EAGLE IN THE SKY BY WILBUR SMITH

EAGLE IN THE SKY [047-066-4.9]

BY WILBUR SMITH

Synopsis:

With a dull but awful roar, the Mirage bloomed with dark crimson flame
and sooty black smoke, the wind ripped flames outwards in great
streamers and pennants that engulfed all around them, and David
staggered onwards in the midst of the roaring furnace that seemed to
consume the very air.

Drawn to the sky as though to his natural element, young David Morgan
spurns the boardroom future mapped out for him by his family for the
life of a jet pilot. Then he meets Debra the beautiful Israeli writer
for whom he will fight, in another country’s war, at the controls of his
Mirage. Yet the breathless action which brings them together is also
the very tragedy that will threaten to tear them apart.

The novels of Wilbur Smith

The Courtney Novels:

When the Lion Feeds

The Sound of Thunder

A Sparrow Falls

The Burning Shore

Power of the Sword

Rage

A Time to Die

The Ballantyne novels:

A Falcon Flies

Men of Men

The Angels Weep

The Leopard Hunts in Darkness

Also:

The Dark of the Sun

Shout at the Devil

Gold Mine

The Diamond Hunters

The Sunbird

Eagle in the Sky

The Eye of the Tiger

Cry Wolf

Hungry as the Sea

Wild Justice

Golden Fox

Elephant Song

Eagle in The Sky

Wilbur Smith was born in Central Africa in 1933. He was educated at
Michael-house and Rhodes University.

He became a full-time writer in 1964 after the successful publication of
When the Lion Feeds, and has since written twenty-three novels,
meticulously researched on his numerous expeditions worldwide.

He normally travels from November to February, often spending a month
skiing in Switzerland, and visiting Australia and New Zealand for sea
fishing. During his summer break, he visits environments as diverse as
Alaska and the dwindling wilderness of the African interior. He has an
abiding concern for the peoples and wildlife of his native continent, an
interest strongly reflected in his novels.

He is married to Danielle, to whom his last nineteen books have been
dedicated.

WILBUR SMITH A Mandarin Paperback

EAGLE IN THE SKY

First published in Great Britain x974 by William Heinemann Ltd

This edition published 11992 by Mandarin Paperbacks an imprint of Reed
International Books Limited Michelin House, 8i Fulham, Road, London SW3
6RB and Auckland, Melbourne, Singapore and Toronto Reprinted 1993
(twice), 1994 (twice), 1995 (three times), i996 (three times)

Copyright C Wilbur Smith 1974

A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British
Library

ISBN 0 7493 o622 X

Photo-type-set by Intype, London

Printed and bound in Great Britain by Cox &Wyman Ltd, Reading, Berkshire

This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of
trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated
without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover
other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition
including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

Acknowledgements

While writing this story I had valuable help from a number of people.
Major Dick Lord and Lieutenant Peter Cooke gave me advice on the
technique and technicalities of modern fighter combat. Dr. Robin
Sandell and Dr. David Davies provided me with the medical details. A
brother angler, the Rev. Bob Redrup, helped with the choice of the
title. To them all I am

sincerely grateful.

While in Israel many of the citizens of that state gave help and
hospitality in generous measure. It grieves me

that I may not mention their names.

As always my faithful research assistant gave comfort,

encouragement and criticism when it was most needed.

This book is dedicated to her son, my stepson, Dieter Schmidt.

Three things are too wonderful for me, four I do not understand, The way
of an eagle in the sky, The way of a serpent on a rock, The way of a
ship on the high seas,

And the way of a man with a maiden.

Proverbs, 30, -8-2o

There was snow on the mountains of the Hottentots, Holland and the wind
came off it, whimpering like a lost animal. The instructor stood in the
doorway of his tiny office and hunched down into his flight jacket,
thrusting his fists deeply into the fleece-lined pockets. He watched the
black chauffeur-driven Cadillac coming down between the cavernous
iron-clad hangars, and he frowned sourly. For the trappings of wealth.

Barney Venter had a deeply aching gut-envy.

The Cadillac swung in and parked in a visitors slot against the hangar
wall, and a boy sprang from the rear door with boyish enthusiasm, spoke
briefly with the coloured chauffeur, then hurried towards Barney.

He moved with a lightness that was strange for an adolescent. There was
no stumbling over feet too big for his body, and he carried himself
tall. Barney’s envy curdled as he watched the young princeling
approach.

He hated these pampered darlings, and it was his particular fate that he
must spend so much of his working day in their company. Only the very
rich could afford to instruct their children in the mysteries of flight.

He was reduced to this by the gradual running down of his body, the
natural attrition of time. Two years previously, at the age of
forty-five, he had failed the strict medical on which his position of
senior airline captain depended, and now he was going down the other
side of the hill, probably to end as a typical fly-burn, steering tired
and beaten-up heaps on unscheduled and shady routes for unlicensed and
unprincipled charter companies.

The knowledge made him growl at the child who stood before him. Master
Morgan, I presume?

Yes, Sir, but you may call me David. The boy offered his hand and
instinctively Barney took it, immediately wishing he had not. The hand
was slim and dry, but with a hard grip of bone and sinew.

Thank you, David. Barney was heavy on irony. And you may continue to
call me “Sir”.

He knew the boy was fourteen years old, but he stood almost level with
Barney’s five-foot-seven. David smiled at him and Barney was struck
almost as by a physical force by the boy’s beauty. It seemed as though
each detail of his features had been wrought with infinite care by a
supreme artist. The total effect was almost unreal, theatrical. It
seemed indecent that hair should curl and glow so darkly, that skin
should be so satiny and delicately tinted, or that eyes possess such
depth and fire.

Barney became aware that he was staring at the boy, that he was falling
under the spell that the child seemed so readily to weave, and he turned
away abruptly.

Come on. He led the way through his office with its fly-blown nude
calendars and handwritten notices carrying terse admonitions against
asking for credit, or making right-hand circuits.

What do you know about flying? he asked the boy as they passed through
the cool gloom of the hangar where gaudily coloured aircraft stood in
long rows, and out again through the wide doors into the bright mild
winter sunshine.

Nothing, Sir. The admission was refreshing, and Barney felt his mood
sweeten slightly.

But you want to learn?

Oh, yes Sir! The reply was emphatic and Barney glanced at him. The
boy’s eyes were so dark as to be almost black, only in the sunlight did
they turn deep indigo blue.

All right then, let’s begin. The aircraft was waiting on the concrete
apron.

This is a Cessna 150 high-wing monoplane. Barney began the walk-around
check with David following attentively, but when he started a brief
explanation of the control surfaces and the principle of lift and
wingloading, he became aware that the boy knew more than he had owned up
to. His replies to Barney’s rhetorical questions were precise and
accurate.

You’ve been reading, Barney accused.

Yes, Sir, David admitted, grinning. His teeth were of peculiar
whiteness and symmetry and the smile was irresistible. Despite himself,
Barney realized he was beginning to like the boy.

Right, jump in. Strapped into the cramped cockpit shoulder to Shoulder,
Barney explained the controls and instruments, then led into the
starting procedure.Master switch on. He flipped the red button.

Right , turn that key, same as in a car.

David leaned forward and obeyed. The prop spun and the engine fired and
kicked, surged, then settled into a satisfying healthy growl. They
taxied down the apron with David quickly developing his touch on the
rudders, and paused for the final checks and radio procedure before
swinging wide on to the runway.

Right, pick an object at the end of the runway. Aim for it and open the
throttle gently.

Around them the machine became urgent, and it buzzed busily towards the
far-off fence markers.

Ease back on the wheel.

And they were airborne, climbing swiftly away from the earth.

Gently, said Barney. Don’t freeze on to the controls.

Treat her like, he broke off. He had been about to liken the aircraft
to a woman, but realized the unsuitability of the simile. Treat her
like a horse. Ride her light Instantly he felt David’s death-grip on
the wheel relax, the touch repeated through his own controls.

That’s it, David. He glanced sideways at the boy, and felt a flare of
disappointment. He had felt deep down in his being that this one might
be bird, one of the very rare ones like himself whose natural element
was the blue. Yet here in the first few moments of flight the child was
wearing an expression of frozen terror. His lips and nostrils were
trimmed with marble white and there were shadows in the dark blue eyes
like the shape of sharks moving beneath the surface of a summer sea.

Left wing up, he snapped, disappointed, trying to shock him out of it.
The wing came up and held rock steady, with no trace of over-correction.

Level her out. His own hands were off the controls as the nose sank to
find the horizon.

Throttle back. The boy’s right hand went unerringly to the throttle.
once more Barney glanced at him. His expression had not altered, and
then with a sudden revelation Barney recognized it not as fear, but as
ecstasy.

He is bird. The thought gave him a vast satisfaction, and while they
flew on through the basic instruction in trim and attitude, Barney’s
mind went back thirty years to a battered old yellow Tiger Moth and
another child in his first raptures of flight.

They skirted the harsh blue mountains, wearing their mantles of
sun-blazing snow, and rode the tail of the wild winds that came down off
them.

Wind is like the sea, David. It breaks and swirls around high ground.
Watch for it. David nodded as he listened to his first fragments of
flying lore, but his eyes were fixed ahead savouring each instant of the
experience.

They turned north over the bleak bare land, the earth naked pink and
smoky brown, stripped by the harvest of its robes of golden wheat.

Wheel and rudder together, David, Barney told him.Let’s try a steep turn
now. Down went the wing and boldly the nose swept around holding its
attitude to the horizon.

Ahead of them the sea broke in long lines of cream on the white beaches.
The Atlantic was cold green and ruffled by the wind, flecked with
dancing white.

South again, following the coastline where small figures on the white
sand paused to look up at them from under shading hands, south towards
the great flat mountain that marked the limit of the land, its shape
unfamiliar from this approach.

The shipping lay thick in the bay and the winter sunlight flashed from
the windows of the white buildings huddling below the steep wooded sides
of the mountain.

Another turn, confident and sure, Barney sitting with his hands in his
lap and his feet off the rudder bars, and they ran in over the Tygerberg
towards the airfield.

Okay, said Barney. I’ve got her. And he took them in for the
touch-down and taxied back to the concrete apron beside the hangars. He
pulled the mixture control fully lean and let the engine starve and die.

They sat silent for a moment, neither of them moving or speaking, both
of them unwinding but still aware that something important and
significant had happened and that they had shared it.

Okay? Barney asked at last.

Yes, sir, David nodded, and they unstrapped and climbed down on to the
concrete stiffly. Without speaking they walked side by side through the
hangar and office. At the door they paused.

Next Wednesday? Barney asked.

Yes, sir. David left him and started towards the waiting Cadillac, but
after a dozen steps he stopped, hesitated, then turned back.

That was the most beautiful thing that has ever happened to me, he said
shyly. Thank you, sir. And he hurried away leaving Barney staring
after him.

The Cadillac pulled off, gathering speed, and disappeared round a bend
amongst the trees beyond the last buildings. Barney chuckled, shook his
head ruefully and turned back into his office. He dropped into the
ancient swivel chair and crossed his ankles on the desk. He fished a
crumpled cigarette from the pack, straightened and lit it.

Beautiful? he grunted, grinning. Crap! He flicked the match at the
waste bin and missed it.

The telephone woke Mitzi Morgan and she crept out from under her pillows
groping blindly for it.

“Lo.

Mitzi?

Hi, Dad, are you coming up? She came half-awake at her father’s voice,
remembering that this was the day he would fly up to join the family at
their holiday home.

Sorry, baby. Something has broken here. I won’t be up until next week.

Oh, Dad! Mitzi expressed her disappointment.

Where’s Davey? her father went on quickly to forestall any
recriminations.

You want him to call you back?

No, I’ll hold on. Call him, please, baby.

Mitzi stumbled out of bed to the mirror, and with her fingers tried to
comb some order into her hair. It was off-blonde and wiry, and fuzzed
up tight at the first touch of sun or salt or wind. The freckles were
even more humiliating she decided, looking at herself disapprovingly.

You look like a Pekinese, she spoke aloud, a fat little Pekinese, with
freckles, and gave up the effort of trying to change it. David had seen
her like this a zillion times.

She pulled a silk gown over her nudity and went out into the passage,
past the door to her parents suite where her mother slept alone, and
into the living area of the house.

The house was stacked in a series of open planes and galleries, glass
and steel and white pine, climbing out of the dunes along the beach,
part of sea and sky, only glass separating it from the elements, and now
the dawn filled it with a strange glowing light and made a feature of
the massive headland of the Robberg that thrust out into the sea across
the bay.

The playroom was scattered with the litter of last night’s party, twenty
house guests and as many others from the big holiday homes along the
dunes had left their mark, spied beer, choked ashtrays and records
thrown carelessly from their covers.

Mitzi picked her way through the debris and climbed the circular
staircase to the guest rooms. She checked David’s door, found it open,
and went in. The bed was untouched, but his denims and sweat shirt were
thrown across the chair and his shoes had been kicked off carelessly.

Mitzi grinned, and went through on to the balcony. it hung high above
the beach, level with the gulls which were already dawn-winging for the
scraps that the sea had thrown up during the night.

Quickly Mitzi hoisted the gown up around her waist, climbed up onto the
rail of the balcony and stepped over the drop to the rail of the next
balcony in line. She jumped down, drew the curtains aside and went into
Marion’s bedroom.

Marion was her best friend. Secretly she knew that this happy state of
affairs existed chiefly because she, Mitzi, provided a foil for Marion’s
petite little body and wide-eyed doll-like beauty, and was a source of
neverending gifts and parties, free holidays and other good things.

She looked so pretty now in sleep, her hair golden and soft as it fanned
out across David’s chest. Mitzi transferred all her attention to her
cousin, and felt that sliding sensation in her breast and the funny warm
liquid sensation at the base of her belly as she looked at him. He was
seventeen years old now, but already he had the body of a grown man.

He was her most favourite person in all the world, she thought. He’s so
beautiful, so tall and straight and beautiful, and his eyes can break
your heart.

The couple on the bed had thrown aside their covering in the warmth of
the night, and there was hair on David’s chest now, thick and dark and
curly, there was muscle in arm and leg, and breadth across the
shoulders.

David, she called softly, and touched his shoulder.Wake up. His eyes
opened, and he was awake instantly, his gaze focused and aware.

mitz? What is it?Get your pants on, warrior. My papa’s on the
line.”God. David sat up, dropping Marion’s head on to the pillow. What
time is it? Late, Mitzi told him. You should set the alarm when you go
visiting. Marion mumbled a protest and groped for the sheets as David
jumped from the bed.

Where’s the phone? In my room, but you can take it on the extension in
yours. She followed him across the balcony railing, and curled up on
David’s bed while he picked up the receiver and with the extension cord
trailing behind him began pacing the thick carpet restlessly.

Uncle Paul? David spoke. How are you? Mitzi groped in the pocket of
her gown and found a Gauloise. She lit it with her gold Dunhill, but at
the third puff David turned aside from his pacing, grinned at her, took
the cigarette from between her lips and drew deeply upon it.

Mitzi pulled a face at him to disguise the turmoil that his nakedness
stirred within her, and selected another cigarette for herself.

He’d die if he knew what I was thinking, she told herself, and derived a
little comfort from the thought.

David finished his conversation and cradled the receiver before turning
to her.

He’s not coming. I know.

But he is sending Barney up in the Lear to fetch me.

Big pow-wow.

It figures, Mitzi nodded, then began a convincing imitation of her
father. We have to start thinking about your future now, my boy. We
have to train you to meet the responsibilities with which destiny has
entrusted you.

David chuckled and rummaged for his running shorts in the drawer of his
bureau.I suppose I’ll have to tell him now.”Yes, Mitzi agreed. You sure
will have to do that.David pulled up his shorts and turned for the
door.Pray for me, doll.

You’ll need more than prayer, warrior, said Mitzi comfortably.

The tide had swept the beach smooth and firm, and no other feet had
marked it this early. David ran smoothly, long strides leaving damp
footsteps in a chain behind him.

The sun came up casting a soft pink sheen on the sea, and touching the
Outeniqua mountains with flame, but David ran unseeing. His thoughts
were on the impending interview with his guardian.

It was a time of crisis in his life, high school completed and many
roads open. He knew the one he had chosen would draw violent
opposition, and he used these last few hours of solitude to gather and
strengthen his resolve.

A conclave of gulls, gathered about the body of a stranded fish, rose in
cloud as he ran towards them, their wings catching the low sun as they
hovered then dropped again when he passed.

He saw the Lear coming before he heard it. It was low against the dawn,
rising and dropping over the towering bulk of the Robberg. Then
swiftly, coming in on a muted shriek, it streaked low along the beach
towards him.

David stopped, breathing lightly even after the long run, and raised
both arms above his head in salute. He saw Barney’s head through the
Perspex canopy turned towards him, the flash of his teeth as he grinned
and the hand raised, returning his salute as he went by.

The Lear turned out to sea, one wingtip almost touching the wave crests,
and it came back at him. David stood on the exposed beach and steeled
himself as the long sleek nose dropped lower and lower, aimed like a
javelin at him.

Like some fearsome predatory bird it swooped at him and at the last
possible instant David’s nerve broke and he flung himself on to the wet
sand. The jet blast lashed him as the Lear rose and turned inland for
the airfield.

Son of a bitch, muttered David as he stood up brushing damp sand from
his bare chest, and imagined Barney’s amused chuckle.

I taught him good, thought Barney, sprawled in the copilot’s seat of the
Lear as he watched David ride the delicate line of altitude where skill
gave way to chance.

Barney had put on weight since he had been eating Morgan bread, and his
paunch peeked shyly over his belt. The beginning of jowls bracketed the
wide downturned mouth that gave him the air of a disgruntled toad, and
the cap of hair that covered his skull was sparser and speckled with
salt.

Watching David fly, he felt the small warmth of his affection for him
that his sour expression belied. Three years he had been chief pilot of
the Morgan group and he knew well to whose intervention he owed the
post.

It was security he had now, and prestige. He flew great men in the most
luxuriously fitted machines, and when the time came for him to go out to
pasture he knew the grazing would be lush. The Morgan group looked
after its own.

This knowledge sat comfortably on his stomach as he watched his protege
handle the jet.

Extended low flying like this required enormous concentration, and
Barney watched in vain for any relaxation of it in his pupil.

The long golden beaches of Africa streamed steadily beneath them,
punctuated by rock promontories and tiny resorts and fishing villages.
Delicately the Lear followed the contours of the coastline, for they had
spurned the direct route for the exhilaration of this flight.

Ahead of them stretched another strip of beach but as they howled low
along it they saw that this one was occupied.

A pair of tiny feminine figures left the frothy surf and ran
panic-stricken to where towels and discarded bikinis lay above the
high-water mark. White buttocks contrasted sharply with a coffee-brown
tan, and they laughed delightedly.

Nice change for you to see them running away, David, Barney grinned as
they left the tiny figures far behind and bore onwards into the south.

From Cape Agulhas they turned inland, climbing steeply over the mountain
ranges, then David eased back on the throttles and they sank down beyond
the crests towards the city, nestling under its mountain.

As they walked side by side towards the hangar, Barney looked up at
David who now topped him by six inches.

Don’t let him stampede you, boy, he warned. You’ve made your decision.
See you stick to it. David took his British racing green M.G. over De
Wool Drive, and from the lower slopes of the mountain looked down to
where the Morgan building stood four-square amongst the other tall
monuments to power and wealth.

David enjoyed its appearance, clean and functional like an aircraft’s
wing, but he knew that the soaring freedom of its lines was deceptive.
It was a prison and fortress.

He swung off the freeway at an interchange and rode down to the
foreshore, glancing up at the towering bulk of the Morgan building again
before entering the ramp that led to the underground garages beneath it.

When he entered the executive apartments on the top floor, he passed
along the row of desks where the secretaries, hand-picked for their
looks as well as their skill with a typewriter, sat in a long row. Their
lovely faces opened into smiles like a garden of exotic blooms as David
greeted each of them. Within the Morgan building he was treated with
the respect due the heir apparent.

Martha Goodrich, in her own office that guarded the inner sanctum,
looked up from her typewriter, severe and businesslike.

Good morning, Mister David. Your uncle is waiting and I do think you
could have worn a suit You’re looking good, Martha. You’ve lost weight
and I like your hair like that. It worked, as it always did.

Her expression softened.

Don’t you try buttering me up, she warned him primly. I’m not one of
your floozies. Paul Morgan was at the picture window looking down over
the city spread below him like a map, but he turned quickly to greet
David.

Hello, Uncle Paul. I’m sorry I didn’t have time to change. I thought
it best to come directly That’s fine, David. Paul Moron flicked his
eyes over David’s floral shirt open to the navel, the wide tooled
leather belt, white slacks and open sandals. On him they looked good,
Paul admitted reluctantly. The boy wore even the most outlandish modern
clothes with a furious grace.

It’s good to see you. Paul smoothed the lapels of his own dark
conservatively-cut suit and looked up at his nephew. Come in. Sit
down, there, the chair by the fireplace. As always, he found that David
standing emphasized his own lack of stature. Paul was short and heavily
built in the shoulders, thick muscular neck and square thrusting head.
Like his daughter, his hair was coarse and wiry and his features
squashed and puglike.

All the Morgans were built that way. It was the proper course of
things, and Davids exotic appearance was out side the natural order. It
was from his mother’s side, of course. All that dark hair and flashing
eyes, and the temperament that went with it.

Well, David. First off, I want to congratulate you on your final
results. I was most gratified, Paul Morgan told him gravely, and he
could have added – I was also mightily relieved. David Morgan’s
scholastic career had been a tempestuous affair. Pinnacles of
achievement followed immediately by depths of disgrace from which only
the Morgan name and wealth had rescued him.

There had been the business with the games master’s young wife. Paul
never did find out the truth of the matter, but had thought it
sufficient to smooth it over by donating a new organ to the school
chapel and arranging a teaching scholarship for the games master to a
foreign university. Immediately thereafter David had won the coveted
Wessels prize for mathematics, and all was forgiven, until he decided to
test his house-master’s new sports car, without that gentleman’s
knowledge, and took it into a tight bend at ninety miles an hour. The
car was unequal to the test, and David picked himself up out of the
wreckage and limped away with a nasty scratch on his calf. It had taken
all Paul Morgan’s weight to have the house-master agree not to cancel
David’s appointment as head of house. His prejudices had finally been
overcome by the replacement of his wrecked car with a more expensive
model, and the Morgan group had made a grant to rebuild the ablution
block of East House.

The boy was wild, Paul knew it well, but he knew also that he could tame
him. Once he had done that he would have forged a razor-edged tool. He
possessed all the attributes that Paul Morgan wanted in his successor.

The verve and confidence, the bright quick mind and adventurous spirit,
but above all he possessed the aggressive attitude, the urge to compete
that Paul defined as the killer instinct.

Thank you, Uncle Paul, David accepted his uncle’s congratulations
warily. They were silent, each assessing the other. They had never
been easy in the other’s company, they were too different in many ways,
and yet in others too much alike. Always it seemed that their interests
were in conflict.

Paul Morgan moved across to the picture windows, so that the daylight
back-lit him it was an old trick of his to put the other person at a
disadvantage.

Not that we expected less of you, of course, he laughed, and David
smiled to acknowledge the fact that his uncle had come close to levity.

And now we must consider your future. David was silent.

The choice open to you is wide, said Paul Morgan, and then went on
swiftly to narrow it. Though I do feel business science and law at an
American University is what it should be. With this obvious goal in
mind I have used my influence to have you enrolled in my old college,
Uncle Paul, I want to fly, said David softly, and Paul Morgan paused.
His expression changed fractionally.

We are making a career decision, my boy, not expressing preferences for
different types of recreation.”No, sir. I mean I want to fly, as a way
of life.”Your life is here, within the Morgan group. It is not
something in which you have freedom of action I don’t agree with you,
sir.

Paul Morgan left the window and crossed to the fire place. He selected
a cigar from the humidor on the mantel, and while he prepared it he
spoke softly, without looking at David.

Your father was a romantic, David. He got it out of his system by
charging around the desert in a tank. It seems you have inherited this
romanticism from him. He made it sound like some disgusting disease. He
came back to where David sat. Tell me what you propose. ‘I have
enlisted in the air force, sir. ‘You’ve done it? You’ve signed? ‘Yes,
sir. ‘How long? ‘Five years. Short service commission. Five years -
Paul Morgan whispered, well, David, I don’t know what to say. You know
that you are the last of the Morgans. I have no son. It will be sad to
see this vast enterprise without one of us at the helm. I wonder what
your father would have thought of this ‘That’s hitting low, Uncle Paul.
I don’t think so, David. I think you are the one who is cheating. Your
trust fund is a huge block of Morgan shares, and other assets given to
you, on the unstated understanding that you assume your duties and
responsibilities, if only he would bawl me out, thought David fiercely,
knowing that he was being stampeded as Barney had warned him. If only
he would order me to do it so I could tell him to shove it. But he knew
he was being manipulated by a man skilled in the art, a man whose whole
life was the manipulation of men and money, in whose hands a
seventeen-year-old boy was as soft as dough.

You see, David, you are born to it. Anything else is cowardice, self
indulgence, the Morgan group reached out its tentacles, like some
grotesque flesh-eating plant, to suck him in and digest him, – we can
have your enlistment papers annulled. It will be the matter of a single
phone call – Uncle Paul, David almost shouted, trying to shut out the
all-pervasive flow of words. My father. He did it.

He joined the army. Yes, David. But it was different at that time.

One of us had to go. He was the younger, and, of course, there were
other personal considerations. Your mother, he let the rest of it hang
for a moment then went on, and when it was over he came back and took
his rightful place here. We miss him now, David. No one else has been
able to fill the gap he left. I have always hoped that you might be the
one But I don’t want to. David shook his head. I don’t want to spend
my life in here. He gestured at the mammoth structure of glass and
concrete that surrounded them. I don’t want to spend each day poring
over piles of paper It’s not like that, David. It’s exciting,
challenging, endlessly variable Uncle Paul. David raised his voice
again. What do you call a man who fills his belly with rich food, and
then goes on eating? Come now, David The first edge of irritation
showed in Paul Morgan’s voice, and he brushed the question aside
impatiently. What do you call him? David insisted.

I expect that you would call him a glutton Paul Morgan answered.

And what do you call a man with many millions who spends his life trying
to make more? Paul Morgan froze into stillness. He stared at his ward
for long seconds before he spoke. You become insolent, he said at last.

No, sir. I did not mean it so. You are not the glutton – but I would
be. Paul Morgan turned away and went to his desk. He sat in the
high-backed leather chair and lit the cigar at last. They were silent
again for a long time until at last Paul Morgan sighed.

You’ll have to get it out of your system, the way your father did. But
how I grudge you five wasted years. ‘Not wasted, Uncle Paul. I will
come out with a Bachelor of Science degree in aeronautical engineering.
‘I suppose we’ll just have to be thankful for little things like that.
David went and stood beside his chair.

Thank you. This is very important to me. Five years, David. After
that I want you, then he smiled slightly to signal a witticism, at least
they will make you cut your hair.

Four miles above the warm flesh-coloured earth, David Morgan rode the
high heavens like a young god. The sun visor of his helmet was closed,
masking with its dark cyclops eye the rapt, almost mystic expression
with which he flew. Five years had not dulled the edge of his appetite
for the sensation of power and isolation that flight in a Mirage
interceptor awoke in him.

The unfiltered sunlight blazed ferociously upon the metal of his craft,
clothing him in splendour, while far below the very clouds were
insignificant against the earth, scattered and flying like a sheep flock
before the wolf of the wind.

Today’s flight was tempered by a melancholy, a sense of impending loss.
The morrow was the last day of his enlistment. At noon his commission
expired and if Paul Morgan prevailed he would become Mister David, new
boy at Morgan Group.

He thrust the thought aside, and concentrated on the enjoyment of these
last precious minutes; but too soon the spell was broken.

Zulu Striker One, this is Range Control. Report your position. Range
Control, this is Zulu Striker One holding up range fifty miles.

Striker One, the range is clear. Your target-markers are figures eight
and twelve. Commence your run. The horizon revolved abruptly across
the nose of the Mirage, as the wings came over and he went down under
power, falling from the heights, a controlled plunge, purposeful and
precise as the stoop of a falcon.

David’s right hand moved swiftly across the weapon selector panel,
locking in the rocket circuit.

The earth flattened out ahead, immense and featureless, speckled with
low bush that bluffed past his wingtips as he let the Mirage sink lower.
At this height the awareness of speed was breathtaking, and as the first
marker came up ahead it seemed at the same instant to flash away below
the silvery nose.

Five, six, seven, the black numerals on their glaring white grounds
flickered by.

A touch of left rudder and stick, both adjustments made without
conscious effort, and ahead was the circular layout of the rocket range,
the concentric rings shrinking in size around the central mound, the
coke of flight jargon, which was the bull’s-eye of the target.

David brought the deadly machine in fast and low, his mach meter
recording a speed that was barely subsonic. He was running off the
direct line of track, judging his moment with frowning concentration.
When it came he pulled the Mirage’s nose in to the pitch up and went
over on to the target with his gloved right finer curled about the
trigger lever.

The shrieking silver machine achieved her correct slightly nose-down
attitude for rocket launch at the precise instant of time that the white
blob of coke was centred in the diamond patterns of the reflector sight.

It was an evolution executed with subtle mastery of man diverse skills,
and David pressed against the y spring-loaded resistance of the trigger.
There was no change in the feel of the aircraft, and the hiss of the
rocket launch was almost lost beneath the howl of the great jet, but
from beneath his wings the brief smoke lines reached out ahead towards
the target, and in certainty of a fair strike David pushed his throttle
to the gate and waited for the rumbling ignition of his afterburners,
giving him power for the climb out of range of enemy flak.

What a way to go, he grinned to himself as he lay on his back with the
Mirage’s nose pointed into the bright blue, and gravity pressing him
into the padding of his seat.

Hello, Striker One. This is Range Control. That was right on the nose.
Give the man a coke. Nice shooting.

Sorry to lose you, Davey. The break in hallowed range discipline
touched David. He was going to miss them all of them. He pressed the
transmit button on the maulded head of his joystick, and spoke into the
microphone of his helmet, From Striker One, thanks and farewell, David
said. Over and out. His ground crew were waiting for him also.

He shook hands with each of them, the awkward handshakes and rough jokes
masking the genuine affection that the years had built between them.
Then he left them and went down the vast metal-skinned cavern, redolent
with the smell of grease and oil along which the gleaming rows of
needle-nosed interceptors stood, even in repose their forward lines
giving them speed and thrust.

David paused to pat the cold metal of one of them, and the orderly found
him there peering up at the emblem of the Flying Cobra upon the towering
tail plane.

C. O. ‘s compliments, sir, and will you report to him right away.
Colonel Rastus Naude was a dried-out stick of a man, with a wizened
monkey face, who wore his uniform and medal ribbons with a casually
distracted air.

He had flown Hurricanes in the Battle of Britain, Mustangs in Italy,
Spitfires and Messerschmitt log’s in Palestine and Sabres in Korea, and
he was too old for his present command, but nobody could muster the
courage to tell him that, especially as he could out-fly and out-gun
most of the young bucks on the squadron.

So we are getting rid of you at last, Morgan, he greeted David. Not
until after the mess party, sir. Ja, Rastus nodded. You’ve given me
enough hardship these last five years. You owe me a bucket of whisky.
He gestured to the hard-backed chair beside his desk. Sit down, David.

It was the first time he had used David’s given name, and David placed
his flying helmet on the corner of the desk and lowered himself into the
chair, clumsy in the constricting grip of his G-suit.

Rastus took his time filling his pipe with the evil black Magaliesberg
shag and he studied the young man opposite him intently. He recognized
the same qualities in him that Paul Morgan had prized, the aggressive
and competitive drive that gave him a unique value as an interceptor
pilot.

He lit the pipe at last, puffing thick rank clouds of blue smoke as he
slid a sheath of documents across the desk to David.

Read and sign, he said. That’s an order. David glanced rapidly through
the papers, then he looked up and grinned.

You don’t give in easily, sir, he admitted.

One document was a renewal of his short service contract for an
additional five years, the other was a warrant of promotion, from
captain to major.

We have spent a great deal of time and money in making you what you are.
You have been given an exceptional talent, and we have developed it
until now you are, I’ll not mince words, one hell of a pilot I’m sorry,
sir, David told him sincerely.

Damn it, said Rastus angrily. Why the hell did you have to be born a
Morgan. All that money, they’ll clip your wings, and chain you to a
desk. It’s not the money. David denied it swiftly. He felt his own
anger stir at the accusation.

Rastus nodded cynically. Ja! he said. I hate the stuff also. He
picked up the documents David had rejected, and grunted. Not enough to
tempt you, hey?

Colonel, it’s hard to explain. I just feel that there is more to do,
something important that I have to find out about, and it’s not here. I
have to go look for it. Rastus nodded heavily. All right then, he
said. I had a good try. Now you can take your long-suffering
commanding officer down to the mess and spend some of the Morgan
millions on filling him up with whisky He stood up and clapped his
uniform cap at a rakish angle over his cropped grey head. You and I
will get drunk together this night, for both of us are losing something&
I perhaps more than you.

It seemed that David had inherited his love of beautiful and powerful
machines from his father. Clive Morgan had driven himself, his wife,
and his brand new Ferrari sports car into the side of a moving goods
train at an unlit level crossing. The traffic police estimated that the
Ferrari was travelling at one hundred and fifty miles an hour at the
moment of impact.

Clive Morgan’s provision for his eleven-year-old son was detailed and
elaborate. The child became a ward of his uncle Paul Morgan, and his
inheritance was arranged in a series of trust funds.

On his majority he was given access to the first of the funds which
provided an income equivalent to that of, say, a highly successful
surgeon. On that day the old green M. G. had given way to a
powder-blue Maserati, in true Morgan tradition.

On his twenty-third birthday, control of the sheep ranches in the
Karroo, the cattle ranch in South West Africa and Jabulani, the
sprawling game ranch in the Sabi-Sand block, passed to him, their
management handled smoothly by his trustees.

On his twenty-fifth birthday the number two fund interest would divert
to him, in addition to a large block of negotiable paper and title in
two massive urban holdings, office and supermarket complexes, and a
highrise housing project.

At age thirty the next fund opened for him, as large as the previous two
combined, and transfer to him for the first of five blocks of Morgan
stock would begin.

From then onwards, every five years until age fifty further funds
opened, further blocks of Morgan stock would be transferred. It was a
numbing procession of wealth that stretched ahead of him, daunting in
its sheer magnitude; like a display of too much rich food, it seemed to
depress appetite.

David drove fast southwards, with the Michelin metallics hissing
savagely on the tarmac, and he thought about all that wealth, the great
golden cage, the insatiable maw of Morgan Group yawning open to swallow
him so that, like the cell of a jelly fish, he would become a part of
the whole, a prisoner of his own abundance.

The prospect appalled him, adding a hollow sensation in his belly to the
pulse of pain that beat steadily behind his eyes, testimony to the
foolhardiness of trying, to drink level with Colonel Rastus Naude.

He pushed the Maserati harder, seeking the twin opiates of power and
speed, finding comfort and escape in the rhythms and precision of
driving very fast, and the hours flew past as swiftly as the miles so it
was still daylight when he let himself into Mitzi’s apartment on the
cliffs that overlooked Clifton beach and the clear green Atlantic.

Mitzi’s apartment was chaos, that much had not changed. She kept open
house for a string of transitory guests who drank her liquor, ate her
food and vied with each other as to who could create the most
spectacular shambles.

In the first bedroom that David tried there was a strange girl with dark
hair curled on the bed in boys pyjamas, sucking her thumb in sleep.

With the second room he was luckier, and he found it deserted, although
the bed was unmade and someone had left breakfast dishes smeared with
congealed egg upon the side table.

David slung his bag on the bed and fished out his bathing costume. He
changed quickly and went out by the side stairs that spiralled down to
the beach and began to run, a trot at first, and then suddenly he
sprinted away, racing blindly as though from some terrible monster that
pursued him. At the end of Fourth beach where the rocks began, he
plunged into the icy surf and swam out to the edge of the kelp at
Bakoven point, driving overarm through the water and the cold lanced him
to the bone, so that when he came out he was blue and shuddering. But
the hunted feeling was gone and he warmed a little as he jogged back to
Mitzi’s apartment.

He had to remove the forest of pantihose and feminine underwear that
festooned the bathroom before he could draw himself a bath. He filled
it to the overflow, and as he settled into it the front door burst open
and Mitzi came in like the north wind.

Where are you, warrior? She was banging the doors. I saw your car in
the garage, so I know you’re hereV In here, doll, he called, and she
stood in the doorway and they grinned at each other. She had put on
weight again, he saw, straining the seam of her skirt, and her bosom was
bulky and amorphous under the scarlet sweater. She had finally given up
her struggle with myopia and the metal-framed spectacles sat on the end
of her little nose, while her hair fuzzed out at unexpected angles.

You’re beautiful, she cried, coming to kiss him and getting soap down
her sweater as she hugged him.

Drink or coffee? she asked, and David winced at the thought of alcohol.

Coffee will be great, doll She brought it to him in a mug, then perched
on the toilet seat.

Tell all! she commanded and while they chatted the pretty dark-haired
girl wandered in, still in her pyjamas and bug-eyed from sleep.

This is my coz, David. Isn’t he beautiful? Mitzi introduced them.

And this is Liz. The girl sat on the dirty linen basket in the corner
and fixed David with such an awed and penetrating gaze that Mitzi warned
her, Cool it, darling. Even from here I can hear your ovaries bouncing
around like ping-pong balls. But she was such a silent, ethereal little
thing that they soon forgot her and talked as if they were alone. It
was Mitzi who said suddenly, without preliminaries, Papa is waiting for
you, licking his lips like an ivyleague ogre. I ate with them Saturday
night, he must have brought your name up one zillion times. It’s going
to be strange to have you sitting up there on Top Floor, in a charcoal
suit, being bright at Monday morning conference – David stood up
suddenly in the bath, cascading suds and steaming water, and began
soaping his crotch vigorously . They watched him with interest, the
dark-haired girl’s eyes widening until they seemed to fill her face.

David sat down again, slopping water over the edge.

I’m not going! he said, and there was a long heavy silence.

What you mean, you’re not going? Mitzi asked timorously.

Just that, said David. I’m not going to Morgan Group. ‘But you have
toVWhy? asked David.

Well, I mean it’s decided, you promised Daddy that when you finished
with the airforce. No, David said, I made no promise. He just took it.

When you said a moment ago, being bright at Monday morning conference, I
knew I couldn’t do it. I guess I’ve known all along. What you going to
do, then? Mitzi had recovered from the first shock, and her plump
cheeks were tinged pink with excitement.

I don’t know. I just know I am not going to be a caretaker for other
men’s achievements. Morgan Group isn’t me. It’s something that Gramps,
and Dad and Uncle Paul made. It’s too big and cold – Mitzi was flushed,
bright-eyed, nodding her agreement, enchanted by this prospect of
rebellion and open defiance.

David was warming to it also. I’ll find my own road to go. There’s
more to it. There has to be something more than this. Yes, Mitzi
nodded so that she almost shook her spectacles from her nose. You’re
not like them. You would shrivel and die up there on executive suite.

I’ve got to find it, Mitzi. It’s got to be out there somewhere. David
came out of the bath, his body glowing dull red-brown from the scalding
water and steam rising from him in light tendrils. He pulled on a Terry
robe as he talked and the two girls followed him through to the bedroom
and sat side by side on the edge of the bed, eagerly nodding their
encouragement as David Morgan made his formal declaration of
independence. Mitzi spoiled it, however.

What are you going to tell Daddy? she asked. The question halted
David’s flow of rhetoric, and he scratched the hair on his chest as he
considered it. The girls waited attentively.

He’s not going to let you get away again, Mitzi warned. Not without a
stand-up, knock-down, drag-emout fight. In this moment of crisis
David’s courage deserted him. I’ve told him once, I don’t have to tell
him again. ‘You just going to cut and run? Mitzi asked.

I’m not running, David replied with frosty dignity as he picked up the
pigskin folder which held his thick sheaf of credit cards from the
bedside table. I am merely reserving the right to determine my own
future. He crossed to the telephone and began dialling. Who are you
calling? ‘The airline. ‘Where are you heading? ‘The same place as
their first flight out. I’ll cover for you, declared Mitzi loyally,
you’re doing the right thing, warrior. You bet I am, David agreed. My
way and screw the rest of them.

Do you have time for that? Mitzi giggled, and the dark-haired girl
spoke for the first time in a husky intense voice without once taking
her eyes off David. I don’t know about the rest of them, but may I be
first, please? With the telephone receiver to his ear David glanced at
her, and realized with only mild surprise that she was in deadly
earnest.

David came out into the impersonal concrete and glass arrivals hall of
Schipol Airport, and he paused to gloat on his escape and to revel at
this sense of anonymity in the uncaring crowd. There was a touch at his
elbow, and he turned to find a tall, smiling Dutchman quizzing him
through rimless spectacles.

Mr. David Morgan, I think? and David gaped at him.

I am Frederick van Gent of Holland and Indonesian Stevedoring. We have
the honour to act on behalf of Morgan Shipping Lines in Holland. It is
a great pleasure to make your acquaintance. God, no! David whispered
wearily.

Please? No. I’m sorry. It’s nice to meet you. David shook the hand
with resignation.

I have two urgent telex messages for you, Mr. Morgan. Van Gent produced
them with a flourish. I I have driven out from Amsterdam especially to
deliver same. The first was from Mitzi who had sworn to cover for him.

Abject apologies your whereabouts extracted with rack and thumbscrew
stop be brave as a lion stop be -ferocious as an eagle Love Mitzi.

David said, Traitorous bitch! and opened the second envelope.

Your doubts understood, your action condoned stop confident your good
sense will lead you eventually on to path of duty stop your place here
always open affectionately Paul Morgan.

David said, Crafty old bastard, and stuffed both messages into his
pocket.

Is there a reply? Van Gent asked.

Thank you, no. It was good of you to take this trouble.

No trouble, Mr. Morgan Can I help you in any way?

Is there anything you require?

Nothing, but thanks again. They shook hands and Van Gent bowed and left
him. David went to the Avis counter and the girl smiled brightly at
him.

Good evening, sir.

David slipped his Avis card across the desk. I want something with a
little jump to it, please.

Let me see, we have a Mustang Mach 1? 1 She was pure blonde with a
cream and pink unlined face.

That will do admirably, David assured her, and as she began filling the
form in, she asked, Your first visit to Amsterdam, sir?

They tell me it’s the city with the most action in Europe, is that
right?

If you know where to go, she murmured.

You should show me? David asked and she looked up at him with
calculating eyes behind a neutral expression, made a decision and
resumed her writings.

Please sign here, sir. Your account will be charged, then she dropped
her voice. If you have any queries on this contract, you can contact me
at this number, after hours. My name is Gilda.

Gilda shared a walk-up over the outer canal with three other girls who
showed no surprise, and made no objection when David carried his single
Samsonite case up the steep staircase. However, the action that Gilda
provided was in a series of discotheques and coffee bars where lost
little people gathered to talk revolution and guru babble. In two days
David discovered that pot tasted terrible and made him nauseous, and
that Gilda’s mind was as bland and unmarked as her exterior. He felt
the stirrings of uneasiness when he studied the others that had been
drawn to this city by the news that it was wide open, with the most
understanding police force in the world. In them he saw symptoms of his
own restlessness, and he recognized them as fellow seekers.

Then the damp chill of the lowlands seemed to rise up out of the canals
like the spirits of the dead on doomsday, and when you have been born
under the sun of Africa the wintry effusions of the north are a pale
substitute.

Gilda showed no visible emotion when she said goodbye, and with the
heaters blasting hot air into the cab of the Mustang David sent it
booming southwards. On the outskirts of Namur there was a girl standing
beside the road. in the cold her legs were bare and brown, protruding
sweetly from the short faded blue denim pants she wore. She tilted her
golden head and cocked a thumb.

David hit the stick down, and braked with the rubber squealing protest.
He reversed back to where she stood.

She had flat-planed slavic features and her hair was white blonde and
hung in a thick plait down her back.

He guessed her age at nineteen.

You speak English? he asked through the window.

The cold was making her nipples stand out like marbles through the thin
fabric of her shirt.

No, she said. But I speak American, will that do? ‘Right on! David
opened the passenger door, and she threw her pack and rolled sleeping
bag into the back seat.

I’m Philly, she said.

David. You in show biz? God, no, what makes you ask?

The car, the face, the clothes. The car is hired, the clothes are
stolen and I’m wearing a mask. Funny man, she said and curled up on the
seat like a kitten and went to sleep.

He stopped in a village where the forests of the Ardennes begin and
bought a long roll of crisp bread, a slab of smoked wild boar meat and a
bottle of Wet Chandon.

When he got back to the car Philly was awake. You hungry? he asked.
Sure. She stretched and yawned.

He found a loggers, track going off into the forest and they followed it
to a clearing where a long golden shaft of sunlight penetrated the green
cathedral gloom.

Philly climbed out and looked around her. Keen, Davey, keen! she said.

David poured the champagne into paper cups and sliced the meat with a
penknife while Philly broke the bread into hunks. They sat side by side
on a fallen log and ate.

It’s so quiet and peaceful, not at all like a killing ground. This is
where the Germans made their last big effort, did you know that?
Philly’s mouth was full of bread and meat which didn’t stop her reply. I
saw the movie, Henry Fonda, Robert Ryan, it was a complete crock. All
that death and ugliness, we should do something beautiful in this place,
David said dreamily, and she swallowed the bread, took a sip of the
wine, before she stood up languidly and went to the Mustang. She
fetched her sleeping bag and spread it on the soft bed of leaf mould.

Some things are for talking about, others are for doing, she told him.

For a while in Paris it looked as though it might be significant, as
though they might have something for each other of importance. They
found a room with a shower in a clean and pleasant little pension near
the Gore St Lazare, and they walked through the streets all that day,
from Concorde to Etoile, then across to the Eiffel Tower and back to
Notre Dame. They ate supper at a sidewalk cafe on the Boule Mich, but
half-way through the meal they reached an emotional dead end.

Suddenly they ran out of conversation, they sensed it at the same time,
each aware that they were strangers in all but the flesh and the
knowledge chilled them both.

Still they stayed together that night, even going through the mechanical
and empty motions of love, but in the morning, when David came out of
the shower, she sat up in the bed and said, You are splitting. It was a
statement and not a question, and it needed no reply.

Are you all right for bread? he asked, and she shook her head. He
peeled off a pair of thousand-franc notes and put them on the side
table.

I’ll pay the bill downstairs. He picked up his bag. Stay loose, he
said.

Paris was spoiled for him now, so he took the road south again towards
the sun for the sky was filled with swollen black cloud and it rained
before he passed the turn-off to Fontainebleau. It rained as he
believed was only possible in the tropics, a solid deluge that flooded
the concrete of the highway and blurred his windscreen so that the
flogging of the wipers could not clear it swiftly enough for safe
vision.

David was alone and discomforted by his inability to sustain
communication with another human being.

Although the other traffic had moderated its pace in the rain, he drove
fast, feeling the drift and skate of his tyres on the slick surface.
This time the calming effect of speed was ineffective and when he ran
out of the rain south of Beaune it seemed that the wolf pack of
loneliness ran close behind him.

However, the first outpouring of sunshine lightened his mood, and then
far over the stone walls and rigid green lines of the vineyards he saw a
wind-sock floating like a soft white sausage from its pole. He found
the exit from the highway half a mile farther on, and the sign Club
Aeronautique de Provence. He followed it to a neat little airfield set
among the vineyards, and one of the aircraft on the hard-stand was a
Marchetti Acrobatic type F26o. David climbed out of the Mustang and
stared at it like a drunkard contemplating his first whisky of the day.

The Frenchman in the club office looked like an unsuccessful undertaker,
and even when David showed him his logbook and sheafs of licences, he
resisted the temptation of hiring him the Marchetti. David could take
his pick from the others, but the Marchetti was not for hire. David
added a 500-franc note to the pile of documents, and it disappeared
miraculously into the Frenchman’s pocket. Still he would not let David
take the Marchetti solo, and he insisted on joining him in the
instructor’s seat.

David executed a slow and stately four-point roll before they had
crossed the boundary fence. It was an act of defiance, and he made the
stops crisp and exaggerated. The Frenchman cried Sacr6 blue! with
great feeling and froze in his seat, but he had the good sense not to
interfere with the controls. David completed the manoeuvre and then
immediately rolled in the opposite direction with the wing-tip a mere
fifty feet above the tips of the vines. The Frenchman relaxed visibly,
recognizing the masterly touch, and when David landed an hour later he
grinned mournfully at him.

Formidable! he said, and shared his lunch with David, garlic polony,
bread and a bottle of rank red wine. The good feeling of flight and the
aroma of garlic lasted David all the way to Madrid.

Just as though it had been arranged long before, as though his frantic
flight across half of Europe was a pre-knowledge that something of
importance awaited him in Madrid.

He reached the city in the evening, hurrying the last day’s journey to
be in time for the first running of the bulls that season. He had read
Hemingway and Conrad and much of the other romantic literature of the
bullring. He wondered if there might not be something for him in this
way of life. It read so well in the books the beauty, glamour and
excitement, the courage and trial and the final moment of truth. He
wanted to evaluate it, to see it here in the great Plaza Des Torros, and
then, if it still intrigued him, go on to the festival at Pamplona later
in the season.

David checked in at the Gran Via with its elegance faded to mere
comfort, and the porter arranged tickets for the following day. He was
tired from the long drive and he went to bed early, waking refreshed and
eager for the day. He found his way out to the ring and parked the
Mustang amongst the tourist buses that already crowded the parking lot
so early in the season.

The exterior of the ring was a surprise, sinister as the temple of some
pagan and barbaric religion, unrelieved by the fluted tiers of balconies
and encrustations of ceramic tiles, but the interior was as he knew it
would be from film and photograph. The sanded ring smooth and clean,
the flags against the cloud-flecked sky, the orchestra pouring out its
jerky, rousing refrain, and the excitement.

The excitement amongst the crowd was more intense than he had known at
prize fights or football internationals, they hummed and swarmed, rank
uponrank of white eager faces and the music goaded them on.

David was sitting amongst a group of young Australians who wore souvenir
sombreros and passed goat-skins of bad wine about, the girls squealing
and chattering like sparrows. One of them picked on David, leaning
forward to tug his shoulder and offer him the wine-skin. She was pretty
enough in a kittenish way and her eyes made it clear that the offer was
for more than cheap wine, but he refused both invitations brusquely and
went to fetch a can of beer from one of the vendors. His chilly
experience with the girl in Paris was still too fresh. When he returned
to his seat the Aussie girl eyed the beer he carried reproachfully and
then turned brightly and smiling to her companions.

The late arrivals were finding their seats now and the excitement was
escalating sharply. Two of them climbed the stairs of the aisle towards
where David sat.

A striking young couple in their early twenties, but what first drew
David’s attention was the good feeling of companionship and love that
glowed around them, like an aura setting them apart.

They climbed arm in arm, passed where David sat, and took seats a row
behind and across the aisle. The girl was tall with long legs clad in
short black boots and dark pants over which she wore an apple-green
suede jacket that was not expensive but of good cut and taste.

In the sun her hair glittered like coal newly cut from the face and it
hung to her shoulders in a sleek soft fall.

Her face was broad and sun-browned, not beautiful for her mouth was too
big and her eyes too widely spaced, but those eyes were the colour of
wild honey, dark brown and flecked with gold. Like her, her companion
was tall and straight, dark and strong-looking. He guided her to her
seat with a brown muscled arm and David felt a sharp stab of anger and
envy for him.

Big cocky son of a gun, he thought. They leaned their heads together
and spoke secretly, and David looked away, his own loneliness
accentuated by their closeness.

The parade of the toreadors began, and they came out with the sunlight
glittering on the sequins and embroidery of their suits, as though they
were the scales of some flamboyant reptile. The orchestra blared, and
the keys to the bull pens were thrown down on to the sand. The
toreadors capes were spread on the barrera below their favourites and
they retired from the ring.

In the pause that followed David glanced at the couple again. He was
startled to find that they were both watching him and the girl was
discussing him. She was leaning on her companion’s shoulder, her lips
almost touching his ear as she spoke and David felt his stomach clench
under the impact of those honey golden eyes. For an instant they stared
at each other and then the girl jerked away guiltily and dropped her
gaze, but her companion held David’s eyes openly, smiling easily, and it
was David who looked away.

Below them in the ring the bull came out at full charge, head high, and
hooves skidding in the sand.

He was beautiful and black and glossy, muscle in the neck and shoulder
bunching as he swung his head from side to side and the crowd roared as
he spun and burst into a gallop, pursuing an elusive flutter of pink
across the ring. They took him on a circuit, passing him smoothly from
cape to cape, letting him show off his bulk and high-stepping style, and
the perfect sickle of his horns with their creamy points, before they
brought in the horse.

The trumpets ushered in the horse, and they were a mockery, a brave
greeting from the wretched nag, with scrawny neck and starting coat, one
rheumy old eye blinkered so he could not see the fearsome creature he
was going to meet.

Clownish in his padding, seeming too frail to carry the big armoured man
on his back, they led him out and placed him in the path of the bull,
and here any semblance of beauty ended.

The bull went into him head down, sending the gawky animal reeling
against the barrera and the man leaned over the broad black back and
ripped and tore into the hump with the lance, worrying the flesh,
working in the steel with all his weight until the blood poured out in a
slick tide, black as crude oil, and dripped from the bull’s legs into
the sand.

Raging at the agony of the steel the bull hooked and butted at the
protective pads that covered the horse’s flanks. They came up as
readily as a theatre curtain and the bull was into the scrawny roan
body, hacking with the terrible horns, and the horse screamed as its
belly split open and the purple and pink entrails spilled out and
dangled into the sand.

David was dry-mouthed with horror as around him the crowd blood-roared,
and the horse went down in a welter of equipment and its own guts.

They drew the bull away and flogged the fallen horse, twisting its tail
and prodding its testicles, forcing it to rise at last and stand
quivering and forlorn. Then beating it to make it move again they led
it from the ring stumbling over its own entrails.

Then they went to work on the bull, slowly, torturously, reducing it
from a magnificent beast to a blundering hunk of sweating and bleeding
flesh, splattered with the creamy froth blown from its agonized lungs.

David wanted to scream at them to stop it, but sick to the stomach,
frozen by guilt for his own part in this obscene ritual, he sat through
it in silence until the bull stood in the centre of the ring, the sand
about him ploughed and riven by his dreadful struggles. He stood with
his head down, muzzle almost touching the sand and the blood and froth
dripped from his nostrils and gaping mouth. The hoarse sawing of his
breathing carried to David even above the crazed roaring of the crowd.

The bull’s legs shuddered and he passed a dribble of loose liquid yellow
dung that fouled his back legs. It seemed to David that this was the
final humiliation, and he found he was whispering aloud.

No! No! Stop it! Please, stop it! Then the man in the glittering suit
and ballet shoes came to end it, and the point of the sword struck bone
and the blade arced then spun away in the sunlight, and the bull heaved
and threw thick droplets of blood, before he stood again.

They picked up the sword from the sand and gave it to the man and he
sighted over the quiescent, dying beast and again the thrust was
deflected by bone and David found that at last he had power in his
voice, and he screamed:Stop it! You filthy bastards. Twelve times the
man in the centre tried with the sword, and each time the sword flicked
out of his hand, and then at last the bull fell of its own accord, weak
from the slow loss of much blood and with its heart broken by the
torture and the striving. It tried to rise, lunging weakly, but the
strength was not there and they killed it where it lay, with a dagger in
the back of the neck, and they dragged it out with a team of mules its
legs waggling ridiculously in the air and its blood leaving a long brown
smudge across the sand.

Stunned with the monstrous cruelty of it, David turned slowly to look at
the girl. Her companion was leaning over her solicitously, whispering
to her, trying to comfort her.

She was shaking her head slowly, in a gesture of incomprehension, and
her honey-coloured eyes were blinded with weeping. Her lips were apart,
quivering with grief, and her cheeks were awash, shiny with her tears.

Her companion helped her to her feet, and gently took her down the
steps, leading her away blindly like a new widow from her husband’s
grave.

Around him the crowd was laughing and exhilarated, high on the blood and
the pain, and David felt himself rejected, cut off from them. His heart
went out to the weeping girl, she of all of them was the only one who
seemed real to him. He had seen enough also, and he knew he would never
get to Pamplona. He stood up and followed the girl out of the ring, he
wanted to speak to her, to tell her that he shared her desolation, but
when he reached the parking lot they were already climbing into a
battered old Citroen CV. loo, and although he broke into a run, the car
pulled away, blowing blue smoke and clattering like a lawn-mower, and
turned into the traffic heading east.

David watched it go with a sense of loss that effectively washed away
the good feeling of the last few days, but he saw the old Citroen again
two days later, when he had abandoned all idea of the Pamplona Festival
and headed south. The Citroen looked even sicker than before, under a
layer of pale dust and with the canvas showing on a rear tyre. The
suspension seemed to have sagged on the one side, giving it a rakishly
drunken aspect.

It was parked at a filling station on the outskirts of Zaragoza on the
road to Barcelona, and David pulled off the road and parked beyond the
gasoline pumps. An attendant in greasy overalls was filling the tank of
the Citroen under the supervision of the muscular young man from the
bullring. David looked quickly for the girl – but she was not in the
car. Then he saw her.

She was in a cantina across the street, haggling with the elderly woman
behind the counter. Her back was turned towards him, but David
recognized the mass of dark hair now piled on top of her head. He
crossed the road quickly and went into the shop behind her. He was not
certain what he was going to do, acting only on impulse.

The girl wore a short floral dress which left her back and shoulders
bare, and her feet were thrust into open sandals. But in concession to
the ice in the air she wore a shawl over her shoulders. Close to, her
skin had a plastic smoothness and elasticity, as though it had been
lightly oiled and polished, and down the back of her naked neck the hair
was fine and soft, growing in a whorl in the nape.

David moved closer to her as she completed her purchase of dried figs
and counted her change. He smelt her, a light summery perfume that
seemed to come from her hair. He resisted the temptation to press his
face into the dense pile of it.

She turned smiling and saw him standing close behind her. She
recognized him instantly, his was not a face a girl would readily
forget. She was startled. The smile flickered out on her face and she
stood very still looking at him, her expression completely neutral, but
her lips slightly parted and her eyes soft and glowing golden.

This peculiar stillness of hers was a quality he would come to know so
well in the time ahead. I saw you in Madrid, he said, at the bulls.

Yes, she nodded, her voice neither welcoming nor forbidding.

You were crying So were you. I Her voice was low and clear, her
enunciation flawless, too perfect not to be foreign.

No, David denied it.

You were cryin& she insisted softly. You were crying inside. And he
inclined his head in agreement.

Suddenly she proffered the paper bag of figs.

Try one, she said and smiled. It was a warm friendly smile. He took
one of the fruits and bit into the sweet flesh as she moved towards the
door, somehow conveying an invitation for him to join her. He walked
with her and they looked across the street at the Citroen. The
attendant had finished filling the tank, and the girl’s companion was
waiting for her, leaning against the bonnet of the weary old car. He
was lighting a cigarette, but he looked up and saw them. He evidently
recognized David also, and he straightened up quickly and flicked away
the burning match.

There was a soft whooshing sound and the heavy thump of concussion in
the air, as fire flashed low across the concrete from a puddle of
spilled gasoline. In an instant the flames had closed over the rear of
the Citroen, and were drumming hungrily at the coachwork.

David left the girl and sprinted across the road.

Get it away from the pumps, you idiot, he shouted, and the driver
started out of frozen shock.

It was happy fifth of November, a spectacular pyrotechnic display, but
David got the handbrake off and the gearbox into neutral, and he and the
driver pushed it into an open parking area alongside the filling station
while a crowd materialized, seeming to appear out of the very earth, to
scream hysterical encouragement and suggestions while keeping at a
discreet distance.

They even managed to rescue the baggage from the rear seat before the
flames engulfed it entirely, and belatedly the petrol attendant arrived
with an enormous scarlet fire extinguisher. To the delighted applause
of the crowd, he drenched the pathetic little vehicle in a great cloud
of foam, and the excitement was over. The crowd drifted away, still
laughing and chattering and congratulating the amateur firefighter on
his virtuoso performance with the extinguisher, while the three of them
regarded the scorched and blackened shell of the Citroen ruefully.

I suppose it was a kindness really, the poor old thing was very tired,
the girl said at last. It was like shooting a horse with a broken leg.
Are you insured? David asked, and the girl’s companion laughed.

You’re joking, who would insure that? I only paid a hundred U. S.
dollars for her. They assembled the small pile of rescued possessions,
and the girl spoke quickly to her companion in foreign, slightly
guttural language which touched a deep chord in David’s memory. He
understood what she was saying, so it was no surprise when she looked at
him.

We’ve got to meet somebody in Barcelona this evening. It’s important.
Let’s go, said David.

They piled the luggage into the Mustang and the girl’s companion folded
up his long legs and piled into the back seat. His name was Joseph, but
David was advised by the girl to call him Joe. She was Debra, and
surnames didn’t seem important at that stage. She sat in the seat
beside David, with her knees pressed together primly and her hands in
her lap. With one sweeping glance, she assessed the Mustang and its
contents. David watched her check the expensive luggage, the Nikon
camera and Zeiss binoculars in the glove compartment and the cashmere
jacket thrown over the seat. Then she glanced sideways at him, seeming
to notice for the first time the raw silk shirt with the slim gold
Piaget under the cuff.

Blessed are the poor, she murmured, but still it must be pleasant to be
rich.

David enjoyed that. He wanted her to be impressed, he wanted her to
make a few comparisons between himself and the big muscular buck in the
back seat.

Let’s go to Barcelona, he laughed.

David drove quietly through the outskirts of the town, and Debra looked
over her shoulder at Joe.

Are you comfortable? she asked in the guttural language she had used
before.

If he’s not, he can run behind, David told her in the same language, and
she gawked at him a moment in surprise before she let out a small
exclamation of pleasure. Hey! You speak Hebrew! Not very well, David
admitted. I’ve forgotten most of it, I and he had a vivid picture of
himself as a ten-year-old, wrestling unhappily with a strange and
mysterious language with back-to-front writing, an alphabet that was
squiggly tadpoles and in which most sounds were made in the back of the
throat, like gargling.

Are you Jewish? she asked, turning in the seat to confront him. She
was no longer smiling; the question was clearly of significance to her.

David shook his head. No, he laughed at the notion. I’m a
half-convinced non-practising monotheist, raised and reared in the
Protestant Christian tradition_a__ Then why did you learn Hebrew? My
mother wanted it, David explained, and felt again the stab of an old
guilt. She was killed when I was still a kid. I just let it drop. It
didn’t seem important after she had gone. Your mother, Debra insisted,
leaning towards him, she was Jewish? Yeah. Sure, David agreed. But my
father was a Protestant. There was all sorts of hell when Dad married
her. Everyone was against it, but they went ahead and did it anyway.
Debra turned in the seat to Joe. Did you hear that he’s one of us. ‘Oh,
come on! David protested, still laughing.

Mazaltov, said Joe. Come and see us in Jerusalem some time. ‘You’re
Israeli? David asked, with new interest.

Sabras, both of us, said Debra, with a note of pride and deep
satisfaction. We are only on holiday here. ‘it must be an interesting
country, David hazarded.

Like Joe just said, why don’t you come and find out some time, she
suggested off handedly. You have the right of return Then she changed
the subject. Is this the fastest this machine will go? We have to be
in Barcelona by seven.

There was a relaxed feeling between them now, as though some invisible
barrier had been lowered, as though she had made some weighty judgement.
They were out of the city and ahead the open road wound down into the
valley of the Ebro towards the sea.

Kindly extinguish cigarettes and fasten your seat belts, David said, and
let the Mustang go.

She sat very still beside him with her hands folded in her lap and she
stared ahead when the bends leapt at them, and the straights streamed in
a soft blue blur beneath the body of the Mustang. There was a small
rapturous smile on her mouth and the golden lights danced in her eyes,
and David was moved to know that speed affected her the way it did him.

He forgot everything else but the girl in the seat beside him and the
need to keep the mighty roaring machine on the ribbon of tarmac.

Once when they went twisting down into a dry dusty valley in a series of
tight curves and David snaked the Mustang down into it with his hands
darting from wheel to gear leaver, and his feet dancing heel and toe on
the foot pedals, she laughed aloud with the thrill of it.

They bought cheese and bread and a bottle of white wine at a village
cantina and ate lunch sitting on the parapet of a stone bridge while the
water swirled below them, milky with snow melt from the mountains.

David’s thigh touched Debra’s, as they sat side by side. He could feel
the warmth and resilience of her flesh through the stuff of their
clothing and she made no move to pull away. Her cheeks were flushed a
little brighter than seemed natural, even in the chill little wind that
nagged at them.

David was puzzled by Joe’s attitude. He seemed to be completely
oblivious of David’s bird dogging his girl, and he was deriving a
childlike pleasure out of tossing pebbles at the trout in the waters
below them. Suddenly David wished he would put up a better resistance,
it would make his conquest a lot more enjoyable, for conquest was what
David had decided on.

He leaned across Debra for another chunk of the white, tangy cheese and
he let his arm brush lightly against the tantalizing double bulge of her
bosom. Joe seemed not to notice.

Come on, you big ape, David thought scornfully. Fight for it. Don’t
just sit there. He wanted to test himself against this buck. He was
big, and strong, and David could tell from the way he moved and held
himself that he was well coordinated and self-assured. His face was
chunky and half ugly, but he knew that some women liked them that way,
and he was not fooled by Joe’s slow and lazy grin, the eyes were quick
and sharp.

You want to drive, Joe? he asked suddenly, and the slow grin spread
like a puddle of spilled oil on Joe’s face – but the eyes glittered with
anticipation.

Don’t mind if I do, said Joe, and David regretted the gesture as he
found himself hunched in the narrow back seat. For the first five
minutes Joe drove sedately, touching the brakes to test for grab and
pull, flicking through the gears to feel the travel and bite of the
stick, taking a burst of power through a bend to establish stability and
detect any tendency for the tail to break out.

Don’t be scared of her, David told him, and Joe grunted with a little
frown of concentration creasing his broad forehead. Then he nodded to
himself and his hands settled firmly, taking a fresh grip, and Debra
whooped as he changed down to get the revs peaking.

He slid the car through the first bend and David’s right foot stabbed
instinctively at a non-existent brake pedal and he felt his breathing
jam in his throat.

When Joe parked them in the lot outside the airport at Barcelona and
switched off the engine, all of them were silent for a few seconds and
then David said softly, Son of a gun!

Then they were all laughing. David felt a tinge of regret that he was
going to have to take the girl away from him, for he was beginning to
like him, despite himself, beginning to enjoy the slow deliberation of
his speech and movements that was so clearly a put on and finding
pleasure in the big slow smile that took so long to reach its full
bloom. David had to harden his resolve.

They were an hour early for the plane they were meeting and they found a
table in the restaurant overlooking the runways. David ordered an
earthenware jug of Sangria, and Debra sat next to Joe and put her hand
on his arm while she chatted, a gesture that tempered David’s new-found
liking for him.

A private flight landed as the waiter brought the Sangria, and Joe
looked up.

One of the new executive Gulfstreams. They tell me she is a little
beauty. And he went on to list the aircraft’s specifications in
technical language that Debra seemed to follow intelligently.

