Authors: Jorg Fauser
JÃ¶rg Fauser, born in Germany in 1944, was a novelist, essayist and journalist. Having broken his dependency on heroin at the age of thirty, he produced three successful novels, including
, and highly praised essays of literary criticism. On 16 July 1987 he had been out celebrating his forty-third birthday. At dawn, instead of going back to his home, he wandered on to a stretch of motorway, by chance or by choice, and was struck down by a heavy goods lorry. He died instantly.
Translated from the German by
BITTER LEMON PRESS
BITTER LEMON PRESS
First published in the United Kingdom in 2004 by
Bitter Lemon Press, 37 Arundel Gardens, London W11 2LW
First published in German as
Rogner & Bernhard Verlag, Munich, 1981
The publication of this work was supported by a grant from the Goethe-Institut.
Â© Gabriele Fauser 2000
English translation Â© Anthea Bell 2004
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means without written permission of the publisher.
The moral right of Anthea Bell has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs, and Patents Act 1988.
A CIP record for this book is available from the British Library
Typeset by RefineCatch Limited, Broad Street, Bungay, Suffolk
Blum looked at his watch. High time to make a move. He drained his coffee cup, took a toothpick out of its plastic container and signalled to the waiter. The bill wasn't enormous â convert it to German currency and it came to no more than five marks â but he'd definitely have to do a deal soon if he was going to afford hot lunches next week. He hated breaking into his emergency funds. He put a couple of cents in his saucer as a tip, and as he left he waved his rolled-up
Times of Malta
to the manager, who was sitting playing cards with the proprietor's daughter. Bright lad. Could be a customer some time soon.
The light was so strong that it momentarily blinded him. He felt for his sunglasses, and just as he realized that he must have left them in the hotel he saw the car that had been constantly in his vicinity for some days, parked beside the carriage pulled by the feeble old white horse. One of the two men in the car now got out and came towards him, a short man with black hair and a suede jacket. The kind of person who never forgets his sunglasses.
Although he had just had something to drink, his throat felt dry. He took the toothpick out of his mouth.
“This won't take a moment, sir.”
The man opened a wallet and showed his ID, the sort of ID that looks the same all over the world. Blum
felt himself breaking out in a sweat. He heard the voice of the retired English major in the newsagent's. Yet again the
had failed to arrive.
“What's it all about?”
“Inspector Cassar will explain. A mere formality.”
“Inspector Cassar? I don't understand. I'm a tourist . . .”
But Blum understood very well, and it was clear that the policeman knew he did. As usual, the major let himself be persuaded to buy the
instead, and Blum threw his toothpick away and followed the police officer to the car. There didn't seem to be anything he could do, not this early in the day.
It was a small, stuffy room, but they mostly were. There was a fan in the ceiling, but it was not switched on. Power shortage. The inspector had pushed his chair right back to the wall. His face was in shadow, but Blum had seen enough to know it was not the kind of face you'd want to remember. Neatly parted brown hair, a permanent twitch around the fish-like mouth. His dark suit was faultlessly ironed, and the fingers leafing through Blum's passport were muscular and perfectly manicured. They put the passport aside, looked through a file, and returned to the passport. Maybe they liked its paper better.
“You have a tourist visa valid for one month, Mr Blum.”
Inspector Cassar spoke impeccable bureaucrat's English. The bastard, thought Blum. He nodded.
“It expires in three days' time.”
“I could have it extended.”
“Why would you want to do that?”
“Well, for instance, because I like it so much here on Malta.”
“You've already spent a considerable amount of time in these parts, Mr Blum. Rather unusual for a tourist, wouldn't you agree?”
“I know tourists who've been on their travels for years.”
“You mean the long-haired sort with their backpacks and guitars? Young people? Oh, come on, Mr Blum,
really! If your passport isn't a fake you were born on 29 March 1940. I don't think you can still be regarded as one of the younger generation.”
Blum stared at the wall. A fly was inspecting the picture of the President. The man looked more likely to inspire confidence than Inspector Cassar. Maybe that was one reason why he got to be President.
