WAR IN THE FOG           

(novel by Victor V. Koletchko)

 The city looked listless and helpless, covered with a thick blanket of low-hanging fog, making it virtually impossible to see the roofs of the taller buildings. The rumble of artillery was making the fog move and shudder. It seemed that the fog was some mysterious living organism, cringing away from annoying sounds miles away. Sometimes a window pane would rattle nervously, or glass would spill from the broken windows to the pavement below. It was a typical day for the war in the fog that started less than two weeks ago in the city, breaking its calm and unhurried atmosphere into two parts, separated by the green line. This green line slithered like an endless snake in an irregular pattern between the houses and along the lanes. The snake continued its deadly movement into the suburbs.
 The city was just a shell where life was a rarity, attracting bullets of snipers that were crouching unseen, like some obedient killing machines, on the upper floors of the houses, trying to catch anybody moving with cross hairs of their guns. It was a difficult thing to achieve with all this low-hanging fog. This was a bad war for snipers.
 Three men appeared through the fog. They looked like some stray ghosts, innocent victims of carnage roaming restlessly around the place that would be turned into ruins by impending hostilities. Such was the destiny of every civil war, of every war and of every city trapped in warfare like a fly in a spider web.
 Three figures moved slowly to the nearest intersection where the traffic lights were still changing for the nonexistent traffic. The man in front looked up at the lights, as though waiting for a green, then studied all streets running in four directions from the intersection. Fog was blurring outlines of the buildings. Some of them were heritage structures. The man looked wistfully at the intricate cornices with chimeras staring down at the traffic lights and regretted the inevitable waste. He knew that the stucco and chimeras would be destroyed next after window panes. Such were the rules of all wars. Inanimate objects suffered similar if not larger damage in the hostilities. He knew about that from his previous experience in the reporting business. He was preparing himself for walking on the rubble in the very near future. The war here was at its infancy when reporters jumped on every casualty for a story, when killed children and burned cars were still regretted. War reports were giving good money anyway.
 He looked back at his crew. All of them were veterans in the media business, but not the veterans in war reports.
A dog appeared from the middle of nowhere and sniffed at the camera held by the cameraman. His camera was at knee level.  It was turned on at the start of this sortie, as it was suggested by the Reporter. He knew that sometimes it is a tiny fraction of a second too late with war reports. It’s better to keep the camera running, no matter what. Film was not a problem, time was.
  A tiny breedless dog trotted up to the camera. The scared creature still had a great deal of curiosity left. Guided by the persistent instinct of survival, the dog was looking for any available organic matter that could serve as food. The dog moved its nose closer to the lens, shivering all the time. The cameraman looked down at the scrawny animal with disgust.
 “Fucking dog!” He booted the creature, hardly touching it at all. The dog darted away with a shrill whine.
 He looked at the Reporter, who was still hesitant as though contemplating which direction to take.
 “Where do we go next? It feels worse here than in a desert,” said Cameraman.
 “What do you expect?”
 “Nothing really. It doesn’t look like war to me.”
 “It can start looking like war any time.” Reporter grinned back at Robert and looked at the Soundman, who shrugged his shoulders for answer. “I don’t remember seeing a fog like this,” said Reporter. “And the locals say it has never been like this before.”
   The Cameraman moved his camera from one hand to another.
 “The yoke of the trade,” he thought and smiled at his own joke.
 “Who said that about the fog?” Cameraman inquired lazily.
 “The War Priest,” said  Reporter looking into the fog of the street.
 “Oh, I can imagine. Someone to trust! Golden word of the War Priest.”
 The Reporter held his comments to himself and moved into another street.
 “It’s not our business to trust him or not,” threw Reporter over his shoulder.
 The crew proceeded in an Indian file towards the fog that seemed very dense. The fog was moving with them, so was the visibility. Things were appearing just for several minutes and disappearing in the sea of suspended humidity, wrapping the city in an impenetrable blanket.
   The pavement shuddered suddenly and then the sound of  explosion ten blocks away rolled over the silent street. More glass fell from the windows on cobbled stones of the street. All three stopped and looked at the walls of the buildings as though the menace was in them.
 The Reporter moved his head quickly left and right. The game of survival was not new to him.
 “The worst thing is to be caught here in some crazy mortar attack,” he said.
 The Soundman seemed smaller than he actually was. Poor man was eaten alive by fear. Suddenly, a shrill sound appeared in the air. First, it sounded like a large disturbed insect. The sound was quickly growing in intensity. Ear drums activated the instincts. This was a sure thing coming from the doomsday sky.
 “Let’s get out of here,” screamed the Reporter and jumped into the nearest doorway.
      The Soundman rushed to the corner of the building and tripped on a stone. He fell on his stomach, flying additional two yards. This saved his life.
 In a split second, the deafening detonation rocked the street. Reporter heard or rather felt, how moments later the shrapnel splashed against the wall, sending millions of yellow sparks and stone chips. He knew about it from previous wars. The street was silent once again, as silent as ever in this war in the fog.
 The Reporter peered from the doorway with his right eye. The street looked the same — as undisturbed as any deserted street of any deserted city in the time of war. Everything was the same except for the body of the Cameraman lying on the pavement in a clumsy position. His camera was next to him with the red light still on. Reporter couldn’t believe his eyes. The surviving mechanism of the camera was still filming the street from its awkward position.
 “Robert… Robert, are you hit?” He knew it was a stupid question.
 The man was badly hit. Reporter’s legs were stiff as he moved to the man on the pavement. The left foot of the Cameraman, obviously broken in several places, was twitching mechanically, as though beating the time to some unknown music of the war.
 “Robert… Good Lord!” He went on his knees next to the badly wounded man. He tried to unzip his parka. His fingers became instantly red and slippery. A pool of blood was slowly spreading under the man’s back. One thing was absolutely clear — one of his crew was hit at the very start of the news coverage, at the very start of the hostilities. This was a very bad sign.
 He turned his head looking for the Soundman.
 “Not him, please, Lord, not him too,” he thought desperately.
 The Soundman was thirty feet away, near the corner of the building, standing on his knees, staring at him and the wounded man in complete disbelief.
 “Jeff, are you hurt, too.”
 “What’s wrong with him?” the Soundman asked in return. His face was pale. There was almost no sound at all. Only his lips moved, trying in vain to mold the words.
 It was too much for the Reporter. The anger at everything in the world broke through the gates of shock.
 “What the hell are you doing there? Don’t you see that he is hurt. Come on over and give me a hand. Move, for God’s sake!!!”
      The Soundman walked up on shaky legs and looked into the waxen face of the Cameraman.
 “Is he alive?”
 “Are you asking me, man?” the Reporter jumped to his feet. His hands were wet with blood. “Am I a doctor? Grab his hands and let’s get him out of here.”
 The Soundman bent over and grabbed at the jacket of the Cameraman, trying not to look at the man’s face. The wounded man heaved a deep breath that escaped with red foam through his lips. He was still alive. The Reporter clicked the camera shut — the red light had finally disappeared. So much for today’s war report and  for the camera that survived its owner. Together, they carried the wounded man along the street. Their effort looked clumsy and slow. They resembled two lost soldiers with some grotesque rag doll in their hands. Soon they disappeared in the fog; only their steps were heard for some time. The street was the same except for a black spot on the pavement where the mortar shell had hit the cobblestones. There was no dent. The shell exploded on impact. It was designed to spread shrapnel instantly. Whoever designed it had to be proud of a job well done. The result of the designer’s effort was now  being lugged along the fogged out street, trailing blood on the gray pavement. Obviously, there had to be more blood in this war. It was the war in the fog.
 Reporter and Soundman panted their way along the empty  streets. There was no sign of life around. The unenthusiastic mortar attack moved to some other empty streets, like rain moves from one suburb to another. Reporter didn’t want to look at the waxen face of the wounded Cameraman, who was still unconscious. The hands of the two men were getting numb with effort.
 “Do you know where you carry him?” Reporter put his side of the limp body on the pavement.
  Soundman did the same.
 “I don’t really know,” said Soundman, spreading his hands. “All I know that we have to get him out of here.”
  Reporter moved his head quickly trying to discern shapes of the buildings through the fog. The streets looked the same. Or was it fog that was making it the same? He couldn’t know that. Besides, there was no time to think about it. Cameraman had counted hours if not minutes to live. They had to get help as soon as possible.
 “I think we are hopelessly lost,” said Reporter, grabbing the wounded man by the legs.
 The Soundman looked back at him hysterically.
 “Help,” yelled Soundman into the fog, “we have a wounded man down here. He needs immediate aid. He is dying. Help…”
 The cry bounced of the pavement, returned from the walls of a nearby building and echoed on through the fog. They carried the wounded man some more and stopped once again in the middle of a wide intersection.
 The Soundman was craning his neck desperately, hoping to spot some source of help or promise. It was almost an unattainable task in this place.
 Suddenly, Reporter saw a badly torn and war-damaged banner hanging limply from the gatepost. It had a red cross on a white field.
 “Look here,” cried the Reporter.
 “There should be a hospital here.”
 “Doesn’t look like it,” the Cameraman studied the gatepost and the structure behind skeptically.
 “We’ve got to check it out anyway. Must a be a Red Cross station or something.”
 They carried the Cameraman to the gate, which looked badly damaged by shrapnel and explosions. This had to be a very dangerous area of the city.
 The Reporter kicked the flap of the gate and it opened with a rusty sound.

 Chef knew there would be visitors. He was standing by the grated window, looking at the neglected front yard of the Mountainview Mental Hospital. From his perspective, it was the best place in the world. And why not? Who cares about places like this? The worst and the most questionable human material was dumped here, locked here and kept here away from society’s eyes. Chef had his doubts about the strong adjectives which were passing like wind through his head. “Wind” was a popular word here. Chef smiled and almost giggled into the grated window. It had no glass. Obviously, there were few intact windows left in the whole city.
 “The war comes, and here you are — free again,” thought Chef, dragging on his cigarette. “Lousy joint! Fucking assholes!”
   Chef cursed under his breath and flipped the puny cigarette stub outside. The stub fell in the crack of the pavement and sent the last mouse tail of smoke into the foggy air soaked with the smell of high explosive, the smell of impending death.
 Chef was pleased with the war that left him in charge of seventy patients of the mental hospital. All personnel fled in panic when the War Priest announced the start of the hostilities. Chef smiled thinking about the indoctrination of Dr. Stuart who kept on preaching about the society that cared even for criminals like him. Chef had been at the mercy of the psychiatric system which treated him anyway like a criminal under the guise of treatment. The hospital for criminally insane… Chef was a professional cook for as long as he could remember himself. Chronic lack of food in his family, living in a sun-bleached shack south of Palermo, made him dream about sizzling dishes. As a boy, he made a solemn commitment  to be in charge of sizzling, boiling food in a spotless kitchen that would stretch for miles and miles, like a railroad tunnel. Although, he spent all of his life outside of Italy, he was strongly attached to his dream until his last work at the City Catholic Orphanage where 29 kids died one night of food poisoning. Chef poisoned the food. He had his own motives that he preferred to keep to himself during the trial and later. He didn’t speak much about it in the Mountainview Mental Hospital. Even after years of not dealing with food, he was still the Chef for the orderlies and patients. As simple as that, Chef…
    Chef was waiting for visitors, for somebody who might kick open the shell-damaged flap of the gate. Chef had his reasons to believe that the visitors would arrive shortly. Somebody yelled far down the street. Chef smiled in anticipation. He heard the shuffling of feet, carried far in the dense fog. There were several men at the gate, talking about something excitedly. Chef smiled and headed for the first ward, where other patients were playing cards near  the only undamaged window.
 Reporter and Soundman carried the Cameraman into the front yard of the hospital. The whole building didn’t look right. It seemed that the war had come here years earlier, and this building was a chronic casualty of some grotesque hostilities. Paneless windows were gaping from behind the bars. Everything looked old, musty and lopsided.
    They put the slippery body on the pavement. The Cameraman looked like some slaughtered animal. All of his parka was soaked in blood.
 “He must have absorbed a lot of steel,” thought the Reporter and looked up at the entrance door that was slightly ajar.
 “Anybody here? We have a wounded man, he is badly hurt!” yelled the Soundman.
 The Soundman was screaming at the walls turning his head left and right. The city echoed back with delayed cries of despair.
 The Reporter looked at his hands smeared with blood.  “Is anybody here?” called Reporter.
 He lifted his face to the sky.
 “Oh God,” he muttered into the gray emptiness. There were few things he could say now.
 The front door creaked open. Somebody was staring at them from the darkness. None of the crew could see a person behind the door.
 “Can you help us? If you don’t, this man will die,”  yelled Reporter to the person behind the door.
 The door opened more and several odd-looking people exited on the elevated porch, with peeling plaster on both sides. They oozed out of the building like toothpaste and stooped on the threshold, suggesting that there were more humans stored inside. They looked dirty and strange. Nobody spoke for a while. An aproned man, looking like a classical Italian chef, stepped forward, narrowed his eyes and moved towards the men in the front yard.
 “We are the news crew. Call a doctor, please,” said Reporter.
 Chef was still moving forward with his eerie smile.
 “Bon jorno!” he exploded suddenly. “How do you like this hearty greeting in this cold city?”
 Other patients shuffled as though obeying some codified command. They were eyeing the visitors with exaggerated curiosity. Something was definitely wrong in the whole scene.
 “Call somebody,” said the Reporter weakly, “this man needs a lot of help.”
 “Are you sure?” Chef jerked his head back. The gesture was grotesque, almost theatrical. “From what I see, this man is toast. I am a famous Italian cook and when I see somebody toasted I know it.”
 The Soundman was studying the crowd of strange-looking men, feeling more and more uneasy.
 “What do you mean — toast?”
 A squat Oriental man stepped forward and looked down at the prostrate Cameraman.
 “This man looks pretty dead to me,” said the squat man. He was very serious. “I know how dead people look. I killed eleven people myself.”
 “Eleven?” Reporter raised his eyebrows. The whole scene was getting more absurd.
 “Certainly. My name is Genghis and I am a serial killer.”
 Genghis smiled for the first time and stepped closer to the man on the ground, studying his face with open curiosity. “Why do you think I am here?”
 The Reporter was seriously alarmed. He glanced at Chef looked back at Genghis who was craning over the dead man.
 “What kind of place is this?” he whispered.
 His mouth was very dry by now.
 “Mountainview Mental Hospital,” answered somebody from crowd.
 Chef nodded, agreeing with what he heard.
 “Doctors and nurses all left at the start of the hostilities, leaving us in charge of our lives.”
 He chuckled with content. He had some surprises in store for these scared visitors.
 Soundman felt his knees melting.
 “Oh Lord,” he whispered. “Oh Lord Almighty.”
  Chef turned on his heels briskly and looked at the man near the wall. He was dressed into something looking very much like a straight jacket with holes for hands. The man had long mottled hair and a thin beard. He could be any age.
 “Jesus,” said Chef. “Somebody needs you over here.”
 Jesus moved like a doll between the sparsely standing patients. He stopped in front of the Reporter.
 “I bless you, guys,” he said in a deep voice. “This man is sure dead. Go with peace. I bless you.”
 Despite themselves, the Reporter and Soundman stepped back, turned and went back to the gate on stiff legs. The Soundman was still muttering something incoherent.
 “Oh, Lord Almighty, oh Lord…”
 They slipped outside into the fogged-out street without turning.
 When they were gone, Chef became instantaneously serious. The smile disappeared from his face. Patients drifted closer to him from all corners of the front yard. Nobody spoke for a while. The body at their feet was looking more dead with every minute. Even the puddle of blood stopped expanding.
 “Take him in,” said Chef grimly. “Take the body into the morgue in the basement.”
 Three patients took the body of the Cameraman and pulled it to the front entrance, leaving a slippery trail on the steps. Jesus was the last person to enter the building. He was pensive, absolutely unimpressed by the recent scene. He put his hands on the knob and looked back at the gate where the two man disappeared minutes ago. He smiled, wrinkling his face.
 “God bless you guys,” whispered Jesus into the fog and yawned.
 “God bless you all.”
 He slammed the door with a bang.
 The building of Military Council was busy like a beehive, with people, both civilians and the military, moving in all directions.
 It seemed that everybody was screaming at the top of their lungs. It was the day of official announcements that the Military Council had to make. There were only few things going on in the world these days. So, War in the Fog was making all the news. Therefore, all media groups were competing for the possibility to take part in the broadcasts. War in the Fog, after it broke out days ago, had became an international sensation. After all, Daggersville was one of the most placid cities on earth, the only remaining city that enjoyed the Nuremberg Rite of a free city — a comfortable leftover from the Middle Ages. The whole idea of warfare in Daggersville might have seemed insane to anybody less than a month ago. But now, War in the Fog was a reality that coupled with unpredictably thick fog, which had never been this bad.
   The Reporter entered the lobby of the former City Hall and recognized a familiar scene right away. He knew that agitation would subside in several weeks. Everybody will be too tired by then to consider anything on a grand scale for the sake of publicity. He knew that War Priest did it for nothing else, but good old public image. How many things would seem pathetic after completion of this strange civil war?
 “I don’t think we have to be together in this mess,” he said to the Soundman. 
 The Soundman, still pale, after this morning’s tragedy, nodded without saying anything.
 “He needs some rest,” thought Reporter as he elbowed his way to what seemed like a not-too-busy corner, close to the carpeted stairway.
 The radioman sauntered by with a walkie-talkie hanging like a camping backpack on his rear, antenna swishing helplessly through the air, as the man was showing off. A typical civilian middle-class volunteer. Reporter felt like kicking him in the balls. It was a bad day for him. He looked at the radioman with hatred. He knew the breed too well. A well-sheltered soldier, who volunteered to beat the dullness of civilian life.
 The radioman was fully enjoying the act of transmission. It was easy to punch buttons. The man was talking in an exaggerated voice into his headset.
 “I repeat that the Military Council ordered the Victory Monument to be delivered and installed today.”
 He stopped walking through the crowd and stared into the ceiling, allowing the message from the other end to sink in. His face was a picture of military vigilance.
 “What?” exclaimed the chubby radioman. “I’m telling you, they don’t care about the fog. If there is a fog, that means you have no problems with missiles or anything.”
 The crowd in the lobby was getting denser with every minute. Some news guys had already cameras on tripods  trained at the top of the stairway.
 “Don’t give me that crap,” yelled the radioman into the headset. “I will direct the lowering of the monument into the square. Get into the chopper and deliver the monument right away. I don’t care about the rest. After all it was not my order… Yes, War Priest is busy. He will be having a press-conference shortly. Why do you need him? It is still his order!!! I am telling you  — get going, man, or get court-martialed. You’ve got it? Over!”
 Reporter contemplated plugging his ears. No other noise was worse than this civilian blurting in time of war. Instead, he popped a cigarette into his mouth and clicked a lighter, staring at a “no smoking” sign. The sign was hardly seen behind a thick veil of smoke. A lot of health concerns were abandoned at the start of hostilities. Those who never smoked before, began to smoke, proving that healthy habits in good-old Daggersville were nothing but a passing fashion.
 A familiar TV reporter waved at him from the other end of the lobby. Reporter answered lazily, trying to remember the name behind the face. He knew for sure that he was clutching with him at the last helicopter leaving the embassy during the Savannah War ten years ago.
 “Just a FACE,”  he thought without any enthusiasm. “Why should I wave at anybody in this place?”
 A group of alert officers ran up the stairs and disappeared where the stairs made a clumsy un-architectural curve. They reappeared in a second, racing down the stair two at a time. One  young officer waved his hand and snapped to attention on the right side of the red carpet. The lament of the crowd in the lobby subsided to a tense whisper and disappeared altogether.
 In a split second, there was no sound at all. Something was cracking in the earphone of the radioman, who was trying hard to look motionless. The man on the other side was definitely not aware of the importance of the moment.
 Reporter looked at the crowd, smiled and shook more ashes on the expensively carpeted floor of the lobby. Daggersville has always been proud of its City Hall with expensive carpets changed in its offices and the lobby twice a year. All carpets were handmade and imported from el-Kaaram, a place with a noisy reputation for political instability and various forms of authoritarian violence.
 Camera flashes exploded on both sides of the stairway accompanied by dry clicks and hums of rewinding film.
War Priest, Colonel Larson and Triggerhappy Jack paraded down the red runner. The first two looked clean and spotless in their absolutely new uniform. Jack had his old wrinkled combat fatigue.
 “A memory piece from the mothball box,” whispered Reporter with his lips, though there was no sound.
 He knew that Jack was a former green beret with a long history of drug abuse. The man was convalescing in the military hospital after yet another drug induced coma when the War in the Fog broke out in Daggersville.
 War Priest was giving instructions to two aides who were walking one step in front of him, their necks turned subserviently towards the commander. Larson looked at the crowd with a condescending Scandinavian smile. Next to him, Triggerhappy Jack was walking down like a living reincarnation of death.
 Only his yellow eyes were the same — the same as in the Jungle War that brought him first to glory and then to a chain of psychiatric institutions afterwards. Cameras continued to flash as three of them stopped on the red runner three steps above the lobby level. War Priest greeted the packed lobby with his right hand. The aides stepped down to the lobby level and joined the crowd, facing the speakers.
 War Priest looked around at the faces turned to him. They looked pale and ghastly through the blanket of cigarette smoke rising from everywhere. He knew he was making history. To Reporter, he looked very much like a benevolent father, giving a speech at the orphanage. The Priest was still a hopeless school principal, getting the scouts ready to spill more sweat in competition. This time blood had to be spilt. If the “scouts” had to die in this foggy war, they had no chances to get up and go to another game.
 Triggerhappy Jack pulled his third cigarette from the pack. Withdrawal was making itself felt, he hated these bastards for not taking any action. Hostilities were yielding just a handful of dead, stacked in a makeshift mortuary. No, it was not what he expected.
 For the sake of publicity, War Priest leaned over to the aide on his right, whispered something into his ear, sent him running up the stairs. He turned to the crowd once again. It was high time to speak after a make-believe pause.
 “Gentlemen, as you correctly realize, the War in the Fog is a fact, and we are dealing with aggression provoked by the forces of opposition. The scale and intensity of hostilities demonstrate that the coup was prepared long in advance.”
 Somebody coughed nervously, finding it hard to return to a smoking habit. War Priest looked sternly in the direction of the cough, making the stare as menacing as possible.
 “After the first week of chaos and establishment of the front line in the city, I can say that Daggersville is almost symmetrically separated into two major war zones. The opposition occupies the northern part of the city, while we are in the south. The front line runs along the Victory Avenue. As a former priest, I regard this fact not as a coincidence, but as an omen. Although we have lost all military strongholds in the northern part of the city, I am very confident now about the outcome of the whole military campaign. It is not only our domestic problem. An international military effort was organized to protect democracy and liberty in our city. Let me inform you that we have already received proposals from the most respectable military  advisors and volunteers from all over the world. Let me introduce Colonel Larson of Sweden, professional soldier, former mercenary in different military conflicts, ardent champion of democracy and freedom.”
  Blond and fair Larson beamed and bowed his head in a military fashion. His face got red with the excitement of the introduction.
 War Priest looked at Larson and continued.
 “We also nominated the commander of urban warfare. These duties will be performed by the former colonel of the famous green berets. I am honored to introduce Mr. Norbert Willie…”
 Triggerhappy Jack waved his hand with a cigarette spilling a lot of ashes on the carpet
 “Call me Triggerhappy Jack, guys!” roared Willie in a croaky voice. He shook more ashes on the carpet.
 War Priest was annoyed by the interruption, but pretended he didn’t hear anything.
 “Colonel Willie is a professional soldier with an excellent record. He spent ten years in Vietnam.”
 “In the jungle, not in Vietnam,” muttered Triggerhappy Jack, but loudly enough to be heard by everyone in the lobby. “Those are two different things,” he added on a lower note.
 Somebody giggled in the group of reporters. Cameras clicked. War Priest understood that Willie was making a scandalous publicity. Triggerhappy Jack was gaunt, unshaven, wrinkled and ageless. He looked like somebody from the Skid Row, dressed in a field uniform: a museum artifact, a left-over of the jungle war. War Priest was pretty sure that the Jungle War was a sweet yesterday to Jack. What happened after that was irrelevant, even despite the fact that it was a long “afterwards.”
 “We expect,” War Priest went on in the middle of another smirk, “the arrival of our chief for intelligence operations. Mr. Ivanov or Colonel Ivanov is due to arrive from Moscow within a couple of days. He is a former KGB counterintelligence expert. Our staff have representatives from fifteen countries and five continents. And I want to assure you that satanic plans of the opposition leaders will be nipped in the bud. My confidence is so high that right after the beginning of hostilities, I ordered the creation and installation of the Victory Monument, which will commemorate our inevitable victory.”
 “What about the civilian population,” ventured some youngish reporter in a pale-yellow leather jacket.
 “We organized an effective evacuation program, which  is due to be finished shortly. I would say, sometime today.”
 Apparently, the Reporter didn’t find the answer satisfactory enough, so he persisted.
 “There are still many people in the streets. It doesn’t look at all like they are moving out.”
 War Priest shook his head and looked at Larson. Larson’s knew what was on his mind: “Fucking reporter!” In the game of democracy, the press has to be tolerated and their questions answered. What could he say for the sake of half truth?
 “Look,” War Priest moved one step down and gestured to the reporter, trying to sound as understanding as he could get, “it is not a secret that we conduct a selective evacuation. Besides, some rootless elements, including those who consider themselves the artistic elite or something to that effect, preferred to stay in the city. By being selective, I mean selective.”
 War Priest knew it was not right. He couldn’t be that evasive.
 “Well, we don’t want to export prostitution to the places of temporary evacuation. This concerns not only prostitution, but other urban vices, too. If something happens to them, it is their business… I would say, good riddance. We are more concerned with the war effort at the moment. I don’t want to go into details, gentlemen, because the rest is a military secret. The conference is over, and I will be praying for our common victory…”
 Larson beamed and started clapping his hands. His approval was echoed by unenthusiastic support from the crowd of civilians and military in the lobby. Some news people were talking busily into palm-sized recorders, registering every detail of the dull presentation, putting more color into it, making the whole thing sellable.  The radioman clapped his hand with civilian enthusiasm. The antenna on his back was dancing wildly overhead, like an undernourished and oversized snake. People resumed talking and crumpled the rest of the official ceremony. The movement in the crowd resumed. Reporter was looking at the War Priest, expecting him to meet his gaze. He knew that he was nominated chief TV reporter by the Military Council as of yesterday and put on oversized war-time salary. But this was a secret deal between the Council and himself. The broadcast network didn’t have to know anything about the whole thing. Reporter didn’t mind it at all. He knew that there would be a propaganda slant, appearing in reports of even radical reporters. He knew that the job would be taken anyway. He didn’t mind. He tackled similar temptations before, during the Jungle War. It was good money after all. War Priest stood there, listening to Larson who was whispering something into his ear through his placid Scandinavian grin.
 Still listening, War Priest moved his head and nodded slightly. Reporter tossed the cigarette from the pack right into his mouth and signaled to the soundman, who was standing in the distant corner of the lobby. The guy could now go back to the hotel and drink himself senseless to the rumble of the artillery near the Market Square.
  Soundman was not part of the deal, so he didn’t have to know anything extra on top of his direct duties.
 War Priest said something to Larson who turned and went upstairs, followed by a lanky blond columnist from Daggersville Star. War Priest looked around and came up to the Reporter.
 ” Come on. Give up this Sunday confession stance,” thought Reporter with disgust, observing his solemn approach.
 “How are things, my friend?” War Priest stretched his hand for an insincere handshake. “I really appreciate your reports on the city television. You are doing a great job.”
 Reporter waited with answer, smoke leaving his mouth slowly.
 “Our Cameraman was killed this morning by mortar fire.”
 “Sorry to hear that. Do you need a new cameraman? I can hire the best professional from any place in the world.”  
 There was no pity or compassion in his words. Just the usual business of replacing broken cups with new ones. Unwrap, throw paper away and put on the table. War Priest was obviously dealing with disposable chinaware of war.
 It was okay with Reporter, he was not bent on sentiments in this war at all. He looked at his watch and said:
 “Actually, I already phoned to the company about the accident. A new cameraman, with another assistant will be here within 24 hours.”
 War Priest couldn’t get rid of his phony stance. He shook his head and smiled.
 “I wish my people were as efficient as you are. Good luck with your mission. I am always available for an interview. The world should know the truth.”
 That was too much for Reporter to stand.
 “Oh, yes. There is always shortage of it,” he smirked, looking over the head of the War Priest at Colonel Willie. Triggerhappy Jack looked at them both, reminding of a mental patient who fantasizes about a military ambush. Reporter winked at him cynically. He knew the old Jungle Jack would explode now or later. It was a nice thing to tease lower creatures.
 Triggerhappy Jack didn’t move. He was frozen in his place, in the middle of a constantly moving crowd.
 “There is always a shortage of truth,”  he repeated in a hoarse whisper.
 “Of what?”
 War Priest looked around worriedly.
 “Of truth.”
 “Well,” War Priest spread his hands. “We have freedom of speech…”
 “But we still have a deficit of truth.”
 What else had he to say?
  War Priest looked at him long and hard, then  stretched his pampered hand for farewell.
 “Anyway… Good luck with your stories.”
 The Priest turned and went to the stairs. Aides rushed to him like flies. Triggerhappy Jack moved to the Reporter with a sour expression on his face. He stopped a couple of yards away from Reporter, considering an insult.
 “Go ahead,” smiled Reporter to himself. He took a cheap automatic camera from his pocket and pretended he was checking it out.
 “Ever killed a guy with this gun?” said Triggerhappy Jack and pointed at the camera with his tobacco stained finger.
 Reporter kept his silence, knowing there would be more  stupid questions and statements coming.
 “I hate reporters,” Jack was spiteful. “I hate reporters since Saigon.”
 “I don’t give a fuck,” said Reporter in a  perfectly calm voice.
 “What did you say, bastard?” Triggerhappy Jack was elated at the reaction. Something to punch a guy for.
 A young aide stepped between them, pretending that nothing had happened.
 “Sir, War Priest invites you to the Military Council.”
 Triggerhappy Jack sized Reporter up with his yellow eyes and turned to go.
 “Don’t lose your gun, yellow rabbit!” he yelled, making some heads turn towards the scene.
 When more than a dozen people stopped to watch, Reporter showed a finger to Triggerhappy Jack. He held it in the air long enough for everybody to see. A few cameras clicked. Small-time reporters were scavenging on scandals of their more reputable counterparts.
 Reporter threw his unfinished cigarette on the floor, never caring to stub it out. He sighed and went to the exit. A lousy day was almost over.



 A heavy transport helicopter was rumbling heavily overhead; the sound was reminiscent of an invisible thunder moving lazily over the square with a cluster of people staring into the fogged-out sky over the Victory Square. Moisture was clinging to everything, penetrating deep into  clothing. War in the Fog had a natural addition to its discomforts and miseries. A sluggish soldier with transmitter looked down at the chalk footprints on the pavement. The footprints were at least ten feet each. More soldiers came from the machine gun nest rimmed with brown sandbags, and stopped as though waiting for further commands.
 A soldier with transmitter struggled with buttons for a while, then tilted his head towards the sky.
 “Do it slower, motherfucker,” he yelled into his headset. “I see the legs now.”
 Huge white feet of the statue were swinging some fifty meters overhead, looking eerie-white against the dull grayness of the sky. With helicopter unseen, this was a scary sight.
 More soldiers and civilians came to the center of the  square. Two breedless dogs trotted up and sniffed the chalk markings. The soldier with transmitter booted the spotted lame mongrel.
 “Fuck off, bitch…”
 There was no purpose in that. Such were the rules of the war. In all wars dogs were a nuisance, scaring snipers, making them waste bullets at the darting shadows of canine reconnaissance.
 “Yes, I see the legs already. Don’t ram the fucker into the building, or War Priest will execute both of us. It’s descending just right. Just right…”
 The helicopter roared  even more, making soldiers grab at their green caps. The engine was definitely overheated by the effort. The giant statue was descending slowly through the fog. The whole thing looked like a hanged apparition. The pilot was lowering the statue now. Huge muscular legs and genitals swung in the air, as though the giant was studying the place of his future landing.
 “It’s going just fine. Just fine into place. If we are lucky, we will see the victory parade… We’ll fucking see it, if we are not killed before,” he chuckled into the microphone and cocked his head for the returning message.
 “What?” he smiled broadly. He looked too old for a soldier. “What?” yelled the aged scout into the microphone. “What did you say? Fuck yourself!”
 He giggled at his own obscenity and motioned to other soldiers to help with positioning the statue. The giant lower part of the statue swayed back and forth slightly. A group of soldiers panted hard, trying to put the feet in place,  creating a lot of commotion on the ground. Finally, the white feet were installed into the chalk markings. The statue stopped swinging. Now it looked like an artfully designed pillar of ice disappearing into the sky and, perhaps, supporting it.
 “Just perfect, absolutely perfect,” said the soldier with the transmitter.
 The statue was now motionless and awe-inspiring. Civilians and two dogs were staring at it from a respectable distance. The soldier with transmitter barked some sharp command to assisting soldiers, who darted away from the monument like hens. Seconds later, a huge chain fell on the ground, like an endless snake with a terrible clutter. It fell around the ankles of the giant, whose upper part was still invisible in the fog.
 The soldier with transmitter didn’t seem to be surprised by the fall of the chain.
 “The monument is in place,” he said. “The chain is down, nobody got killed. You can fly back to the base.”
 Roaring of the helicopter began to subside. The chopper was withdrawing into the foggy sky over the city, flying on instruments to the base. At least, there could be no danger from the ground in this weather. Finally, the monument for commemoration of the future victory had arrived. It was in place, ready to be inspected by tireless War Priest and his Military Council.
 The soldier with the transmitter took the headphones off and looked at the scarce crowd with haughty contempt. After all he was a military.
 “What do you think of it, ah?” he said. “What do you think of David?”
 He lifted his face toward the statue and yelled, sending multiple echoes from the buildings around. Somewhere in the distance, a lonely machine-gun was stuttering through the fog. The two dogs shuddered and trotted away to the corner of the nearby building. Machine-gun fire was a bad sign. It could be bad for dogs as well. It could also be bad for stray civilians.
 War Priest was pensive as the recently militarized civilian jeep was speeding along the narrow streets of the Old Town. The streets were empty, at times showing remains of plasterwork on the pavement. The city was crumbling slowly from direct and indirect hits. There was no way for shells or mortars to get into the snaking streets of the old districts. Most of them landed on the roofs, breaking into apartments, killing those whoever dared to stay there, shaking the stucco giants and cherubs from the cornices of the buildings to the pavement below. There were few janitors around the clean up the mess.
 “Maurice, Maurice,” said War Priest to himself, looking at his bodyguard.
 Maurice was a former pimp from Marseilles, a homosexual with a lengthy criminal record. He looked gaunt and unshaved even after a fresh shave. His yellow face betrayed various chronic diseases. However, he was a tireless soldier, able to perform his duties twenty-four hours a day. He was a tough fellow.
 War Priest still couldn’t figure out who in God’s name took Maurice into the command group of the multinational force. Well, somebody did, and now Maurice was assigned to War Priest as the second bodyguard along with John Daisy who also, by some strange coincidence, turned out to be a homosexual, too. In Daisy’s case it was more obvious though.
 War Priest felt grumpy about the messy way the whole Military Council was run. He turned towards Maurice, who was speeding  along the snaking streets, leaning his face close to the windshield.
 “I still don’t understand who gave orders to install the Victory Monument exactly today,” said the War Priest in irritated voice.
 “You did during the press-conference.” Maurice smiled, baring his yellow teeth.
 “Oh Christ, don’t they see the difference between a pure propaganda stance and reality?”
 “I don’t think it is my business,” said Maurice with a noticeable French accent.
 The bastard knew well enough that he was getting close to the dangerous edge every time. Enough to keep War Priest irritated, but not mad.
 Maurice turned his head towards the Priest while taking a turn. The Priest felt numb. This guy knew how to drive in narrow streets, but it was too nerve-wrecking.
 “You ordered the installation of the monument on the first day of hostilities,” smirked Maurice. “Doesn’t take long to make. So today, they installed it.”
  “Ah, what’s the point of doing that now, with hostilities still going on. What if the monument is smashed to pieces by some stray shell?”
 “Wouldn’t take long to make a new one,” said Maurice and wiped the corners of his mouth with the back of his hand. “Didn’t take long to make this one, right?”
 The jeep flew into the city square all covered in fog. War Priest felt like a twig ejected by the river into the ocean. The buildings on the other side of the square were not seen at all. The windows on the ground floor were hardly visible in the distance.
 War Priest and Maurice left the jeep and moved to the center of the square where people stood in irregular groups.
 The sculptor himself was standing near the coils of barbed wire. He felt proud to explain his creation to a group of military and civilians. By that time, chalk colored David attracted a lot of people. It was even hard to believe that there were so many civilians left. A group of fifty stood near the barbed wire fence hastily positioned by the military, who were already thinking about protection of the monument. One more military object to protect in the middle of this insane war. The sculptor looked elated and flattered by the opportunity to display his creation. Nobody heard of him before. At least, not in this city. A little flier hanging from the coil of the barbed wire specified the name of the author as Professor Schwartz. It was hard to believe  that this chalk-white sculpture was created by the professor with such somber name. Meanwhile, Professor Schwartz has already answered a dozen questions about the monument to civilians and the military.
 John Daisy, the second bodyguard of War Priest, was also here, standing close to the professor, who was dressed in   an old-fashioned velvet jacket.
 “Can you explain the idea of your composition,” ventured John Daisy and looked around in a fit of adolescent shyness. In fact, he was well past his teens. In fact, he was twenty-eight when he joined the Military Council and this War.
 The sculptor touched his chin with his index finger.
 “Good question… This sculpture symbolizes our future victory. It was made of a simple and very inexpensive material universally known as plaster of Paris or gypsum. It is partially fortified with an iron frame. This monument represents the figure of a young man, full of youthful strength and ambitions, the way our society was, is and will be. It is the symbol reminiscent of a universally-known David. You know who David was?”
 The sculptor addressed the group of people in front of him. Soldiers and civilians shrugged their shoulders in puzzlement. The question made them feel uncomfortable.
 Meanwhile, Barbara, a veteran city prostitute, came from the back to John Daisy.
 “How are things, Daisy?” she whispered into his right ear. “When can I expect to see you a five-star general?”
 “Why are you bugging me?” Daisy raised his voice to an adolescent pitch. Some people hissed at him menacingly. They wanted to hear the lecture about David.
 “Because you are not bugging me,” whispered Barbara back and suppressed the smirk with the back of her hand.
  Daisy turned and stared at her round face.
 “You mean to say that you don’t know why?”
 Barbara looked around with her smiling eyes. Nobody was listening to them. People were devouring the sculptor with their eyes. Professor Schwartz was standing at the base of the oversized monument.
 “Of course I know. Since the time we were in elementary school, I always wondered why you were not wearing skirts.”
 She laughed quietly.
 Daisy felt frustrated. He has never been to elementary school with Barbara. She was at least fourteen years older than him.
 “Shut up. I am in the army. Don’t you know that?” snarled  Daisy.
 He didn’t look dangerous at all. He simply couldn’t look dangerous. Such was his nature.
 “I’m not surprised that you are in the army,” said Barbara softly. “It is easy to be a whore for you there.”
 Daisy poked Barbara in the ribs with his elbows and glared at her.
 “Shut up, I told you.”
 Barbara took several steps towards the sculpture and stopped next to the freshly installed barbed wire. She looked Professor Schwartz in the eye pretending to be extremely interested.
 “Sounds very fascinating,” she said.
 “Do you know anything about David?”  asked Professor Schwartz, turning to Daisy.
 Daisy looked around to make sure that the question was addressed to him.
 “He was a man, as far as I know…” said Daisy.
 Barbara screamed with laughter. Civilians and the military in the crowd gave a cynical giggle. A newsman angled his film camera on the crowd and panned the laughing people. The frame caught the bewildered face of Daisy, who looked into the camera and turned away instantly. Barbara showed a peace sign that promptly degenerated into a finger.
 The newsman smiled and pointed his camera up at the colossus. He focused the lens on the genitals, trying to achieve a close-up. There were quite a few radical networks to sell the story to. He would use a pseudonym anyway. He thought with pleasure about the double-edged sword of his career. It was rather a forked tongue that made his career possible. He clicked the camera shut. He had to save some film to catch the expression that would appear on the faces of  War Priest and his guys.
 War Priest came up to the group with Maurice trotting by his side with a cynical sneer. The face of the War Priest was changing as he was getting closer to the statue. A better picture of disappointment was hard to imagine. The newsman lifted his camera with excitement. Soldiers shuffled their boots restlessly in the presence of the Chief Commander. War Priest came close to the barbed wire surrounding the statue and looked around at the crowd. He felt a lot of discomfort now. Some distance away, the soldiers were unloading a truckful of something that looked like an oversized parachute. A shroud was here to cover the David from sight before the due day of the Victory. Piles of cloth were spilling from the back of the truck on the square with a heavy rustle.
 Maurice clicked his gold lighter and puffed on a filterless Gitane.
 “Nice thing,” said Maurice with a smile that was hard to interpret. He had a way with smiles, this guy.
 “You perhaps regret that you are not his size,” snarled War Priest. He had enough of stupid hints and jokes from Maurice.
 Maurice got yellow with ill-disguised rage and inhaled a good quarter of his Gitane. People around whispered to each other excitedly. The whole situation was too obvious. The crowd was always hungry for scandals of any sort.
