The Grieving Family
“Turn at the next corner,” Rostnikov said in Russian. “Turn left. Cautiously. The street is narrow and the population surly at this hour.”
The FBI agent turned the car to the left. The movement was smooth, and there were no pedestrians in sight for at least half a block.
“Why are they surly at this hour?” Hamilton asked without looking over at his passenger.
“Fear, hunger, political dissatisfaction, low-paying jobs, problems at home,” said Rostnikov.
“Is it different at another hour?” Hamilton asked.
“Not really,” said Rostnikov, looking out of the window. “Would you rather speak English?”
“Not particularly. I prefer the practice.”
Rostnikov nodded in understanding. “You are a Negro,” he said.
Hamilton smiled. “You noticed,” he said.
“No,” Rostnikov went on, trying to adjust his left leg into a less painful position. “I mean that it is unusual. The few dark-skinned people we see are from Africa or, sometimes, Cuba. Diplomats. You are the first American Negro I have met. But I wondered why they had decided to send you to Moscow. You stick out like a sore … tongue.”
“Thumb,” Hamilton corrected. “I speak Russian and know the culture and politics reasonably well.”
Rostnikov nodded and said, “Public relations.”
This time Hamilton smiled more broadly. “More than a bit of that too.”
“Is this conversation making you uncomfortable?”
“No,” said Hamilton.
“Good. Do you know Ed McBain?”
“Ed … Mystery writer?”
“Yes. Do you know him?”
“Personally, no. I haven’t read anything by him either.”
“Fine writer,” said Rostnikov with a sigh. “I was wondering if you or any members of your staff might have one of his books with you that I might borrow.”
“I’ll ask,” said Hamilton, slowing down so that an old man walking a dog could cross in front of them. The man and the dog moved very slowly. Hamilton had to stop.
“Most Moscow drivers would simply have slowed down a little and tried to miss them,” said Rostnikov.
“The pedestrian does not have the right of way?”
“The pedestrian doesn’t have much of anything,” said Rostnikov. “There, the white building. Second one. Where the policeman is standing.”
“At the meeting,” Hamilton said, “you assigned a detective to a case involving the murder of someone he knew.”
“Karpo,” said Rostnikov. “He … they were very close.”
“In the States we would be sure that a detective or agent was not assigned to a case involving someone he knew well,” said Hamilton. “Objectivity breaks down.”
“Perhaps,” said Rostnikov. “But determination replaces it. When you meet Inspector Karpo, you will understand.”
There were cars on the street, but parking was relatively easy. The cars tended to look new, American and French. This was a street of large apartments and wealthy people, many of whom, like Alexei Porvinovich, had become wealthy with the collapse of Communism and the rise of an insane free market. In front of the door a uniformed policeman with an automatic weapon looked at the pair getting out of the car and stood a little more erect.
“The hood ornament,” said Rostnikov, easing himself slowly out of the car. “Can you remove it?”
“Don’t know,” said Hamilton, who was by now standing on the sidewalk. “It’s an embassy vehicle.”
“If it can be removed, remove it and lock it in the car-under the seat where it cannot be seen,” said Rostnikov, locking his door and looking up at the building.
“But there’s an armed policeman standing twenty feet away,” said the FBI agent.
“The danger is not necessarily decreased by that fact,” said Rostnikov.
Hamilton moved to the hood, unscrewed the shiny ornament, and looked at Rostnikov with his trophy in hand.
“Windscreen wipers,” said Rostnikov, stepping up on the curb.
Hamilton removed the windshield wipers and looked at Rostnikov, who nodded.
“On the floor of the car,” Rostnikov said. “If they see it on the seat, they might break the window.”
“What if they steal the car?”
“Then it is gone forever,” said Rostnikov. “Things disappear quickly and forever in today’s Russia, not unlike yesterday’s Russia. Tell me, in the United States would they call this a skyscraper?”
Hamilton locked the car door and looked up at the twelve-story building before answering.
“Not even close.”
The armed young man stepped in front of them at the door, and Rostnikov flipped open his wallet to show his identification. The armed young man looked quickly, nodded, and stepped out of the way. Hamilton and Rostnikov entered the small hallway of the building and found the doorbell marked PORVINOVICH. An answering ring popped open the inner door.
