He spent a few moments cleaning his palette and brushes, then went into the kitchen. Shamron sat down at the small table and waited for Gabriel to turn his back before hurriedly lighting one of his foul-smelling Turkish cigarettes. Gabriel, hearing the familiar click-click of Shamrons old Zippo lighter, pointed toward the Rubens in exasperation, but Shamron made a dismissive gesture and defiantly raised the cigarette to his lips. A comfortable silence settled between them while Gabriel poured bottled water into the teakettle and spooned coffee into the French press. Shamron was content to listen to the wind moving in the eucalyptus trees outside in the garden. Devoutly secular, he marked the passage of time not by the Jewish festivals but by the rhythms of the landthe day the rains came, the day the wildflowers exploded in the Galilee, the day the cool winds returned. Gabriel could read his thoughts. Another autumn, and were still here. The covenant had not been revoked.
The prime minister wants an answer. Shamrons gaze still was focused on the tangled little garden. Hes a patient man, but he wont wait forever.
I told you that Id give him an answer when I was finished with the painting.
Shamron looked at Gabriel. Does your arrogance know no bounds? The prime minister of the State of Israel wants you to be chief of Special Operations, and you put him off over some five-hundred year-old piece of canvas.
Gabriel carried the coffee to the table and poured two cups. Shamron scooped sugar into his and gave it a single violent stir.
You said yourself the painting is nearly finished. What is your answer going to be?
I havent decided.
May I offer you a piece of helpful advice?
And if I dont want your advice?
Id give it to you anyway. Shamron squeezed the life out of his cigarette butt. You should accept the prime ministers offer before he makes it to someone else.
Nothing would make me happier.
Really? And what will you do with yourself? Greeted by silence, Shamron pressed on. Allow me to paint a picture for you, Gabriel. Ill do the best I can. Im not gifted like you. I dont come from a great German-Jewish intellectual family. Im just a poor Polish Jew whose father sold pots from the back of a handcart.
Shamrons murderous Polish accent had grown thicker. Gabriel couldnt help but smile. He knew that whenever Shamron played the downtrodden Jew from Lvov, something entertaining was certain to follow.
You have nowhere else to go, Gabriel. You said it yourself when we offered you the job the first time. What will you do when youre finished with this Rubens of yours? Do you have any more work lined up? Shamrons pause was theatrical in nature, for he knew the answer was no. You cant go back to Europe until youre officially cleared in the bombing of the Gare de Lyon. Julian might send you another painting, but eventually that will end, too, because the packing and shipping costs will cut into his already tenuous bottom line. Do you see my point, Gabriel?
I see it very clearly. Youre trying to use my unfortunate situation as a means of blackmailing me into taking Operations.
Blackmail? No, Gabriel. I know the meaning of blackmail, and God knows Ive been known to use it when it suits my needs. But this is not blackmail. Im trying to help you.
Tell me something, Gabriel: What do you plan to do for money?
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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