The Greyhound bus rolled through the night when, eight rows behind her nearest fellow passengers, Britt Jaeger awoke with a knife in her ribs and a hand pawing her breast.
"Make a sound and you're a dead woman," hissed her attacker as he shoved the point another millimeter deeper into the soft tissue between her sixth and seventh ribs. Her head snapped to her right to see the mugger who, had slipped into the aisle seat next to her, cutting off any possible escape. He jabbed once again and snarled, "Close your eyes or look out the window."
Snow, sleet and rain from an unseasonably early fall nor'easter pelted the windows. It was pitch black outside and, except for a few pilot lights along the floor, nearly as dark inside.
In the moment before she looked away, two features registered-the mocking grin of a Cleveland Indians logo on his dark stocking cap and the unmistakable smell of Skoal Bandit. She recognized that smell immediately. Dippin' snuff was a rite of passage for boys from the Kansas farm country where she grew up.
Go ahead, dip another pinch, she thought. Get lip cancer and die, you animal.
A dozen rows ahead, the driver, struggling to stay on the road and on schedule, was oblivious to everything but the pounding November storm. The dozen or so other passengers near the front of the bus slept or tried to.
She guessed her attacker had slithered into the seat when she fell asleep sometime after the New York-bound bus pulled out of South Bend. The weak glow of distant city lights flickered like a kaleidoscope through the sleet-splattered windows. She glanced to her right once more. He dragged the sharp point up her ribs, drawing a thin line of blood, and stabbed it slightly into her right breast, which he had pulled free by lifting her bra and pushing it up higher on her chest. "I wouldn't think twice about shoving this straight through both of them, like a skewer through a shish-ka-bob. That would make a shish-ka-boob, wouldn't it?" He laughed at his sick little joke, and a trickle of brown juice dribbled from the corner of his mouth. He withdrew his groping hand and spit into his cupped palm three times, maybe more. She didn't keep count, but she would never forget the puddle of diarrhea-colored liquid in his hand as he reached back into her blouse.
"Let's lube these babies up a little."
I hope you die a long, painful death, pig! she almost said it out loud.
The groping, squeezing and jabbing continued for unbearably long minutes, even when the bus wheeled off the interstate, down the cloverleaf ramp, toward the city. Through the rain she saw a flashing three-legged Greyhound on the side of the Cleveland bus terminal-the lights behind one leg burned out. Only then did she begin to hope he might not kill her.
As the bus pulled into its bay, she looked straight at him, and opened her mouth to scream. He reacted so quickly, she realized he had been waiting for that moment all along. From out of nowhere, he shoved a latex glove deep into her throat. A finger of the glove lodged in her trachea, gagging her, strangling her. While she struggled to withdraw the glove, her assailant casually sauntered up the length of the bus and, bidding the driver good morning, stepped off into the irregular shadows cast by the other buses and the overhead mercury-vapor lights. The engine noise, plus the other buses idling nearby, drowned out Britt's coughing and gasping. Her belated scream, mixed between uncontrollable sobs, was inaudible to the groggy passengers well forward of her twelfth-row seat.
By the time the police arrived, her attacker was long gone. They searched the bus and found a second latex glove near the front door. The only "weapon" found was a silver ballpoint pen with a sewing needle taped to it-the point projecting three or four millimeters beyond the tip. It could not seriously injure anyone, much less kill. The realization that she had allowed herself to be abused without ever being in real danger made her ordeal all the more humiliating.
Hours later, after two male detectives had grilled her, more like a suspect than a victim, a uniformed female cop escorted her, ahead of the other passengers, into the front right seat of the eight a.m. bus to New York. In that seat, she would be in the driver's peripheral vision. The cop knelt beside Britt and patted her knee. "Forget New York, sweetie, it's not for you. Turn around. Go back to Kansas or wherever."
"You don't know what I went through there. I can't go back to Abilene. I just can't."
"If you won't listen to me, take this," said the cop, pressing something about the size of a spice rack canister of cinnamon into Britt's hand and closing her fist around it. "I hear this is practically illegal in New York. At least it's hard to get."
Britt uncurled her fingers and looked in her hand. She held a black, knurled cylinder with a red squeeze handle that ran down one side.
"That's law enforcement strength. Don't be afraid to use it and ask questions later," said the cop, giving Britt a farewell pat on the shoulder. Britt smiled and tossed the small pepper spray canister into the air, then grabbed it before it fell into her lap and dropped it into her purse.
"Good luck, sweetie. You're going to need it."
There is a seven-hour time difference between New York and Tel Aviv so at almost the exact time that Britt's bus pulled out of the Cleveland depot, Dani Abramowitz walked into his cubicle to start his three to eleven shift. A month before he'd started his job as a computer security specialist at the Institute for International Operations Service, the official name of Israel's legendary spy agency, the Mossad. He'd long dreamt of being a Mossad agent, but he settled for an entry-level technical job, turning down several more lucrative civilian offers.
All day he analyzed computer traffic into and out of the global intelligence assessment and communications center, looking for any attempt by hackers to penetrate the system. He studied printouts, searched a desktop monitor array and scanned a real-time 50-inch plasma monitor that monopolized his cubicle wall. The job had turned out to be anything but the exciting, glamorous world of international intrigue he envisioned. The days were already becoming monotonous.
This afternoon was more of the same. Three hours into his shift, just as he was about to wander out for coffee and a brief escape from the tedium, he looked at his screen and froze in his tracks. He dove back into his chair and grabbed his joy-stick controller so fast that he knocked over the picture on his desk. It was his favorite picture of his father, General Yonaton "Yoni" Abramowitz, one of Israel's most highly decorated soldiers-missing in action since the pull-out from Lebanon back in 2006.
He pushed the joy-stick to his right, reversing the graphic display of computer traffic on the large monitor. Something had caught his eye in that narrow band of "useless" hash or static surrounding the computer and satellite communications spectrum called white noise. The Mossad found white noise very useful. The secret decryption keys needed to decode the most sensitive top-secret dispatches were buried in the white noise spectrum. Later, each key would be matched up with the appropriate message and its content decoded. Twenty-four hours a day, those hidden encryption keys spiraled through the white noise, theoretically invisible to an enemy hacker attempting to penetrate the system security.
"Concealing critical message pieces in the white noise is like hiding in plain sight," his manager had explained. He equated the Mossad global intelligence assessment center to a bank. Every day agents from around the world deposited messages in this bank's vault. "Our enemies are very good at cracking safes," he said, "and just in case they succeed, we don't put everything into the same vault." Some of the most critical pieces were diverted into the white noise, which he likened to a newsstand on the sidewalk outside the bank. "Who is going to steal the petty cash from a newsstand when there's a bank next door?"
Dani had seen something strange lurking in that "newsstand." Something had penetrated the white noise. He could not identify it, read it or remove it, but the same static that masked the encryption keys was masking the hacker. But with nothing to show, who could he tell?
Staying beyond his scheduled shift, Dani searched for the intrusion, whatever it was. By two in the morning, he could no longer focus on what he'd seen or not seen. He gave up and headed toward the car park and his beat-up old Fiat.
Two major north-south expressways slice, in parallel, through the Tel Aviv suburb of Herzliya. In between highways 2 and 20 lies an archipelago of unremarkable warehouse-looking structures. If the airspace above that area was not restricted, six hexagonal-shaped buildings could be seen clustered together like an organic chemistry molecule-the headquarters of the Mossad. A concrete fortress, created by those highways and their cloverleaf on-off ramps, guards this castle of the clandestine service. Within that bulwark, and the two-mile radius surrounding it, lies the densest concentration of high-tech companies outside of Silicon Valley-almost all of them founded or run by Mossad alumni.
Dani pulled out of the car park and headed north, up the unmarked road that leads from the fabled spy agency to the Ghandi Bridge entry to Highway 20. He took the southbound entrance on to the highway leading toward his small Tel Aviv apartment. As he waited for the light to change, he leaned back against the headrest and closed his eyes. Just then a limousine-sized Mercedes S-600 jolted his vehicle from behind, jarring him back into the survival of the fittest mentality needed to drive in Israeli traffic.
Before any information was exchanged, the Mercedes driver announced he had diplomatic immunity and could not be held responsible for the accident, but he offered to pay for any damage, on the spot, in cash. There was very little damage-so little, in fact, that if the accident had occurred in a car park, it might have gone unnoticed. The driver offered an obscenely generous cash settlement. Dani quickly accepted the cash but not without memorizing the diplomatic plate number.
He had driven only a few blocks when he noticed a manila envelope lying on his passenger seat. It must have been put there while he was outside his car talking to the Mercedes driver. Without slowing down, he opened the envelope and glanced inside. As he saw its contents, his whole body began shaking uncontrollably. He nearly lost control of the car before hitting his brakes and guiding the car to a stop at the side of the road.
His tremors were so violent he had to brace his hands on the steering wheel to hold the eight-by-ten photo of his father. He looked much older than in the picture on his desk. The folder also contained a two-day-old front page of the Iran Daily the English-language newspaper, published in Tehran by the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA). Scrawled across the newspaper was his father's signature-no note, just a signature. A business card with Dubai's 971 4 country code phone number was clipped to the paper. There was no name on the card but someone had printed above the number in English: Call with a prepaid phone card from a public pay phone. Below the number was a handwritten note: Do as you are asked and your father can be freed. Tell anyone about this and he dies, not pleasantly.
Dani sat trembling in the car for untold minutes, trying to regain control of his emotions. He alternated between staring at the picture, the signature on the newspaper, and the note. He flipped the card over a dozen or more times, hoping something might appear on the blank side. Then he returned to study the picture, the card, then the whole process once again.
Eventually he calmed down enough to drive. He slipped the battered old Fiat into gear and eased back into the light late-night traffic and headed for home. He'd gone about two blocks when he slammed on the brakes and made an abrupt, tire-squealing U-turn in the middle of the road and raced back to Mossad headquarters. He bypassed his department and went directly to the Political Action and Liaison Desk. The "Political Desk" is a major department of more than a hundred staffers-only six on the graveyard shift-keeping track of nearly every diplomatic posting around the world, especially of intelligence agents working in embassies, usually under diplomatic cover as some type of attaché-cultural, commercial or political officer. Once identified as an intelligence officer, that agent would be tracked for life wherever he is assigned, whatever his title. Once a spy, always a spy.
The actual desk, where the officer of the day sits, is buried in a back corner of the large room, right outside the executive office suite of the Deputy Director Political Liaison. Dani zigzagged his way through the maze of empty desks to find the duty officer to ask if he could look up a Mercedes with diplomatic plate CC 22 08 016
The duty officer yawned, then asked for Dani's ID and why he needed to know. A half-true explanation about a hit-and-run fender-bender with the car seemed to satisfy him. "Oh, where did he hit you?" he asked as he typed a few key strokes into a computer terminal.
