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First pages

1

The passenger had a Lebanese passport and it seemed he traveled a lot. His baggage was light and he did not carry a laptop or cell phone with him, which spiked the attention of the security officer at Schiphol airport, especially since the man was Arab. The X-ray machine revealed nothing but ironed shirts in his suitcase. Protocol did not call for further inspection of someone simply for not carrying a laptop or cell phone. The passenger’s diamond-studded Rolex drew the officer’s attention and he couldn’t help but mumble “Nice watch.”

The Lebanese man smiled at him. “Time. It is all that God gave us. And I try to make the most of it.”

After putting his shoes and belt back on, he wiped the cold sweat that trickled down the back of his neck, wrapped his red keffiyeh around his neck, and moved quickly to the check-in counter. Another man who was watching from a top gallery left his station and went over to the pay phone in the corner of the terminal. At the Shabwa camp in Hadhramaut, Yemen, a tall, lean man dressed in fatigues stepped up to a large board and checkmarked the first name on the list.

Two hours and forty minutes later, the passenger arrived at Brussels airport. The fact that he was wearing a red keffiyeh and black agal with golden fringes did nothing to expedite the process of him leaving the airport. The security officers were remarkably inquisitive but just as equally polite. The passenger, holding a fresh, new Saudi passport, passed all the security checks, which had been doubled since the terrorist attack on March 22, and boarded a flight to Munich. In Hadhramaut, a second large and somewhat irregular-looking check mark was made, with a sigh of relief and the hint of a smile.

The passenger continued on his way and one by one, Europe’s airports received their check marks. The American and Israeli airports, where Arab citizens were subject to physical searches, were to be tested only on phase two. Phase one of the pilot was declared a success. The passenger, now carrying a Jordanian passport, was picked up at the exit of the Leonardo da Vinci airport in Rome by a driver wearing a flat cap and holding a sign that said “Dr. Mahmud Rantisi.” Once in the cab, with its blackened windows, the passenger finally allowed himself to decompress and burst out sobbing. The cab arrived at Via Pietro Tacchini as the passenger managed to control himself and laughed in embarrassment. The driver took out a cell phone from the glove compartment and stopped the car in front of number twenty-six, outside the Ambasciata d’Abruzzo restaurant. There was a long line of tourists, some of them Israelis, waiting eagerly for their turn to eat at the popular restaurant, which was famous for its excellent complimentary cold meat platters.

“Would you like to talk to your son?” asked the driver. The passenger wiped his tears and nodded eagerly while blowing his nose. The driver turned to him and his eyes rested for a moment on the bejeweled Rolex.

“That’s a fancy watch,” he said. “Want to trade?”

The passenger looked at him questioningly.

“Just kidding, though I would like to see how it looks on me,” said the driver and reached out his hand.

“Can I have the phone now?” asked the passenger.

“Yes, indeed.”

The passenger smiled, took off his watch, and gave it to the driver, who handed him a cell phone.

“I’m going to take a leak,” said the driver. “You can talk in private.”

The passenger nodded and the driver walked away. The passenger dialed a number with shaky hands. The driver was pissing against a wall with his back toward the vehicle. He pressed the car alarm remote and the doors locked with a click. The passenger looked up, shrugged, and continued his conversation with his eldest son. A big smile stretched across his face, wiping away the tension of the last few hours. The driver took out a cell phone from his pocket and punched in some digits.

A tremendous explosion shook the entire area. Some of the people who had been waiting in line died on the spot. Others, who were wounded, were crying for help as people fleeing the restaurant trampled them. The car, which had been doused with accelerants, was consumed by immense flames and was reduced to nothing but cinder by the time the firefighters and Carabinieri arrived at the spot.

At Camp Shabwa in Hadhramaut, Imad walked up to the planning board and made a big, bold check mark.

2

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable,” said General Eisenhower. I gave myself the day off to run some errands, and before bed I planned tomorrow’s schedule on Outlook:

6:00–7:00 swimming

7:15–8:00 paleo breakfast

8:30–9:30 Dr. Raffi Shahaf, teeth cleaning for Garibaldi

10:00–12:00 weeding and trimming Eran’s vine.

