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"The Money Crapper"

Romane
 
 

   

 
 
 

[...]

"And now listen to me. Okay? Simply listen. I’ll tell you a story now." He let her go. They sat down on a park bench, and Josh began to tell the story.
"So, it was many years ago, as the story was told, in a small peasant village in Transylvania, that a hungry and very sad peasant went out onto his small field. He intended to hang himself from the stout, strong oak tree that stood there.
The peasant had suffered his third failed harvest that year. He had a wife and five children. He was at the end of his strength. The evening before, they had finished the last of their bread. The pantry was empty; there was nothing left to eat in the hut. Everything was empty and the poor, hungry peasant saw dying as his only way out. He knew that it wasn’t fine to leave his wife and children behind. But he didn’t want to keep living this way. And he considered that Friday a good day to die."
"Why a Friday?" Sandra interjected the question.
"I said to listen! Not ask questions, understood?" For a second Josh looked really angry at her.
Sandra shut up immediately after that look.
"The peasant took the rope that he’d brought to the field and tossed it over the thickest branch of the oak. Then he stood under this branch and began to knot the noose that he meant to hang himself with. As he stood under the branch, he heard someone cry out. It was a small troll who had become tangled in the roots of the oak. He had been stuck there for two days and hardly had enough strength left to call for help. But because the peasant had accidentally stepped on the little troll, he called out with the last of his strength for help. Because he had called out so much and was so wedged in, he had become visible and the peasant saw him quite clearly trapped between the roots. The peasant was a good-natured person who couldn’t hurt anyone. He forgot for the moment that he intended to hang himself and helped the troll out of the root trap. When he had freed him, the troll asked him what he wanted to do at the oak. The peasant told him that he intended to hang himself because he had nothing more to eat and that he was sorry for his wife and children. But they would also die of hunger in the next few days.
The troll took pity on him and wanted to thank him for his help. So he said: ‘I will give you a money blessing with which you may only do good things. However, if ever you become lazy and idle, selfish or greedy, then your money blessing will be no more. Moreover, you will have a man-child who will inherit and continue this money blessing when you are no longer living. As a sign that your boy will receive this money blessing, you will find on the day of his birth a gold coin at the food of his cradle. If you have misused your money blessing, you will find no gold coin at his birth. But…..peasant, I am not worried about you. So run home now and take care of your family.’
The peasant had already started to leave when the troll held firmly onto his coat and whispered to him.
‘And because today is Friday, the money blessing will always be especially great on Fridays in memory of your aid to me. And now, go! But be careful not to tell anyone! People are often evil and envy each other so much.’
The peasant was overjoyed by what the little troll had said, but didn’t quite comprehend it all. Confused, he went back to his family.
Sad and hungry, they were all sitting around the big wooden table which stood in the middle of the sitting room.
‘I met a troll,’ he spoke into the depressed silence. Not even his children responded to that. They were so hungry they no longer had the strength to speak.
Then he felt a heavy pressure in his belly. The pressure and rumbling were quite frightful.
‘I’m going out behind the house,’ he said quickly and hurried out to the thunder mug. Back then people didn’t have such advanced restrooms. What happened next, no one knows. In any event, the peasant came back from the thunder mug with gold coins. Back in the sitting room he showed the money to his wife and children. They were all so happy. Because he still had the most strength, he quickly went into town to buy food. At the town market he bought as much as he could carry. Then the peasant’s family had a big feast."
"A fairy tale. Oh, how nice. And what does that have to do with you?" Sandra asked, when Josh paused briefly.
"There’s more to it. Just listen." Sandra nodded in agreement. What Josh was telling her wasn’t so boring after all. Somehow, however, she didn’t quite get the connection yet.
"The peasant still brought many gold coins back from the thunder mug. Always a lot more on Fridays. And, as a matter of fact, later he also had another son. At his birth an especially large gold coin lay at the foot of his cradle. Just as the troll had promised. This gift was passed on from generation to generation. Everyone held true to the troll’s admonishment not to fritter away the money, not to be stingy with it or use it only for themselves, and so there was a large gold coin lying at the foot of the cradle of each first-born son. Because of this gift all children were born at home. How should the family have kept the secret, if the money crapper children had been brought into the world in a hospital? And how do you think the hospital personnel would have reacted if a large gold coin had been lying at the foot of the table in the delivery room? Pure gold. Do you understand now, Sandra?"
Sandra was suddenly quite upset. "Oh, my God! That’s crazy! But…..but if you are so rich, why are you living on the street, as a bum? Why aren’t you at home with your family?" She looked at Josh with anxiety in her eyes.

