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The Unbearable Lightness of Being (part 4 chapter 25)

2006-08-22 20:21

  24

  The ambassador said: He's with the secret police.

  Then why is he so open about it? What good is a secret police that can't keep its secrets?

  The ambassador positioned himself on the cot by folding his legs under his body, as he had learned to do in yoga class. Kennedy, beaming down on him from the frame on the wall, gave his words a special consecration.

  The secret police have several functions, my dear, he began in an avuncular tone. The first is the classical one. They keep an ear out for what people are saying and report it to their superiors.

  The second function is intimidatory. They want to make it seem as if they have us in their power; they want us to be afraid. That is what your bald-headed friend was after.

  The third function consists of staging situations that will compromise us. Gone are the days when they tried to accuse us of plotting the downfall of the state. That would only increase our popularity. Now they slip hashish in our pockets or claim we've raped a twelve-year-old girl. They can always dig up some girl to back them.

  The engineer immediately popped back into Tereza's mind. Why had he never come?

  They need to trap people, the ambassador went on, to force them to collaborate and set other traps for other people, so that gradually they can turn the whole nation into a single organization of informers.

  Tereza could think of nothing but the possibility that the engineer had been sent by the police. And who was that strange boy who drank himself silly and told her he loved her? It was because of him that the bald police spy had launched into her and the engineer stood up for her. So all three had been playing parts in a prearranged scenario meant to soften her up for the seduction!

  How could she have missed it? The flat was so odd, and he didn't belong there at all! Why would an elegantly dressed engineer live in a miserable place like that? Was he an engineer? And if so, how could he leave work at two in the afternoon? Besides, how many engineers read Sophocles? No, that was no engineer's library! The whole place had more the flavor of a flat confiscated from a poor imprisoned intellectual. Her father was put in prison when she was ten, and the state had confiscated their flat and all her father's books. Who knows to what use the flat had then been put?

  Now she saw clearly why the engineer had never returned: he had accomplished his mission. What mission? The drunken undercover agent had inadvertently given it away when he said, Just remember that prostitution is a criminal offense. Now that self-styled engineer would testify that she had slept with him and demanded to be paid! They would threaten to blow it up into a scandal unless she agreed to report on the people who got drunk in her bar.

  Don't worry, the ambassador comforted her. Your story doesn't sound the least bit dangerous.

  I suppose it doesn't, she said in a tight voice, as she walked out into the Prague night with Karenin.

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