THERE was a time, just once, when they were all together.
They met many years ago, when they were young, before all this happened; but the meeting cast shadows far across the decades.
It was the first Sunday in November, 1947, to be exact; and each of them met all the others—indeed, for a few minutes they were all in one room. Some of them immediately forgot the faces they saw and the names they heard spoken in formal introductions. Some of them actually forgot the whole day; and when it became so important, twenty-one years later, they had to pretend to remember; to stare at blurred photographs and murmur, “Ah, yes, of course,” in a knowing way.
This early meeting is a coincidence, but not a very startling one. They were mostly young and able; they were destined to have power, to take decisions, and to make changes, each in their different ways, in their different countries; and those people often meet in their youth at places like Oxford University. Furthermore, when all this happened, those who were not involved initially were sucked into it just because they had met the others at Oxford.
However, it did not seem like an historic meeting at the time. It was just another sherry party in a place where there were too many sherry parties (and, undergraduates would add, not enough sherry). It was an uneventful occasion. Well, almost.
* * *
Al Cortone knocked and waited in the hall for a dead man to open the door.
The suspicion that his friend was dead had grown to a conviction in the past three years. First, Cortone had heard that Nat Dickstein had been taken prisoner. Towards the end of the war, stories began to circulate about what was happening to Jews in the Nazi camps. Then, at the end, the grim truth came out.
On the other side of the door, a ghost scraped a chair on the floor and padded across the room.
Cortone felt suddenly nervous. What if Dickstein were disabled, deformed? Suppose he had become unhinged? Cortone had never known how to deal with cripples or crazy men. He and Dickstein had become very close, just for a few days back in 1943; but what was Dickstein like now?
The door opened, and Cortone said, “Hi, Nat.”
Dickstein stared at him; then his face split in a wide grin and he came out with one of his ridiculous Cockney phrases: “Gawd, stone the crows!”
Cortone grinned back, relieved. They shook hands, and slapped each other on the back, and let rip some soldierly language just for the hell of it; then they went inside.
Dickstein’s home was one high-ceilinged room of an old house in a run-down part of the city. There was a single bed, neatly made up in army fashion; a heavy old wardrobe of dark wood with a matching dresser; and a table piled with books in front of a small window. Cortone thought the room looked bare. If he had to live here he would put some personal stuff all around to make the place look like his own: photographs of his family, souvenirs of Niagara and Miami Beach, his high school football trophy.
Dickstein said, “What I want to know is, how did you find me?”
“I’ll tell you, it wasn’t easy.” Cortone took off his uniform jacket and laid it on the narrow bed. “It took me most of yesterday.” He eyed the only easy chair in the room. Both arms tilted sideways at odd angles, a spring poked through the faded chrysanthemums of the fabric, and one missing foot had been replaced with a copy of Plato’s Theaetetus. “Can human beings sit on that?”
“Not above the rank of sergeant. But—”
“They aren’t human anyway.”
They both laughed: it was an old joke. Dickstein brought a bentwood chair from the table and straddled it. He looked his friend up and down for a moment and said, “You’re getting fat.”
Cortone patted the slight swell of his stomach. “We live well in Frankfurt—you really missed out, getting demobilized.” He leaned forward and lowered his voice, as if what he was saying was somewhat confidential. “I have made a fortune. Jewelry, china, antiques—all bought for cigarettes and soap. The Germans are starving. And—best of all—the girls will do anything for a Tootsie Roll.” He sat back, waiting for a laugh, but Dickstein just stared at him straight-faced. Disconcerted, Cortone changed the subject. “One thing you ain’t, is fat.”
At first he had been so relieved to see Dickstein still in one piece and grinning the same grin that he had not looked at him closely. Now he realized that his friend was worse than thin: he looked wasted. Nat Dickstein had always been short and slight, but now he seemed all bones. The dead-white skin, and the large brown eyes behind the plastic-rimmed spectacles, accentuated the effect. Between the top of his sock and the cuff of his trouser-leg a few inches of pale shin showed like matchwood. Four years ago Dickstein had been brown, stringy, as hard as the leather soles of his British Army boots. When Cortone talked about his English buddy, as he often did, he would say, “The toughest, meanest bastard fighting soldier that ever saved my goddamn life, and I ain’t shittin’ you.”
“Fat? No,” Dickstein said. “This country is still on iron rations, mate. But we manage.”
“You’ve known worse.”
Dickstein smiled. “And eaten it.”
“You got took prisoner.”
“At La Molina.”
“How the hell did they tie you down?”
“Easy.” Dickstein shrugged. “A bullet broke my leg and I passed out. When I came round I was in a German truck.”
Cortone looked at Dickstein’s legs. “It mended okay?”
“I was lucky. There was a medic in my truck on the POW train—he set the bone.”
Cortone nodded. “And then the camp...” He thought maybe he should not ask, but he wanted to know.
Dickstein looked away. “It was all right until they found out I’m Jewish. Do you want a cup of tea? I can’t afford whiskey.”
“No.” Cortone wished he had kept his mouth shut. “Anyway, I don’t drink whiskey in the morning anymore. Life doesn’t seem as short as it used to.”
Dickstein’s eyes swiveled back toward Cortone. “They decided to find out how many times they could break a leg in the same place and mend it again.”
“Jesus.” Cortone’s voice was a whisper.
“That was the best part,” Dickstein said in a flat monotone. He looked away again.
Cortone said, “Bastards.” He could not think of anything else to say. There was a strange expression on Dickstein’s face; something Cortone had not seen before, something—he realized after a moment—that was very like fear. It was odd. After all, it was over now, wasn’t it? “Well, hell, at least we won, didn’t we?” He punched Dickstein’s shoulder.
Dickstein grinned. “We did. Now, what are you doing in England? And how did you find me?”
“I managed to get a stopover in London on my way back to Buffalo. I went to the War Office . . .” Cortone hesitated. He had gone to the War Office to find out how and when Dickstein died. “They gave me an address in Stepney,” he continued. “When I got there, there was only one house left standing in the whole street. In this house, underneath an inch of dust, I find this old man.”
“Right. Well, after I drink nineteen cups of weak tea and listen to the story of his life, he sends me to another house around the corner, where I find your mother, drink more weak tea and hear the story of her life. By the time I get your address it’s too late to catch the last train to Oxford, so I wait until the morning, and here I am. I only have a few hours—my ship sails tomorrow.”
“You’ve got your discharge?”
“In three weeks, two days and ninety-four minutes.”
“What are you going to do, back home?”
“Run the family business. I’ve discovered, in the last couple of years, that I am a terrific businessman.”
“What business is your family in? You never told me.”
“Trucking,” Cortone said shortly. “And you? What is this with Oxford University, for Christ’s sake? What are you studying?”