 “Oh, God!” exclaimed War Priest. “Look at his sculpture!”
 Maurice seemed indifferent. He savored the scene, getting sweet revenge for a sexist comment.
 “Well… the rest is easy to imagine,” he said, “even despite all this fog. We can check it out with a ladder tomorrow morning. It is as good up there as it is below… the knees.”
 “Thank you for your assurances, Maurice,” said War Priest, looking around with the corners of his eyes. “Good Lord!” he said to himself.
 He sat down on a sandbag and lit up a cigarette. He had no strength to act under circumstances.
 “What a commemorative monument for the future victory with this knee-high visibility!”
 Maurice looked at Priest with his scornful eyes, a tiny remnant of his cigarette sticking from the corner of his mouth.
 “I have no doubts we will define the reason for this chronic fog. It will stop sooner or later. The monument is there, anyway. If you want I can give orders to blow it up. The sculptor can make a smaller version of the same sculpture. What do you think? I mean a knee-high version.”
 Maurice illustrated his suggestion by showing the level with his palm.
 War Priest stood up and looked around. It was not a place to argue. His second bodyguard, John Daisy, was staring at him with his glassy eyes. War Priest wondered at a strange coincidence that both of his bodyguards were gay.
 “Leave it here for now,” he said tiredly.
 Barbara took several steps to him. War Priest regretted that she was not yet on the list of civilian casualties. This bitch had a sharp tongue. He braced himself for a verbal attack.
 “Are you sure it’s a man, Priest,” asked Barbara, her eyes were smiling.
 “Leave me alone,” said War Priest tiredly. He motioned to Maurice and turned to go. He knew stupid civilians would be joking behind his back, but it was none of his business. As they were walking by the two-story building, they saw an elephant in some strange circus attire. Several plumes were attached to the head of the animal. The elephant was peacefully devouring a stackful of hay dumped near the ground floor window, blocking the view for the tenants, if the tenants were still alive, if the tenants were still there.
 “What is this elephant doing here?” asked the War Priest stopping for a moment.
 The elephant was now holding a bunch of hay in its trunk; there was no expression in his tiny eyes hidden in the folds of bullet-proof skin. More hay was sticking from the folds of his mouth rimmed with remains of chopped tusks.
 “I brought this elephant for the  victory  celebration from a bombed-out circus.” Maurice was sadistically happy about this little twist.
 War Priest stared at Maurice in disbelief, then looked at the elephant.
 “He might die or get killed before the victory,” exclaimed War Priest.
 Maurice changed his sloppy expression and suddenly became alert and military-like.
 “I sincerely believe in a very quick victory,” said Maurice. “This elephant can stay here long enough without any problems.”
 “How about the war, Maurice?” He didn’t know how to make Maurice feel guilty. This Frenchman was tough.
 Maurice shrugged his shoulders, looked at the elephant, looked back at War Priest.
 “This animal is a survivor,” he said.
 “Idiot. I knew you were a goddamned idiot!” said War Priest and went to the jeep parked behind the intersection. Some soldiers walked by the elephant carrying handfuls of rifles. They didn’t look at the animal, neither did they salute War Priest. War Priest clambered into the passenger seat. Maurice got in silently, slammed the door and turned on the ignition. The car roared into the fog of the winding street. Two blocks away somebody was discharging submachine-gun into the moving shadows. These were lazy bursts, reminiscent of a monotonous job done by a bored workman of war. Dry sounds of gun fire were rolling across the central part of the city, shaking off the beads of moisture from cornices of the buildings and from telephone wires. A girl of five appeared from behind the corner of the winding street. She walked silently, close to the protective walls. She saw a tiny doll lying face down on the pavement and stopped. She looked around with her blue eyes. Her pale face was covered with streaks of soot and dirt, as though she was part of the war game. There was nobody around to claim ownership of the doll, so she picked it up quickly and tucked the doll face down behind the lapel of her fraying coat. She looked around once again and hurried away into the fog. The staccato bursts in the distance died down suddenly, making the city silent and lifeless. The gunner was taking a smoke or pee break in the middle of this boring business of being at war.
 Painter was standing in front of the open window on the fifth floor facing Market Square. This square had nothing commercial about it anymore; it used to be a market perhaps two hundred years ago. Now it was nothing else but a strategic area, with hundreds of guns trained at various corners of the square. Leftovers of the Nijinsky Show were still evident near the building with a solid brick wall. The dusk was slowly approaching. A large caliber shell groaned high overhead, flying on its deadly mission somewhere into the suburbs. Painter knew that he would hear explosion in several seconds, sound waves rushing frantically through the moisture of the fog. He turned and looked into the darkness of his one-room apartment, adorned with various sketches and pictures, made recently or long time ago. A candle was burning on the table in the center of the room. Alicia was sitting silently at the table, painting something on a white sheet of paper with a childish effort. Painter looked at the painted wall on his right and marveled at his own creation. Tiny, distorted men were running  across the blue sky. Next to them, two oversized and purposely unattractive rabbits were nibbling on a flower. It was his best mural. He looked back at Alicia, who was painting on, her dark hair hanging low over her eyes..
 Painter smiled, looking at Alicia. He didn’t feel older than her, although he was old enough to be her father. It was hard to explain what was common between a funny petite prostitute and an eternal hippie, who still was clinging to ideas and lifestyle of his generation. Painter stood close to Alicia. She was painting a house, doing it hard with clumsy precision. He smirked at her effort.
 She looked up with surprise and indignation.
 “Why are you laughing, jerk? Can’t you give me a little chance?” she capped the marker pen and looked away. “Oh, Painter, you are unbearable.”
 She pushed him playfully, and pulled her chair away from the table without standing up. The flame of the candle was glowing on the other side of the wine bottle, making the  wine look tantalizingly red. It was like liquid ruby. Alicia winked at Painter, who was still looking at her with a smile, and pointed at the large two-liter bottle of wine.
 “Do you like the taste of my candle flame, Alicia?” said Painter softly.
 “It tastes better at night , Painter,” she said and kicked him playfully on the knee.
 Painter leaned forward and splashed more wine into simple glasses standing on the table. The ashtray was overflowing with ash and cigarette stubs, some of which spilled over on the table.
 “Where did you learn to paint?” Alicia leaned forward and  took a cigarette from an almost empty pack and lit it in the light of the candle.
 Painter pulled back a crippled chair and sat down. “It’s a long story,” he said. His eyes were still smiling, forming wrinkles in the corners of his eyes. Few things betrayed his age. His smile was one of them. He was very youngish and tall. He never looked his age, despite the fact that he couldn’t go though the day without a pack of cigarettes and at least seven joints. The Painter extracted a twisted roach from his pocket, made sure that it was still smokeable and clicked his lighter, not bothering to take the candle from the table. The candle was spilling yellow wax. A long  tear was sliding down the waxen stalactite, formed on the side of the candle. The yellow tear of wax was changing its color, slowing until it stopped completely. Now it was a perfect symbol of human sufferings. Painter coughed out the smoke and stretched the roach to Alicia who inhaled the smoke with ease. Sweetish smoke was trailing across the room mixing with the smoke of tobacco. It floated to the open window to join he fog and smoke of the war outside.
 He looked at her eyes with soft sadness. Alicia looked like a beautiful animal – wild and natural, living by principles of her own in the world of her own. A thought about painting her portrait one day passed through his head. Alicia would be sitting, with part of her face hidden in the shadow, almost unseen, with chin resting on the neck of the wine bottle. She would be sitting in the wisps of tobacco smoke with the placid smile of a child, indifferent to sin and chastity. An eternal child in a world of her own.
 “You want to know how difficult or easy it is to paint?” he said.
 Painter looked at her face intently. Alicia puffed on the joint for the third time. Her eyes became dreamy.
 He continued.
 “It is nothing special, and I don’t think that house painters are less or more important in this world. As a painter, I am not alone. You know that house painters have their paintings destroyed, too, these days.”
 He stood up and went to the window. It was quite dark by now.  The wall of the house nearby was showing numerous scars of war.
 “Nothing is left intact,” said Painter as though talking to himself.
 He came back to the table stretched his hand and touched Alicia’s neck. It was warm and tender to touch. She was still a child of no-matter-how-old.
 “Such are the rules of this war,” said Painter. He sat down again and took the joint from her hand. “According to these rules, everything should be scarred and maimed”
 Painter took a sip of his wine and swished it around like mouthwash. Alicia squinted at this strange way of drinking.
 “The picture of war doesn’t care about intact values. War is like a newsreel, with smoke and flame billowing from the windows. The best picture of war should be compared with an impotent who has already acknowledged that he is one. The impotent is depressed and doesn’t even try to do anything about it. He is just depressed. It is time to understand the picture of war and principles of destruction…”
 He sat upright and grasped Alicia’s hand across the table.
 “You understand, Alicia, that there are no winners in wars. It is nothing but self-destruction of humanity. The one who wins today, will be a drug addict or an alcoholic tomorrow. He will be seeking death or oblivion.”
 Painter released her hand and said softly, as though to himself:
 “But such oblivion is tantamount to death anyway. If the two want to kill each other, that traditionally means that one represents the good and the other represents the evil. But I am telling you Alicia, that this war will be without winners, and what is most appalling — this war will be without an end. Yes, this war is endless and purposeless. The last survivor will be walking on the ashes of the former city.”
 He took her hand and pulled her gently, as though asking her to follow him. They came to the window. Flares of hostilities miles away were changing the color of fog from yellow to pink.
 “And I have no doubt,” said the Painter, “that the last survivor will be walking in the fog. And he will not be an actual survivor. I don’t think he will ever say: ‘I am a survivor of history’s shipwreck.’ There are benefits, though. There will be no one around to share the news. It is very clear to me.”
 They both looked at the darkened cityscape that was destined to be turned into ruins within months or days.
 The Painter came to one of his sketches pinned to the wall, studied it up close and scratched the paper with his nail. He turned to Alicia who was still standing near the open window, small and vulnerable against the flares of war.
 “I don’t understand, Alicia, why the War Priest urges those who are not yet involved in the fighting to participate.”
 “Have you ever fought in previous wars?” asked Alicia and returned to the table.
 Painter smiled, sending tiny spider wrinkles from the corners of his eyes to his temples.
 “As a child, I was fighting my tin soldiers, who could be revived easier than even  slightly wounded ones in this war.”
 Alicia wrinkled her brow, slightly annoyed.
 “I don’t care about tin soldiers, Painter. War is a good business for us, night birds. You don’t have to wait long before a new client comes along and offers a love deal.”
 She laughed throwing her head back, but there was some disappointment in that laughter. Painter touched her arm with affection.
 “You are my angel of love in the middle of the carnage, in the middle of insanity.”
 Alicia took the marker pen and added some final touches to her picture on the table. It looked lopsided and hopeless. She could be anything, but not a painter. However, he didn’t mind her effort. The effort was still there.
 Alicia looked up at the Painter and got embarrassed as though afraid she would be able to read his thoughts.
 “You know, Painter, I must admit, I am very pleased with myself and the things I am doing. Everybody is so much scared that love is the last thing on their minds. At least, I have something to offer. The bad thing is that I still have to patrol the streets. I don’t want to be an odd casualty in this war.”
 “Nobody will kill you,” interrupted the Painter, “everyone knows you in the city. No matter what, you are a big source of enjoyment for the warring sides.”
 “Why do you still paint in this crazy city?” Alicia cocked her head, pointing the chin at the Painter questioningly. She took another cigarette from the pack.
 The Painter smiled evasively.
 “I want to bring some hope and order into life. Somebody always fires at my pictures. That means that somebody always sees them.”
 “Can you paint something for me?” asked Alicia. “I’ve never asked you for a favor yet.”
 The Painter sipped on his wine and smiled.
 “The word favor doesn’t exist for me anymore, Alicia,” he replied. “I don’t take money from my pictures anyway, and you know it. Everything I do is a present.”
 Alicia stared at him in puzzlement.
 “How do you survive?”
 Painter reached across the table and patted her hand.
 “I know one beautiful angel of love — I mean you. I know you will never let me starve to death.”
 The Painter took a white plastic bag from under the table and lifted it in the air with pride.
 “Black market returns to good-old Market Square,” said Painter. “Thank you for the donation of cheese and bread, Alicia.”
 Alicia tipped her head and laughed. This Painter was quite a character.
 “You smart son-of-a-bitch!” she exploded through her laughter. She jumped to her feet and punched him playfully in the chest.
 “Wait a minute… Wait a minute,” said Painter protecting his face from Alicia’s mock punches.
 Alicia stopped the attack but remained near the table.
 “You know, Alicia, I want to give you a picture of extreme beauty that you will see only in a mirror.”
 “I don’t care,” said Alicia seriously, “as long as the picture comes from you.”
 “You should undress,” whispered the Painter, ” if you agree to have the picture.”
 Alicia couldn’t believe her ears. She was pleasantly surprised to hear that Painter wanted her to undress. She shrugged her shoulders and looked dim straight in the eye.
 “You want to make love to me? I remember you pledged that your love is platonic. If you want to, I will; I like you a lot, Painter. You know it.”
 Painter made a face as though he was annoyed with Alicia’s guess.
 “No, no, Alicia,” he protested. “I want to paint a picture on your back.”
 “Wow,” exclaimed Alicia. She liked the whole idea a lot. “Oh, great!”
 She pulled off her dress, stepped out of her panties. Now she was standing totally naked in the semi-dusk of the poorly lit apartment. Painter approached and studied her body with admiration. Reflections of the burning candles were making her skin glow. It was smooth to perfection, all the way down to the fine curve of her abdomen. Cone-shaped nipples looked like fine pink marble. Painter and Alicia were standing very close, thinking about the same,  without saying a word.
 Painter turned her suddenly and planted a light kiss on her earlobe, sending tingles down her spine. Alicia closed her eyes. Then he stepped back and turned on the nightshade nearby. He took the paints and began painting on her back.
 “You will like it, Alicia.”
 Alicia  giggled  and pressed her fist to her mouth. Painter quickly painted an orange flower and two rabbits of different sizes on either side of the flower’s stem.
 “What are you painting there?” asked Alicia impatiently. “What is it?”
 Painter was smoking and painting at the same time. Ash was falling on the floor from the tip of his cigarette.
 “I told you, you have to look at a mirror and find out. I am not telling you anything.”
 “How can you be so cruel?” exclaimed Alicia.
 “I am not cruel,” replied the Painter. “I am creative.”
 Alicia felt goose bumps running down her thighs. The paint was quickly evaporating.
  “But an unbroken mirror is so hard to find these days in the city, Painter.”
 “If you want to see the picture, Alicia, you will.”
 He applied the finishing touches to the picture. The purple rabbit had a tragic face. Paint was drying on its oversized ears. The picture could hold on Alicia’s back for quite a while.
 “Oh, it’s just wonderful,” said the Painter, delighting in the results of his work. “Couldn’t have dreamt of a better picture for you, my tender Alicia. Now, you can get dressed.”
 He stepped back and watched her dress. Alicia didn’t look embarrassed at all. She turned and winked at the Painter.
 “Thank you for the picture,” whispered Alicia and sent him an exaggerated kiss.
 “Ah! It was my pleasure, dear Alicia,” smiled the Painter back. “But I forgot to tell you something you should know.”
 “What’s that?”
 “Be very careful. My pictures attract bullets.”
 Alicia looked at him, the smile on her face changed to grimace of irritation. At times this  Painter was quite morbid, though he was a nice guy.
 “Oh, shut up,”  she waved  her hand in irritation. “You and your morbid jokes!”
 Painter stood there, aloof and pensive, studying Alicia with his suddenly changed eyes.
 “It was a joke, Alicia. It’s okay…”
 Nijinsky knew since long ago that he had schizophrenia. No doubt, there was another Vaslav living in him, the one who brought him to the biggest theaters of the world, carried him in a graceful and artfully inspiring dance. He couldn’t account whether this other part of his soul was of divine or demonic nature. All he knew that it was going to get worse with every year. It all started when they had to flee with his impresario, Silvanov, from civil war in his home country, which in the fit of political madness didn’t spare anything alien. Art was alien, so Nijinsky had to flee, first in the comfort of lengthy world tours with countless admirers looking with adoration at the beautiful Narcissus, a genius of classical ballet, at Nijinsky himself. Few broken hearts knew that Nijinsky was gay for years, trying in vain to break away from what he thought was a vicious circle of his distorted sexuality. He was twice married and twice divorced, now trapped in Daggersville. He and Silvanov were renting a small house in Downtown, close to Market Square where the show moved after the shelling of the city theater. Some actors fled with evacuating crowds. There were no musicians left, so Nijinsky was dancing to recorded music. It was a good thing that Painter was still with the show.
 Nijinsky was sitting outside on the patio with a white set of plastic breakfast furniture. Since the appearance of the first bullet holes in their roof, Silvanov was urging Nijinsky to stay at home between the shows. Nijinsky didn’t heed the threat. He enjoyed this sudden fall from the gold and velvet of European theaters to the dust of Market Square, all strewn with jagged shrapnel. Only crowds of prostitutes, soldiers and tenants of the surrounding houses were watching his shows at night. In his strange perverted way, he liked the idea of deterioration. Even his outfit was unwashed for ten days and was getting frayed. Nijinsky poured more tee into a porcelain cup. He was sad and pensive. Somebody was shooting through the fog less than two hundred yards away. Nijinsky muttered something and sipped his tea with indifference. He was talking to himself more and more often these days, although Silvanov hated the habit, fearing that it will only aggravate Nijinsky’s mental state. Silvanov was a big-time art promoter. At least, he used to be, before the civil war forced him and Nijinsky to get on the last train from their war-torn country.
 Nijinsky looked into the fog over the rooftops and sighed.
 “At night… At night… At night, this city looks like Christmas,” whispered Nijinsky into the fog. “It explodes with lethal, but nevertheless beautiful fireworks and, like in childhood, no one knows who does it. It seemed then, and it seems now, that all this was happening by itself, just for the sake of the holiday. Eye-pleasing fireworks… And this war in the fog is going on by itself, apparently without any particular cause or reason. But the harm is done anyway. I am still trying to do something about it…”
 He shifted nervously in his plastic chair and looked around. Thank God, Silvanov was away for the day, trying to get the license for the street shows at the Military Council.
 “This war is not for me,” said Nijinsky to himself.
 Suddenly a stray bullet hit the table sideways, chipping the plastic table and pulverizing the cup.
 Nijinsky blinked and smiled. Here was another confirmation of his words. After all, he was more sane than they suspected.
 “Not my cup of tee,” he whispered through his clenched teeth and stood up. Another bullet whistled through the tree, cutting a couple of leafless twigs. They fell on the patio. Nijinsky tilted his head and stared into the grayness of the sky. He began to like this scenery for this big show in Daggersville. “War tours after all these world tours,” thought Nijinsky and smiled. He vaguely expected that this would be the end of the world that was apparently designed as extension of the Universal insanity. Another bullet ripped through the tiles of the roof entering the house. Nijinsky heard the sound of shattered glass inside. He smiled dreamily and went to the open back door of the house.
 “Not my cup of tea for sure,” he said and entered without closing the door. There had to be another show tonight.
 Market Square performances were getting more publicity. At the same time, Nijinsky Shows were becoming less and less popular with the military authorities in charge of the Southern Sector, which was controlled by the Military Council. But the show went on, even despite the fact that it was being staged virtually within the war zone, with opposition snipers studying preparation for the show through the sights of their sniper rifles and binoculars. The oblong shape of the square made the whole area very dangerous from a strategic point of view. If anybody filtered into Market Square, these were mostly scouts, who would fire into the fog a couple of times and flee immediately back to their lines, anticipating return fire.
  Painter was working on the show on a regular basis, although Silvanov promised him almost next to nothing for his effort. This Russian was a pretty sincere man. Some random volunteers were appearing and disappearing. The other day the lights were operated by a boy with Down’s syndrome, who was forgotten behind the lines by his parents, or simply left behind for his parents’ comfort. Apparently, they decided that the boy belonged more to Daggersville in the time of war than in the time of peace. Today he was not around. Some punks were propping the cardboard stage decorations against the walls. Seven mannequins were heaped  near the show’s van. They looked like some grotesque casualties about to be taken to the mortuary. The windshield of the van was all cracked from the glancing hit of a bullet. The driver fled after the accident, so Silvanov  was driving the van to and from the show himself.
 A prostitute came up to Painter studying him at work.
 “Hi,” said  Painter, “What’s up?”
 Prostitutes accounted for the absolute majority of the remaining female population. Painter didn’t mind her at all. She was a strange-looking doll-like girl of twenty five or thereabouts with freckles covered by heavy make-up. She was cute, but not very sociable.
 The girl looked at the picture that Painter was painting on the brick wall of the house. She made a face, expressing disgust or lack of understanding, and went across the square. Painter marveled at the stockinged legs and red shoes. It would be a nice thing to paint a prostitute going across the war-chipped square all smothered with fog. Yellow fur jacket, net stockings and red shoes on stiletto heels. Painter turned back to his work. There were several squares of canvas he had to paint for tonight’s show. Poor quality canvas was stretched on huge rickety frames. Silvanov has never bugged him for what had to be painted. Everything was fitting the show of the ballet genius. Stage design was a just a ritualistic attribute of the show, something functional, rather than actually necessary. Silvanov was sitting on a white plastic chair, rummaging through a selection of CD records to play for the show. Music was also irrelevant, because Nijinsky never followed music, but danced to the tunes of his own, the ones playing in his head. However, Silvanov had to choose something different for  listeners and viewers, although the number of those who might turn up was always unpredictable.  The population dropped by eighty per cent after the start of hostilities. Besides, Market Square was not a very secure place to be  during frequent shoot-outs between the soldiers of the Military Council and opposition forces.
 A military vehicle came to a screeching halt some fifty meters away. Painter turned his head and saw War Priest getting out of the jeep with two bodyguards sitting there motionlessly with a large caliber machine-gun mounted above the windshield of the car.
 Silvanov looked up at jeep and continued selecting the CDs. He knew pretty well why the War Priest was here. He had a couple of nasty phone calls from the Military Council about the shows in the square. Silvanov smiled when he spotted two heavily camouflaged soldiers in the broken window of the second floor. Apparently, War Priest was more concerned with his own safety in Market Square than  with him, Nijinsky, and the rest of the show.  Soldiers in the window trained their guns at the opposite side of the square, readying themselves for any potential attack.
 War Priest came up to Silvanov who didn’t even bother to stand up. Painter waited with his brush poised. War Priest said something to Silvanov and lit a cigarette. Silvanov muttered something back and popped a CD into the portable player. War Priest got pale as though he heard something very disturbing or insulting. He stood there, apparently looking for proper words.
 “After all,” exploded War Priest, raising his voice above the sound of some jazz music pouring from the portable player, “I have to protect your life. I don’t want to bear responsibility for civilian casualties after the war.”
 Painter dipped his brush into the of blue paint and stepped to the canvas.
 “But the show must go on, no mater what…” said Silvanov. His voice was quite weak.
 War Priest bit on his lower lip.
 “I’m telling you, Silvanov, it is the last performance. The season is over. I declare it over. Market Square is in the front line.”
 Painter turned from his painting to War Priest.
 “War doesn’t happen here,” Painter said. “We are in the world of arts.”
 He turned and continued to paint on the huge canvas propped against the wall. A huge sun was rising up the brick wall, with a dozen of oversized primitive-looking flowers painted nearby, all in different colors.
 That was too much for War Priest.
 “How come you are not in the army,” hissed the Priest to the Painter.
 Painter smiled, knowing full well this was not the end of the conversation.
 “Not everybody is in the Army. More than half of this city lives as it has always lived.”
 He went back to his work, seeing with the corner of his left eyes that War Priest was moving toward him.
 “You have to be in the army. How dare you answer me in this manner?”
 “He was recognized as insane by the recruitment office,” Silvanov said in irritated voice. “Will you please leave him alone?”
 War Priest was foaming with rage. He stopped behind Painter’s back and looked at the picture on the wall. He found it quite sickening.
 “What is he trying to paint on the wall?” asked War Priest, turning to Silvanov. “What’s the point of giving this job to an idiot? I am talking to you.”
 War Priest took the gun from the holster on his side. He was shaking with rage. Silvanov ran up to them and stepped between War Priest and the Painter.
 “Get lost, Silvanov,” barked War Priest. “You heard my orders about the show and now I finished talking to you.”
 “He doesn’t mean any harm,” said Silvanov, touching the  sleeve of Priest’s uniform.
 War Priest stepped back, still holding the gun in his right hand.
 “I don’t care,” he said to Silvanov. “In my view, the useless are simply harmful. And then the media speaks about civilian casualties. Then, the reporters blow facts out of proportions. Why should I have problems with you and this crazy one?”
 Silvanov shook his head sadly. What else could he say? After all it was not his first civil war.
 “He is working for the show, sir,” Silvanov  said. “People still need some art. You know that the city theater was blown up by…”
 “By whom? Ah? By whom? Continue! Don’t you know that it was blown up in the effort to drive the enemies away from Victory Square.”
  War Priest was talking through his clenched teeth. things were close to getting out of hand.
 “Therefore, my troupe performs in Market Square,” Silvanov shrugged his shoulders.
 “Who are our enemies, Priest?” said Painter without turning his head.
 It was like showing a stick to a mad dog. War Priest stepped forward menacingly. Silvanov grabbed him immediately.
 “Listen. He doesn’t know the difference!” said Silvanov right into Priest’s face. He was getting scared.
 “For fuck’s sake!” yelled the Priest. “You don’t know who our enemies are?”
 Painter was cool or at least acted this way. He was pulling his brush down the brick wall, leaving a blue streak of fresh paint. This had to be the stem of yet another monster flower.
 “You, scum, you don’t know who are enemies are?” yelled Priest in a hoarse voice.
 “What chances do I have to see them in the fog?” said the Painter light-heartedly.
 “Why are you painting this goddamn sun and these fucking flowers, you scum?” howled the Priest, looking for at least some pretext.
 “Should I paint fog?”
 “I will kill you!”
 War Priest was shaking in fury. The Painter continued to paint the stem of his seventh flower. War Priest freed himself from Silvanov’s hold and shoved the gun back into the holster. He noticed Nijinsky staring at him blankly from the passenger seat of the show’s van.  Vaslav observed the whole scene without uttering a single word. Somebody gave a laugh on the other side of the van.
 “Hi, everybody,” said Alicia coming up to the group. She had a way of coming from nowhere, when she was least expected to appear.
 “You are cursing too much for a former priest,” said Alicia with mock reproach. “Fuck this, fuck that. Don’t you think it’s a little bit too much, Priest?”
 War Priest stepped back, obviously embarrassed.
 “None of your business,” he muttered.
 “You have to relax, Priest,” crooned Alicia. “When did you have your last orgasm?”
  “None of your concern. Shut up, you fucking bitch!”
 Alicia was unmoved by the insult. She hooked her arm around Silvanov’s neck and looked War Priest straight in the eye.
 “Spare your breath,” said Alicia. “Being a bitch is my job, Priest. But for you — on the house.”
 Alicia lifted her short skirt invitingly and winked at the Priest, who blinked helplessly. Alicia bent over and  picked a wilted flower from the pavement.
 “If you are doubtful now, let me know any time. You know where to find me, don’t you?”
 She came up to Painter and turned his back on the War Priest pretending she was interested in the picture on the wall. The stem on the wall was really long, crawling all the way down to the cracked tarmac of the sidewalk. She leaned forward and bent low, revealing black stockings and smashing thighs.
 War Priest felt mesmerized by what he saw.
 “Fucking bitch,” muttered the Priest.
 “Why don’t you give it a good try one day?” said Alicia and gave a short laugh.
 War Priest turned and hurried to the fogged out entrance to the street, with a couple of snipers panning the square with their optical sights. War Priest gave a signal to his bodyguards. Daisy started the car and pulled to the narrow street. War Priest said something towards the square, his words lost in the roaring of a poorly tuned engine.
 The jeep screeched away accelerating in the fog. Two snipers in the window of the second floor vanished like ghosts. Evidently, the show was given another chance tonight.
 It was not the first gathering of the Military Council in the former city hall of Daggersville. Sessions were conducted on almost regular basis during the fighting. However, this session was more real, because it dealt with real matters of War in the Fog this time. All senior members of the Council were observing War Priest, who was studying the huge strategic map of the city spread on the oak table. A lot of map was spilling over the edges, hanging all the way down to the floor. The Priest looked at some dot through a magnifying glass, scrutinizing it long enough time to seem serious about the whole business of looking. There was an oversized poster pinned to the wall next to the portrait of some long-dead celebrity of Daggersville. A ghost of past endeavors was looking through oil-painted spectacles at history in the making. The poster next to the guilt frame depicted a muscular female of indefinite age, giving pennies to a vigilant soldier. Appeal underneath read: SCRAP PENNIES FOR BULLETS.
 Somebody cursed in French behind the heavy door of the conference room, the doorknob moved down and Maurice pushed  Painter in. Painter’s hands were handcuffed. Maurice pointed at the floor, ordering Painter to stop near a huge framed  canvas leaning against the wall. Painter rattled his handcuffs and looked down at the floor with a huge box of new paints and several brushes. Paints were quite expensive.
 “Stay here, merde,” said Maurice, glaring at Painter with  hatred. “And don’t you move, you fucker!”
 Maurice narrowed his eyes trying to make a frightful face. His cheeks got unhealthy yellow.
 “Okay, French guy,” smiled Painter back. He rattled the chains purposefully, making Maurice even more irritated.
 “Don’t call me ‘guy’, merde!” threatened Maurice and fumbled for cigarettes. He imagined himself putting Painter to death in some terrible manner somewhere in the back alley of Daggersville. He visualized bullets plopping into his stomach one after another, his mouth gasping for breath. Maurice regretted his miserably minor position in the Military Council. Some important decisions were still out of his reach.
 Meanwhile, the Painter looked around and met the stare of John Daisy, standing in the far corner just for the sake of being around. He was here to take orders and not for the sake of decision-making. Daisy was bored to death during sessions like this. Painter winked at Daisy, though this  didn’t change the glassy expression of Daisy’s eyes. Daisy continued fumbling a yellow rose in his hands. Painter thought with surprise where the hell he managed to find the rose. On the other hand, each evening admirers were bringing bouquets of roses to Nijinsky’s show. Did he pick it after the show at Market Square? Daisy turned away and started to look into the grayness of the square behind the huge bay window.
 War Priest put the magnifying glass back on the table,  and looked at the council members. There was a new person on staff and he was really pleased to see him. Colonel Ivanov was a short and stocky fellow with very colorful experience in the ill-famed KGB. He was on early retirement, but young enough to join the multinational force of the Military Council. Ivanov looked at the Priest with his cold lizard eyes and trimmed his badly tailored suit – a very mechanical professional gesture that developed into a chronic habit for all occasions.
 Priest gave Ivanov a service smile that quickly faded away. There was no response from the stoic Russian. He stood like a stone idol waiting for a formal introduction. He didn’t say a single word to anybody on the Council since his entrance into the room.
 “Let me introduce Colonel Ivanov, Russian intelligence advisor, who was flown in yesterday to assist our intelligence and war effort in general.”
 Ivanov bowed curtly like a samurai warrior. There was no smile on his face.
 “I am glad to be helpful,” said Ivanov dryly.
 Faces turned to him. Some officers were very curious.
 “I am always glad to be helpful,” said Ivanov, his language was very accented and sickeningly precise. Ivanov jerked the lapels of his incongruous suit once again.
 “Can you assess the situation from your previous experience?” asked the War Priest. “I’m sure you made some assessments already, even before your arrival.”
 Ivanov looked long and hard at War Priest with his gray, steel-colored eyes.
 “Hostilities should consolidate into a certain scheme before any assessment can be given. At this point, effectiveness of our satellite spies was seriously hampered by the fog. However, a giant human shape was noticed and photographed above the fog blanket…”
 “Never mind, Colonel Ivanov,” interrupted the War Priest with an all-knowing smile. “It was the Victory Monument installed for the future Victory Parade. It boosts morale of our troops.”
 Ivanov lowered his eyes. He was pretty disappointed that this valuable piece of intelligence didn’t impress War Priest. He shrugged his shoulders and sighed.
 “Don’t repeat our mistakes, Priest,” he said.
 “Sorry?” the War Priest leaned forward in order to hear better.
 “I mean the oversized monuments and embryo achievements.”
 War Priest feigned a cough, thinking about a polite way out.
 “Oh, Colonel Ivanov, you shouldn’t underestimate your space and intelligence accomplishments,” he said. “We are far behind in these and many other aspects. That’s obvious. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be here.”
 Ivanov seemed unmoved by the statement. He was stoic enough not to show any emotions.
 “I am grateful for the honor you extended me,” said Ivanov.
 “Have you examined this so-called fog?” asked Larson, his face turning Scandinavian pink. “I am still puzzled by its origin…”
 “We made a spectral and chemical analysis of it before I left Moscow Airport,” interrupted Ivanov.
 “And?”  asked the War Priest.
 Ivanov looked at everybody with obvious pleasure, feeling superior even despite his five-feet-something height.
 “… and I have to assure you< gentleman, that it is nothing else, but natural fog.”
 War Priest looked at Larson and the other military, as though trying to share his amazement about the news. He noticed Maurice and the Painter. Maurice was smoking nervously entertaining different sadistic ideas about Painter’s lot.
 “I see you brought him finally,” said War Priest across the room to Maurice.
 Painter shook his chains and spread his hands as far as they could go, as though sharing the news about his arrest with a sympathetic friend.
 “Priest,” he said with exaggerated surprise in his voice, “I told you I received exemption from the military mental health commission. I can not be on active duty.”
 “Shut up, you bitch,” hissed Maurice pulling at the chain.
 Painter dropped his hands helplessly.
 War Priest took several steps towards the Painter and smiled. Other members of the Council looked lazily, — at least there was some distraction.
 “Nobody asks you to fight, Painter,” said the War Priest. “You were brought here to do your job, and you will be painting my portrait for the propaganda drive.”
 War Priest pointed at the canvas leaning against the wall.
 “Take the paints and get down to business.”
 “Priest,” said the Painter with mock disappointment, “I swore to paint only simplistic things in the time of war. Nothing  is durable during a military conflict.”
 “Come on, Painter,” the War Priest was annoyed. “Nothing is difficult about the portrait. I know that you can do it. You will be paid well and given an extra food ration. It will be not worse than working for the Nijinsky Show.”
 War Priest looked over his shoulder at the faces of the council members, expecting to see their reaction to his joke. High officers made faces, showing how disgusted they were with the whole idea of the show.
 War Priest turned to the officers for explanation.
 “This dancer, Nijinsky,” War Priest intentionally stretched the name, “and his impresario, Silvanov, are extremely stubborn characters. To play in the Market Square! What an idea!”
 Ripple of laughter rolled across the room. Larson coughed several times into his palm.
 “After the first mortar attack,” he said, “they will change their minds quickly. I know these crazy Russians.”
 War Priest shook his head with contempt.
 “You don’t know these crazy Russians,” he chuckled, raising his finger in the air.
 After saying that, he blushed immediately, suddenly realizing that Ivanov was in the room. War Priest felt pretty embarrassed.
 “Sorry!” he turned to Ivanov, who didn’t lose his composure. Former KGB expert was the same – alert and military-like. A proverbial enigma of Russian intelligence.
 “Nijinsky is Polish,” said Ivanov stoically.
 Larson spread his hands eloquently.
 “Isn’t it the same thing?”
 “I repeat — Nijinsky is Polish,” said Ivanov with finality, his voice sounded more edgy.
 Larson grinned understandingly as though trying to say: Don’t teach an old maestro a new tune.”
 “Oh, yeah….” muttered Larson under his breath.
 War Priest glared at Larson with reproach. He couldn’t allow any racial stances in the Military Council.
 “What’s so funny, Larson?” he asked.
 Larson became serious immediately and trimmed his spider belt, although it didn’t need any trimming at all. Larson was immaculate in this sense.
 For some time, Painter was forgotten near the canvas leaning against the wall. He looked at the arguing members of council with amusement. Nobody was watching him except for Maurice, who was fantasizing about some painful execution for  Painter.
 Painter looked around the room, looked down at various paints and brushes, some of them very expensive. He took a bottle of spray paint from his pocket and started to paint with it on the canvas. In less than a minute, a graffiti-like human form appeared on the canvas. It looked strange and awkward, like mysterious hieroglyphs in the Peruvian desert photographed from an airplane.
  Painter attached the word “victory” with his spray paint and placed three lopsided exclamation marks. Maurice was following  his movements without any interest, as though nothing serious was happening.
 In the meantime, the Council returned to the matters pertaining to war. The uncomfortable situation has been  comfortably forgotten.
 “Colonel Larson,” said the War Priest, “will you please report on our junior recruitment program.”
 Larson put both of his hands on the heavy oak table.
 “All local schools except for two orphanages were evacuated,” replied Larson without hesitation.
 “How about private schools?” inquired War Priest. The rest were just listening; there was no way of saying whether they were interested in the discussion.
 “Evacuation of the private schools was completed on the first day of the war.”
 Larson was very confident about what he had to say.
 “Experience in the last wars,” he went on, “demonstrates that children can be put to most effective use on a battlefield, because fear and reasoning  are almost unknown to them. They adapt easier to all stressful situations of modern warfare. One orphanage has already been converted into the first junior kamikaze school for subsequent use in anti-tank warfare.
 “The children are Japanese?” asked Ivanov bluntly.
 “No, only the principle,” replied Larson politely and turned to the War Priest. After all, he was the supreme commander.
 “As for the second orphanage,” he went on, “I decided to simply distribute weapons and ammunition and use the juniors at the front line after a limited military program.”
 All military in the room began nodding their heads.
 “Precisely! Brilliant!” resounded voices around the room. Obviously, the whole idea enjoyed unanimous support.
 “I will visit the orphanages with you, Larson,” said the War Priest.
 “Today, certainly,” nodded the War Priest.
 Ivanov looked at Larson considering verbal revenge.
 “In modern warfare, everything is decided by hours, if not minutes,” said Ivanov. “We have this experience.”
 Ivanov  felt gleeful.
 “We will have it too,” snarled  War Priest. He hated these verbal duels in the Council. “I think we can leave now.”
 He turned to his bodyguards standing close to the entrance.
 “Privates Tapette and Daisy!” commanded the War Priest. He spotted the spray-painted picture and rounded his eyes.
 “What the fuck is that?” War Priest couldn’t believe his eyes.
 “You think that you are the only smartass in the city,” hissed the War Priest moving to the Painter threateningly. “That’s how you treat our propaganda effort! Traitor!”
 “Execute him in public,” suggested Ivanov coldly.
 Painter made a face, feigning confusion.
 “I told you that I paint only simplistic things in the time of war,” said  Painter spreading his hands.
 War Priest was really angry by now. He was screaming at the Painter, spraying saliva.
 “Why do you think you were called here for?” yelled the Priest. I found the last square of canvas in this crazy city. Look what you’ve done to it!”
 War Priest stopped two paces from the Painter and pointed his index finger at the picture. He was enraged.
 Painter somehow seemed unperturbed. Accusations were definitely falling on deaf ears.
 “Even art should be simplified for the war effort,” he said. “Look at the poster. It serves the same purpose.”
 Painter grinned and pointed at the poster showing a hefty woman giving pennies to a vigilant soldier. The poster looked cynical and ridiculous.
 Suddenly, a big bay window collapsed with a terrible noise, smashed by a bullet. It whizzed ominously across the room and flopped into the canvas, coming through the center of the picture’s head. All, except for Painter, fell on the floor, although it was too late. Painter studied members of the Military Council spread like casualties around the table. Nobody  moved for at least one minute. To Painter all of them seemed dead, killed by as little as the sound of the shattered window. The hole in the canvas was perfectly round. The bullet dove deep into the stucco of the wall. Now it was getting cool in the safety of the thick wall, nothing but an artifact of war from now on.
 War Priest raised his head, looked around the room with caution. He met the sarcastic gaze of the Painter and jumped to his feet. The other members of the Military Council followed.
 “What was that?” asked the War Priest. This question was addressed to no one in particular.
 Painter put his index finger into the hole in the canvas.
 “Didn’t last long,” he said solemnly. “I told you, I warned you about that.”
 “Take this idiot away,” roared War Priest, venting out his rage. He was ashamed of having a witness of his weakness. “Maurice, let him go back to the Nijinsky Show, to his prostitutes, to hell — anywhere!!!”
 Council Members shifted from one foot to another, trying hard to forget the incident.
 Maurice blushed, as though waking up after a long sleep, and pushed the Painter to the exit. Both disappeared, leaving the door ajar.”
 “See you next time!” yelled the Painter walking down the stairs. He laughed, he had a lot of reasons to laugh.
 War Priest pretended he didn’t hear anything.
 “What was that?” he asked the council members. “A sniper?”
 Ivanov was also back to his feet, trimming his tasteless suit with absolute composure.
 “It was el-Saidi,” said Ivanov, “the famous sniper from el-Kaaram. Our intelligence sources have confirmed that el-Saidi was commissioned by the opposition.  I have to admit that he is the best sniper in the Middle East. You should be careful.”
  War Priest turned to Ivanov sharply and narrowed his eyes.
 “That will be part of your job, Comrade Ivanov,” he said in half-whisper.
 “I am not ‘comrade’ here,” retorted Ivanov coldly. “Please, address me as ‘sir.'”
