Karpo knew little about computers, which was why he sat in his small office reading the manuals that he had obtained from Colonel Snitkonoy’s little Pankov, who had a computer on his desk. There were many people he could ask about how to insert the disk and read it, but this he would not do.

He read, alone at first. Then Elena Timofeyeva returned and passed his office on the way to hers. She had a little bottle in her hand. He looked up as she paused.

“May I?” he asked, nodding at her hand.

“Yes,” she said, handing the bottle to him. “I’m very sorry about Mathilde. My aunt asked me to send her sympathy, and if you are willing to tolerate our cooking, we would like to invite you for dinner on a day-”

“Where did you get this?” he interrupted.

“The bottle? From Natalya Dokorova.”

Karpo continued to examine the bottle.

“What did she tell you about it?”

“Nothing,” said Elena. “The perfume is a small gift for my trying to help her. Would you like the bottle?”

“No,” he said, handing it back to her. “May I suggest that you take very good care of that bottle.”

Elena took the bottle back. She looked at Karpo’s face for a moment, then looked carefully at the bottle for the first time.

“You mean …?”

“I mean it is something you should take care of,” he said.

Elena was suddenly afraid that she would drop the little bottle. She tucked it deeply into her pocket.

“Thank you,” she said.

For a moment Elena considered leaving, but she had the feeling that Karpo had something more to say.

“How knowledgeable are you about computers?”

“I’ve had two courses on their use,” she answered, wondering where this was leading. “I would say that I am reasonably knowledgeable.”

Karpo pointed to the shining little metal circle on his empty desk. Elena had barely noticed it before.

“Can you put this on a computer so that I can read it?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“I would prefer that only I see the contents,” he said.

“Of course.”

Karpo handed her the circle and said, “How long?”

“If I can find what I need, you should have a readable disk in less than an hour. However, the information on the disk may be locked. If you like, I can check. There are things I can do to open it, but I would have to look at the information at least minimally to do this.”

Karpo nodded and said, “One hour.”

“Approximately,” she said, feeling the bottle in her pocket.

“Thank you,” he said. “Dinner with you and Anna Timofeyeva would be welcome.”

Elena nodded and smiled. Her heart was beating quickly, and she wondered what she should do with the bottle, whether or not to tell her aunt, whether it was possible to get it appraised without having it stolen, whether it was her duty to turn it in to her superiors. At the moment she wasn’t the slightest bit curious about what might be on Karpo’s disk.

When Rostnikov finished turning his prisoners over to the district station and telling them the charges, he gave the solemn, overweight major in charge the address where he could find two bodies.

“Not in my district,” the major said.

“You have my authority, direct from Petrovka, direct from the Office of Special Investigation, direct from Colonel Snitkonoy, to go to the apartment, examine the scene, and take care of the bodies. If you prefer, you may call the head of that district and have him check the apartment. As mad as it seems,” Rostnikov said wearily, “you might consider working together.”

The major nodded, making it clear that “working together” with another district would be out of the question. The major, Rostnikov decided, would risk the enmity of the director of the district where the apartment was located and take on the investigation himself. Scoring points with Petrovka and the Wolfhound’s department would be worth a bit of additional tension between the districts.

From the district station Rostnikov then made a call to the cousin of his wife. Sarah’s cousin was a surgeon, and they were close. With some difficulty Rostnikov reached the cousin and asked him for the name of a good psychologist. The cousin came up with two names of people who were trying to make the practice of therapy acceptable in the new democratic Russia. Rostnikov tracked down one of the therapists and told him about Porvinovich.

“I suggest you go there immediately,” said Rostnikov, giving the man the address after telling him the story.

“It will be difficult to go now,” the man said.

“Porvinovich is a wealthy man,” said Rostnikov.

“I am on my way,” the man said.

Rostnikov then called Alexei Porvinovich’s apartment. The phone rang twenty-two times before Porvinovich picked it up without speaking. Rostnikov said that someone was on the way to help him.

