The Walls of Jericho
By Jon Land
Tom Doherty Associates Copyright © 1997 Jon Land
All rights reserved.
"WHAT DO YOU know about the murders, Inspector?"
Ben Kamal shifted stiffly in the chair set before the desk of Ghazi Sumaya, mayor of the ancient city of Jericho. "The same thing everyone else does," he said, still wondering what he was doing here.
"And what is that?" Sumaya asked him.
"Seven in the past year in the West Bank: three prior to the Israeli pullout, four after. The latest occurred here in Jericho ten days ago."
The mayor leaned forward, the massive desk dwarfing his small frame. "You would agree that we're facing a serial killer, then. AlDiib, they call him."
"The Wolf ... Because his victims have been savaged, mutilated beyond all recognition."
"The one you caught in America, they had a name for him, too, didn't they?"
"The Sandman." Ben nodded.
Ben lowered his gaze. "He killed entire families while they slept."
"Until you stopped him."
"That makes you something of an expert."
Ben raised his head again. Shafts of the early morning sun streamed through the open blinds, making him squint. Above him, a ceiling fan spun lazily, catching some of the stubborn light and splashing it across the portrait of Yasir Arafat that hung directly behind Sumaya's chair.
"I have experience, that's all," he said.
The mayor's deep-set eyes sought out Ben's compassionately. "Experience, Inspector, is exactly what we need. I spoke to President Arafat last night. He has been contacted by the Israelis. They want to assist us in the investigation."
Ben's eyes widened. "Assist us?"
"Their offer is genuine, I assure you. I've already conferred with a representative of their National Police this morning."
"Did you ask him what they have to gain?"
"Perhaps they have the same thing to lose: peace. And toward that end the Israelis want to send an officer to liaise with a Palestinian counterpart. Are you interested?"
His response took the mayor off guard. "Perhaps you didn't understand my question. I was asking if you want to officially take over this investigation."
"I understood what you meant. I don't. I'm sorry."
"Perhaps it is I who should be sorry," Sumaya said, sounding genuinely hurt. "Sorry for standing behind you when everyone else was calling for your head."
"Put me in charge of this investigation and they'll be calling for yours as well."
"Some already are," Sumaya lamented, "more with each day."
He rose and moved out from behind his desk. The mayor wore a suit in an olive shade only slightly lighter than Ben's green police uniform. He was a small man, but carried himself in a way that made him seem taller. Sumaya had been part of the Palestinian delegation that had forged the original Gaza-Jericho First option. He had gained a master's degree in France years before and returned to the West Bank to chronicle the times he instead found himself a part of. His dark, graying hair had begun to recede, adding to the air of authority that hung over him.
"We have a credibility problem here, Ben," he continued. "These murders have become a symbol for our inefficiency. They are giving the growing pains we are experiencing a worldwide forum that the enemies of peace are seizing upon."
Sumaya walked to the window and drew the blinds shut, trapping the sun outside where it shone off the chiseled white stone structure of the Palestinian Authority headquarters on the outskirts of Jericho. His formal office was located downtown in Jericho's Municipal Building, but as a member of the Palestinian Council as well, he preferred using this one.
"The peace talks are scheduled to reconvene next week," the mayor explained. "Six months without dialogue and finally the new Israeli prime minister seems ready to negotiate the final stages of withdrawal from the West Bank." Sumaya tightened his stance, almost to attention. "Almost a year we've gone without an 'aamaliyya, an operation, carried out against Israel, and to a great extent your work is the reason. You have helped teach us how to arrest our own, Inspector. Hamas is running scared. We've infiltrated their ranks, preempted their strikes, jailed their militants. So they have seized upon these murders to destroy the credibility with the people we have worked so hard at building!"
Sumaya stopped to settle himself down, but the agitation remained in his voice when he resumed. "You understand what I'm getting at here? There can be no peace without the support of the people, and these murders have taken that support from us. The talks will collapse, if they ever get started now."
"Which is where this Israeli liaison comes in."
"Let's face facts here. The Israelis don't trust us any more than we trust them. What we have between us is a mutual nonunderstanding. Now, I have spoken to the President and we are of one mind on utilizing your skills and expertise."
"I'm hardly the proper representative for our people, sidi," Ben offered.
"I understand your bitterness over the treatment you have received in recent weeks. The behavior of your fellow officers has been inexcusable, and I wish I could have done more to change it."
"But I'll need their cooperation, along with that of witnesses, families of the victims too. If they read the newspapers, it is safe to assume that such cooperation will not be forthcoming, certainly not in the ten days we have left before the start of the peace talks."
