The pit; or, My three-dimensional life. (2024)

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Chapter 1

Very early in the morning, a Grand Cherokee was meanderinggraciously along the road running through the rocky massifs of theBucegi Mountains, which are among the most impressive and majesticmountains of Romania. As the sun was rising behind the wooded crests ofthe Carpathians, the last ghosts of the night were slowly gliding overthe old fir trees that clad these legendary Transylvanian mountains, oneof the last truly wild landscapes left in Europe.

The jeep's driver was steering in apparent relaxation, takingin deep breaths of the fresh mountain air of the wonderful Novembermorning through the half-open window. He had woken up in a very goodmood; this was the day he had been waiting for and for which he had beenmaking preparations over the last months. This was the moment of truth,as he would call it.

On the back seat, his eyes staring at the road unfurling in frontof him and breathing almost imperceptibly but very quickly, his mouthhalf open, was the protagonist of that morning, whose name was on moreand more people's lips in certain circles. Some would say he hadsupernatural powers, which they would put down to external additives,while others would speculate it was pure luck and that he hadn'tmet the right opponent. There were others yet, those who had awell-trained eye for it and who had been in the field for many years,who would find in him a paragon of all the qualities they had beenlooking for all these years. He had all that and something extra. Hisname was Bronco.

He was a superb specimen of American pit bull terrier, aged oneyear and four months, the gladiator of the canine world, deemed by thelovers of this legendary fighter the uncrowned king of all dog breedsever. His fur was dark russet, except for the chest, which was coveredwith a symmetrical white spot. His dark yellow vigilant eyes seemed totransfix you, a clear sign of this animal's psychical power. Hismuscular body sat still, as if thrust on the back seat of the SUV,knowing exactly from the energy transmitted by his master what wouldcome next. And he could hardly wait. He had been bred for it, because hehad been training every day, and because all his genes told him he wasthe best. Born to fight.

His master, Radu Voicu, though he might have seemed completelyrelaxed to those who did not know him, was actually totally focused onwhat was going to happen, projecting the victory and letting hisfeelings of love, pride, and trust in his dog run like waves of energythrough every fiber of his body and turn into goose pimples. Ever sincehe could remember, dogs were what he had liked and what he had alwaysfallen for in this world. As he had grown up in communist Romania, wherepeople could hardly afford semi-decent food for their family, hisparents had not allowed him to have a dog, but they would take him tothe dog exhibition organized by the Party every year. This was themoment he'd wait for the whole year; he would try to pat and playwith every dog there, and they would answer him with the same affection.Dogs had always loved him and were attracted to him like a magnet.

When he grew older and could afford, at last, to buy himself one,he bought a Boxer, but shortly after that, since the communist wall felland the first pit bull specimens appeared in Romania, he had a crush. Heknew that dog was made for him. Nothing ever impressed him more thanthis breed and he never felt the same respect and love for other breedsas he felt for them. Ever since then, he only reared pit bulls, dozensof them. He kept a small number of those he looked after but those weretop class specimens. That was Bronco's case; he was one of the sixpit bulls Radu owned now, and his greatest hope.

Bronco came from a pack of four males and two females, who had beenfighting since they were two months old. Their mother, Cindy, was anabsolutely exquisite specimen, a chocolate babe, four years old. Nowretired from the world of fighting, she had won all eight matches shehad participated in. Cindy was also Radu's dog, he had bought herin Serbia when she was seven weeks old from a stock farm there, and shehad an old lineage of champions. He had paid $1500 for her, which was anawful lot of money back then, but since the moment he bought her, thislovely dog had been his pride and joy. Her affectionate temperament, hersharp intelligence, and her fierceness in battle while fighting otherfemale dogs in the ring had won her Radu's love and respectentirely.

The puppies' father was Romania's champion, a tawnyred-nosed male, who had also been imported from Serbia and had not onlybeen undefeated on Romanian territory, but also won the fight withAttila the Iron Kid, Hungary's absolute champion. The stake of thatcontest had been $20,000 among the dogs' owners only; the total sumgambled reached hundreds of thousands. Radu had to go to Bucharest inorder to mate his bitch, for which he had paid $1000, but the investmenthad been worth the money. He got the dog he had always wanted, theperfect pit bull.

Bronco's qualities were clearly superior to all the fightershe had seen before, and he had seen hundreds of ring dogs. He had keptthe four male dogs until they were six months old because he knew that,even if both parents had exceptional qualities, not all the puppieswould inherit them; on the contrary, in most situations, not even onepuppy of a real champion matches the parents' value. However, thiswas not Bronco's case. Since he was three months old, whenever heengaged in serious fights, longer than ten minutes, with his siblings,he would always be the best. Since he was about four months old, Raduallowed him to fight his siblings in one-to-one competitions. Afterfifteen or twenty minutes, the opponent would show that it was tired,and it would be replaced with another one, which was ready to start.Bronco would win the new battle every time, irrespective of the orderRadu chose for the remaining three dogs.

He developed mentally, knowing that it was not enough for him todefeat one opponent. Odds were that another one would replace it, forwhich he had to be prepared. Radu knew that Bronco was a champion. Andthat morning, he was certain that Bronco would do justice to the trusthe had in him. In the contest for the category of twenty-five kilos, hewould meet Voodoo, a black male of one year and a half, which came fromthe south of the country and had not been defeated in the three contestshe had fought.

The road along which Radu was driving was crossed by a by-road,which Radu took, a road that led deep into the mountains. Afterapproximately twenty minutes of driving along the gravel road, whichwent deeper and deeper into the forest darkness, the sunbeamsefficiently filtered by tall fir trees that grew just a few meters fromone another, Radu reached a wooden barrier. A few acquaintances of hiswere there chatting; among them was Viorel, his host.

His house, which stood in the middle of the forest, used to be awoodsman's house; he had bought it a few years before as a partyhouse, though what he had built behind it was the most important asset.In his huge yard, which looked more like a glade, there was a fightingpit. It was made from girders, thoroughly tied with ropes, and had adiameter of twenty square meters. It wasn't exactly a professionalpit, but it definitely served its purpose.

Radu greeted the guys fleetingly while they were lifting thebarrier for him to pass, after which he entered and parked his car asremotely as possible from the pit in order to be as far as he could fromthe crowd. As always, he wanted to spend a few more seconds of peacewith his gladiator before the fight started. He let him free and allowedhim to mark the trees in the area for a few minutes then he called himand, while affectionately caressing his head, he whispered reassuringwords in his ear. Bronco, his ears turned backwards, could feel thetrust and love imparted by his master and fully enjoyed these moments ofcalm before the storm, which he knew was near. Then the two of them, dogand master, headed for the crowd gathered around the pit, sharing thesame focus and giving out the same energy.

Radu was holding the bottle he had prepared for the contest in hishand and, in his pocket, he had a thin piece of hard wood, which hemight need to slip into the dog's mouth in case the two opponentshad to be separated. There had already been two matches, one for femaledogs and one for two heavy males of over thirty kilos, but Radu was notcurious to know the results. He asked, out of courtesy, a guy he knewhow his female dog had done; unfortunately, she had lost, and her masterwas caressing and encouraging her while they were heading for the car.Radu's eyes met those of Voodoo's owner. Both nodded, whichmeant they could wash their dogs. He handed Bronco over to Lorin, hisbest friend, who would never miss a contest featuring any of his dogs,and made for Voodoo, which was now held on a leash by a friend of hisowner. Radu knelt and started to wash Voodoo with the water from thebottle, while Voodoo's owner did the same thing for Bronco. Thiswas to prevent either of the breeders from cheating by anointing his dogwith various substances that might harm the opponent during the fight.Once this was done, Radu headed for Lorin and took Bronco back. He tookhim in his arms and they entered the pit. In the opposite corner, Voodoowas taken into the pit by his master. It was the moment of truth.

Chapter 2

Radu came from Galati, an average city in terms of size in Romania,with an intense economy. A city on the Danube, it was the second largestport in the country. In the last many years, the city had been mainlysupported by an iron and steel plant that had been built duringCeausescu's Communist regime, which continued to work after thefall of the Iron Curtain. However, as on any other level and in anyother field in post-communist Romania, the chaos unleashed by the lackof prohibitions, which the people who had lived under the communist yokefor so many years started to feel in the first hours of the revolution,made itself felt in the people's approach to the plant. Thus,hundreds of kilos of tin left the plant daily without being recordedanywhere, and between the hundreds of thousands of dollars which linedthe pockets of the people in power and the petty thieves who would sneakinto the plant through the sewers during the night to steal and thenload the wheelbarrows waiting for them outside with the stolen stuff,the plant was eventually depleted.

Radu grew up on the outskirts of the city. He had a happychildhood, even if largely deprived of the comforts enjoyed by thechildren in neighboring countries. In the last years of communism,electric power was cut off between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. for the whole city,a reason for joy as Radu and his school mates could play in front of theblock of flats without being disturbed by their mothers, who would yellat their children and tell them to come home and do their homework assoon as the power was on again. That would be the saddest moment of theevening for them.

In the winter, the children would play in pitch darkness, with onlythe moon casting its light on the thick layer of snow where the kidswere rolling over, sleighing, or snowball fighting. It was terrific. Hecould also remember how, in the winter, his mother would put two bricksin the oven to get hot, and then wrap them up in thick towels and putthem under the blanket to keep their feet warm during the night. Therewere almost no TV programs; during the week, the only spectacle to watchwas Ceausescu, who would enthusiastically announce that productionrecords had been broken again, while food store windows were alwaysempty, and the queues for fresh bread and milk endlessly long; that wastheir everyday life. At weekends they would occasionally broadcast aRomanian film advertising the same lofty ideas.

There were no computers or video games nor were there videoplayers, so the kids' only activity was playing outdoors. And therewere so many opportunities! When Radu and his friends in theneighborhood were not playing football, they would improvise acatch-me-if-you-can after tree climbing; when they were not playinghide-and-seek or some other game, they would be engaged in playingtwo-camps-at-war, Radu's favorite game. Once in a while, they wouldmake a raid on the water tank in the neighborhood to steal ballbearings, which they would use in the most imaginative ways.

Whenever he visited his parents, who still lived where he had grownup, he felt sad to see how kids of this generation would play in thepark in front of the blocks of flats, just banging the ball against thewire fence of the park, without any sense of organizing a game. In thesame park twenty years before, he and his friends would spend most oftheir afternoons and holidays either playing football, provided they hadgathered in a sufficient number to form two teams, or other games thatcould be played by only three participants; or "heads," asthey had called it, a game where two participants were enough."Heads" was a game in which each boy would choose a spot onone side of the fence as a gate, and then they would pass the ball toeach other, being allowed to touch it only with their heads while tryingto score goals. Or they would play foot tennis on the even-sized tilesin front of the flats, or draw on other playgrounds, either with a pieceof chalk or with chips from broken bricks.

Kids of the new generation only take turns banging the fence withthe ball, producing an extremely annoying and monotonous noise, and thatwas only once in a blue moon when they played outdoors because theirparents insisted they should. That's sad. Radu smiled a melancholysmile when he remembered how they would throw bags full of water fromthe balconies or from the roof at the passers-by, and the bags wouldbreak against their heads and they would get soaked; or how his fatherwould spank him when, coming back home from work, he would find thepotato boxes on the balcony empty and all the potatoes scattered on thepavement as they had been used as bombshells by Radu and his friends.

They would also organize real ambushes for innocent passers-by.They would hide behind the bushes with plastic tubes filled withpin-tipped paper twists, and people passing by them would findthemselves showered with devilish twists that would thrust intoanything, including skin. The kids would make slings from anything usingstones or twisted pins or brackets, as they would call them, forweapons.

Radu also had a less pleasant memory from that period when, atleast for a while, bows and arrows were fashionable in the neighborhoodand all kids had made bows from tree branches. Well, there was this boywho had a genuine Reghin bow, bought by his father, a strong bow thatreleased an arrow that thrust into Radu's eye from ten meters away.He pulled it out at once. He couldn't see with that eye so hisparents took him to the emergency room, where the doctor, after a quickexam, told them he was exceptionally lucky. If the arrow had hit himwithin a hair's width above, the eye would have been pierced but asit was, the arrow hit below the eye. A few days after the accident, heregained his sight, and the first thing he did when he returned from thehospital was to take the bow he had so carefully crafted; unpeeling thebranch, painting it red, and even adding a pirates' flag to it; andtear it to pieces.

Ever since they were children, fighting had been very important asit settled the hierarchy and established the role each boy would play inthe small groups they formed. Radu's best friends had always beenLorin and Stefan, who were his age; they grew up together as neighborsliving on the same street. Ever since they were very little, the threeboys were inseparable and they would always plead for each other'sinnocence in front of the other kids, never allowing anyone, even olderboys, to patronize or offend them in any way. Those who tried suffered.As the years went by, the fierceness of the three boys became legendaryin the neighborhood, and, later, in the entire city. The older theygrew, the deeper they went into the underground circles of Galati, andthe profits they gained from their small businesses started to grow.

After some troubled years, with many arrests and street fighting,mainly with the gypsy clans in the city, who enjoyed power and whoseauthority would be contested by few people, the three friends started toturn to other places where life would be easier and would bring themmore satisfaction. Radu was already deep into the pit fights, which,even if they had only been a hobby in the beginning, started to be asource of good money because people had started to gamble. And he knewthat in order to focus completely upon the dogs and their training, hehad to leave the city.

Lorin also had a pit male he would occasionally take to contests,but he didn't have the skills of a champion breeder Radu had. Mostof his income came from various dealings: he knew some guys from theRepublic of Moldova who brought weed from Kishinev, and he would doubleits price to sell it in Galati. After dealing locally for a while, Lorinmade some contacts in Bucharest; the guys there were into the same kindof business but in the capital, the price was much better. He started tosell less and less by the gram in his own city, which was too risky andfailed to give him a substantial income, in favor selling it by the kiloto his friends in Bucharest.

On one of his trips to the capital, he met a girl in a club andfell in love there and then. After a few months of sending her threelove letters a week when he could not spend time with his beautifulgirlfriend in her flat, Lorin decided that he should move to thecapital. His business was mainly there anyway, and besides, he felt thathe could not live without that woman. He was head over heels in love andhe was sure that she was the future mother of his children. They spentmost of their time in bed or walking hand in hand through the parks ofBucharest, sharing their most intimate secrets or telling each otherinteresting events in their lives or whatever had impressed them duringtheir journey through life.

Cristina was a law student in her last year and, after realizinghow Lorin made his money, even if that was not exactly the job she hadimagined for her man when thinking about her future soul mate, she hadnothing against his way of managing it. In the first place, she saw heknew exactly what he was doing, and secondly, she knew that he wouldhave had to work half a year to make the money he made in one month. Andthat really turned her on. When Lorin was in prison for three of theseven years he had been sentenced to in Germany for breaking into abank, she waited for him, even though their relationship was still inits early stages. She did not cheat on him even once and she stoicallytook all the reproaches of her parents and friends. However, when hecame back, she made him promise he wouldn't leave her alone again.With tears in his eyes, Lorin swore he would always be by her side andhe took an oath to himself that he would never again get himself intothat kind of mess.

Stefan, his other childhood friend, had gotten into p*rn.Everything had started in Amsterdam, where he had lived for a few monthsin a building inhabited by just one man and fifty girls. It was the headoffice of an international videochat, which had branches all over theworld, and recruited the most beautiful girls to work for them inAmsterdam. The girls lived and worked there, sharing bedrooms for four;they took turns working in the computer rooms, and the whole three-storybuilding was full of cameras, which kept them under uninterruptedsurveillance. They would allow only two couples in the building, andwhen Stefan got there in the company of a girl from his town, who hadmortgaged her house to join him in Europe, there was one more Hungariancouple there.

After he, easily, overcame the only inconvenience, that of havingto pee under the incessant surveillance of the cameras, Stefan foundhimself in paradise. He was surrounded by beautiful women, half orcompletely naked, all of them very interested in him. And that was notonly due to his good looks and the personal charm few girls could or atleast would resist, but also because during the three months while theyworked there on a contract basis, the girls were completely forbidden tomeet anybody who wasn't a tenant. The firm had had some problems inthe past with models who had dated clients they met online, who thenraped them, and some hands had to be greased for the issue to besmothered.

Their orgies and parties attracted a film production company, thefirst of its kind in Romania. They also had the local videochat owned bythe Dutch company, so when they heard that a good-looking, charmingRomanian made a lot of money in a videochat in Amsterdam, they contactedhim and invited him to an interview. That was the very opportunityStefan had been waiting for. The idea of becoming a p*rno star haddawned on him a long time before, especially since he had been talkedinto the videochat job by most of the women he had slept with. After atrip to Bucharest and a brief meeting with the producers, in which theysettled the details of the subject, they decided that Stefan would starin the next film, their second film shot by them. The shooting had tostart in four months, and the only thing the producers suggested wasthat, in the few months before the shooting, he should hit the gym andmaybe take some proteins and creatine in order to be as fit as possiblefor the kind of job in which good looks are of utmost importance. Thatis how Stefan's p*rnostar career started.

Chapter 3

Radu lived in a house that had belonged to his family for manyyears. It stood in the heart of the Bucegi Mountains in a place calledPoiana Tapului. A village rather than a town, Poiana Tapului is one ofthe most breathtaking spots in the Bucegi. It is far away from anyhighway and the citizens built their houses on both sides of a gravelroad running through the village. Radu's house was the last one inthe line of houses, and where his yard ended, the forest began. Althoughthe house had been built several decades before by members of hisfamily, Radu wouldn't have changed a thing if he had had to buildit again from scratch. He had fallen in love with the place the veryfirst time he went there with his parents, when he was only about fiveyears old. The unspoiled landscape and the sense of freedom andcommunion with nature he felt while being there had impressed him somuch that he always knew it perfectly matched his rebellious and,somehow, antisocial soul, which was, nevertheless, so keen on animalsand nature.

The house had been built in the 1970s by two of his aunts, both ofwhom had been incarcerated in the communist prisons for more than twentyyears without being even slightly guilty of anything, apart from adesire to live in a free world, free from the oppression of thecommunist regime which had taken everything from them before throwingthem into jail. The main reason for this misfortune was that one of thesisters was married to one of Radu's grandmother's brothers,who had been the leader of the legionary movement in post-war Romania.When the communists came to power after World War II, one of the firstmeasures they took was to confiscate the lands of all the old familieswho had some fortune. Radu's family was a very old one, hisgenealogical tree being recorded in many writings since the middle ofthe 16th century, and their fortune was considerable. Owning manymansions, hundreds of hectares of land, and employing people to work forthem, his family was one of the first victims of the communist regime.Their entire fortune was confiscated and most of their members wereimprisoned, be they men or women, and treated diabolically.

