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The Lion Hunt

 The Lion Hunt

Ed Lozinski took pride in his work. Built it from nothing, resourcefulness and perseverance. At first it was scary. And now – a mansion with a swimming pool on Manhattan Beach. Immigrant story…
“Everything must be sorted out,” Ed told himself. – On the shelves, on the shelves…”
His office is an unexpected, almost sterile little world of order in an auto repair shop soaked in oil and soot. The computer is above neatly laid out stacks of papers. In the pockets of the vinyl covers there are inserts with names and dates evenly underlined in red.
Ed pulled the plastic cover over the monitor. And straightened the edges below.
-I have to go now. Make sure that Ford Mustang is finished before you leave – he will pick it up early tomorrow morning. 
– Yes ,  boss .  Don’t worry ,  boss! 
– Jose flashed the whites of his eyes and allowed himself to grin a little, crumpling a rag in his hands As if he knew or guessed why Ed was leaving early. 
Anya was already waiting for him.
“What will you drink?” she asked.
Ed took a sip of cognac.
– What are you looking at? Never seen it? Can’t look enough? – Anya asked deliberately rudely, bringing her eyes close to the mirror. Ed looked at her silently, lounging in a deep leather chair. Copper hair with a golden tint, gathered in a knot at the back of the head. A chiseled neck, elastic chest, greenish-gray, cold, fearless eyes of a Siberian cheat. 
– Pashka called and said we need to meet, there’s something to do… He’ll be waiting for us in the evening at Rasputin…
She jumped on him like a cat and sank her teeth into his chin. Tightly, with a death grip – he won’t let go.
– Wake up, wake up, it’s high time… Life goes on… You won’t bring him back, you’ll only ruin yourself… 
When, blissfully devastated, Ed finally stood up, a semi-familiar middle-aged man with a muscular, tightly built body, plump and mature, looked at him from the mirror.  “Gym ,” he thought, “  gym … I’ll go tomorrow… 
The shower was noisy in the bathroom.
“This issue needs to be resolved,” said Pashka. His face was flushed from the vodka, his slitted eyes were darting nervously and angrily. – He’s taking us for suckers, fagot… I would have finished all this long ago  if it weren’t for you… It’s been dragging on for a whole year. “As soon as, right away…” And from Motka the jeweler he took a stone worth ten thousand… For his own birthday… Faithful people said…
Anya and Pashka’s friend were whispering and giggling about something of their own, feminine, at the other end of the table. Several couples were spinning in the center of the restaurant hall to loud, harsh music.
– Would you like some more vodka? – asked the waiter.
Pashka plunged a knife into the piglet, laid out with packs of greens, and generously, busily poured red sauce on it. The little pig wheezed and kept trying to pull the ring onto the finger of a beautifully dressed woman. They stood in the frame, smiling serenely over three healthy, well-mannered children in identical sailor suits. The young, red-cheeked dad waved his hands contentedly at his family, introducing them to Ed, and climbed up to kiss him, assuring him of his eternal friendship, devotion and decency. Red sauce ran down the snow-white collar of his shirt and dripped in heavy drops onto the floor. The woman began to thrash around and howl, and the children’s faces stretched out in fear and shock.
“Decide,” Ed agreed indifferently.
Pashka sighed with relief and put a piece of piglet on his plate. He carefully took the greens with large forks and placed them on a separate plate nearby.
“There’s no other way, Edik,” he said calmly and soberly. You yourself understand, the law of life. Either we, or us.
Anya and her friend suddenly burst out laughing, all about something different.
Ed got home after midnight. Masha was sleeping at home; a lamp flickered under the icon in her room.
“That means I’m a whore, and she’s a Madonna…” said Anna. – But you live with me, you love me…
– I don’t know who I love… No one, probably…
– Who you sleep with is who you love…
– If only it were that simple… If only life were that simple…
– And life is very simple. If you live simply, without gibberish…”
Ed poured himself some more cognac and quietly, so as not to wake Masha, made his way to his office. He opened the safe and from under a pile of boxes with checkbooks took out a notebook bound in dark blue oilcloth.
“I feel like you are hiding something from me. You know something… Could Mitya really do this? Why?
– What are you talking about, Masha… It was an accident…
– I don’t know… I don’t know how to live on… Is it worth living on… Why, Lord, why?  
Everything was quiet. Masha was sleeping. On the shelf, next to the baseball glove, Mitya’s portrait was smiling. Ed habitually and carefully turned the page.
“Why,” he thought tiredly and vainly. Why? 
By night the heat began to subside. In the distance, on the shore, Canopus flickered with fireflies of torches. The Nile was smooth, calm and quiet. A trireme was barely noticeable, lazily swaying in its waters. Adrian dictated the letter. Antinous massaged his sore shoulder and from time to time poured wine into the silver cup. Two centurions in tunics suddenly jumped up to me, one of them pointed a sword at my ribs.
It was Tim who elbowed me in the side. He has this habit: pushing in the morning.  hugged him and he calmed down, clung to me and became quiet. 

