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The Master and Margarita.  Mikhail Bulgakov
Chapter 27. The Last of Flat No. 50
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Day was breaking as Margarita read the last words of the chapter '. . . Thus Pontius Pilate, fifth Procurator of Judaea, met the dawn of the fifteenth of Nisan.'

From the yard she could hear the lively, cheerful early morning chatter of sparrows in the branches of the willow and the lime tree.

Margarita got up from her chair, stretched and only then realised how physically exhausted she felt and how much she wanted to sleep. Mentally, though, Margarita was in perfect form. Her mind was clear and she was completely unmoved by the fact that she had spent a night in the supernatural. It caused her no distress to think that she had been at Satan's ball, that by some miracle the master had been restored to her, that the novel had risen from the ashes, that everything was back in its place in the basement flat after the expulsion of the wretched Aloysius Mogarych. In a word, her encounter with Woland had done her no psychological harm. Everything was as it should be.

She went into the next room, made sure that the master was sound asleep, put out the unnecessary light on the bedside table and stretched out on the other little divan, covering herself with an old, torn blanket. A minute later she was in a dreamless sleep. Silence reigned in the basement rooms and in the whole house, silence filled the little street.

But on that early Saturday morning there was no sleep for a whole floor of a certain Moscow office which was busy investigating the Woland case ; in nine offices the lamps had been burning all night. Their windows, looking out on to a large asphalted square which was being cleaned by slow, whirring vehicles with revolving brushes, competed with the rising sun in brightness.

Although the outlines of the case had been quite clear since the day before, when they had closed the Variety as a result of the disappearance of its management and the scandalous performance of black magic, everything was complicated by the incessant flow of new evidence.

The department in charge of this strange case now had the task of drawing together all the strands of the varied and confusing events, occurring all over Moscow, which included an apparent mixture of sheer devilry, hypnotic conjuring tricks and barefaced crime.

The first person summoned to the glaring electric light of that unsleeping floor was Arkady Apollonich Sempleyarov, the chairman of the Acoustics Commission.

On Friday evening after dinner, the telephone rang in his flat on Kamenny Most and a man's voice asked to speak to Arkady Apollonich. His wife, who had answered the call, announced grimly that Arkady Apollonich was unwell, had gone to lie down and could not come to the telephone. Nevertheless Arkady Apollonich was obliged to come when the voice said who was calling.

'Of course ... at once . . . right away,' stammered Arkady's usually arrogant spouse and she flew like an arrow to rouse Arkady Appollonich from the couch where he had lain down to recover from the horrific scenes caused by the theatre incident and the stormy expulsion from their flat of his young cousin from Saratov. In a quarter of a minute, in underclothes and one slipper, Arkady Apollonich was babbling into the telephone :

'Yes, it's me. Yes, I will. . .'

His wife, all thought of Arkady Apollonich's infidelity instantly forgotten, put her terrified face round the door, waving a slipper in the air and whispering :

'Put your other slipper on ... you'll catch cold . . .' At this Arkady Apollonich, waving his wife away with a bare leg and rolling his eyes at her, muttered into the receiver :

'Yes, yes, yes, of course ... I understand . . . I'll come at once . . .'

Arkady Apollonich spent the rest of the evening with the investigators.

The ensuing conversation was painful and unpleasant in the extreme ; he was not only made to give a completely frank account of that odious show and the fight in the box, but was obliged to tell everything about Militsa Andreyevna Pokobatko from Yelokhovskaya Street, as well as all about his cousin from Saratov and much more besides, the telling of which caused Arkady Apollonich inexpressible pain.

Naturally the evidence given by Arkady Apollonich--an intelligent and cultured man who had been an eyewitness of the show and who as an articulate and informed observer was not only able to give an excellent description of the mysterious masked magician and his two rascally assistants but who actually remembered that the magician's name was Woland--helped considerably to advance the enquiry. When Arkady Apollonich's evidence was compared with the evidence of the others, among them several of the ladies who had suffered such embarrassment after the show (including the woman in violet knickers who had so shocked Rimsky) and Karpov the usher who had been sent to Flat No. 50 at 302a, Sadovaya Street--it became immediately obvious where the culprit was to be found.

