All Rights Reserved © 2000-2001 Don Williams

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Published in electronic book format by www.lulu.com, 2006.

Published in paperback by www.lulu.com, 2006

 

Prologue

Doctor Manuel Hernando de Salazar was sitting on a bench in Kaivopuisto Park in the city of Helsinki enjoying the morning sun. He had arrived two days before on the Silja Lines ferry from Stockholm and checked into an hotel overlooking the harbour. De Salazar was a psychologist who had graduated from Oxford in the autumn of 1980. His speciality was the psychology of Anomalous Experience. He studied hallucinations, delusions, ego disorders, amnesia and other aberrations of the human mind. His Doctoral Thesis, published by the University Press, had been highly acclaimed. After being granted a year's sabbatical from the University of Miami, where he presently occupied the Chair of Psychology, he had accepted an invitation to come to Finland as visiting Professor at the University of Espoo. Although the academic year would only start in the autumn, he had come to Finland in early summer to give himself time for a much-needed holiday. He had spent the previous afternoon with the Dean of the Faculty and had liked the old man at once. They had a lot in common. Manuel had left the campus with a list of available apartments and houses near the university. He returned to the city and after a light supper and a stroll along the shore, had gone to bed early. In the morning he had taken his usual brisk run, stopping after half an hour to rest in the park.

 

 

Chapter One

It was a beautiful day, the view of Helsinki harbour was panoramic, and he studied his surroundings with quiet satisfaction. Children ran and played about on the sloping lawns. Young men and women walked hand in hand, stood kissing, or gazed into each other's eyes. A couple lay entwined on the grass. There were women with prams and people with dogs on leashes walking along the winding paths. A few older folk sat on benches enjoying the sunshine. Brown and speckled thrushes hopped about on the grass looking for worms. Smaller birds twittered in the shrubbery. One old lady who walked by spoke to him. When she realised he was not Finnish she tried Swedish and then English. She asked him how he liked Finland. He told her it was only his second day and so far he liked it very much. She continued her walk and he stayed where he was, gazing out to sea. He watched a towering Silja Lines ship appear from behind an island a few kilometres out to sea. The professor decided that he really did like Finland.

Suddenly the psychologist felt a tremendous pressure on his chest. His heart pounded in his ears. A dreadful numbness crept upwards and spread to his entire body.

"Oh my God!" he whispered. "I'm having a heart attack... I'm dying!"

He was terrified and wanted to scream for help — but no sound came. He tried to raise his hand, but was unable to move even one finger. He saw a pair of yellow staring eyes. They began to glow with an eerie light. Had the Devil come for his soul? Manuel began to sweat. Moisture flowed from his pores and soaked his shirt and jacket. The sweat was running down his arms and legs. It seemed to him that his soul was leaving his body — through his skin! It appeared to rise about him like a mist.

'I'm going to die here on this bench,' he thought. 'Alone. Without the comfort of a loved one... without even a friend to hold my hand.'

The pressure increased and a powerful physical force took hold of him. Something seemed to pull him through the air towards a grove of trees. There was a blinding flash of light. The park and everything in it vanished. He seemed to be travelling at tremendous speed in total darkness. Then he stopped. It was as if night had fallen. There were no stars. There was not a glimmer of light. Somehow he knew it was not darkness as an absence of light. Light did not exist. Had never existed. This was not emptiness. Space itself did not exist to be empty. This was utter nothingness. No words could describe it. Struck by an awful terror, he thought he would disintegrate. Then he realised that had already happened. He was nothing. He also knew that time did not exist. This was before time. He had not simply died — he was not. Only a tiny fragment of his mind, filled with dreadful fear, existed. Not fear of dying but fear after dying. That and total sorrow. Then, without warning, he was travelling again at the same tremendous speed. There was another blinding flash and he was back in the park — sitting on the bench.

Manuel stared around. He looked at his hands. He had a mild headache but it disappeared in a moment. He flexed his fingers and felt strangely calm, then inexplicably elated. He stood up and sat down again. There was no pain, no numbness in his limbs. He was alive. He heard the cry of a gull nearby. He looked at the sea. Manuel was just beginning to regain his physical composure when he saw the Dog.

The moment he set eyes on the huge black animal he realised that something was wrong — badly wrong. It was not only that the dog was walking towards him across the grass on its hind legs. Dogs did that sometimes. He was well aware that well trained dogs could do incredible tricks. He remembered seeing a line of poodles doing the same thing in Monte Carlo when his Uncle Richard had taken him to a circus as a boy. What was extraordinary about this dog was its size. It was taller than most men, two metres high at least, and was not performing a balancing act. This dog walked perfectly upright, putting one hind leg before the other, like a human. It was of a breed he had never seen before. Its muzzle was broad and short like that of a Rottweiler, but the mouth was huge and gaping. The beast's ears were rounded and furry, like those of a hyena. Its jowls were loose and fleshy. As it approached, De Salazar saw it was holding an envelope in one paw.

The animal stopped in front of him and he became aware of a nauseating odour. It was like the smell of something dead, mixed with sulphurous sewage gas. He felt sick. Close by, the animal seemed even taller, towering above him. It was covered with thick black fur, except for its belly, where the hair was short and curly. A long, bright red, double-pronged penis protruded from a swollen sheath. De Salazar opened his mouth but no sound came. He was very frightened. He began to shake. He would wake up in a minute and this ridiculous nightmare would end. He wanted to get up and run away but was unable to move. But then, as he looked at the animal, he felt his whole body suddenly relax. The fear receded and was replaced by curiosity and scepticism. This had to be an hallucination.

The dog held out an arm. Its front legs now appeared to be arms. Normal looking, very hairy, human arms. They did not seem out of place on this huge canine. De Salazar was quite sure now that he was hallucinating — or dreaming. In a moment he would come to his senses and this apparition would be gone. He shook his head violently and felt a muscle twist painfully in his neck.

"This is for you," the animal said in a clear soft voice. "Professor De Salazar."

He took the envelope from the dog and held it in a limp hand. The dog's arms had reverted to their previous canine shape. He looked in amazement at the black animal.

"You talk?"

"Naturally," the dog replied.

"Well I've never heard a dog talking before. There's nothing natural about it."

"There's a first time for everything," said the dog, sitting down beside him.

Just then an old man passed by. He was walking slowly with the aid of two thick walking sticks. He was wearing a blue windbreaker, baggy flannel trousers and a peaked cap. He looked at De Salazar and smiled.

"Tulee kaunis päivä!" he said cheerfully.

De Salazar had no idea what this meant but felt obliged to nod in reply.

"He said it's a lovely day again," the dog whispered in his ear.

The animal's foul breath nearly made the psychologist faint. He shook his head again and looked at the old man.

"Hello," he said. Most Finns spoke English. He had discovered this interesting fact on his arrival in the country. Or at least they seemed to understand it.

The old man turned round, "You are English?" he asked.

"Not originally. I was born in South America," De Salazar replied. "Peru."

From habit he always told people about his origins. It stopped them from making remarks about his dark and obviously Latin appearance. Although he had been born in Lima, his father had moved from South America with his English wife and tiny baby in 1955 for reasons of health, political health. His Uncle Richard had moved too, for the same reason, but he had settled in the South of France.

The old man took a few slow steps and sat down with a long sigh. He took off his cap and wiped his bald head with a grubby handkerchief.

"It's normal for the summer in Finland to be beautiful," the old man said. "But this hotness is most unlikely. Anyway, it does well to my arthritis. Er! I mean it is good for my arthritis. My English has become rusted."

