. Actually, the American NSA did. We work closely with them,” he said, as he handed Bruno his shoulder holster and identity wallet.
“You've got to,” Bruno said. “They've got their listening posts all over your country.”
“Yes,” Kurt agreed, “but only because it suits us.”
“It suits you to have them listen in to your prime minister's phone calls?”
Kurt held a finger to his lips. “We listen to theirs, too,” he whispered. “Including the phone calls of their president's mistress. Now, let's settle down for the trip to Hamburg. We'll catch your quarry there.”
Laurie approached cautiously. She smiled in relief when she saw Angelique, and perked up when she was waved into the room by Kurt. “I figured that your third member should be present for the briefing.” He looked at Laurie. “You're American?”
“Yes,” she said. She rested the cloth case containing her shotgun on an empty stretch of bench, and opened her messenger's bag. From it, she produced Angelique's shoulder holster and pistol, and her extra ammunition magazines. As Angelique slipped her shoulder holster on and checked her pistol, she looked at Bruno's puzzled expression.
“When the conductor said that he'd summoned the Belgian police – ”
“I wondered what you'd done with it,” Bruno said.
Laurie beamed. “That's Angel. Always one step ahead of the competition.” She plopped down on the seat next to Angelique and patted her on the leg. “She came to me, told me to lay low, and gave me her gun.”
A momentary silence fell over the compartment. As if lulled by the rhythmic clack-clack of the train, everyone seemed to relax. Even Kurt sat down, stretched, and yawned. For a few moments, there was no movement, no conversation. Then, Angelique looked at Laurie, and Laurie noted her lover's expression. “What?” she asked. “I know that look, Angel. What is it?”
“Did you know,” Angelique asked, “that your president has a mistress?”
Kurt and Bruno roared in laughter. Laurie's jaw dropped in surprise for a moment. Then, she recovered her wits and flashed them a cagy smile. “Hell, he's the alpha male. I'd be surprised if he didn't have one.” She allowed the peals of laughter to settle down, and she asked, “So, how'd you find out?” Angelique pointed at Kurt. “Oh,” Laurie added. “Okay. Got it.” They settled into silence again, broken after a few moments by Laurie. She looked at Kurt and said, “So, how about the First Lady?”
“What of her?” Kurt asked.
“Is she doin' the pool boy, or what?”
“The pool boy?” Kurt thought, then answered, “No.” He saw Laurie's disappointed expression and added, “The personal fitness trainer, though? Yes.”
That elicited another round of laughter. When it died down, Laurie said, “Jeez. I just had to ask, didn't I?” She curled up on the bench seat, lay down, and rested her head on Angelique's thigh. “Wake me when we get to wherever the heck we're going.”
Al-Hasim was escorted from the hospital in Liegè to a waiting car by an official of the Qatari embassy staff. The escort placed his bag in the car's trunk, then seated Al-Hasim in the passenger seat. “Are you well enough to travel?” he asked.
Al-Hasim shot him a dirty look. “I look bad, but I can get along.” Actually, it was a lie. He felt like hell. The only thing that helped were the good pain pills that the doctor had given him. He had three stitches in his scalp where Angelique had smacked him with the pistol, facial swelling from the beating she'd administered to him, and his index finger was in a splint. Yes, she had not lost her touch at hand-to-hand combat. He recalled the beating she'd given him in the West Bank, those years ago – and the knife wound – and he fumed. He'd kill her if it was the last thing he ever did. He turned his attention to his companion. “How long until I get back on the train?”
“We thought it best to drive you across the border into Germany, then put you back on the train to Hamburg. I assume that you still insist on going there?”
“Yes. I am expected there.”
“Ah.” The driver pulled onto the limited-access highway heading east and turned on the radio as Al-Hasim settled back in his seat, closed his eyes, and enjoyed the high from the codeine pills.
It was around midnight when the train finally eased to a halt in the Hamburg central train station. Kurt, Angelique, Bruno, and Laurie were hustled to a waiting van and driven to a nondescript building in the city's impressive business district. Beneath the building, in the parking garage, they left the van and took a secured elevator to the top floors. When they exited, they walked into a staging area for Germany's famed anti-terrorism unit, GSG-9.
They settled down in a corner office, and Kurt looked over the latest reports. After a moment, he said, “All right. According to the British, Salama's mobile phone is still transmitting. It shows Al-Hasim in Cologne. That means that it will take him at least four hours to get to Hamburg, so we have time to get some rest and something to eat.”
“You are sure that he is coming here?” Angelique asked.
“Yes. He's to meet with a radical Islamist cell here. We listen to their phones and internet traffic. We're watching for him.”
“And we meet him at the station,” Angelique noted. “We cannot kill him there. Too many civilians.”
“Correct. We can catch him on the way to his destination, though. At that time of the morning, the streets will be deserted.” He looked at his wrist-watch. “In four hours, we'll be ready. Bruno, you're no longer in France, so your job is done. We'll arrange to get you back to Paris. Angelique, Laurie; we have a standby room where you can get a little rest before we go after Al-Hasim. I'll take you there.”
Some time later, Laurie lay on a bunk. She could not sleep, though; she was too tense. She cast a glance over at Angelique, who was in the next bunk. “Angel?” she whispered.
“Yes?” came the whispered answer.
“Are you awake, too?”
“No. I speak in my sleep all the time.”
“Oh, har, har,” Laurie muttered.
“I am sorry. Did you wish to talk?”
“Yeah. I can't sleep.” Laurie sat up on the bunk's side. “Are you scared?”
Angelique turned over and lay on her side, looking at Laurie. “Always,” she said. “And you are scared, also?”
“Yeah. Scared to death. How do you handle it so well?”
“I do not. I merely seem to.”
“Well, how do you ‘seem to'?”
Angelique thought about that. Then, she shrugged. “Much practice,” she said.
“Nice. I guess I'm still too new at this.” She studied Angelique in the dim light. “So, what happens now?”
“Now? We find him. We kill him. We leave the country as quickly as possible.”
Laurie's heart thudded in her chest. She felt dizzy for a moment, then shook her head to clear it. Leave the country as quickly as possible, Angelique had said. This is it. She, little Laurie Caldwell, was really in the assassination business now. It seemed surreal. This couldn't actually be happening, could it? Yes, it could, and it was.
She looked at Angelique. Her lover was looking back at her, studying her with a perceptive, quiet gaze. Their eyes locked, brown upon hazel, and they stayed so for a moment. Then, Angelique sat up on the cot. “Laurie,” she said, “if you do not wish to be a part of this, I will understand.”
“We're in this together, Angel. I've got your back. I'll be there for you.”
Angelique stood and pulled Laurie into a desperate embrace. For some time, they stood so, holding each other. No words were spoken; none were needed. Finally, the quiet was interrupted by the alarm on Angelique's wrist-watch. Reluctantly, she let go of Laurie, turned the alarm off, and said, “It is time.”
