MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
The ancient truck rumbled down the street toward the open warehouse. A bearded Palestinian wearing a keffiyah rose from a chair set in the shade of an adjacent alleyway and stepped to the curb, watching as the truck's bald tires scraped to a halt atop the rubble-strewn street. None of the residents of the West Bank town of Beit Jala could remember the last time the roads had been cleaned; not since Israeli tanks had left them cracked and broken in a parade-like show of force months before, that was certain.
The passenger side of the truck faced the warehouse, and a burly man with bulging, hairy forearms leaned out the window.
"Vasily Anatolyevich at your service, comrade."
Anatolyevich extended a meaty hand out the window and grasped the Palestinian's in a powerful grip that belied his years. He appeared to be between sixty and seventy with a shock of sterling silver hair brushed straight back and light blue eyes that looked strangely joyful. His skin was smooth and unfurrowed, pale except for a spider web of purplish veins that crisscrossed his nose and stretched across his cheeks.
"Any problems at the checkpoint?" the tall and sinewy Palestinian asked Anatolyevich. Just as his face wasted no expression, his frame carried no extra fat or flesh.
"I told you, comrade," Anatolyevich said with a wink and pulled his hand away, "we paid a premium for these papers, one of the advantages of being Israeli citizens. The officers at the checkpoint believe we're carrying supplies for Gilo," he added in his thick Russian accent, referring to a nearby Jewish West Bank neighborhood that had been annexed to Jerusalem. "Your name, comrade, I don't think I—"
Anatolyevich smiled again, a bit forced this time. "So long as the payment you brought is enough, eh, comrade?"
"Once I inspect the goods." The Palestinian who called himself Abu ruffled a hand through his thick beard. "Inside."
With that he gestured to the front of the warehouse where two other Palestinians wearing thin jackets had slid open a large bay.
Anatolyevich squinted into the dark interior and nodded. "Whatever you say, comrade. We need to hurry, though. I have another appointment I can't be late for."
"Business must be good."
Anatolyevich smiled. "Better than ever."
The Russian's driver backed the truck inside the warehouse in a series of fits and jolts. The man who called himself Abu walked beside the passenger window the whole time, as if to act as guide. His two companions slid the bay door closed behind the truck, sealing the large single room from all light except for a few old fixtures dangling from the ceiling, the bulbs of which flickered reluctantly to life. Shafts of sunlight spilled in through some scattered windows and a few rays penetrated the crumbling ceiling as well. Pierced months before by stray shells fired from Israeli helicopter gunships that had strafed the street after Palestinian machine gun fire shattered windows in nearby Gilo.
Anatolyevich and his driver climbed down from the cab and joined one of the Palestinians at the truck's rear. Anatolyevich hoisted open the rear hatch to reveal a number of wooden crates and plastic tubular-shaped containers, innocuous save for the Russian markings along the sides.
"As promised," Anatolyevich beamed at Abu who had reappeared by his side.
The Palestinian reached past him and drew one of the crates forward.
"One hundred and forty-four Kalashnikov assault rifles," Anatolyevich narrated, as Abu popped the crate open, "packed one dozen per crate. Ammunition included in separate boxes, as requested. I threw in some extra as a sign of good faith."
Abu ignored the Russian's smile and tested the weight of the Kalashnikov. "Freshly oiled," he noted.
"And why not, comrade? After all, the guns are brand new. Never fired. Russian military issue, of which there is now extremely little need. Bad for the military of my former country. Good for business."
The Palestinian looked up at the arms dealer from where he squatted next to the rifles. "Apparently."
The Russian shrugged. "The military's loss is our gain, eh, comrade? They will never miss something they never had."
"What about the rocket launchers?"
Anatolyevich reached past him into the truck's cargo bay and yanked one of the plastic containers forward. His bulging stomach pressed against the hold of the truck as he strained against the container's weight, finally succeeding in bringing it to the edge at the expense of a slight scratch on the face of his gold Rolex watch. It didn't seem to phase him. Abu watched silently as the Russian peeled back two latches and then popped the container open.
"This is our latest model," he proclaimed proudly. "Not even issued to the Russian army yet." He grinned again. "Shipment has been delayed. Apparently my former government is behind on their payments!"
The Palestinian happily examined the tubular launcher and the rocket fitted into a tailored slot just beneath it.
"The Israeli tanks and helicopter gunships have finally met their match, eh comrade?"
Abu returned his attention to the rocket launcher. "I might want more of these."
"As many as you like! Buy ten, I'll throw in one for free. Business is good. I can afford to be generous."
"With the prices you charge, I'm not surprised."
"Speaking of prices, comrade…"
Abu signaled one of his two subordinates who stripped a tattered rucksack from his back. "In American dollars, as instructed," he said, as the man handed it to Anatolyevich.
The Russian held the sack by his side, not bothering to open it.
"You're not going to count it?" Abu asked.
"Later over a vodka, while I go over your new shopping list. You should join me."
"Israel's borders are still closed to us."
"Precisely why I brought a bottle with me. I have it in the cab."
Anatolyevich started round the truck, brushing past the Palestinian who'd been holding the rucksack full of money. The man's jacket was pulled back slightly, exposing a pistol held in a shoulder holster. The Russian smiled at him, then at Abu again before climbing back into the cab.
He reached quickly across the seat, ducking his hand down and scraping it across the floor mat.
"Looking for this?" the man who called himself Abu asked from the window, holding a submachine gun up for the Russian to see.
"The vodka, comrade," the Russian said and forced a smile. "I was reaching for the vodka."
"It was in the glove compartment," the Palestinian said, holding the bottle up in his other hand.
"You saw the pistol in Sergeant Khaled's holster. A Beretta nine-millimeter you recognized as standard issue for the Palestinian police. We used to get them from the Israelis."
"I am Inspector Bayan Kamal of the Palestinian police." Ben Kamal laid the bottle of vodka on the warehouse floor. Still holding the submachine gun, he used his free hand to strip off his keffiyah and fake beard. "And you, Vasily Anatolyevich, are under arrest for illegal trafficking in firearms."
Copyright © 2002 by Jon Land