You know anything about aircraft? David challenged him. Some, admitted
Joe, but Debra took the question.

Joe is in the airforce, she said proudly, and David stared at them.

So is Debs, ‘Joe laughed, and David switched his attention to her.

She’s a lieutenant in signals. . ‘Only the reserve, Debra demurred,
but Joe is a flier.

A fighter pilot. A flier, David repeated stupidly. He should have
known from Joe’s clear and steady gaze that was the peculiar mark of the
fighter pilot. He should have known by the way he handled the Mustang
If he was an Israeli flier, then he would have flown a formidable number
of operations. Hell, every time they took off, they were operational.
He felt a vast tide of respect rising within him.

What squadron are you on, Phantoms? Phantoms! Joe curled his lip.

That isn’t flying.

That’s operating a computer. No, we really fly. You ever heard of a
Mirage? David blinked, and then nodded. Yeah, said David, I’ve heard
of them. ‘Well, I fly a Mirage. David began to laugh, shaking his
head.

What’s wrong? Joe demanded, his smile fading. What’s funny about that?
I do too, said David. I fly a Mirage. It was no use trying to get hot
against this buck, he decided. I’ve got over a thousand hours on
Mirages. And it as Joe’s turn to stare, then suddenly they were both
talking at once – Debra’s head turning quickly from one to the other.

David ordered another jug of Sangria, but Joe would not let him pay. He
repeated for the fiftieth time, Well, that beats all, and punched
David’s shoulder. How about that, Debs? Half-way through the second
jug, David interrupted the talk which had been exclusively on aviation.

Who are we meeting, anyway? We’ve driven across half of Spain and I
don’t even know who the guy is. ‘This guy is a girl, Joe laughed, and
Debra filled in.

Hannah, and she grinned at Joe, his fiancee. She is a nursing sister at
Hadassah Hospital, and she could only get away for a week. ‘Your
fiancee? David whispered.

They are getting married in June. Debra turned to Joe. It’s taken him
two years to make up his mind.

Joe chuckled with embarrassment, and Debra squeezed his arm.

Your fiancee? asked David again.

Why do you keep saying that? Debra demanded.

David pointed at Joe, and then at Debra.

What, he started, I mean, who, what the hell? Debra realized suddenly
and gasped. She covered her mouth with both hands, her eyes sparkling.
You mean – you thought -? Oh, no, she giggled. She pointed at Joe and
then at herself. Is that what you thought? David nodded.

He is my brother, Debra hooted. Joe is my brother, you idiot! Joseph
Israel Mordecai and Debra Ruth Mordecai, brother and sister Hannah was a
rangy girl with bright copper hair and freckles like gold sovereigns.
She was only an inch or two shorter than Joe but he lifted her as she
came through the customs gate, swung her off her feet and then engulfed
her in an enormous embrace.

It seemed completely natural that the four of them should stay together.
By a miracle of packing they got all their luggage and themselves into
the Mustang with Hannah perched on Joe’s lap in the rear.

We’ve got a week, said Debra. A whole week! What are we going to do
with it?

They agreed that Torremolinos was out. It was far south, and since
Michener had written The Drifters, it had become a hangout for all the
bums and freaks.

I was talking to someone on the plane. There is a place called Colera
up the coast. Near the border. They reached it in the middle of the
next morning and it was still so early in the season that they had no
trouble finding pleasant rooms at a small hotel off the winding main
street. The girls shared, but David insisted on a room of his own. He
had certain plans for Debra that made privacy desirable.

Debra’s bikini was blue and brief, hardly sufficient to restrain a bosom
that was more exuberant than David had guessed. Her skin was satiny and
tanned to a deep mahogany, although a strip of startling white peeped
over the back of her costume when she stooped to pick up her towel. She
was long in the waist, and leg, and a strong swimmer, pacing David
steadily through the cool blue water when they set out for a rocky islet
half a mile off shore.

They had the tiny island to themselves and they found a pitch of flat
smooth rock out of the wind and full in the sun. They lay side by side
with their fingers entwined and the salt water had sleeked Debra’s hair
to her shoulders, like the coat of an otter.

They lay in the sun and they talked away the afternoon. There was so
much they had to learn about each other.

Her father had been one of the youngest colonels in the American
Airforce during World War II, but afterwards he had gone on to Israel.
He had been there ever since, and was now a Major-General. They lived
in a house in an old part of Jerusalem which was five hundred years old,
but was a lot of fun.

She was a senior lecturer in English at the Hebrew University in
Jerusalem and, this shyly as though. it were a rather special secret,
she wanted to write. A small volume of her poetry had already been
published.

That impressed David, and he came up on one elbow and looked at her with
new respect, and a twinge of envy, for someone who saw the way ahead
clearly.

She lay with her eyes closed against the sun, and droplets of water
sparkling like gems on her thick dark eyelashes. She wasn’t beautiful,
he decided carefully, but very handsome and very, very sexy. He was
going to have her, of course. There was no doubt in David’s mind about
this, but there seemed little urgency in it now. He was enjoying
listening to her talk, she had a quaint way of expressing herself, once
she was in full flight, and her accent was strangely neutral, although
there were faint echoes of her American background now he knew to look
for them. She told him that the poetry was merely a beginning. She was
going to write a novel about being young and living in Israel. She had
the outline worked out, and it seemed like a pretty interesting story to
David. Then she started to talk about her land and the people who lived
in it. David felt something move within him as he listened, a
nostalgia, a deep race memory. Again his envy stirred. She was so
certain of where she was from and where she was going – she knew where
she belonged, and what her destiny was, and this made her strong. Beside
her he felt suddenly insignificant and without purpose.

sunlight and looked up at him.

h? He shook his head but did not answer her smile, and she became
solemn also.

She studied his face carefully, with minute attention.

The sun had dried his hair and fluffed it out, and it was soft and fine
and very dark. The bone of his cheek and jaw was sculptured and finely
balanced, the eyes very clear and slightly Asiatic in cast, the lips
full and firm, and the nose delicately fluted with wide nostrils and a
straight graceful line.

She reached up and touched his cheek.

You are very beautiful, David. You are the most beautiful human being I
have ever seen. He did not move, and she ran the finger down his neck
on to his chest, twirling it slowly in the dark body hair.

Slowly he leaned forward and placed his mouth over hers. Her lips were
warm and soft and tasted of sea salt.

Her arms came up around the back of his head and folded around him. They
kissed until he reached behind her and unfastened the clasp of her
costume between the smooth brown shoulder blades. She stiffened
immediately and tried to pull away from him.

David held her gently but firmly, murmuring little soothing noises as he
kissed her again. Slowly she relaxed and he went on gentling her until
her hands went to the back of his neck again, and she sighed and
shuddered.

His hands were skilled and expert, masterful enough to prevent
rebellion, not rough enough to panic her. He pushed up the thin
material of her costume top and was surprised and enchanted with the
firm rubbery weight of her breasts and the big dusky rose-brown nipples
which were pebble hard to his touch.

It was shocking, completely foreign to his experience, for David was not
accustomed to check or denial, but Debra placed her hands on his
shoulders and shoved him with such force that he lost his balance and
slid down the rock, grazing his elbow and ending in a heap at the
water’s edge.

He scrambled angrily to his feet as Debra came up with a fluid explosive
movement, fastening her costume as she did so. A single bound of her
long brown legs carried her to the edge of the rocks and she dived
outwards, hitting the water flat and surfacing to call back at him.

I’ll race you to the beach David would not accept the challenge and
followed her at his own dignified pace. When he emerged unsmilingly
from the low surf, she studied his face a moment and then grinned.

When you sulk you look about ten years old, she told him, which was no
great exercise of tact and David stalked back to his room.

He was still being extremely dignified and aloof that evening when they
discovered a discotheque named2ooi A. D. run by a couple of English
boys down on the sea-front. They crowded round a table at which there
were already two B. E. A. hostesses and a couple of raggedy-looking
beards. The music was loud enough and the rhythm hard enough to jar the
spine and loosen the bowels and when the two hostesses gazed at David
with almost religious awe Debra forsook her attitude of cool amusement
and suggested to David that they dance.

Mollified by this little feminine by-play, David dropped his
impersonation of the Ice King.

They moved well together, sharing the gut rhythms of the harsh music,
executing the primeval movements that reeked of Africa with a grace that
drew the attention of the other dancers.

When the music changed Debra came to him and lay her body against his.
David felt some force flowing from her that seemed to charge every nerve
of his body, and he knew that no relationship he had with this woman
would ever run calmly. It was too deeply felt for that, too volatile
and triggered for momentary explosion.

When the record ended they left Joe and Hannah huddled over a carafe of
red wine and they went out into the silent street and down to the beach.

There was a moon in the sky that lit the dark cliffs crowding in above
the beach, and reflected off the sea in multiple yellow images. The low
surf hissed and coughed on the pebble beach and they took off their
shoes and walked along it, letting the water wash around their ankles.

In an angle of the cliff, they found a hidden place amongst the rocks
and they stopped to kiss again, and David mistakenly took her new soft
mood as an invitation to continue from where he had left off that
afternoon.

Debra pulled away again, but this time with determination and said
angrily, Damn you! Don’t you ever learn? I don’t want to do that. Do
we have to go through this every time we are alone?

, ‘What’s the matter? David was immediately stung by her tone, and
furious with this fresh check. This is the twentieth century, darling.
The simpering virgin is out of style this season, hadn’t you heard? ,
And spoilt little boys should grow up before they come out on their own,
she flashed back at him.

Thanks! he snarled. I don’t have to stay around taking insults from
any professional virgin. Well, why don’t you move out then? she
challenged him.

Hey, that’s a great idea! He turned his back on her and walked away up
the beach. She had not expected that, and she started to run after him,
but her pride checked her. She stopped and leaned against the rock.

He shouldn’t have rushed me, she thought miserably.

I want him, I want him very much, but he will be the first since Dudu.
If he will just give me time it will be all right, but he mustn’t rush
me. If he could only go at my speed, help me to do it right.

It is funny, she thought, how little I remember about Dudu now. It’s
only three years, but his memory is fading so swiftly, I wonder if I
really did love him. Even his face is hazy in my mind, while I know
every detail of David’s, every plane and line of it.

Perhaps I should go after him and tell him about Dudu, and ask him to be
patient and to help me a little.

Perhaps I should do that, she thought, but she did not and slowly she
walked up the beach, through the silent town to the hotel.

Hannah’s bed across the room was empty. She would be with Joe, lying
with him, loving with him, I should be with David also, she thought.
Dudu was dead, and I’m alive, and I want David and I should be with him
but she undressed slowly and climbed into the bed and lay without
sleeping.

David stood in the doorway of 2001 A. D. and peered through the
weirdly flashing lights and the smog, the warm palpable emanation from a
hundred straining bodies. The B. E. A. hostesses were still at the
table, but Joe and Hannah had gone.

David made his way through the dancers. The one hostess was tall and
blonde, with high English colour and china-doll eyes. She looked up and
saw David, glanced around for Debra, made sure she was missing before
she smiled.

They danced one cut of the record without touching each other and then
David leaned close to her and placed both hands on her hips. She
strained towards him with her lips parting.

Have you got a room? he asked, and she nodded, running the tip of her
tongue lewdly around her lips.

Let’s go, said David.

It was light when David got back to his own room.

He shaved and packed his ha& surprised at the strength of his residual
anger. He lugged his bag down to the proprietor’s office and paid his
bill with his Diners Club card.

Debra came out of the breakfast room with Joe and Hannah. They were all
dressed for the beach with Terry robes over their bathing gear, and they
were gay and laughing, until they saw David.

Hey! Joe challenged him. Where are you going?

I’ve had enough of Spain, David told them. I’m taking some good advice,
and I’m moving -out, and he felt a flare of savage triumph as he saw the
quick shadow of pain in Debra’s eyes. Both Joe and Hannah glanced at
her, and quickly she controlled the quiver of her lips.

She smiled then, a little too brightly and stepped forward, holding out
her hand.

Thank you for all your help, David. I’m sorry you have to go. It was
fun. Then her voice dropped slightly and there was a tiny quiver in it.
I hope you find what you are looking for. Good luck. She turned
quickly and hurried away to her room.

Hannah’s expression was steely, and she gave David a curt nod before
following Debra. So long, Joe. ‘I’ll carry your bag.

Don’t bother, David tried to stop him.

No trouble. Joe took it out of his hand and carried it out to the
Mustang. He dumped it on the rear seat.

I’ll ride up to the top of the hills with you and walk back. He climbed
into the passenger seat and settled comfortably. I need the exercise.
David drove swiftly, and they were silent as Joe deliberately lit a
cigarette and flicked the match out the window.

I don’t know what went wrong, Davey, but I can guess.

David didn’t reply, he concentrated on the road.

She’s had a bad time. These last few days she has been different.
Happy, I guess, and I thought it was going to work out.

Still David was silent, not giving him any help. Why didn’t the big
bonehead mind his own business.

She’s a pretty special sort of person, Davey, not because she’s my
sister. She really is, and I think you should know about her, just so
you don’t think too badly about her. They had reached the top of the
hills above the town and the bay. David pulled on to the verge but kept
the engine running. He looked down on the brilliant blue of the sea,
where it met the cliffs and the pine-covered headlands.

She was going to be married, said Joe softly. He was a nice guy, older
than she was, they worked together at the University. He was a tank
driver in the reserve and he took a hit in the Sinai and burned with his
tank David turned and looked at him, his expression softening a little.

She took it badly Joe went on doggedly. These last few days were the
first time I’ve seen her truly happy and relaxed. He shrugged and
grinned like a big St. Bernard dog. Sorry to give you the family
history, Davey. just thought it might help. He held out a huge brown
hand. Come and see us. It’s your country also, you know. I’d like to
show it to you.

David took the hand. I might do that, he said. Shalom. Shalom, Joe.

Good luck. Joe climbed out of the car and when David pulled away he
watched him standing on the side of the road with his hands on his hips.
He waved and the first bend in the road hid him.

There was a school for aspiring Formula I racing drivers on a neglected
concrete circuit near Ostia, on the road from Rome. The course lasted
three weeks and cost $500 U. S.
David stayed at the Excelsior in the Via Veneto, and commuted each day
to the track. He completed the full course, but after the first week
knew it was not what he wanted. The physical limitation of the track
was constricting after flying the high heavens, and even the crackling
snarling power of a Tyrell Ford could not match the thrust from the
engine of a jet interceptor.

Although he lacked the dedication and motivation of others in his class
his natural talent for speed and his coordination brought him out high
in the finishing order and he had an offer to drive on the works team of
a new and struggling company that was building and fielding a production
team of Formula racing machines. Of course, the salary was starvation,
and it was a measure of his desperation that he came close to signing a
contract for the season, but at the last moment he changed his mind and
went on.

In Athens he spent a week hanging around the yacht basins of Piraeus and
Glyfada. He was investigating the prospects of buying a motor yacht and
running it out on charter to the islands. The prospect of sun and sea
and pretty girls seemed appealing and the craft themselves were
beautiful in their snowy paint and varnished teakwork. In one week he
learned that charter work was merely running a sea-going boarding house
for a bunch of bored, sunburned and seasick tourists.

On the seventh day the American Sixth Fleet dropped anchor in the bay of
Athens. David sat at a table of one of the beach-front cafes and drank
ouzo in the sun, while he studied the anchored aircraft carriers through
his binoculars. On the great flat tops the rows of Crusaders and
Phantoms were grouped with their wings folded.

Watching them he felt a consuming hunger, a need that was almost
spiritual. He had searched the earth, it seemed, and there was nothing
for him upon its face.

He laid the binoculars aside, and he looked up into the sky. The clouds
were high, a brilliant silver against the blue.

He picked up the glass of milky ouzo that the sun had warmed and rolled
its sweet liquorice taste about his tongue.

East, west, home is best.

He spoke aloud, and had a mental image of Paul Morgan sitting in his
high office of glass and steel. Like a patient fisherman he tended his
lines laid across the world. Right now the one to Athens was beginning
to twitch. He could imagine the quiet satisfaction as he began to reel
it in, drawing David struggling feebly back to the centre. What the
hell, I could still fly Impalas as a reserve officer, he thought, and
there was always the Lear, if he could get it away from Barney.

David drained the glass and stood up abruptly, feeling the fading glow
of his defiance. He flagged a cab and was driven back to his room at
the Grande Bretagne on Syndagma Square.

His defiance was dying so swiftly that one of his companions for dinner
that night was John Dinopoulos, Morgan Group’s agent for Greece, a slim
elegant sophisticate with an unlined sun-tanned face, silver wings in
his hair and an elegantly casual way of dressing.

John had selected for David’s table companion the female star of a
number of Italian spaghetti westerns. A young lady of ample bosom and
dark flashing eye whose breathing and bosom had become so agitated when
John introduced David as a diamond millionaire from Africa.

Diamonds were the most glamorous, although not the most significant of
Morgan Group’s interests.

They sat upon the terrace of Dionysius, for the evening was mild. The
restaurant was carved into the living rock of the hill-top of
Lycabettus, under the church of St. Paul.

Down the zigzag path from the church, the Easter procession of
worshippers unwound in a flickering stream of candle flames through the
pine forest below them, and the singing carried sweetly on the still
night air. On its far hill-top the stately columns of the Acropolis
were flood-lit so that they glowed as creamily as ancient ivory, and
beyond that again on the midnight waters of the bay the American fleet
wore gay garlands of fairy lights.

The glory that was Greece murmured the star of Italian westerns, as
though she voiced the wisdom of the ages, and placed one heavily
jewelled hand on David’s thigh while with the other she raised a glass
of red Samos wine to him and cast him a look under thick eyelashes that
was fraught with significance.

Her restraint was impressive, and it was only after they had eaten the
main course of savoury meats wrapped in vine leaves and swimming in
creamy lemon sauce that she suggested that David might like to finance
her next movie.

Let’s find some place where we can talk about it she murmured, and what
better place than her suite?

John Dinopoulos waved them away with a grin and a knowing wink, a
gesture that annoyed David for it made him see the whole episode for the
emptiness that it was.

The star’s suite was pretentious, with thick white carpets and bulky
black leather furniture. David poured himself a drink while she went to
change into clothing more suitable for a discussion of high finance.
David tasted the drink, realized that he did not want it and left it on
the bar counter.

The star came out of the bedroom in a bedrobe of white satin which was
cut back from arm and bosom, and was so sheer that her flesh gleamed
with a pearly pink sheen through the material. Her hair was loose, a
great wild mane of swirling curls, and suddenly David was sick of the
whole business.

I’m sorry, he said. John was joking, I’m not a millionaire, and I
really prefer boys.

He heard his untouched glass shatter against the door of the suite as he
closed it behind him.

Back at his own hotel he ordered coffee from room service, and then on
an impulse he picked up the telephone again and placed a Cape Town call.
It came through with surprising speed, and the girl’s voice on the other
end was thickened with sleep. Mitzi, he laughed. How’s the girl?
‘Where are you, warrior? Are you home? ‘I’m in Athens, doll. ‘Athens,
God! How’s the action? ‘It’s a drag. Yeah! I bet, she scoffed. The
Greek girls are never going to be the same again. ‘How are you, Mitzi?
I’m in love, Davey.

I mean really in love, it’s far out.

We are going to be married. Isn’t that just something else? David felt
a spur of anger, jealous of the happiness in her voice. That’s great,
doll. Do I know him? Cecil Lawley, you know him. He’s one of Daddy’s
accountants. David recalled a large, pale-faced, bespectacled man with
a serious manner.

Congratulations, said David. He felt very much alone again. Far from
home, and aware that life there flowed on without his presence.

You want to talk to him? Mitzi asked. I’ll wake him up There was a
murmur and mutter on the other end, then Cecil came on.

Nice work, David told him, and it really was. Mitzi’s share of Morgan
Group would be considerably larger than David’s. Cecil had drilled
himself an oil well in a most unconventional manner.

Thanks, Davey. Cecil’s embarrassment at being caught tending his oil
well carried clearly over five thousand miles of telephone cable.

Listen, lover. You do anything to hurt that girl, I’ll personally tear
out your liver and stuff it down your throat, okay?

Okay, said Cecil, and his alarm was brittle in his tone. I’ll put you
back to Mitzi.

She prattled on for another fifty dollars worth before hanging up. David
lay on the bed with his hands behind his head and thought about his
dumpy soft-hearted cousin and her new happiness. Then quite suddenly he
made the decision which had been lurking at the edge of his
consciousness all these weeks since leaving Spain.

He picked up the phone again and asked for the porter’s desk.

I’m sorry to trouble you at this time in the morning, he said, but I
should like to get on a flight to Israel as soon as possible, will you
please arrange that.

The sky was filled with a soft golden haze that came off the desert. The
gigantic T. W. A. 747 came down through it, and David had a glimpse
of dark green citrus orchards before the solid jolt of the touch-down.
Lad was like any other airport in the world but beyond its doors was a
land like no other he had ever known. The crowd who fought him for a
seat in one of the big black sheruts, communal taxis plastered with
stickers and hung with gewgaws, made even the Italians seem shining
towers of restrained good manners.

Once aboard, however, it was as though they were on a family outing, and
he a member of that family. on one side of him a paratrooper in beret
and blouse with his winged insignia on the breast and an Uzzi
submachine-gun slung about his neck offered him a cigarette, on the
other a big strapping lass also in khaki uniform and with the dark
gazelle eyes of an Israeli, which became even darker and more soulful
when she looked at David, which was often, shared a sandwich of unleaven
bread and balls of fried chick-peas, the ubiquitous pita and falafel,
with him and practised her English upon him.

All the occupants of the front seat turned around to join the
conversation, and this included the driver who nevertheless did not
allow his speed to diminish in the slightest and who punctuated his
remarks with fierce blasts of his horn and cries of outrage at
pedestrians and other drivers.

The perfume of orange blossom lay as heavily as sea mist upon the
coastal lowlands, and always afterwards it would be for David the smell
of Israel.

Then they climbed into the Judaean hills, and David felt a sense of
nostalgia as they followed the winding highway through pine forests and
across the pale shining slopes where the white stone gleamed like bone
in the sunlight and the silver olive trees twisted their trunks in
graceful agony upon the terraces which were the monuments to six
thousand years of man’s patient labour.

It was so familiar and yet subtly different from those fair and
well-beloved hills of the southern cape he called home. There were
flowers he did not recognize, crimson blooms like spilled blood, and
bursts of sunshine-yellow blossoms upon the slopes, then suddenly a pang
that was like a physical pain as he glimpsed the bright flight of
chocolate and white wings amongst the trees, and he recognized the
crested head of an African hoopoe, a bird which was a symbol of home.

He felt a sense of excitement building within him, unformed and
undirected as yet but growing, as he drew closer to the woman he had
come to see, and to something else of which he was as yet uncertain.

There was, at last, a sense of belonging. He felt in sympathy with the
young persons who crowded close to him in the cab.

See, cried the girl, touching his arm and pointing to the wreckage of
war still strewn along the roadside, the burned-out carapaces of trucks
and armoured vehicles, preserved as a memorial to the men who died on
the road to Jerusalem. There was fighting here. David turned in the
seat to study her face, and he saw again the strength and certainty that
he had so admired in Debra. These were a people who lived each day to
its limit, and only at its close did they consider the next.

Will there be more fighting? he asked.

Yes, she answered him without hesitation.

Why?

Because, if it is good, you must fight for it, and she made a wide
gesture that seemed to embrace the land and all its people, and this is
ours, and it is good, she said.

Right on, doll, David agreed with her, and they grinned at each other.

So they came to Jerusalem with its tall, severe apartment blocks of
custard-yellow stone, standing like monuments upon the hills, grouped
about the massive walled citadel that was its heart.

T. W. A. had reserved a room at the Intercontinental Hotel for David
while on board the inward flight. From his window he looked across the
garden of Gethsemane at the old city, at its turrets and spires and the
blazing golden Dome of the Rock, centre of Christianity and Judaism,
holy place of the Moslems, battleground of two A thousand years, ancient
land reborn, and David felt a sense of awe. For the first time in his
life, he recognized and examined that portion of himself that was
Jewish, and he thought it was right that he should have come to this
city.

Perhaps, he said aloud, it’s just possible that this is where it’s all
at.

It was early evening when David paid off the cab in the car park of the
University and submitted to a perfunctory search by a guard at the main
gate. Here body search was a routine that would soon become so familiar
as to pass unnoticed. He was surprised to find the campus almost
deserted, until he remembered it was Friday and that the whole tempo was
slowing for the Sabbath.

The red-bud trees were in full bloom around the main plaza and the
ornamental pool, as David crossed to the admin block and asked for her
at the inquiries desk where the porter was on the point of leaving his
post.

Miss Mordecai, the porter checked his list. Yes.

English Department. On the second floor of the Lauterman building. He
pointed out through the glass doors. Third building on your right. Go
right on in. Debra was in a students tutorial, and while he waited for
her, he found a seat on the terrace in the warmth of the sun. It was as
well, for suddenly he felt a breath of uncertainty cooling his spine.
For the first time since leaving Athens, he wondered if he had much
cause to expect a hearty welcome from Debra Mordecai. Even at this
remove in time, David had difficulty in judging his own behaviour
towards her. Self-criticism was an art which David had never seriously
practised; with a face and fortune such as his, it was seldom necessary.
In this time of waiting he found it novel and uncomfortable to admit
that it was just possible that his behaviour may have been, as Debra had
told him, that of a spoiled child.

He was still exploring this thought, when a burst of voices and the
clatter of heels upon the flags distracted him and a group of students
came out on to the terrace, hugging their books to their chests, and
most of the girls glanced at him with quick speculative attention as
they passed.

There was a pause then before Debra came. She carried books under her
arm and a sling bag over one shoulder, and her hair was pulled back
severely at the nape of her neck; she wore no make-up, but her skirt was
brightly coloured in big summery whorls of orange.

Her legs were bare and her feet were thrust into leather sandals. She
was in deep conversation with the two students who flanked her, and she
did not see David until he stood up from the parapet. Then she froze
into that special stillness he had first noticed in the cantina at
Zaragoza.

David was surprised to find how awkward he felt, as though his feet and
hands had grown a dozen sizes. He grinned and made a shrugging,
self-deprecatory gesture.

Hello, Debs. His voice sounded gruff in his own ears, and Debra stirred
and made a panicky attempt to brush back the wisps of hair at her
temples, but the books hampered her.

David, She started towards him, a pace before she hesitated and stopped,
glancing at her students. Then sensed her confusion and melted, and she
swung back at him.

David, she repeated, and then her expression crumbled into utter
desolation. Oh God, and I haven’t even a shred of lipstick on. David
laughed with relief and went towards her, spreading his arms, and she
flew at him and it was all confusion with books and sling bag muddled,
and Debra making breathless exclamations of frustration before she could
divest herself of them. Then at last they embraced.

David, she murmured with both arms wound tightly around his neck. You
beast, what on earth took you so long? I had almost given you up. Debra
had a motor scooter which she drove with such murderous abandon that she
frightened even the Jerusalem taxi-drivers who crossed her path, men
with a reputation for steel nerves and disregard for danger.

Perched on the pillion David clung to her waist and remonstrated with
her gently as she overtook a solid line of traffic and then cut smartly
across a stream coming in the opposite direction with her exhaust
popping merrily. I’m happy, she explained over her shoulder. Fine!
Then let’s live to enjoy it. “Joe will be surprised to see you. Jr we
ever get there. ‘What’s happened to your nerve? ‘I’ve just this minute
lost it. She went down the twisting road into the valley of Em Karem,
as though she was driving a Mirage, and called a travelogue back to him
as she went.

That’s the Monastery of Mary’s Well where she met the mother of John the
Baptist, according to the Christian tradition in which you are a
professed expert. Hold the history, pleaded David.

There’s a bus around that bend.

The village was timeless amongst the olive trees, dug into the slope
with its churches and monasteries and high-walled gardens, an oasis of
the picturesque, while the skyline above it was cluttered with the
high-rise apartments of modern Jerusalem.

From the main street Debra scooted into the mouth of a narrow lane,
where high walls of time-worn stone rose on each hand, and braked to a
halt outside a forbidding iron gate.

Home, she said, and wheeled the scooter into the gatehouse and locked it
away before letting them in through a side gate hidden in a corner of
the wall.

They came out into a large garden court enclosed by the high rough
plastered walls which were lime-washed to glaring white. There were
olive trees growing in the court with thick twisted trunks. Vines
climbed the walls and spread their boughs overhead; already there were
bunches of green grapes forming upon them.

The Brig is a crazy keen amateur archaeologist, Debra indicated the
Roman and Greek statues that stood amongst the olive trees, the exhibits
of pottery arnphorae arranged around the walls, and the ancient mosaic
tiles which paved the pathway to the house, It’s strictly against the
law, of course, but he spends all his spare time digging around in the
old sites. The kitchen was cavernous with an enormous open fireplace in
which a modern electric stove looked out of place, but the copper pots
were burnished until they glowed and the tiled floor was polished and
sweet smelling.

Debra’s mother was a tall slim woman with a quiet manner, who looked
like Debra’s older sister. The family resemblance was striking and, as
she greeted them, David thought with pleasure that this was how Debra
would look at the same age. Debra introduced them and announced that
David was a guest for dinner, a fact of which he had been unaware until
that moment.

Please, he protested quickly, I don’t want to intrude. He knew that
Friday was a special night in the Jewish home.

You don’t intrude. We will be honoured, she brushed aside his protest.
This house is home for most of the boys on Joe’s squadron, we enjoy it.
Debra fetched David a Goldstar beer and they were sitting on the terrace
together when her father arrived.

He came in through the wicket gate, stooping his tall frame under the
stone lintel and taking off his uniform cap as he entered the garden.

He wore uniform casually cut, and open at the throat with cloth insignia
or rank and wings at the breast pocket. He was slightly
round-shouldered, probably from cramming his lanky body into the cramped
cockpits of fighter aircraft, and his head was brown and bald with a
monk’s fringe of hair and a fierce spiky mustache through which a gold
tooth gleamed richly. His nose was big and hooked, the nose of a
biblical warrior, and his eyes were dark and snapping with the same
golden lights as Debra’s. He was a man of such presence that he
commanded David’s instant respect. He stood to shake the General’s hand
and called him sir completely naturally.

The Brig subjected David to a rapid, raking scrutiny and reserved his
judgement, showing neither pleasure nor disdain.

Later David would learn that the nickname The Brig was a shortened
version of The Brigand, a name the British had given him before 1948
when he was smuggling warplanes and arms into Palestine for the Haganah.
Everyone, even his children called him that and only his wife used his
given name, Joshua.

David is sharing the Sabbath meal with us tonight, Debra explained to
him.

You are welcome, said the Brig, and turned to embrace his women with
love and laughter, for he had seen neither of them since the previous
Sabbath, his duties keeping him at air bases and control rooms scattered
widely across the land.

When Joe arrived, he was also in uniform, the casual open-necked khaki
of summer, and when he saw David he dropped his slow manner and hurried
to him, laughin& and enfolded him in a bear hug, speaking over his
shoulder to Debra.

Was I right?

Joe said you would come, Debra explained.

It looks like I was the only one who didn’t know, David protested.

There were fifteen at dinner, and the candlelight gleamed on the
polished wood of the huge refectory table and the silver Sabbeth
goblets. The Brig said a short prayer, the satin and gold embroidered
yamulka looking slightly out of place on his wicked bald head, then he
filled the wine goblets with his own hand murmuring a greeting to each
of his guests. Hannah was with Joe, her copper hair glowing handsomely
in the candlelight, and she greeted David with reserve. There were two
of the Brig’s brothers with their wives and children and grandchildren,
and the talk was loud and confusing as the children vied with their
elders for a hearing and the language changed at random from Hebrew to
English.

The food was exotic and spicy, although the wine was too sweet for
David’s taste. He was content to sit quietly beside Debra and enjoy the
sense of belonging to this happy group. He was startled then when one
of Debra’s cousins leaned across her to speak to him.

This must be very confusing for you, your first day in such an unusual
country as Israel, and not understanding Hebrew, you not being Jewish
The words were not meant unkindly, but all conversation stopped abruptly
and the Brig looked up, frowning swiftly, quick to sense an unkindness
to guest at his board.

David was aware of Debra staring at him intently, as if to will words
from him, and suddenly he thought how three denials finalized any issue,
in the New Testament, in Mohammedan law, and perhaps in that of Moses as
well. He did not want to be excluded from this household, from these
people. He didn’t want to be alone again. It was good here.

He smiled at the cousin and shook his head. It’s strange, yes, but not
as bad as you would think. I understand Hebrew, though I don’t speak it
very well.

You see, I am Jewish, also.

Beside him Debra gave a soft gasp of pleasure and exchanged quick
glances with Joe.

Jewish? the Brig demanded. You don’t look it, and David explained, and
when he was through the Brig nodded. It seemed that his manner had
thawed a little.

Not only that, but he is a flier also, Debra boasted, and the Brig’s
mustache twitched like a living thing so that he had to soothe it with
his napkin while he reappraised David carefully.

What experience? he demanded brusquely.

Twelve hundred hours, sir, almost a thousand on jets. Jets? Mirages.

Mirages! The Brig’s gold tooth gleamed secretly.

What squadron? Cobra Squadron.

Rastus Naude’s bunch? The Brig stared at David as
he asked.

Do you know Rastus? David was startled.

We flew in the first Spitfires from Czechoslovakia together, back in 48.
We used to call him Butch Ben Yak, Son of a Gentile, in those days. How
is he, he must be getting on now? He was no spring chicken even then.

He’s as spry as ever, sir, David answered tactfully.

Well, if Rastus taught You to fly, you might be half good, the Brig
conceded.

As a general rule the Israeli Airforce would not use foreign pilots, but
here was a Jew with all the marks of a first-class fighter pilot. The
Brig had noticed the marvelous man and thrust which that other
consummate judge of young men, Paul Morgan, had recognized also and
valued so highly. Unless he had read the signs wrongly, something he
seldom did, then here was a rare one. Once more he appraised the young
man in the candlelight and noticed that clear and steady gaze that
seemed to seek a distant horizon. It was the eye of the gunfighter, and
all his pilots were gunfighters.

To train an interceptor pilot took many years and nearly a million
dollars. Time and money were matters of survival in his country’s time
of trial, and rules could be bent.

He picked up the wine bottle and carefully refilled David’s goblet. I
will place a telephone call to Rastus Naude, he decided silently, and
find out a bit more about this youngster.

Debra watched her father as he began to question David searchingly on
his reasons, or lack of them, for coming to Israel, and on his future
plans.

She knew precisely how the Brig’s mind was working, for she had
anticipated it. Her reasons for inviting David to dinner and for
exposing him to the Brig were devious and calculated.

She switched her attention back to David, feeling the tense warm
sensation in the pit of her stomach and the electric prickle of the skin
upon her forearms as she looked at him.

Yes, you big cocky stallion, she thought comfortably, you aren’t going
to find it so easy to escape again. This time I’m playing for keeps,
and I’ve got the Brig on to you also. She lifted her goblet to him,
smiling sweetly at him over the rim, You’re going to get exactly what
you are after, but. in trumps and with bells on, she threatened
silently, and aloud she said, Lechaim! To life! and David echoed the
toast.

This time I’m not going to be put off so easily, he promised himself
firmly as he watched the candlelight explode in tiny golden sparks in
her eyes. I’m going to have you, my raven-haired beauty, no matter how
long it takes or what it Costs.

The telephone beside his bed woke David in the dawn, and the Brig’s
voice was crisp and alert, as though he had already completed a day’s
work.

If you have no urgent plans for today, I’m taking you to see something,
he said.

Of course, sir. David was taken off balance.

I will fetch you from your hotel in forty-five minutes, that will give
you time for breakfast. Please wait for me in the lobby. The Brig
drove a small nondescript compact with civilian plates, and he drove it
fast and efficiently. David was impressed with his reaction time and
coordination – after all the Brig must be well into his fifties, and
David allowed himself to contemplate such immense age with awe.

They took the main highway west towards Tel Aviv, and the Brig broke a
long silence.

I spoke with your old C. O. last night. He was surprised to hear
where you were. He tells me that you were offered promotion to staff
rank before you left -‘It was a bribe, said David, and the Brig nodded
and began to talk. David listened to him quietly while he watched with
pleasure the quickly changing landscape as they came down out of the
hills and turned southwards through the low rolling plains towards
Beersheba and the desert.

I am taking you to an airforce base, and I might add that I am flouting
all sorts of security regulations to do so. Rastus assured me that you
can fly, and I want to see if he was telling me the truth David looked
at him quickly.

We are going to fly? ‘and he felt a deep and pleasurable excitement
when the Brig nodded.

We are at war here, so you will be flying a combat sortie, and breaking
just about every regulation in the book. But you’ll find we don’t go by
the book very much. He went on quietly, explaining his own particular
view of Israel, its struggle and its chances of success, and David
remembered odd phrases he used. – We are building a nation, and the
blood we have been forced to mix into the foundations has strengthened
them – – We don’t want to make this merely a sanctuary for all the
beaten-up Jews of the world. We want the strong bright Jews also -,
There are three million of us, and one hundred and fifty million
enemies, sworn to our total annihilation -‘- if they lose a battle, they
lose a few miles of desert, if we lose one we cease to exist – – We’ll
have to give them one more beating. They won’t accept the others. They
believe their ammunition was faulty in 1948, after Suez the lines were
restored so they lost nothing, and in 67 they think they were cheated.
We’ll have to beat them one more time before they’ll leave us alone, He
talked as to a friend or an ally and David was warmed by his trust, and
enlivened by the prospect of flying again.

A plantation of eucalyptus trees grew as a heavy screen alongside the
road, and the Brig slowed to a gate in the barbed wire fence and a sign
that proclaimed in both languages: Chaim Weissmann Agricultural
Experimental Centre. They turned on to the side road through the
plantation, and there was a secondary fence and a guard post amongst the
trees.

A guard at the gate checked the Brig’s papers briefly, they clearly knew
him well. Then they drove on, emerging from the plantation into neatly
laid-out blocks of different cereal crops. David recognized oats,
barley, wheat and maize, all of it flourishing in the warm spring
sunshine. The roads between each field were surveyed long and straight
and paved with concrete that had been tinted to the colour of the
surrounding earth.

There was something unnatural in these smooth twomile long fairways
bisecting each other at right angles, and to David they were familiar.
The Brig saw his interest and nodded. Yes, he said, runways. We are
digging in, not to be taken by the same tactics we used in 67. David
pondered it while they drove rapidly towards a giant concrete grain silo
that stood tall in the distance.

In the fields, scarlet tractors were at work, and overhead irrigation
equipment threw graceful glittering ostrich feathers of spray into the
air.

They reached the concrete silo and the Brig drove the compact through
the wide doors of the barn-like building that abutted it. David was
startled to see the lines of buses and automobiles parked in neat lines
along the length of the barn. There was transport here for many
hundreds of men, and yet he had noticed less than a score of
tractor-drivers.

There were guards here again, in paratrooper uniform, and when the Brig
led David to the rounded bulk of the silo, he realized suddenly that it
was a dummy. A massive bomb-proof structure of solid concrete, housing
all the sophisticated communications and radar equipment of a modern
fighter base. It was combined control tower and plot for four full
squadrons of Mirage fighters, the Brig explained briefly as they entered
an elevator and sank below the earth.

They emerged into a reception area where again the Brig’s papers were
examined, and a paratrooper major was called to pass David through, a
duty he performed reluctantly and at the Brig’s insistence. Then the
Brig led David along a carpeted and air-conditioned underground tunnel
to the pilot’s dressing-room. It was tiled and spotless, with showers
and toilets and lockers like a country club changing-room.

The Brig had ordered clothing for David, guessing his size and doing so
accurately. The orderly corporal had no trouble fitting him out in
overalls, boots, G-suit, gloves and helmet.

The Brig dressed from his own locker and both of them went through into
the ready room, moving stiffly in the constricting grip of the G-suits
and carrying their helmets under their arms.

The duty pilots looked up from chess games and magazines as they
entered, recognized the general and stood to greet him, but the
atmosphere was easy and informal.

The Brig made a small witticism and they all laughed and relaxed, while
he led David through into the briefing-room.

Swiftly, but without overlooking a detail, he outlined the patrol that
they would fly, and checked David out on radio procedure, aircraft
identification, and other parochial details.

All clear? he asked at last, and when David nodded, he went on,
Remember what I told you, we are at war.

Anything we find that doesn’t belong to us we hit it, hard! All right?
Yes, sir.

It’s been nice and quiet the last few weeks, but yesterday we had a
little trouble down near Em Yahav, a bit of nastiness with one of our
border patrols. So things are a little sensitive at the moment. He
picked up his helmet and map case then turned to face David, leaning
close to him and fixing him with those fierce brown and golden eyes.

It will be clear up there today, and when we get to forty thousand, you
will be able to see it all, every inch of it from Rosh Hanikra to Suez,
from Mount Herman to Eilat, and you will see how small it is and how
vulnerable to the enemies that surround us. You said you were looking
for something worthwhile, I want you to decide whether guarding the fate
of three million people might not be a worthwhile job for a man.

They rode on a small electric personnel carrier down one of the long
underground passages, and they entered the concrete bunker dispersed at
one point of a great star whose centre was the concrete silo, and they
climbed down from the cart.

The Mirages stood in a row, six of them, sleek and needle-nosed,
crouching like leashed and impatient animals, so well remembered in
outline, but vaguely unfamiliar in their desert brown and drab green
camouflage with the blue Star of David insignia on the fuselage.

The Brig signed for two machines, grinning as he wrote Butch Ben Yak
under David’s numeral.

As good a name as any to fly under, he grunted. This is the land of the
pseudonym and alias. David settled into the tiny cockpit with a sense
of homecoming. In here it was all completely familiar and his hands
moved over the massed array of switches, instruments and controls like
those of a lover as he began his pre-flight check.

In the confined space of the bunkers the jet thunder assaulted the
eardrums, their din only made bearable by the perforated steel baffles
set into the rear of the structure.

The Brig looked across at David, his head enclosed in the garishly
painted helmet, and gave him the high sign.

David returned -it and reached up to pull the Perspex canopy closed.
Ahead of them, the steel blast doors rolled swiftly upwards, and the
ready lamps above them switched from red to green.

There was no taxiing to take-off areas; no needless ground exposure.
Wing-tip to wing-tip they came up the ramp out of the bunker into the
sunlight. Ahead of them stretched one of the long brown runways, and
David pushed open his throttle to the gate, and then ignited his
afterburners, feeling the thrust of the mighty jet through the
cushioning of his seat. Down between the fields of green corn they
tore, and then up, with the swooping sensation in the guts and the
rapier nose of the Mirage pointed at the sapphire of the sky that arched
unbroken and unsullied above them, and once again David experienced the
euphoria of jet-powered flight.

They levelled out at a little under forty thousand feet avoiding even
altitudes or orderly flight patterns, and David placed his machine under
the Brig’s tail and eased back on the throttles to cruising power, his
hands delighting in the familiar rituals of flight while his helmeted
head revolved restlessly in the search routine, sweeping every quarter
of the sky about him, weaving the Mirage to clear the blind spot behind
his own tail.

The air had an unreal quality of purity, a crystalline clarity that made
even the most distant mountain ranges stand out in crisp silhouette,
hardly shaded with the blue of distance. In the north the Mediterranean
blazed like a pool of molten silver in the sunlight, while the sea of
Galilee was soft cool green, and farther south the Dead Sea was darker,
forbidding in its sunken bed of tortured desert.

They flew north over the ridge of Carmel and the flecked white buildings
of Haifa with its orange gold beaches on which the sea broke in soft
ripples of creamy lacework. Then they turned together easing back on
the power and sinking slowly to patrol altitude at twenty thousand feet
as they passed the peak of Mount Herman where the last snows still
lingered in the gullies and upon the high places, streaking the great
rounded mountain like an old man’s pate.

The softly dreaming greens and pastels delighted David who was
accustomed to the sepia monochromes of Africa. The villages clung to
the hill-tops, their white walls shining like diadems above the terraced
slopes and the darker areas of cultivated land.

They turned south again, booming down the valley of the Jordan, over the
Sea of Galilee with its tranquil green waters enclosed by the thickets
of date palm and the neatly tended fields of the Kibbutzim, losing
altitude as the land forsook its gentle aspect and the hills were riven
and tortured, rent by the wadis as though by the claws of a dreadful
predator.

On the left hand rose the mountains of Edam, hostile and implacable, and
beneath them Jericho was a green oasis in the wilderness. Ahead lay the
shimmering surface of the Dead Sea. The Brig dropped down, and they
thundered so low across the salt-thickened water that the jet blast
ruffled the surface behind them.

The Brig’s voice chuckled in David’s earphones. That’s the lowest you
are ever going to fly, twelve hundred feet below sea level. They were
climbing again as they crossed the mineral works at the southern end of
the sea, and faced the blasted and mountainous deserts of the south.

Hello, Cactus One, this is Desert Flower, again the radio silence was
broken, but this time David recognized the call sign of command net.
They were being called directly from the Operations Centre of Airforce
Command, situated in some secret underground bunker at a location that
David would never learn. On the command plot their position was being
accurately relayed by the radar repeaters.

Hello, Desert Flower, the Brig acked, and immediately the exchange
became as informal as two old friends chatting, which was precisely what
it was.

Brig this is Motti. We’ve just had a ground support request in your
area, he gave the coordinates quickly, a motorized patrol of border
police is under sneak lowlevel attack by an unidentified aircraft. See
to it, will youz, Beseder, Motti, okay. The Brig switched to flight
frequency. Cactus Two, I’m going to interception power, conform to me,
he told David, and they turned together on to the new heading.

No point in trying a radar scan, the Brig grumbled aloud. He’ll be down
in the ground clutter. We’ll not pick the swine off amongst those
mountains. just keep your eyes open. ‘Beseder. David had already
picked up the word. The favourite Hebrew word in a land where very
little was really okay.

David spotted it first, a slim black column of smoke beginning to rise
like a pencil line drawn slowly against the windless and dazzling cobalt
blue of the horizon.

Ground smoke, he said into his helmet microphone. Eleven o’clock low.

The Brig squinted ahead silently, searching for it and then saw it on
the extreme limit of his vision range. He grunted, Rastus had been
right in one thing at least. The youngster had eyes like a hawk.

Going to attack speed now, he said, and David acked and lit his
afterburners. The upholstery of his seat smacked into his back under
the mighty increase in thrust and David felt the drastic alteration in
trim as the Mirage went shooting through the sonic barrier.

Near the base of the smoke column, something flashed briefly against the
drab brown earth, and David narrowed his eyes and made out the tiny
shape, flitting swiftly as a sunbird, its camouflage blending naturally
into the backdrop of desert, -so it was ethereal as a shadow.

Bandit turning to port of the smoke, he called the sighting.

I have him, said the Brig, and switched to command net.

Hello, Desert Flower, I’m on an intruder. Call strike, please. The
decision to engage must be made at command level, and the answering
voice was laconic, and flat.

Brig, this is Motti. Hit him? While they spoke they were rushing down
so swiftly that the details of the little drama being played out below
sprang into comprehension.

Along a dusty border track three patrol vehicles of the border police
were halted. They were camouflaged half tracks, tiny as children’s toys
in the vastness of the desert.

One of the half tracks was burning. The smoke was greasy black and rose
straight into the air, the beacon that had drawn them. Lying
spreadeagled in the road was a human body, flung down carelessly in
death, and the sight of it stirred in David a deeply bitter feeling of
resentment such as he had last felt in the bullring at Madrid.

The other vehicles were pulled off the track at abandoned angles, and
David could see their crews crouching amongst the scrub and rock. Some
of them were firing with small arms at their attacker who was circling
for his next run down upon them.

David had never seen the type before, but knew it instantly from the
recognition charts that he had studied so often. It was a Russian MIG
17 of the Syrian airforce.

The high tail plane was unmistakable. The dappled brown desert
camouflage was brightened by the red, white and black rounders with
their starred green centres on the fuselage and the stubby swept wings.

The MIG completed its turn, settling swiftly down and levelling off for
its next strafing run upon the parked vehicles. The pilot’s attention
was concentrated on the helpless men cowering amongst the rocks and he
was unaware of the terrible vengeance bearing down upon him on high.

The Brig lined up for his pass, turning slightly to bring himself down
on the Syrian’s tail, attacking in classic style from behind and above,
while David dropped back to weave across his rear, covering him and
backing up to press in a supporting attack if the first failed.

The Syrian opened fire again and the cannon bursts twinkled like fairy
lights amongst the men and trucks.

Another truck exploded in a dragon’s breath of smoke and flame.

You bastard, David whispered as he levelled out behind the Brig and saw
the havoc that was being wrought amongst his people. It was the first
time he had thought of them as that, his people, and he felt the cold
anger of the shepherd whose flock is under attack.

A line of poetry popped up in his mind The Assyrian came down like a
wolf on the fold, and his hands went purposefully to the chore of
locking in his cannon sselectors and flicking the trigger forward out of
its recess in the moulded grip of the joystick. The soft green glow lit
his gunsight as it came alive and he squinted through it.

The Brig was pressing his attack in to close range, rapidly overhauling
the slower clumsy-looking MIG, and at that moment he knew he would open
fire David saw the Syrian’s wing-shape alter. At the fatal instant he
had become aware of his predicament, and he had done what was best in
the circumstances. He had pulled on full flap and while his speed fell
sharply he dropped one wing in a slide towards the earth a hundred feet
below.

The Brig was committed and he loosed his salvo of cannon fire at the
instant that the Syrian dropped, ducking under it like a boxer avoiding
a heavy punch. David saw the blaze of shot pass high, rending the air
above the sand-coloured air-craft. Then the Brig was through, missing
with every shell, spiralling up and around in a great flashing circle,
raging internally at his failure.

At the instant that David recognized the MIG’s manoeuvre he reacted with
a rapidity that was purely reflexive. He closed down his power, and hit
his air brakes to punch a little to the speed off the Mirage.

The MIG turned steeply away to port, standing on one wing-tip that
seemed to be pegged into the bleak desert earth. David released his air
brakes, to give his wings lift for the next evolution, and then he
dropped his own wing-tip and went sweeping round to follow the Syrian’s
desperate twists with the Mirage hovering on the edge of the stall.

The Syrian was turning inside him, slower and more manoeuverable; David
could not bring his sights to bear, his right forefinger was curled
around the trigger but always the dark shape of the MIG was out of
centre in the illuminated circle of the sight as the aiming pipper
dipped and rose to the pull of gravity.

Ahead of the two circling aircraft rose a steep and forbidding line of
cliffs, . rent by deep defiles and gullies.

The 1VUG made no attempt to climb above them, but selected a narrow pass
through the hills and went into it like a ferret into its run, a
desperate attempt to shake off the pursuit.

The Mirage was not designed for this type of flying, and David felt the
urge to hit his afterburners and ride up over the jagged fangs of rock,
but to do so was to let the MIG escape, and his anger was still strong
upon him.

He followed the Syrian into the rock pass, and the walls of stone on
either hand seemed to brush his wingtips, the gully turned sharply to
starboard and David dropped his wing and followed its course. Back upon
itself the rock turned, and David swung the needle nose from maximum
rate turn starboard to port, and the stall warning device winked amber
and red at him as he abused the Mirage’s delicate flying capabilities.

Ahead of him the MIG clawed its way through the tunnel of rock. The
pilot looked back over his shoulder and he saw the IIirage following
him, creeping slowly up on him, and he turned back to his controls and
forced his machine lower still, hugging the rugged walls of stone.

The air in the hills was hot and turbulent, and the Mirage bucked and
fought against restraint wanting to be free and high, while ahead of it
the Syrian drifted tantalizingly off-centre in David’s gunsight.

Now the valley turned again and narrowed, before climbing and ending
abruptly against a solid dark purple wall of smooth rock.

The Syrian was trapped, he levelled out and climbed steeply upwards, his
flight path dictated by the rocks on each side and ahead.

David pushed his throttle to the gate and lit his afterburners, and the
mighty engine rumbled, thrusting him powerfully forward, up under the
Syrian’s stern.

The eternal micro-seconds of mortal combat dragged by, as the Syrian
floated lazily into the circle of the gunsight, expanding to fill it as
the Mirage’s nose seemed to touch the other’s tail plane and David felt
the buffeting of the Syrian’s slip-stream.

He pressed the cannon trigger and the Mirage lurched as she hurled her
deadly load into the other machine in a clattering double stream of
cannon fire and an eruption of incendiary shells.

The Syrian disintegrated, evaporating in a gush of silvery smoke,
rent through with bright white lightning, and the ejecting pilot’s body
was blown clear of the fuselage. For an instant it was outlined ahead
of David’s screen, cruciform in shape with arms and legs thrown wide,
the helmet still on the head, and the clothing ballooning in the rush of
air. Then it flickered past the Mirage’s canopy as David climbed
swiftly up out of the valley and into the open sky.

The soldiers were moving about amongst their vehicles, tending their
wounded and covering their dead, but they all looked up as David flew
back low along the road. He passed so close that he could see their
faces clearly. They were sunbrowned, some with beards or moustaches,
strong young faces, their mouths open as they cheered him, waving their
thanks.

My people, he thought. He was still high on the adrenalin that had
poured into his blood, and he felt a fierce elation. He grinned
wolfishly at the men below him and lifted one gloved hand in salute
before climbing up to where the Brig was circling, waiting for him.

The artificial lights of the bunker were dim after the brilliance of the
sun. An engineer helped David from the cockpit as his mates swarmed
over the Mirage to refuel and rearm it. This was one of the vital
skills of this tiny airforce, the ability to ready a warplane for combat
in a fraction of the time usually required for the task. Thus in
emergency the machine could return to the battle long before its
adversary.

Moving stiffly from the confines of the cockpit, David crossed to where
the Brig was already in conversation with the flight controller.

He stood with the gaudy helmet tucked under one arm as he stripped off
his gloves, but as David came up he turned to him and his wintry smile
exposed the gold tooth in its nest of fur.

Lightly he punched David’s arm Ken! Yes! said Major-General Joshua
Mordecai. You’ll do.

David was late to fetch Debra for dinner that evening, but she had
already learned the reason from her father.

They went to the Select behind David’s Tower, inside the Jaffa Gate of
the old city. Its unpretentious interior, decorated with patterns of
rope upon the walls, did not fully prepare David for the excellent meal
that the Arab proprietor served with the minimum of delay, mousakha
chicken, with nuts and spices on a bed of kouskous.

They ate almost in silence, Debra quickly recognizing and respecting
David’s mood. He was in the grip of postcombat tristesse, the adrenalin
hangover of stress and excitement, but slowly the good food in his belly
and the heavy Carmel wine relaxed him, until over the thimblesized cups
of Turkish coffee, black and powerfully reeking of cardamon seed, Debra
ask, What happened today, David? He sipped the coffee before replying.

I killed a man. She set down her cup and studied his face solemnly, and
he began to speak, telling her the detail of it, the chase and the kill,
until he ended lamely, I felt only satisfaction at the time. A sense of
achievement. I knew I had done what was right. ‘And now? she prompted
him.

Now I am sad, he shrugged. I am saddened that I had to do it. My
father, who has always been a soldier, says that only those who do the
actual fighting can truly know what it is to hate war. David nodded.
Yes, I understand that now. I love to fly, but I hate to destroy. They
were silent again, both of them considering their own personal vision of
war, both of them trying to find words to express it.

And yet it is necessary, Debra broke the silence. We must fight, there
is no other way. There is no other way, with the sea at our backs and
the Arabs at our throats. You speak like an Israeli, Debra challenged
him softly.

I made a decision today, or rather I was press-ganged by your father. He
has given me three weeks to brush up my Hebrew, and complete the
immigration formalities. ‘And then? Debra leaned towards him.

A comnission in the airforce. That was the only point I scored on, I
had just enough strength to hold out for the equivalent rank I would
have had back home.

He haggled like a secondhand clothes dealer, but I had him, and he knew
it. So he gave in at last. Acting major, with confirmation of rank at
the end of twelve months. ‘That’s wonderful, Davey, you’ll be one of
the youngest majors in the service.

Yeah, David agreed, and after I’ve paid my taxes I’ll have a salary a
little less than a bus-driver back home. ‘Never mind, Debra smiled for
the first time. I’ll help you with your Hebrew. I was going to talk to
you about that, he answered her smile. Come on, let’s get out of here.
I’m restless tonight, and I want to walk. They strolled through the
Christian quarter. The open stalls on each side were loaded with garish
and exotic clothes, and leather work and jewellery, and the smells of
spices and food and drains and stale humanity was almost solid in the
narrow lanes where the arches met overhead.

Debra drew him into one of the antique stores in the Via Doloroso, and
the proprietor came to them, almost wriggling with pleasure.

Ah, Miss Mordecai, and how is your dearly esteemed father? Then he
rushed into the back room to brew more coffee for them.

He’s one of the half-honest ones, and he lives in mortal fear of the
Brig. Debra selected an antique solid gold Star of David on a slim
golden neck chain, and though he had never before worn personal
jewellery, David bowed his head and let her place it about his neck. The
golden star lay against the coarse dark curls of his chest.

That’s the only decoration you’ll ever get, we don’t usually give
medals, she told him laughingly. But welcome to Israel anyway. It’s
beautiful, David was touched and embarrassed by the gift, thank you. And
he buttoned his shirt over it and then reached awkwardly to kiss her,
but she drew away and warned him.

Not in here. He’s a Moslem, and he’d be very offended. All right, said
David. Let’s go and find some place where we won’t hurt anybody’s
sensibilities. They went out through the Lion Gate in the great wall
and found a stone bench in a quiet place amongst the olive trees of the
Moslem cemetery. There was a half moon in the sky, silver and
mysterious, and the night was warm and waiting, seemingly as expectant
as a new bride.

You can’t stay on at the Intercontinental, Debra told him, and they both
looked up at its arched and lighted silhouette across the valley. Why
not? Well, first of all it’s too expensive. On your salary you just
can’t afford it. You don’t really expect me to live on my salary? David
protested, but Debra ignored him and went on.

And what is more important, you aren’t a tourist any more. So you can’t
live like one. ‘What do you suggest? ‘We could find you an apartment.
Who would do the housework, and the laundry, and the cooking? he
protested vehemently. I haven’t had much practice at that sort of
thing. I would, said Debra, and he froze for an instant and then turned
slowly on the seat to look at her. What did you say? I said, I would,
she repeated firmly, and then her voice quavered. That’s if you want me
to. He was silent for a long moment.

See here, Debs. Are you talking about living together?

I mean, playing house-house on a full-time basis, the whole bit? ‘That’s
precisely what I am talking about. But – He could think of nothing
further to say. The idea was novel, breath-taking, and alive with
enchanting possibilities. All David’s previous experiences with the
opposite sex had been profuse rather than deep, and he found himself on
the frontiers of unexplored territory. Well? Debra asked at last.

Do you want to get married? his voice cracked on the word, and he
cleared his throat.

I’m not sure that you are the finest marriage material in the market, my
darling David. You are as beautiful as the dawn, and fun to be with,
but you are also selfish, immature and spoiled stupid Thank you kindly
Well, there is no point in me mincing words now, David, not when I am
about to throw all caution aside and become your mistress. Wow! ‘he
exclaimed, with all the frost thawing from his voice. When you say it
straight out like that, it almost blows my mind. Me too, Debra
confessed. But one condition is that we wait until we have our own
special place, you may recall that I’m not so high on public beaches or
rocky islands. I’ll never forget, David agreed. Does this mean that
you don’t want to marry me? He found his mortal terror of matrimony
fading under this slur on his potential marriage worth.

I didn’t say that either, Debra demurred. But let’s make that decision
when both of us are ready for it. ‘Right on, doll, said David, with an
almost idiot grin of happiness spreading over his face.

And now, MajorMo an, youmaykissme, ‘shesaid.

. rg But do try and help me remember the conditions. A long while
later, they drew a little apart to breathe and a sudden thought made
David frown with worry.

My God, he exclaimed, what will the Brig say! He won’t be joining us,
she told him, and they both laughed together, excited by their own
wickedness. Seriously, what will you tell your parents? I’ll lie to
them graciously, and they’ll pretend to believe me. Let me worry about
that. Beseder, he agreed readily.

You are learning, she applauded. Let’s just try that kiss again, but
this in time in Hebrew, please. ‘I love you, he said in that language.

Good boy, she murmured. You are going to make a prize pupil. There was
one more doubt to be set at rest, and Debra voiced it at the iron gate
to the garden, when at last he took her home.

Do you know what the Bris, the Covenant, is? ‘Sure, he grinned, and
made scissors out of his first and second finger. It seemed in the
uncertain light that she blushed, and her voice was only just audible.
Well, what about you?

That, David told her severely, is a highly personal question, the answer
to which little girls should find out for themselves, and his expression
became lascivious, the hard way.

All knowledge is precious as gold, she said in a small voice, and be
sure that I will seek the answer diligently.

David discovered that the acquisition of an apartment in Jerusalem was a
task much like the quest for the Holy Grail. Although the high-rise
blocks were being thrown up with almost reckless energy, the demand for
accommodation far outweighed the supply The father of one of Debra’s
students was an estate agent and the poor man took their problem to his
heart; the waiting-list for the new blocks was endless, but an
occasional apartment in one of the older buildings fell vacant, and he
used all his influence for them.

At unexpected moments of the day, Debra would send out an urgent signal,
and David would fetch her in a taxi at the University and they would
hell across town, urging on the driver, to inspect the latest offering.

The last of these reminded David of a movie set from Lawrence of Arabia
complete with a dispirited palm tree out front, a spectacular display of
bright laundry hanging from every balcony and window, and all the sounds
and smells of an Arab camel market and a nursery-school playground at
recess rising from the courtyard.

There were two rooms and an alleged bathroom. The roses and wreathes of
the wallpaper had faded, except in patches where hangings had protected
their original pristine virulent colouring.

David pushed open the door of the bathroom and, without entering,
inspected the raggedy linoleum floorcovering and the stained and chipped
bath tub; then pushing the door further he discovered the toilet bowl
festering quietly in the gloom with its seat set at a rakish angle like
the halo of a drunken angel.

You and Joe could work on it, Debra suggested uncertainly. It’s not
really that bad. David shuddered, and closed the door as though it were
the lid of a coffin.

You’re joking, of course, he said, and Debra’s determinedly bright smile
cracked and her lip quivered. Oh, David, we are never going to find a
place! ‘And I can’t wait much longer. ‘Nor can I, admitted Debra.

Right. David rubbed his hands together briskly. It’s time to send in
the first team.

He was not sure what form the presence of Morgan Group would take in
Jerusalem, but he found it listed in the business directory under Morgan
Industrial Financeand the Managing Director was a large mournful-looking
gentleman named Aaron Cohen who had a suite of offices in the Leumi Bank
building opposite the main post office. He was overcome with emotion to
discover that one of the Morgan family had been ten days in Jerusalem
without his knowledge.

David told him what he wanted, and in twenty hours he had it signed and
paid for. Paul Morgan picked his executives with care, and Cohen was an
example of this attention. The price David must pay for this service
was that Paul Morgan would have a full report of David’s transaction,
present whereabouts and future plans on his desk the next morning, but
it was worth it.

Above the Hinnom canyon, facing Mount Zion with its impressive array of
spires, the Montefiore quarter was being rebuilt as an integrated whole
by some entrepreneur. All of it was clad in the lovely golden Jerusalem
stone, and the designs of the houses were traditional and ageless.
However, the interiors were lavishly modernized with tall cool rooms,
mosaic -tiled bathrooms, and ceilings arched like those of a crusader
church. Most of them had their own walled and private terraces. The
one that Aaron Cohen procured for David was the pick of those that
fronted Malik Street. The price was astronomical. That was the first
question that Debra asked, once she had recovered her voice. She stood
stunned upon the terrace beneath the single olive tree. The stone of
the terrace had been cut and polished until it resembled old ivory, and
she ran her fingers lightly over the carved front door. Her voice was
hushed and her expression bemused.

David! David! How much is this going to cost?

That’s not important. What is important is whether you like it. It’s
too beautiful. It’s too much, David. We can’t afford this. It’s paid
for already Paid for? She stared at him. How much, David? ‘If I said
half a million Israeli pounds or a million, what difference would it
make? It’s only money. She clapped her hands over her ears. No! she
cried. Don’t tell me! I’d feel so guilty I wouldn’t be able to live in
it. Oh, so! You are actually consenting to live in it. ‘Try me, she
said with emphasis. You just try me, lover? They stood in the central
room that opened on to the terrace, and although it was light and airy
enough for the savage heat of summer that was coming, it smelled now of
new paint and varnished woodwork.

What are we going to do about furniture? David asked.

Furniture? Debra repeated. I hadn’t thought that far ahead. For what
I have in mind, we’ll need at least one kingsize bed.

Sex-maniac, she said, and kissed him.

No modern furniture looked at home under the domed roof, or upon the
stone-flagged floors. So they began to furnish from the bazaars and
antique shops.

Debra solved the main problem with the discovery in a junk yard of an
enormous brass bedstead from which they scraped the accumulated dirt;
they polished it until it glowed, fitted it with a new inner-spring
mattress, and covered it with a cream-coloured lace bedspread from
Debra’s bottom drawer.

They purchased kelim and woven woollen rugs by the bale from the Arab
dealers in the old city, and scattered them thickly upon the stone
floors, with leather cushions to sit upon and a low olive-wood table,
inlaid with ebony and mother of pearl, to eat off. The rest of the
furniture would come when they could find it for sale, or, failing that,
have it custom-made by an Arab cabinet-maker that Debra knew of. Both
the bed and the table were enormously heavy, and they needed muscle to
move them, so they called for Joe. He and Hannah arrived in his tiny
Japanese compact, and after they had recovered from the impact of the
Morgan palace they fell to work enthusiastically with David supervising.

Joe grunted and heaved, while Hannah disappeared with Debra into the
modern American kitchen to exclaim with envy and admiration over the
washing-machine, dryer, dish-washer and all the other appliances that
went with the house. She helped to cook the first meal.

David had laid in a case of Goldstar beer, and after their labours they
all gathered about the olive-wood table to warm the house and wet the
roof.

David had expected Joe to be a little reserved, after all it was his
baby sister who was being set up in a fancy house; but Joe was as
natural as ever and enjoyed the beer and the company so well that Hannah
had to intervene at last. It’s late, she said firmly.

Late? asked Joe. It’s only nine o’clock. ‘On a night like tonight,
that’s late. ‘What do you mean? Joe looked puzzled. Joseph Mordecai,
diplomat extraordinary, Hannah said with heavy sarcasm, and suddenly
Joe’s expression changed as he glanced from Debra to David guiltily,
swallowed his beer in a single gulp, and hoisted Hannah to her feet by
one arm.

Come on, he said. What are we sitting here for? David left the terrace
lights burning, and they shone through the slats of the shuttered
windows, so the room was softly lit, and the sounds from the outside
world were so muted by distance and stone walls as to be a mere murmur
that drifted from afar, and seemed rather to accentuate their aloneness
than to spoil it.

The brass of the bedstead gleamed softly in the gloom, and the ivory
lacework of the bedspread smelled of lavender and moth balls.

He lay upon the bed and watched her undress slowly, conscious of his
eyes upon her and shy now as she had never been before.

Her body was slim and with a flowing line of waist and leg, young and
tender-looking, with a child’s awkward grace, and yet with a womanly
thrust of hip and bosom.

