The Black Widow (Gabriel Allon #16) - Daniel Silva Page 0,1

unlocked a door at the end of the hall. Behind it was the room of a child, Hannah’s room, frozen in time. A four-poster bed with a lace canopy. Shelves stacked with stuffed animals and toys. A faded pinup of a heartthrob American actor. And hanging above the French provincial dresser, invisible in the darkness, was a painting by Vincent van Gogh. Marguerite Gachet at Her Dressing Table . . . Hannah trailed a fingertip over the brushstrokes and thought of the man who had carried out the painting’s one and only restoration. How would he respond at a time like this? No, she thought, smiling. That wouldn’t do.

She climbed into her childhood bed and, much to her surprise, fell into a dreamless sleep. And when she woke she had settled on a plan.

For the better part of the next week, Hannah and her team toiled under conditions of strict operational security. Potential participants were quietly approached, arms were twisted, donors were tapped. Two of Hannah’s most reliable sources of funding demurred, for like the minister of the interior they thought it better to not jeter de l’huile sur le feu—throw oil on the fire. To make up for the shortfall, Hannah had no choice but to dip into her personal finances, which were considerable. This, too, was fodder for her enemies.

Lastly, there was the small matter of what to call Hannah’s endeavor. Rachel Lévy, head of the center’s publicity department, thought blandness and a trace of obfuscation would be the best approach, but Hannah overruled her. When synagogues were burning, she said, caution was a luxury they could not afford. It was Hannah’s wish to sound an alarm, to issue a clarion call for action. She scribbled a few words on a slip of notepaper and placed it on Rachel’s cluttered desk.

“That should get their attention.”

At that point, no one of any consequence had agreed to attend—no one but a gadfly American blogger and cable television commentator who would have accepted an invitation to his own funeral. But then Arthur Goldman, the eminent historian of anti-Semitism from Cambridge, said he might be willing to make the trip down to Paris—provided, of course, that Hannah agreed to put him up for two nights in his favorite suite at the Crillon. With Goldman’s commitment, Hannah snared Maxwell Strauss from Yale, who never passed up an opportunity to appear on the same stage as his rival. The rest of the participants quickly fell into place. The director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum signed on, as did two important memoirists of survival and an expert on the French Holocaust from Yad Vashem. A novelist was added, more for her immense popularity than her historical insight, along with a politician from the French far right who rarely had a kind word to say about anyone. Several Muslim spiritual and community leaders were invited to attend. All declined. So, too, did the interior minister. Alain Lambert broke the news to Hannah personally.

“Did you really think he would attend a conference with so provocative a title?”

“Heaven forbid your master ever do anything provocative, Alain.”

“What about security?”

“We’ve always looked after ourselves.”

“No Israelis, Hannah. It will give the entire affair a bad odor.”

Rachel Lévy issued the press release the next day. The media were invited to cover the conference; a limited number of seats were made available to the public. A few hours later, on a busy street in the Twentieth Arrondissement, a religious Jew was set upon by a man with a hatchet and gravely wounded. Before making his escape, the assailant waved the bloody weapon and shouted, “Khaybar, Khaybar, ya-Yahud!” The police were said to be investigating.

For reasons of both haste and security, a period of just five busy days separated the press release from the start of the conference itself. Consequently, Hannah waited until the last minute to prepare her opening remarks. On the eve of the gathering, she sat alone in her library, a pen scratching furiously across a yellow legal pad.

It was, she thought, an appropriate place to compose such a document, for the library had once been her grandfather’s. Born in the Lublin district of Poland, he had fled to Paris in 1936, four years before the arrival of Hitler’s Wehrmacht. On the morning of July 16, 1942—the day known as Jeudi Noir, or Black Thursday—French police officers carrying stacks of blue deportation cards arrested Isaac Weinberg and his wife, along with nearly thirteen thousand other foreign-born Jews. Isaac Weinberg