Copyright: Original story and characters, copyright D.J. Belt, September, 2015.
Disclaimers: ALT. Violence, romance, and hopefully, some humor.
Comments: Feel free to write me at email@example.com.
In an effort to protect French-Israeli (and former Mossad assassin) Angelique and her American spouse, Laurie, The Mossad has hidden them in the American south. Their safety is illusory, however; they find that, to survive, they must once again go to war against a ruthless jihadist ideology.
Angelique: Book Two
Angelique: Book Three
Angelique: Book Four
Angelique: Book Five
Angelique: Book Six
Angelique: Book Seven
Angelique: Book Eight
The dead cannot cry out for justice. It is the duty of the living to do that for them.
– Lois McMaster Bujold
Hope you got your things together
Hope you are quite prepared to die
Looks like we're in for nasty weather
One eye is taken for an eye.
– from the song, “Bad Moon Rising”
On the Texas-Mexico border, 2015.
Mustafa Al-Hakeem crouched in the scrub brush and wiped the sweat from his face. It was oppressively hot, even in the black of the night. The heat, he was used to; the prevailing language here, he was not. He spoke English rather well by many estimates, but it was the Hispanic inflections with which he had trouble. Also, he felt naked without a weapon, but he was told not to bring one. If the American border patrol agents saw him with one, they would assume him to be a Mexican drug smuggler and very possibly shoot him on sight. He would comply; after all, the weapons he would need for his mission awaited him at his destination. His immediate worry, though, was the tall border fence just ahead of him, an obstacle between him and his destiny. Taunting him to attempt a crossing, it looked down at him, silhouetted against a lighter night sky dotted with brilliant splashes of stars.
Perspiration stung his eyes, and his throat was dry. As he reached for his gallon jug of water, a hand clapped itself on his shoulder. A voice growled a warning in Spanish as he was pushed to the dirt. In a second, he understood why; the distant pop-pop-pop of a helicopter's rotor blades echoed over the night landscape. “Quiet,” the voice next to him whispered. “No moving. La migra , they have night vision. They see you, they get you when you hop the fence.”
“ La what?”
“Those damn Americano border cops, homes. Don't you know nothing? Where the fuck you from, anyway? Never mind, I know you ain't from someplace good. Otherwise, you'd be flyin' into Houston instead of crawling through the fence like some emigrante .”
They huddled in the base of the dry ditch as the pop of the rotor blades increased in volume. Mustafa could feel the noise of the blades in his bones, and he blinked against the river of sweat nagging his eyes. Finally, the noise receded into the distance, and his guide tapped him on the shoulder.
“Okay, amigo. Follow me.”
Mustafa watched his guide crawl toward the fence, and he followed a few feet behind. Halfway there, they paused and buried their faces in their sleeves as headlights coasted by on the other side of the fence. When the truck was gone, they resumed their slow crawl toward the imposing barrier. His guide finally raised himself to a crouch against a large concrete support pillar and fished a set of wire clippers from his pants pocket. As he worked, he spoke in a whisper. “Man, once you get through this fence, you don't stop, see? And if you got a long way to go, you find some cover before noontime. It gets hot like hell, this desert. People, they die out here. They run out of water, or coyotes get ‘em, or some gringo rancher shoots their ass, or they step on a freakin' rattlesnake or something. Hell, you may stumble over some bones out there.” He studied Mustafa. “You got a place to go to? Some homie waitin' for you on the other side?”
“Yes. I have someone waiting for me.”
“Whatever,” the guide said. “I don't want to know. You just make sure you get there, ‘cause then I get paid.” He pulled the metal wire aside. “Okay, man. There you go. Lotsa luck to you, bro.”
“Thank you,” was all that Mustafa said as he crawled through the fence, pushing his gallon plastic jug of water and his knapsack before him. Behind him, he could hear his guide hurriedly reconnect the wire mesh, then disappear into the night.
He crossed the dirt road paralleling the fence, then scurried into the bushes. As he crouched, he drank from his water jug, then checked his compass. North by north-east was his direction. Before dawn, he should be meeting his contact. There, he would get shelter, a hot shower, clean clothes, a meal, money, and a bus ticket. Twenty-four or so hours after that, he'd be at his destination.
He studied the compass, then peered into the night for a distant landmark on which to base his direction. At least here, there were more terrain features than the stark landscape where he'd so often spent nights as an ISIS fighter. This time, though, he had no weapons, no grenades, and no comrades to back him up, and he was not in his native Syria. Here, he was in the infidel's land. If they caught him, they would not be kind to him. And if they learned his true identity, he'd spend the rest of his life in prison in Guantanamo Bay. He fixed his sight upon a very distant light, then rose and began walking through the desert scrub. As he did, he avoided the tall cacti which, in his mind, resembled bizarre figurines standing motionless against the night sky, their arms raised to the heavens in silent supplication.
FBI field office, Miami, Florida, United States .
Special Agent Joseph Monsouri entered the building by an unobtrusive alley door, ascended a stairwell, and exited on the main floor of the FBI field office. He nodded in reply to a call of greeting as he knocked on his boss's office door. When he heard the familiar voice telling him to go away, he grinned, grasped the handle, and entered. “Delighted to see you, too,” he said.
His boss looked up and waved him to a chair. “Hey, Monsouri. Skull cap? Damn, you're looking more Muslim every day.”
Monsouri laughed as he shook his boss's hand. “I am Muslim, you goof.”
The senior agent watched Monsouri seat himself. “Ah,” he said. “I knew there was a logical reason. How's things with the other half?” he asked.
Monsouri scratched his short beard as he thought of a retort. Finally, he said, “All talk, no action. I'm beginning to wonder if I'm wasting our time there.”
“What?” the senior agent said. “No radicals? No recruiting for ISIS? No plots to blow something up? Man, that's the biggest mosque in Miami. Do you mean to tell me that we spent that time inserting you just to find a bunch of quiet, peaceful Muslims minding their own business?”
“Looks that way. Oh, there's a few loudmouths there, berating the Great Satan and predicting doom for Israel, but they're more hot air than anything else. Most of the people at that mosque are pretty decent folks just trying to live their lives.”
“So, who's not?”
“We've got eyes on the loudmouths. Usual gang of idiots. I review the intelligence. You know, the phone taps, the computer hacks, all that. Lots of talk, no action.” He shifted in his chair. “I think this mosque is a dead end for any credible radical activity.”
“Well,” the senior agent said, “you're the best deep cover agent we've got for this kind of work. There's plenty of places you could be better utilized.” He picked up a paper from his desk. “That's why I called you in. Pack your bags. You're off to Georgia.”
“What's up there?”
“Disturbing chatter. The NSA geeks are reporting a possible plot against the Israeli Consulate in midtown Atlanta.”
“Why there?” Monsouri scratched his beard as he thought. “There's meatier targets in this country. The New York embassy, for instance.”
“The Atlanta consulate is small. Security is less, too. Easy target.” The senior agent opened a desk drawer and extracted a folder, which he handed to Monsouri. “Here's the latest intelligence on the place. Look it over. Then, we'll get you up there where you can wiggle your way into their business and see if that's all hot air, too.”
Monsouri opened the folder and began scanning documents. “I see that the consulate is being sporadically picketed. Pro-Palestinian groups, militant Muslims, students from the local universities looking for a cause to champion...”
“Like you said, the usual gang of idiots.”
“It's being quietly orchestrated by somebody,” Monsouri guessed.
“Hell, yeah,” the senior agent said. “Somebody good. Probably Hamas or Hezbollah or some mullah somebody-or-other. See what you can find out. I have a hunch there's a radical cell operating there. Report to the senior agent in the Atlanta office.” He handed an envelope across the desk. “Here's your transfer.”
Monsouri considered the envelope and the thick folder with a look of frustration. “Well,” he finally said, “it looks like I've got some homework to do. Got a free desk and a full coffeepot?”
“Usual place.” The senior agent pointed toward a corner of the expansive office.
Monsouri stood and shook his boss's hand. “I'll get to work.”
Atlanta, Georgia, United States.
Angelique sat quietly on the balcony, a glass of wine in one hand and a cigarette in the other hand. A fitness buff, she did not normally smoke, but allowed herself this indulgence when she was deep in thought or worried. She was both of those things now.
A hand touched her shoulder, and she felt a kiss placed on the top of her head. Laurie sat next to her on the bench. “Angel, can we talk?”
Angelique crushed out the smoke. “Always,” she said. She looked at Laurie, but said nothing else. She merely awaited the flood of thought which she knew that Laurie would voice.
“There's that ‘Mona Lisa' smile of yours again,” Laurie said. “I like it.” She touched the corner of Angelique's mouth. “Why is it there?”
“I like to look at you. I find you very pretty.”
“Oh, stop. I'm trying to be serious here.”
“Forgive, please. What is in your mind?”
“On your mind, Angel.”
“Pas de problème,” Laurie answered. “Hey, that's our deal, right? You correct my French, I correct your American slang.”
Angelique sipped her wine, then regarded Laurie with a gentle look. “Your French is coming along better than my American English, it would seem.”
“Oh, horse-feathers. Your English rocks. You're better at it than half the folks who live in this town.” She placed a hand on Angelique's arm. “Answer me something honestly?”
“What is your question?”
“Are you happy here?”
Angelique sighed deeply, then looked away. “No.”
“I'm not, either.” She studied her lover's profile. “You don't hide it as well as you think.”
“You know me too well.”
“We're married. You get to know somebody pretty well when you're married to ‘em.”
“Here, we are not married.”
“Yeah. Well, we got the paper that says we are. Hey, it's in French, but we got the paper.” She scooted closer to Angelique's side. “Is it your job?”
Angelique thought about her duties as an intelligence analyst at the Israeli Consulate in midtown Atlanta. “Good people. Boring duties.”
Laurie laughed. “Yeah. I'd ask you what you do, but you're Mossad now.” She shrugged. “Again. Like you were before we met. Whatever. I know that you can't talk about it, not even to me.”
“It is good of you to understand,” Angelique offered weakly.
“Hey. I'm trying to be the dutiful spouse of an Israeli Mossad whatever-it-is-that-you-do-now person. You know, like the other diplomatic wives.” Laurie shrugged. “Except I'm not Jewish and I don't speak Hebrew. That cramps my style.” She cocked her head in question. “Am I Israeli now?”
“I think not yet,” Angelique said, “but you can become so if ever we move to Israel. I will ask how, if you wish.”
“I'd like to know. I mean, keep our options open.” She returned her attention to Angelique. “We do have options, you know.”
“It seems not, for the present time. I still do not know if I am officially dead in the eyes of Hamas. Until I am so, we must hide here.”
“Do you hear anything at all?”
“That's a good thing, right?”
Angelique laughed. “Always the optimist, yes? Things will always be better tomorrow?”
“Damn straight. We'll be living in Paris again before you know it. Back in our apartment, you playing the piano every night in your bar...” Her voice became softer, almost hesitant. “Unless, of course, you might want to live in Israel instead.”
Angelique studied Laurie's expression. “Would you wish this?”
Laurie rose from her place on the bench and settled down on Angelique's lap. “What I wish is that you're happy and that I'm with you. Wherever that takes us is fine with me.”
“But you are American, no? This is your homeland.”
Laurie looped an arm around Angelique's shoulders and leaned into her. Angelique rested her head against Laurie's chest. As Laurie spoke, she ran her fingers through the shoulder-length russet and brown of her lover's hair. “My homeland? It's hard to say anymore. Once upon a time, I was totally a Kansas farm girl. Now, I don't know. What I've seen, what I've done – I feel more European than American.” She looked down at her lover. “Does that make sense?”
“Yes. I am more Israeli than French anymore.”
“I knew you'd get it. You're there, too. A foot in each country, but not really at home in either one.” Laurie snickered. “And totally out of place here.”
“Also, for me.”
“I mean, I went to college in Denver. I've lived and worked in Washington, D.C. and in Paris. I've been to Israel with you. It was a neat country – when we weren't getting shot at.”
“I am so sorry to have brought you into that fight in Israel.”
“That was our buddy Maurie and my sister Allie in trouble. It was my fight, too.” Laurie laughed. “Besides, it was good preparation for living in this town, I guess. We've already had a car window busted out and a guy try to mug us at the ATM.” She snickered at the memory. “Man, you put a major hurt on that guy. The cops were laughing about it when they threw him into the back of their car. That mugger was all like, ‘That foreign bitch done whupped my ass. What the hell she doin' here, anyways? And she took my gun. Man, that's messed up. It ain't safe for muggers no more.”
“Yes, yes. He even wanted his illegal gun returned to him.”
Laurie laughed. “Kids today, huh?”
“Ah, America. Here, the criminals have such chutzpah .”
“And you have diplomatic immunity, a license to whip whoever's ass you want.” Laurie placed a finger beneath Angelique's chin and lifted her face up. “Speaking of that, are you bein' expected to do what you used to do for Mossad?”
“Assassination? No.” Angelique shrugged. “No one has asked that of me yet.”
“If they asked, would you do it?”
“It would depend on the circumstance, I suppose,” Angelique said.
Laurie sighed. “Fair enough, I guess.”
“You are disappointed in this answer?”
It was Laurie's turn to think. Finally, she said, “No. I mean, when I first met you? Yeah. But now, I understand. I've been with you in the eye of the storm, and I've killed people at your side. I've survived a fair amount of shit in the last few years. I'm not the Pollyanna that I used to be. I understand now how dangerous and evil the world can get. What I wonder about is you, ‘cause you used to be sickened by it all. Now, you seem to have reached a peace with killing people.”
“With killing some people, I suppose.” Angelique fell silent. After a moment, she looked at Laurie. “Perhaps it is my destiny, of a sort. To protect the innocent, one must destroy the evil.”
“If you're kind to the wolf, you're cruel to the sheep?”
Laurie fell silent. She and Angelique sat quietly, close together, and luxuriated in the silent touch of lovers. For a while, they said nothing to each other. No words were necessary. Finally, Laurie kissed Angelique's forehead and whispered, “I'm going to look for a job tomorrow.”
“Why? We can get by on my pay. This apartment and the car, they belong to the consulate. We live simply, yes?”
“We can get by, but we can't get ahead.”
“But we are here only until we can return to Paris.”
“And how long is that, Angel?”
“A month. A year. I do not know.”
“Exactly. Besides, I'm not doing anything here but keeping house in this little tiny-ass apartment and studying French.” Laurie laughed. “I guess I'm not cut out to be a kept woman, darn it.”
“Where will you find work?” Angelique asked. “What will you do?”
“Hell, I don't know. We live in fancy-ass Buckhead; there's upscale little businesses all over the place. I've got to be good for something around here.”
Angelique nodded. “If you wish, then.”
“I wish,” Laurie echoed. “And while we're at it, there's something else I wish.”
“Oh?” Angelique seemed distracted.
“Yeah. Let's go to bed.”
Angelique glanced at her wrist-watch. “It is early yet,” she said.
“Not tired yet?”
“Not so much.”
Laurie touched her forehead against Angelique's. “Come to bed with me,” she whispered, “and give me thirty minutes. I guarantee that you'll be tired.”
Angelique looked up at Laurie. Slowly, the ‘Mona Lisa' smile returned. “You are a bad girl.”
“Just the way you like ‘em.”
“We are not to bed yet?” she asked.
“Yeah,” Laurie said, as she rose and grasped Angelique's hand. “Now that's the girl I married.”
A rural highway in Texas.
Mustafa took a long drink from his water jug and mopped his brow. In the dead of the night, the heat had dissipated, but he was still sweating from the long hike. He looked at his map and determined that he was in the right spot. The road sign identified the lonely stretch of highway as the proper road, and he'd been careful with his compass headings. His wrist-watch indicated that it was about three o'clock in the morning. So where was his contact?
He heard the distant sound of an automobile approaching from the west, and he crouched low in the brush. If it were border patrol or police, they would most certainly detain him and question him for being out here at such an hour. He saw the car slow, then pull off to the side of the road. The engine died, and the headlights turned off.
Mustafa watched it for a few minutes, then decided to risk contact. He walked to the center of the asphalt, dug the flashlight from his pocket, and blinked it three times in the direction of the distant automobile. He waited for a moment, then blinked it again. This time, the headlights returned the blinks. The engine started, and the car pulled onto the road and approached him. It took some time; the car must have been almost half a kilometer or more away from him. It was a good thing, he decided, that the land was so flat here, or he might not have seen the car at all.
He walked to the side of the road and waited; when the car groaned to a halt in front of him, he turned off his flashlight, threw his pack into the back, and settled into the front passenger seat. “I am Mustafa,” he said.
“Muhammad,” the driver said, in Arabic. “I'm to take you to San Antonio. I trust you had a good journey?”
“I didn't get eaten by coyotes, if that's what you mean.”
Muhammad laughed. “Those damn things, they're out there. Can you hear them howling?”
“Yes. An evil racket.”
“I think it's a rather beautiful sound.”
Mustafa shot Muhammad a disbelieving glance. “You've been in this country too long, I think.”
Muhammad grinned. “It grows on one.” As he accelerated the car, he began singing and slapping the steering wheel in time to his words. “The stars at night are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas...”
“Muhammad, you're not right in the head.”
Laurie stepped off the MARTA city bus near the Israeli Consulate in midtown Atlanta and looked at her wrist-watch. As the bus roared away behind her, she climbed the stairs to the high-rise office building housing the consulate, a for-profit technical school, and a bistro-type restaurant, among other businesses. It was typical of midtown office buildings; a parking deck in the bottom floors, a spacious, open patio with benches and occasional trees, and a nearby interstate highway from which a continual flow of traffic echoed with the honk of horns, the roar of trucks and cars, and the stink of exhaust fumes.
Laurie paused as she reached the wide patio surrounding the building. Another protest was in motion. Twenty or more people milled about with signs protesting Israeli apartheid and the suffering of Palestinians as a person standing on a bench spoke through a bullhorn. She watched for a moment, then sat down on a bench and found her cell phone. With it, she took a couple of pictures, then sent a text to her mother in Kansas with the pictures attached. She knew that her parents would find it fascinating. Personally though, Laurie found it rather unnerving. She noted the time on her phone, then rose and headed for a side door and a lobby elevator.
A few minutes later, she entered the consulate lobby. “Hey, Bilha,” she said.
A young woman at the reception desk looked up. “Oh, Laurie. Good morning. You're looking for Angel, I take it?”
“You bet. I need to feed her, or she gets cranky.”
Bilha laughed. “It's too late. She's already that way. I'll call her. One moment.” She dialed a number, spoke into her headset in Hebrew, then looked up. “She is coming out.”
Laurie leaned against the desk. “Bilha,” she noted. “That's a really pretty name. What's it mean?”
“Oh, it's Hebrew, from ancient times. Bilha was, in the Bible, a concubine of Jacob.”
“Damn. Lucky you, huh? So, whose concubine are you?”
“No one's. That's why I work.” She laughed. “One day, God willing.”
“Hold out for a rich dude,” Laurie teased.
“Yes,” she agreed. “My boyfriend, he is nice, but poor. The nice ones, it seems, are always poor.”
Laurie laughed. “Nope. The available ones are always poor. The rich ones are always taken.”
“And you, Laurie? You are Angel's concubine?”
“Nah. By French law, we're married. She has to put up with me.”
“Well, I'm sure that's not such a hard thing to do.”
“That's not what Angel says.” They looked up when the door opened, and Angelique entered the lobby. “Hey, speak of the devil. Here's my keeper now.” Laurie slipped her arm beneath Angelique's, and they headed for the door. “Can we bring you something from the restaurant?”
“No, thank you. Enjoy!” Bilha called. In reply, Angelique said something in Hebrew as they left.
As they waited for the elevator, Laurie said, “What was that you said to Bilha?”
“Oh, only that I come back in an hour.”
“I really have to learn Hebrew if I'm gonna hang with you, Angel.”
Angelique considered the statement for a long, silent moment, then nodded. “This is a good idea. If you like, I can arrange it.”
“Yes, yes. There are classes, you know.”
“No, in synagogue. Perhaps you can go there.”
“I'm not Jewish, remember?”
“Perhaps it does not matter. I will see.” She watched Laurie's reaction. “You would be willing to do this?”
“Sure,” Laurie said. As they stepped off the elevator and entered the little restaurant, she continued, “I need to do something. I'm not having any luck finding work.”
“It is only your first day of looking.”
“There's not much out there,” Laurie said. “Even restaurant work is sketchy. One can't depend on the hours, and in this country, base wage for a server is a little over two bucks an hour.”
Angelique blinked in surprise. “That is all?”
“Yeah. Most of my earnings would be in tips, and servers get stiffed a lot.”
“What is this ‘stiffed'?”
“It means people don't leave much of a tip.”
They seated themselves, and soon had their drinks in front of them and had ordered their lunch. To Laurie, Angelique seemed distracted, elsewhere in her thoughts. Finally, Laurie said, “What's up with you?”
“Where are you today? You're not here, that's for sure.”
“I was just thinking. Laurie, I am told that one is allowed to carry a gun here. I wish for you to do that.”
“I'll need a permit.”
“It can be easily gotten. You do this?”
Laurie smiled. “You're worried for me, aren't you? That's sweet, Angel. Sure, I'll do it. And what brought this up?”
“I have information. I am seeing how-do-they-say? Chatter. Yes, chatter in the intelligence I read. We may perhaps be in danger.”
“We? As in you and me?”
“As in the consulate. I work there. You are married to me. I wish you to be protected.”
Laurie considered the implications of Angelique's remarks. Then, she looked up. “Are you officially dead yet, or is Hamas still looking for you?”
“I have heard nothing regarding The Angel of Mossad. That can be either good or bad.”
“I think it's great,” Laurie said. “No news is good news.”
Angelique laughed. “Again, the optimism. It is perhaps because you are how-do-you-say? Fille rustique? ”
“A country rube? Yeah, okay. I'm a Kansas girl, but hey! Being optimistic is what America's all about.”
The server, a college-age young woman, stopped by the table. “Are you doing okay?” she asked, as she pointed to the glasses. “Do you need some more sweet tea?”
“Oh! Do us a favor,” Laurie said. “Settle a disagreement between us.”
The server shot them a cautious glance. “I'll try, if I can,” she said, as she refilled their glasses from the tea pitcher.
“I love being an optimist. She thinks it's unrealistic. What do you think?”
“Being optimistic?” the server said. “Oh, Lordy. I can't be any other way, or I'd be sawing at my wrists after a shift here. I got to be optimistic.”
“See, Angel?” Laurie said. “Optimism is just part of being American.”
“Do not misunderstand, Laurie. I admire that quality. I do not understand, but I admire.”
“Aw, that's just ‘cause you Parisians are too jaded and pessimistic. It's chic to be that way.” She adopted a bored, cynical expression, waved an imaginary cigarette in the air between them, and said, “La vie, il est de la merde...”
Angelique bowed her head to hide a laugh. “Stop it!”
“...et nous allons tons mourir.”
Angelique burst into laughter. The server blinked at her, then looked at Laurie. “Okay, darlin'. Whatever did you say to her to get her laughin' like that?”
“I told her that life was shit and that we're all gonna die. To a Parisian, that's being optimistic.”
The server rolled her eyes. “Whoa! I'm feelin' better already. On that note, I think I'll go take me a Prozac. ‘Scuse me, y'all.”
She left the table, and Laurie watched Angelique wipe her eyes with her napkin. She said, “You haven't laughed like that since we got to this city. It's good to see.” Angelique's nod of agreement encouraged her. “I know what's bugging you. You haven't been hitting the gym, and you haven't been playing music. You need to do both of those things every day.”
“I do miss it.”
“Then do it. I'll go with you to the gym. We'll make it a daily thing, you and me, after your work. I miss it, too.”
“We have no gym.”
“I'll find a close one this afternoon. Leave it to me.”
The server placed their plates on the table in front of them. “Did y'all figure it out between you two?”
Angelique nodded. “We have how-do-you-say? Resolved the argument.”
“That's how you say it, I ‘spose.” She studied Angelique. “You two speak French and English?”
Laurie pointed at Angelique. “She speaks German, Arabic, and Hebrew, too.”
“Oh, Lordy!” the server said. “What good is all that mess? Y'all can't speak more than one language at a time, can you?”
