How are the shocking murders of elderly Holocaust survivors connected to the deaths of high school students in Israel and the West Bank?
Palestinian American detective Ben Kamal and his Israeli colleague, Danielle Barnea, soon discover that the answer to this blood-drenched puzzle lies as much in the past as in the present, with the clues leading from a Nazi labor camp to the forefront of modern biotechnological research, while leaving a trail of deception and death behind.
At the center of the mystery lies Paul Hessler, a labor camp escapee and New York billionaire with secrets that stretch back more than sixty years. Hessler is also in possession of a miraculous medical discovery that could affect the lives of thousandsincluding Ben and Danielle's unborn child.
To protect this discovery, and to rescue the future from the hidden evils of the past, this determined couple must travel halfway across the world to come face-to-face with the Keepers of the Gate.
About the Author
Jon Land is the acclaimed author of many bestsellers, including The Last Prophecy, Blood Diamonds, The Walls of Jericho, The Pillars of Solomon, A Walk in the Darkness, Keepers of the Gate, and The Blue Widows. He lives in Providence, Rhode Island.
Read an Excerpt
Keepers of the Gate
By Jon Land
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2001 Jon Land
All rights reserved.
"I'M SORRY FOR the intrusion," Danielle Barnea said to the woman seated on the couch before her. "This won't take very long."
Layla Saltzman nodded stiffly, as if it were something she had gotten quite used to doing in recent weeks. Her face was expressionless, her eyes dry and cried out. Dull brown hair hung over her face in stray locks she had given up caring about. The house, squeezed amidst other modest one- and two-story stucco-finished homes in the Jerusalem suburb of Har Adar, smelled of stale coffee and burned pastry.
Six days before, Layla Saltzman's seventeen-year-old son Michael had committed suicide. Before the case could be officially closed, a final interview was required to make sure the facts in question were all in order. Normally this would have been a matter for local authorities — in this instance the Jerusalem police — but all cases involving a firearm were automatically referred to National Police. And Danielle's superior, the commissioner or Rav nitzav Moshe Baruch, had elected not to refer it back even after suicide became apparent.
Now, seated in the suicide victim's living room, Danielle found her eyes wandering to the framed pictures adorning the coffee table between her chair and the couch on which the boy's mother sat. All showed Michael Saltzman in various poses through the years. Tennis racquet in his left hand, wearing a summer camp T-shirt. Baseball glove and uniform. His Bar Mitzvah. There was still plenty of space atop the table, but there would be no more pictures to fill it.
Her gaze lingered for a time on one shot that pictured Michael between his parents, an arm tossed casually around both their shoulders. The angle of the room's light gave Danielle a clear view of her own face, in effect projecting herself into the picture. Now that she was pregnant once again, she found comfort in the thought she might fill her own coffee table with photos some day. The comfort was short lived, though, as she reflected that the child's father in her pictures would be missing.
Danielle studied herself in the glass, seeing a youngish thirty-five year old, her face unlined by wrinkles, athletic and robust. She wore her wavy brown hair the same way she had in college, because it framed her full face better than any of the more contemporary styles would. How strange. Despite her professional reputation as a progressive innovator, she was, in this respect anyway, truly a creature of the past.
Distracted, Danielle shuffled the folder on her lap and the forensics photos spilled out onto the living room rug. She stooped to retrieve them and watched Layla Saltzman's expression waver as she peered at the pictures through the coffee table's glass top. Danielle noticed she was wearing on her wrist a man's watch with a broken face.
"I'm sorry," Danielle said, sticking the photos in the rear of the folder. "Just a few more questions, I promise."
Layla Saltzman nodded.
"You were away the day of ... the incident."
"I was at work."
Danielle gazed again at the picture of Michael standing between his two parents, everybody smiling. "And your husband?"
"We're divorced. He moved back to the United States. Remarried a woman with three young children. He returned to them the day after the funeral."
Layla Saltzman shrugged as if she were tired of hearing that.
Danielle continued scanning the case report. "So the last time you spoke to your son ..."
"At breakfast the day he ..." Layla Saltzman's voice trailed off and she cleared her throat. "He seemed fine."
Danielle nodded, returning her focus to the case.
"I need to ask you about the gun, Mrs. Saltzman."
"He knew where it was kept, how to use it. Just in case. My husband wanted him to know. With the crime rates what they are here now, well ... I forgot we even had it. Maybe if I had remembered and gotten rid of the damn thing ..."
