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 passport.
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 European shores.
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.
Excerpted from The Messenger, Copyright © 2006 Danile Silva. Reproduced with permission of the publishers, Penguin Putnam. Reproduction prohibited. All rights reserved.
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