Thursday, April 8, 2010

4th Death Sentence, continued

(Continued from where we left off)

After weeks of playing at being a revolutionary, hauling high explosives all over Warsaw without drawing so much as an unfriendly look from the police, my luck ran out.

It happened one evening when, in all innocence, I crossed the Praga Bridge. A gang of uniformed thugs came running out of the fog shouting at me, blowing whistles, waving guns, and more or less making it plain they desired to attract my attention.

I had nowhere to turn. If I jumped into the water, they could put enough bullets into me to sink me like a stone. So I stopped and waited with raised hands and a spotless conscience, and inquired politely what the fuss was all about.

After searching me from top to bottom, their officer condescended to let me know that, a few minutes earlier, a policeman had been shot coming out of the Smocza Street station house.

And what did this have to do with me?

An obliging eyewitness had given them a description of the assassin that may or may not have fitted me exactly. Meaning, I suppose, the perpetrator also had a head, two arms and two legs.
Not only was my conscience clear, but my emptied pockets revealed that I was not even carrying a revolver. This, to my captor, was added proof that I was their man. Why else would I have been strolling on the bridge if not to dump my guilty weapon into the water?

With all possible tact, I pointed out that people were also known to use bridges as a means of crossing a river. For this, the policeman slapped my face and told me not to be insolent as he hauled me in to the police station.

I spent nine cold and miserable days in a cell at the Smocza Street station before a lawyer hired by the Party attained my release by showing the police a week-old newspaper noting that the actual killer had been caught almost immediately and, in fact, had already been executed. But as the culprit had been taken to another station, no one at Smocza felt obligated to know anything about it.

Back home in my cellar, I dropped onto my mattress like a stone. Almost at once, a fist hammered on the door. It was Krinsky, a messenger from the Party who had come to express happiness that I was free again and, by the way, let me know I was due to take part in an “action” at five o’clock the next morning. Our target was a certain gang of pimps and strong-armed men with whom we occasionally had a “shoot-out.” He thought I’d be happy to know that the leader of this mob was Left-handed Stepan, whom I had long suspected of being a police informer.

But, starved for nine days’ sleep, I groaned, "Can't it wait a day or two?"

In a day or two, Krinsky pointed out, I might be back in jail as the police now know my face. And all I was being asked to do, with the help of an assistant, was lay siege to the police station on Smocza, the very one whose cells were still raw in my memory. And, anticipating that it might occur to them to telephone for help, we were to cut their wires.

Eyes sticky with broken sleep, I showed up at our post with my assistant. We saw at once that the phone lines were out of our reach. Neither of us had been told to bring a ladder.

While we tried to work out who should stand on whose shoulders, an unpleasant voice at my back ordered us to put up our hands. Without a moment’s hesitation, we both ran.

In the awakening street, not a soul turned his head, this being a neighborhood clearly accustomed to seeing men running from the police.

My partner, out of breath, ducked into an apartment house, but I felt confident I could outrun my pursuer. What I didn’t count on was his readiness to fire his rifle on a street crowded with innocent people.

Even before I heard the shot, I felt a stinging slap against my leg. I managed to keep running, but my heart hammered with fear.

To be continued

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