The night Jon Sommers finds out his fiancée Lisa Gabriel has died in a terrorist bomb attack, he is visited by spymaster, Yigdal Ben-Levy, who tells him that Lisa was not a fellow graduate student but a Mossad spy sent to bring him to Israel. Ben-Levy also tells him that the death of his parents was no accident and persuades Sommers to join Mossad to seek justice for Lisa’s killer. But things get more complicated, and Jon finds himself at the center of a dangerous global conspiracy.
Abel and Natasha Sommerstein’s flat,
20 Milner Street Number 14,
Cadogan Square, London
February 21, 6:19 p.m.
Jon Sommers listened, hidden in the walk-in closet of his parents’ bedroom. They were speaking in a language he was just beginning to understand, one of many no one had taught him. At twelve, he could speak seven languages and read five, but the one his parents were speaking now was the hardest.
“If he tells anyone the truth, it could be the death of us all.” His father, Abel Sommerstein faced his mother, his hands on her shoulders. Jon had left the closet door open just a crack, and he peeked out, watching them.
Natasha pulled away and stared at him in silence. She turned away. Looking in the mirror, she adjusted the belt of her black dress. She watched her husband fiddle with his bow tie. “We can show him the rules. Moscow rules.”
Abel shook his head. “He’s too young to follow any rules. Look what he did today at school. Another fight. He already knows how to lie.”
“Everyone lies,” said Natasha, facing her husband. We have to tell him. I’m tired of pretending to be what we aren’t. It’s time to show him our true selves.”
“No.” Abel was emphatic. “Mother has made it clear that we remain undercover. If Crane knew, he’d tumble to the conclusion of who we work for.”
“It’s not fair to Jon.” Natasha had switched to English. Her upper lip quivered.
Abel placed his hands once more on her shoulders. “Does he ever need to know?” The bow tie was a mess. He frowned and pulled it even. “No more talk about this now.” The tie still looked messy. He unknotted it and started over.
Jon shifted his weight in the closet, still unnoticed. His father muttered, “Where’s my damned dinner jacket?” Jon scuttled behind a rack of his father’s suits as his mother opened the closet door, and handed Abel his white jacket.
“Thanks, my sweet.”
Jon resumed his position by the closet door his mother had left ajar. He watched his father unlock the cherrywood desk’s center drawer and tug out a tiny box. “Your gift for Yigdal. We’re to drop it in the Ambassador’s potted orchids. What’s new in the tech?”
His mother closed her eyes. “I’ve improved its range and its speed since we used it on the Syrians.”
“How does the new version work?” He placed the box in the pocket of his dinner jacket and patted it flat.
“Just arm it and place the Reaper within ten meters of any computer. Takes twenty minutes to hack in and transmit a copy of all the computer’s files. But its battery lasts only three days and someone still has to retrieve it before the target discovers that the data have been compromised. I’m working on one that turns to dust when the batteries have discharged.”
“It’s too bad we had to use it on Crane’s computer to find out about the threat. I wonder if he’ll survive the shit storm.” Abel turned toward the dresser and unlocked another drawer, retrieving a handgun from inside. He dropped it in his other pocket.
“Is that really necessary? There will be security everywhere at Belgrave Mews. They won’t even let you carry it inside the Ambassador’s residence.”
“It’s going into the car’s glove box,” Abel replied.
Natasha persisted. “It’s been almost a month. Do you really expect trouble?”
He donned his trench coat. “How should I know?” he asked as he helped her into her raincoat. “Take a scarf. It’s going to snow.”
She pulled one off the closet shelf and took his arm.
As they walked together from the bedroom, the doorbell of their flat buzzed.
Jon opened the closet door and ducked into the hallway, heading toward his room.
He could hear his mother speaking with the sitter. “Don’t let Jon stay up past eleven. And make sure he completes his algebra homework.”
Jon turned back down the hallway to the living room.
The sitter, Rakhel, a young, dark-eyed, rail-thin woman, was nodding in response to Natasha’s instructions.
His mother pulled him to her and kissed the top of his head, tousling his brown hair. “Why are you always making trouble?”
Jon knew, self-consciously, that the prominent black eye he’d received at school had prompted his mother’s question, but he deflected her attention. “Mum, I’m not a baby.” He pointed to the sitter. “I don’t need her.”
Abel hugged his son. “Don’t argue, son. You’re almost an adult. Behave like one.”
Jon frowned and turned away. “My point exactly.” He stood as tall as he could, close to his father, measuring how much taller he needed to be. “There were three of them. They were all bigger.”
Abel turned away. Seeing Jon’s homework papers on the desk, he stepped over to them and pointed to one. “Jon, this equation. What does it represent?”
Jon’s eyes narrowed. “I’ve been reading on game theory. Someone named John von Neumann. Anyway, it’s just calculus. I applied it to valence theory from a psychologist named Kurt Levin. Tried to forecast a person’s or a group’s intentions. I’ve modified it so it now shows the distance between intention and the probability of success as a separate variable.”
