House of Guilt


Uneasy with his newly inherited wealth, cranky in unwanted retirement, former Jerusalem Police CID Chief Avram Cohen wants to be left alone to suffer. The new minister of police has other plans. Using emotional blackmail, he coerces Cohen into leading a search for the missing heir to the House of Levi-Tsur banking house.

The psychologically disturbed Simon had some peculiar haunts that take the veteran detective Cohen into Tel Aviv's decadent nightlife, then out into Jewish ...

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Uneasy with his newly inherited wealth, cranky in unwanted retirement, former Jerusalem Police CID Chief Avram Cohen wants to be left alone to suffer. The new minister of police has other plans. Using emotional blackmail, he coerces Cohen into leading a search for the missing heir to the House of Levi-Tsur banking house.

The psychologically disturbed Simon had some peculiar haunts that take the veteran detective Cohen into Tel Aviv's decadent nightlife, then out into Jewish settlements on the West Bank, into the Judean desert, and back to the dangerous underworld of Jewish extremists in Jerusalem. Cohen is tracking the missing man, but what he's really hunting is confirming evidence that the Jerusalem Syndrome, a condition he believes often lies behind acts of terrorism, is at work. It is Cohen's belief that neurotics who visit Jerusalem and confuse their identities with those of biblical characters or believe they receive messages from God cause havoc—and got him into trouble with his own superiors.

While his longtime lover Ahuva, a judge, tries to calm him, Cohen is brought face to face not only with the mystery of Simon Levi-Tsur and his powerful family, but with his own past and present failures.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Setting his tale after Baruch Goldstein's massacre of praying Muslims in Hebron in 1994 but before the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin the following year, Rosenberg puts Avram Cohen (The Cutting Room), reluctantly retired from the Jerusalem Police, in the middle of Israel's tumultuous politics. Disputes between Palestinians and Israelis and between secular and religious Jews color a murder case. Raphael Levi-Tsur, a London-based banker whose assets and influence are international, hires Cohen to find his missing grandson, Simon, who is about to reach his majority. With digging, Cohen learns that a religious man was looking for the unreligious Simon at his apartment, and he even finds the woman Simon was with the night he vanished near the Western Wall of the Temple in Jerusalem. But he learns all this too late to save Simon, whose body is found in the West Bank wilderness, not far from Hebron. Both the police brass and the boy's family believeor say they believethat Simon was killed by Hamas, or some enraged Palestinian extremist. Cohen isn't so sure. He suspects that a rich, undisciplined and possibly unbalanced young man like Simon could have been an object of interest to some of Israel's Jewish extremists. Nor can he overlook the fact that Simon was interested in some priceless museum pieces stolen long agoembarrassingly, on Cohen's beat when he was a young policeman in Tel Aviv. Rosenberg's mystery derives its considerable appeal less from its puzzlewhich is adequatethan from simply putting an intelligent, observant man in the middle of a complex, volatile society and giving him something to be curious about. (Oct.)
Kirkus Reviews
However unhappy his retirement from the Jerusalem police has been, former Deputy Commander Avram Cohen (The Cutting Room, 1993, etc.) doesn't intend to get dragged back into an investigation just because an influential somebody cracks a whip. So when powerful banking head Raphael Levi-Tsur's secretary phones asking Cohen to look into the disappearance of Levi-Tsur's grandson Simon, Cohen hangs up, and when the great man himself comes calling with the secretary in tow, Cohen turns his back on them. Not interested. It's only three days later, when police minister David Nahmani suavely offers to swap preferment for an unfairly exiled protégé of Cohen's for his taking charge of the case, that Cohen finally agrees. And by then it's too late, since hedonistic Simon has been killed in the no-man's-land of the suburban desert after disappearing from a nocturnal pilgrimage with an obliging Tel Aviv prostitute to the Western Wall. The motif of tough worldliness crossed with incongruous but equally tough religiosity pursues Cohen as, haunted by remorse for his delay, he tracks errant Simon's involvement with a born-again Orthodox burglar, a missing treasure in gold, and a museum theft four years ago that netted an irreplaceable haul—the golden crowns of King Herod.

