The Silence of Children

Rostnikov’s wife opened the door to their small apartment on Krasikov Street when she heard her husband’s key in the lock.

She was wearing a black dress with an artificial pearl necklace. Her still-red hair was cut short, and she looked, thought Rostnikov, quite beautiful. She had lost a great deal of weight during a long bout with a brain tumor. Her recovery had been slow, but now, with her moments of dizziness fewer, she had gone back to her job at the music store and lately seemed even radiant.

“This is Craig Hamilton,” Rostnikov said.

Sarah took the black man’s extended hand.

“Pleasure to meet you,” Hamilton said.

“Does Emil know?” Sarah asked, closing the door behind the two men. “About Mathilde?”

“I have assigned him to the case,” said Rostnikov.

“The officer whose friend died in the street killing?” Hamilton asked.

“Yes,” said Rostnikov.

“In the United States, if an officer is involved with a victim, we rarely assign him or her to the case,” said Hamilton. “Too close. Too emotional.”

“In Karpo’s case,” said Rostnikov, moving toward the cubbyhole near the window that served as a kitchen and pantry, “emotion will not be a visible factor. But he will be on the killers like a piranha on the carcass of a dying cow.”

Sarah was bustling to a wardrobe in the corner. She took out a lightweight dark overcoat and said, “I’m late. The girls are at school. There’s some bread and herring and a little rice pudding.” She picked up a small handbag from the sofa. “And bring Emil Karpo here tonight. Order him to come.”

She hurried over to Rostnikov, her heels clicking on the tile floor. Rostnikov and their son, Iosef, had done the tiling themselves after a lucky purchase on the black market several months ago. Sarah gave her husband a kiss on the cheek as he searched the cupboard. He turned and hugged her, lifting her easily from the floor.

“If you feel dizzy …” he said.

“I will sit down,” she said.

He put her down, and she hurried to the door, pausing to take Craig Hamilton’s hand again and say, “It was nice to meet you. May we meet again soon.”

And she was off.

“Lovely lady,” said Hamilton, following Rostnikov into the kitchen alcove. “Didn’t even ask who I was.”

“She knows I’ll tell her later,” Rostnikov said, rummaging for something. He found it and said, “Yah.”

He turned triumphantly with a tall jar of French strawberry preserves. “Coffee, bread and jam or bread and herring?”

“The bread and jam,” Hamilton said, sitting at the small table not far from the window.

“So, what do you think?” asked Rostnikov as he prepared the meal.


“About the apartment.” Still focused on the components of the meal before him, Rostnikov absently waved the knife in his hand.

Hamilton had taken in the room without looking around. Now he looked. A faded, flower-patterned sofa was positioned between two solid-colored peach wingback chairs that almost coordinated with the sofa. A bookcase lined an entire wall, its shelves filled with not only books but old LP records and what looked like small dumbbells. There was a large painting on the wall with a woman in the foreground, her back to the viewer, her red hair and green dress billowing forward as she held her left hand up to keep the hair from her face. She looked out along a vast green field toward a house in the distance, a modest farmhouse with a small barn. The sun was going down behind the barn. Hamilton assumed that the painting was of Rostnikov’s wife or that he had bought it because it resembled her.

“The painting was a gift from Mathilde Verson,” said Rostnikov. “That is Mathilde in the painting, a self-portrait in a way, a birthday gift from one redhead to another. Mathilde gave it to Sarah when my wife was recovering from surgery.”

“Mathilde Verson was an artist?” Hamilton asked.

Rostnikov looked at the American and smiled.

“What’s funny?” asked Hamilton.

“You know that Mathilde was a prostitute. I’m sure you read all the reports.”

“She was a talented painter,” said Hamilton, looking at the painting. “Did she do any other work like this?”

“As far as I know, this is the only painting she had done in more than twenty years. As a young girl she studied art briefly.”

“And Karpo was …?”