They went to No. 50 more than once and not only searched it with extreme thoroughness but tapped on the walls, examined the chimney-flues and looked for secret doors. None of this, however, produced any results and nothing was found during the visits to the flat. Yet someone was living in the flat, despite the fact that every official body in Moscow concerned with visiting foreigners stated firmly and categorically that there was not and could not be a magician called Woland in Moscow. He had definitely not registered on entry, he had shown no one his passport or any other documents, contracts or agreements and no one had so much as heard of him. Kitaitsev, the director of the programmes department of the Theatrical Commission, swore by all the saints that the missing Stepa Likhodeyev had never sent him a programme schedule for anyone called Woland for confirmation and had never telephoned Kitaitsev a word about Woland's arrival. Therefore he, Kitaitsev, failed completely to understand how Stepa could have allowed a show of this sort to be put on at the Variety. When he was told that Arkady Apollonich had seen the performance with his own eyes, Kitaitsev could only spread his hands and raise his eyes to heaven. From those eyes alone it was obvious that Kitaitsev was as pure as crystal.

Prokhor Petrovich, the chairman of the Entertainments Commission . . .

He, incidentally, had re-entered his suit as soon as the police reached his office, to the ecstatic joy of Anna Richardovna and to the great annoyance of the police, who had been alerted for nothing. As soon as he was back at his post and wearing his striped grey suit, Prokhor Petrovich fully approved all the minutes that his suit had drafted during his short absence.

So Prokhor Petrovich obviously knew nothing about Woland either.

The sum total of their enquiries amounted to a conclusion which was little short of farcical: thousands of spectators, plus the Variety Theatre staff plus, finally, Arkady Apollonich, that highly intelligent man, had seen this magician and his thrice-cursed assistants, yet in the meantime all four had completely vanished. What could it mean? Had Woland been swallowed up by the earth or had he, as some claimed, never come to Moscow at all? If one accepted the first alternative, then he had apparently spirited away the entire Variety management with him; if you believed the second alternative, it meant that the theatre management itself, having first indulged in a minor orgy of destruction had decamped from Moscow leaving no trace.

The officer in charge of the case was, to give him his due, a man who knew his job. Rimsky, for instance, was tracked down with astounding speed. Merely by linking the Ace of Diamonds' behaviour at the taxi-rank near the cinema with certain timings, such as the time of the end of the show and the time at which Rimsky could have vanished, they were able to send an immediate telegram to Leningrad. An hour later (on Friday evening) the reply came back that Rimsky had been found in room 412 at the Astoria Hotel, on the fourth floor next to the room containing the repertory manager of one of the Moscow theatres then on tour in Leningrad, in that famous room with the blue-grey furniture and the luxurious bathroom.

Rimsky, found hiding in the wardrobe of his room at the Astoria, was immediately arrested and interrogated in Leningrad, after which a telegram reached Moscow stating that treasurer Rimsky was an irresponsible witness who had proved unwilling or incapable of replying coherently to questions and had done nothing but beg to be put into an armourplated strong-room under armed guard. An order was telegraphed to Leningrad for Rimsky to be escorted back to Moscow, and he returned under guard by the Friday evening train.

By Friday evening, too, they were on the track of Likhodeyev. Telegrams asking for information on Likhodeyev had been sent to every town and a reply came from Yalta that Likhodeyev was there but about to leave for Moscow by aeroplane.

The only person whose trail they failed to pick up was Varenukha. This man, known to the entire theatrical world of Moscow, seemed to have vanished without trace.

Meanwhile investigations were in hand on related incidents in other parts of Moscow. An explanation was needed, for instance, of the baffling case of the office staff who had sung the ' Volga Boatmen ' song (Stravinsky, incidentally, cured them all within two hours by subcutaneous injections) and of other cases of people (and their victims) who had proffered various pieces of rubbish under the illusion that they were banknotes. The nastiest, the most scandalous and the most insoluble of all these episodes was, of course, the theft, in broad daylight, of Berlioz's head from the open coffin at Griboyedov.

The job of the team of twelve men assigned to the case was rather like that of someone with a knitting-needle trying to pick up stitches dropped all over Moscow.

One of the detectives called on Profes sor Stravinsky's clinic and began by asking for a list of all patients admitted during the past three days. By this means they discovered Nikanor Ivano-vich Bosoi and the unfortunate compere whose head had been wrenched off, although they were not greatly interested in these two. It was obvious now that they had both merely been victimised by the gang headed by this weird magician. In Ivan Nikolayich Bezdomny, however, the detective showed the very greatest interest.

