• Rony Alfandary

Anonymity


Roy wanted to be very drunk that night. He had two choices: Getting a bottle and drinking alone or going out to the pub. He didn't feel like going to the pub where he was bound to meet a few friends of his, and he didn't want to stay at home either. He didn't want to face his friends.


"Friends Indeed", he mumbled to himself. He recalled last night when they ridiculed him for being naive. He couldn't gather up the mental powers that were needed for confronting their hinted but not discreet despise. He feared another political discussion in which he wouldn't be able to articulate his opinions in a clear way. He could never make his arguments appear reasonable. They, on the other hand, especially Ford, found no difficulties at all in expressing their views which were, not incidentally, extremely opposed to his.


They made no concessions to his opinions and rejected them in an off-handed manner, insinuating that only a fool could hold such views. He found it very hard admitting to himself that he still considered those men, Lorry, Jack, Steve and Ford as his mates, but after all, they were the only human beings, excluding his nuclear family, that he had any social intercourse with, at that time. He wanted to have friends, but they were forcing him into a reclusive position by their attitudes towards him, making him spend more and more time with himself although he was trying hard to be more sociable than he had been in the past.


It was all very unclear to him: They called on him quite often but never seemed to be satisfied with his presence and more often than not, he felt left out. As if he was partaking in a game they were conducting, a game in which he was the hunted subject. As if by breaking him slowly but systematically, they were hoping to achieve a tightening of their own social circle and so, by proving to themselves that he was despicable, they reinforced their own self-esteem. He wanted to be accepted by them, he wanted to feel needed for their social happiness, but the price they demanded from him was too high to pay without losing his identity and becoming a rug on which, they wiped their feet. He envied them for their carelessness, their relentlessness in dealing with people, their freedom in acting, their power in creating a charm, unique to themselves, which attracted people to them and yet, along with envy, he knew he didn't want to be like them at all.


He recalled with self-hatred all the things he had sacrificed during the attempt to gain access to their circle, all the lies he had told in order to Please them, all the self-denials he had committed so that friction would be prevented, all the friends he had neglected and abandoned along the way because he had thought they might not approve of his relationship with them; the emotions he had tried to ignore because they didn't fit in the rigid intellectual structure they had adopted. He had brain-washed himself so thoroughly that even when he detected his own feelings in them, he felt reluctant to acknowledge them. He realized he was underestimating himself to such an extent that it wasn't at all surprising that no-one was taking him seriously.


He felt so disgusted with the image that was taking over the gentle and sensitive man he thought he had been, that it seemed only natural they were rejecting his miserable Appearances. If he could only stay loyal to himself, be able to carry himself Proudly in front of them, not taking any notice of their smiles. "The smiles; the smiles that would be bound to appear on their faces if they were watching me in my Independence Act."


What was it that made him try, time after time, to seek their friendship? He pondered over that, but hard as he tried, he couldn't pin-point anything and his failure to do so only frustrated and depressed him more. He made himself stop thinking about them. "After all, there are more important things than that bunch of men", he thought without conviction. He decided that instead of going out to the pub and confronting their malic, he would go to bed and ignore it all. "Yes, I will try to sleep it off and cling to the hope that tomorrow everything will look different."


He tried to think about work, about having to face his dreary job for another day. The job was awful, completely unsuitable, the friends were impossible, life itself being such a tiring chore. He sighed, turned the light off and closed his eyes. If there was anything to cling to, something that would keep him above the surface for only a little while longer, only till he would overcome that state. He wanted time-off in which he would be able to relax and collect his strength, take a break from every day’s toil.


Roy woke up to the first sun rays of the morning, feeling much better. Since it was very early still, he had a couple of hours to himself before he had to go to work and stayed lying in bed, savoring the freshness of the early hours of the morning. He always liked that time of day, it was peaceful and calm. Even the most urgent problem didn't seem to be menacing, the world and its mundane matters were cast aside. He listened to the morning programme on the radio and wondered how he could have been so tense the previous night. "I have just been worrying too much. I have taken matters too seriously. After all, nothing can be that bad. Maybe it's the work, maybe I have been working too hard." He laughed at that. "Working too hard indeed…"


While dressing, he thought about his present job, an administration worker. He was employed by the biggest firm in the country which had a branch in his town. One of the firm's many activities was purchasing works of art for selling, with considerable profits, at the annual auction that it had been running for the last fifty years. He was a clerk in the department that was concerned with the preparations for the auction. Their job was started as soon as the previous auction was over.


Being a graduate of a well -known art-school, he was in charge of looking after the latest acquisitions which meant he had to catalogue an enormous amount of paper and to make a devastating number of 'phone-calls, so that he spent all his working hours trying to liaise between different people. It was very tedious and exhausting work and although his interest in art was genuine, he soon lost all interest in his job. All the same, he had to stick to the job, at least for a while. He Couldn't afford to be unemployed and the job situation. wasn't very promising at that time.


He arrived at the office just in time. Before he had managed to go into his little room, the Boss' secretary called him and said that the Boss, Mr Henly, wanted to see him in his office right away. Roy never liked Mr Henly very much. He was one of those managers, small managers that never achieved anything in their lives, that disappeared under others' control, never taking any sort of initiative to improve their standing.


