I Am Not a Traitor: A psychological thriller about an army veteran with a huge secret, page 1
I Am Not a Traitor / Y. I. Latz
All rights reserved; No parts of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping, or by any information retrieval system, without the permission, in writing, of the author.
Copyright © 2017 Y. I. Latz
Translation from the Hebrew: Yael Schonfeld Abel
This book is dedicated to my parents, Sarah and Shmuel Latz, may they rest in peace, whose love paved the way for me.
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August, Current Day
The promenade in Nahariya, a popular vacation destination in northern Israel. I’m waiting for my wife. The sun’s sphere went down a long time ago, but the sky is still bright, tinted with hues of orange and light blue. The beauty causes my heart to expand. As does the situation. I’m flooded with sweet memories. Once, in the early days of our love, we had plenty of hiding places here. When did we do what we did there? I do the math: Twenty years ago? Twenty-five? Twenty-six? What?! Twenty-six? Could it be?
This should be a surprise.
That enhances my excitement.
Soon we’ll meet. It will be after she finishes her folk-dancing class, which has been taking place on the same day of the week, here, in the open clearing on the promenade. For years now, she hasn’t missed a single session, showing up religiously once a week, in summer and in winter, even when she’s burning up with a fever or after a long shift at her job as a nurse in the regional clinic in our kibbutz.
In contrast, I’m here for the first time.
I’ve never joined her and have never come to pick her up.
The amplification system is just a few feet away from me. It’s playing traditional Israeli songs with a distorted sound. The noise is deafening, but it doesn’t disturb me. Right now, nothing disturbs me. I’m entirely focused on the task at hand.
I have a lot to tell her. Where should I start…?
In the meantime, I’m sitting all alone on a tall chair behind a table that is merely a simple wooden shelf, in the front section of a pub that becomes a diner during the day. The diner’s owner looks at me curiously. I seem familiar to him. Apparently, he had served in the Israeli Navy.
Singer has picked up on it as well.
He pops up behind me, signaling me to put my cap and dark sunglasses back on. I comply, and he leaves me alone once more.
My face is sweaty. It’s hot. I don’t wipe the sweat away since both my hands are occupied. One is holding a disposable cup with bitter black coffee that went cold a while ago. The fingers of my other hand are forcefully gripping a fancy, rigid cardboard gift bag with rope-like handles.
In the middle of the bag, the name of the store is embossed in shiny, gold-colored letters.
Inside is an expensive gift: a pair of earrings and a gold necklace. Together, they cost about $8,000. I’ve never bought her jewelry that cost so much, or even a quarter of that price.
This time, I have a good reason: I doubt I’ll have the opportunity to do it again in the near future—
My fingers are dripping with sweat. They’re responsible for the ugly stains forming on the shiny bag. But my mind is elsewhere, and I don’t let go of the bag.
I grow even more tense.
By my calculations, the dance class should have ended a long time ago.
In the meantime, I stare out at the sea. A man and a woman are stepping out to the shore, dripping water. They’re far away from me. Their faces aren’t visible. Their forms indicate they aren’t young. My age, perhaps, or maybe older than me.
They’re standing with their backs to me. She has a black one-piece bathing suit, while he’s wearing basic shorts.
She’s wrapping her arms around herself, in a posture reminiscent of the letter X, as if shivering in the cold, gazing in the direction where the sun disappeared several minutes ago.
He hurries toward a nearby pile of clothes and returns with a towel, draping it over her shoulders. His gestures are full of tenderness.
His hand is on her shoulder. She lowers her head toward it, without taking her eyes off the horizon.
He whispers in her ear.
Her hand caresses her face.
They stand together, motionless.
My eyes are fixed upon them—
Darkness descends quickly. The streetlights come on along the promenade.
The two of them become blurry shadows.
A pale spotlight comes on over the lifeguard’s shack.
A few moments later, they emerge from the darkness.
They’re already wearing their clothes, strolling barefoot, hand in hand, through the soft sand, holding their shoes.
A moment before they reach the paved promenade, they stop.
Kiss for a long time.
Magnetized to each other, motionless.
He whispers to her.
She stands on tiptoe and kisses his cheek.
It’s a kiss that’s full of emotion.
He kisses her back.
Strokes her hair.
She nestles into him.
Both of them look like they’re having a hard time saying goodbye.
She disengages first, walking into the circle of light.
He waits several seconds, and then follows.
My vision grows sharper—
Some time goes by before my brain takes in what my eyes are perceiving.
