Money, Money, Money
Besides the storeroom of treasures, the kitchen was the largest room in Ivan Dokorov’s house. It now held sixteen people, two of them women. The two women were Elena Timofeyeva and Natalya Valorovna Dokorova, the sister of the deceased man who had amassed the now-missing treasure.
The men crowded around the old woman, who sat at the kitchen table, hands folded, a distinct look of determination on her face. She did not move her head but turned her eyes in the direction of whoever spoke the loudest.
“How long had your brother been accumulating his collection?” someone shouted.
This was no criminal investigation. It was a madhouse in which no one knew who was in charge.
There were representatives from two separate police districts, both of which claimed, under Yeltsin’s redistricting plan, that they were responsible for the investigation. There were three members of the tax police, none in uniform, claiming loudly that this was a tax case. There were members of the State Security Department, which had gone through so many changes that even they were not sure of their jurisdiction, but they were certain that they were the elite in the room. The State Security Department was a child of the former KGB, the
“Is there some way out of this building other than through the front door and the rear door?” came another voice.
Natalya shook her head.
Elena had tried, without success, to push forward through the crowd of elbows and suited men. Now she stood with her back to the sink wondering what temporary disease had so deranged Rostnikov and Colonel Snitkonoy that they had assigned her to this important case.
“Who do you think took the collection?”
“How could they get past guards on both doors?” boomed another voice.
Natalya’s hands were folded on the table, her gray hair tied in a bun.
“Everything in this house, everything my brother left, is mine,” she said evenly. “You have no right to be here. You have a duty to recover that which was stolen from me during the night and return it to me.”
“How could all of the things in that gigantic room have been taken during the night without your hearing it?”
“I sleep the sleep of the dead,” said Natalya Dokorova.
“It would have taken most of the night to remove it all,” shouted a man.
Elena leaned back against the sink. The huge elbow of a sweating man shot back and barely missed her face. The least experienced member of the department, Elena had been assigned to what appeared to be a very important case. And Karpo, whose very presence would draw attention and respect, had been taken off this case and assigned to a street-gang killing. Karpo had a sense of the inventory and extent of the treasure. Karpo knew the value of each item. But Karpo was out working on common street gangs.
“We will need a list of everyone who knew of this collection,” came a voice.
Natalya didn’t answer. Through a break in the male bodies her eyes met Elena’s, and Elena read into that look a plea for help. Maybe Elena was mistaken. She looked again, but the gap between the two women had been filled again by the men.
The room was hot in spite of the cooling weather. Too many bodies in too little space. About half of the men were smoking.
“What did your brother plan to do with his collection?”
“Nothing. He wanted to have it nearby. He wanted to save books, icons, and paintings that the Communists wanted to destroy after the Revolution.”
There was a brief moment of silence. No one in the room was openly Communist, and very few would have acknowledged that they had ever belonged to the party.
“Did he have partners? Who are they?”
“We lived alone and had no friends. Ivan worked. He saved. He bought.”
Natalya shook her head.
The men in the room were growing restless. They pushed for position, muttering threats and insults. They all knew that they were in competition for evidence, clues, and leads in the now nearly empty treasure room. But if there were leads, they had long since trampled them. They had contaminated the scene, and Elena admitted to herself that her own department had also done so with a pair of evidence specialists borrowed from the Petrovka forensics laboratory.
“How could-?” a man with a gruff voice began.
“No more,” Natalya Dokorova interrupted. “No more.”
“Then,” said a man up front, “we will have to take you with us for further questioning.”
There was a fresh rumble of argument among the men.
“You will have to?” one man shouted. “It is we with whom she will come.”
“I have committed no crime. There is no crime here except the theft of my legacy,” Natalya said.
“There is more than a little doubt that the property belongs to you,” shouted a man close to Elena. “We will have to determine if the items have been stolen by your brother or by someone who sold them to your brother.”
“Decide who will arrest me and for what crime,” Natalya said, standing slowly. “Or leave my house.”
“We are here to help retrieve the items,” a new voice called out with a fresh plan. “When we find the items, if they are judged to be yours, they will be returned to you. Surely you want to cooperate with us.”
“If and when I understand who you are,” said Natalya, “I will answer your questions. I am not defying the law. I am attempting to cooperate with it. Now, you will all leave, or one of you will have to arrest me.”
