Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov listened as the factory manager gave him a tour of the Lentaka Shoe Factory. Raya Corspoyva, the party representative to whom Rostnikov had spoken the day before, accompanied them, a clipboard in hand, taking notes. The manager, a thin, balding, and very nervous man named Lukov, kept adjusting his frayed blue tie, which did not match his rumpled brown suit, though it did correspond with the manager’s complexion. Lukov glanced constantly at Raya Corspoyva, a no-nonsense and rather good-looking heavy-set woman in a no-nonsense blue factory smock.
Lukov said something and pointed at a row of men and women at sewing machines. The machines were clacking so that the manager had to speak loudly to be heard. Rostnikov paid little attention. He was, in fact, enjoying the strong smell of leather faintly tinged with oil. He also enjoyed the row after row of partly finished shoes and boots of brown or black, shoes without soles, boots without heels.
“And up there, there in the assembly area,” Lukov shouted, “we have a new machine for processing the leather by color, size, material! Of course, most of the shoes are not made of one hundred percent leather!”
“Fascinating,” said Rostnikov, whose leg was beginning to warn him about prolonging the tour. “Can we go to your office and talk?”
“Of course,” Lukov said expansively, opening his arms wide, showing that he had nothing to hide or fear, almost tripping over a mound of dark leather sheets the size of an open newspaper. Comrade Raya Corspoyva did not look pleased. She wrote herself a note on the paper attached to her clipboard. Lukov’s mouth opened and his eyes moved to the clipboard in fear.
Minutes later the three of them were seated in a small office with large dirty windows looking out into the factory. The noise was muffled by the room but not completely obliterated, and the smell of tanned leather was replaced by stale tobacco. Lukov sat behind his battered desk, which was covered with a mess of papers of various colors. Raya Corspoyva sat at Rostnikov’s side and straightened her already straight dark hair before placing the clipboard on her lap.
“Theft,” said Rostnikov.
“Very little,” said Lukov, looking at Raya Corspoyva for support. “Pilfering,” he went on as she took another note. “Pieces of leather, even finished shoes. But even that is better since that television show. You know the one with Victor Shinkaretsky on
“No,” said Rostnikov.
“He pretended to be a worker in a sausage factory,” the woman explained. “Walked past guards who paid no attention with a gigantic ham hidden under his coat. Hidden television cameras got the whole thing. Factories all over the Soviet Union began a crackdown on security.”
“But we had already begun. We had anticipated,” Lukov added, leaning forward. “Would you like some tea, Comrade Inspector?”
Lukov’s eyes were pleading with Rostnikov to refuse. Rostnikov said that he would not like tea.
“Ivan Bulgarin,” Rostnikov said. The name made Lukov’s mouth open and close like a fish.
“As I told you on the phone, Comrade,” Raya Corspoyva said, “he is a fine manager. Overworked, in need of rest.”
Lukov nodded in agreement.
“He said the devil was here,” Rostnikov said flatly. “That the devil was trying to get him.”
Lukov laughed, but when no one joined him, he stopped abruptly and reached into his pocket for a cigarette, which he lit nervously.
“The man is suffering from a temporary madness, Inspector,” Raya Corspoyva said with a shake of the head.
“Of course,” Rostnikov said with a nod. “But … when an accusation of theft is made, even by a madman, it should at least be investigated.”
“You would be remiss in your duty if you did not,” the woman agreed with a smile that conveyed an understanding of the breadth and difficulty of the policeman’s job.
“Then,” Rostnikov said, standing before the stiffness could begin, “I’ll not trouble you further except for one question: Do you make boots in this factory?”
“Yes,” said Lukov. “Fine boots.”
The relief on the factory manager’s face was childishly evident as he crushed out his cigarette and rose. The factory noise level rose suddenly behind them and Rostnikov looked out as a small dirty-yellow lift truck with a pallet full of boxes rambled into the center of the factory, seemed to hesitate about which direction to go, and moved right and tipped over, sending boxes crashing.
