فصل 09

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فصل 09

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CHAPTER 9

Koroviev’s Stunts

Nikanor Ivanovich Bosoy, chairman of the tenants’ association1 of no. 302-bis on Sadovaya Street in Moscow, where the late Berlioz used to reside, had been having the most terrible troubles, starting from that Wednesday night.

At midnight, as we already know, a commission of which Zheldybin formed a part came to the house, summoned Nikanor Ivanovich, told him about the death of Berlioz, and together with him went to apartment no. 50.

There the sealing of the deceased’s manuscripts and belongings was carried out. Neither Grunya, the daytime housekeeper, nor the light-minded Stepan Bogdanovich was there at the time. The commission announced to Nikanor Ivanovich that it would take the deceased’s manuscripts for sorting out, that his living space, that is, three rooms (the former study, living room and dining room of the jeweller’s wife), reverted to the disposal of the tenants’ association, and that the belongings were to be kept in the aforementioned living space until the heirs were announced.

The news of Berlioz’s death spread through the whole house with a sort of supernatural speed, and as of seven o‘clock Thursday morning, Bosoy began to receive telephone calls and then personal visits with declarations containing claims to the deceased’s living space. In the period of two hours, Nikanor Ivanovich received thirty-two such declarations.

They contained pleas, threats, libels, denunciations, promises to do renovations at their own expense, references to unbearable overcrowding and the impossibility of living in the same apartment with bandits. Among others there were a description, staggering in its artistic power, of the theft from apartment no. 31 of some meat dumplings, tucked directly into the pocket of a suit jacket, two vows to end life by suicide and one confession of secret pregnancy.

Nikanor Ivanovich was called out to the front hall of his apartment, plucked by the sleeve, whispered to, winked at, promised that he would not be left the loser.

This torture went on until noon, when Nikanor Ivanovich simply fled his apartment for the management office by the gate, but when he saw them lying in wait for him there, too, he fled that place as well. Having somehow shaken off those who followed on his heels across the asphalt-paved courtyard, Nikanor Ivanovich disappeared into the sixth entrance and went up to the fifth floor, where this vile apartment no. 50 was located.

After catching his breath on the landing, the corpulent Nikanor Ivanovich rang, but no one opened for him. He rang again, and then again, and started grumbling and swearing quietly. Even then no one opened. His patience exhausted, Nikanor Ivanovich took from his pocket a bunch of duplicate keys belonging to the house management, opened the door with a sovereign hand, and went in.

‘Hey, housekeeper!’ Nikanor Ivanovich cried in the semi-dark front hall. ‘Grunya, or whatever your name is! … Are you here?’

No one responded.

Then Nikanor Ivanovich took a folding ruler from his briefcase, removed the seal from the door to the study, and stepped in. Stepped in, yes, but halted in amazement in the doorway and even gave a start.

At the deceased’s desk sat an unknown, skinny, long citizen in a little checkered jacket, a jockey’s cap, and a pince-nez … well, in short, that same one.

‘And who might you be, citizen?’ Nikanor Ivanovich asked fearfully.

‘Hah! Nikanor Ivanovich!’ the unexpected citizen yelled in a rattling tenor and, jumping up, greeted the chairman with a forced and sudden handshake. This greeting by no means gladdened Nikanor Ivanovich.

‘Excuse me,’ he said suspiciously, ‘but who might you be? Are you an official person?’

‘Eh, Nikanor Ivanovich!’ the unknown man exclaimed soulfully. ‘What are official and unofficial persons? It all depends on your point of view on the subject. It’s all fluctuating and relative, Nikanor Ivanovich. Today I’m an unofficial person, and tomorrow, lo and behold, I’m an official one! And it also happens the other way round — oh, how it does!’

This argument in no way satisfied the chairman of the house management. Being a generally suspicious person by nature, he concluded that the man holding forth in front of him was precisely an unofficial person, and perhaps even an idle one.

‘Yes, but who might you be? What’s your name?’ the chairman inquired with increasing severity and even began to advance upon the unknown man.

‘My name,’ the citizen responded, not a bit put out by the severity, ‘well, let’s say it’s Koroviev. But wouldn’t you like a little snack, Nikanor Ivanovich? No formalities, eh?’

‘Excuse me,’ Nikanor Ivanovich began, indignantly now, ‘what have snacks got to do with it!’ (We must confess, unpleasant as it is, that Nikanor Ivanovich was of a somewhat rude nature.) ‘Sitting in the deceased’s half is not permitted! What are you doing here?’

