budapest sin READ AN EXCERPT by nuhman10


									         Bűnös Budapest
         (Budapest Sin)
          by Vilmos Kondor
translated from the Hungarian by David Robert Evans

        The young, svelte girl was hesitant as she made her way to the ladder leading to the
“No one saw the young girl make her way to the ladder leading to the pool.
        Witness reports...
        She looked around; there were but a handful of others in the water. In the corner of
the left hand viewing stand, an old woman wrapped herself up well in her towel, and one of
the changing cabin attendants quietly slipped through the door to the male shower room. The
sound of loud conversation seeped in as he opened the door, but only for a moment. On the
bottom row of the right hand viewing stand, a middle-age man had been struggling with his
swimming cap for a good while, but was not able to put it on without at least one lock of hair
sticking out.
        ...are all consistent in stating that there was nothing unusual in her
        behaviour. We should note here that, by her own admission, neither
        Mrs. Elemér Goldbach‟s hearing nor her sight are what they once
        were. Under oath, lifeguard...
        Almost unnoticeably, the girl wobbled on her feet. The movement would have been
enough for the lifeguard to move closer to her, except that it was precisely the lifeguard who
was in the shower room describing the ins and outs of the Hungarian water polo team‟s
training that day to anyone who was interested. The girl‟s long fingers wrapped themselves
around the steel poles, pressing so tight that her nails paled. Her elegant swimsuit clung
perfectly to her supple body, emphasizing her long legs. Clinging to the steel railing, she
stared at the grate of the overflow system in front of her. Suddenly, the slightly chlorine-
smelling and improbably blue water was dirtied by a spot of red liquid. The flow of water
soon washed it away. The whole thing happened so quickly, the old woman and the man in
the swimming cap would not have noticed anything even if they had glanced in her direction.
The girl held her hands up to her face. Another drop fell on her hand. The blood, like a heavy,
oily wine, slowly spread over her thin skin. The girl just stared at the red drop, non-plussed.
She lifted up her head and gazed at the row of lights on the ceiling. She felt the light was
blinding her; so bright did it seem to be, she covered her eyes with her hand to stop herself
being blinded.
        ...István Jana stated that he had just stepped out to the bathroom for a
        moment, cannot have been there for more than a minute, and that he
        only saw the girl as she approached the pool. Private clerk Benő Kántor
        also stated that he did see the girl at the edge of the water; in fact he
        found her so attractive that he gave her a good look over, but then lost
        his concentration, and by the time he next glanced in her direction...
        She was trying to work out what she was doing there, what on earth she was doing
exactly there and exactly then, when by rights she should have been at the theatre, but she
was simply unable to do so. She peered into her brains, but only saw concentric circles,
fragments with torn edges; they could have been memories, but she wasn‟t even sure of that.
Neither was she sure what the dark spot on her hand was. Was it raining? Inside? And just
one or two drops? On her hand and nowhere else? She glanced down at the pool‟s surface,
smooth as a mirror. She just stared and stared at the water, then all of a sudden heard a
deafening scream. As if a lion had roared as a sword was sunk into its back. She lifted up her
head and looked around in horror. The old woman had already packed up her things, and was
flicking through the 8 Órai Újság newspaper as if she had all the time in the world; the man
in the swimming cap sat on the viewing stand with his head in his hands. They didn‟t hear a
thing. So are they in on it? They must be in on it, they simply must be in on it, there is no way
they could have failed to hear the scream, which was immediately followed by another one,
then there were rings of fire on the water, crackling cheerfully, as if in the hands of a circus
performer, just dancing on the icy-smooth water, sometimes drawing closer, sometimes
further away; the girl watched the circles, terrified, spellbound. Meanwhile the scream was
followed by a second one, but this quickly vanished, to be replaced by a deep, gutteral sigh.
The girl couldn‟t imagine who would sigh so loudly, and why. This is the Emperor‟s Baths, a
swimming pool, after all. Wait a minute, no, it couldn‟t be that, because that... But she
couldn‟t finish her thought, just as she could no longer remember which pool she was in,
because the circles were dancing in front of her eyes, more and more ominous, more and
more inviting. They span round faster and faster, the screaming was continuous now, its pitch
even higher; the girl clasped her hands to her ears in horror. In the meantime, the densely-
flowing, red-brown mark on her hand had become larger. The current was still washing the
blood away through the filter, but the red liquid was slowly starting to seep back in. As the
girl clasped her hands to her ears, her eyes suddenly gazed upwards, her slender body was
convulsed by cramp, her arms fell to her sides, blood poured out of her nose, and she
collapsed forwards. As she fell she crashed her head into the steel railing: if she hadn‟t lost
consciousness a few seconds previously, she had certainly done so now.
         The old woman and the man in the swimming cap heard nothing of all this. The girl
was lying by the side of the pool, her right leg almost all dangling in the water, her left leg
submerged up to the knee. Had her body not been convulsed again by cramp, this might have
been how they would have found her; in fact, this sudden movement made her start slipping
slowly into the water. She didn‟t feel the water gradually filling her lungs. She took a couple
of breaths, splashed about unconsciously, the vomit and the air left her body, bubbles rose to
the surface of the water, and her body slowly began to sink. Her arms and legs floated on
lifelessly, her head turned to one side; blood still trickled from her nose, but not for long, as
her heart stopped, and could no longer pump the blood which was dissolving in the water as
might a drop of milk in a strong morning coffee. Her chest landed on the tiles covering the
bottom of the pool with a soft thud, followed by her pelvis, then, all at once, her head, arms
and legs. Her body became slack, there was no longer any sign of it having convulsed; her
head rebounded slowly, very slowly, off the tiles, then turned to the side, her arms and legs
extended; now only her long hair swirled in the slight current generated by the water-pump.
