Several members of the audience were loitering in the foyer. Standing to one
side, a stormy island in an otherwise tranquil sea, was the girl. She wore faded
jeans, a leather jacket, and a checkered Palestinian kaffiyeh round her neck.
Her black hair shone like a ravens wing. Her eyes were nearly black, too, but
shone with something else. Her name was Hamida al-Tatari. A refugee, she had
said. Born in Amman, raised in Hamburg, now a citizen of Canada residing in
North London. Massoudi had met her that afternoon at a reception in the student
union. Over coffee she had fervently accused him of insufficient outrage over
the crimes of the Americans and Jews. Massoudi had liked what he had seen. They
were planning to have drinks that evening at the wine bar next to the theater in
Sloane Square. His intentions werent romantic. It wasnt Hamidas body he
wanted. It was her zeal and her clean face. Her perfect English and Canadian
She gave him a furtive glance as he crossed the foyer but made no attempt to
speak to him. Keep your distance after the symposium, he had instructed her that
afternoon. A man in my position has to be careful about who hes seen with.
Outside he sheltered for a moment beneath the portico and gazed at the traffic
moving sluggishly along the wet street. He felt someone brush against his elbow,
then watched as Hamida plunged wordlessly into the cloudburst. He waited until
she was gone, then hung his briefcase from his shoulder and set out in the
opposite direction, toward his hotel in Russell Square.
The change came over himthe same change that always occurred whenever he
moved from one life to the other. The quickening of the pulse, the sharpening of
the senses, the sudden fondness for small details. Such as the balding young
man, walking toward him beneath the shelter of an umbrella, whose gaze seemed to
linger on Massoudis face an instant too long. Or the newsagent who stared
brazenly into Massoudis eyes as he purchased a copy of the Evening Standard. Or
the taxi driver who watched him, thirty seconds later, as he dropped the same
newspaper into a rubbish bin in Upper Woburn Place.
A London bus overtook him. As it churned slowly past, Massoudi peered through
the fogged windows and saw a dozen tired-looking faces, nearly all of them black
or brown. The new Londoners, he thought, and for a moment the professor of
global governance and social theory wrestled with the implications of this. How
many secretly sympathized with his cause? How many would sign on the dotted line
if he laid before them a contract of death?
In the wake of the bus, on the opposite pavement, was a single pedestrian:
oilskin raincoat, stubby ponytail, two straight lines for eyebrows. Massoudi
recognized him instantly. The young man had been at the conferencesame row as
Hamida but on the opposite side of the auditorium. Hed been sitting in the same
seat earlier that morning, when Massoudi had been the lone dissenting voice
during a panel discussion on the virtue of barring Israeli academics from
Massoudi lowered his gaze and kept walking, while his left hand went
involuntarily to the shoulder strap of his briefcase. Was he being followed? If
so, by whom? MI5 was the most likely explanation. The most likely, he reminded
himself, but not the only one. Perhaps the German BND had followed him to London
from Bremen. Or perhaps he was under CIA surveillance.
But it was the fourth possibility that made Massoudis heart bang suddenly
against his rib cage. What if the man was not English, or German, or American at
all? What if he worked for an intelligence service that showed little
compunction about liquidating its enemies, even on the streets of foreign
capitals. An intelligence service with a history of using women as bait. He
thought of what Hamida had said to him that afternoon.
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