“I could write Hebrew before I went to school, didn’t I ever tell you? My grandfather was a real scholar. He lived in one smelly room over a pie shop in the Mile End Road. I went there every Saturday and Sunday, since before I can remember. I never complained—I love it. Anyway, what else would I study?”
Cortone shrugged. “I don’t know, atomic physics maybe, or business management. Why study at all?”
“To become happy, clever and rich.”
Cortone shook his head. “Weird as ever. Lots of girls here?”
“Very few. Besides, I’m busy.”
He thought Dickstein was blushing. “Liar. You’re in love, you fool. I can tell. Who is she?”
“Well, to be honest . . .” Dickstein was embarrassed. “She’s out of reach. A professor’s wife. Exotic, intelligent, the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”
Cortone made a dubious face. “It’s not promising, Nat.”
“I know, but still . . .” Dickstein stood up. “You’ll see what I mean.”
“I get to meet her?”
“Professor Ashford is giving a sherry party. I’m invited. I was just leaving when you got here.” Dickstein put on his jacket.
“A sherry party in Oxford,” Cortone said. “Wait till they hear about this in Buffalo!”
* * *
It was a cold, bright morning. Pale sunshine washed the cream-colored stone of the city’s old buildings. They walked in comfortable silence, hands in pockets, shoulders hunched against the biting November wind which whistled through the streets. Cortone kept muttering, “Dreaming spires. Fuck.”
There were very few people about, but after they had walked a mile or so Dickstein pointed across the road to a tall man with a college scarf wound around his neck. “There’s the Russian,” he said. He called, “Hey, Rostov!”
The Russian looked up, waved, and crossed to their side of the street. He had an army haircut, and was too long and thin for his mass-produced suit. Cortone was beginning to think everyone was thin in this country.
Dickstein said, “Rostov’s at Balliol, same college as me. David Rostov, meet Alan Cortone. Al and I were together in Italy for a while. Going to Ashford’s house, Rostov?”
The Russian nodded solemnly. “Anything for a free drink.”
Cortone said, “You interested in Hebrew Literature too?”
Rostov said, “No, I’m here to study bourgeois economics.”
Dickstein laughed loudly. Cortone did not see the joke. Dickstein explained, “Rostov is from Smolensk. He’s a member of the CPSU—the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.” Cortone still did not see the joke.
“I thought nobody was allowed to leave Russia,” Cortone said.
Rostov went into a long and involved explanation which had to do with his father’s having been a diplomat in Japan when the war broke out. He had an earnest expression which occasionally gave way to a sly smile. Although his English was imperfect, he managed to give Cortone the impression that he was condescending. Cortone turned off, and began to think about how you could love a man as if he was your own brother, fighting side by side with him, and then he could go off and study Hebrew Literature and you would realize you never really knew him at all.
Eventually Rostov said to Dickstein, “Have you decided yet, about going to Palestine?”
Cortone said, “Palestine? What for?”
Dickstein looked troubled. “I haven’t decided.”
“You should go,” said Rostov. “The Jewish National Home will help to break up the last remnants of the British Empire in the Middle East.”
“Is that the Party line?” Dickstein asked with a faint smile.
“Yes,” Rostov said seriously. “You’re a socialist—”
“—and it is important that the new State should be socialist.”
Cortone was incredulous. “The Arabs are murdering you people out there. Jeez, Nat, you only just escaped from the Germans!”
“I haven’t decided,” Dickstein repeated. He shook his head irritably. “I don’t know what to do.” It seemed he did not want to talk about it.
They were walking briskly. Cortone’s face was freezing, but he was perspiring beneath his winter uniform. The other two began to discuss a scandal: a man called Mosley—the name meant nothing to Cortone—had been persuaded to enter Oxford in a van and make a speech at the Martyr’s Memorial. Mosley was a Fascist, he gathered a moment later. Rostov was arguing that the incident proved how social democracy was closer to Fascism than Communism. Dickstein claimed the undergraduates who organized the event were just trying to be “shocking.”
Cortone listened and watched the two men. They were an odd couple: tall Rostov, his scarf like a striped bandage, taking long strides, his too-short trousers flapping like flags; and diminutive Dickstein with big eyes and round spectacles, wearing a demob suit, looking like a skeleton in a hurry. Cortone was no academic, but he figured he could smell out bullshit in any language, and he knew that neither of them was saying what he believed: Rostov was parroting some kind of official dogma, and Dickstein’s brittle unconcern masked a different, deeper attitude. When Dickstein laughed about Mosley, he sounded like a child laughing after a nightmare. They both argued cleverly but without emotion: it was like a fencing match with blunted swords.
Eventually Dickstein seemed to realize that Cortone was being left out of the discussion and began to talk about their host. “Stephen Ashford is a bit eccentric, but a remarkable man,” he said. “He spent most of his life in the Middle East. Made a small fortune and lost it, by all accounts. He used to do crazy things, like crossing the Arabian Desert on a camel.”
“That might be the least crazy way to cross it,” Cortone said.
Rostov said, “Ashford has a Lebanese wife.”
Cortone looked at Dickstein. “She’s—”
“She’s younger than he is,” Dickstein said hastily. “He brought her back to England just before the war and became Professor of Semitic Literature here. If he gives you Marsala instead of sherry it means you’ve overstayed your welcome.”
“People know the difference?” Cortone said.
“This is his house.”
Cortone was half expecting a Moorish villa, but the Ashford home was imitation Tudor, painted white with green woodwork. The garden in front was a jungle of shrubs. The three young men walked up a brick pathway to the house. The front door was open. They entered a small, square hall. Somewhere in the house several people laughed: the party had started. A pair of double doors opened and the most beautiful woman in the world came out.
Cortone was transfixed. He stood and stared as she came across the carpet to welcome them. He heard Dickstein say, “This is my friend Alan Cortone,” and suddenly he was touching her long brown hand, warm and dry and fine-boned, and he never wanted to let go.
She turned away and led them into the drawing room. Dickstein touched Cortone’s arm and grinned: he had known what was going on in his friend’s mind.
Cortone recovered his composure sufficiently to say, “Wow.”
Small glasses of sherry were lined up with military precision on a little table. She handed one to Cortone, smiled, and said, “I’m Eila Ashford, by the way.”
Cortone took in the details as she handed out the drinks. She was completely unadorned: there was no makeup on her astonishing face, her black hair was straight, and she wore a white dress and sandals—yet the effect was almost like nakedness, and Cortone was embarrassed at the animal thoughts that rushed through his mind as he looked at her.
He forced himself to turn away and study his surroundings. The room had the unfinished elegance of a place where people are living slightly beyond their means. The rich Persian carpet was bordered by a strip of peeling gray linoleum; someone had been mending the radio, and its innards were all over a kidney table; there were a couple of bright rectangles on the wallpaper where pictures had been taken down; and some of the sherry glasses did not quite match the set. There were about a dozen people in the room.