Noon till midnight I put in “God knows,” and planned on reading The Dramatist by Ken Bruen, a crazy, drunken Irish author I like. Then maybe squeeze in another hour’s swim. On days when I can’t swim in the morning (which amounts to most days), the four slipped discs in my back bother me in all sorts of ways. “God knows.” People always say that. Well, judging by his performance today, apparently he knows shit. I didn’t wake up until 07:30, had to skip my swim, knowing it’ll cost me later in the day, and went straight to breakfast. Our house in Agur in the Judean Mountains is situated on the tallest hill in the area. The large kitchen stretches out into a vine-covered pergola facing west. Our plot, plot A, covers more than an acre and ends at a break in the ground, so that a kind of little cliff is formed. Under the cliff rests about six and a half acres of Petite Sirah and Cabarnet Franc vines. On a good, clear day, you can see all the way down to the coastal area in the west, and even make out the Ashkelon power plant in the south and Reading station in the north, plus a little glimpse of sea blue. Shuki, from next door, tends to our vines as well as his, and in return, I get as many bottles of wine as I need. This naïve sort of arrangement suits us both. At the edge of the cliff, overlooking the unobstructed vista, is where I’ve placed Eran’s headstone. That’s where Eran and I meet and talk and often drink Shuki’s fine wine.

I turned on the espresso machine and heated the little cup under the flow of steam. Then I fried some bacon and placed it on a paper towel. I used the remaining fat to fry four fresh eggs with bright orange yolks from the footloose-and-fancy-free chickens that roam Shuki’s yard.

At 08:15, the next task was a bit more complex: to get my dog Garibaldi, an impressive Mastino Napoletano who weighs as much as me—two hundred and forty pounds—to his teeth cleaning. Garibaldi knows perfectly well when I try to get him into the truck it’s for one reason only, and it’s one he does not very much appreciate. He rubs his big head against me and whenever I bend down to grab his collar he turns around, jabs his butt in my face and wags his tail. I decided to play it smart. I took out a strip of bacon from the fridge and waved it in front of his face. As he sat planning his next move, his colleague Adolf came up to me. An ex-military Malinois, he snapped the bacon in one nonchalant swoop. I put the thief on a leash and tied him to the old lemon tree. One down, one to go. I opened the Land Cruiser door, grabbed Garibaldi in a full nelson, and pulled him in with me, my hand under his front legs, his face stuck to mine, and me walking backward into the car. Garibaldi wouldn’t stop licking my face, and his foul breath made it clear that I was taking him to the vet no matter what. I threw myself backward onto the seat of the car and pulled the ogre in with me. Unable to get loose, he was finally in. I got out the other side and climbed in the driver’s seat, brimming with a sense of triumph. Then the phone rang.

“Get here ASAP. Froyke needs you.” It was Bella, the head of Mossad’s office manager.

“But I’m…,” I automatically let out.

Bubeleh,” she told me off, “Get here quick. You have a flight to catch.”

3

Bruno Garibaldi is a friend, my counterpart in their organization (the Agenzia Informazioni e Sicurezza Interna), and the “grampa” of Garibaldi, my Mastino. Bruno picked me up at Aeroporto di Roma-Fiumicino in his brand new Maserati Levante, with its humble 430 horsepower and 5.2 seconds to 65 miles per hour. We went to see the Ambasciata d’Abruzzo. The owner was Roberto, Bruno’s best friend. We had consumed a hell of a lot of wine and animal protein at this excellent restaurant over the years. Now the place looked like Pompeii following the eruption of the Vesuvius. Large, dark bloodstains were noticeable on the sidewalk. Roberto walked around the rubble in despair, covered in soot. Bruno ran out to hug him. I chose to stay behind the Maserati’s tinted glass.

Twenty-two killed, six of whom were Israelis, said Froyke, before ending our meeting in a way that surprised me. “Find them and destroy them—that’s a personal request.”

