Less than six minutes after Vasily Kotsis hung up the receiver in the small grocery beyond the Outer Ring, the first car containing KGB men arrived. There were two men inside, both in dark blue suits, both quite solemn, and both carrying weapons when they stepped out.
The old woman watching from the window was named Bella Vitz. Because her ankles were always swollen, Bella spent most of her days in the window of the store. Her customers, all local farmers and the people who worked for farmers, took their merchandise, brought it to her, and she collected. Bella was known throughout the community as the Queen of England because she claimed to be related to the British royal family in some strange way she would gladly relate.
“I’m a loyal Soviet citizen,” she would begin. “And I’m ashamed to admit this, but I am a second cousin to the British Queen Elizabeth.”
As a member of a royal family, Bella had lofty opinions on many matters. At the moment, watching the armed men get out of the car and approach her shop, Bella had opinions about weapons. Everyone seemed to have a gun now. People were shooting people like American cowboys. She heard about it, even read about it with greater frequency in
The two KGB men with the guns came through the doorway carefully, like in a movie Bella saw years ago. The first one had his gun high, in two hands. The second one crouched low. One aimed his gun to the left. The other to the right.
“He’s gone,” said Bella, sitting as erect as she could upon her high-backed chair and pulling her sweater around her.
The two men stepped in cautiously, and the shorter of the two spoke.
“The person who made the phone call?” he asked.
“Gone. There was a girl with him. Chinese. Tatar. Who knows?” said Bella.
“Where did they go?”
Now the men were inside, and another car was arriving outside. There were five men in this one. Three of them, she could see when they got out, were in uniform. All of them were carrying weapons.
“He said he would tear off my ear and eat my brain if I told you,” she said. “He was just trying to frighten me. People like that don’t have time to go back and kill everyone they meet.”
The five new men rushed in now with guns waving. One of the new ones not wearing a uniform stepped forward, and the man who had been talking to Bella moved off.
“Where is he?” the new man said.
“They,” she corrected. “A young man and a girl. The young man’s name is Vasily. I heard the girl call him that. He had bushy yellow hair and crazy eyes and was wearing American jeans and a gray jacket made out of … who knows?”
Bella watched all the men scrambling around her store and outside. She wondered if any of them would buy anything.
“Where are they?”
“Who knows?” said Bella. “I’ve got some thoughts.”
“Share them,” said the new KGB man, who had a rather large Rumanian-looking nose.
“I’m a loyal citizen of the Soviet Union,” she said. “And I am ashamed to admit it, but I am second cousin to the Queen of England.”
“What did she look like?” the man asked as the first duo who had entered Bella’s shop returned and gave the new leader a negative nod.
And more KGB men arrived. A small truck screeched up in front of the store with eight armed and uniformed men in back. They jumped out.
“She has a round German face. Very sad, very dignified,” said Bella. “People say there is a resemblance.”
“Not the Queen of England,” the man said. “The girl who was with the young man who made the phone call.”
“Chinese,” said Bella with a sigh. “They said they would fry my intestines and give my liver to the crows if I told about them.”
“You are a loyal citizen, Comrade …”
“Vitz,” she said. “Yes, I am loyal, as was my husband, who worked as a gardener for four years once on a dacha owned by one of Brezhnev’s deputies. I am loyal but I am, unfortunately, tainted with royal blood.”
The store was swarming with clomping, nodding men with guns. Some were at the phone in the back; others were climbing the steps to her room. Some were still outside. And yet a new leader emerged to stand next to the man with the nose who had been talking to Bella.
“You said you have some thoughts,” the KGB man with the nose said.
“Too many guns,” said Bella, nodding her head wisely. “In England, the police do not have guns.”
“They do now,” the latest KGB man corrected her.
“Terrible,” said Bella.
“Do you have any thoughts about where this Vasily and the girl might be?” the KGB man with the nose said with infinite patience.
“Yes,” said Bella, watching one of the young uniformed men fingering a box of crackers.
