FOUR

Zelach wore his most attentive look. His lips were tight and his eyes narrowed and fixed on Rostnikov. Zelach tried to hold his thick body erect in the chair, but it refused to cooperate, requiring Zelach to expend great amounts of limited will and mental resources on the effort. Such a concentration and expenditure of effort to juggle his air of attention while at the same time actually listening to Rostnikov was a greater task than his body was equipped for. Zelach settled for a look of greater and greater concentration in the hope that he would either deceive his colleagues and superiors or something magical would take place. Adding to his discomfort was the fact that Zelach was very hungry and lunchtime had come and gone.

Zelach had neither wit nor talent, and he was well aware of this lack, as was Rostnikov. At first Zelach, known to the investigators on the fourth floor as Zelach the Slouch, had been a pimple on the side of Rostnikov’s small team, but gradually he learned that his survival was dependent on the good will of the inspector. When that realization came, Zelach discussed it at length with his mother, with whom he had lived his entire life. Zelach gave his loyalty to Rostnikov, though he never felt comfortable with his superior, never knew when the Washtub was making a joke or being serious, never knew when he might be making one of those jokes at the expense of Arkadi Zelach.

Karpo, as was usual in these meetings in the small questioning room, stood at near attention near the door, a notebook in his left hand, a Soviet ballpoint pen in the right. He stood behind Zelach, who had the constant urge to turn around and look at the gaunt detective to be sure that the sham of Zelach’s life was not being penetrated by the emotionless, dark eyes.

“Zelach, you have that?”

Zelach nodded slightly with a wry smile of understanding, though he had no idea what he was responding to.

“At this point we have only the concern of a possibly disoriented parent,” Rostnikov continued. “Since she came to us, we will make discreet inquiry and”-he tapped the neatly typed report in front of him-“I will begin to process your report for circulation to the proper agencies. That will take, I believe, about three days.”

Karpo nodded almost imperceptibly. He had just been told by Rostnikov to put aside his current investigations and make inquiries into the allegations of Elena Vostoyavek that her son was planning to kidnap Commissar Andrei Morchov. Officially, he knew, they should report the incident immediately to the KGB. He also understood that Rostnikov planned to hold the report for three days so that Karpo could pursue the investigation. It was routine, but Karpo felt the necessity of recording his concern.

“I believe the ramifications of this incident make it essential that we inform the KGB immediately,” Karpo said softly. At that moment Emil Karpo smelled lilacs and knew without putting words to it that he was receiving the first warnings, the aura of a migraine. The odors that came to him were always unbidden, evoking memories he could not quite identify from a childhood he preferred not to remember. Flowers, chicken zatzivi, cleaning fluid.

“And they will be informed,” Rostnikov said. “By me, personally. This report will be in the hands of the KGB by this afternoon. I have the feeling, however, with their current range of interests it will take them a few days to give the situation their full attention.”

Karpo nodded, took a note, and stood erect again. He knew that there were many ways to forward a report to another branch and be sure it was delayed or lost. The sender could present evidence of having forwarded the report, and the receiver would be embarrassed by its failure to follow through on the report. Karpo knew that Rostnikov had recently buried a sensitive report in the middle of a series of overly detailed accounts of forty minor cases of economic violations, ranging from the sale of fruit from an unauthorized stand on October 25th Street to the smuggling of two Canadian tires into Moscow in the van of a Leningrad Symphony cellist. As far as Karpo knew, the KGB had still not discovered the buried report.

“Sasha, you have the information on the missing bus,” Rostnikov went on.

“Bus number forty-three on route seventy-five was reported missing at eleven forty-six this morning,” Tkach said, looking up from his notebook, which lay open on the table in front of him. “The driver has a history of abuse of alcohol, and the assumption of the director of traffic for the sixth district is that he is asleep somewhere in the vehicle. I have issued a directive on the bus and driver to all uniformed and nonuniformed divisions. Other bus, taxi, and trolley drivers have been informed to look for bus forty-three.”

“You believe he is drunk somewhere, Sasha?” Rostnikov asked, looking up from his notepad. “You know how many buses there are in Moscow?”

“There are four thousand, six hundred thirty-four buses in Moscow,” replied Karpo, who resisted the urge to touch the left side of his head, where he knew the throbbing would soon begin. “This is the first time in the forty-six years of recordkeeping that a driver is reported to have taken a vehicle, though there are two reports, one in 1968 and another in 1975, of children attempting to drive away in city buses.”

“You don’t believe the driver took the bus,” Rostnikov went on, looking down at his pad.