                                                              ****

"That’s not possible!" came out of Isabel’s mouth. Her exclamation caused the man in the neighboring seat to look at her with annoyance. She had disturbed his reading the newspaper. But what she had just read in this book was unbelievable. She had been there herself. She had seen this old oak. With her own eyes! She had touched it, more exactly hugged it and read the information sign that related exactly this legend. She had overnighted in the old peasant cottage. This guest house that Alexandru had driven her to. That was the farm of the peasant in this book!
My God! She shuddered. It was all genuine! This book. It was not a novel. No! No way it was! What this Karen Knopf had written there was reality!
Isabel couldn’t remain in her seat any longer. She had to get up. All this was just too much. She tried to remain calm. Breathe deeply, she said to herself. Slowly she slowed her breathing, but she couldn’t put her mind at rest. Somehow there was something wrong with all this. Perhaps she was slowly going crazy? That could happen. She had had a lot of stress and little sleep recently since she had been preparing for the purchase of an American company. Because she didn’t want to buy a pig in a poke for three million dollars, she had put a lot of time in research and preparations. Due to the time difference, she had only been able to conduct a lot of discussions at night. All that lack of sleep could now be playing tricks on her mind. That wasn’t so unusual. She unfastened her safety belt and jumped out of her first-class seat. "Moving around will help," she murmured to herself and walked around in the corridor near the restrooms. In no event did she want to go into the second-class cabin area. She didn’t want to meet Ben again before landing. Because how could she explain where she had come from – if not from first-class?
She did a few more loosening up exercises in the aisle, stretched her arms and legs again, then headed back to her comfortable seat. She needed to find out for sure how the story continued. She hastily opened the book again. Because she had stopped in mid-sentence, she read the last paragraph once more.

                                                                    ****

"The peasant still brought many gold coins back from the thunder mug. Always a lot more on Fridays. And, as a matter of fact, later he also had another son. At his birth an especially large gold coin lay at the foot of his cradle. Just as the troll had promised. This gift was passed on from generation to generation. Everyone held true to the troll’s admonishment not to fritter away the money, not to be stingy with it or use it only for themselves, and so there was a large gold coin lying at the foot of the cradle of each first-born son. Because of this gift all children were born at home. How should the family have kept the secret, if the money crapper children had been brought into the world in a hospital? And how do you think the hospital personnel would have reacted if a large gold coin had been lying at the foot of the table in the delivery room? Pure gold. Do you understand now, Sandra?"
Sandra was suddenly quite upset. "Oh, my God! That’s crazy! But…..but if you are so rich, why are you living on the street, as a bum? Why aren’t you at home with your family?" She looked at Josh with anxiety in her eyes.
"Or did they kick you out?" Sandra bombarded him with questions. She found it all so unbelievable. Perhaps he was only feeding her this nonsense to impress her? Or to make himself look important? The more Sandra pressed him for answers, the more Josh grew silent. Then he stood up and walked a few steps away. He began to pace back and forth in front of the park bench.
"You know, Sandra? – no, I’ll try it another way. Can you imagine that being rich can also be a burden? Quite a burden that weighs heavily day and night like a sandbag fastened to your back. That presses down on you and never lets you have air to breathe." Sandra sat on the park bench and looked understanding.
"I believe I can understand that. It’s like with my work," she said with sympathy.
"Yes, exactly, a good comparison. You love your freedom too and would like to do what is enjoyable for you. It doesn’t work, however, because you have to work to earn money to cover living expenses. I had plenty of money, but wasn’t allowed to squander it but not hoard it either, and I had the obligation to do good things with it. Wealth is loaded with burdens. And these burdens confined me the way your work does."
"Was there a gold coin lying at your cradle when you were born?" Sandra turned the conversation in a slightly new direction. Josh said nothing. He just nodded briefly.
"What happened with the gold coin? And was it really made of pure gold like in the story you told? I mean, such things don’t really happen, do they?" Sandra was not yet truly convinced by Josh’s story.
"So, at my birth a gold coin lay on the floor at my little bed, just like with all the other first-born sons. Yes, it was of pure gold. And it was a "Taler," just like a coin used in Germany and the Holy Roman Empire about five hundred years ago. . ." Josh was catching his breath to be able to talk more about the birth Taler when he hesitated.
"What is it?" Sandra looked at Josh who was staring down the path in the park. Then he turned his head to the side as if he heard something.
"What is it then?" Sandra asked again.
"Someone was in the bushes there. Somebody was in the bushes, here behind the park bench, and he was listening to us."
"What?" Sandra looked around. She saw no one.
"I think you’re seeing ghosts. You were just looking for a reason not to keep telling the story, right?"
"Bull. If I tell you something, then it’s true. There was someone. I’m certain." Josh didn’t feel like talking any more about his family, especially not when some unknown person was listening in on him.
"Come on, let’s go," he decided loudly and pulled Sandra up from the park bench. They walked silently next to each other. Sandra avoided touching Josh. She had fallen in love with him; that she knew. But whether he had the same feelings for her, she didn’t know. Therefore she’d rather suffer than admit anything to him. She’d already accumulated enough bad experiences. Either he would soon let her know some way or other that he liked her too or nothing would come of it all. Until then she intended to simply wait. Although that was already very hard for her to do. He was walking so close to her. It would have been easy to arrange an apparently accidental touch. And this story. It had been nice, but surely made up completely. He was a bum. Nothing about that changed the fact that he had spent the weekend at her place. Who knows how long he had already been living on the street? You had plenty of time there to think up stories like that. He was Josh Grey! What a piece of nonsense! He had definitely thought that one up too. He didn’t have any ID on him. So he could calmly put something accross on her. She couldn’t prove anything to the contrary. Everybody knows that the Grey family is rich. That’s as widely known as the fact that there’s a queen in England. Now she was sorry that those cheap tabloid papers were never part of her reading material. People who read such stuff about the rich and beautiful, knew most everything about them. She passed over or willfully ignored this kind of reading material. It was now giving her cause for regret. She also didn’t know anyone she could ask about such people.
Sandra chewed on her lower lip. It really was too bad that she couldn’t check out Josh’s story. And then the matter of the mysterious eavesdropper. What a made-up piece of nonsense. He was already suffering from mild delusions.