It took Mr Henly the better part of half an hour to say why he wanted to see Roy. He talked about the firm in general and then started mentioning the next auction that was to take place in the summer. He complimented Roy for his devoted work for the firm and said that the firm appreciated his dedication. Roy didn't know if it was a joke or if Mr Henly was as stupid as he seemed. All while he was talking, he didn't look into Roy's eyes as if he was afraid from what he was bound to see there. He went on and told Roy about the importance of the auction to the town's social and artistic life, and how people from all over the country were looking forward to it.


"You see, Roy" he said, "The firm feels that the auction is a great opportunity for the contemporary artists to present their works in public and to sell them. That's the reason, of course, why our department is buying all these works of art all through the year. Nevertheless, the works of art that the firm buys by ordinary means don't bring enough profit to justify the auction. We want to give a chance to young artists but we must think about the firm's profits as well. You're probably wondering why I'm telling you all this. "Roy nodded slightly. He felt Pity for Mr Henly trying so hard to be likeable and yet staying remote. Mr Henly hardly took notice of Roy's reaction and went on talking.

"Well, the purpose of all this conversation is to offer you a major part in the organization of next year's auction."


Roy became very attentive. He hadn't anticipated any news from Mr Henly and here was something that might change a few things for him. He leaned forward, expressing thus his increasing interest. Mr Henly noticed Roy's obvious curiosity and smiled. "Well, the way in which the firm guarantee its profits is by buying a bulk of paintings at a very low cost and then selling them at the auction, presenting each of them as a masterpiece. I don't have to tell you, of course, that when the firm claims a painting a masterpiece, its price reaches the sky. That is the catch. We can't allow the artist to think that he sells the firm something very valuable. Every painter thinks that his works are the best that were ever produced. The minute he learns that the firm is interested in his work, he demands an astronomical price for each item, a price the firm can't afford. More than that. The firm wants the artist to think that it is doing him a great favor by buying his works at the price it is willing to pay. What the firm simply does is not letting the artist know it is interested in his work, till the very last minute, when the artist can see no better alternative but to sell his paintings for whatever price the firm is willing to pay."


Roy thought he must have missed something because he couldn't understand what his boss was driving at. He sensed something crooked in the way Mr Henly described the firm's activities, but since he didn't want to appear dumb, he kept silent and hoped that it would become clearer later on.


"Now that's where you come into the picture. The firm is going to buy a bulk of the paintings of a certain artist who lives in the town. The firm can't approach him directly for the obvious reasons I've just mentioned and so we need someone independent, someone who will involve that person in financial business to such an extent that when the firm will choose to make it offer, he will accept it as God-sent. We need someone that won't be identified with the firm and the firm chose that someone to be you."


Roy was completely astounded It was all very clear to him all of a sudden.


"Do you mean to say”, he asked, "that I will be connected with some illegal business?"

"Not at all, my friend, not at all."

"So?"

"You will have to become friendly with this artist, so friendly as a matter of fact, that he will trust you completely. After that is achieved, the firm will supply you with means, all legal of course, by which you'll tie the artist to the firm, without him realizing it of course. But don't you worry; you will get all the necessary details when the time comes. What do you think, then? The firm is relying on you. We won't tolerate any mistake or refusal in this delicate matter."

"Great", Roy thought, "So either accept it or leave the firm altogether." He realized, with bitterness, that he had no choices.

He said to the boss that he would be delighted to be of any service to the firm. Mr Henly congratulated him and showed him to the door.


Roy went back into his little office and considered his paper-loaded desk with contempt. "After all, I wouldn't have to see to this anymore, and that in itself is a great improvement." He wasn't sure at all whether he agreed with the nature of the commission he had just received, but what choice did he have anyway? He was presented, bluntly, with something he had to do, or, if he chose not to do it, to go and seek his wages elsewhere. The more he thought about it, the less sure he became. He remembered last year's auction, how suddenly one of his colleagues had been promoted after the auction was over and how the same person didn't show up for work during the two months preceding the auction.


These were his prospects, and he would be a damn fool to decline. As for the Poor artist who was to be cheated, why should he worry about him? After reading through the fat, confidential folio which held all the necessary details he had to know, including a clear warning that on no condition was he to disclose the true purpose of his business to the artist, he returned the folio to Mr Henly, collected the few Personal belongings that he kept in the office and went home.


On the outside door a note was hanging. It read: "Came to see you but you were gone. See you in the pub. Lorry." Roy felt very pleased with the fact that Lorry had come to see him. He planned to go to the pub and tell them all about the new responsibility he had, when he remembered with pain that he wasn't supposed to tell anyone any details about his commission. He felt a need to celebrate but knew that if he met Lorry and the rest in the pub, he would find it almost impossible to keep his secret. He cursed the firm for wanting to act in the dark but realized, at the same time, that when he had consented to take a part in their scheme, he became as much responsible for its success as his boss or even the Head of the firm, whoever he might be.


He rang Lorry and started expressing excuses for not being at home when he called. Lorry dismissed the matter and said he hoped he would meet Roy later on.

"Well, you see, Lorry, I can't really come tonight."

"Why not?"

"Well, I'm beginning something new at work tomorrow morning and I'm supposed to do some work at home tonight.

I'm really sorry but..."

"Oh forget it. We'll see you some other time then."

"Oh sure, but listen Lorry, I'm really Sorry."

"Don't be silly. See you soon."

You see, Lorry, it's something very important. I've been given a big responsibility and the boss is sort of counting on me and..."

