Nikanor Ivanovich Bosoi, chairman of the tenants' association of No.
302A, Sadovaya Street, Moscow, where the late Berlioz had lived, was in
trouble. It had all begun on the previous Wednesday night.
At midnight, as we already know, the police had arrived with Zheldybin,
had hauled Nikanor Ivanovich out of bed, told him of Berlioz's death and
followed him to flat No. 50. There they had sealed the deceased's papers and
personal effects. Neither Grunya the maid, who lived out, nor the imprudent
Stepan Bogdanovich were in the flat at the time. The police informed Nikanor
Ivanovich that they would call later to collect Berlioz's manuscripts for
sorting and examination and that his accommodation, consisting of three
rooms (the jeweller's study, drawing-room and dining-room) would revert to
the tenants' association for disposal. His effects were to be kept under
seal until the legatees' claims were proved by the court.
The news of Berlioz's death spread through the building with
supernatural speed and from seven o'clock on Thursday morning Bosoi started
to get telephone calls. After that people began calling in person with
written pleas of their urgent need of vacant housing space. Within the space
of two hours Nikanor Ivanovich had collected thirty-two such statements.
They contained entreaties, threats, intrigue, denunciations, promises
to redecorate the flat, remarks about overcrowding and the impossibility of
sharing a flat with bandits. Among them was a description, shattering in its
literary power, of the theft of some meat-balls from someone's jacket pocket
in flat No. 31, two threats of suicide and one confession of secret
Nikanor Ivanovich was again and again taken aside with a wink and
assured in whispers that he would do well on the deal....
This torture lasted until one o'clock, when Nikanor Ivanovich simply
ran out of his flat by the main entrance, only to run away again when he
found them lying in wait for him outside. Somehow contriving to throw off
the people who chased him across the asphalt courtyard, Nikanor Ivanovich
took refuge in staircase 6 and climbed to the fatal apartment.
Panting with exertion, the stout Nikanor Ivanovich rang the bell on the
fifth-floor landing. No one opened. He rang again and again and began to
swear quietly. Still no answer. Nikanor Ivanovich's patience gave way and
pulling a bunch of duplicate keys from his pocket he opened the door with a
masterful flourish and walked in.
' Hello, there! ' shouted Nikanor Ivanovich in the dim hallway. ' Are
you there, Grunya? '
Nikanor Ivanovich then took a folding ruler out of his pocket, used it
to prise the seal from the study door and strode in. At least he began by
striding in, but stopped in the doorway with a start of amazement.
Behind Berlioz's desk sat a tall, thin stranger in a check jacket,
jockey cap and pince-nez. . . .
' And who might you be, citizen? ' asked Nikanor Ivanovich.
' Nikanor Ivanovich! ' cried the mysterious stranger in a quavering
tenor. He leaped up and greeted the chairman with an unexpectedly powerful
handshake which Nikanor Ivanovich found extremely painful.
' Pardon me,' he said suspiciously, ' but who are you? Are you somebody
' Ah, Nikanor Ivanovich! ' said the stranger in a man-to-man voice. '
Who is official and who is unofficial these days? It all depends on your
point of view. It's all so vague and changeable, Nikanor Ivanovich. Today
I'm unofficial, tomorrow, hey presto! I'm official! Or maybe vice-versa--who
None of this satisfied the chairman. By nature a suspicious man, he
decided that this voluble individual was not only unofficial but had no
business to be there.
' Who are you? What's your name? ' said the chairman firmly, advancing
on the stranger.
' My name,' replied the man, quite unmoved by this hostile reception, '
is . . . er . . . let's say . . . Koroviev. Wouldn't you like a bite to eat,
Nikanor Ivanovich? As we're friends? '
' Look here,' said Nikanor Ivanovich disagreeably, ' what the hell do
you mean--eat? ' (Sad though it is to admit, Nikanor Ivanovich had no
manners.) ' You're not allowed to come into a dead man's flat! What are you
doing here? '
' Now just sit down, Nikanor Ivanovich,' said the imperturbable
stranger in a wheedling voice, offering Nikanor Ivanovich a chair.
