The mirrored cabin began to sink down, and two Korotkovs sank with it. The second Korotkov was forgotten in the mirror of the lift by the first and main one, who walked out alone into the cool vestibule. A very fat and pink gent in a top hat greeted Korotkov with the words:
"That's wonderful. I'm going to arrest you."
"You can't do that," Korotkov replied with a satanic laugh, "because nobody knows who I am. Of course not. You can't arrest me or marry me. And I'm not going to Poltava either."
The fat man quaked with terror, looked into Korotkov's eyes and began to sink backwards.
"Arrest me," Korotkov squealed and stuck out a pale quivering tongue smelling of Valerian drops at the fat man. "How can you arrest me if instead of documents I've got sweet fanny adams? Perhaps I'm a Hohenzollern."
"Jesus Christ," said the fat man, crossing himself with a trembling hand and turning from pink to yellow.
"Go and see Dyrkin himself," the fat man babbled. "That's the best thing. Only he's a real terror! Don't get too close. He sent two people flying. And today he broke a phone."
"Alright then," Korotkov replied with a devil-may-care spit. "We've nothing to lose now. Lift me up!"
"Don't hurt your leg, Comrade Delegate," said the fat man tenderly, helping Korotkov into the lift.
On the top landing was a little fellow of about sixteen who shouted menacingly:
"Where d'ya think you're going? Stop!"
"Don't hit us, old chap," said the fat man, hunching up and covering his head with his hands. "To Dyrkin himself."
"Go on then," the little fellow shouted.
"You go, Your Excellency," the fat man whispered. "I'll wait for you here on the bench. It's awfully scary..."
Korotkov went into a dark vestibule and from there into an empty hall with a threadbare blue carpet.
In front of a door with a notice saying "Dyrkin" Korotkov hesitated for a moment, then went in and found himself in a comfortably furnished room with a huge crimson table and a wall clock. A chubby little Dyrkin bounced out on a spring from behind the desk, bristled his moustache and barked:
"Be quiet!" although Korotkov had not said a word.
At that very moment a pallid youth with a briefcase appeared in the room. Dyrkin's face was instantly wreathed in smiling wrinkles.
"Ah!" he exclaimed ingratiatingly. "Artur Arturovich. Greetings, dear friend."
"Now listen, Dyrkin," the youth said in a metallic voice. "You wrote to Puzyryov that I'd set up my personal dictatorship in an old-age insurance office and pocketed the May benefits, didn't you? Eh? Answer me, you rotten bastard."
"Me?" muttered Dyrkin, magically changing from Dyrkin the Dread into Dyrkin the Good Chap. "Me, Arthur Dictaturich... Of course, I... It's a lie..."
"You blackguard," the youth said clearly. Shaking his head and brandishing his briefcase, he slapped the latter onto Dyrkin's pate, like a pancake on a plate.
Korotkov instinctively gasped and froze.
"It'll be the same for you, and any other smart alec who sticks his nose into my business," the youth said menacingly and went out, shaking a red fist at Korotkov in parting.
For a moment or two there was silence in the room, broken only by the tinkling of the chandelier as a lorry rumbled by.
"There, young man," said a nice and humiliated Dyrkin, with a bitter smile. "That's what you get for your pains. You deprive yourself of sleep, food and drink, and the result's always the same — a slap round the chops. Perhaps you've brought one too. Go on then. Give old Dyrkin a bashing. He's got a public property face. Perhaps your hand hurts, eh? Then use the chandelier, old chap."
And Dyrkin proffered his chubby cheeks temptingly. In a daze, Korotkov gave a shy crooked smile, took the chandelier by the base and crunched the candles down on Dyrkin's head. Blood spurted onto the baize from the latter's nose and he rushed through an inner door shouting for help.
"Ku-klux-klan!" it cried, turning into a bald head. "We'll tell them how you beat up public servants!"
Korotkov was seized by fury. He swung the chandelier and brought it down on the clock. It replied with thunder and showers of golden arrows. Longjohn hopped out of the clock, turned into a white cockerel with a notice saying "outgoing" and darted through the door. From behind the inner door Dyrkin howled: "Catch him, the rascal," and heavy footsteps sounded on all sides. Korotkov turned and took to his heels.
PAR FORCE MOVIE AND THE ABYSS
The fat man hopped off the landing into the lift, slid behind the bars and plunged down. Down the huge gnawed-out staircase ran first the fat man's black top hat, followed by the white outgoing cockerel, behind which the chandelier whizzed past about two inches above the cockerel's pointed white head, then came Korotkov, the sixteen-year-old with a revolver in his hand, and some other people, clattering with their studded boots. The staircase resounded with ringing bronze, and doors slammed agitatedly on the landings.
Someone leaned over on the top floor and shouted through a megaphone:
"Which section is moving? You've forgotten the safe!"
A woman's voice below replied:
Overtaking the top hat and chandelier, Korotkov was the first to dash through the large front door and, gulping down a huge portion of red-hot air, raced into the street. The white cockerel vanished into thin air, leaving a whiff of sulphur behind it, the black cloak materialised out of nowhere and trailed along beside Korotkov, drawling in a high voice:
"Co-op lads get beaten up, Comrades!"
