mb1-2 noir accentNothing feels like a fresh pack of cigarettes. Nothing like a woman’s kiss. And nothing like a baseball bat across the occipital lobe.

Two hours later, I regained consciousness and staggered my way to the stinking third story apartment in the Bengali quarter where Madame Stolchnya held her Druidic ceremonies.

When I got there, four crimson-robed acolytes—aspiring theologians—were wrapt in religious debate concerning atman, asceticism and the role of plastic explosives in a twentieth-century evangelical movement. I limped past them disguised as a plaster replica of Botticelli’s Venus.

I lifted the hem of the arras just in time to view the spectacle of Mme. Stolchnya standing with dagger raised above the prone figure of an eleven year old boy. He was naked, tied to an ordinary office desk. He appeared to be in a drugged condition. A ring of aromatic leaves surrounded the base of his erect penis and there were strange red circles like weals at numerous points on his papery white skin.

“Sorry,” I said, and ducked back outside. The sundial by the window read two-thirty. I consulted my appointment book and realized I hadn’t been expected ’til three. It was then I cursed myself for not having brought my crossword puzzle.