“It is my hope that her death does not destroy him. As long as he is seeking her killers, he will function. Later, who knows.” Rostnikov looked over at the American. “Real coffee,” he asked, “or decaffeinated?”

“Real,” said Hamilton. “And black.”

“You know Dinah Washington?” asked Rostnikov.

“Personally? No. I think she’s dead.”

“Pity,” said Rostnikov, setting the small table. “She makes me weep. ‘Nothing Ever Changes My Love for You.’ Wonderful song.”

“I’m not terribly familiar with her work,” Hamilton admitted.

Rostnikov paused, a jar of herring in one hand, a half loaf of bread in the other.

“She is the most famous singer in America,” Rostnikov said.

“No,” Hamilton corrected. “She is not even well known.”

Rostnikov pondered this for a moment, shook his head, and continued serving. When the water had boiled, he made the instant coffee.

“Black,” said Rostnikov, setting the cup in front of Hamilton.

“For me, sugar, cream, anything,” said Rostnikov, sitting awkwardly. “I don’t like this fake coffee.”

Hamilton nodded. He had a grinder at home in his apartment in Bethesda. His selection of coffee beans was large, and ranged from the standard to the exotic, all purchased from a nearby shop that dealt exclusively in coffee and coffee products. Craig Hamilton was an early riser. He always had coffee ready for his wife and breakfast plates set out before he woke her and his daughters.

“We are settled now?” Rostnikov asked, adjusting his leg and cutting off a thick slice of dark bread for his guest.

Hamilton nodded.

“Then,” said Rostnikov, “tell me what it was that you put under the coffee table in the Porvinovich apartment.”

Hamilton had been sure no one had seen him make the move.

“Voice-activated recorder,” he said. “Six-hour capacity. When we go back, we can retrieve it.”

“And you were going to tell me about this?” asked Rostnikov, carefully making a lopsided herring sandwich.

“If there was anything on the tape that would either implicate or clear them,” said Hamilton, drinking his coffee.

“So small.” Rostnikov shook his head. “It was so small. We have nothing like that. I mean the police. Internal Security has. They have devices that can hear through walls, as I am sure you do. I do have a recorder taping all phone calls to the Porvinovich apartment, however.”

Hamilton hungrily chewed the rough bread.

“It is possible that in six hours of tape we will be lucky,” said Rostnikov. “On the other hand, we may hear conversations about Madame Porvinovich’s wardrobe.”

Hamilton smiled, and Rostnikov rose, still working on his herring sandwich. The phone was across the room, on a shelf of the bookcase. He checked his notebook and called the Porvinovich apartment. Yevgeniy answered with a tentative “Yes?”

“Is Mrs. Porvinovich there? This is Inspector Rostnikov.”

“Yes …” He paused.

Rostnikov could tell he was putting his hand over the speaker. Rostnikov knew that he was asking her what to do.

“This is Anna Porvinovich,” she said with irritation.

“This is Inspector Rostnikov. I have good news. We have a definite lead on the people who kidnapped your husband. We expect even better news, possibly his very location, within the hour. As soon as we know just a bit more, we will come and see you.”

“Very good,” she said evenly.

“That is how we view it,” said Rostnikov. “Ah, my other phone is ringing. It may be that information about your husband. Please excuse me.”

With that, Rostnikov hung up and started back to the table.

“Now she will either discuss the situation with the brother,” he said, “or …”

“She will call the kidnappers,” Hamilton said, wondering whether it was polite to ask for more bread and jam.

Rostnikov recognized the signs of the FBI agent’s unsatisfied appetite and sliced another piece of bread, then pushed the jam in his direction. He would, as soon as possible, make a stop to see Luba Lasuria, an old woman from Armenia whom he had once kept out of jail. Luba lived a short walk away on Garibaldi Street, a few doors from the Ceremuski Cinema. Luba was an extremely successful dealer in black-market food. She never revealed her source, but it was said to be three nephews who regularly crossed over into France and Germany by paying bribes to border guards. The three nephews would return with suitcases full of food that could be sold for ten times what they’d paid for it.

