3

JERUSALEM

They drove to Narkiss Street, a quiet, leafy lane in the heart of Jerusalem, and parked outside the limestone apartment house at Number 16. It was three floors in height and largely concealed by a towering eucalyptus tree growing in the front garden. Gabriel led Navot through the small foyer and mounted the stairs. Despite his long absence he didn’t bother to check the postbox. He never received mail, and the name on the box was false. As far as the bureaucracy of the State of Israel was concerned, Gabriel Allon did not exist. He lived only in the Office, and even there he was a part-time resident.

His flat was on the top floor. As always he hesitated before opening the door. The room that greeted him was not the same one he had walked out of six months earlier. It had been a small but fully functioning art studio; now it was meticulously decorated in the subtle beiges and soft whites that Chiara Zolli, his Venetian-born fianc?e, so adored. She’d been busy while he was away. Somehow she’d neglected to mention the redecoration during her last visit to Italy.

“Where are my things?”

“Housekeeping has them in storage until you can find some proper studio space.” Navot smiled at Gabriel’s discomfort. “You didn’t expect your wife to live in an apartment without furniture, did you?”

“She’s not my wife yet.” He laid his bag on the new couch. It looked expensive. “Where is she?”

“She didn’t tell you where we were sending her?”

“She takes rules of compartmentalization and need to know very seriously.”

“So do I.”

“Where is she, Uzi?”

Navot opened his mouth to reply, but a voice from the kitchen answered for him. It was familiar to Gabriel, as was the elderly figure who emerged a moment later, dressed in khaki trousers and a leather bomber jacket with a tear in the left breast. His head was shaped like a bullet and bald, except for a monkish fringe of cropped white hair. His face was more gaunt than Gabriel remembered, and his ugly wire-framed spectacles magnified pale blue eyes that were no longer clear. He was leaning heavily on a handsome olive-wood cane. The hand that held it seemed to have been borrowed from a man twice his size.

“ Argentina,” said Ari Shamron for a second time. “Your wife-to-be is in Argentina.”

“What type of job is it?”

“Surveillance of a known terrorist operative.”

Gabriel didn’t have to ask the affiliation of the operative. The answer lay in the location of the operation. Argentina, like the rest of South America, was a hotbed of Hezbollah activity.

“We think it’s only a matter of time before Hezbollah tries to take its revenge for the damage we inflicted on them in Lebanon. A terror attack that leaves no fingerprints is the most likely scenario. The only question in our mind is the target. Will it be us or our supporters in America?”

“When will she be finished?”

Shamron shrugged noncommittally. “This is a war without end, Gabriel. It is forever. But then you know that better than any of us, don’t you?” He touched Gabriel’s face. “See if you can find us some coffee. We need to talk.”

Gabriel found a tin of coffee in the pantry. The seal had been broken and a single sniff of the grinds confirmed his suspicions that it was long past its prime. He poured some into the French press and set a kettle of water to boil, then returned to the sitting room. Navot was pondering a ceramic dish on the end table; Shamron had settled himself into an armchair and was in the process of lighting one of his vile-smelling Turkish cigarettes. Gabriel had been gone six months, but in his absence it seemed nothing had changed but the furniture.

“No coffee?” Shamron asked.

“It takes more than a minute to make coffee, Ari.”

Shamron glared at his big stainless-steel wristwatch. Time had always been his enemy, but now more so than ever. It was the bombing, Gabriel thought. It had finally forced Shamron to confront the possibility of his own mortality.

“Solomon Rosner was an Office asset?” Gabriel asked.

“A very valuable one, actually.”

“How long?”

Shamron tilted his head back and blew a stream of smoke toward the ceiling before answering. “Back in the mid-nineties, during my second tour as chief, we began to realize the Netherlands was going to be a problem for us down the road. The demographics of the country were changing rapidly. Amsterdam was well on its way to becoming a Muslim city. The young men were unemployed and angry, and they were being fed a steady diet of hate by their imams, most of whom were imported and funded by our friends in Saudi Arabia. There were a number of attacks against the local community. Small stuff, mostly-a broken window, a bloody nose, the odd Molotov cocktail. We wanted to make sure those small incidents didn’t turn into something more serious. We also wanted to know whether any of our more determined enemies were using Amsterdam as a base of operations for major attacks against Israeli targets in Europe. We needed eyes and ears on the ground, but we didn’t have the resources to mount any sort of operation on our own.”

Gabriel opened the doors leading onto his small balcony. The smell of the eucalyptus tree in the front garden filled the apartment. “So you turned to Rosner?”