Rostnikov was fascinated but turned his eyes back to his two hosts in time to see Lukov with a spaniel apologetic look on his face in response to the woman with the clipboard, who made it clear with her tight lips and unblinking stare that she blamed him for what they had just seen.
“Pardon me, Inspector,” she said, hurrying to the door. “I’m sure you can find your way out.”
“Certainly,” Rostnikov said and stepped aside. “Comrade Lukov can show me to the door.”
The woman opened the door, letting in the remaining sounds of the factory. Most of the sewing machines had stopped so the workers could watch the effects of the accident, but those machines that needed no immediate human direction continued to clatter. Raya Corspoyva closed the door behind her and hurried, smock flying behind her, toward the overturned lift truck and the driver, who was being helped up by several co-workers.
“I’ll show you out,” Lukov said, trying to guide his visitor away from the scene beyond the windows.
Rostnikov turned and followed the man to the door. On the floor beyond the window, Raya Corspoyva looked up at them as she stood over the driver of the lift truck.
“Handsome woman,” Rostnikov said.
“I used to think so,” Lukov said, leading the way through the office door and into a dark corridor down which Rostnikov had entered the man’s office an hour earlier. “I mean, when you work with someone-”
“I understand,” Rostnikov said sympathetically. “It is a great responsibility to run a factory like this.”
“Great responsibility,” Lukov repeated, opening another door and ushering Rostnikov through it and into a musty reception area past two women who looked up at them as they moved to the front door of the factory office. “We’re told by people in the city what to pay the workers, what to charge for the shoes and boots, and they don’t even know what our costs are. And we’re supposed to keep the workers happy. How do you keep a worker happy? How do you produce a good product if it doesn’t matter to anyone whether it’s good or not?”
“It is difficult,” Rostnikov agreed as they moved through the door and onto the concrete expanse in front of the factory.
“Let me tell you,” Lukov whispered, though no one was in sight. “It’s not just here. The workers don’t care. Calls to produce out of patriotism don’t work anymore. I don’t think they ever did. Posters don’t get leatherbound. I shouldn’t be saying this, I know, but I trust you, Inspector. You have a kind face, an understanding face.”
“Thank you,” said Rostnikov, who was certain that Lukov, who was far from bright, probably took every opportunity to bare his soul to anyone when he was out of range of Raya Corspoyva.
“My father made shoes,” Lukov said, looking around as if for a cab or a dead father. “My grandfather made shoes. I know leather. I know quality. You know where quality is? It’s gone. I’m speaking treason here. My God. But we have a new openness, right? Gorbachev says so. Right? Factories are allowed to make their own decisions, make a profit, give incentives, improve what they do. You know what it’s like to spend a lifetime knowing you are creating an inferior product, knowing you can do better? What does that do to pride? I ask you.”
“And so we have corruption and people who watch,” he went on, nodding back at the factory to indicate that it held the woman who looked over his shoulder.
“Corruption?” asked Rostnikov. “You mean pilfering?”
“No,” said Lukov.
“Corruption cannot exist without protection,” said Rostnikov.
“Ha!” Lukov laughed until he coughed, which reminded him that he should fish into his pocket for a cigarette. “They get the best protection a ruble can buy. My God. I’m doing it again. I’m talking too much. It happens. I can’t stop. My wife warned me. She wonders how I survived so long when I can’t stop, but you understand, Inspector. I can see. This can’t go on. Look there. That man. The one in blue. His name is Dovrinin. He’s a colonel in the army. You know what he does? He sits there. All day. He sits there and he can reject any shoe, call it
“That is no different than any factory,” Rostnikov said. “Bulgarin, did he protest about some corruption?”
