Angelique: Book Three
D. J. Belt
Copyright: Original story and characters, copyright D. J. Belt, January, 2012.
Disclaimers: ALT. No graphic sex, but romance, humor, intrigue, and some violence.
Comments: I'm at email@example.com. Don't be shy to write.
Misc.: This is the third story in the Angelique series. It helps to read the first two first, but that's your choice. French-Israeli Angelique and American Laurie are lovers living in Paris. As Laurie's family visits, an Arab jihadist stalks Angelique with deadly intentions.
To everybody that's been patiently waiting for this, I extend apologies that it's been so long in coming, and I thank you for waiting and for reading my stories. I sure hope you enjoy!
"I'm really scared!"
Angelique glanced over from the driver's seat. "What? It will be fine, Laurie. It is only your family."
"That's scary enough." Laurie huffed and blew aside a shock of red hair that dangled irritatingly in her face. "And it's not that."
"What, then?" Angelique blew the horn and swerved the rented minivan as she muttered something in French which Laurie's ever-increasing grasp of the language recognized as extremely crude.
"It's your driving. I mean, I know we're in Paris, but-"
"What is wrong with my driving?"
Laurie braced her feet on the dashboard and gripped the overhead hand-hold. "We're gonna freakin' die before we get to the airport."
Angelique sighed. "Okay, Laurie. For you, I slow down. Yes?"
Angelique slowed the van. "Better?" she asked.
"Thank you." Laurie sat up and breathed a sigh of relief. A car swerved around them, and the driver's hand extended from the open sun-roof in an obscene gesture. She glanced over at Angelique. "Okay. Forget I said anything. I trust you. Go for it."
The minivan accelerated and kept pace with the busy traffic. Laurie cast a cautious look at Angelique, who merely glanced back at her, a twinkle of humor in her expression. "Damn, Angel," Laurie said. "You look hot today."
"Me, hot? The weather, it is pleasant today, no?"
"No. I mean yes, the weather's nice. And you look hot."
Angelique shot her a quick 'huh?' expression. "I feel fine."
"No. You look hot. De toute beautéé. Beautiful. Beau."
"Oh. That kind of hot." She smiled at the compliment. "Merci!"
Angelique did look hot. Her top showed her fit, athletic build off to great advantage, and her shaggy brown hair, streaked with rust-colored red, shone in the sun, a counterpoint to the black beret which she had pulled down upon the back of her head. The breeze blew the loose hair over her forehead and above her ears into a delightful tangle. "Oh, yeah," Laurie said. "You bet."
Angelique laughed. "Et vous regardez trèès beau, aussi."
"Liar. I do not look beautiful."
"You do. And your French is coming along nicely."
"You think so, huh?"
"Oui. On dirait une jeune fille franççaise."
"Me, sound like a French girl? Then how come Maurice says I speak French like a rube from Kansas?"
"Rube? What is this rube?"
Laurie squinted in thought, then answered, "Un rustre ignorant."
"Ah." She thought for a moment, then said, "Perhaps it is because you are a rube from Kansas."
"Oh! Is that so?" Laurie laughed, then slugged her companion on the arm. "Ow! Damn, Angel. You're hard as a brick. Ease off on the biceps curls, will you?"
She laughed. "I thought you liked my body to be fit."
"Oh, I do." She eyed the wiry muscle of Angelique's arm. "I do."
Angelique looked at Laurie, and her hazel eyes locked momentarily with Laurie's soft brown ones. A mutual, teasing little smile crossed both their faces. After a second, Angelique returned her attention to driving. "We can get a room before we meet your family," she teased.
"Yeah, right." Laurie laughed. "And show up at the airport lookin' like we both just got laid? I think not."
Angelique sighed, a theatrical sigh. "Ah, Laurie, my love," she said. "You have no romantic spirit."
"What?" Laurie sputtered, "I have tons of romantic spirit. I mean, we make love like bunnies."
"Yeah. You know. Rabbits. Lapins."
"Oh!" Angelique laughed. "That is most descriptive."
"Yeah? You've seen rabbits do that?"
"I was raised in the country, like you."
"Oh. Yeah, you were."
They settled down into silence as Angelique turned off the expressway and followed the signs to the airport. As they neared the parking, Laurie mused, "I'll bet French rabbits do it with real style."
Angelique wheeled the rented minivan into a parking spot. She turned off the van, palmed the key, and quietly studied her American lover for a long, silent moment. "Laurie," she finally said, "you are a very bad girl."
Laurie twisted nervously on the bench seat. Angelique, for her part, merely watched Laurie indulgently. "They have called you?"
"Yeah. They're off the plane and in customs. They know to meet us here."
They sat in nervous silence for a while, until Laurie grabbed Angelique's knee and squeezed. "Oh, my God. There they are." She bounded from the seat and ran to the center of the aisle. "Mom! Dad! Allie! Here!"
Angelique watched her collide with three weary travelers and give each one a resounding hug. It was time, she knew, to meet the 'in-laws'. She sighed as she rose from her seat to join them. As she approached, she could hear Laurie chattering in delight. "You made it! How was your flight?"
"Long," grumped a middle-aged man that Angelique took to be Laurie's father.
"My ass went to sleep halfway across the Atlantic, and it's still asleep," said a young woman. Laurie's sister?
"Dear, where is Angelique?" That, Angelique decided, had to be Laurie's mother.
Laurie looked around. "Oh, Angel! Come and meet my family." As Angelique neared the group, she could see her father study her with caution; her sister seemed merely fascinated, and Laurie's mother beamed. "Mom, Dad, Allie, this is Angelique."
"I am so happy to meet all of you," Angelique said. She extended her hand to Laurie's father first, who nodded and shook it.
"Thanks for having us, Angelique," Laurie's father said.
"It is my pleasure."
Laurie's mother hugged her. "It's wonderful to finally meet you, dear."
"Merci. And you, also."
Allison's eyes twinkled when she embraced Angelique, as if she'd found a co-conspirator. "Pleased, Angelique. Call me Allie. And I love your tattoo!"
"Don't go gettin' any ideas," Laurie's father muttered to Allie.
"Oh. So glad that you like it." Angelique glanced down at the tattoo on her shoulder as she was released from Allison's hug. A multi-colored dragon decorated Angelique's shoulder, curled tightly and breathing fire. "It is from Hong Kong."
"You've been there?"
Angelique shrugged. "Business," she said. "Of a sort."
Laurie caught Angelique's suddenly shy manner, and took charge. "You guys must be exhausted. We'll drop you at your hotel. It's just a block from us."
Allie waved a hand. "I've so gotta pee first." She began looking around.
Laurie snagged her sleeve. "Come on. I'll take you. Mom?"
Laurie's mom smiled sweetly. "No, thank you, dear."
The two sisters trotted away, leaving Angelique standing with Laurie's parents. She watched them go, then motioned toward a bench. "We wait for them?"
Laurie's father said, "If you don't mind, Angelique, I think I'll stand up for a while."
"Ah. Yes. The plane trip, it was long?"
"No kidding. My butt's numb."
"Bill!" Laurie's mother shot him a look of gentle remonstration, and Angelique couldn't help but smile.
"I have made the trip. Ah, how should I call you?"
"Oh," said Laurie's father. "I'm Bill, and this is Michelle." He gestured toward Laurie's mother.
"Most people, they just call me Angel."
"Well, Angel," Bill said. "Laurie tells me you own a bar."
"Yes, a little one, in the Latin Quarter."
"And you and Laurie live above it?" Michelle said. "How neat. Bill, that sounds so romantic, doesn't it?"
He scratched his receding hairline. "Yeah. Guess so."
"Oh, Bill." Michelle tapped him on the shoulder and spoke toward Angelique. "He seems grumpy, but he's actually a softie."
"I am certain of that," Angelique said. Privately, she wasn't so sure.
Laurie gripped Angelique's arm. "We're ready," she said.
Allie joined them. "I feel soooo stupid. Laurie had to show me how to flush the toilet."
"It's different from Kansas, that's for sure," Laurie said. "Mom, let me take your bag. Angel, grab a suitcase."
Bill waved a hand. "Got mine."
Angelique snagged Allie's suitcase and motioned toward the doors of the commuter rail. "Follow Laurie," she said, then huffed a little as she pulled Allie's suitcase along behind her. Laurie looked back.
"Damn, Allie. What'd you bring? Your horse-shoe collection?"
"Hey, you said to pack light."
Laurie shrugged and looked at Angelique. "That's light, for Allie." She snickered. "Good thing we rented a van, huh?"
"Oh, stop!" Allie said. "I just brought what you said." She shrugged. "Okay, and a couple things more."
Laurie beamed. "Yup. That's my ding-bat sis."
"Twirp," Allie teased.
"Dork," Laurie shot back.
"All right, you two," Michelle said. "Call a truce, at least until we get some rest."
Bill, Michelle, and Allie were seated at a booth in Café Angel, joined by Laurie and Angelique. Maurice had served coffee all around. As he left the table, Bill looked over at Laurie. "The bouncer?" he asked.
Laurie snickered. "He's big enough, isn't he? He's the manager and the bartender, and a sweetheart."
"So," Bill asked, "this is where you work?"
"Yeah," Laurie said. "It gets me by. Got me my work visa, too."
He sighed melodramatically. "All that college, down the drain."
"Now, Bill," Michelle said.
"Yeah, Dad," Allie added. "At least she's not pole dancing."
"How do you know?" Laurie asked.
"You've gotta have boobs for that," Allie said; in reply, Laurie stuck out her tongue at Allie.
"Hey. I'm just teasing our cosmopolitan daughter." He shrugged. "If the Left Bank was good enough for all those artsy-fartsy types, I'm sure it's good enough for her." He grinned. "Who knows? Maybe she'll write the great Twenty-first Century novel or something."
"You never know," Laurie said. "I just might."
Bill fixed his attention on Angelique, who had been sitting quietly, sipping her coffee. "So, Angel. Laurie tells me you're quite the musician." At Angelique's shrug, he asked, "You're playing tonight?"
"Most nights," she answered. "It brings in people, and it is a love of mine."
"She said that you studied professionally. Where?" he asked.
Angelique replied, "Here, and in Israel."
Michelle cut in, expertly ending Bill's interrogation of Angelique. "Your English is beautiful, Angel. Where did you learn it?"
"Here and Israel. It is a second language there, you know."
"Good thing, too," Laurie said. "Maurie says your Hebrew sucks."
Michelle's jaw dropped. "Laurie Caldwell," she admonished. "Language!"
Allie looked at Laurie. "So who's this Maurie?" she asked her sister.
"Oh, you'll meet him," Laurie teased. "I'll make sure of it."
They 'high-fived' each other across the table, as Angelique watched and sipped her coffee. The twinkle in her eye was not missed by Bill, who leaned across the table toward her. "As Allie's father, is this Maurie anybody I should worry about?" he asked Angelique.
"No, no. He is an old friend of mine."
"Great. My daughter's gettin' fixed up with some European horndog?"
Angelique rested her coffee cup on the table. "He is Sabra, a native-born Israeli."
"Okay, I stand corrected," Bill said. "An Israeli horndog. So, how do you know him?"
Angelique replied, "Israeli army."
"Ah." Bill sighed. "Bad situation over there, isn't it?" Angelique only nodded. Bill leaned forward and spoke softly. "You've seen combat, haven't you?"
Angelique nodded again.
"Me, too. Vietnam." He patted her forearm. "Let's leave it alone. There's life to live, and Paris to see." He brightened, and raised his voice a little to take charge of the conversation. "So, what's our daughter got on the agenda for us?"
Laurie bubbled with enthusiasm as she described how they'd spend the next few days. Michelle listened as she drank in her errant daughter's presence, Allison beamed, and Bill wore his pleasant, noncommital face. As Angelique perused the faces at the table, she smiled wanly. It was going to be a long week. But if it made Laurie happy, it was worth it.
Angelique's husky, melodic voice echoed in the background, accompanied by the sound of her baby grand piano. Laurie and a couple of other servers hustled to and fro from the bar to their little clusters of tables and booths, calling orders to Maurice, who tended bar.
Michelle leaned toward Bill. "Our daughter's speaking French like a native," she said. "Can you hear her? And she's so good with the customers."
"Guess all that schooling was good for something," Bill said.
"Oh, Dad." Allie pouted, but her eyes were teasing. "Laurie always was a go-getter."
"Dreamer, is more like it." Bill looked at Allie. "You were always the practical one."
"Me? A master's degree in Library Science, and I'm practical?"
"Hey!" he said. "I want to know something, I come to you. Now that's practical, kiddo." He punctuated the thought with a raised finger. "I always told you, you don't need to know everything; you just need-"
"Need to know where to look it up." Allie laughed. "You told me that a million times, Dad."
He beamed proudly, as if he had won an argument. "See? It must have stuck. Case closed."
"One day, I'm actually going to get the final word with you, Dad."
"Nah." He snickered. "Your mother is the only one who gets to do that."
Allie glanced across the table at Michelle. "Is that true, Mom?"
In reply, Michelle winked at Allie and smiled. Laurie plopped down at the booth next to Allie, huffed, and blew a shock of hair out of her face. "How're you guys doing?" she asked. "Need a refill?" She glanced around the table at the three long-stemmed wine glasses. "Another bottle of red?"
"Yeah," Bill said. "What the hell, we're on vacation. Nothing like getting blasted on our first night in Paris."
Laurie laughed. "Angel says that's the best way to cure jet lag. A little tipsy, and you sleep good. You'll be ready to play tourist tomorrow." She rose, snagged the empty bottle from the table, and shouted toward the bar, "Une autre bouteille de vin, s'il vous plaît, Maurice!" In a second, she was gone.
Maurice slid a bottle across the bar. Laurie caught it, then brought it to the table. In a moment, she'd produced her corkscrew from an apron pocket, expertly popped the cork, and poured some into each glass.
"Damn, Laurie," Allie said. "You handle that corkscrew like a monkey handles a coconut."
"Hey," Laurie said. "I can screw with the best of 'em." She leaned down and whispered into Allie's ear, "And serve wine, too."
"That," Allie said, "was too much information about my little sister."
In reply, Laurie stuck her tongue out at Allie before she disappeared to tend another of her tables.
Michelle, who had watched the exchange, turned to Bill. "Are we going to survive a week in close proximity with both our daughters?"
"Hell," Bill said. "It took us twenty years to kick 'em out of the house, and here we are, on vacation with 'em. Go figure."
Allie pointed toward the bottle. "Drink up," she said. "It's on the house. Angel said so."
"Go easy, dear," Michelle said. "This is strong stuff. I'm feeling it already."
"Hot dog," Bill teased. "I might get lucky tonight." He elbowed Michelle as he looked at Allison. "Maybe even with your mother."
"Ew! Dad! Stop!" Allie said. She covered her ears with her hands.
Bill," Michelle said, "you've officially grossed out your daughter. Behave yourself."
He smiled. "It's what I live for."
Laurie plopped down on the seat next to Allie. "Angel wants to know if there's anything she can play for you guys."
Michelle brightened. "That sweetheart," she said. "Let me see. Desperado?" She looked at Bill. "It was our song when we were dating, wasn't it?"
"Shacking up, was more like it," Bill joked.
"Hey! It was the Seventies."
Allie looked at Laurie. "I vote for something by Scott Joplin."
"Joplin?" Bill chimed in. "That guy was the piano player in a cat-house. I want to hear In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida." He glanced around the table and saw their stares. "Hey, I loved that song."
Allie looked at Laurie. "We're in the Latin Quarter now. Next he'll be smoking weed and growing his hair long."
"Been there, done that," Bill said. "Bought the tie-dyed tee-shirt."