Who are you, and what did you come for? – Adrian asked warily and sternly.
I don’t remember what I answered him, but probably something that calmed him down. He nodded to the centurions and they retreated, but remained standing at a distance, ready. What could I answer him? “Just a voyeur, Caesar. Observer of people. A wanderer, like you.” I felt that my appearance somewhat puzzled him, but he did not show it, continuing to calmly dictate his letter. He watched me out of the corner of his eye, studied me and, apparently, calculated, out of the habit of a politician, what all this meant and how this situation could be used for his own purposes. From time to time, various people in tunics, tunics or loincloths entered the tent and Adrian gave them orders, after which he returned to the interrupted phrase in the letter.e and became quiet. 

Everything around him was saturated with an almost tangible aura of great, undeniable and absolute power, but through it stood a living, tense, contradictory and restless person: sensitive, vulnerable, patient, angry, cruel, defenseless; forever seeking fame and love.

Antinous was completely calm and natural in everything: movements, gaze, conversation: it could only be this way and no other way. He was an integral part of nature, the world without him would have become incomplete, orphaned. 

His divine beauty seemed ethereal, non-sexual. It was easy, simple and good to be with him; his very presence inspired and enlivened everything around. Some kind of thread immediately stretched between us. He came up to me, smiled and handed me a cup of wine, not at all surprised that I was here. It was as if he had known and been waiting for me for a very long time and was glad that I had finally appeared. I realized that we had become friends. 

Adrian, looking at us, relaxed too and began to pay less attention to me: apparently, he decided that he had found a use for me. He was completely immersed in his work: he dictated some letters, looked through and applied his signet ring to others, received and questioned visitors, thought about something of his own and continued in the same way, out of the corner of his eye, unobtrusively and imperceptibly, but clearly observing everyone . The centurions disappeared somewhere into the shadows. 

Tim started pushing again, and this time we began to wake up.
– I have to get up soon…I have an audition today… – he muttered sleepily and was just about to get up…  – Fuck the audition! What is the day without morning sex …       

My first year at  NYU   I went to the pool early in the morning before classes. It was always empty there at this time. One day, Tim entered the small sauna where, after swimming, I usually meditated in blissful solitude. He walked carefully and softly, holding a long white towel wrapped tightly around his hips. He sat down on the bench opposite and smiled. We started chatting and couldn’t stop. 

Tim is a filmmaker, I am at  Law School. Despite his seemingly cinematic romanticism, he is quite practical and grounded. 