"It's alright, Roy, you don't have to explain. See you very soon then. Bye."

"Hey, Lorry, listen... Hello, Lorry, hello…"

Roy banged the receiver and cursed. "Shit, I've done it again! Why did I have to apologize like a fool, humiliating myself so?"


He felt more miserable than ever. He stayed seated near the phone for nearly an hour without moving at all. He stared at the wall in front of him and wished, over and over again, that some change would take place in himself, something that would enable him to be a completely new Person , someone who didn't have any bad experiences, someone who would be very likeable, popular. He daydreamed. He saw a new Roy, surrounded by friends. Everyone was talking, either to him or about him, he was the Centre of everything that happened in the room. He heard his name whispered from every corner.

He swam in a sea of smiles, teeth shined at him from every- where, he began to feel uneasy, disturbed by the noise, by the smiles, by the attention. He was trying to break away, but the circle was tightening around him. It had become a nightmare, a daydream’s nightmare.


When he emerged from his trance-like mood, the light was dimming the evening sun was completing its journey. He rose heavily from the chair and drew the curtains. He moved clumsily into the bedroom and lay on the bed. He realized he was staring at a wall and fearing he might be trapped again, he got up and went into the kitchen. He felt uneasy and started moving around the flat, very slowly at first. Gradually his pace quickened, and his movements became more abrupt and nervous. When the 'phone rang, few minutes later, he was in a complete state of panic.


"Hello Roy, how are you?"

"Oh, mother, it's you!"

"Yes, it's me. So how are you?"

"I'm alright, I just didn't expect your call."

"Well, since you don't call, I thought I might as well find you were. Why didn't you call?"

“I've been very busy at work and simply didn't have the time to ring you. I'm sorry. Are you alright? How's Dad? Did he recover from his cold?"

"Yes, dear, two weeks ago. I wish you would call on us more often. We haven't seen you for ages, you know."

"I'm sorry Mum but..."

"Never mind. Why don't you come for supper tomorrow night?"

"Maybe I don't know."

"Are you that busy? Can't you relax a bit and see your old parents once in a while?"

"O.K. Mum, I promise I'll come sometime during the week, only I don't think I'll be able to make it tomorrow. I promise I'll ring tomorrow and arrange it, alright?"

"Whatever you say, Roy, only don't forget this time."

"I won't, I promise. I'll see you soon then".

"Be well, don't over-work yourself."

"Right. Bye-bye then and give my love to Dad."

"I will. Bye."


The conversation with his mother sobered Roy but he still wasn't feeling very well. He was tired, very tired. All the excitement of the day had been too much for him. Not being able to reach any reasonable conclusions about his relationships with his friends nor about the prospect of meeting the artist, he retired to bed, thinking that he would deal with everything in the morning.


The first thing that came into Roy's head when he woke up in the morning was that he didn't had to go to the office anymore. He was going to meet Cole Mare, the artist he was supposed to became friendly with, whom he rang earlier in the previous afternoon and arranged a meeting for the morning. Waiting for the bus, he tried to picture Cole to himself, basing the image on the voice he had heard or the 'phone. He hoped Cole wasn't one of those crazy artists who didn't have interest in anything apart from their work.

The building in which Cole had an apartment was very old, probably built in the beginning of the century. Its Proximity to the sea hadn't helped to Preserve the grandeur it must have held in earlier days. The garden was neglected, the gate hinges were broken. A frightening-looking old man received Roy at the bottom of the stairs with a snarl.

Roy climbed to the fourth floor, the top one, and stood by the door for a moment, regulating his shortened breath.


While waiting, he looked around him. Like the rest of the building, the staircase and the landings were dirty, littered with pieces of paper and cigarette stubs, unkept and badly lit. The only indication on the door of someone's existence behind it was a piece of red tape from which he read the artist's name: Cole Mare. "Typical", he thought to himself, "You can't expect an artist to look after the floor's landing and. things like that." He heard a dog sneezing and snuffling inside the flat and rang the bell just when the dog started barking violently. That was a detail that was lacking from the firm's report about Cole Mare. He dreaded dogs. Maybe that was the reason it wasn't mentioned in the report; maybe the firm knew he hated dogs.


The door opened and after the raging dog went back into the flat, Roy knew he was facing Cole Mare. There couldn't have been doubt about it. Cole smelt of paint and his hands were stained with red and blue. He had a very pale complexion which highightened the wrinkles around his eyes and mouth. He had an unlit cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth and a questioning smile on his lips.


"I'm sorry about the dog. It isn't very often that he jumps on strangers."

"Never mind. Oh, I'm Roy."

-"Good morning", said Cole not removing the questioning look from his face.

"I rang you yesterday. You said I could come and see you today, about your paintings", said Roy when he realized that Cole was hardly expecting him.

"Oh, yes, of course. Please come in, I'm sorry, I almost forgot."


They went past an untidy kitchen, Cole slamming its door, and through a narrow and dark corridor. Cole was leading, and Roy noticed the way he swung his hips and remembered that somewhere in the report it was mentioned that Cole was a

Homosexual. When they reached the living-room and he seated himself, he soon forgot everything about the report. Paintings were everywhere. Hanging on the walls, leaning against walls, lying in heaps in different corners of the rooms.


