A Spy in Exile: Chapter 19


The small conference room of the production company’s office in Berlin was windowless. The posters hanging on the walls conveyed the desired impression—a start-up company with artistic aspirations. Ya’ara fixed those present with a thoughtful look, which turned incisive and resolute. There were some who noticed her gray eyes take on a shade of blue.

“We’re going into the field in four teams,” she said. “We’ll be working in pairs. Groups of three or four will attract attention in that remote region. Operating as couples provides the best cover. A couple speaks for itself. No explanations needed.”

“The women here outnumber the men,” Nufar remarked. “One of the couples will have to be two women.”

“Lo and behold, a math genius! INSEAD was worth it just for that. Education pays,” Ya’ara retorted, but in a way that brought a smile to Nufar’s face. “Sayid. You’ll be working with me. Batsheva with Aslan. Nufar and Ann together. Assaf, you’ll be with Helena, but no cooking for you this time. The objective—to try to find something, as trivial as it may seem, that could count as progress, within these sixty square kilometers. Yes, we’re moving from Berlin to Bremen. As quickly as possible. Get used to it, that’s how things work in the life you’ve chosen for yourselves. Aslan will brief you on the basic principles of the task and figure out the means of communication between us. He’ll pick out a rendezvous point, if needed, in downtown Bremen. We can find additional locations when we get there, and broaden our options in the area in which we’ll be operating. For each couple, Aslan will also determine at what point you’ll hire a car, and from which company. Following Aslan’s briefing we’ll split into couples, prepare cover stories for our relationships, and come up with a reason for being in the cold countryside in the middle of the December freeze. And we’ll stock up on equipment—cameras, binoculars, something extra for warmth, whatever we need. We’ll meet here tomorrow at nine to go over the cover stories and basic plans. The floor is yours, Aslan.”

 

  • • •

 

Assaf and Helena were the first to leave the production office. One of the rules was not to enter or exit the office in large groups.

“I still need to fully digest Aslan’s briefing,” Assaf said. “So many details.”

“I’m a little freaked out by the fact that we don’t know exactly what we’re supposed to be looking for.”

“That’s the point. We won’t know until we’re in the field. Like Ya’ara said, sometimes the field itself shows you what you’re looking for. I’m guessing she knows what she’s talking about. It worked for me in the army.”

“Yes. It appears that way indeed. But all that talk about legwork, pounding the beat, like we’re detectives or something in a Raymond Chandler novel. You know him, right?” She looked at Assaf quizzically.

“There’s more to me than meets the eye,” Assaf responded, pretending momentarily to be offended before flashing a wide smile.

“That remains to be seen,” Helena retorted.

“Oh, really? So you’re handing out grades now, I see. Tough girl. Would you like me to give you a reading list?”

“I have no intention of trying to make an impression on you,” she replied sternly, widening her steps, “and you don’t need to make an impression on me. I like you, Assaf, even though it’s hard to say you’re doing yourself a good service. But I’m not keen on getting into a constant battle of wits and accomplishments. And I think we’ve already had this conversation. Let’s drop the nonsense and focus on our preparations. Come, let’s have a coffee, gather our thoughts, think about the task at hand, and get ourselves ready for this.”

Assaf nodded without a word, rubbing his hand over the back of his exposed neck in embarrassment. He felt a sudden pang of longing for Tali, his gentle wife, and Shira and Nimrod, who gazed at their father with adoring eyes, and for a fleeting second he wondered not only about what they were doing at that very moment in Israel, but also what he was doing there, in ice-cold Berlin, while the people dearest to him were in the heart of the Sharon region, perhaps coming to terms already with his absence.

 

  • • •

 

Nufar was behind the wheel of the silver Opel Insignia. Ann was sitting next to her, with a map spread out on her lap and a telephone with an open navigation app in her hand. Destination: Bremen. Nufar drove skillfully, maneuvering through the complex network of roads that led them out of Berlin and westward. Her mind was on the briefing they received from Ya’ara before they left.

“You know,” she said to Ann, “there was something about the way she briefed us.”

“I was thinking about that while we were talking,” Ann responded. “She took us through everything one step at a time. Asked us the right questions, to make sure we know what we’re about to do, or rather, that we know the boundaries within which we have to conduct ourselves. It felt more like an emotional coaching session than a briefing.”

“I don’t think she buys into that kind of thing. What do you call it? Chicken soup for the soul?”

“That’s just the Americans. But beside the point. I have no idea what lies ahead for us. And I don’t really know what we’re going to do there. We’ve been assigned to an area, we’ll carry out a sweep, and if we get lucky we’ll see something. I don’t even know what that something is. Nevertheless, Ya’ara instills confidence.”

“We need to go over our cover story again. Are we a couple?”

“That’s nobody’s business,” Ann replied vehemently, and Nufar burst out laughing.

“You sound very authentic! That anger at the invasion of your privacy.” Nufar gave Ann an affectionate pat on the knee, her left hand gripping the steering wheel.

“It really is nobody’s business,” Ann said. “But under the assumption that we’re going to have to be in this car together at all sorts of strange hours in the middle of nowhere, we’re going to have to come up with an explanation that’ll keep prying eyes and minds off our back. So yes, a romantic relationship could be the most plausible explanation.”

“You’re very lovely, but no offense, I’m not into that kind of thing. As a cover story, okay. But in real life, it’s men only for me. Or should I say, once I get over the slight bout of nausea I was left with from the last one.” Nufar put her foot on the gas and moved into the lane to her left, leaving behind the large Mercedes she passed.

“I’m the same. Men only for me, too. Daniel only, that is,” Ann said softly, and Nufar glanced at her and coaxed more speed out of the car.

“I’m impressed. What does the speedometer say?” Ann’s hand gripped the handle fixed above the door out of habit, but her face showed no signs of stress.

“One-seventy. Great car, this Opel.”

“Slow down a little, please.”

Nufar moved back into the middle lane.

“I toured around a lot while studying in France,” she said, her eyes systematically checking the car’s mirrors. “We studied like crazy on weekends, but traveled all through France during the holidays. Spain, too. San Sebastian. Barcelona. And even Germany, along the wine route. But I’ve never been in the northern part of the country.”

“It’s gloomy here. Everything’s flat and gray. And those clouds.”

Nufar drove on, in silence.

“You know,” Ann said contemplatively, “all these cover stories that we’ve had to prepare, it’s like playing in the theater, right? Whenever my mother stepped out onto the stage, she was walking into a story.” The landscape flashed by at a dizzying speed, appearing blurred at the edges of their fields of vision. “I hated that,” she added quietly, “the ease with which she became someone else.”

Nufar was focused on the road signs that pointed out the exit to Bremen city center. “Okay,” she said, “we’re a couple. That’s our cover story. No need to make a big deal of it.”


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