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Contemporary Mystery Suspense

He was looking at the map Mat left him and couldn’t believe this pile of dirt was the spot. It was under a tall palm tree several yards from the bay. It was hard not to be distracted by the crystal-clear blue water. Jack had travelled all the way from Oregon to Ras Mohammed National Park in Egypt in search of clues. What happened to Mat? He left Jack a cryptic text before his disappearance then several more two months later. There was a photo of a handmade map with an X on the spot where he buried some sort of clue. Ironically, many years ago, Mat had made Jack promise that if Mat died before him, Jack would visit the Park and leave some token of him there. It was one of their favorite palaces in the world. They had visited it together many years back. The Egyptian government had declared him dead. His family had a funeral in absentia for him and sat shivah for two weeks. He had been on a snorkeling tour of the middle East and Ras Mohammed had great coral. In fact, Jack had snorkeled there when it was part of Israel many years ago. He may have been the one to tell Mat about it before they visited it together. When Mat lost contact with his family and girlfriend Diane, his father contacted the U.S. embassy in Cairo with no results. The ambassador suggested he may have been kidnapped by one of the terrorist groups that had been active in the area. His father spent weeks searching northern border towns in Egypt but to no avail. He placed ads in the Cairo newspapers, spoke to Bedouins and even hired a translator to travel with him. It would be hard to miss Mat. He was six foot seven, had blonde hair and a crooked smile. He spoke Hebrew, French and some Arabic.

 Jack had taken international relations courses in Stanford and was a natural polyglot. If he spent any time in any country or any community, he’d become almost fluent in their language in months or semi-fluent in weeks. It was unbelievable. He had some sort of secretive government job that allowed him to travel. Jack suspected that he worked for the CIA or was a spy. When he asked Mat about his travels and role in the government, Mat would only tell him that he worked for the state department. Even his girlfriend Diane did not know the details of his job and rarely traveled with him. Jack wondered why she stayed loyal to him despite his long absences. After all, she was a catch, a tall dark attractive Human Rights lawyer with a keen sense of humor.  Guys hit on her regularly, but she was committed to Mat. It was hard not to love him. He excelled at everything he did and had a big heart. Most of all he was fun to be around with a sense of adventure, sharp wit and infectious laugh. It didn’t hurt that he was tall, blonde and extremely good looking. When Jack and he were teenagers, Jack was amazed by Mat’s social skills. He had none of the teenage awkwardness. Of course, he was a chic magnet but seemed unaware of his magnetism and remained irritatingly humble. In contrast, Jack struggled with teenage acne and shyness. It was only when he graduated college and became a veterinarian that he came into his own.  He married Beth and had two kids-Jeri and Stan. Still, Jack was more comfortable dealing with animals than people. Mat had always been his liaison but during the last few years, they rarely met. Like Diane, he still felt emotionally connected to his best friend and missed him.

 Jack grew up with Mat and was friends with his sister Sarah and considered his mom and dad, a second set of parents. He contacted them before leaving for Egypt. Strangely, the last texts and photo from Mat appeared two months after his disappearance. His father, Bill, took that as a sign that he was still alive. Maybe he had been kidnapped after all. His dad wanted to accompany Jack, but Jack preferred to travel alone. Bill shared all the details of his research and some of his contacts in Egypt. Jack assured Bill he’d keep in close contact.


 As he stood sweating under the palm tree and staring at the pile dirt, Jack became aware that a man in a speedo, wearing a snorkel and a mask had just stepped out of the water and was approaching him. Strangely, the man did not take off his mask. Jack had an irrational impulse to run but stood his ground, bracing for the unexpected. With the snorkel hanging by the side of his face and his red mask covering his eyes the man could be any beachgoer. At least, he couldn’t have had any hidden weapons. His speedo was pretty tight. He seemed friendly and even waved at Jack. His first few words were probably Arabic or some sort of semitic language. When Jack shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. The man started speaking in broken English.

“You speak English? American or maybe Canadian?” He still wore his mask.

