Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Beatrix & Rex

- You're wearing a pink tie.
- I like a bit of color.
- Looks good.
- It is a dangerous world out there. It is important how you look.
- It is dangerous for me. How is it dangerous for you? What is your profession?
- I work for FBI.
- Really?
- Would I lie?
- Aren't FBI agents spies and lying standard practice for spies?
- Not in the ordinary course of duty.
- But it is not in the course of duty that you are talking to me now.
- I am talking to you because I know you are in trouble.
- Why do you say that?
- Your name is on the monitor.
- What monitor? What are you talking about?
- This conversation is over.

I looked at him, calculated. About 50 years old. On his left wrist, an expensive Swiss watch. On the right wrist, a heavy gold chain. Hand tailored business suit. He looked back calmly as I examined him. I turned away and walked over to the girl at the counter.

- Does the FBI come in here?
- Yes, everyone comes to Starbucks. And the American Embassy is just around the corner.
- Oh.
- Have you done anything you shouldn’t?
- All the time.

I walked back over and stood in front of him. He was looking down as before.

- Hell!

I  tore out of the cafe, slowed myself to a walk once out on the street. An unexceptionable car pulled up a moment later. The very pretty driver, my wife Beatrix, leaned over and unlocked the passenger door. I asked her,

- You don’t want to kill me?
- I’ll tell you later. Get in.

I did, and Beatrix drove off.

- What did Gabor say?
- About what?
- What have you told him about me? That you married me only to get a visa?
- Yes.
- And does he believe you? What does he say?
- He asked about sex. He said, he gets sex and doesn’t have to pay?
- Life’s unfair. Tell him I apologize.
- You’re an idiot.
- And I suppose you tell him you’ll go back to him when you have your visa?
- Yes.
- And will you?
- Yes. Maybe.
- Why?
- I like the lifestyle. Every day go to the gym, go shopping, go to restaurants, every month travel to foreign countries....
- No love, no friendship, nothing learned, lying and self deception.
- That’s why I left him. I kept trying to love him, but I couldn’t.
- What was wrong with him, what made him so unlovable?
- He’s a pervert. He’s obsessed with prostitutes. He drinks all the time.
- You married the drunken perverted whoremaster.
- I was a young girl from a village in Hungary. He was a millionaire with houses all over the world.
- Now you are an older girl married to an American, realizing your dream to become American, and still you are going back to the pervert after you get your longed for visa.
- Yes. You’re not a serious man.
- Serious meaning having money.
- Yes.
- Why do you need money?
- To have a beautiful life.
- Life with me is not beautiful?
- You live in a dream world. It is beautiful but not real.
- Why isn’t it real? Why is only money real?
- This is a ridiculous conversation.
- Why is only money real? You have everything you need already.
- No. I am not like you. I have ambitions.
- I have ambitions. For doing things I don’t need anyone’s help with, don’t have to compromise for. Why do you have to be ambitious for money, sell yourself for money?
- Everyone sells himself. To make an impression, get sex, get a job.
- Ask your ex-husband, I don’t pay for sex. And don’t sell myself either.
- And look where you are.
- Where am I?
- Aren’t you worried about the future? You’re getting older. You have nothing.
- And you will be gone, and I will have no one and nothing.
- Right.
- I’ll find something. Some way to live. I’ll be alright. Probably.

We were driving now on the freeway that leads out of the city.

- You’ll die, with nobody to take care of you.
- You think you take care of me?
- Yes. If you don’t appreciate me you can get out here.
- Drop me at the next bus stop.

Beatrix stood on the accelerator, changed lanes, and stopped on the freeway shoulder.

- Get out.

I  got out.  The car pulled away in a spray of gravel.

Up the steep street, then through a passage in the castle wall. The restaurant doorway was on the right, on the left, stairs leading up to the castle courtyard were closed by a wrought iron gate. I entered a code on the wall pad and climbed the steps. The entrance to the Citadel, the circular castle within the fortress walls, was not far. Peter was at the reception desk just as I'd hoped.

- Welcome back. Good to see you.
- Happy to be back. You don’t know how much.
- Adventures?
- Marriage.
- Sorry to hear that. You deserve some happiness. But you look well.
- You too.  I can stay?
- Room 11. It’s free.

He selected a key from the set hanging on the wall behind the desk and held it out to me.

- I’m surprised you’re still open.
- Me too. Do you remember when you came here first? 14 years. I remember you because of the watches. There was always a story.
- I’m finished with watches.
- I don’t believe it. You love the business.
- I got married, one love drove out another. I’ll go to the room. We’ll talk later.

The same photo exhibit, "Children In War" lined both sides of the hallway. Keep going and you'd circle back to the lobby. The rooms on the left looked out over the city, those on the right a small interior courtyard. Room 11 was on the right, just after the pictures of mass graves at German concentration camps. Room 11 was a ruin.

Once inside I traced with my finger the lighter area on the wall where a poster has been taken down. Six beds without headboards, sheets with no blankets. A couple of floor boards were missing by the radiator. Two worn arm chairs faced two simple square tables. There was not a single decoration in the room. I was about to sit down when there was knocking on the door.

- There’s a call for you.
- I’m coming.

Peter held out the telephone to me from behind the reception counter.  It was Beatrix.

- I thought you’d go there. I can predict your every move.
- What am I going to do now?
- You are going to help me. Then you are coming home.
- I just got here. I’m staying.
- Listen, I need your advice. Gabor put 50,000 dollars in a bank account in his name and mine. I have a bank statement showing enough money to get the American visa. But he left instructions with the bank closing the account tomorrow.
- Where are you now?
- I just dropped Gabor off at the airport. I’m driving to the West End Shopping Center. The bank branch there is open until 8 tonight. Do you think they will give me the money?
- He’s given you access for a day? Did he tell you not to withdraw the money?
- He didn’t think of it. He thought I couldn’t.
- Did he tell you he was planning to defraud the American government by producing a false document showing you had access to money you didn't have access to?
- He said he could explain that he simply changed his mind later.
- So the money is yours as far as you know until he changes his mind?
- Yes.
- I think you should try to get your money, because it is yours for the day. The bank statement is worthless. We can't send a false financial statement to the American government.
- OK, I'll go now.

I hand the telephone back to Peter.
- Is everything alright?
- It’s my wife. She’s plotting.  Sit down out here with me. We'll talk.
- Of course. Can I offer you a coffee from our new machine? It wasn’t here when you were last time.

Peter operates the vending machine, takes the two plastic cups of instant cappuccino over to the sofas and chairs in the lobby.