 “Sir…” echoed War Priest with cold contempt. What else could he say under circumstances?
 Maurice returned to the room and winked at John Daisy who was trying to put a yellow rose through the bullet hole in the picture.
 “Maurice, Daisy, Larson,” commanded the War Priest. “We are out of here!”
 “For how long?” asked Ivanov, sure of his superiority.
 “I have to inspect the boot camps for juniors,” answered War Priest coldly.
 Ivanov shook his head understandingly and took a pack of Russian cigarettes out of his pocket. Other members of the Military Council were folding their papers hurriedly. War Priest marched to the door across the richly carpeted floor. Four of them left the room, with other council member following. Ivanov was alone in the room full of tobacco smoke. Broken glass was glistening like ice on the floor next to the shattered window. Ivanov looked around and came up to the portrait. There was a beautiful yellow rose in the middle of the punctured canvas. Ivanov could feel a strong fragrance of the flower from five feet. He struck a match, puffed several times on his cigarette and left the room without closing the door.
 The green spotted jeep of the military council sped  through the city that seemed even more gray after several weeks of fighting. Walls were crumbling from direct and indirect hits. Rubble could be seen everywhere in once spotless Daggersville. As usual, John Daisy was driving, while Maurice panned the street in front with a large-caliber machine-gun. Visibility was poor as ever with fog hanging low.
 War Priest and Larson were huddled in the back seat, looking grimly at numerous prostitutes on sidewalks. Girls were sending kisses to the car, trying hard to flag the jeep down. They passed the smoking remains of an armored personnel carrier jutting from the wall of an apartment house. War Priest got a slight whiff of roasted meat. “My imagination,” he said to himself and turned away.
 He leaned to Larson, trying to express his concerns about the orphanages.
 “I’m still a bit uneasy about this idea of the Kamikaze School.”
 Larson grinned and looked at War Priest arrogantly.
 “What do you expect of stranded orphans?” he asked, trying to catch expression on Priest’s face. “Kids love the idea immensely. You told me yourself that children love peace-loving war games. And I can assure you – they can play for hours. For the sake of peace…”
 Larson chuckled and looked at the top floor of the building on the right. The walls around shattered windows were stained with soot.
 “We are not at a session of the Military Council,” snarled  the Priest. “Don’t feed me patriotic garbage. You know better…”
 Larson smiled cynically.
 “I know better,” he said. “We must be realistic about  involvement of children in the war effort. They don’t have parents to complain later or claim compensation. Right?”
 “What about the media? I’m afraid the name of the school is too revealing. They don’t have to go into details to understand what’s going on behind the walls.”
 Larson stretched with pleasure and looked at the War Priest with his watercolor eyes.
 “I personally like the name,” said Larson. “It has this inimitable Oriental touch. Very romantic! First of all, children like the idea of the school immensely. You should see them training. They practice for hours on end.”
 War Priest was unmoved and seemed even more sad.
 “And all of this — for a performance that lasts counted seconds and ends forever…” said the War Priest, mostly addressing himself.
 “Maurice is responsible for their psychological training,” assured Larson. “Besides, he obtains real dogs for shooting practice.”
 They were now in the suburbs, still unaffected by the hostilities. Occasional explosions could still be heard here and there, but the city was as lifeless here as anywhere else. The jeep stopped in front of a gate. Barbed wire stretched around the perimeter of the orphanage. War Priest motioned to the guard at the gate, who pulled the make-shift roadblock aside and saluted the representatives of the high command. Daisy roared through the gate, swung the car towards the playground and stopped.
 “Yes,” repeated Larson, “Maurice supplies the kids with real dogs.”
 “Where do you get all these dogs?” asked  War Priest disembarking. He felt uneasy about this dog business, although he pretended to be lighthearted about the whole thing.
 Maurice was already smoking next to the car. He smiled at War Priest displaying his very decayed teeth. His smile was quite ugly.
 “After declaration of shortages and food rationing, people began to throw their pets away into the street,” smiled Maurice sadistically. He had a way with smiles, this man.
 They went towards the school that appeared normal, except for certain military details here and there. A group  of boys was practicing in the distance.
 “That’s right,” said War Priest pensively, “packs of them roam city streets.”
 Maurice turned his head towards the Priest and looked at him longer than his rank could allow.
 “That’s why I decided to buy dogs from city residents. Very cheap, by the way. Where can you get live targets for less than one French franc, irrespective of size?”
 War Priest thought about scolding Maurice, but he didn’t say anything. The idea of live targets was pretty bizarre but very practical.
 “Listen, Maurice,” said the Priest; he was trying to be very careful about things he was going to say, “I am not completely in favor of this idea with live targets.”
 Larson kept diplomatic silence. A group of kids in khaki pants and heavy leather boots jogged past them in  large formation. Their skinny torsos were bare, faces smeared with soot. Military training had already provided them with a senseless expression in their eyes.
 Maurice felt elated, this was his day. He didn’t mind justifying himself about this dog business. No at all.
 “There is nothing wrong with it,” he said with a smile. “In Medieval Japan, dogs were universally used for archery.”
 “Were did you hear that?” asked Larson. There was nothing but diplomatic formality in his question.
 “I read about it in a book when I was still in Marseilles,” said Maurice.
 The whole thing was getting War Priest very irritated.
 “You are not in Marseilles!” barked War Priest.
 “Priest, after all, it is a Kamikaze School,” intervened Larson, “and it serves its purpose. I can assure you that it works just brilliantly.”
 “I am still uneasy about the media,” muttered the War Priest.
 “It is unavoidable,” assured him Larson. “These reporters are like flies over the battlefield. You can’t hide from them. Therefore, I prefer to do my business and not to think about them at all. I hope the media understands that the cause needs sacrifice. Otherwise, the whole struggle is pointless.”
 Children to their left were practicing self-defense with exaggerated savagery. There was too much of an effort for a mere exercise. The whole playground looked like a tiny imitation of a commando camp. Only the role of commandos was performed by kids aged 7-12. Commandos were serious about their job of killing, they were getting prepared for killing and getting killed.
 They stopped to look at the kids and the instructor who pretended not to notice the presence of high officers. After all, the military code allowed them to continue the  exercise in anybody’s presence.
 Larson pointed at the sparring kids, as though they were museum pieces or rare species from the zoo of exotic animals.
 “Sometimes I look at them training, and I think it’s wonderful that they are orphans. It’s a good thing, I must say. Can you imagine them having parents?”
 Larson  gave a very insincere laugh.
 “Sounds convincing,” said the War Priest.
 Maurice was standing on the left side of the commanders.
 “I established a prize for the most zealous ones,”  said Maurice.
 “What kind of prize?” asked the War Priest.
 Maurice didn’t want to look at War Priest. He averted his face looking high above the heads of the sparring boys. His eyes were watery – typical eyes of a hardened alcoholic.
 “A deck of porno cards!”  yelled Maurice, and added, “Isn’t it a terrific prize for the kids?”
 Meanwhile, a blond kid performed a classic double kick on  the head of his sparring partner, knocking him out instantly.
 War Priest smiled contentedly at the result of the sparring. It was an appropriate time to appreciate savagery in training.
 “Really nice kids!” he said.
 They turned and headed towards the structure that was roughly reminiscent of a circus arena with low cement walls. The center of arena was sprinkled with yellow sand. There were occasional spots of blood on the sand. The gray circular wall had a small trap door on one side and windows on the other side.
 “Warfare in practice,” said Larson approaching.
 The shooting instructor and two kids with Uzi guns came up to the imitation windows. The instructor issued a brief command and the boys went on their knees next to the windows. The rammed the ammo clips into the guns and waited. They peered into the arena with a trap door on the other side.
 Daisy came forward and patted the head of a boy with a smile. The kid didn’t pay any attention to Daisy. He was alert and ready to shoot.
 “Nice little boy,” said Daisy, “nice little soldier, nice little fighter for democracy.”
 Maurice jumped up and jerked Daisy away from the boy. He was furious.
 “Shut up, you fag!” screamed Maurice.
 Daisy pretended to be surprised.
 “I didn’t do anything wrong,” he said shrugging his shoulders.
 Maurice pushed him further away from the kid.
 “You don’t have to watch with your hands!” said Maurice, his French accent was even more noticeable in anger.
 “Can you imagine? Look at him – Mr. Clean…” said Daisy, trying to sound insulted, though unsuccessfully.
 Daisy moved some paces away, continuing to murmur something between his teeth.
 Larson and the War Priest watched the kids and the arena. Suddenly, the trap door on the other side opened and a small lapdog entered the arena cautiously. He sniffed the yellow sand, lifted his hind leg and took a frightened leak.
 “Fire!” screamed the shooting instructor. The dog cocked its ears, frightened by the raspy voice.
 Both kids began to fire in semi-automatic regime. Echo of muffled shots bounced off the cement walls and darted into the foggy sky. They stopped suddenly. Abrupt silence was pierced by the whining of a mortally wounded dog.
The boys stared at the arena without any expression. The blood-clotted shape was twitching in the sand, coating its blood drenched fur with yellow grains of sand. The boys were emotionless.
 “Well done!” exclaimed the shooting instructor. “Next!” he yelled.
 The next pair of kids came up holding the Uzi guns barrel-up.
 Maurice motioned to the first pair.
 “Come over here, boys, have a prize!”
 War Priest and Larson were nodding their heads, as though authorizing the award ceremony.
 “Excellent!” said Larson.
 “Be as efficient in the battlefield,” added War Priest. His position obliged him to say something.
 Maurice gave the kids two decks of cards. They took the porno cards, saluted the officers and disappeared.
 A new pair of kids resumed shooting behind their back. There had to be more whining in the arena.
 All four of them moved towards the school building, decorated with  banners of the multinational force.
 The school was artfully transformed into barracks. The transformation itself was quite enigmatic, because, previously, there was nothing military about the orphanage. Four of them  walked  along the corridors lined with bunk beds on the right side. Posters depicting a woman giving pennies to a grotesque soldier were everywhere. In some places posters  were overlapping, creating  unsophisticated wallpaper. Ammunition belts were hanging from the beds, bullets casting dull reflections on the walls. Passing kids with soot-smeared faces saluted representatives of the high command.
 “Startling change,” said the War Priest in awe.
 “Everything was changed for the sake of the war effort,”  Larson went on explaining. “Lecture rooms were changed and renamed. The library issues only combat manuals and military regulations. I ordered them to show only war movies on Sundays.”
 Boys playing cards on the bunk beds, jumped to attention.
 War Priest waved to them to continue.
 “I can tell you that you are not getting money for nothing, Larson,” said the War Priest. “How could you organize all this in a matter of days?”
 “Doesn’t take long with experience,” said Larson enjoying the flattery. “Ivanov is right by saying that hours and not days count in the time of war.”
 Maurice threw the cigarette stub on the floor. It was immediately snatched by a scrawny “kamikaze” boy.
 “All educational rubbish was thrown away,” said Maurice. “Nothing will be durable for these kids anyway. Why bother learning ancient history or something of the like?”
 They stopped in front of the door with a sign: KAMIKAZE TRAINING PROGRAM.
 Larson put his hand on the door knob and looked at the War Priest with elation.
 “The heart of the school,” said Larson and winked at  War Priest.
 He opened the door and all of them entered a huge room that used to be an auditorium.
 “As I told you, we prepare the kids for anti-tank warfare here,” said Larson. “That’s the most essential program.”
 They went into the room. Kids in uniforms were lined up in front of the open window on the second floor. A huge pile of mattresses was right below the window on the lawn of the school yard. A bald instructor with intricate tattoos on his  hands and arms was tucking plastic imitation hand grenades behind the belt of a seven-year-old kid in an oversized khaki uniform.  The instructor tucked several grenades behind the kid’s belt and stepped back to the wall.
 “To destroy a tank,” he said, “you must have at least three grenades behind your belt and one in each hand.”
  By way of demonstration, he was twirling grenades in his tattooed hands. Kids were listening with extreme attention. A poster, depicting a tank from above, was hanging next to the window. The instructor used his hands and a pointer to make his message clear.
 “Don’t jump right on the turret,” continued Instructor, “because there will be no harm done at all. Jump on the engine.
 He pointed at the engine behind the turret with his pointer. Children nodded and tucked green plastic hand grenades behind their belts. They listened to the kamikaze lecture with baited breath.
 “How about the pin?” asked one child.
 “Good question,” said the Instructor.
 He lifted the plastic grenade to his mouth.
 “You pull it with your teeth right before you jump on the sucker, okay?”
 Instructor finally noticed War Priest, Larson and two body guards.
 “Attention!” he screamed to the kids.
 Kids snapped their boots and turned to face War Priest. A couple of hand grenades were dropped in the process. They rolled clumsily between children’s feet in oversized boots.
 War Priest waved the command off with pontifical gesture.
 “Continue!” said the Priest.
 Instructor turned to the kids again.
 “The first, go!” he yelled.
 The first kid in line stepped on the windowsill and pulled a plastic pin from a plastic hand grenade with his teeth. He jumped down into the back yard. Two seconds later, they heard a thud as the kid landed on the mattresses outside.
 “Go! Go! Go! Go!” Instructor was pushing the kids to the window one after another, as though they were paratroopers lining up for a training jump.
 Kids were landing on the mattresses outside; they jumped to their feet immediately and ran back to the class for a new series of jumps.
 “Show your spirit!” yelled the instructor.
 Children responded with ear-piercing Japanese war cries.
 Larson leaned to the ear of the War Priest. It was very noisy in the room.
 “They have to make one thousand jumps,” said Larson, “before the real one.”
 “Before the last one…” said Maurice with a smile, putting in his five cents.
 “I hope this mathematical formula is not for the media,” said War Priest, smiling condescendingly.
 “Not this formula,” nodded Larson.
  “Who cares,” said Maurice and spat on the floor.
 All of them turned to go. They went back down the same corridor to the plush old-fashioned stairway, decorated with propaganda posters. War Priest noticed that one poster was vandalized with an oversized penis in the corner. He smiled to himself; young soldiers had to have their right to childish pranks. He shook his head with a smile and pushed the heavy door. They went across the yard to the parked jeep. The voice of the instructor on the second floor was still heard.
 “Show true kamikaze spirit, kids!” yelled the instructor.
 “Yeah!” yelled the kids, shaking the walls.
 War Priest looked over his shoulder at the pile of mattresses. Kids were jumping one after another, as though escaping from a raging fire. In khaki uniforms, they looked very much like undernourished and undersized firefighters. There were no fire trucks, though. It was another type of a drill. The kids were learning how to turn themselves into fool-proof incendiary bombs. After all, the whole idea was totally unique and absolutely new, a worthy addition to the whole concept of modern warfare.
 They climbed back into the jeep and Daisy started the engine. They waited for the formation of kids to pass and then pulled up to the gate. A huge truck stopped on the other side of the gate. It had a huge cage on its platform, full of different howling and barking dogs of all possible breeds and crosses. There was at least a thousand of them, brought to the boot camp for shooting practice. A new guard opened the roadblock and the jeep roared into the sleepy city.
 “Is it your job, Maurice?” asked the War Priest and patted Maurice on the back.
 “Do you mean the dogs or the truck?” asked Maurice pretending he didn’t understand the question.
 “I mean exactly these dogs,” said the War Priest.
 Daisy laughed and glanced back at Maurice over his shoulder. Maurice narrowed his eyes and got yellow with hatred.
 “Certainly, it was my idea,” said Maurice maliciously. “Good targets for our little sharpshooters. I hate these dogs.”
 “I hate these bastards!!!” he screamed savagely.
  “Since when, Maurice?” asked Larson teasing.
 Maurice jumped from his seat and grabbed the handles of his machine-gun.
 “Since the time when a fucking police dog bit me in Marseilles. I hate those fucking bastards! I hate them!”
 Maurice pressed the trigger, sending a lengthy burst into the windows of the houses on both sides of the road.  Glass rained down on the pavement. Daisy pressed the accelerator to the floor. War Priest and Larson were roaring with laughter in the back seat of the car.
 “I hate those bastards,” went on Maurice, spraying saliva. “I will always hate these fucking bastards. I’m gonna round them up and kill them all.”
 The jeep was flying towards downtown.
 A pack of dogs was tearing apart a garbage bag in the back alley of Daggersville’s suburbs. Large caliber bullets whistled over the roofs. A large piece of plaster fell on the ground and  broke to dust. A pulverized window screamed not far away. The dogs stiffened, looked at each other and shuddered. They were of different breeds, crosses and sizes. The dogs turned and ran along the narrow back alley. Soon they disappeared in the fog. The sound of machine-gun was withdrawing to downtown. Houses around were soundless and empty. Three civilians were decomposing in a greenish heritage building, with several maimed angels supporting the roof. They were killed by a direct hit during the artillery duel. They decided to stay in the city during hostilities. Now their apartment with a neat shell-hole under the window was turned into their sepulcher. Fetid smell was getting out into the street from the same shell-hole. It was trapped by the fog outside, that was dutifully collecting smells, sins and whispers of this bizarre war in the fog. Fog was a magnetic tape of Daggersville’s history.
 It was quite uncomfortable to make a live TV broadcast from the top of a slanting roof. But these were unavoidable ills of the trade. Problems of the trade, familiar to any tradesmen, be it a soldier or a TV crewman. Reporter was glad that the news about the orphanage filtered through the poorly guarded doors of the Military Council. Suicide school. What could be better than yet another sickly turn of events in Daggersville? The notorious orphanage was two hundred meters away. They were on the roof of the tallest building in the whole neighborhood. Reporter was quite surprised to find it totally unharmed by the shelling. Tall buildings  were used quite often simply for artillery practice by both sides. Brick-colored tiles of this roof were overlapping in an intricate pattern, characteristic of all heritage buildings in the city. A new cameraman was sitting motionless five feet from him, also in a very uncomfortable position. He looked like a sniper, getting ready for yet another kill. Reporter felt uneasy and looked at the Soundman, who was positioning mikes all over this side of the roof. Background noise of the war had to make the whole report very authentic. Even cheep presents are good enough in expensive wrapping paper. Any war report, puny or important, had to have a proper wrapping. Otherwise, the world may suspect a studio job, a bogus setup so typical of today’s reporting business.
 The cameraman lifted his right hand, indicating that he was ready. Reporter looked at his watch and coughed several times. He had fifteen seconds left before this clumsy broadcast from the roof.
 “War Priest and Colonel Larson have just completed a visit to the Kamikaze School,” said the Reporter into the camera after the signal, “opened on the premises of the first city orphanage. Preparing for the worst in the ongoing conflict, War Priest and Colonel Larson decided to use children from a former orphanage for anti-tank warfare. The spokesman for the Southern Sector of hostilities denies the use of children in the war. But evidently War Priest is bracing up for the worst. According to unconfirmed sources, an unemployed one-time KGB expert, Sergei Ivanov, was offered a position of the Chief of Intelligence Operations for the Southern Sector. Similarly, unconfirmed sources report that el-Saidi, famous sniper from el-Kaaram signed a million dollar contract with the opposition. Before his departure from an unconfirmed location in the Middle East, he pledged to kill the War Priest. His motives in the conflict were described as financial as well as religious. As you know, el-Saidi was suspected of sniping and killing Robert Johnston, a CIA agent stationed in Ankara, Turkey, in l977…”
 Reporter was looking into the camera trying to appear as casual as possible in his uncomfortable position. All of a sudden the camera jerked sideways with a strange bang and fell on the roof. The weak sound of a single rifle shot followed several seconds later. It sounded like a nut cracking. Nothing else but a innocent sound with a deadly meaning. Now Reporter was staring into the rounded eyes of the Cameraman, who seemed frozen.
 “No!” he thought. Reporter was paranoid after the death of the first Cameraman.
 The Cameraman seemed unhurt. He was just sitting there, a silhouette against the gray sky; his face was white as though he has just seen his own death. Meanwhile, the camera was sliding towards the edge of the roof, gaining momentum, obeying the laws of gravity. There was nothing to stop it. It reached the edge of the roof, slowed for a second, as though trying to reconsider this sophisticated suicide, then slid gently over the edge. The crew on the roof was silent and tense.
  It took what they thought eternity for the camera to reach the ground. It fell on the sidewalk and exploded on  impact. Expensive component flew in all directions. The cassette with film bounced towards the wall, unharmed, except for three cracks along its black casing. Three famished dogs darted towards the fragments, trying to find something edible in the object. They sniffed at the debris with their dry noses, looked around and retreated back to the safety of the hingeless doorway.
 Reporter on the roof looked into the fog trying to figure out from where the shot was fired. The contours of the buildings in the distance to the left from the orphanage were gray and silent as ever. The sniper could be anywhere. Reporter knew who the sniper was.
 “I don’t think we should include el-Saidi in our reports from now on,” said the Reporter and moved towards the trap door, imagining the crosshairs of el-Saidi’s famous sniper rifle on his back. His back felt whimpery and itchy. The rest of the crew were scuttling up the roof towards the exit. They felt pretty much the same.
 Alicia decided to spend a couple of hours in Painter’s apartment before the curfew. Painter was not working for the show today. Nijinsky Shows were running into constant problems with military authorities of the Southern Sector of hostilities.
 They were watching some weird war report on a small black-and-white TV in the corner. Painter bought this TV  somewhere around the times of Woodstock. It lost its ability to receive majority of the channels since then. The only program that was available for the past several weeks was Daggersville News Channel. Painter was listening to the news with a cigarette stub hanging from his lower lip. He smiled at the stupidity of the whole thing. A reporter was sitting on the edge of the roof, perched like a crow. The face of the man was hazy because of lousy reception, but looked familiar.
 Alicia couldn’t stand the whole thing any longer. She stood up and headed toward the TV set.
 “I hate this garbage,” said Alicia. “I’m going to turn it off.”
  Before she reached the TV, the screen blurred and then  the picture went dark. Alicia stopped in her tracks, puzzled by a sudden transformation. It looked as though the TV read her thoughts and shut itself off in a hurry.
 Painter took a roach from his front pocket and lit up.
 “Somebody did it for you, Alicia,” he said, puffed on the joint and coughed several times. “Come over here.”
 Alicia turned towards him and put her arms on her sides. She was a sexy little creature. Painter admired her figure, made even more attractive by a cheap yellow and black dress with a string of glass beads hanging loosely from her neck.
 “You, maker of wonders,” said Alicia sarcastically.
 She saw that the Painter was in one of his strange moods, looking through the drug-filled smoke at her. She was always puzzled about his state. It didn’t matter whether he smoked or drank; he could change from his regular wordy self to a pensive dreamer. He always sounded strange in moments like that.
 “Is there anything, you want to say, Mister Retired Hippie,” said Alicia and giggled. She didn’t move. A light breeze was blowing on her back and it really felt good. She loved the comfortable bohemian disarray of this place that always smelled of tobacco, wine stains and paint.
 “A lot,” murmured the Painter, “I will decorate you like a tree, Alicia. I will put flowers into your hair, and will hang Christmas lights all over you, and you will be part of my picture.”
 Alicia came to the table and fumbled for a cigarette.
 “You want to turn me into a work of art? No chance. My days in art are over. Let’s put it this way – love is my art now…”
 Alicia giggled softly and combed Painter’s hair with her delicate and cool fingers. Painter closed his eyes. With his eyes closed, he looked sad, almost dramatic.
 “You mean to say that you don’t want to help me with my salvation cause?” asked Painter in a weary voice. “This strange world is still looking for a chance to be saved.”
 “Too late,” said Alicia, “too late, my dear Painter.”
 Barbara rushed into the room without knocking, went to the table and took a smoking cigarette from Alicia’s fingers. She blinked at the window and inhaled deeply.
 “What’s up?” said the Painter nonchalantly.
 “Insane, insane!” Barbara was gasping for breath. “Everything they are trying to say or do is insane. It is wrong, because it was destined to be wrong. Oh, I am sick and tired of everything. Why don’t they stop this stupid war?”
  Painter shrugged his shoulders and acquired a philosophical pose.
 “They have no chance,”  said the Painter. “You know that there are things that can be qualified as unstoppable. War is among them. I came to realize that people find perverse pleasure in hardships.”
 “Perverse,” chuckled Barbara, obviously relieved. “What a word to hear for a professional whore!”
 She laughed heartily, her fat face was shaking.
 “Do you remember the days when we were just innocent kids?” asked the Painter.
 “Ah! Those were beautiful days!” said Alicia. “Sometimes I think that it was in a dream. My father was a minister and your father was an alcoholic. My father kept on explaining to me that he hated curse language. People say: Like father, like son. What about the daughters? He didn’t expect to see me turn out like this.”
 Painter flipped the filter of his cigarette out the window with envious precision.
 “Mind you, Alicia, our kidhood was some twenty odd years apart.”
 “But here you are,” chuckled Barbara, “a bohemian whore in the middle of a never ending war.”
 Both women laughed cynically. Barbara took a small mirror from her purse and trimmed her lips with a badly-used lipstick.
 “Why don’t you lose some weight?” asked Alicia. “Do you seriously think that lipstick will save you?”
 “Tricks of the trade,” said Barbara winking at the Painter. “Tricks of the trade, Alicia. Look at this guy,” she said pointing at the Painter. “With his paints, he turns a colorless canvass into a picture. He uses kind of lipstick to paint his shit. Did you sell anything, Painter?”
 She looked at Painter with expectation, knowing there would be no answer.
 “Something big and famous?” she went on. “That now hangs on the walls of some stupid museum?”
 Painter  didn’t feel like being on the defensive.
 “Nothing is left in this city,”  he said with light irony. “What is the purpose of having a museum or a gallery in this city? The war will consume everything anyway. Even the works of art serve the war effort.”
 “No!” exclaimed Alicia with disgust.
 “Why do you say ‘no’?” asked Barbara agreeing with the Painter. “You stupid hen! Do you think they see where they shoot in this crazy fog?”
 “Fog can be good only for this crazy war,” said Alicia and clapped her hands, “and for our trade…”
 Alicia and Barbara howled with laughter. Painter looked at them with philosophical composure.
 “Why do you paint your goddamn lips, Barb?” Alicia said, teasing.
 “Art of the trade and trade of the art…” Barbara was gasping for breath.
 Alicia jumped from her seat and started to wrestle with Barbara. She looked like a tiny monkey trying to wrestle with a  bear.  Barbara carried struggling Alicia to the worn-out yellow armchair in the corner and pressed her to the seat.
 “Painter!” yelled Alicia. “Tell this bitch to set me free.”
 Painter knew that the girls were in one of those crazy moods. He liked them when they were like this, – natural and easy-going.
 “These are your problems, Alicia,” said the Painter. “I represent arts in this war. I don’t care whether my pictures are perishable. Nothing really matters as long as I paint. As long as somebody sees my work.”
 Barbara and Alicia stopped wrestling; they were panting heavily.
 “Listen, Barbara,” said Painter. “Give me your lipstick. I want to create yet another perishable work of art…”
 “A work of fart,” echoed the Alicia from the chair, “a work of fart as far as I am concerned…”
 Painter took the used lipstick from Barbara’s hands and came up to the window. He closed one flap and painted a lop-sided star on the dirty glass. Both prostitutes giggled and rounded their lips like girlies in a girlie magazine.
 “Are you sure you wanted to paint this?” asked Alicia through the laughter.
 “Are you sure you won’t be hanging by your neck from the highest pole in this city?” said Barbara with mock reproach.
 The Painter stepped back, pretending he was admiring his picture.
 He shook his head and turned to the girls.
 “I don’t care,” said the Painter. “This picture will not hold long anyway. All art dies in the war. That is why very simple things should be painted.”
 “Why did you paint this fucking star?” asked Alicia, getting serious.
 “Because  stars are easy to paint,” answered the Painter and nodded to emphasize his words.
 All three of them laughed. Barbara lifted her body with an effort, came up to Painter and kissed him on the cheek with mock passion.
 “Oh, I love you, Painter!” exclaimed Barbara. “You can have me anytime! Yes, you can have me any day — for free,” added Barbara and  gave a very romantic sigh.
 Alicia was hopping around the room like a sparrow. She was still excited by Painter’s picture. The star was not a very popular symbol with authorities of Daggersville. This symbol was even more dangerous now in the times of hostilities with ensuing desecration of values so familiar to all wars, large and small.
 “A star!” exclaimed Alicia. “A star painted with lipstick! Who will tolerate this obscenity?”
 Painter was looking at Alicia and Barbara with  narrowed eyes. The girls could see that he was in a good mood.
 “The simpler, the better,” chanted Painter like a high school teacher. “I have to make it very simple. Otherwise it will be a waste of time and effort.”
 “You will end up by painting nothing at all,” said Alicia and pinched Painter’s cheek.
 “Perhaps so,” said the Painter.
  A stray bullet, fired from almost one mile away, hit the window with a loud bang. It penetrated the ceiling without harming anybody and lodged itself deep behind the whitewash, hiding there like a tiny field mouse. The window pane exploded into tiny chips and slivers, spraying the floor of Painter’s apartment.
 All three of them dropped to the floor.
 “Did you see that, girls?” whispered  Painter into Alicia’s cheek and winked at her.
 All three of them started to laugh releasing the tension of the accident.
 Alicia rolled on her side and lifted stockinged legs to the ceiling exposing black and red panties.
     “Didn’t hold a day,” screamed Alicia into the ceiling and jumped to her feet. “Listen, Painter, the War is underway, but only one art cannot be ruined by time or circumstances — the art of love.”
 Barbara was rising with an effort, still amused by the recent accident.
 “Of love…” said Painter pensively.
 “Whatever,” echoed Barbara.
 “Whatever what?” asked the Painter.
 Barbara made a face and farted with her thick lips.
 “Whatever brings money,” she said in an intentionally distorted voice. She sounded hoarse; she wanted to sound like a real veteran night crow.
 Painter stepped to her, crunching on broken glass that covered the room, and grabbed Barbara’s wrist.
 “Will you reward me for my lipstick star, for my superhuman effort?” crooned the Painter. “Show your respect for my last masterpiece on this dying planet.”
 Barbara was already tired of all these games.
 “Let me go.”
 She pulled her hand free.
 “We have to go, Painter,” she added with remorse and gave him a light motherly kiss, leaving a sizable lipstick stain on his face. It was also star-shaped. Alicia waved a lazy farewell, grabbed her suede duffel bag. They headed for  the door and disappeared. In less than a minute, Painter heard somebody’s quick steps returning back to his door. Alicia swung the door opened, winked at Painter.
 “You forgot to say something?” asked the Painter.
 “No, just wanted to say that we are off to freelance in the fog.”
 Alicia lingered in the doorway and in another second another second disappeared.
 Painter knew he would be very sad and lonely tonight.  Tonight, there would be noise in the street outside, with Nijinsky leaping around in his distorted dream, with people watching from the safety of doorways. Daggersville… He felt old, sometimes he felt so old and so lonely in this strange world. He stood there, in the middle of the room, listening to their withdrawing footsteps on the stairway. A mortar yelped somewhere, suggesting that there would be another more deadly yelp of explosion on the other side of the green line.
 Painter came to the shattered window. There were remnants of glass sticking from his window frame. He extracted them like huge teeth of some mythical monster, trying to avoid the jagged edges, and tossed the glass outside on the pavement of the Market Square. He almost turned to go to get his cigarettes, when he heard the voice of the neighborhood janitor from the square.
 “Hey, Painter, good thing you didn’t dump your glass on my head.”
 Painter leaned out and saw Rubin-the-Broom looking at him from the square. The janitor was holding his worn-out broom in his hand. A heap of wilted roses was next to him. He swished his broom once again, almost mechanically and tilted his head towards Painter.
 “How are you today, Painter?” asked Rubin through his drooping mustache that made him feel so proud.
 “Same as usual,” said Painter with a smile. “Can you imagine that? I’ve just painted a star on this window.”
 The janitor failed to hear him properly, he was still playing with his broom that scratched the tarmac with an abominable sound. Only Rubin could stand the sound of his broom.
 “What?” asked Rubin in bewilderment.
 “A star,” repeated the Painter. “And it was smashed to pieces. There is no respect for art at all!”
 Janitor shook his head in anger. The same old thing. Whatever this Painter guy was saying made no sense at all – whether it was before the war in Daggersville or during the war.
 “What kind of art?” Rubin was indignant. “Who needs art in this war. Nijinsky danced here yesterday. This was left by his admirers”
 Rubin pointed at the flowers with his broom and sighed.
 “I wonder where they got all these flowers,” he went on. “As far as I am concerned, nobody has any respect for my job. They dance, they paint, they faint and they expect a janitor to clean up the mess. I am fed up with this
 He looked up at the Painter who was about to  throw more glass on the pavement.
 “Oh, Painter!” groaned Rubin, knowing that Painter would do it anyway.
 Painter threw the glass down and when the last jingle died down, he said:
 “How about a drink, Rubin?”
 Painter knew that this was one of very few temptations Rubin preferred to succumb to without much resistance. Rubin feigned confusion, he looked around and looked up again.
 “I don’t know,” he said. “I really don’t know,” he repeated in a voice changed by temptation getting hold of him.
 “Wait, Painter,” yelled Rubin, seeing that Painter was almost ready to disappear into his room.
 Painter stopped and leaned outside.
 “Are you sure you have some?” asked the janitor in a  hoarse whisper.
 “Painters always have something to offer,” said the Painter. “If not this…” he pointed at the frame of his smashed window, “then something else.”
 Janitor looked around as though making sure there were no witnesses and tilted his head.
 “I will be right there,” he said conspiratorially.
 He hurried to the door, throwing the broom on the pile of wilted and badly damaged roses.  The flowers still had the fragrance which lingered on, like the last ripples of a standing ovation. Flowers of the last stone theater in Daggersville. There was a bigger show underway in the city, though. It was war in the fog.
 Painter was dying to see the expressing on Rubin’s face. He was waiting for him to come in and as he expected, Rubin entered with a big smile. They shook hands, like old friends do, and in the next moment both of them heard a distinct whining of a mortar shell coming in from the gray sky. They fell on the floor, putting hands on the back of their heads. In a split second  the explosion rocked Market Square. Some windows gave in to the shock wave and fell on the pavement. They lifted their heads and looked at each other. Rubin lifted his index finger meaningfully.
 “That was a big one!” he said.
 “Sure…” murmured the Painter and stood up.
 He poured drinks into small wine glasses.
 “Wanna take a look,” said Painter, motioning towards the window with his head.
 Rubin nodded and together they came to the window. The square outside was very much the same except for the roses, that were shredded and scattered by the explosion. A broken broom was lying nearby like a grotesque casualty of a grotesque war. The pavement, where Rubin whisked the wilted roses, was badly damaged.
 Painter sighed and winked at the Janitor who was looking down at his broom in consternation. There were quite a few things to think about.
 “After all,” said the Painter, “they were aiming not only at my pictures. They got your broom, too.”
 Janitor laughed and lowered  his huge hand on the Painter’s shoulder.
 “I could have been there,” said Rubin and pointed at his broom in the square. “But here I am, drinking to your and my health. Cheers!”
 They clinked glasses enthusiastically and guzzled the wine. There were some things to celebrate. Painter threw his glasses out the window, Rubin shook his head for a while and followed suit.
 “You’ve got many glasses?” asked Rubin.
 “There are few left,” chuckled Painter. “Let’s have a smoke.”
 They withdrew from the window into the perpetual dusk of Painter’s room. Rubin sat on the chair and inhaled with pleasure. Painter gave him a friendly wink and nodded toward the window.
 “What a fucking day,” said Rubin pensively. “What a fucking day.”
 At night, the fog seemed purple around Market Square. Exactly this square was chosen by Silvanov for Nijinsky Shows. The initial shows in the palatial theater of Daggersville collapsed and degenerated to a one-man show with Nijinsky being the sole performer in the no-name ballets. There wasn’t any fixed choreography left in the shows. None at all. It was Nijinsky alone, released from the grips of his weak self, Nijinsky enjoying freedom. Nijinsky by himself. Truth must be said, his creative freedom was nothing else but madness in the pure sense of this word. Accidentally, it was a secret trademark of all forms of art if they evolve to the point of freedom.
 A much thicker fog moved in after the yesterday’s battle in the Market Square that left an unspecified number of casualties and one crippled armored personnel carrier. The vehicle kept on exploding after it took a direct hit. It was leaping around, frying out what was left of organic matter inside. Ammunition was exploding inside the carrier without bursting it apart. The remains of the carrier were leaning against the wall of the building on the northern side of the square. The carrier was black and sooty like a neglected camping pot. The wheels of the armored carrier were gone. There was nothing organic left inside. Some relief for cleaning units.
 Nijinsky was looking at the charred carrier with strange elation, listening to his impresario, who was trying to persuade him to start the show. It was nice to be stubborn. At the same time, he knew darn well that he would dance today. Dancing was his fix, but he wanted to annoy Silvanov for a while. There were some onlookers to the scene. They peered from the doorways and from the broken windows of the buildings around. They couldn’t even dream that one day they would see Nijinsky himself dancing for them like a street clown in the middle of Market Square. The whole argument lasted already for twenty minutes. There were some cynical giggles from the crowd, which was making Silvanov even more desperate. Both were standing near the wall, decorated by Painter. It seemed as though Silvanov and Nijinsky were two actors impersonating insects in some weird play. Right behind their back, there was a picture on the wall representing a huge flower and the rising sun.
 Nijinsky turned his pale face towards Silvanov, trying hard to do it as slow and dramatic as possible.
 “I was born for the real stage and not for the city square,” said Nijinsky with irritation. “It is not a fitting place for performances at all.”
 “You know that the theater no longer exists,” pleaded Silvanov. “But art shouldn’t give in to war.”
 Nijinsky motioned towards the remains of the military vehicle – just a shadowy form on the other side of the square.
 “I wasn’t born for this madness,” Nijinsky said quietly.
 Silvanov shook his head vehemently as though trying to get rid of emotions boiling in him. He looked at Nijinsky and whispered:
 “You are mad and you know it. Even your talent is nothing else but madness. You can’t help it…”
 “Should I be grateful for it?” sneered Nijinsky.
 “I think you should,” said Silvanov.
 Nijinsky turned his face away from Silvanov and looked wistfully in the space between the two buildings. Fog was touching the rooftops, forming a phantasmagoric canopy in this endless theater named Daggersville.
 The voice of Silvanov returned to him. Nijinsky felt as though he was driving a car through a tunnel with radio on. Suddenly, the radio in his head went dead. Nijinsky stared at Silvanov in puzzlement. Now the sound was coming back.
 “There is always a reason for your performance,” persisted Silvanov, “and I am telling you — your art will know no corruption.”
 Nijinsky looked at Silvanov with his sad eyes.
 “How about this sickly war?” he asked bluntly.
 “Don’t worry about it now,” answered Silvanov hurriedly. “You don’t have to think about it. You will be targeted anyway, Nijinsky. Whenever something perfect appears in this world, it is always targeted. Do you understand what I mean?”
 “I might understand that if I looked at it differently. Give me a prism of innocence..,” said Nijinsky in his trance-like voice.
 “Look at it through the prism of your childhood,” said Silvanov and frowned at his blunder. He was clutching at a straw.
 Nijinsky was really feeling sick. These waves were coming to him more often. He was getting dizzy. So he took several steps into the square and immediately returned back to Silvanov.
 “Toy soldiers can die at your will and then they rise at your will, too,” muttered Nijinsky and smiled. “My imagination was inspired by reusable soldiers. Everybody thinks like that.”
 “Have I done anything wrong?” asked Silvanov looking into Nijinsky’s eyes. He didn’t like the expression of his light-blue eyes now. “I can do anything for your sake, Vaslav.”
 Silvanov tried hard to derail too familiar fit of Nijinsky’s madness. He attempted a joke.
 “I do everything, but I will never dance in front of you,”  said Silvanov.
 It was a clumsy joke; Silvanov shrugged his shoulders.  “Well… how can I prove my devotion to you, Nijinsky?”
 “I am not a market square dancer!” protested Nijinsky coldly.
 Silvanov looked around the square, which was attracting more people. He knew that if Nijinsky wouldn’t dance it would be a major embarrassment the next day. The remaining Daggersville newspapers were still hungry for gossip. Silvanov grabbed Nijinsky’s hand and dragged him into a narrow alley strewn with a variety of garbage and broken furniture.
 “What can I do for you, Nijinsky?” asked Silvanov when they stopped. “Listen, it’s a hard time now. Perhaps it has always been the same. But we were able to find quiet places. I mean islands of peace between the wars. There should be nothing like hard times for you.”
 He pointed at the women leaning against the mossy wall. More women were staring at them from the windows of the ground floor. Silvanov dabbed his forehead with his crumpled handkerchief. Silvanov was sweating. Anger at the whole world was growing inside of him. Suddenly, he grabbed Nijinsky by his white jacket and shook him in fury and desperation.
 “I want to tell you that everybody admires you,” screamed Silvanov into his face, “and if you want to find admirers, they are everywhere. Even in the back alleys.”
 Silvanov pointed at a woman standing nearby. They took  several steps down the alley. Nijinsky stopped several feet away from the woman and looked at her with his large troubled eyes. The woman looked back at Nijinsky, there was nothing else but sadness in her dark eyes. She had a bouquet of purple roses in her hands. This was a sure sign that she was one of the silent admirers. There were more women  with flowers in the same alley. Some of them were no older than seventeen. Some looked like city prostitutes and were dressed very much like night birds.
 “Perhaps you can explain something about what’s going on?” said Nijinsky to the woman in front of him. “What’s wrong with this crazy world?”
 The woman was paralyzed by the presence of her idol. She closed her eyes and leaned against the wall. Flowers slipped from her weak fingers and fell down her dress to her feet.