“You got us there,” Laurie agreed.
“All those languages,” the server teased, “but I'll bet you can't speak Southern. That's okay, honey. I do. I even speak Hollywood Southern.” The server struck a melodramatic pose with the back of a hand against her forehead. ‘But Rhett, darlin', wherever shall I go? What shall I do?'”
“Oh!” Angelique said. “Wait. I know this.” She lowered her voice a notch and said, “Frankly, my dear, I do not give a damn.” She looked up. “Is this right?”
“Darn, Angel,” Laurie said. “You knew that?”
“I saw the movie in Israel,” she said.
The server rolled her eyes. “They got Gone With The Wind in Israel? I swear, this is the strangest conversation I've had today. I'll check on you two in a bit.” With that, she walked away.
Laurie considered Angelique with a humorous twinkle, to which Angelique replied, “What?”
“So,” Laurie said, “is it a deal? I get us a gym membership today and we go together, every day after work?”
“I would like that.” Angelique squinted in puzzlement. “How much does it cost?”
“Depends on the gym. I'll bet I can get us a family membership for maybe fifty bucks a month.”
“Perhaps we can afford that.”
“Yes, we can. And you need a piano, too.”
“We cannot afford such a thing right now.”
“Trust me. You need your music. I'll work on a piano.”
“We cannot take it with us when we leave. We must own little and be ready to go in a moment.”
“I know, Angel. Let me work on it. I have some ideas.”
“Hm.” Angelique considered Laurie with a skeptical, but amused, expression. “When you get ideas, I know that things will get very interesting, very soon.”
Laurie laughed as she picked up her fork. “Eat. You have to go back to work, and I have miracles to perform.”
That afternoon, Angelique was in her cramped little work area in a secured portion of the consulate, reviewing the latest intelligence summaries from Tel Aviv. Although most of it did not directly concern her, she preferred to keep current on trends around the world that affected Israel and Jews worldwide. In those reports, she hoped to see some indication that The Angel of Mossad was indeed considered dead by Hamas. That would mean that she and Laurie could quietly depart Atlanta and return to Paris and to their home in the Latin Quarter.
As usual, no such gem of information came her way that afternoon. She absent-mindedly picked up the phone when it buzzed, and Bilha's tone of voice raised a sense of caution in her. “You have a visitor,” she said. “A Mister Joseph Monsouri, from the American FBI. He wants to speak directly with our Mossad people. That's you and Avi.”
“Have you seen his credentials?” Angelique asked.
“Yes. They seem authentic.”
“We'll be right out.” With that, she hung up the telephone, rose from her chair, and opened a drawer. From it, she lifted her pistol. As she left the room, she snugged the pistol into the waistband of her jeans, at the small of her back. Down the hall, she entered the lounge. “Avi?”
A man in his thirties, clean-cut and sporting a fit look about him, glanced up from his lunch. “Yes? Oh, oh. Trouble?”
“I don't know,” Angelique said. “There's an FBI person outside wishing to see us.”
He shrugged. “No time like now,” he said, as he rose and followed Angelique.
They passed through a couple of doors, then entered the lobby. At Bilha's reception desk, Angelique approached a man of Muslim appearance who was wearing a skull cap, a short beard, and a sport coat. “Mister Monsouri?” Angelique asked. “FBI?”
“Forgive, but we must see your identification.”
“Of course.” He held out his credentials and waited patiently while she inspected them. At her nod, he pocketed them and followed them as she waved him through a door. A minute later, they were in a small conference room.
“Sit,” Angelique said. “We are secure here. You may speak freely. This is Avi. I am Angelique. We are Mossad.”
He took a moment to organize his thoughts, then leaned forward at the table. “Your superiors in Tel Aviv recommended you to me as someone who might be very useful in a mission of interest to both our countries.”
“I have heard nothing of this.”
“No. It's carefully guarded. Here's the deal: As an FBI agent, I infiltrate various Muslim communities in this country to find extremist cells and expose them. I've recently been assigned to Atlanta. The Bureau sent me here because they believe that there's a cell here planning an attack against this consulate. They're well-hidden. It's my job to smoke out these characters before they're able to carry off this attack.”
Avi said, “I have read the, ah – chatter. And when you find them?”
“We arrest them.”
“You will need proof to convict them,” he said.
“We've done it before.” He saw skeptical expressions. “Why? What would you guys do?”
Angelique was blunt. “Mossad would deal with them in a more direct manner.”
“You've, ah, done this before? I mean, you personally?”
“Yes. I was once a part of Kidon – the assassination section of Mossad.”
“Well, the FBI can't just go around killing people. We have to do this by the book.”
“Of course. So, how can we be of help to you, Mister Monsouri?”
“Call me Joe. Everybody else does. You're the Israeli intelligence analysts here in Atlanta, right? I need to know what you know. May I call upon you for updated intelligence?”
“Your FBI cannot give you this?”
“It's easier if we talk directly, you and I. The NSA doesn't talk to the FBI all the time. Homeland Security gets possessive of their own intel. CIA can be a pain in the keester to deal with. Bureaucrats, you know. Hell, you guys in Mossad are chummier with NSA than we are, it seems.”
“We will need approval from Tel Aviv.”
“Sure. Talk to a guy there who's nicknamed ‘The Old Man'. I think you two know him personally?”
“We do. I will speak with him and then to you. Telephone number?”
“Here's my card.” He lifted a business card from his shirt pocket and slid it across the table. “My cell phone number is on it. Call that, anytime.”
“Thank you, Joe. I am called Angel, by the way.” She rose, indicating that the meeting was over. Avi did, as well, and they shook hands.
“I know. ‘The Angel of Mossad', huh? I've heard about you. It's an honor to meet a legend.”
“A dead one,” Angelique corrected.
“An even bigger honor,” Monsouri said, as he followed the two Mossad analysts from the room.
San Antonio, Texas.
Mustafa sat cross-legged on a rug, sipping hot tea. He studied the scene outside the sliding glass door of the apartment; the southwestern architecture of the buildings, the sandy, rocky soil, the cars occasionally passing by the apartment. America, he thought. It's a bewildering country. If he lived here a thousand years, he'd never understand it. Mexicans, American Indians, Africans, Asians, white people; and they all seem to co-exist without more than occasional violence between them. If it were his native Middle East, inbred with centuries of intertribal animosity and hatred, these people would be slaughtering each other with wild abandon. Here, human life seems, among many, to be elevated to an almost holy status. What's even stranger is that American women are treated with great deference and courtesy, and there is nothing that they are not allowed to do. Most strange, he decided. Infidels are crazy.
He looked up when Muhammad, the apartment's tenant and a member of the San Antonio mosque, sat down on the rug next to him and began speaking in Arabic. “I've spoken with your contact where you're going,” he said. “They'll meet you at the bus station when you arrive. Here's money for you, a driver's license, a Social Security card, and your bus ticket.” He refilled their tea glasses as Mustafa considered the gifts.
“This doesn't look too much like me,” he noted, as he perused the driver's license. “Is it good for driving outside of Texas? And where did you get this Social Security number? Is this real?”
“Of course not. We stole the number from a dead person. And we have a great forger at the mosque. He has done many licenses. Besides, it's just for identification, in case you get stopped by the police.” Muhammad offered Mustafa a sugar cube for his tea, then took one himself. “Outside of Texas, it should fool them.”
“Hm.” He flipped through the stack of currency notes. “Is this a lot of money?”
“It's a few hundred dollars, just enough to get you there and settled. A word of caution: Don't show the whole stack of currency. Just keep twenty dollars in your pocket. Hide the rest in your boot or something. You'll be traveling with a lot of people, and some of them aren't nice.”
“Can you give me a gun?”
“I'll give you a folding knife. If you shoot somebody, the police will get you. Just keep quiet.” Muhammad laughed. “Most of the people traveling by bus around here don't speak much English, anyway.”
“And I don't speak Spanish.”
“Then you don't have a problem. And if the police talk to you, be courteous and polite. Right?” At Mustafa's nod of consent, Muhammad rose. “You must be tired. Get some sleep, and we'll get you on the bus tonight.”
“How long will it take to get there?” Mustafa asked, as he studied his ticket.
“About twenty-four hours. It's an express.” Muhammad smiled. “Direct to Atlanta, with only two stops between here and there.” He rose from the carpet. “If you get a chance, eat some Mexican food. It's pretty good.”
“What I really want,” Mustafa said, “is a cheeseburger.” He held up a finger. “But no bacon. I'm an observant Muslim.”
“Go for the bacon,” Muhammad said. “I won't tell God.”
“Bacon,” Mustafa mused. “Is it good?”
“It's fantastic,” Muhammad laughed. “It's God's gift to the infidel.”
“Hm.” Mustafa thought about that. He said, “I think that I'm beginning to like this country.”
Muhammad found that hilarious. He pounded Mustafa on the back and said, “As they say in Texas, ‘You ain't seen nothin' yet!'”
Two weeks later.
Laurie flopped down on the bench next to Angelique, picked up her towel, and mopped the perspiration from her face. “Man, I'm so out of shape,” she said. In reply, Angelique merely nodded as she gazed at the expansive gym windows. “Hey, Angel. Are you off in La-La land again?”
“You're off somewhere.”
“Oh. I forget to tell you. I received a letter from Esther.”
“Esther?” Laurie let her towel fall, and blinked at Angelique. “Our Esther, in Paris?”
“Yes, yes. She is well.”
“Who writes letters anymore? Why didn't she just e-mail us or call us?”
“E-mails, the NSA reads. Telephone calls, they record. She is protecting me.”
“Oh.” Laurie snickered. “That actually makes sense. So, what's up with her? Is she still shacking up with that sweetie of hers? Claire?”
“Yes, they are fine. She tells me that the repairs on Café Angel are almost done. Maurice, he has made an excellent job of it.”
“Great. Now, all we need to do is get back there and get to work.”
Angelique patted Laurie's arm. “Patience.”
“Hey, this is Laurie you're talkin' to. I don't do patience, remember?”
“We will be in Paris again soon, I think. Are you ready to go home?”
Laurie glanced up at the clock on the wall and nodded. A few moments later, they'd left the gym and stopped by their car, a little Chevrolet that had obviously seen better days. At the sight, Laurie laughed. “Man, Angel. Is this the best you could get from the consulate?”
“It is free. I do not question free.”
“Good thing, huh? The way people drive in this town, I'm surprised somebody hasn't hit us yet.”
Angelique smiled at that. “If they do, perhaps the consulate will not notice.”
“Yeah, this thing couldn't look much worse than it does. Another dent won't matter.”
“That prevents theft. Who will steal a crappy car?” Angelique handed the keys to Laurie. “You drive, please?”
“Yeah. Sure.” In a moment, Laurie had started the car and pulled from her parking space. As she paused before entering the street, Angelique automatically began noting the faces and stances of anyone standing nearby. Her eyes fell upon a bearded face in a waiting car, and her blood froze. She'd made eye contact with him, and the eyes were cold and deliberate. They did not look away or blink. Her hand unzipped her gym bag and found the handle of her pistol as she said, “Turn right here.”
“But we live in the other direction,” Laurie said.
“Please. Right here.”
“Yeah, sure. Okay.” She whipped the little car onto the street, and Angelique tapped her arm.
“Back into the gym parking. Next entrance. Turn here.”
Laurie slowed and spun the wheel. The car re-entered the parking lot in front of the gym. “There,” Angelique said. “Slow. Now, stop.” As Laurie braked the car, Angelique opened the glove compartment in front of her knees and extracted a monocular. She gazed through it, adjusting the vision until it suited her. “Write this down,” she said. “Georgia auto license P-M-C 4-7-3-2. Gray Volkswagen sedan.”
Laurie dug an ink pen from the center console and scribbled the information on the back of a loose debit card receipt. “Okay. Now what?”
“Now, I give that to the FBI contact and see who is following us.”
“He's following us?”
“It is not the first time I have seen that car and that man. He is following us, I believe.”
“Shit, Angel. What do we do?”
“Nothing. Live our lives. But you watch, see if he is around you during your day, yes?”
“I really didn't get a good look at him.”
“We will go by him again. Look carefully this time. Remember his face. I will drive.”
They got out and switched seats. As Laurie buckled her seat belt, Angelique drove slowly past the gray sedan. She kept a look out of the corner of her eye, but did not stare at him. Laurie cast a glance his way, then back at Angelique.
“Jeez. He was looking right at me. That was creepy as hell.”
“Do you doubt what I say now?”
“No. I totally believe you.” She sat in silence as Angelique pulled out onto the city street and headed in the direction of their apartment. “Are we going home?”
“Yes. Is he following?”
Laurie glanced in the side view mirror. “Yeah. He just pulled out. He's coming this way.” She watched a little more, then added, “He's not keeping up with us.”
“He already knows where we live, I am sure. Much of the consulate staff lives there.”
“Who is he, Angel?”
“Who did he look like to you?”
“He looked Middle Eastern to me.”
“Yes. Also, to me.” She halted the car at a stop light. As they waited, she asked, “Is he behind us?”
“Yeah. Way back there, though.”
“He is only studying us. We have time yet.”
Laurie swallowed hard. “I'm not sure I want to hear this, but time for what?”
“Until they attack. I have seen this pattern before, in Israel. They watch. They learn. Then, they attack.” Angelique accelerated the car as traffic began to move. “Did you get your permit to have a gun?”
“Not yet. It's still in the works.”
“You need a weapon.”
“I can use a shotgun with no permit. Can't carry it around, though.”
“I get you one from the consulate tomorrow. You keep it loaded, yes?”
“And I will advise the consul general to give guns to the other consulate wives. We have several M-16 rifles at the consulate.”
“Do they know how to shoot?”
“Yes. They are Israeli women. They have all been in the army.” She smiled at a distant memory. “In Israel, soldiers have their weapons everywhere with them. Shopping, beach, cinema. Everywhere.”
“Always, they have a thirty-round magazine with them.” She shrugged. “It is Israel. We live surrounded by our enemies.”
“Teach me to use one of those things, Angel. I want to learn.”
At that, Angelique considered Laurie with a surprised expression. For a moment, she said nothing. Then, she nodded. “A good idea.”
“Oh, yeah. Now you're talkin'.” Laurie glanced behind them. “He's still back there.”
“I will check the street outside our apartment, after dark. If he is still there, I will deal with him. Until then, think no more of him.”
The next day, Joe Monsouri called Angelique. When she answered her telephone, he said, “Hey, Angel. I got a hit on that license plate you gave me. He's a local, a regular at the Islamic center and at the same mosque I attend. No police record, but he hangs around some of the young, more militant-talking types.”
“Young man? Thin face? Beard?”
“Yeah. That's him.”
“What can be done about him?”
“Nothing yet. It's not against the law for him to be on the same street you're on. If he tries anything, though, we can pick him up and interrogate him. Meanwhile, I'll make a point to get friendly with this guy. He may lead me into their jihadist cell, and we can nail them all.”
“Thank you, Joe.”
“Thank you. That was the tip I was looking for. Later.”
After Joe Monsouri hung up, Angelique contemplated the situation. Her stalker won't do anything until it's too late; then, he'll do it as part of a group. She picked up the telephone, punched a button, and spoke in Hebrew. “This is Angelique. Is the consul general in office today? I wish to speak with him. Yes, I will be there directly.” She hung up the phone, rose, and left the office.
A minute later, she was sitting in the consul general's office. He was an amiable man, a career diplomat who had been posted in a number of countries and who was familiar with America. He listened carefully to Angelique's concerns about the consul staff's safety, then spoke.
“How imminent is an attack on our people, in your opinion?” he asked.
“Not imminent,” she said. “They study us first; then, they attack. When I see them, I know we are all right. It is when I stop seeing them that I worry.”
“Is the FBI co-operating with you?”
“Yes. They have an agent in a large local mosque. He is in touch with me. So far, he has uncovered no plan. I read their websites, though, and I see in them much hatred for us.”
“What else is new? They have hated us for a hundred years. It doesn't mean that they'll do anything.”
Angelique smiled, a hard smile. “As the Americans say, ‘Where there is smoke, there is fire.' Attacks on Jews in Europe have increased much in the last year. Schools, synagogues, consulates, shops. It will happen here, also.”
“That's what keeps me awake at night.” He thought for a moment, then looked up at Angelique. “How many of our consulate staff live in your building?”
“There are eight apartments. All are occupied by our people. Families with children in five, Laurie and I in one, and single people occupying the other two.”
“Women and children, mostly,” he mused. “And alone during the day. I don't like it. ”
“The children attend the Jewish school connected to the synagogue. They are exposed there, I believe.”
At that, he paled. “Do you think the children are targets?”
“Why not? They are targets in Israel and in Europe.”
“Recommendation?” he asked.
“I believe that we are being scouted for an attack. Here or at the apartments, I do not know. Some consul staff here are armed; I wish to arm their spouses, in case they attack the apartments during the day. We have some weapons in our armory. They are older weapons, but in good order.”
“Isn't that against the law here?”
“No, only to carry a concealed pistol without a permit. They can keep guns in their homes.”
“What is your experience with such things?”
“I was a sergeant in the Paratrooper Brigade. Sniper. Also, in Mossad, I was in the Kidon – the assassination section. I am quite familiar with weapons. And all the consulate wives have been in the army.”
“We need to let them practice. A shooting range, perhaps?”
“I will arrange it, this weekend.”
“Good. Take charge of it. Tell Avi what money you need, and he will make it available.”
“A few hundred dollars, for range time and ammunition.”
“And I will request of the Atlanta police a presence at the Jewish school.”
“Will you get it?”
He shrugged. “Who knows? Thank you, Angelique. I hope that your fears are unfounded.”
She managed a weak smile. “I have been an Israeli citizen since I was eighteen. To me, the question is not ‘if', but ‘when'.” They stood and shook hands. “I will see to the weapons.”
That evening, Laurie labored over the parts of an M-16 rifle spread out on the living room floor as Angelique coached her. Apart, then back together; apart again, then back together. Finally, a cleaning and light oiling, and Angelique inspected Laurie's work. For a long, silent moment, Laurie watched as Angelique scrutinized the rifle. Then, she relaxed and smiled as Angelique nodded in satisfaction. “You have done well,” she said, as she handed the empty rifle back to Laurie.
“Damn, Angel. My dad carried one of these things in Vietnam. They still use ‘em in Israel?”
“Oh, yes. I had one as a young soldier.” She eyed Laurie, then said, “Did you find work?”
“What? No. No job prospects.”
“You have a job now. I wish to hire you to clean and oil all our weapons.”
“We have perhaps ten M-16s and the same number of nine millimeter pistols.”
“I get paid for this?”
“Yes, yes. Contract labor. I will arrange it with Avi.”
Laurie placed the rifle aside and straddled Angelique's lap. “It's gonna cost you. I drive a hard bargain,” she said, as she lifted Angelique's T-shirt and ran her hands across smooth, warm skin.
“What,” Angelique whispered, “is your price?”
“I'll think of something.”
“Do you demand payment in advance?”
“Damn straight.” Laurie buried her face in Angelique's neck. “Darn, Angel. You smell like gun oil.”
“Don't be. The smell of gun oil makes me hot.”
That got a snicker from Angelique. “Everything makes you hot.”
“Yeah. A perpetual teen-ager, that's me. So shut up and start kissin', already.”
The apartment descended into a thick silence, a silence broken only by the sound of ever-heavier breathing and the rustle of clothing being tugged from bodies. Laurie's jeans had just descended to her knees when the doorbell rang once, then twice more. “Aw, shit,” Laurie whispered. “Get it, Angel. You're more dressed than I am.”
“Go to the bedroom,” Angelique said, as she slipped her T-shirt over her head and combed her fingers through her hair. She rose and looked through the front door's peephole, then glanced back to watch Laurie disappear around the corner holding her top and bra in one hand and hopping as she attempted to pull her jeans up with the other hand. The sight was, to Angelique, screamingly funny. After Laurie's bare butt disappeared around the corner, Angelique donned a sedate expression, indulged herself in a deep sigh, and opened the door. “Bilha?” she said. “Come in.”
“I'm sorry it's so late,” Bilha said. “But I wanted to speak with you.” At Angelique's wave, she entered the apartment and sat on the couch. “It won't take long.”
“Ah, I was also wanting to speak with Laurie, since she's American.”
Angelique's eyebrow rose in surprise. “Of course. Laurie?”
“Yeah?” came the call from the bedroom.
“Can you join us?”
A second later, Laurie walked into the living room. Bilha took one look at her and burst into peals of delighted laughter. “Oh, I'm so sorry,” she said. “I've interrupted something, haven't I?”
Angelique turned a pale shade of red. Laurie cracked a grin. “Jeez,” she said. “Does it show that much?”
“Yes, on you,” Bilha said. “On Angelique, not so much.”
“Okay, we're busted. Yeah, we were gettin' frisky.” Laurie waved a hand in dismissal as she plopped down on a chair. “So, what's up, Bilha?”
“Well, yes. I wanted to ask you something about... that . You know...”
Laurie said, “You wanted to ask about what?”
Bilha blushed. “Well, something about – ” She turned to Angelique and whispered a thought in Hebrew. She looked at Laurie apologetically. “I'm not sure of the word in English.”
“You've lost me,” Laurie said. “What are we talkin' about, here?”
Angelique looked at Laurie. “In French, it's called ‘orgasme' .”
“Oh! That!” Laurie said.
Bilha blushed. “No! Well, yes. It is that, I suppose. I have this problem – ”
Bilha shrugged shyly. “Well, yes.”
“You can't – ?”
“No! I mean, yes, I can! I mean, I don't know what to do – ”
Laurie shrugged. “Golly, Bilha. It's like fallin' off a log. Just go for it. Make sure you're alone first.” She rolled her eyes as she said, “My sister caught me once. Now that was embarrassing.”
Bilha blushed scarlet. “No! Not that! My question is about afterward.”
Laurie shrugged. “Girls snuggle. Guys snore.”
“No!” Bilha huffed in exasperation. “No, it's my boyfriend. It's, well... what to do if he accidentally, ah...”
“Just spit it out.” At Angelique's amused snicker, Laurie slapped a hand over her mouth. “Okay, poor choice of words. Just tell us what's on your mind, Bilha.”
Bilha blurted out, “I must know, what are the laws in this country about abortion?”
Dead silence reigned for a moment. Then, Laurie said, “Oh. Pregnant, huh?”
“I think, yes. Maybe. I don't know. I'm very worried.”
Laurie leaned forward. “So, how long has it been since you and he – ?”
Bilha shrugged. “This evening.”
Laurie asked, “You didn't use – ?”
“It broke,” Bilha confessed.
“And did he – ?”
“Bummer,” Laurie said.
Angelique said, “I will make us all hot tea. Excuse me.” She rose, and in a moment, was busying herself with making hot tea in the little kitchen.
Bilha watched her go. “Does this embarrass her?”
“No. It's something she learned from her mother,” Laurie said. “That a serious discussion requires hot tea. Hey, it works.”
“I wish I'd learned more from my mother,” Bilha said. “About this, I mean. They were rather orthodox. We didn't talk about such matters. Oh, on the day before I marry, she would have told me things. Not until then.” Bilha's voice cracked. “God, if I am pregnant, they'll be so angry. They might even shun me.” She sniffed and wiped a cheek with her hand.
Laurie rose and sat on the couch next to Bilha. “I'm sure they wouldn't do that.”
“You don't know orthodox Jewish parents.”
“Most of the parents I know just love their kids.” She hugged Bilha, then snatched the tissue box from the coffee table and held it to her. As Bilha took one and wiped her eyes, Laurie said, “We can fix this. Now, tell me all about it, and we'll figure out what to do.”
Rural Georgia, that weekend.
Mustafa Al-Hakeem strolled down the firing line, hands on hips, and occasionally bent over a prone shooter to offer correction or encouragement. Often, he spoke in English, because some of his aspiring soldiers were American converts. They'd taken to radicalization rather quickly, he noted, and he saw that as a pleasant omen for the coming war the Islamic Caliphate would wage on American soil. He hoped to live to see it, and even participate. That, however, would depend on how well he trained his people and how well they accomplished their task.