“Would you share that information with us?”
“The old Chustoy farm,” said Bella. “Three miles north on this road, turn right just past a broken tree, and it’s a few hundred yards. Siminov, who has a farm not far from there, saw a city bus drive into the Chustoy place on Monday. That’s where I think they are.”
The KGB man in charge shouted an order, and seconds later the store and the driveway in front of it were empty. They had purchased nothing, not even thanked her.
The world, Bella thought, is getting to be a very strange and dangerous place. Perhaps she should buy a gun.
The KGB had been just as efficient earlier that morning when Zelach called following the incident in Sonia Kotsis’s rooms. Rostnikov, Tkach, and Zelach had all explained what had taken place to the investigator in charge.
“And,” the man questioning them had said, “you believed this was all about a missing bus driver?”
“Who,” Rostnikov said, “had gotten drunk and stolen his bus.”
“And the girl was …?” the man probed.
“Someone told me she knew the driver,” said Tkach.
The KGB man smiled and shook his head in disbelief.
“I know you, Rostnikov,” he said. “You’ve stepped on too many tails. Why did you come here with guns if you thought this was just about a drunken bus driver?”
“We expected no trouble,” Rostnikov explained.
“No trouble,” Zelach added a bit too emphatically.
“I arrived first,” said Tkach. “And was surprised to hear the woman, Sonia Kotsis, confess that this case involved terrorist activity. I had asked Inspector Rostnikov to join me here. He came. She opened the door, and this man came out with a gun.”
“Officer Zelach responded instinctively and saved our lives,” said Rostnikov.
“Rostnikov,” the KGB man said, leaning forward, “you are stepping on tails again. Who is going to believe this story?”
“I’ve kept Colonel Snitkonoy informed about every step of this investigation,” Rostnikov said. “And I plan to report to him directly after leaving here.”
The KGB man sighed and told the three policemen to put their reports in writing, to make no copies, and to hand-deliver the originals to KGB headquarters at Lubyanka as soon as possible. They were then dismissed.
On the way down the stairs from the apartment, Tkach stopped.
“The flowers will die,” he said. “We should do something.”
“They will die in any case,” said Rostnikov.
“Porfiry Petrovich,” Tkach said softly, “I can’t stand thinking of them slowly dying in that cart, in that dark corner.”
“Zelach, you like flowers?” asked Rostnikov.
“I don’t know,” said Zelach as they reached the bottom of the dark stairway leading down from Sonia’s rooms.
“You are not a romantic, Zelach. You shoot well, but you are not a romantic,” said Rostnikov, stepping over to pull the flower cart out of shadows.
“I’d rather shoot well,” said Zelach.
“Take flowers to your mother, Zelach,” Rostnikov said, handing a bunch to the policeman.
Tkach looked at the last six clusters of flowers on the cart.
“Let’s give them away,” Tkach suggested.
“By all means,” Rostnikov agreed, reaching over to scoop up bunches of flowers and handing them to Zelach, who took them awkwardly. Then he turned to Sasha Tkach and whispered, “You did well upstairs, Sasha. Don’t go insane on me. We have enough madmen in this country. We need more sane ones who worry about flowers.”
“I’ll be all right,” Tkach said, stepping over to the cart and looking down at it. A sheet of paper was taped to the inside of the cart, not hidden but not exposed either. Tkach picked it up, looked at it, and handed it to Rostnikov. On the paper was a list, apparently a list of things Sonia would have done that day had she lived to do them. The list read:
Rostnikov looked at Tkach.
“Inspector, the flowers are dripping on me,” said Zelach.
Rostnikov folded the note and put it into his pocket. “Then,” he said, “let’s take them out into the sun.”
When Karpo returned to Petrovka and moved to his desk, he found a bunch of flowers in a drinking glass in the corner. He looked around the office to see whose joke this might be and saw Rostnikov waving at him from beyond the glass window to his office. Karpo moved between the desks, past a woman in uniform carrying a stack of files, and into Rostnikov’s office, where the inspector sat, pen in hand, drawing something on the pad before him. Next to the pad was a bunch of flowers just like those on Karpo’s desk.
