El Al flight 746 from Paris bounced once on the runway and then swerved slightly to the left as it raced past the control tower, flaps down and reverse thrusters roaring. Ed Diamond could feel his pulse beating wildly by the time the Boeing 737 lurched to a halt with a squeal of tires. This is what happens when fighter pilots become airline pilots, he thought as he retrieved his laptop and suitcase from the overhead bin. Ed himself was a lousy flier, always had been—the original sweaty palms. Not much of an asset for a reporter who made his living traveling around the globe. The stewardess whom he’d been chatting up during the flight rolled her eyes and smiled apologetically as he headed for the exit.
The plane was half empty; few tourists were coming these days. Three burly young men, M-4s bulging under their canvas jackets, stood at the gate. They surveyed the deplaning passengers as if, at any moment, one of the arrivals might lob a hand grenade or loose a murderous blast from a Kalashnikov.
They were the only discordant note to the modern, brilliantly lit hallways, the pageant of glitzy billboards and sprawling duty-free stores celebrating the country’s glittering hi-tech façade. The only country with more cell phones per capita is Finland, the home of Nokia, he thought.
At the immigration counter, a beady-eyed woman with the rank of captain licked her thumb as she turned the pages of Ed’s passport. If it had been Kennedy in New York, the immigration officer would have greeted him with a wide, ego-soothing smile of recognition and complimented him on the latest broadcast. Not the scowling Israeli captain. She examined the stamps from Damascus, Kabul, Tripoli, and Teheran with growing concern and then flipped back to page one to scrutinize Ed’s picture and data—born Seattle, Washington; 6’1”, hazel-blue eyes, brown hair. She lifted her eyes and glared at Ed as if he were the new head of Al Qaeda.
“You’ve been to all these places?”
“I’m a reporter.”
“For what company?”
“NBS. American television. A program called Focus.”
She raised her eyebrows. “You have a reporter’s ID?”
He showed the press card he’d been issued on his last trip to Israel.
“You’ve come to tell the truth about Israel?”
Ed understood it wasn’t a joke. “I always do.”
“Sure. You all do,” she muttered. “OK. Go ahead.”
“No ‘Shalom. Welcome to Israel’?”
She ignored the gibe and gestured impatiently for the next person to step forward.
The newspapers carried unconfirmed reports that Syria had put its troops on alert. Despite the Wall, there’d been another upsurge of terrorism in Israel: a suicide bombing in Nathanya, a drive-by shooting last night near Jenin.
But the real shocker was news of an American missile strike on an underground biological weapons site that was being constructed in the tribal areas of northwestern Pakistan. According to latest reports, the site was a joint project between Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and—most surprising of all—a small, radical Palestinian group, the Sons of the Prophet, its followers dedicated to annihilating the state of Israel.
Outside the terminal, the warm afternoon breeze carried a faint scent of eucalyptus. Ed had removed his suede windbreaker and was wearing a white linen shirt and light brown slacks. He walked past the drivers lounging by the taxi station to the Avis lot, where he picked up the Ford Mustang his office had reserved.
He drove east along the highway to Jerusalem, past the urban sprawl of Greater Tel Aviv: high-rise apartments and high-tech factories that spread across the coastal plain eating into the green strips of farmland, where sprinklers sprayed glistening arcs. Then up into the Judean hills with their shady forests of pine, cypress, and eucalyptus. He had been coming here for the past fifteen years, often to see the same man he’d been summoned to meet today, Dov Ben-David.
Ed had first met Ben-David when he was researching a story about Hamas and arms smuggling from Egypt. It was a tale the Mossad wanted to get out, and Ben-David was their acknowledged expert. He provided enough nuggets about the radical Palestinians to win Ed another Emmy. After that, Ed continued consulting Ben-David on everything from the Russian Mafia to the financial networks of Osama bin Laden to Iran’s nuclear program. Ben-David had impeccable sources everywhere. “The tools we use may be brutal,” he once told Ed. “But remember, we are fighting for our country’s survival.”