“Not right away. We tried the traditional route first, a liaison relationship with the AIVD, the Dutch security service. We courted them for months, but the Dutch at that time weren’t interested in dancing with us. After the last rejection, I authorized an attempt to get into the AIVD through the back door. Our local chief of station made a rather clumsy pass at the AIVD deputy in charge of monitoring the Muslim community and it blew up in our faces. You remember the scandal, don’t you, Gabriel?”

He did. The affair had been splashed all over the pages of the Dutch and Israeli newspapers. There had been heated exchanges between the foreign ministries of both countries and angry threats of expulsions.

“When the storm died down, I decided to try again. This time, though, I chose a different target.”

“Rosner,” Gabriel put in, and Shamron nodded his head in agreement.

“He monitored what was being said in the mosques when no one else in Amsterdam was listening, and read the filth running through the sewers of the Internet when everyone else averted their eyes. On more than one occasion, he supplied information to the police that prevented violence. He also happened to be Jewish. As far as the Office was concerned, Rosner was the answer to our prayers.”

“Who handled the recruitment?”

“I did,” Shamron said. “After the AIVD scandal, I wasn’t about to entrust the job to anyone else.”

“And besides,” said Gabriel, “there’s nothing you love better than a good recruitment.”

Shamron responded with a seductive smile, the same smile he had used on a searing afternoon in September 1972, when he had come to see Gabriel at the Bezalel Academy of Art in Jerusalem. Gabriel had been a promising young painter; Shamron was a brash operations man who had just been ordered by Prime Minister Golda Meir to hunt down and kill the members of Black September, perpetrators of the Munich Massacre. The operation was code-named Wrath of God, but in reality it was the Wrath of Gabriel. Of the twelve members of Black September killed by the Office, six were dispatched by Gabriel at close range with a.22 caliber Beretta.

“I flew to Amsterdam and took Rosner to dinner in a quiet restaurant overlooking the Amstel. I told stories about the old days-the War of Independence, the Eichmann capture. You know the ones, Gabriel, the stories you and Uzi have heard a thousand times before. At the end of the evening, I laid a contract on the table. He signed without reservation.”

Shamron was interrupted by the sudden scream of the teakettle. Gabriel went into the kitchen and prepared the coffee. When he returned, he placed the French press on the coffee table, along with three mugs and a sugar bowl. Navot gave him a disapproving look. “You’d better put something under that,” he said. “If you leave a ring, Chiara will kill you.”

“I’ll take my chances, Uzi.” Gabriel looked at Shamron. “Who serviced him? You, I suppose.”

“Rosner was my creation,” Shamron said somewhat defensively. “Naturally I was reluctant to turn over the reins to anyone else. I gave him a bit of money to hire an assistant, and when Rosner had something to report I was the one who went to see him.”

“In Amsterdam?”

“Never,” said Shamron. “Usually we met across the border, in Antwerp.”

“And when they ran you out of the Office for the second time?”

“I hung onto a few bits and pieces to keep me occupied in my dotage. Rosner was one of those bits. Another was you, of course. I didn’t trust you with anyone else.” He spooned sugar into his coffee and gave it a melancholy stir. “When I went to work for the prime minister as his senior security adviser, I had to surrender control of Rosner.” He glanced at Navot. “I entrusted him to Uzi. After all, he was our western European katsa.

“And your prot?g?,” Gabriel added.

“It wasn’t exactly heavy lifting,” Navot conceded. “Ari had already done all that. I just had to handle Rosner’s reports. Eighteen months ago, he gave me a nugget of pure gold. According to one of Rosner’s sources inside the Muslim community, an al-Qaeda-affiliated cell operating in west Amsterdam had got their hands on a missile and was planning to shoot down an El Al jetliner on approach at Schiphol Airport. That evening we diverted the flight to Brussels and tipped off the Dutch. They arrested four men sitting in a parked car at the end of the runway. In the trunk was an antiaircraft missile that had been smuggled into Amsterdam from Iraq.”

“How did Rosner know about the plot?”

“He had sources,” said Shamron. “Very good sources. I tried on a number of occasions to convince him to turn them over to us, but he always refused. He said his sources talked to him because he wasn’t a professional. Well, not quite a professional, but no one else in Holland knew that.”

“And you’re sure about that?” asked Gabriel. “You’re certain Rosner didn’t die because of his links to us?”