Layla Saltzman laced her hands together and wrung them raw. Danielle looked at her, trying to relate. She would have been a single mother now too, had she not miscarried her first pregnancy. And she fully intended to raise her new baby by herself. But the sight of the woman on the couch across from her started Danielle thinking. Layla Saltzman was alone now and would more than likely stay that way. Her child's father had been six thousand miles away when the boy died.
The father of Danielle's unborn child lived barely thirty miles from Jerusalem, yet she had decided to keep him out of the child's life. She tried to imagine herself on the other side of an interview like this. Alone, with nothing but photos to remind her it had not always been that way.
Layla Saltzman raised her arm and twisted it around to show Danielle the watch with the broken face. "This was Michael's watch. A present from his girlfriend last year. I was thinking about giving it back to her. Do you think I should?"
"If it makes you feel better," Danielle tried lamely.
"Nothing makes me feel better, Chief Inspector. That's the point." Layla Saltzman's eyes gestured toward Danielle's folder. "Does it say in there what a wonderful student Michael was? Does it say he spent a semester at a special cooperative school for Israelis and Palestinians outside of Jerusalem in Abu Gosh? Does it say what a tremendous soccer player he was, that American universities were sending him letters to recruit him? I didn't want him to go because that meant he'd be closer to his father than to me. Does it say that in there?"
Danielle remembered her preliminary study of Michael Saltzman's file. "There was mention of the incident involving your son's friend," she said, imagining herself having to live in a world of stale coffee and forced smiles in eighteen years time. No one to sit next to her, thanks to the decision she thought she had finally put behind her.
Layla Saltzman nodded. "Yes, a girl named Beth Jacober from Tel Aviv. They were close. I don't know how close, you understand." Her voice broke slightly. "Michael met her at his new school, the cooperative. She was killed in a car accident a week before he ..."
"Mrs. Saltzman, you don't have to —"
"Everyone thinks Michael did it because he was depressed about Beth. I guess the two of them could have been closer than I thought. Who can tell with kids these days?" She balled her hands into tight fists and cradled them in her lap. "I — I didn't go to Beth's funeral with him; he didn't want me to. Michael wasn't depressed. He was dealing with Beth's death, he was coping." She flashed her son's watch with the broken face again. "It doesn't work anymore, but I still wear it."
Danielle looked at Michael Saltzman's watch, at the pictures of him on the coffee table featuring a family that would never be together again, that had squandered its chances.
Was this the kind of life she wanted for herself and her child?
Danielle flipped through the folder once more, finding the crime scene photos and the report filed in obligatory fashion by the case officers. Studied the photo picturing the nine millimeter pistol just out of the grasp of the dead boy's fingers.
"He wasn't wearing the watch when he died," she said vacantly.
Layla Saltzman shook her head. "No. It was on his dresser. I forgot to put it on his wrist for the funeral, then threw it across the room when I got home. That's when it broke." Something that passed for serenity spread briefly over her expression. "No one asked me about that before."
Danielle felt a jolt of recognition as she realized something no one else must have. She looked back at the collection of pictures on the glass coffee table, past the one of Michael with his arms around both his parents' soulders, to the picture of the boy tossing a tennis ball into the air for the serve. Focused on him holding his racquet, ready to swipe it down in a wide booming arc.
"Is something wrong, Chief Inspector?" Layla Saltzman asked her.
"No," Danielle said, knowing no sense lay in saying anything to the woman yet, not until she was sure. "Nothing at all."CHAPTER 2
"COMMAND TO POST One," Ben Kamal said into his walkie-talkie, ignoring its low-battery warning light.
"Post One, Command."
"Do you still have visual on the subject?"
"I have him, Command. Still in his damned front row seat. Hasn't moved an inch."
"Roger," Ben replied and mopped the sweat from his brow. He figured it was over a hundred degrees in the cavernous bowels of Jericho's brand new soccer stadium, situated in a naturally flat valley between Elisha's Spring and the Ein as-Sultan refugee camp. Someday this would be the well-ventilated home of souvenir and refreshment stands that were supposed to have been ready at the same time the stadium was completed. But the collapse of the peace process had brought construction to a screeching halt, the Palestinian workers having abandoned their tools for rocks, slingshots, and, increasingly, guns.
Around him Ben heard a cheer go up that shook the walls, tried to guess what might have transpired. Not the winning goal; that noise would have truly rattled his eardrums. Probably just a great save or defensive stop.
