When you sit down to write a novel, you search, sometimes in vain, for the prefect beginning. I did and after several failed efforts, I settled on this: Not one of us died that week in Budapest. And this in itself was true enough. Not one of us did die. Not Hemingway. Not Peter. Not Katrina. Not Daniel. And
certainly not myself. But after a few days of thought I realized it wouldn't do because there are more ways to be dead than to die. And for a second I wanted to attempt to chronicle the 'ways' but then the second passed taking with it the poetic desire to
vindicate my life, and I decided to leave such to a less cynical writer then myself. So I took match to cigarette and ice to bourbon and worked on a new opening. After several days filled with cigarettes and glasses filled with three fingers of bourbon, I decided to begin with Julie and Anna because...well because that week in Budapest began with them.
I first took notice of them, and I didn't know their names then but would some hours later, while sitting on the floor of the F-10 departure lounge at New York City's Kennedy international Airport waiting for the flight to Budapest to be announced. The lounge served as the departure gate for Yugoslavian Airline's flights to Belgrade and other central points in Eastern Europe. The lounge was a cube like room and had eight rows of plastic chairs, fifteen chairs to a row. The chairs were positioned so they came to a V a few feet from the wall at the far right hand corner of the room, and it was here that I sat. I suppose, no I knew damn well I looked silly sitting there on the floor. And why not. I was a few months shy of my forty-eight birthday and looked it and I also sported a suit and tie. I was also a Senior editor for United Press International, although none of the other
passengers who sat comfortably on the chairs could possible know this. Anyway, the combination of the three, my age, the suit and my position, should of prevented me from sitting on the floor. But there I was, hunkered down, back against the wall, legs stretched stick-like out before me. I felt very conspicuous sitting there.
But there wasn't anything to be done about this. I was pecking away on a laptop computer and the floor afforded comfortable breathing space for both the computer and myself. At this point Julie and Anna remained unnoticed by me because I was busy typing questions and notes to myself. I was doing so because a few weeks earlier the communist government in Hungary had collapsed and a democratic transition government had quickly succeeded the old government. Through a contact at the State Department, I had arranged for a series of interviews to stretch out over six days with the newly appointed Minister Of
Information, a Mr. Joseph Tudakoz. I was very fortunate to have set up the interview on such short notice. A thousand and one journalists representing every nook and cranny of the fourth
estate; from the print media to the electronic, were clamoring for interviews with members of the Hungarian transition government. But therein, haste belied the problem. Because the interview had been hastily arranged, a mere three hours ago, I hadn't had time to secure a visa, book a hotel room or prepare a list of questions I intended on presenting to the Minister. The hotel and the visa weren't really a problem. Both could be handled once I arrived in Budapest. But arriving unprepared...without a list of
questions...was for a journalist the equivalent of a mortal sin. An hour later I had grown tired of working and shut down the computer and stored it away in my briefcase. After this, I checked my watch, then removed my reading glasses and placed them in my
breast pocket. I still had twenty minutes before the flight would be announced. So I rested against the wall and stared straight ahead. At first I only saw the other passengers sitting on chairs and didn't pay any attention to them. But after a few seconds I noticed two girls laying just beyond a row of chairs that came to an end at the wall opposite of where I sat. I had hadn't slept for more than twenty hours and was tired and to keep myself from drifting off fixed on them. They lay head to hand to elbow to carpet. They looked young, about fifteen and sixteen respectfully, and wore the apparel of the laid back youth traveling to hell and gone without a worry in the world; a bandanna to tie their hair back, and faded jeans. As they had the same hair color, and the same general build, I guessed them to be sisters or at the very least cousins. I suppose that my gaze lingered a bit too long because I noticed them looking at me looking at them. I don't embarrass easily, but I didn't want to appear as a middle aged lecher trying to hit on possible underage girls and shifted my attention away from them onto an elderly couple occupying the two end chairs across from me. They were engaged in an argument about how stupid it was to park their car at the airport lot. She thought it was a waste of money. He otherwise. I smiled at this and thought: You are on vacation. Forget about the car. Enjoy.
Eleven hours later I arrived in Belgrade, completing the first leg of the journey. Yugoslavian airlines had arranged for a hotel room, and I would spend the night here and in the morning take a feeder flight into Budapest. I normally tried to catch a few winks when traveling overseas. Jet lag and all. But because I knew I would be spending the night in Belgrade, I had foregone sleep during the flight, preferring instead to stay in my seat and work on my notes. Consequently by the time the plane landed, I had a severe case of novocain ass. The numbness had moved up to my eyes by the time I departed the plane and everything had a vague left over quality to it, kind of like an old black and white movie. I knew from experience that much of the fogginess in my head was because my mental time clock was askew. So while I stood in line at customs, I performed isomeric exercises to chase the numbness away. Close the eye lids tight, quickly snap them open. Work the fingers, stretch them, close them into a tight fist. Squeeze the buttocks. Curl and uncurl the toes. By the time my turn came at the customs window, I was feeling almost civilized. The customs official wore a bored droll look of a man mechanically
going through the motions, and took an excruciating long time to stamp my passport. Or so it seemed to me at the time. When my new found civility had fled and annoyance was stitching my eyebrows together, he handed over my passport and waved me along. I gave him a backward glance, half wondering if he had annoyed me on purpose. I had visited Belgrade many times before and knew my way around the airport and easily meandered my way to the baggage section. By this time a few of the other passengers on my flight were already there and I took up a corner by myself and watched in the way one does when suffering jet lag for my bag to come circling out on the baggage carousel; hopeful. Hopeful soon gave way to resentful as I watched the other passengers one by one snag their bags and depart. Why them, I thought. Why not my bag. I only had one. God I was tired. By the time there was only myself and a few other passengers left waiting, despair had entered. The despair grew as the few bags left on the carousal kept going round and round indicating this was all the baggage from the flight. In my tired state the thought of my bag lost or on its way to China was too much to bear and I silently began to bitch at the gods that be. I was still doing so a few minutes later when Julie and Anna walked up and Julie asked if I was European.
It was here I realized that they weren't sisters or cousins, but instead mother and daughter. Upon closer examination, Julie was older than I had estimated her to be while examining her in New York. She was maybe twenty-eight, or nine. She had a feminine face; one given to beauty...dark brown hair that cascaded in a plum of curls around her shoulders, angled high cheek bones, oblong eyes, and a full firm mouth. Anna, who I had thought to be her sister, was actually a girl of about nine years of age. She had the lively curious eyes often found in one so young. Anna, I quickly decided, enjoyed where they were going simply for the joy of it. I also decided that I had first mistaken her to be around sixteen or seventeen because she was almost the same height as Julie. Although they had perked my attention at the terminal in New York, they had done so in the pursuit of a travel hobby facilitated by boredom. But now my interest in them was genuine. The journalist in me was a little more than curious as to why they were traveling to Eastern Europe. I had lived in New York long enough to immediately recognize lost and fear in their eyes. Little boys see chivalry on the movie screen and want to imitate the same and be gallant when they are all grownup. I have known a great many men who have gotten over this desire to imitate or be gallant. But I had retained this youthful desire; more of a curiosity trait then anything else, and quickly traded the frustration on my face for knowledge; or
wisdom...after all they are both one and the same...and gently met her eyes. "No," I replied, "From New York. Why?" Julie hadn't expected this response and her face held a polite hesitancy. "Go on mom," Anna urged. Her hesitancy fled under the delightful urging of youth. "I'm sorry. I thought you were from this part of the world. You see our bags..." "Yes," I, knowing what she was going to ask, quickly
answered. "either the baggage handlers have expired from over work, or they're milking a proletariat cigarette break or our bags are flying high over China right now. I vote for the choice between the former and the later." My cheap stab at humor elicited a welcome smile. But still worry lines wrinkled her forehead. "Lots of luggage?" I inquired. "Tons," Anna replied. Things often appear to happen by magic, or so it seems at the time. So it was with Julie and me. Before I could respond, Julie caught sight of one of her bags...and the sighting forestalled further conversation. It was a faded green army duffle bag. She indicated this by a tiny yelp of joy. As the bag rolled toward
us, I snagged it and hefted. I am not a little man by any means. I
stand about five eleven and weigh in at one seventy. Although I was a few years shy of fifty, a fact I may or may not have mentioned earlier, I was in fairly good physical shape. But that damn duffel bag was heavy. I had not anticipated its weight and quickly attempted to compensate for the weight of the bag by digging my heels into the floor and jerking powerfully up. As with all things heavy, they are not as heavy as they seem when exerting will and muscle power, and I was doing both when the duffle bag rocketed toward me at a frightening speed. All at once I saw a very large green bag careening toward my head, and in a attempt to duck, almost lost my balance and fell face down on the floor. But at the last moment I saved face and the bag and honor by seeking and grasping purchase with the toes of my feet and at the same time rocking onto the balls of my feet and by shear force jerking the bag to a halt. I was both proud and foolish and flashed a sideways awkward grin to show as much. Anna did the natural thing and giggled; although she had the grace to try and hide the same behind a raised hand. Julie smiled knowingly. I wasn't sure if she had smiled because of my foolishness or out of relief that her bags weren't lost. So to further break the ice I mentioned as much. "Both," she freely admitted. I guess she figured she had hurt my feelings because a
scarlet blush crept upon her cheeks. She wore it well, and I said as much. We took the moment as the rest of her luggage accumulated
Newman. Her daughter was Anna. She lived in Iowa, Dubuque to be exact. She taught grade school there. Sixth grade. She was on her way to Budapest to meet her husband. He taught school there...ESL to be exact. She had never been overseas before. She was exhausted and excited at the same time. Although she didn't say as much, she was also frightened by the whole trip, and was also rather
fascinated by the foreignness of it all. I started to tell her I was a Senior Editor for United Press International in New York City. But stopped. The title usually impressed strangers, and also made them feel insecure. So for my part I simply explained I was a journalist and was on my way to Budapest on assignment. Still by the slight widening of her eyes I knew that she was impressed and probably the other too. There are many neutral meeting grounds where people gather and meet and half believe what the other says. A pub is one such neutral meeting ground. A woman or a man can meet in a pub, and a pub being a place where booze and exaggeration are passed about in abundance, will half believe what the other says. But I have often noticed and mostly while working as a journalist that there are really only two cases where a complete stranger will accept
without question what a stranger tells them. One is in a dire emergency where a persons life or their well being is dependent on a stranger. The other is the solid earth of a foreign land. We
were both strangers in a strange land and unlike at home where our guards would have been up at meeting a stranger, we were both tired from the long journey and at that moment the bond of
communication now steeped in the familiarity of each other's life formed between us. She sensed it as I did and showed as much by a upward lilt of her eyes, and a curling back of the cheeks; both the actions of lovely ignorance wanting to hear more of this strangers life. I liked the look and softened my eyes to show as much. Because of this there was an awkward moment of silence between us as the last bag on the baggage carousel lazily rolled our way. The bag was mine. My only bag and I snared it. A mound of luggage had accumulated at our feet. I stared at it. It was all hers. I was about to ask how come so much luggage when Anna took the moment to yawn the yawn of a bored child listening to adults ramble on. The yawn facilitated a motherly pat on the head. Anna carried a teddy bear and held it out in reply to what Julie had done as if to say with it, "Oh Mom, can we go already." "I suppose you're staying at the Hotel Kasina?" I idly
inquired. From her purse came the airline ticket envelope given to her by a far away ticket agent in Dubuque Iowa. She had worried over the contents often during the trip, and this was apparent by the worn frayed edges of the envelope. She pulled out a computer check list and scanned it for a few seconds.
"Yes," she answered, "Yugoslavian airlines arranged it. You too?" I was hoping she was, and she was I was too. "Yes." "The travel agent gave me instructions. I am supposed to pick up a voucher at the information counter. I." The fear of uncertainty was back in her eyes. She was unsure of how to proceed from here. And why not? She was confused by it all. I had been through this rigmarole many times before. The hotel would be second class, especially since it was a freebie arranged by the airlines. I explained about the hotel and had her pause for a second while going off in search of a baggage cart. I was back within moments and shifted the mound of luggage onto the cart. As there was a great deal of luggage and as I hadn't done a very good job of stacking it, the duffel bag seemed to teeter on the brink of falling. I instructed her to follow me and held the duffel bag with one hand to keep it from falling while meandering our way through the airport. If Julie noticed the duffle bag was about to fall, she was kind enough to keep it to herself. Securing the vouchers for the hotel was as uneventful as the flight. At the information booth a bored woman wearing the
impassive eyes of longing to be anywhere but where she was at dispensed the vouchers. But it was only uneventful for me. Julie, who had never stepped foot outside Iowa, found being in a foreign land waiting for a very bored and very tired woman to issue
vouchers exciting, and bubbled over with questions about Eastern Europe. The line at the airport information window was long, as there was only one window open, and I had ample time to answer her questions. All the while Anne either talked to the teddy bear or made yawning sounds of boredom. A short time later we were outside waiting for a bus to take us into the City Center and to the hotel Kasina. Although it was fall, late October, winter arrives early in Eastern Europe and the night air was little cool. Julie was wearing what she had worn in New York and must of been cold. But if she noticed the cold, she didn't mention it. She had kept up a steady stream of chatter and it was here that she fell strangely quiet. The breeze was brisk enough to toss a few strands of hair over her eyes. The effect gave her a mysterious appearance. Or so I thought. All taxi drivers in every foreign port throughout the world know exactly fifty words of english; each word designed to flim flam the unsuspecting tourist into a very expensive taxi ride into the city. But not even the taxi drivers who rushed at us and rapidly assaulted us in broken english could disturb the quiet features of her face. I shooed them away and they like dutiful piranha attacked a elderly couple standing a few feet away from us. I looked down and saw that Anna had the same look on her face as her mother did. They were both enjoying the first fullness of a strange and exotic place. I wasn't so old and so travel weary that I couldn't remember similar feelings and let them be.
Somewhere between the baggage area and arriving at the hotel, I mentally manipulated the bond of familiarity into a daydream (night dream since it was night) of responsibility for both Julie and Anna. I fancied it was because the newness of what they saw and felt was by virtue of being with them also transmitted to me. Or maybe I was just plain tired and a tired mind plays tricks on itself. Whatever the reason, I playfully began to imagine I was her husband and it was my sworn duty to show them a good time. I rather enjoyed the image of myself as a husband and as the bus sped through Belgrade fulfilled the lark much as a circus clown fulfills stumbling stupidly for the waiting faces of children and bounced from window to window gleefully shouting out the sights. I even went so far as to gather up a Yugoslavian newspaper left on a seat and proudly displayed it to both Julie and Anna. Of course it was in Yugoslavian and was greek to them. But they smiled all the same. In short I played the fool. The other passengers just smiled knowingly at my antics. I ignored them, thinking at the time, what did they know. Besides Julie, who although was suffering from culture shock and jet lag, was woman enough to see through my
encouragingly. Anna encouraged me with a child's laughter that rang throughout the bus. Once at the hotel my jolly good cheer came to a screeching halt. The bus driver had deposited our bags on the sidewalk and gone about his business. There was quite a huge mound of luggage accumulated there and Julie was concerned about ferrying the bags from the sidewalk into the hotel. I assured her that the bell clerk would handle this. Although she nodded at what I had said, still she stood looking forlornly at the accumulated baggage, her top lip nibbling at her bottom lip. Anna seemed to have a child's grasp of the situation and reassured her mother. "Ah mom. You worry too much. I smiled at Anna, then instructed, as I imagined a husband might instruct, that they wait and went into the hotel to find the bell clerk. I found him by the concierge's desk and asked him to help with my luggage. He indicated by a shrug of his shoulders that he didn't understand so I gently grasped his elbow and guided him out to the sidewalk. He followed without protest. Although he was a smallish man, barely five foot tall, and painfully thin to the point of malnourishment, he seemed to swell, or at least his eyes did, at the sight of the pile of luggage accumulated on the sidewalk. As anger poured from his eyes his entire body followed suite and swelled to beyond twice its normal size until it seemed
like he must burst. It was apparent that his indignation was too much for him to endure and continue living at the same time. "You people," he finally stuttered out in prefect english, "You people think you can move your entire household from America to Belgrade and expect me to carry it for you. Well No! No I will not!" His short burst of anger served as fuel for his feet and he spun and marched right back into the hotel. I failed to react to his tirade right off because at first I was quite frankly amazed by his grasp of english. I had expected the normal fifty words of english, much like the taxi drivers, only this time each word designed to heighten the tip. But then I glanced at Julie and saw a defeated look on her face, almost as if she had done something terribly wrong. I am normally a peaceful man, especially when dealing with people performing menial labor; part of my bleeding heart liberal tendencies I imagine. But Julie was a pitiful sight, and I was suddenly angry and stormed into the hotel after the bellman. He was standing by the concierge's desk talking to another bellman and as such had his back to me. "What the hell is your problem!" I demanded rather loudly. As if I was beneath their attention; say an ant or a fly, the bellmen continued conversing between themselves. This was a
mistake. Different people are driven to violence by different annoyances. There are people, especially in New York City, who
while walking on the sidewalks dislike it when a stranger so much as passes them a sideways glance..to do so is very dangerous; then there are others who while hunched over the steering wheel foam at the mouth while driving in rush hour traffic...and it is best to gingerly steer around them; then there are the people who react violently when ignored...I am of this ilk. I believe it's because my mother used to leave me unattended while cleaning the house; but who knows. What ever the reason, ignoring me is the one tried and true method to get my dander up. Usually I can control the anger, and not because I am blessed with an abundance of self-will power; I am not, but because I had grown smart enough over the years to realize that uncontrolled rage was a losing proposition. But standing there I lost control for the first time in long distance memory and stormed between the two men and screamed for all of about thirty seconds. My rage spent, I suddenly snapped my mouth closed and set my jaw at them. Little droplets of spittle rimmed my lips. The two men stared at me as if I had just landed from the moon. A staring standoff ensued. After a few seconds of this the door man who had refused to help broke the standoff and asked, "What did you say?" He had said this innocently. Or as if he was talking to a child who had just thrown a temper tantrum. Also his tone and demeanor were designed to calm me and for a moment I supposed that as a hotel bell man, he practiced calming irate customers in the mirror while shaving in the morning. And as much as I hated to
admit it, it worked because I was instantly ashamed by my childish outburst. But as ashamed as I was, my mind was already regrouping. I had acted like a fool. So be it. Now be calm. This is what the asshole wants. So give him what he wants. So I did. But before doing so I took a good long hard look at the name tag on his shirt. J. Kernivich. "I am a journalist. A senior editor," I said calmly, fully in control of each thought and word, "And if you don't go out there and cart the luggage into the hotel, I am going to write a story about you. Such a story. It will stifle tourism until the thaw next spring. What do you think? What will your party chairman think? Hey, Mr. J. Kernivich?" He shook his head as if he didn't believe me. After all, who was I but an American flying third class and staying at a giveaway hotel. So I took out my press card from my wallet and holding it between thumb and forefinger held it up so he could read it. The lighting at the concierge desk was a bit dim, so I held it closer to his eyes for effect. I like to think that although I am not famous, I had written and still did, my share of stories and each had my name above the byline. As such I wasn't sure whether he read the International Herald Tribune where many of my stories over the years had appeared and if so if he bothered to notice the name above the byline. So not knowing this I didn't know whether
it was the press card or my name that snapped him to attention. But snap to attention he did. "It was a mistake," he stiffly replied. "Yes." "I will attend to the lady's baggage." "No." His mouth formed the word, 'NO', and did so so perfectly. I left him hanging like this and spun on my heels and left the hotel. Julie and Anna had questions in their eyes as they watched me walk toward them. I forestalled comment as I hefted two bags and carried them to within a few feet of the front desk. I did this repeatedly and by the time I was finished I was out of breath. Julie had helped me with the lighter of the bags and now stood behind me at the front desk. I was too out of breath to talk and wordlessly pushed my voucher across the marble counter at the clerk. The clerk was obviously aware of what had transpired
between the bellman and myself because he wordlessly assigned me a room and pushed a key back across the marble counter. As I stepped aside, Julie stepped up and handed the clerk the voucher. "I would like the room next to his," She said,"Please." Her tone had been natural, almost like we were old lovers. And I reacted in kind and readily accepted my role; one I had designed for myself and in the back of my mind was already
beginning to question, and the moment the clerk handed her a key hooked my hand in the crook of her arm and lead her to the
elevator. I allowed the same bellman to carry our luggage onto the elevator and up to our rooms. I did so because I was too exhausted to carry them myself. Julie offered him one American dollar as a tip and he frowned for a second as if to say it wasn't enough. She tilted her head in my direction, deferring to my experience in such matters. I was still plenty angry and had no intention of tipping him at all and just growled at the son of a bitch and he left in a hurry. All I could say about the rooms is that they were crummy, period. I had seen better in the flop houses in the old days before the Bowery in New York City had been reincarnated into a yuppie paradise instead of a cesspool for societies
disenfranchised. We entered Julie's room first. As soon as the light was flicked on cockroaches scattered. Anna let out a cry of disgust. I quickly assured her that if a lamp was left on during the night the roaches wouldn't come back out. Anna clung to my hand while I said this. I don't think she believed me, but bravely declined further comment on the subject. I was impressed by this. We had dinner coupons for a complimentary dinner on the house. After dealing with the bellman and seeing the room I was leery about eating in this dump, but I didn't want to add fuel to an already volatile situation and a moment later left them to freshen up for dinner.
I was mentally and physically exhausted and because of this the rest of the evening transpired in hazy dream like sequences. Scene one began when an hour later we went downstairs for dinner. Julie had changed into a rust color dress that cascaded around her ankles. She looked very beautiful and the other men in the dinning room gave her more then a passing glance and I was proud to be seen with her. Anna wore jeans and a pink halter. She looked very young and happy and I knew that the other people in the dinning room thought that I was her father and was pleased by this. The menu was very simple; either fish and potatoes or steak and
potatoes. We each chose the fish dinner. As we waited for the food we engaged in small talk. I once again played the clown husband; only more exaggerated then before. Anna had carried her teddy bear to the table. I inquired about the bear and Julie explained that Anna's grandmother had given her the teddy bear before leaving Iowa. I insisted that the teddy bear should have its own chair, preferably a chair with a booster cube so the teddy bear could see over the edge of the table. Anna giggled at this and said, "The teddy bear isn't real you know you know." This was blasphemy and I said as much. She giggled louder. I was huffy about her giggles and to prove my point went off in search of a booster cube. The first waiter I approached didn't speak english and I attempted to show what I meant by forming my hands in the shape of a cube. After a few minutes of this, of
which he looked at me like I was crazy, he said, "Chef speak english." Although I was beginning to think this was a bad idea, I mean I knew the damn bear was stuffed, I, more to save face at this point then anything else, went into the kitchen and explained to a man wearing a tall white hat who I assumed to be the chef what I required. But he had a very little grasp of english and this took a few minutes. At last I emerged from the kitchen carrying a rather tattered booster cube. The other dinners from the bemused expressions on their faces were intrigued by my antics. I ignored them and positioned the teddy bear so it peeked just above the
edge of the table at us. Anna laughed at this and said that all this trouble was a waste of time, "After all the bear wasn't really alive. It was stuffed." I was again shocked by such blasphemy and promptly displayed such. "Bite your tongue," I retorted. Before she could think up a answer, the waiter brought our food. In between coy glances Julie and I settled into the kind of conversation that ensures while attempting to eat and be polite at the same time. We each proclaimed how we hadn't realized how famished we were. We each extolled the virtues of the food.
Several times Julie instructed Anna to stop playing with her food. Each time Anna replied, "Ah mom."
From there on most of the conversation was designed to learn more about each other. As man is a cautious beast by nature, this was done through crooks and turns. I idly inquired, wrapping the question under the guise of a joke rather then an outright
question, as to why she was carrying so much luggage. She laughed and explained. The luggage and bags represented the sum total of her house in Dubuque. The duffle bag even held a full mainframe computer. Her husband's. He needed it for his work. I think she saw a look on my face that said, "Why the hell didn't your husband carry some of the luggage." Because she quickly added, "My husband flew ahead to secure us an apartment." But this really wasn't my business, so I mentioned that carting such a mound of baggage was going to be a strain during the return trip. She shrugged at this, explaining that she had only had enough money for a one way ticket. Her husband's idea. To my way of thinking sending a woman and a child half way around the world carrying a ton of luggage and a child was
irresponsible. And I didn't think too highly of him just then. But I reminded myself that there must be more to the story. Julie and I seemed to be hogging the conversation, of which Anna, by her quiet assent showed she didn't mind. Nevertheless I took a pause in the conversation between us to draw Anna out and at the same time to satisfy my curiosity about Julie and Anna. Julie had mentioned that she was meeting her husband in Budapest.
I had accepted this readily enough, but also I had a hunch that this wasn't her first marriage and that Mr. Newman was Anna's stepfather. So to satisfy this hunch, I pointed at the teddy bear and asked Anna if the bear had a last name? "Of course, silly," she replied, "It's the same as mine." "And what would this be?" "Peck," she replied and made a face to show exasperation at my question. It was a cheap trick. But Julie wasn't put off by it. "Journalistic curiosity," I replied. "Did I miss something?" Anna asked. "My first husband," Julie said by way of an explanation. "He lives in Dubuque." "Oh," Anna intoned. Although that was the end of that, I felt a little bit sleazy about the way I had set Anna up. And the sleazy feeling left a bad taste in my mouth, so after dessert was consumed and Julie and I had lit up a cigarette, I humbly accepted a sound chastising on the evils of smoking by Anna. The scolding made the sleazy part of me feel better. Scene two arrived as we stood in the hall outside our rooms. Anna had gone inside the room to check on roaches. Julie and I stared at each other. By this time it was very late. "I enjoyed dinner," she said.
"So did I," I replied. "Well," she answered. "Well," I said. "How can I ever repay you." Standing in the hall, the comforts of home a thousand miles away in New York, I thought of a thousand and one ways. They all involved both of us in bed. Five hundred of them involved both of us living happily ever after. But I had assigned myself a role to play and I played it out. "There is no need." "I...." Anna entered the hall. There are times when all the indecision in the world settles into my bones. At these times I have learned to quickly force myself to terminate whatever the situation is I am in. So I said with more force then intended, "Sleep tight!" There was an undecided glance from Julie and a sleepy wave from Anna and then they were gone, their door shut tight. I stared at the door for a long time. I did so half hoping Julie would come back into the hall and we would make love all night long in my bed. Scene three arrived as I lay in my bed thinking about
whether Julie was laying in bed thinking about me. The room was basic spartan. A bed. A dresser. A nightstand. A lamp. The room had also been used. I had noticed this before dinner but hadn't mentioned it because I didn't want to upset Julie. There was the
dead ends of a few cigarettes in the ashtrays. One had lipstick on it. The pillow smelled of cheap perfume. And the sheet had a telltell stain on it. There was also a coin on the end table. I assumed the coin was left there as a tip for the maid. I was to tired to sleep and several times stood and walked around the room. Each time I rose, I considered knocking on
Julie's door and found myself going out to the hall to do so before rejecting the idea. I was acting foolish. She was married. Go to bed already. An hour later after crushing several roaches, and inspecting every nook and cranny in the room, I decided to take my excess energy outside. By this time it was around four A M and the darkness outside had the gritty before dawn quality to it. The hotel held the point on a five corner junction. There were two people sitting on the curb across the street from the hotel. They probably worked the night shift at the hotel, and was waiting for a bus, or so I thought. But a moment later a bus spewing out noxious black fumes rumbled past them proving me wrong. I crossed the street and walked by the people sitting on the curb. We passed inspecting glances. I considered waving or saying hello. But it was late. For all I knew they could be thugs. So I kept walking. Within minutes I had half circled the five points of the corners and came face to face with a stone fountain of the kind found in small European towns. Water spouted from a pipe in
fountain's basin. I failed to see the old man at first, and I guess it was because of the dark clothing he wore. But I did see something and paused, squinting. At last through the gritty
darkness he took shape. He was huddled so close to the fountain that I would have missed him entirely had it not been for his snow white hair. But white is white and it was dark outside. He
unzipped his fly and relieved himself against the stone bricks that made up the fountain. The bricks were cool from the water held within the basin and the warm urine steamed. He next washed his hands in the water, then in a single fluid motion preened his handle-bar mustache with thumb and forefinger. After several
seconds, he was satisfied that his mustache was clean and cupped his hands, submerged them in the water, and in this fashion drank. He dried his palms on his trousers then set off. He walked slow, as if his legs pained him. I followed at a safe distance, staying in the shadows. I don't know why, a reporters inquisitiveness I suppose. But I knew I should be sleeping. So when he came to the corner where the hotel was located, and cut up a side street, I let him be and went inside. But I wished him a soft goodnight before doing so.
Oh how so seriously delicious I felt while I stretched out on the bed. So seriously stupid and delicious. Deliciously stupid even. Gad, I am acting crazy, I said aloud, and I have to be out of my mind. My next thought was of Daniel. He came naturally to mind because he out of all the people I had known in my life would appreciate the dunce cap I wore. Playing husband to an already married woman. Following an old bum at four o'clock in the morning through the streets of a strange city. I hadn't thought about Daniel in...five years or more, and the recollection on how long it had been snatched the
deliciousness from my merry mood, leaving in its place a serious melancholia. Had it really been that long, I wondered aloud, and sat up. I lit a cigarette and lay back on the pillow and blew smoke rings at the ceiling and dwelled on him for a while. I was an only child and if there was one person in my life who had become like a brother to me, it had been Daniel. We had worked together for fifteen years and had during that time become very good friends. But we had drifted apart. Well not so much drifted
apart, as torn apart. A thorn had come between us...of the female variety. It is a old story, played out countless times throughout history. He had met a woman, fell madly in love with her, and when she left him to marry another, he had fallen completely apart. When the cigarette burned down to the filter, I stubbed it out in the ashtray and pulled the covers over me. As I drifted off, I reflected on Daniel and how he had aggravated the hell out of me the first time I had met him. I had met almost him twenty years ago during my rookie year for United Press International. We had both served a long
apprenticeship working on a small town newspaper and were both in our late twenties at the time. Back than, to work for a wire service such as U.P.I. was considered a plum; a plum that carried with it the wings to fly to even greater heights. I had long strived for such a plum and had submitted numerous applications to all the wire services in the country and was straight away
rejected by each one. I was young and remained undaunted and waited six months before submitting a second series of
applications...once again to no avail. I was discouraged by the last round of rejections and became resigned that I was of small town caliber and as such would never rise to the big time. Right about that time fate stepped in under the guise of my uncle Bobby. Bobby sold lawn rakes to hardware stores and met a client who's brother worked at U.P.I. I know this next line sounds fictitious but I swear it's true; uncle Bobby traded fifty lawn rakes for a
position at U.P.I. And that's how I secured my first job in the big time. My first day on the job I was assigned to the rookie pool and had met Daniel who was also a rookie. I related the story about the lawn rakes, laughing at the idiocy of it. After I had finished my tale, I leered at him, fully expecting him to relate a similar tale of how he had arrived at working for U.P.I. I mean there is an unwritten code somewhere in the rule book of civilization stating that each grunt who has sucked eggs has the right to bitch about it and after doing so is entitled to ease the stupidly of the tale by listening to a like tale. Daniel obliged, but only after a few thoughtful seconds. I was astounded to learn that his road to U.P.I was due to an honorable mention from the Pulitzer committee for an article of on all things home baked apple pies and was instantly envious. I had lawn racks to recommend me. He had, of all things, an honorable mention from the Pulitzer committee. I would of given my left manhood to receive an honorable mention from the Pulitzer. As I was quite excited, I pressed him for more details. But he modestly declined, saying that was the whole story. The timber of his voice indicated this was the end of the matter as far as he was concerned. Because I was envious, I took his reticence as something other then modesty, and was sure he was hiding something. He had to be. The Pulitzer committee had far
more important stories to award honorable mentions to than damn apple pies. And because my uncle Bobby had secured me the job, I readily deduced that Daniel's parent's were on the Pulitzer
committee and had secured the honorable mention for him. Such is how minds work, especially young envious minds. But who cared about pies, right. I was in New York. I worked for a major wire service. Who cared. Pies. Pulitzer. Big deal. Well I cared about the damn pies, and for many months the thought of them ate away at me until I wasn't sure if I was fuming because he wouldn't tell me that his parent's were on the Pulitzer
committee, or because I was envious about the honorable mention. This was a wicked state to be in, I concluded miserably at the time and decided through sleuth and guile to weasel the truth out of him. Like all rookies, we were assigned to cover the city desk. The work at the city desk was grunt work, and mostly involved phoning in confessions from a poor guilty soul the police would beat a confession out of because the person didn't want to go to jail. This task usually extracted an hour from an eight hour day, and then the rest of the shift was devoted to idle conversation. Mostly we discussed shop politics. But every now and then I would put a different spin on the lawn rack story, and retell it. I did so hoping he would further elaborate on the pie story. But he never did. I even went so far as to packing apple pies for lunch. But he didn't nibble at what I saw as the obvious. So one day out
of frustration, I visited the library and dug out the original
story on the now infamous home baked apple pie and read it. There wasn't anything special about the story. Finally I outright asked him. We had become good friends by this time and I didn't bother explaining why I had to know. "It's simple," he explained, "I wrote what the old farm woman said to me." I didn't get it and said as much. "I added nothing," he empathized, "Don't you see. I wasn't there in her kitchen. I didn't belong there. I was invisible. When she moved, talked, my pencil moved. Get it." No, I did not. So I blurted out, "You mean your parent's aren't on the Pulitzer committee!" He was a bit exasperated by this time, and so was I, and we never talked about the pies again. But I learned a great deal about Daniel then, and a great deal about envy and a great deal more about journalism.
When I awoke that morning I went directly to the window and opened it. The room was warm and cold crisp air quickly filled the warmth around me. I breathed deep to clear the cobwebs from my mind. I had a long standing habit each morning of going to the window and taking in a lung full of fresh air. I did this, I often told myself, because I wanted to test the weather to see what manner of clothing I should wear. But my reasons were much simpler than that. I went to the window to see if the world was still there. The world always was and I always felt reassured by this. And the world was there on this morning. Not the New York City world with its bustling get ready to work time of day unfolding below me; but the Belgrade world with its bustling get ready to work time of day unfolding below me. I watched for a few seconds as busses discharged and took on passengers from street corners which only a few hours ago were deserted. At last I grew bored and went to the bathroom to shower and shave. In the reflection of the medicine cabinet mirror, I found myself staring back at me...not the buffoon of the previous evening who had acted the make believe husband. True the eyes were tired from too little sleep, but the slight arrogance shining
forth showed them to be sufficiently rested. Their was somebody back behind the eyes. There was the senior editor of United Press international. He was calm, cool and always collected. He, above all else, was aware of his inner self. He was, to be blunt, a man who got the job done. That was why he was a senior editor. I was relieved to see that the few hours sleep I managed to garner were enough to chase away the self indulgent fantasies of the previous evening. I called my break from reality self
indulgent because this is what it was. I had been tired, yes, but more then that I had rather enjoyed Julie's company from the start and because of the same allowed myself to be swept away into a fantasy world where playing house was the order of the day. A white picket fence, a job pumping gas at the local station, and a peck on the cheek upon arriving at home when the work day was done. I hadn't questioned the fantasy at the time, nor did I do so now. I did suppose the fantasy was harmless enough in itself; much like, I assume, fantasizing about the air brushed lines of a playboy model while making love to a woman who's body and mind had long ago grown familiar is. But I wasn't the type of man who imagined making love to a face in a magazine while making love to his girlfriend; to do so seemed dishonest. I grunted at my last thoughts and began to prepare for the day. The hour was late and the day would be hurried. A mad dash with Julie and Anna in tow to the airport. The airport would be
crammed aboard a
Budapest. And as I had left New York in a hurry, once in Budapest lodgings had to be secured. Yes, I thought with a trace of
fatigue, the day would be hurried.
