The Sacred Book of the Werewolf
'It's two hundred dollars an hour.'
'I'll bear that in mind,' he said. 'Doesn't it disgust you doing this kind of work, Adele?'
'I have to eat.'
He picked the folder up off the table, opened it and spent a while looking at it, as if he were checking some kind of instructions. Then he closed it and put it back on the table.
'And where do you live? Are you renting a place?' he asked.
'And how many of you are there in the flat, apart from the madam? Five? Ten?'
At this stage the ordinary pervert would already have reached boiling point. And it looked like my employer wasn't too far away from it either.
'Are you really seventeen, little girl?' he asked.
'Yes, daddy, I am,' I said, raising my eyes to look at him. 'Seventeen moments of spring.'
That was a provocative outburst. He snorted in laughter. What I should have done then was to go back to the short, vague phrases. But it turned out he knew how to be provocative as well.
'All right,' he said. 'If that's the way our chat's going, it's time for me to introduce myself.'
An official ID card appeared on the table in front of me, open. I read what was written in it very carefully, then compared the photograph with his face. In the photograph he was wearing a uniform jacket with epaulettes. His name and patronymic were Vladimir Mikhailovich. He was a colonel in the FSB.
'Call me Mikhalich,' he said with a smirk. 'That's what people who know me well call me. And I hope we're going to get to know each other very well.'
'To what do I owe the pleasure, Mikhalich?' I asked.
'One of our consultants complained about you. Apparently you upset him. So now you'll have to recompensate for it. Or recompense for it. Do you know which is right?'
He had a stereotypical appearance: a strong chin, steely eyes, a shock of flaxen hair. But a certain trapezoidal quality in the plebeian proportions of his features made his face look like the West's cliche of its Cold War opponent. Movie characters of that kind usually drank a glass of vodka and then ate the glass as a snack, muttering through the crunching that it was 'an old Russian custom'.
'Fuck it,' I muttered. 'A freebee?'
'Hey,' he said, offended, 'don't you confuse the FSB with the pigs. You'll get your money all right.'
'How many of you are there?' I asked in a tired voice.
'Just one . . . Well, two at the most.'
'And who's the other one?'
'You'll see in a moment. And don't worry, I won't cheat you.'
He pulled out the drawer of the table and took out a box with all sorts of medical bits and pieces - little jars, cotton wool and a pack of disposable syringes. One syringe was loaded - the bright-red cap on the needle made it look like a cigarette someone has dragged on so furiously that the flame has extended all the way along it.
'I not shooting up with you,' I said. 'Not even for quintuple fees.'
'You fool,' he said merrily, 'who's going to give you any?'
'And I want the money up front. Who knows what you'll be like in half an hour?'
'Here, take it,' he said and threw me an envelope.
Members of the Russian middle class often give me dollars in an envelope - the same way they get them when they receive their 'unofficial' salaries. It's exciting. As if you've been raised aloft on the wheel of social insight and offered a glimpse of the intimate linkages in your Homeland's economic mechanism . . . I opened the envelope and counted the money. The promised triple fee was there, plus another fifty dollars. Effectively the same level of pay as at the National. A client like that ought to be cherished - or at least I ought to pretend to cherish him. I smiled enchantingly.
'Okay, if I have to recompense, I'll recompensate. Where's the bathroom.'
'Just wait, will you,' he said. 'You've got plenty of time. Sit tight.'
'I . . .'
'Sit tight,' he repeated and started rolling up his sleeve.
'You said there'd be another one. So where is he?'
'Just as soon as I shoot up, he'll be here.'
He put a rubber strap round his biceps, then clasped and unclasped his fist several times.
'What are we shooting?' I enquired morosely.
I had to know what to prepare myself for.
'We're taking a ride down the Kashirksy Highway.'
I realized the syringe was full of ketamine, an extremely powerful psychedelic that only a psychopath or someone trying to commit suicide would ever inject into a vein.
'What, intravenously?' I asked, unable to believe it.