"I'm sorry about the mess, I'm redecorating the studio and I had to bring everything into the living -room. I hope you don't mind disorder too much."

Roy was surrounded by colors and shapes, the like of which he had never seen before. It took him quite a while to adjust his sight. He felt he had stepped into a different

and fantastic level of illumination. He blinked and breathed heavily. Cole was standing next to his chair, looking at the paintings with scrutinizing eyes. a gentle smile floating on his lips.


"I really should have arranged them better in the room for you."

"It's alright. They're great, I really like them."

"Do you really?"

Roy was stunned. He wanted to express his admiration but couldn't bring words to his mouth. He was speechless, and Cole's casual manner didn't help him for some reason.

He tried very hard to concentrate his mind but still felt helpless. He knew that any remark that he would try to utter would sound silly, but he had to say something, he

didn't want to keep Cole waiting. He didn't want him to get the impression he didn't like the paintings.

"You don't have to say anything, I know how you feel. It's very hard to pass a judgement on a Painting, especially when you see it for the first time".

Roy felt grateful. He looked up to Cole and smiled.

"I'm glad you said that, but you mustn't misunderstand me.

I really like your paintings, the ones I can see here.

I'd like to see some more."

"Good. Would you like anything to drink?"

"Yes, pleas. Coffee, if you have any."

"Sure. Be with you in a minute. Why don't you look around in the meanwhile?"

"Yes, I Will thank you."


Roy got up from his chair and started looking through the paintings that were at the far-end of the room. He admired them. They transmitted themselves directly to his brain.

He felt he had known Cole all his life through the paintings.They were so simple, straight-forward, without any fanciful images or unnecessary abstracts. He had seen a lot of paintings in the last few years and thought he was able to recognize a good work when he saw one. He knew he had come across something genuine, something that was worthwhile. The paintings stood out in front of him and he sank into them, relishing their wonder.


With a pang, he remembered what he was expected to do by the firm. He had to think and to do so quickly. On the one hand, it was clear to him that he couldn't deceive Cole; he already liked him, but on the other hand, if he abandoned the firm's plan and revealed his cards to Cole he would be left without job and with little hope of finding one in a town that was under the control of the firm. There was no place the firm's long hand couldn't reach, he would be marked. Meanwhile, Cole came back with a tray loaded with cups of coffee and a plate of cakes.


"Did you have a good look at the paintings down there in the corner? They're the newest."

"Yes, I did look at them and I can't even start telling you how much I like them. I haven't seen anything like it before."

"Oh, that's very nice of you. Do you take sugar or Milk?"

"Just a drop of milk, please, no sugar."

They sat quietly for a while, sipping their drinks. Feeling Roy's tension, Cole began talking. First he talked about the paintings, told Roy when he had painted each of them; what thoughts he had tried to convey in each of them; how joyful it was to paint and yet how painful. Roy sat gaping, taking every word in as if it was gospel. Cole's speech was so easy and flowing, Roy felt he couldn't interrupt him even if he wanted to. He began relaxing and laughed whole- heartedly at Cole's puns, but sensed, all the same, something dark and threatening moving inside his head. He knew that there would come a moment when he would have to start talking business, and he dreaded that moment. Not knowing what to do, he tried to enjoy Cole's comforting presence and noticed that even the dog, that seemed to be so intimidating at the door, relaxed and was nibbling a bone on a little cushion that was laid down for him.


After they drank a second cup of coffee, Roy felt he couldn't postpone it any longer. He made up his mind to tell Cole the truth, but when he opened his mouth and began relating the Purpose of his visit, he heard -himself telling lie after lie. The fear was too big, he couldn't bring himself to be what he really wanted to be, namely, firm, honest and resolute. He heard himself telling lies, entangling himself in the net he had thrown in front of himself. He thought he sounded completely implausible but to his surprise, Cole accepted everything he said.


"So you're interested in buying a painting. Just one?"

"Yes, you see, the gallery doesn't have much resources at the moment. In fact, your painting, if you'll agree to sell it to us, will be part of the first exhibition."

"I see. Yes, I was wondering whether I've heard about you before. I now know why I haven't, but after all, I was never really involved in galleries so I wouldn't really know whether you're telling the truth or just bluffing."

Roy wanted to bury himself. Cole was so honest that he couldn't ever imagine that anyone might be interested in cheating him.

"Do you know how much you would ask for a Painting?"

"It will depend on the painting. Do you have anyone in particular in mind?"

"Well, I was thinking about that one there, the one with the title 'winter'."

"Would you mind if I don't give you an answer right away?

I'd like to think it over."

"Of course, I don't mind. Only, I need to have an answer in a day or two."

"O.K. you'll have one tomorrow. I want to consult someone.

You see, I think I was going, to sell a painting soon so I haven't been concerned with the market value of the paintings."

"How comes you haven't sold any painting lately?"

"Well, I have my income coming from somewhere else so that I don't have to sell paintings to make a living. I much prefer it this way, so I can Paint with only artistic

Values, if you like, in my mind."

"Yes, I see what you mean. You' re very lucky then."

"Yes, maybe I am, but then thinking about it, I do need to know that someone might buy a painting, so actually, you came at very good time. Yes, it was very well timed,

as if you knew I was going to start looking up the market.

You saved me a lot of trouble."