“Who knows?” Lukov lit his cigarette. “He wasn’t here all that long, but maybe he found something, discovered something. A factory like this. Who knows where the money goes? If it loses enough, I get blamed and … I know what will happen. I know it. Someone will get caught and they’ll blame me. Millions of rubles. Do I see any of it? Does my family? No. I’ll see the inside of a prison or worse.”
He looked around and went on. “God, she may be watching us. She watches me all the time. I must be going as mad as Bulgarin.”
“Bulgarin said the devil was after him,” Rostnikov said.
“You said that before,” Lukov said. “No more talk. My tongue should be torn out. Maybe it will be. All I want to do is make shoes. Smell me.”
Rostnikov let his nose flare.
“I smell of leather,” said Lukov with a sigh, looking at his cigarette as if it held some answer.
“Give me a name,” Rostnikov said.
Lukov looked at the factory entrance in fear.
“A name,” Rostnikov repeated softly. “You were waiting for someone to tell about the corruption of your factory. I’m listening. You may not get another chance. A name.”
“There’s nothing you can do,” Lukov said. “I’ll give you the name and then you’ll have to forget it. Believe me. I told you. I feel better. I’ve got to get back to work.”
“The name,” Rostnikov repeated, almost whispering, his hand reassuringly on Lukov’s bony shoulder, his head inches from the frightened man’s face.
“Nahatchavanski,” Lukov spat out. He pulled away from Rostnikov’s grasp and ran back to the factory entrance where, indeed, Raya Corspoyva stood watching him.
Rostnikov had no car, no driver. He had come by the Metro and would head back that way. He had his Ed McBain book in his pocket but knew he would not read it. As much as we wanted to know what happened to the dead magician in the book, he knew he would open the book, stare at the page, and try to decide what he was going to do with the information that a high-ranking KGB member had just been accused of corruption.
Yuri Vostoyavek crossed quite illegally in the middle of Arbat Street, dodged a small black foreign car, and ignored the mad, angry honk of the horn behind him.
Yuri paused to glance at the newspaper that had been handed to him by a screaming man atop an overturned concrete flower planter in front of the Khudozhestvenny Cinema. He had seen the gathering of people when he came up from the Arbat Metro Station in Arbat Square and, though he was late, detoured to see what was going on.
The police, a group of brown-clad young men in brown hats, had arrived at almost the moment Yuri had taken the newspaper in his hand. The crowd had dispersed, moved suddenly away in a ripple while a young policeman ordered
“Chaos,” mumbled a well-dressed man with a briefcase who smelled of something sweet.
Yuri had grunted and watched.
“Freedom is not chaos,” another well-dressed man had countered while they watched the police guide the screaming man with the armload of newspapers toward a parked car.
“It must be for the briefest moment or those let free will not experience the light-headedness of realization and responsibility,” a woman behind them said.
Yuri had turned to look at the woman, a small truck of a woman in a coat too warm for the weather and glasses so thick they made her eyes look like comic caricatures. She could have been any age.
“Stupid,” said the first well-dressed man to Yuri.
“Engels is stupid,” said the woman, turning to others in the small group of stragglers.
“You are stupid,” said the second well-dressed man.
The woman, at that point, had swung a mesh shopping bag filled with oranges in a wondrous, almost slow-motion arc, striking the second well-dressed man directly in his face and seriously disrupting his confidence. The man staggered back against Yuri, who pushed him upright to face the advancing, squinting, relentless woman.
“Stupid,” she hissed, and Yuri had turned away, though he would dearly have loved to see the outcome. In turning away, he ran into a man and with irritation looked up to tell the man that he should watch where he was standing, but the warning froze on Yuri’s lips. He found himself facing a tall, gaunt, unsmiling man whose hands plunged into the deep pockets of his dark coat. His eyes met Yuri’s and the young man felt that this pale stranger knew his every thought.