“I’ll take care of the situation with the two dead men,” he said. “The condition is that you talk to the person who is coming to see you.”

No answer.

“I need an answer now,” said Rostnikov.

“Da,” Porvinovich said, and hung up the phone.

Rostnikov called the hospital and discovered from a surly nurse that Sasha Tkach was now sleeping and that, considering his injuries, he was recovering amazingly well.

That was it. It was getting late, and his leg was telling him to get home, get something to eat, and go to bed. He would do his full weight workout when he woke up. Rostnikov put a little pressure on the major, who assigned one of the district police cars to drive the chief inspector home. The driver was not a talker, for which Rostnikov was truly grateful.

The six flights up the stairs of his apartment building on Krasikov Street were especially difficult this night. He was supposed to make the leg work, to walk as much as he could, to climb stairs. Tonight his leg, like a suddenly petulant child, refused to cooperate. By the time Rostnikov reached his door, jacket and hat over his arms, he was exhausted. He inserted the key, went in, and found himself facing a quartet of females-the two little girls, who, he thought, should have been in school by now until he realized that school was over; Sarah, who looked particularly relieved to see him; and Lydia Tkach, aflame with rage.

“Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov,” Lydia shouted, pointing a finger at him. “I denounce you.”

Over the years he had known her, Rostnikov had noted that she shouted more and more as she grew deafer. One was then required to respond in a shout. But Lydia Tkach refused to acknowledge her hearing loss.

“I stand denounced,” Rostnikov said, wearily hanging his coat on the rack near the door.

“My son, my only child,” Lydia said, advancing on Rostnikov. “He is in a hospital, fighting for his life.”

“I just talked to the hospital. He is doing fine.”

“Fine?” Lydia shouted. She turned to Sarah and repeated her questioning indictment. “‘Fine,’ he says. Head broken. All beaten up. He could have been killed.”

Rostnikov took her hand. She pulled it away.

“Porfiry,” Sarah said. “I’ll heat you something.”

“Girls,” said Rostnikov. “Go into the other room and pretend you are doing homework. You can listen from there.”

The girls moved to him for a hug. He picked each girl up, gave her an enormous hug, and put her down. The girls scurried off to the bedroom. He sat down at the table where a half loaf of bread lay next to his plate. Sarah put her hands on his shoulders and massaged gently after he sat. Lydia took the seat across from him. Rostnikov cut a slice of bread and began to eat.

“We talked,” Lydia said. “You promised. Do you remember?”

“We talked,” Rostnikov said, “but I could not make the promise you asked of me. How can I promise that a policeman will not be hurt while performing his duty?”

“You said,” Lydia continued, “that you would talk to him about quitting, about finding other work. There are many opportunities now for people with Sasha’s talent.”

“Legal opportunities?” Rostnikov asked. “Or opportunities that might be more dangerous than being a policeman?”

“Office. Ministry,” Lydia said.

“Sasha won’t accept that, even if I could get him transferred to an office job. He wants to be a policeman. He is an excellent policeman. Who knows, he might be king of all policemen when he reaches our age.”

“Don’t mock me,” Lydia said. “My hearing may be going, but nothing is wrong with my mind.”

Progress, Rostnikov thought. She finally admits that she has a hearing loss. He touched his wife’s hand. Sarah touched his cheek and moved away to get him some food.

“I’ll eat after our guest has left,” Rostnikov said in a normal voice.

“I understand,” said Sarah, sitting.

Sarah looked tired. Maybe it was too soon after her recovery to go back to work even if it was only part-time.

“So,” demanded Lydia. “What will you do?”

“I have spoken to Sasha,” shouted Rostnikov. “He is a grown man with a wife and two children. I cannot order him to quit for a safer job if he does not want to do so.”

“You can fire him,” Lydia said.

“I will not.”

Lydia glared at Rostnikov and rose from her chair, pointing a finger at him.

“I denounce you,” she said.

“You already did that,” Rostnikov replied, also rising.