Al-Hasim stepped off the train in Hamburg. He was not in a pleasant mood. He hurt, and he was exhausted. He looked about the train platform and saw no one who appeared Arab. Slowly, he trudged toward the cafeteria, figuring on a bite to eat while he waited for the tardy morons who were supposed to be there, waiting for him. As he walked, his name was spoken from behind his shoulder. He turned around, a hand inside his jacket. “Who are you looking for?” he asked.
“Al-Hasim Ali,” the man said. “Are you he? I am from the mosque. I am told to escort you to safety.”
“Many thanks to your mullah,” Al-Hasim said. “I could use a ride and a safe place to stay.”
“This way, then. Let me carry your bag for you.” The man relieved Al-Hasim of his bag and escorted him to a waiting Mercedes. They climbed into the back seat, and the car moved out into the early morning, sparsely-populated Hamburg streets. The man who met him spoke. “We heard of your difficulty, and were ordered to see to your needs. Where is your wife?”
“She's – sick mother in London.”
“Ah. I'm so sorry. We're staying in a neighborhood with a sizable Muslim population. You'll fit in well there and be invisible to the authorities.” He warned, “You must watch the German police. They are very good. They seem to know everything.”
“Then they have eyes among you,” Al-Hasim said. He leaned toward the man and spoke in a low voice. “There is a Zionist assassin after me. A real demon, this one. A female. She was on the train. Somehow, she knows my every move.”
“We will watch,” the man said. “And if she appears, we will kill her.”
Al-Hasim managed a sarcastic little smile. “Don't be so sure.”
“There they go,” Kurt said. He put the car into gear, turned on the headlights, and pulled out onto the street. “Are you still tracking Salama's mobile phone?”
Angelique glanced down at her own cell phone. “Yes. Her battery is still good. I would think that it would be dead now.”
“Then the gods are with us,” Kurt said, as he turned a corner.
Laurie leaned forward. “Which gods are those?”
“You are in Germany now. The Norse ones, of course.”
“Yeah? In college, I read that Thor was pretty handy with the ladies. Is that true?”
Kurt shrugged. “Yes, I think so. Legend says that he romanced three sisters in one night.”
“Jeez,” Laurie said, as she sat back in her seat. “No wonder they call him ‘Thor'. I'd have been walkin' funny after that, too.”
Kurt pointed ahead. “We're almost there. Get ready.”
Angelique slipped the pistol from her shoulder holster and cocked it. As an final, nervous habit, she twisted the silencer to assure herself that it was securely on the barrel. In the back seat, Laurie racked her shotgun. “Remember, Laurie,” she said. “Al-Hasim is our target. Kill him, then run. If anyone else will try to stop you or get in your way, then kill them also. But only if they are a danger to you.” Angelique looked over her shoulder. “Right?”
“Right,” Laurie echoed. Then, she swallowed hard and took a deep breath to calm herself.
Ahead of them, they could see the Mercedes that contained Al-Hasim. “It's just ahead,” Kurt said. “Al-Hasim is Sunni Muslim. We decided to ambush him in a Shiite neighborhood so that it would appear as if a rival faction killed him.”
Ahead of them, they heard the distant squeal of tires. A truck pulled out into the road and blocked the street. The Mercedes screeched to a halt, then frantically began backing up. At the same time, Kurt stepped on the gas, spun the wheel, and pulled up the hand brake. The car skidded to a stop sideways behind the Mercedes. “Now!” Kurt said.
Angelique threw her door open and ran to the back of the Mercedes. Laurie bailed out of the rear door and took her place just behind the headlight of Kurt's car. She watched Angelique pull on the door-handle of the Mercedes' rear door, but it was locked. She ducked down just in time to avoid shattering glass from two gunshots sounding inside the Mercedes. Kurt stepped from the car and raised an M-4 rifle to his shoulder. He began riddling the car with bullets.
The Mercedes' doors flew open, and three figures bailed out. Laurie squinted over the barrel of her shotgun, but couldn't tell which one was Al-Hasim. When one of the figures turned and fired a pistol at Kurt's car, Laurie pulled the trigger. The man screamed, then collapsed on the street. As she cocked her shotgun, she watched Angelique bolt over the trunk of the Mercedes and pursue the two remaining figures. Laurie rose and followed; behind her, she heard footsteps. She turned and looked. It was Kurt.
Laurie ran as fast as she could, but she could not gain on Angelique. She watched her duck into a doorway, and she followed. Angelique's hand caught her jacket and yanked her back against a wall. A sudden quiet descended upon them, broken only by their labored breathing. “They went into that flat,” Angelique said. “Number three.”
Kurt caught up with them. He pulled his radio from his belt, spoke into it, a short conversation in German, and then said, “They tell me – ”
“That there is a back alley. Yes, I heard,” Angelique said.
“Oh? You speak German?”
“Ja, ich spreche Deutsch.”
Kurt shot her a chagrined look. “I should have known.” He looked at Laurie. “And you, too?”
“Ja. Einige,” Laurie said.
“Well, shit. What are we speaking English for?”
“Because your English is better than my German?” Laurie suggested. “I mean, you're pretty good.”
“Oh.” Kurt brightened. “Thank you, I suppose.”
Angelique said, “We are going inside, before they escape out the back. Are you ready?” She didn't wait for a reply. She paced quietly to the door, then listened. When Kurt and Laurie joined her, she tried the handle, then stepped back and kicked the door open. Just as she stepped aside, several shots sounded from inside the apartment. Bullets tore up the door-jamb and the hallway wall. Kurt threw in a flash-bang grenade, and it exploded with a jarring effect. Then, Angelique entered. Laurie was next, and Kurt was third.
Kurt banged three shots into a figure standing in a doorway, and they fell. An AK-47 clattered across the floor. A second later, as Laurie passed a doorway, a hand grabbed the barrel of her shotgun and yanked it up so that it pointed toward the ceiling. She faced the person that belonged to the hand and kicked him in the groin. He doubled over, and she yanked the shotgun free from his grip, then smashed him hard in the side of the head with the gun's butt. She watched him crumple, and then backed up. Kurt stepped in front of her and shot the man once in the head. Then, he looked around. “Where's Angelique?” he asked.
Laurie looked around the apartment's main room. Angelique was gone. “Shit, I don't know,” she said. “Back rooms, quick.”
In a bedroom, Angelique walked slowly, silently. She listened, she smelled the air, and she noted every little detail about her. Her gut was tied into knots, and the hair bristled on the back of her neck. Her enemy was in here; she knew it. He was close, just waiting, just hiding. A split second was all that it would take to turn her from the hunter into the hunted, the assassin into the quarry. And Al-Hasim was armed, and he was good.