He nodded. I suddenly felt afraid. I couldn't even stand the ketamine junkies who injected it into the muscle. That stuff had a gloomy kind of effect on them. They became like trolls from beyond the grave, crushed by the weight of some eternal curse - like soldiers in the ghost army in the final episode of The Lord of the Rings. And this guy was about to take it intravenously. I didn't even know anyone did that. That is, I knew for certain that sane people didn't do it. A second stiff in less than a month was definitely the very last thing I needed. It was time to clear out.
'Listen, why don't I give you the money back,' I said, 'and we'll call it a day.'
'What's the problem?'
'It's okay for you, you'll be dead. But they'll drag me round the courts. I'd better go.'
'I said sit tight!' Mikhalich growled.
He got up, went over to the door, locked it and put the key in his pocket.
'Get up and you'll regret it. Understand?'
I nodded. He came back to the table, sat down and took a strange device that looked a bit like a Soviet-designed paper-punch out of his medicine box. The device consisted of two semi-circular plates connected by a simple mechanism. There was a large rubber sucker attached to the lower plate, and the upper one was stamped with a star and an inventory number, like a pistol. Mikhalich brought the two plates together, licked the rubber sucker obsessively and stuck the device on his forearm. Then he set the syringe in the gap, carefully introduced the needle into a vein and checked - the liquid in the syringe had turned dark-red. Then he touched a little lever on the strange device, and it started ticking very loudly. Mikhalich frowned as if he was about to take a leap into water, set his feet wide apart, bracing them more firmly against the floor, and pressed the plunger all the way into the syringe.
Almost immediately his body went limp in the armchair. For some reason it suddenly occurred to me that that was the way the high priests of the Third Reich had left the world. I listened to the mechanical ticking in alarm - as if it were a bomb that was just about to explode. After a few seconds there was a click, and the paper-punch and syringe sprang off his arm and fell on the floor beside the chair. A small drop of blood appeared in the crook of Mikhalich's elbow. A clever little invention, I thought. And then it suddenly hit me.
I have to explain one thing. I can't read people's thoughts. And no one can, because people don't have anything resembling a printed text inside their heads. Not many people are capable of noticing that ripple of thought that runs incessantly across the mind - even in themselves. So reading somebody else's thoughts is like trying to make out something written on muddy water by a pitchfork in the hands of a madman. I don't mean the technical difficulty involved, but the practical value of the procedure.
But thanks to our tail, we foxes often find ourselves in a kind of sympathetic resonance with somebody else's consciousness - especially when that other consciousness is performing an unexpected somersault. It's rather like the reaction of peripheral vision to a sudden movement in the dark. We see a brief hallucination, a bit like an abstract computer-animated cartoon. This kind of contact is no use for anything at all, and most of the time our minds simply filter out the effect - otherwise it would be impossible to ride in the Metro. Usually it's weak, but when people take drugs it's amplified - that's why we can't stand drug addicts.
When FSB colonels inject ketamine intravenously, strange things happen to them. The 'ride down the Kshirsky Highway' was no metaphor, but a rather realistic description: although Mikhalich's limp body looked like a corpse, his consciousness was hurtling along some kind of orange tunnel filled with spectral forms that he skilfully avoided. The tunnel kept branching sideways and Mikhalich chose which way to turn. It was like a bobsleigh - Mikhalich was controlling his imaginary flight with minute turns of his feet and hands that were invisible to the eye, not even turns really, simply microscopic adjustments of the tension in the corresponding muscles.
I realized that these orange tunnels were more than just structures in space, they were simultaneously information and will. The entire world had been transformed into an immense self-operating program, like a computer program, except that the hardware and the software couldn't be told apart. Mikhalich himself was an element of the program, but he possessed freedom of movement in relation to its other components. And his attention was moving through the program towards its beginning, towards a hatch behind which there was something terrible lurking. Mikhalich went flying into the final orange tunnel, reached the hatch and resolutely flung it open. And the terrible thing that was behind it burst out and went hurtling upwards - towards the light of day, up into the room.