Lucian, who then became the leader of the legionary movement, wasleft with only one option; arming himself, together with other peoplewho were in the same situation. Deprived of home and family, they foughtthe regime from the shelter of the woods. Unfortunately, their braveaction didn't last long. The communists hunted them down as theywould animals in the mountains, and those who were not shot dead on thespot were transported to a special jail from which there was no return.Radu remembered rather sadly that, right after the fall of communism,there was a TV broadcast called "The Memorial of Pain," inwhich old people of over eighty, former members of the legionarymovement, talked about their ordeals. He would never forget the streamsof tears falling down his grandmother's cheek when severallegionaries talked about the screams coming incessantly from the roomnext to Lucian's, their leader and Radu's grandmother'sbrother, who died after being tortured by the communists. They injectedhim with epinephrine in order to keep him alive, and took turns usingthe most sad*stic methods ever invented to torture him. And that was notbecause they wanted information, all the legionary members havingalready been caught, but simply because they wanted to scare awayanybody who might have thought they could plot against the regime.

The hatred Radu nurtured for the communist system and for any formof oppression or domination ever since he was little, was fierce, andvery often he would show it, even when the odds were against him and nogood would come of it. However, his own good always counted less thanthe hatred he felt for oppressors, hypocrites, cowards, petty bastards,or any people displaying the traits he loathed. And he would have feltlike a coward and ashamed of himself, which he would never let happen,had he ever allowed anybody who might have fallen into any of thosecategories to go unpunished, even if that meant a broken jaw or a fewfractured ribs. He always felt that the punishment hadn't beenharsh enough to meet the hatred he felt for those he hurt. Most peoplewere intimidated by him and his attitude, since he always seemed readyto fight, looking for a reason to hurt those who got on his nerves oneway or another.

As far as he was concerned, Radu stirred one of two reactions: theone which prevailed was intimidation and fear, and he detested everybodywho feared him because that was the most obvious proof of their weakcharacter. The other kind of reaction from people was one of worship.Those who took him as he was and saw his true value and qualities wouldimmediately fall for him and would be impressed not only by his physicalstrength, but also his psychic resilience and intelligence. That musthave been why he had fallen so much in love with pit bulls, the maincharacteristics of this breed being very close to his own character. Thefeatures he appreciated most--courage, loyalty, tenacity, strength--werethe qualities of this breed. This, and the love he had always felt foranimals, caused the intimate and strong bond between him and the pitbulls.

When his two aunts, after twenty years of prison, were eventuallyset free, more dead than alive but with their moral philosophy andprinciples intact, the first thing they did was put as much distance asthey could between the communist civilization and their life, so theylooked for a place that was as isolated and as picturesque as possible;and they found it at Poiana Tapului. With the little money left from thehuge fortune they once had, they bought a piece of land as remote aspossible from the roadway, verging on the forest, and they built thewhole house with their own hands there. Two women, one of them a doctorand the other a university professor, after two decades of incarcerationin tough conditions, which were hard to imagine for those who had neverbeen in the prisons built by the communists to silence anybody whoopposed them, had the physical and psychic strength to carry in theirwheelbarrows stones they splintered in the mountains and carve the woodcut in the forest, and then build, without any help, a wonderful housein which they lived until they passed away. Now the house belonged toRadu.

Since he had no close relatives who might have wished to claim theplace, he had no problem becoming its legal heir and moving into hisdream house. He had never felt as good in a place as he felt there. Ithad taken the two sisters about seven years, but their achievement wasexquisite. The house was a true work of art, built on the mountainside,and, like all the other neighboring houses, surrounded by woods. Therewas a smaller courtyard in front of the house where Radu would park hiscar, and there was also a backyard of approximately two thousand squaremeters, where the kennels stood. The kennels were built along two sidesof the yard, right behind the two-meter high wooden fence. On one of thesides of the yard, there were four kennels of the same size, and alongthe same line, on the perpendicular wall, there were four more, all ofthem with heating. Radu had built them two years before, when he hadmoved in.

There was just one story to the house, with the kitchen, livingroom, and a bedroom on the ground floor and two rooms and an attic onthe first floor; the latter being the room where he spent most of histime when he was there. The attic was framed with large windows on thetwo sides overlooking the yard, and the view it offered was like a fairytale pictures of dragons and knights in shiny armor Radu had seen in thebooks he read when he was little. The house stood against the backgroundof the mountains rising majestically above the clouds and covering thehorizon on all sides. Near the double bed in the attic there was a smallbookcase where Radu kept his collection of a few hundred books, andopposite the bookcase, there was a small table where his TV set stood,which was always connected to the PlayStation console underneath. Whenhe did not read, he would play games or watch TV, lying on the bed andsmoking weed while gazing meditatively at the forested crests orlistening to the rain that sometimes fell incessantly for days in a rowin this wilderness and gave him so much inner peace and joy.

Underneath the house there was a cellar that covered theunderground surface of almost the entire house, where his aunts had kepttheir pickles in jars, a few wine barrels, the vegetables, most of whichhad grown in their own garden, and a few more chests and tools for whichthey found no better storage place than this basem*nt. However, Radu hadcompletely transformed it. Now, most of his income came from what wasstored in the cellar. Only two other people knew its secret, and theywere his childhood friends, his best companions all these years, Lorinand Stephen.

Apart from being a pit bull breeder, Radu also grew weed. He hadbuilt a professional marijuana greenhouse in the cellar, all the toolshaving been purchased from the Czech Republic. He had ten specialhigh-power lamps connected to an electric panel where he set the times.The panel was equipped with a timer, and around its clock face therewere some plastic flipping clamps, one for every five-minute interval.When the clamps were flipped, the power was on, and when they were not,the power was off. Only the time and temperature had to be set, the heatand light were adjusted automatically. There were two engines at thecellar entrance, one which drove the air in, and another which drove theair inside the plantation out through the smoke chimney, after acomplicated gadget had cleaned it. Hooked to the ceiling and anchoredwith heavy chains, there was a two-meter long and an aboutone-hundred-kilo heavy roller connected to one of the engines through athick aluminum-coated hose. This gadget, wrapped up in a thick layer ofcotton, was designed to draw in the air inside the plantation and thensend it to the cleaning system.

Apart from that, there was a big two-hundred-liter barrel that Raduwould fill daily from the cellar sink, and inside the barrel, there wasa water hoover connected to a long hose with a hand-held watering head.Every day, Radu would carefully mix the chemicals needed by the plantsin this barrel, following the schedule he had received when he hadpurchased the respective solutions from Prague, which informed him aboutthe compost he had to use, when to use it and the quantities needed.These alternated, depending on the evolution cycle of the plants, sincethey became more and more complex as they grew. He had five hundredplants, which gave him around seven kilos of buds every two and a halfmonths. The pots were close to one another, and before the plants werecut, the cellar turned into a real jungle since the plants reached aheight of one meter and a half. Every day when he watered them, Radu hadto drag the pots in the middle of the cellar aside, and after hefinished watering them, he had to walk backwards from the end oppositethe entrance along the path, putting the pots back in their initialposition and blocking the path so that all the plants received the sameamount of light and air, thus the buds growing on the lower parts of theplants did not suffer from a lack of light. Except for one hundred gramswhich he kept for his own consumption from one harvest to the next, Raduwould give all the weed to his childhood friend, Lorin, who got rid ofit in Bucharest. And with each harvest, the quality of the weed becamebetter and better, as Radu learnt through experience the little tricks agrower of indoor weed needed to know.

Chapter 4

When Radu entered the pit, holding Bronco in his arms, the refereewas already there and, after a brief inspection of the animal'steeth, he invited Vodoo's owner into the pit. Sometimes thebreeders sharpened the dogs' teeth or covered them in iron, whichis forbidden in contests of this kind. What people who have nothing todo with pit fights don't know is that, everywhere in the world,there are two kinds of contests, although one of them can hardly becalled a 'competition.'

On the one hand, there are those who love and respect this breedmore than anything in the world and who treat their dogs as their ownchildren. These people created this breed of super-dogs and developed italong the years until it became what it is now, a dog whose qualitiesare undeniably superior to any other breed's. They know that inorder to get a good pit fighting dog, one has to invest one'sentire time and energy, and that the animal has to be treated exactly asa sportsman is. Diet, training, sleep, and as little stress as possibleare essential for a pit fighting dog's performance. Apart fromthis, the dog's genes are also determining factors for thedog's behavior in the pit. These breeders are fully committed tothe dogs they breed and they invest huge amounts of money in theiranimals along the years, knowing they don't always get their moneyback from fights or from mating. These are the real pit bull breeders,those who love and understand this absolutely special breed and whoalways value their dogs' safety and health, irrespective of theresults at the pit or of the money won or lost.

Unfortunately, there is also the second category of so-called pitbull breeders, those who give the qualities of this canine athlete a badname by their attitude to the animal and by the actions they take. It isa shame indeed that it is their actions that are highlighted in thepress or on TV, as the brutality and lack of respect their deeds implydefy the imagination. They are those who, having no love for the dogs,see pit fights as a business and the poor innocent animals as the pawnsof their wicked plans. These so-called breeders invest almost nothing inthe process of animal breeding, pay modest prices and thus lower thequality of the dogs, mate the animals among themselves and ignoreselection criteria, which explains the reduced quality of their pets.The only thing these dogs need is an antibiotic injection after thefight and maybe a stitch or two in case their skin, which is three timesthicker than any other breed's and with fewer nerve ends, waspierced by the opponent's fangs. However, these people, who have nosoul or respect for the animal that would give its life for them, letthem recover, tied to their kennel, with no assistance whatsoever.

The worst part of the way in which they treat their pit bulls isthe way in which they let them fight. There are no rules, of course,since they don't care about their dogs, and that's why theanimals are allowed to fight until they lose all their strength. Thisnever happens when the fights are organized by the true breeders, whosee to it that there's a referee in the pit, especially to ensurethe dogs' safety, and vets close to the pit for the smallinterventions they need after the fights. More often than not, thesepeople fail even to watch the fights, the only reason they organize thembeing the little money they can afford to bet. Sometimes the bastardslock the dogs in trucks or other closed spaces and let them fightwithout any supervision, releasing them one hour later to see who wonthe money, which often goes to cover the price of the next heroin dose.

It's sad that, very often, out of indifference or the way inwhich these fights are organized, plus the lack of consideration for theanonymity of these kind of activities, the dogs are deprived ofappropriate living conditions in, often, public places, and the TVchannels compete in showing how tough these traitors are on their pets.Nobody, apart from the true breeders, knows that, in fact, the pit bullfights and the entire process of breeding, training, and fighting havenothing to do with the way in which these individuals degrade the mostamazing animal ever created by humans and everything this animal standsfor. The differences between a true champion dog and a dog used infights by these lousy bastards are the same as those between a boxingchampion and a beggar. The genuine fights are organized in strictsecrecy, with very few witnesses, and those who attend are veryreliable; they are never covered by the press, while the actions of theother category have made the whole world fear this superb breed, andeven hate it most of the times.

Radu made Bronco sit in the pit corner; the dog, as tense as anarrow ready to fly from the stretched bow, facing his opponent in theopposite corner of the pit, sharing the desire to fight. Anybody whoever attended a pit bull fight noticed not only the extraordinary desirethese dogs feel to fight but also the pleasure they take in theconfrontation, constantly wagging their tail and doing their best todefeat their enemy. If these dogs didn't like fighting, theywouldn't be as good as they are at it. Just like the people whotake to contact sports, they are really motivated or satisfied only whenthey fight. As a Labrador is happiest carrying the duck shot by itsowner in its mouth, and a German shepherd feels most at home guardingthe sheep and goading them as its genetic code dictates, so the pit bullis most satisfied when it is in the pit with an opponent it tries todominate, because this is dictated by every gene of its body.

Contrary to popular belief, the pit bull doesn't need trainingto be aggressive to the other dogs because it has these traits in itsgenetic code. The training sessions are meant to keep these dogs fit andnot to teach them how to fight. Each pit bull has its own fightingstyle, and this is hardly ever influenced by training. The differencesbetween a better-trained dog and a less well-trained dog can be seenonly after the first twenty minutes or half an hour of fighting, whenthe bites of one of them start losing their grip, or the way it shakesits opponent using only the strength of its neck and not of its entirebody, or the strength of the body, which is pushing the opponent lessvigorously or fails to rise as swiftly as in the first ten minutes. Theonly things a breeder can do in order to improve the dog's chancesof winning is to train and feed it as well as possible; the differencebetween a winner and a loser lies in the genetic background of eachanimal. That's why the price for a dog born to a line of championsis more often than not exorbitant. For the same reason, and many others,somebody who invested this amount of money in a dog would always see toit that the animal gets the best care and food.

The referee told the two breeders the same words they heard atevery contest: "When I count three, release your dogs." Andthen he counted "one, two, three," at which both Radu and hisopponent released their dogs. The animals dashed at each other, grippingeach other's faces and starting to shake.

The first ten minutes of the pit contests usually looked the same,both dogs being the same size and weight and, of course, very welltrained. During these first ten minutes, the dogs are very energetic,alternatively gripping the opponent's head and neck andcontinuously shaking in order to tear as deeply as possible at its skin.The difference between the dogs may be seen only in the latter half ofthe fight, when the qualities of one of the dogs prevail over thequalities of the other. In ninety-five percent of the cases, thegenetically- superior and better-trained dog wins, but occasionally, asin contact sports between people, the inferior dog may happen to win.

One of the dogs may slit the enemy's jugular vein, this vitalpart going from the neck down to both sides of the chest in thedog's anatomy, and, because of the effort, it can be a bit swollen,which makes the slitting easier. In this case, the contest is alwaysterminated at once, in order to stop the bleeding, which occurs in thefirst two or three minutes due to the extraordinary healing capacitiesof this dog. However, if the fight is interrupted, the dog that needsmedical care loses, and this doesn't always happen to the dog thatwould have normally lost the fight. Fortunately, this occurs veryrarely, once in one hundred contests, let's say, but when it does,the contest must be terminated instantly.

Another way in which a dog that is not as good as its opponent maywin the fight is the nose grip. Although most of the times it is not along-lasting grip, and it doesn't have any consequences on theresult of the contest, one of the dogs may grip the opponent's noseso strongly that the bleeding is serious, and if that happens, the fightmust also be stopped. Neither of these incidents is ever fatal, thebleeding being stopped in a minute or two, but the question is who savesthe dogs that fight without any witnesses? Who stops the fight when oneof the dogs is in danger if there are no owners watching or referees,and without the vets who are always there in professional fights to givefirst aid to these gladiators?

The difference in quality between Bronco and Vodoo started to showin about the twentieth minute of the fight, when Radu's dog shookeven more energetically than during the first five minutes, while hisblack opponent was starting to lose its grip on Bronco more and moreoften, and rose with more difficulty when the gingery dog applied his"judo style," as Radu liked to call it jokingly. This styledescribed Bronco's approach to the fight; Bronco would placehimself in a parallel position and, while gripping the opponent'shead or neck strongly, he would push him in the opposite direction withhis shoulder in order to make him lose his balance. Once that happenedand the opponent was knocked down, Bronco was himself more than ever,thrusting his feet in the carpet covering the pit and thoroughly shakingany bit of his enemy he may have targeted. That's what happened inthis contest; after half an hour, Vodoo was exhausted and could hardlyrise, while Bronco looked as if he had just entered the pit.

The referee told the two breeders to separate them, and the hardwood bits were slid through the dogs' fangs. Each of them was takento his corner and, after the referee counted to three, Vodoo'sowner released him while Radu was still holding Bronco lest he shoulddash at his opponent. This method is used to see if the losing dog is"game," which means whether he can be used to mate or not. Ifhe stops attacking, the contest is terminated at once. If he, eventhough the loser, attacks his opponent, the dog is considered"game" and able to mate. Vodoo, although he could hardly standon his feet, ran towards Bronco and gripped him, which is when Radureleased him, and Bronco knocked his opponent down from the first impactand continued his series of shaking movements on his front paws. Twominutes later, the referee terminated the contest. It was obvious thatVodoo stood no chance of winning that fight. Radu slid the wood throughBronco's teeth again, unclenched his jaws from the terribly stronggrip he still had on one of his opponent's paws and, to the cheersof everybody who attended, raised him above his head. The feelings oflove, pride, and communion with his pet were never so well-articulatedin his soul as they were in these moments when, to the crowd'scheers, his dog had won another fight. With tears in his eyes, he kissedhis dog that, in his turn, licked his face. Radu whispered words ofvictory in his ears: "Well done, boy, well dooooone, boy,we've done it again, well dooone."

He took Bronco to the car, where he washed away the blood on hisbody, mainly his opponent's. Bronco was wagging his tail insatisfaction as if he knew as well as any person there that the victoryin the fight had been his from start to finish and that Vodoo had stoodno chance, compared to his undeniably better qualities. The doctor cametowards them to see Bronco. He asked Radu if everything was okay, andthen he turned to Vodoo, who needed a bit more attention from him. Thereferee also came, and, handing him the money he had earned that day,congratulated them before returning to the pit to settle the criteriafor the next fight.

The feeling that had taken hold of Radu was the reason why he hadfallen in love with these dogs from the very beginning, that love,pride, and infinite respect he felt for them. Bronco jumped on the backseat without his help and he thrust there with an expression ofsatisfaction on his face, which was still smeared with blood and full ofscars, whose number had started to grow.

Chapter 5

Lorin, or The Nose as close friends called him, who was neverabsent from any of Radu's pit bull fights and wouldn't missthe opportunity to watch Bronco in action for the world, came near thecar.

"Bro, told ya he'd do a number on Blacky-boy! I'veseen that dog fight before, he's pretty good, but he hasnothin' on this one!"

Then he turned to the dog: "Yeah, daddy, you're ourchamp, there ain't nothing these pooches can do to you."

Bronco was wagging his tail in satisfaction, holding his earsbackwards, the way he always did whenever he was complimented orcuddled.

Radu, still a bit tense because of the fight but displaying anomniscient smirk, got behind the wheel and started the engine.

