‘So, how did it happen? You are going to tell me everything, aren’t you?’ Rowland turned the aircon on and rushed to the bed.
‘I am, be patient’, Nick took a deep drag and lied back, wistfully looking up at the ceiling.
‘You met at that disgusting bar, right?’, Rowland lied down next to him.
‘Yes, that’s right, in that hellhole.’
‘And he was late, of course?’ Rowland shuffled around, getting more comfortable with his head on Nick’s chest.
‘Yes. But don’t interrupt,’ Nick shook the ashes off his cigarette. ‘At first, I thought I would never find him. I’d been trying to call him up for like two weeks before I found out that he actually didn’t even own a phone. Whatever he wrote a scrap of paper he handed me in Amsterdam was just a bunch of numbers. Finally, I managed to get in touch with him through the girls from Malaria. We decided to meet up at the bar where he worked. I waited for him for about twenty minutes, sitting there like an idiot, dusting my sleeves… Hey, get off me, you’re all sticky.’
‘The damn heat,’ muttered Rowland, parting his cheek from Nick’s chest and rolling onto his back.
‘Finally, I spotted their percussionist. Have you seen that guy? A bloody machine of muscle and lunacy…’ Nick chuckled and shook his head. ‘Yeah, Blixa’s taste is strange, sometimes on the edge of bestiality. I even got scared a bit – such a golem. He walked out of a backroom, leant on a wall and started smoking… I see the way you’re smiling, my discerning one. So, I rushed to him, of course. Asked him where I could find Blixa Bargeld… Pass me the cigarettes, please.’
Rowland reluctantly reached out, felt around the nightstand and found a pack.
‘Thanks,’ nodded Nick. ‘He stared at me from under his yellow bangs so frantically, as if wanted to murder me. I couldn’t get anything from him…’ Nick went silent, lighting up another cigarette. ‘Frankly, he just couldn’t speak too well. Though he said some rubbish about my accent… Anyway, I went back to the bar; he returned to the backroom. A minute later, the door opened again, and Blixa appeared.’
‘And what did he look like?’ Rowland squinted at Nick.
‘What, messed up more than usual?’ asked Rowland with a little laugh. Nick frowned.
‘For me, that wasn’t funny. I was paralysed or something. It was like a revelation or a scene from a silent film. He was standing there, in the doorway, and I was at the bar and couldn’t move. Imagine, if our ways would part like that?’ Nick looked into his friend’s face. Rowland sighed and rolled his eyes.
‘But he noticed me straight away and smiled with a long, wide and sweet smile.’
‘What kind of a metaphor is that? A smile can’t have a taste’, Rowland interrupted.
‘It can. Yours, for instance, is sour… So he noticed me and set off through the crowd towards me. People were dancing there. It was some sort of a human jell. People were wagging around, like spineless, and a fan up the ceiling was spreading the stench across the room.’
‘Yeah, what a classy place for a get-together.’
‘Then, I got scared again – what if he would disappear, get lost in the crowd?’
‘And did he?’
Rowland raised up to pull his t-shirt off over the head. He wiped his face and threw the t-shirt aside. Cave did not appreciate the elegance of the gesture and frowned crossly.
‘Are you going to listen or not?’ exclaimed Nick, ‘Just lie quietly… So I saw him there, right away, all of him. You know how it happens, something catches the eye first. And first I noticed the swollen veins on his arms, veins like that appear on people who do a lot of manual labour…’
‘I’m afraid to even guess in what field,’ Rowland laughed.
‘…Or on skinny people.’
‘If you’d like, we can stop talking about it,’ Nick remembered the cigarette and took a couple of quick drags.
‘No, no, I want to hear, go on’, Rowland shook his head.
‘Keep your mouth shut then… I couldn’t even say a word. He was saying something standard, friendly, and I was just staring at him. He was so thin, skin and bone. And up close it looked even scarier than on stage. Skin pitted, like after smallpox. Clothes made of latex and duct tape. And he looked sort of through me as if he was in his own thoughts. Ha, and I knew what he was thinking about,’ Nick chuckled, ‘And he was radiating waves of warmth, some kind of feverish heat. Even the air around him was getting warm.’
‘Oh, don’t exaggerate,’ Rowland rolled onto his stomach.
Nick continued, ignoring him.
‘He asked me, ‘Where do you want to go? Your place?’ And I only nodded. As we were leaving, he snatched a bottle of vodka off the counter, and then I finally said ‘Would the barman mind?’ And he replied with an inscrutable face, ‘The barman is me’.’
Rowland chuffed, and Nick frowned crossly.
‘On our way out, I had a feeling like everybody was staring at us. He walked tall, like to the scaffold. Damn martyr… I was hiding behind him shamefully. Outside I noticed he was all shaking. Strange, it wasn’t cold at all.’
‘And you gave him your jacket?’
‘No, I wasn’t that gallant. We caught a cab. He didn’t say a single word along the way. Little by little the hate towards him was rising inside of me. In the car, he warmed up, or something else happened to him, but he stopped shaking and became his usual indifferently arrogant self. I undid one of his belts. Then another one. Then I took his hand and started squeezing, breaking his fingers. He didn’t even move. The cab driver was looking at our fuss in the mirror with a grin.’