‘Have a seat, Nikanor Ivanovich,’ the citizen went on yelling, not a bit at a loss, and began fussing about offering the chairman a seat.

Utterly infuriated, Nikanor Ivanovich rejected the seat and screamed:

‘But who are you?’

‘I, if you please, serve as interpreter for a foreign individual who has taken up residence in this apartment,’ the man calling himself Koroviev introduced himself and clicked the heels of his scuffed, unpolished shoes.

Nikanor Ivanovich opened his mouth. The presence of some foreigner in this apartment, with an interpreter to boot, came as a complete surprise to him, and he demanded explanations.

The interpreter explained willingly. A foreign artiste, Mr Woland, had been kindly invited by the director of the Variety, Stepan Bogdanovich Likhodeev, to spend the time of his performances, a week or so, in his apartment, about which he had written to Nikanor Ivanovich yesterday, requesting that he register the foreigner as a temporary resident, while Likhodeev himself took a trip to Yalta.

‘He never wrote me anything,’ the chairman said in amazement.

‘Just look through your briefcase, Nikanor Ivanovich,’ Koroviev suggested sweetly.

Nikanor Ivanovich, shrugging his shoulders, opened the briefcase and found Likhodeev’s letter in it.

‘How could I have forgotten about it?’ Nikanor Ivanovich muttered, looking dully at the opened envelope.

‘All sorts of things happen, Nikanor Ivanovich, all sorts!’ Koroviev rattled. ‘Absent-mindedness, absent-mindedness, fatigue and high blood pressure, my dear friend Nikanor Ivanovich! I’m terribly absent-minded myself! Someday, over a glass, I’ll tell you a few facts from my biography — you’ll die laughing!’

‘And when is Likhodeev going to Yalta?’

‘He’s already gone, gone!’ the interpreter cried. ‘He’s already wheeling along, you know! He’s already devil knows where!’ And here the interpreter waved his arms like the wings of a windmill.

Nikanor Ivanovich declared that he must see the foreigner in person, but got a refusal on that from the interpreter. quite impossible. He’s busy. Training the cat.

The cat I can show you, if you like,‘ Koroviev offered.

This Nikanor Ivanovich refused in his turn, and the interpreter straight away made the chairman an unexpected but quite interesting proposal: seeing that Mr Woland had no desire whatsoever to live in a hotel, and was accustomed to having a lot of space, why shouldn’t the tenants’ association rent to him, Woland, for one little week, the time of his performances in Moscow, the whole of the apartment, that is, the deceased’s rooms as well?

It’s all the same to him — the deceased — you must agree, Nikanor Ivanovich,‘ Koroviev whispered hoarsely. ’He doesn’t need the apartment now, does he?‘

Nikanor Ivanovich, somewhat perplexed, objected that foreigners ought to live at the Metropol, and not in private apartments at all …

‘I’m telling you, he’s capricious as devil knows what!’ Koroviev whispered. ‘He just doesn’t want to! He doesn’t like hotels! I’ve had them up to here, these foreign tourists!’ Koroviev complained confidentially, jabbing his finger at his sinewy neck. ‘Believe me, they wring the soul right out of you! They come and either spy on you like the lowest son of a bitch, or else torment you with their caprices - this isn’t right and that isn’t right! … And for your association, Nikanor Ivanovich, it’s a sheer gain and an obvious profit. He won’t stint on money.’ Koroviev looked around and then whispered into the chairman’s ear: ‘A millionaire!’

The interpreter’s offer made clear practical sense, it was a very solid offer, yet there was something remarkably unsolid in his manner of speaking, and in his clothes, and in that loathsome, good-for-nothing pince-nez. As a result, something vague weighed on the chairman’s soul, but he nevertheless decided to accept the offer. The thing was that the tenants’ association, alas, had quite a sizeable deficit. Fuel had to be bought for the heating system by fall, but who was going to shell out for it — no one knew. But with the foreign tourist’s money, it might be possible to wriggle out of it. However, the practical and prudent Nikanor Ivanovich said he would first have to settle the question with the foreign tourist bureau.

‘I understand!’ Koroviev cried out. ‘You’ve got to settle it! Absolutely! Here’s the telephone, Nikanor Ivanovich, settle it at once! And don’t be shy about the money,’ he added in a whisper, drawing the chairman to the telephone in the front hall, ‘if he won’t pay, who will! You should see the villa he’s got in Nice! Next summer, when you go abroad, come especially to see it — you’ll gasp!’

