Evil for evil
James R. Benn
King David Hotel
Jerusalem, British Mandate
This was the Holy Land, and I had never felt so far from home. From the narrow balcony outside Diana's room, I watched traffic flow along a side street, beyond the impossibly green gardens gracing the grounds of the King David Hotel. An old Arab pulling a donkey hustled it to the side of the road as a British Army staff car sped by, the sound of its insistent horn echoing off the stone buildings. The donkey raised its head, braying as the dust settled and the staff car vanished. The old man put his arms around the donkey's neck and spoke to it, nodding, and scratched the animal behind its ears. The donkey flicked its tail and followed him back into the street, where they both resumed their slow, deliberate gaits.
I wondered what the old man had said. I wondered what I would say when I returned to the room. I doubted it would be anything as persuasive.
'Billy,' Diana said from inside, 'are you coming in?'
'Yes,' I said as I brushed back the thin curtains fluttering in the slight breeze. 'I am.'
Everything had been just right. We were on leave, traveling with the general, staying at ritzy joints from Cairo to Jerusalem, the kinds of hotels the British built so the Victorians would feel at home while seeing the sights. Hotels with thick walls between the guests and the funny dark-skinned locals. But I hadn't even thought about that. I'd been content to enjoy this time with Diana, until I found out the secret she had kept hidden from me.
Diana sat on the edge of the bed, holding a glass of water pressed to her chest. Her khaki blouse was unbuttoned. Water beaded on the glass and dripped onto her flushed skin. The overhead fan turned lazily, moving the heat in circles. I poured myself a glass of water and drank half of it as I sat in the brocade-covered armchair near the open balcony door. The fabric was hot and itchy but I liked my chances better in it. I might feel a breeze and I might be able to resist the sight of Diana's moist skin and the curving rivulets of sweat as they disappeared beneath the damp folds of her FANY uniform.
'Are you angry with me?' She asked the question casually, as if she had no idea.
'When were you going to tell me?' I replied.
She looked away as she raised the glass to her forehead, rolling it above her closed eyes. Little beads of water fell onto her cheeks. Or were those tears she was trying to hide? Or worse yet, were there no tears, only English sweat and Egyptian water?
'It's too hot, Billy. Please.'
'You used me. Then you played me for a sap.'
'No. No, I didn't.'
Maybe that was true. Sort of. I had been used so often in this war that maybe I expected everyone to take a turn.
'OK,' I said. 'You didn't use me. But you have been stringing me along, making believe everything was fine.'
'Everything is fine. Or was, until you started behaving so poorly.'
'I wish we could go back to how it was.'
'We worked quite well together, didn't we?' Her voice was wistful.
We had indeed. Diana Seaton and I were both on General Eisenhower's staff. I was in something called the Office of Special Investigations. Not many people had heard of it, which was the point. The general didn't want anything that warranted a special investigation to get a lot of attention. That might hurt the war effort. But he did want things taken care of-quietly, if possible. That was my job.
Diana Seaton had joined the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry at the start of the war. Then she'd volunteered for the Special Operations Executive, the British outfit that sent spies and saboteurs behind enemy lines. She'd barely survived a mission in Algiers a year ago. After her recuperation, General Eisenhower had taken her on as a liaison officer at Allied Forces HQ in Tunisia. Maybe he did that because he needed another liaison officer or maybe because I was his courtesy nephew. It was hard to tell with Uncle Ike.
'We were great together,' I said. 'They didn't stand a chance against the two of us.' I had to smile when I said it.
We'd been sent with an advance party to Cairo, to prepare for a visit by President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Churchill, and a boatload of bigwigs who were going to stop off on their way to Tehran to chew the fat with Stalin. As part of her liaison duties, Diana had checked with various British intelligence services, including the SOE HQ for the Mediterranean Theater. They'd gotten wind of a German agent in contact with a group of Egyptian Army officers who weren't too happy about the Brits running their country. As I was of Irish extraction myself, I could see their point. The English had a way of mistaking other people's countries for their own backyard, and the people who lived there for servants or slaves. It was one of the things that made Diana and me such an odd pair. Her father had been knighted at some point, and she was definitely upper crust. Me, I was from the South End. Boston Irish. We were a bad mix.
Diana stood behind me and began rubbing my neck.
'It was exciting,' she said.
'And dangerous,' I said. I tried to sound adamant but it was hard with Diana's hands working on the tense muscles in my shoulders.
'I didn't want to spoil this trip,' she said, finally answering my question. 'I was going to tell you before we left. How did you find out?'
'Kay mentioned it. She seemed to think I already knew.'
'I'm sorry, Billy.'
'I don't want you to go.'
'I am going.'
'Why?' I shook off her hands and stood to face her. 'Why you? Why volunteer?'
'Because I can make a difference. Because I can't bear to sit at a desk and have people think I'm here only because of you.'
'Would that be so bad?'
'Yes! I can't sit idly by while others risk their lives. While you risk yours. I was trained by the SOE, Billy. There's a job for me to do, and I can't do it sitting around headquarters!'
'But you almost were killed-'
'Yes. I was raped, beaten, drugged, and I almost killed myself because of it,' she said, rattling off the physical and emotional wounds she'd suffered as if they were items on a shopping list. She faced me. 'It was a nightmare, and you rescued me, Billy. In many, many ways. But now I'm better. It's behind me, and it's time I moved on.'
'But nothing, Billy. I'm going back on active duty with the SOE. I've proved to myself that I'm ready.'
'You needed me, you know.'
'You bastard,' Diana said.
It was true. Diana had done her part, putting the pieces together, but when it came time to hunt down the German and his renegade Egyptian pals, it was my job. Diana had begged to come along. To observe, she had said. There were four of us, all well armed, so I had agreed. It was an adventure, I'd told myself. I hadn't understood that Diana needed to test herself, to see if she could stand up once again to danger and death. She'd passed the test, and ended up saving my life to boot. But that didn't change the fact that she'd used me, no matter how she dressed it up. And that to get me to allow her to tag along, she'd used all her wiles. Succumbing had been a bad