Written in the shadow of the Hebron massacre, Rosenberg's chilling vision of a dozen warring national and religious parties—each serenely convinced of its absolute justification—has been confirmed rather than dated by the Rabin assassination.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684826547
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 9/3/1996
  • Series: Avram Cohen Series
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.41 (w) x 9.59 (h) x 1.13 (d)

Meet the Author

John Green works as an independent computer consultant and established his company, Execuplan Consulting, which specializes in developing computer based planning applications and in training. He's led training courses for software applications and operating systems and has been accorded the status of Most Valuable Professional by Microsoft for his contributions to the CompuServe Excel forum and MS Internet newsgroups. Contact him at

Stephen Bullen set-up his own company called Business Modelling Solutions Ltd, which specialises in Excel and Access development and consulting. The BMS web site contains a large number of examples of his work, including tools and utilities to extend Excel's functionality and many examples of Excel development techniques. Stephen can be contacted by email to

Rob Bovey is a software developer and is founder and president of the custom application development firm, Application Professionals. Rob developed several Addins shipped by Microsoft for Excel. He also co-authored the Microsoft Excel 97 Developers Kit. Microsoft has awarded him the title of Most Valuable Professional each year since 1995.

Robert Rosenberg runs his own consulting business which specializes in Microsoft Office advanced training and custom solutions. As a Microsoft Valuable Professional in Excel, he also continually offers advanced online support on Excel on behalf of Microsoft to users of their Internet newsgroups. Robert can be contacted on at

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

    Cohen sighed. The smell of death never lasted long in the desert, but meanwhile it was somewhere in the garden.

    He hissed, hoping it would bring out Suspect the cat, a tom he had adopted years before. In his old age, Suspect still caught prey that crossed the jasmine and vine borders of the yard. But the cat had long since ceased making his tours of the neighborhood, choosing graceful retirement over the need to hunt down his opponents.

    The old long-hair crept into view at the east end of the garden, a bundle of gray against the glistening green and deep brown of the freshly watered garden that Cohen had nurtured over the years.

    A swallow jumped down from a tree branch to the clothesline and from there to the little asphalt patio beneath three of Cohen's white shirts billowing like sails in the soft breeze.

    Snake or rat, Cohen figured about the hidden corpse. Suspect dropped into his jungle cat pose, a hunting crouch that turned into three quick paces toward the bird. It had been years since Suspect could catch a bird, unless it strayed by accident into Cohen's apartment and Suspect got its claws into it before it found the window. But still the cat tried, making Cohen envious of the cat's eternal optimism.

    Like the cat, Cohen picked his way softly and slowly along the flagstone paths he had put in around the beds of geranium, chrysanthemum, and tall Madonna lilies, up to the thick tangle of jasmine creating the natural wall between Cohen's garden and his neighbor's.

    The catwas in front of him and downwind, concentrated on the prey. Cohen took three steps forward. Neither the bird, pecking at the berry seeds that fell from the tree shading that part of the garden, nor the cat noticed him. He crouched like an Arab, forearms on his knees, the hunting scene framed in his view. He wondered if he'd let the cat catch the bird.

    But it wasn't Cohen's choice to make. "Mister Cohen," came a voice behind him. "Are you all right?"

    The bird took flight. The cat washed furiously. Cohen rose wearily.

    Yitzhaki the greengrocer was standing beside the wooden stairs that led up a closed pergola of wood, iron, and glass to Cohen's apartment on the second floor. He had lived there for almost twenty years on a side street off Emek Refa'im, the Valley of Ghosts in Jerusalem's German Colony.

    "Something wrong, Yitzhaki?" Cohen asked, not rudely, but with a measure of annoyance at being disturbed.

    "No, no problem," the grocer said. "Where do you want me to put this?" He shifted the cardboard box on his shoulder.

    Usually Yusuf, the helper from the Dahaishe Palestinian refugee camp outside Hebron, made the weekly delivery of Cohen's standard order—the fresh fruits and vegetables for the Shabbat dinner he prepared every Friday evening for Ahuva, his lover. On the first of the month, Cohen would go to Yitzhaki's fruit and vegetable shop around the corner to pay his bill.

    Now, in the garden, Cohen assumed the Baghdad-born grocer made the delivery because he was pressed for cash. His patted his hip pocket and realized his wallet was upstairs. "You shouldn't be embarrassed to ask me to pay my bill before the end of the month," Cohen said, starting for the stairs.

    It was an apology, not a reprimand, but it made Yitzhaki sigh. "It's not that," the grocer said.

    Cohen paused, guessing the problem. "Abu-Yusuf's under curfew?" Yitzhaki sighed.

