by Bill Bowler
Chapter 8: Mrak’s Party
part 1 of 2
I was home the next evening, brooding on the past day’s events. What anarchy! Who was the hunter and who was the game? I wanted somehow just to start over fresh and work things out more neatly, in some order. I had not yet reconciled myself to the irrevocability of the consequences of one’s actions. I still deluded myself that steps taken were tentative and could be reversed and corrected. I sat at my table, gazing out the window, strangely agitated, and began writing.
Nameless drifting beyond prose,
Slight ephemeral sensation,
Empty thoughtless haze
Mood fog meaningless sourceless
Sweet untoned disharmony,
Elusive pure shadow reflected
The meaning was obscure, but it relieved somehow the odd, hollow sensation. At the same time, I was watching the street. Cynthia’s windows were dark.
Eight. Eight-thirty. Nine o’clock. No one home at Cynthia’s. Tonight was the night of Mrak’s party, which I wasn’t invited to. I couldn’t help but wonder if things weren’t loosening up over at Mrak’s. I idly looked him up in the phone book. No listing. I rather casually called University information. It was against policy to divulge home addresses.
Without thinking things through, I left my apartment and wandered up towards the park, towards University Place. Two motorists were cursing at each other over a parking spot on Eighth St. Three cops were roughing up a punk by the subway as a squad car sped by with its lights flashing. A pathetic stinking derelict with open sores on his legs was sprawled in a doorway. A band of youths, boisterous and drinking beer, passed and one young tough flashed a blade. Everyone on the sidewalk was hurrying by, keeping their heads down. The city was mean tonight, in one of its foul moods. The beast was on the prowl. You could feel it, sense it. On a night like this, you could only lay low and keep your guard up.
Cynthia had said Mrak lived on 10th St. I turned onto 10th from University and worked my way across, reading names on mail boxes and trying to look inconspicuous like James Bond, Master Spy. It seemed hopeless until, in the middle of the block, I found “J. and N. Mrak” over a buzzer. I buzzed.
A surly maid opened the door and let me past with a disapproving scowl. Before I took two steps towards the Swedish meatballs, a Doberman pincher, foaming at the mouth, was barking maniacally, about to charge, when a hefty middle-aged woman with a heavily powdered face and rouged cheeks and stiff jet-black hair ran over.
“Slavka! Slavka! Stop that!” She gave Slavka a whack on the nose. “Sit!”
Slavka skulked off, tail between his legs.
“Ooooh! I’m so angry with Slavka. I don’t know what’s gotten into him tonight!” She turned to the retreating canine. “Bad dog!”
“Na-tal-ia!” Mrak’s voice boomed from the next room.
“Oh, yes, Josef, yes,” she muttered and hurried off to answer the summons.
I was finally able to get out of the vestibule and enter the hallway. I turned into the room where Natalia, presumably “N. Mrak” from the buzzer, had gone, following the sound of loud party chatter.
I found myself in a living room-dining room area. It was rather coldly done in geometric Danish style, with glass tables and square chairs. A group of students and faculty was gathered, sipping drinks, munching food, and talking. The more inquisitive souls glanced in my direction. A maid passed quickly with a tray of little hot dogs.
In the rear of the room was a beautiful, big bay window that looked out into a back yard. Another bunch of partygoers was congregated outside on the patio. Beyond them, was a little garden with shrubs and two scraggly trees. The perimeter of the yard was surrounded by an eight-foot brick wall topped with a coil of razor ribbon.
Mrak went out the back door to the patio. He joined a group of co-eds and casually put his arm around Cynthia. I felt the sting of jealousy. Cynthia was the most beautiful girl at the party. She was wearing her signature black, the dress she had had on the first time I saw her in the window. Her long hair was tied back severely; her pale cream shoulders and the proud, noble arch of her neck were accentuated by the dark, low cut dress. I’m not going to say anything about her breasts or the s-curve of her narrow waist and wide, inviting hips, or the outline of her long, soft, shapely thigh to which the sheer black dress clung for dear life.
I followed Mrak out to the patio and stood at the edge of his group of admirers. With his arm casually draped around Cynthia’s bare shoulders, Mrak was delivering a pedantic monolog.
“My dear students, my dear comfortable children of suburbia, how little you know of life. How little time, how little experience you have had among the sharks and wolves of this planet. With your television, your drugs, your rock and roll, it is no surprise you have yet to taste the bitter fruit of Weltschmerz. But perhaps now my words, the vehicles of my own, more difficult experience, may penetrate the thick jelly of your hedonism and, perhaps in one head, just one, strike a responsive chord.
