Authors: Merry Jones
‘A problem? How, if he escaped?’
Why didn’t Hagit get it? ‘The problem is that Yoshi didn’t die.’ Harper paused, waiting for her words to sink in. ‘They still need their third offering, Hagit. They have to kill someone else.’
For a nanosecond, Hagit’s eyes flamed. Then she put her round hand onto the handle of the stroller, covering Harper’s. ‘Let it be, Harper. You’re here as a tourist.’ She nodded at the police. ‘This isn’t their first ride on the train. Let them do their jobs.’
Harper sputtered. Let it be? She asked Hagit how she was supposed to do that when nobody seemed to comprehend the imminence of the threat. She wanted to do some investigating. Stop by Peter and Lynne’s bungalow. Drop in on Pastor Travis. Call Dr Hadar and Dr Ben Haim and ask them to arrange a meeting of everyone working on the dig.
Hagit would let her do none of these things. ‘Listen to me, Harper. I can’t let you start trouble.’
What? ‘You’re here to babysit, Hagit. You’re not in charge of my decisions.’
Hagit lowered her voice. ‘Okay. I’ll tell you. It isn’t just Chloe I’m here to watch.’ She headed out of the building.
‘Wait. What did you just say?’ Harper chased after her, pushing the stroller.
Hagit said nothing, kept walking. Out the front door, onto the path.
‘Look, Hagit.’ Harper caught up with her. ‘We can’t just let this go. Someone from that church group is going to try again to kill somebody – and soon.’
‘This is not your country, Harper.’ Hagit’s tone was curt. Like a warning. ‘Leave it alone.’ She turned and went back into the bungalow.
Harper felt like a prisoner. And Hagit seemed to be her guard, always just a step away. Shadowing her as she put Chloe back in her crib. Waiting for her to go to bed, refusing to sleep until Harper did.
‘Why don’t you turn in?’ Harper finally asked. ‘The baby will be up in a few hours. You’ll be tired.’
‘So? I’ll be tired. There are worse things.’
‘It feels like you’re stalking me.’
‘Because I am.’
‘Well, stop. It’s annoying.’
‘You should thank me instead of being annoyed.’ Hagit sat on the sofa, letting out a sigh.
‘Hagit. Please. Go to bed. I can take care of myself.’
‘Maybe you can. But maybe that’s not why I’m watching you. Maybe I’m making sure you stay out of trouble.’
Really? ‘There’s plenty of trouble around here, but it’s not because of me—’
‘Tell me the truth. If I go to bed, tell me you won’t go out and start playing detective? You won’t go bother the people in the next bungalow? The pastor? His followers? Tell me.’
Harper didn’t answer. Did want to lie. Was aching to talk to Peter Watts.
‘See? That’s why I’m watching you. So you might as well give up and sleep. In five hours, you have to go to the dig.’
The dig. She hadn’t even thought about it.
‘Here. I’ll make us some tea, and then we’ll sleep.’ Hagit stood and went to the stove, took out tea bags. ‘You should be glad I’m here, Harper. At least I’m on your side, not like the other one watching you.’
The other one?
‘I told you it would follow, and look. It has.’ Hagit pour water into the pot, dried her hands. ‘You shake your head, but I tell you again. Kenahara, never underestimate the power of the Evil Eye.’
Hagit was pouring tea when they heard voices next door. Harper turned out the lights and went to the window.
‘What are you doing? I’ll scald myself in the dark!’ Hagit cried.
‘Shh. Come look.’ Harper looked out. Inspector Ben Baruch and his officers were standing on Travis’s front porch. Travis’s booming voice invited them inside.
‘What are you looking at?’ Hagit taunted. ‘It’s nothing. The police are just following up.’
‘Maybe they’ll find something.’
Hagit brought her a mug of tea. ‘They won’t find anything. Sit. Drink.’
Harper took a sip of fragrant, honeyed tea, thanked Hagit. Stayed riveted at the window until, some twenty minutes later, the police left.
When she finally went to bed, she kept replaying moments, reruns of the night. Lowell bursting out of the council meeting, having been expelled. Travis naming Peter Watts head of an Offerings Committee. Yoshi stumbling into the office building, collapsing from a knife wound. Ben Baruch not listening to her warning. It seemed that she had just dozed off when Chloe began jabbering in the crib. Chirping happily, repeating syllables, listing names. ‘Eemah, Adi. Geet. Mama. Dada.’
Speaking of Dada, Harper still wanted to talk to him. She sat up, reached for her cell phone to check the time. Just after six. Hank should be up, or just getting up.