The business with the foreign tourist bureau was arranged over the phone with an extraordinary speed, quite amazing to the chairman. It turned out that they already knew about Mr Woland’s intention of staying in Likhodeev’s private apartment and had no objections to it.

‘That’s wonderful!’ Koroviev yelled. Somewhat stunned by his chatter, the chairman announced that the tenants’ association agreed to rent apartment no. 50 for a week to the artiste Woland, for … Nikanor Ivanovich faltered a little, then said:

‘For five hundred roubles a day.’

Here Koroviev utterly amazed the chairman. Winking thievishly in the direction of the bedroom, from which the soft leaps of a heavy cat could be heard, he rasped out:

‘So it comes to three thousand five hundred for the week?’

To which Nikanor Ivanovich thought he was going to add: ‘Some appetite you’ve got, Nikanor Ivanovich!’ but Koroviev said something quite different:

‘What kind of money is that? Ask five, he’ll pay it.’

Grinning perplexedly, Nikanor Ivanovich, without noticing how, found himself at the deceased’s writing desk, where Koroviev with great speed and dexterity drew up a contract in two copies. Then he flew to the bedroom with them and came back, both copies now bearing the foreigner’s sweeping signature. The chairman also signed the contract. Here Koroviev asked for a receipt for five …

‘Write it out, write it out, Nikanor Ivanovich! … thousand roubles …’ And with words somehow unsuited to serious business - ‘Ein, zwei, drei!’ — he laid out for the chairman five stacks of new banknotes.

The counting-up took place, interspersed with Koroviev’s quips and quiddities, such as ‘Cash loves counting’, ‘Your own eye won’t lie’, and others of the same sort.

After counting the money, the chairman received from Koroviev the foreigner’s passport for temporary registration, put it, together with the contract and the money, into his briefcase, and, somehow unable to help himself, sheepishly asked for a free pass …

‘Don’t mention it!’ bellowed Koroviev. ‘How many tickets do you want, Nikanor Ivanovich — twelve, fifteen?’

The flabbergasted chairman explained that all he needed was a couple of passes, for himself and Pelageya Antonovna, his wife.

Koroviev snatched out a notebook at once and dashed off a pass for Nikanor Ivanovich, for two persons in the front row. And with his left hand the interpreter deftly slipped this pass to Nikanor Ivanovich, while with his right he put into the chairman’s other hand a thick, crackling wad. Casting an eye on it, Nikanor Ivanovich blushed deeply and began to push it away.

‘It isn’t done …’ he murmured.

‘I won’t hear of it,’ Koroviev whispered right in his ear. ‘With us it’s not done, but with foreigners it is. You’ll offend him, Nikanor Ivanovich, and that’s embarrassing. You’ve worked hard …’

‘It’s severely punishable,’ the chairman whispered very, very softly and glanced over his shoulder.

‘But where are the witnesses?’ Koroviev whispered into his other ear. ‘I ask you, where are they? You don’t think … ?’

Here, as the chairman insisted afterwards, a miracle occurred: the wad crept into his briefcase by itself. And then the chairman, somehow limp and even broken, found himself on the stairs. A whirlwind of thoughts raged in his head. There was the villa in Nice, and the trained cat, and the thought that there were in fact no witnesses, and that Pelageya Antonovna would be delighted with the pass. They were incoherent thoughts, but generally pleasant. But, all the same, somewhere, some little needle kept pricking the chairman in the very bottom of his soul. This was the needle of anxiety. Besides, right then on the stairs the chairman was seized, as with a stroke, by the thought: ‘But how did the interpreter get into the study if the door was sealed?! And how was it that he, Nikanor Ivanovich, had not asked about it?’ For some time the chairman stood staring like a sheep at the steps of the stairway, but then he decided to spit on it and not torment himself with intricate questions …

As soon as the chairman left the apartment, a low voice came from the bedroom:

‘I didn’t like this Nikanor Ivanovich. He is a chiseller and a crook. Can it be arranged so that he doesn’t come any more?’

‘Messire, you have only to say the word …’ Koroviev responded from somewhere, not in a rattling but in a very clear and resounding voice.

And at once the accursed interpreter turned up in the front hall, dialled a number there, and for some reason began speaking very tearfully into the receiver:

‘Hello! I consider it my duty to inform you that the chairman of our tenants’ association at no. 302-bis on Sadovaya, Nikanor Ivanovich Bosoy, is speculating in foreign currency.2 At the present moment, in his apartment no. 35, he has four hundred dollars wrapped up in newspaper in the ventilation of the privy. This is Timofei Kvastsov speaking, a tenant of the said house, apartment no. 11. But I adjure you to keep my name a secret. I fear the vengeance of the above-stated chairman.’