Early on Friday evening the door of Ivan's room opened to admit a polite, fresh-faced young man- He looked quite unlike a detective, yet he was one of the best in the Moscow force. He saw lying in bed a pale, pinched-looking young man with lack-lustre, wandering eyes. The detective, a man of considerable charm and tact, said that he had come to see Ivan for a talk about the incident at Patriarch's Ponds two days previously.

The poet would have been triumphant if the detective had called earlier, on Thursday for instance when Ivan had been trying so loudly and passionately to induce someone to listen to his story about Patriarch's Ponds. Now people were at last coming to hear his version of the affair--just when his urge to help capture Professor Woland had completely evaporated.

For Ivan, alas, had altogether changed since the night of Berlioz's death. He was quite prepared to answer the detective's questions politely, but his voice and his expression betrayed his utter disinterest. The poet no longer cared about Berlioz's fate.

While Ivan had been dozing before the detective's arrival, a succession of images had passed before his mind's eye. He saw a strange, unreal, vanished city with great arcaded marble piles ;

with roofs that flashed in the sunlight; with the grim, black and pitiless tower of Antonia ; with a palace on the western hill plunged almost to roof-level in a garden of tropical greenery, and above the garden bronze statues that glowed in the setting sun ; with Roman legionaries clad in armour marching beneath the city walls.

In his half-waking dream Ivan saw a man sitting motionless in a chair, a clean-shaven man with taut, yellowing skin who wore a white cloak lined with red, who sat and stared with loathing at this alien, luxuriant garden. Ivan saw, too, a treeless ochre-coloured hill with three empty cross-barred gibbets.

The events at Patriarch's Ponds no longer interested Ivan Bezdomny the poet.

'Tell me, Ivan Nikolayich, how far were you from the turnstile when Berlioz fell under the tram? '

A barely detectable smile of irony crossed Ivan's Ups as he replied:

'I was far away.'

'And was the man in checks standing beside the turnstile? '

'No, he was on a bench nearby.'

'You distinctly remember, do you, that he did not approach the turnstile at the moment when Berlioz fell? '

'I do remember. He didn't move. He was on the bench and he stayed there.'

These were the detective's last questions. He got up, shook hands with Ivan, wished him a speedy recovery and said that he soon hoped to read some new poetry of his.

'No,' said Ivan quietly. ' I shall not write any more poetry.'

The detective smiled politely and assured the poet that although he might be in a slight state of depression at the moment, it would soon pass.

'No,' said Ivan, staring not at the detective but at the distant twilit horizon, ' it will never pass. The poetry I wrote was bad p.oetry. I see that now.'

The detective left Ivan, having gathered some extremely important evidence. Following the thread of events backwards from end to beginning, they could now pinpoint the source of the whole episode. The detective had no doubt that the events in question had all begun with the murder at Patriarch's Ponds. Neither Ivan, of course, nor the man in the check suit had pushed the unfortunate chairman of massolit under the tramcar;

n"o one had physically caused him to fall under the wheels, but the detective was convinced that Berlioz had thrown himself (or had fallen) beneath the tram while under hypnosis.

Although there was plenty of evidence and it was obvious whom they should arrest and where, it proved impossible to lay hands on them. There was no doubt that someone was in flat Nib. 50. Occasionally the telephone was answered by a quavering or a nasal voice, occasionally someone in the flat opened a window and the sound of a gramophone could be heard floating out. Yet whenever they went there the place was completely empty. They searched it at various hours of the day, each time going over it with a fine-tooth comb. The flat had been under suspicion for some time and a watch had been placed on both the main stairs and the back stairs ; men were even posted on the roof among the chimney pots. The flat was playing tricks and there was nothing that anyone could do about it.

The case dragged on in this way until midnight on Friday, wlien Baron Maigel, wearing evening dress and patent-leather pumps, entered flat No. 50 as a guest. He was heard being let in. Exactly ten minutes later the authorities entered the flat without a sound. It was not only empty of tenants, but worse, there was not even a trace of Baron Maigel.

There things rested until dawn on Saturday, when some new anid valuable information came to light as a six-seater passenger aeroplane landed at Moscow airport having flown from the Crimea. Among its passengers was one extremely odd young man. He had heavy stubble on his face, had not washed for three days, his eyes were red with exhaustion and fright, he had no luggage and was somewhat eccentrically dressed. He wore a sheepskin hat, a felt cloak over a nightshirt and brand-new blue leather bedroom slippers. As he stepped off the gangway from the aircraft cabin, a group of expectant men approached him. A short while later the one and only manager of the Variety Theatre, Stepan Bogdanovich Likhodeyev, was facing the detectives. He added some new information. They were now able to establish that Woland had tricked his way into the Variety after hypnotising Stepa Likhodeyev and had then spirited Stepa God knows how many kilometres away from Moscow. This gave the authorities more evidence, but far from making their job any easier it made it if anything rather harder, because it was obviously not going to be so simple to arrest a person capable of the kind of sleight-of-hand to which Stepan Bogdanovich had fallen victim. Likhodeyev, at his own request, was locked up in a strong-room.