- Have you heard about Alex?
- I ran into him in Paris not long ago.
- He’s aging fast.
- He’s falling apart. 77 now.
- So you know he left the Citadel and moved in with a woman.
- A Russian prostitute he used to meet every night at the Marriot. He had an open account paid by his Microsoft billionaire.
- You know all that?
- Sure. I even know he met his billionaire when 18 years ago he answered a classified ad in Seattle for a French tutor. Alex ended up being language instructor and all-around errand boy for him.  When I ran into Alex in Paris he said to me,

- The Romantic Writer from the Citadel!
- That’s me.
- In room 11 I found a print of an essay you wrote. It was a f#ck*n' masterpiece. Everything was in it. What happened with it?
- Nothing.
- Then what’s new? You disappeared from the hotel, we were worried. What happened to you?
- I got married to a Hungarian girl. In fact, I’ve got a Hungarian billionaire in my life too, at least in my wife’s life.
- You’re legally married?
- Yes.
- Where?
- A Budapest District marriage office. Want to see pictures? Maybe my billionaire knows your billionaire.
- Mine is a snob, hangs around Austrian aristocrats, von This or Thats.
- Mine writes on his Facebook profile that he loves celebrities. It’s the same bunch. He is supposed to have made his money in financial speculation. I wrote him a message, one husband to another.
- What did you say? How come your wife didn’t get any money from him if they were really married? Why didn’t you get any money from your wife if she did? You don’t look any richer.
- I’m not. It wasn’t easy for her taking his money. She said she did her best to convince herself she was in love with him, but couldn’t manage it. He wanted something in exchange for every dollar spent on her. Right after we got married he offered her a thousand dollars a day to go visit him at his “Chateau” in the South of France for five days. She went against my protest. The beginning of the end of the marriage.
- Five thousand dollars. Where’s the money?
- Hidden in some bank account somewhere, with her other money.
- Why didn’t you get a cut?
- I wasn’t in that business.
- You were cheated.
- I was married, even if my wife wasn’t.

Peter shakes his head at me.

- Again, I’m sorry.
- About what?
- Your marriage.
- Don’t be sorry. It’s the best thing I ever did.
- You love her.
- Want to hear about our marriage ceremony?
- Let me light a cigarette. Ok.
- I arrived half hour early at the district office, a converted palace on the Korut.  The entry hall was open, but doors to all the offices shut. I took a seat. It was cool and silent. Mysterious. Where was everybody? About ten minutes to twelve, the appointed hour, the street door let in a rush of noise and I recognized Beatrix’s friend from childhood who would be one of the witnesses. According to Beatrix, she was against the marriage. She sat down beside me, said hello, immediately rose and went out. Silence again in the hall. After another five minutes, the second witness arrived. Said hello, stood there a moment, excused himself and passed out through the door. At noon, I too went outside. Maybe everyone was out there. But no one was. I went back inside, took a seat again. In a rush the photographer friend of Beatrix arrived with camera and her assistant. I asked if Beatrix was coming. Yes. They left too, and the silence of the hall returned. And then the door opened once more and Beatrix swept in wearing a beautiful wedding gown. She sat down next to me, said,

- You're here. Do you have rings? I forget to tell you to get them.
- I got one this morning at the second hand store when I bought my tie. I saw display of silver jewelry in a window across the street and bought this. It matches pretty well.

Beatrix could barely keep her attention on the conversation.  The two witnesses, the photographer-friend and assistant had returned, and were expressing their admiration for her dress. They all went out with Beatrix to smoke. Silence again in the hall. Then the door opened, and the middle-aged civil servant who was to perform the ceremony appeared, and caught my eye in passing on the way to her office. A building caretaker unlocked the doors to the ceremonial chamber and stepped inside, closing the doors behind him. The quiet resumed. It was a lonely business, this getting married. And then everyone swept back in together. "Come on!" Beatrix said. I joined the crowd going into the room for the ceremony.

- Your family’s not coming?
- I asked them. What about your friends?
- I asked. The opera singer...
- Quiet. It’s starting.

The ceremony was over in a matter of minutes. Beatrix and I signed the register, assembled with the others for a group photograph, whereupon Beatrix’s parents hurried in just in time to get into the picture. Everyone passed out of the chamber, congratulatory remarks were made, and wife and husband stood together on the sidewalk alone. I looked at Beatrix in her wedding dress, she looked at me in my black tie. I asked her,

- What now?
- Let’s go return the dress. It’s rented only for the day.

We walked to the tram stop. The light was a soft glare this afternoon. A newly married couple on the tram is decorous and appreciated. I waited downstairs while she went up to the office to return the wedding dress and get into her street clothes. And then back on the tram with Beatrix. She said,

- There’s a dinner at the house. Everyone will be there.
- Am I invited?
- Very funny. What do you want to do until then?
- Let's go home.

I’m surprised at you, Peter says.

- Why?
- You’ve changed. For the better.
- I got married. It nearly killed me.
- Yes. It’s that.
- Fell so hard I saw the truth? Do you know what saved me?
- What?
- A find, a great project. The memory book. You remember the English Professor of Law I used to know? We used to meet almost everyday at the Odeon café when he was in Budapest. But this day the street has been blocked to traffic and thousands of agitated people were standing around. I stopped a photo-journalist as he walked past. What’s happening?
- See across the street? The Broadway ticket office. A member of a Neo-Nazi group went in to buy a ticket to a concert, was told the concert was sold out. He believed the Jewish owners of the agency wouldn’t sell to him because he wasn’t Jewish. He or someone else returned at night to smash the shop’s window, and began organizing on the internet a demonstration against Jews to be held outside the shop. A counter demonstration was organized, the police themselves are making a demonstration of force, blocking the street with barricades.

The doors to the cafe were unlocked from inside just as the Professor arrived. We made for at our usual table.

- Your wife, my lover might join that crowd of haters. They say the same things. Are we self destructive?
- The women chose us, we accepted them.
-  Why did they choose us if not because they could sense that we were self destructive? That we would accept them?
- They chose us because they love us. We accepted them because we love being loved.
- Loved for bad reasons.
- They think you and me benefit from being in a close community. That we help each other, but will do anything against everyone else. The best of both worlds. Community strength, private profit.
- These women are with us because they want to be like us? Hard to believe. They hate us too.
- Yes. Sometimes. When they feel alone and exposed, attacked by us with the strength of “our people”.
- We’re playing a dangerous game with them.

He was prophetic. While he was far away in Budapest a crowd of protesters was outside his house back in his English University town.
- What happened?
- His friend accused him of sexual and personal misconduct, of misusing his power as a teacher and destroying her life. She'd been taking his class in Human Rights Law. My turn soon came. I'd gone through the doors of the Central European University, was showing my identification to the guards when my telephone rang.  “Private Caller”. Hungarian was spoken, then, “moment”, and a man speaking English came on.

- This is the Budapest Police. You are requested to appear tomorrow at the district station at 10.

So there I was. There we were. Me, a lawyer I'd met at the cafe, the police translator, all three of us sitting across the desk from the police officer, a woman apparently less than 20 years old. She says nothing as we enter. No expression on her face. A paper bag with her lunch sat on the desk. My lawyer spoke first. Hungarian to the policewoman, then English to me.

- I placed a stipulation in the record. A husband trying to go home where he lives with his wife is not a crime.

The policewoman responded in Hungarian, with the translator repeating for me in English.

