Posts Tagged ‘art thieves and criminals’

“The Bull’s Blood”, Chapter 32

April 15, 2019

Cover for Bull's Blood

 

Vadas knew where Zoltan lived, though he hadn’t been there in a long time. He passed through a small village behind Noszvaj, where the road cut through a dense forest. Zoltan had a small cottage, down from the village, off the road. Vadas saw smoke from a small chimney.

All of this region was poor and had been since it was settled. World War II hadn’t helped. The villagers survived much as they had before, scratching an existence from the earth. Many of them hunted in the forest for deer and boar to feed their families. They planted cabbage and millet, the poorest of grains. There was the forest for fuel, the way people still heated their houses. This region of northeast Hungary was poorly served by the national gas and electricity. Unemployment was high.

Vadas stopped his Jeep in front of the small path that led to the cottage. A dog jumped off the porch, barking wildly. A woman, not young, came from inside and yelled at the dog. It went behind the house where it quieted down. She smiled at Vadas, showing missing teeth.

She must be a relative of Zoltan’s, thought Vadas.

The woman stood aside and held the door for Vadas. He entered a room where he saw Zoltan sitting, his feet propped on the woodstove. Zoltan was smoking. Vadas embraced him, kissing him on both cheeks.

“You look good, Zoltan. How do you feel?”

“Like I dodged a bullet,” said Zoltan with a wide smile, his eyes twinkling.

Vadas laughed. “Well, you didn’t dodge the bullet, but you live another day.”

Zoltan offered him a cigarette from his pack. Vadas hesitated. He had cut down and mostly didn’t smoke when Elizabeth was around, but Elizabeth wasn’t around right now. Vadas lit the cigarette and drew in the smoke. Ah, he missed this.

Vadas and Zoltan sat in silence. The woman, who was a cousin of Zoltan’s, brought in a tray of glasses, wine and sausage. She poured wine for each of them then went back into the kitchen.

“How is your woman?”

“She is recovering, Zoltan. She is a bit cracked in the head right now.” Vadas twirled his fingers near his temple, like Soffia had that morning.

Zoltan looked at the woodstove and grunted. “To be expected. She went through hell with Miklós.”

Vadas took a long drag on his cigarette. He looked at the glowing tip. It was good to smoke again. “I still don’t know where that bastard is. He hasn’t surfaced. I got all sorts of men looking and nothing. It’s driving me crazy. It’s also driving the woman crazy. She’s jumpy and cries a lot. This morning she tried to beat me up. I’m sore now, and tomorrow I’ll be bruised like a kicked dog.”

They both laughed.

Zoltan stared at Vadas. “You got one bold woman, there, Vadas. Either she’s bold or you’re getting soft.”

“I’m getting soft in the head. Ah God. And I am marrying her. Yes, soft in the head. She’s softening me up for the kill.”

“You know she tried to save me, Vadas? She told me to stay where I was. She started to leap out of the back door. She was going to deal with them. Her dress and heels slowed her down.” Zoltan shook his head and laughed softly.

Vadas drew on his cigarette. “I didn’t know that. I’m not surprised. She’s smarter than she looks.”

“Well, women, Vadas, you know?” Zoltan shrugged his shoulders and picked up his wine. “To life and death, Vadas. To the death of Miklós. In time.”

Vadas tipped his glass to Zoltan. He could drink to that. “How are the grapes?” asked Vadas.

Zoltan had his own vines. Vadas saw them stretching down the hill behind Zoltan’s cottage.

“Good. We need more rain. Always more rain.”

“How’s your cabbage?”

“Small, Vadas, but the woman spreads manure, and they are growing, but slow.”

Vadas finished his glass and put it on the tray. “Look, Zullie. I came to talk to you about something important, something I just found out.”

“I’m all ears. Look me in the eye and speak, Vadas.”

Vadas sighed and shook his head. “When I was visiting the old aunties yesterday, they told me something. Seems my mother was yours. We are brothers, Zullie.”

Zoltan shifted his weight and smiled. “I knew, Vadas. I knew years ago. Not officially. I heard the whispering when I was a boy.”

Vadas leaned forward and snubbed out his cigarette on the tray. His voice cracked with emotion. “What in hell made you silent? No family to speak of, just these two old biddies, and here under my nose I had a brother? What the fuck, Zoltan? Why didn’t you say?”

“There didn’t seem to be reason, Vadas. Life was fine without knowing. Would it really make any difference?”