"Your English is very good," said De Salazar. He wondered why the old man had not said anything about the enormous dog that was now leaning back with its legs crossed like a man. A long red tongue was hanging out of the side of its mouth. The animal was panting and saliva dripped onto the wooden bench. The obscene phallus twitched and then disappeared. The smell was becoming stronger.

"I don't get much practise I'm afraid," said the old man. "So you are from Peru? But your English is excellent."

"I'm am English, having lived in Oxford since I was a baby," De Salazar said quickly realising the old man did not understand him as well as he had thought. "Except for a few years studying in Europe. I live in the United States now." He was studying the old man's expression and waiting impatiently for him to say something about the dog.

"Ah!" said the old man. He had also been studying De Salazar's face. Now he turned his gaze to the sea.

"Do you like dogs?" De Salazar asked suddenly. "This one for instance," he said nervously, pointing to their strange companion.

The old man turned in the direction indicated by De Salazar.

"I like the smooth haired kind better," the old man answered. "Those little devils leave hair all over the carpets and furniture." He was looking at two wire-haired dachshunds approaching on the end of a long double leash. They were with a young woman who was pushing a baby-cart with a red and white striped shade.

The old man leaned forward and put his hand down to attract the dogs’ attention. He snapped his fingers. The dogs stopped dead in their tracks and stood looking at the end of the bench. Both began to shiver uncontrollably, the hair rose on their necks and they began to whine.

"And it looks like these pups do not like me either," the old man said, with a puzzled expression on his face.

De Salazar now realised that he and the two dachshunds were the only ones aware of his strange companion. The two small dogs refused to budge. All the hair on their backs was now bristling. The young woman tugged the leash, trying to get them to walk past the bench. But they refused to move, pulling and struggling. Then they both began to yelp loudly. Suddenly the leather thong was dragged from the girl’s hand and the two dogs raced away towards the sea. The girl ran after them, pushing the cart before her down the grassy slope.

"I must get home," the old man said and stood up abruptly. "Have a good day."

He picked up his sticks, and holding them in one hand, walked away briskly. De Salazar watched him go in amazement.

"You sent him away?"

"Yes! We don't want him to think you are crazy... talking to yourself. Nor do we want any part of our conversation overheard," the dog replied, leaning back even further on the bench. It stretched its hind legs straight out and then crossed them the other way.

"What are you? Why do you wa...." De Salazar began.

The dog interrupted before he could finish. "I am known as Brulefer, some call me Sergutty. It would be better to read the letter first and ask questions later."

De Salazar turned his attention to the envelope in his hand. He was about to slip a fingernail beneath the flap, when it opened by itself, making a scratching sound. He took out a single sheet and unfolded it. The letter was written on what looked like thin parchment, in a precise hand with dark red-brown ink. He guessed it might be written in blood. He looked at the letter carefully. He could see pores and what looked like a flattened mole. 'My God,' he thought to himself. 'It's written on parchment all right. Parchment made from human skin.' He shivered. This was 1994. Things like this did not happen. He read the letter and the blood drained from his face.

To He who is to Die the Death,

Your Soul will soon leave your mortal body for Eternal Damnation. If you wish great happiness, satisfaction and peace of mind, a service must be rendered unto Us. The reward is great ~ the punishment terrible.

Refusal will make extinction of your earthly existence inevitable. You will suffer forever. You must decide without foreknowledge of that which shall be demanded of you.

Our Messenger must be informed of your decision.

De Salazar looked at his diabolical companion. He was feeling more confident, but was quite sure now that he was suffering from some kind of mental breakdown. Then it occurred to him that it was far more likely that some students were playing a trick on him. The old man, who had pretended to be a cripple, and the girl were part of the game. Others would be hiding nearby. He looked around but could see no one else. He cleared his throat.

"You're being rather theatrical aren't you? If you expect me to believe you're the Devil why are you dressed in a dog suit? You stink like a cesspool. Is that supposed to convince me you've come up from Hell? Sulphur? Fire and Brimstone? What rubbish!"

"We are the Messenger," the dog said. "Not the Master." Then the animal added very softly. "Thou shalt be beloved of women. Thou shalt have peace of mind. We have shown you the punishment. Later this day you shall taste of the rewards. Be calm... relax!" The animal uncrossed its legs and gently took the letter from Manuel's fingers.

"Think on this Manuel! We shall return for your answer." The black dog rose and looked again into his eyes. "Be at peace," it said softly.

The creature turned and walked slowly away along the path in the direction of the British Embassy. Manuel saw a slight movement and looked up. A tiny bat flew into the branches of a tree and hung upside in the shade. He did not think bats normally flew about at eleven in the morning. A Dalmatian walking with some children gave a yelp, then fled howling across the park towards the sea. A lone seagull flying overhead screamed and dived straight down, neck extended, into the grassy slope. Its legs twitched briefly, then became still. A few downy feathers drifted away on the slight breeze.

Manuel sat thinking. It surprised him to find he was calm enough to think at all. Was he going insane? He had obviously suffered some kind of seizure, perhaps a small stroke. After that he had calmly sat on the bench and chatted to a hound from Hell as if it was something he did every day. It must have been his imagination running wild and out of control? He knew that something very strange had happened and was still happening. The little dogs had certainly been terrified. Had he imagined them running off in terror? Could his mind have played such tricks? Surely not. There had to be a rational explanation for all this. But how could he feel so relaxed after such a terrifying ordeal? Although Manuel had studied many subjects who had hallucinated, he had never experienced the phenomenon himself. This experience, if indeed it had been an hallucination, had involved sight, hearing, smell and touch. Usually only one, rarely two, of the senses was involved.

The young woman with the baby cart reappeared from behind some trees. The little dachshunds were under control again and in a moment were walking placidly past the bench. One stopped and turned to sniff at De Salazar's shoe. He scratched the little dog's ear and it rolled onto its back.

"Excuse me," De Salazar said, looking up at the woman. She stopped. He saw she was young and very beautiful. She had big blue eyes and long thick reddish-blonde hair tied in a ponytail that cascaded over one shoulder. There were a few tiny freckles on her pert, slightly upturned, nose. Long shapely brown legs extended from beneath a short blue denim skirt. He could see one nipple outlined beneath her thin white silk blouse. She looked into his eyes and smiled showing perfect white teeth.

He rose politely. "Do you know why your dogs ran away just now?"

"I don't," she replied, frowning slightly. "It looked like the Devil was after them. Perhaps they saw a ghost?"

De Salazar frowned. She smiled back sweetly.

"There was an old man sitting here I remember," she said. "Perhaps he scared them. They've never done anything like that before. Anyway they seem quite happy now."

She smiled again and De Salazar wondered what she would look like without clothes. He was sure she would be good in bed. Then he heard a voice beside his right ear. It said clearly 'Take her if you wish.' He looked sharply at the girl. She simply stood smiling at him. She had obviously heard nothing.

De Salazar thought he must be hallucinating again. But unaccountably he was not in the least bit frightened this time. He stepped forward and peered under the shade of the baby-cart. A pink faced, smiling little boy looked back at him.

"Da," he said putting out a hand to Manuel.

"That's a fine looking boy you have there," he said.

"Oh! He's not mine. He's my sister's. I baby-sit for her sometimes."

"I thought you were a little young to be a mother."

"I'm twenty-two. Of course I could have a baby. Perhaps yours? Would you like to fuck me? I'm a virgin... but I'll be very happy to do it with you. I'll do anything you want. I really will. Here! I'll give you my address. I live just down this hill in Pietarinkatu." She pointed down the path in the direction she was going. Then she took a card from a pocket in her skirt and handed it to him.

"I'll take the baby to his mother... it will only take a few minutes. Then I'll go home and wait for you. My flat is on the top floor. Please come soon."