“Then I … I …” Lydia said, her voice dropping just a decibel.

Rostnikov moved around the table and stood in front of Lydia, who continued to glare at him.

Rostnikov opened his arms, and Lydia Tkach immediately stepped into his embrace and began to cry.

“Inspector Tkach,” said the policeman, standing at Sasha’s bedside, “are these the three children who assaulted you?” The policeman was decidedly uncomfortable, for, in fact, the man lying in bed was his superior officer. But Yuri Pokov had survived for almost fifty years by simply doing what he was told-no more, no less. Such an attitude had earned him little opportunity for promotion and even less possibility of criticism. He resisted the urge to run his hand across his newly shaven head.

In the hall outside the hospital room people were waiting, including the lawyer Elvira Chazova had hired. Things were getting too complicated for Yuri Pokov, who considered himself a simple man. Now there were lawyers, trials for people who in the past would simply have been beaten and sent on their way, complaints of mistreatment, orders to be civil to civilians.

Sasha, his head still swathed in bandages and wearing a pair of his own shorts and a T-shirt, sat up leaning on one arm and looked at the three boys at the side of his bed. “No,” said Sasha. “They are not.” He slumped back onto the pillow and closed his eyes.

“Are you certain?” asked Yuri Pokov. “Please look again.”

Sasha opened his eyes. These boys were older than the ones who had attacked him. These boys were taller and heavier.

“I can have them put on their caps,” said Pokov.

“No,” said Sasha. “These are not them.”

Yuri nodded, and ushered the three boys out into the hall. He had promised each of them one hundred kopecks, which his superior, Sergeant Knitsov, had authorized.

“Well?” demanded Lermonov, the lawyer.

“He said they were not the boys who attacked him,” said Pokov.

Pokov looked around at the sizable gathering of people in the hall and wished that Sergeant Knitsov had taken this on himself. Pokov paid the three boys who had just left Sasha’s room and motioned for the next three boys. He opened the door and led the boys into the room. Sasha’s head was back on the pillow, his arm covering his face.

It was a rare sunny day for the season, and the shades were up. Outside the temperature had fallen to 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

“These?” asked Pokov.

Sasha turned, blinked, tried to focus. He definitely had difficulty focusing since the blow to his head. He immediately pointed to Alexei Chazov.

“That one. Not the other two,” he said.

Alexei Chazov paused as the others turned. He glared at Sasha as he was guided out by Yuri Pokov.

The next three boys included Boris and Mark Chazov and a boy Yuri’s sergeant had promised to set free on a pickpocketing charge if he went to the hospital and cooperated. The boy had agreed. The sergeant had been planning to let the boy go anyway.

“Those two,” Sasha said, pointing at Boris and Mark. “Not the other one.”

Boris smiled before turning. Mark looked around the room. Yuri Pokov wondered if he was getting that thing in his stomach again, the problem he had had five years ago. It certainly felt like it. Maybe it was just being in the hospital.

“Positive identification,” said Pokov to the lawyer.

“I wish to speak to him,” Lermonov said.

Yuri Pokov shook his head and let the boys stand in the hall. He was not afraid that they would bolt. Where was there to hide? Besides, an armed, uniformed officer stood a dozen feet from them, looking bored enough to shoot the children or even the lawyer if they caused him any trouble.

Pokov went back into the hospital room. This time Sasha did not move his arm from his face.

“Lawyer wants to see you,” said Pokov.

“No,” said Sasha.

Pokov nodded and went back into the hall, closing the door softly and turning to Lermonov to shake his head.

The three Chazov brothers had separated themselves from the other boys and were leaning against the wall.

“These boys are innocent,” said Lermonov.

“I’m certain of it,” said Pokov, looking at the Chazovs. Pokov did not like children even when they weren’t criminals who attacked policemen and murdered drunks.

“I must speak to the arresting officer,” Lermonov insisted.

“Inspector Tkach does not wish to speak to you,” said Pokov. “We leave.”