“You like the flowers, Emil Karpo?”
“I neither like nor dislike flowers, Comrade,” he said. “I understand their ritual, symbolic function for State events but find nothing personal to respond to. The time it takes to purchase and place them is time better spent on productive tasks.”
“I gather you have just thanked me for giving the flowers to you,” said Rostnikov. “Enough of flowers. Morchov. I returned and found a note from the colonel to report at three on the investigation and condition of Andrei Morchov. It is ten minutes to that hour.”
Karpo gave his report while standing, and Rostnikov ceased his drawing to listen, nod, and ask a few questions.
“And,” Karpo concluded, “I believe I should be given an official reprimand or dismissal for my improper conduct of this investigation.”
“You like the boy,” Rostnikov said, standing with both hands on the desk. His left leg had given him the warning that if he did not attend to it, it would punish him.
“It would seem so,” said Karpo. “And I allowed that response, which I do not understand, to interfere with my performance of duty. I should have acted more decisively. Had I done so, Comrade Morchov, a valued member of the Politburo, would not have been at risk, would not have been shot.”
“But he is alive and will be well, Emil Karpo. And no one is going to Lubyanka,” said Rostnikov. “What troubles you, Emil?”
“Emotion has no place in an investigation,” he said without emotion.
“For me it is everything in an investigation,” said Rostnikov.
“Not for me,” replied Karpo. “I cannot carry on the scope of my mission, my responsibility, if my judgment is clouded by personal response. We are quite different people, Inspector.”
“So I have noticed, Emil Karpo,” said Rostnikov with a sigh. “So I have noticed. You are not reprimanded. You are not dismissed. I need you. But first look at this.”
Rostnikov turned the pad of paper upon which he had been drawing so that Karpo could see the elaborate tangle of curved and intertwined parallel lines.
“Do you know what this is, Emil Karpo?”
“No, I do not,” Karpo said, looking at the pad.
“That is the water pipe system in my apartment building,” said Rostnikov with satisfaction. “The light paths are the incoming pipelines and the shadowed ones the outgoing. A building can be seen as a replica of the human body. It has a furnace, which is the heart of the body, and a vascular system of pipes to distribute the heat.”
“Interesting,” said Karpo without interest.
“I have a point, Emil,” Rostnikov-said, pausing to check his watch. “It is not a coincidence that this metaphor exists, that buildings, institutions can be seen as replicas of the human body. Man makes the world in his own image. He believes the most efficient way for things to work is the way that he works. Are you following me?”
“Yes, Inspector, but not anticipating where we are going.”
“I’m fascinated by plumbing, Emil Karpo,” said Rostnikov. “I fancy when I repair it that I am a surgeon, a specialist, and the building is my patient. And I gain satisfaction from this because I know that the system can be reduced to a complex drawing and that once the source of a problem is located it can be repaired. That is quite different from the way we work, Emil. Each suspect, each victim, each witness we meet is more than a predictable series of pipes and heating systems. People are confusion and contradiction. You can tell yourself that you are a logical system, Emil. You can suppress emotion and contradiction but you can’t overcome them. Sometimes it is better to accept the random emotion and its consequences. Do you now understand why I am telling you this?”
Rostnikov moved from behind his desk and picked up the small bouquet of flowers.
“I believe so, Comrade,” said Karpo. “You see no function in my exploring the reasons why I responded to Yuri Vostovayek. I believe I can accept that. You also have some task to perform that you would prefer to avoid. You told me all of this at some length, when a few words would suffice, to forestall the moment when you would have to deal with this task. I would say the task involves talking to the colonel and a subject you are not looking forward to addressing and that has nothing to do with what has happened to Comrade Morchov.”
“Correct, Emil,” he said. “And you came to that conclusion from your knowledge of my past behavior and the nature of my conversation.”