She came to sit upon the’edge of the bed, and he marvelled once again at
the lustre and plabticity of her skin, at the subtlety of colouring
where the sun had darkened it from soft cream to burned honey, and at
the contrast of her dusky rose-tipped breasts and the dark thick bush of
curls at the base of her softly curving stomach.

She leaned over him, still shyly, and touched his cheek with one finger,
running down his throat on to his chest where the gold star lay upon the
hard muscle. You are beautiful, she whispered, and she saw it was true.
For he was tall and straight with muscled shoulders and lean flanks and
belly. The planes of his face were pure and perfect, perhaps its only
fault lying in its very perfection. It was almost unreal, as though she
were lying with some angel or god from out of mythology.

She twisted her legs up on to the bed, stretching out beside him upon
the lace cover, and they lay on their sides facing each other, not
touching but so close that she could feel the warmth of his belly upon
her own like a soft desert wind, and his breath stirred the dark soft
hair upon her cheek.

She sighed then, with happiness and contentment, like a traveller
reaching the end of a long lonely journey.

I love you, she said for the first time, and reaching out she took his
head, her fingers twining in the thick springing hair at the nape of his
neck, and drew it tenderly to her breast.

Long afterwards the chill of night oozed into the room, and they came
half-awake and crept together beneath the covers.

As they began drifting back into sleep she murmured sleepily, I’m so
glad that surgery won’t be necessary, after all, and he chuckled softly.
Wasn’t it better finding out for yourself? Much better, lover. Much,
much better, she admitted.

Debra spent one entire evening explaining to David that a
high-performance sports car was not a necessity for travel between his
base and the house on Malik Street, for she knew her man’s tastes by
then. She pointed out that this was a country of young pioneers, and
that extravagance and ostentation were out of place. David agreed
vehemently, secure in the knowledge that Aaron Cohen and his minions
were scouring the country for him.

Debra suggested a Japanese compact similar to joe’s, and David told her
that he would certainly give that his serious consideration.

Aaron Cohen’s henchman tracked down a Mercedes Benz 3 5 0 SL belonging
to the German Charg6 d’Affaires inTel Aviv. This gentleman was
returning to Berlin and wished to dispose of his auto, for a suitable
consideration in negotiable cash. A single phone call was sufficient to
arrange payment through the Credit Suisse in Zurich.

It was golden bronze in colour, with a little under twenty thousand
kilometres on the clock, and it had clearly been maintained with the
loving care of an enthusiast.

Debra, returning on her motor scooter from the University, found this
glorious machine parked at the top end of Malik Street, where a heavy
chain denied access by all motor-driven vehicles to the village.

She took one look at it, and knew beyond all reasonable doubt who it
belonged to She was really quite angry when she stormed on to the
terrace, but she pretended to be angrier than that. David Morgan, you
really are absolutely impossible. ‘You catch on fast, David agreed
amiably; he was sunbathing on the terrace. “How much did you pay for
it?”

“Ask me another question, doll. That one is becoming monotonous.” “You
are really,” Debra paused and searched frantically for a word of
sufficient force. She found it and delivered it with relish.
“Decadent!”

“You don’t know the meaning of the word,” David told her gently as he
rose from the cushions in the sun and drifted lazily in her direction.
Though she had been his lover for only a mere three days she recognized
the look in his eye and she began backing away.

I will teach you the meaning, he said. I am about to give you a
practical demonstration of decadence in such a sensitive spot that you
are likely to remember it for a long time. She ducked behind the olive
tree as he lunged, and her books spilled across the terrace. Leave me!
Hands off, you beast.

He feinted right, and caught her as she fell for it. He picked her up
easily across his chest.

David Morgan, I warn you, I shall scream if you don’t put me down this
instant. Let’s hear it. Go ahead! and she did, but in a ladylike
fashion so as not to alarm the neighbours.

Joe, on the other hand, was delighted with the 350.

The four of them took it on a trial run down the twisting road through
the Wilderness of Judaea to the shores of the Dead Sea. The road
challenged the car’s suspension and David’s driving skill, and they
whooped with excitement through the bends. Even Debra was able to
overcome her initial disapproval, and finally admitted it was beautiful,
but still decadent.

They swam in the cool green waters of the oasis of Em Gedi where they
formed a deep rock pool before overflowing and running down into the
thick saline water of the sea itself.

Hannah had brought her camera and she photographed Debra and David
sitting together on the rocks beside the pool.

They were in their bathing costumes, Debra’s brief bikini showing off
her fine young body as she half-turned to laugh into David’s face. He
smiled back at her, his face in profile and the dark sweep of his hair
falling on to his forehead. The desert light picked out the pure
features and the boldly stated facets of his beauty.

Hannah had a print of the photograph made for each of them, and later
those squares of glossy photographic paper were all they had left of it,
all that remained of the joy and the laughter of those days, like a
lovely flower taken from the growing tree of life and pressed and dried,
flattened and desiccated, deprived of its colour and perfume.

But the future threw no shadow over their happiness on that bright day,
and with Joe driving this time they ran back for Jerusalem. Debra
insisted that they stop for a group of tank corp boys hitch-hiking home
on leave, and although David protested it was impossible, they squeezed
three of them into the small cab. It was Debra’s sop to her feelings of
guilt, and she sat in the back seat with her arms around David’s neck
and they all sang the song that was that year a favourite with the young
people of Israel, Let there be peace.

In the last few days while David waited to enter the airforce, he loafed
shamelessly, frittering the time away in small chores like having his
uniforms tailored. He resisted Debra’s suggestion that if regulation
issue were good enough for her father, a general officer, then they
might be good enough for David. Aaron Cohen supplied him with an
introduction to his own tailor. Aaron was beginning to develop a fine
respect for David’s style.

Debra had arranged membership for David at the University Athletic Club,
and he worked out in the first class modern gym every day, and finished
with twenty lengths of the Olympic-size swimming pool to keep himself in
shape.

However, at other times, David merely lay sunbathing on the terrace, or
fiddled with electrical plugs or other small tasks Debra had asked him
to see to about the house.

As he moved through the cool and pleasant rooms, he would find an item
belonging to Debra, a book or a brooch perhaps, and he would pick it up
and fondle it briefly. Once a robe of hers thrown carelessly across the
foot of the bed and redolent of her particular perfume gave him a
physical pang as it reminded him sharply of her, and he held the
silkiness to his face and breathed the scent of her, and grudged the
hours until her return.

However, it was amongst her books that he discovered more about her than
years of study would have revealed.

She had crates of these piled in the unfurnished second bedroom which
they were using as a temporary storeroom until they could find shelves
and cupboards. One afternoon David began digging around in the crates.
It was a literary mixed grill, Gibbon and Vidal, Shakespeare and Mailer,
So1zhenitsyn and Mary Stewart, amongst other strange bedfellows. There
was fiction and biography, history and poetry, Hebrew and English,
softbacks and leather-bound editions, and a thin greenjacketed volume
which he almost discarded before the author’s name caught his attention.
It was by D. Mordecai and with a feeling of discovery he turned to the
flyleaf. This year, in Jerusalem, a collection of poems, by Debra
Mordecai.

He carried the book through to the bedroom, remembering to kick off his
shoes before lying on the lace cover she was very strict about that, and
he turned to the first page.

There were five poems. The first was the title piece, the
two-thousand-year promise of Jewry Next year in Jerusalem had become
reality. It was a patriotic tribute to her land and even David, whose
taste in writing ran to Maclean and Robbins, recognized that it had a
superior quality. There were lines of startling beauty, evocative
phrasing and penetrative glimpses. It was good, really good, and David
felt a strange proprietary pride, and a sense of awe. He had not
guessed at these depths within her, these hidden areas of the mind.

When he came to the last poem, he found it was the shortest of the five,
and it was a love poem, or rather it was a poem to someone dearly loved
who was gone and suddenly David was aware of the difference between that
which was good and that which was magic.

He found himself shivering to the music of her words, felt the hair on
his forearms standing erect with the haunting beauty of it, and then at
last he felt himself choking on the sadness of it, the devastation of
total loss, and the words swam is his eyes flooded, and he had to blink
rapidly as the last terrible cry of the poem pierced him to the heart.

He lowered the book on to his chest, remembering what Joe had told him
about the soldier who had died in the desert. A movement attracted his
attention and he made a guilty effort to hide the book as he sat up. it
was such a private thing, this poetry, that he felt like a thief.

Debra stood in the doorway of the bedroom watching him, leaning against
the jamb with her hands clasped in front of her, studying him quietly.

He sat up on the bed and weighed the book in his hands. It’s lovely, he
said at last, his voice was gruff with the emotions that her words had
evoked.

I’m glad you like it, she said, and he realized that she was shy.

Why did you not show it to me before? ‘I was afraid you might not like
it. You must have loved him very much? he asked softly.

Yes, I did, I she said, but now I love you.

Then, finally, his posting came through and the Brig’s hand was evident
in it all, though Joe admitted that he had used his own family
connections to influence the orders.

He was ordered to report to Mirage squadron Lancewhich was a crack
interceptor outfit based at the same hidden airfield from which he had
first flown. Joe Morde. was on the same squadron, and when he called
at Malik Street to tell David the news, he showed no resentment that
David would out-rank him, but instead he was confident that they would
be able to fly together as a regulor team. He spent the evening
briefing David on squadron personnel, from’Le Dauphin’the commanding
officer, a French immigrant, down to the lowest mechanic. In the weeks
ahead David would find Joe’s advice and help invaluable, as he settled
into his niche amongst this tightly-knit team of fliers.

The following day the tailor. delivered his uniforms, and he wore one
to surprise Debra when she backed in through the kitchen door, laden
with books and groceries, using her bottom as a door buffer, her hair
down behind and her dark glasses pushed up on top of her head.

She dropped her load by the sink, and circled him with her hands on her
hips, her head cocked at a critical angle.

I should like you to wear that, and come to pick me up at the University
tomorrow afternoon, please, she said at last.

(why? J Because there are a few little bitches that lurk around the
Lauterman Building. Some of them are my students and some are
colleagues. I want them to get a good look at you, and eat their tiny
hearts out.

He laughed. So you aren’t ashamed of me, ” Morgan, you are too
beautiful for one person, you should have been born twins It was their
last day together, so he indulged her whimsy and wore his uniform to
fetch her at the English Literature Department, and he was surprised to
find how the dress affected the strangers he passed on the street the
girls smiled at him, the old ladies called shalom, even the guard at the
University gates waved him through with a grin and a joke. To them all
he was a guardian angel, one of those that had swept death from the very
sky above them.

Debra hurried to meet and kiss him, and then walked beside him, her hand
tucked proudly and possessively into the crook of his elbow. She took
him to eat an early dinner at the staff dining-room in the rounded glass
Belgium building.

While they ate, a casual question of his revealed the subterfuge she had
used to protect her reputation.

I’ll probably not get off the base for the first few weeks but I’ll
write to you at Malik Street – No, she said quickly, I won’t be staying
there. It would be too lonely without you in that huge bed. ‘Where
then? At your parents home? That would be a dead give-away. Every
time you arrive back in town, I leave home! No, they think I am staying
at the hostel here at the University. I told them I wanted to be closer
to the department You’ve got a room here? He stared at her.

Of course, Davey. I have to be a little discreet. I couldn’t tell my
relatives, friends and employers to contact me care of Major David
Morgan. This may be the twentieth century, and modern Israel, but I am
still a Jewess, with a tradition of chastity and modesty behind me. For
the first time David began to appreciate the magnitude of Debra’s
decision to come to him. He had taken it lightly compared to her. I’m
going to miss you, he said. And I you, she replied. Let’s go home.
Yes, she agreed, laying aside her knife and fork. . I can eat any old
time. However, as they left Belgium House she exclaimed with
exasperation: Damn, I have to have these books back by today. Can we go
by the library? I’m sorry, Davey it won’t take a minute. So they
climbed again to the main terrace and passed the brightly-lit
plate-glass windows of the Students Union Restaurant, and went on
towards the solid square tower of the library whose windows were lighted
already against the swiftly falling darkness. They had climbed the
library steps and reached the glass doors when a party of students came
pouring out, and they were forced to stand aside.

They were -facing back the way they had come, across the plaza with its
terraces and red-bud trees, towards the restaurant.

Suddenly the dusk of evening was lit by the searing white furnace glare
of an explosion, and the glass windows of the restaurant were blown out
in a glittering cloud of flying glass. It was as though a storm surf
had burst upon a rock cliff, flinging out its shining droplets of spray,
but this was a lethal spray that scythed down two girl students who were
passing the windows at that moment.

Immediately after the flash of the explosion the blast swept across the
terrace, a draught of violence that shook the red-bud trees and sent
David and Debra reeling against the pillars of the library veranda. The
air was driven in upon them so that their eardrums ached with the blow,
and the breath was sucked from their lungs.

David caught her to him and held her for the moments of dreadful silence
that followed the blast. As they stared so, a soft white fog of
phosphorus smoke billowed from the gutted windows of the restaurant and
began to roll and drift across the terrace.

Then the sounds reached them through their ringing eardrums, the small
tinkle and crunch of glass, the patter and crack of falling plaster and
shattered furniture. A woman began to scream, and it broke the spell of
horror.

There were shouts and running feet. One of the students near them began
in a high hysterical voice, A bomb. They’ve bombed the cafe. One of
the girls who had fallen under the storm of glass fragments staggered up
and began running in small aimless circles, screaming in a thin
passionless tone.

She was white with plaster dust through which the blood poured in dark
rivulets, drenching her skirt.

In David’s arms Debra began to tremble. The swine, she whispered, oh,
the filthy murdering swine. From the smoking destruction of the
shattered building another figure shambled with slow deliberation. The
blast had torn his clothing from his body, and it hung from him in
tatters, making him a strange scarecrow figure. He reached the terrace
and sat down slow, removed from his face the spectacles that were
miraculously still in place and began fumbling to clean them on the rags
of his shirt. Blood dripped from his chin.

Come on, grated David, we must help. And they ran down the steps
together.

The explosion had brought down part of the roof, trapping and crushing
twenty-three of the students who had come here to eat and talk over the
evening meal.

Others had been hurled about the large low hall, like the toys of a
child in tantrum, and their blood turned the interior into a reeking
charnel house. Some of them were crawling, creeping, or moving
spasmodically amongst the tumbled furniture, broken crockery and spilled
food. Some lay contorted as though in silent laughter at death’s crude
joke.

Afterwards they would learn that two young female members of El Fatah
had enrolled in the university under false papers, and they had daily
smuggled small quantities of explosive on to the campus until they had
accumulated sufficient for this outrage. A suitcase with a timing
device had been left under a table and the two terrorists had walked out
and got clean away. A week later they were on Damascus television,
gloating over their success.

Now, however, there was no reason nor explanation for this sudden burst
of violence. It was as undirected, and yet as dreadfully effective as
some natural cataclysm. Chilling in its insensate enormity, so that
they, the living, worked in a kind of terrified frenzy, to save the
injured and to carry from the shambles the broken bodies of the dead.

They laid them upon the lawns beneath the red-bud trees and covered them
with sheets brought hurriedly from the nearest hostel. The long white
bundles in a neat row upon the green grass was a memory David knew he
would have for ever.

The ambulances came, with their sirens pulsing and rooflights flashing,
to carry away death’s harvest and the police cordoned off the site of
the blast before David and Debra left and walked slowly down to where
the Mercedes was parked in the lot. Both of them were filthy with dust
and blood, and wearied with the sights and sounds of pain and
mutilation. They drove in silence to Malik Street and showered off the
smell and the dirt.

Debra soaked Davies uniform in cold water to remove the blood. Then she
made coffee for them and they drank it, sitting side by side in the
brass bed.

So much that was good and strong died there tonight, Debra said.

Death is not the worst of it. Death is natural, it’s the logical
conclusion to all things. it was the torn and broken flesh that still
lived which appalled me. Death has a sort of dignity, but the maimed
are obscene. She looked at him with almost fear in her eyes. That’s
cruel, David. In Africa there is a beautiful and fierce animal called
the sable antelope. They run together in herds of up to a hundred, but
when one of them is hurt, wounded by a hunter or mauled by a lion, the
lead bulls turn upon him and drive him from the herd. I remember my
father telling me about that, he would say that if you want to be a
winner then you must avoid the company of the losers for their despair
is contagious. God, David, that’s a terribly hard way to look at life.
‘Perhaps, David agreed, but then, you see, life is hard. When they made
love, there was for the first time a quality of desperation in it, for
it was the eve of parting and they had been reminded of their mortality.

In the morning David went to join his squadron and Debra locked the
house on Malik Street.

Each day for seventeen days David flew two, and sometimes three,
sorties. In the evenings, if they were not flying night interceptions,
there were lectures and training films, and after that not much desire
for anything but a quick meal and then sleep.

The Colonel, le Dauphin, had flown one sortie with David. He was a
small man with a relaxed manner and quick, shrewd eyes. He had made his
judgement quickly.

After that first day, David and Joe flew together, and David moved his
gear into the locker across from Joe in the underground quarters that
the crews on standby used.

In those seventeen days the last links in an iron friendship were
forged. David’s flare and dash balanced perfectly with Joe’s rock-solid
dependability.

David would always be the star while Joe seemed destined to be the
accompanist, the straight guy who was a perfect foil, the wingman
without personal ambition for glory whose talent was to put his number
one into the position for the strike.

Quickly they developed into a truly formidable team, so perfectly in
accord that communication in the air was almost extra-sensory, similar
to the instantaneous reaction of the bird flock or the shoal of fish.

Joe sitting out there behind him was for David like a million dollars in
insurance. His tail was secure and he could concentrate on the special
task that his superior eyesight and lightning reactions were so suited
to. David was the gunfighter, in a service where the gunfighter was
supreme.

The I. A. F. had been the first to appreciate the shortcomings of
the-air-to-air missile, and relied heavily on the classic type of air
combat. A missile could be induced to run stupid. It was possible to
make its computer think in a set pattern and then sucker it with a break
in the pattern. For every three hundred missile launches in air-to-air
combat, a single strike could be expected.

However, if you had a gunfighter coming up into your six o’clock
position with his finger on the trigger of twin 30-mm. cannons, capable
of pouring twelve thousand shells a minute into you, then your chances
were considerably lighter than three hundred to one.

Joe also had his own special talent. The forward scanning radar of the
Mirage was a complicated and sophisticated body of electronics, that
required firstly a high degree of manual dexterity. The mechanism was
operated entirely by the left hand, and the fingers of that hand had to
move like those of a concert pianist. However, more important was the
feel for the instrument, a lover’s touch to draw the optimum results
from it. Joe had the feel, David did not.

They flew training interceptions, day and night, against high-flying and
low-altitude practice targets.

They flew low-level training strikes, and at other times they went out
high over the Mediterranean and engaged each other in plane-to-plane
dogfights.

However, Desert Flower steered them tactfully away from any actual or
potential combat situation. They were watching David.

At the end of the period, David’s service dossier passed over
Major-General Mordecai’s desk. Personnel was the Brig’s special
responsibility and although each officer’s dossier was reviewed by him
regularly, he had asked particularly to see David’s.

The dossier was still slim, compared to the bulky tomes of some of the
old salts and the Brig flicked quickly over his own initial
recommendation and the documents of David’s acting commission. Then he
stopped to read the later reports and results. He grinned wolfishly as
he saw the gunnery report. He could pick them out of a crowd, he
thought with satisfaction.

At last he came to le Dauphin’s personal appraisal: Morgan is a pilot of
exceptional ability. Recommended that acting rank be confirmed and that
he be placed on fully operational basis forthwith. The Brig picked up
the red pen that was his own special prerogative and scrawled J agree at
the foot of the report.

That took care of Morgan, the pilot. He could now consider Morgan, the
man. His expression became bleak and severe. Debra’s sudden desire to
leave home almost immediately David arrived in Jerusalem had been too
much of a coincidence for a man who was trained to search for underlying
motives and meanings.

It had taken him two days and a few phone calls to learn that Debra was
merely using the hostel room at the University as an accommodation
address, and that her real domestic arrangements were more comfortable.

The Brig did not approve, very definitely not. Yet he knew that it was
beyond his jurisdiction. He learned that his daughter had inherited his
own iron will. Confrontations between them were cataclysmic events,
that shook the family to its foundations and seldom ended in
satisfactory results.

Although he spent much of his time with young people, still he found the
new values hard to live with – let alone accept. He remembered the
physical agony of his long and chaste engagement to Ruth with pride,
like a veteran reviewing an old campaign.

Well, at the least she has the sense not to flout it, not to bring shame
on us all. She has spared her mother that. The Brig closed the dossier
firmly.

Le Dauphin called David into his office and told him of his change in
status. He would go on regular green standby, which meant four nights a
week on base.

David would not have to undergo his paratrooper training in unarmed
combat and weapons. A downed pilot in Arab territory had a much better
chance of survival if he was proficient in this type of fighting.

David went straight from le Dauphin’s office to the telephone in the
crew-room. He caught Debra before she left the Lauterman Building for
lunch.

Warm the bed, wench, he told her, I’ll be home tomorrow night.

He and Joe drove up to Jerusalem in the Mercedes, and he wasn’t
listening to Joe’s low rumbling voice until a thumb like an oar prodded
his ribs.

Sorry, Joe, I was thinking.

Well, stop it. Your thoughts are misting up the windows. What did you
say?

J was talking about the wedding, Hannah and me. David realized it was
only a month away now, and he expected the excitement amongst the women
was heavy as static on a summer’s day before the rain. Debra’s letters
had been filled with news of the arrangements.

I would be happy if you will stand up with me, and be my witness. You
fly as wingman for a change, and I’ll take on the target.

David realized that he was being honoured by the request and he accepted
with proper solemnity. Secretly he was amused. Like most young
Israelis David had spoken to, both Debra and Joe claimed not to be
religious. He had learned that this was a pose. All of them were very
conscious of their religious heritage, and well versed in the history
and practice of Judaism.

They followed all the laws of living that were not oppressive, and which
accorded with a modern and busy existence.

To them religious meant dressing in the black robes and wide-brimmed
hats of the ultra orthodox Mea Shea rim, or in following a routine for
daily living that was crippling in its restrictions.

The wedding would be a traditional affair, complete with all the
ceremony and the rich symbolism, complicated only by the security
precautions which would have to be most rigorously enforced.

The ceremony was to take place in the Brig’s garden, for Hannah was an
orphan. Also the secluded garden and fortress-like walls about it, were
easier to protect.

Amongst the guests would be many prominent figures in the government and
the military.

At the last count we have five generals and eighteen colonels on the
list, Joe told him, to which add most of the cabinet, even Golda has
promised to try and be there. So you see, it’s going to make a nice
juicy target for our friends in Black September. Joe scowled and lit
two cigarettes, passing one to David. If it wasn’t for Hannah, you know
how women feel about weddings, I would just as soon go down to a
registry office. You are fooling nobody, David grinned. You are
looking forward to it. Sure, Joe’s scowl cleared. It’s going to be
good to have our own place, like you and Debs. I wish Hannah had been
sensible. A year of pretending, he shook his head. Thank God it’s
nearly over.

He dropped Joe in the lane outside the Brig’s house in Em Karem.

I won’t bother to invite you in, Joe said. I guess you’ve got plans.
Good guess, David smiled. Will we see you and Hannah? Come to dinner
tomorrow night.

Joe shook his head again. I’m taking Hannah down to Ashkelon to visit
her parents graves. It’s traditional before a wedding. Perhaps we’ll
see you Saturday Right then, I’ll try and make it. Debra will want to
see you. aloin, Joe. Shalom, shalom, said Joe and David pulled away,
flicking the gears in a racing change as he put the Mercedes at the
hill. Suddenly he was in a hurry.

The terrace door stood open in welcome, and she was waiting for him.
Debra was vibrant and tense with expectation, sitting in one of the new
leather chairs with her legs curled under her. Her hair was freshly
washed and shimmering like a starling’s wing. She was dressed in a
billowing kaftan of light silk and subtle honey colours that picked out
the gold in her eyes.

She came out of the chair in a swirl of silk, and ran barefooted across
the rugs to meet him.

David! David! she cried and he caught her up and spun on his heels,
laughing with her.

Afterwards she led him proudly about the rooms and showed him the
changes and additions that had turned it into a real home during his
absence. David had convinced her that cost was not fundamental and they
had chosen the designs for the furniture together. These had been made
and delivered by Debra’s tame Arab and she had arranged them as they had
planned it. It was all in soft leather and dark wood, lustrous copper
and brass, set off by the bright rugs. However, there was one article
he had never seen before, a large oil painting on canvas, and Debra had
hung it unframed on the freshly painted white wall facing the terrace.
It was the only decoration upon the wall, and any other would have been
insignificant beside it.

It was a harsh dominant landscape, a desert scene which captured the
soul of the wilderness; the colours; were hot and fierce and seemed to
pour through the room like the rays of the desert sun itself.

Debra held his hand and watched David’s face anxiously for a reaction as
he studied it. Wow! He said at last. You like it? She was relieved.
It’s terrific. Where did you get it? ‘A gift from the artist.

She’s an old friend. ‘She? That’s right. We are driving up to
Tiberias tomorrow to have lunch with her. I’ve told her all about you,
and she wants to meet you. ‘What’s she like? She’s one of our leading
artists, and her name is Ella`Kadesh, but apart from that I can’t begin
to describe her.

All I can do is promise you an entertaining day. Debra had prepared a
special dish of lamb and olives and they ate it on the terrace under the
olive tree. Again the talk turned to Joe’s wedding, and in the midst of
it David asked abruptly, What made you decide to come with me, without
marrying? She replied after a moment. I I discovered that I loved you,
and I knew that you were too impatient to play the waiting game. I knew
that if I didn’t, I might lose you again. Until recently, I didn’t
realize what a big decision it was, he mused, and she sipped her wine
without replying. Let’s get married, Debs, he broke the silence. Yes,
she nodded.

That’s a splendid idea. ‘Soon, he said. Soon as possible. Not before
Hannah. I don’t want to steal her day from her.

Right, David agreed, but immediately afterwards. Morgan, you have got
yourself a date, she told him.

it was a three-hour drive to Tiberias so they rose as soon as the sun
came through the shutters and tigerstriped the wall above the brass bed.
To save time, they shared one bath, sitting facing each other,
waist-deep in suds.

Ella is the rudest person you’ll ever meet, Debra warned him. She
looked like a little girl this morning with her hair piled on top of her
head and secured with a pink ribbon. The greater the impression you
make on her, the ruder she will be, and you are expected to retaliate in
kind. So please, David, don’t lose your temper.

David scooped up a dab of suds with a finger and smeared it on the tip
of her nose.

I promise, he said.

They drove down to Jericho, and then turned north along the valley of
the Jordan, following the high barbedwire fence of the border with its
warning notice boards for the minefields, and the regular motorized
patrols grinding deliberately along the winding road.

It was hot in the valley and they drove with the windows open and Debra
pulled her skirt high around her waist to cool her long brown legs.

Better not do that if you want to be in time for lunch, David warned
her, and she smoothed them down hurriedly.

Nothing is safe with you around, she protested.

They came at last out of the barren land into the fertile basin of the
Kibbutzim below Galilee, and again the smell of orange blossom was so
strong on the warm air that it was difficult to breathe.

At last they saw the waters of the lake flashing amongst the date palms
and Debra touched his arm.

Slow down, Davey. Ella’s place is a few miles this side of Tiberias.
That’s the turnoff, up ahead.

It was a track that led down to the lake shore and it ended against a
wall of ancient stone blocks. Five other cars were parked there
already.

Ella’s having one of her lunch parties, Debra remarked and led him to a
gate in the wall. Beyond was a small ruined castle. The tumbled walls
formed weird shapes and the stone was black with age; over them grew
flamboyant creepers of bougainvillaea and the tall palms clattered their
fronds in the light breeze that came off the lake. Other exotic
flowering shrubs grew upon the green lawns.

Part of the ruins had been restored and renovated into a picturesque and
unusual lakeside home, with a wide patio and a stone jetty against which
a motor-boat was moored. Across the green waters of the lake rose the
dark smooth whale-back of the Golan Heights.

It was a crusader fortress, Debra explained. One of the guard posts for
traffic across the lake and part of the series leading up to the great
castle on the Horns of Hittern that the Moslems destroyed when they
drove the crusaders out of the Holy Land. Ella’s grandfather purchased
it during the Allenby administration, but it was a ruin until she did it
up after the war of independence.

The care with which the alterations had been made so as not to spoil the
romantic beauty of the site was a tribute to Ella Kadesh’s artistic
vision, which was completely at odds with the woman herself.

She was enormous; not simply fat or tall, but big. Her hands and her
feet were huge, her fingers clustered with rings and semi-precious
stones and her toenails through the open sandals were painted a glaring
crimson, as if to flaunt their size. She stood as tall as David but the
tent-like dress that billowed about her was covered with great explosive
designs that enhanced her bulk until she seemed to make up two of him.
She wore a wig of tiered curls, flaming red in colour and dangling gold
earrings.

It seemed she must have applied her eye make-up with a spade, and her
rouge with a spray gun. She removed the thin black cheroot from her
mouth and kissed Debra before she turned to study David. Her voice was
gravelly, hoarse with cheroot smoke and brandy.

I had not expected you to be so beautiful she said, and Debra quailed at
the expression in David’s eyes. I do not like beauty. It is so often
deceptive, or inconsequential. It usually hides something deadly, like
the glittering beauty of the cobra, or like the pretty wrapper of a
candy bar, it contains cloying sweetness and a soft centre. She shook
the stiffly lacquered curls of her wig, and fixed David with her shrewd
little eyes. No, I prefer ugliness to beauty.

David smiled at her with all his charms upon display. Yes, he agreed,
having met you, and seen some of your work, I can understand that.

She let out a cackle of raucous laughter, and clapped the cheroot back
in her mouth. Well now, at the very least we are not dealing with a
chocolate soldier. She placed a huge masculine arm about David’s
shoulders and led him to meet the company.

They were a mixed dozen, all intellectuals, artists, writers, teachers,
journalists, and David was content to sit beside Debra in the mild
sunshine and enjoy the beer and the amusing conversation. However, Ella
would not let him relax for long and when they sat down to the
gargantuan alfresco meal of cold fish and poultry, she attacked him
again.

Your martial airs and affectations, your pomp and finery. A plague on
it I say, a pox on your patriotism, and courage, on your fearlessness
and your orders of chivalry. It is all sham and pretence, an excuse for
you to stink up the earth with piles of carrion.

I wonder if you will feel the same when a platoon of Syrian infantry
break in here to rape you, David challenged her.

My boy, I find it so difficult to get laid these days that I should pray
for such a heaven-sent opportunity. She let out a mighty hoot of
laughter and her wig slipped forward at an abandoned angle. Nothing was
safe from her, and she pushed the wig back into place and streamed
straight into the attack again.

Your male bombast, your selfish arrogance. To you this woman- and she
indicated Debra with a turkey leg, to you she is merely a receptacle for
your seething careless sperm. It matters not to you that she is a
promise for the future, that within her are the seeds of a great writing
talent. No, to you she is a rubbing block, a convenient means to a
Debra interrupted her. That definitely is enough, I will not allow a
public debate on my bedroom, and Ella turned towards her with the battle
lust lighting her eyes.

Your gift is not yours to use as you wish. You hold it in trust for all
mankind, and you have a duty to them.

That duty is to exercise your gift, to allow it to grow and blossom and
give forth fruit. She used the turkey leg like a judge’s gavel, banging
the edge of her plate with it, to silence Debra’s protests.

Have you written a word since you took young Mars to your heart? What
of the novel we discussed on this very terrace a year ago? Have your
animal passions swamped all else? Has the screeching of your ovaries
Stop it, Ella! Debra was angry now, her cheeks flushed and her brown
eyes snapping.

Yes! Yes! Ella tossed the bone aside and sucked her fingers noisily.
Ashamed you should be, angry with yourself – Damn you, Debra flared at
her.

Damn me if you will, but you are damned yourself if you do not write!
Write, woman, write! She sat back and the wicker chair protested at the
movement of her vast body. All right, now we will all go for a swim.

David had not seen me in a bikini yet, much he will care for that skinny
little wench when he does! They drove back to Jerusalem in the night,
flushed with the sun, and although the Mercedes seats had not been
designed for lovers, Debra managed to sit close up against him.

She’s right, you know, David broke a long contented silence. You must
write, Debs. ‘Oh, I will, she answered lightly.

When? he persisted, and to distract him she snuggled a little closer.

One of these days, she whispered as she made her dark head comfortable
on his shoulder. One of these days, he mimicked her. Don’t bug me,
Morgan. She was already half-asleep.

Stop being evasive. He stroked her hair with his free hand. And don’t
go to sleep while I’m talking to you.

David, my darling, we have a lifetime, and more, she murmured. You have
made me immortal. You and I shall live for a thousand years, and there
will be time for everything. Perhaps the dark gods heard her boast, and
they chuckled sardonically and nudged each other.

On Saturday Joe and Hannah came to the house on Malik Street, and after
lunch they decided on a tourist excursion for David and the four of them
climbed Mount Zion across the valley. They entered the labyrinth of
corridors that led to David’s tomb, covered with splendid embroidered
cloth and silver crowns and Torah covers. From there it was a few steps
to the room of Christ’s last supper in the same building, so closely
interwoven were the traditions of Judaism and Christianity in this
citadel.

Afterwards they entered the old city through the Zion gate and followed
the wall around to the centre of Judaism, the tall cliff of massive
stone blocks, bevelled in the fashion of Herodian times, which was all
that remained of the fabulous second temple of Herod, destroyed two
thousand years before by the Romans.

They were searched at the gate and then joined the stream of worshippers
flocking down towards the wall.

At the barrier they stood for a long time in silence.

David felt again the stirring of a deep race memory, a hollow feeling of
the soul which longed to be filled.

The men prayed facing the wall, many of them in the long black coats of
the Orthodox Jew with the ringlets dangling against their cheeks as they
rocked and swayed in religious ecstasy. Within the enclosure of the
right hand side, the women seemed more reserved in their devotions.

Joe spoke at last, a little embarrassed and in a gruff tone. I think
I’ll just go say a shma. Yes, Hannah agreed. Are you coming with me,
Debra?

A moment. Debra turned to David, and took something from her handbag.

I made it for you for the wedding, she said. But wear it now. It was a
yamulka, an embroidered prayer cap of black satin.

Go with Joe, she said. He will show you what to do. The girls moved
off to the women’s enclosure and David placed the cap upon his head and
followed Joe down to the wall.

A shamash came to them, an old man with a long silver beard, and he
helped David bind upon his right arm a tiny leather box containing a
portion of the Torah.

So you shall lay these words upon your heart and your soul, and you
shall bind them upon your right arm Then he spread a tollit across
David’s shoulders, a tasselled shawl of woven wool, and he led him to
the wall, and he began to repeat after the shamash: Hear, 0 Israel, the
Lord our God, the Lord is one His voice grew surer as he remembered the
words from long ago, and he looked up at the wall of massive stone
blocks that towered high above him. Thousands of previous worshippers
had written down their prayers on scraps of paper and wedged them into
the joints between the blocks, and around him rose the plaintive voices
of spoken prayer. It seemed to David that in his imagination a golden
beam of prayer rose from this holy place towards the heavens.

Afterwards they left the enclosure and climbed the stairs into the
Jewish quarter, and the good feeling remained with David, glowing warmly
in his belly.

That evening they sat together on the terrace drinking Goldstar beer and
splitting sunflower seeds for the nutty kernels, and naturally the talk
turned to God and religion.

Joe said, I’m an Israeli and then a Jew. First my country, and a long
way behind that comes my religion. But David remembered the expression
on his face as he prayed against the wailing wall.

The talk lasted until late, and David glimpsed the vast body of his
religious heritage.

I would like to learn a little more about it all, he admitted, and Debra
said nothing but when she packed for him to go on base that night she
placed a copy of Herman Wouk’s This is my God on top of his clean
uniforms.

He read it and when next he returned to Malik Street, he asked for more.
She picked them for him, English works at first but then Hebrew, as his
grip upon the language became stronger. They were not religious works
only, but histories and historical novels that excited his interest in
this ancient centre of civilization which for three thousand years had
been a crossroads and a battleground.

He read anything and everything that she put into his case, from
josephus Flavius to Leon Uris.

This led to a desire to see and inspect the ground. It became so that
much of the time that they were free together was spent in these
explorations. They began with the hill-top fortress of Herod at Masada
where the zealots had killed each other rather than submit to Rome, and
from there they moved off the tourist beat to the lesser-known
historical sites.

In those long sunlit days they might eat their basket lunch sitting on
the ruins of a Roman aqueduct and watching a falcon working the thermals
that rose off the floor of the desert, after they had searched the bed
of a dry wadi for coins and arrowheads brought down by the last rains.

Around them rose the tall cliffs of orange and golden stone, and the
light was so clean and stark that it seemed they could see for ever, and
the silence so vast that they were the only living things in the world.

They were the happiest days that David had ever known, and they gave
point and meaning to the weary hours of squadron standby, and when the
day had ended there was always the house on Malik Street with its warmth
and laughter and love.

Joe and David arranged leave of absence from the base for the wedding.
It was a time of quiet, and le Dauphin let them go without protest, for
he would be a guest.

They drove up to Jerusalem the day before and were immediately
conscripted to assist with the arrangements. David laboured mightily as
a taxi-driver and trucker. The Mercedes transported everything from
flowers to musical instruments and distant relatives.

The Brig’s garden was decorated with palm leaves and coloured bunting.
In the centre stood the huppah, a canopy worked with religious symbols
in blue and gold, the Star of David and the grapes and ears of wheat,
the pomegranates and all the other symbols of fertility.

Beneath it, the marriage ceremony would take place.

Trestle tables covered with gay cloths and set with bowls of flowers and
dishes of fruit were arranged beneath the olive trees. There were
places for three hundred guests, an open space for the dancing, a raised
timber stand hung with flags for the band.

The catering was contracted out to a professional firm and the menu had
been carefully decided upon by the chef and the women. It would have
two high points an enormous stuffed tuna, again a symbol of fertility,
and a lamb dish in the bedouin style served upon enormous copper
salvers.

on the Sunday of the wedding, David drove Debra to the home of the chief
surgeon of Hadassah Hospital.

Hannah was one of his theatre sisters and he had insisted that she use
his home to prepare for the wedding. Debra was to assist her, and David
left them and drove on to Em Karem. The lane leading to the house was
cordoned off and thick with secret service men and paratroopers.

While he watched Joe dressing, losing and finding the ring, and sweating
with nerves, David lay on Joe’s bed and gave him bad advice. They could
hear the guests gathering in the garden below, and David stood up and
went to the window. He watched an airforce colonel being carefully
scrutinized and searched at the gates, but taking it all in good part.

They are being pretty thorough, David remarked.

Hannah has asked to have as few as possible of the guards in the garden.
So they are being damned careful about who they let in. Joe had at last
completed dressing and already he was beginning to sweat through the
armpits of his uniform. How do I look? he asked anxiously. God, you
handsome beast, David told him.

Piss off, Morgan, Joe grinned at him, crammed his cap on to his head and
glanced at his watch. Let’s go, . he said.

The Chief Rabbi of the army was waiting with the Brig and the others in
the Brig’s study. The Rabbi was the mild-mannered man who had
personally liberated the Tomb of the Patriarchs in the war of 67. During
the advance on Hebron, he had driven a jeep through the disintegrating
Arab lines, shot open the door to the tomb with a submachine-gun and
chased the Arab guards screaming over the rear wall.

Joe sat at the Brig’s desk and signed the ketubbah, the marriage
contract, then the Rabbi handed him a silken cloth which Joe lifted in a
formal act of acquisition to a chorus of congratulatory Mazal toys from
the witnesses.

The bridegroom’s party trooped out into the crowded garden now to await
the arrival of the bride, and she came accompanied by the chief surgeon
standing in for her dead father, and a party of festively dressed women,
including Debra and her mother. They all carried lighted candles.

To David, Hannah had never been particularly attractive, she was too
tall and severe in body and expression; however, in her white bridal
dress and veil she was transformed.

She seemed to float cloudlike upon the billowing white skirts, and her
face was softened by the veil and by the inner happiness that seemed to
glow through her green eyes. Red-gold hair framed her cheeks, and the
freckles were disguised under make-up applied by Debra’s cunning hand.
She had used it to mute the rather harsh lines of Hannah’s bony nose,
and the result was that Hannah was as near to beautiful as she would
ever come.

Joe, looking big and handsome in his airforce tans, went forward eagerly
to meet her at the gate to the garden and to lower the veil over her
face in the ceremony of bedeken dikafle.

Joe moved to the chuppah canopy where the Rabbi waited with a taffit
over his shoulders. After Joe the women led Hannah, each of them still
carrying a burning candle, and the Rabbi chanted a blessing as the women
and the bride circled Joe seven times in a magical circle which in olden
times would serve to ward off evil spirits. At last bride and groom
stood side by side, facing towards the site of the Temple with the
guests and witnesses pressed closely about them and the ceremony proper
began.

The Rabbi spoke the benediction over a goblet of wine from which bride
and groom both drank. Then Joe turned to Hannah, her face still veiled,
and he placed the plain gold ring upon her right forefinger.

Behold you are consecrated unto me by this ring, according to the law of
Moses and Israel. Then Joe broke the glass under his heel and the sharp
crunch was a signal for an outburst of music and song and gaiety. David
left Joe’s side and worked his way through the joyous crowd of guests to
where Debra waited for him.

She wore a gown of yellow and she had fresh flowers in the dark sheen of
her hair. David smelled their perfume as he hugged her surreptitiously
about the waist and whispered in her ear, You next, my beauty! and she
whispered back, Yes, please! Joe took Hannah on his arm, and then went
to the improvised dance floor. The band began with a light bouncy tune
and all the younger ones flocked to join them, while the elders spread
out at the tables beneath the palm-decked trellis.

Yet amongst all the laughter and the gaiety, the uniforms added a sombre
touch; almost every second man was adorned with the trappings of war,
and at the garden gate and the entrance to the kitchens were uniformed
paratrooper guards each with an Uzzi submachine-gun slung at his
shoulder. It was easy to pick out the secret service men. They were
the ones in civilian clothes who moved without smiling, alert and
vigilant, amongst the guests.

David and Debra danced together, and she was so light and warm and
strong in his arms that when the band paused for breath he resented it.
He led her to a quiet corner, and they stood together, discussing the
other guests in the most disrespectful terms until Debra giggled at some
particularly outrageous remark and struck his arm lightly.

You are terrible. She leaned against him. I’m dying of thirst, won’t
you get me something to drink?

A glass of cold white wine? he suggested.

Lovely, she said, smiling up into his face. For a moment they studied
each other, and suddenly David felt something dark welling up from
within him, a terrible despair, a premonition of impending loss. It was
a physical thing and he could feel the chill of it enclose his chest and
squeeze out all the happiness and the joy.

What is it, David? Her own expression altered in sympathy with his, and
she tightened her grip on his arm.

Nothing. Abruptly he pulled away from her, trying to fight off the
feeling. It’s nothing, he repeated, but it was still strong in his
belly and he felt a wave of nausea from it. I’ll get you the wine, he
said and turned away.

He made his way towards the bar, pushing gently through the throng. The
Brig caught his eye and smiled bleakly across the garden at him. Joe
was with his father and he called to David, laughing, with one arm
around his bride. Hannah had her veil pushed up and her freckles were
beginning to emerge from under the makeup, glowing vividly against the
snow-white lace. David waved at them but went on towards the open-air
bar at the end of the garden, the mood of sadness was still on him and
he didn’t want to talk to Joe now.

So he was cut off from Debra at the moment when, with a flourish, a
procession of white-jacketed waiters came in through the iron gate of
the garden. Each of them carried a huge copper salver from which, even
in the warm sun, rose tendrils of steam, and the odour of meat and fish
and spices filled the garden. There were gasps and cries of
appreciation from the guests.

A way opened for them towards the high table on the raised terrace which
led to the kitchen doors and the house.

The procession of waiters passed close to David, and suddenly his
attention was drawn from the display of fine food to the face of the
second waiter in line. He was a man of medium height and ark
complexion, a mahogany face with a thickly drooping mustache.

He was sweating. That was what had drawn David’s attention, his face
was shiny with sweat. Droplets clung in his mustache and slid down his
cheeks. The white jacket was sodden at the armpits as he lifted the
gigantic platter on high.

At the moment that he drew level with David their eyes met for an
instant. David realized that the man was in the grip of some deep
emotion, fear, perhaps, or exhilaration. Then the waiter seemed to
become aware of David’s scrutiny and his eyes slid nervously away.

David felt suspicion begin to chill his arms as the three figures
climbed the stone stairs, and filed behind the table.

The waiter glanced again at David, saw that his gaze was still locked
upon his face, and then he said something out of the corner of his mouth
to one of his companions. He also glanced at David, and caught his
stare, and his expression was sufficient to send alarm flaring urgently
through David’s chest and brain. Something was happening, something
dangerous and ugly, he was certain of it. . Wildly he looked about for
the guards. There were two of them on the terrace behind the line of
waiters, and one near David beside the gate.

David shoved his way desperately towards him, mindless of the outraged
comments of those in his way. He was watching the three waiters and so
he saw it begin to happen.

It had obviously been carefully rehearsed, for as the three waiters
placed the salvers upon the table to the laughter and applause of the
guests crowded in the garden below them, so they drew back the sheet’s
of plastic on which a tin display of food had been arranged to cover the
deadly load that each copper salver carried.

The brown-faced waiter lifted a machine pistol from under the plastic
sheet, and turned swiftly to fire a traversing burst into the two
paratroopers behind him at point-blank range. The clattering thunder of
automatic fire was deafening in the walled garden, and the stream of
bullets slashed through the bellies of the two guards like a monstrous
cleaver, almost cutting them in half.

The waiter on David’s left was a wizened monkeyfaced man, with bright
black berries for eyes. He, too, lifted a machine pistol from his
salver, and he crouched over it and fired a burst at the paratrooper by
the gate.

They were going for the guards, taking them out first.

The pistol shook and roared in his fists, and the bullets socked into
human flesh with a rubbery thumping sound.

The guard had cleared his Uzzi, and was trying to aim as a bullet hit
him in the mouth and snapped his head back, his paratrooper beret
spinning high into the air.

The machine-gun flew from his arms as he fell, and it slid across the
tiles towards David. David dropped flat below the stone steps of the
terrace as the Arab gunners turned their pistols on the wedding crowd,
hosing the courtyard with a triple stream of bullets, and unleashing a
hurricane of screams and shouts and desperate cries to join the roar of
the guns.

Across the yard, a security agent had the pistol out of his shoulder
holster and he dropped into the marksman crouch, holding the pistol with
both arms extended as he aimed. He fired twice and hit the monkey-faced
gunman, sending him reeling back against the wall, but he stayed on his
feet and returned the agent’s fire with the machine pistol, knocking him
down and rolling him IJ across the paving stones.

The yard was filled with a panic-stricken mob, a struggling mass of
humanity, that screamed and fell and crawled and died beneath the flail
of the guns.

Two bullets caught Hannah in the chest, smashing her backwards over a
table of glasses and bottles that shattered about her. The bright blood
spurted from the wounds, drenching the front of her white wedding gown.

The centre gunman dropped his pistol as it emptied, and he stooped
quickly over the copper salver and came up with a grenade in each hand.
He hurled them into the struggling, screaming throng and the double
blast was devastating, twin bursts of brightest white flame and the
terrible sweep of shrapnel. The screams of the women rose louder,
seeming as deafening as the gunfire – and the gunman stooped once more
and his hands held another load of grenades.

All this had taken only seconds, but a fleeting moment of time to turn
festivity into shocking carnage and torn flesh.

David left the shelter of the stone steps. He rolled swiftly across the
flags towards the abandoned Uzzi, and he came up on his knees, holding
it at the hip. His paratrooper training made his actions automatic.

The wounded gunman saw him, and turned towards him, staggering slightly,
pushing himself weakly away from the wall. His one arm was shattered
and hung loosely in the tattered, blood-soaked sleeve of his jacket, but
he lifted the machine pistol and aimed at David.

David fired first, the bullets struck bursts of plaster from the wall
behind the Arab and David corrected his aim. The bullets drove the
gunman backwards, pinning him to the wall, while his body jumped and
shook and twitched. He slumped down leaving a glistening wet smear of
blood down the white plaster.

David swivelled the gun on to the Arab beside the kitchen door. He was
poised to throw his next grenade, right arm extended behind him, both
fists filled with the deadly steel balls. He was shouting something, a
challenge or a war cry, a harsh triumphant screech that carried clearly
above the screams of his victims.

Before he could release the grenade, David hit him with a full burst, a
dozen bullets that smashed into his chest and belly, and the Arab
dropped both grenades at his feet and doubled over clutching at his
broken body, trying to stem the flood of his life blood with his bare
hands.

The grenades were short fused and they exploded almost immediately,
engulfing the dying man in a net of fire and shredding his body from the
waist down. The same explosion knocked down the third assassin at the
end of the terrace, and David came to his feet and charged up the steps.

The third and last Arab was mortally wounded, his head and chest torn by
grenade fragments, but he was still alive, thrashing about weakly as he
groped for the machine pistol that lay beside him in a puddle of his own
blood.

David was consumed by a terrible rage. He found that he was screaming
and raging like a maniac, and he crouched at the head of the stairs and
aimed at the dying Arab.

The Arab had the machine pistol and was lifting it with the grim
concentration of a drunken man. David fired, a single shot that slapped
into the Arab’s body without apparent effect, and then suddenly the Uzzi
in David’s hands was empty, the pin falling with a hollow click on an
empty chamber.

Across the terrace, beyond range of a quick rush, the Arab’s face was
streaked with sweat and blood as he frowned heavily, trying to aim the
machine pistol as it wavered. He was dying swiftly, the flame
fluttering towards extinction, but he was using the last of his
strength.

David stood frozen with the empty weapon in his hand, and the blank eye
of the pistol sought him out, and fastened upon him. He watched the
Arab’s eyes narrow, and his sudden murderous grin of achievement as he
saw David in his sights, and his finger tightening on the trigger.

At that range the bullets would hit like the solid stream of a fire
hose. He began to move, to throw himself down the stairs, but he knew
it was too late. The Arab was at the instant of firing, and at the same
instant a revolver shot crashed out at David’s side.

Half the Arab’s head was cut away by the heavy lead slug, and he was
flung backwards with the yellow custard contents of his skull
splattering the white-washed wall behind him and his death grip on the
trigger emptied the machine pistol with a shattering roar harmlessly
into the grape vines above him.

Dazedly David turned to find the Brig beside him, the dead security
guard’s pistol in his fist. For a moment they stared at each other, and
then the Brig stepped past him and walked to the fallen bodies of the
other two Arabs. Standing over each in turn he fired a single pistol
shot into their heads.

David turned away and let the Uzzi drop from his hands. He went down
the stairs into the garden.

The dead and the wounded lay singly and in piles, pitiful fragments of
humanity. The soft cries and the groans of the wounded, the bitter
weeping of a child, the voice of a mother, were sounds more chilling
than the screaming and the shouting.

The garden was drenched and painted with blood.

There were splashes and gouts of it upon the white walls, there were
puddles and snakes of it spreading and crawling across the paving, dark
slicks of it sinking into the dust, ropes of it dribbling and pattering
like rain from the body of a musician as he hung over the rail of the
bandstand. The sickly sweetish reek of it mingled with the smell of
spiced food and spilled wine, with the floury taste of plaster dust and
the bitter stench of burned explosive.

The veils of smoke and dust that still drifted across the garden could
not hide the terrible carnage. The bark of the olive trees was torn in
slabs from the trunks by flying steel, exposing the white wet wood. The
wounded and dazed survivors crawled over a field of broken glass and
shattered crockery. They swore and prayed, and whispered and groaned
and called for succour.

David went down the steps, his feet moving without his bidding; his
muscles were numb, his body senseless and only his finger-tips tingled
with life.

Joe was standing below one of the torn olive trees. He stood like a
colossus, with his thick powerful legs astride, his head thrown back and
his face turned to the sky, but his eyes were tight-closed and his mouth
formed a silent cry of agony, for he held Hannah’s body in his arms.

Her bridal veil had fallen from her head, and the bright copper mane of
her hair hung back, almost to the ground. Her legs and one arm hung
loosely also, slack and lifeless. The golden freckles stood out clearly
on the milky-white skin of her face, and the bloody wounds bloomed like
the petals of the poinsettia tree upon the bosom of her wedding-gown.

David averted his eyes. He could not watch Joe in his anguish, and he
walked on slowly across the garden, in terrible dread of what he would
find.

Debra! he tried to raise his voice, but it was a hoarse raven’s croak.
His feet slipped in a puddle of thick dark blood, and he stepped over
the unconscious body of a woman who lay, face down, in a floral dress,
with her arms thrown wide. He did not recognize her as Debra’s mother.

Debra! He tried to hurry, but his legs would not respond. He saw her
then, at the corner of the wall where he had left her.

Debra! He felt his heart soar. She seemed unhurt, kneeling below one
of the marble Grecian statues, with the flowers in her hair and the
yellow silk of her dress gay and festive.

She knelt, facing the wall, and her head was bowed as though in prayer.
The dark wing of her hair hung forward screening her and she held her
cupped hands to her face.

Debra. He dropped to his knees beside her, and timidly he touched her
shoulder.

Are you all right, my darling? And she lowered her hands slowly, but
still holding them cupped together. A great coldness closed around
David’s chest as he saw that her cupped hands were filled with blood.
Rich’red blood, bright as wine in a crystal glass.

David, she whispered, turning her face towards him. Is that you,
darling? David gave a small breathless moan of agony as he saw the
blood-glutted eye sockets, the dark gelatinous mess that congealed in
the thick dark eyelashes and turned the lovely face into a gory mask.

Is that you, David? she asked again, her head cocked at a blind
listening angle.

Oh God, Debra. He stared into her face.

I can’t see, David. She groped for him. Oh David I can’t see.

And he took her sticky wet hands in his, and he thought that his heart
would break.

The stark modern silhouette of Hadassah Hospital stood upon the skyline
above the village of Em Karem. The speed with which the ambulances
arrived saved many of the victims whose lives were critically balanced,
and the hospital was geared to sudden influxes of war casualties.

The three men, the Brig, Joe and David, kept their vigil together all
that night upon the hard wooden benches of the hospital waiting-room.
When more was learned of the planning behind the attack, a security
agent would come to whisper a report to the Brig.

One of the assassins was a long-term and trusted employee of the
catering firm, and the other two were his cousins who had. been
employed as temporary staff on his recommendation. It was certain that
their papers were forged.

The Prime Minister and her cabinet had been delayed by an emergency
session, but had been on their way to the wedding when the attack was
made. A fortunate chance had saved them, and she sent her personal
condolences; to the relatives of the victims.

At ten o’clock, Damascus radio gave a report in which El Fatah claimed
responsibility for the attack by members of a suicide squad.

A little before midnight, the chief surgeon came from the main theatre,
still in his theatre greens and boots, with his mask pulled down to his
throat. Ruth Mordecai was out of danger, he told the Brig. They had
removed a bullet that had passed through her lung and lodged under her
shoulder blade. They had saved the lung.

Thank God, murmured the Brig and closed his eyes for a moment, imagining
life without his woman of twenty-five years. Then he looked up. My
daughter?

The surgeon shook his head. They are still working on her in the small
casualty theatre. He hesitated.

Colonel Halmin died in theatre a few minutes ago The toll of the dead
was eleven so far, with four others on the critical list.

In the early morning the undertakers arrived for the bodies with their
long wicker baskets and black limousines. David gave Joe the keys of
the Mercedes, that he might follow by the hearse bearing Hannah’s body
and arrange the details of the funeral.

David and the Brig sat side by side, haggard and with sleepless bruised
eyes, drinking coffee from paper cups.

In the late morning the eye surgeon came out to them.

He was a smooth-faced, young-looking man in his forties, the greying of
his hair seeming incongruous against the unlined skin and clear blue
eyes.

General Mordecai?

The Brig rose stiffly. He seemed to have aged ten years during the
night.

I am Doctor Edelman. Will you come with me please?

David rose to follow them, but the doctor paused and looked to the Brig.

I am her fiance, said David.

It might be best if we spoke alone first, General. Edelman was clearly
trying to pass a warning with his eyes, and the Brig nodded. Please,
David. But- David began, and the Brig squeezed his shoulder briefly,
the first gesture of affection that had ever passed between them.

Please, my boy, and David turned back to the hard bench.

In the tiny cubicle of his office Edelman hitched himself on to the
corner of the desk and lit a cigarette. His hands were long and slim as
a girl’s, and he used the lighter with a surgeon’s neat economical
movements.

You don’t want it with a sugar coating, I imagine? He had appraised the
Brig carefully, and went on without waiting for a reply. Neither of
your daughter’s eyes are damaged, but be held up a hand to forestall the
rising expression of relief on the Brig’s lips, and turned to the
scanner on which hung a set of X-ray plates. He switched on the back
light.

The eyes were untouched, there is almost no damage to her facial
features, however, the damage is here he touched a hard frosty outline
in the smoky grey swirls and patterns of the X-ray plate, – that is a
steel fragment, a tiny steel fragment, almost certainly from a grenade.
It is no larger than the tip of a lead pencil. It entered the skull
through the outer edge of the right temple, severing the large vein
which accounted for the profuse haernorrhage, and it travelled obliquely
behind the eye-balls without touching them or any other vital tissue.
Then, however, it pierced the bony surrounds of the optic chiasma, he
traced the path of the fragment through Debra’s head, and it seems to
have cut through the canal and severed the chiasma, before lodging in
the bone sponge beyond. Edelman drew heavily on the cigarette while he
looked for a reaction from the Brig.

There was none.

Do you understand the implications of this, General? he asked, and the
Brig shook his head wearily. The surgeon switched off the light of the
X-ray scanner, and returned to the desk. He pulled a scrap pad towards
the Brig and took a propelling pencil from his top pocket.

Boldly he sketched an optical chart, eyeballs, brain, and optical
nerves, as seen from above.

The optical nerves, one from each eye, run back into this narrow tunnel
of bone where they fuse, and then branch again to opposite lobes of the
brain The Brig nodded, and Edelman slashed the point of his pencil
through the point where the nerves fused.

Understanding began to show on the Brig’s strained and tired features.
Blind? he asked, and Edelman nodded. Both eyes? ‘I’m afraid so. The
Brig bowed his head and gently massaged his own eyes with thumb and
forefinger. He spoke again without looking at Edelman.

Permanently? he asked.

She has no recognition of shape, or colour, of light or darkness. The
track of the fragment is through the optic chiasma. All indications are
that the nerve is severed.

There is no technique known to medical science which will restore that.
Edelman paused to draw breath, before going on. In a word then, your
daughter is permanently and totally blinded in both eyes. The Brig
sighed, and looked up slowly. Have you told her? and Edelman could not
hold his gaze. I was rather hoping that you would do that. Yes, the
Brig nodded, it would be best that way. Can I see her now? Is she
awake? She is under light sedation. No pain, only a small amount of
discomfort, the external wound is insignificant, and we shall not
attempt to remove the metal fragment. That would entail major
neurosurgery. He stood up and indicated the door. Yes, you may see her
now. I will take you to her. The corridor outside the row of emergency
theatres was lined along each wall with stretchers, and the Brig
recognized many of his guests laid out upon them. He stopped briefly to
speak with one or two of them, before following Edelman to the recovery
room at the end of the corridor.

Debra lay on the tall bed below the window. She was very pale, dry
blood was still clotted in her hair and a thick cotton wool and bandage
dressing covered both her eyes.

Your father is here, Miss Mordecai, Edelman told I her, and she rolled
her head swiftly towards them.

Daddy? I am here, my child. The Brig took the hand she held out, and
stooped to kiss her. Her lips were cold, and she smelled strongly of
disinfectant and anaesthetic.

Mama? she asked anxiously.

She is out of danger, the Brig assured her, but Hannah Yes. They told
me, Debra stopped him, her voice choking. Is Joe all right?

He is strong, the Brig said. He will be all right David? she asked.

He is here.

Eagerly she struggled up on to one elbow, her face lighting with
expectation, the heavily bound eyes turned blindly seeking.

David, she called, where are you? Damn this bandage. Don’t worry,
David, it’s just to rest my eyes.

No, the Brig restrained her with a hand on her arm. He is outside,
waiting, and she slumped with disappointment.

Ask him to come to me, please, she whispered.

Yes, said the Brig, in a while, but first there is something we must
talk about, something I have to tell you.

She must have guessed what it was, she must have been warned by the tone
of his voice for she went very still. That peculiar stillness of hers,
like a frightened animal of the veld.

He was a soldier, with a soldier’s blunt ways, and although he tried to
soften it, yet even his tone was roughened with his own sorrow, so that
it came out brutally. Her hand in his was the only indication that she
had heard him, it spasmed convulsively like a wounded thing and then lay
still, a small tense hand in the circle of his big bony fist.

She asked no questions and when he had done they sat quietly together
for a long time. He spoke first.

I will send David to you now, he said, and her response was swift and
vehement.

No. She gripped his hand hard. No, I can’t meet him now. I have to
think about this first.

The Brig went back to the waiting-room and David stood up expectantly,
the pure lines of his face seemingly carved from pale polished marble,
and the dark blue of his eyes in deep contrast.

The Brig forestalled him harshly. No visitors. He took David’s arm.
You will not be allowed to see her until tomorrow.

Is something wrong? What is it? David tried to pull away, but the Brig
held him and steered him towards the door.

Nothing is wrong. She will be all right, but she must have no
excitement now. You’ll be able to see her tomorrow.

They buried Hannah that evening in the family plot on the Mountain of
Olives. It was a small funeral party attended by the three men and a
mere handful of relatives, many of whom had others to mourn from the
previous day’s slaughter.

There was an official car waiting to take the Brig to a meeting of the
high command, where retaliatory measures would certainly be discussed,
another revolution in the relentless wheel of violence that rolled
across the troubled land.

Joe and David climbed into the Mercedes and sat silently, David making
no effort to start the engine. Joe lit cigarettes for them, and they
both felt drained of purpose and direction.

What are you going to do now? David asked him. We had two weeks, Joe
answered him. We were going down to Ashkelon, his voice trailed off. I
don’t know. There isn’t anything to do now, is there? Shall we go and
have a drink somewhere? Joe shook his head. I don’t feel like
drinking, he said. I think I’ll go back to base. They are flying night
interceptions tonight.

Yes, David agreed quickly, I’ll come with you. He could not see Debra
until tomorrow, and the house on Malik Street would be lonely and cold.
Suddenly he longed for the peace of the night heavens.

The moon was a brightly curved Saracen blade against the soft darkness
of the sky, and the stars were fat and silver and gemlike in their
clarity.

They flew high above the earth, remote from its grief and sorrow,
wrapped in the isolation of flight and lost in the ritual and
concentration of night interception.

The target was a Mirage of their own squadron, and they picked it up on
the scanner far out over the Negev.

Joe locked on to it and called the track and range while David searched
for and at last spotted the moving star of the target’s jet blast,
burning redly against the velvety blackness of the night.

He took them in on a clean interception creeping up under the target’s
belly and then pulling steeply up past its wing-tip, the way a barracuda
goes for the lure from below and explodes out through the surface of the
sea.

They shot past so close that the target Mirage broke wildly away to
port, unaware of their presence until that moment.

Joe slept that night, exhausted with grief, but David lay in the bunk
beneath him and listened to him. In the dawn he rose and showered and
left Joe still asleep. He drove into Jerusalem and reached the hospital
just as the sun came up and lit the hills with its rays of soft gold and
pearly pink.

The night sister at the desk was brusque and preoccupied. You shouldn’t
be here until visiting hours this afternoon, but David smiled at her
with all the charm he could muster.

I just wanted to know if she is doing well. I have to rejoin my
squadron this morning. The sister was not immune either to his smile or
the airforce uniform, and she went to consult her lists.

You must be mistaken, she said at last. ‘The only Mordecai we have is
Mrs. Ruth Mordecai. That’s her mother, David told her, and the sister
flipped the sheet on her clipboard.

No wonder I couldn’t find it, she muttered irritably. She was
discharged last night Discharged? David stared at her
uncomprehendingly.

Yes, she went home last night. I remember her now.

Her father came to fetch her just as I came on duty.

Pretty girl with eye bandages – Yes, David nodded. Thank you. Thank
you very much, and he ran down the steps to the Mercedes, his feet light
with relief, freed at last from the gnawing doubt and dread.

Debra had gone home. Debra was safe and well.

The Brig opened the door to him, and let him into the silent house. He
was still in his uniform, and it was wilted and rumpled. The Brig’s
face was fine-drawn, the lines crudely chiselled around his mouth, and
his eyes were swollen and bloodshot from worry and sorrow and lack of
sleep.

Where is Debra? David demanded eagerly, and the Brig sighed and stood
aside for him to enter.

Where is she? David repeated, and the Brig led him to his study and
waved him to a chair.

Why don’t you answer me? David was becoming angry, and the Brig slumped
into a chair across the large bare room, with its severe monastic
furnishings of books and archaeological relics.

I couldn’t tell you yesterday, David, she asked me not to. I’m sorry.
What is it? David was fully alarmed now.

She had to have time to think, to make up her mind. The Brig stood up
again and began to pace, his footsteps echoing hollowly on the bare
wooden floor, pausing every now and then to touch one of the pieces of
ancient statuary, caressing it absently as he talked, as though to draw
comfort from it.

David listened quietly, occasionally shaking his head as though to deny
that what he was hearing was the truth.

So you see it is permanent, final, without hope. She is blind, David,
totally blind. She has gone into a dark world of her own where nobody
else can follow her Where is she? I want to go to her, David whispered,
but the Brig ignored the request and went on steadily.

She wanted time to make her decision, and I gave it to her. Last night,
after the funeral, I went back to her and she was ready. She had faced
it, come to terms with it, and she had decided how it must be I want to
see her, David repeated. I want to talk to her. Now the Brig looked at
him and the bleakness in his eyes faded, his voice dropped, becoming
gruff with compassion.

No, David. That was her decision. You will not see her again. For you
she is dead. Those were her words.

Tell him I am dead, but he must only remember me when I was alive David
interrupted him, jumping to his feet. Where is she, damn you? His
voice was shaking. I want to see her now. He crossed swiftly to the
door and jerked it open, but the Brig went on. She is not here. ‘Where
is she? David turned back. I cannot tell you. I swore a solemn oath
to her. ‘I’ll find her You might, if you search carefully, but you will
forfeit any respect or love she may have for you, the Brig went on
remorselessly. Again I will give you her exact words. “Tell him that I
charge him on our love, on all we have ever been to each other, that he
will let me be, that he will not come looking for me. ” Why, but why?
David demanded desperately. Why does she reject me? She knows that she
is altered beyond all hope or promise. She knows that what was before
can never be again. She knows that she can never be to you again what
you have a right to expect – he stopped David’s protest with an angry
chopping gesture of his hand. Listen to me, she knows that it cannot
endure. She can never be your wife now. You are too young, too vital,
too arrogant- David stared at him – she knows that it will begin to
spoil. In a week, a month, a year perhaps, it will have died. You will
be trapped, tied to a blind woman. She doesn’t want that. She wants it
to die now, swiftly, mercifully, not to drag on Stop it, David shouted.
Stop it, damn you. That’s enough. He stumbled to the chair and fell
into it. They were silent for a while, David crouched in the chair with
his face buried in his hands. The Brig standing before the narrow
window casement, the early morning light catching the fierce old
warrior’s face.