De Salazar could hardly believe his ears. He did not answer but simply stood staring at her. She smiled at him again and without another word started walking towards the buildings he could see in the distance.

Although he was still worried, the professor was also relieved. At least he had not imagined the whole thing — some parts were true. Something had disturbed the dogs. He was not totally insane after all. As for a letter from the Devil — that was ridiculous. But what was the voice he had heard? And then this strange, beautiful girl offering herself to him? He had never come across such bluntness from a member of the fair sex. Her explicit language had also surprised him. But then this was Finland. The women were supposed to be totally liberated. He looked at the four printed lines.

Anna-Maija Lehtinen

Pietarinkatu 166 k.6

Kaivopuisto

00140 Helsinki 14.

Manuel thought that if this whole thing was a hoax it was becoming very elaborate. He slipped the card into the breast pocket of his tracksuit and started walking down the path the girl had taken. He could see her in the distance, so he went slowly. As he walked along the wide path he thought about the dog. He sat on another bench to think. Had it been real, or an hallucination like the visions saints had after starving themselves until they were out of their minds? Had it been caused by some drug he had taken by mistake? He knew that LSD and mescaline sometimes did that kind of thing. But he had never used any hallucinogenic. He had taken couple of Codis tablets the evening before for a nagging headache. That was all — except for a couple of whiskies just before going to bed. Perhaps it was the codeine and alcohol combined? But the effect, if there had been any, should have worn off by this time.

Then Manuel remembered a book he had read as a student. It had also been filmed starring Anthony Quinn. An eccentric Greek millionaire had played an elaborate hoax on a young English schoolteacher on an Aegean Island. The man had been drugged. A beautiful girl had sexually provoked him. It had taken him a long time to discover there were really two girls — identical twins. Then he had been coerced into sentencing one of them to be flogged. Tied and gagged he had been forced to watch the girl he thought he was in love with copulate with a huge Negro dressed as the Egyptian God Anubis. And finally he had been made to believe his Australian mistress had committed suicide. Around the story had hung an aura of black magic, sex-charged pagan rites and Nazi atrocities. In the end the distraught man had been unable to distinguish between reality and play-acting. The story had been very complicated but credible. Was it possible a similar thing was being done to him? Or had someone come along and hypnotised him into believing that he was seeing a dog from Hell bearing a message from the Devil? He doubted it. No one, not even his most skilled colleague, had ever succeeded in hypnotising him. He started to wonder if he had imagined the conversation with the blonde girl as well. He took the card from his pocket and looked at it again. It was real. Her name and address were clear.

Twenty minutes later he was walking down Pietarinkatu looking for the building. He found number 166 and pressed a button labelled Lehtinen outside the front door. It was an old yellow and white painted building with six floors and large windows with balconies. The latch buzzed and the bolt snapped back. He pushed the heavy door and it opened. At the end of a wide hallway a flight of wooden stairs wound upward around an old fashioned lift shaft. There was a notice hanging on the lift gate — Epäkunnossa — Manuel thought it probably meant 'Out of Order'. He walked across the hall and started briskly up the stairs. By the time he reached the last flight he was short of breath. The door on the landing above opened a little and the two dogs ran out wagging their tails. They came down a few steps to meet him. Until that moment he had wondered if he would find the girl there at all.

He reached the door and it opened wide. He half expected to see a group of laughing students. The girl was standing before him. She was completely naked, except for a slim gold chain on her ankle. He looked at her long perfect legs. He went inside and the dogs followed. She closed the door and put on the chain. Then she turned and came into his arms hard, holding up her face to be kissed. Later De Salazar remembered that moment — the meeting of their bodies — as a collision. It had been like a fist slapping hard into an open palm. The dogs gave up trying to get attention and curled up together in a basket against the wall. With her arms still about his neck she pulled him to the centre of the room. Her soft wet mouth opened against his. He freed his arms and took off his tracksuit top. She started unbuttoning his shirt, but then impatiently tore it open. Several buttons flew off. He held her at arm's length, hands on her slim waist, and stared at her incredible breasts. They were upturned and pointed, with large, erect nipples. Then his eyes travelled slowly down her body, examining every tiny detail. He looked at her tiny waist, wide hips and prominent mound covered with golden hair. He rubbed the palms of both hands against her breasts. They were firm and smooth as velvet. He sucked a nipple into his mouth. He bit it gently making a growling sound. She groaned with pleasure.

While Manuel had been examining her she had also been studying him. She saw a decent looking olive-skinned man of about forty with a sun-lined face. He had curly black hair slightly grey at the temples, a straight broad nose and high prominent cheekbones. Thick black lashes surrounded his deep-set brown eyes. He had bushy eyebrows that almost met in the middle. His broad chest and flat midriff were thickly covered with black curly hair. He was not her type at all and she had no idea why she wanted this swarthy stranger so badly. But she did. She was desperate and her loins were itching and hot. She could not understand what had made her say those things to him in the park. The words had simply come into her head. She had even told him she was a virgin. That was completely untrue. Then she stopped thinking.

She pulled him down with her to the floor. She closed her fists in his thick hair and tugged his face to hers. She kissed him hard on the mouth, thrusting her tongue between his teeth. Then putting both hands on his chest she pushed him over backwards. She pulled his woollen trousers and shorts off in one continuous movement; his shoes came next and then his socks. While she was undressing him she was muttering softly. "Oh I want you so much! I can't wait to get you inside me. Oh God help me! I'm burning for you!" She had never behaved like that before — and part of her mind wondered why she was doing it then. All she was sure of was that she wanted this man. A man whose name she did not even know.

When she had him completely naked she turned around facing towards his feet and moved over his body. She started licking his belly and then moved downwards. He put a hand between her legs. She was very wet. He explored her slipperiness until a shudder told him he had found what he was seeking. She groaned and pushed against his hand. She reached out and dragged some cushions from a small sofa. He put both arms about her buttocks and pulled her towards him. They stayed like that for a long time. Then she freed herself, rolled over onto the cushions and lay spread-eagled. He knelt between her knees and she met him as he lowered his body onto hers.

Some hours later Manuel de Salazar awoke sweating. He was lying curled up with the girl, under a light down cover, like two spoons in a drawer. One dog was lying against Anna-Maija's breast; the other was sleeping pressed against Manuel's legs. He moved a leg and felt her stir. The dog went away.

"Are you awake?" she asked.

"Yes."

"Do you want coffee or a beer? I have some white wine too. But it's not cold."

"Beer please," Manuel said and began to stretch his legs. He looked at a clock on a nearby shelf. It was seven-thirty and the afternoon sun was shining directly through the window, lighting up the whole room. Manuel stood and went to the window. He could see the sea over the roof of the building opposite and the street below. On the wooden sill there was a narrow strip of paper, about the size used to roll cigarettes. He picked it up and the paper crackled in his fingers as if charged with electricity. He thought it was very fine rag, or rice paper. On it was written one word between two strange symbols — in dark red — and in a similar hand to the one he had seen some hours before.

^ Fruitimiere ^

The girl, who had been stretching and yawning, got up and walked to the kitchen. The dogs followed. Manuel watched her beautiful body moving saucily. He wondered how a virgin could know so much about sex. Perhaps she had been reading books on the subject? She had been expert — moving in perfect timing and rhythm to his thrusts. He had hurt her and she had cried out in pain the first time. It had been difficult. But the pain seemed to disappear immediately. They had made love twice. Three times, if he counted the last act, when she had been astride his body, crouching over his face. She had been like a slippery eel wriggling around in his arms. They had done everything. Then, with a final shuddering climax, she had fallen on him saying, "Oh my God! Oh God! I don't understand! I don't understand this at all!"

