Dancing Bear, Page 1Oren Sanderson
By: Oren Sanderson
Dancing Bear: Oren Sanderson
Copyright © 2014 Itzhak Oren
All rights reserved under the International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. No portion of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying or conversion to computer reading or internet software or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher, except for brief quotation in a review.
E-mail: [email protected]
Table of Contents
At eight-thirty I enter the lobby, this time through the back exit of the restaurant. No, I'm not the pest exterminator, nor am I the inspector sent by a Kosher Certification agency. The morning shift in the kitchen is in the middle of breakfast. They know me and I pass through without any acknowledgement either way. They have never asked why I come in through the back door two or three times a week, with no set schedule. But I am sure that they know what my work is and they hold me in a bit of awe.
I know I look sort of menacing: I got my broad shoulders and thick arms from my grandfather on my mother's side, one of the first settlers who came from Russia to Israel, then Palestine, in 1920. From my father, a third generation Israeli whose great-grandfather came here from the pampas of Argentina, I got my black curly hair and green eyes, a combination that may usually work on women of any age, but unlike my father, I've never made women the central interest in my life.
By now I'm sure anyone who passes through the lobby and notices me wandering about aimlessly, knows exactly what I'm doing there. Most of the time I keep my arms practically straight -by the book. The right hand should be kept as close as possible to the right hip, where a little to the back, in a holster under the jacket, is the 9 mm Beretta. I take special care to do everything by the book. My real job is to be a walking target, the first to take the bullets. Only then, perhaps I'll be able to fire back, just as I've been trained.
I must stay alert at all times during my shift, but this morning I can’t focus all that well. Trying to shake some visions out of my head, the sounds of the morning come as if from a radio tuned off-station. But I work as I have been trained. I walk around occasionally, but mostly I stay in a corner or near some feature in the lobby from where I can see the lobby entrances, but I will have a bit of time and a bit of protection. Anyone looking for me will have to pause momentarily to find me. Maybe I will recognize them first; maybe I won’t. Either way my life of boredom will crystallize into cold terror for fifteen seconds if I can get to live that long.
It wouldn't take more than a cardboard box with a 50 kilogram charge inside to bring the building down, if they knew where to place it. I pick up a computer screen. You could get twenty kilos of plastic explosive in one of these, enough to kill dozens of innocent civilians if it went off in a closed space. I'd be responsible. Would it have a timer or be activated by remote control? Maybe just an electric booby trap that will go off a minute from now when I open the carton.
But all these thoughts only occupy the upper layer of my brain. Anyone catching sight of me as they run for the elevator is convinced I'm thoroughly alert and primed for action; only I know I'm still in that purplish haze. Through a screen of fog I see a small blue bay, a broad beach at low tide, wet and sparkling in the sun; I see a young goddess come near and slip on past, trying to tell me something, maybe something of the secret of longing or maybe the pain of disillusionment.
The consulate is ten floors above me and that's where I am a half hour later, sitting in the control room, watching over the screening and security systems. Ofer, my morning back-up, has left for the university, after reporting that all is well. I'm busy with the morning paper, the motor section to be precise. Formula One, the jewel in the crown of racing cars, has made the headlines today.
To get into the consulate, visitors have to pass through the glass door at the entrance, and I'm the only one who can open it, from inside. Once they're through the door, they're in a round reception area, where most of the walls are faced with mirrors. They're one-way mirrors, and the control room I'm in is behind three of them. I've got an array of telephones, four monitors covering the entrances and exits to the building and the corridors and corners inside, alarm buttons, a few other emergency devices, and the intercom. I talk to visitors through speakers embedded in the walls of the reception area, and they move about with obvious discomfort, responding to the voice from above with the appropriate deference. Sometimes I try to make my questions sound a little less forbidding, but procedure is procedure.
Three visitors were already seated in the reception area when I arrived. They look particularly contemplative and quiet as they wait for the clerk to open the counter and attend to their requests. As required, Ofer filled me in before he left: an Indonesian student with a desire to tour Jerusalem on his way home to Jakarta for the holidays; a young engineer, apparently an American, who wants to visit his parents in Haifa; and an elderly woman who wants to find out what happened to her American son who moved to a kibbutz in Northern Israel and whom she hasn't heard from in over a year. I look them over. The Indonesian has a fixed smile on his face and looks very pleased with himself and with life in general; the engineer is nervous, twisting his feet about restlessly and periodically twitching his head to the side - a medical problem, maybe; the old woman doesn't seem upset. She has already told Ofer that her son "Is always disappearing and I always find him eventually; he's been like that since he was four." They're all very quiet, like people on the first stage of a long journey trying to save their strength, or maybe just drained from the morning's excitement. Most people who come to the consulate sense they're being watched, which usually makes them behave with particular restraint and exaggerated courtesy. The first consular clerk they meet will have to absorb the full force of the frustration that's been building up in them.
