Rostnikov had taken a cold shower well after midnight. It was not cold by choice. First he had undressed and dropped his clothes on a chair, being careful not to wake the girls. The water was no more than a halfhearted trickle, but Rostnikov was accustomed to that and to the hard, abrasive Chinese soap that did wonders for getting rid of grease, rust, and dirt but did nothing for the condition of one’s skin.
Naked, leg aching, and not in one of his better moods after being dressed down by Colonel Snitkonoy, Porfiry Petrovich had crept as quietly as he could through the darkness and into bed. The blanket was cool, almost cold, the way he liked it. Sarah turned and asked dreamily, “What time is it?”
Rostnikov turned his head to look at the illuminated dial of the bedside clock and answered, “Nearly two.”
“What did he want?” she asked, just barely awake. She moved into his arms.
“To tell me I had been a bad child, that I had kept secrets from my superior.”
“Did you?” she asked.
“Keep secrets? Frequently. Gregorovich is an open microphone to Klamkin in the Ministry of the Interior. And who knows what our Wolfhound tells those to whom he must report and retain the illusion of comradeship?”
“The girls were afraid you were being taken away like their grandmother,” Sarah said.
“I’ll talk to them. I’ll tell them I’m the police, the plumbing policeman, that no one takes me away, that I take people away, that … I must get some sleep.”
“I was waiting for you,” she said.
“I knew you would be,” he said, hugging her to him. Her hair brushed his face. It had grown completely back since the surgery, which had almost taken her life and her wits.
“Tomorrow night,” he said, gently rubbing her back in the darkness. “Tomorrow night we will make love. Disappointed?”
“Tomorrow night,” she said, kissing his cheek. “You shaved.”
“In the shower.”
“Tomorrow night you may be more tired,” she said, running a hand over his chest. “And why waste a perfectly good shave and a freshly scrubbed body?”
It had been months since Sarah had initiated any sexual contact-months of recovery. Twice over the past few weeks Rostnikov had touched her in the ways she knew meant that he wanted her. She had responded lovingly. But this was the first time she had initiated it. He could not refuse.
When he looked up at the clock later, it was nearly three. Then he slept until the phone woke him slightly after five. It was still dark. Rostnikov sat up and grabbed the receiver before the second ring. He listened, whispered, “Yes,” and hung up. Ten minutes later he was dressed, his hair combed. The hardest part about dressing was getting a sock and shoe onto his left foot. Bending the deformed leg was agony. Usually Sarah did it for him, but during her long illness he had grown accustomed to the pain. By the dim bulb of a night-light near the bed the two girls shared, he found a jar of cold coffee and half of a large loaf of bread. He drank the coffee directly from the jar, finishing it. He ate some of the bread as he wrote a note to Sarah.
“You are back,” came the voice of a little girl from the bed.
“Shhh,” whispered Rostnikov. “Your sister is asleep.”
“Did they take you where they took my grandmother?”
“No,” he whispered. “My colonel had an urgent plumbing problem. He needed the plumbing policeman.”
The girl giggled.
“Go back to sleep,” he whispered, moving toward the door, a large piece of bread in his hand. “There is school to attend, and I will be needing my plumber’s apprentice to be well rested for emergencies.”
She giggled again and put her head on the pillow.
There was a car waiting at the curb for Rostnikov. It was a small white Lada. The driver was a woman in full uniform and cap. Rostnikov climbed into the backseat and closed the door. The car pulled away into the gentle hint of sunrise.
“Have you eaten?” asked Rostnikov.
“Yes, Chief Inspector,” she said. “I am on the night shift.”
Rostnikov nodded and sat back to finish his bread, tearing off little pieces to make it last longer. He had drunk the cold coffee too quickly. Each bump in the street-there were many small and not-so-small holes-upset his stomach.
With the small amount of traffic so early in the morning, they reached the hospital in ten minutes.
“You may go,” Rostnikov said, getting out of the car with the usual difficulty.
“I am on duty till nine,” the driver said. “I have been assigned to you directly by order of Colonel Snitkonoy.”
“Then,” said Rostnikov, “I shall be down shortly.”
He made his way to the desk. He knew several of the day-and night-shift people at the hospital. He had many occasions to come here, but the man on the desk this morning looked up without recognition. Rostnikov took out his identification card and said, “Tkach, what room?”