"In the boot," Dani replied.
"No, I mean what address or intersection."
Dani told him the intersection and the night duty officer typed that in too. Then a paper was spit out of a printer.
"Hmmmm," the officer groaned as he studied the printout. "If he has diplomatic immunity, you're probably screwed. You can't force him to pay. Even if the police find him, they can't even give him a ticket." He tapped a few more strokes into the computer. "Yep. You're screwed. It is a diplomatic car registered to the Egyptian Consulate and usually driven by-hel-lo. Isn't that interesting? That car was reported stolen six hours ago."
Combined with the information in the manila folder, that sounded very ominous.
"You're right. I'm screwed. I am totally screwed."
As Dani turned and left, the duty officer noted their conversation under "exceptions" in the daily log of the world's most storied spy agency, wondering, Am I now just a traffic cop writing up fender benders?
Tel Aviv, Israel
For the next month Dani was a near zombie. He didn't eat. He barely slept. He walked around with a blank stare. He no longer cared about blips in the white noise. The handwritten note made it clear he could not talk to anyone about the "accident," so he stopped talking to everyone-everyone except the IDC study buddy he had unexpectedly met several days earlier in the Mossad canteen. The Interdisciplinary Center is an internationally known university, excelling in business, computer science and especially government diplomacy and strategy. It is often referred to as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Mossad and the private recruiting preserve of Israel's foreign intelligence service.
"Dani," she'd yelled, waving a hand high above her head. She smiled warmly as he approached her table. Her shoulder-length, layered black hair cascaded over the collar of her red leather jacket. Her black leather skirt barely covered the top of her over-the-knee Italian leather boots. "You work here, too?"
"I'm a computer systems security analyst," said Dani. "You know, keeping out the real bad guys and the hackers showing off how smart they are." He slid into a chair on her right and eyed the photo ID badge hanging around her neck: Seiderman, Heleene and beneath her picture in red letters, All Areas No Escort Required. She was way too young to be a senior bureaucrat with an All Areas credential. With her bangs pulled loosely to one side, nearly hiding one of her sparkling green eyes, she looked like a Hollywood spy, not an intentionally nondescript agent.
Dani's supervisor had pointed out other young people with the same kind of pass and whispered, "Baby spy-waiting for first field assignment." He warned Dani that baby spies-even those just out of training-outranked civilian technologists. "Be careful around them."
She has to be a rookie field officer, thought Dani, a Katsa-a spy runner-but he couldn't imagine having anything to fear from her. He'd helped her pass a basic computer science course. And she'd helped him with Middle Eastern history. "What are you doing here?" he asked.
"You know, just snooping around," she said with a just a hint of a twinkle that could have cost her a demerit in training. Heleene's face and eyes were so expressive, the very antithesis of a poker-face agent, that on her own she went for botox shots on her first free weekend in training. Otherwise, she would likely have washed out. "You?"
"I'm a computer security specialist but I hope to be a katsa, like you," he said.
The twinkle vanished instantly. "Dani," she glared at him and picked up her sunglasses beside her coffee cup, "don't ever say that again. I am not a katsa," she lied, "but never, ever say that, about anyone, especially outside this building, unless you want to get them and maybe yourself killed. Bad for your career."
Now I know for sure you're a katsa, he thought. He had been ready to tell her about the computer incursion and even about the accident and the photo. He had no doubt now what she would advise: immediately report everything to Mossad security. She might even turn him in, even though his father's life was at stake.
"How's your friend," asked Dani, trying to change to an innocuous subject, "that woman you used to meet for dinner all the time?"
"I wouldn't say Rebekah and I were friends." She put on the sunglasses that she'd been holding since Dani's faux pas. "We don't keep up." She stood to leave. "Rebekah started a very successful business intelligence software company. She's a gajillionaire and spends most of her time in America or Europe. She told me to apply for a job here and insisted I could use her as a reference, but we haven't spoken since I went into training. She said to call her when I got my first assignment." Then she leaned over and kissed Dani on the cheek. "Remember what I told you. People could die," she said, then flashed the same radiant smile she showed when she first saw him.
His hope for a friend and confidant faded away with the click of her heels as she disappeared into the hall. He was in this all alone.
After that, he avoided her and everyone else. He would get in his car at the end of his shift and drive North on Highway 20, away from his apartment, toward Tel Aviv's Azrieli Centre.
The sprawling Azrieli mall is the perfect place to get lost in a crowd. Nestled among three towering skyscrapers, the multi-level shopping mall is one of the largest in the Middle East. At least three nights of each week that month, Dani would survey the menus of at least a dozen of the thirty restaurants and pace back and forth past the bank of pay phones on the first floor. Then he'd ride the glass elevators to the third floor and repeat the exercise in front of those pay phones-all the time fingering the card in his pocket.
He looked at his watch. 2035. In twenty-five minutes, the mall would close. He bought a prepaid phone card from a kiosk, walked to the bank of phones and picked up the one farthest away from the flow of shoppers.
New York City
A thunderous pounding snapped Britt's chin up from its resting place on her knees. She was scrunched into a small rust-stained bathtub, her long legs forcing her knees high up out of the water. She had landed an interview in Midtown at four-thirty, and she still needed to wash her hair, get dressed, get uptown to the library to print some more resumes and then to the interview. "Who is it?"
"Is landlord. I vill make talk to you," shouted the burly Russian through the apartment door, less than six feet away.
"Can't you come back later, Dimitri?" She never could remember the landlord's last name, never mind trying to pronounce it. "I'm in the tub."
Britt hated the old claw foot tub, with chipped porcelain and separate faucets for hot and cold. It sat smack in the middle of the tiny, one-room, fifth-floor walk-up. When she was not scrunched into the tub, a board laid across the top served as her kitchen table and TV stand. Washing her hair bordered on torture. With the separate faucets she had a choice of scalding or freezing. Eventually she settled for filling a sauce pan and dumping that over her head time and again. The pounding resumed.
"Nyet. We make talk now." Comrade Charmski, as she called him behind his back, sounded like he was standing right next to the tub. "Open door. I give to you something of very much important."
She wrapped herself in a towel and dripped her way the three short steps to the door, opening it only as far as the safety chain would allow. A plain white number ten envelope partially obscured the eyes that leered through the crack. Dimitri had a coarse, craggy face, like Leonid Brezhnev-minus the charisma. He shoved the envelope toward her.
"Read. This to inform you, you have ten days to make proof you have job-real job, not coffee shop waitress job-and can pay rent."
"But I'm not behind. I paid my first and last months' rent."
"I not vait for you fall behind. Ten days or out. You vant stay vith no job, I give to you job. You make plenty money. And no move."
"You can't do this to me. It's illegal!"
"You vant sue me?" he said, walking toward the stairs at the end of the roach-infested hallway. "Trial take three years, maybe more. You could be dead by then."
Britt slammed the door shut and threw the letter as hard as she could. "I haa-aate New York!" she howled as it fluttered to the ground about eighteen inches from her wet feet.
"You make good squeal," Dimitri yelled through the door. "Some customers vant that. You make good earner. Da!"
Avenue D and Seventh Street was a far flung outpost of Alphabet City, an area named for its avenues identified by letters instead of names or numbers. Somehow this corner of the neighborhood remained insulated from the incursions of gentrification. Steel pickets in front of the Roaring 20s-era tenements guarded rows of garbage cans and crumbling concrete steps leading down to windowless subterranean units.
It just like Cheers, she thought, except instead of Frazier, Cliff and Norm, the only patron is the Count of Monte Cristo, chained up to the dungeon wall. She never saw anyone going down those steps but occasionally she'd see a rough looking man or two emerging from what struck her as black holes never intended for human habitation.
* * * *
Manny Klein was one of those unfortunate souls who could put on a tuxedo fresh out of the dry cleaner's bag and ten minutes later look like a rumpled penguin in an unmade bed. Manny ran the backroom operations at Collingwood & Company, an elite, if little known, international investment-banking boutique.
"You can start today. Isn't that nice?" he said in a singsong ridicule. "Nobody strolls in here at a quarter to five and starts today. Hell, today's over." He alternated looking at the woman sitting across from him and his own help-wanted ad from the Times that Britt had paper-clipped to her resume. He was not subtle about letting his gaze follow the line down her long neck, then stopping abruptly at the V of her white blouse. She didn't intentionally show a lot of cleavage, but it didn't take much to get Manny Klein's undivided attention. Manny was a shining example of a man without polish.
"Thirty-one. You're kinda old to be starting out." The wholesome farm girl from the flatlands and Manny from Flatbush could not have less in common. "Oh, I guess that's not properly PC of me. I'm supposed to say you're highly overqualified, what with your valuable experience in a silo somewhere, and I see a double major in English and Agricultural Business. I have only a humble clerk job to offer." The ridicule was not lost on Britt. "I'll get back to you if we're interested," said Manny, getting up to usher her out of his office-a see-through cube, in the center of a sea of desks with women busily typing at computer workstations.
Britt did not get up. As Manny approached her chair, she lifted her chin and swallowed hard. She could see the reflection of almost everything in the room in the transparent ceiling.
"It was more than a silo." She spoke with quiet resolute determination. "We bought, sold and stored thousands of bushels of wheat, corn and soybeans every day. And we hedged just as many futures contracts on those same commodities. You never knew what you bought in September, and stored all winter, will sell for in April. Think of that silo as a really tall, giant derivative."
From his vantage point, standing right in front of her chair, Manny had an even better opportunity to look down her blouse. "I hear ya," he said, focusing on her breasts. What a great pair of silos! "But we got a rule here. We never touch anything with roots or hooves. That commodity stuff ain't all that useful to us."
"So, do I have a chance?" she asked, rolling her eyes toward the ceiling. "Or is that glass ceiling my answer?"
Manny looked up and frowned. "Honey, that glass ceiling doesn't stop just women here, it holds down anyone who's not a rainmaker. So technically, yeah, you got a chance, I think, because you're a woman there's some law against me saying you got no shot."
"One shot, that's all I need, but I really need it, now."
As Britt walked to the elevators, Manny Klein stood in the doorway of his glass office watching her brown ponytail swing from side to side. The click of her high heels echoed as she walked across the raised floor covering hundreds of miles of computer and fiber optic cables. As she entered the elevator, she squatted slightly to get even with the panel buttons to make sure she was pressing the right button for the lobby. She exuded an easy grace and elegance. Manny just saw a nice ass and a damn nice rack.