I looked at Mikhalich. He was coming back to life, but in a strange, menacing kind of way. The corners of his mouth were trembling - little spots of either saliva or foam had appeared on them - and I could hear a sound like growling from somewhere in his throat. The growling kept getting louder, and then Mikhalich's body twitched and arched, and I sensed that in another second the mysterious, terrible power from the bottom of his soul would burst out and be free. I had no time to hesitate - I grabbed the bottle of champagne, swung it hard and hit him on the head.
To look at, nothing out of the ordinary happened. Mikhalich slumped down in the chair again, and the bottle didn't even break. But in his internal dimension, with which I was still in contact, something remarkable took place. The bundle of evil power that was rushing up and out from his inner depths lost control and crashed into a complex combination of thought-forms filling the orange tunnel. There was a flash, with pulsating stars and stripes of flame receding all the way to the horizon like the markings on an infinitely long runway. It was blindingly beautiful and reminiscent of a news report I saw in the 1960s of a trimaran speed-boat that crashed: the speedboat lifted up off the water, performed a slow, thoughtful loop-the-loop and shattered into small fragments against the surface of the lake. Almost the same thing happened this time, only instead of the speedboat it was the lake that was smashed into tiny pieces: the transparent structures filling the orange tunnel fell to pieces and went flying off in all directions with a melodic tinkling sound, fading, shrinking and disappearing. And then the whole universe of orange tunnels went dark and disappeared, as if the electricity lighting it up had been cut off. All that was left was a man lying limply in a chair and a melodic sound that was repeated over and over again until I realized it was the phone.
I answered it.
'Mikhalich?' a man's voice asked.
'Mikhalich can't come to the phone right now,' I said. 'He's very busy.'
I couldn't think of any short and simple answer. After a few seconds of silence the person on the other end of the line hung up.
What a crazy idea that was - to change the name of the KGB. One of the greatest brand names ever was simply destroyed! The KGB was known all over the world. But not every foreigner will understand what the FSB is. One American lesbian who hired me for the weekend kept confusing 'FSB' and 'FSD' all the time. 'FSD' is 'female sexual dysfunction', an illness invented by the pharmaceutical companies in order to launch the production of the female version of Viagra. Sexual dysfunction in women is a bluff, of course: in female sexuality it's not the physical aspects that are important, so much as the context - candles, champagne, words. And to be completely honest about it, the most important condition for the modern female orgasm is a high level of material prosperity. You can't solve that with a pill - as Bill Clinton said: It's the economy, stupid. But I'm digressing again.
Although the name of the KGB was changed, the personnel remained the same as before, disciplined and tough. Any normal man would have been out cold for a long time after a blow like that from a bottle. But Mikhalich started to come round quite soon. Perhaps that was because he received the blow in an altered state of consciousness - when the physical properties of the body are transformed, as any alcoholic can testify.
I realized he was conscious when I tried to take the key to the door out of his pants. When I leaned down over him, I saw he was looking at me with his eyelids half open. I jumped back immediately. I was frightened by what had happened to him after the injection - I'd never seen anything like that before, and I didn't want to take any risks.
'Phone,' Mikhalich whispered.
'What about the phone?'
'Who . . . who . . .'
'Who called?' I guessed. 'I don't know. Some man or other.' He groaned. Amazing. After a blow like that an ordinary man would have been more concerned about the eternal questions. But this one was thinking about telephone calls. As the Soviet poet Tikhonov wrote, 'If we could make nails out of these men, everyone in Russia would have a happier life' (he later changed this to 'there would be no stronger nails in all the world', but the rough draft was exactly that, I've seen it).
'Give me the key,' I said, 'it's time I was going.'
'Wait a bit,' Mikhalich sighed, 'talk.'
'I don't talk to junkies.'
'Don't get clever . . .'
