They sat, as they had planned to, inside the Saint Petersburg Caf?, formerly the Caf? of the October Revolution. Normally they would have met at a caf? less than a half mile away, but that was where Mathilde Verson had been killed.
They had pulled two rectangular wooden tables together. Rostnikov sat at one end of the improvised table, Craig Hamilton at the other. Rostnikov always sat where he could see everyone’s faces without any painful movement of his leg. On his left were Sasha Tkach and Zelach. On his right were Emil Karpo and Elena Timofeyeva. In front of each person was a cup of coffee or tea and two thin wafers that the management called imported biscotti but that Tkach described as sugar-plaster sandwiches.
Several months earlier they had begun meeting informally at a caf?. There were two major reasons for this. First, the Gray Wolfhound, Pankov, and Major Gregorovich were not present. Second, it was unlikely that anyone had bugged the caf?, whereas it was highly likely that the Wolfhound’s office was bugged and almost certain that Major Gregorovich was passing information on to people who might be appreciative when the proper time came.
“Pulcharia said what?” Elena asked.
“‘Grandmother gives me a
He shook his head. The others were appreciatively silent.
“And how is your aunt?” Rostnikov asked.
“Anna Timofeyeva has good days and bad,” said Elena, a bit self-consciously.
“She is a bad cook, a stubborn woman, and was the best procurator in all of Russia,” Rostnikov said.
“‘No foundation up and down the line,’” Zelach said.
Everyone looked at him. Zelach did not attend all of these sessions, and when he did, he seldom spoke unless directly addressed.
“William Saroyan,” said Hamilton.
All heads turned to him except for that of Emil Karpo. They had not wanted to be so rude as to examine the black FBI agent who spoke perfect Russian and sat erect in an impeccably pressed blue suit.
Zelach shrugged and didn’t meet Rostnikov’s eyes.
“When I was recovering, I read what was in the apartment,” he said. “My father’s old books.”
Sasha Tkach took some tea. It was strong but not particularly good. Zelach had spent a long convalescence after he had been shot, a near-fatal shooting that, with good reason, Sasha felt responsible for. Zelach had many months of reading behind him.
“We will speak freely in front of Agent Hamilton,” said Rostnikov, looking around the table. “First we all wish to extend our sympathy to and support for Emil Karpo for the loss of Mathilde Verson, a loss that is also ours.”
Karpo said nothing. His head moved slightly to acknowledge the words of condolence.
Later, when he could get Karpo alone, Porfiry Petrovich would invite him for dinner as Sarah had suggested. If necessary, he would order him to come for dinner. Sarah might get him to talk or at least to listen. And normally Karpo appeared to like the company and questions of the girls. But that would be later. Sarah would want a gathering soon of the entire group so that there could be some kind of formal toast, a farewell to Mathilde.
“If there will be a funeral …?” Rostnikov began.
“I’ve spoken to her sister,” said Karpo. “When the autopsy is complete, her body will be cremated and her ashes taken to the sea. I would prefer that this end the discussion.”
With Karpo it was difficult to determine if he was showing signs of cracking. The blank look remained the same as always. When Tkach had suffered a breakdown, it had been easy to spot-increasing irritability, abnormal defensiveness, and a self-pity that easily turned to anger. But Karpo displayed nothing.
“First order of business,” Rostnikov went on. “Does anyone know what this is?”
He grunted and pulled his drawing of the bush in the Petrovka yard from his pocket and passed it around. When it came back to Rostnikov, Karpo said, “It is a vinarium, also called a sure bush or a Russian angel.”
“It endures,” said Rostnikov, looking at Karpo, who met his eyes.
“‘No foundation up and down the line,’” Karpo said. “‘Nothing endures.’”
Karpo had lost himself to Communism and the Revolution. He had believed in it religiously, recognized the faults of those given the task of making it a success, sought to cleanse society of those who would break the law or try to erode the Revolution. That was all gone now. Mathilde was gone. There was no foundation. There was only unfinished business.
“Elena,” Rostnikov said, turning his eyes from those of Karpo. Whether or not Emil Karpo was going to break would be impossible to determine. Karpo’s expression never changed. It always amazed Rostnikov that children loved Karpo; they ran to him and took his hand. Pulcharia Tkach always jumped into his arms, and he held her firmly and spoke to her as an adult, which may well have been where the child picked up her precocious vocabulary.
Mathilde Verson had begun, after more than five years, to bring a sense of life to Karpo, had managed to keep him from falling apart when the Soviet Union fractured. Now she was gone.
“Elena?” Rostnikov repeated. “The electrician’s treasure?”
Elena looked at Hamilton, who had finished his tea and was attempting to eat one of the wafers.
