The hospital administrator looked nervous, a nervousness he attempted to hide behind a mask of bureaucratic overwork.
“Transfers,” said Schroeder with a sigh, brushing back his hair, pulling down the lapels on his jacket, adjusting his tie and glasses. “Do you know how many transfers we get in a week? Six, seven. The forms, paperwork. It doesn’t end. My father wanted me to be a career soldier. Perhaps I should have listened to him.”
“Perhaps,” Rostnikov agreed.
They were standing in the record room down the corridor from Schroeder’s office. Two people worked in the room, which held dozens of file cabinets and a single computer in the corner. The two people, a man and a woman, did their best not to pay attention to the new administrator and the box of a man who walked with a limp.
“It was his family’s idea,” Schroeder said, going through the files furiously and then turning to face the detective. “Not here. It was only yesterday. They get a copy. We keep a copy. It’s probably still somewhere. It’s not my fault. In the few months I’ve been here, the bookkeeping system has improved two hundredfold, but there’s still so much … the papers could be anywhere.”
The man’s arms went up to indicate that, indeed, anywhere meant anywhere in the universe.
“But it will turn up. It should be on my desk. It will be on my desk.”
“Ivan Bulgarin was transferred to another facility at the request of his family,” Rostnikov said evenly.
“That’s what I said,” Schroeder said, looking at the two record clerks, who seemed to be absorbed completely in their work.
“And you don’t remember where he was transferred?”
“It’s in the records if I can just-”
“Who would remember?” Rostnikov went on. “A nurse, doctor?”
“I’ll ask,” said Schroeder. “I wasn’t here, you remember. And the night nurse doesn’t-”
“Let’s ask,” said Rostnikov gently.
“It wouldn’t do-”
“Let’s try,” Rostnikov insisted gently.
Schroeder was trapped.
“Well, if you-”
“I do,” said Rostnikov, touching Schroeder’s shoulder.
And they went in search of someone who might be able to tell them what had become of Ivan Bulgarin, the man who walked like a bear.
Boris Trush nodded his head in complete understanding of everything that was being told to him. He nodded his head and began to make a plan.
“We will drive slowly past the Alexander Gardens,” Peotor Kotsis explained as they walked through the dried-out field behind the wooden house and barn where Boris’s bus was parked. Boris had been given a torn pair of cloth pants and a rough sweater so his uniform could be kept neat and clean for the big day.
“Past the Alexander Gardens,” Boris repeated.
Peotor Kotsis had long since removed his coat and now wore a pair of blue pants, a white shirt, and a sweater. The madman looked like a distinguished professor with dark hair and scholarly gray sideburns. But there was no doubt the man was mad, not as mad as his killer son, but quite mad nonetheless.
“Across Fiftieth Anniversary of the October Revolution Square behind the State History Museum,” Kotsis went on.
“Behind the State History Museum,” Boris parroted. Across the field, Vasily, his weapon slung over his back, was talking earnestly to three young men and a young Oriental-looking woman. Vasily seemed to be upset with them. Boris did not want Vasily upset with him. It took very little to upset Vasily, and the result of upsetting Vasily could be fatal.
“Then,” Peotor went on, “past Twenty-fifth of October Street in front of the State Universal Stores.” He paused as they walked.
“Past GUM,” Boris acknowledged.
Across the field, Vasily laughed and began kissing each of the young people in turn, ending with the young woman, who got an especially long kiss.
“And then into the square,” Peotor said. “We move slowly, a busful of visitors, lost, cameras in hand, past the marble stands by the Senate Tower, right up to the Lenin Mausoleum. When the guards move forward to stop us, we will rush out of the doors of the bus, we will eliminate them, destroy the tomb, and be gone before they can react. We’ll all go in different directions. The crowds will be wild. Confusion. They’ve never faced a real threat. They won’t know what happened till we call the foreign press and tell them. You’ll get lost in the crowd, too, Boris. Lost with our gratitude. I’m sure you won’t give us away.”
“I won’t,” said Boris earnestly. “You have my promise.”
The lie was evident. Boris knew that they would kill him the moment he got them to the tomb. They couldn’t let him get away.
Peotor suddenly stopped.
“My people have asked to be heard for almost a thousand years,” Peotor said, looking south in the direction of the province from which he had come. “We have not been allowed to speak until now. Now voices are being raised throughout the land and we are allowed to speak, but Boris, the irony is that no one will listen. Georgians, Armenians, even Mongol mongrels are being heard, but we are considered to be too small and too weak. The world will notice us after this, Boris Trush. The world will notice and we will be part of history.”
“They’ll hate you,” Boris said, knowing he had no chance of prevailing.
“Yes,” said Peotor. “At first they will. There will be days, weeks of shock, but our cause will be explored in magazines, newspapers all over the world. We will no longer be ignored. We must be heard, Boris. We must be heard or the lives of our fathers and mothers and theirs before them for a dozen generations will be meaningless. Do you understand?”
“Perfectly,” said Boris. You are insane, Boris thought. That is what I understand. You are insane. I need a drink and I have to hope I have enough nerve to do what I must to save my life.
Vasily was now trotting across the field toward them with a smile on his face. The gun strapped around the young man’s back jostled. Thunder cracked in the distance, and Boris hoped that he would neither step back nor cringe when the young and smiling lunatic came upon him.
“You know what this is?”
Kostnitsov spoke as if he were addressing a severely retarded child. Kostnitsov was somewhere in his fifties, of medium height, with a little belly, straight white hair, poorly cared for teeth, and a red face more the result of his Georgian heritage than his intake of alcohol, which was moderate. He was an assistant director of the MVD laboratory but he had little or no contact with the director and had no one working under him. Kostnitsov wanted no assistants, and it was clear to everyone that none would be able to tolerate him. Boris Kostnitsov was left alone in his unnumbered laboratory two levels below the ground in Petrovka.
Now, standing in his lab and wearing a blue laboratory coat and a scowl, he held out his hand to display to the two policemen something formless and quite bloody.