Again Hamilton smiled.
“May I ask what amuses you?” asked Rostnikov as they moved across the green-tiled floor of the empty lobby.
“That lock wouldn’t keep out the most inept burglar.”
“Nor would a better lock,” said Rostnikov as they arrived at the elevator in the corner of the lobby. “The most inept burglar would simply break a pane of glass or kick in a panel. The door is designed to keep out the innocent and discourage the guilty. Tell me, what do you think of the actor Denzel Washington?”
They got into the elevator, and Rostnikov pushed a button.
“Because he’s black?” asked Hamilton, his hands at his sides.
“Of course,” said Rostnikov. “I have not seen him except in a tape of some movie called
“‘Quinn,’” Hamilton corrected. “I hope that when I retire, Denzel Washington will star in the movie of my life.”
“You expect such a movie to be made?”
“Never can tell,” said Hamilton.
Rostnikov didn’t smile. He liked this FBI man with a sense of humor.
The elevator hummed smoothly to a stop. Finding the apartment was no problem. Here another uniformed policeman, a little older than the one downstairs, faced them suspiciously, weapon ready.
“I’m Inspector Rostnikov,” Rostnikov said. “This is American FBI agent Hamilton.”
The policeman lowered his weapon and stepped back.
“Were you ordered here by your district commander?” Rostnikov asked.
“Yes, Inspector,” said the policeman.
Rostnikov knocked at the door. “These must be important people,” he said. “In an undermanned district two officers are assigned to protect the apartment after the victim has been kidnapped.”
“His wife and brother …” Hamilton said.
“If a plumber had been kidnapped,” said Rostnikov softly so that the policeman standing guard would not hear him, “there would be no police-only perhaps a friend of his with a wrench and a bad temper, which might be more effective.”
The door opened. The man who opened it resembled the file photograph Rostnikov had in his pocket. He wore dark slacks and a definitely disheveled white shirt, conservative blue tie, and a loose-fitting sport jacket.
“Inspector Rostnikov,” said Rostnikov, without showing his ID. “And this is Agent Hamilton of the FBI. And you are the brother of Alexei Porvinovich.”
“Yes, how did you know?” The man backed away to let them in.
“I am the Steve Carella of the Moscow police,” said Rostnikov, looking around the apartment.
The room was large and modern, with white carpeting. The furniture was mostly white, with black enameled tables. There were two large paintings on the wall. One depicted a pale woman in a clinging black dress reclining on a red chaise longue while an attentive young man in a suit knelt before her, holding up a burning lighter for the indifferent woman, who held a cigarette and holder between two fingers of her left hand. The second painting seemed to have been done by the same artist. It, too, featured a pale woman, this time in white, surrounded by three attentive young men. The woman had her head back and was laughing insincerely. The paintings fascinated Rostnikov because of the woman who sat before him on one of the white chairs. She wore a black suit, and her cigarette, not in a holder, was already lit. She could have been the model for either of the women in the paintings.
“Madame Porvinovich,” Rostnikov said.
“Anna Ivanovna Porvinovich,” she said, her voice low. “I heard you introduce yourselves to Yevgeniy. Please sit. Yevgeniy will get you drinks if you-”
“Cold water would be fine with me,” said Hamilton.
“Do you perhaps have a Pepsi-Cola?” asked Rostnikov, looking for the least uncomfortable chair.
“Yes,” said Anna Porvinovich.
Behind them Yevgeniy left the room.
“I gather that you have not yet found Alexei,” Anna Porvinovich said.
Rostnikov tried to keep his eyes from the paintings. “We have just begun to look,” he said. “Shall we wait till his brother returns before …?”
“As you wish,” Anna Porvinovich said. She put out her cigarette in an ornate glass ashtray, looked at Hamilton, and said, “You speak Russian?”
“Yes,” he said. “Do you speak English?”
“No, but some French. I’m learning. Perhaps English would be more interesting,” she said, her dark eyes examining the FBI agent.
“You do not seem particularly upset by the unfortunate disappearance of your husband,” Hamilton said.
Yevgeniy returned with a tray on which there were three glasses. He placed the tray on the small table in front of Anna Porvinovich and sat next to her, handing out drinks. The possible widow had a sparkling mineral water with a slice of lime, a fruit Rostnikov rarely saw.