“It all disappeared,” she said. “Every piece. During the night. Natalya Dokorova claims to have burned everything-books, paintings, furniture. There were guards at both doors of the Dokorov house who confirmed that she had a fire going all night.”
“Guards?” asked Rostnikov.
“Teams from different units,” said Elena. “Even so, I checked. No hidden rooms, no secret level below the floor.”
“Walls?” said Hamilton.
“Checked them,” Elena said. “And the roof. Getting them up to the roof would have been more than Natalya Dokorova could have done, and landing a helicopter without being heard or seen would have been impossible.”
“And the old woman claims to have burned everything?” asked Rostnikov.
“Everything. She stayed up all night determined that if she could not keep what her brother had left her, she would not let the government take it.”
“She destroyed everything?” said Rostnikov. “Did you find ashes?”
“Some,” said Elena.
“Many of the items in the collection could not be burned,” said Karpo. “And I do not believe, given the magnitude of the collection, that she could have burned it all in one night.”
The little finger of Karpo’s left hand was splinted and taped. Everyone was curious. No one asked.
“That is what she told me,” Elena answered, glancing at the American.
“And you believe her?” asked Tkach.
“I … no. But if she’ll talk, I think it will be to me. She seems to like talking to me.”
“Do you like her?” asked Rostnikov.
“Perhaps I’ll talk to her later in the office,” said Rostnikov. “Perhaps if I can get our colonel to pull some strings, I will talk to the guards on both doors.”
“Tomorrow?” asked Elena, making a note.
“Today, five, no … six for your Natalya Dokorova. Same time for the guards, if it can be arranged,” said Rostnikov. “Emil.”
“We may be dealing with a mafia that is stealing nuclear weaponry or the means of making it,” said Karpo.
All heads turned to him.
“The members of the mafia are all former convicts,” Karpo went on. “Each bears the prison tattoo of an eagle clutching a large bomb. The tattoos are generally on their buttocks or back. Two of these men were killed in the street battle this morning. I found another convict with a tattoo and interviewed him. In spite of my most zealous interrogation and persuasion, I was unable to get him to reveal more about his gang than that they are called the
There had been a message on Rostnikov’s desk when he and Hamilton had stopped by the office. He had called the major in charge of the district station where Karpo had interrogated the giant, Stanislav Voshenko. The major was an old acquaintance of Rostnikov’s. The major thought it would be nice to have Rostnikov owe him a favor. Rostnikov made the call and discovered that Karpo had broken both of the prisoner’s thumbs and was methodically twisting Voshenko’s ear, which was beginning to tear, when the policeman in charge of the lockup had finally responded to Voshenko’s shouts of pain and anger.
“I will report this possible breach of national security to Colonel Snitkonoy,” said Rostnikov. “However, until we have some evidence that these people actually have nuclear weapons or access to them, we shall continue our investigation. Do you have a plan?”
“Yes,” said Karpo.
“Would you like to share it with us?”
It was clear that Karpo wanted to say no, but he answered, “I will interview members of Voshenko’s family and continue the search for others with the tattoo,” he said.
“You wish assistance?” asked Rostnikov.
“Alone,” said Karpo.
“There are desperate people in Moscow living like animals,” said Sasha as he brushed aside his hair and caught the eyes of Elena Timofeyeva, who was paying particular attention. “There are small children murdering people for a few kopecks.”
They knew all this, and Sasha was quite aware that they did, but no one stopped him or spoke.
“Progress?” asked Rostnikov.
“Several possibilities,” said Sasha. “I don’t think it will take more than a few days to find our children who murder.”
“In Buenos Aires,” said Zelach softly, “there are policemen who go out and murder the homeless children. I read it in the newspapers.”
“In the United States?” asked Rostnikov.
“There are children who commit crimes,” Hamilton said slowly. “As yet there are no bands of homeless children murdering in the street, at least not on a statistically meaningful level.”
“Statistically meaningful level?” Sasha asked, looking at the American.
“I have children,” said Hamilton calmly in precise Russian. “I have a family. I have seen murdered children and children who have murdered. I deal in kidnappings and serial killings. Like you I can still see the faces of the killers of babies and the babies who kill. Statistics are not the enemy. They are a means of determining where we should put our efforts.”
Sasha folded his hands.
“So,” said Rostnikov, looking down at the tea leaves in his empty cup. “Agent Hamilton and I hope to free a kidnap victim, Alexei Porvinovich, shortly and take his kidnappers into custody. Anyone need anything, want anything, have anything else to say?”