There’s a chance this was a deliberate action against Israelis. The three couples who were killed, Cohen, Ziv, and Pearlman, were former military industry workers, celebrating their retirement. So sad. Good thing they didn’t bring their grandkids along, I thought, and felt myself being filled with pent-up rage. I’m not usually one for retribution and blood vendettas. I think an organization like ours needs to follow a strict strategy and stick to its goals. Politicians on both sides drive us and them to all sorts of esoteric actions that have no strategic importance, but are crowd-pleasingly full of bloodshed. But now the thought of these pensioners’ six mutilated bodies, simple, hardworking men and women, and the loss their children would have to live with, made my blood boil. I had promised myself and Froyke that I wasn’t going to lose track of my goals, but first I was going to find and destroy the son of a bitch who was responsible for this.

Bruno returned to the car and we went to Harry’s Bar in Via Veneto. Bruno had a “private chamber” there, with wood and leather everywhere, and just the right amount of darkness. The perfect place for us to talk.

“Two Macallans, a plate of salami, and plenty of peace and quiet,” said Bruno. Once we had given our order and the waitress took off, Bruno leaned closer to me with an air of importance and whispered, “Pentaerythritol tetranitrate. You have any idea what that is?” He raised his brows, waiting for an answer.

“Explosives,” I said nonchalantly, knowing that would drive him mad. “PETN. Detonation velocity 8,400 meters per second. It hasn’t been used as a primary substance since World War I due to its hypersensitivity to heat and friction.”

“Make yourself comfortable here. You can take off your shoes.”

I pushed off my $890 pair of Guccis that were supposed to be “as comfy as a glove,” and were as comfy as my ass.

“There was nothing left of the cab and its passengers but ashes. We got nothing. I’m sure you guys think this was a direct action against Israel. I don’t think so. You always think everything in the world has something to do with you and against you.”

“Could this be business-related?”

“No,” said Bruno. “Roberto pays a hefty protection tax directly to the local boss.”

“If it’s not about business, then an Islamic terror attack is pretty much the only possible explanation. And if that’s the case, why haven’t any of their organizations taken credit?”

“You’re right, that is unusual.”

I told him that Albert had already checked the restaurant’s credit card transactions and found that Israelis made no more than 0.005 percent of the clientele. Bruno raised an eyebrow and made no comment as to my lack of correctness.

“0.005 percent of the revenues and 90 percent of the mess wherever you are. This was not an anti-Israeli action Mr. Erlich. These dirty Islamists want to conquer us, US!” He tapped his middle finger against his chest. “We need to throw them all back to their deserts.”

We concluded the meeting with the decision to check with our colleagues in Germany, France, and Belgium and look for similar events where PETN had been used as the primary explosive. Bruno dropped me off at the Excelsior, and stepped out of the car as he always did to give me a hug. A biker whizzing by nearly tore off the door of the Maserati. Bruno cursed at him for three minutes straight, without using the same curse word twice. I thought of the biker that had passed me by five years before in Rome, when I first met Bruno.

It was our first operation together. We had destroyed a chain of jihads that had set up a series of attacks against the Israeli embassy, the Great Synagogue, and the Jewish school, and despite the fact that we could have arrested some of them, we took them all out. Bruno chose to save the Italian taxpayers’ money and eliminate the risk of any future abduction for the purpose of an exchange. The only one who managed to get away was the chain leader, a bright young man named Imad. The same Imad Akbaria who was now commander of the Shabwa camp, dispatching convoys of Iranian missiles to Gaza. And the same Imad who was torturing Anna. To this day, I’m convinced that biker was Imad.

4

The Arabian Desert, Yemen. Hadhramaut. Camp Shabwa. East of the camp, on the ridge overlooking Hadhramaut, stand twelve whitewashed prefabricated buildings. The UNICEF Children’s Hospital. The medical staff consists of seven volunteer doctors and one dental hygienist. The director of the hospital is Dr. Anna Von Stropp, specializing in pediatrics and ultrasound. To the east of the hospital compound, behind a massive raised patch of earth, almost a hill, lies a solar farm. It stretches over two and a half acres, and consists of hundreds of large photovoltaic cells, converters, and generators. The farm, which produces 1.65 million kilowatt-hours, was designed and constructed by an Italian company by the name of SRL Sonnen Systems, which won the public bid of the World Bank. The company secured the bid after agreeing to perform quarterly maintenance work, free of charge, for three years.

