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Authors: Merry Jones

Outside Eden (5 page)

BOOK: Outside Eden
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Hank raised his hand, repeated, ‘This little. Piggy . . .’

Chloe laughed harder – so hard, she almost choked.

‘This. Little piggy. Ran all. The. Way. Home.’ Hank’s hand tickled its way from her toes to her tummy. He was laughing; she was shrieking with joy. How could Harper interfere with that? How could she even think of taking Chloe away from Hank, if only for a few days? She couldn’t. It was heartless.

She went into the bedroom to respond to Dr Berkson. He’d asked for her decision as soon as possible, since the other volunteers were already arriving and would be attending an orientation meeting the following day. She wondered how experienced they were. Where they’d come from. How many there would be . . .

But what difference did it make? She wasn’t going. She couldn’t. Dr Berkson had been generous to find her a spot on a dig, but he’d understand. She was an archeologist, but she was also a wife, a mother. She had to put her family first.

Her laptop was on her nightstand. She opened her email and reread the details about the dig site, Tel Megiddo South. It was fifty miles north of Tel Aviv in the Jezreel Valley, a fertile area of farmland and vineyards, on the site of a former prison. The excavation was at an early stage, extended from more developed sites at Tel Megiddo and Tel Megiddo East where twenty-six layers of ruins had already been discovered, including stables, a Bronze Age fortress, a third-century church . . .

Harper stopped reading. She couldn’t bear it, ached to be part of it. And why couldn’t she? Why should she turn down a rare opportunity like this one, a chance to practice her profession? To gain first-hand experience, uncovering who-knew-what structures or relics.

Besides, it wasn’t as if Hank was spending time with her and Chloe. Since they’d arrived, he’d seen the baby before bedtime exactly once. And today was the first time he’d been with them for breakfast. His time was completely taken up by the symposium. If she accepted the offer and worked on the dig, he’d barely know the difference.

Even so, accepting didn’t feel right. The only reason Hank had asked her to come along was that he hadn’t wanted to spend weeks apart from her and Chloe. Harper closed her eyes. Laughter pealed in the living room. Harper clicked the ‘respond’ button and wrote an email, thanking Dr Berkson for finding her an active dig and explaining that, due to her family’s needs, she’d be unable to volunteer there the next day.

She stared at the screen, disappointed. Pictured the dig site, sections of five-meter squares ready to be excavated. History waiting underground, undiscovered, resting in layers of time. She imagined buried walls, maybe entire buildings . . .

No. Never mind. She wasn’t going. Instead, she’d stay where she was for the next two weeks, wandering around the city with Hagit, hoping to catch glimpses of Hank between sessions of endless politically sensitive meetings that he couldn’t discuss.

Someone knocked and Harper heard the door open in the next room. Heard Trent come in, announcing that it was time to go.

Hank stuck his head into the bedroom. ‘Hoppa? Going. See you. Later.’

She looked up. Said nothing.

‘What?’

She shook her head. Clearly, he didn’t have time for a discussion.

‘You’re mad?’

‘Why would I be mad?’ She crossed her arms, looked away.

Chloe ran in, grabbed her leg. ‘Mama!’

‘About dig?’ He came into the room. ‘Told you. Do it. Go. Yes.’

Did he mean it?

He stepped over, pecked her cheek. ‘Ten days only. Good. For you. Do it.’

Really? Harper couldn’t tell. He was hurried, in motion. Lifting Chloe for a quick kiss. Heading for the door.

Trent called, ‘Arriba, Hank. Step on it,’ as Chloe waved, ‘Bye bye, Daddy.’

The door closed. Chloe picked up her stuffed monkey, nuzzled it and sucked her fingers.

Harper looked back at the computer, hesitating. Did Hank really not mind? Would Chloe be okay at the kibbutz nursery?

Chloe climbed on her lap, and they sat for a while before she revised her response to Dr Berkson, asking if she could join the group after orientation. In a couple of days.

Apparently, Hagit had mixed feelings. ‘You can see lots of history without going on a dig. Why do you want to go to an old prison? We can take day trips from Jerusalem. To the north. To Eilat. All over.’

She went on about visiting the ruins of Massada, Caesarea. ‘I can take you. We can look at the silver mines from King Solomon’s times. We can visit ruins of Canaanites and Philistines. Byzantines. The past? It’s all over the country. Whatever you want.’