Infuriated, Nikanor Ivanovich kicked the chair away and yelled:
' Who are you? '
' I am employed as interpreter to a foreign gentleman residing in this
flat,' said the self-styled Koroviev by way of introduction as he clicked
the heels of his dirty brown boots.
Nikanor Ivanovich's mouth fell open. A foreigner in this flat, complete
with interpreter, was a total surprise to him and he demanded an
This the interpreter willingly supplied. Monsieur Woland, an artiste
from abroad, had been kindly invited by the manager of the Variety Theatre,
Stepan Bogdanovich Likhodeyev, to spend his stay as a guest artiste, about a
week, in his flat. Likhodeyev had written to Nikanor Ivanovich about it
yesterday, requesting him to register the gentlemen from abroad as a
temporary resident while Likhodeyev himself was away in Yalta.
' But he hasn't written to me,' said the bewildered chairman.
' Take a look in your briefcase, Nikanor Ivanovich,' suggested Koroviev
Shrugging his shoulders Nikanor Ivanovich opened his briefcase and
found a letter from Likhodeyev. ' Now how could I have forgotten that? '
mumbled Nikanor Ivanovich, gazing stupidly at the opened envelope.
' It happens to the best of us, Nikanor Ivanovich! ' cackled Koroviev.
' Absent-mindedness, overstrain and high blood-pressure, my dear friend!
Why, I'm horribly absent-minded. Some time over a glass or two I'll tell you
a few things that have happened to me--you'll die with laughter! '
' When is Likhodeyev going to Yalta? '
' He's already gone,' cried the interpreter. ' He's on his way there.
God knows where he is by now.' And the interpreter waved his arms like
Nikanor Ivanovich announced that he had to see the foreign gentleman in
person, but this was refused. It was quite out of the question. Monsieur
Woland was busy. Training his cat.
' You can see the cat if you like,' suggested Koroviev.
This Nikanor Ivanovich declined and the interpreter then made him an
unexpected but most interesting proposal: since Monsieur Woland could not
bear staying in hotels and was used to spacious quarters, couldn't the
tenants' association lease him the whole flat for his week's stay, including
the dead man's rooms?
' After all, what does he care? He's dead,' hissed Koroviev in a
whisper. ' You must admit the flat's no use to him now, is it?'
In some perplexity Nikanor Ivanovich objected that foreigners were
normally supposed to stay at the Metropole and not in private accommodation
. . .
' I tell you he's so fussy, you'd never believe it,' whispered
Koroviev. ' He simply refuses! He hates hotels! I can tell you I'm fed up
with these foreign tourists,' complained Koroviev confidentially. ' They
wear me out. They come here and either they go spying and snooping or they
send me mad with their whims and fancies--this isn't right, that isn't just
so! And there'd be plenty in it for your association, Nikanor Ivanovich.
He's not short of money.' Koroviev glanced round and then whispered in the
chairman's ear : ' He's a millionaire!'
The suggestion was obviously a sensible one, but there was something
ridiculous about his manner, his clothes and that absurd, useless pince-nez
that all combined to make Nikanor Ivanovich vaguely uneasy. However he
agreed to the suggestion. The tenants' association, alas, was showing an
enormous deficit. In the autumn they would have to buy oil for the steam
heating plant and there was not a kopeck in the till, but with this
foreigner's money they might just manage it. Nikanor Ivanovich, however,
practical and cautious as ever, insisted on clearing the matter with the
' Of course! ' cried Koroviev. ' It must be done properly. There's the
telephone, Nikanor Ivanovich, ring them up right away! And don't worry about
money,' he added in a whisper as he led the chairman to the telephone in the
hall, ' if anyone can pay handsomely, he can. If you could see his villa in
Nice! When you go abroad next summer you must go there specially and have a
look at it--you'll be amazed! '
The matter was fixed with the tourist bureau with astonishing ease and
speed. The bureau appeared to know all about Monsieur Woland's intention to
stay in Likodeyev's flat and raised no objections.
' Excellent! ' cried Koroviev.
Slightly stupefied by this man's incessant cackling, the chairman
announced that the tenants' association was prepared to lease flat No. 50 to
Monsieur Woland the artiste at a rent of ... Nikanor Ivanovich stammered a
little and said :
' Five hundred roubles a day.'