- She says they are investigating.

The policewoman spoke again in Hungarian.

- She wants to know how much money you make, whether or not you have a driver’s license, if you are a teacher of English.
- I’m living on savings from my watch business. I don’t have a current driving licence. I am not teaching English.

The translator repeated this information in Hungarian. The policewoman replied.

- The investigation will be continued. They’ll let you know.

It wasn't long. At the hotel...
- What hotel?
- You know, the one owned by an American friend.
- The hotel you don't pay at.
- That's the one. There was a young guy, an American taking a break in his travelling working at the hotel, siting at the reception desk.
- You’re really in trouble this time, Rex. Three policemen were here and left this for you.

He handed me a envelope. Inside was an official looking letter. I read, then took out my telephone and called the lawyer.

- I just got a letter from the Police. If I fax it to you can you translate it? Call me back and tell me what it says.

The young traveler slipped the letter into the FAX machine and I got out of there. The hotel was the last place I wanted to be.
- You weren't staying at the hotel?
- No. I was putting a distance between me and the only address anyone had for me, practically running, when my telephone rang. The lawyer.

- New charges have been made. This is crazy. Impersonating government officials. That's for starters. You have to appear at another interrogation.

That was it. I sent a message to the Professor: “Meet me at the Odeon. Important”.

It took 20 minutes to get there. The professor was at our usual place.

- I wanted to leave this with you. I’m flying to Los Angeles tomorrow morning.
- It’s a treasure. Where did you find it?
- On one of those days you can take all your unwanted junk out into the street to be picked up by the city. Beds, tables, chairs, televisions, lamps. Just down the block I saw a crate filled with plastic video cassette boxes, but sitting on top this old cloth bound notebook, being rained on.
- As it says here on this page it's a memory book. They used to be common. Young boys and girls had their family, teachers and friends write advice, encouragement, poems, and make pictures. This is a Star of David, of course. Obviously from a Jewish family. 1937, 1938, 1940, 1941. The dates speak for themselves. Time of persecution, the Nurenberg laws.

- Where is the book now?
- A bank vault in Beverly Hills.
- How did it get there? You did go back home?
- Yes. And Beatrix joined me a month later

A domestic scene, Los Angeles. Beatrix had gone back to school to be a Vet. I was reading, as always. Beatrix was working with her laptop at a table covered with papers. Classical music played softly. The doorbell rang.

- Who is it?
- Fed-ex. The memory book is here. Go back to your school work.
- Why? Where was it?
- The Professor had it in Budapest. But when he went home to England he left it with a publisher. They went bankrupt. And he went into hiding from his student-lover - you met her - when she accused him of sexual misconduct. The Publisher didn’t answer my e-mail. The Professor didn’t answer my email. Finally he reappeared, wrote that he’d sent a research assistant to the publisher to get the book. Now it’s here.
- So he’s doing to his student what you’re doing to me.
-  What’s that?
- Taking advantage of a young girl’s innocence.

- I'd like to meet your Beatrix. So what about her? Are you still together?

- You know what they say: Not happy in love? Not happy with no one to love? Better to be unhappy and love.
- If you can’t find someone else to be less unhappy in love with.
- If you can trade one love for another you’re not in love.
- You’ll go back to her then.
- Yes. I always have. What would you do?
- The same. Paris, Los Angeles. Where else have you been?
-Cyprus. A long time before I met Beatrix. Had adventures there.
- Tell me about them.
- Did I ever tell you about my Serbian friend? The woman I met in Budapest? She was running from the NATO bombing in the 90's, eventually ended up in Cyprus. She’d found herself a “protector” in a rich lawyer. She said that since I was “no one from no where” I might as well go there.
- What did you do there?
- The same as usual. Melica and I went up and down the island hitchhiking. She went along with me as I looked for watches.
- You're lucky.
- At a watch shop in a resort town the watchmaker questioned us, and we took turns answering.

- Are you married?
- Do we look like it?
- I don’t know. Maybe. What do you want?
- That’s the way you talk to your customers? I am a dealer in old watches. Do you have any for sale?
- At my shop in Limassol. I open it only one day a week. There’s no business. I have to work here for someone else, and sell insurance during the week. I need money for my family. What does she do?
- I have a second-hand shop. Clothes mostly.
- You have a business relationship.
- What could be better?

The watchmaker looks tall Melica over head to toe. That's his answer.

At the Larnaca flea market I stopped before a table with old machine parts and some watches. The middle-aged man with grease stained hands and clothes nodded to me.

- I’m looking for old watches.
- What kind? I have hundreds.
- Where?
- At my house. Rolex?
- Do you have military watches?
- Rolex military? I used to have a couple. I sold them. I used to deal in military surplus.
- To someone from here?
- A long time ago. He had a shop in Limassol. It’s closed now.
- I think I know who you mean.

- Buy something from me then. For the information I gave you.

Then 6 months of visits to the watchmaker's shop where he still worked on Saturdays, conversation after conversation, negotiation after negotiation. That is when he showed up for our appointments, which wasn't often. But I got one of the two watches and took it back to Zurich.
- You still stayed with your Swiss friend?
- Yes.
- Friends everywhere.
- On my way to Beyer, the watch retailer on Zurich's Bahnhofstrasse, I met Elliot: American, tall, elegantly dressed, a dealer in watches like me, but a lot older. He showed me his watches.
- The Longines has dual mainsprings. Rare. Only 200 Swiss Francs. The Wyler is cheap, 50 Francs, undervalued. What do you have to show me?
- Nothing.
- Nothing? I don't believe it. You always have watches.
- I was going inside Beyer to leave a few pieces of a military Rolex.
- Military Rolex! Show me.
- I bought it in Cyprus from a watchmaker turned insurance salesman. It was probably put together from replaced parts kept by the watchmakers at the English military bases. Badly damaged case, its back gouged by a screwdriver. Oil stained face. A few pieces of movement. I’m going in Beyer to ask what they’ll charge to supply the rest.
- Does the Cypriot have any more?
- Yes, he has another, but it would be nearly impossible to buy: the case and face are in better condition, the movement has more parts.
- I know a collector in New York who will pay a high price.

I called Cyprus when I got home to Ursula's place.

- Do you still have the military Rolex?
- Yes, but there’s a problem. I gave it to a friend who wanted to get a repair estimate. He left the watch at a shop to be repaired without asking me.
- Strange. My American watch dealer friend did the same today with the first watch.
- I can get the watch back, but what if it has been repaired?
- I'll pay the cost, $2500 dollars, and the gold watch I showed you.
- I’ll call you back.

I was cooking pasta when when Ursula brought me the phone, Cyprus calling. It'd been months, and only chance that I was again in Switzerland.

- Do you have the watch?
- Yes. The repair is more than a thousand dollars. Is that alright?
- Yes. Where is the watch?
- My friend still has it. He wants to get the money he spent on the repair.
- I'll pay him.