"You need to hang around, Laurie," Allie said. "I'm learning more about our parents than I ever wanted to know."
"Am I going to have to cut you guys off?" Laurie said. "Honestly, I know she can do the first two, but sorry, Dad."
"Okay, okay." His eyes twinkled in mischief, and he said, "Just tell her, 'Play it, Sam.'"
Laurie puzzled at that. "Okay," she said, and left the table. Michelle watched her daughter weave between the tables, sit on the piano bench next to Angelique, and whisper into her ear. After a moment, Angelique laughed, then nodded. A moment later, soft chords echoed in the bar, and Angelique's voice sounded above the keys.
"You must remember this, a kiss is just a kiss..."
Allie blinked in surprise. "She knew it. I can't believe it."
Bill nodded. "Yup. I think I'm starting to like that girl."
Laurie closed the alley door to the apartment and turned on the alarm system. Angelique stepped out of the bathroom, freshly-showered and dressed in a pair of boxer shorts and a tee-shirt. "They are at the hotel?" she asked.
Laurie nodded. "Gosh, they got kind of drunk," she said. "They'll sleep well tonight." She entered the bedroom, stripped off her sweater, and kicked her shoes into the closet. "And I will, too. I'm exhausted."
"Where do you wish to go tomorrow?" Angelique asked.
"We'll walk the Latin Quarter, and maybe see the Louvre, or the Notre Dame Cathedral."
"In the evening, we take them to dinner, yes?"
"Yeah. And call Maurie. Allie's itching to meet him."
"Itching? She is with a rash?"
"No, silly. It means that she's anxious to meet him."
"Ah. Itching." Angelique shook her head. "Itching to meet him. How odd to say." She pulled down the quilt on the ancient four-poster bed. "You sleep now?"
"I'm going to shower first. I'll be there in a little bit."
"I will wait up for you."
Laurie laughed. "Yeah, right. You'll be asleep in two minutes."
"No, I wait for you."
Angelique watched Laurie strip off her clothes and head for the bathroom. Then, she crawled under the covers, assumed her side of the bed, and opened the drawer on a little night-stand. From it, she lifted a pistol, placed it on the night-stand, and settled down with a paperback book, attempting to read by the light of the bedside lamp. By the time Laurie returned, Angelique was asleep, the book opened on her chest. Laurie smiled at her as she crawled into bed and settled down next to Angelique. Carefully, she lifted the book from her lover's hands, folded it shut, and placed it next to the pistol. Then, she kissed Angelique's cheek, reached across her and turned off the lamp, and wiggled down next to Angelique's warm body to sleep.
Ahmad al-Hassan trod the steep, narrow stairs to the dingy third-floor apartment that he shared with another student near the university. He found his door, entered, and kicked off his shoes just inside the entranceway. When he entered the main room, he saw his room-mate Rashad sitting cross-legged on the carpet, concentrating on the screen of a laptop computer. He mumbled a greeting in Arabic when Rashad looked up. "Have you heard from home?" he asked.
"Yes. My uncle in Hamas says that a reward has been declared for the killing of an enemy of the Cause."
"Oh?" He sighed in boredom. "On who, this time? Some writer again?"
"No. On a Jew. A Mossad agent."
"That is nothing new."
"This one is believed to be living here, in France."
"Oh?" Ahmad raised an eyebrow in vague interest. "Who?"
"This one is called by nickname only. The Angel of Mossad, the e-mail says."
"I've never heard of him."
Ahmad sat down next to Rashad and leaned toward the computer screen. "A woman? Impossible."
"Not impossible. The Israelis, they use women in their military. You are Saudi; you don't know these things. I am Palestinian; I do. These Israeli women soldiers, they carry guns in my homeland."
"Women, with guns?" He scratched his chin. "That's crazy. What man would want to give a woman a gun?"
"I have seen it."
"Ah. So they let their women fight for them." He shrugged. "It makes sense. The Israelis, they are few, compared to us Arabs."
"Then why can't we conquer them?"
Ahmad grinned. "Maybe God likes them better than us."
Rashad shot a glance at Ahmad. "That is sacrilege," he said. "You'd better be careful."
"Yes, yes." Moron, he thought. He rose, and walked toward the refrigerator. "You worry too much about all that. You're a student at the university in Paris. Enjoy yourself, why don't you? Forget about the Gaza. You're out of that shit-hole now. You're in France. Act French. Get drunk. And, for God's sake, go get yourself a girlfriend. You play with yourself too much. And you spend too much time worrying about jihad. Fuck jihad. That won't get you anything but dead."
"One day, I'll return to my homeland, and we'll drive them into the sea."
"Yes, of course. Bullshit. You'll get your university degree, get a job here in Europe, and make a shitload of money. Enough to import a wife. You'll marry and have children. And educate them here. And Palestine won't mean anything to you, because you'll bring your mother here, as well. So forget about all that 'holy war' shit. Trust me, you're not Saladin. You're going to be a chemist, for God's sake."
Rashad looked up from his computer. "There's a reward for her death."
"A million Euros."
Ahmad stopped in his tracks. "How much?"
"I heard you the first time." He scratched his chin as he thought. A million Euros could set him up in Europe for the rest of his life. Okay, half a million Euros; he'd have to share it with that dickweed Rashad sitting on his carpet now. And to earn it, all they have to do is kill some woman. So, how hard could it be for the two of them to do that? "So, this Angel of Mossad. What else do you know about him-ah, her?"
"Oh, you're interested now? You, the fornicating, drinking, Europeanized, secular Arab, all of a sudden a jihadist? I don't believe my ears."
"She's in Europe. We're in Europe. Money talks. Find out more about her." And then, he thought, we'll kill her, split the million Euros, and he can go strap some dynamite to his ass and blow himself up for God, while I enjoy prostitutes and gambling in Monte Carlo. Yes, I like it.
Laurie met her family in the lobby of the hotel, just a few doors down from Café Angel. "Got your walking shoes on?" she asked.
"We're ready," Allie said. "Where's Angel?"
"She's at the gym. She goes every morning. We'll see her this afternoon."
"She does appear to be a very fit girl," Michelle agreed.
"She doesn't do steroids, does she?" Bill asked.
"Oh, Dad. 'Course not. She just works hard."
Allie rolled her eyes at Michelle. "Mom, make Dad behave."
Michelle laughed. "That will be the day."
Laurie raised an eyebrow at the exchange, then said, "Okay, then. Well. Latin Quarter, coming up. Follow me, guys."
Ahmad was in a corner of the library, studying, when Rashad plopped down on the worn couch next to him. He nodded a greeting, then breathlessly whispered, "It's true."
"Oh? What's true?"
"The bounty on the Angel of Mossad. I checked with my uncle in Palestine."
"Do you know where she is?"
"The rumor is that she's in France somewhere."
"That narrows it down to several million people." He closed his book. "Do you at least know what she looks like?"
"Then how," he asked, "do you ever expect to find her?"
"God will provide," Rashad answered with assurance.
"Great. Look, you dolt. If we're going to kill her and split the million Euros, we have to learn something about her so we can find her."
"I'm working on it."
"At this rate, she'll die of old age first."
"That's the problem with you, Ahmad. You have no faith." With that, he rose and left.
Ahmad watched him go, then shook his head in disgust. "Hundreds of Arab students here," he muttered, "and I get stuck with Osama bin Fruitcake for a room-mate." With visions of half a million Euros flying away on wings, he opened his textbook and resumed reading.
Angelique turned a corner and accelerated her car. A young man stepped out in front of her, and she stood on the brakes and hit the horn. He jumped about three feet, then staggered in fright. He had obviously been totally preoccupied, and hadn't been watching the traffic. He looked at her, and their eyes locked. He was Arab; not just any Arab, but had that look in his eyes. She'd seen it before, all too often, in the Occupied Territories; a hunted, suspicious, mistrustful look. For some inexplicable reason, her blood ran cold. Instinctively, her hand reached down between her knees and grasped the handle of the pistol secreted beneath the driver's seat. She did not draw it, though. Its presence was comfort enough. The man stepped back, his eyes fixed intently upon her. She rolled the car forward, leaned through the opened window, and spoke in Arabic.
"You should be more careful. You'll get hurt that way."
His jaw dropped in surprise; a French woman had just addressed him in his native tongue. The car sped up and passed him by, and Rashad watched it go. He missed some of the license number, but the vision impressed itself on his mind: a boxy little Renault, older, with faded red paint. And he remembered the voice, speaking in Arabic, and the tattoo on the woman's upper arm: a dragon. He watched the car turn a corner, and he ran to the corner and watched as it bounced up the cobblestone street, then turned into an alleyway. He began walking briskly up the street, and not one block up, he stopped and stared in awe. Across the street, next to the alleyway where the car had turned, was a bar. The sign above the bar seemed, to him, at the moment, a sign from God. Café Angel, it read. Beneath it was the address: 13 Rue d'Espoir.
"No," he said aloud, to no one in particular. "It can't be."
He ran across the street, then slowed and walked a brisk pace to the alleyway entrance. Cautiously, he peeked around the corner. The car was in a little garage, and the woman had emerged, bag over her shoulder, wearing exercise clothing. She looked very fit, almost a military bearing. She pulled a little black box from her pocket, clicked the button, and the door lowered. Then, she strode to a back staircase and disappeared up stairs.
Rashad ran the several blocks to his apartment, his heart pounding in an adrenalin rush. Up the stairs he strode, and he burst into the apartment. "Ahmad!" he shouted. He dropped his bag and kicked off his shoes. "Ahmad!" After a moment, he strode into the little hall and pounded on Ahmad's door. "Ahmad! Are you there?"
The door creaked open a few seconds later. Ahmad rubbed sleep from his eyes. "This had better be good," he said.
"I found her!"
"Who? You found who?" He grinned. "A girl desperate enough to be with you? Finally. God be praised." He studied Rashad through one opened eye. "Have you been drinking?"
He frowned. "No, you sinning disbeliever. I found the Angel of Mossad!"
Ahmad was awake now. Half a million Euros will do that to a guy. "Tell me."
Rashad breathlessly spilled out the story, and Ahmad listened. Then, he waved his hand in a gesture of dismissal. "You're crazy. From that, you think she's the Angel of Mossad?"
"She's white European, but she spoke Arabic to me!"
"Aah, she's probably a westernized Arab. Been here a generation or two. You can't tell the difference, sometimes."
"And she had a tattoo, here." He pointed to his upper arm, near the shoulder. "Do Moslem women have tattoos? No."
"How do you know what Moslem women have under their clothes, you wanker?"
He ignored the barb. "And she's very fit, like the look of some of those Israeli women soldiers I told you about."
Ahmad scratched his chin, then smiled an evil smile. "Fit, huh? Is she married?"
Rashad punched him in the chest. "Idiot. And she went up the stairs above a bar called 'Café Angel'." At Ahmad's sour expression, he said, "Don't you see? It's a sign from God! He's led us to her."
Ahmad sighed. His room-mate had lost it. "Look," he said, "I'm sure it isn't anything. But look in the Paris public records tomorrow, and find out who owns that bar. Get a name. Then, we can check her background." He grabbed Rashad's arm as the young man turned to go. "And don't tell anybody about this. Nobody. If we are to kill her, we don't need competition for the reward."
Rashad blinked at Ahmad for a minute, then brightened in understanding. "Oh. Good idea."
Ahmad watched him head for the front door, and shook his head. "No more Palestinian room-mates," he muttered, then closed the door to his room.
Angelique was in her cramped little office next to the back stairs of Café Angel when the front door opened, and she heard the little bell above the door tinkle. Voices in English followed, and she knew that Laurie and her family had returned from their exploration of the Latin Quarter. She rose and stepped from the office. "Did you enjoy?" she asked.
Allie was enthusiastic. "Oh, Angel! I love the Latin Quarter." She beamed. "So neat!"
"Yeah," Bill said. "We loved it. I can see the attraction for Laurie." He grinned. "It's nothing like Kansas, that's for sure."
"Lord," Michelle said, "I haven't walked that much in years, I think. I'm pooped."
Angelique blinked in question, then looked at Laurie. "She what?"
Laurie snickered. "Not that. It means that she's tired." She turned to her family. "Angel's still learning American slang."
Michelle held a hand over her mouth. "Oh, my. Did you think I said-?"
Allie and Bill cackled in laughter. Laurie gave them a grin, then pointed to a table. "Sit. I'll get us something to drink."
"I think that Michelle and I are going back to the hotel and rest before dinner," Bill said. "We're both poo-- ah, tired. See you about six tonight?"
Laurie said, "That'll work, Dad. See you two then." They watched Bill and Michelle leave the bar, and Angelique noted that Allie stayed behind with Laurie. She pointed to two bar-stools; as Allie and Laurie took their places, Angelique stepped behind the bar and found them two bottles of carbonated soft drink. She popped the caps and placed the bottles on the bar.
Allie asked, "Maurice isn't here yet?"
"He is home with his family until opening," Angelique said. "Perhaps six o'clock. And we close perhaps midnight or one o'clock."
She leaned on the worn wood of the bar and considered Allie as she chatted with Laurie. Allie, she thought, was a cute-looking girl, but wore herself plainly, without a lot of style. Brown hair pulled back into a pony tail, almost no make-up, glasses, a tee-shirt and jeans girl. American, definitely. But she had the same spirit, the same good nature that Laurie showed. Yes, sisters.
"Angel," Laurie said, "did you call Maurie?"
"Oh!" Angelique started. "Maurie. I spoke with him perhaps a day or two ago. Wait, I call." She picked up the bar's telephone and dialed a number, then spoke a few words in French. After a minute, she began speaking in Hebrew. Allie listened, then leaned toward Laurie.
"How many languages does she speak?"
Laurie laughed. "Five, at least."
"Damn. Okay. I'm impressed."
"She's clever that way."
Allie laughed. "A cunning linguist, huh?"
"Nice!" Laurie rolled her eyes. "I can't believe you just said that."
Allie patted Laurie's head. "Did I embarrass my little sister?"
"Yes. Now behave yourself, dork."
Laurie stuck out her tongue at Allie, then waved toward Angelique. "Let me speak to him." She took the telephone receiver and said, "Maurie? It's Laurie." She pressed the speaker button, and Maurie's accented lilt sounded clearly.
"Laurie? It's good to hear from you. What's up?"
"You coming tonight?"
"I'm not sure, Laurie. It's been a long day"
"My sister's here, from America. She'll be here all week."
He laughed. "In that case, I would be delighted. But not dinner. That is for family. Afterward, at the bar, I'll see you both."
"You'd better, or I'll kick your butt. Love you. Here's Angel." She handed the receiver back, and Angelique said a few more words in Hebrew. After a 'Shalom', she hung up.
"Okay," Allie said. "What are you getting me into? Tell me about him."
"He's a player," teased Laurie.
"Huh?" Angelique shot her a quizzical look.
"Lady's man," Laurie said.
"Ah."Angelique shrugged. "I suppose."
Allie raised an eyebrow. "Married?"
"Divorced," Angelique replied.
Allie shrugged. "Me, too. Cute?"
"Charm the socks off a snake," Laurie said.
"Charm..." Angelique puzzled, then laughed. "Oh, I think I understand."
"So far, so good," Allie said. "So, what's he do for a living?"
"Attache, at the Israeli Embassy here."
"Whoa! He's sounding better all the time. Got a picture of him?"
Angelique brightened, then reached to the wall behind the bar and pulled down a small, framed picture from among many. She placed it on the bar and pointed. "Here, this one. Maurie. It is from ten, twelve years ago, but still..."