All eyes with the exception of Zelach’s met those of Rostnikov. Rostnikov assumed the slouching man with his mouth partly open was pondering some passage from the playwright Saroyan or the philosophy of Camus. The effort seemed to be straining the poor man’s brain. He would have to ask Hamilton, given his limited exposure to the members of Rostnikov’s team, which one he felt most likely to crack. It was a near certainty in a world gone mad that the police who dealt with the madness would also go mad. Rostnikov would vote for Zelach. He would have bet an extra dozen seventy-five-pound curls tonight that everyone else around the table would vote for Karpo.
“Then I do,” said Rostnikov, nodding at the waiter, who was only too glad to cooperate with the police.
The waiter brought a tray of wineglasses and a bottle of red wine. He poured the wine and handed the glasses to the people around the table. When he had finished, Rostnikov raised his glass and said, “To the memory of Mathilde Verson. Her laugh will be remembered. Phrases, words, and the touch of her hand will be upon us when we least expect them. We drink to her with love.”
They all touched glasses. Karpo showed no emotion but drank deeply from the glass though he had never been known to drink anything alcoholic.
They finished their drinks, and all except Rostnikov and Hamilton left the caf? after stopping to pay for whatever they had consumed.
“The slouching one,” Hamilton asked before Rostnikov could ask his question.
“What about him?” asked Rostnikov.
“Most likely to crack,” said Hamilton. “That’s what you were going to ask me, I think. I watched your eyes, your body language.”
“Body language?” Rostnikov repeated.
“Am I wrong?” asked Hamilton.
“No,” said Rostnikov. “And you, you were thinking about your children, worrying about them, wondering how quickly you could get to a phone without appearing to be concerned. Am I right?”
It was Hamilton’s turn to smile.
“Body language?” he asked.
“No,” said Rostnikov. “You are the very model of perfect posture and professionalism. But your eyes fell most frequently on Sasha, and it was that in part that made him respond. Ironic that your empathy with Sasha should be misread by him as cold indifference.”
“Perhaps he has a lot to learn,” said Hamilton in English.
“He is young,” said Rostnikov, also in English. “I should read this Saroyan?”
“He is quirky and haunting,” said Hamilton.
“An Armenian,” said Rostnikov. “As a people they are quirky and haunting.”
“Allow me to pay for your tea and wafers,” said Hamilton, rising.
Rostnikov nodded his acceptance of the offer and slowly, painfully, rose from his chair and silently spoke to his twisted leg to soothe it.
“And now?” asked Hamilton.
“I get the Wolfhound to pull those strings we discussed. Perhaps we will pay an unexpected visit on the wife and brother of Alexei Porvinovich.”
It was early afternoon when they left the caf?. The sky was gray. A chill wind was blowing.
“I like Moscow like this,” Rostnikov said, hands plunged into his coat pocket, old fur hat pulled down on his forehead.
“Reminds me of Chicago,” said Hamilton.
“You are from Chicago?” asked Rostnikov.
“Yes,” said Hamilton. “West Side.”
“A difficult neighborhood?” asked Rostnikov in English.
“A very difficult neighborhood. I didn’t like weather like this. It made people irritable knowing the hard winter was coming.”
“Odd,” said Rostnikov as they walked. “Almost all Russians love the winter. We long for the snow, the clean cold.”
Hamilton shrugged and went back to Russian. “Shall we pull some strings and save the world?”
“I’ll consider the day well spent if we save a life,” responded Rostnikov.
Hamilton looked at the limping man at his side and knew that he was telling the truth.
“You are the sister of Stanislav Voshenko?” Karpo asked the woman who sat at a table in McDonald’s on Pushkin Square eating some meat on a bun.
The woman was young, no more than twenty-five. Her face was plain but clean and the McDonald’s uniform she wore, complete with little cap that covered most of her short, dark hair, gave her an aura of neatness she shared with the other two similarly uniformed young women at her table. The place was crowded, and people with trays jostled one another. Outside, there was only a short line to get in. It was nearly three in the afternoon. It should have been busier.
“I am Katerina Voshenko,” the young woman said.
Karpo showed his identification card.
One of the uniformed girls with Katerina stood up, gobbled down the last of whatever she was eating, and left quickly, making her way through the crowd. Someone jostled Karpo and said something in a foreign language.
Karpo sat in the vacant seat. He was, as always, in black. He wore a jacket, no coat, and a look of unblinking determination that made the young woman think this policeman might be more than a bit mad.
“Most of the people who come here are tourists or visiting businessmen,” Katerina Voshenko said, picking up a long, limp french fry.
Karpo looked at the other young woman at the table, a pretty blond girl with good teeth. She tried to avoid his eyes but failed. Her right cheek was filled with whatever she was eating.
“Back to work,” the blonde said through a mouthful of food.