The prophecy of a hurried day was right on target. I had phoned Julie's room after showering. She had said she'd be ready in about a half hour. We had a complimentary breakfast coming and I asked her if she wanted me to wait breakfast. She replied, no, would grab a bite at the airport. Since I had time to kill, I went downstairs and had a breakfast of eggs and bacon and coffee. A half hour later I rapped on her door and after a few seconds her and Anna appeared ready for the final leg of their journey. My thoughts to the contrary, or maybe because of them, I couldn't help noticing how radiant Julie looked. She wore a cotton dress, and this could be told by the many natural wrinkles; and it gave her a lit airy feel. In short she resembled a woman who had taken the time to look her best for her husband. "Sleep well?" I asked. "Very," she answered. "Liar!" Anna exclaimed. Anna hadn't spoken out of meanness, but like at dinner the previous evening, with the luxury of innocence and ignorance of one so young. And for an all too brief second I envied Anna her
youth with a melancholia that filled my entire body, a longing melancholia that harkened back to my own youth and the innocence in which I had uttered likewise statements, with but a 'what can you expect' upturned eyebrows from the adults at hand; but it was the most briefest of second, for a moment later I thought of Daniel for the second time in as many days. He had had the same speak his mind innocence, only in a man his age it was often referred to as mitigated, or unmitigated gall. But the thought of Daniel like the one of envy expired quickly and the resolve I had gained by the few hours of sleep, and the insight I had momentary gained by staring at my reflection in the mirror, dissolved. All at once my mind was torn asunder by the implications of what Anna had uttered and I found myself drifting afloat in the fantasy of the previous evening. As such I was both excited and disappointed by the thought that Julie had waited for me to knock on the door last night. The fair maiden had waited for the knight in shining armor who had saved her from the terrible fate of the unknown. My momentary elation quickly vanished to be replaced by
disappointment. And now I bathed in the utter despair of a soul steeped in the longing loneliness of wanting to turn time back. I was a fool. I had not had the courage to knock on her door. I was a fool. Worse then a fool I was a knave. A second later I laughed at the silly self picture of myself standing there weeping eternal for a fantasy.
It was a moment later that I took stock of myself. I stepped back, literally and figuratively. I calmly reminded myself that Julie had lain awake all night because she was excited about meeting her husband. I further reminded myself that I was just, and the emphasis was on the word 'just,' escorting Julie and Anna to Budapest. I was the designated escort...period. After thinking of this I looked at Julie and Anna, and once again saw a woman with a child who was all dressed up to meet a husband who she had traveled thousands of miles to see. I was also relieved to see that Julie was red faced embarrassed by what Anna had said and as such had not been privy to my inner thoughts. From that moment on the morning and its direction evolved methodically. The day bellman transported the luggage to the bus with a cynical wit that had us all in stitches. His name was Gustove. I had stacked Julie's luggage in the hall. He took one look at the mound of luggage and his eyes rolled over in there sockets. He stooped and hefted the duffle bag, and as he struggled to stand wobbled on rubbery bowlegged knees until almost teetering over. As he did all this he let loose a low moan.
"Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, me back." By the time he dropped the bag onto a baggage cart, his moans had reached a fever pitch loud enough to bring the maid darting out of a room. She had a towel in her hand, and took one look at
the impish frown on his face and flung the towel so it hit his chest. "Men," she shouted for our benefit in broken english and stormed back into the room. Gustove winked at us. "Women," was all he said and continued hefting the luggage and moaning. Much to Anna's delight this scene was repeated as often as there were bags, and by the time we headed for the elevator towels littered the hall floor. Although it was almost eight in the morning and the sky was clear and the sun was rising, as we exited the hotel a night chill was evident in the air. The airport transfer bus was parked at the curb. A long line of people waited to board it. Despite the chill, the bus driver loading suitcases in the undercarriage cargo hold had worked himself into a noticeable sweat. As we waited in line for the driver to load Julie's baggage, she shivered from the cold. I offered her my sport coat. At first she demurely declined, but I insisted and she reluctantly allowed it to be draped over her shoulders. She then insisted that Anna dig a sweater out of one of the bags. I seconded the idea. Anna wrapped her arms herself and pouted between her teeth. She wasn't a little girl, you know, you know, you know. But Julie's sense of motherhood prevailed. A few minutes later, we at last stepped aborad the bus. The act seemed to cross an invisible line for us; at least I supposed
designed to familiarize ourselves with each other, a quiet soul searching solitude invaded us as the bus ground its way to the airport. I could see it in Julie as she stared forlornly out the window at the sights. I know I felt it and wondered if it was because an ending was coming to our saga. But even so I tried to act as if nothing had changed between us and chattered widget conversation endlessly. Julie offered perfunctory responses to my chatter but did so without detouring from the sights outside the window. Even Anna seemed impervious to my good natured jesting. She and the teddy bear socialized; a tea party for two was in progress. As all my good intentions were heading nowhere I gave up, and watched the sights outside the window. As I did so I thought it was just as well. Soon she'd hold her husband in her arms. Yes, it was just as well. My, the trees were nice. The leaves were
turning. God, fall was beautiful. Yes. It was nice this time of year.
Once at the airport the conversation took the awkward form of avoiding meeting each others gaze while softly maintaining polite conversation; thank you, and yes I would like a coke, and thank you, and no I am not hungry. Unfortunately the commuter flight to Budapest was delayed and this politeness between us soon became insufferable and both of us directed our attention to Anna. Anna picked up on this and like all wise kids attempted to weave silk out of hay. She had spotted a huge stuffed giraffe at one of the Duty Free shops and wanted it and made all the right fidgeted rattling moves in her chair to show as much. I was all for purchasing the giraffe for her. Julie was against it and said as much, very adamant too. I, like a fool insisted. Women have a way to show when they are very angry without speaking a word, and Julie wordlessly in the span of a second displayed anger by the way she didn't sit. "How situation. She glared away from me. "About the Coke?" I asked again "Thanks," she sighed, "I think a coke would help." about a coke?" I replied, hoping to defuse the
I was very relieved because I was beginning to feel a bit uncomfortable and dutifully went off and secured three cokes. But a mere coke couldn't bridge the border we had crossed and the unease between us continued. So much so that Julie and I took turns sitting with Anna while the other prowled around the
terminal. I spent my time walking past and into the shop that had the stuffed giraffe. I stared at the giraffe and titillated
between a desire to
purchase it and proudly present it to Anna
while chiding myself at the same time that Julie was Anna's mother and she certainly knew best. So each time I prowled the terminal I went from the giraffe shop to the duty free cigarette shop and purchased a carton of cigarettes. I had already purchased six cartons of cigarettes and was coming out of the Duty Free Shop with carton number seven when I collided into Julie, who had rushed into the shop to inform me the flight had been called. Julie had been running and I had been walking backwards saying thank you to the clerk who by this time loved me because I was making her day. The force of the collision propelled both of us into a rather stout gypsy woman. In an act of pure skill and reflex born of god knows what, the gypsy woman opened her arms, captured us both, and swiftly folded us into her bosom. And she had a massive bosom too. So much so I almost choked on it, and was gasping for air by the time she released us. She pointed at us and boomed out a sentence completely foreign to me. Wagging a finger
at us, she backed away. I guess we looked confused, because she darted back and kissed us both on the cheek, stepped back and again shouted out in a foreign tongue. I understood this time what she was saying, more by her actions then her words. She saw I understood and walked away without so much as a backward glance. After a few seconds, in which Julie collected herself, she said. "What did she say?" "She said," I said, "You and I make a nice couple." Although Julie silently accepted my interpretation, the
effect of it showed on her face and she excused herself as soon as we reached Anna. When she returned the polite silence between us deepened. A few minutes later we boarded the plane. The aircraft was a Keystone and seated twenty-four people. Although the
smallness of the craft should of served to heighten the tension between us, it had the opposite effect and actually offered a respite from the insufferable politeness. This was because by the time we had boarded most of the seats were already taken and consequently Julie and Anna sat several rows ahead of me. I spent the takeoff watching the back of Julie's head, and thinking how pretty her hair was, while listening to a elderly Hungarian woman mumble a prayer in Hungarian while running her fingers over a rosary. After a while I imagined she was saying a prayer for all the scared people in the world. And because I had a warm spot in my heart for the gypsy lady, I hoped she was
including her in the prayers.
A few minutes later the Keystone settled into its flight pattern and bounced and skidded against the air currents. I guess the elderly Hungarian woman didn't mind the turbulence because she had traded in the rosary for talking to a an elderly woman across the aisle from her. I wanted to lit a cigarette but couldn't find the to heart to do so in such a small aircraft. So I twiddled my thumbs while alternating between staring out the window at the checkered landscape below and Julie's head. I thought of the gypsy woman and what she had said about Julie and me, and suddenly a thought occurred to me and I almost laughed out loud at it. Years ago a gypsy woman had said the same thing to Daniel and his girlfriend. The gypsy woman had said this a few months before they had split up. I soon grew bored with watching the checkered board landscape and the back of Julie's head so for the rest of the flight I allowed my thoughts to rummage over the years spent working with Daniel. At last I wondered what had become of him. The first few years after we had gone our separate ways I had heard rumors about him from people in the office. After years of drinking and
carousing he had found Christ and to atone for his past sins had forsaken the easy life and had become a missionary in the catacomb hills of what the United States government referred to as the Asian triangle. He was teaching the word of the Lord to little yellow men who when not harvesting the opium poppy were busy
competition. I had right off dismissed this rumor as bull-envy. Many years ago I had spent some time in the Asian triangle and these little yellow men had no need of the Lord...they had the stuff of white dreams. Now had someone told me that he was holed up in an opium den, this was believable. Another rumor said he was in Vietnam. He had married a woman and was raising rice and kids. This was the flip side of bull-envy, which is bull-jealousy. He hated kids. Then there was the rumor that he had blown his brains out. Because the thought was too painful, I refused to believe this. Over the years I had heard many other rumors, all just as silly and had always dismissed them out of hand. But I had also heard that he was in Volutes, Mexico, and much like a character in a Graham Green novel, had set up housekeeping inside a bottle. I believed the latter because the last time I had seen him, he had the haunted look of a man running away from himself, and to do this takes a great deal of stamina. So much so that a booze bottle is the perfect refuge. It can be a warm and comforting place and requires very light mental housekeeping. Pop a cork. Tilt a
bottle. Do so twenty times a night. Go to sleep. Wake up and immediately repeat the sequence. I know because I've known many men who make it through the day in this fashion. But as the years passed, eventually the rumors died out. I guess it was because most of the people at United Press
International who had worked with us had retired, or had moved on.
For a while I still wondered about him from time to time, what had become of him, but then a few years ago I stopped wondering about him altogether. I suppose, now in retrospect, my duties as senior editor had put a curtain on those memories. Right about the time I had stopped wondering about him, I was promoted to senior editor in charge of overseas corespondents for United Press International New York Bureau. As a grunt journalist I had had plenty of time to wonder about what had happened to past comrades, but those
precious few moments I had had to occasionally dwell on the past whereabouts of old comrades were now stolen by the immense time my new job entailed. So much so that eventually the old memories, not just of Daniel but of other people I had worked with over the years, died out.
Going through Hungarian customs's was just a formality, and within minutes after landing, only Julie, Anna and I stood in the Customs's lounge at Budapest' Ferihegy international airport. The two custom officers there gave us a passing glance before
returning to filing away the stack of entrance visas accumulated on their desks. Julie had already had her passport stamped and was ready to leave the lounge for the terminal outside. I, on the other hand, was staying right there. It was my own fault. I had been in such a hurry to leave New York, that I had neglected to secure an entrance visa. Julie knew this because I had told her as much over dinner. She had mentioned at the time that she had secured her visa while in Dubuque. So all remaining between us was goodbye. As I stared at Julie and the misbegotten collage of emotions playing across her face, I silently cursed my luck. Anna stood nearby, all but forgotten by the awkwardness of saying goodbye. Although I hadn't harbored a previous desire to meet her husband, or lack of, I suddenly wanted to. I guess this was the barnyard
rooster in me. A rooster from the next barnyard over always wants to meet the rooster next door, if only to rattle his feathers and
strut his stuff. I was no different. I had escorted Julie and now wanted to satisfy my curiosity that the man she was meeting was worthy of her. I quickly saw this desire as the height of
stupidly. As such I was instantly angry at myself. But god damn it, I wanted to shout, I liked her. And I didn't want it to end like this. I took a deep breath and thought, but end it must. So make it brief. "Well," I said. "Yes," Julie replied. Those two words served to increase the awkwardness of the situation by a hundred fold. Tension was now evident in the air. There was a smell of sadness to it. To escape this, I dug my hand into my pocket and withdrew the coin that had been left on the nightstand for the maid. I stooped and handed it to Anna. "I found this. It's a good luck coin. If you need luck just rub it." "How do you know it's a good luck coin?" she asked. "Because the man who had it got lucky," I answered with a straight face. She accepted this without further explanation, which was just as well. The coin folded into her palm. She gave me a great big hug. A few seconds later I stood.
"Julie," I said, "Things can happen in foreign countries. Things like. Well just things. If anything happens, go to the American embassy. They will pay your way home." "Really," she answered. "Yes. They hold your passport until you pay them for the flight." "Thanks," she replied, "I mean you never know right." I hugged her. "Go. Your husband is outside those doors waiting like the dickens for you." She offered a rueful disbelieving smile at my comment. I read many things into that smile. I ignored them all. "Come for dinner?" she hopefully asked. "I. I would love to. Give me your address." "I, I," She shrugged helplessly, "My husband. Well like I said over dinner. He had to find an apartment." "I don't know where I am staying either," I replied. This seemed to stump her. And I was relieved. Yet at the same time I was hoping she would say, "I will wait for you in the terminal. We can ride into Budapest together. This will give you a chance to meet my husband. You will like him. He is a very nice man. Such a very nice man." For many reasons I really wanted her to say this. But instead she asked if I knew of a coffee shop we could meet at.
"The Cafe Gerbeaud," I answered, "The Cafe is a few blocks from the British embassy. Ask any cab driver for directions." "Tomorrow at noon," she replied, "I'll bring the address." I reluctantly agreed. There was a sense of something being lost while watching Julie and Anna exit the custom area into the terminal. I really didn't expect to see them at the Cafe or anyplace else for that matter. She was just being kind. After all travelers often made arrangements they never intended to keep. Civility and all such.
Although it had been a while since I had done so, securing a visa wasn't complicated. But I tried to hurry the procedure along, hoping to catch up with Julie and her husband in the passenger terminal. After all, the mound of luggage they had would slow them down. And I did want to meet him. Hell, I figured I had earned this right. But it's almost always a mistake to hurry a
bureaucrat. The mere effort slows the clock to half speed. I quickly filled out the vias application and handed it to the custom's woman. I didn't want to seem impatient by blurting out I was in a hurry, so instead I drummed my fingers atop the counter
hoping she'd get the message. She was friendly enough and asked the few questions required while smiling. I answered them, trying to maintain a level voice, but unable to succeed. I think my impatience showed, because soon her smile vanished. As I stood there I knew by the look on her face that I had encroached upon her kindness. Nobody likes these procedures. But she had attempted to ease an unpleasant experience by displaying congeniality and I had acted in kind by displaying impatience. In short I had
offended her. She
verified this assumption by taking great pains
in cropping the passport pictures and lining them up so they fit
the designated square on the visa application. I tried rescuing the moment with congeniality. But she wasn't fooled. I couldn't be angry at her. At myself, yes. So in the end I paid the visa fee and thanked her as politely as possible. I first checked the baggage area. An old man sat on a stool guarding my lone bag. I handed over the baggage claim check and went to the passenger terminal. My attention wandered around the terminal in search of them. Who knows, I thought, maybe her
husband hadn't shown. Maybe he had met an particularly attractive gypsy woman and was right now buried in her bosom. Maybe Julie was crying over a mound of luggage. But it wasn't to be. The terminal held but a few people and I quickly saw she wasn't one of them. I wasn't too disappointed. She had gone to great pains to make herself pretty for her husband. After traveling so far, she would of been hurt and disappointed had he not met her at the airport. Upon leaving the terminal, I sought out a Taxi. Too no avail. But I really hadn't expected to find one. It was noon and this was the slow time of day at most airports. The taxi drivers were obviously in the City Center shuttling passengers between offices and luncheon restaurants. I was tired and really didn't care. So I elected to take the bus into the city. I pretty much knew the routine as far as public transportation in Budapest went, and found without any trouble the bus stop. It was then, as I sat on the bench waiting for the bus into the city that the mad dash from
my office in New York to the long flight to Budapest caught up to me. I was suddenly very tired. I tried to combat this by mentally
listing the things I had to do. But it all seemed to confusing. It could all wait until later, I concluded, right now I just wanted a bed. Although it was late fall, and I had expected the air to be chilly, the day was very warm so I shed my sport coat and laid it across my legs and settled back against the bench. I was sort of into myself, watching the external events while lazily examining without really doing so the internal events of the past forty eight hours when Joanne sat on the bench next to me. I didn't know her name then, but did a few minutes later. She inquired as to what time the city bus arrived. She had spoken in French and I knew the language well enough to understand what she was asking. But I didn't know it well enough to answer her in French, so I did so in english, and explained that they ran every hour. I wasn't in the mood for conversation and this was the end of it as far as I was concerned. "You're not French," she said in english, "Sorry you look, well." This was too much, and I gave her a long inspecting glance. She was a rather petite woman who appeared to be in her late thirties. "Is this a new line?" I asked. "Pardon me?"
"A woman said almost the same thing to me in Belgrade. I was wondering if this was a new pick up line. Admittedly your
delivery is more sophisticated. But." "You got me all wrong," She answered, blushing, "I'm waiting for my husband. He's off searching for a taxi. But there doesn't appear to be a taxi in sight. So the bus. Well." "Sorry. I'm from New York." "Well that explains it." "Explains what?" "Why women mistake you for European." "It does?" "Of course. New York is cosmopolitan." "Yes." "As is Paris. London. Rome. Vienna." "And Chicago? Boston? Philadelphia?" "Just cities." I had been joking, but she was serious and I replied, "I see." "Did this woman succeed?" "Her name is Julie. And succeed in what?" "Picking you up?" "No. She had a husband waiting for her here." "Oh, her loss." "Let's hope not."
"Yes, yes of course. Sorry. I was trying to be nice. The American in me I suppose." She was very chipper, very upbeat, very hyper. And sincere. "No need," I replied, "To be sorry of course." Considering we were strangers I fully expected this exchange to end there. But a moment later when her husband arrived grinning about securing a taxi, she invited me along. Her husband wasn't
much taller then she and had a soft friendly face. Yes, he said. We were all Americans. It was the sociable thing to do. Right. Tired as I was, I readily excepted their offer. The ride into the city was short, twenty minutes at best, but during this time we exchanged names and small talk. They were Jack and Joanne Trecill. They were on their way to Paris. They had an apartment in Paris and spent a month there every year. But now with the communists gone they had decided to spend a month in Budapest. Joanne had always wanted too. Her paternal grandmother was from Hungary. I explained I was a journalist and was in Budapest for a week on assignment. At some point she asked if I had secured a place to stay in Budapest. "No," I answered, knowing what was coming. Well this just wouldn't do, Joanne replied. Why, I could stay with them. They had an entire flat. Six rooms. They had secured the flat before leaving the states. I must stay with them. It would be so interesting for them to talk to a journalist. Jack agreed. He didn't normally seek out Americans when in Europe. Got
enough of them at home. But since I was from New York and a journalist, well heck it would be nice. I politely declined, but Joanne further insisted, as did Jack until together their persistence won out, and I accepted, thinking why not. I could always relocate after a good nights rest. I offered to reimburse them for a nights stay. But they wouldn't hear of it. I would leave fifty dollars on the pillow in the morning. Too my surprise the apartment was on Honard Street, a stones throw from the Danube, and the American and British Embassies. The apartment was quite large by Hungarian standards, and was
comfortably furnished, including a phone, cooking utensils and food in the cupboards and ice box. There were three bedrooms and I took the middle and smallest one. After unpacking my bag, I
settled on to a chair at the kitchen table and spent an obligatory hour sharing coffee and sandwiches that Joanne had made and
conversation with Jack and Joanne. During this time we got to know each other a little better. And I learned that at one time Jack had operated a wholesale spice business in Vermont. And that Joanne worked six months a year as a gourmet cook. Just boring, she said. Just boring. As for me, I rattled off a few interesting ditties about life as a journalist and received good hearted laughter in response. When the conversation started to dry up, Joanne inquired about Julie and I readily elaborated on what I had
already told her. A short time later I excused myself and retired to the bedroom to catch a cat nap. But despite a deep sense of fatigue, or maybe on account of it, a hundred and one thoughts assaulted me and sleep eluded me. Julie, of course. My mind was stuck on her. A few hours sleep would cure this state of mind, I knew, but therein lied the catch; the state of mind I was in prohibited sleep. So I took a long hot shower. Very hot. Slowly the grip on my thoughts lessened until at last I was able to focus on the more mundane task of why I was in Budapest. I holed up in the bedroom and, in between coffee and a few sandwiches generously supplied by Joanne, spent the next seven hours pouring over my notes for the series of interviews with the Minister of Information. At last I couldn't keep my eyes open any longer and went to bed.
I fell into a dead like sleep for a full fourteen hours and the deep rest mended the fractured spirit within me. I felt this the moment I awoke...anxious to begin the day. The first thing I did was to attempt my normal routine of opening the window to see if the world had survived the night. I was mildly annoyed when the window wouldn't budge. But I quickly discovered the problem. The window in my room swung out French style, as opposed to American style from an up down angle. I playfully chided myself, one must adjust to different cultures, and swung it open and breathed in the morning air. I did this several times, each breath cool and crisp. A few seconds later I was sufficiently awake enough to notice the world about me. A courtyard faced me, and from an apartment window across the way a woman stood up from a couch or a bed. She was naked. The bald dome of a man's head appeared for a second before falling away out of sight. She laughed, and walked out of view. I stared for a while, hoping to see her again. But all I saw was the man's bobbing appearing and disappearing head. Although she was a pleasant sight to wake up to, a very enjoyable sight really, I gave up on her and went to the kitchen
expecting to find Jack or Joanne. A pot of coffee sat warming on the stove. Attached to the handle was a note: Gone sight seeing. Left coffee on the burner and french toast warming in the oven. Enjoy. See you later Alligator. "Sure," I thought, "And after while Crocodile. The coffee and the french toast and the note were a pleasant surprise. Although I had planned on securing a hotel room, I decided right then to take Jack and Joanne up on their offer and spend the week in the apartment. The coffee was part of the reason for the decision, but also because they were nice unobtrusive people. They could have stuck around and talked my head off
instead of attending to their own agenda. I liked that in people. But my reasons weren't altogether altruistic. I disliked hotels. Plus the thought of moving to a hotel seemed too much to bear after traveling such a long distance. As for agenda, I had a full plate to attend too. Of the many arrangements I had made before leaving New York, the first had been to secure the necessary approval to set up a makeshift office at the American Embassy. This was necessary because United Press International didn't have an office in Budapest. The nearest
office was in either Moscow or Paris. Once the office was set up, I had to contact the Hungarian government and verify the
appointment I had with the Minister Of Information. In between doing all that I had to think of something to dispatch to the
states. I wasn't to worried about the dispatch. It would be fluff. When away on assignment the first story always was. I quickly showered and dressed and wolfed down the french toast and a cup of coffee. Before leaving the apartment, I phoned the Minister of Information's office. The woman on the other end was very friendly and helpful and arranged an appointment for later on in the afternoon. After the phone call and on a hunch I went to my bedroom window. The woman who I had seen earlier now stood on the balcony. She was without clothing. She had her hands planted on her hips while doing knee bends and was totally
unabashed about her nudity and offered me a full smile. She had a lean fit body and it was a pure joy watching her exercise. She moved with a natural animal grace; a smooth bend of her knees followed by a slight upward spring on the balls of her feet. Since I considered myself a neighborly sort of fellow, I quickly decided to do the neighborly thing and say hello. But because of the angle of the window, I had difficulty leaning out, but managed to do so by twisting and then wedging my body between the frame and the window. I imagined I looked rather silly stuffed and sticking out the window, but in the best 'I am a male so what do you expect tradition' paid this foolery zero attention. "You speak english?" I shouted. "A Little." She never missed a beat as she answered me. "I just arrived in town."
A bend of her knees. "From America?" "Yes." A soft spring of her heels and up. "How nice." "You have great breasts." A soft bend off her knees. Before springing up she took her left hand off her hip and waved it in the air, motioning to show she didn't understand. I wanted to show her what I had meant by using hand language, but I experienced some difficulty, as the window frame was like a straight jacket. Finally I managed to crawl a hand up my chest and cup it against my right breast. She laughed. "Breasts," I called out. She was standing by this time and was again on her way down and without missing a beat touched a hand to her left breast and said something in Hungarian. "What?" "Ovoce." I didn't know Ovoce' from smelt, but they looked great to me and I yelled, "Yes. Great Ovoce." She merrily laughed and said goodbye, or what I assumed to be goodbye in Hungarian. Before I could answer, she disappeared
inside the apartment. Very firm twin half moons were the last sight I had of her. A man's hand, firm and hairy, reached up and grabbed a half moon and pulled it down. Whoever said that you can't reach for the moon and pull it down was wrong, I thought.
The unseen man reminded me of Julie. I idly wondered how she had fared with her reunion with her husband; remembered I was supposed to meet her at the Cafe Gerbeaud, and although I didn't believe she would show, inserted time to do so into my day's agenda. After all I said I would meet her and on the off chance she showed, it would be rude to stand her up. So I told myself anyway.
Budapest is a gloomy city; most of the buildings were built during the Austro-Hungarian empire and had gargoyles gracing the facades. Even in the daytime the sleepy fog crawling off the Danube often gave the streets an erie feel. But there were plenty of trees, and fall was in full bloom, and the leafs were painted a deep red, high yellow, and rusty brown. So despite the gloominess of the architecture, the colors added just the right touch of gaiety to the city. It had been a good long time since I last visited Budapest and I stood on the sidewalk with the for area. a few seconds I and quickly off.
Although the embassy lay a few blocks away, I took the long way and strolled along Szechenyi walk which followed the Danube river. I thoroughly enjoyed the walk. Although the day was warm a cool breeze washed ashore. I normally wasn't given to nostalgia, but I was glad to see the city lay pretty much unchanged since the last time I had visited it. But I really hadn't expected otherwise. Budapest was a very old city. Old cities seldom changed like new cities did. Especially old cities frozen in time by over forty years of archaic communist rule. But one change I did notice was
the people. I had walked through the streets of many countries where the government ruled through fear and intimidation. In these countries the populace, even the leaders, seemed to share a common demeanor; their eyes were always furtively searching for the
hidden intrusion of the secret police. The Hungarian people I passed on the street were not afraid at all. Their eyes met you head on when you glanced at them. Their was a joy there to be sure, but there was also something else. It wasn't until I reached the Embassy that I thought I knew what this was. Pride. Proud to be Hungarian. Proud to be free of the communist. Proud to be free period. And right then I had my first dispatch to the states. And the opening line came to me. "The vail of fear lifted, the people blah blah blah." A few seconds ago I was ready to dispatch fluff. Or what is appropriately referred to in the forth estate as breakfast news; long forgotten the moment the dishes are washed and the morning paper cleared away. But now suddenly my mind filled, almost
brimming over with words and ideas. The blah blah blah's were forming into a nice two paragraph piece. Writing was and will always be like that. One moment calm the next a storm. The best of writers discipline themselves to write during the calm periods; for sure tearing their hair out, each plucked hair a word on the paper. Yet the best of writers eyes shine with utter joyful
madness when their mind is torn asunder with ideas. They write at these times with a fervor, the pain of the plucked hairs
forgotten. Although I had never considered myself a particularly good writer, too analytical for my own taste, I had plied the trade long enough to recognize my mind kicking into high gear and to go with it. So I rushed into the Embassy. I had to stifle my enthusiasm, as there was a momentary delay while I showed my credentials to the security guard at the
entrance to the Embassy. But from there on I was quickly escorted into the press room. The room held three desks, two facing the lone window in the room. I sat at a desk facing a window where I could see the street below and the people walking. I imagined I saw in their walk what I had seen in their eyes earlier. I immediately set up my laptop computer, followed by the phone modem that would feed the copy through to the New York bureau. This done I slipped on my reading glasses and began working on the dispatch. As my fingers slid across the keyboard I began to feel as I had felt twenty years ago during my heyday as a young foreign
correspondent. I knew it was silly. I was forty-eight years old. But the long dormant youth resting in my fingers sprang, as if waiting years to fly free, to life. I was amazed. Sitting at a desk playing desk jockey hadn't diminished the old groove. But I reeled in my excitement by cautioning myself to take it slow. I was a senior editor not some green rookie out on his first
assignment. So slow I went. In a fast sort of way.
I always write a first draft on the screen and check it twice before dispatching it and was doing so when the door opened. I was lost in what I was writing and didn't want to glance up, but did so, just for a moment to see who it was. It was Daniel. I was so flabbergasted my fingers froze on the keyboard.
As the room was small, I know he saw me. But even so, he feigned indifference and staked out the only other desk facing the window. He carried a leather flight bag and slowly transferred a few of its contents from the bag onto the desk. This took all of about three minutes. The last thing he removed from the bag was six bottles of Wild Turkey bourbon and two plastic glasses of the kind found in motel bathrooms. As I looked at him I had to shake my head in disbelief. He, in all honesty, hadn't aged a day. He sported the same unruly head of brown hair. And the same impish half grin rested on his lips. And even wore the same brown leather flight jacket he had had on the last time I had seen him.
Admittedly the leather was a bit cracked and faded and the nylon cuffs slightly tattered and threadbare. But I wasn't surprised by the jacket. He had always considered the jacket to be a good luck charm. This jacket wasn't the kind the beautiful people paraded around in while attending the neighborhood disco. The jacket was the real thing. Years ago a F-15 attack pilot in Vietnam had presented him with the jacket. Days later, the pilot was shot down and never heard from again.
He was in the process of going out the door, presumably for some ice when the suspense, joy and curiosity spilled out of me. "What the hell are you doing here!" He stopped at the door and rotated on his heels until he faced me. By the grin he wore I knew he was enjoying my surprise. "I could ask the same of you?" I removed my reading glasses and laid them on the desk. "You could. But I asked first." "Seniority and all such such?" "And such." As if giving my reply serious thought, he grabbed the door by the edge and slowly dragged it forward until it almost shielded his face. Theatrics, I thought. Shit he hasn't changed a bit. From aside the door I think he read my thoughts because he smiled. "For the fall of communism," he replied easily, "they only want the best." "Who?" "Routers." he replied and spun on his heels and left. The computer buzzed, waiting like a hungry sibling for words. Using the three finger method, I tried to peck at the keys and the almost finished dispatch. But the excitement of the dispatch was lost now and all I saw were disjointed sentences, and flat dull words. I sighed, saved what I had and shut the computer off. As I stared out the window at the people below, I told myself that one
should never think when writing, not really think. And I was thinking too much. I was thinking about the rumors. I was thinking about Julie. But most of all I was thinking about how hurt I was that he hadn't called and asked me for a job. Why go to somebody else. Although we hadn't seen each other in years, I would of gladly hired him. A few minutes later Daniel returned carrying a bucket of ice. I knew he was carrying the bucket of ice because I was still staring out the window and the reflection of the bucket showed in the glass. Through the reflection in the glass I watched him toss a few ice cubes in one of the plastic glasses. He next lifted one of the bottles of Wild turkey, opened it and poured two fingers of whiskey into the glass. He did all this lazily, unconcerned. "Want a drink?" he asked. "No," I answered, "I gave up drinking a few years ago." He wasn't surprised by the statement. He should be, I
thought. Years ago when Daniel and I had first started out, I had with a vengeance bought into the journalist myth of the hard drinking reporter. I had given up drinking the week I became senior editor. I had not done so because I had moved up the career ladder, but because a few weeks earlier a good friend of mine had succumbed to cirrhosis of the liver. As I watched him die, daily, and inch by inch, I realized for the first time that the myth was just that...a myth. I was prepared to explain this to Daniel. But there was a game playing out, and had been since the first moment
he had walked in. I couldn't rush it. Like a runaway train, the game had to play out at its own pace. He seated and rested his feet atop the desk. He gave me a long inspecting nod, "Okay, you're angry." he said, "So lets say for the sake of the argument that I neglected to call you because I didn't want to queer it for you. You know, senior editor and all. How would it look, huh? You hiring a washed up reporter for the most important news story to come around the bend since the Vietnam war. How would it look, huh?" "You could of asked," I replied to his reflection in the window, "How the hell do you think this makes me feel." "Like a penny waiting for change," He admitted, "But I never figured on finding you in Budapest. Hell, senior editors don't go running around the world like grunts. They stay in the office and issue the orders. Besides, after all this time I figured you for the wife and kid route." "I never married. Too busy," I answered, "But all this is bull shit and you know it." For the first time since walking into the office and seeing me sitting at a desk pecking away at a computer, Daniel showed genuine nervousness. And I was surprised by this. He had always had almost a perfect poker face; almost at will able to control or shift his expressions to fit the circumstances. But his eyes had
shifted; not much, just enough for me to notice. By what he said next, he must of also noticed the shift. "I had heard rumors." I couldn't fathom what rumors he had heard about me and almost laughed. "Funny," I said instead, "I heard rumors about you." "Well?" I had, up until then, spoken to his reflection in the window. I spun the chair and propped my feet up on the desk and glared at him. "I was here first. So you go first." "Seniority and such such," he replied. "And such." "No. Double is the charm. You go." "Acceptable. There are many rumors on you. Mexico is the generally accepted one. Living in a bottle. You know why." "Bull shit. I've covered Asia all these years. You know, working my way down the ladder of success. Seems each job I get is a rung down from the last job. I called in an old favor to get this assignment." "But not me." "No." "Your go," I replied dryly. "Acceptable. Just remember you asked. Rumors say you had crossed back over."
To accuse me of such a thing was incredulous. And I was suddenly very angry and very insulted by what he had just said and damn near sprang up and punched him. But I was prohibited from doing so because I was too crushed by what he had said. To cross over in the journalistic world was to go from a working grunt journalist to management's ivory tower. "Who!" I demanded after several seconds. "Just scuttlebutt." I jumped up in anger. "Who!" "Let it go. There isn't a single Who. You're a senior editor. You know how scuttlebutt goes. No matter how you may see yourself sitting in the senior editors chair, others see it differently." I was still too shaken to speak. All these years I had thought it was him who had disappeared into the floorboards of life. The sudden thought that it was I, not him, was too unnerving right then. I really shouldn't be in Budapest, I pathetically thought. Although I was sure I hadn't crossed the line between journalism and management, I had acted the fool since leaving New York. So perhaps Daniel was right. Senior editors have gray hair, a shine on their pants from sitting too many hours a day on a chair, and callouses on their inner palm from holding a phone. In short they never played an instrument, they only orchestrated the symphony. But I was in Budapest, I miserably concluded, and there wasn't anything to be done about this.
At this last thought, I met his eyes. He met mine in return. I think mine were sad. I know his were guilty and knew why. We were, or at the very least had been, good friends. And he had just hurled a terrible insult at me. And a part of me was glad that he was guilty. A part of me was also ashamed by the gladness. "Well, it seems we both have ghosts," I said. He didn't flinch when he replied. "Not me. Maybe you." Had any other man said this I would have punched him and damn the consequences. But there was no anger or malice in his voice. But still, I thought, that maybe he was taunting me. But I saw in his eyes that he wasn't. He was stating the truth as far as he saw himself, and by the 'maybe you' leaving my truth to me.
"Whatever. Still, it's good to see you." "Same." "You got a place to stay?" "No. Figured I'd find a place when I got here. Otherwise I'd have to find a place through the Hungarian cultural exchange. Communist efficiency what it is, I'd probably wind up staying in Prague. E'Tu?" "Same here. I lucked out. When I arrived at the airport, I met a couple while waiting for the bus. They're from Florida. Jack and Joanne Trecill. Nice people" He flashed a face. "No, really. Nice couple. They're spending the month here. They had already lined up an apartment through a friend back in
the states. The apartment has six rooms. Three bedrooms. A few blocks from here." "Think they'd mind one more?" "Are you kidding. The moment they found out I was a journalist, they were thrilled. They'll love having two
journalists. Be like old times." He gave me a sideways grin. The grin fled and he stared wistfully out the window while murmuring, "Old times. Sure, old times." I believed I detected a certain pain in the timber of his voice. And he was thinking about her, I was sure. And although I was still more then a little hurt that he hadn't asked me for the assignment, and still miffed about his crossing the line
statement, I had been there when his life had come unraveled and wanted to say something. A soothing word. A kind comment. But before I could speak a kid of about twenty intruded by barging into the room. He was dressed in ivory league clothes and had a clean lily white face to match.