She asked me to make you promise – he hesitated, and David looked up at
him, – to promise that you would not try to find her. No. David shook
his head stubbornly.

The Brig sighed. If you refused, I was to tell you this she said you
would understand, although I don’t, she said that in Africa there is a
fierce and beautiful animal called the sable antelope, and sometimes one
of them is wounded by a hunter or mauled by a lion The words were as
painful as the cut of a whiplash, and David remembered himself saying
them to her once when they were both young and strong and invulnerable.

Very well, he murmured at last, if that’s what she wants, then I promise
not to try and find her, though I don’t promise not to try and convince
her she is wrong. I Perhaps it would be best if you left Israel, the
Brig told him. Perhaps you should go back to where you came from and
forget all of this ever happened. David paused, considering this a
moment, before he answered, No, all I have is here. I will stay here
Good. The Brig accepted the decision. You are always welcome in this
house. Thank you, sir, said David and went out to where the Mercedes
was parked. He let himself into the house on Malik Street, and saw
instantly that someone had been there before him.

He walked slowly into the living-room; the books were gone from the
olive-wood table, the Kadesh painting no longer hung above the leather
couch. In the bathroom he opened the wall cabinet and all her toilet
articles had been removed, the rows of exotic bottles, the tubes and
pots, even the slot for her toothbrush beside his was empty.

Her cupboard was bare, the dresses gone, the shelves blank, every trace
of her swept away, except for the lingering scent of her perfume on the
air, and the ivory lace cover upon the bed.

He went to the bed and sat upon it, stroking the fine lace-work,
remembering how it had been.

There was the hard outline of something thin and square upon the pillow,
beneath the cover. He turned back the lace and picked up the thin green
book.

This year, in Jerusalem. It had been left there as a parting gift The
title swam and went misty before his eyes. It was all he had left of
her.

it seemed as though the slaughter at Em Karem was the signal for a fresh
upsurge of hostility and violence throughout the Middle East. A planned
escalation of international tensions, as the Arab nations rattled their
impressive, oil-purchased, array of weaponry and swore once more to
leave not a single Jew in the land they still called Palestine.

There were savage and merciless attacks on soft targets, ill-protected
embassies and consulates around the world, letter bombs, and night
ambushes on school buses in isolated areas.

Then the provocations grew bolder, more directly aimed at the heart of
Israel. Border infringements, commando-style raids, violations of air
space, shellings, and a threatening gathering and massing of armed might
along the long vulnerable frontiers of the wedge-shaped territories of
the tiny land.

The Israelis waited, praying for peace, but girl for war.

Day after day, month after month, David and Joe flew to maintain that
degree of expertise, where instinct and instantaneous reaction
superseded conscious thought and reasoned action.

At those searing speeds beyond sound, it was only this training that
swung the advantage from one combat team to another. Even the superior
reaction times of these carefully hand-picked young men were unequal to
the tasks of bringing their mighty machines into effective action, where
latitudes of error were measured in hundredths of a second, until they
had attained this extra-sensory perfection.

To seek out, to recognize, to close, to destroy, and to disengage, it
was a total preoccupation that blessedly left little time for brooding
and sorrow.

Yet the sorrow and anger, that David and Joe shared, seemed doubly to
arm them. Their vengeance was allconsuming.

Soon they joined that select half-dozen strike teams that Desert Flower
called to undertake the most delicate of sorties. Again and again they
were ordered into combat, and each time the confidence that Command had
in them was strengthened.

As David sat in his cockpit, dressed from head to foot in the stiff
constricting embrace of afull-pressure suit, breathing oxygen from his
closed face mask, although the Mirage still crouched upon the ground,
there were four black, red and white miniature rounders painted on the
fuselage below his cockpit. The scalps of the enemy.

It was a mark of Desert Flower’s trust that Bright Lance flight had been
selected for high altitude Red standby. With the statter lines plugged
ready to blow compressed air into the compressors and whirl the great
engines into life, and the ground crew lounging beside the motor, the
Mirages were ready to be hurled aloft in a matter of seconds. Both
David and Joe were suited to survive the almost pressureless altitudes
above sixty thousand feet where an unprotected man’s blood would fizzle
like champagne.

David had lost count of the weary uncomfortable days and hours he had
sat cramped in his cockpit on Red Standby with only the regular
fifteen-minute checks to break the monotony.

Checking 1115 hours, fifteen minutes to stand down. David said into the
microphone, and heard Joe’s breathing in his ears before the reply. Two
standing by. Beseder.

Immediately after stand-down, when another crew would assume the arduous
waiting of standby, David would change into a track suit and run for
five or six miles to get the stiffness out of his body and to have his
sweat wash away the staleness. He was looking forward to that,
afterwards he would There was a sharp crackle in his earphones and a new
voice. Red Standby, Go! Go!

The command was repeated over loudspeakers in the under-ground bunker,
and the ground crew boiled into action. With all his pre-flight checks
and routine long ago completed, David merely pushed his throttle to
starting position, and the whine of the statters showed immediate
results. The engine caught and he ran up his power to one hundred percent.

Ahead of him the blast doors were lifting.

Bright Lance Two, this is leader going to take off power.

Two conforming, said Joe and they went screaming up the ramp and hurled
themselves at the sky.

Hallo, Desert Flower, this is Bright Lance airborne and climbing. Bright
Lance, this is the Brig, David was not surprised to find that he was in
charge of command plot.

Distinctive voices and the use of personal names would prevent any
chance of the enemy confusing the net with false messages. David, we
have an intruder approach at high level that should enter our air space
in four minutes, if it continues on its present course. We are tracking
him at seventy-five thousand feet which means it is either an American
U. 2, which is highly unlikely, or that it is a Russian spy plane
coming over to have a look at our latest dispersals. Beseder, sir,
David acked.

We are going to try for a storm-climb to intercept as soon as the target
becomes hostile in our air space. ‘Beseder, sir.

Level at twenty thousand feet, turn to 186 and go to maximum speed for
storm-climb. At twenty thousand, David went to straight and level
flight and glanced into his mirror to see Joe’s Mirage hanging out on
his tail.

Bright Lance Two, this is the leader. Commencing run now. ‘Two
conforming.

David lit his tail and pushed the throttle open to maximum afterburner
position. The Mirage jumped away, and David let the nose drop slightly
to allow the speed to build up quickly. They went blazing through the
sound barrier without a check, and David retrimmed for supersonic
flight, thumbing the little top-hat on the end of his stick.

Their speed rocketed swiftly through mach 1. 2, mach 1. 5.

The Mirages were stripped of all but their essentials, there were no
missiles dangling beneath them, no auxiliary fuel tanks to create drag,
the only weapons they carried were their two 30 mm. cannons.

Flying lightly, they drove on up the mach scale, streaking from
Beersheba to Eilat in the time it would take a man to walk a city block.
Their speed stabilized at mach 1. 9 just short of the heat barrier.

David, this is the Brig. We are tracking you. You are on correct
course and speed for interception. Prepare to commence dimb in sixteen
seconds. ‘Beseder, sir. Counting now.

Eight, seven, six . . . two, one. Go!

Go!

David tensed his body and as he pulled up the nose of the Mirage, he
opened his mouth and screamed to fight off the effects of gravity. But
despite these precautions and the constricting grip of his pressure
suit, the abrupt change of direction crammed him down into his seat and
the blood drained out of his head so that his vision went grey and then
black.

The Mirage was standing on her tail still flying at very nearly twice
the speed of sound and, as his vision returned, David glanced at the
G-meter and saw that he had subjected his body to nearly nine times the
force of gravity to achieve this attitude of climb without loss of
speed.

Now he lay on his back and stared up at the empty sky while the needle
of his altimeter raced upwards, and his speed gradually eroded away.

A quick sweep showed Joe’s Mirage rock steady in position below him,
climbing in concert with him, and his voice came through calm and
reassuring.

Leader, this is Two. I have contact with target. Even under the stress
of storm-climb, Joe was busy manipulating his beloved radar, and he had
picked up the spy plane high above them.

In this manoeuvre they were trading speed for height, and as one
increased so the other drained away.

They were like a pair of arrows aimed directly upwards. The bowstring
could throw them just so far and then they would hang there in space for
a few moments, until they were drawn irresistibly back to earth. In
those few moments they must find and kill the enemy.

David lay back in his seat and watched with fresh wonder as the sky
turned darker blue and then slowly became the mid-night black of space,
shot through with the riM prickings of the stars.

They were at the top edge of the stratosphere, high above the highest
clouds or signs of weather as known to earth. Outside the cockpit the
air was thin and weak, insufficient for life, hardly sufficient to keep
the jets of the Mirage’s engines burning, and the cold was a fearsome
sixty degrees of frost.

The two aircraft slowly ran out of energy, and they came out together at
the top of a mighty parabola. The sensation of flight was gone, they
swam through the dark forbidding oceans of space and far below them the
earth glowed strangely, with a weird unnatural light.

There was no time to admire the view, the Mirage was wallowing in the
thin and treacherous air, her control surfaces skidding and sliding
without bite.

Joe was on the target, tracking quietly and steadily and they came round
carefully on to the heading, with the aircraft staggering mushily and
beginning to fall away from these inhospitable heights.

David stared ahead, holding the Mirage’s nose up for sustained altitude
but already the stall warning device was flicking amber and red at him.
He was running out of time and height.

Then suddenly he saw it, seeming startlingly close in the rare air,
ghosting along on its immense wings, like a black manta-ray through the
sable and silent sea of space, ahead and slightly below them, calmly and
silently, it drifted along, its height giving it a false sense of
invulnerability.

Desert Flower, this is Bright Lance visual on the intruder and
requesting permission for strike. David’s cool tone hid the sudden gust
of his anger and hatred that the sighting had released.

Report your target, the Brig was hedgin& it was a dangerous decision to
call the strike on an unknown target.

Desert Flower, it’s an 11yushin Mark 1 7-11. No apparent marines.

It needed no marking, it could only belong to one nation. David was
closing fast, he could fly no slower than this, and he was rapidly
overhauling the other machine. Those huge wings were designed to float
upon the feeble air of the stratosphere.

Closing fast, he warned Desert Flower. Opportunity for strike will pass
in approximately ten seconds. The silence in his headphones hummed
quickly, and he readied his cannons and watched the spy plane blowing up
rapidly in size as he dropped down upon it.

Suddenly the Brig made the decision, perhaps committing his country to
heavy retaliation, but knowing that the spy plane’s cameras were
steadily recording vital details of their ability to resist aggression,
information that would be passed quickly to their enemies.

David, his voice was curt and harsh, this is the Brig.

Hit him? Beseder. David let the Mirage’s nose drop a fraction, and she
responded gratefully. Two, this is leader attacking. ‘Two conforming.
He went down on the Ilyushin so fast, that as she came into his sights
he knew he had time for only a few seconds of fire.

He pressed the trigger with the aiming pipper on the spy plane’s wing
roots, and he saw her rear up like a great fish struck by the steel of
the harpoon.

For three seconds he poured his cannon shells into her, and watched them
flash and twinkle against the massive black silhouette. Then he was
through, falling away below the giant’s belly, with his power spent,
dropping away like the burned-out shell of a rocket.

Joe came down astern of him, backing up the attack, and in his sights
the spy plane hung helplessly on its wide wings, its long rounded nose
pointing to the black sky with its cold uncaring stars.

He pressed the trigger and the plane broke up amidst the bright flashes
of exploding cannon shells. One wing snapped off at its roots and the
carcass began its long slow tumble down the heavens.

Hello Desert Flower, this is Bright Lance leader.

Target destroyed. David tried to keep his voice level, but he found his
hands were trembling and his guts were aching cold from the spill-over
of his hatred that not even the enemy’s death could expunge.

Again he pressed the button to open the flight net. Joe, that’s one
more for Hannah, he said, but for once there was no reply, and after he
had listened in vain to the throb of the carrier beam for a few seconds
he closed it, and activated his doppler gear for a homing signal, and
silently followed him back to base.

Debra had been a steadying and maturing influence, but now David reacted
so wildly to her going that Joe had to continue his role of wing man,
even when they were off base.

They spent much of their leisure time together, for although they seldom
mentioned their loss, yet the sharing of it drew them closer.

Often Joe slept over at Malik Street, for his own home was a sad and
depressing place now. The Brig was seldom there in these troubled
times, Debra gone and his mother was so altered by her terrible
experience that she was grey and broken, aged beyond her years. The
bullet wound in her body had closed, but there was other damage that
would never heal.

David’s wildness was a craving for the forgetfulness of constant action.
He was only truly at peace when he was in the air, and on the ground he
was restless and mercurial. Joe moved, big and calm beside him,
steering him tactfully out of trouble with a slow grin and an easy word.

As a consequence of the downed spy plane, the Syrians began a policy of
provocative patrols, calculated infringement of Israeli air space, which
was discontinued as soon as retaliation was drawn. As the interceptors
raced to engage they would swing away, declining combat, and move back
within their own borders.

Twice David saw the greenish luminous blur of these hostile patrols on
the screen of his scanning radar, and each time he had surprised himself
with the icy feeling of anger and hatred that had lain heavy as a rock
upon his heart and lungs as he led Joe in on the interception.

Each time, however, the Syrians had been warned by their own radar and
they had turned away, increasing speed, and withdrawn discreetly and
mockingly.

Bright Lance, this is Desert Flower. Target is no longer hostile.
Discontinue attack pattern. The Syrian MIG 2i’s bad crossed their own
frontier, and each time David had answered quietly, Two, this is leader.
Discontinuing attack pattern and resuming scan.

The tactics were designed to wear on the q& of the defenders, and in all
the interceptor squadrons the tension was becoming explosive. The
provocation was pushing them to the edge of restraint. Incidents were
only narrowly being averted, as the hot-bloods crowded their
interceptions to the very frontiers of war. Finally, however, there had
to come intervention from above as Desert Flower tried to hold them on a
tighter leash.

They sent the Brig to talk to his crews and as he stood on the dais and
looked about the crowded briefing room, he realized that it was unfair
to train the hawk and then keep the hood over his eyes and the thong
upon his leg, to hold him upon the wrist, when the wild duck were
flighting overhead.

He started at a philosophical level, taking advantage of the regard that
he knew his young pilots had for him.

the object of war is peace, the ultimate strategy of any commander is
peace -‘There was no response from his audience. The Brig caught the
level scrutiny of his own son. How could he talk of placation to a
trained warrior who had just buried the mutilated body of his ! bride?
The Brig ploughed on manfully.

Only a fool allows himself to be drawn on to a field of the enemy’s
choosing, he was reaching them now, I won’t have one of you young pups
pushing us into something we are not ready for. I don’t want to give
them an excuse. That is what they want, They were thawing now, he saw a
head nod thoughtfully and heard a murmur of agreement.

Any of you looking for big trouble, you don’t have to go to Damascus,
you know my address, he tried for his first laugh, and got it. They
were chuckling now. All right, then. We don’t want trouble. We are
going to lean right over backwards to prevent it, but we are not going
to fall on our arses. When the time comes, I’ll give you the word and
it won’t be the soft word, or the other cheek, they growled then, a
fierce little sound, and he ended it, – but you wait for that word. Le
Dauphin stood up and took over from the Brig.

All right, while I’ve got you all together, I’ve a little news for you
that may help to cool the hot-heads who want to follow the MIGs over the
border. He motioned to the projection box at the end of the
briefing-room, the lights went down and there was a shuffling of feet,
and an outburst of coughing. A voice protested resignedly.

Not another film show! Yes, the colonel took it up. Another film show
Then as the images began to flash upon the screen he went on, This is a
military intelligence film, and the subject is a new ground-to-air
missile system that has been delivered by the Soviet Army to the armies
of the Arab Union. The code name for the system is “Serpent” and it
updates the existing “Sam IIP system. As far as we know, the system has
been installed and is operative in the Syrian defensive perimeter, and
will shortly be installed by the Egyptians. It is manned at present by
Russian instructors. As the colonel went on talking, the Brig sat back
in his chair and watched their faces in the silver reflection from the
screen. They were intent and serious, men looking for the first time on
the terrible machines that might be the instrument of their own deaths.

The missile is fired from a tracked vehicle. Here you see aerial
reconnaissance shots of a mobile column.

Notice that each vehicle carries a pair of missiles, and you will
realize that they constitute an enormous threat – The Brig picked out
the marvellously pure profile of David Morgan as he leaned forward to
study the screen, and he felt a pang of sympathy and sorrow for him and
yet this was underlined by a new respect, a realignment of judgement.
The boy had proved himself to be constant, capable of embracing an ideal
and remaining loyal to it.

The improvements in design of the “Serpent” are not certain, but it is
believed that the missile is capable of greater speeds, probably in the
order of mach 2. 5, and that the guidance system is a combination of
both infrared heat seeker and computerized radar control. Watching the
handsome young face, he wondered if Debra had not misjudged his
reserves. It was possible that he would have been capable of, no, the
Brig shook his head and groped for a cigarette. He was too young, too
greedy for life, spoiled by good looks and riches. He would not be
capable of it. Debra was right, as so often was the case. She had
chosen the correct course. She could never hold him, she must set him
free.

It is expected that the “Serpent” is capable of engaging targets at
altitudes between 1500 it. and 75, 000 it. There was a stir amongst
the listeners, as they assessed the threat of this new weapon.

The warhead delivers a quarter of a ton of explosive and it is armed
with a proximity fuse which is set to fire if the target is passed at
range less than 150 feet.

Within these limits the “Serpent” is lethal. The Brig was still
watching David. Ruth and he had not seen the boy at their home for many
months. He had come with Joe to spend the Sabbath evening with them
twice after the outrage. However, the atmosphere had been stiff and
artificial, everybody carefully avoiding mention of Debra’s name. He
had not come again after the second time, nearly six months ago.

Evasive tactics at this stage will be the same as for
“Sam III”.

Prayer and good luck! someone interjected and that raised a laugh.

maximum-rate turn towards the missile, to screen the radiation from your
jet blasts, and attempt to force the “Serpent” to overshoot. In the
event that the missile continues to track, you should climb into the sun
and then make another maximum-rate turn. The missile may then accept
the sun’s infra-red radiation as a more tempting target And if that
doesn’t work? a voice called, and another answered flippantly, Repeat
the following: “Hear Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. ” But
this time nobody laughed at the old blasphemy.

The Brig timed his departure from the briefing-room to fall in beside
David.

When are we going to see you, David? It’s been a long time. ‘I’m
sorry, sir. I hope Joe made my apologies Yes, of course. But why don’t
you come with Joe this evening? God knows, there will be enough food
I’ll be very busy tonight, sir, David declined lamely.

I understand. And as they reached the door of the O.C.’Is office the
Brig paused, Remember you are always welcome, and he turned away.

Sir! the Brig stopped and looked back at him. David spoke rapidly,
almost guiltily.

How is she, sir? and then again, how is Debra? Have you see her, I
mean, recently? She is well, the Brig answered heavily.

As well as she can be. ‘Will you tell her I asked?

No, answered the Brig, ignoring the pleading in the dark blue eyes. No.
You know I can’t do that David nodded and turned away. For a moment the
Brig looked after him and then with a frown he went on into the
colonel’s office.

David dropped Joe in Em Karem, at the entrance to the lane, and then he
drove on into the main shopping area of East Jerusalem and parked
outside the big new supermarket in Melech George ! to do his shopping
for the weekend ahead.

He was hanging over the freezer tray pondering the delicate choice
between lamb cutlets and steak, when he became aware that he was being
watched.

David looked up quickly and saw that she was a statuesque woman with a
thick mane of blond curls. She stood beside the shelves farther down
the aisle. Her hair was dyed, he could see the dark shadow of the
roots, and she was older than he was, with a womanly heaviness in her
hips and bosom and tiny lines at the corners of her eyes. She was
eyeing him, a steady appraisal so unashamedly sensual that he felt the
check in his breathing and the quick stirring of his loins. He looked
back at the meat in the freezer, guilty and angry with the treachery of
his body. It had been so long, so very long since he had experienced
sexual awareness. He had believed that he never would again. He wanted
to throw the pack of steak back into the freezer and leave, but he stood
rooted with the breathless feeling squeezing his lungs, and he was aware
of the woman’s presence at his side. He could feel the warmth of her on
his arm, and smell her, the flowery perfume mingled with the natural
musky odour of the sexually aroused female.

The steak is very good, she said. She had a light sweet voice and he
recognized the same breathless quality as his own. He looked at her.
Her eyes were green, and her teeth were a little crooked but white. She
was even older than he had thought, almost forty. She wore her dress
low in front, he could see the crepe effect of the skin between her
breasts. The breasts were big and motherly, and suddenly David wanted
to lay his head against them. They looked so soft and warm and safe.

You should cook it rare, with mushrooms and garlic and red wine, she
said. It’s very good that way. ‘Is it? he asked hoarsely.

Yes, she nodded, smiling. Who will cook it for you?

Your wife? Your mother? No, said David. I will cook it myself. I
live alone, and she leaned a little closer to him, her breast touching
his arm.

David was dizzy and hot with the brandy. He had bought a bottle of it
at the supermarket, and he had drunk it mixed with ginger ale to mask
the spiritous taste. He had drunk it fast, and now he leaned over the
basin in the bathroom and felt the house rock and sway about him. He
steadied himself, gripping the edge of the basin.

He splashed cold water on to his face and shook off the drops, then he
grinned stupidly at himself in the mirror above the basin. His hair was
damp and hung on to his forehead; he closed one eye and the wavering
image in the mirror hardened and squinted back at him.

Hi there, boy, he muttered and reached for the towel.

He had dripped water down his tunic and this annoyed him. He threw the
towel over the toilet seat and went back into the living-room.

The woman was gone. The leather couch still carried the indentation of
her backside, and the dirty plates were on the olive-wood table. The
air was thick with cigarette smoke and her perfume.

Where are you? he called thickly, swaying slightly in the doorway.

Here, big boy. He went to the bedroom. She lay on the bed, naked,
plump and white with huge soft breasts and swelling belly. He stared at
her.

Come on, Davey. Her clothing was thrown across the dressing-table, and
he saw that her corsets were grey and unwashed. Her hair was yellow
against the soft ivory lacework.

Come to Mama, she whispered hoarsely, opening her limbs languidly in
invitation. She was spread upon the brass bed, upon the lace cover
which had been Debra’s and David felt his anger surge within him. Get
up, he said, slurring his words. Come on, baby. Get off that bed, his
voice tightened and she heard the tone and sat up with mild alarm. What
is it, Davey? Get out of here, his voice was rising sharply. Get out,
you bitch. Get out of here! He was shaking now, his face pale and his
eyes savage blue.

Quivering with panic, she climbed hurriedly from the bed, the great
white breasts and buttocks wobbling with ridiculous haste as she stuffed
them into the grey corset.

When she had gone, David went through into the bathroom and vomited into
the toilet bowl. Then he cleaned the house, scouring pans and plates,
polishing the glasses until they shone, emptying the ashtrays, opening
the shutters to blow out the stench of cigarette and perfume, and
finally, going through into the bedroom, he stripped and remade the bed
with fresh sheets and smoothed the lace cover carefully until not a
crease or wrinkle showed.

He put on a clean tunic and his uniform cap, and drove to the Jaffa
gate. He parked the car in the lot outside the gate and walked through
the old city to the reconstructed Sephardic synagogue in the Jewish
quarter.

It was very quiet and peaceful in the high-domed hall and he sat a long
time on the hard wooden bench.

Joe sat opposite David with a worried expression creasing his deep
forehead as he studied the board. Three or four of the other pilots had
hiked their chairs up and were concentrating on the game also. These
chessboard conflicts between David and Joe were usually epics and
attracted a partisan audience.

David had been stalking Joe’s rook for half a dozen moves and now he had
it trapped. Two more moves would shatter the kingsize defence, and the
third must force a resignation. David grinned smugly as Joe reached a
decision and moved a knight out.

That’s not going to save you, dear boy, David hardly glanced at the
knight, and he hit the rook with a white bishop. Mate in five, he
predicted, as he dropped the castle into the box, and then, too late, he
realized that Joe’s theatrical expression of anguish had slowly faded
into a beatific grin. Joseph Mordecai used any deception to bait his
traps, and David looked with alarm at the innocuous-seeming knight,
suddenly seeing the devious plotting in which the castle was merely
bait.

Oh, you bastard, David moaned. You sneaky bastard Check! Joe gloated
as he put the knight into a forked attack, and David had to leave his
queen exposed to the horseman.

Check, said Joe again with an ecstatic little sigh as he lifted the
white queen off the board, and again the harassed king took the only
escape route open to him.

And mate, sighed Joe again as his own queen left the back file to join
the attack. Not in five, as you predicted, but in three. There was a
loud outburst of congratulation and applause from the onlookers and Joe
cocked an eye at David.

Again? he asked, and David shook his head.

Take on one of these other patsies, he said. I’m going to sulk for an
hour. ‘He vacated his seat and it was filled by another eager victim as
Joe reset the board. David crossed to the coffee machine, moving
awkwardly in the grip of his G-suit, and drew a mug of the thick black
liquid, stirred in four spoons of sugar and found another seat in a
quieter corner of the crew-room beside a slim curly-beaded young
kibbutznik, with whom David had become friendly. He was reading a thick
novel. Shalom, Robert. How you been? Robert grunted without looking
up from his book, and David sipped the sweet hot coffee. Beside him,
Robert moved restlessly in his seat and coughed softly, David was lost
in his own thoughts, for the first time in months thinking of home,
wondering about Mitzi and Barney Venter, wondering if the yellowtail
were running hot in False Bay this season, and remembering how the
proteas looked upon the mountains of the Helderberg.

Again Robert stirred in his chair and cleared his throat. David glanced
at him, realized that he was in the grip of a deep emotion as he read,
his lips quivering, and his eyes too bright.

What are you reading? David was amused, and he leaned forward to read
the title. The picture on the dust jacket of the book was instantly
familiar. It was a deeply felt desert landscape of fierce colours and
great space.

Two distant figures, man and woman, walked hand in hand through the
desert and the effect was mystic and haunting. David realized that only
one person could have painted that, Ella Kadesh.

Robert lowered the book. This is uncanny, his voice was muffled with
emotion. I tell you, Davey, it’s beautiful. It must be one of the most
beautiful books ever written.

With a strange feeling of pre-knowledge, with a sense of complete
certainty, of what it would be, David took the book out of his hands and
turned it to read the title, A Place of Our Own.

Robert was still talking. My sister made me read it.

She works for the publisher. She cried all night when she read it. it
is very new, only published last week, but it’s got to be the biggest
book ever written about this country.

David hardly heard him, he was staring at the writer’s name in small
print below the title.

Debra Mordecai.

He ran his fingers lightly over the glossy paper of the jacket, stroking
the name.

I want to read it, he said softly.

I’ll let you have it when I’m finished, Robert promised. I want to read
it now!

No way! Robert exclaimed with evident alarm, and almost snatched the
book out of David’s hands. You wait your turn, comrade!

David looked up. Joe was watching him from across the room, and David
glared at him accusingly. Joe dropped his eyes quickly to the
chessboard again, and David realized that he had known of the
publication. He started up to go to him, to challenge him, but at the
moment the tannoy echoed through the bunker.

All flights Lance Squadron to red standby, and on the readiness board
the red lamps lit beside the flight designations. Bright Lance. Red
Lance. Fire Lance. David snatched up his flying helmet and joined the
lumbering rush of G-suited bodies for the electric personnel carrier in
the concrete tunnel outside the crewroom door. He forced a place for
himself beside Joe. Why didn’t you tell me? ‘he demanded. I was going
to, Davey, I really was.

Yeah, I bet, David snapped sarcastically. Have you read it? Joe
nodded, and David went on, What’s it about?” “I couldn’t begin to tell
you. You’d have to read it yourself Don’t worry about that, David
muttered grimly, I will, and he jumped down as they reached their hangar
and strode across to his Mirage.

Twenty minutes later they were airborne and Desert Flower sent them
hastening out over the Mediterranean at interception speed to answer a
Mayday call from an El Al Caravelle who reported that she was being
buzzed by an Egyptian MIG 2 1J.

The Egyptian sheered off and raced for the coast and the protection of
his own missile batteries as the Mirages approached.

They let him go and picked up the airliner. They escorted her into the
circuit over Lad before returning to base.

Still in his G-suit and overalls, David stopped off at le Dauphin’s
office and got himself a twenty-four-hour pass.

Ten minutes before closing time he ran into one of the bookstores in the
Jaffa Road.

There was a pyramid display of A Place of Our Own on the table in the
centre of the store.

It’s a beautiful book, said the salesgirl as she wrapped it.

He opened a Goldstar, and kicked off his shoes before stretching out on
the lace cover of the bed.

He began to read, and paused only once to switch on the overhead lights
and fetch another beer. It was a thick book, and he read slowly,
savouring every word, sometimes going back to re-read a paragraph.

It was their story, his and Debra’s, woven into the plot she had
described to him that day on the island off the Costa Brava, and it was
rich with the feeling of the land and its people. He recognized many of
the secondary characters, and he laughed aloud with the pleasure and the
joy of it. Then at the end, he choked on the sadness as the girl of the
story lies dying in Hadassah Hospital, with half her face torn away by a
terrorist’s bomb, and she will not let the boy come to her. Wanting to
spare him that, wanting him to remember her as she was.

it was dawn then, and David had not noticed the passage of the night. He
rose from the bed, light-headed from lack of sleep, and filled with a
sense of wonder that Debra had captured so clearly the way it had been
that she had seen so deeply into his soul, had described emotions for
which he had believed there were no words.

He bathed and shaved and dressed in casual clothes and went back to
where the book lay upon the bed. He studied the jacket again, and then
turned to the flyleaf for confirmation. It was there. Jacket design by
Ella Kadesh. So early in the morning he had the road almost to himself
and he drove fast, into the rising morning sun.

At Jericho he turned north along the frontier road, and he remembered
her sitting in the seat beside him with her skirts drawn high around her
long brown legs and her thick dark hair shaking in the wind.

The whisper of the wind against the body of the Mercedes seemed to urge
him, Hurry, hurry. And the urgent drumming of the tyres carried him up
towards the lake.

He parked the Mercedes beside the ancient crusader wall and went through
into the garden on the lake shore.

Ella sat upon the wide patio before her easel. She wore a huge straw
hat the size of a wagon wheel adorned with plastic cherries and ostrich
feathers, her vast overalls covered her like a circus tent and they were
stiff with dried paint in all her typically vivid colours.

Calmly she looked up from her painting with her brush poised.

Hail, young Mars! she greeted him. Well met indeed, and why do you
bring such honour on my humble little home? ‘Piss on it, Ella, you know
damn well why I’m here. ‘So sweetly phrased, she was shifty, he could
see it in her bright little eyes. Shame on it that such vulgar words
pass such fair lips. Would you like a beer, Davey? ‘No, I don’t want a
beer. I want to know where she is?

Just who are we discussing? Come on, I read the book. I saw the cover.
You know, damn you, you know. She was silent then, staring at him. Then
slowly the ornate head-dress dipped in acquiescence. Yes, she agreed. I
know. ‘Tell me where she is. ‘I can’t do that, Davey. You and I both
made a promise.

Yes, I know of yours, you see. She watched the bluster go out of him.

The fine young body with the arrogant set of shoulders seemed to sag,
and he stood uncertainly in the sunlight.

How about that beer now, Davey? She heaved herself up from her stool
and crossed the terrace with her stately tread. She came back and gave
him a tall glass with a head of froth and they took a seat together at
the end of the terrace out of the wind, in the mild winter sunlight.

I’ve been expecting you for a week now, she told him. Ever since the
book was published. I knew it would set you on fire. It’s just too
damned explosive, even I wept like a leaky faucet for a couple of days,
she giggled shyly. You’d hardly believe it possible, would you?

That book was us, Debra and me, David told her. She was writing about
us. Yes, Ella agreed, but it does not alter the decision she had made.
A decision which I think is correct, by the way. She described exactly
how I felt, Ella. All the things I felt and still feel, but which I
could never have put into words. It’s beautiful and it’s true, but
don’t you see that it confirms her position.

But I love her, Ella, and she loves me, he cried out violently.

She wants it to stay that way. She doesn’t want it to die, she doesn’t
want it to sicken. He began to protest, but she gripped his arm in a
surprisingly powerful grip to silence him. She knows that she can never
keep pace with you now. Look at you, David, you are beautiful and vital
and swift, she must drag you back, and in time you must as certainly
resent it. Again he tried to interrupt, but she shook his arm in her
huge fist. You would be shackled, you could never leave her, she is
helpless, she would be your charge for all your life, think on it,
David. I want her, he muttered stubbornly.

I had nothing before I met her, and I have nothing now. That will
change. Perhaps she has taught you something and young emotions heal as
swiftly as young flesh.

She wants happiness for you, David. She loves you so much that her gift
to you is freedom. She loves you so much that for your sake she will
deny that love. Oh, God, he groaned.

If only I could see her, if I could touch her and talk to her for a few
minutes. She shook her massive head, and her jowls wobbled dolefully.

She would not agree to that. Why, Ella, tell me why? His voice was
rising again, desperate with his anguish.

She is not strong enough, she knows that if you came near her, she would
waver and bring even greater disaster upon you both. They sat silently
together then and looked out across the lake. High mountains of cloud
rose up beyond the heights of Golan, brilliant white in the winter
sunlight, shaded with blue and bruised grey, and range upon range they
bore down upon the lake. David shivered as an icy little wind came
ferreting across the terrace and sought them out.

He drank the rest of his beer, and then revolved the glass slowly
through his fingers.

Will you give her a message from me, then? ‘he asked.

I don’t think Please, Ella. just this one message. She nodded.

Tell her that what she wrote in the book is exactly how much I love her.
Tell her that it is big enough to rise above this thing. Tell her that
I want the chance to try. She listened quietly, and David made a
groping gesture with his hands as though to pluck words from the air
that might convince her.

Tell her- he paused, then shook his head. No, that’s all. just tell
her I love her, and I want to be with her. All right, David. I’ll tell
her. And you will give me her answer? Where can I reach you? He gave
her the number of the telephone in the crew ready room at the base.
You’ll ring me soon, Ella? Don’t keep me waiting. ‘Tomorrow, she
promised. In the morning. ‘Before ten o’clock.

It must be before ten He stood up, and then suddenly he leaned forward
and kissed her sagging and raddled cheek.

Thank you, he said. You are not a bad old bag. ‘Away with you, you.
and your blarney. You’d have the sirens of the Odyssey themselves come
running to your bidding. She sniffed moistly. Get away with you now,
I think I’m going to cry, and I want to be alone to enjoy it.

She watched him go up across the lawns under the date palms and at the
gate in the wall he paused and looked back. For a second they stared at
each other and then he stepped through the gate.

She heard the engine of the Mercedes whirr and pull away slowly up the
track, then the note of it rose as it hit the highway and went racing
away southwards. Ella rose heavily and crossed the terrace, went down
the steps towards the jetty and its stone boat houses screened from the
house by past of the ancient wall.

Her speedboat rode at its moorin& restless in the wind and the chop of
the lake. She went on down to the farthest and largest of the boat
houses and stood in the open doorway.

The interior had been stripped and repainted with clean white. The
furniture was simple and functional.

The rugs on the stone floor were for warmth, plain woven wool, thick and
rough. The large bed was built into a curtained alcove in the wall
beside the fireplace.

On the opposite wall was a gas stove with a double cooking ring above
which a number of copper cooking pots hung. A door beyond led through
to a bathroom and toilet which Ella had added very recently.

The only decoration was the Ella Kadesh painting from the house on Malik
Street, which hung on the bare white wall, facing the door. It seemed
to lighten and warm the whole room; below it the girl sat at a working
table. She was listening intently to her own voice speaking in Hebrew
from the tape recorder. Her expression was r apt and intent, and she
stared at the blank wall before her.

Then she nodded her head, smiling at what she had just heard. She
switched off the recorder and turned in the swivel chair to the second
recorder and punched the tran sinit button. She held the microphone
close to her lips as she began to translate the Hebrew into English.

Ella stood in the doorway and watched her work. An American publisher
had purchased the English-language rights of A Place of Our Kin. They
had paid Debra an advance of thirty thousand American dollars for the
book, and an additional five thousand for her services as translator.
She had almost completed the task now.

From where she stood, Ella could see the scar on Debra’s temple. It was
a glazed pinkish white against the deeply tanned skin of her face, a
dimple like a child’s drawing of a seagull in flight; V-shaped and no
bigger than a snowflake, it seemed to enhance her fine looks, almost
like a beauty spot, a tiny blemish that gave a focus point for her
strong regular features.

She had made no attempt to conceal it for her dark hair was drawn back
to the nape of her neck and secured there with a leather thong. She
wore no make-up, and her skin looked clean and glowing, tanned and
smooth.

Despite the bulky fisherman’s jersey and woollen slacks her body
appeared firm and slim for she swam each day, even when the snow winds
came down from the north.

Ella left the doorway and moved silently closer to the desk, studying
Debra’s eyes as she so often did. One day she would paint that
expression. There was no hint of the damage that lay behind, no hint
that the eyes could not see. Rather their calm level gaze seemed to
penetrate deeper, to see all. They had a serenity that was almost
mystic, a depth and understanding that Ella found strangely disquieting.

Debra pressed the switch of the microphone, ending the recording, and
then she spoke again without turning her head. Is that you, Ella? How
do you do it? Ella demanded with astonishment.

I felt the air move when you walked in, and then I smelt you. I’m big
enough to blow up a storm, but do I smell so bad? Ella protested,
chuckling.

You smell of turpentine, and garlic and beer, Debra sniffed, and laughed
with her.

I’ve been painting, and I was chopping garlic fox the roast, and I was
drinking beer with a friend. Ella dropped into one of the chairs. How
does it go with the book? ‘Nearly finished.

It can go to the typist tomorrow. Do you want some coffee? Debra stood
up and crossed to the gas stove. Ella knew better than to offer her
help, even though she gritted her teeth every time she watched Debra
working with fire and boiling water. The girl was fiercely independent,
utterly determined to live her life without other people’s pity or
assistance.

The room was laid out precisely, each item in its place where Debra
could put her hand to it without hesitation.

She could move confidently through her little world, doing her own
housework, preparing her own food and drink, working steadily, and
paying her own way.

Once a week, a driver came up from her publisher’s office in Jerusalem
to collect her tapes and her writing was typed out along with her other
correspondence.

Weekly also she would go with Ella in the speedboat up the lake to
Tiberias to do their shopping together, and each day she swam for an
hour from the stone jetty.

Often an old fisherman with whom she had become friendly would row down
the lake to fetch her and she would go out with him, baiting her own
lines and taking her turn at the oars.

Across the lawns from the jetty, in the crusader castle, there was
always Ella’s companionship and intelligent conversation, and here in
her little cottage there was quietness and safety and work to fill the
long hours.

And in the night there was the chill of terrible aloneness and silent
bitter tears into her solitary pillow, tears which only she knew about.

Debra placed a mug of coffee beside Ella’s chair and carried her own
back to her work bench.

Now, she said, you can tell me what is keeping you fidgeting around in
your seat, and drumming your fingers on the arm of the chair, she smiled
towards Ella, sensing the surprise. You have got something to tell me,
and it’s killing you.

Yes, Ella spoke after a moment. Yes, you are right, my dear. She took
a deep breath and then went on. He came, Debra. He came to see me, as
we knew he must Debra set the mug down on the table, her hand was steady
and her face expressionless. I didn’t tell him where you were. ‘How is
he, Ella? How does he look?

He is thinner, a little thinner, I think, and paler than when I last saw
him, but it suits him. He is still the most beautiful man I have ever
seen. His hair, Debra asked, has he let it grow a little?

Yes, I think so. It’s soft and dark and thick around his ears and curly
down the back. Debra nodded, smiling. I’m glad he didn’t cut it. They
were silent again, and then almost timidly Debra asked, What did he say?
What did he want? ‘He had a message for you. ‘What was it? And Ella
repeated it faithfully in his exact words.

When she had finished, Debra turned away to face the wall above her
desk. Please go away now, Ella. I want to be alone. He asked me to
give him your reply. I promised to speak to him tomorrow morning. I
will come to you later, but please leave me now. And Ella saw the drop
of bright liquid that slid down the smooth brown curve of her cheek.

Mountainously Ella came to her feet and moved towards the door. Behind
her she heard the girl sob, but she did not turn back. She went across
the stone jetty and up to the terrace. She sat before her canvas and
picked up her brush and began to paint. Her strokes were broad and
crude and angry.

David was sweating in the stiff shiny skin of his full pressure suit and
he waited anxiously beside the telephone, glancing every few minutes at
the crew-room clock.

He and Joe would go on high-altitude Red standby at ten o’clock, in
seven minutes time, and Ella had not called him.

David’s depression was thunderous and there was black anger and despair
in his heart. She had promised to call before ten o’clock.

Come on, Davey, Joe called from the doorway and he stood up heavily and
followed Joe to the electric carrier. As he took his seat beside Joe he
heard it ring in the crew-room.

Hold it, I he told the driver, and he saw Robert answer the telephone
and wave through the glass panel at him.

It’s for you, Davey, and he ran back into the crewroom.

I’m sorry, David, Ella’s voice was scratchy and far away. I tried
earlier but the exchange here Sure, sure, David cut her short, his anger
was still strong. Did you speak to her? Yes, Davey. Yes, I did. I
gave her your message. ‘What was her reply? he demanded. There was no
reply. ‘What the hell, Ella. She must have said something. ‘She said,
Ella hesitated, -and these are her exact words, “the dead cannot speak
with the living. For David, I died a year ago. I, He held the receiver
with both hands but still it shook. After a while she spoke again. Are
you still there? ‘Yes, he whispered, I’m still here They were silent
again, but David broke it at last. That’s it, then, he said. Yes. I’m
afraid that’s it, Davey. Joe stuck his head around the door. -‘Hey,
Davey. Cut it short, will you. Time to go. ‘I have to go now, Ella.
Thanks for everything. ‘Goodbye, David, she said, and even over the
scratchy connection he could hear the compassion in her tone.

It heightened the black anger that gripped him as he rode beside Joe to
the Mirage bunker.

For the first time ever, David felt uncomfortable in the cockpit of a
Mirage. He felt trapped and restless, sweating and angry, and it seemed
hours between each of the fifteen-minute readiness checks.

His ground crew were playing backgammon on the concrete floor below him,
and he could see them laughing and joshing each other. It made him
angrier than ever to see others happy.

Tubby! he barked into his microphone, and his voice was repeated by the
overhead loudspeakers. The plump, serious young man, who was chief
engineer for Lance squadron, climbed quickly up beside his cockpit and
peered anxiously through the canopy at him.

There is dirt on my screen, David snapped at him. How the hell do you
expect me to pick up a MIG, when I’m looking through a screen you ate
your bloody breakfast off?

The cause of David’s distress was a speck of carbon that marred the
glistening perfection of his canopy.

Tubby himself had supervised the polishing and buffing of it, and the
carbon speck was wind-carried since then.

Carefully he removed the offending spot, and lovingly he polished the
place where it had been with a chamois leather.

The reprimand had been public and unfair, very unlike their top boy
Davey. However, they all made allowances for Red standby nerves, and
spots on a canopy played hell with a pilot’s nerves. Every time it
caught his eye it looked exactly like a pouncing MIG.

That’s better, David gruffed at him, fully aware that he had been
grossly unfair. Tubby grinned and gave him a high sign as he climbed
down.

At that moment there was a click and throb in his earphones and the
distinctive voice of the Brig.

Red Standby, Go! Go!

Under full reheat and with the driving thrust of the afterburners
hurling him aloft David called, Hello, Desert Flower, Bright Lance
airborne and climbing.

Hello, David, this is the Brig. We have a contact shaping up for
intrusion on our air space. It looks like another teaser from the
Syrians. They are closing our border at twenty-six thousand and should
be hostile in approximately three minutes. We are going to initiate
attack plan Gideon. Your new heading is 420 and I want you right down
on the deck.

David acked and immediately rotated the Mirage’s nose downwards. Plan
Gideon called for a low-level stalk so that the ground clutter would
obscure the enemy radar and conceal their approach until such time as
they were in position to storm-climb up into an attack vector above and
behind the target.

They dropped to within feet of the ground, lifting and falling over the
undulating hills, so low that the herds of black Persian sheep scattered
beneath them as they shrieked eastwards towards the Jordan.

Hello, Bright Lance, this is Desert Flower, we are not tracking you.
Good, thought David, then neither is the enemy. Target is now hostile
in sector, the Brig gave the coordinates, Scan for your own contact.

Almost immediately Joe’s voice came in. Leader, this is Two. I have a
contact. David dropped his eyes to his own radar screen and amputated
his scan as Joe called range and bearing. It was a dangerous
distraction when flying in the sticky phase of high subsonic drag at
zero feet, and his own screen was clear of contact.

They raced onwards for many more seconds before David picked up the
faint luminous fuzz at the extreme range of his set.

Contact firming. Range figures nine six nautical miles. Parallel
heading and track. Altitude 25, 5oo feett. David felt the first
familiar tingle and slither of his anger and hatred, like the cold of a
great snake uncoiling in his belly.

Beseder, Two. Lock to target and go to interception speed.

They went supersonic and David looked up ahead at the crests of the
thunderheads that reared up from the solid banks of cumulo nimbus lower
down. These mountainous upthrusts of silver and pale blue were
sculptured into wonderful shapes that teased the imagination towers and
turrets embattled and emblazoned, heroic human shapes standing proud or
hunched in the attitude of mourning, the rearing horsemen of the
chessboard, a great fleecy pack of wolves, and other animal shapes of
fantasy, with the deep crevasses between them bridged in splendour by
the rainbows. There were hundreds of these, great blazes of colour,
that turned and followed their progress across the sky, keeping majestic
station upon them. Above them, the sky was a dark unnatural blue,
dappled like a Windsor grey by the thin striation of the cirrocumulus,
and the sunlight poured down to shimmer upon the two speeding warplanes.
As yet there was no sight of the target. It was up there somewhere
amongst the cloud mountains. He looked back at his radar screen. He
had taken his radar out of scan and locked it into the target, and now
as they closed rapidly he could appraise their relative positions.

The target was flying parallel to them, twenty miles out on their
starboard side, and it was high above them and moving at a little more
than half their speed. The sun was beyond the target, just short of its
zenith, and David calculated his approach path to bring him into an
attack vector from above and into the target’s starboard quarter.

Turning to starboard now, he warned Joe, and they came around together,
crossing the target’s rear to put themselves in the sun. Joe was
calling the range and bearing, it showed a leisurely patrol pattern.
There was no indication as yet that the target was aware of the hunters
behind and far below.

Two, this is leader. Arm your circuits. Without taking his eyes from
the radar screen, David pressed the master switch on his weapon console.
He activated the two air-to-air sidewinder missiles that hung under each
wing-tip, and immediately heard the soft electronic tone cycling in his
earphones. That tone indicated that the missiles were dormant, they had
not yet detected an infra-red source to excite them. When they did they
would increase the volume and rate of cycle, growling with anticipation,
claniouring like hunting dogs on the leash. He turned them down so he
could no longer hear them.

Now he selected his cannon switch, readying the twin 30-men. weapons in
their pods just below his seat. The trigger flicked forward out of its
recess in the head of the joystick and he curled his forefinger about it
to familiarize himself with the feel of it.

Two, this is leader. I am commencing visual. It was a warning to
Joe to concentrate all his attention on the screen and feed David with
directional data.

Target is now ten o’clock high, range figures two seven nautical miles.
David searched carefully, raking the billowing walls of blinding white,
breaking off the search to look away at a ground point or a pinnacle of
cloud to prevent his eyes focusing short, and to sweep the blind spot
behind them, lest the hunters become the hunted.

Then he saw them. There were five of them, and they appeared suddenly
out of cloud high above and were immediately outlined against it like
tiny black fleas on a newly ironed bedsheet. just then Joe called the
range again.

Figures one three nautical miles, but the targets were outlined so
crisply against their background that David could make out the
delta-winged dart shape, and the high tail plane that identified them
beyond all doubt as IUG 2i J.
I have target visual, he told Joe. Five MIG 2i’s J. His tone was flat
and neutral, but it was a lie, for now at last his anger had something
on which to fasten, and it changed its shape and colour, it was no
longer black and aching but cold and bright and keen as a rapier’s
blade.

Target is still hostile, Joe confirmed that they were within Israeli
territory, but his tone was not as well guarded as David’s. David could
detect the huskiness in it, and knew that Joe was feeling that anger
also.

It would be another fifteen seconds before they had completed their turn
across the enemy’s stern, and David assessed the relative positions and
saw that so far it had been a perfect approach. The formation sailed on
serenely, unaware of the enemy beneath their tail, creeping up in the
blind spot where the forward scanning radar could not discover them and
rapidly moving into a position up sun. Once there, David would go to
attack speed and climb steeply up into a position of superior height and
tactical advantage over the enemy formation.

Looking ahead now, he realized that chance had given him an added bonus;
one of the huge tower blocks of cloud was perfectly placed to screen his
climb into the sun. He would use it to cover his stalk, the way the
Boer huntsman of Africa stalked wild buffalo from behind a herd of
domestic oxen.

Target is altering course to starboard, Joe warned him, the AUGs were
turning away, edging back towards the Syrian border. They had completed
their taunting gesture, they had flaunted the colours of Islam in the
face of the infidel, and were making for safety.

David felt the blade of anger in his guts burn colder, sting sharper,
and with an effort of restraint he waited out the last few seconds
before making his climb. The moment came and his voice was still flat
and without passion as he called to Joe, Two, this is leader, commencing
storm-climb. ‘Two conforming. David eased back on the controls and
they went up in a climb so vicious that it seemed to tear their bowels
from their bellies.

Almost immediately, Desert Flower picked up the radar images as they
emerged from the ground clutter.

Hullo both units Bright Lance. We are now tracking you. Show friend or
foe. Both David and Joe were lying en their backs in the thrust of
storm-climb, but at the order they punched in their IFF systems.
Identification Friend or Foe would show a distinctive pattern, a bright
halo, around their radar images on command plot identifying them
positively even while they were locked with the enemy in the close
proximity of the dogfight.

Beseder, we are tracking you in IFF, said the Brig, and they went
plunging into the pillar of cloud and raked upwards through it. David’s
eyes darted between the boule that contained his blind-flying
instruments and the radar screen on which the enemy images shone bright
and with hard outline so close now that the individual aircraft in the
enemy formation stood out clearly.

Target is increasing speed and tightening starboard turn, Joe intoned
and David compensated for the enemy’s manoeuvre.

David was certain that they had not detected his approach, the turn away
was coincidental. Another glance at the screen showed that he had
achieved his height advantage. He was now two miles off their quarter
above them, with the sun at his back. it was the ideal approach.

Turning now into final leg of attack pattern, he alerted Joe to his
intention and they began to pitch in.

The last-second strike which would send their speed rocketing as they
closed.

The target centred dead ahead, and the gunsight lit up, glowing softly
on the screen ahead of him. The sidewinder missiles caught the first
emanations of infrared rays from their victims, and they began to growl
softly in David’s earphones.

Still blinded by thick grey cloud they raced in, and suddenly they burst
out into the clear. Ahead and below them opened a deep through of
space, a valley between cloud ranges and close below them the five MIGs
sparkled silvery in the sunlight, pretty and toylike, their red, white
and green markings festive and gay, the clean geometrical sweeps of wing
and tail nicely balanced and the shark-like mouths of the jet intakes
gaping, as they sucked in air.

They were in loose V-formation, two stacked back on each flank of the
leader and in the fleeting seconds that David had to study them, he had
assessed them. The four wingmen were Syrians, there was an indefinable
sloppiness in their flying, a looseness of control. They flew with that
lack of polish and confidence of the pupil.

They were soft targets, easy pickings.

However, it did not need the three red rings about the leader’s fuselage
to identify him as a Russian instructor.

Some leery old veteran with hawk’s blood in his veins, tough and canny,
and dangerous as an angry black mamba.

Engage two port targets, David ordered Joe, reserving the MIG leader and
the starboard echelon for his attack.

In David’s headphones the missiles were growling their anxiety, they had
sniffed out the massed jet blasts below them and already they were
tracking, howling their eagerness to kill.

David switched to command net. Hello, Desert Flower, this is Bright
Lance on target and requesting strike. Almost instantly the voice came
back, David, this is the Brig- he was speaking, rapidly, urgently,
discontinue attack pattern. I repeat, disengage target.

They are no longer hostile. Break off attack Shocked by the command,
David glanced down the deep valley of cloud and saw the long brown
valley of the Jordan falling away behind them. They had crossed over a
line on the earth and immediately their roles had changed from defender
to aggressor. But they were closing the target rapidly. It was a fair
bounce, they were still unaware.

We are going to hit them, David made the decision through the cold
bright thing that burned within him and he closed command net and spoke
to Joe. Two, this is leader attacking. Negative! I say again
negative! Joe called urgently. Target is no longer hostile? Remember,
Hannah! David shouted into his mask. Conform to me! and he curled his
finger about the trigger and touched left rudder, yawing fractionally to
bring the nearest 1VUG into the field of his sights. It seemed to
balloon in size as he shrieked towards it.

There was a heart-beat of silence from Joe, and then his voice strangled
and rough. Two conforming. Kill them, Joe, David yelled and pressed
against the spring-loaded tension of the trigger. There was a soft
double hiss, hardly discernible above the jet din, and from under each
wing-tip the missiles unleashed, they skidded and twisted as they
aligned themselves on the targets, leaving darkly etched trails of
vapour across David’s front, and at that moment the MIGs became aware.

At a shouted warning from their leader, the enULC formation burst into
its five separate parts, splintering silvery swift like a shoal of
sardines before the driving charge of the barracuda.

The rearmost Syrian was slow, he had only just begun to turn away when
one of the sidewinders flicked its tail, followed his turn and united
with him in an embrace of death.

The shock wave of the explosion jarred David’s machine, but the sound of
it was muted as the MIG was enveloped in the greenish-tinted cloud of
the strike and it shattered into fragments. A wing snapped off and went
whirling high and the brief blooming flower of smoke blew swiftly past
David’s head.

The second missile had chosen the machine with the red ring, the
formation leader, but the Russian reacted so swiftly and pulled his turn
so tight that the missile slid past him in an overshoot, and it lost the
scent, unable to follow the MIG around. As David hauled the Mirage
round after the Russian, he saw the missile destroy itself in a burst of
greenish smoke, far out across the valley of clouds.

The Russian was in a hard right-hand turn, and David followed him.
Staring across the imaginary circle that separated them, he could see
every detail of the enemy machine; the scarlet helmet of the pilot, the
gaudy colours of its rounders, the squiggle of Arabic script that was
its identification markings, even the individual rivets that stitched
the polished metal skin of the MIG.

David pulled back with all his strength against his joystick, for
gravity was tightening the loading of his controls, opposing his efforts
to place additional stress on the Mirage lest he tear its wings off the
fuselage Gravity had hold of David also, its insidious force sucked the
blood away from his brain so that his vision dimmed, the colour of the
enemy pilot’s helmet faded to dull brown, and David felt himself crushed
down into his seat.

About his waist and legs his G-suit tightened its coils, squeezing
brutally like a hungry python, attempting to prevent the drainage of
blood from his upper torso.

David tensed every muscle in his body, straining to resist the loss of
blood, and he took the Mirage up in a slidin& soaring yo-yo, up the side
of an imaginary barrel.

Like a motor-cyclist on a wall of death he whirled aloft, trying once
more for the advantage of height.

His vision narrowed, greyed out, until his field was reduced to the
limits of his cockpit, and he was pinned heavily to his seat, his mouth
sagging open, his eyelids dragging downwards; the effort of holding his
right hand on the control column was Herculean.

In the corner of his vision the stall indicator blinked its little eye
at him, changing from amber to red, warning him that he was on the verge
of catastrophe, courting the disaster of supersonic stall.

David filled his lungs and screamed with all his strength, his own voice
echoing through the grey mist.

The effort forced a little blood back to his brain and his vision
cleared briefly, enough to let him see that the MIG had anticipated his
yo-yo and had come up under him, sliding up the wall of death towards
his unprotected flank and belly.

David had no alternative but to break out of the turn before the MIG’s
cannons could bear. He rolled the Mirage out, and went instantly into a
tight climbing lefthander, his afterburners still thundering at full
power, consuming fuel at a prodigious rate, and placing a limit upon
these desperate manoeuvres.

Neatly and gracefully as a ballet dancer, the Russian followed him out
of the turn and locked into his next manoeuvre. David saw him coming up
into an attack position in his rear-view mirror and he rolled out again
and went up and right, blacking out with the rate of turn.

Roll and turn, turn for life, David had judged the Russian fairly. He
was a deadly opponent, quick and hard, anticipating each of David’s
turns and twists, riding always within an ace of strike. Turn, and turn
again, in great winging parabolas, climbing always, turning always,
vapour trails spinning out from their wing-tips in silky arabesque
patterns against the hard blue of the sky.

David’s arms and shoulders ached as he fought the control dampers and
the weight of gravity, sickened by the drainage of blood and the
adrenalin in his system.

His cold battle rage turned gradually to icy despair as each of his
efforts to dislodge the Russian were met and countered, and always the
gaping shark’s maw of the MIG hung and twisted a point off his shoulder
or belly.

All David’s expertise, all the brilliance of his natural flying gifts
were slowly being discounted by the store of combat experience upon
which his enemy could draw.

At one stage, when for an instant they flew wing-tip to wing-tip, David
glanced across the gap and saw the man’s face. just the eyes and
forehead above the oxygen mask; the skin Was pale as bone and the eyes
were deeply socketed like those of a skull, and then David was turning
again, turning and screaming and straining against gravity, screaming
also against the first enfolding coils of fear.

He rolled half out of the turn and then without conscious thought,
reversed the roll. The Mirage shuddered with protest-and his speed
bled off. The Russian saw it and came down on him from high on his
starboard quarter . As David pushed the stick fully forward and left he
kicked on full left rudder, ducking under the blast of cannon fire, and
the Mirage went down in a spiralling dive. The blood which gravity had
sucked from his head was now flung upwards through his body, filling his
head and his vision with bright redness, the red-out of inverted
gravitational force. A vein in his nose popped under the pressure and
suddenly his oxygen mask was filled with a flood of warm choking blood.

The Russian was after him, following him into the dive, lining him up
for his second burst.

David screamed with the metallic salty taste of blood in his mouth and
hauled back on the stick with all his strength, the nose came up and
over, climbing out of the dive, and again the blood drained from his
head going from red-out to black-out in the fraction of a second and be
saw the Russian following him up, drawn up by the ploy. At the top
David kicked it out in a breakaway roll. It caught the Russian, he was
one-hundredth of a second slow in countering and he swung giddily
through David’s gunsight, an almost impossible deflection shot that
sluiced cannon fire wildly across the sky, spraying it like water from a
garden hose. The MIG was in David’s sights for perhaps one-tenth of a
second, but in that time David saw a flash of light, a bright wink of it
below the pilot’s canopy, and then David rolled and turned out, coming
around hard and finding the Russian still hanging in the circuit, but
losing air space, swaying out with a feather of white vapour streaming
back from below his cockpit canopy.

I’ve hit him, David exulted, and his fear was gone, become anger again,
a fierce triumphant anger. He took the Mirage up in another soaring
yo-yo and this time the MIG could not hold station on him and David
flickrolled off the top and came out with the Russian centred in his
gunsight.

He fired a one-second burst and saw the incendiary shells lace in and
burst in quick little stabbing stars in the silver fuselage of the MIG.

The Russian came out of his turn, in a gentle dive, flying straight, no
longer taking evasive action, probably dead at his controls, and David
sat on his tail, and settled the pipper of his gunsight.

He fired another one-second burst and the MIG began to break up. Small
unidentifiable pieces of wreckage flew back at David, but the Russian
stayed with his machine.

Again David hit him with a two-second burst, and now the MIG’s nose sank
until she was in a vertical dive still under full power and she went
down like a silver javelin. David could not follow her without tearing
off his own wings. He pulled out and watched the Russian fly into the
earth at a speed that must have exceeded mach 2_ He burst like a bomb in
a tall tower of dust and smoke that stood for long seconds on the brown
plains of Syria.

David shut down his afterburners and looked to his fuel gauges. They
were all showing only a narrow strip above the empty notch, and David
realized that the last screaming dive after the MIG had taken him
down’to an altitude of five thousand, he was over enemy territory and
too low, much too low.

Expending precious fuel he came around on a westerly heading and went to
interception speed, climbing swiftly out of range of flak and searching
the heavens about him for sign of either Joe or the other MIGs, although
he guessed that the Syrians were either with Allah in the garden of the
Houris, or back home with mother by this time. Bright Lance Two, this
is leader. Do you read me? ‘Leader, this is Two, Joe’s voice answered
him immediately. have you visual. In the name of God, get out of
there! What is my position? We are fifty miles within Syrian
territory, our course for base is 2 5 O How did you go? I took out one
of mine. The other one ran for it, after that I was too busy keeping an
eye on you David blinked his eyes and was surprised to find that sweat
was pouring down his forehead from under his helmet and his mask was
stick and sticky with blood from his nose-bleed. His arms and shoulders
still ached, and he felt drLmken and light-headed from the effects of
gravity and combat and his hands on the control column were shaky and
weak.

I got two he said, two of the swines, one for Debra, and one for Hannah.
Shut up, Davey, Joe’s voice was stiff with tension. Concentrate on
getting out of here. You are within range of both flak and ground
missiles. Light your tail – and let’s go.

Negative, David answered him. I’m low on fuel.

Where are you?

Six o’clock high at 25, 000. ‘As he answered, Joe sat up in his seat,
leaning forward against his shoulder straps to watch the tiny wedge
shape of David’s machine far below. it was climbing slowly up to meet
him, slowly too slowly, and low, too low. David was vulnerable and Joe
was afraid for him, frowning heavily into his face mask and searching
restlessly, sweeping heaven and earth for the first hint of danger. Two
minutes would see them clear, but they would be two long, slow minutes.

He almost missed the first missile. The ground crew must have allowed
David to overfly their launch pad before they put it up in pursuit, for
Joe picked up its vapour trail as it streaked in from behind David,
closing rapidly with him.

Missile, break left, Joe yelled into his mask. Go! Go!

Go! and he saw David begin his turn instantly, steeply, side-stepping
the sizzling attack of the missile.

It’s lost you! Joe called, as the missile continued its crazy career
through space, beginning to yaw from side to side as it hunted for a
target and at last bursting in self -destruction.

Keep going, Davey, Joe encouraged him, but keep awake, there will be
more. They both saw the next one leave the ground from its camouflaged
vehicle. There was a nest of them on a rocky ridge above a sun-blasted
plain. The Serpent slid off the rock and lifted into the sky, climbing
rapidly towards David’s little machine.

Light your tail, Joe told him, and wait for it! He watched the missile
boring in, converging with dazzling speed on David’s Mirage.

Break right! Go! Go! Go! Joe yelled and David twisted violently
aside. Again the Serpent slid past him, over-shooting, but this time
not losing contact and coming around to attack again, its seekers locked
to David’s machine.

He’s still on you, Joe was screaming now. Go for the sun, Davey. Try
for the sun, and the Mirage pointed its nose at the great blazing orb
that burned above the mountain ranges of dark cloud. The Serpent
followed him upwards, hunting him with the dreadful singlemindedness of
the automaton. He’s on to you, Davey. Flip out now! Go! Go! Go!
David flicked the Mirage out of her vertical climb, and fell like a
stone, while the Serpent fastened its attention upon the vast infra-red
output from the sun and streaked on towards it, losing the Mirage.

You’ve lost it. Get out, Davey, get out! Joe pleaded with him, but for
the moment the Mirage was helpless.

In her desperate climb for the sun she had lost manoeuvring speed and
was wallowing clumsily now. It would be many seconds before she became
agile and lithe once more, and by then it would be too late, for Joe saw
the third missile become airborne and dart upwards on its feather of
flame and smoke aiming at David’s Mirage.

Joe did not consciously realise what he was going to do until he had
winged over and commenced his dive under full power. He came down with
his mach meter indicating twice the speed of sound, and he levelled
across David’s tail, cutting obliquely across his track under the nose
of the oncoming Serpent.

The Serpent saw him with its little cyclops radar eye, and it sensed the
heat of his exhausts, fresher, more tantalizing than David’s, and it
accepted him as an alternative target and swung away after him, leaving
David to fly on unscathed.

David saw Joe’s aircraft flash past his wing-tip at searing speed, and
but an instant behind him followed the Serpent. It took him only a
second to realize that Joe had deliberately pulled the missile off him,
had accepted the attack that must surely have destroyed David.

He watched with fascinated horror as Joe pulled out Of his dive, and
used his speed to climb into the sun.

The missile followed him smoothly, angling upwards, overhauling Joe’s
Mirage with effortless ease. Joe was watching the missile in his
mirror, and at the last instant he flipped out of the climb, but this
time the Serpent was not deceived; as Joe dropped so it swivelled also,
and as earlier David had wallowed helplessly now Joe was in the same
predicament. He had taken his chance and it had not worked for him. The
missile found him, and in a brusque burst of flame, Joe and his Mirage
died together.

David flew on alone, his Mirage once more at manoeuvring speed and his
throat dry with horror and fear and grief. He found himself talking
aloud.

Joe, no, Joe. Oh God no! You shouldn’t have done it. Ahead of him
through the gaps in the massive cloud bases he saw the Jordan.

It should be you that’s going home, Joe, he said. It should be you,
Joe, and felt the hard ball of sorrow in his throat.

But the instinct of survival was still strong and David yawned and
glanced back to clear his blind spot, and he saw the last missile coming
in on him. It was just a small black speck far behind, with a little
frill of dark smoke around it, but it was watching him hungrily with its
wicked little eye.

As he saw it, he knew beyond doubt that this one was his, the one that
the fates had reserved for him. The attacks he had evaded so far had
worn his nerves and strained his judgement, he felt a sense of
fatalistic dismay as he watched the attacking missile gaining on him,
nevertheless he gathered his scattered reserves for one more supreme
effort.

His eyes narrowed to slits, the sweat sliding down his face and
drenching his mask, his left hand holding the throttle fully open and
his right gripping the control column with the strength of despair, he
judged his moment.

The missile was almost upon him and he screamed with all his might and
hurled the Mirage into the turn, but he had misjudged it by the smallest
part of a second.

As he turned away the missile slid past him and it was close enough to
pick up the shadow of the Mirage in the photo-electric eye of its fusing
device. The eye winked at him and the missile exploded.

The Mirage was in the critical attitude of its turn, and the cockpit
canopy was exposed entirely to the centre of the blast. It hit the
plane with a blow that sent it tumbling; like a running man tripping it
went over, and it lost life and flying capability.

The canopy was penetrated by flying steel. A piece struck David’s
armoured seat with a clang and then it glanced off and struck his arm
above the elbow, snapping the bone cleanly so that the arm dropped
uselessly and hung into his lap.

An icy wind raged through the torn canopy as the Mirage hurled itself
through space with suicidal force, whipping its nose through the vicious
motions and flat plane of high-speed spin. David was thrown against his
straps, his ribs bruised and his skin smeared from his shoulders and the
broken arm flailing agonizingly.

He tried to hold himself upright in his seat as he reached up over his
head, caught hold of the handle of the ejector mechanism and hauled the
blind down over his face. He expected to have the charge explode
beneath his seat and hurl him free of the doomed Mirage, but nothing
happened.