His father scanned the page in more detail. “I see. You’ve been reading more math and now, social psychology.” He paused over the page. “So what we have here is the beginning of a method to predict human behavior.” He scanned the page, his forefinger pointing at the string of variables. “Tomorrow, I’ll go through this from top to bottom.” He stopped at something on the page. “Jon, I think you made a mistake here. One of the parameters. This should be a subtraction, not a division.”
Jon gawked at the page.
Abel buttoned his trench coat. “Tomorrow.”
With that last sentence, his parents were gone from the flat, leaving Jon alone with Rakhel.
“An urgent message from Betakill.” The young operative handed an encrypted text to the gray-haired man. “Natasha Sommerstein said they were being followed by a repeater. Plate number A16-248, London. I have their location on GPS.” The operative handed the older man the cell phone.
The older man pressed a few buttons. He viewed the screen and muttered, “Rats.” He reached for his coat and ordered the comm officer, “Tell the team to hurry. We need to find them before it’s too late.”
By the time they were in the garage, the driver had the car ready and waiting.
It took less than ten minutes for their Bentley to reach the location of Jon’s parents.
Jon looked up from his calculus formulas when the doorbell rang. The babysitter sat near him, listening to Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony playing on the stereo.
He rubbed his black eye. He thought of the battle he’d engaged in when the bully and his friends tried to take his lunch money. He had to fight, or else the bullies would pick on him every day. His mistake was fighting fair. A kick to the monster’s balls would have given him a fleeting advantage. The next time, he’d be ready.
The doorbell rang a second time and he looked toward the door, expecting that his parents had arrived home much earlier than he’d expected. What had happened at their party?
Rakhel answered the door and let in a thin man with graying hair and a short-cropped white beard. He wore a black business suit with no necktie. Closing the door behind him, the old man whispered into the young woman’s ear, his voice like the raspy crumpling of paper. His language was nothing Jon had ever heard before. The only word he understood was the sitter’s name, “Rakhel.”
She gasped and her face fell.
Something was wrong. Jon started for the front door where they stood to hear better what they were saying. But before he could get there, he heard another knock at the door, and Rakhel let five tall men into their flat. Their bearing indicated this was serious. No one spoke to him; they totally ignored him. He was no longer merely curious. Now, he was worried.
The visitors shut all the window shades and moved on to the bedrooms. He could hear low, urgent voices, and doors and drawers opening and closing.
A few minutes later, there was another knock at the front door of the flat. Rakhel looked through the peephole and admitted two men who announced themselves as police detectives. They spoke with her briefly, in hushed tones. She nodded grimly.
The detectives remained at the door, talking with Rakhel. He could feel his pulse quicken. What were they saying? Did this have to do with his parents? His stomach did loops.
When the detectives left, she asked him to sit next to her on the living room couch. Without any preamble, she said, “Jon, your mom and dad were in a serious car accident. I’m afraid they’re never coming home.”
Jon examined her face for some sign that this wasn’t true, but all he saw were the reddened edges of her eyes. She’d been crying.
He shook his head. This had to be a lie. “Why are you telling me this? Where are they? Really?”
She moved closer and reached a hand out to lift his chin. “I’m so sorry.”
All the elegant equations in his head dissolved into a void. His world grew smaller, containing him like a steel net. He stared at his formulas on the page, damp with his tears. He jolted as he heard himself curse. There was no way mathematics could express the deaths of his mother and father.
His fists clenched and he pounded at her. He heard a scream but it couldn’t be his voice, could it? Every muscle in his body stiffened, and he bawled on and on.
She grabbed his hands. He wrenched away and stormed around the room, throwing anything he could reach through the air. He smashed a lamp, and pounded another into shards. The fragments of broken glass embedded in his hands didn’t even hurt.
How could they die? He felt his heart turn from anger into a sinking sorrow at this sudden loss. He ran into their bedroom and Rakhel followed him and grasped him, hugging him to her.
The gray-haired man entered the bedroom and nodded to her. She left the room. The older man didn’t move at all. He stared at Jon and the words came in a slow rasp. “I’m so sorry. Someday you will understand. I promise.” He touched Jon’s head and followed the path Rakhel had taken to the front door of the flat where they whispered.
She returned and took a single step toward him and stopped. “I will stay with you, along with these others who arrived.” She pointed to the younger men. The young woman’s accent now was different from the voice she’d been using to talk with him before. Less British, more like that of his parents when they were rushed or argued. “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of you.”
Jon remembered earlier this evening, the last time he ever saw his mother and father. He thought of their reprimand that he behave himself. It was the last thing they told him.
His eyes shifted down, the weight of loss heavy on him.
He’d never even had the chance to say he loved them before they were gone forever.