“You, Russians, make everything too complicated. A little Dostoyevsky sits in every one of you…” 
Tim accepts life as it comes. Goes with the flow. It just seems so easy to go with the flow. In fact ,  this  is  art .  
“You, kinky whore…”  said  fighting him off . – You will be late for your audition and will ruin your entire movie career. The great star unborn. Don’t blame it on me then… 
-Oh, fuck the movies… fuck the career… 
Tim rolled up “ one zaftig joint , our usual breakfast.  
– I am dying for a cup of coffee… Would you make some for us, please…? 
I brewed strong coffee in a Turk. Then we went to the shower together.
– What are we doing tonight? – Tim asked, pouring shampoo over me.
– I have to go see my parents, remember? It’s their wedding anniversary today. 
-Oh, I am sorry, I forgot. My good boy is going to see his mammy and daddy tonight. They are having their anniversary… 
– Oh, shut up, you bitch, and scrub my back… 
– And whom my good boy is going with to his parent’s an-niv-yor-sa-ry tonight? 
– You know very well whom I am going with…With Jeannie, of course, whom else… 
– Oh, my good boy is going with his cute little beard Jeannie. Jeannie, the beard from the bottle… 
– Oh, shut up, Timothy. Do you want me to go with you instead? So everyone would point their fingers at us and whisper: “Ooo, look: these two fags came…We always knew their son is a fag…” 
– No, Mitya-boy. I don’t want you to go there with me. I want you to go with your cute little beard Jeannie and enjoy yourself .
Tim put foam on my chin and I spanked him. It turned out loud and strong. I threw a towel at him and spread him out.
“Aahh,”  he howled , “he is going to rape me!” Finally! After all these years! What did I do to deserve this? Oh, it feels good! 
– Don’t even dream about it. I will keep you frustrated and salivating. And what are you going to do tonight? 
-Oh, I think I will go to an S-and-M club and get myself fucked to death. 
I wrapped a towel around his head and went to make more coffee. Tim, pretending to be a blind man, with outstretched trembling hands, began to fumble around me, approaching me with small, stumbling steps.
– Ah, here you are… I thought you were going to rape me, what happened? You don’t like me no more? You dummy Russian… 
– Be careful, coffee is very hot…And now you are really late for your audition… 
– Yes, I know, they will give me fifty lashes for this… 
Hastily gulping down his coffee, Tim jumped into his jeans and tucked in his shirt. And he was already at the door, pecked me on the lips and couldn’t stop, pecked me again and again, stronger and longer, dropped the backpack from his hands, hugged me, and, drunk, whispered:
– Fuck the audition… I will stay for a while longer… 
And I couldn’t stop either. We got up again only at noon. When Tim left, it immediately became quiet and empty. I finished smoking a couple of  roaches… 