“I have drawn no conclusion,” said Karpo. “There is insufficient information for a conclusion. There is only, at this point, history and precedent, both of which suggest that there may be another explanation.”

“When an incident defies the statistics, what do we do with the incident?” Rostnikov asked, looking up.

Zelach turned uneasily in his chair. He was afraid the question had been directed at him.

“We incorporate the incident into the data base and alter our statistics,” replied Karpo. “There is no such thing as a transcendent or deviant incident or crime. All crimes must be part of the total if they are not to be lost.”

Rostnikov nodded and Sasha Tkach looked at his watch. If he got started on the investigation within the hour, checked to see if anyone had yet spotted the bus, perhaps he could wrap up before it got too late and be home in time to intercept his mother, who was going to have dinner with Sasha’s aunt.

“So,” Rostnikov went on, putting the final touches on his drawing of a coupling for a toilet pipeline, “do we have a theory or set of theories of criminal behavior that we apply to reported crimes, or do we gather information on the crimes and hope they tell us something, present a pattern, contain within them a direction or answer?”

Tkach shuffled in his seat. Rostnikov ignored him and waited for an answer.

“You wish me to acknowledge intuition,” Karpo said evenly.

Rostnikov shrugged.

“I wish Tkach and Zelach to investigate the disappearance of a bus,” replied Rostnikov. “I wish to know what they will do if no one reports having seen bus forty-three by the end of this day.”

“It should not be difficult to find a bus,” said Zelach, wanting to participate and thinking that he finally understood something that was being discussed. “A bus is … big.”

“Perhaps we should get started,” Tkach said, standing.

“The American detective Dashiell Hammett once had to find a stolen Ferris wheel,” said Rostnikov. “He found it quickly, though no one reported a Ferris wheel parked on a side street or sitting atop a roof. How do you think he did this, Sasha?”

Tkach, who had taken a step toward the door, paused and ran his hand through his hair, brushing it back from his forehead.

“Why would anyone steal a Ferris wheel?” Tkach said impatiently.

“Precisely, Sasha. That was the question Hammett asked himself,” said Rostnikov with a smile.

“To use its parts,” said Zelach. “Or as a prank.”

“Who would have the equipment to steal a Ferris wheel?” asked Rostnikov, pushing back from the small desk and reaching down to massage his leg back to life.

“The Ferris wheel was almost certainly stolen by a circus or a carnival,” said Karpo. “They would have the equipment and a reason. They would also have the perfect place to hide it, in plain sight.”

“Yes, Emil,” said Rostnikov, rising. “And where might you find bus forty-three-if it has not been drunkenly absconded with by the driver? Zelach?”

“With other buses?”

Rostnikov nodded his approval.

“Who else has buses besides the bus company?” Rostnikov asked, this time looking down at the drawing.

“We will find out,” said Tkach, putting his notebook in his pocket. Without another word, he was out the door. Zelach stood, paused for a beat to see if he would be asked another question, and, seeing that Rostnikov was occupied with his drawing, left the room behind Tkach.

“Emil,” Rostnikov said as Karpo turned to the door, “do you know what meditation is?”

“There are,” said Karpo, “a variety of definitions, ranging from engagement in concentrated thought on a specified and minimal subject to a relaxation technique that at its religious extreme strives for the absence of thought.”

Rostnikov held up the drawing he had been working on. It looked to Karpo like a pair of rods connected by a bandage with a clamp on it.

“Each day is another layer of weight and complexity. If we are fortunate, we can keep from being crushed, but to do so we must have a portal to temporary peace, a meditation.”

“Mystical,” said Karpo.

“On the contrary, one of my meditations is plumbing,” Rostnikov said. “Have you ever tried to get your building director to arrange for repairs? It can’t be done. I do it myself. I do it with books and trial and error. I lose myself in leaks, plastic pipes, and wrenches, and when I am finished, in contrast to what happens frequently in an investigation, something that did not work, works. It is a meditation and satisfaction. If you have a leak, Emil Karpo, let me know.”

“I would think your time could be better spent, Inspector.”

“What is your meditation, Emil Karpo?”

“I neither have nor need one. I work.”

“And you like your work,” said Rostnikov.

“I am satisfied that within the parameters of our system and the reality of human fallibility I perform a worthwhile societal function,” Karpo said.

“Do you know the story of the man who lost his ego?” asked Rostnikov, moving past Karpo to open the door. “It’s Dostoyevski.”

“No,” replied Karpo.

“It is of no consequence. Let us go out and save Mother Russia from the criminals,” Rostnikov said after a small smile. “And if possible, take care of ourselves at the same time.”

