Choir director Robin Sabine reluctantly takes six difficult teenagers to an international choral competition in Jerusalem. Almost immediately she runs into a former love from whom she parted under difficult circumstances – he accused her of trying to break into a safe containing top secret documents. She also meets a British diplomat who is more than ordinarily attentive.
After a shopping trip in the Old City Robin discovers that there are a number of people inordinately interested in her movements. Her room is searched. She has difficulties with the competition. Neither man in her life trusts the other and after being ruthlessly kidnapped, Robin realizes that a number of people – including her teenaged charges – believe she is a spy.
He shrugged and to my relief let the subject drop. Picking up the bottle, he scrutinized the level and then poured. “One more glass apiece.”
“And then magic time is over?”
"This.” My gesture could have encompassed the world instead of just the view from the Old City wall. “Don’t you think it’s magic?”
“This time it’s my turn to toast. To magic. To shared magic.”
We clinked glasses ceremonially. There was more said, of course, but it was as if the magic of the evening ended there. Grey chatted on in his best tour-guide manner as we finished the last of the champagne.
One thing had begun to bother me; I could get almost no personal information on Greystoke Hamilton-ffoulkes. The man seemed to talk incessantly, but on every subject except himself. Since we had met I had found out only that he had been born in Hampshire, that he spoke Arabic, French and German, and that he had a brother two years older than he. Also, he was allergic to peanuts. And that was it. All of it. A small thing, but one I found very bothersome. In my limited experience every man loved to talk about himself and one who didn’t was different enough to be suspect. Refreshing, but suspect.
“All done? I suppose we’d best be getting on.”
Wordlessly I handed over my empty glass and wished that there were some way to be transported down from this lofty height. As we had been sitting the memory of those horrid stairs had risen again to haunt me.
We didn’t go down the same staircase, but the one we did was just about as bad. This time Grey sensed my terror and insisted on going down ahead of me and holding my hand. I appreciated the thought, but he had to carry the basket and that left him no hand to balance himself. Then in a fit of heroic self-sacrifice he offered to take my purse. I declined that, too, remembering what lay wrapped in newspaper and dark cloth in the bottom. Despite the basket he was able to descent the hollowed steps with an easy grace. I finally abandoned all pride and came down the last few yards sitting down.
“My dear girl, I do apologize. I had no idea you were so… so… susceptible.”
“It’s the steps, mainly,” I said, valiantly brushing off the seat of my dress and hoping that the dust of ages was not permanently ingrained. “But I wouldn’t have missed up there for anything.”
To expiate my cowardice once we were outside I insisted on holding the empty basket while Grey locked the thick wooden door. This stairway had no corresponding grille and it took me a minute to figure out where we had come down. When I did I felt foolish for even wondering. We were in the zig-zag corridor of Damascus Gate, now a tunnel of darkness barely relieved by a few streetlights at each end, and just a few yards from where our car and driver waited. Grey had indeed worked everything out to perfection. I just wondered…
“Isn’t Damascus Gate locked at this time of night?”
There was a grin in Grey’s voice. “Indeed it is. I see you’ve been reading your guidebooks.”
“Does this mean we’re going to have to walk around to Jaffa Gate?”
This time he chuckled, then swore at the recalcitrant key. “Damn this thing! Do they never oil these locks? To answer your question, Robin, yes, Damascus Gate is locked. There is also a small portal which, with the application of a little folding grease, can be opened on appointment.”
I shouldn’t have worried. Grey was the type who would think of everything.
It was that much more surprising, therefore, when a figure, a red and white kaffiyeh bundled over his face, dashed out of the darkness and without stopping ripped the basket from my hands before vanishing down a small street.
My scream of surprise alerted Grey, who dashed after him into the warren of the Arab quarter beyond the gate and left me alone in that small, dark corner.
If I were the stuff of heroines, those indomitable females who brave storm and danger for the sake of principle, I would have rushed after him to render what aid I could. Sometimes I kid myself that if I had had more time to think, if I had been ready, I would have done something heroic, but isn’t it true that heroism is doing what has to be done at the moment when you aren’t ready for it?
Whichever it is and however I try to defend myself to myself, I just stood there.
I was still standing there some thirty seconds later when a strong arm reached out of the darkness, latched onto my wrist and pulled.
“Come,” said a familiar voice.
I recognized him despite the dim light, just as I had earlier. I even remembered his name. “Selim! You didn’t die in the fire. What are you doing?”
“We must get you out of here. Come!” And he pulled me inexorably toward the dark beyond the gate.
Even I heard the crunch. At first I didn’t know what it was, but when Selim’s handsome face went blank and his grip on my arm loosened I was not at all surprised when he fell into a boneless heap at my feet.
This time I was ready for action. He hadn’t even hit the ground before I was off and running. I didn’t know where, but as long as I could put one foot in front of another I was going to go somewhere. I heard my name called softly; it was hollow and ghostly and almost unrecognizable in that deep maze of stone. It could have been Death calling me.
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