The Place: Jerusalem
The Time: Night
The Date: Today, the Common Era
In the dark two pairs of hooded men approach a dilapidated building from opposite directions on an ancient, narrow and grimy pot-holed street in Jerusalem. The first pair arrives; a password is quietly exchanged, followed by the creak of a door as they enter. Moments later the second pair reaches the door, the same words are spoken, and they are admitted.
The room is small, the air stale with ages of dust never adequately cleaned and the tinge of garlic and strong tea lingering from generations past. A single fluorescent tube throws a stark white glow creating abrupt shadows along with an electrical hum just loud enough to be instantly annoying. Two worn unpadded chairs on opposite walls facing each other are the only furnishings, and a single, scarred door the only passage into the inner sanctum of the house.
The door-keeper looks at his guests and accepts two bulging envelopes. With a slight bow, he turns and leads two of the men through the battered old door. The remaining two seat themselves. They sit erect with an unspoken tension, faces half-shadowed by their hoods, opposite one another, but never making eye contact, as if the other is invisible.
The door-keeper leads the two men down a dimly lit hall to another door. Forty-nine steps exactly-always forty-nine. The room they step into is more comfortably furnished, although without embellishment. An old radio perched on a shelf plays folk music just loud enough to cover quiet conversation. In the middle of the room is a table, with two dining room chairs, their arms worn with years of use. A counter in one corner holds a hot plate and a steaming pot of hot water ready for the pouring. The door-keeper brews a thick tea as the two men seat themselves.
They push back their hoods, their expressions shifting from hardened to a more relaxed recognition, yet not quite smiling.
“Good evening, Evrahim,” the first says, “God is great.”
“Good evening, to you, Ibrahim,” the second replies, “Shalom.”
The door-keeper serves two glasses of pungent, molasses-hued tea, and a plate of sweet biscuits. The men nod, though not looking at him and he steps behind a rug hung on one wall. They hear a muffled click.
Evrahim sips his tea, and then smiles. “How is Hagar? Has she recovered from her pneumonia?”
“She is finally feeling like she has more energy,” he takes a biscuit, “The Stockholm winters are bitter hard for her. When I spoke to her yesterday she complained her feet are always cold. I told her that her feet have always been cold for she always put them on the back of my legs in bed.”
The two men smile, knowingly.
“Of course,” Ibrahim continues, “She fills her day with being a grandmother, so I think she is just too stubborn to say that she misses me. And Sarah?”
Evrahim takes a long drink from his glass. “I fear on my last trip to London we were too passionate and forgot all caution. She is pregnant. With twins. In about five months.”
Ibrahim smiles broadly and raises his glass, “We still have no power over womanly wiles. May God give you two healthy babies-and a strong mother to bear them!”
“My deepest thanks. Though I doubt I will be present for their birth, with everything going on here.”
After a few moments of silence, Evrahim continues, “I believe it is time to decide.”
They stand together and move the table to one side. Evrahim kneels first and pries a worn ceramic tile from the floor revealing a keypad. Entering seven numbers, he moves back while Ibrahim enters a second series of seven. The safe beeps and a frame rises from the floor with a wooden box about the size of a shoebox. He lifts the box from the frame and sets it on the table, and then, in one motion, they pull the table back to its original spot.
The box itself has the feel only possible from the hand of a master craftsman, its surface flawless, a brass keyhole on either end, but no visible sign of a hinge or which side is the lid. Both men pull a remarkably simple looking key from their robes and insert them simultaneously into the slot. A confirming snick indicates their keys have been accepted.
Again, in a single motion, the men turn their keys, and one side of the box glides open, a wooden cylinder the height of man’s hand built into it. Ibrahim removes the lid. Both men know what it contains–thin disks two centimeters in diameter of black and white polished quartz. It is a simple game of drawing lots. They will each pull out a disk until one gets a black disk and one a white. The one with the black disk wins.
“I believe it is your turn to go first,” Ibrahim says, now serious again.
Evrahim reaches in. White. He places it on the table in plain sight and nods to the other.
Evrahim reaches in a second time, but runs his fingers through the disks to further mix them up making a muffled clatter. White.
Ibrahim, too, runs his fingers through the disks. White.
The two men look each other in the eye. It is unusual for the game to proceed to a third round.
Evrahim steels himself. Black. He sees the expression of his counterpart go stony as the quartz itself.
But there is no hesitation. White.
Both men reflexively sigh. But there is another step.
Together they turn their keys once more. The opposite side of the box glides open, revealing another wooden cylinder. It, too, has quartz disks, all black, but engraved with a gold number. However, it is sealed, its top having a simple switch that can be moved either forward or back from center. Neither man knows how many disks are inside or what the engraved numbers actually are. What they know is that each of them will draw two of the disks, but since Evrahim won the lot, all four disks will go to him by being released on his side of the cylinder. Their values will be his secret.
After the task is completed, the men turn their backs to each other and pull out their cell phones. Each one has a slot to accept a disk that will first verify its color, as well as, for Evrahim, the number on each of his four disks. The calls are made and the results confirmed with text replies.
The two men finish their tea.
Evrahim asks, “Standard procedures?”
“Yes. But tell your wife to be alert. We are going to activate London this time. We didn’t meet our fund raising goal when we used Paris last time. Sarkozy has cut deeply into our sympathy base. And you?”
“This new American administration is a tough sell but they’ll come through. The lobbyists assure me the Neo-cons are so livid over their losses it’s like opening a fire hydrant full of cash. I suspect the calls for restraint will follow the script like we designed it, so your people can take their cues for protest coordination just like always.
“Oh, and would you consider activating New York City, again? You know we both made a boatload of cash from them last year. The crowds were huge. I was impressed.”
Ibrahim bows at the compliment, “It did exceed our expectations. Consider it done.”
The men close the wooden box, return it to the safe, and fit the tile back into place.
They shake hands. As always.
Ibrahim pulls up his hood. “May God bless your new babies. God is great.”
Evrahim nods his thanks, “May God give your wife warm feet. Shalom.”
The two men gather their aides and leave by different doors onto adjoining litter-strewn streets.
Evrahim settles himself into his Humvee as his aide starts the engine.
“Colonel, may I inquire as to the results of the negotiations, Sir?” his aide asks.
Evrahim smiles grimly. “We have a lot of work to do. We fire the missiles first. Twenty-five days of fighting this time. It’s going to be a bloody war. But the money for both the Palestinians and us should be very good.”
This short story was written to protest the ongoing war and violence between the Palestinians and the Israelis. On the date of this writing Israel and the Hamas Palestinians are at war with one another. My intent as a political commentator is to condemn the violence of both parties and to accuse them of sustaining the violence not for ideological reasons or religious ideals but for the profit they always make from the wars using the blood of their own peoples as currency. My intent should not in any way be construed to be anti-Semitic or anti-Islamic.
© 2008, David C. Waggoner