The Sacred Book of the Werewolf

Chapter Ten


I shrugged.
'That depends.'
'Yes,' said E Hu-Li. 'So it's the same thing, then.'
'What's the same thing?' I asked.
'We have a saying: "Everybody has his skeleton in the closet." It was Lord Byron who said that. When he realized he had strangled the homosexual in himself.'
'Poor fellow.'
'Poor fellow?' E Hu-Li echoed, raising her eyebrows. 'You don't understand anything. All his life he tormented and tortured that homosexual in himself, but he only finished him off just before he died, when he realized he was going to kick the bucket soon. But as it happens, all his verses and poems were really written by that homosexual. Two American scholars have proved that, I read it myself. That's the kind of people there are in England! Better your dismal nightmare in the cab of a truck.'
'Why call it a dismal nightmare? I think there's a lot of beauty in it.'
'In what? In the skeleton riding beside you?'
'No,' I replied. 'In the Russian soul. Just imagine, you have absolutely no idea how to drive, and you're surrounded by the open steppe and the sky. I love Russia.'
'And what exactly is it about her that you love?'
I pondered that question for a while. Then I replied rather uncertainly:
'The Russian language.'
'You do right to induce that feeling in yourself,' said E Hu-Li. 'Otherwise you would find it unbearable to live here. As I do in England.'
She stretched like a cat and looked into the distance, and for a brief moment there was a lazy, dreamy look in her eyes. I had a sudden vision of a predatory, sharp-toothed gaping maw superimposed on her face, the way it happens in the twenty-fifth shot on a film. I wanted to say something mildly sarcastic to her.
'I think you induce in yourself the idea that you live among hypocrites and fiends.'
'Me? Why would I do that?' she asked.
'They say no one can commit murder unless they ascribe some bad quality to their victim. Otherwise their conscience will torment them. But when there's a whole series of murders, one after another, it's convenient to extend those qualities to the entire target group. It makes the idea of retribution less frightening.'
A shadow ran across E Hu-Li's face.
'Is this a lecture on morality?' she asked. 'Even some human beings understand that in reality there is no good or evil. But you and I are foxes. After death there is no retribution for evil, and no reward for virtue, only the universal return to the Ultimate Supreme Limit. All the rest was invented to keep the people in submission and fear. What are you talking about?'
I realized how stupid I was being - angering a sister from whom I wanted to ask advice. Who was I to reproach her with anything? Was I even a single iota better? If I really did consider myself better, then I was even worse. I had to reduce the whole thing to a joke.
'How serious we are,' I said playfully. 'That's what we get for cohabiting with the tailless monkey for all these years. You've even started thinking like they do.'
E Hu-Li looked at me suspiciously for several seconds, kintting her downy eyebrows together. It suited her really well. Then she smiled.
'So you decided to make fun of me? Well, make sure you don't turn your backside towards me . . .'
As used by foxes, this phrase is based on different references than among humans, but the general meaning is pretty much the same. I had no intention of turning my backside towards her, especially since she was quite capable of tugging on my tail - it had happened once in the fifteenth century, and I still remembered it. But the phrase suddenly reminded me of my last meeting with Alexander, and I blushed. It didn't escape my sister E's keen eye.
'Oho,' she said, 'you still blush the same way you did a thousand years ago. How I envy you. How do you manage it? I suppose for that you have to be a virgin?'
The really interesting thing is that I only blush in the company of other were-creatures. When I'm associating with people, it never happens. It's a great pity - I could really hike up my rates.
'But I'm not a virgin any more,' I said, and blushed even more deeply.
'Really?' E Hu-Li was so astonished she slumped back against the divan. 'Come on, tell me all about it!'
I'd been longing to share my story for ages, and I spent the next half-hour pouring out everything that my heart had been full of for so long.
While I was recounting the details of my giddy affair, E Hu-Li frowned, smiled, nodded and sometimes raised one finger, as if she were saying: 'Aha! And how many times have I told you that!'
When I finished she said: 'Well then. So it's finally happened, even to you. A thousand years one way or the other - what's the difference? Congratulations.'
I picked up a paper napkin off the table, crumpled it into ball and threw it at her. She dodged it nimbly.
'Experience of life really is a great thing,' she said. 'Who could have even imagined anything of the sort in the days of our youth? You seduced him so professionally that it's not even clear who raped who.'
'What?' My jaw dropped in amazement.
She chuckled.
'At least among friends you could drop the mask of offended innocence. You provoked him.'
'What do you mean? When did I provoke him?'
'When you came leaping out of the bathroom naked and stood on all fours with your backside towards him.'
'You think that's provocation?'