The man in white behind the desk looked up the room number. Rostnikov thanked him and moved down the hall to the elevator. There was a sign on it that read OUT OF ORDER.
Rostnikov sighed, found a stairway, and made his way painfully to the third floor. A nurse at the station at the end of the corridor looked up as he hobbled toward her. As softly as possible, to keep from waking the sleeping patients, he said, “Tkach.”
She was very young, very thin, and very plain, with big glasses and a uniform at least a size too large. She gave him the room number and suggested he not stay long.
He smiled at her, found Tkach’s room, and went in. It was a double room, a luxury in a Moscow hospital. Even Sarah, when they were not sure if she would survive her tumor, had been in a room with three other women, one of whom moaned throughout the night.
Standing next to the first bed, the dawn now truly coming through the window, stood Colonel Snitkonoy, nearly at attention, his hands clasped behind his back. He looked impeccably clean, well pressed, and not the least bit tired, though he couldn’t have gotten to bed much before Rostnikov.
“Colonel,” Rostnikov said, softly moving to the opposite side of the bed and looking down at the sleeping Tkach. Sasha’s head was covered with a turbanlike white bandage that showed a large red blotch of blood.
“Chief Inspector,” said the Wolfhound quietly. “He has suffered a severe concussion and a thin crack in his skull. No blood appears to have leaked through the crack and there is no apparent brain damage. He has a jagged cut on his back that required forty-two stitches. The doctor, whom I know, assures me that he should be up and in pain within a day or two. He will probably be quite dizzy.”
“What happened?” asked Rostnikov.
“The boys he was attempting to find found him. Officer Zelach apparently saved Inspector Tkach’s life and apprehended the boys. In better days I would recommend Zelach for a medal. Now …” The Wolfhound looked down at the medals on his uniform. “I will give him a certificate of merit, framed and enclosed in glass.”
“He will appreciate that,” said Rostnikov. “Does Tkach’s family know? His wife and mother?”
The colonel looked at his watch.
“When I was told that he would survive, I thought they should have a peaceful night of sleep. I will go to his home now and inform them,” said the colonel, touching a stray hair just behind his left ear. “I will also inform them that you have already been here.”
Although he was wearing his boots, the colonel managed to walk lightly and quietly out the door.
“Is he gone?” whispered Tkach, eyes still closed.
“Yes,” Rostnikov answered.
“Good,” Tkach said, opening his eyes.
He looked in the general direction of Rostnikov, found him, tried to turn his head, felt a swift pain, and closed his eyes again. “I didn’t know what to say to him,” said Tkach. “I couldn’t carry on a conversation.”
“That is understandable,” said Rostnikov.
Tkach’s arms were lying at his sides over the thin orange blanket that covered him. One hand moved toward his head. There was pain in Tkach’s face. Rostnikov intercepted the hand and put it back at his side.
“My head,” said Tkach.
“I’ll ask a doctor to give you something for the pain,” said Rostnikov, realizing that he was still holding the young man’s hand.
“That would be welcome,” said Tkach, eyes still closed. “Zelach just left. He saved my life.”
“The colonel just told me.”
Tkach tried to shake his head but found it impossibly painful, so he simply slumped back and licked his lips. “I think I should sleep now,” he said. “I had little sleep last night.”
“I’ll be back later,” said Rostnikov.
“No need,” said Tkach dreamily.
“I’ll be back,” said Rostnikov, and then he left.
At the desk in the corridor he told the plain-looking nurse with the glasses that Tkach needed something for his pain. She said she would find a doctor.
It was dawn when Rostnikov hit the street. It was definitely cold, not as cold as it would be in a month, but it was certainly
He got in the car and checked his watch. It was a little after six, a very unreasonable hour for a social call. He gave the driver the address of the Porvinovich apartment building and leaned back to get a few minutes of rest as she pulled into the early-morning traffic.
Emil Karpo recognized the building on Vozdvishenka, the Street of the Exaltation of the Cross, which, along with the Noviy Arbat, New Arbat, was still called by most Muscovites Kalinin Prospekt, in honor of Mikhail Kalinin, one of the few old Bolsheviks to survive the purges of Stalin and die an honored old man in 1946. The apartment building, a one-block walk from the Praga Restaurant, dated back to the turn of the century and therefore was much sturdier and well built than the skyscrapers that had come after the war against the Nazis. It had originally, though briefly, housed large apartments for those in the czar’s ministries. Then, until recently, it had housed members of the president’s cabinet and high-ranking members of the politburo, along with a sprinkling of bankers. Now it housed the newly rich and influential, men such as Igor Kuzen.
