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Authors: Dan Simmons

Carrion Comfort (117 page)

BOOK: Carrion Comfort
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Caesarea, Israel Sunday,
Dec. 13, 1981

atalie drove her Fiat north along the Haifa Road, stopping frequently, savoring the view and the winter sunlight. She was not sure when she would pass this way again.

She was delayed by heavy military traffic on the stretch of coast road before she reached the turnoff for Kibbutz Ma’agan Mikkael, but was alone by the time she eased the Fiat uphill through the scattered stands of carob trees below the Eshkol estate.

As always, Saul was waiting by the big rock near the lower gate and came down to let her in. Natalie jumped out of the car to give him a hug and then stepped back to look at him. “You look great,” she said. It was almost true. He looked better. He had never regained the weight he had lost and his left hand and wrist were ban daged from the most recent operation, but his beard had grown in as full and white as a patriarch’s, a deep tan had taken the place of the pallor that had held on for so long, and his fringe of hair had grown long enough to curl almost to his shoulders. Saul smiled and adjusted his horn-rimmed glasses, just as Natalie knew he would. Just as he always did when he was embarrassed.

“You look great, too,” he said, latching the gate and waving to the young Sabra who stood watching from his post along the fence. “Let’s go up to the house. Dinner’s almost ready.”

As they drove to the main house, Natalie glanced at his ban daged hand. “How is it?” she asked.

“What? Oh, fine,” said Saul, adjusting his glasses and looking at the ban dages as if seeing them for the first time. “It would seem that a thumb is indispensable, but when it’s gone you realize how easy it is to do without it.” He smiled at her. “As long as nothing happens to the other one.”

“Strange,” said Natalie. “What?”

“Two gunshot wounds, pneumonia, a concussion, three broken ribs, and enough cuts and bruises to keep a football team happy for a full season.”

“Jews are hard to kill.”

“No, I don’t mean that,” said Natalie, pulling the Fiat into the carport. “I mean all that serious stuff and it’s that woman’s bite that almost killed you— at least almost made you lose your arm.”

“Human bites are notorious for becoming infected,” said Saul, holding the rear door open for her.

“Miss Sewell wasn’t human,” said Natalie. “No,” said Saul, adjusting his glasses. “I suppose by that time, she wasn’t.”

Saul had prepared a delicious meal complete with mutton and fresh-baked bread. They chatted of inconsequential things during dinner— Saul’s courses at the university in Haifa, Natalie’s most recent photography assignment for the
Jerusalem Post
, the weather. After his cheese and fruit dessert, Natalie wanted to visit the aqueduct and take their coffee with them so Saul filled the steel Thermos while she went to her room and got a thick sweater from her suitcase. December evenings along the coast could be quite cool.

They walked slowly downhill past the orange groves, commenting on the mellow light and trying to ignore the two young Sabra men who followed them at a respectful distance, Uzis slung over their shoulders.

“I’m sorry about David’s death,” said Natalie just as they reached the sand dunes. The Mediterranean was turning to copper ahead of them.

Saul shrugged. “He lived a full life. The second stroke was mercifully quick.”

“I’m sorry I missed the funeral,” said Natalie. “I tried all day to get out of Athens, but the flights were all messed up.”

“You didn’t miss it,” said Saul. “I thought of you often.” He waved at the bodyguards, telling them to stay where they were, and led the way out onto the aqueduct. The horizontal light turned their shadows into giants atop the crenelated dunes.

They paused halfway across the long span and Natalie hugged her elbows. The wind was cold. Three stars and a fingernail moon were visible in the east.

“You’re still leaving tomorrow?” asked Saul. “Going back?”

“Yes,” said Natalie. “Eleven-thirty out of Ben-Gurion.”

“I’ll drive you,” said Saul. “Drop the car off at Sheila’s and let her or one of the kids drive me back.”

“I’d like that.” Natalie smiled.

Saul poured their coffee and handed her a plastic cup. Steam rose in the cold air. “Are you afraid?” he said.

“Of just going back to the States or of there being more of them?” she asked, sipping the hot, rich Turkish mixture.

“Just of going back,” said Saul. “Yes,” said Natalie.

Saul nodded. A few cars moved along the coast road, their headlights lost in the glow of the sunset. Miles to the north, the battlements of the Crusader City glowed red. Mount Carmel was just visible, wrapped in a violet haze so rich that Natalie would not have believed the color was real if she had seen it in a photograph.

