Zygmunt Frankel



After Helga's plane also left, I took Max to a good seafood restaurant in Eilat and we had a long leisurely dinner to make up for the early makeshift one on board Sinbad. Seeing deep- fried squid on the menu, Max ordered them, to see, he said, whether anyone could prepare them better than Maria. "They never taste better than the ones you catch yourself" I told him, and when the squid arrived he agreed, although they were also very good. He had two more glasses of wine, and another liqueur with his coffee. After dinner we drove back to the boat. Except for a night watchman at the entrance, the port was deserted, and dark without the moon. We took Max's things back to his cabin. The porthole was open, letting in the fresh breeze from the outside. I switched on the lights in the dining room and the galley and made coffee. There was still some of the festive cake left and we finished it with the coffee. I poured out some more liqueur.

"It's been a great vacation," Max said dreamily, and then added, quickly," if it hadn't been for poor Werner, of course. You know, Cobi, in spite of what everyone says, I still feel sort of guilty about it."
"For the hundredth time, Max, you really and truly shouldn't be. It could have happened to anyone who took it into his head to start cutting up fish in shark waters, and his blood is, as they say, on his own head. Another coffee?"
"Yes, please."
I also refilled his liqueur glass, and we said "Prosit" and drank. Max downed his whole glass while I only took a sip from mine and went to the galley to make more coffee. I was beginning to feel slightly tipsy having drunk less than half of what Max had so far. On the other hand, he did not have to dive any more tonight.

When the coffee was ready I poured it into two clean cups and dropped one of the pills Yankele had given me into the one I was going to give to Max. We sipped the coffee with the remains of the cake, and then I refilled our liqueur glasses again.

"What I mean," Max said in a slightly blurred voice, "is that perhaps I could have prevented him from messing with that fish ... I mean the eel..." he yawned and apologized," or perhaps I shouldn't have been so keen on that extra dive, just the two of us..."
"Max," I said, " if you look at it that way, then I may have been the most guilty party of all by letting you two dive without escort in waters you were unfamiliar with. You really shouldn't feel any guilt about it."
"Guilt," he said, thought about it for a while in silence, and then yawned again. "I am sorry; it's been a long day and I've been drinking too much."
"Me too; what do you say we turn in, and set the alarm clock to something like six or half past, so as to have plenty of time for breakfast and a last dip before we go to the airport?"
"Sounds great, Cobi. Ouch, I can hardly get up."

I helped him to his cabin and into his bunk. He stretched out with a deep sigh of content, and mumbled:
"Aah, there's nothing like a bed; the only thing missing is a girl although I am not sure I could do much with her in my present state."
"Tomorrow is another day, Max. Let's leave the porthole open to let in fresh air; there's a nice breeze outside."
"Yes, please. Thank you. Gute ... Gute Nacht, Cobi"
"Gute Nacht, Max."

His eyes were already closed. I went back to the galley, poured all the remaining coffee into a large cup and drank it. Then I looked into Max's cabin again. He was fast asleep, breathing deeply and evenly, and there was something boyish, even childish and innocent, about his face as he slept. I went up on deck and flashed my torch three times towards the shed across the quay.

There was a distant soft whir of a starter, and a car, with only its parking lights on, moved out from behind the shed and rolled almost noiselessly towards Sinbad. ( I had the boat's .45 Colt automatic within easy reach just in case.) The car pulled up by the gangway and Yankele got out, followed by two others. One of them was the young man who had ordered another coffee and kept close to Max and Maria at the airport. The second man was older and not very military-looking; he was carrying a small black bag like a doctor's. I told them how much Max had to drink before the pill in his coffee. Yankele looked at the older man and he nodded.

"All right, "Yankele said to the younger one. "You'd better stay on the deck, in case anyone shows up. Cobi, we probably won't take longer than an hour, maybe an hour and a half. Where will you be so we can pass by and tell you we've finished? The Mexico?"
"Mexico it is," I said.
"Alright, Cobi. And, by the way, if you don't find Max here when you come back, don't worry; we've simply taken him for some additional questioning somewhere else, and will put him on tomorrow's plane ourselves. And please remember: do not, repeat, do not, come to the airport to say goodbye in such a case; we'll tell him about the compressor repairs and everything will be in order."
"All right then; good night and good luck."
"Thanks again, Cobi. You've been a great help."

As I left, the younger man on the deck was screwing a silencer onto his automatic pistol. He looked very professional. I got into my car and drove out of the port, revving up the engine to its loudest while accelerating towards the centre of Eilat. The road was deserted at this hour and nobody seemed to be following me. In town, I went around a couple of blocks to make quite sure I was not being followed. Then I drove back, past the port entrance and the end of fence, turning left and stopping right by the water where a small stretch of sand adjoined the port's barbed wire, and switching off the engine and the lights. There was no other car in the vicinity, and now that mine was here, no one was likely to park nearby; they would assume this was a couple in search of privacy - on the sand, in the water, or on the back seat of the car - and, themselves most likely with similar plans, would drive on, looking for a secluded spot elsewhere.