Manuel stared at the small slip of paper. He was about to take it to where his clothes lay heaped upon the floor, with the intention of putting it in a pocket, when it slithered from his fingers. It dropped to the windowsill and began to slide away. He slapped his hand down, but was too late to stop it disappearing into a crack between the sill and the window frame.

Anna-Maija came back from the kitchen carrying two tall cans of beer. She also had a plate with ham sandwiches on dark rye bread, covered with mustard. She popped the tabs on the cans and handed him one. While he ate and drank she studied his naked body.

"I really do think you are the most amazing man! I love you Manuel de Salazar," she said. Then she put a hand to her mouth as if the words had come as a surprise. A puzzled expression came over her face — not for the first time in the last few hours. 'Did I say that?' she thought to herself. But then the truth slowly dawned upon her. He was indeed the most amazing man. She did love him.

Manuel did not remember telling her his second name. He had told her his Christian name whilst they were resting in each other's arms. After that she had used it frequently, once crying out 'Oh Manuel! Oh my love.' She told him to call her Ani and when he did she hugged and kissed him. But what she had said about 'not understanding' was bothering him.

"What did you mean when you said you didn't understand?" he asked casually.

"Oh it was nothing."

"Has something happened to you? What made you say those things to me in the park?"

"I don't know. I just felt I wanted you. I still do... very much. Just looking at you drives me wild. I've never felt like this before. I think I love you."

"I want you too. I've never met a virgin who was able to do the things you do. I think you're the most incredible young woman I've ever met."

"I was a virgin... wasn't I?" She said with a frown. She spoke the words slowly watching his expression closely.

"You certainly were. I know I hurt you. I was amazed that you were able to go on for so long."

It had hurt. It had hurt her more than the first time she had made love with a man. She was seventeen then. Her partner had been thirty and experienced. She had been an exchange student in London... he a lecturer at the University. He had been very gentle, but it had still hurt. She remembered the burning and the blood. They had continued a secret liaison until his wife found out. There had been a small scandal and she had returned to Finland in a hurry. But he had taught her a lot and so did her next lover — also an older man. She had a weakness for older men. She wondered again why she had told this stranger that she was a virgin. And then, inexplicably, had become one. What had happened? Had autosuggestion caused a muscular spasm of some kind? The pain had disappeared the moment he was inside her.

"I lied. I was not a virgin. I lost that when I was seventeen. I don't know why I said it."

"That's not true Ani... you were. There is no doubt about that. Look." Manuel pointed to some spots of blood on the woollen rug where they had been lying. "You'd better get some cold water and soak that... or it won't come out."

"I don't understand Manuel," she said.

And then he listened to her with a frown on his face while she told him about her first lover and her second and one or two others as well. She also told him that she had a regular boyfriend who shared the flat with her. He was an insurance assessor and seventeen years older than she.

"I don't know where he is. He should have been home an hour ago. I called his office when I came in from the park. His phone just rang. No one answered. That's why I chained the door. In case he arrived while you were here. I'm very glad he didn't. I don't know what I'd have done if he had."

Manuel thought about what she had said. As a young man he had been obsessed with virginity and the idea of being the first, but had only slept with two virgins in his life. One had become his wife.

"It figures," Manuel said absently.

He was sure that dog Brulefer had caused all this. The slip of paper on the window was his work too, no doubt. Manuel had no idea what it was. But the word written on it was vaguely familiar.

"What do you mean?" the girl asked.

"Nothing. I was just thinking aloud. I don't think I would be very good for you, young lady. In fact I'm sure of the opposite. I'll go now."

"Oh please don't go," she said holding on to his neck. "I want more... lots more," Then she slid a hand downwards and started to tickle him.

Manuel was soon ready to make love again. This time she took charge completely. Afterwards, while Manuel showered the girl sewed the buttons back onto his shirt. He felt wonderful. When he came from the bathroom she was cleaning the blood spots from the rug with hydrogen peroxide. The phone rang and Anna-Maija answered it. She spoke for less than a minute and then slowly replaced the receiver on the hook. She looked worried.

"That was the hospital. It was about Hector, my boyfriend. He has concussion and his leg's broken. He was hit by a car about two hours ago."

"That figures too," said Manuel.

She looked at him with a puzzled frown. "What do you mean?" When he did not answer she said, "Are you coming back? I don't want you to go away. I don't want just never to see you again. Promise! Oh promise me please? I'll tell Hector it's all over. I only want you."

"I'll come back," Manuel said, although he had no intention of doing so. He did not want this beautiful creature mixed up in this bizarre affair.

She clung to him and he repeated his promise to return. Eventually she allowed him to leave and he walked along the road towards the city and his hotel. He came to a tram stop and felt compelled to sit on a bench under the shelter. A few people walked by. He thought about the girl and the black dog. Had the Devil-dog turned her into a virgin? What rubbish! That was impossible. His memory of the dog was becoming vague, but he had a very clear picture of the terrifying journey into oblivion. He shuddered. If that had been a dream he wondered what the reality would be like.

The howling of a runaway poodle that scrambled across the tramlines and disappeared down an alley warned De Salazar of the approach of Brulefer, if that really was his name. He looked up and saw it coming down the pavement towards him at great speed. In a split second the messenger was standing before him. This time it looked more like a goat. The creature had the same gaping mouth and long red tongue, but now it had curved horns and a man's hairy torso. It looked much more like the Devil. The fur was still black and the beast still sported the double pronged penis. Manuel was reminded of a crude woodcut of the Evil One he had seen in a mediaeval text in the Bodleian Library.

"Now you must answer. We have shown you the alternatives. Which do you choose?"

The memory of the abject terror he had felt came back with a rush and the sadness and the seeming endlessness of that journey into oblivion. Manuel felt he had little choice. The alternative was too horrible.

"I agree," he sighed.

"That will do for now. Come to the bench in the park in seven days... at the eleventh hour. You will be told what you have to do."

"Who will tell me?" De Salazar asked.

"You will know," the Messenger answered.

"Did you do something to that girl? Have you harmed her?"

"You did it, but she has not been harmed. We helped a little," the Messenger replied, twisting it’s strange face into what Manuel interpreted as a grin. "But soon you will be able to do many things. Amazing... wondrous things. But beware! Do no harm to thyself. That is forbidden. The punishment is The Eternal Sorrow."

The hideous genital twitched violently and De Salazar realised that the creature was about to ejaculate. He tried to turn his head, but was unable to do so. He was paralysed, incapable of the smallest movement. From both tips of the phallus, with each spasm, spurted puffs of grey smoke — they mingled to form a dark cloud. De Salazar saw it was a mass of minute, black-winged insects. The tiny midges swarmed about his head. He could hear their high pitched hum. Then they all flew up his nose. He felt a tickling high up in his nasal passages and a sharp pain in his forehead. Manuel shuddered as a series of unrecognisable images in the most vivid colours flashed before his eyes. He heard the words, "Thou hast the power," and his eyes closed involuntarily. He breathed deeply. There was slight buzzing inside his head and then silence. The pain subsided but he sat quietly for a long time before opening his eyes again.

He was just in time to see the Messenger disappear. Brulefer seemed to dissolve. For a moment there was only a black shadow, then a sound like a gunshot as air rushed back into the space where it had stood. Several pedestrians looked around for the source of the disturbance. Again De Salazar was assured of his sanity — other people had heard the noise too. A moment later the girl Ani passed by riding a powerful motor cycle. She was dressed in a black leather suit and crash helmet. Her golden hair streamed behind her in the wind. She was on her way to the hospital and did not notice him.


*

Manuel dined in a fish restaurant he discovered in a side street near his hotel. He was feeling calm and relaxed, considering the day's happenings. He suspected Brulefer had something to do with his peace of mind, although he thought the girl might have a great deal to do with it as well. She was a remarkable young lady. In all his life he had never had such a satisfying experience.