         ...there was nothing to see. These are Kántor‟s exact words to the
         police: “She disappeared so quickly, I thought she had jumped into the
         water, but I did not hear a splash, and I did not see any ripples in the
         water.” After questioning them at the scene, the detectives of the
         Hungarian Royal State Police let the witnesses go. Lifeguard Jana
         testified that he had seen nothing unusual. It was dark in the pool by
         then: for reasons of economy, fewer lamps are on if there are few
         guests swimming. He saw nothing suspicious on the water, and after a
         few minutes had passed he requested those still present, Mrs Elemér
         Goldbach and Benő Kantor, to leave. It was then he noticed the towel
         with no owner, and remembered the young woman. It was only by
         force of habit that he looked at the pool, at the bottom of which he
         spotted her lifeless body. He threw himself into the water immediately,
         and carried her up to the side of the pool. He tried to resuscitate her,
         but to no avail. It was then that he used the telephone to inform the
         police, whose excellent representatives reached the scene and soon
         rendered it safe and questioned the witnesses.
      József Tuna, the detective leading the investigation, revealed to the
      reporter from the 8 Órai Újság who arrived on the scene merely that
      they had not managed to identify the victim; the paper has learned
      from a reliable source, however, that the dead girl is none other than
      Manci Molnár, otherwise known as Feathery Lola, a diseuse at the
      „Atelier‟ in Nagymező Street, who was predicted a glittering future by
      colleagues and critics alike. More details about the death of the
      drowned girl in tomorrow‟s issue.

8 Órai Újság
18 September 1939

        It was around quarter to two in the morning – the time the first sizeable military unit
crossed the border – that Zsigmond Gordon first began to regret not bringing a photographer,
even though he could have done. Not officially, of course. Gordon‟s editor was at pains to
point out that he could not take a photographer with him: the publication of the article itself
was in quite enough doubt, not to mention that of one or more photographs. Gordon was not
surprised. It had long been the censor from the office of prosecutions, not the editors, who
had decided what found its way into the paper.
        Nevertheless, he would have been glad to have one of his photographer colleagues
with him, as this really was no ordinary sight. He had never been witness to anything quite
like this, as was only to be expected: he had not served in the Great War, had never been on a
battlefield, or even been conscripted. By the time he turned eighteen, the war had already
ended, and previous to that he had felt no duty to pretend he was older and join the Imperial
Army as a volunteer. Except at military parades, he had never seen this many soldiers in one
place, yet it was less this that was strange, and more the spectacle as a whole. It was like a
scene out of a Cecil B. De Mille film. Gordon was standing with a handful of his colleagues
in the guard room of Szolyva police station, which was serving as a border post. The barrier
marking the border stood open. Someone had placed a high-powered lamp on the roof of the
building, which lit up not only the barrier, but both sides of the border. No one was guarding
the Polish side; Hungarian policemen in uniform were giving directions to those arriving in
the country. Hundreds and thousands were crossing the border every hour. Men and women,
old and young, families and children, on foot, on bicycles, on horses and carts, in trucks. And
soldiers. Gloomily, heads drooping, only loosely keeping their formation. Like a defeated
army, but one that had never seen a battle. They were not fleeing with the civilians out of
cowardice, but because they had no other option: when it seemed that the Polish army would
be squeezed between the German army advancing from the West and the Soviet troops
approaching from the East, the Hungarian government took the decision to open the border to
them. All those able to take the opportunity did so. People were arriving round the clock,
huge numbers of Hasidic Jews, little boys like their fathers in unwieldy black coats, kippas on
their heads, with only their curly sideburns sticking out of them. Alongside them were many
hundreds of soldiers, rifles over their shoulders, in full uniform. They all brought as much
with them as they could bear. It was then that Gordon was nudged in the ribs by Gábor
Karvaly, a colleague from the 8 Órai Újság.
        „And are the police aware that these people are not invading us, but fleeing over
here?‟ he whispered with a chuckle.
        „You‟d better ask Captain Jeney that,‟ replied Gordon, pointing to the police officer
standing under the gable and gesticulating frantically. Gordon saw him asking something, but
was not interested in the policeman‟s response. He looked at the faces, the faces of those
fleeing. In those of the soldiers, he saw determination, in those of the civilians, he saw relief
mixed with alarm. Meanwhile, the uniformed police were stopping everyone, taking their
details, then directing those on foot to the army trucks, and those on vehicles more powerful
than bicycles to the convoys heading for Pest. The soldiers were forced to hand in their
weapons; these were packed onto separate trucks after an inventory was taken.
        Gordon just stood there, gazing at the never-ending flow of human beings. His
colleagues had told him the situation was the same at the other border posts. The refugees
were constantly coming over the crossings on this short stretch of border. Ever since the
border had quietly and secretly been opened, hundreds and thousands had crossed into
Hungary. Newspapers only learned of this by word of mouth; though they knew there was
little chance of publishing a detailed account, the more important dailies and even a couple of
weeklies had sent their correspondents.
         Gordon became aware of a sudden honking of horns. He saw how people were
making way for three trucks decorated on their bonnets and white canvas roofs with the sign
of the Red Cross. All of them had Polish number plates. Gordon left the room at once and set
off toward the trucks, only to get his coat caught in the branch of a tree and to tear a large
hole in it. He pulled it out from the branches and rushed off in the direction of the trucks.
Were there casualties after all? Or were they carrying patients?
         By the time he had fought his way through the flow of people, the first two trucks had
vanished into the darkness; the third, however, was only creeping forward at a snail‟s pace, so
he simply stopped in front of it. The driver honked his horn; Gordon gestured to him to stop.
All around, people were slowly but surely heading towards the policemen. He went up to the
driver, who was staring into space, bored.
         „What are you carrying?‟ Gordon asked in Hungarian.
The man shrugged his shoulders.
         „Do you speak English?‟ Gordon continued, when he saw the Polish driver spoke no
Hungarian. The man shook his head.
