Friday, March 28, 2014

Strong as Death VII

            There was a gentle knock at the door.  David’s rooms were just off the main market in Damascus, beneath a towering minaret.  The muezzin was calling the faithful to prayer, but through the thick stone walls of the house, the voice was muffled. 
         When David opened the door, the call was clear and resonant: God is Great.  There is no God but Allah.  A clarion of purpose, of directness, broadcast over the roofs, the call was quite unlike David Shemesh’s whispered communications in Damascus. 
          At the door was Miriam, standing at the threshold like a drooping,  exotic flower.  For this was her cover: she escorted high placed men in the Syrian government, or their guests, and reported what she could to David Shemesh once a week.  She always arrived early in the morning, after a night without sleep.  Her makeup was smeared, her hair, carefully coifed earlier in the evening, was now in disarray.  She reeked of cigarette smoke and liquor.   
            She entered and quietly escorted David into his bedroom, and after he closed the door, she recounted any information she had gathered from the last time they had met. 
            The Iraqi Chargé d'affaires was in Damascus, meeting with the Foreign Minister.  A Jordanian general was meeting with his Syrian counterpart. 
             In the months since arriving in Syria, David had been writing down such dry details, mainly who was coming and who was going and who was meeting with whom.  Miriam related these matters in an unemotional, distant tone.  She only once suggested the circumstances where these disclosures occurred, and David, careful to not reveal his discomfort, shifted in his seat. 
            Once a week, David wrote a report using a series of code names.  Miriam was Jezebel; a Kurd in the Syrian Army who passed  information about troop strength was known as Saladin; a Syrian Jewish doctor who treated high ranking officials in the government was Maimonides. 
            David found it odd to write such names on the page:  Jezebel relates that the Syrian Foreign Minister, Ayud bin Abdullah, has a secret meeting scheduled with the civilian head of the Transjordan army… Maimonides treated a member of the Iraqi diplomatic delegation last week
            Sitting alone in his room, writing the report out in English (for it was coded by a friendly American diplomat at the consulate and then broadcast to Tel Aviv) David felt like he was playing some childhood game, some pantomime of adulthood, like a dress rehearsal for real life. 
            But of course, this was all too real.  Beneath the lifeless prose of the comings and goings of Maimonides and Jezebel and Ahab, all reported to Samson (Gurevich’s code name) were real people in jeopardy.  Should Maimonides be caught, and should he, under the presumed torture he would endure, name Shemesh as his contact, would Shemesh have time to escape?  Would he know in time to flee? 
          And if he was captured would he, under a similar writ of brutality, name the real identity of Jezebel and Ahab and Jacob and Esau?  And the more successful Shemesh became, the wider his sphere of contacts, the more exposed he became.  It was the law of large numbers: eventually, someone would slip up, and the entire ring would snag and then collapse. 


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