The girl gathered her food and a plastic cup with a straw in it and plunged into the crowd of people carrying food trays and looking for tables.
“Smells like another country,” Karpo said.
Katerina Voshenko shrugged and said, “America. I’m used to it. Ever have a burger?”
“I came here once.”
The woman looked at the pale, straight-backed man before her and wondered what would bring a man like this to stand in line to buy a Big Mac and fries.
“With a friend,” he said.
“A woman?” asked Katerina as she downed a fry and selected another.
A lone man in a dark business suit spotted the empty seat at their table, took two steps toward it, hesitated when his eyes met Karpo’s, and lost the spot to a very big young man in a leather jacket and an almost shaved head.
“You are Stanislav Voshenko’s sister?” Karpo repeated.
“No,” the young woman said, chewing on a french fry. “I’m his daughter. He had one sister, my aunt, who raised me. I do not see my father often. He denies that he has a child.”
The girl looked at the young man with the nearly shaved head. He looked back, his mouth turning just a bit in what was probably his best attempt at a smile.
“Your father is in prison,” said Karpo, his voice penetrating the noise of the crowd.
“I’m not surprised,” she said. “He hurts people. He kills people. He killed my mother. Beat her. She was small. I watched sometimes. And then …” She shrugged and stuffed another fry in her mouth. “One day she was dead. I’m not surprised.”
“When did you last see him?” asked Karpo.
“Go away,” said Karpo, turning to the young man.
“Go away now,” said Karpo.
The young man grinned, avoided the eyes of the gaunt vampire, and went on eating. Karpo reached over, took the sandwich from the young man, and placed it on the tray. The man started to rise. A few people were looking. Most of those nearby managed to ignore the confrontation or pretended to do so. The young man stood to his full height and looked down at Karpo with both fists clenched.
“Your food grows cold,” Karpo said. “Take it elsewhere, or you will find yourself humiliated.”
The man cocked his shaved head to one side like a parrot and saw determination and maybe even madness in the eyes of the lean ghost. He had friends to meet, cars to steal. He gathered his food and stalked into the crowd, bruising ribs and arms and even sending a tray flying.
“When did you last see your father?” Karpo went on.
A woman in a fake-fur jacket took the vacated seat. She was about seventy and looked as if she had a great deal of experience at minding her own business.
“I saw him at my aunt’s apartment,” Katerina said, looking in the direction the young man had gone. “A few weeks, maybe a month ago. He needed a place to sleep. He was drunk. Said he couldn’t go to his own apartment, not that night. He has done this before, and my mother’s sister has never been able to say no.”
“Your father has a tattoo,” Karpo said. “An eagle with a bomb in its claws.”
The girl nodded. She was running out of french fries and had only a bit of Coca-Cola left in her cup.
“He showed it to us. He took off all his clothes and showed it to us,” she said. “Then he talked. He sat there with nothing on. Before, when I was little, he was full of hair, a great bear. Now he is shaven to show his tattoos. He is proud of them, especially the one with the eagle and the bomb.”
“What did he say about it?”
“I don’t remember,” the young woman said, looking again to where the leather-coated young man had gone. “Something about being an eagle and swooping down for a bomb full of gold. He was drunk.”
“He looks a little like your father,” Karpo said.
“The young man in the leather jacket.”
“No,” she said. “A little, maybe.”
“Your father has friends,” Karpo said.
“People who are like him,” she said. “Who in his right mind would want my father as a friend? I’ve got to get back to work.”
She began to gather the cup and paper.
“Names,” Karpo said. “Did he ever mention the names of any of his friends?”
“He was very drunk,” she said. “Kept saying that he was a personal friend of Kuzen’s, that Kuzen was an eagle, that he had been in Kuzen’s apartment on Kalinin and at his dacha more than once for dinner.”
“Did he give Kuzen’s first name?” Karpo asked as the young woman started to rise.
“Igor,” she said with certainty. “Is my father in prison for killing someone?”
“Yes,” said Karpo.
Katerina Voshenko rose from her chair and looked blankly at the passing people and at the long counter behind which she would soon be standing.
“Will he ever get out?”
“I don’t think so,” said Karpo.
The girl nodded her head.
“Igor Kuzen,” Karpo said. “Did your father say anything more about him?”
As Katerina stood there, Karpo could see a hint of her father in her pose.
“He said Igor Kuzen is a famous scientist. But my father was drunk. He is a liar.”
“Could he have made up this Igor Kuzen?” Karpo asked, rising from his chair.
A pair of men eyed the soon-to-be-vacant spaces but did not advance.
“My father has no imagination,” she said. “It is one of the things I inherited from him, that and some of my looks. The uniform helps overcome that. Sometimes it turns a man on. Some men like to say they went to bed with a girl who works at McDonald’s.”