For the moment, he was consumed with his present mission. He had a schedule to maintain; ISIS leadership expected his attacks on Jewish landmarks in Atlanta to happen on the same day as attacks in other major North American cities and similar attacks planned in Europe. It didn't give him much time, and time was what he needed to produce competent soldiers for jihad. Of course, time worked against him, too; the longer they hesitated, the more likely it was that the Americans would find him out. Their intelligence machinery was vast, and they had eyes everywhere. But his burden eased when he realized that he did not need to train his people to survive the mission; he only had to train them to inflict as much death and destruction as they could before they were martyred by the police. And many of them, he knew, would die.
He halted the shooting, had his men clear their weapons, and then busied them in staking life-sized cardboard cutouts of people in their lanes at various distances from the firing line. When they were done, he began the next phase of their training; they had ten seconds to advance from the firing line to the distant berm, meanwhile putting holes in every target they met while shooting from the hip. After all, that was the way that they would attack, when the time came. He lifted the bullhorn to his mouth, uttered the command, and heard the clatter of twenty weapons being loaded and locked. At the next command, the range erupted in gunfire and the exuberant shouts of his budding jihadists. When they finished the exercise, he approached them to inspect the targets personally, then called them together.
They squatted in the shade and listened as he spoke. He proclaimed them beloved in The Prophet's eyes, the tip of the sword in the next stage of jihad against the enemies of the new Islamic Caliphate, of their assured place in the eyes of their Islamic family and, if they achieved martyrdom, of their assured place in paradise. Then, he released them to a subordinate to sweat out some calisthenics before afternoon prayer. All except one, that is. He pulled that one aside and spoke to him.
“Askari, I wish you to learn bomb-making.” At Askari's shocked expression, he continued, “It is an important duty.”
“Where would these bombs be used?”
“Small pipe bombs, for use during our attack.” Mustafa smiled. “To open locked doors.”
“At the consulate?”
“Yes. We must gain entrance to their building, so that we can kill as many as we can.”
“Where would I learn such a thing? The internet?”
“No,” Mustafa said. “The NSA, they watch all that. If you, with a Muslim name, google bomb-making, there will be agents kicking down your door in the night.” He tapped his chest. “I will teach you.” He eyed Mustafa's expression, then asked, “Is there a problem with this?”
“It's my parents,” Mustafa said. “They don't like my association with you, and they live with me. If they find me making bombs in the basement, they will make trouble for us.”
“Then we won't make them in your basement. We'll make them in the Islamic center's basement.” He thought for a second, then exclaimed, “No! We'll make them in the mosque. The Americans are loath to disturb a house of worship with a search warrant and armed police. They'll never search there.”
“But what about the mullah's displeasure? He preaches co-existence with the western infidels.”
“Just a ruse,” Mustafa said, “Our mullah is the one who brought me here.”
Askari's eyes widened at the news. “Then he knows about our plans?”
“He is in complete agreement. We must wage jihad on American soil, as we do in Europe.”
“And we do it with American converts?”
“Who better?” Mustafa thought for a moment. “We need to make this group larger. More recruits. Do you know of anyone?”
“Most of the Muslims here just want to live quietly.” Askari scratched his beard. “Wait! There is one who has confided some things to me. He might be recruited.” He looked up at Mustafa. “That Monsouri fellow. You know, the one who recently moved to Atlanta?”
“I'll have a chat with him.”
The following Monday, Angelique sat with the consul general in his office. Over coffee, he enquired after her preparations for a possible attack. Angelique was blunt.
“We have spent Sunday at the range. All weapons have been assigned out to consulate families, and Avi has programmed his computer to automatically call all cell phones with an alert in case anything happens. Everyone has their station, both here and at the apartments.”
“And the school?”
“We must rely upon the city police for that. I have checked; the synagogue and school report an increased police presence outside their property.” She smiled wanly. “Two officers instead of none. We'll see how long that lasts.”
“Well, it's something, anyway. I'll call the chief of police and thank him.” He studied Angelique's flat expression. “And here?”
“Avi and I are well-armed. We can respond in a moment. Most of the other consulate staff are armed, at least with a pistol. Their combat station is their work place; for Avi and me, we will place ourselves where we can do the most good. What I worry over is Bilha.”
“Bilha is exposed at the reception desk. We have to do something for her.”
“What do you suggest?”
“Let me study it some more.”
At home, Laurie paused in cleaning the little kitchen area and stared at her shotgun. Loaded, it rested just behind the front door. She sighed; she hoped Angelique was wrong and that the chatter was just chatter, but she heard within her that nagging voice which reminded her that, so far, Angelique had almost never been wrong. Once again, they were targets. Would it never stop?
As she contemplated the shotgun, the scene played out again in her mind's eye of the gun battle in Israel. It seemed surreal now, slow-motion, but as it formed in her mind, she felt her gut hurt and her chest tighten in fear and her heart pound. She could see clearly the muzzle flash of the AK-47 as the member of the Eternal Martyr's Brigade appeared around the corner; she could see the dark eyes peering from the keffiyeh covering his face; she could see him collapse as she swung her shotgun toward him and pulled the trigger. She could remember that she had the sudden, macabre urge to crawl to the bleeding, lifeless body and pull the cloth from his head. She guessed that he probably wasn't any older than she had been. She wanted to see the face of the nameless young man that she had just killed. She was glad now that she hadn't seen that face. What she hadn't seen, can't haunt her for years to come.
What was her personal body count? Two kills in Israel and one in Paris, one kill – and one smashed-in face with a blow from her shotgun stock – in Germany, and thanks to Esther's tutoring in Krav Maga , one personal combat, an angry fist-and-kickboxing victory over a CIA agent sent to kidnap her in Paris.
Laurie saw the postal worker's jeep leave their front stoop, and she descended the stairs to the apartment building's little lobby. The mailboxes were there, names neatly written on their labels, and she opened the box marked ‘Halevy-Caldwell'. Besides the usual junk, there was an official-looking letter from the Fulton County Probate Court. She ripped it open, examined its contents, and did a little dance in the lobby. An Israeli-accented voice teased her from the stairwell.
“Did you win the lottery, Laurie?”
Laurie flashed a little plastic-covered card. “Oh. Hey, Ruth. No, it's my permit to carry a gun.”
Ruth, followed by her four-year-old son, descended the stairs and twisted her key in a mailbox. “Oh,” she said. “That's a good thing? I would think there's enough people with guns around here. We've got one in the kitchen now, thanks to Angelique and Avi. I'm almost thinking that I'm living in the West Bank again. Every night, on the news, it's the same thing. The criminals, they're mesugah in this town. Shooting, robbing, killing all the time...”
“Tell me about it. We already got mugged once.”
Her look changed to one of concern. “What happened. Were you hurt?”
“Naw. The mugger was. Angelique totally kicked his ass.”
“Ah. Enough said. My Avi, I saw him beat a man senseless one time in Jerusalem. A pickpocket.” She shrugged in a good-natured manner. “Well, that's what you get when you marry someone in Mossad, right?” She pointed at Laurie. “I should tell you? You know too, don't you?” She headed toward the stairs. “You come for tea later? We can visit.”
“Yeah, sure. Thanks. Right now, I've got some errands to run, though. This afternoon?”
“Come anytime. You don't need an invitation.” She smiled a farewell, then began climbing the stairs. Her son clambered up the steps ahead of her, laughing.
Laurie pulled her cell phone from her pocket, then dialed a number. A moment after the ring, that familiar voice answered.
“Hey, Angel. My permit came.”
“Good. Make sure you carry that gun.”
“Got you covered. I'm going shopping. Can we meet for lunch?”
“Of course. Always.”
“See you soon, hot stuff.”
Angelique chuckled at that. “As you say. Au revoir. ”
“Yeah. Garder chaud pour moi . ”
“You are a bad girl.” Just before she hung up, she could hear Angelique's chuckle. Laurie bounded up the stairs and passed Ruth in the landing. Ruth cast her a twinkling grin.
“So,” she asked, “Is she going to keep it hot for you, like you asked?”
Laurie screeched to a halt. “Oh,” she said. “You speak French, huh?”
Ruth laughed. “ Oui. ”
“Lunch,” Laurie weakly offered. “I was talkin' about lunch.”
“Of course you were,” she said, laughing.
Laurie bounded up the next flight of stairs, entered their apartment, and went to the closet. From it, she withdrew a box and opened it. Inside was the compact Beretta that Angelique had provided her. She thrust a loaded magazine into the handle, holstered it, and wormed it into the waistband of her jeans, at the small of her back. Then, she pulled the hem of her tank top down to conceal it, picked up her purse, and prepared to leave for a few hours. She felt a little safer already.
Islamic Center, Atlanta.
Askari Moghadam rose from a table and greeted Joe Monsouri warmly. “Joe, this is the fellow I've been telling you about. Mustafa Al-Hakeem.” As they sat, he added, “He's recently come from Syria.”
Joe reached across the table and shook Mustafa's hand. “It's an honor. I understand that you've seen it all.”
“It's been my destiny, so far,” Mustafa said.
“And it will be so in the future?”
Mustafa smiled at that. “ Insha'Allah. God willing.”
“How can I be of help to you in your noble endeavor?” Joe asked.
Askari and Mustafa traded glances, then focused on Joe. “You were raised in a Muslim family?”
“Here, in America.”
“And what do you do for a living?”
“I'm a business consultant.” He shrugged. “I move a lot. Currently, I'm here in Atlanta.” Joe smiled. “And you, Mustafa?”
“I've just arrived. I assist the mullah in the running of his mosque, and in this center.”
“That includes firearms training, if I understand Askari correctly.” Joe leaned across the table. “I'm fascinated. Tell me more. Do you expect attacks on mosques in the near future, that you teach our young men to use weapons?”
“One can never tell. It's always a handy skill, especially if we fulfill our desire to carry jihad to our enemies.” He became animated. “Where better than here, in their own country?” He lowered his voice. “Coordinated attacks, all over the country, by trained fighters for jihad. It will happen soon. We will paralyze them, render them frightened and impotent as their cities burn. They will learn to respect us.”
Joe fought down a rising tide of emotion. He'd just struck gold. “This is fascinating,” he said. “I'd love to hear more.”
“Then I take it that your sympathies are in line with ours?”
Joe's eyes sparkled. “You take it right. I've long felt that Islam will rule the world, and the way to establish a world caliphate is by the sword.” He shrugged, as if making a joke. “Or guns and bombs, if you wish.”
“We must be cautious. Most of the Muslims here just want to live quietly. If they learn of us, they may betray us to the authorities.”
“Yes.” Joe looked around. “They are too accustomed to the comfort that life here affords. They only want quiet, but a true Muslim is about revolution.” He extended his hand across the table. “Include me in your plans. You can have faith in me. I can make things happen.”
“I welcome you to those of us who are prepared to wage jihad,” Mustafa said. As they shook hands, he added, “Come to the meeting tonight. Askari will show you when and where.”
Israeli Consulate, Atlanta.
Laurie walked into the consulate's lobby and halted. Bags of sand from a local home improvement store were neatly stacked waist-high in front of Bilha's receptionist desk. “Whoa,” she noted. “Getting some interior decoration done?”
Bilha laughed. “Yes. Sandbags are very chic now. It's the latest thing.”
Laurie leaned over the desk. “So whose idea was this?”
“Angelique's. She's afraid for my safety.”
“Then I would take her seriously. She doesn't spook easily. If she does this, it's for a reason.” Laurie pulled her little canvas purse around to her hip and extracted a hand-sized box. She handed it across the desk. “This is for you, Bilha. It's a ‘Plan B' kind of thing.”
Her eyes widened. “You got this from a doctor?”
“You can buy it across the counter in most drugstores.”
“Oh.” Bilha accepted the box and studied it. “Will this, ah – ?”
“Yup. Take it today. Right now. The sooner the better. It hasn't been seventy-two hours yet since the, ah – ‘oops' happened, right?”
“Right.” She looked up. “Thank you, Laurie. I will pay you.”
Bilha reached across the desk and grasped Laurie's hand. “Thank you,” she whispered. “I did not know what to do.”
“Yes, you did. You came to me and Angel.” She smiled. “Speaking of which...”
“Oh! Yes.” Bilha rose from her desk. “Come.” She swiped her badge through the lock and opened the door. A minute later, she swiped open another locked door. “This is the intelligence room. Avi and Angelique are usually found in here.”
“I can go in?”
“Yes, yes. You do contract work for the consulate now, so you can go in.”
“Thanks. Who'd have guessed that cleaning a bunch of guns would get me VIP status, huh?” She entered and looked around. Avi nodded a greeting, and Angelique looked up from a computer and waved her to an empty chair.
“I'm glad to see you,” Angelique said. “Was your morning successful?”
“Yeah. I'm done shopping. Can you go to lunch? I'm so hungry, I could eat the ass end out of a Raggedy Ann doll.”
Avi, across the room, cackled in laughter. Angelique smiled a smile of resignation. “Ah, another Kansas expression. You will explain it to me later, yes?”
“Sure, but I would think that the visual would be enough.” Laurie peered over the computer monitors on the low counter. “And Avi? I'm having tea with your wife later today, so behave yourself.”
“With her, you can do no wrong. She thinks that you are a delight.”
Angelique nodded. “Yes, yes. Never a dull moment with Laurie.”
Laurie rolled her eyes. “You guys didn't grow up with me. I've had plenty of dull moments in Kansas.”
Avi said, “Laurie, I'm surprised. You didn't have the farm boys chasing you in Kansas?” He waved a hand. “Excuse me. The farm girls?”
“Neither one. I was such a goober in high school. I got zero action. Heck, I was jealous of my goats.” At the puzzled expressions, she explained, “They were mating a lot more than I was.”
“I'm sure that's not the case now,” Avi reassured her.
“Oh?” Laurie shot him a teasing glance. “And how would you know?”
He waved a dismissive hand. “Trust me, I know. Ruth and I live below you two. The walls are thin.”
Angelique folded her arms on the counter and buried her face from view. Laurie felt a surge of heat on her face. “Well, then.” She managed a weak grin. “We'll try to tone it down some. Right, Angel?” Angelique did not respond, but kept her face buried in her arms.
“Don't,” Avi said. “Since you two moved in, my love life has improved.” He shrugged. “Ruth is a very competitive person.”
“Well. On that note...” She tapped Angelique on the head. “What's the latest? Are we still in danger?”
Angelique sat up and wiped her eyes. She took a deep breath to calm herself, then said, “Yes. The chatter is more intense. Something is about to happen, and the NSA also says this.” She looked at Laurie. “Do you have your gun?”
“Yeah.” Laurie wheeled her chair around and lifted the back of her tank top. “See?”
“Good, good.” Angelique stood, lifted a shoulder holster from a hook on the wall and pulled it on. Over it, she slipped an oversized shirt to hide the weapon. As she did, Laurie looked at the corner by the desk. There, loaded with a thirty-round magazine, was a short M-4 rifle with a noise suppressor on the barrel. Next to it sat a protective vest with extra magazines in pouches along the waist.
“Damn, Angel. You're loaded for bear, huh?”
“Avi, also,” she said. “Embassies have guards. We are a small consulate; we merely have Mossad.” She looked across the room. “Avi, do you wish to eat with us?”
“No, but thank you. I'll watch the store.”
A few minutes later, they were in the basement parking garage. As Laurie unlocked the car, Angelique was scanning the garage. “Angel?” Laurie said.
“Start the car. I will return in a moment,” she said, as she crouched between cars. In a second, she'd disappeared around the front of the neighboring car.
Laurie raised an eyebrow. “Okay, then,” she said. “I know enough not to argue.” She seated herself, started the car, and let it idle as she cranked down the windows and turned up the air conditioner. She also kept watching the mirrors, and occasionally, looking about her. There was no sign of Angelique. Do I stay, Laurie wondered, or do I go looking for her?
Askari Moghadam sat in his car, tapping at the steering wheel in time to some softly-playing music on his radio. Since living in Atlanta, he'd come to appreciate salsa music. He had his windows down, as his car's engine was off and the shade in the parking deck made the mid-day heat bearable. He abruptly stopped tapping when cold metal pressed against his neck and a female voice spoke to him in accented Arabic. “Keep your hands on the wheel,” the voice said. “Don't move. Keep looking ahead, or I'll kill you.” Askari froze. He heard the back door open and felt the car bounce a little when the back seat was occupied. “Who are you?” the voice asked. “What do you want with me?”
“I don't know who you are.”
“You know. You've been following me for two weeks. Don't lie, or I'll kill you here and now.”
“I'm just waiting for a friend. I don't know what you're talking about.”
He felt his seat's headrest snatched from its place and saw it thrown onto the front floorboard, then felt a deceptively strong arm snake around his neck. It tightened and yanked him half over the back seat. He gasped and attempted to speak, but he could not. In the rear view mirror, he saw himself, the arm about his neck, a silenced pistol pressed against his temple, and a pair of light eyes that he would not soon forget. The voice said, “Take out your driving license and put it on the seat. Slowly.”
He fumbled in his pants pocket, pulled out his wallet, and extracted the license. As he placed it on the seat, his hand shook. He saw the light eyes deflect to the license, study it, and look back at him. The voice said, “Good. Now listen to me, Mister Askari Moghadam. Are you listening?” He wheezed and attempted to nod his head. “Good. This is a warning. If I ever see you again, I will kill you.” The silenced barrel left the side of his head and pointed at the driver's license resting on the seat. The pistol discharged with a muffled crack, and the license jumped. A hole appeared in the seat near his leg. He squeaked in fear at the sudden action.
“Who – who – ?”
Angelique answered, “Mossad. Good night.” The tension on his neck increased, and Askari soon felt himself dizzy. Spots and red designs flashed in front of his eyes, and he remembered nothing else until he awoke a few minutes later, slumped over in his car. For a while, he rested there, attempting to remember what had just happened. Then, the memory came back to him, and he wished that it hadn't.
Laurie saw Angelique materialize in her side view mirror, and watched as she opened the car door and seated herself. “Is everything okay?” she asked.
“Yes, yes,” Angelique answered. “We can go now.”
“Okey-dokey,” Laurie said, as she put the car in gear and backed up. As they left the building, she noted Angelique's silence and said, “Do you feel like sharing?”
“Oh,” Angelique said. “We will not be followed any more, I think.”
Laurie's heart leapt into her throat. “Oh, shit. Did you, ah, ‘take care of him'?”
“What?” Angelique studied Laurie for a moment, then realized what she was asking. “No,” she said. “Only a warning.”
“They'll send somebody else.”
“I think not,” Angelique said. “They know all that they need to know about us by now.”
In a local coffee shop, Mustafa Al-Hakeem studied the photos which had been texted to him earlier that day by Askari Moghadam. He puzzled over the implications of them as he sipped his coffee, and the conclusions that he drew weren't pleasant. When he checked his calendar, he grew even more unsettled; the Day of Reckoning was very, very near.
On the bright side, his jihadists were as trained as he needed them to be. They knew their jobs, and they had the weapons, ammunition, and automobiles necessary to carry out their slaughter. He wondered if any of them would back out on the Day of Reckoning and quickly decided that, if any did, he would personally kill them before he disappeared. He already had his bus ticket and his hideout arranged in another state. There, he would lay low until he was needed for another attack, or until he was ordered out of the country. Of course, these plans, he had kept to himself. No one knew where he was going; that way, the police couldn't get his destination out of any survivors of the upcoming attacks.
He looked up as Joe Monsouri entered the shop and walked to the counter to order coffee. In a moment, they were sitting together. Mustafa looked up from his cell phone and smiled. “How is business?”
Joe shrugged. “Fine, I guess. Could always be better.”
“Indeed. Can you still drive a van for me tomorrow?”
“Sure. When and where?”
“In the late morning. Nine o'clock. I have a delivery to be made to Midtown.”
“Sure. What am I delivering?”
Joe assumed a cautious look. “This isn't illegal, is it?”
Mustafa gave him a hard stare that raised the hair on the back of Joe's neck. “We have talked often of the need of Islam to unite the world,” he said, as he lowered his voice. “One caliphate, exercising Sharia law over all the peoples of the world. Do you really feel that way, or is it merely speech?”
Joe leaned forward. “I feel that way. It's the only thing which will bring this world peace. Why do you ask?”
“Because very soon, there will come a Day of Reckoning. Fire and vengeance, blood on the scale of Nine-Eleven will rain down on the heads of the infidel. Europe, North America, Palestine – everywhere. I have the honor to be a part of this, and I wish for you to be, as well.”
Joe's eyes sparkled. “Tell me.”
“It is mere hours away. All over this nation, jihadists will rise up and wreak havoc in city after city, attacking military and Zionist targets. No one wearing a uniform or a Star of David will be exempt from our vengeance.”
“And you say that this is mere hours away?”
“How can I help?”
Mustafa smiled. “This is a good answer. First, though, I have some concerns.” He fished out his cell phone, flipped through some pictures, and held the phone out to Joe. “Do you see this? It is the lobby of the Israeli Consulate here. What is wrong with this picture?”
“I don't often see sandbags in a lobby.”
“Exactly. They weren't there a week ago. It's almost as if they know that we are coming. And today, Askari was threatened by a Mossad operative in the parking garage of that same building. Why?”
“What was Askari doing there?”
“He was conducting surveillance on the Zionists. He has been for two weeks, at my orders.”
Joe shrugged. “Mossad? They probably figured him out.”
“That Zionist Mossad bitch was very good, he said. Not a typical consulate bureaucrat. She knew what she was doing.”
“Every consulate, every embassy, has Mossad in it, I'm sure.”
Mustafa flipped through the pictures on his phone, then held it out to Joe. “And here, at the Jewish school. Two Atlanta police officers are there. They weren't there last week.”
“Do you think that Homeland Security knows you're – we're – coming?”
“I think,” Mustafa said, “that they do. But I suspect that they don't know exactly when.”
“They began these measures a few days ago. If they knew, they would not have done anything until just before we attacked. This way, they've tipped their hand to me. They know that we will strike, but they do not know when.”
“Is this van I'm to drive a part of this ‘Day of Reckoning'?” At his question, Mustafa did not answer. He merely considered him with an even gaze. “So the Day of Reckoning is tomorrow, at nine a.m.?” Joe pressed.
Again, Mustafa did not answer. He studied Joe for a moment, then pointed to the door. “Come,” he said. “Walk with me.”
They rose and left the coffee shop. On the downtown street, they began strolling along the sidewalk in silence. Joe studied Mustafa, and got an uneasy feeling that he wasn't going to like what he was about to hear. Finally, Mustafa paused, then pointed to an alley. “Come with me. What must be spoken about next needs no prying ears.”
“But we're speaking Arabic. Who's going to understand?”
“The NSA has long ears. Electronic ones.”
Joe nodded. “Yes, they do.”
He followed Mustafa into the alley and past a dumpster. Among the trash and smell of garbage, they halted. Mustafa eyed Joe for a long, hard moment, then said, “I believe that there is an informer among us. I believe that it is you.”
Joe's expression revealed shock. “That's crazy,” he said. “I'm not an informer. I'm a good Muslim, as are you.”
“But you are an American.”
“Many of our mosque are American. But they are Muslim, as well.”
“You recently came to us. Askari has been talking to you, I know. He's enthusiastic in his radical outlook, but he's not very smart, and he has a loose tongue.”
“He's a good kid. He wouldn't betray you.”
“He's an idiot. A useful tool.” Mustafa shrugged. “Less than useful now, since Mossad identified him.”
“What are you going to do?” Joe asked. “Kill him?”
“No.” Mustafa laughed, a short, curt laugh. “He'll probably get himself killed tomorrow.” He turned, then wheeled back as he withdrew a pistol from his waist-band and jammed it into Joe's chest. “You, I'll kill today.”
Joe smacked the weapon aside and attacked Mustafa with fists and kicks. He drove him back across the alley and against the wall, and Mustafa replied with a ferocious kick of his own to Joe's side. They grappled, grunting and straining, sweating with effort, until Mustafa's pistol discharged with a resounding bang. Joe collapsed to one knee, holding his leg. Mustafa shot him again in the shoulder, and Joe fell backward, wheezing in pain. Mustafa bent over him and waved the pistol in his face.
“Who are you?” he screamed. “Who?”