An Arab wearing a beautiful pearl-gray Western suit was standing at the fireplace, looking at a wooden carving on the mantelpiece. Eila Ashford called him over. “I want you to meet Yasif Hassan, a friend of my family from home,” she said. “He’s at Worcester College.”
Hassan said, “I know Dickstein.” He shook hands all around.
Cortone thought he was fairly handsome, for a nigger, and haughty, the way they were when they made some money and got invited to white homes.
Rostov asked him, “You’re from Lebanon?”
“Ah!” Rostov became animated. “And what do you think of the United Nations partition plan?”
“Irrelevant,” the Arab said languidly. “The British must leave, and my country will have a democratic government.”
“But then the Jews will be a minority,” Rostov argued.
“They are in a minority in England. Should they be given Surrey as a national home?”
“Surrey has never been theirs. Palestine was, once.”
Hassan shrugged elegantly. “It was—when the Welsh had England, the English had Germany, and the Norman French lived in Scandinavia.” He turned to Dickstein. “You have a sense of justice—what do you think?”
Dickstein took off his glasses. “Never mind justice. I want a place to call my own.”
“Even if you have to steal mine?” Hassan said.
“You can have the rest of the Middle East.”
“I don’t want it.”
Rostov said, “This discussion proves the necessity for partition.”
Eila Ashford offered a box of cigarettes. Cortone took one, and lit hers. While the others argued about Palestine, Eila asked Cortone, “Have you known Dickstein long?”
“We met in 1943,” Cortone said. He watched her brown lips close around the cigarette. She even smoked beautifully. Delicately, she picked a fragment of tobacco from the tip of her tongue.
“I’m terribly curious about him,” she said.
“Everyone is. He’s only a boy, and yet he seems so old. Then again, he’s obviously a Cockney, but he’s not in the least intimidated by all these upper-class Englishmen. But he’ll talk about anything except himself.”
Cortone nodded. “I’m finding out that I don’t really know him, either.”
“My husband says he’s a brilliant student.”
“He saved my life.”
“Good Lord.” She looked at him more closely, as if she were wondering whether he was just being melodramatic. She seemed to decide in his favor. “I’d like to hear about it.”
A middle-aged man in baggy corduroy trousers touched her shoulder and said, “How is everything, my dear?”
“Fine,” she said. “Mr. Cortone, this is my husband, Professor Ashford.”
Cortone said, “How are you?” Ashford was a balding man in ill-fitting clothes. Cortone had been expecting Lawrence of Arabia. He thought: Maybe Nat has a chance after all.
Eila said, “Mr. Cortone was telling me how Nat Dickstein saved his life.”
“Really!” Ashford said.
“It’s not a long story,” Cortone said. He glanced over at Dickstein, now deep in conversation with Hassan and Rostov, and noted how the three men displayed their attitudes by the way they stood: Rostov with his feet apart, wagging a finger like a teacher, sure in his dogma; Hassan leaning against a bookcase, one hand in his pocket, smoking, pretending that the international debate about the future of his country was of merely academic interest; Dickstein with arms folded tightly, shoulders hunched, head bowed in concentration, his stance giving the lie to the dispassionate character of his remarks. Cortone heard The British promised Palestine to the Jews, and the reply, Beware the gifts of the thief. He turned back to the Ashfords and began to tell them the story.
“It was in Sicily, near a place called Ragusa, a hill town,” he said. “I’d taken a T-force around the outskirts. To the north of the town we came on a German tank in a little hollow, on the edge of a clump of trees. The tank looked abandoned but I put a grenade into it to make sure. As we drove past there was a shot—only one—and a German with a machine gun fell out of a tree. He’d been hiding up there, ready to pick us off as we passed. It was Nat Dickstein who shot him.”
Eila’s eyes sparkled with something like excitement, but her husband had gone white. Obviously the professor had no stomach for tales of life and death. Cortone thought: If that upsets you, Pop, I hope Dickstein never tells you any of his stories.
“The British had come around the town from the other side,” Cortone went on. “Nat had seen the tank, like I did, and smelled a trap. He had spotted the sniper and was waiting to see if there were any more when we turned up. If he hadn’t been so damn smart I’d be dead.”
The other two were silent for a moment. Ashford said, “It’s not long ago, but we forget so fast.”
Eila remembered her other guests. “I want to talk to you some more before you go,” she said to Cortone. She went across the room to where Hassan was trying to open a pair of doors that gave on to the garden.
Ashford brushed nervously at the wispy hair behind his ears. “The public hears about the big battles, but I suppose the soldier remembers those little personal incidents.”
Cortone nodded, thinking that Ashford clearly had no conception of what war was like, and wondering if the professor’s youth had really been as adventurous as Dickstein claimed. “Later, I took him to meet my cousins—the family comes from Sicily. We had pasta and wine, and they made a hero of Nat. We were together only for a few days, but we were like brothers, you know?”
“When I heard he was taken prisoner, I figured I’d never see him again.”
“Do you know what happened to him?” Ashford said. “He doesn’t say much . . .”
Cortone shrugged. “He survived the camps.”
“He was fortunate.”
Ashford looked at Cortone for a moment, confused, then turned away and looked around the room. After a moment he said, “This is not a very typical Oxford gathering, you know. Dickstein, Rostov and Hassan are somewhat unusual students. You should meet Toby—he’s the archetypal undergraduate.” He caught the eye of a red-faced youth in a tweed suit and a very wide paisley tie. “Toby, come and meet Dickstein’s comrade-in-arms—Mr. Cortone.”
Toby shook hands and said abruptly, “Any chance of a tip from the stable? Will Dickstein win?”
“Win what?” Cortone said.
Ashford explained. “Dickstein and Rostov are to play a chess match—they’re both supposed to be terribly good. Toby thinks you might have inside information—he probably wants to bet on the outcome.”
Cortone said, “I thought chess was an old man’s game.”
Toby said, “Ah!” rather loudly, and emptied his glass. He and Ashford seemed nonplussed by Cortone’s remark. A little girl, four or five years old, came in from the garden carrying an elderly gray cat. Ashford introduced her with the coy pride of a man who has become a father in middle age.
“This is Suza,” he said.
The girl said, “And this is Hezekiah.”
She had her mother’s skin and hair; she too would be beautiful. Cortone wondered whether she was really Ashford’s daughter. There was nothing of him in her looks. She held out the cat’s paw, and Cortone obligingly shook it and said, “How are you, Hezekiah?”
Suza went over to Dickstein. “Good morning, Nat. Would you like to stroke Hezekiah?”
“She’s very cute,” Cortone said to Ashford. “I have to talk to Nat. Would you excuse me?” He went over to Dickstein, who was kneeling down and stroking the cat.
Nat and Suza seemed to be pals. He told her, “This is my friend Alan.”
“We’ve met,” she said, and fluttered her eyelashes. Cortone thought: She learned that from her mother.
“We were in the war together,” Dickstein continued.
