The Wheel Of Fortune

excerpts CHAPTER I How had the members of the Cherry Blossom Club gotten to the town of D.? That was not a difficult one to answer. First, the little town was not very far from its twin, where the members of the Cherry Blossom Club lived. Then, as it often happens, one of the inhabitants of town D. had some relatives in the town of the Cherry Blossom Club. Also, the person who boasted relatives had a daughter called Ioana, but that would not have meant anything had Ioana not been Dan's cousin, and finally, if Dan had not received a letter from her in which he was invited, together with his friends, "no matter how many, even twenty" (although she knew only too well that they were only six), for a few days, to her town before the end of the school holiday. Why before the end of the school vacation? Because the fair on the banks of the Caprioara opened then and "it is unrivalled in the country," and also because one could take beautiful walks to a glade where "some mysterious ruins are supposed to exist, dating from the time of…" – and next came an excuse as "nobody has managed to establish their exact age." The other Cherry Blossom Club members, with the exception of Tic, who felt very attracted by the idea of the fair, famous indeed, wouldn't heed Ioana's invitation. But Maria could not leave her beloved brother alone, so the three of them set out to the town of D. where they arrived late at night. A puzzled girl, slender and very beautiful, two grandparents harsh as teachers on the eve of examinations, and two rooms, one for Ioana and Maria, and another for Tic and Dan, awaited them. In about half an hour, the girls were fast asleep, whereupon the boys jumped out of the window (not to disturb certain older persons who nurtured different concepts about youth, schools, and fairs), and they started out somewhere in a hurry.  CHAPTER III 1 At ten they finished supper. The boys, girls, and grandparents separated, wishing each other "good night." At half past ten, based on the conspiratorial understanding during the meal, the young people met in the room close to the tower. Until then, Dan categorically refused any conversation with Tic. He had jotted down some notes in his diary. Why they had decided to meet at half past ten nobody could tell! Fact is they were all together, ready to recount the happenings of the day. "Now can you tell me why you treated me as a fool?" Tic asked Dan. "I think I've put up with that more than enough. For over an hour." "Is this the way to start a conversation?" Maria admonished her little brother. "First let him answer me," Tic defended himself.Dan, as a rule a quiet, calm boy, hit the ceiling: "I don't know whether you're a fool or not but anyway you're at odds with intelligence. Why do you keep on bringing up the Tanagra figurines? Did you see what risks I took to get you out of that mess?" Tic considered him in amazement; he even looked at the others as if asking for a helping hand. "You know what I'd break on your head? One of those figures. At the risk of destroying it." Ioana tried to cool down the two young machos: "Can you tell us why you're fighting? Or if it's a secret of yours… I'm ready to withdraw." "I asked him whether he'd seen the figurines, the Tanagra figures," Tic replied, "and he treated me as a fool. I even think..." "Yes!" Dan interrupted him. "I told you that you were raving mad." "That's not true! You asked me. If you'd told me I was raving mad you'd have to change your outfit during supper…" "What do you mean?" Maria asked confused. "I'd have simply upturned his plate in such a way they'd have thought it was him who did it. I'm good at that…" "I still don't understand why you're quarreling," Ioana said. "What Tanagra figurines are you talking about?" Tic thought himself the victim of a plot or a practical joke. He looked at the others unabashedly, yet discovered no trace of a smile on their faces. "Oh, I see!" he appeared to have got it. "You no longer had the time to see the glass case. You took off too soon! A pity! In your place, I…" "What would you have done in our place?" Dan asked. "We've seen hundreds of coins and ceramics, and tools, and rings elsewhere, in other museums. Older and more interesting." "You should be ashamed of yourself, insulting our museum!" Ioana pouted. "What, yours is richer?" Tic glanced at them again, curiously. "So you saw the glass case, after all..." Marina made a bored gesture: "For a few seconds. Not even a minute. But it's as Dan said, not that there was much to see…" "How about the Tanagra figurines?" Tic shouted. "Did you see the Tanagra figures? You looked everywhere but not in the middle of the case? Or you're kidding me?" "Or maybe it's you who's kidding us?" replied Dan. "I looked in the middle, too, but besides the tag there was nothing else." "You didn't see the five figurines, either?" Tic asked Maria. "Five women. Two wrapped in veils, one seated on a throne, one dancing, and one carrying an amphora." "You've never been at a loss for creative thinking, Tic!" "Whereas you suffer from something else! You caught it from that guy…" "Stop it!" Ioana came between them. "There's a misunderstanding! Did you actually see the five figurines? I saw them, too… several times, the last time a few months ago. They're exactly as you described them." "Yes!" Tic gained courage. "One wore a blue veil, the other a pink veil. The lady on the throne