“ Kus emmak , you bastard.”
As Joe managed to wheeze that final, defiant statement through gritted teeth, Mustafa shot him one more time, in the head. Then, he stood and looked around. About twenty feet away, a young man wearing a soiled chef's uniform and holding a smouldering cigarette was watching the scene. When Mustafa made eye contact with him, the young man held up his hands defensively and began backing toward the open restaurant kitchen door. “Hey, man,” he said. “I didn't see nothing. I'm cool. You better get the hell out of here, in case somebody calls the cops on those gunshots.”
Mustafa raised the gun. “You saw me. I should kill you, too.”
“Hey, bro. I'm not saying nothing. I didn't see nothing. Look, I just finished doing time. The cops talk to me, I'm not telling them nothing, ‘cause they'll think I done it and send me back to prison. You dig?”
“You feel what I'm saying, man? You understand me?”
Mustafa studied the man's expression, then nodded. “I understand you.” He jammed his gun into his waistband, then looked around as a distant police siren wailed. “Which is the best way to go?”
The young man pointed down the alley, away from the street. “That way. It lets you out on 15 th Street.”
At that, the young man ducked inside the kitchen door and slammed it behind him. Mustafa, noting a police siren growing louder, quickly searched Joe Monsouri's pockets and pulled a thin wallet from his sport coat. He flipped it open, examined it, and nodded grimly. FBI. His instincts had been right. He threw the wallet down on Joe's chest and began jogging down the alley toward 15 th Street.
When Angelique returned to her office from lunch, Avi waved her to his desk and spoke in Hebrew. “Bad news, Angel,” he said. “I talked to the Atlanta Police. They said that they can't touch this fellow Moghadam that's been following you.”
“He hasn't done anything illegal. If he assaults you or something, then they can pick him up.”
“He won't be following me anymore.” She noted the expression on Avi's face. “What other bad news do you have?”
Avi nodded. “Yeah, I can't hide a bad day. Ruth tells me that, too. I just talked to the FBI. Joe Monsouri was found shot to death in some nasty alley behind a coffee shop.”
“Maybe an hour ago.”
“Near the Islamic Center, east of here.”
“Excuse me.” Angelique went to her desk and picked up the telephone. About fifteen minutes later, she hung up and turned to Avi. “I just spoke with the Mossad section at the New York City embassy. It appears that the ISIS websites are going crazy. The chatter, according to the NSA, is extreme.” She drummed her fingers on the desk top as she thought, then looked up. “It's going to happen soon.”
“I anticipate tomorrow, perhaps.”
“Only my gut feeling.”
“Well,” Avi said. “We can't go to the consul general with that, can we?”
Angelique smiled. “Why not?” With that, she rose and headed for the door. When she reached it, she looked at Avi. “Are you coming?”
Avi rose. “It's worth a try, I suppose. We'll look pretty foolish, though, if we're wrong.”
“I'd rather be foolish than dead.”
As Avi and Angelique walked down the hall, Avi said, “I hope the consul general buys that argument.”
“I appreciate what you're saying,” the consul general said, “but I can't just close the consulate because we suspect an attack. We have no firm proof.”
“New York City Mossad feels that attacks are imminent. So does the NSA.”
“They don't know,” Angelique admitted. “Perhaps tomorrow.”
“Exactly. No one knows. Listen, we have a mission to perform for our government. To do that properly, we must stay open.” He flipped his calender page over. “Tomorrow, I'm representing Israel at a function at the city mayor's office. It's essential that I be there. Many Christian church leaders will be present, as well, and American Christians are some of Israel's most ardent supporters in this country.” He chuckled sardonically. “God knows the political left isn't, even though a lot of American Jews vote leftist.” He shrugged. “Politics. Who can make sense of it all? I can't. I'd go mesugah if I tried.” He studied Avi and Angelique seriously for a long, quiet moment, then spoke again. “I appreciate your concern, but we stay open. If we closed every time we thought we might be attacked, we'd never work. We're Israeli, and Israelis always live under a threat of imminent attack by those who hate us and want to kill us all. That's life. The best thing we can do is to always be ready to defend ourselves, should they appear.”
“We're ready,” Avi said.
“Then let us live with that in mind,” the consul general said. He stood to indicate that the meeting was over. “Thank you.”
Avi and Angelique left the office. “I'm sorry,” Angelique said, as they walked. “I thought – ”
“Well, we tried.”
Angelique stopped Avi in the hallway. “I wish to re-check all our arrangements here. Then, I suggest we sent an alert to all the cell phones of consulate people and their families.”
“And tell them what?”
“Tell them to be especially vigilant tomorrow.”
Avi thought about it. “Wouldn't hurt, I suppose.”
Angelique looked at her wrist-watch. “Listen, it's early afternoon. Why don't you stop by the Jewish school and see that they are prepared? Then, go home and check the apartment building, and spend time with your family. I'll stay here until we close.”
Avi studied Angelique for a long, quiet moment. “You really think it'll be tomorrow, don't you?”
“I do,” Angelique replied.
Avi managed a painful smile. “A final night with the family before we go into battle?” He raised an eyebrow in question. “And you?”
“I will be home to Laurie as soon as I finish here.”
“Good, good. See you in the morning, then?”
Avi hesitated, then thrust out his hand to Angelique. “Tzetecha LeShalom VeSchuveha LeShalom,” he said. Go in peace and return in peace.
Angelique shook his hand. “Yihyeh BeSeder.” It will turn out well.
“Tomorrow, then.” At Angelique's nod, he turned and walked away. Angelique watched him go, then began her mental checklist of security arrangements. She walked to the front of the consulate, buzzed herself through the door, and wandered into the lobby. A few people were sitting in the waiting room, and a cursory look at them raised no warnings in Angelique's mind. She walked to the receptionist's desk, and Bilha lowered the paperback novel that she was reading.
“You seem upset,” Bilha noted.
“No. Did Laurie see you?”
“Yes. Thank her for me. I took the medicine.” She shrugged. “We will see what happens. Or doesn't happen.”
Angelique studied her; she seemed so young, so earnest, so fragile in many ways. In reality, there was probably only about twelve years of difference between them, but Angelique felt a century older than the young woman before her. “Did you do military service in Israel?” Angelique asked.
“Yes. The usual. Two years, for a girl.”
Angelique nodded. “Good. That is good.”
“And you?” Bilha waved her hand in front of her. “Of course you did. I can see it all over you. What were you? Infantry?”
“Paratrooper sergeant. Sniper.”
She tapped her head. “Red beret?”
“You were a ferocious sergeant, I'll bet.”
Angelique laughed. “No. I was tender-hearted.”
“I'll believe that when I see pigs flying.” She snickered. “Pigs flying? That's not kosher , is it?”
“Shame on you, Bilha.” Angelique buzzed open the door just behind Bilha, then said, “You remember what to do if we're attacked, right?”
“We only rehearsed it twenty times. I duck beneath the desk. The sandbags will protect me, and my pistol is loaded and under the desk.”
Angelique smiled. “Yes. You ride home with us tonight? Laurie is coming with the car.”
“Thanks,” Bilha said. As she stuck her nose back into her novel, Angelique noted the cover.
“What are you reading?”
“Research,” Bilha said, then whispered, “Dirty book. In Hebrew, even.” She shrugged. “I have to catch up on my education, right?”
Angelique couldn't help a chuckle. “I think you know enough already.”
“Not according to my boyfriend.”
“But, Bilha,” Angelique said, “if you surprise him with something new, he'll wonder who you learned it from.”
“Oh!” She looked up. “He will, won't he?” As she sat, blinking wide eyes in exclamation, Angelique merely smiled a knowing smile and entered the consulate, allowing the door to shut and lock behind her.
That evening, Atlanta mosque.
Mustafa Al-Hakeem rose from the finish of his evening prayers and sought out the mullah. They nodded greeting to each other, and the cleric motioned with a wave of his hand toward the door of his private offices. Once inside, they sat on low couches, and an assistant served them tea. Only after the assistant was dismissed did the mullah begin to speak.
“Is all in readiness?”
“It is,” Mustafa replied.
“You do realize that when this happens, there will be much attention directed at us, and especially at myself?”
“And you realize that my response will be to condemn the act and vigorously insist that this mosque was not involved?”
“Good. Your soldiers for jihad will be secreted away after the act, don't worry about that.”
The mullah raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”
“Most of them will probably die in shoot-outs with the police.”
“Then they will achieve their reward,” the mullah intoned.
“And those who survive?”
“They will be hidden by us.” The mullah eyed Mustafa. “And you will be gone?”
“Insha'Allah,” Mustafa said. “God willing.”
“You will arm yourselves in the morning?”
“Yes. Fifteen minutes before nine.”
“Make sure you take everything. The FBI will doubtless search this building.”
“It will be done.”
“Then we'll say good-night.” They both rose. “Just one more thing,” the mullah said. “It occurs to me that a soldier for jihad, about to go into battle, needs a wife. A man should not be alone at such a time. Do you agree?”
“I do,” Mustafa said, “but my wife is not here.”
“God has provided you one.” He walked to a far door, opened it, and stood back. A young woman, covered to her wrists and ankles, head-scarf tight about her hair, emerged carrying an overnight bag. The mullah spoke in English. “This is Latifah. You may take her as your wife tonight. She understands the arrangement and consents to it, and I bless the union.”
Mustafa noted her skin color. “An American convert?”
“Yes. She does not speak much Arabic,” the mullah noted. “But she is anxious to learn.” In a softer voice, he added, “And to please.” He escorted both of them to the door. “My assistant will drive you home.”
That night, Laurie turned in bed and faced Angelique. In spite of the darkness, she saw that Angelique was awake, her gaze seemingly fixed upon something distant and undefinable. She snuggled closer and whispered, “Angel, what's wrong?”
“Nothing,” was the soft reply.
“Baloney,” Laurie said. “I can feel it from you. You're really upset about something. Talk to me.” When no answer was forthcoming, she asked, “Was it me? Something I did?”
“What?” Angelique's eyes fixed on Laurie's face. “No. Of course not. Never.” As if to cement the thought, she kissed Laurie's forehead.
Angelique snaked an arm around Laurie and pulled her close. “I am frightened.”
“You? Frightened? Yeah, right.” When Angelique did not smile at the jest, Laurie leaned up on one elbow. “You really are. What about?”
“Tomorrow. I believe that it will happen tomorrow.”
For a long moment, Laurie rested silently, propped on her elbow, her face just above Angelique's, their eyes fastened on each other's faces. Finally, Laurie said, “If it's tomorrow, then it's tomorrow. Where do you want me to be, Angel?”
“Here. Help protect these people, if it comes.”
“What about you?”
“Avi and I will protect the consulate.”
“I don't like being apart from you. I want to be with you.”
“I need you here. I cannot be two places at once.”
“And the synagogue? The school?”
“For that, we must rely upon the city police.”
Laurie rested a hand on Angelique's shoulder. Beneath the skin, warm and smooth, she could feel the muscle resulting from years of hard exercise. “The Atlanta cops are pretty good, Angel.”
“If you say.”
Laurie could tell, from the uncertain tone, that Angelique did not quite believe that. “Really,” she said. “It probably won't happen, but if it does, we'll handle it. We've done it before. We'll do it again.”
“Always, the optimism?”
“You bet.” Laurie's voice softened. “Hey, we've got The Angel of Mossad on our side. She's never lost a fight.”
“Always, I have been lucky,” Angelique agreed.
“No. You're just that good.”
Angelique smiled. “You always know what to say.”
“I learned from you.”
“I love you, Laurie.”
“I love you too, Angel.”
Angelique cupped a hand against Laurie's cheek. “I wish to tell you to run from this, to hide, to keep safe, but I know that you will not.”
“I couldn't face myself if I did. I couldn't face you. Your fight is my fight now, Angel. It always will be.”
“In your heart, you are Israeli.”
“In my heart, I'm married to you. Whatever comes with that is fine with me.”
Angelique sat up in bed and crossed her legs. She pushed the covers aside and held out her arms. “Come,” she said. “Be with me now.” Hesitantly, with a vulnerability uncharacteristic of her, she added, “Please.”
Laurie crawled into her lap and straddled her thighs. “There's no where,” she whispered, “that I'd rather be.” They embraced, at first tenderly, then with a frantic strength. Skin against skin, mouth against mouth, they stayed so for a long time. Then, never parting, never speaking, they sank gently down to the cool sheets and made love, their only witness the ceiling fan which slowly whirred above them in the night.
Latifa rose and sat on the side of the bed. Behind her, she could hear the snores of the man to which she'd been ‘married' for one night. She stood and walked to the bathroom, where she closed the door, turned on the light, and caught a view of herself in the mirror. For a long, silent moment, she stared at the image in the mirror, barely able to recognize her own reflection. Then, she turned on the water and began to wash her face and body. It did not help. She felt dirty.
How had she gotten here? Several of her friends had been studying Islam at the local center. Some had formally converted, and had brought her along. Was she so fascinated by the new, strange religion, so proud to be a part of a new world-family, so anxious to please her new mullah, her new cleric, that she hadn't seen his ruthless manipulation until it was too late?
She stopped washing and examined the bruising on her arms and her neck. The man she was with tonight was no hero, no jihadist martyr about to be dispatched to Paradise in the glory of God; this man was rough and disrespectful, just another brutal man in a world full of brutal people. Wherever God was, he was not in this room tonight, she decided. She had been mesmerized, tricked, pimped out to her own cleric's friend under a false declaration that she was in selfless service to a martyr, that her ‘marriage' to him would help assure both their places in heaven. No, this was not the Islam that she'd joyously embraced, any more than the screaming preacher in the thousand-dollar suit making a plea for money on television was the Christianity with which she'd been raised.
She emerged from the bathroom and searched for her clothing. Slowly, she dressed, quietly, hoping not to awaken the man named Mustafa Al-Hakeem. An animal, she decided. As she finished dressing, she noted the pistol on his bedside table, and she contemplated, for a moment, a vision of her putting a bullet through his head. It would be so easy. Then, he would be dead, and then, she would be revenged for his contemptuous, casual treatment of her. And then, she would be even worse than him.
She found her shoes and her bag, and she slowly, quietly, opened the door and slipped through it. She wandered down the hall, found a stairwell, and descended to the lowest floor, where she paused to don her shoes and use her cell phone. Then, she waited in silence for the eventual appearance of her sister's car, and her transportation away from an act of tenderness and decency gone horribly wrong.
The next morning. Israeli Consulate, midtown Atlanta.
A few protestors milled about outside the tall building housing, among other enterprises, the Israeli Consulate. They seemed not yet energized, not yet awake, their organizers only beginning to take charge of the morning's protest against Israeli apartheid. It promised to be a lovely day, though; the sky was bright blue, and the sun warmed the concrete beneath their feet.
Inside the consulate, Angelique paced the hall until Avi tapped her shoulder and motioned toward the kitchenette. “If you're going to wear out the carpet,” he joked, “do it in our office, so we can get a new one. In the meantime, let's have a coffee.” Angelique shot him an embarrassed glance and nodded in silent agreement. “You're worried,” Avi said. “Forget about it. Relax. You know how ‘intelligence' goes; it's wrong much of the time.”
“My gut is never wrong.”
As they entered the lounge, Avi shrugged and joked, “There's always a first time.”
While they were seated, the door opened and Bilha hurried through the lounge to the washroom. On the way, she patted Angelique on the head and said, “There's no one in the lobby. I have to pee. Please, if you hear the telephone ringing – ?”
“We'll get it,” Angelique said. She watched Bilha disappear into the washroom, then rose. “Time to go to work,” she intoned. A minute later, she stuck her head into the lobby to check for visitors. There were none. Bilha hurried past her and resumed her seat with a wave of thanks, and Angelique returned to the intelligence room. There, she stared out the window and managed a little smile at what she saw below her.
Outside, one of the protest organizers had begun speaking on his bullhorn, and about a dozen protestors milled outside the building's main entrance. A local television news truck was nearby, and a reporter and camera operator were interviewing one of the protest spokesmen. It must be a slow news day, Angelique decided. She glanced at the corner near her work space. Her loaded rifle and her vest sat, waiting for her. She opened a desk drawer, jammed two loaded pistol magazines into her back pocket, and slipped her pistol into the waist-band of her jeans, at the small of her back. Its presence gave her an old, familiar comfort. She sighed as she watched the protestors outside, then contemplated getting some work done. There were updates to read and digest, websites to scan, and European newspaper websites to study for evidence of antisemitic activity. Avi's shout made her heart skip a beat.
“Shit!” he said. “The New York City embassy has just been attacked. No details.” He pecked at his computer, then added, “Also, in Europe. Southern France. A Jewish school attacked. The London embassy, also. Rockets are being launched from the Gaza into Israeli territory, dozens of them.” He looked up. “You were right, after all. Congratulations. It looks like we're in for a real shit-storm.”
“A small comfort,” she said. “Where is the consul general?”
“He's at the Atlanta mayor's office. He should be safe there – What's the matter?” He watched Angelique stare out the window, and he heard her curse profanely. His gut twisted into a knot. He'd seen that look before, and he knew that it did not bode well.
Outside, a van roared across the open pavement toward the building's front door, then slowed. Several protestors directed their attention to the van, as it was not usual for vehicles to use the wide pedestrian area. When the doors were flung open and several masked gunmen emerged, people began screaming and running toward the main street. The news reporter pointed as her cameraman swung his camera toward the van. One of the gunmen noted the news pair and gunned them both down as the protestors watched in horror.
Angelique picked up the telephone and dialed a number, then said, “Bilha, it's coming now. Lock all the doors and sound the alarm.”
“What do you mean – ?” An explosion rocked the building and cut off the rest of her statement. Angelique wormed into her protective vest, picked up her rifle, and headed to the hall as the alarm bells sounded and as the consulate staff, after a moment of shocked silence, began to arm themselves and assume their stations.
When Angelique reached the front lobby, she saw destruction to the front doors and lobby that could only have been caused by an explosion. A pall of smoke hovered in the air. Furniture, end tables, and wall art had been thrown around like a child's toys. Bilha's chair was overturned, but she was not immediately in sight. What did appear, though, were several armed men, dressed in black, with faces covered. They flooded into the lobby, shooting indiscriminately at Bilha's desk, the doors, and at Angelique. She saw the rounds impact into the high-strength glass; she watched holes appear in the sheet rock of the walls, and she heard rounds snapping around her. She backed up, slid around a corner, and took aim at the door with her rifle. Her thumb clicked the safety to the off position. As if in a dream, she waited, and she blinked back tears and felt her stomach knot for Bilha. She had been at her desk, in front of the security doors. Had this happened a few minutes earlier, she would have been safe in the bathroom.
The apartment building, Buckhead.
Laurie felt sick as she listened to the news bulletins on the television. It was happening, just as Angelique had said it would. London, Paris, The Hague, Toronto, and now New York, and attacks in Israel were being reported. The cable news channel was having trouble keeping up with the bulletins from around the world.
The next bulletin almost made her puke. The news reader announced that the Israeli Consulate in Atlanta, Georgia, was under attack by armed, unknown gunmen. Laurie knew who they were. As she stared at the television, a loud pounding echoed at her door. Laurie peered through the peephole, then yanked the door open. It was Ruth, with her little boy in tow. She rushed in. “Laurie, you've heard?”
“I'm watching it now.”
“My Avi is at work. Your Angelique, too. What do we do?”
“We do what they told us to do. We defend the building. We shoot first and ask questions later.”
Ruth blinked a few times as she thought about that, then nodded. “I will get my rifle. Gather everyone in this apartment, yes? It is top floor. Best defended.”
“Good idea.” Laurie snatched her pistol and her cell phone from the kitchen counter, jammed the items into her back pockets, picked up her shotgun, and left her apartment, just behind Ruth. “I'll start banging on doors,” she said, as Ruth descended the stairs to her apartment, her child hugged tightly to her chest. Suddenly, she halted and whirled around. An expression of horror was written on her face.
“Oh, God! What about the children? The school?”
Laurie could only say, “The cops are there. They'll be okay.”
The Mayor's offices, Atlanta, Georgia.
The Israeli Consul General rose and walked to the podium to deliver his remarks. Before him, seated, were a room full of various city dignitaries, religious leaders, and politicians. It was his mission, here in the United States, to cement friendships, to dispel untruth, and to present a picture of his home country with which people could sympathize. He smiled as he noted the television news camera in the back of the room. He always did well on camera. He would, today.
As he began his remarks, a representative from the local mosque rose, aimed a pistol at the consul general, and shouted, “Allah'u'Akbar!” A rapid string of gunshots resounded in the auditorium and sent people screaming and scrambling for the exits. As the gunman emptied his pistol at the podium, three husky Atlanta police officers descended on him, wrestled him to the floor, and beat him before they managed to disarm him.
The Israeli Consul General was found bleeding to death at the podium where, just seconds before, he had offered words of friendship to the representatives of all of Atlanta's religious communities.
As rounds snapped through the wall near the door, Angelique shouted, “Avi? You okay?”
“Yeah,” the reply came.
“Get to the work room. Send a message,” she said.
“Got it.” She heard Avi's feet echo down the hall, then turned her attention to the lobby. The gunmen had suddenly withdrawn; she suspected that they were not through, though. A second later, a piece of PVC pipe with a detonator attached, bounced against the security door. Angelique covered her ears, and the impact of a near explosion ripped the door ajar and broke glass. As the first gunman wormed through the opening, Angelique took aim and dropped him with a shot to his head. He collapsed in the narrow opening, and his AK-47 clattered as it fell from his hands. She switched her aim to another gunman behind the intact safety glass and fired, but the smaller M-4 round wouldn't penetrate the glass. She cursed as she backed slowly away from the door. She would have to allow them to enter the consulate in order to deal with them. As she did, she cast one final glance at Bilha's expansive receptionist desk, and did not see her. Where was she? If she was not dead, she had to be out there with them. And if she was out there...
A hand threw a PVC pipe bomb through the damaged door, and Angelique watched it bounce off the wall and roll into the center of the hall, toward her. She turned and ran as fast as she could away from the door, and she didn't quite make the office at the end of the hall before the bomb detonated. It rang her ears and slammed her into the door, where she fumbled with the doorknob, got it opened, and managed to crawl into the room. There, she took her place, leveled her rifle, and waited for the inevitable attack.
Outside the Jewish school attached to the Atlanta synagogue.
Two Atlanta police officers, sweating in their protective vests and with their M-16 rifles hung across their bodies, loitered outside the school entrance. It was on a side of the synagogue building, and was fronted by a tall wrought-iron fence, currently opened. One of them listened to the crackle and disjointed voice of the radio handset clipped to his shoulder tab, then replied to it and turned to his colleague. “Let's take a better position. Captain says to expect an attack. I don't want to be out here if it happens.”
“Good idea.” He looked around, then jerked a thumb toward the fence. “Behind there. Brick wall. Latch the gate, and we're good.”
“I like it,” his partner said. They entered the fence, latched the gate, and relaxed in some shade. It wasn't long before a synagogue staff member opened the schoolhouse door and greeted them. “Taking advantage of the shade?” he asked.
“We got a call to be ready for a possible attack.” At the staffer's alarmed glance, the officer shrugged. “Probably nothing. Just our captain being jittery.”
“Well, we're watching the security cameras constantly,” the staffer said. “If we see anything, we'll pull the alarm. The teachers know to lock the doors and herd the children to the safest corner of the room.” He smiled. “We've rehearsed it. Say, do you two want some water?” He waved a hand. “Of course you do. Hang on. I'll be back.”
The two officers were in whispered conversation together when a nondescript sedan screeched to a halt in the middle of the street outside the gate, and the doors were flung open. As the two officers raised their rifles and approached the gate, a hail of gunfire assailed them from the figures emerging from the car. One officer was knocked down instantly; the other managed to drop one gunman before he felt red-hot rounds rip into his leg, and it gave way beneath him. The pain – and perhaps the adrenalin – made him pass out. When he regained consciousness, he struggled to sit up, and he saw his trouser leg covered with dark, sticky blood. His leg would not respond properly. He glanced around, peered over the wall, and saw the empty, idling car, its doors open, the downed gunman lying on the pavement beside it. The gate had been opened, and he saw no one else. Then, he looked for his colleague, and he saw him near the entrance to the school's door. He was lying in a pool of blood. He had seen plenty of dead gunshot victims in his time, and he instantly recognized that his partner was out of the fight. He wasn't, though.
