With Doug Larrick and Lis Daniels
Agent Double-O-Quack was relaxing at home during one of his rare downtimes when the call came through from V.
"I just got off the phone with the P.M. It seems that faux Briton Madonna has disappeared and our America cousins are rather upset about it. It's up to you to find her. As of now, your leave is cancelled and you're on the clock."
NOT wasn't up-to-date on popular culture, so unfortunately the name did not evoke visions of blond ambitions. Instead it brought images of Botecelli and Raphael, and of a cherubic holy child. He wasn't sure why the Americans had their knickers in a twist over a missing Mary. "It must be one of those red state vs. blue state things." But where better to start the search than in the last place she was seen. To the Holy Land!
Once safely in tel Aviv, NOT met up with his old friend, Agent Ulka of the Mossad.
"It's been a long time Yarm," observed NOT. "You have not aged well my friend."
NOT had to yell his greeting to his old friend. Ulka had been one of the best secret agent ducks in the world, but one day during the Intifada, he was working an illegal poultry ring in a Haifa marketplace when a suicide bomber decided to strike. Ulka was not seriously injured, but the reverberations of the blast force on the stone walls of the close surrounding buildings permanently damaged his hearing, bringing his days as a field agent to a close. Naturally, when his hold friend called looking for some help, he jumped at the chance to get back out into the field.
"Good to see you too NOT," yelled Ulka, so he could hear "You are still looking well. I don't see any new gray feathers."
"Have you had any luck in tracing down Madonna?" inquired NOT.
"I know exactly where we need to go. It's only a few hours flapping from here."
The pair were off, little noting the shadow that smoothly fell into line a bit back from the agents.
Soon the green of the landscape gave way to brown and the land began to take on the rocky and uneven look of the desert. Soon they were standing before a large butte.
"We're here," announced Ulka.
"Where are we?" inquired NOT.
Ulka pointed to a sign.
"You said you were looking for Masada, and here we are."
NOT could only shake his head at his hard of hearing friend. For here was the site of one of the last Jewish strongholds in rebellion against Rome, where the defenders decided suicide was preferable to surrender during siege in 73 A.D.
"My friend, I said Madonna, not Masada. It seems that someone has seized her."
Ulka was crestfallen at his mistake. "Ah, now I realized my mistake my old friend. Come. I know where we need to go."
The pair took off again, still tailed by something other than their feathers.
Back towards the coast they flapped. Soon they were winging over more Roman ruins until Ulka touched down in the midst of these ruins and stones.
"Now we're on the track you wanted. You said Caesar and so I bring you Caesarea."
The realization that his hard of hearing friend had led him astray cause NOT to shake his head in pity. After miles of flapping, he was no closer to his objective than when he started. In fact, he felt further from his objective. After all, what would Madonna want with the city of Herrod the Great? It was obvious that if he hoped to make any progress he would have to ditch his less-than-helpful friend.
"Ulka, we need to split up so we can cover more ground. You need to go back to the office and try to find out what information you can in the Mossad database on Madonna."
At this the pair split up, each promising to contact the other if something is found.
Their unexpected third member of their party sat in indecision while the two took off in different directions. Coming to a decision, he left the shadows slowly in pursuit.
First stop for NOT was the local library for an Internet search. Soon he had a list of places in Israel where the Madonna was noted as being. Working with limited clues he began his search by visiting where she had been.
First stop was the Church of the Annunciation. Unfortunately it was Monday and the church was closed.
NOT tried to squeeze through the fence bars but had a difficult time doing this without being noticed and decided to move along.
Another church in Cana also yielded nothing. Jesus may have performed his first miracle here when he turned water into wine at the wedding celebration, but it would take a miracle to obtain any clues from here.
Some of the gang that Jesus was known to hang with ate here. It no wonder that this was the place of the last supper, it looked as if the health inspector had not been by in two millennia.
Suddenly his cell phone rang.
"I just got a call from one of my contacts. It seems that there may be Baptists involved. Meet me at the Jordan River in an hour." Ulka quickly ordered before he hurriedly rang off.
At last, a lead! He needed to move if he was to get out of the old city of Jerusalem and to the river.
