The guy on passport control stifled a yawn, his palm barely concealing a slack jaw and thin lips. It was two thirty in the morning, the graveyard shift when medically speaking; his attention span should be at its lowest. I had counted on this and hadn’t chosen the timing of my flight back to Slovenia by accident. Not after five years of exile in the Turkish-Cypriot mountains.
The tired official scanned my photo, carefully, and then my face. I tried to hide my discomfort: the passport wasn’t technically mine – although it had cost me a small fortune to buy it.
“The purpose of your visit?” he asked.
The real one?
A blood-soaked scene ran through my mind, jolting me out of my comfort zone: keep calm, stay in control, you have prepared for this.
“Visiting… friends for a celebration” I lied in my old, Slovenian dialect. I had been forced to leave my homeland behind, but my need for revenge and if I’m truthful, my feelings for Cilka, had made it impossible for me stay away from Slovenia, forever. As I left the airport and headed to town, I could feel the old pain welling up inside. But in truth, it has always been there, raging just below the surface. Burning through my veins.
At first glance, not much appeared to have changed in my exile. The place still looked the same. Slovenska Bistrica was my hometown, the place in which I felt most at ease. Heading back to my old haunts, I wanted to surprise Haris, my former friend, and business partner. He was a creature of habit, which usually involved large measures of whiskey, so finding him shouldn’t prove too difficult.
After a five minute search, I found him in him at his usual watering hole. He was perched quite precariously on a high bar stool, his huge ass spilling over the sides. It’s difficult to believe that he’d been an athlete in school and popular with the girls too! Back in the day, he’d been quite something with his youthful physique and old family charm. He’d even managed a few forbidden flings with a couple of the married women in town. Until the day he was discovered by a furious husband, who had ended his athletic career before it had ever really begun.
Luckily for Harris, his uncle owned a rundown hotel on the outskirts of town, which he’d kindly given to Harris as a project, to keep him out of trouble; although with hindsight, perhaps it had not been such a great idea. I was taken aback when I saw him at the bar, with his four-day stubble and unwashed shirt; it seemed that unlimited access to alcohol had not been such a kind a gift to Haris, afterall.
I decided to take it slowly so that he wouldn’t panic at the sight of me. After the incident that took place on Cilka’s birthday, even though time had now passed, some people might still be a little wary of my company, and I didn’t want to scare him off.
“Two whiskeys, not the shit stuff!” The barmaid raised a penciled eyebrow.
“Not before ten…”
Glancing around the bar, it was already three minutes to, and most of the beer-soaked regulars already had been served. I had forgotten that I shouldn’t expect a friendlier welcome as a stranger in town.
“We don’t serve shit in here,” she said, slamming two glasses down on the bar at precisely 10 a.m.
“Mind passing one to my friend, over there?”
She looked at me as subtly as if I had pulled a gun and demanded her savings, but after checking out her outfit, which had already fought and lost a battle to contain her vast cleavage; I doubt it would have been worthwhile.
“This is a bar, not a service restaurant,” she said, pointing to a faded sign, peeling off the wall, which said, ‘No waitress service.’
A massive cleavage as well as customer care skills – she was becoming more interesting by the minute…
I was tempted to point out, that the guy was only sat at the other end of the bar, and I doubted moving one glass would constitute a serious breach of the rules of her employment. But given the caustic look, she was already giving me, I decided that this was probably not the wisest move. Instead, I produced a 20 euro note and asked her if she would be so kind. The sight of all of those neatly stacked notes bulging wantonly from my wallet appeared to prompt a mild change of heart.
“Ok,” she said, stuffing the note deep inside that luscious cleavage, which I would have enjoyed investigating much more intimately, had she not seemed as friendly as an adder on acid.
When his good whiskey finally arrived in front of him, Haris peered over in my direction.
“Bloody hell, I thought you were dead!” he said, his fat chin quivering.
“Thought or hoped?” I said, trying to add a little humour – which fell completely flat.
“It’s been years. Where the fuck have you been?”
“Around. You know?”
“Sure,” he said.
And I laughed, as I would have put money on him not having the balls to ever leave town. But I stayed calm, my guts gnawing with anticipation, while he filled me in on the pointless small town garbage, which had occurred in my absence.
As if I was interested when there was only one subject on my mind.
I bided my time and kept the whiskey flowing until he was just pissed enough for me to get to the point of this puerile conversation.
“Cilka around?” I kept my tone level like I’d practiced. But I must have hit a false note, as Haris choked on his drink, his slack mouth spraying its contents over his shirt, his face bruising purple.
“Can’t you leave her alone?”
“Like you did?”
I watched him squirm; trying to get his fat ass off the stool.
“Where is she?”
“I don’t know.”
Haris had never been a convincing liar. But I had expected a little more consideration than this. I grabbed his dirty shirt, pressing my gun into his gut.
“Ok, Ok – she’s at the hotel – there is no need to…” But he was already wasting his last breath.
His bleeding carcass made a hell of a mess. I knew from experience that it would take a considerable amount of effort to clean it up. Time for the Miss Cleavage to earn her gratuity – you don’t get something for nothing in this life! I smiled to myself at the irony of it.
You make your own Karma in this life.
Knowing the pace of things in this town, I would have at least half an hour, maybe even longer before anyone caught up with me. Should be ample time for what I had in mind.
It felt surreal seeing the hotel again. In my own head, the place had stayed exactly the same: a mausoleum for my memories. But seeing it look so different, it really threw me. It had been a rundown pile of crap before we had renovated it, Haris and me, by sorting the plumbing and wiring, then adding some class with a mini casino and a stage with a dancing pole.