“I mean, I don’t know,” continued Natalie. “I’ll try it for a while. I mean, America was scary even before . . . everything. But it’s my home. You know what I mean.”


“Do you ever think about going home? To the States, I mean?”

Saul nodded and sat on a large stone. There was frost in the crevices where the day’s sun had not touched. “All the time,” he said. “But there’s so much to do here.”

“I still don’t believe how fast the Mossad . . .
everything,” said Natalie.

Saul smiled. “We have a long and noble history of paranoia,” he said. “I think we fed their prejudices well.” He sipped his coffee and poured more for each of them. “Besides, they had a lot of intelligence data they didn’t know what to do with. Now they have a framework for the facts . . . a weird framework, to be sure, but better than nothing.”

Natalie gestured across the darkening sea to the north. “Do you think they’ll find . . . whoever?”

“The Oberst’s mystery connections?” said Saul. “Perhaps. My hunch is that it would be people they already are dealing with.”

Natalie’s eyes clouded over. “I still think about the one . . . in the house . . . the one who was missing.”

“Howard,” said Saul. “The redheaded man. Justin’s father.”

“Yes.” Natalie shivered as the sun touched the horizon and the wind came up.

“Catfish had radioed both of you that he ‘put Howard to sleep,’ ” said Saul. “Assuming that was who followed you. When Melanie sent someone— probably the giant— out to murder Catfish, he almost certainly retrieved Howard as well. Perhaps he was still unconscious when the house burned. Maybe
was the one who was waiting for you in the back room.”

“Maybe,” said Natalie, wrapping her hands around the cup for warmth. “Or I suppose Melanie could’ve buried him there somewhere, thinking he was dead. That would explain why the number of bodies reported in the paper didn’t come out right.” She looked at the other stars emerging. “You know what today’s an anniversary of? One year since . . .”

“Since your father’s death,” he said, helping her to her feet. They walked back along the aqueduct in the brief twilight. “Didn’t you say you received a letter from Jackson?”

Natalie brightened. “A long one. He’s back in Germantown. Actually, he’s the new director of Community House, but he got rid of that old house, told Soul Brickyard to find another clubhouse— I guess he could do that since he’s still sort of a member— and opened up a bunch of real community ser vice storefronts along Germantown Avenue. He’s got a free clinic going and everything.”

“Did he mention how Marvin is doing?” asked Saul.

“Yes. Jackson’s more or less adopted him, I think. He wrote that Marvin’s showing signs of progress. He’s about to the level of a four-year-old now . . . a bright four-year-old, Jackson says.”

“Do you think you’ll visit him?”

Natalie adjusted her sweater. “Maybe. Probably. Yes.”

They stepped carefully off the crumbling shoulder of the ancient span and looked back the way they had come. Devoid of color, the heaped dunes could have been a frozen sea lapping at the Roman ruins.

“Will you be doing any photo assignments before you go back to graduate school?”

“Uh-huh. The
Jersulem Post
has asked me to do that thing on the decline of the big American synagogues and I thought I’d start in Philadelphia.”

Saul waved at the two who waited in the lee of two pillars. One had lit a cigarette that glowed like a red eye in the sudden gloom. “The photo essay you did on the labor-class Arabs in Tel Aviv was excellent,” he said. “Well,” said Natalie, a small trace of defiance in her voice, “let’s face it. They’re treated like Israel’s niggers.”

“Yes,” agreed Saul.

The two of them stood on the road at the base of the hill for several minutes, not speaking, cold, but reluctant to go up to the well-lighted house and warmth and easy conversation and sleep. Suddenly Natalie moved into the circle of Saul’s arms, burying her face in his jacket, feeling his beard against her hair.

“Oh, Saul,” she sobbed.

He patted her clumsily with his ban daged hand, quite content to let that moment be frozen in time for eternity, accepting even the sadness in it as a source of joy. Behind them, he heard the wind move the sand gently in its ceaseless effort to cover all things that man had made or hoped to make.

Natalie moved back a bit, dug a Kleenex out of the pocket of her sweater, and blew her nose. “Damn it,” she said. “I’m sorry, Saul. I guess I came to say shalom and I’m just not ready to.”

Saul adjusted his glasses. “Remember,” he said, “shalom does not mean good-bye. Nor hello. It just means—

“Shalom,” said Natalie, moving back into the circle of his arms against the chill of the night wind.

“Shalom and
,” said Saul, touching his cheek to her hair and watching the sand curl and scatter across the narrow road. “To life.”