As often said, events conspire. And events had conspired to throw Daniel and I together again after years apart. In this case the advent of the kid walking into the room conspired to take Daniel and I beyond the existing conversation. At the sight of the kid I withheld whatever consoling remark I had intended on
uttering. Daniel glanced over his shoulder at the kid. "Hi, my name is Peter Williams. The man at the desk said this is the room assignment for American journalists attending the E. E. F. C." Peter was a very very ernest young man. This much was
evident. But neither one of us had an inkling of what he meant and said simultaneously, "The what?" He Convention." He did was dumbfounded. "The Eastern European Freedom
"Say again," I replied. so. Only this time he met our confusion with
elaboration. "The Karl Marx University is hosting a conference on freedom in relation to the fall of communism." I suppose we still looked confused because he almost cried out in desperation, "Don't you know what I am talking about?" "No."
Eastern Europe are attending the conference. My school paper sent me to cover it." "Well Kid," Daniel said, "Grab a desk. Take a load off your feet. Smoke a cigarette. Have a drink." "The guy at the desk said smoking wasn't allowed in here. I asked you see." "The guy at the desk was wrong," Daniel pointed out. "Well, I don't know," the kid answered doubtfully, "I am allergic to smoke." "Where you from kid?" Daniel asked. "Indianapolis Indiana." "Really?" "Yes. I was selected from out of a thousand college
students," He proudly replied, "The contest was sponsored by Vice President Dan Quayle himself. You see, a couple of years ago the United States government passed a law prohibiting journalists with less then two years experience on a major newspaper from obtaining an overseas press pass. The contest was my professor's idea...a give the beginner a chance idea. My professor knew Vice President Dan Quayle, and sold the Vice President on the idea. The contest is going to be a yearly event. Isn't it a neat idea?"
"If I follow you correctly, "Daniel replied, "And I am not sure I do, but if I do, than you were selected from a pool of over a thousand students and you didn't find this a bit strange." The kid's face reddened. "I know what you're thinking. But..." Daniel and I cut him off by enjoying a hearty laugh at his expense, and were still doing so much to his chagrin when events once again conspired. Ernest Hemingway, and not the real one but a fake, entered. If there was one man on the planet I detested, it was Hemingway. And I had good reason. Although I hadn't seen or spoken to him in years, we went back a good long way. He was a black man, and as such in his younger days h ad relished playing the oppressed minority. The women ate this up. I supposed his plea awakened their own white guilt. Or maybe they just wanted to save one oppressed black man before they settled down to a life of living in the suburbs. But I can't speak for the women. But I can for Hemingway. He was hanging around journalists then and they promptly saw through the game and called him on it and he just as quickly gave the game up. But my detest went beyond his wanting to get laid. To be sure that was his business, and theirs. He was as large as the Hemingway of fame had been, and as such cast an imposing shadow. He had played off this by sporting the same peppery beard as Papa Hemingway, and like Papa Hemingway, he played the loudmouth jerk, and played it well. This was why I detested him. He had also at one time been an excellent
journalist. But that was years ago. He had long since sold out to work for the National Enquirer. The pay was good. Job security was excellent. I had no respect for him. He knew it. But still I was surprised to see a bald spot run through his hair and it made me think of my own thinning hair. This only made me dislike seeing him more, if this was possible.
The first words out of Hemingway's mouth were, "I'll be a sonofabitch!" He said this to Daniel and me. "My name is Peter Williams." Peter, who I shall hereafter refer to as the, 'kid,' offered an outstretched hand. But Hemingway ignored the outstretched hand. And although it must of appeared to the kid that Hemingway was looking at the kid's hand, he wasn't, he was glancing at the three desks in the office. "I am Peter William," the kid repeated to Hemingway. "How come there are only three desks?" Hemingway in a deep falsetto boomed. "They must of known you were coming and set up a desk in the gutter," I answered. "Is this any way to treat a pro," Hemingway indigently replied. "Maybe freedom hasn't come this far," Daniel replied. "You can't treat me like this," Hemingway yelled. "I am William," the kid repeated to Hemingway. "Fuck you kid!" Hemingway replied.
If in all the confusion of voices, the kid heard Hemingway, I don't know because right then an officious looking prick wearing governmental smug righteousness on his face marched into the
office. He introduced himself as the assistant liaison between the press and the embassy. No name. Just his title. So out loud I tabbed him for always and forever as, "The gopher." If he heard me, he didn't indicate as much. Instead he
marched about the office and handed us each a sheet of paper. On it was the do's and do not' of Hungary. Do pay the fare on the trams and buses and subways. The fare is only two Forints, which is about four cents U. S. The fine for not paying the fare is two hundred and fifty Forints, about five U. S. dollars. Do not
Hungarian woman...this can only cause animosity. Do
be polite at all times. Do dress respectfully. Do, and do, and do not and do not and and and and and. And Daniel tossed it in the metal garbage can that rested in the far corner. Hemingway did like wise. The gopher was undaunted by this. "These are the rules," the gopher instructed. "Yes sir," the kid respectfully replied. "There are only three desks," Hemingway said, "And four of us." "Yes." I replied. "Yeah," Daniel said, "And I have no intention of sharing a desk with him."
"A desk will be brought in." "See to it," I instructed. "There will be a general press meeting in two hours at the Karl Marx University," the gopher announced and left. "You two are a laugh riot," Hemingway announced. "We try," we both answered. The kid's face showed one of those, 'I am on Mars,' look. He muttered in exasperation, "I was told smoking wasn't allowed here!" Somewhere between where the kid had entered the office, Hemingway, and then the gopher, Daniel and I had reconnected on the wave length on which we had enjoyed each others friendship so many years ago. We had always played off each others thoughts and feelings. The snappy comebacks showed this had not changed. I felt it and I know Daniel did likewise. So when I stood to leave, he, in almost perfect sync, did likewise and followed me out the door. The last thing I heard was the kid muttering, "I'm allergic to smoke."
Feet are like homing pigeons. No matter how tired, or drunk, or incumbent the weather, they always carry you to the friendly confines of home. Such was the case with Daniel and I. And I should of known where we were going when we turned off Parlay street onto Lenin Kart. But I had been strolling along in a quiet solitude. I was thinking about Daniel and the missing years, and assumed he was doing likewise. Eventually my thoughts gave way to the present and the world about me and I immediately saw that our feet had carried us to the New York Cafe. Daniel noticed this at the same time and we both let loose a short laugh, more a snort really. We had frequented the New York Cafe years ago when first assigned to Budapest. At the time the New York Cafe was the in place to go. Actually at the time it was the only place in Budapest where most brands of American whiskey were served. That winter was very cold. So much so that American and British
journalists both flocked to the Cafe. The whiskey was warm. The nights long. An Affable Hungarian bartender named Laz played the bar like a piano. He spoke english as if he had marbles and a towel stuffed in his mouth, and was almost incomprehensible. But he served a hell of a drink. And he danced a fine tango,
especially while drunk. I seemed to remember that the women loved him. "Buy you a drink?" Daniel asked.
"Sure," I answered, "as long as you can stomach drinking with a man who slams down mineral water?" "I am flexible," he said and grinned. "Fact is I will join you." Many years ago when I had first set foot in the Cafe, the Cafe had instantly the Cafe filled often me with a sense first of place. and I had
believed that people unconsciously harkened back to it, much like Daniel and I had, because in an ever changing world the Cafe offered a sense of home. There are places that will conjure up such emotions. The pyramids. A castle in England. The Roman
coliseum. A Parents house. The cafe was one such place. The Cafe was built over a hundred years ago and stepping through the doors of the Cafe was like stepping back a hundred years in time to a period when gentlemen roamed the earth and women wore hats
sprouting tall feathers. The decor was Baroque; plenty of mirrors and ornate woodwork, and imitation sculptured Michelangelo like statues. But the Cafe was much more then ornate woodwork and sculptured statues. The cafe had seen the Austria-Hungarian empire crumble, two world wars to end all wars, the communist revolution, and scores of writers and artists from Picasso to the real not the fake Hemingway.
From the moment I entered, I immediately
felt this sense of
place. And a quick look around told me the Cafe had basically remained unchanged during my absence. The cafe was a bit beaten by father time; the statues had a haphazardly amputated toe or finger here and there, and dust layered the crystal chandeliers. But the Cafe itself was the same. A home away from home. A port in the storm. Unlike many others, both people and architecture, the cafe had survived the communist revolution. As Daniel and I took a stool at the bar, I wondered if the Cafe would survive the coming capitalist revolution. As I looked around me, I wouldn't of bet the family farm on it. The poverty of communism rallied against change, the affluence of capitalism
demanded it. A wise entrepreneur would clean the place up; paste regrown toes on the statues, sand the floor, and add a coat of paint, and adorn the walls with plaques of all the famous men and
women who had frequented the cafe over the years. Tourists would come and ogle the plaques and upon returning home boast and and and and and the Lord lead us into green pastures. Laz, of course, wasn't there. In fact the place was empty. There wasn't a soul but us and the bartender. As soon as the bartender came our way, Daniel immediately asked him about Laz. As I didn't speak Hungarian and the bartender didn't speak english, Daniel translated for me. "No. He died. Heart attack. Were we friends of his?"
"Yes. A long time ago." "Americans?" "Yes," "Yes. Laz spoke of the many Americans friends he had. I have a brother in Cleveland. You know where Cleveland is?" "Yes," Daniel replied. "Nice place, no." "Yes," Daniel lied. "I go there some day. Be happy. Live in America. Work. Make lots of money. My name is Stanujem. In Hungarian Stanujem means 'I am staying.' But I am going. It is a long name. Just call me Stan." So we did and after a few more words of which Daniel
neglected to translate, Stan brought the requested mineral water, smiled broadly and excused himself. Daniel and I clinked bottles, toasting Laz goodbye. I felt silly toasting Laz with a bottle of mineral water. Laz had been a jolly man, even the austerity of communism failed to dim the joy in him. And he would of preferred something a bit stronger, and I mentioned this and Daniel nodded. We ordered Wild Turkey. But Stan apologized, explaining the Cafe hadn't carried Wild Turkey for years. Cost too many Forints to import. But there was a bottle of Jim Beam. So we settled for this. After Stan brought the whiskey, we repeated the toast. This time it seemed more from the heart. I said so. Daniel agreed. Still the whiskey was bitter going down. I wasn't sure if this was because of Laz or because of my years of abstinence.
We hadn't seen each other for a few years, and now that the initial shock was over, we lazily exchanged news over past
comrades. After going through the list of who had retired, and who had grown tired of the correspondent game and had taken a desk job writing obits on a small town rag, I asked if he knew about Paul Mascone. He shook his head no. I explained that Paul had succumbed to cancer. He was saddened by the news and showed as much by hanging his head. A few minutes of silence ensured. "You hear about Ted Smith?" he asked. Long ago Daniel and Ted and I had worked together on the city desk. Like Daniel, I had lost track of Ted. "No," I answered, "What about him?" He committed suicide," Daniel replied, "You remember how
methodical he was. Well he was just so in death. By all accounts he had it planned well. He flew to Paris and checked into the Ritz; the Presidential suite. He shed his clothes and neatly folded them and lay them at the foot of the bed. He went to the bathroom and set the shower mat on the floor by the toilet. He sat on the toilet and positioned his lips over the twin barrels of a shotgun so the blast would blow upward and behind him instead of directly against the wall and blew his brains out. A parisian maid entered the room to change the towels and found a naked headless man. She neglected to change the towels, what with being
Twenty minutes later, we left the Cafe for the press briefing at the Karl Marx University. I hadn't planned on attending the press briefing at the University. There wasn't a reason too. I already had an interview set up. Besides I was depressed about Ted Smith. But Daniel wanted to go and since I had a few hours to waste, tagged along. I discovered upon arriving at the University that the kid was to become more then just a general pain in the ass who disliked cigarette smoke. A middle aged hall monitor directed us past a statue of Karl Marx who appeared to be frowning to the auditorium where a man from the Hungarian Cultural exchange was on the stage giving a speech The be about the transition was very between communism every few and
capitalism. appeared to
corespondents there. I even recognized a few old timers from my salad days. But I was not surprised. The fall of communism was big news. Daniel and I were searching for standing room in the rear when the kid stood and called out to us. "He's talking to you," Daniel Joked.
"Right." The kid gestured at two empty chairs lodged between him and Hemingway. "Stand or sit?" Daniel asked. "Sit," I replied, "But you sit next to Hemingway." "Sure." The kid earnestly explained as we sat down, Daniel on
Hemingway's left and I next to the kid, that he had saved the chairs for us, through much peril too, even going so far as to fend off an Italian with a handlebar mustache who had threatened great bodily harm. "Thank's kid," I replied, expecting this to be the end of it. But it wasn't, and because I sat next to him I was the sole recipient of his attention. As the man on the stage continued his lecture, the kid whispered in my ear about how sorry he was about causing such a ruckus at the embassy. Although smoking bothered him, he could live with it. After all he was a journalist now. And as a journalist, he should be more understanding of other peoples faults. Of course smoking wasn't a fault, but well well I knew what he meant, right. And he was honored to be sharing an office with such journeymen journalists as Daniel and myself. And was it true I was a senior editor in New York for United Press
international. Wow. Imagine it. Senior editor. The man in charge
of the New York bureau of a major news service. Must be a mighty big responsibility. Blah blah blah. He outside. "So what do we do now?" he inquired. The thought of playing nursemaid the reminder of the day sickened me. Besides I wanted to throttle him. But I resisted the urge. He was young and would want to explore this strange place called Budapest. So, knowing this, I told him I was returning to the office to send off a dispatch. "I left my bag at the embassy," Daniel said, "I'll walk you back." The kid had a pained look on his face. He wanted to hang around with myself and Daniel. "Com'on kid," Hemingway said, "I'll buy you a Coke." Hemingway was doing me a favor and why troubled me. But I nodded his way in thanks. He gave me a two finger wave in return and lead the kid up the block away from the University. didn't cease his earnest chatter until we all stood
I was still very upset about Ted Smith and back in the office I poured a stiff drink from Daniel's stash of Wild Turkey. While Daniel went off in search of ice, I slowly sipped the drink, savoring the warm feeling growing within me. But still, I couldn't shake the sight of Ted doing himself the way he did. He had hated violence and was while alive very squeamish about the sight of blood, even his own. Sitting there, I flashed back to 1982 and vividly remembered him and I discussing an accident I had covered
earlier in the day. The accident had occurred on Twenty-Eight and Third, and had involved two cars and although none of the
passengers were seriously injured, the street was covered with an inordinate amount of blood. We were in a bar sitting on stools and sipping beer when I mentioned the blood, and the mere mention of it had sent his eyes fluttering and him into a fainting swoon. He would of fainted too, but I caught him in time. But maybe this is the way a man goes; he takes the hounding life long dog fear by the throat and laughs right into those fangs. A few minutes later Daniel returned accompanied by the
liaison between the press and the embassy. I had almost finished
the drink and had worked myself into a deep funk and greeted them with silent melancholy eyes. Without waiting for Daniel to do so, the liaison, in a deep southern drawl, introduced himself as Mr. Sam Hopkins of Houston, Texas. He had spoke very loudly and added in the same voice and breath, "And yes indeed I sure would like a nip of that Wild Turkey there; if you don't mind." I didn't. He poured himself a large nip; four fingers by my estimate, into a glass. Daniel did likewise and sat at his desk. Sam took a sip, smacked his lips and said cynically, "I love America." The comment was bait, but I was foolish enough to bite at the remark and asked why. "Because only in America can a fellow find booze like this. It's prosperity and happiness." I flashed Daniel a look that said, "Where did you find this guy?" He silently mouthed, "In the hall." I silently replied, "Really. Television more likely." "Yeah, I get your drift," Sam answered, reading our faces "I ran some bucks into a string of oil wells. The bucks were borrowed and the wells were dry. But still you are worth in America what you owe and for a while I was king of the sheep. The blond babes. I could tell you stories. Your third leg would blush. But all things come to pass, especially blond babes. Well my turn came to pass, and like a hungry wolf pack the bill collectors lined up and
the blond babes fled. My ex-wife's lawyer led the pack. I said bah, an old Uncle sent me here." He winked, "It don't hurt to have an Uncle in Washington." Like I had said, I hadn't drank in a long time, so I laughed much louder than necessary at his little joke about the Uncle in Washington. But only because the current president and its
administration owed a birthright and an allegiance to Texas. As such what was known as the, "Texas cartel," controlled Washington. But this cartel was extremely conservative and it was obvious that this Mister Sam Hopkins was anything but. "Do you know anything at all about being liaison to the press?" I asked. "Not a wit." "Really?" "On Davy Crockett's tail." There was a challenge in his voice. He was a government man and as such was naturally suspicious of the press. He had met Daniel in the hall; this much was obvious. He had also taken to Daniel right away, which was not surprising since Daniel had a common fellowship that appealed to his fellow man. But he wasn't sure of me. He had spoken off the cuff and was ready to gauge my response. Like I said I was a little bit high from the booze and considered making him squirm, but rejected the idea. I had met men like him before. They didn't squirm. They met you at a bar and
bought you a drink and waited for you to buy the next round. If you didn't buy the next round then you failed their idea of the litmus test and there was no second chance; not with men like him. "Have another drink," I said, "It's on me." When he immediately reached for the bottle and poured himself another four fingers I knew I had passed the test. After a
challenge is successfully answered to the satisfaction of both men, there is a general relaxation. Such was the case in the office. Sam sat in a chair and propped his feet on the desk. Daniel poured himself another drink. I had decided that the few drops in my glass was sufficient. For a few minutes we exchanged history. Sam had worked at the embassy for two years and expected to be there another six. He mentioned this as if he was a man resigned to a prison sentence. I asked him about the gopher who had stopped by earlier with what amounted to an instruction manual for staying in Budapest. "He seemed a bit overly rigid," I added. "Is. Names Spruce Sardine. Funny name for a funny fellow. He's only worked at the Embassy for a few weeks. Takes his duties as a gopher very very seriously." "Most gophers do," Daniel replied. "Aye," he answered, "So what's your two stories?" Daniel and I related our stories and when finished Sam's feet dropped to the floor. "Different men different stories. Same road. Well it's been nice talking to you boys. But I have to get back to work. The
embassy is putting together a press pool departing in the morning to travel via bus to the country to interview the farmers. You know, see how they like the capitalistic way. You interested?" This innocent invitation between three men drinking and
sharing memories was how it started. The moment Sam asked this, Daniel glanced my way, and I knew he was forestalling a reply and was waiting for me to answer. I should of declined; said politely thanks but no thanks. And I considered this. A press pool was usually made up of everyday working journalists. As a senior editor, I would be out of place. Besides I had the series of interviews with the Minister of Information. But I wanted Daniel and I to work together again; like the old days. In my defense had I known that Hemingway and the kid were going, I would have declined. But at the time I wasn't aware of this and replied sure. Daniel said the same. A few seconds later Sam departed with a hearty farewell to arms as he lifted his glass and downed the last of the whiskey. For a few minutes Daniel and I passed small talk about the apartment; The kind of people Jack and Joanne were; middle class with a touch of spice, was there room enough for his own room; and one other. A few minutes later he, bag in hand, left.
With Daniel and Sam gone, I should have had the computer on, my fingers working on a dispatch to the states. But from the moment they had left, the office seemed strongly quiet and instead of working I sat at the desk sloshing around the few drops of bourbon in my glass. As I did so I wondered why men traded life stories. I, of course, knew why. To relive the glory days. But in the end the reliving of such tales just made one sad or at the very least melancholy for a time and place; one trapped by
cobwebbed memories. So why? Why relive such pain. This train of thought only served to make me depressed so I shifted my thoughts to Julie. I kicked around going to the Cafe Gerbeaud to meet her or staying put and sending off a dispatch. But I didn't feel at all like working. But I was a senior editor and as such couldn't let myself off so easy. I had to justify sloth. So I did so by telling myself that I had agreed to meet Julie. I had an obligation. Yes, I answered back, but I also had an obligation to send off a dispatch. This train of thought put me at an impasse, and, undecided about what to do, I drummed my fingers on the desk for a few minutes. At last I nodded my head and took a quarter out of my
pocket and flipped it. If it came up heads I would write some story or other, tails I would go to the Cafe Gerbeaud. It was tails. An ever so little voice in the far corridors of my head said that I was playing the fool. Julie had been a nice diversion during a long grueling flight. But I was here. There was work to be done. Don't be a fool. But I had drunk my share and told the voice where to go. Someplace where the sun never shined.
Woolgathering can be dangerous. This is what my long departed mother always preached. She was correct too. Had I not been
sitting there wasting time undecided about something I was damn well going to do, then I would have left well ahead of Hemingway. I was and didn't. I was getting up to leave when he walked in. As I had already mentioned, I had a keen distaste for the man. The image of Ted sitting naked on a john while his brains loitered on the ceiling intensified the distaste. Ted had lived his life as a real journalist. And before me stood everything Ted had rallied against. "How's it going?" he asked.
"Fine until now." "Surprised to see me in Budapest?" "Yes. Was it you who turned the kid on about Daniel and myself...the crap about great journalists." "Hey, you know one good joke deserves another. Right?
Besides, I waylaid him for you at the University. "What the hell are you doing in Budapest?" "Same as you."
"No, you're here because your editor see's Eastern block stories involving one legged cows, and aliens kidnapping communist women." "If you knew then why did you ask?" "Why you?" "I want one more scoop." "No. You want to shed the trash journalist label that's followed you around all these years." "So why are you here? Hey mister big time senior editor." I let that pass. "I am curious, how did you ever get the name Ernest?" "My parents were in a literary frame of mind at the time." "Help any?" "Sticks and stones and all." "Literary, huh." "Listen, forget all this crap. With Russia easing up on the hammer and sickle, this whole region is up for grabs. There's even rumors Ceausescu's about to bite the dust. If you and I team up, we can clean up." "Not likely." "Com'on we can be friends." "You want to bet." "Yes. I am here for the same reason as you. Hey, the kids a washout. He'll wind up writing for some small town rag about
apple-pies and two pound pumpkins. Daniel, well, okay, so you like him. But he hasn't written shit since that broad left him. And he isn't going to write anything worth a tinkers damn now. But you and I together. You, We can you scoop. can I can wind up editor of the at
write your own
Harvard. Write a book. Whatever. What do you say?" "Put a lid on it." "Really?" "Really." "A couple of days. You will change you mind." Assholes and arguing and all such. So I stuffed my notes for the interview and my reading glasses into my briefcase and left.
Did Julie show? No. But I hadn't really expected her too. But going to the Cafe Gerbeaud wasn't a total loss. I had brought a note pad and as I sipped coffee I reworked the questions I
intended on asking the Minister of Information. Because I was still pretty upset about Ted Smith, at first I had difficulty concentrating. Every time I began to write, I vividly pictured him in the bathroom at the Ritz and my fingers froze and I found myself staring off into the distance. As an escape from my
thoughts, I marveled at the weather. The sky was clear and a warm breeze carried off the Danube. Perfect. Just like yesterday. Then I'd think how Ted liked days like this. And I'd be back at where I started. This became an unescapable vicious circle, and I had finished my first cup of coffee in this fashion and was well into my second cup before I finally let go of Ted. This wasn't a conscious decision. One moment Ted was there in my head and the next my sport jacket was draped over the back of my chair and I was hunched over the note pad and thinking and writing and munching on a ham sandwich. I rolled my sleeves up to my elbows and soon the
years and conditioning took over, and Ted was regulated to the distant past. He'd live there now but not alone, safe in the living rooms of my mind. Every now and then I would visit him; when I was depressed or lonely, or just bitter over a real or imaginary hurt. We'd share a drink and laugh or bitch or moan or cry. During the long absences apart we wouldn't miss each other so much because we both had plenty of company.
Chapter Twenty One.
I had worked for about an hour when I lay pencil and reading glasses aside and looked around me in the way one does after totally engrossed in something else. Chattering people had filled the outside tables when I had first arrived. But now only myself and another woman who sat well away from me were there. The table I occupied to the was near an the eye door on to the cafe, and two waiters,
zip-zagged the table
saplings by the
closest to the door of the cafe. For a moment I watched her with a distant curiosity. She occasionally sipped from a cup of coffee and nibbled on a piece of bread before returning to writing in a note pad. After a moment, I glanced at the waiters. They conversed in english, and since I was bored, I tuned into their conversation. As I listened, I did something I had never done before. I picked up the pencil and began writing down what they said to each other. Months later back in New York, I stumbled across these notes and what follows is exactly what I had transcribed.
"I like this time of day when the lunch customers have left and before the dinner crowd arrives better than any other," the old waiter stated. "Yes, so do I," the young waiter agreed. "It's not because I am lazy, you understand. It's just that I want to enjoy some of the day." "I didn't think it was," the young waiter replied. "Well it is not." "I didn't think so." The old waiter was about to answer when the girl waved her cup in the air, indicating she wanted a refill. "Damn," he
mouthed. "She is very pretty," the young water offered. The old waiter snorted in disgust. He pushed his chair back, stood and went to the hot plate set up on a table along the wall of the cafe and carried the pot over to where she sat. He bent over at the waist and poured coffee into her cup, careful not to
fill the cup so that coffee spilled on the tablecloth. When the cup was full, she smiled up at him in thanks. He said nothing and abruptly returned the pot to the hot plate, and went and stood next to the chair where the young waiter sat. "But were I to be lazy," the old waiter said right off, "I wouldn't serve her." The young waiter upturned his eyebrows in question.
"You don't know her," the old waiter asked, his eyebrows raised. He did not and reluctantly admitted so. "She comes here at least twice a week." "This is only my third day." The old waiter's face brightened. "Yes, I forgot." The waiters fell silent, as a carriage with the lovers inside oblivious to the world around them bumped on the cobblestone street. The driver of the carriage tipped his top hat at the waiters. The waiters waved in return. "Is this your first job as a waiter?" "Yes." "Where do you come from?" "I come from a small town." "You come to Budapest to attend the University?" "No. I came to work as a waiter and to see." The old waiter nodded as if what the young waiter had said was how it should be. "See. Yes. To see is good. To be a waiter in Budapest is better. I know. I have worked as waiter for many years. The tips are good. But yes to see is also good. But watch out for that one." "The buggy driver?" "No, the girl," the old waiter snorted, waving his hand in annoyance.
The young waiter glanced at her. She was engrossed in what she was writing in the note pad. "She looks harmless?" "You are young." The young waiter did not take offense at this. "And you have much to learn about women," the old waiter stated, "and that one is a thief. She steals hearts. I would not
be surprised if she keeps them in a canning jar at home. She looks at them at night, laughing, I am sure. See now. You see how she looked at you?" The young waiter shrugged his shoulders as if to say: NO "See, you do have much to learn about women. She looks at all men like that." "She looked at me because I was looking at her." The old waiter's face curled up into a knowing stare. "I was looking at her," the young waiter defended, shifting in his chair uncomfortably. "She looks at all men like that. I know," the old waiter answered pointedly, "She has given me this same look. She has given many men that same look" "It was just a look?" "I know the customers who come in here," the old waiter said, his voice on the point of anger. "You don't. You are young. You are new. Listen to me. Watch out for that look." "It was just a look."
"You think I am an old fool? I know that one! Listen to me! She has dated many men who come to the cafe! They talk about her!" "What do they say?" "She steals hearts!" "They say this?" "No!" "What do they say?" "I can not say!" "Why not?" "I can not say!" "But why not." "I can not say because what a customer says should be held in confidence, "The old waiter responded, his face now red with
anger, "And you do best to learn this or you will not be a waiter for long in Budapest! Just believe me when I say she is a wicked one! She has dated many men who come here! This should tell you something!" The old waiter was too angry to speak, and marched into the cafe. The young waiter called after him. But the old waiter stayed inside the cafe with his back to him. Right then the woman stood and placed the note pad into her purse. A sparrow swooped down from one of the tree branches and perched on the chair she had vacated. The sparrow gave her an imploring squeak. She giggled at the sparrow. The sparrow chirped. She swept the crumbs from the
plate onto the ground. The sparrow jumped from the chair to the ground and pecked at the crumbs, trapped a few between its beak and flew away. The girl let out a half laugh and walked up the street, her hands swinging at her side. The young waiter watched her until she disappeared up the street.
Chapter Twenty Two.
The Parliament was two miles away. I considered, but rejected hailing a taxi. I had a caffeine buzz from drinking too much coffee and the walk would do me good; clear my head. As I walked, I thought about Julie while at the same time thinking about the scene at the cafe between the two waiters. Did the conversation actually take place. Or did I just daydream it? A product of a bored mind. A fantasy way of saying goodbye to Julie. I wasn't sure.
Chapter Twenty Three.
Once at the Parliament the Minister's secretary showed me to his office where he stood waiting at the door. We shook hands. He was a tall elderly gentleman, gray hair and shining blue eyes. Insofar as he didn't speak english and because there wasn't a translator present, the interview got off to a bizarre beginning. He ushered me into the office without saying a word, but with a hearty smile directed me into a chair in front of his desk, then rushed to a liquor cabinet and from a dark green bottle poured two large tumblers of wine and rushed back at me and thrusted one of the tumblers into my hands. He lifted his glass and drank while all the while smiling down at me. I guessed this was some sort of get acquainted ritual and did likewise, while all the time looking up at him and waiting for him to put the glass down. But he drank until his glass was empty, by at which time I regurgitated
liquid; much so I had to pucker my lips to keep the liquid from spurting out from between my teeth. The moment I finished the wine, he dashed behind his desk with a vigor of a man half his age and began scribbling on a pad of paper. I was still choking down the last of the wine when he pushed the pad of paper across the desk. Drinking the wine so
quickly stung my eyes and they were a bit watery, but even so I managed to make out what was written there because of the wide loop to the point of almost comical construction of his letters. "I do not speak english. But I write english perfectly. So we as men shall conduct this interview by writing on a pad of paper. Okay. By the way the wine is a red and is indigenous to my native region. It is called, 'Egri Bikaver,' literally meaning, 'Bulls Blood.' Also my name is Joseph Tudakoz. In Hungarian my name means, "Mr Information." Seeing as he was Minister of Information, I thought this a rather poetic touch of irony and said so. But of course I had answered him in english, and immediately realized the error and nodded in response. The epitome of a hearty belly laugh roared from him. He stood, went to the liquor cabinet and carried the wine bottle over to me and filled my glass and afterwards went behind the desk and sat. He fixed a silly grin on me. This grin belonged on a five year old kid who had just won a treasure trove of marbles, I thought, not a sixty year old man. But on second thought, I realized he had won more than a treasure trove of marbles...he had won a country. So why not grin. I tore off the top page and wrote my name down and pushed the pad back across the desk.
finished pushed the pad across the desk at me. I looked at what he had written: So we begin, no." Yes, and we did. I rattled off questions by scribbling them down first on the pad of paper, then sliding the pad across the desk. He would look at the question, and nod thoughtfully for a second, or two or three, or once even a full minute according to the grandfather clock to the right of the desk. Always afterward he'd hang his head over the pad and furiously scribble, then push the pad back across the desk all the while laughing; laughing as if he was privy to a private joke; and perhaps he was. This went on for a good forty-five minutes. He emptied his
wine glass twice during this time and I out of a desire to meet this happily smiling man soul to soul did likewise and would have done so a third time but the bottle was thankfully empty. At the beginning the questions were standard journalist to politician drivel and fell into what I classified as drivel A and
drivel B. Drivel A followed his career and went as so. "You are part of the newly elected democratic government. Your term is four years. What did you do before this. And so on and so on. ' Drivel B keyed in on the Russians and carried the preface: "In Your opinion...Will the communist, and in particular the
Russians, respect the validity of the newly elected democratic government...And so on and so on.
It was as the interview was closing that we connected soul to soul. It happened when I asked him if freedom would come easy. He took a full two minutes to answer. "Nothing comes easy, no," he wrote. I had to agree. "We will be hungry for a while," he wrote, "as we are now and have been for many years and then we will be prosperous for a while, and then the wolf will once again visit our door and hunger will follow. It is the way. You see a little hunger feeds the soul and the soul when fed reaches out for new roads; ah but prosperity feeds the body, and when the body is fat and lazy so is the spirit. All this was a bit folksy and I wondered if he was
trying to pull one over on the visiting American; so I fixed eyes with him. For a second we sat like that. There was no laughter now. Just the black pools of his eyes inspecting the brown pools of mine. Slowly his lips creased, and his eyes sparkled, and right then he gave an almost imperceptible shrug of his shoulders; as if saying, "Hey I know its all crap, but it plays well and its what the people want to hear and its true. And this is my job. Too remind them of this truth. Not too loud you understand. And not too soft, you understand. And not to stick around too long you understand because nobody wants to be reminded of truth for too long. You do understand?"
I did and smiled to show as much. He abruptly stood and suddenly and forcefully clapped his hands together. The resounding clap echoed throughout the office. "So the interview is over," he announced in perfect english. "And so it is," I answered, not the least bit surprised he spoke english. After all, if you can write it you can speak it. "Good. I am a busy man now. I am a politician. Politicians are always busy men." As I stood to leave, I answered absently. "It seems so." "Yes, Yes, it is so. Busy. Busy. Ah but tomorrow I give the second interview to you, no. But we do so at my house. I am giving a party. You see the Minister in a different light. There will be important television news men. English. American. French. Print journalist too. They beam interview to entire world. The entire world will watch and feel sorry for the poor oppressed Hungarians. We have plenty of food afterwards for these imprudent important men. Plenty of wine. But you my guest of honor, no. Afterwards we retire to my study and talk. Just you and I. Talk as men, no." I was dumbfounded by my own stupidity. And ill manners. I had completely neglected to postpone tomorrow's interview, something I should of done the moment I walked in. Well, I told myself, there
wasn't anything to be done now but eat crow. "Sorry," I replied, "I made arrangements to go out to the country and interview farmers. I should of mentioned this earlier. It slipped my mind. "
"Ah yes, the farm tour," The Minister replied, "I thought that up. Something for everybody." "Keep the western journalist happy right down to the littlest man?" "Yes, no," he said his eyebrows raised as if the statement was academic, "But it is a pity you can't attend my function. Oh well the country is much better anyway. The wine is fresh, and the women are well fed and a well fed woman is a happy woman." He was talking to himself not me and said as much. "Of course. Politicians like to hear themselves speak" "The world over," I answered. "Just so too." "Yes." "Well have a good time tomorrow." "Yes, I will be sure to do so." "About the rest of the interviews?" "I'll phone your secretary? And again, I apologize for the rudeness." "No need," He replied, and bounded from behind the desk and lay an arm across my shoulder, "Really. I understand. And Yes. Yes. Do so." He longed to be in the country, I thought as I left.
Chapter Twenty Four.
Fifteen minutes later, I was at my desk at the embassy. I was the only person in the office and glad of it. I had work to do and didn't need Hemingway or the kid jabbering at me. I composed, then dispatched the interview. This took all of an hour. It was dark by the time I left for the apartment. On the way home I once again walked along the Danube river. The air was cooler than it had been earlier. I stopped at the railing and stared at a cruise ship docked below. Waterfowl traced the water around it. By the looks of the moorings the ship was permanently docked. A sign above the gangplank leading to the dock read: Casino. Welcome. The greeting was in english. The ship was lit up like an Italian christmas tree and the bells and whistles from slot machines and laughter carried from it. Tourists, I thought. The thought made me think of Mr. Information. A sad old happy man. I felt sorry for him. He was a key player in a revolution he had longed for. But now after getting what he had wished for was stuck in the position he had spent his life rallying against.
Chapter Twenty Five.
The rest of the way home I thought about Daniel. I had had a full day and was looking forward to a quiet dinner at the New York Cafe while conversing with him about old times. Also since he had just arrived in Budapest and hadn't had time to form his own sources, I intended on sharing the interview with Mr. Information with him. In journalese this is called 'story sharing.' How it sounds is how it works. Journalist A secures a story and after dispatching the story shares the meat of the story with journalist B who then restructures the contents and dispatches it under his own byline. Although this may sound dishonest, two journalist using the same story, it's not. There is often more then one journalist at an interview, and often times, such as presidential interviews, there are dozens. If I had during the interview
discovered a juicy tid bit of information, then I wouldn't of shared the interview with my mother. But I hadn't.
Chapter Twenty Six.