Manny would never admit he was a sucker for someone who needed a chance-but he never forgot that someone had once given him a chance, and that had changed his life.
He went back to his desk, picked up his phone and dialed the receptionist at the lobby security desk. "That girl you sent to see me-don't let her leave. Put her on the phone."
Through the receiver a minute later, Britt heard the raspy Brooklyn accent say, "You can start Monday, but you're on probation. We open at nine. You better come in at eight-thirty. You got a lot to learn, kid. Lesson one, don't ever tell anyone you can start today. You just blew away any bargaining power you had. At least try to make me think you're in demand, sweet cheeks, even if you're not."
Slivers of the early morning sun seeped through the tiny cracks of the heavy blackout curtains in the Department 36 conference room of Iran's Internal Security Intelligence division. It is the most secret, most autonomous, most feared secret police and spy agency in Iran. Officially, it reports to the clerics running the Council of Guardians of the Islamic Revolution.
"This is a black day." The voice at the head of the conference table belonged to Muhammad Ali-Albadi, the chairman of Department 36. Three decades ago, he had been one of the "students" who overran the U.S. Embassy and held fifty-three Americans hostage for 444 days. As a hero of the revolution, Ali-Albadi was accountable to no one except his uncle-the Supreme Leader.
The most sensitive operations of Department 36, such as the assassination of dissidents living outside Iran, are entrusted only to the secretive, extremely effective Al Quds intelligence and special operations commandos. Ali-Albadi had the power to order the death of almost anyone, even a mullah. He wielded it ruthlessly. Only the Supreme Leader could overrule him.
"Our revolution is under attack from within. Overnight, six senior Revolutionary Guard commanders were assassinated, including the head of all ground forces, helping our brothers on the Pakistan border. Our president will blame the Americans, but the perpetrators were our own people. The Guardians fear counter-revolutionary forces may once again take over our country and lead us away from the path of Allah while our enemies grow stronger." Ali-Albadi stopped and looked each man in the eye before continuing. "We eliminated the son of the would-be president, but still he does not get the message to stop questioning the outcome of the election. Nor do the people. Then some stupid paramilitary sniper shot that girl through the heart in the middle of the street. Neda Agha-Soltan is now a household name all over the world. Our own paramilitary Basiji made her a martyr for anti-Islamic, anti-government forces. Her death has become the most widely viewed death in the world."
Ali-Albadi threw up his hands in frustration. "What progress do you have to report?" he demanded of the Al Quds agent standing at the other end of the conference table.
"We have successfully made an initial contact, Excellency, with a potential asset within the Mossad."
"You reported that contact a month ago. I re-ask my question. What progress do you have to report?"
"Our agents maintain daily surveillance. The target shows no signs of having reported our contact to Mossad internal security, Excellency."
Ali-Albadi's impatience was clearly signaled whenever he began tapping the table with the huge gold ring on his left hand. The centerpiece of the ring was a large diamond scimitar with rubies that looked like blood dripping from the crescent-shaped sword. The scimitar seemed to slice through two columns. Upon closer inspection, those two columns were the twin towers of the World Trade Center.
"May I remind you, the fate of the Islamic revolution and our achieving the destruction of the Zionist parasite state are at stake. Both depend on learning the Israeli plans for a preemptory strike on our nuclear facilities. They have already inflicted a near fatal blow by destroying thousands of uranium centrifuges with a computer worm. Our top nuclear scientists are being murdered in the street by assassins on motorcycles. Failure is not an option."
"Be it Allah's will, we will have a response soon, Excellency," said his senior agent. "We have presented the target with a highly motivating dilemma." He went on to explain how the picture and note had been delivered to Dani.
With his temple and neck veins bulging, Ali-Albadi slammed his hand on the table. "Why do I know I am about to hear a report of failure when you invoke the will of Allah? You have nothing to report. You have wasted my time. Get out!"
Ali-Albadi picked up his phone, dialed a number and resumed tapping the ring on his desk as he waited.
"Uncle," said Ali-Albadi, "I pray that you and the Prophet, all peace and blessings be upon him, will be merciful. I have failed to recruit the asset I told you about. Weeks have passed and we have heard nothing."
"The bird that is not pushed from the nest will never fly," rasped the Supreme Leader. "Your failing is in not forcing the issue. Make him fly to us, nephew."
"Insh'Allah," said Ali-Albadi. Be it God's will, indeed.
New York City
It was going to be the loneliest Christmas that Britt could remember. Before the end of her first week on the job, she began staying late, telling herself she was figuring out a better way to complete her tasks. Actually, she was just avoiding going back to her Lower East Side roach motel where she didn't even have a real bathroom, only a water closet-literally, a toilet in a closet that had once been part of the adjoining apartment. Her "closet" was a three-foot bar and wire shelf all secured with giant lag bolts that went clear through her wall and came out on the hallway side. Her entire job-hunting and work wardrobe hung there: two black skirts, black pants, two white and two black blouses and two black sweaters-a summer-weight boat-neck pullover and a cable knit turtleneck. A couple pairs of jeans, some shorts, tees and sweatshirts all fit in two drawers, along with all her lingerie: three bras-one black, two white-and enough cotton underpants for a clean pair every day, if she got to the Laundromat on the weekend.
By nine, she usually surrendered to the reality that she had nowhere else to go, nothing to do and no money to do it with. Leaving Collingwood & Company's Third Avenue office, she'd walk to Grand Central, catch the number Four subway to Union Square, change to the L train to Fourteenth Street and First Avenue, then a fifteen-minute walk, cutting diagonally through Tompkins Square park, to Avenue B and Seventh street. The last block to Avenue D was always the scariest. After dark, she had visions of someone jumping out of one of those basement doors and dragging her down the steps to one of the dungeons. That's when she'd dig in her purse for the pepper spray the Cleveland cop had given her and carry it in her hand until she locked her roach motel door.
Last night, she'd broken her routine and walked four blocks across town to see the Saks Fifth Avenue windows and the lights of Rockefeller Center, the skating rink and the big tree. A few days earlier, she'd treated herself to an eighteen-inch tree with blinking lights and tiny decorations included. Two days after giving it a place of honor on her combination TV-stand, kitchen table and tub cover, the lights blinked off for the last time, dead.
Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown, she thought. This would indeed be the saddest, loneliest Christmas ever.
Tonight, if she was lucky, she would have enough hot water for a bath and maybe even enough to wash her hair. Usually she had to choose one or the other. Either way, she would then go to bed and another lonely night would pass.
Tomorrow would be Christmas Eve. Anything was better than going back to her apartment tonight. Pacing the corridors to further delay her departure, she followed the lights to Mahogany Row, the richly paneled hall of executive suites. Through an open door she saw another woman working late. She did not look at the name or title on the office door.
Mackenzie Collingwood, the CEO of Collingwood & Company sensed the presence of another soul but did not look up. Instead, she reached under her desk, pulled out the wastebasket and held it out with one arm, never taking her eyes off her work. "Just empty this. You can do the rest of the office later."
"Oh, okay. I don't know where it goes, ma'am, but I'll figure it out."
Mackenzie Collingwood was startled to hear a voice without a Spanish or Haitian accent and even more surprised to see a professional-looking woman reach for her wastebasket, using only her thumbs and index fingers, as if it was full of dirty diapers.
Britt carried it toward the corridor, wondering where to empty it. Before leaving, she asked if she could do anything else to help.
"No, thank you," said Mackenzie. "Now if you don't mind, I'm trying to revise my presentation for a breakfast meeting tomorrow. Why I ever agreed to give this thing on Christmas Eve is beyond me. Damned interest rates and energy costs."
"Isn't that what hedging's for?" asked Britt.
"What did you say?" Mackenzie blinked and tilted her head quizzically. "Get back in here and put down that silly wastebasket. Who are you? What do you know about hedging?"
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to intrude." She stuck out her hand to shake, not knowing which question to answer first. "Britt. Britt Jaeger," she said, pronouncing her name phonetically, Yay-ger. "It's spelled with a J. I'm new here."
Mackenzie shook her hand, perfunctorily, but did not introduce herself. She didn't need to. Everyone in the firm knew she was the boss. "My secretary went home sick. Do you know anything about PowerPoint?"
"I get by," replied Britt.
As the night edged toward morning, Britt grew more energized and excited than any time in recent memory. She was, for the moment, half of a team, working side by side on something important. She gloried in trading notes and above all, escaping from the roach motel.
They worked until nearly two a.m. "I cannot thank you enough," said Mackenzie at last, closing her laptop. "You were a godsend. My car will be downstairs in a minute. I'll drop you at home."
Just the thought of her boss seeing the roach motel made her stomach knot.
"Oh, that's not necessary. I'll take the subway."
"Not at this hour you won't."
"Then I'll grab a cab," she replied hurriedly, knowing she could ill afford a twenty-dollar cab ride. "You said you had to be up at the crack of dawn for your presentation. If I take a taxi, you can get home and get a little more sleep. Besides, I'm in no hurry to go back to my apartment."
"See here, miss uh, ah..."
"Jaeger. Britt Jaeger."
"Let's do this! My driver will take me home first, then he'll drop you off."
Mackenzie poured two glasses of white wine from the tiny fridge in the back of her limo and handed one to Britt. "Merry Christmas. If you're like me, you're too keyed up to sleep when you've worked this late."
Britt put up her hand. "No, thank you. I really shouldn't."
"Come on!" insisted Mackenzie, looking at her watch. "It's already Christmas Eve. You earned it and I insist." Mackenzie took a sip. "So how long have you been with our company, and what do you do for us?"
"About a month. I just moved here from Kansas. I'm a clerk in Mr. Klein's department."
"Manny! My God! Manny is an institution here. I call him our human fire insurance policy. He knows absolutely everything that goes on in this place and has a record of it-probably two or three-squirreled safely away somewhere."
What kind of institution? To Britt he was just a Danny DeVito twin who never missed a chance to look down her blouse, but he had given her a job when she really needed it. On her second day he nicknamed her "Silo." When she asked why, he laughed. "'Cuz I can't spell derivative." He was actually listening to me during that interview, she thought.
"He started in the mailroom," continued Mackenzie, "when I was a little girl and my father was taking over from my grandfather. Grandpa kind of adopted Manny, practically forced him to go to night school at NYU. Eventually he graduated and my dad made him Vice President of Operations, not right away but eventually. A bit of advice for you, never underestimate the importance of the Manny Kleins of the world." She took a long sip. "Well, I think we've talked enough business for tonight. Tell me about you. You're from Kansas, I believe."