October 21, 1988

ime has passed. I am very happy here. I live in southern France now, between Cannes and Toulon, but not, I am happy to say, too near St. Tropez.

I have recovered almost completely from my illness and can get around without a walker now, but I rarely go out. Henri and Claude do my shopping in the village. Occasionally I let them take me to my pensione in Italy, south of Pescara, on the Adriatic, or even as far as the rented cottage in Scotland, to watch
, but even these trips have become less and less frequent.

There is an abandoned abbey in the hills behind my home and it is close enough that I sometimes go there to sit and think among the stones and wildflowers. I think about isolation and abstinence and how each is so cruelly dependent upon the other.

I feel my age these days. I tell myself that this is because of my long illness and the touch of rheumatism that assails me on chilly October days such as this, but I find myself dreaming about the familiar streets of Charleston and those last days. They are dreams of hunger.

I had not known when I had sent Culley out in May to abduct Mrs. Hodges exactly what purpose I would put the old woman to. At times it seemed hardly worth the effort keeping her alive in the basement of the Hodges place, much less all the bother of dying her hair to match mine and experimenting with various injections to simulate my illness. But in the end it was worth it. As I waited in the rented ambulance a block from my home during those last minutes before Howard drove me to the airport and our waiting flight, I appreciated how well the Hodges family had served me during the previous year. There was little more I could ask of them. Tying the old woman in the bed had seemed an unnecessary touch given her medicated condition, but now I honestly believe that if she had not been so secured, she would have leaped from the pyre and gone running from the flaming house, thus ruining the careful scene I had sacrificed so much to orchestrate.

My poor house. My dear family. The thought of that day can still bring me to tears.

Howard was useful for those first few days, but once I was settled in the village and sure no one was following, it seemed best that he have an accident far from me. Claude and Henri are from a local family that has also served me well over the decades.

I sit here and I wait for Nina. I know now that she has usurped control of all the lesser races of the world— the Negros and Hebrews and Asians and such— and that fact alone precludes my ever returning to America. Willi had been right as far back as those first months of our acquaintance when we had sat listening politely in a Vienna café while he explained in scientific terms how the United States had become a mongrel nation, a nest of grasping
waiting to overthrow the purer races.

Now Nina controls all of them.

That night on the island, I had stayed in contact with one of the guards long enough to see what Nina’s people had done to my poor Willi. Even Mr. Barent had been in her control. Willi had been right all along.

But I am not content simply to sit here and wait for Nina and her mongrel minions to find me.

Ironically, it was Nina and her Negress who gave me the idea. Those weeks watching Captain Mallory through binoculars and the satisfying conclusion of that little charade. The experience had reminded me of an earlier contact, an almost random encounter, that distant December Saturday— the very day I had first thought Willi had been killed only to have Nina turn on me— during my farewell visit to Fort Sumter.

There had been the sight of the thing first, moving dark and shark-silent through the waters of the Bay, and then the surprising contact with the captain as he stood in the gray tower— they call it a sail, I know now— binoculars strung about his neck.

Six times since then I have tracked him down and shared those instances. They are sweeter than the random mind-matings that were necessary with Mallory. At my cottage near Aberdeen, one can stand alone on the sea cliffs and watch the submarine glide in toward its port. They pride themselves on their keys and codes and fail-safe procedures, but I know now what my captain has known for so long: It would be very, very easy. His nightmares are my manuals.

But if I am to do it, it should be done soon. Neither the captain nor his ship are growing younger. Nor am I. Both of them soon may be too old to function. So may I.

These fears of Nina and plans for such a huge Feeding do not come to me every day. But they come more often now.

On some days I rise to the sound of singing as girls from the village cycle by our place on their way to the dairy. On those days the sun is marvelously warm as it shines on the small white flowers growing between the tumbled stones of the abbey, and I am content simply to be there and to share the sunlight and silence with them.

But on other days— cold dark days such as this when the clouds move in from the north— I remember the silent shape of a submarine moving through the dark waters of the bay, and I wonder whether my self-imposed abstinence has been for nothing. On days like this I wonder if such a gigantic, final Feeding might not make me younger after all. As Willi used to say when proposing some mischievous little prank of his:
What do I have to lose

It is supposed to be warmer tomorrow. I may be happier then. But I am chilled and somewhat melancholy today. I am all alone with no one to play with.

Winter is coming. And I am very, very hungry.

BOOK: Carrion Comfort
2.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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