Episode from my new story . . .
In my new, as-yet-unfinished story, Vladimir and Kropot speak with Wei Guk-in over shot glasses of munbaeju, a traditional distilled liquor of Korea that has the scent of wild pear even though pears have no part in its brewing:
After the two had enjoyed three or four rounds and made small talk about Seoul and Moscow -- some on similarities, but more on differences -- Guk-in asked, "Well, gentlemen, to what do I owe this visit? It can't be for my munbaeju, which isn't famous."The story continues, naturally . . . or unnaturally enough . . .
"Your munbaeju ought to be!" exclaimed Kropot.
"It will be now," promised Vladimir. "We'll tell everyone."
"It's certainly good enough to enjoy with a fine cigar at The Smokehouse," Kropot stated, raising his glass of munbaeju toward his lips and giving Guk-in a searching look.
Guk-in set his own shot glass on the table and stared at Kropot. "The Smokehouse?"
Kropot's glass stopped mere centimeters from his lips. "You don't know The Smokehouse?"
"Naturally, I know The Smokehouse," Guk-in countered. "Rather, I knew it. I visited the place a few times back in the seventies. I was told it burned down."
"There did happen to be a tinge of burnt odor in the air there," I pointed out.
"There's always been that," said Kropot, allowing the shot of munbaeju to reach and pass his lips. He then held out his glass for more, dutifully filled by Guk-in.
"Right," agreed Vladimir. "The Smokehouse has always had that acrid smell."
"I noticed the hint of a burnt smell myself," Guk-in acknowledged, "but I assumed it came from the smoking room."
"Nonsense!" cried Kropot. "The smoking room offers solely fine cigars and excellent pipe tobacco! That acrid odor rises from further depths!"
"The Underground, he means," offered Vladimir.
"Right," agreed Kropot. "I mean Seoul's subway system, which runs below the smoking room."
"But the subway system has no acrid, smoky odor," Guk-in insisted. "Besides, there was no subway there in the seventies."
"We must leave it as a mystery, then," intoned Vladimir. "Merely an imagined odor from never where."
Guk-in looked puzzled, but dropped the issue, adding only a promise to visit The Smokehouse soon.
"You won't find it," Kropot warned.
"My directions . . ." Guk-in began, his eyes darting me a look.
". . . were accurate," affirmed Vladimir.
"But alas, useless," Kropot sadly observed.
I quickly explained about the mysterious, seemingly trompe l'oeil door.
"Why can't I use that door?" asked Guk-in.
"It works only for us," was Vladimir's unexplanatory explanation.
“Perhaps I could meet you there sometime,” Guk-in suggested, “if I bring along some of this munbaeju?”
"Perhaps we could work something out," agreed Kropot.
"Fact is," said Vladimir, "you might be able to assist us in a quest."
"A quest?" Guk-in echoed. "That sounds almost Medieval!"
"We try to make it so," Kropot replied, "but the story always turns out Postmodern."
"What do you mean?" Guk-in said.
Vladimir leaned forward, his enormous torso stretching over the table and his nose nearly in Guk-in's face. "We mean Sharikov!"
Guk-in, looking simultaneously alarmed and puzzled, shrank back from Vladimir's huge bulk. "Who?" he said.
"The Russian cur," Kropot explained, "the one eugenically transformed into a man -- if a man is a man with a heart of a dog!"
Guk-in's face contorted in dark concentration, as if lost to the world and in search of an old, long unused neural pathway whose way was distantly recalled. "Ah!" he abruptly cried out, his face brightening. "Bulgakov's Heart of a Dog! That Sharikov!"
"So!" exclaimed Vladimir. "He remembers now!"
"Conveniently," observed Kropot.
"Now that you've confessed to knowing Sharikov,"'' said Vladimir, leaning back, but with a gentle threat in his tone, "'tell us where in Seoul he's hidden himself."
Guk-in stared at Vladimir, then at Kropot, initially in bafflement, but soon in growing resolve, and he seemed to reach a decision. "Sharikov could be in a hundred, even a thousand places in Seoul, but he happens to be here in this house."
Kropot and I now stared at Guk-in with surprise, but Vladimir looked skeptical.
"He's just in the other room," explained Guk-in. "I'll go get him."
As Guk-in rose and left the table, Vladimir muttered, "But I don't smell Sharikov . . ."
We had waited in tense silence for some twenty or thirty long seconds, when Guk-in re-entered with a book. "Here," he said, tossing it on the small table. "Heart of a Dog. By Mikhail Bulgakov. Sharikov's hiding in there."
Krapov looked annoyed. "That's no help. Sharikov's escaped from there. We've tracked him to this town, but he somehow keeps one step ahead of us."
"And just how," asked Guk-in, "could Sharikov have escaped from a story?"
"Simple," Vladimir volunteered. "We've escaped from several."
"Simple?" Guk-in said. "Tell me how. Just how did you rise above a particular story?"
Vladimir and Kropot, looking confused, glanced at each other. "Perhaps," Kropot ventured, "we were 'self-rais'd by our own quick'ning power'?"
Vladimir nodded. "That's what Mr. Ence always says."
"Give me details," said Guk-in. "I want to know how. Surely you remember."
"I recall . . ." offered Kropot, hesitantly, "being on my own and chased by Sharikov into a bathroom, but I managed to escape by crashing through a pane of glass high up toward the ceiling and landing amidst glass shards in a large oval dish on a kitchen table." Kropot paused to chuckle. "That dish cracked lengthwise, but I leaped from there to the floor, did a victorious pirouette on three of my legs as I waved the fourth in a manner worthy of Nijinsky, and exited the story through the partly opened door to the back stairs!" Kropot ended his anecdote with a triumphant tone.
"You exited that story?" Guk-in said. Kropot nodded, so Guk-in continued. "The second story, apparently, since you left by the back stairs."
Kropot opened his mouth as though to utter a retort, but stopped, looked confused, and said nothing, though his jaw still gaped open.