  “Flowers… Flowers fall before the body is taken out,” muttered the woman. “Flowers fall for glory, for victory, for death. All in the same pattern.”
 “Don’t listen to her!” exploded Silvanov. He snatched the  remaining flowers from the woman’s hand and threw them on the ground in irritation.
 “Nijinsky,” he said, turning to Vaslav, “she admires you, but she is simply unable to verbalize her admiration. It is quite predictable.”
 “Was it a prediction?” asked Nijinsky, and it seemed to Silvanov that Nijinsky spoke with nothing else but his large, sad eyes.
 Silvanov didn’t know what to say; he lowered his eyes, suddenly feeling helpless.
 Nijinsky turned and headed back toward the square. Silvanov took a cigarette from his pocket, lit it up and followed, shaking his head in dejection. He caught up with Nijinsky near the square.
 “Will you dance?” asked Silvanov puffing hurriedly.
 They entered the square that looked even uglier now. Even thicker fog descended on the square, reducing the visibility to almost nothing. Some broken chairs were burning near the wall. Onlookers set some furniture on fire. Burning furniture at night was a new fashion in Daggersville these days. Somebody lugged over an expensive table, apparently trying to help with decorating the show. A big cage with a pension-age parrot was on the table; a cut-glass vase  with magnificent white roses stood near the cage.
 Nijinsky stopped for a second and then moved forward with caution as though he was crossing a line. He made several steps in his inimitable fashion of a ballet genius. He turned towards Silvanov and the crowd with a childish smile. Somebody cheered him from the dark window on the second floor. Several bullets whizzed through the fog; their traces appeared like glowworms for a moment and disappeared. One bullet smashed the vase on the table spraying the wooden surface with broken glass and roses. One rose stuck to the cage with the parrot who shook his wet head in irritation.
 Nijinsky was overcome with a feeling of inspiration. Waves of music were surging through his head and he could bet he was seeing himself, his own ghost was dancing in the fog, asking him to follow. Nijinsky felt sick with desire to follow his mirage. He moved sideways with a distorted grace of a mad genius, pouring all of his troubled soul into his movements. Somebody turned on  the ghetto blusters. Music was blaring with distortions, bouncing off the walls on all sides of the square. Nijinsky was darting in and out of the fog. Silvanov was watching the convulsing shadow soaring through the fog. His eyes were wet with tears. Silvanov puffed on what was left of his cigarette and started another. He turned to a group of women nearby; they looked very much like Daggersville’s prostitutes. Most likely they were. It didn’t matter to him anyway.
 “I knew he would dance,” said Silvanov. ” I was sure of it. What can save this crazy world if not this?”
 He pointed into the fog where Nijinsky’s form was moving in a broken, nervous and painful pattern.
 Sniper bullets streaked through the square. They chipped the walls, spraying the square with wet and heavy dust. Torched chairs continued to burn near the entrance to the street.
 “Only you can save the world,” muttered Silvanov into the fog. He smiled like a content child.
 Meanwhile, Nijinsky was dancing with semi-closed eyes, succumbing to his creative ecstasy. Suddenly, he stopped and turned his head. His ballet shoes were all wet. He looked down and froze – he was standing in a pool of blood. The body of a dead soldier was lying face down two meters from him. Nijinsky looked at his white dancing shoes, all soaked with blood.
 “No,” whispered Nijinsky, “this Market Square is not for me.”                  
 He turned and walked towards the blazing chairs. He could see the short figure of Silvanov standing with some strange women at the entrance to the street. Nijinsky closed his eyes sensing that his shoes were leaving traces of blood on the pavement. He was silently praying that it would be his last show.
 Genghis  hated narrow stairways. His irritation was growing as all three of them were climbing up the stairs to the Painter’s apartment. Carrying the guns was the worst thing of all.
 Jesus clanked his clumsy grenade launcher against the banisters and was immediately reprimanded by Chef for making too much noise. Genghis smirked in the darkness, knowing that Jesus also hated the dark stairs.
 “Fuck you,” exploded Jesus in cantankerous whisper. “What should I do with this fucking launcher in order not to make noise, Signor? Should I shove it up my ass for a better sound isolation? Anything else, Mr. Leader?”
 Chef regretted that he had reproached Jesus, who was such a nag. However, he knew for sure that this building was mostly depopulated, like all buildings in Daggersville. Besides, those who decided to stay behind were not very curious about nocturnal noises on the stairs. Chef admired the factor of suddenness and that’s what he wanted to achieve with Painter. He took a pencil-sized flashlight from his pocket and turned it on. A tiny beam of light groped along the walls and doors. The walls were desecrated with obscenities, left here by several generations of disappointed residents.
 Genghis read a long desperate statement on the wall with his lips and smiled. It looked that the Mountainview Mental Hospital was not the only place that housed people with problems. Testimonies of multiple problems were on the walls everywhere.
 They stopped in front of a poorly painted door that had no number on. Chef looked around to make sure he was on the right floor and motioned to Genghis, who kicked the door with a faultless karate kick. The door flew open without much resistance. All of them jumped into the room.
 Painter was standing by his old and chipped mirror with a black marker pen in his hand. He turned his head in amazement and saw three strange civilians with guns. A dark-complexioned man with a toothbrush mustache gave him a fairly unreasonable smile and stepped forward. Painter briefly thought that some gross misunderstanding was taking place and turned to the mirror. He lifted his hand with a marker pen and looked at intruders once again.
 “What’s up, guys?” he asked casually. He was not frightened.
 “Greeting, Painter!” said Chef exuberantly with a wide smile.
 “I’m sorry, gentlemen,” said Painter, “I have nothing to do with this war. I don’t side with anyone in this conflict. You are at a wrong address.”
 Painter wrote a couple of words on the mirror and finished a long sentence.
 Two other civilians preferred to stand close to the door, while the mustached man was talking.
 “The address is right,” said Chef. “We are looking for you, Painter. You painted all the walls in Market Square for Nijinsky Shows, didn’t you?”
 “Nijinsky…” rumbled Genghis from the corner in a deep voice. “He will be one of us very soon,” he added after a short pause.
 “One of who?” asked the Painter and narrowed his eyes.
 These three really sounded funny. He couldn’t understand why they mentioned Nijinsky’s name. Genghis came up to the table and took the bottled candle with curiosity.
 “Theoretically, he already belongs to our movement,” said Genghis pensively and added: “Crusade for Sanity.”
 “We have everything to keep our movement going, Painter,” assured Chef. “There is always a place for people like you in our ranks. Our cause is right and we are invincible.”
 Painter threw the marker pen on the table and turned to the man.
 “Listen, there is always a justification in any war, especially when it is in the fog,” said the Painter calmly.
 “Few wars have a real Jesus.”
 Chef motioned towards a man who was still standing in the darkness of a tiny hallway. This one was dressed in something white. The man with long blond hair shook the launcher menacingly.
 “Do you recognize me?” asked Jesus. He was in a bad mood since a clash with Chef on the stairs.
 Painter squinted at him in order to see the man better.
  “Sure,” said the Painter with mock readiness. The name was beginning to ring a bell. “I recognize everybody. By the way, I heard about you on the news. You tossed a couple of grenades somewhere…”
 “I will kill those who refuse to recognize me,” interrupted Jesus, “those who are not with us are against us.”
 Chef stopped smiling and turned his head to Jesus.
 “Calm down, for Christ’s sake,” said Chef. “Calm down, Jesus.”
 Jesus hated Painter, though he couldn’t explain why. Jesus stepped forward and pointed his index finger at the Painter.
 “Do you recognize me, bastard?” screamed Jesus. “Do you recognize Crusade for Sanity?”
 “I recognize everything in this world, Jesus,” said Painter and smiled.
 “Bastard!” screamed Jesus.
 Chef looked at them like a well-wishing onlooker.
 “He doesn’t mean it,” said Chef soothingly. “He is what he is. The same with Genghis.”
 “Yes'” barked Genghis in a guttural tone.
 Genghis was looking at the Painter with his narrow eyes. He was stern and military-like. Chef moved closer and gestured with his hand. His gesticulation was quite eloquent.
 “I know that we will win and we need your help,” said Chef.
 “Where do I fit?” asked the Painter without any curiosity.
 “If the best managed to fit in, there is always a place for you,” remarked Chef sarcastically.
 Meanwhile, angry Jesus was pacing the room, looking at different things distractedly. His yet unprovoked hatred for Painter was growing.
 “I want to tell you,” continued Chef, “that we have a propaganda section headed by Goebels. It is not his true name, though. He was in our mental hospital for ten years. It is true that he has speech and hearing problems, but serves the purpose of our movement anyway. He thinks that he speaks, and we think that we believe. Isn’t it the same thing with all movements? But our purpose is different. Crusade for Sanity. We expect to win or die in our struggle.”
 “Who would acknowledge insanity in the Crusades?” asked the Painter. “Everybody says the same thing.”
 “Let me kill him,” said Genghis sharply, turning to the Chef. “I will make him suffer. He will die slowly and painfully.”
 “No, Genghis,” said Chef calmly.
 Genghis lowered his submachine-gun reluctantly.
 “What is that?” asked Jesus.
 He was standing by the mirror, staring  at long sentences written across it with a marker pen. Jesus found writing on glass quite funny.
 Painter came up to him like a museum guide and pointed at the mirror.
 “It is my diary,” said the Painter. “I write it every day and wipe it off in the morning.”
 “Look at that,” giggled Jesus. “Painter! You are one hell of a nut case!”
  Jesus leaned close to the mirror and started to read Painter’s diary out loud.
 “Simple things are the hardest to paint,” read Jesus with an effort. “I tried to paint a flower once, but one child asked me whether I can blow the petals of my painted flower away. I was puzzled. I didn’t know what to say. I could paint everything, but not the flowers with detachable petals. Soon I understood that, I was an eternal child running away from responsibilities in order to be natural. As natural as the smiling sun and oversized flowers nearby. So I began to learn simple things…”
 “Is it about this flower?” asked Genghis and pointed at the picture pinned to the wall.”
 Painter turned from the mirror to face Genghis. He looked at the picture that Genghis was studying with curiosity.
 “By the way,” he said, “here is my contribution to your movement.”
 “Really?” exclaimed Chef in disbelief.
 Painter nodded his head affirmatively.
 “Use this picture in your Crusade for Sanity,” he said. “You will need an emblem.”
 Genghis and Chef looked questioningly at Jesus, who narrowed his eyes thoughtfully.
 “I give my blessings,” said Jesus solemnly.
 Genghis unpinned the picture using his nails and rolled it up. Chef was elated by the sudden change of events, so he rubbed his hands with satisfaction.
 “And you were asking where you could fit?”  said Chef.
 Jesus came closer and approached his face to Painter’s right ear.
 “All you have to do is to believe in Crusade for Sanity like we all do,” he said in a confidential whisper.
 Jesus turned and went to the window that had a lot of glass missing. Jesus put the tube of his launcher on his right shoulder.
 “I give my blessings,” screamed Jesus and pressed the trigger.
 Yellow flame belched from the rear of the launcher and a rocket streaked across the dark square diving deep into the wall of the building across the square. Painter gasped for breath in the smoke-filled apartment. The smell of the booster charge was suffocating. Chef was screaming something into his right ear, but Painter could hardly hear the words.
 “We are out of here,” yelled Chef. “Thanks for the picture.”
 All three intruders went to the door and left the room like shadows. Painter was coughing on the smoke, feeling suffocated. He groped for the exit and went to the stairs. In a daze, he went all the way down to the ground floor and stumbled outside into the square. Painter gasped for fresh air and almost collapsed on the pavement. The square in front of him was totally empty. Contours of the buildings on the other side of the square were blurred by the omnipresent fog. The apartment hit by the missile on the other side of the square was ablaze.
 Painter looked up at his window. The smoke was billowing from his room out into the street. He knew it will be awhile before he would be able to return.
 “Simple things are hard to paint…” said the Painter and sat on the sidewalk.
 He pulled a crumpled pack of cigarettes from his pocket and clicked the lighter.
  The front line was very irregular in Daggersville these days. Close to the downtown it was snaking along the streets and lanes in a zigzag pattern that was hard to follow even on the strategic map, which was being constantly changed by the Military Council and its intelligence wing led by notorious Sergei Ivanov. Triggerhappy Jack was in charge of the principal sector of the Southern Defense line in the downtown area. As the most experienced man around, he preferred to act like a playing coach in these conflict. He was already involved in a couple of shoot-outs with the troops of the opposition with invariably savage success. Jack, despite his lengthy drug addiction and mental record, had his way with weapons and close-combat warfare. Now he was getting “another nest ready” in the apartment building on the southern rim of Greenhouse Square, which had no greenery whatsoever. No one in Daggersville could explain why it was named in such a way. In fact, Greenhouse Square was  all paved with intricately patterned cobblestones. Before the war, it was just another square.
 Soldiers were placing more sandbags on the windows of the ground floor. Triggerhappy Jack entered the room with a large potted palm tree. There were twenty potted plants on the floor, all stacked together. Civilians with guns squinted at THJ with contempt. It seemed that by dragging all these plants together, Jack wanted to justify in some bizarre manner the name of the square.
 “War Priest and Larson are inspecting the back yard. I saw them there a couple of minutes ago,” said one soldier to Jack.
 “Ah?” Jack turned to the soldier. Definitely, he had other things on his mind.
 “War Priest and Larson will be here shortly, Sir,” repeated the soldier.
 “So what? Should I pull my pants down and turn my ass to the door?” asked Triggerhappy Jack with a wry smile and laughed cynically. “Mind you business, sissy!”
 Jack extracted the scissors from his pocket and started to cut the plants. He looked shabby, gaunt and ageless in his old battle fatigues. His scratched helmet was dangling like a camping pot from his combat belt. Jack cut a bunch of greenery from the plants and shoved leafless stems aside.
 Nearby, two soldiers were installing a periscope, adjusting the eye-piece. It was a strange supplement to a battle-zone where visibility was hopeless both for armed and unarmed eyes. The periscope could hardly increase the visibility, unless it were an infrared night scope.
 Larson and War Priest walked silently along the corridor and stopped by the door. They studied the sandbagged room with  Triggerhappy Jack on the floor arranging his flowers. THJ was oblivious of everything.
 “What does he think he is doing?”  whispered War Priest to Larson. “This guy is really strange. Looks a little too archival for a war zone.”
 Larson leaned closer trying hard not to be overheard by the soldiers and Jack.
 “Actually, he is the most experienced commander in this sector,” said Larson. “I checked his past record and I have to tell you that he is worth an army.”
 War Priest studied the man skeptically for a moment and said:
 ” I know I know…I signed his appointment. Doesn’t look very fresh to me… Was he ever on drugs?”
 “Show me a professional soldier who can qualify for a monk,” said Larson evasively. “Jack is very reliable, and he is in charge of the whole defense line here.”
 Meanwhile, Triggerhappy Jack was dutifully cutting verdure on the potted palm. The top of tree was swishing back and forth.
 “He was in a dozen armed conflicts,” added Larson. “You can’t ignore this experience in modern warfare. Besides he was in Vietnam.”
 Larson lifted his chubby finger to emphasize the meaning of what he said.
 “I knew that,” said the Priest curtly. “Vietnam… Very reassuring… very reassuring…”
 War Priest nodded his head, agreeing with Larson. They passed the open door and continued down the corridor. More soldiers were entering the building with machine-guns and sandbags. Larson and War Priest exited into the back yard.
 “Any new reports?” asked the War Priest.
 Larson preferred not to hurry with answers.
 “We had casualties this morning,” said Larson and looked at the shabby walls of the building.
 Daggersville had a reputation for ornate facades and shabby back yards. Larson smiled with arrogance, thinking about Stockholm. A junkie could hardly find a cigarette stub in the street there. Stockholm was not a place for scavengers. He wasn’t homesick, though. Actually, his neat home was hundreds of miles away from Stockholm on the highway next to Helsinborg with the rocks of Denmark looming in the distance some twenty miles away across the strait. The place had too much boredom and peace compared to Daggersville.
 “I am afraid there is a sniper in the neighborhood,” added Larson after a spell of reminiscences. “Besides, I have to report that the Nijinsky Show creates a lot of problems. Market Square is not a very secure place for the performances. I have to inform you that Painter working for the show looks like a spy to me.”
 “Oh, what can I do!” exclaimed War Priest. “I hate snipers. Shut down the show. No!” He raised his hand. “Let the show go on, and maybe the sniper will get one of them. It will teach them a lesson.”
 They walked to the parked jeep. An empty bottle of scotch was leaning against the front wheel. Somebody wanted to make a  statement and left a subtle message for the high command.
 Larson kicked the bottle, set it rolling across the dirty back yard. The bottle crashed against the wall.
 “Sick, sick,” said the Priest, he didn’t care about the bottle at all. “I think we should suspend the show indefinitely. And do something about this fucking sniper if you think he is causing so much trouble.
 They clambered into the vehicle. The jeep started and swerved into the narrow street. Larson spat on the wall from the speeding jeep, leaving an elongated foamy mark on the mossy bricks.
 It was dark in Greenhouse Square as Triggerhappy Jack  looked outside with caution. Somebody was firing into the darkness two blocks away. Jack new that the gunner didn’t have any specific target. Somebody down there was scared shitless and was firing at every sound and shadow, or perhaps simply into the colorless sky. He heard a lot of firing like this in the jungle. Jack knew that on top of baptism of fire there had to be the baptism of darkness. He didn’t give a shit anymore. At times he wondered with pleasure whether there was a bullet somewhere in this world that had to get him. He felt very strange. Jack flicked his eyes left and right  and turned to the soot-smeared soldiers near the adjacent window. They looked back feeling a little uncomfortable in the same room with a weirdo, who had flowers and leaves sticking everywhere from his combat gear and helmet. Jack took a bunch of geraniums and tucked them in the space between the sandbags. He touched the flowers on his helmet and rejoiced at the touch.
 A young soldier sat behind the sandbag wall on the floor and lit a cigarette. As it was the case with many officers, no one in the room knew the rank of Triggerhappy Jack. To them he was another sergeant in command of the firing position.
 The young soldier winked at Jack with youthful arrogance.
 “Hi there,” he said and puffed on his smoke. “What’s the purpose of turning this place into a flower shop, man? Do you think it helps?”
 Another soldier entered with a long ammunition belt. He heard the joke and cackled. The army is a place where people are always ganging up on each other with unexplainable irregularity.
 “We want to have enough flowers for a big-time funeral here,” said the soldier with ammunition belt. “Some luxury for the war dead.”
 All of a sudden Jack threw a bunch of green  twigs on the floor and jumped to the first soldier. He grabbed him, threw him against the sandbag wall and pressed the gun to his chin. Other soldiers became ashen-pale.
 “You are talking to Triggerhappy Jack, puppy,” yelled Jack in a sizzling whisper. “I was in all wars, man, and I know what should be done about the wars. This is camouflage, man, and this camouflage, man, saves a lot of lives. I was in the jungle ten years with gooks crawling around like spiders. And I survived, man, because I had enough camouflage and I was not afraid to look like a Christmas tree without toys. And now, shut up and  forget your fucking jokes when good-old Triggerhappy Jack is around. You got it? You got it? You got it, son-of-a-bitch?”
 Triggerhappy Jack shoved the gun to the chin of the soldier, scratching his skin. The scared soldier agreed by nodding his head rapidly. He was paralyzed by the sudden outburst. Triggerhappy Jack released him and calmly went back to his place as though nothing happened. He took more geraniums from the floor and spread them evenly on top of the sandbag. Three soldiers were sitting on the floor with the tips of their cigarettes glowing and losing ashes periodically. Soon the last cigarette went out in the darkness. Nobody uttered a single word.
 War Priest couldn’t figure out what the hell he would do with the second orphanage. Originally, it was also intended as yet another kamikaze school. But time was running out, with hostilities getting hotter in the downtown area, and casualties increasing from both sides. There were not enough qualified instructors.
 Before the outbreak of hostilities, the second city orphanage was a poor institution barely existing on charity year in and year out. It was a place Daggersville kept away from the eyes of the world that admired the idyllic urban environment of Daggersville. Housed in a raucous eclectic building, the second city orphanage was an ugly piece of architecture. Instead of leaving unwanted things to a fairly expensive garbage service, the residents of Daggersville preferred to dump dirty socks, used condoms and legless chairs in the cat-ridden backyard of the orphanage. At times, the orphanage was a convenient place and much advertised  charity project  –  an effective substitute for garbage service.
 War Priest was looking uneasily at the dilapidated houses of the East Side, the area he visited very infrequently before the civil war. Next to him, Larson was looking at the grayness of facades with a placid Scandinavian smile. Several days ago he dumped tons of ammo and guns in the classrooms of the orphanage.
 “Should I use them for popular militia or something?” asked the War Priest. “We have no time at all for training.”
 “Put some senior kids in charge of a broken window and say where to shoot,” answered Larson, as though he had a ready formula for situations like this from his previous experience. “The most important thing will be to teach them not to shower our lines with friendly fire. You know, this kids can be deadly sometimes. At some places, they can plug the streets by shooting from the windows, just keeping opposition at bay.”
 Maurice fired his machine-gun at an empty yellow car parked in the side street. There was no purpose in shooting; Maurice was just making the use of his machine-gun.
 “We are talking, Maurice,” objected Larson from the back seat.
 Maurice made a face and spat over his head into the sky. Daisy was driving on with a wooden face of a dedicated chauffeur.
 They drove past several armored vehicles of the multinational  force. There was a chalk picture of a penis on the side of the tank. Boredom or sabotage, thought Larson and yawned dreamily. He was missing a good sleep.
 Daisy U-turned the jeep and stopped not far from the entrance.
 A washed-out sign next to the door read CITY ORPHANAGE No. 2. War Priest got out of the jeep and saw that the rest were prepared to follow him.
 “Thank God, it’s the last orphanage,” said the Priest with a smile. “You don’t have to follow me. I will give the kids a brief lecture on the purpose of war. We are way over budget with training anyway. I think there will be no special training for the Second City Orphanage. I think this lecture will not take more than 30 minutes.”
 Larson sat back, happy with the comfort of not getting into this mess again.
 “My men have already brought weapons and ammunition into the building. I can help you if you want…”
 War Priest waved him off, still annoyed by the necessity to play his part to the hilt.
 “Don’t worry…. Enjoy the fresh air,” he looked up, “if it’s enjoyable.”
 Maurice shivered behind his machine-gun.
 “This fog is driving me crazy,” said Maurice with disgust. “Merde! I wonder when it will end.”
 War Priest was already at the entrance to the orphanage. He turned to the jeep with a smile.
 “Take it easy, Maurice,” said the Priest. “There is nothing I can do about it. It is weather and God is running it.”
 Three of them watched as the War Priest opened the door and entered the building. Daisy was sad that he wouldn’t see the orphanage boys, like it was the other day. He missed his little innocent pleasures in the time of war.
 Children were sitting in the large auditorium of the orphanage. The walls were displaying envious propaganda effort, conducted by Larson and Maurice. Blue-gray walls were wallpapered with military posters, mass-manufactured at the start of the hostilities. It was hard to say whether the posters worked. One obvious thing was that the posters were unavoidable, no matter where you went or tried to look.
 War Priest was standing by the wall with the hottest propaganda slogans on: GIVE YOUR PENNY FOR THE WAR EFFORT, HOLD YOUR TONGUE – THE ENEMY IS EVERYWHERE, BEWARE OF ENEMY SPIES. The pictures on the posters emphasized the statements underneath with exaggerated precision. Vigilant soldiers with bulging eyes were pointing fingers at the viewer. Sneaky spies with bold heads were pressing oversized monster ears to the doors. The spies had to look very disgusting, so they were painted purple. Larson termed this color as the color of strangulation. He thought he was a great joker and a very educated one.
 The children staring at the War Priest were obviously unimpressed with posters. They suspected that posters had to perform some hazy role in this war, so the kids felt uneasy about them. Orphans are traditionally suspicious by nature of their predicament. All of them were dressed in gray prison-type uniforms. Their heads were shaved. All kids had numbers on small white rectangles sewn on top of their left breast pockets. Kids were of varying ages and races — all of them sullen and uniform. The objects that were arising their curiosity were spread on the tables and on the floor. These were the weapons with a simple meaning: To kill. All the kids had a lot of grudges that were aching to be released. Their senses correctly suggested that the weapons would release a lot of frustrations, once discharged or exploded. Kids in the front rows licked their lips without opening their mouths.
 The lecture was underway for at least one hour, but the kids knew it was a way of payment for a chance to put their hands on the weapons.
 “You are in this orphanage to learn many things,” continued War Priest. “All other schools are obsolete to the point of obscenity. In this school you will be majoring in the art of war.”
 Kids began to feel pretty excited. That sounded more like it.
 “Yeah!” exploded the kids.
 War Priest sighed with relief; this was the first time the kids of this drab orphanage managed to show at least some enthusiasm. For a long while, he felt here like an actor in front of hostile and tense audience.
 “You remember war games as well as you remember yourself,” said Priest walking along the wall with grotesque posters. “And in the wars with plastic guns and tin soldiers, you can become multiple heroes. We are gonna deal with real things and real heroes in this war. This former orphanage will be your playground and your training center for peace-loving war games. Remember, there can be no peace if you have no war.”
 War Priest paused to let the significance of what he said  sink into their shaved heads.
 “We, the leaders of the nation, understand that children are our most valuable asset on the battlefield. That is why we are here. That is why I am making this personal sacrifice today, removing myself from the battlefield to train you in the arts and crafts of modern warfare. Today, my young charges, we shall return to the war. We will end all wars, and we shall do just that! We will end the War in the Fog!”
 “Yeah!” roared the kids. There were more voices joining the militant choir.
 “Those who have put our city to this test will regret that day they conceived this naive plan,” said  War Priest shaking his fist in the air.
 “Who is the enemy?” piped in a kid in an oversized uniform.
 Other children hooted and whistled at him reproachfully.
 War Priest feigned a generous father, explaining a Biblical truth. He made a meaningful pause.
 “Everyone! Everyone who is against us! And don’t you ever forget that! You can see your enemy in the war. But I’m telling you — it is best to see your enemy for the first time when he is already dead!”
  Kids looked at each other, trying to digest a demagogic statement.
 “How about peace?” asked the same child. “Is there any chance of peace?”
 War Priest was getting annoyed with the kid.
 “Those who don’t recognize the obvious fact of war are also our enemies,” said  the Priest and moved between the desks looking at children with a benign smile. “Would you like to be a winner? Do you know the feeling of victory? It is unbelievable!” he rolled his eyes, as though impersonating the victory itself. “It is like having an ice-cream from Mom when your throat is sore. It is like fooling your teacher and making him believe in your lies.”
 Children shifted excitedly on their seats. The whole idea sounded pretty familiar. Some of them coughed and whistled showing their approval.
 “Do we get live ammo?” asked another kid.
 “Of course. One of the first things you should learn is that these are no toys; these are weapons that can make all your dreams come true.”
 War Priest rocked the table with the samples of different weapons and ammunition. The whole table was covered with Uzis, M-14, M-16, AKM-47, SKS automatic rifles and scores of  World War II weapons. Handles of revolvers and automatic pistols were sticking from shoe boxes stacked on the same table. A rocket launcher with a digital scope was resting on red velvet to show how expensive and important this killing device was.
 War Priest lifted his hands to emphasize a very important part of his battle sermon.
 “Come over here, kids,” he said motioning towards the table with ammunition and guns. “Play with these toys to your heart’s content. Soon you will be putting them toys to good use. Right?”
 Some of the kids stood up and moved towards the tables with animal curiosity, their fingers itching with desire to touch the forbidden fruits of death. More followed.
 “Feel yourself at home,”  encouraged the Priest. “It is  your legitimate home, where you have to feel like genuine masters.”
 A pale boy of eleven with pale-blue eyes came up to the War Priest and looked into his eyes. While other kids were stripping the weapons, this child was standing in front of the Priest, making him feel uneasy.
 “Hi!” said the Priest to release the tension.
 “Hi,” answered the kid without any enthusiasm.
 “What’s your name?” asked the Priest with a phony smile. He didn’t care less about the name of this fatherless and motherless brat.
 “Victor,” whispered the child, staring at the Priest with his light-blue eyes.
 “Look at this, Victor. Isn’t it great?”
 War Priest gave him an anti-aircraft launcher, which was almost Victor’s  size. Red velvet on the table showed the impression that looked very much like a caveman picture of the launcher if cavemen of the old had launchers to paint. Generosity of the Priest was easy to explain. This kid with his pale-blue stare was getting on his nerves. Besides, War Priest had to come back to the Military Council shortly. Hopefully, Maurice would continue with basic instruction for the kids tomorrow at noon. Looking at these shaved kids, he had less and less belief that something serious would come out of it. After all it was not a kamikaze school. Kids here looked like half-wits, conceived by half-wits and abandoned by half-wits as cheap and disposable product of their rudimentary passions. He looked around with sincere sadness. Kids were working on the guns and ammunition belts like ants. And indeed, they looked like ants trying to take beetles of war apart. There was nothing but instinctive curiosity that prompted them to understand the essence of the killing machines.
 Victor, meanwhile, was silently studying the anti-aircraft launcher, pressing the buttons on its side one after another. The digital scope came on with a hushed beep.   “Turn it off,” said the War Priest and took the launcher from his hands. He rummaged through the contents of the shoe box on the table and found a 9mm handgun there. He stretched the pistol to the child and moved to the door, trying not be to noticed by the kids, who, truthfully speaking, didn’t care less about the Priest since the moment they got their hands on the weapons and ammo.
 They were too preoccupied with weapons, battle helmets and ammunition clips. There was no one around to prevent them from doing it. Some kids were clicking the clips in with professional expertise, savoring the savagery harbored in every bullet. Some of them were already leaving the auditorium with their hands full. No one really paid any attention to the first burst of a submachine-gun down in the corridor. There was nothing surprising in the sound. It was nothing else, but a minor target practice using the pictures of the city dignitaries, which were hated so much by these  claustrophobic kids. Kids of charity…
 The battle was already underway for more than two hours. Nobody in the orphanage could explain how it started. It started as unexpectedly as paper pellet duels used to start in the class-room. Perhaps, somebody fired too closed to somebody. Or there were long-standing grudges from the past. Three hundred kids of the second city orphanage were very well armed by the time the first bullet hit home after hitting all the walls, photographs, busts of philosophers, pickled embryos and stuffed animals in the biology class.
 They were not fighting a cause or anything meaningful. They were simply fighting each other by small groups, sticking together on the basis of old friendship, cronyhood or classhood or any other “hood.” After all, War Priest instructed  them well about peace-loving war games. No one interfered with their testing of the guns for several hours. Somehow, all this happened without any obvious reason or provocation.
 All four floors of the orphanage were reverberating with gunfire. Thuds of exploding hand grenades rocked the building.  The orphanage was shedding glass and stucco. Tongues of fire were licking the walls as they escaped  from the smashed windows on the second floor. Junior kids playing, mostly by themselves, proved to be the deadliest contingent of the game, hiding in lockers and broom sheds, crouching behind toilet seats and bookcases. They had less  instinctive fear. One kid was going through a round of hiccups in a class of physics with seven of his adversaries stiffening on the floor. He was getting them one after another from behind the book-case with his reliable Uzi gun. Somebody stitched the alabaster wall from the other side, without entering the room. Now the kid was hiccuping on two bullets in his abdomen. He wanted to scream very much, but every time he was about to do it, hiccups were blocking the way.
 There were dead and wounded in every classroom and in every corridor. Nobody cared to attend to the wounded or finish them off.
 Two kids were fighting successfully from behind the crumbling wall. They scored six times and now they could see the results of their scores down the corridor. One “score” was crawling towards them with an animal moan. He was trailing blood and guts. The kids were considering a spectacular way of finishing him off. A kid with soot-covered face was rolling a grenade in his hands, trying to figure out how it worked. There were several wires and buttons on its handle. Somewhere in the middle there had to be a safety pin. His partner in peace-loving war games was really annoyed with the process.
 “Gi’me the fucking grenade,” said the kid with a pronounced Irish accent and pulled the grenade to himself.
 Somebody screamed inhumanly from the classroom. Chairs were seen burning through the open door.
 They were sitting behind the wall, pulling on a pin on grenade’s handle one after another.
 “Don’t ye fucking mess with fucking gre…”
 A yellow blast of explosion collapsed the wall and shredded the kids.
 Victor saw the explosion from behind the corner. A twisted battle helmet of Patrick, the Irish kid, dangled-dangled along the corridor to his feet. From inside, the helmet looked like a dirty camping pot with burned stuff sticking to the walls.
 Victor used up all five clips in his 9 mm pistol and now was wandering around the school, miraculously unhurt. Suddenly, the place was amazingly quiet. He left his corner cautiously and moved down the corridor that was slowly accumulating smoke from the burning furniture. The kid on his right was thrashing in the last throws of agony. There was no firing anymore. Victor had different sounds traveling through his head, like a sophisticated stereo effect. He felt sick and scared. The battle helmet was pressing hard on his head; he took it away and banged it against the wall.
 He felt like puking from one end of the devastated corridor to the other. No one around was alive. He went to the ground floor trying hard not to step on the bodies of the kids on the stairway.
  “Hey!” he yelled from the stair. His voice traveled up and down, bouncing off the bullet-pocked walls. He spent here nine out of his eleven years and he knew where the sound of his voice reached.
 He went into the lobby of the ground floor and looked around. His chin was trembling uncontrollably.
 “It’s over, guys,” he said weakly. “I am telling you, it’s over. Get up and stop frightening me.”
 The guys perhaps though otherwise –  at least five of them were on the floor of the lobby.
 “Get up for fuck’s sake,” yelled Victor, lifting his eyes to the ceiling, where a couple of tasteless cupids soared around a painted wreath. One of the cupids had half of his head missing. There were more patterned bullet holes on the whitewash.
 The echo of his voice died down, and he stood there listening to the sound of crumbling debris. A blazing desk in the hallway gave a loud crack.
  “How are you today, kid?” greeted somebody behind his back.
 The voice froze Victor in his tracks; he turned slowly and saw a man in a dirty white apron. First, he thought about running away, but there was no strength left in his feet. They felt clumsy and heavy.
 Chef approached the kid with a double-sweet smile glued to his face. He retrieved a crumpled pastry from his pocked and stretched it to the child.
 “Don’t worry,” said the Chef. “I am a harmless crazy man. How come you are so scared?”
 Victor was unable to utter a single sound. His chin was still shaking. He pointed toward a shapeless form of a dead boy nearby, as though trying to explain. He opened the mouth to speak, but to no avail.
 “I see that everybody is cooked,” said he Chef with a smile. “I am not surprised. Oh, I’d be the last man to be surprised.”
 Chef chuckled and looked at the pastry in his hand. The child was obviously uninterested in the thing. Chef tossed the pastry behind his back and smiled again. He shook his shoulders like an actor in the cheap opera and began to sing a popular opera tune. He stopped his singing abruptly and looked at the child with his dark olive-shaped eyes.
 “I see that everybody is cooked,” confirmed the Chef in conspiratorial whisper.
 “I thought we were playing a game,” nodded Victor. “I didn’t want this.”
 Chef danced with his hips and clapped his hands twice.
 “Things happen, my son,” he stopped dancing. “When you start cooking, you never know what the end result might be. Nobody is a perfect chef. Even me.”
 He made a chef gesture with his fingers and closed one eye. He started to pace around the child, like a tethered mule. Victor began to feel dizzy.
 “Nobody wanted this war in the fog,” continued the Chef still walking, “but it happened somehow. What a mystery of life!”
 It was hard to say whether he was speaking to the child or to himself.
 “You don’t want to do it, but it happens somehow. I wish it had been the same with my cooking. You don’t think about it, but you do it anyway. Grandissimo!”
 He resumed his singing, but suddenly stopped and looked at the child. Victor stepped toward the cook and stumbled against the battle helmet with a couple of bullet holes in it. He felt encouraged by the chef’s statement. He wiped the tears from his smeared face with his torn sleeve and said.
 “I didn’t want it. I thought it would be fun. We all thought it would be fun.”
 Chef studied the face of a dead child nearby with his flashlight. It was already getting dark. The devastated orphanage was beginning to look spooky and uninhabitable.
 “All of them are cooked,” confirmed the Chef, moving the flashlight to Victor’s face.
 “Why do you say ‘cooked’?” asked Victor in a frightened voice.
 “It is my way of saying things. I am a pastry cook with strange dreams and visions.”
 Chef turned his flashlight off and sat down on the floor.
 “What kind of cookbook can you write in this war?” asked Chef and gave Victor a wink. “Accept what you have and use it — they used to teach us in the cooking school. The same applies to life. Accept whatever is given. That probably means that raw materials of  war are dispensable, disposable or something like that.”
 Chef took the battle helmet from the floor and tossed it away, set it rolling across the dusty floor.
 “Is anybody alive?” asked Chef with indifference and stood up.
 “No, no one is alive…” said Victor weakly.
 Chef lifted and dropped his hand in a gesture of hopelessness.
 “That means that everybody is cooked,” sighed the Chef with mock regret.
 The boy nodded affirmatively. Chef patted him on the shoulder with sympathy.
 “That’s okay; such are the rules of this game. You can join the club. Free admission, by the way.”
 “What kind of club do you mean?” asked Victor. The aproned man was bewildering him.
 Chef jumped in place and lifted his hands theatrically, frightening Victor even more.
 “The club of people like us,” exclaimed Chef. “Madmen House. Everything is permitted to members of our club. Nothing to weep about.”
 Chef took Victor by the hand and led him through the littered lobby to the door. Near the door, Victor looked back into the perspective of the corridor. There were dozens of dark shapes on the painted floor. He knew what these things were.
 “Come on,” said the Chef in a different voice and pulled Victor’s hand in irritation.
 They opened the door and stepped into the city street. It was almost dark by now. Meanwhile, a powerful safety lever on a hand grenade was pushing against the fingers of a kid on the third floor. The boy was killed instantly from the back as he was ready to throw his grenade into the classroom door. Since then, the safety lever of the grenade was attempting to pry itself free, using power of the spring in the handle. The spring was holding the sharp pin, ready to ram into the back of the fuse. Suddenly, the lever sprung free between the ebony white knuckles, setting grenade on its home stretch.
 Chef and Victor were at least 50 yards down the street when the window on the third floor of the orphanage belched yellow flame. They stopped and looked back at the window which now looked like a chimney.
 “What was that?” asked Victor.
 Chef looked down at him and gave him a long and uncomfortable stare.
 “The timer on the stove is off… This is the way to finish cooking, my young friend,” said the Chef and added. “No more questions today. You got it?”
 Victor nodded dumbly.
     “Perfecto!” said the Chef and pulled the child along the narrow street. He knew  that he would bring a big surprise to the Mountainview Hospital.
 Reporter couldn’t believe his luck. He was the first to hear about this bizarre massacre at the second city orphanage. He knew that the War Priest had some intentions for the school, but obviously nothing like this. Reporter was alerted by a phone call at the sandbagged media hotel close to the City Hall of Daggersville. He was told that the orphanage was on fire and there was a battle going on inside   for at least two hours. It was already dark when he managed to find his new cameraman, Rudy, who was getting ready for his next day at the bar of the hotel in a company of minor media people. Together, they rushed to the orphanage, with the curfew already in affect. Therefore, they had to show their glowing media pass at every roadblock. Roadblocks began to disappear close to the outskirts of the city. Reporter thought he still felt safer while stumbling against the roadblocks in the downtown area. On the outskirts, close to the second orphanage everything was quite dark and ominous. Reporter knew that the windshield could explode any minute on impact of bullets. Stranded cars were used for target practice by bored snipers in Daggersville.
 He saw the orphanage from afar, although it was quite dark already. The fire was alive on the second floor of the building. There wasn’t any military presence around. They waited several minutes in the parked car, looking at the squat and totally nondescript building. Did they intend to house it with orphans when they built it almost a century ago? Reporter mused over the “interior” he might encounter in the building. Entering it during the shoot-out was a totally insane thing to do. That was like asking for as a very big trouble.
 Rudy was selecting cassettes for filming. He looked  like a commando slowly getting ready for action of killing or being killed. He was too tense. Finally, there wasn’t any shooting in the building or around – not a single sound at all.
 “Come on in and  let’s get it filmed for the history,” said Reporter with a big yawn. He wanted to tease Rudy with his insolent yawn, though Rudy didn’t react at all.
 Inside, the orphanage was one big studio set of a battlefield. Reporter didn’t remember seeing anything like that in all years of his war journalism. Furniture on fire was providing light for this grotesque theater of war. Shadows of casualties were reminiscent of slaughtered dwarfs in the kingdom of bold dwarfs who fought and failed in some hazy dwarfy cause.
 They crossed the lobby of the ground  floor and tiptoed along the corridor also covered with bodies and remains of a savage, almost incomprehensible warfare. There were no wounded, because they didn’t hear a single groan. Spent cartridges and battle helmets were everywhere. The whole scene suggested that kids were well armed for this insane game.
 Rudy stumbled against a tiny body and cursed. He lowered the camera and looked at the Reporter.
 “What do you think happened?”
 Reporter felt quite irritated. He felt fear creeping through him like a wounded snake and he didn’t like it.
 “If I had known what happened here,” he said, “I would have written a story back in the hotel and went to sleep without getting to this shitty place.”
 A desk on the right was burning brightly. A poster on the wall was badly scorched by flames. A dead body of the boy sat leaning against the wall next to the desk – his eyes open and lifeless.