    "His sister has cancer. He went to visit her, got caught in the curfew right after the massacre. I wanted to go down there, talk to someone in the army, something, to get him out of there. For his sake. Not just mine."

    The burly Iraqi Jew's deep-set eyes couldn't hide the embarrassment, with a shadow of sadness beneath them. He lowered the crate to the first step. "But Shula wouldn't let me go," he said, adding his confession. "And she wants me to fire him when he comes back." He was blaming his wife for the fear as much as he blamed the Arabs.

    "She can't take it anymore," Yitzhaki added. "The worrying. Every day, someone else gets it. From an Arab they know, someone who worked with them, someone they trusted. And now this business in Hebron. They'll take revenge. Everyone is waiting for it. I trusted him. But Mr. Cohen, maybe she's right. Today he's my loyal worker. Tomorrow he could stick a knife in my back. Or a customer. For him, we're Jews, the enemy."

    "He's been with you since he was a boy," Cohen said softly. "You know him well. Do you really think ..."

    There was no judgment in his voice, but Yitzhaki could hear the reproach. "Shula says ..."

"Are you afraid?" Cohen asked, emphasizing that it was Yitzhaki's decision.

    Yitzhaki shook his head. "I don't know. I don't know anymore. It's so complicated. A Jew doing that. Killing praying people. And we all thought there was going to be peace."

    "It will take time," said Cohen, trying to sound confident. He, too, had been hopeful when the prime minister of Israel and the chairman of the PLO met on the White House lawn to shake hands.

    Cohen wasn't naive. He knew how deep ran the passions that ignited the violence, knew well that opponents of the new peace process would try to stop it. The handshake was only over a framework for building trust. It couldn't end hatred overnight. So, meanwhile, the terror continued. Molotov cocktails and tear gas, stones and gunshots in the night—and those, like Cohen, who tried warning of even worse, were ignored. When it came even the chief of staff had to say, "It was a thunderbolt out of the blue."

    On Purim morning that year, at the peak of winter's brief but bitter breath over the Land, less than five months after the handshake, a Jew, born in America (where he had trained as a doctor), slipped out of the early morning prayers in the Jewish chapel at Hebron's Tomb of the Patriarchs—the burial ground, say the Jews and Moslems, of the biblical Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

    The doctor walked through an arched doorway, down a short corridor, and into another windowless hall deep in the huge walled tomb. There, Moslems were kneeling to pray. More than fifty died that day—with twenty-seven dead from bullets fired from the submachine gun carried by Dr. Baruch Goldstein, until that morning one of the leading personalities in Kiryat Arba, the first of the Jewish settlements built in the occupied territories after the 1967 Six Day War. The others were Palestinians shot dead when they tried storming Israeli troops in the area.

    Much hope—including Cohen's—was dispersed in the hail of bullets, rocks, tear gas and molotov cocktails that flailed across the entire West Bank that day. Now, three months later, tensions in Hebron remained high enough to keep it and its neighboring villages and refugee camps under curfew. Even the few hundred Jews of Hebron and Kiryat Arba, among whom Goldstein was famous for his selfless devotion to the Jewish cause in the territories, chafed under strict orders from the Israeli army to stay off the streets of the biblical town.

    And Cohen, whose own last case as Criminal Investigation Department chief in Jerusalem before a retirement he didn't want was precisely about a warning for such a thing, was left with his civilian impotence, the bitter taste of self-reciminatory guilt, and the useless feeling of knowing he could say "I told you so" but having nobody to whom to complain.

    "Yusuf's a good man," Cohen tried. "He needs the job. And you need his help." He knew Yusuf and he knew Yitzhaki. They were together too long for Yitzhaki to be so worried.

    "It's Shula you should talk to," Yitzhaki said. "I tried to be logical. But her third cousin on her mother's side, she goes to that grocer, the one in Netanya. You probably saw his picture in the paper. Knife in the back. The shirt all red." Yitzhaki shivered. "His worker did that to him."

    "I saw the picture," Cohen said.

    "He never stole from me," Yitzhaki went on, the confession pouring from him. "Fifteen years, he never stole. At the beginning, I tested him. Left a tenner on the counter. When a tenner was really worth something. He brought it to me, asked what to do with it. But now? People are afraid."

    "If I can help ..." Cohen suggested again. Suspect crept a few steps away from the grocer, then crouched in wait for Yitzhaki to leave so that he could investigate the cardboard box on the stair.

