Around the same time as Nikanor’s arrest, Rimsky, the financial director of the Variety Theatre and, Varenukha, its administrator, are sitting in the theatre offices. An usher brings the posters for Woland’s performance, which advertise: “PROFESSOR WOLAND—Seancés of Black Magic and its Full Exposure.” Neither man has met Woland, and both are annoyed that Styopa, who yesterday had come running into the office “like crazy” to get the performance contract signed, is now nowhere to be seen.
The choice of wording on Woland’s poster is interesting: the promise of full exposure is a big draw and helps Woland ensure that he has a full house to perform to. But it also gives a clue to the real purpose of the planned performance—the exposure, not of Woland’s powers, but of the populace’s cowardice and individualism. From Varenukha and Rimsky’s account, it’s clear that Styopa spent the previous day under Woland’s influence.
Just then, a uniformed woman arrives with a “super-lightning” telegram. It’s from Yalta and appears to be from a police authority; it suggests that a shoeless man claiming to be Director Likhodeev (Styopa) has been detained in Yalta as a “mental case.” Rimsky and Varenukha assume this to be some kind of prank.
Varenukha and Rimsky saw Styopa the previous day, and there is no way he could have physically travelled to Yalta in the time span that has elapsed. The reader, of course, knows that Styopa is the victim of Woland’s powers.
Almost immediately, the same woman brings another telegram, which begs that they believe the first and mentions “Woland” and “hypnosis,” asking Rimsky and Varenukha to confirm the man in Yalta is Styopa. The two men are baffled, assuming that Styopa must be drunk.
The speed with which telegrams arrive indicates the frantic way in which Syopa is trying to make contact. The association of Woland with hypnosis recurs throughout the novel, seemingly the only “rational” explanation for the chaos he causes.
To Rimsky and Varenukha’s amazement, a third telegram then arrives with a piece of photographic paper clearly showing Styopa’s handwriting and signature. This, says the telegram, is proof that it’s from Styopa and adds that the two men should “watch Woland.” They can’t figure out how Styopa could be in Yalta, over nine hundred miles away, given that he had phoned from his apartment that same morning.
The signature seems to be incontrovertible proof (similar to earlier chapters). Styopa heightens the atmosphere of suspicion and fear around Woland.
Rimsky decides to call Yalta but notices that the telephone line is broken. He puts all the telegrams in an envelope and instructs Varenukha to take them to the authorities. Rimsky phones Styopa’s apartment and manages to get through; Koroviev informs him that Styopa has gone for a drive “out of town.”
Woland and his gang have sufficient supernatural powers to completely avoid detection but deliberately toy with their targets. Rimsky wants Varenukha to go the secret police, another example of an attempt to use their power to regain control of the situation.
Utterly perplexed, Rimsky receives yet another telegram, this time asking for five hundred roubles and saying that Styopa intends to fly back to Moscow the next day. Rimsky sends the money to the telegraph office.
Rimsky sends the money just in case, even though he can’t see how Styopa could possibly be where he says he is (if indeed it is Styopa).
Varenukha, carrying a briefcase containing the telegrams, passes by the box office. Tickets for Woland’s performance are nearly sold out. As Varenukha goes by, the phone rings for him—a “nasty voice” warns him not to take the telegrams anywhere. Determined to put an end to this pranking, Varenukha hurries out.
Woland’s planned spectacle is taking shape. The promise of black magic entices the Moscow citizens, showing that they are interested in the idea of evil and the dark arts—if unable to see how they might practice them too. They want to experience evil from a distance, in the safe space of the theater; Woland wants to show them that evil is alive and well in Moscow. In this way, he takes on a similar role to an artist, intending to hold up a mirror to society (which in this case isn’t being done by its own artists).
On his way, Varenukha checks whether the summer toilet has had its light fixture repaired. Just then, he is accosted by a “cat-like fat man” and a man with red hair and a fang (Azazello). They beat him up, pointing out that he had been warned over the telephone not to take the telegrams.
Varenukha is accosted by Behemoth and Azazello, while he makes the comic mistake of trying to check on the maintenance of the theater.
The two strange characters drag Varenukha down Sadovaya street and into apartment no. 50, which Varenukha recognizes as Styopa’s apartment. Suddenly he is confronted by a naked woman (Hella), who insists on giving him a kiss. At this, Varenukha faints.