CHAPTER II – „Collateral Victims”

CHAPTER I – „Le Secret”

Saturday, March 6th, 8:28 PM, Bucharest, somewhere on Heroes’ Boulevard

A massive, arctic white Audi A8 turns right, speeding towards Queen Elisabeth Boulevard. Wearing the same black suit and Bailey’s hat, A. nervously controls the wheel, unconsciously measuring the distance left until the club. He wouldn’t have come if it wasn’t for an emergency. It was 7 PM when his cellphone rang. On the other end of the line, R’s rugged voice informed him about what was going on.

A: “Why don’t YOU go?”

R: “You know very well why…”

A (sighing): “How am I supposed to get there? People will stare at me if I get on the bus all dressed in black”

R: “Take my car”

Without arguing, A. whispered “OK” and hung up. He could have taken his godmother’s Skoda Fabia instead, but driving a stick shift wasn’t his thing lately. R’s car had dark windows and automatic transmission. Besides, he loved that car. So he slipped into his shiny black costume, put on his hat and took the keys hidden in a small wooden box, under his Tarot cards. Half an hour later, there he was, approaching the place he was beginning to hate. He waited round the corner for the street to clear, then turned left and parked the car on a deserted alley. Just as R. taught him, he pressed the small button behind the steering wheel and the plates switched immediately. It was a safety measure he had to take every time he needed to be sure the car wouldn’t be recognized. After all, a luxury car like that could be easily spotted in a city like Bucharest.

It was the first time he entered the club through the back door. He didn’t notice that until he read the amazement in the bartender’s eyes.

“Good evening, Mr. A!”

“It’s anything but good”, said A, while taking his coat off.

“Would you like me to help you with that, sir?” the bartender politely offered, while approaching the place where A. stood.

A, amused: “You know… You ask me that every time I come here. If I didn’t know you better, I’d say you’re trying to find a reason to undress me”

Bartender, slightly blushing: “Oh… Sir… I wouldn’t… I mean, I didn’t mean to…”

A, winking: “Don’t worry! I’m flattered, but I’m already promised to somebody else”

A. walked towards the door at the other side of the room, leaving the bartender hanging. As soon as he opened the door, the lights turned on, illuminating the whole corridor. When he reached the other door, he took one last look behind, as if contemplating the light. He knew what came next: a small, dark room, another door which he was going to open using the same rusty key and then, the stairs which will lead him to the subterranean side of the city. Bucharest’s guts, the pit of the damned, a side of the city only few people knew about…

He stopped only a few inches away from the final door. This time, it was not the memory of last time’s quarrel that kept him from opening it, but a loud punch, followed by an even louder scream. It seemed there was a real fight going on in there. So he decided to grab a hold of himself and see what was going on.

The room was chocking in darkness and smoke. The only source of light was a lamp hanging from the ceiling, balancing quickly, as if someone hit it by accident. A. could distinguish G’s figure in the shadow. He was sitting on a chair, resting his leg upon the other, with a Cuban cigar between his fingers. Beneath the trembling lamp stood G’s bodyguard, a massive guy with an annoying Russian accent. Right next to him, there was a young boy, kneeling and gasping. His wrists were bruised from the rope he had been tied with, and his face was all covered in blood. His blood, shed by the cold-hearted brute. The table which was once in the middle stood in the opposite corner, sustaining the silver plate, a bottle of brandy and three empty glasses.

A, taking a look around: “Love what you’ve done to the place!”

G: “What the hell are you doing here?”

A, being ironic: “I’ve heard you’re in for a feast. So I decided to join”

G, pissed: “Well, you’re not on the guest list”

A: “Oh, is that so? My bad!”

G: “Now, really… Why are you here?”

A. didn’t even bother to answer his question. He rushed towards the table, pulled a white handkerchief from his pocket and dipped it into the bottle of brandy. He then kneeled in front of the young boy and cleaned his wounds. He had a broken nose and a few other lacerations on his face. It seemed the brute had been beating him for at least an hour.

A, whispering to the young boy: “What did you do?”

The young boy, chocking with blood: “I… I bor… I borrowed some money… My… My sister, sir… She… She’s ill… She needs it…”

A, sighing: “It’s OK, calm down. Don’t strain yourself. How old are you?”

The young boy: “I’m… I’m 17”

A, covering his face with his palms: “Oh my freakin’ God!”

A. felt a hot stream of blood invading his brain. Somehow, he empathized with the kid’s suffering. Underneath that cold shell of his, a fragment of goodness still remained. So, for the very first time in his life, he confronted G.