She stopped and listened carefully. Inside the bedroom, she noted a window and a closed door. It was probably a bathroom. The window was closed and locked; therefore, anyone still in the apartment was probably hiding in the bathroom – or, she decided, beneath the bed. Slowly, she edged toward the bed, then dropped to the floor and pointed her pistol beneath the bed. Her finger tightened on the trigger, then eased away when she beheld the face of a frightened woman and a child. The woman held her hands in front of her face and spoke in Arabic, a frantic plea not to shoot them.
Angelique motioned them from beneath the bed and herded them into the hallway. There, she met Kurt and Laurie. She turned to the woman and had a whispered, frantic conversation in Arabic, then pointed them toward the front room and shooed them away. To Kurt and Laurie, she said, “Follow me. I think we have him.”
She paced silently into the bedroom and motioned toward the closed door. When Kurt grasped the handle, Angelique stopped him. She slipped a pillowcase from a pillow, wrapped it around the door handle, and backed away. Just before she pulled on it, Kurt whispered, “Why don't we just shoot through the door?”
“Because we do not know if it is him,” Angelique whispered. A second later, she added, “Also, I wish to see his face when I kill him.”
Kurt looked at Laurie, who shrugged. “She's really pissed at him,” Laurie whispered. In reply, Kurt merely rolled his eyes, then motioned toward Angelique. She yanked on the pillowcase, and the door opened. A second later, several gunshots resounded inside the room, and the door splintered from the strike of bullets. When the shooting ceased and the gun clicked, Angelique stood and entered the bathroom. Screams echoed from the bathroom, and the sounds of a brawl erupted. A few moments later, Al-Hasim bounded from the bathroom and slid across the floor. He managed to rise to his feet as Laurie and Kurt leveled their weapons at him. His face was bleeding, and his shaking hands were frantically attempting to load another magazine into the handle of his pistol.
“Do we shoot?” Laurie asked.
“No,” Angelique said. “Leave him to me.”
Kurt backed away. “You'll get no argument from me,” he said.
“Make it count, Angel,” Laurie said.
Al-Hasim managed to insert the magazine into his pistol, then snapped the slide forward. He yelled defiantly as he raised his gun toward Angelique. She slapped the weapon out of his hand, then hit him with several quick, hard punches as she backed him into a corner. She backed away, keeping a fighting posture, as he recovered himself and attacked her. A split second after they grappled, he was tossed against the wall, and he collapsed onto the floor. Angelique snatched his hand and twisted his arm around at an unnatural angle. A loud crack echoed in the room, and he screamed. He crawled backward, then braced himself against a wall as he attempted to stand. His eyes were wide with fear and pain and his dislocated arm hung awkwardly by his side, but he did not seem defeated.
Two-tone police sirens became barely audible in the distance. Kurt said, “Shit, Angelique. Finish it. The police are coming. We have to leave.”
She turned to Al-Hasim and said, “Any last words?”
In reply, he withdrew Salama's hunting knife from beneath his jacket and lunged toward Angelique. She side-stepped the attack. He turned toward her, then flashed the knife upward toward her abdomen. The knife's blade dug into the bulletproof vest beneath her clothing and stopped short of her skin, but the force of the blow knocked her against the wall. For a deadly, silent second, they stood that way, immobile. Al-Hasim's expression reflected triumph, and he attempted to drive the knife's blade into her with the weight of his body. His grinning, blood-and-sweat-streaked face was but a few inches from hers. She could hear him breathe, smell his breath, see the triumph in his eyes turn to question as he attempted to push the knife into her and failed. He said, “What the hell?”
“Good abs,” she answered. Then, She gripped his wrist hard to keep the knife in place as she pounded him with a right-handed fist. He wavered, but held his ground. She hit him again and again, watched his nose bend, watched his lip split and bleed, watch his jaw slacken. The last, hard punch to his jaw finished him. She felt the jaw break beneath her knuckles, heard the loud crack, and watched as his knees buckled and his eyes rolled back in his head. She released his wrist, and he pulled the knife's tip from her vest as he crumpled to the floor at her feet.
He groaned, then attempted to rise. She watched him struggle for a moment. Then, she stepped on the hand which held the knife as she drew her pistol. He looked up at her, and his expression was one of horror. His eyes were wide and fixed upon the muzzle of Angelique's pistol as it hovered above his face. He tried to speak, but at first, only gurgled blood. Then, he managed a sentence.
“For the love of God,” he mumbled in Arabic. “Please.”
“God is not here,” Angelique answered. “This is for Henriette.”
She leveled the pistol and took the shot. Al-Hasim's head jerked backward, and he went limp. In his forehead, a single bullet hole had appeared. Blood poured down his face, past his vacant eyes, and began to pool around his head. Angelique slowly looked up at Laurie and Kurt. “It is done,” she said in English.
Kurt navigated the car down an alley with the headlights out. Slowly, he eased out onto a street, turned on the headlights, and pulled away at a leisurely pace. “There's fucking Polizei all around,” he noted.
“I thought that you were Polizei ,” Laurie said.
“GSG-9,” he corrected. “Yes, we are, but different.” He thought for a moment as he drove, then added, “What we did tonight wasn't really legal, you know. If it ever becomes known – ”
“What we did tonight was necessary,” Angelique said.
“Yes. And satisfying for you, I suspect.”
“It is never satisfying to kill a person,” Angelique said. “You take from them the most... how-do-you-say?” She thought, then said, “Basic – yes, basic thing they possess: their life.”
“Then why do you do it?” he asked.
“It is justice. ‘An eye for an eye'. My grandmother used to say that to be kind to the wolf is to be cruel to the sheep.”
Laurie, in the back seat, leaned forward. “So, now what?” she asked.
“Now,” Kurt said, “we have to get you out of Germany as fast as we can.”
“Train station?” she asked.
“Correct. One of my men will meet us there with your tickets to Paris. You'll go on an express.”
“Great,” Laurie muttered. “Another eight hours on a train.”
Kurt smiled. “You'll like this one. We paid extra for you. A private compartment. And there is dining, of a sort. You can have a meal and get drunk, eh?”
“Oh.” Laurie thought about that. “Well, then. That might not be so bad.” She leaned forward and tapped Angelique on the shoulder. “Right?”
“Not so bad,” Angelique echoed. She seemed distracted. Laurie considered that, then decided that there would be plenty of time to talk after they were on the train and out of Germany. She leaned back in the seat and watched the darkened, empty Hamburg streets pass slowly by. And as she slid her shotgun back into its cloth case, she mentally took stock of herself.
Angelique was right. Now that the job was over, she felt like the weight of a thousand pounds had been lifted from her back. She felt light, free. They had survived. And she had killed another person tonight. The total was now three, and she felt nothing. She was supposed to feel lousy after killing someone, right? Hey, that guy shot at them, and she shot back. Justice, like Angelique says. Justice.
