from ENOCH'S PORTAL*
withdrew the knife from its short-lived nesting place beneath
his pillow and crept to the door silently. She had changed her
clothes, seasoned her body with a pungent herbal perfume, and
donned a stunning henna-colored wig with a long French braid,
but Marta, the barmaid, would have registered through any disguise.
He stepped round from his defensive position on the backside of
the door and resheathed his knife, which she observed passively
trouble?” she asked.
so soon,” he replied, scanning the hallway as he let her in. “You
didn’t happen to come in a black Mercedes, did you?”
she said. She stepped to the French window and pulled back the
drape slightly. “I’m only a waitress. But there is a man down
there, in the back, whose fringe benefits are better than mine.”
She let the drape go and turned to him. “Will you offer me a drink?”
“Have you seen him before?” asked Raszer, locking the deadbolt
and crossing to the desk, where the Armagnac bottle stood. “The
“Only in my...how do you call them? Night-meers?” Raszer poured
her a drink and handed it over the desk.
for us, the porter brought an extra glass,” he said. “Do you tend
bar here, as well.” She took the liquor down, Russian style, in
a single gulp.
“No,” she replied, “but I am known to the concierge.”
Raszer squinted hard and gave her a glancing once-over. The lace-up
boots came almost to the knee, leaving a good ten inches of sturdy
but nicely shaped thigh before the hem of her cordovan leather
skirt. She wore a matching brown vest, bound across her breast
with thongs. There was something about the whole ensemble that
suggested a fifth century warrior queen ready to receive the general
in her tent. Of course, he thought. A girl like this would be
known to any European concierge worth his tips.
you’re also known,” he said, “to Monsieur Fourche.”
set down the snifter and walked to within an inch of his chest.
“Do you trust women, Mr. Branch?” she asked to his face.
“I let you into my room at two in the morning,” Raszer answered.
asked if you trust them, not if you desire them."
“Let’s see,” he said. “I trusted my fourth grade teacher, Miss
Buzzo. I trusted my mother, when she was sober. I trusted my wife.
Big mistake...” She tossed the French braid over her shoulder
and laughed as lustily as she had in the bar.
can be cruel if you deny them what they really want, Mr. Branch.
But if they are on your side, they offer protection that no man
should be without.” Marta scooped up her glass and held it out
for a refill. Raszer obliged, wary, but undeniably intrigued by
the presence in his life, at this particular moment, of such a
“Your English is head of the class,” he observed. “Why do you
put on the act for Monsieur Fourche?” She sat on the foot of his
bed and drew her right knee langorously up to her chin, revealing,
an inch at a time, the tender underside of her thigh. Raszer saw
no evidence of underwear.
is a little like a knife,” she answered. “Sometimes, I think,
it is better to keep it hidden until you need it. No?”
replenished his own drink and swung the plain, wooden desk chair
around to face her. Then he sat down and leaned in, his lips close
enough to her bare knee to caress it, his nostrils near enough
to smell her essence through the perfume. He knew he was being
seduced, and had not yet decided what to do about it. Soon enough,
things would decide for themselves.
said you had something to share with me, Marta,” he whispered.
“About my business partner. Mr. Fourche.”
“He beat up my sister last night,” she said, matter-of-factly.
“He’s a pig.”
“Your sister?” Raszer asked, “is she...”
“A prostitute. Yes,” she cut him off, as if to spare him the awkward
inquiry. “I introduced her to him. He has special needs.” Raszer
shook his head.
was only going to ask,” he said, “if she was all right.” He dropped
his head for a moment and contemplated the Byzantine design on
the faded carpet. “So that’s why you’ve got him on the defensive,”
he conjectured, half to himself, then raised his eyes and looked
at her deeply for the first time. “Strange, isn’t it? How even
a man who can keep state secrets can be compromised by an itch.
How badly did he hurt her?”