Yuri had moved around the man, may even have mumbled a
He hurried down the Arbat. He knew, from his history in school, that the street was first mentioned in writings of the fifteenth century, but he was not interested in history now. He ignored the ancient houses, the little shops, and the large mansions on either side of the narrow, winding street. He paused for a moment in front of number 53, where Pushkin lived in 1831. Yuri neither knew nor cared about that part of the history of the street. He glanced at the newspaper in his hand and was momentarily surprised to see a cartoon of Lenin waking from a long sleep and looking around in confusion.
Yuri smiled at the sacrilege, folded the newspaper, hurried on, and entered a small church a block away. It wasn’t crowded, but there were about fifty people gathered, listening to a priest who was in the middle of some mumbled ritual that Yuri neither understood nor cared to understand. There were no benches, no seats, and there was no way of simply characterizing the worshipers. Some were young-a couple with a baby-some old, men, and in the corner, looking toward him and the door, stood Jalna.
She smiled, a warm, somewhat pained smile that filled Yuri with love and longing. He moved forward, opened his mouth to apologize for being late, but she stopped him with a warm finger to his lips as the voice of the priest rose. The priest’s eyes found Yuri for an instant and then moved on to someone else who had entered the small church. Yuri took Jalna’s hand and stood silently, respectfully, but not listening.
Jalna’s eyes were bright in the dim light of the church. She clutched his hand warmly and beamed. Yuri, infected, smiled with her and turned his head in the direction in which the priest had looked. In the darkened corner near the entrance stood a figure, a dark figure, a familiar figure. Yuri’s grip tightened and Jalna looked at him, saw his turned head, and followed his gaze into the corner, where a man stood apart from the worshipers.
Coincidence, Yuri told himself. The gaunt man had been on his way here. He was no ghost. He was a coincidence, if, indeed, it was even the same man he had run into in the square.
Yuri fixed his eyes on the dark corner, unable to make out the face. He stared, determined to cause the man to back down. But the man did not move. The priest’s voice rose and then dropped, indicating an end to the service or at least this part of it. The man in the corner did not appear to breathe. Yuri shuddered, and Jalna, sensing, feeling his fear, gripped his arm tightly.
Yuri turned toward her reassuringly as the crowd muttered a gruff, unfamiliar “amen.” When he turned back to the ghost in the corner only seconds later, the man was gone.
“Yuri, are you all right?” Jalna said softly.
The couple with the child hurried to the door of the church and out into the cool air, neither looking to either side nor speaking to others. Worship was still a guilty pleasure. Anyone could be a KGB agent noting faces, taking names, gathering information for the moment when all this new freedom suddenly disappeared.
“I’m fine,” Yuri said, leading her out the door. The ghost was nowhere in sight. “Are you hungry?”
Jalna nodded and they moved down the street to a
Neither Yuri nor Jalna spoke till they had selected kvass and a bread pudding to share and sat in a corner away from the door, the other customers, and the humming workman.
“I heard him on the phone,” Jalna said softly. She broke off a small piece of the crisp pudding and put it in her mouth. Yuri adored the way she ate, talked. “He’ll be sending me away in two weeks. He’s told me nothing of it, nothing. He talks as if nothing is happening.”
She would certainly cry now. Yuri was sure. He couldn’t stand that.
“You won’t go,” he said.
“I can’t do it,” she said, looking around at the faces in the luncheonette, not seeing them. “I can’t let you.”
“If you go, I will never see you again. We will never see each other,” he whispered, reaching for his kvass, knowing he couldn’t drink it.
“You could join me,” she said without expression, without hope or expectation. “We could defect. I don’t care if I embarrass him.”
“Jalna, there is no way I can get out of the country, get to Switzerland,” he said with a sigh.
“We know what must be done, and it must be done soon, tonight, tomorrow,” she said.
Yuri shuddered, remaining motionless for eternity, then shook his head yes. They had been through this before. There was nothing else to do if he and Jalna were to remain together, nothing to do but kill Andrei Morchov. He put his hand into his jacket pocket, came out with a small box, and handed it to Jalna, who slipped it into her purse.
