Smith

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New York

Jake felt like an overdressed prom date.

His escapade with the sniper had earned a new promotion to First Lieutenant and assignment in the Shin Bet Protective Security Force as a body guard to the Prime Minister. Smith was ecstatic and would not stop bragging about fame and fortune.

“I see it clear as an oracle’s eye. Based upon my experience with Solomon, your rise to fame is moving along with greater speed than I anticipated.”

“Could you arrange things so I don’t have to wear a coat and tie all the time?”

“Stop whining. Solomon felt the same about his formal robes. He got used to them as will you.”

Jake was going to snarl a reply when Avner walked through the front door. Looking around, Avner spotted him and sauntered over.

“I saw the story in the newspaper about you and figured I’d check out the facts myself. In the Army less than a week and already a Lieutenant and body guard for the Prime Minister. Wow.”

“If I wasn’t on duty and being videoed, I’d hug you. How are you doing my friend?”

“Not as well as you.”

“Stop it. Say. Have you broken through Recon’s Level 12 yet?”

The line of people waiting to walk through the metal detector began getting longer. Jake ignored them.

“Close. Nearly there. So how did you rate skipping Basic and being promoted so fast?”

“It’s my glowing personality.”

“You sure have changed since we found that ring. I see you’re still wearing it.”

“Don’t tell him anything. He’s way too curious.”

“This old thing? Haven’t given it much thought.”

“Who is this?”

“An old acquaintance before my enlistment. Name’s Avner Benjamin. Avner, meet Inspector Nava Kilman.”

Avner blushed. Jake had never seen him at a loss for words. He couldn’t tell if Avner’s silence was the result of meeting an authority figure or something else. Nava Kilman was an ordinary twenty-one year old woman with dark hair and wide-set eyes. Jake had learned in his brief tenure to avoid her wrath at any cost. She took her duty with the seriousness of an undertaker.

“Fraternizing with the public is not permitted, Lieutenant. Move along Sir,” she said as she scribbled notes in a loose-leaf pad before stuffing it in a coat pocket.

“Good riddance. At last a woman who reminds me of Sheba.”

“When are you off-duty? We can meet at my place,” Avner said as he turned to leave.

“Do not reveal your duty hours,” Kilman said.

“I’ll call you,” Jake replied as he resumed letting people through the metal detector.

“Your duty now is beyond old, personal friendships,” Kilman said as Avner left. “I don’t care how much the Prime Minister is impressed with your antics. You’re just a publicity seeking hound as far as I’m concerned.”

Jake’s face burned with anger. Kilman might not be the Prime Minister, but she held considerable influence in Shin Bet. She was a top graduate of the Israel Institute of Technology with a degree in Microbiology. An expert chemist, she could recite the chemical formula for every high explosive known to man. She outranked him both in seniority and experience.

“It won’t happen again,” Jake muttered as his line shortened.

“See it does not,” Kilman replied as she walked back to her desk.

“Quit acting so aloof. You fascinate the woman. You’re going to die a lonely old man if you’re not careful.”

“Me? She’s the one wedded to her job, not me. And I’m only eighteen. Stop acting like I’m seventy.”

Smith remained silent as Jake watched Kilman walk away.

“I wonder what she would look like in high heels instead of the regulation flats.” Smothering a grin, he returned to inspecting handbags.

***

Two days later, Jake was summoned to the Prime Minister’s office.

The senior officer of Shin Bet, Daniel Kohn, was present at a small conference table along with Inspector Nava Kilman and Colonel Amanda Sauerbrum.

Jake didn’t know what to think and decided to remain standing at attention. Sauerbrum ignored him by keeping her eyes glued on the contents of a red folder. Kilman and Kohn nodded but didn’t offer a clue about what was happening. They held red folders identical to Sauerbrum’s. A fourth red folder was on the table in front of an empty chair next to Kilman.

The ring tightened.

“What is the special significance assigned to the red file color?”

“How should I know?”

“The color red signifies fire, blood, danger and war. Its very nature is designed to increase blood pressure and respiration rates. I noted the changes in your metabolism the moment you saw them. By my calculations, I can clear this room of threats in less than five seconds. Shall I proceed?”

Jake caught a whiff of sulfur. He noticed Kilman’s nose crinkle and her eyes begin to shift back and forth. Faint black clouds started forming in the corners of the room behind the conference table.

“Stop it Smith. I don’t need your kind of protection every minute of every day. Don’t you have a curious bone in you?”

“I don’t do bones. They are broken too easily; however, I will not take action unless I sense grave danger.”