"I'm sinking deeper and deeper", Roy thought, "He already trusts me." He noticed that Cole was waiting for a response, but again found himself speechless. Cole interpreted Roy's silence as disagreement to wait. He cursed himself for being so unworldly and thinking that by making friends with Roy he would be saved from the business rigmarole. He liked Roy, although he seemed to be very timid in his presence, holding himself back. Cole could take it no longer.

"O. K, Roy, how about 150?"

"There's no need to decide now, really, there isn't.

Why don't you think it over?"

"I have thought it over. I want to be over with all these money matters.

"Alright, if you want it this way. I'll bring your offer to my boss and let you know tomorrow. Alright?"

"Fine, so I'll hear from you tomorrow. Do you want another cup of coffee?"


Roy wanted to be far away from there. He felt ashamed of himself, cheating like he did. He wanted to be alone, to be able to consider everything, to make a clear-cut decision and then to act upon it, accordingly. He refused the drink and after a minute of mutual embarrassment, which undoubtedly stemmed from the money involvement, said goodbye to Cole and promise him to ring him later. Walking down the stairs, he felt Cole' s gaze on his back. He didn't hear the door close and assumed that Cole was still standing on the landing, waiting for God knows what. When he got to the bottom of the stairs, he realized he was holding his breath and had done so all the way down.


"Tension, tension, all this tension is not doing me any good".


He lit another cigarette and stood near the gate, uncertain of what he wanted to do next. The crazy old man who lived, apparently, on the ground floor, appeared suddenly at his side. Roy looked down on him, bewildered, and when the old man released a wild snarl from his chest, he took to his heels and walked away as fast as he could without appearing to be running anyway.

Roy's ordeals were hardly over that day, although he was making preparations for a quiet evening. On the way home he met Steve who made him Promise he would come to the pub later on in the evening. After having supper, he went out again, not really knowing why. He was tired and weary. Everywhere he looked he saw failure, everything he touched was spoiled. He wanted to bring happiness to himself and to others but all he succeeded in doing was to make himself more miserable and his surroundings more spiteful, everything was in the same jumbled state. He couldn't help laughing at himself, at his misfortune. He waited for the bus, sweating and feeling clumsy. When the bus came, he realized he didn't have any change for the fare and had to beg the conductor to break into a large note.


When the bus reached the stop, he wanted to get off at, he was literally pushed out by the man who stood behind him, and almost fell or his face. At that point, he burst out laughing, hard and loud, attracting the attention of the passers-by who looked at him as if he was completely mad. His laughter died finally when he entered the pub and regarded Ford, Steve and the rest sitting at the far end of the pub, glasses of beer piled in front of them.


“Haven't seen you for years! Where the hell have you been hiding?"

"Why are you smiling? There's no reason to smile!"

"Come on, sit down! Don't stand there like a zombie!"

"You heard the man! Sit down! You're making me nervous."

"Sit down, I tell you!"

"Now get up and get yourself a drink."


Roy knew that everything was going to fall on him, but till then, he couldn't help smiling and feeling very amused. He looked around him, at the faces that troubled him whenever he thought about them. Someone asked him how the job was, and he answered with the usual belittling remark that it was only temporary, just a way to earn a living, but deer inside, he regretted his manner. "It is more than that. Now I am burdened with a responsibility, and a very unpleasant one. "When Jack saw he wasn't going to get a response from Roy, he made no further effort and began talking to someone else. He could never really figure Roy out. He was a queer bird, always trying very hard to be friendly and jubilant but staying remote and untouched. He wanted, sometime ago, to draw him into the circle, but Roy always reacted with fear and hesitation, as if he was afraid of something, so he gave up and didn't bother anymore. He looked at Roy and saw that his mind was elsewhere. He detected a slight smile or his face and wondered what was going on inside his head. Steve was watching Roy too and felt pity for him.


"Hey, Roy, are you with us?"

Roy was completely unaware of all the attention he was attracting and was startled when he heard his name being called out. He looked around him, trying to look for the source and saw Steve's smiling, round face, looking intently into his.

"Sorry, Steve, was I thinking about something else."

"Why do you always apologize? You didn't do anything wrong. Is something bothering you? Is it that girl of yours, what's her name, Jo?"

"No, no, that Was over months ago. I haven't heard from her since then. It's funny" That you brought it up; I wasn't thinking about her at all. I was thinking about work."

That's silly. Why should your work trouble you? After all, from what I know, there's nothing to it. You must be bored to death there, aren't you?"

"Yeah, I am, but what can I do? I need the money and the firm pays very well.

"Of course the firm pays very well, but money isn't everything in life, is it? As I see it, you're wasting your talents there, you're doing nothing you can benefit from, so why bother at all?"

"What else can I do?"

"There's lots of things you can do. You can write, you told me so yourself, and the story I've read of yours was very good. Why don't you try to publish? Or maybe get a job on one of the newspapers? I could be able to help in that. My uncle is the editor of 'All the News'. Do you want to meet him? I can arrange it quite easily if you want me to.

"That's very kind of you, Steve."

"So do you want me to talk to him?"

"Well, maybe, in a few months' time. I don't feel ready for it now."

"How do you mean?"

"It's very hard to explain, I'm sorry. Anyway, I really appreciate the gesture, it is really very kind of you."

"Don't mention it, I' only trying to help a friend."

"Really?"

"What really?"

"You said you're trying, to help me as a friend. Did you really mean it?"

