A Funeral in Jerusalem
by Mark L. Glosser
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
4. Three Days Later
Ari picked up the phone on his secure line. The voice on the other end was a long-time friend, now assigned to the counter-terrorism unit. “Ari, what’s happening on your end of the assassination investigation?”
“Nothing,” growled Ari. “As ordered by the idiots upstairs I gave everything I had to your director and keep my nose out of your investigation. Why?”
“Something’s not right.”
“Meaning what?” asked Ari, leaning forward.
“Orders have been given to use all resources available to crack the case. But if you look under the surface you’ll see just the opposite. People are running in circles. Inconsequential matters are being investigated. No investigative team knows what information the other teams have developed. Our least competent people have the most difficult assignments. We both know the signs. This investigation isn’t meant to succeed.”
Ari slammed down the receiver; chunks of plastic flew off the now demolished phone. He threw the pieces on the floor and stomped out of the building, nearly tripping on a glass bottle lying on the sidewalk. Muttering angrily under his breath, Ari kicked the bottle, sending it clattering down the litter-filled street.
An hour later Ari stood inside the Hall of Names at Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Memorial. Pictures of thousands of the murdered lined the walls of the multi-story, tapered, cylindrical hall. The names of and the available information about those who died were available from computers in the Hall. Ari once again read the information on the life and death of his grandfather.
So what if the Prime Minister is murdered, thought Ari. He’s the glue that holds his coalition together. Without him the government will collapse. Maybe new elections will be held before the Haredi can start their war.
It was a rhetorical question.
His father and grandfather had chosen death that others might live.
Ari could do no less.
He would disobey orders and continue the investigation on his own.
5. Bad News
The buzz of Ari’s new, guaranteed indestructible phone jarred him awake. Three rings later Ari found it hidden under an almost empty bag of bagels sitting on the corner of his desk. He grabbed a stale bagel and answered the phone. It was Rueben, from Intelligence.
After social niceties were concluded, Rueben asked, “Ari, do you want the bad news or the good news first?”
Like a man preparing to absorb a punch, Ari hunched his shoulders and lowered his head. “The bad news. I’m not sure I’d know what to do with good news.”
“For a couple of years we’ve been trying to locate and eavesdrop on a disposable phone. Data-mining algorithms suggest it belongs to a domestic terrorist. Today we got lucky and intercepted a conversation. Your name came up.”
Ari’s appetite disappeared; he put the bagel back in the bag. “Exactly, how did it come up? I don’t think they were discussing my birthday?”
“In a way they were. It’s the terrorist’s job to ensure you don’t live to celebrate your next birthday.”
Snorting, Ari said, “What’s the good news? They’re going to pay for my funeral?”
“We learned who the triggerman is: someone named Jonah Geller.“
“I need to take care of this myself. Please keep it quiet.”
“Not a problem. One other thing. You know the website some ultra-orthodox wacko runs, something called the Apostate’s List? The one that lists people whom God abhors; people like atheists, homosexuals and assorted free-thinkers? A funny thing about that list; some of the people whose names appear on it end up being murdered.”
“What about it?”
“Your name just appeared on it.”
Ari hung up, and punched Geller’s name into his computer. A moment later the printer spit out Geller’s police record, a blank piece of paper. A search of public databases yielded the same result. Geller didn’t exist. There were no credit cards, no telephones and no driver’s license listed in his name.
Ari had more luck with a search of government and military databases. Geller’s personal history helped explain the man. Palestinians had murdered Geller’s parents shortly after his birth. Geller’s grandfather, an Auschwitz survivor, raised him. After his military service, Geller met a charismatic rabbi and joined the fringe political party for which he was the spiritual advisor.
Like many other settlement-based rabbis of the time, the message of Geller’s rabbi was one of violence. He preached the Second Commandment’s prohibition against murder did not apply to the murder of Arab men, women and children. Nor did it apply to the murder of any Jew who advocated the surrender of the West Bank to the Palestinians. Geller’s rabbi was among those who had publicly called for the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin back in 1995.