         „Sprechen Sie Deutsch?‟ he asked, hoping the driver would not say yes: the question
itself was more or less the sum total of his own knowledge of the language. The same turned
out to be true of the driver. So Gordon drew closer to him and offered him a cigarette. There
were very dark rings under the eyes of the man‟s stubbly face; he quickly took a cigarette,
scraped a match along his fingernail, and breathed in the smoke. Gordon tried to use sign
language to ask what was in the back of the truck, but without success. The man took a deep
puff on his cigarette, then threw the stub out of the window so quickly, Gordon was hardly
able to step aside. The driver put his foot down, but was not paying attention, and a horse and
cart rushing by him tore off his right hand rear-view mirror. „Son of a...‟ he exclaimed in
tasty Hungarian, as he hit the brakes. Gordon looked at him in surprise; the man showed him
his yellow row of teeth, stuck the vehicle in gear again, and slowly rolled off. Gordon rushed
up to the police caption standing in front of the guard post. Detective inspector Lajos Jeney
was in his early fifties, his jacket misbuttoned; the look he gave Gordon was a pained one.
         „What do you want?‟ he asked, his glance sweeping over the crowd.
         „That Red Cross truck.‟ Gordon pointed to it. „Make it stop.‟
         The man looked at him.
         „Make it stop? Why should I?‟
         „D‟you know what it‟s carrying?‟
         „Why would I?‟
         „Don‟t you care?‟
         „Why would I?‟
         „Don‟t you have to inspect all cars and trucks to see what they‟re carrying?‟
         Jeney did not respond. He merely gestured to his men to clear the road in the path of
the trucks. With whistles and shouts, the uniformed police dispersed the crowd to the side of
the road. Gordon looked on solemnly as the three trucks with white canvas roofs disappeared
into the night.
         „What did you ask me?‟ Jeney asked Gordon.
         „Why did you let them through?‟
         Jeney gave a deep sigh, and turned his blood-shot eyes to Gordon.
         „Because those were my orders,‟ he answered tiredly.
         „From whom?‟ Gordon asked, but by then Jeney was heading towards one of the
policeman in uniform, blending in with the crowd of refugees in an instant. Gordon took out
his notebook, scribbled a line or two in it, then turned toward the Polish military officers:
there had to be at least one who, if not Hungarian, at least spoke some English.

        Sándor Nemes leaned closer to the paper fed into his typewriter, checked what he had
typed, then got back to work with determination. He used four fingers in total, two on each
hand, but many decades of practice had not been without effect: his wife hardly had any
correcting to do on the pages he produced. When the retired detective inspector was finished
with a page, he tore it out of the machine and handed it to the lady of the house, who grabbed
a red lead pencil, carefully marked the errors, then showed her corrections to her husband,
who accepted all of them every time. His wife would then sit to her own typewriter and clear
up the page in question. They worked in silence and in unison. In the background was the
sound of the radio, so quiet they hardly knew what was on.
        „Sándor, have a little rest,‟ she said, putting her hand on his shoulder. „You are hitting
too many wrong keys.‟
        Nemes nodded, got up leisurely from his chair, buttoned up his waistcoat and crossed
to the window. On Saint Stephen‟s Square the trees were bare, which he didn‟t mind at all: he
didn‟t like summer, and in autumn at least he could see the Danube. The weather was
overcast, it was getting dark, the children had left the park for home. Nemes took off his
glasses and rubbed the ridge of his nose. He wife joined him at his side. With her left hand,
she brushed away the dandruff that had fallen from his grey hair before addressing him.
        „Come on, Sándor, have something to eat.‟
        „Let‟s just get this chapter done,‟ Nemes said, turning around, and was on the point of
sitting back to his desk when the doorbell rang. He looked up at the hefty clock on the wall:
half past five gone. Who could that be, he murmured to himself, and went out to the hallway.
Through the window he could see a man standing in the doorway. He opened the door, only
to shut it again the moment he saw who it was. He was about to go back to his study when the
bell rang again. Nemes turned around to see a piece of paper fall from the letterbox onto the
floor. He leaned down to pick it up. It was an official notice with the following words at the
top: “Budapest Chief of Police, Royal Hungarian Police Force”. He scanned it quickly,
knowing all too well what its contents were: there was a copy of it somewhere in a locked
drawer of his desk. “I hereby express my support for the writing of the book Practical
Detective Work by retired chief inspector Sándor Nemes...” “...a book is being brought to life
which gives a faithful portrayal of the Royal Hungarian Police Force and the Detective
Organization and their achievements from 1876 to the present day...” “...I hereby grant full
access for retired chief inspector Sándor Nemes to the files of all the main divisions, and to
the documents in the archive...” “Wishing you the best of luck...” “Dr. Sándor Eliássy...”
        „Who‟s that, Sándor?‟ shouted his wife.
        „Just keep typing, Teréz. I‟ll be right there.‟
        The letterbox rattled again; this time slips of paper fell through it. There was no need
for Nemes to lean down to see what they were: a copy of the document in his hand, but torn
into shreds. The blood in his ear began to throb; he took deep breaths to calm himself. He
buttoned up his jacket, smoothed his grey moustache, then opened the door. The man leaned
against the railing of the corridor, a cigarette hanging from his mouth, his tie badly and
hurriedly tied; his overcoat hung on him as on a shop-window dummy without arms.
        „Will you let me in?‟ he asked.
        „Not unless I have to, no.‟
        „You don‟t have to, but it would be in your interests to. Or am I troubling you? Are
you working? On some book, I‟m told.‟
        Nemes left the door open and went into the lounge. He stood by the window and
waited. The man also entered, and leisurely flung himself onto the couch. Then the door to
the kitchen opened, and Terézia entered, smiling politely. „To whom do I have the pleasure...‟
she began, only to be interrupted by her husband. „No question of pleasure here, Teréz,‟
Nemes snorted.
        The man on the couch stood up, his expression one of fury, turned to Terézia, and
introduced himself with military precision:
        „Tibor Wayand, private detective. Küss die Hand.‟
        Terézia stroked her hand along the length of her skirt, then replied, with restrain:
        „Nice to meet you.‟
        Nemes clutched at his throat.
        „Bring some coffee please, but only use chicory.‟
        As she went out to the kitchen, Wayand‟s words were snide.
        „What is it, Nemes? I don‟t even deserve a real espresso?‟
        „If you ask me,‟ the old man replied, „you don‟t deserve anything. I‟m certainly not
going to waste any real coffee on you.‟
        „I‟ve brought you a job.‟
        „I‟m retired now. I‟m only working on my book. I don‟t feel like doing anything else.
