‘You’re drunk,’ cried Jonny, stepping right up close to Hein Dieckmann. He could smell brandy. ‘Christ, you are stupid. Just before going on?’ Hein had been lying on the chaise longue. Jonny had switched on the light and shaken him awake – thank God he was changed and ready – and Hein had stood up, swaying oddly and muttering, the idiot, and now he was standing in front of Jonny, and Jonny had taken off his robe, and Hein was supposed to prove he was ready. Then this.
‘You haven’t done this since Kassel. I gave you a good enough hiding then, you bastard. Now you’re doing it all over again.’ Jonny was beside himself. He was close to tears. ‘Now you’ve screwed up everything, for both of us.’
‘I know, you’re right,’ whimpered Hein Dieckmann, his face drained, and looked desperately out of the open window at a bush which stood by a wall. ‘But there’s no need to be rude. It doesn’t matter, anyway. This fat old lump is past it. Look at it all, sagging, wobbling,’ he moaned, gripping the rolls of fat on his belly. ‘Used to be hard and smooth and tight once, Jonny.’
‘You can get it back.’ Jonny glowered, looking Hein up and down. ‘Pull yourself together. Exercise properly, no over-eating, pay attention to me, and it’ll all be fine, you’ll see.’
‘No, it’s all over,’ bleated Hein, and tried to walk to the window as straight as he could, but was still lurching slightly. ‘It’s all over.’ He looked outside. At the blank walls. ‘It’s all right for the moment, but it’ll soon be all over. Bang, and there I’ll be, lying on the floor, and them all screaming and whistling. I can’t listen to that. And him, he’ll be standing there, all fancy grand, with them cheering and clapping, and he’ll be laughing, and I’ll just be lying there, on the floor. I can’t do it.’
‘Who? Who’ll be standing there?’ asked Jonny. ‘Who are you jabbering on about, man?’ Jonny had pressed Hein’s arms by his sides and was looking blankly at his broad, beefy back. Hein turned round. He bent down mysteriously towards Jonny, his face came right up to Jonny’s.
‘I’ve seen him,’ he whispered. ‘I’ve seen him. That’s it, you see. He’s so young, and gorgeous, bleeding gorgeous.’
‘Who, for God’s sake?’
‘This Alvaroz, or whatever he’s called. Bleeding gorgeous,’ moaned Hein.
‘Oh, I see,’ said Jonny. ‘It’s got you again. Another crush, is it?’
‘He’s phenomenal,’ said Hein. ‘You’d say so, too.’
‘Where did you see him, then? When you all trooped on?’
‘No, no. He wasn’t there. He didn’t take part. Someone like that can do as he pleases. No, later on. I had to go and take a piss, back there in the whatsit. And there he was, with his robe over his shoulder. I knew straight away it was him. I said as much to him while I was having a piss, and he looked down: hello, may I introduce myself, I’m Dieckmann. We’d finally met. And in a place like that. He stood up, turned to me and laughed real nice, and we shook hands. Then his robe fell down. I’m staring like this, crikey, you don’t see them like that very often, everything perfect, flawless, and suddenly I felt it, the pain inside, twisting over and over, burning, stabbing. He’s so young, and gorgeous. Smooth hair, all slick, black eyes, white teeth, a beautiful laugh, and that body – broad shoulders, brown skin, neat little hips . . . He said he was pleased to meet me, and then that friendly laugh again, and he shook my hand. See you later, he said, and left. Must have wondered why I was gaping at him like that . . .’
‘Bollocks,’ said Jonny. ‘This always happens. You fall for the goon. But what did you get drunk for?’
‘He’s so gorgeous,’ moaned Hein. ‘He’s so gorgeous and so young, and I’m so old and horrible. I can’t bear it. I can’t compete against that.’
‘Always the same old story,’ cursed Jonny. ‘Makes me want to puke. I’ve had enough of this.’
‘I wish I wasn’t like this. When I see someone like that I just want to crawl inside him, inside his body, have every bit of him for myself, the body, the skin, the hair. I’m just a piece of shit. Ugh! Disgusting!’
‘Just pull yourself together. Stop it. What do you look like? Don’t be so daft. Stand up straight. Loosen up, do a few exercises. Come on, put your head in some water. Here.’
Jonny pulled him over to the little sink, poured some water into the basin, pushed Hein’s head deep into the bowl, rubbed it, poured yet more water over the round head.
Hein came up again, his face glistening and his yellow hair stuck to his forehead: ‘I don’t want to fight a nice chap like that. We should be friends. I don’t want to fight him.’