‘It’s the worst when people stage humility,’ said Rowland, looking at the fingers of his hand, moving it from time to time up close to his eyes then away.
‘We came here. I opened the door, let him in first and pushed him slightly. He was stunned but didn’t show it, although he nearly fell. When we were left alone, he started babbling again. Maybe he thought he was good at it. But I could see that he was disgusted and a bit scared. There was no one around, and he finally realised what he got himself into. He shrivelled suddenly. He was sitting there,’ Nick nodded at the corner of the room, ‘in the white chair, like a fly in milk. I drew the curtains. And even turned the music on.’
‘I see you really put some effort in,’ Rowland was absently tracing the folds of the sheet with his fingers.
‘We had a few drinks. Every time he’d put his glass on a table, I’d notice how awfully his hands were shaking, one could think he was breaking — like withdrawal, you know. He smiled at me again, nice try… I asked him ‘You know why you’re here?’ He looked at me with his pale eyes and nodded earnestly, like a child, ‘I know.’ But all curled up in the chair. ‘So what are you afraid of, then?’ – ‘Afraid of you’. Then I banged my fist on the table and roared, ‘What kind of an idiot do you have to be to go with a complete stranger? What do you expect, some fairy fortune? Who do you think you are, a hero? I didn’t even promise you anything.’ He repeated, ‘I know.’ So quietly, I could barely hear him… Can you just lie there quietly?’
‘No. What happened next?’
‘Slut,’ I said to him. He shrugged, ‘A bit.’ He even tried joking. Then I lost it completely, kicked the table. I probably looked very amusing, yelling and spitting. Like, oh it’s so easy for you, how can you live like this? ‘Wanna play the guitar with us?’ Try the damn clarinet.’ What’s that, a love for adventures? He was just sitting there, hush. I didn’t know what to do. Just told him to strip down.’
‘And what did he do? What?’ Rowland was crumpling the sheet with his fingers.
‘Began to undo the rest of his belts.’
Rowland sighed contentedly.
‘He stood there naked and gaunt, like a concentration camp prisoner. Lowered his eyes though, already an achievement.’
‘So what then, you gave a lesson in Protestant ethics?’
‘Yeah. But we started on hygiene. I drove him into the bathroom.’
Rowland burst into laughter.
‘He needed that I bet!’
‘While the tub was filling up, I told him to wash his dirty mouth with the soap, like they made us do it at school. He was discoursing way too much.’
‘And did he wash?’ Rowland looked at Nick with both admiration and astonishment.
‘Yes, but without much enthusiasm. So I had to bend him over the tub and do it myself.’
‘And he… didn’t resist?’ Rowland breathed faster.
‘No. And that’s what irritated me. There must be some pride. Although he nearly puked - but that was a reflex.’
‘And then? What happened next?’
‘I bathed him from head to toe. And I sank him in a couple of times so that he wouldn’t ease off too much.’
‘Yeah,’moaned Rowland, ’And then you put a dress on him, a little dress, right?’
‘N-no…’ Nick was surprised, ‘Why would I do that? How perverted.’
Rowland sniffed resentfully and was even going to get up, but curiosity was stronger. He pushed Nick so he would continue.
‘Then I made him drink two glasses of vodka and tied his hands with a towel.’
‘So banal. Why not with a belt?’ Rowland raised his brow.
‘I found a better use for the belt. Much better.’ Nick was staring at the ceiling blindly.
‘What?’ smiled Rowland forefeeling the answer.
‘I… Damn!’ Nick shook his burned fingers; he didn’t notice that the cigarette burned almost down to the filter, and flicked the bud away.
‘So?’ Rowland looked into his face.
‘So I whipped the sod with his own belt.’
‘An how did you do it? You did it well, didn’t you?’
‘Of course. Whipped him all over his back, from the shoulder blades down. All his skinny back.’
‘Was he in real pain? Did he scream?’
‘Oh yeah, he was in pain, I can swear to that. But he was clenching teeth silently.’
‘Schlock,’ hissed Rowland.
‘Something came over me. I thought I’d just cover him a couple of times from top to bottom, and only to get the skin a bit red, but then I looked closely and saw down in the cuts something was shining, something white, glistening. I touched it – it was vertebrae.’
‘Hm, sorry, but I don’t believe you.’
‘You don’t?’ Cave looked down and grinned. ‘Alright then.’
‘Alright, alright, so you’re saying he didn’t even pass out?’
‘No. He was fully conscious till the end. And after every stroke, he tried to lift his head and kept smiling slow smile.’
‘Did you talk to him? Did you tell him everything?’
‘Yes. When I hit him the first time, and the blood appeared… I asked, ‘Do you remember how your father liked teaching you over the weekend? What did he whip you with? With a belt, like I am, or maybe with the rods?’ And he’d silently shake with every stroke.’
‘And then, then?’
‘I twisted his hair around my fist so he wouldn’t look away. He was completely mindless from pain by then. I said, ‘Now remember what he used to do next’ And then… I saw tears… in his eyes.’ Nick was biting his lips.
‘And then… Rowland, damn…’ Nick groaned and fell silent.
In a minute Rowland asked him, ‘Tell me, is this all true what you’ve just told me?’
‘Of course not,’ Nick couldn’t catch his breath. ‘Actually, that was me who was late at the bar…’