Sunday I was sitting with the watchmaker in his closed shop. I handed over the gold watch.

- There's still a problem. My friend doesn't want to give back the watch.
- Why not?
- He now says he spent two thousand dollars on the repair.
- If he shows me the receipt, I’ll pay it.
- What will you do, if I keep the gold watch, and don't get the Rolex for you? Go to the police?
- Don't be ridiculous.

The watchmaker clearly is not being ridiculous. He has a conversation in Greek with his cousin, who has joined us. I interrupt,

- What is he saying?
- He says you make too much profit.
- Give me a minute. I’ll write down in detail what the last watch cost me, how much money I paid for repair and how long I waited, how long it was before I sold it and what I sold it for.  Just a minute. Here.
- Can I keep the paper?

More conversation in Greek between the watchmaker and his cousin.

- OK, let's go get the watch.

It was dark when we arrived at his friend's house. Dogs barked inside, kicked at the front door. Our knocking wasn't answered. The watchmaker said it was better we wait at his own house around the corner.

While his wife made coffee he kept trying to call his friend. Finally the call was answered. Loud argument ensued. He put down the phone.

- Let's go back.

We stood at the door, the watchmaker repeatedly shouting his friend's name. The watchmaker's friend must've got tired of hearing it. He emerged from the dark house and was introduced. I asked him to explain the problem to me.

- I only want the money I laid out for the repair.
- Show me the receipt, and I'll pay the cost.
- I don't have it.
- Ask the repair company to fax you a copy.
- No. I have the watch. If you want it, you have to pay my price.
- Did you buy the watch? Pay anything for it?
- No.
- Did you have permission to repair it?
- No.
- I don't see how it's your watch.
- I have possession of it. Legally it's mine.
- Let's go to the police.
- Won't do you any good. The Chief of Police is a friend of mine.

It's midnight. I asked the watchmaker to take me to my hotel.

Two hours later I was awakened by pebbles being thrown at the window. The watchmaker was outside standing beside a police car. I got dressed and went down.

- My friend has been arrested for theft. They want you to go to the station and give a statement.

I gave the statement, sitting at a desk across from a detective typing my replies into a computer. I ask him,

- Where is the watch?
- The watch has been taken as evidence. The case is being investigated.

Months pass. Each time I returned to Cyprus I paid a visit to the police station.

I'd sit patiently waiting, book in one hand, coffee cup in the other. A detective would walk into the waiting room and stand in front of me.

- The case is being investigated.

One day I said to the receptionist:

- I’d like to speak with the Chief of Detectives.

She spoke briefly on the phone, lead me down the hallway, into another office and the desk of the chief of detectives.

- Do you know why I'm here?
- Yes.
- I'd like to know why you haven't finished your investigation. It's been 6 months.
- That's normal for Cyprus.
- But what are you doing? What did you investigate this month?
- Nothing.
- Last month?
- Nothing.
- Month before? Why aren't you investigating? You won't answer?
- Do you want me to tell you why I'm not investigating?
- Yes.

The Chief Of Detectives picked up his telephone, spoke a few words. One by one detectives came filing into the room, lined themselves up along the wall.

- You want to know why I'm not investigating?
-Because I don't want to. Get out.
(in chorus)
- Get out!

I walked down the hall, saw a sign in Greek and English “Chief of Police”. The office door was open, the Chief Of Police seated inside behind a desk.

- I suppose you know why I’m here? About this investigation?

He stared at me without answering.

- About the watch?
- Yes. What do you want?
- The watch.
- I'm not interested. Go.

I went. On the way out the receptionist stopped me.

- What will you do now?
- Call the American Embassy.
- Good luck.

Back at the hotel the owner's father handed me a paper.

- My friend, the Embassy called for you. You can use the phone at the desk if you want.

I  went over to the hotel phone and made the call, reached the Embassy officer.

- We made the inquiry into the watch. The police have now closed their investigation. No charge will be pressed against the second man. Since the police had the watch from him, it will be returned to him at the end of a one week period unless you take legal action to stop it. This was the decision of the prosecutor's office in the capitol, according to the police.

Next step, the prosecutor's office in the capitol.

- I’d like to speak to the prosecutor.
- He's not available.
- I'll wait.

A few minutes later the secretary escorted me into the office.

- You’ve come about the watch.
- Yes.
- A fascinating situation. I will reopen the investigation if you want. But in my opinion, it's a waste of time. If the watchmaker’s friend loses the criminal case, he can appeal. It might take years. Much better to file a civil law suit against him.
- That also will take years.
- Maybe not. Depends on what his lawyer advises when he gets notice of suit.
- Can you recommend a lawyer in Nicosia? The lawyer my hotel sent me to turned out to have ties to the both the watchmaker and his friend.
- I wonder if that would be ethical. Excuse me a moment.

The prosecutor left the office. I heard him speaking with someone in the next room. He returned.

- I can recommend my cousin. He's just begun to practice law in his mother's office. I’ve made an appointment for you. There is time. The watch isn't going anywhere.

He handed me a business card.

Next, the lawyer's office. It was only a few streets away.

- I am already familiar with the case. But tell me again.

I removed a folded sheet of paper from my wallet and placed it on the desk.

- Here’s the "Bill Of Sale" I convinced the watchmaker to make out for me last week. Almost a year after we made our deal. Tax stamped, witnessed by the owner of my hotel, dated and signed, very official looking. A lawyer in Limassol called it a forged document. Is it?
- No, there’s precedent for putting into written form an earlier oral agreement.
- Then what’s my next step?
- Apply for a court order to take the watch away from the police and into the keeping of the court. Then sue both watchmaker and the friend.
- How much will it cost?
- Four Hundred Pounds for court and legal fees.

I took out my wallet and put down on the lawyer’s desk small stack of colorful bills.

- Swiss Francs, but I think about right. Nine Hundred.

Once again in Zurich, Ursula's apartment, in the kitchen drinking coffee at the table and reading, Ursula appears in the doorway.

- Cyprus. Your lawyer.

I went to the telephone.

- The watchmaker's friend has made an offer of settlement. If you pay the repair cost which he now says is one thousand dollars, he will give up claim to the watch.
- I accept.
- Are you sure?
- Yes. If you don’t mind, I’ll leave money for the Watchmaker with you to give to him, the price of the watch less my costs.

Arrangements were made. I flew back to Cyprus. The morning after I arrived there was a knock on the door. It was the watchmaker.

- You’re going to the court to get the watch? Why didn’t you call me?
- I don’t know if anything will happen there. I’ve been to lawyers’ offices, police stations, prosecutors’ offices dozens of times. How did you know I am going to court?
- Your hotel told me. I’m coming with you.

I walked through the doors accompanied by the watchmaker. No one came to meet us. We sat down and waited.

- What are we waiting for?
- My lawyer’s assistant is supposed to meet me here.
- I have to go to work.
- If I do get the watch, you can pick up your money from my lawyer. I am leaving Cyprus this afternoon in any case.