“She is OK. It is not the first time she has seen this kind of
thing...but he frightened her. His eyes. She was sure that he
could just as easily kill her as slap her.” She swallowed the
rest of her armagnac and her body registered its quality with
a shudder that ran down to her toes. “Now she can’t sleep. She
says that the Devil is in Praha.” She lowered her knee and bent
over to set the glass on the carpet. Raszer studied the rawhide
laces which criss-crossed over her bodice, and felt himself getting
a little dizzy. As she straightened, she placed a hand on his
knee for balance and regarded him through the unkempt bangs of
her Queen Boedica wig. “So, I have given her my bed and my Doberman
for the night, and I...”
you,” he said, “have no place to sleep.” She stood, brushed his
cheek, and moved back to the window, running her hands over the
back of her skirt to smooth the leather. A winning move. Raszer
knew it was all over but the ref’s call.
need protection tonight,” she said, her back to him, and touched
the drape lightly as if to drive home the message. “And I can
give it to you.” The muscles in her calve were as taut and strong
as the shank of a longbow.
“I don’t doubt you can,” he said. “But protection always comes
at a price.”
“And wisdom...” She turned her head, and her green eyes flashed.
I offer you a bargain,” she said, wrapping the curtain around
her lower half. “Two hundred American dollars, and I’ll spend
the night with you.” Raszer gave a short laugh and got up to light
For a minute there, I thought...”
thought what?” she said. “That the poor Czech girl would throw
herself at the rich Canadian ‘businessman’ for a chance to get
out of town?” She released the curtain and waggled her finger
at him. “No. I am not looking for a husband, Mr. Noel Branch.
And I am not a whore. But what I have to give has value.” She
aimed her finger at the half-empty bottle of Bas Armagnac. “You
pay a good price for that cognac, yes? Would you not pay as much...”
She came forward, head cocked, hands on her hips. “...for something
not a moral judgement, Marta,” Raszer replied, blowing the smoke
into the strobing blades of the ceiling fan, “but I’ve found that
when you pay for sex, that’s all you get. Now, information...
that survives the morning after.”
“Then let’s call it information,” she said, popping the first
of her vest laces out of its hook. “Or if you wish, a contribution
to my tuition at the University. I do not intend to be a waitress
forever.” Raszer set the burning cigarette in the ashtray, put
a hand around the small of her back, and with the other, undid
the next two laces.
“If it’s for the cause of higher learning,” he said, “then I’m
Fatalism had been Raszer’s best defense since emerging from the
black fog of depression six years earlier. When the world seemed
too bleak to bear, he took refuge in the abiding faith that whatever
would be would be, and one-by-one, had seen most of his phobias
leave him. This had allowed him to buy into life with something
approaching reckless abandon, but he had always drawn the line
at love, which somehow seemed a little too close to the death
he had narrowly escaped. He could give body and soul to war; to
women, he gave pleasure -- even the occasional epiphany -- but
he denied his own, most precious favors. He called it discretion,
but he knew full well it was fear. It had probably cost him his
marriage and his daugh- ter. On this night, as became rapidly
clear, Marta was out to strip him of his psychic prophylactic.
As Monica had warned, the Czech girls had yet to discover safe
sex. The Woodstock Nation had come to Prague, stripped of its
sentimentality and tempered by the cool, cybernetic fire of a
bold new age of ecstasy without illusion.
She racked his body until he felt as if his bones were the soft
cartilage of a baby’s. She kneaded each centimeter of his skin
with potter’s fingers, keeping the clay moist with a mouth so
generous that Raszer perceived at last how Isis had managed to
raise an erection from the emasculated corpse of her Osiris. She
awakened places so deadened by shame or neglect that he cried
out repeatedly, and even sobbed. “My beautiful man,” she called
him. “Moje krasna golem.” When she had reduced him to compliance
so complete that he lay flattened on the bed, unable to lift a
finger, but with his cock as mean and red as its namesake, she
mounted him backwards and fucked him until her red queen warrior
cries had diminished to whimpers. He watched her ass rise and
fall like seafoam on a part of him which was his, and not his.