    "Maybe," the grocer said, taking a step away. The cat took its own two strides. "I'll think about it," he added almost hopefully, and then squinted toward the sun falling westward behind the weeping willow on the western edge of Cohen's garden. "I've got to get going. You want me to take this upstairs? It's heavy."

    Cohen said no, then watched the grocer leave the same way he had come in, behind the tin-walled, one-car garage shaded by the willow. The shortcut behind Cohen's garden led to an alley where Yitzhaki kept a storage shed for his Emek Refa'im shop. But instead of taking the crate up the stairs himself, he sat down in the wicker chair in the shade of a wild vine that long ago stopped producing grapes but all summer guaranteed him a shady corner of the garden.

    Two summers ago, Cohen painted the chair. Now, it felt better than ever under him. Just last week he mentioned to Ahuva that he was planning to paint it again.

   She mocked him, saying, "You have more than enough money to buy a whole house, let alone a new set of garden furniture. You aren't a civil servant anymore," she declared. "And you certainly are no pensioner living off national insurance or your police pension." It was true. He was a wealthy man now, wealthier than he felt he had any right to be.

    It was just after he finally told her exactly how much money he had inherited form an old friend. "You could finally buy a proper apartment," she said. "A villa, perhaps. On Caspi Street with one of those beautiful views down to the Dead Sea."

    Cohen wasn't interested in moving, though he did have an idea about a change in his living conditions. He had been paying rent for more than twenty years through an estate lawyer for the extended family that owned the two-story German Colony house built in the last decade of the nineteenth century.

    Lately he had begun discussing with the lawyer the possibility of buying the entire property. The problem now wasn't Cohen's ability to pay. The problem was getting a vote of all the shares of the twenty-nine heirs. Two of them owned 10 percent apiece. The rest owned variously sized shares, depending on the distance between them and the original patriarch, who had made the family fortune from his plan, conceived already in his native Russia, to build an industrial bakery in Jerusalem.

    Ottoman troops in Jerusalem were among his first institutional customers. Then came the British. The visionary founder of the bakery didn't live long enough to see the Israeli army become the family's single largest customer. The first-floor apartment had been empty for years, for within the context of the family fortune the property on the little side street off Emek Ref'aim, the Valley of Ghosts in the German Colony, was inconsequential, almost forgotten amid their myriad holdings.

    For Cohen, it was suddenly an easy acquisition begging to be made—if the lawyer could arrange it. He had not yet mentioned the idea to Ahuva. Until everything was set, he didn't want her to know what he was planning. He wasn't even sure about what he would do with such a large house. But he knew he should buy it.

    Meanwhile, he preferred talking about anything other than the money he had inherited from an old friend with whom he had survived Dachau, and whom Cohen had since always thought of as a somewhat estranged brother—even when they didn't speak for a decade at a time. The money embarrassed Cohen, made him feel guilty for taking something he didn't deserve, didn't need, didn't want.

    "I like my chair," he insisted, just as he protested that he liked the flat in the German Colony and saw no need to move, even if it was to a penthouse with a clear view of the Old City, the Judean desert, and the northern tip of the Dead Sea far below in the Jordan Valley.

    "That's not the point," Ahuva charged. "I'm not telling you to go out and spend it all. I'm not telling you to give it all away. And I'm not saying you should go cut fire lanes in the forests with work crews. But you have to be active. Involved with something."

    "When the time comes," Cohen interrupted her, "I'll know what to do."

* * *

Meanwhile he was learning how to use a personal computer. He spent hours in front of the machine, manuals on his lap as his fingers learned to go from hunt and peck to finding the letters as he thought them.

    He was amused by the random coincidence of phonetics and etymology that made the acronym for Disk Operating System into a bilingual pun, dos being Hebrew street slang for the ultra religious, and more specifically the haredim, the ultra-orthodox Jews who dressed in the style of sixteenth-century Polish aristocrats and tried to live according to the laws of Torah as rabbis over the millenia interpreted them.

    There were no computer terminals on any of the desks when Cohen worked for the police. Now, Cohen hoped one day to know enough about the machine to connect to the Internet, which he read about in the newspapers. Meanwhile, he struggled with the logic of the machine's simplest language, the hand-eye coordination of using the mouse, and learning how to type.

    Ahuva knew about the computer, of course. It sat on its own desk-trolley but, lacking a separate room for a study, he kept it in the living room. Sometimes he rolled it into the bedroom where he sat in bed with the keyboard on his lap, the manuals scattered around him on the bed, straining his neck peering at the large color screen he had bought.