Especially not for you.‟
        „You ought to be doing detective work.‟
        „Really? And there was me thinking tell me to go into the shoe repair trade. I don‟t
have a licence.‟
        „But I do. You don‟t have to worry about that.‟
        Nemes sat down in an armchair, crossed his legs, and said nothing.
        „I understand,‟ Wayand nodded, then slipped off his coat. He glanced around the
living room. By the long wall, a sturdy oak tray full of Zsolnay porcelain. A dark brocade
curtain on both sides of the door to the balcony. Tasteful but unimaginative oil paintings on
the walls, and a few coloured etchings, including two Viennese works by Luigi Kasimir. A
bobbin lace doily on the coffee table, and house plants in the flower holder in front of the
        „Is that a Ferenc Innocent?‟ asked Wayand, pointing at the portrait hanging above the
serving table.
        „It is.‟
        „I can see you‟re not short of money,‟ Wayand added.
        „Or work,‟ nodded Nemes.
        „Are you going to tell your wife to clear up that mess of paper in the entrance hall, or
shall I?‟ asked Wayand, raising his voice.
        Nemes didn‟t say a word. He held back his anger that was rising at a steady speed.
        „If you speak once more like this in my home…” he said in a low voice.
        The private detective opened his arms.
        „I‟m sorry‟ he said. „I shouldn‟t have.‟
Without a word, Nemes inspected his face. Despite his orderly features, there was something
to Wayand which made Nemes distinctly uncomfortable in his company, even though they
had only met on two occasions. Wayand sat on the edge of the couch, and started to tap with
his fingers on the table. Nemes remained silent.
        „When on the first of September the troops of the Third Reich invaded Poland to
avenge the atrocity they had suffered,‟ Wayand began, „the Poles living here began to collect
donations to help their compatriots. The money raised was handed to the local representative
of the Polish Red Cross, a certain Wytold Podorowski. This Podorowski then used the money
to purchase a significant quantity of medicine and drugs, cociane and morphine, to be exact,
to be used to treat soldiers injured in battle. Not like the medicine is likely to help them. They
can‟t stand in Hitler‟s way,‟ he added, shaking his head.
        „With the Central Authority‟s permission?‟
        „The embassy played a role in the mission, so there was little else they could do,‟
Wayand responded. „They could hardly have been left out. Drugs can only be bought and
sold or imported or exported with the permission of the Central Authority. But you know
        Nemes nodded. His wife entered the room, a tray in her hands. She placed a coffee in
front of each of the two men, in Nemes‟ case adding an apple she had cut into quarters.
Wayland lifted his cup, took a sip, and added approvingly: „Considering it‟s chicory, it tastes
great.‟ Terézia responded to his compliment with a curt nod, then left.
        „What day is it today?‟ Wayand asked.
        „The nineteenth,‟ Nemes answered.
        „The twelfth is when the delivery set off for Poland. The three trucks were mainly
carrying bandages, painkillers, and medical cocaine and morphine, but in the meantime, as
the situation worsened, and the Soviets appeared, it became clear that the medicine would
never make it to Poland. So the trucks were turned back; yet officially they never returned to
        „Witnesses state that they saw Red Cross trucks, but they never reached the Polish
Embassy or the local Polish Red Cross office.‟
        „Are you trying to say that three Red Cross trucks just vanished into thin air?‟
        „Together with the entire consignment.‟
        „Who would need that much medicine, and what for?‟
        „That‟s for you to find out.‟
        „For me to find out. And how?‟
        „How did you solve the explosion at Biatorbágy?‟
        „Back then I had the whole apparatus of the police force at my disposal.‟
        „I can‟t promise you that, but I can offer something similar.‟
        „What has this all got to do with you, Wayand?‟
        „You know how it goes. The secretary at the Polish Embassy and the Red Cross
representative lodged a complaint with the police.‟
        „As they should on such on occasion.‟
        „And a friend of my brother‟s spoke to them.‟
        „A friend of your brother‟s.‟
        „Yes. He advised them...‟
        „...that they would do better to entrust their case to a private detective,‟ Nemes
interrupted. „The police are overworked, and there‟s nothing they can do now, as there is no
evidence of any criminal conduct.‟
        „You see.‟
        „And you know as well as I do that that‟s not true.‟
        „I do, but they don‟t.‟
        „So, put bluntly, you put them in a position where they couldn‟t turn to the official
authorities,‟ the old detective concluded, then asked:
        „And they didn‟t even approach the Central Authority?‟
        Wayand shook his head. „They don‟t have enough people, anyway.‟
        „So they hired you.‟
        „I understand all this, and am surprised by none of it. But you might explain why you
chose to come to me of all people.‟
        Wayand tried flattery.
        „Why I chose to turn to the legendary detective inspector Nemes of all people, the one
who caught Szilveszter Matuska?‟
        „Yes. But with flattery you‟ll achive nothing with me.‟
        Wayand sat back in the couch, took out a five pengő coin, and flicked it between his
fingers. Again and again.
        „Because my men have got nowhere. And now they don‟t have much time for this
        „Because they have more important things to do than work on the cases they are hired
to solve?‟
        „You can have everything you want. That I‟m able to give. Just find the consignment.‟
        „If I am not mistaken, drugs are a valuable commodity nowadays.‟
        „A cocaine user‟s single dose is five pengő,‟ Wayand replied. „And they need three or
four doses a day.‟
        „And cocaine and morphine users in this city must number...‟
        „Many thousand. And this is medical cocaine and morphine. The best. Find the
        „And if I don‟t?‟
        „Then you can stoke the fire with your book.‟
        „You think this matters that much to me?‟
        „I know it does,‟ Wayand replied, looking him in the eye and taking a piece of paper
out of his pocket. „Here are the names and addresses of the two Poles. And my address. You
report to me, in person. I don‟t want to see anything in writing for the time being. We pay
twenty pengő a day. Plus your expenses, if you have any.‟
        And with that Wayand stood up, drank what was left of his coffee, put on his coat,
and left the living room. Nemes heard the main door slam shut. Then Terézia opened the
kitchen door, and leaned against its frame.