Suza looked directly at Cortone. “Did you kill people?”
He hesitated. “Sure.”
“Do you feel bad about it?”
“Not too bad. They were wicked people.”
“Nat feels bad about it. That’s why he doesn’t like to talk about it too much.”
The kid had got more out of Dickstein than all the grown-ups put together.
The cat jumped out of Suza’s arms with surprising agility. She chased after it. Dickstein stood up.
“I wouldn’t say Mrs. Ashford is out of reach,” Cortone said quietly.
“Wouldn’t you?” Dickstein said.
“She can’t be more than twenty-five. He’s at least twenty years older, and I’ll bet he’s no pistol. If they got married before the war, she must have been around seventeen at the time. And they don’t seem affectionate.”
“I wish I could believe you,” Dickstein said. He was not as interested as he should have been. “Come and see the garden.”
They went through the French doors. The sun was stronger, and the bitter cold had gone from the air. The garden stretched in a green-and-brown wilderness down to the edge of the river. They walked away from the house.
Dickstein said, “You don’t much like this crowd.”
“The war’s over,” Cortone said. “You and me, we live in different worlds now. All this—professors, chess matches, sherry parties . . . I might as well be on Mars. My life is doing deals, fighting off the competition, making a few bucks. I was fixing to offer you a job in my business, but I guess I’d be wasting my time.”
“Alan . . .”
“Listen, what the hell? We’ll probably lose touch now—I’m not much of a letter writer. But I won’t forget that I owe you my life. One of these days you might want to call in the debt. You know where to find me.”
Dickstein opened his mouth to speak; then they heard the voices.
“Oh . . . no, not here, not now . . .” It was a woman.
“Yes!” A man.
Dickstein and Cortone were standing beside a thick box hedge which cut off a corner of the garden: someone had begun to plant a maze and never finished the job. A few steps from where they were a gap opened; then the hedge turned a right angle and ran along the riverbank. The voices came clearly from the other side of the foliage.
The woman spoke again, low and throaty. “Don’t, damn you, or I’ll scream.”
Dickstein and Cortone stepped through the gap.
Cortone would never forget what he saw there. He stared at the two people and then, appalled, he glanced at Dickstein. Dickstein’s face was gray with shock, and he looked ill; his mouth dropped open as he gazed in horror and despair. Cortone looked back at the couple.
The woman was Eila Ashford. The skirt of her dress was around her waist, her face was flushed with pleasure, and she was kissing Yasif Hassan.
THE public-address system at Cairo airport made a noise like a doorbell, and then the arrival of the Alitalia flight from Milan was announced in Arabic, Italian, French and English. Towfik el-Masiri left his table in the buffet and made his way out to the observation deck. He put on his sunglasses to look over the shimmering concrete apron. The Caravelle was already down and taxiing.
Towfik was there because of a cable. It had come that morning from his “uncle” in Rome, and it had been in code. Any business could use a code for international telegrams, provided it first lodged the key to the code with the post office. Such codes were used more and more to save money—by reducing common phrases to single words—than to keep secrets. Towfik’s uncle’s cable, transcribed according to the registered code book, gave details of his late aunt’s will. However, Towfik had another key, and the message he read was:
OBSERVE AND FOLLOW PROFESSOR FRIEDRICH SCHULZ ARRIVING CAIRO FROM MILAN WEDNESDAY 28 FEBRUARY 1968 FOR SEVERAL DAYS. AGE 51 HEIGHT 180 CM WEIGHT 150 POUNDS HAIR WHITE EYES BLUE NATIONALITY AUSTRIAN COMPANIONS WIFE ONLY.
The passengers began to file out of the aircraft, and Towfik spotted his man almost immediately. There was only one tall, lean white-haired man on the flight. He was wearing a light blue suit, a white shirt and a tie, and carrying a plastic shopping bag from a duty-free store and a camera. His wife was much shorter, and wore a fashionable minidress and a blond wig. As they crossed the airfield they looked around them and sniffed the warm, dry desert air the way most people did the first time they landed in North Africa.
The passengers disappeared into the arrivals hall. Towfik waited on the observation deck until the baggage came off the plane; then he went inside and mingled with the small crowd of people waiting just beyond the customs barrier.
He did a lot of waiting. That was something they did not teach you—how to wait. You learned to handle guns, memorize maps, break open safes and kill people with your bare hands, all in the first six months of the training course; but there were no lectures in patience, no exercises for sore feet, no seminars on tedium. And it was beginning to seem like There is something wrong here beginning to seem Lookout lookout beginning to—
There was another agent in the crowd.
Towfik’s subconscious hit the fire alarm while he was thinking about patience. The people in the little crowd, waiting for relatives and friends and business acquaintances off the Milan plane, were impatient. They smoked, shifted their weight from one foot to the other, craned their necks and fidgeted. There was a middle-class family with four children, two men in the traditional striped cotton galabiya robes, a businessman in a dark suit, a young white woman, a chauffeur with a sign saying FORD MOTOR COMPANY, and—
And a patient man.
Like Towfik, he had dark skin and short hair and wore a European-style suit. At first glance he seemed to be with the middle-class family—just as Towfik would seem, to a casual observer, to be with the businessman in the dark suit. The other agent stood nonchalantly, with his hands behind his back, facing the exit from the baggage hall, looking unobtrusive. There was a streak of paler skin alongside his nose, like an old scar. He touched it, once, in what might have been a nervous gesture, then put his hand behind his back again.
The question was, had he spotted Towfik?
Towfik turned to the businessman beside him and said, “I never understand why this has to take so long.” He smiled, and spoke quietly, so that the businessman leaned closer to hear him and smiled back; and the pair of them looked like acquaintances having a casual conversation.
The businessman said, “The formalities take longer than the flight.”
Towfik stole another glance at the other agent. The man stood in the same position, watching the exit. He had not attempted any camouflage. Did that mean that he had not spotted Towfik? Or was it just that he had second-guessed Towfik, by deciding that a piece of camouflage would give him away?
The passengers began to emerge, and Towfik realized there was nothing he could do, either way. He hoped the people the agent was meeting would come out before Professor Schulz.
It was not to be. Schulz and his wife were among the first little knot of passengers to come through.
The other agent approached them and shook hands.
Of course, of course.
The agent was there to meet Schulz.
Towfik watched while the agent summoned porters and ushered the Schulzes away; then he went out by a different exit to his car. Before getting in he took off his jacket and tie and put on sunglasses and a white cotton cap. Now he would not be easily recognizable as the man who had been waiting at the meeting point.
He figured the agent would have parked in a no-waiting zone right outside the main entrance, so he drove that way. He was right. He saw the porters loading the Schulz baggage into the boot of a five-year-old gray Mercedes. He drove on.