Harper wanted to see all of it. But looking at what others had discovered wasn’t the same as discovering things herself. She didn’t expect Hagit or anyone else to understand. Finding history, uncovering it was like time travel, like detective work. Like having personal contact, even relationships with people and civilizations long gone. Harper thought of time as a decaying, eroding force that layered everything in dust. She saw current structures, even high-rise buildings, as future ruins, as fodder for digs of future millennia.

Hagit was still talking. ‘I suppose it’s different in America. To you history is what, two centuries? Three? Here we think in thousands of years, not hundreds.’

Hagit chattered on as they strolled with Chloe along the shops on Ben Yehuda Street. Not much was open yet, so they wandered back to the Old City under a relentless sun. Entering the Jaffa Gate, Harper tuned Hagit out, thought about the murdered American. Wondered if Inspector Alon had found out more about his killer.

‘Mime,’ Chloe called.

‘What?’

‘Mama. Mime.’

‘She wants water,’ Hagit said. ‘It’s
mayim
,’ she corrected Chloe’s pronunciation. ‘Ma-yim.’

‘You’re teaching her Hebrew?’ Harper was stunned. Chloe hadn’t even learned English yet.

‘Why not? A few words.’

Harper pulled a bottle of juice out of her bag, handed it to Chloe.

‘What do you say?’ Hagit stooped beside the stroller, facing Chloe. ‘Tell us. To—’

‘DAH!’ Chloe grinned.

‘That’s right.’ Hagit nodded. ‘
Todah
.’

‘That means “thank you”?’

‘Yes.
Todah
.’

Harper frowned. Wasn’t sure how she felt about Chloe becoming so verbal in a language she didn’t understand.

They walked on among groups of Christians making pilgrimages along Via Dolorosa where Jesus carried his cross to his crucifixion. They were heading for the Church of the Holy Sepulcher when a bunch of uniformed schoolgirls stampeded out of an alleyway, nearly knocking them over. The girls were breathless, incoherent. Wide-eyed. Frantic. Hagit went to them, quieted them, gathered them together away from passing tourists. Asked them questions. A tall girl cried. A chubby one held her stomach, looking green. All of them talked at once, pointing into the alley.

Hagit spoke to them in reassuring tones, touched their shoulders, their heads. Harper hadn’t understood their words, but she recognized the fear in their voices, the shock in their eyes. Other children flashed to mind, other eyes filled with terror. She heard sniper fire and men screaming. Saw a boy with no face . . .

‘Come with me.’ Hagit yanked her toward the alley.

‘What’s happened?’ Harper went along, pushing the stroller. Where were they going? Was it safe? Should she take the baby and run the other way? ‘Hagit?’

But Hagit hurried ahead. ‘This way.’

The schoolgirls fluttered behind them, following like baby ducks. Tourists clustered, curious, and closed in behind the girls. Harper looked back and saw a wall of people, so she pressed on after Hagit, who strutted into the alley, leading a parade.

First, she saw feet.

The passageway was stone on both sides, sunless and barely wide enough for two people to walk side by side, but there were gaps where the walls weren’t as close. Doorways. Small nooks.

The feet projected out of one such nook. They were dusky and sandaled. Definitely male.

Harper stopped, recognizing the stillness of death. ‘Who is that? What did they tell you?’

Chloe held her bottle up. She was done with it. ‘Mama.’

Hagit kept going, waving Harper forward.

Harper took the bottle. Watched Hagit’s backside. Behind her, the alley was clogged with people. Ahead, Hagit stood, staring down at whoever owned the motionless legs. Harper felt trapped, had nowhere to go.

Reluctantly, she rolled the stroller forward. Was she really taking her baby to see a dead body?

‘Hagit,’ she frowned. ‘This is no place for Chloe.’

Hagit didn’t budge. She stared down, mumbling syllables in Hebrew.

Turning the stroller so it faced the schoolgirls, Harper moved closer to the body. Followed Hagit’s gaze.

The man appeared to be Muslim. He was young, maybe twenty-five. He’d been laid out flat, as if on display, his head bent to the side, revealing a deep slash in his neck. His shirt was covered in blood. Harper fought images of other bodies, other ghastly wounds. She closed her eyes, pinching her arm, twisting the skin and focusing on the pain, forcing herself to remain in the moment. When she opened her eyes, she noticed an odd cut on the victim’s forehead. Carefully, Harper stepped over his legs, stooped to get a better look at his face. And saw an image carved there. At first, she thought it was a number six. But no. Her viewpoint was crooked. The carving wasn’t a six; it was the letter C. The shape of a crescent.