'Of course. The question is, why did you turn your backside towards him?'
I shrugged.
'For greater accuracy.'
'What makes that especially accurate?'
'The tail's closer to the target,' I said, rather uncertainly.
'Oh yes. But you have to look over your shoulder. Tell me honestly, have you ever done that before, for greater accuracy?'
'So why did you suddenly decide to start?'
'I . . . I just thought the occasion was very important. And I couldn't afford to fall flat on my back. I mean, flat on my face.'
E Hu-Li burst out laughing.
'I can't believe this,' she said, 'did you really do the whole thing on autopilot?'
I definitely did not like the way the conversation was going.
'I know you are prejudiced against it,' she went on, 'but if you have a talk with a good psychoanalyst, you'll realize your true motives straight away. And by the way, you can talk to an analyst about anything you like without feeling embarrassed - that's what he's paid for. Of course, you don't have to tell him about your tail. Although you could mention it, as if it were a fantasy. But then ignore everything he tells you about penis envy . . .'
To bare my soul to my friend and hear that. I was furious.
'Listen,' I said, 'doesn't it seem to you that it's high time to take an aspen stake and stuff all this psychoanalytical discourse up the cocaine-and-amphetamine sprinkled backside that produced it?'
She gaped at me in amazement.
'Okay, I understand about the amphetamines. After all, I was friends with Jean-Paul Sartre for two years, in case you didn't know. And I understand about the backside, for the same reason. But what has cocaine got to do with it?'
'I can explain,' I said, delighted that the conversation was moving away from a slippery subject.
'So explain.'
'Dr Freud was not only a cocaine freak himself, he prescribed it for his patients. And then he drew his conclusions. Cocaine is a powerful sexual stimulant. And so all that stuff Freud invented - all those oedipuses, sphinxes and sphincters - they all exist exclusively in the mental space of a patient whose brains have been scrambled by cocaine. In that state a man really does have only one problem - what to do first, screw his mummy or waste his daddy. Naturally, that's only until the cocaine wears off. But in those days there was no supply problem.'
'I'm not talking about . . .'
'But as long as your daily dose is less than three grams,' I continued, 'you don't have to worry about all that stuff he discovered. Basing the analysis of your own behaviour on Freud is about as helpful as relying on Carlos Castaneda's peyote trips. As least Castaneda has heart, poetry. But all this Freud has is his pince-nez, two lines of coke on the sideboard and a quiver in his sphincter. The bourgeoisie love him because he is so loathsome. For his ability to reduce everything in the world to the asshole.'
'But why should the bourgeoisie love him for that?'
'Because portfolio investors need prophets who will explain the world in terms they can understand. And who will prove yet again that nothing threatens the objective reality in which they have invested so much money.'
E Hu-Li gave me a rather mocking look.
'But what do you think?' she asked. 'Is the tendency to deny objective reality really based on sexual deprivation?'
'Eh?' I was flummoxed.
'To put it more simply, do you agree that the world is regarded as an illusion by those who have problems with sex?' she said, in the tone of a genial TV presenter.
This was a view of the world that I'd often come across in the National. Supposedly only sexually hung-up losers took refuge from the invigorating clamour of the market in mysticism and obscurantism. It was especially amusing to hear this from a client squirming all over the bed in splendid isolation: if you thought about it, it was the same thing that happened to the poor guy all the rest of the time, only instead of a fox's tail it was the Financial Times that was bamboozling him, and his loneliness was not relative, as it was in my company, but absolute. But to hear such things from my own sister . . . That's what the consumer society does to us.
'It's all the other way round,' I said. 'In actual fact the tendency to associate the spiritual search with sexual problems is based on the frustration of the anal vector of the libido.'
'How do you mean?' asked sister E, raising her eyebrows.
'It's obvious . . . Those who say that should do what they've always secretly wanted to do - screw themselves.'
'What for?'
'When they start doing something they understand, they'll stop discussing things that they don't understand. The way a pig's neck is made means it can't look at the sky. But it certainly doesn't follow that the sky is a sexual neurosis.'
'I get it . . . Did you pick all this stuff up from the wolf?'
I didn't answer.
'Well, well, well,' said my sister E. 'And can I get a look at him?'
'Why the sudden interest?' I asked suspiciously.
'No need to be jealous,' she laughed. 'I'd just like to see who it is your heart took such a shine to. And apart from that, I've never seen any werewolves, I've only heard that they can be found somewhere in the north. By the way, the super-werewolf that you're always lecturing me about is actually more likely to be a wolf than a fox. At least, that's what my husband thinks. And so does his occult lodge the Pink Sunset.'
