Utilising what happened in Cyprus when she relived another woman’s life through her dreams, the Mossad recruit Jennifer to locate both her husband and the terrorists.
Can Jennifer succeed? And at what cost to her?
Prologue – Sayeed Qahtani’s compound. Unknown location, Syria.
Only in the darkness did he permit thoughts of her to infiltrate his mind. He had forced himself to forget about his home, his family and the people he loved while he was pretending to be someone else. But for tonight, for this one brief moment, he permitted his mind and his soul to escape the horror that surrounded him and he embraced the thoughts of home and the woman he loved almost beyond reason.
Brief though it was, he needed the escape, even if only in his mind. He needed to imagine her cradled in his arms. He needed to imagine they had been making love. She had been tender, yet passionate, and he could almost feel his arms around her as he held her tightly to him and they basked in the aftermath of their passion. Her face rested lightly on his chest and he needed to imagine he could smell the faint traces of shampoo in her hair and the unique scent of her skin. He needed to imagine that her warmth eased the icy coldness of his soul and for a little while, in the darkness, it was almost as if she was right there with him.
This welcome invasion into his thoughts was a small, precious island of love and happiness that he clung to while surrounded by the sea of terror he found himself drowning in. He could almost see her. He imagined that he could almost reach out and touch her.
His hand unclenched and relaxed as he felt her fingers interlocking with his, tightening and holding his hand in hers, refusing to let him go. He stared into her blue eyes, gentle yet sometimes mysterious. Often playful and mischievous, but always loving. Always loving him.
Her smile was his smile and her laughter mingled with his laughter. Her strength was his strength and it was her love that he lived for. In the darkness, she gave him hope when he should have no hope.
But that hope was false and he knew he would never see her again.
Chapter 1 – Tel Aviv, Israel.
It should have been a black SUV. Wasn’t that how they did it in the movies or on television? A big, masculine-looking SUV. Black in colour. Always black. And polished until it shone. Now and then it would be a Toyota Land Cruiser, but most times it was one of those big Fords. An Explorer or an Expedition maybe. And there would be two similar vehicles following it. They would screech to a halt on the road outside the house and men in black suits would spill out of it. They were the security detail – distinctive because of their black suits and the black sunglasses they wore, even on a dull day, and the way they whispered into their sleeves. They would scan the area from behind the sunglasses with cold, experienced eyes, taking in everything around them. From old Mr. Stein pottering about in his beloved garden, to the jogger running past them, and the two eight-year-old boys from a couple of houses down the street racing their bikes along the pavement. The men would watch carefully as the boys raced towards the makeshift ramp they had fashioned from old bricks and a plank of wood. The kids would seem out of place, and therefore suspicious, because kids nowadays preferred their iPads or smartphones to bicycles or skateboards.
They would quickly assess the jogger as harmless. She was. She jogged past the house every day as part of the surveillance. They would look at Mr. Stein and the kids on their bikes and deem their threat level to be extremely minimal. It would have been zero but for the garden rake and the bucket of dead leaves he was carrying and the potential injury a kid on a bike could do to their principal.
But it was not a big, black SUV. It was a little Honda Civic and it did not screech to a halt either. The driver crawled along the street then manoeuvred carefully into a parking space like a little old lady on her twentieth attempt at her driving test, grittily determined to pass it this time. It was silver in colour with a dent in the rear wing and a bumper sticker that wasn’t as funny as the bumper sticker writer hoped it would be.
A nondescript little vehicle – dirty, battered and unkempt. It had all the appearances of a teenage boy’s first, inexpensive car. A car on its last legs, with too many miles on the clock, ready to shudder to a halt any day now. And it was covered in dust. Jennifer was surprised no one had scrawled ‘wash me’ on the side of it yet. The kids probably would as soon as they got a chance.
The engine should have sounded ill. It should have coughed and spluttered as though ready to die. But – and this was the part that gave it away – the engine in this decrepit little banger purred sweetly. It had been fine-tuned and well-maintained. Jennifer knew what a well-maintained, fine-tuned engine sounded like. Hadn’t her father been a car mechanic for most of his working life?
Jennifer also knew who owned the car. It belonged to an organisation rather than an individual. She couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed that they would come for her in a beat-up looking Honda instead of a big, black SUV.
It parked across the street from her house and two men climbed out of it. The younger of the two, the driver, was wearing faded black jeans and a red T-shirt. He was obviously a fan of Liverpool football club as the T-shirt sported their well-known Liverbird logo across the left breast. He was dark-skinned, with a mop of curly black hair and he wore the obligatory dark sunglasses. Jennifer didn’t know him.