Her eyes sought the young man in the leather jacket. When she turned back to the ghostly detective, he had disappeared. The two businessmen took the empty seats and she hurried to dump her garbage and get back to work. Then she saw the young man move toward her through the crowd. He was smiling. She smiled back and checked her watch. She had about a minute left before she’d have to resume her shift. She pushed back the thought that this young man did remind her of her father, then she allowed herself to consider it. She did not like what she saw, but that did not stop her from smiling at the young man who stood before her, wiping his hands on his work jeans.
“You will be all right?” Sasha asked as they stood looking across at the battered apartment building.
People came and went. Mostly old people, but also a few young boys.
Sasha had listened at the Chazovs’ door and heard nothing. Now they had stood in this doorway for over an hour. No boys fitting the description they had of the three Chazovs had come either in or out. There had been no usable fingerprints on the items Zelach had taken from the apartment. Now they had to do this the hard way-the usual way.
“I’ll be fine,” said Zelach.
They had decided to watch the apartment building in shifts. It was certainly possible that the Chazov boys would come through some rear entrance, but eventually they would use the front door.
The night was growing cold. A wind wailed down the corridor of beaten tenements.
Zelach had volunteered for the first shift so that Sasha could have dinner with his family and get two or three hours’ sleep. Sasha had promised to call Zelach’s mother or, rather, to call the apartment of the man from the Water Bureau, who lived down the hall and had a phone. The man was proud of his phone and had made it clear that having a policeman in the building was something he appreciated.
Sasha tried the door behind them. The cold would keep Zelach awake for a few hours, but then it would dull him into frozen lethargy. The door was locked. He had no problem opening it with his pocketknife and an identification card. He entered and motioned for Zelach to follow.
They were in a small, far-from-clean hallway with a narrow band of concrete steps leading upward.
Sasha knocked on the door to his left and waited. He knocked again. No answer. Then they moved across the hall, heard a voice behind the door, and knocked.
“Who?” asked a woman.
“Police,” said Sasha.
“Police, there are all kinds of police,” she said. “All kinds of people who say they are the police.”
“We are the police,” Sasha said, looking at Zelach, who stood patiently.
“What do you want?” the woman asked.
“To talk to you without shouting,” said Sasha.
“Talk about what?” she said.
“You will find out when you open the door.”
“I’m not that curious,” the woman said.
“Then you will find out when we break the door down,” said Sasha.
“I’m calling the police now,” the woman said with more determination and less fear than Sasha would have expected. He was reasonably certain that she had no phone.
The door was heavy, and time was passing. Sasha looked back toward the front door of the building and hoped that the Chazovs didn’t coincidentally arrive in the minutes they were wasting. Sasha had no intention of trying to knock down the woman’s door. It would be easier to move up one flight and try another door. But it would have to be done quickly.
He took a step back from the door and was about to head for the wooden stairs when the door opened and he found himself facing a woman and a rifle. The rifle was large. The woman was small, and she seemed to be about fifty years old.
“Show me,” she said.
Sasha and Zelach took out their identification cards.
“Proves nothing,” she said. “Come in. Remember, I can shoot this.”
“We will find it difficult to forget,” said Sasha, stepping in. Zelach stepped in beside him.
Sasha looked at the windows of the apartment. They were barred. Through the bars Sasha could see the front entrance of the Chazovs’ apartment building.
“May I close the door?” Sasha asked.
The woman considered and looked at Zelach. Something about the way the woman looked at his partner reminded Sasha of the way his mother looked at Pulcharia when she was doing something Lydia thought was particularly cute.
“Close it,” she said, “Softly.”
Zelach closed the door. The apartment was really only a single room, with a bed in one corner covered with a colorful quilt. A small alcove had been converted into a kind of kitchen. There were two standing portable closets and a trio of matching cushioned chairs covered in a well-worn green material. A small table with two chairs stood next to the bed. The rest of the room was taken up by cheap bookcases of various sizes and shapes. One particularly impressive floor-to-ceiling bookcase was jammed with books.
“What do you want?” the woman asked.
“To sit at your window,” said Sasha, looking out the glass. “We are waiting for some suspects to enter that building across the street.”
The rifle was obviously getting heavy. She hoisted it up.
“The Tivonovs?” she said. “Short, fat man and a woman who looks like his twin?”
Sasha did not answer.
“The boys,” she ventured again. “Tried to get in here once. I keep the shades down when it gets dark, but I sit by the window and read and watch when I can.”
Still Sasha didn’t answer her question but said instead, “We would simply like to take turns sitting at your window. We will require nothing of you but your silence. You can go on with your routine.”