The bell rings. Instinctively, my eyes turn to the three screens in front of me. A young woman of medium height, carrying a little blue handbag just big enough for her makeup and papers, or for a very small gun. She's alone. The corridor behind her, at least as far as the camera lens can see, is empty.
"Can I help you?" I ask into the microphone.
"Would you let me in, please?" She's restrained and polite.
"Do you have an appointment?" I respond automatically.
"No, but I'd like to speak to someone."
I push two buttons. She enters the reception area through the glass door and closely, almost rudely, examines the three people waiting there. Then she scrutinizes the numerous mirrors, moving from one to the other and finally halting at one of the three I'm sitting behind, and although she can't see me, she stares, incredibly, directly into my eyes.
She had long brown hair, straight and silky, large brown almond shape diagonal eyes, and attractive pampered lips. It was easy to imagine her smiling face in the street looking out from some ad for shampoo or soft drinks. A delicate beauty. A tingling feeling started at the tips of my fingers and crawled from there to the roots of my hair. I squeezed my eyes shut and opened them again. She was still there. Her hair was brushed to the side with a straight, neat parting and held in pl
ace at eye level by a large butterfly-shaped barrette of dark blue velvet. She was dressed in jeans and a white sweatshirt. This tingling feeling came crawling again.
"I'd like to see the consul please," she said in a silky voice.
The consul was in his office, serene, bored, or both. He didn't have any appointments scheduled.
"Do you have an appointment?" I asked again.
"No, but it's very important, a matter of national security. I have to speak to him right away."
"The security of what nation?"
"Israel, of course."
Her voice was still silky, but a note of urgency had been added. She sounded like a Girl Scout troop leader trying to explain a complicated game. Her eyes were sad. Her arms were crossed protectively across her chest. She seemed too composed for me to label her one of the usual neurotic types who show up with crazy stories - but she might be stoned, or a Japanese bible freak. The other people in the reception area stared at her openly. She ignored them.
"I want to see the consul!" she repeated in response to my prolonged silence.
"Wait there please," I replied like a trained robot and switched off the microphone.
Even if she was a run-of-the-mill nutcase, or spaced out, I didn't have the authority to deal with her without consulting with the consul. To tell the truth, I didn't think too much of his indecisiveness, not to say cowardice, but my opinion of him didn't count. My performance here is judged, first and foremost, on my adherence to procedure. The words "national security" could be a cover for almost any nonsense, but they were still grounds for involving the consul. I had no intention of taking the responsibility on myself. I picked up the intercom phone and dialed.
"There's someone here who wants to see you," I said. "A young woman who claims it has to do with national security."
I heard him sigh. "What's her name? Is she one of the regular loonies?"
I wasn't going to make that call on my own. I told him I'd never seen her before and suggested he come and have a look for himself.
"Oh, alright," he sighed again. I could envision him pushing himself up out of his executive chair.
He got there pretty quickly: elegant suit pants, the center button on his shirt threatening to pop open over his paunch, a loose tie and a smile that looked both amused and shamefaced at the same time.
"You're sure she can't see me?" he asked, as he did every time he appeared in the control room.
"Yes," I answered - like always - "absolutely sure." He switched on the microphone and whispered into it.
"Can I help you, ma'am?" Her face responded with a slight smile to the sound of the new voice.
"I want to see the consul."
"Can I have your name, please?"
"I'll tell him my name when I see him. He'll recognize it."
With rather atypical assurance, he said, "I'm the consul. Who are you?"
The smile was still on her face and she was still maintaining her patient attitude. "It's not safe here. Someone might hear me. Please, let me in."
"What do you want to see me about?"
She remained silent for a moment, and then moved as close as she could to the mirror, whispering, "I'm being followed. It's a long story."
The consul looked over at me with a knowing glance. "Paranoid," he declared. "Get rid of her." He gave me a paternal pat on the shoulder. I turned my lips up in what I hoped looked like a smile of understanding, edged away from him and waited for him to leave the room.
It was twenty minutes later. The medical student had left, along with the elderly woman, the faces of both displaying considerable relief. Another young woman had come in, asking for information about the weather and the taxi service in Jerusalem. The engineer was still there, and the young woman was still waiting. Finally, she presented herself opposite my mirror for a second time and rang the bell again.
"Can I help you?" Once more I felt an electric current running from my thighs toward my knees, but my voice remained expressionless.
"How much longer?"Suddenly she looked very tired. She bit down on her lower lip as if she were about to burst into tears.
"The consul is busy and can't see you now. I suggest you leave him a note."