I sighed. It was simply incomprehensible to me how E Hu-Li, so astute in some matters, could be so absolutely ignorant in others. How many times did I have to explain the same thing to her? I decided not to get involved in an argument. Instead I asked:
'Do you think the super-werewolf could turn out to be my Alexander?'
'As far as I understand it, the super-werewolf is not simply a wolf. He's something as far removed from a wolf as a wolf is from a fox. But a super-werewolf is not an intermediate stage between a fox and a wolf. He is far beyond a wolf.'
'I don't understand a thing,' I said. 'Where beyond a wolf?'
'You know, I can't really explain that coherently. Poor Brian has collected all the available material on the subject. Would you like him to give a brief lecture while he's still alive to do it? We just happen to have some free time tomorrow afternoon. And you bring Alexander along - I think he'll find it interesting too. And you can show him to me at the same time.'
'That would be great,' I said. 'Only Alexander's English isn't so good.'
'Never mind. Brian's a polyglot and he speaks five languages fluently. Including Russian.'
'All right,' I said, 'let's give it a try.'
E Hu-Li raised her finger.
'And your lieutenant general will do us one favour in return.'
'What's that?'
'Brian and I have to get into the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour at night. And it has to be the night from Friday to Saturday, around the time of the full moon. Will he be able to arrange that?'
'I think he will,' I said. 'He's certain to have contacts in the Orthodox Patriarchate. I'll try having a word with him.'
'Then I'll remind you,' said E Hu-Li.
That's always the way with her. She solves her problems at your expense and at the same time makes you feel that she's done you a favour. Although on the other hand, I was terribly curious to get a look at Lord Cricket - the occultist, patron of the fine arts and lover of fox-hunting.
'Tell me,' I said, 'does your husband have any idea? You know, about you?'
'No. Are you crazy, or what? This is a hunt. The rules say he must only learn the whole truth at the very last moment.'
'How do you manage to keep it all secret for so long?'
'The formalities of English life are helpful. Separate bedrooms, the Victorian horror of nakedness, the demure ritual of preparing for bed. In aristocratic circles it's easy - all you have to do is establish a definite routine, and then stick to it. The really difficult thing isn't that, it's constantly postponing the finale. That really does strain all your emotional faculties.'
'Yes,' I agreed, 'your stamina is really amazing.'
'Brian is my Moby Dick,' E Hu-Li said and laughed. 'Although the poor soul's dick really isn't all that moby . . .'
'How long have you been herding him now? Five years? Or six?'
'And when are you planning?'
'Some day soon,' said E Hu-Li.
I shuddered in surprise. She put her arm round my shoulders and whispered.
'That's the reason we're here.'
'Why did you decide to do it all here?'
'It's less dangerous here. And then, it's such an incredibly convenient situation. Brian doesn't merely know the prophecy - according to which the super-werewolf is supposed to appear in this very city - he intends to become the super-werewolf himself. For some reason he's certain that in order to do that, you have to hold something like a black mass in the church that was destroyed and restored, following the methodology of his idiotic sect. It all has to happen without any witnesses. I'll be his only helper, since I've been initiated into the mystery.'
'He initiated me.'
I was struck by a sudden conjecture.
'Hang on now . . . Do you believe in the super-werewolf?'
'In what sense?'
'That he will come, and we shall see him clearly, and all the rest of it - you know, what you said in your e-mail?'
'I didn't say I believed it. I said that was what Brian said. I'm not interested in all that mysticism. The super-werewolf can come or not come, I couldn't care less about him. But I could never find a better opportunity for . . .' - she snapped her fingers to make sure I understood what she meant.
'Why, you cunning beast!'
E Hu-Li smiled enchantingly.
It was only now that I understood her plan. A novice chess-player probably feels something of the kind when a brilliant strategy unfolds before his eyes. The denouement promised to be dazzlingly dramatic, just as the rules of the hunt required: it was hard to imagine a better setting for the final blow than a church at night. And apart from that, from the very beginning there had been a ready-made, bizarre but plausible cover-story to explain the event. In fact, it wasn't really a cover-story, it was the absolute truth, which the star of the festivities himself believed - and so had I, only a minute ago. How could the investigating authorities suspect anything?
Elegant and natural, without even a hint of falsehood. A masterly plan. Of course, I didn't approve of this sport, but I had to give my sister her due. E Hu-Li was undoubtedly the finest hunter in the world, the only sportsfox at such a high level. I cleared my throat respectfully.
'And who's your next in line? Or haven't you decided yet?'
'Oh, I'm really spoilt for choice. There are some extraordinary possibilities, quite unexpected.'
'Such as?'
