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Shiva Started by: Amira on Sep 18, '23 17:36

Four days passed in a strange blur for Amira since the night Yael died. In a great kindness to Amira, one of many, Tyki_Mikk had arranged for his body to be removed from the apartment before any police could become involved. His body was prepared and there was a burial in a proper bet hayyim an hour outside of Las Vegas. Amira had been there for his internment, and a Rabbi she didn't know was very kind to her. 

Yael had tried to look after his sister, but the nasty business he'd gotten into had clouded his mind and heart. She knew that he never meant to hurt her by his choices; but Yael had been ambitious and arrogant of his street smarts. Amira feared that she would be alone in this world now, but where Yael's attempts to provide for her had ended, Tyki_Mikk had stepped in to see to her immediate concerns. Among them, providing her a safe place to stay. It was a safe house, a simple two bedroom, one bath bungalow off the Strip that was simply furnished and watched round the clock. With her ankle still healing, Amira didn't go anywhere, even if she'd wanted to. Instead, she chose to take the time to sit shiva for her brother. Neither of them had been very observant of their Judaism since leaving Haifa, but now it was one thing onto which she could  lean for comfort. It was all she could do, really; and she hoped that, somehow, Yael could see her loving gesture for him. 

On the fifth day, Tyki_Mikk had come to visit her, bringing a few packages and a wonderful meal that they shared. He told her that there was someone he wished for her to meet- an associate of his whom he hoped would help Amira find her way in the outfit. She thanked him, several times over, for continuing to watch out for her. Tyki shook his head and simply gave her a smile, only asking of her that she learn; find her strength, find her place, and thrive. 

The morning of the seventh day, Amira awoke with a new resolve. Looking into the mirror, she saw in herself the determined, serious eyes of her father and mother, both whom she always considered the bravest people she knew. She was their daughter, and surely some of their fight resided in her. The time to mourn was over. 

She put on one of the very fine dresses that has been in the packages Tyki brought, as well as nice leather shoes. They were the nicest things she'd ever owned. She made herself breakfast, fumbling a little with the crutches, took the newspaper from the front door, and also made a full pot of coffee. After all, she would have a guest soon. With her oatmeal, coffee, and newspaper, she sat at the table in the little kitchen and began reading the news. 

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Corrado stepped out of the taxi and glanced at the bungalow with his hands in the pocket of his dark suit. It was a modest place- less expensive than he'd expected from someone connected to the business. But it made sense. Tyki Mikk's other associate was relatively new. She'd have to be, considering her age. Amira would be... nineteen or twenty now? No, twenty one.

He checked his reflection in the window of a Chevrolet parked in the street, smoothing back his slightly disheveled brown hair and frowning at the increasing number of grey hairs near his temples and on his beard. He adjusted his suit, glad that he'd forgone the tie and left the top of his dress shirt open at the throat.

It was a damned frying pan of a city.

Corrado winked at the guard watching over the bungalow, glad that it was somehow he'd recognized from his meeting with Don Mikk. He made his way to the door. Taking a deep breath, Corrado guided himself through the meditation that had calmed his nerves through so many life or death situations- then knocked on the door and prepared the disarming grin that had seen him invited through doorways all over Europe.

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Having heard a car door close from outside, Amira had already gotten up and put her empty breakfast bowl in the sink. By the time the knock came, she was almost to the door, having stopped to make sure her hair and simple makeup was neat. 

She reached out and opened the door, maneuvering an awkward little hobble backward on the infuriating crutches to let the door open fully. Looking up, she saw a gentleman in a dark suit. His hair and beard were dark as well, though streaked through with just a little gray that gave him a very distinguished look. Amira smiled warmly and unlatched the screen door. Though she didn't know whom she was supposed to have been meeting, she knew the guards wouldn't have let anyone pass who didn't have business there. 

"Welcome, please come inside."

She gestured into the house, the smell of hot, strong coffee wafting through the air. Looking briefly past her guest, Amira spotted one of the watchful men in a parked car and nodded gratefully to them. 

As the man stepped inside, Amira closed the doors and locked them. 