He answered on the first ring. Wide awake. Alert, as if expecting the call.
‘Hoppa?’ He sounded surprised. Who else would call at six a.m.?
‘Everything all right?’
‘Sure. Yes. What’s up?’
Harper hesitated. Hank was edgy, talking too fast. ‘Are you in a hurry?’
‘Not hurry. Just . . . Yes. Can’t talk now.’
Harper ran a hand through her hair. Why couldn’t he talk? And if he couldn’t now, when could he?
It must be the symposium. ‘You’re okay?’
‘Fine,’ Hank snapped. ‘Hoppa, what?’
Chloe held up her stuffed monkey, squealing, ‘Mama, Dada. Adi, Geet.’
‘Why can’t you talk?’
‘Hoppa. Just . . . something came up. Tell me. Why. Calling?’
Damn. She needed to talk to him, but not in a rush. What was so important that he couldn’t take a few minutes at six effing o’clock in the morning for a phone call? ‘Things are happening here.’ How could she explain quickly? ‘Bottom line: I think you were right. I should bring Chloe back to Jerusalem—’
‘Not right now.’
‘Hank. Excuse me for being confused, but yesterday, you said we should come back.’
‘Listen. Ramsey Travis – or Travis Ramsey – his church is planning to kill somebody. They’ve already stabbed someone, and—’
‘Hoppa.’ Hank took a breath. ‘How do. You. Know this?’
‘How do I know? I heard them planning it.’
A voice in the crib sang, ‘Ma yim, ma yim. Mitz. Mitz. Mitz.’
Hank paused. ‘You heard them? How?’
‘How is not the point. I’m telling you there’s a murderer here—’
Really? ‘No. I will not calm down.’ In fact, she got out of bed, started pacing.
‘Eema. Geet. Adi. Mama.’
‘What’s the story, Hank? First, you want us to come back, and now, when I say I’m coming, you want us to stay? What the hell?’
‘Sorry.’ He sighed. Then his tone changed. Became soothing. ‘Tell me what. Happened.’
Harper’s nostrils flared. She steadied her voice so she’d sound less emotional. ‘Here’s the situation. The church council met last night and planned a sacrifice. Right after that, Yoshi – a man who lives here – was stabbed—’
What? ‘Yes. Of course.’
‘Then they’ll solve. You’ll be. Safe.’
‘Hank. I’m not worried about that. I can keep myself and Chloe safe. I just don’t think it’s a good idea to stay under these circumstances. Believe me. Travis is planning something, and I don’t want to be around when it comes down.’
‘Eemah. EEMAH.’ Chloe was getting impatient, her singsong becoming a complaint. Harper went to the crib; Chloe scrambled to her feet, reached for her.
‘But dig. What about?’
Oh, the dig. The wall they’d unearthed. The excitement – the hunger to discover more. She lifted Chloe, grabbed a fresh diaper, carried her to the bed. ‘The dig will survive without me.’ She unfastened Chloe’s onesy.
‘But. Just found ruins. Can’t leave now.’
What was going on?
‘I think you. Should stay longer. Good for you, your career.’
‘My career? What part of “there’s a killer here” don’t you understand?’
‘Police will find. Don’t lose this oppor. Tunity. Can’t run away.’
Harper was speechless. Run away? Harper never ran away from anything. In fact, she’d been accused of seeking out danger and trouble, never backing down. She simmered silently as she changed Chloe’s diaper, dressed her in a monkey T-shirt and pair of shorts.
Chloe chanted, ‘Eemah! Geet! Eemah! Geet!’
‘Not talking to me?’
She said nothing.
‘Hoppa, give dig another. Couple days. Then, if you still want. Come back.’ Voices shouted in the background. Not in English. ‘Sorry, must go. I love you.’
After the call, Harper brushed Chloe’s six teeth, combed out her curls, kissed her tummy. She followed their routine, but she couldn’t shake her feeling that something was wrong with Hank. Why had he been in such a rush at six a.m.? What could be going on so early? Why had he sounded so edgy?
Harper pictured him in the hotel suite. Wearing a towel, fresh from the shower. And a woman – a naked woman, rubbing his back while he was on the phone. Her chest tightened. Could that be it?
No, of course not. She shoved the woman out of the hotel room. Slammed the door.
But why had Hank been so abrupt? Why had he changed his mind about her leaving Megiddo?
Chloe beamed as Harper finally set her down to let her run around. ‘Geet?’ she asked.
Good question. Where was Hagit? Harper looked out of the bedroom.
Hagit was on the phone at the breakfast table, brows furrowed, talking in a low voice.