He pointed his M-16 ahead of him and began crawling toward the open door of the school, dragging his injured leg behind him. He could hear the school's alarm sounding. He keyed his radio handset and spoke. “Unit 34. Shots fired. Officers down. Four gunman at the Jewish school. Am in pursuit. Send the damned cavalry, will ya?” He released the handset, then dragged himself into the door of the school. Ahead of him, he heard shrieks and gunshots, and saw gunmen – dressed in black, faces covered, AK-47s at the ready – kicking at doors and shooting at locks, while the wails of children and the screams of adults echoed in the hall. He rolled to a prone position, leveled his rifle, and took aim. He began emptying his magazine at the figures in the hallway thirty feet in front of him, and took grim satisfaction as his rounds found marks and the assailants dropped, one by one, into heaps in the hall. By the time the third one fell, he was laughing maniacally. He dropped the magazine from his rifle, found his spare one, and jammed it home. Then, he crawled toward his downed enemies, watching them for signs of life. When he got to within a few feet of their bodies, he lifted himself to one knee, leaned against the wall, and shot each of them again. Then, he crawled toward the sounds of wails and screams. One classroom door had been forced open, and that was the source of the sound. The loudest scream, though, rising above the children's wails and the pleading of adults, was a male adult voice. The officer paused outside the door, decided that the accent didn't sound southern or Jewish, and peered around the door-jamb. The sight which greeted him, also horrified him.
A lone gunman held an adult, presumably a teacher, by the hair as she knelt in front of him. He was firing his AK-47 wildly about the room as children screamed and cowered and wept. So engrossed was he in his moment of glory and power that he never saw his own death approaching. One shot from the M-16 struck him beneath the arm, and he staggered. The next shot followed the red dot which projected onto his chest, and he collapsed. As the officer lowered his rifle, he muttered, “What the hell does a Jewish accent sound like, anyway?” He pulled himself into the classroom, one leg useless, a blood trail behind him on the polished floor, and shouted, “Atlanta police! Y'all are safe now.”
The teacher crawled to him. “You're hurt,” she said.
“I'm good. I'm good,” he repeated. “You just see to them kids. Help is on the way.”
As she rose to see to her charges, he leaned against a wall, pulled the belt from his uniform pants, looped it around his injured leg, and yanked it as tight as he could. Then, he ripped the pants open and examined the wound to his leg. “Shit,” he muttered. “Brand new uniform, too. Ain't that the way it goes?”
The apartment building, Buckhead.
Laurie descended the apartment stairs to the entrance lobby and the mailboxes, and locked the entrance door to the building. She positioned herself in the lobby where she could see the street and parking area through the narrow panes of glass on either side of the door, and she waited nervously. She had an intense, almost overwhelming desire to call Angelique, but she fought it down. Angelique was probably too busy to talk right now, she thought, if the news is right. God, Angelique. Stay well, will you? If anything happened to you –
She decided to call anyway, and speed-dialed Angelique's cell phone number. It rang several times, then went to message. She next dialed the phone number for the consulate, expecting to hear Bilha's familiar, cheery voice. It, too, did not answer. In frustration, she tapped out a quick text to Angelique's phone and sent it. Then, she pocketed her phone and resumed her duty.
She was engaging in some frantic mental hand-wringing over Angelique's safety when a motion caught her eye, and she glanced up. A car pulled to a stop in front of the building, but it did not park. The doors opened, and four men exited the car and began walking briskly toward her. All four were dressed in black; all four had their faces covered, and all four carried AK-47s. “Oh, for the love of – !” Laurie said, as she ducked down and gripped her shotgun close to her chest.
Above the pounding of her heart, she heard foot-steps on the stoop outside; she heard the rattle of the door-knob as the men outside attempted to open it, and she watched the door shudder as a foot began kicking at it repeatedly. In horror, she watched the door-jamb begin to splinter at the dead-bolt, and she slammed her back hard against the door. One foot, she braced against the bottom bannister of the stair railing. Again and again, the foot kicked at the door, jarring her. Again and again, the door held.
Finally, the kicking stopped. A second later, someone began shooting into the wood around the door's lock. The wood splintered just inches from Laurie's arm, and she jumped away from the door. For a moment, she stood, frozen. Then, she looked through the narrow window on the door-jamb's side, and her eyes locked with the dark eyes of a hidden face outside. She heard a yell, and she saw him point to her. This isn't going to end well, she thought. Then, she felt a flood of dark anger animate her. If this is it, I'm taking some of them with me. She raised the shotgun, tapped the barrel against the glass, and pulled the trigger. The blast was deafening. Through the ringing in her ears, she heard screams, and she saw the barrel of an AK-47 probe through the broken glass. She turned and sprinted up the stairs just before the lobby got riddled with bullets. As she reached the landing and headed up the stairs, she heard the door splinter open, and she heard the footsteps and shouts of her pursuers. She reached her apartment door, banged on it, and shouted, “It's Laurie. Let me in, God damn it!”
The door opened, and Ruth faced her. “They're here, aren't they?” she said. It wasn't a question; she knew that this was the moment she'd dreaded. At Laurie's nod, she looked behind her. “Take the children to the bedroom,” she ordered one of the other mothers. “Down, behind the bed. Everyone with a rifle, kill anyone who comes through this door.” She and Laurie looked at each other. “Laurie and I will be outside,” she said. “If they get past us...”
Laurie and Ruth stepped into the hallway. Behind them, Laurie could hear the door lock and the bolt slide home. Good, she thought. Now, we concentrate on what's ahead.
As voices shouted in the stairwell below and feet kicked at first-floor apartment doors, Ruth and Laurie began descending the stairs toward the level below them. Slowly, carefully, they trod, guns leveled, looking ahead of them. They heard voices and kicks at doors, but they saw no one. When they reached the landing below, they noted an open apartment door. The door-jamb wood was splintered. Laurie gestured toward the door, and Ruth nodded grimly. She entered the apartment as Laurie followed just behind her.
The living room and kitchen was undisturbed. Everything seemed in place. As they approached the bedrooms, a man emerged from the master bedroom. He froze as he saw the two women standing, armed, about ten feet from him. For a long, terrible moment, everything seemed frozen. Then, the man began to raise his rifle, and Ruth shot him several times. He wilted and slid down the wall to settle in a motionless lump. Laurie whirled at a sound, and fired once at the open door behind them. A scream sounded, and a man, clothed in black and face covered, staggered. Laurie racked the shotgun as she charged him. He grasped wildly at her, and she answered with a swing of her shotgun stock. She struck him in the ribs and he grunted, but he reached for her again. This time, he grasped the sleeve of her top. She kneed him hard in the groin, and he groaned and fell backward. His grip on Laurie's clothes did not loosen, though. He pulled her off balance, and they both tumbled down the stairs to the lower landing, rolling over and over in a tangled heap. Laurie was on top of him one moment and beneath him the next. When they finally came to rest in a tangled lump on the landing, Laurie kicked and fought until she freed herself and scurried away from him. She felt as if she'd been beaten with a stick. She ached all over, and she was bleeding from several places. When the man reached for her again, she pulled her Beretta from her back pocket and shot him twice in the chest.
Ruth descended the stairs and leaned over the man. When he groaned and began moving, she stepped back in surprise, then placed the muzzle of her rifle against his head and shot him again. When she looked up, Laurie was watching her.
“They broke into my home,” Ruth said. “Nobody does that.” She rattled off a string of very vindictive-sounding words in Hebrew, then gave a vicious kick to the still body.
“Damn,” Laurie said, as she pulled herself to her feet. “You're right at home in this town, ain't ya?”
“Here is a dream,” she said. “You should try settlement living in West Bank.”
“No, thanks.” Laurie counted on her fingers, then said, “Four got out of the car. We shot one at the front door, one in your place, and one here. That means that there's one left.” Laurie bent down to pick up her shotgun, and yelped in pain when she attempted to lift it. She opened and closed her left hand a couple of times. “Shit,” she said, “I think my wrist is broken.” She lifted her shotgun with her right hand and cradled it in her left forearm.
“But where is the fourth one?” Ruth asked. She looked up the stairs. “Silence. We listen, we hear him.”
Ruth and Laurie stood silently on the landing, listening with all their attention. They strained to hear anything, any tell-tale sound that would reveal their missing fourth enemy. For a time, they heard nothing. Then, they recognized foot-steps on the top floor. The steps would pause from time to time, a rap would sound on a door, and a voice would cry out in accented English, “City gas man. Open, please. Emergency. Gas leak.” When he received no answer, the foot-steps resumed, another knock sounded, and a voice shouted the same greeting again.
“You expecting the gas man?” Laurie whispered.
“Top floor. He's there.” They ascended the stairs slowly, quietly. It seemed an eternity before they achieved the top landing. When they did, Laurie saw that the door to her own apartment, the one where the building's occupants were hidden, was not disturbed. She peered around the corner and saw the man knocking on another door. He was one door away from the landing.
Laurie's heart pounded in her ears. She wondered what the best course of action would be, and she felt a panic at the face-to-face meeting that they were destined to have with this man in about ten seconds. She wondered what Angelique would do, then found her answer. She stepped into the hall, pointed her shotgun at the man, and said, “Hey!” He looked at her, then turned as he grasped the grip of his AK-47. She pulled the trigger with her shotgun aimed at his chest.
He bounced off the wall behind him, then fell. She winced in pain as she racked the shotgun, approached him, and shot him again. “That's number four,” she said. Then, she looked at Ruth. “Damn, I wonder if there's anybody else in that car downstairs.”
“Let's go and see,” Ruth agreed, and they hurried down the stairs to the lobby. At the front door, the attacker that Laurie had shot was slowly crawling toward the car. Ruth shouldered her rifle and shot him several times. He quit moving. The car, ten feet beyond him, was empty, but it was idling, doors open. “What do we do?” Ruth asked.
“Nothing,” Laurie said. “A running car? In this town, somebody will snatch it in about three seconds.” As she spoke, a young man ran toward the car, sniffed around it, looked in every direction, then jumped in and drove it off. “Told ya,” Laurie said. “Now let's go check on the folks upstairs, and then I'll call the cops and Angel.”
Israeli Consulate, Midtown.
Angelique heard a voice behind her ask, “What do we do?”
She cast a glance behind her. It was Sarah, a visa clerk. “Do you have a gun?” Angelique asked.
“Yes. A pistol.” She held it up.
“Go down the hall that way,” she said, as she pointed to her right. “Make sure all doors are locked. I believe that they are still in the lobby.”
The young woman, pistol in hand, stepped past Angelique and hurried down a back hall as the main door to the lobby was forced open a little more. When it finally gave way with a crack, dark figures with rifles began pouring into the hall. Angelique quickly counted at least six of them, then began shooting. One fell, and the others disbursed in different directions, down hallways. Shouting ensued, and she heard the characteristic crack of AK-47s and the responding report of pistols or Avi's noise-suppressed M-4.
Angelique took the opportunity to leave the office and run down the hall to her right. She hoped to flank the intruders and gain an advantage on them, as the hallway circled around the periphery of the consulate interior. By this, she could reach most of the offices. As she turned a corner, black-clad figures appeared at the end of the hall. She ducked into an office door, then shouldered her M-4 and began shooting.
The black-clad men shot back, then scattered and disappeared. Angelique crouched low, paced down the hall pressed against the wall, and stopped at an intersection. She noted the bullet holes in the wall ahead of her, and felt a surge of satisfaction at the blood on the floor. She'd hit at least one of them. She glanced up and down the intersecting halls to her left and right, then followed her ears to the sounds of a vicious fight in the offices ahead. One of those offices was probably her own, she decided. These people would be looking for the intelligence center.
As she turned the corner, she stumbled across Sarah's body. The visa clerk was sprawled in the hall, lifeless eyes half-closed, her white blouse splashed with blood. Her pistol was still in her hand, and the slide was locked back. At least she'd had time to fight, Angelique thought. When she saw a black-clad body near Sarah's, she knew that she'd taken one with her. Somewhere in that thought, she found a grim satisfaction. She shot the intruder once more to assure his death, then moved past him. Ten feet down the hall, she arrived at the windows of the intelligence room. She peeked into a window, and saw no one. The lock on the door appeared intact. The windows weren't broken. Good. They haven't found the intelligence room. But where is Avi, then?
The answer came in a moment. A door opened behind her, and Angelique whirled and locked her rifle laser sight's red dot on Avi's chest. The dot from his rifle played on Angelique's head. For a second, they stared at each other, then lowered their guns. “Where are they?” Angelique asked.
“Ransacking the Consul General's office,” Avi replied. “There's only one way in and out. They'll be trapped in there. Want to join me?” Angelique nodded wordlessly, and together, they raced down the hall toward the Consul General's spacious office. When they arrived, the door was closed, but there was crashing and voices behind the door.
“I'd love a grenade,” Avi said.
“We don't have one,” Angelique replied. “So we do this like John Wayne.”
Avi raised an eyebrow in question. “Oh? And how is that?”
Angelique gave him a strange little smile as she pulled her pistol from behind her back. With her weapons at waist level, one in each hand, she stepped back and landed a ferocious kick to the closed door. It burst open, and she charged in, shooting. Avi followed. In reality, the combat probably only took seconds, but it seemed to last forever. The room resounded in gunshots and screams. Later memories, the memories of both Avi and Angelique during debriefings, were hazy. They didn't remember it all. All they knew was that, when it finally ended and a deafening, ear-ringing silence descended upon the survivors, Angelique was sitting on the floor, leaned against a wall. She looked down at her weapons; the bolts on both were locked back, indicating empty magazines, and they were smoking. Acting on instinct, she pressed the release on her M-4, allowed the magazine to drop from her weapon, and inserted another one. The bolt slid home, and she turned her attention to the room and her own body as she reloaded her pistol.
Only then did she realize that she was hurting. She looked herself over and found a rip in her protective vest, at the side. When she moved, a streak of pain shot along one side, but it was bearable. She could manage. Slowly, she stood. She felt beneath her vest, then withdrew her hand and noted the blood. “Avi?” she said.
“Here,” was the reply. Avi stepped out of the Consul General's private bathroom holding a towel to his head. His face was bloody.
“Not bad. I got slapped in the head.” He managed a laugh. “I think he was too close to shoot me.”
“Lucky you.” She looked around. “I count four here. Sarah got one in the hall, and I got two up front. That makes seven.” She looked at Avi. “Do you know how many there were?”
“No,” he said. “We'd better start clearing the place room by room.”
“I agree.” Angelique halted, then held up a hand to indicate silence. She strode to the window, peered through broken glass toward the building's entrance, and listened to the approaching sirens. “The police are here.”
In the plaza outside the building, the first of several marked police cars roared across the concrete, dodging cement benches and occasional trees, and screeched to a halt near the van. When the officers emerged, hands on their sidearms, shouting, several of the crowd of protesters pointed at the van. “Them,” they shouted. “They're inside the building. They've got guns.” Another one shouted, “There's still one in the van.”
The two officers approached the van, guns drawn, and shouted commands for anyone inside to come out, hands up. For a second, nothing happened. Then, a head and shoulders popped up behind the steering wheel. The van lurched as it was put into gear, but the driver did not get a chance to effect an escape. The two policemen emptied their pistols into the driver's area of the van. Glass shattered, holes appeared in the sheet metal, a front tire deflated, the side-view mirror exploded, and the driver collapsed forward onto the steering wheel. The horn began blowing, and the van slowly rolled forward until it finally came to rest nosed against the wall of the building. The steady blare of the horn augmented the screams and shouts of fleeing protesters. One officer dropped the magazine from his pistol, inserted another one, and approached the van. He grasped the door handle, yanked it open, and pulled the bullet-riddled body of Askari Moghadam from the seat. As he stepped back, the body hit the pavement with a sickening thud and began pooling blood.
Several more police cars had arrived, and their occupants, some carrying shotguns or rifles, gathered at the scene. A tall, bald-headed man with a body-builder's physique and sergeant's chevrons on his sleeves keyed his radio and began reporting, then listened. He grimaced at the answer, then spoke to the officers around him.
“SWAT's deployed elsewhere. We're doing this. Load up, and we're going inside.” The officers scattered to their cars to gain their equipment from the trunks and came back in a few minutes, heavily armed and equipped. Some were helmeted, and one had a bullet-proof shield. The sergeant slammed the trunk of his car, hefted his M-16 rifle, and said to the man with the shield, “You're point man. Let's go.”
Mustafa Al-Hakeem viewed the killing of his driver and the destruction of his van from a window high above the scene, then grimaced in disbelief. This would complicate matters tremendously. Worse, he hadn't heard reports from his other teams. Undoubtedly, the team at the school had the easiest job. After all, they were attacking a gun-free zone. The apartment building contained only women and small children at this time of day. What could go so wrong that they hadn't reported? He lifted his cell phone and made two calls, and growled in frustration when neither call was answered. He turned to his companion and said, “Let's get this done and get out of here.”
The two men wrapped their keffiyehs around their faces as they strode down the hall toward the lobby of the Israeli Consulate. Mustafa could taste the acrid smells of gunshots and bombs in the closed hall, and that pleased him. No doubt his men had overwhelmed the consulate and slaughtered the staff. It would make an impressive background for his report.
He strode into the lobby and noted the shambles. The destruction was extensive, and he saw at once that the security door to the consulate's interior had been breached. Two of his men lay in the door in a pool of blood, and Mustafa smiled at that. Even better, he decided; he had martyrs to display. He turned, pulled aside his keffiyeh to expose his face, and said, “Give me the flag and start recording.”
His companion raised a video camera and began recording as Mustafa Al-Hakeem held out a black ISIS flag by its corners and began announcing a rousing victory over the forces of Zionism. They'd fled in horror at his assault, he said, and died miserably in their offices, at their homes, and at their school. ISIS was victorious, he proclaimed, as it would be victorious over the decadent West and the land-stealing Zionist scum which infested Palestine. The Caliphate would be proclaimed, and soon, all peoples of the world would be under Islam and Sharia law. Finally, winding down, he draped the flag around his shoulders, waved his cameraman forward, and said, “Follow me. Let's record our victory in detail.”
The door, ruined and partially opened, was difficult to pass. Mustafa pushed at it, then cursed. His companion lowered his camera.
“We edit that part out, I take it?” he asked.
“What part?” Mustafa said.
“The part where you can't open the door,” his cameraman noted with enthusiasm.
“Idiot,” Mustafa said. Then, he paused and listened. A faint noise was coming from the receptionist's desk. He walked around its corner, stood behind it, and kicked the overturned chair aside. He pulled out his pistol, bent down, reached beneath the desk, and grasped a leg. A high-pitched shriek sounded. When he pulled on the leg, a bloody, disheveled Bilha emerged, squirming and protesting. He began dragging her across the carpet, and she held onto the desk. She kicked his hand, and he grunted and let go. When she scrambled back into the safety of her cubbyhole, he raised his pistol and pointed it at her.
“Get out here,” he commanded, in English, as he waved the pistol.
“No!” She shouted. He reached down and grasped her ankle again, and he yanked ferociously this time. As he dragged her, screaming and kicking, from behind the desk, as Bilha slid across the carpet, as the cameraman recorded the scene and watched through the viewfinder, she produced the pistol which had been secreted beneath her desk at Angelique's insistence, and she pointed it at him. He halted and stared in disbelief at this young woman's audacious attempt to fight him. Him, Mustafa Al-Hakeem, a veteran of the fighting in Syria and Iraq. This little girl was going to fight him? He began roaring in laughter. A moment later, Bilha shot him.
He staggered, but he did not release her. She shot him again, then again before he finally let her go. He staggered backward, and Bilha struggled to her feet. Then, she shot him two more times before he finally fell. She watched him hit the floor with a hard thud, and she stared at him as the carpet began staining dark around his chest. Then, as if in a haze of thought, she slowly looked down at herself. She attempted to pull her skirt back down into some semblance of modesty and button her blouse, torn and blood-stained, so that her bra wouldn't show so much. Then, she looked up, and she focused on the cameraman. He was standing about ten feet from her, recording the scene.
She said, “Who are you?” When he said nothing, but just kept recording, she yelled, “Who the hell are you?”
It was when she pointed the gun at him and manifested an expression of rage that he backed up, hands in the air, camera in one hand, and said, “I'm Ahmad. I just make videos.”
“Ahmad,” Bilha repeated. “You're an idiot.” She motioned with the pistol. “Pull aside your keffiyeh . Let me see your face.” He did, and she saw his youth. “What are you?” she asked. “Palestinian? Syrian? Egyptian?”
“Yeah. I mean no. I mean, Lebanese.”
“You're a stupid boy,” she said. “Hanging around with these people. You could get killed. What's the matter with you? How old are you, anyway? Sixteen?”
“Eighteen,” he managed to say. “Are you going to shoot me?”
“I should shoot you. Then, your mother would know what a stupid boy she'd raised.” She waved the gun toward the remnants of the lobby chairs. “Go and sit down, stupid boy.” She watched him slink toward an intact chair and sit, and she said, “And shut up. And behave yourself.” She waved the gun again and said, “Or I will shoot you.”
He managed a defiant look. “I could take that gun from you.”
At that, she raised the pistol and put a bullet into the wall near his head. He jumped at the gunshot, and his eyes became wide with astonishment. “Now sit still, stupid boy,” she repeated, and retreated behind her desk. With the gun still extended, she found her telephone head-set, put it on, plugged it into the phone, and dialed a three-digit number. A very frazzled 911 operator came on the line. “What is your emergency?” she asked.
“Israeli Consulate, Midtown. We've been attacked by many men with guns and bombs.”
“Yes, we know. Units have responded and are on scene now.”
“They are?” Bilha asked. “Where? I don't see anyone.” As she said that, the consulate entrance doors flew open, and several police officers entered and spread out through the lobby. In a moment and a flurry of shouts, they were confronting her across her desk, rifles pointed at her, screaming commands to drop her weapon. “Oh,” she said. “Never mind. They're here now.”
“Yeah,” the 911 operator said. “I can hear.” With that, the 911 connection broke.
Bilha placed the pistol on the counter, held up the identification badge around her neck, and said, “Israeli consulate staff. Don't shoot me, for the love of God.” She pointed at Ahmad – who, by now, was spread-eagle on the floor with a rifle pointed at him – and said, “He's one of them.”
“Yeah, we got him,” the sergeant noted. “But who shot that guy?” He pointed to Mustafa's limp body.
Bilha blinked in surprise at the question. She stood to her full, petite height and gave him an offended look. “I did,” she said.
“You,” the sergeant said, “shot him? You shot Mister Billy Badass over there, with the AK-47 and the pistol on him?”
“Yes. I did.” She huffed. “Why? What's so strange?” She tapped her chest proudly. “I was a soldier in Israel. I can fight.”
“I guess so.” He picked up her pistol from the desk and sniffed it. “Been recently fired,” he said. He jammed the pistol into the front of his belt and pointed at her identification badge. “What's your name, ma'am?”
“Bilha Mizrahi.” She held up her badge so that he could read it.
“Okay, Bilha Mizrahi,” he said. He pointed toward the shattered security door leading to the consulate's interior. “Who else is in there? Any more of them around?” He motioned toward the two bodies just inside the door. “Besides those two? You didn't shoot them too, did you?”
“No. Mossad got them. Several entered. Perhaps six or eight, maybe more, I don't know. The bombs knocked me down. I was under the desk. I heard terrible fighting for a bit, but no more. I think it's over.” She brightened. “Wait! I call.” She dialed a number, spoke into her headset, and carried on a conversation in rapid Hebrew. Then, she looked up. “I have spoken to someone back there. The situation is contained.”
“Contained?” the sergeant asked. “What does that mean?”
Bilha shrugged. “Mossad is back there. Take it that way.”