The next witness was Varenukha, arrested at home where he had returned after an unexplained absence lasting nearly forty-eight hours. In spite of his promise to Azazello, the house manager began by lying. He should not, however, be judged too harshly for this--Azazello had, after all, only forbidden him to lie on the telephone and in this instance Varenukha was talking without the help of a telephone. With a shifty look Ivan Savye-lich announced that on Thursday he had shut himself up in his office and had got drunk, after which he had gone somewhere-- he couldn't remember where; then somewhere else and drunk some loo-proof vodka ; had collapsed under a hedge--again he couldn't remember where. He was then told that his stupid and irrational behaviour was prejudicial to the course of justice and that he would be held responsible for it. At this Varenukha broke down, sobbing, and whispered in a trembling voice, glancing round fearfully, that he was only telling lies out of fear of Woland's gang, who had already roughed him up once and that he begged, prayed, longed to be locked up in an armoured cell.

'There soon won't be room for them all in that strong-room! ' growled one of the investigators.

'These villains have certainly put the fear of God into them,' said the detective who had questioned Ivan.

They calmed Varenukha as well as they could, assuring him that he would be given protection without having to resort to a strong-room. He then admitted that he had never drunk any loo-proof vodka but had been beaten up by two characters, one with a wall eye and the other a stout man . . .

'Looking like a cat? '

'Yes, yes,' whispered Varenukha, almost swooning with fear and glancing round every moment, adding further details of how he had spent nearly two days in flat No. 50 as a vampire's decoy and had nearly caused Rimsky's death . . .

Just then Rimsky himself was brought in from the Leningrad train, but this grey-haired, terror-stricken, psychologically disturbed old man, scarcely recognisable as the treasurer of the Variety Theatre, stubbornly refused to speak the truth. Rimsky claimed that he had never seen Hella at his office window that night, nor had he seen Varenukha; he had simply felt ill and had taken the train to Leningrad in a fit of amnesia. Needless to say the ailing treasurer concluded his evidence by begging to be locked up in a strong-room.

Anna was arrested while trying to pay a store cashier with a ten-dollar bill. Her story about people flying out of the landing window and the horseshoe, which she claimed to have picked up in order to hand it over to the police, was listened to attentively.

'Was the horseshoe really gold and studded with diamonds? ' they asked Anna.

'Think I don't know diamonds when I see them? ' replied Anna.

'And did he really give you ten-rouble notes? '

'Think I don't know a tenner when I see one? '

'When did they turn into dollars? '

'I don't know what dollars are and I never saw any! ' whined Anna. ' I know my rights! I was given the money as a reward and went to buy some material with it.' Then she started raving about the whole thing being the fault of the house management committee which had allowed evil forces to move in on the fifth floor and made life impossible for everybody else.

Mere a detective waved a pen at Anna to shut up because she was boring them, and signed her release on a green form with which, to the general satisfaction, she left the building.

There followed a succession of others, among them Nikolai Ivanovich, who had been arrested thanks to the stupidity of his jealous wife in telling the police that her husband was missing. The detectives were not particularly surprised when Nikolai Ivanovich produced the joke certificate testifying that he had spent his time at Satan's ball. Nikolai Ivanovich departed slightly from the truth, however, when he described how he had carried Margarita Nikolayevna's naked maid through the air to bathe in the river at some unknown spot and how Margarita Nikolay-evna herself had appeared naked at the window. He thought it unnecessary to recall, for instance, that he had appeared in the bedroom carrying Margarita's abandoned slip or that he had called Natasha ' Venus.' According to him, Natasha had flown out of the window, mounted him and made him fly away from Moscow . . .

'I was forced to obey under duress,' said Nikolai Ivanovich, finishing his tale with a request not to tell a word of it to his wife, which was granted.

Nikolai Ivanovich's evidence established the fact that both Margarita Nikolayevna and her maid Natasha had vanished without trace. Steps were taken to find them.