When they had finished the meal and cleaned up the dishes, Rostnikov returned to the phone and made a call while Hamilton openly examined the books that lined the wall. There were books on art and music, a few on Russian history, a great many well-worn mystery paperbacks by Ed McBain, Susan Dunlap, John Lutz, Lawrence Block, Marcia Muller, Bill Pronzini, and many others. A far smaller number of books-in both Russian and English-dealt with plumbing.

“Report,” Rostnikov said to the person on the phone. Then he listened, watching the American move to the small assortment of dumbbells and metal weights in the corner of the bookcase. Still listening to the person on the other end, Rostnikov opened the lower shelf of the bookcase to reveal far more weights, lifting bars, seventy-pound dumbbells, and a portable weight bench with a well-worn gray plastic covering.

“Good,” Rostnikov finally said, and hung up the phone. “You lift weights?”

“Machines,” Hamilton said.

“You lift machines?”

“I use weight machines, and I run on a track.”

“I’ve seen those weight machines,” Rostnikov said. “In the Olympic gym where the great ones train. I think I prefer the old iron. Let’s go.”

“Where are we going?” asked Hamilton.

“To an automobile repair shop,” said Rostnikov. “Anna Porvinovich just placed a call to an automobile repair shop and asked for an Artiom Solovyov. Between us, we will soon have all her secrets, including the answer to the question ‘Why does the woman whose husband has been kidnapped call an automobile repairman moments after being told that the criminals are on the verge of being caught?’”

“I can think of many reasons,” said Hamilton, following Rostnikov to the front door. “But only one of them particularly appeals to me.”

“Come, let us have a pleasant talk with this Artiom Solovyov,” said Rostnikov.

They were almost out of the door when Hamilton could not resist asking, “Why do you have all those plumbing books?”

“Do you meditate?” Rostnikov asked, stepping into the hall.

“No,” said Hamilton.

“Do you do anything to take brief vacations from reality?” Rostnikov closed the door to the apartment.

“Jigsaw puzzles,” Hamilton confessed. “All black, all white, three-dimensional, thousands of pieces.”

“Your meditation,” Rostnikov said. “Plumbing is mine.”

The old man held up his cane, pointed it at the two detectives like a gun, and said, “Boom, boom, boom.” Then he tucked the cane back under his arm and smiled with satisfaction.

“You are saying that Oleg Makmunov was shot and killed in the doorway across the street?” asked Sasha.

The old man nodded sagely and said, “Tall man, loud gun. All the rest around here will be afraid to tell you, but I saw it all.”

The old man was wearing a postman’s cap and a coat too warm for the weather. He needed to decide whether to shave or grow a beard. Beards had not returned to fashion yet except among some highly successful businessmen and mafia leaders.

“You saw a man shoot down a drunk last night in that doorway?” Sasha asked, pointing to the doorway. The crushed body of Oleg Makmunov had been removed hours ago.

The old man on crutches shook his head firmly. People passed. A few older ones with string bags or a small child in tow glanced at the three men and moved on.

“It was Zorotich,” said the old man firmly.

“Someone named Zorotich shot the man in the doorway over there?” asked Sasha.

Zelach was somewhat bewildered by the exchange since he knew that Makmunov had been beaten and kicked to death, not shot.

“Svet Zorotich shot him,” the old man said decisively. “With an American tommy gun, an old one with one of those cans wrapped around it.”

“Where can we find this Zorotich?” Sasha asked politely.

“Right up there,” the old man said, pointing above him with his crutch and almost knocking off his postman’s cap. “He lives right over me, makes noise all night. I heard him go out, saw what he did. I’ll say so before any judge, any judge.”

“Thank you,” said Sasha, brushing back his hair, putting away his notebook, and shaking the old man’s trembling hand.