Zelach looked at Sasha Tkach for an answer, but Sasha’s thoughts were elsewhere.
“A heart?” Zelach guessed.
Kostnitsov looked disgusted.
“A heart? This little thing looks like a heart to you? Does your little finger look like your penis? In your case, possibly. A penguin has a heart this size, not a human. Tkach, what do you say?”
Kostnitsov held the bloody blob under Sasha Tkach’s nose. Tkach looked down at it emotionlessly.
“A liver,” he guessed.
“A liver,” Kostnitsov repeated incredulously. “This bright-red organ looks like a liver to you? This is a human organ. A human liver is dark, firm, unless, of course, it is diseased.”
Kostnitsov began to pace between his cluttered laboratory tables and his even more cluttered desk, which held, somewhere beneath the books and papers, a bottle in which it was rumored Josef Stalin’s spleen resided.
Zelach looked at the desk and blurted out, “Spleen.”
Kostnitsov stopped pacing, dropped the slithery organ in a metal bowl, placed the bowl on the lab table, and turned to Zelach with a grin.
“There’s hope for you,” he said, advancing to Zelach and patting him on the cheek with a still-bloody hand. Zelach stepped back and looked around frantically for something reasonably clean with which to wipe his face. Seeing nothing he would be willing to use, Zelach moved to the sink, turned on the water, and washed, while Kostnitsov turned his attention to Tkach.
“The spleen,” Kostnitsov explained as if to an avid student, which Tkach was not, “is one of the largest lymphoid structures, a visceral organ composed of a white pulp of lymphatic nodules and tissues and a red pulp of venous sinusoids in a framework of fibrous partitions lying on the left side below the diaphragm, functioning as a blood filter and to store blood. It is said to be either the seat of melancholy or mirth. An underappreciated and quiet poetic organ.”
“Quite poetic,” Tkach agreed.
“The bullet went through the heart,” Kostnitsov said, weaving his bloody hand as if following the trajectory of the missile through an imaginary body. “It moved down through the left lung and heart, shattering a rib, and ending its journey in the spleen. Remarkably little damage to the spleen, but man cannot live on a spleen alone. Are you listening, Comrade Tkach, or am I boring you? Are your thoughts of university girls on the grassy Lenin Hills?”
“I’m listening,” said Tkach, who stood, arms folded, as Kostnitsov pushed his face forward in front of the detective.
“You want to know about the bullet? What?”
“I want to know whatever you know that could help us find who shot Tolvenovov,” said Tkach. Zelach had finished washing his face and was drying his hands on his rumpled trousers.
“You want some tea, coffee?” Kostnitsov asked.
“Information, opinion,” said Tkach, who knew, as did every other MVD investigator and uniformed police officer, that Kostnitsov was probably a bit mad, certainly offensive, and possibly the best forensic scientist in the Soviet Union.
“Information. You have the man’s name, the make of the weapon that killed him,” said Kostnitsov, moving to his desk, pushing away some papers, and picking up a cup of tepid liquid, which he put to his lips. There was a bright glow in the scientist’s eyes as he looked at the two detectives.
“The victim was about to struggle when he was shot,” Kostnitsov said. “His right hand was still in a fist, and judging from the calluses on his hands, he was right-handed. From the path of the bullet, it is clear that he was just rising from a sitting position when the bullet struck. The shot surprised him. He didn’t turn away.”
“Go on,” said Tkach when Kostnitsov paused and looked at Zelach, who was standing near the door, as far from the scientist as he could get.
“The man was shot on a bus,” said Kostnitsov.
Tkach was suddenly quite alert.
Kostnitsov opened his mouth and pointed to his teeth before he spoke.
“When he died he pitched forward, hitting his teeth on chrome. I have a small piece of chrome I took from his tooth. The report said this might have something to do with a stolen bus, so I got a sliver of chrome from a bus seat this morning. Same. But more. Our victim slumped or was pushed down after he was shot, and the open wound in his chest scraped along the bus seat picked up bits of plastic, inferior quality. That, too, I checked by getting a sample from a bus this morning.”
Kostnitsov paused and looked at both detectives, waiting.
“Karpo should have this case,” Kostnitsov finally said when he had no response, no applause. He finished his drink and put the cup down on a pile of precariously balanced books and papers. “He knows how to appreciate professionalism.”
“Your conclusions are remarkable and quite helpful, Comrade,” said Tkach.
“I know that. I know that. I know that. You know how small the particles are that I had to work with? And do I have decent equipment?”
He looked around the laboratory, as did the two policemen.
“I wouldn’t know,” said Tkach.
“No,” said Kostnitsov. “I do not. Can you imagine the miracles I could perform with an electron microscope? Not that I can’t do almost impossible things now.”
“Can you tell me who killed the man on the bus?” Tkach asked.
“Yes,” said Kostnitsov with a grin, showing most of his ill-treated teeth.
“Then make our jobs easy. Give us his or her name and we’ll get a nice commendation from the party secretary,” said Tkach.
“The person who pushed the victim down may not have fired the gun,” said Kostnitsov. “The person who pushed him down was about forty-eight years old, a man, probably medium build, white and pale, dark hair with a bit of gray in it. If you find a suspect I will give you a definite identification.”
Zelach, in spite of himself, laughed, then wished he had not. Kostnitsov advanced on him.
“DNA,” hissed the blue-smocked wraith in Zelach’s face. “Do you know what that is? It is in every cell of your less than adequate body. You identify a spleen and don’t know what DNA is. Is there hope for such an unbalanced creature?”
The medicinal smell of the lab was beginning to make Tkach ill, that and the memory of a recent knish. He had a sudden internal flash of Kostnitsov opening his stomach and examining the contents, including the knish, to determine the precise moment of his death. Tkach wanted to flee.
“DNA is the genetic material,” Tkach said.
Kostnitsov nodded and turned to him.
