Desert, South of the Sea of Galilee
The prisoners lay in their cots. It was one cot per cell. The cells were slightly larger than a bad room at a youth hostel or a kibbutz. Each had its own heater, a little partition between the cell doors, and a toilet. Really, as cells go, these weren’t bad.
Asher Sahar lay on his back, ankles crossed, hands steepled on his chest. He wore a ratty sweater and ratty jeans and slippers. He spoke with a soft, sibilant whisper. “‘I’ll Be Seeing You.’”
In the next cell, a grizzly bear of a man lay in the same posture, ankles crossed, hands steepled. His feet hung off the end of his cot. His name was Eli Schullman. He replied, “Irving Kahal.”
“No.” The other man reached up to adjust his round, wireless glasses, forgetting that he had taken them off for the night. He’d worn glasses since the age of fifteen. “Irving Berlin. But, to your eternal credit, you were incredibly close. I mean, close in a wrong sort of way. Both, simultaneously, wrong and close to right but mostly just very wrong. It was—”
The lights in the cells and in the corridor and in the guard station blinked on. They were aging, low-efficiency lights, phosphorescents, and they blinked on intermittently: this one first, then off, then that one, then the first one again. Harsh, unforgiving. They buzzed. Both men shielded their eyes. Schullman, the bear of a man, said, “What the fuck?”
It was night. In the nearly four years they had been prisoners, they had rarely seen the lights come on at night.
Asher Sahar lay still.
When the big man realized Asher hadn’t risen, he didn’t either. But they could hear other prisoners up and down the row of cells gathering at their bars.
The ticktock clang of the outer iron doors reverberated. Someone from the World was walking into the cells. At night.
This, too, happened only rarely. Except when someone was about to be executed.
The outer iron doors had never opened for a priest or a rabbi. Or for an envoy from the governor’s office waving a reprieve. Or for a crusading detective with exonerating evidence. Or a cook with a last meal. It wasn’t that sort of prison.
Asher Sahar whispered, “This might be interesting.”
He fumbled for his glasses, which lay on the knee-high stack of hardback books, two books deep, two wide, that served as his bed stand.
The main door rumbled sideways under the power of an ill-greased motor. They couldn’t see the door, only hear it. The next sound was the absolutely unexpected clack of women’s heels. Round, sensible, solid heels.
Asher sprang out of the bed as if ejected. He ran both hands through his thinning hair. He straightened his sweater. “Eli,” he said.
The bear rose quickly, knowing an order when he heard one. Even a whispered one.
The heels clacked closer. Asher folded his hands behind his back.
An armed guard came into view, then another and a third. None wore any rank or insignia or any identifying marks.
And in walked an elderly woman, very thin and tall, with birdlike shoulders, her bones seemingly visible even under a trench coat. Her hair was stark white. Her outfit was immaculate and tasteful.
She smiled warmly.
Asher Sahar said, “Hannah,” the same way you’d greet a neighbor who regularly drops by for coffee.
“Oh my God. Asher. Look at you.”
They spoke in Hebrew.
“You look well,” he whispered. He cleared his throat, conscious of the soft rasp in his voice. “How are things in the world?”
The three guards looked far less than happy to be conducting this reunion. Two of the three touched their holstered sidearms. The elderly woman said, “Not good. A situation has arisen. And we have need of your talents.”
Asher nodded solemnly. “You needed my talents four years ago.”
The woman said, “And today.” She offered no explanation about the situation four years ago. She offered no explanation about the years in between.
Asher said, “Something has arisen?”
He said, “War?”
A smile spread across Asher’s still-youthful, bearded face. The harsh lights glinted off his round glasses. “Who could have foreseen that?”
The woman shook her head. “As it turns out, you did, dear. You’d laid out this contingency years ago. Now, you’ve been proven prescient. Our friends have moved heaven and earth to free you. So that you can do what you must.”
Asher was aware that the giant, Eli Schullman, was standing at attention in his own cell, even though Asher couldn’t see him. “And my men.”
The woman said, “Of course.”
“I’ll need financing.”
“Which you shall have.”
She laughed. “As if anyone could grant you that! Of course, independence. You never followed orders, anyway.”
He smiled. “Well, never is a little harsh. Get us out of here. Tell us the situation. Give us time to formulate a plan.”
The woman said. “Out of here, you shall be. The situation shall be made clear. You have seventy-two hours to formulate a plan.”
Asher said, “I’ve been in this prison for almost four years.”
Hannah laughed again. “Only your body, love. Only your body.”
She made a quarter turn to the nearest guard, gave him the gentlest of nods. The guards glowered at one another, expressing how unhappy they were to be doing this. But they nodded back to an unseen someone in the control room and, a second later, the doors to the cells holding Asher Sahar and Eli Schullman clanked open.
The other prisoners kept mum, watching, wondering.
The elderly woman said, “We have transport outside. Plus clothes and hot food.”
Schullman’s voice was a gravelly rumble. “Give me a smartphone. Or a laptop. Anything with a wireless connection.”
The guards flinched when he spoke. Schullman seemed to absorb more than his share of the harsh light of the corridor. Hannah looked up at him, then she made the same quarter turn to the nearest guard. She did not speak.
The guard grumbled to himself, reached into a tunic pocket, and produced a smartphone. He handed it over, reaching as far as his arm could stretch, keeping clear of Schullman the best he could. The phone almost disappeared in Schullman’s palm.
Hannah turned to Asher. “There is a preliminary plan. It’s rudimentary. Just a sketch. Many of us think it’s unworkable and foolish. Quite possibly suicidal. Definitely horrific. But possible. With you to guide it…?” She shrugged.
Schullman stabbed at phone buttons with the pad of his beefy thumb.
Asher said, “Where?”
“It begins in the United States.”
Asher smiled. It was a sad, knowing smile, and Hannah interpreted it correctly. “Yes, dear. Daria lives in the United States these days.”
Asher laughed, and shook his head. He removed his glasses and began to clean the lenses on the hem of his sweater. “Of course. God being the ultimate jester.”
Hannah nodded to the lead guard. The man jerked his head toward the exit.
The other prisoners in their cells still did not speak. Most didn’t understand Hebrew, but even those who did watched silently.
Eli Schullman glared down at the tiny phone screen, then rudely bashed Asher’s shoulder with the back of his hand. He thrust the phone over. Asher studied it a moment, then nodded.
Everyone began moving toward the exit. Outside, more guards stood with M-16s.
Schullman growled lowly. “‘I’ll Be Seeing You.’ Irving Kahal.”
Asher studied the smartphone. He shook his head. “Damn it. I could have sworn Irving Berlin wrote that.”
Copyright © 2013 by Dana Haynes