Ari examined the picture of his would-be assassin and chuckled at a random thought flashing through his mind: at least he wouldn’t be murdered by a total stranger. He was not comforted by this realization.
The rest of Geller’s file was uninformative. With a grunt of disgust Ari tossed the unbound pages in the air and watched them flutter to the floor.
Jonah Geller, Ari realized, was that most dangerous of men: a killer doing God’s work.
6. A Trip to the Cemetery
That afternoon found Ari slouched at a corner table in a coffee shop trying to scratch a mental itch. He felt he was missing something important. Ari hoped a cup of freshly brewed coffee and the scent of cinnamon rolls taken straight from the oven would help him scratch the itch. So far, it hadn’t.
Ari was reaching for his fourth cinnamon roll when he noticed the paper place mat. Emblazoned on it was an advertisement for a photo exhibit at a local gallery. One of the exhibit pictures, a close-up shot of the odds and ends a man might carry in his pants pocket, was part of the advertisement. Ari squelched a burp and charged out of the coffee shop.
Five minutes later, Ari was on his hands and knees fumbling through the papers on his office floor. With a grunt of triumph, Ari grabbed the picture of the personal items Geller had surrendered for safe-keeping when he entered the army.
Shown in the picture were Geller’s keys, a ring with a raised pattern hanging on a chain, a cheap watch with a cracked crown, a wallet, loose change, and a worn pocket bible. Ari hung it on the wall next to the pictures of his parents and grandparents. He was satisfied he now possessed the information needed to neutralize Geller.
Ari’s thoughts were interrupted by the insistent beep of his computer. It was a news flash announcing the death of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The current Prime Minister, Netanyahu’s protégé and personal friend, would deliver a eulogy at the funeral.
The Prime Minister had also volunteered, in accordance with the Jewish custom requiring the deceased not be left alone prior to burial, to maintain a vigil beside the casket the night before the funeral. An unwelcome thought crossed Ari’s mind; the funeral of another Prime Minister might soon be announced.
Ari’s attention returned to the problem facing him. In order to neutralize Geller, Ari had to meet him face-to-face. The real question was how to prevent Geller from killing him before he could open his mouth. Somehow, Geller’s curiosity had to be sufficiently aroused to allow Ari to talk first and, hopefully, not shoot later.
That evening found Ari at the Yeusefiya Cemetery, an ancient cemetery located at the foot of the Mount of Olives. He was leaning against the tombstone of Geller’s grandfather. The yellow light of the full moon hanging low on the horizon illuminated the graveyard. Thousands of closely packed tombstones cast irregular shadows in its light. A gentle breeze cooled the night air. Ari was at peace with himself. Strangely the fact that he might die within the hour only added to his feeling of serenity.
After the moon set, a slightly built man in Hasidic dress materialized from the darkness. His right hand was in his suit pocket. In a gentle voice, almost a whisper, he asked, “How did you learn about me?”
“This morning, Intelligence intercepted your phone conversation with your controller.”
The bearded man ruefully shook his head and moved closer to Ari. “What do you want?”
Ari locked eyes with Geller. “I’m here to collect a debt you owe me.”
Geller’s voice roughened. “I owe you nothing.”
Ari moved away from the tombstone and pointed at Geller. “You’re wrong. You owe me three lives.”
A puzzled look crept into Geller’s emotionless eyes. “Stop talking in riddles. Say what you have to say.”
Moving slowly, Ari reached into his brief case, removed the wedding picture of his grandparents and placed it on the tombstone. “These are my grandparents. They died at Auschwitz. My grandfather’s brother and my father survived.”
“So what? Millions died there.”
“Some lived. One of them was the man who raised you, your grandfather.”
Ari pointed at the gold chain and ring hanging from Geller’s neck. “Take it off and put it by the picture.”
Geller did so.
The raised dental pattern stamped into Geller’s ring matched the pattern on the wedding rings worn in the picture by Ari’s grandparents.
