A Spy in Exile: Chapter 58


“You can’t stay in this dump,” he said to her. “Drive on to the Old Bank Hotel, please,” he instructed the cab driver. “Stay with me. There must be a sofa in the room,” he continued, addressing Ya’ara again. “I can sleep on it, and you’ll have a normal bed.”

“Michael, you can’t act as if we’ve met up here by chance. I need you to explain to me what’s going on.”

“I think it’s you who has a lot of explaining to do, but not right now. We’ll get there, settle in, sit down together in the hotel library in front of the burning fire, drink something. I need to warm up. And I’m pleased to see you. I was worried about you and have missed you.”

When she sat down next to him in the back of the Oxford taxi, their hands almost touched. Suddenly she squeezed his hand affectionately. “I’ve missed you, too,” she said. “It’s been quite a while since I’ve been with someone normal.”

Michael wasn’t sure if he should take that as a compliment. “So I’m just some sort of family friend to you then?”

“There’s no need to take offense at everything. Just because you’re a settled person, with his feet on the ground, who can be trusted, that doesn’t make you an uncle, or anything like that.”

Michael wanted to tell her that he really didn’t want to be either her uncle or even best friend. But he forced himself to hold back. He needed to maintain some degree of authority over her, although he doubted whether there was anyone in the world who could tell her what to do. He shifted slightly to the left, toward the cab door.

“You’re moving away from me,” she said. “Don’t.”

 

  • • •

 

She washed her face in the bathroom of the large, plush room. And yes, there was a very big bed in the room, and a sofa, too, which Michael didn’t view as particularly inviting. She looks tired and tense, he thought, turning to look at Ya’ara’s pale, washed face.

“Should we go down?” he asked.

“Yeah, sure,” she replied, trying to brush aside the tension in her voice.

A large fire was indeed blazing in the library fireplace, and they settled into two comfortable armchairs in front of it. A silent waiter served them two glasses of cognac. Ya’ara inhaled the sharp alcohol fumes, steeped in rich and intoxicating scents of oak and vanilla and leather.

“There’s a reason I’m here, Ya’ara,” Michael said. “I didn’t come here out of longing for you. There are bigger things on the go than my personal wishes . . .” He felt he was getting a little tongue-tied, and started over. “In all honesty, I wouldn’t have found you without the Mossad exercising its capabilities. People there are very concerned, very very concerned, about a few things that have happened, and I’m here to ask you—straight up, no games—if you’ve had any part in them.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Two targeted killings were carried out in Europe in recent days, and both have left the country up to its neck in shit,” Michael said. “A Muslim preacher who spewed hatred to his followers was assassinated right here, in England, but a young girl was killed in the incident, too. Moreover, this preacher was also a British security service source. That you didn’t know, did you? The individual who killed him didn’t just run wild in the heart of one of the capital’s neighborhoods, but also severely compromised the Brits’ war on Islamic terrorism.”

He paused for a moment, trying to figure out what impression his words were making on Ya’ara. When he was informed that to top all the trouble, the preacher was also an MI5 asset, he didn’t want to believe it. And it was clear to him that whoever had killed the preacher couldn’t have known they were shooting at a rare and particularly valuable intelligence source. With that in mind, however, the entire operation, with the dead child, went from being a sad mishap to being a terrible farce. The expression on Ya’ara’s face remained unchanged, her eyes inquisitive, waiting to hear the rest. “The British are convinced that we assassinated Anjam Badawi. That we violated all our commitments to them, and that we’re the ones who turned London into the Wild West. And in the process, we killed an innocent child and took out one of their assets.”

“You know,” Ya’ara said, “if he was indeed a source, he may have been exposed and killed by a Muslim terror activist who wanted to avenge his betrayal.”

“If and if and if. That’s just a guessing game. It was a sniper kill from very far away. It was the work of a professional, experienced assassin.”

“And Al Qaeda or Islamic State or whoever else doesn’t have experienced snipers?”

“Enough, Ya’ara, be serious. The incident here is connected to the assassination of Osama Hamdan. The two killings are related; none of us believe in coincidences. And Hamdan’s assassination was an act of revenge. Someone really wanted him dead, and wasn’t going to make do with seeing him sentenced to life in prison by a Belgian court. Someone was very angry about the murder of Yael Ziv. Making it highly likely that the assassination was the work of an Israeli squad. And the close proximity indicates that the same team killed Badawi, too. The Mossad wasn’t behind this madness, and I want to be sure that it wasn’t you.”

Ya’ara looked unfazed. He felt she was absorbing and digesting the things he was saying to her with interest, like an intellectual, aloof and at ease. “And because the Mossad tells you that they didn’t do it, you come running straight to me?” she said. “Do you have any grounds for doing so? Is there something linking me, directly or indirectly, to these assassinations? Does it seem reasonable to you to come all this way based on . . . I don’t even know what. Are you here as a result of guesswork or male intuition?”

For a moment, the suspicion cast on Ya’ara appeared to Michael to be unfounded. What actually tied her to the killings? The ferocity and daring with which they were carried out? Because she was overseas when they occurred? It could have been mere coincidence, after all. Clearly she couldn’t have carried out the operations on her own. And running a team costs a lot more money than she had. And what was her motive? She was no longer a part of the system. Why would she assume responsibility and take action? He knew her, wild perhaps sometimes, crossing red lines, but no, she didn’t have delusions of grandeur. And in any case, two targeted killings are worthless on their own. Without waging a widespread campaign, there’s no chance of winning anyway. And in order to conduct a prolonged campaign, you need people and infrastructure and money. In an instant, his entire trip appeared misguided and unnecessary.

“You’ve been lost in thought,” she said with a smile. “Tell me,” she asked, “who sent you to find me? The Mossad? Or Aharon Levin, in one of his bouts of paranoia?”

“The director of the Mossad approached Aharon, and he suggested that I find you. He thought you might listen to me. He wasn’t surprised to learn you were out of the country. And he believes you’re tied to the killings. And I don’t have to tell you that his gut feelings are usually accurate. You know that he rarely misses the target.”

“Stop admiring that old man. He got things wrong just as much as he got things right. And I’m not convinced the years have been good to him. He used to be determined and ruthless. But he didn’t dare to go all the way in the Cobra affair, as he should have, as was called for. There truly was no other way. And he didn’t have the balls to finish the job. So I suggest you stop looking up to him. You’re not a kid anymore, Michael. You’re a man in his fifties. It’s time to stand on your own two feet. Go home and report to him that you found me, and that I’m fine, and that I’ve moved on. Your world no longer interests me.”

Despite the calm, collected manner in which she spoke, her measured tone, the relaxed expression on her face, Michael doubted her last statement. He knew her. He didn’t believe that she was fine, just as he didn’t believe that she had moved on. Despite the composure she was showing, she appeared caught up in something and was troubled. He noticed the shadow that passed fleetingly through her eyes. He could see something in her now that reminded him of a defiant teenage girl, compensating for her anxieties and insecurities with a display of a mixture of coldness and audacity. And that’s exactly what made him want to protect her. To shield her from herself. He had the sense that she had gone too far.

“Do you want to go up to the room?” he asked.

“Yes. And I’d like to ask you to do something for me.”

“What?”

“I want you to sleep in the bed with me. To hold me. We won’t do anything. I’m exhausted anyway. But I want you to be right up close to me. Is it okay for me to ask?”

He hesitated for a moment. “Sure, let’s go,” he said.

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