“Each person has his own pattern,” the scientist said, moving to his desk, pushing papers away in search of something as he spoke. “It is better than fingerprints. The odds of duplication are almost nonexistent. Every cell in the body has this print. Our dead man grasped the wrist of the man he was about to strike. He picked up a few surface cells and even a trace of hair. You bring me even a strand of hair of this man and get me into an electron microscopy laboratory and I will identify him.”
“Amazing,” said Tkach, which was just what the scientist wanted to hear. Kostnitsov found what he was looking for on his desk, a pad with notes and numbers scratched on it. He brought the pad to Tkach, who asked, “Can you tell us anything else?”
“Other people handled the body,” Kostnitsov said, pointing to the pad in front of Tkach’s hand. “One of them, was a woman. All of them except the first man are young, relatively young, younger even than you. At least three of them, including the first man, were Turkistani.”
“Turkistani?” Zelach asked before he could stop himself.
“Conjecture, conclusion, but almost certain,” Kostnitsov said, still taking his pad back from Tkach. “Tobacco bits on the victim. Someone who carried him. Turkistani tobacco. Also one small thread of a jacket made with wool dyed in Turkistan. Wool not sold in Moscow. No one would want it if it were. Inferior material. But who knows what people will wear?”
“You are sure?” said Tkach.
“No, I am not sure, but the weapon is one that has been linked in reports-number ten twenty-three, January last year; number four thirty-two-eleven, Kirov, April this year; four others all linking the Stechkin with clashes involving Turkistani separatists. Look at the computer. Madmen and madwomen.”
Zelach couldn’t imagine anyone nearly as mad as Kostnitsov but he said and did nothing to betray his thoughts.
“We are looking for a medium-height Turkistani about forty-eight years old,” said Tkach.
Kostnitsov nodded and looked at his pad.
“Do you read poetry, Comrade Inspector?” the scientist asked.
“Occasionally,” Tkach said, which was true primarily because Maya thought it was romantic to be read poetry to late at night. If the conditions were right and Lydia were not snoring too loudly in the other room, and the baby wasn’t restless, Maya would …
“Good,” said Kostnitsov. “Because facts are of no use without poetry. It is poetry that makes sense of facts. You understand. Get me an electron microscope and I’ll make real poetry. I’ll see into the very soul of a chromosome, the secret segment of a twisted thread of the very fabric of human existence. I’ll imagine myself into the smallest piece of evidence and give you the very face of criminal and victim. Is that not poetry?”
“It is poetry,” Tkach agreed.
“I have work,” Kostnitsov said with a sigh, turning away from the policemen. “Next time send Karpo.”
The scientist moved to a white metallic box on his lab table. The box was marked in ink with the words “Clopniki Investigation-Foot.”
Zelach and Tkach departed before the box was open.
There is a point, Rostnikov knew, at which you must stop pushing or the balloon will break. When he was a small child, he had heard about balloons, thought they were the most amazing things imaginable, wanted desperately to see, touch one. Finally, one morning when he was no more than five or six, he was walking to the market on Herzen Street with his mother and saw a man with balloons, white balloons. There were slogans written on the balloons, and children were flocking around the man. There was no helium, no gas of any kind in the balloons, but they jostled upward and back in the wind.
Porfiry Petrovich’s mother had watched her son turn his head to the balloon man as they passed, and though they were late and the lines would be so long at the market that they would have to wait many hours for whatever food, if any, was available, she let him stop, let him join the other children.
Porfiry Petrovich had reached over the shoulder of a little girl to touch a single, stray balloon that dipped toward him. He had stretched, strained, and finally, when the balloon fluttered down over the heads of the screaming children, Porfiry Petrovich and the little girl had both touched the balloon. The little girl had grabbed the sphere and smiled at Porfiry, and the two of them had explored the soft, strange thing while the balloon man chatted, encouraged the other children, and held the balloons aloft out of their reach.
And as Porfiry and the little girl touched the balloon that they held between them like a magical bubble, it burst. Porfiry was never sure whether it was his touch or hers that broke it. The moment of ecstasy was replaced by fear. Porfiry had looked around for his mother. She was hidden by the crowd of children who had turned to him and the little girl with the deafening pop of the balloon.
The tall balloon man had stepped through the crowd and looked down at Porfiry, who stood close to the little girl. She had taken his hand. The man leaned down to Porfiry and the girl. Porfiry could smell his breath, the dry, distant odor of tobacco like his uncle Sergei.
“What is your name?” the man had said.
Porfiry held back the tears, eyes darting for his mother, hand holding tight to the little girl’s fingers.
“Porfiry Petrovich,” he had answered. He could not remember if the little girl had given her name.
“Remember this, Porfiry Petrovich,” the man whispered in his ear, raising his eyebrows to play to the crowd of children, who laughed. “Treat precious things gently. If you press the balloon too hard, it will break. Will you remember that?”
“I will remember,” Porfiry had said.
“Good!” the man had shouted, standing up. “Then here is a gift.”
He handed Porfiry and the little girl each a balloon on a string and turned to the crowd of children who clamored around him, begging, calling, crying for a balloon of their own.
The little girl had dropped his hand and run away, and Porfiry Petrovich had raced around the crowd and found his mother.
“What is written on the balloon?” he asked.
“Sacrifice for the Revolution,” she said. “There’s a free circus tonight. That is the theme.”
The balloon had lasted almost till evening before a small leak drained and withered it.
“Porfiry,” Sarah said gently.
“Yes,” he answered, looking at his wife in the bed. The sun was going down and the ward lights would soon be coming on, the harsh white lights that cast the skin a sickly orange. Rostnikov wanted to be gone before that light came to his wife’s face, but he knew he would not leave till she ordered him to do so.
“Are you all right?” she asked.
“I was thinking about balloons,” he said. “Iosef was never interested in balloons.”
Sarah smiled. He returned the smile, and she took his hand the way the little girl had done half a century ago. He looked at her and thought that in the evening light and shadow she looked, with her bandaged head and white gown, like a little girl playing a role, perhaps the role of a wise Gypsy fortune teller.
