Summary: In a year of loss for Israel and its secret services, David and Miriam Goldman’s private bodyguard, Carlsburg has become part of their family circle. While the Goldmans are sent on an assignment to the Netherlands, he stays with the Dantels following Phoebe’s trials in Slovenia. Before escorting the returned, injured Goldmans home to New York, he keeps a date in Tel Aviv.
Carlsburg had promised to meet red haired Rahel Litvinov at four o’clock on March 4th at the Dizengoff Center. She wanted him to see the children who gathered annually to parade in their Purim costumes—and the school kids singing and dancing and doing skits of the story of Queen Esther and Jewish freedom. He didn’t much care about the kids and the costumes, but he and the Goldmans were decamping for New York next Tuesday. After he’d helped to get them comfortable, he would look forward to six weeks of doing anything he wanted anywhere he chose. For the first time since he couldn’t quite remember, his intentions toward a woman weren’t simply selfish. He felt slightly foolish and slightly proud at once. If things went well today, he would fly back on his own to meet her family. Then they could take it from there.
He looked at his watch. It was only a little past three-thirty, so he walked around the outside of the large, enclosed mall. The stores facing the street seemed to sell anything you could think of. Rahel said she and her mother and sisters loved the sales. He’d never had a sister. When he stood for the second time at the corner of King George and Dizengoff streets waiting for the light to change, kids and their parents eddied around him—little girls in crowns with dresses sweeping the ground, and boys cockily impersonating kings. A few of the boys faked scowls, and wore Bible-style tunics and three cornered hats. Ah, that would have to do with the hat-wearing bad guy, Haman, and hamantaschen, the special, tri-corn shaped cookies Rahel had promised to bake and bring as part of their first holiday celebration together.
She had warned him of the extra police and army presence at the doors to ensure security. The metal detectors meant that if he went armed, he would have to surrender his knife and gun at the door. He decided to keep his weapons until the last minute, and bring all his documentation to show police, so they would return them to him on the way out. He would have felt naked walking around the city without a knife or a gun. Carlsburg waited for the light to change, and wondered what color hair Queen Esther had had; he thought it might have been like Rahel’s, and smiled to himself. Without warning, the happy chatter around him was overcome by an explosive roar. Hot metal—nails—tore headfirst through his skin and hammered his bones, his brain, his heart. For a few seconds, his cell phone called every number stored in its memory; then his gun went off in his holster. But he may not have known these last things. The roar had enclosed him instantly, for all time.
The blares and wails of emergency vehicles brutishly slammed the windows; then their secure phone rang. For over twenty years these kinds of calls had come to David. This time Miriam intercepted and insisted on taking his place. She told the man on the other end it would be too much for him right now; it was too painful, too—his eye….
“Miriam?” David struggled from a fitful nap, adjusting his patch as he came out the bedroom door.
“That was Shin Bet. A suicide bomb at Dizengoff. They said a woman named Litvinov told them she thinks Carlsburg is among the casualties.” She’d already pulled on a jacket and a scarf. “There was a ring from Carlsburg’s cell awhile ago, but when I picked up, there was no one there.” They left together, holding their heads even higher and their backs even straighter than usual. Miriam tried to will herself as tall as David.
On the other side of the police line, there were fewer weeping, keening people, but it was far from quiet. There was urgent talk among the rescuers, shouted questions, orders by people wearing all sorts of uniforms, and the sickening pleas and under-groans of the wounded, many of them children. Closest to the point of detonation was a jumbled mass of body parts and clothing, soaked in blood and the contents of bladders, bowels and stomachs. Miriam and David had tied their scarves across their noses and mouths as soon as they’d checked in. Their faces were as white as arsenic. At first, they didn’t know where to set their feet.
Fifteen minutes passed before Miriam saw part of a wristwatch she thought she recognized, mangled and clotted with gore, and hanging from a disembodied wrist and hand. Carlsburg’s old silver ring was still on one finger. They kept searching. About twenty feet from the hand, David saw a Yankees cap with its bill rolled precisely as their bodyguard had rolled his. Nearby, Carlsburg’s head—at least they thought it was his head—appeared impaled on two broken spikes of a child-size crown. One ear was gone and there were powder burns, nails and sequins on and in the cheeks and what was left of his eyes. David led Miriam to an emergency van where she was able to lean for support while he spoke to a Shin Bet agent and someone in a disposable Hazmat suit.
“They’ll take care of him,” he said when they’d finished talking and gesturing. “They say the girl who told them about Carlsburg is standing there behind the police line.” He indicated a young woman clutching a cookie tin to her chest.
“Oh, David.” She took his hand.
Rahel’s scarf muffled all but her tear-washed eyes and gratuitously glowing hair. “It might not be him. They’ll have to check the dental records. My cell rang and his number came up, but there was no message. I keep calling back, but there’s no answer. Maybe he was late, and now he’s helping around here somewhere with his phone turned off.”
David and Miriam put their arms around her and she let them hold her up. “It would have been a lifetime of agony if he’d survived,” whispered Miriam. “That’s the point of anti-personnel bombs: the dead are the lucky ones.”
The girl made an involuntary, strangulating sound and slipped to her knees. “I asked him to come today,” she sobbed. “He would never have been near this place if I hadn’t asked him to come to see the children. It’s my fault.”
Miriam crouched beside her: “Your fault? Your fault for loving him? Your fault for wanting to share joy? Oh, Rahel, you didn’t make this world.”