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'Well, that's the town's heart.

' Everon was drawing his attention as they reached at last,


a round square of a fair size. 'This crossroads divides the town in its length and width,
and is located as you may deduct right in its middle. As a matter of fact, this is the
place where the only two stretches of asphalt in this country join into that lonely
square. We've a left turn here.' He added, turning the car left and blowing the horn at
the same time, scaring some of the pedestrians who blocked the car's way.
'We drove straight on at this junction yesterday, on our way to the ambassador's
residence – remember?'
'Oh yes,' Shatz muttered indifferently nodding his head, turning right back his
attention to the sights through the windshield and outside his door's window.
'Listen Reuven, the importance of these two stretches of asphalt, from our point of
view is very critical. I wouldn't have bothered to mention that issue, if it wasn't that
important and useful!'
'I see,' Shatz answered stifling a yawn, he was bored already.
'You'd better listen carefully!' Remarked Everon, throwing a quick glance at him.
'Suppose one of us, or any member in our delegation reached the end of his term here;
did his job and is about to return home. He has to sell his car first, right? Now then, if
it turns up that during his stay he had driven his car, just once upon the Piste...'
'Just a moment, what's that?' Wondered Shatz interrupting him.
It’s the French term for a dirt road, the dirt roads outside town. It’s not the unpaved
lanes that you see here in town, on which one has to drive in first gear. I mean the
"Escalier" as the French nickname it; the rough cog-wise dirt roads out of town, on
which one has to go at the speed of no less than fifty miles an hour, if he doesn't wish
to get sea sick. So in short to sum the matter up, if one has through some reason to hit
the Piste and do no more than a few miserable miles... - that same car of his even if
it’s a brand new model, loses fifty percent of its value right afterwards! Got the
message? '
'Yeah got the message, but if someone did hit the Piste with his car sometime who
could tell he did, who could prove it?' Shatz wondered.
'It isn't as simple as you think!' Answered Everon eagerly. 'Next week we'll have a few
tours in the neighborhood, we'll use a Landrover for such rides of course, so you'll
have your chance to see the “Escalier” with your own eyes; you won't need any
further explanations, I can assure you! Yeah, these stairs as the French nickname those
teeth, affectionately...' He chuckled, enjoying his own little wisecrack. 'These horrid
teeths, will shake any car apart, damage the shock-absorbers – what am I saying,
finish them off after one trip! What else, tear new tires into shreds, in just three
months time, fill the engine with dust and dirt and leave behind such traces, such scars
no one is able to efface...! That's not all! There are the locals, man, they're smart; they
provide the relevant information such as whose car was it, on what date and where
exactly that car was bound, to anyone for a handful of coins...'
Slowing the car down and turning right, Everon stopped it and parked at the curb near
quite a big liqueur and tobacco store.
'Do me a favor,' he asked Shatz and drawing his wallet out of his pocket; he pulled
two notes of thousand francs each in local money and gave them to Shatz. 'Hop to that
store right over there and get me three packages of American cigarettes; any brand
will do, there's only one condition though – see that the lettering is impressive
enough, bright red would be the right choice.’
Being the only customer at that hour, Shatz returned right away with the cigarettes
and the change – and handed it over to Everon.
'Switched your taste lately, I thought you are smoking Gauloise, don’t you?'
'Oh come-on! What do you take me for?' Turned to him Everon with his sly smile.
Raising his eyes to the mirror to check the traffic behind them, he engaged the first
gear – and off they rode with screeching brakes to the home office, their next
destination.
'No I haven't switched to American cigarettes, if that's what bothers you! Don't be
absurd; these packages are a token, just a gesture of good will... The bare truth is that
my presence is more than enough, all I have to do, is be there, and any matter is
settled on the spot! But we had better bring along a thing or two, to warm their hearts
with joy. Oh don't you worry... ' He added noticing the marked change in Shatz's
features. 'I don't pay it with my own money, there's a special budget for such matters.'