They pulled into the Hamburg central train station, and Kurt hustled them toward the tracks. A GSG-9 agent was there with tickets, as Kurt had forecast, and they got escorted to the door of a train car. There, Kurt extended his hand to Angelique.
“It was good to finally meet a legend,” he said.
Angelique took his hand. “The legend is officially dead,” she replied.
“A ghost, then. Well, until we meet again.”
Angelique smiled at his attempt at humor. “If your gods are willing, we won't meet again.”
“I've a feeling that we will.” He turned to Laurie. “Angelique is lucky to have you at her back.”
“I keep tellin' her that,” Laurie said. “Take care, Kurt.”
“And you. Travel well, and if you have trouble with the authorities, call me.”
“Thanks. Don't turn your phone off.”
Kurt smiled at that, then stepped back. Laurie and Angelique climbed into the rail car, studied their tickets, and found their compartment. The sign outside the door indicated that it was reserved for them. They entered, threw their messenger bags and Laurie's shotgun bag on the opposite seat, and settled in against the window. Laurie snuggled against Angelique's side as they felt the train begin to move, and they watched the interior of the train station move slowly by. As the train slowly gathered speed, they fell into silence, each lost in their own thoughts. After some time, Laurie shifted her body, then looked up at Angelique's profile.
“Angel?” she said.
“Can we talk?”
“Um.” Angelique nodded.
“Okay. Can we please take these fucking bulletproof vests off?”
She watched the corners of Angelique's mouth turn up in a little smile which gradually extended across her face. She felt the rumbles of laughter in Angelique's chest. Finally, Angelique looked at her face, so near and nestled against her shoulder. “When we get to Belgium,” she answered.
“Fair enough.” Her hand trailed down Angelique's chest and found the rip in the clothing over her abdomen, and the rip in the fabric of Angelique's vest. “I'm glad that you were wearing yours.”
“Me, also,” Angelique said.
“Are you saying that you didn't let him stab you? That that was luck on his part?”
“Damn.” Laurie hugged Angelique. “Did The Angel of Mossad's luck almost run out this morning?”
Angelique sighed. Her arm tightened around Laurie. “No,” she said. “You are right. She will live forever, I think.”
“I think so, too.” Laurie kissed Angelique's cheek, then settled down on the seat and rested her head on Angelique's thigh. “Wake me when we get to Belgium,” she said. “Okay?”
“Yes, yes. Sleep now, Laurie.” She rested her arm across Laurie's torso and resumed studying the landscape now moving past the train at a faster pace as she wrestled with her thoughts.
The Angel of Mossad had prevailed again. Reaching out from her grave in Jerusalem, she had vanquished a bitter foe and made the world a little safer. There would be others, she knew, and it was very possible that her cover was blown. Her beloved bar was wrecked, and sweet little Henriette was dead. Would Laurie be next? Would she? While Café Angel was being repaired, she'd have to go into hiding, forge a new identity, a new life, and a new history. But how, and where? She'd talk to Ronstein when she got back to Paris, and perhaps even to the Old Man at Mossad headquarters in Tel Aviv. Like the stereotypical Yiddish grandfather, he'd always been a fountain of wisdom; perhaps he'd have a way to help. And perhaps Bruno could help, too.
The workmen were taking a lunch break, but Maurice did not wish to leave the bar. The door was open and tools were strewn about the premises. The work was slow, he decided, but it was gradually coming along. From time to time, the insurance adjuster came by to check on the work, enjoy a mid-day glass of wine, and fuss about the cost of the bar's repair.
His next visitor was a pleasing sight, though. His oldest daughter came through the door with a basket on her arm. “Hello, Papa,” she said.
“Ah! It's good to see you. Watch your step; there's junk everywhere.” He pointed to a bar-stool. “Sit. Would you like a soft drink?” At her nod, he opened one and placed it on the bar as she lifted the basket to the bar's surface. “Is that lunch?” he asked.
“Yes. Mama is worried that you're not eating right.”
He looked down at his husky frame. “Yes, like I'm a twig.” He eyed his daughter. “And what are you doing out of school?”
“Oh. That.” She gave him a guilty expression, then perked up when she found an answer. “I was sick this morning. Fever,” she proclaimed as she held a hand to her forehead. “Anyway, I'm grown now. I'm twelve, after all. I can skip a day.”
“Twelve, and almost twenty. May God give me strength.”
He poured himself a cup of coffee and clicked on the little television behind the bar. The larger one, overhead, had been shattered by the explosion, and its electronic carcass still hung above his head. As a French news presenter read the most recent stories, one in particular caught his attention.
“In local news,” she said, “the person believed responsible for two terrorist bomb blasts in the Latin Quarter was recently found dead by police in Hamburg, Germany. An Egyptian by birth, he was identified as Al-Hasim Ali, a jihadist known to western intelligence as lately belonging to ISIS. It is believed that he was murdered by a rival extremist Islamic faction in that city.”
Maurice laughed at that. His daughter looked up from setting out his lunch. “What's so funny, Papa?”
“Oh, just the news.” He leaned across the bar and lowered his voice. “They haven't got a clue, you know.”
She teased, “You always say that. How can they be on television saying those things if they haven't got a clue?” She pushed a bowl across the bar to him. “Your lunch, Papa.”
Paris, France, two days later.
Laurie was in the bar, unpacking new liquor glasses. She was making a morning's project of it; unwrap them, line them up, wash them, and rest them upside-down on the bar towels spread out on the bar. Lastly, she would polish them with a dry towel and hang them upside-down by their bases in the overhead racks.
She looked around. The work was progressing, and eventually, the bar would be back in order. But it would take a lot more work. She looked up when Angelique stepped behind the bar, gave her a hug and a quick kiss, and said, “I must run an errand. It will not be long.”
Laurie noticed the car keys in her hand. “Driving? Be careful. It's Paris, y'know.”
“Yes, yes.” Angelique gave her a smile, then the oddest little look. It lasted just for a moment; then, it was past. Laurie watched her head out the back door of the bar toward the garage at the alley's end. That was a weird expression, she thought. She's usually Miss Enigmatic. I wonder what's on her mind? As she returned to washing glasses, she thought, I'll ask her when she gets back.
Angelique walked down the alley to the garage, then unlocked and lifted the door. Inside the garage sat her boxy little Renault automobile with the faded red paint. She'd had that car ever since she'd returned from Israel to live in Paris, and it was as an old, familiar friend would be to her. She started it, backed it halfway down the alley, then stopped.
Laurie, she thought, be strong for me. Be strong.
In a nearby alley, behind some rubbish bins, a young man of Arab descent watched Café Angel. By his knee, he held an RPG-7 grenade launcher fitted with a small-yield rocket warhead. He turned to his comrade.
“Rabi, go and start the car. I think she's leaving.”
“Right,” Rabi said. “You can't miss at this range. Can I watch?”