Hamilton had admired the building as they walked toward it from the FBI agent’s dark Ford, which was parked quite illegally with the flap down, indicating that he was there on police business.
It was a few minutes after six in the morning.
There was a man on guard at the locked door. He was dressed in a dark suit and tie, and his battered face looked formidable. Karpo showed his identification card. Hamilton took out his FBI photo ID. The man with the battered face reluctantly opened the door.
“Igor Kuzen,” said Hamilton.
The man was not accustomed to black men, particularly those who showed cards and acted with such confidence. The policeman with him was as chilling a pale specimen of humanity as he had ever seen, and he had seen a great many in his life.
“He is probably not yet up,” the man said. “He seldom rises before eight or nine.”
“Unfortunately,” said Hamilton, “we will have to disturb his routine. His room number?”
The man with the battered face was confused. He looked back into the lobby, from which a large man emerged. The large man wore black pants and shoes and a white long-sleeved turtleneck shirt under his jacket. He was completely bald.
“Is there a problem, Georgi?” the man in the turtleneck asked.
He was big, very big, and Karpo could see that the backs of both his hands were tattooed.
“These men want to see Mr. Kuzen,” the battered man said. “They are from the police.”
This information did not appear to impress the big man.
“You will have to come back later,” the man said. “Mr. Kuzen is not up yet. Give me your names and numbers and I will ask him to call you when he gets up.”
“We would like to see him now,” Hamilton said.
“Out of the question,” said the big man, now standing directly in front of Hamilton.
“I’ll have to ask you to step out of our way or be arrested for obstructing a criminal investigation,” said Hamilton, meeting the man’s eyes.
The big man smiled.
Hamilton’s left leg shot out and came back behind the left knee of the big man, who started to crumple to the ground as he reached under his jacket. Hamilton’s right hand brought the reaching hand backward, fingers almost touching the man’s wrist. With his other hand Hamilton reached under the now-kneeling man’s jacket and came up with a pistol, which he handed to Karpo, who stood watching without emotion.
“What room is Mr. Kuzen in?” Hamilton asked, releasing the fallen man’s hand and straightening his tie.
The man with the battered face looked at the kneeling man, who gave him no help. The kneeling man was nursing a very sore knee and a very numb right hand.
“Sixty-three,” said the battered man.
The big man in the white turtleneck with no gun tried to stand, but his left leg wouldn’t cooperate.
“Impressive,” said Karpo as the two men went to the open elevator, and the man with the battered face went to help the fallen giant.
“Thank you,” said Hamilton, not knowing whether Karpo was capable of sarcasm. “What would you have done?”
“Sudden, quick palm to the bridge of his nose,” Karpo said, getting on the elevator.
“You might have driven the broken bone into his brain,” said Hamilton.
“It would be a possibility,” Karpo agreed as the elevator doors closed.
The door to room 63 was opening just as they arrived. The man with the battered face had undoubtedly alerted Kuzen to the arrival of the unwanted visitors.
“It’s early,” said the drowsy man, standing in the doorway.
He was around fifty, a small man with a bit of a belly and thinning gray hair, which looked a bit morning-wild. He wore thick glasses and green pajamas, which were probably silk. He stepped back from the open door and invited the two men in.
“Georgi tells me you’ve hurt Karono,” he said, closing the door.
Neither Hamilton nor Karpo said anything.
They were in a reception room with white walls and gold baseboards along the floor. A painting stood over an antique telephone table.
“This way,” the man said, scratching his head and moving down the corridor to a room on his right. “You want coffee? Tea? Something to eat?”
“No,” said Hamilton.
They followed the man into a huge room with a broad window looking out toward the city. The sun had risen over the roofs of the clearly visible towers of Saint Basil’s.
The room was furnished with delicate, turn-of-the-century furniture that looked quite authentic to Karpo.
“I started coffee when Georgi’s call woke me,” the man said. “I need a cup to wake up.”
“You are Igor Kuzen?” Hamilton asked.
“I am,” he said. “And I’m much more impressive when I’m fully dressed. Have a seat. Excuse me for one moment only.”
The two men continued to stand.