“But Iosef loved the circus,” she said.
In the next bed, the girl Petra Toverinin dozed, a book lying open on her stomach. Irinia Komistok, the old woman, was off somewhere receiving therapy. Porfiry and Sarah were as alone as they probably ever would be in the hospital.
“What about that man?” Sarah asked, trying to sit up a bit.
“Bulgarin,” Rostnikov said. “Ivan Bulgarin. He is gone. His family removed him from the hospital yesterday.”
“Where did they take him?”
Rostnikov shrugged. “I’ll find out, but not today. I couldn’t push the balloon too hard or it might break,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter,” Sarah said, sounding tired. “If he has a family taking care of him.”
“I’ll find out nonetheless,” he said.
The girl in the next bed stirred and the book slipped from her stomach to the floor in a flutter like a landing bird. The sound struck something in Rostnikov.
“Porfiry?” Sarah said. “What is it?”
“The American writer Edgar Allan Poe,” he said, softly squeezing her hand. “He said that melancholy is the path of beauty.”
“I think you are tired,” said Sarah. “Why don’t you go home, lift your weights, read a little, and get something to eat.”
“Yes,” Rostnikov agreed, both reluctant and eager to go. If she were better, would he share with her, tell her where Ivan Bulgarin, the bear who had burst into her room, was leading him? No doubt he should drop the whole thing, forget that Nahatchavanski’s name had been given to him by Lukov at the Lentaka Shoe Factory. But perhaps he could pursue it just a bit further to satisfy his curiosity. Besides, he was curious about why Bulgarin was suddenly removed from the hospital and why no record of his transfer could be found.
Rostnikov let go of his wife’s hand and massaged his leg with both hands before standing up. Then he moved to the side of the sleeping girl’s bed, picked up the fallen book, and placed it on the small table nearby.
“Tomorrow,” he said, turning to his wife to kiss her forehead, which felt moist and slightly feverish. “Are you all right?”
“Fine,” she said. “It takes time. You have vegetables?”
“Potatoes,” he said.
“Find something green,” she said. “Eat something green. Promise.”
“I promise,” he answered, touching her hand and moving to the door and opening it as the last light of day faded. “You want the lights on?”
“No,” she said. “I think I’ll sleep.”
“Tomorrow,” he said.
“If you’re too busy …” she began, following through on the ritual they had established after his first visit.
“I’m not too busy,” he said, closing the door behind him.
WHEN ROSTNIKOV ARRIVED at Petrovka the next morning, the sun was not yet up. The armed uniformed guard inside the door stood behind a plastic shield, his machine pistol at the ready. His eyes met Rostnikov’s with recognition and returned to the front door.
The sixth floor was not exactly bustling with activity, but neither was it absolutely quiet. A trio of inspectors was using one of the glass-enclosed rooms. Their heads were close together, and they looked tired. One, a man known as Walchek the Pole, was shaking his head no while the others entreated. Walchek looked up when Rostnikov passed and nodded.
Karpo at his desk, pen in hand preparing a report, did not turn around when Rostnikov entered his office, but Rostnikov knew he had been noticed. Tkach and Zelach arrived almost an hour later, Tkach looking tired, Zelach silent and slouching. When the four men met in Rostnikov’s small office moments later, Porfiry Petrovich was lost in thought and concentrating on a sketch he was making of neat tubes of various sizes connected in an intricate pattern.
“Reports,” he said, putting a final touch of shading on a tube and standing up.
Karpo and Tkach placed filled-in forms on the desk, and Rostnikov glanced at them.
“And now,” he said, “tell me what is not in these reports.”
“The man who was found shot, Tolvenovov,” Tkach said, “was killed on a bus, probably our missing bus, probably by Turkistani separatists, probably led by a man in his late forties. If we find the man, Kostnitsov can positively identify him through DNA. The dead man grabbed the man’s wrist.”
“Computer,” said Tkach, holding back a yawn. “Identify and locate Turkistani separatists or those who know the Turkistani community, try to get a lead if it was Turkistanis.”
Tkach was seated in the corner, Zelach standing behind him. Karpo stood in the other corner.
“You had trouble sleeping, Sasha?” Rostnikov asked.
“My mother,” he said, brushing his hair back. “She … we talked most of the night.”
Outside the cubicle the sixth floor was coming to life. A pair of uniformed officers flanked a smiling man whom they jostled forward between the desks, and toward the room where Walchek the Pole and the other two investigators were still seated. The prisoner was ridiculously thin and looked as if he had some disease.
Rostnikov grunted and looked at Karpo.
“I believe Yuri Vostoyavek and a young girl are planning to murder Andrei Morchov,” Karpo said.
Zelach shuffled in his corner and Rostnikov picked up Karpo’s report. There was nothing about a conspiracy to commit murder in the report because, as Karpo had just said, he “believed” but did not know. He would not put his beliefs in a report, only his certainties. Besides, if his beliefs seemed to be well founded, the case would be taken from the Wolfhound’s investigative team. As it was, Karpo was only investigating the probable hysterical reaction of a mother to her son’s almost certainly innocent comment. By the same token, Tkach was investigating the disappearance of a bus, not an unrelated murder. The bus was probably, according to the report that would be filed, taken by an alcoholic bus driver who would soon be found asleep in some field.
“And what shall we do about our young would-be assassins?” Rostnikov asked Karpo.
“We can bring them in for questioning,” said Karpo. “But I do not think they will confess. It will simply make them bide their time and make a greater effort to have the crime look like an accident. Nor do I think it will do any good to confront Comrade Morchov again. We can watch, be alert, and catch them in the act or just before the act.”
“Just before the act would be far better,” suggested Rostnikov. “Let us try that. And let us find out why this young man may wish to kill a member of the Politburo and who the young woman is who may share his goal.”
Karpo nodded and left me room.