Allie studied the picture. In it, three young people sat together on a low stone wall, clothed in the olive green of the Israeli military. "Oh...my...God! That's you, isn't it, Angel? You look so cute in a uniform. And that's one big-ass rifle you've got there."
"I was a sniper."
"How old were you then?"
"And that's Maurie, huh? Damn. Handsome guy. And I love that accent of his." She rolled her eyes. "Okay. It's official. I'm in lust."
"Hey," Laurie said. "Paris is like Vegas. What happens here, stays here."
Allie snickered as she counted on her fingers. "Unless it's an STD, a pregnancy, a tattoo, or a police record."
Angelique laughed. "Perhaps we get you all four this week, if you wish."
"Wicked! I love it."
Laurie rolled her eyes. "Stop, you two!"
That afternoon, Ahmad entered the apartment to find Rashad at his usual place, sitting on the carpet and hunched over his laptop computer. "What?" he said. "Are you looking at pornography again?"
Rashad shot him a dirty look. "No, you fornicating unbeliever. I've got the name of the person that owns that bar from the public records."
"Yeah? Who is it?"
He squinted at the screen. "Angelique Halevy."
"Halevy." Ahmad looked at his room-mate. "Is that a Jewish name?" Rashad shrugged. "Well, look it up, moron." At Rashad's blank expression, he urged, "Google?"
"Oh. Good idea." He tapped away at his computer. After a few minutes, he looked up. His eyes were alight. "Yes!"
"Hm. A Jewish woman who owns a bar named 'Café Angel', speaks Arabic, and looks like she's had military experience." Ahmad thought about it, then shook his head. "Not good enough. Go to the bar tonight. Check her out."
"I can't do that. She saw my face. You have to go. See if she speaks Hebrew."
Ahmad shot him a disgusted look. "I wouldn't know Hebrew if it bit me on the ass. I'm Saudi. You're the Palestinian among us. You go."
"She'll recognize me."
"So shave your beard," Ahmad suggested, then thought, it looks like a drowned rat, anyway.
Rashad looked as if he'd suggested that he shave his ass and walk on his hands. "I can't do that!"
"Not for half a million Euros?"
"Well...I guess, for that..." Rashad looked up. "But I don't drink alcohol."
"Oh." Slowly, the light dawned in Rashad's eyes. "Okay. I'll go tonight. But you come, too."
"I've got a date."
Rashad hunched back down over his computer. "Fornicating unbeliever," he muttered.
"Wanker," Ahmad shot back, as he walked toward his room.
Rashad sat at the bar of Café Angel that evening, sipping his coffee and watching the people around him. He recognized the woman at the piano; it was the same one who almost ran over him the day before. She'd sung in French, in English, and even sung a song in what sounded to him like German.
A young woman with red hair slid up to the bar next to him and got the bartender's attention. "Deux cognacs, s'il vous plaîît, Maurice," she called out to him. He nodded, and while he was pouring them, Rashad looked at her. She looked pleasant, and she obviously worked here; he would try conversation. He assumed his most polite manner.
"Your French has an accent. You are not from here?" he asked, in French.
"Ah. You are Israeli?"
The young woman shot him a puzzled look. "No. American."
"Ah. Too bad. I was looking for someone who speaks Hebrew." He pulled a sheet of paper out of his pocket and opened it. It was a printer paper, with Hebrew characters on it. "To tell me what this says. My, ah, university research. Do you speak Hebrew?"
"I do not. Angel does. Do you wish me to get her for you?"
His heart jumped into his throat. "Oh! Ah, she owns this bar? Yes! That is, if she has a moment."
"Surely." The red-haired young woman gave him a courteous smile, then left the bar to deliver her cognac to a table. Rashad watched her thread her way to the piano and lean over to speak to the woman at the piano. Yes! She was Angel. God had provided. He had his proof. He rose and threw some money on the counter next to his half-finished coffee.
Laurie leaned over to speak into Angelique's ear. In English, she said, "There's a guy at the bar who needs help with translating Hebrew. Got a minute?"
"Yes." She looked up. "Which one is he?"
She turned to point, then stopped. "That's weird. He was there a minute ago."
The stool where he was sitting was empty, and the little bell over the front door tinkled as the door drifted shut.
Laurie shrugged. "Oh, well. Never mind, I guess."
The bar was emptying out; patrons were paying and leaving. A few scattered customers remained; among them, a table of Americans. Bill, Michelle, and Allie chatted with Maurie, who had arrived perhaps an hour earlier. Laurie was straightening chairs at empty tables and wiping them down. One of the other servers, a young woman with a lip piercing and a streak of blue hair, tapped her on the shoulder.
"Laurie," she said in French, "go with your family. I have this."
"Oh. Merci, Emma."
Emma nodded, took the bar towel from Laurie's hand, and shooed Laurie toward the table where her family was gathered. Laurie sat down next to Michelle. "Hey, Maurie. Glad you could make it."
Maurie cracked a charming smile, and his eyes twinkled in mischief. His voice, accented with a pleasant lilt, teased her. "Laurie! I love your family. May I keep them?"
"Be my guest," she said. "Nobody else will have 'em."
Bill laughed at that, then said, "It's been a real pleasure, Maurie, but Michelle and I are wearing out. We're heading back to the hotel." He looked at Allie. "Are you coming, or are you going to cat around for a while?"
"Oh, Dad!" Allie smiled. "I'll hang here for a while."
"We'll walk her to the hotel," Laurie said. "Give her another hour or two."
"Hey," Bill said. "She's a grown woman." Then he pointed a finger at Allie. "But you're still my daughter. Don't stay out all night. We've got a date with the Louvre tomorrow."
Laurie rose, saw her parents out of the bar, then returned to the table. Allie and Maurie were talking. Laurie slid into the bench, noticed that they were sitting very close to each other, and said, "Man, I can feel the chemistry working at this table. Is three a crowd here?"
Allie beamed. "Maurie and I are going out tomorrow night. The opera."
Laurie's eyebrows shot up. "Wow! Maurie, I had no idea that you were so cultured."
"I love opera, and Allie said that she had little chance to see it live in Kansas, so..."
Laurie looked at her sister. "You got something to wear?" Laurie asked, then rolled her eyes. "What am I saying? Of course you do."
"I brought one nice dress. That'll do."
"If you need something, come to the apartment. You're about Angel's size. I'll bet she's got something to fit you." With that, she left her sister and Maurie talking, and sought out Angel. She found her in the office. "How'd we do tonight?" she asked.
"All right," she said. "Maurie and Allie, they are still talking?"
Laurie snickered. "They've got a date tomorrow night."
"Poor Allie," Angelique teased.
"Poor Maurie," Laurie countered.
"Where are they going?"
"That is nice. Paris opera is, how-do-you-say? World class."
"Maurie's not going to break her heart, is he? I mean, I don't want to see my sister get hurt."
Angelique stopped her paperwork and fixed her attention on Laurie. "He is quite taken with her. He said so, to me."
"Is that a good thing?"
"Yes, yes. I think, a very good thing. Maurie does not often say such things."
"Okay. Then I won't worry when she comes in at dawn with her hair messed up and her dress on backward."
Angelique laughed, and quieted when she saw Laurie's concerned look. "She is a big girl, no? And he is ah, gallant with the women. A gentleman."
"Hm. If you say so, Angel."
"I do. Now, let us close and see Allie to the hotel, yes?"
Rashad burst through the apartment door and hurried toward the bathroom. He'd had far too much coffee that evening, and he was wired. He passed by Ahmad's closed door, then threw open the bathroom door. A scream resounded and he slammed the door, slapped his hand over his eyes, and said, "By the angels on high!"
A feminine voice screamed, "Merde!", followed by a rapid flow of French. A moment later, a naked woman burst from the bathroom, ran by Rashad, and ducked into Ahmad's room. He came out a minute later, wrapping his bathrobe around him, and shot Rashad a sour look.
"Congratulations. You scared the shit out of her."
"Shut up, you fornicating-"
"Yes, yes. Fornicating nonbeliever. You should try it, you know. You might like it."
"Can't you do that at her place?"
"This is where I live. This is where I fornicate. Get used to it." He lowered his voice. "So, what did you find out tonight?"
"It's her! I know it. She speaks Hebrew."
"Hm." Ahmad paused in thought, presumably about half a million Euros. "All right. Now what?"
"We kill her."
"And when we do, how do we prove it?"
"Moron. How do we prove we killed her?"
"Oh." Rashad thought. "I don't know."
"How about we kidnap her? Take her to that mosque of yours. Those jihadist idiot friends of yours there can vouch for us. Then, we split the million Euros."
"Yes," he said. "I like it. And how hard can it be to overpower one woman?"
Ahmad grinned. "Since it's going to be so easy, I give you the honor of striking the blow for your homeland." He shrugged. "I'll just watch, and drive the car."
"I," Rashad declared solemnly, "will do Palestine proud."
"No doubt," Ahmad said. "Now go to bed, wanker. I'm busy."
Bob, an intelligence analyst among endless rows of intelligence analysts at the National Security Agency headquarters outside Washington, D.C., puzzled over his computer screen. When his boss walked by, he called to him. The boss looked over his shoulder. "What's up?"
"Maybe nothing," Bob said, "but the computer's flagging some weird e-mail traffic between Paris and the Occupied Territories in Israel."
"One address is a known Hamas member, and the other is unknown. The subject of the e-mails is the phrase, 'Angel of Mossad'. That's what caused the computer to flag it."
"Angel of Mossad? What the hell is that?"
"Code for something, I guess."
Vickie, in the next cubicle, slid her chair back. "Guys, it's not code. The Angel of Mossad is a former assassin for Mossad. An Israeli gal who disappeared several years ago. She's officially dead now, but not completely."
"What do you mean, 'not completely dead'?"
"She took out some CIA-Blackwater guys a couple of months ago. Killed 'em all, in France."
"A Mossad agent killed a Blackwater contract team? What the-?"
Vickie warmed to the conversation. "Yeah. Seems that they kidnapped her girlfriend -- an American-- to force her to kill some Shaykh. Instead of killing the Shaykh, she went after them." Vickie fixed them with a stare. "I read the report. It got real ugly."
Bob raised an eyebrow in exclamation. "Holy cow. A badass, huh?"
"I guess," the boss said. "Well, send it to the Mossad section in Paris. Maybe they'll know what to do with it." He turned to go, then added a final thought. "Mark it, 'Urgent'."
That afternoon, Laurie and Angelique left the hotel where Laurie's family was staying, and began walking the block or so to their apartment. Laurie grasped Angelique's arm. "Thanks again for taking my family to the Louvre," she said. "They loved it."
"Of course. My pleasure."
"Oh, horse-hocky. You did it just for me. I know that there's other things you'd rather be doing."
"For you," Angelique said, "anything." She smiled. "And your family, they are good people. I like them."
"They absolutely adore you."
Angelique laughed at that. "I am adorable," she agreed.
"You got that right," Laurie said. "Say, when we get home, do you want to, um...?"
"You," Angelique declared, "are how-do-you-say? A bunny."
Ahmad sat behind the wheel of his car. Rashad, in the passenger's seat, pointed. "Look, just the two of them. Now is our chance."
"You're crazy. It's daylight. And the other one is a witness."
"We take them both."
"Whatever. Do you have a gun?"
Rashad blinked in surprise. "What? Where will I get a gun in Paris?"
"From your idiot jihadist friends in the mosque. Look, if you have no gun, how do you expect to force them into the car?"
Rashad held up a kitchen knife. "I have this."
"You'll castrate yourself."
"I know what I'm doing. My Hamas uncle trained me to use a knife." He waved it around in the car, causing Ahmad to cringe away from him. "I wasn't raised in luxury, a Saudi, like you. I was raised on the streets in Gaza. I can fight."
"Yes, yes. You're Arafat all over again. Go and confront them, and I will drive up."
"Right. For Palestine!" With that, he left the car and strode toward the two women walking up the street.
"Palestine, my ass," Ahmad said. "For a half-million Euros."
Laurie noted Angelique's pace slow, and she looked up. "What's-?"
Angelique's face was stern. Her attention was focused ahead of her. Laurie looked in that direction, and saw a young man approaching. "Hey, I know him," she said. "He was in the bar." She glanced back at Angelique's face, and felt a cold thrill run through her. The hazel eyes, normally warm, were cold, feral. "Angel?"
"Hide." She pointed at the recessed stoop of a shop's door. "There."
"Now!" Angelique pushed her into the shop's entranceway. At the same moment, the young man broke into a run toward them, and a car motor gunned across the street. Laurie watched as Angelique turned and faced the young man. Something flashed silver in his hand.
"Angel! He's got a-!"
Angelique caught his arm and smashed it against a lamp-post, then twisted her body. The arm protruded from their tangle, and the blade of a kitchen knife showed itself. She smashed the hand against the post again, and he dropped the knife. She peppered him with a series of hand blows and a roundhouse kick, and in a moment, he was rolling on the sidewalk, his hands over one eye. Angelique grabbed a handful of shirt, lifted him from the sidewalk, and threw him against the stone front of the shop. She bent down and said something to him in Arabic, then felt his pockets. From one, she yanked a passport, and she flipped it open and studied it. Then, she barked a question to him. At first, he wouldn't talk, but after a few face slaps, replied. They held a very short, very strained conversation, and Angelique finally stood. After one more well-placed kick in the ribs, she picked up the knife, shot a long, icy gaze across the street toward the car whose motor had earlier gunned and now stood idling, and waved to Laurie.
"It is all right now. We go."
Laurie stepped down from the shop's entrance and cautiously walked around the young man. She joined Angelique.
"Are you okay? What the hell just happened?" she asked.
"Nothing. A robbery." She threw the passport down on the sidewalk next to him, and they left.
"A robbery? A robbery is nothing?"
"No. Nothing. He came out the worse for it, yes?"
"I guess. Damn, Angel. You kicked his ass."
In reply, Angelique only smiled, a thin, satisfied smile. "Let us go quickly," she said, and Laurie was only too glad to comply.
Across the street, in the idling car, Ahmad was screaming in laughter and slapping his knees. It was almost worth missing a class to see that. He was still laughing as the door opened, and Rashad sat in the car and shot him a vicious stare. "You asshole," Rashad said. "You could have helped."
Ahmad looked at Rashad, and laughed again. Rashad's eye was puffing closed, and his lip was swollen and bleeding. "To do what?" Ahmad wheezed. "She beat you like a dog!"
"She's tough," Rashad agreed. "So, is there any doubt in your mind now that she's the Angel of Mossad?"
"Hey," Ahmad said. "These French women, they take no shit." He turned to Rashad. "Look, I don't care of she is or isn't. If we can catch her, and if your idiot jihadist friends think she is this Mossad agent, that's good enough for me. I don't care about Mossad; I care about a half-million Euros. Got it?"
"Fornicating unbeliever," Rashad muttered through his swollen lips.
"Wanker," Ahmad shot back. "So, what now?"
Rashad proclaimed, "Now, we get nasty."
"Sure, sure." Ahmad put the car in motion. "You'd better put some ice on that eye, Arafat."
"Kiss my ass."
"Hm?" Angelique and Laurie were snuggled on their old four-poster bed, basking in the afterglow of lovemaking. Angelique had her eyes closed, and her fingers were absent-mindedly playing over the skin of Laurie's back.
"That wasn't a robbery, was it?"
Angelique's eyes opened. She thought for a moment, then said, "No."
"I recognized him. He was the guy in the bar who wanted help translating Hebrew."
"He wanted no help. He wanted to know if I spoke Hebrew. That is all."
"Oh, Jeez." Laurie sat up in bed. "And I told him you did." She slapped her forehead. "What an idiot I am!" She looked at Angelique. "So, what's going on here?"