The inaugural game of Palestine's soccer team versus Greece was well into overtime now with neither team having scored a goal. Thirty thousand fans had packed the stadium, causing a traffic jam so massive that the Greek team had to walk to the stadium from its hotel. The game had started nearly two hours late; those who had arrived on time left were to roast in stands that had been built with no shade whatsoever.
Ben and his surveillance team had been among the first to arrive in order to stake out their assigned surveillance points. They were here because Colonel Nabril al-Asi had received a tip that a leading Hamas terrorist named Mahmoud Fasil was going to be making a delivery. What, to whom, and precisely when during the game, the colonel didn't know.
"Why not just handle it yourself?" Ben had asked him.
"Our president needs the support of Hamas right now, Inspector," al-Asi replied, unable to disguise the bitterness in his voice. "Thus, my Protective Security Service is under strict orders to avoid operations against any of its members."
"Which, of course, doesn't apply to us lowly police officers."
"You have the privilege of being able to plead ignorance, Inspector."
Ben nodded, understanding. "Use our incompetence to its best advantage."
Al-Asi had merely shrugged, not bothering to offer a denial.
Mahmoud Fasil claimed his front row seat late and had not budged from it since the start of the game. Besides the flat-faced henchmen on either side of him, Fasil had not spoken to a single soul. The twelve policemen Ben had placed throughout the stadium to cover every angle had seen nothing out of the ordinary.
If nothing else, this would serve as an excellent exercise in a part of police work for which the Palestinian force had little practice. Ben had been putting his dozen years as a Detroit cop to good use in the West Bank for six years now, responsible for much of the most advanced training the detective force had undergone. They still did not totally accept him but he had proven himself often enough that neither could they disregard his advice. And anyone who did risked facing the wrath of Jericho's acting mayor, and Ben's former chief, Fawzi Wallid.
"Anything?" Wallid asked, after Ben approached him in the future concessions area. The mayor was only thirty-one years old. But his ruddy, pockmarked complexion and hooded brown eyes made him look older.
"Perhaps Colonel al-Asi's intelligence was wrong."
"Colonel al-Asi's intelligence is never wrong."
The young acting-mayor frowned. "He's been trying to catch Fasil himself for months. The colonel would like nothing better than for someone else to be given the blame for failure. You know that."
"Or the credit for catching this asshole. I know that too, sidi."
"Post Four to Command," both of them heard over Ben's walkie-talkie.
"Where are you, Four?" Ben returned.
"Behind the goal. They're setting up for penalty shots."
"Can you see Fasil?"
"On his feet cheering with everyone else. Can I keep this camera when we're finished, Inspector?"
"Just keep your eye on him. I'm coming up."
"Hurry so you don't miss the finish."
"I'd better head back to my seat too," Wallid said, obviously disappointed.
"We haven't failed yet, sidi."
"The intelligence services always get the credit for the ones like Mahmoud Fasil, Inspector. This was a big opportunity for us. We know Fasil is planning to run soon. We won't get another."
"The game's not over."
"Have your team ready to help with the traffic detail once it is."
Ben followed Wallid up the ramp and stood under cover of the overhang beneath the stadium's second tier. With everyone in the crowd standing to watch the penalty kicks, he had no view of Fasil or any of the rows closest to the field.
The crowd fell silent as the first Greek kicker lined up and fired his penalty shot into the goal, then erupted when the first Palestinian shooter did the same, high to the opposite corner. Ben feared he had missed something, went over his strategy to see if there was anything he had neglected. No, he had covered every angle. Mahmoud Fasil had not been out of his surveillance team's sight since Fasil entered the stadium.
The first three rounds ended with each team having made all of its penalty kicks. The fourth was the same, but the Greek player kicking fifth had his shot deflected wide by the Palestinian goalie. That gave Palestine's leading scorer, Abdel Sidr, a chance to win the game.
Sidr placed the ball down dramatically, lengthening the moment of utter silence in the stands as he measured his steps away from it. Ben tried to picture the chaos that would follow this upset, if Sidr knocked the ball home. He had seen European soccer crowds in action, couldn't imagine the hysteria over victory here.
Ben felt a slight chill.
Chaos ... hysteria ...
If anything happened, it would be now!
Ben pushed his way down the aisle toward the box seats just above field level.
Abdel Sidr started forward, swooping toward the ball.
Ben caught a glimpse of Mahmoud Fasil before someone shifted sideways behind him. And then he realized. In the moment Sidr's foot drew backward and then retraced its arc, he realized.
What better time, what better place? ...