had no hands, and the face of the dancing one was quite chipped. The one carrying the amphora… it leant to the left because of the weight… the amphora was mutilated… in fact, I'm not sure the figure held an amphora…" "Indeed!" Ioana agreed, staring at him. "They are exactly as you say. Have you visited the museum before?" "No!" Dan replied in Tic's stead. "I don't see where he could have learnt so many details. They seem too fresh… tell us the truth, Tic! Has anyone informed you about the statuettes or have you actually seen them with your own eyes?" Had the question been made in a different tone, not as a polite question, as Dan had put it, Tic would have been at his throat. Now he just sat on the bed and remained there with his elbows propped on his knees, without uttering a word. "I think we'd better start all over from the beginning," suggested Maria. "To avoid any misunderstanding, and put an end to this mix-up, all questions posed should be given a brief answer, yes or no, no other details." The silence of the others betook an agreement. "Right," she went on. "Ioana has seen the Tanagra figures at the museum several times, but not tonight." "Yes!" Ioana confirmed. "If necessary I can come up with a date." "Last night Tic saw the same figurines." "Yeah!" stated the kid in conformity with his personality. "But we, Ioana, Maria and Dan… and grandma… did not see them. And since nobody is lying… Tic, be honest, haven't you imagined it all?" Tic was about to jump up like a panther; luckily Ioana stopped him: "Please… don't try to give a different meaning to this. We, the ones who saw the case empty, find it strange… and since there are three of us, we are entitled to ask the one who saw something, the only one who saw something…" Tic realized what Ioana wanted to say and calmed down instantly. "I told you. I even gave you details and I can provide one hundred more. When I make up something, you won't get the chance to suspect me. After all, I'm a past master at this…" "This means," Maria resumed, "Tic saw the Tanagra figures, while we didn't." "That's your conclusion?" Dan inquired. "The long and short of it is that the figurines have vanished. Mostly likely the guard took revenge on us. He took them somewhere we couldn't see them." "That's impossible!" Tic contradicted him. "The guard kicked me out. He chased me from in front of the case and he walked out of the door after me. Then he walked into the museum only to send you away." "How do you know?" Maria asked. "Did keep a constant eye on him? What if he went in without you seeing him? Or what if the other guard stepped in?" "I tell you! They did not go out of my sight for a second." "Then?" Ioana felt herself shudder."At a certain moment the director of the museum walked in," Tic continued. "He took the exit door and that's where he went out.""What a pity!" Ioana became melancholy."Why is that?" Dan seemed curious."It means he took them…""And that's a pity?" Dan showed surprise. "You're not imagining all sorts of hare-brained scenarios, are you?""Wait a minute!" Tic intervened. "The director walked out just as he had come in. He wasn't carrying anything. I saw him in full light. He had nowhere to hide the figures. He didn't' even wear a coat.""Nobody else walked in?" Maria asked. "Or maybe someone got out meanwhile?""Until you walked out, nobody entered or exited the museum. How about you, did you see the director?""No," Ioana replied. "I know him very well. He's our history teacher. I didn't see him. I'd have said so right away.""And yet only his being there could explain the disappearance of the Tanagra figurines," Dan concluded. "A pity we don't know the exact times…""But I do!" Tic shouted."Why do we need the times?" Maria laughed. "Everything seems pretty clear to me. For a reason or another, the director took the figurines out of the case. Only that instead of taking them out of the museum, he deposited them elsewhere, inside the museum.""We could find reasons for that," Ioana added. "Tomorrow they start repair jobs on the museum. I don't know any details. Perhaps they will remake only the façade."You see?""Wait a minute, I'm not through!" Ioana continued. "I know the museum very well. I visited it tens of times. There is no other room, no other communication way than the two doors at the ends of the horseshoe shape. The offices are in front, inside the U, but they do not lead directly into the museum.""There could be a secret hideout somewhere, in the wall," Dan opined."Fiddlesticks!" Maria chaffed. "And he started hiding figures in front of everybody… it's a weak supposition, Dan.""Did you see the director?" Tic asked. "No! Which means he remained in the right wing all the time. If only we knew what he was doing there!""Perhaps he didn't even go in there," Ioana opined. "What if he remained in the lobby all the time? In the lobby, by the exit… there's a telephone in that spot. Perhaps he called someone downtown.""Or perhaps he met someone in the museum…""Then why did that somebody not walk out of the museum at the same time with the director? Are you sure, Tic, nobody exited with him or after him?" "If I have told you once… it was only he that entered the museum and then walked out empty-handed, after… after a few minutes…""Long enough to make a phone call.""Perhaps we'd better try to pin down the hours."Tic had already jotted something on a sheet of paper: "I walked out… that