“People handle distress in different ways,” she said. “I prefer to keep up appearances and my sense of dignity. Yevgeniy, as you can see, is a nervous wreck.”
“My brother …” he began, and then trailed off.
Rostnikov took a sip of his Pepsi and nodded his approval. Hamilton didn’t touch his ice water.
“You have received a ransom call,” said Rostnikov.
“A call, yes,” said Anna Porvinovich. “Yesterday. A man demanded three million American dollars by Friday or Alexei would be killed. Actually, he said Alexei would be beheaded and thrown in the street. He put Alexei on the phone. He said I should do as I was told. I said I would if it were possible and he would tell me how I was to get three million dollars. Alexei was understandably distraught. He said I knew how to get the money.”
“Do you?” asked Hamilton.
Anna Ivanovna Porvinovich shrugged.
“Did the man who called have an accent?” asked Rostnikov.
She thought about this a moment and said, “No. But he did not sound well educated.”
“Tell us what he said,” said Rostnikov. He opened a notepad. Hamilton produced a small tape recorder.
Anna Porvinovich looked at the tape recorder and then back at Hamilton before going on. “‘We have your husband. We want three million dollars American by Friday. We know you can get it. He told us you know where it is. Bring it in a suitcase to the art museum in Vladimir before noon tomorrow. Place the suitcase behind the bushes to the left of the entrance. Be sure no one is watching you. Then go into the museum and stay there for one hour.’ Then he put Alexei on the phone, and Alexei said, ‘Do what the man told you, Anna.’ Then they hung up. That’s all.”
“How did your husband sound?” Rostnikov asked.
“Was he frightened?”
“Resigned,” she said. “I don’t think Alexei believes he will live through this regardless of what Yevgeniy and I do, but I intend to deliver the money and hope for the best.”
“We would like to wire your telephone in case they call back,” Rostnikov said. He wondered if he could get a recording device through Pankov.
Anna Porvinovich shrugged and picked up her drink. She examined the rising bubbles for a moment and then drank, her eyes back on Hamilton.
“We would like to mark the bills and put a homing device in the suitcase full of money,” said Rostnikov.
“Whatever you like,” she said. She put down her drink.
“You think he is dead?” asked Rostnikov, watching her face.
“No,” said Yevgeniy vehemently.
“Yes,” said Anna Porvinovich evenly. “In the United States,” she said to Hamilton, “what would you do?”
“I would think that your husband is still alive and will remain so until they get the money and feel they are safe. Then they will kill him. Chief Inspector Rostnikov hopes to find them after they pick up the money and before they feel safe.”
“Why won’t they simply let him go?” asked Yevgeniy, holding his hands to his mouth.
Hamilton looked at Rostnikov, who nodded to him.
“Why risk it?” Hamilton said. “Mr. Porvinovich may know what his captors look like, or he may be able to recognize the place he’s been taken to. It would be an unsafe risk to let him live.”
Rostnikov shifted his leg and tried not to wince as he said, “Do you have any idea who might be behind this?”
“Alexei knows so many people,” Anna Porvinovich said, reaching for a cigarette and looking at Hamilton.
“Can you make a list of people whom Alexei Porvinovich knows-those with whom he does business, those he may have offended, anyone …?”
“I do not think Alexei would like you to have a list of his business associates,” Anna answered. “But … all right. You will have such a list in an hour.”
“And you, Yevgeniy,” Rostnikov said. “Can you help make this list for us?”
“Yes,” he said. “If there’s any chance we can save Alexei, I will do whatever is necessary.”
“Do either of you like to dance?” Rostnikov asked.
“Do we …” Yevgeniy began, confused.
“I like to dance,” Anna said. “And Yevgeniy is a hippo on the dance floor. I have more than once had the misfortune of having him step on me.”
Yevgeniy shook his head.
“Alexei, does he dance?” asked Rostnikov.
“A little,” she said. “Does it matter?”
“Perhaps, perhaps not. Do you read?”
This time Anna looked just the slightest bit annoyed. “Yes, I can read and I do read. I am currently reading a book in French. The newly discovered Jules Verne novel. But-”
“Are you enjoying it?” Rostnikov interrupted.