The watchmaker took the lawyer’s card and left the courthouse. Time passed. The lawyer's assistant finally appeared.

- I’ve been looking for you. The court has the watch. I’ve been trying to get you permission to see it. I’ll be back.

She goes. Time passes. She returns.

- They say now they don’t have the watch. The other side’s lawyer isn’t here. I’ll be back.
She goes. Time passes. She returns.

- They say now they have the watch but refuse to show it to you.
- Why?
- I don’t know.

The lawyer for the watchmaker's friend appears in discussion with a couple of other gowned lawyers.

- Finally. This is the other side’s lawyer.
- Do you have the money?

I put the money in his hand. He carefully counted it.

- The best part of my life for the past year has been spent fighting over this watch.
- Why did you? It wasn't your client's.
- He had possession of it.

I waited outside as the friend's lawyer went into an office and shut the door behind him. When he emerged, he passed papers to the assistant, and went on his way. The rest went downstairs, and in another office, papers presented, a safe was opened by a court official and the watch held out to me.

- Is it right?
- New crystal, new hands and winding crown, maybe a new face. The case has been badly polished. Difficult to say if it is the same watch at all. I haven’t seen it for two years.
- What do you want to do?
- Pick up my bag from the hotel, and then go to the airport.

In the hotel lobby the owner was waiting as I got out of the elevator.

- Are you happy now? You’ve been coming here years. Now you have the watch.
- It’s only a watch. Why did you tell the watchmaker I was going to court this morning?
- I’m Cypriot.

At Beyer in Zurich I handed over the receipt I'd been given that morning when I dropped off the watch. The service agent returns with the watch and a written report.

- The watch needs service.
- I was told it just came from service.
- I’m sorry. It failed water-pressure and other tests.

I went to the payphone across the street and called my lawyer in Cyprus.

- Listen. I’m at a Rolex authorized dealer in Zurich. They’ve written a report that the watch hasn’t been serviced. When I deduct the thousand dollars I paid the watchmaker’s friend for servicing the watch, I don’t owe the watchmaker anything. I don’t want you to give him the money I left with you.
- It's not the watchmaker's fault.
-It is. The two were working together to cheat me before they had their falling out. Even if not, the watchmaker is responsible for what it cost me to get the watch.
- Send me the report by fax. And don't come back to Cyprus. Not for a while.

But Peter, I did go back, a couple years later.

- Why?
- It's difficult to explain, even to myself. Maybe where things happen most is where you feel most at home. The Cypriots really couldn't figure me out. Why had I left my own country, to go there and do nothing? Was I doing nothing, was I not a spy, for the United States, for Israel? Was I even really American? Why was I living like I was, spending time with a Serbian woman who, protected companion of a powerful local lawyer plainly didn't belong with me or to me or me belong to her in any way?

One day, then, I heard my name called, and went out onto the balcony. Milica was down on the street with her two terriers.

- Are you ready?

I went down with my bags, avoiding the attentions of the two dogs jumping with joy at the end of their leashes as best I could.

We walked together to the courtyard of the second-hand shop.

She started clearing away the broken banana tree branches blocking the door.

- See what that monster at the restaurant over there did?
- What's wrong with him?
- He wants to frighten me away.
- Just because he tried to push you around, and you told him to go to hell?
- Welcome to your new home.

She unlocked the door to the shop, and we worked our way inside through piled plastic bags filled with old clothes to the spiral stairway to the loft.

- You can sleep upstairs. I don’t think that maniac will try anything with you here.

The dogs were barking outside where they were tied to a tree.

- I’ll be back tomorrow night.

Every morning I'd climb down the spiral stairway, make my way to the front door, unlock it, drag out a table and a chair and make myself instant coffee. I'd sit outside in the garden with coffee in one hand and book in the other. There was no doubt this was better than having an apartment. Books, coffee, a garden, a constant stream of visitors. A tourist came up to me, asked,

- Do you work here?
-  No. House-guest and friend of the owner. Go on in. Prices are on the board by the door. Leave the money somewhere on the book shelves.

He went inside and looked through the books. Then came back out. I asked if he'd like me to make him a cup of coffee.

- No thanks. But can you recommend me a book?
- Since I’ve been here my friend has greatly expanded her collection. Strange books on history and politics and poetry she finds at church sales. Look out for them.
- Do you know the Yiddish writer Grade? In one of his stories a religious man runs his wife’s store the way you do.
- I don’t run the store.
- Exactly!

Melica arrived on her moped bringing with her pizza, yogurt, wine, olives. She put everything down on the table outside, collected the money from the shelves inside, grabbed my head roughly and gave me a kiss on the top of my head, and sat down beside me under the night sky. I asked her,

- Why are you so good to me?
- You made me many beautiful gifts, when you were able to.
- I never would have given you anything if I knew it was going to be considered the price of your friendship.
- Too late now.

It wasn't long before the attacks of the restaurant owner had resumed. The palm branches that had been placed as an awning on the roof have been thrown down before the door. I made one more official complaint at the police station.

That evening a man and a woman entered the shop, then stepped carefully though all the stock back outside to speak with me, where I was sitting as usual reading, with a cup of coffee in my hand.

- Do you work here?
- No, I am staying upstairs. Go in. If you find something you want, leave the money for the owner on the shelf. Prices are listed on the board.

He pointed to the book I was holding in my hand, fingers marking the page I left off on.

- Can I buy that book?
- It happens to be my book, not the store's. But I will be finished in a few minutes, and then you can take it.)
- You are under arrest.
- Why?
- Tell you later.

At the police station he lead me to the holding area and unlocked the gate in the chain link fence.

- Your problem is you think you can change the world.

The next morning, world unchanged, two policemen escorted me out to a police car and we drive to the courthouse. The lawyer I'd picked from a list supplied by the embassy met me at the door.

- Bail will be set. We will ask for a continuance. Are you all right? Good. Let’s go in.

A man came over and introduced himself to me.

- I’ll be translating for you. Stand over there. The hearing is beginning.

The Prosecutor made a statement in Greek. The interpreter translated for me.

- The prosecutor’s representative asked for one thousand pounds bail. Your lawyer suggested one hundred. Two hundred pounds was set by the judge. And you must surrender your passport.

The two policemen drove me to a bank to get the money, and back to the courthouse and my lawyer. He walked me over to a small office where the bail money was paid, my passport handed over, and documents signed.

- To be safe, you must ask for your Embassy’s help. I’ve already spoken with the prosecutor’s representatives here. They’re embarrassed by this. Let’s hope for the best. See you tomorrow.

The next day it was the translator who mets me at the courthouse door and escorted me to the courtroom.

- I’ll be translating for you again. Stand here. The hearing is beginning.

The prosecutor made a statement in Greek.

- The prosecutor’s representative says he believes there is no reason to continue with the case. The judge says he will wait for a written statement from the head prosecutor’s office before acting further. The case is continued until tomorrow, same time.

And again at the new hearing the interpreter stood by me in the courtroom as the prosecutor spoke.