More talking, more shouts, debates, tempers rising. Elena’s eyes and those of the old woman met again for an instant.
An older man, probably the oldest in the room judging by his white hair and weary face, finally said, “We will meet with our superiors and determine jurisdiction, and some of us will return. Those of us who do return will want answers, and you shall either give those answers or face arrest.”
Natalya did not respond. Reluctantly the men began to file out of the kitchen, down the short corridor, and out the front door. Pressed at the edge of the crowd, Elena waited, and found herself the last one to leave. A hand on her shoulder stopped her. She turned and faced Natalya Dokorova as the last man to depart turned back and witnessed the two women standing beside each other. But in an instant he had turned his head again and was gone.
Natalya stepped into the hall to be sure the men had departed.
“Cannibals,” said Natalya. “And they’ve made my kitchen stink. Let’s go into the parlor.”
Elena followed the old woman into a modest living room with two windows. The thick drapes had been closed either to keep out the sun or to protect its occupant from the eyes of reporters and the curious.
“I have some questions to ask you,” Natalya said, sitting down on a straight-back chair and pointing to an identical one for Elena. Elena sat.
“Are you married?”
“No,” said Elena, smoothing down her straight skirt and trying to get reasonably comfortable.
“You live alone?”
“With my aunt. She’s ill. She used to be a procurator.”
“That’s more than I wanted to know.”
Elena didn’t speak.
“You were with that vampire yesterday,” Natalya said.
“Inspector Karpo, yes,” replied Elena.
“I’m glad he is not back,” said Natalya. “He recognized my brother’s accomplishment, but he did not seem to appreciate it.”
“Inspector Karpo is not an emotional man,” said Elena.
The old woman nodded in understanding.
“If they find my brother’s collection, will you see to it that I get it back?”
“I don’t know,” said Elena. “That is up to my superiors. And those above them. I’m sorry.”
“Do you think there is any chance that the collection will be returned to me if they find it, any chance at all? Please, the truth.”
“No,” said Elena.
“They will steal it,” she said, suddenly sitting erect, her arms tight on the arms of her chair. “These piranha ready to devour the carcass of a fatted calf. This ‘state’ of chaos. They will sell it to the Japanese and the Americans and will throw the money away on economic plans that don’t work.”
Elena said nothing.
“The creature you were with yesterday. This …”
“He knew the real value of my brother’s collection, not just its worth in rubles.”
“Yes,” said Elena.
“And you?” Natalya asked.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I am in awe of your brother’s collection. I recognize that it is special, something awesome.”
“Awesome, yes,” said Natalya, savoring the word. “Those men who tromped through here and asked me stupid questions, they know nothing of what my brother has done.”
Elena agreed that this was probably true, but she remained silent.
“Are you comfortable?” Natalya asked.
“The chair is exceptionally comfortable,” said Elena.
“A woman’s chair,” Natalya said with satisfaction, running her hands over the carved wood of the arms of her chair. “They were made for Catherine the Great. What do you think of that?”
Elena looked at the dark, smooth carved arms, and finally said, “A sense of history … awe.”
“I’ll help you,” the old woman said. “As much as I can.”
At that moment Elena Timofeyeva knew why Rostnikov had assigned her to the theft. He couldn’t have anticipated that Natalya Dokorova would seek her out, but he must have believed that the old woman would be more likely to confide in Elena than in any man, including himself.
“Then let’s begin,” said Elena, removing a notebook from the red bag she carried.
“Shall I make tea?” Natalya asked. “That would be nice,” said Elena.
In Alexei’s dream he had been looking out a window in the old printing house at 15 Nikloskaya. He had a sense that he was looking from his office building. Below on the sidewalk a man paused to look up at him. The man’s hands were in the pockets of his lightweight coat. The eyes of the two men met, and Alexei knew he was looking down at himself. Suddenly a car stopped behind the man on the street. People hurried by, other cars passed. Two men emerged from the stopped car, their faces covered with black ski masks.
Alexei tried to shout a warning to himself. The two men in ski masks were carrying weapons. The Alexei who stood on the street did not seem to understand. The Alexei in the window pointed, gesturing in helpless desperation while his doppelganger was hauled into the backseat of the waiting car.
Alexei Porvinovich opened his eyes. He was sweating. He dimly remembered where he was and was surprised that his hands were now unbound and that he could wipe his own forehead with a warm palm. Pain throbbed in his cheek and he could feel the swelling.