When I entered the apartment I saw Joanne in the bedroom singing to herself while she unpacked a suitcase. Daniel and Jack sat at the kitchen table. A half empty bottle of Johnny Walker Red rested on the table between them. They didn't notice me. They both had a raised glass in their hands, and had obviously come to a meeting of minds and right now were toasting each other raucously. The lighting was dimmed and in the soft glow they looked very drunk and very happy. Well, I thought, the best laid plans of mice and men and all such. A quiet evening wasn't in the cards. Nor was a leisurely dinner at the New York Cafe. I should have known better. Daniel was always a nocturnal creature, and at his most charming during the evening hours. And he had obviously been charming Jack and Joanne for quite some time. "I see you met each other," I said. The moment Jack saw me he jumped up and draped an arm around my shoulder. "This is great. Really great. Isn't this great
"Yes," Joanne called out from bedroom, "You know Jack and I never talk to other Americans when we're on vacation. Get enough of them at home." "True dear," Jack yelled out. "But this is great. Two journalists," he said. He swallowed down some whiskey before continuing in a much lower voice to Daniel and me, "I was just telling Daniel that the New York Time's had once interviewed me. It was when I owned a wholesale spice business in the Virgin Islands." He had told me the other day that his business was located in Vermont. He was drunk and I corrected him as to avoid confusion later. "You mean Vermont." "No, that's where the business is situated now. I started out in the Virgin Islands." He had a soft face and the light of rememberence showed in it and he chuckled, "Great story. Want to hear it. Sure you do. Sit down. Have a drink." He took his own advice and plopped hard on the chair. This wasn't exactly what I had in mind. So I tried to catch Daniel's eye. But he was busy reading the label on the Scotch bottle. I realized that he was drinking Scotch which if memory served meant he was really far gone. Daniel had always hated Scotch; would never touch it, said the stuff tasted like sheep piss; besides it left you with a mean head the next morning. So I joined them by sitting and fixing a drink. But reluctantly. I
soothed this decision by telling myself that whiskey and men and talking go together like steak and eggs and hash browns. And it seemed like I was partaking of the same meal all day so what was one more serving. Anyway this was what I told myself. There was an expectant look on Jack's face as he waited for me to clang a few cubes of ice from the bowel next to the whisky bottle into a glass. As soon as I did so, he started to gush out his story but only managed to utter a few words before Joanne came out from the bedroom and laid an arm on his shoulder while at the same time looking at me. "Julie show?" "No." "Damn shame," Jack said, "Saw her on the plane. Nice looking lady." "Who?" Daniel asked. "A woman I met on the plane," I answered. "She had a cute daughter too," Joanne said. "Anna," I replied, "Nice kid, yes." "I'm about to tell how we started the spice business, dear," Jack announced. "Oh do so, dear," Joanne urged and returned to the bedroom to sort out clothes. "A kid?" Daniel asked. "Anna," I said, "Cute kid too." This little exchange peaked Daniel's curiosity, and he leaned toward me on his elbows to show as much. But Jack was not about to
be denied the story and imitated Daniel by leaning forward on his elbows and butting in between us. "So you see Joanne and I are in the Virgin Islands for the winter," Jack said, "And we hire a native guide to show us the sights. We wanted to see what the average tourist doesn't see and told him as much fully knowing he's gonna take us to see things every tourist since the Spaniards landed has seen. But who cares, right. We are on vacation. So he takes us up the beach far away from the tourist hotels to a small village. Straw huts. Women balancing huge wicker water baskets on their heads. So anyway we snap a few pictures while all the time the guide is smiling and jabbering. On the way back to the hotel he spins a yarn about a mystical spice. The morning tide washes the spice ashore from far far and deep deep out in the ocean. According to him, the spice was magic. Rotten fish. No problem. Add the spice and presto the fish was fresh again and tasted ahhhhhhhhhh so good. So I ask him how can I obtain this spice. So, sorry, he grins, the Spaniards
you know. They wanted gold. There was no gold. Chief Bboiou said as much. The Spaniards thought the good Chief lied and tortured many natives in an attempt to loosen the Chief's tongue. So out of desperation the Chief told the Spaniards of the spice. The
Spaniards were so greedy they dredged the ocean floor and loaded all the spice onto ships and took it back to Spain. The people mourned the loss for many years. The story was rot, of course. But
an idea came to me. Create a spice mixture. Box it. Retell the story about the Spaniards and the Chief on the box and sell it back in the states. So I started it as a hobby. Called the spice, 'The Original Native Virgin Island Spice.' What I failed to
realize at the time was that it was a natural. The back to nature craze had just sprang up. I cleaned up. For four years. But I grew lax and my partner in the Virgin Island eased me out. I lived in the states you see. But that is another story. Anyway after my partner had eased me out, I repackaged the spice and sold it as the 'Original Vermont Spice.' I superimposed a picture of the Mayflower on the package. On the side panel there's a ditty about how seven generations of my family, going all the way back to the Mayflower, lived and died in Vermont. All true too. Not that I go around bragging about it. I mean my forefathers came over, at least on my mothers side, on the Mayflower. So what. Big deal. Live in Vermont long enough and you learn that almost everybody in Vermont has a forefather who come over on the MayFlower. Mighty big boat. So when we first started or I should say restarted the spice business we operated out of our kitchen. Just the two of us. Joanne and I. Well we had a gross of the packages with the 'The Original Native Virgin Island Spice.' labels on them in the
garage. So I had a few hundred of the 'The Original Native Vermont Spice," labels printed up and glued the labels around the gross of boxes bearing 'The Original Native Virgin Island Spice,' and took them to town to a county store who only sold 'Original Vermont'
food products. I knew the proprietor and talked him into carrying the spice. He consented and straight away put a few dozen packages on the shelves. You know what happened the next morning?" We shook our heads "Those damn 'The Original Native Vermont Spice' labels came unglued exposing the 'The Original Native Virgin Island Spice,' labels beneath. The proprietor was incensed. He phoned and told
me so. He hasn't spoken to me to this day. I learned two things from the experience. Never use Elmer's glue for anything
important. The second thing I learned was never entrust your fate to somebody else. You see after the incident, I contracted with a manufacture to produce the spice. Soon I was selling spice all over the country. Well to make a long story short, Proctor and Gamble wanted to cash in on the health food craze and offered me oodles of money to sell. Not being a fool I did so. Course now...well, I kind of miss the business. You know. Gave me
something to do. A man needs this. Needs something to do. Right. I mean just right." Both Daniel and I started to agree, Daniel a bit more vocal than I, when Joanne came into the kitchen carrying a black leather garment bag. The conversation paused as we questioningly glanced her way. As she was a small woman, under ninety pounds, the garment bag almost dwarfed her. "I don't mean to interrupt you men, but this is not my bag."
Jack was a bit cockeyed and showed as much by sticking his nose against the bag. "Nope. Looks like your bag. But it's not." "Probably just a mixup," I said, "You grabbed the wrong bag at the airport. Call the airlines in the morning. Whoever has your bag will turn it in." "What will I wear in the meantime," she mumbled absently as she walked toward the bedroom. "You look good in anything," Jack yelled out. But his face wore a look of distress, and like a dutiful husband who really doesn't give a hoot about the bag but who wants to comfort his wife, he gave to us soulful eyes that male-comrade in arms and we showed we did by are
understanding soulful eyes in return. He stood and followed along behind her. Muffled condolences came from the bedroom.
Chapter Twenty Seven
Now there seemed to be too much space in the kitchen, what with Jack gone. I don't know if it was the whiskey or what, but like in the office when I was alone with Daniel, I felt the past crowd the present. "She's dressing for tonight," Daniel explained, "Probably why she's so upset about the garment bag. I invited them both out to the New York Cafe. My way of saying thanks." "Yeah," I answered. "You met the woman of your dreams on the plane ride over?" he asked. "No," I answered. I must of replied a bit wistfully because he laughed; a thin sound. "My you are a cynical bastard." "Goes along with the territory," he answered. "It's not M?" I asked. "No." "You really are over her?"
I realized immediately I had gone too far. A friend should never say 'really,' to a friend. There is something underhanded about such a word. It implies lying, or fooling. He should have smacked me across the chops. He declined. But there was a pause during which time he shrugged indifferently. "Yes," he replied, "And yes, I saw the way you were looking at me at the embassy. That's all gone. She's all gone. She is dead." I was genuinely surprise by this and my face showed as much. "Not in the literal sense," he replied. "She's
alive...somewhere. But it isn't her. Not the M. I knew. The M. I knew is gone. End of conversation." Old friends are the most difficult too fool. There are numerous subtle nuances that give the truth away; a sideways glance that refuses to meet the eyes, talking into one's drink, speaking too fast so the tongue trips over the teeth, a nervous tick such as brushing an imaginary speck off ones' trousers. And many others. And I searched for all these signs that he was lying, or fooling himself. And as I studied him, I believed he was over her because
I wanted to believe. I wanted it to be like old times. I wanted him to be the same. I wanted both of us to be the same. After a few moments, I was ashamed and found myself staring at my drink. He was properly embarrassed for me and playfully punched me on the arm. "Get to the punch line about this Julie, will you."
The playful punch on the arm is what convinced me. He had always had an easy laugh. An easy smile. And an easy way to break the tension. He had lost all of this when M. had left him, and although the broad ready smile was apparent when he had first entered the office at the Embassy, I had remained skeptical. But now I was convinced. He was back. I was happy. It would be like old times. So I explained how I had met Julie. I added that on the way back from the Cafe Gerbeaud, I had reasoned out I was being a fool. Not just a fool but a sentimental fool. Julie and I, if the pun can be excused, were two ships passing in the night. And as the night is made up of shadows, so were we and in this way we touched in a shadowy way. But the daybreak dissipates shadows; sending them scurrying toward familiarity. Such it was with us. He understood so well what I was saying that he refilled my glass. Afterwards we sat quietly for a while.
Chapter Twenty Eight.
Before we left for the New York Cafe, I checked for the woman with the great ovoce. The apartment across the ways was dark and the balcony was empty. But a Gull rested on the railing. The Gull blinked at me.
Chapter Twenty Nine.
The New York Cafe was wall to wall people, which was in direct contrast to a few hours earlier when Daniel and I had had the place to ourselves. A few of the old timers I had recognized at the Karl Marx university were there, and Daniel and I passed a few hello's and glad to see you handshaking with them before moving off to find a vacant table. The moment we were seated, Stan hurried over to the table. He had a white towel draped over his right arm and a broad smile of friendship on his face. The smile seemed to glow as he ran the towel over the table brushing the few crumbs there onto the floor. A translator wasn't required. I read his face. I had seen the same look on many a bartender from here to Timbucktoo. Simply by virtue of a few inane words about
Cleveland, Daniel and I had become regulars. To bartenders the world over, regulars were accorded privileges non regulars
weren't. I could now get drunk and make a fool out of myself and Stan would take my side and save me from being pummeled, pour me into a taxi, and even listen to, if he speaks the correct
language, my troubles. And I had to admit I was pleased by this rapid and sudden elevation. Maybe it was because the Scotch I had
drunk at the apartment was affecting me. Or maybe it was the old me responding to the miles between here and the long distance past. I preferred to believe the latter. As Daniel ordered drinks all around, Joanne said to me, "I was so upset about my garment bag I forgot to ask about Julie. Are you upset? You know? Standing you up?" The thought of engaging in such a conversation, Julie and all, was painful. I was at the cafe to have a good time. But Joanne meant well, so I answered no, and was about to add it no longer mattered when Daniel leaned across the table while pointing to the far side of the room. I looked over to where he pointed. Katrina Little waved at me. I was surprised to see her, and overjoyed and showed it by laughing loud while waving her over. "Saw her at the university," Daniel commented. "Really?" "I know. She left before we did." By this time she had meandered a path to our table. She, Daniel and I had worked together long ago. But like Daniel, I hadn't seen her for many years. But I had always liked her. She was a real person. I stood and gave her a great big warm hug. Daniel followed suit. She asked if she could join us for a few minutes. Another journalist. Jack and Joanne were delighted. Love to have her join us. She did. As she sat, Stan, the smiling bartender, returned with our drinks and took her order of a Jim Beam on the rocks. He hummed as he went off to fill her order.
"So," she said right off, "What are you two old war horses doing here?" "The smell of the hunt and all," Daniel replied. She snorted and said to me. "And you?" "A victim of circumstances," I answered. She had always had a devil may care laugh and quickly
displayed it now. "Like the time in the Belgium Congo?" She had used just the right amount of 'mysterious timbre' to
whet Jack and Joanne's appetite. They hooted. They just had to hear this story. It sounded just too precious. Oh yes please tell us. Katrina was referring to the time I had wound up with a rope tied around my leg while the other end was looped around the head of a very large water buffalo. The water buffalo was dead. I had worked a long hard day and at night had fallen into a sound sleep and had awoke the next morning to find myself tied to the water buffalo. reiterate stated as The the whole story Now thing here, they was a joke. But the I saw main no need to and
embarrassment all hooted
Daniel. I held steadfast until finally the hooting gave way to conversation. As Daniel was talking to Jack and Joanne, Katrina focused her attention on me. She did so by leaning forward and resting her right breast, a soft luscious mound of desire I may add, on my forearm.
"You like being a victim, huh?" she cooed. "No," I replied, finding it difficult to resist her cooing voice. "I do not. And you haven't changed much over the years. Still a fifteen year old teasing nymph living in a woman's mind." And she was too. But it was the life she had chosen a long time ago and now reveled in it. She was also beautiful. Oh, not in the way one see's in portrayed the way on most the cover of those were glamour who had
maintained their figures while at the same becoming worldly. She answered my remark by pressing her breast so firm against my arm that her brassiere pinched my skin. I squirmed a little in my chair just to show that she had achieved the desired effect. But still her breast stayed put. I never thought I would be happy to see Hemingway and the kid. But when they appeared, thus saving me from a very embarrassing moment, I could have kissed them both. Jack and Joanne hadn't noticed the tete la tete between Katrina and I...to busy engaging Daniel in conversation. But the moment Katrina saw Hemingway, an almost visible electrical tension passed over the table. Her eyes instantly traded in the teasing banter for a rock hard coldness. She flung more then lifted the breast off the table...no further comment. But at this I raised my forehead into an inverted V. Years ago Hemingway and Katrina had had a torrid affair. I was surprised the bitterness still
"Oh goodie," Joanne said, obviously a bit tipsy from the drink, "More journalists." "Not really," Katrina icily remarked. "Katrina," Hemingway replied, "What a nice surprise." Joanne followed the 'oh goodie' remark by inviting Hemingway and the kid to join us. Hemingway was a nervy bastard, and of course, readily agreed. Katrina fidgeted in her chair while her eyes fumed. I have always believed that it's best to defuse a potential hostile situation before the impending eruption sweeps away innocent bystanders; in this case Jack and Joanne. So in an attempt to shift the attention away from Katrina and Hemingway, I quickly introduced Hemingway and the kid to Jack and Joanne. Daniel picked up on my cue and while I made the introductions engaged Katrina in idle conversation. Although Hemingway was a black man, the obvious question was to ask him if he was related in any way to the real Hemingway. In fact to do otherwise invited possible racial overtones. I had seen it happen before. I don't know whether Joanne perceived such, but she immediately asked the obvious. Hemingway, when he wanted, could be quite charming. And I suppose he wanted to impress
Katrina because he immediately put on airs. "Why of course. Sixth cousin on my mother's side." He replied. His eyes twinkled and he quickly rattled off a few verses from 'The Old Man And The Sea." "Oh goody," Joanne screeched.
Hemingway winked at Jack to show he was only fooling. At first I wasn't sure Jack had picked up on the wink, but knew he had when he urged Hemingway to continue the game with a rapid motion of his head. But right then Stan brought Katrina's drink, interrupting Hemingway. He was very happy to see so many people drinking and having fun and said so in broken english. Hemingway, acting like the host, stood and draped an arm around Stan and after asking what Stan had served Katrina, ordered the same for himself and a mineral water for the kid. My gambit to defuse the possible hostile situation had
worked. As soon as the drinks were served, the table took on a festive quality. Jack urged Hemingway on, Hemingway obliged, and enchanted Joanne by rattling off bits and pieces from the real Hemingway. Daniel and Katrina were discussing the merits of women versus booze; I heard Daniel say that the morning after headache that booze gave you lasted but a few hours whereas the headache a woman gave you could last a life time; Katrina countered by saying that she could say the same for men. As fate would have it, I got stuck talking to the kid. He had taken a few sips of his mineral water for courage before asking me right off all earnest like if he could be frank. I made the mistake of saying sure. "You just never know with you." "Really?" "Yeah. Hemingway said you old timers don't cotton well to company."
I chafed at the way he had put, 'old timer,' but replied, "Hemingway's funny, huh." "Sorry. Like I said earlier this is my first time overseas. I guess I am sort of, well..." "Green?" "Yes." "Yes," I replied "Yes," he replied, "that's why I wanted to speak to you." A rather loud argument had begun at a table in the far corner and I held up a pausing finger while looking at the customers causing the commotion. They were both men, and argued loud enough to be heard on the street. "I'm telling you I am right," the first man said. "And I am telling you, you are full of shit," replied the second man. "No, no," the first man answered, "I am telling you that the question is not whether communism has failed, but whether the people who administered communism failed the people." "You know them?" the kid asked. "I knew who they are," I answered rather off handily, "One guy works for the French press. The other the Israeli news agency. He also doubles as an information wire for the Massed." "Oh?" But he paused, as if embarrassed.
"Yes?" "I am having a problem, and I need some advice." Giving advice is for suckers. I said as much. "But." I held up a pausing finger so I could listen to the argument between the two men. The argument had grown rather heated and I saw out of the corner of my eye that Daniel and Katrina were doing likewise. So was Hemingway. Joanne went on saying whatever it was she was saying to Hemingway. Jack watched Joanne. "You are absolutely wrong," the Frenchman said, "And to prove my point you need only to stop by the cultural museum and view the atrocities the communists have afflicted on Hungary." "I have seen the show," the Israeli replied, "And my question is this: what about the atrocities the Hungarian people visited on the Jews during World War Two?" "What about them?" the Frenchman demanded. "Is there really any difference?" "Please," the Frenchman replied sarcastically, "what is your point?" "Please what?" the Israeli insisted, "Can't you see it is not the system but the people who administer it?" The Frenchman motioned angrily for Stan and I took the moment to turn back to the kid. "They are pretty hot," the kid offered. "It would seem," I agreed.
"About my problem?" "Okay, what is your problem?" "It's my girl." It's always a girl, or at my age a woman. But I refrained from saying this. I said. "Yes?" "Well, she doesn't understand why I want to be an overseas journalist. She say's..." "She says," I replied, cutting him off, "a white picket fence and a couple of kids should be enough." The kid was surprised and showed as much. "Why yes." I had kept a half an eye on the two men while the kid spoke. After Stan had served their drinks the two men had resumed their arguing. I had missed the first few words, but the Israeli stood now with his glass in his hand and yelled something over and over. I held up a pausing finger and the kid hushed. I was surprised when the Israeli set his drink on the table and took out a handgun from somewhere beneath his overcoat and pointed it at the
Frenchman. "You see this gun?" he stated. The Frenchman's eyes bugged out in pure fright, showing the obvious. "I could shoot you dead right now." "Yes," the Frenchman answered in a dry scratchy voice.
"My point," the Israeli replied and replaced the gun from where it had come. He finished off his drink and left the cafe. Before the argument had began, the cafe had been buzzing pockets of people. But as the argument increased in tempo, the buzzing had accordingly decreased until only the combatants shouts echoed in the room. Now everyone stared at the Frenchman. I had no idea what they expected of the him. I suppose out some to expected street the and masculine through
fisticuffs win back his lost honor. Others, I am sure, just wanted him to stay put. The Frenchman did the latter and finished off his drink, stood and nodded apologetically at all in the cafe for interrupting their evening. He gracefully left. Embarrassed, many people in the cafe turned away. The gesture took a great deal of dignity and I secretly applauded him. When I turned to the kid, his face was bone white. "We all just sat here," he stated. "About your girl?" But his girl was forgotten. "The Israeli could of shot him," he said, his voice very high, "We should of done something." Up until then, Katrina hadn't really noticed the kid. But she did now and asked me to switch places. I obliged. She laid a calming hand on the kid's shoulder while leaning forward. She whispered something in his ear. He shook his head violently. She said something else. Again he shook his head violently. She
whispered something else and they both stood.
"We're going outside for some air," she announced. It seemed like the scene had sobered Joanne because when she spoke it was in a clear tone. "He wouldn't of really shot the man. Would he?" "No," Daniel replied. "So much anger," Jack said. "Politics brings out the worst in people," Hemingway replied. "Yes but still..." Jack answered. His face took on his
thoughts and he waved helplessly at Stan who was standing close. "I need a drink." The scene stole the festiveness from the evening, and after an hour of struggling to reclaim the easy banter of before we surrendered and headed for the apartment. Before leaving Jack and Joanne respectfully retired to the bathroom. We loitered outside
while waiting for them. After the smoked filled air of the Cafe, the evening air was refreshing. Katrina and the kid were nowhere to be seen. Knowing Katrina as we did, we withheld comment.
Instead we passed small talk about how wonderful Budapest looked and how happy the people seemed. A few seconds later, I discovered through Hemingway that he and the kid had been invited to attend the day trip in the morning. It seemed like Sam's gopher had invited them. Hemingway had engineered it, I was sure. The gopher probably had the National Enquirer sent to him. He looked like the kind.
Displeasure crossed my face, and if Hemingway noticed he was wise enough to restrain himself.
I fully expected to awake feeling like shit. The massive quantity of whiskey I had consumed after years of abstinence was reason enough. But also because Daniel and I had stayed up going over the interview with Mr. Information until almost dawn and I
had only managed a few hours sleep. We had spent a great deal of this time arguing about how to rewrite the interview so it wasn't just a clone of what I had written. He had always been a stubborn cuss, and hadn't changed a bit. But I too was a stubborn cuss. So in a quiet way as to avoid waking Jack and Joanne we shouted and yelled and softly banged on the kitchen table and in the end arrived at a version that suited both of us. Since the arguing was of the productive kind, as opposed to the destructive kind, I felt a sense of satisfaction. Daniel felt likewise and said so. So when I awoke feeling the opposite of shitty, I lay in the bed wondering why. I lay there for so long wondering why that I began to wonder why I was questioning why. Would a hangover so bad that I had to carry my head in a cushioned suitcase make me feel good, even though I felt bad. What was I crazy?
Jesus, I muttered out loud, I had a busy day ahead and didn't need this self-analyzing crap. I slid off the bed and went to the window. Another wonderful day greeted me. The sky was clean, and the sun blazed high
overhead. But she wasn't there. I was a little saddened by this. I was hoping to continue our conversation. I found Daniel in the kitchen, his head cradled in his arms. Jack and Joanne weren't there and I figured they had gone sight seeing. "Morning," he mumbled. Ah, I thought, here sits a man carrying his head in his arms and only a few seconds ago I wanted to be like that. Well, better him than me. "You look like shit," I observed a bit too cheery. "Scotch," he grumbled, "I hate the stuff." I knew and went to shower. An hour later we left the
apartment. Before doing so, I checked the balcony. She was half way into a knee bend. She smiled at me. I smiled back. She finished her knee bend. There was a God and it was going to be a good day.
Chapter Thirty One.
During the night the streets had been hosed down and it was still early enough and they smelled clean. This despite the fact that there were already hundreds of pedestrians out pounding the pavement. As Daniel and I headed for the embassy we passed small talk about what to expect during the ride out to the country. A few blocks from the embassy, we were going past a run down house and noticed an elderly woman peering at us from the window. The white paint was weather beaten and huge strips of it peeled away from the facade. The elderly woman peered very cautiously and fearfully at us from between dirty gray curtains. For all of a second her countenance rested on us eyeing her. Perhaps she saw the knock at the door, the secret police, the pleas of innocence of her neighbors, the pleas ignored. Perhaps I imagined too much. I do know I saw too many years of fear in her eyes, and I had lived too many years in New York City to mistake fear for the ice cream man come a jingling. And in that long second I felt like I had violated her space. A fast look at Daniel told me he felt the same sense of violation and we bowed our heads and hurried along.
As we were about to enter the embassy, Daniel commented, "Capitalism has arrived too late for the old woman and her ilk. She has witnessed far too much." I agreed.
Chapter Thirty Two.
The bus port along with the embassy helicopter pad were located in a fenced in area in the rear of the Embassy. For a moment I thought I was in South America because loudspeakers piped out Andes flute music. At least thirty journalists loitered in the courtyard in groups of two, threes and fours. Katrina waived from the far corner of the compound where she stood along with the kid and the Frenchman who had gotten into the argument the night before at the New York Cafe. Daniel joined her while I stopped at a makeshift desk and signed us in. The moment I lay the pen aside, Sam walked up to me. "The music your idea?" "Sure. Reminds me of home," He answered. "This shindig is shaping up to be a fine time, huh." "Lots of people," I commented. "Yeah," he said, "The gopher racked up brownie points." "Figured." "We leave in ten minutes." "We?"
"You bet," he replied, "I ain't gonna let you boys have all the fun." "I thought you were deficient in the area of liaison to the press?" "I am," he replied. He took a few back backward steps. "But my Uncle taught me how to spot a bull in a China shop." Although his intent wasn't lost on me, the comment was just too old time country boy to pass up. But before I could quarry him, Hemingway walked over. They hadn't met yet and I introduced them. Sam's eye's became mischievous. "Gad," he said, "Your name calls out for a hundred and one jokes." I forced back a smile. "I know," Hemingway replied without malice, "And I've heard them all." He winked. "But go ahead and give it a try." "Bet on it," Sam replied, "You know us Texans. We love a challenge. But it will have to wait for later. I've a few last minute details to clear up." He went into the Embassy. "Guy's okay," Hemingway observed. "Yeah," I replied, and turned to leave. "I was out of line yesterday." I faced him. "Forget about it," I said. "Yeah, well." "Why do you want to go on this outing? One legged cows you can find back in the states."
"I'm not going. I have an interview set up. I just stopped by to apologize," He said. "But I see that's a waste of time. But I am curious. Why you going? A big shot senior editor like you should be at the Parliament interviewing the President." Arguing with him was pointless. So I did an about face and walked away. I was still upset with myself as I joined Daniel. I had let Hemingway get the better of me. He was a stupid man. To let him get my goat meant I was also stupid. I knew this was stupid logic, but it made sense at the time. "Hemingway bugging you?" Daniel asked. "No. I am bugging myself." He let it pass and introduced the Frenchman. He was Jean. Worked for the French News service. I had met him briefly about ten years ago and mentioned this. He remembered. It was at
DaGaulle's funeral. "Yes, I replied, "A sad day for France." He had the fatalistic features the French so often have; a small dark face with brown fortune tellers eye's and melancholy lips, and he used all of this to his advantage when he nodded. "It's time to board the bus," Sam loudly announced. As if Sam had shouted last call for a drink, the announcement caused a bit of a commotion and everybody stared anxiously at him, but only for a second, then everybody returned to gabbing. Sam lazily went back inside the embassy. I had looked away at Sam
possibly a second longer then everybody else which was a mistake because by the time I turned back to Katrina, Daniel and Jean, they were locked in conversation. And I found myself once again stuck with the kid. We stood for a few moments without speaking. He seemed a bit nervous by this. I wasn't ignoring him. I was at a loss as to what to say to him. I experienced the same difficulty at work in New York. The rookies, most who were in their early twenties, baffled me. Their clothes. Their manner of speech. Their choice in music. Only at work I had to, as their generation put it, interact with them because I was their boss. As the minutes wore on he became increasingly more nervous, as was evident by his frequent glances at the bus. He was way out of his league here, I thought. Hell, just running off with Katrina the previous night was a mistake for one so young and naive. So I began to feel sorry for him. And I hate feeling sorry for anybody. But only because if I am to feel sorry for anybody, I'd rather feel sorry for myself. I rarely do. But if I have to conjure up such emotion, and the queasy stomach that follows, I'd rather do so for myself. "Settle down kid," I said at last, "The bus won't leave without us." He lifted one hand above his head in the awkward motion one does when unsure or embarrassed. "I know. But I got the jitters just the same. First time. You know."
I knew. "Why you going? I mean you should be at the E.E.F.C. who whatever it's called." "Yes," he replied, "I should. It's my duty. It's why I am here. I suppose I am letting my professor down." He was so earnest, much like a hoosier singing the national anthem, and I had to force back a smile. "But this is a chance of a lifetime. I was thrilled when
Hemingway offered me a seat on the bus. Besides the E.E.F.C. conference will be in session for eight days. I'll have plenty of time. I know you and Hemingway don't get along. But he did get me this assignment and I do owe him. What I mean is I would like us all to be friends.' He had talked very fast, much like a man trying to sell himself on an idea. He stopped all at once and smiled sheepishly. "Katrina says you're not as gruff as you act." As much as I hated to admit it, the kid had grit. And I had to grudgingly appreciate his loyalty, however misplaced, toward Hemingway. "Let's board the bus." He dutifully followed along beside me as I walked toward the bus. Still he was apprehensive about the others following us, Katrina more then anybody else I suppose...puppy love and all such, and did look over his shoulder. Much to his surprise and
delight, as he smiled happily, Katrina and the others trailed behind us. "Number one rule," I said, "The pack always follows a senior editor." "I'll remember," he replied. I believed he would.
Chapter Thirty Three.
The gopher decided to play hall monitor and when the bus was fully loaded positioned himself in the aisle facing the
passengers. He wore a stern face and his intent was obvious. And he looked about as threatening as a sparrow and I almost laughed out loud. Sam, who because of his height was crammed packed in the seat across from me, must of seen this because he looked up over a note pad he was writing in and leaned over and whispered, "I think the turkey has heard too many stories about journalists going hog wild on road trips." I nodded agreement. But the gopher worried prematurely. As road trips went, this one started out peacefully enough. Except for a few whispers, the bus was stone quiet. I had attended my share of press road trips and knew this was because people were jotting down questions to be asked. Daniel, who sat on my left, was doing as much for the both of us. I would of course scan his list later and add a question or two. Once I was satisfied, we would tear the list down the middle and separately present the questions.
Since I had nothing to do, as the bus pulled out of the compound I lit up a cigarette and settled into the seat and stared out the window. The road out of Budapest began like any major highway leading out of a large city in America. Frame houses of five and six rooms with lawns trimmed to within an inch of the topsoil lined both sides of the highway. But unlike America where suburbs sometimes stretched on for hours of miles, once the bus left Budapest proper, the landscape swiftly changed; the pavement vanished, replaced by a dirt road that twisted through fields of lush farmland. The driver wrestled the wheel, fighting the loops and turns. But the road was rough, and the bus frequently bounced, jarring the kidneys, and the tires kicked up a cloud of dust that soon engulfed the bus; obscuring the scenery outside the windows. Because the bus lacked air conditioning, most of the windows were open and in no time at all dust filled the interior. A chorus of choking and gagging began; some exaggerated, some not. The choking was making quite a racket and the gopher rather loudly, as if a school teacher addressing a group of unruly kids, cleared his throat. To this someone in the rear mumbled a bit too loud, "Lousy cheap ass commie government bus." I was amazed when the gopher stood and demanded to know who
had spoken, but only because I didn't believe he had it in him. Journalist are a lot like children, and in the grandest tradition of the classroom, his demand was greeted by snickers, including myself Daniel and Sam. Only the kid and Katrina, who sat
directly behind me, didn't snicker. That was because the kid was coughing hard from all the dust and cigarette smoke in the bus and looked to be in the throes of a spastic attack, and Katrina was patting him consolingly on the back. Fortunately there was a Hungarian translator aboard who had a sense of humor and he stood and promptly corrected this remark by saying in broken english, "This not lousy cheap ass commie government bus. It lousy cheap ass ex-commie government bus." He had occupied the seat behind the driver and with a
straight face sat back down and continued talking to the driver. I think up until then most people had kept busy with their notes. The translator's comment elicited a round of laughter and the grumbling ceased. A few miles later for the first time people started moving around the bus. Some of us had worked together before and knew each other in that vague sense that co-workers in the same office know each other but really know nothing about each other; and soon some good natured ribbing took place. A never say die hippie who was a well known journalist who wrote leftist propaganda and right now worked for the Village Voice shouted out that he was nicknaming the bus, 'the magic bus,' and the
translator, 'The Wizard.' A few loud moans from people who had heard this hippie shit once too often over the years followed this remark. Minutes later several bottles were passed across the
aisle. Soon the din of conversation was almost overpowering in the tight confines of the bus. All in all this transformation from the peace and quiet to a fraternity party atmosphere occurred in a very short time and the gopher stood ramrod straight while hanging onto a overhead
passenger strap. He looked very pained at the change in events. Sam lay aside his notes and passed me a distasteful stare while taking a moment to hang his legs out in the aisle; way out in the aisle. "A pained gopher is a sad sight." "Sure is." "Maybe we should shoot the poor critter. You know, put him out of his misery. Or offer him a drink. Take your pick." "Sure." "Offer him a drink." "You brought a bottle?" "No you did," Daniel replied before Sam could. I gave him an apologetic shrug. "Think again," he replied, "I stowed it in your bag before you awoke." My look was now incredulous. "Hey," he said, "Remember that time in Saudi. They searched our bags. I got tossed out of the country. Damn Muslim purity. How was I too know they wouldn't do the same here." "You're one dependable fellow," Sam commented, "Which is why I neglected to bring a bottle."
I had brought a carry on bag and upon opening it quickly saw the Wild Turkey nestled there. I wanted to be angry. But it was so like Daniel, all I could do was laugh. "Where is the ice?" "There wasn't room in your bag for ice." "Hell, I got ice," Sam replied and pulled a gallon sized ice chest from under his seat. That there was a conspiracy underfoot became evident when Katrina readily produced a stack of plastic glasses of the kind found at picnics. I gave them a, huh huh, look just so they knew I knew. They laughed at the look. After a few seconds the laughter ran its course and we filled the glasses with ice and Wild Turkey. Except for the kid, that is. We offered, but he had gotten over his coughing spell long enough to squeak out a polite thank you, no. Katrina gave him a brave knowing understanding peck on the cheek and he blushed red all over. "Bully, for you," Sam said. We all touched glasses to a successful trip. A few minutes later Katrina and Daniel left to explore the bus. "Hear you interviewed Tudakoz'?" Sam asked. "You mean Mr. Information?" "Exactly." "Sly old fox, him. He managed to charm more information out of me then I weaseled out of him."
Sam found this amusing because a smile traced across his lips. "Undoubtedly he poured you some 'Bulls Blood.' Nasty stuff." I couldn't argue the point. "Mr. Information is the smartest politician I ever met," I said, "So tell me great one from the land of the Lone Star. Who is Mr. Information?" By pulling his legs a little closer I knew he was stealing a moment to answer. I didn't attach any undo significance to this. Except to note he was a thorough man. "A poet. At least he was before the revolution. I presume he told you he was a country boy. More at home with simple folk then high minded thieves." "Close to it," I replied. "It's true. His parents were of the Magyar Plains people. Strong and sturdy. People of the earth. No nonsense. You'll meet their ilk today I imagine. They owned a small farm. The farm had been in he family for generations. They strongly resisted when the communists came into power and nationalized all private land. The communists weren't too pleased about this and to set an example, the communists executed them in front of the entire town;
crucified them...literally. Up until then, a few others had also resisted. As you can imagine, the people in the town quickly fell into line; watching your neighbors nailed to a cross has such an effect on people. At the time Mr. Information was fifteen years
old. And like most fifteen year old kids, he had a defiant streak
in him, although in his case it was obviously inherited, and wrote poetry against the communists and their atrocities. So they tossed his ass into what is double speak for booby hatch; a reeducation camp. Two years later when he was released, he again wrote poetry. So they again tossed him back in the booby hatch. Over the years the booby hatch became a revolving door. The communists opened the door and he wrote poetry against them, and back in he went. He was out long enough to be one of the key players in the fifty-six uprising. So when the government collapsed, he was the first person called upon to set up a new government. He was very very reluctant to get involved. So as an incentive they offered him the post of interim president." "Let me guess," I replied, "He declined the position." "Right. Blame him?" "No. It's a no win job." "Right. What the eggheads at the state department call the Humpty Dumpty scenario. To many broken pieces. But I believe his reasons were other." "The Hatfield and McCoy syndrome," I commented. "That's my guess," Sam Replied, "He doesn't have a whole lot of respect for either side. Seeing as what happened to his
parents, I can't say as I blame him. " "True," I replied, "So he accepted the post as Minister Of Information. Smart move."
