a short story by Alan C. Baird

The modern city formed by the ancient towns of Buda, Obuda and Pest basks in a riot of color – many leaves are flaunting their autumn tints in the warm afternoon sunshine. The majestic Danube flows through the midst of this glittering metropolis, with its historic bridges linking together millions of souls into a sophisticated city known as “The Paris Of The East.”

A sleek cigarette boat drifts offshore, through the sparsely-inhabited outlying precincts of Budapest. It’s a lovely day to be on the river… for some people.

Resting on a narrow ledge at the end of this streamlined craft lies an anchor, partly hanging over the water. A four-meter chain attaches the anchor to a human ankle, encased in a bright orange hazmat isolation suit. From behind the suit’s protective Plexiglas mask, a terrified face peers out, eyes desperately straining to look downward.

Below, the hand of a burly man is poised on the plunger of a syringe, leading into the suit’s oxygen supply line.

Istv�n lounges negligently on his deck chair, a short distance away. His friends might give him the nickname Pista, but he has no friends. Therefore, he encourages his ‘business associates’ to use that moniker. Zolt�n, one of these unlucky few, stands beside him, nervously pointing an automatic weapon at the hazmat suit, and awkwardly clearing his throat. “Pista, isn’t this a little harsh?”

“He betrayed the cause.”

“I suppose it’s not connected to his flirtation with Zsuzsi?”

Pista allows himself a nasty chuckle. “Perhaps just a tiny bit.”

“But he’s been a good friend to us. I’m sure he’s very sorry.” The face behind the Plexiglas nods vigorously.

“He’s been a good friend to you, Zolt�n. Are you offering to take his place?”

“N… no.”

“Then do it.” Pista signals to the burly man, who eagerly pushes the plunger. A muted wail emanates from the suit, and the face behind the mask looks down, incredulous. Pista checks his watch, muttering wearily, “Besides, we needed to test this sample, to see if it’s worth the money. They said to expect a few nerve spasms.”

The hazmat suit begins to twitch uncontrollably. In a few moments, the suit is jerking ghoulishly across the small ledge. Delighted, Pista claps his hands, as if keeping time with a gypsy dance. “Ho-pa! Clap with me!”

The burly man starts to clap, but Zolt�n turns away, disgusted. The hazmat suit tumbles off the ledge and splashes into the river. Pista promptly loses interest. “His waltzing days are finished. Let’s go.”

The speedboat’s driver pushes the throttle forward. As the launch streaks away, the floating, twitching hazmat suit drags the anchor off the back ledge, submerging the suit almost instantly.

[b]Author’s Note:[/b] Alan is a Harvard Book Prize recipient who recently coauthored [url=http://www.9timezones.com]9TimeZones.com[/url] – a hardback/softcover screenwriting volume. He lives just a stone’s throw away from Hollywood… which is fine and dandy, until the stones are thrown back.

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