"Where are you up to? Wanna come by ma' place or are yougonna hit the road straight to Bucharest?"

"No, I'll drop by, I've got something to talk to youabout."

"Okay, follow me, but I have to stop by Alex's for halfan hour to get this one stitched."

Alex was a local vet to whom most of the pit bull breeders in thearea turned for medical care after the fights. He himself had a pitbull, and the owners of the breed were his main clients.

"No problem, go ahead, I'll be there later! First I gottago see what those guys from the Ploiesti clan wanna talk to meabout."

"What the f*ck do those gits want?"

"Dunno, man, I think they have another trip proposition.I'll go see what the word is."

"Okay, dude, but don't give them the time of day, youknow how they are. You'll never be able to get them off your back!I'll wait for you to drop by my place later then!"

Lorin closed the jeep's door and went off to the Ploiesticlan; three related gypsies who were part of one of the most powerfulgypsy clans in Ploiesti. They were involved in a wide range of illegalactivities, most of them outside the Romanian borders. They controlled afew dozen pickpockets or "kids" who stole only for them, acouple of dozen beggars, consisting of gypsy women and their broods, andover a hundred girls, exploited both for prostitution and in stripclubs. All in all, the clan's profit was a few tens of thousands ofdollars a month, and even hundreds of thousands during the productivemonths. What had always amazed Radu and his friends was the discrepancybetween the sometimes extravagant sums of money these people werecapable of making and the arrant lack of intelligence they displayed.Although they never cared for this type of people, business often madetheir paths cross. They had had previous encounters before and they knewexactly what they could and couldn't expect from them. Honesty andcharacter were a big no-no.

Seeing Lorin approach, one of the gypsies, short, with a wide backand a deep scar seaming his face, one of the clan's chiefs, startedtalking to him. "What's up, boss? I haven't seen you inages! Man, your mate's dog is a hit. I also saw him fightin'against our champion, Yankee; this Bronco mopped the floor with him.Where did he bring him from, bro?"

"He didn't bring him from anywhere; he's hisbitch's pup. But I don't think there's any dog in thecountry now that could match him. He's a hell of a dog, evenuntrained, and he eats them alive. Did you see how he clasps andrustles?"

"Yeah, dude, it's a killer dog! And he's sohandsome, such a fine color, I've never seen one like this. MaybeI'll buy me one of his pups when the time comes."

Lorin chuckled in his mind: You wouldn't know what to do witha dog like this, even in a thousand years, you bitch! But his answerwas: "Talk to Radu, see what he thinks. But he ain't humpingfor another half a year, at least."

"Well ... maybe you can talk to him sometime, he's yourbuddy. Lorin, dude, look, there's somethin' I wanted to tellya' ..."

"Well, spit it up then!"

"Got some of my boys crossing over in 'bout a month. Theywanna do Austria, Germany, and France. They have good spots to breachthe border, routes we found and already used, they have berths to staythere, you know, we have a big family. Problem is these boys is onlysnatchers, they break any locks or alarm systems, but don't knowbanks. And we wanna move to bank robbery, man, there's more greensin one hit than those "kids" make in half a year. Thought youmaybe wanna go with them, bro, show them what's what, guys givesyou a cut. You know ma' family always greases the hand thathelps."

"Thanks for counting me in but I'll pass, mate. Promisedmy woman I won't do it again, after those three years in the jointin Germany. Plus, everything's goin' smoothly, I don'tneed any headaches. I can still do something 'cause we'veknown each other for a long time. You can send me your boys andI'll tell them a thing or two. But as for going with them, noway."

"How did they nail you that time, bro?"

"Someone spilled the beans. I was travelling with a guy Ididn't know, the dudes from Suceava brought him, said he'shandy. But after a week there, we'd broken into two Sparkassebanks, the retard was pickpocketing in the subway and got caught. Thedumb-ass was wearing the same jacket as in the footage on thesurveillance camera, so the cops held him for being present at the sceneand as he was lookin' at 15 years in prison, he ratted us all out,the c*nt! But I put my hands on the bastard in Dresden, before he gotout after only two years, the f*cker. I worked on him for about aweek."

"Yeah, I've heard the story. A guy from Bacau, right? So,what, have you grown soft in the knees, now or what?"

"My knees are fine, don't you worry! But I earn enoughmoney now, no need for all that kamikaze bullsh*t like in the old days,you know?"

The gypsies were obviously disappointed, they knew that havingLorin among them would have been a huge advantage for their group butthey hadn't really had their hopes high concerning his cooperationto begin with. They also knew there was no way of making him change hismind so they decided to drop the matter altogether.

"Okay, Lorin, mate, I give my boys your phone number and tellthem to call you, and you'll meet with them in your spare time.They gonna bring you a package and you're in for a treat.Don't worry, they're well-mannered chaps."

"Okay, man. Tell them to give me a call next week andI'll meet with them for a couple of hours if they come toBucharest."

"Cool, boss, much appreciated! And tell Radu I want a pup fromhim, when he's gonna have them."

"I'll tell him. Cheers."

He shook hands with the three shady guys and went to his car. Hehad a black Audi A6 he had brought from Germany one year before beingarrested there. He started the car engine, covering the ecstatic voicesof the breeders whose dogs were fighting in the ring right at thatmoment.

Half an hour later, Lorin was driving along the gravel pathway thatgoes through Poiana Tapului, the small picturesque village lost in thewilderness of the Carpathian Mountains that had become Radu's homea few years before. With the thick forest on one side and the Bucegipeaks on the other, few places offered Lorin such views and suchdelight, and even though he passed by once almost every month for acouple of years now, the grandeur of the landscape always struck hissensitive chords buried deep inside his hard-as-a-rock self.

Radu's house was the last one along the gravel pathway thatcontinued winding through the heart of the mountains. Lorin parked hiscar in front of the house and went inside the courtyard. The jeep wasalready there, meaning Radu had finished his job at the vet, which wasto be expected since he had seen at the end of the fight that Broncoonly had a few minor wounds. They probably didn't even needstitches, only disinfecting, plus an antibiotic shot to preventswelling.

He rang his childhood friend's doorbell, and Radu opened thedoor with a smile on his face. It was obvious that the tension that hadbeen hovering over him at the end of the fight had been replaced by aslight euphoria, thanks to the success. The hero of that morning,Bronco, was lying on his couch, slowly wagging his tail when he sawLorin. Only two of the wounds he got in the fight had required stitches.

A strong scent of weed was floating through the room, released bythe thick joint between Radu's lips. He passed the reefer to hisfriend and inquired about the talk with the clan representatives.

"What did those bastards want?"

"Bullsh*t. They wanted me to go robbing banks in Germany andFrance with some of their men. They're f*ckin' insane;don't know what got into them. When did I ever do such businesswith them?"

"Yeah, f*ck the goddamn mudskins! They bark at any treeavailable to see if something falls down."

Lorin started feeling the effect of the blunt. Everything became abit fuzzy and a feeling of joy and relaxation flooded his senses. Hepassed Radu the joint.

"Tell me, Lorin, ma' mate, what did you wanna talkabout?"

"Yeah, man. Do you remember Tasos, father of allmalakas?"

Tasos was a Greek student who, together with another few thousandGreeks, came to study in Romania because the education prices were lowercompared to other nearby countries and the diplomas could be earnedpretty easily.

The majority of the Hellenic students were drug consumers; most ofthe money their parents sent for their studies would end up inLorin's or other top Bucharest dealers' pockets. The rest ofthe money sent from Greece covered the bribes so that the Romanianuniversity professors would pass them.

The problem was that, upon their return to Greece, they were askedto take a validation exam, which most of them failed, the five yearsspent in Romania having been nothing more than a continuous party. As aresult, not so many Greeks sent their children to study in Romaniaanymore.

Tasos, being more intelligent and resourceful than his colleagues,and having lived in Bucharest for more than seven years, had gone intobusiness with the local dealers for an extra buck, or at least to coverhis own drug needs.

He usually bought reasonable quantities at lower prices than thoseon the market and then resold it to his Greek colleagues with his ownmark-up. This business was going well, especially with the newcomers whodidn't know where to get their narcotics or were afraid to contactthe Romanians directly. One of the Greeks' favorite drugs wasketamine or Special K, an injectable animal tranquilizer with powerfulpsychedelic and hallucinogenic effects when turned into powder andsnorted.

The colorless liquid had to be held over a small flame for severalminutes to crystallize; after that, the crystals turned into powder andcould be snorted, just like cocaine for example. The best way to procurethis drug in its pure state is directly from the source, the vets. Butfor that you need to have contacts, for no doctor would sell youketamine without gaining a substantial profit or without knowing youvery well.

"Tasos wants to import ketamine into Greece, he says it'svery rare and expensive there. He claims he has people there who wouldbuy wholesale if they could find a direct supplier for the liquid, andthey will process it themselves."

"So, the Greek wants to get involved in exports ..." Radusmirked while passing Lorin the reefer. "How much did he say hewants?"

"Two, three liters to start with, and if it proves to be agood deal, more after that."

"And how does he figure out getting it across?"

"He said he's gonna put it in water bottles. K'sodorless and colorless ... like water."

"This malaka of yours may not be that stupid after all!"

"I know, mate. I told you he's a capitalist, his mind isset on making money. He said he'd give us a thousand dollars perliter."

Radu made a quick estimation, deducing how much he'd spend onthe bottles he'd get from the doctor to make a liter; from athousand dollars, there was a good few hundred profit.

Then he made an estimation of how many grams of powder could bemade from a bottle, then multiplied it by the number of bottlesnecessary to have a liter of liquid, and realized the Greek'sprofit would be way bigger than theirs.

"Damn, this malaka of yours is some piece of work, trying toget all the loot for himself. We should be happy to gain a few hundredper liter while he gets thousands? No, bro, tell him that if he wantsthe deal, he should pay us two thousand per liter. He's got a hugeprofit as it is. If he's not satisfied, let him find some otherscoop with a better price, but I can guarantee you no one he's gotaccess to could get him such a large quantity. Do you realize that forthree liters, I have to talk to more people 'cause nobody has sucha quantity in stock. I don't imagine they anesthetize ten horses aday. Tell him that if he wants us in, he should give us six thousandupfront, two thousand a liter and he should buy at least three liters'cause I don't wanna vouch for a few pennies. We're gonnapay around two grand for them, and we'll split the bread intwo."

Which meant they'd earn around two thousand dollars each, apretty good profit for quite a small effort. Radu, being well connectedwith the vets because of the pit fights, knew exactly who he could talkto and about what quantities when it came to ketamine.

Every time Lorin came to him asking for a few tens of grams, hehelped him, especially because of the substantial profit in it, but thiswas the first time such quantities, more than a liter, were involved.Radu loved the feeling that he was making progress, that he was movingto the next level every time business and profits escalated.

The moment he passed him the joint, Lorin saw the complacent smileingrained on his face and the wheels of the money-making machine in hishead, the way he imagined them, were turning with the speed of a turbopower engine revved to the max, its sole purpose being to produce themost expensive type of energy: satisfaction.

Chapter 6

Stefan, Radu's other childhood friend, had become, in the lastfew years, one of the most successful p*rn movie actors in Romania.After some productions filmed in his country and in Hungary, Stefan metthe woman that would influence his future in the most positive waypossible.

Her name was Jana Konevova, a splendid 28-year-old girl from theCzech Republic, owner of an adult movie-modeling agency. Stefan and Janafirst met on the movie set for an Italian production in Prague. TheMilanese agency had hired Stefan as the protagonist in that movie; theother two male characters being played by Italian actors, whileJana's agency provided the feminine presence, eight beautifulgirls, all of them from the Czech Republic.

The moment they first laid eyes on each other, there was anirresistible attraction. Stefan couldn't take his eyes off her theentire shooting period, while she was smitten with his charms every timeshe set her eyes on this perfect male specimen from Romania.

His prominent muscles, moving like serpents under his bronze skincovered in tattoos, and his aquiline look that seemed to pierce heractually made her knees weak and the general sense of strength andconfidence Stefan emitted made her fall madly in love with him the firstday they met.

After they finished shooting the movie, Stefan remained in Praguefor another couple of days, spending most of this time in Jana'smansion, where they spent some unforgettable moments. Stefan had nevertruly been in love, even if he would have needed a notebook the size ofa phonebook to write down the names of all the women he'd beenwith.

But this stunning Czech girl had changed something inside him; forthe first time, he felt something more than an animal attraction for awoman. This longing to be with her when they were apart, as well as theintense joy that being together stirred in him, made Stefan wish for aserious commitment for the first time in his life.

One September evening, while they were walking down the narrowcauseways of the old town center, a genuine time machine that transportsyou a few centuries back, Jana proposed that he moved to Prague."Why do you like living in Romania when life in Prague is way morebeautiful ... how about moving in here, with me?"

She tightened her grip on his hefty arm and looked into his pitchblack eyes, smiling with hope. Jana went on with the same ease sotypical of her people, especially the women.

"I really dig you. I've never met a man who could impressme as you do ... I'd very much like us to be together. Moneywouldn't be an issue, you could get more contracts here than inyour own country. You've seen yourself that Prague is slowlybecoming the European p*rn capital. How about it?"

Stefan had already considered this alternative a few days before.He was very pleasantly impressed by this astonishing city, with itsGothic turrets that decorated most of the centuries-old buildings, aswell as its dark causeways, lit only by lampposts, and itsmulti-centenary bridges, decorated with angel statues, that cross theVltava river, joining together the two parts of this medieval city.

He never expected Prague to be as beautiful or, especially, asliberal as it was. He had lived in Amsterdam for a while and until thenhe thought no other city could offer such freedom and tolerance, but hewas wrong. In Prague, he found the same coffee shops, head shops, anddisplay window prostitutes as in Amsterdam.

The only difference was that the Czech city lacked the hordes ofArabs and Africans that invite you to buy drugs every step of the way inthe Red Light District; nor did they have the type of tourist that onlywanted to get high and have sex with prostitutes, vomiting at every turnand making an unimaginable racket day and night. Prague was a quieterplace while offering the same degree of freedom and cultural diversity.Moreover, Stefan liked it more as a city, from its Gothic architectureto the energy this gorgeous European capital inspired.

Most of all, Stefan felt that he was falling deeper and deeper inlove with the Czech girl and that he could no longer live without her.After three months of corresponding and visiting each other a few times,Stefan moved to Prague. Just as Jana predicted, the job offers wereplenty, primarily because the Czech Republic didn't have p*rnactors of a remarkable quality, though they had the biggest number ofactresses in the industry. Also, due to the low taxes for filming theCzech government imposed, Prague had become one of the mostfrequently-used locations for adult film producers.

The countless casting agencies here were sources for producers, notonly when it came to extremely pretty girls at reasonable prices, butalso the charming filming locations. Stefan was not employed by aparticular agency, he was a freelancer, and producers contacted himpersonally. Jana suggested he should work for her agency, as a joke, andthey both copiously mocked the idea of him being her employee.

Apart from the p*rn model agency, Jana ran a high-class escortagency. She used to be a call girl herself a few years before, thus shehad all the business contacts that later permitted her to open her ownagency. The whole business was online; there was a site with pictures ofall the girls, a short description of each of them, and theiravailability.

The girls would go on a one-week trip to one of Europe'scapital cities; they'd have accommodation at high-class hotels nearairports, or even in airport hotels. The clients were businessmen whowanted to spend their time between flights in the most pleasant waypossible.

Everything was discreet and problems rarely occurred, due to theconfidential nature of the business and, especially, the social positionof the people who used these services. Each girl usually had two to sixclients a day. Jana and her assistants organized their schedule and werecontacted telephonically by the clients, most of whom she knewpersonally from her days as a call girl.

They paid the girls in cash and Jana knew exactly how much moneyeach of them had made by the time she waited for their return flight.Her agency had a commission of 50%, and it rarely happened that a girlwouldn't return with the money, or tried not to pay, becausethrough Jana's agency, and because of her business contacts, thegirls made a lot more money than they could make on their own, plus theyhad the safety it offered. The difference between the two businesses theCzech owned was that while for the p*rn movies she could send girls whodidn't look perfect to casting, for the escort services she couldonly use girls who looked like top models. Some of her employees workedfor both agencies. A lot of them bought or were given luxury cars, evenfrom their first year of work.

That morning, Stefan had film shoots in a high-class mansionoutside Prague. It was the third and last day he would go to thatlocation. The agency that had hired him was French, and its owner was aParisian ex-p*rn star, maybe the most successful actor in the businessto come from France. Stefan burst into laughter when they first metbecause the French man was the protagonist of the first p*rn film he hadever owned, a videotape he had purchased a few months after therevolution, when Western products started to appear in the Romanianmarket. The mansion had two floors with a total of eight rooms, out ofwhich two were equipped with a Jacuzzi. Stefan had to shoot two scenesthat day, one with a brunette from the Czech Republic in one of theJacuzzis and the other one with two girls, one from Slovakia and theother one from Belarus, in one of the bedrooms.

As usual, the shoot was going by slowly, most of the time beingtaken by setting the decor, the audio and video equipment, and makeup.Although he had been on the set since about nine, the shoot only startedaround lunchtime. The Jacuzzi scene went on for approximately one hour,with short breaks for changing the positions of the cameras, buteverything went smoothly. The fact that the actress from the CzechRepublic was very beautiful and uninhibited had helped Stefan perform atthe highest level.

The girl had had three org*sms throughout that shoot; this wasanother reason why Stefan was very appreciated by the producers. Thegirls who acted with him would always reach repeated org*sms. In time,this became his signature; any p*rn movie amateur knew that in thescenes he was in, the girls would reach climax.

This was mostly due to a technique he had learnt from a partnermany years before, more specifically, hitting the woman's G spotand the specific moves that had to be made simultaneously, with pressureapplied to the cl*tor*s, to cause an extremely strong org*sm. The womenwould often end up squirting.

In time, Stefan had become an expert in using these moves and hetook pride in making any woman come in less than two minutes. With fewexceptions, all his partners could confirm this to be true.

The second scene he shot that day, with the two girls in thebedroom, lasted longer than the first. Even if he was a little exhaustedafter shooting the first scene, when the two girls started having alesbian moment, which lasted for about ten minutes, Stefan could hardlywait to get in the middle of the action! And neither could the girls,who, even while being busy pleasing each other, cast him lasciviousglances from time to time. When he got into the action, it was beyondeven his wildest expectations. The scene lasted more than an hourstraight and was very intense the whole time, being classified by theFrench boss as one of the best p*rn scenes he had ever seen.