“Observation and logic,” said Karpo.
“Some might call it intuition,” said Rostnikov, smelling the flowers. “Zelach and Tkach are in Red Square.
You’ll find them in the vicinity of Lenin’s Tomb. Please join them. Sasha will explain.”
And with that, Rostnikov took his flowers and departed.
There had been no time to think. Boris Trush had been pretending to work on the bus when Vasily and the girl Lia had returned. Boris had been ordered to put on his uniform and get the bus ready instantly.
“Peotor said I had another day,” Boris protested.
“Peotor, my father, is no more,” Vasily said, grabbing Boris by the collar and pushing him against the side of the bus. “There are no more days. This is the day to die.”
Vasily, who Boris had decided the moment the young man had shot the passenger was quite insane, was suddenly on a new level of madness. It was evident in the young man’s blue eyes.
With Vasily threatening, ordering, screaming, the bus was rolling down the side road near the farm ten minutes after Vasily had returned. Inside the bus were Boris, Vasily, Lia, the three others in the band, weapons piled on the seats, and a box that, Boris knew, contained explosives.
As he had on the morning Boris and the bus had been taken, Vasily stood at Boris’s side. Vasily’s gun was held low, out of sight of any approaching or passing vehicle. The barrel of the gun was aimed at Boris’s side.
Vasily ordered Boris to drive to the right, away from the city, when they reached the main road. Vasily wanted to stay away from the store where he had made the phone call. Checking frequently with one of the members of the gang who apparently knew the local roads, Vasily prodded Boris into a series of sharp turns and down cow paths until they came to a highway.
The spot under his right armpit where the nozzle of Vasily’s gun was pressed was now sore from each bump on the side roads. Boris was sweating again through his uniform.
“Can you sit down?” he asked. “You’re making me-
“Shut up and drive, drive, drive,” hissed Vasily.
“I’m one of you,” Boris reminded him. “Peotor said that I’m one of you. I shot the … I shot that man in Klin. I … you can trust me.”
“You are a fool, bus driver,” Vasily said. “My father knew you for a fool. I know you for a fool. The games have ended with you. You will drive. We will destroy the tomb, and we will all die. You understand that, bus driver? We, you, will all die. I have a list of all of our names in my pocket so they will know who we are. Your name is on that list, bus driver. My sister was to have mailed that list out of the country so the world would know. My father and sister, if they are alive, will hear what we’ve done and be proud.” And then turning to the others in the bus, he shouted, “Today is the day we die!”
The returning shouts, Boris thought, were less than enthusiastic.
Pankov, sitting behind his desk, looked up at Rostnikov, who held out the bunch of flowers.
“For your desk, Comrade Pankov,” Rostnikov said. “I thought you could use a touch of color.”
Pankov had not been aware that this afternoon was particularly dark, but he was pleased to have any consideration shown to him, particularly by Rostnikov, whom he liked to consider as a possible ally against the forces that threatened his security.
“Thank you, Comrade Inspector,” Pankov said, rising to take the flowers. “The colonel is expecting you.”
“You might want to put them in water immediately,”
Rostnikov suggested. “I brought them from the Arbat, and they’re beginning to wilt just a bit.”
Pankov grimaced slightly, retrieved a drinking glass from his desk, and hurried to the outer door.
“I’ll be back instantly,” he said.
“I’ll explain to the colonel if he says something,” said Rostnikov, and Pankov was out the door.
As quickly as his leg would allow him, Rostnikov moved around the desk, kneeled, and pulled out the bottom drawer. He reached under it and tore off the envelope in which he had placed the copies of papers he had taken from the Lentaka Shoe Factory. He closed the drawer, stood up, and was still two steps from the colonel’s office door when Pankov returned, glass of water in hand.
“I ran,” he said, looking at the envelope in Rostnikov’s hand. Pankov was certain, or almost certain, that the inspector had entered the office with nothing but the flowers.