“May I ask what your profession is, Mr Blum?” The inspector's voice still sounded officially distanced and civil, but Blum could hear a harder note in it.
“I'm a businessman, sir.”
The inspector moved his chair closer and picked up the file again. “Oh yes. And what kind of business are you in?”
“Most recently I was with an importâexport company in Berlin.”
“Well, the firm wasn't doing too well, so I got my partners to buy me out and then I thought I'd go on vacation for a while. A creative break, you understand.”
Inspector Cassar was very close to the desk now, and a strip of sunlight fell over his face. His eyes were yellow. The eyes of a beast of prey. Blum felt his heart thud. He stubbed out his cigarette. His fingers were damp with perspiration.
“For someone in the importâexport business you have an unusual vocabulary, Mr Blum. Creative break â garbage! Would you like me to tell you why you fancied this âcreative break'? Because you're a member of an international art theft gang, and you plan to start operating in Morocco and Spain and Tunisia and here in Malta, the way you did back in Istanbul!”
The hard edge that Cassar's tone had assumed reminded Blum of certain particularly self-opinionated schoolteachers he'd known. The inspector lit a Benson
& Hedges and blew the smoke over the desk in the direction of Blum's blazer.
“Istanbul? I don't quite understand . . .”
Cassar tapped the file.
“You understand perfectly, Mr Blum. In 1969, according to Interpol, you were part of the organization stealing antique artworks to the tune of over two million dollars from the Izmir Archaeological Museum, including the diadem depicting the twelve labours of Hercules . . .”
Blum cleared his throat.
“Inspector, please allow me to interrupt you, sir. You're bringing up all those slanders that I was able to disprove to the Istanbul police at the time. If Interpol is still making such accusations then they're nothing but totally outlandish rumours and suspicions, and I'd sue if it wouldn't be just a waste of my time.”
Cassar forced a smile. “You'd sue Interpol? I must say, Mr Blum, you have quite a nerve!”
“I had nothing to do with it at all! Do you think the Turks would have let me go if they could have shown that I had the slightest connection with the case?”
“Right now I'm not interested in what the Turks did or didn't do.” The tone of Cassar's voice was cutting. “If you've been hatching any plans for here, Blum, forget it. Art theft on Malta wouldn't just be against the law of our democratic republic, it would be a direct offence to the Catholic faith of the population, and you couldn't atone for that in a single lifetime.”
He threw the file dismissively into the filing cabinet. The fly on the picture crapped on the President's ear. Blum stood up.
“I'm not an art thief, Inspector Cassar.”
“Well, whatever your line is, Mr Blum, you won't have much chance to pursue it here. As I said before,
your visa runs out in three days' time, and if I were you I wouldn't be too hopeful about getting another. Maybe you can continue your âcreative break' in Italy. The door's over there.”
“I shall complain to my ambassador.”
“Go ahead, Mr Blum, and good luck. But don't forget, if you're still on Malta an hour after your visa runs out, your ambassador can visit you in Kordin.”
“Our civil prison, Mr Blum.”
When the mosquito entered the beam of light from the bedside lamp and began zooming about right in front of the wall, Blum picked up one of the porn magazines and killed it. The wallpaper of the hotel bedroom was spattered with squashed mosquitoes. Blum wiped the magazine on the bedpost and handed it to the Pakistani, who was sitting on the coverlet watching him with eyes older than Pakistan, as old as all that goes on between man, woman and mosquito in the dusk.
“That's life,” said Blum. “Hard but fair.”
“An interesting thought,” said the Pakistani.
Blum took the packet of HB out of his blazer pocket, lit a cigarette and offered the packet to the Pakistani.
“I don't smoke, thanks,” he said, smiling, and tipped his head to one side. His skin looked even darker in the dim light. He was wearing a green artificial silk suit and linen shoes, no socks. His long, greasy hair, already touched with grey here and there, lay around his smooth-skinned face like a wreath.
“You're right,” said Blum. “Sex is healthier.” He looked at his watch. “However, I'm afraid I don't have all day for you, Mr Waq . . .”