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  Chapter 1 from
Eye Of The Storm

By Yair Weinstock  Libby Lazewnik 



Chapter One

New York, July 1983

The blue midsummer skies quickly gave way to a thickening cloud cover. One minute, the city was bathed in sunlight; the next, clouds galloped in from the nearby Atlantic to drench New York City with a warm, sticky rainfall. The rain poured down for precisely 31 minutes, leaving the city considerably damper than before, but just as stifling.

A long line of cars stood in gridlock along Manhattan’s 43rd Street. The traffic lights changed color several times as frustrated motorists waited to continue their journeys home after the day’s work. A truck had skidded on the wet asphalt and jackknifed sideways, blocking every lane. Drivers leaned on their horns. The noise was deafening. The truck did not budge.

On either side of the street rose enormous buildings, their roofs scraping the sky. One of these — on the right side, not far from the stalled truck — was a tall, rectangular office building. As a rule, street noises did not penetrate the 20th floor of this building. Its sheer distance from the ground muted all sound.

Today was different. After half an hour, the assorted furious honks and beeps had blended into one concentrated blare that assaulted everything within earshot. Although the windows of Aharon Flamm’s office were shut tight — the air-conditioning vents supplying a steady stream of cold, clean air — he suddenly realized that he was unable to concentrate on his work. The incessant honking below had penetrated even this sanctum. He waited for the noise to abate, but it only grew stronger. Finally, he stood up and went to the window.

Pale peach miniblinds covered the window, protecting the room from the summer sun. Aharon raised the blinds and yanked at the window handle. At once, the appalling noise and a blast of heat simultaneously struck him full in the face. Manhattan in the summer was unbearable. The heavy, humid air off the Hudson River was suffocating, and when combined with the honking, the effect was something out of a nightmare.

“Aharon, shut that window!” Steve Mantel called from the other desk in the room. “I can’t stand the heat and that infernal din. Why are they honking like that, anyway?”

“Looks like a stalled truck.” Aharon closed the window and turned the air conditioning to its full strength. He returned to his desk, dismissing the traffic jam from his mind. This scenario, or one like it, was played out every working day in Manhattan, as thousands of office workers streamed homeward. It did not trouble Aharon much. He avoided the problem by remaining at his desk until 8 o’clock in the evening, sometimes 10 o’clock. By the time he drove home to Flatbush, the roads were emptier and the Brooklyn Bridge passable. Steve Mantel, who lived just on the other side of Central Park, was bothered even less.

Within half an hour, traffic policemen managed to unsnarl the mess in the street below. The noise lessened as cars crawled along their way. Aharon and Steve bent over their work again.

Their suite of offices bore the title “Flamm and Mantel, Statistics and Measurements.” To one side of their building lay the placid stretch of Central Park, Manhattan’s oasis of green; on the other side flowed the peaceful blue waters of the East River. The office employed 20 people, occupying seven rooms. The ambiguous name served as a cover for the office’s real purpose. “Flamm and Mantel” was a subsidiary of the U.S. State Department.

Flamm, Mantel, and their assistants busied themselves with situational assessments, garnering and processing data, and drawing up statistical charts for comparison purposes. But their primary function was in the area of prediction. Aharon Flamm was an expert in geopolitical forecasting, having specialized for the past 20 years in the Middle East and the Arab states. His particular field was Iran, a fascinating hot spot that had drawn his professional interest from the start.

When Iraq’s dictator, Sadaam Hussein, deported Iran’s spiritual ruler, Ruhollah Almosowi Khomeini — better known as the Ayatollah Khomeini — from Iraq to France, Aharon Flamm had flown to France to follow developments among the core of fanatics surrounding the Ayatollah. He acquired every one of the Ayatollah’s propaganda tapes and listened to them attentively. Two months later, he sent a secret memo to Jim Silver, head of his department. In the memo, Aharon had predicted the downfall of the Shah of Iran, Muhammed Riza Palavi, faithful ally of the United States, as well as the rise of a radical Islamic republic under the rulership of Ayatollah Khomeini.

“If we intervene now, we can halt the Islamic fundamentalist outbreak in Teheran,” Aharon wrote in his memo. “But if we sit on our hands, as we generally do, we will see a significant lessening of American power in the region, and we’ll be powerless to change the situation.”

Jim Silver quietly filed the memo away. For the first time since they had met, he was convinced that Aharon was exaggerating the situation.

