Broadman & Holman
Friday, April 7
2:46 a.m. local time
Kareh Bottstein groaned softly and turned to her side. Her fingers pushed against her tight abdomen, and a baby’s foot, or perhaps an elbow, shoved back. Despite the middle-of-the-night hour, nature was calling . . . again. With only three weeks left in her pregnancy, regular visits to the bathroom were the norm. She kicked the fluffy ivory-colored duvet off her bare legs and pushed her bulging torso to an upright position. Glancing at the ruby red numerals of her clock radio, she yawned and ran her fingers through brown hair that fell in thatches across her face. Then she waddled her way toward the apartment’s single bathroom.
As she stepped inside the WC and flipped on a light, Kareh realized she wasn’t the only one awake. Sounds of an ancient city journeyed through the open window. Traffic echoed off the cobblestone streets of old Jerusalem, and in the distance, a police siren reverberated somewhere within the Walled City.
She had just flushed the toilet when the sound of a muted voice halted her. After standing frozen for a moment, ears perked to the slightest sound, she relaxed. Must be Alev mumbling in the next room. For someone so skilled at keeping government secrets, he sure did talk in his sleep a lot.
She trundled back to bed. Gathering the warm duvet over her body, she leaned over and kissed her husband’s cheek, then lay on her side, her hand resting on his muscled chest. As she closed her eyes, images of tonight’s Passover meal replayed in her mind.
“Come, lay down,” Aunt Sora had urged, whipping off her wedding ring and searching for a string. “I’ll tell you the sex of your babushka.”
Soon every woman in the room was settling her down on the couch.
“Relax,” Aunt Sora ordered. “It’s painless. All I have to do is dangle my wedding ring above your navel. If the ring spins clockwise, then you’ll have—”
“I don’t believe in those old wives’ tales,” Kareh protested. “Besides, I don’t think Benjamin cares if he has a brother or sister. That’s why I told the doctor doing the ultrasounds not to tell me. I don’t want to know.”
“I do! I do!” Benjamin, their three-year-old son, jumped up on the couch next to his mother.
Aunt Sora giggled to the other ladies. “So, we won’t tell you. We’ll just tell the father. Anyone working for the Zahal can keep his mouth shut.”
Alev sampled from a dish of olives with an amused grin. “I don’t think I’d be very good at keeping that information a state secret,” he said.
Kareh smiled at the memory, but more noises from the hall rose above the rhythmic breathing of her sleeping husband and disrupted her thoughts.
How can men sleep so soundly? Kareh shut her eyes and allowed her fatigue to wash over her. Then, another thump.
Perhaps it was Tirov. The Army officer next door did keep odd hours. Maybe Tirov had invited colleagues from the night shift to celebrate a late Passover with a glass of wine.
No, there was more to it than that. Kareh sat up. She heard grunting, along with a heavy object being dragged down the hall.
“Alev.” She shook her husband’s shoulder. “Someone’s making a terrible racket.”
“Probably Tirov,” he moaned. “It’s nothing.”
“You’re not getting up?”
Tirov never makes such noise. She slipped out of bed and wrapped on a bathrobe, the belt barely fitting around her bulging abdomen. Hurrying into the living room, she turned the corner and flipped on a light. A scream caught in her throat at what she saw.
Two men, dressed in black and wearing hoods with eye slits, stood in her living room, fanning their hand-held machine guns from side to side. The shorter of the two raised a thick finger to his mouth.
Kareh gripped her stomach, then eyed the other weapons attached to their black leather belts. Her eyes darted around the room. Should I run? Wake Alev? Through the open front door she saw two more black-hooded men lugging a footlocker down the hallway.
“Who are you?” she asked in Hebrew. “What do you want?”
When they failed to respond, Kareh asked the same questions in English. The steely glance between the men told her they understood.
“Not to know for you,” the tall lean intruder on the left said in an accent that showed Kareh, a part-time English teacher, that these men spoke Farsi or Arabic.
Alev’s voice carried from their bedroom. “Bubbeleh, come back to bed.”
The stout man skulked toward Kareh, his cold eyes piercing hers. Again he touched his swarthy index finger to her lips. A sick shiver shimmied down Kareh’s spine.
“Kareh?” Alev’s voice was louder this time.
“Attackers!” she cried out in Hebrew. “Alev, hel—”
Her assailant wrapped his beefy arm around her throat and squeezed. She clawed his arm, fighting to breathe.
