George . . .
Dont worry about me. Get out of here before the Israelis come. Not even your big clan will protect you from them. Goodbye, Abu Ramiz. George Saba put an affectionate hand on Omar Yussefs arm, then went fast along the street, bending low behind the cover of the garden walls.
Omar Yussef put his hands over his ears as the Israelis switched to a heavier gun. It shot tracers that left a deceptively slow, dotted line in the darkness, like a murderous Morse Code. That code spelled death, and the warmth that he had felt during the dinner left Omar Yussef. He could no longer see George Saba. He wondered if he should follow him. The waiter stood nervously behind him in the doorway, eager to lock up. Are you coming inside, uncle?
Im going home. Good night.
May God protect you.
Omar Yussef thought he must have looked foolish, groping his way along the wall at the roadside, kicking his loafers in front of him with every step to be sure of his footing on the broken pavement. An awareness of fear and doubt came over him. He sensed movement in the alleys he passed, and shadows momentarily took on the shape of men and animals, as though he were a frightened child trying to find the bathroom in the darkness of a nighttime house. He was sweating and, where the perspiration gathered in his moustache and on the baldness of his head, the night wind chilled him. What an old fool you are, he told himself, scrambling about in a battle zone in your nice shoes. Sometimes you can have a gun to your head and you still dont know where your brains are.
The firing behind him grew more intense. He wondered what George Saba might do if he found the gunmen on his own roof again, and he decided that only when a gun points at your heart do you realize what it is that you truly love. George Sabas family huddled against the thick, stone wall of his bedroom. It was the side of the house farthest from the guns. George came though the front door. The shooting was louder inside and he realized the bullets were punching through the windows into his apartment. He ducked into an alcove in the corridor and crouched against the wall. At the back of the house, his living room faced the deep wadi. It was taking heavy fire from the Israeli position over the canyon. Sofia Saba stared frantically across the corridor at her husband. She was not quite forty, but there were lines that seemed suddenly to have appeared on her face that her husband had never noticed before, as though the bullets were cracking the surface of her skin like a pane of glass. Her hair, a rich deep auburn dye, was a wild frame for her panicked eyes. She held her son and daughter, one on either side of her, their heads grasped protectively beneath her arms. All three were shaking. Next to them, Habib Saba sat silent and angry, below the antique guns mounted decoratively on the wall by his son. His cheekbones were high and his nose long and straight, like an ancient cameo of some impassive noble. Despite the gunfire, he held his head steady as an image carved from stone. George called out to his father above the hammering of the bullets on the walls, but the old man didnt move.
Most of the Israeli rounds struck the outside wall of the living room with the deep impact of a straight hit. These were no ricochets. Every few moments, a bullet would rip through the shattered remains of the windows, cross the salon and embed itself in the wall behind which George Sabas family sheltered. Sofia shuddered with each new impact, as though the projectiles might take down the entire wall, picking it away chunk by chunk, until it left her children exposed to the gunfire. The hideous racket of the bullets was punctuated by the sounds of mirrors and furniture falling in the living room and porcelain dropping to the stone floor from shattered shelves.
Excerpted from The Collaborator of Bethlehem by Matt Beynon Rees © 2007 by Matt Beynon Rees. Excerpted by permission of Soho Crime. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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