"Right. The man who controls the flow of information controls the mind of the public." I agreed. "You know a lot about him." "There are some people you make it your business to know. Especially if you work for Uncle." "True," I answered, and glanced sideways at him, "But not when your job title is liaison to the press." There was a slight change in his demeanor. A second ago he wore the good old boy hat. But now lines furled over his eyebrows. He had used the term Uncle once to often and I had trapped him...unintentionally of course. The conversation was just what it appeared. Two men passing down time. But he had made a mistake and I had subconsciously closed in. He wasn't any more liaison for
the press then the bus driver was. He worked for the C.I. A. The trick now was how to play it out. Make a big to do or pass it off. He chose the latter. He lazily stood and stretched the kinks out of his bones for a few seconds. At last he smiled down at me. "I moonlight." It was now my turn to play it off or, in Texan slang, ride it into the ground. The problem was, I really didn't care. The fact that the C.I.A. had their fingers into Hungarian politics wasn't news to anyone in the fourth estate or for that matter the
Hungarian government. On the other hand he couldn't be sure of this. So the question facing me was did I want to make him squirm. NO. There was no payoff in this. If it was the gopher, yes, just
for fun. Besides, Sam was okay and I never knew when I might need a favor. "Always good to have a second job," I said and raised my glass in salute. He raised his glass and matched the salute. As he lowered his cup he spun and meandered his way to the rear of the bus. But not before winking at the kid. The act and the reason for doing so wasn't lost on me. The kid had listened avidly to our
conversation; and the twists and turns had to be difficult for him to follow. So the kid undoubtedly had questions, and Sam's wink had added fuel to his curiosity. As I was the answer man, I was once again stuck with him. "Thank's Sam," I yelled out. "My pleasure," Sam sang out. Immediately the kid's expectant face shined on me. A hundred and one questions lay there. I bemoaned the obvious of 'why me.' I wasn't a god damn baby sitter. But and as much as I wanted to follow Sam to the rear of the bus, I couldn't. Too rude. Besides I had taken a liking to the kid. So as the kid stared at me I sat there faced with the dilemma of what to say. He was too young to outright admit that Sam worked for the C.I.A. He would, without pausing to think, undoubtedly see all kinds of bogeymen in such a statement. So I decided to change the subject. This is always the
best way to avoid discussing a matter best left alone for all concerned. "About your girl?" By the way he blinked his eyes in confusion, I might as well have said, "Look! cows!" "Remember," I said, snapping my fingers before his eyes, "Last night at the Cafe. Before Frenchie almost got shot. You were about to ask me for advice." For a second he was still confused, but the snapping of my fingers woke him up. "Yes. Sorry. I was thinking about something else." I was sure. I waited patiently for him to continue, for his mind to shift gears. And it took him a few seconds. I took a few sips from my drink during this time, wondering if he was going to attempt a reversal and try to force the conversation his way. There are people who do this. Some young and naive, and they do so because they are usually eager to learn, and these can be forgiven once or twice. And then there are others who are just plain stupid, and do so because they want to impress, and people such as these are too be avoided. He turned out to be neither. Whether it was because he knew better, or because Katrina had made the
problem with his girl more acute I couldn't ascertain. Whatever the reason, I liked him all the more for it. "I've had a fantasy for years to meet a worldly woman and have a mad passionate romance with her. I met her last night. It's
Katrina. Now I don't know what to do.
I love my girl back in
Indiana. Her name is Marcia. And I intend on marrying her as soon as I finish school. She's wonderful. But I can't tell her about Katrina. To do so would break her heart. I am all mixed up and don't know what to do?" After he told me this, I sat staring out the window. He must of figured out what I was thinking because he guiltily blushed and defended, "I know how it sounds. But it's not like so. My girl will never know. I do love her. I..." I had heard to many self effacing excuses in my time and tuned the rest of what the kid was saying out. The kid was a fool, I decided. And I should send him packing back to his girl. I would have but who was I to lecture him about subscribing to below the waist dream lust. But I was angry, very much so, and fortunately Katrina
returned before I changed my mind and made a fool out of myself by grabbing him by the scruff of the neck and kicking him ass forward off the bus. Katrina started to say something to me but I didn't trust what I might say and stood and brushed by her and went to the rear of the bus. I wasn't sure who I was angriest at; Katrina, the kid, or myself. Katrina was Katrina. She had always played the field and did so better then most men. Sometimes she got hurt and sometimes she did the hurting. But those were men. This was a boy who was still wet behind the ears. She should know better. The kid
was another matter. He was just a fool letting his little head drive his big head. And I was mad at myself because I had let the kid draw me in. I supposed it was because he reminded me of myself when I was young. But all the supposing in the world couldn't change the way I felt.
Chapter Thirty Four.
As evidenced by the group of men kneeling in a circle, I knew right away there was a dice game going on in the rear of the bus. I knew it was a dice game because I had learned long ago that men only knelt for four things; while praying, while being delivered the coup de grace, while with a woman and while shooting dice. I was still very angry and easily pushed through the circle to find Daniel and Sam kneeling side by side. They both were busy motioning excitedly to a stringer for C.N.N. and failed to notice me. The stringer passed me a 'wish him luck' glance before
trapping his tongue between his teeth and rolling the dice. The dice came up snake eyes, and he moaned out load. A stack of one dollar bills exchanged hands. Another pass and another moan and another stack of bills exchanged hands. On the third roll the stinger hit a five and a duce and a stack of dollar bills
exchanged hands in the opposite direction. That was when Daniel noticed me. I guess he noticed the frown on my face because he said, "The kid got to you huh?" Before I could answer, he offered me the dice. Stooping, I accepted them. I hadn't played dice in the rear of a bus for
years, or a bathroom stall or anyplace for that matter, and at first the plastic cubes felt unfamiliar in my palm. But such games help pass the time and I had played often during my younger days as a journalist and within a few seconds the dice had a
comfortable feel to them. The first throw stole away the anger. My point was six. The second throw calmed me. A four and a two. As money exchanged hands I squeezed the dice tight, and the action helped facilitate a decision to talk with Katrina. Doing so, to stick my fat nose where it wasn't asked for was a suckers game, I knew. But she'd see reason, I reassured myself. After that I wanted no more to do with the kid. I would not be a party to ruining two lives.
Chapter Thirty Five.
destination, the dice game and whatever other festivities had ensued broke up and everybody returned to their seats and began pouring over notes. I hadn't had an opportunity to talk to Katrina as she had stayed with the kid and failed to do so now because she was going over his notes and giving him advice on what to ask at the press conference. The kid diligently applied himself to the lesson as was evidenced by the hard slant of his eyes. So I took a few minuets to scan the question list Daniel had prepared.
Although the list seemed complete enough, I penciled in a few questions of my own, handed him the pencil, removed my reading glasses, and announced the list word perfect. After reading what I had written, he lazily placed the pencil behind his left ear and scratched. "It was perfect before. Now it's flawed." These were fighting words and I was about ready to defend my meager few questions via a vile denouncement of his questions; which is the sure and tried method of winning such a discussion: make the other person defend. But by than we were already at our
destination, so I chalked his statement up to the twenty dollars I had taken off him at dice and glanced out the window instead. The town was of good size because it took us ten minutes of driving past houses before coming to a stop outside a white church.
Outside the church a group of men awaited us. They were all dressed in their Sunday best, and didn't look at all like farmers to me; more like a welcoming committee made up of the Mayor and the town elders. "Ah paradise," Daniel remarked. The aisle soon crowded with people anxious to depart the bus. "About those questions." I stated. "Just teasing. Although one did seem. Well. Listen. 'So how do you feel about capitalism compared to communism?'" "That's a valid question," I defended. "Weak. Weak." "How so?" "It's a breakfast question. Now were you to say, 'how do you feel about the changes going on in your country.' Ah dinner, dinner." "On the surface they appear to be the same question. But not so," I pointed out, "Your question facilitates a literal reply; mine a theoretical reply." For all of a half second, he considered this. "You got me," he conceded
"Fret not son," I said, "Just stick with a senior editor and someday..." "Watch it!" he warned. "Watch what?," Katrina asked. She was standing, as were Sam and the kid. Daniel replied, "I better not say." "Better not say what?" Sam asked. Sam had winked at me and I realized he had overheard the conversation between Daniel and myself, and was setting up Katrina for some kind of adlib joke. I decided to play along, and said, "I better not say." Although the kid was confused, in his wonderful confusion he played the innocent come a calling. "Are you keeping something from me?" It was obvious Sam had first intended on setting Katrina up, but when the kid had spoken, a quick shift in victims occurred and he did a slow crawl of his eyeballs for effect and placed them directly on the kid. "Nothing." "Absolutely," I said. "Definitely," Daniel replied. I sadly shook my head. "Shit, somebody should inform him." The kid was now primed for all the horrors he had seen under his bed as a child. "Tell me," he all but cried out.
For an improvisational joke of this nature to work requires a good long pause for effect. Sam did just so then said, "We're all dead, kid. I just told them. The town out there. Its contaminated. Chernobyl. The towns a toxic dump for Chernobyl. It's in the dust. The air. Sorry. I didn't realize the error until I saw the name of the town. Who ever planned the trip screwed up. Some bureaucrat drone, I imagine. Undoubtedly a republican. Probably a non smoker to boot. Can't even disclose the news to the public. Too risky. Cause panic. The Hungarian government is working on it of course. They will evacuate the town soon. Once the town is evacuated, I imagine they will burn it down to the ground. For now...well. I feel bad for you kid. Daniel's old, or at least middle
aged...which is damn near the same. I, well I'm from Texas and like all Texans carry a shit load of guilt ever since Kennedy was assassinated and as such have nothing to live for anyway. Katrina, well she has herpes. She didn't tell you. Sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings and all such, but she's a woman and getting up there in years and well. And him, well, he's a senior editor and has gone as far as he's going up life's ladder and has nothing to live for anyway. But you, you're young. Damn shame too." Tell me it ain't so Joe. This was in the kid's eyes, as he, looking like doom, looked first to Katrina whom he loved and had trusted, then Sam, then myself. As he began to lower his head to her shoulder, I thought he was going to cry. But all at once his head snapped up and he walked stiffly off the bus. He did so
without uttering a peep, proudly, head held in the fashion of a man going to meet his fate." "Kid's got grit," Sam observed. "I hope you three are good and ashamed," Katrina retorted. "Us," Daniel replied in mock astonishment. But I was intrigued by his departure, and stared out the window at him during this exchange. The others on the bus had emptied out onto the street and had formed a crowd facing the gopher and the translator. The gopher was addressing the crowd. The onlookers or listened nonchalantly; in a scribbling ear, in their staring note off
uninterested at the sky. But not the kid. He believed he had come to see the farm and in doing so had bought the farm and was damn well going to make the best of it and listened for all he was worth. I had to commend him for this. He wanted to be a real journalist, whatever the hell that was, and in his last days on this earth, he was going to act like one, or what he imagined this to be. But as much as I enjoyed studying him, the seriousness of his demeanor, I reminded myself he didn't belong. He was a kid who as a child had read too many stories about journalists; those free wheeling men and women who traveled the world over in search of truth, justice and undoubtedly the American way, and while reading these stories had hatched a dream to be like them. Whatever the
hell like them was. But hell he didn't even know a joke when he saw it coming. As I turned away from the sight of him, I was more determined then ever to speak about him to Katrina. And would of played the fool and done so right then in front of Sam and Daniel but she had gone to console him.
Chapter Thirty Six.
The sun was setting and the air was sweet like the change of fresh sheets; I guess it was the day giving way to night that made it so. Daniel and I nursed our drinks while watching from the kitchen window the gypsies on the street below selling curio goods; returned mostly to hand crafted doilies from and tablecloths. We had
where we had
dispatched our respective stories. We had been standing at the window for about an hour, and hadn't said word in this time to each other. No particular reason really. I suppose we were just enjoying the end of the day together. The silence of the one on one camaraderie that two men find in each other, but never three or four and more. Two was the secret number. Two men going off on a hunt. Two men sharing a bottle and telling glory day stories. Two men knowing each other as well as they knew themselves. Two men riding off into the sunset. All this is a male thing. It was also a myth. Young boys had time for such camaraderie, but men had obligations. I knew this and was thankful for the time to enjoy something not so much lost but shuffled out of my life by the necessity of everyday living. I was thinking about such things when I first noticed a distinctive odor in the air; pungent, yes, but also bitter like
gone to rotten cabbage. Although faint, it was there. And it hadn't been there before. I thought, gunfire. A second passed and I quickly corrected myself, and thought, gunpowder. Daniel and I turned simultaneously to each other. We both had covered our share of war and know the smell all too well for what it was. So without speaking we crossed out of the kitchen and went to the living room where a nine inch black and white television rested on an end table. I searched channels until I found the Sky News. Sky news originated out of London and through a world wide satellite feed updated world events every ten minutes. We watched for fifteen minutes. But there wasn't mention of an armed conflict erupting in Hungary or anyplace else in the region. So we returned to the window in the kitchen. We sniffed at the air like two hound dogs sniffing up wind at an unseen raccoon. "It's powder," I said. "Yeah," he replied, "But faint. Far. Very far." There were rumors of the Hungarian military destroying old Russian munitions dumps and I ventured this opinion. "Good as an explanation as any," he replied. But our words rang hollow, and as proof of this we stood at the window until the dim glow of the sun fading in the west cast shadows over the room. I was set into my thoughts by this time and when Daniel moved, just a slight upraising of his left arm, I pulled back as if startled by an unseen person.
"Likewise," he whispered. He breathed very deep and the sound of it rippled in the room breaking the quietness there. "We better leave." "Right," I replied. We had agreed to meet Sam at the New York Cafe at seven. Jack and Joanne were out, and knowing that they would want to hear all about the trip to the country, I left them a note on the kitchen table explaining where we would be. Before leaving, I checked the bedroom window for her. Her apartment was dark. I sniffed the air. The smell of sour cabbage was still evident, but so very faint as to be almost imperceptible. I was heartened by this and assured myself it was alright. The nostalgia of reliving old times with Daniel was nice; even good. And although we had covered many wars; both large and small, I could do without another war. The death. The insanity. Its impersonal nature.
Chapter Thirty Seven.
I wore a sport coat and as soon as we hit the street realized it was too thin to keep out the strong wind blowing off the Danube. "It's considerably colder than last night," I ventured,
"Maybe I should go back for a jacket." "It's fall," he commented, "And in this part of the world winter rides a fierce snow white horse. But go ahead. I'll wait here." "Forget it," I replied, "It's only a few blocks." His voice had carried a vague leftover feeling of meaning something other then what was implied, and knowing as I did how he loved the double entente, I wasn't sure whether he was talking about the possibilities of war, or just the weather. I decided against pursing the matter. Talking about the weather was idle chatter and had never been my cup of tea. And if it was war he
was speaking of; the white Russian steed of winter sweeping its icy grip over Hungary...as the invading Russian army had been called by the Hungarians during the fifty-six uprising, then
talking about such matters wouldn't alter the facts. I guess he felt the same way because he stuffed his hands in the side pockets
of his flight jacket, hunched his shoulders and began walking. I did likewise. In this fashion, we arrived at the New York Cafe a short time later. I expected most of my colleagues who had attended the farm tour to be there and wasn't disappointed. I immediately spotted Sam sitting at a table along with Hemingway and the kid. Sam waved a hand, beckoning us over. Although I was a bit dismayed to see Hemingway and for that matter the kid without Katrina baby sitting him, I acknowledged Sam with a return wave. Daniel and I edged through the crowd shaking hands and exchanging greetings until we reached the table. We said hello to Sam, Hemingway and the kid, but only Sam returned the greeting. I figured Hemingway was still angry about our little spat earlier and I thought the hell with him. As for the kid, I ignored him entirely. A moment later Stan came over. face. "Yes," I replied. "Soon I go. But before I do what I serve you. The same. My American good, no." Although he sounded like a school kid reciting the pledge of allegiance, I answered in the affirmative. And Daniel said something to him in Hungarian. "Nem," he replied, "Speak American. I, how you say, teach me at night from a American book many months. I too red faced to talk "Cleveland," he stated, a broad smile covering his
in crowds. Know not how I how you say, sound. Sound right word. I worry on this. But now. You Americans. You tell me. I talk good. I go to Cleveland soon. You come see me. We get drunk and stupid, no. Free. We all free." "You leave soon?" I asked. "Talk slow please. I no, how you say, follow." I pointed at him. "You." I waved my hand at the sky and made like a plane flying. "You go soon." "Ah," he answered joyfully, "Yes, soon. Two days. I got visa." He nodded vigorously, and paused during which time his face grew very serious. "Wait long time. Save much Forints. Forint no good. Now communist gone. Forint still no good. I save many
Forints. Trade them on black market. Many Forint to one American dollar." He paused as if calculating in his head. His eyes got wide at what he was thinking. "Much much much Forint. Few American dollars. Now I got Visa. I go." And so he did. And If a man ever carried a wistful look, it was him as he left to fetch our drinks. But speaking english had been an obvious strain on him and the tiredness of it showed in his eyes, but there was also great expectation there. And joy. And yes hope. And I was reminded right than of something taken for granted in America. Despite the crime and battle scarred
neighborhoods, the racial hatred between and interwoven into a color spectrum of people, and the endless supply of crooked
politicians from the lowly elected dog catcher right up to the last few presidents, to millions of people around the world
America remained the promise land. "Quite a happy man," Daniel commented. "I am glad for him." "Yes," Daniel replied. "Poor slob," Hemingway said. That Hemingway's comment failed to elicit a response wasn't unexpected. I, for one, figured Hemingway was Hemingway; an
obnoxious jerk, and wasn't about to dignify his comment with a response. "I said the poor slob isn't going anywhere." "Give it a rest," Daniel replied. "Fuck you asshole." Daniel's eye's narrowed, then anger clouded over them. I lay a hand on his shoulder. "Sam," Hemingway said, "Tell these fucks." Sam glanced at Hemingway distastefully. "Tell us what?" I asked "The Hungarian government has indefinitely suspended all
travel Visa's. Except, of course, for foreign nationals who want to go home." "Why?" Daniel asked.
Ceausescu." Daniel and I passed each other a look. "It wasn't on the Sky News," I replied. "I know," Sam answered, "The State Department extracted a promise from all the major news organizations to hold off
announcing the revolt until morning while they conferred with the Russians. My information is a few hours old. But as of then, the Russians were willing to stay on the sidelines. And unless the Russian troops stationed in Rumania are attacked, I imagine it will stay that way." Hemingway scoffed. I took a moment to digest the news and while doing so studied Hemingway and realized he was stone drunk. I had known the man for many years and to be drunk was
uncharacteristic for him. He was the type of man who liked to remain in control. I guess this was one of the reasons why I had never liked his brand of obnoxiousness. He did so with intent, unlike an obnoxious drunk who had to work his conscious through the use of alcohol into being obnoxious. I also thought I knew why he was drunk. He had come to Hungary hoping to get a scoop and restore his lost pride. And I suppose there were scoops in Hungary to be found, but they took grit and determination and skill and he had long ago forsaken all this for the easy life. But now hundreds of miles away in Rumania he saw the scoop he so desperately wanted. And he wouldn't even have to work very hard at it. A war
had a way of rotating mediocre men into heros. But he was stuck in Budapest. Poor poor Hemingway. By the time I got around to asking a question, Stan had returned with our drinks. Daniel had been quietly talking to Sam and out of respect for Stan they both fell quiet. Stan practiced his broken english as he placed our drinks on the table. As soon as he was out of ear shot, I asked Sam how many people in the room knew? "I can't say," Sam answered, "Bastard weasel gopher. But as far as I know only us at the table." "Katrina?" Daniel asked. "Yes. Frenchman." "Jean," Daniel answered. "Right." "She went off to fuck him," Hemingway sneered. I had just about had enough of him and was about to say so but the kid jumped up and shouted, "She isn't!" Up until then the kid had remained reserved; sitting at the table with us, but off into himself. I hadn't talked to him since he had abruptly marched off the bus and had figured he had She was here a while ago but she left with the
remained quiet because he was angry at Daniel, Sam and myself about the little joke played on him. I was obviously wrong. "Kid," Sam said and stood, "Settle down now."
Like I said before, Sam was a large man in every respect. The kid, without further comment, sat and stared off into space. I expected Hemingway to razz the kid but he stared hard at the drink in his hand. I guess he liked the kid and felt bad. As much as I hated to admit it, I didn't think he had it in him. For the next half hour, Hemingway drank like a fish, the kid brooded and Sam and I and Daniel discussed and rediscussed the current events. Just about the time we had worn the subject to death Katrina walked in and sat down. Jean wasn't with her and relief spilled across the kid's face. Almost instantly hurt
replaced relief and he refused to meet her eyes. Stan came over with his happy chatter about Cleveland and took Katrina's order. As soon as the drink was served, we resumed discussing the current event. Katrina joined in and soon the four of us had a raging debate going. There was one question on all our minds from the beginning, and finally Daniel got around to it. "Is Rumania sealed off?" "Sure," He answered, "Although the State Department really can't say for sure." "Why not?" Daniel asked. "Because the information we have comes from the Russians and is suspect. But they say that the Securitate, Ceausescu' security forces, have the country sealed like, well like an iron curtain. The State Department has monitored the Rumanian news broadcasts
and with some sureness I can say a dawn to dawn curfew is in effect in Bucharest, and dusk to dawn for the rest of the county." "Otopeni International Airport in Bucharest?" "Forget it. All international flights are canceled. Ditto for trains. "And overland?" "Who knows? Some borders are guarded. Other's? Overland.
Mexico. Texas. There's always a hole somewhere." "Can you pinpoint one?" "Officially?" Sam asked, or kidded. "Off the record." "Sure. Thinking about taking a ride?" "Crossed my mind." "Could get rough. The Securitate will kill en masse to put down this revolt. They're vicious bastards. And if they are
slaughtering civilians en masse they won't want eyes recording the deeds for posterity. Can't say as I blame them. Do you?" Katrina and I had followed this exchange with interest and I wasn't surprised when Daniel let the last remark go and nodded thoughtfully. I knew him well enough to knew that he was going. Of course he knew that Katrina and I would want to tag along, and when we both said as much, he again nodded thoughtfully. But that's where all agreement ended. For the past hour, I hadn't paid too much attention to Hemingway, but did so when he interjected
that he was also going. Entering a war zone with him was not my cup of tea. Not because I disliked him. But because he was too inexperienced in such matters. I was about to say so and was very much surprised when Daniel agreed to allow him to go. I had already opened my mouth to protest when the kid cut me off and said he was also going. This was too much for me. I wasn't wet nursing a kid who was in heat and vigorously said as much. I suppose I was a bit harsh in this denouement because the kid flashed hate at me before storming out of the cafe. "He's going," Katrina stated. Although I heard her, for a moment I refused to believe my ears. When I did I was beside myself and looked to Daniel and Sam for support. They were amused by my befuddlement, and showed as much by almost laughing; which is worse then laughing. At least when people laugh at you you can almost laugh along. The other way leaves you wondering if you're stupid. And I did wonder. But I wasn't. I was right. He was just a kid. So I told Katrina what I had planned on telling her earlier in the day but hadn't had the opportunity to. "Hell," she replied, "I knew about his girl back in the States. He told me straight away. So what." "He's just a kid." "So?" "So," I almost shouted, "He's a wet nosed kid who belongs back in Indiana on some small town rag while his wife flips
pancakes for breakfast. I figured by screwing the Frenchman you had figured this out. Jesus." If hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, then it went double for a real angry woman. And I figured that she was real angry when she leaned forward and bunched up my shirt in her fist. "Mr. Morality!" she sneered, "What a lark. Especially coming from you." "Yeah. That's right," I said, yanking her hand away, "How the hell would you feel if I was corrupting an eighteen year old girl. Huh." "That old acorn, huh. Well preach it to some stupid feminist who is a true believer listening to a true believer because I wouldn't give a flying fuck," she screamed. "I'll have you know an older cock fucked me when I was a naive eighteen, and if he hadn't I'd be flipping pancakes in some small town right now. And I fucking hate pancakes. And the guy was a prick. And if I ran into him today, I'd slap him with one hand and shake his hand with the other. So there. And the kid is going. End of conversation." Her anger spent, she slumped back in her chair. She had screamed so loud that number one, my ears were ringing, and number two everyone in the Cafe was passing me strange condescending looks. Last night the Frenchman, tonight me, I thought, how
quickly the screw turns. So I displayed a happy smiling face to show them I wasn't affected by the humiliation bestowed upon me. I
sat like this, foolish, and calm down before continuing
waited a few seconds for us both to the argument. As I regrouped, I
realized my error. I had used the word 'corrupt.' This had been a major mistake. Tact was called for here. I just had to use tact and she would see reason. After all she was woman...somewhere. "Okay, Katrina," I calmly said at last, "You're half right. But he is a kid. And Rumania is at war. He could get hurt. Even dead. Katrina, he's a kid who's in love with a worldly
sophisticated woman. He thinks this is a joy ride. Like going to the amusement park and riding on a roller coaster. It's not. This is life or death. Only you can convince him to stay. It's for his own good." "Something to think about," Sam agreed. "Thank you, Sam," I said. "I agree," Daniel added. "And thank you," I said. By the way she sighed, I was sure she was won over. "Where do we get off telling him what to do," she replied in a steady even tone, "Us. We of all people should know better. We who know all too well that the first words out of a tyrants mouth are 'for you own good.' Sure he's in love. And sure he could die. Or worse he could wind up a cripple. Or worse yet, like us. But this is his choice to make, not ours. I beseech you, Sam, Daniel, don't do this."
Her impassioned plea was too much to overcome. And she was right. I knew this deep down inside. But still I looked into Sam and Daniel's eyes for help. I saw defeat and said nothing further on the matter. For the next hour we planned the trip into Rumania. We needed an automobile and Sam offered us a Mercedes from the Embassy car pool. An after market tank had been installed and it held forty five gallons of fuel. Twice the average for the model. This, he said, should be enough to get us to Bucharest and back. Of course it was understood, he explained, that the car would unofficially officially be listed as stolen. Which meant that the car wouldn't be reported to the police as stolen unless official inquires were made. After solving transportation, the next logical step was an Hungarian travel permit to see us to the border. After all, Sam pointed out, although there wasn't anything to be done about securing a Rumanian travel permit, it would be a shame to start out and be turned back by the Hungarian security forces. I felt that Mr. Information would issue the permit and said so. Sam concurred and agreed to secure it and that was that. We next discussed the length of the trip. Since we were traveling without the official approval of the Rumanian government, the prudent course was to cut the risk of capture by keeping the trip in and out to under twenty-four hours. Drive into Bucharest, spend a half a day recording events, and drive back to Budapest under the cover
of darkness. Katrina dissented on this. A day wasn't enough. Two days, maybe three. During a heated exchange, Sam, Daniel and I convinced her otherwise. Six hours in Bucharest would be
sufficient. Although by then the news agencies would undoubtedly be feeding information about the revolt via satellite feed, we would be back in Budapest with the only eyewitness account of the revolt. This left the matter of who was to be in charge of the group. Although this seemed a trivial matter on the surface, it wasn't. As a senior editor I knew all too well that chaos leads to chaos. Somebody had to be in charge. I didn't speak Rumanian and said so right off. Daniel and Katrina did. Katrina bowed to Daniel and explained why. Although she spoke Rumanian, she was a woman. The Rumanian culture for centuries was steeped in the male as cock of the roost. And if we encountered trouble, it was best that a male do the speaking for the group. This was said without rancor, just logic and Daniel agreed. The next detail concerned taking a camera. We had already decided to go under the guise of innocent American tourists and to carry expensive camera equipment might betray otherwise, especially if arrested by the Securitate. So a cheap Brownie or its ilk was decided upon. Katrina would act as the camera man, such as it was, and carry the camera in her purse and while playing the role of my wife snap whatever pictures possible. She rather liked the thought of playing a scatter
brained American housewife innocently pointing her little Brownie intrusively and not only said so but pantomimed doing so by
panning and clicking everybody in the cafe and uttering things like, "Look dear, a statue. Look dear an old building." Finally Sam told her to knock it off and she laughed but stopped. There were a few minor details left and we quickly
dispensed with them. At last we agreed to leave at first light. As far as the journey didn't we seem were to about be to an undertake avenue was left
undiscussed...except of course the danger involved. But to discuss such a thing brought life to it. We all knew this. We had long
since traded in the whisky for mineral water because we wanted to be clear headed in the morning and each of us sat there with our own thoughts and worries while toying with our drinks. I wouldn't presume to guess what they were thinking about, but I thought about the war. And the thought of what we were undertaking
suddenly hit home. What if we were apprehended. What was the worst that could happen? Death. Death wasn't a particularly exciting prospect to me, and I quickly shut such thoughts down. At last the cafe was closing. Stan informed us of as much in apologetic broken english, and looked embarrassed about it. Daniel told him it was alright. Stan still looked embarrassment. As we stood to leave, I realized that Hemingway was at the table. He sat with his head resting on his arms. He had not uttered a peep during the planning of the trip and I had assumed it was because he had fallen into a drunken stupor. I considered filling him in,
or at the very least informing him that we were leaving at dawn and he had better be ready, but rejected the idea. The hell with him. If I was lucky left. I shook him awake, and told him to go home and sleep it of. He seemed to jump off the chair. "I'll be at the embassy at first light," he said and stumbled out of the cafe. The son-of-a-bitch had lied there with his head in his arms all along, I thought, damn bastard. Although I was miffed, Daniel and Sam, who were engaged in conversation, were shuffling toward the door. So I shrugged to myself, and followed and noticed Katrina by my side. "Most kids sleep with pricks who just want to score and move on. You know this," she said, "The kid learns nothing but he'd awake in the morning and discover we had
bitterness from this experience. You know what I mean?" I did. But I still thought she was wrong. But the argument was over. I had lost. And there wasn't anything more to say on the subject.
Chapter Thirty Eight.
Once outside, we didn't stand around and indulge in idle chatter as most people do when closing a bar. We once again agreed to meet at the Embassy in the morning then went our separate ways. For Daniel and I the walk back to the apartment, like the walk to the New York Cafe was accomplished with hands stuffed in pockets and in silence. The cold was more intense then earlier, and I attempted to keep it at bay by jigging my steps, almost in a dance movement. Except for an occasional person waiting for a tram or a bus, the sidewalks held a sleepy lonely quietude; a resting time before the thousands of feet pounded at them in the morning. Although I was nursing my own thoughts, at one point I set them aside and glanced at Daniel. His head was cocked off and down to one side and he appeared to be studying the sidewalk. I was sure he was thinking about war. So was I. The apartment was dark, and I expected to find Jack and Joanne asleep. But Jack sat at the kitchen table. The note I had left rested by his left hand. He held a glass of Scotch in his other hand. He looked tired, dark circles under his eyes; and I commented on such.
"I am," he replied. He pushed the note aside. "Sorry." "What happened?" Daniel asked. "That damn bag," he replied, "You know how difficult it is to retrieve a lost bag from an airline?" We did and sympathetically said as much. "Yeah, well," he said. There was more written on his face, and he wanted to unload his anger and frustrations. But instead he stood up and said, "Tell you about it in the morning." As the hour was late, I expected Daniel to also say
goodnight. So I wasn't surprised when a second later he slid past me to his bedroom door and reached around to the wall and flipped on the light. The light framed him there for a moment. He looked sad. And hesitant. I figured the former was due to the seriousness of what we were about to undertake. The latter was because he wanted to talk, but didn't want to say as much because the night was short and tomorrow was going to be a very long day. "Nightcap," I whispered. "Sure. A quick one." Moments later we settled on to the bed in his room. It was a good ten minutes before either one of us said a thing. It was Daniel who broke the silence. We had fixed a small drink and by this time had finished it off and had set the glasses on the floor. "Are you ready for this?" "No," I answered right off.
"So why? For old times?" "No," I lied. He accepted my response readily and said simply, "Sorry." "No need." He waved a hand. "About the kid and Hemingway?" "They shouldn't be going," I replied, "One chases one legged cows, the other lust and dreams. Both chase illusions." "Of course," he responded, "But Hemingway has a big mouth, and had I not agreed he would of exercised it loud and clear by announcing our intentions to everyone in the New York Cafe. As for the kid, Katrina's correct, it's his choice to make, not ours." I smirked at this, and for the briefest of a moment imagined I was Hemingway. "You like the kid, don't you. I do also. The kid grows on you. He's tenacious, yes, but also gutsy." "Can it," I replied, "And okay, I agree about Hemingway. But the kid. Gutsy don't cut it. Not in war. Only experience does." "I know. But it is his choice." "Just let the fool child sink or swim, huh." "Something like that," he answered, "By the way his name is Peter. I think he's earned the right to be referred to by his christian name." There was the fear of another smirk. But I didn't want to be like that. Not tonight. So I said goodnight and went to my room. I
lay in bed with my clothes on and listened to Daniel move around in the room next door. Finally the rustling ceased and I knew he was asleep. It was as it should be. He was a professional. But sleep eluded me, and I lay there for a while just
thinking, thinking, thinking. When I got tired of it I stood, lit a cigarette and went to the window. I guess because war was on my mind, I took notice first of the smell of gunpowder in the air, and then her. And as it was late, I was very much surprised to see her on the balcony doing exercises. The moment she saw me, she did something she hadn't done before...she stopped exercising and
stood full at me. She had brought a lamp out to the balcony to work by and the dim light from it cast dark hue's and shadows across her body. There was an animal grace about the way she stood within the soft light; very still, almost a natural stature, yet the muscles were sinewy and tense and ready to spring...and yes mysterious and erotic. The image of her was hypnotic, and a
longing tugged within my loins. Seconds passed, then as naturally as she had paused, she resumed the knee bends, and the spell was broken. I watched her work up a sweat while smoking the cigarette. When the cigarette was finished I stubbed it out in the ashtray and lay on the bed and watched her until sleep took me.
Chapter Thirty Nine.
At some point during the night I must of shed my clothes because a few hours later when I came fully awake I was naked. I lit a match and shadowed my watch with it. It was four thirty. It was funny, but the last thing I had been prepared to face was the morning, but now that it was here; or almost, I was relieved. Since there was much to be done, I didn't dwell on this relief, instead I went to the window. The air was cold and washed across my body awaking the sleeping nerves. The sky was pitch black, and she wasn't there, but she had left the lamp on the balcony and on. I knew she had done this for me. I wanted to freeze the sight of the lamp in my mind, so I backed away from the window until I was out of the bedroom door. Only then did I turn, and when I did I crashed into Joanne. I had to grab onto her to maintain my balance and to keep from stumbling over and realized almost immediately that she was naked from her head to her toe. I too was naked. She must of realized as much because both of us sprang back at the same time. "Jesus!" she whispered, "You startled me!" "Me too."
"I thought you were a burglar." "Yeah." There was a momentary awkward silence. The silence was broken by her a moment later. "The fuse blew. I was taking a shower and the bathroom went dark. Just like that. Jesus we are naked." "Yeah." "I better go put a robe on." "Like wise. And I will change the fuse. Should be a spare in the pantry." "Yes." We had stood there long enough whispering so our eyes had became accustomed to the dark and for a second we stared at each other. "You have an erection," she said. I looked down and saw she was right. I thought about
explaining about the girl on the balcony. But wasn't sure myself. Joanne was an attractive woman with lines and curves and such. I was a man. Such a reaction was normal. "Just woke up," I said by way of an explanation, "You know men." "Yes. Well I better go put on that robe." But she stayed. "God this is funny." I nodded. "Well."
"Well." "Yes. Well." And with that she was gone. I went to the bedroom and donned a robe. Before going to the pantry, I checked the balcony. The lamp was gone and her apartment dark. I felt a momentary sadness at this. But also glad. She was a good luck charm. The day was going to be okay.
Although changing the fuse only took a few minutes, by the time I returned to the kitchen Joanne had coffee ready. She had a robe on and was sitting at the table. I poured a cup of coffee and joined her. Neither one of us seemed to have the courage to meet the other's eyes. "I didn't think anybody was awake," she explained. "Nor me." "Well. No harm." "Right." "Gad," she laughed, "Wait to I tell Jack. He will laugh like a leaf peeper." "Leaf peeper?" "Yes. People who drive up to Vermont to peek at the leaves changing colors." "Oh." "They laugh a lot." "Leaves are funny, I take it?" "No."