Emil Karpo was not quite sure of what Rostnikov had just told him. The inspector had grown more and more cryptic and preoccupied in the past months. Karpo was sure it had something to do with Rostnikov’s wife and son, Iosef, who, Karpo knew, was no longer in Afghanistan. Karpo also knew that Iosef was, or so Rostnikov had been told, on a special secret assignment for the army. Iosef was a pawn, a hostage of the state to keep in check the inspector, who had frequently stepped on the very large toes of the KGB. Though he had been much decorated and had nearly lost both his life and leg in the war against the Axis, Rostnikov had never, since Karpo had known him, displayed the slightest revolutionary zeal or interest in politics. And yet Rostnikov was known to be the most effective and relentless criminal investigator in Moscow. It was a constant puzzle for Karpo but one he tried not to address. To even consider it was a distraction from his duty.

As Karpo left the small office, Zelach and Tkach moved down the narrow aisle to the small head-to-head desks from which they worked.

“Where do we start?” he heard Zelach ask, though Zelach, officially, was the senior officer. “Wherever it is, let’s stop for something to eat on the way.”

Rostnikov emerged from the questioning room and moved slowly away toward the small cubicle that served as his office. The cubicle was a combination of plasterboard and plastic waist-high with windows reaching another two feet higher. There was no real door, just a narrow opening. Privacy was reserved for those of higher rank, which, several floors up, Rostnikov had once been. Porfiry Petrovich thought of none of this, nor of his wife or son, the plan he had for repairing the drain in the apartment of the Agarevas on the fourth floor of his building, or his leg.

He stood next to his desk, deciding that it would not be worth the trouble to sit down and then rise again. Rostnikov flipped the page of his notebook with the drawing of the pipe connection and looked down at the notes he had taken about Ivan Bulgarin, the man who walked like a bear. One of the notes was the phone number of the Lentaka Shoe Factory. Porfiry Petrovich picked up the phone on his desk and through the window of his cubicle watched Emil Karpo at his desk reach into his jacket pocket and pull out a plastic container from which he extracted a pill, which he put on his tongue and swallowed dry.

Rostnikov had noticed the signs of Karpo’s headache, the slight rise of the left eyebrow, the dryness of the narrow lips, the almost imperceptible flaring of the gaunt man’s nostrils.

Ten minutes later, after having talked to five people at the factory and taken three pages of additional notes, Porfiry Petrovich hung up the receiver and looked beyond his cubicle window through the windows of Petrovka and into an early-afternoon thundershower. Rostnikov hoped the winter would come early this year. He savored the blanket of white silence, the clean isolation of the cold. He picked up the phone again and dialed the five numbers that would connect him to the office of the Gray Wolfhound.

“It’s raining again,” Jalna Morchov said, looking out the window.

She had arrived home only minutes earlier in the bus provided for the children of people of influence. Their dacha was twenty miles outside of Moscow in one of the small villages unofficially reserved for “special” people, high-ranking party members, artists, generals, and KGB directors and department heads. The Morchovs’ dacha was at the end of a lane protected by trees and a KGB car parked a few yards down the driveway. Jalna knew her father was home by the presence of the KGB car and the two men in it wearing brown suits.

Andrei Morchov, who had been busy preparing a massive report on production drops resulting from ethnic unrest in the Ukraine, had been spending less time at the dacha and more time in his Moscow apartment. Since Jalna’s mother had died three years earlier, when Jalna was fourteen, her father had thrown himself into his work and into his mistress, a translator in the Telecommunications Division of the International Trade Center. Andrei Morchov was under the mistaken impression that his daughter knew nothing of Svetlana Petranskova.

Yuri had told her. Yuri had discovered the relationship in his weeks of following her father. Yuri knew a great deal about Andrei Morchov, who was putting on his coat as Jalna spoke.

“I must go back to the city,” Morchov said, looking out the window past his daughter.

Andrei Morchov was a man of moderate height and usually described as slender. His pale brown hair was receding from his forehead, but there was about him an aura of confidence, strength. Jalna believed that her father was not conventionally handsome but did have the power to mesmerize, and that power had kept him from going under through five regimes. Jalna believed that none of her looks came from her father. She liked to tell Yuri that she had inherited everything from her mother and nothing from her father. She imagined secretly that Andrei Morchov was not her father, that she was the result of a single night between her mother and some army private, though her mother had never given anyone reason to believe she was anything but the frightened wife of a determined and emotionless man. Jalna was and knew she was beautiful, that she looked like her mother, slender, blond, pale, wide of mouth, and able to draw the eye of any man.

