TWO

The woman sat looking straight ahead, her coat still buttoned, her mouth firmly set. She was somewhere in her late forties and, Sasha was sure, wanted to be thought of as a stylish modern person. He discerned this because of the woman’s short haircut, her use of makeup, and the stylish if somewhat worn imitation leather coat she wore.

She was also a challenge. She had been sitting silently in the small interrogation room of Petrovka for more than fifteen minutes and had said nothing after informing the uniformed officer at the entrance that she had something of importance to say to a policeman. Petrovka consists of two ten-story L-shaped buildings on Petrovka Street. It is modern, imposing, utilitarian, and very busy. It is a place most Muscovites avoid. Often citizens will come through the doors determined to be heard and seen, only to change their mind at the sight of the humorless young officers carrying dark automatic weapons. But this woman, though afraid, had persisted.

Sasha Tkach had the unfortunate luck to be seated at his desk opposite Zelach when the woman was brought up. Sasha was usually successful with reluctant witnesses. He was handsome if a bit thin and looked much younger than his twenty-nine years. His hair fell over his eyes, and he had an engaging habit of throwing his head back to clear his vision. He also had a rather large space between his upper teeth, which seemed to bring out the maternal response in most women, but this woman, whose identification confirmed that her name was Elena Vostoyavek, did not respond to Sasha’s charms and, truth be told, Sasha had other things on his mind, particularly the fight he had had that very morning with his wife, Maya, over whether Sasha’s mother, Lydia, would be moving with them and the baby to the new apartment. It had been an unusually difficult fight because Lydia, deaf as she was, had been in the next room and might hear.

Sasha did not need this silent challenge before him. He needed a simple day of desk work, distracting, absorbing desk work without human contact. He had a pile of reports to write. He longed to write those reports, to lose himself in the routine of those reports, and so he decided to charm the reluctant woman.

“Can I get you some tea?” Sasha said, leaning close to her and smiling.

No answer.

“This must be difficult for you,” he went on, speaking softly, intimately. “Whatever it is you have to tell us must be important, and we appreciate your sense of responsibility. Too many citizens walk away from their responsibility.”

The woman did not look at him. He pulled up a chair and sat directly in her line of vision. Inspector Rostnikov had told him there would be moments like this when they moved to special assignments in the MVD. They-Rostnikov, Tkach, and Emil Karpo-had handled important cases, murders, grand theft when they were with the procurator general’s office, which under Article 164 of the Constitution of the USSR is empowered to exercise “supreme power of supervision over the strict and uniform observance of laws by all ministries, state committees and departments, enterprises, institutions and organizations, executive-administrative bodies of local Soviets of People’s Deputies, collective farms, cooperatives, and other public organizations, officials, and citizens.” The procurator general’s office was a place of great prestige and, as long as its mission did not conflict with the KGB, great power. But Rostnikov had, once too often, incurred the wrath of the KGB and had been demoted, assigned to the staff of Colonel Snitkonoy, whose duties were largely ceremonial.

Tkach and Karpo, already under suspicion because of their loyalty to Rostnikov, had been given the opportunity to join him. The opportunity had no alternatives, and Tkach had accepted it gladly, though at moments like this he longed for a good murder.

“You’re married?” Tkach said. “Your ring is very interesting.”

Elena Vostoyavek did not answer.

“We know a little about you,” he said, patting the sheet of paper that had been handed to him just before he entered the room with the woman.

“Your husband died several years ago after a prolonged illness. Is that correct?”

Tkach knew it was correct. The woman did not answer.

“You have a son, Yuri, who is … nineteen years old. He works at the Central Telegraph Office. Is that correct?”

No response.

“Elena, I’ll be honest with you. I need your help here. I have a lot of paperwork to do, and I’m expected to get a statement from you. If I don’t, my superiors will consider me incompetent. It will count against me. I have a wife, a child. You don’t want that to happen? You have a son. My mother would be broken if I lost my position here. You understand what I’m saying?”

No response. Sasha sighed and threw back his head to clear his eyes. There was a challenge here, and he was not meeting it. The woman was not just being stubborn. He could sense that. She had something to say, but something was keeping her from it. He needed the key that would open her mouth.

“All right,” he said, standing, suddenly louder than he had been. “I’ve been patient with you, but my patience has ended. We are busy here. I am busy, and you are taking valuable time from my investigative schedule. According to the law, you can now be tried for interference with police procedure. I am prepared, if I must, to bring such charges against you. You have five more of my minutes before I call an end to this and make a criminal charge.”

A tear formed in the corner of Elena Vostoyavek’s right eye. Sasha sighed and handed her the handkerchief Maya had ironed for him that morning even as they had fought. The silent woman took the handkerchief, touched it to her eye, and delicately blew her nose before handing the handkerchief back.

Sasha stuffed the handkerchief in his pocket, folded his arms across his chest, and sat back against the table behind him. The woman sniffled several times but didn’t seem to notice as Sasha announced the passage of each minute.

“Five,” he said, standing. “It is time to place charges against you.”

He had no intention of placing charges. He would usher her to the front door, inform the guard that she was not to be allowed back into the building, and then go back to his desk and write a report on the encounter. He looked forward to that report.

