The women's hysterical shrieks and the sound, of police whistles died
away. Two ambulances drove on, one bearing the body and the decapitated head
to the morgue, the other carrying the beautiful tram-driver who had been
wounded by slivers of glass. Street sweepers in white overalls swept up the
broken glass and poare'd sand on the pools of blood. Ivan Nikolayich, who
had failed to reach the turnstile in time, collapsed on a bench and remained
there. Several times he tried to ge:t up, but his legs refuse d to obey him,
stricken by a kind of paralysis.
The moment he had heard the first cry the poet had rushed towards the
turnstile and seen the head bouncing on the pavement. The sight unnerved him
so much that he bit his hand until it drew blood. He had naturally forgotten
all about the mad German and could do nothing but wonder how one minute he
coald have been talking to Berlioz and the next... his head ...
Excited people were running along the avenue past the poet shouting
something, but Ivan Nikolayich did not hear them. Suddenly two women
collided alongside him and one of them, witlh a pointed nose and straight
hair, shouted to the other woman just above his ear :
' .. . Anna, it was our Anna! She was coming from Sadovaya! It's her
job, you see . . . she was carrying a litre of sunflower-seed oil to the
grocery and she broke her jug on. the turnstile! It went all over her skirt
amd ruined it and she swore and swore....! And that poor man must have
slipped on the oil and fallen under the tram....'
One word stuck in Ivan Nikolayich's brain--' Anna' . . . ' Anna? . . .
Anna? ' muttered the poet, looking round in alarm. ' Hey, what was that you
said . . .? '
The name ' Anna ' evoked the words ' sunflower-seed oil' and ' Pontius
Pilate '. Bezdomny rejected 'Pilate' and began linking together a chain of
associations starting with ' Anna'. Very soon the chain was complete and it
led straight back to the mad professor.
' Of course! He said the meeting wouldn't take place because Anna had
spilled the oil. And, by God, it won't take place now! And what's more he
said Berlioz would have his head cut off by a woman!! Yes--and the
tram-driver was a woman!!! Who the hell is he? '
There was no longer a grain of doubt that the mysterious professor had
foreseen every detail of Berlioz's death before it had occurred. Two
thoughts struck the poet: firstly--' he's no madman ' and secondly--' did he
arrange the whole thing himself?'
' But how on earth could he? We've got to look into this! '
With a tremendous effort Ivan Nikolayich got up from the bench and ran
back to where he had been talking to the professor, who was fortunately
The lamps were already lit on Bronnaya Street and a golden moon was
shining over Patriarch's Ponds. By the light of the moon, deceptive as it
always is, it seemed to Ivan Nikolayich that the thing under the professor's
arm was not a stick but a sword.
The ex-choirmaster was sitting on the seat occupied a short while
before by Ivan Nikolayich himself. The choirmaster had now clipped on to his
nose an obviously useless pince-nez. One lens was missing and the other
rattled in its frame. It made the check-suited man look even more repulsive
than when he had shown Berlioz the way to the tramlines. With a chill of
fear Ivan walked up to the professor. A glance at his face convinced him
that there was not a trace of insanity in it.
' Confess--who are you? ' asked Ivan grimly.
The stranger frowned, looked at the poet as if seeing him for the first
time, and answered disagreeably :
' No understand ... no speak Russian . . . '
' He doesn't understand,' put in the choirmaster from his bench,
although no one had asked him.
' Stop pretending! ' said Ivan threateningly, a cold feeling growing in
the pit of his stomach. ' Just now you spoke Russian perfectly well. You're
no German and you're not a professor! You're a spy and a murderer! Show me
your papers! ' cried Ivan angrily.
The enigmatic professor gave his already crooked mouth a further twist
and shrugged his shoulders.
' Look here, citizen,' put in the horrible choirmaster again. ' What do
you mean by upsetting this foreign tourist? You'll have the police after
The dubious professor put on a haughty look, turned and walked away
from Ivan, who felt himself beginning to lose his head. Gasping, he turned
to the choirmaster :
' Hey, you, help me arrest this criminal! It's your duty! '
The choirmaster leaped eagerly to his feet and bawled :
' What criminal? Where is he? A foreign criminal? ' His eyes lit up
joyfully. ' That man? If he's a criminal the first thing to do is to shout "
Stop thief! " Otherwise he'll get away. Come on, let's shout together! ' And
the choirmaster opened his mouth wide.