The government offices were located at the town's outskirts, at the end of the
Independence Avenue, some distance away from the rest of the street's buildings. A
group of one-story long structures, covered with rusty corrugated iron sheets. The
whole site served not too long ago, as a French military barracks, to keep the town's
garrison within its limits. Though the whole compound, after having been turned over
to the locals’ hands, was reconstructed and repainted, the impression it left its visitors
was of decline and negligence.
Having parked his car Everon got out without hiding his disgust. To pay a visit to such
a miserable site, must have forced him no doubt to exhort to all the will power he
could summon. The warm reception, in which they were received, must have
compensated Everon for his earlier efforts. An unofficial ceremony it seemed to be to
Shatz, as they were led in a cheerful parade by a group of chattering and laughing
clerks up to their superior's door, the home office's director general in person and no
less. At this polite official's desk, they were served with assorted pastry and coffee;
Everon had a very enthusiastic parley with his Excellency, while Shatz listened
attentively. An awe stricken clerk entered after a short while and tiptoed with a bowed
head to the desk. He was carrying with him stamps, forms and whatever needed to
furnish Shatz with a permit. With much tact he approached them, then stepped to
Shatz's side and asked for his passport; filled with care the right entries, and having
asked his superior's confirmation and signature, left as humbly as he entered.
After a few more moments of a pleasant and very polite conversation, thanking
effusively to his excellency Everon left the cigarettes packages on the desk, while
Shatz collected his stay permit – and they took their leave.
'Well that's enough, we've done our share today!' Said Everon while pulling his car
out of the compound's parking lot – amid the ministers and other high functionaries
rows of splendid limousines. Before turning back to the Independence avenue, he
stopped the car and turned to Shatz: 'About some sixty five kilometers from here, lies
Dialo, the second biggest town in this country – which is in fact just a mere miserable
hole. Our farm, is situated five kilometers westward to it, and thank god these five
extra kilometers are paved! Let's get the hell out of that depressimg spot.’ He added
and set the car on the move again.
'Have you noticed,' he went on talking and driving fast as usual; they were heading
back to the crossroads, Everon did not stop his chatter just for a few short breaks;
while he scrutinized the several oncoming cars, waving to their owners who were his
acquaintances every one of them.
’...From the crossroads to the President's square, where the President Avenue and the
Independence Avenue cross each other, you won't find even a solitary tree – funny
isn't it?' He remarked laughing aloud. 'Anyhow, that square leads anywhere in this
country. If for instance at the end we have just came from, you'll reach the
government's offices and the road to Dialo; at the opposite end you'll reach the
seashore and the town's harbor. As for the President's Avenue, on one end the new
quarter is situated, while on the other end you'll find the hotel and the road to the
airport. Well everything is at the fringes in this retarded hole of a state.'
Shatz was getting tired. He was listening to Everon's monologue, and turning the
ambassador's advice in his mind at the same time – while he had to bear the climate's
hardships, that stifling heat with an average of some ninety percent humidity. The
little incident with Everon at the hotel that morning demonstrated very effectively
how easily one could lose his temper, as a direct outcome of that lousy climate. He
must be more careful, he warned himself. But Everon's continuous chatter, the
exciting meeting, and his own troubled thoughts, exhausted him – he nearly fell
asleep.
'What's now?' He asked yawning. 'Are we on our way back to the hotel? Is that all?'
'Just don't get into a fit, keep cool, will you?' Glanced at him Everon amused. 'I'm
taking you around a bit, a tour of the town I'd say, that's in itself is some extra work,
overtime – don't you think? Anyway, you must feel much better now, that's how you
look – I can read it on your face, believe me!'
'Thank you, yes, I feel all right.' Shatz answered, stretching his weary limbs. 'God, am
I thirsty!'