The young man watched Rabi leave, then concentrated on the alley. He lifted the launcher to his shoulder and waited. Eventually, the back half of the Renault edged out of the alley. When the back wheels touched the cobblestones of the road, the young man pulled the trigger.
It took just an instant. The trail of white smoke still hung in the air as the rocket's warhead struck the car just behind the passenger door. The explosion, even from such a small warhead, was a resounding thunderclap in the street. The car seemed to jump; it erupted in flames, and it burned brightly as pieces of the car bounced and scattered across the street. He dumped the launcher into a trash bin and walked briskly toward the back of the alley, to the street a block away and Rabi's waiting car.
Inside the bar, Laurie staggered at the noise of the near explosion. The building shook. The windows, made of high-impact glass and already lined from the bar's bombing, bulged inward a little. Several hunks of glass tinkled across the floor. “What the – ?” she said. She looked toward the street just in time to see an automobile door bounce across the cobblestones. Laurie dropped her bar towel. “Oh, God!” she shouted. “Angel!”
She ran past the stunned workmen, through the open door, and into the street. Ten feet away, having coasted into the center of the street, Angelique's old Renault burned enthusiastically. Pieces of it were scattered around her feet. She stared in horror and disbelief; the car was totally engulfed in flames. And behind the steering wheel, she could see the silhouette of a figure. Slowly, Laurie approached the car. She could feel the heat from the flames, smell the gasoline, smell the burning rubber and upholstery, hear the snap and crackle of the fire consuming everything. And in the driver's seat, the human figure fell over. Laurie stood in the middle of the street, speechless, horrified, numb from shock. Her gaze was riveted to the driver's seat, and on the body now leaning toward the car's center. She stepped closer; she could now smell the char-broiled odor of human flesh burning to crusty blackness. She fell to her knees in the street, unmindful of the heat from the fire or of the possibility of a second explosion. With agonizing slowness, she crawled through pieces of the car toward the burning body until her hand touched something soft. She looked down. It took a moment for her to comprehend what was beneath her hand, but when she finally did, she lifted it from the cobblestones. It was a black beret, the one that Angelique so often wore on the back of her head. It was smoking. She lifted it in both hands, buried her face in it, and became frozen to the spot. Gradually, through her pain, she became aware of someone nearby screaming. It was a repetitive, agonizing scream, and it stabbed her to the very soul. Oh God, she thought, please don't let it be Angelique that's screaming like that. After a moment, she realized that the voice she was hearing was her own.
As the two-tone sirens of the Paris police grew louder, she felt a pair of strong hands lift her and carry her back into the bar. She heard Maurice's voice speaking to her, but she did not know or care what he was saying. All that she could manage to think about was the vision of that body burning, and of her prophecy, spoken at the grave-side in Jerusalem, that one day, even The Angel of Mossad's legendary luck would run out.
That day had arrived.
Mount Herzl Military Cemetery, Jerusalem. Three days later.
Many burials had been conducted here; many young sons and daughters of Israel had found their rest among the graves and headstones of their fallen comrades, and many families had grieved beneath these trees. For a land which had been at almost constant war for the better part of a century, it was a usual business. For both Jew and Arab, death and grieving was a constant reality in this tortured, ancient, and holy land.
Today, as on so many days, a procession wound its way among the graves, observed by casual spectators and by a single Israeli news camera crew and reporter. Young soldiers in the green uniforms of the Israeli Defense Forces carried on their shoulders a plain wooden coffin draped in the white and blue flag of Israel. Their unit patches and red berets identified them as members of the elite Paratrooper Brigade. The red beret atop the coffin identified the dead as one of their own.
The procession was small; a rabbi followed, and a young woman in dark clothing and with a black scarf draped over the back half of her short red hair kept pace, supported by a man and a woman. Behind her, several others walked. The woman in mourning, the new widow, appeared quite young; that was too often the sad truth in this country. She bore herself bravely during the ordeal, occasionally wiping her face with a handkerchief, leaning constantly upon her sister's arm for support.
The coffin was placed on the open grave-site. The rabbi spoke his words, and the honor guard of young Israeli soldiers fired their volleys into the air as others saluted. The young woman in black received the folded Israeli flag, then knelt beside the coffin, embraced it, and whispered words known only to her. Then, she kissed the coffin, and as she attempted to rise, collapsed to the ground, sobbing. She was helped to stand by her sister and her sister's boyfriend. The coffin was lowered into the ground, and one by one, the little procession of mourners paid their last respects with a handful of earth dropped into the grave. The honor guard marched away as the rabbi gave condolences to the young widow, and the little knot of mourners began to disperse toward the cemetery's entrance and the cars waiting beyond the gate.
In the shade, a young Arab man lowered his camera. Through his lens, he had seen the procession; he had captured the faces of the mourners, and he had been close enough to listen to the words spoken by the rabbi. He was a little surprised that several people had spoken to the grieving widow in English, not in Hebrew. That, he decided, was odd.
He understood enough Hebrew to catch the name of the deceased. He had also recognized the older man, the little man with the head of white hair who was present; a very highly-placed Mossad official. The person who was being buried that day, he deduced, was a former paratrooper who also had Mossad connections. After the grave-diggers had filled in the grave, he would check the name. In the meantime, he would get closer to the mourners and learn what he could.
He stuffed his camera into his bag and hurried to place himself between the cemetery's entrance and the mourners. He arrived just in time; in a moment, they would walk past him. He adjusted the coat of his ill-fitting dark suit, smoothed his hair, and waited.
The widow, accompanied by others, walked by him, just a few feet away. He studied her features through his dark glasses. She was of pleasant appearance, though her face seemed drawn and pale and her eyes were puffed from weeping; her hair, showing from beneath the edge of the black scarf, was red. Against her chest, clutched tightly beneath crossed arms, she carried the folded Israeli flag. The young woman walking with her spoke to her in English, not Hebrew. Canadian or American, he decided, by the accent. It was adding up. He had noted the news crew; he would watch the Israeli news for verification. If the departed was who he thought it was, someone was in for a reward. And Hamas could be generous in these cases.
As the mourners found their cars and drove away, he lit a cigarette and bided his time. Then, when there were only grave-diggers left, he walked down the path, past the endless rows of graves, until he came to the one being filled in. He looked at the headstone, then took several pictures of it. He did not read Hebrew well enough to be assured of the identity; he would leave that to his superiors in Hamas' intelligence apparatus. His job here was done. He lowered his camera, turned, and walked away, leaving the grave-diggers to finish their task as the clumps of earth which fell from their shovels made hollow thumps upon the coffin's lid.
Tel Aviv, Israel, later that afternoon.
