After continuing for a month, Operation Jaffa joined that echelon of rare Security Police operations about which exaggerated tales would have been told to grandchildren, had it only been allowed. One could predict the same sort of legendary glow for Jaffa as the battles of the eastern front held for veterans of World War II, or the round-the-clock monitoring of the Soviet embassy (known as Hustler duty) held for the old-timers from the Security Police.
Three weeks into the operation, some investigator on a five-cup coffee high invented a new name for it in the quiet hours of the night. And like a bad case of athlete’s foot, it immediately spread into common use. On paper the operation continued to be known as Jaffa, but in the field it had a less dignified appellation: Operation Haemorrhoid.
The nickname was like a shortcut across a lawn. Using it was forbidden, but prohibitions and interdictions proved completely ineffective at preventing trespassers. In such cases, it was wisest to give up or build an impassably high fence.
The appropriateness of the name was revealed the first time you spent a few hours without a break on the hard-edged, unpadded kitchen chair.
The two-room flat with a kitchenette had been rented solely for Operation Jaffa. One room was furnished with a folding bed and two stools; the other, which looked out onto the street, contained a table covered in coffee-cup rings, as well as the aforementioned kitchen chair and a couple of its siblings. The chair had been set up in front of the window. A tripod stood next to it, holding a powerful video camera equipped with a spotting scope. The window was covered by a screen of blinds, and a floor-to-ceiling stretch of dark fabric hung behind the chair. Anyone in dark clothes sitting at the window was almost impossible to spot from outside.
A glance through the telescope revealed that it was trained on a storefront across the street. Nothing on the window or door of the storefront indicated what sort of enterprise was contained within its walls. Officially, Cemicon Ltd., a representative of the Israeli chemical industry, operated on the premises. Its product selection included motor oil additives, rust inhibitors and insecticides.
The company had only one employee: the Israeli citizen Leo Meir. Meir did not have a permanent residence, so he lived at his place of business. Which was precisely why the decision had been made to watch the property twenty-four hours a day.
Despite the fact that Meir had an interesting background, the Finnish Security Police wouldn’t have gone through the trouble of opening a file on him and setting up a dedicated operation had they not received a tip from the intelligence contact at the US Embassy. According to “reliable sources”, Leo Meir was in Helsinki to lay the groundwork for a high-profile assassination.
Unfortunately, though, even the omnipotent CIA did not know whom Meir was supposed to kill. All they knew was that he was under orders to act by mid-September.
That gave the Security Police a little over a month to find the target and stop the murder.
I used up my fifteen minutes of fame in the first week of August. Within a three-day period, I was interviewed by morning television, the evening news, a radio talk show and the tabloids. I felt like a VIP, and waited for the notoriety to rush to my head.
I quickly came to find that fame has its advantages. The old sourpuss from downstairs gave me something resembling a smile, and when I rode the tram in to work, a good-looking young woman shot interested glances my way.
I could almost understand those people who sold their self-respect and their souls for a pittance on Big Brother, Fear Factor, or one of those other degrading television shows.
I had to admit to myself, though, that my popularity was due to of a string of coincidences. It all began when Seeds of Hate, an extremist organization that had sprung up out of nowhere, kidnapped and assaulted a professor who was researching racism at the University of Helsinki. The bruised and battered scholar had been found wandering the woods north of the city in his underwear.
The case was an unusual one in Finland. The lead investigator was Detective Kari Takamäki from the neighbouring unit, but Takamäki, who coached his son’s ice hockey team, took off for Iceland and vanished. Apparently the volcanic soil and magnetic fields prevented cell phones from functioning properly. Either that, or Iceland’s teleoperators were as deeply troubled as their banks. Takamäki remained unreachable.
Meanwhile, my supervisor, the head of the Violent Crimes Unit, was in New York on a romantic getaway with his girlfriend.
From a suite in his high-rise Manhattan hotel, he ordered me to handle communications on the case. Chief Detective Huovinen thought I was the right man for the job, since the kidnapped professor was a Jew – just like me.
Apparently Seeds of Hate harboured a particular animosity for us, as half a dozen prominent Jews had received abusive, threatening letters signed by the organization. Still, not even the Security Police knew who the individual or individuals behind Seeds of Hate were. The investigation had got nowhere.
My fame evaporated as quickly as it had materialized. Takamäki emerged from his cell phone dead zone and reassumed responsibility for communications. I took my vacation, which I had split up into three stretches: two in the summer and the third in winter. That gave me something to look forward to.
For some people, the first Monday after a long summer vacation is deathly depressing. For me, it wasn’t any more so than any other day. I had already taken two weeks of vacation in May, then these three weeks in August. When I came back to work, it was the end of the month and only a few magical, dew-misted nights from autumn – not that autumn was like the autumns of my childhood any more: the Finnish school year, in defiance of all natural laws, began in August now.
Since despite my family’s matchmaking attempts I remained a bachelor, and thus a creature verging on the pathetic, my brother Eli had invited me to his summer cottage – which the word cottage was twenty times too modest to describe. I guess he figured I would soak up influences that would spark a desire for the family life. After all, establishing a family and reproducing are central tenets of Jewish existence; they are commandments given by God to man, and not to be shirked. Jewish parents live more for their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren than for themselves. The future is more important than the present, and without children, there is no future.