A year and a half later, in 1979, Flamm’s prediction became a reality. State Department officials were caught by surprise and unprepared. Jim Silver began to harbor a renewed respect for his branch office in Manhattan — a branch that had been blessed, seemingly, with the gift of prophecy.

The ringing of the phone broke into the stillness of the room, and a green light flashed. Jim Silver was on the line from Washington.

“Aharon, I have a new project for you.”

Aharon’s ears perked up. The term “new project” generally meant a trip in the near future. This time, though, the timing was not ideal. In just a month, his son would be celebrating his bar mitzvah. Benjy was his oldest child, and Aharon did not relish being absent from home just when his family was gearing up for the big event.

“What are we talking about?” he asked guardedly.

“I have your latest memo in front of me. The Secretary is very interested in it.”

Aharon felt a stab of pleasure at the compliment. The Secretary of State, Mr. George Schultz himself, had shown interest in his memo.

“Go on,” he said, his voice betraying no sign of pride.

“You’re taking this for granted,” Silver chided. “Not everyone merits this kind of attention. All right, that’s for another time At 8 o’clock tomorrow morning, my private plane will be waiting for you at La Guardia Airport to fly you to Washington. I’ll meet you here.”

Aharon replaced the receiver and raised a cup of mango nectar to his lips. From what he had managed to glean from Silver’s hints, he was slated to meet with the Secretary of State tomorrow.

The prospect did not please him at all and he decided to make an early night of it.

* * *

During his commute home to Brooklyn, Aharon spent time reflecting on his past.

The Flamm family had landed on American shores shortly after the turn of the century. Aharon’s grandfather, Rabbi Shlomo Flamm, fled Kishniev with his family in the wake of the first pogrom of 1903. Leaving behind a sizable estate, he arrived in the United States with empty pockets. Within a few years, however, he established the realty offices of “Flamm and Sons” in the Jewish section of Manhattan’s East Side. After his death, his sons Menashe (Mark) and Reuven (Arthur) continued running the firm under a new name: “Flamm Brothers, Real Estate.” The firm became increasingly successful, eventually going public. Shares of its stock fetched a high price on Wall Street.

Aharon’s father, Rabbi Reuven Flamm, had studied in yeshivah and remained dedicated to Torah study all his life. Every spare hour would find him poring over a small Talmud that he took with him everywhere, jotting down his thoughts rapidly on the pages of a slender notebook.

When Aharon was of age, he was sent to Yeshivah Torah Vodaath, where he excelled in his studies. From the first, his friends and fellow students were struck by Aharon’s analytical powers. Mealtimes would find them mesmerized by his political dissections. Unlike the rest of his family, Aharon showed no predilection for real estate. It was politics and statesmanship that fascinated him. International diplomacy, political strategy, the logic that informed governments and rulers — these were magical things to him. The Middle East, in particular, drew his interest. Among his acquaintances, he was considered something of a political oracle.

At the tender age of 19, Aharon found the courage to write a letter to the-then Secretary of State, in which he outlined his analysis of the situation in the Middle East as it existed at the time and as he predicted it would develop. Miraculously, the letter found its way not into oblivion, as so many others are fated to do, but into the Secretary’s own hands. He was riffling through the pages, about to toss the letter into the wastepaper basket, when one or two significant sentences caught his eye. They were wise sentences, shining a new light on old problems. They encapsuled a fresh point of view that drove straight to the roots of the matter.

Standing beside the wastebasket, the Secretary carefully read the letter from beginning to end. He was flabbergasted: the young writer seemed to possess keener analytical faculties than most of his own employees, graduates of prestigious universities. He was deeply impressed by Aharon’s intellectual powers, and by his ability to see far beyond the present.

“Unbelievable! An intellect like this, and just a child?” He immediately set up an appointment to meet the young yeshivah student from “Torah Vodaath.”

As expected, the Secretary was greatly impressed by the insightful young man. A year after his marriage, Aharon joined the team in the Manhattan office of “Statistics and Measurements,” where he quickly climbed the ladder to ultimately become head of the division.

* * *

Just last month, Aharon had submitted another memorandum to Jim Silver. It contained a possible scenario for the evolving relationship between the U.S. and the Arab states in the coming years. The scenario was based on a thorough and far-reaching study, and touched upon various highly sensitive issues. Aharon had developed a theory that drew upon different factors — a radical theory, to all appearances, although his earlier projections of the Shah’s downfall and the Ayatollah’s rise to power, of the peace process between Israel and Egypt, and a dialogue between Israel and the PLO had seemed radical in their times, too.

