Mariel was backstroking off the wall in the deep end of Lane Five when the sirens began. At first, with her ears under water, she thought it was part of the music from the aqua aerobics class at the other side of the pool. The instructor liked to mix it up, keep her elderly clientele moving. But now they were moving all right—they were a blur of white hair and pale, sagging flesh and multicolored bathing suits heading for all the ramps and ladders.
Damn it, not again. Three times this month, she’d been kicked out of the pool from the bomb threats. Not just out of the pool but out the side door into the parking lot, and it was damn freezing outside. Were those anti-Semitic meshugge bastards aware that most of the people here only came to the Jewish Community Center for the pool? It was like calling a threat in to the YMCA because you were gunning for the Christians. Or the Young Men.
Part of her wanted to say no to the lifeguard coming her way, where she and Ruth shared the lane. Ruth was still swimming, her strokes long and elegant and perfectly synchronized.
The boy who barely looked old enough to grow whiskers was standing at the edge, clapping his hands and saying, “Let’s go, ladies. Everyone has to evacuate, now.”
Ruth turned her head just long enough to call him something nasty in Yiddish and then she was off again.
“Come on, Ruth,” he said, his voice whiny now. “You’re gonna get me in trouble.”
“Okay, okay, quit shouting.” She grunted as she tugged her potato-shaped body up the ladder. Like a penguin, Ruth was amazing under water but not so much on dry land. She sometimes had trouble walking, and Mariel was afraid she’d slip and fall on the wet tile, and the lifeguard looked too busy hustling everyone else clear to notice.
So Mariel followed her out. But where they were supposed to turn right toward the exit door, Ruth turned left, muttering something Mariel didn’t understand.
“Ruth.” The cold hit Mariel’s wet body and she wrapped her arms around her chest. But the woman wouldn’t stop. Again, Mariel followed, fully expecting one of the lifeguards to come chase them down, even revoke their memberships for not following their instructions.
Undaunted, and with no one following them, Ruth kept trundling along, one strong leg planting into the hallway after the other, her body rocking from side to side with each determined step.
Then she turned left, into an abandoned office. “Shut the door, already,” she said, and Mariel complied.
Ruth punched a sequence of numbers into the phone on the desk. “Yeah,” she said, when Mariel guessed someone had answered. “They’re at it again. You know what to do.”
Mariel couldn’t help but ask. Ruth shrugged, showed her a small mark on her forearm that Mariel had always assumed was a birthmark or maybe sun damage.
It was a number. “This,” Ruth said. “After the war, I had to do something. And I guess once Mossad, always Mossad. So I called in a favor. We won’t be hearing from those schmucks anymore. Now, let’s go. I’m cold and I want to finish my laps.”
Then she waddled back to the pool.
And Mariel followed.