Ari took a washcloth out of his pocket and wiped the sweat from his face. “I’m sure your grandfather told you how he came to own the ring. My grandfather’s brother gave it to him. He gave it to him after his brother, my grandfather, was murdered by a Nazi guard because he refused to kill your grandfather.”
“The picture could be a forgery.”
Ari pulled a crumpled piece of scrap paper from his pocket and smoothed it out on the tombstone. Several words written in the Cyrillic alphabet were printed on it. Ari pointed at the paper. “These are the names of my grandparents written in Russian. If you check, you’ll see they match the inscription engraved on the inside of your ring. You owe me your grandfather’s life, your father’s existence and your birth and life.”
Geller bowed his head in acknowledgement of the debt.
7. The Funeral Home
The assassination plan was simple and stood every chance of succeeding. To penetrate the Prime Minister’s security cordon, the conspirators chose a weapon from the past: poison.
The morning of the Passover Seder the Prime Minister’s cook would fall ill, having been administered a non-fatal poison with his morning coffee. His replacement would poison the Prime Minister at the Seder. False evidence suggesting the Palestinian government was behind the poison plot would be planted. The Designated Acting Prime Minister would take office and instigate the attack against Palestine.
The problem confronting Ari was the same one he had faced in dealing with Geller. He had to arrange a face-to-face meeting with the Prime Minister without being shot in the process. A task he had to accomplish in forty-eight hours or not at all.
Ari decided to pay his last respects to the late Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. He showered, shaved and changed into a clean suit; he felt reborn. In accordance with Jewish custom, the casket at the front of the room was closed; mourners silently filed by it.
Once he paid his respects, Ari sought out the funeral director and explained his problem. At first Ari thought the funeral director would respond much the same way Ari’s assistant had, by slamming a door on his face, but Ari kept his explanation calm and professional. The funeral director agreed to help.
Security swept through the building searching for unauthorized persons or explosives. None were found. The Prime Minister entered the private room, closed the door behind him and sat beside Netanyahu’s coffin.
By this time, Ari had been stuffed in the coffin for three hours. He was in agony. He could barely breathe, his extremities were numb and his back ached. The heat inside the coffin was intolerable. During the security sweep Ari had worried that a puddle of sweat might have formed under the coffin, giving away his hiding place.
Ari hadn’t decided whether to open the coffin, step out and say “Hello” or yell, “Let me out.” Both approaches had the inherent risk that security forces might be called, an outcome that might well shorten Ari’s life expectancy. Ari decided to wait before making a decision. He had all night.
The sound of the Prime Minister’s voice woke Ari from a dreamless nap.
“Well, my friend, what would you do? I know you were disappointed in me, Benjamin, but I had to appoint some of the Haredi partners to key posts in my cabinet. I couldn’t risk the collapse of my government. But you were right, Benjamin, one cannot trust people such as them. Now I suspect they plot against me. I fear for my life, and more importantly, I fear for our country.”
From inside the coffin, Ari spoke in a firm, commanding voice. “You have every reason to worry, mister Prime Minister. My name is Ari Rosen and I’m an inspector in the Investigation Division of the National Police. I’m here to warn you about a pending assassination attempt against you, an attempt that will be made tomorrow.”
The Prime Minister stopped talking. Ari heard the clang of a chair falling over, then silence. An infinite period of time passed. The coffin lid opened and light flooded in, momentarily blinding Ari. When his vision cleared Ari saw the bearded face of the Prime Minister looking down at him; his gaze expressed wary curiosity.
“If you help me out of the coffin, I’ll explain.”
The Prime Minister helped Ari climb out of the coffin.
Ari told his story.
In the days that followed, several members of the Prime Minster’s Cabinet died in a tragic plane crash.
A number of high-ranking police and security officials disappeared.
As time passed, repeated and untraceable administrative efforts were made to fire, demote or transfer Ari. All failed. Ari’s name is still on the Apostate’s List. Israel remains a theocracy.
But the Prime Minister lives. During the steaming nights when Ari cannot sleep, he tries to pretend this is enough.
Copyright © 2013 by Mark L. Glosser