“Okay,” the sergeant said. “Mossad is back there.” He cast a glance at two men behind him and said, “You guys follow me. The rest of you, cordon off this whole floor. Nobody goes in or out but first responders.” He looked down at Bilha. “How's about you show us around?” he asked. He motioned for her to go first, then pointed at Mustafa and said to an officer, “Check that guy and see if he's still cookin'. If he is, call for a meat wagon. I'm going inside and check out the situation with Badass Bilha, here.” He returned his attention to Bilha and motioned politely. “After you, ma'am.”
“I want my gun,” Bilha said. “It's property of my government.”
The sergeant blinked at the request, then shrugged and handed it to her. “What the hell,” he said. “You don't look like a jihadist to me.” A second later, he added, “And you sure can use it.”
After Bilha stepped over the limp bodies inside the door, the sergeant leaned down and felt for carotid pulses. He shook his head, stood, and followed Bilha through the hallways. Bullet holes scarred the walls, sheet rock was torn up, and broken pieces of safety glass littered the hallway. As they slowly walked down the hall, the sergeant noted empty brass casings scattered around. In Hebrew, Bilha shouted, “Angelique? Avi? Police are here with me. Where are you? Come out.”
A door buzzed, and Avi stepped out of the intelligence room. Bilha pointed at him and said, “He's Mossad.” Then, she puzzled over a thought and asked, “Where's Angelique?”
“She's in the back,” Avi said.
“No,” a voice said. “I am here.” Angelique stepped out of a bathroom. She'd opened her protective vest, and she was dabbing at a bloody wound on her side. She pointed at the bleeding laceration on Avi's head. “You should take care of that.”
“Later,” Avi said. “Let's count the bodies first.”
The sergeant walked with Avi and Angelique down the hall, poking their noses into rooms. “So, how many bodies are we talkin' about here?” the sergeant asked.
“Eight or more, perhaps,” Angelique said. “One, at least, is one of ours.” She looked apologetically at Avi. “Sarah. She is dead.” She pointed. “Hallway, over there. Her pistol is empty, though. She took one with her.” She motioned toward a door. “Here. The consul general's office. This is the worst of it.”
They entered, and the sergeant whistled at the level of mayhem and destruction inside. The place was trashed, and several bodies lay in sprawled positions, pooling blood. Angelique's next remark got everybody's attention.
“One is still alive. Missing,” she said. She pointed down at the smeared blood trail which led across the carpet and around the corner toward the Consul General's private bathroom. She swung her M-4 from its place across her back, clicked off the safety, and pointed it in front of her as she slowly followed the blood trail. The sergeant keyed his radio. “Got one alive in here,” he said. “Call for a meat wagon.” He followed Angelique around the corner where he saw a man dressed in black, propped against a wall. The gunman looked up, and his eyes locked with Angelique's. Slowly, his hand reached for the grip of the AK-47 across his lap. He couldn't raise the rifle, though; Angelique's foot pinned the weapon to his lap. She raised the muzzle of her own rifle, and a red dot centered itself on his forehead.
“A live one. We'll take him into custody,” the police sergeant said. Angelique's rifle barked as she pumped a round into his forehead. He jerked, then went limp as his head nodded forward and began dripping blood. “Okay, then,” the sergeant said. “I guess we won't.” He focused his attention on Angelique. “What the hell was that?” the sergeant yelled. “He was still alive. You can't just go ‘round shooting people. This is America, not Israel.”
Angelique considered the statement. Then, she pointed to the view beyond a shattered window. “No,” she said. “Out there is America. In here, this is Israel.”
Angelique and the sergeant locked gazes. For a long moment, they studied each other. Then, the sergeant allowed the trace of a smile to cross his face. “Okay, I can work with that,” he said. He keyed his radio handset. “Cancel the meat wagon. We need the crime scene folks and the medical examiner over here. We got bodies all over the place.” His eyes flickered from Angelique to Avi, and then to Bilha. He keyed his radio again. “And if there's a paramedic down there, send him up. We got three walking wounded that need patched up.”
Two days later.
As it had in the days after Nine Eleven, the television news had pre-empted all regular programming and concentrated on the flurry of ISIS-inspired radical Islamist attacks in Europe and North America. No one, it seemed, had been spared. Many of the major cities in Europe had experienced incidents, some very bloody, as had many in Canada and The United States. And, as was to be expected, Israel was inundated with random missiles fired from Lebanon and Gaza, and bombing incidents in Jerusalem, Jaffa, Tel Aviv, and other points. Kibbutzim near the border with Gaza and Jewish settlements in the West Bank were actually attacked by Hamas insurgents with weapons and grenades. Blood was spilled on all sides, and damage was tremendous.
The body count was constantly escalating. Angelique and the other consulate staff were subject to repeated debriefings by FBI, local police, and other federal and state agencies. And in the midst of the chaos, the Deputy Consul General managed to find the time and energy to take charge and begin repairs. Workmen swept glass, repaired walls, replaced windows and tore up blood-stained carpet as the consulate staff attempted to return to business as usual.
Their most painful duty, though, was to return to Israel the bodies of the consul general, the consular clerk Sarah, and the consul general's grief-stricken wife and children. Tel Aviv was sending a private jet to the Atlanta airport to transport them all home.
The deputy consul general also managed to expedite two medals for heroism from the Israeli government, which he awarded to the injured Atlanta police officer and the widow of his slain partner in a ceremony in the hospital room where the surviving officer was recovering from leg surgery. The news cameras, of course, were there, and recorded the diplomat as he offered the grateful thanks of the Israeli government for the officers' heroic defense of the Jewish school.
The news cameras broadcast, as well, the response from representatives of Islam. In Atlanta, the imam of one of the largest mosques, Mullah Omar Abdullah, protested vigorously that he and his faithful had nothing whatsoever to do with these barbaric attacks, and that Islam the world over was a religion of peace and submission to God's will. Angelique felt that he protested a little too loudly. So, it seems, did the FBI.
FBI Field Office, Atlanta, Georgia.
Latifa Jefferson sat in the interrogation room, hands folded in her lap, eyes fixed on some spot on the table in front of her. From beneath her head scarf, only her face showed, and she seemed painfully young to be recounting the story which she told to the FBI agents in the room. In it, she described her manipulation by Mullah Omar Abdullah, her one-night marriage to the dead Syrian terrorist Mustafa Al-Hakeem, and her assertion that her mullah knew about the impending attacks. When the FBI got a warrant and raided the mosque, they found only an empty basement and a wiped-clean hard drive on his computer. When they dragged the mullah into their field office for interrogation, he ‘lawyered up' and refused to speak. Finally, in frustration, they had to let him go, and he gave impassioned public statements claiming racism and religious persecution. They even put a concealed microphone on Latifa and sent her to speak with him, hoping that he would admit knowledge of the attacks, but he was clever enough to deny everything. The federal prosecutor in Atlanta was beside herself in frustration – that is, until a representative from the CIA visited her one day in her office and brought up the subject of the errant mullah.
“I don't understand what the CIA can do to help,” she said. “Unless you know something that we don't.” She leaned forward across the desk. “Do you? Give me something, anything, that I can use to hang this guy. I know in my soul that he's involved.”
“Sure he's involved,” the CIA agent said. “He's the mastermind behind all the Atlanta attacks.”
She sat back in her chair. “Smug, arrogant bastard. I can't touch him.” She glanced up at the CIA agent sitting in front of her desk. “Can you?”
He raised an eyebrow. “Well,” he said, “there's things we folks at Langley can't do in-country that we can do elsewhere in the world, if you get my drift.”
“Then it's useless,” the federal prosecutor said. “At worst, the State Department will revoke his green card, and he's home to Saudi Arabia, where we'll never be able to touch him.”
“I know some people,” the CIA agent said. He smiled mysteriously. “I think that they might be delighted to help us out.”
She shot him a cautious glance. “Do I want to know?”
“No,” he answered. “Just don't push the investigation too hard if something untimely happens to your favorite mullah, right?”
Their eyes met. She returned the smile. “Right,” she said. “Got you covered.”
“Well, then. I'm glad we're on the same team.” He rose and offered his hand as a farewell.
The following week.
“ Shalom, Angelique!” Laurie closed the apartment door and kicked off her shoes. “Man,” she said, “Hebrew is confusing as heck.” She hung the strap of her messenger bag over the back of a kitchen chair and sat at the table, opposite Angelique. “The folks at the synagogue are really sweet, though. They're very patient with me. ‘Give the shiksa a break,' they say. ‘At least she's trying.'”
Angelique rested her tea cup on its saucer and nodded. “Yes, most Jewish children learn Hebrew early, at least a little. One has to know some by twelve, thirteen years.”
“Your Bat Mitzvah, right?”
“Oh, yes. So, do you find French or Hebrew to be harder?”
Laurie shrugged. “Hell, they're both hard. With French, it seems that I have to learn to talk out of my nose. With German, it's from the gut. With Hebrew, I gotta master that sound where folks think I'm coughin' up a hairball.” She studied Angelique. “How do you do it? How do you manage five languages?”
“Every language has its own music. One has to learn to sing the music.”
“Spoken like a musician, which you are. Speaking of which, I got a little present for you. It'll arrive in a few days.”
“For me, a present? Thank you.” Angelique noted the twinkle in Laurie's expression. “I hope that it did not cost a lot.”
“I'm a rich bitch now. Avi grossly overpaid me for cleaning those weapons for you guys.”
“Ah. Shame on him.” She puzzled over the situation, then asked, “What is it, this present?”
“I'm not tellin'. It's a surprise. Deal with it.” Laurie laughed as she rose, placed a kiss on Angelique's forehead, and dragged a bottle of beer from the refrigerator. As she leaned against the counter, Angelique turned to her.
“Every day with you is a present.”
Laurie lowered her beer bottle and studied Angelique. “That's the sweetest thing anybody ever said to me,” she noted. “And in English, even.”
Angelique shrugged shyly. “I speak English, a little.”
Laurie studied the beer bottle, then looked at Angelique. “Do you remember,” she asked, “when we first met?”
“You gave me a beer to calm my nerves, and we sat at a little kitchen table like this one.”
“I shall never forget it. You were very upset.”
“Well, duh! I almost got murdered that night.” She pointed at Angelique with the bottle. “You saved my butt.”
“It is a very nice butt.”
Laurie smiled at that. She sat in Angelique's lap, looped an arm around her shoulders, and looked down at her. “So's yours. So, how's your side doing? Does it hurt?”
Angelique winced. “Yes, some. But that is usual, is it not?” She tapped the cast on Laurie's wrist. “How is your, ah – ?”
“Wrist?” She looked down at the cast. “Oh, it throbs sometimes. Hey, I can still hold a beer with that hand. That's a good thing.” She chuckled. “Look at us. Band-aids, paper sutures, bruises, you with a bullet wound, me with a busted arm; you'd think we're accident prone.”
Angelique hugged Laurie to her. “With me, you are hurt a lot.”
“What?” Laurie said. “You've never hurt me.”
“No, I mean that because you are with me, you get hurt.”
Laurie studied the expression on Angelique's face. More, she felt the guilt radiate, almost as if she'd plugged into her spouse's neurons and tapped the sensations. “It was never your fault, Angel. It was bad people who tried to get to you through me.”
“Still, it was because of me. Because of who I was.” More softly, she added, “Who I am.”
“I know who you are, and I love you for it. I always will.” Laurie rested her cheek against Angelique's forehead. “Angelique Bat-Ami or Angelique Halevy, you're both. But to me, you're just Angel, the girl I married.” She sat up a little and looked down at Angelique. “I love you. I always will. I will never leave you. Please learn to believe that.”
“But you could die, being with me.”
“I could die being a farm wife in Kansas, too.” She smiled that little smile that told Angelique that a joke was coming. “My grandpa used to say that it's not the years in the life, it's the life in the years.” She managed a little shrug. “Of course, he changed his tune when he turned eighty. Then, he was just glad to be alive.” She locked eyes with Angelique. “I'm more alive with you than I've ever been in my life. And I love that.”
“Me, also, with you.” Angelique swallowed hard, then whispered, “I love you, Laurie.”
“I know. I love you, too.”
“You would like to come to bed with me?”
“Wow, you smooth talker. Is that how French girls proposition their conquests?”
“Yes. That, and a lot of wine.”
“I'm a Kansas girl. I prefer whiskey.” She placed her beer bottle on the table. “Or beer. Hey, do you know the mating call of the Kansas farm girl?” Angelique shook her head, and Laurie said, “Ah shooooooore am drunk!”
“And you are drunk now?”
Laurie kissed Angelique quite tenderly, then said, “I don't need to be drunk to get seduced by you. That accent of yours is enough. My motor's runnin', baby. Let's go to bed.”
They rose, locked and bolted the door, and clicked off the kitchen light. In the dark, they found their way to the bedroom easily. As the bed-covers were pulled down and clothing dropped to the floor, Angelique said, “Laurie?”
“Do you think that we can improve Avi's love life tonight?”
Laurie snickered evilly. “Oh, hell yes! Let's go for it.”
As the bed squeaked from the weight of two bodies, Angelique said, “I make you a bet.”
“You, bet? You never bet. I gotta hear this. What's the bet?”
“I bet you five American dollars that I make you finish louder than you make me finish.”
Laurie wheezed in laughter. “How do we know who won?”
“We ask Avi tomorrow, at work.”
“God, I'll never be able to look that man in the face again. Okay, you're on. Let's go for it.”
“As you say in Kansas, ‘Stop talkin' and start kissin'.”
“Darlin', you got a way with words, I don't care what the hell language it's in.”
Israeli Consulate, the next day.
Angelique sat at her work area, studying the latest intelligence dispatches from the New York embassy's Mossad detachment. As usual, she searched particularly for evidence that suggested that The Angel of Mossad was dead, but saw nothing. What she did see was the usual chatter.
The door buzzed open, and Avi entered. His head wound was healing nicely, and his disposition was top-notch. He was humming a little tune as he dropped his bag and waved a hello to Angelique.
“Coffee?” he asked. Angelique readily agreed, and in a few minutes, they were seated in the consulate's little lounge, at the lunch table, sipping coffee. “What's new in the dispatches?” Avi asked.
“Nothing of importance,” Angelique replied. Over the rim of her coffee cup, she shot Avi a twinkling glance. “You seem in a very good mood this morning.”
Avi smiled. “A happy wife makes for a happy life. Old Yiddish proverb.”
Angelique snickered. “In our case, also.”
Avi's eyes radiated humor. “Yes, we heard you two.”
“Oh.” After a moment's silence, Angelique said, “We heard you two, as well.”
It was Avi's turn to utter, “Huh?”
“As you say, the walls are thin. It works both ways.”
“Oh.” Avi thought about it, then smiled an odd little smile. “Well, that's Ruth. A very competitive girl.”
“So it would seem,” Angelique agreed.
They shot a teasing glance at each other, then finished their coffee and left the lounge.
That morning, the Mossad intelligence section at the Atlanta Consulate got an unexpected call from an old acquaintance. As Avi and Angelique sat side-by-side in anticipation, the computer screen lit up with the face of a man. He wore an open-collared white shirt and had a head of thick white hair which was always just a little unruly. There was no mistaking the highly-placed Mossad figure known as ‘The Old Man.' After he gave greetings and enquired as to their families, he got down to business.
“Angelique, I'm forwarding to you the latest intelligence reports on a subject of vital interest to you. You'll be quite pleased to see it, I'm sure.”
“Can you give me a hint, sir?” Angelique asked.
“I'll do better. It's so seldom that I get to deliver good news about a death.” He smiled. “Yours, it seems. Hamas issued a million-Euro reward to one Muslim fellow living in Paris – who also happens to be a double agent for the French SDAT – for the killing of one Angelique Bat-Ami, also known as The Angel of Mossad. They believe that you died when he blew up your car with an RPG in Paris. That was a nice piece of deceit, by the way. Well done to both you and the French. Hamas spies in Jerusalem confirmed your burial. Congratulations, Angel. You're officially dead.”
Angelique sat, stunned. For a moment, she could not speak. Then, she blinked back emotion as she asked, “Then, sir – ?”
“We can discharge you from service in The Mossad and return you to your retirement in Paris. I understand that your bar is being nicely repaired. You should be able to re-open your business soon.”
“Ah, when may we do that?”
“Soon.” He paused, and his expression turned to one of deep seriousness. “I wanted to ask one more task of you, Angel. It's a task that I had hoped that I would never again have to ask of you.”
“How would you like to exact justice for the killing of two of your consulate people and for the attempted murder of Jewish men, women, and children?”
Avi and Angelique exchanged glances. Angelique said, “I'm listening, sir.”
“The man who orchestrated the Atlanta attacks is still alive and free. It appears that the FBI can't prosecute him. Not enough evidence, and he has good lawyers. The worst that can possibly happen to him is that the Americans will revoke his permanent residency status there, and he'll fly home to Saudi Arabia, free as a bird.” The Old Man reflected a solemn expression. “Unless we deal him justice in our own particular way.”
“I thought the leader was killed in the attack on the consulate. Mustafa Al-Hakeem. I saw his body.”
“No. He was number two, and took his orders from one Mullah Omar Abdullah. He is the chief cleric – the imam – of one of the largest mosques in Atlanta.”
Angelique nodded. “I have seen him on the television here. He is something of a local celebrity. Are we sure that the intelligence is right about him?”
“Yes. I'm very confident.” He paused, then asked, “I'm sure that you know my next question, don't you, Angel?”
“Yes, sir. You want me to ‘deal with him' personally.”
“I know that you're retired from assassination, and for good reason. I know that your service to Israel cost you dearly. But you're locally placed, you've got diplomatic immunity, and your skills are impeccable. You were the best Kidon had. Now, this is not an order, Angel. It's a request. I'll understand completely if you tell me ‘no'. It's your decision.”
Angelique thought for a moment, then looked up at the monitor. “Let me speak in confidence with Laurie, sir. If she consents, then I consent. I'll call you this afternoon with my decision.”
The Old Man nodded. “A prudent answer, Angel. I wait to hear from you. Shalom. ”
The screen went blank. Together, Avi and Angelique sat back in their chairs and exhaled deeply as they locked gazes. Avi said, “Wow. You were that good, huh?”
“I was lucky.”
“No. You're a legend. I heard a few stories.”
“Let us hope,” Angelique said, “that I can live up to the legend.”
“When will you talk to Laurie?”
“Today. She is coming for lunch.”
“How do you think she will react?”
“I will find out.”
“I would listen to her. She's pretty bright.” He could see the agreement in Angelique's eyes. “So, let's get to work, huh? I'm sure we've got more reports to write, or something.”
A few hours later, Avi looked up, then buzzed the door open. Laurie entered, waved at Avi, and said, “Can I borrow Angel for lunch?”
“Of course,” Avi said. “Enjoy. Take your time.”
“Ah. Slow day, huh?” She stood next to Angelique's chair, hugged her, and looked at her computer screen. “Solitaire? You slacker.”
“As Avi said, it is a slow day.” She stood. “But an eventful one.”
“Anything you can tell me about?”
“Yes, yes. We go?”
“Yeah, sure. Later, Avi.”
He laughed. “As you say. Oh, and Laurie?”
“Ruth asked me to tell you that Angelique won the five dollars.”
“What?” Laurie screeched to a halt and shot Avi a blank look. Angelique covered her mouth with a hand to hide a laugh.
“You know. The bet. Ruth has declared Angelique the clear winner.”
A line of red blush crept up Laurie's face. “Ah, how did...you know...about the...bet...?” She looked at Angelique. “Did you – ?”
“No, no!” Angelique held up a hand defensively.
Avi laughed again. “The walls are thin. We heard everything.”
“Jeez! Is nothing secret?” Laurie rolled her eyes. “I guess it's a good thing that I don't fart a lot.”
Angelique said, “Someone in Avi's household does.”
“Not me,” Avi said. “That's Ruth.”
“I'm tellin' her you said that, pal.” Laurie shot a grin at Avi as she pointed an accusing finger at him. “We get together for tea most afternoons.”
They waved good-bye to Avi and walked through the door. Just before it closed, Angelique stuck her head back into the room and said, “She does, you know.”
“What?” Avi asked. “Have tea with Ruth?”
“No. Fart a lot.”
Behind her, a hand grasped Angelique's collar and pulled her into the hall. “Angel!” Laurie said indignantly. “I've never done that in front of you. Well, okay. A few times. But that doesn't match that honker you did on the train in Germany.”
“But, Laurie. Beer does not agree with me...”
As their voices faded away down the hall, Avi returned his attention to the computer screen with the mumbled statement, “I will miss those two.”
Laurie traced a pattern with a fingertip in the condensation on her glass of diet soda. “So,” she said, “what's so eventful today?” She looked across the table at Angelique.
“I spoke with The Old Man,” Angelique said. “He declared The Angel of Mossad officially dead, according to Hamas.”
Laurie bounced in joy. “That's great, Angel. We can go back to Paris.” She noted the caution in Angelique's expression and leaned forward. “Okay. What am I missing here?”
“He asked me for one more thing first.”
Laurie's expression fell. “He asked you to – ” She looked around. “Ah, ‘deal with' someone, right?”
“Yes.” She quickly added, “It was a request, not an order. My choice.”
“The one responsible for the Atlanta attacks.”
Laurie's eyes revealed question. “That was that Mustafa guy that Bilha shot, right?”
“No. He was merely number two. The ah, how-do-you-say? Mastermind – is another. FBI cannot touch him. He will probably escape justice.”
Laurie lowered her voice to a whisper. “Who is it?”
“Do you see that cleric on television? That mullah? The one here, in Atlanta?”
Laurie sat up. “That blowhard? Him?”
Laurie thought about it, then looked up. “Is the intelligence on him good?”
“Yes. Mossad is certain.”
Again, Laurie thought about it as Angelique sat in silence, awaiting her reaction. Finally, Laurie sighed deeply. “Then what's the problem?”
“Do you approve of me doing this?”
Laurie studied Angelique's expression. Like a fist, a realization hit her, a sure knowledge that Angelique deeply cared what Laurie thought. If she said ‘no', Angelique would not do this. Laurie held the winning vote, and it was a heavy one. She reached across the table and grasped Angelique's hand. “Do you approve of you doing this?”
“In this case, yes.” Angelique squeezed Laurie's hand. “But if you do not – ”
“I agree. Do it.”
A moment's crashing silence came between them. Angelique tilted her head in question, and Laurie continued, “You said to me once that it was your purpose to deal with ‘the rabid dogs of humanity', as you put it. This guy is one. He's everything twisted and evil and hateful. Who better to exact justice than you, Angel?”
“This is your feeling?”
“Yeah. Hell, yeah. I just have one request.”
“What is that?” Angelique asked.
“Don't leave me out of this. I'm in it with you.”
“Laurie, you do not have to be a part of this.”
“We're a team, Angel. In all things. We're a team in this, too.”
“But it will be dangerous.”
“It was dangerous in Germany. It was dangerous in France. It was dangerous in Israel. If I'm there, I can help protect you.” She gripped Angelique's hand tighter. “I can't sit this out and let you do it alone. We're a team now. Where you go, I go. What you do, I do.”
It was Angelique's turn to sit in silence. As Laurie watched, she considered the argument. Then, she looked across the table. “I will give our answer to The Old Man this afternoon.”
Laurie managed a smile. “So, The Angel of Mossad's back in business, huh?”
“It would appear so, Laurie, for one more time.” She attempted a joke. “And with a partner.”
“I won't let you down,” Laurie said.
“I know. You are clever and very brave, and you do not give up. You will make a good assassin.”
“Well,” Laurie decided, as their food arrived. “That's the second nicest thing anybody's ever said about me.”
After lunch, Laurie left Angelique at the consulate lobby. As Angelique buzzed herself into the security door with her badge, Laurie leaned against the receptionist's desk and looked at Bilha. She was still a mass of bruises, band-aids, and healing cuts offset by neatly-braided hair and tasteful clothing, but she had retained her bright, cheerful attitude and was unaffected by the workmen repairing the distant part of the waiting room. With her telephone headset on her head and her glasses sliding down on her nose, she appeared nothing like a young woman who'd survived bomb blasts and tangled with – and killed – a ruthless jihadist a few feet from her desk. “How's things?” Laurie asked. She glanced down at Bilha's lap and saw that she was hugging a heating pad to her lower abdomen. “What's wrong? Cold?”