The hospital’s prefabs shone like the sun. Some of the desert coolers couldn’t sustain the workload and shut down. If it weren’t for the solar farm adding to the measly power supply provided by the Yemenites, it would be impossible to live here, thought Dr. Anna Von Stropp, the hospital director.

She downed the rest of the cognac in her glass and felt angry at herself. Then she brushed her teeth, checked her breath to make sure there was no trace of alcohol, hung her stethoscope around her neck, and moved from the on-call room to the patient hall. Anna walked from one child’s bed to the other. Her angular Aryan features were as symmetrical as a computer sketch. Her classical beauty had its fair share of roughness, with her thick blond hair in a tomboyish à la garçon cut. Men usually favor feminine women who look better suited to fill their biological role. More masculine women are often favored by members of their own sex. But there are women whose restrained masculinity challenges men, especially those alpha-male types. But when Anna came up to the bed of a sick child, she had an aura of tenderness and compassion about her. The children trusted her completely and gave in to her soft touch, which was quite an achievement considering these were hardened, abandoned children of the desert. Lagging behind her was Hamid, the on-call nurse for the “warriors,” wearing a green scrub jacket over his fatigues. Hamid had been stationed there by Imad to assist with translation, but really more to make sure the medical staff’s attention and resources were made available to the warriors. Hamid, keeping a reasonable distance from Anna, was focused on the blonde doctor’s pear-like bottom and proud breasts, clearly visible even beneath her loose lab coat. Hamid admired her strong shoulders, like those of an Olympian swimmer, and her milky white skin that made his blood pump full of testosterone. Anna stepped up to a bed where Abdou was lying: a sweet five-year-old Sudanese boy who had lost his leg. She stroked his head.

“Hey, schatzi. Hat kaf,” said Anna in Arabic, and she and Abdou fist-bumped. “Remember what we learned yesterday?”

“Yes,” said Abdou, “but I dunno how to say it.” Anna smiled.

Messer, Gabel, Schere, Licht / sind für kleine Kinder nicht” (rhyming: knives, forks, scissors, and fire are not for young children.)

Hamid’s radio let out a series of instructions in Arabic.

“The commander asks that you come to his office now,” said Hamid to Anna.

“Whose commander?!” asked Anna, and continued to go over Abdou’s medical chart. When she finished, she looked Hamid straight in the eye and said, “I’m busy now. Tell him to call me after the shift.”

Anna said goodbye to Abdou with a kiss. In the little locker room next to the on-call room she scrubbed her hands with disinfectant and took off her white coat. She put on a white-and-blue-striped Valentino blouse over her tight jeans and smoothed away any creases, her eyes closed. She loved how that shirt felt. Then she removed her black horn-rimmed glasses and inspected what looked like the beginning of a tiny wrinkle. Her fair features darkened with a little cloud of concern. Whenever Imad summoned her, it made her nervous. When she had met Avner at the hotel in Rome and tried on the handmade Valentino blouse, she had instantly known that whenever she felt frightened or scared, she’d wear this shirt and pull through. Avner’s loving gaze meant he didn’t have to say anything to let her know he would always be there for her. When she’d asked Avner if the stylish white and blue stripes weren’t too suggestive, he had smiled and taken out another wrapped gift for her. It was Dreamer by Steven Harper. He had pointed to a sentence that read, “The best spy hides in open day, where everyone can see.” Every now and then, in moments of doubt and regret, Anna would return to that page. The ability to be someone else was quite pleasurable to her. Watching herself from the outside, like a stranger, and being able to change that someone’s behavior, to decide how she’s going to react to the people around her: With courage? With indifference? With disrespect? With compassion and empathy? With an instantaneous response or a suspended one? She was in perfect control, not like her control of Anna. At times, when fear would creep up, she would feel as if she was in a dream, that the ground beneath her feet would vanish at once, and she would dive into an endless, black void.

5

The slamming of the metal door sent a chill down Anna’s spine. There was a loud knock, and without waiting for an answer, Imad walked in, dressed in fatigues. He held her from behind and kissed her neck. Anna tried to turn around, but Imad tightened his grip.

