Every missing person announcement ends with that succinct phrase, possibly despairing, perhaps in acceptance of an event that has occurred outside the normal course of events.
Like an actor at a rehearsal, Simon T. Lennox declaims the inevitable sequel, "as if the earth swallowed him up", and puts on the expression that all his wives perceived as an effective weapon because it camouflaged his real intentions perfectly.
The earth swallows only the dead, Lennox doodles in his notebook, while human beings swallow themselves. He purposefully tears out the page, balls it and tosses it into the wastepaper basket. He'd have to tell his superior to give the case to another detective. He had no intention of killing himself on a wild goose chase after some Israeli who'd gone missing in America.
Not at his age. Not in his position.
The notebook still in his hand, a photo of the missing person slides under his eyes and with his natural, innate reflex or as a result of his many years of man-hunting, the Israeli's face is etched onto his consciousness. The MP's eyes are squinting. Maybe he is recoiling from the camera or the sudden brilliance of the flash. His hair is meticulously clipped, and yet a few strands have eluded the scissors or grown back too soon. His jaw is square, firm, the cheeks sunken. There is a faint hint of defiance about him.
A man, more or less his age, posing for a photograph. No special features. As Lennox moves the photo away, he sees a stain on it that does not blur the handwriting of the New York State Police Commissioner: "Urgent! Special State Department request."
Why can't he shred the scrap of paper he is holding into thin strips, including that hackneyed phrase, "Vanished without trace"...? The hopelessness of searching for people the earth had swallowed. They bequeath the uncertainty of their death to their loved ones.
He won't carry that burden. He's got enough made-in-America missing persons. Now Israelis too?
Fuck the Israelis.
His protestations are to no avail. Simon T. Lennox bangs on the desk and for a moment his notebook jumps into the air. On the other side of the glass his colleagues raise their heads. Although confrontations between Lennox and the boss were pretty routine, no violent outbursts had been recorded so far. There were those who'd advised him to take early retirement. For some time now there'd been gossip in the department about the celebrated detective who'd lost his magic touch.
What's this Israeli done to merit the United States government taking the trouble to look for him? Has he committed a crime?
His boss shakes his head.
So what's he wanted for? Extradition to Israel?
Maybe he knows state secrets and has to be stopped from revealing them, or he's in the service of a hostile organization?
His superior doesn't even bother to reply.
Can this Israeli be an embarrassment to his country or endanger the security of the United States? Because if all he wants is to harm himself, that's none of our fucking business.
Now silence falls on the office and the boss makes sure the door is closed.
It's a delicate matter, Lennox, an assignment for an expert. And we've got our reasons.
But Simon T. Lennox doesn't fall into the trap of flattery or commitment. You can put another detective onto it, he says, and in any case an Israeli is a matter for the Immigration Services, but the boss cuts him short: We're just following orders from above. You've been seconded to the Secret Service. They've got all the material on the Israeli. If you crack it...
Then what? Israel will give me a medal? Thanks very much. Who needs medals from a foreign country?
In the end Simon T. Lennox was forced to resign himself to his fate. Now he was stuck somewhere he didn't belong, having difficulty in swallowing his rage. He had been quickly transferred from his own office and relocated in the World Trade Center, on the 84th floor in the North Tower. Better conditions, living space like he'd never known, and to mollify him - or buy his compliance - they'd decked the office with a deerskin executive chair and the most state-of-the-art PC on the market. But it was only a stage set that intensified his estrangement. Where were the IN and OUT trays, and the picture on the wall perpetuating the high-profile arrest of a female perp who'd been busted only because Lennox had identified the perfume she wore, and where were the framed commendations and his firing range clothes and the elegant suit on its hanger, just in case he was called to give evidence in court?
Who wanted an uninvited case and an eye watching him from above?
Simon T. Lennox stares at the glass partitions. Outside, the windowpanes dripped - forty-three thousand six hundred blind eyes flowing with tears. Inside, phones rang. Crimes and offences were being committed incessantly. In recent years he'd lost something of the hunger, the thrill of the chase, and even when he brought an investigation to a successful conclusion he didn't pulsate with elation. There had been a time when he'd finish off two bottles of Jack Daniel's in quick succession to celebrate closing a case.
At his age. In his position. He'd seen it all and heard it all before. Nothing could surprise him. Not even foreigners who went missing in a country not theirs.
Vanished without trace. Meticulous wording, concealing the grief. That's how it should be. The place is strange and only the notebook is familiar.
Lennox pulled himself together and wrote:
To: Brigadier-general Yoav Rosen-Vardi, Israel Police Attaché in the US, Washington DC.
I have been assigned by my superiors to investigate, on behalf of the State of Israel, the disappearance of Mr. Liam Emmanuel, and have gladly accepted the assignment.
Incidentally, does the subject have a middle name, as is common in this country?
I sincerely hope to be able to locate the missing person. I will be happy to be of service to a nation that is a true friend of the United States.
Simon T. Lennox, Inspector.
Senior Missing Persons Investigator, seconded to the Secret Service.
PS. Please forward all the statements taken in Israel, and also all the relevant material I will need in the course of my investigation.
Translated from Hebrew by Anthony Berries
Anthony Berris was born and educated in the UK and has lived in Israel for more than 50 years. He is a freelance translator who has translated numerous works by Israeli authors and playwrights, and for many years taught translation at an Israeli college. He is a member of Kibbutz Beit Haemek in Western Galilee.