Bilha glanced across the room at the distant workmen, then back at Laurie. “No,” she said. “I'm niddah .”
“You're studying Hebrew, aren't you?”
Laurie shrugged. “Well, yeah, but give me a break. I just started.”
Bilha crooked a finger at Laurie and leaned forward. In a low voice, she said, “That ‘Plan B' pill worked.” She rolled her eyes. “ Oi , did it work.”
“Ah!” Laurie snickered. “Aunt Flo came to visit, huh?”
“My grandmother used to call it Stalin. Red and angry. Trust me, I'm not complaining. I could be – ” She motioned with her hands and mimed a huge belly.
“In Kansas, that's what we call sowing wild oats and then praying for a crop failure.” Laurie's expression softened. “You got something to take? There's a drug store right down the street. I could – ”
“I have something, thank you.” She shook her head. “Men should be cursed with this.”
“Men couldn't handle it. Later, Bilha. Drop by tonight if you feel up to it, why don't ya?”
“Thank you, Laurie. Shalom,” Bilha said, as she watched Laurie leave the lobby. She sighed, then sipped her hot tea. As she returned her attention to her open book, she said, “Men. I'm giving them up.” She smiled at that, thought about it, and said, “For a week, anyway.”
In the consulate's intelligence center, Angelique faced the computer screen. “We are agreed, sir. He will be dealt with.”
The Old Man nodded. “You're in charge of the operation. Report periodically. Shalom .” The screen blanked, and Angelique leaned back in her chair.
Avi asked, “What now?”
“Now,” Angelique said, “I have to learn his ways.” She looked up at Avi. “Would you care to help me with some surveillance?”
Avi stood and pulled his pistol from the desk drawer. “A lovely way to spend an afternoon.”
Over the next two weeks, Angelique focused her attention on learning everything possible about Mullah Omar Abdullah. Mossad, Homeland Security, The CIA; all provided as much information as possible, although it appeared sketchy in places. It seemed that the mullah had been considered, up to this point, a minor character in the terrorist watch lists. The personal surveillance had helped; she'd found an advantageous spot on the top floor of a parking garage from which to study the mosque's activity, and she'd determined where the mullah's private rooms were at the back of the mosque. Since he was often surrounded by people in his daily, official activities, and always accompanied by an escort in his travels into the city, she was becoming convinced that the best time to confront him and ‘deal with him' was in the late hours of night, in his apartment. For that, she needed a clean, relatively safe ingress and egress. That was the question which she pondered as she fielded a telephone call from her CIA contact one morning, asking for a conference.
An hour later, two Americans – the CIA contact and an FBI agent – entered the Israeli Consulate and joined Angelique and Avi in the conference room. “We are secure here,” Angelique reassured them. “We can speak our minds.”
After a moment of silence as the Americans traded glances, the CIA contact spoke first. “We wanted an update on your efforts to bring justice to Atlanta's favorite mullah.”
Avi chuckled at the description. “Yes, we have seen him on the television. He has been quite outspoken.”
“A blowhard,” the FBI agent agreed. “The sooner that he's out of the picture for good, the better.”
“Yes,” Angelique said. “Mossad will see to it. However, these things must be carefully planned. We are deciding the best way to get close to him now. It will be difficult.”
Avi added, “If we could get into the mosque or interview someone close to him...”
At that, the FBI agent smiled. “I can help you with that. Shall we take a ride?”
Angelique sat with Latifah Jefferson at a fast-food joint. She watched Latifah eat, but only drank coffee as they spoke. “Thank you,” Angelique said, “for speaking with me.”
Latifa shrugged. “Thanks for the meal,” she said. “So, you bought me lunch. You must want something. What?”
“Tell me,” she said, “about Mulla Omar Abdullah.”
“What you want to know about him for?”
“We have an interest in him,” Angelique said. “Can you introduce me to him? You go to that mosque?”
“Not no more,” she said. “I don't go there no more.”
“I notice that you are not wearing a head scarf. Are you no longer a practicing Muslim?”
“I don't think I ever was, really. It was a con game, and I fell for it all the way.” She looked up at Angelique, and a sudden fire flashed in her eyes. “I told the FBI about it. About him. About what he got me to do. Hell, all they wanted was my money and my body.” She snorted. “They done got both, didn't they?”
“I read the report. I am sorry. What happened to you was wrong.”
“He actually got me to agree to it. That's what pisses me off the most.” She eyed Angelique. “You got a gun under your shirt. You a cop? You FBI? You're something. What are you?”
“It is better,” Angelique said, “if you do not know.”
“One thing for sure, you ain't from around here, the way you look and talk.” She popped a French fry into her mouth and said, “It don't matter. The FBI man, he told me that the mullah, he's goin' to skate free as a bird. There's nothing they can do, he said.” She snorted. “That's justice. He pimps me out to his crazy-ass friend and sends people out to shoot up the town, and there's nothing they can do. My cousin sells some weed, and he's doing time in the county lock-up. It don't make sense.”
“If I tell you that I can bring justice to the mullah, would you believe me?”
Latifah eyed Angelique distrustfully. “How? How you goin' to do what the FBI can't do?”
Angelique allowed a little smile to cross her face. “I am... outside ... the law.”
Latifah's eyes widened. “Holy shit,” she said, then quickly lowered her voice to a whisper. “You some kind of bounty hunter, like that Dog guy? Some kind of hired killer?”
Angelique cocked her head in question. She considered an answer as Latifah took a bite of her burger, then said, “Are you familiar with the saying, ‘An eye for an eye'?”
“Yeah. That's Old Testament. Everybody knows that. I was raised Baptist.” She stopped eating and studied Angelique. “You're a Jew, ain't ya?”
“Man, they done messed up y'all's shit, didn't they? Killed some of y'all, too. I saw it on TV. I'd be wanting some payback, myself.” Her eyes narrowed. She studied Angelique hard as she ate, and as Angelique sipped her coffee. Then she said, “Okay. You say you can make this happen?” Angelique nodded. “What you want from me?”
Angelique leaned across the table. “When is he most alone?”
“At night, up in his apartment.”
“You have been there?”
She nodded. “Yeah. Me, and a couple other girls.” She glanced aside. “When I was bein' dumb.” Her gaze shifted back to Angelique. “He sure is a talker. Sweet and smooth. And I was totally believin' that shit ‘bout how sleepin' with him was a path to heaven. Damn fool. My momma always said I was a damn fool, and I guess she was right. I got no sense when it comes to men.”
“Is there a back way into his apartment?”
“Yeah,” she said. “Back alley. Gray steel door. Leads up to the second floor. His apartment's at the end of the hall. He goes in and out that way sometimes, when his car comes and picks him up. He don't drive, y'know. He's got a bodyguard, a mean-ass bullet-headed son of a bitch, drives him around.”
“Is the bodyguard there at night?”
“Most times, no. He likes to party at the clubs downtown.”
“Hell, half them guys that say they're Muslim there, they're all drinkin', or sticking something up their noses or in their arms.” She shrugged. “There's some of ‘em, they're pretty righteous, but I wouldn't give you two cents for half of ‘em.”
“And the mullah, he does this?” Angelique asked. “Drugs? Liquor?”
“Nah. He's just got a taste for the ho's, that's the only thing I ever seen.”
“‘Ho's'? Do you mean prostitutes?”
Latifah smiled. “You sure ain't from ‘round here. Yeah.”
“How does he get these prostitutes?”
“That bodyguard of his. Brings ‘em at night.”
“By the back door?”
“What time of night?”
“Oh, maybe nine, ten p.m. most times.”
“Thank you, Miss Jefferson. I appreciate your help.”
Latifah snickered at that. “No one calls me ‘Miss Jefferson' but my parole officer.”
“You were in jail?”
“Yeah. Young and dumb, like I done said. But I'm tryin' to turn it around, best I can. I don't never want to go back there.” Her expression suddenly became deadly serious. “Two things, you hear? One, you get that son of a bitch. The other, you leave me out of this. I don't need no more trouble with the law. You and I, we never talked. You never met me, and I never seen you. ‘Cause if the police come knockin' on my door, I'll deny to my dying breath that I ever talked with you.”
“It will be so with me, as well.” Angelique said, as she stood. “We never met.”
A week later.
Avi and Angelique tread the stairs up to her second-floor apartment. “Ruth is at your place,” he explained. “She asked me to come there.”
“Of course,” Angelique said. “Nothing is wrong, is it?”
“No, except that you two are leaving.”
“We miss Paris.”
“I'm sure. Lovely city.”
They entered Angelique's apartment, and applause met them. Inside, several of their neighbors were gathered. Angelique blinked in surprise, then looked around for Laurie. She was in the kitchen, beaming. “What is this?” Angelique asked.
“Going-away party. Bon voyage. We're almost outta here, remember?”
“Yes, of course.” She looked around at the faces. “Thank you so much. Rav todot. ”
Someone stuck a glass of wine into Angelique's hand, and she found herself being hugged repeatedly. Then, Laurie's hand on her arm guided her to the center of the floor as everyone gathered around. “Okay, speech time,” Laurie said. “This is in English, ‘cause I only speak enough Hebrew to get my face slapped. Anyhow, Angel and I are really appreciative of all the kindness you've shown to us during our time here. Bilha, you're the little sister I never had. I love you, kiddo. Keep comin' to a gay chick for good advice about men. Ruth, thanks for your competitive nature and our tea times. Our rivalry has kept both our marriages happy. But most of all, thanks to Angel.”
“What have I done?” Angelique asked.
“It's what you're about to do. You're about to play us all some music.” She pointed, and the guests parted to reveal an electronic piano in the corner. It was a beauty, with a full-sized keyboard and pedals. Angelique stared at it, then at Laurie.
“We cannot afford such a thing.”
“It's paid for. Enjoy! Come on, play a song, why don't ya?”
She seated herself on the little folding stool and ran her fingers over the controls above the keyboard. Volume, on. Voices, set to grand piano. She touched a key, then played a few scales. The sound was exquisite. She looked up at Laurie. “Where – ?”
“Music store. Used. Got it for a song and a dance.”
“You did what for it?”
“Okay, that's an expression. I didn't really sing and dance. It means I got a fantastic deal.”
“But – the money?”
“I earned the money cleaning you guys' guns.”
“Laurie...” Angelique clapped her hands over her face and bowed her head. For a moment, she said nothing. Then, she looked up and wiped her eyes. “Thank you,” she said. “It is beautiful.”
The guests began clapping in unison and chanting, “Song, song...” They quickly silenced when Angelique's hands found the keyboard, and the first notes of Beethoven's Fur Elise rang out, loud and clear, in the crowded little apartment.
When the last notes faded, as the applause and excited shouts rang out, Laurie placed two glasses on the top of the piano. One contained water; the other, whiskey. “For when you sing,” she suggested. Angelique nodded. She shot the whiskey to cleanse her throat, then chased it with water to cool the burn. She hummed a little tune to test her voice, then began to work her magic with voice and piano. It didn't matter what she played and sang, whether it was an old standard, a pop tune, or a folk song; everyone seemed to love the impromptu performance.
When Laurie refilled her whiskey glass with another shot, Angelique held it up and said, “I will make a toast to those who are not with us.” Angelique rested her glass on the piano top, struck a chord, found the note, and began the slow, exquisite strains of Hatikva , the national anthem of Israel. A sudden, intense silence descended over the room. As she sang it and played, voices began joining hers. Many wept. It was a moving end to the gathering.
Eventually, the guests went home, the little apartment was cleaned, and the hour grew late. Angelique was in bed already, her nose in a paperback novel, but her mind was not on the story. Her mind was on the impending mission. She'd done her homework, and she'd learned her target. She knew what she faced, and now, all that was left was to do it. Immediately afterward, they would be on a charter jet to Tel Aviv for debriefing and her retirement from Mossad. After that? Paris. She smiled at that. Paris; the word reached out to her like a warm embrace. Paris, where she could finally leave behind war and death, and be left alone to play her music, run her bar, and love her Laurie with a passion that made her soul ache.
She glanced over the top of her book. Laurie had left the shower and had walked , naked, into the room. She was toweling off the last of the wetness from her pixie-cut red hair, allowing her body to air-dry the last remnants of the shower from her skin. In mid-fluff of her hair, she paused and glanced at Angelique. “What?” she asked.
Angelique rested her book on her stomach. “Excuse moi?”
“What's that look for?”
“I like to look at you.”
Laurie laughed. “Yeah, right. At my scrawny ass?” She lowered the towel and smiled. “Thank you, Angel.”
“Come to bed?” Angelique pulled the covers back on Laurie's side of the bed.
“After that compliment? Oh, hell yes.” Laurie threw her towel over a hook on the back of the bedroom door, clicked off the light, and crawled into bed. In a moment, she was against Angelique's side, her head on the waiting shoulder. She sighed as she settled down. “So,” she said, “can we talk?”
“It's about the job. Are you scared?”
“No, not so much frightened. More, concerned. Many things can go wrong.” Angelique hugged Laurie closer. “You are frightened?”
“It is usual to be so.”
“So how do you deal with it?”
“We prepare. We know our job. We do it. Then, we leave. It is that simple.”
“If you say so.” She attempted a laugh. “I've just seen too many movies, I guess.”
“It is a very heavy thing to take a life, Laurie. But this man is a rabid dog. To let him live is an injustice. He must be dealt with as one would deal with a rabid dog. This way, we assure our people that they are a little safer, and we make an example of him to the other rabid dogs of the world. They must fear us, respect us, or they will attack us even more.”
“Wow. It really is that simple, huh?”
“Yes. That simple.” For a period of time, they fell silent, content just to be in each other's close company. Then, Angelique ventured a thought. “I wish you would not be a part of this, Laurie.”
Laurie looked up at Angelique's face. “I thought we agreed. I thought we talked it all out.”
“Yes, but there is one other thing. If the job fails and we are caught before we can leave the country, it matters not to me. I have diplomatic immunity. But you...”
“I see what you mean. I'm a US citizen. I could go to prison.”
Laurie thought about it. Finally, she sighed. “I won't let you do this alone. If I wasn't there and anything happened to you – ”
“I will be fine. I am used to working alone.”
Laurie puzzled for a moment, then brightened. “Hey, the Supreme Court ruled, remember? I'm legally your spouse now. Immediate family. If we're busted, then they'll just throw me out of the country with you. No problem.”
“You will never be able to return, to visit your family.”
“Then we'll send them tickets. They can visit us. Look, Angel. I'm not letting you do this alone. Period.”
“Always, so stubborn.”
“Yeah. It'll turn out okay, Angel.”
“Damn right. I'm American, remember? Optimism is that thing we do.” Laurie shifted a little, and ran her hands across smooth skin. “Man, you feel good.” Her hand cupped a breast. “You French hottie.”
“I have not very much there.”
“More than me, which isn't saying much. I'm flatter than a barn door. Hell, most of those muscle-headed dudes in the gym have more boobs than me.”
“But not more attitude.”
“Oh, yeah? I'll show you attitude. I know just where you're most ticklish.”
Angelique screamed in laughter as she thrashed about the bed. After a few seconds, they came to rest in a tangled lump in the middle of the bed. The covers were on the floor. Laurie whispered, “Give up?”
“Oh, now you're really gonna get it.”
Who kissed whom first was never resolved, but it did not matter to them. An intense quiet settled over the room, and for a long time, no more was heard but the soft rustle of lovemaking.
In the apartment below, Avi turned the page on his book, then glanced over at Ruth, next to him in bed. Her reading glasses were low on her nose, and she was tapping at a hand-held tablet computer. “That was a good one,” Avi noted.
“Hmm,” Ruth said, as she looked over at him. “What?” When he pointed at the ceiling above them with a finger, she nodded. “Ah, yes. I heard them.” She rolled her eyes melodramatically. “The dead would hear those two.”
“What would you say? Was that a seven out of ten?”
“No,” Ruth said. “More, a nine.”
“We should try for an eleven.”
Ruth shot him an amused look, then concentrated on her tablet computer. “Avi, you're a horny goat.” She glanced at Avi again. “We have a child who sleeps. We have to be quiet.”
“A three, then?” Avi asked.
“Four,” Ruth countered.
Avi shrugged. “Okay,” he said, as he clicked off the bedside lamp. “One ‘four', coming up.”
“Try for a five.”
The next evening.
Night had descended; the alley behind the mosque was dark, painted by occasional splotches of light from security lamps. In the blackness next to a garbage dumpster, two figures waited, clothed in dark coveralls, faces covered by keffiyehs so that only the eyes showed. One held a short M-4 rifle with a noise suppressor on its barrel; the other, a shotgun. They did not move or speak, but waited.
On the top deck of the parking garage across the street, Avi watched through a monocular. Occasionally, he would touch the radio transceiver in his ear and whisper, “Are you okay?”
“Yes,” was the inevitable reply. He knew that they probably weren't, though. Angelique, he knew, was a pro. Laurie was a newcomer to the dark and bloody world of assassination. If anything went horribly wrong tonight, it would most probably be Laurie who would suffer.
Mullah Omar Abdullah rose from his divan and showed his last appointment for the evening to the door. After they left, he stretched wearily, then looked up as his secretary entered the room. “Is that all the appointments?” he asked.
“Yes, Eminence. You will be going upstairs now?”
“I think so.”
“Will you be going out?”
“No, I think not.” The mullah paused, then said, “Is the night watchman here yet?” At the secretary's nod, he added, “And Rahim?”
“Your bodyguard? No. Shall I call him?”
“Never mind. It's late. Good night.” The mullah left his offices, walked to the very back of the mosque building, and ascended the stairs to his private apartment. When he got there, he found his cell phone and made a call.
In another neighborhood, Rahim felt his cell phone vibrate as he sipped a mixed drink and watched a girl gyrate around a brass pole. He answered the call, spoke a few words, and hung up. Then, he rose and entered the door to a private lounge. The bar's owner nodded a greeting and pointed to empty stools at the bar. They sat next to each other.
“Let me guess. You want a girl.”
“Nope,” Rahim said.
“Your boss wants a girl.”
“He said he wants somethin' really special tonight.”
The bar owner smiled. “I know just the gal.” He rose and left the bar. In about ten minutes, he returned with a woman in tow. She was curvy, tattooed, and wore a leopard-print dress which was a little too tight. An aura of perfume and cigarette smoke hovered around her. Rahim looked her over, then nodded. When she cast a questioning glance at the bar owner, he said, “It's okay. Very special client. I'll pay you when you get back.”
“How am I getting back?” she asked. “I'm going with him?”
“I'll take you to him and bring you back here,” Rahim said.
The girl shrugged agreement, then walked to Rahim's side. “You ain't the client? Then who is?”
Rahim looked at the bar owner. “She asks too many questions.”
The bar owner laughed. He motioned toward the door. “Go on, honey. Make us some money tonight.”
She followed Rahim through the club, then out the front door. They climbed into a dark Mercedes. A minute later, Rahim turned it onto a wide boulevard leading toward Midtown. After about five minutes of silence, the young woman said, “You don't talk much, do you?”
“Nope,” was all that Rahim said.
After another minute of silence, the woman said, “Whatever, then. You mind if I smoke?”
“Yeah, I mind.”
The woman sighed, then amused herself by watching the scenery pass by as the car moved through the night streets. She tried conversation one more time.
“You got a name?” she asked.
“Rahim,” he said. “Don't wear it out.”
“Well, Rahim,” she said. “I'm Jasmine.” She looked at him. “Like the Disney princess.”
That actually got a grin out of Rahim. “Yeah,” he said. “That's you, all over.” The remark only earned him a go-to-hell look from Jasmine.
He slowed the car and pulled it into an alley next to an ornate mosque. They eased down the alley, then turned left at a little parking area behind the building and stopped a few feet from a metal door lit by a security lamp. Rahim turned off the car, got out, and walked around to the passenger door. When he opened it, Jasmine stepped out. She said, “You got a minute? I want a cigarette before we go inside.”
Rahim shrugged. “Sure,” he said. “Hurry up, Princess.”
“Man,” she said, as she lit a cigarette. “You sure know how to talk to women, don't you?” They wandered into the circle of light cast by the security camera and loitered for a moment. As she smoked, she studied Rahim. Something about him did not seem right. To her, a lot about him didn't seem right. He was big. Really big, and his neck was wider than his head. She didn't trust anyone whose neck was wider than their head. Rahim's head, she decided, was shaped like a bullet, too. Ol' Bullet-head, she thought. Then, she saw the dot. “What's that red dot on your head?” she asked.
“What red dot?” he shot back. “What are you talkin' about?”
“Right there,” she said. She pointed to her own forehead, then at his.
“Oh, shit!” he said. He looked at the alley near the door. Ten feet away, a dark figure in an Arabic-appearing keffiyeh held a short rifle with a laser sight which burned up at him. “Who the fuck are you?” he asked. The figure did not move. For a moment in time, all three stood frozen; then, the bodyguard's hand flashed up toward the inside of his suit coat.
Angelique squeezed the trigger on her M-4, and her heart sank. She held him in her sights, but her rifle would not fire. She saw the look in the bodyguard's eyes, and she saw his hand flash up toward his waist. In a second, he would have a pistol out. She did not have time to clear her weapon and chamber another round. She would have to do this close-up and personal, and this man was twice her size and obviously used to violence. The prospect chilled her blood.
She rested the rifle on the ground, then closed the distance to her opponent. His hand was out, and he was leveling his pistol at arm's length; she focused on that. As if by pure instinct and long training, her body took over.
Her left hand grabbed his wrist and yanked it upward, and her right hand slapped the pistol as hard as it could. The gun flew out of his hand and bounced off the metal door. He swept his arm at her, and his forearm caught her in the chest. Her feet left the ground; she flew backward and landed solidly against the car. She stepped forward and he swung hard, but the fist went above her head. His punch, she noted, was a round-house, and not focused. He was a brute, but he was not trained. She attacked again and kicked his knee, then his groin and his abdomen, at the base of his sternum. He grunted and staggered backward. As he did, he looked down. Between them, his pistol lay. His eyes flashed toward the pistol, then up at her. He dove for the gun as she again closed the distance between them, and she kicked him in the face as hard as she could.
His head snapped backward and he faltered, but he regained his senses very quickly and charged Angelique. She stepped aside, and his head impacted the car window. The glass cracked, and he staggered. She hit him hard with several punches to the face, and he replied with a blow from a massive fist which struck her in a shoulder and knocked her to the pavement. As she recovered herself and rose to her feet, he charged her.
Angelique dodged the charge and kicked at his knee as he passed her. The knee buckled, and he fell to a crouch. As he turned toward her, she caught him on the side of the head with a round-house kick. He fell against the side of the car as the prostitute squealed and stepped out of the way. Rahim began rising, and the look in his eyes was that of a wild animal. Angelique noted the glare, and she saw in it death. This man was twice her size, and more. If he actually managed to get his hands on her, the evening would not end well for her.
Jasmine, cowering by the car, yelped at the near thunderclap of a gunshot and the splatter of blood which sprayed her. Rahim fell back against the car and slid to the ground. His face glistened with blood. Laurie stepped into the light of the security lamp and racked her shotgun. She looked up, pointed the shotgun upward, and nudged the security camera toward the sky. “You okay?” she asked.
Angelique said nothing. She merely nodded as she picked up her rifle, cleared the jam, and bent down to search the bodyguard's pockets for his door key. Laurie turned her attention to Jasmine. She pointed at the car and said, “You. Into the car. Back seat.”
“What you going to do?” the prostitute asked. “Who the hell are you?”
“You're okay with us. We're not after you.” She pointed again. “You'll be safer in there. Trust me.”
Jasmine studied Laurie for a second, then yanked the back door open and got inside. Just before she shut the door, she said, “You keep me out of this, you hear?”
“Just keep quiet and keep your head down,” Laurie warned.
Angelique lifted a gym bag from the darkness just outside the lamp's beam, and she dropped it on the pavement by the door. She unzipped the mechanic's coveralls which covered her body and slipped them off. Beneath them, she was wearing a short black cocktail dress, some flat dress boots, and a wide belt. She pulled a silenced pistol from the bag and jammed it in the belt behind her back, then draped the strap of a cloth handbag across her body. As a final touch and to cover her hands, she slipped on a pair of black elbow-length formal gloves. Then, she handed her rifle to Laurie. As Laurie stood guard with Angelique's rifle in her hands and her shotgun slung across her back, Angelique studied the keys, then tried several in the lock. After about thirty seconds, the door opened. She fished a roll of tape from her bag and put several vertical strips over the faceplate so that the door would not lock. Then, she looked back at Laurie.
