Peter Pišťanek

Rivers of Babylon

translated by Peter Petro

Reprinted with permission of Garnett Press.

“ What are you doing?&rdquo said the stupefied lawyer. He was still conscious when Šolik and Tupý ran into the room and all three secret policemen dragged him down the corridor and downstairs to the yard, where they stuffed him into the hotel’s Renault minibus, which was waiting there, with the engine running and Ďula at the wheel. By then, the lawyer had begun to feel the effect of the injection. He was laughing senselessly and his head was slumping. He let them bundle him into the vehicle like a piece of luggage. That’s all he remembered.

It’s cold in the cell. The concrete floor is damp. With a great effort, using the wall for support, the lawyer gets up. The barred window is high, out of reach. The cell is sparsely furnished: a wooden plank serves as a spartan bed; there’s a hole-in-the-ground lavatory in the far corner. The lawyer looks at this with a numb expression. His head aches. He swallows. His mouth tastes as if he had a hangover. His head clears slowly. He has been locked up in the safe house. That means that the ex-secret policemen, Mozoň and his two subordinates, have imprisoned him. Does that mean that they’ve deserted him for Rácz?

A key rattles in the lock. The door opens and Mozoň enters. His face is blank. Šolik and Tupý follow. Tupý is carrying a bucket.

“What’s the meaning of this?” the lawyer asks, his mouth dry. Mozoň shrugs. He nods to Tupý. Tupý puts the bucket in the middle of the room. “What’s that,” asks the lawyer, pointing to the bucket.

“ It’s a bucket,” says Ščepán.

“And what’s in it?” The lawyer is puzzled.

“Water from the Danube, you lawyer pig!” Ščepán suddenly shouts at him.

The lawyer goes up to the bucket and looks down. The water is muddy and foul. He asks, “Why do you need Danube water?”

The ex-secret policemen look at each other with amusement. “Because we don’t want them finding tap water in your lungs when they fish you out of the Danube,” Ščepán explains.

On his command, Tupý and Šolik grab the lawyer and violently bend him down towards the bucket. They force him to his knees and push his head under the dirty water. The lawyer fights back. Ščepán has to come and help his subordinates.

“He’th thtrong, chief,” says Tupý with a hint of admiration.

“Keep pushing and don’t fucking talk!” Ščepán rebukes him sharply.

The lawyer is struggling and making bubbles in the bucket. In a desperate move, he grabs Šolik by the sleeve and rips a piece of his shirt off. Soon his movements weaken. The ex-secret policemen are all wet.

“Shit!” says Šolik. “ A six-hundred-crown shirt!”

The lawyer’s head is in the bucket and has stopped moving. There are no more bubbles. The secret policemen take him out and lay him on the plank.

“Now we’ve earned a hundred thousand,” says Ščepán solemnly.

The men are wet with perspiration and exhausted. It’s cold in the cell.

Šolik is upset.“A six-hundred-crown shirt!”

Ščepán snaps at him.“Shut your mouth! For that kind of money you can buy five hundred shirts.”

Šolik stubbornly shakes his head “ No, no, he says, I’ll never find another one like this. They only got them in the shop once and then they were sold out.”

They drag the lawyer up to the ground floor. They are out of breath. The stairs are steep and narrow. The drowned man keeps sliding down, Ščepán curses and Šolik is aggrieved. He mutters unhappily.

© Mullek and Sherwood