The stupefied Ivan obeyed and shouted ' Stop thief! ' but the
choirmaster fooled him by not making a sound.
Ivan's lonely, hoarse cry was worse than useless. A couple of girls
dodged him and he heard them say ' . .. drunk.'
' So you're in league with him, are you? ' shouted Ivan, helpless with
anger. ' Make fun of me, would you? Out of my way!'
Ivan set off towards his right and the choirmaster did the opposite,
blocking his way. Ivan moved leftward, the other to his right and the same
' Are you trying to get in my way on purpose?' screamed Ivan,
infuriated. ' You're the one I'm going to report to the police!'
Ivan tried to grab the choirmaster by the sleeve, missed and found
himself grasping nothing : it was as if the choirmaster had been swallowed
up by the ground.
With a groan Ivan looked ahead and saw the hated stranger. He had
already reached the exit leading on to Patriarch's Street and he was no
longer alone. The weird choirmaster had managed to join him. But that was
not all. The third member of the company was a cat the size of a pig, black
as soot and with luxuriant cavalry officers' whiskers. The threesome was
walking towards Patriarch's Street, the cat trotting along on its hind legs.
As he set off after the villains Ivan realised at once that it was
going to be very hard to catch them up. In a flash the three of them were
across the street and on the Spiridonovka. Ivan quickened his pace, but the
distance between him and his quarry grew no less. Before the poet had
realised it they had left the quiet Spiridonovka and were approaching Nikita
Gate, where his difficulties increased. There was a crowd and to make
matters worse the evil band had decided to use the favourite trick of
bandits on the run and split up.
With great agility the choirmaster jumped on board a moving bus bound
for Arbat Square and vanished. Having lost one of them, Ivan concentrated
his attention on the cat and saw how the strange animal walked up to the
platform of an ' A ' tram waiting at a stop, cheekily pushed off a screaming
woman, grasped the handrail and offered the conductress a ten-kopeck piece.
Ivan was so amazed by the cat's behaviour that he was frozen into
immobility beside a street corner grocery. He was struck with even greater
amazement as he watched the reaction of the conductress. Seeing the cat
board her tram, she yelled, shaking with anger:
' No cats allowed! I'm not moving with a cat on board! Go on--shoo! Get
off, or I'll call the police! '
Both conductress and passengers seemed completely oblivious of the most
extraordinary thing of all: not that a cat had boarded a tramcar--that was
after all possible--but the fact that the animal was offering to pay its
The cat proved to be not only a fare-paying but a law-abiding animal.
At the first shriek from the conductress it retreated, stepped off the
platform and sat down at the tram-stop, stroking its whiskers with the
ten-kopeck piece. But no sooner had the conductress yanked the bell-rope and
the car begun to move off, than the cat acted like anyone else who has been
pushed off a tram and is still determined to get to his destination. Letting
all three cars draw past it, the cat jumped on to the coupling-hook of the
last car, latched its paw round a pipe sticking out of one of the windows
and sailed away, having saved itself ten kopecks.
Fascinated by the odious cat, Ivan almost lost sight of the most
important of the three--the professor. Luckily he had not managed to slip
away. Ivan spotted his grey beret in the crowd at the top of Herzen Street.
In a flash Ivan was there too, but in vain. The poet speeded up to a run and
began shoving people aside, but it brought him not an inch nearer the
Confused though Ivan was, he was nevertheless astounded by the
supernatural speed of the pursuit. Less than twenty seconds after leaving
Nikita Gate Ivan Nikolayich was dazzled by the lights of Arbat Square. A few
more seconds and he was in a dark alleyway with uneven pavements where he
tripped and hurt his knee. Again a well-lit main road--Kropotkin Street--
another side-street, then Ostozhenka Street, then another grim, dirty and
badly-lit alley. It was here that Ivan Nikolayich finally lost sight of his
quarry. The professor had disappeared.
Disconcerted, but not for long, for no apparent reason Ivan Nikolayich
had a sudden intuition that the professor must be in house No. 13, flat 47.
