A Spy in Exile: Chapter 3

Their furniture shopping at IKEA took less than two hours. Ya’ara had come armed with a detailed list of everything they needed to turn the apartment into a work base. She had quickly marked off several options for each item they required in the catalog and now bounded joyfully up the escalator. At that moment, he thought she seemed younger than ever.

“You’re like a war machine,” Aslan remarked in wonder.

“More like a shopping machine. I hate these kinds of places,” she confessed. “They frighten me. Get in quickly and get out even faster—that’s what I say. And don’t buy what you hadn’t decided was necessary before getting here. Otherwise you’re just playing into their hands.”

Their next stop was a business that dealt in safes.

And then they purchased an espresso machine. “Definitely essential,” Aslan agreed.


  • • •


Afterward at a bar they went through their lists of contacts again, writing down the name of every friend or acquaintance who they thought might be able to suggest a suitable candidate. And they also searched through their memories for potential members of the unit they were getting off the ground.

“What exactly are we looking for?” Ya’ara had asked shortly before, as they poured themselves grappa from the bottle kept especially for her in the freezer behind the counter. Something inside her has broken free, has changed, Aslan thought to himself once more. Their meetings in the past had always taken place at trendy wine bars or in hotel lobbies. But here, too, in the Levinsky Market, Ya’ara—with her hair tied up and the string of pearls around her neck—looked at home. He kept his impressions to himself and responded: “Women and men. The team must be diverse. That’s the way to survive on the streets.”

“Obviously. Exceptional women and men. We’re setting up a very small team. Six to eight individuals. They have to be special.”

“Smart, intelligent,” Aslan said.

“Smart and intelligent people are a dime a dozen,” she commented.

“Brave. Streetwise. Who can work as part of a team, but can also operate alone. Individuals who like to be alone. Who are happy to be so.”

“Yes,” Ya’ara responded pensively. “Individuals who understand that solitude is strength. That their world is full even without people around them all the time. Know what I mean?” And Aslan thought for a moment that she was talking about herself, but quickly brushed the notion aside and nodded in agreement. He understood. “But I love having a good friend by my side,” she added, looking into his eyes.

“And the ability to operate under a foreign identity, of course,” he said.

“Absolute trustworthiness,” Ya’ara said. “They always have to report only the truth, and in full.”

“There isn’t a man or woman out there without secrets.”

“True. But when it comes to matters concerning an operation, albeit something indirect or marginal, we must be able to trust them completely. Not for one second will I work with someone who isn’t willing to tell me the whole truth.” Ya’ara knew that sometimes she herself refrained from speaking the whole truth. But when circumstances require doing so, it’s not the same thing as lying, she thought defiantly.

“And patriotism,” Aslan added.

“That’s our starting point. That’s a must. We aren’t mercenaries. And the ability to listen. To show empathy. Good interpersonal skills.”

“Perseverance. Thoroughness.”

“The ability to carry things out to the end. The very end. The ability to cross the threshold, to cross the Rubicon. To breach the mission.”

“Now you sound like the guys from the Office. ‘To breach the mission.’ What the hell does that mean anyway?”

“A lot of good things have come out of the Office. Including innovations in the language. You know, the Office made me what I am today.”

“I’m not so sure. No one invented you. You made yourself.”

“It seems to me sometimes that our natures are like Michelangelo’s sculptures. He said, you know, that his sculptures were already there, in the marble, and that he merely exposed them. Allowed them to emerge from the stone.”

“When you ramble on like that, you lose me,” Aslan responded with a smile, even though Ya’ara knew he understood exactly what she meant. “Please, continue.”

“They need to be determined. Iron-willed. Imaginative. We’re looking for creativity. The ability to perform at a high level. Optimism. I think that’s crucial—optimism. They must believe they’re going to succeed even if they find themselves up against a wall.” She kept track of the required traits with her fingers.

“With a list like this,” Aslan said, laughing, “we aren’t going to find anyone. Just look at us. We aren’t people like that.”

“Obviously no one can be perfect, no one can boast all the right qualities and abilities, but there has to be a critical mass. The right people for us will possess enough of these qualities—and more. Just so you know, I haven’t told you even half of what I want yet.”

“Basta, genug, no más—enough! How about you tell me your top five, the five things you define as the most critical, so I don’t have to spend the day on this barstool?”

Ya’ara sipped on her grappa. A small wrinkle appeared on her forehead as she pondered Aslan’s question.

“Do I have to name only five?”


“Okay then, here goes—absolute trustworthiness, good interpersonal skills, a cool head, the ability to carry things through, optimism, and a void to fill.”

“A void to fill? That’s new.”

“You’re going to say it’s just another one of my strange notions. But yes, a void to fill, a deficiency. We all have to be lacking something. A hole of sorts in our soul, a void we’re constantly trying to fill. Everything we do seeks to make up for that void, that deficiency. To find an answer for it.”

“I don’t feel I’m lacking anything,” Aslan said, his eyes glinting, his teeth gleaming white.

Ya’ara thought about it for a moment. “Perhaps you’re the exception to the rule,” she said. “Perhaps you’re so good at what you do because you’re at peace with yourself. But I’m brilliant at what I do because of my empty spaces.” She went silent. “It’s too early for such candor,” she continued with a smile. “It’s not even ten in the morning yet. But I think I’m right. We’ll look for people who are missing a part of their soul.”

“And yet they must still be trustworthy, stable, cool-headed, and all that.”


“And aside from that, you named six traits. I asked for five.”

“A deficiency isn’t a trait. It’s something that needs to be filled. You can’t count that.”

“Okay, I’ll give you that one.”

“I was thinking, Aslan, that we’ll have to take into account just how far the people have already come in their lives. We need to find individuals who have come a long way. Who’ve had to deal with difficulties, with meager beginnings or with significant changes, who’ve already taken a beating, who’ve come out on top. People who’ve learned how to win.”

“And we’ll be doing all this without a recruiting department, without psychologists, without a list of names of former members of the military’s special forces or dean’s list university graduates . . .”

“Exactly. Just you and me. We’re the recruiters and the psychologists and the personnel department and the veteran field operatives. That’s just the point.”

“God help us,” Aslan sighed, pouring himself another shot of grappa.

“It can’t hurt to have Him on our side. I’m kind of counting on it.”


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