“Others around here are afraid to talk.” The old man looked up and down the street with contempt. “But someone’s got to stop this lunatic. Am I right?”

“You are right,” said Sasha, moving past the old man and motioning for Zelach to follow.

Sasha entered the building and started up the stairs with Zelach behind him. Outside, the old man watched them for a moment, then looked up and down the street, wondering which way to hobble.

“What are we doing, Sasha?” Zelach asked, panting as he climbed the narrow, dark stairway.

“We are going to talk to Mad Dog Zorotich,” Sasha answered. “He mows people down in the street for daring to look at him or utter his name in vain.”

“Seriously, Sasha.”

“It can’t hurt,” said Sasha, walking down a narrow corridor. There were only six apartments on each floor. It wasn’t hard to find Zorotich’s. His name was finely scripted on a white card pasted to the door.

Sasha knocked. No answer came from within. He knocked again, this time more loudly. Still no answer. He motioned for Zelach to move away. Zelach did what he was told, but Sasha remained in front of the door, motioning for Zelach to continue down the stairs. Zelach dutifully obeyed, proceeding out the door. Sasha put his ear to the door just above the finely lettered name. He heard a shuffling movement and then he said, “We know you are in there, Zorotich. Open the door, or my partner will break it down.”

“No,” came a voice inside. “You’ve come to kill me and take my apartment, like Illyna last month.”

Sasha removed his identification card from his wallet and slid it under the door.

“You see my card?” he said.

More shuffling, a move toward the door.

“It could be a fake. You people can make good fakes.”

“It’s not fake. I’m a policeman. Your neighbor downstairs said-”

“The fake cripple? There’s nothing wrong with him. He can walk as well as you or me. He’s crazy. He wants sympathy, a pension.”

“Last night, late, someone was killed across the street. Did you see anything, hear anything?”

The man inside laughed bitterly. Zelach was now coming slowly and carefully up the stairs, calculatedly making a good amount of noise. Sasha waved him to the door.

“So,” said the man inside with a sigh, “if I don’t let you in, you break down the door and kill me. If I open the door, maybe you just kill me. How do I know you are policemen?”

“Do you have a phone?”

“Ha,” the old man laughed.

“My ID, common sense. We are not thieves. We are not some mafia wanting to steal your apartment.”

A series of locks and chains went into action, and the door came open to reveal a man. He was tall, thin, and quite old and he wore dark trousers, a blue shirt, and a dark sweater vest. At the man’s side was a large white dog.

“Well, if you’re going to kill me, do it. Just let Petya go.”

The old man in the doorway, Svet Zorotich, was obviously quite blind. His eyes were a clouded white and his gaze missed both detectives.

“I’m still alive,” the man said, “so you must be the police or thieves or both. As you will see, there is very little in here worth stealing.”

Sasha looked around. The man was right. A bed in the corner. Two chairs at a small table. A cupboard. A chair against another wall. A radio on a small table near the chair.

“Obviously,” Zorotich said, “I did not see anything last night, nor anything since 1971.”

“Sorry,” said Zelach.

“Since you’re here,” he said, “maybe you can get that damn cripple to turn down his television at night and go to sleep at a reasonable hour.”

“We’ll tell him,” said Sasha. “Sorry we bothered you.”

“You’re not going to ask me, are you?” the old man said. “Hear that, Petya? They want to know what we saw, not what we heard.”

The dog was alert now.

“What did you hear?” asked Sasha, certain that the man was going to blame his downstairs neighbor for the murder.

“Voices, outside,” said the man. “I had the radio turned down out of consideration for my neighbors, a consideration they do not choose to extend to me.”

“Voices?” Sasha prompted.

With the help of the dog the man found his way to the chair near the wall and next to the table.

“I turned off the radio like this,” he said, demonstrating his action. “And I heard him talking to himself on the street, the drunk. Then they came. I could hear them talking to him. I could hear them crushing him with rocks that scraped the sidewalk when they missed.”

