Cards are on the table
“Kačenka, come back here, I want to ask you about it one more time.”
“But I’m bored, I already told you everything.”
“I know, Kačenka, I know. One last time, and then I’ll read to you about those lions, ok? I promise. Deal?”
“Deal. But for real, daddy.”
“Here’s my hand.” They shook hands, and little Kačenka began talking, for the fourth time that afternoon. Behind the window it began raining, since the morning it’d been overcast as though to foreshadow bad news, it was an evening in the autumn of ninety-seven.
“We were walking home from school with Broňa and Andrea, slowly because Broňa got a new doll-stroller and was telling us about it….”
“…yes, but what happened next? Then you met that man?”
“No, dad, I already told you. He was standing on the corner and was talking to some other woman and a guy.”
“Yes, you said that. What were they wearing? Try to remember, Kačenka,” he pressed on.
“I don’t know. I really don’t. A suit jacket, I guess. The lady had a red dres and a white coat. I don’t recall all too well anymore.”
“Alright, alright, Kačenka. And now tell me, that’s important: neither Broňa nor Andrew knew any of them?”
“No. They were strangers. We don’t know them. I already told you, daddy.”
“I know, yes. And what exactly did the man say to you? Was it the older one or the younger one?”
“The younger one. You already know it. He asked me if I’m Katherine Říha and when I….”
“He stopped you?”
“No. Actually yes. When we were passing them, he turned to us. Only me, actually. And when I told him, yes, he said to say ‘hi’ to you and ask you, if you have a better alertentive. Alternive. Atelnartive. Something. So I gave you the message.”
“Ok, good, Kačenka. And now about the lions, right?”
Alice entered the room and sat next to Kačenka on the edge of the bed.
“Mommy, what is ‘alerantive’?” Alice glanced at David and answered in a way that was for Kačenka incomprehensible.
“It’s our curse, you know?” and continued, “David, Dr. Janík called a few minutes ago, he wanted to come over. He has something important for you. But I’ll tell you, I’m getting tired of it. We didn’t sign up for this.”
“What do you mean? I founded a health institution and it’s successful….”
“Sure. And you also play in a band, write, lecture at the university, and now we bought a car like from the movies. People see things.”
“Yes. Just now. He’ll be here in twenty minutes. I’d love it if nobody mentioned the clinic. I can’t imagine anything that would attract me about it anymore, when I know what I know. Or see. I see you, the way you look, and what people are doing to you. Where is it all headed? Don’t you read enough about this stuff in the newspaper? Found at the bottom of the dam with a radiator tied to his back?”
“Daddy, read, you promised…”
“Of course, you’re right. Alice, I’ll read to her for a bit, and maybe you can prepare a bite to heat for Janík.”
“I don’t know what else awaits me.” She left the room and David began reading. Kačenka fell asleep after two paragraphs.
David walked around like a caged bear, impatiently and anxiously. At quarter to nine, the doorbell finally rang.
“I won’t beat around the bush, David. Good evening, Ms. Říha, it smells really nice here, are you baking? What is it?”
“Coffee-cake, you’ll taste it in a bit, don’t worry. Go to the other room, you two.”
“I look forward to it, thank you. David, come here, you don’t know everything.”
As soon as he sat down, Dr. Janík jumped right in.
“The real-estate property of the Alternative Clinic is the subject of a legal process.”
“What? What do you mean ‘subject of a legal process’? Why?”
“There’s a group of people who claim that you got the building illegally….”
“…but that’s nonsense. It was a closed down kindergarten for ten months and I legally…”
“You don’t have to tell me. I know this.”
“…completely legally I applied for privatizat…”
“…please, David. David do you hear me? It indicates that someone else is interested. That’s all.”
“And what do I have to do with that? Is that why I’m being targeted by someone?”
“Exactly.” Dr. Janík did not look especially troubled. As though he was unaware that he too was one of Říha’s team. He continued: “At least one thing is positive here.”
“I’d like to know what that might be.”
“That nobody will set it on fire.” Doctor Říha helplessly threw up his hands, stopping Alice, who’d just entered the room with a coffee tray in hand, in her tracks. That was a bizarre comment. She came across the possibility of a ‘fire’ recently. She didn’t want to meddle in the whole thing; she already suspected what human envy can do. She feared those who prioritize financial gain above everything else. Envy, jealousy, and maliciousness are in their blood. Even so, she entered the conversation.
“Why do you think someone would want to set it on fire? You mean test its ‘flammability’?” Now even David was confused. Did she say this on purpose? It’s a provocative phrase, which he’s been keeping secret in the bottom drawer. Why did she say this? At first he looked at Alice, then at Janík, waiting for a response.
“Because that’s the first thing! When someone has something nice, others destroy it, no? Scratch the paint on a new car, break a window.” Yes, that sounded logical.
“…yes, yes, that’s true. If they can’t have it themselves, let no one have it.” David cracked the mystery.
“That’s right. And so I think maybe you should abandon the whole thing.” Janík said that calmly. Had he prepared this, and arrive at the Říha’s with this solution in mind? Would he give up so easily? But perhaps it is wiser than constantly facing risk. Yes, he’s right. If he shakes them off, and the court that Janík mentioned agrees with Říha and his Clinic, then there’s no telling what can happen – even that fire. Is there a solution?
“Jirka,” David took a bite of the cake, “do you know who this group is?”
“How would I know that?”
“I’m asking, because maybe we could resolve this peacefully.”
“Do you really think they’ll listen? ‘Peacefully’ means that we drop it. Put it up for sale. That’s all I can say about it.” Where is that boldness in his voice coming from? He didn’t used to be like this. Or maybe it’s a new assertive attitude with which Janík’s defending his friend and teacher? Does he see what Říha doesn’t? Surely that’s it. He senses an open danger, and wants to defend him resolutely. That’s what it is. He can’t suspect everyone of trickery and foul play. Janík is a great, honest guy and is simply being confident. That’s how it should be, anyway. He’s a stand-up man and is worried about David.
“I’m glad you told me all this, Jirka. It’s really important. At least we know what the motive may be. That is valuable.”
They talked, touched on lighter topics, exchanged a few jokes, and around eleven Janík got up to leave. Everyone was in a better mood. Such clearing of the air is healthy, even if there’s no solution yet. David was glad that Janík had his back in all this, and felt fortunate he’d asked him to join his practice. He’s not the type of person to become blinded by money. They say everyone has their price. But that’s not true for someone like Janík. He came to warn David, help him see the bigger picture. Such friends are hard to find.
They said ‘good night’ and, laughing, Dr. Janík asked for another helping of the coffee-cake to take home. That gesture was welcome. He showed his appreciation for David’s wife’s baking as well as his confidence to express his thoughts. From the window, David watched him cross the street and get into his…what?
“Alice, Alice, come here, quick. Look at him, what an industrious guy! So young and already successful enough to afford a….” David stopped talking and both of them stared at each other in surprise.