"Sounds like the middle of nowhere," said Mackenzie.
"I wouldn't say the middle of nowhere." Britt cracked a slight smile. "But it's walking distance from there. Folks say, when your dog runs away in Abilene, you can still see him for three days."
"Sounds utterly charming." Mackenzie smiled indulgently. "You must tell me more, but not tonight, dear." Mackenzie looked out the window, hiding her grin, as the limousine slowed. "Well, this is my place. Where again is Charles taking you?"
"Alphabet City," said Britt.
"Good part or bad part?" asked Mackenzie. "Charles," she continued without waiting for an answer, "you will please take Ms. Jaeger home and see her all the way to her door? Please, make sure she's safely tucked into her apartment, understood?" Mackenzie had a habit of asking questions that were not questions. They were directives. Despite the 'please,' her tone left no doubt she was issuing an order, not asking a favor.
"Of course, ma'am," replied the driver
"That's really not necessary," protested Britt.
"See here, Bitsy, Betsy, what was it again, Brenda?"
"Maybe BJ would be easier to remember."
"When you've known me longer and better-" Mackenzie's eyebrows shot up like she'd discovered a pearl in her Oysters Rockefeller. "BJ? I like that! BJ it is. Where was I? Oh, your apartment. You might as well learn from the beginning that I am very protective of the assets of this firm." Mackenzie patted Britt's knee making her shiver at the unexpected touch. Touching had become frightening to Britt since her husband started the rough stuff just before the end of their first year.
As Charles guided the car into the no parking zone in front of Mackenzie's Sutton Place condo, Jimmy the doorman was already at the curb reaching for the door handle.
"I think you just might prove to be one of them," Mackenzie continued, swinging her legs to get out of the car, unaware of the turmoil she had caused. "You should know, Charles, here," she leaned forward, reaching through the open divider between driver and passengers to pat his shoulder, "is not some glorified cab driver. He was a Navy Seal-fully trained in anti-terrorist, anti-kidnapping evasive driving. He is licensed to carry a weapon and he does. This car is mostly bulletproof. That is an unfortunate necessity these days because having my name on the building makes me kidnap bait. So when I say Charles will accompany you, he will do exactly that and you will let him. Do I make myself clear, young lady?" It was another question for which she did not want an answer. "Oh, and Merry Christmas."
Herzliya 25 December
Nine-twenty on Christmas morning at Mossad headquarters was simply the start of another Wednesday morning. Dani sat in his cubicle staring at his father's picture. Three times he had partially dialed the Dubai number from the phones in the mall but could not bring himself to complete the call.
Long ago he had accepted the official declaration: missing and presumed killed in action. It was far better to think he was dead than to imagine him languishing in some Syrian or Iranian prison. He picked up the picture and looked into his father's eyes. "What do I do, Abba?" he asked aloud, using the Hebrew word for Papa.
He could almost hear his father's voice from when he was a child. "Just do your duty, son, and everything else will take care of itself."
If not for his father, the Mossad would never have considered hiring Dani. Military service-distinguished military service-was an unwritten prerequisite, and Dani had served only the minimum reserve requirement, but his bloodline counted. Dani was hired straight out of the School of Computer Science at the Interdisciplinary Center. Western intelligence agencies called the IDC "Head Start for Spies." Its International Policy Institute Research Center, where Heleene had studied, was headed by Shabtai Shavit, chief of the Mossad for most of the 1990s. Dani and Heleene Seiderman were both recruited at the IDC, but neither knew about the other.
He picked up his phone to call her. Yet after staring at the phone and his father's picture, he put the receiver back in its cradle.
"I won't let you die, Abba, I swear. I won't."
With a tear running down his cheek, he listlessly pushed the joy-stick to his right reversing the graphic display of that narrow band of "useless" hash called white noise.
"How do you find an 'irregularity' in white noise?" he asked his father's picture. "White noise is nothing but irregularity in its purest form. How do you find a random grain of wheat in a sea of chaff?"
Then it hit him-a technical epiphany-a classic, forehead-slapping eureka moment! The answer was so simple, so obvious that he felt stupid for not thinking of it sooner. "Stop looking for a needle in a haystack," he told himself, "look for a bit of hay in a stack of needles." Look for blips of order-short logical sequences-no matter how short-floating in the white noise. Look for unscheduled message parts among the top-secret decryption keys buried in the white noise. Reassemble enough of those sequences and they could form an unauthorized entry into the system. He leaned back in his chair and smiled. "You would be proud, Abba."
His personal cell phone rang. He looked at the Caller ID and blanched. It was the same number he'd been carrying in his pocket for weeks.
"Shalom." He was shocked to hear the Hebrew greeting. "It has taken you a very long time to call. We must discuss the package you recently received."
"What do you want from me?" asked Dani.
"Do nothing. Say nothing. Go to your home after your regular shift. You will be contacted."
"How do you know where I live?"
"We know," said the voice. "Ask no more questions. You know what is at stake."
Dani left work early to avoid traffic. It took less than thirty minutes to drive to his small apartment. When he arrived a newspaper lay before his apartment door. He did not subscribe to a paper. Picking it up, he found the second section was folded open to the movie listings. Circled in red was a French movie he'd never heard of, in black and white with subtitles, playing at a small art house. The 2230 late show was noted by a circle within a circle.
* * * *
A handful of students, a few older couples, plus a half dozen singles were scattered throughout the cinema when Dani walked in. One younger couple in the back row seemed far more passionately interested in each other than in the scratchy black and white movie with Hebrew subtitles on top of English subtitles. Dani took a seat in the same row but on the other side of the theater. Anyone watching him instead of the movie would have to turn around and look away from the screen. Fifteen minutes passed before one of the singles, a casually dressed dark-haired man in a light wind breaker, got up and walked out toward the lobby. Five minutes later, the man returned to his seat, dropping a note in Dani's lap as he passed by. Wait thirty minutes. Then use the toilet. If you are not being followed, go to Le Jambe de Grenouille. Sit in the last booth on the left, by the kitchen.
A half hour later, as he left the men's room, the woman from the back row came out of the ladies' room, shaking her wet hands to dry them in the air. No towels in there, either, thought Dani as he walked toward the outer lobby. He never looked at her face, only at her flapping hands, exactly as she planned. She watched him leave the theater, then reached in her purse and pulled out her cell phone.
* * * *
The Frog's Leg was a small out-of-the-way bistro run by a French-Lebanese chef who'd never heard of nouvelle cuisine. Dani knew of it but had never eaten there. At this hour, the chef was also the maitre d´, waiter and busboy. "I expect out-of-town friends to join me," Dani said, using the exact words written on the other side of the note.
No sooner had he been seated in the back booth than two well-tailored men stepped out of the kitchen. One slid into the seat next to him, effectively pinning him against the wall. He immediately recognized the second man, who sat down facing him on the opposite side of the booth. He was the Mercedes driver.
"You're Iranians," Dani said before either man spoke. "What do you want?"
"We want you to help save thousands, perhaps millions, of innocent lives. Your people and ours," said the Mercedes driver.
Dani was no fool. "By betraying my country?" he shot back.
"We don't want you to reveal any military secrets. We know your country is targeting what it thinks are nuclear weapon sites."
"I certainly hope so," said Dani.
"We do not have any nuclear weapon sites. We do have some commercial, power-generating stations. We want to insure that you have not mis-targeted innocent civilian towns under the mistaken impression that nuclear facilities are hidden there," said the man sitting next to Dani.
"What about my father?"
"Give us just a little help to protect innocent lives, and it may be discovered that he has been mistakenly held all these years. These tragic errors do happen," said the driver.
"You will actually be helping your country and your father," added the second man.
"You saw how world public opinion turned against your country when you invaded Gaza. If Israel used nuclear weapons on the wrong Iranian city, it would force a full-fledged nuclear response and destroy any international support for your country. Preventing that would make you an unsung patriot."
A classic recruitment line, thought Dani, tell the target he's not a traitor, he's a hero.
"Those decisions are made far above me. I have absolutely no access to any targeting information."
"Pray that it is Allah's will," said the driver, "that some of that information flows through you and that you know how to recognize it."
"You want access to our intelligence systems?"
"We are merely trying to save innocent lives-your people and ours."
"Release my father and I will try to find out what I can. I really will."
"No, you help us first," said the Mercedes driver, "and if the information proves useful, your father can be released. Otherwise-you don't have martyrs in your religion, do you?"
"You've got to give me time."
"There is not much time to give. Prisons are not pleasant places and they can always become more unpleasant."
And if the hero pitch doesn't work, thought Dani, go to step two, threaten his family.
The man sitting next to Dani slid out of the booth and shrugged his shoulders indicating Dani should get out too. "Say nothing about this to anyone." Then he nodded toward the door.
As he walked out into the night, Dani knew exactly what he had to do.
He took no notice of the couple kissing in the Mazda 3 parked across the street. The moment he opened the door of his old Fiat, they broke their embrace. As the man behind the wheel started the car, Heleene Seiderman flipped open her cell phone to speed dial Mossad headquarters.
New York City
After that first late night working on Mackenzie's presentation, Britt never left without walking past Mackenzie's office, hoping she would be needed again. At least one night a week, Mackenzie asked for her help. They never worked until two a.m. again, but often until eight or nine o'clock, even midnight. Afterward, Mackenzie insisted on taking her for a late night dinner and "a glass of wine-or three." That always made Britt feel special. The first time in her life she ever felt that way.
In time, Mackenzie began showing up in Manny Klein's office just to chat-even bringing visitors to Manny's department as part of an office tour. The tour route always passed Britt's desk. The first time Mackenzie "accidentally" touched her shoulder, Britt jumped, like the first night in the car. On subsequent tours she never failed to touch her hair, pat her shoulder or just rest a hand on her chair, followed by an "Oh, excuse me, Britt," while looking at the nameplate on her desk, as if they barely knew each other. The nameplate read "Ms. Jaeger." Gradually, BJ stopped jumping.
Though she enjoyed their time together, Britt knew almost nothing about the CEO beyond outward appearances. She was obviously rich, very intelligent and very driven. No matter how late they worked, Mackenzie was always back in the office before nine, often by seven-thirty.
She dressed elegantly, but simply, with exquisite makeup. Her shimmering deep brunette, almost black hair, with just a few strategically placed platinum highlights, was always perfectly coiffed in an asymmetrical cut, like Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. A platinum swath, precisely one-half inch wide, slashed across her brow from her part to her temple. Britt had never seen a six-hundred-dollar, two-step "do" and she was impressed. Stunning was not an inappropriate adjective-certainly for Mackenzie's age-whatever that was. Britt guessed she was about ten years older, roughly forty, but it could be more. Hard to tell. Diamonds adorned her left index finger and both ring fingers, but she never revealed her marital status, even indirectly.