Emil Karpo had not gone into the luncheonette. He was sure, as he had planned, that Yuri Vostoyavek had seen and noticed him. The young man had reacted with guilt, apprehension. True, there were many things one could feel guilty about in the Soviet Union or anywhere else, but Yuri Vostoyavek had, upon seeing Karpo in the church, reached for his pocket as if to check that something was there or would be safe. Karpo, when he had been assigned early in his career to watching the large tourist hotels, had seen the same gesture by visiting businessmen who wanted to protect their wallets. It was a giveaway for the pickpockets, who would often bump into a mark in the lobby not to grab a wallet but to step away and see which pocket the mark would check. Emil Karpo had spent almost a year watching pickpockets, thieves, robbers, and their victims, and he had learned that almost anyone but a complete professional would react in giveaway patterns.
Yuri had given himself away, and Karpo had no doubt now that he had seen the young man with this girl that he was planning something and that whatever he was planning would involve something the young man was going to carry in his pocket. It wasn’t there now, whatever it was, because Yuri had not actually touched the pocket and there was no bulge in the pocket beyond a few coins that Karpo had heard jangling as the young man walked.
He could see them clearly, thought they could not see him. He stood across the street behind the window of a furniture shop. The woman who ran the shop had risen to take care of him when he walked in, but Karpo had simply looked at her unsmilingly and turned to watch the couple through the window. The woman who ran the shop had smiled falsely as if she did not care and had returned to her seat behind a counter to hope for the early departure of this less than welcome intruder.
Karpo watched the unheard conversation of the two young people. If they were conspirators, they were not happy ones. Their faces were pale with dread, resignation. At least that was clear in the face of the young man. The girl’s face, beautiful, bright, unmarked, and clean, was more difficult to read. It was also clear that they had come to a decision. The young man said something, looked around to be sure no one was listening, watching, and men leaned back in his chair as if something had ended. The girl had stopped eating, turned to look at the young man with concern, and touched his cheek reassuringly.
Karpo shuddered with recognition from a depth he did not understand. He could almost feel the touch of the hand on his cheek, smell the girl. He also knew that in the aftermath of a migraine he could count on a weakness in the knees for a good part of the next day and an inexplicable connection, a needle-thin connection to elusive memories of the past. Karpo tried to catch the memory of the hand against his cheek and men dismissed it, ordered it away with an anger that must have showed on his face, for behind him the woman who owned the shop said in a quivering voice, “Can I help you, Comrade?”
“No,” Karpo responded, watching Jalna and Yuri finish their snack and head for the luncheonette door.
Emil Karpo knew without thinking or acknowledging that he was one week and two days from his next meeting with Mathilde Verson, the prostitute with whom he met, coupled, and relieved himself once every two weeks. Perhaps it was the touch of Mathilde’s hand against his cheek that he remembered, but he could recall no waking moment in their relationship when she had attempted to touch him tenderly, when he had permitted her to do so. And she had understood, understood that a barrier existed through which their relationship could not pass if Emil Karpo was to retain his identity. A break in that identity, that persona, might be devastating. Mathilde had respected that barrier, had treated him with a tender amusement.
Emil Karpo was sure that he did not need her specifically, that he exercised only animal needs, needs he accepted as a limitation of the human species, and yet there were moments when Mathilde … The young girl and Yuri Vostoyavek walked onto the Arbat and looked around, seeing small crowds, people passing, and moved to their left, heading again toward Arbat Square.
Without looking back at the woman in the shop, Karpo stepped into the street half a block behind the couple and followed them at a safe distance. He repressed the feelings he had. When the aftermath of the migraine was gone in a few hours, it would be no problem. Then he could think and not feel. Emil Karpo was a police inspector. He had his duty, and his duty was clear, as clear as the law. If others evaded the law, moved around it, teased its corners, corrupted it, it would not deter him from his duty. Compassion would lead to destruction. The law was all there was, the law and the State, which created the law. There was no morality, only law. He thought it, almost said it to himself, but deep within him a vague face he could not identify was smiling.
