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Haim Watzman
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The Crater (part 2)

Abadai leaned over Gidi’s shoulder. 'We’re here to rescue you. Either unbolt the door or we shoot it open.'
Illustration by Avi Katz

(Continued from ‘The Crater’ Part 1)

Part 2

Gidi pivoted toward Shusterman at the sound of the explosion, just as Shusterman leaped around the corner and into a crouch to cover Agadai from close behind.

According to the urban warfare drill, Abadai was supposed to be barking out a report of what had happened, something like “Grunge” (that is, terrorist) “at door, going in!” Instead, as Gidi rounded the corner, Abadai was falling backward over Shusterman.

“What the fuck is going on here?” Gidi shouted. He pounced on Abadai, grabbed him by the collar, and pulled him up. “Moron! Grenades only on order!” He shook the limp reservist back and forth and slapped him on the face.

Abadai pushed Gidi away and got his balance. “You identified a grunge inside!” Abadai’s face was red with fury. “I saved your life! You were in danger! The fucking grunge was about to spray you so I tossed a grenade through that little hole in the door. I’m supposed to wait for orders?”

“It’s not a grunge, it’s some old guy who talks like King Charles. You could have killed him.”

Abadai swiveled back, rifle at the ready, prepared to plunge into a firefight in the bomb shelter. “It’s a trap. You think in the Islamic Jihad they don’t watch The Crown?”

The metal door to the shelter shook. “Bedlam!” It was the voice that Gidi had heard through the vent. “Can’t a man take a nap?”

“Are you locked in?” Shusterman asked, getting up from his crouch. “Can we help you get out?”

“Yes. No.”

Gidi approached the door. “Are you hurt?”

“I’m perfectly fine. I was down below. Not a scratch.”

Abadai leaned over Gidi’s shoulder. “We’re here to rescue you. Either unbolt the door or we shoot it open.”

Gidi jabbed an elbow into Abadai’s paunch.

“Asshole!” He tried to punch Gidi but Shusterman pinioned his arms from behind.

“Is anyone there with you?” Gidi asked. “Why won’t you come out?”

“No. And I prefer not to.”

Gidi looked at Shusterman. Shusterman shrugged.

Abadai’s body went slack. “Let me go,” he muttered. “I’m ok now.”

Shusterman freed his arms and wagged his finger close in front of the larger man’s face. “You’d better be.”

“Who are you?” Gidi asked. “What’s your name?”

“I am a pioneer of Kibbutz Hoshea. My name is not important.”

Gidi peered through the hole in the door but it was dark inside and he couldn’t make anything out.

“Aren’t you hungry? Thirsty?”

“The shelter is well-stocked, thank you. We here at Hoshea live in a combat zone. We always made sure our shelters were ready and properly equipped. Now, if you will excuse me, I will return to my nap.”

Gidi had another idea. “But your family. Do they know you’re here?”

There was a long silence. “My family. The ones who live here at Hoshea. The terrorists shot my son and my two older grandchildren. Killed them in their rooms. They took my wife and my daughter-in-law and her baby into Gaza. They are prisoners in the tunnels there. As long as they are underground, so I will be. Until they come home. Thank you for your concern.”

The shuffle of the old man’s steps seemed heavier, slower, more inconsolable now.

“I’ll be damned.” Abadai leaned an elbow against the wall of the shelter. “What a performance. The Jihad must have some really good acting coaches.”

“What do we do?” Shusterman asked Gidi.

“We report it and we let someone else decide.” Hell is stranger than I ever thought it could be, Gidi thought to himself. He was about to call Rotem to tell him about the old man in the shelter when his ringtone sounded. It was his mom.

“Mom, I’ll call back as soon as I can. I’m in the middle of something now.”

“I don’t care what you’re in the middle of,” his mom shouted. “Your daughter has a fever and Efrat’s not answering.”

“Just a few minutes. I promise.” He held the phone away from his ear until his mother disconnected.

Rotem said he’d check it out with the deputy commander of the kibbutz rapid response squad. Then Gidi walked the men back to the incinerated neighborhood to take up their guard posts again. When they arrived at the crater where Dvir had been killed, they saw a woman in jeans and a red three-quarter sleeve blouse emerge from a house at the end of the row in the company of a short, skinny, mostly bald guy in IDF fatigues with a short M-16 over his shoulder. The woman had a pen and pad in one hand and her phone in the other. She turned and photographed the outside of the house and jotted something down on her pad. The ancient soldier spotted the three of them and waved. He said something to the woman and led her over to the three men.

“Hey, guys. Tzvi Barzel. Lieutenant colonel, reserve intelligence officer in Division 98. This is Professor Ella Agasi. Law, Hebrew University. I’ve invited her down to see for herself what Hamas did here. Trying to get the truth out to the world. Turns out we’re both serious swimmers.”

“I swim, too,” Abadai said, eyeing the professor. To Gidi, she looked pale and unsteady on her feet. “In fact, my wife left me because I spend so much time in the water.”

“It’s such a horror,” she whispered. She pointed at the house they had been in. “On the floor there. Cleavers with blood on them. That the Hamas used to kill the family. They just tossed them there when they moved on. A child’s mattress covered with gore.”

Gidi nudged him and introduced them all. “It’s a closed military area. Civilians aren’t supposed to be here.”

“I’ve cleared it all with the IDF spokesman, don’t worry,” Barzel reassured him. “Nothing to worry about. We won’t bother you, we’ll just be wandering around.”

“I need to report you to Rotem. Our officer.” Gidi called Rotem. But just as he began to speak, Barzel politely but firmly took the phone from him and entered into a long negotiation.

Another round of planes zoomed overhead, and the sound of artillery shells blasting the other side.

“So many are dying over there,” the professor said.

Gidi stared at her for a long moment, as what she had just said sunk in. Anger zoomed up from the crater to his head. “Dying here,” he said. “Dying here. We lost a man. Right here.”

Her face hardened. “Don’t lecture me. My son is in Golani and my husband’s been called up, just like you.”

“The lecturer doesn’t like being lectured?” Shusterman shot back.

Barzel looked up from Gidi’s phone. “I brought her here to see for herself what happened here. Please treat her with respect and give her all the assistance she needs.” He handed the phone back to Gidi. “Someone’s been trying to call you.”

“I won’t bother you,” Professor Agasi said. “And don’t you bother me.” She turned and headed for the house that Abadai had emerged from not long ago.

“Watch out!” Abadai called after her. “It’s booby-trapped!”

Continued in Part 3

––

For more of Haim’s fiction, including previous installments of his war stories, go to the Complete Archive of Haim’s Necessary Stories.
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About the Author
Haim Watzman is a Jerusalem-based writer and playwright. He is also one of the leading translators of Hebrew works into English, with more than 50 books to his credit. An archive of his stories and more information about his books and translations can be found on his website.
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