"I am not certain." She added, "Yet."
"I see." Laurie considered that, then said, "Is your past catching up with you?"
"Can Maurie help?"
Angelique smiled. "A good idea," she said. "I will speak with him tonight."
"Good." Laurie stretched out next to Angelique. "Angel, I'm worried about you."
Angelique hugged Laurie against her side. "Do not worry."
"Yeah. Right. That's like asking the sun not to come up."
Ahmad returned from his afternoon classes, and he climbed the stairs to his apartment. As he approached his door, he passed another Arab student in the hallway. They nodded greetings, but said nothing. When Ahmad opened the door and entered, he saw Rashad sitting on the couch with an ice bag over his eye. "Who was that?" Ahmad asked.
"A friend from my mosque."
"One of your jihadist buddies?"
"Yes. He is more helpful than you. He brought me what I need to capture our enemy."
"What?" Rashad asked. "A butterfly net? That may have been meant for you." He opened the refrigerator and popped the top from a bottle of beer.
"A joke? I'm not laughing. And must you drink alcohol?"
"Yes. I must. So, what did he bring you?"
"This." Rashad held up a handgun. "With this, I will capture her."
"You moron!" Ahmad shouted. "You're on a student visa here. If the French police catch you with that, they'll revoke your visa and ship your ass back to the Gaza in a heartbeat."
"I'm not afraid of the French police."
"You weren't afraid of that woman, either." He snickered. "And she beat you like-"
"Like a dog. I will regain my honor for that." He waved the gun, causing Ahmad to retreat behind the kitchen counter. "Women, beating up men. Whoever heard of such a thing? We," he exclaimed, "should be beating them."
"It's no wonder that you can't find a girlfriend." Ahmad shook his head. "Somehow, I have a bad feeling about this."
"Bad enough to give up your half of the million Euros?"
He shrugged. "Perhaps not all that bad." He pointed toward the gun. "So, what's the plan?"
"I go into the bar just before closing, and take her at gunpoint. You drive the car and wait outside the front door."
"I can do that," Ahmad agreed. "But if I hear you shoot that thing, I'm leaving without you."
"Are you afraid?"
"Yes. I'm afraid of prison or being deported. I like it here. If you shoot anybody, I'll deny to my last breath knowing anything about this."
"All right," Rashad sighed. "No shooting. I'll just scare her into the car with it."
"Don't screw this up."
"Just be here to drive the car. Eleven o'clock tonight. If you're not busy fornicating, that is."
"And if I am?"
"What would you rather have: a fornication, or half a million Euros?"
Ahmad took a swig of beer as he thought about it. Then, he said, "This is a trick question, isn't it?"
The evening at Café Angel had gone well; business was okay but not stellar, and Angelique had entertained her customers for about three hours, off and on. Laurie had eaten dinner with her parents, then served them later in the evening at the bar. Allie was at the opera with Maurie.
Most of the customers were now gone. A few stragglers held on, and Laurie divided her time between sitting with her parents and helping clean up the bar. Maurice was leaning across the bar talking to Angelique when he saw car headlights pause outside the front of the bar, and saw a young man leave the car and approach the door. He pointed. "Should I chase him away, Boss?" he asked.
"No, no. He has time for a drink before we close."
The door opened, and Angelique froze. She knew that face, although now, it was bruised, and one eye had a shiner. He strode into the bar, approached Angelique, and stopped at arm's length from her.
"What do you want?" she demanded in sharp, loud Arabic.
Bill's head jerked around, and he took note of the situation. "Damn," he said. "I smell trouble. You two girls stay put." He made a move to rise, then froze when the young man pulled a pistol from beneath his shirt and pointed it at Angelique's face. The young man began a loud, rapid tirade in Arabic, then motioned toward the door. In reply, Angelique stood her ground, and simply shook her head.
The bar fell silent; all were watching in stunned silence. The young man paused in his tirade, evidently unsure of his next move, then pointed the gun in Angelique's face again. In a flash, Angelique snatched the gun from his hand. He blinked in surprise, then stared down at his empty hand. When he looked up again, she struck him on the side of the face with the pistol.
The blow spun him around. She grabbed him and flipped him over her hip. He hit the floor with a thud, then began to rise. The look in his eyes was wild. He glanced around him in desperation for an escape route, but Angelique was between him and the front door. He rose and turned to run toward the back of the bar, but took no more than two steps when a loud crack sounded, and he spun around again, stunned. He dropped to his knees. Behind him, Bill stood, his hand curled into a fist.
"Do you know this guy, Angel?" Bill asked.
Maurice had emerged from behind the bar, a club in his hand, and stood over the young man, waiting for him to attempt to rise again. The young man did not. He wavered on his knees, then fell forward and kissed the floor. Angelique knelt beside him, the gun in her hand, and flipped him over. She began searching his pockets, and found his passport. She threw it to Maurice and said in French, "Copy that."
Maurice nodded and left. A few moments later, he returned, and Angelique lifted the young man by his shirt and leaned down toward him. Her face was inches from his, and she thrust the gun beneath his chin. She growled something very pointed in Arabic as Maurice stuffed the passport back into his shirt pocket, then stood, looked at Maurice, and gestured toward the door. Maurice understood.
"Open the door, Laurie," Angelique said, then turned to Maurice. "That car is waiting for him."
Maurice grabbed the young man by the back of his pants and his shirt collar, and lifted him like a sack of potatoes. He strode toward the front of the bar with his burden. As Laurie opened the door, Maurice heaved the young man out of the door, directly toward the hood of the waiting car, two meters in front of him.
Ahmad was sitting in the car with the motor idling. He was dividing his attention between the book in his hand and the bar, waiting for Rashad to return with their prisoner. He had just returned his attention to the book when a resounding crash sounded, the windshield cracked, and the car rocked back and forth. Ahmad's head hit the interior roof of the car, and the book flew out of his hands. He glanced up. Rashad was lying on the car's hood, and his face was smearing blood across the cracked glass. His eyes were bugging out, and he gurgled something at Ahmad.
"What the hell?" Ahmad shouted. The car rocked a second time when a very large Frenchman kicked a sizable dent in the passenger door and shouted something.
Rashad's eyes were wide. "Drive! Drive, you idiot!" he shouted.
"Look at what you did to my fucking car!"
"Damn your car! Drive!"
The very large Frenchman kicked the car again, and it rocked. "All right, all right," Ahmad shouted. He jammed the car into first gear and popped the clutch, and the car squealed away, with Rashad desperately clinging to the hood of the car.
"Stop! Stop!" Rashad shouted. He slid back and forth on the hood of the car, and his legs flailed in the air.
"I thought you wanted me to drive!" Ahmad retorted. "And what the hell happened?" He squealed around a corner and threw it into second gear.
Rashad leaned around the corner of the windshield. "What do you think happened?" he shouted.
Ahmad started laughing hysterically. "She beat you like a dog again!"
"Stop the damned car, you fornicating-"
"All right. Stopping the car."
Ahmad slammed on the brakes. Rashad shot off the hood of the car, landed on the cobblestones with a splat, and rolled down the street. After allowing himself a bout of screaming laughter, Ahmad quieted, wiped his eyes on his sleeve, and stepped from the car. Rashad was slowly picking himself up from the street. In the car's headlights, he looked a wreck. Very slowly, Rashad walked to the passenger side of the car and got in. Ahmad resumed his place behind the wheel.
"I suppose this means that you didn't get her," Ahmad said. "How do you Palestinians expect to drive them into the sea when you can't even handle one of them?" He handed Rashad a handkerchief. "Here. You're bleeding on my seats."
Rashad spoke through the handkerchief. "And how would you Saudis handle this?"
Ahmad grinned. "Simple. We have oil money. We just buy our enemies off."
Rashad mumbled, "Unbeliever."
"Whatever. Do you need to go to the hospital, Arafat?"
"Fuck you. Take me home."
Ahmad cackled in laughter as he turned a corner toward their apartment.
Maurie and Allie were strolling up the street toward Café Angel. "Gosh, Maurie," Allie said. "The Marriage of Figaro was fantastic. I've always loved Mozart. Thanks for taking me."
"It was my pleasure." He pointed toward the door of the bar. "We'll stop in for a drink?"
"Sure. I'd love that."
They stopped abruptly when the door opened, and Maurice threw someone out of the bar. The hapless outcast landed with a crash on the hood of a car, and Maurice began kicking the car and shouting in very profane French. Frantic voices in Arabic sounded, and the car squealed away, leaving rubber on the cobblestones. For a long, silent moment, Maurie and Allie just stood there, digesting what they'd seen. Then, they looked at each other.
"What the hell was that all about?" Allie asked.
"A little trouble?" He waved a dismissive hand. "Whatever it is, Angel and Maurice can handle it."
Allie blinked. "I guess so. Damn." She looked at Maurie. "Well. That was a different end to a fantastic evening."
Maurie smiled back, a disarming smile. "It is early yet. Must the evening end so soon?"
Their eyes met. For a long, silent moment, they considered each other. Finally, Allie said, "You work fast, don't you, Maurie?"
"Life," he said, "is short."
Allie smiled her agreement. "I can't believe that I'm about to say this, but..."
Her eyes flashed in challenge. "I just happen to be staying a block up the street. Would you like to have that drink at my place?"
"Allie," Maurie said, "I would be honored." He assumed an air of concern and asked, "Ah, I won't be keeping you up, will I?"
"Trust me, when I decide that it's time for bed, you'll be the first to know."
They resumed their stroll up the street, past the door of Café Angel. He placed an arm about her waist, and she leaned into him as they walked. As they crossed a side street, Maurie asked, "Allie?"
"You aren't sharing a room with your parents, are you?"
"Nope. Got my own room."
"Ah. That's nice."
They walked a little farther, then lingered under the soft glow of a street lamp. They faced each other, and their eyes met. Maurie's voice was soft as he placed a hand beneath Allie's chin and tilted her face up. "I would very much like to kiss you. May I?"
Allie smiled at that. "Angel was right. You are a gentleman, aren't ya?"
"I try. Is that a 'yes'?"
She considered him for a moment, her eyes alight with humor. Finally, she said, "Definitely."
Bill cast a glance around the bar. He caught sight of the two servers and asked, "Are you gals okay?"
Emma nodded. "Yes," she said. "Okay."
"Good." Then, his voice raised. "Laura Ann Caldwell!"
"Dad?" Laurie turned. Her father was standing in that stance, and had fixed her with that look. Oh, oh.
"Is this the usual thing for this place? 'Cause if it is, you're damned sure not working here anymore."
"Honest, Dad, it's not. This is a nice place. Really. That was totally weird."
"Uh-huh." He looked around the bar, and saw Angelique sitting on a bar-stool. He took a place next to her. The young man's pistol was on the bar in front of her. Bill studied it and said, "That gun is a piece of crap."
"Yes," Angelique agreed. "Dirty, too. He is not familiar with such things, I think." She held up the clip. "And only three rounds in it. Someone cheated him."
"Um. So, Angel. There seems to be more to you than meets the eye. Did you learn those moves in the Israeli army?"
"After a fashion," she said.
He eyed Angelique. "Look, talk to me. I've been a cop for thirty years, and I can read people pretty well. I think the world of you, but my daughter's involved with you, and I think that there's a lot about you that I don't know. You took that guy down like a pro. Be straight with me. What's your story, Angel?"
Angelique considered Bill's expression. Finally, she nodded. He was concerned about Laurie. "I was in Mossad," she said. "For a time."
It took a moment for that to register with Bill. When it did, he said, "Holy crap."
"It was some time ago. I have no more obligation to them."
"Right. So, exactly what did you do in Mossad?"
Angelique nodded thanks to Maurice as he slid her a whiskey. She took a sip, then said, "It was my duty to locate and deal with certain people deemed to be enemies of Israel." She looked at him. "Imminent threats, as they were called."
"Deal with them? Does that mean what I think it does?"
Angelique nodded. "Yes."
Bill studied Angelique for a moment silently, then asked, "Does Laurie know about this?"
"Thanks for being honest with me, Angel. I respect that." He rose from his stool, looked around the bar, and his eyes fixed upon Laurie. "Young lady, we need to have a talk. Right now."
Laurie paled, but she stood her ground. "Let's go upstairs to the apartment, Dad. We can talk there."
"Right." He motioned with a hand, and Laurie led him up the worn wooden stairs to the apartment.
Michelle laid a hand on Angelique's shoulder. "May I sit with you?" she asked.
"Please," Angelique said. She motioned to the neighboring bar-stool. Michelle took a seat, and Maurice poured her a glass of red wine.
For a moment, they were silent. Then, Michelle said, "I couldn't help but overhear what you told Bill. You know, he's just concerned for Laurie's safety."
"I understand." She gulped her whiskey. "I am, also."
"Does this sort of thing happen often around here?"
"No, never," Angelique said. "Until today." She said something to Maurice, and he passed her a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. "Do you mind?"
"No. I don't mind."
Angelique lit a cigarette as Maurice refilled her whiskey glass. "I thought that I was safe here, in Paris," she said. "I thought that it was over finally, that I was dead to them."
Michelle sipped her wine as she thought. Then, she said, "I understand more than you might think." When Angelique cast her a questioning glance, she continued, "Bill is the county sheriff where we live. He's put some bad people away. They get out of prison, eventually. We live on a farm, but we have alarms on the house now and he sleeps with a gun next to our bed. Whenever we go out, he carries a gun. He's afraid that he'll run into one of those people when we're shopping or something." Michelle pointed to the cigarette pack. "Do you mind?"
"No, no. Please."
Michelle lit a cigarette. "Thanks. It's happened. I was scared, but not for me. I was scared for Bill."
"I am sorry."
"Bill's tough. He's taught me and the girls to use guns. He's so afraid for me, for Allie and Laurie." She sipped her wine. "The most important thing in the world for a man is to protect his family." Angelique nodded, and Michelle continued talking. "He's a sheriff because he feels that it's the right thing to do, to protect good people from bad ones. I'm sure that you did whatever you did for the same reasons."
"In Israel, we say it is to protect the innocents," Angelique said, "from the rabid dogs of humanity."
Michelle nodded. "That's a good way to put it, I guess. Look, what I'm saying is that Laurie is not a stranger to this kind of thing. She'll stay by your side because she loves you. And that's why I've stayed by Bill's side for thirty years now."
Angelique's gaze met Michelle's. "Thank you," she said.
"No. Thank you, Angel." At Angelique's questioning expression, she said, "My greatest wish is to see my daughters happy. And I've never seen Laurie as happy as she is right now, right here, with you."
"I will keep her safe, always. On my soul, I pledge this."
Michelle rested her hand on Angelique's arm. "I know you will."
Laurie clicked on the light. "Do you want something to drink, Dad?"
"Yeah. That'd be nice." He looked around. "Nice place."
"Thanks. Angel's the decorator."
He accepted the glass of wine that Laurie poured. "I can see why you like it in Paris."
"I love it in Paris," Laurie corrected. "And I really love it here with Angelique. I guess it's hard for you to understand."
Bill sipped his wine. "Look," he said. "I came to grips a long time ago with the fact that you like women more than men. I think I understand, I really do." At Laurie's skeptical look, he said, "Hey! I like women, too, y'know."
Laurie laughed. "Yeah. Good thing for me, huh?"
"Right. Well, I need to talk to you about the woman you're with right now."
"Okay." Laurie motioned toward the sofa. "Sit?"
They sat, and Laurie said, "So, what about her?"
Bill thought as he considered his wine. Then, he said, "Do you know about her past?"
"No. I mean, all about her past?"
