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He was surprised by the intrusion, but he wanted to have a working phone tomorrow as he headed for Hungary, so Scott took a minute to plug his phone into the charger and plugged the charger into a wall socket above the sink. He laid the mobile phone on the sink as it charged. He walked over to the door and opened it. A man he recognized from the meeting was standing in the doorway, he wore a priest’s collar. Scott remembered that this was one of the men who prayed before he ate.
“Jó estét! (Good evening)” Scott said, offering what little Hungarian he could pronounce semi-correctly as he grasped his visitor’s hand.
“Good Evening” the priest replied. I am Balint Szoke, I serve the spiritual needs of the camp. May I speak with you?”
“Yes, come in” Scott replied. He stepped away from the door to make way for the visitor to enter. He offered his visitor the only chair; Scott sat on a bed.
“Please forgive my English, your language is difficult. I have come here to caution you about doing business with government. They will say to you one thing and do different.” His English was not polished, but quite understandable. He had the look of serious concern on his face. He was a man who seemed to be in his late forties. Scott thought that he had, perhaps, seen much. “I do not say to you do not help our situation, just to use wisdom. I noticed that you prayed at the meal. What is your religion?”
“I am a Christian, not particularly protestant, not especially catholic, not opposed to orthodox. I try to follow God through the Bible, I work with any Christian who follows Jesus.”
“What kind of church do you attend?”
“I do not know this.”
“It is the American branch of the Church of England.”
Scott wondered why this priest would come to ask about his religion. “Why do you ask?”
“Because American Christians come here and offer, but they do not return. Most are against Catholic Church, they dislike the pope and our system.”
“I am sorry about this, I know it is true, I have met many that have had the same experience. While we should understand that there are people who do not truly believe in the savior in every tradition and in every Church, but that is for God to evaluate. It is our working as agents of God’s grace that makes a difference.”
As Scott spoke a small smile came over Balint’s face. “I am glad to hear these words, I believe you are my brother.”
“Thanks be to God!” Scott replied.
“So let me tell you, be careful, ask God to give you wisdom as you deal with government officials.”
“Thank you Balint, I do try to be discerning, um…to… use wisdom and have God’s eyes when I deal with, uh… do business with people.” Scott was trying to be sure Balint understood him. “My prayer is for wisdom and God’s mind about things. I have many people praying for me at home, they too pray that God would give me His wisdom.”
“This is very good, very wise; very… what is the word? Prudent! I am sorry about my English”
“Please, no, your English is excellent; I admire your efforts to learn such a language.”
There was a knock at the door; Balint told Scott that he must go. Scott asked him to pray so they shook hands and prayed for each other. There was another knock at the door, this time louder. Someone was impatient. Scott went to the door and Sara stood there, not happy at being kept waiting, she entered. She and the priest exchanged pleasantries and he left, closing the door behind him. She had an envelope in her hand.
“I bring you train tickets and your passport.” Scott had surrendered his passport at the gate which he knew was standard procedure in this type of facility. He was surprised to get it before leaving.
“Your train leaves in an hour and forty-five minutes. I’m sure you have wondered about the car. It was taken back to Szeged the morning after you arrived by a family who had received their visas with the funds you brought with you. It is now back in the hands of its owner, a Mr. Szoke. You are being driven to the station in Beograd by one of my Serbian colleagues, there will not be any trouble in town as you experienced on the way in.”
Scott wondered how she knew about that. Then he wondered why he wondered about anything on this trip.
“We kept two clerks late and they have completed the verification of the information you need. It is all here in this envelope. We hope for the sake of these people you have at least some success.”
“This is all very sudden; I don’t even know the logistics of how to get whatever funds I can get my hands on to the right place.”
“It’s all in the envelope: bank routing numbers, addresses, names, everything. We wish you well. Now, you should go, you’re late, it is an hour drive to the train station in good weather, and it’s beginning to snow.”
“Thanks, I’ll just get my things together.”
He took the envelope from her and turned and put it in his bag. He walked over to the sink and unplugged his phone and put the charger in his bag and the phone in his coat pocket. He put on his coat and scarf and walked out the door closing it behind him. Sara was waiting at a car with the door open. As he approached the car, she extended her hand; he grasped it firmly in a businesslike handshake.
“We look forward to your successful return, I wish you well, Scott”
“Thank you Sara, may God bless you. I look forward to our next meeting”
“Sasha will drive you straight to the station.”
“Thank you, Sara.”
She closed the door and the car pulled away abruptly, he still had his bag in his lap. He looked at Barnabas but Barnabas’s attention was on his driving.
“Do you speak English?”
Sasha shook his head. Scott wondered how much he really understood. Scott took the envelope out and looked in it. The tickets showed that he was on the 20:05 train to Budapest. “Just as well,” he thought, “I can get a room and get in contact back home.” There was a six hour time difference and he would arrive in Budapest by five in the morning. That means he would be in Hungary at about 2:00 am. When he arrived in Budapest, it would be eleven in the evening on the east coast. He would have to wait until the afternoon to make the call unless he called when he crossed the border. He was unsure of when to call.
The ride was bumpy and slippery, he noted the gas station that he had stopped in and then slipped into a nap.
The stopping and starting of the city traffic woke him up. The streets were mushy but the rest of this city of 1.5 million was covered with a white blanket. The snow masked the bombed out buildings from the ’99 war with NATO. These buildings would sit there until there was enough peace and stability for economic growth to begin. He remembered his first trip to Hungary ten years before.
On that first trip, his friend Mihaly had taken him the Buda side of the Danube and up to the castle. Here were remnants of either the battle of Budapest from World War II or from the Hungarian revolution in ’56, he could never get it straight. It didn’t matter either way, the bullet holes in the stucco of these buildings were at least forty years old. Failure to repair was due to the failure of the socialist system, or at least that’s what he was told. Now the region was embracing capitalism and the free market. There was a time in the early twentieth century that the Hungarian stock market was third in all of Europe. Anyone who had spent any time in Budapest could see the beauty of the city and could see how it had once flourished as a cultural center. The parliament, the opera house the beautiful train stations, the wide avenue from the center of the city to Hero’s square, it was a very beautiful city that he loved to visit. Three days ago he had never even been above ground until he rode the escalator to the platform for his train. He would stay in Budapest for a couple of days.
The car came to an abrupt halt. “OK, here train.” Barnabas told his passenger. Scott looked out and saw that they were in a bustling station parking lot, he got out, said thank you to Barnabas in Russian, Barnabas smiled and drove off almost before Scott could close the door. He walked into the main part of the station and found the schedule board, there was no platform listed for the Budapest train. It was eight twenty, but he didn’t really expect the train to be on time. He decided to get coffee.
In the station café he ordered coffee then realized that he was hungry. He looked around for a place to get something to eat but the stands were all out of sandwiches. Then he remembered that he had a candy bar in his bag and so he found it and ate it, “there,” he thought, “this will take the edge off, perhaps there will be a dining car.” He heard the public address say something and thought he heard it say Budapest. So he left the café. The board now showed that the train to Budapest left from platform fourteen, so he followed the signs to the platform.
He was so intent on following the signs that he did not notice the tall figure watch and follow him down the platform. Scott walked the length of the train looking for a dining car. This train was bound for Novi Sad, Subotica, Budapest, then it split; some cars going on to Vienna, some to Krakow, others to Kiev; he thought it must have one. He passed the couchette and sleeper cars and finally found what he was looking for. So he boarded the train still not noticing the tall man following him. Once in the dining car Scott chose a table that seated two, put his bag on the overhead rack and hung up his coat. Sitting down he looked around the car; it was then that he noticed the man approaching him from the other end of the car.