A Spy in Exile: Chapter 53


COLOGNE, FEBRUARY 2015

 

“Can you fold this properly for me?” Assaf asked.

Nufar burst out laughing. “You mean to say you can’t even fold a map?” she exclaimed.

Assaf shrugged his shoulders. “It’s never been my forte,” he responded.

The café at which they were sitting wasn’t far from the Dom, Cologne’s world-renowned cathedral. The tourist map of the city in Assaf’s hands looked like a comedy prop. He spread it out across the table one more time, trying not to knock over the mugs of coffee or smear the paper with the remains of the butter and jam that had come with the croissant. He tried to reconstruct the correct order of the folds, and failed dismally once again.

“Come on, give it to me,” Nufar said. “Pathetic. Are sure you were an officer in the Combat Engineering Corps? Don’t you need to be able to dismantle mines and operate heavy engineering machinery for that? And you can’t even fold a map!”

“Enough. Move on. You’re humiliating me. And it’s not my fault. It’s you, you get me all flustered. I have to spend two weeks with someone like you in a big city in Germany and it’s not easy.”

“Tell me, Assaf, when are you going to stop with that? With your quick tongue, with the endless flirting? You don’t need to make an impression on me. And that’s certainly not the way to impress me. Okay?”

“You’re right. That’s not really who I am, it’s tiresome for me, too. Let’s try not to do it any longer. I’ll try, I mean,” he corrected himself.

“Really try, okay? A small town in Germany.”

“What?”

“You said we’re in a big German city, and that’s true. Cologne really is a big city. But you know that just a few kilometers from here, down the river, lies Bonn, about which John le Carré wrote a book called A Small Town in Germany. It always amazes me—a city that was once the capital of an economic superpower, of an important country, of West Germany. And now it’s becoming a mere footnote in the history books. All they’ll have to say about it in a few years’ time will be: ‘Served as the capital of West Germany during the period 1949 to 1990.’ ”

“That’s what they’re writing about it already. Look at Wikipedia.” He showed her the page he had opened on the screen of his phone. “The city’s already a footnote. Have you read his books, le Carré’s?”

“I have. A few. My father gave me two or three of them to read. He was the only author he read religiously, and I wanted to love the same things my father loved. To tell you the truth, I see his books as mementos from an era long since passed. Back then it was the Cold War. The wars these days are different.”

“Yes, and we are the soldiers fighting this war, which is going on right now. Do you feel like a covert fighter in a global campaign? Tell me truthfully: Did you ever think you’d be in this position?”

“No, it never once crossed my mind. I studied at INSEAD, after all. My objectives lay elsewhere. But the fact is I’m here now. Assaf”—she hesitated for a moment—“how terrible do you think it is for me to be happy that we managed to kill that Osama Hamdan guy? For me to be happy about the death of someone?”

“I’ve seen the footage from the security cameras that were in the synagogue. The images were aired on television constantly. He appears so calculating and cool-headed in them. He plucked the submachine gun from his backpack and opened fire on innocent people. With such brutality. He deserved to die. If someone has to do this kind of work, it’s good that we’re the ones doing it.”

“Yes, you’re probably right. There’s no point in agonizing over it, or feeling bad about not doing so. It doesn’t even suit me.” Her eyes glimmered, and she suddenly began to recite mournfully: “ ‘That’s the nature of the Palmach, which leaves no work to anyone who is not one of us.’ Do you know that old song?”

“Yes, yes, ‘Their nation wasn’t a mother to them’ . . .”

“Exactly. ‘She didn’t know they were heading out’ . . .”

“So you think we’re like the Palmach?”

“Enough, Assaf,” she said, turning impatient all of a sudden. “We’re starting to talk like old-timers. Forget the Palmach and everything else. We are who we are. Let’s go outside for a while. I need some air. Look at that cathedral. Can you imagine what this place must have looked like when it was first built?”

The dark turrets of the Dom towered above them. Ice-cold air was rising from the wide Rhine River that flowed below them, its waters murky and dark. They began walking in a southerly direction, against the flow of the current. A thin black dog was sniffing at the withered grass between the sidewalk and the fence.

They felt invincible. Two young and talented individuals who were in the right place at the right time. Nufar looked at Assaf, who was walking beside her. He had yet to find his place, she thought.

“That was very impressive,” he said to her. “What you did there with the computers, in Brussels.”

Nufar kicked at a stone.

He looked at her, uncertain if she had heard him.

“When we get back to the hotel,” she said, “I think you should call home. It’s important to keep in touch.”

“What about you?”

“I’ll do so, too,” she responded, but she didn’t know whom she’d call.


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