فصل 10

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فصل 10

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CHAPTER 10

News From Yalta

At the same time that disaster struck Nikanor Ivanovich, not far away from no. 302-bis, on the same Sadovaya Street, in the office of the financial director of the Variety Theatre, Rimsky, there sat two men: Rimsky himself, and the administrator of the Variety, Varenukha.1

The big office on the second floor of the theatre had two windows on Sadovaya and one, just behind the back of the findirector, who was sitting at his desk, facing the summer garden of the Variety, where there were refreshment stands, a shooting gallery and an open-air stage. The furnishings of the office, apart from the desk, consisted of a bunch of old posters hanging on the wall, a small table with a carafe of water on it, four armchairs and, in the corner, a stand on which stood a dust-covered scale model of some past review. Well, it goes without saying that, in addition, there was in the office a small, shabby, peeling fireproof safe, to Rimsky’s left, next to the desk.

Rimsky, now sitting at his desk, had been in bad spirits since morning, while Varenukha, on the contrary, was very animated and somehow especially restlessly active. Yet there was no outlet for his energy.

Varenukha was presently hiding in the findirector’s office to escape the seekers of free passes, who poisoned his life, especially on days when the programme changed. And today was precisely such a day. As soon as the telephone started to ring, Varenukha would pick up the receiver and lie into it:

‘Who? Varenukha? He’s not here. He stepped out.’

‘Please call Likhodeev again,’ Rimsky asked vexedly.

‘He’s not home. I even sent Karpov, there’s no one in the apartment.’

‘Devil knows what’s going on!’ Rimsky hissed, clacking on the adding machine.

The door opened and an usher dragged in a thick stack of freshly printed extra posters; in big red letters on a green background was printed:

Today and Every Day at the Variety Theatre an Additional Programme PROFESSOR WOLAND Seances of Black Magic and its Full Exposure Varenukha stepped back from the poster, which he had thrown on to the scale model, admired it, and told the usher to send all the posters out immediately to be pasted up.

‘Good … Loud!’ Varenukha observed on the usher’s departure.

‘And I dislike this undertaking extremely,’ Rimsky grumbled, glancing spitefully at the poster through his horn-rimmed glasses, ‘and generally I’m surprised he’s been allowed to present it.’

‘No, Grigory Danilovich, don’t say so! This is a very subtle step. The salt is all in the exposure.’

‘I don’t know, I don’t know, there’s no salt, in my opinion … and he’s always coming up with things like this! … He might at least show us his magician! Have you seen him? Where he dug him up, devil knows!’

It turned out that Varenukha had not seen the magician any more than Rimsky had. Yesterday Styopa had come running (‘like crazy’, in Rimsky’s expression) to the findirector with the already written draft of a contract, ordered it copied straight away and the money handed over to Woland. And this magician had cleared out, and no one had seen him except Styopa himself.

Rimsky took out his watch, saw that it read five minutes past two, and flew into a complete rage. Really! Likhodeev had called at around eleven, said he’d come in half an hour, and not only had not come, but had disappeared from his apartment.

‘He’s holding up my business!’ Rimsky was roaring now, jabbing his finger at a pile of unsigned papers.

‘Might he have fallen under a tram-car like Berlioz?’ Varenukha said as he held his ear to the receiver, from which came low, prolonged and utterly hopeless signals.

‘Wouldn’t be a bad thing …’ Rimsky said barely audibly through his teeth.

At that same moment a woman in a uniform jacket, visored cap, black skirt and sneakers came into the office. From a small pouch at her belt the woman took a small white square and a notebook and asked:

‘Who here is Variety? A super-lightning telegram.2 Sign here.’

Varenukha scribbled some flourish in the woman’s notebook, and as soon as the door slammed behind her, he opened the square. After reading the telegram, he blinked and handed the square to Rimsky.

The telegram contained the following: ‘Yalta to Moscow Variety. Today eleven thirty brown-haired man came criminal investigation nightshirt trousers shoeless mental case gave name Likhodeev Director Variety Wire Yalta criminal investigation where Director Likhodeev.’

‘Hello and how do you do!’ Rimsky exclaimed, and added: ‘Another surprise!’

