Israel’s most closely-guarded secret. Another excerpt from “The Watchman’s File”
I invite you to read the latest excerpt from my mystery, “The Watchman’s File,” specially featured on Amazon’s Kindle again this week. It’s the gripping tale of an American TV reporter, Ed Diamond, as he risks his life to to unravel Israel’s most closely-guarded secret. (It’s not the bomb) To whet your interest, I’ve been posting excerpts here.
To recap the story to this point, Ed Diamond, one of America’s best-known reporters, based in Paris, receives an urgent call to come to Israel from an old friend, Dov Ben-David, former deputy director of Israel’s Mossad. Dov has alarming information, he says, concerning the U.S. and Israel. Diamond flies to Israel, but before they can meet, Ed’s friend is blown apart by a car bomb.
The next day, Ed mingles with hundreds of prominent Israelis attending Dov’s funeral at the kibbutz of Ein Gedi, by the Dead Sea. He is stunned when Dov’s widow, Esther, accuses Ed of being responsible for her husband’s murder. To find out what’s behind that accusation, after the funeral Ed joins other mourners at Esther’s home.
It was a modest, one-story bungalow, like all the other dwellings on the kibbutz, faded yellow ochre stucco walls, roof tiles of burnt sienna, several splintered and cracked. No one came to live on a kibbutz to make a fortune. In exchange for your labor, you and your family could count on a roof over your head, three meals a day, education, health care, and—in the early pioneering days at least—the feeling that you were constructing something new and grand, fulfilling the destiny of your people. No more. The dream had been tarnished long ago.
There was a small garden in front of the Ben-David home, a few roses, a bougainvillea, and a towering banana plant that shaded the entrance. The door was open. Inside, it was cool. Esther sat on a beige sofa in the living room with a few close family and friends, all talking softly. She looked up when Ed entered. He wasn’t sure what to expect, but she gave him a wan smile.
“Mr. Diamond, please, come in. Have some coffee and cake.”
Ed poured coffee into a Styrofoam cup and took a seat by the bookcase, next to a couple of men who were turned to each other in deep conversation. A mourner’s candle burned on one of the bookshelves, its light flickering over an old photo of Dov Ben- David: a strapping young man in his twenties, dressed in short sleeves, shorts, and sandals, a Sten gun on his shoulder as he beamed confidently at the camera. Behind him, the mountains of Ein Gedi. Vintage Zionism, more than forty years ago, thought Ed. These days it has a vinegary taste.
The man sitting beside Ed, who had been talking with someone else, now turned to face the reporter. It was Arik Ben-David. “Mr. Diamond. Shalom again.” His smile was warmer than it had been at the cemetery. He glanced at the photo of Dov. “A fine-looking man, yes? And such dreams. We were so naive back then.” He took a sip of his coffee. “You know, I’ve often wondered why the Palestinian terrorists have targeted so few Israeli leaders. Maybe that’s all going to change now.” He shrugged. “It’s just something we will have to live with.”
He took a small piece of sponge cake and then glanced across the room at Esther.
“My sister-in-law says you came here to see Dov.”
“He wouldn’t tell me over the phone.”
“Well, then, I suppose we’ll never know.”
“I’d sure as hell like to.”
Ben-David patted Ed’s knee. “Things have changed in this country, Mr. Diamond. Even with the Wall, it’s become a far more dangerous place for government officials, past and present, perhaps even for reporters like you. Here, everything has become a fight for survival.”
”Dov never told you what was bothering him?”
“No. Dov and I lived in such different worlds. But you can’t imagine how much I will miss him.” Arik rose and extended his hand. “Goodbye, Mr. Diamond. By the way, if you do decide to look into this matter, let me know. Perhaps I can help you.” He smiled again. “I still have friends in high places.” He turned and limped across the room, said a few words to Esther, embraced her, and left.
Moshe Weinstein had been listening nearby. “I’ve known Arik forever,” he said as he sat down next to Ed. “I used to admire him tremendously. Military hero. Brilliant businessman. Grandmaster at chess. But now we rarely talk. Today was the first time in years he even shook my hand. The country is going berserk.”
“What do you mean?”
Weinstein glanced at the newspapers on the coffee table. They all carried pictures of yesterday’s bomb attack and a photo of Dov Ben-David. “I mean that the political weather around here is getting very ugly, as bad as it’s ever been: Jews against Palestinians, Jews against Jews, Palestinians against Palestinians. Some of them hate their own people more than they hate one another, and that is saying something.”
“And all sides are convinced they’re doing God’s will.” “Exactly.”
“And that’s what makes it so interesting for you reporters,” a woman’s voice interjected.
Gabriella Ben-David was standing before them. She had a tight smile on her lips as she handed them some sponge cake. “A peace offering—from my aunt.”
“Peace offering?” said Ed.