“Very good,” said Rostnikov with a deep sigh. “I am pursuing the possibility of petty theft in the Lentaka Shoe Factory. There is an office in the factory that I would like to examine tonight, but it is of vital importance that no one know in advance what I will be doing. I should like two volunteers to aid me in this.”
Tkach nodded in agreement, and Karpo simply blinked his eyes in acceptance. Both knew that there must be something more to this assignment man catching a petty thief, but neither man would think of asking what it might be. They were better off not knowing, or Rostnikov would now be explaining.
“Good. Pursue your work and meet me at eleven-thirty tonight in front of the Tass building,” Rostnikov said. “Zelach, would you please go process an order for level two computer access? I will get Colonel Snitkonoy to approve it. Sasha, remain a moment.”
Karpo left the room and moved to his desk.
“Sasha Tkach,” Rostnikov said gently, “if you do not sleep nights, you cannot work days, and ours is a job where being alert may mean staying alive. You have much to live for.”
Tkach looked up but slouched back in his chair.
“My mother is making me feel guilty about the move,” he explained. “She weeps, she complains, she goes silent, she threatens, she casts looks. She wakes the baby. Pulcharia is a good child, but … And Maya, Maya who has always been so gentle, so quiet and loving, is becoming … I’m caught between.”
“I can’t have you caught between or feeling caught between,” said Rostnikov. “There is a murdered man, a missing bus and driver, more crimes taking place every day.”
“I know,” Tkach said with exhaustion before he nodded and left the room.
When Tkach was back at his desk, Rostnikov reached for the phone and checked his watch. He had ten minutes before his morning meeting with the Wolfhound. Rostnikov got the operator and asked for the Ministry of Information. Moments later he asked for and got Lydia Tkach on the line.
“You remember me?” he asked when she shouted
“Yes!” she screamed. “What do you want? I’m very busy!”
Rostnikov moved the phone a foot away from his ear and returned it only when she was not speaking.
“Children,” he said, “are ungrateful creatures. Your son is an ungrateful creature.”
“You think I don’t know that?” she said with a bitter laugh. “I needed you to call me from my work to tell me what I already know.”
“Sasha, my son Iosef, all of them ungrateful,” Rostnikov said.
“He is beyond reason,” Rostnikov said with a sigh. “I can’t get him to do a decent day’s work. All he thinks about, talks about, is you, his poor mother for whom he is trying to do his best. I’ve done much for him, Lydia Tkach. I’ve treated him like my own son, but if he doesn’t start working, doesn’t start showing some gratitude for all I’ve done, doesn’t stop putting your feelings and welfare above his duty to the State, I’ll have to consider asking him to leave the service.”
“Leave the-” she began.
“For his own good,” said Rostnikov, sighing. “I must leave now. Your son is sitting at his desk with his head in his hands and not getting his work done.”
“I’m deaf, Rostnikov, not stupid!” she shouted. “My son would not sit at his desk like a whipped child. Don’t call and play games with me.”
“He is a good man and I need him,” said Rostnikov. “And he is a good son. And you need him. Think about it, Lydia Tkach, and we’ll talk about it at lunch. I’ll come for you at two.”
“You can’t bribe me out of my apartment with a bowl of soup and a blini!” she bellowed.
“Think about it,” he repeated.
“I can get off for lunch at one, not two,” she said in a nearly normal tone.
“Good-bye,” he said.
When he hung up the receiver, Rostnikov knew he would have to hurry to make the Wolfhound’s morning meeting. He hoped the meeting would be brief.
The computer came up with several names and places for Zelach and Sasha Tkach. There was the new Center for Turkistani Culture. There was a prisoner in Lubyanka who was suspected of robbing a couple on the Metro. When arrested he claimed to be liberating the money to make bombs to demonstrate the seriousness of Turkistani cultural identity. Of course, the young man was drunk when arrested, but he was being held nonetheless. There were other names. Tkach made a printout and signed for it. He gave Zelach half the names and took half for himself. It would be faster this way, though Sasha had no confidence in Zelach asking the right questions. If Sasha turned up no leads, he would have to go back and check Zelach’s list himself. He was not particularly sure of his own ability to do his own job, let alone Zelach’s, without a bit of undisturbed sleep, but he felt a sense of urgency. What would Turkistani separatists want with a bus? Why would they want it so much that they would kill for it? And why would they want a bus driver?
Three hours later, he had talked to the young man in prison, who proved to be a braggart, a drunk, and a fool. Three other leads proved to be useless and, what is worse, quite distant from each other.
By one in the afternoon, Sasha wanted to think, to wake up. The afternoon was brisk, cool, and threatening, once again, to rain. He walked down to Petrovka Street past the Bolshoi Theater’s eight tall stuccoed columns, atop which stood four rearing horses harnessed to the chariot of Apollo. He crossed Marx Prospekt to the garden in front of the 220-ton monument to Karl Marx, which had been officially completed and shown on Sasha’s sixth birthday. Lydia, he remembered, had brought him down for the unveiling of the great man, who leaned eternally against a stone rostrum as if in midspeech, while below him were engraved his words of revolution, “Workers of the world, unite.”
Beyond Sverdlov Square he glanced at the old Central Lenin Museum and moved down into the huge underground connection to the Revolution Square, Sverdlov Square, and Prospekt Marksa Metro Stations. Ten minutes later he stepped out of the Volgograd Prospekt Station, found a small caf? when he had two coffees in the hope that they would wake him up, and made his way to the run-down concrete building that housed the Center for Turkistani Culture and dozens of other offices, causes, and businesses that awaited a moment of respect or recognition that might never come.
The Center for Turkistani Culture, as it turned out, consisted of two mismatched desks, one of metal with rust creeping through the thin layer of paint, the other of battered wood. A quartet of wooden chairs stood in the corner of the room, with a table in the middle where two very old men, one of whom was turning out billows of gray smoke from an ancient and foul-smelling pipe, were playing a game of chess.