"Of course I did; what is the matter with you? Are you feeling alright? You're acting very strangely."


Roy smiled with embarrassment. Although Steve seemed to be well-meaning, he couldn't help his suspicion from growing stronger. "It's too Good to be true", he repeated to himself, "it's impossible that he really means it, it's just another joke of his." By then, everyone around the table was listening. All eyes were directed at Roy and he felt a Pain in his neck. He smiled weakly at them and tried to hide his face behind his cigarette smoke and the glass of beer, but they were still watching him and he had to avert his eyes again and again. He interpreted the glances they exchanged as despising and felt sillier than ever. Luckily for him, they weren't very persistent in their curiosity and soon occupied themselves with other things. He was left alone, nobody tried to make conversation with him, apart from a remark now and their which was meant to give him a chance to get involved in their conversation. Most of the time, he pretended he didn't even hear them. He just sat there, his eyes buried in the g1ass, a mysterious smile on his face. As a matter of fact, he was very conscious of their efforts but was already detached and remote, to such an extent that he didn't see any chance of getting involved in their conversation again. Absorbed in his own thoughts, it took him a few minutes to realize that Cole Mare was sitting at a near-by table, looking at him with a sad smile. Roy got up immediately, intending to join him rather than asking Cole to join their table, but Cole was faster. Pulling his chair with him, he sat between Roy and Steve, radiating smiles all around.


"Hello, everyone, hello, Roy. I was wondering when you would wake up. was it very good?"

"What?"

"Whatever it was you were thinking about so deeply?"

Everyone, excluding Roy, thought it was very funny and seemed to like Cole at first sight. After that, everyone introduced themselves and soon a general conversation commenced, in which Roy, again, took no part, to the apparent disappointment of Cole. when Cole said he was a painter, Roy pricked up his ears. He knew that soon Cole would tell the rest about that morning's meeting with his, and that was a very undesirable subject for Roy. So, reluctantly, he joined in, hoping that Cole wouldn't contradict him.


"I met Cole by accident. We were both waiting for the bus. He was sketching something and I got interested, so we started talking to each other. It is funny that now we meet again in this pub. After all, I've been here many times before and never saw you. Do you remember me from here? I mean, do you think you ever saw me here before?"


All through his little speech, Roy was very conscious of Cole's astonishment but to his relief, Cole didn't try to contradict him, and after recovering from the initial shock, he joined in his line, developing the details of Roy's story. He tried to make it sound even more plausible than Roy thought was necessary, but everyone else seemed to accept everything he said without any doubt. Roy felt an enormous relief and thanked Cole deeply in his heart. Every Passing minute increased his gratitude towards Cole.


After half an hour Cole excused himself and left the pub, not before shaking everyone's hand and sending meaningful glances towards Roy. A minute later, Roy exclaimed that there was something he had forgotten to tell Cole and hurried outside, promising to be back in a second. Once outside the pub, Roy stood on the pavement hoping that Cole was already far away. He started walking towards the bus stop and when he got to it, hid in the entrance of the opposite building, praying that the other's wouldn't choose the same way home. He didn't feel like going home, but when the bus arrived, he got on it and was extremely surprised to find Mr Henly sitting or the back bench. When he approached him, intending to greet him, Mr Henly waved his hand in such a manner that suggested he wasn't at all happy with their unexpected meeting Feeling confused, Roy obeyed the gesture and sat a few benches away from him.


All of a sudden, a notion flashed through his brain. They were going to set him up. He was, just a decoy for catching the big fish, Cole. Everything became as clear as the noon days sun to him. The firm wanted Roy to involve Cole in financial matters so that the firm would be able to buy the paintings cheaply, but once they did that, they would turn him over to the police, being the person who cheated Cole, and denying any connection with him, saying he was acting upon his own ideas. The firm would benefit doubly from that: they would have the paintings at the price they wanted and they would get rid of Roy by putting the blame on him for Cole's financial entanglement. Who would believe Roy then? The police would be more than happy to convict someone so that the firm could stay spotless.


"So that's why he wanted to ignore me", Roy thought and turned around, intending to let Mr Henly know that their plan was clear to him. wasn't there anymore. In his Panic, Roy got off the bus at the next stop and stood lost in thought on the street, completely at a loss as to what to do next. He stood like that for a few minutes, arousing the curiosity of the few passers-by. "What can I do? What can I do now?" An elderly man turned his head back and Roy realized he was talking to himself. He began walking, unaware of the direction, his brain working very fast, looking for solutions. Without knowing it, he was walking towards Cole's house and when he got there, he was still lost in thought. A familiar sound woke him from his deep reverie and he lifted his head to find the old man that lived or the ground floor, standing in front of him, obstructing his way.


"What do you want here at this late hour of right, young man?"

"What?"

"Go home, young man, this is no place to be in at this time of night. Go home."

Only then he realized where his night's prowl had led him.

He lifted his eyes and saw a light where he thought Cole's apartment was.

Why don't you go home? This is no place for nice young man like you. Go home, go home."