When I’d been the manager, the hotel hadn’t been much more than a few grubby guest rooms. Despite all of our hard work, for some reason, the re-vamped hotel had proved a futile attempt to lure the tourists away from Lake Bled. Although it’s true that the casino was small scale, that was down to the limited budget we’d received from Haris’ uncle Grega. It was mostly slots with a couple of worn out card tables at the back.
It had been Haris’ bright idea to hire the ‘artistes’’. They were a couple of pole dancers escaping from a deranged dealer in Ljubljana. Getting involved in a romance had been the last thing on my mind, but from the second I saw Cilka, I knew I had to have her. And I tried so hard to make her happy. I gave her everything she wanted. All the drugs money could buy. I truly believed it would work out. Couldn’t imagine why it wouldn’t. But it seemed the harder I tried, the more she resisted.
Until the night of her birthday. When everything went seriously wrong. I had forgotten to buy her a gift and the row had gotten out of hand. Admittedly, it was mostly my fault. I’d hit her too hard, this time, and she told me it was over. Just like that. But I wasn’t stupid, I knew that wasn’t the whole story; there had to be someone else.
I was gutted.
Seriously. I don’t feel much; never have, but the thought of Cilka dancing on some other guy’s pole. I couldn’t take it. I begged her to tell me who it was, but she refused, breaking my heart; so I vowed I would break her too…
The fury burnt through me like an electrical storm. My mind went into meltdown. I couldn’t concentrate. I was all over the place. Suspecting everyone, especially that guy with the beard, who was always drooling over her act. She swore on her life, it wasn’t him, but I shot him anyway…
It was a stupid thing to do. I reacted before I had given myself chance to think it through. I realized I had made a total mess of her birthday and should have bought her a proper gift and put a little thought into the evening.
Actually no. I maybe I am giving myself a little too much grief, here? As my mother would have said, God rest her soul; it takes two to make a decent fight! Maybe I should have just shot the bitch, so I wouldn’t have had all that stress of worrying about who else she was screwing. I don’t honestly know. Hindsight is a killer, but you have to get real. I’d already missed my chance of creating a more satisfying outcome; so I called it quits, stashed the gun and left town.
I am a little ashamed to admit this, but my hand was trembling as I entered the casino, the cold metal in my pocket, doing nothing to calm me down. It literally took seconds to clear the place.
I was quite shocked to see that the inside of the hotel was so different from how I remembered it. The new manager must have expanded the operation after I’d left. The gaming tables looked new and they had a fancy new roulette wheel. The layout was still the same though; with the manager’s office at the back.
Well, fuck me if wasn’t Cilka’s name on the office door! Haris must have promoted her to manager in my absence. I knew he’d been screwing her all along, but I hadn’t expected this! I must admit, that despite her betrayal, I had to give Cilka some credit for her ambition.
As I opened the door my knees felt weak. I could hardly credit that a woman had reduced me to this. I entered quietly, hoping the news of my return hadn’t reached her. I guess not, as she didn’t turn straight around.
It’s odd, but I could barely believe that she was real. From the back, she looked pretty much the same, with her bleached hair hanging seductively over her shoulders. Although as she turned towards me, I noticed that time had taken its toll. The skin on her face was less taught. Less alluring. And the hard lines around her mouth made her expression much harsher than before. I wondered for a second if I had made a mistake in coming back.
Until she said my name: her luscious voice burning through my brain.
When it comes to Cilka, I have never understood what happens to me. I couldn’t tell you if it’s the way she looks or the way she fucks, which gets me into such a state.
She rose from her seat, smiling as her fingers touched my face.
“You came back for my birthday, sweetheart?”
“I came back to make it right, Cilka,” I said, taking the gun from my pocket.
“I thought… you mean you still don’t believe me… even after all of this time?”
“I’ve have had five years to figure it out, Cilka.” I was trying to stay calm. I had promised myself that I would, but I could feel the surge of raw rage storming from my gut. “It was Haris, wasn’t it?” I felt my fists clenching, ready to strike out. Maybe that would be more satisfying than using the gun?
I saw panic, sharp as a knife, gleam in her eyes,” Don’t tell me you’ve..?”
“I know it was him. You can stop lying to me now!”
“I never lied to you Rok – but you wouldn’t listen to the truth!” She yelled at me. As if that was going to make any difference.
“The truth! You. Screwed. Someone. Else.” My fist struck the table. The noise startled me as I hadn’t intended to do that.
“I wasn’t unfaithful to you Rok! But you tormented me every day, and I was exhausted with defending myself. You wore me down. I just couldn’t take it anymore – I didn’t lie, I just stopped denying it.”
“What are you saying – that I imagined the whole thing? She had detonated my fury, just as she always did, and I felt my rage expanding, ready to explode.
“No, baby, no, you were stressed out with running the business. All that responsibility – it pushed you too far. Hush now, “she said, caressing my hands gently in hers, easing the gun from my grasp.
“Let’s sit down and talk about this.”
I slumped into a chair and then she was rubbing the back of my neck just like she used to when things had felt so good between us. My eyes closed and a low groan escaped my lips.
“It was so sweet of you to come back on my birthday, Rok. But things have changed and I don’t want you to take care of me anymore.”
“I needed to put things…”
“Hush baby! There is no need for that now. You have already given me the perfect gift.
And from the bottom of my heart. I wish you a very happy death day, my love.”