At this Koroviev surpassed himself. Winking conspiratorially towards
the bedroom door, through which they could hear a series of soft thumps as
the cat practised its leaps, he said :
' So for a week that would amount to three and a half thousand,
wouldn't it? '
Nikanor Ivanovich quite expected the man to add ' Greedy, aren't you,
Nikanor Ivanovich? ' but instead he said:
' That's not much. Ask him for five thousand, he'll pay.'
Grinning with embarrassment, Nikanor Ivanovich did not even notice how
he suddenly came to be standing beside Berlioz's desk and how Koroviev had
managed with such incredible speed and dexterity to draft a contract in
duplicate. This done, he flew into the bedroom and returned with the two
copies signed in the stranger's florid hand. The chairman signed in turn and
Koroviev asked him to make out a receipt for five . . .
' Write it out in words, Nikanor Ivanovich. " Five thousand roubles ".'
Then with a flourish which seemed vaguely out of place in such a serious
matter--' Eins! 'yvei! drei! '--he laid five bundles of brand-new banknotes
on the table.
Nikanor Ivanovich checked them, to an accompaniment of witticisms from
Koroviev of the ' better safe than sorry ' variety. Having counted the money
the chairman took the stranger's passport to be stamped with his temporary
residence permit, put contract, passport and money into his briefcase and
asked shyly for a free ticket to the show . . .
' But of course! ' exclaimed Koroviev. ' How many do you want, Nikanor
Ivanovich--twelve, fifteen? '
Overwhelmed, the chairman explained that he only wanted two, one for
his wife Pelagea Antonovna and one for himself.
Koroviev seized a note-pad and dashed off an order to the box office
for two complimentary tickets in the front row. As the interpreter handed it
to Nikanor Ivanovich with his left hand, with his right he gave him a thick,
crackling package. Glancing at it Nikanor Ivanovich blushed hard and started
to push it away.
' It's not proper . . .'
' I won't hear any objection,' Koroviev whispered right in his ear. '
We don't do this sort of thing but foreigners do. You'll offend him, Nikanor
Ivanovich, and that might be awkward. You've earned it . . .'
' It's strictly forbidden . . .' whispered the chairman in a tiny
voice, with a furtive glance around.
' Where are the witnesses? ' hissed Koroviev into his other ear. ' I
ask you--where are they? Come, now . . .'
There then happened what the chairman later described as a miracle--the
package jumped into his briefcase of its own accord, after which he found
himself, feeling weak and battered, on the staircase. A storm of thoughts
was whirling round inside his head. Among them were the villa in Nice, the
trained cat, relief that there had been no witnesses and his wife's pleasure
at the complimentary tickets. Yet despite these mostly comforting thoughts,
in the depths of his soul the chairman still felt the pricking of a little
needle. It was the needle of unease. Suddenly, halfway down the staircase,
something else occurred to him-- how had that interpreter found his way into
the study past a sealed door? And why on earth had he, Nikanor Ivanovich,
forgotten to ask him about it? For a while the chairman stared at the steps
like a sheep, then decided to forget it and not to bother himself with
imaginary problems . . .
As soon as the chairman had left the flat a low voice came from the
' I don't care for that Nikanor Ivanovich. He's a sly rogue. Why not
fix it so that he doesn't come here again? '
' Messire, you only have to give the order . . .' answered Koroviev in
a firm, clear voice that no longer quavered.
At once the diabolical interpreter was in the hall, had dialled a
number and started to speak in a whining voice :
' Hullo! I consider it my duty to report that the chairman of our
tenants' association at No. 302A Sadovaya Street, Nikanor Ivanovich Bosoi,
is dealing in black-market foreign currency. He has just stuffed four
hundred dollars wrapped in newspaper into the ventilation shaft of the
lavatory in his flat. No. 3 5. My name is Timothy Kvastsov and I live in the
same block, flat No. 11. But please keep my name a secret. I'm afraid of
what that man may do if he finds out . . .'
And with that the scoundrel hung up.