****


"And what did you find out?" Gordon expected results. He was used to people working conscientiously for him. For that he paid richly. He knew it was always a matter of pay whenever employees began to give notice internally. In the long run that led to problems, such as theft of company property, divulging confidential information and other things. For that reason Gordon paid his associates well. Very well, even. It was worth it to him. His law office was not near the top for no reason at all, even though there were countless law offices in New York. The fact of being old and well-established didn’t of itself suffice any longer these days. You had to be up-to-date, always be familiar with the latest judgments, have good clients who sometimes brought spectacular cases with them and, of course, have very good and loyal associates.
"According to hospital documents his name is Peter, not Josh, as you said."
"Peter – a-hah." Gordon didn’t seem to be so easily convinced.
"And what else?" he continued to ask.
"He’s a bum and lives in the subway. A young girl had rescued him at the last minute from the subway shaft..."
"I know all of that already. It was Jana. Tell me what I haven’t heard already on the news, please." Gordon tapped the desk impatiently with his fingers.
"Okay. So, he slept off his buzz on the platform. Then he was taken to the hospital – as Peter Potter. He simply ran away from there. A young woman paid everything for him. Presently he’s living at her place. As you said, he seems to have no definite place to live. A homeless person, so to say."
"Have the two known each other for a while?" Gordon questioned his associate further.
"I don’t think so. The two seem to have gotten to know each other at the hospital. Perhaps he buttered her up so she’d take on his expenses?"
"Good." Gordon pressed his lips together and wrinkled his forehead. He always did that when he was contemplating something intensely. "And he had nothing with him? A tote bag or a neck pouch?"
"So far I haven’t seen anything of the sort. He had nothing with him at the hospital. And when he’s been seen with the young woman, he hasn’t had a tote bag with him. I can take a closer look."
Gordon gave a nod of consent. "Then report to me in three days. Good luck. Good-bye."
He was sure that this hobo was Josh Grey. He leaned back in his leather chair and let his memories take charge. They wandered back to the past, precisely to May 31 st , twelve years ago…