I was now no farther than a hundred, at most a hundred and fifty metres from Sinbad, and there didn't seem to be a guard at this end of the port fence - an oversight I might mention to Yankele one of these days but not tonight. I changed into my wetsuit, put on the oxygen apparatus and the weightbelt, strapped the depth gauge and the compass to my wrists, and, carrying the mask and the fins, quietly waded in about waist- deep and ducked my head for a few seconds. The water in the Red Sea is always cold, with a difference of perhaps three degrees centigrade between winter and summer, and it was lovely to feel my head clear and my brain beginning to click. I was the old Cobi again and it was just as well because I was about to risk my life in two easy installments: drowning if I went too deep, and getting shot if discovered near the boat. The depth at which oxygen became dangerous varied not only from diver to diver, but also with his age, physical condition, degree of tiredness, the amount of sleep the diver had had, and of alcohol he had ingested. Although seven metres was the official limit, I decided not to go no deeper than four or five, hoping. that with my black wetsuit I wouldn't be detected from the surface on a moonless night. The memory of the silencer on that pistol was an uncomfortable one; something told me that such a man on such a duty, seeing a frogman near the boat, would shoot first and investigate afterwards; and while a bullet might not be too efficient against a water-submerged target he might also have a handgrenade with him, which, tossed into the water, was a different story altogether. My main hope was that the young man on deck would be mainly watching the shore, with an occasional glance seawards in case a boat showed up from that direction, but without peering into the water on the deep side too closely.

I swam underwater to a large iron buoy just offshore, surfaced behind it, set the course for Sinbad on my wrist compass, dropped below the surface again, and started on my way.

The distance on a mission like this always seems greater than it really is. I was watching my depth gauge and the direction carefully. The cold and clear water looked sort of grey, and a squid, also pale-grey, gracefully undulating its semi-transparent fins, came into view and passed on, on some midnight errand of its own.

Finally Sinbad's keel, a long pale smudge against the darker grey of the pier, showed up ahead, and I dropped an extra metre for the final lap, coming up against the hull amidships and trying not to knock on it with any hard piece of equipment. I turned onto my back and slowly crawled along the curved belly of the boat, cautiously putting my head out of the water under the tire near Max's porthole.

There was no one peering over the railing. Max's porthole was open as I left it and the voices coming from it were faint but clear. There was no sound of steps on the deck; I was hoping that the young man had made himself comfortable in one of the deckchairs, facing the port. I held onto the tire and listened.

To make things easier, Yankele did not know German. He would ask his questions in Hebrew, the man with the bag would translate them into German, Max would reply in a slightly sleepy but clear voice, and the answer would be translated back into Hebrew, so that whatever I missed in one of the languages would be given a second chance in the other.

"And who were your contacts in Hamburg?"
"A man called Rudi and a girl called Gretchen; I don't know their second names. She is a student I think, and works two or three evenings a week in a pizza place in the Gross Freiheit, near the old Kaiserkeller."
"And how do you contact Rudi?"
"By phone, between five and six p.m. any day. I've got his number in the address book in my shoulder bag, written backwards."
"And this was your first major assignment in the Red Brigades?"
"Yes. "
"That diving course in Cuba; what did they teach you there?"
"Underwater combat; navigation in the dark; attaching limpet mines to boats; the use of closed-circuit oxygen apparatus..."
"What's that?"
"It's a type of diving apparatus where you breathe pure oxygen from a rubberized bag. It doesn't show any bubbles on the surface. On the other hand, you can't go deeper than seven metres with it for medical reasons."

There was a short silence, and the water suddenly felt several degrees colder.

"Would Cobi have any of these on board?"
"No, he hasn't; they're strictly taboo for sports diving. But why ask me and not him directly?"
"It's wearing off," the man with the doctor's bag said in a low voice, in Hebrew. "Let's get him into the car, and let Khaimke bring along his luggage and our tape recorder."

Yankele seems to have infected them with diminutives of first names.

I sank noiselessly below the surface and started on my way back, before it occured to Yankele or Khaimke to shine a torch into the water in search of someone breathing oxygen. The trip back was quick and uneventful, and when I finally poked my head out of the water behind the buoy, the beach was as deserted as before. I got out, put my gear in the boot of the car, dried myself with a towel, dressed, and, plugging the little hair- dryer into the cigarette lighter socket, dried my hair. I also rummaged in the glove compartment for an old, half used-up tube of lipstick a girl had left there long ago and applied just the tiniest smudge near the corner of my mouth. Then I drove back into Eilat, parked at the Mexico, went in, and ordered a whisky, downing it with the comfortable feeling that I have earned it, and now could at long last get slightly drunk. There was a pretty girl perched on a bar stool next to mine but one, and I started a conversation. She had a brightly lipsticked mouth of a shade, as far as I could judge in the blinding strobe lights which accompanied the deafening disco music, not too different from the one I had used. I invited her to dance; she was French and her name was Michele. I ordered a couple of drinks for us, and we retired to a sofa in a corner, sitting rather close to each other. After a while I saw Yankele come in and stop near the entrance, letting his eyes get used to the darkness and the strobe lights. I leaned a little more towards Michele, and after a while felt a tap on the shoulder.

"Hello, there," Yankele said, not calling me by name in case I had given the girl a different one. "Long time no see; how have you been?"
"Fine, and you? Michele, this is Yaacov; Yankele, this is Michele."
"Enchantee, Monsieur Yaacov."
"Enchante, mademoiselle," he said with an atrocious accent, exhausting his knowledge of French and gallantly kissing her hand.
"Er..." he said, switching to English," would you excuse us for just a moment? I would like a word with him outside, and will send him back to you at once."
"Certainly, Monsieur."

We went out into the light of the neon outside the door.

"Everything's OK," Yankele said. "We finished some time ago and the boat is all yours again. We did have to take Max with us, but we'll put him on the plane tomorrow morning and there's nothing for you to worry about. And thank you again, Cobi; you've really been a great help."

He reached out and ruffled my dry hair, an unusual thing for him to do. Then, to show that nothing escaped his sharp eye, he said, in an approving patronizing voice, perhaps slightly tinged with envy:

"You have a little smudge of lipstick on your cheek.."

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1997 Zygmunt Frankel - All Rights Reserved.
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