And he hung up, the scoundrel!

What happened next in apartment no. 50 is not known, but it is known what happened at Nikanor Ivanovich’s. Having locked himself in the privy with the hook, he took from his briefcase the wad foisted on him by the interpreter and satisfied himself that it contained four hundred roubles. Nikanor Ivanovich wrapped this wad in a scrap of newspaper and put it into the ventilation duct.

Five minutes later the chairman was sitting at the table in his small dining room. His wife brought pickled herring from the kitchen, neatly sliced and thickly sprinkled with green onion. Nikanor Ivanovich poured himself a dram of vodka, drank it, poured another, drank it, picked up three pieces of herring on his fork … and at that moment the doorbell rang. Pelageya Antonovna was just bringing in a steaming pot which, one could tell at once from a single glance, contained, amidst a fiery borscht, that than which there is nothing more delicious in the world — a marrow bone.

Swallowing his spittle, Nikanor Ivanovich growled like a dog:

‘Damn them all! Won’t allow a man to eat … Don’t let anyone in, I’m not here, not here … If it’s about the apartment, tell them to stop blathering, there’ll be a meeting next week.’

His wife ran to the front hall, while Nikanor Ivanovich, using a ladle, drew from the fire-breathing lake - it, the bone, cracked lengthwise. And at that moment two citizens entered the dining room, with Pelageya Antonovna following them, for some reason looking very pale. Seeing the citizens, Nikanor Ivanovich also turned white and stood up.

‘Where’s the jakes?’ the first one, in a white side-buttoned shirt, asked with a preoccupied air.

Something thudded against the dining table (this was Nikanor Ivanovich dropping the ladle on to the oilcloth).

This way, this way,‘ Pelageya Antonovna replied in a patter.

And the visitors immediately hastened to the corridor.

‘What’s the matter?’ Nikanor Ivanovich asked quietly, going after the visitors. There can’t be anything like that in our apartment … And — your papers … begging your pardon…‘

The first, without stopping, showed Nikanor Ivanovich a paper, and the second was at the same moment standing on a stool in the privy, his arm in the ventilation duct. Everything went dark in Nikanor Ivanovich’s eyes. The newspaper was removed, but in the wad there were not roubles but some unknown money, bluish-greenish, and with the portrait of some old man. However, Nikanor Ivanovich saw it all dimly, there were some sort of spots floating in front of his eyes.

‘Dollars in the ventilation …’ the first said pensively and asked Nikanor Ivanovich gently and courteously: Tour little wad?‘

‘No!’ Nikanor Ivanovich replied in a dreadful voice. ‘Enemies stuck me with it!’

That happens,‘ the first agreed and added, again gently: ’Well, you’re going to have to turn in the rest.‘

‘I haven’t got any! I swear to God, I never laid a finger on it!’ the chairman cried out desperately.

He dashed to the chest, pulled a drawer out with a clatter, and from it the briefcase, crying out incoherently:

‘Here’s the contract… that vermin of an interpreter stuck me with it … Koroviev … in a pince-nez! …’

He opened the briefcase, glanced into it, put a hand inside, went blue in the face, and dropped the briefcase into the borscht. There was nothing in the briefcase: no letter from Styopa, no contract, no foreigner’s passport, no money, no theatre pass. In short, nothing except a folding ruler.

‘Comrades!’ the chairman cried frenziedly. ‘Catch them! There are unclean powers in our house!’

It is not known what Pelageya Antonovna imagined here, only she clasped her hands and cried:

‘Repent, Ivanych! You’ll get off lighter.’

His eyes bloodshot, Nikanor Ivanovich raised his fists over his wife’s head, croaking:

‘Ohh, you damned fool!’

Here he went slack and sank down on a chair, evidently resolved to submit to the inevitable.

During this time, Timofei Kondratievich Kvastsov stood on the landing, placing now his ear, now his eye to the keyhole of the door to the chairman’s apartment, melting with curiosity.

Five minutes later the tenants of the house who were in the courtyard saw the chairman, accompanied by two other persons, proceed directly to the gates of the house. It was said that Nikanor Ivanovich looked awful, staggered like a drunk man as he passed, and was muttering something.

And an hour after that an unknown citizen appeared in apartment no. 11, just as Timofei Kondratievich, spluttering with delight, was telling some other tenants how the chairman got pinched, motioned to Timofei Kondratievich with his finger to come from the kitchen to the front hall, said something to him, and together they vanished.

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