        „Who was that, Sándor? His name rings a bell. Haven‟t I heard him on the radio?‟
        „You‟re confusing him with the singer. Called Weygand. This is Wayand. Tibor
Wayand. His older brother is a detective by the name of Dr. István Wayand; the type who
always does what he is told. The question is always just who his superior is. This Tibor here
also worked as a detective at the police, but only for a few years – he was never interested in
anything apart from money. And I‟m not talking about his salary, Teréz. We never managed
to prove it, but many of us suspected that Wayand was one of those who devised and carried
out those fake detective scams a few years ago. A week never went by without him being
suspected of something, but his brother always rushed to his defence. Perhaps because he was
more use to him like this. Yet he was the disgrace of the detective force.‟
        „His older brother had the power to protect him even from being fired?‟ his wife
        „He‟s the direct subordinate of Péter Hain. His right hand man, if you like.‟
        „Péter Hain, the regent‟s personal detective?‟
        „The director of the detective office responsible for Miklós Horthy‟s personal safety,
to be precise.‟
        Nemes got up, put the piece of paper from Wayand in his pocket, then went into his
study, sat down at the desk, and started to read the file that was lying on it.

        Gordon shook the water off his hat as he stepped into the police building on Franz
Joseph Square. The rain had been pouring for hours, so it was no wonder that the drenched
and matted journalists in the press room were standing around the radiator or in one of the
warmer corners, smoking. For years this ground-floor room has served as the home for police
reporters, and while it would have been an exaggeration to say it had been lavishly furnished,
it gave no reason for complaint, for in front of the podium there were two rows of chairs with
arm-rests comfortable enough to write while sitting in them. The floor was covered with a
carpet, and every two metres there was a stand-up ashtray – regularly emptied – while behind
the chairs there were armchairs and coffee tables in the corners of the room. There were two
doors: one opened onto the office of the police‟s press officer; the other onto a smaller room
in which four telephones hung from the wall.
        The lucky journalists were those whose family background allowed them into the
Press Chamber, newly established upon orders from above. Journalists of Jewish origin were
left wanting, however: excluded by new anti-Jewish laws, they could no longer make a living
from journalism. Gordon missed some of his old colleagues, and had long not turned up at the
daily press conferences with the same enthusiasm and curiosity as a year previously.
        It was the midday press conference that was the best attended: it allowed the story to
be written by the evening deadline. There were fewer present at 5 o‟clock, and only the very
devoted went to the one at midnight. The press officer always passionately narrated all that
they wanted the press to know, entirely irrespective of the numbers in his audience. It was not
really possible to cover what the police didn‟t want the press to know; even if it were, there
was little point, as the censors knew what they were doing. Gordon was not alone in noticing
how much the news had been filtered since Teleki‟s government had announced its
emergency powers measures on the second of September.
        „I wonder whether Horváth will say anything about the Rákospalota murder,‟ said
Andor Radványi, crime journalist for the 8 Órai Újság, sitting next to him.
        „The double murder in Rákospalota?‟ Gordon asked the young man, whose
permanently dishevelled hair not even the pouring rain could turn into an acceptable state.
        „The usual, as far as I heard,‟ the boy replied, taking out a pack of cigarettes, dripping
with brown tobacco juice. Gordon handed him his cigarette case, the boy took one out, and
held it to the flame of the match. He breathed the smoke in deeply, blowing it out slowly.
„Mr. Gordon, how do you always manage to get your hands on this divine Egyptian tobacco?‟
he asked, looking at Gordon, who shrugged his shoulders.
        „First of all, I asked you long ago to call me Zsigmond. And the usual place, Széll
Kálmán Square, but there won‟t be any more for a while. They say they‟d rather smuggle in
sugar and coffee, the profits are higher.‟
        „This isn‟t exactly going cheap either, is it, Mr. Gordon,‟ said the boy, looking at him,
and Gordon saw it was hopeless trying to insist on informality. He gestured in resignation.
        „So what‟s the story with that double murder?‟
        „Apparently, because of the husband‟s debts, they killed him and then his wife, too.‟
        „If Horváth doesn‟t mention it, Andor, you can‟t write about it.‟ He reached into his
inner pocket, and took out the 8 Órai Újság from two days before. „You wrote a splendid
piece about the girl‟s death. And independently of anyone else. Where did you get your
information? Did you have an informant?‟
        There was a particular gleam in Radványi‟s eyes.
        „That‟s exactly what I wanted to talk to you about.‟
         „Really,‟ the young man replied, then took a nervous puff of his cigarette and leaned
close to Gordon. „It wasn‟t Manci Molnár‟s body they found.‟
         „Then whose?‟ Gordon looked at him in surprise, but the boy was not able to answer,
as press officer Dr. András Horváth stepped into the room, followed by a young clerk, whose
only task was to stand behind his boss with a dossier in his hands.
         The belly of the fiftysomething officer was made to look all the more distended by his
tight uniform. Like the others, Gordon was a little taken aback when at the beginning of the
year Horváth had swapped his grey conservative suit for a uniform from one day to the next.
Presumably this change had not been of his own volition, yet neither was he visibly troubled
by it. A number of journalists remarked upon the sudden change, but Horváth merely stared
at them from behind his thin, steel-rimmed glasses, always providing the same explanation:
„Police work is best done in a uniform.‟
         The press officer went up to the desk on the podium with the expressionless face that
was expected of him. „Good day to everyone,‟ he greeted the journalists, who responded with
a quiet mumble. Horváth took out his battered, brown dossier, opened it, and started to read.
         „A few minutes after eight o‟clock this morning, two trucks collided on the corner of
Kerepesi Road and Asztalos Sándor Street. The two drivers first exchanged cross words, then
fisticuffs. On arrival at the scene, police officer János Molnár...‟
         „Come, Zsigmond, there‟s something I have to tell you,‟ Radványi whispered. Gordon
looked at him. There were deep circles under the boy‟s eyes, and as he lifted his cigarette to
his mouth, Gordon saw he had bitten his nails until they almost bled. He stood up, and
followed the young man to the back, where the armchairs were. He took off his jacket, and
sat straight across from him.
