Approaching her trailer after a day of teaching, she stopped suddenly for there was a tall, well-dressed man standing just outside, smoking a cigarette. When he saw her, he snuffed it out and approached with a broad smile.
“Who are you and what do you want?”
“Just a few minutes of your time, Miss Reinhardt” he said coming closer.
“Press or the police?” she asked.
“Charles Michael Smith,” Smith handed her his card. “I write for the Times of London, The Guardian, and when I’m lucky the New York Times.”
“Are you going to call me the ‘Mad German of Palestine’, or has that been copyrighted already?”
“No, not at all; it was rather catchy, but I’m afraid I’m less stylistically flamboyant. My style has been described as fact-based pedantic, but I prefer to think I simply write good readable prose. ”
The longer he spoke, the more certain she was that he wasn’t a journalist, although she didn’t doubt that was his cover, more likely he was another foreign intelligence operative sent to keep an eye on her while she was on dangerous ground probably as a favor to her cousin, Helmut. Still he was handsome, in an angular, English, sort of way, and she welcomed the friendly banter in English, far easier for her than Arabic.
“Perhaps, if it is something serious Charles, we should go inside.” She recoiled from the blast of hot air as the flimsy door of the trailer opened.
“I have a far better idea. It’s too hot in this paradise for beggars, thieves, and murderers. Gather your passport and we will adjourn to the Israeli side of the Green line.”
“Is this a trap?” Katherine asked, quite wary of Israeli intrigues.
“No, does it seem like that, just an invitation to dinner where they know what an air conditioner is and how to mix a dry martini.”
He didn’t look dangerous and she was exhausted from months in the heat. “Let me freshen up and see if I have anything to wear.”
The trailer doubled as the headquarters of her NGO; the money came from her family and friends, and occasionally, from strangers too. Her goal in coming to work on the West Bank, in Israeli occupied Palestine, was to set up a school to teach practical skills to Palestinian girls. But working here was like no other place on earth. People were caught in a web of hatred and were told half-truths to keep them fighting. It was a losing battle against Israeli’s and the Palestinian’s own leadership. Of course she realized the futility of the task, trying to teach skills for the modern world when the men only wanted to make them into cannon fodder or slaves.
Katherine changed into the one good dress she brought with her when she came back from Germany six months before. She had never worn it here. The fabric was a fine silk weave that followed the lines of her body, stopping just above her knees. She was tired of covering up, wearing long dresses in stifling heat, covering her head and hiding her hair.
The trip to central Jerusalem, from just outside Ramallah, should take no more than 30 minutes. To cross the border required an additional two hours. They waited in a long line watching armored vans and buses carrying settlers quickly pass through special authorization gates.
The Israeli border guard studied her German passport and the visa that allowed her to live and work on the Palestinian side. Katherine watched nervously as he made a few calls. After what seemed an eternity, he returned and handed her back the passport.
“You’ll need to renew your Visa in a few weeks Miss Reinhardt,” he studied her face carefully before handing it back.
“Does that happen each time you cross?” Smith asked with a laugh.
“I’ve only tried it twice since I’ve been here.”
“No, but I will get the damn thing extended. They don’t dare deny me a visa. I think there are people in Israel who also worry about me,” she said knowing that many Israeli government people didn’t like the idea of having a close cousin of the American Chief of Staff living in the midst of extremists and terrorists.
“Not surprising. You are, after all, writing stories of your experiences and posting them on your website. But, I suppose they are concerned about your safety. ”
“Why is that Mr. Smith?”
“Your relationship to General Reinhardt, of course, they wouldn’t want anything to happen to you that might jeopardize their good relations with him.”
She was certain that she wasn’t well liked by either the Israelis or Palestinians. Whatever contribution she could make to the lives of the girls in her school was destroyed by the facts on the ground. There were no jobs after graduation.
“Katherine, or should I call you Kate,” Smith asked as they approached the Sheraton.
“How did you know that?” she asked, surprised by his use of her nickname.
“I interviewed your cousin in Washington. He’s quite worried about you.”
“Helmut?” she suddenly felt a rush of adrenaline. “Why did you interview him?”
“He’s running for President next time around, he’s taken a somewhat less sympathetic approach to the Israeli-Palestinian divide than you apparently have. I thought you might like to give the other side of the picture to his views.”
