My upcoming book, Jeremiah’s Jar, contained/contains a scene I must decide to delete or move to another location.
My “feet-on-the-ground” — that is, Sherwood and Jennifer Burton — tell me I need to put Max in another place for this scene to work. The best options are the Arab Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City and the area outside Damascus Gate on the east side of Jerusalem, especially in the evening because Sherwood says “Darkness is where the devil works best.”
My question to you, the reader, is “Should I delete the scene entirely or move it from where I have it, the Arnona neighborhood near the American Consulate?
Keep in mind, my hero, Max, is a black-ops veteran and has been hired to protect the U.S. ambassador to Israel who is overseeing the move of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Here’s the scene:
Invited to the consulate to meet the new ambassador, Max decided to survey its surrounds, get a lay of the land and a feel for its neighbors. If indeed he opted to take the assignment protecting the ambassador, he needed to be armed with personal knowledge, not paper surveillance reports.
Though home to a surprising number of Christians, the area was set hard against Arab neighborhoods to the east and southeast. Indeed, the 1949 Armistice Line, known as the Green Line separating Jewish and Arab areas, runs through the middle of the consulate.
Max parked in an alley off Kfar Etsyon Street and double-timed his way over the meandering Green Line, thinking for a moment that someone ought to spray-paint an actual green line along the pavement, the grass, over buildings, whatever—just so no unwitting visitor would wander into danger.
The Green Line, after all, was not a straight stripe, easily detected. It zigzagged here and there.
And, as in all Arab areas in Israel, non-Arabs tread carefully there if they dare tread at all.
For Max, intimacy with the neighborhood was both a professional necessity and a personal dare, kept private, self-to-self. He remembered being tossed off a bull once when he competed in youth rodeo in Dallas-Ft. Worth. He’d landed hard on his right collar-bone. His first thought was, Will I be able to shift the stick on Dad’s F-150? His second was of the bull: Thunder, they called him.
Later, his right arm in a sling, Max had walked to the barn where the bulls were penned. He’d found Thunder, stalked to his pen and looked him in the eye. The encounter began as a stare-down. The top rodeo bulls are the ones with red in their eyes, snarl in their mouths, and “kill” in their hearts. Thunder possessed all of these. As Max peered at his foe, he realized Thunder had been provoked to anger since he was born. The bull knew nothing else.
Today, with livid eyes watching him pass by, Max thought that bull hated because he was programmed to hate. These people were no different.
Yet Max could do little about that but defend himself if attacked, or prevent that assault in the first place.
He ambled through the area, then headed toward the consulate, watching life as Palestinians knew it. It was high noon and a bright sun bore down with eighty-degree heat on this mid-June day.
Kids kicked a soccer ball in the street. Mothers, their heads under scarfs, scolded some, indulged others, hugged still others.
Max remembered a famous Golda Meir quote: “We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.”
Golda, Israel’s Churchill when it came to wisdom, had also said: “We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children.”
He looked again at several boys who had been kicking the soccer ball. One was holding the ball like he was trying to squeeze the air out of it and they were all staring at him. Was that hatred in their eyes? At so early an age? He looked down at what he was wearing: khakis, white button-up shirt and walking shoes. He guessed “Westerner” was written in bold type all over him.
Just then, a stirring reached his ears, someone or someones-plural rustling behind him and to the right. He kept his pace, neither in a hurry nor a saunter. He flexed his neck muscles and curled his shoulders frontward, then backward. His hands hung by his side, relaxed but ready.
More than once he’d been in a vehicle with the distinctive yellow Israeli plates, which invited stone-throws as they rode past Arab neighborhoods. Heck, if you wanted to visit the Mount of Olives, it was best to do so in a bus filled of tourists rather than in an Israeli car. The bus was less likely to be stoned.
Israeli “occupation”? Hardly.
Now there was a stirring behind him to his left.
Now a man to his right spoke in Arabic: “Here is one meant for death.”
“By burning or butcher?” replied a man to his left, also in Arabic.
“We’ll slice. You burn,” said the man on the right.
“In the middle of the courtyard by the old Chanakah Mosque.” A statement, not a question.
These people wouldn’t risk gunfire. Besides, killing a foreigner outright with a bullet wouldn’t be half as fun as a slow beheading or hot roasting. Guess this intelligence-gathering walk was a bad idea. Well, at least an enlightening one.
Ahead, the top two floors of The Diplomat loomed over the rooftops. Max guessed he was a half-mile away. He might be able to outrun these people. Naw! Though fear could be a healthy emotion in time of war, running was not an option Max had ever entertained. The thought that a rule is sometimes a good thing to break rushed in and he shoved the idea aside with a firm elbow.
He continued walking on but sharpened his hearing, listening as the footsteps on the asphalt drew nearer. He guessed ten yards on his right, fifteen on his left.
Suddenly the sharp call to prayer from a nearby minaret split the air, the words crackling through a bad sound system, and at the same moment Max whirled around. Before him were four men to his left, three to his right—all Arabs, from early twenties to late forties. Four brandished scary-looking knives.
Max looked right to left, pointed eastward toward the sound of the minaret and said in Arabic, “Shouldn’t you boys be going to Dhuhr prayer. The noon plea is to remember Allah and seek his guidance, no?”
The oldest of the men took a step forward, pointed an Arabic Jambiya dagger at Max, and shook his head. “Not right now.”
“Oh, I do think you need his guidance, my friend. Whether you end up in the hospital depends on your decision.”
The man put his left hand to his stomach and guffawed. His friends followed suit. A true Palestinian laugh fest, this.
Max turned on his heel and strolled toward the consulate. A sudden flurry of noise behind him spun him back around. All seven men were nearly upon him in a semi-circle.
Max pulled his Glock 19 from its holster under his shirt and pointed the gun at the leader’s head.
They all stopped in their tracks.
Max said, “I’d be happy to set this little baby aside and deal with you boys hand-to-hand, but I think this will be easier—for all of us.” He drew a breath, then, “Easier for you, mostly, because I expect you to simply walk away. Do so and you can have a nice day with your families, relax and ponder how you came so very close to cutting the head off an American infidel.
“Otherwise, you’ll just mean more work for the emergency doctors and nurses at the hospital, where you’ll have to suffer the indignity of Jews tending your wounds. Because that’s what those wicked Jews do, you know: care for whoever enters their doors, Arabs included. Even mujahideen.”
The leader glanced left and right, exchanged looks with his comrades, then tilted his head at Max. “You get to live another day, pagan. Come back and you won’t.”
The muezzin in the minaret wailed on about Allah and his guidance.
Max returned his handgun to its holster, stretched his arms out in front of him and wiggled his fingers in a come-hither motion. The leader began to stride ahead, then hesitated. Max read indecision in his eyes. None of his pals were joining him.
Max raised the index finger on his right hand and wiggled it. Come on.
The leader cursed and spit toward Max, then turned around and stalked away. His six friends kept pace with him, walking down the middle of the narrow street. Their shoulders were rounded forward. The body language read “defeat,” but Max wondered if, on another day, their backs might straighten to another language: “revenge.”
So, now that you’ve read my scene, what do you think?