After several weeks of working together, Britt's knowledge of her had increased by only two tidbits of information.
One: She traveled frequently-especially weekends and holidays-to some warm-weather destination. She tried to avoid travel during the week. People came to her.
Two: She definitely had a social life outside of work. She would often talk about "chatting with friends over cocktails," "at a dinner party over the weekend," "while having drinks after the theater," or "sitting through another boring fund-raiser."
Other than those casual references, she remained a mystery. Britt, on the other hand, had revealed her most private thoughts. Over those late dinners, Mackenzie probed the deepest recesses of her budding protégé's personal life with an off-handed ease. Mackenzie soon knew where BJ went to grade school and high school; how boys on the middle school bus had teased her mercilessly about her early budding figure with the singsong chant, "BJ's got big jugs." She knew how her father died in a farm accident; and that her mother leased out the acreage, took a job in town and a second mortgage to try to save the farm, before she died of a massive coronary. A male doctor had misdiagnosed her heart disease as chronic indigestion. That put him near the top of BJ's list of reasons why men were not good for her, just behind her husband and the creep on the bus.
Mackenzie was so easy to talk to, little by little, Britt even revealed where, when, how and to whom she had lost her virginity and every unfortunate detail of her four-year, abusive marriage to Jack, the hulking ex-jock who never outgrew his high school football hero days.
Mackenzie knew about her disillusionment with the men she'd dated after her divorce when she realized they were often more immature than her ex. They didn't care about her. All they cared about was "a notch on their gun" so they could brag around town about banging the "captain's girl."
Of all the things she'd revealed, the hardest by far was recounting her bus ride to New York. Mackenzie elicited that story after one of those dinners while reassuringly holding BJ's hand in the back of the limo. Britt was sobbing as the car stopped to drop off Mackenzie first, as always.
Extracting a tissue from the passenger convenience console that disguised the little fridge, Mackenzie dabbed Britt's tears and softly kissed each cheek. Then she brushed a gentle kiss across her young protégé's lips-the first truly tender kiss Britt had felt in three years. It was a chaste kiss but a tiny current of sexual energy rippled through it.
"You are a very special young woman, BJ," she said as Jimmy, the doorman, opened her door.
Britt would barely remember how her body had initially stiffened during that intensely intimate moment. Although confused by what had just happened, she also felt special and deeply cared for, feelings she'd not had all the time she was married.
Inevitably, Mackenzie knew everything about Britt. And she was clearly pleased with all that she'd learned about the firm's newest asset.
The first time Britt met Rebekah Chayat, she had finished her work for the day and taken the elevator to the penthouse floor for her regular trip down Mahogany Row, past Mackenzie's office, hoping for a task.
"BJ, come in. I'd like you to meet Colonel Rebekah Chayat, spelled C-H-A-Y-A-T, but pronounced Hyatt, like the hotel," said Mackenzie.
"Rebekah is a very good friend. She and her company are a very important part of the success of this firm. She started a business intelligence software company in Israel and we took her public in this country. It is one of the great success stories of Collingwood and Company."
The woman was slightly shorter than BJ, at least in the mid-heel pumps she wore. She was athletically built, in a body-hugging khaki pants suit that showed no fat. Her short-sleeve jacket revealed Michelle Obama-like sculpted arms. Britt extended her hand. "It's a pleasure, Colonel."
Instead of shaking hands, the woman reached for Britt's shoulders and air kissed her on both cheeks, European style. "Please, 'Colonel' is completely unnecessary," she said in an accent BJ had never heard.
"Is that what they call data mining?" asked Britt.
"I'm impressed," said the colonel with a nod, "but from what Mackenzie tells me, you have far more interesting stories, like how you got to New York."
"I'd really rather not relive that."
"I understand." said Rebekah, "Mackenzie does have a way of sharing a little too much information. Still, I understand you were very brave."
Mackenzie swooped in to take Rebekah's elbow and steer her toward the door." She and I are late for a dinner meeting about a women's shelter we're helping."
The colonel paused on her way out and put her hand on Britt's shoulder. "I know a little about self-defense. It helps keep me in shape. Perhaps I could teach you a thing or two. You'd never have to worry about another bus ride again. If you're interested, that is. And if it's OK with Mackenzie, of course?"
Britt was left standing in the middle of Mackenzie's office. As the two women headed down the hall, she heard the accented voice say, "Three words, Mackenzie: need to know. That young woman does not need to know."
* * * *
Dozens of feet below street level, the L train rattled out of the Third Avenue station toward its last stop in Manhattan, First Avenue, before it would plunge under the East River through the tunnel to Brooklyn. At First Avenue, Britt climbed the stairs to Fourteenth Street and began the thirteen-minute "walk in the park" toward the roach motel. It used to take her 20 minutes but she now walked at a New Yorker's pace.
It was cold, dark and snow fell as she took the serpentine path past the lighted street hockey rink in Tomkins Square park. Kids, but mostly young adults-males and females on the same teams, sported every manner of hockey equipment from nothing but hockey gloves to full goalie outfits. Skates were the only missing equipment. Players ran around in sneakers slapping at a street hockey ball. Only in New York, she thought, as she looked down at her own sneakers. She'd learned to leave a pair of heals under her desk and wear sneakers to and from the office. She was glad she'd worn her turtle neck today. She pulled it up to cover her nose and mouth.
Beyond the rink, the path was dimly lit and the lights cast shadows that could easily camouflage a mugger. As she emerged from the park, she shoved her hand into her purse to feel for the pepper spray. Between Avenue B and Avenue C, with its trendy cafes and watering holes, she felt fine-safe. It was the last block between Avenue C and Avenue D and her Seventh Street walk-up that she felt the threat-level changed dramatically. As usual, at night, she walked down the center of Seventh Street, staying far away from whatever lurked in those basement entrances. She knew the steps led to nothing like Cheers and no one gave a damn about your name. Just then, a dark Lincoln Town car-matching any of the twenty-thousand or so sedans in the New York car service/gypsy cab fleet-turned the corner and slid to a stop at the snow-covered curb in front of BJ's building. The driver quickly doused the headlights, jumped out, opened the backdoor. Another burly man, like she sometimes saw during daytime, climbed out and began dragging a screaming woman out of the backseat toward one of the gates leading to the sub-level basements.
This was not a happy drunk who needed to be taken home. This woman, wearing only a tank top, a mini skirt and totally out of season white, "Fuck me" platform pumps, was terrified. That's not a tank top, she realized, it's her bra! They've ripped her blouse off. She was kicking, biting and screaming. The only word BJ recognized was "Nyet!"
BJ tightened the grip on her pepper spray canister and veered to the far side of the street quickly retreating toward the Yuppie safety of Avenue C. Then something snapped, literally, snapped and she stopped. She was sure she'd heard an actual snap and wasn't conscious of popping the protective cap off the canister but she spun back toward the black sedan. "No! Not here, not tonight, you bastards," she hissed, "not at my house!"
She ran down the far side of the street to come around the back of the car. The driver had returned to his seat, preparing for a fast getaway. She ran behind the car, coming up behind the abductor and sprayed his face at point blank range. He screamed and released his captive. The driver jumped quickly out of the car only to meet the same fate.
BJ threw her coat over the woman's shoulders and grabbed her by the hand and tried to lead her up the stairs to the safety of her apartment, which only made the woman scream and resist her even more frantically. She let go of the poor woman who immediately ran, disappearing around the corner of Avenue D, wrapped in Britt's only winter coat. She looked at the two groaning men by the car. She was sure they could not identify her with the turtle neck still pulled up over her nose and mouth. But now it dawned on her how stupid it would have been to let them see where she lived by going directly to her own apartment. She returned to the car and emptied the remaining pepper spray in their faces, just to be sure. Then she followed the same path as her escapee around the corner, down Avenue D, to catch a cab on Houston Street. "Fifty-third and Third Avenue, across the street from the Lipstick building," she told the driver, who breathed a sigh of relief at not having to go to Brooklyn."
She slept on the couch in Mackenzie's office and told the night guard to wake her at six so she could go home, bathe and change clothes.
It was five to nine as BJ draped her only other coat, a faded, purple puffy jacket, over her office chair when Mackenzie called.
"Good morning. How was your evening? Rebekah and I had to sit through the most boring fundraiser."
Mackenzie never calls to ask about my night. Why this morning? "I didn't get much sleep."
"I hope have enough energy for a little lunch time shopping. We'll go to Daffy's, it's a fabulous discount store and they have some fantastic winter coats on sale. Then maybe I'll treat you to a manicure."
Britt said nothing butstared her broken nails and the scratches covering her hands made by the woman trying to get away. How could she know? I'm imagining things.
"BJ?" said Mackenzie. "Are you there? Meet me out front at twelve-thirty, OK?"
"I really can't afford a shopping spree right now."
"My treat," said the CEO, "a little thank you for all the help you've given me. OK?"
"OK. Fine," answered Britt, in a puzzled monotone. "Twelve-thirty." She can't possibly know, can she?
Herzliya 14 January
After a sleepless night, Dani walked into the outer office of the Director of Technology, Natan Levi. "I must speak to the director," he told the secretary.
"And you are?" she asked.
"Abramowitz, Dani. I am a system security specialist and I must speak with the director. I have been recruited to become an Iranian spy."
The color instantly drained from the secretary's face. Without saying a word, she slipped her hand under her desk and pressed a button, then stood and disappeared into the director's office. Moments later, when she re-emerged to motion Dani in, two internal security agents were already walking down the hall.
"Stand right there," said the director, as the agents arrived and began frisking Dani. When they finished, the director ordered them to stand by in his outer office, then took out a tape recorder, pressed the record button and placed it on his desk. "Sit down."
Twenty minutes later, the director called for the agents and said, "You will escort us to the office of the Deputy Director General."
* * * *
Yacov "Jock" Ayalon glared across his desk as he assessed the young computer specialist. The two armed agents stood on each side of Dani's chair, scowling down at him.
"Dani," said Jock, "your father saved my life in the Golan. I came home. He didn't. If you had not come in, you would be on your way to jail by this time tomorrow."
"I don't understand, sir. I didn't do-"
"Stop!" ordered the number two intelligence officer in the country, pressing a button to lower a projection screen from the ceiling across the room. "Don't say another word."
Jock Ayalon broke the mold when he was plucked directly from the field to become the Deputy Director General of the Mossad, bypassing several older headquarters bureaucrats.