“What if they don’t come back till night? What if they don’t come back for days?” she asked.
The rifle was now definitely aimed at the floor in front of Sasha. There was little chance that she could raise it and fire before he could step forward and take it from her hands.
“My partner will begin the watch. I will relieve him at midnight. You may sleep while I watch.”
“Someone tried to rape me once,” she said, looking with suspicion at the two men.
“I’m sorry,” said Sasha, feeling a rush of impatience he recognized as dangerous. “We will not harm you. When we are finished, we will give you a letter of commendation for your cooperation. The name of a chief inspector will be on the letter. You can say that you have a friend in the police who is a chief inspector.”
“In this neighborhood,” she said, moving to the door and leaning the rifle against the bookcase, “such a letter could get me killed. No letter.”
“No letter,” Sasha agreed.
“Money,” the woman said.
“Perhaps a little, after we catch them.”
“How little?” the woman said, facing the young detective.
“I don’t know.”
“American dollars,” she said. “Five American dollars.”
“I can’t get five American dollars,” said Sasha, glancing out the window again. “I’ll get what I can in rubles.”
The woman shook her head and said, “I have a choice?”
“No,” said Sasha.
“You want tea?” she asked.
“I am leaving,” said Sasha. “You don’t have a phone. Where is the nearest phone?”
“Two blocks that way. In front of what used to be a hotel. It still works. You want to know why?”
“Why?” asked Sasha wearily.
“Because the drug dealers use it and they’ll kill anyone who breaks it,” she said. “If it weren’t for the drug dealers, this neighborhood would be a hell. It takes the police more than half an hour sometimes to answer a complaint in this neighborhood. You call one of the drug dealers and they take care of things fast. They don’t want the police around.”
“I would like some tea,” Zelach said, moving to the window.
“You have the appreciation of the Moscow police,” Sasha said to the woman, who had moved to her alcove to prepare the tea.
“I’m the widow of a policeman,” she said. “You people appreciated him so much that now I have a pension so small, I can barely stay alive on it and I have to live in this prison. You have families?”
“My partner lives with his mother,” said Sasha. “I have a … This is not relevant.”
“To me it is,” said the woman. “And to your family. What happens to your wife if you get shot down dead in the street? I’ll tell you what happens. She gets a pension too small to live on.”
Zelach was standing at the window.
“Sit down,” the woman said.
Zelach sat, still wearing his coat.
“I will return at midnight if they haven’t come back by then,” Sasha said.
The woman shook her head and said, “I get little company. Having a man sitting at my window may not be such a bad thing.”
Sasha left, closing the apartment door behind him. Zelach knew the routine. If the boys returned, he was to call Sasha at home and do nothing till Sasha arrived, nothing but watch the door.
Sasha’s jacket was a bit too light for the weather. His heavy coat was not yet needed. He walked through the chill toward the nearest metro station. People moved in both directions. Sasha scanned faces for a trio of young boys as he moved.
He was now in a decidedly bad mood. He imagined himself on a hospital stretcher, his dead body flat, Maya looking down at him, wondering how she could manage without his salary. It was a good thing that he did not see the Chazov boys before he got to the metro station. He was certain that had he seen them, he would have done something quite foolish and possibly dangerous.
Alexei Porvinovich paced his designated side of the room considering something quite foolish and possibly dangerous. He had paced for hours. Artiom Solovyov had not returned. Alexei had leafed through the magazines that had been left for him. He had glanced at the lean masked man with the automatic weapon. The lean man sat watching Alexei and not speaking.
The pain in his face had been reduced to a constant tender throbbing, but his face in the mirror looked as if he had contracted some horrific, disfiguring disease.
Before doing something foolish and possibly dangerous Alexei decided upon a plan. He had made a near fortune being patient and dealing with bureaucrats at all levels. Some had been smart or at least cunning. A number had been fools. Usually the fools were much more difficult to deal with, and the man in the chair across the room certainly looked like a fool.
“You can remove the mask,” said Alexei. “It must be very warm.”
The man did not answer.
“Your name is Boris,” said Alexei, finding it difficult to speak through his pain. “You work for Solovyov. I’ve seen you many times. I can identify you with or without the mask.”
Boris considered this and looked at the door, wondering what Artiom would say if he returned and found him without the mask. But Porvinovich was right. What difference could it make? And the mask was driving Boris mad. He pulled it off and placed it nearby on the floor. He brushed back his hair, which resisted and turned him into a wild-haired clown with a gun.
“What do you know of me?” Alexei asked him.
Boris didn’t answer, but he did look at his prisoner. It was a small step.
“I am very rich,” Alexei said. “You know that. That is why you’ve joined Solovyov in this.”