Instinctively, he turned on his heels and started to walk away when the thought flashed through his mind. "I'll go and tell Cole all about it. I'm sure he'll know what to do, I'm sure he'll find a way out of this mess. Why didn't I think about it before? To hell with the firm. I've got nothing to lose now, nothing at all." He was almost running when he went past the still-protesting old man. He never climbed stairs as quickly as he did then. He reached the fourth floor in no time and stood in front of the door gasping for air. Before he knew it, he was banging on the door like mad, cursing the dog that started barking loudly. After a few minutes, he realized that either Cole was a very deep sleeper or he wasn't inside the apartment. When he was ready to give up, saying to himself that he would come back the next morning, he heard someone climbing the stairs. When that someone coughed, he recognized the cough as Cole's.


He felt warmth creeping all over him, his heart was filling with gladness, and so, when Cole reached the floor, he found Roy standing there, smiling and beaming as if he was the happiest man on earth; Roy felt he was. He almost fell into Cole's arms before checking himself and holding back. not wishing to embarrass Cole.


"Roy! I certainly didn't expect to find you here! Is anything wrong?"

"No, no, nothing's wrong. I just wanted to see you. Do you mind?"

"Well, it's a bit late."

"It is important, actually, I want to tell you something."

"Well, come on in, then."

"Are you sure? I'd hate to intrude on you."

"Yeah, it's perfectly alright. I don't feel particulary sleepy anyway. Unlike most people, drinking alcohol stimulates me.

The flat was in the same state as in the morning, although the dog seemed to recognize Roy and didn't jump on him.

A few things repeated themselves: Roy sat in the same chair, looked at the same painting he had first noticed when he walked into the flat, Cole went to the kitchen to make some coffee, Roy felt uneasy and tense. It was cooler although it was still quite hot. Sweat was running down Roy's body.

He was trying to arrange his thoughts before Cole came back, but all he could think of was wanting to discharge the mental tension he was trapped in.

"Well, here is your coffee. Are you sure you don't want to drink anything else?"

"Yes, thank you."

Cole was very patient. He set opposite Roy and waited for him to speak.

"It's not going to be easy, Cole. You will have to trust me."

Cole looked at Roy with what seemed to be a mixture between amusement and astonishment.

"What do you mean by that?"

"Do you remember what I told you the purpose of my call this morning was?"

"Of course, I do. Your gallery wanted to buy a painting.

Why? Do you regret it now?"

"No, but..."

"By the way, why didn't you tell your friends the real circumstances of our meeting?"

"Wait, a minute! I told you it wasn't going to be easy to explain, you see, I lied to you."

"When?"

"When I told you about the gallery."

"I'm afraid T don't follow you. please try to be more explicit.

"I'll try, just give me time to breath."


By then, Cole wasn't amused anymore. He looked at Roy suspiciously and that was something Roy just couldn't handle at that time. It was the last thing he expected Cole to be. He kept saying to himself that his intentions were well- meaning and that he shouldn't allow Cole to think otherwise.


"The whole story about the gallery wanting to buy one painting is a set-up, a decoy. It might sound fantastic to you, but you must believe me, I like you and I can't bring myself to deceive you as I was supposed to do. You see, I'm working for The Firm. I was just another clerk till my boss offered me this commission, which had to do with next year's auction. I don't know how much you know about these auctions, but in order to cut a long story short, I'll tell you that each year the firm buys someone's works in bulk and sells them at amazing profits. The artist hardly benefits from this sale, since he only discover that the firm is interested in his works at the very last minute, when it is too late or impossible for him to refuse its offer. The firm handles it in such a way that makes the artist think that the firm is doing him a favor by buying his works. That what was happening till now, and that is what was going to happen to you, with my unkind assistance. To my great shame, I must admit that I agreed to take a part in this rotten business- don't ask me why. Now I'm laying all my cards on the table, you must believe me. I've decided I'm not going to take any part in it anymore, be the consequences what they will. I can't cheat you. I knew I wouldn't be able to carry it off the first minute I saw you. I just couldn't do it. I know I should have told you about it before, I am begging you to forgive me. I don't know how I reached such a low state, I really don't. Now you know everything I know. I don't know what we can do. I know I've got myself into a mess but I don't mind, as long as you understand. You can do whatever you want, you can go to the police if you want, but you must realize that you wouldn't be able to get the firm, they've thought of everything, they're safe, the bastards. You would only get me in trouble, and believe me, I'm in great trouble as it is. I won't be able to get a job in this town, possibly not in the wjole country. They control almost everything and everyone. That's the best prospect. Worse can, and possibly will happen. I don't know how they'll react to my treason, I can't imagine that they'll be very lenient. They can get me locked up in no time, if they want to."


Cole was very quiet all through Roy's speech. Even when Roy seemed to come to a stop, Cole remained motionless, only the grave expression on his face betraying his feelings.

He avoided looking into Roy's eyes and smoked nervously. Roy derived strength from his own words although he didn't get the expected response. He felt that after he had got it off his chest, he was halfway to success.


"Well, what do you think?"

"I don't know what you want me to say. I can't imagine how I could have been such a fool. I would prefer it if you went now."

Everything collapsed on Roy. That was the last thing he had expected to happen. He thought Cole would be grateful to him, or at least compassionate.

"You can't throw me out! Not now! Not after I've told you everything! I've got nowhere to go, Cole!"

"What do you want me to do then? I can see no reason why you should stay here. “

"But don't you see that I've saved you? Don't you..."

"You didn't save me! You wanted to save your own skin, not mine! Who do you think you're kidding?"

"But, Cole!"

"Shut up! I'm trying to think. If you won't go, at least don't say anything. You've done your share of harm for the day.

