Peter Pišťanek

The Wooden Village

(Rivers of Babylon 2)

translated by Peter Petro

Reprinted with permission of Garnett Press.

Martin wakes up with the persistent feeling that he is being watched. He shakes himself fully awake. Through the window shutters the neon signs’ obtrusive pulsating splendour penetrates his hotel room. Martin reaches out and turns on the bedside lamp. The dimmed light reveals the massive figure of Žofré standing dithering by the window.

“Oh, shit!” Martin cries desperately in English, and quickly tries to reach for something to throw at the ghost that was once his brother-in-law. So Hruškovič was right to say he was a charlatan and couldn’t really do exorcisms, he realises in horror and grabs a slipper.

“Stop it, man,” Žofré says with dignity.

The effect of his measured and somehow alien voice is such that Martin’s hand holding the slipper freezes in mid-throw.

“I was at one point relieved of my mission,” says the ghost, “but now I’ve been allowed to come and warn you for the last time.”

“No need, thanks!” says Martin and his arm drops in resignation. “If you have no more to do on earth, then what are you doing here?”

“The All-Highest is letting me visit you one more time,” says Žofré.

“That’s nice of Him,” says Martin, and takes his watch from the bedside table and looks at it. It’s three in the morning. “So what have you got for me, Žofré?“ he asks with an ostentatious show of patience.

“In a moment you’re going to be murdered,” says Žofré.

“Get on with you,” Martin bursts out laughing, “Who’d want to murder me?”

“The hotelier Rácz,” says the ghost.

“And why?” Martin says sceptically.

“Because you screwed that slut of his,” says Žofré.

“Don’t be insulting, okay?” Martin objects. “How did he find out?”

“She sent him photographs of you both naked…” says Žofré and blushes. “I’ve seen them, too,” he adds pointedly.

“Damn dirty bitch!” Martin swears in English and leaps out of bed.

“She sent him the pictures to hurt him,” says the ghost, “and at the same time to get back at you.”

“At me? For what?” Junec is at a loss. He visualises Silvia, all lust, desire and passion, screaming in ecstasy.

“Because you slept with her, that’s why,” says Žofré. “She hates men and hates you, too. But no more talk, Martin! In a few minutes Rácz’s three killers will come in and throw you out of the window. It’s supposed to look like suicide.”

“How do you know?” Martin refuses to believe it.

“I heard them a while ago in the car when they were driving here. At the moment they’re walking up the stairs. They won’t use the lift, in case the liftboy sees them.”

Martin clutches his head. He is seized by a moderate degree of panic.

“What am I to do?” he asks. “I don’t have a gun, or a knife on me. I can’t fight off three hit men with my bare hands.”

“Not even one,” says Žofré. “You’re crap; they’re professionals.”

Martin makes a dash to the phone, listens for a while, and then slams the receiver down in fury.

“They’ve cut the line,” Žofré explains. “I did say they were professionals. They’ve thought of everything,” he adds, almost in admiration.

“So, what am I to do?” Martin asks in desperation and feverishly starts to get dressed.

“Well, now even old Žofré comes in handy, doesn’t he?” the ghost laughs maliciously. “You, the pride of the American establishment!”

“What am I to do, Žofré?” Martin repeats the question as he puts a sock on. “This is no time for kidding.”

“What am I to do, Žofré?” Žofré apes Martin’s begging, whining tone. He smiles. “They’ve reached our floor now,” he reveals with a smile. “Now they’ll take a short rest. You’re the one running out of time, my old pal. I’ve got all the time in the world…”

“Well, Žofré!” Martin insists and, now he has his shoes on, gets up.

“Pick up your chequebook and passport,” Žofré says.

Martin opens the bedside table drawer, takes his chequebook out, then his US passport and a wad of credit cards. His eyes spot a Spanish switchblade he always uses to clean his nails. He puts it in his pocket.

“Open the window,” the ghost orders.

Martin goes up to the window and opens it. Six storeys beneath him the street and pavement glisten in the rain, and in the distance the muddy river glimmers. From the port comes a tugboat horn’s prolonged call.

“Jump!” says Žofré.

© Mullek and Sherwood