“Not very much.”
“Then why read it?” Rostnikov asked.
“When I begin a book, I always finish it. When I go to a play or a movie, I always sit through it. I do not leave anything unfinished.”
“I understand,” said Rostnikov. “And you, Yevgeniy?”
“I don’t think this will help my brother.”
“Humor me,” said Rostnikov.
“I am not reading a book. I don’t read many books. I am a businessman.”
“What do you do with your time besides work?” asked Rostnikov.
Anna now looked at Rostnikov as if he were a madman. “Go to museums, clubs,” she answered. “Read an occasional book. Hold an occasional tea. Time passes. I find things with which to fill it.”
“I am in business with my brother. That leaves me little free time. I normally spend it with my family.”
“Wife, mother-in-law, daughter, dachshund.”
“How old is your daughter?”
“Sixteen,” he answered with restrained anger.
Rostnikov rose, finished the Pepsi in his hand, and placed his drink on the table. Hamilton got up. Yevgeniy got up. Anna Porvinovich remained seated.
“I’ve seen that pose,” Rostnikov said, looking up at the painting.
“I wish I had lived in the late twenties or early thirties, in France or America, or even England.”
“I quite agree,” said Rostnikov, moving to the door with Hamilton. Yevgeniy, anticipating the move, had hurried ahead of them to open it.
“We will send someone back to install the telephone recording device,” said Rostnikov.
And then the two men were in the hall walking to the elevator.
“What do you think, Agent Hamilton?” Rostnikov asked in a whisper.
Hamilton answered in English. “Anna Porvinovich gave me a clear invitation to return for more than talk of her kidnapped husband. I don’t know if she was serious or if she does that in the hope of manipulating all men.”
“She is a beautiful woman,” said Rostnikov in English. “Do you think she had her husband kidnapped?”
“Possibly,” Hamilton said. “But if she did, her act is all wrong. She should be playing the distraught wife and she seems too smart not to know it.”
“I agree,” said Rostnikov. They both entered the elevator, and Hamilton pushed the ground-floor button.
“With what?” Hamilton asked.
“That she may have been responsible for her husband’s kidnapping and that she is very smart. Why would we suspect a woman who is not playing the role of the grieving wife? Why would we not assume that she is likely to be innocent of wrongdoing precisely because she is calm and carrying on a possibly innocent flirtation with an FBI agent?”
“You are too convoluted in your thinking,” Hamilton said.
The elevator stopped and the two men walked out into the lobby.
“It is my heritage,” said Rostnikov, limping toward the door beyond which the armed soldier stood. “Over eight hundred years of trying to outwit authorities who can do what they want to you makes a people suspicious of authority and turns many of them into good and devious actors.”
They were on the street now. The policeman was standing erect instead of slouching.
“Your name?” Rostnikov asked.
“Officer Boris Guyon.”
“Boris Guyon,” he said. “Do you like to dance?”
“I … do not know how to dance well, but what I can do I like … have liked.”
“Thank you,” said Rostnikov.
He and the FBI agent walked to the car, where Hamilton paused and said, “Are we going anywhere else where I have to take off the hood ornament and the windshield wipers?”
“Yes,” said Rostnikov.
Hamilton waited till they were both in the car before he said, “Why all these questions about dancing?”
“It is not dancing that is important,” said Rostnikov. “It is getting to know people. If you talk to them about crime, they have prepared answers, wary answers. If you talk to them about what they read, drink, do, you often discover quite a bit about who you are dealing with. And if you ask them mad questions, they are often caught off guard and reveal something of their true selves.”
Hamilton pulled into the nearly empty street and said, “Did you find out anything about Yevgeniy and Anna with your questions?”
“Quite a bit,” said Rostnikov. “Are you aware that we are speaking English?”
“Yes,” said Hamilton.
“Do you remember when we began speaking English?”
“In the corridor outside the apartment,” Hamilton answered in Russian.
“I didn’t want them to know what we were saying,” said Hamilton, now clearly determined to speak Russian.
“No,” said Rostnikov. “The door was closed and we were speaking softly.”
“The woman had made you nervous and you were looking for something that would make you feel more comfortable-your own language,” said Rostnikov. “Turn right at the next corner.”