“Why do you do what you do?” Karpo asked, looking around at the furniture.
“Why do I …? To feed my family. Because I believe in preserving and protecting my government,” said Hamilton.
“Capitalism?” Karpo asked, examining a cushioned chair with delicately carved ebony legs.
“Capitalism,” Hamilton agreed. “Democracy.”
“Capitalism and democracy seem to be destroying my country,” said Karpo. “This chair is of museum quality.”
“Why do you do this?” Hamilton asked.
“Because I believed in Communism,” Karpo said. “I still believe in Communism. It was the weak, stupid, corrupt leaders who only gave lip service to our system who eventually destroyed the Soviet Union and betrayed Communism.”
Karpo kept examining the furniture, knowing that he was conversing with the FBI agent primarily to help contain the urge he had to begin destroying everything in the room.
“So you work in the hope that Communism will return,” said Hamilton, watching him.
“No,” said Karpo. “If it returns, it will be the same or worse. It is too late. I continue my work because I know nothing else to do and I do it well. The sense of satisfaction has diminished, whereas crime has increased. I’ve become a garbage man cleaning polluted litter that never stops falling and may destroy me.”
Since he did not know Karpo, Hamilton was not as amazed as his colleagues at the Department of Special Affairs would have been at Karpo’s openness. Karpo found it easier today to talk to a stranger who was very much like him in many ways.
“And the woman?” asked Hamilton. “Mathilde Verson?”
Karpo turned to look at the FBI agent and this time said nothing. The question was not a welcome one. The tension was broken by the return of Igor Kuzen with a cup of coffee on a saucer. Both cup and saucer were patterned with flowers and looked very delicate. Kuzen had also taken the time to brush his hair and put on a robe that exactly matched his pajamas. He sat in one of the more erect pieces of antique furniture and began to drink his coffee.
“You don’t want to sit?” he asked.
“No,” said Hamilton.
“As you wish,” said Kuzen.
“Aren’t you curious about why we have come?” asked Hamilton.
“Yes,” said Kuzen. “But I assume you will soon tell me. I saw you admiring the furniture.”
“And the view,” said Hamilton.
Kuzen smiled and took another sip of coffee.
“You are a scientist.”
“Correct,” said Kuzen.
“By appearances a wealthy scientist,” said Hamilton.
“I am comfortable,” admitted Kuzen, looking at Karpo, who definitely made him uneasy.
“You worked in a government office, at government wages,” Hamilton said. “Fifty dollars a month, maybe a bit more.”
“A bit more,” Kuzen said. “I’m a good physicist.”
“You worked in nuclear research,” said Hamilton.
“Dismantling nuclear arms and disposal of nuclear waste,” said Kuzen. “Beyond that, as your colleague will tell you, I am unable to comment.”
“You quit,” said Hamilton.
“To work in private industry,” said Kuzen, finishing his coffee and setting cup and saucer on an ornate metal trivet on the table in front of him.
“Private industry seems to have recognized your expertise,” Hamilton said, looking around the room.
“Capitalism has been good for me,” Kuzen said, folding his hands.
“What company do you work for?” Hamilton said. “We couldn’t find it in your files.”
“I am a consultant to many companies,” Kuzen said. “Both foreign and domestic.”
“Do you know a Mikhail Sivak?” asked Karpo.
“I’ve met him,” Kuzen said. “Hired him and some of his associates to transport goods for a company I do some work for.”
“Do you know that Sivak is dead?” asked Hamilton.
“I was informed,” said Kuzen, growing increasingly nervous at the hovering presence of the gaunt policeman in black.
“A shoot-out,” said Karpo. “Rival gangs. A woman died in the cross fire.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” said Kuzen, adjusting his glasses.
“Sivak was a member of a mafia,” said Hamilton. “An organized gang composed mostly of former convicts, the Beasts, many of whom had served sentences at Correctional Labor Colony Nineteen.”
“And?” Kuzen asked, looking at Hamilton.
“And members of this mafia can be identified by a prison tattoo, an eagle clutching a nuclear warhead,” said Hamilton.
“I never noticed such a tattoo on Sivak or any of his friends,” said Kuzen.
The two men had slowly inched forward and were looking almost directly down at Kuzen.
“The tattoos are generally in places that are not visible if the man is clothed,” said Hamilton.
“Interesting,” said Kuzen.