‘A false Dmitri!’3 said Varenukha, and he spoke into the receiver. Telegraph office? Variety account. Take a super-lightning telegram. Are you listening? “Yalta criminal investigation. Director Likhodeev Moscow Findirector Rimsky.”‘

Irrespective of the news about the Yalta impostor, Varenukha again began searching all over for Styopa by telephone, and naturally did not find him anywhere.

Just as Varenukha, receiver in hand, was pondering where else he might call, the same woman who had brought the first telegram came in and handed Varenukha a new envelope. Opening it hurriedly, Varenukha read the message and whistled.

‘What now?’ Rimsky asked, twitching nervously.

Varenukha silently handed him the telegram, and the findirector saw there the words: ‘Beg believe thrown Yalta Woland hypnosis wire criminal investigation confirm identity Likhodeev.’

Rimsky and Varenukha, their heads touching, reread the telegram, and after rereading it, silently stared at each other.

‘Citizens!’ the woman got angry. ‘Sign, and then be silent as much as you like! I deliver lightnings!’

Varenukha, without taking his eyes off the telegram, made a crooked scrawl in the notebook, and the woman vanished.

‘Didn’t you talk with him on the phone at a little past eleven?’ the administrator began in total bewilderment.

‘No, it’s ridiculous!’ Rimsky cried shrilly. Talk or not, he can’t be in Yalta now! It’s ridiculous!‘

‘He’s drunk …’ said Varenukha.

‘Who’s drunk?’ asked Rimsky, and again the two stared at each other.

That some impostor or madman had sent telegrams from Yalta, there was no doubt. But the strange thing was this: how did the Yalta mystifier know Woland, who had come to Moscow just the day before? How did he know about the connection between Likhodeev and Woland?

‘Hypnosis…’ Varenukha kept repeating the word from the telegram. ‘How does he know about Woland?’ He blinked his eyes and suddenly cried resolutely: ‘Ah, no! Nonsense! … Nonsense, nonsense!’

‘Where’s he staying, this Woland, devil take him?’ asked Rimsky.

Varenukha immediately got connected with the foreign tourist bureau and, to Rimsky’s utter astonishment, announced that Woland was staying in Likhodeev’s apartment. Dialling the number of the Likhodeev apartment after that, Varenukha listened for a long time to the low buzzing in the receiver. Amidst the buzzing, from somewhere far away, came a heavy, gloomy voice singing: ‘… rocks, my refuge…’4 and Varenukha decided that the telephone lines had crossed with a voice from a radio show.

‘The apartment doesn’t answer,’ Varenukha said, putting down the receiver, ‘or maybe I should call …’

He did not finish. The same woman appeared in the door, and both men, Rimsky and Varenukha, rose to meet her, while she took from her pouch not a white sheet this time, but some sort of dark one.

This is beginning to get interesting,‘ Varenukha said through his teeth, his eyes following the hurriedly departing woman. Rimsky was the first to take hold of the sheet.

On a dark background of photographic paper, some black handwritten lines were barely discernible:

‘Proof my handwriting my signature wire urgently confirmation place secret watch Woland Likhodeev.’

In his twenty years of work in the theatre, Varenukha had seen all kinds of sights, but here he felt his mind becoming obscured as with a veil, and he could find nothing to say but the at once mundane and utterly absurd phrase:

‘This cannot be!’

Rimsky acted otherwise. He stood up, opened the door, barked out to the messenger girl sitting on a stool:

‘Let no one in except postmen!’ — and locked the door with a key.

Then he took a pile of papers out of the desk and began carefully to compare the bold, back-slanting letters of the photogram with the letters in Styopa’s resolutions and signatures, furnished with a corkscrew flourish. Varenukha, leaning his weight on the table, breathed hotly on Rimsky’s cheek.

‘It’s his handwriting,’ the findirector finally said firmly, and Varenukha repeated like an echo:

‘His.’

Peering into Rimsky’s face, the administrator marvelled at the change that had come over this face. Thin to begin with, the findirector seemed to have grown still thinner and even older, his eyes in their horn rims had lost their customary prickliness, and there appeared in them not only alarm, but even sorrow.

Varenukha did everything that a man in a moment of great astonishment ought to do. He raced up and down the office, he raised his arms twice like one crucified, he drank a whole glass of yellowish water from the carafe and exclaimed:

‘I don’t understand! I don’t understand! I don’t un-der-stand!’

