As Karim and Samir reached the table, the two men stopped eating and raised their heads, to have a look at him – to check the brand new merchandise, which was sent to them across the channel.
‘Amsterdam's leftovers,’ was the mighty boss's first comment, having read last night the fax announcing Samir's arrival. But right now he had some mixed feelings. His first impressions of that young man, were very encouraging but mingled though with some doubts. That young man doesn’t look like an Arab, flashed the thought in his crafty brain. On the other hand, he went on thinking, what enemy organization would try to penetrate his crew with an agent, whose appearance would instantly give him up as an impostor?
Samir's impressions were a bit different. One of the seated men wiped his lips with a napkin, hiding the lower part of his face, behind it. The one facing them a big fellow, must be the mighty boss. He had hard features, white glittering teeth popping out through his bushy moustache, and a square chin, with a Venus kiss dividing its middle. Though a rather impressive figure, he looked to Samir as some illiterate ‘fallach’ (a farmer). He kept on smiling that inviting, but full of curiosity was that smile of his – watching Samir through his narrow suspicious eye slits.
‘Ahalen, ahalen,’ he said rather briskly. ‘Come on be seated, there's no time to waste.’ But kept watching attentively Samir's face all that time, as if he was wondering: so that's you... Flattering Samir with his exaggerated attention, although he didn't utter a word yet. While Samir's face grew hot with embarrassment.
I’m blushing like a girl... He thought angry with himself. ‘I'm Abu-naeef...!’ Declared the big man in a rather majestic manner, as if he were Fahed the king of Saudi Arabia – no less. And taking his eyes off Samir's face at last, he added: ‘That's Kassem, Karim must have introduced himself, and there are some more of us of course. I've got the best group of men in Europe, or rather the best group the organization has ever had!’ Having said the last sentence with much ado, raising his square chin proudly; he looked them all over, as if he were challenging them all to dare and contradict him.
’But you must be hungry.’ He turned with unexpected politeness to Samir. Kassem was fidgeting in his seat already, waving an arm – trying to catch the nearest waiter's attention; and he caught one’s attention right away.
Samir ordered some soup, a steak and french fried, and so did Karim. They were soon served. His host and Kassem turned their attention back to their loaded plates. Their lunch passed in considerable silence. Abu-naeef and Kassem had a second helping, thus conversation wasn't renewed, till desert and black coffee in tiny cups was served.
‘We all noticed the suspicious looks you've been casting around while eating. Remarked his host. ‘It’s a very bad habit, and you'd better drop it. I've no intention to hurt your feelings, but there're still many things, which you have to learn – it’s too obvious! Well then, I expect Karim will open your eyes in these matters, the sooner the better...’ Abu-naeef turned a searching look at Karim, and a short and unpleasant pause ensued.
Samir holding his coffee cup close to his lips focused all his new companions attention.
’Vigilance, alertness, caution and patience are some of the virtues in our profession!’ Abu-naeef went on. ‘It’s nobody's business of course, but it’s up to us to keep it secret. By the way,’ he turned suddenly to Karim ‘have you checked surveillance?’
‘Of course, we're clean!’ Assured him Karim..
‘What's that suppose to be? Some kind of ‘who is the boss game’? That ‘fallach’ it seems lacks self confidence, or worse, suffers from an acute inferiority complex. Thought Samir in wonder, making efforts to adjust himself to what seemed to him a bizarre atmosphere. He hardly had some time to muse and wonder, when the ‘faceless’ Kassem turned to him.
’We do know a few details about you, but…’
‘Oh yes, of course!’ Samir broke in interrupting Kassem in mid sentence; fumbling in his jackets inner pocket, he brought out at last, the thin envelope and handed it across the table to Abu-naeef.
Again silence reigned over their table, while Abu-naeef was reading Samir's letter of introduction. ‘Summon the waiter and pay the bill, we're leaving right away.’ He ordered Kassem, handing him the letter.
‘What do you think of those... I mean our people in Amsterdam?’ He turned to Samir again, as if he was taking advantage of the few seconds left, using the spare time although the issue itself wasn't of any great importance.