 “Look here,” said the Reporter. “What a great shot!”
 The cameraman lifted his camera and lowered it in indecision.
 “No, this is too brutal, man,” said Rudy.
 “It’s our job,” snarled Reporter with irritation. “I’m not a fucking politician or an hysterical man in the crowd to call it brutal.”
 Rudy didn’t say anything and began to film the boy from the knee level. The eye of the camera was absorbing the scene without emotions. It was designed to be totally  emotionless.
 Rudy stood up and pointed at the scorched poster on the wall. A soldier, darkened by flames, was pointing a finger at the viewer asking him to be vigilant in the time of war.
 “It’s up to you,” said Cameraman, “I would rather film this. I think it can make a great shot…”
 “Great shot!” exploded Reporter with contempt. “Shut up and do what you are told to do…”
 “Do you think that anybody would believe that it was an accident, that all this happened just by itself?” asked Rudy.
 Reporter moved back to the lobby – they had enough material for a three-minute report.
 “So, what do you think?” asked the Cameraman.
  Reporter was already back to the lobby, he stepped on something soft and moved back in disgust. To his amazement, it was nothing else but a squashed pastry. It was high time to get out of here. The place was nothing else but a huge morgue three stories high. He knew it would be very much the same on the third floor, too.
 “Listen,” he screamed back to the cameraman who was still standing in the dimly lit corridor, “our job is to film. The rest is the task of the propaganda department and editors. Let’s get out of here.”
 They exited from the building and moved to the car parked behind the low fence. Traces of medium shells were crossing the sky in the West End. Reporter couldn’t explain  who was in control of that part of town. From what he understood, this had to be an eventful night. Nights like this had to be spend best in some shelter or in the basement bar of the media hotel. He turned the car around in the narrow street and sped back to the downtown, trying hard not to look in the rearview mirror.
 Triggerhappy Jack felt very elated in his stronghold on the ground floor facing the huge square. He felt very much in his own element now, leaning against a sandbag, looking into the night outside. Night was a sneaky time when games of war had to begin. He smiled and closed his eyes. His overexposed memories, weathered by relentless time and enhanced by drugs, carried him back to the jungle war when he was leaning like this against the sandbag on the elevation 101.9. There were coils of barbed wire all around. And a body of a guerrilla was twitching on the barbed wire fence some fifty yards away. This tiny Asian man screamed at times; Jack knew what he was screaming about. All people with three bullet holes in their belly sing the same song. Triggerhappy Jack didn’t grant him this death wish. Frogs were singing in unison in the swamps nearby, ready to get silent when men preferred to talk with their guns.
 Jack opened  his eyes and looked into darkness. Flowers and leaves were wilting right in front of him on his sandbag. There were three soldiers in the room, each having a window of his own to shoot. Seven types of different weapons and ammunition were evenly spread on the sandbags and near the walls. A tracer shell soared high above the square humming a death sentence to whoever would dare to be present at the end of its flight. In the fog the trace looked like bluish fluorescence left by the night-time speedboat in the Southern seas.
 A soldier moved to the wall behind his bag and tripped on an open case with hand-grenades. Grenades clicked treacherously.
 “Fuck you, puppy,” whispered Triggerhappy Jack, without turning his head.
 The soldier approached slowly and looked at the fogged out square.
 “It is so quiet tonight, sir,” said the soldier.
 He was close to high school age and looked very skinny.
 “Don’t call me, ‘sir’,” snarled Jack. “Call me Jack. It’s war, man,” he turned his head to the soldier. “As long as you fight like a US Marine, I am Jack to you. You wet your pants, man, and you’re gonna deal with SIR!”
  Triggerhappy Jack laughed dryly and unbuckled his belt flask with whiskey. He swigged whiskey from the flask and offered it to the soldier.
 “What’s in there, Jack?”
 “Cat piss!” chuckled Triggerhappy Jack. “Do you think I will drink anything but good-old whiskey if I can afford it?”
 The kid gulped the drink dutifully and stiffened, trying to suppress the vomit.
 Jack patted the kid with a pat strong enough to break the back of a mule.
 The kid’s legs buckled, but he held his ground.
 “O’right, kid. We are in the jungle, man,” said Jack. “Everything should be shared. The only thing that you cannot share is the last bullet when you are encircled. Right?”
  The soldier returned the flask, feeling a gratifying numbness in his feet.
 “Yes, Jack,” he said.
 Another soldier came up to them, crouching slightly, visualizing all night scopes in the world trained on him. Triggerhappy Jack nodded at him encouragingly.
 “I want to tell something you all have to know,” said Jack with a John Waynish slur. “There is nothing like a quiet war. If the night is quiet, that means that your enemy moves quietly outside. I know these Gooks.”
 The third soldier looked over the sandbags nervously. He studied the square outside as though making sure that nothing and nobody is lurking in the darkness.
 “I know these Gooks,” said Triggerhappy Jack. “You bet, I know these Gooks. They can come anytime, man…”
 John Daisy sneaked into the room and came to Triggerhappy Jack with a weak military salute. Jack was quite surprised by the presence of the Priest’s bodyguard.
 “Hi, Flower of Love,” said Jack making a very sour face. “How are you?”
 Jack knew that both bodyguards of the War Priest were queer and loved to show his contempt for both of them on any smallest occasion.
 Daisy seemed to ignore the sarcasm.
 “I have an important report from the Military Council, Sir.”
 “What is it?” inquired Jack indifferently.
 “War Priest authorized me to inform you that you should be double careful in view of recent developments…”
 “Bullshit!” exploded Triggerhappy Jack. “What do you think this is?”
 He pointed his long tobacco stained finger at the  ammunition near the wall. Jack moved his head nervously — flowers and leaves on his helmet quivered with him. Jack looked like an actor starring in a poorly directed commercial for a flower shop.
 Daisy looked questioningly at all these flowers, leaves and branches decorating the place. He was trying hard to catch the meaning of this flower parade, but couldn’t.
 “Why are you staring at me?” asked Triggerhappy Jack contemptuously. 
  Daisy was still looking in puzzlement at the vegetation on Jack’s uniform. Triggerhappy Jack pointed at his helmet and grinned.
 “I don’t think I’ve got daisies here,” he said.
 Everybody, except for Daisy, laughed hysterically. John Daisy got pale – one couldn’t be more obvious in trying to insult him.
 “War Priest ordered me to deliver this report on the new developments in this sector,” said Daisy, trying hard to behave as though nothing happened.
 Triggerhappy Jack slapped Daisy on the shoulder in excessive camaraderie, regretting that he couldn’t knock the faggot’s teeth out.
 “Consider that you delivered the message, Daisy-boy,” said Jack with a smirk, his yellow eyes reflecting his wish.
 “Fucking alcoholic,” thought Daisy, feigning absolute composure.
 Suddenly, an explosion rocked the house. The square outside the window went alive with multi-colored firecrackers. Strings of tracer bullets were racing to the windows, bouncing off the walls, plopping into the sandbags and human flesh.
 Triggerhappy Jack turned sharply to the window.
 “I warned you, guys!” he yelled through the noise. “I know these Gooks like nobody else. Good old Triggerhappy Jack knows these bastards!!!”
 All soldiers and Triggerhappy Jack jumped back to their machine-guns and started firing into the darkness. The square outside exploded with new chains of deadly firecrackers. Yellow explosions of hand grenades were appearing for a split second, spreading a deadly rain of shrapnel around. Jack was firing with crazed pleasure, turning the barrel of his German-made MG-42 left and right. Spent cartridges were projected high towards the ceiling. The room was already littered with glittering shell cases. A boyish soldier on the right stopped firing and began to slide down the sandbag, leaving a dark-read trace on the fabric.
 “Hit ‘m, boys! Give it to the fuckers!” yelled Triggerhappy Jack between the bursts. “Give’em the taste of hell!”
 He reached for the stored ammunition on the floor and tossed two grenades through the window and ducked, waiting for the explosion. He quickly glanced into the room, and saw Daisy who was crouching in the corner near the door. Daisy was flinching at the sounds of gunfire.
 “Take the gun, you fucking faggot and fight like a man!” yelled Triggerhappy Jack.
 “No, no…” Daisy screamed back tearfully.
 Triggerhappy Jack jumped to Daisy, kicked him in the stomach and grabbed him viciously. He stared into his face with his insane yellow eyes and banged unresisting Daisy several times against the wall.
 “What do you mean, no? What do you mean, son-of-a-bitch?”
  Daisy was looking back at him, terrified, licking at his bluish lips.
 “I was not taught to kill,” said Daisy hoarsely. “How can I kill when all my life I studied in a Catholic school? They were telling me — love your enemy…I can’t do that. It is my upbringing!”
 Triggerhappy Jack was angry beyond words; he didn’t remember himself more mad than he was now. He pressed Daisy with his right knee to the floor and pulled a revolver from behind his belt.
 “Who told you all this she-e-e-e-e-t? Who told you to love your enemies, motherfucker?” roared Jack into Daisy’s face.
 Daisy blinked helplessly and said:
 “War Priest used to be the principal at my school. He told me this…”
 Triggerhappy Jack was absolutely amazed. He released his grip and looked at Daisy in consternation. No, it couldn’t be true.
 “You fucking liar!” screamed Triggerhappy Jack and grabbed Daisy again. “He couldn’t say this to you, bastard!”
 Triggerhappy Jack pulled him up and propped him against the wall. He shoved the gun into Daisy’s hand and pushed him towards the corridor. Daisy fell and jumped to his feet, holding the gun clumsily with his weak hand.
 “And now I order you to scout behind the enemy lines, and in the morning you will bring me four ears of our enemies, ” said Jack and made a terrible face. “Four! And not a single ear less. Otherwise, I will burn you alive in front of the military council. And I am telling you, War Priest will bless my decision.”
 He pushed Daisy towards the door. Daisy darted into the corridor and disappeared. Jack turned back to the window and clapped his hands like a baseball coach.
 “How are things, guys? Finally, you are fighting, right?”
 Nobody answered his battle cry now. All three soldiers were dead, frozen in different postures of death. Jack was really furious. Everything was going fucking wrong. With an unintelligent scream, Triggerhappy Jack grabbed a bazooka and fired it outside. Fire escaped from the rear end of the tube and scorched the wallpaper on a distant wall. Jack grabbed another bazooka and fired it into the running shadows at the end of the square. He jumped to the large caliber machine-gun and clamped a long ammunition belt into position. The belt was at least ten feet long. Jack clutched at the handles and pressed the trigger with his index finger. He was firing incessantly.
 “Come over here, Gooks!” screamed Jack to himself and to inferno in front of his window. “You wonna taste it! Come over here, fuckers!”
 His snake-like ammunition belt was uncoiling itself rapidly, jerking spasmodically on short bursts of the gun. The ammo belt was moving to the bullet feeder, like a boa constrictor. The floor was already covered with an even layer of very expensive scrap consisting of spent cartridges. Jack felt good; he felt very much like he did in an ambush in Vietnam almost twenty years ago. Jack stopped firing and looked at the square. There were more shadows on the pavement that didn’t move anymore. He yelled into the darkness and pressed the trigger again. A yellow streak of a rocket darted from the roof of the opposite house. It was heading for Jack’s window. The rocket hit the pile of bags rimming the window and exploded in their sandy guts. The shock wave of the blast threw Jack to the opposite wall and sprayed the whole place with sand. Jack was motionless; flowers on his battle helmet were badly scorched by the blast.
 John Daisy was spiteful and scared as he stumbled along the back alleys away from the square. He looked back and saw  the glowworms of tracers streaking through the fog. He still felt sick after what happened in the room and felt like puking. Jack’s gun was still in his right hand. The worst part of it was that this maniac meant business.  Daisy tripped several times against upturned garbage bins and some broken furniture. The back alley was terrifyingly dark. A cat sprung up suddenly from under the low fence with a shrill scream, scaring Daisy even more. He saw something reminiscent of electric sparks flying over his head. In a second he heard the stutter of a gun. Daisy fell on the ground in mortal fear and rolled his eyes left and right. Suddenly, there was no more shooting; whoever fired at him was  sure of the destiny of his target. The street was dead. The unseen sniper perhaps reached for a smoke with his back to the wall, hiding the glow of his cigarette in the fist. Whoever fired at him was pleased with a job well done.
 Daisy jumped to his feet and raced between the buildings, waiting for a bullet to plunge into his fragile body. Nothing happened for two minutes and soon he began to walk between the houses, still panting with exhaustion. Suddenly, he found himself standing in a cul-de-sac, two paces away from a machine-gun pit rimmed with badly torn sandbags. The place seemed deserted, with only the barrel of a gun sticking from the pit almost vertically. Daisy tiptoed to the walls of sandbags and peeked inside with caution. An unshaved gunner in the uniform of opposition forces was snoring inside like a child. Daisy was stunned; he looked around and crawled into the pit, pointing his gun at the sleeping soldier. The gunner was in his forties and looked very shabby; his stubble was not less than three weeks old. Daisy froze with his gun pointed at the sleeping man’s face. It seemed that war was an irrelevant issue, somewhere far from here. Daisy smiled dreamily and lowered the gun. He lowered his face to the man and studied his face. Daisy reached out to stroke the graying hair of the gunner. The soldier smiled in his sleep and murmured something vague. Daisy ran his hand over his face. The man groaned and scratched his stubble, as though bitten by an insect. Daisy lowered his face even more and planted a tender kiss on a bearded cheek. The gunner opened his eyes and saw Daisy, whose face was dreamy and strange. The soldier blinked several times to make sure that he was really awake and yelled in mortal fear. The scream blew Daisy out of the machine-gun pit. He scrambled out like a scared cat and dropped his gun on the pavement. The gunner was still yelling hoarsely. Daisy ran to a corner of the nearest building.
 The gunner grabbed his gun with both hands and began to spray the cul-de-sac for 360 degrees, triggering other gunners to action. In less than five seconds, all neighborhood snipers were firing into the windows and at anything that seemed suspicious to them. A wave of firing rolled on to the downtown.
 “Fucking fags, fucking dirty fags of War Priest,” screamed the gunner between the bursts. His two front teeth were missing. “Came to rape a true warrior? I will get you all, you scummy fags!”
 He was mad, he was really mad at the whole world that dragged him into this war in the fog, with romantic fags lurking in the darkness. He was hopping mad. The gunner turned his gun, as though aiming at the celestial architect, who designed all this insanity, and fired vertically into the sky.
 “Fucking fags of the War Priest! Fucking fags!!!”
 There was more vertical firing. Other snipers were also venting their frustrations, trying to get the celestial ruler through the fog. Tracers arched in the sky overhead.
 Daisy hated the whole world as he ran between the houses with sky exploding behind him. He felt himself like a rat chased by a mob around Market Square. Panting heavily, he wished Triggerhappy Jack the most sadistic death imaginable for sending him out on a stupid scouting mission. All this war in the fog was nothing else but hell for Daisy, who had been a nondescript clerk in the City Hall of Daggersville before the start of hostilities.
 Daisy bumped into a low fence overgrown with creeping vegetation. He didn’t want to run around the fence that stretched all the way to the street. Daisy climbed over the fence and fell on the grass. He raised his head and looked around. He was in a trim front yard of an abandoned mansion.  Some ten feet away, he saw a white marble statue, a copy of a Greek sculpture. Daisy rose to his feet and looked at the marble sculpture of a naked young man with an artfully turned head. Daisy gasped in admiration. He was enthralled by the sight. The sculpture stood there, like a messenger of  hope, a long-sought relief after a wild night.
 Daisy stood there, devouring the marble sculpture with his eyes.
 “Finally!” he said. “A symbol of perfect beauty. Perfection itself immortalized in marble. Not tobacco-stinking Maurice, not anybody else in this crazy war. And who cares? It’s only me, Daisy! I was born like this. I know that I was chosen to be an artist. But instead of ‘artist’ they were saying ‘fag’. Swine! Swine, buying prostitutes with their pig money…”
 He shook his head, choking on bitter words that were asking to be released after all these long days of tension. Daisy admired the statue.
 “What a perfect beauty!” he said and moved toward the marble sculpture.
 A  copper wire in the grass pulled hard against his boot. The wire was attached to a peg on one side of the lawn and to the booby trap on the other. The idea of a booby trap, as designed by its maker, was to kill every animal or men who might pull the string harder than necessary. Daisy was getting close to testing lethal effectiveness of the booby trap.
 Daisy didn’t feel the pull through his heavy army boots. He stopped for a second and sighed.
 “My Adonis!” murmured Daisy. “No one will be between the two of us, between the two devotees of true love and true beauty…”
 Daisy took another step and felt the pull on his boot.
 “What the fuck is this?” cursed Daisy and kicked the invisible hazard.
  A yellow explosion appeared for a split second with a deafening noise. Glass in the front door of the mansion flew into the lobby and sprayed the expensive carpeting. In less than a second, everything was as quiet as ever in this part of the city. Only the marble legs of the statue were standing on the pediment in the tall grass. The dead body of Daisy was thrown back to the fence. He was lying on his face. His right foot was still twitching as though trying to kick away the invisible string that dared to pull at his leg. Otherwise, he was very dead.
  Jesus was walking down the street in the early dawn after the battle. He spent the whole night with Chef, Genghis and other patients preparing propaganda materials. They studied the night battle through the upper floor of the abandoned building of Daggersville Stock Exchange, trying to figure out who was kicking whose ass. The sky was alive with deadly fireworks. Later in the hospital, they watched the city news on TV, which was the best source of intelligence these days. The reporters were indiscriminate in description of casualties, locations and objectives for the next attack. A deaf patient, named Goebels, was printing posters on a laser copier brought by Chef the other day, after yet another raid to downtown. Thousands of posters were already stocked in the propaganda room established on the ground floor of  Mountainview Mental Hospital…
 Jesus stopped near the entrance to the square and lit a joint. He looked at the fog, covering the square. At least a dozen dead soldiers were seen between the buildings. Remains of some military vehicles were still on fire. Jesus smiled and pulled on a badly twisted joint. The square was a fun place to observe at this hour. Jesus pulled a scrolled poster from his canvas bag and scotch-taped it to the brick wall. It was the same appeal to JOIN CRUSADE FOR SANITY but with a laser copy of Painter’s picture on it. The logo itself was executed in crude hand-painted letters. Jesus stepped back and studied the picture critically. He smoothed out the creases in the corner and strolled across the square. Jesus looked like a ghost roaming the battlefield in the early hours of dawn. He was dressed in his re-fashioned straight jacket that now looked like a toga. Jesus looked very much like an actor staring as Jesus in some low budget movie. He used up all of his posters and now was looking for a worthy place for the last one. The square was ghastly in its unnatural silence. Jesus went to the opposite side of the square looking at the dead, their faces splattered with blood and waxen-yellow. Jesus didn’t give too much thought to their death which, in his opinion, they deserved for fighting for an unworthy cause.
 He stopped in front of an old building pocked with bullets and low-caliber shells. The window in front of him was rimmed with torn and disemboweled sandbags. Some of the sandbags spilled outside. Jesus nodded approvingly and unfurled the poster.
 The very last poster turned out very creased, but it was okay for the purpose of the crusade. He scotch-taped it solemnly to the sandbag perched on the window sill. But the poster didn’t hold there and kept sliding down. Jesus used more scotch tape, but once again to no avail. He looked around as though making sure no one saw him, crumpled the poster into a tiny paper ball and threw it into the paneless window.
 The paper ball hit Triggerhappy Jack in the face, which was badly sprinkled with gray sand. Jack woke up with a start and groaned. He was unconscious for five hours.  
 “Oh, fuck!” said Jack and stood up with an effort. Sand trickled down from his torn pants and T-shirt. “Where the hell am I?” he muttered, staggering up to the window. The light behind made him blink. It was the milky-gray of dawn. The square was swimming in his eyes. He looked down under the window and saw a pale man in toga staring up at him.
 “Jesus Christ!”  exclaimed Jack stretching the syllables. “What is this?”
 The man in front of him went on looking at him with his strange gray eyes.
 “Jesus Christ!” said Jack again. “Who are you, man?”
 Even if this apparition turned out to be hostile, Jack was not in a fighting mood anyway.
 “Who are you, man? What are you doing here?” said Jack and pulled his helmet away from his head. He threw it behind his back on the floor.
 “I am Jesus,” said Jesus in a calm voice.
 Triggerhappy Jack shuddered and moved back from the window in horror.
 “I’m telling you, I am Jesus,” said the man. He didn’t sound like he wanted to convince Jack. It was an informative statement.
 “What are you doing here?” asked Jack, his voice quivering. He was trying hard to convince himself that he had too much drugs and booze the other day, that it was nothing but a soap bubble hallucination that would disappear anytime. He wanted to talk the hallucination into smooth and clean disappearing.
 “I am leading the World Crusade for Sanity,” said Jesus, looking right into Jack’s eye.
 Triggerhappy Jack began to feel sick. It was really happening to him. Vaguely, he suspected in the past that something like this was bound to happen sooner or later. Jack was a bad sinner. Sin was his earthly calling and he knew that.
 “No!” gasped  Jack helplessly.
 He climbed over the gutted sandbags and slid into the square, landing on his knees.
  “I have never believed in you,'” sobbed Jack hysterically. “Oh God! I was firing at you all night. He moaned like a wounded dog in self-pity.
 Jesus was looking up at Jack with contempt.
 Triggerhappy Jack ruffled his hair in desperation; it was all caked with sand and blood.
 “Yes, I was firing at you. I have never read a single passage in the Bible. I am a sinner, Jesus.” He sobbed some more. “And here I am, firing at Jesus all through the night.” He moved on his knees to Jesus and stopped. “Pardon me. I am a sinner, the worst sinner in this fucking world. Pardon me, forgive me, Jesus!”
  “I don’t care,” said Jesus quietly. “I don’t really care about your sins. You are doing your business; I am doing mine.”
 Triggerhappy Jack started to weep; tears were streaming down the numerous gutters of his badly wrinkled skin. Jesus turned abruptly and went to the opposite side of the square. Triggerhappy Jack was looking at him through his tears, sorry for himself,  for being a fucking bastard, a goddamned fucking sinner. He has never been more miserable in his entire life, not even during forced withdrawal in the hospital.
 The white shape of Jesus was hardly visible through the fog by now.
 Jack filled his rotten lungs with air. The veins on his neck became thick like tiny blue pipeline.
 “Pardon me,” yelled Jack to disappearing toga, “forgive me, Jesus!”
 Jesus merged with the fog on the other side of the square.
 Triggerhappy Jack stumbled back to his feet and shook his head in disbelief. He crawled back into the sanded room with potted flowers sticking from the sand here and there. Jack ruffled his hair and opened the side flask. He made three thirsty gulps that burned their way down to his rumbling stomach.
 He looked around the dark room and spotted a charged bazooka leaning against the wall. He picked it and blew the dust away from it. The launcher was a Russian-made RPG-7B, which everybody used with horrifying results Nam. He staggered into the corridor and bumped into a badly chipped cupboard. There was a limp chair next to it. Triggerhappy Jack slumped into a chair with a loud groan. Bells of different sizes were ringing in stereo in his head. The balance of the stereo effect was moving the sound left and right, clanking in left then right hemisphere of his brain.
 With bazooka on his knees, he leaned against the wall.
 “Oh, fuck!” said Jack weakly. “That’s the end of it. This is the end of it, Jack…”
 There were more prostitutes sauntering in the evening  streets of Daggersville than this city ever remembered. It was hard to explain. After all, moral standards in Daggersville enjoyed a high reputation and were often praised by television networks of different countries that were known to be less chaste. Daggersville used to be a model city in this sense, with specks of generally incurable human vice here and there. A radical journalist of Daggersville Star once asked his readers sarcastically about extent of “here and there”. The sense of humor was not appreciated by the City Hall and the journalist was fired.
 After the start of hostilities, prostitution turned into a big business almost overnight. Women explained it by a simple desire of adventure and money-making. The combatants thought it a legitimate thing to have some token fun, which was branded as forbidden fruit in days of peace. Fog was making the whole situation even more romantic. Many avenues, side streets and lanes in the downtown area were patrolled not only by the military but by dozens of intrepid hookers who were after thick salaries of belligerent troops. Hookers didn’t discriminate between the sides. Quite a few night cafes and restaurants in Daggersville were open at night despite the curfew, since military law enforcement officials could be easily bribed. War in the Fog was a time of profit for many people.
 Barbara and Alicia sneaked out for a night of “scouting” as they termed it. They spent three days in Painter’s apartment when all this shelling  and shooting erupted. Now, it was the first night of a temporary cease fire. Daggersville Star explained the lull by the necessity of body count and replacements. Nevertheless, snipers were still doing their nightly job, messing up with statistics of  the body count.
 Cherub Strasse was a famous hangout these days. However, not the cherubs were hanging out here. Instead, bullet-pocked marble cherubs were lining cornices of the buildings for at least half a mile. Hence, the name of the street. Cherub Strasse was coated in heavy fog now. Hookers of different ages and incomes were patrolling the street separately and in groups. Barbara and Alicia stood leaning against the wall of a building, which showed multiple scars of war. Not a single street was exempt from warfare. Alicia and Barbara were smoking.
 A girl, looking like yesterday’s nun, pranced near  them on high heels. She was dressed in a long yellow dress with an ample cleavage on a skinny and freckled back.
 Barbara sized her up with a cynical stare. She hated this sudden pilgrimage into the trade she knew like her five fingers. With all these crowds of nightbirds around, it was getting harder and harder to hook a man.
 “Fucking toothpick,” hissed Barbara after the girl.
 “Leave her alone,” said Alicia with a smile.
 Barbara shook the ashes from her cigarette using her index finger with a long manicured nail and sighed.
 “It’s getting really bad after the evacuation, Alicia. “The only men you can find in this crazy city are the military.”
 “Painter says that we should be hanging out more often around the military street patrol,” said Alicia and laughed. “We could go to the headquarters of the military council and offer our voluntary services for the fighting troops.”
 “It worked well in Saigon, Alicia. I don’t think it will work in this crazy city with its stupid war and sickly fog.”
 Alicia heard the story perhaps two thousand times, but there was one thing she couldn’t comprehend.
 “Why in God’s name did you go to Vietnam?” asked Alicia.
 Barbara inhaled the smoke with content; she was pleased to impress Alicia, who was much better looking and younger.
  “Oh, Alicia. My life was full of adventures, and you know — this crazy life is like a labyrinth. It brings you to the same spot.”
 “What do you mean?” Alicia craned her neck and looked along the street that now had at least fifteen girls walking or leaning like her against the buildings.
 “You remember they showed the members of the Military Council on TV?” asked Barbara.
 “So what?”
 “I slept with one of the members in Saigon.”
 Alicia was very much amazed. She didn’t know whether to believe such a story.
 “Unreal!” exclaimed Alicia. “Who is he? Tell me his name.”
 Barbara smiled; she had not intention to hurry with her answer.
 “I slept with Triggerhappy Jack,” said Barbara after a pause.
 Alicia leaned closer, her face showing all degrees of incredulity.
 “With that rickety psychopath?”
 “Well,” droned Barbara with a calm voice. “At that time, he was a much decorated hero. He is still functional and active.”
 “Not in bed,” said Alicia with a laughter. “I bet he might be functional anywhere, but not in bed.”
 Barbara chuckled and looked around with triumphant expression on her face.
 “I think I should ask for a position at the Military Council as a veteran whore. A yellow ribbon whore with Vietnam experience.”
 Alicia laughed gasping for breath. She loved when Barbara was in one of those moods.
 “Stop it, stop it!” she laughed.
 But Barbara had no intention to give up. There was nothing to do in this wet street anyway.
 “Otherwise, we will be unemployed,” Barbara went on. “If this war continues, the residents will come back from evacuation several years from now.”
 “But the soldiers are still around, Barb,” giggled Alicia.
 “Oh yeah… On both sides of the line,” added Barbara with mock seriousness.
 Both laughed at the joke. Barbara flipped her cigarette butt across the street. It hit the wall and sent sparks, as though it were a bullet.
 Rumbling of a powerful engine was heard in the lane one block away. The sound was growing louder and soon a tank appeared. It turned with armored clumsiness and clanked along the street, chipping the pavement indiscriminately. However, this was a minor damage, acceptable by the war in the fog. All girls in the street moved to the sidewalk. The tank might have had at least three horny crewmen studying the streets through the slits of optical devices. Girls were acquiring different postures that they considered would be enticing enough. All of them tried to flag the tank down. Suddenly, the tank stopped, making everybody very tense. Nobody actually expected this heavily computerized machine to stop, but it screeched to a clanking halt. The top hatch moved and a crewman clad in medieval armor stuck his head from the turret. The armor had a dull glitter. The crewman clanked like an empty tin bucket as he moved left and right studying the street and the girls. More girls came up to the tank in utter amazement. Nobody said a word. The hand in a spiked iron glove stretched like a hand of a robot and moved over the heads of the girls. An index finger got unhooked with a rusty sound, pointing at Alicia, and made an inviting gesture.
 Barbara got pale.
 “Don’t go!” she said.
 “Why not?” whispered Alicia. “Who knows? It might be the first step to the Military Council.”
 Barbara pressed her hand to her lips, trying to suppress a giggle. Alicia looked around with challenge and climbed into the tank. She was as small as a sparrow next to the monstrous war machine. The iron-clad crewman disappeared inside. Alicia swung her feet into the hatch and blew a kiss to Barbara. She appeared very excited by the coming adventure.
 Barbara stepped toward the tank and put her hands on the cold steel surface. The tank felt like an oversized cold coffin.
 “Don’t go,  Alicia!” pleaded Barbara.
 “I always welcome new experiences, Barbara,” said Alicia. “Why not!”
 She disappeared inside and closed the hatch. The tank shuddered, blew sooty exhaust and rolled away slowly, mangling the pavement.
 The girls began to disperse, talking to each other. Barbara was walking behind the tank in the fumes of diesel exhaust, feeling very lonely and miserable.
 “Don’t stay in there, Alicia!” cried Barbara. “I don’t like it!”
 She took few more steps and stopped. The tank was nearing the intersection, ready to crawl into the deadly fog of Daggersville’s downtown area.
 “Why you, of all people, Alicia?” murmured Barbara. “Why should you be in this crazy tank, of all people…?”
 She stooped in the middle of the road, watching the tank turn right.
 “I simply don’t get it,” said Alicia.
 She lit another cigarette and turned to go. She had no desire to hang around the street anymore. Barbara sighed knowing well that she would be home in ten minutes, smoking by the window on the eighth floor, one cigarette after another. She hated nights like that.
 Quite a few cafes were still open in Daggersville and Sickly John was one of them. This was an old hippie hangout that was in a greasy spoon business for at least twenty odd years. Although Sickly John Cafe had very little to offer, the place was very popular with those who wanted to drink a lot and spend little. This objective was quite achievable in Sickly John, although the choice of food had always been next to ridiculous. Painter was the last known hippie to patronize this downtown cafe. Other hippies had changed their rebellious mind long time ago to get into respectable businesses and places that Daggersville could offer to its law-abiding residents. Now these respectable ones were all in evacuation, hundreds of miles away from Daggersville and its fog.
 Now, there were only few clients inside the cafe. Some military were drinking and smoking in the corner. A corpulent officer kept on shoving quarters into the jukebox that was only two feet from his table. The jukebox, with a make-believe green eye, could play only the hits from the mid-60s. That’s what it was playing now. And it seemed that the muffled sound was breaking through a padded wall.  Painter was sitting alone at the same table he picked some twenty years ago – in the corner with a blackboard, where the owner of the cafe was advertising tasteless soups of the day. As always, everything was advertised as special. Painter had a pack of sketches in front of him. All of them were stained and painted on cheap paper. His beer was unfinished. It looked thin and unappetizing. Painter was watching a program on TV. It was yet another news story about another day of hostilities in Daggersville.
 Reporter on the screen was speaking into a microphone in the middle of a badly charred street. Although, he didn’t need any microphone these days, but he was doing it still for greater credibility of the report. Stereotypes were a second nature in Daggersville.
 The Reporter was tightening every air minute, which obliged him to speed-talk into the camera.
 “…An unknown guerrilla group is operating sporadically on both sides of the green line,” went on Reporter. “This terrorist group added new fuel to the fire of the ongoing  conflict. Yesterday, an unknown gunman of Asian origin opened fire on a street patrol in the sector controlled by the opposition.”
 Painter sipped on his beer and looked back at the screen. Visuals were bringing a doomsday scenery. Bodies on the pavement covered with plastic. Blood on the sidewalks. The windshield of some military Jeep dotted with bullet holes. Camera zoomed in, showing a lot of cracks on the glass of the windshield.
 The same Reporter was jabbering on, presenting the war in live coverage.
 “… Last night, an unknown man entered the Three Star Restaurant near the Military Council. He introduced himself to the guards at the entrance as “Jesus.” He insisted on preaching to the clients. When asked to leave the restaurant, he tossed two hand grenades into the eating area, killing five and wounding eleven clients. The military command is unable to explain the accident. The suspected assailant fled the site of the attack. At the same time, in several areas of the city, a man, also calling himself Jesus, tried to recruit the remaining civilians by urging them to join the ‘Crusade for Sanity’. Russian military advisor, Colonel Sergei Ivanov, considers that we are dealing here with the same person, suspected of bombing the Three Star Restaurant…”
 A grim-looking man in a strange suit, that might have been fashionable at least twenty years ago, appeared on the screen next to the smiling  Reporter.
 “General Ivanov,” continued Reporter, trying to gain a better response by changing the rank of the KGB expert, “what do you think about the recent speculations concerning a new military group that entered the conflict?”
 Ivanov looked at the Reporter with his steel eyes and turned to the camera, behaving very officially.
 “I’m afraid that these are still speculations,” drawled  Ivanov, caring much less for expensive air time. “But they must be taken seriously. I think that this is nothing else but another political trick of the opposition, which similarly denies recruitment of the world-famous sniper el-Saidi from el-Kaaram in the Middle East. However, everybody knows by now that el-Saidi is in the city, fighting for the opposition…”
 Ivanov wanted to add more sentences to his sluggish statement, but Reporter interrupted him with professional insolence.
 “Thank you, Mister Ivanov” Camera shifted to Reporter, leaving Ivanov elsewhere.
 “That was the opinion of the former KGB expert, Colonel Sergei Ivanov, currently responsible for the intelligence operations of the multinational force led by the War Priest…”
 It seemed like an endless report. The jukebox in the corner screeched into an old song brought to life by a drunk officer. An arrogant tune by the Rolling Stones was booming through the cracked and dirty speakers.
 Painter was smoking leisurely as he watched the news. He seemed to be the only person in the cafe to show any interest in the TV hanging over the bar.
 A waiter in jeans came up to the table with a small plastic tray.
 “Will you finish your beer, Painter?” asked the waiter.
 Painter shook his head slowly.
 “Anything else?”
 Painter shook his head once more. Waiter took his unfinished bottle and went behind the bar. There was a commercial break now. It was odd to air an expensive           commercial break in the city with rations that were getting more sparse with every passing week.
 Painter smiled sarcastically, hoping historians would be more interested in the absurdities of Daggersville rather than in the sequences of actual hostilities, which were very much the same like in any other war anyway.
 Barbara pressed her face to the windows of Sickly John, trying to peer inside through the steamed glass. From the street, the place looked like aquarium with murky water. Barbara went for the front door, opened it slightly and peeked inside. Luckily, Painter was there at his usual table. She rushed to his table and slumped on a badly scratched plastic chair.
 “Hi, Painter!”
 The Painter didn’t even turn his head, although Barbara knew that it was his way of teasing friends.
 “Anything new?” asked Painter in a voice of professional actor. “The war is still on?”
  Barbara was too irritated to get into traditional jokes.
 “Why are you watching the news?” she asked. “Are you asking me about this insane war?”
 She felt really frustrated after the accident with the tank.
 “Alicia hooked a tank!” said Barbara as she painted her lips nervously.
 “A what?”
 Painter turned his head toward Barbara, his eyes were laughing.
 “I’m telling you. She hooked a tank and a guy dressed in tin, or something like that, took her inside. She has been gone for at least twenty hours bow. I am worried sick.”
 Painter took a twisted joint from a small lacquered box. He lit it from his still burning cigarette and offered the joint to Barbara, who took it with grateful and careful fingers. She pulled several times on it and coughed.
 “Crazy poison,” said Barbara looking at the joint. “I still can not smoke it without coughing. And it’s been like that for at least twenty years. I am so worried about Alicia.”
 Painter spread his hands and narrowed his eyes.
 “Tanks are reliable things,” said Painter. “Nothing happens to them.”
 “Are you crazy, Painter?” exploded Barbara. “There are at least three burnt-out tanks on every street in this crazy city…”
 The TV above the bar was showing a talk show from good-old days of peace. The guests and aged hostess were openly discussing a delicate subject which mostly dealt with sexual needs and their derivatives. An old woman on the screen was telling about the way they “humped it out near the zoo in l953 when you couldn’t even talk about kissing.” Talk shows were designed to make people sincere and shameless. It was yet another way of expressing freedom in Daggersville.
 “Ah?” asked Painter, returning to conversation. “I know nothing will happen to Alicia. I know her quite well.”
 Barbara was appalled by this lack of sympathy.
 “You can’t know her better than I do, Painter.”
 “Why are you so upset in this case?” Painter didn’t sham his surprise. He had no worries at all.
 Barbara turned red with indignation. She was searching for proper words as her cheeks were getting more and more scarlet.
 “You are insane, Painter! Everybody is crazy in this rotten city. Look what I found tonight with my mail.”
 Painter looked at Barbara with mock indifference. Barbara rummaged through her huge purse and extracted a folded sheet of paper. She opened it up and  held it in front of the Painter, who recognized the style immediately and chuckled.
 A crudely painted logo on the poster had a very familiar appeal.
 Barbara started to weep quietly. It was very easy to make her weep.
 “There are so few sane people around that they have to  appeal for this. They are asking others to be sane. To be normal, just normal…”  She sobbed twice and blew her nose into a paper napkin.
 “I know who wrote this thing,”  said Painter.
 Barbara lifted her round face and stopped weeping.
 “Jesus,” said the Painter.
 Barbara stared at him, thinking that Painter was totally out of his mind.
 “Who?” Barbara screamed.
 “You don’t have to scream,” gestured Painter. “I am speaking about Jesus the Terrorist.”
 This was more than Barbara could stand. She jumped to her feet and yelled in a shrill voice.
 “You are absolutely nuts, Painter! Alicia is in the tank and you are telling me about some Jesus.”
 A homeless tramp of indefinite age turned his head from the table near the washroom and stared at Barbara with hatred. He shook his head reproachfully, making her blush for saying “some Jesus.”
 “You are really nuts, Painter!” said Barbara lowering her face to the table. She stood up and headed for the door. Chinese chimes near the entrance rang indifferently in the wind. Barbara glared back into the room and slammed the door to make the final statement.
 Painter laughed and choked on the smoke of his cigarette. He sat there, coughing and laughing. The hobo looked at the Painter with his sad eyes.
 “That’s right,” said Painter across the room to hobo, “his name was Jesus.”
 Painter pointed at TV as though trying to say that news program was a proof of the fact.
 The tramp shook his head reproachfully. Apparently, he was an extremely pious hobo. Painter stood up and left the cafe, throwing a handful of coins on the table. One coin rolled across the table and fell on the floor. When Painter was already walking in the December drizzle of Daggersville, the hobo shuffled to the coin and picked it up without any embarrassment. He had very few scruples left.
 Triggerhappy Jack was out in the night streets of downtown. He spent the whole day on a crippled chair, thinking about his encounter with Jesus. The room on the ground floor was getting thick with a sugary smell of death, but Triggerhappy Jack was sitting  there, like some disgraced guru in meditation. Jack was petrified with appearance of Jesus. He knew he was a cynical scum all his life never caring for human life, let alone human emotions. And here he was, a helpless witness of Jesus himself, who was so disgusted with Jack that He turned and went across the square to the side controlled by the opposition. In the daytime, he gave an interview in the backyard to television guys and returned promptly to his devastated stronghold.  Darkness came, making Triggerhappy Jack more miserable as he sat on his chair. He wanted to die.
 Now, he was roaming the streets with his bazooka loaded  with the last remaining anti-tank missile he could find. He wanted to prove himself, give himself the last chance or die like a hero. After all, perhaps for the first time in his life he was invited to fight in what newspapers were calling a just cause in Daggersville. He spent several hours walking the streets, but nobody challenged him from the dark windows of empty houses. Dogs were appearing occasionally only to follow Jack for half a block. These were the famous dogs of Daggersville of questionable breeds and crosses. Prostitutes were calling out to Jack from the darkness. He heard female voices calling to him from dark doorways and narrow alleys. He thought that these were hallucinations.
 A prostitute on high heels and with long stockinged legs followed Jack for a while, tap-tapping after him on the pavement. Jack moved like a zombie with strange mechanical persistence, oblivious of everything and everybody. He felt like the only remaining sinner on the face of the earth; the most terrible sinner ever.
 “Come over here, soldier,” called the prostitute. “I’m sure you want to tell me something.”
 Triggerhappy Jack turned dumbly, trying to figure out what the woman wanted. His eyes were strange and alarming.
 “Come to me, you will not regret it,” her voice was more cautious.
 Triggerhappy Jack gave no answer, but looked dumbly studying the woman, as though he saw her for the first time.
 “Aren’t you tired of war, hero?” asked the prostitute. “You don’t look very fresh.”
 Triggerhappy Jack sized her up and gave her a silly smile.