Rimsky meanwhile was looking out the window, thinking hard about something. The findirector’s position was very difficult. It was necessary at once, right on the spot, to invent ordinary explanations for extraordinary phenomena.

Narrowing his eyes, the findirector pictured to himself Styopa, in a nightshirt and shoeless, getting into some unprecedented super-highspeed airplane at around half past eleven that morning, and then the same Styopa, also at half past eleven, standing in his stocking feet at the airport in Yalta … devil knew what to make of it!

Maybe it was not Styopa who talked with him this morning over the phone from his own apartment? No, it was Styopa speaking! Who if not he should know Styopa’s voice? And even if it was not Styopa speaking today, it was no earlier than yesterday, towards evening, that Styopa had come from his office to this very office with this idiotic contract and annoyed the findirector with his light-mindedness. How could he have gone or flown away without leaving word at the theatre? But if he had flown away yesterday evening - he would not have arrived by noon today. Or would he?

‘How many miles is it to Yalta?’ asked Rimsky.

Varenukha stopped his running and yelled:

‘I thought of that! I already thought of it! By train it’s over nine hundred miles to Sebastopol, plus another fifty to Yalta! Well, but by air, of course, it’s less.’

Hm … Yes … There could be no question of any trains. But what then? Some fighter plane? Who would let Styopa on any fighter plane without his shoes? What for? Maybe he took his shoes off when he got to Yalta? It’s the same thing: what for? And even with his shoes on they wouldn’t have let him on a fighter! And what has the fighter got to do with it? It’s written that he came to the investigators at half past eleven in the morning, and he talked on the telephone in Moscow … excuse me … (the face of Rimsky’s watch emerged before his eyes).

Rimsky tried to remember where the hands had been … Terrible! It had been twenty minutes past eleven!

So what does it boil down to? If one supposes that after the conversation Styopa instantly rushed to the airport, and reached it in, say, five minutes (which, incidentally, was also unthinkable), it means that the plane, taking off at once, covered nearly a thousand miles in five minutes. Consequently, it was flying at twelve thousand miles an hour!!! That cannot be, and that means he’s not in Yalta!

What remains, then? Hypnosis? There’s no hypnosis in the world that can fling a man a thousand miles away! So he’s imagining that he’s in Yalta? He may be imagining it, but are the Yalta investigators also imagining it? No, no, sorry, that can’t be! … Yet they did telegraph from there?

The findirector’s face was literally dreadful. The door handle was all the while being turned and pulled from outside, and the messenger girl could be heard through the door crying desperately:

‘Impossible! I won’t let you! Cut me to pieces! It’s a meeting!’

Rimsky regained control of himself as well as he could, took the receiver of the phone, and said into it:

‘A super-urgent call to Yalta, please.’

‘Clever!’ Varenukha observed mentally.

But the conversation with Yalta did not take place. Rimsky hung up the receiver and said:

‘As luck would have it, the line’s broken.’

It could be seen that the broken line especially upset him for some reason, and even made him lapse into thought. Having thought a little, he again took the receiver in one hand, and with the other began writing down what he said into it:

Take a super-lightning. Variety. Yes. Yalta criminal investigation. Yes. “Today around eleven thirty Likhodeev talked me phone Moscow stop After that did not come work unable locate by phone stop Confirm handwriting stop Taking measures watch said artiste Findirector Rimsky.”‘

‘Very clever!’ thought Varenukha, but before he had time to think well, the words rushed through his head: ‘Stupid! He can’t be in Yalta!’

Rimsky meanwhile did the following: he neatly stacked all the received telegrams, plus the copy of his own, put the stack into an envelope, sealed it, wrote a few words on it, and handed it to Varenukha, saying:

‘Go right now, Ivan Savelyevich, take it there personally.5 Let them sort it out.’

‘Now that is really clever!’ thought Varenukha, and he put the envelope into his briefcase. Then, just in case, he dialled Styopa’s apartment number on the telephone, listened, and began winking and grimacing joyfully and mysteriously. Rimsky stretched his neck.

‘May I speak with the artiste Woland?’ Varenukha asked sweetly.

‘Mister’s busy,’ the receiver answered in a rattling voice, ‘who’s calling?’

The administrator of the Variety, Varenukha.‘

‘Ivan Savelyevich?’ the receiver cried out joyfully. Terribly glad to hear your voice! How’re you doing?‘

‘Merci,’ Varenukha replied in amazement, ‘and with whom am I speaking?’