"Okay," I replied, thinking I had missed something and still do. "Jack seemed a bit stretched last night. Something about the airline." "Yes, he's angry because I'm upset. Poor dear. The garment bag itself I don't care about. But all my good clothes were in it." "What's the mix up?" "The airline wants us to drop off the garment bag that we have. The problem is is that the person who has my garment bag has yet to return it to the airline office. So if we return this bag
that we have then we have nothing. Jack tried to explain this to the clerk at the airline, but they failed to appreciate the logic and insist we return the bag. So Jack has decided to do some sleuthing of his own. The baggage tag on the garment bag has a name and phone number on it. Someplace in the midwest. Jack's going to call the number today and hope somebody is there who can tell him where in Budapest the person who owns the bag is staying. Personally I believe it's hopeless. But the poor dear is trying so hard. Besides, what can it hurt." Seemed worth a shot to me and I said so as Daniel came into the kitchen. As he poured himself a cup of coffee, he asked what was worth a shot. Joanne explained and from there we all made small talk for a while until Joanne asked about our day. Telling her about going to Rumania was out. So not wanting to lie, I
excused myself and went to shower. Daniel could handle lying, I was sure. While showering I thought about Jack. Jesus I felt guilty. But there wasn't anything to be done about the erection. I could only hope that as Joanne said, Jack would laugh it off. There really wasn't a reason in the world as to why he should. He didn't know me from Adam. I had saw his wife naked, and had gotten horny. We would be gone before he awoke, and I decided to talk to him the moment I returned from Rumania. I was confident he's understand. Still I chuckled. Joanne was right. It was funny.
Chapter Forty One.
By the time we left the apartment the gray dawn peeking over the horizon gave us a hint of what to expect weather wise. The late indian summer we had enjoyed over the past several days was replaced by a vary black sky, indicating a heavy rain was in the cards. During the walk to the Embassy, Daniel and I saw the thunderclouds as a good omen. Rain would keep road traffic,
military and otherwise at a minimum. That there was anger and hurt feelings about the previous night; the argument over Peter and what not, was evident as soon as we all gathered at the Embassy compound. Daniel and I had
arrived at the Embassy well ahead of the others and were leaning on the car studying a map of the region with Sam when Hemingway walked up. There were dark hollow circles under his eyes,
indicating he hadn't slept very well. We each greeted him, but he ignored us and took one look at the map spread out on the hood of the Mercedes and stalked away in a childish pout. I was rankled by this. He was probably angry because we hadn't waited for him to arrive before discussing what route to take and blamed me for this slight. I had never felt charitable toward the man on the best of
days and right then didn't feel charitable toward him at all and thought, screw him. Almost at the moment we had returned to studying the map, Katrina followed by the kid entered the compound. She greeted Sam and Daniel by name but just nodded curtly at me. The slight was obvious, and even the kid was embarrassed and shuffled in place while nodding a greeting at us. Daniel and Sam glanced at me out of the corners of their eyes, and what they were thinking was obvious; but they held their peace. I was glad of this because although they meant well, the wrong word very well might of
erupted into a full scale argument. "There's coffee inside," Sam said. Katrina nodded, and the kid dutifully followed after her. "You better work this out," Daniel said. "Wait a second," I replied. "No. No. This isn't up for discussion. We're entering a war zone, not a theme park. Work it out before we leave." I started to reply, but he was already studying the map. Sam pointed at the map and said something so I was forced to pay attention. But even though I returned to studying the map, I was angry. But Daniel was right, of course. The rift between Katrina and myself was troublesome. We were old friends, and in time we would both get over our anger. But time wasn't on our side. Too remain angry at each other while going off together into a war zone was stupid. Just stupid. The same held for Hemingway. So
despite my anger, I decided to have a talk with both of them before we left. There were a few minor details to tend to and
during the next hour we each attended to them. Several times I approached Katrina, but each time she huffily moved away from me. I also approached Hemingway. He was sitting off by himself jotting down notes and refused to acknowledge me. In short, he ignored me. And I was pissed enough to storm off. The kid, well I wasn't about to apologize to him. Because of my inability to connect with either Katrina or Hemingway, I was in a foul mood by the time we were almost ready to leave for Bucharest. But I wasn't the only one. There was a nervous tension evident in the air. Even Daniel had grown testy. Twice he snapped at me in response to an innocent question. Such behavior was unlike him and I was taken aback. But I didn't take it personally. I knew it wasn't only the rift between Hemingway, Katrina and myself. It was the trip. We all were rightfully
nervous about entering a war zone. A comedy of errors solved the problem for all of us. I had decided to confront Katrina even if it meant forcefully holding her down. I didn't particularly relish this and took a moment to look at the sky for courage. As I did so it started to pour. The ground in the compound was more dust then clay and within minutes, the earth turned sodden and muddy. Sam had been thoughtful enough to raid the Embassy canteen and had filled several large paper
bags with bottled water, chips, and cigarettes. He had set the bags on the ground while a maintenance man filled the Mercedes with fuel. As everybody else was busy checking their personal belongings, Sam and I and the kid made a mad dash for the bags. The kid slipped and skidded into the man pumping gas, knocking the hose from his hands. Like a very angry snake, the hose uncoiled wildly in the air while spewing out petrol. Just about the time Sam and I reached the bags, the kid regained control of the hose and red faced handed it to the maintenance man who himself was passing defensive looks saying see it wasn't his fault. This kid. This kid. By this time the kid was drenched, and his hair, previously looking like a hair stylist had groomed it, now lay flat on his head, little beads of water dripping in his eyes. He looked like a lost puppy, and I wanted to joke with him but wasn't sure how he would take it. And I would of joked with him had he been Daniel, or Sam or Katrina, or even Hemingway. So I felt sorry for him instead. It wasn't his fault. It was just an accident. He started to shuffle away. As I watched him, I knew I was wrong. Like it or not, he was one of us. And I couldn't treat him any different. "Hey mangy dog," I razzed, "Get over her and help carry these bags. He came running over, a lopsided smile on his face. As he hefted a bag, the gopher, who when it had begun to rain had ran back into the Embassy, returned carrying an umbrella. He marched
over to Sam, who was setting a bag in the Mercedes's trunk, and started to chastise him. The gopher was talking so fast that he tripped over his tongue mangling his words and it took a moment before I understood what he was saying. He was furious about the Mercedes. The car was new. Sam just couldn't loan this car out to non Embassy personal. There were other cars. This little speech seemed awfully long, especially considering it was raining. At last he demanded that Sam heed him or else he would take the problem to the Ambassador. "You're right," Sam calmly replied. "I am," the gopher replied, surprised. "Sure are partner." So right there with the rain pouring down, and the ground as muddy as the earth outside of hell's gate, Sam, who was wearing snake skin cowboy boots, proceeded to walk around the Mercedes, pause and kick at a fender or a door. There would be a loud bang, and instantly where the metal was once smooth, now lay a large dent like crevice. He did this numerous times before coming to a halt in front of the gopher. The gopher was so dumbstruck at what had happened, that he looked about to cry, yet at the same time ready to explode. "It ain't so new anymore!" Sam retorted, "Now get the hell out of here!"
Before the gopher could retreat, Daniel came over and circled the car, inspecting each ding and dent. The act seemed rather strange and we all held our ground while watching him. "You think of everything, Sam," he said at last. The statement failed to make any sense and Sam replied, "What!" "The car," Daniel replied. "We are supposed to be tourists. The car rented. Rental agencies never hand out perfect cars. They are always dented." This statement was so perfectly hilarious, we all broke out in loud raucous laughter. Daniel was in the dark as to why, but the laughter was infectious and soon joined in. Katrina and
Hemingway came over and attempted to ask what was so funny, but received only laughter in reply and soon started laughing
themselves. The gopher was frustrated, and attempted to speak, but only air spilled from his open mouth. We laughed harder at this, grabbing onto each other for support and balance. The laughter rendered the gopher impotent and he fled to the security of the Embassy. As our laughter died out, we disentangled from each other. As luck would have it, I clung to the kid, and Katrina to Hemingway. I had a hand on the kid's shoulder ready to offer him some inane comment about the gopher, when I noticed him staring away from me. He was staring at Katrina and Hemingway who had discovered
something of interest in each others eyes. I knew right away that they had rekindled their long ago romance. I patted Peter on the back. "Com'on lets go inside." Our shirts were too wet to wear, And Sam produced khaki shirts all around. We joked about how we each looked in khaki and in this spirit left for the front.
Chapter Forty Two.
Rain followed us all the way to Piblu, which according to Sam's map was a farming hamlet a few miles this side of the Rumanian boarder. The drive had been uneventful thus far. Perhaps because of the uncertainty, or perhaps because each of was afraid to express the fear we felt, we had avoided all talk of what lay ahead. Whatever the reason, the forestalling of a dreadful subject often leads to a light easy banter if only to maintain a safe distance from the unspeakable. Such it was with us. The atmosphere inside the car was relaxed, unconcerned, as if we really were tourist. Katrina, Hemingway and Peter sat in the rear. Katrina, and up until then I had forget how charming she could be,
entertained both her suitors and did so splendidly. That they both desired her played into her charms; often foolishly. And at times I wished I was one of Katrina's fools. I was once. But that was a long time ago. As they were preoccupied with themselves, this left plenty of time for Daniel and I to commiserate and we did so to the sounds of Mozart coming from the tape player and the rain tapping on the Mercedes tin roof. Since we had already caught up with each other on the fate of past comrades, this conversation was just that, two
old friends shooting the breeze and having all day to do so. We started out reminiscing about our early days spent in New York working nights on the city beat. We first dredged up old Phil Hawkens, the night editor. Old Phil never cussed. Didn't believe in it. The nearest he ever came to uttering a profanity was using the word: crime-uh-netly. As young journalists who had a tendency to infuriate, Daniel and I had incurred more then our share of 'Crime-uh-netly. So we highlighted the many occasions we had
earned old Phil's wrath. We mimicked him and the exasperation in his voice when yelling crime-uh-netly and about laughed ourselves silly in doing so. And in the end we concluded that old Phil had forgotten more about journalism then we had ever learned. From old Phil and the night shift on the city beat we moved on. Month by month we dredged up many memories and scores of moments and
people. Far too many to inscribe herein. But we laughed. We shook our heads. And we even shed a tear or two. I for one tremendously enjoyed this time more so then all our conversations, and at some point knew that I loved him as one does a brother and would cherish this ride if only for the time spent with him.
Chapter Forty Three.
At Piblu, the tone in the car quickly took on a more serious nature. We were all tired from being cooped up in the car and a discussion ensured on whether to stop to stretch our legs or risk detection by stopping at the first town we came to in Rumania. The vote was evenly divided, with Peter abstaining. Sam had broken up the trip into two parts. Budapest to Piblu. Piblu to Bucharest. By his calculations, the first leg of the journey should of taken four hours, and the last leg four. But the rain had slowed us some, and the ride into Piblu had taken almost five hours. Since I was both mapkeeper and timekeeper, I mentioned this. I added that there was of course a chance that we'd run into a roving border patrol and be turned away at the border. Katrina replied that were this to happen, it wouldn't matter one way or the other whether we stopped or not. Hemingway agreed with her, adding that if we got lucky and crossed undetached, then it was best to stick to the rural routes Sam had marked off and stop only if absolutely
necessary. Since their logic was flawless we decided to stop. This few moments of seriousness evaporated when Daniel, who had wanted to continue driving, joked about how much he loved to see democracy in action. Katrina just hooted, "Sore loser."
But it was all done in fun. Piblu was obviously a one horse farming community, and what there was of it stretched along the highway for all of a block. But one of the buildings appeared to house a cafe and Daniel guided the Mercedes to a halt there. A rusty pea green metal awning jutted out from it. A faded coke sign hung from the awning. A group of men loitered under the awning safely out of the rain. They were dark of feature, almost gypsy like, and stared at the car inquisitively. As we piled out of the Mercedes, a trace of fear and apprehension became evident. The men stuffed their hands in their pockets and assumed a defensive stance. As the rain was coming down quite hard, we all headed for the safety of the awning. An older man wearing overalls and a face lined like a road map stepped away from the group and forward. Daniel intercepted him. "J'o napot," Daniel said. "J'reggelt," the man replied. "Keresek egy Vendeglo." "Egy pillanat." The spokesman stepped back to the group of men and they conversed amongst themselves for a few seconds. I guess they found us to be no threat because the defensive stance they had assumed dissipated, and they once again took up positions of loitering;
and leaned against the building, or stooped, or lit a cigarette. The spokesman stepped aside and pointed at the door. "Vendeglo." "Koszonom," Daniel replied. He said to us. "Cafe." The woman who ran the cafe was as dark in feature as the men
and was obviously delighted that Daniel spoke Hungarian and fussed over us in a motherly fashion. The fare consisted of a rural Hungarian menu; stew was the main and only dish and this was heavily laced with paprika, and was served with heavy dark bread, and of course the local wine; Bull's blood. As if we really were tourists out for leisurely ride in the county, the atmosphere grew festive. Katrina continued playing the lady in waiting and
lavished attention on Peter and Hemingway; although it seemed Hemingway received the lions share. I was much surprised when halfway through the meal Peter asked for a glass of wine. He had stuck to mineral water or tea at the New York Cafe. I suppose he drank the wine to impress Katrina. Whatever the case, the second glass took some of the conservative Indiana starch out of him and he even joked on one occasion about how all Hungarian food was laced with Paprika. The woman who ran the cafe had been at the table refilling our coffee cups, and fearful about hurting her feelings even though she undoubtedly didn't speak english, waited until she had gone into the kitchen before adding with a perfect straight face, "And God this wine will scorch the varnish right off you're teeth."
This was such a radical departure from his yes sir no sir attitude that I laughed for this reason alone. "Better take it slow on the wine," Katrina cautioned. "It's just wine," Peter replied and ordered another. Katrina as a mother was a new and delightful experience to me and I laughed aloud, as did Daniel and Hemingway. The experience was new to her also, and after a moment of looking playfully rueful, she laughed along. I can't say how long we sat there playing the happy tourist while the woman who ran the cafe refilled the wine and coffee cups. I do know it was too long because when I went to use the bathroom and returned Katrina and Hemingway were gone. The woman who ran the cafe was sitting at a table along with a girl of about seventeen and they both giggled when they saw me looking around for Katrina and Hemingway. I did not mistake their giggles for the tell tell dribble down the front of my pants. I returned to the table where Peter sat slumped in his chair looking as miserable as a young man could possibly look. And I didn't need a translator to know what had happened. But to clue me in on what was going on, Daniel directed his eyebrows to the ceiling. The woman who ran the cafe and her helper giggled at this. I groaned inwardly. I had forgot Katrina spoke fluent
Hungarian. I glanced
at Peter. If misery were money, Peter was a
wealthy man right now. But I couldn't fault Katrina and Hemingway.
They had awakened their long ago torrid romance. And they were entering a war zone, and this might be the last chance either one of them might have to touch the other. I would of done the same in their position. Still I felt bad for Peter. First Jean, now
Hemingway. This was a hell of a way to grow up. "Don't you think it's time to shove off?" "Past time," Daniel responded, "I'll go roust them." As we had a few minutes before they returned, I expected Peter to use me as a sounding board. To bitch about the injustice of it all. To curse Katrina. To rail against Hemingway. He
refrained, and instead just sat there, a sad glum clown smile on his face. I was very proud of him for this. He was very polite when a few minutes later Katrina returned; her hair askew, the khaki shirt she wore wrinkled. He even attempted a joke, something about how one could see better from the second floor; a bit strained yes, but it was there. Fortunately she wasn't
condescending. Nor was she apologetic in any way. She simply treated him the same as before even going so far as to crook her arm in his as we left the cafe. Daniel audacity. and I glanced at each other, both amazed at the
Chapter Forty Four.
From the moment we left the cafe whatever emotions, ill and otherwise, stayed on the table along with the dishes and empty glasses. I had hoped that the rain had diminished, but when we stepped outside the rain was coming down as strong as ever and I for one immediately felt a chill. I mentioned this and the second Daniel fired up the Mercedes he turned the heater on. But the chill clung all the way to the Rumanian boarder. Expecting to run into border guards, we all held a collective breath here. But we freely, and much to our surprise, crossed the border into Rumania without so much as a peep from the Rumanian boarder guards. Sam's information had been correct, and Hemingway, his voice rift with relief, noted as much. I numbly nodded. Then to feel superior to our fears, we joked and laughed for all of a minute. Then we fell silent and studied the scenery, much in the way tourists will do when crossing over a state line. And if there was a change in the scenery, the flat yellow earth that had been apparent for the past fifty miles or so, I failed to notice it. But I really wasn't watching the scenery so much as I was listening. And I was sure I heard the soft far away thud of artillery fire. But it was
difficult to tell for sure...the noise could of just as easily been attributed to distant thunder. When I looked at Daniel to confirm my suspicions, his face said it all. They also were quiet in the back seat and I knew they were thinking the same. For the next several hours we were tense and almost silent. Not because of what had happened at the cafe, but because the closer we arrived to Bucharest, the more real the war and possible discovery became for us. I felt isolated during this time, alone with my thoughts, and found myself staring for long periods out the window. The road outside the Mercedes seemed to me as isolated as my thoughts. Not a living thing moved out there. The pastures were void of all livestock and the fields sat fallow. The villages we went through were empty of people and the ramshackle houses themselves were dark and somber looking. Only twice did a car appear from the opposite direction and each time Daniel pulled into the underbrush along side the road, doused the head lights, and waited for the oncoming car to pass. The rain had stopped the first time this had occurred, but still a gray daylight filled out the sky. We all held our breath as the car passed by us. Although the rain had ceased, the earth was wet and sodden, and Daniel had a bitch of a time getting the car back on the road. The second time Daniel pulled off the road it was dark, and I was dreamily listening to the music coming from the tape player. The oncoming headlights invaded the windshield, and I reacted by throwing my head to one side as if punched.
Chapter Forty Five.
By the time we reached Arges, a small town about ten miles outside of Bucharest according to the map Sam had supplied us, the sky far ahead was rift with tracers. Daniel pulled to the side of the road here and cut the headlights. The darkness outside
immediately and intimately drew us in to its protective fold until there was only the dark and Vivirdi' Four Season's on the tape player. The light show ahead had a mystical magical quality to it, and we sat for a few minutes entranced as silver tails rocketed up from far ahead into the sky and burst into fiery orange balls. After a while Peter commented, "So that's what the face of war looks like from afar." The interior of the Mercedes offered only the dim lighting from the dashboard; shadows and lines, but in this atmosphere Daniel turned in the seat and looked at Peter. "Yeah," he replied, "Just like the fourth of July Parade in Little Town Indiana. Only real."
Chapter Forty Six.
During those last ten miles into Bucharest each of us busied ourself with whatever personal preparations we deemed important. As I didn't have any particular preparation to make, I, to busy myself, watched them. I saw Katrina open up the pitiful Brownie and inspect it and load film. She was very methodical, never once deviating from her task by looking at the road or the carnage taking place in the sky far ahead. Hemingway had brought a
briefcase and from it he took a note pad and went from page to page inserting a single pencil mark; and I guessed, correctly as it turned out, that he was penciling in page numbers. He was also methodical about the task. Peter just stared out the window; and in the darkness his image looked back at him scared and
frightened. This was his first time, I thought, and like a virgin was unsure of himself and of his role and how he would perform. We would look out for him, I knew. Daniel had the best task of all and I envied him this. He drove, and by doing so occupied all of his concentration. We had avoided detection so far and he had taken the extra added precaution of dousing the headlights. But it was dark, and the road twisted and curved, and he had to lean forward in the seat and scrutinize the road to keep from veering
off into a ditch. Once Daniel turned on the headlights and almost brought the car to a halt, saying he saw a human shadow crouched on the road in front of the car, but it turned out to be a pitifully thin dog who, frightened by the headlights, scampered away. As I mentioned, I didn't have any particular preparation to make and after growing tired of watching the others I stared out the window and found myself examining my feelings and was still doing so when we crossed over the Zibrinskie river via a bridge into Bucharest proper. The street lamps were out and the only light came from tracers rocketing overhead. Daniel slowed the Mercedes to a crawl here, and the slow movement of the car
afforded time for my eyes to adjust to the lack of street lights. The street was residential and was lined with single story frame houses. A plume of black smoke arose from several burning houses. A mile further up Daniel drove over the curb and in to the hulk of a burned out house. The tires kicked up dust and spewed out fragments of bricks. He pulled deep into the recesses of the building Mercedes. "Someone write down the name of the street so we know where the hell we're at," he said while shutting off the engine. until the street was hidden from view. As was the
"For all the good it will do," Hemingway cracked, "What's left of this rat trap is about to crumble. You plan on digging the car out." At the prospect a slight shudder passed through Peter's body. "I hope you brought hiking shoes," Daniel commented. "I'll write down the street name," Peter replied. "Let's go," I said. "Amen," Katrina thinly joked. As we intended on traveling light, it only took five minutes for us to gather our gear. A bitter cold hit us the moment we stepped from the car and we all turned up our collars to ward off the wind. The house, such as it was, offered slight protection, and we were reluctant to leave its safety. But at last we did so and skirted We the the edge of the building shadows for until of we reached building life. the and This
precaution proved unnecessary. There was nothing but an eerie deserted silence out there. And it was evident that whatever fighting had transpired in this part of town had taken place long before we had arrived. And as evidenced by the echo of gun fire and the occasional rocket bursting in the sky, the combatants had moved to the City Center. Daniel broke away from the building out onto the sidewalk and circled his hand over his eyes and as if peering from a pair of binoculars searched up and down the street. After a few seconds of
this, he returned to the shadows and explained the route we would take. "The Bulevardul Ana Ipatescu lies four blocks up. Another half mile and the Bulevardul intersects with the Palace Square and the University distract. There we can hook up with the
revolutionist. Sound good?" "Sure," Hemingway replied. "Katrina?" "Yeah." For a second, I thought he was going say more, perhaps a pep talk of the kind given by a coach before a game, and perhaps he was because he grinned at whatever he was thinking and moved onto the sidewalk. We all followed. Katrina and Hemingway walked side by side discussing in whispers. And it didn't take a crystal ball to guess what they were saying. They were lovers now and
undoubtedly intended on sharing the writing of their dispatches. And why not. Daniel and I intended on doing the same. I did wonder who in the end would include Peter. Probably Katrina. Daniel was a few feet in front of them, moving slow and easy, his head
swiveling, checking out everything around us. Peter and I brought up the rear. "Do you think the building will fall on the car," he asked, worried. "No." "But Hem..."
"He was just releasing tension." "Stupid." "No.It helps." Questions born of fear of the unknown were rampant in him, I was sure. But he was either too embarrassed to probe further, or was considerate enough to forgo inflicting them on me. The rain we had encountered earlier during the ride had left the streets of Bucharest wet and pint sized puddles were
everywhere. Mindless of the puddles, we proceeded cautiously, and stayed close to the buildings. It was quite chilly, but by the time we had gone three blocks, I was perspiring. The destruction was similar to what lay behind us. A few buildings were burned out hulks, while others were left standing, but were dark inside. The streets were also void of all life, not even a stray dog or cat. I briefly supposed that people huddled within the houses left
standing, in cellars, closets and under beds. But I didn't pay this much thought. I had other concerns. Fear foremost of them.
Chapter Forty Seven.
The moment we turned onto Bulevardul Ana Ipatescu we came face to face with the aftermath of a fearsome battle and the destruction here was almost apocalyptic. The Bulevardul Ana
Ipatescu began the commercial district that would feed us into the City Center, and was lined with large drab gray buildings. The Bulevardul was wide, an easy six lanes across, and scores of cars and trams lay scattered as if tossed there by some unseen giant. Corpses were strewn everywhere. So were the carcass of dead dogs and cats. The sight that made Peter literally lose his lunch was a young man; maybe fifteen or sixteen. The youth sat, his back resting against a bus stop pole, his brown hair curling down over his forehead, a soft smile frozen on his dead lips. Sitting there, he looked to be waiting for the A bus to take him uptown where his girlfriend lived. I had no idea what had happened to his legs. At the sight of all this destruction, Peter had twirled in a circle scanning everything all at once. He must of missed the boy, because he rested a hand on the street pole where the boy lay and lowered his head in despair and in doing so caught sight of him. Peter's entire body quivered as if he had the flu. I saw him
swallow hard twice, then his chest violently heaved and the lunch from the cafe spilled over the kid. Katrina and Hemingway were busy snapping pictures and hadn't seen this. But Daniel and I had and the fact that Peter had thrown up all over the kid would of been funny if played out in some surrealistic movie or play, but as it was it made the scene ever the more tragic. Out of embarrassment for Peter, Daniel turned away. I did likewise, wishing I hadn't witnessed the scene. Not because the act was gross. It was and wasn't. I wish I hadn't because I was incapable of such feelings. But I also knew that a feeling of sadness and loss for the dead would come much much later; probably while sitting back in New York City watching some inane television show.
Chapter Forty Eight.
If there had been a vibrancy, a fullness to Peter, and such was abundantly evident when he had first danced into the Embassy, the sight of the legless boy emptied it, spilling all such
innocence at his feet.
He, without joy, feeling, or even pain or
fear, walked woodenly as we cautiously continued moving toward the City Center. I wanted to console him, but didn't. This was neither the time nor the place. We had traveled a few blocks up Bulevardul Ana Ipatescu, the destruction similar to what lay behind us, when we came close enough to the City Center to hear sporadic fire from semi-
automatic rifles. Above us tracers from rockets and artillery fire lit the sky. There was also the elongated shadows of men darting between the buildings. I think it was the shadows that convinced Daniel to change course. Whatever the reason, and he didn't
explain this decision at the time, he grouped us all together and instructed us to follow him across Bulevardul Ana Ipatescu. He waited just long enough for us to nod, then he was gone, a half crouched figure running.
I grabbed Peter's arm and darted along in a half crouch behind Daniel to the a other side of the zag pattern street. He continued two burned out
buildings. I wasn't sure whether Katrina and Hemingway followed, but I, with Peter in tow, did, dancing over bricks and twice barely veering in time to miss stepping on a dead body. By the time we came out onto the next street over, I was gasping for breath and hunched over and stole a second to breath. When I looked up, I saw that the street was residential and was lined with fourteenth century brownstones. I continued behind Daniel up the street, and was surprised when he just disappeared. One moment he was one of the many shadows, and the next gone. Because of the trees and the brownstones, the street had a darker hue to it then the Bulevardul and everywhere I looked stick like shadowy figures greeted me. I knew that most were tree branches, but others were undoubtedly people. I finally worked out the route he had taken, and this took all of second, by the angle he had ran. I was sure that he had cut between two brownstones on the opposite side of the street. So I followed, hoping I was correct. I was and was relieved when I came out into a wooded area. The area seemed familiar and suddenly I knew where we were at and silently commended Daniel for his course of action. He had thought to bypass the obvious fighting on the Bulevardul and had lead us into the Cismigiu Gardens.
Sound strategy, I thought. There was nothing to fight for here. This was a park and a Botanical garden. During the day lovers walked hand in hand and gazed at the trees and flowers. During the night lovers walked hand in hand and gazed at the trees and the flowers. When the lovers grew tired of this, they
meandered a path that led to the Zibrinskie river and gazed at the water. When they grew tired of this they went somewhere and made love. Yes, there was nothing to fight for here. The war and the hate were outside. This was a sanctuary, and also a place to regroup and go on. As it turned out, I was wrong. Katrina and Hemingway were a few feet behind us, and had no sooner caught up, each gasping for breath, when angry shouts came from a few feet away. The voices froze us in our tracks. Daniel held a quieting finger to his lips and silently moved off to investigate and returned a moment later. "Four men," he whispered, and indicated by pointing beyond the bushes, "They seem to be having a jolly good time beating on an old man. Taking turns kicking him. We can bypass them by going along the river. About a half mile up the river we can cut back and come out in the University district." "I want to get a picture of the men beating the old man," Katrina whispered. "Not enough light," Daniel said.
"Use a lit cigarette as a infrared light. You hold it just over the perimeter of the shutter a moment before I snap the picture," Katrina replied. This would work, I knew. It was an old trick used mostly during World war two when the photo technology wasn't what it was today. Although the tip of the cigarette would leave a shadow ghost on the negative, this could be erased during developing. "Let's do it," Daniel replied. "You people are mad," Peter said before Katrina and Daniel could move, "All you care about is a damn picture. What about the old man. Huh. What about him. There's four of us. Huh. What about him. What the fuck about him!" Yes indeed, I thought, what about the old man. Well the old man wasn't our concern. We were there to observe. Not choose sides. For all we knew, the old man could be a member of the Securitate and had tortured and killed many people over the years. He could also be an innocent bystander caught up in the chaos of war. But whatever he was, he wasn't our concern. I was about to explain this to Peter, but by then we had lingered far too long. I don't know if we had whispered too loud, or if one of the men had stepped into the bushes to relieve himself, and had seen us, or what. But they came at us quickly. There were two of them, both about Peter's age. They poked guns at us and issued harsh orders. Daniel Translated. They wanted us to go. Now! Move! Now! Go! Go! Go! Go!
resistance was out of the question. And we meekly marched to the clearing where the old man lay in a fetal position on the grass. He was beaten bad, bruises and gashes peppered his face, and he didn't appear to be breathing, but it was dark; maybe, who knew. Two men other then the two who had brought us stood over the old man. Their eyes had a crazed look, their hands were clenched into fists and their hard fast breath plumed smoke like in the cold air. They liked inflecting violence, I thought, and like a junkie, were high on it. "Thugs," I remarked. This remark cost me a rifle butt across the kidneys. The
blow doubled me over, and so intense was the pain, that I almost fell to the ground, but managed at the last moment to stay upright by digging the souls of my heels into the earth. I was too angry to be afraid right then and felt a small satisfaction at not falling. As I stood there gasping for breath, Daniel spoke in Rumanian. He used the word Americans several times, and was very forceful in what he was saying. I knew he was trying to bluff them, and I hoped it worked. But it didn't. The same man who had used the rifle butt on me, did likewise to Daniel, only more forcefully, swinging the rifle like a baseball bat. The blow caught Daniel square across the back and he instantly crumbled to the ground, brought his knees to his chest and withered and moaned
in pain. The man found this delightfully funny and laughed, as did his comrades. The louder Daniel moaned, his knees curled up to his stomach, the more derisive and taunting their laughter grew. Katrina said something to them, and they allowed her to help Daniel up. My pain had lessened by this time, and I made a move to assist her, but was waved back by the man who had struck me. "No," Katrina cautioned. I nodded and resumed my position next to Peter and Hemingway. The men sneered at me. I knew what the sneer meant, but didn't add any credence to it. At this point my interference would only make a situation that Katrina was quite capable of handling worse, possibly resulting in one of us beaten or killed. That they were men who enjoyed inflicting violence, was
evident, but they were also cautious men. On one hand we spoke english, yet two of our party also spoke Rumanian. Also as a group of four we poised a far greater threat then one old man. So although they taunted us, they weren't about to give us a chance to over power them, and did so from arms length while Katrina helped Daniel up and over to where we stood. They exercised
further caution by raising their weapons and grouping us into tight knit circle. Satisfied, they stepped a few feet away and talked amongst themselves. I assumed our fate was under discussion and in short whispers Daniel confirmed this. "They can't decide whether to kill us here
and rape Katrina or take us elsewhere and do the deed." Although this news wasn't particularly shocking, hearing it spelled out was unsettling. Had our tormenters been the army, or even the Securitate, I would of attempted to bluff my way out. But these were obviously just common ruffians taking advantage of the chaos of war. So I decided to make a stand right there and hoped to over power them. I wasn't a particularly physical man, but I
had acquired enough street savvy from the years spent in New York City and elsewhere to knew better then to allow idiots such as these to take us to some deserted building. Although it was dark, I could see Daniel thought along the same lines. So did Katrina, and I couldn't blame her. The thought of these louts invading her was reason enough. But Peter and Hemingway were another matter. I knew Peter was a gamer, but one look told me the current turn of events had thrown him into shock. He'd be no use to us. Neither would Hemingway. He had lost his usual bravado and smart comebacks and in fact had not uttered a word while the thugs had detained us. I saw now that he was white faced. Poor Hem, I thought, he had come all this way hoping to resurrect a career, and instead had discovered something more daunting than flying saucers and one legged rifles. cows. He had discovered reality, and reality carried
Whatever they had in store for us, and what resistance we could muster became academic when six men wearing army uniforms emerged from the bushes. They also carried semi-automatic rifles and issued harsh orders in Rumanian. They didn't appear to notice us, but then we were standing off to one side, and their attention was understandably focused on the four men and the rifles they carried. For all of us there time was moving forward very quickly and I only had time to notice the man who had hit me before all hell broke loose. The man smiled and raised his rifle. The action was very slight, as if the man was testing the seriousness of the situation. But one of the soldiers saw the movement and issued another harsh command. By this time the man who had hit me had managed to raise his rifle to his waist. He fired a short loud burst and the soldier who had issued the command fell to the ground. One of the other soldiers fired, and the man who had hit me slid downward before my eyes in excoriating slow motion. Before he hit the ground, he looked my way and a confused confession passed from his eyes to mine. I believe he died right then because his eyes became milky and clouded over. This short battle had a hypnotic effect and a confused stand off ensured. Wherein a second earlier time had moved too fast to control current events, now time stood at a virtual standstill. The three remaining men and the five soldiers didn't see us. They only stared at each other in stunned disbelief. I was
unquestionably stunned and was able only to stare in disbelief at the bullet riddled body of the man who had hit me. Unbelievable as it seemed to me, I experienced a moment of irritation at this idiot and wanted to throttle him for placing me in such jeopardy. The moment of irritation passed as quickly as the standoff and both groups began firing away at each other. The nose from the rifles was deafening. "Lets get the hell out of here," I heard Daniel shout. I was momentary confused and turned unsure of which way to run. I saw Katrina crouched and snapping pictures of the battle and couldn't help thinking she was the consummate
professional..and a fool.
A second later I lost sight of her as
smoke from the discharging semi-automatic rifles clouded the air. I yelled out to her, then moved to my right and almost tripped over the old man who had risen up on all fours and was crawling toward the bushes. A half second later I saw Katrina spring up from her crouching position and grab Peter and disappear into the bushes. "The old man!" Daniel yelled. I gave him the thumbs up sign and on a dead run we reached for the old man. Although he wasn't our concern, we couldn't leave him. He was crouched on all fours and had just about cleared the first bank of bushes. We each gripped an arm, and yanked him upright. The old man didn't weight very much and he readily
allowed us to half carry him and half drag him. In the confusion, I hadn't seen Hemingway and hoped he had followed us.
Chapter Forty Nine.
We ran for all we were worth, our legs pumping under us, our breath coming in lung burning gasps, through the open space of the gardens for about a half mile before reaching a bank of bushes that led to a street. We fell to our knees and crawled through the dirt until we reached the bushes. I separated a few branches and saw the medieval bell tower for Piata University and knew where we were at. In our confusion we had cut through the center of
Cismigiu Gardens and were about to come out on Calea Victoriei street. And it was also evident that we were only blocks away from the main battle for the city. Rocket fire and tracers that we had gazed at from afar now seemed to whistle overhead at almost tree length. Tanks rumbled up the street, firing at will. The constant barrage was so loud it hurt the ears. Strangely, this was where we had been headed. But the fighting here was very fierce. There was no way to get through to the University. Just no way. I had to yell above the noise to be heard as I mentioned this to Daniel. Daniel and I still held the old man, and Daniel roughly pulled us back into the bushes out of all view. I was glad to see Hemingway and Katrina and Peter already crouched there.
screamed, but he sounded like he was whispering, "Reaching the University is out. So we're going to follow the bank of bushes until we come out on Bulevardul GH. I know the area. Plenty of houses. We'll search for a house to spend the night at. We'll carry the old guy. Hem, you stay between Katrina and Peter. Let's go." "What if we get lost or separated?" Peter asked. "No questions." "We won't," Katrina assured. "But." "I said no questions," Daniel said. "We go. Now! Now!"