‘Ha, I thought that would come.’ Jonny looked at him in despair. ‘What now, then, eh? Are you going to go and see him and say, would it be all right if we’re not too rough today? We’ve seen that before. Any chance you might have had, gone. And today of all days, when it really matters. The day when you could’ve shown people that Hein Dieckmann still has it.’
‘Yes,’ said Hein, ‘I’m going to go and see him. I’ll say I’m his friend, and he’s got to be my friend, too. He’s got to like me, he has to – he has to like me.’ The final words sounded almost like a threat. Jonny was going to hold on to him, but when he heard those words he suddenly let go. If the bloke isn’t nice to him then everything will be just fine. And why would he want to be friends with such a repulsive old soak? If he isn’t nice to him, if he doesn’t want to – well, yes – Jonny knew full well how angry Hein could get, and how strong that could make him. Then there would be a great fight, a great victory.
‘Shame about that spot, and on such lovely skin,’ said Hein Dieckmann. He swayed slightly and spread his legs apart. He had his hands in the pockets of his green-striped robe as he stared, his mind clouded, at Alvaroz. The latter was standing in front of the mirror, completely naked save for the dark blue trunks round his loins, he had his hand behind him on his back, trying to reach a spot which sat red and fat on his smooth, brown skin.
Alvaroz turned round: ‘Oh, is that you, Herr Dieckmann? I was expecting someone else.’ He walked amiably over to Dieckmann, looking at him in surprise, but calmly, with his powerful black eyes. He opened his mouth slightly and smiled, revealing his white teeth, his cheeks, clean shaven, shimmered blue-brown.
Hein Dieckmann’s eyes ran uncontrollably over Alvaroz’s body – the athletic yet youthfully slim limbs, the brown skin, the firm, bulging muscles, twitching slightly – they slid from the broad shoulders, the prominent, hairy chest, to his navel, his trunks. Alvaroz looked at him for a moment, then to one side. He was no longer smiling, his face locked.
‘Well, all of a sudden and here I am. Funny that, isn’t it?’ said Hein, looking up. ‘Don’t really know why myself. I just wanted to say that I really, really like you. There’s a real bloke for you, I thought, good for him. Could be good friends, if you want. Why? Really don’t like the idea of fighting with you. It’d be such a shame. And we don’t want that, do we?’
‘I’m afraid I don’t understand you,’ said Alvaroz. ‘A bout is a bout, its own thing, it’s got nothing to do with us as people.’
‘Look, I don’t want to fight with you. I don’t like fighting with friends, don’t like laying them out on the floor. They mean too much for that.’
‘Let’s see if you can get me on the floor first,’ said Alvaroz. ‘And anyway: are we friends? We hardly know each other.’
‘Of course we’re friends!’ pleaded Hein Dieckmann. ‘Alvaroz, a nice chap like you, of course we’re friends!’ Hein was becoming quite tearful and Alvaroz could smell the brandy on his breath.
‘An old wrestler, and he behaves like this,’ he said, cool and impervious, shaking his head a little. ‘I don’t understand. You’ve had your hands on lots of men. It’s nothing new.’
‘Oh, it’s always the same, Alvaroz,’ moaned Hein Dieckmann. ‘I see a fine, strapping lad like you, and I’m gone. I can’t fight with them. I can’t lay out the nice ones, throw them around . . . I just can’t. God, your body is divine!’ Dieckmann raised a large, red-haired, fleshy hand and gently, tenderly stroked the wiry curls on Alvaroz’s chest, his trembling fingers touched the firm, red-b rown nipple.
‘Get your hands off,’ said Alvaroz, stepping back. ‘What’s all this? You can touch me all you want later, I can’t stop you then, but not now. You’ll have no luck with me, I’m afraid. You can’t get round me. I’m not what you think.’
‘I was only offering you my friendship, Alvaroz,’ said Hein Dieckmann meekly, reproving him tenderly. ‘I don’t want anything from you. I was doing you a favour, suggesting today we don’t fight quite so fiercely. After all, we’re friends, we’ve agreed . . .’
‘We haven’t agreed anything. We fight properly, and that’s that. I don’t do cheating. Pull yourself together, man. You’re making a fool of yourself. What made you think I’d get involved in some dodgy deal? Not so sure of yourself any more or something?’
Alvaroz looked at Hein Dieckmann coldly, full of contempt, and turned back to the mirror. For him the subject was closed. Ugh, disgusting, enough, block it from your mind. He turned his back to him, put his hand over his shoulder, twisting his upper body on those narrow hips. When he reached the spot, squeezing it with two fingers, it burst, and some pus and blood ran out. The room was quiet, there was not even the sound of music, as just at that moment Addi was doing his sleepwalking act in the silent beer garden. Light fell from a bare bulb on the ceiling onto the bare, light-green walls, onto the hard chairs, the table, chiselling out Alvaroz’s muscles, firm and sharp, and reflecting in his smooth black hair. Outside the window stood the dully lit wall, and above it, brooding black, the night.