It was clear the woman would not speak. She wanted magic, a miracle, for him to know what she wanted without her having to say it. At that moment, the door to the interrogation room opened and a tall figure entered. The door was at Sasha’s back, but he could tell from the silent woman’s eyes who had entered. Elena’s eyes raised to take in the figure, and then the eyes widened and the mouth opened. She composed herself almost before the door had closed, but the look on her face was familiar to Tkach.

Emil Karpo stepped forward next to Sasha. Karpo was over six feet tall, lean, with dark, thinning hair and pale skin that contrasted with the black suit he wore. He looked corpselike, and his dark eyes were cold and unblinking. When he spoke, his voice was an emotionless monotone. He had been known in his early police career as the Tatar, but twenty years of fanatical pursuit of enemies of the state had earned him the nickname of the Vampire among his colleagues. The name seemed particularly appropriate when a peculiar look crept into Karpo’s eyes, and at those moments even those who had worked with him for years avoided him. Only Rostnikov knew that the look was caused by severe migraine headaches, headaches that Emil Karpo never acknowledged. There was also a peculiar lilt of Karpo’s body as he moved forward, a lilt caused by a vulnerable left arm that had been repeatedly damaged in the line of duty and only recently repaired by surgery.

“She won’t speak,” Sasha said with a sigh without looking at his pale companion.

Karpo nodded, his eyes fixed on the face of the woman who was doing her best not to be afraid of this new presence. But her best was far from good enough. Karpo picked up the information sheet from the table, read it quickly, and shifted his eyes to the face of the woman in the chair, who failed to avert her eyes in time and found them locked on those of the Vampire.

“Why are you here, Elena Vostoyavek?” he said.

“My-my-my son,” she answered dryly.

Sasha put his hand to his forehead and shook his head.

“What about your son?” Karpo went on insistently.

“I think,” she said, pulling her coat more tightly around her in spite of the heat of the room, “I think he is planning to do something very bad. I heard him talking to someone-a girl, I think-on the phone.”

“Something bad?” Karpo prompted.

“Something bad,” she repeated.

“And what is this bad thing?” asked Karpo patiently.

The woman looked at the two policemen and then at the wall.

“What is this thing?” Karpo repeated with less patience.

“Kidnapping,” she said softly. “I think he is planning to kidnap Andrei Morchov or worse. He mentioned Comrade Morchov several times.”

“The Politburo member?” asked Sasha.

The woman nodded her head and looked down at the floor.

“Why are you telling us?” asked Sasha, certain now that he would not be getting to his paperwork and thoughts this day.

“To stop him,” she said. “If you tell him you know what he is planning, thinking, he won’t be able to do it, don’t you see? No crime will have been committed. It’s just a crazy … Yuri is not a bad boy. He just gets … well, he’s not really a boy anymore, not really. But a mother-you understand? You have children?”

“No,” said Karpo.

The word conspiracy came into Sasha’s thoughts. If her son were guilty of planning a kidnapping, especially the kidnapping of an important member of the Politburo, that was a crime whether he succeeded or not, even if the plan were only something he mentioned once and never planned to carry out.

“You’ll talk to him, stop him, frighten him,” she said, looking directly at Karpo and reaching out to touch his hand. Karpo withdrew his hand before the contact was made and stood erect. “I’m sure you could frighten him.”

“We will stop him,” said Karpo.

Bus number 43, driven by Boris Trush on the 75 route, pulled over in front of Sokolniki Recreation Park at eleven-twelve in the morning. Boris announced the stop and opened the doors. Four of his passengers got off, leaving only a half-asleep man with a cap pulled over his eyes and an old couple arguing in the rear.

Boris had a hangover. He wanted to be home in the dark or immersed in warm water. Before all this reform, this perestroika, economic restructuring, and glasnost, openness, all this change, a man could have a hangover, a man could get drunk, a man had reason to drink. Now there were signs posted all over the city saying drinking was subversive, that drinking undercut the very fabric of the revolution. First they had raised the drinking age to twenty-one. That had been a good idea. Then Gorbachev had increased the price of vodka from four and a half rubles to ten rubles a liter. That had been a bad idea. And there were more bad ideas. Cutting the hours of State stores that sold alcohol was one.

Soon, Boris Trush thought, they will be making us embarrassed about smoking the way they are in the United States. What will be left when they take away the minor vices of the overweight and the middle-aged? Boris was, clearly, in a very dark mood when the two men climbed onto the bus, dropped their five kopecks in the box, and tore off their tickets.

Boris did not look at the faces of the men. He barely noticed that one was wearing jeans and a dark jacket, and the other was older and also wore sunglasses. The young man was like all the other young people, like his own sister’s son, Vladimir. Young people wanted to look like Frenchmen or Americans or even Japanese. Where was their pride? Boris had heard that Soviet watches were in great demand in France. He pulled away from the curb and into the light late-morning traffic.

“What is your name?” a voice said behind Boris.

Boris looked up into his mirror into the dark lenses of the glasses of the young man. Beyond the young man who spoke to him Boris could see the second man, an older man in a long coat talking to the old couple in the back.