- The Prosecutor says they have changed their minds and will proceed with the prosecution. Case continued until tomorrow, same time.

My lawyer took my arm and lead me to a quiet corner outside.

- I think you must go in person to the Embassy in the capitol.
- The bus stop is just down the street. But what is going on?
- The representative for the police I spoke with told me they were over-ruled by “instructions from above.”

Nicosia was one hour away. I walked from the bus station to the Embassy, a large walled compound, and was admitted to the consular section. They told me to put it in writing.

I wrote out the required statement.

- Have you put down everything? There are no guarantees. But I’ll see what we can do. What is this really all about? Do you know?
- Hatred.
- When does the hearing continue?
- Tomorrow.

I was at the court cafeteria early the next morning. I liked it there. It was a good place to read. The court interpreter suddenly appeared at the table.

- The judge wants this case to move forward. What do you expect from the American Embassy?
-I have asked the Ambassador to contact the Attorney General of Cyprus.
- What does the Ambassador say?
- I don't know. I haven't spoken with him directly.
- Tell him the judge wants an answer.
- How?
- Call him.
- I’ll try.

I called the Embassy, asked for the Consular Department. The Embassy Officer came on the line. I reminded her who I was.

- I’m at the courthouse. They want to know what you are doing.
- The United States doesn't involve itself with the internal legal affairs of foreign countries.
- It is the judge here that is demanding a response.
- Really? Put your lawyer on the phone.

I passed the phone to my lawyer, who spoke briefly in Greek, then passed the phone back to me.

- What do you want us to do exactly?
- I want the Ambassador to call the Attorney General and ask him if he knows what is going on here. Tell him that a prosecutor from his office has said in court that the case should not be prosecuted, there was no grounds whatsoever for the action to continue, then returned the next day saying he would proceed anyway.
- OK, I'll do that
- What did she say?
- The Ambassador will call the Attorney General.

The interpreter jumped from the table knocking over his chair and ran out of the cafe. Five minutes later he rushed back in.

- Case closed! Call the
Ambassador! Tell him not to call the Attorney General".

I made the call. The Embassy officer answered.

- Yes? What now?
- Case closed. The judge wants you to tell the Ambassador not to call the Attorney General.
- Too late. I am looking at him on the phone right now talking with the Attorney General. What happened?
- I don't know.
- Incredible!

My lawyer, who’d followed the translator when he rushed out, has now returned too.

- What do you think happened?
- The prosecutor claims his office found a misplaced document from the capitol that had closed the case days before.

- And what was this all about?
- Like I said: Hatred. Hatred of Americans, hatred of Israelis (anyone thought to be Jewish was considered Israeli), hatred of Serbian and other immigrants, police anger at being defied by me and my friend - everyone said her neighbor worked for the police as an informant.
- Cyprus.
- The place has a reputation.
- The memory book story interests me more. Do you expect to make money from the book? That is what you do, make money from things you find.
- Instead I wrote a children’s book, complete with drawings. It’s here in my bag. Sit back, I’ll read you a bed-time story.
- You’re the only guest, but some things have to be done in my job of doing nothing. Give me a minute.

I took out a lose stack of papers, drawings on top, and spread them out on the coffee table. Peter returned with two more coffees.

- Ready. The story is based on the memory book?
- Yes. Pretend you hear the voice of Kata, Magda’s friend, a young Budapest girl.

Here is a picture of our attic. All those books are ours. And that is Magda sewing my coat.
We have been here for about a month now. Magda has a husband but he had to go away to work.

She is my best friend. And I am her best friend. Though I am only thirteen, she tells me I act like her mother. I don't mind. Her real mother is gone, but I still have mine. And father too. I got the idea for this book from Magda.  I mean I found her memory book hidden on the shelves. She doesn't know I found it. You can see how nice it is. People had time to make nice things then. Myself I have poor penmenship. But no one is going to complain. Like Magda's book, my book is a secret. Did you see the tear in the pocket? In the last picture, I mean. On my coat. Magda and I were at Keleti Station. We weren't allowed to be there, obviously. But I had the pass my father gave me. Here is what it looked like. And this is the station. They are going to resettlement. Magda and I stay here, safe in this house that belongs to Sweden. Somewhere among all those people getting on the train was Gabi, Magda's favorite teacher. The memory book was in my pocket, but I didn't have to take it out to know what Gabi wrote down. The date was 1941. Three years ago. Here it is:

"When childhood first awakes to consciousness, When its faith first is being torn by destiny, When you, heart and soul, cry out in pain, Beware, that's when life begins."

My father tells me that mother watches over him. And he watches over me. Always no matter what. And that I have to watch over Magda. Some people need more watching over, he says. I asked what I could possibly do for my friend Magda. She knows everything. Reads all night. She's married, she's a teacher, She's a tailor. She is kind. She is wise. And father said I was right. Still she needs to know someone is watching over her.    

"In life you're cared for by these three: God, parents, and good friends. Worship the first, respect the second, and never forget the third."

I guess you are wondering about how we got here. Magda used to live with us. I mean our house, our big house, my father and mother and grandmother's house. We had plenty of company, because families from other parts of the city had to move out of their own houses, they were told to, and they came to live with us. Our house became school, dormitory, my father's law office, and political headquarters too, unfortunately, my father says. Politicians. My father always said that word in a funny way. On our last day, before we came here, the politician guy came over in his big car. He saw me sitting outside on the steps, said to Magda beside me, may I? and ruffled my hair. Pretty girl. Are you a politician? I asked. Are you going to shoot me? Do you deserve it? You're the daughter, I recognize you. Your father taught you to talk that way. And he went up the steps and into the house. Five minutes later all the children, all of them, came stumbling over each other out into the street. Magda went inside and came back with the news: we all had to go. We were going to the Swedes. Father had arranged it. We have to hurry. They are coming. The politician came to warn us. And then she turned to go back inside. For the books. I remembered what my father taught me. All these little kids needed someone to look after them. They looked to each other, and saw that every one of them was looking at the others for someone to look after them, they were scaring each other looking for help from each other. Mother, Father would say, is not here, but I know she looks after us. She demands we do good, she's watching to catch us out. So I thought, give the little kids something good to do. I said,-Magda, tell them we're taking the books. We're taking the books! Get them to repeat it. Line them up, up the stairs, along the street. We'll pass on the books kid to kid, from our library to the Swedes house. We can see it from here. I took Magda's elbow and got her going. She was shocked like the rest at having to move again so soon. And my father was right. The books arrived in our attic here, the kids came with them. This is what Magda's book says:

There are two beautiful things in life, On which destiny has no power: Diligence and morality, On earth and in heaven we're blessed by them.