He steered his dirty Renault onto the main highway which ran from Heliopolis, where the airport was, to Cairo. He drove at 60 kph and kept to the slow lane. The gray Mercedes passed him two or three minutes later, and he accelerated to keep it within sight. He memorized its number, as it was always useful to be able to recognize the opposition’s cars.
The sky began to cloud over. As he sped down the straight, palm-lined highway, Towfik considered what he had found out so far. The cable had told him nothing about Schulz except what the man looked like and the fact that he was an Austrian professor. The meeting at the airport meant a great deal, though. It had been a kind of clandestine VIP treatment. Towfik had the agent figured for a local: everything pointed to that—his clothes, his car, his style of waiting. That meant Schulz was probably here by invitation of the government, but either he or the people he had come to see wanted the visit kept secret.
It was not much. What was Schulz professor of? He could be a banker, arms manufacturer, rocketry expert or cotton buyer. He might even be with Al Fatah, but Towfik could not quite see the man as a resurrected Nazi. Still, anything was possible.
Certainly Tel Aviv did not think Schulz was important: if they had, they would not have used Towfik, who was young and inexperienced, for this surveillance. It was even possible that the whole thing was yet another training exercise.
They entered Cairo on the Shari Ramses, and Towfik closed the gap between his car and the Mercedes until there was only one vehicle between them. The gray car turned right on to the Corniche al-Nil, then crossed the river by the 26 July Bridge and entered the Zamalek district of Gezira island.
There was less traffic in the wealthy, dull suburb, and Towfik became edgy about being spotted by the agent at the wheel of the Mercedes. However, two minutes later the other car turned into a residential street near the Officers’ Club and stopped outside an apartment block with a jacaranda tree in the garden. Towfik immediately took a right turn and was out of sight before the doors of the other car could open. He parked, jumped out, and walked back to the corner. He was in time to see the agent and the Schulzes disappear into the building followed by a caretaker in galabiya struggling with their luggage.
Towfik looked up and down the street. There was nowhere a man could convincingly idle. He returned to his car, backed it around the corner and parked between two other cars on the same side of the road as the Mercedes.
Half an hour later the agent came out alone, got into his car, and drove off.
Towfik settled down to wait.
* * *
It went on for two days; then it broke.
Until then the Schulzes behaved like tourists, and seemed to enjoy it. On the first evening they had dinner in a nightclub and watched a troupe of belly-dancers. Next day they did the Pyramids and the Sphinx, with lunch at Groppi’s and dinner at the Nile Hilton. In the morning on the third day they got up early and took a taxi to the mosque of Ibn Tulun.
Towfik left his car near the Gayer-Anderson Museum and followed them. They took a perfunctory look around the mosque and headed east on the Shari al-Salibah. They were dawdling, looking at fountains and buildings, peering into dark tiny shops, watching baladi women buy onions and peppers and camel’s feet at street stalls.
They stopped at a crossroads and went into a tea-shop. Towfik crossed the street to the sebeel, a domed fountain behind windows of iron lace, and studied the baroque relief around its walls. He moved on up the street, still within sight of the tea-shop, and spent some time buying four misshapen giant tomatoes from a white-capped stallholder whose feet were bare.
The Schulzes came out of the tea-shop and turned north, following Towfik, into the street market. Here it was easier for Towfik to idle, sometimes ahead of them and sometimes behind. Frau Schulz bought slippers and a gold bangle, and paid too much for a sprig of mint from a half-naked child. Towfik got far enough in front of them to drink a small cup of strong, unsweetened Turkish coffee under the awning of a café called Nasif’s.
They left the street market and entered a covered souq specializing in saddlery. Schulz glanced at his wristwatch and spoke to his wife—giving Towfik the first faint tremor of anxiety—and then they walked a little faster until they emerged at Bab Zuweyla, the gateway to the original walled city.
For a few moments the Schulzes were obscured from Towfik’s view by a donkey pulling a cart loaded with Ali-Baba jars, their mouths stoppered with crumpled paper. When the cart passed, Towfik saw that Schulz was saying goodbye to his wife and getting into an oldish gray Mercedes.
Towfik cursed under his breath.
The car door slammed and it pulled away. Frau Schulz waved. Towfik read the license plate—it was the car he had followed from Heliopolis—and saw it go west, then turn left into the Shari Port Said.
Forgetting Frau Schulz, he turned around and broke into a run.
They had been walking for about an hour, but they had covered only a mile. Towfik sprinted through the saddlery souq and the street market, dodging around the stalls and bumping into robed men and women in black, dropping his bag of tomatoes in a collision with a Nubian sweeper, until he reached the museum and his car.
He dropped into the driver’s seat, breathing hard and grimacing at the pain in his side. He started the engine and pulled away on an interception course for the Shari Port Said.
The traffic was light, so when he hit the main road he guessed he must be behind the Mercedes. He continued southwest, over the island of Roda and the Giza Bridge onto the Giza Road.
Schulz had not been deliberately trying to shake a tail, Towfik decided. Had the professor been a pro he would have lost Towfik decisively and finally. No, he had simply been taking a morning walk through the market before meeting someone at a landmark. But Towfik was sure that the meeting place, and the walk beforehand, had been suggested by the agent.
They might have gone anywhere, but it seemed likely they were leaving the city—otherwise Schulz could simply have taken a taxi at Bab Zuweyla—and this was the major road westward. Towfik drove very fast. Soon there was nothing in front of him but the arrow-straight gray road, and nothing either side but yellow sand and blue sky.
He reached the Pyramids without catching the Mercedes. Here the road forked, leading north to Alexandria or south to Faiyum. From where the Mercedes had picked up Schulz, this would have been an unlikely, roundabout route to Alexandria; so Towfik plumped for Faiyum.
When at last he saw the other car it was behind him, coming up very fast. Before it reached him it turned right, off the main road. Towfik braked to a halt and reversed the Renault to the turnoff. The other car was already a mile ahead on the side road. He followed.
This was dangerous, now. The road probably went deep into the Western Desert, perhaps all the way to the oil field at Qattara. It seemed little used, and a strong wind might obscure it under a layer of sand. The agent in the Mercedes was sure to realize he was being followed. If he were a good agent, the sight of the Renault might even trigger memories of the journey from Heliopolis.
This was where the training broke down, and all the careful camouflage and tricks of the trade became useless; and you had to simply get on someone’s tail and stick with him whether he saw you or not, because the whole point was to find out where he was going, and if you could not manage that you were no use at all.
So he threw caution to the desert wind and followed; and still he lost them.
The Mercedes was a faster car, and better designed for the narrow, bumpy road, and within a few minutes it was out of sight. Towfik followed the road, hoping he might catch them when they stopped or at least come across something that might be their destination.
Sixty kilometers on, deep in the desert and beginning to worry about getting gasoline, he reached a tiny oasis village at a crossroads. A few scrawny animals grazed in sparse vegetation around a muddy pool. A jar of fava beans and three Fanta cans on a makeshift table outside a hut signified the local café. Towfik got out of the car and spoke to an old man watering a bony buffalo.