         „What‟s the whole Manci story then?‟ Gordon asked quietly.
         „That it wasn‟t Manci who died. It wasn‟t Manci‟s body they found in the swimming
         „Then whose was it?‟
         The boy stared into space.
         „Andor! Whose body did they find?‟
         The boy shivered before his expression cleared.
         „I‟m the only one who knows it wasn‟t Manci. And it‟s quite possible that no one will
ever find out who killed that girl in the pool. I...‟ He went quiet.
         „Nothing.‟ Radványi‟s gesture was dismissive.
         „If it wasn‟t Manci who died in the swimming pool, then where is she now?‟
         The boy replied in such a hushed voice, Gordon could not understand what he was
saying. He asked him to repeat what he had said.
         „She‟s hiding on Sváb Hill,‟ Radványi whispered, and covered his mouth with his
hand. „She‟s scared for her life,‟ he added.
         „With good reason,‟ Gordon nodded. For a second, the situation appeared improbably
comic. Radványi just sat there and whispered in his ear, like some character in an American
gangster film who is terrified that James Cagney will catch him. Yet what he saw in the boy‟s
eyes really was terror. They had known each other for some three years now, and Gordon had
never seen him so nervous.
         „With good reason indeed,‟ Radványi nodded. „Manci says they want to kill her
because she heard something she shouldn‟t have.‟
         „Who wants to kill her?‟
         „She‟ll tell you herself.‟
         „Who else?‟
        „Why me of all people?‟
        „Because I told her she could talk to you freely. And I...‟ he began, but didn‟t go on.
        „And you? How did you end up in all of this? Why were you the one writing the
        „They phoned the news office, and asked for me. May I?‟ He reached towards
Gordon‟s cigarette case. Gordon nodded. „They called me to the phone, and told me what to
        „But why, Andor? How can they be telling you what to write?‟
        „I‟ll tell you that, too, but not now. First you have to talk to Manci.‟
        Gordon nodded. He didn‟t have to stop and think if he had time. He knew he had no
engagements that evening.
        „You said that Manci is in hiding on Sváb Hill.‟
        Radványi nodded.
        „All right. Then let‟s meet at Széll Kálmán Square at seven.‟
        „Széll Kálmán Square. At seven.‟ The boy stood up, and set off.
        Gordon called after him.
        „Andor? Until then have a rest, and pull yourself together. You‟re not looking so
        „Give my love to Krisztina,‟ Radványi replied, turning back.
        „I‟ll tell her when she comes back from London. If she comes back.‟
        „I‟d clean forgotten,‟ the boy said. „Lucky her. In London I mean.‟
        „In London,‟ repeated Gordon slowly, but Radványi was by then already outside the
press room.
        Gordon lit a cigarette, stood up, and returned to the back row of chairs.
        „I would again like to draw everyone‟s attention,‟ Horváth was saying, „to the fact that
the censors are only allowing the publication of articles based on police sources.‟ Many of
those present grumbled resentfully; a couple of them made surreptitious gestures in the press
officer‟s direction. Horváth closed his brown folder, stood up, and left the room. Gordon
looked around, but saw no one he wanted to speak to. On his way out he greeted a few of his
colleagues; before stepping out of the police station altogether, he buttoned up his coat. He
turned left down Count István Tisza Street and towards Deák Ferenc Square. The streets were
being given a good clean by one of those real Budapest downpours; there was no escaping it.
Whenever he reached a corner or a crossroads, the direction of the wind seemed to change; he
never seemed to be able to work out which direction the rain would strike him from. He
sidestepped the puddles of various sizes on the pavement, as well as the few determined
pedestrians who had things to do that simply would not wait. Someone behind him shouted:
„Will you finally let me get by?‟ A boy of around ten was pushing a wheelbarrow full of rags.
Gordon stepped to one side, and as the boy struggled to push the barrow past him, he saw that
under the rags lay a child, seemingly a little girl, all wrapped up. She didn‟t seem ill – but she
didn‟t seem well, either. She was just one of the thousands of children who lived on the street
by day, and huddled up in the dirty cellars, chambers and huts of Józsefváros and
Ferencváros by night.
        He looked out towards the Danube. The dark grey clouds hung so low over the river,
they might have been painted there. Somewhere near the Castle Hill it must have been raining
cats and dogs, as a larger cloud was almost touching the hill. He turned around and hurried to
Deák Ferenc Square, where he was lucky to catch the number 1 bus heading for Mussolini
Square. The inside of the bus was steamed up by the breath of its passengers; a boy of around
three jumped up from his mother‟s lap to the seat on the other side, kneeled on it, and started
to draw on the misty window. The driver rang the bell, the little boy shouted at the top of his
voice in glee, and his mother silenced him with a stern expression. Gordon shoved his section
ticket into the inspector‟s hand and took off his hat. In the window of the bus hung the list of
stops. Deák Ferenc Square – Count István Tisza Street – Opera – Mussolini Square –
Vörösmarty Square – Heroes‟ Square. The inspector announced the next stop with a loud
shout. „Mussolini Square!‟ Like the other passengers, Gordon shook his head. They could call
it whatever they wanted, it was still the Oktogon.
         They hadn‟t renamed the Abbázia, they hadn‟t changed the menu, they hadn‟t sacked
the old chef, and neither had they taken on a new head waiter in place of the old one, who
greeted Gordon with his customary smile.
         „Good day, Mr. Editor, sir! What business can you possibly have in this Siberian
weather? If you please,‟ he added, leading Gordon to his usual table. He helped him with his
coat, and nodded to one of the waiters to hang it up at once in front of the tile stove to dry.
The young man reached for Gordon‟s hat, too, but the head waiter slapped him on the hand:
         „A soaking hat on a stove? Are you out of your mind? That we dry tenderly, a metre
and half from it, and on a chair, turning it round every ten minutes. Will you be staying until
your hat dries, sir?‟
         Gordon nodded. „I will. What do you recommend for lunch?‟
         The head waiter pondered this, then discreetly leaned closer.