Desperately he released the handle and strained forward to reach the
secondary firing mechanism under his seat between his feet. He wrenched
it and felt despair as there was no response. The seat was not working,
the blast had damaged some vital part of it. He had to fly the Mirage
out of it, with one arm and very little altitude left to him. He
fastened his right fist on to the moulded grip of the stick, and in the
crazy fall and flutter and whirl, David began to fight for control,
flying now by instinct alone, for he was badly hurt, and sky and
horizon, earth and cloud spun giddily across his vision.

He was aware that he was losing height rapidly, for every time the earth
swayed through his line of vision it was c ser an more menacing, t
doggedly he continued his attempts to roll against the direction of
spin.

The earth was very close before he felt the first hint of response, and
the ferocity of her gyrations abated slightly. Stick and rudder
together, he tried again and the Mirage showed herself willing at last.
Gently, with the touch of a lover, he wooed her and suddenly she came
out and he was flying straight and level, but she was hard hit. The
blast of the missile had done mortal damage, and she was heavy and sick
in his hands. He could feel the rough vibration of the engine shaking
her, and he guessed that the compressor had thrown a blade and was now
out of balance. Within minutes or seconds she would begin to tear
herself to pieces. He could not try for climbing power on her.

David looked quickly about him and realized with a shock how far he had
fallen in that terrible tumble down the sky. He was only two or three
hundred feet above the earth. He was not sure of his direction, but
when he glanced at his doppler compass, he found with mild surprise that
he was still heading in the general direction of home.

The engine vibration increased, and he could hear the shrill screech of
rending metal. He wasn’t going to make it home, that was certain, and
there was insufficient height to jettison the canopy, release his straps
and attempt to scramble out of the cockpit. There was only one course
still remaining, he must fly the Mirage in.

Even as he made the decision his one good hand was busy implementing it.
Holding the stick between his knees, he let down his landing gear; the
nose wheel might hold him up long enough to take some of the speed off
her and prevent her cartwheeling.

He looked ahead, and saw a low ridge of rocky ground and sparse green
vegetation. Disaster lurked for him there, but beyond it were open
fields, ploughed land, orderly blocks of orchards, neatly laid-out
buildings.

That in itself was cheering. Such order and industry could only mean
that he had returned across the border to Israel.

David skimmed over the ridge of broken rocks, sucking in his own belly
as though to lift the Mirage bodily over the hungry teeth of granite,
and ahead of him lay the fields. He could see women working in one of
the orchards, stopping and turning to look at him. So close that he
could clearly see the expressions of surprise and apprehension on their
faces.

There was a man on a blue tractor and he jumped out from his seat and
fell to the earth as David passed only feet above his head.

All fuel cocks closed, all switches off, master switch off, David went
into the final ritual for crash-landing.

Ahead of him lay the smooth brown field, open and clear. He might just
be lucky enough, it might just come Off.

The Mirage was losing flying speed, her nose coming up, the airspeed
needle sinking back, 200 miles per hour, 190, 180, dropping back to her
stalling speed of 150.

Then suddenly David realized that the field ahead of him was latticed
with deep concrete irrigation channels.

They were twenty feet wide, and ten deep, a deadly hazard, enough to
destroy a Centurion tank.

There was nothing David could do now to avoid their gaping jaws. He
flew the mirage in, touching down smoothly.

Smooth as a tomcat pissing on a sheet of velvet, he thought bitterly,
aware that all his skill was unavailing now. Even Barney would have
been proud of me. The field was rough, but the Mirage settled to it,
pitching and lurkin& shaking David ruthlessly about the cockpit, but she
was up on all three wheels, losing speed handily, her undercart taking
the strain. However, she was still travelling at ninety miles an hour
when she went into the irrigation ditch.

it snapped her undercart off like pretzel sticks and she nosed in,
struck the far bank of concrete that sheered through metal like a
scythe, and sent the fuselage cartwheeling across the field with David
still strapped within it. The wings broke away and the body slid on
across the soft earth to come to rest at last, right way up like a
stranded whale.

The whole of David’s left side was numb, no feeling in his arm or lethe
straps had mauled him with their rude grasp, and he was stunned and
bewildered in the sudden engrossing silence.

For many seconds he sat still, unable to move or think. Then he smelled
it, the pervasive reek of Avtur jet fuel from the ruptured tanks and
lines. The smell of it galvanized him with the pilot’s deadly fear of
fire.

With his right hand he grabbed the canopy release lever and heaved at
it. He wasted ten precious seconds with it, for it was jammed solid.
Then he turned his attention to the steel canopy breaker in its niche
below the lever. This was a tool specially designed for this type of
emergency. He lifted it, lay back in his seat and attacked the Perspex
dome above his head. The stink of jet fuel was overpowering, filling
the cockpit, and he could hear the little pinging and tinkling sound
made by white-hot metal.

His left arm hampered him, he had no feeling or use in it. The straps
bound him tightly to his seat and he had to pause in his assault upon
the canopy to loosen them.

Then he began again. He tore an opening in the Perspex, the size of a
hand, and as he worked to enlarge it, a ruptured fuel pressure line
somewhere in the shattered fuselage sprayed a jet of Avtur high in the
air. It fell in a heavy drizzle upon the canopy like a garden
sprinkler, poured down the curved sides and dribbled through the hole
David was cutting. It fell into his face, icy cold on his cheeks and
stinging his eyes, it drenched his shoulders and the front of his
pressure suit, and David began to pray. For the first time ever in his
life the words took on meaning and he felt his terror receding. Hear O
Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. He prayed aloud, striking up
at the softly yielding Perspex and feeling the soft rain of death in his
face. He tore at the opening with his hands, bringing away slabs of
transparent material, but ripping his gloves and leaving his blood
smearing the jagged edges of the opening.

Blessed be His name, whose glorious kingdom is for ever The opening was
large enough. He hauled himself up in the seat, and found himself
caught by the oxygen and radio lines attached to his helmet. He could
not reach them with his crippled left arm. He stared down at the
offending limb, and saw the blood welling out of the torn sleeve of the
suit. There was no pain but it was twisted at a comical angle from the
elbow.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart – he whispered, and
with his right hand he tore loose the chin strap and let his helmet drop
to the floorboards. The Avtur soaked into the soft dark mop of his hair
and ran down his neck behind his ears, and he thought about the flames
of hell.

Painfully he dragged himself out through the opening in the canopy, and
now not even prayer could hold off the dark hordes of terror that
assaulted his soul. – For the anger of God will kindle against you
Laboriously he crawled across the slippery sleek metal of the wing root
and fell to the ground. He fell facedown and lay for a moment, exhausted
by fear and effort.

I, remember all the commands of God, He heard voices then as he lay with
his face against the dusty earth, and he lifted his head and saw the
women from the orchard running towards him across the open field. The
voices were shrill but faint and the words were in Hebrew. He knew that
he was home.

Steadying himself against the shattered body of the Mirage, he came to
his feet with the broken arm dangling at his side, and he tried to shout
to them.

Go back! Beware! but his voice was a throaty croak, and they ran on
towards him. Their dresses and aprons were gay spots of colour against
the dry brown earth.

He pushed himself away from the aircraft and staggered to meet the
running women.

Go back! he croaked in his own terrible distress, with the grip of his
G-suit strangling his movements and the evaporating fuel cold as ice in
his air and down his face.

Within the battered hull of the Mirage a puddle of Avtur had been heated
by the white-hot shell of the jet compressor. its low volatility at
last was raised to flash point and a dying spark from the electronic
equipment was enough to ignite it.

With a dull but awful roar, the Mirage bloomed with dark crimson flame
and sooty black smoke, the wind ripped the flames outwards in great
streamers and pennants that engulfed all around them, and David
staggered onwards in the midsts of the roaring furnace that seemed to
consume the very air.

He held his breath, if he had not, the flame would have scorched his
lungs. He closed his eyes tightly against the agony and ran on blindly.
His body and his limbs were protected by the fireproof pressure suit and
boots and gloves, but his head was bare and soaked with jet fuel.

As he ran his head burned like a torch. His hair frizzled off, in a
stinking puff of flame and the skin of his scalp and neck and face were
exposed. The flames burnt his ears off and most of his nose, they
flayed off his skin in a blistering sheet and then they ate into the raw
flesh, they burnt away his lips and exposed his teeth and part of the
bone of his jaw. They ate through his eyelids and stripped the living
meat from his cheeks.

David ran on through the burning air and smoke, and he did not believe
that such pain was possible. It exceeded all his imaginings and swamped
all the senses of his body and mind, but he knew he must not scream.

The pain was a blackness and the vivid colours of flame in his tightly
closed eyes, it was a roaring in his ears like all the winds of the
world, and in his flesh it was the goads and whips and burning hooks of
hell itself.

But he knew he could not let this terrible fire enter his body and he
ran on without screaming.

The women from the orchard were brought up short by the sudden forest of
flame and black smoke that rose up in front of them, engulfing the
squashed-insect body of the aircraft, and closing around the running
figure of the pilot.

It was a solid impenetrable wall of heat and smoke that blotted out all
ahead of them, and forced them to draw back, awed and horrified, before
its raging hot breath. They stood in a small group, panting and
wild-eyed.

Then abruptly a freak gust of wind opened the heavy oily curtains of
smoke, and out of them stumbled a dreadful thing with a scorched and
smoking body and a head of flame.

Blindly it came out of the smoke, one arm hanging and its feet dragging
and staggering in the soft earth.

They stared at this thing in horror, frozen in silence, and it came
towards them.

Then a strapping girl, with a strong brown body and a man of dark hair,
uttered a cry of compassion, and raced to meet him.

As she ran, she stripped off her heavy voluminous skirt of thick wool,
leaving her strong brown legs bare.

She reached David and she swirled the skirt over his head, smothering
the flames that still ate into his flesh.

The other women followed her, using their clothing to wrap him as he
fell and rolled on the earth.

Only then did David begin to scream, from that lipless mouth with the
exposed teeth. It was a sound that none of them would ever forget. As
he screamed the eyes were open, with the lashes and brow and most of the
lids burned away. The eyes were dark indigo blue in the glistening mask
of wet scorched meat, and the little blood vessels, sealed by the heat,
popped open and dribbled and spurted. As he screamed, the blood and
lymph bubbled from the nostril holes where his nose had been, and his
body writhed and heaved and convulsed as spasm after spasm of unbearable
agony hit him.

The women had to hold him down to control his struggles, and to prevent
him tearing with clawed fingers at the ruins of his face.

He was still screaming when the doctor from the kibbutz slashed open the
sleeve of his pressure suit with a scalpel and pressed the morphine
needle into the twitching jumping muscles of his arm.

The Brig saw the last bright radar image fade from the plot and heard
the young radar officer report formally, No further contact. And a
great silence fell on the command bunker.

They were all watching him. He stood hunched over the plot and his big
bony fists were clasped at his sides.

His face was stiff and expressionless, but his eyes were terrible.

It seemed that the frantic voices of his two pilots still echoed from
the speakers above his head, as they called to each other in the
extremes of mortal conflict.

They had all heard David’s voice, hoarse with sorrow and fear.

Joel! No, Joe! Oh God, no! and they knew what that meant. They had
lost them both, and the Brig was still stunned by the sudden
incalculable turn that the sortie had taken.

At the moment he had lost control of his fighters he had known that
disaster was unavoidable, and now his son was dead. He wanted to cry
out aloud, to protest against the futility of it. He closed his eyes
tightly for a few seconds, and when he opened them, he was in control
again.

General alert, he snapped. All squadrons to “Red” standby, he knew they
faced an international crisis. I want air cover over the area they went
down. They may have ejected. Put up two Phantom flights and keep an
umbrella over them. I want helicopters sent in immediately, with
paratrooper guards and medical teams – Command bunker moved swiftly into
general alert procedure.

Get me the Prime Minister, he said, he was going to have to do a lot of
explaining, and he spared a few vital seconds to damn David Morgan
roundly and bitterly.

The airforce doctor took one look at David’s charred and scorched head
and he swore softly. We’ll be lucky to save this one.

Loosely he swathed the head in Vaseline bandages and they hurried with
David’s blanket-wrapped body on the stretcher to the Bell 2o5 helicopter
waiting in the orchard.

The Bell touched down on the helipad at Hadassah Hospital and a medical
team was ready for him. One hour and fifty-three minutes after the
Mirage hit the irrigation canal David had passed through the sterile
lock into the special burns unit on the third floor of the hospital,
into a quiet and secluded little world where everybody wore masks and
long green sterile robes and the only contact with the outside world was
through the double-glazed windows and even the air he breathed was
scrubbed and cleaned and filtered.

However, David was enfolded in the soft dark clouds of morphine and he
did not hear the quiet voices of the masked figures as they worked over
him. It’s third degree over the entire area – No attempt to clean it or
touch it, sister, not until it stabilizes. I am going to spray with
Epigard, and we’ll go to intramuscular Tetracycline four-hourly against
infection, It will be two weeks before we dare touch it. ‘Very well,
doctor. Oh, and sister, fifteen milligrams of morphine six hourly. We
are going to have a lot of pain with this one. Pain was infinity, an
endless ocean across which the wave-patterns marched relentlessly to
burst up the beaches of his soul. There were times when the surf of
pain ran high and each burst of it threatened to shatter his reason.
Again there were times when it was low, almost gentle in its throbbing
rhythm and he drifted far out upon the ocean of pain to where the
morphine mists enfolded him. Then the mists parted and a brazen sun
beat down upon his head, and he squirmed and writhed and cried out. His
skull seemed to bloat and swell until it must burst, and the open
nerve-ends screamed for surcease.

Then suddenly there was the sharply beloved sting of the needle in his
flesh, and the mists closed about him once more.

I don’t like the look of this at all. Have we taken a culture, sister?
‘Yes, doctor. ‘What are we growing? ‘I’m afraid it’s strep. ‘Yes. I
thought so. I think we’ll change to Cloxacillin see if we get a better
response with that With the pain, David became aware of a smell. It was
the smell of carrion and f 3ings ong dead, the smell of vermin in dirty
blankets, of vomit and excreta, and the odour of wet garbage festering
in dark alleys, and at last he came to know that the smell was the
rotting of his own flesh as the bacteria of Streptococcus infection
attacked the expose tissue.

They fought it with the drugs, but now the pain was underlined with the
fevers of infection and the terrible burning thirsts which no amount of
liquids could slake.

With the fever came the nightmares and the fantasies to plague and goad
him even further beyond the limits of his endurance.

Joe – he cried out in his agony, try for the sun, Joe.

Break left now, Go! Go! And then he was sobbing from the ruined and
broken mouth. Oh, Joe! Oh God, no! Joe. Until the night-sister could
no longer bear it and she came hurrying with the syringe, and his
screams turned into babbling and then into the low whimper and moan of
the drug sleep. We’ll start with the acriflavin dressings now, sister.
When they changed the dressings every forty-eight hours it was under
general anaesthetic for the entire head was of raw flesh, a bland
expressionless head, a head like a child’s drawing, crude lines and
harsh colours, hairless, earless, streaked and mottled with yellow runs
and patches of soft pus and corruption.

We are getting a response from the Cloxacillin, it’s looking a lot
healthier, sister. The naked flesh of his eyelids had contracted,
pulling back like the glistening petals of a pink rose, exposing the
eyeballs to the air without respite. They had filled the eyes sockets
with a yellow ointment to soothe and moisten them, to keep out the
loathsome infection that covered his head. The ointment prevented
vision.

I think we’ll go for an abdominal pedicel now. Will you prep for
afternoon theatre, please, sister? Now it was time for the knife, and
David was to learn that the pain and the knife lived together in
terrible sin.

They lifted a long flap of skin and flesh from his belly, leaving it
still attached at one end, and they rolled it into a fat sausage, then
they strapped his good arm, the one without the plaster cast, to his
side and they stitched the free end of the sausage to his forearm,
training it to draw its blood supply from there. Then they brought him
back from theatre and left him trussed and helpless and blind with the
pedicel fastened to his arm, like a remora. to the belly of a shark.

Well, we have saved both eyes, the voice was proud, fond almost, and
David looked up and saw them for the first time. They were gathered
around his cot, a circle of craning heads, mouths and noses covered by
surgical masks, but his vision was still smeary with ointment and
distorted by the drip irrigation that had replaced it. Now we will go
for the eyelids. It was the knife again, the contracted and
bunchedelids split and re-shaped and stitched, the knife up ey and pain
and the familiar sickly taste and stink of anaesthetic that saturated
his body and seemed to exude from the very pores of his skin.

Beautiful, really lovely, we have cleaned up the infection nicely. Now
we can begin. The head was cleansed of its running rivers of pus, and
now it was glistening and wet, bald and bright red, the colour of a
cocktail cherry as granulation tissue formed. There were two gnarled
and twisted flaps for ears, the double row of teeth startlingly white
and perfect where the lips had been eaten away, a long white blade of
exposed bone outlined the point of the jaw, the nose was a stump with
the nostrils like the double muzzles of a shotgun, and only the eyes
were still beautiful, dark indigo and flawlessly white between lids of
shocking crimson and neatly laid back stitches.

We’ll begin at the back of the neck. Will you prep for this afternoon’s
theatre, please, sister? It was a variation on the theme of the knife.
They planed sheets of live skin from his thighs and meshed them to allow
a wider spread, then they laid them over the exposed flesh, covering a
little at each session, and evaluating each attempt while David lay in
his cot and rode the long swells of pain.

That one is no good. I’m afraid we will have to scrap it and try again.

While his thighs grew a new crop of skin, they planed fresh sheets from
his calves, so that each donor-site became a new source of pain.

Lovely! An edge-to-edge take with that graft Slowly the cap of skin
extended -up across the nape of his neck and over his scalp. The
meshing of the skin grafts gave them a patterned effect, regular as the
scales of a fish, and the new grafts were hard-looking and raised. We
can move the pedicel up now. ‘This afternoon’s theatre, doctor? ‘Yes,
please, sister. David came to know that they operated every Thursday in
the burns unit. He came to dread the Thursday morning rounds when the
consultant and his staff crowded around his cot and touched and prodded
and discussed the restructuring of his flesh with an impersonal candour
that chilled him.

They freed the fat sausage of flesh from his belly and it dangled from
his arm like some grotesque white leech, seeming to have a life of its
own, drawing blood and sustenance from its grip upon his forearm.

They lifted his arm and strapped it across his chest, and the raw end of
the pedicel they split and stitched to his jaw and to the stump of his
nose.

It’s taken very nicely. We will begin shaping it this afternoon. We’ll
have him at the head of the theatre list.

Will you see to that please, sister? With the living flesh that they
had stolen from his belly they fashioned a crude lump of a nose, taut,
narrow lips and a new covering for his jawbone.

The oedema has settled. This afternoon I will go for the bone-graft on
the jaw.

They opened his chest and split his fourth rib laterally, robbing it of
a long sliver of bone and they grafted this to the damaged jaw-bone,
then they spread the flesh of the pedicel over it and stitched it all
into place.

On Thursdays it was the knife and the stink of anaesthetic, and for the
days in between it was the ache and pain of abused and healing flesh.

They fined down the new nose, piercing it with nostrils, they finished
the reconstruction of his eyelids.

They laid the last grafts behind his ears, they cut a double zigzag
incision around the base of his jaw where the contracting scar tissue
was trying to draw his chin down on to his chest. The new lips took
firm hold on the existing muscles and David gained control of them so he
could form his words again and speak clearly.

The last area of raw flesh was closed beneath the patchwork of skin
grafts, flesh grafts and stitches. David was no longer a high-infection
risk and he was moved from a sterile environment. Once again he saw
human faces, not merely eyes peering over white surgical masks. The
faces were friendly, cheerful faces. Men and women proud of their
achievement in saving him from death and refreshing his ravaged head.

You’ll be allowed visitors now, and I expect you’ll welcome that, said
the consultant. He was a distinguished-looking young surgeon who had
left a highly paid post at a Swiss Clinic to head this burns and plastic
surgery unit.

I don’t think I will be having any visitors, David had lost contact with
the reality of the outside world during the nine months in the burns
unit.

Oh, yes, you will, the surgeon told him. We’ve had regular inquiries on
your progress from a number of people. Isn’t that correct, sister?
“That’s right, doctor. You can let them know that he is allowed
visitors now. The consultant and his group began to move on.

Doctor, David called him back. I want a look at a mirror, and they were
all silent, immediately embarrassed. This request of his had been
denied many times over the last months.

Damn it, David became angry. You can’t protect me from it for ever. The
consultant gestured for the others to leave and they filed out of the
ward, while he came back to David’s bed.

All right, David, he agreed gently. We’ll find you a mirror, though we
don’t have much use for them around here! For the first time in the
many months he had known him, David glimpsed the depths of his
compassion, and he wondered at it. That a man who lived constantly
amongst great pain and terrible disfigurement could still be moved by
it.

You must understand that how you are now is not how you will always be.
All I have been able to do, so far, is heal your exposed flesh and make
you functional again. You are once more a viable human being. You have
not experienced the loss of any of your faculties but I will not pretend
that you are beautiful. However, there remains much that I can still do
to change that.

Your ears, for example, can be reconstructed with the material I have
reserved for that purpose, He indicated the stump of the pedicel that
still hung from David’s forearm – There is much fine work stiH to be
done about the nose and mouth and eyes. He paced slowly the length of
the ward and looked out into the sunlight for a moment before turning
back again and coming forward to face David.

But let me be truthful with you. There are limitations to what I can
do. The muscles of expression, those delicate little muscles around the
eyes and mouth have been destroyed. I cannot replace those. The hair
follicles of your lashes and brows and scalp have been burned away.

You will be able to wear a wig, but David turned to his bedside locker
and took from the drawer his wallet. He opened it and drew out a
photograph. it was the one which Hannah had taken so long ago of Debra
and David sitting at the rock-pool in the oasis of Em Gedi and smiling
at each other. He handed it to the surgeon.

Is that what you looked like, David? I never knew. The regret showed
like a quick shadow in his eyes. Can you make me look like that again?
The surgeon studied the photograph a moment longer, the young god’s face
with the dark mop of hair and the clean pure lines of the profile. No,
he said. I could not even come close That’s all I wanted to know. David
took the photograph back from him.

You say I’m functional now. Let’s leave it at that, shall we? You
don’t want further cosmetic surgery?

We can still do a lot Doctor, I’ve lived under the knife for nine
months.

I’ve had the taste of antibiotics and anaesthetic in my mouth, and the
stink of it in my nostrils for all that time. Now all I want is a
little escape from pain, a little peace and the taste of clean air.

Very well, the surgeon agreed readily. It is not important that we do
it now. You could come back at any time in the future. He walked to
the door of the ward. Come on. Let’s go find a mirror. There was one
in the nurses room beyond the double doors at the end of the passage.
The room itself was empty and the mirror was set into the wall above the
wash basin.

The surgeon stood in the doorway and leaned against the jamb. He lit a
cigarette and watched as David crossed towards the mirror and then
halted abruptly as he saw his own image.

He wore the blue hospital dressing-gown over his pyjamas. He was tall
and finely proportioned. His shoulders were wide, his hips narrow, and
he had the same lithe and beautiful man’s body.

However, the head that topped it was something from a nightmare.
Involuntarily he gasped out aloud and the gash of a mouth parted in
sympathy. It was a tight lipless mouth, like that of a cobra,
white-rimmed and harsh.

Drawn by the awful fascination of the horror, David drew closer to the
mirror. The thick mane of his dark hair had concealed the peculiar
elongation of his skull.

He had never realized that it jutted out behind like that, for now the
hair was gone and the bald curve was covered with meshed skin, thickened
and raised.

The skin and flesh of his face was a patchwork, joined by seams of scar
tissue drawn tightly over his cheekbones, giving him a vaguely Asiatic
appearance, but the eyes were round and startled, with clumsy lids and
puffed dead-looking flesh beneath.

His nose was a shapeless blob, out of balance with his other coarsened
features and his ears were gnarled excrescences, seemingly fastened
haphazardly to the sides of his head. The whole of it was bland and
bald and boiled-looking.

The gash of a mouth twisted briefly in a horrid rictus, and then
regained its frozen shape. I can’t smile, said David.

No, agreed the surgeon. You will have no control of your expressions.
That was the truly horrifying aspect of it. It was not the twisted and
tortured flesh, with the scarring and stitch marks still so evident, it
was the expressionlessness of this mask. The frozen features seemed
long dead, incapable of human warmth or feeling.

Yeah! But you should have seen the other guy! David said softly, and
the surgeon chuckled without mirth.

We’ll have those last few stitches behind your ears out tomorrow, I
shall remove what remains of the pedicel from your arm, and then you can
be discharged.

Come back to us when you are ready. David ran his hand gingerly over
the bald patterned skull.

I’m going to save a fortune in haircuts and razor blades, he said, and
the surgeon turned quickly away and walked down the passage, leaving
David to get to know his new head.

The clothes that they had found for him were cheap and ill-fitting,
slacks and open-neck shirt, a light jacket and sandals, and he asked for
some head covering, anything to conceal the weird new shape of his
scalp.

One of the nurses found him a cloth cap, and then told him that a
visitor was waiting for him in the hospital superintendent’s department.

He was a major from the military provost marshal’s office, a lean
grey-haired min with cold grey eyes and a tight hard mouth. He
introduced himself without offering to shake hands and then opened the
file on the desk in front of him.

I have been instructed by my office to ask for the formal resignation of
your commission in the Israeli Air Force, he started, and David stared
at him. In the long pain-filled, fever-hot nights, the thought of
flying once more had seemed like a prospect of paradise.

I don’t understand, he mumbled, and reached for a cigarette, breaking
the first match and then puffing quickly as the second flared. You want
my resignation – and if I refuse? Then we shall have no alternative
other than to convene a court martial and to try you for dereliction of
duty, and refusing in the face of the enemy to obey the lawful orders of
your superior officer. I see, David nodded heavily, and drew on the
cigarette. The smoke stung his eyes. It doesn’t seem I have any
choice. I have prepared the necessary documents. Please sign here, and
here, and I shall sign as witness. David bowed over the papers and
signed. The pen scratched loudly in the silent room.

Thank you. The major gathered his papers, and placed them in his
briefcase. He nodded at David and started for the door.

So now I am an outcast, said David softly, and the man stopped. They
stared at each other for a moment, and then the major’s expression
altered slightly, and the cold grey eyes became ferocious.

You are responsible for the destruction of two warplanes that are
irreplaceable and whose loss has caused us incalculable harm. You are
responsible for the death of a brother officer, and for bringing your
country to the very brink of open war which would have cost many
thousands more of our young people’s lives, and possibly our very
existence. You have embarrassed our international friends, and given
strength to our enemies. He paused and drew a deep breath. The
recommendation of my office was that you should go to trial and that the
prosecution be instructed to ask for the death penalty.

It was only the personal intervention of the Prime Minister and of
Major-General Mordecai that saved you from that. In my view, instead of
bemoaning your fate, you should consider yourself highly fortunate. He
turned away and his footsteps cracked on the stone floor as he strode
from the room.

In the bleak impersonal lobby of the hospital, David was suddenly struck
by a reluctance to walk on out into the spring sunshine through the
glass swing doors. He had heard that long-term prisoners felt this way
when the time came for their release.

Before he reached the doors he turned aside and went down to the
hospital synagogue. In a corner of the quiet square hall he sat for a
long time. The stained-glass windows, set high in the nave, filled the
air with shafts of coloured lights when the sun came through, and a
little of the peace and beauty of that place stayed with him and gave
him courage when at last he walked out into the square and boarded a bus
for Jerusalem.

He found a seat at the rear, and beside a window. The bus pulled away
and ground slowly up the hill towards the city.

He became aware that he was being watched, and he lifted his head to
find that a woman with two young children had taken the seat in front of
him. She was a poorly dressed, harassed-looking woman, prematurely aged
and she held the grubby young infant on her lap and fed it from the
plastic bottle. However, the second child was an angelic little girl of
four or five years. She had huge dark eyes and a head of thick curls.
She stood on the seat facing backwards, with one thumb thrust deeply
into her mouth. She was watching David steadily over the back of the
seat, studying his face with that total absorption and candour of the
child. David felt a sudden warmth of emotion for the child, a longing
for the comfort of human contact, of which he had been deprived all
these months.

He leaned forward in his seat, trying to smile, reaching out a gentle
hand to touch the child’s arm.

She removed her thumb from her-, mouth and shrank away from him, turning
to her mother and clinging to her arm, hiding her face in the woman’s
blouse.

At the next stop David stepped down from the bus and left the road to
climb the stony hillside.

The day was warm and drowsy, with the bee murmur and the smell of the
blossoms from the peach orchards.

He climbed the terraces and rested at the crest, for he found he was
breathless and shaky. Months in hospital had left him unaccustomed to
walking far, but it was not that alone. The episode with the child had
distressed him terribly.

He looked longingly towards the sky. it was clear and brilliant blue,
with high silver cloud in the north. He wished he could ascend beyond
those clouds. He knew he would find peace up there.

A taxi dropped him off at the top of Malik Street. The front door was
unlocked, swinging open before he could fit his key in the lock.

Puzzled and alqrrned he stepped into the living-room.

It was as he had left it so many months before, but somebody had cleaned
and swept, and there were fresh flowers in a vase upon the olive-wood
table, a huge bouquet of gaily coloured dahlias, yellow and scarlet.

David smelled food, hot and spicy and tantalizing after the bland
hospital fare.

Hello, he called. Who is there? Welcome home! there was a familiar
bellow from behind the closed bathroom door. I didn’t expect you so
soon, and you’ve caught me with my skirts up and pants down. There was
a scuffling sound and then the toilet flushed thunderously and the door
was flung open. Ella Kadesh appeared majestically through it. She wore
one of her huge kaftans, it was a blaze of primary colours.

Her hat was apple-green in colour, the brim pinned up at the side like
an Australian bush hat by an enormous jade brooch and a bunch of ostrich
feathers.

Her heavy arms were flung wide in a gesture of welcome, and the face was
split in a huge grin of anticipation. She came towards him, and the
grin persisted long after the horror had dawned in her bright little
eyes.

Her steps slowed. David? Her voice was uncertain. It is you, David?
Hello, Ella. Oh God. Oh, sweet holy name of God. What have they done
to you, my beautiful young Mars Listen, you old bag, he said sharply, if
you start blubbering I’m going to throw you down the steps. She made a
huge effort to control it, fighting back the tears that flooded into her
eyes, but her jowls wobbled and her voice was thick and nasal as she
enfolded him in her huge arms and hugged him to her bosom.

I’ve got a case of cold beers in the refrigerator, and I made a pot of
curry for us. You’ll love my curry, it’s the thing I do best David ate
with enormous appetite, washing down the fiery food with cold beer, and
listened to Ella talk.

She spouted words like a fountain, using their flow to cover her pity
and embarrassment.

They would not let me visit you, but I telephoned every week and kept in
touch that way. The sister and I got very friendly, she let me know you
were coming today. So I drove up to make sure you had a welcome -She
tried to avoid looking directly at his face, but when she did the
shadows appeared in her eyes, even though she made a convincing effort
at gaiety. When he finished eating at last, she asked, What will you do
now, David? I would have liked to go back and fly. It’s the thing I
like to do best, but they have forced me to resign my commission. I
disobeyed orders, Joe and I followed them across the border, and they
don’t want me any more.

There was nearly open war, David. It was a crazy thing that you and Joe
did.

David nodded. I was mad. I wasn’t thinking straight after Debra Ellen
interrupted quickly. Yes, I know. Share another beer?

David nodded distractedly. How is she, Ella? It was the question he
had wanted to ask all along.

She is just fine, Davey. She has begun the new book, and if anything
it’s better than the first. I think she will become a very important
writer Her eyes? Is there any improvement?

Ella shook her head. She has come to terms with that now. It doesn’t
seem to bother her any longer, just as you will come to accept what has
happened David was not listening. Ella, in all that time, when I was in
hospital, every day I hoped, I knew it was useless, but I hoped to hear
from her. A card, a word. She didn’t know, Davey. Didn’t know? David
demanded and leaned across the table to grip Ella’s wrist. What do you
mean? After Joe, was killed, Debra’s father was very angry.

He believed that you were responsible David nodded, the blank mask of
his face concealing his guilt.

Well, he told Debra that you had left Israel, and gone back to your
home. We were all sworn to silence, and that’s what Debra believes now.
David released Ella’s wrist, picked up his beer glass and sipped at the
head of froth.

You still haven’t answered my question, David. What are you going to do
now? I don’t know, Ella. I guess I’ll have to think about that.

A harsh warm wind came off the hills and ruffled the surface of the
lake, darkening it to black and flecking it with white crests. The
fishing boats along the curve of the shore tugged restlessly at their
mooring ropes, and the fishing nets upon their drying racks billowed
like bridal veils.

The wind caught Debra’s hair and shook it out in a loose cloud. It
pressed the silk dress she wore against her body, emphasizing the heavy
roundness of her breasts and the length of her legs.

She stood on the battlements of the crusader castle, leaning both hands
lightly on the head of her cane and she stared out across the water,
almost as though she could see beyond it.

Ella sat near her, on a fallen block of masonry out of the wind, but she
pinned her hat down with one hand as she spoke, watching Debra’s face
intently to judge her reactions.

At the time it seemed the kindest thing to do. I agreed to keep the
truth from you, because I did not want you to torture yourself Debra
spoke sharply Don’t ever do that again. Ella made a moue of resignation
and went on. I had no way of knowing how bad he was, they would not let
me see him, and so I suppose I was a coward and let it drift. I .

Debra shook her head angrily, but she remained silent.

Ella wondered again that sightless eyes could contain so much
expression, for Debra’s emotions blazed clearly in the honey-coloured
sparks as she turned her head towards Ella.

It was not the time to distract you. Don’t you see, my dear? You were
adjusting so nicely, working so well on your book. I did not see that
we could gain anything by telling you. I decided to cooperate with your
father, and see how things turned out later.

Then why are you telling me all this now? Debra demanded. What has
happened to change your mind what has happened to David?

Yesterday at noon David was discharged from Hadassah Hospital.

Hospital? Debra was puzzled. You don’t mean he has been in hospital
all this time, Ella. Nine months it’s impossible!

It’s the truth He must have been terribly hurt, Debra’s anger had
changed to concern. How is he, Ella? What happened?

Is he healed now? Ella was silent a moment, and Debra took a pace
towards her. Well? she asked.

David’s plane flamed out and he was very badly burned about the head. He
has recovered completely now. His burns have healed, but Ella hesitated
again, and Debra groped for her hand and found it. Go on, Ella! But
David is no longer the most beautiful man I have ever seen. ‘I don’t
understand? He is no longer swift and vital and, any woman who sees him
now will find it difficult to be near him, let alone love him. Debra
was listening intently, her expression rapt and her eyes soft-focused.

He is very conscious of the way he looks now. He is searching for some
place to hide, I think. He talks of wanting to fly as though it is some
form of escape. He knows he is alone now, cut off from the world by the
mask he wears Debra’s eyes had misted, and Ella made her gravelly voice
gentler and she went on.

But there is something who will never see that mask. Ella drew the girl
closer to her. Somebody who remembers only the way he was before.
Debra’s grip tightened on Ella’s hand, and she began to smile, it was an
expression that seemed to radiate from deep within her.

He needs you now, Debra, Ella said softly. That is all there is left
for him. Will you change your decision now? Fetch him to me, Ella,
Debra’s voice shook. Fetch him to me as soon as you can.

David climbed the long line of stairs towards Ella’s studio. It was a
day of bright sunlight and he wore open sandals and light silk slacks of
a bronze colour and a short-sleeved shirt with a wide V-neck. His arms
were pale from lack of sun, the dark hair of his chest contrasting
strongly against the soft cream, and upon his head he wore a
wide-brimmed white straw hat to guard the cicatrice from the sun and to
soften his face with shadow.

He paused, and he could feel the break of sweat under the shirt and the
pumping of his lungs. He despised the weakness of his body and the
quivering of his legs as he came out on the terrace. It was deserted,
and he crossed to the shuttered doors and went into the gloom.

Ella Kadesh sitting on a Samarkand carpet in the centre of the paved
floor was an astonishing sight. For she was dressed in a brief bikini
costume adored with pink roses that almost disappeared under the rolls
of ponderous flesh that hung over it from belly and breast.

She was in the yoga position of Padmasana, the sitting lotus, and her
massive legs were twisted and entwined like mating pythons. Her hands
were held before her palm to palm and her eyes were closed in
meditation; upon her head her ginger wig was set four square like that
of a judge.

David leaned in the doorway and before he could recover his breath he
began to laugh. It began as a wheezy little chuckle, and then suddenly
he was really laughing, from deep down, great gusts of it that shook his
helpless body, and flogged his lungs. It was not mirth but a catharsis
of the last dregs of suffering, it was the moment of accepting life
again, a taking up once more of the challenge of living.

Ella must have recognized it as such, for she did not move, squatting
like some cheerful buddha on the brilliant carpet, and she opened one
little eye. The effect was even more startlingly comic, and David
reeled away from the door, and fell into one of the chairs.

Your soul is a desert, David Morgan, said Ella. You have no recognition
of beauty, all loveliness would wither on the dung heap which, But the
rest of it was lost as she also began to giggle and the yoga pose broke
down, melting like a jelly on a hot day, and she traded him hoot for
hoot and bellow for bellow of laughter.

I’m stuck, she gasped at last. Help me, Davey, you oaf – And he
staggered to her, knelt and struggled to help her unlock her interwoven
legs. They came apart with little creaking and popping sounds and Ella
collapsed face down on the carpet groaning and giggling at the same
time.

Get out of here, she moaned. Leave me to die in peace. Go and find
your woman, she is down on the jetty. She watched him go quickly, and
then she dragged herself up and went to the door. The laughter dried up
and she whispered aloud, My two poor little crippled kittens, I wonder
if I have done the right thing. The shadows of doubt crossed her face,
and then faded. Well, it’s too damn late for worry now, Kadesh, you
interfering old bag, you should have thought about that before.

A gaudily coloured towel and beach jacket were spread upon the jetty and
a transistor radio, with its volume turned high, blared out a heavy rock
tune. Far out in the bay Debra was swimming alone, a steady powerful
overarm crawl. Her brown arms flashed wetly in the sun at each stroke
and the water churned to froth at the beat of her legs.

She stopped to tread water. Her bathing cap was plain white, and he
could see that she was listening for the sound of the radio for she
began to swim again, heading directly in towards the jetty.

She came out of the water, pulling off the cap and shaking out her hair.
Her body was dark, sun-browned and bejewelled with drops, the muscles
looked firm and hard and her tread was confident and sure as he came up
the stone steps and picked up her towel.

As she dried herself David stood near and watched her avidly, seeming to
devour her with his eyes, trying to make up in that first minute for all
those many months.

he’d pictured her so clearly, and yet there was much he had forgotten.
Her hair was softer, cloudier than he remembered. He had forgotten the
plasticity and lustre of her skin, it was darker also than it had been
before almost the colour of her eyes, she must have spent many hours
each day in the sun. Suddenly and unaffectedly she threw her towel down
and adjusted the top of her brief costume, pulling open the thin fabric
and cupping one fat breast in her hand to settle it more comfort ably,
David felt his need for her so strongly that it seemed he could not
contain it all within the physical bounds of his chest. He moved
slightly and the gravel crunched softly under his shoes.

Instantly the lovely head turned towards him and froze in the attitude
of listening. The eyes were wide open, intelligent and expressive, they
seemed to look slightly to one side of him, and David had a powerful
impulse to turn and glance behind him, following their steady gaze.

David? she asked softly. is that you David? He tried to answer her,
but his voice failed him and his reply was a small choking sound. She
ran to him, swiftly and long-legged as a roused foal, with her arms
reaching out and her face lighting with joy.

He caught her up, and she clung to him fiercely, almost angrily, as
though she had been too long denied.

I’ve missed you, David. Her voice was fierce also. Oh, God, you’ll
never know how I have missed you, and she pressed her mouth to the stark
gash in his mask of flesh.

This was the first human being who had treated him without reserve,
without pity or revulsion, in all those months, and David felt his heart
swell harder and his embrace was as fierce as hers.

She broke at last, leaning back to press her hips unashamedly against
his, exulting in the hard thrustingness of his arousal, proud to have
evoked it, and quickly, questioningly she ran her hands over his face,
feeling the new contours and the unexpected planes and angles.

She felt him begin to pull away, but she stopped him and continued her
examination.

My fingers tell me that you are still, beautiful You have lying fingers,
he whispered, but she ignored his words, and pushed forward teasingly
with her hips.

, And I’m getting another very powerful message from further south. She
gave a breathless little laugh. Come with me, please, sir. Holding his
hand, she ran lightly up the steps, dragging him after her. He was
amazed at the agility and confidence with which she negotiated the
climb. She drew him into the cottage and as he looked about him,
quickly taking it all in, she closed and bolted the door.

Immediately the room was cool and dim and intimate.

On the bed her body was still damp and cold from the lake, but her lips
were hot as she strained against him urgently. The two beautiful young
bodies meshed hungrily, almost as if they were attempting to find
sanctuary within each other, desperately flesh sought haven within
flesh, within each other’s encircling arms and legs they searched for
and found surcease from the loneliness and the darkness.

The physical act of love, no matter how often repeated, was insufficient
for their needs; even in the intervals between they clung desperately to
each other; sleeping pressed together, they groped drowsily but
anxiously for each other if the movements of sleep separated them for
even an instant. They talked holding hands, she reaching up to touch
his face at intervals, he staring into her golden eyes. Even when she
prepared their simple meals, he stood close beside or behind her so that
she could sway against him and feel him there. It was as though they
lived in momentary dread of being once more separated.

It was two days before they left the sanctuary of the cottage and walked
together along the lake shore or swam from the jetty and lay in the warm
sun. But even when Ella looked down at them from the terrace and waved,
David asked, Shall we go up to her? No, Debra answered quickly.

Not yet. I’m not ready to share you with anybody else yet. Just a
little while more, please, David. And it was another three days before
they climbed the path to the studio. Ella had laid on one of her
gargantuan lunches, but she had invited no other guests and they were
grateful to her for that.

I thought I’d have to send down a party of stretcherbearers to carry you
up, Davey, Ella greeted him, with a lecherous chuckle.

Don’t be crude, Ella, Debra told her primly, flushing to a dark rose
brown, and Ella let fly with one of her explosive bursts of mirth that
was so contagious they must follow it.

They sat beneath the palm trees and drank wine from the earthenware
jugs, and ate hugely, laughing and talking without restraint, David and
Debra so involved with each other that they were not aware of Ella’s
shrewdly veiled appraisal.

The change in Debra was dramatic, all the coolness and reserve were gone
now, the armour in which she had clad her emotions was stripped away.
She was vital and eager and blooming with love.

She sat close beside David, laughing with delight at his sallies, and
leaning to touch and caress him, as though to reassure herself of his
presence.

Ella glanced again at David, trying to smile naturally at him, but
guiltily aware of the sneaking sensation of repulsion she still felt
repulsion and aching pity when she looked at that monstrous head. She
knew that if she saw it every day for twenty years, it would still
disturb her.

Debra laughed again at something David had said and turned her face to
him, offering her mouth with a touching innocence.

What a terrible thing to say, she laughed. I think a gesture of
contrition is called for, and responded eagerly as the great ravaged
head bent to her and the thin slit of a mouth touched hers.

it was disquieting to see the lovely dark face against that mask of
ruined flesh, and yet it was also strangely moving.

it was the right thing. For once I did the right thing, Ella decided,
watching them, and feeling a vague envy.

These two were bound together completely, made strong by their separate
afflictions. Before it had been a mutual itching of the flesh, a chance
spark struck from two minds meeting, but now it was something that
transcended that.

Ella recalled regretfully a long line of lovers stretching back to the
shadowy edges of her memory, receding images which seemed unreal now. if
only there had been something to bind her to one of those, if only she
had been left with something more valuable than half remembered words
and faded memories of brief mountings and furtive couplings. She
sighed, and they looked at her questioning A sad sound, Ella, darling,
Debra said. We are selfish, please forgive us. Not sad, my children,
Ella denied hotly, scattering the old phantoms of her memory. I am
happy for you.

You have something very wonderful, strong and bright and wonderful.
Protect it as you would your life. She took up her wine glass. I give
you a toast. I give you David and Debra, and a love made invincible by
suffering. And they were serious for a moment while they drank the
toast together in golden yellow wine, sitting in golden yellow sunlight,
then the mood resumed and they were gay once more.

Once the first desperate demands of their bodies had been met, once they
had drawn as close together as physical limits would allow, then they
began a coupling of the spirit. They had never really spoken before,
even when they had shared the house on Malik Street, they had used only
the superficial word symbols.

Now they began learning really to talk. Some nights they did not sleep
but spent the fleeting hours of darkness in exploring each other’s minds
and bodies, and they delighted to realize that this exploration would
never be completed, for the areas of their minds were boundless.

During the day the blind girl taught David to see. He found that he had
never truly used his eyes before, and now that he must see for both of
them he had to learn to make the fullest use of his sight. He must
learn to describe colour and shape and movement accurately and
incisively, for Debra’s demands were insatiable.

In turn, David, whose own confidence had been shattered by his
disfigurement, taught confidence to the girl.

She learned to trust him implicitly as he grew to anticipate her needs.

She learned to step out boldly beside him, knowing that he would guide
or caution her with a light touch or a word. Her world had shrunk to
the small area about the cottage the jetty within which she could find
her way surely. Now with David beside her, her frontiers fell back and
she was free to move wherever she chose.

Yet they ventured ut together only cautiously at first, wandering along
the lakeside together or climbing the hills towards Nazareth, and each
day they swam in the green lake waters and each night they made love in
the curtained alcove.

David grew hard and lean and suntanned again, and it seemed they were
complete for when Ella asked, Debra, when are you going to make a start
on the new book?

she laughed and answered lightly. Sometime within the next hundred
years. A week later she asked of David this time. Have you decided
what you are going to do yet, Davey? just what I’m doing now, he said,
and Debra backed him up quickly. For ever! she said. Just like this
for ever. Then without thinking about it, without really steeling
themselves to it, they went to where they would meet other people in the
mass.

David borrowed the speedboat, picked up a shopping list from Ella, and
they planed down along the take shore to Tiberias, with the white wake
churning out behind them and the wind and drops of spray in their faces.

They moored in the tiny harbour of the marina at Lido Beach and walked
up into the town. David was so engrossed with Debra that the crowds
around him were unreal, and although he noticed a few curious glances
they meant very little to him.

Although it was early in the season, the town was filled with visitors,
and the buses were parked in the square at the foot of the hill and
along the lake front, for this was full on the tourist route.

David carried a plastic bag that grew steadily heavier until it was
ready to overflow.

Bread, and that’s the lot, Debra mentally ticked off the list.

They went down the hill under the eucalyptus trees and found a table on
the harbour wall, beneath the gaily coloured umbrella.

They sat touching each other and drank cold beer and ate pistachio nuts,
oblivious of everything and everybody about them even though the other
tables were crowded with tourists. The lake sparkled and the softly
rounded hills seemed very close in the bright light. Once a flight of
Phantoms went booming down the valley, flying low on some mysterious
errand, and David watched them dwindle southward without regrets.

When the sun was low they went to where the speedboat was moored, and
David handed Debra down into it. On the wall above them sat a party of
tourists, probably on some package pilgrimage, and they were talking
animatedly, their accents were Limehouse, Golders Green and Merseyside,
although the subtleties of prommciation were lost of David.

He started the motor and pushed off from the wall, steering for the
harbour mouth with Debra sitting close beside him and the motor burbling
softly.

A big red-face tourist looked down from the wall and supposing that the
motor covered his voice, nudged his wife.

Get a look at those two, Mavis. Beauty and the beast, isn’t it? ‘Cork
it, Bert. They might understand.

Go on, luv! They only talk Yiddish or whatever. Debra felt David’s arm
go rigid under her hand, felt him begin to pull away, sensing his
outrage and anger but she gripped his forearm tightly and restrained
him. Let’s go, Davey, darling. Leave them, please. Even when they
were alone in the safety of the cottage, David was silent and she could
feel the tension in his body and the air was charged with it.

They ate the evening meal of bread and cheese and fish and figs in the
same strained silence. Debra could think of nothing to say to distract
him for the careless words had wounded her as deeply. Afterwards she
lay unsleeping beside him. He lay on his back, not touching her, with
his arms at his sides and his fists clenched.

When at last she could bear it no longer, she turned to him and stroked
his face, still not knowing what to say.

it was David who broke the silence at last.

I want to go away from people. We don’t need people do we? ‘No, she
whispered. We don’t need them. There is a place called Jabulani. It
is deep in the African bushveld, far from the nearest town. My father
bought it as a hunting lodge thirty years ago, and now it belongs to me.
Tell me about it, Debra laid her head-on his chest, and he began
stroking her hair, relaxing as he talked.

There is a wide plain on which grow open forests of mopani and
mohobahoba, with some fat old baobabs and a few ivory palms. In the
open glades the grass is yellow gold and the fronds of the ilala palms
look like beggars fingers. At the end of the plain is a line of hills,
they turn blue at a distance and the peaks are shaped like the turrets
of a fairy castle with tumbled blocks of granite. Between the hills
rises a spring of water, a strong spring that has never dried and the
water is very clear and sweet,” “What does Jabulani mean? Debra asked
when he had described it to her.

It means the “place of rejoicing”, David told her. I want to go there
with you, she said.

What about Israel? he asked. Will you not miss it?

No, she shook her head. You see, I will take it with me, in my heart.

Ella went up to Jerusalem with them, filling the back seat of the
Mercedes. She would help Debra select the furniture they would take
with them from the house and have it crated and shipped. The rest of it
she would sell for them. Aaron Cohen would negotiate the sale of the
house, and both David and Debra felt a chill of sadness at the thought
of other people living in their home.

David left the women to it and he drove out to Em Karem and parked the
Mercedes beside the iron gate in the garden wall.

The Brig was waiting for him in that bleak and forbidding room above the
courtyard. When David greeted him from the doorway he looked up coldly,
and there was no relaxation of the iron features, no warmth or pity in
the fierce warrior eyes.

You come to me with the blood of my son on your hands, he said, and
David froze at the words and held his gaze. After a few moments the
Brig indicated the tall-backed chair against the far wall, and David
crossed stiffly to it and sat down.

If you had suffered less, I would have made you answer for more, said
the Brig. But vengeance and hatred are barren things, as you have
discovered. David dropped his eyes to the floor.

I will not pursue them further, despite the dictates of my heart, for
that is what I am condemning in you.

You are a violent young man, and violence is the pleasure of fools and
only the last resort of wise men.

The only excuse for it is to protect what is rightfully yours, any other
display of violence is abuse. You abused the power I gave you, and in
doing it you killed my son, and brought my country to the verge of war.

The Brig stood up from his desk, and he crossed to the window and looked
down into the garden. They were both silent while he stroked his
mustache and remembered his son.

At last the Brig sighed heavily and turned back into the room. Why do
you come to me? he asked.

I wish to marry your daughter, sir.

You are asking me, or telling me? the Brig demanded, and then without
waiting for an answer returned to his desk and sat down. If you abuse
this also, if you bring her pain or unhappiness, I will seek you out.
Depend upon it. David stood up and settled the cloth cap over his gross
head, pulling the brim well down.

We would like you to be at the wedding. Debra asked that particularly,
for you and her mother. The Brig nodded. You may tell her that we will
be there.

The synagogue at Jerusalem University is a gleaming white structure,
shaped like the tent of a desert wanderer, with the same billowing
lines.

The red-bud trees were in full bloom and the wedding party was larger
than they had planned, for apart from the immediate family there were
Debra’s colleagues from the university, Robert and some of the other
boys from the squadron, Ella Kadesh, Doctor Edelman the baby-faced eye
surgeon who had worked on Debra, Aaron Cohen and a dozen others.

After the simple ceremony, they walked through the university grounds to
one of the reception rooms that David had hired. It was a quiet
gathering with little laughter or joking. The Young Pilots from David’s
old squadron had to leave early to return to base, and with them went
any pretence of jollity.

Debra’s mother was still not yet fully recovered, and the prospect of
Debra’s departure reduced her to quiet grey weeping. Debra tried
without success to comfort her.

Before he left, Dr. Edelman drew David aside.

Watch for any sign of atrophy in her eyes, any cloudiness, excessive
redness, any complaints of pain, headaches! will watch for it.

Any indications, no matter how trivial, if you have any doubts, you must
write to me. ‘Thank you, doctor.

They shook hands. Good luck in your new life, said Edelman.

Through it all Debra showed iron control, but even she at last succumbed
and she, her mother, and Ella Kadesh all broke down simultaneously at
the departure barrier of Lad Airport and hung around each other’s necks,
weeping bitterly.

The Brig and David stood by, stiff and awkward, trying to look as though
they were not associated with the weeping trio, until the first warning
broadcast gave them an excuse for a brief handshake and David took
Debra’s arm and drew her gently away.

They climbed the boarding ladder into the waiting Boeing without looking
back. The giant aircraft took off and turned away southwards, and as
always the sensation of flight soothed David; all the cares and tensions
of these last few days left on the earth behind and below, he felt a new
lightness of the spirit, excitement for what lay ahead.

He reached across and squeezed Debra’s arm.

Hello there, Morgan, he said, and she turned towards him and smiled
happily, blindly.

It was necessary to spend some time in Cape Town before they could
escape to the sanctuary of Jabulani in the north.

David took a suite at the Mount Nelson Hotel, and from there he was able
to settle the numerous issues that had piled up in his absence.

The accountants who managed his trust funds demanded ten days of his
time and they spent it in the sitting-room of the suite, poring over
trust documents and accounts.

In two years his income had grossly exceeded his spending, and the
unused portion of his income had to be re-invested. In addition the
third trust fund would soon pass to him and there were formalities to be
completed.

Debra was hugely impressed by the extent of David’s wealth.

You must be almost a millionaire, she said in a truly awed voice, for
that was as rich as Debra could imagine.

I’m not just a pretty face, David agreed, and she was relieved that’he
could talk so lightly about his appearance.

Mitzi and her new husband came to visit them in their suite. However,
the evening was not a success.

Although Mitzi tried to act as though nothing had changed, and though
she still called him warrior, yet it was apparent that she and her
feelings had altered.

She was heavily pregnant and more shapeless than David would have
thought possible. It was half-way through the evening before David
realized the true reason for all the reserve. At first he thought that
his disfigurement was worrying them, but after Mitzi had given a
barr-hour eulogy of the strides that Cecil was making at Morgan Group
and the immense trust that Paul Morgan had placed in him, Cecil had
asked innocently, Are you thinking of joining us at the Group?

I’m sure we could find something useful for you to do – ha, ha! David
could assure them quietly.

No, thank you. You won’t have to worry about me, Cecil, old boy. You
take over from Uncle Paul with my blessing Good Lord, I didn’t mean
that, Cecil was shocked, but Mitzi was less devious.

He really will be very good, warrior, and you never were interested,
were you.

After that evening they did not see the couple again, and Paul Morgan
was in Europe, so David fulfilled his family obligations without much
pain or suffering and he could concentrate on the preparations for the
move to Jabulani.

Barney Venter spent a week with them in choosing a suitable aircraft to
handle the bush airstrip and yet give David the type of performance he
enjoyed. At last they decided on a twin-engined Piper Navajo, a
six-seater with two big 3oo-hid. p. Lycoming engines and a tricycle
undercart, and Barney walked around it with his hands on his hips.

Well, she’s no Mirage. He kicked the landing-wheel and then checked
himself and glanced quickly at David’s face.

I’ve had enough of Mirages, David told him. They bite!

On the last day David drove out with Debra to a farm near Paarl. The
owner’s wife was a dog breeder and when they went down to the kennels
one of her labrador pups walked directly to Debra and placed a cold nose
on her leg as he inhaled her scent. Debra squatted and groped for his
head and after fondling for a few moments she in her turn leaned forward
and sniffed the pup’s fur.

He smells like old leather, she said. What colour is he? Black, said
David. Black as a Zulu. That’s what we’ll call him, said Debra. Zulu.
You want to choose this one? David asked.

No, ‘Debra laughed. He chose us. When they flew northwards the next
morning the pup was indignant at being placed in the back seat and with
a flying scrambling leap he came over Debra’s shoulder and took up
position in her lap, which seemed to suit them both very well.

It looks like I have competition, David muttered ruefully.

From the brown plateau of the high veld, the land dropped away steeply
down the escarpment to the bush veld of southern Africa.

David picked up his landmark on the little village of Bush Buck Ridge
and the long slim snake of the Sabi River as it twisted through the open
forests of the plain.

He altered course slightly northwards and within ten minutes he saw the
low line of blue hills which rose abruptly out of the flat land.

There it is, ahead of us, David told Debra and his tone was infectious.
She hugged the dog closer to her and leaned towards David.

“What does it look like?

The hills were forested with big timber, and turreted with grey rock. At
their base the bush was thick and dark. The pools glinted softly
through the dark foliage.

He described them to her.

My father named them “The String of Pearls”, and that’s what they look
like. They rise out of the run-off of rain water from the sloping
ground beyond the hills.

They disappear just as suddenly again into the sandy earth of the plain,
David explained as he circled the hills, slowly losing height. They are
what give Jabulani its special character, for they provide water for all
the wild life of the plain. Birds and animals are drawn from hundreds
of miles to the Pearls. He levelled out and throttled back, letting the
aircraft sink lower. There is the homestead, white walls and thatch to
keep it cool in the hot weather, deep shaded verandas and high rooms you
will love it.

The airstrip seemed clear and safe, although the wind sock hung in dirty
tatters from its pole, David circled it carefully before lining up for
the landing, and they taxied towards the small brick hangar set amongst
the trees.

David kicked on the wheel brakes and cut the engines. This is it, he
said.

Jabulani was one of a block of estates that bounded the Kruger National
Park, the most spectacular nature reserve on earth. These estates were
not productive, in that they were unsuitable for the growth of crops and
few of them were used for grazing of domestic animals; their immense
value lay in the unspoiled bush veld and the wild life, in the peace and
space upon which wealthy men placed such a premium that they would pay
large fortunes for a piece of this Lebensraum.

When David’s grandfather had purchased Jabulani he had paid a few
shillings an acre, for in those days the wilderness was still intact.

it had been used as a family hunting estate down the years, and as Paul
Morgan had never shown interest in the veld, it had passed to David’s
father and so to David.

Now the eighteen thousand acres of African bush and plain, held as
freehold land, was a possession beyond price.

Yet the Morgan family had made little use of it these last fifteen
years. David’s father had been an enthusiastic huntsman, and with him
most of David’s school holidays had been spent here. However, after his
father’s death, the visits to Jabulani had become shorter and further
apart.

It was seven years since the last visit, when he had brought up a party
of brother officers from Cobra Squadron.

Then it had been immaculately run by Sam, the black overseer, butler and
game ranger.

Under Sam’s management there had always been fresh crisp linen on the
beds, highly polished floors, the exterior walls of the buildings had
been snowly white and the thatch neat and well-tended. The deep-freeze
had been well stocked with steak and the liquor cupboard filled, with
every bottle accounted for.

Sam ran a tight camp, with half a dozen willing and cheerful helpers.

Where is Sam? was the first question David asked of the two servants
who hurried down from the homestead to meet the aircraft.

Sam gone. Where to? And the answer was the eloquent shrug of Africa.
Their uniforms were dirty and needed mending, and their manners
disinterested. Where is the Land-Rover? ‘She is dead. 7hey walked up
to the homestead and there David had another series of unpleasant
surprises.

The buildings were dilapidated, looking forlorn and neglected under
their rotting black thatch. The walls were dingy, grey-brown with the
plaster falling away in patches.

The interiors were filthy with dust, and sprinkled with the droppings of
the birds and reptiles that had made their homes in the thatch.

The mosquito gauze, that was intended to keep the wide verandas
insect-free, was rusted through and breaking away in tatters.

The vegetable gardens were overgrown, the fences about them falling to
pieces. The grounds of the home stead itself were thick with rank weed,
and not only the Land-Rover had died. No single piece of machinery on
the estate, water pump, toilet cistern, electricity generator, motor
vehicle, was in working order.

It’s a mess, a frightful mess, David told Debra as they sat on the front
step and drank mugs of sweet tea. Fortunately David had thought to
bring emergency supplies with them.

, oh, Davey. I am so sorry, because I like it here. It’s peaceful, so
quiet. I can just feel my nerves untying themselves. Don’t be sorry.
I’m not. These old huts were built by Gramps back in the twenties, and
they weren’t very well built even then. David’s voice was full of a new
purpose, a determination that she had not heard for so long. It’s a
fine excuse to tear the whole lot down, and build again. A place of our
own? she asked.

Yes, said David delightedly. That’s it. That’s just it! They flew
into Nelspruit, the nearest large town, the following day. In the week
of bustle and planning that followed they forgot their greater problems.
With an architect they planned the new homestead with care, taking into
consideration all their special requirements , a large airy study for
Debra, workshop and office for David, a kitchen laid out to make it safe
and easy for a blind cook, rooms without dangerous split levels and with
regular easily learned shapes, and finally a nursery section. When
David described this addition Debra asked cautiously, You making some
plans that I should know about?

You’ll know about it, all right, he assured her.

The guest house was to be separate and self-contained and well away from
the main homestead, and the small hutment for the servants was a quarter
of a mile beyond that, screened by trees and the shoulder of the rocky
kopje that rose behind the homestead.

David bribed a building contractor from Nelspruit to postpone all his
other work, load his workmen on four heavy trucks and bring them out to
Jabulani.

They began on the main house, and while they worked, David was busy
resurfacing the airstrip, repairing the water pumps and such other
machinery as still had life left in it. However, the Land-Rover and the
electricity generator had to be replaced.

Within two months the new homestead was habitable, and they could move.

Debra set up her tape recorders beneath tbt: )ig windows overlooking the
shaded front garden, where the afternoon breeze could cool the room and
waft in the perfume of the frangipani and poinsettia blooms.

While David was completely absorbed in making Jabulani into a
comfortable home, Debra made her own arrangements.

Swiftly she explored and mapped in her mind all her immediate
surroundings. Within weeks she could move about the new house with all
the confidence of a person with normal sight and she had trained the
servants to replace each item of furniture in its exact position.

Always Zulu, the labrador pup, moved like a glossy black shadow beside
her. Early on he had decided that Debra needed his constant care, and
had made her his life’s work.

Quickly he learned that it was useless staring at her or wagging his
tail, to attract her attention he must whine or pant. In other respects
she was also slightly feeble-minded, the only way to prevent her doing
stupid things like falling down the front steps or tripping over a
bucket left in the passage by a careless servant was to bump her with
his shoulder, or with his nose.

She had fallen readily into a pattern of work that kept her in her
workroom until noon each day, with Zulu curled at her feet.

David set up a large bird bath under the trees outside her window, so
the tapes she made had as a background the chatter and warble of half a
dozen varieties of wild birds. She had discovered a typist in Nelspruit
who could speak Hebrew, and David took the tapes in to her whenever he
flew to town for supplies and to collect the mail, and he brought each
batch of typing back with him for checking.

They worked together on this task, David reading each batch of writing
or correspondence aloud to her and making the alterations she asked for.
He made it a habit of reading almost everything, from newspapers to
novels, aloud.

Who needs braille with you around, Debra remarked, but it was more than
just the written word she needed to hear from him. It was each facet
and dimension of her new surroundings. She had never seen any of the
myriad of birds that flocked to drink and bathe below her window, though
she soon recognized each individual call and would pick out a stranger
immediately.

David, there’s a new one, what it is? What does he look like? And he
must describe not only its plumage, but its mannerisms and its habits.
At other times he must describe to her exactly how the new buildings
fitted into their surroundings, the antics of Zulu the labrador, and
supply accurate descriptions of the servants, the view from the window
of her workroom, and a hundred other aspects of her new life.

In time the building was completed and the strangers left Jabulani, but
it was not until the crates from Israel containing their furniture and
other Possessions from Malik Street arrived that Jabulani started truly
to become their home.

The olive-wood table was placed under the window in the workroom.

I haven’t been able to work properly, there was something missing – and
Debra ran her fingers caressingly across the inlaid ivory and ebony top
– until now Her books were in shelves on the wall beside the table, and
the leather suite in the new lounge looked very well with the
animal-skin rugs and woven wool carpets.

David hung the Ella Kadesh painting above the fireplace, Debra
determining the precise position for him by sense of touch.

Are you sure it shouldn’t be a sixteenth of an inch higher? David asked
seriously.

Let’s have no more lip from you, Morgan, I have to know exactly where it
is. Then the great brass bedstead was set up in the bedroom, and
covered with the ivory-coloured bedspread.

Debra bounced up and down on it happily.

Now, there is only one thing more that is missing she declared.

“What’s that? he asked with mock anxiety. Is it something important?

Come here. She crooked a finger in his general direction. And I’ll
show you just how important it is.

During the months of preparation they had not left The immediate
neighbourhood of the homestead, but now quite suddenly the rush and
bustle was over.

We have eighteen thousand acres and plenty of fourfooted neighbours,
let’s go check it all out, David suggested.

They packed a cold lunch and the three of them climbed into the new
Land-Rover with Zulu relegated to the back seat. The road led naturally
down to the String of Pearls for this was the focal point of all life
upon the estate.

They left the Land-Rover amongst the fever trees and went down to the
ruins of the thatched summer house on the bank of the main pool.

The water aroused all Zulu’s instincts and he plunged into it, paddling
out into the centre with obvious enjoyment. The water was clear as air,
but shaded to black in the depths.

David scratched in the muddy bank and turned out a thick pink earthworm.
He threw it into the shallows and a dark shape half as long as his arm
rushed silently out of the depths and swirled the surface.

Wow! David laughed. There are still a few fat ones around. We will
have to bring down the rods. I used to spend days down here when I was
a kid. The forest was filled with memories and as they wandered along
the edge of the reed banks he reminisced about his childhood, until
gradually he fell into silence, and she asked: Is something wrong,
David? ‘She had grown that sensitive to his moods.

There are no animals. His tone was puzzled. Birds, yes. But we
haven’t seen a single animal, not even a duiker, since we left the
homestead. He stopped at a place that was clear of reeds, where the
bank shelved gently. This used to be a favourite drinking place. It
was busy day and night, the herds virtually lining up for a chance to
drink. He left Debra and went down to the edge, stooping to examine the
ground carefully. No spoor even, just a few Kudu and a small troop of
baboon.

There has not been a herd here for months, or possibly years. When he
came back to her she asked gently, You are upset? Jabulani without
its animals is nothing, ‘he muttered. Come on, let’s go and see the
rest of it. There is something very odd here.

The leisurely outing became a desperate hunt, as David scoured the
thickets and the open glades, followed the dried water courses and
stopped the Land Rover to examine the sand beds for signs of life.

Not even an impala, he was worried and anxious. There used to be
thousands of them. I remember herds of them, silky brown and graceful
as ballet dancers, under nearly every tree. He turned the Land-Rover
northwards, following an overgrown track through the trees.

There is grazing here that hasn’t been touched. It’s lush as a
cultivated garden. A little before noon they reached the dusty,
corrugated public road that ran along the north boundary of Jabulani.
The fence that followed the edge of the road was ruinous, with sagging
and broken wire and many of the uprights snapped off at ground level.

Hell, it’s a mess, David told her, as he turned through a gap in the
wire on to the road, and followed the boundary for two miles until they
reached the turnoff to the Jabulani homestead.

Even the signboard hanging above the stone pillars of the gateway, which
David’s father had fashioned in bronze and of which he had been so
proud, was now dilapidated and-hung askew.