Finally, with a groan, Dieckmann rasped his indignation: ‘You’re a tyke, do you know that? A mean, ungrateful tyke. I come in here, offering you my friendship, me, Hein Dieckmann, your senior, offering my friendship to you, a stuck-up prig, a snotty little upstart, still wet behind the ears, and you . . .’
‘Oh, thank you, and a fine friendship it is, too, throwing yourself round my neck like some old whore. You’re a disgrace,’ said Alvaroz over his shoulder, quite cold, still dealing with his spot, which he was dabbing with a towel.
‘Thought, you look after the lad, you don’t want to hurt him, turn a blind eye,’ grunted Hein Dieckmann.
‘No need for that, Herr Dieckmann. You’re mistaken. I don’t need your protection. But you might need it, with all this cheating, and under the cloak of friendship. Well, I guess everyone gets old.’
‘What?’ screamed Hein Dieckmann, the blood surging into his broad neck, into his great head. ‘You don’t think I came here, do you, because I’m scared of you, hoping you’d . . .’
‘All things are possible. One thing I do know is it’s a dirty business. That’s the end of it. The end. You’ll soon have the chance to show what you can do.’
‘Oh, that’s low, that is low,’ cried Hein Dieckmann, stamping on the floor and raising his fist. ‘Drag it all through the dirt, why don’t you? I was only being friendly, nice. Just you wait, my lad, I’ll show you, I’ll show you who Hein Dieckmann is. You’ve no idea. I’m going to get you good and proper, you horrible lump, bend those lovely bones of yours till they snap.’
At that, the door opened slightly and Nita, the dancer, peered round. Her sequin dress shimmered in the light.
‘What’s going on here? A little altercation? Gentlemen, please. Peace be with you. Herr Dieckmann, don’t scream like that, we can hear you at the other end of the Astoria. I suppose I can come in. Herr Dieckmann, whatever is the matter? Don’t stare at me like that. You could give someone a fright. Herr Dieckmann!’
Alvaroz put down the towel and turned to Dieckmann: ‘I think it would be better if you left.’
‘Yes, yes, don’t you worry, I’m going, lad, no need to throw me out. I’ll leave you alone with your little turtle dove. There you are. Coo away to your heart’s content. That’s it, run your hands all over your handsome prince. But just you wait. When I get my hands on you, there’ll be nothing to laugh about. Then we’ll see if Hein Dieckmann is past it.’ Hein turned round and went, muttering indignantly. The other side of the door, his head on one side, stood Fred, the dancer, listening, his top hat askew on his chalky-white forehead. He went up to Dieckmann with a cold civility and stared at him, smiling. ‘What a show-off. You give it to him,’ he said quietly, oozing charm.
‘He’s going to get a surprise. Wait till he gets a taste of Hein Dieckmann,’ said Hein, and he staggered along the corridor to his dressing room.
‘Poor old Dieckmann. He’s man-mad,’ giggled Nita.
‘Dirty bastard,’ said Alvaroz, going to the peg to fetch his robe.
‘Stay as you are,’ begged Nita.
‘You’re all after something, aren’t you?’ said Alvaroz. ‘Swarming around like flies. I’ve had enough.’
‘Don’t you like me, then?’ asked Nita.
‘No,’ said Alvaroz.
‘Oh, let me stay with you,’ said Nita quietly. ‘I only want to give you a bit of a rub.’
‘Stop touching me all the time. Come here, and use the powder puff on the patch on my back.’ Nita obeyed. She laid her head on his cool back. ‘This Dieckmann,’ she said. ‘I hope he doesn’t do anything to you. I’m a bit scared. He gets so angry, and then he’s really strong. You know that.’
‘Oh, don’t you start,’ said Alvaroz and shook her off.
Then it was time to begin. He gave a signal for the music to stop. It broke off. ‘Your attention, please,’ he called. Dieckmann and Alvaroz positioned themselves facing each other, and the announcer put a little whistle to his lips and blew. ‘Begin,’ he called, cutting the air sharply with his arm. And Dieckmann and Alvaroz began to spar. The band played muted music, reacting to their movements, and all was suddenly quiet in the crowd. Tentatively, the wrestlers began to slap their hands against each other’s bodies, trying to find a good place to attack, then slipping away, moving forward again, brushing past, circling around noiselessly like two panthers. It was a silent game of limbs, not connecting quite yet, a brief clasp, wrapping round each other, pushing away. But they were aroused by every touch, goaded on, forced together: the friction was electric.
