"Herbert! Good God! Is it possible?"
"Yes, my name's Herbert. I think I know your face, too, but I don't remember your name. My memory is very queer."
"Don't you recollect Villiers of Wadham?"
"So it is, so it is. I beg your pardon, Villiers, I didn't think I was begging of an old college friend. Good-night."
"My dear fellow, this haste is unnecessary. My rooms are close by, but we won't go there just yet. Suppose we walk up Shaftesbury Avenue a little way? But how in heaven's name have you come to this pass, Herbert?"
"It's a long story, Villiers, and a strange one too, but you can hear it if you like."
"Come on, then. Take my arm, you don't seem very strong."
The ill-assorted pair moved slowly up Rupert Street; the one in dirty, evil-looking rags, and the other attired in the regulation uniform of a man about town, trim, glossy, and eminently well-to-do. Villiers had emerged from his restaurant after an excellent dinner of many courses, assisted by an ingratiating little flask of Chianti, and, in that frame of mind which was with him almost chronic, had delayed a moment by the door, peering round in the dimly-lighted street in search of those mysterious incidents and persons with which the streets of London teem in every quarter and every hour. Villiers prided himself as a practised explorer of such obscure mazes and byways of London life, and in this unprofitable pursuit he displayed an assiduity which was worthy of more serious employment. Thus he stood by the lamp-post surveying the passers-by with undisguised curiosity, and with that gravity known only to the systematic diner, had just enunciated in his mind the formula:
"London has been called the city of encounters; it is more than that, it is the city of Resurrections," when these reflections were suddenly interrupted by a piteous whine at his elbow, and a deplorable appeal for alms. He looked around in some irritation, and with a sudden shock found himself confronted with the embodied proof of his somewhat stilted fancies. There, close beside him, his face altered and disfigured by poverty and disgrace, his body barely covered by greasy ill-fitting rags, stood his old friend Charles Herbert, who had matriculated on the same day as himself, with whom he had been merry and wise for twelve revolving terms. Different occupations and varying interests had interrupted the friendship, and it was six years since Villiers had seen Herbert; and now he looked upon this wreck of a man with grief and dismay, mingled with a certain inquisitiveness as to what dreary chain of circumstances had dragged him down to such a doleful pass. Villiers felt together with compassion all the relish of the amateur in mysteries, and congratulated himself on his leisurely speculations outside the restaurant.
They walked on in silence for some time, and more than one passer-by stared in astonishment at the unaccustomed spectacle of a well-dressed man with an unmistakable beggar hanging on to his arm, and, observing this, Villiers led the way to an obscure street in Soho. Here he repeated his question.
"How the fuck has it happened, Herbert? I always understood you would succeed to an excellent position in Dorsetshire. Did your old man disinherit you? Surely not?"
"No, Villiers; I came into all the property at my poor father's death; he died a year after I left Oxford. He was a very good father to me, and I mourned his death sincerely enough. But you know what young men are; a few months later I came up to town and went a good deal into society. And by society I mean clubs where I could practice my considerable para-para dance skills. Of course I had excellent introductions, and I managed to enjoy myself very much in a harmless sort of way. I played a little, certainly, but never for heavy stakes, and the contests I entered brought me in money--only a few pounds, you know, but enough to pay for cigars and such petty pleasures. It was in my second season that the tide turned. Of course you have heard of my marriage?"
"No, I never heard anything about it."
"Yes, I married, Villiers. I met a girl, a girl of the most wonderful and most strange beauty, coming out of Atom in Shibuya one night. I cannot tell you her age; I never knew it,but, so far as I can guess, I should think she must have been about nineteen when I made her acquaintance. My friends had come to know her at Florence; she told them she was an orphan, the child of an English father and an Italian mother, and she charmed them as she charmed me. The first time I saw her was on the psychedelic trance floor. I was standing by the door talking to a friend, when suddenly above the hum and babble of conversation I heard a voice which seemed to thrill to my heart. She was singing an Italian song. I was introduced to her that evening, and in three months I married Helen. Villiers, that woman, if I can call her woman, corrupted my soul. You, Villiers, you may think you know life, and London, and what goes on day and night in this dreadful city; for all I can say you may have heard the talk of the vilest, but I tell you you can have no conception of what I know, not in your most fantastic, hideous dreams can you have imaged forth the faintest shadow of what I have heard--and seen. Yes, seen. I have seen the incredible, such horrors that even I myself sometimes stop in the middle of the street and ask whether it is possible for a man to behold such things and live. In a year, Villiers, I was a broken man, in body and soul--in body and soul."