So the investigation progressed without a moment's break until Saturday morning. Meanwhile the city was seething with the most incredible rumours, in which a tiny grain of truth was embellished with a luxuriant growth of fantasy. People were saying that after the show at the Variety all two thousand spectators had rushed out into the street as naked as the day they were born ; that the police had uncovered a magic printing-press for counterfeiting money on Sadovaya Street; that a gang had kidnapped the five leading impresarios in Moscow but that the police had found them all again, and much more that was unrepeatable.

As it grew near lunchtime a telephone bell rang in the investigators' office. It was a report from Sadovaya Street that the haunted flat was showing signs of life again. Someone inside had apparently opened the windows, sounds of piano music and singing had been heard coming from it, and a black cat had been observed sunning itself on a windowsill.

At about four o'clock on that warm afternoon a large squad of men in plain clothes climbed out of three cars that had stopped a little way short of No. 302a, Sadovaya Street. Here the large squad divided into two smaller ones, one of which entered the courtyard through the main gateway and headed straight for staircase 6, while the other opened a small door, normally locked, leading to the back staircase and both began converging on flat No. 50 by different stairways.

While this was going on Koroviev and Azazello, in their normal clothes instead of festive tailcoats, were sitting in the dining-room finishing their lunch. Woland, as was his habit, was in the bedroom and no one knew where the cat was, but to judge from the clatter of saucepans coming from the kitchen Behemoth was presumably there, playing the fool as usual.

'What are those footsteps on the staircase? ' asked Koroviev, twirling his spoon in a cup of black coffee.

'They're coming to arrest us,' replied Azazello and drained a glass of brandy.

'Well, well . . .' was Koroviev's answer.

The men coming up the front staircase had by then reached the third-floor landing, where a couple of plumbers were fiddling with the radiator. The party exchanged meaning looks with the plumbers.

'They're all at home,' whispered one of the plumbers, tapping the pipe with his hammer.

At this the leader of the squad drew a black Mauser from under his overcoat and the man beside him produced, a skeleton key. All the men were suitably armed. Two of them had thin, easily unfurled silk nets in their pockets, another had. a lasso and the sixth man was equipped with gauze masks and an ampoule of chloroform.

In a second the front door of No. 50 swung open and the party was in the hall, whilst the knocking on the door from the kitchen to the back staircase showed that the second squad had also arrived on time.

This time at least partial success seemed to be in their grasp. Men at once fanned out to all the rooms and found no one, but on the dining-room table were the remains of an obviously recently finished meal and in the drawing-room, alongside a crystal jug, a huge black cat was perched on the mantelpiece, holding a Primus in its front paws.

There was a long pause as the men gazed at the cat.

'H'm, yes ... that's him . . .' whispered one 'of them.

'I'm doing no harm--I'm not playing games, I'm mending the Primus,' said the cat with a hostile scowl, ' and I'd better warn you that a cat is an ancient and inviolable animal.'

'Brilliant performance,' whispered a man and another said loudly and firmly:

'All right, you inviolable ventriloquist's dummy, come here! '

The net whistled across the room but the man missed his target and only caught the crystal jug, which broke with a loud crash.

'Missed!' howled the cat. ' Hurrah! ' Putting aside the Primus the cat whipped a Browning automatic from behind its back. In a flash it took aim at the nearest man, but the detective beat the cat to the draw and fired first. The cat flopped head first from the mantelpiece, dropping the Browning and upsetting the Primus.

'It's all over,' said the cat in a weak voice, stretched out in a pool of blood. ' Leave me for a moment, let me say goodbye. Oh my friend Azazello,' groaned the cat, streaming blood, ' where are you? ' The animal turned its expiring gaze towards the door into the dining-room. ' You didn't come to my help when I was outnumbered . . . you left poor Behemoth, betraying him for a glass of brandy--though it was very good brandy! Well, my death will be on your conscience but I'll bequeath you my Browning . . .'

'The net, the net,' whispered the men urgently round the cat. But the net somehow got tangled up in the man's pocket and would not come out.

'The only thing that can save a mortally wounded cat,' said Behemoth, ' is a drink of paraffin.' Taking advantage of the confusion it put its mouth to the round filler-hole of the Primus and drank some paraffin. At once the blood stopped pouring from above its left forepaw. The cat jumped up bold and full of life, tucked the Primus under its foreleg, leaped back with it on to the mantelpiece and from there, tearing the wallpaper, crawled along the wall and in two seconds it was high above the invaders, sitting on a metal pelmet.