“This is I24 News, twenty-four hour English-language news from Israel. In our stories today, a decorated hero was laid to rest in the Mount Herzl Military Cemetery. Angelique Bat-Ami, a former sergeant in the Paratrooper Brigade and a decorated veteran of much fighting on Israel's borders, was laid to rest with full military honors. In attendance were several present and former government officials and members of Mossad. A native of France, Bat-Ami emigrated to Israel at eighteen, obtained her citizenship, and served with distinction in the army. She had lately returned to France and had been living in Paris when she was killed by a terrorist act at the age of thirty-two. French police are investigating, and soon expect an arrest. She is survived by her American spouse.”
Allison Caldwell studied the video of the funeral playing on the news channel, then muted the television. “Well, little sis,” she said. “You're on the news. At least the camera got your good side.”
“You mean I wasn't sitting on it, for once?” Laurie asked.
“Oh, yuk, yuk.” Allison rose and walked to the balcony. There, Laurie was studying the Tel Aviv skyline and the bright blue of the Mediterranean Sea beyond it. “No, I mean that you rock. My little sister is one awesome girl.”
Laurie leaned against Allison's side and welcomed the arm about her. “No,” she said. “I'm just a girl in love. Everything I do springs from that.”
“So, when are you going back to America?”
“A day or two.”
“Going back to Paris first?”
“No. Everything's being taken care of there. Maurice has been a dear.” She sighed. “God, I'm going to miss that place.”
“Have you thought about staying there?”
“One day I'll go back to live. Not right now. It just hurts too much.”
“Yeah. I hear you.” She kissed Laurie's forehead, then squeezed her. “You haven't eaten. Are you hungry?”
“You're skinny enough already. You don't need to lose any more weight.” She grabbed Laurie's butt. “You already have no ass.”
Laurie managed a little smile. “I never had one.”
“It goes along with the ‘no boobs' thing, huh?”
Laurie managed a snicker. “Shaddup.”
“Want some of my ass? I've got enough for two.”
“Silly. Your ass looks great.” She poked Allison's arm. “I bet it's tanned like that, too. The Greek islands are good to you and Maurie.”
“Hey. Home of the Greek gods and nude beaches.” She snickered. “And I've seen a few Greek gods on those nude beaches, trust me.”
“I'll bet,” Laurie said. “So when's that guy of yours getting here?”
“Not soon enough. Speaking of him...” Allison produced her cell phone, dialed a number, and held it to her ear. A moment later, she said, “Hey, Maurie. It's your loving woman. Shalom. Where the fuck are you and what the hell is up? Call me, goof-ball.” She made some kissing sounds, then said, “‘Bye, lover.” As she pocketed the phone, Laurie leaned against her.
“Honeymoon's over, huh?”
Allison snickered. “You try living on a forty-foot sailboat with a man for a few months. Besides, we ain't married. I'm a firm convert to the First Church of ‘Friends with Benefits'.”
“Well, thanks for traveling here to be with me, Allie. I mean it.”
“Hey, there's no way that I'd let my little sister go through this thing alone.” Allison studied Laurie's profile. Something was profoundly different about her; she seemed almost another person. The squint in the eyes was deeper, the lines across her forehead and at the edges of her eyes more prominent. And she seemed to hold deep secrets that were not there before. “You miss Angel, don't you?”
“Yeah,” Laurie said, as she looked down at the black beret clutched in her hands. “Yeah. I do.” She looked up at her sister. “Oh, Allie. I feel like half my soul is gone.”
“It'll get better. I promise it will.”
Laurie wiped her cheek with a hand. “I'll let you know when that happens,” she said.
Maurie Ben Shalev exited the hotel's elevator and walked down the hall, whistling a tune. He glanced at his wrist-watch; it was early in the morning. He muted the whistling and replaced it with the humming of the tune as he stopped at a door and unlocked it.
Inside, Allison sat up on a couch and rubbed her eyes sleepily. “Oh, hey,” she said, as he bent down to receive her hug and kiss. “It's about time. What's up?”
“What's up?” he said. “The plane is here. Pack your stuff. Where's Laurie?”
“Asleep in the bed, over there.”
“Wake her. It's time to go.”
Laurie clicked on the bedside lamp. “I'm awake. What – ?”
“Pack your bags, Laurie. The plane is waiting for you.”
It took a moment for Laurie to comprehend what Maurie had said. When she did, she crawled out of the bed and staggered toward the bathroom. “Oh, hell,” she said. “Give me a couple of minutes. I've so gotta pee and run a brush through my hair.”
“At the same time?” Allison joked.
“Relax,” Maurie said. “The pilot is paid by the hour. He'll wait for us.”
Forty minutes later, their car pulled onto the airport tarmac and stopped near a small private jet. Maurie and Allison hustled Laurie aboard as their bags were stowed in the cargo compartment. As they strapped themselves in, the jet began rolling toward the runway. Laurie looked around, for the first time seeming to comprehend her surroundings.
“Damn,” she said. “This is style. Who do I thank for this?”
“The taxpayers of Israel,” Maurie joked. “And Mossad. They take care of their own.”
“I'm taking this thing all the way to America?” Laurie asked.
“Yes,” Maurie replied. “With some stops along the way.”
Maurie scratched his chin as he thought about it, and as he stared out the window. “Well, a stop in Athens, to let us off. Then, a stop in Paris, to pick up a passenger.” He looked at Laurie. “It is a diplomatic flight, you know. Then, stops in Greenland and in America, where you get off.”
The plane revved its engines, and Laurie felt herself pressed back against her seat as the plane hurtled down the runway and lifted off the ground. Some whirring and a thump announced that the landing gear was up. The pilot's voice echoed over the cabin speaker. “Next stop is Athens, in approximately two hours. You may move about the cabin now.”
Laurie undid her seat belt. As she looked down into the black of the pre-dawn Mediterranean Ocean, she asked, “Does this crate have a bar?”
“I believe so,” Maurie said. “Would you like a drink?”
Laurie stared out the window. “I wonder,” she said. “Can I can drink myself blind before we get to Athens?”
Allison looked at Maurie. “Ten Euros says that she can't.”
Maurie grinned. “Twenty Euros says that she can.”
“You're on. Get her a drink,” Allison said. “Hell, grab a bottle and throw the cork away. We'll all get blind drunk.”
“You're a wicked woman,” Maurie observed. “That's why I'm so fond of you.”
Hours later, Laurie awoke to the jet settling down on a runway. She sat up, rubbed her eyes, and looked out the window. The airport looked like a million other airports, and the commercial jets in the distance wore a variety of names and nationalities. Eventually, though, her jet eased to a halt in a nondescript little corner of the airport tarmac, near a building. A dark SUV waited for them, and Laurie thrilled a little to note the European license plate and distant signs in French. When the plane's engines ran down, the door to the cockpit opened, and a pilot emerged. In English, he said, “We're in Paris. Would you care to stretch your legs a little? We need to refuel, anyway. Thirty minutes.”
“Yeah. Thanks.” As she rose, she pulled Angelique's black beret onto the back of her head and adjusted it. “Is there a lounge or something?”