The woman is my wife.
The man is not me.
Before I settle on one of the million conflicting thoughts rushing through my mind, a hand touches my shoulder lightly.
“Shall we go?” he asks softly.
I’m frozen in place. He doesn’t rush me, adding, “These things happen. You’re not the first and you won’t be the last. That’s life.”
All the air is sucked out of me. Each of my hands continues to hold what it’s been holding so far as hard as it can, as if its life depended upon it.
Singer taps my shoulder again gently.
The moment I slide off the tall chair and stand up, seven or eight security personnel in civilian clothing emerge, positioning themselves like masts on either side of me and behind me, and we begin walking quickly toward the parking lot, with Singer in the lead.
They’re really overdoing it, I comment to myself. If I’d wanted to escape, I would have done it a long time ago.
March, Five Months Earlier
Ayalon Prison’s Solitary-Confinement Unit
“Bread,” I tell them.
“You don’t get enough bread?” he wonders.
“I mean the smell of freshly baked bread that just came out of my oven,” I explain.
“And maybe some butter to spread on it? How about a little honey?” he responds in the mocking style I’ve already learned to ignore.
“No, I’d rather have olive oil and za’atar,” I answer.
“Are you making fun of me or what?” His permanently hostile expression grows even sharper.
“You asked what I was missing here,” I quickly
He’s angry, certain this is another one of my attempts to be a smartass. His humorless reaction indicates that this time, I’ve gone too far. I’m walking a tightrope when it comes to him, and I can’t go overboard. But sometimes, deep inside, an ancient desire to return briefly to the free man I used to be bubbles up within me, overpowering my reason.
Luckily, his colleague with the glasses intervenes on my behalf. “Leave him alone,” she says. “We already know everything’s fine with him. He’s a cook. What did you expect him to answer? All he misses is the smell of bread. There’s nothing wrong with his answer.”
All he misses is the smell of bread? Come on now—
“A cook?” he protests. “He’s a spy! And of the most despicable kind!”
“But by profession, he’s a cook,” she says calmly.
“No! That’s your essential mistake!” He addresses her, all flushed, ignoring my existence. “By profession, he’s a lowlife traitor. ‘Cook’ is just one of his disguises.”
I suppress the urge to confront him. What would be the point? The balance of power isn’t equal, anyway. He picks up on my agitation and wants to provoke me. “Anything you wanted to say?”
From the corner of my eye, I notice the “recommendation” reflected in his partner’s gaze, and thank her for it in my heart. “No,” I reply.
“Are you sure?” He looks like a hunting dog whose prey was stolen from right under his nose. She, in contrast, is actually pleased with my answer. I can almost touch the sigh of relief she lets out.
I should make no mistake. Neither of them is on my side. He’s the head psychiatrist for the Israel Prison Service, while she’s the head psychologist, or maybe it’s the other way around. To me, they might as well be one person.
The two of them visit me in my cell twice a week. They ask a series of repeated questions to which they get repeated answers. Their positive assessment of me is crucial as far as I’m concerned. Their role is to get a sense of me and of my intentions. Mainly, to determine whether I’ve developed suicidal tendencies since they last visited my cell, two or three days ago.
In this very cell, in the most highly secured unit in the Israeli prison system, two or three prisoners who were at least as important as I am have already taken their own lives. If they entertain even a shadow of a doubt that my spirits are low, they have the authority to enhance the measures taken for my protection, including chaining me to the bed for the majority of the day, depriving me of rights such as making coffee and tea with the electric kettle I’ve been given, and adding more security cameras.
Therefore, I do the best I can to ease their suspicions and to tell them what they want to hear.
This time, they’re in no hurry to take off after the usual round of questions.
They remain seated.
I grow more suspicious. How are they intending to mess with me this time?
“Do you know what day it is today?” they ask, as if I were a child and they were my nursery school teacher.
“Which one is it?”
“Thursday,” I answer seriously. I’ve already learned to answer their most ridiculous questions seriously. You never know what the trick question is going to be.
“And what happens on Thursday?”
“It’s just a regular day.”
“But what happens today, specifically?”
“I get a visit.”
“Just ‘I get a visit’? This is your first visitor since you were arrested! For many months now, you haven’t seen anyone other than your interrogators and us! And you’re not excited?”
“Who’s coming to visit you?”
“What’s her name?”
“Why don’t you look happy?”
“You might be happy, but you don’t look happy. Any particular reason?”
“‘No’ because you have a particular reason not to be happy?”