“That’s what she told me to say.”
“Thanks. How could I refuse?
“I’ll leave you two to figure things out,” said Weinstein. “Ed, here’s my card. If you’re going to be in Jerusalem tonight, give me a call.”
Gabriella took Weinstein’s place. “I can understand why you might have been surprised by my aunt,” she continued in lightly accented English. “I heard what she said to you by the grave.”
“She thinks I’m somehow to blame for what happened to Dov,” said Ed. “I’ve got an idea that Arik feels the same.”
“No, believe me,” she said solemnly. “It’s just that everyone is still so shocked by what happened. We do not hold this against you. Not Esther, Not my father. None of us.” She raised a hand to push her long hair back from her face. Once again, he was mes- merized by her emerald green eyes. He searched for something to say. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand Hebrew, but what you said by the grave moved everyone. Dov would have been proud. I’m sure your father was.”
“Thanks, maybe he was,” she said curtly. “He didn’t say.” The color rose in her cheeks. “Now come, my aunt would like to talk with you.” She guided Ed to the leather sofa across from Esther. The other mourners had departed. The widow was drawn and gray.
“Mr. Diamond, I am sorry if I am rude before. I hope you understand.”
“Of course. Please,” he put his hand on her shoulder. “You don’t have to—”
“I do know it is not your fault. You are just answering Dov’s call. He insists on calling you.”
Ed hesitated. Esther was exhausted, emotionally drained, but he had to ask. “What was it about? What did he want?”
She looked away. “He—he won’t tell me. He—all I know is that, the evening before he calls you, he is here, reading the paper and watching television, like always. When I come out of the kitchen, he is very upset.”
“What was he watching?”
“I don’t know. Usually CNN. He tells me he cannot believe what is happening.”
“I don’t know.” Esther threw up her hands. “He says he doesn’t want me involved. That night he does not sleep. He is up all the time. Walking. Around and around. Like an animal in a cage. For years, I don’t see him like that. The next morning he says he is going to call you. He says he trusts you. I have bad feeling about it. I don’t want him to do it. But he doesn’t listen.”
She stared at the picture of her dead husband on the bookcase. “He doesn’t listen to me—or to Arik. He says it is too important. Someone has to make the alarm.”
“Alarm about what?”
She looked helplessly at the reporter and shook her head. “And then, he has to go back to the spa. Why? Why?”
“But I don’t understand,” said Ed. “The declaration the terrorists made today was that they murdered Dov because he had targeted radical Palestinian leaders when he was in the Mossad. What does any of that have to do with his call to me?”
Esther’s eyes widened. She bit her lower lip.
“Please, what is it?” he asked. “What’s going on?”
She looked at Gabriella.
“It’s all right, show him,” said her niece.
“Dodah, it’s all right.”
Esther walked unsteadily to the bookcase. She opened a cupboard on the left-hand side, removed a piece of paper, and returned. “Yesterday, just before the bomb goes off, the fax rings on Dov’s desk. It is this message.”
She showed the fax to Ed. There were two sentences hand– written on it, in a script that appeared to be Hebrew.
“Can you translate this?”
Gabriella took the paper. “It’s ancient Aramaic,” she said. “It is addressed to Dov and says, ‘Warning to those who commit sins causing dissension in the community, passing malicious information to the gentiles, or revealing the secrets of the town.’ It goes on to say, ‘Next time there will be no warning.’”
“You mean that bomb was supposed to have just been a warning?” said Ed. “It wasn’t supposed to have killed him?”
Esther stared ahead.
“That’s what we think,” said Gabriella. “Usually my uncle would never have been there when the bomb went off. He went to work at the spa early in the morning around eight. Then he would come back around 11:30, have lunch, rest, go to his study, read, write. During the tourist season, he’d go back in the late afternoon, maybe four or five, to see if there were any problems. But yesterday he went back down right after lunch.”
“He has to fix the computer at the cashier’s desk,” Esther explained. “The cashier’s desk is next to the front door.”
All expression had drained from her face.
“Do the police know about this?”
“The Shabak come last night. I tell them the same thing I tell you.”
“They took the fax with them,” said Gabriella. “I made a copy.” “Esther, I’m sorry to push so hard,” said Ed. “I hope you understand. I’ve got to go now. I’m staying in Jerusalem tonight, but I’m flying to Paris early tomorrow morning.” He took the widow’s hands and continued. “If you do find out more, please let me know. And if I can ever do anything to help, don’t hesitate to call.”
Not a very gracious exit, thought Ed, considering the circum- stances: Dov is dead because of what he wanted to tell me—but what the hell was it?
Gabriella accompanied him to the door. “I’ll walk you to your hotel.” The children were no longer playing on the lawn; the sun was at its peak. They strolled along the bamboo-shaded path toward the hotel, Ed very conscious of the attractive woman at his side.