The aging lion was driven out of the pack by his sons. They returned and drove him out, as before, as soon as their mane began to show and fluff, he drove them out. Just as he and his brothers were once expelled by their fathers.
They returned – matured, stronger, tempered by wandering male loneliness. For half a day he and the new young leader stared at each other, fiercely and menacingly, growling and fanning themselves with their tails. When, having accelerated, they began to run and collide, the young man contrived and bit him in the thigh. He could have held on for quite some time and, most likely, in the end, would have outsmarted, outplayed and defeated the self-confident, but dull and inexperienced newcomer. But fatigue had accumulated, and, most importantly, he understood that the pack needed young blood and they no longer needed him. And so, after growling and jostling for order, he finally backed down and left. Now he could not catch up with even the weakest and slowest gazelles. And I didn’t have enough strength to look for new places. He had no choice but to sit in ambush for hours and wait for people. Human meat was bitter and tough, but it was easier to hunt them: their sense of smell was not so sharp and they allowed you to get closer to them.
A rumor spread through the Libyan villages, west of Alexandria, that a lion had appeared in their area, devouring people. He was called the Moor – the king of the Moorish lions. Life stopped, horror hung in the air, carrying, as it seemed to everyone, the stench of remains and blood; the fields and arable lands were empty.
When Adrian was informed about this, his eyes sparkled, his back straightened, and even the pain in his constantly aching, long-broken collarbone dissolved and went away.  Pater Patrii  [30]  will protect his children. He put down the papyrus and waved the scribe away. 
“We’re going hunting tomorrow,” he announced. His movements were filled with elastic, young strength, and an excited smile of anticipation wandered across his face. Hunting was his sweetest joy and hobby. In it he became himself again. Most of all he loved to hunt lions. This was precisely the duel worthy of Caesar.
We left early in the morning. Adrian, apparently, accepted me into his retinue, and I was given a tunic, a horse, a sword and two lances. I was paired with Lucius; Hadrian and Antinous are in front, surrounded by horsemen and a pack of hungry dogs squealing with impatience.
The gentle coolness of the night, blown by the north wind from the sea, was still felt, but the sun rose higher and higher and became brighter, turning unbearably yellow; Another sultry September Egyptian day was approaching. From under the hooves of our horses, road dust, drying from the morning moisture, began to swirl ever thicker. Seeing from afar the motorcade of the emperor-pharaoh-god, peasants from nearby villages prostrated themselves, not daring to raise their heads until he was out of sight.
“Oh, you don’t know what Rome is,” Lucius habitually muttered to me, carefully straightening his curls, sprinkled with golden glitter, and wincing from the dust. “This is a satiated whore who is aroused only by the blood of gladiators flowing in sufficient quantities, and understands only the language of the whip.”
He complained to me about his capricious and hysterical wife, who did not want to let him go to Egypt, about the eternal intrigues of senators, about the treacherous unreliability of slaves and about the acquisitiveness of creditors. Not really understanding who I was and where I came from, he nevertheless decided, seeing my position in the imperial retinue, to enlist me as an ally.
When we got to the hunting spot where we saw the Moor for the last time, the dogs became nervous and began to howl, their tails between their legs and their noses moving in the wind. The horsemen cordoned off the thickets in a circle and, banging their swords on their shields and loudly hooting, began to slowly close in. We waited in an open clearing in the center. Our horses pranced anxiously, flaring their nostrils, shaking their muzzles, and snorting madly.
The Moor appeared suddenly. Jumping out of the thickets, he saw us and stopped for a moment. Letting out a deafening, piercing roar, he braced himself, preparing to jump, digging the ground with his front paws and whipping his sides with his tail, raising pillars of dust. Antinous, with a spear at the ready, pulled the reins, spurred his horse and stepped closer to the Moor. They stood almost close to each other. Antinous could easily pierce the red-singed mane of the Moor with his spear, but he hesitated and waited for something.
Adrian, swinging, threw his spear, but not at the neck or even at the heart of the lion, which he could have easily done, but under the ridge, towards the tail. The spear got stuck between the bones and was thrown around in circles, tearing the wound. The Moor went mad with pain and rage, and, standing on his hind legs, aimed at Antinous’s horse. Strung by the reins, the horse reared up, raising its hooves over the gaping grin of steel fangs, exuding the heat of animal breath and the roar of the lion’s mouth. But even now Antinous did not pierce him with his spear.

Adrian watched them calmly, absorbedly, confidently. And only when, having slashed his claws along the silky horse’s neck, the lion fell over backwards under the horse’s hooves, raising his paws and waving his stuck spear and, preparing to jump up again, pointed his outstretched claws at Antinous, Hadrian struck his blow: quickly, powerfully and accurately; with an experienced, trained hand, to the very place in the thick of the thick mane from which a scarlet fountain stream splashed.
The Moor, stretching out and moving his paws, wheezed and choked on blood and impotent hatred for these incomprehensible, puny creatures. He remembered his mother, the intoxicatingly sweet taste of her milk, the warmth of her skin, games with her brothers, the ringing crunch of antelope bones under his teeth, the first days of marriage and the languid moan of his lioness, when he convulsively bit into the folds of her neck, her stunning, making him forget everything the rest is the smell. And her indifferent, indifferent look when he was expelled from the pack; her anxious gaze, following their doomed lion cubs. The Moor wriggled in convulsions and kept trying to get up, but his mane, stretching in an even velvety wedge along the bottom of his belly to his hind legs, swelled redder and thicker, became darker, bristling with wet tufts and dropping ruby ​​petals onto the sand.

All this happened so quickly that when Lucius and I rode up from the other end of the clearing, where we were waiting for the lion, it was already over. Adrian carefully, holding his sword at the ready, pushed the Moor with the toe of his sandal and, making sure that his eyes were glazing over, stepped victoriously onto his mane. Lucius, straightening his curls with his usual movement, stepped on her too, as if posing for a portrait. The Moor suddenly twitched again, uttering his last, dying roar. Lucius, to Adrian’s satisfied laughter, jumped back in fear, but, having recovered and come to his senses, bowed in a graceful court bow: “Only a king can kill a king…” The lion’s convulsions began to gradually subside.