He was the son of a career foreign service officer who had risen from Israel's Deputy Consul General in the Windy City of Chicago, through numerous diplomatic positions, including London, Washington, Paris and New York, before retiring as Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations. To his American school mates, Yakov had quickly become "Jock." The nickname stuck even after returning to Israel to complete his military service and grad school. When he joined the Mossad, he signed his papers and reports "Jock."
He followed the time-honored path from uniformed military intelligence into the spy agency, distinguishing himself as a spy-runner in the clandestine service, a katsa, then a station chief running several katsas.
He pressed a second button from the TV-like remote on his desk, and an LCD projector flashed to life showing a security camera tape of Dani's "accident" of a few weeks ago.
"After you asked the Diplomatic Desk to look up the license plate that night, the duty officer ordered a search of the security cameras that look at everything within a three mile radius of this building. The first thing we saw was that it was not a hit and run as you reported. Naturally, suspicions were aroused."
"Sir, if I could just-"
"Not another word," repeated the DDG, cutting him off. "We saw everything, even things you did not see. We saw the passenger from the Mercedes drop the manila envelope into your car while you talked to the driver. When the tape was blown up and enhanced, it showed that both driver and passenger were known Iranian agents who had entered the country on false Jordanian passports.
"The tape," he continued, "showed you accepting a cash payment from avowed enemies of the state of Israel. Since then, our own internal security agents and Shin Bet domestic intelligence agents have followed your every move, monitored every call, looked at every email and searched your apartment and car, and your girlfriend's apartment."
Reaching into his desk, Jock Ayalon withdrew a manila envelope and handed it to Dani. "Here are stills of you entering and leaving the cinema and the restaurant last night. You will be interested to know that your dining partners were most recently advisors to Hamas, in Gaza, and before that Hezbollah in Lebanon. We also have video with a reasonably complete transcript of your meeting, thanks to laser eavesdropping systems that can read voices by measuring the vibrations of the window in the room. We have not yet found the agent who contacted you in the theater, so they still have at least one active unidentified asset in the country."
"Oh, my God! They'll kill my fath-"
Ayalon silenced him again. "No, they won't, not if they don't have him. I know they told you he was alive. I'm sure he's not, but there is that very slight chance they told the truth, out of character as that would be. That is why we did not arrest them on the spot." He placed his hands flat on the desktop. "Yoni saved my life, Dani. I owe him. If we can't find him, maybe I can save you."
Dani did not reply, and Jock went on. "Since you came forward and never compromised any information, instead of charging you with criminal failure to report contact with agents of a hostile foreign power, or worse, I will attempt to limit this to an administrative action. You are guilty of a reporting delay. As such you are immediately suspended without pay for a period to be determined."
As the enormity of the situation washed over him, Dani seemed overwhelmed. A practiced interrogator, Ayalon stared back in silence. Finally, in almost a whisper, Dani said, "I'm dead, aren't I? I will never be back in this building, will I? What about my father?"
"I am sure he's gone, but we will launch an operation to find out."
Addressing the agents, he said, "Collect Mr. Abramowitz's passport, ID, any building passkeys he has and escort him from the building. He is not under arrest, for now."
As Dani was led from the building by the agents, each holding an elbow, Heleene Seiderman walked toward them down the same corridor. "Dani, how are-" She stopped in mid-sentence, as cordiality turned to apprehension. "I'm sorry. I hope it turns out all right."
"We need to be going," said one of the security agents as they both pushed Dani more firmly toward the bulletproof airlock that led to the building exit.
"I'll call you," said Heleene, forming her thumb and little finger into an imaginary phone
"That would not be wise," said the trailing agent.
* * * *
Jerusalem's King David Hotel is one of the finest hotels in the world. Its palatial two-story Presidential and Royal suites have housed nearly every world leader who ever visited the Holy Land. King George V, Presidents Carter, Clinton, and Bush chose to lay their heads there. British Prime Ministers Winston Churchill to Tony Blair stood on the same balconies as Jordan's King Hussein and Egyptian presidents Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak to marvel at the views of the Old City of Jerusalem.
Nearly every word those dignitaries spoke was recorded by Israeli intelligence with ever more sophisticated eavesdropping gadgets located in ceilings, walls, light fixtures, television sets, room service carts, salt shakers, even toilet paper holders. Their personal security entourages invariably found and disabled many of those, but never all of them, especially the laser devices aimed at windows from blocks away. The King David may be the most thoroughly bugged hotel outside China, Russia or North Korea. Government electronic eavesdropping equipment was permanently installed in strategically selected rooms and suites, especially on the fourth floor. Directly above those listening posts are the two-level Presidential and Royal suites, each with rooms on the fifth and sixth floors.
Rafi Herzog was responsible for all that equipment. He assigned the technicians who manned those eavesdropping stations round the clock, whenever "special visitors" were in residence. He knew those suites would be vacant on this night because no political dignitaries were in the hotel.
Herzog took his own car from Mossad headquarters to the King David. He went directly to room 413, the small suite directly beneath the Royal Suite, and used his personal room key. He removed his jacket, splashed some water on his face and took the elevator to the business centre and again used the room key he kept permanently in his possession. The business center was empty. Sitting at the computer least visible to any other visitors, he signed in to a Yahoo account as "hiker787878" and wrote a short email note about a troublesome shipping clerk and a temporary delay of shipments, but stated the problem was under control. He didn't try to address or send the email. He simply saved it as a draft, signed off, and powered down the computer.
He returned to the suite and ordered dinner for two with a bottle of champagne from room service. At seven-twenty, the room phone rang. Herzog picked up the phone but did not say anything. "I'm in the lobby," said the voice on other end.
"It's OK, come up."
Four minutes later, following a discreet knock, he looked through the peephole and opened the door. "I'm glad you could get here," he said before taking his visitor in his arms and kissing her. "Dinner will be here momentarily. Do you want to take a shower and slip into something more comfortable? Like this?" Rafi handed her a small velvet covered box, obviously jewelry.
"It's stunning," she said, extracting a hefty sixteen-inch yellow and white gold chain. With a gram weight of fifty grams, it contained about two thousand dollars worth of gold, and that was before the craftsman turned it in into a beautiful piece of jewelry.
"I thought with yellow and white gold you could wear it with anything," said Rafi, mentally patting himself on the back for his clever practicality.
"I could also wear it with nothing," she said, fastening the clasp under her chin, then spinning it a half turn to rest behind her neck. "Did I tell you my father is a diamond cutter? As a child, I had flawed diamonds for markers on board games. So I know you spent way too much on this." A laugh passed between them before she added, "but if you really want to prey on my weakness, my passion is clothes, Paris and Milan designers."
At seven-forty, room service knocked on the door. The waiter was not surprised when he was paid in cash. Almost everyone who stayed in this suite paid cash for anything ordered. Invariably they were lousy tippers. The suite was permanently rented by a technology firm for meetings and visiting clients, but rumor among the staff was that the company was a Mossad front.
At seven-fifty, Heleene Seiderman stepped out of the shower, wrapped herself in the lush white terry cloth robe and walked into the living/dining room, just as Rafi Herzog popped the champagne cork. "Thank God you didn't do that while I was still in the bathroom. I would have been sure someone was trying to-"
"And they would have succeeded. You left your purse out here with your weapon in it." He was dead serious when he added, "a mistake that could get you killed."
"I didn't expect my lover would try to kill me."
"Duty may require you to take a lover that would happily kill you, if he knew who you really were." Still holding the champagne in one hand, Rafi Herzog stepped closer and pulled free the terry cloth belt. "Or you might have to kill him. Are you ready for that?" He slid his hand into the open robe.
"If you are, I've been ordered to start researching potentially needed documents and a legend for a mission that is the kind that can make a career. It is extremely dangerous. You could be killed. Should I recommend you? Don't worry, I'll have your back." He grinned as he slid his hand up to her breast. "...and your front."
Herzliya 15 January
The next morning, Heleene sat in Jock Ayalon's office as he thumbed through her file, muttering half aloud, half to himself:
"Heleene Al-Farad Seiderman. Grew up on the edge of the Arab quarter of Old Jerusalem. Father-former air force officer and now a successful diamond cutter. Mother-oh, this is interesting-Palestinian Christian from Bethlehem. Now, Professor of Forensic Anthropology and Archeology at the University of Jerusalem.
"Languages-accent-free Levantine dialect Arabic. So you could pass for a Palestinian or Israeli Arab, a Jordanian, even a Lebanese. Passable French. Any Farsi?"
"Before the Intifada, I grew up playing with Palestinian kids. My mother studied at the Sorbonne and I had a couple of semesters of Farsi," she said. "I'd never pass for a Persian, but I would have a basic idea of what people are saying. They use the Arabic alphabet, so I can read a little more."
"That's good enough for now," he replied. "This says your Queen's English is more than passable and nearly accent free. Show me."
"Well, guv, you know, the rine in Spine falls minely on the pline." It was her best Eliza Doolittle Cockney. Then switching effortlessly to an upper-class Etonian accent, she added, "Mumsy, you know, is Oxford ed-u-cated." She separated the three syllables with exacting precision, then smiled. "You said, show me."
Jock's professional stone face brightened with a slight smile. "You're right. I have no one to blame but myself. Now," he said, reclaiming his expressionless face and checking the file again. "This says you were born in Jerusalem, so you're a Sabra, but not a Jew. Interesting."
"Technically you're right, under Talmudic law," she said, "but we did observe the high holy days in our house, even though my mother didn't convert until after I was born."
"But you practiced," he said, shrugging. "We never practiced at all in my house. So you may be a better Jew than me. This also says you're ethnically ambiguous," waving her file in a fanning motion. "What does that mean?"
It means, she thought, you're not sure I can be trusted. Whose side am I on?
"It's hard to tell if I'm an Arab or a European, just by looking." Heleene squared her shoulders and stared straight at her boss until he looked up from her file. She waited until their eye contact was locked in. "Does it matter if one of us is a good Jew or bad Jew? I'm a loyal Israeli and proud of it. If you have any doubts about that, I'll leave now."
Little shows of petulant bravado did not impress Jock. "I have no doubt about your loyalty, young woman. Rebekah Chayat recruited you and vouched for you, that's as good as any lie detector test I know of."
He resumed scanning her file. After one year at the University of Jerusalem, she began her compulsory military service at eighteen. When basic training commanders became aware of her linguistic ability and stunning physical attributes, she was assigned to military intelligence. The background that made her so attractive to the intelligence brass also scared them, resulting in an extremely rigorous security clearance vetting.
"How well do you know her?"