Behind one of the desks sat a very dark woman who was neither young nor old nor very interested in the visitor. She wore a serious dark dress that came up to her collar and a more serious, short, no-nonsense hair style.
She looked very Greek to Sasha, who showed his identification card.
“So you are a policeman,” she said, apparently unimpressed, her hands folded.
“Are you here to return our country to us?” said the old chess player with the pipe. The other man grunted.
A year ago such talk to a policeman could have been enough for a journey to Petrovka. It was still not the safest thing to do even in a mad world, but Sasha was too tired for such games.
“I’m looking for some men and a woman,” he said, addressing the woman behind the desk. “Possibly a group of young people and an older man. Turkistanis who may have some knowledge of a crime.”
“Not much to go on,” the woman said.
Sasha suddenly felt like a schoolchild in front of his teacher. Yes, the woman looked like a teacher.
“If these people commit a crime, your cause will be set back,” Sasha tried.
Both old men laughed, and the one who had spoken before removed the pipe from his mouth and spoke again. “A cause that has gotten nowhere cannot be set back.”
“It can be destroyed,” said Sasha.
“Threats?” said the old man, now looking up from the board.
“Play,” said the other man irritably. “Play the game. Mind your business, Ivan.”
“No threats,” Sasha said, holding up his hands and smiling boyishly.
“We know of no one like that,” said the woman.
“They may have killed a man yesterday,” Sasha pressed on, feeling that the woman did know something, did have an idea. That possibility woke him, made him alert.
“Unfortunate,” said the woman. “I have much work to do here. If you would please leave, I would-”
“A name, a name from any of you,” Sasha said. “No one will know where I got it, and the police would be in your debt.”
“In our debt?” the old man named Ivan said. “How much in our debt?”
“We cannot pay for information,” Sasha said, turning to the old man, who made a move that the other old man quickly pounced upon.
“A permit to hold a meeting,” Ivan said.
“Ivan,” the woman behind the desk warned.
“Donkey shit,” said Ivan, pointing his pipe at her. “I’m eighty-two years old. What are they going to do to me? Kill me? I give him a name. Maybe some people we can’t talk to reasonably get sent away by the police, and we get a permit to meet. What do you say, police boy?”
“I say let me make a phone call,” he replied.
“And I say,” said Ivan, “tell me now. I’ve just lost this game to this, this piss-hill dwarf, and I want to get out of here and get a drink.”
“I don’t have the authority,” Sasha said.
“Then you don’t get a name,” said old Ivan, standing up and putting on a frayed cap.
“I’ll get you a permit,” he said.
“Ivan,” said the woman with a sigh, “you are a fool.”
“And we are going to have a permit,” he said with a grin that revealed an almost toothless mouth.
“You trust this policeman?” the woman said, looking at Sasha.
“Why not?” Ivan said with a shrug. “What we have to lose? Tell him the name, Lavrenti.”
The other man got off his chair, and Sasha saw that he was indeed nearly a dwarf.
“You won the game,” said Ivan. “Now tell the boy who he is looking for.”
“Peotor Kotsis,” said the little man.
“Peotor Kotsis,” Sasha repeated.
“Where did you hear that name?” asked Ivan.
“Where did I … he just …” And Sasha understood. “Someone called in with a tip,” Sasha said, looking at the woman, who pretended to be busy with her papers.
“What did we tell you?” Ivan asked.
“I don’t recall,” said Sasha. “What would this caller tell me about how to find Peotor Kotsis?”
“Who knows?” said Ivan, putting his hand on the little man’s shoulder. The two shuffled to the door and left.
“You’re not going to get a permit for us, are you?” the woman said.
“I will get the permit,” Sasha said, anxious to leave. “I will get the permit.”
“The man on the phone. The one who called you? He told you to look for a girl named Sonia selling flowers on the Arbat.”
“A girl named Sonia,” Sasha repeated. “Where on the Arbat?”
“How would I know?” the woman said without looking up. “He called you, not me.”
The Gray Wolfhound sat behind his desk, back straight, afternoon sun catching his distinct, etched profile. He wore a brown uniform with only three medals, but those medals caught the sun, and their reflections danced on the walls of the semidarkened room. The Wolfhound read the reports in front of him slowly, muttering an occasional “hmm” or “ah” as he turned the pages.
Rostnikov had decided to stand rather than sit, though the colonel had suggested that he make himself comfortable. If it took the Wolfhound five more minutes, Rostnikov would have to sit. The ache would come and he would have to relieve it. He had sat through a full hour of Major Grigorovich explaining parade routes. And then Pankov had stumbled over a financial report. When they had left, the Wolfhound had asked Rostnikov to stay so the colonel could more closely examine the current cases under investigation.
Colonel Snitkonoy put down the reports and looked up at his investigator. But still he did not speak. He put the tips of his long fingers together, tapping them lightly twice. “You know what is happening in China, Porfiry Petrovich?” he said finally.
“I’ve heard of unrest,” Rostnikov said, his eyes meeting those of the Wolfhound’s.
“Unrest, yes,” said the colonel. “It is speculated that the reforms in our country provided the model for the Chinese response. Do you think that likely?”
There was usually, but not always, a point to the colonel’s seemingly random observations.
“According to Engels, all things are possible that fall within the range of scientific probability and the laws of nature,” said Rostnikov. It was not, in fact, Porfiry Petrovich’s operative philosophy, but it was one of the acceptable responses. One could, and sometimes did, get through life by engaging in a prescripted dialogue founded upon clich?s drawn from Marx, Engels, Lenin, and the latest acceptable interpreter of revolutionary truth.
“There are people, people in our government who are especially sensitive at the present time,” said the Wolfhound, rising, two hands open flat on the table. “What we do impacts on the world. One small error, scandal, indication of hypocrisy on the part of our government and our credibility will be seriously undermined.”
Rostnikov was beginning to see what was coming. It had happened before. He had handled it before, but not always to his own satisfaction. Someone wanted him to stop probing.
