David Hall took a final standing stretch at his seat before sitting back down and refastening his seat belt. The beauty queen masquerading as an El Al stewardess had slunk through first class to tell each of the ten passengers individually and somewhat breathlessly that the captain would soon be turning on the seat-belt sign in preparation for landing at Ben Gurion Airport. David had paid close attention to her every word and the effect they had on her quivering superstructure. At these prices she better be a beauty queen, he thought, although one look back into the coach section upon boarding had confirmed the wisdom of electing first class. The crowd back there was somewhat eclectic.
It was early afternoon as the Airbus descended toward Tel Aviv over the eastern Mediterranean. Virgil’s famously wine-dark sea glittered out the window, except that it was a deep blue, edged with precisely aligned, spidery whitecaps. The sea actually looked chilly. Well, why not, he thought. It was the first week in September, which meant that he would be visiting Israel four weeks before the major religious holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, compliments of careful planning. Landing and getting through security, immigration, and customs would be the first hurdles, especially with some of his special equipment. He had all the proper paperwork, which was good because the Israelis were extremely thorough about entry paperwork. The portable computer and his scuba regulator pack should not be a problem. Some of the seismic sensor stuff might attract attention, but it was pretty well disguised as part of his underwater camera equipment. Besides, everything had made it through the equally strict El Al security inspection back at Dulles, so he was fairly confident he would get it past the security people here in Tel Aviv. Immigration would be relatively pro forma for an American tourist, and customs, well, who ever knew about customs.
He swallowed as the cabin pressure was adjusted. He caught the beauty queen looking at him. In her tight-fitting uniform she could adjust the cabin pressure just by sitting down, he thought. He smiled at her and she smiled back, but it was a professional smile and not any indication of interest, he decided. He turned away, looking out the window for a first glimpse of Israel, but there was only the sea, a bit closer as the big jet bumped gently through light coastal clouds. He’d been planning this thing for a year now, ever since Adrian had disappeared. It still made his spine tingle when he thought about what he was going to attempt here and what he might discover on that haunted mountain down at the literal bottom of the world.
* * *
“He’s here,” the man with the pockmarked face breathed into the public pay phone, his face averted from the shuffling crowd of bleary-eyed tourists streaming past him from the customs hall.
“Anyone meet him besides his driver?”
“No. Shall I follow them out to the car, or are we done here?”
“You know the answer to that one.”
“Just thought I’d ask.”
“Shall I run that question by the boss for you?”
“Thank you, no.” The man in the phone booth was silent for a moment. “I’ll confirm him in the car, and again at the hotel.”
“Yes, you will.”
The watcher mouthed a silent insult, hung up, and hastened down the carpeted aisle of the customs area, keeping the big American and his driver in sight over the shoulders of the milling tourists. He thought this was all something of a waste of time: What did they think this American was going to do, jump in a sherut at the last minute and whisk off to Amman to see the king? According to his supervisor, they had the American’s official Israeli government itinerary, his hotel, his driver—what the hell was the big deal? A nobody nuclear engineer turned whistle-blower who was now famous in Washington for winning a seven-figure settlement after suing his former employer for wrongful termination. Coming to Israel to play amateur archaeologist, do some skindiving, and then go home. Ridiculous. Who could care? He wondered again whom he had pissed off to get a shit detail like this on a Friday afternoon.
The throng of tourists bunched up again at the row of glass doors leading out to the public transportation area, and the watcher turned to look out the windows when his subject stopped. The American, David Hall, seemed to take the delay in stride, indicating that the driver should put the bags down for a minute, let the crowds ahead clear out. The American carried one large, awkward-looking case, probably his diving gear. He also carried what appeared to be a portable computer. The driver was humping two large suitcases and an overnight bag on an airport cart. Hall was holding on to that portable computer like it was his baby.
Trying not to be too obvious about it, the watcher confirmed the briefed description: Caucasian male, close to two meters in height, late thirties, barrel-chested, eighty, maybe ninety kilos, black hair laced with some gray, square face, a Semitic nose that would make a rabbi proud, prominent chin, and the tanned complexion of an outdoorsman. This Hall fellow didn’t look like an engineer at all, certainly not like the Israeli engineers and scientists the watcher had seen on the telly. This one had big, strong-looking hands, wide shoulders, and a lot of solid muscle under that expensive sport coat. In that regard he truly stood out from the rest of the tourists, who were mostly old and overweight. Hall: Was that a Jewish name in America? He certainly had the Moses nose for it.
The watcher took care not to stare directly. His instincts told him that the American appeared to be aware of his surroundings. He was definitely looking around in a manner that belied his informal, relaxed pose with the driver. The briefer had mentioned that there was an intelligence interest in this American, although what that was had not been explained. Even so, the watcher had been instructed to pay attention to his tradecraft, because there was always the possibility that this American had had some field training. The watcher looked at him again. No way, he thought. Guy looks like a rich playboy, with all that fancy luggage and his fashionably thin computer.
One of the ubiquitous airport security teams, consisting of a man and a woman in rumpled army khakis, strolled by, the noses of their shoulder-slung submachine guns pointing lazily at the floor. They looked like brother and sister. They gave the nondescript Israeli lounging against a concrete pillar, dressed in tan slacks and a cheap sport shirt, the once-over and then, recognizing him for what he was, looked immediately away and kept going. By then the crowd at the doors was thinning out and the American was helping his driver gather up the bags, and then they were pushing through the glass doors to the usual chaos outside. The watcher followed them from inside the terminal building, observing until they stopped at a shiny if elderly four-door white Mercedes.
The watcher waited for the American to get in the car, right rear seat, just like some stuck-up officer. Next stop would be the Dan Tel Aviv Hotel, unless of course they really were going to make a quick getaway and go underground to meet some CIA fiends. Right. Wanting a cigarette, he glanced at his watch. Four forty-five, almost Shabbat, so of course all the CIA agents would be bellied up to the bar at the Sheraton by now. The watcher was not religious, but he was definitely ready for a day off. This American was boring, like most of them. At least he wasn’t fat, like most of them.
Copyright 2012 by P. T. Deutermann