“Look in the mirror,” he said, and rested his head firmly against hers. Anna put down her running calculator and focused her gaze on Imad’s piercing black eyes and long lashes.

“What do you see?”

“An exotic and horny Arab prince”—she reached back and put her arms around his neck—“who I feel like fucking but…” Anna looked at her running watch. “It’ll have to wait. Right now, I have to go for a run. Want to join me?”

“Go for a run? In this heat?!”

“I have to go now, I have surgery later.”

Imad was about to answer when his little pager emitted a pesky buzzing. He glanced at it and frowned. “I have to go. You’re insane. Take some water with you and when you get back I’ll show you who’s fucking who.” He kissed her neck again and sucked on it like he usually did, to leave his mark, then hurried out. Anna smoothed her Valentino blouse, her eyes closed, then quickly changed into running clothes and shoes. She strapped the running calculator on her arm, grabbed a small bottle of mineral water, and started jogging toward the solar farm. The sun was blazing and the heat of the golden desert sand pierced through the rubber soles of her sneakers, scorching her feet. Why in the hell would Avner choose a location that’s so remote from the hospital, she wondered, and immediately realized that the distance and the hill obstructing the view from the camp were reason enough. The thought of Avner in the blue technician’s coveralls brought a smile to her face. She remembered him with Luigi; Albert, the electronics genius; and some clueless, permanently happy Italian technicians, installing the receptors, their portable karaoke machine blazing arias by Puccini.

6

After jogging for about 2,000 yards and sprinting up the hill, Anna did some stretching and looked up to the sky. A bright spot that resembled a pale star made frustratingly slow progress. In about ten minutes, the satellite would be at its optimal reception point. Anna stretched some more. Five minutes till transmission. She took out her running calculator, a McMillan Pro, and aimed it at the line of receptors in front of her. She clicked the reset button twice. Just like Albert had showed her, she waited three seconds and punched in running and pace data that earned her the result of BQ—Boston Qualified, meaning her stats were excellent. When Avner saw the numbers, he’d know a serious missile convoy would soon leave Shabwa: heart rate minus the zeros signified the number of days before the convoy was to depart. If the time of departure was not certain, but estimated, then the number of days was to be counted without the zeros, then divided by two. So a heart rate of sixty to eighty meant three to four days till departure. An unusual heart rate of a hundred and twenty would mean less than sixty minutes to the departure of an unexpected convoy, or one that was not detected beforehand. If the number of calories burned was more than a thousand, that meant “immediate extrication!” Anna typed in a heart rate of sixty to eighty. The convoy was likely to depart in three to four days.

If all went well, the transmission would be picked up by one of the transmitters hidden inside the solar panels, and from there forwarded to the satellite antenna for five consecutive minutes, nonstop. After those five minutes, not a trace would be left of the transmission. Another press of Reset, and the McMillan Pro would also be wiped clean. At times, Anna wondered why Avner provided such a limited form of communication. A small or larger convoy, time of departure, and call for extrication—that was all. If she wanted to report anything else, something more complex, she couldn’t.

“KISS,” said Avner. “‘Keep It Simple, Stupid.’ Focus on the main event. That’s the missile convoys. Anything else just isn’t worth you taking the risk.”

7

Anna’s transmission called for an urgent gathering of “The Forum.” Other than Froyke and me, The Forum consisted of Ami Cahanov of the Security Agency, and Yoav, a young captain from the operational division at the Military Intelligence Directorate. In addition, when the situation called for it, other participants were: representatives of intelligence units 8200, 504, 9900, and Special Operations, which we used from time to time, as well as representatives from operational units; aerial operations; Sayeret Matkal; and Shayetet 13—the Israeli Navy SEALs, or the submarine unit. To this meeting, which was defined as “immediate,” were called, other than the usual forum members, representatives of 8200, someone from the satellite unit 9900, and G, the new leader of the aerial operations squadron.