“Don’t talk to the driver,” Boris said.

“Hey, Comrade,” the young man said. “I’m just trying to make things easier.”

Boris’s head ached. The young man in the mirror talking to him had long blond hair and needed a shave. He looked undernourished and nervous.

“Sit down,” Boris said.

The young man sat behind Boris and looked out the window.

“Stop here,” the young man said.

“There is no stop here,” said Boris. “No stop. No talking. I’ll announce the stops.”

A light rain had begun. Boris turned on his windshield wipers.

“Stop here,” the young man said evenly and reached over to touch something against Boris’s neck. Boris, startled, almost lost control of the bus. He did move slightly into the outer lane, but there was no traffic.

“You crazy lunatic,” Boris said with a growl, pulling over to the curb. “Get off my-”

And with that Boris Trush stopped, for at this point he turned his head and saw that the thing that had touched his neck was the barrel of a pistol in the young man’s hand.

“You know what this is?” the blond young man said.

“A gun,” Boris said, quietly blaming Gorbachev for this moment. If it weren’t for Gorbachev, Boris could have called in to his supervisor this morning, made the old excuse, which would have been understood, and Boris could have been home in a dark room with his pain. But that was no longer acceptable. Everyone wanted to show sobriety, zeal, support, a new beginning. Not only did it make Boris Trush sick, it now also showed signs of possibly killing him.

“It’s not just a gun, Comrade,” the young man whispered. “Open the doors.”

Boris opened the doors and looked up in the mirror to see the old couple being escorted off the bus by the man who had gotten on with the gunman.

“He told them there’s a problem with the bus,” the young man whispered. “You wanted to know about this?”

The young man held the gun out so Boris could get a better look at it. Boris did not want to know.

“This is a Stechkin,” the young man whispered almost lovingly. “The slide-mounted safety catch has three positions: safe, repetition, and automatic. When I move the catch like this and clip this wooden holsterstock to the butt, the Stechkin is no longer a pistol but a submachine gun with a twenty-shot box. Nice, huh?”

The man in the long coat moved forward with no sense of urgency and shook the shoulder of the dozing man with the cap over his eyes.

“Hey,” the man in the long coat said. “Last stop.”

As Boris watched in his mirror, the dozing man roused himself, pushed his cap back with irritation, and looked out the window. He was a burly man, a laborer of some kind, Boris was sure, for the man was a regular on Boris’s route and frequently got on the bus with grimy hands and face.

“It’s not the last stop,” the laborer grumbled and pulled the cap back over his eyes.

“Bus is down,” the long-coated man said, jostling the laborer’s shoulder again.

This time the laborer pulled his hat off and grabbed the neck of the long-coated man standing over him.

“Who the hell are you?” the laborer growled, looking around the bus for the first time.

The young blond man standing next to Boris sighed, pushed his dark glasses back on his nose, and turned. Calmly, the young man raised his gun and fired. Boris jumped and yelped like a puppy, as if it were he who had been shot. The tin-can rattle of the shot echoed through Boris’s aching head as he turned in his seat and saw the long-coated man push away the blood-spattered body of the laborer, who wore a quite surprised look on his face.

“Close the doors,” the young man said, looking outside to see if anyone had heard or seen what had happened. The old couple who had been evicted from the bus were half a block away. They turned, looked back.

“Wave at them,” the young man said.

Boris waved.

“Now close the doors.”

And Boris closed the doors.

“The Stechkin is unreliable,” the young man said conversationally. “Too big as a pistol. Too light as a submachine gun. It makes big holes but … You never told me your name.”

“Boris, Boris Trush. I have a wife and four children.”

The man from the rear of the bus had now joined them. The young man adjusted his sunglasses and turned to him.

“This is Boris Trush. Comrade Trush says he has a wife and four children. I think Boris may be lying just a little bit. I think he may not have four children. He looks like too good a citizen to have so many children. I think Comrade Trush is afraid.”

“Enough,” said the older man in the long coat.

Boris wanted to remove his cap. He knew his nearly hairless scalp was drenched with sweat that would soon be burning his eyes. He looked up at his mirror into the shaded eyes of the older man and shuddered. The man looked like an older, more conservative version of the young man with the gun, but the older man held no gun in his hand. He held a very narrow piece of dark metal pipe.

“You have a picture of your family, Boris?” the young man teased.

“I … not with me.”

“Enough,” said the older man.

“But, Boris-” the young man began but never finished.

The older man brought the metal pipe down with a ringing clang against the steel change box next to Boris, who pulled in his breath and began panting.

“We have work,” the older man said. “Get in the back and keep your eyes open.”

The young man nodded and backed away.

“You’ll have to forgive him,” said the older man quietly to Boris as he tapped the metal pipe into the palm of his left hand. “He’s young and nervous. He’s never done anything like this.”

“I forgive him,” said Boris, thinking that yes, oh, he certainly was going to wet his pants. “What are you going to do?”

“Steal this bus,” said the man. “Now, if you will drive where I tell you, there is a chance-a slight chance, I must admit, but a chance-that you will live long enough to tell this story to the police.”

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