“Several years ago an attempt was made to smuggle nuclear material into Germany,” said Hamilton. “Is that also interesting?”
“Yes,” said Kuzen.
“You had heard about this attempt?” asked Hamilton.
Kuzen was definitely sweating now and was unwilling to wipe his forehead for two reasons. First, the policemen would see. Second, he might stain his silk robe or pajamas.
“Something. Vaguely,” said Kuzen, “when I worked for the government.”
“How secure are nuclear weapons in Russia?” asked Hamilton. “Your best guess.”
“Not terribly secure,” said Kuzen.
“Weapons depositories are guarded by a few untrained soldiers and a barbed-wire fence,” said Hamilton.
“I know nothing about that,” said Kuzen, looking up from man to man, sitting back as far as he could.
“How much of a problem would it be to steal fissionable material, perhaps even short-range warheads?”
“I couldn’t begin to speculate,” said Kuzen.
“The mafia for which you are working,” said Karpo, “is already, with your help, in possession of nuclear material and planning the massive theft of nuclear weapons. These are to be shipped out of Russia with the help of Italian criminals and sold to North Korea, Iran, and China.”
“Me?” Kuzen said, pointing to himself.
“You,” said Hamilton. He wondered where Karpo had gotten his evidently accurate information.
“The woman who died in the cross fire between the two gangs was a particular friend of Inspector Karpo’s,” Hamilton said.
Kuzen looked up at the blank white face. The men standing before him looked like chess pieces-one black, one white, avenging knights who might strike at odd angles.
“Inspector Karpo has already visited with a member of the gang we are discussing with you,” said Hamilton. “He has visited a prisoner named Voshenko. Do you know Voshenko?”
“Voshenko? Voshenko,” Kuzen said, finding it impossible to control the trembling in his voice. “The name is-”
“Very big man,” said Hamilton. “Bigger than the man downstairs whose knee I accidentally dislocated.”
“Big man. Voshenko. Yes. Maybe,” said Kuzen.
“Inspector Karpo broke both of his thumbs,” said Hamilton. “It was an accident too. Accidents can happen to anyone. For example, I could walk in the other room, find myself a cup, and pour myself coffee. I might hear the crash of breaking glass, and when I returned to this room, I might find the window broken and you missing. Do you have a family, Igor Kuzen?” asked Hamilton.
“Wife, two daughters,” he said, his voice breaking. “They … we live in a dacha outside of town.”
“Business success forces you to live in this apartment most of the time?” said Hamilton.
“Yes,” said Kuzen. “Listen, please, I know nothing of this gang business, or killings, or any theft of nuclear materials. I’ve done a few things that may not be strictly legal. Who really knows what is legal and what is not anymore? But killings, nuclear weapons.
“I need a cup of coffee,” Hamilton said.
Kuzen looked at the FBI agent in panic and reached for his sleeve. “No, please.”
“I’m just going to get a cup of coffee,” said Hamilton calmly, a smile on his face.
“They have no warheads, no weapons, yet,” said Kuzen.
“Nuclear material?” asked Hamilton.
“We have carefully examined your background, Kuzen,” Hamilton said. “It is our conclusion that you do not have the requisite skills to assemble a functional nuclear weapon. How long will it be before the Beasts discover this?”
“You don’t understand,” said Kuzen. “They already know. I am only a decoy. I know enough to talk the language of nuclear weaponry with people sent by the North Koreans or the Iranians.”
“So the Beasts have no plans to deliver real weapons?” asked Hamilton.
“Not yet,” said Kuzen. “The German they killed in the caf?, Kirst. He figured out I was a fraud. He was going to tell the buyer and …” He shrugged.
“Why are you confessing so readily?” asked Hamilton.
“Because,” said Kuzen, “if you leave without taking me with you, they will come and question me. I am not a man of great courage. They will assume that I have talked or might soon talk.”
“We will have the names of all members of the mafia for whom you are working,” said Karpo.
Kuzen laughed nervously.
“And,” added Hamilton, “we will have your testimony and all information you possess about illegal activity.”
Kuzen stopped laughing, tried to catch his breath, and said, “I will be a dead man. There is no place you could put me that would be safe. They would get to me in any prison.”
“What about the United States?” asked Hamilton.
“I don’t know,” said Kuzen. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that you will testify against this mafia and I will arrange for you to have immediate political asylum in the United States. I can also arrange for you to find employment in our nuclear-disposal efforts.”