“Lounge?” He smiled. “Oh, yes. There is a little lounge just inside that building. It has a toilet, and you can get coffee there. Come, I'll take you.”
They walked the short distance across the tarmac to the entrance, and he held the lounge door open for her. She thought it odd that he did not follow her inside, but she didn't ask. She just wanted some coffee to offset the blur in her head that too many drinks and too little sleep had created, and the empty exhaustion of spirit that the booze hadn't eased.
She stepped into the lounge and was instantly snatched off her feet by a pair of deceptively strong arms. Her head whirled; her senses screamed. She recognized the perfume. She recognized the feel of the arms. She recognized the fit, athletic body to whom the arms belonged. She recognized the voice.
And she wept loudly, without shame.
“Angel!” was all that she could say. “Angel. Ma belle Angélique! ”
“I am here,” the voice replied. “How I missed you, mon amour. Ma femme. ”
Laurie wrapped her arms around Angelique's torso and clung to her with all her strength. “Right back atcha,” she said. “And if you ever make me think you're dead again, I'll kill you for real. I mean it.”
“It was for the best,” Angelique said. “It was for our future.”
“Yeah, I know,” Laurie said as she released Angelique. She sniffed loudly and wiped her face with a sleeve. “And I'm still really pissed at you for doing that. And I love you more than I can say. So shut up and kiss me, already.”
The pilot smiled as he turned away from the lounge window and watched the fuel truck pull up to his aircraft. He checked his watch. “I'll give them a few minutes,” he said, as he strolled away. “I do love a happy ending.”
Once the aircraft settled into its altitude and made its course for Greenland, Angelique and Laurie released their seat-belts and headed for the bar. Laurie found two plastic cups, dropped some ice into each one, and poured a little travel bottle of liquor into each glass. She cracked open a cola, added some to each cup, then thrust a cup toward Angelique. “Bottoms up,” she said.
“ L'chaim, ” Angelique echoed.
As they sipped their drinks and regained their seats, Laurie pulled up the mid-seat arm of the chair and snuggled against Angelique's side. “So,” she said, “what's going to happen now?”
Angelique thought about that. Then, she said, “We find a new home for a while.”
“For how long?”
“Until Mossad tells me that we are safe to return to Paris.”
Laurie shifted in her seat and downed her drink. “So how long is that?” She rattled the ice in an empty cup. “And I need another drink.”
“Already?” Angelique placed her drink aside, lifted the cup from Laurie's hand, and stood. At the bar, she looked into the waste bin. “Laurie, there are many empty bottles in here.” She looked up. “You are drunk?”
“Yeah, a little, I guess. Shit, I'm bombed. Totally fucking stoned. Gimmie a break; I thought you were dead.” She wiggled a finger in Angelique's direction. “Don't you ever die on me again, you hear me?”
Angelique raised an eyebrow. “I hear and obey,” she intoned, as she sat and gave Laurie a drink.
“So, how long?” Laurie asked. “Come on. Give me the bad news.”
“Perhaps for a couple of years.”
Laurie sighed. “A couple of years. Jeez.” She looked across Angelique's chest to the view outside the window. “So, where are we going in the meantime?”
“You don't know?”
“No. I don't know.” Laurie sipped her drink. “Not that I care, as long as it's with you.”
“I am glad that you think that way,” Angelique said, “because I am now a member of the Israeli diplomatic corps.” She pulled a passport from her pocket. “Do you see? Diplomatic passport.”
Laurie tried to focus on the document. “Oh. Cool. Does that mean that you have a job?”
“Oh. Does that mean that you have diplomatic immunity?”
“Whoa! Like you can kill people and even park illegally and stuff and not get arrested?”
“Well, that's neat. Do I have a job?”
“No.” Angelique hurried to add, “But you are my spouse. I will support us.”
“No, you won't. I'll get a job. Never let it be said that Laurie Caldwell freeloaded off anybody.” Laurie finished her drink and placed it aside. “Shit, I'm really messed up,” she said, as she snuggled against Angelique's side and wound an arm around Angelique's waist. They fell into silence, and Angelique watched the French countryside pass by, far beneath them. Her thoughts were interrupted by Laurie's hand tapping her chest. “Hey,” Laurie said. “I'm really sorry.”
“For what?” Angelique asked.
“Here you are, come back from the dead, and you get to baby-sit a drunk chick.”
“It is all right, Laurie.”
“No, it's not. Hey, if I throw up, would you hold my hair back for me? Do you love me that much?”
“Yes, Laurie. I do. But you have only a little hair now.”
Laurie combed her fingers through her pixie cut. “Oh, yeah. That's right. I forgot.” She rested her chin on Angelique's shoulder and stared out the window for a while. Then, she snickered, and she tapped Angelique on the chest again.
“Hey, good-lookin'. How'd you like to join the ‘Mile-High Club'?”
“The – ? What is this?”
“You don't know?” Laurie whispered into Angelique's ear, then leaned back and looked at her. “So, how's about it?”
Angelique smiled. “I would not dare to take advantage of a – a ‘drunk chick', as you put it.”
“Oh, bull-hocky,” Laurie mumbled. “I been drunk once or twice with you, and I remember that we darn near broke the bed-springs.”
“You are exhausted, Laurie. Sleep, now. Sleep.”
“Yeah. Okay, if we're not gonna knock boots. G'night.”
Laurie's voice was soft, drowsy, and very distant. “You don't know what you're missin'.”
Angelique hugged her to her side. “Yes, I do. Sleep now,” she whispered.
After a while, she noticed that Laurie's breathing was regular, and that her arm had relaxed and her eyes were closed. She smiled at that. She studied Laurie's face, the closed eyes, the tousled red hair, the splash of freckles across her face, and she kissed the forehead ever so gently. Then, she focused on the black beret on the back of Laurie's head. It, too, was a familiar old friend, and it had the telltale signs upon it of having been through a rough time. But it was a survivor, like The Angel of Mossad. It had been with her through some dangerous times. Like Laurie, she thought; steadfast, always there.
“It looks good on you,” she whispered. “Keep it, ma belle. ”
Western Kansas, three days later.
Laurie knocked some questionable material from the bottom of her work boots, then walked around to the front of the house. The sunset was in full display across the seemingly endless, flat plains, and it painted the sky in brilliant splashes of color. She looked toward the wide covered porch and shouted, “Hey, Dad. The barn door latch is fixed.”
“Thank you, Laurie,” Bill Caldwell shouted back. He eased back in his wooden rocking chair, put his feet up on the railing, and said, “Yes, sir. That's my girl.” A moment later, he looked over at Angelique. “Go ahead,” he said. “Make yourself comfortable.” He motioned toward the rail.
“May I?” she asked.
“Hell, that's what it's there for.” He sighed. “Look at that sunset.”
Angelique eased her feet up onto the railing and creaked her rocking chair backward a little. “It is beautiful. I can understand how you love this land.”