Boris said nothing but watched Alexei, who had stopped pacing and now sat in a chair, which he turned to face the man with the weapon. Alexei would have liked to put on his business face, a resigned, understanding smile, but he knew it would look grotesque. Instead he sat casually, one leg crossed over the other. A cigarette would be a wonderful prop now, especially if he could pluck it casually from the silver case he normally kept in his pocket. Unfortunately, the case had been taken from him.
“How rich do you think I am?” Alexei said softly, the voice of a conspirator.
The man with the gun did something that may have been a shrug.
“How much is Solovyov paying you for helping him, Boris?”
Boris did not respond.
“A few thousand rubles? More? Maybe he promised you millions,” said Alexei casually. “I have that, and what does it hurt him to promise you anything?”
He had the attention of the man with the gun, though he had still not gotten a word from him.
“He will have to kill me, Boris,” said Alexei. “I know who he is. I know who you are. Would I go to the police with this information? Never. I don’t want the police to start looking into my businesses. No, I would go to a man I know, a man so much worse than you and your friend that any comparison would be comic. This man, to whom I would pay a great deal of money, would gather his friends and they would find you. They would find you, cut off your heads, and bring them to me.”
The man on the chair had opened his mouth slightly, using what imagination he had to conjure the image of someone awkwardly chopping his head from his body.
“But,” said Alexei, “that will not happen, because Solovyov must kill me. I know that. You know that. Am I right?”
Boris did not answer.
“I’m right,” said Alexei with a resigned sigh. “He will kill me and then he will kill you, Boris.”
The man in the chair looked as if he was going to speak and then thought better of it.
“He will kill you because you will know that he is a kidnapper and a murderer,” said Alexei. “He will kill you because he thinks you are too stupid to keep your mouth shut. He will kill you because if you are dead, he need not pay you or worry about you. It takes only a small brain, perhaps the size of a crow, to know that what I’m saying is true.”
“I’m not stupid,” said the man with the gun.
Alexei shrugged and looked at a neutral wall.
“I have thought about these things”-Boris was lying-“I know how to take care of myself.”
“How?” said Alexei, turning back to his captor.
“I know how to be careful,” the man said. “Artiom is my friend. He wouldn’t hurt me.”
“The woman might tell him to,” Alexei said. “Does he talk about her? Don’t you know he’ll do whatever she tells him? Don’t you know that he is only a little smarter than you?”
The man in the chair blinked and put one hand to his forehead.
“No more talking,” the man said.
“Of course,” Alexei said. “You need to think. But you had better think quickly. Once Artiom comes back, it may be too late.”
Boris stood up, gun in hand.
“No more talking,” he said.
Alexei held up his hands and said, “Fine. No more talking. There are ways out of this for you, but if you say no more talking-”
“What ways out?” demanded the man.
“You take me away from this apartment, someplace where I can make a call to that friend I told you about.” Alexei was whispering rapidly. “My friend finds Artiom and kills him. You still have me. I call my brother and tell him to deliver a sizable sum of money to a place of your choice. It will be a great deal of money for you. A small amount to me.”
“And then you have me killed,” the man said.
“Why?” asked Alexei, showing the empty palms of his hands. “You know what will save you? Your stupidity and insignificance. You aren’t worth my time. I have others to deal with, others who set this up with your friend, Artiom, who plans to kill you.”
“Where could I take you?” asked the man softly.
Alexei forced himself not to smile, though he doubted if a smile could be recognized on his purple, broken face.
“I know of such a place,” he said. “An apartment I keep for a young lady. You understand. She is in the countryside now visiting her grandparents.”
“I …” the man began.
“You’ll have to decide now,” said Alexei. “If Artiom comes through that door before we leave, we are both dead men.”
The man with the gun was pacing the floor now. It was Alexei who was sitting.
“I don’t know,” Boris said, running his hand over his head. “I can’t think it through.”
“It is really very simple and clear,” said Alexei. “We leave here and live, and you walk about safely with more money than you had been promised by Artiom, far more. You can either leave Moscow or stay. Artiom Solovyov will no longer be among the living.”
The man with the gun kept pacing, but Alexei sat back, relaxed. He knew that if Solovyov did not enter the room in the next few minutes, Boris would give in. Alexei knew that if time was just a bit kind to him, he would succeed.
Natalya Dokorova wore a plain black mourning dress with long sleeves. It was not new. Rostnikov suspected that the old woman wore black even when she had not lost a relative. The Wolfhound had left early for a reception for the French ambassador, and Rostnikov had bullied Pankov into letting him use the colonel’s office for the interrogations.
