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Dov knew the Watchers would come back, no matter what Mr. Ben-Jazzi said. So when two of them strutted toward the shop a few days later, he already knew what he would have to do. Even before they had walked into the store, Dov had slipped behind the curtain.
"Mr. Ben-Jazzi!" Dov hissed. "They're here again. Those men!"
The shopkeeper jerked his head away from the scrolls and looked at Dov with weird, magnified eyes. He glanced quickly toward the front of the store, flipped off the magnifying lenses, and patted Dov on the shoulder.
"Whatever are you hissing about?"
"The men, the ones who wanted to hide their guns here. Atallah and his friends. They're back!"
They had to be in the store by now. Dov could barely whisper the words. And how did he know they wouldn't just follow him back here behind the curtain? They hadn't shown the best manners the last time they'd visited.
"Don't worry, boy. I'll talk to them again. Will not be a problem."
"But" This time Dov was thinking about the treasure, the scrolls. Mr. Ben-Jazzi had spent enough time with them by now to know they were quite real, and if the scrolls were real, then they were surely valuable. And if they were valuable, then perhaps the men had heard about them. Secrets were hard to keep in the Old City.
Someone coughed in the front of the store.
"Just a moment," Mr. Ben-Jazzi called out. "I'll be right there."
Mr. Ben-Jazzi had said more than once he wasn't worried about the scrollsnot the way Father Samuel had been. But he paused before pushing aside the curtain to the front shop and gazed back at the parchments on the table.
"Perhaps you should put them away somewhere," he whispered. "Wrap them in the velvet cover and put them in the satchel with some fakes. See that you're very careful."
Dov did as he was told while Mr. Ben-Jazzi greeted the men in front. Right away, he knew this time was as bad as their first visit, and now Dov understood a few words.
"Silah." That meant weapon. And Mr. Ben-Jazzi said "no" a lot. So they were still arguing about hiding the guns. Dov didn't dare peek; he just stood in the middle of the back room with the leather satchel in his hand, wondering what to do.
Should he hide it upstairs in their little apartment? No, they would be sure to look there, if they looked anywhere. And he would be trapped, besides. But then, they would be sure to search the back room, too.
He could think of only one place, and the idea made him shiver.
He knew there wasn't much time; the argument in front was growing louder. He could only guess what they were saying.
Quickly Dov moved to the back of the room, where Mr. Ben-Jazzi had stacked four or five heavy wooden crates. He put down the satchel to push, and he grunted as they slowly moved aside.
Quiet! The slightest noise would give him away. One more foot, and Dov had the boxes arranged in a half circle around the front of a wooden trapdoor in the floor. They would not be able to see him now from the front.
He could not see a thing anymore; the lone bulb hanging from the ceiling by the curtain shed only a weak circle of light that ended at the crates. Dov groped along the floor on his hands and knees, wishing the men in front would just go away.
He knew they wouldn't, and though he wasn't sure what they would do if they found the scrolls, he was sure he didn't want to find out the hard way. He scrambled along the stone floor until his fingernails caught an edge....
There! The trapdoor! How many years did Mr. Ben-Jazzi say it had been since it had been opened? No matter. He dug down hard and came up with splinters.
A second time. The voices were growing louder. Finally the old door edged up, only a crack, but enough. He planted his fingers like a knife blade and pried, and then he was hit by a musty draft of air.
Open. The door was open!
But one problem remained. Wouldn't the men see the door and follow? Obviously. So he pulled up the lightest of the surrounding crates and tipped it up on the edge of the now half-open trapdoor. It would settle down on top of the door after he slipped through. The trick would be to climb down with the satchel without getting squeezed in the process.
A voice coming through the curtain nearly pushed him through. With one hand he held the narrow door open, with the other he gripped the satchel.
I just hope there's something to stand on down here.
He swallowed the lump in his throat and pointed his toes. He would need a ladder of some sort to rest on, just like...
And then it hit him that he had done nearly the exact same thing before, only in another placeback at the kibbutz. He had tried to forget about hiding in the well when the British soldiers had been looking for illegal immigrants like him.
Only this time no one was after him.
I just hope Mr. Ben-Jazzi appreciates this, he thought.
Dov heard the curtain snap aside just as his foot found some kind of rope ladder to rest upon. He let the door lower slowly over the top of his head.
Safe for now, he told himself. In a few minutes the men would leave, and he would simply climb back out to safety. Mr. Ben-Jazzi would give the scrolls back to his friend the priest, and things would be back to normal.
He heard muffled footsteps above his head and guessed whoever had entered the back room was poking among the crates. Looking for the scrolls, or perhaps a place to hide his guns? The footsteps faded and Dov began to relaxuntil his rope ladder twitched.
The old rope gave him almost no warning. With a sudden jerk, it snapped, and a moment later Dov was falling backward into the blackness.
Copyright (c) 2001, Robert Elmer