E X C E R P T
This is the news story that appeared the next day, in the Sunday edition of the Detroit Free Press , page one:
FOUR TOURISTS DIE
IN ISRAELI HOTEL FIRE
tel aviv, March 20 (AP)—A predawn fire gutted an eight-story resort hotel Saturday, killing four tourists and injuring 46 others, including guests who leaped from upper-story windows to escape the flames. No Americans were killed, but two were reported injured, including an Ohio woman who jumped from a fourth-floor window.
The blaze swept through the 200-room Park Hotel in Netanya, a Mediterranean resort city about 20 miles north of Tel Aviv.
About 20 Americans escaped from the fire, an American Embassy official said, including a tour group of 17 who arrived in Israel a week ago from Columbus, Ohio.
According to a state radio report, the Park’s management had recently considered closing the building after receiving threats from protection racketeers who had failed to extort payments from the hotel’s owners.
Firemen extinguished the flames after a seven-hour battle.
In a six-column picture on the news-photo page of the Free Press , several elderly tourists who had escaped the fire were gathered in a group on the street, holding blankets around hunched shoulders. It was raining and they looked wet and cold. A dark, bearded man wearing white trousers, his chest and feet bare, stood apart from the group, somewhat in the background, and seemed to have been moving away when the picture was taken. The bearded man, glancing over his shoulder, was caught in that moment with a startled, open-mouthed expression.
The picture caption repeated most of the facts from the page-one story and quoted Mr. Nathan Fine, leader of the Columbus tour group, as saying, “It’s a miracle we’re alive. There was somebody went up and down the halls banging on doors, getting people out, telling them to put wet towels over their heads and follow him—crawl along the hall to the outside stairway in back. He must have saved the lives of twenty people. It was lucky, I’ll tell you, those stairs were outside, or nobody would be here now.”
The man who had gone up and down the halls banging on doors was not identified by name. Outside the hotel that rainy Saturday morning, no one seemed to know who he was or where he had gone.
Rosen first noticed the tourist lady on Friday, the day before the fire. He saw her and said to himself, New York.
She had the look—a trim forty-year-old who kept herself together: stylish in a quiet way, neatly combed dark hair and sunglasses; tailored beige sundress, about a size eight or ten; expensive cane-trimmed handbag hanging from her shoulder; nothing overdone, no camera case, no tourist lapel badge that said “Kiss Me, I’m Jewish.” Rosen, watching her walk past the café, liked her thin legs, her high can, and her sensible breasts.
In Netanya the main street came in from the Haifa Road, crossed railroad tracks, and passed through crowded blocks of shops and business places before reaching an open parkway of shrubs and scattered palm trees—Netanya’s promenade. Beyond were the beach road and the sea. Looking down on the park were hotels and flat-faced apartment buildings. On the ground level of these buildings were shops that sold oriental rugs and jewelry to tourists, and open-air cafés with striped awnings. One of the cafés, on the north side of the park, was the Acapulco. There Rosen had his midmorning coffee with hot milk, and there he was sitting when he first noticed the trim, New York-looking tourist lady.
He saw her again that evening at a quarter of ten in a beige pantsuit and red Arab jewelry, with red earrings dangling below neatly combed dark hair. He imagined she would smell of bath powder.
She pretended to be interested in looking at things—at signs, at the bill of fare on the stucco wall of the café—smiling a little now at the way “Bloody Mery” was spelled, and “Manhatan” and “te.” She needed something to look at, Rosen decided, because she was self-conscious, feeling people at the tables looking at her and making judgments in Hebrew and in foreign languages. She maintained a pleasant expression, wanting people to like her.
Rosen never worried about what people thought. Years ago, developing confidence, yes, he’d used to say, “Fuck ‘em.” Now he didn’t even think about people thinking. He felt good and he looked good, a new person: face deeply tanned, full beard with streaks of gray in it. Hair a little thin on top, but the way he combed it across on a slant, curling over his ears, his scalp didn’t show. He never wore suits anymore. Dark blue knit shirt open to show the pale blue choker beads and some chest hair. Contrast was the key. The faded, washed-out safari jacket with short sleeves and the fifteen-hundred-dollar gold wristwatch. The outdoor look. The sun-blackened forearms and hands. Authentic casual. Off-white trousers, lined, seventy-five bucks in the U.S., and ten-dollar Israeli sandals. (There were other combinations: fifteen-dollar faded Levi’s with two-hundred-dollar Swiss boots; cashmere sportcoat and French jeans. But no business or even leisure suits, no matching outfits.)
He felt that he looked very good, in fact, down to one-forty-nine from the hundred and seventy pounds he had carried for more than twenty years. He was also down to five-nine from the five-ten he had measured when he’d gotten out of the service, but that didn’t bother him. He still considered himself five-ten and tried to remember not to let his shoulders droop or his gut hang out.