"But your property, Herbert? You had land in Dorset."
"I sold all that shit - everything."
"And the money?"
"She took it all from me. Bitch ruined me, Villiers! Before this I had a 401k plan and a two-car garage. I had a flatscreen plasma television and a comprehensive collection of 60`s J-pop; I mean I was shithoarding 60`s J-vinyl. All of it`s gone, Villiers."
"And then she left you?"
"Yes; she disappeared one night. I don't know where she went, but I am sure if I saw her again it would kill me. The rest of my story is of no interest; sordid misery, that is all. You may think, Villiers, that I have exaggerated and talked for effect; but I have not told you half. I could tell you certain things which would convince you, but you would never know a happy day again. You would pass the rest of your life, as I pass mine, a haunted man, a man who has seen hell."
"Come on Herbert, you gotta tell me more of this shit. I honestly don`t know what the fuck you`re talking about."
"Yeah, shit, you`re being hell vague."
"I dunno. This shit is inconceivable, unspeakable. I can`t tell you any more."
"Herbert, don`t be a little bitch. Tell the fucking story."
"Okay. The night of the wedding, I found myself sitting in her bedroom in the hotel, listening to her talk. She was sitting up in bed, and I listened to her as she spoke in her beautiful voice, spoke of things which even now I would not dare whisper in the blackest night, though I stood in the midst of a wilderness. Then she started trying to test my dance skills. She was like, `Herbert, your skills are getting weak, can you touch this shit?` Then she started in with this really weak ass routine that even Ken Maeda wouldn`t touch. I was like `Helen, just stop. You`re half-Italian and Italians can`t dance."
"They seriously fucking can`t. God dammit Herbert...we`ve been landed - forever, or so it seems! - with those dull-eyed, olive-skinned chocolate munchers and garlic crushers who are not the least bit English but rather Italian. In short, we`ve been overrun by the Latin race - cocky, treacherous, over-emotional imbeciles one and all that can go to the Devil for all I care!"
Herbert raised his eyebrows.
"My, my," he said, laughing. "Your remarks prove to me that you are interested in 'our own, our native land.' I should never have suspected it of you."
"Of course you wouldn't," said Villiers, lighting a cigarette. "As has so often been said, 'My own, my native land is wherever I happen to feel at home.' Now I don't feel at home except with the people of the North. But I interrupted you. Let's get back to the subject. What were you saying?"
"Okay, yeah. Helen was pissing me off, so I was like `Bitch, stop.` Then I started busting some tight ass moves. So Helen was like, `Okay Herbert, but what about this shit? Then she takes this door out of her pocket..."
"Uhhh, what the fuck?"
"Yeah like this miniature fucking door. And it gets real big all of a sudden and opens, and this Italian monk comes out. He`s like, `Follow me, Herbert...`"
"You told him to fuck off right?"
"Yeah. But he comes out and grabs me and pulls me through the door. And on the other side it`s nothing but Italians. I mean it`s some kind of Italian church with like ten thousand Italians gathered together and all chanting to the Pope, who`s standing at the head of the altar."
"The Pope looked at me and said, `Italo-disco can`t be stopped. Soon you`ll be dancing to even more Giorgio Moroder-ripoff shit.`
"Impossible!" Villiers exclaimed.
"I said that too," Herbert continued. "And then the Pope said, `When Italo-disco hits lost their popularity in Europe, the Japanese market forced Italian and German producers to evolve the sound to what end up under the term "Eurobeat" and later Super Eurobeat and Eurobeat Flash. Those music styles, under the term Eurobeat, are sold only in Japan due to the Para Para culture there. Italian producers are still producing songs for the Japanese (super) Eurobeat market in the 2000`s. This evolving sound of Italo-disco involves a much higher BPM, as well as more rapid synth-lines and faster vocals. The genre itself upped the BPM in the late 80s, all the way into the 2000s."
"Good God!" Villiers shouted.
"Then...the organ broke out overhead with a blare. A dazzling light filled the church, blotting the altar from my eyes. The Italians faded away, the arches, the vaulted roof vanished. I raised my seared eyes to the fathomless glare, and I saw the black stars hanging in the heavens: and the wet winds from Lake Como chilled my face. And now, far away, over leagues of tossing cloud-waves, I saw the moon dripping with spray; and beyond, the towers of Rome rose behind the moon. And now I heard his voice, rising, swelling, thundering through the flaring light, and as I fell, the radiance increasing, increasing, poured over me in waves of flame. Then I sank into the depths, and I heard the Pope whispering to my soul: "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!"
Villiers looked at him for a long time.
"Those fucking Italians," he said at last.