The Prime Minister entered from a back room. After acknowledging everyone, he said, “Sit down Lieutenant Goddard. We all have much to discuss.”

“This trip to the United Nations is critical to the negotiations with the Palestinians. I will not have my speech endangered by any outside influences.”

“Minister, both the Army and Shin Bet are prepared to provide adequate security for you at this important meeting,” Kohn said.

“Army Special Forces will provide building security and Shin Bet will personally guard you and your family,” Sauerbrum said. “But I do not understand why this man is involved.”

Gesturing at Jake, she continued, “He is untrained and an unknown factor in the equation. He has no skills and is an American citizen at heart. If it were up to me . . .”

“It is not up to you, Colonel,” the Minister cut in.

“I like this man.”

“This untrained factor as you call him single-handedly saved lives in the hospital fire and my life during an assassination attempt at your Base filled with your Special Forces. If it was up to me, the only man I would have on my detail would be Lieutenant Goddard.”

“All I need is some fine bread and a good red wine. What a show.”

“Quiet.”

“What did you say, Lieutenant?”

Jake realized he had spoken out loud. Thinking fast, he replied, “Should be quite a show, Sir. Your ability to speak while we keep you safe is sure to win hearts and minds.”

“That’s what I like to hear. A positive attitude. Well said, Lieutenant Goddard.”

Sauerbrum scowled at him, but Jake was sure he caught the hint of a smile from Kilman.

“My first time in a plane. Eat your heart out, Hadad.”

“Who is Hadad?” Jake muttered as he returned to his quarters.

“A foul odor in Solomon’s nose. A constant thorn in his sandal. Long dead and good riddance.”

“You hold a grudge forever don’t you?”

“Holding a grudge is a simple way of guaranteeing you never forget.”

***

New York City was an exhilarating experience for Smith.

“A city of temples. I’m surprised how small the building stones are. In Solomon’s time, the smallest marble block was ten times larger.”

“They’re called bricks, and they’re made of baked clay. Some are larger than others.”

“Your temple will be constructed of much larger marble slabs. There has to be room for the ornate carvings honoring your importance.”

“Quit joking. I’m not going to have any temple. Maybe a house with vinyl siding and a fenced backyard.”

“Don’t be silly. The Ruler of the World must have an awe-inspiring residence. You also need rooms for your concubines and servants.”

Before Jake could reply, Nava walked up. “The limo ride to the UN building should be uneventful but keep a sharp eye anyway. The FBI has advised we could encounter some protestors along the way.”

Nodding, Jake climbed on the special running board outside the rear door nearest the Prime Minister, and the armored limo lurched into traffic.

Armored and weaponized vans carrying Israeli Special Forces operatives both led and trailed behind the limo. NYPD motorcycles preceded the caravan. They didn’t see any protestors until they turned onto East 42nd Street. A group carrying signs denouncing Israeli treatment of Palestinians stood near the Isaiah Wall across the street from the United Nations main entrance.

Jake felt his ring tighten.

“I don’t like unknowns. The acidic smell of danger is everywhere. Be prepared to follow my instructions.”

Jake had started trusting Smith’s instincts after the forklift incident. The stiff bulletproof vest he was wearing began to feel more comfortable until he remembered it wouldn’t stop a head shot.

The limo jostled a bit as it left the main street and turned into the United Nations turnaround. Jake swayed and the bullet aimed at him slammed into the limo’s roof edge and ricocheted. Flecks of burning paint spattered Jake’s face. Jake never heard a gunshot. The traffic and pedestrian noise was too loud.

“I saw the glint of a rifle barrel in the 5th floor window of the red stone building across the street. Go there.”

“The sidewalk is filled with protestors. I’ll never get through them.”

Chaos took control. Security personnel leaped from the Special Forces vans and surrounded the limo. Every commando had an automatic weapon pointed at the red brick building. Protestors ran away screaming.

Jake leaped off the running board just as another bullet glanced off a limo window near where he had been standing. A web of tiny cracks radiating from the point of impact glistened in the afternoon sunlight.

“Get inside the building, or I will be forced to unleash your powers for all to see.”

At that moment, Jake was slammed in the shoulder with what felt like a sledgehammer. If it wasn’t for the limo, he would have fallen.

“They’re aiming at me, not the Minister.”

“The closer you are to the red building, the harder it will be to target you.”

Jake ran. He heard shouts but couldn’t understand what was said. The front door was locked, but when he twisted the handle hard, something broke inside the mechanism. Pulling his sidearm, he entered a small hallway lined with mail slots. Stairs on the end wall were dimly lit.