A, losing all sense of control: “Are you out of your fucking mind?!”

G: “He borrowed money from us and didn’t want to give it back”

A: “He’s seventeen, for Christ’s sake! How could you expect him to give it back?”

G: “It’s none of my business and it’s none of yours, as well”

A: ‘’Oh, you… You knew it all along! You knew he wouldn’t be able to pay back, didn’t you? You did all this for your entertainment!”

G. laughed uncontrollably, confirming A’s theory.

A, desperately trying to make a point: “Do you have any idea of what will happen if the Police finds out about this?”

G, smiling: “You silly boy… Have you forgotten WE control the Police?”

A: “And what about the press?”

G: “It won’t make it to the press. By tomorrow morning, this low-life skunk will be floating in the waters of Dâmbovița. And besides, why are you so nervous about the press? We’ve got you infiltrated in the system”

A: “How can you talk like that? He’s a human being, not a rat!”

G: “And who would miss him? He’s insignificant. He’s what I like to call (short break) a disposable part”

A. couldn’t take any more of that. Moments like those made him realize Bucharest was indeed a dangerous city; and not because of the amateur thieves, but of the great underground menace, waiting in silence right beneath the surface. He couldn’t stop it. He knew that very well, but he had to do something about that poor boy. If he decided to leave as if nothing happened, an innocent life might have been wasted.

A: “How much does he owe you?”

G: “Three hundred euros”

A, shocked: “Is this the price of life nowadays? God, G, you wipe your ass in the morning with a thousand euros bill and you’re willing to kill this kid because he owes you three hundred… You’re despicable!”

A. didn’t know what sickened him the most, the amount of money the kid couldn’t pay, or G’s sick games. He figured out that if G. gets his money back, everything will be back to normal. So he took out his wallet and pulled a 500 euros bill. His mother gave him the money for an upcoming trip to Istambul. He needed them, but somehow, the young boy’s life was far more important.

A: “Here! You can keep the change!”

G. was outraged by A’s gesture. He stood up, almost forgetting about his crippled leg. His bodyguard rushed to help him stand up.

G: “How dare you? You wanna end up just like him?”

A: “Oh, you wouldn’t dare touch me. Like you said, you need me to control the information that goes out. And besides, I’m like a son to you. A very stubborn and disrespectful son”

A. turned his back on G, letting him know that the conversation was over. He untied the boy and placed one of his arms around his neck. He carried him back to the bar, where the bartender helped them get to the car. With the wounded boy on his right, A. started the engine and drove off, leaving the club behind. After a couple of miles, A. found the courage to speak to the one next to him. He was awake, but still suffering from the wounds on his face.

A: “Where can I drop you off?”

The young boy, coughing: “I live in Rahova, corner of 13th September with Mihail Sebastian, near the Prosper Center”

A: “Listen… Pay attention to what I’m about to say, because I’m only gonna say it once. If we ever meet again, you don’t know me, got it? Act like you’ve never seen me in your life. And stay out of trouble! Next time, I won’t be able to save your ass. These people are dangerous!”

After dropping the young boy, A. headed home. He lived only few blocks away, so after ten minutes of driving, he parked his car in the usual place. When he got out of the car, his eyes instinctively turned towards the windows of his apartment on the third floor. The light was on. “Funny, I don’t remember leaving it on. And my roommate isn’t home”, said A. to himself. When he found the door open, he realized there was a stranger in his house. A stranger he knew very well…

R. was lying in his bed, half-asleep. How he got there was a total mystery, since R. couldn’t go anywhere without his car. He changed his clothes and lied down next to him, facing the ceiling.

A: “I’m so tired of this, you know…”

R, mumbling: “I know, but we’re both part of this game. And we have to keep playing…”

Just like every other night, A. stood up till dawn. He spent his time online, chatting about minor things. In the morning, he got up and opened the window, looking down the boulevard. The city was starting to wake up. Once again, A. found himself envying his neighbours for being able to sleep well at night. He hadn’t had a decent sleep in weeks. From sleeping pills to alcohol, he tried it all. But nothing really helped him. He still had horrible nightmares. On and on, he kept remembering everything he’d done.

After a couple of minutes of staring into the fog, he closed the window and lied down on his bed. R. was already asleep. His perfume was all over the room. It was perhaps that strong, tropical scent of R’s Aqua di Gio that made him close his eyes and dream of a better life. Deep down in his heart, he knew he’d wake up the next day, dissapointed and angry. But he also knew R. would wait for him in the kitchen with a mug of strong coffee and a pack of smokes.

