Zygmunt Frankel



"I went down to the coast the day before yesterday," Abdullah said, "to visit my cousin Yussuf who does some fishing from a small boat he has. Two of his sons work for the Jews, one in a hotel and one in a restaurant. They are making good money and are very satisfied."
"But some of the young men are also drifting away from the old way of life, aren't they?"
"Yes," he sighed. "There is, as they say, no good without bad and no bad without good. Do you remember that war, when we first met? So many people got killed, while so many others gained advantage from it. And now the years of peace that have followed are bringing a lot of prosperity to the Bedouin around here, but also a slow crumbling away of the old way of life, like rocks under the wind and sun."
"Our own rabbis have been complaining about the very same thing, for many years now. It seems to be happening all over the world."
"Still," he said, " the technical progress is wonderful. It used to be many days from here to Eilat on camelback; now that one of my sons has a car - one of those with big wheels which can go over the desert, and with that road you have built along the coast, you can be there in a day, and back the day after. And my cousin Yussuf, the fisherman, got a small engine for his boat and can now cover more water and catch more fish than before, when he only had oars. He also has a new net made from plastic thread which doesn't rot if you leave it wet. The net has cost him a lot of money, but he says that very soon now it will have paid for itself."
"It's the same everywhere, Abdullah. My own boat with all the equipment is also costing me a fortune."
"By the way," said Abdullah, reaching into the inside pocket of his jacket, "would you by any chance be interested in such a watch? I believe it is a special type for divers, and should you be interested, I am sure we can agree on a price satisfactory to both of us."

In the light of the waning moon, I was looking at a heavy Omega diving watch, the model with the solid stainless steel case and a red button to lock the bezel ring; and at the letters engraved on the back, "W.B.": Werner Bauer's initials.

"Yes," I said after a while, "it is a good watch. Mind you, I was not thinking about getting a new one in the near future - I am quite satisfied with the one I have - but if it's not too expensive I might consider it. What value do you put on it?"
"Make me an offer."
We were now into the traditional unhurried bargaining which is an integral part of an eastern business transaction.

"Let me think aloud," I said. "A good diving watch of a well-known make, brand-new in a shop, with a year's garantee, might cost as much as two hundred dollars." (The Omega would be much more than that, but Abdullah did not have to know it.) "Now, this particular one is far from new and not in the best of conditions - please note these scratches on the glass and case - so it can't be worth more than a quarter of the price of a new one, probably less. The new owner would also have two additional expenses.. First, the watch would have to be checked by a specialist, and he would almost certainly want to clean it and change a couple of special watertight rubber gaskets, because if such a watch leaks once it is finished. Then there is the matter of these initials. They don't fit my name, and to have them removed properly, by a jeweller, would again be expensive; I would guess twenty-five or thirty dollars for the check and the gasket change, and once again that much for the change of initials. I do not feel that with the best will I could offer more than fifty dollars for it."

Abdullah was listening politely, sometimes even nodding in agreement, and when I finished he took his time to consider what I had said.

"Cobi, my friend," he replied at last," I think that if you inspect the watch in proper light it will look much better. The scratches are negligible, and I suppose that every diving watch gets them on the first few dives, what with the sand and the corals. As for the initials, I am sure that every jeweller and also some of the souvenir shops in Eilat can erase them for much less than you think, while you wait, and even yours in their place. The watch looks, and probably is, practically new, and I wouldn't let anyone else have it for less than a hundred and fifty dollars. However, as you and I are old friends, I'll make a sacrifice and let you have it for one hundred; but this is absolutely the lowest price I would be ready to accept."

We now both knew that we would compromise somewhere between seventy and eighty dollars, but this had to be done slowly and with dignity. I carefully counted the scratches, clucked my tongue at the depth of the engraved initials, and offered Abdullah sixty. He disqualified half the scratches as undeserving of the name and regretfully reduced the price to ninety. He did not yet know that the final deal would have to include information on how this watch got from Werner's wrist to Abdullah's pocket. I had been making the conversation soft and drowsy the better to throw him off balance when the time came.

"Sheikh Abdullah," I said, "I would be ready to go as high as seventy-five dollars but no higher, and I would still be taking a risk buying it."

"Cobi, my friend," he said, with slight offence, "you have my word of honour that should there be anything wrong with this watch I shall take it back and return your money to the last penny, without an argument and without hard feelings, on the spot. What is friendship for if not for trusting each other?"

"It's not that, Sheikh Abdullah. Of course I trust you fully, and, in spite of all my doubts, the watch might after all be in a good condition. The trouble is that I have a feeling, more and more as I hold it in my hand, that this watch is carrying some curse, bringing bad luck to anyone who wears it."

There was dead silence. Abdullah's face turned pale.

"Cobi" he said weakly at last, "are you a sorcerer?"

"Not exactly," I said. "It's just that sometimes I get hunches about such things, and I've felt something about this watch right from the start. But I am ready to buy it all the same, and perhaps, with the help of someone I know, I might be able to remove the curse. Have we settled on seventy-five?"
"All right," he said, visibly shaken, and unwilling to touch the watch again.
"By the way," I asked, counting out the money, "was the hand buried with due respect?"
"What...what hand, Cobi?"
"The hand this watch was on. Abdullah, you know that it's not only the Bedouin but some Jews also, including me, who don't run to the authorities with everything they know, because afterwards there might be no end to questions, suspicions, reports, opening of files, and maybe the confiscation of the watch as well. You have my word of honour that whatever you tell me will remain a secret and never cause you any trouble."
"All right then, Cobi. My cousin Yussuf and I did bury the hand, quite deep, at the foot of a small hill opposite the beach where we found the dead shark, and we piled some heavy stones over it so that no animal can disturb it."
"Was the shark dead of a head wound?"
"Yes, as if someone shot it with a heavy gun between the eyes. My cousin had seen it being washed up on the beach just before my visit and was glad to see that it was fresh because it is good meat. Yussuf invited me to cut the stomach open, saying that sharks sometimes swallow things and that if I found anything it was mine, in addition to the shark meat he would give me; and the hand was there, with the watch on the wrist still going."

He put the money into the inner pocket of his jacket and, rummaging there some more, brought out some small elongated object.

"We found this in the shark's stomach as well," he said. "If it can be of any use to you, please accept it as a gift."

It was Max's missing spearhead. Scared, Abdullah was obviously trying to get rid of everything connected with the curse.

"Thank you very much, Abdullah," I said. "It's a good spearhead, and I have just the speargun it will fit, but it would be silly to use it on a shark. Was it stuck in the skin?"

"No, it was also in the stomach. It was stuck in a fish, still undigested, one of those silvery striped ones of which there is a lot near the reefs, about this big." Abdullah held his hands about thirty centimetres apart.

After we said goodnight, I walked to the jeep on the hill. There was a glow of a cigarette from the driver's seat; the young officer was taking the first watch while the two men slept in their sleeping bags on the sand, one of them snoring lightly.

"Hello, Yoram," I said.
"Hello, Cobi. What's new?"
"Can you get in touch with the Sharm base on your radio?"
"Of course."
"Please ask them to tell Major Yankele that I want to see him as soon as we get back tomorrow night."

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1997 Zygmunt Frankel - All Rights Reserved.
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