    When he showed off its ability to play compact disks, she was impressed with his newfound hobby for a few minutes. But then she curled up to him and whispered that he knew damn well she preferred her music live and missed the old vinyl records. "I can't explain why, but they had more feeling to the way they played back the sound," she said.

    Not that Cohen was absolutely sure what he was going to do with the computer. He used a spreadsheet application to build catalogues of his record collection and cookbooks. Now that he finished the catalogues, he was thinking of writing something of his own. He even spoke with David Hefetz, commander of the police academy at Shfaram, about the need for a history of the force.

    Hefetz was enthusiastic about the idea but cautious when Cohen suggested that he could undertake the job. "Don't misunderstand me, Avram," Hefetz said, trying not to identify himself with Cohen's old political adversaries on the fifth floor of national police headquarters.

    Cohen didn't misunderstand. The new guard of university graduates, technocrats all, looked down on all the autodidacts of the old guard. The old guard of veterans mostly regarded Cohen with suspicion, for his methods were always unorthodox by their standards. In the toss-up between the two, Cohen preferred the technocrats, who at least expressed an interest in learning something new, even if it was old. The veterans mostly claimed to be Cohen loyalists, but he knew that behind his back they had not all shed tears when he finally left the force. Hefetz—one of the technocrats—and Cohen finished their lunch, exchanging gossip that interested neither of them.

    Ahuva suggested teaching. "Moshe would love to have you lecture in his department," she kept telling him. Moshe was chairman of the criminology department at the university, a widower to whom Ahuva sometimes turned when needing a companion for the kind of social occasions that she so enjoyed and Cohen so despised. Cohen felt no need for jealousy. He knew of Moshe's occasional visits to Jerusalem's Independence Park in the old days when it was the meeting ground of the holy city's homosexuals from both the Jewish and Arab sides of the city. Not that Cohen's relationship with Ahuva would have allowed him the privilege of jealousy—they bound it carefully in a tight web of trust and independence.

    So Cohen growled back at her, "I am not a scientist," remembering the occasional guest lectures he had given in the past, and how despite all the respect the students gave him, he could not shake the feeling that since his own formal schooling had come to an abrupt end after six years, he had little to offer.

    He knew that learning was always the key to his survival, but the last thing he wanted was to be like the academics he met—barely able to talk about anything except their field, or so certain of their own brilliance that they couldn't notice anyone else's ideas.

    "I am not a lawyer," he pointed out to her. "And I am not a forensic scientist. What am I going to do? Tell those kids stories about the old days? And," he summed up bitterly, "how long do you think they'd let me teach if I talked about the syndrome?"

    It was the sore in his heart that refused to heal, the madness justified by the religions and encouraged by politicians. None condoned a madman's arson or murder. But politicians did little to dampen the fervor, and once the fever broke out it was difficult to cool down.

    Cohen's last case had proved—at least to him—that the syndrome was spreading, becoming more dangerous as apocalypse and salvation became the chosen terms of reference for the mystics who wanted to be fingers of God.

    That's what happened in his last case, and that's what happened in Hebron, when Goldstein—whose friends claimed he saw one too many victims of the uncivil war in the territories—tried to stop the peace process, tried to hasten the messiah's arrival, tried to ... "Well," Cohen said to himself, waking to the radio news that cold and foggy morning, "who knows what a man massacring people at prayer is hoping to accomplish."

    One thing was certain. Now that it had happened once it could happen again, in Hebron or Jerusalem or any of the hundreds of places around the Holy Land where more than one religion placed its faith in the stones of ancient sites. Terrorists and freedom fighters and saints and martyrs mixed unholy messages into their prayers for possession of these holy cities. And, meanwhile, Moslems would seek their revenge.

    Cohen—and others—called it "the syndrome." And exposing its original sin had made him into a pariah, an angry prophet whose warnings angered the powers that be. The last thing the politicians needed were religious leaders in jail for inciting thoughtless followers into foolish crimes, nor too much publicity about a psychiatric disease that seemed to strike as many as a hundred visitors to Jerusalem every year.

    Yet the massacre brought it all back into the limelight—everything that Cohen tried to say in those final months on that final case, and now, with the madness under the bright lights of the Judicial Inquiry into the Hebron massacre, he felt more lonely than ever in the city. He did not believe the inquiry would go to the heart of the matter. He knew—without asking—that they wouldn't call him to testify, not wanting him to say what he'd been saying for years: You can't have the cake and eat it, too.