"About the fact that she was what amounts to an assassin?"
"Aren't you concerned about that? She's killed people, probably up close and personal and deliberate. It takes a darkness to do that, Laurie. That eats at a person's soul."
"Sure I'm concerned, Dad. I'm concerned every time I wake up in the middle of the night, and I have to hold her and listen to her cry because she's been having those damned nightmares again. I'm concerned because she beats herself to death for having done what she did. I'm concerned because she keeps getting offers to free-lance for the CIA and Mossad and others who want people killed for some bullshit political reasons." Laurie added, "Which she always refuses. She doesn't want any more of it, ever. She's out of that now."
"Well, hallelujah for that, anyway," Bill said.
"Angel's a good person," Laurie said.
"Don't misunderstand me. I like her, I really do. That's one neat girlfriend you've got there. Hey, she's head and shoulders above anybody else you've ever brought home. But I'm concerned about your safety, hanging around with her."
"I'm safe with her."
"Bullshit. She's a magnet for crazies. Tonight proves it. Her past is going to get her killed one day, and if you're with her, you'll get killed, too."
"Dad, I love Angel and I'm staying with her, and that's all there is to it."
"I'm concerned for your safety, that's all."
"I know you are, and I appreciate it. But I'm staying with Angel."
"Damn it, Laurie!"
"She's already saved my life twice, Dad!"
Bill was speechless. He blinked in disbelief, then gulped his wine. After a long silence, he said, "Young lady, you'd better explain that last statement to me."
Laurie sighed. "Okay. Look, I didn't tell you this before because I thought you'd freak out. But do you remember when I worked for Senator Abrams in Washington?"
"Sure. I got you that job."
"Right. My buddy Sean and I-well, Abrams was leaking classified stuff to Mossad, and he was about to be busted by the FBI. And Sean and I got subpoenaed to testify about it at some Senate committee hearing."
"Dad, what we knew would have sunk him."
"So," Laurie said, "I'm alive today because Angel protected me from a contract assassin." At Bill's aghast expression, Laurie said, "Dad, she saved my life. That guy was in my apartment, and she killed him."
"Holy crap. You saw that?"
"Yeah! He was choking me when Angel shot him."
"Good God." Bill gulped his wine, then set the empty glass on the table. "Let's hear it, girl. The second time?"
"Some CIA assholes kidnapped me to force her to kill some Muslim cleric, and she rescued me."
"When the hell did that happen?"
"Here. A couple of months ago. I owe her my life, Dad, twice over."
"Is that why you're with her? Gratitude?"
"No!" Laurie fixed her father with a firm stare. "I'm with her because I love her. She's like nobody I've ever met before, and I know in my heart that I'll never meet anybody like her ever again."
"Damn it, Laurie! Angel's bad news. She's going to end up dead one day because of her past, and you'll end up dead with her."
"Then so be it!" Laurie said. "But I'll be with her as long as she'll have me."
"You're not going to listen to reason, are you?"
"No. I'm going to listen to my heart."
Bill stood. "You're as stubborn as your mother is." He headed for the door. Before he walked through it, he said, "Just like her."
"And that's a bad thing?" Laurie asked.
He smiled, a wry little smile. "I guess not. I'll see you tomorrow." Then, he walked through the door and closed it behind him.
Allie sat on the side of the bed and slipped her robe about her body. "I've so gotta pee," she said. "This is an old hotel. The bathroom is down the hall. I'll be right back." She shot a teasing look at Maurie. He was relaxing in bed, the covers pulled up to his waist. "Damn, fella," she said, as she eyed his chest. "You work out, right?"
"I do my best."
"You sure do." With that, she left and found the bathroom. A few minutes later, she exited it and tiptoed down the quiet hall to her room. As she was about to enter, the elevator door opened. Bill and Michelle stepped into the hall, and halted three feet from her. She blushed scarlet and grinned a weak grin as she pulled her robe more tightly about her. "Oh! Ah...hi, Mom. Hi, Dad."
Bill and Michelle studied their daughter for a long, silent moment. The robe, the tangled hair, the totally guilty expression. Then Bill said, "Young lady, you are so busted."
Allie blinked. "What?" she protested.
"Don't 'what?' me, Allison Caldwell. You look like a fugitive from a cat-house gang-bang." He raised an eyebrow. "Having a fun date, I take it?"
"Um, yeah, Dad. The opera was great."
"It's not the opera I'm talking about."
Michelle said, "I don't want to know. She's a grown woman. Come on, Bill. Leave it alone. Let's go to bed."
"Yeah," he agreed. "I don't think I want to know, either. We'll see you in the morning. So throw that horndog out and get some sleep, will you? 'Cause breakfast is at eight a.m., and you'd better be there."
"'Night, Mom. 'Night, Dad," she said, as she watched them enter their room. "Jeez," she said. Then, she slipped into her room and locked the door. A moment later, soft laughter could be heard coming from behind her door.
A little while later, Allie was snuggled against Maurie's shoulder, and they were softly talking. The buzz of a cell phone echoed in the room, and he lifted the phone from the bedside table. "Apologies," he said, "but it might be work. I have to check." He looked at the phone and said, "Hm. It's Angel. What could she want at this hour?"
"Oh-oh," Allie said. "You'd better answer it."
He held the phone to his ear. "'Allo? Angel!" He lapsed into Hebrew, and Allie listened, fascinated by the language, as Maurie held a short conversation with Angelique. When he hung up, he said, "I am so sorry, Allie, but I must go."
"Yes. I have a friend who may need my help." He rose from the bed and began to dress. "I would very much like to see you again. May I?"
Allie grinned. "Sure, sailor. What did you have in mind?"
"Tomorrow night? Dinner?"
"I'm free when you are."
"Six, then." He slipped on his suit-coat and stuffed his necktie into his pocket. Allie met him at the door and kissed him, and he shot her a rakish grin, then slipped from the room.
She leaned against the wall and sighed. "What a guy. Damn, I got it bad," she said. "Six won't come soon enough for me."
"I'm here, Angel," Maurie said in Hebrew.
Angelique opened the door, and Maurie slipped in. She locked the door behind him. Then, she rested her pistol on the kitchen counter. "I am in trouble," she said.
"Obviously," he agreed. "Tell me about it." He saw Laurie take a place beside Angelique. "In English, for Laurie. Now," he said, "tell me what happened tonight." He waved a hand. "Yes, yes. Allie and I saw it from the street. They spoke Arabic."
They sat in the living room, and Maurie listened as Angelique summarized the events of the last couple of days. Then, she fell silent. After a moment, she asked, "How did they find me?"
"I don't know. The Americans sent me e-mails intercepted between here and a known Hamas member in the Gaza. The Angel of Mossad was mentioned. The Paris contact asked many questions, but so far, has not told them about you."
"Why not?" Laurie asked.
"Because there's a rumor of a million Euro price on the head of the Angel of Mossad. I suspect that whoever it is here wanted to collect. So, he did not mention-yet-that you are here."
"He will," Angelique said.
"Perhaps. Perhaps not. You have beaten him badly, twice now. That is humiliating for him. He will try again."
"The next time, I will have to kill him."
"No," Maurie said. "That will only assure Hamas that you are here. And perhaps draw in the Paris police. Then, it is in the newspapers, and your cover is destroyed."
"It is destroyed now."
"Perhaps not. Let me make inquiries at work tomorrow. I will tell you what I find. Now try to get some sleep, and enjoy the visit of Laurie's family." Maurie stood. "And if you see him again, call me. We'll deal with him. You're retired, and you're supposed to be dead, remember?"
Angelique nodded. She rose and saw Maurie to the door. Before he slipped out, they clasped hands. "Take care, old friend," he said. "I will be in touch. And call me if you need me. I will be there for you."
"Wait." Angelique handed Maurie some folded papers. "Here is his passport."
He perused the papers, and he smiled. "Thank you, Angel. This will make it easy to find him. Shalom."
Then, Maurie slipped out of the door. Angelique locked the door, set the alarm, and picked up her pistol from the kitchen counter. She looked at Laurie.
"We go to bed?" she asked.
Laurie raised an eyebrow. "I never could say no to a woman with a gun."
The next morning, delivery men were restocking the bar downstairs. Angelique dropped down to check the inventory, and Maurice waved at her. "Boss! Good to see you. We're just about finished." When she turned to study the shelves, Maurice noted the bump of a pistol beneath the back of her shirt, above her waist-line. "Are you expecting trouble?" he asked.
"After last night? This neighborhood is getting crazy."
"He will be back. Watch out for him."
"Um." He paused, then asked, "Where's Laurie and her family today?"
"Taking a guided tour of the Paris sights."
"There's plenty of them," he agreed. "Ah, look, Boss. I took the liberty of calling the police about last night. They are sending someone around this morning."
Angelique paled. "You what?"
He noted her expression. "Was that not the right thing to do?"
"It's done now. Never mind, Maurice. You did what you thought was the best thing to do."
As if on cue, the door opened, and the little bell on the door tinkled as a police officer entered. He nodded greeting to them, then asked, "Is the owner here?"
"I am the owner," Angelique said.
"I'm here about last night. A man with a gun threatened you in here?"
"Yes. Maurice, come. We three can talk in my office."
Twenty minutes later, they emerged from Angelique's cramped little office by the back stairs. The delivery men had finished their job and left. The officer shook their hands and said, "I will file a report. Do you wish to make charges against this man?"
Angelique thought about it. Charges would mean a trial. A trial would mean publicity. She shook her head. "He got the worst of it last night." She thought again, then said, "He is, I believe, on a student visa here. Will this get him deported?"
"In a bar, waving a gun around? Undoubtedly," the officer said.
"How soon might he be deported?"
He shrugged. "The bureaucracy, it moves slowly. If he runs, it could take time to find him."
"No doubt. What is your advice, should he come again?"
"Right. Thank you."
"Of course." He looked around. "Nice little place you have. I must visit some evening soon." With that, he left.
Angelique sat at the bar. She covered her face with her hands and sighed, then looked up at Maurice. "Is there coffee?"
"Yes, yes." He poured her a cup, then watched her as she sipped it. "What did that fellow last night want with you, Boss? And where did you learn to speak Arabic?"
Slowly, she responded. "Maurice, you need to know something about me. Something I have never told you."
Maurice listened in fascination as Angelique made a short tale of her history. When she finished, Maurice said, "My God. I never knew."
"You know now. I may have to leave suddenly." She looked at him. "Perhaps for good. Begin another life, somewhere else."
"Boss, you love it here."
"And the bar?"
"I will call my lawyer and draw up papers today, making you co-owner of this bar with me, and the apartment upstairs. If I leave, it is yours to run. Rent the apartment." She shrugged. "Or move in. I don't care which. It's a lovely place."
"Boss, the people, they come to hear you sing and play. You are this place, not me."
"There are plenty of good musicians in this city. A talent agency can book them."
"You love it here, Boss. Look, if this crazy fellow comes around again, we'll handle him."
Angelique offered him a pained smile. "You are a good friend, Maurice. You always have been. Thank you."
Maurice smiled thanks, then laughed. "It is said that a friend helps you move, but a good friend, they will help you move a body."
In spite of her mood, Angelique laughed. Then, she turned melancholy again. "Let us hope that it does not come to that." She stood. "I'm going to the gym."
"And I will go home. Delivery is finished. See you this evening, Boss. And keep a stout heart. It will turn out well."
She smiled at him as she walked toward the back stairs to the upstairs apartment. Maurice noted, though, that it was a weak smile, and she did not entertain his confidence that all would, indeed, be well.
"Okay," Laurie said, as she sat with her family at an outdoor café table, eating lunch. "There's a lot of silence in this group today. Strange vibes in the air. What's going on?" She looked at her father. "Was it our conversation last night?"
Bill shook his head. "I had my say, and you had yours. It's done."
Allie blinked in surprise. "Oh, my God. What happened?" She looked at Michelle. "Mom?"
"I plead 'the Fifth', dear."
Allie's gaze traveled over to her father. "Dad?"
He grumped a little, then said, "Look. You gals may be all grown up, but to me, you'll always be my little girls." He shrugged. "Hey, I'm just concerned for your safety, that's all."
"It's Paris, Dad," Allie said. "What could happen here?"
Michelle said, "A lot, evidently."
Bill eyed Allie across the table. "Yeah. A lot happened last night, young lady."
"Oh. That." Allie blushed scarlet, then glanced up and studied the awning over the table. "Ahem. Well..."
Laurie said, "Honestly, Dad. That was just totally weird."
Allie shot a glance at Laurie. "Oh? Thanks a lot, dork. What's so weird about it?"
"Huh?" Laurie said. "I just meant that's the first time I've seen that happen, that's all."
Allie's jaw dropped. "You little fibber! It is not! You actually peeped on me once. High school, remember? When I had Jimmy over?"
Michelle raised an eyebrow. "You did? And you did? And he did?"
Laurie blushed scarlet, then hid her face. "Hey, I was curious. And what I saw was weird. I needed therapy after that." She recovered her dignity, then sputtered, "Thanks for bringing that up at a family meal, Allie. And what's that got to do with last night?"
"Me and Maurie last night was not weird!"
"Angel beating the shit out of some guy in the bar is weird." Laurie blinked in surprise as the full import of Allie's statement dawned on her. "Wait a minute. You and Maurie got weird last night?"
"But you just said-"
"Well, yeah. But it wasn't...weird. It was...you know...nice." Allie cocked her head to one side in question. "Back up a minute. Angel beat the shit out of somebody last night?"
"She and Dad did."
Allie shot a glance at her father. "Way to go, Dad!"
"Angel didn't need much help," he said.
Allie laughed. "I wish I could have seen that."
"You were too busy doin' the nasty, evidently," Laurie muttered. "And I don't wish I could have seen that."
"I thought you liked to watch," Allie shot back.
"You're never gonna let me live that down, are you?"
"Nope," Allie said. "Because I'm your loving sister." She snickered evilly. "I'm loving watching you blush and squirm."
Laurie rolled her eyes. "Well, I can't believe you slept with Maurie on the first date."
"We didn't sleep a wink. And how long did you know Angel before you two got personal, little Miss Manners?"
Laurie covered her face with her hands, and she leaned her elbows on the table. "Do we have to talk about this now?"
Bill looked at Michelle. "I don't need to hear this."
"Shh. I do," Michelle replied.
Allie poked Laurie in the ribs. "I'm making a point. Come on. Let's hear it. How long?" Laurie mumbled something unintelligible. "What's that?" Allie said, as she leaned closer. "We couldn't quite hear you."
Allie beamed in triumph. "I rest my case."
Laurie sighed. "Okay, dork. You win. Now drop it. Please!"
Bill and Michelle looked at each other. "Darn," he said. "What was it with us? A month?"
Michelle smiled. "Five days."
"Hm," Bill said. "As I recall, it seemed like a month."
"Hey, It's Paris," Allie said. "I'm only gonna be here for a week." She studied her sister. "Why are you so strange about this, anyway?" She pointed at Laurie. "Have you and Maurie--?"
Laurie's hands hit the table, and she dropped her jaw in astonishment. "I have not!" She said.
"Oh? Has Angel?"
Laurie blinked at Allie in surprise. "No!"
Allie's eyes squinted in teasing amusement. "How do you know? Have you ever asked her?"
Laurie assumed a puzzled look. She thought, then said, "I don't think she has, anyway." She huffed and blew some hair out of her face. "Oh, man. Thanks a lot, goof-ball. I'm gonna wonder about that for the rest of the day."
Allie cracked up as she pulled out her cell phone. "What's Angel's number? I'm calling her right now to apologize."