“Find your thief at the shoe factory,” the Wolfhound said. “Deal with the hysterical woman and her son. Find the bus. If you find more than a shoe thief, a bragging son, and a drunken bus driver, deal with the situation, but deal with it within the bounds outlined in your reports. These are tender times for me and those who work for me. Trouble wears many disguises. Unmask it carefully, Comrade Inspector.”
“I will,” said Rostnikov.
“Good,” said the Wolfhound with a sigh, indicating that this phase of the conversation was over. He stepped around from behind his desk, put his hands behind his back, and walked to the window. “Did you know that Deputy Andrei Morchov is a friend of mine?”
“I did not know,” said Rostnikov.
“I’ll say nothing to him when I see him tonight at the reception for the Chinese cultural envoy,” said the Wolfhound, gazing out at the quickly dropping sun. “But if he asks me about the investigation, I will tell him that it appears to be nothing but the absurdity of a headstrong youth.”
“That would seem reasonable,” Rostnikov agreed.
“And I would like the deputy to be undisturbed in the future over so slight a matter,” the colonel added.
“I will see to it that Deputy Morchov is undisturbed over slight matters,” Rostnikov agreed.
“I am going to confide in you, Porfiry Petrovich,” the Wolfhound said, still looking out the window. There were no lights on in the room, and the walls were fast disappearing. Rostnikov was not sure that he wanted the colonel’s confidence.
“My position is largely ceremonial,” the Wolfhound said. “I know that. You know that. Ceremony is essential in a state in which people who represent us are often without …”
“Presence,” Rostnikov supplied.
“Presence, yes,” the colonel agreed. “And dignity. And pride.”
Rostnikov thought he detected a smile in the corner of the famous profile.
“I’ve made few if any enemies, Porfiry Petrovich. I am permitted an investigative staff, your staff, consisting of personnel who are not wanted in other departments but, for reasons I cannot always fathom, are too valuable simply to dismiss. We are permitted to function, investigate as long as we remain harmless, unthreatening to other investigative bodies. I’ll not ask you if you understand where I am going with this. You are always well ahead of me.”
“I’m not-” Rostnikov began.
“I have neither the time nor the disposition to listen to false modesty,” the Wolfhound said with a deep sigh. “I do not possess modesty, and I do not admire it in others. My political future is suddenly very promising, Porfiry Petrovich. If I-we-do not stumble. If the reforms continue, we may emerge with more than a ceremonial image. You understand?”
Colonel Snitkonoy turned, his face now hidden by shadows, and Rostnikov nodded.
“Good,” the colonel said. “Be careful. Since you have joined my staff, you and your associates, we have attracted attention, a new respect, but respect has a price. Be careful, Porfiry Petrovich. I’m late. I’m to be at the reception in one hour.”
“One last thing, Colonel,” Rostnikov said, taking the requisition form from his pocket and flattening it on the colonel’s desk. “I would appreciate your signature so I can obtain a few items to complete a minor investigation.”
The colonel moved to Rostnikov’s side and looked down at the requisition. He read the list and looked at Rostnikov.
“An automobile for the night,” he said. “A French folding ladder. A portable battery-operated copying machine. And a-”
“I can explain,” said Rostnikov.
“Do I want to hear the explanation?” asked the colonel.
“Probably not,” Rostnikov said.
“Then I will allow my curiosity to give way to self-interest.” He signed his name with a flourish. “Be careful, Porfiry Petrovich.”
The colonel looked down at his watch, turning his wrist to catch the last of the sun. The cue was clear, and Rostnikov headed for the door, opened it gently, and stepped into the light of the outer office, closing the colonel’s door gently behind him.
“The lights are out,” said Pankov, the colonel’s assistant, greeting Rostnikov at the door.
“Yes,” said Rostnikov, moving past the tiny man who patted the few strands of hair on his head in a fruitless effort to make them behave less willfully.
“He has had something on his mind for days,” said Pankov.
“It would seem,” Rostnikov agreed.
“Is he … in a mood?” Pankov asked, looking at the Wolfhound’s door.
Yes, the Wolfhound was in a mood, but what the mood was had been difficult for Rostnikov to determine. It was as if the colonel had a piece of information, something to say, something he could not bring himself to convey or was unable to speak. Rostnikov had been sure that he or one of his men was going to be warned off of an investigation, but the warning had not come, and that disturbed Rostnikov. A direct warning would make sense and could be dealt with.
“He is in a mood,” Rostnikov said, looking back at the obviously frightened man. “But an introspective one, a benevolent one.”
“He can-” Pankov began with a wry smile, but the smile and thought were erased by the colonel’s deep voice bellowing through the inner door.
“Pankov!” called the Wolfhound.
Pankov patted down his hair and hurried for the Wolfhound’s door, forgetting the inspector, who left the office with a requisition for the items he would need that night to break into the offices of the Lentaka Shoe Factory.
At the very moment, or close to it, that Pankov opened the door of Colonel Snitkonoy’s office and found himself in almost total darkness, four people entered an equally darkened barn in a wooded area on the outskirts of the town of Klin.
The four people were Boris Trush the bus driver, Peotor and Vasily Kotsis, and an Oriental-looking young woman of clear features who said nothing and wore a knowing smile.
Boris had sat in the backseat of the Volga between Peotor and Vasily, while the unnamed woman drove. There was not enough room in the backseat for three people. Thigh pressed against thigh. Garlic, tobacco, and sweat enclosed Boris, who was wearing worn farming clothes. The clothes were too large and smelled bad. Boris’s sweating and the proximity of his captors did not improve the situation.
And all the way to Klin, as they drove along the Leningrad Highway for more than fifty miles, Peotor waxed on about the history of the area.
“Boris, Comrade,” Peotor said confidentially, “I was a teacher of music. A teacher of music. And history. We are making a historic journey.”
Vasily reached down and checked the automatic rifle in his lap. Something clicked. Boris shuddered. Peotor paused and men continued. “The town of Klin was founded in 1318. A beautiful town on the high bank of the Sestra River.” He turned to look out the window at the rows of birch trees. “Have you ever been there, Boris?”