Vadas stood up, ran his hand through his hair and sat down. “Difference? Hell, yes, it would have made a difference. I could have done more, I could have done something. Look, Zullie, you are my flesh and blood. Do you know what that means? I’ve not had that. I’ve been thinking I was alone in this world. You could have been part, an important part of my life.”

Zoltan laughed softly. “What would have changed? I’ve been a part of your life. When we have need, we know where to find each other. Look, Vadas, I’m not like you. I’m a peasant. I’m a simple man. I have no education and I am comfortable. I don’t have your responsibilities. What do I need? I have this cottage, these vines. I got plenty of wood for the stove. I even got a cell phone.” Zoltan laughed, his heavy eyebrows going up and down.

“No, Zullie. It’s not that simple. You are my flesh, my blood. I have that house and the lodge and money in the bank. Sure, without Miklós’ business, and the needs of the vineyard, the money won’t last. But fuck, Zullie. I have something more than that with you. I got family right under my nose and I didn’t know.”

Zoltan smiled. “Vadas, has anything changed between us with this news? No. We are the same as before. You need me, you find me. I need you, I find you.”

“Look, Zullie. I don’t care what you say. I have to make this right. It’s something I do. I want you to have the lodge. I am going to deed it over to you, understand? You get the lodge and the land around it, okay?”

“Vadas, are you cracked in the head like Elizabeth? What the fuck would I do with that place? It’s too big. Besides, my vines are here. My cousin takes good care of me. I am set in my ways. What else do I need?”

Vadas sighed and passed his hand through his hair again. “You may not need much now, but I am still going to deed the lodge over. No argument from you, Zullie. Whether you live there or not, it’s your inheritance.”

“You should live there, Vadas. Live there with Elizabeth. That house is going to eat you up. Too expensive to fix up and what would you do with all those rooms? No, you stay in the lodge, and whatever the future brings, well, the future will be here soon enough.”

Vadas was out of words and argument with him for now. He changed the subject. “How’s your wound? Are you in pain?”

“Nah, I’m fine, plus I got these pills. They take the edge off life, Vadas. You might need them after marriage.”

Vadas laughed. “I might need them now. That woman runs circles around me. You wouldn’t believe how strong she is. I don’t want to be on the receiving end of her bad moods. I’m going to be black and blue tomorrow.”

They smoked a while in silence. Vadas filled their glasses.

“That woodstove? Heats pretty good? Maybe I put one in the lodge. That place is cold. Elizabeth is going to freeze her nipples off this winter. She isn’t used to the winters up here.”

“She will adjust, Vadas, but I think you need to keep her warm. Being cold will sour a woman fast. We can take it better. And the whining when they are cold! Jesus Christ, they can whine.”

Vadas laughed. “Yeah, Elizabeth is going to have to make a lot of adjustments. This first year will tell. I expect her to buy and hide a ticket back to the States. This winter will say a lot about her devotion to me.”

They drank their wine and Vadas filled their glasses again. “You know she wants to raise sheep? Not for meat, but for wool. What the hell?”

Zoltan laughed. “Be thankful she is doing just that. She could be sitting around spending your money on crap. A few sheep? Not bad for a new wife. Sounds good to me. You can always kill a lamb and blame it on a wolf.”

“We will see, Zullie, we will see. Right now, I worry about Miklós, where he will pop up. Elizabeth is so spooked she doesn’t want a wedding. She wants to get married in a civil service.”

“Not a bad plan, Vadas. Think of the money you will save.”

“Oh! I want you to be witness. You and Soffia.”

Zoltan laughed. “As long as I don’t have to be too close to that hellcat. Even standing next to her gives me the creeps.”

Vadas laughed. “Lesbians. I don’t understand them. What’s wrong with a man?”

“To them? Plenty, I’m sure. Perhaps they paint each other’s toenails?”

Vadas laughed. “I don’t want to think about it. But I have to think about Miklós. I have to figure out where the fuck that bastard is hiding. I thought by now I would have a clue. I don’t and I have several men on the payroll. Nothing yet.”

“Ah, Vadas, you know Miklós. He’s a tricky bastard. But he will surface for air. Just be patient.”

“Yeah, and quiet Elizabeth. She’s afraid Miklós will come through the window like a wolf.”

“He might. I wouldn’t leave her alone again.”

“I got men watching, but Miklós has men, too. It will be interesting to see what happens.”

“Just a thought, Vadas. Miklós might try to strike before the wedding. You find him first before he finds you.”

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted 2019


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