The second man seemed familiar to her but she couldn’t place from where, or how, she recognised him. He was better dressed, in smart, casual attire – light brown canvas trousers and a neatly ironed white shirt, the sleeves of which were rolled up and folded neatly at the elbows. His hair, what little he had, was grey and cut short against his scalp and he wore a pair of rimless glasses. Not sunglasses. He was around her age and he had an air of seniority about him.
Jennifer knew why they were outside her house. And why she could see them from her living room window. She knew it would be bad news and she placed her palm against the wall to stop herself from falling.
Hope flared in her heart when they disappeared from her sight. Maybe they were going to another house. Maybe they were door-to-door salesmen. Maybe she had imagined them.
Then the doorbell rang.
Maybe they were strangers to this part of town and they were lost. It would be ironic if that was the case, and the first person they asked for directions was the foreign woman.
She took a deep breath, let it out slowly and wiped her palms on the legs of her jeans as she walked slowly from the living room to the hall. She was aware of a slight tremor in her arm as she reached for the door handle and opened her front door.
It was the younger man who spoke. She was surprised at that. She had anticipated the older man would have been the one to initiate the conversation.
‘Yes. Can I help you?’
‘Would you mind coming with us?’
Jennifer frowned. ‘Why?’
‘We will explain everything in due course but we need you to come with us. It is a matter of urgency.’
‘Where to?’ Jennifer asked.
The two men exchanged a look between them that Jennifer couldn’t quite interpret. Exasperation, with a large pinch of sympathy thrown in for good measure. That, in itself, was enough to cause her to worry.
‘Oh, it’s somewhere nearby,’ the younger man replied. The casual tone of his voice was so obviously false. She picked up on it immediately and a cold dread settled in her bones. There was something else going on here.
‘Israel is a small country,’ she said conversationally and attempted to make light of her fear. ‘Everywhere is nearby.’
‘You are quite correct, Mrs. Ben-Levi.’ The older man spoke for the first time and she turned her attention to him. ‘Now, if you don’t mind, we would like you to accompany us right away. There is... a matter of some urgency that we need to discuss with you.’
Her impulse was to flee. Slam the door in their faces and run out the back door as fast and as far as she could. But it was a small country. They had all agreed on that point. She could only run so far.
‘Let me just get my coat and my bag and lock up,’ Jennifer said with an attempt at a bright and cheerful smile. She refused to let them hear the fear in her voice.
Jennifer welcomed the silence from her two travelling companions and took the opportunity to admire the scenery from the back seat of the little Honda. The interior of the car wasn’t much to look at and it smelled faintly of wet dog. Definitely not something one would expect from a government vehicle.
The journey from her home on the outskirts of Tel Aviv to the large military base at HaKirya took the best part of an hour. It shouldn’t have taken that long but major roadworks and two traffic collisions ensured that, when it wasn’t at a standstill, the traffic could only crawl along. But, to Jennifer, that hour felt like a lifetime as she watched the buildings and the city pass her by. Her gaze was drawn up to what little she could see of the sky. Blue and cloudless today with a winter sun that was shining brightly. She studied the contrails of a jet as it flew to its destination somewhere in the world. She wished she was on it.
As they crawled along, it seemed as though, with each metre she travelled, her life was passing by along with the landscape and she was moving farther and farther away from the person she was. Jennifer found herself wondering who she would become when she reached her destination.
She regretted not sending a WhatsApp message to Nurit, her stepdaughter, to tell her where she was going – some record if something should happen...
Jennifer pushed the insane notion out of her head. She knew she was being ridiculous. Nothing was going to happen to her. All they were going to do was formally notify her of the bad news or perhaps ask her, as next of kin, to identify the body. She would telephone Nurit once she had done that. As soon as she managed to compose herself – get over the shock, so to speak.
But it might take a few hours. There was bound to be paperwork involved.
Maybe I should have messaged her to nip round this afternoon and feed the cats.
The building they were driving towards was a military base, although its outward appearance resembled a hospital. Jennifer knew it was a military base, but her hands still grew clammy and a wave of nausea threatened to force its way to the surface at the sight of it. Normally, a military base wouldn’t disturb her but she knew they often had hospital wings. And just like regular hospitals they had morgues which were usually hidden away in the basement or around the back of the building. Safely tucked out of sight of the living in case a glimpse of what could be their final destination might encourage them to get there sooner.
So, it was a body they needed her to identify.