In the picture of our house you can see the Swedish Flags and the sign above the door, "Svenska Bibliotek". Father said it was Mr. Wallenberg's idea to call the house a library. Now where the sign is really is a library!It was through Per, the man who worked with Mr. Wallenberg, that Magda and I first met. Magda translated German and Hungarian for Per. Per and Mr. Wallenberg are Swedes who are helping us.Father worked with the Politician, as he called him. And both of them often went to see the Swedes. Father always says he liked to keep me in his sight and out of everyone else's.He took me with him to meetings, Per took Magda, so often Magda and I found ourselves waiting together, this time in the kitchen of a big house out in the Buda Hills that Per was renting.We sat over the coffee the house maid prepared for us, listening to the murmur of voices coming from the dining room, the voices of the German Eichmann, Per, and Father. That reminds me. It's hard to describe Magda's voice. She doesn't like to talk much. She likes to sing, especially while she sews. I said to her in the kitchen,- The men in the other room: they are deciding who lives and who dies. Magda looked at me with her quiet eyes. I knew what she was thinking. She was thinking that I was too young to know.But we both had been there at the train station. We saw the brave Mr. Wallenberg jump on the roof of the train, throw in his Shutz Passes, lead the people out of the train and station and into his cars with Swedish flags. The Germans shouted get down! stop! they shot their rifles into the air. He didn't go through that to save people from "resettlement". Even a 13 year old can figure that out.We can at least know what they're saying, I urge Magda. Come with me.We take off our shoes and tip toe to the closed double doors of the dining room.4.Crouched outside, in the hallway around the corner from the closed doors to the dining room, we can clearly hear three voices. Per, the Swedish Diplomat, Adolph Eichmann, the Nazi officer, Rudolph Katztner, the "Politician". Per is saying to Eichmann,- You should worry about what will happen at the end of the war. About your future.- You should be worried too. The Russians will get here first. They will be uncertain about who you work for. Sweden? America? Other countries?- We receive financial support from the American Refugee Relief Board. It is a humanitarian organization.- If you say so. You use American money to help the Jews stay, when it is my job to send them away.- But you know Germany has lost the war.- We can still complete the task we have set for ourselves.- You are talking about killing people.- Killing Jews.- For the glorious future of Germany, when Germany has no future. You say so yourself.- Watch yourself, my dear Per. We Germans still have our present, and presently we are here in Budapest.- I'll ask you again. Why send people to their deaths for an idea you don't believe in? You say the killing will make the world a better place for your people, who might soon be killed to make the world a better place for their conquerors.- And I'll say again, Watch yourself, Per. I believe in doing my job. I am well rewarded for it. I will do it as long as I can and will enjoy doing it up until the end.What do you say, Herr Kasztner?- I also believe in doing my job, and that is saving people. The future of nations, polite dinner table gossip I leave to the diplomats.- Bravo. $1000 each transported. Train to Switzerland. That is true international language. You'll have your train, I promise you. Do your work, I'll do mine.

Magda is surprised, me too, when Father appears standing before us, a quizzical expression on his face. I say,- There you are.- There you are. Clear out!- Where have you been?- Making a telephone call. What business is it of yours? Back to where you are supposed to be, you two!In the kitchen Magda stands before the stove, her face turned away.- Magda! Only God decides who lives and who dies.- I have to trust Father will do what is right.- What can he do alone?- He can be a good man. Kata, come here. We will sit in this kitchen and drink another cup of coffee. We don't get it often. You want to think a way out for us, then go ahead and do it. I'll see that Father listens to you. Right now we'll try to be good to each other.She puts her arms around me, rests her head on my shoulder. I'm big for my age, so it isn't too awkward.

In life you're cared for by these three: God, parents, and good friends.Worship the first, respect the second, and never forget the third.

That's from the first page of the memory book.

On the Sabbath Magda and I exercised our privilege, as Father would say, of leaving our house with the Swedish Flag driving in Per's car flying the Swedish flag.The Pest Synagogue was full. Here is a picture. We looked down on the crowd from the women's balcony high above. I said to Magda,- If I ran down there, climbed onto a chair and shouted, you all are going to die! what would happen? There are thousands. They'd tell their friends.- The Germans would take you away. No one would believe you, man or woman.They'd say to each other that if it were true, the Rabbis would have told them.Do you see that boy? Blond hair, blue eyes? That's Lantos.- Your friend?- You've seen him at home. He brings medicine to all the safe houses. He's coming tonight.- He looking up at us.- Don't look! Let's go to the car.In Magda's book I read:"To love many is a guilt,To love two is a sin,To love One is sweet,Solely be faithful and warm."7.Magda has gathered all the children together for school. I don't have to attend because I take lessons all day living with her up in our attic. And anyway everyone keeps talking about how advanced I am.The surprise I have for Magda is that Lontos is coming after class with Father. We are going to ambush Magda. We need her good sense.By the way, he is not really her father. He's my father. He is father to her, he says, as she is mother to the children. As I am mother to her!Father arrives just as the class ends. Lontos is with him. Father kisses Magda on the cheek, kisses me on the cheek. Lontos signals to me with a little wave of his hand. He says,- I hope Kata was telling me the truth. She said that you would listen. She and I have agreed on this: we cannot choose between selecting some to be saved, and warning the rest the resettlement trains are death trains. We have to do both.- How?- If people are warned, they can try to escape, they can hide, they can defend themselves, they can join the resistance.- Why would they believe you?- We will choose the people who are ready to believe. We'll do it quietly. That's what we are doing now. We won't destroy Kastner's deal with Eichmann.Take your house full of orphans on the Kastner train, if you can do it. But help us too. We'll find those who will believe. We'll do it quietly. They'll join us, save themselves and others. Will you help? Kata, ask your father.- Father?- Magda, what do you think?- Yes. The Memory Book says:

"In the storm of life your clear inner-self is the best shelter."

This is a picture of train station goodbyes.

The memory book:

"It's hard to find a good friend, And a true, whole-hearted partner. But it's even harder to be separated from the one you love, when it's such a precious thing you can't find anything like it on the whole Earth.

Time passes quickly. I'm growing up fast. This is the last I will write for a while. Magda refuses to go with us. She won't take a chance from someone else. And there is work for her here. Lontos is staying too. He laughs: Kastner forgot to save him a place on his train! He promises to look after Magda.

- And?
- I didn’t know about Kastner. Did he get his train?
- Yes. But he didn’t himself go on it. He ended up in Israel, became a party politician and journalist. In the 1950’s the story of what happened in Budapest came out. A Hungarian immigrant started publishing pamphlets about him. Kastner got the government to sue for libel. But the court ruled there was no libel because he in fact collaborated with the Nazis. He went into retreat, filed an appeal. Before it could be heard he was shot outside his apartment by a former Israeli spy. The next year the court reversed the judgment and exonerated him.
- What's your interest in this?
- I found the book. If you don’t mind, let’s change the subject.
- It’s dark. I’ll turn the lights on.
Do you know what I liked best about living with my wife? Sitting in the garden in the house in the country, reading Shakespeare. How can we be happy with people who do everything to make us unhappy?
- They don’t do it all the time.
- You’re speaking from experience.
- Yes. She loved you.
- How do you know that?
- I know from the stories. From knowing you. How was living with her in the countryside?