“Have you seen a gray Mercedes?”
The peasant stared at him blankly, as if he were speaking a foreign language.
“Have you seen a gray car?”
The old man brushed a large black fly off his forehead and nodded, once.
That was probably as precise an answer as he could hope for. “Which way did it go?”
The old man pointed west, into the desert.
Towfik said, “Where can I get petrol?”
The man pointed east, toward Cairo.
Towfik gave him a coin and returned to the car. He started the engine and looked again at the gasoline gauge. He had enough fuel to get back to Cairo, just; if he went farther west he would run out on the return journey.
He had done all he could, he decided. Wearily, he turned the Renault around and headed back toward the city.
* * *
Towfik did not like his work. When it was dull he was bored, and when it was exciting he was frightened. But they had told him there was important, dangerous work to be done in Cairo, and that he had the qualities necessary to a good spy, and that there were not enough Egyptian Jews in Israel for them to be able just to go out and find another one with all the qualities if he said no; so, of course, he had agreed. It was not out of idealism that he risked his life for his country. It was more like self-interest: the destruction of Israel would mean his own destruction; in fighting for Israel he was fighting for himself; he risked his life to save his life. It was the logical thing to do. Still, he looked forward to the time—in five years? Ten? Twenty?—when he would be too old for field work, and they would bring him home and sit him behind a desk, and he could find a nice Jewish girl and marry her and settle down to enjoy the land he had fought for.
Meanwhile, having lost Professor Schulz, he was following the wife.
She continued to see the sights, escorted now by a young Arab who had presumably been laid on by the Egyptians to take care of her while her husband was away. In the evening the Arab took her to an Egyptian restaurant for dinner, brought her home, and kissed her cheek under the jacaranda tree in the garden.
The next morning Towfik went to the main post office and sent a coded cable to his uncle in Rome:
SCHULZ MET AT AIRPORT BY SUSPECTED LOCAL AGENT. SPENT TWO DAYS SIGHTSEEING. PICKED UP BY AFORESAID AGENT AND DRIVEN DIRECTION QATTARA. SURVEILLANCE ABORTED. NOW WATCHING WIFE.
He was back in Zamalek at nine A.M. At eleven-thirty he saw Frau Schulz on a balcony, drinking coffee, and was able to figure out which of the apartments was the Schulzes’.
By lunchtime the interior of the Renault had become very hot. Towfik ate an apple and drank tepid beer from a bottle.
Professor Schulz arrived late in the afternoon, in the same gray Mercedes. He looked tired and a little rumpled, like a middle-aged man who had traveled too far. He left the car and went into the building without looking back. After dropping him, the agent drove past the Renault and looked straight at Towfik for an instant. There was nothing Towfik could do about it.
Where had Schulz been? It had taken him most of a day to get there, Towfik speculated; he had spent a night, a full day and a second night there; and it had taken most of today to get back. Qattara was only one of several possibilities: the desert road went all the way to Matruh on the Mediterranean coast; there was a turnoff to Karkur Tohl in the far south; with a change of car and a desert guide they could even have gone to a rendezvous on the border with Libya.
At nine P.M. the Schulzes came out again. The professor looked refreshed. They were dressed for dinner. They walked a short distance and hailed a taxi.
Towfik made a decision. He did not follow them.
He got out of the car and entered the garden of the building. He stepped onto the dusty lawn and found a vantage point behind a bush from where he could see into the hall through the open front door. The Nubian caretaker was sitting on a low wooden bench, picking his nose.
Twenty minutes later the man left his bench and disappeared into the back of the building.
Towfik hurried through the hall and ran, soft-footed, up the staircase.
He had three Yale-type skeleton keys, but none of them fitted the lock of apartment three. In the end he got the door open with a piece of bendy plastic broken off a college set-square.
He entered the apartment and closed the door behind him.
It was now quite dark outside. A little light from a street-lamp came through the unshaded windows. Towfik drew a small flashlight from his trousers pocket, but he did not switch it on yet.
The apartment was large and airy, with white-painted walls and English-colonial furniture. It had the sparse, chilly look of a place where nobody actually lived. There was a big drawing room, a dining room, three bedrooms and a kitchen. After a quick general survey Towfik started snooping in earnest.
The two smaller bedrooms were bare. In the larger one, Towfik went rapidly through all the drawers and cupboards. A wardrobe held the rather gaudy dresses of a woman past her prime: bright prints, sequined gowns, turquoise and orange and pink. The labels were American. Schulz was an Austrian national, the cable had said, but perhaps he lived in the USA. Towfik had never heard him speak.
On the bedside table were a guide to Cairo in English, a copy of Vogue and a reprinted lecture on isotopes.
So Schulz was a scientist.
Towfik glanced through the lecture. Most of it was over his head. Schulz must be a top chemist or physicist, he thought. If he was here to work on weaponry, Tel Aviv would want to know.
There were no personal papers—Schulz evidently had his passport and wallet in his pocket. The airline labels had been removed from the matching set of tan suitcases.
On a low table in the drawing room, two empty glasses smelled of gin: they had had a cocktail before going out.
In the bathroom Towfik found the clothes Schulz had worn into the desert. There was a lot of sand in the shoes, and on the trouser cuffs he found small dusty gray smears which might have been cement. In the breast pocket of the rumpled jacket was a blue plastic container, about one-and-a-half inches square, very slender. It contained a light-tight envelope of the kind used to protect photographic film.
Towfik pocketed the plastic box.
The airline labels from the luggage were in a wastebasket in the little hall. The Schulzes’ address was in Boston, Massachusetts, which probably meant that the professor taught at Harvard, MIT or one of the many lesser universities in the area. Towfik did some rapid arithmetic. Schulz would have been in his twenties during World War II: he could easily be one of the German rocketry experts who went to the USA after the war.
Or not. You did not have to be a Nazi to work for the Arabs.
Nazi or not, Schulz was a cheapskate: his soap, toothpaste and aftershave were all taken from airlines and hotels.
On the floor beside a rattan chair, near the table with the empty cocktail glasses, lay a lined foolscap notepad, its top sheet blank. There was a pencil lying on the pad. Perhaps Schulz had been making notes on his trip while he sipped his gin sling. Towfik searched the apartment for sheets torn from the pad.
He found them on the balcony, burned to cinders in a large glass ashtray.
The night was cool. Later in the year the air would be warm and fragrant with the blossom of the jacaranda tree in the garden below. The city traffic snored in the distance. It reminded Towfik of his father’s apartment in Jerusalem. He wondered how long it would be before he saw Jerusalem again.
He had done all he could here. He would look again at the foolscap pad, to see whether Schulz’s pencil had pressed hard enough to leave an impression on the next page. He turned away from the parapet and crossed the balcony to the French windows leading back into the drawing room.