A new dawn was breaking… Somewhere in the city, a young 17 years old kid will wake up appreciating life even more. The night before, an innocent life had been spared. A collateral victim was given the chance to start it all over, a chance A. will never have.

Anunțuri

CHAPTER I – „Le Secret”

Bucharest, somewhere on Queen Elisabeth Boulevard

Wearing a shiny black suit, a young man descends from bus 91. It’s a cold Saturday night, and the streets are swarming with people searching for a club to spend the night. During the day, he never wore a hat, but right now, he couldn’t risk being seen by any of his college buddies. Perfectly matched shoes, hair dyed black, grey scarf around his neck and dark glasses hiding his blue eyes, the young man crosses the street and begins his stroll along the boulevard. He’s also heading towards a club. A very special club.

Winter’s last breath is fading fast. Only a few patches of snow left on the sidewalk. Our young man is happy he can once again hear the sound of his shoes against the asphalt. He stops to check his watch and fix his Bailey sweatband hat. He’s five minutes late, so he speeds up his strut. Breathing heavy, he finally reaches his destination. The special club doesn’t seem special at all. Directly facing the boulevard, wide transparent windows, it looks just like any other club in Bucharest. But the secrets it hides lay behind its massive glass doors. Without any second thoughts, the young man firmly grasps the door handle and steps inside.

The room is empty, as usual. A couple of unpalatable red lights coming down from the ceiling shatter the darkness. The fellow behind the bar politely greets him, and then continues wiping some empty glasses.

“Welcome, Mr. A!”

“Are they here?” A. asks without looking at him.

“Yes. You’re expected”

A. takes off his coat and carelessly throws it on an empty chair.

“Would you like me to help you with that, sir?” the bartender asks, but A. lifts up his left hand to let him know he’s fine.

He takes a moment to get used to the poor lighting, and he heads towards a door at the other side of the room. The man behind the bar follows his every move, but turns his head quickly as soon as the door opens. It’s none of his business what happens behind that door. A. steps into a long but narrow corridor and he’s glad to notice there’s a lot of light coming from the walls and ceiling. At the end of the corridor, another door awaits for him. He opens it, and steps into the darkness. From now on, he can only trust his senses.

While keeping his hands in front of him to avoid obstacles, he turns left and stops to take a small, rusty key out of his pocket. For a minute or two, he searches for a lock, and he opens another door, turning the key two times to the right and one time to the left. The unpleasant creak of the door welcomes him into the subterranean galleries beneath the city. One hundred stairs lay in front of his eyes, separating him from the world below. He knows these stairs by heart, so descending is just a matter of routine. At the end of the stairs, there’s an empty corridor. The line of electric lights crossing the stone ceiling from one head to another flickers, leaving the corridor in darkness for a couple of seconds. The construction of the tunnels, dating back to the 1400s and the moisture sometimes render the electric system unstable.

He knows it’s a long walk, so he prepares by fixing his black tie and checking his watch one more time. The echo of his steps breaks the silence and covers the sound of the water infiltrating through the walls. He must be somewhere underneath Victoria Boulevard right now, because he can hear the underground section of Dâmbovița making its way through the columns holding the streets above. A little over two million souls in this city, yet only a few know about the tunnels and corridors dug in the underground. They see Dâmbovița entering the city through the west side and coming out through the east side, but they never wonder what happened to the middle section. A. feels privileged to have had the opportunity to see this hidden side of Bucharest.

But his self-confidence quickly fades away when he sees that final door carved in stone. Behind that door, they are waiting for him. Desperately trying to hide his emotions, he steps inside, his heart throbbing and his blood rushing through his veins. There they are, wearing impeccable suits, sitting at the same oak table.

“We’ve been waiting for you” said the older guy, leaning his hand on his cane. “We knew you’d come back to us, sooner or later”

A. takes off his hat and leather gloves and throws them on the table, right in front of them.

“I know”

“Have a seat” the older guy continued, and A. followed his command.

He was used to all three of them. G. was the oldest and most hostile of them all. He was bossy, but his roughness didn’t seem to hide any cruel intentions. To his right, there was D., unrelenting as usual, and to his left stood P., a tough guy on the outside, but friendly and well-intentioned on the inside. The four of them remained in silence for a few seconds, right until G. decided to speak.

“Where’s…?”

“Amsterdam” interrupted A. “He’s taking a break”

“How convenient! Leaving you here, all alone, when you need him the most”

“I don’t need him!” A. raised his voice to make sure he’s made himself clear.

“Right…” said G., laughing. “Gentlemen, I say it’s time for a drink, don’t you think?”