Bella told me Froyke was going to miss the meeting, and in the same breath, she recommended that I get Nora to present the overview with me, so that I “don’t embarrass the organization.” Nora presented a current overview of the Iranian missile arsenal, and explained how the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard Corps was dealing with our preventive actions, which were forcing them to seek new smuggling routes. She went on to say that, "According to our most recent intel, a substantial missile convoy is going to leave Shabwa at any given moment in the next forty-eight hours, heading for Hamas in Gaza. As to the exact contents of the convoy, we’ll give you an update as soon as we know,” she continued, “which could be any moment.” I gave her a thumbs-up to indicate she did an excellent job, and had a hard time reading the expression she gave me. It could have been anything from fake modesty to “Did you really doubt me?!”

Colonel G, who was one of the air force’s best fighter pilots, had been promoted and appointed squadron leader. This was his first baptism by fire in The Forum. Perhaps that was why he kept his aviator sunglasses on as he took his seat at the head of the table and pulled a laser pen out of his shirt pocket. G gave the signal to someone, and a large plasma TV emerged from the center of the conference table. G circled the Shabwa camp in red and said, “We can’t operate in Yemen. It’ll stir too much political chaos.” Then he pointed to the Egyptian Sinai Desert, and said we should definitely not take any action there either, also for political reasons.

“So, this is what we have left,” he said, and made a red circle around Port Sudan next to the Sinai border. “This here will be our kill zone. Unfortunately”—he resisted a little smile—“not far enough from Israel that the Iranians can understand the repercussion .”

G’s newbie philosophizing was interrupted by Ami’s pager going off. It made a particularly annoying sound. Ami seemed a bit flustered, and apologized, saying it was probably urgent. As he walked toward the door, he gave a curt “OK,” and turned back around. “Tell you what, I just got confirmation that the guys at Gaza Hamas are waiting for an SA17 battery.”

G whistled to show he was impressed, and said that to him, this was a tiebreaker. “This is the most effective antiaircraft system the Russians possess. If this really is what’s in that convoy, there’s no doubt we have to execute the attack as soon as possible, before the battery reaches operational capacity.” He pulled up an image of a portable SA17 battery, took a deep breath and said, “You already know our scope: four F16’s to bomb the convoy; four for backup; one electronic disruption aircraft; and just in case, we’ll have a fueling aircraft and two 669 rescue choppers waiting nearby in a friendly area.” He took a peek at his watch. “If there aren’t any more questions, I have to go. Thanks.”

“Good luck, in case I don’t see you till then,” I said to fill the void left in Froyke’s absence. G smiled, gave me a two-fingered salute, and left.

8

The Matkal bunch and the young intelligence team started joking around. One of them was Yoav, a young captain who desperately reminded me of Eran. I couldn’t help but think of how happy I was when Eran got summoned to 8200. But then he forced Ya'ara and me to sign off on him doing combat service, even though he was an only child. Ya'ara was against it, but she couldn’t resist the united front we two put up, and signed. I was the one who encouraged him to make his own decision.

“He’s a big boy now, he’s a man,” I talked Ya'ara into it. Now he’s a big dead boy.

Ami noticed me staring at that Yoav kid, and knew exactly why. He nodded at me to say that I was right, and gave me a signal that we needed to talk outside. I was curious to find out how he had gotten the confirmation that the Gaza Hamas was expecting an SA17 shipment so quickly, the very confirmation that only minutes ago completed the full circle, and gave the final go-ahead to bombing the convoy Anna had told me about. My sense of responsibility for Eran’s death carried me to realms of fear that always haunt anyone who operates as an undercover agent. I got a strong feeling that I had to get Anna out of Shabwa as soon as possible. There was no actual justification for how I felt, nothing problematic. In fact, her relationship with Imad was getting stronger and stronger. I tried to ask myself if maybe that was really what was bothering me. Anna was the most amazing woman I had ever met. As beautiful as a Greek goddess, sexy, and uninhibited. She was mostly into women, but left a window of hope for men too, and her manic-depressive craziness made me want her even more. She had the perfect biography, no “artificial additives” were needed: her grandfather was SS Colonel Von Stropp; her aunt was “Aunty Hanna,” who smashed the heads of Jewish babies against the wall; her crazed mother died in one of the Badder-Meinhof Gang’s street fights…and Anna, who wanted to make up for all of that, specialized in pediatrics and looked for the most dangerous place to serve. It was an easy recruitment. We fucked nonstop for almost a month in a basement flat on Kilburn Road. We only had one tape cassette, which we listened to over and over again. It was Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited.” I told her about Dylan at the kibbutz; back when he still called himself Zimmerman. There was this Greek guy called Spyros, who brought food twice a day, usually “Fiss and Sips for two.” After a month, I decided Anna was ready, and she accepted the offer and took the position of Director of the UNICEF hospital in Shabwa.