Manuel had finished his salad and was sipping his wine when his attention was drawn to a couple at a nearby table. They were American. The woman was quiet and withdrawn, her husband fat and florid. He was also drunk and rude. As Manuel watched he called out in a loud voice to the waitress who was some distance away. "Say! Where's the goddamn soup?" The girl went over to the table, but before she could speak he shouted at her again.

Manuel's next course, a grilled lobster, arrived and he started to eat. It was delicious and the white Burgundy was excellent. He was feeling relaxed and at peace with the world. As he sipped his wine he saw the waitress putting a steaming tureen on the American's table. The waitress moved away to serve another guest and the American began to complain very loudly to his wife. Manuel was annoyed and glared at the man. Then, as he watched, the tureen began to move. It slid across the table. A glass of wine fell to the floor and shattered, followed by knives, forks and a napkin. The American was staring in horror. He seemed riveted. The woman put her hand to her mouth. Then, very slowly, the tureen tipped over and the thick brown soup poured into the man's lap. When the tureen was empty it clattered to the floor. Still the man did not move. Steam rose from his lap — then he screamed. A waiter ran forward and pulled the chair back. The American fell to the floor, his face contorted with pain. He moaned twice and then lost consciousness. The waiter seemed unable to do anything except stand and watch. The woman rose and walked around the table. She stood looking down at her husband with a strange expression. The white faced manager arrived. He began to wring his hands and shift his weight from one foot to the other.

Manuel continued his meal despite the disturbance. He heard an ambulance arrive and saw one of the paramedics shaking his head as they placed the unconscious man on the stretcher. Manuel was pleased — and the realisation shocked him. He was sure the burns were serious. That loudmouth would certainly spend some time in hospital. The woman paused to speak to the manager. Manuel heard her clearly, "Say... don't worry. It was an accident. My husband's sleeve snagged the handle of that bowl an' it tipped inta his lap." Then she followed the ambulance men carrying her husband out of the restaurant.

Manuel walked back to his hotel. He retrieved his key and ordered a half-bottle of champagne from room service. He went to his room, tossed his jacket on the bed and kicked off his shoes. The waiter arrived and left again after opening the bottle. Manuel sat in a chair by the window sipping his wine and thinking about the day's events. He got up and took the card Anna-Maija had given him from his jacket pocket. He turned it over and read the telephone number he had jotted on the back. He studied it for some time and then picked up the phone and dialled. After three rings she answered. He put the phone down the moment he heard her 'Hallo!' She was there. She was real. Beautiful Ani had not been an hallucination or a phantom conjured up by the Messenger.

Manuel was worried about his reaction to that unfortunate man's plight. He had remained completely unsympathetic. In fact he had been delighted. He was also beginning to have a suspicion that he might have had something to do with the accident in the restaurant. Was Brulefer tuned in to his thoughts in some mysterious way? It was true Manuel had been very annoyed by the man's rude behaviour. Had the Messenger interpreted his displeasure as warranting such severe action? The tureen had moved. The man could not. His wife had sat and watched. There had been no one else nearby. The waiter, after he had pulled back the chair, seemed unable to do more. It fact no one had been able to get close to the screaming man. Also, how could the soup have been so hot? It was in a tureen and had been carried all the way from the kitchen. But Manuel was sure it had been bubbling when it came from the tureen. If the man’s clothing had been removed at once he might have had some chance of escaping with less severe burns. Manuel had seen everything clearly from his table a few paces away. In his mind he went over and over the scene in the restaurant. Then he started to summarise the day's events. He took a pad from his briefcase and began to make notes. He started with the dog. He was busy for almost an hour before he was satisfied.

Manuel poured the last of the wine into his glass and thought about ordering another bottle. Then he went to the bathroom. When he came out there was a knock at the door. He opened it and a waiter came in with a bottle of champagne in an ice bucket.

"Well!" he said aloud after the waiter had left. "It figures."

Manuel filled his tall wineglass, opened the glass door leading to the balcony and stepped outside. It was a warm night. The sun had slipped beneath the horizon in a bright orange glow. He knew it would rise again in a couple of hours. A few hundred kilometres north of where he sat it would not set at all. He took a sip of cold wine and put the glass on the top of the railing. Then he sat on a chair and looked out over the city. He was on the eighth floor and could see Kaivopuisto Park and the Ferry Dock in front of him. To the left a wide boulevard led to the harbour. He leaned forward and put out his hand. The wineglass was just out of reach. He was about to get up when it slid along the top of the metal rail and into his hand. Manuel blinked. Then he got up and put the glass back on the railing. He put his hand out again. The glass of wine moved ten centimetres through the air, the stem settling comfortably between his fingers. Manuel put the glass on the railing again and took five paces to the end of the balcony. He put out his hand.

When he had finished his experiments with the glass Manuel was more than a little excited. He did not panic but retained the calm detachment that had overtaken him after his second meeting with Brulefer. He had first noticed his new found state of mind during the commotion in the restaurant. He knew now what had moved the tureen. Manuel recalled a fleeting thought: 'I'd pour it in his lap if he spoke to me like that!' He drained the glass and went into his room for the bottle and his notepad.

Manuel finished the wine and prepared for bed. As he came from the bathroom he noticed the empty champagne bucket on the table by the window. He stopped in the middle of the room and stared at it steadily. Slowly it rose in the air and tipped over. Water and the remains of the ice poured onto the carpet. When it was empty the bucket returned smoothly to its place on the tray.

Manuel got into bed after turning the air conditioner down low. Before he went to sleep he decided that after he found an apartment, he would buy a small Computer and start transcribing the notes he had already made for his next book. He would also make detailed notes about the strange things that were happening to him. Perhaps there was a story there too?

Chapter Two

Manuel was in the middle of a deep cold lake. He was swimming slowly. The dark heavily wooded shore was far away – so far that he wondered how he had managed to swim such a distance. He turned slowly around in the water. All he could see were tall spruce and pine trees. The sky was leaden with dark rain-laden clouds looming to the east. They began to turn pink as the glow of the rising sun touched them.

Then he saw, as if through a telescope, a figure walking along the shore. It was a woman. She seemed to be clothed only in a dark shawl wrapped tightly around her shoulders. He could see her lined, once beautiful, face clearly. She walked like a much younger woman with the gait of an athlete. She climbed to the top of a small rise and turned to look towards Manuel. He stopped swimming and treaded water. He watched her. She was far away and yet he could see her clearly. They stared at each other for a long time. Then she turned away from the lake to face the woods. She seemed to be expecting someone.

After a few moments a black figure that looked like the Hairy Dog from Hell emerged from the forest. The two stood close together and seemed to be having an intimate conversation. After some minutes the beast turned and went back the way it had come. The woman walked to the sandy shore of the still lake. Dropping the shawl she entered the water and began swimming strongly towards Manuel. He waited for her, floating on his back. His leg muscles were stiff and he feared he might soon have cramps. He heard the steady strokes of the approaching swimmer. Then the water began to warm up and his muscles relaxed. It was like lying in a hot bath. He turned to look for the woman and found there was no need to tread water. He could remain perfectly still without sinking.

The woman reached him after what seemed like hours. She put out her hand. Manuel took it and they hung motionless in the water. She looked into his eyes. She was asking, 'Are you ready?' Manuel nodded. The woman turned and dived smoothly beneath the dark surface pulling Manuel with her. He did not panic. He breathed. His lungs filled with water and it did not seem to matter. Then he discovered that he had no need to breathe at all. They floated a few metres beneath the surface of the deep lake.