    Not that he didn't have friends and loyalists still inside the system. Former junior officers who kept riding the rank escalator, they invited him to their weddings and their children's bar mitzvas. But they were like Hefetz, the police academy commander: eager to hear Cohen's view, afraid to sanction it.

    Ahuva was the only warmth in his life, except for the music, books, and cooking. Cohen found his peace in his garden, the quiet that sealed him from the craziness stalking the streets of the city and about which he could now do nothing.

    For a while, he was bothered by local gossips, both from the neighborhood and from the media, intrigued by his newfound fortune. He was glad when the gossips finally agreed, in all three local papers one weekend, that the deputy commander had never been considered a society item before he was rich, so why should he suddenly become so now. But they all said he deserved the money. From Yitzhaki the grocer to the society columnists in the national press, they all agreed: Cohen had done much for Jerusalem, for the country, for the people. He deserved a well-padded retirement. Even Ahuva said he deserved the money. What nobody understood, not even Ahuva, is that Cohen didn't want to be retired.

    She wanted him to get a new wardrobe. But the strain for him was in the choosing, even before the fashionable cut made him feel uncomfortable. Yet with her he could laugh about it, and in turn make her laugh, which always gave him pleasure. He finally promised her that he would acquire a new wardrobe and would be wearing some new clothes when she next came to visit.

    That Friday night, when she arrived as usual at nine, he greeted her at the door. She stared for a second and then burst out laughing. He had bought a complete new set of what he always wore: gray twill-cotton trousers, a long-sleeved white shirt rolled up past his elbows, and a new pair of tennis sneakers.

    Still, the money had changed him, even if Yitzhaki, as well as the press, couldn't see it. He rubbed at the dry red rash on his forearm, the psychosomatic thermometer that reddened and paled over the tattooed number from the concentration camp. The rash had disappeared for awhile after he left the force, but by the time the money reached his bank accounts, and he had found Ephraim Laskoff, a Tel Aviv investment banker, to handle it all, the rash was back. Cohen had no doubt it was his effort not to think about the money that brought the anxiety to the surface. He rubbed at the dry skin, then cursed himself for his lack of self-discipline and stopped.

    The cat, finally realizing that there was no raw meat amid the fruits and vegetables, interpreted the gesture as an invitation and jumped onto Cohen's lap. "Yes, money changes people," he told Suspect.

    The phone began ringing in his living room overlooking the garden. He checked his watch, making the cat leap off and away to the wooden stairwell at the rear entrance to the building. Such a back entrance was a rarity in Jerusalem, and one of the reasons Cohen decided to buy the flat when he first found it so many years ago. Suspect disappeared up the stairs, as if the cat knew who was calling.

    Ahuva would hang up after four rings if Cohen didn't answer. Her personal routines were as judicious as her professional rulings. In court—and in bed with Cohen—she believed in relying on precedent, but in stretching the interpretation. And the original precedent in their relationship was their weekly ritual, Friday night dinner together—except, during the long years Cohen served on the force, when he was called into the streets by his vocation.

    The animal corpse in the garden that Suspect was hunting would have to wait. He hefted the heavy grocery box into his arms and took the stairs two at a time, dropped the carton on the floor, and caught the phone in the middle of the fourth ring.

    "Mr. Cohen?"

    It was a woman, but not Ahuva. "Yes," he said, disappointed. He eyed the box of groceries, planning an onion soup in his mind.

    "Commander Avram Cohen?" It was a pleasant voice, but one with a slightly desperate ring. Her English was British, and it sounded to Cohen's ear like mashed potatoes, lacking consonants, full of words wrapped around themselves.

    "Deputy Commander," Cohen corrected her. He didn't feel like adding retired, but it's what sprang to mind.

    "Thank goodness," the woman exhaled. "You certainly are not easy to track down. Did you know that there are nearly thirty A. Cohens in Jerusalem?"

    She was calling from a cellular phone, Cohen decided, hearing in the pause before he answered the voice of a man on the same cellular network, saying, "Please, Mama, please understand."

    "Are you a reporter?" Cohen asked, though he doubted it. There was something too polite in her manner from the start.