“America?” Kuzen said. “My wife? Daughters? If they stay …”
“Your wife and daughters too,” said Hamilton.
“This is all so fast,” said Kuzen. “I need time to … You just walk into my home …” He pointed around the room at his possessions. “You take everything away.”
“There will come a time,” said Hamilton, “when your mafia will find your information too old and limited. Then they will buy themselves another expert and eliminate you. How can someone as intelligent as you are be so stupid as to not see this?”
“I …” Kuzen began, but he never finished.
The front door burst open. The bald man from the lobby came limping in with a gun in his right hand. Karpo and Hamilton drew their weapons as the limping man, his teeth clenched in either pain or a grin, began firing.
The bullet from Hamilton’s weapon crumpled the man forward on his knees as the shot from Karpo’s gun hit the man in the forehead, jerking his head back.
“Are you hit?” asked Hamilton, moving cautiously toward the fallen killer without looking back at Karpo.
“No,” said Karpo.
“How could he miss?” said Hamilton, kicking the weapon away from the dead man.
“He didn’t,” Karpo answered, looking down at Kuzen, whose beautiful silk robe and pajamas were drenched with blood. “He came to kill him first.”
Hamilton looked at Kuzen’s body and the delicate coffee cup and saucer, which were untouched. Then he felt himself beginning to tremble. He fought against it. He had never shot anyone before, had never had reason even to draw his weapon, and now he had almost been killed. If the dead man on the floor had chosen to, he could have killed Hamilton or Karpo or both of them.
Hamilton had assumed the dead man had been there to protect Kuzen. It was clear now that the dead man had been there to be sure that Kuzen did not talk to the police.
“There’s a phone in the corner, near the window,” said Hamilton. “Our assassin may have called for backup, or the doorman may be doing that right now. I suggest we do the same.”
The FBI man was sure that he was not trembling. He was also still clutching his weapon in both hands, keeping his eyes toward the front of the apartment through which the killer had come. Karpo placed his weapon back in the holster under his jacket. He ignored Hamilton’s suggestion.
“I suggest you call the police number,” said Karpo. “They will attempt to tell you what district we are in. Armed officers will begin showing up within ten minutes of your call. Someone at the district will, by that time, have also placed a call to a member of the mafia responsible for this, if the doorman has not already done so. I am the ranking Russian officer on the scene. I suggest we search the apartment while we wait for help. When help arrives, evidence may disappear.”
“You are a cynical bastard,” said Hamilton admiringly.
“The recognition of reality in a world of political chaos is not cynicism but reason,” said Karpo.
“Do you always quote Lenin?” asked Hamilton, putting his weapon away but keeping his jacket unbuttoned.
“Do you always recognize when someone is quoting Lenin?” asked Karpo, moving toward a room that looked like an office. The door was open and a computer sat on the desk in the room.
“Not always,” said Hamilton. “But it’s impressive when I do, isn’t it?”
He paused at Kuzen’s body, touched the man’s neck for a pulse. He didn’t find one, but he hadn’t expected to. He moved to the telephone and made the call to the police for immediate backup, using Colonel Snitkonoy’s name.
“Ten-minute search,” said Hamilton, going to the front door and pushing it closed. The lock was now broken, but the door stayed closed.
“Ten minutes will be adequate,” said Karpo, who was now out of Hamilton’s sight.
Even though the man on the floor had a bullet hole in his forehead directly above his left eye, Hamilton knelt again to be sure he was dead. When he entered the office, Karpo was going through papers stashed in neat wooden cubbyholes on the table next to the desk. The walls of the room were filled with books. A stack of manila folders lay neatly on one side of the computer. On the other side were boxes of floppy disks.
“My computer skills are adequate, but not sophisticated,” Karpo said, turning on the computer. “I assume you are well trained.”
Hamilton moved behind the desk and examined the names of the files on the screen. Karpo continued a search of the contents of the envelopes and the cubbyholes.
“I doubt if he’d leave anything incriminating sitting on top of his desk,” said Hamilton.
From where he sat, he could see both of the bodies in the next room. That was the way he liked it.
Karpo examined the cubbyholes. Each was marked by a small white tab in black ink. There seemed to be no order to the slots, not alphabetical, not by subject. There were fifteen slots with labels such as RELATIVES, MARKETS, CARTOONS,CATS, CLOTHING, PENSION.