"But we must try. Make an effort, a point."
"And if that effort fails, what point have we made? That we are just as inefficient working with the Israelis as we are working alone? Incompetent as well as weak? You're taking a very big risk here."
"The bigger risk lies in doing nothing, Inspector. If al-Diib is still at large one week from Wednesday, there may be no peace talks, and everything the authority has tried to accomplish will collapse. We have nothing to lose."
"And, of course, at this point neither do I."
"I wouldn't have put it that way." Sumaya cleared his throat uneasily. "You will have my complete cooperation, Ben."
"And will I have Commander Shaath's, too?"
"I know you have had a problem with him, since ... the incident."
"The two of us had problems before. That only worsened things."
"He resents foreigners, that's all."
"I'm not a foreigner. I was born here just as he was."
"But Shaath did not emigrate to America as a child."
"That was my parents' choice. I made the decision to return."
"As your father did before you. Did I ever tell you I knew him?"
"You mentioned it once."
"He was a hero," Sumaya reflected softly. "I remember meeting him in 1967, not long after he returned in the wake of the Six-Day War. He said I was too young to help, told me to wait for another time." His voice drifted. "I suppose he knew even then it would come."
"I was seven years old when he left. He never told me."
"I wept the day he was killed. We all did. He was given a hero's funeral."
"My family didn't learn of it until weeks later. They wouldn't ship his body to America."
"And how do you think he'd feel about you returning too, following in his footsteps?"
"I think he'd tell me I made a mistake."
"Because he had something to return to."
"And you ..."
"I thought I did."
The focus returned to Sumaya's expression, as if his point had been made. "But don't you see? You have now. This is your opportunity."
"I'd prefer not to take it."
Sumaya seemed miffed. "You understand I'm under considerable pressure here."
"Because of the murders ..."
"The murders and your own peculiar status. I went out on a limb for you, Inspector. I kept you from being transferred." His deep-set eyes blazed into Ben's. "Or worse."
"I appreciate that."
"Then help me now," Sumaya implored. "The Israeli police liaison will be here at three o'clock this afternoon. What should I tell him?"
"That I need more time to think about it."
"There is no more time." The mayor started to shuffle back to his chair. "You see, Inspector, the body of another victim was found in Jericho this morning."
"DANIELLE!" THE VOICE repeated." Danielle, can you hear me?"
So as not to attract attention, Danielle Barnea waited until she was far enough from the crowd in Haganah Square to respond quietly to Shin Bet commander Dov Levy's edgy call. "I'm right here. Still in position."
"What happened? Where were you?"
"Trying not to stand out."
"The truck just turned into the market, approaching the warehouse."
Danielle gazed across the street at the man beneath the Ottoman Clock Tower she'd been watching for an hour now.
"Atturi's standing still, checking the time I think," she reported. "Wait a minute, he's moving."
"East. Yefet Street."
"Yes!" the commander's voice beamed. "We're finally going to nail this bastard!"
Danielle waited until Atturi had walked a safe distance ahead before following. He had done nothing thus far to indicate he suspected any surveillance, but she wasn't taking any chances.
She had been promoted to Shin Bet, the Israeli equivalent of the FBI, after becoming the youngest woman ever to attain the rank of chief inspector in Israel's National Police. Quite a bit of fanfare accompanied the promotion, not only because it represented another incredible stroke of career forture, but also because of the event that had sparked it.
She had actually been off duty when she recognized Ahmed Fatuk, wanted for more than a decade for acts of terrorism, walking into a bakery shop in Jerusalem. Knowing Fatuk would be long gone by the time she could summon backup, Danielle made her move on him alone when he emerged from the bakery. Pretending to retrieve the contents of a spilled purse from the sidewalk, she had stuck a gun in the back of his head when he passed by. Since Fatuk's arms were loaded down with bags, there was nothing he could do but give up. A week later he was interned in the Ansar 3 detention camp, awaiting a trial the Israeli justice system would take their time in scheduling. That same week found her transferred to Shin Bet.
In the years since Prime Minister Rabin's assassination, the agency had undergone wholesale changes and been forced to endure a purge through its ranks. As a result, high-level field positions that almost never opened up were suddenly available, and Shin Bet officials scoured the army and National Police, culling the best from their ranks.
They never bothered to ask Danielle if she wanted the job; no one ever turned down such a prestigious position, a career maker that could provide the ticket to anywhere she wanted to go. Career, though, was the problem. They hadn't asked Danielle if she wanted the job, and they hadn't asked her what had brought her to Jerusalem on the day she had arrested Ahmed Fatuk. Events had conspired to make her a hero, rendering it impossible for her to follow the new path she had finally decided to embark upon. Now that path would have to wait. Again.
