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BACK TO MY STORIES

     The station was a four-story brick building, built during the reign of the first Queen Victoria as a kind of hostel for impecunious women. When the second Queen Victoria assumed power, thus precipitating the Civil War, the building was acquired by the city police. The tiny rooms were converted into cells and offices and storage rooms for the volumes of paper we produced. Heavy black brogans tramped down the long corridors, past alabaster statues of the Virgin Mary and the Tormented Christ. During the War, two anarchists planted satchel bombs in the east wing. The explosion was felt in Whitehall and Westminister—the ground shook. Today that wing remains, with its broken walls, boarded-up windows and cemented-shut doors, as a kind of memorial; and each year, on the street outside, taps are played to honor the many good men who died that day.
     My office was on the second floor, facing north. I could see from my window two elms, a birch, and a row of small shops: vacuum cleaners, a group of income tax specialists, a boutique, and a sidewalk cafe run by a Turk named Omar. Omar spent hours leaning against one pillar, chewing his moustache, while his wife and daughter dispensed coffee, tea and arak. Opposite the window, taking up the entire wall, was my map of London.
     The Spaniard, Campoverde, sat next to this wall.
     “Your papers,” I said, “seem to be in order.”
     He inclined his head: polite, watchful.
     “It seems,” I said, “I have no choice.”
     “I am only here to help, Superintendent.”
     His voice was softly accented. He was a small man, dark haired and dark-skinned, with little black shoes.
     “And what,” I asked, “do you require of me?”
     He spread his hands.
     “Very little, Superintendent. A room—quiet, by itself. A guard at the door, to keep away the inquisitive. You understand—my work is very private.”
     “Of course.”
     “A husky constable to carry up my trunk. It is too heavy—I must apologize.”
     One of his hands stroked his black shoe.
     “My tools,” he said. “My apparatus—”
     “I understand.”
     He shut his eyes.
     “Well,” I said after a while. “It seems, since everything is in order—”
     We walked up two stories. The carpeting, of course, was threadbare, the lights dim. Constable Brown, assisted by young Trevor, deposited the trunk in one corner of the room. Campoverde lifted the metal lid and peered inside. He brought out, one after another, shining manacles, a battery, several pronged objects, a leather mask and leather restraints, black silk cording, a boot with screws attached, and several dildoes wrapped in cellophane, each one bigger than the last. The Spaniard took out his white handkerchief and polished each item, then quickly touched up his black shoes. I saw drops of sweat on his forehead.
     “In Madrid, in the summer,” he said, “the streets are full of flies. Plaza Mayor—it is like a charnel house.”
     A table was brought in. Campoverde placed each item on the table. He arranged them in different ways, until satisfied.
     “I used to leave—each summer, the heat was unbearable. I went to San Yago, a village near the Escorial. You cannot understand, Superintendent, the need to escape the heat, the flies, the charnel odor.”
     He lit a small white cigarette.
     “Ah,” he said. His fingers trembled, then were still. “I have learned a great deal in my life, Superintendent. About poisons, for instance. Did you know there is a common flower which, when dried and ground up, makes a potent aphrodisiac? In Madrid a certain Colonel is in a wheelchair—confined—and yet his erection is as powerful as a bull’s. The mystery of potency, the splendor of valor! And this—you see this vial? I could sell it for a fortune—a million of your pounds. It is the essence of a thousand different ingredients, and so powerful that a single drop in the water supply would incapacitate an entire city, even a city as vast as your London. And yet, combined with another ingredient—an ingredient as common as baking soda—it makes a truth serum of irresistible boldness. Death and truth, truth and death, Superintendent—that is the beauty of my trade.”
     He sucked at his cigarette—his cheeks hollow.
     “I once interrogated a virgin—a sixteen year old girl from Collaba Villaba. She wore black—all black—to mourn her dead father, a victim of the War. Black shoes, black eyes, black hair—and skin like the petals of a white rose. She was a lion, that girl, full of strength, the strength of the pure. How can one attack such a creature? She had already been brutalized—raped by the most bestial of men—drugged and beaten and subjected to the most refined torture they could devise in that charnel house of Madrid. Yet nothing worked. In despair they gave her to me. In my villa, on the hill in San Yago—a Tuesday afternoon in July—”
     His eyes closed again.
     “The shadows long—the hills swept by shadows—the shadow of my house falling to the valley below—”
     I watched the shining toe of his black shoe tap, tap in the air.
     “Less than two hours,” he said, and sighed. “Yes, less than two hours—that is all I needed. And do you know how, Senor Superintendent?”
     He waited. After a moment I said: “How?”
     “Pleasure.”
     “Pleasure?”
     “I dusted the petals of her vagina with a powder mixed in exact proportion, a combination of rare flowers, the larvae of poisonous insects, and the menstrual blood of a dwarf. Within minutes, Senor, she burned with an incandescent light. She broke free—no simple rope could restrain her. She ripped at herself—she sprayed blood and sweat and urine. For two hours she copulated, repeatedly, with a donkey especially trained for that purpose, plus a giant hound, and six men renown for the thickness of their organs. It was unleashed, Senor—that beast that resides in the innermost recess of all of us. And she watched, for two hours, she watched in horror as this beast claimed her body and her soul. Fornicating with animals and strange men and her own fist—listening to the grunts which issued from her own throat—smelling the heat of her own flesh and the effluvium of her own body—”
     With a finger, delicately, he wiped a drop of sweat from under his eyes.
     “It was shame, of course, Superintendent,” he said. “A virgin can be ravaged and remain pure—you merely increase her strength. But to experience her own lust, her own passion, to feel her own body overcome with pleasure—that was unendurable. Shame broke her. Shame, Superintendent. Remember that. Shame is a more potent weapon than pain could ever be.

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NOTES: In London, after getting married, I began a novel. I placed it in a kind of alternate London, after a civil war. I took it with me to California and struggled to add to it. Nothing seemed to work, and I finally discarded it. Some years later I looked at it again and decided one of its chapters could work as a short story. This is it.




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