Then the woman started swimming strongly downwards. Manuel, who was no longer holding her hand, followed. He could see her heels kicking. The distance between them grew. Manuel tried to keep up with her, but it was dark and he could barely see her feet. He stopped swimming and hung in the water, suspended and weightless. Floating upwards, he rose gently and hovered a few feet above the lake surface. He breathed out the warm water that had filled his lungs. He could see the woman far below looking up at him. She was laughing silently. Manuel flew, just skimming the water surface, across the lake towards the shore. There he found the woman sitting cross-legged beneath a huge oak. She was chanting in a strange language.

Manuel turned over on his back and his elbow hit something. He opened his eyes. He was lying beneath something solid and white. 'Is it ice?' he thought. 'Have I come up under some ice?' Then he looked carefully. It was a smooth surface. He put up a hand and felt it. It was warm and dry. He scratched with a thumbnail and some paint came off. He realised that he was facing a wall or a partition of some kind. He turned around and saw his bed and the carpeted floor of the hotel room. The table with the champagne bucket stood by the window. He saw the dark stain of the water that had soaked into the carpet. Then he became dizzy and disoriented. He closed his eyes. Minutes went by before he felt confident enough to open them again and when he did the view was the same. The room seemed to have turned upside down. He was lying on what had been the ceiling. Now he was sure someone — or something — was playing games with him. That black dog, or whatever it was, had either turned the room upside down or had carried him into a trick room during the night; a room built upside down. He was lying on a fake ceiling that was really the floor. Either that — or this was another nightmare. Then he remembered the lake and the woman. Of course! He was still asleep. He was simply having a flying dream.

"I'll get into bed and then wake up," he said aloud.

A moment later he started floating downwards and ended up lying face down on the covers. He closed his eyes, turned over and opened them again. Everything was normal. He was lying on the bed and the room seemed normal. He stared at the ceiling. Had he been up there a few moments before? Impossible. He closed his eyes and opened them again everything was still normal. Manuel lay on the bed looking at the ceiling for a long time before getting up to go to the bathroom. After splashing cold water on his face he examined himself in the mirror. Then he began to lather his face — still thinking about his strange dream. When he picked up his razor he noticed tiny flakes of paint under his thumbnail.

Manuel had been shaving carefully for some time before he became aware that he was repeating some strange and meaningless words to himself. He was chanting them, like the woman in his dream. After finishing some rough spots on his chin he stepped into the shower and stood under steaming hot water before finally turning it cold. Then he walked about the bedroom with a towel around his waist examining everything carefully. It all seemed perfectly normal. He sat down with his notebook and pencil and jotted down the words he could remember. He had no idea how to spell them, or what language they were in — Lafard, Dower, Twata, Vati and Loog. They meant nothing to him. Then he ordered breakfast and while waiting for it to arrive he dressed. He took a laundry bag from the cupboard and put his underclothing and sweaty pyjamas into it. He found fresh underwear in his suitcase and pulled on a pair of jeans and a soft blue denim shirt. He was feeling calm. He was also sure that the Black Dog was responsible for whatever it was that had happened and probably for the strange dream as well. Perhaps everything had been a dream — from the time he had thought he was in the park yesterday morning until this very moment?

The waiter arrived wheeling in a trolley laden with a huge breakfast. Manuel watched him come into the room and again everything seemed perfectly normal. The man left carrying the champagne bucket, empty bottles and glass. Manuel poured himself a cup of steaming coffee. He ate a carton of yoghurt, some cheese, honey-cured ham, marmalade and fresh rye bread. Then he poured more coffee. The cup slipped from his fingers. It was halfway to the carpet when it stopped in mid-air and returned to his hand without a drop being spilled.

'No dream this,' thought Manuel to himself.

He spent ten minutes experimenting with various objects in the room. He discovered that he did not even have to formulate an idea in words to make something happen. Things could also happen as the result of a 'mental reflex.' He moved the tray about the room. He picked up a chair and the bed. Then he poured a cup of coffee from the other side of the room. He put out his hand. The cup sailed gently through the air, its handle settling comfortably between his fingers.

Manuel stood beside the bed and looked at the ceiling. He could see the faint mark his thumbnail had made. He wanted to look more closely and suddenly found that he was rising. A moment later he was hovering just below the ceiling. After being able to move objects by mind control he was only faintly surprised to find he could levitate as well. Manuel sank smoothly to the carpet. None of this was a dream, or imagination. It was all happening. It was real. He could move himself and things with his mind. It was more than levitation — it seemed like flying. The moment the thought crossed his mind he found himself sailing gently across the room towards the window, his feet at least twenty centimetres above the carpet.

Manuel flew around the room in a circle. It was an old fashioned hotel with high ceilings. He flew in and out of the bathroom door and up to the ceiling and down again. He found he did not have to think about how fast he should go. That seemed to be automatic and he did not bump into anything either. He always stopped or turned away an instant before an impending collision. While he was practising, he realised that he would have to be very careful. If he were to do any of these magical things in public he would soon be in serious trouble.

 

*

 

Manuel sat down and studied the list of apartments and houses the Dean had given him. He had no idea of the geography of Helsinki and would have to get a map. He thought that Anna-Maija would probably know all these places. It was a pity he could not see her again. He missed her already and wanted her badly. Manuel made more notes and wrote a detailed account of his strange dream.

Thirty minutes later, just as he was about to leave, there was a knock at the door. He opened it to find Anna-Maija standing there dressed in her black leather suit.

"Are you ready?" she asked.

"What do you mean?" he said.

"Aren't we going house hunting today? You have to find somewhere to live don't you?" she said giving him a toothy smile.

"How did you know where to find me?"

"You told me."

"Did I? When?"

"Yesterday of course. When else?" Anna-Maija frowned and looked puzzled. "Didn't you? Anyway I knew you wanted me to come."

Manuel did not know what to say to her. He was certain he had not told her the name of his hotel. He shrugged his shoulders. He slipped his wallet into a shirt pocket and picked up the list. Then he followed her to the lift. She punched the 'parking' button and soon they were in the hotel's underground car park. She led the way to a huge American motor cycle. There were two crash helmets on the pillion seat and a man's black leather jacket and gloves. Manuel donned the jacket and strapped on the helmet.

"I'd better drive," Anna-Maija said. "Helsinki is full of one-way streets and dead ends."

They set off along the shore, passed the harbour and turned down a narrow lane. Soon they were on a long busy street with two pairs of tramlines running between gloomy looking yellowish buildings. Anna-Maija rode well and after many sets of lights, that all took a long time to change, they joined a motorway that crossed a lake. A few minutes later they were in Tapiola.

"I love you! Oh! How I love you Manuel," she said, turning in the saddle at yet another set of lights. She tried to kiss him but the helmets got in the way.

They stopped and Anna-Maija examined his list. The first apartment they visited was between a group of office buildings. So were the second and third. The fourth overlooked a shopping complex and parking garage. After two hours it became clear that this was not going to be easy. They looked at two small wooden houses that were dusty, old, and on a slope above a busy highway. Even with the doors closed the roar of the traffic made the windowpanes rattle. They went to every address on the list. In some cases they did not even bother to go inside. Nothing was even remotely the kind of place where Manuel wanted to live.

"Are there no apartments in your neighbourhood?" he asked her. "It's so quiet there and the view's wonderful."

"I was coming to that. Hector is going back to England. He's being transferred to Head Office. He'll be leaving tomorrow afternoon. You can stay with me if you like."

Manuel looked at her. She smiled back nervously.

"Please darling?"

"But Hector has just been in an accident! How can he travel so soon?"