"I am Amira. May I offer you coffee?" 

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Corrado had played many games of chance in the last few decades, and he'd lost track of the number of times he'd needed to lie to save his life. But he still felt his brain misfire when Talia- no, Amira- opened the door. He'd recovered, he hoped, before the girl could notice his expression, trying to turn it into surprise at her evident injury. He bowed politely.

"Ah, mademoiselle, I apologize for getting you on your feet."

He followed her inside, accepting her offer of coffee.

"Coffee would be wonderful, thank you. Black."

As she filled a cup for him, Corrado considered what to say. How to begin things? Better to ease her into the discussion.

"I apologize for disturbing you, but you and I have many, many things to discuss. But manners first- I should introduce myself. My name is Corrado Conti. I suppose I should begin by explaining that I recently accepted a business position with a man named Tyki Mikk."

He watched as recognition flashed in the girl's face, and he smiled up at Talia. Amira.

"And so it seems that you and I will be working together."

Corrado gestured to her foot.

"I hope your injury is not serious?"

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Between the fuss that it took Amira to navigate the door closing and the bright light of the morning outside affecting her vision momentarily, Amira only just got a good look at her guest as she brought the cups of fresh coffee to the kitchen table. She listened carefully as he introduced himself, making note to remember his name. When he remarked on her ankle, Amira gave a bit of a bashful shake of her head. 

"It is only a bad sprain. The memory is worse than the pain. But, please, come and have a seat. I apologize that there is no more comfortable seating. The house belongs to Tyki's business, as I understand it. When I'm able to get around better, I will try to find a place of my own. I am grateful for his hospitality, though."

She pulled out the second chair from the table for him, and then propped the crutches against the wall and sat down with her cup. The dress she wore was navy blue with a matching belt at the waist. Peeking from the collar was a tiny gold chain, on which hung a Star of David. It had been her mother's, and was one of the few posessions of her parents she still had. 

"Tyki told me that you would be coming. Well, that someone would be coming. I know only a little of what business he runs, and I'm afraid I have much to learn, yet."

Though she'd been in America for several years, her accent was discernable; but she spoke the clear and carefully pronounced English of someone who has only recently become fluent. 

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Corrado forced himself to stop looking at the necklace hanging from Amira's throat. Based on her replies, it didn't seem like she was particularly well informed about Tyki Mikk's line of work.

She had to be aware of his illegal activities. Didn't she? There hadn't been too many whispers about what had happened to Yael, but nothing got in the papers. Surely Amira was clever enough to discern how connected Tyki Mikk was. If not... well, Corrado was already planning to surprise her with enough today. He'd let Don Mikk reveal himself in his own time, if he hadn't already.

"Tyki Mikk did not discuss much of his business with me either, though I look forward to learning more about it."

Corrado sipped his coffee, studying the young woman in front of him.

"Amira... I must tell you that my joining the business activities of Tyki Mikk is not coincidental. I made my way to Las Vegas hoping to find you and your brother, for whom you have my deepest condolences."

He paused, adjusting his body language to present himself more openly, resting his elbows on the table as he leaned forward.

"You see... I am an old friend of your parents. From work."

Corrado reached into his pocket and removed his wallet, slipping out a photograph and sliding it across the table to Amira.

There were three people in the photo, all looking like they were in their twenties. They were standing against a wall with French writing on the posters and signs behind them. On the left was a tall, muscular man with thick eyebrows, staring at the camera with the hint of a smile on his face. In the center stood a beautiful woman, whose long dark hair clung to her swan-like neck  as she rested a hand on the shoulder of the muscular man that she was staring at. Ezra and Talia were unmistakable, looking just a few years older than Amira's current age- and a few years older than the handsome, Italian looking man on the right of the photo. He wasn't as tall or broad shouldered as Ezra, but his wiry frame rested against the wall with an easy confidence. Once you adjusted for the fact that Corrado had grown a beard and started to go grey, it was easy to recognize him as well.

The most striking aspect of the photograph were the expressions on the faces of Talia and Corrado. Their gazes contained no jealousy or anger- just so much love that they seemed in a sort of rapture. Talia, however, was gazing steadfastly at Ezra, while Corrado looked Talia.