He spoke with an effort, leaving long pauses - as if every sentence were a high mountain he had to climb.
'Oh, sure,' I said in an offended tone. 'Don't get clever. That's what they said to Liuska too. And then when her client died on the sakura branch, she was arrested. Her lawyer said it was peritonitis, an unfortunate accident. But the investigator stuck the rupture of the colon on her, unpremeditated murder. Bung them three grand, then it'll be unpremeditated, otherwise you take the full rap. Give me the key, or you'll get it again. And I don't give a damn if you are from the FSB. Nothing will happen to me, it's self-defence.'
And at that I picked up the bottle again.
He made a sinister sort of sound - like a water sprite laughing somewhere in the depths of his millpond. Then he tried to say something, but all that came out was:
'Sit . . . si . . .'
'Listen, I'm asking you nicely one last time,' I said, 'give me the key!'
'Bitch,' he said surprisingly clearly.
These officers are such boors, you know. They simply can't talk to a girl in a civilized manner. I raised the bottle to hit him again, and at that point the door behind my back opened.
Standing there in the doorway was a tall young man wearing a dark raincoat with the collar turned up. He was unshaven, sullen and very good-looking - I noted that without any kind of personal involvement, with the cold eye of an artist.
The only thing that spoiled him a little were the arrogant, angry creases beside his lips. They didn't actually make me dislike him, though, they just seemed to establish some distance. But even with those arrogant creases he looked very, very attractive indeed. I'd say he was just a little bit like the young Tsar Alexander Pavlovich - as I recall he also had a fierce, wolfish look during the years immediately after he ascended the throne.
I was struck by the expression of his face. I don't know how to explain it. As if someone had been living with toothache for many years and become accustomed to taking no notice of it, even though the pain tormented him every single day. He had the kind of glance that's hard to forget as well: those greyish-yellow eyes imprinted themselves on your retinas and looked straight down into your soul for a few seconds. But the most significant thing about this face, I thought, was that it was a face from the past. There used to be a lot of faces like that around in the old days, when people believed in love and God, and then that type almost disappeared.
We looked into each other's eyes for a while.
'I was going to give him some champagne,' I said, putting the bottle on the table.
The visitor shifted his gaze to Mikhalich.
'Brought your daughter, have you?' he asked.
'Nah,' Mikhalich croaked from his armchair and even moved his arm (evidently the presence of the visitor had helped him to gather his wits). 'Nah . . . the whore . . .'
'Ah,' said the visitor and looked back at me. 'So this is the one . . . who offended our consultant?'
'And what happened to you?'
'Boss,' Mikhalich mumbled in reply, 'the tooth, boss! Anaesthetic!'
The young man sniffed at the air and a grimace of disapproval appeared on his face.
'So they used ketamine for your anaesthetic, did they?'
'Boss, I . . .'
'Or did you call the vet in to have your ears docked?'
'Boss . . .'
'Again? I can understand it, out on the job. But why here? Didn't we have a talk on the subject?'
Mikhalich lowered his eyes. The young man glanced at me and it seemed to me his glance was curious.
'Boss, I'll explain,' said Mikhalich. 'Word of . . .'
I could physically feel what an effort the words were costing him.
'No, Mikhalich, I'll do the explaining,' said the visitor. He picked up the bottle of champagne off the table and hit Mikhalich over the head with it with all his strength.
This time the bottle broke and a geyser of white foam washed down over Mikhalich from his head to his toes. I was quite certain that after a blow like that he would never get up out of the armchair again - I know a thing or two about human anatomy. But to my amazement, Mikhalich just shook his head from side to side, like a lush who's had a bucket of water thrown over him. Then he raised his hand and wiped the spatters of champagne off his face. Instead of killing him, the blow had brought him round. I'd never seen anything like it before.
'All right, then,' said the young man, 'take a shower, then get in a taxi and go home. They can give you light broth. Or strong tea. But really Mikhalich, to do things right you ought to go on a barbiturate drip.'
