It was the hour before curfew. In the enveloping darkness an occasional sickly yellow glitter on the wet pavement reflected The People’s Economy Drive New Public Lighting Bulbs. Nikita Y—got off the last bus and heard it hiss away round the empty square. He fingered the bottle in his coat pocket and peered around him. This part of the city was unfamiliar to him. Lorelei had pencilled the address on the piece of paper and then smeared a lipstick kiss over it, so it was not easy to read. She had said that for number 104 you had to find an entrance between two shops and pick your way in the dark up an alley past lines of bins to the tenement in the back. Nick reluctantly left the dim glow at the corner and moved towards where the shuttered shops should be. A sudden shout split the silence, “Stop right there!”

Nick froze on the spot. It was the voice of a man who was used to being obeyed. The voice was angry. Nick was just about to turn round when another command rang out, “Don’t you dare turn around!”

Nick was frightened. His legs and arms shook. The stranger again called from behind him, “Where do you think you’re going?”

Nick’s mouth was dry, but he stammered softly, “I’m g-g-going to a friend’s flat.”

The voice snaped back, louder still now, “So you want to fool around, do you?”

“I j-j-just want...”

“You idiot! You should be at home.”

“My wife has gone to her mother’s for a couple of days...”

“As soon as you’re let off the leash, you go bloody wild!”

“But lots of men do it, there’s no harm...”

“You’re behaving like a mongrel stray, sniffing after any bitch in heat.”

In a low voice, shamed and apologetic, Nick tried to justify himself. “You’re right, I’m a bit of a stray dog sometimes, but nobody knows about tonight...”

“That’s enough. Lift your chin. I’m going to get you by the throat and there’ll be no more of this nonsense.”

Nick spun round in horror. Five yards behind him he could dimly see a man talking to a dog, slipping a choker chain over its head. He shivered and turned away.

As he slunk up the smelly alleyway to the tenement, feeling with his shoes for the bins, Nick muttered to himself, “I know, I know.... I am just a randy mongrel.” But he felt better when a grinning Lorelei opened the door of number 104 and the cheerful light from inside spilled all over him, as he stood there on the landing clutching a bottle.

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