Recently, I published two excerpts from my work in progress, the novel The Ultimate Patient. I received some very helpful feedback, and decided to post a few more selections. This one takes place in the early fifties in communist Romania. Two teenage boys, Puiu and Tibby are caught bringing a gun to school. They want their friend, Boci to use it to intimidate a bully who attacked them the previous day. Puiu is a nephew of Kostea, the central male protagonist in the novel.
“I have something for the three of us,” Tibby whispered.“What?” Puiu asked.“Come, and I’ll show you. But you can’t tell anybody.”Remembering the knife Tibby had brought the other day, Puiu made a long face. Tibby grabbed his backpack, and they left the classroom and walked silently side by side to the boys’ bathroom.“Go look inside,” Tibby urged Puiu, “and get me when nobody else’s in there. But check every stall and make absolutely sure.”
In front of the sinks, two older boys were admiring themselves in the mirrors and smoking. The stalls were empty, and the air was warm and stinky. Puiu walked to a urinal and pretended to use it.“You didn’t see anything, you little pisser,” said one of the smokers.“I didn’t,” said Puiu.The buzzer indicating the end of the break started shrieking.“Lets’ go,” said the other smoker and threw his cigarette on the floor towards Puiu. Then he turned on several faucets, causing the water to run as they were leaving.Puiu squashed the cigarette with his shoe, turned the faucets off, and walked into the hallway. Glued to the wall, Tibby was waiting.They went back into the bathroom and Tibby pushed Puiu into the first stall. “You’re sure nobody else’s in here?”“I’m sure,” said Puiu.“Lock the door and hold my backpack,” asked Tibby.In the tight space, Puiu was squeezed between the toilet bowl and the wall. There was no bowl lid.“Let me sit down,” said Tibby. “Don’t want to drop anything in there.” Heavy and clumsy, his round face was shiny with sweat.Puiu inched further towards the back wall and placed the backpack in Tibby’s lap. Tibby stuck his hands in, felt around for a few seconds, and pulled out an item wrapped in a dark oilcloth. He handed it to Puiu. It was heavy. Tibby lowered the backpack to the floor on the other side of the bowl, took the package, and slowly removed the oilcloth.“What’s this?” Puiu asked.“Can’t you see? It’s a pistol.”Puiu grabbed it. It was cold and oily. It fit his hand, very steady. He had never seen a pistol up close, let alone held one. “Where did you get it?” he asked.“My father. If he finds out, he’ll kill me.”“What do you want to do with it?”“I’ll give it to Boci, and he’ll go see Bucktooth.”“Do you want Boci to shoot him?“No, just scare the shit out of the bastard.” Tibby took the pistol from Puiu and placed it on the oilcloth. He didn’t seem nervous any longer. “Let me tell you something, my friend. Si vis pacem, para bellum.”“I don’t know what you’re saying, and I think you’re crazy,” Puiu whispered.“If you seek peace, prepare for war,” Tibby translated. He might have said more, but the door to the bathroom opened, and they heard steps on the cement floor.“Boys, what’s going on in there?” sounded the concerned voice of Comrade Atanasiu, their home room teacher.*The first article appeared the next morning in Scânteia, the Party’s main daily newspaper. The grainy image of the two boys in school uniform, Puiu and Tibby, was displayed on half a page of the paper, above the photograph of the weapon which, the article stated, was a FN Browning High Power single action semiautomatic handgun. The next day, a more detailed report was published. It included a picture of Boci, along with a persuasive theory on the origin of the handgun, and the full names and biographical information of the three young culprits, their families, and other people related or presumed related to the story.In the photograph, Boci looked scared. He had a dark mark under his right temple, and his upper lip appeared swollen. It was l clarified that the boy had been severely beaten by his father.Given the Waffenants inspection mark on the gun’s grip, as opposed to the possible MK 1 British designation, the weapon was determined to have been of the type used during WW II by German paratroopers (the Fallschirmjägers), known to the Allies as the ‘green devils.’“They’re going to set an example,” commented Marin Burcea, his eyes pinned on the article.“Possessing a firearm is illegal,” said Kostea.“It’s one thing to break the law, and another to be proven a dormant Nazi sympathizer, with a 9-mm handgun under your pillow.”Kostea had to give it to Marin: he always found the crux of the matter. “What do we do next?” he asked. “Puiu’s innocent.”“How do you know?” asked Marin, and glanced at Kostea with an inquisitor’s suspicion.“Don’t do this to me,” said Kostea. “I told you I spoke to the boy, and I believe him.”“You do, don’t you?” Marin relented. “Let me finish reading.”Kostea’s full name, Dr. Konstantin Bardu, was mentioned in the article, along with his wife, Dr. Olga Bardu, and next to Svevolod and Leonard Manoil, brothers, father and uncle of Alexander (Puiu) Manoil, and Marcel Ionescu, Kostea’s neighbor who worked with Vsevolod at the former Malaxa Ironworks, now Red Grivița, and Tibby’s parents, Boci’s father, Bucktooth, under his real name, Gheorghe Văgăună, and by the names of some of his known gang members.“See here?” Marin said after reading the long and confusing list of names. “They’re casting a wide enough net to find what they need, and if they don’t, believe me, they’ll make up the facts.”“Do you think we’re in trouble?”“No, Comrade Bardu, like your cat, Pissu, you will always fall on your own two feet. You and Uncle Leo are represented in a positive light, as faithful Party members.”“He’s not my cat,” Kostea responded thoughtfully.They were in Marin’s office, at the Central Committee building. It was early evening, and his fiancée, Miranda, was supposed to come and take Marin to dinner.
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