“You will remain in the house for the rest of the day,” her father announced as he buttoned his raincoat.

Jalna had no intention of remaining in the house.

“Yes,” she said. “I have schoolwork to do.”

“I will call to be sure you do,” he said.

Jalna was sure he had no intention of calling, though he had been known to surprise her as he had surprised various enemies over the past three decades. It didn’t matter. If he called and she was not there, she could claim later that she fell asleep or was in the bath. He might not believe her, but that, too, did not matter. What he wanted would make no difference by next week.

“Come,” he ordered, picking up his briefcase. Jalna moved to her father and kissed his cheek as quickly and dryly as possible. Before she could move away, he grasped her arms and looked into her face. She returned the probing look.

“Yes?” she said.

“I see something in your eyes.”

“What?”

It was probably a trick. He saw nothing in her eyes, nothing, she told herself.

“I don’t know. My own reflection, perhaps.”

He let her go and she stepped back, willing herself not to tremble.

“I haven’t done anything,” she said, trying to sound open, afraid her response might have a touch of defiance and a bit of telltale fear.

“And you’ll not, not again,” he said.

“Not that again,” she said. “I’m going to my room.”

“That again,” he said firmly. “You’ll never cause me embarrassment again. Never. That is understood. We do not discuss it. You know the consequences.”

She opened her eyes wide, the practiced innocence of seventeen years. Their eyes met, and Jalna was determined to hold out, to meet him, to prove her unprovable innocence, but he, as always, held firm, his eyes unblinking until she turned away. Once, only once had she been with a boy before she met Yuri, and that was the one time her father had caught her, caught her in bed on a night he was supposed to be in Tbilisi for a conference. She had told Yuri two days after she met him at the American Club on Gorky Street. He had understood, but her father had not, never would.

“Be in bed by eleven,” he said, moving to the door. “I don’t know if I will be back before tomorrow.”

Jalna was tempted to speak, to say something acrid, but she held her tongue. There was no need or would soon be none. In a world of winners and losers, she had always been a loser and her father a krepki khozyain, a strong master. But things would soon change.

A smile swept her face, and her father touched her cheek as he moved past her and allowed a slight upturning of the right side of his mouth, which hinted at a smile.

As he went through the front doorway of the dacha and closed the door behind him, Jalna continued to smile, to smile at the picture in her mind of her father lying quite still and dead.

To get to the director of security at the Lentaka Shoe Factory, Porfiry Petrovich had to telephone the assistant to the factory director. The assistant, Raya Corspoyva, was the Communist Party representative at the factory. Rostnikov explained to her that he was conducting a routine update of the case of Ivan Bulgarin, who was now in the September 1947 Hospital. Bulgarin, he explained, had been involved in a minor incident at the hospital that had to be incorporated in his file.

“Comrade Corspoyva said she understood and that it would not be necessary for the inspector to talk to the factory director. Instead, she told him what he already knew from the file.

“Comrade Bulgarin was an unfortunate victim of overwork,” she said, and then paused.

Rostnikov, who was seated at his desk, fingered the pages of the American paperback novel on his desk and repeated, “Overwork.”

“Yes,” she went on. “Comrade Bulgarin was section foreman in plastic and leather processing. The factory is undergoing reform. Production was far behind reasonable quotas. The entire management had to be replaced.” Another pause.

“I see,” said Rostnikov. He was getting more information than he asked for, but he had no intention of stopping her.

“Comrade Bulgarin worked night and day,” she continued. “He is a glowing example of a revolutionary zeal that has been all but lost. He is a party member, a dedicated citizen, one of the peredoviki, the model workers.”

The woman sounded to Rostnikov as if she were reading a tract written in the 1930s.

“Almost a hero,” Rostnikov said to break the latest pause. “How long did he work there?”

“Only a few months. He had been transferred from a wristwatch assembly plant in Kalinin. But he was magnificent. There was a slowdown in April. Comrade Bulgarin helped to break it. We need him back,” she said. “Production and processing in leather and plastics have been down. There has been petty pilfering and-”

“Theft?” asked Rostnikov.

“A few tools, odd pieces of material. Minor, yes, but indicative of the morale crisis that must be overcome,” she said emotionlessly. “You might wish to allude to that in your report, Comrade Inspector. Certain people might wish to consider further changes in the administration of this vital factory. Our nation cannot function without well-made shoes in which to work.”