What happened after that in No. 50 is a mystery, although what happened
to Nikanor Ivanovich is common knowledge. Locking himself in the lavatory,
he pulled the package out of his briefcase and found that it contained four
hundred roubles. He wrapped it up in a sheet of old newspaper and pushed it
into the ventilation shaft. Five minutes later he was sitting down at table
in his little dining-room. From the kitchen his wife brought in a pickled
herring, sliced and thickly sprinkled with raw onion. Nikanor Ivanovich
poured himself a wineglassful of vodka, drank it, poured out another, drank
that, speared three slices of herring on his fork . . . and then the
doorbell rang. Pelagea Antonovna was just bringing in a steaming casserole,
one glance at which was enough to tell you that in the midst of all that
hot, thick borsch was one of the most delicious things in the world --a
Gulping down his running saliva, Nikanor Ivanovich snarled :
' Who the hell is that--at this hour! They won't even allow a man to
eat his supper. . . . Don't let anybody in--I'm not at home.... If it's
about the flat tell them to stop worrying. There'll be a committee meeting
about it in a week's time.'
His wife ran into the hall and Nikanor Ivanovich ladled the quivering
marrow bone out of its steaming lake. At that moment three men came into the
dining-room, followed by a very pale Pelagea Antonovna. At the sight of them
Nikanor Ivanovich turned white and got up.
' Where's the W.C.? ' enquired the first man urgently. There was a
crash as Nikanor Ivanovich dropped the ladle on to the oilcloth table-top.
' Here, in here,' babbled Pelagea Antonovna. The visitors turned and
rushed back into the passage.
' What's going on? ' asked Nikanor Ivanovich as he followed them. ' You
can't just burst into our flat like that . . . Where's your identity card if
you don't mind? '
The first man showed Nikanor Ivanovich his identity card while the
second clambered up on to a stool in the lavatory and thrust his arm into
the ventilation shaft. Nikanor Ivanovich began to feel faint. They unwrapped
the sheet of newspaper to find that the banknotes in the package were not
roubles but some unknown foreign money--bluish-green in colour with a
picture of an old man. Nikanor Ivanovich, however, saw none of it very
clearly because spots were swimming in front of his eyes.
' Dollars in the ventilation shaft. . . .' said the first man
thoughtfully and asked Nikanor Ivanovich politely : * Is this your little
' No! ' replied Nikanor Ivanovich in a terrified voice. ' It's been
planted on me!'
' Could be,' agreed the first man, adding as quietly as before :
' Still, you'd better give up the rest.'
' There isn't any more! I swear to God I've never even seen any! '
screamed the chairman in desperation. He rushed to a chest, pulled out a
drawer and out of that his briefcase, shouting distractedly as he did so :
' It's all in here . . . the contract . . . that interpreter must have
planted them on me . . . Koroviev, the man in the pince-nez!'
He opened the briefcase, looked inside, thrust his hand in, turned blue
in the face and dropped his briefcase into the borsch. There was nothing in
it--no letter from Stepan, no contract, no passport, no money and no
complimentary tickets. Nothing, in short, except a folding ruler.
* Comrades!' screamed the chairman frantically. ' Arrest them! The
forces of evil are in this house!'
Something odd happened to Pelagea Antonovna at this point. Wringing her
hands she cried :
' Confess, Nikanor! They'll reduce your sentence if you do! '
Eyes bloodshot, Nikanor Ivanovich raised his clenched fists over his
wife's head and screamed :
' Aaah! You stupid bitch! '
Then he crumpled and fell into a chair, having obviously decided to bow
to the inevitable. Meanwhile, out on the landing, Timothy Kondratievich
Kvastsov was pressing first his ear then his eye to the keyhole of the
chairman's front door, burning with curiosity.
Five minutes later the tenants saw the chairman led out into the
courtyard by two men. Nikanor Ivanovich, so they said later, had been
scarcely recognisable--staggering like a drunkard and muttering to himself.
Another hour after that a stranger appeared at flat No. n just when
Timothy Kondratievich, gulping with pleasure, was describing to some other
tenants how the chairman had been whisked away; the stranger beckoned
Timothy Kondratievich out of his kitchen into the hall, said something and
took him away.
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