"This is a picture from Paris. A year before your brother was born, I believe."

Corrado waited, allowing Amira some time to look at the photograph.

"I owe your parents a great debt. I had hoped to repay it to both of their children. I will never forgive myself for arriving too late to try to prevent Yael's death. But there is one Dayan to whom I hope to repay my debt."

His face set determinedly, even as his dark brown eyes grew softer and gentler.

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The breath left Amira's body as her eyes fell on the photo and she whispered.

"Abba...Em...."

She heard his words, but her eyes could only dart from the photo to Corrado and back again. She felt tears racing to her eyes and her hands tremble a little. It had been so long since she had seen their faces. All of their photos were lost when they left New York in such a hurry that she wasn't able to take them. Seeing their faces now, and so soon after losing Yael...

Amira tried as hard as she could to keep her facial expression marshalled; to be strong for this stranger who perhaps wasn't such a stranger after all. It only lasted a brief few seconds before the dam broke. Tears rolled down her cheeks and she brought the photo to her forehead, tucked gently between her hands. Years and years of sadness finally forced its way from soul. Amira bowed her head.

"I'm sorry...I'm so sorry- I was not expecting this. It is hard even to believe. I remember Yael speaking of "Dode Corra," but I was too young. I was born after they moved to Haifa."

Clearing her throat, Amira got to her feet went to properly greet him, placing a kiss on each cheek as would be customary for an uncle- then threw her arms around him and hugged him tightly with her eyes closed, hoping he didn't mind.

"I am so happy that you have come."

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Corrado studied Amira's face carefully as the young woman looked down at the photograph and raised it to her forehead. When she stood, he did as well, reaching out to steady the girl if she needed support from her injury. When she threw her arms around him and kissed his cheek, Corrado blushed for the first time in twenty years.

His hands started to fall instinctively on the girl's hips, they way they had with the cocktail waitress the evening before, but his brain woke up in time for him to stick his arms forward instead.

She even smells like Talia.

He disentangled himself from her embrace as soon as it was polite to do so.

"Yes... I met your brother a couple times before your father decided to move the family. After that, I generally just kept in touch with your mother. Although I did see them both recently in Austria."

Which did not end particularly well, but that may be a story for another time.

"So tell me, Amira Dayan, what it is that you want. I am no genie or fairy godmother, and I'm afraid I lack materiel resources at the moment, but I owe your mother a great debt- and I intend to repay it to you however I can."

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It was as if fate itself had boldly stepped out of the shadows and pointed Amira in the way she was meant to go. She recalled the feeling she'd had that morning upon waking, and now her path would be far more clear than she could have imagined. 

With a deep breath, Amira nodded and they sat down again. 

"I have seen Tyki murder a man without even blinking. The man was vile and a criminal, yes, but his life was snuffed out as easily as a candle. Tyki_Mikk is well off, and I know that his business is not exactly within the law. But, he was kind to me, and he has helped me far more than I could have thought to ask. He thinks that I have some kind of future for myself within his...organization. I worked very menial jobs before, and Yael would not speak to me about his business or allow me to help. I think he was doing something like this, but he was not wise in it. But  now, you have come. I do not know what it is I'm meant to do yet, but I think that you have come to help me find it."

She let that notion hang in the air for a few moments as she gathered her next question.

"But, first, I was hoping you might tell me something about my parents. They were so often gone when I was young, and I was never told what they did. I know they worked for the government somehow, but nothing more."

She took a long drink of her coffee, trying to allow her mind to catch up with everything now that her emotions were much more in control.

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Corrado leaned back and crossed his legs as he raised his coffee to his lips. 

"It sounds like you know enough about what business Tyki_Mikk is in, then. Do you know how you'd best serve in his organization? What sort of skills do you possess that you could offer a man like him? Or are there instead skills you hope to acquire?"

He drummed his fingers against the mug and rested it on his knee. His legs were a little stiff, but he was still feeling better than he had a few days before when he'd arrived in Vegas. Corrado took a deep breath as he considered his answer. 