D. and P. agreed, while A. stood still on his chair, trying to act normal. G. clapped his hands once, and an old butler appeared out of nowhere, holding a silver plate. He placed four half-empty glasses of wine on the table, a wooden box in the center, and right on top of it, a small knife with a dragon carved up on it. Then, he left the room quietly, disappearing as mysteriously as he appeared.

G. took the small knife and made a tiny incision in the palm of his hand, allowing the blood to drip into his glass of wine. D. and P. repeated the process. Now, it was A’s turn to do it. Hesitating at first, he allowed the blade to pierce through his skin. Blood quickly rushed out and filled the glass of wine. And then, they drank. As they always did… The wooden box contained fine Cuban cigars, preserved at the right temperature. The dampness of the room would have spoiled their unique aroma. Each one of them took a cigar and lit it. A. didn’t enjoy smoking cigar too much, but he tried not to show it while he was around them.

“You’re a very interesting case, Mr. A. To me, at least” said G., smoking on his cigar.

“Why?”

“Why?! Because your sense of intuition is outstanding, that’s why! It’s amazing how you follow the path of your destiny without even knowing!”

“Oh, please… Destiny, intuition, these things are NOT REAL. They DO NOT EXIST!” A. was visibly annoyed by G’s words.

“So they say about secret societies. And yet, here we are”

After a short moment of silence, G. gets up from the table and begins walking through the room, using his cane to maintain his balance.

G.: “Let’s suppose a few weeks later after starting college, you see someone in the crowd, at the sixth floor of that building of yours on Iuliu Maniu. There are many people around you, but you only notice that particular person. You know that at some point, your path will cross with theirs, but you ignore that thought. You don’t trust your intuition, although it never proved you wrong. One or maybe two years later, your paths do cross, the evidence is there for you to see, but you still take it as a coincidence. You’re filled with doubt, you start dying on the inside, because you ignore the path that’s been chosen for you. That, my friend, is destiny.”

A., panting: “You’re crazy!” (short break) “No! Not crazy! You’re insane!”

G.: “Why? Because I’m right?” (hitting the floor with his cane): “Look around you, A. How many clues do you need in order to believe in destiny? Do you think that coming here to Bucharest was just a coincidence? Did you just wake up one morning and said <<I want to go to Bucharest and study journalism>>? No! We do not choose our path. It chooses us. And you felt it. You were always aware of it, but you chose to ignore it. You could have made a different choice, but you didn’t! And now it’s time to start listening to that inner voice of yours and do things according to your intuition”

A., going insane: “Leave me alone! All of you, leave me alone!” He decides to leave, but G. takes a hold of his arm and stops him. He then grabs his cheeks with both hands and caresses his lips with his thumbs. A. gives in and calms down.

G., in a soft voice: “I was once like you, silly boy. I doubted myself. I didn’t trust my intuition. I paid with my leg for it. But you… If you don’t leave this state of denial, you could be condemned to a solitary existence or to a life next to someone that’s not good for you. Wake up while you still can! Accept your destiny and trust your intuition!”

A. was unable to articulate any word. He stood there, on the verge of crying, gazing into G’s eyes. He knew the old man wasn’t crazy. He knew everything he said was right and he couldn’t bear being stared at. A. took his hat and his gloves and left the room. He rushed back down the corridor and stopped when he heard steps behind him. He turned around, surprised to see P. following him.

P.: “How does he know about…?”

A.: “I don’t know. Maybe R. told him”

P.: “No! He’d never do that!”

A.: “Look, P… I’ve had enough for tonight. I couldn’t stand you lecturing me”

P.: “Oh, I’m not here to lecture you. I just wanted to say you have all my support, no matter what decision you make. And don’t worry about G. He only wants your best. One day, you’ll take his place and he must be sure you’re the right one for the job”

A.: “Thanks, P. I must go now. I have to decide whether to trust my intuition or not”

A. continued his walk along the corridor, leaving P. behind. Before he left the room where he and G. argued, he had a feeling P. would follow him and try to make an excuse for the whole situation. Could that be a sign his intuition was indeed real? He didn’t know the answer to that question, or at least that’s what he thought. Back on the street, the young man fixed his hat and got on the last bus home. G. had guessed his secret and that tormented him. All he could do now is wait. If G. was right and destiny is real, everything will go according to it. The question that remains is: Will destiny work according to his intuition, or will it turn against him?