    "Oh no, dear me, no," she said, almost giggling at the supposition. "My name is Caroline Jones," she said. "I'm calling on behalf of Mr. Raphael Levi-Tsur." Her voice rose as she stated the fact in the tone of a question, seeming to test Cohen's familiarity with the name.

    "Never heard of him," Cohen said.

    She was not surprised. "Mr. Levi-Tsur is chairman of a private investment bank. He would like to make an appointment to see you," she said, adding, "in Jerusalem and at your earliest possible convenience." There was a pause, and then she emphasized again, "as soon as possible."

    "These aren't banker's hours," Cohen said, holding the phone away from his ear and looking at the mouthpiece as if blaming the machine itself for what he regarded as a folly. "And I have a banker. So, you can tell your ..."

    "Oh dear, no," she interrupted. He could hear a slight laugh in her voice at the misunderstanding, and then she dropped her voice slightly, a signal of something much more serious than money. "It is not a banking matter. Oh no, of course not. It is a personal matter, in which he believes your expertise would be helpful, indeed indispensable."

    "Why me?" he asked, pulling the celery out of the box. He slid a finger down the stalk, breaking one off and putting it under the faucet. The water ran as the woman answered with her own question.

    "You are the Avram Cohen? The police commander? The detective?"

    The crunch of celery should have told her what he thought of the question. He repeated his correction—"deputy commander"—this time adding, "retired," still uncomfortable with the way it didn't roll off his tongue with ease. "And I have a banker, thank you. Now, if you please ..."

    "Mr. Levi-Tsur would greatly appreciate your help."

    "Why me?" Cohen demanded again.

    "He knows you are honest and discreet." She waited for him to say something in response to the flattery. He didn't. "This is a most delicate matter," she finally added.

    "Are you going to tell me what it is?" Cohen asked, "or do you want me to guess?" Friday afternoon was the most sacred part of the week for him, as the Sabbath descended tangibly over the city for a few hours of peace and quiet while he prepared dinner for Ahuva.

    "It involves a missing person," she said gingerly, leaving a pause that gave Cohen the feeling she was waiting for his expletive. He gave her silence instead, and she filled it. "Mr. Levi-Tsur' s grandson is missing."

    Cohen shook his head, sighing. "I am not a private investigator. If the boy is missing in Israel, he can go to the police here. If they cannot help him, then there are private investigators. That is all I can do for your Mr. Levi-Tsur. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some of my own personal matters to attend to." He added "goodbye" without waiting for her response and hung up. A moment later the phone rang again.

    "Ahuva?" he assumed.

    "Caroline Jones here again," the sprightly voice began. "Please, commander. At least you could meet with ..."

    "Not interested," Cohen said, hanging up. The nerve, he thought to himself as he finished washing the celery. The phone rang a third time. He answered angrily. "I am not interested in a private investigation of any sort, and would appreciate it if you told that to your Mr. Levi-Tsur."

    "Who's Levi-Tsur?" Ahuva asked calmly in her judge's even tone, seeking clarification of a prosecutor's point.

    Cohen laughed. It came from his chest and was barely a grunt when it came out, but Ahuva recognized it. "I'm sorry," he said, ending his laugh with a sigh. "I didn't mean to shout."

    "So, who's Levi-Tsur?" she asked again.

    "I don't know," Cohen said, reporting back to Ahuva the contents of the surprising phone call. "She said he's a banker, that his grandson's missing. I assume she wanted me to find the boy."

    "You mean he wanted you to find the boy," Ahuva corrected him. "You've never heard of him?" she asked.

    "No," he admitted. "Have you?"

    "There's a Levi-Tsur lecture hall at the university," she mused aloud. "Maybe ... Why don't you do it?" she asked. "Look into it?"

    Her question shocked him. "You heard what I said. I'm not interested in a private investigation of any sort."

    "You're scared," she ruled.

    He bit at the celery, thinking. There was a slight flicker in the line, the call-waiting signal. Cohen scowled. "I'm not scared," he finally said. "I'm uninterested. And I certainly don't need the work."

    "That's what you think," she snapped at him, the only person who ever spoke to him that way. "But there's no need to discuss it now," she added lightly. "I'll be over at nine," she said. "We can talk about it then." She hung up. The call waiting immediately kicked in. Cohen unplugged the phone from the wall and then began chopping the celery for the strawberry gelatin mold he planned for dessert. It was one of Ahuva's favorites and easier to think about than her opinions on what he should do with the rest of his life.

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