Bursting through the front door, Ivan Nikolayich flew up the stairs,
found the right flat and impatiently rang the bell. He did not have to wait
long. The door was opened by a little girl of about five, who silently
disappeared inside again. The hall was a vast, incredibly neglected room
feebly lit by a tiny electric light that dangled in one corner from a
ceiling black with dirt. On the wall hung a bicycle without any tyres,
beneath it a huge iron-banded trunk. On the shelf over the coat-rack was a
fur cap, its long earflaps untied and hanging down. From behind one of
the doors a man's voice could be heard booming from the radio, angrily
Not at all put out by these unfamiliar surroundings, Ivan Nikolayich
made straight for the corridor, thinking to himself:
' He's obviously hiding in the bathroom.' The passage was dark. Bumping
into the walls, Ivan saw a faint streak of light under a doorway. He groped
for the handle and gave it a gentle turn. The door opened and Ivan found
himself in luck--it was the bathroom.
However it wasn't quite the sort of luck he had hoped for. Amid the
damp steam and by the light of the coals smouldering in the geyser, he made
out a large basin attached to the wall and a bath streaked with black where
the enamel had chipped off. There in the bath stood a naked woman, covered
in soapsuds and holding a loofah. She peered short-sightedly at Ivan as he
came in and obviously mistaking him for someone else in the hellish light
she whispered gaily :
' Kiryushka! Do stop fooling! You must be crazy . . . Fyodor Ivanovich
will be back any minute now. Go on--out you go! ' And she waved her loofah
The mistake was plain and it was, of course, Ivan Nikolayich's fault,
but rather than admit it he gave a shocked cry of ' Brazen hussy! ' and
suddenly found himself in the kitchen. It was empty. In the gloom a silent
row of ten or so Primuses stood on a marble slab. A single ray of moonlight,
struggling through a dirty window that had not been cleaned for years, cast
a dim light into one corner where there hung a forgotten ikon, the stubs of
two candles still stuck in its frame. Beneath the big ikon was another made
of paper and fastened to the wall with tin-tacks.
Nobody knows what came over Ivan but before letting himself out by the
back staircase he stole one of the candles and the little paper ikon.
Clutching these objects he left the strange apartment, muttering,
embarrassed by his recent experience in the bathroom. He could not help
wondering who the shameless Kiryushka might be and whether he was the owner
of the nasty fur cap with dangling ear-flaps.
In the deserted, cheerless alleyway Bezdomny looked round for the
fugitive but there was no sign of him. Ivan said firmly to himself:
' Of course! He's on the Moscow River! Come on! '
Somebody should of course have asked Ivan Nikolayich why he imagined
the professor would be on the Moscow River of all places, but unfortunately
there was no one to ask him--the nasty little alley was completely empty.
In no time at all Ivan Nikolayich was to be seen on the granite steps
of the Moscow lido. Taking off his clothes, Ivan entrusted them to a kindly
old man with a beard, dressed in a torn white Russian blouse and patched,
unlaced boots. Waving him aside, Ivan took a swallow-dive into the water.
The water was so cold that it took his breath away and for a moment he even
doubted whether he would reach the surface again. But reach it he did, and
puffing and snorting, his eyes round with terror, Ivan Nikolayich began
swimming in the black, oily-smelling water towards the shimmering zig-zags
of the embankment lights reflected in the water.
When Ivan clambered damply up the steps at the place where he had left
his clothes in the care of the bearded man, not only his clothes but their
venerable guardian had apparently been spirited away. On the very spot where
the heap of clothes had been there was now a pair of check underpants, a
torn Russian blouse, a candle, a paper ikon and a box of matches. Shaking
his fist into space with impotent rage, Ivan clambered into what was left.
As he did so two thoughts worried him. To begin with he had now lost
his MASSOLIT membership card; normally he never went anywhere without it.
Secondly it occurred to him that he might be arrested for walking around
Moscow in this state. After all, he had practically nothing on but a pair of
underpants. . . .
Ivan tore the buttons off the long underpants where they were fastened
at the ankles, in the hope that people might think they were a pair of
lightweight summer trousers. He then picked up the ikon, the candle and
matches and set off, saying to himself:
' I must go to Griboyedov! He's bound to be there.' Ivan Nikolayich's
fears were completely justified--passers-by noticed him and turned round to
stare, so he decided to leave the main streets and make Us way through the
side-roads where people were not so inquisitive, where there was less chance
of them stopping a barefoot man and badgering him with questions about his
underpants--which obstinately refused to look like trousers.
Ivan plunged into a maze of sidestreets round the Arbat and began to
sidle along the walls, blinking fearfully, glancing round, occasionally
hiding in doorways, avoiding crossroads with traffic lights and the elegant
porticos of embassy mansions.
... previous page next page...