Better to be honest with the young woman.

"Amira, your parents were intelligence agents."

He paused, watching her process what she was hearing.

"I'm still not sure what country they were working for when we first crossed paths in Paris, a few months before that picture was taken.  Perhaps they were working for the Zionist Organization or one of its backers. Perhaps another European country. Perhaps both. I cannot say for sure. We didn't speak much about our pasts. Your mother thought I was I an Italian subject for the first two months she knew me."

Corrado shrugged and flashed an easy grin.

"She warmed up to me a little more when she learned I was an American."

His expression grew serious again.

"It was hard to be a Jewish person in Paris at the time. Better than some places, but hard nonetheless. Your father and mother were a few years older than me. I kept running into them at political rallies. Everywhere my handler sent me, I saw your mother. It was also so easy to spot her in a crowd." Corrado grinned. "Instead of admitting that we kept crossing paths because we were both spies, your mother and I spent the first couple months we knew each other pretending that we were madly in love with each other and seeking each other out. It was easy to pretend. Eventually your father threw me through a window and the air was cleared between us. Your mother never loved anyone the way she loved your father. Still, she... valued me. And he tolerated me."

Corrado grinned.

"There were no more windows, at least. After Paris, we crossed paths one or twice a year or so for the next couple decades. Sometimes we'd arrange a meet up. Sometimes we'd just catch each other in a bar. It was harder when you and your brother started getting older- and harder still when they moved out east. We had a couple rendezvouses during the war. Occasionally we'd have some action like we did a few years ago, but..."

He shook his head and drained his coffee.

"I apologize for rambling so long. You must have more questions. How much of this did they tell you? I know they intended to, once they'd retired."

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Amira sat and listened to Corrado as if she were a child listening to a fairy tale. Though, in reality, the story she was hearing was slowly beginning to connect pieces of a puzzle she had never been able to solve herself. 

"Intelligence..."

Her eyes moved away from Corrado for a few moments, seemingly fixed on something behind him the wasn't there until another piece of the puzzle visibly clicked into place in her mind. She looked back at Corrado with wider eyes. Not of alarm, but surprise at the sudden revelation. 

"You mean Moussad. I remember hearing them talk at night, when they were home, about a man named Isser. I thought he was a friend of theirs. But they meant Isser Harel...didn't they?"

Her eyes looked down a moment, not really wanting to ask the question that was coming, but knowing she had to have an answer.

"Do you know how they died? I only know that they were in Africa, because when their belongings were sent home to us, the boxes were all marked from Africa."

Unconsciously, Amira reached up and touched the necklace, running her fingertips over the star gently. 

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Corrado just watched as Amira's eyes seemed to freeze. When she finally spoke, he nodded.

"Impressive. You think like your father and look like your mother. Probably what they'd hoped for you."

He grinned. 

"Not that your mother wasn't devilishly clever. But she was always more instinctive. Ezra was the calculator."

But his smile faded as Amira asked about how Ezra and Talia had died. 

"I don't know.  I've been trying to learn more. I could look at the boxes, if you'd like. The last time I saw your parents was a few years back; they'd just pulled off a mission to extract some traitor of theirs. Yours. Israel's, I mean. A major, I believe, trying to sell secrets in Austria. Your mother was the bait." He smirked. "Still able to lure them in, after all those years. But something went sideways and the target died on the plane ride back. I caught a lot of heat for that one."

He stood up, placing his empty mug in the sink, then spun and leaned back against it to face Amira.

"My level of information isn't what it used to be. Most of my old OSS compatriots aren't allowed to have anything to do with me. After that Austrian mess, I spent the last few years in an Italian prison cell.  Most people stopped sending me Christmas cards after that."

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Amira nodded slowly while all the new information worked its way around her mind. Corrado had given her a lot to think about and perhaps even more to learn about her family- but that was for another time. With the resolve to move forward that she felt early in that morning, Amira now had new things to consider about her own life. While she didn't know what the "Austrian mess" referred to, she decided not to press him for about that kind of thing for right now.

