FRANKFURT, JANUARY 2015
She didn’t like Frankfurt. Germany had beautiful and pleasing cities, but Frankfurt couldn’t be counted among them. For her, the city always aroused a sense of distaste. The filth and violence of the central train station area, the wretchedness of the sex district, the luxury stores fortified by security guards, bars, and heavy locks, the skyscrapers that had made the city more American than any other German metropolis. She was familiar, too, of course, with the city’s redeeming features. The museums along the wide river, the old city, Fressgass—the culinary main street leading away from the stock exchange in the central business district, and the area around the university, bubbling with beautiful young people and their serious and optimistic energy of activism. But more than anything else, at the end of every visit to Frankfurt, a city that could have been a real diamond but somehow missed its opportunity, she felt a strong need for a long, hot shower.
Ya’ara arrived in Frankfurt this time in the late evening, on the fast train from Berlin.
He was waiting for her at bar of the Frankfurter Hof Hotel. A silent waiter relieved her of her long coat the moment she walked in. She was at her best that evening, statuesque, in high heels, her blue dress clinging to her body, two pearl earrings gleaming in her ears, her fair hair appearing even paler under the dim lights of the bar. There wasn’t a single man in the shadowy expanse who failed to sense her presence. She never changes, the man waiting for her in the far corner of the room whispered to himself. Breathtaking and a danger on two legs. He rose from the deep leather armchair in which he was sitting as she approached, and she shook his hand formally, and then, abruptly shaking off the formality, she kissed both his cheeks. Goran Petrovich was a tall, strong man. His hair was graying, his blue eyes were cold and piercing, a white scar cut across his face from just below his right eye and down to his chin. A rare smile was the only thing that upset the menacing impression he made. He wasn’t smiling now.
Ya’ara had met him for the first time a few years after the end of the civil war that had left Yugoslavia ripped to bleeding shreds. She and her team were operating in the Balkans at the time. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, the exporters of Tehran’s terror and fanaticism, wasn’t about to forgo any potential stronghold, and the Iranians viewed Muslim Bosnia, which had emerged from the war scarred and bleeding, as easy pickings. Ya’ara’s squad teamed up back then with international forces that had been deployed to expose the Iranian activity, and to sabotage and thwart it. That’s the way it goes in war, she drummed into her cadets. It’s a fight for every inch. A relentless battle. Matthias had been the one to hook her up with Goran, a tough and ruthless Serb fighter who, after the war, went on doing the only thing in which he excelled, and he was doing the same now for a high fee, in secret.
Welcome to the world of the mercenaries, Matthias had said to her at the time, before leaving her in a dingy bar that reeked of smoke, at just twenty-seven years old, in the charming company of the Serbian with the blood-soaked hands. The realization that Ya’ara wasn’t intimidated by him in the least was the thing that had sold Goran. He could smell fear, discern the slight tremor that betrays anxiety, the shift of a gaze designed to avoid confrontation, the accelerated pulse. He didn’t pick up on any of those things with Ya’ara. She was young, no doubt, but she knew exactly what she wanted, her tactical thinking was impressive, her humor tickled him, and her charm enveloped their encounters like the fragrance of an expensive perfume. Sometimes, when thinking about her, he wondered why in fact she hadn’t been afraid of him. After all, anyone with eyes in their heads would have been somewhat fearful at least, and with good reason, too. Not Ya’ara, however. But, as he admitted to himself, that wasn’t the only reason he enjoyed her company, and he treasured his connection with her like a warm secret.
And now, two years, or maybe more, after their last meeting, he was looking at her once again, her radiance still intense and moving.
They had their first drink at the bar, followed by dinner at the hotel’s prestigious restaurant. She ordered wild quail in a cassis sauce, served on a bed of artichokes. Goran went for angelfish medallions on a barley ragout, with plump and spicy chorizo sausages on the side. They spoke like old friends who had lots of catching up to do. How strange, Ya’ara thought. Here we sit by candlelight, sharing intimate details that even the people closest to us may not know, yet this entire connection is taking place in a bubble, nothing about it relates to our real lives, our true identities, our real families and friends. But still, within this bubble, whose existence we are both aware of, the connection is a real one. Maybe these bubbles are in fact our real lives, my life. She smiled at Goran, who was telling her just then about the defining moment of his wild boar hunt in the black mountains of Montenegro before Christmas.
She spoke to Goran about the weapons she needed.
“Are you putting a small army together?” he asked with a smile, briefly running the tip of his finger along the white scar on his face.
“Something like that. And I’m going to need a few items in England, too. I won’t be able to transport them from here. I’ll need to get them there. Can you do that?”
“You know I can. For you, my darling, I’m willing to do special things.”
“And that, too, for the right price.”
“Of course. I’m a businessman,” Goran said, flashing one of his wolfish grins.
They skipped dessert and moved on to Schwarzer, a strong black coffee. Their silences, too, weren’t uncomfortable ones.
“Tell me, Goran,” Ya’ara said pensively, “how long will we go on doing this?”
“For a whole lot longer I hope. Does it look like we’re suffering? Look at us now. A fine meal, good company, plenty money, spice in our lives. If we were to stop doing it, we’d die a slow death.”
“Perhaps you’re right. Perhaps it’s our destiny.”
“You’re too serious, my darling. Come, let’s have another drink. I don’t like to see you sad.”
“I’m not sad, they’re just thoughts that run through my mind sometimes. Come, another drink at the bar. And then we’ll head out. The night awaits us.”