“So that’s it? You’re not going to investigate Dov’s killing any further?”
“Unfortunately, I’ve got to get back to my office. I’ve another report to complete. And then I’ve got to get to New York. Besides, I wouldn’t know where to begin on this. Your intelligence services are supposed to be the best in the world. What could I possibly come up with on my own?” He’d almost convinced himself.
They walked for a while in silence. Her skin gave off a faint scent. Jasmine?
“You mentioned you are going to Jerusalem now. Would you give me a ride? That’s where I live. I came here with my father last night. But he had to go back early. I was going to take the bus.”
“Great.” She touched Ed’s bare arm. “I’ll go and get my bag. Meet you here in ten minutes, okay?”
Ed watched as she turned toward her aunt’s house. His skin still tingled at her touch.
When he looked back, he noticed a tall, broad- shouldered man who looked like an ad for a Nautilus workout at the hotel door. He wore a white open-necked shirt, had an angular Slavic face, and appeared to be in his midthirties. He was staring at Ed and made no secret of it. Ed had seen him talking with Arik at Esther’s house half an hour before. He stepped forward to produce an ID card with the blue shield of Israel printed in the center. “Mr. Diamond, Amos Givron, Shabak. We are investigating the bomb- ing. I need to talk with you.”
“Fine. But I really don’t know how I can help.”
“We will see.” He contemplated Ed now with hard, unfriendly eyes. “Please, come with me.”
“I’ve also got to get to Jerusalem tonight.” Ed said.
As if he hadn’t heard, Givron continued into the hotel. Suppressing a brief surge of anger, Ed followed him past the gift shop, where a noisy group of tourists was trying on souvenir T-shirts, and into the cafeteria. The two men bought coffee and then sat at a small table by the window. The only other people in the room were sun-bleached teenagers, a boy and a girl in shorts and sandals, their heads close together, talking softly. The boy had a light blond beard.
Givron glanced at the couple, gazed out the window where hotel guests sat around the swimming pool shaded by giant palms, and then looked back at Ed. “As I said, Mr. Diamond, we are looking into yesterday’s bombing.”
Ed furrowed his brow. “I thought a Palestinian group has taken responsibility, the Sons of the Prophet.”
“They did—at least that’s the e-mail they sent to the press this morning.”
“You don’t think it was them?”
“I said we are still investigating,” said Givron testily.
“But why Dov Ben-David? I mean, he was retired, and he was known to favor a deal with the Palestinians.”
The Israeli looked up sharply. “Mr. Diamond, why don’t you let me ask the questions.”
Ed shrugged. “Be my guest.”
“Why did you come to Israel?”
“Dov called and asked me to come.”
“Did he say what it was about?”
“He didn’t want to talk about it over the phone.”
“I don’t understand, Mr. Diamond.” The tanned young girl cross the room began to laugh softly. Givron paused and glanced in her direction. Her boyfriend had his hand under the table; she had her foot raised between his legs. “Look, you are in Paris, and someone in Israel phones you, tells you to come to Israel, but says he can’t tell you why. And you—a very busy, very famous reporter—you simply drop what you are doing and fly to Israel.”
“No, you look, Mr. Givron. Dov was an old friend. I’d known him for many years. I trusted him. If he said ‘Come,’ that meant it was important.”
Givron’s eyes narrowed. “He helped you in the past—when he was with the Mossad, of course? Just how did he help you?”
“I can’t tell you. You can be assured he gave away none of Israel’s valuable secrets. But that’s as far as I’ll go. I’m a reporter. I protect my sources—even when they’re dead. That’s something authorities in my country understand.”
“You are no longer in your country,” Givron said flintily. “You are here, in Israel. We play by different rules. We are surrounded by enemies. We take our security laws seriously. It’s not up to you to decide if Dov Ben-David broke them by talking to you. It’s up to us. Perhaps what he revealed to you is connected with the bombing.”
Ed felt his temper flare. “Hey, I’m as interested as you to discover who killed Dov! And why! So cut the shit—and back off.” Ed rose from his chair. “Now, unless you’re going to arrest me for something specific, I’m out of here.”
The young couple stared at them across the room. Givron’s jaw tightened. He took a deep drag on his cigarette, exhaled, and smiled grimly. “Arrest you? Who’s talking about arresting you?” He spread his hands wide. “You are free to go. But if you do get any information, we shall expect you to be in contact with us, you understand? Another thing, Mr. Diamond…”
“An intelligent man like you should be more cautious before he jumps into situations he knows nothing about.” His eyebrows arched. “You are dealing with crazy people here. You get in the way, they kill you.”
I’ll be publishing more excerpts, but if you don’t want to wait, you can download the book this week for only $0.99 while it’s featured on Amazon. Also available in softcover.