         „I harldy dare recommend anything, you have been a regular guest too long for that,
sir, but you might not be disappointed by the rooster stew.‟
         „Then bring me a rooster stew, Oszkár. With mashed potato.‟
         The waiter shook his head, without a sound. „Might I suggest the rice.‟
         Gordon shook his head, without a sound. „Then, Oszkár, might I suggest the bread.‟
         The waiter acknowledged the wise decision, and waddled off towards the kitchen. On
his way he stopped to give the young waiter entrusted with the coat and hat a good slap
around the back of the head: the chair was only a metre away from the stove.
         An hour later, in a dry coat and slightly damp hat, and having had his fill, Gordon set
off for the news office. And he was to arrive in this same state, too, for the Magyar Nemzet
building was a mere two blocks from the Abbázia. He walked along the Ring as close to the
houses as he could, as far as Aradi Street, then on Csengery Street turned in through the big
gate which was open day and night. The porter did not even get out of his hut, but merely
looked out of the little window and waved to Gordon with his arthritic hand.
         All news offices are the same. Everywhere tables, chairs and typewriters, telephones,
people on edge, smoke and rolled-up sleeves. It is only perhaps between two and five in the
morning that they are finally empty, for few such offices can afford to have someone on night
duty. The porter is different: he effectively lives in his hut. When Gordon resigned from the
Est and started working at the Magyar Nemzet, he asked the senior editor how long the
arthritic porter had been there. Ernő P. Ábrahám, an editor in his early sixties, just shrugged
his shoulders, and shook his head. „Maybe they built the building up around him. Some say
he was injured in the Great War, and this job was a kind of severance pay. That‟s all we
know about old Szvetozár.‟
         Ábrahám nodded, slowly, as if this unusual name of Serb origin deserved no further
explanation. Gordon thought likewise, and from then on always made sure to wave to the
porter as he passed his hut.
         It being early afternoon, there was considerable hubbub in the news office. Sándor
Pethő, editor-in-chief, stood in the doorway to his room. The tall, restrained, icy-faced man,
dressed in short-sleeves, was reading an article, while Gyula Hegedűs, the duty editor, waited
in front of him. Pethő crossed something out with red pencil, Hegedűs read it, shook his head,
and an argument quietly broke out between them. Gordon went to his desk, which looked out
over Aradi Street, and nodded to the sports editor sitting opposite him. In the whole office it
was perhaps only with Drippey that he was on good terms, thanks to their shared passion for
boxing. Drippey Géza Kiss loved other sports, too, of course, but boxing was one of his
favourites. Gordon wanted to ask him something, but Drippey raised his hand as if to say he
was busy, and kept typing, his eyebrows furrowed.
        Gordon then sat to his desk, took out his notebook, and read what he had scribbled in
his notebook in Szolyva. Hegedűs had sent him to the border with the task of writing not
more than two columns – he wouldn‟t get any more space anyway. And if possible he should
cover the subject in a general sense; perhaps the censors wouldn‟t object to that. Gordon
pulled the typewriter closer and got started.

              From the Magyar Nemzet‟s reporter on the scene. Since the
              outbreak of the German-Polish war, refugees have crossed the
              Hungarian-Polish border at Szolyva in Sub-Carpathia in ever-
              greater numbers. Two weeks ago only passport-holders could
              enter, but for four days now, those arriving have not been
              required to present any kind of travel document; crossing the
              border, opened at the orders of the Teleki government, now
              requires no kind of documentation at all. The Polish refugees
              constantly arriving in the last four days bring draining work
              and a heavy burden of obligation for the police working in
              Szolyva, Aknaszlatina, Fenyvesvölgy, Huszt and Kőrösmező.
              The smaller part of the many thousands of refugees are
              civilians, who, according to the state secretary for refugees, Dr.
              József Antall, will be housed in Budapest and Keszthely. Locals
              observed as the refugees arrived in safety, calm, and with their
              honour intact...

         Gordon stopped, and wondered whether to include the story of the mysterious Red
Cross trucks. He couldn‟t do this until he had investigated it. He went to György Parragi, the
foreign affairs editor, to ask him who he should talk to at the Polish embassy about the
refugee issue.
         A few minutes later he was on the telephone.
         „Can I speak to Jozef Bankowski, please?‟
         „Who‟s calling, please?‟ asked an older female voice at the other end of the line.
         „Zsigmond Gordon from the Magyar Nemzet.‟
         „Wait a moment, please.‟
         In the meantime Gordon clasped the receiver against his shoulder and continued his
article. He grabbed the receiver with his hand as soon as the woman spoke.
         „He‟s not in the office, I‟m afraid.‟
         „When will he be back?‟
         „Please try tomorrow.‟
         Gordon put down the receiver, and finished the article. He pulled it out of the
typewriter, read through it, corrected it in a few places, then made his way to Hegedűs‟s
office. The duty editor was glancing through the edition of the day before; the censor had
removed three columns on the front page.
         „Pethő wrote a lead article a few days ago,‟ Hegedűs said.
         „A strongly patriotic lead article.‟
         „That was also cut.‟
        „It was, but only the day before he wrote a piece on how it was America‟s job to
rescue European bourgeois civilization. He was allowed to publish that.‟
        Hegedűs shook his head.
        „Quite soon I won‟t be able to follow any of this.‟
        „Many say that as time passes the censors will become less stringent.‟
        „And did they also tell you that one fine day they will come to their senses?‟
        „They didn‟t say anything about that,‟ Gordon replied, leaving Hegedűs to his own
devices. He returned to his desk, and read the reports for the day from the military press
agencies. The Polish president and commander-in-chief of the Polish army had left for
Romania, where they were taken into custody. German and Soviet troops met at Brest-
Litovsk. The Soviets blockaded the port of Tallinn. Gordon sighed a deep sigh, then grabbed
the reports, and put them in the respective folder on Parragi‟s desk.