'Is that so...' Exclaimed Everon. 'That's no problem at all! We're on our way to the
Astro, it’s no more than two minutes drive, we'll get us some drinks over there. It’s the
biggest whole sale store in town.' He explained to Shatz. 'I've met its manager
yesterday at the hotel's lobby, while I was waiting for you, remember? He received
this very morning a fresh consignment straight from Japan as a matter of fact. The
thing is I need a new watch badly, and I've been pestering him for almost two weeks
about it – the poor fellow! Well he gave me his word not to release anything for sale,
before I'll have a look at it. The trouble is he imports a dozen or so watches each time,
so he asked me to pay him a visit at eleven this morning. If I'll miss that meeting, oh
man! We'll be left with the empty packages! By the way what what kind of a watch
do you have?'
‘A Swiss made Doxa.' Shatz answered huskily clearing his throat.
'You'd better get youself one of these, a Japanese made Seico, and the reason is very
simple, the Swiss watches are no good in this climate. Just look here something of this
kind, see?' He said extending his left hand towards Shatz's face while holding the
steering wheel with his right – sending his wrist across his chest as far as he could.
'I've got this one for nearly a year already, but in the circles where I'm used to roam I'd
rather dump it; I can't wear it one more day after a new consignment arrives to the
Astro.'
'But that's a brand new watch, why dump it?' Asked Shatz, trying hard to hide his
astonishment.
'Oh no I won't, I've sold it to Priel yesterday at the air-port, while we were waiting for
your arrival.' Answered cheerfully Everon. He slowed down and parked the car with
ease, got out, and waited for Shatz to join him on the pavement.
'…For half its price! He needs it for his boy, it’s going to be their boy's farewell
present. Apropo, that boy of theirs passes over to you with the lease on the farm
house, when they'll evacuate the place.' He paused for a moment and gave Shatz a
searching look, and then brought his wrist up to his own face this time – thirteen
minutes to eleven o’clock, that's what it showed. ‘There’s plenty of time yet we'd
better wait outside...Concluded Everon a bit excited already. The Astro was just a few
yards away.
'The Priels are the second Israeli family he’s working for; he is reliable, diligent,
nearly as good as the boy I've I would say!' Everon went on explaining that peculiar
problem. Shatz's long periods of silence did not bother him much, as long as he didn't
object to his plans.
'They had employed two boys last year, one of them took care of the children, the
other one cooked and looked after the house. Well then, the one that was the baby-
sitter became a real nuisance, and they got rid of him. Raising the cook's pay with a
couple of thousand francs solved their problem. That one of course is the one you'll
get. Now taking him on would be the right thing to do, cause you already know with
whom you're dealing – and you won't have to hire someone, neither you nor we know
or have ever heard of. In any case we'll pay them a visit soon enough, and I don’t have
to tell you why. Anyway, apart from that urgent reason, I've got to be there and see
what's goes on there. That by the way would be your chance to see the farm, the
house – and that boy of theirs; and consult the Priels’ about his pay, and get other
useful details that might interest you there.'
Shatz nodded absent mindedly, watching the passers-by.
'Didn't you say you were thirsty, so am I, let’s go!' Everon added decisively, and
leaving the car he led the way to the Astro's wide entrance.
Just a few customers were present at that huge store at that hour of day, about two
dozens of them no more. A handful of them roamed in the long passages between the
loaded shelves, and a few more queued at one of the cash registers, busying a dark
skinned cashier; which was the only open post out of eight, the other were closed and
abandoned yet. Everon did not stop even for a quick glance at the loaded shelves. He
was leading Shatz through the nearest passage, whose shelves on both sides were
loaded with kitchen utensils, up to the low ceiling that covered the whole store.
'That's not exactly the right place to renew one's wardrobe, but for certain articles,
such as various electronic devices, jewelry and you know, it’s the only place in town.
You'll see it with your own eyes right away!'
A wide transparent wall separated the far quarter of the store from wall to wall, with
the rest of the store’s interior. It must have been made of Perspex or some other hard
plastic, and was supported with aluminum framing. That transparent wall divided the
store's smaller part, from its rest, hermetically. The rows of expensive and prestigious
products could be seen, through the transparent partition – and an office was seen at
its far end, with its occupant at a desk, bent over his papers. With his hand on the
door's knob that separated the air-conditioned haven from the rest of the store, Everon
turned to Shatz excitedly: 'The Astro's first class! Apres vous.' He added as he opened
that door to let Shatz in. Having shut the door behind him, he overtook Shatz, and led
him straight to the open office.
