By contrast, Albert’s Cellar, which has been in operation for over twenty years, has no music, no girls, no shady dealings, no gambling. And yet for all of that it remains a dive bar, and is in fact considered a rather remarkable specimen. Albert, who comes from a different Eastern European country every time he is asked, seems most often to have emigrated here from Romania, where, he says, he was fleeing oppression. At any rate he is well connected with Romanians of all different stripes, but possesses particularly strong connections with thieves, smuggler, mathematicians, dissident writers, dreamers, and traffickers.
Here is a typical evening when Albert is working – his real work, and not the cellar itself, which operates smoothly, efficiently, and largely without any need for input. Now:
Very late at night a van will pull up about a block from the cellar. Usually a black van, though not always, and never, in my experience, bearing the same number plates twice. The van stops, the engines dies, and then – nothing. Time passes, and the streets become silent and still. After an hour or so a tall dark man I have taken to call Bogdan steps out of the front passenger seat. He walks around, slowly, inspecting the tires of the van but really, I know, analysing the surroundings. Around and around he goes, prodding the tires and breathing mist into the cold night air. Half an hour passes in this manner. The night feels pregnant with possibility, and the van itself seems to swell in the darkness.
The van doors open. Quickly, without hurry but happening very fast, eight or ten girls, young, recently augmented and with their dyed a lurid red or bottle blonde, step down from the van and out on to the street. Bogdan is certain, sure, and in command, and soon the girls have vanished into a side door of one of the buildings, swallowed up into the evening. To where?
Sydney, Madrid, Bogota, Tokyo, New York, Chicago, Washington, Boston, Taipei, Kuala Lumpur. They will be sold on, and used, and many will be branded on their faces, buttocks, chest or arms, usually within the first few weeks. The prettiest will not be branded on their faces, of course. For tonight, however, they spend the remaining hours sequestered in Albert’s Cellar, sleeping, if they can, in narrow beds behind the barrels of beer and shelves of canned and packaged products. And then tomorrow they will be moved on.
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The above piece of writing comprises part of my fragments project, some of which are available on this website. I intend to add new fragments piecemeal, not in any particular order, and as the occasion take me.