Vicious circle, p.1
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       Vicious Circle, p.1

           Robert Littell
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Vicious Circle



  The Company

  Walking Back the Cat

  The Visiting Professor

  An Agent in Place

  The Once and Future Spy

  The Revolutionist

  The Amateur

  The Sisters

  The Debriefing

  Mother Russia

  The October Circle

  Sweet Reason

  The Defection of A.J. Lewinter

  This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to persons living or dead is purely coincidental … the same is true for events.

  This edition first published in 2006 by

  Overlook Duckworth


  The Overlook Press

  141 Wooster Street

  New York, NY 10012


  The Overlook Press

  One Overlook Drive

  Woodstock, NY 12498

  [for individual orders, bulk and special sales, contact our Woodstock office]



  90-93 Cowcross Street

  London EC1M 6BF

  Copyright © 2006 by Robert Littell

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who wishes to quote brief passages in connection with a review written for inclusion in a magazine, newspaper, or broadcast.

  ISBN: 978-1-590-20830-4


























































  For Emir and Alma

  In hope that when they are old enough

  to read this book the Israelis and the

  Palestinians will be living in peace

  Behold, thou shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael … And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him … And Hagar bare Abram a son.

  Genesis 16

  And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son and thou shalt call his name Isaac. And as for Ishmael, I have blessed him and will multiply him exceedingly … But my covenant will I establish with Isaac.

  Genesis 17


  THE SETTING SUN SCORED THE NAVIGATOR’S LINE BETWEEN SKY and sea, drawing blood, flinging long shadows inland on the flat Levantine coast. Flecks of last light chipped off the gold leaf of the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount. Not far away, a panel truck with the hand painted logo “Kosher Pizza” and “We Deliver” written in Hebrew on both sides crawled along a street on the French Hill, a small Jewish neighborhood built on the north-eastern slope of Jerusalem after the Six Day War. The driver, a young woman with short cropped hair and wrap-around sunglasses that masked her eyes but drew attention to the smallpox scars that disfigured an otherwise handsome face, pulled up next to a bus stop. Rolling down the window, checking an address on her clipboard, she asked a teenage girl waiting for a number four bus for directions to the apartment building on Etzel Street where students from Hebrew University on Mount Scopus rented rooms. “You’re on Etzel Street,” the girl told her in Hebrew. “The numbers are hard to make out after sunset. The building you want is the second one down from the top of the hill on your right.” The girl, who was wearing a short skirt and a body hugging turtleneck sweater, snickered. “What makes kosher pizza kosher?” she demanded. With a shrill laugh, she supplied the answer to her own question. “I suppose it means some Orthodox Rabbi who won’t touch a female of the species when she’s menstruating blessed the bacon.”

  The young woman driving the panel truck gnawed on her lower lip. “I only deliver,” she said. “I don’t justify.”

  “You speak Hebrew with an accent,” remarked the girl waiting for the bus. “Where are you from?”

  “I’m a Yemenite Jew.”

  “Where in Yemen?” the girl asked but the young woman had already thrown the panel truck into gear and started up the hill. Two apartment buildings from the top she swung into the driveway that led to the front door of tarnished brass and rain-stained glass and cut the motor. She rapped twice against the partition behind her shoulder and said softly, in Arabic, “God is great, Yussuf. We are arrived.”

  A young man dressed in a zippered yellow jumpsuit with “Kosher Pizza” embroidered over the breast pocket emerged from the rear of the panel truck carrying a boxed pizza and a delivery ticket. At the front door he pushed the buzzer to an apartment on the second floor known to be rented to half a dozen students from Hebrew University. “Pizza delivery,” Yussuf said in Hebrew when a female voice responded. The student assumed one of her roommates had ordered pizza and dispatched an electric current to the lock on the front door, which instantly clicked open. Yussuf held the door for the nearly blind doctor who had been in the back of the panel truck with him. The doctor, wearing windowpane-thick eyeglasses with wire frames and tapping a long thin bamboo cane on the pavement before him, followed Yussuf through the shabby lobby and up the stairs, careful to stay half a floor behind him.

  At the fourth floor Yussuf pushed open the fire door; the doctor, a heavy-set man, on the short side with short-cropped hair, remained out of sight on the landing. At the far end of the long and narrow corridor a burly Israeli wearing aviator’s sunglasses and an open necked sport shirt outside his slacks tipped his folding metal chair off the wall onto its four legs. Yussuf stopped under one of the corridor lights to consult the delivery ticket. “Which door is four-sixteen?” he called in Hebrew to the Israeli.

  “This is four-sixteen,” the Israeli replied, “but nobody told me about a pizza delivery.”

  Yussuf started toward the Israeli, who rose to his feet and reached behind his back to grip the butt of the revolver wedged into his belt. Holding the pizza in his left hand, Yussuf said amiably, “Somebody owes me thirty-eight shekels,” and he offered the delivery ticket to the Israeli, who towered over him by a good head.