He had his hand on the door when he heard the voices.
“I’m sorry, honey, I just couldn’t face another overdone steak.”
“We could have eaten something, for God’s sake.”
The Schulzes were back.
Towfik rapidly reviewed his progress through the rooms: bedrooms, bathroom, drawing room, kitchen . . . he had replaced everything he had touched, except the little plastic box. He had to keep that anyway. Schulz would have to assume he had lost it.
If Towfik could get away unseen now, they might never know he had been there.
He bellied over the parapet and hung at full length by his fingertips. It was too dark for him to see the ground. He dropped, landed lightly and strolled away.
It had been his first burglary, and he felt pleased. It had gone as smoothly as a training exercise, even to the early return of the occupant and sudden exit of spy by prearranged emergency route. He grinned in the dark. He might yet live to see that desk job.
He got into his car, started the engine and switched on the lights.
Two men emerged from the shadows and stood on either side of the Renault.
Who . . . ?
He did not pause to figure out what was going on. He rammed the gearshift into first and pulled away. The two men hastily stepped aside.
They had made no attempt to stop him. So why had they been there? To make sure he stayed in the car . . . ?
He jammed on the brakes and looked into the backseat, and then he knew, with unbearable sadness, that he would never see Jerusalem again.
A tall Arab in a dark suit was smiling at him over the snout of a small handgun.
“Drive on,” the man said in Arabic, “but not quite so fast, please.”
Q: What is your name?
A: Towfik el-Masiri.
Q: Describe yourself.
A: Age twenty-six, five-foot-nine, one hundred and eighty pounds, brown eyes, black hair, Semitic features, light brown skin.
Q: Who do you work for?
A: I am a student.
Q: What day is today?
Q: What is your nationality?
Q: What is twenty minus seven?
The above questions are designed to facilitate fine calibration of the lie detector.
Q: You work for the CIA.
A: No. (TRUE)
Q: The Germans?
A: No. (TRUE)
Q: Israel, then.
A: No. (FALSE)
Q: You really are a student?
A: Yes. (FALSE)
Q: Tell me about your studies.
A: I’m doing chemistry at Cairo University. (TRUE) I’m interested in polymers. (TRUE) I want to be a petrochemical engineer. (FALSE)
Q: What are polymers?
A: Complex organic compounds with long-chain molecules—the commonest is polythene. (TRUE)
Q: What is your name?
A: I told you, Towfik el-Masiri. (FALSE)
Q: The pads attached to your head and chest measure your pulse, heartbeat, breathing and perspiration. When you tell untruths, your metabolism betrays you—you breathe faster, sweat more, and so on. This machine, which was given to us by our Russian friends, tells me when you are lying. Besides, I happen to know that Towfik el-Masiri is dead. Who are you?
A: (no reply)
Q: The wire taped to the tip of your penis is part of a different machine. It is connected to this button here. When I press the button—
Q: —an electric current passes through the wire and gives you a shock. We have put your feet in a bucket of water to improve the efficiency of the apparatus. What is your name?
A: Avram Ambache.
The electrical apparatus interferes with the functioning of the lie detector.
Q: Have a cigarette.
A: Thank you.
Q: Believe it or not, I hate this work. The trouble is, people who like it are never any good at it—you need sensitivity, you know. I’m a sensitive person . . . I hate to see people suffer. Don’t you?
A: (no reply)
Q: You’re now trying to think of ways to resist me. Please don’t bother. There is no defense against modern techniques of . . . interviewing. What is your name?
A: Avram Ambache. (TRUE)
Q: Who is your control?
A: I don’t know what you mean. (FALSE)
Q: Is it Bosch?
A: No, Friedman. (READING INDETERMINATE)
Q: It is Bosch.
A: Yes. (FALSE)
Q: No, it’s not Bosch. It’s Krantz.
A: Okay, it’s Krantz—whatever you say. (TRUE)
Q: How do you make contact?
A: I have a radio. (FALSE)
Q: You’re not telling me the truth.
Q: How do you make contact?
A: A dead-letter box in the faubourg.
Q: You are thinking that when you are in pain, the lie detector will not function properly, and that there is therefore safety in torture. You are only partly right. This is a very sophisticated machine, and I spent many months learning to use it properly. After I have given you a shock, it takes only a few moments to readjust the machine to your faster metabolism; and then I can once more tell when you are lying. How do you make contact?
A: A dead-letter—(scream)
Q: Ali! He’s kicked his feet free—these convulsions are very strong. Tie him again, before he comes around. Pick up that bucket and put more water in it
(pause) Right, he’s waking, get out. Can you hear me, Towfik?
Q: What is your name?
A: (no reply)
Q: A little jab to help you—
Q: —to think.
A: Avram Ambache.
Q: What day is today?
Q: What did we give you for breakfast?
A: Fava beans.
Q: What is twenty minus seven?
Q: What is your profession?
A: I’m a student. No don’t please and a spy yes. I’m a spy don’t touch the button please oh god oh god—
Q: How do you make contact?
A: Coded cables.
Q: Have a cigarette. Here . . . oh, you don’t seem to be able to hold it between your lips—let me help . . . there.
A: Thank you.
Q: Just try to be calm. Remember, as long as you’re telling the truth, there will be no pain.
(pause) Are you feeling better?
Q: So am I. Now, then, tell me about Professor Schulz. Why were you following him?
A: I was ordered to. (TRUE)
Q: By Tel Aviv?
A: Yes. (TRUE)
Q: Who in Tel Aviv?
A: I don’t know. (READING INDETERMINATE)
Q: But you can guess.
A: Bosch. (READING INDETERMINATE)
Q: Or Krantz?
A: Perhaps. (TRUE)
Q: Krantz is a good man. Dependable. How’s his wife?
A: Very well, I—(scream)
Q: His wife died in 1958. Why do you make me hurt you? What did Schulz do?
A: Went sightseeing for two days, then disappeared into the desert in a gray Mercedes.
Q: And you burglarized his apartment.
A: Yes. (TRUE)
Q: What did you learn?
A: He is a scientist. (TRUE)
Q: Anything else?
A: American. (TRUE) That’s all. (TRUE)
Q: Who was your instructor in training?
A: Ertl. (READING INDETERMINATE)
Q: That wasn’t his real name, though.
A: I don’t know. (FALSE) No! Not the button let me think it was just a minute I think somebody said his real name was Manner. (TRUE)
Q: Oh, Manner. Shame. He’s the old-fashioned type. He still believes you can train agents to resist interrogation. It’s his fault you’re suffering so much, you know. What about your colleagues? Who trained with you?
A: I never knew their real names. (FALSE)
Q: Didn’t you?
Q: Real names.
A: Not all of them—
Q: Tell me the ones you did know.
A: (no reply)
The prisoner fainted.
Q: What is your name?
A: Uh . . . Towfik. (scream)
Q: What did you have for breakfast?
