A bullet rang down the corridor and splintered the wood of the front door through which George Saba had entered. As he had dodged along the road in the darkness, he had been determined that tonight he would act. He had cursed the gunmen under his breath, and when a shot struck particularly close to him he had sworn at the top of his voice. Now he wanted only to crawl deeper into the alcove, to dig himself inside the wall until this nightmare stopped. If he stayed in the niche long enough, perhaps he would awake and find himself in his store in Santiago and this idiotic fantasy of returning to his childhood home would once more be merely a dream, not a reality of red-hot lead, blasting through his home, destructive and deadly. He looked over to the bedroom and caught his wifes pleading expression, as she struggled to keep the heads of their children hidden beneath her arms. He wasnt going to wake up in Chile. He couldnt hide. He had to end this. He got to his feet, sliding up the wall, pushing his back hard against it as though it might wrap his flesh in impenetrable stone. He took the tense, expectant breath of a man dropping into freezing water and dashed across the exposed corridor into the bedroom.
George Saba hugged his wife and children to him. Its going to be all right, darlings, he said. Im going to take care of it. He pulled them close so they wouldnt see that his jaw shook.
For the first time, his father moved his head. What are you going to do?
George looked sadly at the old man. He wasnt fooled by the stillness with which Habib Saba held himself. It wasnt calm and resolve that kept the old man frozen in his self-contained posture against the wall. His father cowered in the bedroom because he was accustomed to the corruption and violence of their town. He lived as quietly and invisibly as he could, because Christians were a minority in Bethlehem, and so Habib Saba was careful not to upset the Muslims by standing up to them. George had learned a different way of life during his years away from Palestine. He put his hand on his fathers shoulder and then touched the old mans rough cheek. Quickly, George stood and reached for an antique revolver mounted on the wall. It was a British Webley VI from the Second World War that he had bought a few months before from the family of an old man who had once served in the Jordanian Arab Legion and kept the gun as a souvenir of his English officers. The gray metal was dull and there was rust on the hinge, so that the cylinder couldnt be opened. But in the darkness its six-inch barrel would look deadly enough, unlike the three inlaid Turkish flintlocks that decorated the bedroom wall beside it. George Saba tightened his hand around the square-cut grip and felt the guns weight.
Habib reached out for his sons arm, but couldnt hold fast. Sofia screamed when she saw the revolver in her husbands hand. At the sound, her daughter peered from under her mothers arm. George knew he must act now or the sight of those frightened eyes would break him. He reached down and put his hand over the childs brow, as though to close her eyes. Dont worry, little Miral. Daddys going to tell the men to stop playing and making noise. It sounded stupid and, for the moment, he kept his fingers over the girls face so that he wouldnt see the look of incredulity he felt sure would have registered on her features. Even a child could tell this was no game. Then he dashed through the front door.
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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