        By the time he stepped out onto the street, the rain had stopped. But even if it had
been raining, he wouldn‟t have got soaked, so close did he live to the office. He set off down
Aradi Street for Hitler Square, where he took a right and entered the building on the corner of
Andrássy Boulevard and the south-west corner of the square. The caretaker was sweeping the
courtyard, but when he saw Gordon, he exclaimed, „Mr. G-g-g-g-ordon. S-s-s-s-som...‟
        „Good day to you too, Kocsis.‟ And with that he launched himself up the stairs, and
cannot have seen how the caretaker‟s face was so red it was ready to explode. There was
something the man had been desperate to tell him. Gordon opened the door to his apartment,
hung up his coat, threw his hat onto the hat-stand, and went into the kitchen. He opened the
fridge, took out a bottle of bitter water, took a sip, then put it back. He had inherited the
fridge from Mór along with the apartment. The refrigerator had been indispensable for his
grandfather‟s obsession for making jam, and Gordon had rather come to like it. True, it was a
luxury, but this much he could allow himself. He had inherited from the old boy not only the
apartment and the fridge, but the larder, full of jam of dubious origin. So he had moved into
the apartment, used the refrigerator, and conscientiously begun to eat the jam.
        In the bedroom he stood in front of the wardrobe, climbed out of his drenched suit,
took out a clean one, pulled up the trousers, and was just buttoning his shirt when there was a
ring at the door. He tucked the shirt into the trousers with irritation, and fiddled with the
buttons on his way to the door.
        He opened it, and for a moment was lost for words. A tall, skinny blonde stood there
in a fashionable brown coat that touched the ground, wearing a wide-rimmed hat, the likes of
which, Gordon thought, he had last seen Greta Garbo wearing in the illustrated Sunday
supplement of some daily or other. From under her long eyelashes, she gave Gordon a good
looking over, then said:
        „Ah. So it‟s you.‟ And with that she shoved Gordon out of the doorway and went into
the apartment. Two large vulcanized fibre suitcases and one small one were left parked on the
doormat. Gordon slammed the door shut and followed her inside. The woman was sitting on
the couch in the lounge, still in her coat, her legs crossed, and was just removing her gloves
with slow tugging motions. Gordon leaned against the door-frame; the woman again raised
her gaze at him from underneath her eyelashes. „Have you brought my suitcases in?‟
        „Yes,‟ Gordon replied.
        „And where are they?‟
        „Right here.‟
        „Aren‟t you funny.‟
        „As are you. I‟m about to split my sides in laughter. You entrée was nice, but there
was no need to take it this far.‟
        „Krisztina told me you aren‟t like other men.‟
         „Are you saying that to flatter me, or to let me know that you know who my lady
friend is?‟
         „Are you referring to my older sis? Or do you have any other lady friends?‟
         „Your sister? Krisztina?‟
         „Didn‟t she tell you that I can‟t stand clever girls?‟
         „Then you don‟t like me, either.‟
         „That‟s exactly what I mean, my dear...‟
         „Anna. Anna Eckhardt.‟
         „Well, my dear Anna, I cannot begin to imagine what you want and who you are...‟
         „I‟m Krisztina‟s younger sister.‟
         „That‟s amusing.‟
         „Is it?‟
         „Krisztina never mentioned she had a sister.‟
         „I didn‟t say we were on good terms.‟
         „You have a unique way with words. I‟ve known Krisztina for six years, and not once
did she say anything about you. And Krisztina likes talking about her family.‟
         „And what does well mean?‟
         „Exactly what I said. I have never said we were on good terms.‟
         „So much so that she doesn‟t even mention you?‟
         „We had a little run-in.‟
         „Pray tell.‟
         „I seduced her suitor.‟
         „Then I left him.‟
         „And this made Krisztina so angry with you, that she rubbed you clean out of her
         „After the lad threw himself in front of the Bucharest train at the Nagyszeben
         Gordon took out a cigarette, and lit up.
         „Will you bring in my bags?‟ Anna asked.
         „No, because when you leave the apartment, you will have to take them out again. I
wouldn‟t want you to struggle twice over.‟
         „Are you kicking me out?‟
         „If that‟s how you want to put it.‟
         „You want me to beg?‟
         „Beg for what?‟
         „To be able to stay here a day or two. I just arrived from Vienna, and I have nowhere
to live. Not much money, either, so I thought I could lie low here for a little while.‟
         „I see.‟
         „You said you were going to beg.‟
         „You want me to beg?‟
         Gordon looked up and down the woman sitting on the couch; her demeanour had
suddenly lost its vamp aspect.
         „Yes,‟ he replied.
         „I beg you,‟ Anna said.
         Gordon turned on his heels and went to fetch the suitcases. He put them down in the
         „Thank you.‟
         „Don‟t get all your things out of it,‟ Gordon warned.
         „Why not?‟
         „Because I‟ll send a cable to Krisztina. I‟d like to ask her, too.‟
         „Ask her what?‟
         „About the falls on the London Stock Exchange.‟
         „You don‟t trust me.‟
         „That‟s not true. But neither is it true that I trust you.‟
         „That‟s why you‟re cabling to London?‟
         „That‟s right. It‟ll be a few days before I get a reply, though.‟
         „Haven‟t you heard? Didn‟t the news get to Vienna that the Germans have invaded
         „And events have shaken Krisztina up so much it will take her days to write a cable?‟
         „You can only telephone inside Hungary. They have instituted a visa requirement for
foreign countries, restricted telegraph traffic, and censor all telegrams coming in and out.
That‟s what these people are like. They call them emergency powers. You know, the kind
they institute during a war.‟
         The woman looked up at Gordon, and evidently wanted to say something, but instead
just gave a sigh.
         „I promise I‟ll take good care of your bed.‟
         „You‟ll take good care of that all right: you‟ll sleep on the couch.‟ Gordon looked at
his watch. „Now I have to go.‟
         He went into the bedroom, and finished getting dressed. Then he did up his tie and
went into the lounge. Anna had already taken off her coat. She was wearing a long straight
skirt slit high up, with a wide belt, and an off-white silk blouse with a frilly neck. She had a
long neck, and her skin was improbably smooth.
         „I am going to lock you in the apartment. We‟ll talk when I get back,‟ he told her.
„You can find jam in the larder.‟

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