“Do you know who they were?” asked Sasha.

The old man shrugged and reached down to pet his white dog. The dog moved closer to the man.

“I recognized their voices,” he said. “They don’t live far away. I’ve heard them in the street at night.”

“Who are they?”

“Who knows?” asked the man.

“If we find them, could you identify their voices?” asked Sasha.


“Would you?”

“I don’t know. I think so. One of them was named Mark. They used his name. And they live near here.”

“Anything else you can tell us about these men?” asked Sasha.

“Men? Who said ‘men’? Not me. They were boys, little boys, children. I knew they were killing and I was afraid to go to the window and shout down, afraid they would come up for me and kill me. So I said and did nothing.”

“But you’ve told us now,” said Sasha.

“I’m a veteran, you know,” old Zorotich said. “Pension. Terrible pension. Can’t live on it. Got a niece who helps me out as much as she can. Anything else?”

Sasha looked at Zelach, then said, “Nothing I can think of.”

Once the policemen were out the door, Sasha said seriously, “He did it, Zelach. The tommy gun was hidden in his closet. He is only pretending to be blind.”

“Then why didn’t we arrest him?” asked a perplexed Zelach.

They were almost to the foot of the stairs. Sasha stopped and turned to Zelach. “Svet Zorotich is really blind.”

“I thought so,” said Zelach.

“Now we are searching for three children who live in this neighborhood. One of them is named Mark.”

“That shouldn’t be so hard,” said Zelach.

“It shouldn’t?” said Sasha with less certainty than his partner.

When they stepped out onto the sidewalk, they were immediately confronted by the old man in the postman’s cap.

“Did he confess? Why aren’t you dragging him away?”

“He is blind,” said Zelach.

The old man on the crutches looked skyward for help in enduring such fools as these.

“He is pretending to be blind to collect his pension,” the old man said.

“I don’t think so,” said Sasha.

“Then Zorotich had that dog lead him down with the tommy gun and he shot the man, blind or not. Shot him and took his money. A blind man could do that. I saw him.”

“You were mistaken,” said Sasha. “Do you know any small boys in this neighborhood? Two, three, four of them. One of them is named Mark.”

The old man suddenly looked terrified.

“No,” he said, hurrying down the street, almost falling. “I know nothing.”

Zelach turned to Sasha and said softly, “It may not be so easy.”

Karpo walked through the hall of the Khovrino Municipal Police Station half listening to the uniformed sergeant who had been assigned to him. The police station had been built in 1946 as a school. Now it was falling apart, as were most of the district stations, which occupied whatever space had been found for them-old apartment buildings, taxi garages, large shops. One district station had once been a toy store. Some of the walls of the former toy store were still covered with fading cartoon drawings of Donald Duck, Elmer Fudd, Casper the Friendly Ghost, and Yogi Bear.

But it was the Khovrino where Karpo found himself through a combination of determination and good luck.

Beneath his feet were cracked floor tiles. Above him the ceiling was a trail of exposed electrical wires. The wallpaper was peeling badly, and many of the light fixtures had no bulbs.

“Here,” said a somber young sergeant with a mustache, indicating a door on their right. There was a thick plate of scratched glass at eye level. Karpo looked in.

Inside were six men. There were six cots lining the walls. Three of the men were seated on the floor playing some kind of card game. One of the prisoners was lying on a cot reading the newspaper, Moskovskiy Komsomolets. He was the only prisoner who wore leg chains. The other two men in the room were looking out the barred window on the wall opposite the door. One of the men was talking heatedly.

“This is where we keep the toughest,” said the sergeant. “Murder suspects, strong-arm robbers. We’ve got two other lockups.”

Karpo knew all this. He continued looking into the cell, showing no sign that he had heard what the sergeant said.

“Your man, Voshenko, is the one looking at the newspaper.”