The investigation of Ismail Atturi, an Israeli Arab suspected of being involved in smuggling goods into the West Bank and Gaza, was well underway by the time of Danielle's promotion to Shin Bet, though with little to show for it. Neither Shin Bet nor the National Police had been able to directly link Atturi to the operation. Thanks to an informant, though, they had learned of a shipment going out this day from a storehouse located in the famed flea market in the old city of Jaffa.
"The truck has backed up against one of the sidewalk stalls," Commander Levy reported. "I'll keep you advised."
Danielle followed Atturi, easy to spot in his cream-colored baggy linen pants and shirt, down Yefet Street and then left on Oley Tsiyon toward the center of the market. To blend with the many tourists in this part of town, she herself was dressed in casual clothes: a pair of lightweight slacks and an oversized blouse baggy enough to conceal the holster clipped to the inside of her pants. The nature of this assignment dictated that she carry her Beretta in that fashion, but the holster's designer must have cared little about the painful bite it made into the hip, to say nothing of the unsightly bulge she hoped her blouse was hiding.
She listened to the shouts of various salesmen pitching their wares from stands on the sidewalk, moving carts, or open-front shops adjacent to the flea market. The peddlers and shopkeepers strained their voices to have their boasts of bargains heard and heeded. Everyone other than tourists knew the quality of the merchandise was generally low, but the spirit of the merchants who battled for street space and customers was keen.
"I'm just entering the market," Danielle reported. "Suspect still in sight," she added, catching a strong whiff of freshly caught fish, the official welcome to Old Jaffa's flea market.
"Agent Tice should be coming into view any moment," Levy told her. "Fall back once he takes up pursuit."
Joshua Tice was a top Shin Bet field agent she had been lucky enough to be paired with in her first months with the organization. A no-nonsense, generally humorless man, he worked as many hours as they would let him and longed for nothing else. Was that what lay ahead for her ten years down the road? Considering that possibility always set Danielle trembling.
Up ahead, Atturi moved past an array of Oriental rugs draped over car roofs and hoods, ignoring the pleas of merchants to come over and admire the fine silk and wool. Following in his wake, Danielle gave the endless row of stalls no more than a fleeting glance, despite the boisterous salesmen hawking flashy, cheap jewelry. One attempted to loop a garish necklace over her neck when she passed, and it was all she could do to fend him off without causing a ruckus.
By then, Atturi was crossing the street toward the line of miniature warehouse-like buildings that specialized in ancient, rusted appliances. The incredibly high duties levied by the Israeli government on such merchandise when it was new created an extraordinary demand for recycled items such as televisions and refrigerators, often regardless of their condition.
The buildings housing them were no different. Old Jaffa was a city mired in its storied past, the ancient structures virtually untouched by redevelopment or renewal. Torn and tattered awnings flapped in the faint breeze above merchants negotiating every deal down to the last shekel. Windows peeked out from behind shutters more broken than whole. Most of the buildings were constructed of stone, smoked gray or black through the years and laced with a dusty, heated stench Danielle had never forgotten ever since her father had brought her to Old Jaffa for the first time as a child.
Danielle shifted her eyes from Atturi long enough to register a truck backed up through one of the warehouse fronts that looked as old as the merchandise around it. If their informant's information was correct, though, that truck was in the process of being loaded with stolen goods Atturi would be transporting into the West Bank. One of the strange dividends peace had brought. She noted the yellow Israeli license plates, undoubtedly forged, that allowed passage through the West Bank checkpoints without fear of detainment and potential seizure.
When Danielle glanced back at Atturi, she saw that Tice had cut in behind him sixty feet in front of her.
"All right, Agent Barnea," Commander Levy instructed her, his voice calmer, "back off and stay alert. Don't move until I give the order for the other teams to do the same."
"Roger," Danielle replied, keeping her eyes on Atturi as he cut a diagonal path across the busy street toward the warehouse in question. Tice lingered well behind him.
Tice had to stop when several cars snarled in the endless grind through the market refused to give ground, leaving him no room to cross the street. Danielle kept her pace steady, eyes sweeping the crowds until she locked on a group of four figures slicing forward, wearing jackets in spite of the sweltering heat. Too fast, too stiff, something clearly on their minds besides buying and bargains. (Continues...)
Excerpted from The Walls of Jericho by Jon Land. Copyright © 1997 Jon Land. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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