“Yes, the woman made me feel nervous, and the fact that Yevgeniy Porvinovich kept touching the gun under his jacket as if he might pull it out and start shooting if someone said a wrong word.”
“That too,” agreed Rostnikov. “So what would you do next?”
“Go to the telephone company and see if Anna Porvinovich really received a phone call yesterday,” said Hamilton. “No call and we go back and confront her.”
“I think you will find that the call was made,” said Rostnikov. “I could be wrong, but Anna Porvinovich is, as we said, very smart. I’m hungry. You?”
“Then park right over there, near where those two people are talking. The building behind them is where I live.”
“The photographs,” said the man in the blue smock. He was looking at Karpo over his glasses and holding out a set of full-color photographs. “They’re all of the man with the tattoos. The other victims are nowhere near as interesting.”
Emil Karpo took the photographs and looked at each one slowly.
One of the “not so interesting” dead was Mathilde Verson.
The man in the blue smock was Paulinin, who presided over a morbid flea market in his laboratory two floors below street level in Petrovka Headquarters. Paulinin had a mass of wild gray-black hair on an oversized head. He watched Karpo’s face as the policeman went through each photograph of the naked body of the man whom Rostnikov had found sprawled on the hood of a car twenty feet from where Mathilde Verson had been shot while drinking tea. Karpo had already seen photographs of Mathilde and had looked at her body. He had resisted the urge to touch her flowing red hair and had tried instead to create a mental picture of her that would stay with him till he died.
For more than four years Mathilde Verson, who had made her primary living as a prostitute, met Karpo in her room each week for an hour, for which he dutifully paid in clean bills laid neatly on her dresser. But gradually, somehow, the relationship changed. The ghost of a man who showed no emotion had been a challenge to her. She had tried to bring him out, had started to understand him. They had become friends and then real lovers, and no more money was exchanged. Mathilde had been the more present of the two, for Karpo had spent a lifetime withholding himself.
It was three bullets from the weapon near the tattooed man that had killed Mathilde.
Karpo’s hands moved slowly, his eyes stayed fixed. He had lost all meaning in his life. He had devoted himself to Communism and its eventual triumph. Karpo knew that there were corrupt leaders, that some, such as Brezhnev, might even have been both corrupt and stupid, but since the day he had been taken by his father to a party rally as a small boy, he had been won over to the cause. So, with the help of his steelworker father’s connections, he joined the police force as soon as he was old enough. Karpo’s mission was to let no crime against the state or its members go unpunished. He had put in sixteen-hour days and rarely took a day off. He lived alone in a small room, no larger than a monk’s chambers, where he slept on a bed in the corner. The rest of his meager furnishings consisted of two straight-backed wooden chairs, a desk, and a bookcase, which ran along one wall up to the ceiling. The only author represented in the several hundred identical black books was Emil Karpo. These books held his notes on all of his cases, with a special section for those that had not yet been solved. It was the unsolved cases that had occupied Karpo’s attention most of the time he spent in the apartment.
All of his clothing, and there wasn’t much of it, had been black until Mathilde had bought him a tie, a blue French tie with a small flower in the middle. Karpo had worn the tie twice before. He was wearing it today.
The Soviet Union had collapsed. Communism had almost disappeared. Crime, which once could be contained within the pages of his neatly kept notes, was now overwhelming. He would need a library the size of a football field to keep track of the anarchy that had clutched Moscow. Karpo had lost his mother when he was born. He had no sisters or brothers, aunts or uncles. His father had died four years ago, and now Mathilde. What had attracted her, she who was so full of life, so willing to laugh, so beautiful, to the dour, pale, humorless man Karpo saw in the mirror? That was the question he had asked both her and himself ever since they had been drawn together. And now she was gone.
“Well?” Paulinin prompted after a fruitless search for something among the mountain of piled-up books and the jars containing specimens of human organs, appendages, and even a man’s head. There were items of clothing on a rack in a corner, arranged in no particular way. Knives, wrenches, a hammer, saws, a pair of false teeth, plaster casts of footprints and handprints littered a table that ran the length of one wall. The other tables were similarly cluttered with boxes, large and small, and various objects including the metal handrail from a Moscow city bus stained with blood.
“Well?” Paulinin repeated, folding his hands for an instant on a mass of reports and papers on his desk and then rubbing his palms together.