Jack was wary but answered: “American. The beach seems pretty empty. Where is everybody?”

The man chuckled and nodded. “Yes, many terrorists in the area.”

His answer sent chills up Jack’s spine. His impulse to run became stronger. Why hadn’t this guy taken off his mask? It was fogging up. Still, he couldn’t leave until he dug up the pile of dirt.

The man in the mask approached Jack and seemed inches from his face. Jack thought he smelled garlic on his breath. The impulse was growing stronger.

“Are you tourist?” The masked man probed.

“I’m looking for a friend?”

“Ah, I think I know where your friend is.”

Now every fiber in Jack’s body was on high alert. He needed to run but his car was a quarter mile away.

“I doubt that sir. You don’t know who I am.”

“I notice you keep looking down at the dirt pile. You must be Mr. Jack. We’ve been expecting you.”

Jack wondered if this was a trap. How could anyone know that he would be on this spot on this particular day and this particular hour. Jack was not very brave, but he needed to solve this riddle. Maybe he could find Mat after all. So, he played along.

“Who are you? How do you know my name?”

The man unmasked. He was swarthy skinned with a pencil moustache and a wry smile.

“My name is Uri. I am with Israeli intelligence. Sorry for the cloak and dagger bit but I had to be sure you were Jack. We’ve been monitoring your whereabout in coordination with the U.S. state department for months. Your friend Mat was kidnapped by Hamas, but we extracted him from one of their tunnels along with a few of the terrorists. He is safe but is still a target. He has some very sensitive information regarding Iran and Hamas. It’s too risky to use any of our usual means of communication to relay it to the U.S. government. He suggested you would be the least likely person to be a suspected courier. Besides, he said you could reassure his family.”

Jack froze. Mat always overestimated him. What the hell was he thinking? Jack was not the adventurer or brave type that he was. Once again, he had an overwhelming impulse to run. Yet, he stood his ground and listened. Uri continued.

“Follow me to my car, I will put on a shirt and shorts and take you to your friend.”

Jack wondered if this was an elaborate ruse. Would he be kidnapped and tortured. He began to tremble and sweat. He had to ask: “How do I know you’re telling the truth?”

“Ah, we were prepared for that question. Mat told me to remind you that you owe him for helping you pass Mr. Fisher’s grade eleven physics class. Also, it was at his house that you met Beth. That’s the best I can do. I wouldn’t blame you if you doubted that I was Israeli. I can sing Hatikvah (the Israeli national anthem) for you, but I realize that may not be enough. You’re going to have to trust me.”

Jack continued to have his doubts but for once in his life, he had to take a chance. If Mat was alive, he had to find out. He followed Uri to a parking lot where his jeep was parked. The license plate was Israeli but who knew if it was fake? After Uri changed into some shorts and a tee-shirt, he instructed Jack to get his car and follow him. They drove on an empty highway surrounded by a desert landscape with mountains in the background. They passed occasional villages and Bedouins in white robes leading camels. When they reached an Israeli checkpoint, Uri showed them some ID and after a brief conversation, a soldier waved Uri and Jack through. Jack finally relaxed. Uri was the real deal. After a few miles, they turned off the highway and the landscape changed. Suddenly there were palm trees and a body of water. It was an oasis. There was a small wooden shack tucked under a group of palm trees in the distance. As they approached the shack Jack noticed another jeep parked in front and some soldiers sitting on a porch with rifles at their side. They seemed to know Uri and greeted him.

Nu, Uri, ma nishma (what’s going on)?

Uri got out of his car, smiled and answered: “Hakol beseder. Zeh Jack (everything is in order. This is Jack)”.

As jack left his car and overheard the soldiers, he realized that they expected him. Those Sunday school Hebrew lessons came in handy. He and Uri walked through the door and sitting at a table with a big smile was Mat. Jack was relieved, happy and angry all at the same time. He could only manage five words.

“Mat, you son of a bitch!”

October 15, 2023 23:40

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1 comment

Mary Bendickson
18:49 Oct 18, 2023

A leap of faith.


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