A LETTER FROM GERMANY
In Eilat, an express letter from Germany was waiting for Maria, and her face fell as she read it.
"Cobi," she said, "I am awfully sorry to cause problems at such short notice, but do you think you could find a replacement for me, only for a fortnight or so I hope?"
It was just like Maria, being concerned about others first. Her mother was due to enter hospital for an operation, the sooner the better. During a routine check-up which should have been an annual one but which she had neglected for an extra year the doctor had discovered a tumour, the exact nature of which could only be determined on the operating table, but which had to be removed anyway. Maria's mother had asked for a few days' delay to bring her daughter home and it was granted rather grudgingly.
"I'll call the airport from the port office right away," I told her, "and try to get a seat for you on the first plane leaving for Germany tonight; I think it's the same one Max is on."
"Thank you ever so much, Cobi. Er...could you please ask them how much the ticket costs?"
"I will, but don't let it worry you; there are all sorts of things like paid vacations, and you won't have to spend more than you can afford."
I wiped the dust off the windows of my car which had been sitting near the pier for the past fortnight and drove to the port office. I did not tell anyone that I had an appointment with Yankele there. He was waiting for me when I arrived and I told him about Maria's mother.
"Wonderful" he said. "That makes things much easier."
"Is "wonderful" your warm and human reaction to the news that Maria's mother may be dying and that I am left without a cook?"
"No, of course not; I meant only the arrangements for tonight. As you know, we want to ask Max a few questions."
"Then you'd better hurry because he's leaving on the 9.30 to Frankfurt tonight."
"Only if there's a seat for him, and there won't be. The earliest he can leave is on the 10 a.m. tomorrow."
"But he has a reservation, and has confirmed it the day before yesterday, by phone from Na'ama."
"We've been working on that and have arranged some administrative fuck-up for his booking to go astray. But the agency is very unhappy about it, the cover story is not all that convincing, and if he's very suspicious he might smell a rat; that's why I said "wonderful" about Maria's mother. If it would occur to him to play the gentleman and offer her his seat on tonight's plane so long as he's assured of one for tomorrow morning it would make things all that simpler. They'll put him on the stand-by for tonight but there won't be a seat. I suggest you go with him and Maria to the airport tonight on the chance that a seat might be vacated at the last moment, and then invite him to spend the night on board Sinbad. These" he said, taking a small packet from the breast pocket of his shirt, "are sleeping pills. One is quite enough if he's had a couple of drinks, two if not. They dissolve almost instantly and are tasteless. Do you think you could slip them into his beer or coffee or whatever you're drinking, and then, when he's asleep, flash your torch three times in the direction of that shed over there, and we'll come over and do our bit? There won't be anyone else on board, will there?"
"No. All the guests will be gone by then, and the crew is getting a thirty-six hour leave. You did say it will be just a harmless injection of that wonder drug, without any rough stuff?"
"You have my word of honour."
"And then he sleeps it off, does not remember anything, and in the morning I take him to the airport?"
"Most probably yes, but it depends to some extent on what he is going to tell us. We may have to take him afterwards to another place for additional questioning with a lie detector, but whatever happens, we'll still take him to the airport in the morning to catch his plane."
"Any possibility of you arresting him, on the basis of what he might tell you?"
"No; he's going back on that plane whatever happens."
"If I may make a guess, are you planning to have him followed afterwards, to lead you to the organization you suspect he belongs to?"
"It's a possibility, although for obvious reasons I can't discuss it. By the way, if he really belongs to a terrorist organization and if it's an efficient one, shadowing him might not be of much use. After his success down here he would be considered "burnt-out", likely to be under suspicion and observation, and they wouldn't be seen with him or near him for love or money. By the way," he added, "two more small requests. Could you absent yourself from the boat while we're interrogating him?"
"No problem. I'll go to the Mexico for a drink."
"And the second thing: if we do take him off the boat tonight for further questioning, please don't come to see him off at the airport tomorrow, will you?"
"It would look strange if I didn't, after the two weeks we've been together."
"Invent some convincing excuse, and we'll tell him you telephoned at the last moment. Would you say some sudden leak in the boat which calls for emergency repairs?"
"No, that's too dramatic. But one of the compressors could get out of order."
"OK, a compressor it is. So everything's arranged, isn't it?"
"You still haven't told me what harm it would do if I saw him off at the airport tomorrow. What's more, so long as I put him to sleep and you interrogate him on board it's OK with me. But If you must take him away afterwards, I'd rather see it done with a warrant."
There was a short silence, and I had the impression that Yankele was thinking hard.
"Look, Cobi" he said at last, "if you're afraid that we're trying to involve you in the kidnapping of Max or worse, you can relax. You have my word of honour that Max Hoffmann is returning to Germany on the 10 a.m. tomorrow morning. If we don't want you there, it's only because by then we might have persuaded him to work for us, or there might be one of our people whom we don't want you to notice shadowing him, or something of the sort. You're not involved in any way, and that's a promise."
I was still not fully convinced, but then I thought of something - two or three things, as a matter of fact - which I could do, so I pretended to believe him.
"All right then," I said, "a compressor it is. You can tell him, if you'll remember it, that I was changing the filters that purify the air, and one of the threads sheared or jammed, and the attachment had to be replaced."
"You were changing the filters that purify the air, and one of the threads sheared or jammed, and the attachment had to be replaced." He repeated it a couple of times, learning it by heart. He had a very good memory.
"Good old Cobi" he said. "I knew I could rely on you."
©1997 Zygmunt Frankel - All Rights Reserved.
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