Well, there’s plenty of work to keep us going, said David with a certain
relish.

Half a mile beyond the gates the road turned sharply, hedged on each
side by tall grass, and standing full in the sandy track was a
magnificent kudu bull, ghostly grey and striped with pale chalky lines
across the deep powerful body. His head was held high, armed with the
long corkscrew black horns, and his huge ears were spread in an intent
listening attitude.

For only part of a second he posed like that, then, although the
Land-Rover was still two hundred yards off, he exploded into a smoky
blur of frantic flight. His great horns laid along his back as he fled
through the open bush in a series of long, lithe bounds, disappearing so
swiftly it seemed he had been only a fantasy, and David described it to
Debra.

He took off the very instant he spotted us. I remember when they were
so tame around here that we had to chase them out Of the vegetable garden
with a stic. . Again he swung off the main track and on to another
overgrown path, on which the new growth of saplings was already thick
and tall. He drove straight over them in the tough little vehicle.

What on earth are you doing? Debra shouted above the crash and swish of
branches.

In this country when you run out of road, you just make your own.

Four miles farther on, they emerged abruptly on to the fire-break track
that marked the eastern boundary of Jabulani, the dividing line between
them and the National Park which was larger than the entire land area of
the state of Israel, five million acres of virgin wilderness, three
hundred and eighty-five kilometres long and eighty wide, home of more
than a million wild animals, the most important reservoir of wild life
left in Africa.

David stopped the Land-Rover, cut the engine and jumped down. After a
moment of shocked and angry silence he began to swear.

What’s made you so happy? ‘Debra demanded.

Look at that, just look at that! David ranted.

I wish I could. Sorry, Debs. It’s a fence. A game fence! It stood
eight feet high and the uprights were hardwood poles thick as a man’s
thigh, while the mesh of the fence was heavy gauge wire. They have
fenced us off. The National Park’s people have cut us off. No wonder
there are no animals. As they drove back to the homestead David
explained to her how there had always been an open boundary with the
Kruger National Park. It had suited everybody well enough, for
Jabulani’s sweet grazing and the perennial water of the pools helped to
carry the herds through times of drought and scarcity.

It’s becoming very important to you, this business of the wild animals.
Debra had listened silently, fondling the labrador’s head, as David
spoke.

Yes, suddenly it’s important. When they were here, I guess I just took
them for granted, but now they are gone it’s suddenly important.

They drove on for a mile or two without speaking and then David said
with determination, I’m going to tell them to pull that fence down. They
can’t cut us off like that. I’m going to get hold of the head warden,
now, right away. David remembered Conrad Berg from his childhood when
he had been the warden in charge of the southern portion of the park,
but not yet the chief. There was a body of legend about the man that
had been built up over the years, and two of these stories showed
clearly the type of man he was.

Caught out in a lonely area of the reserve after dark with a broken-down
truck, he was walking home when he was attacked by a full-grown male
lion. In the struggle he had been terribly mauled, half the flesh torn
from his back and the bone of his shoulder and arm bitten through. Yet
he had managed to kill the animal with a small sheath knife, stabbing it
repeatedly in the throat until he hit the jugular. He had then stood up
and walked five miles through the night with the hyena pack following
him expectantly, waiting for him to drop.

On another occasion one of the estate owners bounding the park had
poached one of Berg’s lions, shooting it down half a mile inside the
boundary. The poacher was a man high in government, wielding massive
influence, and he had laughed at Conrad Berg.

What are you going to do about it, my friend? Don’t you like your job?
Doggedly, ignoring the pressure from above, Berg had collected his
evidence and issued a summons. The pressure had become less subtle as
the court date approached, but he had never wavered. The important
personage finally stood in the dock, and was convicted.

He was sentenced to a thousand pounds fine or six months at hard labour.

Afterwards he had shaken Berg’s hand and said to him, Thank you for a
lesson in courage, and perhaps this was one of the reasons Berg was now
chief warden.

He stood beside his game fence where he had arranged over the telephone
to meet David. He was a big man, broad and tall and beefy, with thick
heavily muscled arms still scarred from the lion attack, and a red
sunburned face.

He wore the suntans and slouch hat of the Park’s service, with the green
cloth badges on his epaulets.

Behind him was parked his brown Chevy truck with the Park Board’s emblem
on the door, and two of his black game rangers seated in the back. One
of them was holding a heavy rifle.

Berg stood with his clenched fists on his hips, his hat pushed back and
a forbidding expression on his face. He so epitomized the truculent
male animal guarding his territory that David muttered to Debra, Here
comes trouble. He parked close beside the fence and he and Debra
climbed down and went to the wire.

Mr. Berg. I am David Morgan. I remember you from when my father owned
Jabulani. I’d like you to meet my wife. Berg’s expression wavered.
Naturally he had heard all the rumours about the new owner of Jabulani;
it was a lonely isolated area and it was his job to know about these
things. Yet he was unprepared for this dreadfully mutilated young man,
and his blind but beautiful wife.

With an awkward gallantry Berg doffed his hat, then realized she would
not see the gesture. He murmured a greeting and when David thrust his
hand through the fence he shook it cautiously.

Debra and David were working as a team and they turned their combined
charm upon Berg, who was a simple and direct min. Slowly his defences
softened as they chatted. He admired Zulu, he also kept labradors and
it served as a talking-point while Debra unpacked a Thermos of coffee
and David filled mugs for all of them.

Isn’t that Sam? David pointed to the game ranger in the truck who held
Berg’s rifle. ja. Berg was guarded. He used to work on Tabulani. He
came to me of his own accord, Berg explained, turning aside any implied
rebuke.

He wouldn’t remember me, of course, not the way I look now. But he was
a fine ranger, and the place certainly went to the bad without him to
look after it, David admitted before he went into a frontal assault. The
other thing which has ruined us is this fence of yours. David kicked
one of the uprights.

You don’t say? I Berg swished the grounds of his coffee around the mug
and flicked it out.

Why did you do it? For good reason. , MY father had a gentleman’s
agreement with the Board, the boundary was open at all times. We have
got water and grazing that you need. With all respects to the late Mr.
Morgan, Conrad Berg spoke heavily, I was never in favour of the open
boundary. Why not? Your daddy was a sportsman. He spat the word out,
as though it were a mouthful of rotten meat. When my lions got to know
him and learned to stay this side of the line, then he used to bring
down a couple of donkeys and parade them along the boundary, to tempt
them out. David opened his mouth to protest, and then closed it slowly.
He felt the seamed scars of his face mottling and staining with a flush
of shame. It was true, he remembered the donkeys and the soft wet lion
skins being pegged out to dry behind the homestead.

He never poached, David defended him. He had an owner’s licence and
they were all shot on our land. ‘No, he never poached, Berg admitted.
He was too damned clever for that. He knew I would have put a rocket up
him that would have made him the first man on the moon. ‘So that’s why
you put up the fence. ‘No. Why then? Because for fourteen years
Jabulani has been under the care of an absentee landlord who didn’t give
a good damn what happened to it. Old Sam here, he motioned at the game
ranger in the truck – did his best, but still it became a poachers
paradise. As fast as the grazing and water you boast of pulled my game
out of the Park, so they were cut down by every sportsman with an itchy
trigger finger. When Sam tried to do something about it, he got badly
beaten up, and when that didn’t stop him somebody put fire into his hut
at night.

They burned two of his kids to death. David felt his very soul quail at
the thought of the flames on flesh, his cheeks itched at the memory. I
didn’t know, he said gruffly.

No, you were too busy making money or who tever is your particular form
of pleasure, Berg was angry. -all at last Sam came to me and I gave him
a job. Then I strung this fence. There is nothing left on Jabulani, a
few kudu and a duiker or two, but otherwise it’s all gone. You are so
right. it didn’t take them long to clean it out. ‘I want it back. Why?
Berg scoffed. So you can be a sportsman like your daddy? So you can
fly your pals down from Jo’burg for the weekend to shoot the shit out of
my lions? Berg glanced at Debra, and immediately his red face flushed a
deep port-wine colour. I’m sorry, Mrs. Morgan, I did not mean to say
that. That’s perfectly all right, Mr. Berg. I think it was very
expressive. Thank you, ma’am. Then he turned furiously back to David.
Morgan’s Private Safari Service, is that what you are after? I would
not allow a shot fired on Jabulani, ‘said David.

I bet, except for the pot. That’s the usual story.

Except for the pot, and you’ve got the battle of Waterloo being fought
all over again. No, said David. Not even for the pot.

You’d eat butcher’s beef? Berg asked incredulously.

Look here, Mr. Berg. if you pull your fence out, I’ll have Jabulani
declared a private nature reserve Berg had been about to say something,
but David’s declaration dried the words, and his mouth remained hanging
open. He closed it slowly.

You know what that means? he asked at last. You place yourself under
our jurisdiction, completely. We’d tie you up properly with a lawyer’s
paper and all that stuff: no owner’s licence, no shooting lions because
they are in a cattle area. Yes. I know. I’ve studied the act. But
there is something more. I’d undertake to fence the other three
boundaries to your satisfaction, and maintain a force of private game
rangers that you considered adequate, all at my own expense. Conrad
Berg lifted his hat and scratched pensively at the long sparse grey
hairs that covered his pate. Man, he said mournfully, how can I say no
to that?

Then he began to smile, the first smile of the meeting. It looks like
you are really serious about this then. ‘My wife and I are going to be
living here permanently.

We don’t want to live in a desert. Ja, he nodded, understanding
completely that a man should feel that way. The strong revulsion that
he had onginally felt for the fantastic face before him was fading.

I think the first thing we should work on is these poachers you tell me
about. Let’s snatch a couple of those and make a few examples, David
went on.

Berg’s big red face split into a happy grin.

I think I’m going to enjoy having you as a neighbour, he said, and again
he thrust his hand through the fence.

David winced as he felt his knuckles cracking in the huge fist.

Won’t you come to dinner with us tomorrow night?

You and your wife? Debra asked with relief. It will be a mighty great
pleasure, ma’mI’ll get out the whisky bottle, said David. That’s kind
of you, said Conrad Berg seriously, but the missus and I only drink Old
Buck dry gin, with a little water. ‘I’ll see to it, said David just as
seriously.

Jane Berg was a slim woman of about Conrad’s age. She had a dried-out
face, lined and browned by the sun. Her hair was suribleached and
streaked with grey, and, as Debra remarked, she was probably the only
thing in the world that Conrad was afraid of.

I’m talking, Connie, was enough to halt any flow of eloquence from her
huge spouse, or a significant glance at her empty glass sent him with
elephantine haste for a refill. Conrad had a great deal of trouble
finishing any story or statement, for Jane had to correct the details
during the telling, while he waited patiently for an opportunity to
resume.

Debra chose the main course with care so as not to give offence,
beefsteaks from the deep freeze, and Conrad ate four of them with
unreserved pleasure although he spurned the wine that David served.

That stuff is poison. Killed one of my uncles, and stayed with Old Buck
gin, even through the dessert.

Afterwards they sat about the cavernous fireplace with its logs blazing
cheerfully and Conrad explained, with Jane’s assistance, the problems
that David would face on Jabulani.

You get a few of the blacks from the tribal areas coming in from the
north Or across the river, Jane added.

Or across the river, but they are no big sweat They set wire snares
mostly, and they don’t kill that much. But it’s a terribly cruel way,
the poor animals linger on for days with the wire cutting down to the
bone, Jane elaborated.

As I was saying, once we have a few rangers busy that will stop almost
immediately. It’s the white poachers with modern rifles and hunting
lamps ‘Killing lamps, Jane corrected.

killing lamps, that do the real damage. They finished off all your game
on Jabulani in a couple of seasons. Where do they come from? David
asked, his anger was rising again, the same protective anger of the
shepherd that he had felt as he flew the skies of Israel.

There is a big copper mine fifty miles north of here at Phalabora,
hundreds of bored miners with a taste for venison. They would come down
here and blaze away at every living thing, but now it’s not worth the
trip for them. Anyway they were just the amateurs, the weekend
poachers. ‘Who are the professionals? Where the dirt road from
Jabulani meets the big national highway, about thirty miles from here -
At a place called Bandolier Hill, Jane supplied the name. – there is a
general dealer’s store. it’s just one of those trading posts that gets
a little of the passing trade from the main road, but relies on the
natives from the tribal areas. The person who owns and runs it has been
there eight years now, and I have been after him all that time, but he’s
the craftiest bastard, I’m sorry, Mrs. Morgan I have ever run into.
‘He’s the one? David asked.

He’s the one, Conrad nodded. Catch him, and half your worries are over.

What’s his name? Akkers. Johan Akkers, Jane gave her assistance, the
Old Buck was making her slightly owl-eyed, and she was having a little
difficulty with her enunciation.

How are we going to get him! David mused. There isn’t anything left on
Tabulani to tempt him, the few kudu we have got are so wild, it wouldn’t
be worth the effort. No, you haven’t got anything to tempt him right
now, but about the middle of September More like the first week in
September, Jane said firmly with strings of hair starting to hang down
her temples. – the first week in September the morula trees down by your
pools will come into fruit, and my elephants are going to visit you. The
one thing they just can’t resist is morula berries, and they are going
to flatten my fence to get at them. Before I can repair it a lot of
other game are going to follow the jumbo over to your side.

You can lay any type of odds you like that our friend Akkers is oiling
his guns and drooling at the mouth right this minute. He will know
within an hour when the fence goes. ‘This time he may get a surprise.
‘Let’s hope so. I think- David said softly – that we might run down to
Bandolier Hill tomorrow to have a look at this gentleman. ‘One thing is
for sure, said Jane Berg indistinctly, a gentleman, he is not.

The road down to Bandolier Hill was heavily corrugated and thick with
white dust that rose in a banner behind the Land-Rover and hung in the
air long after they had passed. The hill was rounded and thickly
timbered and stood over the main metalled highway.

The trading post was four or five hundred yards from the road junction,
set back amidst a grove of mango trees with their deep green and
glistening foliage. It was a type found all over Africa, an unlovely
building of mud brick with a naked corrugated iron roof, the walls
plastered thickly with posters advertising goods from tea t o flashlight
batteries.

David parked the Land-Rover in the dusty yard beneath the raised stoop.
There was a faded sign above the front steps:

Bandolier Hill General Dealers.

At the side of the building was parked an old green Ford one-ton truck
with local licence plates. In the shade of the stoop squatted a dozen
or so potential customers, African women from the tribal area, dressed
in long cotton print dresses, timeless in their patience and their
expressions showing no curiosity about the occupants of the Land-Rover.
One of the women was suckling her infant with an enormously elongated
breast that allowed the child to stand beside her and watch the
newcomers without removing the puckered black nipple from his mouth.

Set in the centre of the yard was a thick straight pole, fifteen feet
tall, and on top of the pole was a wooden structure like a dog kennel.
David exclaimed as from the kennel emerged a big brown furry animal. it
descended the pole in one swift falling action, seemingly at lightly as
a bird, and the chain that was fastened to the pole at one end was, at
the other, buckled about the animal’s waist by a thick leather strap.

It’s one of the biggest old bull baboons I’ve ever seen. Quickly he
described it to Debra, as the baboon moved out to the chain’s limit, and
knuckled the ground as he made a leisurely circle about his pole, the
chain clinking as it swung behind him. It was an arrogant display, and
he ruffled out the thick mane of hair upon his shoulders.

When he had completed the circle, he sat down facing the Land-Rover, in
a repellently humanoid attitude, and thrust out his lower jaw as he
regarded them through the small brown, close-set eyes.

A nasty beast, David told Debra. He would weigh ninety pounds, with a
long dog-like muzzle and a jaw full of yellow fangs. After the hyena,
he was the most hated animal of the veld, cunning, cruel and avaricious,
all the vices of man and none of his graces. His stare was unblinking
and, every few seconds, he ducked his head in a quick aggressive
gesture.

While all David’s attention was on the baboon, a man had come out of the
store and now leaned on one of the pillars of the veranda.

What can I do for you, Mr. Morgan? he asked in a thick accent. He was
tall and spare, dressed in slightly rumpled and not entirely clean khaki
slacks and openneck shirt, with heavy boots on his feet and braces
hooked into his pants, crossing his shoulders.

How did you know my name? David looked up at him, and saw he was of
middle age with close-cropped greying hair over a domed skull. His
teeth were badly fitting with bright pink plastic gums and his skin was
drawn over the bones of the cheeks, and his deep-set eyes gave him a
skull-like look. He grinned at David’s question.

Could only be you, scarred face and blind wife, you the new owner of
Jabulani. Heard you built a new house and all set to live there now.
The man’s hands were huge, out of proportion to the rest of his rangy
body, they were clearly very powerful and the lean muscles of his
forearms were as tough as rope.

He slouched easily against the pillar and took from his pocket a clasp
knife and a stick of black wind-dried meat, the jerky of North America,
boucan of the Caribbean, or the biltong of Africa, and he cut a slice as
though it were a plug of tobacco, popping it into his mouth.

Like I asked, what can we do for you? he chewed noisily, his teeth
squelching at each bite.

I need nails and paint David climbed out of the Land-Rover.

Heard you did all your buying in Nelspruit Akkers looked him over with a
calculated insolence, studying David’s ruined face with attention. David
saw that his deep-set eyes were a muddy green in colour.

I thought there was a law against caging or chaining wild animals.
Akkers had roused David’s resentment almost immediately, and the needle
showed in his tone.

Akkers began to grin again easily, still chewing. You a lawyer, are
you? ‘Just asking. ‘I got a permit, you want to see it? David shook
his head, and turned to speak to Debra in Hebrew. Quickly he described
the man.

I think he can guess why we are here, and he’s looking for trouble.
‘I’ll stay by the car, said Debra. Good. David climbed the steps to
the veranda.

What about the nails and paint? he asked Akkers.

Go on in, he was still grinning. I got a nigger helper behind the
counter. He will look after you. David hesitated and then walked on
into the building.

it smelled of carbolic soap and kerosene and maize meal.

The shelves were loaded with cheap groceries, patent medicines, blankets
and bolts of printed cotton cloth.

From the roof hung bunches of army surplus boots and greatcoats,
axe-beads and storm lanterns. The floor was stacked with tin trunks,
pick handles, bins of flour and maize meal and the hundreds of other
items that traditionally make up the stock of the country dealer.

David found the African assistant and began his purchase.

outside in the sunlight Debra climbed from the Land Rover and leaned
lightly against the door. The labrador scrambled down after her and
began sniffing the concrete pillars of the veranda with interest where
other dogs before him had spurted jets of yellow urine against the
white-washed plaster.

Nice dog, said Akkers.

Thank you. Debra nodded politely.

Akkers glanced quickly across at his pet baboon, and his expression was
suddenly cunning. A flash of understanding passed between man and
animal. The baboon ducked its head again in that nervous gesture, then
it rose from its haunches and drifted back to the pole. With a leap and
bound it shot up the pole and disappeared into the opening of its
kennel.

Akkers grinned and carefully cut another slice of the black biltong.

You like it out at Jabulani? he asked Debra, and at the same time he
offered the scrap of dried meat to the dog.

We are very happy there, Debra replied stiffly, not wanting to be drawn.
Zulu sniffed the proffered titbit, and his tail beat like a metronome.
No dog can resist the concentrated meat smell and taste of biltong. He
gulped it eagerly. Twice more Akkers fed him the scraps, and Zulu’s
eyes glistened and his soft silky muzzle was damp with saliva.

The waiting women in the shade of the veranda were watching with lively
interest now. They had seen this happen before with a dog, and they
waited expectantly.

David was in the building, out of sight. Debra stood blind and
unsuspecting.

Akkers cut a larger piece of the dried meat and offered it to Zulu, but
when he reached for it he pulled his hand away, teasing the dog. With
his taste for biltong now firmly established, Zulu tried again for the
meat as it was offered. Again it was pulled away at the last moment.
Zulu’s black wet nose quivered with anxiety, and the soft ears were
cocked.

Akkers walked down the steps with Zulu following him eagerly, and at the
bottom he showed the dog the biltong once more, letting him sniff it.
Then he spoke softly but urgently, Get it, boy, and threw the scrap of
biltong at the base of the baboon’s pole. Zulu bounded forward, still
slightly clumsy on his big puppy paws, into the circle of the chain
where the baboon’s paws had beaten the earth hard. He ran on under the
pole and grubbed hungrily for the biltong in the dust.

The bull baboon came out of his kennel like a tawny grey blur and
dropped the fifteen feet through the air; his limbs were spread and his
jaws were open in a snarl like a great red trap, and the fangs were
vicious, long and yellow and spiked. He hit the ground silently, and
his muscles bunched as they absorbed the shock and hurled the long lithe
body feet first at the unsuspecting pup. The baboon crashed into him,
taking him on the shoulder with all the weight of his ninety pounds.

Zulu went down and over, rolling on his back with a startled yelp, but
before he could find his feet or his wits, the baboon was after him.

Debra heard the pup cry, and started forward, surprised but not yet
alarmed.

As he lay on his back, Zulu’s belly was unprotected, sparsely covered
with the silken black hair, the immature penis protruding pathetically,
and the baboon went onto him in a crouching leap, pinning him with
powerful furry legs as he bowed his head and buried the long yellow
fangs deep into the pup’s belly.

Zulu screamed in dreadful agony, and Debra screamed in sympathy and ran
forward.

Akkers shot out a foot as she passed him and tripped her, sending her
sprawling on her hands and knees.

Leave it, lady, he warned her, still grinning. You’ll get hurt if you
interfere. The baboon locked its long curved eye teeth into the tender
belly, and then hurled the pup away from it with all the fierce strength
of its four limbs. The thin wall of the stomach was ripped through, and
the purple ropes of the entrails came out, hanging festooned in the
baboon’s jaws.

Again the disembowelled pup screamed, and Debra rolled blindly to her
feet.

David! she cried wildly. David, help me! David came out of the
building running; pausing in the doorway he took in the scene at a
glance and snatched up a pick handle from the pile by the door. He
jumped off the veranda, and in three quick strides he had reached the
pup.

The baboon saw him coming and released Zulu. With uncanny speed, he
whirled and leapt for the pole, racing upwards to perch on the roof of
the kennel, his jowls red with blood, as he shrieked and jabbered,
bouncing up and down with excitement and triumph.

David dropped the pick and gently lifted the crawling crippled black
body. He carried Zulu to the Land-Rover and ripped his bush jacket into
strips as he tried to bind up the torn belly, pushing the hanging
entrails back into the hole with his fist.

David, what is it? Debra pleaded with him, and as he worked he
explained it in a few terse Hebrew sentences.

Get in, he told her and she clambered into the passenger seat of the
Land-Rover. He laid the injured labrador in her lap, and ran around to
the driver’s seat.

Akkers was back at the doorway of his shop, standing with his thumbs
hooked into his braces, and he was laughing. The false teeth clucked in
the open mouth as he laughed, rocking back and forth on his heels.

On its kennel the baboons shrieked and cavorted, sharing its master’s
mirth.

Hey, Mr. Morgan, Akkers giggled, don’t forget your nails!

David swung round to face him, his face felt tight and hot, the
cicatrice that covered his cheeks and forehead were inflamed and the
dark blue eyes blazed with a terrible anger. He started up the steps.
His mouth was a pale hard slit, and his fists were clenched at his
sides.

Akkers stepped backwards swiftly and reached behind the shop counter. He
lifted out an old double-barrelled shotgun, and cocked both hammers with
a sweep of his thick bony thumb.

Self defence, Mr. Morgan, with witnesses, he giggled with sadistic
relish. Come one step closer and we will get a look at your guts also.
David paused at the top of the steps, and the gun held in one huge fist,
pointed at his belly.

David, hurry, oh, please hurry, Debra called anxiously from the
Land-Rover, with the weak squirming body of the pup in her lap.

We’ll meet again, David’s anger had thickened his tongue.

That will be fun, said Akkers, and David turned away and ran down the
steps.

Akkers watched the Land-Rover pull away and swing into the road in a
cloud of dust, before he set the shotgun aside. He went out into the
sunlight, and the baboon scrambled down from its pole and rushed to meet
him.

It jumped up on to his hip and clung to him like a child.

Akkers took a boiled sweet from his pocket and placed it tenderly
between the terrible yellow fangs.

You lovely old thing, he chuckled, scratching the high cranium with its
thick cap of grey fur and the baboon squinted up at his face with narrow
brown eyes, chattering softly.

Despite the rough surface, David covered the thirty miles back to
Jabulani in twenty-five minutes. He skidded the vehicle to a halt
beside the hangar, and ran with the pup in his arms to the aircraft.

During the flight Debra nursed him gently in her lap, and her skirts
were sodden with his dark blood. The pup had quieted, and except for an
occasional whimper now lay still. Over the W T David arranged for a car
to meet them at Nelspruit airfield and forty-five minutes after take-off
they had Zulu on the theatre table in the veterinary surgeon’s clinic.

The veterinary surgeon worked with complete concentration for over two
hours at repairing the torn entrails and suturing the layers of
abdominal muscle.

The pup was so critically injured, and infection was such a real danger,
that they dared not return to Jabulani until it had passed. Five days
later when they flew home with Zulu still weak and heavily strapped but
out of danger, David altered his flight path to bring them in over the
trading store at Bandolier Hill.

The iron roof shone like a mirror in the sun, and David felt his anger
very cold and hard and determined.

The man is a threat to us, he said aloud. A real threat to each of us,
and to what we are trying to build at Jabulani. Debra nodded her
agreement, stroking the pup’s head and not trusting herself to speak.
Her own anger was as fierce as David’s. I’m going to get him, he said
softly, and he heard the Brig’s voice in his memory.

The only excuse for violence is to protect that which belongs to you. He
banked steeply away and lined up for his approach to the landing-strip
at Jabulani.

Conrad Berg called again to sample the Old Buck gin, and to tell David
that his application to have Jabulani declared a private nature reserve
had been approved by the Board and that the necessary documentation
would soon be ready for signature. Do you want me to pull the fence out
now. ‘No, David answered grimly. Let it stand. I don’t want Akkers
frightened off. Ja, Conrad agreed heavily. We have got to get him. He
called Zulu to him and examined the scar that was ridged and shaped like
forked lightning across the pup’s belly. The bastard, ‘he muttered, and
then glanced guiltily at Debra.

Sorry, Mrs. Morgan. I I couldn’t agree more, Mr. Berg, she said softly,
and Zulu watched her lips attentively when she spoke, his head cocked to
one side.

Like all young things, he had healed cleanly and quickly.

The morula grove that ran thickly along the base of
the hills about the String of Pearls came -into flower.

The holes were straight and sturdy, each crowned with a fully rounded,
many-branched head of dense foliage, and the red flowers made a royal
show.

Almost daily David and Debra would wander together through the groves,
down the rude track to the pools, and Zulu regained his strength on
these leisurely strolls which always culminated in a swim and a lusty
shaking off of water droplets, usually on to the nearest bystander.

Then the green plum-shaped fruits that covered the female marulas
thickly began to turn yellow as they ripened, and their yeasty smell was
heavy on the warm evening breeze.

The herd came up from the Sabi, forsaking the lush reed beds for the
promise of the morula harvest. They were led by two old bulls, who for
forty years had made the annual pilgrimage to the String of Pearls, and
there were fifteen breeding cows with calves running at heel and as many
adolescents.

They moved up slowly from the south, feeding spread out, sailing like
ghostly grey galleons through the open bush, overloaded bellies
rumbling. Occasionally a tall tree would catch the attention of one of
the bulls and he would place his forehead upon the thick trunk and,
swaying rhythmically as he built up momentum, he would strain suddenly
and bring it crackling and crashing down. A few mouthfuls of the tender
tip leaves would satisfy him, or he might strip the bark and stuff it
Untidily into his mouth before moving on northwards.

When they reached Conrad Berg’s fence the two bulls moved forward and
examined it, standing shoulder to shoulder as though in consultation,
fanning their great grey ears, and every few minutes picking up a large
pinch of sand in their trunks to throw over their own backs against the
worrisome attention of the stinging flies.

In forty years they had travelled, and knew exactly all the boundaries
of their reserve. As they stood there contemplating the game fence, it
was as though they were fully aware that its destruction would be a
criminal act, and injurious to their reputations and good standing.

Conrad Berg was deadly serious when he discussed his elephants sense of
right and wrong with David. He spoke of them like schoolboys who had to
be placed on good behaviour, and disciplined when they transgressed.

The Discipline might take the form of driving, darting with drugs, or
formal execution with a heavy rifle. This ultimate punishment was
reserved for the incorrigibles who raided cultivated crops, chased
motor-cars or otherwise endangered human life.

Sorely tempted, the two old bulls left the fence and ambled back to the
breeding herd that waited patiently for their decision amongst the thorn
trees. For three days the herd drifted back and forth along the fence,
feeding and resting and waiting, then suddenly the wind turned westerly
and it came to them laden with the thick, cloyingly sweet smell of the
morula berries.

David parked the Land-Rover on the firebreak road and laughed with
delight.

So much for Connie’s fence! ” For reasons of pachyderm prestige, or
perhaps merely for the mischievous delight of destruction, no adult
elephant would accept the breach made by another.

Each of them had selected his own fence pole, hard wood uprights
embedded in concrete, and had effortlessly snapped it off level with the
ground. Over a length of a mile the fence was flattened, and the wire
mesh lay across the firebreak.

Each elephant had used his broken pole like a tightrope, to avoid
treading on the sharp points of the barbed wire. Then once across the
fence they had streamed in a tight bunch down to the pools to spend a
night in feasting, an elephantine gorge on the yellow berries, which
ended at dawn when they had bunched up into close order and dashed back
across the ruined fence into the safety of the Park, perhaps pursued by
guilt and remorse and hoping that Conrad Berg would lay the blame on
some other herd.

However, the downed fence provided ready access for many others who had
long hankered after the sweet untouched grazing and deep water holes.

Ugly little blue wildebeest with monstrous heads, absurdly warlike manes
and curved horns in imitation of the mighty buffalo. Clowns of the
bush, they capered with glee and chased each other in circles. Their
companions the zebra were more dignified, ignoring their antics, and
trotted in businesslike fashion down to the pools. Their rumps were
striped and glossy and plump, their heads up and ears pricked.

Conrad Berg met David at the remains of his fence, climbing out of his
own truck and picking his way carefully over the wire. Sam, the African
ranger, followed him.

Conrad shook his head as he surveyed the destruction, chuckling
ruefully.

It’s old Mahommed and his pal One-Eye, I’d know that spoor anywhere.
They just couldn’t help themselves, the bastards – He glanced quickly at
Debra in the Land-Rover.

That’s perfectly all right, Mr. Berg, she forestalled his apology.

Sam had been casting back and forth along the soft break road and now he
came to where they stood.

Hello, Sam, David greeted him. It had taken a lot of persuasion to get
Sam to accept that this terribly disfigured face belonged to the young
nkosi David who he had taught to track, and shoot and rob a wild beehive
without destroying the bees.

Sam saluted David with a flourish. He took his uniform very seriously
and conducted himself like a guardsman now. It was difficult to tell
his age, for he had the broad smooth moonface of the Nguni, the
aristocratic warrior tribes of Africa, but there was a frosting of
purest white on the close-curled hair of his temples under the slouch
hat, and David knew he had worked at Jabulani for forty years before
leaving. The man must be approaching sixty years of age.

Quickly he made his report to Conrad, describing the animals and the
numbers which had crossed into Jabulani.

There is also a herd of buffalo, forty-three of them, Sam spoke in
simple Zulu that David could still follow. They are the ones who drank
before Ripape Dam near Hlangulene. That will bring Akkers running, the
sirloin of a young buffalo makes the finest biltong there is, Conrad
observed dryly.

How long will it be before he knows the fence is down? David asked, and
Conrad fell into a long rapidfire discussion with Sam that lost David
after the first few sentences. However, Conrad translated at the end.

Sam says he knows already, all your servants and their wives buy at his
store and he pays them for that sort of information. It turns out that
there is bad blood between Sam and Akkers. Sam suspects him of
arranging to have him beaten, on a lonely road on a dark night.

Sam was in hospital three months, he also accused Akkers of having his
hut fired to drive him off Jabulani. ‘It adds up, doesn’t it? David
agreed.

Old Sam is dead keen to help us grab Akkers, and he has a plan of action
all worked out. Let’s hear it. Well, as long as you are in residence
at Jabulani Akkers is going to restrict his activities to night poaching
with a killing lamp. He knows every trick there is and we will never
get him. So? You must tell your servants that you are leaving for two
weeks, going to Cape Town on business. Akkers will know as soon as you
leave and he will believe he has the whole of jabulam to himself, For an
hour more they discussed the details of the plan, then they shook hands
and parted.

As they drove back to the homestead they emerged from the open forest
into one of the glades of tall grass, and David saw the brilliant white
egrets floating like snow flakes over the swaying tops of golden grass.

Something in there, he said and cut the engine. They waited quietly
until David saw the movement in the grass, the opening and closing at
the passage of heavy bodies. Then three egrets, sitting in row, moved
slowly towards him, home on the back of a concealed beast as it grazed
steadily forward.

Ah, the buffalo! David exclaimed as the first of them appeared, a great
black bovine shape. It stopped as it saw the Land-Rover on the edge of
the trees and it regarded them intently from beneath the wide spread of
its horns, with its muzzle lifted high. It showed no alarm for these
were Park animals, almost as tame as domestic cattle.

Gradually the rest of the herd emerged from the tall grass. Each in
turn scrutinized the vehicle and then resumed feeding once more. There
were forty-three of them, as Sam had predicted, and amongst them were
some fine old bulls standing five and a half feet tall at the shoulder
and weighing little less than 2000 lb. Their horns were massively
bossed, meeting in the centre of the head and curving downwards and up
to blunt points, with a rugged surface that became polished black at the
tips.

Crawling over their heavy trunks and thick short legs were numbers of
ox-peckers, dull-plumaged birds with scarlet beaks and bright beady
eyes. Sometimes head down they scavenged for the ticks and other
blood-sucking body vermin in the folds of skin between the limbs.

Occasionally one of the huge beasts would snort and leap, shaking and
swishing its tail, as a sharp beak pried into a delicate portion of its
anatomy, under the tail or around the heavy dangling black scrotum. The
birds fluttered up with hissing cries, waited for the buffalo to calm
down and then settled again to their scurrying and searching.

David photographed the herd until the light failed, and they drove home
in the dark.

Before dinner David opened a bottle of wine and they drank it together
on the stoop, sitting close and listening to the night sounds of the
bush, the cries of the night birds, the tap of flying insects against
the wire screen and the other secret scurrying and rustling of small
animals.

Do you remember once I told you that you were spoiled, and not very good
marriage material? Debra asked softly, nestling her dark head against
his shoulder.

I’ll never forget it. I’d like to withdraw that remark ron-nally, she
went on, and he moved her gently away so that he could study her face.
Sensing his eyes upon her she smiled, that shy little smile of hers. I
fell in love with a little boy, a spoiled little boy, who thought only
of fast cars and the nearest skirt, she said, but now I have a man, a
grown man, she smiled again, and I like it better this way He drew her
back to him and kissed her, their lips melded in a lingering embrace
before she sighed happily and laid her head back upon his shoulder. They
were silent for a while before Debra spoke again.

These wild animals, that mean so much to you Yes?” he encouraged her.

I am beginning to understand. Although I have never seen them, they are
becoming important to me also I’m glad. David, this place of ours, it’s
so peaceful, so perfect.

It’s a little Eden before the fall. We will make it so, he promised,
but in the night the gunfire woke him. He rose quickly, leaving her
lying warm and quietly sleeping, and he went out on the stoop.

It came again, faintly on the still night, distance muting it to a small
unwarlike popping. He felt his anger stirring again, as he imagined the
long white shaft of the killing lamp, questing relentlessly through the
forest until it settled suddenly upon the puzzled animal, holding it
mesmerized in the beam, the blinded eyes glowing like jewels, making a
perfect aiming point in the field of the telescopic rifle sight.

Then suddenly the rifle blast, shocking in the silence, and the long
licking flame of the muzzle flash. The beautiful head snapping back at
the punch of the bullet and the soft thump of the falling body on the
hard earth, the last spasmodic kicking of hooves and again the silence.

He knew it was useless to attempt pursuit now, the gunman would have an
accomplice in the hills above them ready to flash a warning if any of
the homestead lights came on, or if an auto engine whirred into life.

Then the killing lamp would be doused and the poacher would creep away.
David would search the midnight T expanse of Jabulani in vain. His
quarry was cunning and experienced in his craft of killing, and would
only be taken by greater cunning.

David could not sleep again. He lay awake beside Debra, and listened to
her soft breathing, and at intervals to the distant rifle fire. The
game was tame and easily approached, innocent after the safety of the
Park.

It would run only a short distance after each shot, and then it would
stand again staring without comprehension at the mysterious and dazzling
light that floated towards it out of the darkness.

David’s anger burned on through the night, and in the dawn the vultures
were up. Black specks against the pink dawn sky, they appeared in
ever-increasing numbers, sailing high on wide pinions, tracing wide
swinging circles before beginning to drop towards the earth.

David telephoned Conrad Berg at Skukuza Camp, then he and Debra and the
dog climbed into the Land Rover, warmly dressed against the dawn chill.
They followed the descent of the birds to where the poacher had come on
the buffalo herd.

As they approached the first carcass, the animal scavengers scattered,
slope-backed hyena cantering away into the trees, hideous and cowardly,
looking back over their misshapen shoulders, grinning apologetically
little red jackal with silvery backs and alert ears, trotting to a
respectful distance before standing and staring back anxiously.

The vultures were less timid, seething like fat brown maggots over the
carcass as they squawled and squabbled, fouling everything with their
stinking droppings and loose feathers, leaving the kill only when the
Land Rover was very close and then flapping heavily up into the trees to
crouch there grotesquely with their bald scaly heads out-thrust.

There were sixteen dead buffalo, lying strung out along the line of the
herd’s flight. On each carcass the belly had been split open to let the
vultures in, and the sirloin and fillet had been expertly removed.

He killed them just for a few pounds of meat? Debra asked
incredulously.

That’s all, David confirmed grimly. But that’s not bad, sometimes
they’ll kill a wildebeest simply to make a fly whisk of its tail, or
they’ll shoot a giraffe for the marrow in its bones. I don’t
understand, Debra’s voice was hopeless. What makes a man do it? He
can’t need the meat that badly. No, David agreed. It’s deeper than
that. This type of killing is a gut thing. This man kills for the
thrill of it, he kills to see an animal fall, to hear the death cry, to
smell the reek of fresh blood, his voice choked off, this is one time
you can be thankful you cannot see he said softly.

Conrad Berg found them waiting beside the corpses, and he set his
rangers to work butchering the carcasses.

No point in wasting all that meat. Food there for a lot of people. Then
he put Sam to the spoor. There had been four men in the poaching party,
one wearing light rubbersoled shoes and the others bare-footed.

One white man, big man, long legs. Three black men, carry meat, blood
drip here and here. They followed Sam slowly through the open forest as
he patted the grass with his long thin tracking staff, and moved towards
the unsurfaced public road.

Here they walk backwards, Sam observed, and Conrad explained grimly.

Old poacher’s trick. They walk backwards when they cross a boundary. If
you cut the soar while patrolling the fence you think they have gone the
other way leaving instead of entering, and you don’t bother following
them. The spoor went through a gap in the fence, crossed the road and
entered the tribal land beyond. It ended where a motor vehicle had been
parked amongst a screening thicket of wild ebony. The tracks bumped
away across the sandy earth and rejoined the public road.

Plaster casts of the tyre tracks? David asked.

Waste of time. Conrad shook his head. You can be sure they are changed
before each expedition, he keeps this set especially and hides it when
it’s not in use. ‘What about spent cartridge shells? David persisted.

Conrad laughed briefly. They are in his pocket, this is a fly bird.
He’s not going to scatter evidence all over the country. He picks up as
he goes along. No, we’ll have to sucker him into it. And his manner
became businesslike. Right, have you selected a place to stake old Sam
out? I thought we would put him up on one of the kopies, near the
String of Pearls. He’ll be abe to cover the whole estate from there,
spot any dust on the road, and the height will give the two-way radio
sufficient range. After lunch David loaded their bags into the luggage
compartment of the Navajo. He paid the servants two weeks wages in
advance.

Take good care. He told them. I shall return before the end of the
month.

He parked the Land-Rover in the open hangar with the key in the ignition
facing the open doorway, ready for a quick start. He took off and kept
on a westerly -heading, passing directly over Bandolier Hill and the
buildings amongst the mango trees. They saw no sign of life, but David
held his course until the hill sank from view below the horizon, then he
came around on a wide circle to the south and lined up for Skukuza, the
main camp of the Kruger National park.

Conrad Berg was at the airstrip in his truck to meet the Cessna, and
Jane had placed fresh flowers in the guest room. Jabulani lay fifty
miles away to the northwest.

It was like squadron Red standby again, with the Navajo parked under one
of the big shade trees at the end of the Skukuza airstrip, and the radio
set switched on, crackling faintly on the frequency tuned to that of
Sam’s transmitter, as he waited patiently on the hill-top above the
pools.

The day was oppressively hot, with the threat of a rainstorm looming up
out of the east, great cumulus thunderheads striding like giants across
the busliveld.

Debra and David and Conrad Berg sat in the shade of the aircraft’s wing,
for it was too hot in the cockpit.

They chatted in desultory fashion, but always listening to the radio
crackle, and they were tense and distracted.

He is not going to come, said Debra a little before noon.

He’ll come, Conrad contradicted her. Those buffalo are too much
temptation. Perhaps not today, but tomorrow or the next day he’ll come.
David stood up and climbed in through the open door of the cabin. He
went forward to the cockpit.

T, Sam, he spoke into the microphone. Can you hear me?

There was a long pause, presumably while Sam struggled with radio
procedure, then his voice, faint but clear:I hear you, Nkosi.

Have you seen anything? ‘There is nothing. Keep good watch. ‘Yebho,
Nkosi.

Jane brought a cold picnic lunch down to the airstrip, they ate heartily
despite the tension, and they were about to start on the milk tart, when
suddenly the radio set throbbed and hummed. Sam’s voice carried clearly
to where they sat.

He has come!

Red standby, Go! Go! shouted David, and they rushed for the cabin
door, Debra treading squarely in the centre of Jane’s milk tart before
David grabbed her arm and guided her to her seat.

Bright Lance, airborne and climbing, David laughed with excitement and
then memory stabbed him with a sharp blade. He remembered Joe hanging
out there at six o’clock but he shut his mind to it and he banked
steeply on to his headin& not wasting time in grabbing for altitude but
staying right down at tree-top level.

Conrad Berg was bunched in the seat behind them, and his face was redder
than usual, seeming about to burst like an over-ripe tomato.

Where is the Land-Rover key? he demanded anxiously. It’s in the
ignition, and the tank is full Can’t you go faster? Conrad growled.

Have you got your walkie talkie? David checked him.

Here! It was gripped in one of his huge paws, and his double-barrelled
. 450 magnum was in the other.

David was hopping the taller trees, and sliding over the crests of
higher ground with feet to spare. They flashed over the boundary fence
and ahead of them lay the hills of Jabulani.

Get ready, he told Conrad, and flew the Navajo into the airstrip,
taxiing up to the hangar where the Land Rover waited.

Conrad jumped down at the instant that David braked to a halt, then he
slammed the cabin door behind him and raced to the Land-Rover.
Immediately David opened the throttle and swung the aircraft around,
lining up for his take-off before the Navajo had gathered full momentum.

As he climbed, he saw the Land-Rover racing across the airstrip,
dragging a cloak of dust behind it.

Do you read me, Conrad?

Loud an clear, Conra s voice boomed out of the speaker, and David turned
for the grey ribbon of the public road that showed through the trees,
beyond the hills.

He followed it, flying five hundred feet above it, and he searched the
open parkland.

The green Ford truck had been concealed from observation at ground
level, again in a thicket of wild ebony, but it was open from the sky.
For Akkers had never thought of discovery coming from there.

Connie, I’ve got the truck. He’s stashed it in a clump of ebony about
half a mile down the bank of the Luzane stream. Your best route is to
follow the road to the bridge, then go down into the dry river bed and
try and cut him off before he gets to the truck. ‘Okay, David. ‘Move
it, man.

I’m moving. David saw the Land-Rover’s dust above the trees, Conrad
must have his foot down hard.

I’m going to try and spot the man himself, chase him into your arms.

You do that? David started a long climbing turn towards the hills,
sweeping and searching, up and around. Below him the pools granted and
he opened the throttles slightly, seeking altitude to clear the crests.

From the highest peak, a tiny figure waved frantically.

Sam, he grunted. Doing a war dance. He altered course slightly to
pass him closely, and Sam stopped his imitation of a windmill and
stabbed with an extended arm towards the west. David acknowledged with
a wave, and turned again, dropping down the western slopes.

Ahead of him the plain spread, dappled like a leopard’s back with dark
bush and golden glades of grass. He flew for a minute before he saw a
black mass, moving slowly ahead of him, dark and amorphous against the
pale grass.

The remains of the buffalo herd had bunched up and were running without
direction, desperate from the harrying they had received.

Buffalo, he told Debra. On the ran. Something has alarmed them. She
sat still and intent beside him, hands in her lap, staring unseeingly
ahead.

All! David shouted. Got him, with blood on his hands! In the Centre
of one of the larger clearings lay the black beetle-like body of a dead
buffalo, its belly swollen and its legs sticking out stiffly as it lay
on its side.

Four men stood around it in a circle, obviously just about to begin
butchering the carcass. Three of them were Africans, one with a knife
in his hand.

The fourth man was Johan Akkers. There was no mistaking the tall gaunt
frame. He wore an old black Fedora hat on his head, strangely formal
attire for the work in which he was engaged, and his braces crisscrossed
his tan-Coloured shirt. He carried a rifle at the trail in his right
hand, and at the sound of the aircraft engines he swung round and stared
into the sky, frozen with the shock of discovery.

You swine. Oh, you bloody swine, whispered David, and his anger was
strong and bright against the despoilers.

Hold on! he warned Debra, and flew straight at the man, dropping
steeply on to him.

The group around the dead buffalo scattered, as the aircraft bore down
on them, each man picking his own course and racing away on it, but
David selected the lanky galloping frame with the black hat jammed down
over the ears and sank down behind him. The tips. of the propellers
clipped the dry grass, as he swiftly overtook the running Akkers.

He was set to fly into him, driven by the unreasoning anger of the male
animal protecting his own, and he lined up to cut him down with the
spinning propeller blades.

As David braced himself for the impact Akkers glanced back over his
shoulder, and his face was muddy grey with fright, the skull eyes dark
and deeply set. He saw the murderous blades merely feet from him, and
he threw himself flat into the grass.

The Navajo roared inches over his prone body, and David pulled it round
in a steep turn, with the wing-tip brushing the grass. As he came round
he saw that Akkers was up and running, and that he was only fifty paces
from the edge of the trees.

David levelled out, aimed for the fugitive again but realized that he
could not reach him before he was into the trees. Swiftly he sped
across the clearing, but the lumbering figure drew slowly closer to the
timber line and as he reached the sanctuary of a big leadwood trunk,
Akkers whirled and raised the rifle to his shoulder. He aimed at the
approaching aircraft; although the rifle was unsteady in his hands the
range was short.

Down, shouted David, pushing Debra’s head below the level of the
windshield, and he pulled open the throttles and climbed steeply away.

Even above the bellow of the engines David heard the heavy bullet clang
into the fuselage of the aircraft.

What’s happening, David? Debra pleaded.

He fired at us, but we’ve got him on the run. He’ll head back for his
truck now, and Conrad should be there waiting for him. Akkers kept
under cover of the trees, and circling above him David caught glimpses
of the tall figure trotting purposefully along his escape route.

David, -can you hear me? Conrad’s voice boomed suddenly in the tense
cockpit. What is it, Connie? We’ve got trouble.

I’ve hit a rock in your Land- Rover and knocked out the sump. She’s had
it, pouring oil all over the place.

How the hell did you do that? David demanded.

I was trying a short cut. Conrad’s chagrin carried clearly over the
ether.

How far are you from the Luzane stream? About three miles. God, he’ll
beat you to it, David swore. He’s two miles from the truck and going
like he’s got a tax collector after him.

You have not seen old Connie move yet. I’ll be there waiting for him,
Berg promised.

Good luck, David called, and the transmission went dead.

Below them Akkers was skirting the base of the hills, his black hat
bobbing along steadily amongst the trees.

David kept his starboard wing pointed at him and the Navajo turned
steadily, holding station above him.

Other movement caught David’s eye on the open slope of the hill above
Akkers. For a moment he thought it was an animal, then with an intake
of breath he realized that he was mistaken.

What is it? Debra demanded, sensing his concern.

It’s Sam, the damned fool. Connie told him not to leave his post, he’s
unarmed, but he’s baring down the slope to try and cut Akkers off. Can’t
you stop him? Debra asked anxiously, and David didn’t bother to answer.

He called Conrad four times before there was a reply.

Conrad’s voice was thick and wheezing with the effort of running.

Sam is on to Akkers. I think he’s going to confront him. Oh God damn
him, groaned Conrad. I’ll kick his black ass for him.

Hold on, David told him, I’m going around for a closer look. David saw
it all quite plainly, he was only three hundred feet above them when
Akkers became aware of the running figure on the slope above him. He
stopped dead, and half-lifted the rifle; perhaps he shouted a warning
but Sam kept -on down, bounding over the rocky ground towards the man
who had burned his children to death.

Akkers lifted the rifle to his shoulder and aimed deliberately, the
rifle jumped sharply, the barrel kicking upwards at the recoil and Sam’s
legs kept on running while his upper torso was flung violently backwards
by the strike of the heavy soft-nosed bullet.

The tiny brown-clad body bounced and rolled down the slope, before
coming to a sprawling halt in a clump of scrub.

David watched Akkers reload the rifle, stooping to pick up the empty
cartridge shell. Then he looked up at the circling aircraft above him,
David may have been mistaken but it seemed the man was laughing, that
obscene tooth-clucking giggle of his, then he started off again at a
trot towards the truck.

Connie, David spoke hoarsely into his handset, he just killed Sam.

Conrad Berg ran heavily over the broken sandy ground.

He had lost his hat and sweat poured down his big red face, stinging his
eyes and plastering the lank grey hair down his forehead. The
walkie-talkie set bounced on his back, and the butt of the rifle thumped
rhythmically against his hip.

He ran with grim concentration, trying to ignore the swollen pounding of
his heart and the torture of breath that scalded his lungs. A thorn
branch clawed at his upper arms, raking thin bloody lines through his
skin, but he did not break the pattern of his run.

He turned his red and streaming face to the sky and saw David’s
aircraft, circling ahead of him and slightly to his left. That marked
for him Akkers position and it was clear that Conrad was losing ground
in his desperate race to head off the escape.

The radio set on his back buzzed, but he ignored the call, he could not
halt now. To break his run would mean he would only slump down
exhausted. He was a big heavy man, the air was hot and enervating, and
he had run three miles through loose and difficult going he was almost
finished. He was burning the last of his reserves now.

Suddenly the earth seemed to fall away under him, and he pitched forward
and half-slid, half-rolled, down the steep bank of the Luzane stream, to
finish lying on his back in the white river sand, clean and grainy as
sugar. The radio was digging painfully into his flesh and he dragged it
out from under him.

Still lying in the sand he panted like a dog, blinded by sweat and he
fumbled the transmit button of the set.

David – he croaked thickly, I am in the bed of the stream, can you see
me? The aircraft was arcing directly overhead now, and David’s answer
came back immediately.

I see you, Connie, you are a hundred yards downstream from the truck.

Akkers is there, Connie, he has just reached the truck, he’ll be coming
back down the river bed at any moment. Painfully, gaspin& choking for
breath, Conrad Berg dragged himself to his knees, and at that moment he
heard the whirr and catch and purr of an engine. He unstrapped the
heavy radio and laid it aside, then he unslung his rifle, snapped open
the breech to check the load, and pulled himself to his feet.

Surprised at the weakness of his own massive body, he staggered into the
centre of the river bed.

The dry river bed was eight feet deep with banks cut sheer by flood
water, and it was fifteen feet wide at this point, and the floor was of
smooth white sand, scattered with small water-rounded stones no bigger
than a baseball. It made a good illegal access road into Jabulani, and
the tracks of Alkkers truck were clearly etched in the sol t sand.

Around a bed in the stream Conrad heard the truck revving and roaring as
it came down a low place in the bank into the smooth bed.

Conrad stood squarely in the middle of the river bed with the rifle held
across his hip, and he fought to control his breathing. The approaching
roar of the truck reached a crescendo as it came skidding wildly around
the bend in the stream, and raced down towards him.

Showers of loose sand were thrown out from under the spinning rear
wheels.

Johan Akkers crouched over the steering wheel, with the black hat pulled
down to his eyebrows, and his face was grey and glistening with sweat,
and he saw Conrad blocking the river bed.

Stop! Conrad shouted, hefting the rifle. Stop or I shoot!

The truck was swaying and sliding, the engine screamed in tortured
protest. Akkers began to laugh, Conrad could see the open mouth and the
shaking shoulders. There was no slackening in the truck’s roaring
rocking charge.

Conrad lifted the rifle and sighted down the stubby double barrels, At
that range he could have put a bullet through each of Johan Akkers
deep-set eyes, and the man made no effort to duck or otherwise avoid the
men ace of the levelled rifle. He was still laughing, and Conrad could
clearly see the teeth lying loosely on his s. He steeled himself with
the truck fifty feet away, gum and racing down upon him.

it takes a peculiar state of mind before one man deliberately and
cold-bloodedly shoot down another. It must either be the conditioned
reflex of the soldier or lawenforcement officer, or it must be the
terror of the hunted, or again it must be the unbalanced frenzy of the
criminal lunatic.

None of these was Conrad Berg. Like most big strong men, he was
essentially a gentle person. His whole thinking was centred on
protecting and cherishing life, he could not pull the trigger.

With the truck fifteen feet away, he threw himself aside, and Johan
Akkers swung the wheel wildly, deliberately driving for him.

He caught Berg a glancing blow with the side of the truck, hurling him
into the earthen bank of the stream.

The truck went past him, slewing out of control. It hit the bank
farther down the stream in a burst of earth and loose pebbles, swaying
wildly as Akkers fought the bucking wheel. He got it under control
again, jammed his foot down on the accelerator and went roaring on down
the river bed, leaving Conrad lying in the soft sand below the bank.

As the truck hit him, Conrad felt the bone in his hip shatter like
glass, and the breath driven from his lungs by the heavy blow of metal
against his rib cage.

He lay in the sand on his side and felt the blood well slowly into his
mouth. It had a bitter salt taste, and he knew that one of the broken
ribs had pierced his lung like a lance and that the blood sprang from
deep within his body.

He turned his head and saw the radio set lying ten paces away across the
river bed. He began to drag himself towards it and his shattered leg
slithered after him, twisted at a grotesque angle.

David, he whispered into the microphone. I couldn’t stop him. He got
away, and he spat a mouthful of blood into the white sand.

David picked the truck up as it came charging up the river bank below
the concrete bridge of the Luzane, bounced and bumped over the drainage
ditch and swung on to the road. It gathered speed swiftly and raced
westwards towards Bandolier Hill and the highway. Dust boiled out from
behind the green chassis, marking its position clearly for David as he
turned two miles ahead of it.

After crossing the Luzane the road turned sharply to avoid a rocky
outcrop, and then ran arrow-straight for two miles, hedged in with thick
timber and undulating like a switchback, striking across the water shed
and the grain of the land.

As David completed his turn he lowered his landing gear, and throttled
back. The Navajo sank down, lined up on the dusty road as though it was
a landing-strip.

Directly ahead was the dust column of the speeding truck. They were on
a head-on course, but David concentrated coldly on bringing the Navajo
down into the narrow lane between the high walls of timber. He was
speaking quietly to Debra, reassuring her and explaining what he was
going to attempt.

He touched down lightly on the narrow road, letting her float in easily,
and when she was down he opened the throttles again, taking her along
the centre of the road under power but holding her down. He had speed
enough to lift the Navajo off, if Akkers chose a collision rather than
surrender.

Ahead of them was another hump in the road, and as they rolled swiftly
towards it the green truck suddenly burst over the crest, not more than
a hundred yards ahead: Both vehicles were moving fast, coming together
at a combined speed of almost two hundred miles an hour, and the shock
of it was too much for Johan Akkers.

The appearance of the aircraft dead in the centre of the road, bearing
down on him with the terrible spinning discs of the propellers was too
much for nerves already run raw and ragged.

He wrenched the wheel hard over, and the truck went into a broadside dry
skid. It missed the port wing-tip of the Navajo as it went rocketing
off the narrow road. The front wheels caught the drainage ditch and the
truck went over, cartwheeling twice in vicious slamming revolutions that
smashed the glass from her windows and burst the doors open. The truck
ended on its side against one of the trees.

David shut the throttles and thrust his feet hard down on the wheel
brakes, bringing the Navajo up short. .

Wait here, he shouted at Debra, and jumped down into the road. His face
was a frozen mask of scar tissue, but His eyes were ablaze as he
sprinted back along the road towards the wreckage of the green truck.

Akkers saw him coming, and he dragged himself shakily to his feet. He
had been thrown clear and now he staggered to the truck. He could see
his rifle lying in the cab, and he tried to scramble up on to the body
to reach down through the open door. Blood from a deep scratch in his
forehead was running into his eyes blinding him, he wiped it away with
the back of his hand and glanced around.

David was close, hurdling the irrigation ditch and running towards him.

Akkers scrambled down from the battered green body, and groped for the
hunting knife on his belt. It was eight inches of Sheffield steel with
a bone handle, and it had been honed to a razor edge.

He hefted it under-handed, in the classical grip of the knife-fighter
and wiped the blood from his face with the palm of his free hand.

He was crouching slightly, facing David, and the haft of the knife was
completely covered by the huge bony fist.

David stopped short of him, his eyes fastened on the knife, and Akkers
began to laugh again. It was a cracked falsetto giggle, the hysterical
laughter of a man driven to the very frontiers of sanity.

The point of the knife weaved in the slow mesmeric movement of an erect
cobra, and it caught the sunlight in bright points of light. David
watched it, circling and crouching, steeling himself, summoning all the
training of paratrooper school, screwing up his nerve to go in against
the naked steel.

Akkers feinted swiftly, leaping in, and when David broke away, he let
out a fresh burst of high laughter.

Ago in they circled, Akkers mouthing his teeth loosely, sucking at them,
gigglin& watching with those muddy green eyes from their deep, close-set
sockets.

David moved back slowly ahead of him, and Akkers drove him back against
the body of the truck, cornering him there.

He came then, flashing like the charge of a wounded leopard. His speed
and strength were shockin& and the knife hissed upwards for David’s
belly.

David caught the knife hand at the wrist, blocking the thrust and
trapping the knife low down. They were chest to chest now, face to
face, like lovers, and Akkersbreath stank of unwashed teeth.

They strained silently, shifting like dancers to balance each other’s
heaves and thrusts.

David felt the knife hand twisting in his grip. The man had hands and
arms like steel, he could not hold him much longer. In seconds it would
be free, and the steel would be probing into his belly.

David braced his legs and twisted sideways. The move caught Akkers
off-balance and he could not resist it.

David was able to get his other hand on to the knife arm, but even with
both hands he was hard put to hold on.

They swayed and shuffled together, panting, grunting, straining, until
they fell, still locked together, against the bonnet of the truck. The
metal was hot and smelled of oil.

David was concentrating all his strength on the knife, but he felt
Akkers free hand groping for his throat. He ducked his head down on his
shoulders, pressing his chin against his chest but the fingers were
steel hard and powerful as machinery. They probed mercilessly into his
flesh, forcing his chin up, and settling on his throat, beginning to
squeeze the life out of him.

Desperately David hauled at the knife arm, and found it more manageable
now that Akkers was concentrating his strength on strangling him.

The open windscreen of the truck was beside David’s shoulder, the glass
had been smashed out of it, but jagged shards of it still stood in the
metal rim, forming a crude but ferocious line of saw-teeth.

David felt the fingers digging deep into his throat, crushing the
gristle of his larynx and blocking off the arteries that fed his brain.
His vision starred and then began to fade darkly, as though he were
pulling eight G’s in a dogfight.

With one last explosive effort David pulled the knife arm around on to
the line of broken glass, and he dragged it down, sawing it desperately
across the edge.

Akkers screamed and his strangling grip relaxed, back and forth David
sawed the arm, slashing and ripping through skin and fat and flesh,
opening a wound like a ragged-petalled rose, hacking down into the
nerves and arteries and sinews so that the knife dropped from the
lifeless fingers and Akkers screamed like a woman.

David broke from him and shoved him away. Akkers fell to his knees
still screaming and David clutched at his own throat massaging the
bruised flesh, gasping for breath and feeling the flow of fresh blood to
his brain.

God Jesus, I’m dying. I’m bleeding to death. Oh sweet Jesus, help me!
screamed Akkers, holding the mutilated arm to his belly. Help me, oh
God, don’t let me die.

Save me, Jesus, save me! Blood was streaming and spurting from the arm,
flooding the front of his trousers. As he screamed his teeth fell from
his mouth, leaving it a dark and empty cave in the palely glistening
face.

You’ve killed me. I’ll bleed to death! he screamed at David, thrusting
his face towards David. You’ve got to save me, don’t let me die. David
pushed himself away from the truck and took two running steps towards
the kneeling man, then he swung his right leg and his whole body into a
flying kick that took Akkers cleanly under the chin and snapped his head
back.

He went over backwards and lay still and quiet, and David stood over
him, sobbing and gasping for breath.

For purposes of sentence Mr. justice Barnard of the Transvaal division
of the Supreme Court took into consideration four previous convictions,
two under the wildlife conservation act, one for aggravated assault, and
the fourth for assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm.

He found Johan Akkers guilty of twelve counts under the Wildlife
Conservation Act, but considered these as one when sentencing him to
three years at hard labour without option of a fine, and confiscation of
firearms and motor vehicles used in commission of these offences.

He found him guilty of one count of aggravated assault, and sentenced
him to three years at hard labour without option.

The prosecutor altered one charge from attempted murder to assault with
intent to do grievous bodily harm. He was found guilty as charged on
this count, and the sentence was five years imprisonment without option.

On the final charge of murder he was found guilty and justice Barnard
said in open court; In considering sentence of death on this charge, I
was obliged to take into account the fact that the accused was acting
like an animal in a trap, and I am satisfied that there was no element
of premeditation The sentence was eighteen years imprisonment, and all
sentences were to run consecutively. They were all confirmed on appeal.

As Conrad Berg said from his hospital bed with one heavily plastered leg
in traction, and a glass of Old Buck gin in his hand, Well, for the next
twenty-eight years we don’t have to worry about that bastard, I beg your
pardon, Mrs. Morgan. Twenty-nine years, dear, Jane Berg corrected him
firmly.

In July the American edition of A Place of Our Oven was published, and
it dropped immediately into that hungry and bottomless pool of
indifference wherein so many good books drown. It left not a sign, not
a ripple of its passing.

Bobby Dugan, Debra’s new literary agent in America, wrote to say how
sorry he was, and how disappointed.

He had expected at least some sort of critical notice to be taken of the
publication.

David took it as a personal and direct insult. He ranted and stormed
about the estate for a week, and it seemed that at one stage he might
actually journey to America to commit a physical violence upon that
country, a sort of one-man Vietnam in reverse.

They must be stupid, he protested. It’s the finest book ever written.

Oh, David! Debra protested modestly.

It is! And I’d love to go over there and rub their noses in it, and
Debra imagined the doors of editorial offices all over New York being
kicked open, and literary reviewers fleeing panic-stricken, jumping out
of skyscraper-windows or locking themselves in the women’s toilets to
evade David’s wrath.

David, my darling, you are wonderful for me, she giggled with delight,
but it had hurt. It had hurt very badly. She felt the flame of her
urge to write wane and flutter in the chill winds of rejection.

Now when she sat at her desk with the microphone at her lips, the words
no longer tumbled and fought to escape, and the ideas no longer jostled
each other. Where before she had seen things happening as though she
were watching a play, seen her characters laugh and cry and sing, now
there was only the dark cloud banks rolling across her eyes, unrelieved
by colour or form.

For hours at a time she might sit at her desk and listen to the birds in
the garden below the window.

David sensed her despair, and he tried to help her through it. When the
hours at the desk proved fruitless he would insist she leave it and come
with him along the new fence lines, or to fish for the big blue
Mozambique bream.

in the deep water of the pools.

Now that she had completely learned the layout of the house and its
immediate environs, David began to teach her to find her way at large.
Each day they would walk down to the pools and Debra learned her
landmarks along the track; she would grope for them with the carved
walking-stick David had given her. Zulu soon realized his role in these
expeditions, and it was David’s idea to clip a tiny silver bell on to
his collar so that Debra could follow him more readily. Soon she could
venture out without David, merely calling her destination to Zulu and
checking him against her own landmarks.

David was busy at this time with the removal of Conrad’s game fence, as
he was still laid up with the leg, and with building his own fences to
enclose the three vulnerable boundaries of Jabulani. In addition there
was a force of African rangers to recruit and train in their duties.
David designed uniforms for them, and built outposts for them at all the
main access points to the estate.

He flew into Nelspruit at regular intervals to consult Conrad Berg on
these arrangements, and it was at his suggestion that David began a
water survey of the estate.

He wanted surface water on the areas of Jabulani that were remote from
the pools, and he began studying the feasibility of building catchment
dams of sinking boreholes. His days were full and active, and he became
hard and lean and sunbrowned. Yet always there were many hours spent in
Debra’s company.

The 35-mm. colour slides that David had taken of the buffalo herd
before Johan Akkers had decimated it, were returned by the processing
laboratory and they were hopelessly inadequate. The huge animals seemed
to be standing on the horizon, and the ox-peckers on their bodies were
tiny grey specks. This failure spurred David, and he returned from one
trip to Nelspruit with a
600-mm. telescopic lens.

While Debra was meant to be working, David set up his camera beside her
and photographed the birds through her open window. The first results
were mixed.

Out of thirty-six exposures, thirty-five could be thrown away, but one
was beautiful, a grey-headed bush shrike at the moment of flight, poised
on spread wings with the sunlight catching his vivid plumage and his
sparkling eye.

David was hooked by the photography bug, and there were more lenses and
cameras and tripods, until Debra protested that it was a hobby which was
completely visual, and from which she was excluded.

David had one of his inspirations of genius. He sent away for pressings
of June Stannard’s bird song recordings, and Debra was enchanted. She
listened to them intently, her whole face lighting with pleasure when
she recognized a familiar call.

From there it was a natural step for her to attempt to make her own bird
recordings, which included the tinkle of Zulu’s silver bell, the buzz of
David’s Land Rover, the voices of the servants arguing in the kitchen
yard, and faintly, very faintly, the chatter of a glossy starling.

It’s no damned good, Debra complained bitterly I wonder how she got hers
so clear and close David did some reading, and built a parabolic
reflector for her. it did not look particularly lovely, but it worked.

Aimed at a sound source it gathered and directed the sound waves into
the microphone.

From the window of Debra’s study they became more adventurous and moved
out. He built permanent and comfortable hides beside the drinking
places at the pools, and when his rangers reported a nesting site of an
interesting bird species, they would build temporary blinds of thatch
and canvas, sometimes on tall stilts where David and Debra spent many
silent and enjoyable hours together, shooting film and catching sound.
Even Zulu learned to he still and silent with his bell removed on these
occasions.

