Excerpt: Road to Home
“Mihi?” Rafi’s voice echoed softly on the other end of the phone. His tone had an edge to it that was too cautious—soft, as if he were afraid of being overheard, and yet intent, as if he were anxious that I would miss something important. My heart beat faster in worry. Rafi never sounded like that. He was always so happy to hear my voice, to know that I was all right, and to ask how my day went.
“Rafi,” I replied, keeping my voice light and easy, as if that could somehow halt the darkness I could feel creeping into our conversation. If I could maintain my good mood and stay happy, it would be just another normal phone call instead of the painful one I knew it was about to become.
“I love you, Mihi,” Rafi continued. “When I get home, let’s make grilled peanut butter sandwiches and eat them on the back deck.”
My heart stopped. I never should have picked up the phone so late at night, but I had been hoping it was Rafi calling to tell me he was on his way home from his most recent mission. It would have made my night to plan to cut out of work early tomorrow to go pick him up at the airport. Rafi needed to take everything he was saying back.
“Do you want bananas in your sandwich?” I forced out through a tight throat, as I fought tears and panic.
“No!” Rafi yelped. I wished he sounded hopeful instead of panicked. “No bananas. Keep the bananas at the store!”
“Olives?” I asked, hurt. I understood why no bananas, but the admission still twisted something in my gut.
“The olives are already in the pantry,” Rafi replied, much to my relief. “I have to go. I love you, Mihi.”
The phone clicked off before I could reply.
My first inclination was to break down and cry, and I was fighting tears even as I grabbed my wallet and keys and headed for the garage. Bananas or no bananas, Rafi wasn’t going down without me!
I grew up eating Nutella in Israel, which is similar to peanut butter, but about a million times better. Rafi knew I wouldn’t eat something so inferior in comparison as peanut butter, which is why eagerly asking for peanut butter sandwiches was the panic code. I did love bananas on my Nutella sandwich, though, and Martin was an olive fiend. Robert was a jelly guy, but since he was still in D.C., there was no reason for Rafi to have mentioned him.
I barely remembered the drive to Headquarters. I was probably lucky not to have passed a speed cop on my way, because if I wasn’t focused solely on the road, I tended to drive like an Israeli. Too much speed, too much swerving around other drivers, and a tendency to obnoxiously overuse my car horn.
Rafi’s job is a mysterious one. It wasn’t something we could explain to our parents or friends. Instead, we simply told them he worked for the government. In fact, the majority of the intelligence and Homeland Security community didn’t know Rafi’s job existed. His job was so high up the need-to-know scale that if I hadn’t occasionally worked with his office, he might not have been allowed to tell me about it, even with spousal privilege.
What that all meant, of course, was that the nose of my car was pointed towards Maryland instead of D.C. The outside of Rafi’s office building looked unassuming as I finally pulled up, just steel and brick, without any overt security features to give away its actual purpose. The official sign on the street read Department of Agriculture and Forestry.
I slid into the first parking spot I saw. Since the lot was mostly empty, it wasn’t hard, but my head was buzzing strangely and my lungs were aching as I fought against hyperventilating. Anything that helped to make this easier was a welcome boon.
The main doors were a short walk away, along a sidewalk with carefully-manicured shrubs that attempted to give the building a little class, but still managed to look industrial despite all that. The doors didn’t slam satisfyingly against any walls as I shoved inside, but I stomped right through the metal detector, past the cop manning the security station, and up the stairs. I could hear at least three alarms going off as I bypassed the first floor and headed out into the lobby on the second. Those weren’t important though. Figuring out what was wrong with Rafi was.