Читать онлайн «The Damnation Game»
Part One. TERRA INCOGNITA
Part Two. ASYLUM
II The Fox
III The Last European
IV Skeleton Dance
Part Three. DEUCE
VI The Tree
VII. No Limits
VIII. Raising Cain
Part Four. THE THIEF'S TALE
Part Five. THE DELUGE
IX Bad Faith
X Nothing; and After
XI Kingdom Come
XII The Fat Man Dances
XIII At the Hotel Pandemonium
XIV After the Wave
The Damnation Game
Nor yet exempt, though ruling them like slaves,
From chance, and death, and mutability.
-SHELLY, Prometheus Unbound
Part One. TERRA INCOGNITA
Hell is the place of those who have denied;
They find there what they planted and what dug.
A Lake of Spaces, and a Wood of Nothing,
And wander there and drift, and never cease
Wailing for substance.
-W.B. YEATS, The Hour Glass
The air was electric the day the thief crossed the city, certain that tonight, after so many weeks of frustration, he would finally locate the card-player. It was not an easy journey. Eighty-five percent of Warsaw had been leveled, either by the months of mortar bombardment that had preceded the Russian liberation of the city, or by the program of demolition the Nazis had undertaken before their retreat. Several sectors were virtually impassable by vehicle. Mountains of rubble-still nurturing the dead like bulbs ready to sprout as the spring weather warmed-clogged the streets. Even in the more accessible districts the once-elegant facades swooned dangerously, their foundations growling.
But after almost three months of plying his trade here, the thief had become used to navigating this urban wilderness. Indeed, he took pleasure in its desolate splendor: its perspectives tinged lilac by the dust that still settled from the stratosphere, its squares and parkways so unnaturally silent; the sense he had, trespassing here, that this was what the end of the world would be like. By day there were even a few landmarks remaining-forlorn signposts that would be dismantled in time-by which the traveler could chart his route. The gas works beside the Poniatowski Bridge was still recognizable, as was the zoo on the other side of the river; the clock-tower of Central Station showed its head, though the clock had long since disappeared; these and a handful of other pockmarked tributes to Warsaw's civic beauty survived, their trembling presence poignant, even to the thief.
This wasn't his home. He had no home, nor had for a decade. He was a nomad and a scavenger, and for a short space Warsaw offered sufficient pickings to keep him here.. Soon, when he'd recovered energies depleted in his recent wanderings, it would be time to move on. But while the first signs of spring murmured in the air he lingered here, enjoying the freedom of the city.
There were hazards certainly, but then where were there not for a man of his profession? And the war years had polished his powers of self-preservation to such brilliance that little intimidated him. He was safer here than the true citizens of Warsaw, the few bewildered survivors of the holocaust who were gradually beginning to filter back into the city, looking for lost homes, lost faces. They scrabbled in the wreckage or stood on street corners listening to the dirge of the river, and waited for the Russians to round them up in the name of Karl Marx. New barricades were being established every day. The military were slowly but systematically reclaiming some order from the confusion, dividing and subdividing the city as they would, in time, the entire country. The curfews and the checkpoints did little to hobble the thief, however. In the lining of his well-cut coat he kept identification papers of every kind-some forged, most stolen-one of which would be suitable for whatever situation arose. What they lacked in credibility he made up for with repartee and cigarettes, both of which he possessed in abundance. They were all a man needed-in that city, in that year-to feet like the lord of creation.
And such creation! No need here for either appetite or curiosity to go unsatisfied. The profoundest secrets of body and spirit were available to anyone with the itch to see. Games were made of them. Only the previous week the thief had heard tell of a young man who played the ancient game of cups and ball (now you see it, now you don't) but substituted, with insanity's wit, three buckets and a baby's head.
That was the least of it; the infant was dead, and the dead don't suffer. There were, however, other pastimes available for hire in the city, delights that used the living as their raw material. For those with the craving and the price of entry, a traffic in human flesh had begun. The occupying army, no longer distracted by battle, had discovered sex again, and there was profit in it. Half a loaf of bread could purchase one of the refugee girls-many so young they scarcely had breasts to knead-to be used and reused in the covering darkness, their complaints unheard or silenced by a bayonet when they lost their charm. Such casual homicide was overlooked in a city where tens of thousands had died. For a few weeks-between one regime and the next-anything was possible: no act found culpable, no depravity taboo.
A boys' brothel had been opened in the Zoliborz District ...