As it was the last day of shooting for that production, the wholeteam got invited that evening to celebrate together. They had a copiousdinner in a luxury restaurant situated in the Zizkov tower of Prague,over two hundred meters high. It was an eccentric building from theCommunist era, with some gigantic children made of metal climbing up anddown the tower, with barcodes instead of faces, which made them lookmore like toasters than human beings.

From his table, Stefan could admire the whole city in all itssplendor, with its red roofs and Gothic turrets placed on every buildingthat decks the City of Gold. After dinner, they popped in to a pubwhere, to the surprise of the French team, most of the people weresmoking joints, passing them around to all the customers in the bar;their table had their share, even though they knew nobody there.

After a few glasses of absinth, of over seventy degrees, and a fewsmokes from the shared joints, the p*rn gang, much more jovial now andseeking fun, decided to move on to a club, to get a taste of thecity's night life that had made quite an unexpected and excitingimpression on the French. They entered one of the largest, mostsuccessful clubs in Europe, Pavilion, whose owner was a former starsinger from the 80s in Germany.

Klara had moved to Prague over ten years before and, with part ofthe money she made in her singing career, opened this high-class clubthat proved to be a real financial success. The initial investment paidoff in two years after the opening. Stefan and Klara knew each other;they had met a few months back. She was a friend of his girlfriend,Jana.

As soon as they entered the club, they were welcomed by two girlswho knew the Romanian and led him and his friends to the VIP section ofthe club, where they offered them a table for ten. The French team wasvery impressed by the way their leading actor was being treated, andfelt privileged to be in the VIP section of one of the most well-knownclubs in Europe on their very first visit there. After a few glasses,the French producer spoke into Stefan's ear:

"Stephan (that's how his name sounded on his lips), doyou think it would be possible to score some co*ke in this club? It wouldhit the spot right now! What do you think?"

"Sure thing, I'm on it. How much d'you want?"

"I don't know. I was thinking about five gs, enough forall of us. How much for it here?"

"I'll go find out, wait a sec!"

Stefan went to one of the girls that had led them to the table andasked her where he could find Klara.

"I think she's in her office; if not, she's in thebar upstairs, that's where she usually sits. Do you want me to giveher a message or something?"

"Yes, please, tell her I want to have a word with her,okay?"

"Sure. I'll tell her to come to your table when she has aminute, all right?"

"Yes, thanks, you're a doll!"

In less than ten minutes, the former German pop star showed up inthe VIP section and headed towards their table with a wide smile on herface. "Stefan, it's such an honor to have you hereagain!"

And she leaned over to kiss him on both cheeks. "What'sup, are you having fun? Do you need anything?"

Stefan whispered in her ear: "I could use some co*ke for myfriends. Can you help me?"

"Sure, no problem, I've got some guys dealin' in theclub, I'll send one over, okay?"

"That would be perfect! Is it any good?"

"Well, it's not Colombia good, but it will do. Ifwe're talking large quantities, there's a differentdeal."

"No, no, just for tonight, to have some here at thetable."

"Sure. The only request I have is that you don't snorthere, at the table, do it in the bathroom. I don't want any troublehere!"

"OK, Klara, no problem. Thanks a lot!"

"Don't mention it. If you want to talk to me again,I'll be in my office, you know where it is. Kisses, see youlater!"

She cast him a meaningful glance, and then turned around and left,shrouded in the air typical of those who have made it in life and whoare exactly where they want to be, full of confidence and self-satisfaction. Less than two minutes later, a stranger walked up toStefan. They got acquainted and he told him he was sent by Klara to talksome business.

Ten minutes later, the atmosphere at the table had become morevivid. Everyone was talking louder and faster, they were laughing more,and the waitresses were called more often to bring bottles of alcohol totheir table.

Stefan had noticed something upon his arrival in this country, andevery time he went to a club, this conviction got stronger. Unlike othercountries he had visited, in the Czech Republic, the drug of choice,consumed almost exclusively in clubs, was co*ke.

He remembered when he first asked for Ecstasy in Prague, the Czechsgazed at him in surprise and asked him if he liked "gaypills."At first he thought that was strange, but then he understood why theCzechs called it that.

Indeed, in Prague's clubs, most of the lovers of speed weregay, the rest of the people were on co*ke. When he asked why peopledidn't take XTC, which was the favorite drug of the clubbers inRomania, he got an answer that, unexpectedly, made sense:

"Pills are for fa*gs, they take them and are full of love afterthat, they feel like kissing everybody. We're not like that. Idon't wanna take somethin' and then start kissin' people.I like to snort and then feel good, get filled with strength and energy,exactly what co*ke does."

Every time he went out, Stefan noticed that aside from the weedthat almost everybody smoked, and that was grown by many here in ahighly professional manner, many people snorted cocaine but its qualitywas far lower than that found in town.

This was due to the fact that the wacky dust had to pass throughmany hands before reaching central Europe, and every handler added somesubstances to increase the quantity, thus lowering its quality. On theother hand, because for the Czech's drug consumption meant doingco*ke, this made the city a very good market for the dope.

What had become obvious to the Romanian was that here, with amid-quality product at a reasonable price and a few distributioncontacts, which he already had, one could make a fortune. In addition,there was a very liberal and relaxed way of looking upon drugconsumption in this country. For instance, as long as you didn'tcause any trouble or stand out with fabulous quantities, you would beleft alone and considered as rendering useful services for thecommunity. At least that's how he liked to see things, and hisday-to-day experiences were reinforcing this belief.

Stefan was convinced that something had to be done in this respect,even if he didn't know what exactly. But this was surely a subjecthe would tackle when he met his childhood friends, Radu and Lorin, forthe New Year's celebration. And suddenly he remembered: Radu'spit bull Bronco had had a fight just a week ago, and he had forgotten tocall him and ask him how it went.

Chapter 7

Stefan took his cell phone and dialed Radu's number. Raduanswered in a jovial and relaxed voice, and the actor drew theconclusion that Bronco must have won the fight.

"How are things? Prague's stolen you, man, you'veforgotten us...and I was thinking maybe you've been kidnapped bythose p*rn producers or something. Are you okay?"

"Yeah, bro, everything's fine on this front. I'vebeen busy like hell, you know. did Bronco manage?"

"He won, that's how he managed. The black devil wasknocked out after half an hour."

"Wow, congrats! And who's the next opponent?"

"Don't know, man, I'll just let him take his timenow. Holidays are near, and I won't be chasing the dogs up and downthe hills. We'll find him an opponent next year. Are you comingover for New Year's Eve?"

"I think I might, are you planning something? Is Lorincoming?"

"You bet! I've invited him and Cristina, the Siamese, whosaid they'd come, and Irinel and his girlfriend, and you. Oh, andthe Dutch woman."

"What? Are you barmy? Is she coming home for Christmas?"

"Yeah, she called me and said she's coming with somefriends for New Year's Eve, and I've invited them, too.It'll be cool, you know the Dutch know how to party, andthey'll have some stuff on them. Are you bringing your Czechgirlfriend or what?"

"Yeah, I'm bringing Jana with me, she can converse inEnglish with the Dutch guys. You know, she was a bit worried we'dtalk Romanian all night and she'd miss the point. Does Irinel havea girlfriend?"

Irinel was one of Radu's neighbors, a 19-year-old guy, bornand brought up in Poiana, Tapului. The kid knew his manners and at thesame time, he was very smart. These qualities, and the fact that he hada passion for dogs, made Radu take him on to assist him in his pit bulltraining, especially as he often needed a hand when he trained two dogsat once.

Irinel was very pleased by his friendship with Radu because he hadearned another status in Poiana among the kids who were the same age ashe was. They looked up at him now that he was in Radu's company. Hewas also fascinated by these dogs, which could not compare to any otherdogs he'd seen before, given their physical and psychic strengthand the fierceness and stoicism they had in battles. For more than twoyears, Irinel had accompanied Radu in most of the training and hewouldn't have missed a fight of any of Radu's dogs for theworld. Radu had promised he'd give him one of Bronco's puppieswhen the dog mated, and the dream of his own champion was the boy'sshadow.

"And the Siamese'll show up, too? I haven't seenthem for ages, how are they doing?"

"Well, you know them ... they're having arguments withfolks in Galati, now over a fine, now when they take somebody to theforest ... they opened their own restaurant a few months ago, youknow."

"Have they? I had no idea. They've started doing itlegally now, huh?"

"Well, they've grown up. They're party company,we'll have a good laugh with them the entire night. I can'twait to see the tramps they'll bring in tow."

The Siamese were twin brothers from Galati who had lived in thesame district as Radu, and together they had turned the city streetsinto their playground. Physically, the twins were almost identical, onlythose who knew them well could tell which was which. They weighed overone hundred kilos and were one meter and ninety centimeters tall, andpeople in the city feared their violent behavior and the excessivelybrutal manner in which they sorted out their problems. In Galati, whensomebody wanted their money back or somebody punished, they would askthe Siamese to do it.

"Okay, Radu old boy, it's settled then; see you on NewYear's. Do you want me to bring something from here? Maybe somewinter tires, I don't know how the weather's treating youthere, whether it has snowed or I should bring some fieldequipment."

"Tires" were slang for XTC pills, and "snow"for cocaine. There were many other names for them; they used every typeof slang according to a specific situation, in order for it to makesense in the respective context, in case someone unwanted waseavesdropping.

"No, man, I already changed the tires. It's been snowingheavily here, the Nose took care of the snow removal. Don't worryabout a thing. You just come here with your partner, we've got itall covered."

"Okay, then, Radu boy, it's a deal. I'll get therein the afternoon, I've got a plane to Bucharest at noon and thenI'll take a train to Poiana. I'll be there by evening."

"All right, Stefan, mate. Kisses and take care of yourself,play it safe with your model chicks."

"Sure, bro, kisses on my part, too. See you at NewYear's."

The few weeks before New Year's went by without any majorevents. Radu was at the eleventh hour with his marijuana production,that cycle's plants had to be cropped on December the 15th, but hecut them and hung them upside down to dry on the 20th. He spent most ofthe last two days of the year in the cellar, where he cut the buds offthe plants and then pruned them of their leaves. This was the processthat required the most work in the entire cycle, the cutting off andpruning of the dried plants. During his first years of activity in thisfield, he had pruned the buds with a pair of scissors, which proved tobe an extraordinarily niggling and time-consuming job. If each plant haddozens of buds, and Radu had a couple of hundred plants, almost athousand, you can imagine the effort this work required. Two yearsbefore, he had bought a machine from Belgium; it pruned the buds ofleaves and it worked like a ventilator with metal paddles; each plantwould go through this machine to have its leaves pruned, after which thebuds could finally be cut off. He saved the biggest, most beautiful budsfor the New Year's Eve party. He was very pleased with the resultof his work; from one cycle to the next, the buds were getting fluffierand smelled nicer. They were covered with a white fuzz that seemed toturn into crystals when put under a bright light, and the red and orangepubescences that enwrapped the greenness of the bud were more and moreprotuberant. Radu felt his mouth wet when he smelled those little buds;besides the satisfaction of having a high quality weed with a finesmell, he felt proud to have created such a high standard product thatwould be highly appreciated.

Lorin also had a quiet month. He had already received the money forthe ketamine from Greece; he was going to give Radu his half on NewYear's Eve. He spent most of December in Bucharest, either in clubswith his friends or taking Christine out to a restaurant or the cinema.He kept his weed buried in a forest outside Bucharest, where he had duga hole in a hidden but accessible spot for depositing his kilograms ofbuds. Every time he went to the hiding place, he would wait for a coupleof minutes in the car before getting out, to make sure he hadn'tbeen followed and nobody was around. He only had one more kilogram,which he knew he would sell very quickly because of the upcomingholidays, but he wasn't worried that he might be left with emptypockets because Radu was about to crop his plants before the year cameto an end.

He could hardly wait for the New Year's Eve party. He missedbeing with both of his childhood friends. Although he was surrounded byhis new friends from the capital most of the time, nothing compared tothe way he felt when he was with his homeys, the way they understoodeach other, the way they could relate to the exact same experiences andthe similar way in which they viewed the world and their attitudes indifferent situations.

Stefan had two shoots that month, both of them Czech productions.The only problem he'd been having more and more often lately wasJana's attitude towards his work. His girlfriend had becomeincreasingly jealous and upset by the fact that he spent a lot of timehaving sex with other women, even though this had been his job sincebefore she met him. Jana was making waspish hints about the nature ofhis work, even though she was part of the same industry. The differencewas that she didn't have to perform any services; the girls whoworked for her were doing that instead. Their situation had become alittle tense for the first time since they were together. Stefan was abit irritated by this, but, on the other hand, it turned him on. Thisattitude of Jana's and her jealousy proved to him that the womanloved him and that she wasn't with him just because of an excess ofpheromones.

On December 31st, they took the plane to Bucharest and then thetrain to Poiana Tapului. The voyage by train through Transylvania'smountains, covered in a thick layer of snow, was dream-like. The Czechwoman, although she had visited most of the globe, had never been soimpressed by the spectacular grandeur of the mountains and had neverfelt such a strong communion with nature as she did in these spots offairy-like wilderness.

Chapter 8

Radu opened the wooden garden gates to let the first-comers in. Itwas Irinel and his girlfriend, who came a little earlier on purpose tohelp with the preparations. Irinel's girlfriend, Alina, was apetite brunette, pretty and always smiling. The boy was head over heelsin love with her, and one could see in his face, from the way his eyesfollowed the girl's every move and the way he always positionedhimself close to her, that he was spellbound. Radu wasn't surewhether he'd had any other girlfriends before Alina, but he wasinclined to think he hadn't. The girl worked as a shop assistantfor a local mini-market, and Irinel visited her there every day to seeher and make sure nobody was causing her any trouble. Radu liked her andthe way she was treating his friend, except for an aspect that botheredhim a little and he didn't know how to react to it: the girl was abit too friendly with him, many times openly flirting with him. He hadseen the way this troubled Irinel, who would look down in discomfortwhenever that happened, trying not to seem offended, but to Radu it wasobvious. The last thing he wanted was to see his friend, towards whom healso felt a big brother's sort of responsibility, hurt, especiallyin a situation in which he had some kind of involvement. He knew hewould have to have a private discussion with the girl.

As the young couple was arranging the tableware, the garden bellbuzzed again. It was Lorin and Cristina, both of them dressed up but,Radu noticed, as he opened the gates for them, that Lorin's Audihad its hood scraped and one of the mirrors broken.

"What the hell happened to your ride, you crazy dog?"Radu asked him, smiling while the couple from Bucharest was getting outof the car and into the snow-bound yard.

"I had some bloke on the hood, bro. Isn't this goddamnmental, man? The f*ckers are waiting on Prahova Valley, passed Predeal,all of them masked and armed with clubs, and if you stop, you'retoast. They put boulders past a curve and if you hit the brakes,you're done. I passed like five cars that were pulled over and thef*ckin' carolers were beating the sh*t out of two guys. The otherswere lined up and the dickhe*ds were taking everything they had in theircars."

The New Year and Christmas Romanian custom, many centuries old, isthat those who go caroling and bidding the best for the year that isabout to begin, with bullroarers or Little Plough poems, the goatsketch, Sorcova (a sort of enchantment, old and heathen, spoken on thefirst morning of the year) and Steaua, referring to the "star inthe east" (said to have led the three wise men to where Christ wasborn) reenactment tradition, wear masks and are organized into bands.The boors that had attacked Lorin, on the other hand, were nothing butdrunks who were using the door to door caroling traditions as an excuseto get money for booze. Since before Christmas, they had put on coloredmasks they had crafted themselves and started caroling. Most peopledidn't have money to pay them for their "services," sothey gave them wine and palinca to drink. Thus, after a few days andnights of non-stop drinking, the carolers decided it would be a goodidea to hijack the cars driving along Prahova Valley and to buythemselves more booze and keep the party going with the stolen money andgoods.

Fortunately, during the last decade, this type of activity hasvirtually disappeared; on the one hand, because the police haveincreasingly enforced fighting against such crimes, and on the otherhand, because the new generation is more civilized under the influenceof the West. But during those first years of freedom, after more thanhalf a century of communist brutalization, things were completelydifferent.

A look of utter astonishment appeared on Radu's face when heheard Lorin's story, and when he gazed in Cristina'sdirection, he saw that she was still shaking after the shock she hadjust been through. A vein started throbbing near his temple.

"This is f*ckin' insane, man, I can't believe it!How many of them are there, dude?"

"Many, at least twenty or so. All of them masked and shot inthe head."

"Damn those thralls ... they're in need of some seriouswaxing! And what did you do?"

'Well, I already told you. The suckers jumped my car and whenthey saw I wouldn't slow down, one of them got hold of my hood, onehand clinging on to my mirror like grim death and the other trying tobreak my window with a jimmy. I'm lucky the bastard was wastedotherwise I could have kissed my windshield goodbye! I poured on thecoal. The bozos were kicking my car, screaming like devils in hell.About a hundred meters after losing the goofballs, I suddenly hit thebrakes and the twat fell. I ripped his face off, but I think I must havepushed one wrong, because my dickbeater's swollen. I spazzed outfor not having my Roscoe with me, but I was coming here to party with mybuddies, bro. How could I know they were gonna go apesh*t on mycar?"

Looking at Lorin's right hand, he saw that it was swollen anda little bruised. Black clouds of anger blanketed Radu, and in a fewseconds, everything else had disappeared, replaced by an awful hatredand a heinous wish for revenge. He was already visualizing what wasabout to happen and the violent thoughts that were going through hiscortex with dizzying speed took over him entirely, less than one minuteafter letting his friend drive through the gates.

"We're goin' to knock the dust out of 'em,Lorin, mate. Wait 'til the Siamese twins and Stefan get here andwe'll give those guys hell. f*ck 'em and their bad bloodancestors. I'll show them what terror means, stinkin'co*cksuckers!"