The killer watched, invisible among the gawkers. Standing among others felt safe, but it didn’t stop the memories. The morning’s events kept replaying, over and over, beginning with the wondrous moment – distinct and seemingly unprovoked – when the selected one had sensed his death, taking off, running through the silent narrow streets. Evaporating into shadows. The assistant had lagged and gotten lost, but the killer had followed the scent of fear all through arches and around corners, staying with him as he’d darted in and out of sight, nearly disappearing into the pink glow of dawn. He would have escaped, too, if not for the desperate slap of his sandals against the stone walkways and the blaring beat of his panicked heart. Finally, cornered, he’d hidden in the cul-de-sac, helpless as a lamb.

Cowering and winded, his back against the wall, he had offered no final struggle. He’d merely raised his palms, arguing or maybe pleading softly in his language, his eyes saddened by his fate. The blade had risen and swept down, silencing his voice in a clean and glorious moment. Praise the Lord, blood had been spilt in His name, according to His will.

The killer stayed in the crowd, buffered and invisible, watching the shaken schoolgirls in their uniforms. Realizing that there would be criticism for the killing. But who could have anticipated that the prey would run so swiftly, so far? Who could have prevented his desperate sprint to the Christian section? Surely not the assistant, who’d gone in the wrong direction altogether, useless and lost. The killer, though, had stayed with him. Had raised the knife and swept it down. Praise the Lord.

A small round woman with startling hair emerged from the passage, leading the school children away, yammering in Hebrew. Another, a short blonde pushing a baby stroller, asked in English for everyone to step back to make room for the police. Her voice projected an air of calm authority as if accustomed to dealing with death. Or with nervous crowds. In English, she told people that there was nothing to worry about. A man was dead, but they were in no danger. Amazingly, mumbling among themselves, the people believed her, quieting down.

The killer moved back with the others, easing away, leaving the scene before the police arrived. Walking slowly, in pace with the crowd. Maybe there would be no consequences for the error. Maybe the successful kill would be celebrated despite its location. The killer stiffened, doubtful, and continued along the Via Dolorosa, uttering prayers for forgiveness and searching for an acceptable excuse.

Police officers arrived, cordoned off the area. Inspector Alon and Sub-Inspector Stein appeared moments later. Chloe was cranky and restless; it was past lunchtime and her nap was overdue.

Word of the murder had spread through the shuk; onlookers crowded the small intersection, jamming up the surrounding alleys. Alon had Stein interview the schoolgirls who’d found the body. Hagit translated for Harper when Alon asked the crowd if anyone had information about the crime. No one responded. Even so, he told them all to give their contact information to the officers and disperse.

Then he turned to Harper. ‘I didn’t expect to see you again so soon.’

‘Nor I you.’ Harper lifted Chloe out of the stroller, asked Hagit to help her with the sling. ‘Do you need to talk to us?’

‘Mama. Go.’ Chloe kicked her ribs, but back in her old familiar sling, she quickly quieted, snuggling against Harper’s body, eyelids drooping.

‘Sorry. She’s hungry and tired.’

Alon glanced up the passageway toward the body. ‘Who discovered him? You?’

‘No, the children did.’ She indicated the girls gathered around Sub-Inspector Stein. ‘They took us to the body.’

‘You know him?’ He looked at Hagit, then Harper.

Neither did.

‘Should we? Who is he?’

Alon crossed his arms, frowning. It was late morning. His shirt already was stained with sweat. ‘His identification says his name is Fadil Kasim.’

Chloe hung limp, asleep. Heavy in the sling.

‘Two murders in two days.’ Hagit’s tone was harsh, as if it were Alon’s fault. ‘Both here in the shuk. What’s going on?’

‘I’m not sure.’ Alon squinted into the sun, scanning the area. ‘A Christian was killed in the Muslim section. Now, a Muslim in the Christian section.’

Harper wasn’t sure what he was implying. ‘Are you saying . . . Do you think it was revenge? A killing to avenge a killing?’

‘Not exactly.’ He led them away from the passageway where the body was being examined. ‘Can we sit for a moment?’

Harper looked around. Saw nowhere to sit. Alon headed for a staircase across the courtyard. Took a seat on the steps. In the shade. Away from the crowd. Hagit parked the stroller, sat one step below him.

BOOK: Outside Eden
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