 “I was in all wars available in this crazy world, babe,” said Jack hoarsely. “I slept with women of all ages and races.”
 He looked around and shielded his mouth with dirty hand, as though preparing to share some big secret.
 “I slept with children,” he giggled, then frowned changing his tone. “It was fun…”
 The prostitute took some cautious steps towards him.
 “Come in and have some more,” she said.
 Triggerhappy Jack shook his head ruefully.  He was overcome with unbearable sadness of his numberless sins.
 “No… I have no time… My game is over, Baby. Good-old Triggerhappy Jack has nearly killed Jesus. Tough…”
 He shook his head and wrinkled his face, as though he was in pain.
 “Are you crazy, man?” asked the Prostitute. The man didn’t look like a soldier; he looked very much like a restless ghost from a previous war.
 “Listen,” said Jack hoarsely and gestured to the sky, “I am on my way to God. I’m sorry, babe. There is nothing to discover. Nothing is new in this world.”
 He touched his forehead and drank some whiskey from his flask. He strapped the flask back, doing it all with his left hand.
 The prostitute shook her head.
 “I understand,” she said. “Go where you belong.”
 Another prostitute left the dark doorway and approached.  Triggerhappy Jack turned slowly and moved along carrying the launcher like a stick.
 The first prostitute made a sign to the second prostitute. She touched her temple as though trying to say that the soldier was simply out of his mind.
 Triggerhappy Jack shuffled along the street with difficulty. He felt like dying. Suddenly, he stopped near a glass telephone booth. He knew he owed somebody a call. He entered the booth, which lost the doors to an explosion or vandalism, and put his bazooka on the floor. Jack ran his hands along the rough plastic of the receiver. It was all scratched up with hazy telephone memos and four letter wishes to all subsequent callers. A dog-eared telephone book of Daggersville Phone Company was hanging limp on a chain. The book looked as though it had been tortured for some hazy crime and condemned to hang. The chain was meant to prevent theft if anybody cared to steal the telephone book. There were very few places to call these days anyway. Triggerhappy Jack fingered a bullet hole in the glass and pulled on the chain. He was leafing through the book like a bored reader, using his pen-sized flashlight, which, accidentally, was also chained to Jack’s belt. Jack was turning page after page, as though trying to find a friendly telephone number.
 SINNERS INTERNATIONAL read the ad on page 1116. The ad sent a message into Jack’s weathered brain. Triggerhappy Jack shuddered, hoping that exactly this number would give all answers to his agony. He rummaged for change in all of his eight pockets and extracted several quarters. He flipped a quarter into the slot and dialed the number with his heavily tattooed hand. Perspiration was trickling down his face, washing away sand and dust of yesterday’s battle. Jack pointed the flashlight into his face and looked at his own reflection. Staring back at him was a horrible face with sunken eyes that showed years of alcohol and drug abuse.
 He heard the click of connection and turned off the light.
 SINNERS INTERNATIONAL HOTLINE  was a big telephone business in Daggersville. War was increasing the number of sinners and of those who wanted to confess. It produced a rather copious amount of practicing sinners every day, which was a natural process in any big-time slaughter. 
 The management of SINNERS INTERNATIONAL consisted of former drug dealers from Latin America who had to flee from justice in their native land. The bosses of SINNERS INTERNATIONAL were laughing. President of the company Armando Juarez was stunned by the profits of the first tentative venture with two operators sharing one computer and a basement suite near Justice Square. Now, several weeks into the hostilities, it was a mega company in a bullet- and shell-proof building with twenty operators working in three shifts on state-of-the-art equipment
 Cindy considered herself a luckiest 20-year-old girl in all of Daggersville. She was one of very few girls who were making honest and good money in Daggersville, helping those who screamed for services of SINNERS INTERNATIONAL HOTLINE.
 It was a busy night for Cindy. She had a new caller every ten seconds. She didn’t mind the hustle, because they had a bonus of five dollars from each caller.
 “You have reached CONFESSIONS INTERNATIONAL,” said Cindy in a sexy voice. She was not trained to sound sexy. Cindy had a natural sexy voice that put her on the job without any training.
 “Connect me with God…” said Triggerhappy Jack in a hoarse voice.
 “Sorry… What can I do for you, sir?”
 Triggerhappy Jack sobbed sending a lot of wet sounds into Cindy’s earphones.
 “Pardon me for all the crimes I have committed. I was in the jungle. I killed in the desert. Right now…”
 Jack looked around through bullet-holed glass of the booth and sighed.
 “…I am in the fucking fog… I am asking for pardon.”
 To Cindy, this sounded like a very usual situation. She took a cigarette from her desk. It was allowed to smoke on the job in SINNERS INTERNATIONAL.
 “Your name and profession, sir?”
 “My name is Triggerhappy Jack, and I am a professional killer.”
 Cindy pressed “page down” on her computer that had an impressive listing of different sins and questionable professions. All entries were swimming in front of her on the left side of the screen — drug peddler, thief, prostitute, pimp, bank robber…
 “Just a moment, sir,” said Cindy and looked at the rates on the right side of the screen “Okay. Give me your name and address, and we will send you an authorized videocassette. We charge fifty dollars for a video, and twenty dollars for an audio cassette. Our charges vary, depending on the nature and category of sins and sinners.”
 “Do you think it’s a good idea?” asked Triggerhappy Jack weakly.
 “Certainly,” said Cindy. “We are offering the whole package at Christmas sales prices. We accept Master Card, American Express, and Visa…”
 Triggerhappy Jack felt weak and nauseous.
 “Pardon me..” whispered Jack.
 He went on his knees next to his bazooka, still holding a receiver.
 “Are you sure it will help?” asked Jack. “My soul is overburdened with sins and crimes…”
 “If you pay an additional ten dollars, we will provide you with the manual, complete with reference list of crimes and sins covered by our Absolvement Program.”
 Triggerhappy Jack licked his dry lips.
 “I was in many wars… I was a decorated hero.”
 Cindy already hated the jerk, but tried to be tolerant, thinking about her five-buck-bonus. You had to behave for good-old bucks even with jerks. Mr. Juarez said he would bear no complains from the clients. The guys are in distress, that’s why they are calling. “If somebody says ‘fuck you’ into your right earphone, stick it into your left ear and pardon the guy for being rude, because he pays,” used to teach Seignior Juarez during daily training sessions.
 “I was a decorated hero,” moaned Jack and pressed his stubble to the cold glass.
 “Congratulations!” said Cindy with a phony smile.
 “I was awarded medals for killing people,” said Jack.
 Cindy turned to another telemarketer, Pat. Pat was also twenty and felt herself extremely lucky for being with SINNERS INTERNATIONAL. She had five successful calls tonight and was happy to have extra cash. 
 Cindy turned off her microphone for a second in order not to be heard by her sobbing client.
 “Freak! What a freak!” she said in irritation.
 Pat nodded understandingly.
 Cindy turned on her mike and continued:
 “Our comprehensive program was designed to absolve the clients from all crimes.”
 “Do you think I dialed the right number?” asked Jack.
 “You have reached Sinners International,” said Cindy. She felt pretty sadistic. “What can I do for y-y-y-y-ou, sir?
 Triggerhappy Jack hung up and got up from his knees. He took a bazooka from the floor of the telephone booth and went into the night.
 He turned into the narrow street leading to Victory Square. A tank rumbled past him at a turtle pace, trying hard to grip the wet pavement with its tracks. It was the first street, where Jack heard sniper shots. It seemed that the snipers here were following a good old tradition of firing at no one in particular. Bullets were randomly hitting the pavement and walls. The hits could be seen by yellow sparks, appearing like fluorescence. One bullet whined several feet above Jack’s head and ricocheted off the lamp post. Triggerhappy Jack didn’t pay any attention. Lazily he thought about the source of fire, knowing well that the area around Victory Square was controlled by multinational forces. He forgot about the recently installed monument altogether, although the project was discussed at the sessions of the Military Council, where contemptuous Jack was an infrequent visitor. He though he was right to consider that combat was his direct responsibility and not that “talking shit.” Now he saw the bluish glow at the end of the street. Jack stopped and went for the last swig from his almost empty one-gallon flask. He made several painful gulps, but the alcohol didn’t make him feel any better.
 The glow down the street made him even more suspicious. He went to the source of light and stopped, stunned by the sight. Dim floodlights outlined the form of the statue, standing in the middle of the square. Jack could only see  the lower part of the gypsum giant. The sight froze Triggerhappy Jack, who pressed the button-shaped safety catch on his Russian launcher.
 “Here you are, Big Fucker!” he whispered with venom.
 He was afraid to be overheard by the monster, so he pressed himself to the brick wall of the house.
 “I knew I was gonna meet you, bastard,” whispered Jack and smiled. “I knew the time would come for me to meet my Goliath. Here comes the last fight, Jack… Here it comes…”
 He drank more whiskey from his flask and wiped his lips. Jack spat on the pavement and stepped forward into the light to challenge the giant. He swung bazooka in the air like a huge mace and yelled:
 “You, big guy!”
 There was no answer. Echo of Jack’s voice ricocheted of the walls and disappeared in the fog. There was a battle some two miles away from the square. The cackling of submachine-guns sounded dry and harmless.
 “Get out of here before I shoot off your balls,” screamed Jack. “It’s me, Triggerhappy Jack and I will not put up with any crap from a big guy like you. Get out, man, I don’t want to kill anybody. I’ve had enough. Get out of here for God’s sake!”
 There was no reaction from the giant, who was still standing in the floodlights.
 “Get out, I told you!” yelled Jack savagely and grabbed his RPG launcher in both hands. He stepped forward and took aim. In less than a second, a flame belched from the rear part of his bazooka. The deafening sound roared up and down the street shaking remaining panes. The missile streaked to the statue through the fog and exploded high above the ground.
 Jack moaned with exhaustion. He was ready to drop dead on the wet pavement. Everything was so hopelessly sick.
 Something was falling from the sky through the fog, looking enormous in the floodlights, like the shadow of a giant bat diving towards the street. David’s head fell on the pavement and broke in two. Each half was the size of a tank turret. Triggerhappy Jack dropped the bazooka tube on the pavement and shook violently.
 “You’ve had it, man,” said Jack and pointed accusing finger at the head. “You were asking for it… Wanted to make me a sinner? You, bitch!”
 Weakness was overcoming him. He blinked, gagged and vomited on the pavement. The street and the square in front were quiet. Jack turned and stumbled away into the night.
 “Oh, God! Oh! Lord Almighty,” he groaned. “This is the end of it, Jack…”
 Mountainview Mental Hospital was a sinister place these days. Abandoned by all personnel several week ago, the hospital became a legend. Rumors were quickly spread in the fogged-out city, which was adopting itself to a new philosophy of fear and superstition.
 Chef was running the show now. In the first week, a military truck with war supplies and ammunition was crawling past the Hospital, when it was hit by a missile that killed the driver and his guard. The truck toppled on its side, wheels spinning helplessly in the air, like the legs of a helpless bug. The truck was full of automatic weapons that spilled into the street, right in front of the central gate of Mountainview Mental Hospital. Within three hours, the back of the truck was empty and two casualties were dragged into the hospital’s mortuary for the “body count of the Victory Day,” as Chef so eloquently stated.
 Chef’s Crusade for Sanity had an obvious touch of violence, but such were the times in Daggersville. Patients were going more frequently on night-time raids, killing the military on both sides of the green line. Occasionally, they were bringing in prisoners to lock them up in the hospital’s basement, where POWs had to go through indoctrination treatment, conducted by deaf and mute Goebels and Genghis. They thought it was a good thing to treat somebody for a change, rather than being treated. Quite a few things were brought to the hospital from nightly raids and looting in the city. Chef termed the booty as confiscated property, and this property never belonged to fat and drowsy residents of Daggersville anyway. Jesus was good about justifying their cause. Sometimes, he used to justify it with his sten gun, sometimes with words, offering generous blessings. A power generator in the basement was working full blast providing the morgue with necessary power.
 It was an important day for CRUSADE FOR SANITY, which was about to receive due publicity. Patients had a second visit from the media crew. This time, there was no blood-drenched body. The crew arrived for some filming and an interview.
 The recreation room looked like a small army camp, with machine-guns standing near the grated window. Ammunition belts snaked from the guns to the floor and into tin boxes, where the lethal snakes were neatly coiled, ready for action. Every bullet had an irreproachable shape and was manufactured with caring hands of humans. Mental patients, as outraged as they were, still had some respect for human creativity. They were infinitely grateful to creators of these beautiful and convincing sculptures.
 Mental patients were sitting on the floor in front of a small color TV. All of them wore their hospital uniforms that had to be worn by all, except for Chef, Genghis and Jesus. Patients were in hospital pajamas that made them look very much like Afghan guerrillas. They were watching a midday news report together with the TV crew that arrived some ten minutes earlier. The report was giving a “truthful” picture of recent events. Visuals showed swarms of tracer bullets swimming into the night, soldiers rushing  past a casualty on a stretcher.  A scared paramedic kept pace with a bottle of plasma being emptied into a multiply perforated body on the stretcher.
 Crusaders smiled and looked at each other. The reporter on the screen was now among them, watching his own report. Reporter on the screen was shouting into the microphone. This was a professional necessity, because there was a lot of background noise.
 “…Today, on the 26th of December, there were new reports from the military and civilians on the sightings of Jesus. These reports are still unconfirmed by the leaders of all opposition groups. War Priest, the former principal of the City Catholic School, and currently the Chairman of the  Military Council, explains the sightings as combat fatigue…”
 The camera swung around, panning a lot of blazing buildings on the screen. Soldiers with flame-throwers were adding more flames to the blaze.
 “We interviewed one officer in the southern sector of the city,” continued Reporter, “who insists on seeing Jesus and even mistakenly firing at Him.”
 The camera shifted to Triggerhappy Jack, who looked dirty and unrecognizable.
 “Can you tell us how it happened?”
 “I saw the Savior,” said Jack tearfully. His lips were puffy from stress and dehydration. “He was standing two yards from my machine-gun. I was firing at him all night.”
 Jack sobbed and shook his head, never caring to wipe the snot running on his upper lip.
 “I nearly killed Jesus,” sobbed Jack in self-pity.
 “Sorry,” interrupted Reporter, thinking about his air time.
 Triggerhappy Jack was pushing his head forward, trying to get into the frame.
 “I tried to kill Jesus. I asked him to pardon me.”
 He gasped and yelled, blowing out all remaining air from his rotten lungs.
 “But he said that he didn’t care…”
 “And now — to other news,” said Reporter putting the confession to an abrupt conclusion. “The Nijinsky Show continues to perform in Market Square. As you know, it was moved to the square after the city theater had been destroyed by recent shelling. Mr. Silvanov, promoter of the show, currently experiences serious problems with military authorities. Recently, War Priest has issued an order to suspend the shows, because they would create potential danger to actors and civilian onlookers…”
 Mountainview patients were devouring the news. Reporter turned away from the screen and smiled at Chef, who was standing together with Genghis and Jesus.
 “That was my report,” said Reporter.
 Jesus bared his teeth in a very strange smile.
 “I’m getting some publicity, is that right?”
 It was hard to say whether the message contained some hidden threat. It was always hard to say with Jesus.
  The mental patients laughed with gusto. These guys apparently were crazy about jokes.
 “So that was you! Incredible!” exclaimed Reporter. It was a very insincere exclamation.
 “Who else,” said Jesus and shook his sten gun.
 “I will disperse rumors in my next program,” chuckled Reporter.
 Chef shook his head slowly.
  “You don’t have to do it.”
 Jesus stood next to him without any particular expression on his face.
 “It has nothing to do with rumors,” said Jesus.
 Meanwhile, the rest of the media crew were preparing the gear for filming. Cameraman put a new cassette into his camera and whispered something to the Soundman, who was getting microphones from his nylon-lined box. They were preparing to work hard for their reporting bread.
 “I’m ready,” said Soundman.
 The Cameraman lifted his camera and said.
 “It’s okay with me. You can start anytime.”
 Reporter motioned to them and in less than two seconds saw a tiny red light on the right side of the camera.
 “What is the purpose of the your struggle?” asked Reporter, turning his head to Chef.
 “We are fighting for the cause?”
 “Which one?”
 “We were in the mental hospital long enough to create a purpose for our struggle. Why do you think they locked us up here?”
 Chef looked at his “Afghan guerrillas” in pajamas with pride.
 “Any specific purpose?” asked Reporter.
 “Justice, certainly!”
 Chef turned to others for confirmation. The gang repeated the same thing in chorus. It sounded like a very well practiced drill.
 “I mean, our view of justice,” said Chef correcting himself. “All wars have the same purpose.” He turned to Jesus, “Do you bless our purpose?”
 Jesus nodded slowly.
 “I blessed our purpose and struggle long time ago,” said Jesus with a yawn.
 “Good statement,” nodded Reporter; he wanted the report to continue. “Do you have any program?”
 “You wanted to say ‘recipe’?” asked Chef. He closed one eye, “It doesn’t take long to prepare a pizza. A little of everything. All philosophies develop like that. Make it simplissimo, young man! As a rule, one group of people shoots another, then somebody gets a couple of survivors and pins all war crimes on them.”
 Chef clapped his hands in self praise.
 “Do you think it will be the same in your case?” asked Reporter.
 Chef gave it a thought and said:
 With us, it is very simple. With us, there are no wars and no crimes — just games. If they catch us, they will put us back to the same old place. They will bring us back here to Mountainview Hospital if worse comes to worst. As you see, we have nothing to lose.”
 “Any military success so far?” dragged on Reporter.
 Chef turned abruptly to Jesus.
 “Do you bless our struggle?” asked Chef.
 Jesus shuddered suddenly, as if he had been asleep.
 “Oh, yes! Definitely!”
 Chef pointed at Jesus, as if he received the most convincing justification.
 “As you see, we enjoy tremendous spiritual support,” said Chef.
 “How do you define you enemies?”
 “Everybody who is against us,” said Chef, throwing forth a ready-baked political formula.
 “War Priest claims the same in his speeches,” objected Reporter.
 Chef smiled defiantly. He was prepared for this question.
 “Isn’t it the same in all wars?” asked Chef sweetly and looked around to catch expression on the faces of his Crusaders.
 Crusaders were quite content, dividing their attention between TV and the interview.
 “Isn’t it the same?” insisted Chef.
 “More or less,” said Reporter evasively.
 It was time to change the subject; this fucking Reporter was getting under his skin. Chef motioned towards Genghis and said:
 “Genghis is responsible for ideological work with our POWs.”
 “That’s right!” barked Genghis with readiness.
 Reporter looked at his crew. That mean that Mountainview Hospital indeed had POW.
 “Can we see…the prisoners?”
 Reporter didn’t know whether he was asking a tactless question; after all, he was in the notorious Mountainview Mental Hospital, where things could get out of hand easily.
 “By the way,” said Chef, “our POWs are having daily indoctrination programs on the purpose and cause of their struggle. Genghis is responsible for that.”
 Obviously, Chef didn’t mind Reporter’s request. He was bent on trying to get as much publicity from the media as possible.
 Reporter sighed with relief, happy not to get into something irreversible.
 The news crew, Genghis, Chef and Jesus left the room and went down the stairs to the basement. The place was badly neglected and littered with all kinds of garbage. Reporter tried hard to avoid broken bottles and drying excrements.
 They went downstairs and entered a cement-lined hallway of the basement corridor. The first door on the right had a large handle that looked very much like a chrome-plated crowbar.
 A modest label on the door informed: MORTUARY.
 Genghis opened the door and turned on the bluish light.  The media crew went pale instantly.
 “Does this mortuary serve the purpose now?” asked Reporter in a changed voice.
 Chef nodded enthusiastically.
 “We bring casualties… ours and theirs… here. It is the place of our body count. We will be doing it until the end of the war.”
 “History needs to know the truth,” said Genghis. “You should film this”
 He opened the door wider and stepped aside. Blood-caked bodies on the floor were frozen in all unimaginable postures and positions. Cameraman filmed the room from the doorway, using the mounted lighting fixture on his camera. Reporter prayed that he would not be invited in by overzealous Genghis.
 “What is over there? In the corner?” asked Reporter.
 He pointed at the corner, where a heap of something was covered with a blood-stained bedspread and torn plastic.
 “Incomplete bodies,” said Genghis eagerly like an all-knowing guide. “We didn’t have time to figure out for how many casualties all this accounts. We can always do that later.”
 Reporter became ashen-faced and leaned against the door. He fumbled for a cigarette with his weak hand and popped it between his teeth.
 “You are not permitted to smoke in the mortuary,” said Jesus and took the cigarette from Reporter’s mouth. He crumpled it and threw tobacco on the floor.
 “You should have respect for the dead!” said Jesus with reproach.
 Cameraman panned the bodies on the floor. Frozen and semi-dressed, they were reminiscent of carcasses of gunned animals. Pools of brownish blood were seen on the tiles everywhere.
 They left the mortuary and proceeded to a large storage room. Genghis locked the mortuary and turned off the lights. Chef opened a smaller wooden door and they entered a large room with cement walls and a tiny barred window almost next to the ceiling. In more peaceful time, the room was used to store paints, brooms and other maintenance objects.  Accidentally, Rubin-the-Broom was part-timing at the hospital. The broom splintered by mortar fire was the last and only thing Rubin stole from the hospital after evacuation of personnel. There was no storage in this place anymore. The place was now storing POWs who were sitting handcuffed to a long metal bar running across the room. They all looked terribly emaciated and unkempt.
 “I think you might be interested in the indoctrination lessons conducted by Genghis,” said Chef. “He is our propaganda expert.”
 All of them were standing in front of the silent POWs, who sat near the metal bar like caged animals. Cameraman lifted the camera trying to get good close-ups of POWs, whose eyes reflected absence of hope and other things characteristic of filmable POWs.
 Jesus was smoking indifferently near the wall. He shaped several smoke rings with his mouth and blew them away.
 “Genghis has a good propaganda program,” said Chef and turned to Genghis.
 “Does it work?” asked Reporter.
 Genghis and Chef exchanged cynical smiles. There were quite a few things to smile about.
 “Are you asking?” said Chef looking at Reporter with his dark smiling eyes.
 Reporter didn’t know how to interpret this smirk.
 “Certainly, well…” said Reporter with uncertainty.
 Chef clapped his hand producing a loud, reverberating sound. His face changed suddenly.
 “Do you think anybody was asking us whether or not to administer electric shock to the patients at the Mountainview Mental Hospital?”
 Chef neared his face to the camera and yelled for the history.
 “Are you asking me?”
 Meanwhile, Genghis stepped forward and turned to POWs. His face was hard and unmoved. He tried to be as good as his name. His narrow eyes got even more narrow. His face turned pale, then purple and he started to shake violently.
 “What did you have on your mind, when you started this war?” said Genghis in a horrible voice. “I bet you were thinking about laurels of victory coming to you soon at the expense of somebody’s sufferings. You expected to have yet another scout game. You dreamed about beer parlors of victory and girls hanging  from your necks by clusters. You started this madness, and you are paying the price for throwing stones into the wolf’s den. We broke the chains of this mental prison, and went out to fight for the sake of the bright future. This future belongs to us and not to this whoremonger War Priest. Do you understand the extent of your crimes? Do you understand what kind of rule and order you were trying to establish. Ah…”
 Reporter now felt that he was in a mental institution. He was getting scared.
 “…You will understand your mistakes sooner or later!” yelled Genghis and stopped suddenly, losing his breath. He stood there, as though waiting for reaction from the POWs.
The chained men looked very much the same.
 Genghis ran up to the end of the metal bar. There was a length of wire with a plug attached to it. The plug was hanging limp like a  small black snake with a shiny forked tongue. Genghis rammed the plug into the socket and turned to POWs with a smile of a maniac. Electricity ran up the wire to the metal bar, where handcuffs conducted the charge to POW.
 In a second, handcuffed POWs were contorted by electricity. They were screaming, thrashing and convulsing like fish fried alive. The handcuffs produced a noisy rattle against the metal bar.
 “Did you get the message?” shouted Genghis through the pandemonium. “Did you get the message, for fuck’s sake?”
 Reporter was observing all this with rounded eyes. No professional experience could prepare him for this infernal sight. He went gray, his lips were shaking. He averted his eyes and looked around the room. Jesus smoked peacefully, leaning against the wall. He didn’t look at POWs at all. Chef was enjoying the show with a childish laugh. He leaned to Reporter and screamed into his right ear.
 “How do you like it? Cooking up proper ideas! Right?”
 Suddenly, Genghis unplugged the POWs, and they slumped
— limp and lifeless — under the metal bar. All of them were either unconscious or dead. There was no way of telling. They hardly looked alive even before the indoctrination session.
 There was no rattle and screaming in the storage room anymore. Chef was still laughing at the show.
 Reporter looked at the Cameraman who was angling his camera at the floor. He looked very strange.
 “Are you all right?” asked Reporter.
 The Cameraman swooned and fell on his side, smashing his camera in the fall.
 Two boys of the Kamikaze School stood near the window on the second floor of an apartment building. They graduated from the school yesterday and received a deck of pornographic cards from Maurice, who was standing behind their backs now. War Priest ordered him to check out effectiveness of kamikaze warfare personally, and he had to carry out orders. He brought kids and grenades to a hot part of the city, where tanks of the opposition were frequent guests. The guinea pigs were all ready for the big-time experiment. If everything went well, Maurice was sure to receive an impressive promotion from the Military Council. With Daisy dead, he could easily be promoted to position of security chief of the Council, running a pack of guards for the high command. Maurice felt himself knocking on the door of his dream, and his dream was power coupled with money.
 Maurice looked at the kids, who were silent near the window, faces were smeared with soot. They were holding Uzi guns — weapons they used so efficiently on live targets at school. Maurice smiled. He could never imagine that all his pervert ideas and plans, which he was nourishing in his childhood in the slums of Marseilles, were given a very green light in time of war. He still couldn’t believe his luck. How foolish he was to despair when he had to escape from Marseilles after the Surete’s crackdown on French drug lords.
 Maurice had never been any kind of lord. Drugs were only a side line he was trying to combine with his organized prostitution ring. A couple of francs here and there… He nearly went insane in placid and sluggish Daggersville. And all of a sudden WAR IN THE FOG brought him back to life. Everything was permitted.
 Maurice went on his knees and tucked hand grenades behind the belts of the kids. Accidentally, he kicked more grenades on the floor. The ball-shaped grenades clanked treacherously. Maurice wished a slow and very painful death to whoever made these fucking grenades round. They looked like “boules,” which retired oldfarts were playing in Marseilles’ public parks. Imagine them playing with these deadly boules!
 Another grenade jingled like a heavy bell. The sound was sluggish and heavy.
 “Merde! Shit!” cursed Maurice. “Fucking grenades!”
 He turned to the boys and said, “You look hard for these bastards. If you don’t see them yet, it’s all because of this fucking fog.”
 The kamikaze boys stared at him speechlessly.
 “Are you watching them?” whispered Maurice. “Are you watching them, guys?”
 A smaller boy turned his scared face to Maurice and rolled his eyeballs, revealing the whites.
 “Yes, sir!”
 Maurice knew the boy was scared to death. Maurice stood up and looked out of the window cautiously. Visibility was very bad. Down the street he saw some shadows, moving along the walls. Shadows were approaching from the side controlled by the opposition.
 “Test time, my lab souris!” thought Maurice and stepped back into the room.
 There were random shots from the other side of the block. Muffed explosions made the walls shudder. It seemed as though the attack was underway in several sectors. No one was firing yet in this street.
 The smaller boy peered into the street and ducked.
 “Here they come, Sir!” he whispered vehemently.
 “Get ready, guys!” said Maurice.
 Maurice stood closer to the wall, looking intently at the moving figures some 150 meters away. There was rumbling sound behind the block that suggested the approach of a heavy tank. Maurice couldn’t believe his luck.
 He looked at another boy, who was wiping his clammy hands against his pants.
 “Wait for my signal!” shouted Maurice.
 Opposition soldiers continued to advance slowly. In less than thirty seconds all of them assembled right in front of the window, on the other side of the street. Maurice felt the skin on his face tighten.
 “Fire! Kill the dogs!” screamed Maurice. “Kill the fucking dogs!”
 The boys jumped to the windows and fired viciously at the soldiers, who were not more than twenty yards away. Recoil of quick bursts rocked the boys.
 The night outside was illuminated by ricocheting bullets. Three opposition soldiers fell on the pavement. Maurice heard one of them screaming in agony and fright. The rest were returning fire as they ran for cover. Tracers streaked towards the windows. Some bullets entered the room. In a moment, one boy was hit in the chest and thrown across the floor. His Uzi gun banged against the wall. Maurice knew that the boy was killed instantly. His huddled form was motionless on the floor.
 All of a sudden return fire ceased. A boy near the window, clicked his trigger for the last time. His last clip was spent. He stepped into the room and stumbled against the body on the floor.
 “Well done, man!” said Maurice, crouching closer to him. “You got them dogs! You’ve got them real good!”
 The boy was breathing fast, looking at the other “kamikaze” on the floor.
 “What’s wrong with him?” asked the boy in a hoarse voice.
 Maurice was irritated with the stupid question.
 “Nothing is wrong with him. He is dead!”
 The boy looked at Maurice.
 “Certainly, he is dead,” said Maurice, getting irritated even more. “It’s war, man. What do you think you were doing in the Kamikaze School? You’ve done a good job so far, boy! Come on over here. A tank is getting closer!”
 The boy looked down at the dead body, then at Maurice.
 “I want to go back to my mother,” said the boy as though in a trance.
 Maurice made a face to show how disgusted he was with the boy.
 “What?” jibed Maurice. “What kind of mother? You don’t have any mother. You are an orphan. Are you crazy? Come over here…”
 Maurice pulled the boy to the window; the kamikaze dropped his gun on the floor. Maurice took two grenades from the floor and shoved them into the boy’s hands.
 “The tank is coming,” he said. “Get ready, man.”
 The tank now was rumbling slowly along the street. The turret gun moved slightly left and right. It fired along the street. Windows for two hundred meters along the street gave up and crushed on the pavement.
 “Don’t jump on the turret,” said Maurice, “because it will not do the job.”
 The boy was still wooden from the shock of the recent fighting.
 “Will you find my mother after the war?” asked the boy.
 Maurice was angry.
 “Fuck!” exclaimed Maurice. “Certainly I will. By the way, here is something from War Priest for you. You must be proud of yourself.”
 He took a medal from his pocket and pinned it on the boy’s uniform.
 “Looks good on you,” confirmed Maurice, since the boy didn’t show any emotions.
 The kid stepped to the window and stopped there with a hand grenade in each hand. They looked oversized and grotesque, like two large stones. He turned to Maurice and looked at him from under the helmet with his large round eyes. The rumbling of the tank was getting closer. It shook the whole building.
 Maurice pressed his body closer to the wall.
 “Now, go!” said Maurice.
 The boy climbed on the windowsill, the way he was taught in the Kamikaze School. He bit on the pin of the grenade he was holding in his right hand. The boy was listless and indifferent to everything around him. The tank was approaching slowly; in several seconds its tail part would be right under the window. Maurice looked at the silhouette of the boy on the windowsill. The kid pulled out the safety pin with his teeth and spat it on the sidewalk below.
 “Fucking wimp!” yelled Maurice. “Go!”
 The silhouette in the window disappeared, and in less than two seconds a powerful explosion rocked the house, changing night into day. Maurice fell on the floor and pressed his hands to his ears.
 Another explosion followed, forcing Maurice to spring to his feet and flee for the door. He rushed down the stairs and out into the back alley. More explosions were heard from the street. Balls of fire rose into the night sky, eerie and horrifying.
 Maurice felt his heart pounding against his chest. Outside, he turned nervously to look at the glow coming from  the blazing tank. Deafening detonation of exploding ammunition shook the pavement. Maurice stopped for a second to catch his breath. His face looked ghastly in the blaze coming from the street, turning the fog overhead into a pink shroud. Maurice smiled maliciously, knowing that his experiment was more successful than he expected.
  He tripped against an empty garbage bin. It rattled along the street. Maurice rushed after the rolling bin and kicked it violently with his heavy army boots.
 “Merde!” swore Maurice.
 He turned his head to the brightly lit part of Downtown.
 “You’ve had it chiennes! Fucking dogs!”
 These words were not addressed to the tank crew or soldiers of the opposition. Maurice was sharing his hatred for the world with the night sky. He was gleeful, and he wanted the sky to hear his words. His accented hate message disappeared in the fog.
 Maurice jogged between the houses with nervous laughter. Suddenly, he stopped in the middle of the back alley. A scrawny little dog was eating something near an old, torn garbage bag thirty odd feet from him.
 “You want to say hello to good old Maurice?” said Maurice, slowly tiptoeing to the dog. “You wonna say that, my little puppy? You will say that soon. Just stay there. Just stay there, my little chienne.”
 Maurice pulled a gun from his pocket, took aim and fired; the bullet whined as it ricocheted off the fence. The unharmed dog raced away toward a group of severely damaged buildings.
 “Oh, shit!” exclaimed Maurice; he was frustrated with such poor marksmanship, for which hatred and excitement were largely responsible. “I’ll get you, puppy. If you met good old Maurice, you are dead puppy anyway.”
 Maurice ran to where the dog disappeared. He raced between the buildings and stopped suddenly. A whole pack of dogs was standing in an empty street. About twenty of them were facing Maurice, some of them already growling. One of the dogs snarled and began a cautious advance. The rest followed slowly. There was a lot of menace in their behavior.
 Maurice didn’t feel frightened at all. He was mildly amused that there were still so many stray dogs in the city. The kamikaze school was running short of live targets and here they were — a whole pack of them.
 “Come over here, guys!” said Maurice. “Come closer,
my chiennes!”
 The dogs continued to advance, growling, showing their fangs. Maurice took good aim slowly and fired into the head of the first dog. The dog fell on the pavement and screamed horribly through its convulsions.
 What happened later was something Maurice didn’t expect at all, even in his wildest dreams in Marseilles. Contrary to his expectations, several dogs attacked him all at once. Maurice got scared and retreated to the wall. He fired six times at the dogs jumping at him from all directions. The wave of enraged dogs toppled him to the ground. Maurice lost his already useless gun in his fall. All ammunition was used up. He tried to jump to his feet and ran with two dogs hanging from his ankle. He didn’t remember having such an excruciating pain in his entire life. He screamed savagely. More dogs attacked and pulled him to the ground for the last time. Maurice was writhing and screaming, as the dogs were eating him alive. A big brownish dog went for his throat. Maurice smelled horrible canine breath, which was suffocating him. He grabbed at the jaws that were getting closer to his throat. His hands had no strength left, as they each had at least five bites.
 Maurice gave a last desperate scream and choked on it as the dog clasped his teeth on his throat. Blood bubbled forth on the dog’s muzzle, making the dog drunk with desire to kill. With a growl, he went for a second deeper bite. Seconds later, Maurice was dead and twitching away the remains of his life. The pack of dogs was devouring Maurice, fighting between each other for “food.”
 Painter  scrutinized his recent creation composed of countless cuts from old magazines. It was a bizarre collage, inspired by warring Daggersville. There was a tiny violet, pinned to the corner of the board, next to the neatly cut cartoon of the War Priest. Obviously, censorship was not at its worst yet.
 It was getting late. Since recently, Painter began to like his lonely evenings by the light of candles stuck into two champagne bottles, all covered with wax stalactites. The wax was from different candles, so the stalactites looked festive. A draft rustled the collage cutouts on the board, that seemed to accumulate everything in the world. Photographs of different flowers  were pinned in the left-hand bottom corner. Pictures of celebrities and dignitaries were huddled in the center. Some photographs were intricately nipped and cut, showing Painter’s alteration of the reality. A tiny photograph of an ear could only be seen clearly through the magnifying glass. It was cut from the Daggersville Star newspaper. Its recent editorial featured stories about the War Priest and his Military Council. So Painter used only one ear from the whole photograph and pinned it in the center of his collage.
 The whole collage looked strange in the light of two candles. Paper rustled softly, animating the composition.  Painter thought that this was exactly how civilization looked to an all-seeing eye up there. There was no free space left on the picture. Painter took a cigarette from a crumpled pack on the table and went to the mirror. His eternal diary had no entries today. Painter looked at his shadowy and vague reflection. His face was changed by the light of two candles on the floor. A glow of the distant artillery barrage was coming through the window in pulsating flares. Lazy gunfire rolled through the neighborhood and died down. Obviously, this war was in its chronic stage, with somebody firing occasionally and somebody dying on both sides of the line. Painter took his marker pen and began to paint on the surface of his mirror that still bore traces of previous notes.
 Suddenly, there was a knock on the door. There was a familiar touch to the sound, so Painter didn’t even turn.
 “Ghosts welcome!” called Painter with a smile. “Come on in.”
 Silvanov opened the door and walked into the room. His face was covered with perspiration. He took a starched white handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed his forehead.
 “Oh, Painter!” moaned Silvanov helplessly.
 Painter was quite surprised to see Silvanov at this hour. However, he turned back to his mirror and continued to write.
 “Anything new in this world,” asked the Painter, looking at the reflection of Silvanov who was still wiping his perspiring face.
 “Hello Painter… I said hello,” said Silvanov with some degree of irritation.
 “So what’s new?”
 “Oh, I don’t know where to start,” said Silvanov and looked around the room as though looking for a chair. He stepped closer to Painter and glanced over his shoulder with surprise.
 “What are doing with this mirror?” asked Silvanov.
 “It’s my eternal book,” answered the Painter, continuing to write. “You know, I started it twenty years ago. And believe me, it absorbs everything. I wonder why they invented computers, if the mirror was discovered thousands of years ago.”
 Silvanov spread his hands, understanding that Painter was in one of his philosophical moods. He could hardly expect any reasonable answer.
 “You are talking like a retired hippie,” said Silvanov accusingly.
 Painter turned to him, with a pen poised in his hand.
 “I’m not retired, Silvanov. I haven’t reached my retirement age. War Priest actually did retire. Once he was a Catholic school principal, and then he retired to become a general of multinational forces in this war…”
 “How funny,” said Silvanov wryly. “Why don’t you quote something from Dylan or Keruak?”
 “Because they have always been quoting me, Silvanov.”
 Silvanov sighed and leaned against the wall.
 “You know that the Military Council prohibited the show?”
 “Well, I expected that,” said Painter. He was sick and tired of War Priest, who was getting into everybody’s business these days. Playing tin soldiers was definitely not enough for him.
 “War Priest said that three civilians were killed during yesterday’s curfew. And all of them were killed near Market Square.”
 Painter felt annoyed with the whole business.
 “It can wait, can’t it?” said Painter. He didn’t want to share Silvanov’s frequent frustrations. The man was simply in a habit of complaining about things.
 Painter was surprised to hear a muffled sob behind his back; he turned and saw Silvanov wiping his eyes with his crumpled handkerchief. His face was purple with emotion.
 “But the thing is that Nijinsky doesn’t have to wait,” said Silvanov somberly. “He doesn’t want to wait. He is dancing tonight.”
 “Where?” asked the Painter and stopped his writing. This was a surprising news.  
 “Why do you ask me ‘where’? In the same old place, right in front of your window.”
 “All by himself?” Painter squinted at Silvanov in disbelief.
 “He could always dance by himself, but with all this fire… I don’t know what might happen o him. Painter, do something about it. He is the only precious thing I have.”
 Painter looked at him gravely and threw the pen on the table.
 “You know him better than I do,” said Painter. “I can’t stop him, nobody can. Only death…”
 Silvanov looked at Painter in disbelief. These were the words he was afraid to hear from Painter. It was the truth he knew, and it was hard to hear confirmation of this truth from Painter.
 “I don’t want him to die, Painter,” whispered Silvanov and shook his head slowly, emphasizing his words. “I don’t want him to die.”
 They came to the window overlooking Market Square and looked down.
 Market Square was wrapped in thick fog, which was more pronounced these days. Perhaps, this was due to the fact that many buildings in downtown were on fire. Nobody cared to extinguish them, so they were burning themselves out, doing it slowly in this sickly humidity.
 Nijinsky felt the dampness of the pavement through his silk and satin ballet shoes as he walked across Market Square. He was looking for a suitable place for his large portable cassette player. He looked around at the ghastly silhouettes of the buildings on all sides of the square and put the player on the pavement. The city was rumbling with  the muffled music of war, but Nijinsky felt very silent and lonely inside. He pressed the “on” button and moved in time with experimental jazz, blaring from the player.
 He started his dance slowly, as though awakening from a deep sleep. Soon he was leaping around, oblivious of Daggersville and of this time warp that was throwing him in the middle of different military conflicts for almost five years. Dance was a world of his own, an intact peaceful world.
 Nijinsky was paying tribute to his own mad genius in front of unseen spectators, who were watching this strange solo show from the window on the fifth floor. Silvanov was weeping silently. He felt that these were the last moments of the unparalleled grace of Nijinsky. Yes, Nijinsky above all, above everything in this vulgar world, which had no respect for itself and even less respect for the grace of art.
 A tank appeared in the square and rumbled towards the center. It rolled past dancing Nijinsky. The turret machine-guns fired into the darkness. A missile streaked from the roof into the tank, setting it on fire. A crewman, engulfed in  flames, jumped from the turret on the pavement. He was all soaked with diesel fuel and was ablaze. He started to dance wildly around the tank, rolled on the ground, continuing to burn. His screams were smothered by recorded music and reverberating gunfire. The crewman looked like a rag soaked with fuel and set on fire. He was motionless now.