Cristina, Lorin's girlfriend, got over the initial shock justin time to feel the cold claws of fear take over her being. She sawRadu's expression, distorted by hatred, and felt the apocalypticenergy he generated. She knew him very well, almost as well as she knewher boyfriend, and she was aware of the way he reacted whenever he losthis temper. In all the years she had spent with Lorin, she had witnessedsome scenes of such violence that it made her stomach turn every timeshe recalled them. But, at the same time, it had given her a strangefeeling of pride and security because her man and his friendsweren't the type of people who would be used as doormats by anyone,ever, no matter how scary or powerful the enemy. She knew exactly whatwas about to happen and wouldn't stop it even if she could,especially since she still had the vivid images of those innocent peoplebeing robbed and abused by the masked gang.

It wasn't what she had in mind for New Year's Eve, butliving with Lorin all these years, she had learned not to interfere whenthe boys had a problem to solve, even if she didn't always agreewith their decisions. Anyway, she loved her man for exactly who he wasand wouldn't even dream of trying to change that. Coming from afamily of intellectuals, where her father, although a professor at theuniversity and very intelligent, had a passive personality and waspermanently dominated by her mother, Christine fully appreciatedLorin's wild and independent way of being, even though, time andagain, it was too much for her to handle.

In the next hour, Stefan and Jana showed up, as well as the twins,Nelu and Cristi, each in his own car, with their girlfriends. They wereupdated on the situation and started preparing for the attack.

"Here's the plan!" Radu said to his friends."When we get there, two cars will go first, it's better ifit's my jeep and Nelu's. We'll let those losers jump uswithout shooting, keep driving for another fifty meters, and then stop.Lorin's car and Cristi's are gonna come from behind us and youguys will start firing your handguns. The f*ckers are gonna startrunning towards us 'cause they have nowhere else to go; there aremountains on one side and a chasm on the other. When they approach us,we'll catch them in the middle. Be careful not to shoot any of themand get into trouble, but if there's no other way, aim for theirlegs. We'll get them lying on the ground and beat them with ourbats. How does this plan sound?"

Stefan said to Radu, "Bro, I ain't got a gun. Ididn't know there was gonna be such a rush. Have you got anyspare?"

"We'll find you a pistol, don't worry. The Nosedoesn't have his either. You guys have 'em, right?" Thetwins nodded. "Okay, brothers, let's go get 'em!D'you have bats in your car, or should I give you some?"

Nelu smiled and the scar that marked his face, from a knife woundhe got years ago, gave him a ghoulish look that matched the rest of hisfeatures perfectly. "Come on, Radu boy, the new year will havestarted by the time we finish preparing. How the f*ck could we not haveeverything we need in the car? Let's cook 'em before theyleave, or some guy with a cell gets away and calls the cops, and we needthat like a hole in the head!"

His brother Cristi reinforced his words. "I agree, it'snow or never, or the pigs will come fo'shizzle!"

"Don't worry, guys!" Radu replied. "By the timethe cops come all the way from Ploiesti, we'll have them eat dirt,and the local cops won't interfere when it comes to so many people.They don't have as many cherry-tops as there are peasants in thestreets. Let's go. Nicu, you follow me in your jeep, you guys keepa safe distance of two hundred meters or so. When you see the dickhe*ds,shoot in their direction, make them run towards us, okay? Just becareful how you shoot, it would be great if you could shoot in the air.They'll just panic and run towards us, damn co*cksuckers! If theyget you, aim for their legs."

Irinel was approaching Radu's car. "And where do youthink you're going? Stay here and take care of the women, youdidn't think we were gonna leave them here alone, did you?"

"But, why? They're okay, you're the ones who needhelp!"

Radu raced the engine and cast him a look that cut off any attemptto try to get any further than that.

"Come on, get inside and take care of the girls! See yousoon!"

The guys got in their cars; first was Radu's jeep, followed byNicu's, and a minute later, Lorin's scratched car took offwith Stefan in it as well. At the end of the convoy was Cristi'sMercedes.

The closer they got to the curve where the ruffians were waiting,the more the world was disappearing from Radu's universe, beingreplaced by his focus on what was about to happen. His heart was racingway faster than usual and waves of adrenaline were running through hisbody, as it always did before action that involved violence. In thosemoments, Radu felt transformed, as if he were lifted above his normaloperational level by an angel of war that gave him powers he neverdreamed of, sharpened his senses, and turned him into the absoluteprowler.

And suddenly they appeared in front of him. The spectacle wasmacabre: more than ten peasants, all of them masked and armed with bats,were standing on the roadside, fumbling through cars that had beenpulled over. Their owners were trembling, crazed with fear, in themiddle of the road. At the center of the causeway between the mountainswere more boors, who were stopping the drivers that had the bad idea touse that road on the last day of the year. The location chosen by thehighwaymen served them fairly well, because, at least in one direction,the road was going upward right before the curve. Controlling the car onthe thick layer of snow was difficult, and the ice beneath made thewheels slip despite the snow chains that the drivers had thought to use.

Radu stepped on it and almost hit one of the boors; they all dodgedat the last second, seeing that the jeep wasn't going to stop, andthen they tried clinging to it. The same happened with Nelu's jeep,but, both cars being very solid, they passed through the wall of maskedpeople without any difficulties.

As he was moving away from the scene of the robbery, Radu looked inhis rear-view mirror to judge the optimal distance at which he shouldstop. He slowed down, turned off his engine, and got out of the car withthe pistol in his hand. Nelu did the same thing. The baseball bats hadbeen placed on the front seats so they would be handy when needed.

Suddenly, they heard the first gunshots and they could seeLorin's and Cristi's cars in the distance, driving veryslowly. After the first three or four gunshots were fired, the thugscame running towards Radu and Nelu, screaming their heads off. Theycould already see the expressions of terror on their faces as they weremoving faster than they had ever done. When they got less than twentymeters away, Radu told his friend: "Now, bro!"

He aimed over the masked figures and started shooting. "Wherethe hell are you running so fast, you f*ckin' roughnecks? I thoughtyou were scaring the sh*t out of people, you dickhe*ds. What'swrong, lost your balls?"

Most of them got down on the ground. "Wait, don't shoot!Don't shoot and I swear on my children's life, I'm notgonna do it again! Don't kill me!"

Their chorus was even more forceful than earlier, when they wereyelling at people to give them all their valuables. Only three or fourof them were still on their feet, and one of them addressed Radu."You think you're big shots 'cause you have guns or what?Without 'em, you wouldn't have had the guts!"

Before he even had the chance to finish the sentence, Radu grabbedthe baseball bat from the seat behind him and, in a single continuousmovement, jumped over to him and smashed his face with the bat. He fellon the ground instantly, his jaw hanging on one side. Before they couldcome to their senses, the other thugs found themselves under the attack.Meanwhile, Lorin, Stefan, and Cristi had jumped out of their cars andstarted batting the boor mass; in less than a minute, the snow on themountain causeway had become red.

Of all of them, Lorin was hitting the hardest, even though he wasonly using his left arm, because he had been the closest to being avictim of the muggers. While he was bashing them, he addressed them,drooling without realizing it. "You're not badasses anymore,are you, co*cksuckers? How many people have you been bullying, hmmm? Takethis, you f*ck, I'll teach you to pick on people for noreason!"

The carolers' screams waned as they were losing consciousness,turning into agonizing groans.

"Stop, bro, they've had enough! Let's bail beforethe cops come. Now that there were gunshots, I'm suresomeone's gonna call them!" Radu said to his friends, hardlyable to draw breath after all the effort and the adrenaline infusiongalloping through his body.

The five guys got in their cars quickly and went back the same waythey had come towards Radu's cottage, where the women were worriedand waiting for them. Not more than three quarters of an hour hadpassed, out of which the operation itself took less than five minutes.Now, the party could begin.

Chapter 9

When they opened the gates to the yard, the women stormed out ofthe house to find out what had happened and whether their men were allin one piece. Of all the women, Jana was the most confused because shehad never seen Stefan react like that before and she wasn't used tosuch a degree of violence. In the last half an hour, her feelings oflove and admiration for her boyfriend had turned into a sense of beingintimidated and lacking trust. Being raised in the Czech Republic, oneof the countries with the lowest crime rates in Europe, it was hard forher to comprehend how Stefan and his friends changed from a relaxed andleisurely disposition into murderers' shoes, just like that. Nowthat they were back, she couldn't understand how, although theirclothes had bloodstains on them, and she could only imagine how theirincursion into "boorland" went, the boys were completelyrelaxed again, all of them smiling and laughing as if nothing unusualhad happened.

Another peculiar thing to her was the way the Romanian women hadreacted; not only did they not seem worried when their men left them andwent fighting, it seemed to turn them on. For the first time, the Czechgirl realized that Stefan's savage spirit, which had attracted herso much, and even the untamed spirit of the land he came from, had theirroots in something she perceived as dark, and now felt frightening.

Stefan came towards her smiling and hugged her tightly.

"What's up, baby, is everything okay? How did you getalong with the girls?"

Without realizing it, Jana started to relax, hugged him back, andkissed him on the neck. "Yes, baby, everything's okay. I wasworried about you, but the girls told me to relax because you knew whatyou're doing. They are really nice. Cristina speaks English verywell, the others can speak the language a little too. How are you, iseverything okay?"

"Yeah, my little girl. There were some bandits who attackedLorin and Cristina on their way here, but we took care of them,don't worry!"

She felt his look piercing through her and that the Romanian couldnot only see inside her but that he also had the power to manipulate herfeelings and thoughts. Besides his black eyes, which burned when theywere focused upon her, the hefty arms around her waist, slightlytrembling under their pressure, the perfect smile, and theself-confidence generated by this man, made all the lack of trust andthe confusion that had taken over her entire being until just a fewmoments earlier disappear completely, to be replaced by the animalmagnetism she felt for Stefan the moment she first laid eyes on him.

With a large satisfied smile ingrained on his austere face, Radushut the gates and invited everybody in.

One of the girls who came with the twins was the first one toinquire about their commando raid. "How was it, did you f*ck themup? Did they hit you too? Do you need any medical attention? How manywere there?"

Nelu grimaced a smile, seamed by the old sword cut he got from abar fight in Galati, and cuddled her to his strong-as-a-bull chest."You sure ask a lot of questions, woman! We're all okay;relax! There were some hoods but we softened their bones all right. Itwas a warm up for the party."

He laughed throatily as they all entered Radu's almost one-hundred-square-meter living room, where two big tables were brimmingwith all sorts of starters, snacks, bottles of alcohol and sodas.

With a warm smile and teary eyes, Cristina asked Lorin while shewas caressing his back: "Did you hobble those f*ckers good? Did youteach them not to do that to innocent people again?"

"Yeah, baby girl, I knocked them out bad. I don't thinkany of them is gonna pull one of these things again. Eh, f*ck theirredneck ancestors. How've you been? What did you girls do while wewere away?"

"Well, nothing much. We rearranged Radu's entrees a bit,'cause he tried to make 'em look nice but they looked likethey'd been chopped with an ax. But don't tell him or Idon't know what I'm gonna do to you!"

They all sat down, some of them on the three leather sofas, otherson the chairs around the tables. Radu and the twins started fillingtheir plates with some of the entrees the girls had prepared.

"Oh, I see you've arranged them here nicely, thanksgirls! I thought I did a good job, but everything looks much better now.Come on, guys, let's all eat so that we can start drinkingafterwards. Oh, and I have a surprise for all of you, but after wefinish scoffing!"

Lorin smiled and said to Radu, "I say you bring that surprisenow so that we can start rolling before everyone finishes eating."

"What, Lorin? What kind of a surprise is this now? Okie dokie,wait here a sec, I'll fetch it right away."

He went to his bedroom and came back with an old silver tray he hadfound there when he moved in, it was probably part of one of hisaunt's dowries. On the tray, there were three big buds, eachweighing about twenty grams. These were the buds from the top of two ofhis plants, their proximity to the lamps meant they grew bigger thanthose on the lower part of the plants. Many growers preferred to keeptheir pots further apart so that the light from the lamps shone on theplant evenly, but this means fewer plants, which, even if they havebigger buds, are less fruitful all in all than if they're arrangedone right next to another.

But there are as many growing methods as there are growers. Theyusually differ from one another depending on the available space of theplantation, accessibility to the chemicals these plants need and, lastbut not least, the teacher that each grower had, to which we may alsoadd the personal experience. Nobody had shown Radu how to set up aplantation and nobody helped him with the growing process. He justconsulted some brochures he found at the shop in Prague, the same shophe bought all his equipment from, and followed the instructions, step bystep. From one harvest to the next, he tried small experiments, addingtiny tricks he learned along the way, and the quality of his weed wasgetting better and better every time.

He hadn't smoked from this crop yet. He had let the plants dryand just cut the buds, and he was very curious to see the result of histhree months' worth of work. Judging by the way it looked andsmelled, this crop promised to be an excellent one. Except for Lorin andStefan, no one in that room or, actually, anywhere else, knew about theexistence of the plantation in the basem*nt. When Radu appeared carryingthe tray with the buds, everyone assumed Lorin had brought the stufffrom Bucharest for the New Year's Eve party. And this was exactlywhat they were supposed to think. Lorin, Irinel and Lili, one of thegirls the twins had brought along, started rolling. By the time thejoints were ready, most of the people had finished eating so they made acircle around the three of them to pass the joint more easily.

"Wow, good weed, bro, it has such a great taste!" Nelusaid, after puffing from the reefer Irinel had rolled.

"Good, good, smell the pipe. Let's see now how itwhispers!"

"It looks like a killer, smells like a killer, so it must be akiller. Tell me, Radu boy, I heard Bronco knocked out another one, isthat so? There were rumors in Galati that he has no rival. Is your dogthat good, bro?"

"I let him go for Voodoo, who had scored three victoriesbefore that fight, and he wiped the floor with him. You would havethought he was a stray."

"And who do you plan on letting him fight next, man?"

"I wanna see him against his dad, Joker. Apart from him,there's no other dog to match mine right now. Voodoo was supposedto be the great hope for those guys in Bucharest. But with Joker, itwill be a different story. I saw the tape with the fight he had inHungary, against Attila. Boy, that dog is really, really good! Do youknow how he goes for the flippers? He's got a style where he goesunderneath the dog and searches for the paws. I'll have to trainmine specially to defend his paws or this one will rip them off."

"Well, Joker ain't a champ for no reason, bro. He'shad six fights so far and he's won all of them!" Lorinreplied. "Bronco-boy is gonna have some work to do against thisone, but he'll take him, you'll see! Did you see how hegripped and jogged Voodoo? Your dog's getting better and betterwith every fight. I've watched him fight since he was a puppy and Ican honestly tell you he learns something from every match. He'simproving. But you're right, he'll need super training forthis one. It's gonna be a bit thick, he's never had anopponent of Joker's caliber."

"Well, don't sweat about it, guys!" Radu said."Joker may be a good dog but he don't have Bronco's mojoand rhythm. Didn't you see how he jolted that black dog after halfan hour of fighting? You could swear the fight had just started. Plus,I'll seriously train him for this fight, but we first have to seeif they'll let Joker fight. When I got Joker to ride Cindy, he wasbragging about him having no rival, and that no dog goes for the pawslike he does. We'll see what happens, but I think Bronco'sgoing to go through him like a f*ckin' freight train. Mine has gottoo much energy and he jolts too wicked for that one to be able to beathim. Did you see the damn holes he opened on the black dog, how theylooked like sword wounds? Now, there is the money issue; this dudedoesn't let his dog fight without serious bread. But we'llraise it. I'll use all the money he has won with Voodoo andI'll add some more if necessary."

"How much do you think he'll want them fighting on?"Cristi asked.

"I don't know, man, but it can go up to twenty thousand.Especially now that he knows Bronco has won against Voodoo, he mightpush it to discourage me. The sucker's got a serious bank! Butit's fine by me, the more money the better!"

"Bro, if you need any money, you can come ask for it anytime!We won't even charge you high interest for it; after all,we've known each other since we were kids!"

Nelu started laughing throatily after making this joke, his hoarselaugh sounding more like a flooded engine than a human laughing.

"Shut up, Nelu, or I'll give you a kick in the teeth forkidding like this!"

Even though Radu had spoken those words in a half-joking tone, theatmosphere grew cold instantly, and they all smiled uneasily. This wasbecause they all knew Radu couldn't stand being made fun of, noteven by his friends, and they didn't know exactly what to expectfrom him in such situations. All the more so as, in all these years, hisfriends had had the opportunity to see him react to various jokesdifferent people made about him or those close to him, and Radu'sfake smile, followed immediately by an action of extreme ferocity, hadmade everyone who knew him choose their words and attitude around himcarefully. The only men who didn't fall in that category were Lorinand Stefan; they were the only ones who could afford to say or doanything in Radu's company. He loved and respected them completely.

Nelu knew as well as the next guy in that room that, even though heand his brother each weighed thirty kilograms more than Radu, he couldsilence him with the same readiness he would roll a joint. And this wasbecause, growing up together, the guys had had several occasions tofight with other groups of boys in Galati, and the speed, precision,strength, and especially the ferocity with which Radu hit during a fightwere absolutely overwhelming. He seemed to have an angel, or maybe ademon, which animated him when he fought, giving him unusual powers andreflexes.

Radu realized he had ruined the atmosphere a bit with his acidicline so he tried to fix things when he passed Nelu the joint.

"There you go, Nelu mate, take a hit from the reefer, but youshould know that I'm writing everything down and in the endI'll ask you to pay for it, if you put it like that!"

Everyone laughed, not necessarily because the joke was good, butbecause the atmosphere was relaxed again after the few moments oftension that had hovered in the air. Radu knew he crossed the linesometimes and he blamed himself every time something like this happened,especially with people close to him. Most of the times he realized hemade people uncomfortable too late, after the deed was already done, hisalpha male instinct being his spur of the moment driver in almost everysituation.

Chapter 10

While the joints were being passed around the room, the boys openedsome bottles of rum to officially start the party. Rum had always beentheir favorite drink; from when they were fourteen years old and tastingalcohol for the first time, this pirate's booze had been a perfectmatch.

Radu poured everyone a glass and made a small toast:

"My dear brothers, I'm glad we're here together.There's no place I'd rather be and nobody I'd rather bewith, for better or worse! Thank you all for coming. May the Lord bringus many joys and satisfactions in the year to come, more than He hasgiven us in the past years, and, thank God, those years were not bad atall! Cheers, everyone!"

They all clanged their glasses of rum and drank with teary eyesfrom Radu's mini-toast. He rarely opened his soul and showed hisappreciation, and the fact that he did that now had moved everybody.They all felt flattered by the fact that this man they admired andrespected had love in his heart for every single one of them.