He looked up at a familiar face in an unfamiliar room.
The man with the familiar face was Artiom Solovyov, big, broad, clean-shaven, forty-three years old, and very tough-looking. He had been a boxer in the 1968 Olympics, but that had been in a much lower weight class than he would now occupy.
Alexei knew a great deal more about Artiom Solovyov as well.
“Rules,” said Artiom. He drank some hot liquid from a large mug. “You understand me?”
“Good,” said Solovyov nervously.
His captor still wore the black uniform.
Alexei had a question. He almost asked it and then stopped himself. “Why am I still alive?” he almost said, but then his sense of survival and hope took over and he said nothing.
“You see the carpet?” Artiom said without looking down.
Alexei looked. It was not a bad Persian, he couldn’t help thinking. A bit worn, but at least eighty years old.
“Answer,” Artiom demanded.
“I see the carpet,” Alexei croaked, feeling the dryness in his throat, the pain in his cheek. He could hear his speech slurring from the damage to his face. In addition Alexei’s eye was beginning to swell and close.
“If you step past the middle of the carpet, my friend at the door will shoot you,” Artiom went on after another sip.
Alexei looked across the large living room. On a chair at the door a thin man in black sat with a handgun in his lap, a very large handgun. The man in the chair wore a black ski mask, which struck Alexei as pointless and probably uncomfortable. Alexei’s eyes scanned the rest of the room. His area of the rug included a pair of chairs, the badly worn sofa on which he now lay, a pair of closed windows, and a small table, on which was a pile of what looked like old magazines.
“My friend will watch you for a certain period and will be relieved. A series of friends will watch you until our business is done. Do not talk to my friends. Do not make them shoot you. Would you like some tea?”
“Yes,” said Alexei, who was now sitting up and was making an effort to stop the room from vibrating.
Artiom shook his large head as if to indicate that it was a reasonable request. He moved across the room to a table in the corner where a bright green plug-in water heater bubbled away. The table was definitely not on Alexei’s side of the room.
“Sugar?” Artiom asked.
Alexei was looking at the armed man at the door.
“What? Sugar? Yes.”
“Lumps,” said Artiom. “I have regular English lumps. How many?”
“Two,” said Alexei.
“Two,” Artiom repeated, dropping in the two lumps and stirring with a spoon, which he placed back on a white napkin on the table.
“Thank you,” said Alexei as he took the hot cup. It felt good. It felt more than good, and it tasted strong and sweet, though it hurt to open his mouth.
Artiom sat across from him and watched him drink.
“You have a question you don’t want to ask?” Artiom said.
“Why don’t you keep me tied to a chair or-”
“We want you to be reasonably comfortable. We are not going to torture you. We are not political terrorists. But that was not the question you were thinking of.”
Alexei shrugged and drank.
“You were thinking,” Artiom asked, “‘Why don’t they kill me?’ Am I not right?”
Alexei shrugged again.
“You know who I am. You can identify me. I can shoot you and still ask for the ransom, but you know and I know that your wife is too smart to take my word that you are alive. You will talk to her on the phone. You will tell her or your brother that you are well and unharmed.”
“And when you get your money, if you get it?” Alexei asked, drinking more tea.
It was Artiom’s turn to shrug.
“We will see,” he said with a smile. “Are you almost awake now? You have your senses?”
“Almost,” said Alexei.
“Good,” said Artiom with a smile. “Then make your offer. Not the details. I’m sure you haven’t worked them out yet, but the general offer.”
“What do you plan to ask for? How much?” asked Alexei.
“Three million American. Nice round number,” said Artiom. He had finished his tea and now crossed the room for a refill.
“I’ll give you two million and a promise that the police will not look for you,” said Alexei. “Providing we can work out a way for me to be sure I will be set free alive.”
Artiom had crossed the room again to Alexei’s side. He looked at the man seated at the door. The seated man’s eyes rolled to Artiom, but revealed nothing behind his mask. Artiom settled into the same chair he had left, thought for an instant, and said, “You know who I am. You will tell the police.”
“No,” said Alexei.
“Why not?” asked Artiom.
“Because the two million will be to perform a job, a quite illegal job, and I will put it in writing that I am paying you for that job. You will hold the document for protection.”
