BREMEN, DECEMBER 2014
The group had assembled at a steakhouse near the port. They were seated at a large table in the restaurant’s private room. Big, tasteless steaks, a tomato salad, and baked potatoes with butter and sour cream on the side.
“At least the wine is okay,” Nufar said, “insofar as German wine can be good.”
“There we are, the Frenchwoman has spoken,” Assaf said, alluding to the prestigious university at which Nufar had studied.
“The Germans actually make some excellent wines,” Ya’ara said. “But in the same way they’ve excluded the German painters from the history of art, the French don’t have any time for good wines produced elsewhere either.”
“Anyway,” Batsheva commented, “it’s not like we can say we’re at a Michelin-starred restaurant.”
“I don’t believe the Maredo restaurants ever professed to be so. They haven’t even come close to a Michelin star,” Assaf said, playing his part in the culinary discussion.
“I’m not eating a thing here,” Batsheva said. “If I’m going to sin, then I’m certainly not going to do so for a third-rate steak. I don’t believe my life depends on making that kind of sacrifice. Maybe some salad.” She picked up a withered leaf of lettuce with her fork.
“Okay, my gourmet friends,” Ya’ara ended the conversation. “We have work to do. I want to hear the reports from the teams. Aslan, please mark every home or cluster of homes under discussion. We have to be systematic. Ann, would you like to get started?”
They had managed over the past three days to cover almost all of the homes located in the area defined by the cellular network cells that came up in the investigation carried out by Matthias’s friend from the federal security service. It wasn’t enough. Ya’ara knew that the fact that a specific house didn’t look suspicious didn’t necessarily mean that it could be discounted. First of all, they might not have gotten a good enough look. Second, something out of the ordinary that could have raised questions might have occurred at one of the locations an hour before they got there or half an hour after they left. Third, Martina might have been at a certain location, but might also have been keeping a low profile and out of sight. But you have to start somewhere, after all, and in the absence of additional intelligence, the scouting and surveillance were the best things she could think of. And besides, she thought, it’s excellent training for the cadets. Fortunately, they had yet to have to deal with questioning by police. But one of the pairs, Assaf and Helena, had already encountered a most troublesome adversary, one who could soon turn into a dangerous enemy—a sharp and suspicious old woman who had latched on to them and started asking too many questions. They were forced to back off and take up a position in a less favorable surveillance spot.
Thus far, the team had managed to identify three structures that had aroused some suspicion. They had already returned to two of them, for further remote observation, but were unable to gather any additional concrete information. She was planning on checking out the third home the following day. And now there was this report from Aslan and Batsheva about a fourth house—the secluded farm, the shuttered windows, the cars in the yard, and primarily, primarily, the sounds of gunfire.
“To me it sounded like there was someone doing shooting practice in the woods,” Aslan said. “And luckily Batsheva heard something. If she hadn’t, I probably would have missed it.”
“It’s still too early to jump to conclusions. It may have been hunters nevertheless. Or someone practicing with a weapon for which he has a license. Maybe there’s something like a military academy or sport shooting club in the area, where there’s an orderly firing range that we didn’t see on the maps or in the satellite images. But you certainly came across something out of the ordinary that needs to be investigated further. You said there were two vehicles parked in the yard. Did you manage to get a look at the license plates?”
“You said the Golf was blue. And the jeep?”
“It was mostly dirty. But appeared to be a shade of khaki under all the mud. Right, Batsheva?”
“I’d say more of a sandy color. The vehicle was lighter than the mud covering it.”
“Did you recognize the make?” Ya’ara asked.
“It may have been a Cherokee or Toyota,” Batsheva responded.
“We weren’t able to say for certain,” Aslan clarified. “I’m not sure.”
“We’ll go back to that same farm tomorrow,” Ya’ara said. “Sayid and I will join you. We’ll figure out who’ll be doing what and with whom shortly. The remaining two couples will complete their tasks as originally planned. And I’d like you, Helena and Assaf, to go and have another look at this house,” she pointed out a location on the satellite image. “That’s the home we’ve marked as number forty-seven. Okay?”
Helena and Assaf confirmed that they understood. Ya’ara wrote something in her notebook.
“Okay, Aslan, stay here with me now. We’ll go to that bar at the end of the street. And make plans for tomorrow. The rest of you—home. To your hotels, in other words. To sleep. You don’t even realize just how tired you are. Sayid, you can get a proper sleep now, rather than just a nap in the car or on stakeout.”
Sayid hung his head. Ya’ara immediately felt a pang of contrition. You’re forgetting that they’re just cadets, she scolded herself. They aren’t your comrades in arms from the unit. Not yet. Taking them out into the field so soon has caused you to forgo that necessary distinction. You have to make sure, she continued with a certain degree of severity, that in your enthusiasm for the operation you don’t leave your charges behind. It takes them time to get used to the cover stories, to the intimacy imposed on small teams working together, to remarks that cross the customary line and could easily offend someone. Especially a gentle soul like Sayid. You’ve thrown him into the deep end, so don’t be surprised to see him struggling somewhat to stay afloat and swim. It’s perfectly legitimate. He’s coping, and that’s the main thing. His gentleness has the support of his strong character from within. It’s only a matter of adapting. It takes a little time. It’s fine.