‘They're all right I suppose, I've just met them that once.’
‘They're a bunch of no good loafers in my opinion; in your case they acted as they were told to – promptly. Well you've reached your destination and you're welcome.’ He lied to Samir without any hesitation, without any warmth – watching Samir's face with a grave look.
He didn't give me the tiniest crack of a chance, the bastard! If I would have dared to suggest an opinion, a view, a hint of opposition, of objection – if I would have dared just to open my mouth now, when Abu-naeef made it very clear, that the meeting is over. I would have turned into this mighty man, my new boss – a hated enemy. That’s exactly the message, which I can easily read in his eyes. Flashed the thought in Samir’s mind.
A waiter rushed to their table having sensed their intention, and right after the bill had been settled, Abu-naeef rose to his feet, with the rest of them following his example. They shook hands warmly this time, and the boss and his silent deputy, left their company.
Karim ordered some fresh coffee, as they had to wait on, for a quarter of an hour at least, before they could leave themselves. These were the rules he explained to Samir.
‘Oh I see, and that meeting place was selected according to the same rules, I understand.’ Samir added sarcastically. It was a foolish mistake and he knew and regretted it. But after having sat so timidly, and obediently, for sometime with the big boss he simply couldn't refrain from that slip of tongue. Karim was hurt of course and his face grew solemn and dark.
‘These expensive meeting places are our most safe refuge.’ He managed to remark after a while, having recuperated from the shock, Samir's rather harsh observation caused him. But to Samir's surprise he didn't loose his temper or his patience; but went on reasoning and explaining without the slightest hint of rebuke. ‘No member of any other rival organization or enemy organization when worst comes to worst, is authorized to set a foot in such expensive joints by their respective organizations; except the very few, who are at the uppermost end of their own organizations. Even such men, who aren't in any way a threat to us, or to our activities, hardly pay a visit to such meeting places. We've got the means; we're the big spenders, see? We can afford ourselves what no other organization can. Why? The lot of them are nothing but civil servants, who're very careful mind you, with public funds, with the small taxpayer's money. We don’t have such problems.’
‘Aha...’ muttered Samir with understanding, ‘I'm terribly sorry! I didn't mean it at all and I don't wish to offend you. Please forgive my ignorance and do accept my apologies!’ Samir mumbled humbly, expressing his regret.
Although Karim's explanation didn't convince him, he had to make amends due to that foolish mistake of his. There was no other choice. For even though these men were complete strangers yet, they were Palestinians just as he himself was in every aspect; be it their appearance, their dialect and their behavior. But they seemed to represent a type he has never met yet; the arrogant, touchy, the five star hotel exile. Who used slogans where others used slang, who waved national and Marxist banners on every possible occasion; who roamed about just like proud peacock, with a spread and puffed up tail. But wouldn't exchange the luxurious life style of a Saudi crown prince, neither for the sake of his own country nor for Allah's Garden of Eden...
Safe refuge... bullshit!!! Samir thought angrily. Safe haven for busy bodies who would tell anyone, who would cup his ear, what big patriots they are –who would defend the rights of their poverty stricken people over a dish of shrimps, at the Savoy's or some other five star hotel... But I should not turn such thoughts in my mind, I must becautious... One more mistake might cut me off not just from my homeland alone, but also from the necessary means, friends – from anything that would sustain me in exile. I’ve in fact two main options, to live in luxury or die! There are some more drastic options, but I wouldn't ever dare even to think such options over; I could fly away with a fake passport to some remote part of the globe,and thus give up for ever the hope of returning to my country, of seeing my kin again; and live for the rest of my life in constant fear, under assumed identity... Or I could cut my flimsy ties with the organization and cross the lines – knockon some embassy's door…Both these dramatic and drastic options are dead ends, out of the question as far as I’m concerned. I won’t give up my ties, my identity –I won’t cut my own roots with my own hands! I’ll never cross over to the Mosad! The worst enemy as Karim described it, without daring to mention its name… But would they abandon pursuit and vengeance, they surely know by now…