The Astro's manager, rose to his feet smiling and leaving his desk, went over to his
open door to welcome his guests.
‘Monsieur Arnaut! Cher ami! Right on time aren’t we?’ Exclaimed Everon shaking
his friend's hand warmly. 'Agronome Shatz!' He introduced Shatz to the Frenchman,
with much pride.
'He’s just arrived yesterday to stay with us for the next two years.' Everron added
adapting Shatz's title as his new visit card.
'Oh welcome, do come in and be seated please.' Arnaut saie, as he led them to his
desk. 'You must be well treated, and very lucky to be under the commandant's care.'
He remarked but did not seem to expect Shatz's answer. 'He's at the Etoile I
understand?'
'That's right, but he suffers from the "adjustment syndrome"... It’s not a serious matter
though...' Everon explained tactfully the issue to their host.
Shatz fidgeted on his seat restlessly, these two were discussing him as if he were
Everon's next wristwatch.
'Scotch Perrier.' Said the manager thoughtfully, supporting his chin with his right
hand's thumb.
'Scotch Perrier!' Agreed Everon repeating him as an echo.
GOD ALMIGHTY!!! Shatz groaned deeply within his tormented brain, his all being
craved for a drop of water. But when the drinks were served at last, and the greetings
were exchanged – he felt much better having poured that certain drink down his
throat. With the second drink, which he himself asked out of his own initiative, he was
almost relieved. A few more polite sentences were exchanged, and the manager turned
his face to his own door, and summoned one of his employees, who was waiting there
ready for his instructions.
'Fetch me the samples if you please!' He ordered him. The latter entered the office,
and went to a low chest of drawers next to the wall, in front of the manager's desk. He
pulled open the upper most one.
Everon held his breath crashing the cigarette he had just lighted up in the ashtray. He
was watching every movement that man did.
'We have got five different samples this time.' Noted Arnaut, a hint of a smile was
sneaking to his lips. Shatz, who noticed it could not decide clearly, whether the
exhibition of the precious stock or Everon's excitement were behind Arnaut's obvious
satisfaction.
The five watches were brought to the desk on a broad platter, in their original
elongated boxes. Their covers were put beneath exposing the transparent plastic
sleeves that shielded each one, but did not diminish the charms of modern design, and
the power of allurement that such articles were endowed with.
'The price ranges from eight to twelve thousand in local money, and these are not the
prices, which the rest of the clientele would have to pay – I can assure you my friend!'
Remarked Arnaut.
Everon, who was too busy checking the samples from every possible angle, didn’t pay
attention to that last remark.
'Reouven! Say something for God's sake, how can you keep silent?' Asked him
Everon sticking to the French language in a strange cheerful air, mingled with a hint
of confusion – he couldn’t make up his mind yet.
‘I'm fearfully sorry to interfere, but if Monsieur Shatz wishes to purchase a watch too
– a fact that renders me much pleasure in itself, he shall have to wait for the next
consignment!'
'I see', answered him Everon holding one of the samples, close to his eyes.
'Reouven, I asked you something didn't I?'
Each of these five samples was a marvel; one sample had a golden face, two had a
white one and the other two had a black face. As each couple consisted of round and
square samples. The round ones seemed more sophisticated, and did include a time
stopper.
'Take the round golden one.' Suggested Shatz.
'My dear friend,' Everon turned to the manager, pointing out to the round black watch.
'This is my choice.'
'That would be twelve thousand francs mon commandant.'
'Well you haven't said anything yet, ha ha...!' Turned Everon to Shatz, with unhidden
delight and pulled out his wallet.
'It’s a real beauty!' Greeted him Shatz at last.
'An excellent choice, my compliments,' added Arnaut his voice to the greetings. 'Why,
it deserves a toast, don't you think gentlemen?'

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