An unexpected murder. A suspect with a reason. The power of unwavering belief.
A murder has been committed in an office in Jerusalem. That’s for sure. The rest is not as clear-cut as it might seem.
Asaf languishes in his cell, unable to tell his story even to himself. How can he tell it to someone who elicits such fear within him?
His colleague, Nathalie, has studied Beauty and the Beast. She understands its moral. Maybe that’s why she’s the only one who believes in Asaf, the suspect. But she’s new in the company – and in the country. Would anyone take her opinion seriously?
She coerces her flatmates, Yarden and Tehila, into helping her investigate. As they uncover new trails, will they be able to reverse popular opinion?
In the end, will Beauty’s belief be strong enough to waken the Beast? Or, in this case, can Style waken the Solitary?
EXCERPT CHAPTER ONE
Winter jacket with hood, gloves in pockets. Asaf gave his black shoes an extra
little polish. Then he checked his image in the wardrobe mirror and felt around
in his pockets. Keys, phone, wallet with Rav Kav, ID card, credit card and
money. And the note, written last night, folded twice. He rubbed his thumb and
forefinger against its smooth surface. The rubbing gave him courage,
determination, like the touching of two wires to complete an electric circuit.
Nothing would put him off, this time. Nothing and no one.
Asaf turned the key to unlock the front door, using his foot to push aside the draft stopper. When he returned, he would have done the deed and things would be different. Yes, people were about to take notice of him. Change was in the air.
The cold wind hit him as soon as he stepped out of the flat. This block didn’t have an outside door, and living on the ground floor didn’t help. Outside the building, the wind swirled around him. Asaf cut through it with hooded head lowered, as he charged ahead along almost-deserted pavements. He passed closed, lifeless shops. Even the grocer, though open for business, had its entrance closed to keep the weather out.
Other early birds waited at the bus stop on Hebron Road. Asaf recognised most of the faces and some of the voices. They probably recognised him. One thing he was sure of: none of them had ever heard his voice. He’d never approached them, and they usually left him alone. There was that time when a newcomer had asked him which bus he needed to get to the central bus station. He shrugged and raised his eyebrows, despite knowing the answer, and someone else offered the information.
The 71 turned up and most of those waiting crowded around the entrance. Asaf stood at the back, where no one would blame him for shoving them. There were generally enough seats, anyway, at this time. If not, standing was no hardship for him. As usual, he was the last to insert his Rav Kav into the slot.
This time – was this a sign? – he even won a prize for being last on. A window seat, vacated when two people prepared to get off at the next stop. A chance to get up to date with news headlines on his phone, as well as to glance up at the familiar sites passing by. The Bank Junction, nicknamed after the numerous bank branches. Its name had stuck, although several of them had since changed identities. The streets of the neighbourhood of Baka on the left, then Abu Tor, the mixed Jewish and Arab neighbourhood, on the right. The First Station, once Jerusalem’s railway station, now an outdoor cultural and culinary centre that hosted shows and boasted the start of a walking and cycling path leading as far as the zoo. Yemin Moshe, the beautiful old, road-free neighbourhood easily identifiable by its tall windmill. The town centre, and then the orthodox areas, noticeable especially by the dress of those traversing the streets, chatting together or scampering in all directions.
Perched on his window seat, Asaf took in all these sites, and skimmed the news on his phone, but still focused on his self-imposed mission for today. Nothing could stop him. Not
after the events of Thursday, the last working day before the weekend. Thursday was a bad day, but sometimes you needed bad things to occur because they pushed you to break out of your comfort zone. Like the time he hit back at some twerp at school, who fell down in surprise, and for a change the laughter had diverted from Asaf to the twerp.
The screen on his phone turned itself off, but Asaf continued to stare at it.
Thursday. It was about eleven when he found out – after everyone else, naturally. He’d been concentrating on a particularly difficult circuit board, trying to work out the best components to fit into a tiny space, and he’d just had a lightbulb moment when Ido had put his black-haired head round the opening to Asaf’s cubicle, all smiles and false friendliness. Typical. Ido always appeared at the worst moments and commanded attention solely by his presence.
Asaf should have told Ido to wait because he was busy. He should at least have said he needed another minute, so that he could write down his lightbulb thoughts before shifting his attention to Ido. But he didn’t. He never did. The truth was – and this was hard to admit but had to be said – he was in awe of Ido.
Yes. Ido, who was hopeless at his job in quality assurance. Ido, who said, “Yes, of course I understand.” Ido who came back to Asaf to ask yet again and feigned friendliness until Asaf had practically run the whole procedure himself, because there were only so many times you could explain the same thing.
“Asaf, you’re a brick. I’m indebted to you. I’ll tell Omer how helpful you’ve been to me.”
Like hell you will, thought Asaf. You’ll never tell the boss I did your work for you. You’ll pretend it was all you, and he’ll believe you because you could talk your way out of a snake pit. You could persuade a murderer to release you from the knife on your neck. And you know I won’t tell Omer, despite being absolutely exasperated with you, because it would be too much of an effort for me to get the words out. Omer wouldn’t believe me anyway. I know that and you know that. It’s win-win for you and lose-lose for me. Every single bloody time.
Yes, this was that same Ido who Asaf was in awe of, precisely because of his ability to use his tongue to get everyone on his side.
But on Thursday, Ido hadn’t come with any of his scribblings in hand or asked Asaf to review any of his measly attempts. No, Ido had come with an excited grin between his spiked hair and neatly trimmed beard, and a piece of news.
“Guess what. I’ve been promoted!”
“What!” Even Asaf couldn’t keep quiet at that.
“I know; I was amazed, too. They think I’m ready to manage a team and, with Koby in the
other office leaving, there’s one going. Isn’t that wonderful?”
“Yes. Congratulations.” Asaf’s reply was weak and emotionless, but that wouldn’t raise
any eyebrows. Asaf always sounded quiet and lacking in feelings.
“Cheers, mate.” Ido thumped Asaf on the back. “I’m ordering cake for this afternoon. Two
o’clock. Don’t forget.” Ido’s actions were apparently friendly, but Asaf sensed the underlying scorn. What Ido was really saying was, ‘Huh, you see? You sit here glued to your desk, slaving away at your simulated designs with their intricate components, but I’m the one who gets promoted. I’m the one who’s going to get ahead in life. Ten years from now, I’ll be a big boss over a whole department or a whole company. I’ll have a large office all to myself, and you’ll still be sitting in your little cubicle taking commands from up above.’
Asaf had lolled back in his chair after Ido left him. He’d been working at the office longer than Ido, he was far, far better at his work than him, and he would never be promoted.
Miriam Drori was born and brought up in London and now lives with her husband and one of three grown up children in Jerusalem.
With a degree in Maths and following careers in computer programming and technical writing, Miriam has been writing novels and short stories since 2004. After some success with short stories, Miriam turned her hand to longer fictional works, publishing NEITHER HERE NOR THERE and THE WOMEN FRIENDS: SELINA, co-written with Emma Rose Millar.
Social anxiety features in Miriam's latest publications. SOCIAL ANXIETY REVEALED is a non-fiction guide that explores this common but little-known disorder from multiple points of view. The book has been highly recommended by 'sufferers' as well as professionals in this field. CULTIVATING A FUJI is the story of a fictional character who battles against social anxiety before learning to make friends with it. STYLE AND THE SOLITARY, a crime novel, asks an important question: what happens when a suspect can't stick up for himself?
When not writing, Miriam enjoys reading, hiking, dancing and travelling.