My head was reeling trying to digest everything he’d said, trying to pick the truth from the lies. “Why did you pay her off?”
“Why do you think?”
“Because you believe you can make more by coming to me.”
Jozef didn’t reply but continued to walk down the street toward my apartment. I tried to imagine a scenario that would get me out of this situation. I would pay anything he asked to keep his silence.
“Tell me how much you want.”
“You are protecting your niece because her mother left her. Is that right?”
“Yes, why is that so strange?”
“Why risk your life for her?”
“Because I love her.”
“Mrs. Nyugati says it’s God’s retribution that people like your niece face now.”
“Ridiculous. God doesn’t stoop to the petty revenges of man. So, why did you pay off Mrs. Nyugati? And how do you know that she still won’t turn in Mila? She could get paid twice.”
“She won’t tell the because she knows that if she does I will stop being her supplier. She also knows that the cost of betraying me is…Let’s just say that money couldn’t fix it.”
I knew he was warning me as well as informing. A boy of his age didn’t become survive by doing things according by the rules. I imagined there were very brutal methods required to operate in his chosen profession.
“But still,” I asked, careful now. “Why pay her off on our behalf?”
“If she informs once, they’ll come back to her for information again and again. I might be her next pay-off.”
“But she needs you,” I countered.
“She’s greedy, which makes her thinking predictable.”
“You want me to believe that you paid for Mila’s safety to protect yourself?”
“You know Deszo Eckhart.”
There were too many coincidences. I couldn’t imagine how Jozef would know Deszo, or why Jozef would be interested in him. What could Deszo possibly have to offer this street thug? How could their paths have ever crossed? I remained silent.
Jozef prompted, “You had coffee with him before this.”
“What do you want with Deszo?”
Jozef squared his shoulders, as if to look older and more mature. “I think he and I could help one another.”
I wanted to laugh. How could this young thug, believe that he could have anything to do with Deszo? They were completely different. Deszo was politically neutral, not given to intrigue. His most daring escapade as far as I knew was his long affair with my sister.
“Deszo is a professor. Are you planning to join the university?”
Jozef laughed. “You know I’m too young to attend university. And in the middle of a war, education of that sort is a waste of time.”
“Then how do you imagine that Deszo could help you?”
“It’s Deszo’s other work that I’m interested in.”
“I am not aware that Deszo has any other work than his job at the University. But if you know differently, why don’t you go to him yourself?”
“He would never listen to someone like me. I need an introduction.”
I looked at him with new understanding. “You need Deszo to have a reason to help you and I am that reason.”
Jozef shrugged. “You’re an incentive.”
“And my incentive is Mila.”
“It’s a small thing I’m asking,” Jozef replied.
I looked up and saw my apartment building on the next block. “I need to think about it.”
Jozef said, “There’s nothing to think about. I want to meet Deszo, it’s a simple request.”
“But you haven’t told me what the purpose of your meeting would be.”
“You don’t need to know.”
“Deszo is a friend of mine,” I warned. “I’m not going to put him in harm’s way for you. Or anyone else.”
“He’s already in harm’s way.”