“You are thinking quickly, Alexei Porvinovich,” said Artiom. “I can’t think this quickly.”
“It is how I have stayed alive and gotten wealthy,” said Alexei.
“The document, the job …?”
“I will hire you to murder my wife and brother,” Alexei said. “If I try to betray you, you can go to the authorities yourself. You kill them and I write the document.”
“Why do you want to …?”
“Because my wife and brother planned this,” Alexei said, the pain surging sharply. “Didn’t they?”
Artiom was reasonably clever but had lived by his rugged looks and his strong body. Alexei was already far ahead of him.
“I’ll think about it,” said Artiom, getting up. “You hungry?”
“No,” said Alexei as he examined the leaves at the bottom of his cup. “Of course the plan needs refining-many details need to be worked out.”
Artiom said nothing.
The plan had been to demand the ransom. Alexei’s wife and brother would gather it and get it to Artiom. The police would know all about it. Alexei Porvinovich would be found dead on the street.
For this Artiom would keep the money and continue his affair with Alexei’s wife. But the plan had troubled him from the first. Anna’s interest in him was waning. Artiom knew this, knew that he was just a novelty for her, knew that another novelty would appear. He wasn’t even certain that she would let him survive to be a possible witness against her.
But then again, Alexei Porvinovich, who sat before him clutching a tea mug, was certainly not to be trusted either.
This had all been a mistake. Anna had insisted that it had to be done quickly. She had given him a genuine Rolex and an hour of passion in his bedroom.
Artiom was not smart, but he was not a fool. When he worked honestly, he repaired automobiles. The man at the door was a half-wit named Boris who worked with him on cars. Boris was a genius with cars. Boris would also do whatever Artiom told him, including murder. Artiom had met Anna and Alexei when they brought in their Buick to be repaired. The next day Anna had come alone to pick up the car and Artiom.
Artiom’s wife had left him almost a year ago and taken their son, Kolya, with her. She had had enough of his women, his gambling, his indifference, and his outbursts of rage and brutality. She lived now with another man whom she said was her cousin from Sverdlovsk. She called Artiom often, demanding money. He would send what he could when he could.
Artiom had never before committed a major crime. He had been in jail for two weeks for hitting a policeman when he was drunk, and he had been questioned about a stolen car on which he had worked, but they had let him off on that one.
And now he was a kidnapper, and people were offering him millions to murder each other, people he did not trust.
“Work on your plan, Porvinovich,” Artiom said. “When I come back, we will make a call to your family. You will cooperate and you will tell me more about your plan.”
Alexei Porvinovich nodded. His legs were weak. His stomach was still upset, but he had something to scheme about now and he was a champion schemer. If he played it carefully, there was just a chance that he could survive.
Artiom moved to the man at the door, who slid over to let him pass.
“I am in pain,” Alexei said.
“Toilet is through that door on your side of the rug,” Artiom said. “Tell my man you have to use it and go in. There are no windows. There may be something you can use in the cabinet. You will have two minutes each time you use the toilet. You will be allowed three visits to the washroom each day. I’ve brought you newspapers and magazines.”
“I’ll need paper and a pen to write drafts of our agreement.”
“I’ll bring them,” Artiom said, thinking that it would not hurt to keep his captive hopeful.
When Artiom left, Alexei looked at the seated man in the ski mask. “Boris, I wish to go to the washroom.”
Alexei was sure that the seated man was Artiom’s assistant, a creature even more slow-witted than his boss.
The man did not answer. Alexei knew that Artiom was his wife’s lover. He knew that his brother Yevgeniy, though barely capable of an erection, had also been lured into Anna’s bed. There was hardly a man of their acquaintance whom Anna had not seduced or tried to seduce, particularly the odd or different man-the mechanic, the apparently sexless Moscow University history professor they had met at a party. Anna knew her husband was aware of most of the names on her long list, but the names were not important to Alexei. Neither, he was beginning to think, was Anna.
The idea of getting his captor to murder Anna and Yevgeniy had come to him in an instant. Anna had to have planned all this. Yevgeniy had to know. They planned to kill him and make it look like a botched kidnapping.
Alexei did not feel safe. Far from it. Nothing was certain, but he had dealt masterfully with bureaucrats all of his life. He had dealt masterfully and patiently. He smiled at the man at the door. He doubted if the man even recognized that the broken, purple face had smiled.