Mikhail Bulgakov the heart of a dog and other stories


III ENTER THE BALD MAN



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III




ENTER THE BALD MAN

Next morning Korotkov moved aside the bandage and saw that his eye had almost recovered. Nevertheless, an excessively cautious Korotkov decided not to take the bandage off for the time being.

Arriving at work extremely late, a crafty Korotkov went straight to his office, so as not to give rise to any false speculation among the lower ranks, and found on his desk a memo from the head of the Supplies Sub-Section to the head of the Base asking whether the typists were to receive any special clothing. After reading the memo with his right eye, Korotkov picked it up and set off down the corridor to the office of the Base head, Comrade Chekushin.

Right outside the door of the office Korotkov collided with a most peculiar-looking stranger.

The stranger was so short that he only came up to the tall Korotkov's waist. This lack of height was compensated for by the extraordinary breadth of the stranger's shoulders. The squarish torso sat on bandy legs, of which the left one limped. But the most remarkable thing was the head. It was like a huge model of an egg placed horizontally on the neck with the pointed end facing you. It was also bald, like an egg, and so shiny that electric light bulbs shone all the time on the crown. The small face was shaven blue, and the green eyes, small as pin-heads, sat in deep sockets. The stranger's body was enveloped in an unbuttoned army jacket made from a grey blanket, with an embroidered Ukrainian shirt peeping out. The legs were clad in trousers of the same material and the feet in shortish boots with slits like those worn by hussars in the reign of Alexander I.

"Funny-looking chap," thought Korotkov, making for the door of Chekushin's office and trying to get past the bald man. But suddenly and quite unexpectedly the latter blocked his way.

"What do you want?" the bald man asked Korotkov in a voice that made the sensitive Chief Clerk shudder. It was like the voice of a copper pan and had a timbre that sent prickles down the spine of all who heard it. What's more, the stranger's words seemed to smell of matches. In spite of all this, a short-sighted Korotkov did something one should never do under any circumstances — he took offence.

"Ahem. This is very odd. Here am I trying to deliver a memo. Would you mind telling me who you are..."

"Can't you see what's written on the door?"

Korotkov looked at the door and saw the familiar notice: "Admittance by notification only."

"Well, this is my notification," Korotkov joked weakly, pointing at the memo.

The bald square man suddenly got angry. His little eyes flashed with yellowish sparks.

"You, Comrade," he said, deafening Korotkov with his clatter-pan sounds, "are so immature that you do not understand the meaning of a simple office notice. I'm most surprised that you have stayed here so long. And in general there are lots of funny things going on here. Take all those bandaged eyes, for example. Never mind, we'll put all that in order. ("He-elp!" Korotkov groaned to himself.) Give me that!"

With these words the stranger snatched the memo out of Korotkov's hands, read it through, pulled a chewed indelible pencil out of his trouser pocket, put the memo on the wall and scribbled a few words on it.

"There you are!" he barked, thrusting the memo at Korotkov so hard that he almost put out his other eye. The office door howled and swallowed up the stranger, while Korotkov stood there dumbfounded. Chekushin's office was empty.

A few seconds later the disconcerted Korotkov came to when he collided with Lidochka de Runi, Comrade Chekushin's private secretary.

"Oh, dear!" sighed Comrade Korotkov. One of Lidochka's eyes was covered with a bandage just like his, except that the ends were tied in a coquettish bow.

"What's the matter with your eye?"

"Matches!" Lidochka replied angrily. "Wretched things."

"Who's that in there?" the devastated Korotkov asked in a whisper.

"Don't you know?" Lidochka whispered back. "The new boss."

"What?" Korotkov squealed. "Where's Chekushin?"

"Got the sack yesterday," Lidochka said angrily, and added, pointing a finger in the direction of the office: "He's a real old buffer. A right terror. Never seen anyone so revolting in all my life. Shouts the place down. 'You'll get the sack!' Bald pants!" she added so unexpectedly that Korotkov goggled at her.

"What's his na..."

Before Korotkov had time to finish his question, a terrible voice boomed "Messenger!" from the office. The Chief Clerk and the secretary fled in opposite directions. Diving into his office, Korotkov sat down at his desk and delivered the following speech to himself:

"Watch out, Korotkov, old boy. You've landed in a bit of a mess. We'll have to put things right. 'Immature' indeed. Cheeky devil! You'll see how immature Korotkov is!"

With his one good eye the Chief Clerk read the bald man's missive. Scrawled across the paper were the words: "All typists and women staff in general will be issued in good time with military uniform longjohns."

"Oo, that'll be the day!" Korotkov exclaimed with delight, shuddering voluptuously at the thought of Lidochka wearing longjohns. Without further ado, he took a clean sheet of paper and composed the following.

"Telephonogram.

"To the head of Supplies Sub-Section stop. In reply to your memorandum No. 0.15015 (b) of the 19th comma MACBAMM hereby informs you that all typists and women staff in general will be issued in good time with soldiers' uniform longjohns stop Base head signed Chief Clerk dash Varfolomei Korotkov stop."


He buzzed for the messenger Panteleimon and told him:

"Take this to the boss for signature."

Panteleimon ruminated for a moment, took the paper and went out.

For the next four hours Korotkov listened hard, without leaving his room, so that if the new boss decided to take a look round he would be sure to find him with his nose to the grindstone. But not a sound came from the terrible office. Only once did he hear in the distance an iron voice which seemed to be threatening to give someone the sack, but precisely whom Korotkov could not make out, although he put his ear to the keyhole. At 3.30 p. m. Panteleimon's voice was heard from the General Office.

"He's gone off in the car."

The General Office immediately came to life and slipped off home. The last to leave, all on his own, was Comrade Korotkov.





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