Kareh’s fingers dug deeper into the man’s arm. She thrashed and wrestled with all her might, but she was no physical match. A gloved hand squeezed her mouth. Kareh bit as hard as she could, gnawing a fat finger. The intruder reared back and slammed her to the ground. She rolled, hugging her stomach to protect the life of her unborn child.
Alev stumbled through the doorway.
“No!” she managed to choke out.
A silenced burst from a compact submachine gun raked her husband’s chest, pinning him against a wall. Alev struggled for several seconds to remain upright, then slid to the floor, leaving a trail of crimson blood.
Kareh scrambled on her hands and knees, lunging toward her husband. The tall one stepped in her path, his sidearm targeting her midsection. “Always have I wanted to kill a pregnant Jew.”
“No, not my baby!” Kareh darted past the man’s legs, but stopped when she felt cold metal pressed against her forehead. She slumped against the back of the couch as horrified sobs shook her body. Slowly he redirected the tip of the barrel toward her expansive belly.
“No, no, no. . . .” she pleaded. “Don’t shoot my baby! Not my baby!”
Screams and panicked outbursts from throughout the apartment building interrupted Kareh’s plea, yet the intruder’s soulless eyes remained locked on her.
“One way you save yourself,” the hooded man said as he bent down. He spoke The Question into her ear.
Her eyes widened. “I can’t! I could never do that!”
“Then by the forces of Islam, you and your child will die.”
“No!” Kareh lunged at the intruder. He tripped, hitting his head hard against the corner of the wall. Kareh trampled over his body toward the door, but he grabbed one leg and wrestled her back to the ground. She tumbled to the hardwood floor and felt a pistol tip plunge into her abdomen.
She jerked her torso in one last valiant attempt to escape, but the force of the bullet tore into her flesh. She screamed—not for herself, but for the unborn child she would protect to her death.
“Search the rest of the apartment,” the triggerman and commando leader barked. “You know our orders: unless they convert, everyone dies.”
Several minutes later, two comrades dragged an unconscious man—dressed in black from head to toe—into the Bottstein apartment. At the same moment, another intruder emerged from the master bedroom.
“Did you find the gun?” the commando leader inquired.
“In his nightstand, as you predicted.”
“Lot of good it did him. The stupid infidel. Allah deals with him now.”
The commando leader directed his comrades as they hauled the drugged man into the hallway and slumped him on top of Alev’s bullet-ridden body. A gloved hand passed him an Israeli army pistol, which he placed into Alev’s clammy right hand and carefully wrapped the thumb and forefinger around the firing mechanism. The leader then lifted Alev’s dead hand up and brought the handgun to the back of the unconscious man’s head, quickly squeezing the trigger. Blood gushed from the head wound.
As they turned to leave, one of the attackers could not resist a final indignity—a swift kick to the man’s groin. The intruders regrouped and exited the front door where the commando leader opened the footlocker, revealing a screwdriver, two gallons of paint, and four paintbrushes.
“Here, take this,” he said, lifting a paint can and screwdriver out of the box. With two or three quick motions, he popped off the lid. The paint was a deep, crimson red—the same color as the blood that now stained the Jews’ apartments. “Watch this.”
Elated satisfaction filled his chest as he brusquely dipped the brush into the can past the bristles, then jerked it out, allowing gobs of paint to drip onto the hallway rug. The commando leader swathed the doorjamb in red paint as the others gawked.
“What are you waiting for?” he yelled to a pair. “Paint!”
The two men’s Mac-10s clattered to the ground as they grabbed paintbrushes. They swashed the Bottsteins’ doorjamb, the smell of paint mingling with the acrid odor of gunpowder. The commando leader smirked as they slathered blood-paint over the mezuzah scroll blessing the doorpost.
Within minutes they’d painted the doorjambs of the other three units on that floor, mirroring the actions of fedayeen elsewhere in the building.
“The Angel of Death has surely visited our enemy.” The leader’s voice exuded satisfaction. “I can assure you that this is only the beginning.”
The commando leader spoke rapidly into a radio securely fastened to his sleeve. “Go now,” he called to his men, assured his instructions had been followed according to plan. As the men scrambled down the stairs to the getaway vehicle, he hung behind. One final job awaited him—the front entrance. Working quickly to avoid being seen, he sloppily swabbed the jamb outlining the glass doors in bright red paint. “Dirty Jews. Rest you will not find.”
When he had finished his final painting chore, the commando leader vaulted into the passenger seat of the van. “Allahu Akbar—God has granted us victory over our enemies!” he called to his comrades. Yes, he thought, everything as planned. All that remained was to exit the country, but he expected no problems there.