Karpo looked at the man lying on the cot. The man seemed to sense his gaze and looked up from his newspaper at the gaunt specter at the cell door. Their eyes locked, and neither man wavered.

“Voshenko’s been in for twenty days. We expect to charge him with murder soon and to transfer him to a prison to await trial,” the sergeant said.

The man on the cot smiled at Karpo. It was not a pleasant smile.

“Is the interrogation room empty?” Karpo asked.

“Yes, I think so,” said the sergeant, looking into the gloom farther down the hall. “The light is not on.”

“Can you bring Voshenko to me there?”

“Yes, but …”

The sergeant had been told by the colonel who was chief of the district to do whatever the strange-looking detective from Petrovka wanted, and to do it without question. The sergeant unlocked the door. The men playing cards and the two men at the window looked at him as he stepped into the cell, his hand on his pistol. The black-clad vampire had disappeared. The sergeant was about to speak Voshenko’s name, but the prisoner had already put down the newspaper and was standing. He was a huge man, dressed like the others in a badly faded blue two-piece uniform. Voshenko’s face was dark, ugly, and freshly shaved. He got up slowly and stepped past the sergeant, who, even though the prisoner was shackled, backed away to give him room.

“Down the hall. To the right,” the sergeant said, stepping into the hall and closing the cell door, which clanged and echoed in the corridors of darkness.

Voshenko, six feet six, close to three hundred pounds, filled the narrow hallway built for children. He shambled forward, his leg chains rattling.

“Stop. There,” called the sergeant from a safe dozen feet behind, his weapon now out of the holster.

Voshenko had been brought in drunk after having killed two people, a man and a woman, in a bar on Kachalova Prospekt. He claimed there had been a fight. No witness stepped forward. Both victims had broken necks. Less than a week after entering the police-station lockup, another prisoner in the same cell as Voshenko had been found one morning with his neck broken. Voshenko denied the killing but admitted readily that the dead man had repeatedly looked at him even after having been told to stop. It was then that he had been shackled. There was no room in the three cells of the station house to place him in complete isolation, and there was no point in asking any of the other stations to take him. No one wanted another mouth to feed on an already meager budget.

Voshenko looked back over his shoulder at the sergeant, who took a step back before he could stop himself. Voshenko smiled and stepped into the interrogation room. The sergeant moved forward cautiously behind him. When he got to the door, he could see that Karpo was already seated behind the small metal table facing Voshenko, who moved to the chair across from the pale policeman.

The sergeant was about to close the door and stand ready, weapon in hand, while the strange inspector from Petrovka questioned the giant. The sergeant believed there was no chance Voshenko would even yield his name.

“Wait outside,” said Karpo. “Down the corridor, next to the cell. I’ll call you when I want you to return.”

“I don’t think …” the sergeant began, and then remembered his orders.

What would happen to him if Voshenko broke the neck of this lean ghost? Would the sergeant be held responsible? Yes, without doubt, and he might well find himself in one of the cells. But he did as he was told, locking the interrogation-room door firmly behind him.

Karpo and Voshenko looked at each other without blinking and without speaking. Finally Voshenko looked away as if in boredom.

“Do you know who I am?” Karpo asked.

“The Tatar, the Ghost, the Vampire,” said Voshenko. “Karpo.”

“Do you know why I am here?”

Voshenko shrugged. He looked at the peeling, once-white walls.

“I called many stations and several prisons asking if they had any prisoners with a specific tattoo,” said Karpo.

Voshenko folded his hands in front of him. They were large with long fingers. On each finger, just above the knuckle, was a minute tattoo of an animal, but only the head of the animal.

“When you were brought here, you were photographed,” Karpo said, his own hands flat on the table.

Voshenko did not remember. He had been too drunk. But he knew of the procedure.

“One of the officers on duty looked through the photographs of all tattooed prisoners,” said Karpo. “He found the tattoo I was looking for on you.”

