disease in the city, something terrible which only the worst whores could contract.

“I went to visit her every day of the week, but she would never see me. I could hear her laugh, weaker each time, from within her room as her mother told her I was waiting outside – but she wouldn’t see me. Not till she was dead. Then I saw her, saw the worthless whore I’d dreamed about through all my youth and young manhood, the girl who’d teased me and mocked me and never taken pity on me for a single moment. She lay there with a smile on her lips like the Madonna, though her soul must have gone straight to hell …”

“And Laurence?” I asked, confused and interested against my will. It all seemed to jibe only too well with my own dreams of the heart of the snow, the scar, the girl.

“What? Ah, Lorenzo, he was like a little girl to me. I used him like one. His Mummy had made him scared of women, and he liked to have a man to take care of him. I found that out on the ship, coming down. I caught him one day with his trousers open, pleasing himself, and threatened to tell the whole crew if he would not do what I said. In truth, he hardly needed the threats, for he must have been thinking about it for some time. I made him kiss it first, before I did all the things I’d dreamed of with that false whore …”

“You fucking liar! He was a British boy, not a …”

“Ah, you loved him, too, Captain? Perhaps you too have thought of him in your warm bag, pressed up against you at night?”

I wanted to strike the foreign brute, with his dirty talk of sacred things. I wanted to knife him then and there, like a great gross elephant seal. But somehow I could not. I looked at his full, slug-like lips, strangely in contrast with his wizened mountaineer’s body, and felt the wisdom it contained, wisdom denied me, secret knowledge of the senses and the mind. I had fucked my girl, while he had never touched his own, but I knew that I was a child beside him.

He smiled, greasily, with putrid self-assurance, then the smile faded into a frown. “You wish to know what I know, do you not, Captain Jordan? But it is not Laurence you wish to know, now, is it? It is yourself. You should have spoken earlier …”

I should have spoken earlier. I could have held that white boy’s body against mine. I could have cut out this Swiss bastard’s heart and eaten it raw on the end of my knife. And now all that was left was he and I – and the racking blizzard outside.

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