"You don't understand. As soon as I step outside that glass door, they'll grab me. That's just what they're waiting for."
"Madam," I said amiably, "there's no one outside the door. Why don't you go on home?" I was mouthing the words I'd say to any of the pests we get here, but my heart was pounding inexplicably.
For the first time she looked around her nervously and whispered with genuine fear in her voice, "Who is that man?"She gestured jerkily with her right hand as if she were trying to brush some invisible crumb from her sleeve and pointed toward the engineer.
The consul was right: she certainly was paranoid.
"He's waiting for consular services," I said. "He's going to Israel."
"Are you sure? They gave him back his papers a long time ago. Why is he still here?" She had a point. Nobody stayed there a minute longer than they had to. I should have noticed that myself.
"Sir," I called. The engineer raised his head, as if he had previously been unaware of our conversation. "Can I help you with anything?"
"Oh, sorry. I was just reading this," he replied in a soft Russian accent and turned his attention back to the leaflet in his hand, a description of the plants and trees in Israel. His face was pale, his eyes light and watery, and his hair thin and yellow. He was wearing a dark cheap business suit. Not exactly your typical engineer.
"Sir," I repeated in my most courteous tone, "is there anything else I can do for you?"
With a look of surprise, he rose and said, "Ah...no. Sorry," and, moving quickly, he left the reception area. I didn't get the glass door open in time and he banged his head on it.
"Sorry," he mumbled again, pushing the door open and hurrying out.
I watched him on the monitor. He was short and slouched when he walked. From time to time his head twitched nervously to the side, maybe a sign that he knew I was watching him. He turned, walked past the elevators, and then, unexpectedly, pushed open the emergency exit - and vanished. I dialed the consul again. He responded instantly.
"Go see if he left anything behind. I'll call the embassy in Washington."
I picked up the keys and started opening the doors that would take me out of the consulate. Two doors and I was in the reception area. The young Japanese-like woman was still sitting there. There was no way she could know who I was and, accordingly, she displayed no interest in me. She looked like someone who had just won a few points in some contest and was waiting for the second stage. I opened the glass door and walked along the corridor to the emergency exit. There was no one there: not on the stairs going down or the flight up to the next floor. I hurried back to the control room. The consul was there, examining the woman curiously through the one-way mirror, trying to hide behind the video screens and pulling in his stomach as if she could see him.
"The engineer’s gone," I reported.
"Good," he replied. "Find out what her story is, David. Don't let her in. Just get as much out of her as you can and get rid of her." He said that in the same tone he might use if he were telling me to water the plants.
In fact, it was a lot harder than that.
I returned to the microphone. "Madam, exactly what is it you want from us?" There was no one else in the reception area. The intercom was now hooked up to two other rooms in the consulate, and most likely to the embassy in Washington too. The woman remained seated, twisted her hands into fists, and began to speak slowly, emphasizing each word:
"Some of your best people in New York, both Americans and Israelis, are going to be picked up soon by the FBI. For the last four days, I was detained and questioned somewhere in Connecticut. Then they let me go - undoubtedly so they could follow me. Things are about to come crashing down on the heads of Israeli intelligence and the Israeli government, and
our – your -national security is in danger. Please, just let me in." For the first time I heard her voice crack.
This whole affair was getting tiresome and depressing. She obviously believed what she was saying. I didn't envy her. She looked all alone and lost. I felt like hugging her.
"What's your name? Where do you live?" I asked, hoping she could sense the warmth I was trying to put into my voice to offer her a bit of comfort.
"Kate Beaver, code name Kaybe. I live in Manhattan, not too far from here. Please, contact the Foreign Ministry and they'll tell you. Please. Call the Israeli ambassador to the UN - I'm not supposed to mention his name, but it's all a lost cause anyway. Won't you let me in? Can't I even get a glass of water?"
Then she broke down and cried. I felt I was losing control of the situation. The annoying buzz that had been in my ears since I'd gotten up seemed to get louder. For a split second the image of some similar woman flashed through my mind - soft brown hair and a look of desperation - but I couldn't place it.
"I'm sorry, ma'am," I said, "but we can't help you."
She wept quietly, heartbreakingly, her shoulders shaking. "Can't you see what you're doing?" she sobbed. "They're waiting for me out there. As soon as I step outside - it'll be the end of me, of the whole network, everyone. Please..."
"I'm sorry," I repeated mechanically. "There's nothing we can do." I forced myself to pick up the paper again and tried to concentrate on the racing news. I had to read it three times before I could make sense of the words. Formula One was in trouble. Putting in a new turbocharger was going to send the price skyrocketing. From now on, winning would just be a matter of money. The woman raised her head and stared into my mirror again. Somehow she managed for the second time to look me straight in the eye. "Is this Israeli territory?" she asked.