Minutes later we left the safety of the park. The battle seemed all around us now. Rockets screamed overhead. At one point a burst of semi-automatic fire was directed our way. But luck was with us, and the bullets hit the pavement, kicking up a cloud of dust. But the near miss increased our adrenalin and we continued running, our knees pumping up to our chest, the old man carried along by Daniel and myself; Katrina, Hemingway and Peter staying at our sides. We checked, desperately so, all the doors to the houses as we went, turning the handles, pounding, shouting,
screaming, even pleading. At one house we paused because Daniel thought he had seen a human face at the window. He pounded at the door. We waited. No response. We continued running. Right then the shelling and gunfire ceased. A quietude invaded. A second later came the eerie graveyard cry of a mother, a wife, a woman, for a loved one now more than likely buried deep within the cold dank dead earth, "Andre, dinner is getting cold. Please come home.
Please. Dinner is ready." The last human voice we had heard aside from our own had been the thugs at the gardens and for a moment the sound of a human
voice froze us in our tracks. We listened in this fashion as her cry echoed along the dead streets where everyone who had an ounce of sense was already at home hiding in cellars or had fled the city and this madness. "Lets go," Daniel said, "Let's go." So we continued running. After many blocks, we stopped beside a house, each of us too weak to go on. We pounded on the door, but there was no answer. We discussed in whispers whether to force our way in or not. This discussion seemed stupid to me. There really wasn't much choice. The old man was too weak to go on, and for that matter so was I. I said as much. As I said this a shell burst up the block. Dissent was out of question. "The cellar," Daniel said, "In back. Probably a door leading down to it." We quickly circled the side of the house until we came to the rear and a gray door leading into the cellar. Katrina crouched and cautiously opened it and peered into its mouth of darkness. "Looks empty," she said, looking at us. "Call out in Rumanian," Daniel instructed, "Explain we are Americans. Need shelter. Do it now." Katrina did so. I held my breath expecting an angry response. But only silence greeted her. "Go," Daniel ordered. "What if they're waiting down there," Peter said, "They may have guns."
"Got to chance it," Daniel replied. "We can't stay here and we can't keep running. Eventually our luck will run out. Go." The logic was sound and Peter and Katrina cautiously threaded the stairs down into the cellar. Daniel and I followed and helped the old man down the stairs. Hemingway brought up the rear. The cellar was a small cube like area roughly eight feet by nine feet. I glanced around for windows. There were none. I did notice a stairway leading up into the interior of the house and fleetingly wondered if there were people home. Daniel and I eased the old man so he was resting on the earthen floor, his back against the cellar wall. We huddled next to him. Katrina sat next to me. Hemingway sat next to her and draped a comforting arm around her shoulder. Like a frightened cat, Peter paced from one end of the cellar to the other. Although the cellar was dusty and damp and dark, I felt safe for the first time in a long time. The secure feeling I felt fled when a moment later a massive barrage of artillery fire rang out. At first there was just one or two shells, then the shells came bold and steady. Then there was a pause. I didn't feel so safe any longer. "Shit," I muttered. At the sound of my voice, Peter ceased pacing and sighed out loud, "I don't like that sound." Before anyone could agree, or disagree the shelling resumed, pouring from the night outside, yet this time unsure, hesitant, as
if the shells had lost the freedom they had strove so hard to find.
Chapter Fifty One.
The shelling was unnerving, yes, but to just sit in the dark and listen was to invite insanity into the room. There was an old cabinet and some metal shelving in the cellar. So to give
Hemingway and Peter something to do other then stand around and listen to the shelling, I instructed they search for blankets or candles. They did so obediently. Katrina realized the importance of doing something, anything, and attended to the old man. Daniel and I discussed whether anybody was home in the house. If so, then they had undoubtedly already heard us rummaging around and were as frightened as we were. We decided to chance going into the house. Too do so was risky. Frightened people often reacted without thinking. On the other hand to sit and wonder about them was a greater evil. We discussed how to go about this and decided to utilize the same tactic Daniel had used upon entering the cellar. He'd speak softly in Rumanian to calm any fears the people might have. We hadn't consulted the others and I quickly explained what we planned to Katrina. Her only response was to be careful. I didn't need to be told that, but appreciated hearing it just the
same. We took the stairway leading up cautiously. The door opened freely, and the moment we stepped inside, Daniel began a constant stream of chatter. But the house turned out to be empty, not even a speck of furniture. A thick layer of dust on the floors
indicated a long period of vacancy. I had held my breath all the while and I whistled while releasing it. "I'm a nervous wreck." "Me too." We searched for blankets and food and were half lucky and found a stack of eight wool blankets in a linen closet. Before heading to the cellar, we paused in the living room and stared out the window. The shelling was taking place a few blocks away and the street outside seemed peaceful enough. "How are you?" "Fine," he replied, "The flight jacket absorbed most of the blow." He smiled. "I was faking for time. E'tu?" "Hurt like hell at the time. But now. The run. The war." "Yes." "What do you think?" "If it was just you and I or Katrina," he said after a moments consideration, "I'd say we continue on. But now. No. Spend the night here and see what's what in the morning." There was no need to reply. He was right. "What do you make of what happened in the park?" "Thugs."
fighting who. Rumania is a dictatorship and the nature of such restricts the possession of firearms. Yet they seem to be in plentiful supply, indicating the army fighting the army, the
Securitate fighting the Securitate, and the population feeding off of both and in revolt. If this is the case, then this whole god damn city is up for grabs." "I know," he replied. He paused as if about to say more. He smiled and shrugged. "Yeah, me to," I answered. The cellar was well lit when we returned. Peter and Hemingway had found three boxes of candles and had lit them and placed them on the earthen floor in a tight circle for heat. They huddled near them warming their hands. The old man was awake, and appeared to be shivering. Daniel and I sat and passed out the blankets.
Katrina took two and tucked them around the old man. He thanked her with his eyes. Back at the Gardens, I hadn't paid much
attention to him, but I did so now. He was woefully thin, almost skeletal. But even in this state, their was a genteelness about him, and I wondered what had brought him to the Gardens. Why go outside in this chaos. Was he a flower freak. "I take it we're spending the night here?" Hemingway asked. "It's best," the man said in english before Daniel or I could respond. Even in the confines of the cellar, a natural echo
through to rise
whisper, but we all heard him and turned his way. "Madness walks the streets tonight. A madness birthed onto a country twenty years ago by a madman." "Who are you?" Katrina asked. "I could ask the same of you," he answered. He would of said more but coughed up blood choking off his words. "Take it easy," Peter cautioned. Although it took obvious effort, the old man turned his way. "You are young. You have much time to, as you put it, to take it easy." "We are American journalist," I said. "Ah, this explains why you were at the park. Lost, huh." "You could say this," Daniel replied. "Yes. And I did. I was there to walk in the park. Foolish I know. But I had not walked in the park for a long while. A very long while." "You're from the V.I. Lenin prison," Katrina stated. "Yes. I came from the V.I. Lenin political prison," He
answered, "How did you know?" "You are thin. Your clothes." "Ah, you've been in Bucharest before?" "Yes." "So now I am a desperado and you are afraid?"
"I am sorry, no," Katrina replied, "But in any case I didn't mean to infer." "No need. Besides there is enough fear outside," he replied and smiled. "But twenty years ago I would of thought the same. The police take a man off the street and I assumed he had done something wrong. But then it happened to me. The same happens in America, no. People do nothing when the police take a man off the street. They think he had done something wrong, yes. Funny, isn't it." Even though it wasn't, Katrina smiled to show it was. "You have a cigarette? Please." Daniel took a cigarette from the pack in the pocket of his flight jacket, lit it and handed it to the old man. The old man coughed as he pulled on it, but didn't seemed to mind. "How such a thing can be so good," he said. "Well. You wouldn't have whiskey." He had spoken to Daniel. "No," Daniel replied, "War and whiskey. I didn't bring any. Sorry." "He usually does," I said. "Yes," he replied," I can see as much. Well no need." "Why were you in the Gardens?" I asked. "Like I said. To walk in the park. Twenty years is a long time, no."
"But the war," Peter said, "Why not wait." "Like I said you are young. Some things can not wait." He saw that Peter did not understand, and as I watched the way in which he studied Peter, I knew then that he had been a teacher of the young. "My young friend, three hours ago I shared cell number ten with two other prisoners. I spent twenty years in this cell, and in this time had only gone out once and that was to bury a comrade." His eyes grew misty at this, and he shrugged, "Anyway, my cell mates and I could see from our barred window, the
Zibrinskie river through the trees that lined the shore. Due to a hunger strike over a prisoner who had died under suspicious
circumstances, the river had remained a topic of conversation over the past several days. Nicolau, a fisherman on the outside, longed for a very long fishing pole. He proclaimed rather boastfully
that with a long enough pole, he could thread the line through the gaps between the trees and into the water and in no time at all yank out a big fat wiggling trout. I teased him that even if he had a long pole, and even if he could thread the line through the trees, and even if a big fat trout was stupid enough to give up its freedom for a fool locked away in prison, how the devil would he cook the darn fish. "Eat the damn fish raw." But it was later now, and we had put such foolish bantering away as we stretched out on the cold dank floor and searched for Ional, a laborer, just laughed and said,
warmth beneath the blankets. Ional had been lying there for about an hour, but the cold and hunger, and the overhead light that burned continuously day and night kept him awake. He couldn't remember the light bothering him before. But it did now. It just seemed to glare at him. Just glare. He scooted over to where I lay and asked in a whisper so he would not wake Nicolau who was snoring loudly in the far corner of the cell if I was awake. "Yes," I answered back, "That damn light. Never bothered me before." "Same here," Ional replied. "Yes," I answered. "You think the strike will work?" "What's to work?" "Nothing?" "Right." "We don't strike for the prisoners who died?" "No." "We don't even know his name do we?" "No." "Besides he's dead." "Yes," I answered. "We starve for honor than?" "No."
"No?" "No." "We starve because we are men, no?" "No," I replied. I could see he was confused. He raised up on one elbow. The light glared at him and he used his hand to shield the glare so he could better see me. "Then why?" "Because it makes us feel like men." "Ah," Ional said as if he understood and lay back down. After a while he said, "Are you afraid we will starve to death?" "No." "What than?" I raised up on one elbow and mindless of the glare, stared in earnest at Ional. Ional was only nineteen and was younger then me by thirty years, and I knew this was why he was asking so many questions. This and fear. But I also knew it was the privilege of youth and fear to ask questions. "Are you afraid we will starve to death?" "Yes," he answered. "So eat. This is what the guards want." "I know. But I am still afraid." "Yes," I answered and lay down, "So am I." "Of what?" he asked.
"Of never walking through a park again. Never watching the old men playing chess, the lovers walking hand in hand, the young tossing a ball. I am afraid of all this." Ional didn't think that never walking in a park again was as fearsome as starving to death and said as much. I said nothing. I pulled the blanket tight around me and just thought: Yes to never walk in the park again is fearful my young friend.
Chapter Fifty Two.
"So you see my young American friend, this is why when hours ago the cell doors were thrown open and all the prisoners freed that I went to walk in the park. This and fear." The old man had spoken barely above a whisper and the telling of his story had exhausted him and he closed his eyes. For a few minutes his breath was labored, then a few seconds later grew shallow and I knew that he slept. The cigarette had almost burned down to his fingers and Daniel gently took it from him and crushed it out. We didn't want to wake the old man and sat silently huddled around the candles, our fingers clutching the blankets tight
around us. His story had touched each of us, and as the night wore on we gazed at the candles. Every time a shell burst outside, the candles flickered and we would glance away from them to the old man. But he slept, undisturbed by the noise or the flickering candles.
Chapter Fifty Three.
At some point during the night the shelling tapered off, growing less and less frequent, and less disturbing, permitting me a twilight sleep. I awoke suddenly from this sleep and instantly when Daniel shook me. The dampness in the cellar seemed to of invaded my bones and I shivered. He pointed to a window barely large enough for a small child to crawl through. The beginning rays of dawn filtered through years of accumulated dirt. I hadn't seen the window before, and was mildly annoyed to see it now. But the annoyance was overshadowed by the relief that we had survived the night. "The shelling has stopped," he said, "So let's get the hell out of here." We had lingered well beyond our deadline and I, my voice husky, readily agreed. Although we had failed to hook up with the
revolutionist, we had enough to write a hell of a dispatch and include pictures to boot. It was time to head back to the Mercedes and to Budapest before something else happened to us. I had slept all doubled over and as I stirred, shaking the chill from my cramped muscles, I saw that the others had fallen
asleep also. Peter slept hunched over with his legs crossed and his head in his lap. I had expected to find Hemingway and Katrina curled up next to each other, but they slept apart; Katrina curled up on her side, and Hemingway flat on his back. I guess he had fallen out of favor as quickly as he had fallen into grace. Such was life. Only the old man slept sitting upright. I briefly
supposed that prison life had conditioned him to such hardships. One by one Daniel and I awoke them, muttering it was day break and time to leave. As I reached to gently awake the old man, wondering at the time what was to become of him, he fell to one side. He had died in his sleep, and as I stood there looking at him, I was suddenly very tired of Eastern Europe. "The old man is dead," I announced. Although the news affected us all, Katrina sobbed, Daniel angrily kicked at the ground, and Hemingway looked away, the old man's death affected Peter most of all. He kneeled next to the old man. I expected him to cry, but instead he went through his pockets. I didn't have a clue as to what he was looking for. But when he came up empty, he touched the old man's hand and stared sadly at his face. "We never know your name," he said. Katrina lay a comforting hand on Peter's shoulder. "We have to leave him," Hemingway said. "No we're not," Peter replied, "We're taking him back to the Gardens."
"Be sensible kid," Hemingway said. "We're not leaving him!" It was crazy, but I agreed with Peter and said as much. "Get a life," Hemingway sneered As distasteful as Hemingway was to me, I was glad to see him back to his old blustery self as opposed to a walking zombie. But he knew better then to object. Or he should of. There was an unwritten code in the fourth estate: you never left your own for the jackals to pick over if you could help it. I supposed that Hemingway could argue that the old man wasn't one of us. But he was. Sitting there, I honestly believed that the old man had
known he was dying, and because Peter was young, had made an effort to share a lifetime of knowledge in a few minutes. But in doing so he had left a part of himself with each of us and I wasn't about to leave him in that dirty dank cellar. I didn't care what the consequences were. Or what Hemingway said. I guess Hemingway read this in my face because he declined further protest. As it was a long ride back to Budapest, Daniel suggested we freshen up before leaving. So one by one we trekked up the stairs to use the bathroom there. I was waiting my turn when Peter came out. He had borrowed Katrina's brush and the mere act of washing his face and brushing his hair added a spark of life to his eyes. He wordlessly stepped by me and went downstairs. I hadn't relieved
myself all night, and the fullness in my bladder ached something awful. So I did this first, and moaned at how good to do so felt. When I had finished I stepped to the mirror and turned on the faucet. As best I could I brushed my teeth with my fingers. After washing my face, I dampened my hair and used Katrina's brush on it. Before leaving I studied my reflection in the mirror and looked behind the gruff unshaved stubble and saw arrogance; no, tiredness; yes, relief; absolutely. But also something else. I shook my head and headed for the cellar.
Chapter Fifty Four.
By the time we emerged from the cellar, the sun was nipping above the eastern skyline. Still there was a wetness in the air from yesterdays rain and the streets had a layer of dew on them. But the warmth from the sun was a welcome change from the cellar's dampness. Although we had all slept, we had not slept well and this showed in our steps; heavy and weary. Peter and I carried the old man's shoulders and feet respectfully. Daniel and Katrina offered to relieve us in a block or so. But the old man didn't weight very much and I didn't think it would be necessary and said so. What I failed to say was that I was more then a little concerned about carrying a body in broad daylight. But I worried needlessly. The battle of the night before had left many dead, and even more wounded. Consequently the path to the Gardens was rift with babushkas headed women dressed in black mourning dresses. They sat cross legged on the ground while weeping over a deceased loved one at their feet. All around them medics cared for the wounded, and rescue workers dug people out of the rubble. We weren't affected by the destruction around us...in any manner. We just woodenly made our way to the Gardens. During this
long somber walk my grip on the old man slipped once, and half of him sagged almost touching the sidewalk. We paused while I firmed up my grip. We then continued. There was a lake located in the middle of the Gardens and we carried him to it and propped him against a tree so he faced the lake. Afterwards we gathered around him into a half circle. The awkwardness of what to do next ensued. We really didn't know him. He was a stranger to us as we had been to him. But I guess to make it right, a few words had to be said before leaving and we left this up to Peter. He confessed that he had never done such a thing and was unsure on what to say. "Just goodbye," Daniel offered. Peter replied, "But goodbye? Seems so little." "Maybe," Daniel answered, "But it says it all." Peter remained unconvinced by this and stared at the ground morosely. As he did so an military convoy truck, its tires kicking up huge clumps of dirt, came bounding across the grass. The truck pulled to a halt a few feet away from where we stood. Four men in uniforms got out. Each cradled an semi-automatic rife. I was to tired to care. A man with Lt. Bars on his uniform shouted out, "Americans?" Before they reached us, Daniel broke from our ranks and met them halfway. "This is my fault," Peter said. "Forget it kid," Hemingway replied.
Katrina and I were both surprised by Hemingway's response and looked his way. "The hell with it," he said. "Hem," Katrina said, "You made it." As it turned out it didn't matter. Daniel came back and explained that the Lt. had been instructed to find four Americans and bring them to headquarters. He was very happy that we were the Americans because he had searched for us for many hours. "Sam?" I asked. "I asked who, but the Lt. just shrugged." I shrugged. It didn't matter. I was tired. Before we left we explained the old man's love for the
Garden's and extracted a promise from the Lt. to bury the old man on the park grounds. The Lt. had seen right away by the old man's skeletal frame and prison wardrobe that he was a political
prisoner and seemed to think this was fitting and left two of his men to do so. "There are many such who should be buried here in the
Gardens," he said. Although the Lt. had many questions, including, I am sure, how we had come across the old man, he held his peace and we left it at that.
Chapter Fifty Five.
A few minutes later the truck pulled to a halt outside of the bell tower for Piata University. The Lt. lead us to an office where a bellicose man with drooping eyes stood from behind a desk so large it spanned at least five by six feet. Dozen of maps littered the top of the desk. Upon seeing us, he stood, and with a very noticeable limp, came to the door and greeted us. In perfect english, he humbly introduced himself as the commander in charge, then begged us to sit, saw there were only two chairs, and
quickly instructed his adjutant to fetch three more chairs. After this he nodded, more to himself than us, and went and sat at his desk. There was a gaiety to the man that said we were among
friends. Perhaps had we had time to discuss the current round of events, we would of been more cooperative. But we hadn't and were also very tired and weary from too little sleep. The combination of the two often brews bravely and recklessness and such it was with us and consequently despite his friendliness, we, in a
unified act of defiance, remained standing even after the adjutant had brought the extra chairs. This exasperated the commander, and his tone grew short, "You Americans are so suspicious. Why? You
have never tasted the hardship of war. Sit! Besides if I wanted to kill you you'd be dead already." His last point was perfectly logically true and, out of tiredness and an eye toward the chairs, I was about to coincide it when Daniel spoke to him in Rumanian. The commander answered him. After which for several seconds they carried on a conversation. Since Katrina understood, I glanced her way. She laughed and sat down. I, out of fatigue, was ready to drop to the floor, and readily followed suit, as did Hemingway and Peter. "You have had quite an adventure," the commander said as he fumbled about in his desk drawer and finally pulled out a large black cigar, "And are probably hungry and thirsty. Food and coffee are on the way. And wine. Rumania makes a very fine wine. Better
then that bull shit the Hungarians make. So relax. Please forgive my manners. My name is Colonel Biserica. That is pronounced Bee seh ree kah. In Rumanian it means 'The Church.' I never attend, of course. The priest are old ladies and the nuns are old men. I am in charge here." He was interrupted right then by a short burst of semiautomatic rife fire. We had not heard gunfire for a few hours and the sound was so startling we all jumped nervously in our seats and glanced toward the only window in the room. All I could see were soldiers loitering about outside, which wasn't cause for alarm. The commander scrubbed a weary hand across his face and
excused himself and left the office. On his way out a rather dour woman in a black peasant dress passed him on the way in. She carried a tray and set it on the desk. There was a stack of sandwiches on the tray made of hard black bread and cheese, and also five cups of black coffee. "Buna seara," The woman said. She pointed at the tray. "Micul dejun." "Multumesc," Katrina replied. "La revedere." "La revedere," Katrina answered. The woman slowly, as if pain, shuffled out. We were all famished and each stood, took a sandwich and a cup of coffee, and sat back down. "What the hell is going on?" I asked through a mouthful of food. "The Hungarian minister of information is his fifth cousin," Daniel replied. "Of course," I muttered. "The man you and Sam were discussing on the bus?" Peter asked. "Who?" Hemingway inquired. So I explained to them. After I had finished, I asked Katrina what had been so funny. "Oh just the way he explained the lineage. Something about how his father's brother's uncle's sister had offered her hymen to
a traveling Hungarian shoe salesman and nine months later out popped a little shoe horn of a Hungarian and they have had to live with this blot on their good Rumanian name ever since." After the long night in the cellar, this garnered more then a chuckle, and we were all grinning upon the commander's return. "Ah," he said while sitting behind the desk, "Your friends told you about the blot on the family name. Yes it is true." He rolled the cigar between his thumb and forefinger, smiling at his own joke for a moment, then struck a match against the desk and quickly filled the air with black foul smelling smoke. "Russian tobacco. Manure really. But I ramble, no. You have questions and the first one is what is to become of you. I have instructed my radio operator to notify the Hungarian security forces that we have picked you up. They will send a helicopter for you. Now you have questions about the war. The war is over. Pockets of
resistance. The Securitate dogs. Ceausescu is on the run. We catch him and his wife and deliver the coup de grace and then Rumania will be free and prosperous like America. You have other
questions, no?" "The wine?" Daniel tiredly asked. "Good question. It so difficult to get good help." He seemed to flinch when right than another round of semiautomatic weapon fire rang out. So did we. And like before we all glanced at the window. And like before a few soldiers loitered
outside. The commander threw his hands up in disgust and once again excused himself. He wasn't gone more then thirty seconds, when the adjutant who had brought the two chairs entered carrying six glasses and a bottle of wine. He set the glasses on the commander's desk, uncorked the wine, and filled the glasses. By then we had finished the sandwiches and coffee and stood and placed the coffee cups on the tray and each picked out a glass of wine. The adjutant seemed pleased by this, nodded so, picked up the tray and left. Katrina raised her glass and said, "To a hell of a story." "And to the old man," Peter added. We drank to both. The commander returned, and picked up his glass and joined us. "What happy occasion am I saluting; not so it matters. A man does not need a reason to drink fine wine. I explained about the old man. "Ah, yes," the commander replied, "I was told of him. His name was Parcul. Means The Park. He was a school teacher. He picked the wrong time in Rumanian history to teach, no. So we toast him once more, hey." We did. "The gunfire?" Daniel asked. "Work," he replied, waving the cigar in the air. As he did this his expression grew troubled. "It's nothing really. We the victors are executing Ceausescu sympathizers, Securitate dogs, and
innocent idiots. We have rounded up hundreds. Of course, I don't know the innocent from the guilty, so after every execution I go and point at a man and say, that one is innocent, and my men let him go. In this way I satisfy my conscience and the men's lust for revenge for loved ones who were tortured at the hands of the Securitate dogs." I suppose there was horror written on our faces because he lowered his eyes at this, the burden too much to bear. I reminded myself thrice that I was there to observe not to judge. At last he continued speaking in a high whisper, "I believe it was your American Civil War General William Sherman who said, 'It is only those who haven't heard the cries and the shrieks of the dying and the wounded who cry out for more blood, more war; war is hell.' He was right. So I offer a salute to Sherman." We did so, emptying our glasses in the process. "Where were we?" he asked, taking a seat behind his desk, "Ah yes. Questions. You have many, no. First off you want to know what is to become of you, no." "You already answered this one," I replied "So I have," He said, "Funny, a man's memory is the first thing to go. I sometimes think that men, like an old horse, should lay down at forty, and this way young people would not have to listen to past glories, and would not hatch a dream to live them. Instead men live on; marching in parades, and what not and make
stumps and." His eyes focused somewhere beyond us. "I talk too much and say too little. So you have a little time before the helicopter arrives, and I am your humble host. Ask anything." I, for one, had many questions, but before I could speak, a burst of semi-automatic fire rang out. Knowing the reason for the gunfire made the sound all the more unnerving and Hemingway sprang up. "Jesus!" he shouted. "Just fucking Jesus," and stormed out of the room. The commander stood. "Yes, Jesus. Well, one minute please." True too his word, he returned a minute later. "Where was I. Yes. I am your humble host. Ask anything." "I would like to speak to some of your men, and if possible interview one or two of the men about to be executed, "Peter replied, "Is this possible?" "Yes. Certainly. Feel free to talk to my men. Listen to them. Write about them. They would like this. Yes." He yelled out for the adjutant. We waited a long second for the man to come. When he did, the commander instructed him to show Peter every courtesy. I was not surprised when Katrina elected to tag along. "The young one, what's his name?" the commander asked the moment they had left the office. "Peter." "He has come too far, it is in his eyes, no. He has passed over."
It was my turn to stare off in the distance. "Ah but for ones who have drank of life as we this is a sad subject," the commander said, seeing my wistful gaze, "So what we will do, us who prefer to sit and drink of fine Rumanian wine instead of watching men execute men, is pretend we are old friends enjoying an afternoon chat. I will tell you about my life, and in exchange you will do likewise." For my part, I had never lived a more bizarre hour. The time was spent exactly as the commander had wanted. While the
executions were methodically carried out, like clock work every five minutes according to my calculations, we reminisced as if we were old comrades. The commander was a delightful narrater, and punctuated his story with comical shrugs, groans and exaggerated cries of dismay. But in a final struggle to rid himself of the executions, his tone shifted from comical to tortured as he
related about his home, wife and son. He was married to the army, although he did have a wife at home, a fat woman. But she is a good woman. He has one child. Attends the university; the one we are sitting in at this very moment. The boy is a straight A
student, which is not so good, better he get a few C's and B's. Ah well, youth, what can you tell them. He was crazy. And the sad part was was that he knew it. And he also knew that he would never pass back over.
Chapter Fifty Six.
The commander seemed sad when the helicopter arrived. His limp was noticeably worse as we gathered outside on the lawn to board the helicopter. He pointed at the sun, which shone bright, and offered a joke about how nice it was to fly in good weather. I stared at the sun, more so I wouldn't have to look him in the eyes, and agreed. In the little time we had spent together, I had grown to like the commander, and after a second I warmly pumped his hand and wished him well. As Daniel did likewise, Peter, who had stood off to once side during this farewell, moved closer to me. I knew what he was going to ask even before he did so. "I want to stay and cover the rest of this," he said. I had not spoken to him since he had left the office, and I eyed him for a moment...just for good measure; habit I suppose. "And you want me to hire you?" "Yes." "What about your girl?" "I'll write her." I shook my head as one might do at a persistent child. "Very well," I answered, knowing full well his girl had seen the last of him, "But when you work for me, you work. And I expect
a dispatch a day. And no cutesy crap. Or political lobbying. Or taking sides. Think you can handle it?" "I don't know," he truthfully answered, "But I will do my best by you." "Good enough. I'll leave a line open at the American Embassy press room. You have the number. Route your dispatches through there." Although he tried very hard to act subdued at my response, acting very nonchalant as if this happened to him every day, he finally lost it and cracked a grin and said 'Hot Damn!' I grinned at him and he sheepishly smiled and wandered off to tell Katrina. Daniel and I along with Hemingway were about to board the helicopter a few minutes later when Katrina ran up and said that she had decided to stay. She did so, I am sure, because she wanted to spend more time with this new person Peter had become. I jokingly mentioned this as she handed me the film she had shot.
She airily laughed it off and joked back that I was envious. I was but refused to allow her the satisfaction of hearing me say so. Although Hemingway was a bit put off by her decision, he took it uncharacteristically well and respectfully shook both their hands, wished them luck and turned to board the helicopter.
"God, he's a prick, but he's a hell of a prick and I just can't leave it at a handshake," she said to no one in particular and ran after him. She whispered in his ear and he laughed heartily. She kissed him full on the mouth causing a halt to his laughter. He held her for a long moment before releasing her. She returned to where Daniel and me stood along with Peter. There was a special bond between Katrina, Daniel and I and Peter moved away allowing us a few moments alone to say goodbye. But goodbyes are always difficult, and I found this one to be
particularly so. "Well." I said. "I missed you these years. Don't be such a stranger." She had put too much intensity into her words, and to play it off wrapped arms around Daniel and I and hugged us close. "Hell, we're the last one's still hanging in there." Our eyes got misty, and we stood there silently clutching one another. Eventually our arms went slack, and we all promised to meet in New York over the holidays.
Chapter Fifty Seven.
The tiredness I had felt since leaving the cellar seemed to overwhelm me as the helicopter lifted off. As I sat slumped, looking out at Katrina and Peter, I, not so strangely, considered staying. About asking the pilot to set back down and just stepping off. Out there was a fountain of youth. Not of water, but of bullets. I could follow the wars, year in and year out, never growing rusty, or old, just forever young right into death. Like Daniel. Like Katrina. Now like Peter. Fortunately before I could act on these feelings, the
helicopter was well on its way. But still the urge was strong within me and I wanted to talk about this, and Daniel was the obvious choice. But he was already working on his dispatch. As a Senior Editor I appreciated this and let him be. But like I said, the feeling was strong within me, so I even considered approaching Hemingway. But he had a forlorn look about him; Katrina I
imagined. So while following the landscape below; the burned out buildings blending into the checkerboard countryside, I worked over my emotions on my own.
American Embassy landing pad, I found myself grinning at my own foolishness.
Chapter Fifty Eight.
The moment we cleared the helicopter pad Sam yelled out, "Glad to see me?" He stood all smiles under a party cloudy sky. In one hand he held three clean khaki shirts, and in the other a fifth of Wild Turkey and four glasses. The shirts were welcome, to be sure, because the shirt I wore was high holy hell rank. But the Wild Turkey was a sight for sore eyes. I needed a drink, if only to wash away the Rumanian wine which had tasted like goat piss. Daniel had felt likewise about the wine but we hadn't had the heart to tell the commander this. He was so proud of the wine. I also wasn't the least bit surprised that Sam hadn't immediately inquired about the absence of Katrina and Peter, or the Mercedes. The four glasses he held said it all. He knew what was going on. Probably Budapest. "Glad to see the bottle," Daniel replied. "I am wounded," Sam said, stepping back in mock astonishment. "It's good to see you also," Daniel quickly replied. But I think he did so because he was afraid Sam was going to drop the bottle. knew minutes after the helicopter had set off for
"Those words sing out to my lonely Texas heart," he replied, "Now com'on I'll buy the first round." This was to be a full day and night of drinking. After all we were men who had returned from war and tradition dictated that there were stories to embellish and lies to tell. So without further fanfare, we headed for the press room to send off the dispatches, and to see who could tell the biggest lie. Hemingway had stood off to one side by himself and
consequently wasn't a part of this initial celebration. When I reached the door to the embassy, and looked over my shoulder and saw him still standing by the helicopter pad I shook my head in disgust. I was trapped. From the beginning, fate had saddled me with Peter, and now Hemingway. Although I disliked the man, he had come this far, and was entitled to go the rest of the way. "You going to stand there all damn day?" I was far enough away that I had to shout, and for a moment I wasn't sure he had heard me because he failed to respond. So I repeated myself. "Forget it," he shouted. "Sam has four glasses." "Forget it," Our little charade had attracted the attention of the grounds keeper. The guy was raking leaves and paused in his work to watch us. This was ridiculous, I thought. There I was embarrassing myself by begging a man who I despised to come and celebrate the
art of living. So I did the only thing I could do. I walked over to him. "Hem, what's the problem?" "The charade is over," he said, "I am going home. Going home to my wife and children." "What about your dispatch?" "Oh stop it!" he sneered, "At least I know what I am. And even if I didn't, you've reminded me of it often enough the past few days. I am a man who writes about three or six legged cows." "One legged cows," I corrected. "Whatever," he sneered, "Hell the dispatches never meant
squat to me. They never did. I came for one last hurrah. I can return home now, and late at night after feeding on bullshit all day and when laying next to my snoring wife, I'll look back on this time, smile and feel the better and go to sleep. In short, this last hurrah will last me the rest of my life. But will this shot of youth last you the rest of your life? Yes, I saw you and the look on your face when the helicopter lifted off. You're not fooling me. Nor is Daniel. Nor Katrina for that matter. So go drink the celebration of the returning hero. But we both know what happens to heros, don't we?" I had stood there unmoving while he had talked, unable to comprehend the anger and hate in his voice. Livid, I spun on my
heels and headed for the embassy. At the door, I turned and yelled, "Tell me Hemingway, what becomes of hero's?" But only the grounds keeper remained. He gave me a momentary look before shrugging and returning to raking leaves.
Chapter Fifty Nine.
Daniel and Sam, each holding a glass of Wild Turkey, were chatting about Rumania when I entered the press room. "You've met the commander," Sam said, "Hell of a man, huh?" "Yeah," I replied testily, "A hell of a man!" "Hemingway get to you again?" Daniel asked. I refrained from peppering Hemingway with insults or curses. Although I certainly had a willing audience in Daniel and Sam; and there was the bottle of Wild Turkey to speed the sympathies along. Instead, I simply poured myself a tall glass of whiskey, sat down at my desk, put my reading glasses on, fired up the computer and furiously attacked the keyboard. To their credit, Daniel and Sam did not attempt to intervene by asking dumb questions. By the storm clouds etched on my face, they obviously had guessed I was very angry, and continued talking as if I wasn't there. It was just as well. There are times when a blank computer screen is very
daunting, but this wasn't one of them. I knew exactly word for word what I was going to write. Had known since we happened upon the old man in the park. I was going to write about Peter, a young
man, meeting the sector of war face to face. But as the words flowed from my fingers, I changed the dispatch, and instead wrote about Hemingway. I used my anger as motivation and finished the dispatch in under an hour. Afterwards, I felt spent, as if the vitality that had driven me was now stored in the computer. I pushed my chair away from the desk, sighed, and stood to refill my glass. The office was quiet, and somewhere in the far corner of my brain, the corner that sense's a threatening shadow has appeared from between a bank of garbage cans while walking up fifty-ninth street in New York city late at night, I noticed Daniel and Sam staring at me. I supposed they had watched me for a long time. And why not. I had acted like a madman. "Sorry," I sheepishly said while pouring the drink. "Hey," Sam replied. "Right," Daniel said. But he went to the computer and stared at the screen. I almost screamed for him to get away, but caught myself in time. He read aloud the last line in the dispatch. "Hemingway was an individual searching for a dream, but the hype of the Super Bowl and the convenience of the microwave oven
defeated his individualism and he returned home to his dreams of three and six legged cows. Is this what America has come to?" "You want to talk about it?" Daniel asked. "No. Yes. No. It's Hemingway," I finally said and told them what had happened. "He's jealous," Sam observed.
These were my thoughts exactly, but I was heartened to hear them somewhere other then in my head. "Yeah, he is," Daniel agreed. "Want me to activate the modem and transmit it?" For a second the idea was tantalizing. As soon as the second passed, the idea horrified me. The dispatch was self indulgent crap, and I knew it. "How about delete," I replied, my anger gone. "Yeah sure," Sam perked up, "Why give the bastard the
satisfaction." "Consider it done," Daniel replied. Yes indeed, I thought, now that the anger was gone. Why give Hemingway the satisfaction. And there was the moment, right there, to let go of the anger and Hemingway. But instead I talked about him as men talk about men; and I denied everything he had said. What did he knew. He was man who wrote about one legged cows. I wrote real journalism. What did he know. And here was where I began to see the truth as it was, not as Hemingway had seen it, and the truth was, was that we had accomplished the impossible. We had planned a daring foray into a war torn country and had emerged unscathed. "So fuck Hemingway," I said at last. "Hear hear," Sam clamored. "And hear," Daniel seconded.
"Ball-less bastard," Sam added. "Yeah, no balls," Daniel agreed "Hear hear," Sam said again, only louder then before. As the whiskey freely flowed, we eventually moved away from Hemingway and grew more robust in congratulating ourselves on a job well done.