After that, he addressed Lorin: "Lorin, mate, how about youshow us that snort we've all been talking about. Let's see ifit's any good!"

"Yeah, bro, I was thinking about proposing that. Go get alarger mirror, if you have one!"

He got a bag with several white stones from his pocket, weighingabout ten grams altogether. He got the co*ke from Bucharest and,unfortunately, it wasn't high quality, having been cut severaltimes before reaching the capital city of Romania. But for guys whoweren't used to high quality when it came to co*ke, having a thirtypercent purity was enough for an excellent party.

Radu took down the mirror from the vestibule wall; its wooden framehad been ingeniously carved with different flowers by his aunts. Hebrought the mirror to the living room and put it on one of the tables,after the girls had taken the plates off them. They were alreadycleaning them in the kitchen. He took one of the biggest rocks from hisfriend's bag and cut it with a knife he produced from the backpocket of his pants. Then, with a plastic card, he started pressing thewhite pebbles in order to turn them into powder. After it had all turnedinto powder, he prepared a line large enough for every person at theparty.

"I made a line for every one of us. At first we'll eachdo one, and then it's by request, okay?"

"Oh my, Radu, if your aunts knew what you're using theirmirror for, they'd turn in their graves!" one of the girlsthat came with the twins tried to joke.

"I don't think so. The old women were open-minded, Idoubt they would mind. On the contrary, they'd be glad to knowtheir mirror is being used and their work appreciated, rather thanhaving it thrown somewhere in the attic, for instance."

Lorin cut the next lines, then Cristi; meanwhile, the first twobottles of rum they had opened were empty and Radu brought new supplies.Less than an hour after their action in the mountains, they were all inan advanced state of exhilaration, laughing and talking loudly, morecommunicative and with more will to live than usual. Of course, thealcohol and the drugs had softened the rough edges, but, essentially,what gave them the feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment was thecamaraderie between everyone present and the fact that everyone knewthey could not only count on the people around them, but also, together,they represented a redoubtable force few people could cope with. Andthis gave them a comforting feeling, strengthening the bonds they hadcreated all those years before.

Stefan had spent most of the time with Jana so she would not feelexcluded, being the only person who was not Romanian. But after seeingthat she was getting along great with the rest of the girls, he left herchatting with them and sat down at the table with the mirror and thelines.

"When's your girl from the Netherlands coming, Radu,mate?"

"I don't know, dude. She should get here, she saidshe'd be in Poiana before midnight. There's two more hourstill then, she'll be here. She wrote to me and told me she wouldbring along two other girlfriends."

The girl from the Netherlands was a young twenty-five-year-old fromDen Haag, who had bought a mansion close to Radu's two yearsbefore. She had purchased the house because of the beauty and wildernessof the landscape, and also because the prices of the properties in thearea were accessible; purchasing the house plus the yard had cost herless than she earned in a year working at a firm in the Netherlands.Initially coming to visit the place only during vacations, Sophia hadfallen madly in love with the Carpathians and their breathtakingscenery. At first, her parents were against it, being of the opinionthat Romania was a dangerous, not very developed, country, and quite farfrom her own. There was no one to take care of the place while she wasaway, which was most of the time. But seeing her determination to buythe house in those legendary mountains, they stopped trying to talk herout of it.

She had met Radu in the forest surrounding Poiana Tapului when hisdogs, which were there with him training, scared her. Radu addressed herin Romanian at first, but, seeing that she didn't understand, hestarted talking to her in English. He calmed her down, telling her shehad no reason to be afraid of his dogs because they were neveraggressive towards humans, and he even let her pat Cindy and Samson.Since then, they'd kept in touch with each other; she would callhim from the Netherlands from time to time to catch up with the news inher new community, and Radu had promised to take care of her house whileshe was out of the country. That meant trimming the weeds in her yardand making sure nobody robbed her. Radu asked Irinel to trim the weedsand to let everyone in the village know that they would be better tokeep a distance from the girl's house or else they would be introuble. The inhabitants of Poiana had already seen how Radu couldbehave several times and understood that he wasn't the kind of manone should mess with.

Less than half an hour after Stefan inquired about them, the threeDutch girls were ringing Radu's doorbell. He went to the yard andopened the gates for them, but not before pointing out to the othersthat they should treat them nicely, especially since Sophie's twofriends were in Romania for the first time. Radu made the acquaintanceof Agnes and Bo, who were very pleased to be there. With Dutchnonchalance, they hugged him and kissed him on both of his cheeks,thanking him for inviting them to such a beautiful place and forwelcoming them to his group, even though he didn't know them.

Sophie was the prettiest of the three, her brown hair falling incurls on her milk white shoulders, and her dark green blouse showed apair of perky breasts. Agnes was a brunette, with fine features, but shewas a bit chubby, and Bo was the kid of the group. She didn't weighmore than fifty kilograms, had short hair and her coquettish behaviorresembled that of a child, nevertheless, the general impression was apleasant one.

Radu invited them in the house, introduced them to his friends,poured them a glass of rum, and asked Nelu, who was just snorting aline, to make three more for the newcomers. The girls quickly felt athome. At first, they had been scared of these Romanians because theyhadn't heard much about them other than the fact that they werefrom the country of Dracula, one of the most dangerous in EasternEurope. But, after seeing the way they behaved and reacted, theyrealized their fears were unfounded. If someone were to show them avideotape of the boys' action two hours earlier, however, theywould probably have left the party immediately. Fortunately, this wasunlikely to happen.

In the girls' group, English was used almost exclusively. Thethree girls from the Netherlands, the one from Czech Republic, andCristina chatted non-stop, while Irinel's girlfriend, Alina, andthe twin's dates formed a separate group, speaking Romanian whichCristina translated.

By midnight, four liters of rum had been consumed, and half of theco*ke Lorin had brought was already finished. Feeling that they werestarting to get a little tipsy, Stefan decided it was time to talk tohis friends about the subject that had been on his mind for more than amonth.

"Radu, mate, Lorin, come here, I've got to talk to youguys about something!"

"You do? Okay, Stef, wait a sec till we snort the lines theNose is making now, and then we'll go talk!"

When the three men got up, left the table, and went to one of therooms upstairs, nobody thought it was weird because they all knew aboutthe strong bond between the three boys. As they always had some businessto talk about, it wasn't considered rude when they retreated totalk in private. When they got into Radu's "office," theattic where he spent most of his time when he was at home, the threeguys sat down on the couches that encircled the round table.

"Tell us, Stefanel, what did you wanna talk about,buddy?"

"Yo, guys, I think there's room to make a lot of money inPrague, but I don't exactly know how to approach it!"

"Dude, what exactly are you talking about?" Radu asked,his eyes already starting to glitter upon hearing about a possibility tomake money.

"Man, everyone's snorting there! And I mean heavily.There are clubs with dealers who sell hundreds of grams a night, andeverything's safe, man. The cops don't poke their noses inyour affairs as long as you don't make a mess. And the thing is,it's not even that good, it's something like this stuffwe're snorting tonight. I'm already in business with peoplethere. I know two big dealers who only sell upwards of half a kilo, theydon't do bargain sales. If we had a better product than the one onthe streets, and that's not so hard to do, we can make a lot ofmoney!"

"What's the price there, bro?" Lorin inquired.

"Sixty to eighty dollars a gram, and if you buy a largeramount, it's around fifty."

"Okay, so for us to have a cash inflow and sell all of it atonce, we should sell it at, like, thirty, right?" asked Radu.

"Yeah, thirty. We'll get rid of all of it at that price.But where the f*ck do we get it so cheap to be able to sell it atthirty?"

"Well, let's think it through!" Radu retorted."So it gets to Europe through Africa, right? We're notcounting the synthetic one, they make tons of that in the Netherlandsbut it's sh*t. We're talking about natural co*ke from cocaleaves. It usually enters Spain through Morocco. It gets to Africa fromSouth America, so imagine that it's cut once by those from,let's say, Bolivia; then it's cut a lot by the Africans, thenthe Europeans cut it even more when it gets on the continent. Thenit's cut again by all those handlers before it reaches those whosnort it. If we wanna make money out of it, there's no use buyingit from Europe, the profit is too low. And even if we find someone inSpain who gets it directly, someone from Morocco, for instance, by thetime it gets to him, it's already been cut three times, and hewon't sell it at a low price 'cause it's already inEurope. He won't sell it for less than twenty, and even if he does,that's ten dollars per gram profit. That means ten bucks a gram, soonly ten grand a kilo, and that's not productive enough. The onlyway to make money is to buy it directly from South America."

Stefan and Lorin stared at him in amazement. Not only did they notexpect Radu to suggest something like that but they never reallyimagined themselves going so far from home.

"Radu, bro, are you mental? Do you really expect us to go toBolivia? It would be a suicide mission without any connections."

"You don't need no connections, dude. You'll seeexactly how it goes, then and there. None of us has ever been therebefore so there's no use in making plans 'cause we don'tknow what to expect from them. What's certain is that we can findthe cheapest merchandise at the best quality. The problem is ... how thef*ck do we transport it?"

"Well, I know, that's exactly the problem. You can'tget it through the airport 'cause they even search you in the assnow. The only alternative would be water transport. Maybe we should paysomeone to bring it ..."

"You're barking! Who the hell can we trust with it? Haveyou lost your marbles? It's not even about the money, there'salso a huge risk. Someone might catch on, rat us out, and this is notweed, bro. You can easily get yourself at least ten years in the jointfor this!"

Lorin, who had been relatively quiet till then, joined in theconversation. "Man, if we wanna do this, we have to do itourselves, we cannot get anyone else involved. There are too manyvariables; to count on other people would be stupid. But, on the otherhand, we cannot get involved 'cause we look suspicious enough forthese guys to search us until they find it. We have to use someone whodoesn't look like a felon and whom we can trust."

"Do you know someone who fits this description? Idon't!"

"Oh yes you do, bro! Irinel."

Radu's first reaction was to dismiss it categorically."You must be crazy to think I would let Irinel be a snorttrafficker. I mean, this boy hasn't done such a thing in his life,how could I ask him to travel on a ship with the hink. Are you barkingmad?"

"Well, that's exactly why he's the best candidate,'cause he's never done such things before. With his childish,innocent face, the little boy that he is, he won't raise anysuspicion. Plus, he's a co*cky devil, I bet he'd want in."

"Of course he'd want in. He's been f*ckin' myears till they started bleeding to let him in on something other thantraining the dogs. He wants to make money, but I've always talkedhim out of it, told him he's got some more growing to do."

"Man, are you nuts? How old is he, bro, nineteen, right?Remember what we were doing when we were nineteen? Dude, those were thedays, we were f*ckin' ruling the whole city of Galati. Why not lethim make some money, especially since he's asking you? He's aloyal motherf*cker, he's got balls, he'd never spill thebeans. He's perfect for this job!"

"He's perfect for you 'cause you don't give af*ck about him, that's why he's perfect! But if, God forbid,he gets caught because of me, what will I do then, hmm?"

"Let's ask him and see what he wants."

"What the f*ck do you think he's gonna say? He'd bedelighted, of course, that's not what cracks my skull."

"Coome oon, bro, he's not gonna get caught!" Stefanintervened. "We'll only buy a small quantity, let's sayhalf a kilo. That's a small package you can hide anywhere. I have achemist in Prague who will cut it, and if we buy it from Latin America,pure, we can cut it two or three times. Plus we can sell it for tentimes more than we buy it and we get a big profit. Bro', youcan't say it's not worth it!"

"I know it's worth it, man, but I really don't wannaget this little f*cker involved. I don't want him in any trouble.But it's true that I wouldn't trust anyone else with thistrip."

Weighing all the pros and cons, the risks and the profit, Radudecided that this was a business worth putting in motion. "Look,guys, here's how we're gonna do this. If we start this dodge,we won't do it just once. We start this only if you, Stefan, aresure that you can push it there and sell it in large quantities and getrid of it all at once. First time we do it with Irinel, if he wants in,and I'm sure he will, and when we get there, we gotta find someoneto come and bring it to us next time, even if it's gonna be moreexpensive. We'll save some money with the transport and, mostimportantly, the risk is lower.

"We'll go there with the kid and put him on a ship, butnot a cruise ship, a cargo ship. His name mustn't be registeredanywhere, we'll bribe the captain to take him and that's it.We won't return with him. We'll make sure he gets on and thenwe take a plane and wait for him somewhere in Europe. God forbid theyfind more of us with Romanian passports. They'll start suspectingsomething if we're together on the same ship."

Lorin and, especially, Stefan, were ecstatic, not only becausethere was the prospect of a considerable financial gain involved, maybea higher amount than any of them had ever seen, but also because a newadventure beckoned. Their adventurous spirits were howling like a packof hungry wolves in the emotional forests and wildwoods that livedinside of their tameless beings.

Chapter 11

Radu called Irinel to the attic. Before the latter climbed thestairs, Lorin gave Radu his share of the ketamine money. "There youare, Radu, mate, before I forget!"

"Did everything go as planned?"

"Yeah, he said next month he wants in again."

"Very well. Give me a call when he drops the bread andwe'll sort this out too."

Meanwhile, Irinel had climbed the stairs that led to the attic andcame in. On the one hand, he was very excited that the guys had calledhim in to discuss something, but on the other hand, he was a bitnervous, not knowing what they wanted from him.

"What's up, Irinel, all fine and dandy?" Radu askedthe kid after motioning him to take a seat on one of the armchairs.

"Yes, Radu, everything's okay. Alina is enjoying theparty a lot."

"That's great, I'm glad! How are you getting on withher, is she the right sort?"

"Yeah, she's good people. She isn't drawing a redherring across the track. She's straightforward, I really like her.Plus, she's a great cook. She prepares some meals that would sweepyou off your feet."

"Attaboy, little devil, take care of her, she's a goodgirl! Listen, here's what I wanted to talk to you about ... me andthe boys have a proposition for you, but before you give us an answer, Iwould ask you to, please, think it through carefully before decidingwhether you want to get involved or not, okay?"

Irinel's eyes were shining with joy. No matter what Radu wasabout to propose, he was sure it was going to be something interestingand something that could bring him some money. The boy would do anythingto break from the daily routine in the heart of the mountains, eventhough he knew that he was privileged and that other people had to payto see, briefly, the landscapes where he had spent his whole life. Hewanted to see the outlands, to meet new people, and have as manyinteresting experiences as possible in order to polish his mountain manway of being.

"Listen, here's what this is all about!" Raducontinued. "We want to take a trip to South America, to Boliviaprobably, and bring back some co*ke. We need someone to bring it acrossbecause we look suspicious and they're gonna search through ourbags. You have the face of an innocent kid. If you want in, we'llgo there together, but you have to return alone on a ship, andwe'll wait for you somewhere in Europe. We won't buy aconsiderably big piece, maybe half a kilo, which can be easily hiddensomewhere on the ship. The risk appears once you get off. They couldsearch your luggage, but we'll try to find you a cargo boat wherethe suckers search the containers and not the sailors' luggage asthey get off.

"If this goes as planned, there's serious money to bemade but you shouldn't forget that it's risky. You can easilyget ten years for transporting snort, and clink ain't easy on youin those countries. Think it through before you answer. Maybe you shouldask your girlfriend as well, but only if you trust her not to spill thebeans in case you have a fight or something, okay?"

"Radu, there's nothing to think about. I want in,absolutely! You know how long I've been waiting for you to get meinvolved in such a business. I've asked you several times. The riskis no problem for me, honestly. I'm more excited about theadventure in this than the money we're gonna make. As for Alina, Ithink it's better if I don't tell her and freak her out.I'll just say I'm going to Craiova for a while, to my dyinggrandmother. If, God forbid, I get caught, you'll see to it thatAlina has everything she needs, okay, Radu?"

Radu and his friends were moved by Irinel's attitude, whichproved to Radu, once again, that he had decided well when he recruitedthe boy as his right hand. Radu continued, trying to hide the emotion inhis voice. Normally, that wasn't an issue for him, but every timehe snorted co*ke, he became more sensitive, making him feel like tearcreek was pushed closer to the surface by the white powder.

"Well, it's settled then! I'll be needing Irinel foranother two months for Bronco's training if I wanna challenge thechampion, but after that, you can take him with you. I'll stay herebecause I have to train the dogs, plus you don't need me on thistrip, although I'd love to come. We'll arrange the detailsthen. Stef, you talk to your connections in Prague, make sure we can getrid of it as soon as we bring it, and we'll see how it goes. If itproves to be a good deal, we'll do it a couple of times more afterthis. But I'm sure it will be fine. Let's get back downstairsbefore the others start to become suspicious!"

"Let's first settle another detail!" said Lorin."Concerning the percentages. I think me and Stefan should each getthirty percent, and you and Irinel should split the rest, an eventwenty-twenty."

"No, bro, I mean, Irinel does all the work and I get the samemoney as him? You guys take thirty percent each, I'll give thekiddo thirty as well, and I'll take ten 'cause I'm theleast involved. And the three of us give the investment money evenly;you don't expect us to make Irinel pay!"

They all agreed that the version Radu proposed was the best way ofsplitting the profit. This was valid in case everything went accordingto the plan.

Back in the living room, where the party had toned down a littlewithout their presence, the four guys sat down wherever they found roomand poured rum in the glasses.

"Hey you mystery guys, we were starting to think the New Yearwould come and you'd stay hidden!" Nelu, who was already in aeuphoric state, said, "There are a few minutes left beforemidnight, brothers!"

"How' bout we go up the hill at midnight and uncork a fewbottles of champagne? There's an awesome view of the entire PrahovaValley from up there, plus everybody will set off fireworks."

They all agreed and started getting equipped for the snow outsidewith only a few minutes left of that year. The twins drew out a bag fullof fireworks, to everyone's pleasant surprise. When they reachedthe top of the hill in front of Radu's house, those who hadn'tbeen there before were taken aback. The view was fairy- tale like, withthe snowy, wooded peaks of the Bucegi in the background, and PrahovaValley lit up by thousands of fireworks at the foot of the mountains.They uncorked the bottles of champagne, set off the fireworks and lit upthe three big joints that the girls had rolled. They hugged each other,kissed each other on the cheeks, and felt they were starting the newyear glowing with positive energy.

Back in the house, the party continued.

"Cristinel mate, I heard that you guys opened a restaurant inGalati, is that true?" Stefan asked.

Of the two brothers, Cristi was the quiet one; even so, most peoplepreferred him to his loud brother.

