WANTED: MEN AND WOMEN
FOR HAZARDOUS JOURNEY
CONSTANT DANGER, LONG MONTHS OF COMPLETE DARKNESS, SAFE RETURN DOUBTFUL, SMALL WAGES
SENSE OF DIGNITY AND SATISFACTION IN EVENT OF SUCCESS
Ya’ara looked at the ad she had composed, and it pleased her. It was a paraphrase of the recruitment ad published in 1913 by polar explorer and adventurer Sir Ernest Shackleton during his preparations for the expedition that eventually brought him eternal glory. Funny how that renowned expedition was one that failed at its very outset. Shackleton had aspired to be the first man to cross Antarctica on foot. But the ship in which Shackleton and his crew set out became trapped in pack ice in the frozen South Sea, and they were forced to abandon the vessel. Lost in an endless sea of ice, their quest took on a new objective. Instead of crossing the continent, they were now forced to save themselves. Considering the harsh weather conditions, the vast distance from any other sign of human life, and the awful solitude, they appeared doomed from the very start; but Shackleton, in a display of remarkable leadership that command schools and colleges still teach today, managed to save his crew, every last one of them.
At the time, Shackleton’s odd and tantalizing ad elicited a flood of some five thousand responses. I wonder, Ya’ara thought to herself, if anyone’s going to respond to the strange challenge more than a century later. Ya’ara posted the ad on two internet message boards and one of the social networks. Her plan was to recruit most of her team by means of the age-old method of “a friend brings a friend,” but she also wanted to poke the digital domain to see if it could cough up some interesting candidates for her.
She didn’t need that many. Six, eight at most. Certainly no more for the initial setting-up stage. When working with such a small number of individuals, each and every one of them is significant. Any one of them could make the difference. I’m starting to think in American English, she thought, wincing. That language finds its way into everything. Like beach sand.
Sitting and waiting for Aslan at a small bar in the Levinsky Market, Ya’ara felt completely at ease. She had absolute faith in him, held his capabilities in very high regard, and enjoyed being in his company. She had no doubts at all—she wanted him to join the enterprise, she wanted him with her.
As always, he materialized unnoticed. His catlike ability to do so scared the life out of most people, but she was accustomed by now to seeing him appear before her, seemingly out of thin air, a powerful and silent tiger, his smile lighting up his face.
“I can see you’ve set up a command center there,” Aslan said, his eyes alluding to the open silver iPad and the brand-new iPhone that was connected to the device with a cable. “How did you get your hands on that model so quickly? The launch was just a week ago.”
“Aslan,” she responded, speaking his name with uncharacteristic warmth and standing to embrace him. Droplets of water trickled down the sides of a glass of milky arak filled with ice—a part of the command center. “Can I order one for you, too?”
Aslan took the seat across the table from her, and Ya’ara gestured to the waitress to bring another arak to the table. She sized him up. His slim, muscular body appeared relaxed. His face, as always, was tanned. And in his eyes, she caught distinct glimmers of joy.
“You look great,” she declared. “Even though you’re old,” she added with a smile that belied her words. Aslan was one of those people who never seem to age.
“I can only hope that when you get to my age, you’ll be able to do even half of what I do,” he said.
Aslan devoted most of his time to extreme sports—mountain climbing, rafting, skydiving, anything and everything dangerous, remote, and in beautiful surroundings.
“I have neither the inclination nor the ability to compete with you.” Ya’ara showed him the ad. “Would you respond?” she asked.
“Without a doubt. Crazy ad. Perfect for people like me.”
Ya’ara told him about her meeting with the prime minister. Aslan didn’t have to ask. It was plain to see that she had taken the job. “It’s like a start-up,” she said. “We can work on it for a few years, until things become too institutionalized. And when that happens, we can make an exit. We’ll pass on the reins to someone responsible and stable, and move on from there.”
“We, we, we. And who is this we you’re talking about?”
“You know I’m talking about you. I want us to do this together. I’m asking you,” she added when she saw his gaze harden. “Someone has to do it. You recall our talks about what we’d do were we given the chance to rebuild everything. I’d like to think you were being serious, that we were serious. Because this is it, we have the opportunity to do so now. And opportunities like this come around maybe once in a lifetime. We’ve got hold of its tail. Let’s not let it slip away. We’ve got the chance to ride on the back of a tiger.”
Aslan leaned forward and listened. She knew she had his attention. Ya’ara enthusiastically outlined the stages she envisioned. First, the recruitment stage. They need to recruit swiftly and aggressively. And then the training stage. We’ll begin abroad from the outset, she said, her eyes fixed on him. The entire team. In the field. We have the required budget. We’ll teach them at the same time how to construct a cover persona. A personal cover story for each of the field operatives. And a cover for the team. And then the missions stage. We’ll begin operating, establishing a dark presence. She seemed to be enveloped by an inner light of enthusiasm as she spoke, and Aslan looked at her and smiled. He was familiar with her other sides, too—the gloomy sides, the dark ones, those that danced with despair and with pain. He loved those sides of her just as much.
“We already have an operations base, a small apartment, not far from here, on Y. L. Peretz Street. And a company. We’re the International Dried Fruit Import and Export Company.”
“True. Why not?”
“So what do you say?” she asked without shifting her gaze.
“Look, you know I love action. And this country is still embroiled in its wars. And wherever there’s a fight to be fought, you can count me in, on the good side. But I’ve been elsewhere these past few years. You know about all the things I do. These are the years in which I can still experience things. Even I’m not getting any younger.”
“I’m not asking you to stop. But I’m offering you a partnership, or some kind of partnership at least. You can still go on your travels. But between them, you’ll be with me, with the unit. You’ll be a part-time field operative. Your experience is important to me, your knowledge. You keep me balanced. You’re more level-headed than I am. I need your advice and experience. And more so”—she paused for a moment and stared at him from the depths of her blue-gray eyes—“I need a brother in arms. Give as much as you can give. But tell me that you’re with me.”
Aslan had known he was going to say yes to her already on the phone, when they had made the arrangement to meet at the bar. He didn’t know then what he’d be agreeing to, but he sensed it wasn’t going to be just a simple get-together. And now, as she sat there looking at him, her fingertips almost touching his hand, he sipped on his arak and said, “Okay. I’m in. As much as I can be. We’ll do it together.” He sighed. “If only my son could meet someone like you.”
“Uri’s twenty-two, and I’m an old woman of thirty-four, and he has a girlfriend. You showed me pictures of her.”
“I know, I know. And you’re so young that it hurts. You have no right to talk about being old. And Uri will still go through many more girlfriends until he finds someone who suits him.”
“He has all the time in the world. Come, let’s drink to the young ones, whose entire lives lie ahead of them.”