Over the last few years, however, Dov had increasingly questioned Israel’s tactics; though, of course, only in private. Ed recalled the last time he’d seen him. It was just after the massive attack on Gaza. Dov was still the Mishne, as he was called in Hebrew—but he’d become sullen, scowling, oppressed by the increasingly bloody conflict with the Palestinians. What had begun under his guidance as a very precise campaign—carefully planned, targeted assassinations of the most radical Palestinian leaders, the men who trained and commanded the missile teams and suicide bombers—had spiraled completely out of control.
The TV screen was now filled each day with grisly images of noncombatants—old men, women, and children—also blown apart by Israeli helicopter gunships and drones. In some cases, the Israeli government actually apologized to the bereaved families for their “mistake.”
“At first I thought the idea of targeted assassinations might work,” Ben-David had told Ed. “I mean if the Palestinian leadership wouldn’t get rid of their killers, we’d do it ourselves. But it hasn’t worked. It’s made things even worse. Now our crazies are as wild as theirs. God knows where we’re heading.”
A couple of months later, Ben-David resigned from the Mossad and returned with his wife to the kibbutz at Ein Gedi.
There had been no further word from him—until yesterday. Ed had been in the edit room of his office in Paris, contemplating the image of a gangling African boy on the Sony monitor. The kid wore an Avatar T-shirt and brandished an AK-47. He couldn’t have been more than ten or eleven; he glared at the camera with wild, dilated eyes.
It was a spectacular image for what was to have been a sensational report: hopped-up child soldiers exploited by ruthless buccaneers ready to rip apart a swath of Africa to make a fortune in diamonds. A brutal, cynical trade that the UN and all the countries involved had sworn to suppress years ago, but there it was, still flourishing. Yet Ed’s report wasn’t working: the issues were too complex, the politics too convoluted. There were too many countries no one cared about. The thing would plunge the viewers into a coma.
Bottom line: it was not the kind of broadcast Focus’s star reporter was supposed to be coming up with, particularly not now as he jockeyed for a decisive promotion. He had been promised a weekly hour-long broadcast of his own, with the notoriety, power, and seven-figure salary that went with it. It was everything he’d been working toward for the past twenty years.
But right now, he still had this African mess to clean up, somehow.
He was interrupted by his assistant, Colleen Fisher. “Ed, call for you—from Israel, Dov Ben-David.”
Ed cocked his head to one side, his forehead creased. “Tell him I’m not in,” he said. “No, tell him I’ll call back when I get a chance.”
Dov Ben-David was a nice guy, but no longer what you might call a hot source.
“He says he’s got to talk to you—now.”
“Merde,” Ed muttered as he picked up the phone. “Dov,” he said heartily. “It’s been a long time.”
“Maybe, Ed. But it’s a battle just getting through to you.”
“No, it’s just that…”
“It’s OK. A lot of people are no longer particularly eager to take my calls.”
“Any time,” said Ed, trying to sound interested.
“You know what I worry about these days?” said the Israeli. “Not terrorists, but tourists. God help me if I don’t have enough toilet paper and sanitary pads in stock, But don’t worry. I didn’t call to waste your time with the kvetching of an old man.”
“So, what can I do for you?”
“Come and see me in Israel. Now. It’s very important.”
“Love to. But I have work. What’s it about?”
“I can’t say right now, you understand?”
“How about a hint?”
“Ed, look, something has happened.” Dov’s tone was urgent. “It is about your country and mine. It is serious—believe me.”
“Yeah?” Ed still wasn’t convinced.
There was an edge now to Dov’s voice. “When was the last time I picked up the phone to tell you about a report you should do?”
“Never. I always had to pry the information out of you.”
“So—stop making me waste my breath. Come!”
Ed paused. He glanced at the images on the editing console again. Perhaps Ben-David was losing it—but perhaps not. He had never been one to exaggerate. Ed could make it to Israel and back in a couple of days. It would be a welcome break from this African quagmire.
“OK. I’ll be there tomorrow afternoon. And Dov?”
“Tell Esther I never forgot her borscht.”
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