Alvaroz was initially the more mobile; Dieckmann still had something sluggish and brooding about him. Alvaroz slipped away from him, lunged forward again, prancing nimbly round Dieckmann, grabbed his arm and bent it back, was hurled back, fell, then up again, another lunge forward.
Then a sudden blow from Dieckmann knocked him to the floor and Dieckmann threw himself over Alvaroz, abdomen against abdomen, his mouth against Alvaroz’s hairy chest, rubbing his lips for a second against the firm hairs, a steel-like grip to the upper arm laid Alvaroz on his back, Dieckmann wrapped his legs through his opponent’s, stamping, panting: ‘Got you at last, lad. You’ll have to keep still now, eh?’
‘No,’ cried Alvaroz, throwing Dieckmann off to one side, seizing him by the neck, and Dieckmann grabbed hold of his neck, too, and they rolled across the floor, leaped up, rolled over again and Alvaroz sprang to his feet: free. ‘Bravo,’ clapped the audience. ‘Give it to him, Alvaroz. Let him have it!’
Bull-necked, his head lowered, Dieckmann charged towards him. ‘Fuckers,’ he murmured with rage. He grabbed him by the shoulder. ‘That’s the last time you get away from me, lad. Now come here, my little prince.’ He hooked his leg round Alvaroz’s, threw him down and was on top of him again, grinning. ‘Weren’t expecting that, were you?’ As if he suddenly had ten hands rather than two, he squeezed Alvaroz all over, holding him fast, and again his thick lips, his eyes were right up against Alvaroz’s chest, up at his throat, chuckling with pleasure. ‘And here we are again. Sorry, is that not what you wanted? I’ve got you now, lad. Don’t look like that. Be a good boy now. Ooh – feel that. What a nice young lad . . .’ ‘Bastard!’ shouted Alvaroz, his bold eyes rolling with rage.
‘Such a gorgeous body, and with me on top, whether he likes it or not. Nothing he can do,’ sniggered Dieckmann. Alvaroz had twisted himself to one side, but could not get loose. ‘You animal,’ he cursed. ‘Behave yourself.’
The announcer had bent over the wrestlers. ‘Dieckmann, what are you doing? Come to your senses, man.’
He blew his whistle. Dieckmann did not care any more, he was unreachable. He rolled on top of Alvaroz, laughing, talking to himself, running his lightning hands over Alvaroz’s body, but when Alvaroz tried to break free he again had him in his grasp, pressing himself against him.
‘Now will you be my dear little boy?’ he threatened, his eyes vacant.
‘You dog,’ cried Alvaroz.
‘Now will you be my dear little boy?’
Fiercer and fiercer: ‘Will you, will you, will you?’
The umpires were leaning right over the table, one desperately ringing a little bell, the announcer blew his whistle and shouted: ‘Stop!’ Jonny stamped his foot hard on the wooden floor: ‘Hein, Hein.’ The manager had initially sat there wide-eyed, but now leaped up: ‘This really is unacceptable. What is going on? This isn’t a wrestling match’, and ran up the wooden steps onto the stage: ‘Gentlemen, stop! I will not tolerate such behaviour in my establishment . . .’
The audience rose from their seats, moved towards the footlights, screaming in indignation and staring at the stage. ‘Down with Dieckmann, down with Dieckmann!’
Then all of a sudden Dieckmann reared up, his head blood-red, his vacant eyes half open, holding Alvaroz away from him, and then suddenly began pummelling Alvaroz’s body with his great fists, gasping, wailing: ‘You gorgeous boy, you horrible gorgeous lump, you don’t want to? Take that, and that, and that, and that . . .’ He punched Alvaroz in the face and blood streamed from his nose, punched him in the mouth so that his lips burst, punched his chest, wherever he could. Alvaroz tried to get up, but each time the thunderous blows knocked him back down.
Then Dieckmann lay completely on top of him, right up close, pressing his mouth against Alvaroz’s bloody mouth: ‘Oh, my boy, my dear, dear boy, you poor, beautiful boy.’ And with that he fell, senseless, to one side, his eyes open but turned upward so that they were almost invisible, and the men standing around could finally push him to one side and set Alvaroz free. He lay groaning on the floor, his throat rattling, smeared with blood and sweat, scratched, smashed to pieces.
The above is an excerpt from Friedo Lampe’s At the Edge of Night, translated from the German by Simon Beattie, and published by Hesperus Press.
Image © George Eastman Museum, by William M. Vander Weyde