"Yes, Stefan mate, we had some serious cash flow coming in atonce so we decided to open a business and use it as a cover in case ofan IRS check. We had to at least have some documents to justify themoney, or the f*ckers would confiscate everything once again, like theyalways do. And I can't complain, bro, it's going well, peopleare coming in. Most of them are colleagues of ours, but stillthat's better than no one. How 'bout you, Radu, still withyour pit bulls? That's all you've been doing since I met you,aren't you getting tired of it?"

"Well, to tell you the truth, I was thinking it's abouttime I started doing something else. I'm tired of running with thedogs on the hills all day long, plus I work them up all the time.Fighting and training is all these dogs know. What I always wanted wasto have a champion, and now I do. If he gives it to his father too, hebecomes grand champ, what more could I want from the dog, bro? I wasthinking I'd use him in some fights, only him, for another two orthree years and then I'll let him retire. No more fights. Letothers do that, I've been doing it for a long time!"

Everyone who heard what he said looked at him in wonder. They hadnever heard Radu talk about retiring from the dog fighting businessbefore, and they couldn't believe their ears, knowing that pitbulls were his whole life.

"Dude, are you serious? Do you really wanna quit breeding pitbulls?" Lorin asked in astonishment. "You won't breed anydogs after this?"

"Why, bro, of course I will, I'm seriously consideringStaffordshire Bull Terrier breeding. They're the British version ofpit bulls. They come from Bull and Terrier, or Half and Half, an extinctbreed, but all these fighting devils come from it. Staffie looks like apit bull, but they are smaller and less aggressive. They have awonderful character, very playful. Plus, they're very fond ofpeople. In Great Britain, they're called baby-sitter dogs'cause they're very good with kids and take great care ofthem.

"There aren't any in our country, but everywhere else isfull of them, it's one of the most loved breeds. I thinkthey're gonna be very popular here too. I could sell them for bigbucks. So I was thinkin' I'd buy two females and a male fromdifferent bloodlines, and start breeding them."

"And what are you gonna do about the pit bulls, man? Sellthem?" asked Stefan.

"Well, I'll give some of them away. I'll keepBronco, his mum, Cindy, and Samson. That dog's the apple of my eyeand he's old, anyway, he's almost thirteen. I'll sellBronco's brother, Leeroy, in Bucharest, the Franka guy said hewants to buy him and have the two of them mate. He's a guy whotakes good care of his dogs too, and the other two bitches I'mgonna give away, one here, and one in Galati. I'm not gonna sellthem, I'm giving them away for free on the understanding that if Isee that they're not being taken good care of, I'll take themback. And no fights, 'cause these devils don't know how tohandle such things and I don't want my girls tarnished.

"I'll give Tanaka to Irinel's cousin, thebloke's mad about dogs and he'll take care of her. He hasalready started building her a pound 'cause I told him I'm notgiving him the dog unless he does so, and I'll give Scarlett to mycousin in Galati. He's totally against dog fighting anyway so Iknow he won't exhaust her with that. Plus, they both had somefights, they've had it.

"That Tanaka is a killer, she's moving great in the ringand she's very keen on training, that's why I wanted to keepher. I meant to train her and Bronco together, given their top classqualities. She's a better runner than Cindy; the princess hasgotten old too. I've pensioned her; she had her last fight lastyear. She never lost. She's insane, that one, I'll be damnedif I've ever seen a better bitch than her."

The guys agreed; they had all seen Bronco's mother in the ringand the barker was indeed phenomenal, winning all of the eight fightsRadu organized for her. She was the absolute female champion.

"So, you'll have matches only with Bronco, right, sinceCindy and Samson are both retired?"

"Yeah, dude, it's easier to just train one dog, plus, whywould I need to raise other pups, bro, when I have my own champion now?I'll have another two or three years' worth of fights with himand I'm done, that's enough. I wanna have my peace and quiet,go walk the dogs through the woods, without having to always run withthem and take them to the vet to patch them up."

Even though Radu's explanation made sense to everybodypresent, nobody truly believed that he would actually give up breedingand training pit bulls, it being not only his biggest passion but alsohis main occupation.

As the hours went by and the bottles of rum were emptied, the guysbecame more and more open to one another, putting their arms around eachother's shoulders, hugging, kissing each other on the cheeks andpromising each other eternal friendship more and more often. At acertain point, Radu told them something that, even though they were allin an advanced state of intoxication, moved his friends deeply.

"We're all fine now, we're among friends, wecan't ask for anything more, but tomorrow we may be in jail orpassed away. This life is exactly like a ring for fights, brothers, andwe're the dogs who give their best to survive and to win. And youoften win and have the impression that you're someone, but thenlife hits you so hard that it puts you in a tight corner, and it takesyou way longer to get up than to fall down. On the other hand, there aretimes when you're down on the ground and you're so angry, youfeel like killing everyone and suddenly you see a weakness in youropponent and that twinkle of hope gives you the strength to get up andfight harder than you did at the beginning. We're nothing more thandogs fighting for every inch won in this ring that is life, where therecan only be winners and losers. Draws are not accepted, brothers, notwhile you have a pair of balls!"

While the boys were having these types of conversations, the womenwere having their share of fun. The main subject was men, with theirgood sides and their bad sides, the sufferings they caused and themoments of ecstasy as well. Some of the girls were inquiring whether ornot there was something going on between Radu and Sophie and if they hadalready had sex. Upon finding out that wasn't the case, they werecurious to know when they were planning on doing it. Jana, Cristina, andthe other girls kept encouraging her to sleep with him, maybe becauseevery one of them wished to do so themselves had they not been bound bytheir obligations towards their boyfriends. Bo and Agnes, the two girlsfrom the Netherlands, were crazy about Stefan, especially when theyheard that he was a p*rn actor, but they couldn't express theiropinions about it too much given the fact that Jana was present. TheCzech girl was aware of their intentions nevertheless, and, being alsostrongly attracted to women, she decided that the idea of an orgy withher boyfriend and the two girls from the Netherlands wasn't such abad one.

Urged by the other girls, Sophie went to Radu, hugged him, andasked him whether he was having fun, then thanked him again for invitingher and her friends. After that, she whispered in his ear:"I'd love it if we could screw each other."

Radu smiled, turned towards her, took her by the waist and put heron one of his knees. He whispered back in her ear: "I'vewanted to do that since I first laid eyes on you. Let's spend somemore time with our friends and then vanish to my room, okay?"

He started quivering when he imagined what was about to happen.He'd been attracted to this beautiful girl from the Netherlandssince the first moment they met in the heart of the woods.

"Wow, Radu, mate, seems like you're a veritable Casanovatonight, you devil! Way to go, your girl's a fox, I really likeher!" Lorin told him.

"Yeah, bro, you go take care of the business. We can managehere without you!" Stefan said, endorsing the idea.

"Don't you worry, guys, I'll give it to her, butI'm not gonna run to my room like some obsessed guy now. I'llgo later, when the action's over. I'm in the mood for somemore partying for now, anyway."

Near dawn, the girls were feeling tired and asked about the roomsthey'd be given. The twins and their girlfriends were put into oneof the room upstairs with the biggest bed, Lorin and Cristina took theneighboring room. Irinel and Alina bid them farewell and left, since theboy lived within a five-minute walk. Radu and Sophie, together withStefan and Jana, Agnes and Bo, decided to remain together in Radu'sroom for a while to continue the party, the goal of every person in thatroom being to have the wildest kind of sex possible.

Less than five minutes later, the orgy started, the girls from theNetherlands being the ones who started everything, undressing andstarting to kiss lasciviously. Jana joined their lesbian foreplay thenthe boys plunged right amongst them. The orgy went on for a few hours,every party enjoying multiple org*sms. The one who actively participatedthe least in the shared activity was little Bo; nevertheless, she wasthe one who had the most org*sms. During the whole orgy, with someexceptions when she helped the others finish, the petite Dutch girl hadstayed in a corner of the bed, watching the bodies entangling andwriggling with convulsions of pleasure while masturbating frantically.

Chapter 12

Radu entered the new year training Bronco. He had talked to thechampion's owner, the champion being Joker, Bronco's father,and they set the date of the fight for the beginning of May. Each of theowners sent an amount of five thousand dollars to a referee they bothknew very well. In case either of the breeders changed his mind aboutthe match, the money would be given to the other. This way, the time andmoney invested in training the dogs was not wasted in the case of one ofthe owners getting cold feet before the fight and cancelling.

In the first week of the year, Radu started light training withBronco, taking him to the snowy woods of the Bucegi Mountains, drivingthe ATV he had bought especially for dog training when he moved to themountains. A few hours a day, Radu would drive in the mountain valleys,on the forest roads and, sometimes, right through the heart of thewoods, on hilly terrain, closely followed by his favorite four-leggedanimal.

From the second week of training, he attached the special trainingcollar around his neck, which would only be taken off right before thefight. It was almost as long as the dog's neck and had twenty-fivemini-pockets on each side. Once every three days, Radu added a piece oflead on each side of the collar, making it heavier and heavier. In thelast month of training before the match, all the pockets of the collarcontained a piece of lead; by that time, it weighed ten kilograms.Whether he was running, pulling, hanging, or shaking, the dog waswearing the collar, thus increasing his muscle power and resistance toeffort. After carrying this weight with him for a few months oftraining, the dog moved with the same ease and freedom as before havingthe collar attached; and when the moment of the fight came and thecollar was removed, the dog felt light as a feather, overflowing withforce and energy.

In the first week of training with the collar attached, Raduintroduced just two pieces of lead to get Bronco used to the sensationof wearing it again and continued making him run after the ATV. From thethird week of training, besides cardio, he started working on hisgladiator's bite force. He hung thick rubber circles, without anystrands inside, from the stout branches of the Carpathian firs. Thecircle was tied with a thick rope and passed round one of the branchesthus making a pulley. It hung a little higher than Bronco, which meantBronco's front paws weren't touching the ground when he washanging on to the rubber circle. Radu pulled the opposite end of therope, sometimes lifting the dog completely off the ground. After aboutan hour, he tied the rope to the tree trunk at the appropriate distanceso that Bronco could continue training on his own. During the firstmonth of training, the rubber was raised just so that the dogcouldn't touch the ground with his front paws; in the last month oftraining, the circle was lifted much higher. Bronco, having to jump morethan a meter in the air to be able to grab the rubber circle, remainedsuspended in the air, hanging from it, for about twenty minutes atfirst. By the end, Bronco would hang for more than an hour, the strengthof his bite depending not only on his own weight but also the collar,now filled with pieces of lead. All this time, Bronco wriggled in theair, making a sort of whistle that was not like the usual noises made bydogs at all. It arose from his frustration that the circle wouldn'tbreak and his stubborn refusal to let go, even though his muscles weredictating otherwise.

The grimness with which Bronco trained often brought tears toRadu's eyes; such nature, a true gladiator, couldn't be foundelsewhere in the animal kingdom, not even in lions, which, after pitbulls, of course, were Radu's favorite animals.

Bronco's diet throughout the training period varied, fromcheese and sour cream to pasta and boiled rice with huge chunks of meat,beef, and pork bones, and big hunks of raw meat. During off-season, Radufed the dogs once a day, but during training, twice a day as theyexpended much more effort.

As for nutritional supplements during the training period, Radu puthis dogs on various vitamin diets, having complete faith in hisveterinarian's prescriptions as they had yielded excellent results.These diets were similar to those of professional athletes or, moreaccurately, those practicing contact sports. Their wrestling bodiesassimilated all these supplements as quickly as a turbo engine revved tothe max consumes fuel, the resulting energy being similar to the onegenerated by a sports engine.

Apart from the nutritional supplements and vitamins, Raduadministered a two-week intravenous calcium cure during training; he didthis once a year to all the dogs he used in the ring in order to keepthem in the best physical shape.

While during the first weeks, the training lasted only two to threehours a day, plus a long evening walk, during the last two months beforethe fight, Radu stayed in the mountains with Bronco for as long as sixto seven hours each day, occasionally longer. For training of thisduration, he needed Irinel's help because it required a lot ofeffort and coordination from the breeder. One of the special drills theyhad in these months was for guarding the paws, because Radu knew thathis opponent became a champion primarily due to his combat style, whichconsisted of him going underneath the opponent's chest and tryingto grab his front paws. He had also, several times, taken hold of therear paws, which was even more dangerous because the opponent lost hisbalance and could be taken down to the ground a lot easier. It was thenharder for him to get up if one of the rear paws had been grabbed asthose paws are used for pushing and keeping the balance when the animalis bitten by his opponent.

Radu had had the chance to observe the power ofJoker's bite inthe three fights he had attended, and the dog was impressive indeed.After going underneath his opponent's chest and grabbing one of hispaws, he started shaking it powerfully, giving the impression he wasabout to pull off the limb from its joint. Likewise, the strength thatRomania's and Hungary's champion generated while biting wasimpressive, he never let go in less than five minutes, and when he didso, just to relax his under-jaw muscles, he reoriented his hold on adifferent part of the opponent. Joker was, indeed, an impressive dog anda real champion and Radu knew it from the first time he saw him in thering. It was why he decided to let his Cindy mate with him, and this wasbefore he became a champion. It was quite clear to him that Bronco hadnever encountered a dog of his father's caliber before, and that itwas going to be his hardest fight ever but, at the same time, he knewthat Joker hadn't fought an opponent close to his son'scaliber either.

Bronco, besides the qualities inherited from his father, had a hugeadvantage, namely the genetic baggage his mother had passed on him.Cindy was, without a doubt, the best bitch ever used in any of theRomanian rings up to that point and Bronco was more like his mother inhis fighting style than Joker, and that pleased Radu very much. Thisgave his dog a complex combat style, not only aiming for the chest andthe paws, like his father, but mastering the "judo style," asRadu called it, inherited from his mother, and the same ferocity in thering, speed, and resistance to effort as hers.

In order to teach him how to guard his paws, Radu let Irinel holdthe rubber circle, but this time at the dog's level, not higher,and pull in his direction. Normally, Radu did this type of training todevelop his dog's balance, with he and Irinel taking turns pullingthe circle in every direction, trying to get Bronco fall. Irinel proppedhimself as best as he could, straining his well-worked muscles tomaintain his balance but in the last six months, it became impossible tobring Bronco to the ground that way. Even though Radu did this trainingwith him every day after finishing the cardio and the exercise forenhancing the force of his bite, this dog's balance was one Raduhad never seen in any of the pit bulls he had ever trained.

He made one addition to the exercise, especially for the fightagainst Joker. While Irinel did his best to get Bronco down, pulling therubber circle with all his might, Radu would stroke over one of his rearpaws gently with a twig, each time saying the word "guard."Thus, a month before the fight, Radu didn't need the twig anymore;whenever he uttered "guard," Bronco pulled his front pawsunder himself, without letting go of the rubber circle of course.

Radu used the same words and expressions during the fight as he didduring the drills; when the dog was hanging in the air or shaking therubber circle, he told him, "Shake, boy, shake that." When, atthe end of the training day, he felt that Bronco was close toexhaustion, he told him, "Take it, boy, take it there", andwhen he pulled the rubber circle at his level, "Guard, boy, guardthe paws." Also, every time he was impressed by the resistance andthe way in which Bronco reacted, he complimented the dog. "Way togo, boy, that's it, Bronco, good boy." It was very importantfor the dog to hear these words in the ring. During training, Radu nevertouched his dogs, because in the ring it's forbidden to touch yourquadruped, except for when you break him up from his opponent. Anotherthing Radu never did during trainings was to let his dogs sit; they hadto be moving continuously. Even during the short breaks betweenexercises, the dogs were walked at a slow pace so as they did not getused to relaxing in the middle of the effort, which was something thatcould make the difference between winning and losing in the ring. If adog is used to relaxing in the middle of the training and, implicitly,the fights, while he's trying to catch his breath, his opponent caninflict such wounds on him that might actually deter him fromcontinuing. This is why Radu kept his dogs in a continuous state ofphysical and mental concentration throughout the sessions.

The only type of training he couldn't do with Bronco this timeof the year was swimming. During summer, he went with the dogs hetrained to one of the lakes in that area of the Carpathians. He wouldget into the water chest-deep, and fix a sharp pole about two meterslong. Then he'd bring the dog in the water and attach the collar tothe pole. The dog swam for about half an hour during the first few weeksof training, and then longer each time until he was swimming for up tothree hours a day. Immediately after getting the dog out of the water,Radu started fighting with him using the rubber circle, in order toimprove his balance even when his muscles were tired.

In April, four months after the New Year's Eve party, Sophietook a week off from work to visit Radu. They'd kept in touch thewhole period, calling and texting each other almost daily. She told herfriends Bo and Agnes, part seriously, part jokingly, that she would notbe taking them to Romania again because she wanted to spend some timealone with Count Dracula, as the Dutch girls had called him.

Radu was waiting for her at the airport in Bucharest and two hourslater, they were wallowing naked on the bearskin in front of the livingroom fireplace. The next day, she accompanied him to the heart of theCarpathian woods for Bronco's training. She didn't know muchabout pit bulls but she liked dogs and she was very impressed byBronco's strength, his resistance, and his tenacity. She was tiredjust watching this superb animal move continuously throughout the day.What's more, the close relationship between the man who, during thelast few months, had made her pulse rise rapidly each time she thoughtabout him, and his quadruped impressed her. The gentle manner with whichRadu addressed the dog, the way in which he praised his efforts, andBronco's intense reactions, looking in his master's eyes fromevery angle and following all his instructions with complete dedication,struck a chord in the Dutch girl's heart, one every woman feelswhen the man she's attracted to proves he'd make a goodfather.

That evening, while smoking a joint with Radu in front of thefireplace, her favorite spot, their sweaty bodies still quivering afterthe org*sms that seemed to her more intense than ever because of thewilderness surrounding the place and the tempestuousness of the man thathad caused them, she asked him a question that had been on her mind forsome time. That day, after feeling the strength of the connectionbetween him and his quadruped, she was even more confused.

"Please tell me something I don't understand at all: howis it possible to love your dog so much, and I saw exactly how much youcare about him and, probably, about all of your dogs, and then let himfight to death? Aren't you afraid of losing him, aren't youcompassionate about him being ripped apart by another dog? SorryI'm asking but it really bugs me and I don't get it!"