“Orderly man,” Hamilton said. “Files in order, indexed by subject, title, entry dates.”
Hamilton opened a file at random and shook his head. “No wasted words, our Kuzen. Efficient.”
In front of Karpo stood the less-than-orderly cubbyholes. He stared at them while the FBI agent hurried through the hard-disk files.
“Plenty of data here,” said Hamilton. “Take hours to go through it. Everything looks like it’s backed up and indexed on floppy. I’ll double-check. Then I suggest we look at the backups when we have more time. We’re down to seven minutes.”
“I’ll continue to look,” said Karpo, going through a stack of letters and notes from the cubbyhole marked TAXES.
“It’s your country,” said Hamilton, racing through computer files.
“It was,” said Karpo.
“We’re not going to get this done in time,” said Hamilton, lining up the backup disks and looking around the room.
“He wouldn’t leave anything lying around,” said Karpo.
“Then what are we looking for?” asked Hamilton as he switched off the computer. “There could be something on the hard disk or one of the floppies that can be opened with a code. The man was a scientist. An anal-retentive one. Look at this place. It looks as if a team of maids left five minutes ago. Except …”
They both looked at the mess of cubbyholes.
“A concession,” said Hamilton.
Karpo shook his head no.
“Then what?” asked Hamilton. He stood up and felt more comfortable because he could get his gun out quickly.
“What if the disorder of these papers and the randomness of these slots is neither disorderly nor random?” said Karpo.
“If someone touched a shelf or looked at its contents when Kuzen wasn’t here, he would come back and know it.”
“Why would he care if …?” Hamilton began, and then stopped.
“Something is hidden,” said Karpo.
He ran his fingers delicately along the wooden slats between the compartments. His touch was light, his eyes unblinking. Suddenly he stopped.
A piece of paper, the tiny corner of a newspaper or page of a book, fluttered to the table.
“Which one?” asked Hamilton.
“This,” said Karpo, pointing to the cubbyhole marked BILLS.
If someone disturbed the papers even slightly, the seemingly random bit of paper would flutter to the table. The person who had disturbed the papers could ignore it, throw it away, pocket it, or try to return it to the sheaf of papers. But return it where, between which two sheets?
“A very cautious man,” said Hamilton.
“His caution failed to save his life,” said Karpo, pulling out the stack of bills and handing half of them to the FBI agent.
Two minutes later they had examined the small pile.
“We can take them and check them,” Hamilton said, adding the bills to the pile of floppy disks.
Karpo removed the sliding bottom of the now-empty cubbyhole. The bottom was a narrow slat of wood that fit into a slot, just like the rest of the open-faced shelves. There was nothing taped to the slat of wood, nothing taped to the back of the shelf.
“Two more minutes,” Hamilton said, checking his watch.
Karpo ran his fingers around the edge of the slat of wood. When he was gently brushing one side of the slat, he stopped and examined it.
“How thin can a disk be?” he asked.
Hamilton shrugged. “Paper-thin. Why?”
“Our time is up,” Karpo said, starting to slide the slat back into the wooden cabinet. “I’ll call again. You can check the other rooms.”
“Right,” said Hamilton, moving toward the living room.
With one hand Karpo picked up the phone and dialed Petrovka. With the other he removed the slat again, found the spot he was seeking, and dug his thumbnail into the nearly paper-thin, one-inch-long slit of clay that had been painted the same color as the thin wood. He asked again for immediate support and hung up, listening for Hamilton’s footsteps in the other room. Karpo quickly removed the clay and turned the slat of wood onto one side. A round, bright circle of metal fell into his palm. He pocketed the metal, slid the slat back in its slot, and returned the bills to the cubbyhole. He carefully gathered the bits of clay in his fingers and deposited them in another pocket.
Fifteen minutes later a quartet of police, in full uniform, weapons at the ready, were standing in the room over the bodies of the two dead men while a very black man in a very good suit and a tall, gaunt figure they recognized as Karpo the Vampire answered questions put to them by their officer, a young captain who was already losing hair and gaining weight. The young captain looked tired. The sight of the bodies barely drew his attention.
“Mafia,” he said with a resigned sigh.
“Yes,” said Hamilton, explaining who had killed whom less than half an hour earlier.
Kuzen’s dead eyes were open. Karpo looked down at them. The dead man had lost his life and his secret.