Finishing off her own coffee, she placed her hands in her lap and considered her next words carefully before looking up to Corrado.

"It is time for me to stop being taken care of. Yael tried to protect me by keeping me out of the world he was in; but in that I learned nothing of how to protect myself. I have been to school to learn to be a secretary. I speak English well enough, I speak Hebrew, and I know enough Russian to get by thanks to our nanny back in Haifa."

She paused, a certain confidence rising in her voice. 

"I want to know everything I need to know about Don Mikk's business so that I can learn how to help. I am certain I can do something more than take messages and type things."

A funny look crossed her face, something of a puzzled consideration.

"Will you teach me to shoot a gun?"

She was really asking if he'd teach her to protect herself- but at the current and rather shallow level of understanding she had, Amira thought that the gun was just the way things were done in this business.

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Corrado studied Amira and watched her grapple with the multitude of thoughts he assumed echoed around her head.

He understand the feeling, since he hadn't been this confused looking at a woman since he was sixteen.

She was beautiful, obviously. If he'd met her in a nightclub or a casino, he'd enjoy the challenge of seducing her. He was older, sure, but just by a couple decades. If anything, the silver streaks in his hair had made him more successful in his romantic pursuits since he'd walked out of that Florentine jail cell.

But to look at her was also to see Talia alive again. He couldn't deny the attraction of seeing his first- his only- love sitting in front of him again. Who could ever live up to the infatuation you feel to that first love? Besides, he needed to protect the girl. And maybe that meant protecting her from that other part of himself.

The girl needs a teacher. And if he made a move on her, it could easily push her away.

It's settled, then. Amira will be a statue of Venus- a reminder of love to stare at and indulge emotion, but never to touch.

It was easier said than done, as her thinking concluding and her electric eyes shot up to look at him.

Practice. Practice will be needed.

"I am happy to teach you. Your skills with language are an excellent place to begin. English is my first language, though I've spoken a great deal of French in the last couple decades. I also have a passable Italian, German, and Russian. We'll go on a few excursions, perhaps, and discover what sort of other talents you possess."

Corrado cocked his head as she mentioned shooting.

"Do you own a gun?"

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"My brother had one. It was returned to me when Tyki's men collected his body and our belongings."

She nodded her head toward the refrigerator.

"It's in a box in the cabinet above the ice box. When they first brought it back to me, I didn't want to see it. I had them put it away. But I suppose it is mine now, isn't it?"

The box was made of wood, and held a military-issue M1911. The serial numbers had been removed, and there were three boxes of ammo inside with the gun.

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Corrado took down the box and opened it on the table, but he didn't touch the gun. Instead, he closed it quickly and returned it to its place above the ice box.

"An interesting piece."

He paced, running a hand through his silver-streaked brown hair.

"I have some ideas. Perhaps I could return in a couple days to instruct you, when I've gathered some supplies and resources? Besides, I'm sure you have many questions- this will give you some time to think before our next meeting."

Corrado nodded, clearly pleased with how this meeting had gone.

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Amira closed the door to the little house, having walked  Corrado to the door despite his protestation that she not trouble herself. There was a sense of propriety from her home country that she couldn't put away; and likely wouldn't, as it was all of her homeland she really had left now.

That evening, Amira was sitting on the concrete steps of the little house watching the sun go down with a cup of tea. She'd spent the day thinking of everything she'd learned from Corrado, and connecting it to the things she knew- or thought she knew- about her family. She decided that it explained much more than she realized. Yael must have known more than he ever let on, and knowing what their parents did gave him some kind of sense that he was cut out for covert work. But, as always, her big brother had been hot headed and did not take time to learn. Amira would. Corrado would teach her. How strange- or maybe provincial- that he had found her exactly at this time. Amira didn't believe in God so strongly as her parents had. Her few held practices of Judaism were mostly out of habit at this point. Still, she couldn't help but wonder if it all had happened at divine direction. Whether it was God or simply fate, she wouldn't know and didn't care to speculate too much. 

When the sky was dark, she stood and hobbled back into the house. She would see Tyki_Mikk again tomorrow, and she was ready to start discussing the future.

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