He’d just put one foot on the stairway when Nava said, “I’ve had close-quarter urban warfare training. I’ll go first.”

Her presence surprised Jake for a couple of reasons. He hadn’t heard her following him, and she had a silencer on her Glock.

“Don’t argue with an armed woman. It always results with injury.”

“As you wish,” Jake replied as she elbowed past him.

“I hesitate to work in the presence of anyone but you. It violates Rule One.”

“I didn’t know you had any rules. What is Rule One?”

“The powers of the ring can never be revealed to anyone. Sheba was the only exception.”

“It’s a new day and time. I feel comfortable with her. Besides, people will become suspicious if I always work alone and pull off impossible feats.”

“She doesn’t resemble Sheba. Her hair is not right.”

“I don’t care. Now stop talking. It’s distracting.”

They made their way up the staircase hugging the walls. Their progress was slowed because they stopped at every landing and checked the hallway apartment doors. Every floor featured a central alcove and a window with a view of an alley and the adjoining building.

The quiet was shattered when they reached the fourth floor landing. Somewhere above, the floor creaked and a window slid open.

Nava started running up the stairs and cracked the fifth floor hallway door enough to see the alcove window was open. Seeing no immediate danger, she stalked to the window. Jake stayed close to her.

Late morning sunlight coming through the window was bright, and a breeze vibrated its vertical blinds.

“Something doesn’t feel right.”

Jake caught a whiff of sulfur and saw smoke begin swirling nearby.

Nava whispered, “Smells like a match was struck. Someone is close. Be alert.”

At that moment, the sound of an automatic AR15 broke the silence. Nava’s body spun sideways, and Jake watched her left forearm jump as a slug ripped through it.

Reacting without conscious thought, Jake leaped to catch her falling body. A line of bullets tracked toward him. There was an odd grunt, the firing stopped and something heavy landed on the floor.

Glancing back, Jake saw a crumpled body. Checking for a pulse and relieved to see her arm only had a messy flesh wound, Jake moved to the other body and turned it.

The cause of death was obvious. The guy’s head was twisted to the point his chin was resting on his shoulder blade. He found no identification. A tattoo on the man’s forearm was a stylized skull with a dagger through one eyehole and some kind of scribbling on the hilt.

“Smith, can you interpret the squiggles?”

“Yes. The craftsmanship is poor but it is the Arabic word for Silent.”

Jake returned to check on Nava’s condition just as a Special Forces team stormed into the hallway. They cleared the other rooms as a medic tended to Nava’s arm.

“She’ll be fine. Might have some stiffness in her fingers for a couple of weeks,” he said as he put her bandaged arm in a sling.

“I’ve never seen such a vicious neck break. You don’t look strong enough to do this kind of damage,” one of the Special Forces men said.

“It’s all in the leverage,” Jake replied.

Nava was giddy from pain meds, but her eyes narrowed when she heard Jake answer.

“When did you get a chance to fight? Last thing I remember he was across the hall peppering us with auto-fire.”

“Careful. Don’t say anything about me.”

“You passed out after you were shot. I was so angry after I saw you hurt, the rest is a blur.”

“Nice. The less she knows the better.”

“This guy was a member of a terrorist cell known as the Kanafani. All the sanctified members are tattooed with the Skull of Silence,” one of the soldiers said.

“How did he come to be in this place at this time?” Jake asked.

“Good question. The answer will have to wait for more information. We’ll let the local police handle everything from here. Let’s get back to the Prime Minister.

***

“We’re going to stay in New York longer than I planned,” the Prime Minister said.

Jake and Nava looked at each other but remained silent.

“The US State Department is studying the background of the Kanafani assassin. The brazen attempt on my life has them worried. They want to make sure there are no other cell members at large.”

“The target was you, not this pompous buffoon.”

“We’ll keep you safe, Sir,” Nava replied.

“Thanks, but between Colonel Sauerbrum’s team and added muscle from the US Intelligence Service, I am adequately protected. Why don’t you take some time and enjoy the sights.”

“I’ve always wanted to visit the Egyptian wing of the Met,” Nava said.

“What is the Met?”

“What is the Met?” Jake asked.

“The Metropolitan Museum of Art. I thought you were an educated American,” Nava replied with no small amount of sarcasm. “It houses the World’s finest collection of Egyptian antiquities outside Egypt.”

“We’re going. I can’t wait to see things from my old neighborhood.”

“All right but we have to take a stroll through Central Park. I need a little outdoor time after being cooped up in buildings for days.”

“Oh all right,” Nava groused.

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