Zohar had nearly ten years experience being debriefed, so immediately he realized something was wide of the mark. The moment the plane landed in Israel, he and the boy were separated, and now he sat in shirtsleeves and jeans, but still with his side-locks and beard, in a windowless room he knew was monitored.
Every fifteen minutes a duo of men, new each time, came in and asked him variations on the same set of questions. At first Zohar thought that the patiently illegal way he had brought the boy to Israel was making waves with the higher ups.
He had resigned from the mission, refused to return home, but had come back with Yossi Kushner regardless. No doubt the official response would be negative at first, following institutional inertia about procedures, but eventually things would turn around. But the sense of the situation was wrong.
Beneath the calm surface of the questions asked again and again in various shapes, in a procedural monotone, was a shrill cry. Something had gone blatantly wrong.
A duo entered and asked more of the questions from the limited grab-bag. Zohar answered, but defensiveness finally entered his tone.
“I want to see Omri,” he told the two men as they prepared to leave. “Can’t you get me Omri. We’re getting nowhere with this. Omri can clear this all up.”
The duo glanced at each other, said nothing, and departed. Ten minutes later Omri entered. He had deep lines beneath his eyes and sucked with labored intensity on his cigarette. He sat down in front of Zohar.
“Why did you do it, Zohar?” He asked as he exhaled smoke from his nostrils. “Tired of being a clerk? Tired of Talmud? You want to fuck your wife when she is impure?”
“None of that. Duty. I brought you back Yossi Kushner. I found Yossi.”
“You resigned. Your work here was over,” Omri leaned forward. He held his cigarette at an odd angle and some ash fell on the tabletop. “We can’t be held responsible for your actions… your mistakes.”
“Yes, Zohar, the boy isn’t Yossi Kushner.”
“But that’s the name he told me. His story collaborates…”
“You got it wrong,” Omri drawled, his words edged with fatigue. “The boy’s name is Yossi Kushner, but he isn’t our Yossi Kushner…”
“Yes. What is right, you are asking the right questions now. Yossi Kushner’s parents, the Yossi we are looking for, say the boy you snatched is not their boy. We dug around. The Yossi you brought back was taken by his maternal grandparents from his parents on Kibbutz Shmuel Mar’oni, with their consent. So you see you kidnapped the wrong boy.”
“He wanted to see his parents. A boy suckered one of my former agents. It would be just a human tragedy if it didn’t have so many political repercussions.”
“Former agent,” Zohar repeated softly.
“You studied the case,” Omri went on, snuffing out the cigarette on the metal table top, leaving the butt to stand on end like a bent tail. “There are dozens of Yossi Kushners in Amsterdam. Those people breed like flies. There are a thousand in Europe. This has stirred up a hornet’s nest. First we are raising dust about the abduction of a secular boy by the Ganavers. Now they are barking back that we are stealing their kids. It could lead a schism. How long were you planning on being Levy Levinsky? Or Ori Zohar? What kind of game is this?”
Omri stood up and lit another cigarette as he walked to the door. The flame flared, casting his face in a fleeting orange glow. He grimaced.
“What, you wanted redemption from this act? There is no redemption in our world. Only procedures properly applied. You signed your own resignation. We can’t help you. Even if we wanted to, you are no longer one of his us. Not them, not us. You are on your own you poor bastard…”
Omri turned around and closed the door. Zohar was alone.