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Thriller – Part seven

2010
03.30

Entry by Tom Geraghty – May 08

The seat was hard, and lumpy. Once upon a time there were some springs, or some padding or something in there, but it had long ago decomposed, along with much of the truck. Though the light was starting to fade, Alex was sure there was a small hole in the floor of the footwell through which the road surface was visible, rushing past. Still, as long as there are no sudden bumps, it’ll hold together, he figured.

Petri held the wheel like he was wrestling a bull, and those bear-like arms looked like they’d be able to hold a bull at bay for the foreseeable future.

“Cold day.” Said the bear.

“Isn’t it always?” Alex replied.

“It gets colder.”

A man of few, but well chosen words, thought Alex, and English words at that. “How did you know I was English?”

“No Czech would go near that shit-hole of a brothel you just came out of, and you sure as hell aren’t German. Maybe American, but what’s the difference?”

“A sense of decorum?”

“A what?”

“Nothing. Listen, could you drop me on Jilska?”

“No. Van won’t get down there, I’d never get out again. Anyway, it’s out of my way. I can leave you at Karlov Most, it’s only a short walk from there.”

“Appreciated.”

The rest of the journey, what there was of it, was conducted largely in silence, save for the rumble of the engine and the disconcerting rattle every time they navigated a left-hand turn. As they traversed one of the numerous bridges crossing the Vltava, Alex saw the weir to his left, and further up the river, tourists in small red boats, rowing or in some cases, pedalling their way back to the pontoon as it was nearing dusk, and he assumed the boat hire gentleman wanted to get in the warm pub on the other side of the road. Behind, to the south-west, he could see the steeply rising hillside of the Vltava valley. Nothing like the hills and mountains back home, or rather, his mother’s home, where the summits were usually blanketed in cloud, and if it wasn’t raining, well, it was at least very wet, and probably about to rain. But at least Wales was quiet, peaceful, and had a certain majesty about it. His father’s home however, was majestic in a different way. In a decadent, indulgent, and grandiose way. Befitting of an ambassador, but not particularly to Alex’s taste.

The alarming rattle of the truck’s front axle roused Alex from his reverie as they swung a sharp left across the lights and beared north. A soft, dull ache in his lower back reminded him that it had been some time since he’d drunk anything other than alcohol, and he was in some danger of becoming dehydrated.

“Nearly there.” Growled the grizzly as they passed a small shopping arcade on the left.

Most of the traders were shutting up shop for the day, packing their goods into boxes and stacking them neatly on the shelves, or simply piling them on the floor. The rolling steel shutters of a couple of stores had already been pulled down, one displaying a rather concise piece of Czech graffiti, simply stating “Go gently”, followed underneath, in stylised writing, by the word “Zeko”. A nice sentiment, thought Alex. If you’re going to write graffiti, it should always be worth writing. Simply daubing or scribbling your name, or your tag, onto a wall somewhere always seemed fairly pointless – in all other methods of communication, the author usually has to create something before they sign it off. An artist simply signing a plain canvas rarely receives much in the way of praise, and a writer who signed off their blank manuscript would rightfully be ridiculed. But creating a statement, something that people read, absorbed, considered and potentially discussed? That’s different. It’s something artistic, or at least creative, and while it might not make much sense, it at least causes the viewer to consider the statement that’s been made on that wall. Alex could remember seeing some graffiti at the south bank in London, written along the top of a wooden bench, which plainly stated “I’m not resting.” He felt for a while that it begged the question of what they in fact were doing on the bench, but came to the conclusion that it didn’t really matter, and the writer was probably just being intentionally obscure.

The truck ground to a halt, and Alex pushed the heavy door of the cab open.

Charles Bridge wasn’t a bad place to be dropped off. While there were vantage points everywhere for someone to spot Alex as he climbed out of the truck and shook Petri’s hand to say thanks, it was busy enough to merge into the crowd quite easily.

With twenty minutes to spare, Alex had a bottle of water to purchase and some time to kill. Unfortunate turn of phrase, he thought. Taking the tourist route through town was the safest bet, not the tiny little back streets that littered Prague’s old town; Alex could remember all too clearly the night in Marrakesh, when he, through a combination of haste and inexperience, walked down the tiny, rutted and dark alleyways to get to the rendezvous. Some nasty little kid had jumped him, trying for his wallet and clearly under the impression he was a tourist who had wandered off the beaten track. Alex had dealt with him quickly, thoroughly, and not without some degree of satisfaction. The wiry little bastard had friends nearby, evidently, and not only were they numerous, but they’d seen him break the skinny runt’s right leg in two places. In the ensuing scuffle, Alex had supplied the gang with a number of broken wrists, a cracked skull, and almost definitely prevented one of them from spawning any more little criminals. Unfortunately, he’d also obtained two broken ribs and a ruptured (well, stabbed) kidney for his troubles. He’d nearly bled to death, but made it to the rendezvous, where his contact was able to take him to a surgeon for what Alex still likes to term a hatchet-job.

The scar goes much of the way across his lower back, and he still misses his right kidney, along with a small but not insignificant part of the left. You probably always miss an organ when it’s gone, apart from the appendix. Unfortunately for Alex, the reduced kidney function meant that he had to keep his hydration levels up, for when he became dehydrated, his crappy left kidney was less able to remove waste from his bloodstream. This wasn’t really a problem, and never had been in the past, but it was something he had to be constantly aware of, which is why he compelled himself to buy and drink bottled water whenever he could.

The bell on the shop door rang as he entered the liquor store/crystal shop/newsagent, and initially it was difficult to spot the bottled drinks in the rather haphazard arrangement of goods, though Alex found the ubiquitous branded bottled water in the cooler, took one, and placed a Euro on the counter for the shopkeeper.

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