In a moment hands were grabbing the curtains and pulling them down together with the pelmet, bringing the sunlight flooding into the darkened room. But neither the cat nor the Primus fell. Without dropping the Primus the cat managed to leap through the air and jump on to the chandelier hanging in the middle of the room.

'Step-ladder! ' came the cry from below. ' I challenge you to a duel! ' screamed the cat, sailing over their heads on the swinging chandelier. The Browning appeared in its paw again and it lodged the Primus between the arms of the chandelier. The cat took aim and, as it swung like a pendulum over the detectives' heads, opened fire on them. The sound of gunfire rocked the flat. Fragments of crystal strewed the floor, the mirror over the fireplace was starred with bullet holes, plaster dust flew everywhere, ejected cartridge cases pattered to the floor, window panes shattered and paraffin began to spurt from the punctured tank of the Primus. There was now no question of taking the cat alive and the men were aiming hard at its head, stomach, breast and back. The sound of gunfire started panic in the courtyard below.

But this fusillade did not last long and soon died down. It had not, in fact, caused either the men or the cat any harm. There were no dead and no wounded. No one, including the cat, had been hit. As a final test one man fired five rounds into the beastly animal's stomach and the cat retaliated with a whole volley that had the same result--not a scratch. As it swung on the chandelier, whose motion was gradually shortening all the time, it blew into the muzzle of the Browning and spat on its paw.

The faces of the silent men below showed total bewilderment. This was the only case, or one of the only cases, in which gunfire had proved to be completely ineffectual. Of course the cat's Browning might have been a toy, but this was certainly not true of the detectives' Mausers. The cat's first wound, which had undoubtedly occurred, had been nothing but a trick and a villainous piece of deception, as was its paraffin-drinking act.

One more attempt was made to seize the cat. The lasso was thrown, it looped itself round one of the candles and the whole chandelier crashed to the floor. Its fall shook the whole building, but it did not help matters. The men were showered with splinters while the cat flew through the air and landed high up under the ceiling on the gilded frame of the mirror over the mantelpiece. It made no attempt to bolt but from its relatively safe perch announced:

'I completely fail to understand the reason for this rough treatment . . .'

Here the cat's speech was interrupted by a low rumbling voice that seemed to come from nowhere :

'What's happening in this flat? It's disturbing my work . . .'

Another voice, ugly and nasal, cried :

'It's Behemoth, of course, damn him!'

A third, quavering voice said :

'Messire! Saturday. The sun is setting. We must go.'

'Excuse me, I've no more time to spare talking,' said the cat from the mirror. ' We must go.' It threw away its Browning, smashing two window panes, then poured the paraffin on to the floor where it burst spontaneously into a great flame as high as the ceiling.

It burned fast and hard, with even more violence than is usual with paraffin. At once the wallpaper started to smoke, the torn curtain caught alight and the frames of the broken windowpanes began to smoulder. The cat crouched, gave a miaow, jumped from the mirror to the windowsill and disappeared, clutching the Primus. Shots were heard from outside. A man sitting on an iron fire-escape on the level of No. 50's windows fired at the cat as it sprang from windowsill to windowsill heading for the drainpipe on the corner of the building. The cat scrambled up the drainpipe to the roof. There it came under equally ineffective fire from the men covering the chimney-pots and the cat faded into the westering sunlight that flooded the city.

Inside the flat the parquet was already crackling under the men's feet and in the fireplace, where the cat had shammed dead, there gradually materialised the corpse of Baron Maigel, his little beard jutting upwards, his eyes glassy. The body was impossible to move.

Hopping across the burning blocks of parquet, beating out their smouldering clothes, the men in the drawing-room retreated to the study and the hall. The men who had been in the dining-room and the bedroom ran out into the passage. The drawing-room was already full of smoke and fire. Someone managed to dial the fire brigade and barked into the receiver :

'Sadovaya, 302a! '

They could stay no longer. Flame was lashing into the hallway and it was becoming difficult to breathe.

As soon as the first wisps of smoke appeared through the shattered windows of the haunted flat, desperate cries were heard from the courtyard :

'Fire! Fire! Help! We're on fire!'

In several flats people were shouting into the telephone :

'Sadovaya! Sadovaya, 302a! '

Just as the heart-stopping sound of bells was heard from the long red fire-engines racing towards Sadovaya Street from all over the city, the crowd in the courtyard saw three dark figures, apparently men, and one naked woman, float out of the smoking windows on the fifth floor.