Laurie answered the glance with a nod. “See you in a few,” she said. Angelique's gaze lingered on Laurie for a moment before she disappeared through the door. It slowly swung closed, and a thick silence descended over the little parking lot as Laurie kept her place and stood guard.
Inside, Angelique saw the stairs in front of her and a ground-level door to her left. She chose the stairs and began ascending to the second floor. According to Latifa's description of the place, the mullah's apartment was at the end of the hall. She reached a landing, then glanced up. The second floor loomed just ahead, and she saw no sign of a security camera.
When she reached the second floor, she crouched behind the topmost stair and studied the hall. She saw no security camera there, either, and that made sense to her. The mullah would not want a record of his nocturnal ‘visitors'. After all, he had a facade of holiness to maintain. She rose and walked down the hall to the mullah's apartment door. As she did, she unwound the keffiyeh from her face and draped the black cloth loosely around her neck. At the door, she paused, breathed deeply a few times, and closed her eyes for a second. When she opened them, her gaze reflected a hard, cold, and predatory countenance. She was ready. She donned a pair of light-colored sunglasses, then knocked at the door and rang the doorbell.
The peephole in front of her darkened, and then showed light behind it again. She knew that someone was home and had looked at her. A moment later, the lock clicked and the door opened. She was face-to-face with Mullah Omar Abdullah. He looked her over from head to toe.
“Who are you?” he asked in English. “Where is Rahim?”
“Downstairs,” Angelique replied, in a slow drawl. “Somethin' about his car. Be along in a minute. He told me to come on up.” She cocked her head, as if in question. “Is that okay?” When he hesitated, she said, “You my, ah – client for this evening, right?” She could see the question in the mullah's face, and she pressed him. “Hey, I charge three hundred dollars an hour, darlin'. You already two minutes in.” She shrugged. “Time's a-wasting.”
The mullah nodded. “Yes, come in.”
He stood back, and Angelique stepped into the apartment and glanced around. She saw no security cameras, no other people, no guns, no sign of unforseen difficulty. “Nice place, Mister, ah – ” She looked at him. “What do I call you?”
“Call me Omar. You have an odd accent, Miss, ah – ?” He looked her up and down again as he closed and latched the door. “What is your nationality? You're not American.”
“French Canadian,” she said. “But I go to college here.”
His gaze roamed over her shoulders, arms, and chest. “You are very fit. Are you gymnast?”
“Track and field.”
He smiled as he slipped off his robe. Beneath it, he wore only a night-shirt. Lust lit his gaze. “I like that,” he said. “Undress. Let me see you naked.”
She raised a gloved hand and tugged at his beard playfully. “You first, Omar.”
As he yanked his night-shirt over his head and dropped it on the floor, he asked, “What do I call you?”
“Call me whatever you like. Some, though, call me an angel.”
He took a step toward her. “An angel? You?”
Angelique reached behind her back. “Yes. I am sometimes called ‘The Angel of Mossad'.” She had spoken in Arabic.
It took a couple of seconds for that to register with him. When it did, he visibly paled, and his jaw slacked. His eyes widened. They widened even further when he suddenly found himself staring into the silenced barrel of Angelique's pistol. His aroused state suddenly departed him, and his jaw trembled. “You are The Angel of Mossad?” was all that he could say.
“Put your hands behind your back,” she ordered. “Now.” Slowly, he complied. She kept the pistol pointed at him as she slowly circled around him. With one hand, she withdrew a partially-closed, large zip-tie from her purse and, in a quick motion, looped it around his wrists and jerked it tight. Then, she stepped in front of him and studied him over the sights of her pistol. “You know why I'm here.” It wasn't a question; it was a statement.
“Vengeance?” he whispered.
“Justice,” she replied. She lifted the sunglasses from her face, and the light eyes behind them were those of an executioner. Cold, determined, uncompromising. Where the hell, he wondered, was Rahim? He shot a nervous glance toward the door. “No one is coming,” Angelique said.
“Rahim is dead?” In her eyes, he saw the answer, and he felt an anger grow in him. “He did nothing to you!”
“He got between you and me,” Angelique said. “Is that not what you pay him for? That, and to bring you prostitutes?”
“You, judge me?” the mullah said. “How dare you judge me! You, a whore of Zionists, doing their killing for them.” He spit on the floor in front of her. “You Jews are nothing. Nothing! We have had Palestine for over a thousand years. It will be ours again.”
“And we had it before that,” Angelique said. “For a thousand years, it was nothing. Then, we Jews came. We bought land. We made it blossom. We drained the swamps. We irrigated the desert. We planted thousands of trees and crops. We built cities where before, only mud huts were. We Jews did that. In a few years, we turned the shit-hole of Palestine into Eretz Yisrael , the most vibrant land in the Middle East, and everyone prospered; Jews, Muslims, Christians, everybody. And men like you hated that. You tried to steal it from us. To kill us. Again and again, your tanks attacked us at five or six to one. And again and again, we defeated you.”
“We don't need tanks to win,” the mullah said. “We only need time and the wombs of our women to conquer the Infidel and take his land. A Muslim has five, six, seven children; a Jew or a Christian, what? One? Two? It's the same in Europe and here, in America.” He laughed. “Read the news. Already, thousands of Muslim refugees are flooding into Europe every week. In a hundred years, we'll be the majority of the population there. We will rule, and you will cease to exist.” He glared at Angelique. “You can't stop it. No one can stop it. God commands it.”
“I can't stop what God commands,” Angelique said, “but I can stop you.” She reached into her bag and brought out a large zip-tie, only partially closed. In one quick motion, she looped it over his head and yanked it tight with a ferocious pull. It closed around his neck, and the mullah began gagging and gasping for breath. He tried to speak, but could not. Angelique stood back a few paces and watched him fight his restraints without success. “Mullah Omar Abdullah,” she said, “you have been found guilty of terrorism by the government of Israel. Your sentence has been carried out by The Mossad.”
He fell to his knees, gasping. His face was turning purple, and his tongue protruded from his lips. His eyes, wide and unblinking, were fastened on Angelique's face. Then, his eyes rolled back in his head. He fell to one side, struggled weakly for a minute, and finally stilled his motion. As he lay on the floor, Angelique walked around him and studied him. She bent down and felt his neck, then his chest. She looked at his eyes, and they were dull and unmoving. She dug a wrist-watch from her bag and timed four minutes as she watched him. He did not move. Then, she wrapped her keffiyeh around her face, stepped from the apartment, and walked down the hall as she thrust the silenced pistol back into its place beneath her wide belt, at the small of her back.
When she stepped from the ground floor door, she saw that the scene had not changed. Laurie stood guard, her rifle at the ready, and the prostitute was still in the back seat of the Mercedes.
She pulled the tape from the door, then closed it and locked it. A few seconds later, Angelique yanked open the back door of the Mercedes. “Congratulations,” she said. “You have a new car.” She tossed Jasmine the key ring, and it landed in her lap.
“What about him?” she asked, as she pointed toward Rahim's body.
“What about him?” Angelique echoed.
A dawn of understanding passed over Jasmine's face. She nodded, then scooted toward Angelique, got out of the back seat, and slammed the door. “Yeah,” she said, as she kicked the body with a high-heeled foot. “Fuck him. I didn't like him much, anyway. Ol' bullet-headed motherfucker.” She opened the driver's door and sat in the seat. As she started the car, she looked up at Angelique. “Hey, do me a favor, sisters. Throw me his gun. This neighborhood, it ain't good this time of night. I don't want to get my new fancy ride jacked by some of these thug-ass hoodlums around here. Know what I mean? Don't worry,” she quickly added. “I'm cool with you. We're friends, right?”
“Right,” Angelique said. At her nod, Laurie placed the pistol in Jasmine's lap and stepped back. She slammed the door, turned on the lights, and pulled the Mercedes forward into the alley which lead to the street as she waved good-bye.
Laurie motioned toward Rahim's body. “His head does kind of look like a bullet, doesn't it?”
“Laurie, you are so bad.” Angelique picked up the gym bag, and they hurried toward the alley leading to the street.
On the street near the mosque, Avi sat in his car, lights out. He saw two figures emerge and look about them. He tapped his earpiece. “To your left, Angel,” he said. To punctuate the statement, he flashed the lights. In a moment, they were inside the car, and he drove away, taking a leisurely pace toward the interstate.
For a time, no one spoke. The only sound in the car was the breathing of the two keffiyeh -hooded figures in the back seat. Finally, Angelique pulled the cloth from her head and ran a gloved hand through her hair. Avi asked, “Well, Angel. Mission accomplished?”
“What happened with the bodyguard?”
“My rifle jammed.”
“Hm.” He thought about that, then said, “Tough luck.”
“BeSeder,” Angelique mumbled. It's all okay.
Laurie pulled the keffiyeh from her head. “Did you see the size of that bodyguard?” she asked. “Man, he was as big as a freakin' house.” She looked at Angelique. “Do you think you could have taken him?”
“I was so scared for you. Did I do the right thing, shooting that dude?”
Angelique considered Laurie's question, then nodded. “Yes. There was no other choice.”
“Man, Angel. That shotgun sounded like an atom bomb. I'm surprised somebody didn't hear that and call the cops.”
“This is downtown Atlanta,” Avi said. “There are often gunshots at night. And I saw the Mercedes leave in a hurry. Who was in it?”
“A prostitute. The bodyguard had brought her for the mullah,” Angelique answered.
“What did she see? Will she be a problem to us?”
“I don't think so,” Laurie said. “She's driving a stolen car right now, and she's a hooker. She's not going to the cops.”
“It doesn't matter,” Avi said. “We're on our way to the airport now. By this time tomorrow, you'll be in Tel Aviv.”
“Our luggage is on board?” Laurie asked.
“Yes, and the pilot is waiting. You can say good-bye to America.”
In the back seat, silence prevailed. Laurie peeled the latex gloves from her hands and wormed out of the coveralls which shielded her jeans and top as Angelique cleared her pistol and stuffed it into the gym bag. When she began pulling the gloves from her hands and arms, Laurie said, “Angel?”
“Would you do me a favor?”
“Of course. What?” She looked at Laurie.
“Would you hang on to that dress and those gloves?”
Avi roared with laughter. Angelique merely allowed her ‘Mona Lisa' smile to show. As Avi quieted down, Angelique nodded and handed the gloves to Laurie.
Avi drove, not saying anything, and allowed them their thoughts. Whenever he glanced in the rear-view mirror, he noted that they were absorbed in staring out of the windows, studying the night-time Atlanta skyline. He also noted that they were holding hands. That made him smile.
Eventually, they turned into the airport, sought out a private hanger, and halted by a door. Avi pointed. “Customs man is here. Luggage is already inspected. Just you guys left.” He popped the car's trunk open, and they found their shoulder bags and jackets in the trunk. They left the car and walked into a lounge, where several people waited. The Deputy Consul General was there, as were Ruth and Bilha.
After the customs official spoke with them, studied their passports, and bid them a good journey, the Deputy Consul General offered thanks for their service. Hugs were given all around, and a few tears were shed. Bilha approached Laurie and thrust a paperback book into her hands. “This is for you,” she said.
“Thanks, Bilha,” Laurie said. She inspected it, then looked up in surprise. “It's in Hebrew,” she noted.
Bilha whispered, “Yes, it's my dirty book. Now you have to learn Hebrew to read it.”
Laurie snickered. “I'll just get Angel to read it to me.”
“Oh!” Bilha laughed. “Maybe it will, ah – ”
Ruth leaned into the conversation. “Trust me, these two don't need help.” She kissed both Laurie and Angelique on the cheeks and said, “We will meet in Paris one day. Until then, Shalom .”
The next day.
An FBI agent stood in the parking lot behind the mosque, speaking to a police detective. “So it's a shotgun murder,” the agent said. “We're federal. This looks like you guys' jurisdiction.”
The detective said, “Wait until you see who we got upstairs. You might change your mind.” He led the FBI agent up a flight of stairs and down a hall to an open door. It was an apartment, nicely furnished in a Middle Eastern flavor. In the middle of the floor, a naked corpse lay. Camera flashes popped and lit the scene, and crime scene technicians busied themselves dusting door-knobs and examining the carpeting and other surfaces.
“So, who's this?” the FBI agent asked.
“One Mullah Omar Abdullah,” the detective said, as he read from his pocket notebook. He eyed the FBI agent. “You recognize the name?”
“Yeah. He's on the terrorist watch lists. We tried to hang him for the recent attacks on Jewish sites in this town. We couldn't. State Department was going to revoke his green card and send him home.”
“Looks to me like somebody revoked his green card in a real pissed-off way. Any idea who it was?” the detective asked.
“Not officially.” The agent motioned toward the body. “We had information that he was into hookers. Looks like a sex game gone wrong.”
“That's what I was thinking,” the detective said, “but that doesn't explain the dead guy downstairs. Excuse me,” he said, as he answered his cell phone. He spoke for a minute, then said, “Hey, I think we got a lead on that. Care to come interview a witness?”
As they exited the building at the back, they stopped and watched the medical examiner's people roll Rahim's body into a body bag. The detective looked at the FBI agent. “Dude's head looks just like a bullet, don't it?” he asked, before they resumed the walk to the detective's car.
Twenty minutes later, the police detective and the FBI agent peered through the window of an interview room at the Atlanta police station. A woman sat at the table, smoking a cigarette. She was a pretty woman, the FBI agent thought, with the aura about her of a mean, tough life. He couldn't wait to hear this story.
A detective greeted them. “She was driving the car that we think belonged to the dead guy we found outside the mosque. You two need to hear this.”
The three of them entered the interview room, and the woman cast them a jaded glance. “This is Detective Manson, Atlanta P.D., and Special Agent Jemison of the FBI,” he said. “Would you tell them what you told me?”
“I didn't shoot that bullet-head dude,” she said. “Rahim, his name is. And that car belongs to me. He signed it over to me. I got the title to prove it. Got his signature on it.” She tapped a piece of paper on the table in front of her.
“I understand,” the detective said. “We're not accusing you of anything. I just want these gentlemen to hear with their own ears what you told me.”
She sighed, then leaned back in her chair. “Well, I was riding with Rahim to visit a friend of his. That dude that runs the mosque downtown. He's supposed to be some big shot. We were gonna party with him. We got there, and when Rahim got out of the car, he got into a fight with somebody who just shows up out of nowhere.”
“Who? Describe him,” the FBI agent said.
“Can't. They wore these coveralls, and their faces were covered. They were two snow queens, though. I could tell by the way they spoke, and I could see their eyes a little.”
The FBI agent shot a puzzled look at the detective. “Snow queens?”
“White women,” he said.
“Oh.” He turned his attention to the woman. “Continue, please. How did they speak?”
“One of ‘em, she sounded – well, just white bread. The other one, she had some kind of funny accent. French, or something.”
“Israeli, maybe?” the FBI agent suggested.
“I don't know what that sounds like,” the woman said. “But the one with the accent, she took Rahim on like a pro. I mean, he's a mean sucker, but she held her own with him. Then, the other one shows up and shoots him in the face with a shotgun. The fightin' one, she strips off her coveralls, and she's got this little party dress underneath it, and I see her in the light. She's ripped, man. I mean she's lookin' fit, like she lives in the gym. She opens the door with Rahim's keys, goes upstairs, and maybe ten minutes later, she comes back down. Then they tell me I can go, and I get the hell out of there. Hey, I don't know what happened up there, and I had nothing to do with Rahim's death.”
“We know,” the FBI agent said. “Just a couple of questions. First, did you ever see their faces?” The woman shook her head. “Second, why didn't you call the police when this thing went down?”
“Are you kidding?” the woman said. “Do you know what I do for a living?”
“Yes, ma'am. I think I do.”
“Right. You know I got a record, right?”
“I've seen the rap sheet on you.”
“Well, now you know why I don't like to talk to cops.”
“I understand. If I were you, I wouldn't, either.” The FBI agent lifted the car title from the table and examined it. On the back, the car had been signed over to her for the sum of ten thousand dollars. Rahim had signed the title in a decidedly feminine hand, he thought. “Ten thousand bucks for a late-model Mercedes?” he noted. “Man, that's a deal. How did you manage that?”
She shrugged and smiled a knowing, cagy smile. “What can I say? I'm good at what I do, and he had a ‘thing' for me, so he gave it to me cheap.”
The FBI agent handed her the title, then looked around the room at the two detectives. “I've seen and heard enough,” he said. “We'll take over. It's now a federal matter. You guys can wrap it up and forward whatever you have to us.”
The two detectives eyed each other. “Works for us,” one said. “We got a crapload of other murders to work.”
“Great,” the FBI agent said. “Thank you both.” He shook hands with them, then headed for the door.
“Hey,” the woman said. “Can I go now?”
“Yes, ma'am,” the FBI agent said. “Just sign your statement, then we're done with you. Thanks for talking to us.” He stepped outside the room and made a call on his cell phone. “Federal prosecutor's office, please. Is she in?” He waited a minute, then said, “This is Jemison, from the FBI. Looks like our favorite mullah just met an untimely end. The locals are glad to give us jurisdiction on the case. What do you wish to do with it?”
The voice on the phone said, “Bury it.”
“Yes, ma'am. ‘Bye.” He thrust the phone into his pocket and walked to the soda machine at the end of the hall to buy a bottle of soda. As he waited for the bottle to drop, one of the police detectives approached him and leaned against the wall.
“I know it's y'all's case now,” he said, “but I'm curious. What do you think went down at that mosque?”
“Let me hear your theory first,” Jemison said.
“Okay. I think it was two separate homicides. I think that mullah guy died in a sex game gone bad, probably with that hooker chick in the interview room. Rahim was her pimp. He was hanging out by the door, waiting for her. When she accidentally killed the mullah, she got scared. She found a shotgun in the mullah's apartment, came downstairs, shot Bullet-head, and took off. I'll bet that if we tear up that dumpster out back, we'll find the shotgun she used.”
“Why would she kill her pimp?”
“Most girls are scared of their pimps. Rahim looked plenty mean. He'd have probably beaten her senseless when he found out that she'd accidentally killed the mullah.”
Jemison smiled a knowing little smile as he cracked open the soda. “Good theory. Logical. Makes use of the existing evidence. I see it differently, though. I think it went down pretty much like she said.” He chuckled. “Except for the part she left out about stealing Rahim's car and forging his name on the bill of sale. Y'see, the mullah was the target of a very professional hit. Rahim just got in the way. He wasn't a pimp. He was the mullah's bodyguard.”
“Ah. So, who killed ‘em?”
“An avenging angel. Probably an Israeli one.”
“Not the hooker chick?”
“There's a little angel in every hooker, and a little hooker in every angel.”
“And in this case?”
Jemison smiled at the thought. “In this case, I suspect it was an angel called Mossad.”
A few days later. Café Angel, 13 Rue d'Espoir, in the Latin Quarter of Paris.
Maurice leaned against the bar and sipped his coffee. His wife had just left, taking home the remains of lunch, and he felt full and happy. The restoration work was almost completed, the bar was back in shape, and soon, he would be able to open the doors for business again. His one desperate worry was how he would attract customers back into the bar without Angelique there to play her piano and sing. Everyone knew that she was what filled this bar, night after night. He missed the sound of her music, and so did the locals around the neighborhood. Without her, they might not come to drink.
The day was pleasant, so he'd propped the door open. The workmen were still shuffling in and out, putting the finishing touches on various details of woodwork. Emma, one of the ‘bar-girls', a server who'd been caretaking Angelique's and Laurie's apartment, was on a step-ladder behind the bar, hanging pictures. “Maurice,” she said, “does this go well here?”
“Hm?” Maurice looked away from the news broadcast on the little television above the bar, and considered Emma's question. “Yes,” he said, “but put the army picture in the middle.”
“This one?” Emma held up a framed photograph of three young people sitting on a low stone wall, clothed in the uniforms of the Israeli army. In the background were the distant plains of coastal Israel. Angelique, she thought, looked so much younger in that picture, almost sweet and innocent, if one discounted the sniper rifle in her hands. The innocence, she knew, was a facade. By that time, she'd already witnessed her sister's death at the hands of a bus bomber in Jerusalem and seen combat in her adopted country. “All right,” Emma said. “In the middle. Damn, I left the hammer somewhere. Where did I put it?”
“You lent it to that workman,” Maurice mumbled as he watched the news.
She climbed down the ladder, walked around the end of the bar, and skidded to a halt. She squealed in delight and surprise, then ran toward the front door. Maurice turned and looked, and his worries vanished. Café Angel would prosper again. All would be well.
Just inside the front door, some luggage was piled. Laurie was hugging Emma. Angelique nodded a greeting. “Maurice?” she said. “How have you been?”
He approached them, arms wide, and lifted Angelique off the floor with a bear hug. “I am very well,” he said. He held Angelique at arm's length. “So, Boss. You look pretty good for a dead person. Where the hell have you been?”
“It's a long story, Maurice. I'll tell you over a drink.” She looked around. “Have you re-stocked the liquor yet?”
“Not until the workmen finish,” he said. “Otherwise, they'll never finish.” He whispered, “It's in the basement. We can go down there for a snort, if you like.”
“I like.” She kept one arm around Maurice, and swept Emma into the other arm. “Emma, come on. We're going to the basement to get pleasantly drunk and tell stories.”
“Ooh, I love it,” Emma said. She tapped her lip piercing with a finger. “You are home for good now?”
“Thank God,” Laurie said.
“Do I have to find another place to live?”
“No rush,” Angelique said. “We have a guest room. You're always welcome with us.”
“Yes, I've been staying in there.” She shrugged. “It seemed wrong to sleep in your bed. I mean, that's for you and Laurie.” She smiled shyly. “It's as you left it.”
“Unmade?” Laurie asked.
“No, I made it.”
“Your hair is blue now? I like it.” Laurie lifted Emma's arm and pulled up her sleeve. Her arm was a riot of colors. “So, any new tattoos to show me?”
“No,” she said. “Sorry. No money for that. I'm a pauper now.” She laughed. “Now? So what else is new?”
They began walking toward the back of the bar, but Angelique pulled everyone to a halt. She cast a glance around the bar, and she beamed. “It's beautiful, Maurice. You've outdone yourself. Look at that beautiful bar. That's the same one as before, no? How did you restore it?”
“It's three hundred years old, Boss. Thick, hard wood. No bomb can destroy it.” He motioned toward an empty space in one corner of the bar. “I can't say the same about your piano, though. I'm sorry, Boss. It was a total loss. I know you loved it.” He hurried to add, “We'll find you another one.”
Angelique motioned toward the door. “Laurie already did. See that big cloth case? Electronic piano. A real beauty. We'll use that one.”
Maurice beamed. “We'll get the sound man out here tomorrow to hook everything up. You'll be ready to go when the bar opens again. You'll bring the customers in, Boss. You always do.”
“Let's drink to that at the bar.” She looked at Maurice. “Do we have any of the good stuff left?”
“A bottle or two,” he said. “What's your fancy?”
“Cognac, of course.”
“I think we have a bottle of Courvoisier in the basement. I'll fetch it,” Emma said, as she ran toward the back hallway.
Maurice took his customary place behind the bar as Angelique and Laurie settled on bar-stools. Glasses were placed on the table, and in a moment, Emma was pouring four glasses of brandy. They raised their glasses in a toast and clinked them together. “To Café Angel,” Maurice said.
Emma added, “And to our friends, who are home again.”
“To life!” Laurie said.
“And to peace,” Angelique replied. “May we all finally find it here.”
– djb, September, 2015
Author's notes: To anyone curious about the gross insult that wounded FBI agent Joe Monsouri hurled at Al-Hakim in the alley just before he was murdered, here's a link to a neat little clip of actress Natalie Portman explaining it:
Although it's spoken in Arabic, Israelis use it, too. If the link doesn't work for some reason, just go to Youtube and type in: “Natalie Portman's Favorite Swear Word”.
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