53

The next time Gabriel awakened, his body was being washed. For an instant he feared they had killed him and that he was witnessing the ritual cleansing of his own corpse. Then, as he passed through another layer of consciousness, he realized it was only his captors trying to clean up the mess they had made of him.

When they were finished, they unchained his hands long enough to clothe him in a tracksuit and a pair of slip-on sandals, then withdrew without further violence. Some time later, a half hour perhaps, Ishaq returned. He regarded Gabriel with a perverted calmness for several moments before posing his first question.

“Where are my wife and son?”

“Why are you still here? I would have thought you would have been long gone by now.”

“To Pakistan? Or Afghanistan? Or Wherever-the-fuck-istan?”

“Yes,” said Gabriel. “Back to the House of Islam, refuge of murderers.”

“I was planning to go there,” Ishaq said with a smile, “but I asked to come back here to deal with you, and my request was granted.”

“Lucky you.”

“Now, tell me where my wife and son are.”

“What time is it?”

“Five minutes till midnight,” said Ishaq, proud of his wit. Then he gave his watch an exaggerated glance. “Four minutes, actually. Your time is running out. Now, answer my question.”

“I suspect they’re in the Negev by now. We have a secret prison there for the worst of the worst. It is the equivalent of a galactic black hole. Those who enter are never heard from again. Hanifah and Ahmed will be well taken care of.”

“You’re lying.”

“You’re probably right, Ishaq.”

“When we were negotiating over the phone, you told me you were an American. You told me that my family was going to Egypt to be tortured. Now you tell me they are in Israel. You see my point?”

“Have you attempted to make one?”

“You are not to be trusted-that is my point. But, then, that is not surprising. You are, after all, a Jew.”

“The patricide lectures me about the immorality of deceit.”

“No, Allon, it was you who murdered my father. I saved him.”

“I know my brain is a little fuzzy at the moment, Ishaq, but you’re going to have to explain that one to me.”

“My father was once a member of the Sword of Allah, but he turned his back on jihad and lived the life of an apostate in the land of strangers. Then he compounded his offenses by throwing in his lot with you, the Jewish murderer of Palestinian mujahideen. Under the laws of Islam my father was condemned to Hell for his actions. I gave him a martyr’s death. My father is now a shaheed and therefore he is guaranteed a place in Paradise.”

The words had been spoken with such a profound seriousness that Gabriel knew further debate was pointless. It would be like arguing with a man who believed the earth was flat or that American astronauts had never landed on the moon. He felt suddenly like Winston Smith in Room 101 of the Ministry of Love. Freedom is slavery. Two and two make five. Murder of one’s father is divine duty.

“You were good in Denmark,” Gabriel said. “Very professional. You must have been planning that for a long time. I don’t suppose killing your own father was part of the original plan, but you improvised extraordinarily well.”

“Thank you,” Ishaq said earnestly.

“Why weren’t you there for the finale? And why wasn’t I killed along with him?”

Ishaq smiled calmly but made no response. Gabriel answered his own question.

“You and the Sphinx had other plans for me, didn’t you-plans that were laid the moment my picture appeared in the London papers after the kidnapping?”

“Who is this person you refer to as the Sphinx?”

Gabriel ignored him and pushed on. “The Sphinx knew that if the Americans didn’t release Elizabeth, eventually her father would take matters into his own hands. He knew that Robert Halton would offer the only thing he had: money. He also knew that someone would have to deliver the money. He waited for Halton to make the offer, then he seized the opportunity to take his revenge.”

“And yet you came anyway.” Ishaq was unable to prevent a note of astonishment from creeping into his voice. “Surely you knew this would be your fate. Why would you do such a thing? Why would you be willing to trade your life for another-for the spoiled daughter of an American billionaire?”

“Where is she, Ishaq?”

“Do you really think I would tell you, even if I knew where she was?”

“You know exactly where she is. She’s an innocent, Ishaq. Even under your perverted notion of takfir, you have no right to kill her.”

“She is the daughter of the American ambassador, the goddaughter of the American president, and spoke out in favor of the war in Iraq. She is a legitimate target, under our laws or anyone else’s.”

“Only a terrorist would consider Elizabeth Halton a legitimate target. We had a deal. Thirty million dollars for Elizabeth’s life. I expect you to live up to that deal.”

“You are in no position to make demands, Allon. Besides, our laws permit us to lie to infidels when necessary and to take the infidels’ money when it suits our needs. Thirty million dollars will go a very long way toward funding our global jihad. Who knows? Perhaps we’ll even be able to use it to buy a nuclear weapon-a weapon we can use to wipe your country off the map.”

“Keep the money. Buy your fucking weapon. But let her go.”

Ishaq pulled a frown, as if bored by the topic. “Let us return to my original question,” he said. “Where are Hanifah and Ahmed?”

“They were in custody in Copenhagen. When you demanded that I deliver the money, we went to the Danes and asked for your wife and son as collateral. The Danes, of course, granted our request without hesitation. If I don’t come back alive from this-and if Elizabeth Halton is not freed-your family will disappear from the face of the earth.”

He appeared shaken but put on a defiant face. “You’re lying.”

“Whatever you say, Ishaq. But trust me, if anything happens to me, you’ll never see them again.”

“Even if it is true that you have taken them to Israel as collateral, once the world learns they are being held, great pressure will be brought to bear in order to secure their release. Your government will have no recourse but to bend.” He stood abruptly and looked at his watch. “It is now two minutes to midnight. We have something we need from you before your execution. Give it to us without a struggle and your death will be relatively painless. If you insist on fighting us again, the boys will have their way with you. And this time, I won’t call them off.”

He opened the door and took a step outside, then turned and looked at Gabriel once more. “It occurs to me that soon you will be a shaheed, too. If you convert to Islam before your death, your place in Paradise will be assured. I can help, if you wish. The procedure is really quite simple.”

Ishaq, receiving no answer, closed the door and secured it with a padlock. Gabriel closed his eyes. Two and two make four, he thought. Two and two make four.

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