Emil Karpo’s opinion of him was the only one Paulinin valued. This little man saw no one socially, lived alone, and slept at his desk as often as he went back to his apartment, which was in as much disarray as his office. He cared little who ran the government. Paulinin cared nothing about politics, which was one of the reasons he worked alone in a converted storeroom and was given almost no funding.
No one, however, ever considered getting rid of the nearly mad man in the blue smock, for it was generally acknowledged that Paulinin was an encyclopedia and a near-genius at examining forensic evidence.
“I have a surprise,” Paulinin said, trying to pry his visitor’s eyes from the photographs. Karpo was always quiet and correct, always spoke little, but today was different-today he was nearly a robot.
The police inspector continued to look at the photographs slowly, carefully. Finally he looked up, and Paulinin handed him a two-cup beaker of tea. Karpo took it and drank some of the brown, tepid fluid. It tasted of something sharp and bitter, the residue of some experiment that Paulinin had failed to remove completely from the beaker before brewing his tea.
“What do you make of it?” Paulinin asked, taking a sip of his own tea from a black cup on which was written in English PENSACOLA EYE AND EAR CLINIC.
Karpo looked down again at the photographs of the man who had killed Mathilde. The man was literally covered with tattoos-head, neck, arms, fingers, back, front, legs and toes, even his penis. The tattoos were colorful, vivid, and extremely well done. The subjects seemed random. On his right forearm a series of church domes, on his chest just below the collarbone a fiery eight-pointed star. The tattoo on his back depicted a rearing horse mounted by a man with a death’s-head, who in turn held a bearded man by the hair and appeared to be about to behead him.
Karpo turned to the photos of the nude body of the man who had died in the street. He, too, was covered in tattoos.
“Prison tattoos,” said Karpo.
“And?” Paulinin prompted.
Karpo knew a little about prison tattoos. He knew that professional criminals spent much of their time inflicting themselves with the tattoos when they were in prison, giving themselves some distinction from the other prisoners.
“Your tattooed men carried no wallets, no identification. There was a rubber band in the pocket of the bald one, a thick one. I would guess he was carrying a great deal of money and that it was taken from him before the police arrived. More likely, it was taken by the first officer at the scene.”
Karpo said nothing. He took out his notebook and began to write.
“All but one of your dead men’s tattoos are in code. This corpse,” he said, pointing to the bald man, “had been a
“The eight church domes?” Paulinin asked.
“Each dome represents a completed sentence.”
“Good, good,” said Paulinin, gulping down his tea. “You paused at the death’s-head. A creature from medieval folk tales told by the Bogatyrs, a violent, crusading breed. It indicates that our corpse was a murderer. No drug tattoos. None that look forced on him by other inmates to mark him for crimes such as heroin addiction, crimes against children, submission. Your man has no facial tattoos and no sign that he ever had one and had it removed. In fact, he had no tattoos removed and has continued to shave his head prison-style. He was proud of his record.”
Paulinin put his cup down. “His name is Mikhail Sivak. He was last imprisoned in Correctional Labor Colony Nineteen, maximum security, just outside of Perm. Your people will discover all this through his fingerprints perhaps, but it will take them days, perhaps a week or more if they even bother.”
Paulinin shook his head fiercely. His hair bounced.
“The newest tattoos on Mikhail Sivak are definitely in the style of Correctional Labor Colony Nineteen. I have seen them before. As for knowing his name, did you notice that his eyes are open in all the photographs?”
“Those dolts at the hospital couldn’t tell you his name, though it was written right on him.”
“In prison code?” Karpo guessed.
“No,” said Paulinin. “I looked at the corpse when they were done with him. I closed his eyes. On one lid was written ‘Do not wake me.’ On the other was his name, Mikhail Sivak. The other one had no name tattooed on his body.”
“This eagle on his right buttock, the one carrying the bomb?” Karpo asked.
Paulinin was up now, lifting bottles, opening boxes-searching for something.
“The bomb and eagle is recent,” Paulinin said. “It suggests that he now deals in powerful weapons. The artist who did this tattoo was especially precise, definitely an artist. The bomb is an exact replica of a hydrogen bomb. I expect I’ll be seeing more of these in the future.”