"But I was really only trying to help you, Cole, can't you see that? I could have gone with it, I could have had you down your knees if I wanted to!"

"You wouldn't have got me down on my knees. Don't be so melodramatic. Why don't you tell me the truth? Why don't you tell me the real reason?"

"But I have told you the real reason! Why won't you believe me?"

"Why? How can I believe anyone who got himself mixed up in a dirty business like this? You thought you would become famous, rich, or whatever the firm had promised you. So why did you back out all of a sudden?"

"I told you why. I just couldn't go on with it. I could not tolerate the thought that they would have you beaten."

"You know Roy, you just don't sound convincing, that's all, you just don't sound convincing. I can't ignore the feeling that you're hiding something from me."

"You must believe me, Cole, you must. I've lost everything I ever had. I've lost my friends, I've lost my job, now I'11 have to hit the road, run away like a criminal. What can I possibly gain from cheating you any further?"

"I don't know, that is what's troubling me, I just don't know."

"You must believe me."


They looked into each other's eyes, a pleading look against an unmoved one, but Roy felt that Cole was warming up towards him and allowed a thin, apologetic smile to appear on his lips, to which Cole averted his eyes, trying hard to stay serious. He was struggling against Roy's efforts to get through to him. He was surprised at himself, letting someone he hardly knew upset him so much, and yet, he couldn't help feeling affection towards poor Roy.


"Alright, I believe you, but what now? There is still something I don't quite understand."

"You believe me? Really?"

Roy was beaming. He got up from his chair and went over to Cole, bent over him and kissed him. When he straightened up and looked into Cole's eyes, he saw an unfamiliar look. appearing in the older man's eyes.

"Why did you kiss me? What for?"

"I'm so happy. You believe me! You can't imagine what I went through."

Cole sighed. He realized Roy wasn't aware at all of what he was doing.

"Oh, you're so naive. You're very lucky that I see through you as I do."

"What do you mean?"

"Never mind. Tell me more about the firm."

"What- do you want to know?"

"I want to know how they were going to carry out their scheme."


Although Roy didn't feel like talking about the firm, he knew he owed that much to Cole.

"I don't know all the details; they wouldn't let me know till the last minute. They're playing it very safe, but from what I've gathered, they were going to involve you in Problems, money problems, through me. They said that when the time came, after I had become friendly with you, they would give me the means to engage you in a financial business, with the result of you being in debt and in urgent need of cash so that when they wanted to buy your paintings, you would be more than glad to sell them to the firm without suspecting they had any part in the business that had made you need their help. That's all I know. You can see they didn't trust me very much."

"You can't really blame them, can you?" Cole said, laughingly. They both burst into laughter. They felt reassured by each other, now that they had escaped from the firm's clutches.

"So what are you going to do? I'm safe, but you will get into trouble on my behalf."

"Yes, I know, but I don't regret it. I had always wanted to quit sooner or later, and today is as good as any other day. I suppose I'll have to resign and hope that they'll let me go. I don't know what will happen after that. Maybe you and me could do something."

"Like what?"

"I don't know."


Although Roy knew he was in a very bad position, he couldn't help feeling good. Whatever might happen next, he would be Free before long. Cole didn't agree with him on that point. He had seen too many people lose, for him to believe that someone might break free, especially where the firm was concerned.

"So, you will help me, Cole?"

"I don't know what you expect me to do. I can't fight the firm, I've no intention of getting into a battle which I know I'll lose."

"I'm not asking you to fight the firm. I'm not worried about it. I know it's stupid, but. I'm simply not worried about it."

"So what do you want me to do?"

"I want you to be my friend."


Cole was more than amazed. Time after time, he was surprised by Roy whose actions seemed to be completely unpredictable.

"You're so sweet, Roy. Of course, I'll be your friend, but I can't see how it might help you.

"Maybe it won't but it makes me feel better."

"I don't want to sound too realistic, but what are you going to do next?"

"I'm going to see my boss tomorrow morning and tell him that there is a change of plans."

"Are you going to tell him that I know about the firm's plan?"

"No, of course not. I won't even say that I've met you."

"Good."

"You know, I have a feeling that the firm wouldn't mind that much about me leaving. I think we exaggerated the importance of it all."

"You think so?"

"Yes. Anyway, it's time for me to go. Can I come to see you tomorrow?"

"Sure. Come straight after you've talked to your boss."

Cole never saw Roy that morning. He waited all day but when Roy didn't show up or phoned, decided that if Roy wouldn't show any sign of himself the next day, he would start looking for him.

A few days later, he went to the pub where he had met Roy before, hoping to find Roy's friends there. They were, and said they hadn't heard from Roy either, but they had heard that he had been promoted in his work and was sent on a commission abroad. When Cole tried to explain that it was impossible and that Roy had been on the point of leaving the firm for good, they dismissed his suspicion. Cole got the impression that they couldn't really care less but succeeded in getting Roy's parent's address.


Roy's mother was very happy to see someone who was a friend of Roy's She confirmed Roy's friends' story about the commission he had received a few days ago. She said it was very urgent and Roy hadn't even had time to say goodbye to them properly.


"Did you hear from him since, Mrs Porr?"


"Oh yes, he wrote a couple of letters already and seems to be very happy at his new post. There's one strange thing in his letters though: they' re all typed, and Roy never knew how to type!"


1985


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