He was up here, in his head, wasn’t he? Think again, she seemed
to say, as she lifted, turned round, and kneeling between his
legs, took his liquid self into her mouth and down to the deep,
hot athanor of her soul.
came with the weight of God’s hand pressing him like a seed into
furrowed earth. All light, sound, and sensation were baffled as
fully as if the room had been filled with down. Consciousness,
if it existed at all, was aware only of the continual downward
thrust. What woke him was the sudden return of his sense of smell
-- or possibly the dream of it. Burnt cedar, fig, and myrrh. And
a soft thump, as if he had reached the end of his fall. A feeling
of dread, alive in his limbs. He raised his head weakly and turned
to look beside him. She was propped up on an elbow, watching him,
the chalk white hair framing her ancient face, her withered breasts
laid on the pillow like old silk slippers. Behind and through
her he could make out the slumbering form of his lover. A flare
of pale indigo shot from his eye and burned through the hag’s
parchment-skinned forehead, and she smiled at him toothlessly.
“Shut up and listen,” she said. “You ought to know me by now.”
She kissed his ruptured eye, and spoke this verse:
life’s in a temple where ash is burned
an ark with the sum of what man has learned
A juggler, a Jew, and a foursquare cross
know her as the vessel of Wisdom lost
Her death is the door by which you came nigh
and speaks with a lovelorn she-cat’s cry
Can but be denied if a groom ye be
and bring me the gift that you promised me
Just as her diaphanous form began its dispersion into atoms of
night, he watched her ashen hair return to its blue-black youth,
her wrinkled skin stretch taut and burnished over high Sumerian
cheekbones, and her breasts retract from the pillow and form firm,
ripe plums of flesh. She laughed melodiously and her breath carried
the scent of mead. As she laughed, the pitch of her laughter deepened
into a masculine register, and she underwent one final transformation.
The cant of the eyes lifted and the folds of skin around them
filled with the creases of coming middle-age; the nostrils widened
and the bridge of the nose bowed out like a raven’s beak; the
lips spread and thinned, the upper lip curling just slightly at
the right corner. Raszer felt the last cubic centimeter of oxygen
leave his lungs and simultaneously fill her breast. He was looking
into his own eyes, along an axis of indigo light. When he dropped
his gaze to see if his own body still existed, he saw full breasts,
damp with milk, swelling from his chest. He tried to scream, but
all that came out was a guttural moan and a question more felt
“Who are you?”
“Why don’t you get up on all fours?” she replied, in a voice which
was at first his own, “and see how it feels to be a woman.” Now
it was Marta, who had sat bolt upright in bed, her own features
smeared by those of the Other. He shot out of the bed and flew
back hard against the wall. There was a knock at the door.
“Are you OK, Mister Branch?” said a stranger.
I’m fine,” said Marta, in Raszer’s voice.
she rose from bed to come to his side, what remained of the vision
was drawn into Marta’s lungs with her first breath. She came naked
to him where he stood, trembling in the corner, and led him back
to the bed. She held his head against her breast and hummed old
Slavic lullabies until he dropped into sleep. Sometime shortly
after that, in the drizzly pre-dawn light, she got up, dressed
quietly, and left. On her way out, she stumbled over the snoring
hulk of Raszer’s new bodyguard, a fat, kindly looking Czech. She
shook him gently awake, as he was on duty, and he seemed to recognize
her as a fellow denizen of the dark city. She entrusted to him
the business card which her sister had given her two nights before.
lives in Los Angeles. His first novel, a supernatural thriller
entitled Enoch's Portal (ISBN 1-891400-59-2) was published in
June 2002 and acquired for motion picture development by Paramount.
A screenplay, Little Black Book, a comedy about a modern-day courtesan,
is currently being shopped to studios and actresses unafraid to
soil their reputations. More info about Hill and his alter-ego,
P.I. Stephan Raszer, can be found at www.raszer.com.
A.W. Hill online at: www.awhill.net
Portal © 2002 by A.W. Hill