A: Don’t know.
Q: What is twenty minus seven?
Q: What did you tell Krantz about Professor Schulz?
A: Sightseeing . . . Western Desert . . . surveillance aborted . . .
Q: Who did you train with?
A: (no reply)
Q: Who did you train with?
Q: Who did you train with?
A: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death—
Q: Who did you train with?
The prisoner died.
When Kawash asked for a meeting, Pierre Borg went. There was no discussion about times and places: Kawash sent a message giving the rendezvous, and Borg made sure to be there. Kawash was the best double agent Borg had ever had, and that was that.
The head of the Mossad stood at one end of the northbound Bakerloo Line platform in Oxford Circus subway station, reading an advertisement for a course of lectures in Theosophy, waiting for Kawash. He had no idea why the Arab had chosen London for this meeting; no idea what he told his masters he was doing in the city; no idea, even, why Kawash was a traitor. But this man had helped the Israelis win two wars and avoid a third, and Borg needed him.
Borg glanced along the platform, looking for a high brown head with a large, thin nose. He had an idea he knew what Kawash wanted to talk about. He hoped his idea was right.
Borg was very worried about the Schulz affair. It had started out as a piece of routine surveillance, just the right kind of assignment for his newest, rawest agent in Cairo: a high-powered American physicist on vacation in Europe decides to take a trip to Egypt. The first warning sign came when Towfik lost Schulz. At that point Borg had stepped up activity on the project. A freelance journalist in Milan who occasionally made inquiries for German Intelligence had established that Schulz’s air ticket to Cairo had been paid for by the wife of an Egyptian diplomat in Rome. Then the CIA had routinely passed to the Mossad a set of satellite photographs of the area around Qattara which seemed to show signs of construction work—and Borg had remembered that Schulz had been heading in the direction of Qattara when Towfik lost him.
Something was going on, and he did not know what, and that worried him.
He was always worried. If it was not the Egyptians, it was the Syrians; if it was not the Syrians it was the Fedayeen; if it was not his enemies it was his friends and the question of how long they would continue to be his friends. He had a worrying job. His mother had once said, “Job, nothing—you were born worrying, like your poor father—if you were a gardener you would worry about your job.” She might have been right, but all the same, paranoia was the only rational frame of mind for a spymaster.
Now Towfik had broken contact, and that was the most worrying sign of all.
Maybe Kawash would have some answers.
A train thundered in. Borg was not waiting for a train. He began to read the credits on a movie poster. Half the names were Jewish. Maybe I should have been a movie producer, he thought.
The train pulled out, and a shadow fell over Borg. He looked up into the calm face of Kawash.
The Arab said, “Thank you for coming.” He always said that.
Borg ignored it: he never knew how to respond to thanks. He said, “What’s new?”
“I had to pick up one of your youngsters in Cairo on Friday.”
“You had to?”
“Military Intelligence were bodyguarding a VIP, and they spotted the kid tailing them. Military don’t have operational personnel in the city, so they asked my department to pick him up. It was an official request.”
“Goddamn,” Borg said feelingly. “What happened to him?”
“I had to do it by the book,” Kawash said. He looked very sad. “The boy was interrogated and killed. His name was Avram Ambache, but he worked as Towfik el-Masiri.”
Borg frowned. “He told you his real name?”
“He’s dead, Pierre.”
Borg shook his head irritably: Kawash always wanted to linger over personal aspects. “Why did he tell you his name?”
“We’re using the Russian equipment—the electric shock and the lie detector together. You’re not training them to cope with it.”
Borg gave a short laugh. “If we told them about it, we’d never get any fucking recruits. What else did he give away?”
“Nothing we didn’t know. He would have, but I killed him first.”
“You killed him?”
“I conducted the interrogation, in order to make sure he did not say anything important. All these interviews are taped now, and the transcripts filed. We’re learning from the Russians.” The sadness deepened in the brown eyes. “Why—would you prefer that I should have someone else kill your boys?”
Borg stared at him, then looked away. Once again he had to steer the conversation away from the sentimental. “What did the boy discover about Schulz?”
“An agent took the professor into the Western Desert.”
“Sure, but what for?”
“I don’t know.”
“You must know, you’re in Egyptian Intelligence!” Borg controlled his irritation. Let the man do things at his own pace, he told himself; whatever information he’s got, he’ll tell.
“I don’t know what they’re doing out there, because they’ve set up a special group to handle it,” Kawash said. “My department isn’t informed.”
“Any idea why?”
The Arab shrugged. “I’d say they don’t want the Russians to know about it. These days Moscow gets everything that goes through us.”
Borg let his disappointment show. “Is that all Towfik could manage?”
Suddenly there was anger in the soft voice of the Arab. “The kid died for you,” he said.
“I’ll thank him in heaven. Did he die in vain?”
“He took this from Schulz’s apartment.” Kawash drew a hand from inside his coat and showed Borg a small, square box of blue plastic.
Borg took the box. “How do you know where he got it?”
“It has Schulz’s fingerprints on it. And we arrested Towfik right after he broke into the apartment.”
Borg opened the box and fingered the light-proof envelope. It was unsealed. He took out the photographic negative.
The Arab said, “We opened the envelope and developed the film. It’s blank.”
With a deep sense of satisfaction, Borg reassembled the box and put it into his pocket. Now it all made sense; now he understood; now he knew what he had to do. A train came in. “You want to catch this one?” he said.
Kawash frowned slightly, nodded assent, and moved to the edge of the platform as the train stopped and the doors opened. He boarded, and stood just inside. He said, “I don’t know what on earth the box is.”
Borg thought, You don’t like me, but I think you’re just great. He smiled thinly at the Arab as the doors of the subway train began to slide shut. “I do,” he said.
THE American girl was quite taken with Nat Dickstein.
They worked side by side in a dusty vineyard, weeding and hoeing, with a light breeze blowing over them from the Sea of Galilee. Dickstein had taken off his shirt and worked in shorts and sandals, with the contempt for the sun which only the city-born possess.
He was a thin man, small-boned, with narrow shoulders, a shallow chest, and knobby elbows and knees. Karen would watch him when she stopped for a break—which she did often, although he never seemed to need a rest. Stringy muscles moved like knotted rope under his brown, scarred skin. She was a sensual woman, and she wanted to touch those scars with her fingers and ask him how he got them.
Sometimes he would look up and catch her staring, and he would grin, unembarrassed, and carry on working. His face was regular and anonymous in repose. He had dark eyes behind cheap round spectacles of the kind which Karen’s generation liked because John Lennon wore them. His hair was dark, too, and short: Karen would have liked him to grow it. When he grinned that lopsided grin, he looked younger; though at any time it was hard to say just how old he might be. He had the strength and energy of a young man, but she had seen the concentration-camp tattoo under his wristwatch, so he could not be much less than forty, she thought.