Slowly they had begun to build up a library of photographs and
recordings of a professional standard, until at last David plucked up
sufficient courage to send to African Wild Life Magazine a selection of
a dozen of his best slides. Two weeks later, he received a letter of
acceptance, with a cheque for a hundred dollars. This payment
represented a return of approximately one twentieth of one percent of
his capital outlay on equipment. David was ecstatic, and Debra’s
pleasure almost as great as his. They drank two bottles of Veuve
Clicquot for dinner, and under the spell of excitement and champagne
their love-making that night was particularly inventive.

When David’s photographs were published in Wild Life accompanied with
Debra’s text, they reaped an unexpected harvest of letters from persons
of similar interest all over the world, and a request from the editors
for a full-length, illustrated article on Jabulani, and the Morgans
plans for turning it into a game sanctuary.

Debra made a lovely model for David’s photographs that he compiled for
the article, and she also worked with care on the text, while David fed
her ideas and criticism.

Debra’s new book lay abandoned, but her disappointment was forgotten in
the pleasure of working together.

Their correspondence with other conservationists provided them with
sufficient intellectual stimulus, and the occasional company of Conrad
Berg and Jane satisfied their need for human contact. They were still
both sensitive about being with other people, and this way they could
avoid it.

The Wild Life article was almost complete and ready for postin& when a
letter arrived from Bobby Dugan in New York. The editor of Cosmopolitan
magazine had chanced upon one of the few copies of A Place of Our Own in
circulation. She had liked it, and the magazine was considering
serialization of the book, possibly linked with a feature’article on
Debra. Bobby wanted Debra to let him have a selection of photographs of
herself, and four thousand words of autobiographical notes.

The photographs were there, ready to go to Wild Life, and Debra ran
through the four thousand words in three hours with David making
suggestions, some helpful and some bawdy.

They sent off the tape and pictures in the same post as the article to
Wild Life. For nearly a month they heard nothing more about it and then
something happened to drive it from their minds.

They were in the small thatch and daub hide beside the main pool,
sitting quietly and companionably during a lull in the evening activity.
David had his camera tripod set up in one of the viewing windows and
Debra’s reflector was raised above the roof of the hide, daubed with
camouflage paint and operated by a handle above her head.

The water was still and black, except where a surface feeding bream was
rising near the far reed banks. A flock of laughing doves was lining up
with a chattering troop of spotted guinea fowl at the water’s edge,
sipping water and then pointing their beaks to the sky as they let it
run down their throats.

Suddenly David took her wrist as a cautionary signal, and by the
intensity of his grip she knew that he had seen something unusual and
she leaned close against him so that she could hear his whispered
descriptions, and with her right hand she switched on the recorder and
then reached up to aim the reflector.

A herd of the rare and shy nyala antelope were approaching the drinking
place timidly, clinging until the last possible moment to the security
of the forest.

Their ears were spread, and their nostrils quivered and sucked at the
air, huge dark eyes glowing like lamps in the gloom.

There were nine hornless females, delicate chestnut in colour, striped
with white, dainty-stepping and suspicious, as they followed the two
herd bulls. These were so dissimilar from their females as though to
belong to a different species. Purplish black, and shaggy with a rough
mane extending from between the ears to the crupper. Their horns were
thick and cork screwed, tipped with cream, and between their eyes was a
vivid white chevron marking.

Advancing only a step at a time, and then pausing to stare with the
limitless patience of the wild, searching for a hint of danger, they
came slowly down the bank.

They passed the hide so closely that David was afraid to press the
trigger of his camera lest the click of the shutter frighten them away.

He and Debra sat frozen as they reached the water; Debra smiled happily
as she picked up the soft snort with which the -lead bull blew the
surface before drinkin& and the liquid slurping with which he drew his
first mouthful.

Once they were all drinking, David aimed and focused with care, but at
the click of the shutter the bull nearest him leapt about and uttered a
hoarse, throbbing alarm bark. Instantly the entire herd whirled and
raced away like pale ghosts through the dark trees.

I got it! I got it! exulted Debra. Wow! He was so close, he nearly
burst my eardrums. The excitement on Jabulani was feverish. Nyala
antelope had never been seen on the estate before, not even in David’s
father’s time, and all steps were taken to encourage them to remain. The
pools were immediately placed out of bounds to all the rangers and
servants, lest the human presence frighten the herd off before they had
a chance to settle down and stabilize their territory.

Conrad Berg arrived, still using a stick and limping heavily as he would
for the rest of his life. From the hide he watched the herd with David
and Debra, and then back at the homestead he sat before the log fire,
eating prime beef steak and drinking Old Buck while he gave his opinion.

They aren’t from the Park, I shouldn’t think. I would have recognized a
big old bull like that if I’d ever seen him before, they have probably
sneaked in from one of the other estates, you haven’t got the south
fence up yet, have you? ‘Not yet. Well, that’s where they have moved
from, probably sick of being stared at by all the tourists. Come up
here for a bit of peace. He took a swallow of his gin. You’re getting
a nice bit of stuff together here, Davey, another few years and it will
be a real show-place. Have you got any plans for visitors, you could
make a good thing out of this place, like they have at Mala-Mala.
Five-star safaris at economy prices – Connie, I’m just too damn selfish
to want to share this with anybody else.

The distractions and the time had given Debra an opportunity to recover
from the American failure of A Place of Our Own, and one morning she sat
down at her desk and began working again on her second novel.

That evening she told David: One of the blocks I have had is that I
hadn’t a name for it. It’s like a baby, you have to give it a name or
it’s not really a person. ‘You have got a name for it? he asked. Yes.
‘Would you like to tell me?

She hesitated, shy at saying it to some other person for the first time.
I thought I’d call it, A Bright and Holy Thing, she said, and he thought
about it for a few moments, repeating it softly, You like it? she asked
anxiously. It’s great, he said. I like it. I really do. With Debra
once more busy on her novel it seemed each day was too short for the
love and laughter and industry which filled it.

The call came through while David and Debra were sitting around the
barbecue in the front garden. David ran up to the house when the
telephone bell insisted.

Miss Mordecai? David was puzzled, the name was vaguely familiar.

Yes. I have a person-to-person call from New York, for Miss Debra
Mordecai, the operator repeated impatiently, and David realized who she
was talking about.

She’ll take it, he said, and yelled for Debra. It was Bobby Dugan, and
the first time she had heard his voice. Wonder girl, he shouted over
the line. Sit down, so you don’t fall down. Big Daddy has got news for
you that will blow your mind! Cosmopolitan ran the article on you two
weeks ago. They did you real proud, darling, full-page photograph, God,
you looked good enough to eat, Debra laughed nervously and signalled
David to put his ear against hers to listen.

the mag hit the stands Saturday, and Monday morning was a riot at the
book stores. They were beating the doors down. You’ve caught the
imagination of everybody here, darling.

They sold seventeen thousand hardback in five days, you jumped straight
into the number five slot on the New York Times bestseller list, it’s a
freak, a phenomenon, a mad crazy runner, darling, we are going to sell
half a million copies of this book standing on our heads. All the big
papers and mags are screaming for review copies, they’ve lost the ones
we sent them three months ago. Doubleday are reprinting fifty thousand,
and I told them they were crazy, it should have been a hundred thousand,
it’s only just starting next week will see the west coast catch fire and
they’ll be screaming for copies across the whole country There was much
more, Bobby Dugan riding high, shouting his plans and his hopes, while
Debra laughed weakly and kept saying, No! I can’t believe it! and It’s
not true! They drank three bottles of Veuve Clicquot that night, and a
little before midnight Debra fell pregnant to David Morgan.

Miss Mordecai combines superb use of language and a sure literary touch
with the readability of a popular bestseller, said the New York Times.

Who says good literature has to be dull? asked Time, Debra Mordecai’s
talent burns like a clean white flame. ‘Miss Mordecai takes you by the
throat, slams you against the wall, throws you on the floor and kicks
you in the guts. She leaves you as shaken and weak as if you had been
in a car smash, added the Free Press.

Proudly David presented Conrad Berg with a signed copy of A Place of Our
Own. Conrad had finally been prevailed upon to drop the Mrs. Morgan and
call Debra by her given name. He was so impressed with the book that he
had an immediate relapse.

How do you think of those things, Mrs. Morgan? ‘he asked with awe.

Debra, Debra prompted him.

She doesn’t think of them, Jane Berg explained helpfully. It just comes
to her, it’s called inspiration. Bobby Dugan was correct, they had to
reprint another fifty thousand copies.

It seemed as though the fates, ashamed of the cruel pranks they had
played upon them, were determined to shower Debra and David with gifts.

As Debra sat at her olive-wood table, growing daily bigger with her
child, once again the words flowed as strongly and as clearly as the
spring waters of the String of Pearls. However, there was still time to
help David with the illustrated publication he was compiling on the
birds of prey of the bushveld, and to accompany him on the daily
expeditions to different areas of Jabulani, and to plan the furnishings
and the layout of the empty nursery.

Conrad Berg came to her secretly to enlist her aid in his plan to have
David nominated to the Board of the National Parks Committee. They
discussed it in length and great detail. A seat on the Board carried
prestige and was usually reserved for men of greater age and influence
than David.

However, Conrad was confident that the dignity of the Morgan name
combined with David’s wealth, ownership of Jabulani, demonstrated
interest in conservation and his ability to devote much time to the
affairs of the Board would prevail.

Yes, Debra decided. It will be good for him to meet people and get out
a little more. We are in danger of becoming recluses here. Will he do
it? I Don’t worry, Debra assured him. I’ll see to it. Debra was
right. After the initial uneasiness of the first meeting of the Board,
and once the other members became accustomed to that dreadful face and
realized that behind it was a warm and forceful person, David gathered
increasing confidence with each subsequent Journey to Pretoria where the
Board met. Debra would fly up with him and while they were at their
deliberations she and Jane Berg shopped for the baby and the other items
of luxury and necessity that were not readily come by in Nelspruit.

However, by November Debra was carrying low and she felt too big and
uncomfortable to make the long flight in the cockpit of the Navajo,
especially as the rains were about to break and the air was turbulent
with storm cloud and static and heavy thermals. It would be a bumpy
trip, and she was deeply involved in the last chapters of the new book.

I’ll be perfectly all right here, she insisted. I’ve got a telephone
and I have also got six game rangers, four servants and a fierce hound
to guard me.

David argued and protested for five days before the meeting and agreed
only after he had worked out a timetable.

If I leave here before dawn I’ll be at the meeting by nine, we’ll be
finished by three and I can be back here by six-thirty at the latest, he
muttered. If it wasn’t the budget and financial affairs vote, I would
cut it, tell them I was sick. ‘It’s important, darling. You go. ‘You
sure now? ‘I won’t even notice you’re not here. Don’t get too carried
away by it, he told her ruefully.

J might stay just to punish you. In the dawn the thunderheads were the
colour of wine and flame and ripe fruit, turning and magnificent,
towering high above the tiny aircraft, high above the utmost ceiling of
which it was capable.

David flew the corridors of open sky alone and at peace, wrapped in the
euphoria of flight which never failed for him. He altered course at
intervals to avoid the mountainous upsurges of cloud; within them lurked
death and disaster, great winds that would tear the wings from his
machine and send the pieces whirling on high, up into the heights where
a man would perish from lack of oxygen.

He landed at Grand Central where a hire car was waiting for him, and
spent the journey into Pretoria reading through the morning papers. It
was only when he saw the meteorological prediction of a storm front
moving in steadily from the Mozambique channel that he felt a little
uneasy.

Before he entered the conference-room he asked the receptionist to place
a telephone call to Jabulani.

Two-hour delay, Mr. Morgan. Okay, call me when it comes through When
they broke for lunch he asked her again.

What happened to my call?

I’m sorry, Mr. Morgan. I was going to tell you. The lines are down.
They are having very heavy rainfull in the low veld. His vague
uneasiness became mild alarm.

Would you call the meteorological office for me, please?

The weather was down solid. From Barberton to Mpunda Milia and from
Lourenro Marques to Machadodorp, the rain was heavy and unrelenting. The
cloud ceiling was above twenty thousand feet and it was right down on
the ground. The Navajo had no oxygen or electronic navigational
equipment.

How long? David demanded of the meteorological officer. How long until
it clears?

Hard to tell, sir. Two or three days.

Damn! DAmn! said David bitterly, and went down to the canteen on the
ground floor of the government building. Conrad Berg was at a corner
table with two other members of the Board, but when he saw David he
jumped up and limped heavily but urgently across the room.

David, he took his arm, and his round face was deadly serious. I’ve
just heard, Johann Akkers broke jail last night. He killed a guard and
got clean away.

He’s been loose for seventeen hours.

David stared at him, unable to speak with the shock of it.

Is Debra alone?

David nodded, his face stiff with scar tissue, but his eyes dark and
afraid.

You’d better fly down right away to be with her. ‘The weather, they’ve
grounded all aircraft in the area. Use my truck! said Conrad urgently.

I need something faster than that. Do you want me to come with you?

No, said David. If you aren’t there this afternoon, they won’t approve
the new fencing allocations. I’ll go on my own.

Debra was working at her desk when she heard the wind coming. She
switched off her tape recorder and went out on to the veranda with the
dog following her closely.

She stood listening, not sure of what she was hearing.

It was a soughing and sighing, a far-off rushing like that of a wave
upon a pebble beach.

The dog pressed against her leg and she squatted beside him, placing one
arm around his neck, listening to the gathering rush of the wind,
hearing the roar of it building up swiftly, the branches of the morula
forest beginning to thrash and rattle.

Zulu whimpered, and she hugged him a little closer.

There, boy. Gently. Gently, she whispered and the wind struck in a
mighty squalling blast, crashing through the treetops, tearing and
cracking the upper branches.

It banged into the insect screen of the veranda with a snap like a
mainsail filling, and unsecured windows and doors slammed like cannon
shots.

Debra sprang up and ran back into her workroom, the window was swinging
and slamming, dust and debris boiling in through it. She put her
shoulder to it, closing it and securing the latch, then she ran to do
the same to the other windows and bumped into one of the house servants.

Between them they battened down all the doors and windows. Madam, the
rain will come now. Very much rain. ‘Go to your families now, ‘Debra
told them. The dinner, madam? Don’t worry, I’ll make that, and
thankfully they streamed away through the swirling dust to their
hutments beyond the kopje.

The wind blew for fifteen minutes, and Debra stood by the wire screen
and felt it tugging and whipping her body. Its wildness was infectious,
and she laughed aloud, elated and excited.

Then suddenly the wind was passed, as swiftly as it had come, and she
heard it tearing and clawing its way over the hills above the pools.

In the utter silence that followed the whole world waited, tensed for
the next onslaught of the elements.

Debra felt the cold, the sudden fall in temperature as though the door
to a great ice-box had opened and she hugged her arms and shivered; she
could not see the dark cloud banks that rolled across Jabulani, but
somehow she sensed their menace and their majesty in the coldness that
swamped her.

The first lightning bolt struck with a crackling electric explosion that
seemed to singe the air about her, and Debra was taken so unawares that
she cried out aloud. The thunder broke, and seemed to shake the sky and
rock the earth’s very foundations.

Debra turned and groped her way back into the house, locking herself
into her room, but walls could not diminish the fury of the rain when it
came. It drummed and roared and deafened, battering the window panes,
and striking the walls and doors, pouring through the screen to flood
the veranda.

As overpowering as was the rainstorm, yet it was the lightning and the
thunder that racked Debra’s nerves.

She could not steel herself for each mighty crack and roar. Each one
caught her off balance, and it seemed that they were aimed directly at
her.

She crouched on her day bed, clinging to the soft warm body of the dog
for a little comfort. She wished she had not allowed the servants to
leave, and she thought that her nerve might crack altogether under the
bombardment.

Finally she could stand it no longer. She groped her way into the
living-room. In her distress she had almost lost her way about her own
home, but she found the telephone and lifted it to her ear.

Immediately she knew that it was dead, there was no tone to it but she
cranked the handle wildly, calling desperately into the mouthpiece,
until finally she let it fall and dangle on its cord.

She began to sob as she stumbled back to her workroom, hugging the child
in her big belly, and she fell upon the day bed and covered her ears
with both hands.

Stop it, she screamed. Stop it, oh please God, make it stop.

The new national highway as far as the coal-mining town of Witbank was
broad and smooth, six lanes of traffic, and David eased the hired
Pontiac into the fast lane and went flat, keeping his foot pressed down
hard.

She peaked out at a hundred and thirty miles an hour, and she sat so
solid upon the road that he hardly needed to drive her. His mind was
free to play with horror stories, and to remember Johan Akkers face as
he stood in the dock glaring across the Court Room at them. The
deep-set muddy eyes, and the mouth working as though he were about to
spit. As the warders had led him to the stairs down to the cells he had
pulled free and shouted back.

I’m going to get you, Scarface, he giggled. If I have to wait
twenty-nine years, I’m going to get you, and they took him away.

After Witbank the road narrowed. There was heavy traffic and the bends
had dangerous camber and deceptive gradients.

David was able to concentrate on keeping the big car on the road, and to
drive the phantoms from his mind.

He took the Lyndenburg turn off, cutting the corner of the triangle, and
the traffic thinned out to an occasional truck. He was able to go flat
out again, and race along the edge of the high escarpment. Then
suddenly the road turned and began its plunge down into the low veld.

When he emerged from the Erasmus tunnel David ran into the rain. it was
a solid grey bank of water that filled the air and buffeted the body of
the Pontiac. It flooded the road, so David had difficulty following its
verge beneath the standing sheets of water, and it swamped the
windshield, so that the efforts of the wipers to clear it were defeated.

David switched on his headlights and drove as fast as he dared, craning
forward in his seat to peer into the impenetrable blue-grey curtains of
rain.

Darkness came early in the rain, beneath the lowering black clouds, and
the wet road dazzled him with the reflections of his own headlights,
while the fat falling drops seemed as big as hailstones. He was forced
to moderate his speed a little more, creeping down the highway towards
Bandolier Hill.

In the darkness he almost missed the turning, and he reversed back to
it, swinging on to the unmade surface.

It was slushy with mud, puddled and swampy, slippery as grease.

Again he was forced to lower his speed.

Once he lost it, and slid broadside into the drainage ditch. By packing
loose stones under the wheels and racing the engine he pulled the
Pontiac out and drove on.

By the time he reached the bridge over the Luzane stream, he had been
six hours at the wheel of the Pontiac, and it was a few minutes after
eight o’clock in the evening.

As he reached the bridge the rain stopped abruptly, a freak hole in the
weather. Directly overhead the stars showed mistily, while around them
the cloud banks swirled, turning slowly, as though upon the axis of a
great wheel.

David’s headlights cut through the darkness, out across the mad brown
waters to the far bank a hundred yards away. The bridge was submerged
under fifteen feet of flood water, and the water was moving so swiftly
that its waves and whirlpools seemed sculptured in polished brown
marble, and the trunks of uprooted trees dashed downstream upon the
flood.

It seemed impossible that the bed of this raging torrent had been the
narrow sandy bed in which Johan Akkers had run down Conrad with the
green Ford truck.

David climbed out of the Pontiac and walked down to the edge of the
water. As he stood there he saw the level creeping up perceptively
towards his feet. It was still rising.

He looked up at the sky, and judged that the respite in the weather
would not last much longer.

He reached his decision and ran back to the Pontiac.

He reversed well back onto the highest ground and parked it off the
verge with the headlights still directed at the river edge. Then,
standing beside the door, he stripped down to his shirt and underpants.
He pulled his belt from the loops of his trousers and buckled it about
his waist, then he tied his shoes to the belt by their laces.

Barefooted he ran to the edge of the water, and began to feel his way
slowly down the bank. It shelved quickly and within a few paces he was
knee-deep and the current plucked at him, viciously trying to drag him
off-balance.

He posed like that, braced against the current, and waited, staring
upstream. He saw the tree trunk coming down fast on the flood, with its
roots sticking up like beseeching arms. It was swinging across the
current and would pass him closely.

He judged his moment and lunged for it. Half a dozen strong strokes
carried him to it and he grasped one of the roots. Instantly he was
whisked out of the beams of the headlight into the roaring fury of the
river. The tree rolled and bucked, carrying him under and bringing him
up coughing and gasping.

Something struck him a glancing blow and he felt his shirt tear and the
skin beneath it rip. Then he was under water again, swirling end over
end and clinging desperately to his log.

All about him the darkness was filled with the rush and threat of crazy
water, and he was buffeted and flogged by its raw strength, grazed and
bruised by rocks and driftwood.

Suddenly he felt the log check and bump against an obstruction, turning
and swinging out into the current again.

David was blinded with muddy water and he knew there was a limit to how
much more of this treatment he could survive. Already he was weakening
quickly.

He could feel his mind and his movements slowing, like a battered prize
fighter in the tenth round.

He gambled it all on the obstruction which the log had encountered being
the far bank, and he released his death-grip on the root and stuck out
sideways across the current with desperate strength.

His overarm stroke ended in the trailing branches of a thorn tree
hanging over the storm waters. Thorns tore the flesh of his palm as his
grip closed over them, and he cried out at the pain but held on.

Slowly he dragged himself out of the flood and crawled up the bank,
hacking and coughing at the water in his lungs. Clear of the river, he
fell on his face in the mud and vomited a gush of swallowed water that
shot out of his nose and mouth.

He lay exhausted for a long while, until his coughing slowed and he
could breathe again. His shoes had been torn from his belt by the
current. He dragged himself to his feet and staggered forward into the
darkness. As he ran, he held his hand to his face, pulling the broken
thorns from the flesh of his palm with his teeth.

Stars were still showing overhead and by their feeble light he made out
the road, and he began to run along it, gathering strength with each
pace. It was very still now, with only the dripping of the trees and
the occasional far-off murmur of thunder to break the silence.

Two miles from the homestead, David made out the dark bulk of something
on the side of the road, and it was only when he was a few paces from it
that he realized it was an automobile, a late model Chevy. It had been
abandoned, bogged down in one of the greasy mudholes, that the rains had
opened.

The doors were unlocked and David switched on the interior and parking
lights. There was dried blood on the seat, a dark smear of it, and on
the back seat was a bundle of clothing. David untied it quickly and
recognized immediately the coarse canvas suiting as regulation prison
garb. He stared at it stupidly for a moment, until the impact of it
struck him.

The car was stolen, the blood probably belonging to the unfortunate
owner. The prison garb had been exchanged for other clothing, probably
taken from the body of the owner of the Chevy.

David knew then beyond all possible doubt that Johan Akkers was at
Jabulani, and that he had arrived before the bridge over the Luzane
stream had become impassable, probably three or four hours previously.

David threw the prison suiting back into the car, and he began to run.

Johan Akkers drove the Chevy across the Luzane bridge with the rising
waters swirling over the guard rail, and with the rain teeming down in
blinding white sheets.

The muddy water shoved at the body of the car, making steering
difficult, and it seeped in under the doors, flooding the floorboards
and swirling about Akkers feet; but he reached the safety of the far
bank and raced the engine as he shot up it. The wheels spun on the soft
mud, and the Chevy skidded and swayed drunkenly in the loose footing.

The closer he drew to Jabulani the more reckless he became in his haste.

Before his conviction and imprisonment, ARkers had been a twisted and
blighted creature, a man of deep moods and passionate temper. Feeling
himself rejected and spurned by his fellow men he had lived in a world
of swift defensive violence, but always he had kept within the bounds of
reason.

However, during the two years that he had laboured and languished within
prison walls, his anger and his lust for vengeance had driven him over
that narrow boundary.

Vengeance had become the sole reason for his existence, and he had
rehearsed it a hundred times each day.

He had planned his prison break to give himself three days of freedom,
after that it did not matter. Three days would be enough.

He had infected his own jaw, running a needle poisoned with his excreta
deeply into the gum. They had taken him to the dental clinic as he had
planned. The guard had been easily handled, and the dentist had
cooperated with a scalpel held to his throat.

Once clear of the prison, Akkers had used the scalpel, vaguely surprised
by the volume of blood that could issue from a human throat. He had
left the dentist slumped over his steering-wheel on a plot of waste
ground and, with his white laboratory gown over his prison suit, he had
waited at a set of traffic lights.

The shiny new Chevy had pulled up for a red light and Akkers had opened
the passenger door and slid in beside the driver.

He had been a smaller man than Akkers, plump and Prosperous-looking,
with a smooth pale face and soft little hairless hands on the
steering-wheel. He had obeyed meekly Akkers instruction to drive on.

Akkers had rolled his soft white body, clad only in vest and shorts,
into a clump of thick grass beside a disused secondary road and pulled
the grass closed over him, then he had beaten the first road block out
of the city area by forty minutes.

He stayed on the side roads, picking his way slowly eastwards. The
infection in his jaw had ached intolerably despite the shot of
antibiotics the dentist had given him, and his crippled claw of a hand
had been awkward and clumsy on the gear lever, for the severed nerves
and sinews had never knitted again. The hand was a dead and insensate
thing.

Using the caution of a natural predator and helped by the newsflashes on
the radio, he had groped his way carefully through the net that was
spread for him, and now he was on Jabulani and he could restrain himself
no longer.

He hit the mud hole at forty and the Chevy whipped and spun, slewing her
back end deep into the mud and high-centring her belly on the soft ooze.

He left her there and went on swiftly through the rain, loping on long
legs. Once he giggled and sucked at his teeth, but then he was silent
again.

It was dark by the time he climbed the kopie behind Jabulani homestead.
He lay there for two hours peering down into the driving rain, waiting
for the darkness.

Once night fell, he could see no lights, and he began to worry, there
should have been lights burning.

He left the kopje and moved cautiously through the darkness down the
hill. He avoided the servants quarters, and went through the trees to
the landing-strip.

He ran into the side of the hanger in the dark and followed the wall to
the side doorway.

Frantically he spread his arms and felt for the aircraft that should be
here, and when he realized that it was not he let out a groan of
frustration.

They were gone. He had planned and schemed in vain, all his desperate
striving was in vain.

Growling like an animal, he smashed the fist of his good hand against
the wall, enjoying the pain of it in his frustration, and his anger and
his hatred was so strong that it shook his body like a fever, and he
cried out aloud, a formless animal cry without coherence or sense.

Suddenly the rain stopped. The heavy drum of it upon the iron roof of
the hangar ceased so abruptly that Akkers was distracted. He went to
the opening and looked out.

The stars were swimming mistily above him, and the only sound was the
gurgle and chuckle of running water and the dripping of the trees.

There was the glimmering of light now, and he saw the white walls of the
homestead shine amongst the trees. He could do damage there, Akkers
realized. He could find there some outlet for his terrible frustration.

There was furniture to smash, and the thatch would burn, if lit from
inside, the thatch would burn even in this weather.

He stared towards the homestead through the dark sodden trees.

Debra woke in the silence. She had fallen asleep in the midst of the
storm, perhaps as a form of escape.

Now she groped for the warm comforting body of the dog but he was gone.
There was a patch of warmth on the bed beside her where he had lain.

She listened intently and there was nothing but the soft sounds of water
in the guttering and far-off the growl of thunder. She remembered her
earlier panic and she was ashamed.

She stood up from the bed and she was shivering with the cold in her
loose, free-flowing dark blue maternity blouse, and the elastic-fronted
slacks that were adjustable to her expanding waistline. She felt with
her toes and found the light ballet pumps on the stone floor and pushed
her feet into them.

She started towards her dressing-room for a sweater, then she would make
herself a cup of hot soup, she decided.

Zulu started barking. He was outside in the front garden. Clearly he
had left the house through the small hinged doorway that David had built
especially for him in the veranda wall.

The dog had many barks, each with a different meaning which Debra
understood.

A self-effacing woof, that was the equivalent of the watch-man’s Ten
o’clock on a June night, and all’s well. Or a longer-drawn-out yowl,
that meant, There is a full moon out tonight, and the wolf’s blood in my
veins will not allow me to sleep.

A sharper, meaningful bark, Something is moving down near the pump
house. It may be a lion. And then there was an urgent clamouring
chorus, There is dire danger threatening. Beware!

Beware! It was the danger bark now, and then growling through closed
jaws as though he were worrying something.

Debra went out on to the veranda and she felt the puddled rainwater
soaking through her light shoes. Zulu was harrying something in the
front garden, she could hear the growling and scuffling, the movement of
bodies locked in a struggle. She stood silently, uncertain of what to
do, knowing only that she could not go out to Zulu. She was blind and
helpless against the unknown adversary. As she hesitated she heard
clearly the sound of a heavy blow. it cracked on bone, and she heard
the thump of a body falling. Zulu’s growls were cut off abruptly, and
there was silence. Something had happened to the dog.

Now she was completely alone in the silence.

No, not silence. There was the sound of breathing a heavy panting
breath.

Debra shrank back against the veranda wall, listening and waiting.

She heard footsteps, human footsteps coming through the garden towards
the front door. The footsteps squelched and splashed in the rain
puddles.

She wanted to call out a challenge, but her voice was locked in her
constricted throat. She wanted to run, but her legs were paralysed by
the sound of the intruder climbing the front steps.

A hand brushed against the wire scieening, and then settled on the
handle, rattling it softly.

At last Debra found her voice. Who is that? she called, a high panicky
cry that ran out into the night silence.

Instantly the soft sounds ceased. The intruder was frozen by her
challenge. She could imagine whoever it was standing on the top step,
peering through the screening into the darkness of the veranda, trying
to make her out in the gloom. Suddenly she was thankful for the dark
blouse and black slacks.

She waited motionlessly, listening, and she heard a little wind shake
the tree-tops, bringing down a sudden quick patter of droplets. A
hunting owl called down near the dam. She heard the thunder murmur
bad-temperedly along the hills, and a nightiar screeched harshly from
amongst the poinsettia bushes.

The silence went on for a long time, and she knew she could not stand it
much longer. She could feel her lips beginning to quiver and the cold
and fear and the weight of the child were heavy upon her bladder, she
wanted to run, but there was nowhere to run to.

Then suddenly the silence was broken. In the darkness there was the
sound of a man giggling. It was shockingly close and clear, and it was
a crazy sound. The shock of it seemed to clutch at her heart and crush
the air from her lungs. Her legs went weak under her, beginning to
shake, and the pressure on her bladder was intolerable, for she
recognized the sound of that laughter, the sick insane sound of it was
graven upon her mind.

A hand shook the door handle, jerking and straining at it. Then a
shoulder crashed into the narrow frame. It was a screen door, not built
to withstand rough treatment. Debra knew it would yield quickly.

She screamed then, a high ringing scream of terror, and it seemed to
break the spell which held her. Her legs would move again, and her
brain would work.

She whirled and ran back into her workroom, slamming the door and
locking it swiftly.

She crouched beside the door, thinking desperately.

She knew that as soon as he broke into the house Akkers need only switch
on a light. The electricity generator would automatically kick in on
demand, and in the light he would have her at his mercy. Her only
protection was darkness. In the darkness she would have the advantage,
for she was accustomed to it.

She had heard the nightjar and the owl calling so she knew that night
had fallen, and it was probable that the raincloud still blanketed moon
and stars. Darkness was out there in the forest. She must get out of
the house, and try to reach the servants quarters.

She hurried through the rooms towards the rear of the house, and as she
went she thought of a weapon. The firearms were locked in the steel
cabinet in David’s office, and the key was with him. She ran through to
the kitchen and her heavy walking-stick was in its place by the door.
She grasped it thankfully and slipped open the door catch.

At that moment she heard the front door crash open, with the lock kicked
in, and she heard Akkers charge heavily into the living-room. She
closed the kitchen door behind her and started across the yard. She
tried not to run, she counted her steps. She must not lose her way. She
must find the track around the kopje to the servants hutments.

Her first landmark was the gate in the fence that ringed the homestead.
Before she reached it she heard the electricity generator throb to life
in the power house beyond the garages. Akkers had found a light switch.

She was slightly off in her direction and she ran into the barbed-wire
fence. Frantically she began to feel her way along it, trying for the
gate. Above her head she heard the buzz and crackle of the element in
one of the arc lamps that lined the fence and could flood the gardens
with light.

Akkers must have found the switch beside the kitchen door, and Debra
realized that she must be bathed in the light of the arcs.

She heard him shout behind her, and knew that he had seen her. At that
moment she found the gate, and with a sob of relief she tore it open and
began to run.

She must get out of the light of the arcs, she must find the darkness.
Light was mortal danger, darkness was sanctuary.

The track forked, left to the pools, right to the hutments. She took
the right-hand path and ran along it.

Behind her she heard the gate clank shut. He was after her.

She counted as she ran, five hundred paces to the rock on the left side
of the path that marked the next fork.

She tripped over it, falling heavily and barking her shins.

She rolled to her knees, and she had lost the walkingstick. She could
not waste precious seconds in searching for it. She groped for the path
and ran on.

Fifty paces and she knew she was on the wrong fork.

This path lead down to the pumphouse, and she was not familiar with it.
It was not one of her regular routes.

She missed a turn and ran into broken ground. She stumbled on until
rank grass wrapped about her ankles and brought her down again, falling
heavily on her side so that she was winded.

She was completely lost, but she knew she was out of the arc lights now.
With luck she was shielded by complete darkness, but her heart was
racing and she felt nauseous with terror.

She tried to control her gulping, sobbing breath, and to listen.

She heard him coming then, pounding footsteps that rang clearly, even on
the rain-soaked earth. He seemed to be coming directly to where she
lay, and she shrank down against the wet earth and she pressed her face
into her arms to hide her face and muffle her breathing.

At the last moment his blundering footsteps passed her closely, and ran
on. She felt sick with relief, but it was premature for abruptly the
footsteps ceased and he was so close she could hear him panting.

He was listening for her, standing close beside where she lay in the
grass. They stayed like that during the long slow passage of minutes.
For Debra it seemed an eternity of waiting, broken at last by his voice.

All! There you are, he giggled, there you are. I can see you. Her
heart jumped with shock, He was closer than she had thought. Almost she
jumped up and began to run again, but some deeper sense restrained her.

I can see you hiding there, he repeated, giggling and snickering. I’ve
got a big knife here, I’m going to hold you down and cut She quailed in
the grass, listening to the awful obscenities that poured from his
mouth. Then suddenly she realized that she was safe here. She was
covered by the night and the thick grass, and he had lost her. He was
trying to panic her, make her run again and betray her position. She
concentrated all her attention on remaining absolutely still and silent.

Akker’s threats and sadistic droolings ended in silence again. He
listened for her with the patience of the hunter, and the long minutes
dragged by.

The ache in her bladder was like a red-hot iron, and she wanted to sob
out loud. Something loathsome crawled out of the wet grass over her
arm. Her skin prickled with fresh horror at the feel of multiple insect
feet on her skin, but she steeled herself not to move.

The thing, scorpion or spider, crawled across her neck and she knew her
nerves would crack within seconds.

Suddenly Akkers spoke again. All right! he said, I’m going back to
fetch a flashlight. . We’ll see how far you get then. I’ll be back
soon, don’t think you’ll beat old Akkers. He’s forgotten more tricks
than you’ll ever learn.

He moved away heavily, noisily, and she wanted to strike the insect from
her cheek and run again, but some instinct warned her. She waited five
minutes, and then ten. The insect moved up into her hair.

Akkers spoke again out of the darkness near her. All right, you clever
bitch. We’ll get you yet, and she heard him move away. This time she
knew he had gone.

She brushed the insect from her hair, shuddering with horror. Then she
stood up and moved quietly into the forest. Her fingers were stiff and
cold on the fastenings of her slacks, but she loosened them and squatted
to relieve the burning ache in her lower belly.

She stood up again and felt the child move within her body. The feel of
it evoked all her maternal instincts of protection. She must find a
safe place for her child. She thought of the hide by the pools.

How to reach them? For she was now completely lost.

Then she remembered David telling her about the wind, the rain wind out
of the west, now reduced to an occasional light air, and she waited for
the next breath of it on her cheek. It gave her direction. She turned
her back to the next gust and set off steadily through the forest with
hands held out ahead to prevent herself running into one of the trunks.
If only she could reach the pools, she could follow the bank to the
hide.

As the cyclonic winds at the centre of the storm turned upon their axis,
so they swung, changing direction constantly and Debra followed them
faithfully, beginning a wide aimless circle through the forest.

Akkers raged through the brightly lit homestead of Jabulani, jerking
open drawers and kicking in locked cupboard doors.

He found the gun cabinet in David’s office, and ransacked the desk
drawers for keys. He found none, and giggled and swore with
frustration.

He crossed the room to the built-in cupboard unit.

There was a sealed-cell electric lantern on the shelf with a dozen
packets of shotgun shells. He took down the lantern eagerly and thumbed
the switch. The beam was bright white, even in the overhead lights, and
he sucked his teeth and chuckled happily.

Once more he ran into the kitchen, pausing to select a long
stainless-steel carving knife from the cutlery drawer before hurrying
across the yard to the gate and along the path.

In the lantern beam, Debra’s footprints showed clearly in the soft earth
with his own overlaying them. He followed them to where she had
blundered off the path, and found the mark of her body where she had
lain.

Clever bitch, he chuckled again and followed her tracks through the
forest. She had laid an easy trail to follow, dragging a passage
through the rain-heavy grass and wiping the droplets from the stems. To
the hunter’s eye it was a clearly blazed trail.

Every few minutes he paused to throw the beam of the lantern ahead of
him amongst the trees. He was thrilling now to the hunter’s lust, the
primeval force which was the mainspring of his existence. His earlier
set-back made the chase sweeter for him.

He went on carefully, following the wandering trail, the aimless
footprints turning haphazardly in a wide circle.

He stopped again and panned the lantern beam across the rain-laden grass
tops, and he saw something move at the extreme range of the lamp,
something pale and round.

He held it in the lantern beam, and saw the woman’s pale strained face
as she moved forward slowly and hesitantly. She went like a
sleep-walker, with arms extended ahead of her, and with shuffling
uncertain gait.

She was coming directly towards him, oblivious of the light which held
her captive in its beam. Once she paused to hug her swollen belly and
sob with weariness and fear.

The legs of her trousers were sodden with rain water and her flimsy
shoes were already torn, and as she hobbled closer he saw that her arms
and her lips were blue and shivering with the cold.

Akkers stood quietly watching her coming towards him, like a chicken
drawn to the swaying cobra, Her long dark hair hung in damp ropes down
her shoulders, and dangled in her face. Her thin blouse was wet also
with drops fallen from the trees, and it was plastered over the
thrusting mound of her belly.

He let her come closer, enjoying the fierce thrill of having her in his
power. Drawing out the final consummation of his vengeance, hoarding
each moment of it like a miser.

When she was five paces from him he played the beam full in her face,
and he giggled.

She screamed, her whole face convulsing, and she whirled like a wild
animal and ran blindly. Twenty flying paces before she ran headlong
into the stem of a morula, tree.

She fell back, collapsing to her knees and sobbed aloud, clutching at
her bruised cheek.

Then she scrambled to her feet and stood shivering, turning her head and
cocking it for the next sound.

Silently he moved around her, drawing close and he giggled again, close
behind her.

She screamed again and ran blindly, panic-stricken, witless with terror
until an ant-bear hole caught her foot and flung her down heavily to the
ground, and she lay there sobbing.

Akkers moved leisurely and silently after her, he was enjoying himself
for the first time in two years. Like a cat he did not want to end it,
he wanted it to last a long time.

He stooped over her and whispered a filthy word, and instantly she
rolled to her feet and was up and running again, wildly, sightlessly,
through the trees. He followed her, and in his crazed mind she became a
symbol Of all the thousand animals he had hunted and killed.

David ran barefooted in the soft earth of the road. He ran without
feeling his bruised and torn skin, without feeling the pounding of his
heart nor the protest of his lungs.

As the road rounded the shoulder of the hill and dipped towards the
homestead he stopped abruptly, and stared panting at the lurid glow of
the arc lights that flood lit the grounds and garden of Jabulani. It
made no sense that the floodlights should be burnin& and David felt a
fresh flood of alarm. He sprinted on down the hill.

He ran through the empty, ransacked rooms shouting her name, but the
echoes mocked him.

When he reached the front veranda he saw something moving in the
darkness, beyond the broken screen door.

Zulu! He ran forward. Here, boy! Here, boy! Where is she? The dog
staggered up the steps towards him, his tail wagged a perfunctory
greeting, but he was obviously hurt. A heavy blow along the side of his
head had broken the jaw, or dislocated it, so that it hung lopsided and
grotesque. He was still stunned, and David knelt beside him.

Where is she, Zulu? Where is she? The dog seemed to make an effort to
gather its scattered wits. Where is she, boy? She’s not in the house.
Where is she? Find her, boy, find her. He led the labrador out into
the yard, and he followed gamely as David circled the house. At the
back door Zulu picked up the scent on the fresh damp earth. He started
resolutely towards the gate, and David saw the footprints in the
floodlights, Debra’s and the big masculine prints which ran after them.

As Zulu crossed the yard, David turned back into his office. The
lantern was missing from its shelf, but there was a five-cell flashlight
near the back. He shoved it into his pocket and grabbed a handful of
shotgun shells.

Then he went quickly to the gun cabinet and unlocked it. He snatched
the Purdey shotgun from the rack and loaded it as he ran.

Zulu was staggering along the path beyond the gates, and David hurried
after him.

Johann Akkers was no longer a human being, he had become an animal. The
spectacle of the running quarry had roused the predator’s single-minded
passion to chase and drag down and kill, yet it was seasoned with a
feline delight in torment. He was playing with his wounded dragging
prey, running it when he could have ended it, drawing it out, postponing
the climax, the final consuming thrill of the kill.

The moment came at last, some deep atavistic sense of the ritual of the
hunt, for all sport killing has its correct ceremony, and Akkers knew it
must end now.

He came up behind the running figure and reached out to take a twist of
the thick dark hair in the crippled claw of his hand, wrapping it with a
quick movement about his wrist and jerking back her head, laying open
the long pale throat for the knife.

She turned upon him with a strength and ferocity he had not anticipated.
Her body was hard and strong and supple, and now that she could place
him she drove at him with the wild terror of a hunted thing.

He was unprepared, her attack took him off-balance, and he went over
backwards with her on top of him, and he dropped the knife and the
lantern into the grass to protect his eyes, for she was tearing at them
with long sharp nails. He felt them rip into his nose and cheek, and
she screeched like a cat, for she was also an animal in this moment.

He freed the stiff claw from the tangle of her hair, and he drew it
back, holding her off with his right hand and he struck her.

It was like a wooden club, stiff and hard and without feeling. A single
blow with it had stunned the labrador and broken his jaw. It hit her
across the temple, a sound like an axe swung at a tree trunk.

It knocked all the fight out of her, and he came up on his knees,
holding her with his good hand and with the other he clubbed her
mercilessly, beat her head back and across with a steady rhythm. In the
light of the fallen lantern, the black blood spurted from her nose, and
the blows cracked against her skull, steady and unrelenting. Long after
she was still and senseless he continued to beat her. Then at last he
let her drop, and he stood up. He went to the lantern and played the
beam in the grass. The knife glinted up at him.

There is an ancient ceremony with which a hunt should end. The
culminating ceremony of the gralloch, when the triumphant huntsman slits
open the paunch of his game, and thrusts his hand into the opening to
draw out the still-warm viscera.

Johan Akkers picked the knife out of the grass and set down the lantern
so the beam fell upon Debra’s supine figure.

He went to her and, with his foot, rolled her onto her back. The dark
black mine of sodden hair smothered her face.

He knelt beside her and hooked one iron-hard finger into the front of
her blouse. With a single jerk he ripped it cleanly open, and her big
round belly bulged into the lantern light. it was white and full and
ripe with the dark pit of the navel in its centre.

Akkers giggled and wiped the rain and sweat from his face with his arm.
Then he changed his grip on the knife, reversing it so the blade would
go shallow, opening the paunch neatly from crotch to rib cage without
cutting into the intestines, a stroke as skilful as a surgeon’s that he
had performed ten thousand times before.

Movement in the shadows at the edge of the light caused him to glance
up. He saw the black dog rush silently at him, saw its eyes glow in the
lantern light.

He threw up his arm to guard his throat and the furry body crashed into
him. They rolled together, with Zulu mouthing him, unable to take a
grip with his injured jaws.

Akkers changed his grip on the hilt of the carving knife and stabbed up
into the dog’s rib cage, finding the faithful heart with his first
thrust. Zulu yelped once, and collapsed. Akkers pushed his glossy
black body aside, pulling out the knife and he crawled back to where
Debra lay.

The distraction that Zulu had provided gave David a chance to come up.

David ran to Akkers, and the man looked up with the muddy green eyes
glaring in the lantern light. He growled at David with the long blade
in his hand dulled by the dog’s blood. He started to come to his feet,
ducking his head in exactly the same aggressive gesture as the bull
baboon.

David thrust the barrels of the shotgun into his face and he pulled both
triggers. The shot hit solidly, without spreadin& tearing into him in
the bright yellow flash and thunder of the muzzle blast, and it took
away the whole of Akkers head above the mouth, blowing it to
nothingness. He dropped into the grass with his legs kicking
convulsively, and David hurled the shotgun aside and ran to Debra.

He knelt over her and he whispered, My darling, oh my darling. Forgive
me, please forgive me. I should never have left you. Gently he picked
her up and holding her to his chest, he carried her up to the homestead.

Debra’s child was born in the dawn. It was a girl, tiny and wizened and
too early for her term. If there had been skilled medical attention
available she might have lived, for she fought valiantly. But David was
clumsy and ignorant of the succour she needed. He was cut off by the
raging river and the telephone was still dead, and Debra was still
unconscious.

When it was over he wrapped the tiny little blue body in a clean sheet
and laid it tenderly in the cradle that had been prepared for her. He
felt overwhelmed by a sense of guilt at having failed the two persons
who needed him.

At three o’clock that afternoon, Conrad Berg forced a passage of the
Luzane stream with the water boiling above the level of the big wheels
of his truck, and three hours later they had Debra in a private ward of
the Nelspruit hospital. Two days later she became conscious once more,
but her face was grotesquely swollen and purple with bruises.

Near the crest of the kopje that stood above the homestead of Jabulani
there was a natural terrace, a platform which overlooked the whole
estate. It was a remote and peaceful place and they buried the child
there. Out of the rock of the kopje David built a tomb for her with his
own hands.

It was best that Debra had never felt the child in her arms, or at her
breast. That she had never heard her cry or smelled the puppy smell of
her.

Her mourning was therefore not crippling and corrosive, and she and
David visited the grave regularly. One Sunday morning as they sat upon
the stone bench beside it, Debra talked for the first time about another
baby.

You took so long with the first one, Morgan, she complained. I hope
you’ve mastered the technique. They walked down the hill again, put the
rods and a picnic basket into the Land-Rover and drove down to the
pools.

The Mozambique bream came on the bite for an hour just before noon and
they fought over the fat yellow wood grubs that David was baiting. Debra
hung five, all around three pounds in weight, and David had a dozen of
the big blue fish before it went quiet and they propped the rods and
opened the cold box.

They lay together on the rug beneath the outspread branches of the fever
trees, and drank white wine cold from the icebox.

The African spring was giving way to full summer, filling the bush with
bustle and secret activity. The weaver birds were busy upon their
basket nests, tying them to the bending tips of the reeds, fluttering
brilliant yellow wings as they worked with black heads bobbing.

On the far bank of the pool a tiny bejewelled kingfisher sat his perch
on a dead branch above the still water, plunging suddenly, a speck of
flashing blue to shatter the surface and emerge with a silver sliver
wriggling in his outsize beak. Hosts of yellow and bronze and white
butterflies lined the water’s edge below where they lay, and the bees
flew like golden motes of light to their hive in the cliff, high above
the quiet pools.

The water drew all life to it, and a little after noonday David touched
Debra’s arm.

The nyala are here – he whispered.

They came through the grove on the far side of the pool. Timid and
easily spooked, they approached a few cautious steps at a time before
pausing to stare about them with huge dark eyes, questing muzzles and
widespread ears; striped and dainty and beautiful they blended with the
shadows of the grove.

The does are all belly now, David told her. They’ll be dropping their
lambs within the next few weeks.

Everything is fruitful. He half-turned towards her and she sensed it
and moved to meet him. When the nyala had drank and gone, and a
white-headed fish eagle circled high above them on dark chestnut wings,
chanting its weird and haunting cry, they made love in the shade beside
the quiet water.

David studied her face as he loved her. She lay beneath him with her
eyes closed, and her dark hair spread in a shiny black sheet upon the
rug. The bruise on her temple had faded to soft yellow and palest blue,
for it was two months since she had left hospital. The white fleck of
the grenade scar stood out clearly against the pale bruising. The
colour rose in Debra’s cheeks, and the light dew of perspiration bloomed
across her forehead and upper lip and she made little cooing sounds, and
then whimpered softly like a suckling puppy.

David watched her, his whole being engorged and heavy with the weight of
his love. From above them an errant beam of sunlight broke through the
canopy of leaves and fell full upon her upturned face, lighting it with
a warm golden radiance so that it seemed to be the face of a madonna
from some medieval church window.

It was too much for David and his love broke like a wave, and she felt
it and cried out. Her eyes flew wide, and he looked down into their
gold-flecked depths. The pupils were huge black pools but as the
sunlight struck full into them they shrank rapidly to black pinpoints.

Even in the extremity of his love, David was startled by the phenomenon,
and long afterwards when they lay quietly together she asked, What is
it, David? Is something wrong? ‘No, my darling. What could possible
be wrong? I feel it, Davey. You send out the strongest signals I am
sure I could pick them up from half-way around the world. He laughed,
and drew away from her almost guiltily.

He had imagined it perhaps, a trick of the light, and he tried to
dismiss it from his mind.

In the cool of the evening he packed up the rods and the rag and they
strolled back to where he had parked and they took the firebreak road
home, for David wanted to check the southern fence line. They had
driven for twenty minutes in silence before Debra touched his arm.

When you are ready to tell me about whatever is bugging you, I’m ready
to listen, and he began talking again to distract both her and himself,
but a little too glibly.

In the night he rose and went to the bathroom. When he returned he
stood for many seconds beside their bed looking down at her dark
sleeping shape. He would have left it then, but at that moment a lion
began roaring down near the pools. The sound carried clearly through
the still night across the two miles that separated them.

it was the excuse that David needed. He took the five cell flashlight
from his bedside table and shone it into Debra’s face. it was serene
and lovely, and he felt the urge to stoop and kiss her, but instead he
called.

Debra! Wake up, darling! and she stirred and opened her eyes. He
shone the beam of the flashlight full into them and again, unmistakably,
the wide black circles of the pupils contracted.

What is it, David? she murmured sleepily, and his voice was husky as he
replied.

There is a lion holding a concert down near the pools.

Thought you might want to listen. She moved her head, averting her face
slightly, almost as though the powerful beam of the flashlight was
causing discomfort, but her voice was pleased.

Oh yes. I love that big growly sound. Where do you suppose this one is
from? David switched out the flashlight and slipped back into bed
beside her.

Probably coming up from the south. I bet he has dug a hole under the
fence you could drive a truck through. He tried to speak naturally as
they reached for each other beneath the bedclothes and lay close and
warm, listening to the far-away roaring until it faded with distance as
the lion moved back towards the reserve. They made love then, but
afterwards David could not sleep and he lay with Debra in his arms until
the dawn.

Still it was a week before David could bring himself to write the
letter: Dear Dr. Edelman, We agreed that I should write to you if any
change occurred in the condition of Debra’s eyes, or her health.

Recently Debra was involved in unfortunate circumstances, in which she
was struck repeated heavy blows about the head and was rendered
unconscious for a period of two and half days.

She was hospitalized for suspected fracture of the skull, and
concussion, but was discharged after ten days.

This occurred about two months ago. However, I have since noticed that
her eyes have become sensitive to light. As you are well aware, this
was not previously the case, and she has showed no reaction whatsoever
until this time. She has also complained of severe headaches.

I have repeatedly tested my observations with sunlight and artificial
light, and there can be no doubt that under the stimulus of a strong
light source, the pupils of her eyes contract instantly and to the same
degree as one would expect in a normal eye.

It now seems possible that your original diagnosis might have to be
revised, but, and I would emphasize this most strongly, I feel that we
should approach this very carefully. I do not wish to awaken any false
or ill-founded hope.

For your advice in this matter I would be most grateful, and I wait to
hear from you.

Cordially yours, David Morgan.

David sealed and addressed the letter, but when he returned from the
shopping flight to Nelspruit the following week, the envelope was still
buttoned in the top pocket of his leather jacket.

The days settled into their calmly contented routine.

Debra completed the first draft of her new novel, and received a request
from Bobby Dugan to carry out a lecture tour of five major cities in the
United States. A Place of Our Own had just completed its thirty-second
week on the New York Times bestseller list, and her agent informed her
that she was hotter than a pistol.

David said that as far as he was concerned she was probably a lot hotter
than that. Debra told him he was a lecher, and she was not certain what
a nice girl like herself was doing shacked up with him. Then she wrote
to her agent, and refused the lecture tour.

Who needs people? David agreed with her, knowing that she had made the
decision for him. He knew also that Debra as a lovely, blind, best
selling authoress would have been a sensation, and a tour would have
launched her into the superstar category.

This made his own procrastination even more corrosive. He tried to
re-think and rationalize his delay in posting the letter to Dr. Edelman.
He told himself that the light-sensitivity did not mean that Debra could
ever regain her vision; that she was happy now, had adjusted and found
her place and that it would be cruel to disrupt all this and offer her
false hope and probably brutal surgery.

In all his theorizing tried to make Debra’s need take priority, but it
was deception and he knew it. It was special pleading, by David Morgan,
for David Morgan for if Debra ever regained her sight, the delicately
hal anced structure of his own happiness would collapse in ruin.

One morning he drove the Land-Rover alone to the farthest limits of
Jabulani and parked in a hidden place amongst camel Thorn trees. He
switched off the engine and, still sitting in the driving-seat, he
adjusted the driving-mirror and stared at his own face. For nearly an
hour he studied that ravage expanse of inhuman flesh, trying to find
some redeeming feature in it, apart from the eyes, and at the end he
knew that no sighted woman would ever be able to live close to that,
would ever be able to smile at it, kiss and touch it, to reach up and
caress it in the critical moments of love.

He drove home slowly, and Debra was waiting for him on the shady cool
stoop and she laughed and ran down the steps into the sunlight when she
heard the Land-Rover. She wore faded denims and a bright pink blouse,
and when he came to her she lifted her face and groped blindly but
joyously with her lips for his.

Debra had arranged a barbecue for that evening, and although they sat
close about the open fire under the trees and listened to the night
sounds, the night was cool. Debra wore a cashmere sweater over her
shoulders, and David had thrown on his flying jacket.

The letter lay against his heart, and it seemed to burn into his flesh.
He unbuttoned the leather flap and took it out. While Debra chatted
happily beside him, spreading her hands to the crackling leaping flames,
David examined the envelope turning it slowly over and over in his
hands.

Then suddenly, as though it were. a live scorpion, he threw it from him
and watched it blacken and curl and crumple to ash in the flames of the
fire.

It was not so easily done, however, and that night as he lay awake, the
words of the letter marched in solemn procession through his brain,
meticulously preserved and perfectly remembered. They gave him no
respite, and though his eyes were gravelly and his head ached with
fatigue, he could not sleep.

During the days that followed he was silent and edgy.

Debra sensed it, despite all his efforts to conceal it and she was
seriously alarmed, believing that he was angry with her. She was
anxiously loving, distracted from all else but the need to find and cure
the cause of David’s ills.

Her concern only served to make David’s guilt deeper.

Almost in an act of desperation they drove one evening down to the
String of Pearls, and leaving the Land Rover they walked hand in hand to
the water’s edge.

They found a fallen log screened by reeds and sat quietly together. For
once neither of them had anything to say to each other.

As the big red sun sank to the tree-tops and the gloom thickened amongst
the trees of the grove, the nyala herd came stepping lightly and
fearfully through the shadows.

David nudged Debra, and she turned her head into a listening attitude
and moved a little closer to him as he whispered.

They are really spooky this evening, they look as though they are
standing on springs and I can see their muscles trembling from here. The
old bulls seem to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown, they are
listening so hard their ears have stretched to twice their usual length,
I swear. There must be a leopard lurking along the edge of the reed
bed, he broke off, and exclaimed softly, oh, so that’s it?” “What is it,
David?” Debra tugged at his arm insistently, her curiosity spurring her.

A new fawn! David’s delight was in his voice. One of the does has
lambed. Oh God, Debra! His legs are still wobbly and he is the palest
creamy beige- He described the fawn to her as it followed the mother
unsteadily into the open. Debra was listening with such intensity, that
it was clear the act of birth and the state of maternity had touched
some deep chord within her.

Perhaps she was remembering her own dead infant. Her grip on his arm
tightened, and her blind eyes seemed to glow in the gathering dusk, and
suddenly she spoke.

Her voice low, but achingly clear, filled with all the longing and
sadness which she had suppressed.

I wish I could see it, she said. Oh God! God Let me see. Please, let
me see! and suddenly she was weeping, great racking sobs that shook her
whole body.

Across the pool the nyala herd took fright, and dashed away among the
trees. David took Debra and held her fiercely to his chest, cradling
her head, so her tears were wet and cold through the fabric of his
shirt, and he felt the icy winds of despair blow across his soul.

He re-wrote the letter that night by the light of a gas lamp while Debra
sat across the room knitting a jersey she had promised him for the
winter and believing that he was busy with the estate accounts. David
found that he could repeat the words of the ari nal letter perfectly and
it took him only a few minutes to complete and seal it.

Are you working on the book tomorrow morning? he asked casually, and
when she told him she was, he went on. I have to nip into Nelspruit for
an hour or two.

David flew high as though to divorce himself from the earth. He could
not really believe he was going to do it. He could not believe that he
was capable of such sacrifice. He wondered whether it was really
possible to love somebody so deeply that he would chance destroying that
love for the good of the other, and he knew that it was, and as he flew
on southwards he found that he could face it at last.

Of all persons, Debra needed her vision, for without it the great wings
of her talent were clipped. Unless she could see it, she could not
describe it. She had been granted the gift of the writer, and then half
of it had been taken from her. He understood her cry, Oh God!

God! Let me see. Please, let me see, and he found himself wishing it
for her also. Beside her need his seemed trivial and petty, and
silently he prayed.

Please God, let her see again He landed the Navajo at the airstrip and
called the taxi and had it drive him directly to the Post Office, and
wait while he posted the letter and collected the incoming mail from the
box.

Where now? the driver asked as he came out of the building, and he was
about to tell him to drive back to the airfield when he had inspiration.

Take me down to the bottle store, please, he told the driver and he
bought a case of Veuve Clicquot champagne.

He flew homewards with a soaring lightness of the spirit. The wheel was
spinning and the ball clicking, nothing he could do now would dictate
its fall. He was free of doubt, free of guilt, whatever the outcome, he
knew he could meet it.

Debra sensed it almost immediately, and she laughed aloud with relief,
and hugged him about the neck.

But what happened? she kept demanding. For weeks you were miserable. I
was worrying myself sick, and then you go off for an hour or two and you
come back humming like a dynamo. What on earth is going on, Morgan? I
have just found out how much I love you, he told her, returning her hug.
Plenty? she demanded. Plenty! he agreed. That’s my baby! she
applauded him.

The Veuve Clicquot came in useful. in the batch of mail that David
brought back with him from Nelspruit was a letter from Bobby Dugan. He
was very high on the first chapters of the new novel that Debra had
airmailed to him, and so were the publishers; he had managed to hit them
for an advance of $100,000 .

You’re rich! David laughed, looking up from the letter.

The only reason you married me, agreed Debra. Fortune hunter! but she
was laughing with excitement, and David was proud and happy for her.

They like it, David. Debra was serious then. They really like it. I
was so worried. “The money was meaningless, except as a measure of the
book’s value. Big money is the sincerest type of praise.

They would have to be feeble-minded not to like it, David told her, and
then went on. It just so happens that I have a case of French champagne
with me, shall I put a bottle or ten on the ice?

Morgan, man of vision, Debra said. At times like this, I know why I
love you. The weeks that followed were as good then as they had ever
been. David’s appreciation was sharper, edged by the storm shadows on
the horizon, the time of plenty made more poignant by the possibility of
the drought years coming. He tried to draw it out beyond its natural
time. It was five weeks more before he flew to Nelspruit again, and
then only because Debra was anxious to learn of any further news from
her publishers and agent, and to pick up her typing.

I would like to have my hair set, and although I know we don’t really
need them, David, my darling, we should keep in touch with people, like
once a month, don’t you think? Has it been that long? David asked
innocently, although each day had been carefully weighed and tallied,
the actuality savoured and the memory stored for the lean times ahead.

David left Debra at the beauty salon, and as he went out he could hear
her pleading with the girl not to put it up into those tight little
curls and plaster it with lacquer and even in the anxiety of the moment,
David grinned for he had always thought of the hairstyle she was
describing as Modem Cape Dutch or Randburg Renaissance.

The postbox was crammed full and David sorted quickly through the junk
mail and picked out the letters from Debra’s American agent, and two
envelopes with Israeli stamps. Of these one was addressed in a doctor’s
prescription scrawl, and David was surprised that it had found its
destination. The writing on the second envelope was unmistakable, it
marched in martial ranks, each letter in step with the next, and the
high strokes were like the weapons of a company of pike men, spiky and
abrupt.

David found a bench in the park under the purple jacaranda trees, and he
opened Edelman’s letter first.

It was in Hebrew, which made deciphering even more difficult.

Dear David, Your letter came as a surprise, and I have since studied the
X-ray plates once more. They seem unequivocal, and upon an
interpretation of them I would not hesitate to confirm my original
prognosis Despite himself, David felt the small stirrings of relief.

However, if I have learned anything in twenty-five years of practice, it
is humility. I can only accept that your observations of
light-sensitivity are correct.

Having done so, then I must also accept that there is at least partial
function of the optic nerves. This presupposes that the nerve was not
completely divided, and it seems reasonable to believe now that it was
only partially severed, and that now, possibly due to the head blows
that Debra received, it has regained some function.

The crucial question is just how great that recovery is, and again I
must warn you that it may be as minimal as it is at the present time,
when it amounts to nothing more than light sensitivity without any
increase to the amount of vision. It may, however, be greater, and it
is within the realms of possibility that with treatment some portion of
sight may be regained.

I do not expect, however, that this will ever amount to more than a
vague definition of light or shape, and a decision would have to be made
as to whether any possible benefit might not be outweighed by the
undesirability of surgery within such a vulnerable area.

I would, of course, be all too willing to examine Debra myself. However,
it will probably be incan venient for you to journey to Jerusalem, and I
have therefore taken the liberty of writing to a colleague of mine in
Cape Town who is one of the leading world authorities on optical trauma.
He is Dr. Ruben Friedman and I enclose a copy of my letter to him.

You will see that I have also despatched to him Debra’s original X-ray
plates and a clinical history of her case.

I would recommend most strongly that you take the first opportunity of
presenting Debra to Dr. Friedman, and that you place in him your
complete confidence. I might add that the optical unit of Groote Schuur
Hospital is rightly world-renowned and fully equipped to provide any
treatment necessary
, they do not restrict their activities to heart transplants!

I have taken the liberty of showing your letter to General Mordecai, and
of discussing the case with him David folded the letter the carefully.
Why the hell did he have to bring the Brig into it, talk about a war
horse in a rose garden, and he opened the Brig’s letter.

Dear David, Dr. Edelman has spoken with me. I have telephoned Friedman
in Cape Town, and he has agreed to see Debra.

For some years I have been postponing a lecture tour to South Africa
which the S. A. Zionist Council has been urging upon me. I have today
written to them and asked them to make the arrangements.

This will give us the excuse to bring Debra to Cape Town. Tell her I
have insufficient time to visit you on your farm but insist upon seeing
her.

I will give you my dates later, and expect to see you then It was in
typical style, brusque and commanding, presupposing aquiescence. It was
out of David’s hands now.

There was no turning back, but there was still the chance that it would
not work. He found himself hoping for that, and his own selfishness
sickened him a little.

He turned over the letter and on the reverse he drafted a dummy letter
from the Brig setting out his plans for the forthcoming tour. This was
for Debra, and he found faint amusement in aping the Brig’s style, so
that he might read it aloud to Debra convincingly.

Debra was ecstatic when he read it to her and he experienced a twinge of
conscience at his deceit.

It will be wonderful seeing him again, I wonder if Mother will be coming
out with him -? He didn’t say, but I doubt it. ‘David sorted the
American mail into chronological order from the post marks, and read
them to her. The first two were editorial comment on Burning Bright and
were set aside for detailed reply, but the third letter was another with
hard news.

United Artists wanted to film A Place of our Owen and were talking
impressively heavy figures for the twelve-month option against an
outright purchase of the property and a small percentage of the profits.
However, if Debra would go to California and write the screenplay, Bobby
Dugan felt sure he could roll it all into a quartermillion-dollar
package. He wanted her to weigh the fact that even established
novelists were seldom asked to write their own screenplays- this was an
offer not to be lightly spurned, and he urged Debra to accept.

Who needs people? Debra laughed it away quickly, too quickly, and David
caught the wistful expression before she turned her head away and asked
brighty, Have you got any of that champagne left, Morgan? I think we
can celebrate, don’t you?

The way you’re going, Morgan, I’d best lay in a store of the stuff, he
replied, and went to the gas refrigerator.

It foamed to the rim of the glass as he poured the wine, and before it
subsided and he had carried the glass to her, he had made his decision.

Let’s take his advice seriously, and think about you going to Hollywood,
he said, and put the glass in her hand.

What’s to think about? she asked. This is where we belong. ‘No, let’s
wait a while before replying What do you mean? She lowered the glass
without tasting the wine.

We will wait until, let’s say, until after we have seen the Brig in Cape
Town. Why? She looked puzzled. Why should it be different then?

No reason. It’s just that it is an important decision the choice of
time is arbitrary, however. Beseder! she agreed readily, and raised
the glass to toast him. I love you. I love you, he said, and as he
drank he was glad that she had so many roads to choose from.

The Brig’s arrangements allowed them three more weeks before the
rendezvous in Cape Town, and David drew upon each hour to the full,
anticipating his chances of expulsion from their private Eden.

They were happy days and it seemed that nature had conspired to give
them of her best. The goodrains fell steadily, always beginning in the
afternoon after a incoming of tall clouds and heavy air filled with
static and the feel of thunder. In the sunset the lightning played and
flickered across the gilt cloud banks, turned by the angry sun to the
colour of burnished bronze and virgins blushes. Then in the darkness as
they lay entwined, the thunder struck like a hammer blow and the
lightning etched the window beyond the bed to a square of blinding white
light, and the rain came teeming down with the sound of wild fire and
running hooves. With David beside her, Debra was unafraid.

In the morning it was bright and cool, the trees washed sparkling clean
so that the leaves glinted in the early sun and the earth was dark with
water and spangled with standing pools.

The rains brought life and excitement to the wild things, and each day
held its small discoveries -unexpected visitations, and strange
occurrences.

The fish eagles moved their two chicks from the great shaggy nest in the
mhobahoba at the head of the pools and taught them to perch out on the
bare limb that supported it. They sat there day after day, seeming to
gather their courage. The parent birds were frenetic in their
ministrations, grooming their offspring for the great moment of flight.

Then one morning, as he and Debra ate breakfast on the stoop, David
heard the swollen chorus of their chanting cries, harsh with triumph,
and he took Debra’s hand and they went down the steps into the open.
David looked up and saw the four dark shapes spread on wide wings
against the clear blue of the sky, and his spirit soared with them in
their moment of achievement.