‘His assistant, his assistant and interpreter, Koroviev!’ crackled the receiver. ‘I’m entirely at your service, my dearest Ivan Savelyevich! Order me around as you like. And so?’

‘Excuse me, but … what, is Stepan Bogdanovich Likhodeev not at home now?’

‘Alas, no! No!’ the receiver shouted. ‘He left!’

‘For where?’

‘Out of town, for a drive in the car.’

‘Wh … what? A dr … drive? And when will he be back?’

‘He said, I’ll get a breath of fresh air and come back.’

‘So …’ said the puzzled Varenukha, ‘merci … kindly tell Monsieur Woland that his performance is tonight in the third part of the programme.’

‘Right. Of course. Absolutely. Urgently. Without fail. I’ll tell him,’ the receiver rapped out abruptly.

‘Goodbye,’ Varenukha said in astonishment.

‘Please accept,’ said the receiver, ‘my best, warmest greetings and wishes! For success! Luck! Complete happiness! Everything!’

But of course! Didn’t I say so!‘ the administrator cried agitatedly. ’It’s not any Yalta, he just went to the country!‘

‘Well, if that’s so,’ the findirector began, turning pale with anger, ‘it’s real swinishness, there’s even no name for it!’

Here the administrator jumped up and shouted so that Rimsky gave a start:

‘I remember! I remember! They’ve opened a new Georgian tavern in Pushkino called “Yalta”! It’s all clear! He went there, got drunk, and now he’s sending telegrams from there!’

‘Well, now that’s too much!’ Rimsky answered, his cheek twitching, and deep, genuine anger burned in his eyes. ‘Well, then, he’s going to pay dearly for this little excursion! …’ He suddenly faltered and added irresolutely: ‘But what about the criminal investlgation …’

‘It’s nonsense! His own little jokes,’ the expansive administrator interrupted, and asked: ‘Shall I take the envelope?’

‘Absolutely,’ replied Rimsky.

And again the door opened and in came that same … ‘Her!’ thought Rimsky, for some reason with anguish. And both men rose to meet the postwoman.

This time the telegram contained the words:

‘Thank you confirmation send five hundred urgently criminal investigation my name tomorrow fly Moscow Likhodeev.’

‘He’s lost his mind …’ Varenukha said weakly.

Rimsky jingled his key, took money from the fireproof safe, counted out five hundred roubles, rang the bell, handed the messenger the money, and sent him to the telegraph office.

‘Good heavens, Grigory Danilovich,’ Varenukha said, not believing his eyes, ‘in my opinion you oughtn’t to send the money.’

‘It’ll come back,’ Rimsky replied quietly, ‘but he’ll have a hard time explaining this little picnic.’ And he added, indicating the briefcase to Varenukha: ‘Go, Ivan Savelyevich, don’t delay.’

And Varenukha ran out of the office with the briefcase.

He went down to the ground floor, saw the longest line at the box office, found out from the box-office girl that she expected to sell out within the hour, because the public was simply pouring in since the additional poster had been put up, told the girl to earmark and hold thirty of the best seats in the gallery and the stalls, popped out of the box office, shook off importunate pass-seekers as he ran, and dived into his little office to get his cap. At that moment the telephone rattled.

‘Yes!’ Varenukha shouted.

‘Ivan Savelyevich?’ the receiver inquired in a most repulsive nasal voice.

‘He’s not in the theatre!’ Varenukha was shouting, but the receiver interrupted him at once:

‘Don’t play the fool, Ivan Savelyevich, just listen. Do not take those telegrams anywhere or show them to anyone.’

‘Who is this?’ Varenukha bellowed. ‘Stop these jokes, citizen! You’ll be found out at once! What’s your number?’

‘Varenukha,’ the same nasty voice returned, ‘do you understand Russian? Don’t take the telegrams anywhere.’

‘Ah, so you won’t stop?’ the administrator cried furiously. ‘Look out, then! You’re going to pay for it!’ He shouted some other threat, but fell silent, because he sensed that no one was listening to him any longer in the receiver.

Here it somehow began to grow dark very quickly in his little office. Varenukha ran out, slammed the door behind him, and rushed through the side entrance into the summer garden.

