He arrived earlier at the office. At the entrance to the building, the guard stepped on the stairs, wrapped in a thin stripe, his hat pulled over his eyes. He hit him lightly with the leg, and the guard jumped up as if burned:
“Sir, Mr. Mayor!”
“Something about here last night?”
“No, Sir, it was quiet.”
“Okay,” muttered the mayor, and he put the key in the office door. But the guard kept after him, still leaning forward, not knowing how to talk.
“Mr. Mayor, I have that problem, with my wife, will you help me?”
“Didn’t I tell you I will help you? Give me a little more time, I have some work on these days. Did your son carry the bag to my mother?”
“Yes, Sir! Only beautiful apples, as Mrs. Maria likes. And I put there a nice chicken, that I know the lady likes a lot for soup.”
“Okay, I will talk to you later. Get over to the firemen and tell the boy there to come to me, and you can go home. Let’s be here tonight in time.”
“Yes, Sir!” The guard stepped back, going out of the town hall, then climbing on a ragged bicycle, and going up the hill to the firefighters.
The mayor went to the office and sat voluptuously in the upholstered armchair. He opened the computer on the desk and pressed the top-right icon on the screen. The ball game immediately opened. It was his favorite game.
He did not even notice when his secretary arrived in the his next room; a beautiful girl with pale hair but a well-developed body. He only heard the noise of the glasses and washed dishes left there last night, when he was later to talk to the deputy mayor and Michael, the local bakery patron, the only production company that was still in existence after it was destroyed immediately after the Revolution of 1989.
“Ioana, make me some coffee, please!”
“Yes, Mr. Mayor, I am coming right away.”
The girl even came in a few seconds, and looked at the jars of coffee and sugar. She had left them on the window table, but now they were on the last bookshelf. She rises on the top of her feets to get to them. The mayor leaned back in his chair and watched with undisguised pleasure to the secretary’s beautiful legs. He had put the jars up there, especially to be able to admire her voluptuous thighs.
Ioana finished making the coffee, poured the mayor a steamed cup on the desk, and let him leave, but he stopped her with a sign:
“Take care, I’m not here today, I have urgent work to do.”
“I understand, Mr. Mayor!”
Staying alone, he is looking out the window at the sight. He was waiting for the plumbers who had begun installing the water pipes in the village for several years with money from the European Union. He had spoken to their boss that today that they will be in charge of completing the works in his new villa only. There was little time and the summer will end, and he didn’t yet enjoy of the beauty of the park with a pool that surrounded the villa half a hectare. Its construction was also with money from the European Union. The mayor from the neighboring village had taught him what to do, he had been in office since 1990, an old fox!
He dozed in the chair when the phone rings. He thought it was his wife, he forgot to call the county counselor Iorga to put a good word for their daughter. She had recently finished a private university in Bucharest, and had arranged to be employed as inspector at the County School Inspectorate.
He picked up the receiver, but suddenly he stood up:
“Yes, Mr. Prefect! It’s me, Mihai Aelenei, the mayor.
And he stayed with the receiver in his ear for a few minutes, with a perplexed figure, of which one could see that he understood nothing.
“What do you mean, by war? Where’s the war?… And what can I do?… Yes, Sir!”
He left the receiver on the hook, and remained for a few minutes with the gaze in the ceiling. “After all, is it war, or not? How’s that, to get ready? What if the Russians are at the border, maybe they do some exercises like just to scare us.”
He shook his head, and shouted at Ioana. She is running in the mayor’s office.
“What the motherfucker, where’s that fireman? He was supposed to be here an hour ago!”
“He was, Mr. Mayor, but you said nobody bother you. I will send for him if I have to.”
“Call him to come here right now!”
The mayor was nervous, but he did not know why. He only knew that he has to be this way, in such a situation.
“And call the village people who are still at home to come to the town hall in two hours. I need to talk to them.”
“Everyone?” Ioana was puzzled. “He never gave such orders before.
“Yes, everyone you find at home.”