The celebration continued unabated for the next three and a half hours. We wolfed down ham sandwiches that Sam had the gopher bring up from the Embassy canteen. We drank whiskey. We toasted the Minister of Information. We hooted. We toasted Katrina and Peter. We hollered. And in between, Daniel and I worked on our dispatches. As we did so Sam delighted in playing the nasty
editor, the repressed writer in him I imagined, and hopped from computer to computer criticizing what was written there. Although I feigned anger at his criticism, for the most part it was valid and I instituted the changes he recommended. And all in all we had a swell time and when the dispatches were transmitted, and the film that Katrina had shot was on its way, via courier pouch, to Paris, we laughed at the serious pretentiousness of such work. After this a general relaxation overtook us. We lazily sat around, feet propped up on desks, drinking and shooting the bull. Actually we were well oiled by this time and the whiskey did our speaking for us. Each of us took turns telling an outrageous tale. Each of our tales was sexual in nature and in each we exaggerated
our sexual powers. Sam was in the middle of a story about a blond when Daniel remarked that Sam had already told the story. "I did, huh," Sam commented, "Mm."
"I know one," I said. They both looked expectantly at me. A second ago the story had been there, but now it was gone and I just shook my head at them. So we all sat there with the befuddled look men wear when they are trying to rescue the life of the party by telling the greatest tale ever told. But we were each stumped and sat for so long staring at our drinks that we soon felt boredom's icy fingers brush across the heart of the celebration. Somewhere in the recesses of my brain I knew this was because we had worked, and we had shot the breeze, and now the celebration had reached the moving on stage; go out and show the world how happy you are even if they don't care. "lets go," I said. "Where?" Daniel asked. I wanted to exercise boasting privileges and voted we go to the New York Cafe and snort and grunt and scream. I knew this was silly, like a little boy, and shyly said as much. But this too was the whiskey speaking. "As a Texan," Sam solemnly replied, "I understand boasting."
But it's still too early," Daniel said, "Not quite five. The New York Cafe is probably dead." So where to go became a grievous problem. Sam suggested a strip joint located in the gypsy part of town. He had gone there twice and both times had feasted on the most amazing sight he had ever seen...and he had been to Thailand, he added. The joint, and the name escaped him right then, had lined up five hundred naked women and took their picture and superimposed it onto the outside wall. The sight of all those breasts was so overwhelming that he spent two hours studying each and every breast and concluded that breasts truly did come in all shapes and sizes. Although I had to admit that the sight of five hundred breasts sounded intriguing, I wasn't up for it. The, I wasn't up for it,' part of my sentence elicited a few rowdy comments from Sam and Daniel. But it was done in fun. After this we all poured a drink and contemplated where to go. We were still doing so fifteen minutes later when Jack and Joanne stopped by. This was a pleasant surprise and after
introducing them to Sam, I
said as much.
"Thanks," Jack said, "But why so glum looking?" As Daniel explained the problem, Joanne grew excited. "You were in Bucharest. Gee how exciting." "Yes."
"We heard about the civil war a few hours ago on the Sky news," Jack commented, "The announcer was a bit short on
information." "Is it terrible?" Joanne asked. "Worse," Daniel replied. "And you both were there?" "Eye witnesses." "Must be a hell of a feather in your caps." "Ostrich," Daniel replied. "Yes. And I can see your problem." "Problem?" Sam asked. "About where to go." "It will solve itself very shortly," Daniel replied. "How so?" "Through procrastination. If we sit here long enough, the New York Cafe will be crowded. See." "Yes." "Care to join us?" "Love to." "Good," Daniel replied. "By the way what brings you here. A pickpocket lift your passports?" Sam asked. "No," Jack replied. "The garment bag, remember?" He said to me.
The conversation had moved along at quite a rapid clip, and in my present condition I wasn't sure for a second what the hell Jack was talking about. It dawned on me all at once, and I quickly explained to Sam. "Yes," Joanne proudly said when I had finished, "Jack was a great sleuth. The garment bag had a name tag attached to it with the owners address in the States written on it. He called the information operator in" "Dubuque," Jack added. "Yes," she said, "Dubuque, and wrote down the phone number for every listing that had the same last name as on the baggage tag." "Newman," Jack said. "Yes," she said, "Newman, and then called every name on the list." "And there were an even dozen," Jack said. "Yes," She said, "Good thing the guy didn't live in New York City. Anyway, he finally reached this Newman's father." "The old geezer was a bit leery at first. Understandable. I was a stranger," Jack said. "But after Jack explained about the garment bag," Joanne said, "The man gave Jack the phone number of where his son worked here in Budapest. Isn't Jack great!" "I did it for Joanne."
"My hero." "Sounds like a hell of lot of work," Daniel commented. "Yeah," Sam replied. "But what brings you to the embassy. The reason I ask is if you need a new passport, I can grease the wheels." "Why we came to exchange garment bags," Jack replied. The conversation had transpired as laid out above, and I think by this time Daniel, and Sam were totally befuddled. I know I was. I was still back at when Jack had been talking to the Stateside information operator in Dubuque asking about some guy named Newman. "I think I should explain," Jack said, seeing our obvious confusion. "This Newman teaches english at the Gorki Fasor
Gymnasium. I called the school and they referred me to a Mr. Rose here at the Embassy. Know him, Sam?" "Yeah," Sam replied, "He heads the Agency for International Development project here, and is in charge of recruiting english
teachers from America. A bookish man." "Sounded like it. Anyway, he was very glad to hear from me. He knew Newman well. Had recruited him right off the campus. When I explained about the bag, he agreed to talk to him and set up the exchange right here." "Why here?" I heard Daniel ask. "I don't know. Seemed strange to me. But I was so happy I didn't pursue why."
"The guy's a spook," Sam said. "He's black?" Joanne intoned. No," Sam laughed, "He see's bogeymen in every corner. The AID's project is a C. I. A. front. Don't get me wrong. It's not what it sounds like. It's a benign arm of the C.I.A. They recruit english teachers and send them all over the world. The idea is to teach the oppressed english while at the same instilling American values. Some brain at Langely thought it up. Works too." "Except in El Salvador," Daniel replied. "True," Sam conceded. My drunken condition was affecting my state of mind, and I was still pretty much behind in the conversation. After all, I wasn't used to drinking; especially Wild Turkey, a smooth, but wallop packing hundred and one proof bourbon. Also I hadn't had much sleep in the past twenty four hours. Consequently my brain was grappling with an overload of facts and trying to sort them out. Newman. Dubuque. Garment bag. AID. CIA. El Salvador. The New York Cafe. So one by one I discarded every fact but the name Newman, and was truly amazed at the coincidence. "You have Julie's garment bag," I announced. "Your Julie," Joanne said, "But how can..." Her mouth fell open in total amazement. "Who the hell is Julie?" Sam asked. "A woman he met on the plane over," Daniel replied.
"This can't be," Jack said, as amazed as Joanne. "Amazing," I said, "Just amazing. I meet a nice woman on the plane ride over, say goodbye, and then by happenstance I meet you two. Just amazing." "Will demanded. Sam seemed very flustered, and I wanted to explain, but the coincidence was too stunning right then. So I took a moment, and dwelled on Julie. But too many miles had transpired, and in truth she seemed a million miles away. But the prospect of seeing her again excited me, so I left it at that. "Com'on lets go exchange the bags," I said and excitedly jumped up. The alcohol quickly went to my head I immediately grew light headed and dizzy, and wobbled a bit. I corrected my balance. "I'll explain on the way." "Good think you're not driving," Daniel said. "Thing," I replied, "Thing." somebody tell me what the hell is going on?" Sam
Chapter Sixty One.
"What a delightful coincidence," Mr. Rose said upon hearing about the garment bags. The six of us stood outside his office located on the third floor of the Embassy. Sam had made introductions all around, but except to mentally note that Mr. Rose's name suited him; thin and delicate like a rose, I really hadn't paid too much attention to this. I was slightly disappointed that Julie wasn't there and tortured myself by wondering if she'd show. After all there really wasn't any reason for her to do so. Adjusting to a strange country and its customs was daunting enough, but she also had Anna to attend to. Her husband could exchange bags well enough without her. "Yes," Joanne replied, "A chance in a million, wouldn't you say?" "Oh, yes." I absently nodded agreement, but kept looking toward the stairwell, expecting them, or him, to come walking up the hall. At last I couldn't take the suspense any longer and rudely intruded on the conversation going on. "I hate to break this up. But do you know what time they'll be here?"
"Oh, they are here." "Here?" I intoned a bit more harshly then intended. "Why yes. They are waiting in my office." "All three of them?" "Yes." Right then my face must of held a 'What the hell are we doing standing in the damn hall,' smirk because he quickly apologized for rambling on so. After all, we were busy men. "My office is small, as Sam can attest to. So I'll go and fetch them and the infernal garment bag that has caused this terrible inconvenience." "Good idea," I replied a bit too tersely. I realized that my ill manners was the whiskey speaking, but I didn't care one bit. The silly bastard had it coming. "My my my, we are impatient," Daniel ribbed. "No," I answered foully, "But the silly bastard intended on standing there all damn day gabbing. Jesus. Don't these embassy people have anything to do but gab on taxpayers time." "No, not really," Sam replied. I was just working up a good head of steam and would of railed on about this petty bureaucrat much longer, but Julie stepped from his office. And but God damn, she was beautiful, I thought. And then as I watched her walk toward me, I was struck by two realism's. I loved her. And this love didn't matter. From the onset our chance encounter had had an air of finality to it, and this rather bizarre setting was to be the closing chapter.
There are times when a man strives to be everything the books and the movies say a man should be. Never mind the pain. Go ahead doctor and amputate the limb. I'll just grit my teeth and bare it. Well I was on the operating table and I was determined to be a man about it. I'd keep the conversation polite. Avert her eyes. Say hello. Laugh at the coincidence of the garment bags. And I was going to do all this by maintaining tight control over the
situation. I would lead the conversation, keeping it within the boundaries of polite discourse. But the moment she walked up to me, her eyes meeting mine, I lost all thought. Now it was only her and I in the hall. There was a conversation taking place around us and I was vaguely aware that Daniel had taken the lead, and why, and silently thanked him for it, and than the conversation was a million miles away. Julie and I didn't require language. Thousands of years of evolution and a single unspoken word passed between us. A second later a hand was rudely thrusted toward me, and when
I looked at the face the hand belonged to I assumed it was Julie's husband. It was. I amassed all my years of sizing people up, and quickly inspected him, wanting desperately to like him; if only because Julie deserved a good caring man. At first glance he was greasy. He was also greasy at second glance. He had greasy eyes, and greasy hands. I really wanted to be objective about him and searched for a substance in him. But there was none. Even his clothes were greasy. The top two buttons of his polyester shirt
were unbuttoned and a gold chain shone out from his chest. This jerk, I thought, fancied himself a ladies man. So I of course shook his hand, but not warmly. "Edward Newman," He said right off, "And I want to thank you for taking care of my wife and daughter during the flight. Would of done so myself, but I left a few weeks ahead of her. You know how it is?" No I did not and did not want to know. Fortunately Anna was rummaging through the garment bag, forestalling a need to answer him. She found what she was searching for and proudly held up a children's diary. "Oh it's here," she exclaimed, "I was so worried. Julie smiled down at her and said to me, "You staying much longer." "No. The morrow I take the feeder flight to Belgrade. From there a flight to New York City." "Yes, I forget," she replied, her voice barely above a
whisper, "You mentioned you were only here for the week." "Yes. I have to get back to New York." "Come, come for dinner tonight. It's the least I can do to repay you for your kindness. Please say yes." Her request had a soulful kindness to it. But I couldn't accept. Daniel knew this. He stood a few feet away, his hands stuffed in his pocket, his face melancholy as if he had seen this scene played out before. Sam too. I was about to politely decline
when her husband shocked me by abruptly taking her forearm and leading her back into the office. "He always does that when he doesn't want me to hear what he saying," Anna said. I stooped so we were at eye level. "Adults are like this," I said, "You still have the coin I gave you?" She gleefully produced it from her pocket and held out it at arms length. "Good. You hang on to it. It's a magic coin. Bring much luck." Although she looked as leery as she had when I had first presented her with the coin, she stuffed it in her pocket and gave me a great big hug. By this time Julie had returned. Her once bright eyes were down turned and sad and doe like. "I'm sorry," she murmured, "I wasn't thinking. The house is such a mess. I." "Maybe next time," I replied. "Yes." "Well." "Well." "Goodbye's are always difficult." "Yes." "But you got your bag back."
"Yes. What a great coincidence. Something to tell our grand kids." "They'll never believe it. Think we're old fools." "I suppose." "Well, we'll tell them anyway. The devil care what they think." "Yes. The devil care." This nonsensical chatter could continue forever and in this way forever we'd be. Our gaze said. But her husband had put on his jacket and was ready to go. He stood outside Mr. Rose's office. Etched on the glass behind him was the Embassy Emblem. From where I stood, he seemed to be in perfect alignment with the eagle on the emblem. "Take care," I said and winked. There was no response as she shuffled along behind him. At the opening where the stairs met the hall, Anna waved goodbye. That was the last I saw of them. "Nice lady," Daniel commented.
"Tough scene," Sam said and hit me on the forearm. "Com'on I'll buy you a drink."
Chapter Sixty Two.
The encounter with Julie had sobered me and from the moment we left the Embassy, it was evident, at least to me, that I wasn't in the mood for company. Daniel and Sam were wise in the ways of such matters and walked a few feet ahead of me keeping
conversation to themselves. But Jack and Joanne were still pumped up about the bag and wanted to chatter on about Julie and her husband and how strange the whole matter was. So I felt obligated to respond, if only in a perfunctory way. Fortunately it started to drizzle a few blocks away from the New York Cafe and we all covered our heads with our hands and ran; except for me. Joanne saw this, and broke the skipping duck legged stride she was using long enough to pause and laugh, "Com'on run. The last one there is a rotten egg." I knew she was being kind, what with Julie and this my last night in Budapest. But I waved her on, and she continued skipping duck leg style until she caught up with Jack who carried the garment bag and was lagging behind the others. The rain quickly turned into a downpour, blurring the street and sidewalks ahead until at last I lost sight of them running. I lengthened my stride, thinking to hurry my pace, then dashed into
the safety of a doorway and paused there. As I looked out at the rain I decided against going to the New York Cafe. I didn't feel like listening to them sully Julie's husband, while feeling sorry for her because she was married to such a jerk. They wouldn't do so because they were mean spirited people, but out of
consideration for me. I was their friend, and as such the script demanded that Edward play the asshole, and Julie the innocent victim married to the asshole, and I the great and wonderful but feeling sorry for himself injured third party. I could well
imagine that Edward right now was sitting amongst friends sipping beer and playing out his own version of this same script. Well the hell with them all, I angrily thought, I wasn't going to play. I wasn't about to feel sorry for myself, and I didn't want to feel sorry for Edward. Daniel and Sam would
understand, I was sure, and they'd sooth any hurt feelings. Once this decision was made, I was faced with where to go. I knew I had to go somewhere, if only, I told myself, then assured myself, because I was wet and was chilly. So I decided to go to the apartment. I'd pour myself some of Jack's scotch and sit in my bedroom and watch the rain fall. Maybe if I was lucky, she'd be exercising on the balcony and invite me over. Or maybe if I got good and drunk, I'd shout at the moon. After all I had done the right thing and the moon owed me one.
Chapter Sixty Three.
I awoke all sudden like the next day, as if jarred into consciousness. I lay more groggy then awake for a few seconds. When my brain came to life, I quickly stumbled upon two alarming facts. I had a blazing hangover. My head felt like a demolition derby was taking place there. And had I missed the flight to Belgrade. I knew the latter because the sun outside the window wasn't where it should be. Although it hurt to think, I forced myself to go over my options. As I did so I wasn't too alarmed about missing the flight. I was reasonably confident that I could catch a late train into Belgrade. If I was lucky and caught a midnight run, I'd be able to catch some zzzzzz, and arrive in Belgrade in plenty of time for the morning flight to New York City. Working this out had taken a great deal of energy and I allowed myself the luxury of staring at the ceiling for a while before rising. There were noises outside the door. Coughing.
Daniel's voice. Joanne's answering him. Jack saying something. All three laughing. There was also the smell of eggs and bacon. The smell made my stomach nauseous. To take my mind off the smell of the food, I attempted to make out what they were saying, but I
could only make out a word here and there and after a while I filtered them out and concentrated on last night. Right away a vague recollection began to take form of what had transpired when I had arrived home. I had immediately shed the wet clothing for a towel, grabbed Jack's scotch off the kitchen table and went and sat at the bedroom window facing the balcony. The window was open and the breeze had been a bit cool. I had shivered from it. I considered closing the window, but was too depressed to move. But the scotch quickly eased this depression, and after a while the cool breeze seemed almost warm. She wasn't there, of course. Her apartment was dark. But I stared nevertheless at the balcony. When I had first sat the bottle had been almost full, and after
drinking about a three quarter's of this, only taking my eyes off the balcony long enough to fill the glass, she was there. The rain caressed her body and cascaded at her feet into a puddle. But she really wasn't there. It was just the rain and the dark playing tricks on my eyes. A few minutes later she was there, smiling waving, calling me over. A mere leap covered the distance between the window and the balcony. I had leapt further as a youth. I could do it. I took a step and immediately started falling, my head spinning. From there everything was blank.
Chapter Sixty Four.
She was out there now, and as always, was unabashed about her nudity. The thunder storms from the previous night had cleaned the sky of clouds, and she worked under a clear azure blue. As she completed the downward motion of a knee bend, she removed one hand from her hip and waved. I smiled. Of course she had not been on the balcony last night. Seeing her had been an alcohol induced illusion. I had forgotten this about whiskey during my years of abstinence. As I reveled in the way she moved, lean and graceful, I considered calling Daniel into the room to translate for me and tell her that I was leaving for the states in a few hours and inviting her over for coffee. I quickly rejected the idea. There was mystery and intrigue between us. Because of the language barrier we had passed but a few words. Hello and Ovoce. And some heart felt laughter. And for a moment something more. To learn more about her life than I already knew would destroy this mystery and intrigue. I was sure she felt the same. But I had to do something for us. The image as it was was incomplete. So I raised an open palm to my lips and planted a kiss on it. I held the palm out, and softly blew. I was fairly sure
she'd understand the meaning and would not take offense. But one never knew. But she didn't disappoint me. She paused and did the same. But I still wasn't sure whether she understood the meaning or was simply imitating me. But a second later when I turned away from the window, I was sure. For she stood very still, the knee bends she had been engaged in forgotten.
Chapter Sixty Five.
As I emerged from the bedroom, Daniel made a comment about missing the flight, but I still felt like shit and preferring to explain later, let it go. I went to the bathroom and set the shower for as hot as I could bear. As the water steamed over me, I noticed a black and blue bruise on my backside where the man had struck me with the rife. I examined the bruise and found it was tender and sore to the touch and let it be. Little by little the hot needles of the spray helped to alleviate the fogginess in my head. As my thoughts cleared, I decided, unlike with Julie,
against sharing the woman on the balcony with Daniel or Jack and Joanne. I suppose this was childish of me, and not too unlike a young boy who has a crush on his high school home room teacher but never reveals these feelings to his buddies because he fears ridicule. I didn't fear their ridicule so much as the thought of sharing her. To share her in anyway would diminish her or tarnish the illusion. No, the lady on the balcony was mine and mine and mine alone. Even grown men, I assured myself while shaving, need an allusion to hang onto.
My reflection in the mirror replied, "Especially grown men." I flashed a rueful smirk at this last thought. The smirk said that I didn't want to get into such crap right now. Especially right now.
Chapter Sixty Six.
By the time I had dressed and entered the kitchen, I felt like a new man. No strike that. I felt rejuvenated. Showering and shaving does this to a man. A woman too, I suppose. You go to sleep with the same old problems, and awake to them. But somewhere in between showering, shaving, and slipping into clean clothes a new day takes shape in the mind and yesterday's problems get pushed onto the rear burner. Such it was with me. The tenderness in my side had lessened. The pounding in my head had become a shallow knock. Yesterday; Julie and Rumania seemed like a million miles away. Even the eggs and bacon smelled good. So much so that my stomach rumbled, reminding me I hadn't eaten in almost twenty four hours. Although I protested, Joanne insisted I sit. I did so and she immediately set a cup of coffee in front of me, and followed this by a plate of eggs and bacon. She warmed up Daniel's and Jack coffee, then her own, returned the pot to the burner and sat. Daniel again mentioned missing the flight. I explained my thoughts on the matter. "Good, we can go to the train station together," he said.
I had figured Daniel would stay another few days at least and was very much surprised by his statement. "You leaving?" "Talked to the Bureau Chief in Rome. He wants to do a spread on Rumania. Assign a crew. Want's me to head it. Just found out a few hours ago so I am forced to take the train to Prague and fly to Rome from there. Jack has a train schedule." "Great." "I picked up the schedule yesterday," Jack added, and handed me the train schedule. I spread it out on the table before me. "Joanne and I planned on taking the train to Eastern Hungary today and I wanted to be sure of the departure times. The tour books show several towns to be interesting. Wine growing country. But sorry to see you two go." "Same," I answered. "There are two departures for the train to Prague," Daniel said, "Six and eleven. I want to make the Six o'clock Train." "Same for Belgrade," I said while studying the schedule, "But my flight leaves at seven in the morning, so I want to take the later departure and sleep. But I'll go to the train station with you and just lounge around." "Sounds good," Daniel replied. I pushed the schedule aside and dug into the eggs. "What was all the laughter about?"
"We wake you?" Joanne asked. "I don't know," I answered truthfully, "One moment I was sleeping and the next I was awake and in pain. Damn scotch. How can you drink the stuff?" "It's an acquired taste," Jack replied with a straight face. "Or Eastern pretentious. Take your pick." "Well, if so, sorry," Joanne replied, "I was telling Daniel about the other night when you came out of the bedroom naked and how we stumbled into each other." Daniel grinned and said, "With an erection, no less." I had completely forgot about that, and the memory of it made me blush. "The erection was quite understandable," Jack commented. He leaned over gave Joanne is. peck on the cheek. me "Considering it was all how very
But Joanne assured
innocent. So I will forego the Vermont revenge." "What would this be?" I foolishly inquired. "Death by leaf peeping," Joanne said, and so relished this she doubled over in laughter. "Jesus," I said, running off a few chuckles of my own, "You and leaf peeping. I think you two have a leaf peeping fetish." "We do," Jack replied, "Living in Vermont isn't very exciting you know." "Quiet though," Daniel commented. "Yes. And damn cold," Joanne replied.
"Aye," Jack noted. He checked his watch. "Well dear we had better be off. The train leaves in forty minutes." "Yes," she replied. We all stood. There is a sociological order to most things in life and so there is to leaving new found acquaintances who have become friends. Address and phone numbers are exchanged. Each promises to write the other. One person complains that although people promise to write, they rarely do, and Joanne complained about this. This complaint embarrasses and the injured party feels compelled to defend, and Daniel and I did so, both agreeing that this was usually the case but that we would write. As A follows B the embarrassment passed from the injured party to the person who made the complaint. But Jack came to Joanne's defense and admitted that he was guilty of not writing, even when promising to do so. So this admission soothes all the embarrassed parties and then they group together for a series of photos. And we did. And Joanne sent me copies of them and to this day they sit on my desk at work.
Chapter Sixty Seven.
A few minutes after Jack and Joanne had left I looked at Daniel. He sat lazily at the table, his body english saying all hurry was gone. And why not. There wasn't much for us to do. We had traveled light, and packing what few possessions we had would only take a few minutes at best. I stood and carried my dishes to the sink and rinsed them. This done, I poured a half cup of coffee from the pot on the stove and joined him at the table. "Naked huh," he stated. "Yeah." "My but you do have a way with the ladies," he said and grinned, "I guess some things never change." What I replied began with F and ended with U. "Yeah sure," He replied, "Well they are nice people. Eastern. Yankee. Strong. Conviction." A pause. "Gad I had a good time in Rumania." Another pause. "Naked huh." "As a jaybird."
A much longer pause. "Did you ever sleep with Katrina?" "Yeah, you." "Sure, I had my ten days with her before she dumped me." Another long pause. "Strange, but I think the kid has her number." "I agree." "A first for her." "Maybe?" A very long pause. Long enough to finish off my coffee and refill the cup. "Come to Rome. Spend a few days." So there it was, what was going to be said was said. "You skip Rome and come to New York." "Got a job for me?" "Naw, you're too set in your ways." "Listen to us. We're out of our minds." "Maybe?" I answered, "Tell you what lets talk about it over the holidays." "Sounds good," he said and stood, "Lets get out of here. There's a waiting world to inform."
Chapter Sixty Eight.
streets were crowded with mid-afternoon shoppers, we paid scant attention to them. The conversation between us was light, airy, just two friends out for a stroll and if the conversation was going nowhere it was because we were already there. We went from the apartment to the Embassy to pick up our laptop computers and to say goodbye to Sam. He was out, and both of us left him a note. I called the Minister of Information's office to thank him and was informed he was out. I mentally noted to call him upon returning to New York City. Then to avoid possible delays at the train station we stopped at the Embassy pursers office and purchased our tickets from the Cashier. I had wanted to say goodbye to Stan so we headed for the New York Cafe next. Stan also wasn't there. Daniel had two bottles of Wild Turkey remaining from his stash and left one for Stan. Both of us signed a note wishing him luck. By this time it was two thirty and we headed for the Keleti Pu train station at Baross Sg. Like all train stations in Eastern
Europe, the Keleti Pu was A typical for the region. The structure was concrete and steel with catacomb like open air archways
leading to the outside. Since the train was the main form of
travel in Eastern Europe, the station was a mecca for hordes of Eastern tourists. We arrived at the station with a few minutes to spare and Daniel verified this by checking his watch. "The train leaves in ten minutes." "Yeah. Remember South Africa. We caught that plane out with inches to spare." Daniel laughed in rememberence. "Yeah. If the C. I. A. didn't get us, the South African government would of." We were still laughing about this when Daniel realized that his train wasn't listed on the schedule board. Because both of us had dealt with communist inefficiency before, we weren't too Block travelers; soldiers, farmers, students, and
concerned and searched for the information booth to inquire about the train to Prague. Vendors abounded every few feet; some selling what passed as American hot-dogs, other selling pale orange juice, coke, and beer, still others with magazines and newspapers laid face up so the headlines of a dozen different languages showed. Several times we were approached and asked if we wanted to
exchange money. We gently but firmly shooed these people away. We found the information booth by walking up a corroder lined with dozens of people stretched out on the floor. Most were bundled up in rags. Lice crawled on their filthy clothing. Pigeons, their wings fluttering to maintain flight in the tunnel the corridor
was, raced through the corridor from the open archways. Outside of the archways, men urinated against the outside walls. Daniel gave me a look that said the scene was in sharp contrast to what we had seen on the streets of Budapest. "Freedom has a long way to go," I said. "I am sure," He replied. At the information booth, we waited our turn in line, about five minutes, before Daniel made inquiries. A harried man told him that the train to Prague was delayed. How long? Maybe two hours. Listen for the announcement. Thank you. There wasn't anything to do but wait, so we bought two
glasses filled with ice from a refreshment stand and went to one of the arches that opened to the outside and hunkered down on the floor. Daniel cracked open the Wild Turkey and for a while we didn't say much, each of us preferring to sip and watch the passing parade. Occasionally when something of interest caught
our eye, such as the family who had a bambie look alike on a leash, we commented; taking dinner home to some small town. It was in this vain about an hour later that Daniel pointed at the rafters overhead. "Look." All I saw was a bunch of pigeons and said so.
"Yeah, but look at those two grouped well away from the others. The gray and the white." "Yeah so?" "They are mates." "How the hell do you know that?" "I've watched them for a while now. Every time a pigeon comes near, the gray one squeaks and jumps up and down and chases the intruder away." We had about finished the bottle of Wild Turkey and the whiskey was affecting him, of this I was sure, and said so. "Watch," he insisted. "I am not watching damn pigeons." "Suit yourself." I did. But I had seen what the station had to offer thrice and after a while my attention strayed to the rafters. By God, he was right, I thought. The gray pigeon stayed very close to the white pigeon except on the occasions when a stranger pigeon landed on the same rafter they were on. Upon seeing the offending pigeon, the gray pigeon puffed out its chest and cooed so fiercely that a few feathers flew from him, fluttering to the ground. "That pigeon is smarter than we are," he said. "How so?" "He knows enough not to let another man get to close to his mate."
A pause. "You can't blame Edward for doing the same." "I know." "But you handled it well." "Thanks." "You know I lied to you about her. She's in my mind. " "Yes, I know." "No, you don't know." "No, I don't," I admitted. "I forget for a while. A month. Two. Three even. But than slowly the truth seeps through the barricades; the whiskey, and I begin to lose myself. Me. Just gone. You remember in the beginning when she first left me how I was. Dead inside. When you're dead inside, everything around you feels dead. That's how it is now. But over the years when I feel this dead consuming me I've learned to stem the feeling by hiding. I hole up in a hotel room for a week or a month, however long it takes. I stay drunk the entire time. The last few times this has happened, I think about Ted Smith. The shotgun. An ending to the pain. I dwell on it." "I feel dead inside right now. The war, the commander and the men being executed. But most of it was seeing Julie and the look on both your faces. How the hell does one remain neutral." I was too stunned to reply. He had been so sure of himself, so much like his old self. The one to take charge. Hell, it was
him who had gotten us into Rumania and out. Had we gone without him chances were we'd be dead or wounded. But I had to say something. But before I could respond, he started crying. The tears weren't large, just little drops of water that tumbled down his cheeks. He attempted to hide them by staring very straight and very rigid at the pigeons. I wanted to turn away, if only out of friendships sake, but couldn't. I was angered and humiliated by my actions, or lack of. Shit I was a journalist. I was trained to deal with what I was feeling in an analytical fashion. But my training failed me when I needed it the most and I sat there staring at him. I knew as I watched him that things would never be the same. I had been fooling myself. Maybe it was my own fault. I had wanted to recapture the past; scoop it up in my hands and drink from it. A Don Quixote fountain of youth. Relive the old days with a friend and everything would be okay. But nothing was okay. I had briefly met and fallen in love with a woman named Julie and she was now lying in bed with another man; I had met a man who had wanted to walk in the park and he was now more then likely sleeping under six feet of dirt; and I had fallen back in love with Daniel and he had not really been the Daniel of yesteryear...but only a piece of Daniel. The past was just that; past. All the windmills were gone.
Chapter Sixty Nine.
I arrived in New York city all but brain dead. I had thought about Daniel the entire trip and by the time the plane set down at Kennedy international I was so full of him I wanted to scream him out of me. The air in New York always smells like exhaust fumes, and today was no exception. I hailed a taxi and instructed the driver to take me to Greg's tavern on Fifty fifth and Sixth. The city slowly materialized from within the taxi, but the sights were too familiar to be of any interest. I was a regular at Greg's and the moment I entered, someone yelled: Hail the conquering hero. A few people greeted me by name, then went back to whatever they had been doing before I had walked in. Christie, the bar maid, rushed up and threw her hands and arms around me and hugged. We had, off and on, and in between seeing other people, dated each other for some months and she purred on about how she had missed me, and how naughty I was not to of written her, and did I want to go? She had a new bedspread. It was warm. Soft. No I did not. A childish pout. A promise of later. The pout fled. She laughed merrily and joined three well known artists sitting at a table well away from the bar. Greg was behind the bar and asked me how it was hanging. A tourist in a straw hat asked me if I was famous. Greg shooed him
away. I ordered a Wild Turkey on the rocks. Greg had served me nothing but mineral water for years and gave me a funny look. "That bad?" "Worse." He nodded and without further fanfare served me. I took the glass and picked a table well away from everybody. And everybody left me alone. That was the nice thing about Greg's. The regulars knew enough to make you feel welcome, and knew enough to leave a person alone. The tourists, well they were tourists, and this says it all. Slowly the whiskey relaxed me. Three drinks later, I almost felt congenial enough to be around people. Almost. Right then a woman asked if she could join me. When I looked up from my drink and saw who it was, I was not surprised. Greg's was an institution in New York, and was like that. If you sat there long enough,
everybody who you knew since year one would come in. If you sat there long enough. "Sure," I answered, and waved a hand at a chair. Upon seeing her sit down, Greg, a towel draped over his arm, came right over. While toweling off the table, he approving once over. "Scotch on the rocks," I said. "For a woman such as this," Greg replied, "You don't just mean bar scotch?" gave her an
"No. The best. For a woman like this." He walked away humming to himself. He was in a good mood. That was nice. "Long time," she said. "Years," I replied. "I've been here for a while." She pointed at a group gathered around a table by the door. Her husband was among the group. "At first I thought you were ignoring me. But soon after I realized you hadn't seen me." "No," I admitted, "I hadn't." She took a deep breath and laughed. "I am glad. See my palms are sweating." "Why?" "Well, you know. Daniel and all." "Oh yes, and all." The conversation paused as Greg set a coaster on the table, followed by her drink. He started to make small talk, took one look at the sour look on my face and went behind the bar. "Maybe I should go. You don't look very happy." "I left happy back on the floor of the Keleti Pu train station in Budapest. But that is okay because I had watched
unhappiness board a train to Prague." "Daniel?" "Right." "It wasn't my fault."
"What do you want me to say?" "I want you to be the man who was always fair and honest." "He is my friend." "Be honest." "Why? "Because." "Because why?" So I can tell you how wrong you are." "Right." "Be honest." "Lets get off the subject, okay." "If you want." "What brings you into town?" "The Modern Language convention." "Ah yes," I said, slowly running my palms across the table as if brushing away a troublesome crumb there, "those hollowed men and women of higher learning." "See, we really can not get away from it. Not you and I." "Right. He is my friend." "And I left him. Was this so terrible?" "No. But there was no need to laugh at him, or let your friends laugh at him when he made a childish fool out of himself by sending you flowers or calling on you. You were his lover, you were his friend. Hell, you owed him that much."
"He let me." "I know." "I always found you attractive." I had read her from the moment she had sat down and had expected this. "Why?" "Because." "Because the man you married is gay," I stated. She was shaken for a moment, and her face turned pale,
showing as much. "How?" she whispered. "The week before he married you he made a pass at me." "You never told me." "No." "You really are a bastard!" I was close to being drunk and very slowly furled five
fingers in the air, as if to say, so what. I said, "It comes and goes." "No. You are a bastard. You let me marry a man who was...You know what that's like for a woman?" "You didn't have to take his dignity." "He let me! Don't you understand, he let me! What you did..." "Let me tell you something," I said, rising up in anger, "Men like us, like me, who live outside of society, well we don't have much. And we ain't much when it comes right down to it. We hop from place to place trying to make sense out of an otherwise
white...right we try to
ourselves right or wrong, and damn well know the difference...at least those of us who are worth a tinkers damn know, and yes those of us who are not worth a tinkers damns also know, but they are able to, except in extreme moments of stress, fool themselves. And every now and then we meet somebody like you, a woman or a man who appears to live on societies fringe the same as we do. And we see
a way out...a pillow to rest our heads on at night, a port in the storm if you will..and we give this person a piece of our heart because we know this person is just like us, that this person would never intentionally destroy that piece of heart. Oh the love might die, but we know, yeah we know because...because this person who we have entrusted a piece of our heart to has seen pain, no not just seen pain, but felt it deep in the marrow of their bones...like us. And every now and then one of us gets hustled, and in the process that piece of heart is burned, sacrificed really, at societies altar....and another one of us is dead. And this is why. Not for Daniel. I am not Daniel's keeper. I did it for all the ones out there who gave their all and were destroyed by people like you. So go find somebody else to fuck you; there's plenty out there like you willing. Now you're in my bar so get the hell out of my sight!" "I am going," She stiffly replied
She stood. But she lingered and I knew she was going for the last word. "I hope you remember what you threw away." "Mistake," I coldly replied. "Writers always have the last word. So when you get back over to your table, tell your husband to come over." That last comment destroyed her. There wasn't anything left for her to say, and she knew it. She was all shrunken up as she went back to her table. A few minutes later the entire group left. I suppose I should have felt better, but I only felt worse. At closing time Christie took me home. The bedspread was indeed soft. So was the sheet. So was she. So was I. It was okay, she purred. She would fix it. It was just a little thing. And after all any women could fix such a little thing.
A few weeks later the following dispatch was slid across my desk for insertion into the late editions. Last night the French police reported a suicide at the Hotel Ritz. The deceased, pending further investigation by the French police, was tentatively identified from an American passport found in the room as one Daniel Logan. A French police spokesman
speculated...blah blah blah. End.