The administrator was agitated and full of energy. After the insolent phone call he had no doubts that it was a band of hooligans playing nasty tricks, and that these tricks were connected with the disappearance of Likhodeev. The administrator was choking with the desire to expose the malefactors, and, strange as it was, the anticipation of something enjoyable was born in him. It happens that way when a man strives to become the centre of attention, to bring sensational news somewhere.

In the garden the wind blew in the administrator’s face and flung sand in his eyes, as if blocking his way, as if cautioning him. A window on the second floor slammed so that the glass nearly broke, the tops of the maples and lindens rustled alarmingly. It became darker and colder. The administrator rubbed his eyes and saw that a yellow-bellied storm cloud was creeping low over Moscow. There came a dense, distant rumbling.

However great Varenukha’s hurry, an irrepressible desire pulled at him to run over to the summer toilet for a second on his way, to check whether the repairman had put a wire screen over the light-bulb.

Running past the shooting gallery, Varenukha came to a thick growth of lilacs where the light-blue toilet building stood. The repairman turned out to be an efficient fellow, the bulb under the roof of the gentlemen’s side was covered with a wire screen, but the administrator was upset that even in the pre-storm darkness one could make out that the walls were already written all over in charcoal and pencil.

‘Well, what sort of…’ the administrator began and suddenly heard a voice purring behind him:

‘Is that you, Ivan Savelyevich?’

Varenukha started, turned around, and saw before him a short, fat man with what seemed to him a cat-like physiognomy.

‘So, it’s me, Varenukha answered hostilely.’

‘Very, very glad,’ the cat-like fat man responded in a squeaky voice and, suddenly swinging his arm, gave Varenukha such a blow on the ear that the cap flew off the administrator’s head and vanished without a trace down the hole in the seat.

At the fat man’s blow, the whole toilet lit up momentarily with a tremulous light, and a roll of thunder echoed in the sky. Then came another flash and a second man emerged before the administrator — short, but with athletic shoulders, hair red as fire, albugo in one eye, a fang in his mouth … This second one, evidently a lefty, socked the administrator on the other ear. In response there was another roll of thunder in the sky, and rain poured down on the wooden roof of the toilet.

‘What is it, comr …’ the half-crazed administrator whispered, realized at once that the word ‘comrades’ hardly fitted bandits attacking a man in a public toilet, rasped out: ’citiz …‘ — figured that they did not merit this appellation either, and received a third terrible blow from he did not know which of them, so that blood gushed from his nose on to his Tolstoy blouse.

‘What you got in the briefcase, parasite?’ the one resembling a cat cried shrilly. ‘Telegrams? Weren’t you warned over the phone not to take them anywhere? Weren’t you warned, I’m asking you?’

‘I was wor … wer … warned …’ the administrator answered, suffocating.

‘And you skipped off anyway? Gimme the briefcase, vermin!’ the second one cried in the same nasal voice that had come over the telephone, and he yanked the briefcase from Varenukha’s trembling hands.

And the two picked the administrator up under the arms, dragged him out of the garden, and raced down Sadovaya with him. The storm raged at full force, water streamed with a noise and howling down the drains, waves bubbled and billowed everywhere, water gushed from the roofs past the drainpipes, foamy streams ran from gateways. Everything living got washed off Sadovaya, and there was no one to save Ivan Savelyevich. Leaping through muddy rivers, under flashes of lightning, the bandits dragged the half-alive administrator in a split second to no. 302-bis, flew with him through the gateway, where two barefoot women, holding their shoes and stockings in their hands, pressed themselves to the wall. Then they dashed into the sixth entrance, and Varenukha, nearly insane, was taken up to the fifth floor and thrown down in the semi-dark front hall, so well known to him, of Styopa Likhodeev’s apartment.

Here the two robbers vanished, and in their place there appeared in the front hall a completely naked girl — red-haired, her eyes burning with a phosphorescent gleam.

Varenukha understood that this was the most terrible of all things that had ever happened to him and, moaning, recoiled against the wall. But the girl came right up to the administrator and placed the palms of her hands on his shoulders. Varenukha’s hair stood on end, because even through the cold, water-soaked cloth of his Tolstoy blouse he could feel that those palms were still colder, that their cold was the cold of ice.

‘Let me give you a kiss,’ the girl said tenderly, and there were shining eyes right in front of his eyes. Then Varenukha fainted and never felt the kiss.

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