With the key to the other cottage in his hand, Gedalya started toward the door and then turned back. “What about the kitchen?” he asked Itzik.

“All taken care of. Rabbi Zimroni was here. He left a seal on the door so you would know.” 

“Good. Thanks.” When Gedalya reached the door, the antagonistic new agent rose from his place. 

“I don’t need an escort.” Gedalya Neiman’s hazel eyes narrowed. 

The man brushed past Gedalya and stood, half blocking the doorway. 

The agent was taller than Mr. Neiman. His long spidery fingers curled and uncurled and his piercing black eyes danced back and forth between his boss and this newcomer. 

“Heel, Zagreb!” 

The authority in Itzik’s voice had the desired effect. The agent reluctantly stepped aside. “It’s against the rules,” he growled, backing toward his chair, eyes still on Gedalya. 

“Her majesty operates according to different rules,” Itzik told him, referring to Yehudit Neiman’s code name of Esther HaMalkah. “That’s been explained to you already.” 

Zagreb responded with anger so intense that the whole room felt hot. Muscles in his face worked convulsively. “What justification is there for exceptions to protocol? Call it by its name, Chief. Religious coercion! Queen Esther’s here for only hours but we can’t interview her unless her husband is present? This is unprofessional! Who ever heard of such a thing?” 

“Complain about it.” Itzik’s deep voice turned unusually monotonic. The other men in the room stiffened. When their superior used this tone it meant he was angry, and a ticking time bomb. It was not a time to oppose him! 

Zagreb’s hands clenched into fists, but he resumed his place without speaking further.