"All Posts, move in on target. The exchange is going down!" he said into his walkie-talkie. "Repeat, the ex —"
The rest of Ben's words were drowned out by cheers when Abdel Sidr cracked his foot solidly into the ball and drilled it straight into the right-hand corner of the net. Ben continued trying to raise the members of his team as he was jostled and shoved by joyous fans intent on storming the field. Ben let himself be swept up in the flow that drove him down the aisle and spilled him over the lowest row of box seats onto the sideline.
Ben landed atop three young men and pushed himself off them to his feet, walkie-talkie back against his lips. "This is Command. Does anybody have him? Repeat, does anybody have Fasil?"
"This is Post Four. Field level. I've got him, I've got him! A few yards in front of the net. I think, yes, that's Fasil hugging the hero Sidr."
"Keep your eyes on him! Everyone else, converge, but don't try to take him until you hear from me."
"He's moving away, pushing through the crowd," Post Four reported.
"I've got him now," announced an out-of-breath officer.
"Heading toward an exit," Post Four repeated. "Big bastard on either side of him."
"I've lost him," from the still out-of-breath officer.
"Post Four," said Ben. "Stay with him but don't approach. Repeat, don't approach."
Ben pushed his way through the mounting crowd, trying to see. The goal had spilled over and fans were tearing at the netting. Players elbowed their way forward to escape the frenzy. Ben thought he saw the game's hero, Abdel Sidr, being rushed toward the player's ramp by stadium security.
"Command, this is Post Four. I've got the target. Closing now!"
"No, just stay —"
The sound of firecrackers made Ben break off his words. At least, that's what they sounded like. But the panicked screams and sudden thrust of the crowd away from the noise told Ben they were gunshots.
"Post Four, Post Four, come in! Post Four, come in!"
Hoping for a reply, Ben drew his pistol and surged forward, no longer making any effort to be subtle.
"Police!" he screamed. "Police! Make way!"
The crowd scattered as best it could. Ben shoved people aside, saw Mahmoud Fasil change directions and sprint toward the other end of the field. His two bodyguards, meanwhile, continued toward the nearest exit, clearing a path with their drawn guns.
Ben lifted his walkie-talkie to order his men after them, but the warning light was flashing now, telling him the battery had died. Ben pocketed it, as he neared the fallen officer. Post Four was barely out of his teens. Blood pooled beneath the hands clutching his side. The officer looked up at Ben in shocked fear when Ben pushed the crowd away and scooped him up as gently as he could to stop him from being trampled.
"I'm sorry," the young officer muttered, lips trembling horribly.
Excerpted from Keepers of the Gate by Jon Land. Copyright © 2001 Jon Land. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Thriller fans rejoice! Keepers of the Gate has arrived. Palestinian-American detective Ben Kamal and Israeli detective Danielle Barnea join forces again to investigate the connection between the mysterious deaths of several high school students and an assassin targeting elderly Holocaust survivors. International intrigue and double feints are par for the course in this thrilling tale. Be advised, when you think you¿ve figured it out, Land has more surprises in store. Punctuating this roller-coaster ride is the relationship between the two detectives and the fate of their unborn child. Longtime fans of the series will find the tension between Ben and Danielle as compelling as the central mystery itself. New readers, hold onto your seats; it¿s a white-knuckled read. Land has packed eight days of action into this tersely written, well-plotted work which races towards its surprising conclusion.
Destiny has played a horrible trick on Palestinian American Detective Ben Kamal and Israeli Chief Inspector (Packed) Danielle Barnea. They met during a joint investigation and became lovers, but Danielle ended it because she knew they had no future together. Her compatriots will never accept Ben as her lover of husband, but only a deadly enemy. After a time, the duo becomes lovers again, but this time Danielle becomes pregnant. She ends their relationship again, planning to raise the child by herself. However, destiny intercedes as they work on the same case from different perspectives. Someone has murdered Palestinian and Israeli children attending the same school. At least two of the homicides are covered up to make them seem more like accidents or suicides. Danielle goes overseas where she meets up with Ben seeking answers, but killers stand in the way, willing to blow both of them into oblivion if they don¿t stop asking questions. Jon Land writes exciting and believable political thrillers in the tradition of Clancy, and Cornwall even if he has not received the recognition he deserves. The theme of KEEPERS OF THE GATE is universal yet heart wrenching so that readers will understand the motives of the key players, whose flaws make them so human. Mr. Land is a great storyteller who enriches his audience with every novel he writes. Harriet Klausner