Nine

The crime ripened, then fell like a stone, as usually happens. With an uncomfortable feeling round his heart Poligraph Poligraphovich returned that evening by lorry. Philip Philipovich’s voice invited him into the consulting-room. Surprised, Sharikov entered and looked first, vaguely frightened, at Bormenthal’s steely face, then at Philip Philipovich. A cloud of smoke surrounded the doctor’s head and his left hand, trembling very slightly, held a cigarette and rested on the shiny handle of the obstetrical chair.

With ominous calm Philip Philipovich said:

‘Go and collect your things at once — trousers, coat, everything you need — then get out of this flat!’

‘What is all this?’ Sharikov was genuinely astonished. ‘Get out of this flat — and today,’ repeated Philip Philipovich, frowning down at his fingernails.

An evil spirit was at work inside Poligraph Poligraphovich. It was obvious that his end was in sight and his time nearly up, but he hurled himself towards the inevitable and barked in an angry staccato:

‘Like hell I will! You got to give me my rights. I’ve a right to thirty-seven square feet and I’m staying right here.’

‘Get out of this flat,’ whispered Philip Philipovich in a strangled voice.

It was Sharikov himself who invited his own death. He raised his left hand, which stank most horribly of cats, and cocked a snook at Philip Philipovich. Then with his right hand he drew a revolver on Bormenthal. Bormenthal’s cigarette fell like a shooting star. A few seconds later Philip Philipovich was hopping about on broken glass and running from the cabinet to the couch. On it, spreadeagled and croaking, lay a sub-department controller of the City Cleansing Department; Bormenthal the surgeon was sitting astride his chest and suffocating him with a small white pad.

After some minutes Bormenthal, with a most unfamiliar look, walked out on to the landing and stuck a notice beside the doorbell:

The Professor regrets that owing to indisposition he will be unable to hold consulting hours today. Please do not disturb the Professor by ringing the bell.

With a gleaming penknife he then cut the bell-cable, inspected his scratched and bleeding face in the mirror and his lacerated, slightly trembling hands. Then he went into the kitchen and said to the anxious Zina and Darya Petrovna:

‘The professor says you mustn’t leave the fiat on any account.’

‘No, we won’t,’ they replied timidly.

‘Now I must lock the back door and keep the key,’ said Bormenthal, sidling round the room and covering his face with his hand. ‘It’s only temporary, not because we don’t trust you. But if anybody came you might not be able to keep them out and we mustn’t be disturbed. We’re busy.’

‘All right,’ replied the two women, turning pale. Bormenthal locked the back door, locked the front door, locked the door from the corridor into the hall and his footsteps faded away into the consulting-room.

Silence filled the flat, flooding into every comer. Twilight crept in, dank and sinister and gloomy. Afterwards the neighbours across the courtyard said that every light burned that evening in the windows of Preobrazhensky’s consulting-room and that they even saw the professor’s white skullcap… It is hard to be sure. When it was all over Zina did say, though, that when Bormenthal and the professor emerged from the consulting-room, there, by the study fireplace, Ivan Amoldovich had frightened her to death. It seems he was squatting down in front of the fire and burning one of the blue-bound notebooks which contained the medical notes on the professor’s patients. The doctor’s face, apparently, was quite green and completely — yes, completely — scratched to pieces. And that evening Philip Philipovich had been most peculiar. And then there was another thing — but maybe that innocent girl from the flat in Prechistenka Street was talking rubbish…

One thing, though, was certain: there was silence in the flat that evening — total, frightening silence.

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