"I don't know. But he seems to be able to move about quite well and when he got the letter from London he became very excited. He phoned the Director at his home and accepted immediately. I'll be glad to see him go." she frowned. "I don't know what I ever saw in him in the first place."

Manuel was sure this had nothing to do with him, involving such a sweet girl in this mysterious business was certainly not on his agenda. It had to have been the Messenger.

"It was not!" a voice said clearly in his right ear. "You have the power."

While they rode back to the city Manuel puzzled over this. He had thought about Anna-Maija of course. How could he not have done? She was fantasy come to life. He had thought about the incredible sex. Perhaps he had thought about living with her too? Had he called her to the hotel that morning using some kind of telepathic power? Possibly — he could not remember his actual train of thought. One thing was abundantly clear — he was now capable of invoking some kind of powerful force. He wondered how far this new power reached. He supposed he could live with Anna-Maija for a while, but would have to be very careful.

Manuel had decided not to return to Miami when his year's contract in Finland expired. He would stay in Helsinki for a couple of years at least. He had detailed notes and even rough drafts of some chapters for his new book. He had enough money put aside to keep himself for a year or two in reasonable comfort, but wished he had more — enough to buy a small cabin by a lake, or the sea, where he could work in peace. It would be nice to have this beautiful creature with him as well.

Anna-Maija stopped at a busy intersection and turned in the saddle to smile at him. Manuel suddenly wondered what Hector was like. He should be rather special to have attracted such a beauty.

"Let's go back to my place. You can meet Hector. You’ll like him. I have a nice piece of fresh salmon. I can grill us some medallions. And there's lots of wine in the fridge."

"Okay," Manuel agreed. He was hungry. It was afternoon and he had eaten nothing since breakfast. He was sure that since Hector was leaving there would be no embarrassing scenes if they should meet.

They stopped at a traffic light. Beside them a cloud of black smoke was coming from an old VW Beetle. Manuel hated exhaust fumes. 'Damn lights,' he thought. The lights immediately turned green. Three cars crossing from the other direction screeched to a sudden halt. The last car ran into the one in front and there was a crunch as a taillight disintegrated. A tram driver had to put on his emergency brake to avoid hitting a large truck moving across his path. Anna-Maija steered the bike expertly past the obstructions and accelerated down the street.

When they got to the flat she rode beneath an archway and parked in the yard. She chained the bike to a steel pillar with a thick chromium plated chain. Then they went up to the top floor in the lift — which was now working. She unlocked the door and it opened to the end of the chain. A moment later the door closed and Manuel heard someone slide the chain back. Then the door opened to reveal a tall thin man dressed in flannel trousers and a striped blue shirt. He had a cast on his left leg. He peered at them as they came in through spectacles with heavy black frames. The two dachshunds jumped from their basket and ran around squealing with excitement.

"You're Manuel?"

When Manuel nodded, he put out his hand. They shook hands and Manuel was surprised at the strength of his grip.

"I'm glad to meet you Hector," Manuel said. "I was sorry to hear you had such bad luck. How are you feeling now?"

"Strangely enough... not bad at all!" Hector answered. "It's just this damn cast! It's such a bloody nuisance to lug around."

While they were talking Anna-Maija was shedding her clothes and throwing them into a corner by the front door. Then she walked into the kitchen. Hector watched her nervously.

"I don't know why she does that. It's being going on since last night. She brought me home from hospital and the moment we got in here she threw them all off. She took the trash out this morning and did the same. Then again, when she went down to get the mail. It makes me nervous."

Hector shrugged his shoulders and smiled gently. He had very good teeth. Manuel said nothing. He studied Hector. He saw a man nearing forty with a long thin pale face. His eyes were pale blue and his nose looked as if it had been broken more than once. His thinning brown hair was brushed straight back. Hector touched his nose self-consciously and limped away after the naked girl. Manuel heard them talking.

"I'm going out for a while," Hector said.

"I'm going to cook that fish," she said. "Don't you want to eat?"

"No thanks. And I'll be very late. I may not even come back at all. I have to talk to a lot of people before I leave."

"All right Hector. I'll see you later."

Hector stumped out of the kitchen and went through a door. Manuel saw it was a bedroom. There were three other doors leading off a short passage. One he knew led to a bathroom. The kitchen and a dining alcove were at the other end of the spacious main room. Hector came out again a minute later. He had put on a jacket and tie.

"Okay I'm off," he called.

"Hei hei!" Anna-Maija answered from the kitchen.

Manuel heard a cork being pulled from a bottle as Hector left closing the door quietly behind him. He thought Hector might be interesting, but would not be worried if he never saw him again.

The girl came out of the kitchen carrying a bottle of white wine and two glasses. She put them on a low table and went to the door. She slid the chain into its groove and came back. Then she filled the glasses with golden wine and handed one to Manuel. She stood in front of him, her legs slightly apart. He examined her beautiful body again.

"Kippis darling," she said smiling into his eyes and raising her glass.

"Cheers," Manuel replied and sipped the cold wine.

"Do you want to fuck now, or wait until we've eaten?"

"What about a little now and more later?" Manuel said rising to his feet.

They made love, this time very gently and with great tenderness. When it was over she was weeping silently. Manuel knew better than to ask why. Then she got up and after a brief visit to the bathroom, started to prepare their meal.

Manuel wandered around the flat. There were three more rooms. The door at the end of the passage was locked. One was a study with an untidy desk and small computer. The walls were lined with books. He pulled one out at random. It was entitled 'To Infinity and Beyond.' He opened it. It was all mathematics. He chose another — also mathematics. There were sheets of paper covered with scribbled notes scattered about on the desk. There was one neat stack with a title page on the top. The Diagonalisation of Positive Integers — The author's name was Anna-Maija Lehtinen MSc. In the corner there was a small table with a laser printer and beneath it another dog's basket.

The other two doors led to bedrooms. The smaller was obviously a guestroom. It was tidy and had a single bed, a table and a couch under the window. An antique wardrobe stood against one wall. The other room was bigger. In the exact centre of the back wall there was a large double bed. It was at least as wide as it was long and he was sure four people could sleep in it with comfort. There were women's clothes scattered about the room and by the door stood two suitcases. Manuel lifted one. It was heavy. He opened another antique wardrobe and saw a dozen empty hangers. There were two empty drawers in the dressing table. Obviously Hector had packed and was ready to leave. He sat down in front of the dressing table. Anna-Maija did not have many bottles. There was only one lipstick, a box of powder, some eye shadow, eyeliner and mascara. There was also some perfume — Coco Chanel.

In the bathroom there were at least ten bottles of different kinds of shampoo and conditioner, several varieties of soap and a container of Johnson's Baby Powder. There was an empty shelf in the cabinet. On the top shelf there was a dispenser of birth control pills, some aspirin, several unidentifiable jars and bottles and an unused pregnancy diagnosis kit. Manuel went back to the sitting room and sat on the sofa. Anna-Maija came bouncing out to fill her glass with wine. He stared at her marvellous body.

"Where does that door at the end of the passage lead?"

"It's the other half of this apartment. The other rooms are let to someone else. Some of these old apartments were very big. This was a fashionable area once. Now all the snobs live right on the shore." She waved a hand vaguely in the direction of the sea.

Manuel patted the sofa and Anna-Maija came and sat beside him putting a hand on his thigh and her head against his shoulder.

"Tell me about infinity," he said.

"In the mathematical sense?"

"Isn't that the only real sense?"

"Well," she said looking out of the window. "To start with infinities come in different sizes. Some are very much bigger than others and there are different types of infinite. But I think we should eat first. This might take a long time."