Voshenko smiled and shook his head. He started to rise, but there was no response from the man who remained seated in front of him. Voshenko lifted his shirt. He was covered with tattoos, almost as many as the man who had been shot outside the caf? where Mathilde had been murdered.

“None of those,” said Karpo. “An eagle with a bomb in its claws. It is on your right buttock. You need not display it.”

Voshenko hovered over the detective, looking down at him, his fingers spread now within inches of Karpo’s.

“I do not wish to kill you,” Karpo said calmly. “I have questions to ask you. But I can find another prisoner somewhere with this tattoo. Please sit.”

Voshenko did not move.

“Sit,” said Karpo calmly. “Or I shall hurt you very badly.”

Voshenko laughed. Karpo did not. Down the corridor the sergeant heard the laughter and wondered, but did not move. Voshenko sat.

“What does that tattoo mean?” Karpo asked.

Voshenko shrugged, clasped his hands together, and shrugged once more.

“Answer, Prisoner Voshenko. Or I have no use for you.”

Voshenko looked at the man. He could easily reach across the table and have the man’s neck before the detective could pull a weapon. Perhaps he would choose to end the interrogation in that manner. But for now he was curious.

“It is a patriotic work,” said Voshenko. “The strength of the nation, now lost by weaklings.”

“It is the sign of a mafia that deals in nuclear material,” said Karpo.

Voshenko’s bushy eyebrows went up slightly and then back down again. “If so, it is a coincidence,” he said. “For me it is a patriotic picture.”

“Stanislav Voshenko, there was an attack by members of your mafia, the assassination of a German businessman named Heinz Dieter Kirst. Why did your people want to kill him?”

Voshenko shrugged and said, “I don’t know any Germans and I don’t belong to a mafia.”

“I wish to know where I can find the leader of your group,” Karpo persisted.

“I belong to no group,” Voshenko said, placing his hands flat on the table again, ready.

“No more lies,” Karpo demanded.

Voshenko lunged across the table. One hand slammed down on Karpo’s hand. The other hand went around Karpo’s throat. Voshenko looked at his victim with a mad grin of satisfaction, but the pale face of the policeman showed no fear or pain. Voshenko lost his grin and continued closing his thumb and finger, cutting off the air. He had done it many times, always without concern for the consequences. And this time he had nothing to lose. They would never let him out anyway. They would give him a quick trial and shoot him against a wall. But until that moment he would brag that he had killed a policeman.

And then Voshenko felt a sudden pain, an electric shock in his left hand. He pulled it back as if he had been bitten. He held his grip on Karpo’s neck as he painfully lifted his left hand. His thumb hung loosely and his hand was rapidly swelling.

In the instant that the prisoner looked away, Karpo grabbed the massive thumb that was pressing his windpipe and jerked it back hard. Voshenko sat back and tried to pull his hand from Karpo’s grasp, but the policeman held fast. Voshenko reached up with his left hand, but with his thumb broken it was useless.

“And when I break your other thumb, you will be unable to attack or defend yourself,” said Karpo. “I think your cellmates might find that interesting.”

“They are cowards,” said Voshenko, clenching back the pain. “Break the thumb. Then kill me. If you don’t, I will find and kill you the first chance I get. Today. Tomorrow. In a year.”

“I will find your leader, and when I do I will inform him that it was you who betrayed him.”

“He won’t believe you,” said Voshenko, still trying to free his hand. “You don’t have the power to free me.”

“I will see to it that the moment I learn the name of your leader, you will be set free,” said Karpo. “It can be done. Will your leader believe that the police just let you walk out the door?”

Voshenko tried to laugh, but it had none of the crazed power of his earlier laughter. He shook his head to indicate that he would not speak. Karpo bent the thumb back even farther.

“Then I shall break this thumb too,” said Karpo.

“Why does it mean so much to you?” growled Voshenko, now sweating and breathing heavily.

“Talk now or you will have no thumbs,” said Karpo. Voshenko knew that he meant it.


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