A nightmare that will end well. László Luka was hoping for this. Perhaps the previous night he had drunk a bit more than usual, or the pálinka was not of the purest sort, it even crossed his mind that he should employ a taster. After all, the child rejected by its mother had risen to enough power, and he had dreams so wild last night that he could hardly pull himself together to stagger out of bed, even though he was preparing to go hunting and the orphan child knew as much that the one who wants to go hunting had better be up early. If only getting up were not so damn hard.
László Luka was a handsome man and he was well aware of this fact. He wore tight-fitting short sports jackets with breast pockets. Not for him the reach-me-downs: the best Paris and London sartors worked on his clothes. For hunting he used to wear a Swiss-made short mink coat, never put on a shawl, wore even his skewed-neck Russian shirts unbuttoned: he loved to share the sight of his body with others. He had a winsome smile and intelligent foxy eyes. He had been through six-form primary school – so what? At the Hermannstadt Catholics, whenever he could escape the beating, he devoured all the adventure stories he could lay his hands on and made up his mind at a tender age that he would live to get everything he wanted. Is there no order in the world? is there no justice? do cause and effect only correlate by chance? So much the worse: he would be the master of chance.
The gate was open, the dark green GAZ-67 pulled up right to the entrance, ploughing the lawn where a strapping young man, Beczásy, the owner of the hunting ground was already waiting for them.
’Good morning, gentlemen, the beaters have been waiting since dawn. The only question is, what are you after: hares, roebuck, fox, boars, deer? We have everything here, all one needs to know is where to find them.’
’At this hour the most we can get is hares,’ Szenkovics answered quickly. He wanted to prevent Luka from opening his mouth: the fact that he was the finance minister parading in a Swiss huntsman’s jacket didn’t alleviate in the least his painful and utter ignorance in matters of hunting.
’We’ll shoot a couple of fine hares,’ Luka concurred with the minister of light industries; he spurted out whatever crossed his mind, no time for prestige raffles now, all that had to be postponed until later when his headache subsides.
‘At least one glass of prime plum brandy, gentlemen, Beczásy offered and chuckled to himself at how these two scoundrels purred at being called gentlemen. ‘You should have seen it,’ he later told his wife at coffee, ’how at every ‟gentlemen” a guilty pleasure showed on their mugs.’ ‘Ce monde n’est, je vous l’assure, que’un immense entreprise à se foutre du monde!’, Zina, like a clown Cassandra, quoted the Journey, curtsied and blew a kiss on her husband’s forehead.
A shade embarrassed, Luka and Szenkovics shook hands with Beczásy, then jumped back into the jeep.
’Let’s keep that prime plum brandy for the return,’ Luka shouted back in a steelyringing voice, at once covering up his hangoverish nausea from liquour, and showing to the wide world that no matter for how many centuries Beczásy had been the lord of this place, he, Luka, was the lord of chance. A war won, he reasoned, painstakingly fighting back his nausea, is more than enough to disqualify the centuries.
The Soviet jeep was climbing the slope slower than expected, the trees surrounding the house drifted into Luka’s field of vision. In this state he was even more incommoded by the fact that the needles of the one fir-tree species were short, those of the other of palm’s length. And then there was that weeping willow, what the fuck is a weeping willow doing here in Háromszék County, he grumbled to himself, he was sleepy, but still had an appetite for the hunt, and lo and behold, there appear these two funny creatures, I haven’t seen anything like them in Sochi even, they must have come from somewhere in the Far East with those queer fan-like leaves.
In front of the gate they suddenly bumped into the beaters on horseback and on foot with their beagles. Why are they standing outside, why are the dogs silent, the bellicose thought prodded Luka’s headache. How come we haven’t seen them when we were going inside. In the end Szenkovics threw two words at them, that they would be going for hares, at that Luka came to and growled at the broadaxe-faced man in Romanian: speed up, we’ve come here for hunting not for banqueting.
In the field the beaters with their dogs spread out into an invisible circle, the horn blew, they started narrowing the circle, the dogs were barking furiously and from a ditch, or from pure void, the first hare sprang up. It felt it could no longer lie low, the only chance for its young not to be mauled by so many dogs was if it sprang into visibility, ran, coursed, careered, zigzagged as far as it resisted. It had terribly short ears, even its running looked canine, Luka didn’t want to but ended up taking aim and shooting, in the same second as Szenkovics. The animal or whatever it was tumbled over, one of the beaters sent Vitéz for it and the dog brought it back in its jaws. To the rattle of guns the hares started leaping up like mad one after the other, the two ministers could hardly catch up with the aiming and shooting, and the dogs retrieving the prey. Luka was getting dizzy, he wiped his forehead, looked around him, saw the kill laid out neatly side by side, the wide open eyes seemed to understand everything, all the orphanage of the world, Luka had to close his eyes because he suddenly glimpsed those daft Moldavians laid out neatly side by side at Fântâna Albă, who doltishly thought that if they waved a white flag and a few wooden crosses they could safely walk over from the Soviet Union into Moldavia like hares. Not all of them were lucky enough to get a bullet: the rest had to be battered with shovels until they somehow fainted into the holes dug and no longer attempted to climb out.
’I say we can call it a day, the mistress is waiting for youse with the lunch,’ an elderly beater spoke up to Luka who nearly tripped over. Luka shuddered, for a second didn’t know where he was and who this grey-haired man with a moustache might be who addressed him in Hungarian, in that singsong he remembered from his childhood, from the times before his mother, in order to be able to marry at ease, dumped him into the Sibiu orphanage.
Szenkovics lowered his rifle to his feet and patted Luka on the back:
’As far as I’m concerned, Laci, we can go, we’ve got a handsome quarry and a ravenous gang.’
’Your lordships need not worry,’ the grey-haired beater went on, ’we’ll take care of them hares. We have enough men to skin the whole lot, and then…’
’Do what you like with the hares,’ Luka interrupted him. He didn’t feel in the mood to listen to the particulars of processing corpses. He flung his gun, hot from the shooting, into the jeep and signalled to the others to start at once.
Szenkovics was sitting speechless on the back seat, musing to himself if there was any point in trying to talk to Luka, now or ever, if he had made any progress on the rocky road of self-consciousness, or if he was simply a beastly lucky thug shooting left right and centre at whatever came into his field of vision, hare, dog, sheep or decent prole. When he got so engrossed in his thoughts that he was afraid his treason to come was taking visible shape in this wobble, he leaned over to Luka:
’The landworking folks in these parts can somehow never let go of mylording. Dependance comes as naturally to them as eating or shitting. It must be something to do with nature, for no matter how many rational arguments they are mouthfed, they keep nodding and then do everything exactly like they used to.’
Luka felt no inclination at all for ideological arguments now, he wanted brandy, food, he wanted to see live human beings around him. So he snapped at the broadaxe-faced one: Doru, you motherfucker, what are you waiting for, step on the gas. Szenkovics leaned back pondering why equality and fraternity were forever failing here, if the Soviets indeed managed to put it across over there. As if in answer to his thoughts, he noticed a rather peculiar construction in the village centre, in the continuation of the village shop: something of about one meter’s height, half a meter’s width and about ten-fifteen meters’ length, whitewashed as usual and with a tiny rooftop. No windows, no door.