  The Israeli, with his giant right fist wrapped around the butt of the revolver, accepted the delivery ticket with his lef
t hand. He made the mistake of taking his eyes off the delivery man for a moment. He noticed “Apt 416” written in ink immediately under the address on Etzel Street. He saw the name of the young American woman who rented the apartment, Goodman, on the top of the delivery ticket. And then his eyes went sightless as the thin dagger with the tapered blade that Arab farmers used to kill fowl plunged between the second and third rib into his heart, severing the pulmonary valve, drawing blood, cutting off life.

  Catching the bodyguard under an armpit, Yussuf lowered him back onto the folding chair, then patted the pockets of his slacks in search of the key to the apartment. He found it as the doctor, his bamboo cane scraping the surface of the linoleum along the wall, came up behind him. Holding the bodyguard’s revolver in his left hand, Yussuf slipped the key into the lock and noiselessly opened the door to four-sixteen. He quickly dragged the corpse through the door and propped it up in a sitting position against the Syrian camel saddle in the entranceway. The doctor rested one hand on Yussuf’s shoulder and followed him down the hallway to the bedroom. Grunts of exertion came from behind the door, as if it led to a gymnasium. Yussuf turned the knob and opened the door and stepped into the room, which was lighted by Palestinian rush candles and perfumed with incense. Except for the large mattress on the floor, the room was unfurnished. Two naked figures appeared to be wrestling on the mattress. The former general, now Minister without portfolio in the coalition government, was flat on his back, his skin glistening with perspiration as the American woman, his mistress for the past seven months, worked her lean body up and back, then down and forward, above him. The Minister must have caught a glimpse of shadows flickering on the wall because he tried to push the woman off just as Yussuf, reaching over her shoulder, slit her throat. She collapsed onto her lover’s body. The sticky rivulet of blood spurting from her neck soaked into the sweaty tangle of gray hair on his chest. Yussuf, leaning over the mattress, punched the dagger through the man’s right palm, impaling his hand to the mattress, then aimed the revolver at his right eye. The Minister, whose courage in combat was legendary in Israel, managed a hoarse whisper. “Fuck you, whoever you are,” he muttered, breathing hard from the pain. The doctor, kneeling on the carpet, began to probe the Minister’s skull behind the ear, searching with the tips of delicate fingers for the distinctive knob of bone. When he found it he produced a pearl-handled Beretta from the inside breast pocket of the double-breasted suit jacket he wore over his white robe. Knowing the Minister understood Arabic, he recited a passage from the Holy Qur’an. “Whoso judges not according to what God has sent down—they are the unbelievers. And therein We proscribed for them: A life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear for an ear, a tooth for a tooth, and for wounds retaliation.”

  He worked the slide on the pistol, chambering the first round, then pressed the tip of the barrel to the spot immediately under the knob of bone and pulled the trigger. The Beretta, chosen by the doctor because of its small caliber, barely made a sound as it dispatched a bullet into the Minister’s skull. There was a reflexive muscular spasm from the brain-dead man, then the utter stillness that suggested the absence of life.

  Rising to his feet, retrieving his bamboo cane, the doctor made his way to the window and tugged aside the cheap curtain thumb tacked to the sash. He could make out the blur of the full moon rising over the Judean hills. “Shadows are all I can see,” he whispered as Yussuf joined him at the window.

  Yussuf said, “At this hour shadows are all anyone can see.”

  “Look into the shadows with your youthful eyes and tell me what you see.”

  “In the near distance I see the shadows of the Judean desert.”

  “And beyond?”

  “Beyond the Judean desert I see the surface of the Dead Sea silvery with the pale light of the full moon.”

  “Look further.”

  “Beyond the Dead Sea I see the deep shadows of the hills of Moab in Jordan.”

  The doctor nodded. “In the Jewish bible, it is said the descendants of the Prophet Ibrahim’s nephew, who was called Lot, inhabited the kingdom of Moab.”

  Yussuf seemed taken aback. “You have read the Jewish bible?”

  “Clearly, the Prophet himself, who was the Messenger of God, was familiar with the Jewish bible through his contacts with the Jewish tribes in Yathrib, the oasis that became known as Medinat an-Nabi, or more simply, Medina.” The doctor turned away from the window. “Clearly,” he murmured, following another thought as he moved like a phantom through the rushlight toward the door, “God is most great who permits His blind servant to smite the enemies of Islam.”

  The predawn raid on the apartment in the city the Arabs called Nablus and the Jews called Schrem was to be Elihu’s swansong—the elite Mossad commando team that he’d led for more years than he cared to remember had already held a raucous dinner in a seaside restaurant in Jaffa to celebrate his promotion to katsa. From now on Elihu, a veteran of twenty-thee raids—including the famous one led by Ariel Barak into the heart of Beirut—would run agents from a secret Mossad bureau in Jaffa as opposed to personally leading them into combat.