Pieces of me

Citindu-mi blogul, mulți mă întreabă de ce nu țin un jurnal, în loc să-mi vărs frustrările pe Internet. Ei bine, nu țin un jurnal pentru că ar fi mereu în pericol de a cădea în mâinile celorlalți, ceea ce ar fi… really nașpa. Adevărul e că obișnuiam să țin un jurnal intim când eram mai mic. Asta până când băgăcioasa de mama l-a găsit și l-a citit. Și a descoperit acolo chestii pe care nu trebuia să le descopere. În fine, de atunci m-am lecuit de obieciul de a-mi așterne intimitățile într-un jurnal. Acum fac asta pe net (mama e prea încuiată ca să folosească Internetul), deși nu le-aș numi chiar „intimități”, pentru că, evident, nu dau tot din casă. Ce e mai interesant referitor la persoana mea, rămâne de descoperit în viața reală.

În continuare, vă ofer câteva dintre gândurile mele complet aleatorii, pagini rupte din jurnalul pe care nu am avut niciodată curajul să-l scriu…

P.S.: Sunt scrise în engleză, așa că dacă nu vă „ring a bell”, nu vă rupeți creierii!

– – –

Darkness

Absolute silence. Not even the rough, distorted song on the radio can penetrate through the waves of my troubled mind. By now, the engine of my car has reached over 2,000 rotations per minute, so I switch to third gear and try to drive faster. I hear it roaring and fighting as I grab the stick shift knob and push it forward, to the right and forward again. Up goes the clutch and down goes the gas pedal. Blood starts pumping and small pearls of sweat break through my skin. It’s dark, there is no light ahead, but I don’t give a damn. I don’t care anymore. I stopped carrying long time ago.

Steady flames burn the concrete shell of my heart, slowly breaking it apart bit by bit, inch by inch. The steering wheel’s slipping under my sweaty hands. I feel like I’m losing control, but it feels so darn good. I don’t remember feeling so good in my entire life. Perhaps I’ve been trying to keep everything under control for too long. That used to keep me satisfied. But now that I’m finally learning to let go, I realize the lack of control pleasures me a lot more. It’s like having an orgasm without any sex at all.

My entire existence has been a lie. Still, it’s funny how this goes. As I enjoy my last moments on this earth, I reckon how empty and lonely my life has been. Deliberately, because I’ve silently accepted it, without fighting, without trying to change anything. But it’s too late now. I’ve got an entire highway in front of me and I know I won’t make it alive. In fact, knowing that death is waiting for me around the corner makes me go on, pushing the gas pedal to the floor, embracing the cold but peaceful feeling that comes over me. No pain inside, no trace of sadness left behind.

The engagement ring clenches on my finger, somehow remembering me I’m leaving something behind. Something… I wish I could remember what. Or who. But I can’t. This pain’s way to deep and too strong to remember anything right now. It’s so dark… Like a small humming bird, the night sets on my shoulder, slowly whispering to come and play, silently dragging and alluring me into its dark and nasty games. I don’t try to hold on. There’s no use. Got nothing to lose anyway. My mind completely snaps and my hands fall off the steering wheel. My leg is stuck on the gas. I can’t control myself anymore. As the circuits of my brain keep blocking, the car goes crazy.

There, there… It won’t be long now… My end is near. I’ve already come to terms with it. I don’t know why, but I keep remembering the lullaby my momma used to sing to me before I fell asleep. I suddenly find myself going back to my early years of troubled childhood. Stricken by incomplete memories, attacked by my very own inner self, I find the strength to cry. I used to feel weird about crying. Perhaps I thought crying is for the weak. Oh, how wrong I was! But wait! Maybe I am weak. But who gives a shit?! It’s so close to being over…

I always wondered what people would do with their last breath. Now I use mine to hum a song I don’t even know. Ironic, isn’t it? It has no lyrics, no logic and no substance, but I feel like I’ve been humming It my whole life. It’s the sweet song of sadness, of remorse and clustered pain, trying to get out.

My journey ends not so far ahead. I don’t have time to feel anything. The  shattered glass and the steel pierce through my flesh, destroying all that’s left of me, an empty shell that accommodated a sad soul for too long, without letting it out for one second. But now it’s finally free. But what’s the use…

Silence used to feel so good… But now, quiet scares me because it screams the truth right to my face. But it’s over. It’s finally over! As my body is picked piece by piece by the paramedics, the curtain falls over a stage soaked in sinful blood. My blood. Life goes on untouched, as if I never existed. Behind the silky bars of my new prison, I watch as my body is laid to rest, along with all my memories. For me, the party’s over. The lights are out and the doors are closing. Not even a ray of light will I see again. I’m left in darkness. Complete darkness…