“I was raised here.” He gestured toward Laurie. “Her, too. I'm really glad that she wasn't brought up in some city. It was out here, with fresh air and farm work and small towns. America is always changing, but somehow, western Kansas seems to stay the same. Reliable, predictable. Honest.” He looked at her. “Were you raised in Paris?”
“I was, as a little girl, on a farm also. In Aquitaine region of France. I only go to Paris after I left Israel.” She smiled. “Many people to hide among who all sound like me.”
“Yeah. Laurie tells me that your last call was a close one.”
“Yes, but it has been so before.”
“Do the bad guys think you're dead this time?”
Angelique shrugged. “Mossad is listening to their talk. We shall see.”
Laurie's footsteps echoed across the wooden porch as she joined them at the rail. “Let's hope so,” she said. “I'm a little tired of us gettin' shot at and blown up.” She looked at her dad. “Did she tell you – ?”
“Yeah,” Bill said. “She told me the whole story.”
Laurie rested a hand on Angelique's leg. “Angel, you set that whole thing up, didn't you? When your car exploded, I mean.”
“Yes,” Angelique said.
“Let me guess,” Laurie continued. “Ronstein, at Mossad, had something to do with it. And Bruno too, right?”
Angelique laughed. “You are perceptive.”
“So, who actually blew up your car? Ronstein?”
“No. A member of the jihadist cell in Paris. But he was secretly Bruno's – ah, ‘asset'.”
“One more question. Who was driving that car when it blew up?”
“No one, Laurie.”
“I saw a body burn to a crisp, Angel. I smelled it. It was ten feet in front of me. Somebody was in that car.”
Angelique smiled. “A body from the police morgue. Bruno got it for us. A young woman who died of drugs the night before. We cut the hair, gave her my clothes, put her into the car, and pushed it into the street.”
Bill raised an eyebrow in appreciation. “Damn,” he said. “Good thinking. I'm glad it worked.” He looked at Angelique and Laurie. “So, how long can you two visit?”
“I have two week's time before I must report to work. They will put me, I believe, at the embassy in Atlanta, Georgia. An intelligence attache.”
“The deep south, huh? That's a different place. Will they, ah – will they recognize you and Laurie's marriage there?”
Angelique shook her head. “No. There, our marriage is not legal.”
“They're still fussin' and fightin' about it here in Kansas, but I think it'll be legal soon. Too bad you two can't settle here.”
“I would like that. I think Laurie would like it, also.” She shrugged. “But I work for Mossad now. I must go where they send me.”
Laurie's mother, Michelle, opened the screen door and shouted, “Laurie! Bill! Angelique! Dinner's ready. Come and get it.”
Bill and Angelique rose from their rocking chairs and followed Laurie to the front door. Just before they entered, Bill stopped Angelique with a hand on her forearm. “Ah, listen,” he said. “I've got a proposition for you. You know that I'm the county sheriff here. Well, if you ever get tired of working for Mossad, I sure could use you here. You'd make a hell of a good cop.” He smiled. “Think about it. The offer is always there.”
“Thank you, Bill.” She extended her hand. “I am honored at the offer.”
They shook hands. “You bet,” Bill said. “And, ah – ”
Angelique noted his suddenly shy manner. “Yes?”
“When I heard you guys were coming, I had the ol' upright piano tuned. Would you mind, after dinner–?”
Angelique laughed. “I would love to play for you.” They entered the house, and the screen door slammed behind them. “What would you wish to hear?”
“Oh, anything by Joplin.”
“You like Joplin? I thought that he was the piano player in a how-do-you-say?”
“Cathouse?” Bill volunteered.
“Bill!” Michelle admonished, as she set dinner bowls on the table.
“Hey,” Bill said, with a shrug. “It's honest work, I guess.”
“Like my pole dancing in Paris was?” Laurie chimed in. “Let's eat. I'm starvin'.”
“Pole – !” Michelle looked at Bill as they seated themselves. “Our daughter, pole dancing?”
“In Paris, Michelle. How many folks can say that around here?”
“None, I suppose.” She looked at Laurie. “Did you really do that?”
Laurie laughed. “No, Mom. You gotta have boobs for that. Look at me. Flat as a barn door.”
“Yeah,” Bill said. “When God was handing out boobs, Laurie was standing in line for a second helping of attitude. Now you'd have made a great pole dancer, Michelle.”
She shot him a sly smile. “Thank you, I think. Hm. Now I'm wondering if I missed my calling in life.”
“Hey!” Laurie said. “You were our mom. What calling is more special than that?”
“Well,” Michelle said, “I'm not quite sure what calling could have been more challenging than that.”
“Aw, Mom,” Laurie said. “Allie and I weren't that bad, were we?”
“Yeah, you were,” Bill intoned.
Michelle's eyes twinkled at that remark. Then, she held up her wine glass. “Angelique?” she said. “Welcome home for the first time.”
Angelique lifted her glass. “Merci,” she said. “Thank you for having me into your home.”
“It's your home, too,” Bill said. “You've got family here now.”
“Family,” Angelique said. “For so long, I have had none.”
Bill laughed. “Family, some folks say, are people who, when they show up at your door, you have to let ‘em in. But I say that family are people that you want to let in.” He looked at Angelique. “Welcome to the family.”
–djb, December, 2014
Author's notes: I took my portrait of ISIS directly from the news. I didn't make anything up but the names of the characters. That includes the Al-Khansaa Brigade, an all-female unit within ISIS which is tasked with enforcing Sharia law on the streets of Raqqa, running the brothels, and searching those in female dress at checkpoints throughout the city (as male soldiers sometimes attempt to get through checkpoints in female dress).
I found an interview with a former Al-Khansaa member to be very informative. Known simply as ‘Khadija', she's describing a member of the Al-Khansaa Brigade, Umm Hamza, who is tasked with whipping immodestly-dressed women (defined as allowing the eyes to show in public, or wearing a beaded or slightly form-fitting abaya ):
“She's not a normal female. She's huge, she has an AK, a pistol, a whip, a dagger, and she wears the niqab (full face covering).” . . . Brigade commander Umm Rayan sensed Khadija's fear “and she got close to me and said a sentence I won't forget. She said, ‘We are harsh with the infidels, but merciful among ourselves.'”
Khadija goes on to say:
“The worst thing I saw was a man getting his head hacked off in front of me.”. . . “The foreign (ISIS) fighters are very brutal with women, even the ones they marry,” . . . “There were cases where the wife had to be taken to the emergency ward because of the violence, the sexual violence.”
– taken from the CNN article “How she went from a schoolteacher to an ISIS member” (CNN.com, October 7, 2014.)
Nice folks, huh? As Bill might say, I wouldn't want ‘em for my neighbors. Anyhow, when I read this stuff, I knew I had the makings of another Angelique novella. Hope it worked!
--djb, December, 2014.
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