- Body Count
In the morning she pulled the news stories off the wire. There were always a few familiar bylines; the rest scrolled along her screen anonymous as soldiers, every sentence ranked and measured, every voice the same. Today, again, the news was the West Bank. Israeli tanks were rolling into Hebron, Nablus, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jenin. Arafat's compound was under siege. Palestinian gunmen were holed up inside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. In the Balata and Jenin refugee camps, there was fighting in the streets. Three Palestinian gunmen, four Israeli soldiers, dead.
Susan glanced across the newsroom as she finished punching the long string of numbers into the phone. There came the sound of what might have been the muffled rumble of thunder, or workmen rolling something heavy on the floor above. In Israel, Debbie's cell phone rang and rang with a whirring tone. Then her recorded voice came on the line, first in heavily American-accented Hebrew, then in English, and Susan hung up. Debbie Nelson was a good reporter, well connected after years of stringing for American newspapers, more valuable than ever in this environment of cutbacks and corporate squeeze. Susan had heard that Debbie had once been married to an Israeli, and even though she wasn't Jewish, she had stayed. Susan had met Debbie a few times on her periodic visits to New York. She was a short woman in her late thirties or early forties, with girlish bangs and doughy, freckled skin. Susan couldn't get over the feeling that she and Debbie should have traded places long ago.
Susan picked up the phone again and tried Debbie's home number, but got voice-mail there as well. In Jerusalem it was already late on Friday afternoon, Shabbat. Susan jiggled her mouse to reactivate her screen.
DATE: April 5, 2002. Israeli helicopter gunships launched a heavy attack on a Palestinian village today, killing the man alleged to have [End Page 71] planned the Passover Massacre, the suicide bombing that left 26 people dead at a Passover Seder in the Israeli city of Netanya on March 27.
Susan wondered if Debbie had gotten through the checkpoints into the West Bank. She'd have to go with what was on the wires for now.
At six-thirty it was raining, really pouring, the water sheeting off the overhang in front of her building, the roadway rippling with a layer of water pockmarked by the pelting rain. All the cabs seemed to be full or off duty, sending up sprays of dirty water as they passed. Susan gave up waiting, put up her umbrella, and began to walk toward Ninth. Water dripped off the edge of her umbrella onto her new pointy-toed shoes. She put her head down and picked up the pace.
A group of them always met at Bellevue's on Fridays after work, and its only virtue, as near as Susan could tell, was its proximity to work. Susan pushed open the door, shaking off the dripping umbrella, scanning the crowd for somebody she knew. The place was already packed, kitschy eighties heavy metal blaring from the jukebox. Fake rats and rubber heads hung on grimy walls. Reid was sitting at the bar with his girlfriend, Kristin. Susan didn't recognize anybody else.
She pushed her way to the bar and touched Reid's arm. He was wearing an olive-drab photographer's vest and had a three-day growth of beard. She said, Did you just get back?
Hey, he said, swiveling around on his stool. Kristin gave a little wave. Susan laid her umbrella and bag on the floor, smoothing her hair with a wet hand.
Susan had always found Reid handsome, but there was something-the delicate symmetry of his almost-pretty face, his greenish eyes, his thick wheat hair-that made her feel at times as if you'd have to peel back the skin of his face, like in a bad movie, to find out what he really looked like underneath. It wasn't vanity, Susan thought, that gave him that quality of inaccessibility, but the self-consciousness that came from knowing...