  Nijinsky was blind to everything happening around him. He didn’t even notice that he was dancing ten meters away from the burning tank. Another tank appeared from the same street and clanked its way across the square. It passed several paces from dancing Nijinsky, crushing the tape recorder with its tracks to plastic dust. 
 Nijinsky didn’t hear that the music had stopped. He was circling away from the burning tank to the rim of the square, thinking about a white elf, fluttering his milk-colored wings. He thought about the elf rising slowly above the square into the gray sky. Somewhere above this fog, there had to be a serene moon. Nijinsky wanted to be there all by himself. He was now dancing without music. Panting heavily, Silvanov ran across the square and grabbed Nijinsky by the elbow. Nijinsky tried to free his hand, but Silvanov grabbed him by the coat and shook him violently.
 “Vaslav, stop it, stop it right now!” screamed Silvanov in his face. “Stop it in God’s name! I implore, I beg of you to stop.”
 Nijinsky didn’t look at Silvanov’s face. By now he was exhausted and panted with difficulty. His face, gray and unhealthy, was covered with sweat.
 “Do you understand that you will die here?” Silvanov was close to tears. “Look what’s happening. You will die for nothing in this inferno.”
 Silvanov shook him some more and pointed with his right hand at the blazing tank. Nijinsky turned his face and stared at Silvanov, as though trying to recognize him.
 “I am dead and I have to go where I belong,” said Nijinsky suddenly.
 Silvanov was stunned by Nijinsky’s answer. He took a step back, releasing his grip on the dancer’s coat.
 “I am dead. That’s all right…”
 Nijinsky turned and walked toward the northern part of the square where the tank had disappeared. Silvanov stared at Nijinsky withdrawing like a white ghost; Nijinsky’s white silhouette was turning into a mere shadow. Soon, he disappeared into the fog. Gunfire resumed a couple of blocks away. Silvanov moaned helplessly and ran after Nijinsky.
 “Vaslav! Vaslav! Come back!” called Silvanov through the sound of gunfire and stopped. “You are the only thing I have! You are the only thing that can save this world!”
 Painter saw Silvanov standing in the middle of Market Square. He looked small and helpless from the window of his apartment. The tank and the “rag doll” next to him were still ablaze.
 “Vaslav! Vaslav!”
 A desperate cry rolled across the square and reached Painter.
 Silvanov slumped and went in the opposite direction.
Painter thought about calling him, but thought against it. He knew that Silvanov would prefer to spend this night without consoling words. He knew Silvanov well enough by now.
 Painter shut the window slowly, doing it mostly by force of habit, because his window had no panes anymore.
He went to the mirror and looked at his face. He looked old and tired. Creases ran like furrows across his forehead. He took his marker pen from the table and touched the glass. It was not a proper time for his diary, however, and he knew it. He closed his eyes for a moment, sighed and wrote across the mirror in huge caps: WAR IN THE FOG.
 Painter looked at the reflection of a single candle that was still burning in its empty champagne bottle. Painter took the bottle and held it close to his face. More lines appeared in distortion created by the light. Painter turned his face and blew on the candle, still looking right into his own eyes. The room went dark.
 Nijinsky reached the buildings on the other side of the square and turned to look back at his last “stage.” He knew that the most of his life would be over tonight and he wanted to speed up the process. He stood there, gazing wistfully at the square, where the blaze of the tank was hardly visible through the fog. To him, this torched tank symbolized the funeral pyre of himself. He knew that in a bizarre way he was free as of tonight. He turned and walked along the street, which was narrow and extremely dark. All windows on the ground floor level were smashed and the pavement was littered with furniture.
 All of a sudden a dog ran up to him from a doorway. It trotted up to Nijinsky and barked viciously. Vaslav didn’t even look at the dog. The music inside his head continued, getting louder and quieter, as though somebody was turning the volume knob back and forth. Nijinsky walked for a while, then made several movements sideways and back, as though performing in a ballet. His movements were rough and disproportionate. It seemed as if he was unable to forget his last dance in the square. Nijinsky felt as though he was dancing against his will, but he enjoyed these spontaneous convulsions.
 Nijinsky was progressing up the street in a very strange pattern. A dog followed him closely, barking viciously, but not daring to attack.
 A soot-smeared soldier caught Nijinsky with his night scope and followed the leaping contour for a while, nursing the trigger. The sniper gave himself ten seconds to decide whether to spare this weird civilian who was turning a battle zone into a discotheque. He reached for the pack of cigarettes. It was empty.
 “Fuck you,” whispered the soldier and yawned. He was sick and tired of sniping patrols.
 Nijinsky proceeded down the street, jumping left and right with feline dexterity. A white sofa was blocking his passage, so he bypassed it by walking between it and the wall.
 A shadow darted towards him and he felt hands grabbing him firmly. Nijinsky didn’t resist, as he was dragged to the open doorway. He was pressed to the wall and blinded with a flashlight, which was positioned  five inches from his eyes. Nijinsky couldn’t explain why he didn’t resist. The flashlight danced around, and Nijinsky caught a glimpse of three civilians, one of them being a squat oriental. Their features were very hazy.
 Genghis pressed the gun to Nijinsky’s chin and narrowed his narrow eyes.
 “Who are you?” asked Genghis menacingly. “What are you doing in the area controlled by the Crusade for Sanity?”
 Chef recognized Nijinsky right away and pushed Genghis away.
 “I know this man,” said Chef. “He is a mad Russian.”
 “The one from the Market Show?” chuckled Genghis. “How could they lock us up, when there are guys like him around?”
 Jesus smiled neurotically and caressed his sten gun.
 “Ask him whether he recognizes me,” said Jesus. “Ask him! I don’t care that he is a famous dancer. And I don’t care about his madness a single little tiny bit. It matters to me whether he recognizes me. And I want his answer here and now!!!”
 Jesus rattled his sten against the wall to add more meaning to his words.
 Chef stood aside and moved his flashlight up and down, as though studying Nijinsky’s outfit.
 “Ask him…” persisted Jesus.
 “Shut up, Jesus!” said Chef, cutting him short. “I’ve had enough of your crappy questions for today.”
 Nijinsky didn’t feel scared. He was pale and indifferent to his captors.
 “How come el-Saidi didn’t get him yet?” asked Genghis in a whisper. “That’s a big puzzle for me. How come el-Saidi…”
 “El-Saidi was hired to fight and not to kill,” snarled Chef.
 Genghis felt insulted.
 “Did el-Saidi tell you that?” said Genghis. “Look at him. He is watching te-le-vi-sion. What else have you heard lately, Mr. Politician?”
 Chef kicked him in the groin, making him fall to his knees. Genghis was groaning, uttering muffled curses.
 “Fuck you, fuck your el-Saidi..
 Chef turned to Nijinsky as if nothing happened and asked him in a very sweet voice:
 “What are you doing here at night, Nijinsky? It is not a good place for a good dancer, you know that?”
 Chef was elated — Nijinsky would be the most unexpected catch among the Mountainview POWs.
 “Finish, finish him off in the name of Crusade for Sanity!” said Jesus angrily.
 “I am telling you that it is Nijinsky,” said Chef. “Everybody knows that he is mad. That means that he is one of us.”
 Chef grabbed Nijinsky with his both hands and shook him violently.
 “Wake up, wake up, Nijinsky! What are you doing here in the middle of the night?”
 Nijinsky heard somebody talking inside his head. The voice sounded, as though it was some radio broadcast. Nijinsky was overwhelmed with desire to repeat the words.
 “…I take the flame and convert it into another sunset,” said Nijinsky hurriedly, repeating the words he heard, “then I take the flower and turn it into another dream… and music… and music, until the end of time…”
 Nijinsky shook his head, his face expressed anguish.
 “I don’t like this, Nijinsky,” screamed Chef. “Shut the fuck up!”
 Chef pressed his hand to Nijinsky’s mouth and looked into his eyes. Jesus picked the flashlight and held it to Nijinsky’s face.
 Genghis stood up slowly, still whispering curses under his breath. He didn’t blame Chef for brutality; he blamed himself for something a good warrior was not supposed to do. He argued with his superior in the crusade and got justly punished.
 “I am dead,” said Nijinsky.
 “What?” asked Genghis.
 “I’m dead,” repeated Nijinsky.
 Chef smiled and turned his head to share his pleasure with the other two.
 “You definitely belong to us, Nijinsky,” said Chef, still smiling. “A world celebrity spreading the Word of Truth, contributing his genius to the Crusade!”
 Genghis coughed and narrowed his eyes.
 “He is ours — that’s for sure,” said Genghis.
 “Should I give him a gun?” asked Jesus.
 “No, no guns,” said Chef shrewdly. “We are keeping him for the sake of publicity. If he wants to be dead, we will show him the place all right.”
 All of them went through the hallway to the back entrance, from where they exited into the back alley. All of them walked slowly along the narrow lane. Distant sounds of shooting continued around Market Square.
 “Can I dance?” asked Nijinsky.
 “Sure, you can,” said Chef. “You can dance as long as you are with us. We know how to appreciate your talent. Believe us, we do. Otherwise, we would still be siding with el-Saidi or with War Priest. We know what we are up to. Crusade for Sanity takes no sides. You have to know this first and foremost.”
 “Where are we going now?” asked Nijinsky.
 “To our headquarters,” answered  Chef, “at the Mountainview Mental Hospital. Now it belongs to us. To us and to nobody else.”
 Genghis sidestepped and threw something into the dark window of the building nearby. His hand grenade shattered the window and exploded inside in a couple of seconds.
 Chef turned to Genghis and made a dramatic gesture.
 “Silence, Genghis,” said Chef. “We are escorting a ballet genius.”
 All of them continued along the back alley. Nijinsky was following behind the group. He was now leaping around with feline grace and now simply walking. His show was still on. Soon, all of them disappeared in the fog.
 It was raining hard through another day of hostilities. Rain was breaking through the thick wisps of ever-present fog, adding more misery to crumbling Daggersville. However, the Downtown area was still alive, with occasional cafes offering their patrons bad food and drinks for exorbitant prices. Civilians in the streets were still trotting to what was left of their civilian business. Umbrellas were traditionally black in Daggersville these days, thanks to omnipresent snipers who were known for a strange habit of shooting at everything more or less colorful. Black umbrellas of civilians were a humble tribute to the presence of snipers.
 Civilian casualties were as steady as military losses. Master plan of the war was separating grains from chaff. Mistakes were allowed and tolerated by both sides. There were more posters of War Priest as a youngish man, leading the nation represented by a single city. Some posters had bullet holes; some were desecrated with peace signs. Flyers glued underneath the posters promised long and painful death to radicals, peace activists and other scum. Posters of the Crusade for Sanity could be mostly found in the back alleys. They were glued or scotch-taped with perfectionism characteristic of people with severe mental problems. Such posters were hard to tear down. The Daggersville Star was coming off the printing  press once a week. It was no longer a daily newspaper. Cynical jokers suggested that paper for remaining six days was used for posters and other paper demands of the propaganda drive. Cynical jokers were running a big risk too. There were rumors of court marshals, although no one was sure of that.
 Silvanov couldn’t sit still in his non-bullet-proof home after the disappearance of Nijinsky. With the show closed down, life seemed meaningless to him. He tried “to drink himself to death,” but fell asleep after the first glass of vodka. He vomited his attempt on his life the next  morning, shaking and convulsing over the can.
 He was wandering more than an hour in the streets under his black umbrella, which provided comfort only for his head and shoulders. This winter rain was quite merciless. Silvanov turned into Royal Avenue and saw quite a few prostitutes lining the sidewalks. The girls were standing in this rainy misery under bright umbrellas, never caring about the snipers, who actually didn’t discriminate in their choice of targets anyway. Girls looked tired and unwanted in this day-time patrol of free love. The military, however, were elsewhere in this hour. The prostitutes looked with disgust at the rain-soaked man in his fifties with long stubble that suggested absence of interest to life and absence of finances to make himself more presentable. Silvanov didn’t shave for at least five days.
 Silvanov crossed the street. The space underneath a heritage building was cordoned off with yellow tape and a sign warning about falling debris. The building took a direct hit and had cracks in the walls and in the foundation. The yellow tape was stretched after the southern wall collapsed, killing two legless beggars. The rest of the legless beggars were given a chance to live outside the cordon.
 Silvanov looked up at expensively decorated walls of the buildings. Some marble statues on the cornices were badly damaged.
 Two boys in dark uniforms and with rag hair bands rumbled past, pushing a huge wheelbarrow full of hand grenades. Their Uzi guns dangled from their skinny shoulders. One boy had a blood stained gauze patch on his right cheek.
 Silvanov stopped and looked at the strange-looking boys. Silvanov was sad. He couldn’t believe that these scrawny and undernourished creatures were part of warfare. One boy noticed Silvanov’s gaze and showed him a finger. Silvanov sighed understandingly and proceeded along the street that was wet and slippery.
 Painter saw Silvanov through the dirty glass of the  cafe and rushed outside into the rain.
 “Hey, Silvanov!” called Painter and grabbed the man’s sleeve.
 Silvanov stopped and looked at Painter with sadness.
 “How are you?” greeted Silvanov.
 Silvanov positioned his umbrella over their heads. However, the umbrella offered no protection from annoying drizzle.
 “It appears that both of us are having a bad time,”
said Painter. “Alicia is lost. I know that Nijinsky never showed up since the other night.”
 Silvanov bit his lower lip in pain. Why did this Painter want to remind him about that?
 “I don’t have anything left in this crazy life,” said Silvanov. “Was it worthwhile to run from one war and get into the middle of another?”
 “I gave up asking this questions a long time ago,” said Painter with soft sadness. “I don’t think I had more respect for transitory things and values even before this war…”
 Silvanov made a face and interrupted him sarcastically:
 “Eternal hippie! Don’t you know that your time is over, Painter?”
 Painter wanted to contradict but it was not the place, neither the time. He simply spread his hands, as though attempting to say something. He smiled, trying to soften the situation.
 “Sorry, sorry, Painter,” said Silvanov, feeling very penitent. “Since Nijinsky’s disappearance, I am in a terrible mood. You must understand me. I know you have your own problems with Alicia’s disappearance.”
 Painter scratched the back of his head.
 “Exactly,” he said. “Listen, I heard a new report on recent developments. I was on TV. They say that according to Russian intelligence officer Ivanov, Nijinsky locked himself up in the Mountainview Mental Hospital. I don’t know whether it was true, but it might be possible. The other night, three strange guys visited me and tried to recruit me for some Crusade for Sanity. They were saying that Nijinsky would be with them one day. The two stories match somehow…”
 Silvanov grabbed Painter’s jacket and stared at him like a madman.
 “Really! Oh, thank God, he is alive! I thought he was killed in all this mess and buried in a mass grave on the outskirts. Let’s go to the hospital!”
 Silvanov was now holding his umbrella upside down. His face was covered with a fine mist of water.
 “Listen, Silvanov,” said Painter. “I am afraid it would be quite dangerous. Not immediately, certainly. The hospital area has a bad reputation for civilian casualties. Listen, I don’t want to be drenched to the bone here. Let’s get back to the cafe…”
 They entered the cafe and headed for the bar.
 “One vodka for me,” said Silvanov to the waiter, who was a bartender at the same time. “What will you drink?”
 “I had some beer already,” said Painter.
 Silvanov picked the shooter and emptied it in one gulp. It seemed that he didn’t even feel the burn of hard stuff. He passed his hand over his eyes tiredly.
 “I don’t think he is alive. I think he is dead…”
 “There is a chance he is still alive,” said Painter, although he himself had a lot of doubts.
 “You know that these warring vandals try to destroy everything of beauty and value,” moaned Silvanov. “What is it? Tell me. Imbecility? Jealousy? I can’t comprehend this.”
 “You know the answer better than I,” said Painter evasively. “We are in the middle of the war, and that explains everything. War is nothing else but a pretext. I know that you don’t believe in the supreme cause or patriotism as justification for killing. Somebody definitely thinks otherwise.”
 Silvanov listened to him, moving his head left and right as though studying simplistic decor on the other side of the counter. He put his soggy hat on the bar and sighed.
 “I am not naive enough to believe in this,” said Silvanov sullenly. “Vandalism is certainly an excuse in any war, and the war itself is just another excuse.”
 “At least I saw these guys from the mental hospital,” said Painter. “I gave them one of my pictures. I think that made them less aggressive.”
 Silvanov stared at him in amazement. Painter always had something in store and kept it away to the end of the story.
 “It’s true,” nodded Painter.
 Silvanov began to laugh. After all this stress, some things were getting very funny.
 “You don’t make much money with your pictures,” giggled out Silvanov, “but at least you managed to save your life with your weird art. Isn’t it hilarious, Painter?”
 He laughed hysterically. The waiter, passing near them, stopped and looked at the laughing man. He was quite puzzled. After all, none of them drank too much. An old bagman in the far corner looked up from his beer at the laughing man and wrinkled his forehead. Silvanov and Painter continued to laugh like maniacs. An officer rose from the corner table and came up to the laughing men.
 “Stop this cynical laughter!” commanded the officer. “We are in a war…”
 He looked like a clean military bureaucrat from the army headquarters. Painter and Silvanov didn’t even turn to him. Officer got red in the face and screamed at the top of his voice, which was breaking like that of an adolescent.
 “I told you — stop this inappropriate laughter!” yelled the officer.
  Painter laughed with tears in his eyes; he was gasping for breath now. The pink-faced officer returned to his table and lit up his cigarette with a nervous, adrenaline-induced movement.
 It was yet another night of the foggy war. Nights were convenient for all parts involved in this strangest game of all. Miraculously enough, it seemed that with every next night darkness was getting even more impenetrable.
 It took them, what they thought, ages to reach the mental hospital. The streets looked very much the same and were as deadly at night time as they were during the day. Night scopes could read through the darkness; night scopes were seeing everything in sickly blue light. Cross hairs of the night scopes glowed like night-time city streets if viewed from the airplane. Intersection of the horizontal and vertical avenues had to be trained on the enemy.
 Painter and Silvanov had to use back alleys all the time. They crossed several streets, with echo of their steps carried far, alerting snipers on the top floors. They had to sprint from one wall to another. They always succeeded in getting out from the streets before an all seeing eye of the night scope could find them.
 Forty minutes into their skirmish, Painter squinted at the old building on the other side of the intersection. A wreckage of the truck in front of the building looked like a cadaver of a giant beetle, who succumbed to his death with paws stretched to the sky.
 “I think this is the place,” said Painter and moved across the street.
 “No, I don’t believe he is alive'” whispered Silvanov from the back. “This city is dying. Don’t you see that?”
 The partially demolished gate of the hospital was looming in front of them.
 “We are almost there, Silvanov,” said Painter, trying hard not to be heard. “Don’t bury him before we find out what’s going on.”
 Silvanov stopped in the middle of the street and said loudly:
 “If he is dead, I don’t care about my life anymore. I will ask War Priest to take me away from the city. You can join me.”
 Painter turned to him, indignant beyond words. After all they were few paces away from the hospital.
 “What kind of flamingo-pink plans are you making in the middle of the night…?” asked Painter with irritation.
 His question was cut in the middle by a sudden machine-gun burst that sent sparks from the pavement not far from where they stood. From his everyday experience, Painter knew that there would be a second burst in a few seconds. The next one could be more precise.
 Painter grabbed Silvanov and pulled him behind the wreckage of the truck. Second burst followed almost immediately, spraying the pavement and the remains of the truck.
 “It’s me, Painter,” yelled Painter towards the source of fire from behind the wreckage.
 The invisible sniper answered with three shots in semi-automatic regime. The bullets entered the hood of the dead truck with the horrible sound.
 “It’s me, Painter!” screamed Painter. “Tell Jesus or whoever visited me that Painter is here. I contributed a picture to the Crusade for Sanity.”
 Two of them were crouching behind the truck.
 The firing stopped abruptly, as though it had never happened. There was no sound at all behind the gate.
 “If they are firing from the mental hospital, than that is the end of the world,” said Silvanov. “Who is doing that?”
 Painter pressed his index finger to his lips, asking Silvanov to tune down.
 “The patients took over the hospital after the staff had fled at the beginning of hostilities.”
 “Who told you that?” hissed out Silvanov.
 Painter looked cautiously over the badly burned wheel of the truck. There was no movement at the gate.
 “Rumors of a dying city…” he said slowly.
 “It is not funny at all,” murmured Silvanov.
 “Hey, you!” cried somebody from behind the gate. “Come to the gate with your hands on your heads!”
 “I will stay here!” said Silvanov, grabbing Painter by his hand.
 Painter shook himself free.
 “It will only make things worse. If you try to escape, they will simply shoot you.”
 Silvanov thought it over, put his hands on his head and followed after Painter. They reached the gate, where they saw a small group of armed people. Genghis stepped forward to meet them; he narrowed his eyes with satisfaction. Painter looked around for familiar faces and saw Jesus some distance away. He was smoking nervously. Jesus was obviously displeased with something. Slowly, Painter lowered his hands.
 “I knew you would come to us, Painter,” said Genghis and patted Painter’s shoulder with his heavy hand. “Chef is extremely happy about the picture you gave us. We have printed twenty-five thousand posters already.”
 Genghis pointed at the gate post that had a poster pinned to it.
 “That’s how it looks,” said Genghis with pride.
 “I actually came to help this man,” explained Painter.
 Silvanov was nodding at everyone nervously, although nobody returned his greetings. Jesus looked at Silvanov with contempt. He could tell a clean guy from miles away.
 “This man is Nijinsky’s manager,” went on Painter, “and now he is looking for the dancer. He doesn’t know where he is.”
 Chef came up to them from the darkened part of the front yard. His face had a standard double-sweet smile.
 “Greetings, Painter. Are you ready to join our Crusade?”
 “This man is Nijinsky’s manager,” repeated Painter.
 Silvanov blinked around nervously and said:
 “My friend…Nijinsky… has disappeared several days ago. We don’t know where he is.”
 Chef answered quickly, looking at Silvanov with his dark eyes. He savored impending reaction of this Russian.
 “Nijinsky is dead,” said Silvanov.
 Silvanov was aghast. Chef was taking his time; there was no need to hurry with the answer.
 “Well… he calls himself dead, as far as I understand. He is with us, at the hospital, but he calls himself dead.”
 Jesus came closer, as sour as ever.
 “He does,” said Jesus. “I am a witness to that.”
 Silvanov felt sick and relieved at the same time.
 “Good Lord,” exclaimed he, “why are you speaking of death? What a joke!”
 Silvanov was furious. Painter put a hand on his shoulder.
 “Listen,” said Painter. “You know well enough that Nijinsky has been calling himself dead lately. That’s what he said himself.”
 “What’s the point of repeating this?” protested Silvanov in a pained voice.
 Jesus was smoking in the darkness. Only the tip of his cigarette was glowing as he drew on it.
 “Throw them out, Chef!” said Jesus spitefully.
 “Listen, Jesus, you are getting too aggressive these days,” reproached Chef without turning his head. “This man has shattered nerves…”
 The talk of shattered nerves made all patients laugh cynically. They knew a lot about shattered nerves. Chef lifted his hand, calming the crowd.
 “I can arrange a meeting between you and Nijinsky,” said Chef. “He is at the basement now.”
 “Are you holding him there?” asked Silvanov, prepared to hear anything. He could expect absolutely anything in this morbid place.
 “No, he keeps himself there?” said Genghis.
 The patients burst out laughing.
 They entered the building that was as dark as the rest of the buildings in Daggersville. Genghis turned on a flashlight and lead the whole group to the basement. Soon, they stopped in the middle of the narrow corridor. He pointed his flashlight at the brass letters on the door: MORGUE.
 “Oh, no!” exclaimed Silvanov weakly.
 Painter touched his hand. Jesus pushed the door with his left hand, and a beam of light entered the room. The circle of light moved from the tiles of the entrance to the distant wall. The yellow eye of the flashlight was revealing blood on the floor and frozen carcasses in the corners.
 Painter and Silvanov got pale at the sight. The flashlight picked up the figure of Nijinsky sitting near the distant wall. He was wrapped in a blanket. Nijinsky looked into the source of light indifferently. It seemed that he was taken into the mortuary by mistake. Nijinsky’s eyes were strange and alarming.
 “Vaslav!” exclaimed Silvanov and rushed to Nijinsky, slipping on the icy tiles. The rest of the group remained standing on the other side of the door. With the flashlight pointed at his back, Silvanov was casting long shadows on the walls. Silvanov came up to Nijinsky and went on his knees in front of him.
 “What are you doing in this dreadful place, Vaslav?”
 There was no answer.
 “Speak, Vaslav!”
 Nijinsky looked at him long and hard, as though recognizing him or seeing him for the first time in his life.
 “I am dead and I will stay where I belong,” said Nijinsky in a strange voice. “I am dead as far as everything is concerned.”
 “But, but… You have to live… You have to dance, Vaslav!” said Silvanov. “You were born to dance.”
 “I dance here. I will always dance,” said Nijinsky and smiled. “Go with peace, Silvanov; I found my place in this world.”
 Nijinsky wrapped himself even more in his dirty blanket.
 “I don’t want to repeat myself,” said Nijinsky.
 “Why are you doing this to me?” said Silvanov.
 Nijinsky jerked his head in irritation.
 “I am not doing anything for your sake anymore. My show is over, and it is my choice…”
 Painter entered the room and came up to Silvanov. He knew that all his effort would be pointless. He put his hand on Silvanov’s shoulder.
 “I can’t believe this,” said Silvanov, rising.
 He rose slowly, still in shock. He looked at Painter and at their giant shadows projected on the opposite wall and on a pile of bodies under worn-out plastic.
 “Let’s go,” said Painter quietly.
 They turned and went back to the door. Silvanov slipped and would have fallen for sure, if it were not for Painter. They exited into the corridor where the hospital patients were waiting tensely.
 Chef looked at Silvanov with malice. He savored moments like this.
 “Why don’t you contribute your show to the Crusade for Sanity?” asked Chef. “You have the best dancer and we have the best setting here.”
 Silvanov turned to Painter.
 “I’ve had enough of this,” whispered Silvanov and  closed the door to the morgue slowly.
  Nijinsky was staring at him, blinded by the flashlight. His face disappeared in the darkness as the door  closed. Silvanov closed the door and waited, expecting that the miracle would happen and Nijinsky would call his name. However, there was no sound inside. Silvanov pressed his face to the door underneath the brass plaque.
 “Let’s get upstairs,” said an invisible patient behind their back.
 Painter and Silvanov moved along the corridor, escorted by armed patients. Chef was conversing with Genghis in hushed voices.
 They exited through the front door. The patients huddled on the porch and watched them leave without a single word. Painter knew that he would start thinking about his safety on the other side of the gate. He and Silvanov walked to the gate slowly, not turning, not talking to each other.
 On the porch, Jesus slowly lifted his sten gun, aiming at Silvanov and Painter.
 Seeing him do that, Chef lowered the barrel with his right hand.
 “No!” said Chef with finality.
 “Fuck!” cursed Jesus. “Do you want everybody to know about this visit tomorrow?”
 Jesus threw his submachine-gun on the porch and returned to the building.
 “Who cares, after all?” said Chef to himself. “Who cares?”
 He smiled with content. He had a lot of reasons to be pleased.
 Downtown was the last part of the city that resisted war for some time. Now it was showing multiple signs of deterioration. The heart of Daggersville was falling apart like the rest of the city. It was even more apparent on this ghastly day, with moisture suspended in the gray air. The Central Garden, a pride of former Daggersville, looked mowed. Shells and mortars turned the trees in the garden into a semblance of lumberyard. Splintered trees were showing gaping wounds. Buildings around were also badly scared by the incessant shelling. The circular road and the driveway in front of the Military Council were badly littered with splinters of wood, bricks and dirt. The square looked quite empty if it were not for a group of green vehicles parked close to the mangled garden.
 A legless soldier in drab uniform was sitting less than a block away from the Military Council. He looked like a natural byproduct of the Civil War that was supposed to breed a lot of legless, handless and eyeless beggars. It was hard to say whether the soldier lost his feet in these hostilities. But he looked like a real war veteran. He was strumming the strings of an expensive acoustic guitar that could not be heard at all from more than thirty feet. The city was muffling the sounds of music. The melody seemed to have been created years ago. The callused hands of the soldier were moving along the strings with surprising dexterity. His green battle cap was two feet away, with a  handful of change at the bottom.
 A group of kamikaze scouts appeared from behind the corner and marched along the side of the square towards the City Hall. They looked tired and battle-worn in their dirt-green uniforms. Their commander, accidentally the instructor of the Kamikaze School, didn’t look better. All kids were loaded like mules with ammunition and guns. Some of them carried two and even three machine-guns each, suggesting that an extra gun used to belong to somebody who was successfully victimized for the war effort.
 The group marched past the legless soldier, who continued to play through the rhythmical sounds of marching. Somebody threw a bullet into the cap; another bullet jingled against the change. Boys were pulling bullets from their ammunition belts and throwing them into the cap as they marched past the beggar. It was hard to say whether it was a good-luck gesture of the soldiers about to die or a joke. The boys didn’t look serious, neither they were in a frolicking mood. They looked very much indifferent to everything around them.
 The cap was almost full when the tail of the column approached. The beggar continued to play, sitting there, as though taking the whole thing for granted. Bullets that missed the cap rolled on the pavement. The beggar didn’t pay any attention to weird alms. One boy with a red kamikaze rag band on his bold head stepped forward and threw a green hand grenade, which had its detonator and safety pin in place. The beggar nodded appreciatively. Two boys in the rear of the column were lugging a heavy  mortar tube, stumbling all the time. The kamikaze boys circled half the perimeter of City Hall Square and snaked into one of the streets, going to the front line.
 The news crew turned into the square and headed towards the City Hall lugging their heavy equipment along. Reporter received a surprising call in the hotel this morning. He got the crew together and hurried to the Council, still trying hard to believe whether the rumors were true. It was hard to tell; obscurity was characteristic of all wars. War journalism was nourished by suggestions and rumors, which were mushrooming predominantly in the no-man’s land. Reporter spotted the beggar, sitting some twenty feet away from him.
 The sight was very unusual. The beggar was playing with a hand grenade, as if trying to figure out the purpose of this green iron ball.
 “Look at ‘im,” said Reporter to the Soundman and stopped.
 The rest of the crew stopped and stared at the beggar, who didn’t even turn his head in their direction.
 All three of them exchanged looks. Yes, the legless soldier was the first beggar asking alms near the Military Council. At least, he was the first beggar of this type.
 “I can take a good shot with bullets and all,” whispered Cameraman.
 Soundman pushed Reporter lightly and said, “Talk to him. We still have some time before the interview with War Priest. What do you think?”
 Reporter came closer to the invalid. He took a pack of cigarettes from his pocket. Reporter lit one up and held the open pack in his hand. He looked back at the crew. Soundman nodded his head, as though giving encouragement.
 Reporter came closer and threw the pack of cigarettes into the beggar’s cap.
 The pack of cigarettes fell on top of the bullets – a rare inspiration for an artist with a warped imagination.
 “How are things, soldier?” asked Reporter.
 There was no answer from the man. He looked anywhere between thirty and fifty. Many soldiers seemed to have indefinite age. It was hard, though, to say whether he belonged to the opposition or to the multinational force of War Priest. The soldier kept his silence.
 Reporter began to feel uncomfortable.
 “Must be cold sitting here in the fog, right? Well, who likes this stupid war after all? Misery and nothing else.”
 Reporter looked around and shook the ashes of his cigarette in gray pavement of the square.
 The beggar reached slowly for a cigarette and accepted the light from Reporter. He inhaled with pensive slowness of the one who knew how to savor simple pleasures of life. He was weighing  grenade in his left hand, lifting it up and down. The beggar didn’t seem touched or perturbed by Reporter’s questions. He liked expensive cigarettes, though. Meanwhile, the crew was trying hard to film the conversation from a distance.
 “Would you like to be interviewed?”
 There was no answer.
 “Well I can pay you well… There are rumors in the air that a truce might be declared several hours from now. So, I thought it would be kind of nice to interview a victim of the war… You were in the war, weren’t you?  Actually, the interview might be very helpful to you in time of peace…”
 The invalid put the hand grenade back into the cap and strummed his guitar. He resumed his unhurried melody, without looking at Reporter.
 “Tough luck,” said Reporter under his breath.
 Disappointed, he waved to the crew, which was wasting film.
 “Come on, guys” said Reporter. “We are out of luck and time. Let’s get going!”
 All of them filed past the playing beggar and went to the front steps of the Military Council. Soundman noticed a big chalk representation of a simplified phallic symbol on the marble step.
 Reporter showed his red ID to the armed guards inside the carpeted lobby. All three of them trotted up the stairs to the conference room of the Military Council.
 Larson picked an overflowing ashtray from the richly clothed oak table of the conference room and brought it carefully to the waste basket in the corner. Smoking was turning into obsession during frequent gatherings of the Military Council. The results of this obsession were seen everywhere — large irregular burns in the carpet and in the thick green tablecloth.
 At least fifteen high officers of the Council were talking in pitched voices standing in the thick cigarette smoke, which looked like a natural extension of the fog outside. Larson returned to the distant corner of the room, where War Priest stood listening to the heavily accented commentaries of Colonel Ivanov.
 The place looked and sounded like a very busy beehive. The side door flew open and a few more officers entered, talking with agitation.
 The media crew entered quietly. Reporter glanced furtively at the graffiti portrait of  War Priest. It looked more like a sarcastic cartoon. Reporter heard about the sniping accident. The bullet hole on the canvas was roughly patched with yellow thread. It was hard to explain why they were still keeping the picture in the room.
 A man dressed in combination of military and civilian attire was yelling something into the phone.
 The crew put their cumbersome equipment in the corner and reached for cigarettes. The smoking spree in Daggersville was getting very contagious.
 Reporter knew that War Priest would not be free before the start of the session. The supreme commander just love to talk for the kicks of it. He didn’t remember War Priest being pensive or silent for more than two minutes. Reporter knew that there would be nothing extremely important what he might interrupt. He was anxious to verify the rumors, strange as they seemed. He proceeded directly to War Priest who was standing in the company of Ivanov and Larson. Reporter coughed several times to make himself heard.
 War Priest lifted his head and gave his ready-made smile. As usual, the first word was uttered by smiling lips.
 “Hi, my buzzing media insect. Once again you want to reveal the secrets of the Military Council to the world.”
 War Priest seemed to be in a very good mood. Reporter knew that for the sake of business he had to adjust himself to the cheerful tone of the conversation.
 “I feel that I am very close to the end of my war reports,” said Reporter tentatively. “Looks like I will have to look for other conflicts elsewhere.”
 War Priest raised his eyebrows, still smiling. Officers in the room stopped talking. Some of them stepped closer to the representatives of the high command.
 “You know it already?” asked War Priest. “I see that you are more efficient than our Russian intelligence expert.”
 Reporter cracked his knuckles with obvious pleasure.
 “Oh, it is just a sign of professionalism. I have to know about all recent events.”
 “I worked for a couple of years as a columnist in Stockholm,” blurted out jovial Larson. “And I assure you that the career of a journalist is a little bit worse than that of a professional mercenary.”
 Larson offered an open box of cigars to Reporter, who accepted with professional casualness.
 “I wouldn’t say that,” said Reporter to Larson, twiddling an expensive cigar in his right hand. “I managed to combine two professions in one.”
 “That means you are a mercenary reporter?” chuckled Larson.
 Officers, listening to the exchange, laughed to support their superior.
 “Ah… sort of,” said Reporter and puffed on his cigar.
 There was more laughter in the room.
 “I heard that a truce is about to be declared,” asked Reporter.
 Members of the High Command and officers in the room turned to War Priest expectantly. Some of them knew the truth for sure. It seemed that War Priest hesitated for several minutes. The pause was getting too long.
 “Well,” said War Priest and continued in a changed voice, “Gentlemen, I have to announce that a truce will be effective as of midday today.”
 The crew didn’t have to wait for the announcement; they started to film long before Reporter had taken a cigar from Larson.
 “Hostilities stopped yesterday at midnight and haven’t resumed since,” went on War Priest. “For a more detailed intelligence report, I give the floor to Mr. Ivanov, who served as an exemplary intelligence advisor during the conflict.”
 Ivanov greeted all present in the room with a courteous nod of a professional military.
 “As the head of the intelligence department,” said Ivanov, “I have to inform you about cessation of hostilities last night. All groups of the opposition stopped fire along the green line, which was established at the beginning of the hostilities. It is still very difficult for us to define what happened last night. But by morning today, a large contingent of the opposition troops disappeared from the city. We suspect that opposition leaders fled in a military helicopter. Unconfirmed sources state that commanders of the opposition appealed for political asylum in a North African state.”
 Ivanov looked at War Priest, letting him know that his report is over.
 War Priest nodded and began to speak.
 “After a brief  military assessment made by me, Colonel Ivanov and Colonel Larson, I have to conclude that the opposition leaders proved impotent in view of the international military effort. Seeing no hope to continue, they fled, leaving the laurels of victory to us. Since we didn’t receive a formal notice of capitulation or any other legal confirmation, I decided to proclaim a truce effective as of midday today. If the cease-fire continues until tomorrow, the Military Council will hold a victory Parade in the afternoon. We will also organize for the partial return of the city authorities and residents from the areas of temporary evacuation.”
 Reporter coughed eloquently and lifted his hand to attract attention of War Priest, who stopped abruptly.
 “You have any questions?”
 “It is known,” said Reporter, “that the victory Monument has been vandalized recently. Will it be fit for the Victory Parade?”
 War Priest knew about the “David”; he was not surprised that Reporter was also informed about the misfortunate accident, perhaps the only big fly in the ointment.”
 “On the one hand, it is physically impossible to restore the statue,” said War Priest. “Creation of this monument cost us the equivalent of a modern aircraft carrier. Since we want to commemorate the end of the war, this monument, scarred as it is, will perfectly meet the requirements of a War Memorial. Besides, the upper part of the monument is in the fog. I don’t believe that the weather  will change by tomorrow.”
 Colonel Larson took a cigar from the box on the table and said,
 “I wonder where is Triggerhappy Jack? I heard he doesn’t feel well after the attack on his defense position several days ago.”
 Ivanov smiled, probably thinking about limited durability of the Westerners.
 “He is being treated for combat fatigue by army mental specialists,” said Ivanov. “He is in good condition now. “Good enough to attend the military parade, I guess.”
 “Excellent!” exclaimed War Priest.
 He felt no elation about the whole affair with Jack. There was nothing excellent about it. He wanted this Russian to shut up.
 “One last question,” said Reporter.
 “Oh, these questions?” said War Priest and waved his hand.
 He was beaming with contention; after all, he didn’t mind questions at all. He knew that he was being filmed.
 “What do you want to do after the war?” asked Reporter.
 War Priest looked furtively into the camera and turned back to Reporter.
 “I hope to combine my previous ecclesiastical duties and my political career. I expect to run for the governor-general of the city next year.”
 A wave of excited voices rolled through the room.
 “Thank you,” said Reporter. “I have no more questions.”
 He moved back to the rest of the media crew in the corner, knowing full well that his day was done. Amazingly enough, the rumors about truce proved to be genuine and not false.
 War Priest stood, beaming near the table.
 “And now,” said War Priest, “I invite you to share the taste of a long-forgotten drink. Who could afford champagne in time of war? Now it’s time of victory.”
 Two young officers opened the bottles with loud bangs and poured foaming wine into different glasses. Few of them were actually fitting for champagne.
 Everybody in the room stretched a hand to take a glass. Reporter received a teacup, with foam spilling over the rim.
 War Priest lifted a crystal glass. He was entitled to nothing else but crystal.
 “It remains to congratulate all people present here and honor those who fell in the battlefield for justice and democracy that are no longer threatened. The War in the Fog is over. Cheers, gentlemen!”
 Everybody cheered and guzzled the drink. When it was finished, officers and members of high command threw the glasses on the floor, smashing them to pieces. Reporter threw his teacup on the floor. It didn’t break, but rolled across the carpet to the boots of War Priest and stopped there on top of broken crystal.
 Genghis and Chef walked down the hospital corridor together and stopped in front of a door. Genghis was raving mad at Chef, though he couldn’t tell him everything what was on his mind. King Shit was known for sweet smiles and short Sicilian temper. Encounters with Chef could be violent and even deadly, but Genghis didn’t like the fact that Chef monopolized the Crusade for Sanity and was running things without asking questions. If questions were asked, they were as formal as anything. Vague, phony, bizarre…
 Chef rummaged for a key and flapped all pockets one after another. He wasn’t in a hurry, so there was no haste in his movements.
 “Why did you bring this kid here?” asked Genghis spitefully. “What’s the point of keeping him around?”
 Chef shook his jacket, expecting to hear some jingling.
 “Any kitchen needs a lot of hands, Genghis. After all, you don’t have to feed the kid, do you?”
 Chef looked at Genghis with scorn, who in his turn glared back at him with murderous eyes.
 “I thought you were the leader of the Crusade for Sanity, not me,” said Genghis, trying to sound complacent and subservient.
 “I thought that Jesus was,” chuckled Chef and looked at Genghis shrewdly.
 Genghis banged the wall with his bare fist; it answered with indifferent thud.
 “You and your jokes!” said Genghis angrily. “Aren’t you sick and tired of them?”
 Chef found the key and turned it in the lock two times. He opened the door slightly and looked at Genghis with his evasive smile.
 “How can you go in this crazy life without a good laugh?” said Chef.
 He gave an unhealthy laugh and entered the room quickly. Genghis sighed and followed obediently.