The man in the suit stood for only a few moments at his window in the KGB’s building at Lubyanka. He had spent an uneventful evening and night with his wife and a cousin from Kiev who was in Moscow for a trade union assembly. The cousin had suggested, when the children were not present, that the effects of the Chernobyl disaster were still being felt, that fruit was checked in the Kiev markets, that the nuclear power generators were actually back on but that workers remained only two weeks before being rotated.
“The radiation levels are beyond the minimum even two hundred miles away, but they’re letting old people return,” the cousin had whispered.
“They shrug and say ‘What difference does it make?’ It takes twenty years for the radiation to kill them and they’ll be gone from something else long before that, but they’ll outlive their dogs.”
The KGB man had said nothing, nodded, leaving the conversation to his wife, thinking about other things.
“And,” the cousin went on softly, leaning across the table as if bugs were planted in the walls, which the KGB man knew was not the case because he checked at least twice each month, “and, the reports are coming in from Yugoslavia. People are dying of cancer. Statistics are far beyond the normal. They won’t be able to keep it under wraps for long, I tell you. I’m doing what I can to get Yana and the children out. That’s why I’m here for the trade union meeting. I was hoping …” He paused.
The KGB man knew what was coming. He looked up from his thoughts into the eyes of his cousin and waited.
“I was hoping you might use … some influence to get us, the children, me transferred,” the cousin said, a trail of sweat on his brow from the extra glass of cognac he had needed to gain the courage to make the request.
The KGB’s man’s wife kept her head down and ate as if she had heard nothing. The cousin’s wife bit her lower lip.
“I have no influence with the trade unions,” the KGB man said evenly.
“Well, not directly,” said the cousin with a small laugh. “Of course not. Not directly. I know that, but if you wanted to-”
“I’ll see,” the KGB man said.
“It’s not as if-” the cousin’s wife said, her voice a tremulo.
“I’ll see,” the KGB man repeated, making it clear that the conversation was over.
They had finished their drinks with small talk from the KGB man’s wife about the availability of Siberian fruit. The evening had been interminable, but the children had remained quiet and distant, obviously having been told that important things were going on and their father’s cousin should not be disturbed in any way.
And now the KGB man stood in his office, the only place where he felt at peace, and considered whether he would help his cousin. It might be a good idea and it would cost him little beyond a phone call. Then the cousin, who was a ranking member of his trade union, the district power and utilities union, would owe him more than a favor. He would owe him a great debt and possibly be in position to repay it in the future. But that was the future. He moved to his phone, lifted the receiver, pressed a series of buttons, and gave his rank and name to Vadim, who had reported to him the day before.
“It proceeds,” Vadim said.
“He is going ahead with the investigation as we planned,” Vadim reported.
“Keep him interested,” the KGB man went on.
Both men knew well enough not to give details, names over the phone. Later, if questioned about the conversation, they had another case they could claim to be the subject. If it came to that, however, there would probably be no opportunity for further deception.
“Report as you get additional information,” the KGB man said, and hung up the receiver.
There was other work to be done. He moved to the desk, arranged the reports in front of him, and reached for his pen and a white pad of paper. He removed the glasses from his pocket and put them on his nose and around his ears. There was a computer in the room, but anyone could gain access to what he put on the computer. Someone could be sitting in another room of the vast building reading his words, his numbers, even as he considered them on the screen. No, he had learned long ago to put everything on paper first, work out what he could share and was willing to share. His own notes he shredded and each night he took the shreds home to burn even when the notes were innocent.
A bad habit could destroy a man.
As he wrote, he wondered where the policeman was at the moment. If a smile were within him, he would have smiled now, imagining the puppet going through the motions the KGB man was dictating.