She went to the kitchen and five minutes later came out with a tray. There were two thick pieces of salmon grilled to perfection. There was also a bowl of boiled potatoes in their jackets, sprinkled with dill. Manuel filled their glasses from a fresh bottle of dry white wine. They clinked them together and silently toasted each other. The fish was delicious and they ate slowly. Manuel watched her eat and studied her perfect body.

"When you look at me like that I get wet," she said staring back at him. She put a hand between her legs. "I can think of only one thing."

Manuel smiled. They continued eating and each time he looked up he saw her looking at him. He was certain he had never seen a more desirable woman in his life.

She smiled. "What are you thinking about?"

"That I've never seen anyone lovelier than you. You're perfect — and I'm terribly lucky to have found you."

"It's because I'm so happy," she said. "I look like this because I'm in love. I realise now that until I met you I had no idea what love was. All I need to do is look at you and I know you're the one. The only one. I'd do anything for you at all. It doesn't even matter that you don't love me yet. I know you will sooner or later. But I sense some kind of uncertainty in you. What are you afraid of? Can you tell me? I'm only twenty-two, but I am quite bright you know. You can tell me anything."

"Why do you take off your clothes when you come home? It made Hector very nervous. Is he embarrassed by nudity?"

"I don't know about Hector and I don't care either. I'm not being unkind. I like him. But I've become indifferent to him sexually — now I've found you. But yes. I like to take off my clothes. I just feel the urge to get them off when I come home. I even greeted the man who came to read the meter this morning like this. He nearly fainted. He kept looking at me through the corner of his eye. I told him to look if he wanted. I didn't mind. Then he tried to touch me and I shooed him out. Do you always answer questions with questions?"

"Sometimes. Would you rather not do it? I mean — take off your clothes when you come in?"

"It doesn't seem to matter. I dress when I go out and I know you don't mind me walking about like this. I love to see you looking at my body. It makes me feel good."

"Maybe I'd like to see it only once or twice a day. In between times I can imagine it. It might be more interesting."

"Well I'm not putting clothes on now. I don't feel like it."

Then she got up and gathered the plates and dishes together on a tray and took them to the kitchen. Manuel heard water running. He went to the window and rapped his knuckles twice on the wooden surface. "Come out. Now!" He said softly. The two dogs jumped out of their basket and ran to the front door to see who was there. The slip of parchment came out a few seconds later. It seemed a little reluctant. It slid across the sill and into his fingers. He folded it once and it crackled as he put it in his wallet. Then he placed the wallet on a table by the front door. He saw the dog's long leash hanging on a hook. He looked at the names on the collars. One read MAXI the other PUTZI. He heard a dishwasher start.

Anna-Maija came out of the kitchen. "Did someone knock?"

"No. I just rapped my knuckles on the window sill," Manuel replied.

She stood looking at him one leg relaxed and across the other. Her golden hair flowed down over her shoulders. She reminded him a little of the 'Birth of Venus,' but was infinitely more beautiful than the Botticelli painting. He smiled fondly at her and she shivered.

"When you look at me like that I melt," she said. "My legs feel like they're made of jelly. Make love to me now. Please?"

Then she took his hand and led him to the bedroom. Manuel awoke some hours later and looked around in the dim light. He had been dreaming again. He could not remember the dream but knew Hector had been involved. In the morning they showered together and became so aroused that they made love again under the steaming spray. While Manuel was dressing he noticed the suitcases by the door had gone.

Anna-Maija came out of the bathroom wrapped in a towel. Then she dressed while Manuel watched. He found it exciting to see her beauty disappearing slowly under her clothes. She put on fresh underwear and a skirt similar to the one she had worn when he had first met her. It seemed to Manuel that he had known her a long time, but they had met a bare thirty-six hours before.

"We should go to the hotel to get your things," she said. "Hector has gone." She pointed to the door where the suitcases had been. "I'll phone for a taxi."

"That's expensive," Manuel said. "We can walk and get a taxi back from the hotel."

"I have no problems with money, darling. I have all I need. When I was twelve an aunt left me loads of money. I have a trust fund. It pays for this flat and anything else I need. And I have a good job at the University as well. I could get my car out, but it's right at the back of the garage and it might be difficult. There are ten others in behind it."

She called a taxi and not long after the street doorbell buzzed. They went down and in a few minutes were at the hotel. They went upstairs and Manuel started to pack. Anna-Maija watched him from the chair near the window. He filled one case and dragged the other from the cupboard by the door. He put it on the bed and started emptying the drawers in the closet. He had nearly finished packing when he put out a hand to a pile of shirts that were out of reach and they flipped into his hands. Anna-Maija stood abruptly and walked to the bed to look at the suitcase.

"What did you do?"

"Nothing. What do you mean?"

She picked up the pile of shirts and put them back on the bed. Manuel looked at her. She waited for him to pick them up again. Manuel moved a little closer, picked them up and put them back in the case. Then he closed it, snapped the fasteners and was strapping the case when spoke again.

"That wasn't right. What did you do before?"

"Do you really love me?" Manuel said suddenly.

"Oh God yes! Yes my darling," she replied. "More than you could possibly know."

"Then don't ask questions. Please. Not for the moment anyway."

She said nothing more and Manuel looked in the drawers and cupboards. He checked the bathroom, picked up the cases and they left. The bags were very heavy and he wondered, not for the first time, why he still used old-fashioned leather baggage. A few smaller and lighter bags would be much more useful. Immediately the cases became as light as feathers in his hands. That worried Manuel, eventually he would do something that simply would destroy everything. She would throw him out or leave him. He knew he should have left this girl alone. He thought he might already love her a little. It would be too awful if he did anything to harm her.

When they got to Pietarinkatu, Manuel paid the driver and Anna-Maija started to take the cases from the boot. She got the smaller one out but the other was too heavy for her. Manuel thanked the cabby and went around to the back of the car. He took the big bag effortlessly from the boot and then picked up both of them. The cab drove off and they went into the building. In the lift Manuel did not put the cases down, but simply held them in his hands.

In the flat the dogs ran around their feet as usual and finally settled back in their basket. Anna-Maija looked at the cases by the door. Then she lifted the heavy one with some difficulty. She looked at Manuel.

"I thought Hector was strong," she said quietly with a puzzled frown on her beautiful forehead. He's a karate brown belt. He trains every day. But you pick these things up as if they weighed nothing at all!"

'Another mistake,' Manuel thought to himself. 'I'll have to be much more careful.' Then he said, "I trained too; at school I was the light-weight wrestling champion."

"When are your books and things arriving?"

Manuel knew she was not convinced. She sensed there was something strange about him. He had not told her about his books, but naturally he had been thinking about them.

"In a day or two I guess."

"We can turn the spare room into a study for you. Mine is too small for both of us. And anyway I'd never get anything done if you were near me. I'd want to spend all day making love to you. When are you going to the University?"

Manuel had told Anna-Maija very little about himself. He had not told her he was a psychologist, or that he was the visiting professor at the university. "I've seen the Dean and will go along to my department tomorrow. I also have to hire a car until I can buy one of my own."

"Take mine. I use the bike in summer. It will probably be good for the car... keep the battery charged!" she laughed. "Our own batteries seem always to be at full charge don't they?"

Then they laughed and hugged each other like teenagers. Manuel carried the bags to the bedroom making sure they seemed heavy.

She unpacked for him and examined the pile of shirts carefully before putting them into a drawer. Then they went to bed and slept soundly all night. In the morning Manuel realised he had been dreaming again, but again did not remember about what. He turned to look at her sleeping face. Asleep she was even lovelier. She was lying on her back snoring very lightly and her golden hair was spread on the pillow.

'My God you're beautiful,' Manuel thought as he watched her.

Then he got up and went to the bathroom. In a moment he heard her call.

"Do you really think I'm beautiful?"