"Because she is so gonna get the third degree from you tonight," Allie said. She was still laughing when Laurie slugged her on the arm. "Ow! That's gonna leave a bruise, Laurie."
"There's that tattoo you wanted to get while you were here."
Bill leaned over toward Michelle. "Are you getting all this? God, I wish you had your video camera on right now."
"I know. We could post it online with the vacation pictures," Michelle said. "The folks at church would love it."
Allie and Laurie glared at each other for a long, silent moment. Then, they leaned against each other and began snickering in unison. "I can't believe you fall for that every single time I pull it on you," Allie said.
"Well, I can't believe -- wait a minute. You're my slut-puppy sister. Yeah, I can."
"And I can't believe we just had this conversation in front of Mom and Dad," Allie said.
"We can't, either," Bill and Michelle said, in unison.
"Knowing our family," Laurie replied, "I can."
Bill waved for the waiter, and pulled some money from his pocket. "Well," he said. "That was an entertaining lunch." He looked around the table as his expression brightened. "Anybody up for coffee and dessert? There's a fantastic-looking bakery just down the street. My treat."
Ahmad entered the apartment and left his shoes by the door. He noted the quiet, and breathed a sigh of relief. Rashad wasn't around. He wondered what had become of his room-mate, then decided that he didn't really want to know. He was either at class, or was at the mosque deriding the Zionists. And probably one Zionist bitch in particular.
He walked down the hallway, and noted that the door to Rashad's room was open. He peeked inside, and his blood ran cold. On Rashad's bed lay a cloth vest with many pockets. He had seen pictures of suicide vests before, and he instantly knew what it was. He stepped inside the room and examined the vest. Its pockets were stuffed with plastic bottles filled with a liquid. One bottle, in front, had a red cap inserted into the neck of the bottle, and wires ran from the cap to a battery and a button.
He's lost it, Ahmad thought. That idiot jihadist moron, he's going to blow up that bar, and himself with it. And when he does, the French police will be all over this place. And I'll get blamed too, and they'll deport me or throw me in prison. They'll never believe I didn't have anything to do with this. I can't let this happen. I've got to do something.
He lifted a bottle from the vest and opened it. The contents smelled foul; probably a liquid explosive. Rashad was a chemistry student, after all. He'd know how to mix an explosive. In a moment, he'd made his decision. He lifted the vest and carried it into the bathroom. One by one, he opened the bottles and poured their contents into the toilet. Then he flushed it, and refilled all the bottles with water. That done, he replaced the vest on the bed. As a last thought, he opened his cell phone and called his current girlfriend.
"I'd like to see you tonight. No, not here." In the name of God, he thought, definitely not here. "I'll tell you what. Pack an overnight bag. I'll take you to a fancy hotel downtown. We'll have a nice, romantic dinner and stay there tonight. What do you think?"
Her voice was all excitement and agreement. He said good-bye and closed the phone, then went to his room, threw some things into an overnight bag, had a quick shower and a shave, donned a suit, and left the apartment. He'd watch the news tomorrow morning on television, just to make sure nothing happened, before he returned to the apartment. He didn't wish to walk into a bunch of policemen tearing the place apart.
Later that afternoon, Maurie and two other Mossad agents entered the apartment building and tread silently up the stairs. At the third floor, they chose a door. An agent took his place on either side of the door, and Maurie knocked. It was silent within; no one answered. Again, he knocked, and again, there was no answer. At Maurie's nod, an agent slipped a thin fiberoptic beneath the door and studied the apartment's interior. After some time, he withdrew it and stuffed it into his backpack. He looked up. "No one home," he whispered in English. They would not speak Hebrew here; there were too many Arab students living in this building.
Maurie opened his lock-pick case and extracted a couple of tools. In a moment, he popped the lock, and they entered, guns drawn, and closed the door behind them. After a quick examination of the apartment, they met in the living room.
"There's no one here," Maurie said. "Work quickly. Locate the computers."
In a moment, two laptop computers had been found. One agent sat at the kitchen table and powered up both computers, then inserted a plug into the USB port of one. "Downloading the hard drive now, Maurie."
Maurie nodded, then looked toward the window overlooking the main street. The second agent was already at the window, watching for the unexpected return of any young man resembling the photo in the passport Angelique had copied. While the computers were being compromised, Maurie walked around the apartment. He studied each room and noted the telltale signs of Arab occupants. In the first bedroom, he found correspondence in French, addressed to one Ahmad al-Anwar. He copied the name into his notebook, then checked the second bed-room. There, he found the name Rashad Akbari. This was the one he was after. He studied each detail of the room carefully, and he noted books with familiar titles in Arabic, and chemistry texts in French. There, too, was a well-worn Koran. Nothing out of the ordinary. The bed was neatly made, and had nothing on it. At least, he thought, this fellow is not a slob. Just before he left the room, he glanced into the trash can, and his blood ran cold.
Remnants of tape and electrical wire were in the can. Tools were on the desk. Wire-cutters, pliers. This guy has been wiring something. No, he thought. It couldn't be. Not that. Not here, in Paris.
He left the room and returned to the living room, where one of the two agents was zipping his backpack shut. "I have copied both hard drives," he said.
"Put the computers back, and let's get out of here."
In a few minutes, they were back in the car, and driving toward the Israeli Embassy. "I want the hard drive of Rashad Akbari examined immediately," Maurie said. "E-mails. Web sites he's recently been to. He's our man, and I fear that he's up to something very nasty."
Laurie entered the apartment from the back door leading to the bar, and she saw Angelique sitting on the balcony, a lit cigarette in one hand and a glass of wine in the other. Laurie knew that Angelique only smoked when she was in deep thought or concerned about something, and her body language said that she was so now. Laurie stepped out onto the balcony. "Angel?" she said.
Angelique looked up. "Oh. Did your family enjoy the tour?"
"Yeah. They're at the hotel now, resting."
"Ah. Yes. Allie, she is going out with Maurie tonight?"
"Yeah. Dinner. He's picking her up at six."
Laurie placed a hand on Angelique's shoulder. "What's wrong?"
Angelique looked up at her and smiled. "You know me too well, cher."
"I like when you call me that. So, do you want to talk about it?"
"It is probably nothing. I worry too much."
"Okay. If you want to talk, I'm here."
"I know. Thank you."
Laurie wrestled with her own worries for a moment, then decided to meet them. "Angel, can I ask you a question?"
She stepped out onto the balcony and leaned against the wrought-iron railing. "I'll believe whatever you tell me. You know that, right?"
"Laurie, what is wrong?"
She huffed, then looked away. Her manner was shy and soft. "Did you and Maurie...were you ever lovers?"
Angelique blinked in surprise. She sat up in the chair and crushed out her smoke. "What makes you think this?" she asked.
"You were, right?"
Angelique studied Laurie's expression. She could see that the girl was serious. Angelique pulled her feet off the low wrought-iron table in front of her and patted it. "Come, sit. I will answer."
"That bad, huh?" Slowly, Laurie sat down on the table and faced her. "Were you? I mean, it's no big deal if you were, but - " She shrugged. "I'm really curious."
Their eyes met, Angelique's hazel and Laurie's soft brown. "No," Angelique said. "Never."
Laurie sighed in relief. "Okay," she said. "Now I feel really stupid."
"What makes you think this?"
"Well, you two are so close, and you're old friends, and you've been upset about something ever since Allie and Laurie are dating, and I thought..."
Angelique smiled. "Of course you did. I can see it now." She placed a hand over Laurie's. "Maurie and I are old friends, yes. We have been together in many dangerous moments. From that, we are close. But, lovers? No. He was my officer in the army and my boss at Mossad. It would not be proper. And he is not ah, how-you-say? My type?" Angelique leaned back and sipped her wine. "I much prefer women as lovers. I always have."
"Sorry I asked."
"Do not be sorry. If you have concerns, you must ask."
"Then tell me what's worrying you now."
"It is not Maurie and Allie, if you think that. I am happy for them both." Angelique paused, as if thinking, then said, "I worry about that young man. He will come again."
"How do you know?"
"I can feel it. And when he does, perhaps I must kill him this time."
"Can't we go to the police?"
Angelique shook her head. "It will be in the newspapers. Hamas will see it. They will know that I am here. And if I kill him, they will be assured that I am here."
"Then what do we do?"
Angelique smiled, a painful little smile. "If we could go to any place to live, where would you wish to go?"
"Gosh," Laurie thought about it. "I don't care, just as long as you're there." She rose and sat on Angelique's lap. "I love you, Angel. I'm with you, wherever we live, for as long as you'll have me."
"Forever?" Angelique asked.
"I am so glad of that."
"So, are we leaving? Running from your past?"
"It may perhaps come to that."
"Where would we go?"
"I do not know. Perhaps Sweden. Perhaps Canada."
"I can be packed in half an hour."
Angelique found herself laughing. "Laurie, this is why I love you so. For you, nothing is impossible. Life is how-you-say? Adventure."
"Living with you, it damned sure is." With that, Laurie kissed her, and the kiss lingered, as the occasional passer-by on the street below looked up at the two lovers and smiled.
Michelle knocked on Allie's hotel room door, and she heard a voice within. In a moment, Allie opened the door and waved her mother in, then returned to the vanity where she dusted her face with a light brush of make-up. Michelle watched her, and she smiled. "My daughter, all grown up."
"I have been for a while now." Allie shot a grin at Michelle, then began brushing her hair.
"I can see that. Dinner with Maurie tonight?"
"You look lovely." Michelle thought about her next statement, then said, "Just be careful, will you?"
"What do you mean, Mom?" She stopped brushing her hair. "Oh, God. If you mean protection..."
"Well, yes. But I mean just guard your heart too, will you?" She shrugged when Allie cast her a questioning glance. "Maurie is a very charming guy, but you're only going to be here for a week."
"And," Michelle continued, "do you really think he's coming to Kansas to visit you?"
Allie leaned back in her chair and folded her arms across her chest. "Probably not." She studied her hair-brush as she spoke. "But does that mean that I shouldn't see him now?"
"It means that you'll miss him desperately when you part ways, which is inevitable."
"Yeah. But I'm with him now, and I like it."
"You're really crazy about him, aren't you?"
"Does it show that much?"
"Yes." Michelle attempted a smile. "I just don't want you to be hurt, dear."
"Life is hurt," Allie said. "Trouble seems to hunt a person down and crap all over them, but happiness? Got to chase it and tackle it, and it only lasts for a little while. Well, I've tackled it, and I'll make the most of the week. And when it's done, it's done, I guess. Yeah, I'll probably never see him again after this week. But at least I had him in my life for a week. Guess I can't hope for more than that, can I?" She glanced up at Michelle. "Does that make sense?"
"It does," Michelle said. "My daughter, so young, and yet so cynical?"
"A shitty marriage and a divorce does that to a person."
"I imagine that it does."
"You and Dad never divorced. Can I ask you a question, Mom?" At her nod, Allie said, "Were there times when you thought...?"
"Yes. Many. But your father and I, we have something going for us: we're the best of friends. And we have you girls. That gets us through everything."
"Maybe one day, I'll know that, too."
"I hope so." Michelle shrugged. "But I don't see much chance of that happening with Maurie."
"Be realistic, Allie. He's older than you. He's a confirmed bachelor. He's living in Paris, until his government sends him God-knows-where for his next post. And he's not the kind of guy who's going to be happy settling down in Kansas. He's seen too much of the world. And you two aren't even from the same country or of the same religion, for that matter."
"Mom, I grant you all that. But look at Laurie and Angel. A more improbable pair, I've never met. But in spite of it all, they've made it happen for them. They've got a great thing going."
"They really love each other."
"Oh, I know they do. But sometimes, love just isn't quite enough."
"You don't think it will last, do you?"
"I hope it does, for I've never seen your sister happier than she is right now, and Angel's a wonderful gal. But I also fear that it won't."
Michelle sighed, then looked intently at Allie. "Your father and I are both of the opinion that Angel's past will probably get her killed one day. And when that happens..."
Allie blinked in surprise. For a moment, she thought about her mother's statement. Then, she said, "Poor Laurie."
"And you're worried about the same thing for me?"
"Yes. Maurie is still in Mossad, you know. That's dangerous work."
"I know." Allie considered Michelle. "And Dad's been a cop for thirty years."
"And I've worried over him every day that he's put on that badge and gun and gone out that door. My worst secret fear is that one day, he'll not come home."
"Dad's a survivor. Like Maurie. Like Angel. They'll last. I have to believe that they will."
"I do, too. If I didn't, I couldn't have made it thirty years with your father."
Allie stood and hugged her mother. "So what's your problem, then?"
Michelle laughed. "Okay, okay. I see your point. I'll shut up now, and quit being your worry-wart mother." She shot a parting smile at Allie and turned to leave.
Michelle stopped and turned. "Yes?"
"Don't ever quit. I kind of like you as my worry-wart mother."
Michelle beamed. "I'm so glad." Just before she opened the hotel room's door to leave, she said, "And don't forget to use protection tonight, young lady."
Michelle's laughter followed her into the hallway. "Kids today!" she said, just before she closed the door.
"Parents today," Allie muttered, as she resumed brushing her hair. "Jeez. It used to be, 'Got your homework? Got your lunch money?' Now, it's 'Got your condoms?' 'Sure, Mom. Right here, with the ball gag and the handcuffs.' 'That's nice, dear. Have a fun evening.' 'Thanks, Mom. Don't wait up for me.' 'I won't, dear. Call if you need bail money or a doctor.' Man! Somehow, it was more fun when I had to sneak around to have a sex life."
Michelle touched her napkin to her lips. "Oh, Angel. That dinner was wonderful. I didn't know you could cook like that."
"Yeah," Bill said. "It had to be you in the kitchen. Laurie's cooking could gag a moose."
"Dad!" Laurie shot her father a pout, but it quickly melted into a grin. "I'll have you know that I never, ever gagged a moose with my cooking."
"Angel didn't eat much," Bill noted. "Maybe she agrees with me."
"She doesn't eat much before she performs at night."
"I usually eat like a horse afterward," Bill said, "when I perform at night."
"Bill!" Michelle admonished. "Behave yourself."
Angel smiled at the exchange, offered a little more wine all around, then poured some into her own glass as she listened to the conversation. "Gag a moose?" she asked. "This means that the cooking is bad?"
"Ja," Michelle said. "Laurie's Kochen ist sehr schrecklich."
Angelique's expression brightened. "Ah. Sie sprecht Deutch."
"Meine Eltern waren Deutsche."
Laurie and Bill looked at each other. "Is my cooking really that terrible?" she asked.
"Is that what they're talking about?" Bill asked.
"Among other things."
"Hm." Bill scratched his chin as he listened to Angelique and Michelle converse in German. "Guess you picked up more of that lingo from your grandparents than I realized."
Laurie laughed. "Gramma would be proud, huh?"
"That was a good woman." He smiled. "In spite of the fact that she didn't know what to make of me."
Angelique returned her attention to the table and spoke in English. "I did not know that there were Germans in Kansas."
"Sure," Bill said. "The American mid-west is full of 'em."
Angelique's eyes reflected humor. "Seventy years ago, France was full of them, also."
Bill snickered. "Now that was funny."
"Well," Laurie said, as she stood and began clearing plates. "On that note, dessert and coffee, anyone?"
"Sounds great," Bill said. "What're we having?"
Laurie laughed. "Schwarzwäälder Kirschtorte," she said. "Black Forest cake."
"How delightfully ironic," Michelle noted. She rose. "Let me help clear the plates, dear."
As Laurie and Michelle stepped toward the kitchen, Bill leaned toward Angelique and lowered his voice. "Are you and Laurie working tonight?"
"Yes, yes. For a bit. You will come downstairs?"