Heleene smiled for the first time. "I guess you'd say she mentored me. She recommended me for military intelligence. I have her personal cell phone number and I feel like I could call her if I had a serious problem, but I never have."
Jock laid down the personnel folder and pushed his chair back slightly from his desk. "How did you wind up at the IDC, if you started at the University of Jerusalem, and your mother was on the faculty there?"
"Rebekah insisted I go to the IDC."
Jock arched an eyebrow. "Rebekah?
"Colonel Chayat, except she was no longer in the army, made it sound like I had no choice. She'd already spoken to people there and she promised me a scholarship. She said, 'They want you.'"
"Did you know she meant the Mossad wanted you?" asked Jock. "At least she wanted you for the Mossad?
"Not at the time.
"You know Dani Abramowitz, right?"
Heleene nonchalantly crossed one leg over the other. At least she hoped it appeared nonchalant. She didn't know why she had been part of the detail following him as he came out of the restaurant, but she knew being tailed wasn't good for him. Our association can't be good for me either. "We were at the IDC at the same time. But neither of us knew the other would be working here until we met in the canteen."
"Do you know who his father is?"
"He told me the story. It's tragic."
"Did he tell you he might still be alive, in an Iranian prison?
"No. Is that true?" She uncrossed her legs and straightened in her chair.
Ayalon answered her question with one of his own. "Have you ever been to Tehran?"
Heleene laughed. "Every year, high holidays with the Grand Ayatollah. Wouldn't miss it for the world."
He offered not even a hint of a smile. "Sarcasm won't get you out of Iran if somebody you once knew recognizes you on the street and says, 'Heleene, what's a nice Israeli girl like you doing in Iran?' Casual recognition is an agent's worst nightmare."
"Yes, sir. I understand. Sorry."
"There's a slight chance General Abramowitz is still alive. I doubt it, but I want you to find out."
"Me? Why me, sir? I'm just out of training."
"You're what the Brits call a 'new skin.' The only record that exists anywhere in the world of you as an intelligence officer is right here." He picked up the manila folder with both hands and bent it into horseshoe shape, partially hiding his face. "So you're not on anyone's radar." You're so new, if the worst happens, you don't know anything that could take down any other operations. This was the cold calculus of espionage. I don't lose an experienced agent. You are expendable. He tossed the folder back on his desk and looked up at Heleene. "Right now, even a little Farsi makes you my only available choice."
"When do I leave?" She tried to sound confident, even though she was not
"We need to create your legend. You will be well trained with a working knowledge of your cover. The technology department will hack into the computers of the relevant issuing agencies and insert fake records-birth certificate, drivers license, marriage license, fake parents, siblings, transcripts, a job history, even fake newspaper articles about you. But once you're in-country, it will be a very low-tech op. You will be on your own, no backup, and obviously no diplomatic immunity.
She could feel a wave of adrenaline twisting her stomach into a knot as she tried to control the classic fight or flight emotion. She wasn't sure which she wanted to do.
"Are you up to it?
Heleene Seiderman glanced quickly at her hands. Are they shaking? Then she looked Jock straight in the eyes. "Yes, sir."
"Effective immediately, you may not discuss this conversation or any part of this operation with anyone except me or the senior case officer I assign, and above all, not a word to Dani Abramowitz. Am I clear?"
"Yes, sir. How soon do I go?"
"Sooner than I'd like."
New York City
"You were a pretty depressed young woman when you came here. It's been what, BJ, a little over a half year now? Have your horizons gotten any brighter?" asked Mackenzie, lifting her stem of Val de Loire chenin blanc while waiting for dinner to be served.
"Well, I've seen a lot of museums and a bunch of art galleries."
Mackenzie probed a little deeper. "But no boyfriends? No dates?"
"Not even a cat?"
Mackenzie Collingwood's constant questioning, usually over a late night meal, knew no bounds. Britt craved the companionship of those late night dinners and the escape from her apartment. This was one of the good nights.
"So back in Kansas-I've been dying to ask you this-did you ever actually go for a 'roll in the hay'? I mean, really in the hay?"
Britt could feel the blush rise like thermometer mercury from neck to hairline. She looked down at her glass to hide a smile. "Well, almost."
"You have to tell me."
"Well, it was after the high school homecoming game, my junior year. Jack and I found this hay stack in a farmer's barn and we were just about to-you know-but my hay fever kicked in. I started sneezing and I couldn't stop. I sneezed like I'd been snorting pepper."
Britt's giggles started slowly, but grew to an infectious laugh. "I sneezed so hard and so loud I woke up the farmer's dog. The damn mutt started barking like mad. The farmer came out with his shotgun and we went running bare-assed naked back to the car with clothes flying like flags on the Fourth of July."
Mackenzie Collingwood-usually the very essence of female dignity-laughed so hard she sprayed a mouthful of wine through her nose. No one made Mackenzie laugh like BJ. Certainly no one had ever made her spray wine through her nose in public. Mackenzie dabbed her napkin over her wine-speckled dress and wiped the tears from her eyes.
"Believe it or not," she said, regaining a modicum of composure, "I had some business I wanted to discuss with you away from the office, but I can't do it with wine dripping through my sinuses."
Oh my God! I'm fired? was all that ran through BJ's mind.
"Can you meet me in my office at seven-thirty?"
"This is going to be something bad, isn't it."
"No, darling. It's something good. Just be there."
"Yes, ma'am! You're not going to fire me, are you?"
"BJ, please. Drop the 'ma'am'. Call me 'Mackenzie' or I will have to fire you."
"You are so fired, my friend." Mackenzie laughed and raised her glass to clink Britt's.
* * * *
At twenty after seven the next morning, Britt walked into Mackenzie's office carrying coffee and croissants from the deli down the block. Five minutes later, the CEO walked in, not at all surprised to find her young protégé already there-"and with coffee!"
"You're a godsend," she said, pouring the contents of both paper cups into a sterling silver pot, then into a pair of Lenox china cups. "Thank you."
"You're welcome. I hope you like croissants."
"Love 'em," said Mackenzie. She sat down on her couch and placed the cup and saucer on her coffee table. "So where was I last night?"
"Laughing about my misadventure in the hay?"
"Exactly, and speaking of late night activities, young lady," she continued with mock gravitas, "your assistance to me, after hours and on your own time, has been immensely helpful. You've learned a lot about our company, our business and the way I work."
"Thank you, but I really haven't done all that much." Britt followed Mackenzie's lead and sat on the other end of the sofa.
"I'll be the judge of that." Mackenzie broke off a ladylike pastry bite. " I sensed that first long night that you had 'legs' and could climb the ladder in this company, if that's what you want to do. I actually wanted to promote you sooner, but Manny told me you were in the midst of a major project, something about electronically archiving our files."
Britt licked the tip of her index finger and stabbed at a stubborn croissant crumb on her skirt. "We were running out of space, and archiving electronic-" She stopped in mid-word and her eyes snapped open. "You're promoting me?"
"Don't look so surprised," said Mackenzie. "You're moving up to this floor. You'll report directly to me. I've found space for you. Right now it's a glorified broom closet, but building services promises it will be a presentable office by the end of the week. Technically, you're on Mahogany Row-more or less across from me-but you'll be on the inside of the hall. Sorry, I don't have a window for you yet, but I'll have it furnished very nicely."
"I really don't need an office," BJ protested. "I can work from the desk I have."
"You need an office. You'll be handling some confidential information. What I don't have for you is a proper title. I was going to make you 'Special Assistant to the CEO,' but that makes you a glorified secretary, and the one I have would be very unhappy. So, for lack of something better, you are Collingwood & Company's first 'Corporate Programs Executive.' I have no idea what that means, but it sounds like it qualifies you for an office near mine on the Row."
Britt wondered if Mackenzie heard the rattle of her cup and saucer as she lifted them from the coffee table to her lap. I should have kept the paper cup with the lid on, she thought, watching the coffee slosh over the edge of her cup. "I don't know what to say, except, thank you. Thank you."
"You might ask about the money. Effective Monday, your salary is one hundred-fifty-six thousand dollars-three thousand a week, plus bonus. Your bonus is guaranteed to be at least forty-four thousand dollars. So, you will make at least a two-hundred thousand a year."
Britt was stunned. "Two-hundred thousand a year! They'd never believe this back at the grain elevator."
"Two hundred is not that much on Wall Street, but together we can enhance that bonus, so you're not in Kansas anymore, Toto."
Britt smiled at Mackenzie's shop-worn joke.
"Your days of toiling in blissful anonymity in Manny's little sheltered workshop are over. I need to warn you, as a female, you'll be under the microscope of everyone in the company now. This business barely tolerates women. It destroys pussies."
Herzliya 28 July
Dark, puffy circles under the woman's eyes were mute testimony to the rigors of compressing three years of medical school into six months of ten-hour days, while learning about the global public health projects of Les Medecins San Frontieres.
"You've done well, Dr. LeDeoux," said Jock Ayalon in fractured French.
"Merci," said Heleene Seiderman.
"The day after tomorrow, you fly to Dublin on your personal passport. A British passport will be delivered to you at your hotel. The next day, you fly to London, then take the Eurostar train through the Chunnel to Paris, where Dr. Adrienne LeDeoux gets a French passport. From Paris you fly to Ankara, Turkey, as Dr. LeDeoux, of Doctors Without Borders. Heleene Seiderman will now have effectively dropped off the face of the earth, but Dr. LeDeoux is going to eastern Turkey, where Doctors Without Borders has been working with victims of last year's earthquake. In Ankara, you'll buy a bus ticket to Rayat in Eastern Turkey. A smuggler, who's been reliable in the past, will take you across the Iranian border, near Tabriz, with a truckload of medical supplies. Route 3 is the major truck route from Turkey south to Tehran. It can be a four-day trip, but the point of entry up there lacks the sophisticated technology at Imam Khomeini airport in Tehran. Dr. LeDeoux's French passport will have a ten-day tourist visa for Iran. That's the easy part."
Ayalon picked up a sealed manila envelope from his desk and stared at his agent, so young and fresh six short months ago. "Here is your list of contacts and the location for your first dead-drop. You must memorize everything in here, then burn it before you leave Israel. We arranged a meeting for you with Dr. Arash Hamdi, Dean of Public Health at Tehran University of Medical Science. We hope you can get him to give you a broad view of government health programs including prisoners. That may give us a clue where they're holding the general."
She nodded seriously. She looked five years older but seemed excited, not frightened.
"You've been rehearsing your legend," he said. "I'm told you're very convincing."
"I hope so, sir."
"I've seen the travel documents created for you. They're very well done. The deputy director of technology will go over each piece with you, one by one. His name is Rafi Herzog."