“I see,” said Rostnikov, who knocked at the colonel’s door and was told to enter.
Colonel Snitkonoy was resplendent. His uniform, the blue dress suit with all the medals, was pressed and without a speck of dust or lint. The Wolfhound’s hair was neatly and recently brushed. The colonel had risen behind his desk and was pointing with his open hand at the seat across from him, which he invited Rostnikov to take. Rostnikov sat.
The afternoon was bright through the recently cleaned windows in the colonel’s office. Both men paused. Just a beat. Just a moment. Just a breath. But enough for them to understand that each recognized the conversation that was about to begin would be serious.
“I’ve just heard from the hospital,” the Wolfhound began. “Andrei Morchov is doing very well. He seems to have had an accident with a gun. Embarrassing. Comrade Morchov would prefer that very few people knew of this accident. I have given him every assurance of our full cooperation, and I understand our counterparts in the KGB will do the same. You understand?”
“Fully, Colonel,” said Rostnikov. “There will be no report filed.”
“And the investigation your staff was conducting related to Comrade Morchov is …” The Colonel paused.
“… closed,” said Rostnikov. “No report. It turned out to be nothing.”
The Wolfhound placed his long-fingered hands on the dark wooden desk.
“You have something you wish to discuss with me, Inspector?” he said.
“I do,” said Rostnikov.
“Is it something I should know or must know or would want to know?” asked the Wolfhound.
“I’ll let the colonel decide,” said Rostnikov, placing the envelope on top of the recently polished and highly glossed dark wooden desk.
Colonel Snitkonoy did not move. His gray eyes met Rostnikov’s and paused. Without looking at the envelope, the colonel reached out and pulled it to him. He hesitated a moment and then opened the flap and pulled out the papers, laying them neatly in front of him.
While Rostnikov sat, the colonel read, slowly, carefully. At one point-and Rostnikov was sure it was when the colonel saw the name of Nahatchavanski-the Wolfhound’s facade dropped for the first time in Rostnikov’s memory. The colonel’s hand trembled slightly. His lower lip dropped just enough to reveal even, white teeth. And then, instantly, the Wolfhound regained control and went on.
When he was finished reading the papers, the colonel looked over at Rostnikov and then proceeded to go through the papers once again. At one point while he was doing so, the phone on his desk rang. The Wolfhound ignored it.
“Badgers, ladders, and copying machines,” the Wolfhound said, putting the papers back into the envelope. “You are aware, I know, of what this means, Porfiry Petrovich.”
“I believe so,” said Rostnikov.
“Tell me,” said the colonel.
“If we turn in this evidence against a high-ranking member of the KGB we run many risks, not the least of which is the possible enmity of those in the KGB who will resent our action even if we succeed in bringing the man named in those documents to justice,” said Rostnikov.
“You say ‘we,’” the colonel said. “It is I who will be presenting this evidence, Inspector. Where do I say that I obtained it?”
“It came to my attention during the routine investigation of petty pilfering at the Lentaka Shoe Factory. I was completely shocked and surprised and brought it to your attention immediately.”
“This could also be the pathway to new respect for our division,” said the colonel. “I spoke to you recently of ambition, Porfiry Petrovich. Respect and ambition have a price. The question is: Are we willing to pay that price? I could, you know, simply turn this over to someone in the procurator’s office and let them take the credit and risks.”
The Wolfhound looked at Rostnikov for a long moment and made a decision.
“These medals are not simply decoration, Porfiry Petrovich,” he said. “I earned them by taking chances, youthful chances, necessary chances. And when I earned them, I had the respect of those I respected. I would like to feel like that again. We will do it.”
With this the colonel rose to his full height behind the desk. This was the cue for Rostnikov to rise, but he did not do so.
“There is something more, Porfiry Petrovich?” the colonel asked.
“Yes,” Rostnikov said, and he proceeded to tell the Wolfhound about the death of Peotor and Sonia Kotsis and his belief that an attack on Lenin’s Tomb would be made within minutes or hours.