"Sure. I love to listen to you." His expression clouded. "What's your plan if that guy comes back tonight, Angel?"
She studied her wine glass as she answered. "I have a pistol. And I have backup from Mossad. Maurie is section chief here, in Paris." She looked up at Bill. "Mossad can make many things happen. Papers, passports, money, weapons. And they can hide people, such as me, in Paris. And they can make bad people disappear." She raised an eyebrow to emphasize her next point. "Forever."
"Ah. So the Paris police won't find him floatin' face-down in the Seine, huh?"
"If you have to, can you shoot that fella?"
Angelique shrugged. "What is one more? But let us pray that it will not come to that."
"Amen," Bill said. "I'm not armed, but if there's anything I can do for you, just ask me, right?"
In reply, she offered him a weak smile. "Thank you, Bill."
Rashad sat at the coffee bar of an internet café, drinking his fourth cup of coffee. He was getting wired again, and his mind raced with dark thoughts. In a backpack at his feet was his vest, the one he'd wired and constructed that morning. He would wait here, and walk into the bar toward the end of the evening. He would take out the bar and that Zionist bitch with one stroke, and martyr himself for his nation and his faith. His mother would get the million Euros, and his relatives in Palestine would be taken care of by Hamas. And at the mosque, they would praise his name and his deed. That unbeliever Ahmad wouldn't get anything, since he obviously hadn't the stomach for martyrdom. Yes, he would be in Paradise, favored by the angels and by God, and that drinking, fornicating room-mate of his would burn in the fires of his own perdition. It was justice.
He felt, though, that he had left loose ends. He had one more thing to do before he met martyrdom. He lifted his backpack and went to the counter to rent some computer time, then sent an e-mail to his uncle in Hamas, imploring him to care for his mother and saying good-bye. Then, he searched the online front-sheet of one of the local Paris daily newspapers and found the e-mail address of a staff writer. To him, he sent a statement of purpose for the act which he was about to commit. It was a rambling text, a manifesto regarding Palestinian freedom and Zionist evils, and when he hit the 'send' button, he felt satisfied that he had justified his actions to the world. They would understand.
With that, he finished his coffee and paid, and left the bar. It was evening, and dark. It was time.
Maurie and Allie had eaten dinner in a pleasant restaurant in the Latin Quarter, not too far from Café Angel. They had talked and laughed, and told each other something of their pasts and of their hopes for the future, and cast smoky glances across the candle-lit table toward each other, and touched hands, and lived the heady intoxication of the chemistry of new lovers. By the time they walked out of the restaurant, Allie was thoroughly in love. And Maurie? He was pretty sure that he was, too. Although he sincerely liked all the women he'd been with, it had been years, he felt, since he'd been in love with someone. And he knew it was love, because in his mind, he suddenly saw his vision of his future radically change, and he liked what he saw. Who was it that said that life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans?
They walked the streets of the Latin Quarter, strolling toward Café Angel to share drinks and conversation with their friends and family, talking softly, an arm about each other's waist. Allie leaned against his side, and her brow furrowed in question. She poked at his side, detecting something beneath his sport-coat, and looked at him.
"What's that? Are you wearing a gun?"
Her eyes widened. "Why? You haven't, before."
He smiled. "Just precaution. There's been some unpleasantness at Angel's bar lately."
"Do you think there'll be more?"
"Probably not. It's just in case."
"Is it legal for you to carry that thing here?"
He laughed. "I'm a diplomatic attache. I have diplomatic immunity. I can do whatever I wish."
"Oh. Like a get-out-of-jail-free card, huh?" She poked at the spot beneath his sport-coat again. "Gosh. Now I know how a Bond girl feels." She laughed. "My father always carries a gun in Kansas. What is it with you guys and guns? Is it something Freudian?"
Maurie smiled. "Undoubtedly." He pointed. "There's Angel's bar. Shall we?"
In NSA headquarters outside Washington, D.C., Bob studied a computer screen. "Oh, hell," he said, and he picked up a telephone and called his boss. In a moment, his boss joined him in his cubicle, and they read the flagged e-mails together. They cast each other cautious glances.
"Forward that to the Paris Mossad section right now," the boss said. "Mark it 'Top Priority-Immediate Attention'. Send it to the French DCRI, too."
Vickie popped her head around the partition. "What's up, guys?" she asked.
"It may be nothing. Just some crazy getting his cookies off. Can't take chances, though."
"Or," Bob said, "Paris is about to get what London got a few years ago."
The bar crowd was thinning out, but Angelique was still at the piano and Laurie was still busy, hustling back and forth between her tables and the bar. She stopped at the booth across from the bar that held her family, and she smiled, even as she blew a hank of hair from her face. "Hey, Maurie. Hey, Allie. Glad you could make it."
Allie looked up. "How's my sis tonight? Good tips?"
"It'll do," she said. "What's your poison?"
Maurie looked puzzled. "Huh?"
"What'll you guys have?"
"Oh!" Maurie laughed. "Wine, Laurie."
"Yeah. Make it two," Allie agreed.
Laurie hustled off, and Maurie's cell phone interrupted the chatter of pleasant conversation. He pulled it out, cast a glance at it, and looked up. "So sorry, but it's work. I must take this. Excuse me, please." He rose and left the table, and headed toward the back of the bar, waving at Angelique as he passed by the piano. A couple of minutes later, Maurie returned, but he did not come to the table. He stopped at the piano and leaned toward Angelique, who was playing a soft melody on the piano, as she often did between songs. She stopped playing, and she listened to him. Her expression was intent.
"So where'd your boyfriend go?" Bill asked.
"He's back there talking to Angel," Allie said.
Bill turned and looked. "Oh, oh. Looks serious."
Laurie returned to the table. She placed down two glasses of wine. "Maurie's in the can?" she asked Allie.
"No. He's in a huddle with Angelique. What's going on back there?" Allie asked.
Laurie shrugged, then left the table. Angel's piano resumed its mellow notes. In a moment, Maurie returned and sat next to Allie. His easy manner belied a tenseness just beneath the surface, and at Allie's question, he shrugged. "Probably nothing," he said. "Not to worry. Just something from work."
"I thought Angel was retired from your line of work," Bill noted.
"Oh, she is," Maurie agreed. "But we talk sometimes."
"May I ask you a question, Maurie?" Michelle said. He nodded. "I love Angel dearly, but she seems to carry something deep and unsettled within her. What's her story?" She quickly added, "If you can talk about it, that is. She won't."
"I can." Maurie spent a few seconds collecting his thoughts before he spoke. "When she was eighteen, she was studying music in Israel. Her sister also studied there. They were very close, like Allie and Laurie." He thought for a moment, then said, "A suicide bomber blew up a city bus in front of her. She narrowly missed being killed by it. Her sister was not so lucky. She died in Angel's arms."
"Good God," Bill said. "That had to be tough on her."
"That experience," Maurie said, "began her on the path which took her to Mossad, and the ah, unique skills which she perfected there."
"Assassination?" Bill asked.
"Justice," Maurie responded. "The avenging Angel of Mossad, the rumors called her. To Israelis, she became a mysterious folk hero. To our enemies, a specter of death. Silent, efficient. There, then gone, like a whisper of wind. One bullet in the forehead, clean and neat, was her trademark. She was the best Mossad had. But she did not kill easily. Always, she would ask, 'Who is this person, and what have they done to deserve to die at my hand?' And after each job, I could see her agony." He smiled painfully. "After she left Mossad, she left Israel. She loves her adopted homeland, but she can't return. It's not safe. She settled here. She free-lanced from time to time, if the target was proper. Eventually, she refused all work. I believe that the killing, the hatred, the danger, the loneliness, it ate at her soul. I sometimes feared that she would kill only once more; herself. Then, she met Laurie. And since that day, I no longer worry for my dear friend."
"Are the bad guys still after her?" Bill asked.
"We put out through our double agents in Hamas and other groups that the Angel of Mossad was dead. Indeed, in a cemetery in Israel, there is a grave marked with a headstone. 'Angelique Bat-Ami', the name reads. That was her name in Israel. Often, immigrants to Israel take Hebrew names. Hers means, 'Daughter of the land'. But no one is buried there. She extracted a promise from me that, should her enemies find her, I would see her body buried in that empty grave. I pray that I will never have to give that sad honor to my friend. And so far, she has been safe here."
"But no longer?" Bill asked.
Maurie caught Bill's intent look. "Perhaps," he said. "Only time will tell."
"She has no family here?" Michelle asked.
"None. Her parents are gone. Her sister, too. Her grandmother, who alone survived the Holocaust, died when Angel was young. She has only Laurie." He smiled. "And her music."
"She has us, now." That was Allie speaking. She looked at her parents. "Doesn't she?"
"She does," Michelle agreed. Bill nodded silently, and Maurie smiled at that.
"I am glad to hear it," he said.
Laurie stopped at the table. "Damn," she said. "There's some heavy vibes here. What's up?"
"Nothing," Michelle said. "I've just got something in my eye, I think."
Laurie's look was skeptical. "Okay," she said. "Anybody need anything?"
Heads shook, and Laurie looked up as the door bell tinkled, a soft tinkle just evident above the sound of Angelique's piano. "Another customer. 'Scuse me." She started toward him, then stopped dead in her tracks and dropped her tray.
The noise made Bill look up, and he said, "Oh, oh. Trouble."
Maurie's head jerked around. "Shit!" he hissed, then reached beneath his sport-coat and partially withdrew his pistol. "All of you, heads down."
A young man, his face bruised and his eyes swollen, stood in the center of the bar. He threw off his coat as he shrieked something in Arabic, and the conversation instantly stopped in the bar. Angel's piano went silent. All in the bar froze and stared in shock. Bill rose, but halted as he saw Laurie turn and run to the distant end of the bar. She disappeared behind it.
He was wearing a vest with many pockets. Wires showed, and the hand he waved held a switch. His tirade in rapid, shrill Arabic continued, and his eyes were fixed on Angelique. Maurie pushed Allie down onto the seat and leaned over her as he pointed his pistol over the back of the booth, but froze when he saw a bright dot of red dance across the young man's forehead. It was as he suspected; Angel had beaten him to the target. The man's wild look turned to fear, and his shrill tirade trailed off into silence. He was frozen in place as he stared ahead of him.
From the back of the bar, Angelique approached him slowly, deliberately, her arm extended, a pistol in her hand, the laser sight dotting his forehead. Ten feet away from him she was, then eight, then six. She halted. At the table, they could see her expression, cold, feral, icy, as she regarded the young man, her pistol held high, the red dot steady on his forehead, her eyes fixed on his face. His complexion paled, and the hand holding the switch began to droop. After what seemed an endless moment, Angelique spoke to him in Arabic.
"What do you want with me?" she asked.
"You are the Angel of Mossad," he said.
"That person," she replied, "is dead."
"You are her! You will die tonight!"
"Death to all Zionists! Palestine is our land, not yours."
She gaped at him. "For dirt, we kill each other? Sixty years, we do this. It makes no sense. Haven't you had enough?"
"It is jihad! Holy war!"
"I have seen war. There is nothing holy about it."
For an endless moment, they stared at each other. She kept deflecting her eyes to the switch in his hand; he kept his gaze fixed on the barrel of the pistol aimed at his forehead. The entire bar was eerily silent; no one dared move or speak or, it seemed, even breathe.
"Leave." She took a step closer. The red dot of her laser sight burned into his forehead. "Don't make me kill you, too. Leave now, and live."
"I will kill you."
"Then kill me. But not all these people."
"I will do it!"
"No, you won't. You haven't got it in you."
"Allah'u'Akbar!" he shouted, and his hand rose. Angelique rushed him and grabbed for his hand, and an ear-ringing bang resounded in the room. She staggered backward a couple of paces, then leaned against the bar and stared at him in amazement, her mouth open. In the front of his vest, a large, burned hole showed where the detonation cap had exploded. The plastic bottle into which it was inserted had disintegrated. Pieces of it, and the water in the bottle, had peppered nearby patrons.
He looked down at the smoking hole in the front of his vest. Once more, he had failed. He looked back up at Angelique, just looked at her, as if resigned to his inevitable fate at her hands.
Angelique realized that she was not dead; that his vest had malfunctioned. As she raised her pistol, Maurie, from about ten feet away, had a clear view of him; Angelique was out of the way. He cracked off three shots in quick succession, and three bullets smacked into Rashad Akbari's chest, spattering him - and Angelique -- with drops of blood. It threw the young man against the bar, and he fell backward in a tangle of bar-stools. Screams echoed in the bar.
As if on a signal, the bar came to life. Screams and shouts resounded; the front door flew open, and frantic patrons scattered into the night as chairs were knocked over and glass broke. In a few seconds, most of the bar's patrons were gone.
Maurie appeared at Angelique's side. "Damn," he said. "That was close. I thought we were dead." Angelique did not answer, but stared at the limp body near her feet. "Angel? Are you all right?" He looked down. "You're hurt."
"Eh?" She looked up at him. Her eyes were all question. "It makes no sense, Maurie."
"Of course not. He's a crazy fucking terrorist. You should have shot him," he said. "You had him. Why didn't you shoot him?"
"I-I could not," she said. "I could not tell about the switch type...his thumb was on it..."
"Ah," Maurie said. He nodded understanding. She couldn't tell whether his thumb was holding the switch depressed or not. If it were a release-to-close switch, known to be used in some suicide vests, it would have exploded as the young man's thumb released the button. If she'd shot him, it would have detonated. She had no way of knowing that the vest would malfunction. "You're right. But I would have just shot him," he said, "and taken my chances. And once upon a time, you would have, too."
"Not with all these people here," she said.
Laurie came around the bar. "Angel! Are you okay?" She reached Angelique's side, and she let out a squeak of shock. "Oh, my God. You're hurt. Angel, you're bleeding."
"What?" Angelique looked down. Her top over her ribs was torn and turning red. "Oh. Nothing. It is nothing."
"Bullshit." She looked at Maurice. "Donne-moi une serviette propre," she shouted. Maurice threw her a clean bar towel, and she pressed it against Angelique's side. Angelique winced at the pressure, and Michelle placed her hand over Laurie's.
"Let me see that," she said. "I used to be a nurse, Angel." She pried Laurie's hand away and studied the wounds. "It looks worse than it probably is, but you still need to go to the hospital."
"No," Angelique said. "There will be questions. The police, they will come."
"It's a little late for that," Bill said. "That guy's dead meat. And listen. Sirens. In about five minutes, there's gonna be cops all over the place with their guns drawn."
In the distance, they could hear the two-tone sirens of police cars. Someone had called the emergency number.
Maurie grasped Angelique's arm. "Listen to me," he said. "I was the target, not you. Understand? We protect your cover at all cost." She nodded, and he looked around at the gathered faces. "Just tell them what you saw." He looked back at Angelique. "And get rid of that damned gun."
"I got it." Laurie lifted the gun from Angelique's hand and hurried toward the back stairs. A moment later, the door opened, and three policemen entered, guns drawn. Maurie hurriedly holstered his own weapon, and he turned to greet the police. He looked back, though, when he heard a noise, and he saw that Angelique had passed out, and had collapsed to the floor in a tangle of bar-stools.
For the next half-hour, the police questioned all remaining in the bar: Bill, Michelle, Allie, Maurie, Laurie, Maurice, the two other servers; even Angelique, who had regained consciousness and was sitting on a chair as a Paris paramedic tended her side. When a tired-looking man in a suit entered, the police reported to him. He was obviously a police inspector, and had taken charge of the scene. He watched carefully as a police forensic team wheeled the body from the bar. Then, the questioning began again.