“Unfortunately, there was no shortage of people in Amsterdam who wanted Solomon dead. Some of the city’s most prominent jihadist imams had been openly calling for a volunteer to step forward. They finally found their man in Muhammad Hamza, a housepainter from north Amsterdam who just happened to be working on a project across the street from Rosner’s home. The Amsterdam police found a videotape inside Hamza’s apartment after his arrest. It was shot the morning of Rosner’s murder. On it Hamza calmly says that today would be the day he killed his Jew.”

“So what type of errand do you want me to run in Amsterdam?”

Navot and Shamron looked at each other, as if trying to get their story straight. Shamron let Navot answer. He was, after all, chief of Special Ops.

“We’d like you to go to Amsterdam and clean out his files. We want the names of all those golden sources, of course, but we also want to make sure there’s nothing there that might link him to us.”

“It would be deeply embarrassing if our ties to Solomon were ever exposed,” Shamron added. “And it would also make it more difficult for us to recruit sayanim from the Jewish communities around the world. We’re a small service. We can’t function without them.”

The sayanim were a worldwide network of volunteer Jewish helpers. They were the bankers who supplied Office agents with cash in emergencies; the doctors who treated them in secret when they were wounded; the hoteliers who gave them rooms under false names, and the rental-car agents who supplied them with untraceable vehicles. The vast majority of the sayanim had been recruited and nurtured by Shamron himself. He devotedly referred to them as the secret fruit of the Diaspora.

“It also has the potential to make a volatile situation in the Netherlands much worse,” Gabriel said. “Solomon Rosner was one of the most well-known critics of militant Islam in Europe. If it ever came out that he was our paid mouthpiece, the Jewish community in Holland might find itself at risk.”

“I disagree with your characterization,” said Shamron, “but your point is duly noted.”

“How am I supposed to get into Rosner’s office?”

It was Navot who answered. “About a year ago, when the threats against Rosner started coming fast and furious, we knew we had to make plans for just such a contingency. Rosner told his assistant, a young woman named Sophie Vanderhaus, that, in the event of his death, she would be contacted by a gentleman named Rudolf Heller and given a set of instructions she was to follow to the letter.”

Herr Rudolf Heller, venture capitalist for Zurich, was one of Shamron’s many false identities.

“I contacted Sophie last night,” Shamron said. “I told her that a colleague of mine would be arriving in Amsterdam tomorrow afternoon and that he was to be given complete access to all of Professor Rosner’s files.”

“Tomorrow afternoon?”

“There’s an El Al flight that leaves Ben-Gurion at six forty-five and arrives in Amsterdam at two. Sophie will meet you in front of the Caf? de Doelen at four.”

“It could take me days to go through all of Rosner’s files.”

“Yes,” Shamron said, as though he were glad the task had not been inflicted on him. “That’s why we’ve decided to send along some help. He’s already in Europe on a personal matter. He’ll be there when you arrive.”

Gabriel raised his coffee cup to his lips and eyed Shamron over the rim. “And what about the promises we made to the European security services? The covenant we signed in blood in exchange for getting them to drop all the charges and lawsuits against me?”

“You mean the covenant that forbids you from operating on European soil without first obtaining permission from the security service of the country involved?”

“Yes, that one.”

They all three shared a conspiratorial silence. Making promises they had no intention of keeping was what they did best. They abused the passports of other nations, recruited agents from allied security and intelligence services, and routinely ran operations on foreign soil forbidden by long-standing accords. They did this, they told themselves, because they had no choice; because they were surrounded by enemies who would stop at nothing to ensure their destruction; and because the rest of the world, blinded by their hatred of Zionism and the Jews, would not allow them to fight back with the full force of their military might. They lied to everyone but each other and were truly at ease only in each other’s company.

“You’re not going behind the Iron Curtain,” Shamron said. “With proper cover and a bit of work on that now-famous face of yours, you’ll have no problems getting into the country. The new realities of European travel have made life much easier for Office agents-and, unfortunately, for the terrorists as well. Osama bin Laden could be living quietly in a cottage by the North Sea and the Dutch would never know it.”

Navot reached into his attach? case. The envelope he removed was an old-fashioned model, with a string instead of an aluminum clasp. The Office was one of the most technologically advanced services in the world, but it still used envelopes from the days when Israel had no television.

“It’s an in-and-out job,” Shamron said. “You’ll be home by the weekend. Who knows? Perhaps your wife will be, too.”

“She’s not my wife yet.”

Gabriel took the envelope from Navot’s grasp. An in-and-out job, he thought. It sounded nice, but somehow it never turned out that way.

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