I didn't understand what that phrase meant.
'Yes sir,' said Mikhalich. He struggled to his feet and staggered into the bathroom, leaving a trail of champagne drops behind him. When the door closed the young man turned to me and smiled.
'It's stuffy in here,' he said. 'Please allow me to show you out into the fresh air.'
I liked his polite manner.
We went out of the flat a different way. The steel pole I'd seen in one of the rooms turned out to lead to the ground floor. You see similar poles in fire stations and go-go bars. You can slide down a pole like that to a big beautiful fire engine and receive a medal 'for bravery at the scene of a fire'. Or you can rub your bottom and your breasts against it erotically and receive a few moist banknotes from the audience. So many different roads through life lie before us . . .
Fortunately, today I didn't have to do either of these things. Beside the pole there was a narrow spiral staircase - obviously for less urgent occasions. That was the way we went down, into a dark garage where there was a fantastic black car - an absolutely genuine Maibach. There couldn't be more than a few of those in the whole of Moscow.
The young man stopped beside the car and raised his head - so that his nose was pointed at me - then took a powerful breath in. It looked weird. But after that his face assumed a blissful expression - as if he'd been really moved by something, in fact.
'I'd like to apologize for what happened,' he said, 'and ask you to do me a favour.'
'What sort of favour?'
'I need to choose a present for a girl of about your age. I have no idea about ladies' jewellery and I would be very grateful for some advice.'
I hesitated for a second. Generally speaking, in situations like this, you should clear out at the first opportunity - but somehow I felt I wanted to continue the acquaintance. And I was wondering what the interior of the car looked like.
'All right,' I said.
But the moment I got into the car I forgot all about the interior - I was so struck by the pass on the windscreen.
I'd noticed a long time before then that the Russian authorities had a certain tendency towards kitsch: they were always attempting to issue themselves a charter of nobility and pass themselves off as the glorious descendants of empire with all its history and culture - despite the fact that they had about as much in common with the old Russia as some Lombards grazing their goats amid the ruins of the Forum had with the Flavian dynasty. The pass on the Maibach's windscreen was a fresh example of the genre. It had a gold double-headed eagle, a three-digit number and the inscription:
Lo and behold, this sombre carriage
Can travel everywhere in this town
A. S. Pushkin
What can I say? Okay, an eagle. Okay, Pushkin. (I think it was a quotation from A Feast in the Time of Plague.) But the feeling of pride in our great country that the FSB copywriters had been counting on failed to materialize. The problem was probably a wrong choice of period for the references. They should have gone for feudal chronicles, not imperial eagles.
'What are you thinking about?'
'Ah? Me?' I said, coming to my senses.
'Yes,' he said. 'When you think, you wrinkle up your little nose in a very touching sort of way.'
We were already driving along the street.
'By the way, we haven't introduced ourselves yet,' he said.
'Alexander. You can call me Sasha. I'm Sasha Sery.' That was interesting - 'sery' is the Russian word for 'grey'.
'And what's your name?'
'Adele?' he asked, opening his eyes wide. 'You're not joking?'
I shook my head.
'Incredible. There's so much in my life that's linked with that name! You can't even imagine. Our meeting like this is fate. It's no accident that you've ended up in my car . . .'
'Do you have a fishing reel with you?' I asked.
'A fishing reel? What for?'
'You can wind me on to it after you finish stringing me along.'
'You don't believe me? About Adele?'
'No,' I said.
'I can explain what it's all about. If you're interested.'
And I really was interested.
'Do you know that game on PlayStation - Final Fantasy 8?'
I shook my head.
'I got almost all the way through it once - and that takes a long time. And then just before the end the enchantress Adele appeared. Very beautiful, a lot taller than a man. The animation's spectacular - she wakes up and opens her eyes, and she's covered in these rays of light, radiating out, a lot like the logo for Universal Studios, and she flies to Earth in her sarcophagus.'
'Where does she fly from?'
'Aha. And how does it all end?'