‘Geet!’ Chloe shrieked and ran to her.
Hagit ended the call too quickly, smiling too broadly and trying too hard to act normal, as if she’d been caught doing something wrong.
The kibbutz was on alert. Two security guards stopped at the bungalow, part of a door-to-door check, making sure everyone was all right, asking if anything unusual had happened during the night, looking around for hidden weapons or culprits. Men and women carrying firearms patrolled the streets and pathways. Gal and another man stopped and questioned everyone as they entered the restaurant building.
Harper watched it all through a haze of sleeplessness. At breakfast, she asked Hagit, ‘Is this normal?’ She cut up an egg and some fruit for Chloe.
‘Of course it’s not normal. It’s a reaction. Remember, they think it was a terrorist.’ Hagit swallowed coffee. ‘They will take precautions.’
‘And if they don’t find the guy?’
‘They will. And if they don’t, they’ll keep looking until they do.’
‘I was thinking we should take Chloe back to Jerusalem—’
No? ‘Excuse me?’ Hagit had reacted just like Hank. Definitively telling Harper not to leave. Why? And beyond that, Hagit was the babysitter. How did she feel entitled to tell Harper what to do?
‘I think you should stay.’ Hagit looked away, gave a chunk of sweet roll to Chloe. ‘What do you say, Chloe? To—’
‘Dah!’ Chloe grabbed the roll, squishing it.
Hagit wiped Chloe’s mouth.
‘But why?’ Harper pressed. ‘Why should we stay?’
Hagit made her customary shrug. ‘Why should we? Why shouldn’t we? There’s no reason to leave. You still have the dig. It’s why you came. The authorities here have matters under control. So, why rush off?’
‘Hank said I should wait a day or two.’
‘He’s smart, your husband.’
What was going on? Why was Hagit so determined to stay? Unless . . . Wait . . . Had Hagit talked to Hank? Were they conspiring to keep her there? It seemed that way.
But why would they do that? Unless . . . Were they hiding something?
No, ridiculous. She was imagining things. Needed sleep.
Across the restaurant, church members began to arrive. Lowell was first to the buffet. He looked pasty and haggard. Frank was next, all hale and energetic, greeting Lowell with a smile and a back slap as if he hadn’t just replaced him as church prelate.
Pastor Travis and his roommate, Harold, joined them with broad smiles and loud cheery comments about the beauty of the morning and the grace of the Lord. A few women whom Harper hadn’t met got in line, a few men. A sultry redhead. And Peter and Lynne.
‘You’re staring,’ Hagit chided.
Harper turned to her. ‘What of it?’
‘You won’t find anything out that way. It’s not what you can see that you need to watch. It’s what you can’t see.’
Did that make sense? Harper’s gaze returned to Lynne and Peter. Did Peter have any wounds or bruises? Did he look as if he’d been in a fight? She couldn’t tell. But he seemed bedraggled, as if he, too, had been awake all night.
Lynne must have sensed her gaze. A plateful of food in one hand, coffee cup in another, she turned, saw Harper across the room. ‘Morning,’ she grinned as if nothing were wrong.
‘Geet. Down?’ Chloe was finished eating.
Harper took a last gulp of coffee as Hagit cleaned Chloe’s hands and face and lifted her into the stroller, ready to go to the nursery.
On the way, they passed scampering dogs. Wandering cats. A boy kicking a soccer ball. And three pairs of guards, youthful and alert, carrying rifles.
Dr Ben Haim condensed the work area. Harper and Lynne joined others digging close to the find. He believed the wall would have structural counterparts close by. The sun glared even early in the morning; Harper’s overtired head throbbed from the brightness. She put on her sunglasses, and the world took on a golden tint. Even Lynne looked a little bit orange as Harper studied her for signs of stress or concern.
But Lynne showed signs of neither. She was her talkative self, cheerily chatting about how accustomed she’d become to eating salad with every meal, even breakfast.
Lynne’s cheeriness irritated Harper. Didn’t Lynne care that her husband had been questioned by police? Wasn’t she even a little concerned about the stabbing? Maybe she was overcompensating, pretending, but even so, Harper couldn’t stand the lilt of Lynne’s voice and called her away. ‘Come help me get more buckets.’
Lynne glanced at the stack of buckets near the perimeter. ‘I think there are plenty.’
Harper tilted her head, stared at her until Lynne understood.
‘Oh. Yes. More buckets.’ She made her way around the other volunteers and joined Harper. ‘What’s up?’
Harper didn’t answer right away. She walked toward the supply trailer, waiting until they were a distance from the pit.