“You said you had a surprise for me,” said Karpo. “Was that it, the trade in nuclear weapons?”
“No … here,” said Paulinin, finding what he was looking for. “I knew it couldn’t be far.”
He held up something that looked like a small painting, a replica of the eagle and bomb that was tattooed on the head of Mikhail Sivak. The painting was sandwiched inside two sheets of glass. Paulinin handed the treasure to Karpo.
“I took it from his body,” said Paulinin. “Scalped him like one of those American Indians. Such art deserves to be preserved.”
“May I keep this?” Karpo asked.
“A gift from me,” said Paulinin with some pride.
The pressed, colorful skin of Mikhail Sivak fit tightly into Karpo’s jacket pocket.
“Questions,” said Karpo.
Paulinin waved an arm to show that he was prepared.
“What can you tell me about the dead man at the table with the woman?”
Paulinin paused in his fussing over the box from which he had taken the patch of Mikhail Sivak’s skin. “The bullets from his weapon killed the two tattooed men in the street. He must have been a good shot to use a handgun against people who knew how to use automatic weapons. Our man with the four-fifty-four Casull was, as you know from looking at his wallet, a German. Heinz Dieter Kirst. He and the woman were both killed by the same weapon, instantly. The bald man must have been firing after he died. The man and woman were killed by a dead man.”
Paulinin pointed to a spot on his right temple to indicate where the bullet had entered and exited the German.
“The dead waiter was named Waclaw Wypich,” Paulinin said. “A Pole who-”
“I know,” said Karpo.
The other two, the ones without identification, wore blue Adidas sweat suits and leather jackets. Both had light-colored, recently barbered hair. Both appeared to be in their late twenties or early thirties.
“Can you tell me anything about the German?”
“Interesting question,” said Paulinin, holding up half a cookie he had unearthed from his boxes. It was wrapped in a see-through bag. Karpo showed no interest in the cookie, so Paulinin opened the bag and began eating it as he continued. “Judging from the fact that he was carrying a gun and knew how to use it, I would say that the tattoos had come to kill him, and he half expected it. My guess is that the woman, whom I examined, was a prostitute, and the German was negotiating with her.”
Karpo had already come to this conclusion. What he hadn’t been prepared for was Paulinin’s simple statement that he had examined Mathilde’s dead body.
“Treachery,” said Paulinin, taking a bite of his cookie after dipping it into his tea. He did not notice that Karpo had closed his eyes. “Who knows? German promises something and then fails to deliver. Our tattooed mafia think the German has betrayed them or made a deal for whatever he is selling or buying with someone else. Who knows? That’s your job.”
Karpo opened his eyes.
“Yes,” he said.
“What am I?” asked Paulinin, wiping the crumbs off his hands on his smock. “A grub of a scientist with almost no budget and certainly no bloated reputation like Rostov or Kelenin or … or any of them. They fired their automatic weapons at Kirst, not concerned about who else might get shot. Kirst fired back, killing them. A pair of innocent bystanders got in the way. Someone was waiting for our killers to do the job. When they were both killed, whoever was waiting saw no reason to stay, and off he went.”
To illustrate the car’s driving away, Paulinin rolled what was left of his cookie across the papers on his desk.
Karpo looked down at the rolling cookie. Paulinin was simply talking now, presenting nothing Karpo himself hadn’t immediately determined at the crime scene. He willed himself to see Mathilde’s face, but he could not.
Paulinin sat down at his desk and popped the rest of the cookie into his mouth. “And now?” he said.
“We are most likely dealing with a mafia of ex-prisoners who are dealing in the sale of nuclear weapons to foreigners. I will find the leader of this mafia. I will find whoever ordered these murders.”
“I brought American peanut-butter sandwiches for lunch,” said Paulinin, moving to a refrigerator behind his desk.
He opened the door to the refrigerator. Karpo could see jars of specimens and a lone cloth bag. Paulinin pulled out the bag, closed the refrigerator door, and turned to Karpo.
“Plenty for both of us,” said Paulinin. “And I have Pepsi-Colas.”
“Yes,” said Karpo.
Paulinin smiled and handed a sandwich wrapped in frequently used aluminum foil to Karpo, who hoped that the food would ease his growing nausea.