I couldn’t shake off the fear that this bombing was going to blow Anna’s cover. Whenever I lack any solid info, I follow my gut. All the way.

9

Ami waited patiently. More than twenty years of friendship and serving together in all sorts of places taught him I have those moments when I need to take some time for myself. All sorts of places. I thought back to Bolivia.

When we finished our mandatory army service, and before we got into our career service, Ami and I went on our big trip together. We were in Bolivia when a call from Zvika caught up with us, “Wanna make some money? Lots of money?!” and got us in touch with that crazy colonel Mike Horror, who brought us on to the Joint International Anti-Drug Force in South America. That was really just a cover name for an army of mercenaries generously funded by the CIA. Most of the people on the task force were ex-Marines and other US special units, as well as some Brits from the SAS; one crazy Russian guy who defected from the Spetsnaz; a couple of Tunisian defectors from the French Legion, aka the Arabers; and the two of us…

“That raid we did on that German baron’s ranch, what was his name…”

“Krause was his name.”

“Was he Jewish?” Cahanov wondered.

“No, he was Bolivian of Nazi descent.”

“Do you remember?” Cahanov spread his hands in the air triumphantly, relishing the cigar and the memory that came with it as if remembering a delicate aria. “When those two idiot Arabers pumped him full of lead before getting the combination to the safe out of him. And you, shooting them between the legs and them jumping like mice on drugs. And then after, when Mike tells them, ‘C’mon, you shit-shooters, file the evidence.’”

I blew another ring of smoke. Cahanov went on. “The Arabers took their bolt cutters and came back with Krause’s finger and head.”

“Hmmm.” I nodded.

The body parts had been placed in FBI-issued plastic bags. That was standard procedure. The finger was then sent to Langley for identification, and the head Mike would stick up on a pole at the front of the ranch. “A helpful educational aid for all to see,” he’d say. But this time they had come back with a third bag with Krause’s penis in it. Munir threw the bag right in my face. “Take this, Jew. You’re going to need one of these.”

I put my gun and assault rifle aside, drew out my dagger and moved toward Munir, who drew his own dagger out and assumed starting position. I moved toward him and he moved back; the opening dance had commenced. Mike came along and yelled, “If you wanna play, get the fuck outta here back to that fucking Middle East of yours. In here, you’ve got work to do.”

Everyone went their own way.

Two a.m. Cahanov woke me up. “Get up you putz, the British are coming.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“Come on already.” We went into the Arabers’ room quietly. The assholes were sleeping in one bed, spooning. We cuffed them to each other. I put duct tape all over Ahmed’s mouth. Cahanov shoved Krause’s severed penis in Munir’s mouth, and Munir started foaming and puking. Cahanov took some Polaroid pictures. If it had been today, we would have posted it to WhatsApp. We made Munir sign a document saying the photos were authentic, and left them like that. Let them choke. When we got back to our room, I told Cahanov that was nice and all, but from now on we’ll have to sleep in shifts. “Don wurry, don wurry.” His Polish accent popped up. “Arabs get smacked, Arabs give respect. Intimidation!”


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Pini grew up on the tough streets of Jaffa, where daily wars raged between the street gangs of Jewish kids – the children of holocaust survivors who had immigrated to Israel – and gangs of Arab refugee youths. Pini is a fisherman; boxer; karate fighter; driver in extreme underground motor races; war veteran; bouncer and bodyguard; director and writer of promotional films; and strategic consultant to former Israeli Prime Minister, the late Shimon Peres.


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