“See, I’m happy!” And I present him with a giant, ridiculous smile. Once again, the germ within me has triumphed over my presence of mind.
He doesn’t look impressed. “Do you remember what you are and are not allowed to tell her?”
“And you’ll honor your commitment?”
“You know this visit is a special privilege?”
“And is an expression of goodwill on the part of your interrogators?”
“Although the court has issued an unlimited arrest warrant against you, and has determined that the conditions of your incarceration will continue to be confidential and on a need-to-know basis, so long as the Shin Bet1 thinks this is necessary for its ongoing investigation.”
“Don’t interrupt me! And the full suppression order that you’re under is still in effect, as usual, and pertains to your arrest, the charges against you, and the conditions of your incarceration. You can’t tell your wife about any of that. Not even hint at it. Is that clear?”
“You know that we recommended allowing your wife to visit despite the risks involved. You’re not planning some trick that will embarrass us and make us look bad, are you?”
“Obviously I won’t do that.”
“Then why do I have a bad feeling, like I can’t trust you?”
I shrug. What kind of answer is he expecting?
“Huh? Why?” He leans toward me as if trying to remove the mask from my face.
I flinch back. The smell of cigarettes wafting off him disgusts me, as does the excessive proximity.
“All right,” she says, leaping up from her seat. She hasn’t said much today.
He reluctantly rises as well.
He’s having a hard time parting from me and my foul-smelling cell.
If the roles were reversed and I were in their shoes, I’d keep the prison visit as brief as possible and run off to the beach as if my life depended on it, to catch some sunshine and fresh air, where I’d attack a pile of fried fish seared lightly on the grill and coated in clarified butter, garlic and herbs, accompanied by a chilled white wine. A sauvignon blanc by Henri Bourgeois from Val de Loire would certainly suit me.
After I’ve been waiting for four nerve-wracking hours, the guards tell me that Smadar will be here any minute.
It’s been many months since her first visit. They haven’t been keeping her away. She’s the one who has been avoiding it.
At first, I defended her to myself. I knew she’d been through a major shock. And a similar amount of pain. My arrest came as a complete surprise to her. The earth shook under her feet. A prison visit is not an appealing experience. Especially since my actions are surrounded by a heavy conspiracy of silence.
As the days went by, I grew angry. I think I deserve to be treated much better by her.
This time, the visit has been arranged quickly. Almost in the course of one day. I wonder what this urgency means.
The guards insisted I change my shirt in her honor. I refused to shave for no reason. They gave in. I did agree to comb my hair. They ordered me to shower, or at least wash my face. They warned me repeatedly to follow the rules and not to try any funny business.
Funny business? Even had I wanted to, I had no mental resources left.
Last time, they’d mad
They had a hard time calming her down.
An outburst of chaos is the last thing they need right now. Even as things stand, they’re embroiled in a mess that might, at any moment, turn into an international scandal involving two major superpowers:
The United States and England.
Her threats proved effective.
This time, they didn’t keep her waiting for long.
The heavy door opens with a creak and she comes storming into my cell.
She’s accompanied by a male guard and a female guard. They won’t leave us alone. This in addition to the cameras tracking our every move.
The scent of fine perfume floods the cell.
The two guards move away, but not too far away. I can hear them sniffing as well.
I rise to my feet for her, as if waiting for her in one of our favorite cafés, like I used to.
We’re not allowed to hug. Those are the permanent instructions. But if she had tried to hug me of her own accord, the guards wouldn’t have stopped her.
The guards wait with me—
She doesn’t try.
She crinkles her nose. Sniffing me, and my cell.
An expression of disgust surfaces on her face. It’s caused by the acrid smell of Lysol, a prominent characteristic of prison life. I’m no longer aware of it.
Unlike the first time, this time she doesn’t allow the Lysol to dampen her enthusiasm.
Her eyes are shining. The dark shadows that had circled them are gone, the melancholy has evaporated from her face, and the pink flush has returned. She’d cut her hair, coating her lips with a vivid orange.
She’s wearing a light T-shirt, with a colorful print of a black boy and girl hugging against a background of a tropical sunset, and tight, high-waisted jeans.
Her gestures are different as well. They’re energetic, full of vibrancy. Her new look is heartening, reminding me of distant days. There’s no trace of the extinguished woman who sat across from me last time, limp as a sack of potatoes.
She evades my extended hand and sits down on the other side of the ugly metal table affixed to the floor of my cell. Ignores the graham crackers and fruit I’d painstakingly procured for her.