* * *
By the time he had settled, about 10 elders had gathered in the big hall of the town hall, and Gheorghe the Lame, who was a bit slower on the uptake.
“Good people,” the mayor addressed them solemnly. Our country is in danger. The Russians are about to attack us on the border with the Republic of Moldova. They say they’re just doing military exercises, but our leaders think different, and will begin the mobilization. Tell your children to be prepared to protect our ancestral land.
“What about my sheep, who cares?” asked an old man in the first row.
“Leave it, Gica, the sheep are not important now, if the Russians come here, you will not have any sheep anymore.”
“Listen, Mihai, tell me, which land?” It was the old man Ioan who asked, from a back seat. “The pond was taken by the deputy mayor, our pastures you said you return them to a boyar we never heard of, the vineyards have been destroyed for a long time because you did not want to help us with guards, the forests you cut them off, and the land we had to sell it to the Italians two years ago in order to have what to eat. What land, Mihai? You have land, we no longer have that. You have to go yourself, with the deputy mayor and the Italians, to defend your lands!”
There was a big babel in the hall, each shouting his throat and no one listened to the mayor.
“Well, be prepared!” He was shouting one more time, and he went out of the room, letting those inward quarrel with each other.
In the meantime, the sun was so hot that the asphalt had softened here and there. He climbs up to his BMW parked in the shade and drives to the villa. “What the fuck, I put all the money in this house and the other villa in Botosani, I only have a million left, what do I do now? This money is enough to get out of the country only, at the bottom of my mind, but not to live with my family abroad if the things get messed up.”
During a party with the President of the County Council, Ion, the mayor of the neighboring village, pointed out to him that he steals too little and too slow, but he did not notice him. He believed that if he is stealing less than the other mayors, he would not be caught by the National Anticorruption Directorate. So far he had even escaped.
“Even so, it would not hurt to consult with Ion, maybe he would help me with some money.”
He suddenly stopped the BMW, pulled out the phone and rang. Only three calls the other mayor answered.
“Hello Mihai, what’s up? Did you also receive the order?”
“Yes, hello. I want to talk to you to see how we do with the afforestation of that common area on the hill.”
The reference to afforestation was their secret password that they should talk face to face with no phone. They were worried about phones worse than prosecutors in person.
In half an hour he reached the neighboring village. The mayor was waiting for him in a separate room in the “Magnolia” pension, where his father-in-law was the patron. In fact, it was himself. Mihai went to the reception where she left the phone – the girl knew about it, took it without saying a word – and then headed for the private room.
Ion stood up and took Mihai beside him.
“What are you doing man, Mihai, where do you get it if it gets fucked up? I’ve arranged for myself a small house on the shores of a lake in Switzerland, and a spare apartment in Turkey.”
“That is, besides my two villas and the lands I can not rely on, I have nothing out there. How the hell did you manage to succeed both in the country and outside?”
“Man, Mihai, you seems like a little kid, that’s it! Do you have EU-funded drinking water supply project?”
“You have, I saw the tubes and those from the installation company working out when I walked over there. But, EU-funded domestic water project, do you have?”
“And how are you doing the works?”
“Well, I don’t know if I’ll end even without this war, I do not get enough money to finish it. I’m going to ask for some extras from the budget, I still have to finish the work at the villa.”
“You see, you’re wrong here! I’ve done it all! And I took all the money without problems! Have not you seen the pipeline manholes all around the village?”
Mihai had seen them, he was just wondering. There was one nice, new, right here in front of the pension.
“Let me show you where you’re wrong.”
Ion took Mihai by the hand and went outside, heading for the manhole next to the road.
“Lift this beautiful lid!”
Mihai, a little puzzled, was about to pick up the heavy cast iron lid, but it was a lot lighter. He gave it to one side and remained frozen, eyes staring in the manhole: under the lid was only EARTH! Earth, and nothing else! No pipe, no tube, no tap. Just a cement girdle on which the plastic lid rested.