Yet the thought didn’t fill Jennifer with as much horror and dread as she expected. After eight months without him, all she felt was sadness and cold acceptance. There was nothing else for her to feel. Maybe when she saw his body, or what was left of it, it would dawn on her that she had lost the love of her life. Then, perhaps, she would react. But how? Would she howl and scream? Or would she weep silently as she gazed at his cold, decayed remains? Would she even recognise him after all this time? Would his body be recognisable? Would her heart break? More than it had been broken when, eight months ago, he sat down in front of her and gently told her he was going away for a long, long time?
As they slowly approached the security barrier a guard stepped out of the small, reinforced glass and metal hut. He raised his hand for them to halt and quickly walked towards the driver’s side window. The guard was dressed in army uniform and he carried an automatic rifle.
From the rear passenger seat, Jennifer strained to listen to what they were saying. The guard seemed to know the driver but he still asked for identification from both him and his older front seat passenger. He inspected both ID’s carefully and gave her a questioning glance. She began to fumble in her bag for her driving licence and her own te’udat zehut – the identity card that all Israelis were required by law to carry with them. It hadn’t occurred to her to bring her passport with her, either her Israeli one or her old British one, although it had expired a little over a year ago.
Jennifer reached forward and gave her driving licence and identity card to the guard who glanced from them to her a couple of times before handing both documents back to her.
‘She’s with us,’ the older of her two travelling companions said by way of an explanation. He did not elaborate any further.
The guard nodded, hit a button to raise the barrier and waved them through. They made their way to the main carpark at the front of the building and found an empty parking space about three rows back.
Jennifer took a deep breath, opened the door and climbed out of the car. She squared her shoulders, and did her best to ignore the thumping of her heart, as she allowed her two travelling companions to escort her into the building. They entered through glass doors that opened automatically into a small foyer. A body scanner and an x-ray machine, similar to those found in airports, met her just inside the front door. She placed her bag on the conveyor belt and, when asked to, stepped forward into the body scanner.
It didn’t ping or beep and no klaxon alarms sounded. No armed guards came rushing to surround her and no steel shutters crashed down, sealing the building and all inside it. This meant, obviously, that she wasn’t carrying a weapon and her bones weren’t made from metal. As a result, Jennifer was waved forward. Her handbag had also made it through the x-ray machine without causing concern. She retrieved it, slung it over her shoulder and glanced around her.
Personnel in both civilian clothes and military uniform were everywhere to be seen, reinforcing the fact that this was definitely not a hospital. Which meant there was no morgue tucked away in a basement or around the back of the building. And that was a good sign.
Jennifer and her two silent companions took a short downward journey in the elevator and then a long walk along a corridor to a door. The small metal plaque on the door read ‘Room 308’ in Hebrew with the English translation underneath the Hebrew characters.
The door was unlocked and they ushered Jennifer inside. It was obviously an interview room. That much Jennifer knew from a diet of TV cop shows over the years. It was empty apart from a desk, bolted to the floor, and two chairs on either side of the desk, also bolted to the floor. She noticed a camera mounted high on one corner, and a large mirror that most likely had an observation window on the other side. Her travelling companions invited her to take a seat.
‘We will be right back,’ they told her.
‘Hey! A cup of coffee would be nice!’ Jennifer yelled as they left, closing the door behind them. ‘How about a vodka and diet coke? No? Okay, I’ll settle for a glass of water. Please.’
At least they haven’t handcuffed me to the desk. Well, not yet.
They came back five minutes later with a fingerprint scanner and a digital camera.
Jennifer sat up straight in the chair, confused and more than a little fearful. This was no longer about identifying her husband’s body.
‘Look guys, if this is about me leaving the car in that no-parking zone last week, I swear, I was literally only five minutes. Seriously, I was taking delivery of dog and cat food for my shelter. Eight big bags. And they were too heavy to carry all the way to the carpark, so I’m happy to pay any fine. With interest, if necessary,’ she joked as she tried to make light of a situation that was becoming more and more strange, and more frightening, by the minute. ‘Come on guys, it was for abandoned animals. It doesn’t make me a career criminal.’
‘It’s not what you think, Jennifer,’ the younger guy told her. His voice was gentle and friendly as he quickly scanned her fingers – her prints were now stored forever in their database – and motioned her to stand against the wall so he could take her photograph. ‘We need your fingerprints for our records and your photograph for your ID pass.’
‘So, I guess I’m hired then?’
He laughed, and his laugh seemed to be genuine but she wasn’t a hundred per cent convinced. ‘Yeah, I guess you could say that.’