Jake heaved the wheeled metal cart into the Religion section, rolled out his shoulders, then started reshelving the books the morning’s customers had left strewn all over the café and lounge. He smiled at the great cosmic joke this section told—Christian Inspiration across from Eastern Religions, Buddhism and Hinduism next to Islam. Nothing burning and nobody dying. Try that in the real world.
He didn’t have to pull shelf duty—he was the manager, he could get one of the kids to do it—but it let him have some contact with the books as something other than entries on a spreadsheet. Even after six years of ten- or twelve-hour days, he still loved the smell of new books, crisp paper and glue promising new ideas or new worlds.
His phone chirped. He pressed the switch on his headset. “Yeah?”
“Jake, um, could you come down here?” Gwyneth sounded jumpier than usual. “Some kinda scary guys wanna talk to you.”
“Sure.” Jake sighed, wrestled the overloaded cart out of the aisle, parked it next to the endcap. What set off Gwyneth this time? To her, “scary” meant someone wearing a tie.
He spotted them the moment the escalator brought him within sight of the register counter. Two men, dark suits, safe ties, short hair, watchful eyes. Cops, he figured. What did they want? Gwyneth cowered behind her register a few feet to the right of the cops, wrapping herself tight in her black knit cardigan, as if waiting for the men to bite her.
Jake closed with the men, gave each of them a scan. One fair-haired white, one semi-dark Latino, clean-shaven, thirties, serious. “You looking for me?”
The white one returned the examination. “Jacob Eldar?”
The cop pulled a flat leather folder from his inside coat pocket, let it fall open. “Special Agent Johanssen, FBI. This is Special Agent Medina. There someplace we can talk?”
“Uh, sure, come on.” Jake led them upstairs to the edge of the mostly-empty café. Why would the FBI want to talk to him? Subversive books? Sure, like those would make the buy list.
They sat at a red laminate two-top next to the windows overlooking the street, Jake on one side, both the agents crowded around the other. Kelli, the new girl on coffee duty, took one look at the three of them and skittered to the café’s far end to wipe down tables.
Medina started before Jake could think of anything to say. “Do you still hold dual citizenship, Mr. Eldar? American and Israeli?”
“Are you in contact with anyone in Israel? Other than your parents.”
Something scurried around Jake’s gut. The FBI knew about his parents? “Couple friends, an army buddy. Why?”
“Have you been approached by anyone with the Israeli government, or, say, an Israeli company?”
He hadn’t had any contact with the Israeli government since he’d dragged Rinnah here to get away from the place. He hoped he never would. “No, nobody. What’s this about?”
Johanssen leaned his forearms on the table. “Read the paper, Mr. Eldar?”
“You see about that terrorist guy got killed in Qatar couple weeks back?”
“I saw it happened. Didn’t spend a lot of time on it.”
“Well.” Johanssen tapped the table with two fingers. “Someone using your passport and your name may have been involved. You lend your passport to anyone, Mr. Eldar?”
Jake glanced between the two agents, wondering when they’d break out laughing and the guy with the video camera would pop out from behind the espresso machine. “Are you serious? Why would I do that?”
Medina pulled a paper from inside his coat, unfolded it, smoothed it on the middle of the table. “Do you know this man?”
A man in his forties stared back at him from the grainy, blown-up passport photo. Triangular face, broken nose, straight black hair, moustache, sober glasses. Darkish skin; he could be any kind of Mediterranean, even Latino. “Never saw him before.”
“According to Qatari Immigration, that’s Jacob Eldar of 475 18th Street, Brooklyn.”
Shit. Jake looked into the fixed dark eyes in the photo. His name, his address. But why him? What else did this guy take? “Who is he really?”
Johanssen shrugged. “Don’t know. Smart money’s on Mossad right now, you know, the Israeli CIA.”
“I know who they are.” And wished he didn’t, but the Feds didn’t need to know about that. “Can’t help you. Sorry.”
The two agents exchanged “are you done?” glances. Medina flashed Jake a polite smile, snapped a business card down on the table. “Thank you for your time, Mr. Eldar. If you think of anything, please call.” They stood; so did Jake.
He shook hands with them both, said, “Buy some coffee while you’re here. We need the business.”
Jake drifted back downstairs to the customer service desk while the agents confused Kelli with their orders. He slumped on the stool, stared at the company screen saver bouncing across the computer monitor. Mossad used my name? Why? It couldn’t be random; Mossad didn’t do random.
He braced his elbows on the green laminate desktop, lowered his face into his hands.
Mossad did payback.
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