Good times and bad. On a good day Beatrix said to me,

- You're precious to me. I have to take care of you so you'll last. Sit down. I'll cut your nails.
- You don't have to. Why am I precious to you?
- I know you'll never leave me.
- You'll leave me before I have a chance.
- Don't you care?
- What can I do about it?
- You could leave me.
- You just said you know I won't.
- You could leave me first, when you know I am going to leave you. That's what I do.
- Remind me when the time comes.

- In spite of all, because of it all, life is beautiful with her. She says she herself isn’t beautiful, only knows how to make the most of her good points. She does stretching exercises every day, runs for 40 minutes, is dedicated to her singing. She tells me she loves me. Do I love her? How could I not. She cooks for me, sneaks downstairs in the morning to read the notes I am making. She wants to know everything about me.

- And what about you? Do you know everything about her?

I took out my laptop, typed in an internet address.

- I’ve a couple of web sites I put my stories on. This one is named after my wife.

I typed in another address.

-  Google Analytics for the site. The month of March, before we returned to Hungary. On the 18th, 3 visits, averaging 12 minutes, from a small town in New Mexico, Alamogoro. Beatrix has a friend there, a German Soldier stationed at the American Air Force Base.

- How do you know?
- She told me about him long ago. Here are records for another site. On the 27th, 2 visits from Horse Neck, New Jersey. Same date she re-set her Facebook profile to show this town as her home.
- And who is there?
- That I don’t know.
- You write, and she watches you. She reads, and you watch her.
- We keep in touch.
- How, when did you meet your wife?
- The day I got out of Cyprus. I'll tell you how.

The airport bus took me to the metro station, the metro brought me to Budpest. A wet, grey day. I walked fast through the gloom and noise of the streets to the Odeon cafe, and once past the double doors, I was relieved to see the couches and arm chairs were just where they were the year before.

Around me were the same grim faces, miserable or just locked in concentration. I set down my bag, arranged my books on the table. Across the room, sitting where I usually did when I had a chance, was a young woman alone. She looked back at me. There was something taunting in her expression. Her hair style looked newly achieved, and expensive: these were warnings. I got up and said hello. Beatrix asked,

- Are you American?
- Yes.
- What do you do?
- Don't really do anything, in the past I’ve made money dealing with old watches between other dealers, in a small way, but at the moment I’m writing.
- Writing what?
- Stories from my life. Trials, police, courts, in Cyprus and New Jersey.
- You get yourself into trouble?
- Sometimes. So far I have always got away unharmed, left it all behind. Mostly I read all day.
- Are you from New Jersey?
- No, Los Angeles, but part of my family moved there.
- I have to go now.
- Can I call you later?

She wrote her phone number on a newspaper margin and said goodby.
We met again at a shopping center in Buda.

I ran through heavy rain from the tramstop to the entrance and looked around for her. She came out to get me.

We took off our winter clothes, sat down in a cafe booth beside each other. Neither of us spoke. Beatrix asked,

- What's wrong?
- I am lost here.
- In Budapest?
- No, here with you.
- Don't you like me? Should I go?
- No.
- Do you want to know my story?
I studied English Pedagogy at the University, I work at night at a school teaching English. I’ve signed a contract with Universal Music to sing with a band and record a CD. The company wants to make me a star, create an image for me. Do you care? Are you interested? You don’t like popular music?
- No, I do. I would like to hear you sing.

Beatrix got up and started to walk away. I caught up with her.

- Don't go.
- I'm lost.

That's how it started. Beatrix sent me a message, did I want to go with her to see a live performance of Fiddler on the Roof, In Hungarian? I did.

She picked me up and drove to the theater. With still an hour before show time we ordered tea at the Chinese restaurant on the corner. Beatrix asked,

- What do you think of me?
- I don't know you, I don't understand you.
- Why are you here then?
- I'd like to get to know you.
- Why?
- It is the old story of wanting to have a story. What else is there in life? Why are you here with me?
- You're interesting. A stray. A hermit hiding in the open, an adventurer against his will, a reluctant warrior.
Better and better!

After the play her car isn't around the corner where she expected. It takes half an hour of walking deserted streets to find it.

- I'd like to go out. Look at the river, the lights. It's been a while.
- The best view in the city.
- I feel so much at home here and it’s not my home at all. This hotel, the country itself can throw me out any time. It’s like being with my wife.
- Is that why you didn’t come back for so long?
- Yes. I don’t understand.
- It’s just life. We don’t understand even our friends, not much, but we’re re-assured when we’re with them. You’re wife will come back to you.
- And then leave again.
- And you can go traveling.
- And return, to her, to the Citadel.
- You’ll be welcome.
- Let’s go inside. I’ll tell you one more story.
- Just a moment.

Peter leaves, returns with two bottles of beer.

-The story?
- You like cafes. You’ll like this.

When you sit down at a cafe, square your arms like a king along the rests of one of two comfortable chairs at the small round table, and look over at a stranger, the temporary companion in life sitting in the other chair, you might have something like this happen.

I brought my coffee over to a table. Across from me was a man with movie star looks, in his mid-thirties, typing into a laptop. I ask him,

- What are you working on?
- I’m working now with SEO, Search Engine Optimization. Getting your company higher up on internet search results. But I’m interested in getting into the movie business. Are you a writer?
- I have writing on free sites I would like to make money with. Can you help?
- I can get sites noticed, but it’s up to you to have something to sell on them. Do you?
- Not at the moment.
- When you do we can talk again. Where are you going from here? I have to leave for an appointment, can I drop you somewhere?
- What direction are you going?
- It doesn’t matter. I’ll take you where you’re going, if it is not too far.

In the parking lot he points to a new Jaguar

- It’s this one.
- Nice car.
- A gift from a movie actress. I met her when I had a shop with partners selling luxury furniture. We went out once. She liked me. Asked me to meet her a few days later at a Jaguar dealership. She gave me a choice: do I like the dark one better or the light one? Take my pick. The ownership papers came in the mail a little while later.

The traffic is heavy tonight.

I used to sit at the shop with People magazine open before me, concentrating on one famous person or another. Sooner or later they would appear in the shop. I even tried this on birds, and they appeared in the sky as ordered. If you are grateful, you get what you ask for. At least it works for me.

- I was wondering what had happened with a girl from Romania I used to know. And then a couple of days ago she wrote me an email after no contact for seven years. Come to New York and see her! She was traveling with an Italian boyfriend who had to go home suddenly for a family emergency. The problem with this invitation was that the last time I saw her she was robbing me at gunpoint with her boyfriend of that time. A case of be careful of what you ask for.
- Yeah.

The car arrived in Westwood. Good-byes were exchanged. As I closed the door, he leaned over to speak through the window.

- I asked for you.

The sound of a car is heard driving up into the castle courtyard. Peter got up and opened the hotel door. Beatrix rushes in past him, sees me and says,

- Let’s go.

(continued at: In Budapest)