“I will take full responsibility,” Rostnikov had told the little man. “Why don’t you try to find the colonel? I’ll be happy to explain the situation to him.”
“He did not want to be disturbed unless it was an emergency,” Pankov said.
“Does sitting at the table in his office constitute an emergency?” Rostnikov asked.
Pankov sat thinking. “First thing in the morning,” he said, “you must be here to tell the colonel what you have done and that you did not listen to me when I told you not to do this.”
“First thing in the morning,” Rostnikov had said.
And now they sat around the table. Rostnikov on one side. Craig Hamilton on his left. Elena Timofeyeva on his right. Across from them sat Natalya Dokorova. The tribunal had begun.
“First,” Rostnikov said, “I am sorry for the loss of your brother.”
“Second,” Rostnikov went on, “I am responsible for recovering the items that were stolen from your house.”
“They are mine,” she said, back straight, looking at Elena.
“That is an issue that can be addressed when we have the items,” said Rostnikov. “First we find them. Then we discuss who owns them. That, however, is not a decision for me to make. I have something for you.”
Rostnikov leaned over. When he sat upright, there was a flower in his hand. He looked at it for a moment and then reached over and handed it to Natalya Dokorova, who took it and sat back in total confusion. Rostnikov could see from the bewildered look on her face that no one had ever given her a flower before. She placed it on her lap with her right hand over it as if to keep it from fleeing.
“I burned everything,” said Natalya Dokorova.
“No,” said Rostnikov, “you did not.”
“I …” she began, but Rostnikov raised a hand to silence her.
“Guards from two different jurisdictions on each of the doors,” Rostnikov said. “Ground floor is solid. Insufficient space in the walls to hide much. Distance to the buildings on either side too far to run a ladder or a plank, and even if it could be done, the noise would clearly draw the attention of the guards. Someone suggested a helicopter on the roof. Too much noise. Conclusion?”
Natalya sat silently now, clutching her flower.
“Show her,” said Rostnikov with a sigh.
Elena reached under the table and came up with a piece of dark wood. She placed the piece of wood carefully on the table so as not to scratch its surface. Natalya looked at the wood.
“Can you tell us what this is?”
“It looks like the leg of a chair,” she said. “Or a table.”
“Found in your garbage,” Rostnikov said. “A number of pieces of burned furniture were found in your garbage and the closets of your house. Why are you burning and hiding broken furniture? The furniture in your closets and garbage has no great value.”
“I am eccentric,” the old woman said.
Rostnikov nodded at Elena, who said, “Natalya, you spent the night burning cheap furniture to give the impression that you were destroying your brother’s collection. I don’t believe you could destroy any of the items your brother had collected. You told me that the chairs in your parlor once belonged to Catherine the Great. We think that every item in your home, every painting, every table is an antique of great worth, and it is only the cheap, everyday furniture you have destroyed.”
Natalya said nothing.
“The jewelry, books, paintings, that’s a different story,” said Rostnikov. “Would you like to tell us what you did with them?”
“I burned them.”
“No,” Rostnikov repeated softly.
Natalya said nothing.
“They will cheat you, Natalya Dokorova,” said Rostnikov.
“No one will cheat me,” she said firmly.
“You mean if someone cheated you, you would simply tell us who it was or threaten to do so,” said Rostnikov. “If I were your accomplice and I were a criminal, I would offer you very little, far less than you expected but enough so that you would take it. I would be sure that you had no choice but to accept my offer.”
Natalya was silent again, twirling the stem of the flower between her fingers.
“But you see, Natalya,” Rostnikov went on, “we think that whoever might make you such an offer would be greatly miscalculating your determination, your belief in your entitlement. I believe you would turn him or her in.”
The old woman looked at the chief inspector with clear determination.
“Put the flower in cool water by a window facing east if possible,” said Rostnikov. “It will last longer.”
“You are finished with me?” Natalya said with some confusion.
Rostnikov nodded, and she stood up, clutching the stem of her flower in her right fist. Elena also stood and moved to the door.
Rostnikov, in English, asked the FBI man something about a man named Ed McBain. What it was he asked was beyond Natalya’s limited English. Elena opened the door leading into the reception room and found herself looking at four men. For an instant she didn’t recognize them. They wore casual clothes, not the uniforms they had worn the other night.
They all looked at her, but she did not let her eyes meet any of theirs.
Elena closed the door and turned to Rostnikov and Hamilton, who stopped speaking and listened as she said, “Orlov and Terhekin.”
“They were …?” Rostnikov asked. “Back door,” said Elena. “May I ask a question?”
“Yes,” said Rostnikov, trying to move his leg into a more tolerable position.
“Why did you give her the flower?”
“Because she needed it,” said Rostnikov.