A great deal of water had flowed along the East River since Grandfather Shlomo Flamm had first crossed the bridge into New York. Now his grandson, Aharon, crossed it on his way home. He pressed the button on the car’s tape player, and the car was filled with the vibrant voice of Rabbi Kalman Gold, explaining the daf yomi in fluent English. This was Aharon’s preferred method of unwinding at the end of a long day’s work.

Tonight, however, he found his attention straying after only five minutes. He was thinking about his son’s bar mitzvah.

Benjy was already fairly comfortable with his tefillin and knew his speech by heart. The caterer had assured them that all was in order and the invitations had been sent — hundreds of them. The Flamm family was among the most respected and popular in Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jewish community.

Everything was going well — and yet, anxiety gnawed at him. Something was going to go wrong with the bar mitzvah. He felt it.

“Nonsense,” he told himself sternly. “There’s no reason in the world why anything should go wrong.”

His Buick entered Brooklyn and continued toward Flatbush. A pleasant warmth filled him as he neared his home. Waiting there for him was his wife, Margalit, and the children: Benjy, his oldest; Eli and Shlomo, the 11-year-old twins; Judy, 8; Dovy, 7; and Moishy, 5. Because of the upcoming bar mitzvah, the children had elected to stay home this summer instead of going away to camp as most of their friends had done.

Aharon pulled into the driveway and went into his house. Margalit met him on the second-floor landing with a sigh of relief after a long day. “Thank goodness,” she murmured.

Instantly, Aharon was overwhelmed by children. In short order he put together a colorful puzzle with them, then trotted around the rug with various small warriors on his back. After half an hour of rolling around on the floor to the music of his children’s laughter, he went to find Margalit.

“Margalit, has something happened?”

She was busy with dinner preparations; a meat loaf on the counter was waiting to be popped into the oven. She tried to evade the question, but he persisted.

“Leave the food,” he said quietly. “What happened?”

She turned to face him. “I’ve never interfered with your work,” she answered carefully, “but this time I think I have the right to say a word.”

“Even two.”

“What have you been investigating recently?”

His throat went dry. “The usual trivia. The Middle East, Israel, nothing out of the ordinary.”

She looked him squarely in the eye. How did she know he was hiding something? His last study had been anything but trivial....

“Don’t go to Washington tomorrow, I’m begging you,” she whispered suddenly.

Aharon was thunderstruck. “How do you know about Washington?”

“You see — I know. There’s such a thing as a telephone.”

“Who called?”

“About two hours ago, the phone rang. A voice I didn’t recognize said in a hoarse, guttural accent, ‘Tell your husband not to poke his nose into the secrets of the holy Arabs. He who tampers with Muhammed will be punished. He’d be better off not going to Washington.’ Then he hung up.”

Phone calls in the Flamm residence were automatically recorded by a machine in the master bedroom — yet another sign of the secret nature of Aharon’s work. Margalit quickly slipped the meat loaf into the oven and followed him upstairs. Together, they listened to the recording of the sinister call.

“It’s clear that he’s an Arab,” Aharon decided.

“So what?” Margalit countered. “Is he any less dangerous because of that? How did he find you?”

Aharon was silent. He was turning over several possibilities in his mind. Tomorrow, he would have CIA experts go through his office. Maybe his phone had been tapped. But even if they found something, the mystery would remain unexplained. His memo had been completely classified. Who was behind the anonymous phone call?

The aroma of cooking food reached them in the bedroom. Margalit excused herself and hurried back to the kitchen. In short order, the family was seated around the large dining room table. Benjy entertained the others with a rendition of his bar mitzvah speech, which he had researched and written himself. It focused on the question of a bar mitzvah that fell on Tishah B’Av, and Benjy was proud of it. It was a question that interested him in a very personal way, having been born on the afternoon of that special day. Aharon glowed with fatherly pride.

“When Benjy gets up to talk, I’m going to start singing!” Judy declared. The others laughed.

It was a calm scene, a peaceful scene, Menace seemed remote here. Aharon knew that nothing was going to stop him from traveling to Washington the next day. And right now, he was especially anxious to go. It was vital that the Secretary hear what he had to say, no matter what!

 
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