An hour later Agent Duck was at the river. He waited, but there was no sign of Yarm. After 30 minutes he began to worry - his friend is hard of hearing, but still as punctual as ever. He began to look around to see if he could find signs of Yarm. Nothing was to be found in the chapel, the garden or at the John Baptismal Water Slide. Something caught NOT's eye as he looked around the river's edge. Behind a hamper of used baptismal robes, he found Ulka dead. There were signs of a struggle, but he lay there with unseeing eyes, strangled with a sleeve of a robe and covered in slime.
NOT knew he had to get out of there. The sound of police sirens in the distance confirmed that he had been set up. Someone was trying to keep him from Madonna.
On the run and needing time to think, NOT ducked into the National Museum of Science and Technology. Wandering among the exhibits he continued to turn recent events over in his mind, trying to find how they fit together.
As he toyed with one of the interactive exhibits, he tried to fit the various clues into a coherent shape. as he turned them in his mind he idly played with the blocks. Ideas began to fall together, and so did the pieces of the cubic puzzle. Suddenly the last pieces fell into place and the cube was finished. And NOT had a very good idea of who was behind the death of Ulka.
Now alerted to an unexpected companion, NOT kept his eyes out for his mysterious tail. Nothing an eye atop a stalk peering out of the darkness at him, he knew his shadow was there.
Calmly he made his way out of the city, slowing every so often to make sure his tail was still there. Soon the countryside once again gave way from green lands to an arid moonscape. Plants disappeared as he proceeded further and further downhill.
Soon he came to a beach, but one that was unique from any other beach he had been to. For in his downward journey, he had descended well below sea level and came to the lowest point on dry land int he world - the Dead Sea.
"How appropriate that something called the Dead Sea would be so dangerous to drink."
NOT stood reading the safety rules for bathers but really did not take them in. He had no intention of following the rules today. But reading the rules gave him a chance to pause and make sure his "friend" was still there. Everything was ready. He walked down the path and out onto a dock which was still under construction. At the end he stopped and contemplated the sun baked and sodium poisoned sea before him. He felt the interruption of his reverie before hearing the creeping squish of his visitor.
He turned to see two eyes on top of stalks staring at him with menace, and the hollow third eye of the gun aimed at him.
"Slug. It's been a long time," observed NOT calmly.
"Yes, it has," hissed Slug. "And don't think I've forgotten how you and your friends disgraced me and caused my assignment to this god forsaken desert. Do you have any idea how hard it is form me to stay hydrated here? But no matter how dry I got, it only fueled my thirst for revenge. You have no idea how my life gained new meaning when I was given the intercepted phone call from you to Ulka saying you were coming. Now I could slime out two of my oldest enemies."
Staring NOT in the eye Slug raised the gun, ready to eliminate Double-O-Quack. Suddenly, NOT made a little hop back, jarring the loose deck board they had both been standing on. Now standing on the end of a board stuck out over the sea, it began to tip like a see-saw, raising the end still on the dock into the air, taking Slug with it. As momentum built, the board continued to move more vertical. As NOT dipped towards the water below, Slug found himself as if he were on a catapult and suddenly was flung far out onto the open waters. As he hit the sea, he began to foam as the high salinity of the Dead Sea destroyed his hydration level, quickly reducing the Slug to a shriveled dry husk that, despite the Sea's legendary buoyancy, sank quickly to the bottom.
NOT didn't need the extra buoyancy of the Sea since he was a duck and used to floating on the top of the water. Luckily a friendly swimmer (or is it floater?) gave him a hand, lifting him above the waters, keeping salt from crusting on his wings.
His rescuer invited him to join her in partaking in a mud bath to help rejuvenate the skin. Thinking how hard mud is to clean out of his feathers, he graciously declined and offered to buy the first round of drinks.
He had vanquished his enemy, but he had still not succeeded in his mission.
Standing at the shore again staring at a less salty Mediterranean Ocean, NOT allowed himself to mourn the loss of his friend. "Good bye Yarm" he whispered to the wind. His reverie was broken by the buzzing of his cell phone, demanding his attention. It was V.
"The Americans have found their missing Madonna. Turns out she had experienced a change in spirituality again and had abandoned Kabala in favor of Mormonism. No one had though of looking for her in Utah until she was on a mission and was knocking on doors. Sorry old duck, but you've been on a wild goose chase."
NOT stood and stared out over the water wondering at the
futility of it all, and the price paid for nothing. He began to wonder if he
was getting too old for this work. Only travels will tell.
|Middle East Travel|
Photos courtesy of Doug Larrick and Alissa Daniels
Last Updated December 2005