"I've heard the name," she said, averting her gaze. "Not sure if we've met."
"No matter. He will find you. He set up the interview by sending a bogus email from the deputy minister of health telling the good doctor Hamdi to cooperate with you fully. He's really quite good. He'll send everything by diplomatic pouch to Paris. We can't risk having them found on you in case you get selected for a random search somewhere along the way. Are you scared, Seiderman?"
"A little, sir."
Jock looked at her for signs of fear. Darting eyes. Beads of sweat. Trembling. "Only a little?"
"A lot." Heleene took a deep breath. "Terrified, actually."
"Good. Stay that way. Only a fool would not be. If you weren't, I would cancel the mission and fire you for stupidity. If you get caught, there's no way we can help you. You realize, if caught, you will be tortured for information, raped as an article of faith, then executed?"
"As an article of faith?" she said, cocking her head to one side.
"The Shia, at least the Shia who run that country, say an executed virgin goes straight to heaven as a martyr. They want the women they execute to go to hell."
"I'm not a-"
"They will make sure of that." Ayalon looked for a reaction, seeing none he moved on to the next topic. "You know your objective, but do you know the definition of success?"
"Successfully completing my mission, sir."
"Wrong. Most operations fail. What's a passing grade these days in college?"
"Depends," she said. "Probably seventy-five."
"If we ever get even seventy percent of the intelligence we're after, that officer is getting a medal. Success is getting in and getting out alive, so we can fail again. Fail enough times and we'll get a few successes. Do you understand me?"
"One more thing," he said, ignoring her. "There is still a substantial Jewish community in the north end of Tehran, even a synagogue practically in the shadow of Evin Prison, the most likely spot for him to be held. We have legacy contacts in that community. An old source there has given us a name, Dr. Arash Hamdi."
"An Iranian Jew with the name Arash Hamdi?" Heleene rolled her eyes. "He sounds Persian through and through."
"He is. He is also the chief of medicine for the nine exclusive hospitals operated by and for the Revolutionary Guard. If Yoni, excuse me, General Abramowitz, has been treated in one, he will know. He is expecting Dr. LeDeoux."
"If he's willing to see me," asked Heleene, "why not just have whoever set up the meeting ask the question?"
"He's willing to meet Dr. LeDeoux and hoping Dr. LeDeoux can arrange an invitation for him to speak at a medical conference in Paris, or anywhere outside Iran."
"Can I promise that?"
"Of course you can. You can promise him anything you think will work." Jock patted the manila envelope lying on his desk. "It's all in here."
"Some of those legacy contacts have or had mid-level government jobs but we have to assume they have been co-opted. I wouldn't even trust the rabbi. If you're at all suspicious, he may report you just to stay out of prison himself." He handed her the sealed manila envelope.
"If you think you're in trouble, somehow get to the South African Embassy. Your code phrase is 'DeBeers diamonds are flawed.' That should get you inside. Then we can try to figure a way to get you out. I don't think I need to repeat what will happen if you are caught."
The young woman looked across the desk, straight into Jock Ayalon's eyes. "Sir, may I ask a question? Do you give every new agent this same pep talk before she leaves?"
Slowly the spymaster's mouth curled upward. "I'm beginning to see why we recruited you. Rebekah Chayat saw a lot of herself in you."
* * * *
Later that evening, Heleene picked up the house phone in the lobby of the King David Hotel, once again, and called Room 413. Five minutes later, she knocked on the door. "Dr. Adrienne LeDeoux, I presume," said Herzog before taking her in his arms and kissing her.
"I've missed you," she said.
"Me too, but I have a lot to show you." He gestured toward the dining table nearly covered with documents from passports and used airline boarding passes to restaurant matches and laundry receipts. "This will all be delivered to you along the line. There's a lot to go over if we're going to have any time for us."
She fingered a few prominent items-a French passport and drivers license, medical notes from an actual severe malnutrition program run by Doctors Without Borders, and copy of an article from the society page of Le Monde, the major French newspaper. "What's this?"
"I'll go over everything after dinner. Before it's delivered, why don't you take a shower and slip into something more comfortable?"
"Will you take one with me?"
"I'd better be here for the waiter."
He listened to her humming in the shower and smiled.
Dinner was waiting under keep-warm covers on the room service cart as she emerged from the bathroom wrapped in a large towel. "I'm especially proud of this." He handed her what appeared to be a three-month-old clipping from LeMonde, France's largest newspaper. It featured a picture of Heleene, identified as Dr. LeDeoux, at a Paris fundraiser for Medecins Sans Frontieres. She was pictured between the French president and his supermodel wife, who had in fact attended the actual event, honoring a real doctor for her work.
Heleene's evening dress featured a plunging neckline so daringly revealing that even the supermodel first lady appeared taken aback, despite the fact that her own nude photos were readily available on the internet. "I don't even own an evening dress, nor would I be seen in one like that if I did." On second thought, that's exactly what I'd wear if I didn't want some Iranian security agent studying my face. And if he did look at this picture, my face is not where he'd be looking.
"If anyone Googles you, this will be one of the first items they find. We embedded it in the Le Monde site. Of course, if they happen to have an old copy of the actual paper, you won't be in the picture with the president."
She could not hide her amazement that he could be so clever.
"Then again, you never attended the Sorbonne or McGill University Medical School, either, but their computers now spit out complete transcripts for you, for a twenty-five dollar fee. By the way, you struggled with chemistry but," he extended his hand and slowly undid the towel where it was tucked together above her breasts, "in anatomy you were A-plus."
"I still am," she said, wrapping her arms around his neck as the towel slipped to the floor.
Geneva International Airport
Lufthansa flight 3664 touched down at Geneva International Airport, just five kilometers northwest of the Swiss city, inside the French border at Cointrin. One of the best-designed passenger facilities in the world, its designers planned a walking distance from plane to train that is no more than two hundred meters. Passengers can clear entry formalities and be in the city center less than forty-five minutes after touchdown. The French-speaking city was one of Mr. Hu's favorite stops. He loved the sparkling lake from which the city took its name and the temples of neoclassical architecture, and most of all, he loved that he had never had to do any wet work in Geneva.
A fifteen-minute ride on city bus #10 dropped him in the center of town on the hectic Place Bel-Air on the Rive Gauche. A short walk up Rue du Commerce toward the river brought him to the prestigious business addresses of the Rue du Rhône.
Hu Wang-Chien, conservatively attired-in dark suit, white shirt, circular horn-rimmed glasses and a grey fedora covering his stylishly cut hair-frequently took this route to visit a different temple at Rue du Rhône 8.
Mr. Hu was the favorite courier of China's Ministry of State Security, Second Bureau-foreign intelligence. There were three reasons why this young man, born in a Chinese prison, was the Guóānbù's most valued agent: he had proven himself to be totally reliable; no nation's counterintelligence service had identified him as a Chinese agent; and traveling under one of several false passports-this day, Canadian citizen Hubert Wayne Church-he could shuttle between the great cities of the West without a single passport control agent ever seeing anything but a successful Caucasian businessman.
To all outward appearances, Mr. Hu was a Gweilo-Chinese for "foreign devil." His mother, a French journalist, died during childbirth in Tiantanghe Women's Prison, outside Beijing. She went to China in 1970, unaware of her pregnancy, to report on the atrocities of ten million deaths and imprisonments at the height of the Cultural Revolution. Accused by radical Red Guards of spying, she was tried in a twelve-minute kangaroo court and sentenced to ten years in prison.
The birth of her male child six months after she entered prison was recorded, her death during childbirth was not.
By chance, First Lieutenant Hu Ning of the People's Liberation Army, Second Bureau-foreign intelligence, was visiting the prison the day of the birth. He was shown the Caucasian infant that was about to be disposed of with the trash. Something about his round hazel eyes mesmerized the fast-rising young officer. Plus, after two years of marriage, his wife had not conceived. He said he would "take responsibility" for the child.
His wife named the child Hu Wang-Chien. His adoptive father, now Major Hu Ning, used his connections and position to see that his son, taller and stronger than others his age, was selected for one of the special school/training camps run by the Ministry of Sport for potential elite athletes.
Ostracized as a Gweilo by his fellow athletes, he had only one friend, but that friend's father was a senior officer in the Ministry of State Security. He recognized that young Hu had to be tougher, better, smarter and faster at everything he did just to survive in the school-and he had to do it alone, without help and without friends. The exact qualities demanded by the Guóanbù.
Since his tenth birthday, Mr. Hu had been groomed to be the perfect, undetectable Chinese spy.
Carrying a black duffel bag and a soft leather briefcase, he walked into a branch of the global Swiss banking giant UBS. On this beautiful Geneva day, Mr. Hu presented a key to UBS lockbox FFN321, and the box was delivered from the vault to him in a small private room. He opened his briefcase and transferred its contents-$200,000 U.S., the usual amount-into the safety deposit box. He never withdrew any money but, if he found a CD or flash drive nestled among the banded bundles of well-circulated bills, he took that and the trip was another success. When finished, he watched the box be returned to the vault and locked in place with his key and the bank's key. With his key safely back in his pocket, he always visited the well-appointed men's room adjoining the private banking section.
No one saw the man identified as Hubert Wayne Church leave the big bank at Rue du Rhône 8. If paying attention, one might have noticed a thirty-something, American-looking backpacker with fashionably long hair but no glasses-wearing expensive hiking boots, a bicycle team shirt and Manchester United cap-leave the bank and stroll next door to 14 Rue du Rhône, the Regus Office Centre.
The young man, with the full knapsack slung casually over one shoulder, looked vaguely familiar to the building receptionist as "one of those techie guys" who worked in the small computer company office on the seventh floor. "Bonjour," he chimed over his shoulder as he passed her desk heading toward the elevators
Mr. Hu opened the door to Suite 706 and turned on the lights. The six-room suite was unoccupied. It was an instant enterprise, just add people and it looked like a flourishing start up.
He went to the small office that was his whenever he needed it, took out his laptop, and smiled as he logged into his email. His address featured the two luckiest numbers in Chinese numerology, repeated three times. He never bothered to look in the inbox. The auto-generated Welcome to Yahoo confirmation was still the only incoming message ever received. Instead he clicked on the saved drafts box. The only entry had a blank subject line. The note mentioned a troublesome shipping clerk whose return could endanger future scheduled shipments. But the situation could be contained if packages continued to arrive in Geneva as planned. He sighed. Beijing would have to be informed. They will not be happy.
He deleted the note, shut down his computer and looked out the window at the boat traffic on the river Rhône. Maybe today was not so lucky.
... continued ...