Rostnikov put the book in his pocket and followed the progress of a pair of uniformed MVD officers ushering a handcuffed man past Rostnikov’s office. The man wore an open-collared shirt with a tie dangling from his neck. The man was thin, with a belly. The man was smiling as if he held a secret that would protect him.

“It would be awkward without shoes,” Rostnikov admitted.

“You’ll put all this in your report?”

“In detail,” Rostnikov said. “Bulgarin had no family? No wife? No mother?”

“Correct,” said Raya Corspoyva. “He was wedded to his work. Fifteen, sixteen hours of work each day. Six, seven days a week.”

“A saint?” Rostnikov tried.

“A hero,” she replied. “Saints are for the decadent.”

Ten minutes after hanging up the receiver, Rostnikov was walking alongside Colonel Snitkonoy, who was on his way to the massive black Zil limousine with dark-tinted windows that would take him to a reception for visiting American businessmen. Normally the colonel strode through Petrovka and life with long steps, never looking to right or left. He moved slowly now, allowing Rostnikov to keep up with him, adopting the manner of a highly attentive superior listening to a sensitive report.

“… a series of thefts at the Lentaka Shoe Factory,” a clerk heard as she passed and received a nod from the Gray Wolfhound.

“And you wish to investigate personally?” the Wolfhound said conspiratorially.

“My staff is occupied with pressing matters that are fully documented in my day report, which will be on your desk when you return,” said Rostnikov softly. “I believe I can deal with this quickly. Our nation cannot function without well-made shoes in which to work.”

They stopped in front of the elevator, where the thin, smiling, handcuffed man with a belly was being attended by one of the two MVD officers.

“Boots,” said the Wolfhound pensively. “Does the factory make boots?”

“I don’t know,” said Rostnikov. “But I’ll find out.”

“Good,” said the Wolfhound, stepping into the elevator and facing front.

The MVD men entered the elevator with their prisoner and also faced forward. The thin, handcuffed man’s eyes met Rostnikov’s and the knowing smile suddenly disappeared, replaced by a look of panic. Rostnikov gave the man a small, wry smile and nodded almost imperceptibly. As the elevator doors closed, the man tried out a new smile, a slightly less mad smile of resignation.

Boris had driven the bus like a robot where he was told. The young man said turn, Boris turned. Right, left. It was hard to think of anything but the gun against his neck and the dead man who had been pushed down and out of sight by the man in the long coat. Boris was vaguely aware of passing the Yaroslavi Railway Station and heading away from the city on Rusakovskaya Street. A bus came toward him once and passed, and Boris thought the driver had a puzzled look on his face as he glanced at the out-of-route bus heading away from the city, but Boris had not looked closely. Perhaps it was only his imagination. Besides, did he really want to be discovered? What if the police did locate him, surround the bus? There would be shooting. What would the police care about the life of a loyal bus driver who had worked diligently for more than twenty-five years, who had never done anything to disgrace the company and had never missed a day of work for anything but illness and understandably bad reactions to vodka?

“Pay attention,” the young man said. “We turn here.”

Boris nodded. He couldn’t speak. His eyes went up to the mirror. The older man sat about halfway back in the bus, looking out the window as if he were on his way home from work.

Perhaps it would be better if the police did come. These men might simply be planning to kill him when they got where they were going.

“What’s your name?” the young man said. He was standing behind Boris and softly humming some foreign song.

“You already asked … Boris,” the driver said, amazed that he could get sound through his dry lips. A small drink. That’s all he needed. A very small one.

Boris drove the bus down a heavily rutted road in a broad field in which nothing seemed to be planted but miles of weeds.

“I … the road is too narrow,” Boris chattered.

“It is wide enough,” the older man in the back said softly, dreamily. “We measured. Drive slowly.”

“Drive slowly,” the young man repeated happily. “Are you excited, driver Boris? Afraid?”

“I have a large family, a wife, a mother, four children,” Boris repeated his lie. If the young man had forgotten his name, he might also have forgotten their earlier conversation about the children.

“Too many children, Boris,” the young man said. “Unpatriotic. You are not a good citizen.”

“They are all adopted,” Boris said. The barrel of the pistol clunked against his ear as the bus hit a wide dent in the road.

“Adopted?”

“Orphans,” Boris said.

“You’re a true hero of the revolution, Boris,” the young man said. “And you are a liar. There, to the right, that house there.”

Boris slowly turned the bus toward a small sagging wooden house in the open field. The road was even more narrow and difficult to navigate.

“You know what happens to heroes and saints, Boris?” the young man whispered. “If they are lucky, they become martyrs.”

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