“No,” said Boris.
Vasily smiled at him.
“There are two impressive old churches in Klin, one built in the sixteenth century and another in 1712, both quite different in design. We may catch a glimpse of the newer church, baroque, not my preference. But it is not the churches that people go to Klin to see.”
“Tchaikovsky,” Boris muttered, his voice dry, cracking.
“Yes,” said Peotor, turning to look at the bus driver with a touch of respect.
“Tchaikovsky’s house still stands, unchanged, as it was, a museum,” Peotor said softly. “The Nazis occupied Klin in 1941, brutalized the house, but it was restored.”
“We can’t stop at museums,” Vasily said.
“I say where we stop,” Peotor responded gently. Vasily grunted.
“Who says where we stop, Boris? Tell my son,” Peotor said, pressing the issue.
“You do,” Boris said, unwilling to be in the middle of a battle between father and son.
“You do,” Vasily agreed with a sigh.
Peotor reached past Boris’s face to slap his son playfully.
“It is in Klin Pyotr Ilich composed
“Beautiful,” said Vasily sarcastically.
Peotor chose to ignore his son and, to Boris’s relief, said, “Our country can have this tranquillity, this sense of history, identity restored. We can do this, Boris.”
“We can,” Boris agreed. “Why are we going-?”
“Patience,” said Peotor.
“Shut up,” whispered Vasily.
The woman driving the car giggled slightly.
And then they had come to Klin. Well, not quite to Klin. Just beyond it, to the barn down a narrow wooded road. There was a clearing, and on the left a few stone remnants of what had once probably been a great house. On the right was the barn, which looked reasonably sturdy. Stone and wood, it stood silently as Peotor, Vasily, Boris, and the woman climbed out.
“Here,” Vasily said, putting something in the right hand of Boris, who walked forward between the father and son, who both wore long coats, as did the woman. The woman walked slightly behind them. “Into your pocket,” Vasily whispered.
Boris obeyed and walked with them to the barn door, which Peotor opened into near darkness.
“Stop,” came a voice from somewhere deep inside the barn.
The quartet stopped and Peotor spoke.
Someone threw open a wooden window that clattered, shook, and let in a bit of twilight, not enough to see faces but enough for Boris to see figures, perhaps five of them.
“You have it?” came the voice that had first spoken. It seemed to come from a large, outlined figure to the left.
“In the trunk of the car,” said Peotor.
“Let’s look,” said the voice.
“Let us first see the weapons,” said Peotor.
A muffled conversation went on in the darkness between the large figure and another, slighter figure.
“Step forward, alone,” the large figure said.
Peotor nodded and stepped forward. A flashlight came on and pointed to a table against the wall. Four large suitcases stood on the table. The suitcases were old, of different colors. The light caught metal in the suitcases as Peotor advanced and examined the contents.
Boris tried to penetrate the darkness but could see nothing and only heard the pleased humming of Vasily. After a long minute and the sound of metal clanking and the tunnel of light from the flashlight bouncing from suitcase to suitcase, Peotor turned.
“All right,” he said.
Vasily’s humming got louder, and the Oriental woman stepped up next to Boris.
“Good. Let’s see the money and get out of here,” said the large figure.
“No money,” said Peotor. “Not that kind of money. We can’t afford it. We need it for living. A revolution is expensive, and we have too few friends. But we do have something of greater value for you.”
“No money, no weapons,” the man in the dark said angrily.
And then a flash and a boom, a cacophony that echoed through the barn, causing a sonic boom in Boris’s head, but that was only the beginning. At his side, Vasily lined his automatic weapon and began firing. People tried to scurry, but there was nowhere to go. A figure went for the open window and was torn by a fresh burst from Vasily. At Boris’s side, the Oriental woman prodded him. She had a handgun and was firing into a corner at something that may or may not have been human.
“Shoot,” she said with a hiss. Boris pulled his hand from his pocket, and in it was a pistol he could barely see. Behind them the barn door opened. Boris turned. A woman, perhaps a boy, stood in outline like a perfect cutout. In the hand of the woman-boy was a shotgun. Without thought, Boris Trush fired at the figure and wet his pants at the same time. The figure fell as the noise of death and weapons throbbed through Boris’s head.
And then all was silent.
In the heartbeat of that instant of silence, Boris considered turning his gun on the Oriental girl, on Vasily, on Peotor, but before the instant had throbbed he knew he could not do it. He might kill one of them, but the others would turn him into one of the lifeless, bloody creatures that lay in the darkness around him.
“Vasily?” Peotor’s voice called from the darkness.
“Yes,” the woman replied.
Boris could not speak. He looked down at the dead figure in the doorway.
“Boris?” Peotor repeated impatiently.
“Yes,” Boris answered.
Someone moaned near the table. Another shot.
“Good,” said Peotor. “Let’s do this.”
Boris could see a bit better now with the door open, but he did not want to see. Peotor closed each of the suitcases and handed one to Vasily and the woman. He took one himself and held one out for Boris, who could not move.
“Boris,” Peotor said firmly, and Boris shuffled forward, stepping over the large dead man near the table, taking the suitcase.
And then they were back in the car. Vasily had taken the pistol back from Boris. The suitcases had been placed in the trunk.
Boris needed a change of clothes, but it took him a moment to realize it. He was also afraid to say it, afraid Peotor would tell him to take the pants of one of the dead men.
As they pulled away, Boris looked back at the doorway of the barn and told himself, It was a small man, not a boy, not a woman, a small man who would have killed me. A small man. But he was not sure.
“Hurry. I’ve got to get back to the city tonight. Wait. There,” Peotor said as the woman hit the outer road. “Look. Against the sky. The old church. See it?”
Boris turned his head in the direction Peotor was looking. Perhaps he saw something. Perhaps not. Two days earlier he had simply been a bus driver.