“Don’t do me any favors, Charles,” Kate pulled away, “it will make my life a bit harder than it already is.” She walked into the hotel agitated by the thought of another article published in a British newspaper calling attention to her work.
“Perhaps,” he said catching her inside the lobby, “a different approach might be better. Truce,” he stuck out his hand.
“No more mention of Cousin Helmut, okay?”
“A deal,” he said, “come on Kate, I promised you a meal, but I would bet you’d like a bath first, that trailer didn’t look like it had any proper facilities.”
She was hungry for attention, the kind paid by a man, almost any would do. And the idea of a proper bath in the cool comfort of an air-conditioned room was alluring. She overcame her normal reluctance to accept anything without knowing the full cost involved, and followed him into the elevator.
“What did Helmut say about me?” Kate asked, curious about her cousin’s true feelings about his young cousin. The relationship, like other things about her life, was complicated by Reinhardt’s celebrity and the wide difference in their ages.
“He said that poor Kate was confused about right and wrong, but that your heart was in the right place. He also said that he loved you, and worried about you.”
“And what’s your opinion, Charlie?” She kicked off her shoes and sat down on the overstuffed armchair.
“You’re the archetype of a self-loathing German. You carry German guilt despite the fact that the events were long ago. It’s your excuse for embracing the world’s problems as your own. That’s the standard definition of someone like you Kate, but I suspect the reason is not so textbook and clearcut.”
“Did my cousin have the same opinion? What did he tell you about me?”
“He said you were adopted, that your life, before you came into the family was difficult, but that he’s known you for a long time.”
“Did he tell you that we were roommates at one time?”
“When?” Smith asked.
“I was nineteen. I was in school at Georgetown. Helmut was kind enough to put me up, in exchange for my quite excellent cleaning and cooking skills.”
Smith saw something more in her look as she talked about Reinhardt. There was a story there that went beyond big brother-little sister.
After a long shower, Kate felt better. Before leaving the bathroom, she cracked the door and peeked out at Smith. There was something ruggedly attractive about this Englishman.
Smith took her to one of the better restaurants in Jerusalem. Perhaps he’d planned it that way or it was simply chance, It was too late to return to her trailer by the time they finished.
“Okay Charles, let’s be brutally honest with one another,” she said once they had returned to the hotel room. There, dressed in only his pajama top, she leaned against the pillows on the oversized bed luxuriating in the cool air.
Smith poured two glasses of cognac from the bottle he had had sent up earlier. Handing her one, he sat on the bed next to her.
“Friendship,” he suggested raising his glass, “just that.”
“Are you queer?” She smiled wondering.
“No! It’s simply a matter of good sense. I like you too much to abuse our relationship. I’ll take the other bed.” He said moving over to the second bed in the room.
She had not expected that from him.
“I’m flattered that you like me, but there’s more to this than simply a story, isn’t there? I’m a big girl and I can take the truth.”
“I’m researching a book. My thoughts are to interview young women who have taken up causes, usually hopeless ones, but continue to pursue them despite the odds, sometimes even beating the odds, succeeding.”
“I suppose it’s the Mother Teresa syndrome?” Kate said sipping the drink and letting the alcohol to take effect. “And why do you believe women, especially Germans, are attracted to these hopeless causes. Am I right, Charles?”
“Post-war guilt,” he repeated the stock answer trivializing her commitment.
“I was born long after the war ended. Besides, I’m working on the wrong side of the Green line for that theory to hold. Try something else.”
“Extreme confusion, perhaps” he suggested with a laugh. “After all Arabs hate other Arabs just as passionately as they ate Israelis. Nor do all problems come with a ‘Made in USA’ label’ or perhaps you really don’t like your cousin?”
He offered a smile as if he were making a joke, but for Kate, it wasn’t a joke, she wasn’t sure about Helmut and her relationship to him, it bothered her too.
He dropped her off the next morning at the border crossing with a promise to take her to the beach near Tel Aviv next week. It was something to look forward to despite her doubts about who, exactly, Charles Smith was working for.
Some of her anger at the unfairness of life in the Territories returned as she watched Israeli guards harass Palestinian workers returning home. Still, Smith had made some good points suggesting the problem came from entrenched positions on both sides of the border. As she crossed into Palestinian territory she looked up as two Israeli F-16’s fly high overhead, their high-pitched roar drowned out the hubbub and noise at the crossing. At that moment, she thought of Helmut and smiled.