"No, Sophie, first of all, the dogs never die during fights.It's true that there are idiots who have nothing to do withprofessional fights and destroy their animals, but this has nothing todo with real pit bull fights. These people are our sworn enemies. Theygive dog fights a bad name and that's why the general impression islike yours, that these dogs are kept in abject conditions and left tofight to death. There's no way these people could ever get close tothe rings and each time we find out about someone abusing his dog, weconfiscate it and give it to someone trustworthy.

"Do you actually think that, when it comes to real fights,someone who pays thousands of dollars and invests another couple ofthousand in special nourishment, and spends most of his time trainingthat dog, would be okay with letting his dog die? And that's noteven taking into account his attachment towards the dog and speakingfrom a strictly financial point of view. That's why all the fightsin the ring are organized, with a referee at the center andveterinarians on the sides, to guarantee the dogs' safety.

"Even if you lose a fight, you train him harder and let himtry again, but there's no way you let the dog die in the ring.Anyway, in every match, there's a point where it's obviousthat one of the dogs doesn't have the energy to fight anymore andthe match is stopped. So this story with pit bulls dying during fightsis as true as, let's say, the one that says their jaws lock andthey can't let go, or that they were created in a lab, or othermyths that circulate about this breed. These stories are perpetuated bythose who have no idea what they're talking about, but they liketouching taboo subjects in the hope that someone gives them someattention."

"Wow, you're very convincing and you defend your point ofview very passionately. I hope my question didn't offend you butit's been all so unclear to me till now. I'm glad to hear myinformation was wrong. But even if you don't let them kill eachother, they still hurt each other pretty badly, right? How come youdon't have pity on him?"

"When you watch two men boxing in the ring, do you feel anypity for them when they bleed or when they're tired? They'regladiators, they know they have to suffer pain when they fight, yet whatmotivates them to continue is not the fear of pain but the will todefeat the opponent, to put all their energy and skills into winning thefight, into being the last man standing. It's the same with thesedogs. They don't have to be trained or forced to fight, they startdoing so as pups. Pit bulls that come from a combat line start fightingwhen they're two months old and they have to be separated so theydon't kill each other. It's in their genes to dominate, theyhave alpha dog features; that's where they get their aggressivenessfrom. The training you do with them is to increase their resistance andmuscle strength, not to make them aggressive or stuff like that."

"I get it now. Still, I'd feel a lot of pity watchingthem fight, although I understand what you're saying, especiallyafter today, seeing how much Bronco likes to train and the strength hegenerates. It was a really interesting experience for me. But after thefight, doesn't it hurt? What does he look like?"

"These dogs recover a lot faster than other breeds, eventhough, the first few days after the fight, they're a bit puffy andthey are a bit slow, but after a week or two, they look exactly likethey did before the match. Well, plus a few scars. And the fact thathe's a little upset after the fight has never diminished a pitbull's will to fight, the same way a boxer wouldn't quitsports just because he has broken his arch during the match. Thesethings are part of a fighter's way of life, human or canine."

Chapter 13

One evening, after a day spent in the heart of the mountain and ahot twilight in front of the fireplace with his new girlfriend, who wasnow asleep on the bearskin from which it was hard to convince her tomove away, Radu went to the attic to watch Joker's fights for theumpteenth time. As the date of the fight grew closer, he became more andmore jittery, knowing the stakes of the match. It wasn't only aboutthe twenty thousand dollars he had bet on it, it was more about,finally, being exactly where he wanted to be, having a real chance ofone of his dogs winning the title of national champion.

Even in his tender years, when he first grew fond of the pit bulls,this had been Radu's dream, to have the best dog in the country,one who never lost a fight and be absolute champion. And this moment wasnear; in less than two weeks, his dog could become a champion. He hadtrained many dogs, some of them of exceptional quality, but none of themhad Bronco's caliber. He had known since the dog was only a fewmonths old that he would grow up to be the absolute champion.

While he was watching one of Joker's matches in order to findhis weaknesses, which were practically nonexistent, and to analyze, forthe thousandth time, his way of fighting and moving in the ring, tryingto prepare Bronco as well as possible for this title match, Sophie hadwoken up. Feeling the need to be cuddled, she had climbed the woodenstairs and entered the attic.

"What's up, babe? Aren't you sleepy? What are youwatching? Is this the champion Bronco's going to face?"

Radu nodded and the girl from the Netherlands curled up next to himon the couch, lighting up one of the joints on the table. The ferocitywith which Joker was subjugating his opponent and the strength withwhich he was shaking once he took hold of him, horrified Sophie, all themore so as, having spent most of her days since she came to Romania withhim and Radu in the woods training, she had become really attached toBronco

"I'm glad I won't be here when the fight takesplace. I couldn't watch a thing like this. Bronco is such a lovelydog and you want to push him towards that monster's snout.Sometimes I get really upset when I see how much you like the pit bullfights ..."

"You haven't seen Bronco fight. If you want, I'llshow you some of his matches and you'll see him in a new light.Indeed, his father is very good but Bronco is sturdier and has a morecomplex fighting style. Of course, anything can happen in the ring andyou can never be certain who will win, but Joker has never faced akiller like this devil, one who dashes again and again and never stopsattacking. And I've trained him over these couple of months as hehas never been trained before. I think he's going to defeat Jokerand if you put another dog in front of him in the ring, he's goingto defeat that one too. He's used to acting like this since he wasa puppy, since he was four, five months. He'd fight one of hisbrothers and, after defeating him, I'd let another one fight himand he defeated that one, too. This is why, every time he's in afight, he is mentally ready to fight another dog after defeating hisfirst opponent."

"I hope he defeats his father so that you can finally havewhat you've always wanted, the champion of champions. Maybe afterthat, you can cool down and stop letting him fight ... this dog is sobeautiful and intelligent, it would break my heart to see him ripped byanother dog ..."

"Don't worry about it; he'll be the one doing theripping. I'll let him fight till he's four or five years oldand in maximum shape, regardless of this fight's result, but Iwon't be breeding other ring dogs. The truth is, I'm kind oftired of training them all day long. I'll always have dogs but,aside from Bronco, I'll never have another ring dog."

"I'm happy to hear it ... and there's something elseI don't like about this sport, besides its violence: the fact thatthese quadrupeds are being used to help you make money. I don'tfind it fair that a dog should fight to exhaustion just so that hismaster gets rich!"

"In the first years of fights, there was no money to be gainedfrom the matches. There were very few pit bulls in Galati and, in fact,in the whole country. For three or four years, I didn't earnanything from the matches, I just invested in the veterinarian,nutrition and so on. But, in time, if you're really into the pitfights, you want to have better dogs so you need more money to buy andnurture them, and the only way you can do that is if you bet on theoutcome of the match. The first fights for money demanded symbolic sums,a couple of hundred dollars max. I was spending more on training thedogs, anyway, even if they won all the fights. But the better your dogsare, the better the opponents are, and nobody lets a dog he invested alot of money in fight for free. So you're forced to bet money onthe match, even if you don't necessarily agree with this idea, ifyou want better opponents for your dog."

"Yes, but it's still cruel to let the animals fight sothat you can make money off them, don't you think?"

A vein started pulsing near Radu's temple, as it did everytime he got mad. He had heard these arguments the Dutch girl was usingso many times before, and he loathed those who couldn't see theessence of things, and instead judged other people's actions solelyaccording to the moral standards imposed by this society, which Raduperceived as yellow-bellied and hypocritical. Despite all this, he wastrying to temper the nerves the Dutch girl had stirred and talk ascalmly as he could.

"Okay, I understand that so far you know nothing about pitbull fights but despite that, you loathe them because you consider thatthe animals are forced to do something they don't like, and thosewho organize these fights do so, so that they can get rich on the poorquadrupeds' account, right? Okay. Now, please try to get your headout of your ass a little bit and see things from a differentperspective, one you've never analyzed before, because the"moral leaders" of this society, rotten with fear andmendacity, are only against the things that don't bring them anyprofit, such as pit bull fights. For instance, zoos are okay, right? Ibet you've been to the zoo many times and you haven't thoughtfor a second about the life those animals live. You were just glad youcould see them, right?

"Wild animals, whose genes dictate they run and move aroundconstantly, looking for food, are forced to spend their entire lives intiny pounds where they can barely move. Just so that we can see them upclose. And for that we pay money so that those zoos can capture otherthousands of life forms and put them in cages for the rest of theirdays. But that's okay 'cause it's civilized, right?Circuses are one of the biggest aberrations man has ever invented, wherethe poor animals have to do exactly the opposite of what their instinctstell them, otherwise they face serious punishment. They have to spendthe rest of the time in cages, but that's okay, right? It'snot cruelty against animals when you see beautiful lions standing on twolegs, terrorized by the tamer's whip; no, that works, becausethat's civilized and we take our kids to the circus and the zoo tosee the pretty little animals. Well, ain't that cute? Yeah, andthat's all okay because taxes are being paid and the blimps whopass laws gain some bacon from it, so the way in which these wildanimals live doesn't matter. But when two dogs, which were made forthis, fight, all of a sudden, it's cruelty against animals, becausenobody pays taxes and nobody profits from it, except for the organizers.And the fact that the Chinese and the Koreans boil alive hundreds ofdogs daily and have them for supper, that's okay also, but not thepit bull fights!

"Or, the thing I hate most about the way in which we treatanimals, the bullfight! Isn't that cruelty against animals? Everytime I see those beautiful bulls stabbed by a coward hiding behind apiece of cloth sticking swords in their backs, I wish that the bullswould tear the stinkin' coward apart! What chances do those poorbulls have in the ring? What chances do the innocent wild animals, heldcaptive in a cage their whole lives, have? But the chances a pit bullhas in the ring are always equal to those of his opponent. They are twoathletes of the same caliber, doing what they were meant to do; fight.They are not forced to do anything else than what their genetic legacydictates; unlike the other animals I've mentioned, which have toendure the sufferings inflicted upon them for their malignant pleasure,making them do exactly the opposite of what they were told by nature.But, of course, it's pit bull fighting that's the big issue,not abusing the other animals for profit.

"These dogs have a very good life, as you can see with mydogs. They are very well fed, they get training and outdoor exercisedaily, and you saw with your own eyes how much they like training,because, I repeat, this is what they were made for. But in thepublic's view, a public that feeds on anything they see or hear onTV like sheep feed on grass, the tens of thousands of whales or sharksthat are slaughtered every year for profit aren't the issue; northe bulls killed in the arena, dragged with hooks outside afterwards,and thrown into trash cans so that more can be slain; nor the millionsof wild animals who spend their entire lives in cages they barely haveroom to move in, being the subjects of experiments, one more sad*sticthan the other. No, all of these are okay because they happen everywhereand people take them for granted, without even thinking. The same waythey do when they passionately criticize pit bull fighting, withouthaving the slightest idea what these fights are all about and the mannerin which they take place.

"At the beginning of the 20th century, every week started withpictures of the dog that won that weekend's fight in the Americannewspapers, and the short description of the fights. It was theirnational symbol, they were very proud of it. It was used by the army,the police, and it was America's favorite breed. A pit bull calledStubby was the most decorated war dog in World War I. He participated inseventeen fights, saved the lives of his platoon members from a gasattack, and caught a German spy before he could divulge their location.He was the only dog in history ever to be ranked a sergeant, and thenewspapers of the time were filled with stories of his deeds. Andnowadays, the same Americans have created the animal police, whose roleis supposed to be to protect the animals but every time they find pitbulls that have been used in fights, they kill them. Even if the dog isretired and hasn't fought in years, the fact that he was once inthe ring makes him dangerous for people, in their view, so they take himfrom his owner and kill him. But somehow, this is supposed to be fortheir own good, I mean, it's those who get paid to protect theanimals that do this, right? And most of the times they kill them evenif they were never used in fights, because this is what the lawdictates.

"In many American states and not only in America, the breed isnow forbidden. I recently saw a report of a young family with kids, whohad a male and a female that had just given birth. The dogs were veryfriendly, they had never attacked anyone, and they didn't show anysigns of violence, even when the coppers came in the yard with anaggressive attitude. But a neighbor had called them about the pit bullsin the yard, and they were forbidden in that state, so they took all thedogs, including the pups, and killed them. Both the parents and thechildren were crying, but they were told that this is the law and theyhad to obey it! I'd piss on their damn laws and on those who makethem!"

Even though Radu had set himself to be calm in the discussion withSophie, he didn't manage very well. This subject was way too touchyfor him. On the one hand, there was his love for these dogs and the wayin which their fights impressed him; and on the other hand, there wasthe deep hatred he felt towards everything civilization meant, thecowardice and deceitfulness of those around him and, implicitly,people's attitudes about his favorite subject made him lose himtemper every time someone stirred him by expressing their uneducatedopinions about ring fights. The vein near the temple was pulsingstrongly, becoming highly visible, and the cadence of his speech, evenin English, had sped up remarkably. The hatred with which he spat hiswords frightened all those who provoked him with their arguments, which,they now realized, had actually been unfounded.

The Dutch girl had never witnessed such a degree of violence,verbal or otherwise, before, and had never felt what she was feelingnow. It was a very ambiguous yet very profound feeling. On the one hand,she was revolted by Radu and his attitude but, at the same time,extremely attracted by the strength of his convictions and the almostdemonic ferocity with which he defended his arguments.

One thing was certain: this man loved and respected his dogs morethan anyone she had ever met, and the way in which he used them was noneof her business. The other thing that was clear to her was that she hadnever met, and probably never would again, a man so intense in everyrespect, like this man who lived in the heart of the Carpathians.Radu's features were starting to relax as he was returning to amore carefree mental state. Sophie took his face in her hands and jumpedon him, kissed him heavily and sticking her tongue deeply in his mouth,while her right hand was greedily opening his zipper.

On the last evening spent in Poiana Tapului, before she returned toThe Hague, Sophie went for a walk with Radu and the other two pit bullshe kept, Bronco's mother, Cindy, and old Samson. Even though he wasa bit older than twelve, this beautiful specimen hadn't lost muchof his earlier elegance and agility, although he hadn't fought inmore than six years. He was white with black spots. Half of his head wascovered with a big black spot, perfectly symmetrical and the rest of hisbody was evenly proportionate between the two colors. Sophie observedthat Radu was more affectionate towards him than he was towards Bronco,playing with him all the time and speaking to him in a very friendlyvoice, without that roughness he had during Bronco's trainings.When she asked him if her observations were correct, Radu confirmedbeyond any shadow of doubt.

"You have a great sense of observation, babe! Indeed, I'ma bit more severe with Bronco because he's a ring dog. He has tofollow my commands exactly because that makes the difference during afight; plus, he's young and he needs it. This old dog, Samson, ismy beloved. He doesn't have Bronco's fighting qualities buthe's an extraordinary dog. He was one of my first pit bulls and theonly one I've kept since then. He is a grand champ too, meaning hewon more than five consecutive fights, six, to be exact. He also lostthree matches. Also, he is ROM, register of merit, which means that fromhis many pups, some became champions. This dog saved me and my parentsonce when we were with him in the mountains."

"Really? How come?"

"Samson was two years old, and me, my girlfriend at the timeand my folks were on a vacation in the mountains. Back then I was stillliving with them in Galati. We drove the car on the forest roads andwhen we hit a dead end, we got out and started walking in the middle ofnowhere to find a beautiful glade for a barbecue. At a certain moment,me and my girlfriend had wandered away from the place my folks werehaving the barbecue, when I heard my mum call me in quite a nervousvoice. I rushed back to see what was happening and I saw a Carpathianshepherd dog, weighing over seventy kilograms, climbing down themountain furiously.

"These dogs live for fighting wolves and bears, they are verywild, and they live their whole lives in the mountains. They never seeany people other than their shepherd, and they attack any othercreatures found on the territory of the herd they are guarding. Therehave been many accidents in Romania when tourists unknowingly enteredtheir territory and were devoured by these monstrous dogs. The one thatwas coming to attack us was a huge male and, without realizing it, wehad entered his territory. He was coming to do what he'd beentrained to do: kill anyone entering the world he was supposed to guard,even at the cost of his life. If we hadn't had Samson there, itwould have been a massacre, I don't know what we would have done.We didn't have a gun with us. But with Samson there, it was justanother opportunity to train in combat with an inferior dog. Normally,when someone came with such dogs, or other breeds besides pit bulls, thematch was stopped in less than ten minutes in the ring when they sawwhat a little devil like this could do to a monster like that. But inthis case, in the middle of the woods, there was nobody to stop them, soI let them fight till the end.

"Samson had already been revved in some matches and knewexactly what to do, even though, during the first few minutes, theCarpathian swallowed him in such a way that I couldn't even see mydog from under his fur, but then Samson, from underneath, got a goodgrip on one of his paws and started shaking for about five minutes,during which the shepherd dog realized he had never met such an animal.For the next fifteen minutes, he shook his front paws, his chest, andhis head; the Carpathian dog was on the ground and couldn't get up.I was talking to Samson like I did during every match, telling him whatto do and encouraging him. I was starting to feel bad for the shepherddog. He was becoming so desperate, he wasn't even trying to bitemine anymore. I don't know how but he gathered his strength andstarted running, limping visibly. Samson ran after him a little wayuntil the dog disappeared in the direction he had come from, and then hecame back to me, victoriously wagging his tail. After I washed the bloodoff him, I realized he didn't have a scratch; all the bloodbelonged to the shepherd dog. Even if the Carpathian had bitten him, hedidn't have the necessary force to pierce his skin. And when youthink that this dog kills a wolf or more almost effortlessly and that hefights bears with even chances, you can imagine how impressive the pitbull is if he is able to silence him in less than twenty minutes.

"That's because the pit bull attacks again and again,without minding the pain or the initial superiority of the opponent,until he wins, and no other animal does that. Do you think he'd doall these things if he didn't enjoy fighting? This is why I'magainst other breeds of dogs fighting. It is unfair; they don'tstand a chance against these genuine gladiators. The only dogs thatshould fight are the pit bulls."

The next day he drove Sophie to the airport then he returned toPoiana for the last week of training with Bronco before the final. Theday preceding the fight for the title, he just walked him through thewoods, without running with him or making him hang on to the rubbercircle, to help him preserve all his energy for the moment of the match.Despite all this, the lead collar remained attached around Bronco'sneck; it would be taken off just minutes before the fight. The dog hadnever been trained this well and, the day before the match, both Raduand his quadruped knew that he could defeat any opponent they put infront of him.

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The pit; or, My three-dimensional life. (2024)


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