****


The party was well underway. Again, Josh had invited anyone who had standing or a prominent name as well as several social climbers, film stars and runway models. All assembled on the Greys’ yacht, which was anchored in New York Harbor.
The personnel bustled around to serve champagne and canapés to the people putting themselves on display for each other. The mood was good, the musicians were giving their best effort and in a few dark corners the junkies were snorting coke. It was the usual kind of party that Josh invited people to. The men were showing off their conquests, who themselves were showing a lot of skin, and engaging in apparently important discussions. The women were playing at mutual cat sniping and bombarded each other with envious looks and cynical commentaries. And somewhere among this, Josh circulated through with his girlfriend Grace. She didn’t fit in with those women who need to snatch up respect and consent with biting words backed by little to no substance. Her father was a diplomat, her mother a physician. She had studied law and knew exactly what she wanted. For certain, not to be another of his many short and shallow affairs. Josh had had to struggle a long time to win her. Finally he had accomplished that. Now they had only been together for five months. But he still wasn’t certain if now she was supposed to become his companion for life. But what did anyone know for certain in life? He preferred to enjoy it in full measure. He was rich and his money multiplied daily almost by itself. Still. He had declared war on his fate.
"Would you like me to serve in the large dining room?" Gordon was interrupted by Juanita. Startled, he winced. He had been properly absorbed in his memories. The music and the babble of voices still rang in his ears.
"Excuse me, what did you just ask?" Slowly his consciousness returned him to the present.
"Shall I serve supper in the large dining room?" Juanita repeated the question.
"Yes, yes. Go on and set the table in the large dining room." Gordon stroked his graying hair. He didn’t intend to color it. He was adamant about it. Besides, he looked more interesting that way. And it made a more serious impression. His clients attributed more experience and maturity to him because of these gray hairs.
He stood up. When Juanita had already asked about setting the table, then it was high time to get to the large dining room. By the time he got there, the food would already be on the table.

****


"You still haven’t told me, what’s the matter with your family? Did they all die, or what’s wrong? Now tell me already." Sandra was getting on Josh’s nerves big time. Since the alleged snooper incident in the park, Josh had gone silent. The day had started off so nicely. Now Josh seemed determined to thoroughly ruin the end of the day for her. Sandra was now in a bad mood. In a huff she opened the apartment door. After supper she sat down demonstratively in front of the tv. If he wanted to remain silent, then let him. She could do that too. That’s how they spent a quiet evening. In the middle of the night, Sandra was awakened by a rustling noise and a loud click. Now it was quiet again. She lifted her head briefly, heard nothing else and decided to go back to sleep. The next morning she knew what she had heard. Josh had disappeared from her apartment. He hadn’t even left behind a good-bye letter or a thank-you note. Sandra ranted and raved at the no longer present Josh. She was angered, sad and disappointed at the same time. How could he do something like this to her? After the few minutes in which her anger-rage-sadness slowly lost its intensity and was dissolving, she was able to think clearly again. He was a bum. No doubt he had been happy to sleep and eat well for one weekend. But supposedly he hadn’t felt at ease here. Probably he’d be sitting on the park bench at the subway entrance. Perhaps it was best that way? How could she have had feelings for a bum? Although he could tell wonderful stories. And he had a sense of humor. But that was all in the past.
It could all happen so fast. You got to know someone and it was already over with. Yes, that was how life was. She sighed briefly, opened the balcony door and breathed in the fresh morning air. It was Monday. She could go back to bed. Or go to work. It wasn’t too late yet. She’d even arrive on time if she’d get ready now. She needed only three seconds to make up her mind.

****


"Jana!"
"I’m already here, Papa." With a hasty step or two she was at the car. Gordon wanted to drive her to school. Just like every morning when a business trip didn’t get in the way. Both of them usually kept quiet during the trip there. Today was an exception.
"Tell me, Jana, you’ve already told me what happened. But could you tell me anything about this street person?" Gordon looked in the rearview mirror with curiosity. His daughter wouldn’t lie to him. He was sure about that. Why shouldn’t she tell him the truth? She certainly knew nothing about the past, about the "yacht parties," about Grace and her earlier life and about the immeasurable wealth of the Grey family.
"His name is Josh. Not a street person. He had really good manners."
Gordon felt his suspicions confirmed. He had sensed as much. His memory hadn’t forsaken him. The photo on the news had only been the trigger. Now he had one hundred per cent certainty from Jana. It WAS Josh, his old fellow student. He had found him again. After twelve years. He’d had to wait this long. He’d almost already given up hope. Inside Gordon was celebrating. Now he could finally silence him forever.  [...]

                                                 

 
 
 
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