Angelique sat next to him and translated as he questioned the English-speakers in the room. Then, after conversation with the uniformed police, he returned to Angelique and sat with her.
"What," he asked, "do you think this man wanted with you?"
"He thought I was someone else."
Angelique considered the question, then replied, "I don't know."
"Ah." She could see in his eyes that he didn't believe her. He asked, "Are you an Israeli citizen?"
"Dual national. French and Israeli."
"And we have a second Israeli in here, a diplomatic attache. You're both Jewish. And," he said as he indicated the Americans sitting nearby, "Americans. It's obvious." He held up the young man's passport. "He's a Palestinian. It's a terrorist act."
"What will happen now?" Angelique asked.
"An investigation, of course. The person who shot him has diplomatic immunity. I'm sure, though, that it will be seen as justifiable, given the situation."
"Well. We've done our work here." He looked around the bar. "It would seem that you have a mess to clean up." Angelique merely shrugged. "I'll leave now, but I'll be in touch. Here's my card." He dropped a business card on the table, then rose. "Thank God you're all alive. It could have been very bad, had his vest actually worked."
A memory flashed across her mind, a vision of her holding her sister in her blood-soaked arms as a Jerusalem street-corner burned around her. A second later, she looked again at the face. It was not her sister anymore. It was Laurie. The vision numbed her, struck her to the soul and turned her blood to ice. "Yes," she managed to say. "Yes. Very bad."
With that, he nodded, then walked toward the door. One by one, the police cars left, and in the ensuing quiet, Maurice placed a hand on Angelique's shoulder. "You go upstairs, Boss. The girls and I, we will clean up."
"We'll all help," Michelle said. "Laurie, why don't you take her upstairs?"
"Good idea," Laurie said. She helped Angelique stand. "Come on. I'll put you to bed, then I'll come down and help clean up." The two of them walked toward the back of the bar, and Laurie helped her ascend the steep, worn stairs.
"Tell us what to do to help," Bill said to Maurice.
"I guess our date's off for tonight, huh?" Allie said to Maurie.
"I'm afraid so," he answered. "But perhaps tomorrow?"
Allie managed a smile. "Definitely tomorrow." She hugged him in a desperate grip, and she buried her face in his shoulder. "We could have died tonight. You, me, everybody."
"Yes." He looked at the wrecked bar and the blood-stain on the floor. "But we didn't."
"To hell with it all, Maurie," Allie whispered. "Let's run off together, you and me. Let's do something crazy and really live our lives. What do ya say?"
He smiled at that as he held her. For a long moment, he said nothing, just stared at the blood-stained floor, at the trashed bar, at Angelique being walked upstairs by her anxious lover. Yes, he decided. She was right. Since his teens, he'd given his life to duty and Israel. It was time to quit.
"I thought," he replied, "that you'd never ask."
She looked up at him. "You don't think it's a crazy idea?"
"I think," he said, "that it's the sanest thing I've ever heard."
A couple of hours later, Laurie saw her family to the hotel, then returned to the bar. She let Maurice and the two other servers out of the front door, locked it, drew the curtains, and walked through the empty bar toward the back stairs. The place, so often noisy with Angelique's music and the conversation of people, was eerily silent. It seemed forlorn. They had made short work of cleaning up, at least. Angelique would be happy at that. They could open again tomorrow. If, Laurie thought, anybody is brave enough to come around. In addition to almost losing their lives tonight, they'd lost a lot of business. Angelique would not be happy about that.
She trod the steep stairs and entered the door to the apartment. After she'd locked it behind her, she entered the darkened bedroom and kicked off her shoes. Then, she went to the bed to check on Angelique. The quilt was turned back, but she was not there.
Laurie walked into the hallway. "Angel?" she said. "Where are you?" She stepped into the living room and looked toward the balcony, half expecting to see her sitting outside, a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other. But the balcony was empty. "Angel?" she said.
She returned to the hallway, and she stopped. She heard something, but couldn't quite identify the sound. Slowly, she tread down the hall toward the bathroom. In the darkness, halfway down the hall, she looked down at her feet. Angelique was sitting in the dark, clothed only in her underwear, curled against the wall. Her legs were drawn up in front of her, and one arm shielded her face. Her other hand held her pistol by her side. She was weeping. It was a soft sound, but an agonizing one.
Laurie knelt next to her. "Angel?"
Angelique looked up from behind her arm, then covered her head again. The weeping became more open, more loud. Laurie drew Angelique to her, hugged her tightly, and whispered to her.
"Shh. It's okay. Everything's okay now."
Between spasms of weeping, Angelique's voice was childlike, plaintive. "Non...mon amour...Rien...n'est bien...nothing...is alright..."
"Oui. Tout est en ordre," Laurie whispered. "It's okay."
"What? I'm not dead. I'm fine. I'm right here." She pulled Angelique's arm away from her face. "Damn it, Angel. Look at me. I'm fine."
"Non. I see..." She held out her arms. "I see it...is so real. I hold my sister...and I look again...and it is you I see."
"Oh, Angel." Laurie pressed her to her chest. "This really got to you, didn't it? I've never seen you scared like this, ever before."
"I...do not...have you before."
Of course, Laurie thought. She's not scared that she almost died tonight. She's scared that I could have died tonight. This isn't about her; it's about me.
Laurie kissed the head that she cradled. "You really love me, don't you?"
"I'm a Kansas farm girl; we're tough. We don't die easily. I'll always be here for you, Angel. Believe that." And, she thought, as she felt her own eyes water, that it'll be me burying you, not the other way around. One day, you won't be looking, and some crazy will get lucky and kill you. And I'll see you put to rest. And it'll destroy me, but I'll do it. And then, I'll have to find a way to live without you. But I'll always remember how I feel right now, about how it's possible to love somebody so much. She lifted Angelique's head and looked into her eyes. "You're my rock, Angel. Be strong for me."
Angelique sniffed and wiped her eyes. "So afraid. Never have I felt this, ever."
"Not in all those years that you faced dangerous situations? Why?"
"I...do not care before, if I die. I expect it." She shrugged. "Perhaps I want it."
"And now, you do care. You're afraid for me, not for you. Being in love does that." Laurie managed a smile. "Come on. It's late. Sleep with me now. Tomorrow's a new day."
Angelique gave her a weak nod, and she rose, a hand over the bandage on her side. Laurie noted that, and asked, "How's your side?"
"Eh? It is fine."
"Bullshit. It hurts, doesn't it?"
"Tomorrow, you're seeing a doctor. Shh. Don't argue with me." She guided Angelique into the bedroom and watched her climb under the quilt. Then, Laurie shed her own clothes and joined her. "'Night, Angel," she said. But Angelique did not make reply. She was already breathing that regular, slow pattern that said that she was asleep. Laurie held herself tightly against Angelique, feeling the familiar warm, smooth skin, and finding reassurance in that touch. Her hand found the bandage on Angelique's side. And it was only then that she felt her own tears begin, quietly, in the night.
The next afternoon, everyone gathered at Angelique and Laurie's apartment. Bill, Michelle, and Allie had spent the morning giving statements to the police, and Maurie, as a spokesman for the Israeli Embassy, had offered a suitable official statement to the press on television. He'd left out more than he'd confirmed about the incident, and expressed confidence that the French authorities would handle the situation with their usual efficiency. That had brought an ironic little smile to Angelique's face. Maurie could 'sling the bull', as Laurie loved to say, with expert efficiency. And most important, to questions asked by reporters, he'd confirmed that the mysterious figure known only as 'the Angel of Mossad' had died years ago, and was buried in Israel. Angelique Halevy, owner of Café Angel, was merely an expatriate French-Israeli citizen who lived a quiet life in the Latin Quarter of Paris. The press ate it up, and duly broadcast the official line.
"So, Angel. How's the side?" Bill asked.
"Good, good. The doctor, he says I will live."
"You went to the hospital this morning?" Michelle asked.
"No. He comes here."
"Damn," Allie said. "Doctors make house calls in this country?"
"Hm," Bill thought aloud. "That's neat."
"They do not, in America?" Angelique asked.
"If you're a horse, yeah. If you're a person, nope." He scratched his chin in thought. "Sounds like ass-backward priorities, huh?"
"So," Laurie said, "how's you guys' vacation so far?"
"Radical," Allie said. "I never expected this much excitement."
"What do you all want to do for the rest of your week?" Laurie asked.
"Actually," Bill said, "we've all decided that we've imposed enough on you and Angel. We're outta here, tomorrow morning."
"What? So soon?"
"Yeah. Michelle and I have decided to take a second honeymoon. I called in an extra week of vacation."
"We're going on a barge trip down the French canals," Michelle said. "Wine country, castles, neat little towns. It sounds absolutely delightful." She slipped an arm through Bill's. "Can you drop us at the train station tomorrow morning?"
"Yeah. Sure." Laurie blinked in surprise, then looked at Allie. "And what about you? As if I have to ask."
"I called in an extra week, too. Maurie's taking time off. We're heading south to check out some of the Greek islands." She shrugged. "He's going to teach me how to sail. Who knows? We might just get lost down there and never come back."
Angelique smiled at that. She shot a glance at Maurie and spoke in Hebrew. "You are thinking of retiring?"
"Yes. I've finally found my Laurie. It's time now."
Angelique returned to English. "I am happy for you, old friend. Life is short. Enjoy it."
"I think we all learned that last night," Bill said. "So, Angel. How's it look? Are you safe now?"
She shrugged. "I do not know. But we shall see, yes?"
Maurie spoke. "We hacked the contents of his computer. He had many e-mails to Gaza, but we could not see that he told them of your identity. It is possible that no more will come of this, but with the publicity, perhaps you should have a plan to disappear quickly, just in case."
"Where would we go, that they would not find me?" Angelique asked.
"Listen. I, ah..." Bill struggled with his next thought. "Michelle and I are of a mind on this. If you ever need a place to hide, well..."
Michelle said, "What Bill is trying to say is, if you ever need to leave Paris, Kansas is a pretty nice place to live."
"Yeah. And trust me. There's no jihadist numb-nuts in Kansas." He smiled. "Not on my turf, anyway."
Angelique looked at Laurie. "What is this 'numb-nuts'?"
"I'll explain later," Laurie said.
"Bill!" Michelle said. "What we're trying to say, Angel, is that you have family in Kansas now."
For a moment, Angelique sat silently. Then, she looked around the table. "Family," she said. "Thank you." She looked at Laurie, and she said the word again. "Family?"
"You bet," Laurie said. She threw an arm around Angelique's neck and hugged her. "Get used to it, 'cause you're stuck with us now."
"Like ticks on a hound dog," Bill said.
"But a visa?" Angelique said. "It is very hard to get into America."
"Hell, I'd marry you if I could," Laurie said.
"That's it!" Allie said. "She can marry Nick, the next farm over. He's a bachelor farmer."
"A French mail-order bride, huh?" Bill said.
Laurie laughed. "Guys! He's got to be almost seventy. And Angel and I can't live together if she's married to Nick."
"Sure you could," Allie said. "Nick probably wouldn't mind two wives."
Laurie wiggled a middle finger at Allie, and the table roared with laughter. When it quieted, Maurie waved a hand in dismissal. "I have contacts in the American State Department. We can get you a fast visa." His eyes twinkled in mischief as he tapped his chest. "Mossad, remember? We made you disappear before; we can do it again."
"Family." Angelique repeated the word slowly, as if relishing its taste on her tongue. "For so long, I have not had this." She looked at Bill and Michelle. "Thank you. I am honored, and I will consider this."
"Hey, that's good enough for me." Bill looked around the table. "Okay. There's one more thing we want to do before we leave Paris."
"What's that?" Laurie asked.
"We want to see 'em dance the can-can at Moulin Rouge."
Maurie beamed. "I can get tickets. You will all be my guests tonight. Angel, Laurie? Can you two take a night off from work?"
Angelique rose from the table. "Maurie, you are a prince. I will book a musician for the bar tonight, and call another server." She left to seek her phone.
"Yes!" Laurie said. "Hot diggity damn!"
"That effin' rocks!" Allie said. The two sisters 'high-fived' each other across the table, and then, Allie kissed Maurie on the cheek.
"Girls! Language!" Michelle said, but she smiled an indulgent smile as she said it. "And thank you, Maurie, from all of us."
The noon-time breeze played through the window of Angelique and Laurie's bedroom, rustling the sheer curtains. Below them, the sounds of a busy Paris sounded. In the room, though, in the soft light and gentle breeze, two lovers lay arm-in-arm. For the longest time, they said no words, none being necessary. Lovers do not need words to speak, one to the other; soft touch and congenial silence say enough. And no rest is sweeter than that idyllic calm following the sensory and emotional ferocity of lovers' passion given free reign. For that delicious moment, the march of time stops; all is right with the world, and the heart swells with love requited and desires momentarily satisfied.
Laurie lifted her head from Angelique's shoulder and studied the face so near her own. The eyes were closed; the breathing was gentle, and the hair, a shaggy brown and russet, was tangled and partially covered her face. Laurie smiled. It was not a face considered classically beautiful. Never would one see it in a fashion magazine; but it was a face of character, of past pain and future dreams, a face which drew her to its owner with its pleasant plainness. A face like a thousand other faces that Laurie had seen, but a woman unlike any other that Laurie had ever known.
Angelique stirred. Her eyes remained closed, but her mouth curved upward, ever so slightly, in a smile. Her fingers began trailing slow circles on the skin of Laurie's lower back. "Yes?"
"You are thinking," Angelique said. "What is it?"
Laurie laughed. "You know me so well; you tell me."
"You miss your family, now that they are gone."
"Yeah. But I'm glad to have you all to myself again."
"Do you miss your Kansas?"
Laurie rested her head on Angelique's shoulder. "Sometimes. But never for very long."
"Do you wish to go home?"
"I'm home now."
"In Paris, do you mean?"
"Nope. I'm home when I'm with you." Her hand trailed up Angelique's side, and she delighted in the feel of smooth, warm skin. "Wherever that is. I love you, Angel."
"Your words are so sweet," Angelique whispered.
"Hey," Laurie said. "I'm just telling the truth. Now hurry up and kiss me. We've got to go to work in two hours, and I'm feelin' frisky all over again."
Angelique laughed. "Non."
"What?" Laurie sputtered. "What do you mean, 'no'?"
"Unless you say it to me in French." Angelique opened her eyes and cast a laughing glance at Laurie. "Can you say it to me in French?"
"Oh. A test, huh?"
"Yes. Now, seduce me in French, mon amour. Come on. I am waiting."
Laurie's eyes narrowed. She grinned an evil grin, and she began whispering in Angelique's ear. As Angelique listened, her eyes widened. She smiled, then purred, "Oh, that is good, Laurie. More."
"More? Jeez! Okay. You asked for it." She resumed her whispered seduction, and Angelique listened.
"Better," she said. "But you need work on your verb tenses."
"Oh, yeah? Well, here's some verb tenses for ya." She whispered some more. Angelique's eyes widened, and she laughed.
"Where," she asked, "do you learn that? Not in university, I think. That is really crude and naughty, what you just said."
"Emma's been teaching me the really dirty French."
Angelique smiled. "Then I see that I must give her a raise." She laughed. "This is what you learn when you are friends with Café Angel bar-girls, do you see?"
"I'm a Café Angel bar-girl. I can talk dirty in two languages, and I'm even sleeping with the boss. So what does all that make me?"
"Truly a French Parisian woman," Angelique said. "Congratulations."
"God, I love this country," Laurie said.
And that was the last thing she said, in either French or English, for some time, as the two lovers melted into each other while the bustle of Paris life echoed in the street below them.
-djb, January, 2012
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