Antinous had little interest in the dead lion. He washed the wounds of his horse: four bloody stripes; two deeper ones – in the middle, and gently stroked and calmed him. The excitement of the recent fight was still playing in the eyes of both of them. Sensing my silent question, he whispered: “Only a king should kill a king,” and a barely noticeable grin ran across his swollen lips. Only I could notice her. Or maybe it just seemed to me. 

After the hunt, Adrian was in good spirits and agreed to attend the feast that the Alexandrian nobility had long planned in his honor. In the Ptolemaic palace, on a small island northwest of the coast of Alexandria, Hadrian received guests. His toga stood out among others with its wide purple imperial border. He was cheerful and affectionate towards guests and joked a lot. 

Lozinsky closed the notebook, put it back in the safe, carefully, trying not to make noise, left the house and got into the car. Restaurants on  Emmons Avenue and cheerful fireflies of fishing boats flashed. The late night crowd slowly strolled along the bay, lay on benches, picked their teeth and laughed contentedly. 
– I think I owe you this, said Tim .  They were sitting in a small restaurant not far from  Gramercy Park , where Tim now lived. He called and asked Lozinsky for a meeting .        
– I don’t know why it happened. I don’t think he killed himself. I think he was reasonably happy. I think we were happy together. Though, just like all of us, he did have his moods too… We went to the beach together and he did not come back. He said: I’ll go for a swim. And it was getting cloudy and darker. It looked like it was getting stormy. I told him: don’t go into the water, Mitya-boy, you’ll get caught up by the waves. He said: don’t you worry about me… And he was a good swimmer, you know. He stayed in shape. Weather in Rockaways might change like a switch, without a warning, and surf is high. He said: don’t you worry about me. I can swim over the ocean… I didn’t like it. I watched him and then I went into the water myself. I searched for him everywhere, I screamed. He was nowhere in sight. The next thing I remember was the face of a lifeguard who pulled me out. 
– Would you like more wine? –  the waiter smiled sweetly and knowingly .  
– I miss him. I don’t know why it happened. I cannot explain it.    
Two years later, Masha accidentally learned from mutual friends that Tim died in San Francisco after overdoing it on “ snowballs . They said that he went to clubs and looked for Mitya. 

Lozinski entered the highway and sped toward the  Rockaways bridge . He walked along the dark, deserted beach, muttering to himself. He fell into the sand, rolling over the dunes, screaming through clenched teeth and tearing up the grass with the butt of his Colt. And he shot at the stars, aiming at the very constellation where the star of Antinous twinkled, but could not find him. 

On his way back he was stopped by a policeman.

– Did you hear any gunshots, sir? –  he asked worriedly .  

“No,”  Lozinsky answered in surprise . – I didn’t hear anything. What happened? 

Mitya was sitting next to him; the same as always, only very pale.

“Fasten your seat belt, just in case,” Lozinsky wanted to tell him out of habit, but suddenly realized that this was not necessary and remained silent.

“Mother is all worried about where you’ve been, what’s going on…” he just whispered.

Arriving at his workshop, he found a baseball bat, hidden just in case at the gate, and began to destroy Mercedes, Fords, Audios and  BMWs with it , waiting for their owners after repairs.

The next morning, when Jose called him, Lozinsky still could not understand what he was talking about, distinguishing only “ problemas …  problemas …” 

“ Well , call the insurance companies,”  he finally squeezed out ,  half  asleep – They will take care of it. 

Mitya grabbed his finger and did not want to go into the water.

“Warm, warm,” said Lozinsky, dragging him along.

“Don’t torture the child,” Masha shouted at them. Let him sunbathe here with me.

“He must learn to swim,” Lozinsky answered her. – He will learn!

“The child is three years old and can’t swim,” Masha muttered disapprovingly and, adjusting her umbrella, turned over on her other side.

Mitya floundered quite cheerfully, and when he winced from the tart sea water, Lozinsky slightly caught him under the belly, on top of the oncoming wave.

– It was important for you to teach him swimming, said  Dr. Stein.  

– You wanted to be a real father for him. In everything… 

“In everything”, thought Lozinsky. 

– Did your father teach you swimming too, asked  Dr. Stein. 


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