 Victor, the survivor of the orphanage massacre, greeted them with a blank stare. He was sitting on a single chair in the middle of the room, which was turned quickly into a semblance of nursery, all littered with all imaginable and unimaginable war toys. The toys were brought on orders of Chef from plundered stores. Different plastic and paper targets decorated the walls like some abstract wallpaper.
 Chef plowed his way through the heaps of plastic knives and  swords. Replicas of modern war tools were dumped in the distant corners. Plastic tanks, jet fighters and toy handguns stored in this single room could have satisfied easily the world’s most violent kindergarten, populated with most violent and war-minded kids.
 Chef stopped several paces from the child and stared at him with his hypnotic eyes. They stood there looking at each other for not less than five minutes. Genghis looked alternatively and Chef and at the kid, trying to figure out what was going on.
 “Did I make a good playroom for a good kamikaze boy?” asked Chef softly, making Victor shudder. “Look at all these things we’ve brought for you from our raids.”
 He took a small plastic crossbow from the floor and sent an arrow with the suction cup into a huge poster showing a samurai warrior. The poster, in fact, was a popular reproduction of some medieval Japanese painting.
 The arrow hit the samurai warrior in the eye and trembled nervously. The suction cup of the arrow covered the whole right eye of the warrior on the poster.
 Genghis chuckled at such awesome precision. He was immediately fascinated with the toy. He came up to the poster, pulled the arrow free, tearing the poster a little. He smiled with admiration and shook his head, looking very much like a happy samurai warrior himself.
 “Nice toys, aren’t they?’ asked Chef, crooning.
 Victor was still sitting on a chair. He had a kamikaze headband with the rising sun and some hieroglyphs. The headband was found by Chef in the city several days ago.
 “Nothing but soldiers, tanks and arrows,” said Victor suddenly. “After what happened in school, I don’t want to think about war.”
 Chef nodded his head quickly, adjusting himself to the mood of the child.
 “I know, I know how you feel, my child. But such is life in this city. We are changing it. We are sure to change it with our Crusade for Sanity. But it’s a long road. We don’t have any other option. You cook it or you dump it.”
 “Do what?” asked Victor. He was very puzzled. Whatever Chef said, seemed very confusing to him so far.
 “You see, I am a cook,” said Chef. “That’s my way of saying things… Never mind.”
 “Uh-huh,” said Victor, thinking that cooperation would be only to his benefit. “Can I go home?” he asked suddenly.
 “No, no.. You have no home, kid, and you know it better than I,” said Chef and extracted a chocolate bar from his pocket.
 He stretched the bar to Victor who took candy without any obvious interest. He twiddled it as though it were a pen.
 “You know, my boy, we are living in the world of bad problems,” said Chef after a pause. “We have to fit in and find our place in the struggle for sanity, and in this struggle you either win or lose.”
 Chef breathed deeply and turned blue. He was entering a trance. Seeing this, Genghis preferred to remain near the poster on the wall.
 “And in the struggle for sanity, you have to spill blood,” said Chef in a changed voice. He was shaking, accelerating his speech. “you’ve got to spill a lot of blood, kid, because in wars only one side is the winner, and sanity is worth spilling blood for. And you have to get rid of the enemies… You’ve got to find your own place in the struggle!!!”
 His mouth was foaming.
 “Do you know who our enemies are?” yelled Chef.
 He leaned his face closer to the child.
 “All those who are against sanity and reason!” roared Chef. “All those who are against us! And you will be punishing them, my fearless kamikaze. You will be exterminating enemies of reason, all those who lured you and others into peace-loving war games.”
 Victor was looking at Chef with rounded eyes.
 “What do you mean?” asked Victor with dry tongue and lips. “I don’t understand you. What should I do?”
 He was scared to death.
 “You will take the strings of justice into your own hands,” said Chef in ecstasy of a madman. “Have this..”
 Genghis moved quickly towards them and opened a Coke bottle. He went into his pocket and opened his left palm in front of the child. Two yellow capsules rolled back and forth across his wide palm. Finally, they met together, like the  eggs of some chemical birds. The eggs were of perfect man-made shape.
 “Have this and bring justice into this world,” said Chef.
 “I still don’t understand. How?” asked Victor.
 “Take this,” said Chef and pointed at the pills.
 The child popped them into his mouth and washed them down with Coke. In less than a minute, he started to blink irregularly. The powerful psychedelic drug was already at work.
 “Place the black band over his eyes and have him follow me,” said Chef to Genghis.
 He put the black band on Victor’s eyes, blindfolding him. The child offered no resistance; he was already taking things for granted in his drug-changed world.
 Chef grabbed Victor’s wrist and escorted him out of the room. Genghis followed hurriedly, kicking the toys away from his path. They went down the corridor without saying a single word and exited into the back yard through a small door.
 They exited on the porch and stopped. Genghis closed the door quietly, as though afraid to disrupt significance of the moment.
 A sizable wooden stake was placed very close to the brick wall with remains of the barbed wire on top of the fence. Several mattresses were propped against the wall behind the stake. The whole place looked like a filmable place of execution. Almost a movie set-up. A sophisticated wooden contraption was positioned in the center of the yard. It looked very much like a replica of an oil derrick. There was an AK-47 secured to the wooden frame, its black barrel pointing at the stake. A thin cord was stretched from the trigger of the assault rifle to the porch.
 Chef lifted the plastic loop attached to the cord, which stretched all the way down to the trigger of the gun.
 “Justice! Justice” crooned Chef, bending towards the child. “Justice in the name of sanity! Victory! Humanity! You are the child of justice today, bringing justice. A person who is next to God Himself. How I envy you, my young hero!”
 Victor smiled vaguely and lolled his tongue.
 Chef motioned to Genghis, who immediately pressed a button on the wall. Somebody moved behind the basement door  next to the porch. The door shuddered and flung open. Two mental patients dragged a blindfolded POW into the back yard. The man, dressed in a nondescript uniform, resisted weakly, though without any apparent success. Genghis jumped to the man from the porch and kicked the man two times, making the POW limp.
 Patients dragged the man to the stake and roped him securely, facing him toward the porch. The man at the stake was breathing heavily through the nose. His mouth was gagged with ropes.
 Patients looked at Chef long enough to receive his approving nod and returned to the basement.
 Chef went on his knees in front of Victor and said:
 “How I envy your supreme role in our Crusade for Sanity, kid.”
 The child kept drugged silence.
 Jesus appeared through the basement door with a yellow walkman in his hands and earphones plugged in each ear. He stepped on the lawn, shaking his head to rock-n-roll. Jesus “borrowed” the player from a killed sniper during the recent raid to the city. He was shaking his head to the beat of the music, paying little attention to the upcoming execution. He yawned, showing imperfect teeth, and looked at the gray sky. His white toga was smeared with soot and blood.
 Chef was standing in front of the child, pouring endless words into his unperceptive ears.
 “And now you may pull the string of justice, my child,”
said Chef and put plastic loop into Victor’s hand. Victor just sat there, drugged and irresolute.
 “Do it!” screamed Chef and stood up.
 Victor jerked the string violently and pulled the trigger. The AK-47 vomited a string of bullets, making the whole rig shake. The man at the stake  jerked violently, stiffened and slumped. His right foot was twitching.
 No one spoke for some time. Faint music was seeping through Jesus’ earphones. Jesus continued shaking his head, sharing his ecstasy only with himself.
 “Good, very good,” said Chef quietly, as though fearing to wake somebody. “That’s a wonderful child!”
 Victor released the string, which fell on the porch like a limp whip. He began to laugh. It was a terrible, drug-induced laughter. Victor slumped on the porch, shaking and convulsing with unexplainable happiness. He never felt this good for years, and years, and years…
 “And now you have to go back to your toys,” said Chef.
 He nodded to Genghis who had watched the execution with  perfect composure of a person taking death for desired granted.
 They grabbed laughing Victor by the hands and dragged him inside the building. Victor didn’t mind it at all. He didn’t resist as he was dragged along the littered corridor back to his room.
 Outside, Jesus slowly came up to the blindfolded man at the stake and looked long at the limp body with his watery-blue eyes.
 He took his earphones off and put them on the head of the blinded-folded man. Then, he tucked the walkman into the dead man’s pocket. The music was seeping through in tinkering, faint sounds. Jesus stepped back and smiled. The body at the stake was twitching its foot to the tune that Jesus enjoyed minutes ego. Death was a mystery and fun. Jesus cackled with content and went into the building slamming the door behind him.
 Two small breedless dogs were taking a leak near the brick wall adjoining Painter’s building. The dogs were happy about the business of taking a leak, because they could proudly consider themselves proud survivors of anti-canine calamities in Daggersville. Most of the dogs were picked up by bored snipers or were brought to the shooting arena of the Kamikaze School. These two were happy to be alive. They left two modest streaks on the wall next to Painter’s artwork, which used to belong to the Nijinsky Shows. Graffiti flowers of disproportionate sizes were towering above a huge orange graffito sun.
 The dogs looked around and cocked their ears apprehensively. A strange rumble was getting closer to them, growing in intensity. The vibration was transmitted to dogs through the pavement. Their brain, conditioned to two principal motivations — that of fear and hunger, sent a hysterical alarm signal, blinding the dogs with fear, paralyzing them where they stood  for at least five seconds.
 They started to run before they started reasoning. Two dogs rushed madly across the littered square, leaving the drying streaks on the brick wall. Since nobody shot at them during this hasty escape, the dogs became more scared. They changed direction and  raced into a hole punctured in the wall of the house by an armor-piercing shell. Inside, they scared two similarly frightened cats, who exploded with a jungle yell. Four animals raced on through the maze of corridors in the abandoned house, each in its own direction.
 Meanwhile, the sound of an approaching engine was growing, reaching its blood-chilling climax. The climax came with a huge thud and crash, as the tank slammed its way through the wall, pulverizing the painted flowers and the orange sun. The wall collapsed in the center and the tank rammed half way through it, like a baby turtle breaking free from the calcium shell of its egg. The tank was covered with crushed bricks, that continued to rain and topple on the tank for a while. Now it looked less like a turtle and more like a giant fish, jutting from the wall. The engine roared again, saturating the air with acrid exhaust fumes, and the tank crawled on the pavement. It was all covered with fine brick dust, which looked like an artful cake icing. The tank rotated its turret left and right for some time, then stopped. Something clanked in the armored guts of the tank. The turret hatch shuddered, shaking the brick debris off. Seconds later, the hatch opened and Alicia emerged from the tank, blinking at the world around her. It was nice to be back. She sneezed several times and climbed on the turret.
 “Take care, man,” said Alicia into the tank. “It’s a good thing that you have double armor.”
 Nobody answered from inside of the tank.
 Alicia jumped on the pavement and looked how a gloved hand, all studded with spikes, shut the hatch. The tank belched sooty exhaust and rumbled along the square.
 Alicia smiled and looked around happily. Something had drastically changed in the city. She frowned trying to understand what it was and sneezed some more.
 “I wonder,” said Alicia to herself. “What had to happen in this crazy city to make the fog disperse. Unreal!”
 Alicia stood ten feet from the demolished wall, looking into the perfectly blue sky with a bright sun.
 Silvanov and Painter sat at the table with a couple of  beers getting warm flat in front of them. Beer was rather a payment for privacy that Sickly Joe Cafe could still provide. Both were unshaven and looked tired. Obviously, nights were getting shorter for them.
 “The truce doesn’t make any difference to me,” said Silvanov and took his beer hesitantly. “I feel like a cripple, like a war casualty. How should I feel after all that happened?”
 Painter looked quite yellow with his excessive smoking and tiredness. He knew that he had few things to offer Silvanov after the visit to the Mountainview Mental Hospital. He actually had no arguments left.
 “Finally, when this crazy war is over,” said Painter,
“things might change. Today they will have their parade. Tomorrow, people will start coming back from evacuation. Who knows? Things will return to normal perhaps.”
 Silvanov looked at Painter with his sad eyes, under which blue pouches were sagging.
 “What difference will it make to me without the show?” sighed Silvanov.
 “There is always a time and chance to restart your life,”  protested Painter.
 “No, Painter,” Silvanov shook his head slowly. “I spent all my life with ballet. What else can make my life worthwhile?”
 “Let’s wait and see,” said Painter, smiling, ” at least until the Victory Parade.”
 Alicia peered through the dirty windows into the eating area of Sickly Joe Cafe and entered quickly.
 “Hi, Painter!” exclaimed Alicia, rushing towards the table.
 She looked like a cheerful bird, or rather like a child awaiting  praise. Seeing her, Painter jumped from his chair.  Alicia flew right into his arm.
 “What a surprise, Alicia! Here you are after many days of silence and disappearance!”
 “I was in a tank, Painter. Can you imagine that I hooked a crazy tank! I wish the military could be as efficient as I was.”
 Painter took her by the hand and pulled her to his table by the window.
 “I heard about your exploits,” said Painter, teasing. “I will ask War Priest to give you a medal for wasting the enemy’s energy and time.”
 Alicia pressed her palm to her mouth and giggled.
 “It was a friendly tank,” she said.
 Painter returned to the table with Alicia. Silvanov greeted her with a nod.
 “In this case, I would prefer to keep silent about it,” said Painter and slumped into his chair. He was more than happy.
 “Hi, Silvanov, how are you?” said Alicia and turned to the waiter. “One coffee for me.”
 Silvanov shrugged his shoulders by way of answer. He was absolutely sure that the answer was all painted on his face. Why bother asking?
 Alicia leaned over and kissed Silvanov with mock affection.
 “You Russians are helpless pessimists,” said Alicia. “That’s what I want to tell you, Silvanov.”
 Painter looked at Silvanov, then at Alicia.
 “Nijinsky ran away from Silvanov,” said Painter. “Now he is hiding in a mental hospital.”
 Alicia waved it off, as though she heard about some childish prank. She was unimpressed.
 “Nijinsky… Another hopeless pessimist,” said Alicia.
 “He didn’t run away from me,” protested Silvanov weakly. “He ran away from the war.”
 “Ah! It doesn’t make any difference, Silvanov,” said Painter puffing on a twisted roach. “If the war was the reason for his escape, he will come back.”
 It was a day for meetings. Barbara entered the cafe suddenly, looked around, and froze for a second as she saw Alicia. She rushed to the table.
 “Where have you been, you fool?” asked Barbara noisily. “I was looking for you everywhere… Oh, I didn’t sleep a single night!”
 She grabbed the tiny roach from Painter and pulled on it with nervous pleasure.
 “I was having the best adventure of my life!” exclaimed Alicia and stretched in the chair like a kitten.
 “Why did you climb into that goddamned tank?”
 Alicia giggled with childish content, making Barbara even more indignant.
 “What’s so funny about your disappearance? You think I had to forget about you, or what?”
 Painter intervened trying to act as peacemaker.
 “You can afford to forget about the whole thing now, Barbara,” said Painter. “After all, the war is over.”
 Barbara was irritated to tears. Long nights of anxiety were letting themselves known.
 “You both are making me sick! Everything is a joke for you. I’m sure you’ll be laughing even on your dying day. Clowns!”
 Painter brought a small glass of brandy for Barbara, who accepted the drink with silent gratitude. She looked at Alicia, sighed  and dumped the drink in one gulp. Brandy exploded in her stomach and sent pleasurable tingles to all parts of her tense body. She was beginning to feel relaxed.
 “How come it is sunny today?” asked Barbara suddenly. “What is it? The end of the world?”
 “No, it is Victory Day,” said Silvanov grudgingly. “The fog was lifted for the Victory Parade, apparently.”
 Painter looked at his watch. The short broken arrow was getting close to twelve.
 “Listen, guys,” said Painter. “It is almost noon. We have to go to the central square to see history in the making.”
 Painter felt very sarcastic. The whole tinsel day was nothing to him and had no significance whatsoever.
 Silvanov sipped on his beer which tasted awful.
 “I understand that the opposition disappeared somehow from the city,” said Silvanov. “But what about these weird men from the mental hospital.”
 Painter shrugged his shoulders. He didn’t care less.
 “Perhaps they too moved in order to find new clients for their crusade.”
 All of them stood up to go, except for Silvanov,
 “Silvanov, come on,” said Alicia and pulled the man’s sleeve. “You will see the best ballet show of your life.”
 Silvanov looked at her sadly and shook his head. Alicia leaned and kissed him on his right cheek, leaving a faint trace of her pink lipstick.
 “Listen, Silvanov, it will be fun. I will ask War Priest to dance for you. After all, you are a professional choreographer.”
 Painter stubbed his roach on the ream of his beer mug.
 “And indeed,” said Painter to Silvanov, “the parade is nothing else but a dance borrowed from pagan times.”
 Silvanov smiled and got up.
 “Well, Painter,” sighed Silvanov, “don’t tell War Priest about that. After all, he is a priest.”
 Painter was already near the door. He turned to Silvanov.
 “A former priest, Silvanov,” chuckled Painter.
 Alicia walked to the door with Barbara hand in hand.
 “Former or present — that doesn’t make any difference,” commented Alicia sarcastically. All laughed and exited together with Silvanov into the first sunny day after almost a month of War in the Fog. The Maker had some miracles in store for Daggersville.
 Barbara, Painter, Silvanov and Alicia left the cafe and headed for Victory Square. Streets were busy with people and honking cars, that were moving slowly along the bottle-necked streets. It was amazing how quickly the news about cessation of the hostilities spread. Although there wasn’t any official announcement, thousands of residents of  Daggersville were returning from places of temporary evacuation, rejoicing that War in the Fog didn’t take the better part of their life history. It lasted long enough to make them talk about it for years. Yes, Daggersville has lost its reputation of a boring city, famous for drowsy lifestyle and honest bank managers. Daggersville was entering big-time history forever.
 It was strange to see all these crowds of people on the sidewalks once again. The city was almost dead for weeks, except for heavily camouflaged unseen soldiery and night birds, who seemed to outnumber the military. 
 Drivers of expensive cars were engaging themselves in non-aristocratic verbal exchange at the traffic lights. Bentleys and Rolls Royces honked angrily at the intersections. Painter looked and the darkened windows of the cars, from  which kids, dogs and old ladies in expensive fur coats stared back at him. Cars moved on as the traffic flood gates opened. Closer to Victory Square, more richly dressed pedestrians were seen, some of them carrying festive balloons, flags of multinational forces and heraldic of Daggersville, which was quite an ancient city. Painter expected to see more faces distorted by brainless elation about the coming parade.
 The sudden sunshine didn’t pay tribute to the Daggersville cityscape. The scars were getting more visible. Buildings around were badly damaged by the war. Windows were smashed or simply boarded up.
 Still walking, Painter felt around for his cigarettes. Thank God, he had some left. He clicked the lighter and inhaled with pleasure. He couldn’t explain it, but he felt very uneasy about this upcoming stupid celebration. He knew that, in some sense or other, things would never be the same. Victory Square was looming ahead with a dark green mass of the military lined on its other side.
 All four of them elbowed their way to the square. Barbara was exchanging hasty remarks with Alicia in front. Silvanov was walking behind Painter, sullen as ever, apparently thinking about Nijinsky. Silvanov was still reluctant to accept Vaslav’s sudden rebellion and his madness.
 Red tiles of Daggersville’s roofs lurched underneath the news helicopter, which was banking all the time. The chopper still belonged to the military command of the Military Council and multinational forces, but War Priest commissioned the chopper to conduct an international broadcast of the Victory Parade. The sun and blue skies were nothing else but a blessing, according to War Priest, who couldn’t imagine any spectacular broadcast even the day before. The fog dispersed so suddenly and so unpredictably.
 The chopper was a military two-seater French-made Alluette. It was way too small for three of them and the pilot, who was slightly drunk since the morning. The pilot was French, too. The chopper banked steeply and headed towards the center of the city. Reporter looked down at the roofs, that looked like moon surface after weeks of savage mortar attacks. He trimmed earphones, hoping that he would outshout the roar of the engine. The Cameraman was zeroing his camera in through the Plexiglas cockpit. He was filming the city underneath. The Soundman was crunched at the back. Poor guy had the least space of all back there. Reporter looked at his watch and checked it with the digital time display on the helicopter panel. Cameraman turned to him and Reporter threw his hand down in the gesture of an artillery commander.
 The live victory broadcast was underway with big bucks a minute, according to War Priest.
 “Hostilities, which ravaged the city for at least three months, are over,” said Reporter into the camera creasing his forehead.  “What a miraculous end of war! As many of you know, yesterday troops of the opposition  ceased hostilities and disappeared from the city. There has been no official statement from the opposition commanders. There was no other official information about the cease-fire.”
 The camera swung down and panned the city in a spectacular lurch. If it were not for frequent holes in the tiled roofs, it could have been a tourism promotion broadcast. Good camerawork.
 “…However, according to War Priest and the head command of the multinational force, a major victory has been achieved. The War in the Fog is over. And it is symbolic that today, on the day of the official Victory Parade, the fog has disappeared. Look at this fabulous sky over the victorious city.”
 There was more of spectacular panning of Daggersville skyline, with the fabulously blue sky overhead.
 “There are wonders that cannot be ignored in this life! That’s the opinion of War Priest, the military commander of the loyalist forces that celebrate today their victory. What a day! What a day for this city!…
 The chopper banked once again and hovered over the roofs, closer to Victory Square.”
 Chalk-white David was towering above Victory Square, with troops standing along the perimeter of the square. The top of the giant was covered with a huge white cloth for the purpose of surprise, for the purpose of spectacular inauguration. The statute was already decorated with flowers, garlands and colored ribbons placed on top of the inauguration veil. David looked like a strange giant bride awaiting some pagan marital ceremony.
 Members of the military command were standing already on the hastily-rigged wooden platform on the southern part of the square. The troops were lined up in an irregular pattern along the northern side of the giant rectangle. Scratched and charred tanks stood motionless in front of the buildings with bullet-chipped walls and smashed windows. Mixed groups of soldiers, belonging to different age groups and races, were trying to beat the boredom of endless preparation for the parade by smoking ration cigarettes. Soldiers looked battle-worn and tired.
 War Priest, Larson and Ivanov were standing together with the high-ranking military officials on the platform. Media people were busy flashing cameras and whispering excitedly into portable dictaphones. War Priest gave a phony smile and lifted his right hand for a more photogenic pose. He was already visualizing himself on the cover pages of big-time world magazines. Ivanov looked at publicity hungry war Priest with contempt. He was totally unaffected by the parade preparations. He came from a country that was celebrating victories every single month, but lost to the battle against itself in the final count. As a professional intelligence officer, he hated media people, who could potentially put your face in close-up on all files of all counter-intelligence agencies of the world. With the KGB going rapidly down the drain, he had to think about lucrative commissions elsewhere. After all, this conflict proved to be the size of a sparrow’s poop. He hated all this ado with stupid garlands and ribbons. If the city was not leveled to the ground, it was nothing else but a scuffle.
Or a riot at best. With sun glasses on and a stoic expression on his face, he decided to keep conclusions about Daggersville to himself. 
 Larson was chattering with a junior staff officer. He looked very triumphant. His normally healthy complexion was complemented by two red spots of elation on his cheeks.
 A woman journalist came up to the base of the platform and motioned to War Priest to alert his attention.
 “May I ask you a question, sir?” said the woman, when War Priest turned his head and raised his eyebrows at her.
 “Ah? Not now. After the parade I will answer all questions at the press conference. Not now, unfortunately. Sorry, madam.”
 The woman journalist glared at War Priest, expressing her frustration and disappointment. She sincerely though that War Priest’s answer was motivated by her sex. After all, she used to be the Chairperson of Daggersville Toastmistress Association, where the plight of women  was so often discussed.
 She pressed her lips tight and disappeared in the crowd.
 Ivanov leaned to War Priest confidentially and whispered.
 “I don’t like the insolence and omnipresence of the press here.”
 War Priest looked at him, then at the retreating woman.
 “You have to get used to the typical sores of democracy, Ivanov,” said War Priest. “I don’t like it myself; I mean their judgments and all. But what can I do?”
 “You have a very good reason after all these hostilities to declare a military rule,” said Ivanov conspiratorially. “This step can be easily justified now.”
 War Priest looked Ivanov straight in the eye. He saw his own face reflected in Ivanov’s shades. War Priest knew: that’s how he was seen by Ivanov, a man with a strong philosophy nourished by convenience of serving a generously rewarding totalitarian system.
 “You are giving me a very dangerous advice, Ivanov. But I will think about it.”
 “… And believe me, I can provide you with all the necessary expertise for this political transformation,” continued Ivanov.
 “I bet you anything, you can,” chuckled War Priest. “By the way, do you have any information on the whereabouts of el-Saidi? Did he flee from the city together with the opposition?”
 Ivanov turned away and pretended he had to study the statue before giving War Priest his answer.
 “We are trying to figure it out,” said Ivanov. “Everything has happened so suddenly.”
 “You know, Ivanov, you are very evasive…”
 “Such is the style of my work, sir,” retorted Ivanov with a touch of metal in his voice.
 He didn’t have to get all this crap from War Priest. The war was over, so was the contract.
 “Congratulations, anyway,” said War Priest, changing his tone. “I will not forget either your advice or your contribution to the victory.”
 A young officer clicked his boots near them.
 “We have plugged in the public address system, Sir,” reported the officer. “Everything is ready for the parade.” “Perfect!” exclaimed War Priest and rubbed his hands.
 He stepped to the microphone and looked around the square now filled to capacity with troops and civilians. Draped David was standing in front of him, wind tugging at thousands of silk ribbons. He coughed a couple of times to clear his throat. His cough boomed in the speakers and bounced off the walls of the building, echoing through the square.
 War Priest looked left and right, checking both sides of the platform. Triggerhappy Jack stood on his right, released by the military mental specialists hours before the parade to spare War Priest a major international embarrassment. Triggerhappy Jack was sullen and yellow from too much smoking and drinking that no one could deny him even in the army mental hospital. He wore the same kind of T-shirt, only this one was new. He was holding a belt-fed machine-gun in his hands. According to the scenario of Larson, all members of high command had to be armed for the sake of publicity. However, most of the council members preferred side arms. Jack picked his favorite toy. Right now he wasn’t feeling himself part of the parade. He didn’t talk to anybody after he climbed on the platform. War Priest thought about buying him a first class ticket to New York for tomorrow.
 But now it was the time of official presentation, when all trifles of yesterday or tomorrow had to be forgotten. Such speeches are made once in a lifetime.
 “Ladies and gentlemen!” began War Priest obliterating all other sounds from the square and its perimeter. “Today is a significant day in the history of our city. Today, the multinational forces will honor the restoration of democracy in this unique city, which was torn and vandalized by the opposition for at least four weeks. You know that many of us had to sacrifice many things for the sake of this day. Many of us simply lost our lives in the struggle.”
 War Priest paused. He thought about this pause during last night rehearsal, when he had to go over his speech in an impassioned whisper, because the guards were keeping vigil behind his door in the basement compound of the Military Council. The pause had to accentuate his grief and make others think about the lost lives. He looked at the David and continued:
 “As the principal of the Mountainview Catholic School, I had to forget my ecclesiastic and pedagogical duties, and changed the attire of my rank to a military uniform. I did that to offer my humble contribution to the struggle for the victory we are celebrating today…”
 Jesus, Chef, Genghis and Victor were clambering up the stairs of a nearby high-rise building. They sweated under the heavy load of various military equipment. Jesus was at the tail of the procession carrying a portable anti-aircraft launcher. Some of guns and ammunition were stored by the patients in the basement of this building the night before. So they virtually walked in broad daylight through crowded downtown area, taken probably for bedraggled survivors of civilian population trapped in Daggersville during the war. Nobody connected them with Mountainview Mental Hospital. They reached the thirteenth floor and entered the roof through the fire escape trap door. The building was facing Victory Square and was an ideal location for the mission. They walked across the roof without crouching. The roof was at least six floors higher than any other building in the neighborhood. The only thing that competed with the high riser was draped David. Public address of War Priest echoed between the buildings. Unclear fragments of his speech were shredded by the wind and carried elsewhere.
 “How are things, child?” asked Chef, turning to Victor. “Isn’t it a great day? Too great for their insane parade.”
 “What parade?” said Victor weakly. He didn’t feel well at all. In fact, he felt very troubled and sick.
 “War Priest thinks he has won the war,” said Jesus sarcastically. “Wishful thinking and nothing else. As for me, our Crusade for Sanity continues. War Priest can say anything he wants.”
 Genghis cackled under the heavy load of several automatic rifles with clips attached. Some clips were connected by scotch tape. It was a recent invention
 “At least you can praise War Priest for his intentions,” said Genghis.
 “I spit on his intentions,” cursed Jesus vehemently. “Scum! Who allowed him to speak? Who allowed him to talk in the first place?”
 They went to the other side of the long roof, bypassing numerous chimneys and air vents. It was getting very warm. Too warm after weeks of penetrating humidity.
Suddenly, they stopped. Twenty feet from them, there was a masked man in combat fatigues. He was looking at the square peacefully. His sniper rifle lay across his knees. The masked man heard their approach for sure. However, he didn’t change his position.
 Chef looked at the “crusaders”, sharing his amazement, then at the soldier.
 “Hi, soldier!” said Chef in a sweet voice.
 The masked man turned his head with dignified slowness. He looked at the group with his dark eyes and said through the mask.
 “Got lost after your troops retreated?” asked Chef playfully. He was sure the man was a trapped sniper of the opposition who slept through retreat and was dumb enough not to flee.
 “I have no troops. I am all by myself,” said the man with a strong accent.
 Jesus looked at the man and giggled.
 “Another somebody by himself,” said Jesus.
 The man looked at all four silently and announced without preliminaries.
 “I am el-Saidi from el-Kaaram.:
 All of them, except for Victor, were absolutely stunned.
 “What?” exclaimed Chef. “El-Saidi himself? What an honor!”
 El-Saidi smiled under his mask, his eyes narrowed for a second.
 “An honor? Why?” he said. “I am an ordinary man. By the way, what are you doing on the roof? Who are you?”
 Jesus stepped forward and said seriously.
 “We lead the Crusade for Sanity.”
 El-Saidi stretched and looked back at the square, as though digesting the statement.
 “Crusade,” said el-Saidi pensively. “I don’t like this word.”
 “Now the war is over for you,” said Chef in a changed voice. “You can return to your country.”
 “I have no country…”
 El-Saidi was looking at the square with his sad dark eyes. The wind was indiscriminately shredding the speech of War Priest.
 “But you said that you are from el-Kaaram?” asked chef tentatively.
 “I am only a political refuge there,” sighed el-Saidi. “I have no country in this world.”
 Chef scratched the back of his head with his free hand.
Jesus and Genghis looked at Chef encouragingly. They knew or suspected what was on Chef’s mind.
 “In this case, you can join us,” said Chef. “Our war is not over.”
 “I don’t think I can be helpful,” replied el-Saidi ruefully.
 “Kill War Priest,” barked Genghis. “After all, you were fighting for religious and financial reasons.”
 El-Saidi nodded slowly.
 “That’s true. That’s true…”
 Jesus shook the launcher and roared.
 “Kill the bastard who blesses what he has no right to bless!”
 He pushed the listless child closer to el-Saidi.
 “Nice boy,” said el-Saidi with affection and patted Victor’s head.
 He stood up and put a clip into his sniper rifle. Jesus gave the anti-aircraft launcher to the boy. All three of them loaded their assault rifles and looked at el-Saidi as though waiting for his command.
 El-Saidi took aim, moved his optic sights across the square to the platform and positioned crosshairs on the left breast pocket of War Priest.
 War Priest felt elated. He was almost through with his speech, which was delivered without a single mistake. He filled his lungs for the closing paragraph part, knowing that he had to raise his voice at the end. His verbal symphony would be over in less than a minute, crowning his heyday.
 “Today is the day of triumphant democracy,” exclaimed War Priest. “And on this day, I proclaim inauguration of the Victory Monument to immortalize the living and dead heroes. I give my blessings to the ultimate victory, which will be remembered by grateful posterity for centuries. Daggersville is free! Free as ever!”
 War Priest lifted his hand motioning toward the statue. The white cloth, covering the statue was pulled down by a thin silk rope. It slid to the feet of David like a giant parachute. The naked headless giant was standing in the folds of white veil. The crowds yelled their admiration, consent and horror. David presented a truly breathtaking sight.
 The news crew spent more than one hour in the constantly banking helicopter. They were flying in circles above the square, feeling crammed and dizzy. The broadcast was not over yet.
 “What a day,” yelled Reporter into the microphone and into the camera. “No wonder it will be remembered for centuries, ” he brushed beads of sweat from his brow. “We are witnessing history in action. Yes, history in the making. I remind you my dear viewers, that we are airing a live broadcast of the Victory Day Parade for all continents of the globe. Yes, yes, we are airing the largest global broadcast!”
 The helicopter banked once again. Reporter felt like puking right into the camera. He hated War Priest for his endless and pointless speech. But above all, he hated the misery of his job.
 El-Saidi on the roof was motionless with his sniper rifle. His long eyelashes brushed against the rubberized rim of the optic sights. He pressed the trigger slowly. The sniper rifle coughed out a bullet. Crusaders jumped to the rim of the roof and showered the square with uninterrupted automatic fire. The crowd underneath scattered like beans.
 Panic started almost immediately in Victory Square, with first victims screaming in disbelief or simply dead.
Daggersville had its nerves on edge for quite a few weeks. It didn’t take people long to register what was going on. The walls of the square were resonating the rapid gunfire, creating an illusion of mass execution. What was known later as the victory day stampede started seconds after the first shot was fired. People were screaming and running chaotically in all directions, not looking for any definite cover or shelter. They felt a compelling desire to run which was triggered by their basic instinct of survival.
 Triggerhappy Jack blinked at the square in disbelief. Thousands of people were running and stumbling across it. Officers on the platform were crouching, their eyes rounded by mortal fear.
 War Priest was nearby, dead, with two officers trying to unbutton his tunic. Triggerhappy Jack looked at his waxen face and at the dark cherry spot on his breast pocket. He knew that  War Priest was dead. He had this experience of death forecasts from Vietnam. They used to call it “cherry in the breast pocket.” That meant that the guy had to go into the body bag. Triggerhappy Jack thought that he was waking up from a long and strange dream, and he wanted to wake up real bad. He stumbled forth to the rim of the platform. The troops on the other side of the square were dispersing unmilitarily.
 Triggerhappy Jack shook his head, expressing his long-brewing suspicion.
 “I knew about these cowardly Gooks,” said Jack into the space in front of him. “I’ve known them all along.”
 He thought that his words would be magnified by some mysterious force. He was sure that everybody in the square heard him clearly.
 He charged his machine-gun slowly and pulled the lever with his right hand, sending the first round into the chamber. He knew that this fucking place was goddamned treacherous. He knew it all right from the very start.
They were everywhere.
 “Ah, fucking Gooks!” exclaimed Jack and fired his first burst into the running figures in front of him. “It is not a jungle, it is not a jungle for you!”
 Jack fired at random left, right and center, mowing down people nearby. Larson and Ivanov were observing him with amazement from the doorway of the house where they were pushed by scared bodyguards.
 Painter, Alicia, Silvanov and Barbara were at the extreme western part of the square, when panic hit the platform and the crowd around it. They stood mesmerized by the stampede for at least five minutes, trying to understand what was going on. Dry sounds of shooting sounded like firecrackers. Painter thought about firecrackers exploding in the painfully blue sky. Panic spread to the perimeter of the square and soon people rushed for the cover of the streets, pushing and trampling each other, irrespective of age and sex.
 Painter exchanged puzzled looks with Silvanov.
 “Hey, guys!” said Painter loudly through the noise of the crowds rushing by. “Let’s get out of here. I sense that the victory Parade is over.”
 A lot of curious onlookers were still watching the stampede, thinking that the goings-on didn’t concern them at all.
 “What’s happening?” asked Silvanov. He was getting worried.
 Painter looked at him and smiled.
 “I’m sure it is better to find out about it second-hand, not through the first-hand experience. Are you that curious, Silvanov?”
 Barbara stepped towards them. Her face was quite pale. Her paleness was made even more pronounced by this incongruous lipstick, which she overused with envious zeal.
 “Oh, I’m scared,” said Barbara and headed for the entrance to the street.
 All of them except for Alicia moved hastily to the corner of the building. Painter looked over his shoulder. Alicia stood motionless, facing the square. She looked frozen.
 “Didn’t you have enough fun in the tank?” called Painter with impatience. “Hurry up, Alicia!”
 Alicia didn’t move. She seemed not to hear his words.
 Painter turned to Alicia and took several steps.
 “Alicia? Do you hear me?”
 She turned on her heels with a grace of a drunk woman and gave a weak smile. He eyes were wide open. She took several steps toward Painter and collapsed.
 All of them rushed back to Alicia. Painter grabbed her and held her in his arms.
 “What’s wrong with you, Alicia?”
 He was frightened himself. A thought flashed through his head that something terrible had happened. He looked in her pale face and on her dress.
 A blood stain was rapidly expanding all over her chest. She was dead.
 Barbara leaned forward and stepped back, aghast.
 “Oh, God! Oh, Lord Almighty! What happened? Painter!!! What happened to her? Why is she silent? Painter? Why is she silent? Tell me?”
 She was shaking uncontrollably. Ashen-faced, Silvanov embraced Barbara, trying to comfort her. He understood it all. He saw it all before.
 “You can’t help her now, Barbara,” uttered Silvanov with his trembling lips. “She is dead.”
 More people rushed past, yelling something incoherent.
Barbara started to sob helplessly. She looked at Silvanov pleadingly, her eyes brimming with tears.
 Painter lifted the dead body of Alicia and went into the street silently. She was so heavy now, this fragile and light night bird. Barbara stumbled after him, with Silvanov trying to calm her down.
 Barbara was gibbering incessantly into Silvanov’s ear.
 “Take me away from this insane city. Take me away. I don’t want to stay here another day. Oh, god! Why did they kill her? Silvanov, do you know? Why did they kill her?”
 Silvanov shuffled clumsily after Painter.
 “It’s war, Barbara,”  mumbled Silvanov. “It is all this insane war. Poor child…”
 Painter stopped near the parked military jeep without a driver. The ignition key was in place. It had a brass tag with insignia of the Military Council. Painter carried Alicia’s  body to the right side of the jeep and put her in the passenger seat.
 “You are so heavy, you are so heavy, my Alicia,” said Painter to himself, trying not to look at her face. He was not afraid. He didn’t want to cry. Not now…
 He strapped her in with the nylon seat belt. Barbara and Silvanov climbed in the back.
 Painter started the jeep, pulled away from the curb and drove through the crowded street. Civilians and military continued to flee along the sidewalks, eternalizing the victory day stampede.
 Barbara leaned over to Painter, still sobbing.
 “It’s over, Painter,” she yelled into his grayish hair waving in the wind. “I want to leave this nightmarish city. I’ve had enough of it. Everybody had enough of it!”
 Painter glanced at Alicia for the first time. She was waxen pale, with face turned to the majestically beautiful sun. There was nothing but eternal composure in it. Painter looked back at the road and bit his lower lip.
 Soon the Jeep disappeared down the street among other vehicles and the crowd.
 Chef, el-Saidi, Jesus and Genghis continued to fire down from the roof. Now they had to duck from return fire. All of them were  charging their clips quickly, enjoying the sight below.
 Victor observed the shooting with dull curiosity. More spent cartridges were accumulating on the roof. Suddenly, he looked at the launcher that Jesus gave him. It was the same type of launcher he saw in the orphanage. He pressed the button on the sights and activated them. The sights answered with a soft hum. The light on the side blinked red. He lifted the launcher and locked it on the helicopter that was hovering above like a noisy bee for the last half hour. Another light in the sights went red, as the infrared sensor caught aim.
 The chopper was going round the square like some space age carousel. The cameraman was turning his camera left and right like an on-board machine-gun since the start of the stampede. There was so much to shoot. After all, they were the only media chopper commissioned for the parade.
 Reporter was screaming into the mike, his sweaty face purple with excitement and effort. He couldn’t expect that this would ever happen. He couldn’t believe his luck that he was airing all this live.
 “…It appears that the truce is over. Who could suspect that the war would end so quickly? I didn’t expect the victory Parade to be broken in such a vicious manner. Down below, intensive fighting is underway. It is still unclear who opened fire. Look at this square. Yes, there are casualties already. And all this happened just minutes after the inauguration of the victory monument. It appears that our war reports will continue. Who could predict such an outcome…?”
 Back on the roof, Victor slowly pulled the trigger, sending the missile with its infrared sensor directly to the chopper. In two seconds a powerful explosion blew the chopper out of the sky. The fiery debris rained down on the headless David and on the square below.
 Nijinsky stopped abruptly and panted heavily, leaning against the expensive iron fence of a grave. He spent three hours dancing in the old cemetery of Daggersville, happy that no one was there to bother him. In fact, no one was here for more than two months. He didn’t want to spend much time among the trim granite tombstones of people long dead and gone. Music was still playing in his head. It was heavenly, as heavenly as this unexpected sun and the blue sky. His dancing outfit was dirty and his face was ghastly pale. He was all alone with his music and his dance. He turned his face up and smiled. It was so good to be here, in the place of eternal silence and peace. Nijinsky moved gracefully into the narrow alley of the cemetery with two marble angels staring at him with sadness from the dome of a family mausoleum. He danced on, and on, content with himself and his dance. Sunlight was breaking through his half-closed eyes, split into rainbow patterens by his eyelashes. He smiled, dancing away along the alley, lined with silent and cold tombstones.




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