They flew upwards in great sweeping circles, until they dwindled to
specks and vanished, gone to their autumn grounds upon the Zambezi
River, two thousand miles to the north.

There was, however, one incident during those last days that saddened
and subdued them both. One morning, they walked four miles northwards
beyond the line of hills to a narrow wedge-shaped plain on which stood a
group of towering leadwood trees.

A pair of martial eagles had chosen the tallest leadwood as their mating
ground. The female was a beautiful young bird but the male was past his
prime. They had begun constructing their nest on a high fork, but the
work was interrupted by the intrusion of a lone male eagle, a big young
bird, fierce and proud and acquisitive.

David had noticed him lurking about the borders of the territory,
carefully avoiding overlying the airspace claimed by the breeding pair,
choosing a perch on the hills overlooking the plain and gathering his
confidence for the confrontation he was so clearly planning. The
impending conflict had its particular fascination for David and his
sympathy was with the older bird as he made his warlike show, screeching
defiance from his perch upon the high branches of the leadwood or
weaving his patrols along his borders, turning on his great wings always
within the limits of that which he claimed as his own.

David had decided to walk up to the plain that day, in order to choose a
site for the photographic blind he planned to erect overlooking the nest
site, and also in curiosity as to the outcome of this primeval clash
between the two males.

It seemed more than chance that he had chosen the day when the crisis
was reached.

David and Debra came up through the gap in the hills and paused to sit
on an outcrop of rock overlooking the plain, while they regained their
breath. The battlefield was spread below them.

The old bird was at the nest, a dark hunched shape with white breast and
head set low on the powerful shoulders. David looked for the invader,
sweeping the crests of the hills with his binoculars, but there was no
sign of him. He dropped the binoculars to his chest and he and Debra
talked quietly for a while.

Then suddenly David’s attention was attracted by the behaviour of the
old eagle. He launched suddenly into flight, striking upwards on his
great black pinions, and there was an urgency in the way he bored for
height.

His climb brought him close over their heads, so that David could
clearly see the cruel curve of the beak and the ermine black splashes
that decorated the imperial snow of his breast.

He opened the yellow beak and shrieked a harsh challenge, and David
turned quickly in the old fighter pilot’s sweep of sky and cloud. He
saw the cunning of it immediately. The younger bird had chosen his
moment and his attack vector with skill beyond his years. He was
towering in the sun, high and clear, a flagrant trespasser, daring the
old eagle to come up at him and David felt his skin crawl in sympathy as
he watched the defender climb slowly on flogging wings.

Quickly, and a little breathlessly, he described it to Debra and she
reached for his hand, her sympathy with the old bird also.

Tell me! ‘she commanded.

The young bird sailed calmly in waiting circles, cocking his head to
watch his adversary’s approach.

There he goes! David’s voice was taut, as the attacker went wing over
and began his stoop.

I can hear him, Debra whispered, and the sound of his wings carried
clearly to them, rustling like a bush fire in dry grass as he dived on
the old bird.

Break left! Go! Go! Go! David found he was calling to the old eagle
as though he were flying wingman for him, and he gripped Debra’s hand
until she winced. The old eagle seemed almost to hear him, for he
closed his WIngs and flicked out of the path of the strike, tumbling for
a single turn so that the attacker hissed by him with talons reaching
uselessly through air, his speed plummeting him down into the basin of
the plain.

The old bird caught and broke out of his roll with wings half-cocked,
and streaked down after the other. In one veteran stroke of skill he
had wrested the advantage.

Get him! screamed David. Get him when he turns!

Now!

The young bird was streaking towards the tree-toops and swift death, he
flared his wings to break his fall, turning desperately to avoid the
lethal stoop of his enemy. In that moment he was vulnerable and the old
eagle reached forward with his terrible spiked talons and without
slackening the searing speed of his dive he hit the other bird in the
critical moment of his turn.

The thud of the impact carried clearly to the watchers on the hill and
there was a puff of feathers like the burst of explosives, black from
the wings and white from the breast.

Locked together by the old bird’s honed killing claws, they tumbled,
wing over tangled wing, feathers streaming from their straining bodies
and then drifting away like thistledown on the light breeze.

Still joined in mortal combat, they struck the top branches of one of
the leadwood trees, and fell through them to come to rest at last in a
high fork as an untidy bundle of ruffled feathers and trailing wings.

Leading Debra over the rough ground David hurried down the hill and
through the coarse stands of arrow grass to the tree.

Can you see them? Debra asked anxiously, as David focused his
binoculars on the struggling pair.

They are trapped, David told her. The old fellow has his claws buried
to the hilt in the other’s back. He will never be able to free them and
they have fallen across the fork, one on either side of the tree. The
screams of rage and agony rang from the hills about them, and the female
eagle sailed anxiously above the leadwood. She added her querulous
screeching to the sound of conflict.

The young bird is dying. David studied him through the lens, watching
the carmine drops ooze from the gaping yellow beak to fall and glisten
upon the snowy breast, like a dying king’s rubies.

And the old bird- Debra listened to the clamour with face upturned, her
eyes dark with c oncem.

He will never get those claws loose, they lock automatically as soon as
pressure is applied and he will not be able to lift himself. He will
die also. Can’t you do something?

Debra was tugging at his arm. Can’t you help him? Gently he tried to
explain to her that the birds were locked together seventy feet above
the earth. The hole of the leadwood was smooth and without branches for
the first fifty feet of its height. It would take days of effort to
reach the birds, and by then it would be too late.

Even if one could reach them, darling, they are two wild creatures,
fierce and dangerous, those beaks and talons could tear the eyes out of
your head or rip you to the bone, nature does not like interference in
her designs. Isn’t there anything we can do? she pleaded.

Yes, he answered quietly. Ve can come back in the morning to see if he
has been able to free himself. But we will bring a gun with us, in case
he has not. in the dawn they came together to the leadwood tree.

The young bird was dead, hanging limp and graceless, but the old bird
was still alive, linked by his claws to the carcass of the other, weak
and dying but, with the furious yellow flames still burning in his eyes.
He heard their voices and twisted the shaggy old head and opened his
beak in a last defiant cry.

David loaded the shotgun, snapping the barrels closed and staring up at
the old eagle. Not you alone, old friend, he thought, and he lifted the
gun to his shoulder and hit him with two charges of buckshot. They left
him hanging in tatters with trailing wings and the quick patter of blood
slowing to a dark steady drip. David felt as though he had destroyed a
part of himself in that blast of gunfire, and the shadow of it was cast
over the bright days that followed.

These few days sped past too swiftly for David, and when they were
almost gone he and Debra spent the last of them wandering together
across Jabulani, visiting each of their special places and seeking out
the various herds or individual animals almost as if they were taking
farewell of old friends. In the evening they came to the place amongst
the fever trees beside the pools, and they sat there until the sun had
fallen below the earth in a splendour of purples and muted pinks. Then
the mosquitoes began whining about their heads, and they strolled back
hand in hand and came to the homestead in the dark.

They packed their bags that night and left them on the stoop, ready for
an early start. Then they drank champagne beside the barbecue fire. The
wine lifted their mood and they laughed together in their little island
of firelight in the vast ocean of the African night – but for David
there were echoes from the laughter, and he was aware of a sense of
finality, of an ending of something and a new beginning.

When they took off from the landing-strip in the early morning, David
circled twice over the estate, climbing slowly, and the pools glinted
like gunmetal amongst the hills as the low sun touched them. The land
was lush with the severe unpromising shade of green, so different from
that of the lands of the northern hemisphere, and the servants stood in
the yard of the homestead, shading their eyes and waving up at them,
their shadows lying long and narrow against the ruddy earth.

David came around and steadied on course.

Cape Town, here we come, he said, and Debra smiled and reached across to
lay her hand upon his leg in warm and companionable silence.

They had the suite at the Mount Nelson Hotel, preferring its ancient
elegance and spacious palmy gardens to the modern slabs of glass and
concrete upon the foreshore and the rocks of Sea Point. They stayed in
the suite for the two days, awaiting the Brig’s arrival, for David had
grown unaccustomed to humanity in its massed and unlovely multitudes,
and found the quick inquisitive glances and murmurs of pity that
followed him hard to stomach.

on the second day the Brig arrived. He knocked on the door of the suite
and then entered with his aggressive and determined stride. He was lean
and hard and brown, as David remembered, and when he and Debra had
embraced, he turned to David and his hand was dry and leathery, but it
seemed that he looked at David with a new calculation in the fierce
warrior eyes.

While Debra bathed and dressed for the evening, he took David to his own
suite and poured whisky for him without asking his preference. He gave
David the glass and began immediately to discuss the arrangements he had
made.

Friedman will be at the reception. I will introduce him to Debra and
let them talk for a while, then he will be seated next to her at the
dinner-table. This will give us the opportunity to persuade Debra to
undergo an examination later, Before we go any further, sir, David
interrupted, I want your assurance that at no time will it ever be
suggested to her that there is a possibility of Debra regaining her
sight.

Very well.

I mean, at no time whatsoever. Even if Friedman determines that surgery
is necessary, it must be for some other reason than to restore sight, I
don’t think that is possible, the Brig snapped angrily. If matters go
that far, then Debra must be told. It would not be fair It was David’s
turn for anger, although the frozen mask of his features remained
immobile, the lipless slit of mouth turned pale and the blue eyes
glared.

Let me determine what is fair. I know her as you never can, I know what
she feels and what she is thinking. If you offer her a chance of sight,
you will create for her the same dilemma in which I have been trapped
since the possibility first arose. I would spare her that. ‘I do not
understand you, the Brig said stiffly. The hostility between them was a
tangible essence that seemed to fill the room with the feel of thunder
on a summer’s day.

Then let me explain, David held his eyes, refusing to be brow-beaten by
this fierce and thrusting old warrior. Your daughter and I have
achieved an extraordinary state of happiness.

The Brig inclined his head, acknowledging. Yes, I will accept your word
for that, but it is an artificial state.

It’s a hot-house thing, reared in isolation, it has no relation to the
real world. It’s a dream state.

David felt his anger begin to shake the foundations of his reason. He
found it offensive that anybody should speak of Debra and his life in
those terms, but at the same time he could see the justification.

You may say so, sir. But for Debra and me, it is very real. it is
something of tremendous value. The Brig was silent now.

I will tell you truly that I thought long and hard before I admitted
that there was a chaance for Debra, and even then I would have hidden it
for my own selfish happiness, You still do not make sense. How can
Debra regaining her sight affect you?

Look at me, said David softly, and the Brig glared at him ferociously,
expecting more, but when nothing further came his expression eased and
he did look at David, for the first time truly seeing the terribly
ravaged head, the obscene travesty of human shape, and suddenly he
thought on it from David’s side, whereas before he had considered it
only as a father.

His eyes dropped and he turned to replenish his whisky glass.

If I can give her sight, I will do it. Even though it will be an
expensive gift for me, she must take it. David felt his voice
trembling. But I believe that she loves me enough to spurn it, if she
were ever given the choice. I do not want her ever to be tortured by
that choice. The Brig lifted his glass and took a deep swallow, half
the contents at a gulp.

As you wish, he acquiesced, and it may have been the whisky, but his
voice sounded husky with an emotion David had never suspected before.

Thank you, sir. David set down his own glass, still untasted. If
you’ll excuse me, I think I should go and change now. He moved to the
door.

David! the Brig called to him and he turned back.

The gold tooth gleamed in the dark bristly patch of mustache, as the
Brig smiled a strangely embarrassed but gentle smile.

You’ll do, he said.

The reception was in the banquet-room at the Heerengracht Hotel, and as
David and Debra rode up together in the elevator, she seemed to sense
his dread, for she squeezed his arm.

Stay close to me tonight, she murmured. I’ll need you, and he knew it
was said to distract him and he was grateful to her. They would be a
freak show, and even though he was sure most of the guests had been
prepared, yet he knew it would be an ordeal. He leaned to brush her
cheek with his.

Her hair was loose and soft, very dark and glossy and the sun had gilded
her face to gold. She wore a plain green sheath that fell in simple
lines to the floor, but left her arms and shoulders bare. They were
strong and smooth, with the special lustre of the skin highlighting the
smooth flow of her flesh.

She wore little make-up, a light touch on the lips only, and the serene
expression of her eyes enhanced the simple grace of her carriage as she
moved on his arm, giving David just that courage he needed to face the
crowded room.

it was an elegant gathering, women in rich silks and jewellery, the men
dark-suited, with the heaviness of body and poise which advertises power
and wealth, but the Brig stood out amongst them, even in a civilian
suit, lean and hard where they were plump and complacent like a falcon
amongst a flock of pheasants.

He brought Reuben Friedman to them and introduced them casually. He was
a short heavily built man, with a big alert head seeming out of
proportion to his body.

His hair was cropped short and grizzled to the round skull, but David
found himself liking the bright bird eyes and the readiness of his
smile. His hand was warm, but dry and firm. Debra was drawn to, him
also, and smiled when she picked up the timbre of his voice and the
essential warmth of his personality.

As they went into dinner, she asked David what he looked like, and
laughed with delight when he replied.

Like a koala bear, and they were talking easily together before the fish
course was served. Friedman’s wife, a slim girl with horned-rimmed
spectacles, neither beautiful nor plain, but with her husband’s
forthright friendly manner, leaned across him to join the conversation
and David heard her say, Won’t you come to lunch tomorrow? If you can
stand a brood of squalling kids. We don’t usually, Debra replied, but
David could hear her wavering, and she turned to him.

May we -? ‘and he agreed and then they were laughing like old friends,
but David was silent and withdrawn, knowing it was all subterfuge and
suddenly oppressed by the surging chorus of human voices and the clatter
of cutlery. He found himself longing for the night silence of the
bushveld, and the solitude which was not solitude with Debra to share
it.

When the master of ceremonies rose to introduce the speaker, David found
it an intense relief to know the ordeal was drawing to a close and he
could soon hurry away with Debra to hide from the prying, knowing eyes.

The introductory speech was smooth and professional, the jokes raised a
chuckle, but it lacked substance, five minutes after you would not
remember what had been said.

Then the Brig rose and looked about him with a kind of Olympian scorn,
the warrior’s contempt for the soft men, and though these rich and
powerful men seemed to quail beneath the stare, yet David sensed that
they enjoyed it. They derived some strange vicarious pleasure from this
man. He was a figurehead, he gave to them a deep confidence, a point on
which their spirits could rally. He was one of them, and yet apart. it
seemed that he was a storehouse of the race’s pride and strength.

Even David was surprised by the power that flowed from the lean old
warrior, the compelling presence with which he filled the huge room and
dominated his audience. He seemed immortal and invincible, and David’s
own emotions stirred, his own pulse quickened and he found himself
carried along on the flood.

but for all of this there is a price to pay. Part of this price is
constant vigil, constant readiness. Each of us is ready at any moment
to answer the call to the defence of what is ours, and each of us must
be ready to make without question whatever sacrifice is demanded. This
can be life itself, or something every bit as dear Suddenly David
realized that the Brig had singled him out, and that they were staring
at each other across the room. The Brig was sending him a message of
strength, of courage, but it was misinterpreted by others in the
gathering.

They saw the silent exchange between the two men, and many of them knew
that David’s terrible disfigurement and Debra’s blindness were wounds of
war. They misunderstood the Brig’s reference to sacrifice, and one of
them began to applaud.

Immediately it was taken up, a smattering here and there amongst the
tables, but quickly the sound rose became thunder.

People were staring at David and Debra as they clapped, other heads
turned towards them.

Chairs began to scrape as they were pushed back and men and women came
to their feet, their faces smiling and their applause pounding, until it
filled the hall with sound and they were all standing.

Debra was not sure what it was all about, until she felt David’s
desperate hand in hers and heard his voice.

Let’s get out of here, quickly. They are all staring.

They are staring at us She could feel his hand shaking and the strength
of his distress at being the subject of their ghoulish curiosity.

Come, let’s get away. And she rose at his urging with her heart crying
out in pain for him, and followed him while the thunder of applause
burst upon his defenceless head like the blows of an enemy and their
eyes wantonly raked his ravaged flesh.

Even when they reached the sanctuary of their own suite, he was still
shaking like a man in fever.

The bastard, he whispered, as he poured whisky in a glass and the neck
of the bottle clattered against the crystal rim. The cruel bastard, why
did he do that to us? David. She came to him groping for his hand. He
didn’t mean it to hurt. I know he meant it well, I think he was trying
to say he was proud of you. David felt the urge to flee, to find relief
from it all within the sanctuary of Jabulani. The temptation to say to
her Come and lead her there, knowing that she would do so instantly, was
so strong that he had to wrestle with it, as though it were a physical
adversary.

The whisky tasted rank and smoky. It offered no avenue of escape and he
left the glass standing upon the counter of the private bar and turned
instead to Debra.

Yes, she whispered into his mouth. Yes, my darling, and there was a
woman’s pride, a woman’s joy in being the vessel of his ease. As always
she was able to fly with him above the storm, using the wild winds of
love to drive them both aloft, until they broke through together into
the brightness and peace and safety.

David woke in the night while she lay sleeping. There was a silver moon
reflecting from the french windows and he could study her sleeping face,
but after a while it was not sufficient for his need and he reached
across gently and switched on the bedside lamp.

She stirred in her sleep, coming softly awake with small sighs and and
tumbling black hair brushed from her eyes with a sleep-clumsy hand, and
David felt the first chill of impending loss. He knew he had not moved
the bed when he lit the lamp, what had disturbed her he knew beyond
doubt was the light itself, and this time not even their loving could
distract him.

Reuben Friedman’s dwelling proclaimed his station in the world. It was
built above the sea with lawns that ran down to the beach and big dark
green melkhout trees surrounding the swimming-pool, with an elaborate
Cabana and barbecue area. Marion Friedman’s horde of kids were
especially thinned out for the occasion, probably farmed out with
friends, but she retained her two youngest. These came to peer in awe
at David for a few minutes, but at a sharp word from their mother they
went off to the pool and became immersed in water and their own games.

The Brig had another speaking engagement, so the four adults were left
alone, and after a while they relaxed. Somehow the fact that Reuben was
a doctor seemed to set both David and Debra at their ease. Debra
remarked on it, when the conversation turned to their injuries and
Reuben asked solicitously, You don’t mind talking about it?

No, not with you. Somehow it’s all right to bare yourself in front of a
doctor.

Don’t do it, my dear, Marion cautioned her. Not in front of Ruby
anyway, look at me, six kids, already! And they laughed.

Ruby had been out early that morning and taken half a dozen big crayfish
out of the crystal water, from a kelp-filled pool in the rocks which he
boasted was his private fishing-ground.

He wrapped them in fresh kelp leaves and steamed them over the coals
until they turned bright scarlet and the flesh was milk white and
succulent as he broke open the carapaces.

Now, if that isn’t the finest spring chicken you have ever seen he
crowed as he held up the dismembered shellfish, you all bear witness
that it’s got two legs and feathers.

David admitted that he had never tasted poultry like it and as he washed
it down with a dry Cape Riesling;

he found it was no terrible hardship to reach for another.

Both he and Debra were enjoying themselves, so that it came as a jolt
when Reuben at last began on the real purpose of their meeting.

He was leaning across Debra to refill her wine glass, when he paused and
asked her.

How long is it since your eyes were last checked out, my dear? and
gently he placed his hand under her chin and tilted her face to look
into her eyes. David’s nerves snapped taut, and he moved quickly in his
chair, watching intently.

Not since I left Israel, though they took some Xrays when I was in
hospital. Any headaches? Ruby asked, and she nodded. Ruby grunted and
released her chin.

I suppose they could strike me off, drumming up business, but I do think
that you should have periodic checks. Two years is a long time, and you
have foreign matter lodged inside your skull. I hadn’t even thought
about it.

Debra frowned slightly and reached up to touch the scar on her temple.

David felt his conscience twinge as he joined actively in the
conspiracy.

It can’t do any harm, darling. Why not let Ruby give you a going over
while we are here? Heaven knows when we will have another opportunity.
Oh, David, Debra disparaged the idea. I know you are itching to head
for home, and so am V Another day or two won’t matter, and now that we
have thought about it, it’s going to worry us. Debra turned her head in
Ruby’s direction. How long will it take? A day. I’ll give you an
examination in the morning, and then we’ll shoot some X-ray plates in
the afternoon. ‘How soon could you see her? David asked, his vice
unnatural for he knew that the appointment had been arranged five weeks
previously.

Oh, I’m sure we could fit her in right away, tomorrow, even if we have
to do a little juggling. Yours is rather a special case. David reached
across and took Debra’s hand.

Okay, darling? he asked.

Okay, David, she agreed readily.

Ruby’s consulting-rooms were in the Medical Centre that towered above
the harbour and looked out across Table Bay to where the black
southeaster was hacking the tops from the waves in bursts of white, and
shrouding the far shores of the bay in banks of cloud as grey as wood
smoke.

The rooms were decorated with care and taste: two original landscapes by
Pierneef and some good carpets, Samarkand and a gold-washed Abedah, even
Ruby’s receptionist looked like a hostess from a Playboy Club, without
the bunny ears and tail. It was clear that Dr. Friedman enjoyed the
good things of life.

The receptionist was expecting them, but still could not control the
widening of her eyes and the shocked flight of colour from her cheeks as
she looked at David’s face.

Dr. Friedman is waiting for you, Mr. and Mrs. Morgan.

He wants you both to go through, please. Ruby looked different without
his prosperous paunch bulging over the waistband of a bathing costume,
but his greeting was warm as he took Debra’s arm.

Shall we let David stay with us? he asked Debra in mock conspiracy.
Let’s, she answered.

After the usual clinical history which Ruby pursued relentlessly, he
seemed satisfied and they went through into his examination-room. The
chair looked to David to be identical to a dentist’s, and Ruby adjusted
it for Debra to lie back comfortably while he made a physical
examination, directing light through her pupils deep into the body of
each eye.

Nice healthy eyes, he gave his opinion at last, and very pretty also,
what do you say, David? Smashing, David agreed, and Ruby sat Debra
upright while he attached electrodes to her arm and swung forward a
complicated-looking piece of electronic equipment.

ECG, David guessed, and Ruby chuckled and shook his head.

No, it’s a little invention of my own. I’m quite proud of it, but in
reality it’s only a variation on the oldfashioned lie-detector. Question
time again? Debra asked.

No. We are going to flash lights at you, and see just what sort of
subconscious reaction you have to them. ‘We know that already, ‘Debra
told him, and they both heard the edge in her voice now.

Perhaps. It’s just an established routine we work to. Ruby soothed
her, and then to David. Stand back here, please. The lights are pretty
fierce, and you don’t want to be looking into them. David moved back
and Ruby adjusted the machine. A roll of graph paper began running
slowly under a moving stylus which settled almost immediately into a
steady rhythmic pattern. On a separate glass screen a moving green dot
of light began to repeat the same rhythm, leaving a fading trail across
the screen like the tail of a comet. It reminded David of the
interceptor radar screen on the instrument panel of a Mirage jet. Ruby
switched out the top lights, plunging the room into utter darkness,
except for the pulsing green dot on the screen.

Are we ready now, Debra? Look straight ahead, please. Eyes open.
Soundlessly a brilliant burst of blue light filled the room, and
distinctly David saw the green dot on the screen jump out of its
established pattern, and for a beat or two it went haywire, then settled
again into the old rhythm. Debra had seen the light flash, even though
she was unaware of it; the pulse of light had registered on her brain
and the machine had recorded her instinctive reaction.

The play with light went on for another twenty minutes while Ruby
adjusted the intensity of the light source and varied the transmissions.
At last he was satisfied, and turned the top lights up.

Well? Debra demanded brightly. Do I pass? ‘There’s nothing more I
want from you, Ruby told her. You did just great, and everything is the
way we want it. ‘Can I go now? David can take you to lunch, but this
afternoon I want you at the radiologist’s. My receptionist arranged it
for 2:30, I believe, but you had best check with her. Neatly Ruby
countered any attempt of David’s to get him alone.

I shall let you know as soon as I have the X-ray results. Here, I’ll
write down the radiologist’s address. Ruby scribbled on his
prescription pad and handed it to David. See me alone tomorrow io a. m.
David nodded and took Debra’s arm.

He stared at Ruby a moment trying to draw some reaction from him, but he
merely shrugged his shoulders and rolled his eyes in a music-hall
comedian’s gesture of uncertainty.

The Brig joined them for lunch in their suite at the Mount Nelson, for
David still could not endure the discomfort of the public rooms. The
Brig drew upon some hidden spring of charm, as though sensing that his
help was needed, and he had both of them laughing naturally with stories
of Debra’s childhood and the family’s early days after leaving America.
David was grateful to him, for the time passed so quickly that he had to
hurry Debra to her appointment.

I am going to use two different techniques on you, my dear- David
wondered what it was about her that made all males over forty refer to
Debra as though she were twelve years old. First of all we will do five
of what we call police mug shots, front, back, sides and top – The
radiologist was a red-faced, grey-haired man with big hands and heavy
shoulders like a professional wrestler. We aren’t even going to make
you take your clothes off – he chuckled, but David thought he detected a
faint note of regret. Then after that, we are going to be terribly
clever and take a continuous moving shot of the inside of your head.
It’s called tomography.

We are going to clamp your head to keep it still and the camera is going
to describe a circle around you, focused on the spot where all the
trouble is. We are going to find out everything that’s going on in that
pretty head of yours, I hope it doesn’t shock you too much, doctor,
Debra told him, and he looked stunned for a moment, then let out a
delighted guffaw, and later David heard him repeating it to the sister
with gusto.

It was a long tedious business, and afterwards when they drove back to
the hotel, Debra leaned close to him and said, Let’s go home, David.
Soon as we can? ‘Soon as we can, he agreed.

David did not want it that way, but the Brig insisted on accompanying
David on his visit to Ruby Friedman the following morning. For one of
the very few times in his life David had lied to Debra, telling her he
was meeting with the Morgan Trust accountants, and he had left her in a
lime-green bikini lying beside the hotel swimming pool, brown and slim
and lovely in the sunlight.

Ruby Friedman was brusque and businesslike. He seated them opposite his
desk and came swiftly to the core of the business.

Gentlemen, he said. We have a problem, a hell of a problem. I am going
to show you the X-ray plates first to illustrate what I have to tell you
– Ruby swivelled his chair to the scanner and switched on the book-light
to bring the prints into high relief. On this side are the plates that
Edelman sent me from Jerusalem. You can see the grenade fragment. It
was stark and hard edged, a small triangular shard of steel lying in the
cloudy bone structure. And here you can see the track through, the
optic chiasma, the disruption and shattering of the bone is quite
evident. Edelman’s original diagnosis, based on these plates, and on
the complete inability to define light or shape, seems to be confirmed.
The optic nerve is severed, and that’s the end of it. Quickly he
unclipped the plates, and fitted others to the scanner. All right.

Now here are the second set of plates, taken yesterday.

Immediately notice how the grenade fragment has been consolidated and
encysted. The stark outline was softened by the new growth of bone
around it. That is good, and expected. But here in the channel of the
chiasma we find the growth of some sort that leaves itself open to a
number of interpretations. It could be scarring, the growth of bone
chips, or some other type of growth either benign or malignant. Ruby
arranged another set of plates upon the scanner. Finally, this is the
plate exposed by the technique of tomography, to establish the contours
of this excrescence. It seems to conform to the shape of the bony
channel of the chiasma, except here, Ruby touched a small half-round
notch which was cut into the upper edge of the growth, – this little
spot runs through the main axis of the skull, but is bent upwards in the
shape of an inverted U. It is just possible that this may be the most
significant discovery of our whole examination. Ruby switched off the
light of the scanner.

I don’t understand any of this, the Brig’s voice was sharp. He did not
like being bludgeoned by another man’s special knowledge.

No, of course. Ruby was smooth. I am merely setting the background for
the explanations that will follow. He turned back to the desk, and his
manner changed. He was no longer lecturing, but leading with authority.

Now as to my own conclusions. There can be absolutely no doubt that
certain function of the optic nerve remains. It is still conveying
impulses to the brain. At least a part of it is still intact. The
question arises as to just how much that is, and to what extent that
function can be improved. it is possible that the grenade fragment cut
through part of the nerve, severing five strands of a six-strand rope,
or four or three. We do not know the extent, but what we do know is
that damage of that nature is irreversible. What Debra may be left with
is what she has now, almost nothing. Ruby paused and was silent. The
two men opposite him watched his face intently, leaning forward in their
seats.

That is the dark side, if it is true, then Debra is for all practical
purposes blind and will remain that way.

However, there is another side to the question. It is possible that the
optic nerve has suffered little damage, or none at all, please God Then
why is she blind? David asked angrily. He felt baited, driven by
words, goaded like the bull from so long ago. You can’t have it both
ways. Ruby looked at him, and for the first time saw beyond that blank
mask of scarred flesh and realized the pain he was inflicting, saw the
hurt in the dark eyes, blue as rifle steel.

Forgive me, David. I have been carried away by the intriguing facts of
this case, seeing it from my own academic point of view rather than
yours, I’m afraid. I will come to it now without further hedging. He
leaned back in his chair and went on speaking. You recall the notch in
the outline of the chiasma. Well, I believe that is the nerve itself,
twisted out of position, kinked and pinched like a garden hose by bone
fragments and the pressure of the metal fragment so that it is no longer
capable of carrying impulses to the brain. ‘The blows on her temple -?
‘David asked.

Yes. Those blows may have been just sufficient to alter the position of
the bone fragments, or of the nerve itself, so as to enable the passage
of a minimal amount of impulse to the brain, like the garden hose,
movement could allow a little water to pass through but still hold back
any significant flow, but once the twist is straightened the full volume
of flow would be regained. They were all silent then, each of them
considering the enormity of what they had heard.

The eyes, the Brig said at last. They are healthy? Perfectly, Ruby
nodded.

How could you find out, I mean, what steps would you take next? David
asked quietly.

There is only one way. We would have to go to the site of the trauma.
Operate? David asked again.

Yes.

Open Debra’s skull? The horror of it showed only in his eyes.

Yes, Ruby nodded.

Her head, David’s own flesh quailed in memory of the ruthless knife. He
saw the lovely face mutilated and the pain in those blind eyes. Her
face – His voice shook now. No, I won’t let you cut her. I won’t let
you ruin her, like they have me David! The Brig’s voice cracked like
breaking ice, and David sank back in his chair.

I understand how you feel, Ruby spoke gently, his voice in contrast to
the Brig’s. But we will go in from behind the hairline, there will be
no disfigurement. The scar will be covered by her hair when it grows
out, and the incision will not be very large anyway – I won’t have her
suffer more. David was trying to control his voice, but the catch and
break were still in it. She has suffered enough, can’t you see that, We
are talking about giving her back her sight the Brig broke in again. His
voice was hard and cold. A little pain is a small price to pay for
that.

There will be very little pain, David. Less than an appendectomy. Again
they were silent, the two older men watching the younger in the agony of
his decision.

What are the chances? David looked for help, wanting the decision made
for him, wanting it taken out of his hands.

That is impossible to say. Ruby shook his head.

Oh God, how can I judge if I don’t know the odds? David cried out.

All right. Let me put it this way, there is a possibility, not
probability, that she may regain a useful part of her sight. Ruby chose
his words with care. And there is a remote possibility that she may
regain full vision or almost full vision. That is the best that can
happen. David agreed. But what is the worst? The worst that can
happen is there will be no change.

She will have undergone a deal of discomfort and pain to no avail. David
jumped out of his chair and crossed to the windows.

He stared out at the great sweep of bay where the tankers lay moored and
the far hills of the Tygerberg rose smoky blue to the brilliant sky.

You know what the choice must be, David. The Brig was ruthless,
allowing him no quarter, driving him on to meet his fate.

All right, David surrendered at last, and turned back to face them. But
on one condition. One on which I insist. Debra must not be told that
there is a chance of her regaining her sight, Ruby Friedman shook his
head. She must be told The Brig’s mustache bristled fiercely. Why not?
Why don’t you want her to know?

You know why. David answered without looking at him.

How will you get her there, if you don’t explain it to her? Ruby asked.

She has been having headaches, we’ll tell her there is a growth, that
you’ve discovered a growth, that it has to be removed. That’s true,
isn’t it? No. Ruby shook his head.

I couldn’t tell her that. I can’t deceive her. Then I will tell her,
said David, his voice firm and steady now. And I will tell her when we
discover the result after the operation. Good or bad. I will be the
one who tells her, is that understood? Do we agree on that? And after
a moment the two others nodded and murmured their agreement to the terms
David had set.

David had the hotel chef prepare a picnic basket, and the service bar
provided a cool bag with two bottles of champagne.

David craved for the feeling of height and space, but he needed also to
be able to concentrate all his attention on Debra, so he reluctantly
rejected the impulse to fly with her, and instead they took the cableway
up the precipitous cliffs of Table Mountain, and from the top station
they found a path along the plateau and followed it, hand in hand, to a
lonely place upon the cliff’s edge where they could sit together high
above the city and the measureless spread of ocean.

The sounds of the city came up two thousand feet to them, tiny and
disjointed, on freak gusts of the wind or bouncing from the soaring
canyons of grey rock, the horn of an automobile, the clang of a
locomotive shunting in the train yards, the cry of a muezzin calling the
faithful of Islam to pray, and the distant shrilling of children
released from the classroom, yet all these faint echoes of humanity
seemed to enhance their aloneness and the breeze out of the south east
was sweet and clean after the filthy city air.

They drank the wine together, sitting close while David gathered his
resolve. He was about to speak when Debra forestalled him.

It’s good to be alive and in love, my darling, she said. We are very
lucky, you and I. Do you know that, David? He made a sound in his
throat that could have been
agreement, and his courage failed him.

If you could, would you change anything? he asked at last, and she
laughed.

Oh, sure. One is never absolutely content until and unless one is dead.
I’d change many small things, but not the one big thing. You and””What
would you change? I would like to write better than I do, for one
thing. They were silent again, sipping the wine.

Sun is going down fast now, he told her.

Tell me, she demanded, and he tried to find words for the colours, that
flickered over the cloud banks and the way the ocean shimmered and
dazzled with the last rays of gold and blood, and he knew he could never
tell it to her. He stopped in the middle of a sentence.

I saw Ruby Friedman today, he said abruptly, unable to find a gentler
approach, and she went still beside him in that special way of hers,
frozen like a timid wild thing at the scent of some fearful predator.
It’s bad! she said at last. Why do you say that! he demanded quickly.

Because you brought me here to tell me, and because you are afraid. No,
David denied it.

Yes. I can feel it now, very clearly. You are afraid for me. It’s not
true, David tried to reassure her. I’m a little worried that’s all.

Tell me, she said.

There is a small growth. It’s not dangerous, yet.

But they feel something should be done about it, I He stumbled through
the explanation he had so carefully prepared, and when he ended she was
silent for a moment.

It is necessary, absolutely necessary? she asked.

Yes, he told her, and she nodded, trusting him completely, then she
smiled and squeezed his arm.

Don’t fret yourself, David, my darling. It will be all right. You’ll
see, they can’t touch us. We live in a private place where they can’t
touch us. Now it was she who was striving to comfort him.

Of course it will be all right. He hugged her to him roughly, slopping
a little wine over the rim of his glass. When? she asked.

Tomorrow you will go in, and they’ll do it the following morning. So
soon? ‘I thought it best to have it over with. ‘Yes. You are right.

She sipped her wine, withdrawn, fearful, despite her brave show. They
are going to cut my head open? ‘Yes, he said, and she shuddered against
him. There is no risk, he said.

No. I’m sure there isn’t, she agreed quickly.

He woke in the night with the instant knowledge that he was alone, that
she was not curled warm and sleeping beside him.

Quickly he slipped from the bed and crossed to the bathroom. It was
empty and he padded to the sitting room of the suite and switched on the
lights.

She heard the click of the switch and turned her head away, but not
before he had seen the tears glowing on her cheeks like soft grey
pearls. He went to her quickly.

Darling, he said.

I couldn’t sleep, she said.

That’s all right. He knelt before the couch on which she sat, but he
did not touch her.

I had a dream, she said. There was a pool of clear water and you were
swimming in it, looking up at me and calling to me. I saw your dear
face clearly, beautiful and laughing- David realized with a jolt in his
guts that she had seen him in her dream as he had been, she had seen the
beautiful dream-David, not the monstrous ravaged thing he was now. Then
suddenly you began to sink, down, down, through the water, your face
fading and receding, Her voice caught and broke, and she was silent for
a moment. It was a terrible dream, I cried out and tried to follow you,
but I could not move and then you were gone down into the depths. The
water turned dark and I woke with only the blackness in my head. Nothing
but swirling mists of blackness. ‘it was only a dream, he said.

David, she whispered. Tomorrow, if anything happens tomorrow Nothing
will happen, he almost snarled the denial, but she put out a hand to his
face, finding his lips and touching them lightly to silence them.

Whatever happens, she said, remember how it was when we were happy.
Remember that I loved you.

The hospital of Gioote Schuur sits on the lower slopes of Devil’s Peak,
a tall conical peak divided from the massif of Table Mountain by a deep
saddle. Its summit is of grey rock and below it lie the dark pine
forests and open grassy slopes of the great estate that Cecil John
Rhodes left to the nation. Herds of deer and indigenous antelope feed
quietly in the open places and the southeast wind feathers the crest
with a flying pennant of cloud.

The hospital is a massive complex of brilliant white buildings,
substantial and solid-looking blocks, all roofed in burnt red tiles.

Ruby Friedman had used all his pull to secure a private ward for Debra,
and the sister in charge of the floor was expecting her. They took her
from David and led her away, leaving him feeling bereft and lonely, but
when he returned to visit her that evening she was sitting up in the bed
in the soft cashmere bedjacket that David had given her and surrounded
by banks of flowers which he had ordered.

They smell wonderful, she thanked him. It’s like being in a garden. She
wore a turban around her head and, with the serene golden eyes seeming
focused on a distant vision, it gave her an exotic and mysterious air.

They have shaved your head. David felt a slide of dismay, he had not
expected that she must also sacrifice that lustrous mane of black silk.
It was the ultimate indignity, and she seemed to feel it also, for she
did not answer him and instead told him brightly how well they were
treating her, and what pains they were taking for her comfort. You’d
think I was some sort of queen, she laughed.

The Brig was with David, gruff and reserved and patently out of place in
these surroundings. His presence cast restraint upon them and it was a
relief when Ruby Friedman arrived. Bustling and charmin& he
complimented Debra on the preparations she had undergone.

Sister says that you are just fine, all nicely shaved and ready. Sorry,
but you aren’t allowed anything to eat or drink except the sleeping pill
I’ve prescribed. ‘When do I go to theatre? We’ve got you down bright
and early. Eight o’clock tomorrow. I am tremendously pleased that
Billy Cooper is the surgeon, we were very lucky to get him, but he owes
me a favour or two. I will be assisting him, of course, and he’ll have
one of the best surgical teams in the world backing him up. Ruby, you
know how some women have their husbands with them when they are
confined- lyes. ‘Ruby looked uncertain, taken aback by the question.

, well, couldn’t David be there with me tomorrow?

Couldn’t we be together, for both our sakes, while it happens? With all
due respects, my dear, but you are not having a baby. Couldn’t you
arrange for him to be there? Debra pleaded, with eloquent eyes and an
expression to break the hardest heart. I’m sorry, Ruby shook his head.
It’s completely impossible, then he brightened. But I tell you what.

I could get him into the students room. It will be the next best thing
in fact he would have a better view of the proceedings than if he were
in theatre. We have closed-circuit television relayed to the students
room and David could watch from there. Oh, please! Debra accepted
immediately. I’d like to know be was close, and that we were in
contact. We don’t like being parted from each other, do we, my darling?
She smiled at where she thought he was, but he had moved aside and the
smile missed him. It was a gesture that wrenched something within him.

You will be there, David, won’t you? she asked, and though the idea of
watching the knife at work was repellent to him, he forced himself to
reply lightly.

I’ll be there, and he almost added, always, but he cut off the word.

This early in the morning there were only two others in the small
lecture-room with its double semi-circular rows of padded chairs about
the small television screen, a plump woman student with a pretty face
and shaggydog hairstyle and a tall young man with a pale complexion and
bad teeth. They both wore their stethoscopes dangling with calculated
nonchalance from the pockets of their white linen jackets. After the
first startled glance they ignored David, and they spoke together in
knowing medical jargon. The Coops doing an exploratory through the
parietal. ‘That’s the one I want to watch – The girl affected blue
Gauloises cigarettes, rank and stinking in the confined room. David’s
eyes felt raw and gravelly for he slept little during the night, and the
smoke irritated them. He kept looking at his watch, and imagining what
was happening to Debra during these last minutes, the undignified
purging and cleansing of her body, the robin& and the needles of
sedation and antisepsis.

The slow drag of minutes ended at last when the screen began to glow and
hum, the image shimmered and strobed then settled down into a high view
of the theatre. The set was in colour, and the green theatre gowns of
the figures moving around the operating-table blended with the subdued
theatre green walls. Height had foreshortened the robed members of the
operating team and the muttered and disjointed conversation between the
surgeon and his anaesthetist was picked up by the microphones.

Are we ready there yet, Mike? David felt the sick sensation in the pit
of his stomach, and he wished he had eaten breakfast. It might have
filled the hollow place below his ribs.

Right, the surgeon’s voice sharpened as he turned towards the
microphone. Are we on telly? l Yes, doctor, the theatre sister
answered him, and there was a note of resignation in the surgeon’s
voice, as he spoke for his unseen audience.

Very well, then. The patient is a twenty-six-year-old female. The
symptoms are total loss of sight in both eyes, and the cause is
suspected damage or constriction of the optic nerve in or near the optic
chiasma. This is a surgical investigation of the site. The surgeon is
Dr. William Cooper, assisted by Dr. Reuben Friedman. As he spoke, the
camera moved in on the table and with a start of surprise David realized
that he had been looking at Debra without knowing it. Her face and the
lower part of her head were obscurred by the sterile drapes that covered
all but the shaven round ball of her skull. It was inhuman-looking,
egglike, painted with Savlon antiseptic that glistened in the bright,
overhead lights.

Scalpel please, sister. David leaned forward tensely in his seat, and
his hands tightened on the armrests, so the knuckles turned white, as
Cooper made the first incision drawing the blade across the smooth skin.
The flesh opened and immediately the tiny blood vessels began to dribble
and spurt. Hands moved in the screen of the television, clad in rubber
so that they were yellow and impersonal, but quick and sure.

An oval flap of skin and flesh was dissected free and was drawn back,
exposing the gleaming bone beneath, and again David’s flesh crawled as
though with living things, as the surgeon took up a drill that resembled
exactly a carpenter’s brace and bit. His voice continued its impersonal
commentary, as he began to drill through the skull, cranking away at the
handle as the gleaming steel bit swiftly through the bone. He pierced
the skull with four round drill holes, each set at the corners of a
square. Peri-osteal elevator, please, sister. Again David’s stomach
clenched as the surgeon slid the gleaming steel introducer into one of
the drill holes and manoeuvred it gently until its tip reappeared
through the next hole in line. Using the introducer, a length of sharp
steel wire saw was threaded through the two holes and lay along the
inside of the skull. Cooper sawed this back and forth and it cut
cleanly through the bone. Four times he repeated the procedure, cutting
out the sides of the square, and when he at last lifted out the detached
piece of bone he had opened a trapdoor into Debra’s skull.

As he worked David’s gorge had risen until it pressed in his throat, and
he had felt the cold glistening sheen of nauseous sweat across his
forehead, but now as the camera’s eye peered through the opening he felt
his wonder surmount his horror, for he could see the pale amorphous mass
of matter, enclosed in its tough covering membrane of the dura mater
that was Debra’s brain.

Deftly Cooper incised a flap in the dura.

We have exposed now the frontal lobe, and it will be necessary to
displace this to explore the base of the skull. Working swiftly, but
with obvious care and skill, Cooper used a stainless steel retractor,
shaped like a shoe horn, to slide under the mass of brain and to lift it
aside. Debra’s brain, staring at it, David seemed to be looking into
the core of her being, it was vulnerable and exposed, everything that
made her what she was. What part of that soft pale mass contained her
writer’s genius, he wondered, from which of its many soft folds and
coils sprang the fruitful fountain of her imagination, where was her
love for him buried, what soft and secret place triggered her laughter
and where was the vale of her tears? Its fathomless mystery held him
intent as he watched the retractor probe deeper and deeper through the
opening, and slowly the camera moved in to peer into the gaping depths
of Debra’s skull.

Cooper opened the far end of the dura mater and commented on his
progress.

We have here the anterior ridge of the sphenoid sinus, note this as our
point of access to the chiasma David was aware of the changed tone of
the surgeon’s voice, the charging of tension as the disembodied hands
moved slowly and expertly towards their goal.

Now this is interesting, can we see this on the screen, please? Yes!
There is very clearly a bone deformation here, The voice was pleased,
and the two students beside David exclaimed and leaned closer. David
could see soft wet tissue and hard bright surfaces deep in the bottom of
the wound, and the necks of steel instruments crowding into it, like
metallic bees into the stamen of a pink and yellow bloom. Cooper
scratched through to the metal of the grenade fragment.

Now here we have the foreign body, can we have a look at those X-ray
plates again, sister The image cut quickly to the X-ray scanner, and
again the students exclaimed. The girl puffed busily on her stinking
Gauloise.

Thank you.

The image cut back to the operating field, and now David saw the dark
speck of the grenade fragment lodged in the white bone.

We will go for this, I think. Do you agree, Dr. Friedman? ‘Yes, I
think you should take it.

Delicately the long slender steel insects worried the dark fragment, and
at last with a grunt of satisfaction it came free of its niche, and
Cooper drew it out carefully.

David heard the metallic ping as it was dropped into a waiting dish.

Good! Good! Cooper gave himself a little encouragement as he plugged
the hole left by the fragment with beeswax to prevent haemorrhage. Now
we will trace out the optic nerves.

They were two white worms, David saw them clearly, converging on their
separate trails to meet and blend at the opening of the bony canal into
which they disappeared.

We have got extraneous bone-growth here, clearly associated with the
foreign body we have just removed.

It seems to have blocked off the canal and to have squeezed or severed
the nerve. Suggestions, Dr. Friedman? I think we should excise that
growth and try and ascertain just what damage we have to the nerve in
that area. Good. Yes, I agree. Sister, I will use a fine bonenibbler
to get in there.

The swift selection and handling of the bright steel instruments again,
and then Cooper was working on the white bone growth which grew in the
shape of coral from a tropical sea. He nibbled at it with the keen
steel, and carefully removed each piece from the field as it came away.

What we have here is a bone splinter that was driven by the steel
fragment into the canal. It is a large piece, and it must have been
under considerable pressure, and it has consolidated itself here He
worked on carefully, and gradually the white worm of the nerve appeared
from beneath the growth.

Now, this is interesting. Cooper’s tone altered. Yes, look at this.
Can we get a better view here, please? The camera zoomed in a little
closer, and the focus realigned. The nerve has been forced upwards, and
flattened by pressure. The constriction is quite obvious, it has been
pinched off, but it seems to be intact. Cooper lifted another large
piece of bone aside, and now the nerve lay exposed over its full length.

This is really remarkable. I expect that it is a one in a thousand
chance, or one in a million. There appears to be no damage to the
actual nerve, and yet the steel fragment passed so close to it that it
must have touched it Delicately, Cooper lifted the nerve with the blunt
tip of a probe.

Completely intact, but flattened by pressure. Yet I don’t suspect any
degree of atrophy, Dr. Friedman? I think we can confidently expect good
recovery of function. Despite the masked features, the triumphant
attitude of the two men was easily recognized, and watching them, David
felt his own emotions at war.

With a weight upon his spirits he watched Cooper close up, replacing the
portion of Debra’s skull that he had removed, and once the flap of scalp
was stitched back into place there was little external evidence of the
extent and depth of their penetration. The image on the screen changed
to another theatre where a small girl was to receive surgery for a
massive hernia, and the fickle interest of the watching students changed
with it.

David stood up and left the room. He rode up in the elevator and waited
in the visitors room on Debra’s floor until the elevator doors opened
again and two white uniformed male nurses trundled Debra’s stretcher
down the corridor to her room. She was dead] pale, y with dark
bruised-looking eyes and lips, her head swathed in a turban of white
bandages. There was a dull brown smear of blood on the sheets that
covered her and a whiff of anaesthetic hung in the corridor after she
was gone.

Ruby Friedman came then, changed from the theatre garb into an expensive
light-weight grey mohair suit and a twenty-guinea Dior silk tie. He
looked tanned and healthy, and mightily delighted with his achievement.

You watched? ‘he demanded, and when David nodded he went on
exuberantly, It was extraordinary. He chuckled, and rubbed his hands
together with glee.

My God, something like this makes you feel good.

Makes you feel that if you never do another thing in your life, it was
still worthwhile. He was unable to restrain himself any longer and he
threw a playful punch at David’s shoulder. Extraordinary, he repeated,
drawing it out into two words with relish, rolling the word around his
tongue.

When will you know? David asked quietly. I know already, I’ll stake my
reputation on it! ‘She will be able to see as soon as she comes around
from the anaesthetic? David asked.

Good Lord, no! Ruby chuckled. That nerve has been pinched off for
years, it’s going to take time to recover. ‘How long?

It’s like a leg that has gone to sleep when you sit wrongly. When the
blood flows back in, it’s still numb and tingling until the circulation
is restored How long? ‘David repeated.

Immediately she wakes, that nerve is going to start going crazy, sending
all sorts of wild messages to the brain. She’s going to see colours and
shapes as though she is on a drug hinge, and it’s going to take time to
settle down, two weeks to a month, I would guess then it will clear, the
nerve will have recovered its full and normal function and she will
begin having real effective vision.

Two weeks, David said, and he felt the relief of a condemned man hearing
of his reprieve.

You will tell her the good news, of course. Ruby gave another buoyant
chuckle, shaped up to punch David again and then controlled himself.
What a wonderful gift you have been able to give her. No, David
answered him. I won’t tell her yet, I will find the right time later.
You will have to explain the initial vision she will experience, the
colour and shape hallucinations, they will alarm her. We will just tell
her that it’s the normal after-effect of the operation. Let her adjust
to that before telling her.

David, I – Ruby began seriously, but he was cut off by the savage blaze
of blue in the eyes that watched him from the mask of scarred flesh.

I will tell her! The voice shook with such fury, that Ruby took a step
backwards. That was the condition, I will tell her when I judge the
time is ripe.

Out of the darkness a tiny amber light glowed, pale and far off but she
watched it split like a breeding amoeba and become two, and each of
those split and split again until they filled the universe in a great
shimmering field of stars. The light throbbed and pulsed, vibrant and
triumphant, and it changed from amber to brightest purest white like the
sparkle from a paragon diamond, then it turned to the blue of sunlight
on a tropical ocean, to soft forest greens and desert golds, an endless
cavalcade of colours, changing, blending, fading, flaring in splendour
that held her captive.

Then the colours took shape, they spun like mighty Catherine wheels, and
soared and exploded, showered down in rivers of flame that burst again
into fresh cascades of light.

She was appalled by the dimensions of shape and colour that engulfed
her, bewildered by the beauty of it and at last she could bear it no
longer in silence and she cried out.

Instantly there was a hand in hers, a strong hard familiar hand, and his
voice, dearly beloved, reassuring and firm.

David, she cried with relief.

Quietly, my darling. You must rest.

David. David. She heard the sob in her own voice as new torrents of
colour poured over her, insupportable in their richness and variety,
overwhelming in their depth and range.

I’m here, my darling. I’m here. What’s happening to me, David? What’s
happening? ‘You are all right. The operation was a success. You are
just fine.

Colours, she cried. Filling my whole head. I’ve never known it like
this. It’s the result of the operation. It shows that it was a
success. They removed the growth. ‘I’m frightened, David. ‘No, my
darling. There is nothing to be afraid of Hold me, David. Hold me
safe. And in the circle of his arms the fear abated, and slowly she
learned to ride the oceanic waves and washes of colour, came gradually
to accept and then at last to look upon them with wonder and with
intense pleasure.

It’s beautiful, David. I’m not frightened any more, not with you
holding me. It’s wonderful. ‘Tell me what you see, he said. I
couldn’t. It’s impossible. I couldn’t find the words. ‘Try!

he said.

David was alone in the suite, and it was after midnight when the call
that he had placed to New York came through.

This is Robert Dugan, to whom am I speaking? Bobby’s voice was crisp
and businesslike. It’s David Morgan. ‘Who? ‘Debra Mordecai’s husband.
Well, hello there, David. The agent’s voice changed, becoming
expansive. It’s sure nice to talk to you. How is Debra? It was
obvious that Dugan’s interest in David began and ended with his wife.

That’s why I am calling. She’s had an operation and she’s in hospital
at the moment. ‘God! Not serious, is it? She’s going to be fine.
She’ll be up in a few days and ready for work in a couple of weeks.
‘Glad to hear it, David. That’s great. Loo ere, I want you to go ahead
and set up that script-writing contract for A Place of Our Own. ‘She’s
going to do it?

Dugan’s pleasure carried six thousand miles with no diminution. She’ll
do it now. ‘That’s wonderful news, David. ‘Write her a good contract.

Depend on it, boyo. That little girl of yours is a hot property.
Playing hard to get hasn’t done her any harm, I tell you! How long will
the script job last? They’ll want her for six months, Dugan guessed.
The producer who will do it is making a movie in Rome right now. He’ll
probably want Debra to work with him there. Good, said David. She’ll
like Rome. You coming with her, David? No, David answered carefully.
No, she’ll be coming on her own. Will she be able to get by on her own?
Dugan sounded worried.

From now on she’ll be able to do everything on her own Hope you are
right, Dugan was dubious.

I’m right. David told him abruptly. One other thing.

That lecture tour, is it still on? They are beating the door down.

Like I said, she’s hotter than a pistol. ‘Set it up for after the
script job. Hey, David boy. This is the business. Now we are really
cooking with gas. We are going to make your little girl into one very
big piece of property. Do that, said David. Make her big. Keep her
busy, you hear. Don’t give her time to think. I’ll keep her busy. Then
as though he had detected something in David’s voice. Is something
bugging you, David? You got some little domestic problem going there,
boy? You want to talk about it?

No, I don’t want to talk about it. You just look after her. Look after
her well.

I’ll look after her, Dugan’s tone had sobered. And David What is it?
I’m sorry. Whatever it is, I’m sorry. That’s okay. ‘David had to end
the conversation then, immediately. His hand was shaking so that he
knocked the telephone from the table and the plastic cracked through. He
left it lying and went out into the night.

He walked alone through the sleeping city, until just before the morning
he was weary enough to sleep.

The streams of colour settled to steady runs and calmly moving patterns,
no longer the explosive bursts of brightness that had so alarmed her.
After the grey shifting banks of blindness that had filled her head like
dirty cotton wool for those long years, the new brightness and beauty
served to buoy her spirits, and after the main discomfort of her head
surgery had passed in the first few days, she was filled with a wondrous
sense of wellbeing, a formless optimistic expectation, such as she had
not experienced since she was a child anticipating the approach of a
long-awaited holiday.

It was as though in some deep recess of her subconscious she was vaguely
aware of the imminent return of her sight. However, the knowledge
seemed not to have reached her conscious mind. She knew there was a
change, she welcomed her release from the dark and sombre dungeons of
nothingness into the new brightness, but she did not realize that there
was more to come, that after colour and fantasy would follow shape and
reality.

Each day David waited for her to say something that might show that she
had realized that her sight was on the way back, he hoped for and at the
same time dreaded this awareness, but it did not come.

He spent as much of each day with her as hospital routine would allow,
and he hoarded each minute of it, doling out time like a miser paying
coins from a diminishing hoard. Yet Debra’s ebullient mood was
infectious, and he could not help but laugh with her and share the warm
excitement as she anticipated her release from the hospital and their
return together to the sanctuary of Jabulani.

There were no doubts in her mind, no shadows across her happiness, and
gradually David began to believe that it would last. That their
happiness was immortal and that their love could survive any pressure
placed upon it. It was so strong and fine when they were together now,
carried along by Debra’s bubbling enthusiasm, that surely she could
regain her sight and weather the first shock of seeing him.

Yet he was not sure enough to tell her yet, there was plenty of time.
Two weeks, Ruby Friedman had told him, two weeks before she would be
able to see him and it was vitally important to David that he should
extract every grain of happiness that was left to him in that time.

In the lonely nights he lay with the frantic scurryings of his brain
keeping him from sleep. He remembered that the plastic surgeon had told
him there was more they could do to make him less hideous. He could’go
back and submit to the knife once more, although his body cringed at the
thought. Perhaps they could give Debra something less horrifying to
look at.

The following day he braved the massed stares of hundreds of shoppers to
visit Stuttafords Departmental Store in Adderley Street. The girl in
the wig department, once she had recovered her poise, took him into a
curtainedoff cubicle and entered into the spirit of finding a Wig to
cover the domed cicatrice of his scalp.

David regarded the fine curly head of hair over the frozen ruins of his
face, and for the first time ever he found himself laughing at it,
although the effect of laughter was even more horrifying as the tight
lipless mouth writhed like an animal in a trap.

God! he laughed. Frankenstein in drag! ‘and for the sales girl who
had been fighting to control her emotions this was too much. She broke
into hysterical giggles of embarrassment.

He wanted to tell Debra about it, making a joke of it and at the same
time prepare her for her first sight Of his face, but somehow he could
not find the words.

Another day passed with nothing accomplished, except a few last hours of
warmth and happiness shared.

The following day Debra began to show the first signs of restlessness.
When are they going to let me out, darling? I feel absolutely
wonderful. It’s ridiculous to lie in bed here. I want to get back to
labulani, there is so much to do. Then she giggled. And they’ve had me
locked up here ten days now. I’m not used to convent Ille, and to be
completely honest with you, my big lusty lover, I am climbing the wall
We could lock the door, David suggested.

God, I married a genius, Debra cried out delightedly, and then later.
That’s the first time it ever happened for me in Technicolor. I think I
could get hooked on that That evening Ruby Friedman and the Brig were
waiting for him when he returned to his suite, and they came swiftly to
the reason for their visit.

You have already left it too long. Debra should have been told days
ago, the Brig told him sternly.

He is right, David. You are being unfair to her. She must have time to
come to terms, latitude for adjustment.

I’ll tell her when I get the opportunity, David muttered doggedly.

When will that be? the Brig demanded, the gold tooth glowing angrily in
its hirry nest.

Soon.

David, Ruby was placatory, it could happen at any time now. She has
made strong and vigorous progress, it could happen much sooner than I
expected. I’ll do it, said David.

Can’t you stop pushing me? I said I’ll do it, and I will. just get off
my back, won’t you.

Right. The Brig was brisk now. You’ve got until noon tomorrow. If you
haven’t told her by then, I’m going to do it.

You’re a hard old bastard, aren’t you. David said bitterly, and anger
paled the Brig’s lips and they could see the effort he made to force it
down.

I understand your reluctance, he spoke carefully. I sympathize.
However, my first and only concern is for Debra. You are indulging
yourself, David. You are wallowing in self-pity, but I am not going to
allow that to hurt her more. She has had enough. No more delay. Tell
her, and have done.

Yes, David nodded, all the fight gone out of him. I will tell her.
When? the Brig persisted.

Tomorrow, said David. I will tell her tomorrow morning.

It was a bright warm morning, and the garden below his room was gay with
colour. David lingered over breakfast in his suite, and he read all of
the morning papers from end to end, drawing out the moment to its
utmost. He dressed with care afterwards, in a dark suit and a soft
lilac shirt, then, when he was ready to leave, he surveyed his image in
the full-length mirror of the dressing-room.

It’s been a long time, and I’m still not at ease with you, he told the
figure in the mirror. Let’s pray that somebody loves you more than I
do.

The doorman had a cab ready for him under the portico, and he settled in
the back seat with the leaden feeling in his stomach. The drive seemed
much shorter this morning, and when he paid off the cab and climbed the
steps to the main entrance of Groote Schuur, he glanced at his
wrist-watch. It was a few minutes after eleven o’clock. He was hardly
aware of the curious glances as he crossed the lobby to the elevators.

The Brig was waiting for him in the visitors room on Debra’s floor. He
came out into the corridor, tall and grim, and unfamiliar in his
civilian clothes.

What are you doing here? David demanded, it was the ultimate intrusion
and he resented it fiercely. I thought I might be of help.

Good on you! said David sardonically, making no effort to hide his
anger.

The Brig let the anger slide past him, not acknowledging it with either
word or expression as he asked mildly, Would you like me to be with you?

No. David turned away from him as he spoke. I can manage, thank you,
and he set off along the corridor.

David! the Brig called softly, and David hesitated and then turned
back.

What is it? he asked.

For a long moment they stared at each other, then abruptly the Brig
shook his head. No, he said. It’s nothin&’and watched the tall young
man with the monstrous head turn and walk swiftly towards Debra’s room.

His footsteps echoed hollowly along the empty corridor, like the tread
of a man upon the gallows steps.

The morning was warm with a light breeze off the sea. Debra sat in her
chair by the open window, and the warm air wafted the scent of the pine
forests to her.

Resinous and clean-smelling, it mingled with the faint whiff of the sea
and the kelp beds. She felt quiet and deeply contented, even though
David was late this morning. She had spoken to Ruby Friedman when he
made his rounds earlier, and he had teased her and hinted that she would
be able to leave in a week or so, and the knowledge rounded out her
happiness.

The warmth of the morning was drowsy, and she closed her eyes subduing
the strong rich flow of colour into a lulling cocoon of soft shades
which enfolded her, and she lay on the downy edges of sleep.

David found her like that, sitting in the deep chair with her legs
curled sideways under her and her face side-lit by the reflected
sunlight from the window. The turban of white bandages that swathed her
head were crisp and fresh and her gown was white as a bride’s, with
cascades of filmy lace.

He stood before her chair studying her with care, her face was pale, but
the dark bruises below her eyes had cleared and the set of her full lips
was serene and peaceful, With infinite tenderness he leaned forward and
laid his open hand against her cheek. She stiffed drowsily, and opened
eyes that were honey brown and flecked with bright flakes of gold. They
were beautiful, and vague, misty and sightless, then suddenly he saw
them change, the look of them was sharp and aware. Her gaze focused,
and steadied. She was looking at him, and seeing him.

Debra was roused from the warm edge of sleep by the touch upon her
cheek, as light as the fall of an autumn leaf. She opened her eyes to
soft golden clouds, then suddenly like the morning wind slashing away
the sea mist, the clouds rolled open and she looked beyond to the
monster’s head that swam towards her, a colossal disembodied head that
seemed must arise from the halls of hell itself, a head so riven with
livid lines and set with the bestial, crudely worked features of one of
the dark hosts, that she flung herself back in her chair, cringing away
from the terror of it, and she lifted her hands to her face and she
screamed.

David turned and ran from the room, slamming the door behind him, his
feet pounded down the passage and the Brig heard him coming and stepped
into the corridor.

David! He reached out a hand to him, to hold him back, but David struck
out at him wildly, a blow that caught him in the chest throwing him back
heavily against the wall. When he regained his balance, and staggered
from the wall clutching his chest, David was gone. His frantic
footsteps clattered up from the well of the stairs.

David! he called, his voice croaking. Wait! But he was gone, his
footsteps fading, and the Brig let him go.

instead he turned and hurried painfully down the corridor to where the
hysterical sobs of his daughter rang from behind the closed door.

She looked up from her cupped hands when she heard the door open, and
wonder dawned through the terror in her eyes. I can see you, she
whispered, I can see. He went to her quickly and took her in the
protective circle of his arms.

It’s all right, he told her awkwardly, it’s going to be all right. She
clung to him, stifling the last of her sobs.

I had a dream, she murmured, a terrible dream, and she shuddered against
him. Then suddenly she pulled away.

David, she cried, where is David? I must see him. The Brig stiffened,
realizing that she had not recognized reality.

I must see him, she repeated, and he replied heavily, You have already
seen him, my child. For many seconds she did not understand, and then
slowly it came to her.

David? she whispered, her voice catching and breaking. That was David?
The Brig nodded, watching her face for the revulsion and the horror.

oh dear God, Debra’s voice was fierce. What have I done? I screamed
when I saw him. What have I done to him? I’ve driven him away. So you
still want to see him again? the Brig asked.

How can you say that? Debra blazed at him. More than anything on this
earth. You must know that!

even the way he is now?

If you think that would make any difference to me then you don’t know me
very well. Her expression changed again, becoming concerned. Find him
for me, she ordered. Quickly, before he has a chance to do something
stupid.

I don’t know where he has gone, the Brig answered, his own concern
aroused by the possibility which Debra had hinted at.

There is only one place he would go when he is hurt like this, Debra
told him. He will be in the sky. ‘Yes, the Brig agreed readily.

Get down to Air Traffic Control, they’ll let you speak to him. The Brig
turned for the door and Debra’s voice urged him on.

Find him for me, Daddy. Please find him for me.

The Navajo seemed to come around on to a southerly heading under its own
volition. It was only when the sleek, rounded nose settled on course,
climbing steadily upwards towards the incredibly tall and unsullied blue
of the heavens that David knew where he was going.

Behind him, the solid flat-topped mountain with its glistening wreaths
of clouds fell away. This was the last of the land, and ahead lay only
the great barren wastes of ice and cruel water.

David glanced at his fuel gauges. His vision was sully blurred, but he
saw the needles registering a little over the half-way mark on the
dials.

Three hours flying perhaps, and David felt a chill relief that there was
to be a term to his suffering. He saw clearly then how it would end
down there in the wilderness below the shipping lanes. He would
continue to bore for height, climbing steadily until at last his engines
starved and failed. Then he would push the nose down into a vertical
dive and go in hard and fast, like the final suicide stoop of a maimed
and moribund eagle.

It would be over swiftly, and the metal fuselage would carry him down to
a grave that could not be as lonely as the desolation in which he now
existed.

The radio crackled and hummed into life. He heard Air Traffic snarl his
call sign through the static crackle, and he reached for the switch to
kill the set, when the well-remembered voice stayed his hand.

David, this is the Brig. The words and the tone in which they were
spoken transported him back to another cockpit in another land.

You disobeyed me once before. Don’t do it again. David’s mouth
tightened into a thin colourless line and again he reached for the
switch. He knew they were watching him on the radar plot, that they
knew his course, and that the Brig had guessed what he intended.

Well, there was nothing they could do about it.

David, the Brig’s voice softened, and some sure instinct made him choose
the only words to which David would listen. I have just spoken to
Debra. She wants you desperately. David’s hand hovered over the
switch.

Listen to me, David. She needs you, she will always need you. David
blinked, for he felt tears scalding his eyes once more. His
determination wavered. Come back, David. For her sake, come back. out
of the darkness of his soul, a light shone, a small light which grew and
spread until it seemed to fill him with its shimmering brightness.

David, this is the Brig. Again it was the voice of the old warrior,
hard and uncompromising. Return to base immediately. David grinned,
and lifted the microphone to his mouth. He thumbed the transmit button,
and spoke the old acknowledgement in Hebrew.

Beseder! This is Bright Lance leader, homeward bound, and he brought
the Navajo around steeply.

The mountain was blue and low on the horizon, and he let the nose sink
gradually towards it. He knew that it would not be easy, that it would
require all his courage and patience, but he knew that in the end it
would be worth it all. Suddenly he needed desperately to be alone with
Debra, in the peace of Jabulani.

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