“We live in a corrupt world. You must reconcile yourselves to this fact.
“Karl Marx, that brilliant but erratic genius whose economic theories could not feed his starving family, Marx observed that philosophy is nothing if it does not change the world. Is it vain for me to hope to stimulate just one young mind among you, to draw one young spirit away from the TV screen out into the world?
“Consider my own homeland of Bohemia. The Germans fought for centuries to subdue our people and replace our beautiful Czech language with their imperial German. Adolf Hitler sent his sadistic stooge Heydrich to oppress us. But Hitler was ignorant of history, and his philosophy was absurd in its brutish assumptions. Thinking us a meek and fearful race, Hitler was unaware of the defenestration of the Papal emissaries, thrown from the high windows of Hradcany Castle by the Czech nobles, thrown as we have always thrown off the yoke of tyranny.
“You may not know but during the War, I was a member of the Czech underground resistance. We fought the Nazis with every weapon, every trick, every idea available to us. That idiot, Heydrich, was too much of an insult. We voted to butcher the swine for the sake of Bohemia. The Nazi pig was administering the destruction of our culture and our people.
“The route from the government seat at Hradcany to the center of Prague descends a steep hairpin turn to the Vltava. We waited on a high ledge overlooking the bend. Their motorcade had to slow to a crawl as they came around the turn. Our man dropped the bomb practically into Heydrich’s lap!
“Der Führer’s answer to our challenge was to level the city of Lidice and murder its entire population in the gas chambers.
“And then, then! History, like a fickle woman, denied us liberation as the fruit of our struggle. The Russian wolves, worse than German dogs, invaded and enslaved my country. How could history deal another such blow to Bohemia? Where is justice?
“I fled to Paris. There, the émigré literary community was publishing the truth about what was happening to our people under the new oppressors. The suppression of freedoms, the failed harvests, the stifling dullness and mediocrity of life under the Russian yoke, the arrests of artists and intellectuals.
“My activities in Paris came under the scrutiny of the MVD, the Soviet secret police. There were harassments, stories planted, frame-ups, threats. It became necessary to move once more, in order to carry on my work, this time, to America, the only country strong enough to defeat Communism. From here, from my forum at the university, I denounce the enemies of liberty and proclaim to the world our cause, our plight, which threatens not only Czechoslovakia, not only Europe, but the Free World itself.”
Professor Mrak’s students crowded close around him, taken with the passion of his words. For a moment, no one spoke. The Professor took a deep breath. “Well, enough of that. It’s worse than a classroom.”
His students laughed. I moved away from Mrak and his contingent, back into the house. From the living room, I climbed the stairs, looking for the bathroom.
On the second floor, I opened a door into a paneled study. A huge desk with a globe on it stood near the window that looked out into the back yard. Tall bookshelves lined the walls. I perused the shelves. Plato, Aristotle, Locke and Hume, Neitzsche, Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, Das Kapital, Kissinger’s memoirs, and Nixon’s Six Crises.
A sheet of paper was in Mrak’s typewriter. I went behind the desk to read it. It was a list of names:
I heard voices. Mrak and Cynthia were climbing the stairs.
“Joe! I think you could do much more than just teach college. With your knowledge of Communist languages and cultures, you could be valuable to the State Department.”
“You’re cute, Cyn. Unfortunately, not everyone shares your high regard for my abilities. There are members of our own faculty, people of questionable patriotism, who are scheming to have me run out of the department. I know who they are, by the way. But that, my dear, will never happen. I have my own government contacts. CIA. I can’t talk about it. It’s strictly classified.”
“I believe you.”
I hid behind the open study door and peeked through the crack. They were standing in the hallway. Mrak’s arm encircled Cynthia’s waist like a boa constrictor. He was drawing her closer. Her will was subjugated to his.
“You know, Cyn, my life has not been a happy one. It has been a struggle against high odds. The Nazis, the collaborators, the Russians. Always, I have had to struggle, and it has been a lonely path. War, political and economic pressures, false friends. And yet, it has been the tempering of the steel and has made me strong...”
He broke off. Cynthia was gazing into his gray eyes, taken in by him completely. She seemed unaware that she was in his embrace. His lips moved towards hers. His mouth opened as their lips touched. Mrak was breathing heavily.
Copyright © 2009 by Bill Bowler