In Korotkov's path pedestrians were scattering and crawling under gates. Short whistles flared up and went out. Someone careered off, wildly hallooing, and anxious hoarse cries of "Catch him!" lit up. Iron shutters were closed with a clatter, and a lame man sitting on the tram-line squealed:
Shots were now flying after Korotkov, frequent and jolly like Christmas crackers, the bullets whining at either side and overhead. Growling like a blacksmith's bellows, Korotkov sped towards a gigantic eleven-storey building at right angles to the street, its main facade in a narrow side alley. Right on the corner a glass sign with the words Restaurant und Bier cracked starlike, and an elderly cabby with a languid expression on his face moved from the coach-box to sit on the pavement, saying:
"Hey there. Taking pot-shots just for kicks, eh, lads?"
A man ran out of a side-street, tried to catch Korotkov by his jacket and was left holding the lapel. Korotkov turned the corner, raced a few yards and ran into the mirrored expanse of the vestibule. A boy with braid and gold buttons jumped out of the lift and started crying.
"Get in, mister. Get in!" he bawled. "Only don't hit an orphan."
Korotkov darted into the lift cabin, sat down on a green sofa opposite another Korotkov and started gulping like a fish on the sand. The boy got in after him, sobbing, closed the door, pulled a cord and the lift went up. At that moment shots rang out in the vestibule below, and the revolving glass doors spun wildly.
Up went the lift, gently and nauseatingly. The boy grew calmer and wiped his nose with one hand, while the other twiddled the cord.
"Stolen some money, mister?" he asked avidly, staring at the lacerated Korotkov.
"We're ... attacking ... Longjohn," panted Korotkov in reply. "But he's taken the offensive..."
"You'd better go right to the top, mister, where the billiard tables are," the boy advised him. "You can sit it out on the roof, if you've got a Mauser."
"Let's go up there," Korotkov agreed.
A moment later the lift stopped, the boy flung open the doors, sniffed hard and said:
"Get out, mister, and nip on the roof."
Korotkov jumped out, looked round and did as he was told. From below came a growing, mounting noise, from the side the knocking of ivory balls through a glass partition with agitated faces flashing behind it. The boy darted back into the lift, closed the door and plunged down.
Surveying his position with an eagle eye, Korotkov hesitated for a moment, then ran into the billiard room with the battle-cry "Charge!" Green rectangles flashed past with shiny white balls and pale faces. From below, much nearer now, a shot echoed deafeningly and there was a sound of breaking glass. As if in response to a signal, the players flung down their cues and scrambled hurriedly through the side door with a clatter. Korotkov rushed over and shut the door behind them on the latch, slammed the main glass door from the staircase to the billiard room, and armed himself with some billiard balls. A few seconds later behind the glass the first head loomed up beside the lift. A ball flew out of Korotkov's hands, whistled through the glass and the head disappeared. In its place a pale light flashed, and a second head loomed up, then a third. The balls flew one after the other, breaking the panes of glass in the partitions. The smashes echoed down the staircase and in reply a machine-gun howled like a deafening Singer sewing machine, and shook the whole building. Glass and frames were sliced out of the upper part, as if with a knife, and a powdery cloud of plaster swept round the room.
Korotkov realised he could not hold his position. Covering his head with his hands, he took a run and kicked the third glass partition, behind which lay the flat asphalt of the roof. The glass splintered and scattered. Under heavy fire he managed to toss five pyramids onto the roof, and they rolled about on the asphalt like severed heads. Korotkov leapt out after them, and just in time too, because the machine-gun lowered its fire and blew out the whole bottom section of the frame.
"Surrender!" he heard faintly.
Suddenly Korotkov saw a pale sun overhead, a bleached sky, a breeze and frozen asphalt. From below and outside a muffled anxious roar spoke of the town. After hopping up and down on the asphalt and looking round, Korotkov picked up three balls, ran over to the parapet, climbed onto it and looked down. His heart missed a beat. Below lay the roofs of buildings that looked flattened and small, a square with trams crawling over it, beetle-people, and at once Korotkov saw tiny grey figures dancing up to the entrance along the crack of the side-street, followed by a heavy toy dotted with shining gold heads.
"Firemen!" Korotkov gasped. "I'm surrounded."
Leaning over the parapet, he took aim and threw the three balls, one after the other. They rose up, described an arc, then plunged down. Korotkov picked up another three, crawled over again, swung his arm and let them fly too. The balls flashed like silver, turning black as they fell, then flashed again and disappeared. Korotkov thought he saw the beetles begin to scurry about in alarm in the sun-lit square. He bent down to get another batch of missiles, but did not have time. With a crunching and smashing of glass people appeared in the billiard room. They spilled out like peas, jumping onto the roof. Grey caps and greatcoats poured out, and the glossy old man came flying through an upper pane, without touching the ground. Then the wall collapsed completely, and a terrible clean-shaven Longjohn swept out menacingly on roller-skates with an old blunderbuss in his hands.
"Surrender!" came the howls from all sides and overhead, submerged by an unbearable deafening saucepan bass.
"This is the end," Korotkov gasped faintly. "The end. Battle's lost. Ta-ta-ta," he trumpeted the retreat with his lips.
The courage of death took possession of him. By hanging on and balancing, Korotkov made his way to a post on the parapet, clutched it swaying, drew himself up to his full height and shouted:
"Better death than dishonour!"
His persecutors were close on his heels now. Korotkov saw the outstretched hands, the flame leaping out of Longjohn's mouth. The lure of the sunny abyss was so strong that it took his breath away. He jumped with a piercing triumphant cry and soared upwards. For a second he stopped breathing. Indistinctly, very indistinctly, he saw something grey fly up past him with black holes as if from an explosion. Then he saw very clearly that the grey thing had fallen down. He himself was rising up to the narrow crack of the side-street which lay above him. Then the blood-red sun burst resoundingly in his head, and he saw nothing more.