E Hu-Li half-closed her eyes and sang in a high, crystal-clear voice:
'Don't question why she needs to be so free . . .'
'Mick Jagger?' I gasped. 'How dare you even think of it?'
'Why not?' E Hu-Li asked impassively. 'He's "Sir Mick" now, after all. A legitimate target. And then, surely you don't still find those words touching? I think they started sounding like an advert for an aircraft-carrier ages ago.'
Lord Cricket was a man of indeterminate age. And sex, I feel like adding to make the description more precise. My sister E said that he came from a family with a military tradition, but his appearance gave no indication at all of that. My first look at him even put me in mind of that politically correct expression 'war hero or shero' - despite his shaved head and goatee beard. His facial expression was interesting - as if in his youth his soul had aspired towards freedom and light, but failed to break through his armour of self-control and duty and ended up frozen in an interrogatory bubble, puffing out his face into a grimace of disaffected surprise.
He was dressed in a dark suit and white shirt with a wide tie in an extremely delicate shade of green. There was a small enamel badge glinting on the lapel of his jacket. It looked like the enamel images of Mao Tse-tung that people used to wear in China, only it wasn't Mao's face smiling out of it, but Aleister Crowley's (I wouldn't really have recognized the British Satanist myself - E Hu-Li told me).
Alexander and Lord Cricket reacted to each other cautiously. When he saw the military uniform, Lord Cricket smiled. It was an amazing smile, with just the faintest hint of irony that, nevertheless, you couldn't possibly fail to notice, no matter how hard you tried. How many centuries of effort must have gone into trimming that lawn! At the sight of Lord Cricket, Alexander nervously drew in the air through his nose and closed his eyes; his face darkened, as if he'd just remembered something upsetting.
I was frightened that they would argue. But they quickly got into small talk about the Middle East, Shiite terrorism and the oil business. I must have been looking dour, because Lord Cricket asked me the classic question:
'Why do you Russians smile so little?'
'We don't need to be so competitive,' I said morosely. 'We're a nation of losers in any case.'
Lord Cricket raised one eyebrow.
'Come now, you exaggerate,' he said.
But he seemed to be satisfied by my answer and he went back to his conversation with Alexander.
Having made sure they were talking about subjects that were safe, I started getting to grips with the video projector hired from a local business centre. Of course, there was something absurd about an occult Power Point presentation. But then, the whole field of human occultism was such a profanation that not even Microsoft could do anything to debase it.
While we were fiddling with the equipment, I succumbed yet again to the temptation to inoculate my sister E with the germs of moral principle.
'You can't possibly imagine,' I said quickly in a low voice, trying to squeeze as much useful information as possible into the seconds allotted to me, 'how liberating Kant's categorical imperative is for the soul. I felt as if I'd grown wings when I realized - yes, yes, don't laugh now - that for us foxes man can be not just a means to achieve the aim, but the aim itself!'
E Hu-Li frowned. And then she said:
'You're right. As soon as I'm done with Brian, I'll fly to Argentina for a safari. I've wanted to go shooting from a helicopter for a long time.'
What on earth could I do with her?
We just couldn't get the projector hooked up to the laptop. The Bluetooth refused to work, and I'd never had anything to do with it before. For a while I became completely absorbed in technical matters and stopped paying attention to what was happening in the room. And when I finally managed to solve the problem, Lord Cricket and Alexander were already going at it hammer and tongs - about values.
'Do you seriously believe,' Lord Cricket was asking, 'that there is any better way of organizing society than liberal democracy? '
'We don't want any of those liberals here, thank you very much! We've suffered enough in ten years. We've only just started to draw breath again.'
I realized it was time to interfere.
'Excuse me,' I said, showing my fist to Alexander where Lord Cricket couldn't see it, 'but I think you're misunderstanding each other. It's purely a matter of language.'
'How's that?' Lord Cricket asked.
'There are quite a number of sound combinations that mean completely different things in different languages. For instance, the Russian word "Bog", meaning "God", means a swamp, a "bog" in English. And the English word "God" means a calendar year in Russian. The sounds are the same, but the meaning is completely different. It happens with people's names too, it can be very funny sometimes. And it's exactly the same with the word "liberal". It's a classical inter-linguistic homonym. For instance, in America it means someone who is in favour of firearms control, single-sex marriage and abortion and feels more sympathy for the poor than the rich. But here in Russia . . .'
'Here in Russia,' Alexander interrupted, 'it means an unscrupulous weasel who hopes someone will give him a little money if he makes big round eyes and keeps repeating that twenty greasy parasites should carry on squeezing Russia by the balls, simply because at the beginning of so-called privatization, they happened to be barbecuing grills with pissed Yeltsin's daughter!'