is I had to leave at twenty to nine. I don't know why I looked at my watch but it's a good thing I did. At a quarter to nine the director showed up." "Wait a minute!" Maria interrupted him. "It means that at twenty to nine, the Tanagra figures were still in the glass cases. Go on, Tic!" "The director showed up at a quarter to nine, that is he entered the museum after having saluted the guard very politely. Just like that! I kept looking at my watch out of boredom. That's why I remember the times. At seven to nine, the director walked out. It took him a minute at the most to go from the door to the other gate. Which means that at six to nine he stopped in front of the big guy." "Wait a minute!" Maria interjected again. "If he walked out bare-handed and nobody followed him, if there is no other communication way between the museum and the offices it means that at seven to nine the Tanagra figurines were still in the glass case." "How did you come to this conclusion?" Dan asked. "If the Tanagra figures had not been in their place, the director would have given the alarm right away." "But what if he did not enter the museum at all? What if he just spoke on the phone, down in the hall?" Ioana expressed a possibility. "It seems unnatural to me. If he talked on the phone he ought to have gone into the museum, at least for a minute or two…" "Maybe not!" Dan objected. "Perhaps they told him such important things over the phone that he no longer thought, no longer had the time to enter the museum." Everybody looked at Tic. The kid seemed not in the least rattled. He answered very sure of himself: "He didn't seem to me to be in a hurry. He talked to the other guard, I think for two minutes. In other words at four to nine the big guy walked into the museum. At two to nine you exited." "You're sure, Tic?" "Very sure. I don't know whether my watch is set by Greenwich time." "That doesn't matter," Dan assured him. "One minute back or forth don't matter in the end. Most important are the time intervals. Their duration matters. And here you are not mistaken… you'd better repeat one more time…" Tic resumed immediately: "At twenty to nine I walked out. At a quarter to nine the director entered the place. At eight to nine the director came out, at six to nine the director parted with the guard at the entrance, and at the same hour the guard stepped into the museum. When were the Tanagra figurines stolen?" What Tic had done was voice, in a most brutal way, the question that bugged them all. "Yes! When were they stolen?" Ioana stressed briskly.Dan and Maria showed circumstantial opposition but deep down in their heart they were just as convinced that the figurines had been stolen. Why they bothered with the time when they were purloined was another matter. "If we take the director out of the picture," said Maria, "it means that the figurines were stolen between eight to nine and three to nine, when we stopped in front of the glass case and did no longer see them." "You're too sure!" Dan scolded her. "What if the director never entered the museum then?" "I'm persuaded he did!" Maria stuck to her conviction. "But I'm not against setting this thing clear. We must find out as quickly as possible if the director made a phone call from the lobby or not." Everybody looked at Tic. "I don't know," the kid answered. "From my hideout I did not have a view of the lobby. Why should I lie to you? Give me until tomorrow. In two minutes, I'll also find out to whom he talked on the phone… provided he did speak, that is." "Have they really been pinched, I wonder?" someone said. "Sure, sure!" Ioana warmed up. "Wow! The Tanagra figures have been stolen! That will make the talk of the entire town! The fame of our locality resides in those figures! What will be, goodness, what will be! Finally, something has happened in this place, something out of the ordinary!" "Don't jump to conclusions!" Dan calmed her down. "We're simply making suppositions. Who knows what the truth is? And don't blab! We don't want to become the laughing stock of the world on account of a few idle words! You understand, Ioana?" "How can you think of something like that? I'll be quiet like a mouse. I'll clam up. Not breathe a word to anyone. It's enough for me to be with you. If only you knew what goes through my mind now…" "I know," Maria said. "You're not thinking of anything. You're praying. It's written on your face…" Ioana got flustered and dropped her eyes but she didn't unclench her fists. "People used to come from abroad to see the figurines," she whispered. "The glory of the town… it's extraordinary!" "In conclusion, we'll wait until tomorrow morning," Maria wrapped up the talk. "We'll see what news Tic brings." The girls hurried to bed. They seemed reluctant to leave but it was very late. Their souls squirmed with worries. Were they going to go through another adventure? Or was it only their wishful thinking? That's what Maria feared. Perhaps this complicated or distorted a thing, a fact that was actually as simple as possible. Their verbal argumentation seemed somewhat insecure, far-fetched. If only Victor were with them, how limpid things would then emerge!
from the series The Cherry Blossom Club, Tineretului, 1968
An extremely popular five-novel cycle, Cireşarii was made into a TV series (directed by Andrei Blaier, 1972), and a feature film (Adrian Petringenaru, 1984).

by Constantin Chiriţă (1925-1991)