Chapter 9

 

Jack Kolda

Bethesda, Maryland

 

Silver’s new house is in Bethesda, a couple of streets over from where Joe Alon was assassinated. I should’ve brought her a housewarming gift. It seems wrong when the world’s on fire, but the world’s always on fire. There are only two locks on this door, and I could break this doorjamb if I were really determined. She needs a new door. Has she got cameras? Or can she not have them because she’s going to be a Mossad sayan now that she’s retired, hiding frightened strangers in her house in a country that calls itself friendly?

She opens the door barefoot. She's gotten older. There are soft little crow's feet around her eyes, laugh lines at the corners of her mouth like she hadn't spent her career holding her emotions at a professional distance. She’s ditched the power suit for a soft sweater and fitted camo pants, and she’s wearing my badge around her neck so I’ll have to come take it. I can see all the strings, but she’s still holding them tight. She’s stunning.

“I talked to my old service,” she says, stepping aside to let me in. “I wouldn’t expect too much. They’re furious about the Vienna summit.”

So is she, and she’s burying it like a good professional. Say it, Silver. Say I backed down too easily over the Ayda play and I should have dug in and fought for Alex. But he fought for our hostages in Beirut too, and I’m not sending anyone else to be a hostage to Hezbollah.

“Tell them it’s the perfect reason to remind us why we need them.” I come inside and look around the house. It’s too big for the eight boxes half-unpacked in the living room and the one on the kitchen bar, safehouse-stark after a lifetime of leaving behind trinkets bought in-country. A TV and mounting bracket sit propped against the wall beside a bookcase stacked with years of books in English, Hebrew, Arabic, and Turkish, collected at airports on long trips home.

“Do they have a real name for El-Shafei?” I ask her.

She hoists a mounting bracket against the wall, determined to make this place home before North Ridge sends her out of the country again. “He’s one of the Hamedeh kids. From Bir Hassan in Beirut.”

Trouble. The Hamadehs are well-liked in the Party. Their extended clan fills out a lot of the administrative ranks, and if we go after them, Hezbollah will have to make a show of retaliation, nuclear negotiations with their sponsors in Vienna or not.

I fish my Leatherman from my pocket and use it to mount the bracket to the wall while she holds it. “I knew a Sadiq Hamedeh who used to talk to me. Years ago at Beirut Station."

“Big guy? Old school fundamentalist?” she says. “He talked to everybody with money. Back-channel diplomat. Told us what they wanted us to know.”

“That’s him. He got burn-noticed after I left Beirut. Used our money to fund operations instead of socking it away like a good traitor.”

She grimaces and hoists the TV into place. "No one else?"

“The Hamadehs were hard to penetrate. You still know where El-Shafei is?”

“Cell tower outside Çayirova before we lost both of them. We hope they lost service, but my money’s on threw the phone out the window. Did you talk to the Turks?”

“They said remember who your allies are, back out on Vienna and we’ll get you Hart.”

I fought hard for Vienna. We’ve bent over backward for the Saudis, looked the other way for the Qataris, backed the plays of Silver’s self-destructive government, all because we’re afraid of big bad Iran. But they need us more than we need them, and every ounce of realpolitik weights toward an alliance with the regional hegemon. Especially after we lost Iraq to them.

Silver bites back whatever she was going to say, maybe remembering whose side she’s supposed to be on, and tries to patch things up with a postmortem on Fort Marcy Park. “I’m sorry about Afridi.”

She changed tack when I told her to in Fort Marcy, and now she knows it’s personal. Shakil Afridi was a Pakistani doctor who did a terrible contract for us. He ran a fake vaccination campaign as cover for the operation that hunted and killed Osama Bin Laden. It was not my choice of cover.

He damaged decades of real medical diplomacy and got himself arrested by the ISI and tortured. Depending on who you believe, and I believe the worst, he was arrested for doubling for Lashkar-e-Islam. People who will betray their country for you are terrible people, but he was my agent, and I promised him extraction, and CIA made a liar of me again.

“Afridi was a bastard. What are you going to do with all this space? Why do you have so many end tables?”

“For decorative lamps and picture frames.”

I look around at the half-unpacked boxes. “You don’t have any.”

“I’ll get some. I want art to hang on the walls, I want ‘stuff’. I want a place that doesn’t look like a safehouse.”

“You’re here for good?”

“I’ve got one last job to do in Istanbul as Farida Lujayn. After that, I’m here for good.”

“Job for the old office?”

“For North Ridge. My former office is letting me use the ID one more time before I have to give her back. Favor for a friendly service.”

Saying goodbye. What is she doing in Istanbul, Friends of Syria? “You want to join us in Vienna then? You can come late. Hassan would be amused to see you again.”

During the negotiations that became known as Iran-Contra, we were on something approaching a first-name basis with the man who would become the Iranian President. He called us by our public pseudonyms, of course.

Hassan called my country ‘a wound on the body of the Muslim world’ and said we needed to be ‘removed.’”

“It was Quds Day, he was politicking.”

She’s right though; things have changed since we all sat at the table together, loins girt, sandals on our feet, civilian lives in the balance. She makes that flirty gesture with her foot, line in the sand, back off. Time to open the arak. The glasses have been unpacked into the kitchen cabinets, and I pour for both of us, add water and ice, and watch the clear liquor turn milky white.

“Why would you live here? Alon was killed here.” Joe Alon was a Mossad agent like her who retired to the States with his wife and children. He was shot by Hezbollah, in his own front yard, mere blocks away in this quiet little Maryland neighborhood.

“Feels like home.” She takes her glass from me delicately. “Tell Hassan to call off his Hezbollah proxies. No Hart, no nuclear deal.”

I sink into the sofa that still smells like Tel Aviv. “I had planned on it. But SecState says ‘no’ to making Hart a red line in the negotiations.”

Her eyes go dark. She sips her arak and doesn’t look at me. “I’ll find out if they took him across the border to Syria, talk to Şahin.”

The Turkish smuggler is a friend of ours, bought and paid for. He still thinks Silver’s CIA, and we like it that way.

“Turkey’s not the safest place for a hezbollahi,” says Silver, “and Şahin’s family might help us if we pay out.”

“I’ll get CIA to pay for it if you don’t want to give Şahin up to North Ridge.” She trusts him far more than I do, but it’s the beginning of making Iran up to her. Protecting her assets.

She touches her glass to mine. “Perfect.”