  The five soldiers, dressed, like Elihu, in frayed Arab robes with kafias wrapped loosely around their heads, were superstitious—last missions were notoriously jinxed for the individual who was retiring from active service. To a man the team wanted Elihu to stay with the Mercedes-Benz taxi and survey the deserted street, but he wasn’t buying into that; he had led his raids from the usual position of the commanding officer in an Israeli military unit, which is to say from the front. His last mission would be no exception.

  The team parked the taxi in the alley next to a closed petrol station. Elihu motioned for the driver to stay with the car; if there was any activity in the street, he would alert the others. Each member of the team had a tiny speaker in one ear and a small microphone attached to the cuff of his robe at the wrist. Now they heard Elihu’s tinny whisper in their ear. “In the Torah there is a formula that instructs Jews how to deal with the assassination of our Minister and the murder of the American girl twelve days ago. And thine eye shall not pity, but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand.”

  The men checked their weapons—three carried Uzis with folding metal stocks and clips taped back to back for fast changing; Elihu and his second in command, Dovid Dror, were armed with Russian Makarov pistols fitted with silencers—and set off down the deserted Street of the Prophet. Walking soundlessly on their Adidas basketball sneakers, they passed the entrance to the apartment building and the shuttered windows of the mini-market and turned down an alleyway reeking from the overflowing metal garbage bins. At the back of the apartment building they scaled a wooden fence and jumped into a well-tended garden filled with bougainvillea clinging to an arched steel trellis. One of the men picked the lock on the coal chute and pulled open the slanting wooden doors. Signaling for the others to put on their night vision goggles, Elihu dropped into the coal bin and led the way through several vaulted brick-walled basement rooms to a narrow staircase.

  The team’s specialist on locks tried half a dozen skeleton keys before he found one that worked in the old lock. Motioning for his men to wait, Elihu stopped on the first step and listened intently. Satisfied with the quality of the silence, he pointed at the fifth member of the team, who immediately crouched next to the door as Elihu led the others up the staircase. At the third floor the team’s locksmith came up with a skeleton key that fitted into the hallway door. In the airless corridor filled with the odor of fresh paint, the raiding party took up positions on either side of the steel door that led to the apartment of the local head of the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades.

  Studying the door through his goggles, Elihu identified the two dead bolts mentioned in the Mossad pre-mission briefing, then glanced at his men, all of whom nodded. Raising his Makarov, he shot out the two locks and shouldered through the door. One member of the team crouched at the door of the apartment to cover the hall
way. Elihu’s second in command and the other raider swept into the apartment behind their leader. The sound of a woman calling in Arabic, “Mustafah, is that you going to the toilet?” came from one room. With Dror covering his back, Elihu kicked open the door with the poster of the Al Aksa mosque taped to it and burst into a bedroom. A fleshy woman sleeping on the four-poster bed crushed a pillow to the bosom of her nightdress hoping it would protect her from a terror she could hear but not see. The bald, rail-thin middle-aged man in gaudy pajamas lying next to her groped wildly for the pistol on the night table with his only hand; he’d lost the other years before when a letter bomb he was preparing exploded prematurely. Elihu stepped up to the bed and shot him once behind the ear, then fired a second shot through the palm of his hand so there would be no doubt about who had delivered retribution. The woman screamed. The scream seemed to echo through the apartment, then the building, then the neighborhood, which started to come to life.

  “Lights visible all over the Street of the Prophet,” the team member at the taxi calmly reported into Elihu’s ear.

  “We’re finished here,” Elihu said into his microphone as he backed out of the bedroom. Two women servants, with blankets pulled tightly around their bodies, stood at the entrance to the kitchen staring into the Uzi of one of the raiders.

  “Go, go, go,” Elihu cried into his microphone.

  The commandos retreated from the apartment in the order they had decided on when they rehearsed the raid in a hangar on their base. Elihu brought up the rear. Heads appeared in windows above them as the Israeli commandos raced under the bougainvillea in the garden. Angry voices shouted in Arabic into the night. Elihu detonated a smoke grenade to cover the retreat as his men scaled the wooden fence. In the alley he barked another order into the microphone. “Car to the mini-market.”

  From the Street of the Prophet came the screech of brakes. The raiders flung themselves into the taxi, which began to move before the doors slammed shut. The Mercedes, running without headlights, careened around a corner as shots rang out behind them. The three men in the back seat ducked as a bullet shattered the car’s rear window, showering them with shards of glass. At the end of the narrow street the driver spun the wheel, spilling the car down a slope onto a dirt track that ran through a garbage dump dubbed “Gehenna” on the Israeli battle map. “Headlights,” Elihu snapped. The driver flicked on the low beams in time to slalom around the goats grazing in the next field, their front legs tethered to prevent them from wandering away during the night.

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