“But …” Lermonov said.

Pokov pointed at the armed policeman.

“My orders are to return these prisoners to custody and to comply with the wishes of Inspector Tkach. He does not wish to speak to you.”

“So it shall be,” said Lermonov with a shrug, motioning for the three boys to follow the others. “So it shall be.”

Sasha had a string of visitors during the day, some of whom he vaguely remembered the next day. He was sure Maya came and kissed him and said something as she held his hand. He was sure she cried. He was absolutely sure his mother came but did not say a word. That was impossible, but Sasha was certain that it was true. Rostnikov seemed to have suddenly appeared, looking down at him. When Sasha opened his eyes, Rostnikov said nothing. He only smiled. Sasha awakened sometime after dark to find Zelach sitting on a chair next to his bed, hands folded on his lap, looking at him.

“Go home, Zelach. Get some sleep. I’ll be fine,” Sasha muttered dryly.

Zelach stood.

“I could use a drink of water,” Sasha said, and Zelach gratefully accepted the job. He left the room and came back with a pitcher of water and a glass.

Sometime later, when the lights were dim and the other patients in the small ward were asleep, Elena Timofeyeva came to his side. He looked up at her. In her hand was a single flower. She placed it in the glass of water.

“Rostnikov gave it to me,” she said. “It came from the bush in the courtyard. He said he admires its ability to continue to bloom when other trees and bushes have gone winter bare and gray.”

Sasha nodded.

Elena felt uneasy. She and Sasha had been partners, but they had never really worked well together. He was too volatile, ready to take offense, brooding over domestic problems, certainly more than a bit of what the Americans called sexist. She did not dislike him. On the contrary, she felt something for him and his constant struggle to find ways to accept the world in which he had found himself. He was boyishly good-looking, even as he lay pale with a white bandage wrapped awkwardly around his head.

“Can I get you anything?” she asked.

Sasha indicated no.

“The doctor says you are improving rapidly.”

Sasha tried to smile. It came out as a pained grimace.

At that moment the door opened and another visitor entered, moved through the shadows, and stood next to the bed a foot from Elena. The new visitor looked at her, but Elena looked away.

“I’ll tell you the truth, Tkach,” Iosef Rostnikov said, leaning over to whisper. “You look like a dolt with a dunce cap.”

Sasha grinned.

Iosef was taller than his father and built like a soccer player, with strong legs, a lean body, and good, broad shoulders. From his mother he had a handsome face and reddish-brown hair. He was wearing a scarf and jacket over his jeans and a red and black flannel shirt.

Iosef held Sasha’s arm with his right hand. His grip was firm. Sasha reached over to touch the reassuring hand of his boss’s son.

“Your show?” asked Sasha.

“My show,” Iosef said with a sigh, turning to look at Elena. “What can I say? It will open in three days. It will close three days after that for lack of an audience. I am cursed to be out of accord with the public taste. I write a play about Afghanistan. No one comes. I write a tragedy. No one cries. I write a comedy and I’m confident no one will laugh. I am fast becoming convinced that a life in the theater is not for me.”

“If it’s still playing when I get out of here,” said Sasha dryly, “Maya and I will come. I promise we will laugh, at least politely.”

“It is too late,” Iosef said. “I have already applied to join the police. No one wants to be a policeman anymore, so it’s easy to get in. Besides, I think it is in my genes.”

Sasha smiled again and closed his eyes. Iosef loosened his grip and patted the policeman’s shoulder gently.

“I’ll be back,” said Iosef.

Iosef turned, looked at Elena, and invited her with a nod to leave with him. She followed him through the door and into the corridor.

“Good night, Iosef,” she said, extending her right hand.

He took it and held it. “Forgive me,” he said.

“For what?”

“For not calling,” he answered.

“You owed me no call,” she said.

He was looking directly down into her eyes. In the light of the corridor she could see that he had lost weight.

“I have little excuse for not making the call I did not owe you,” he said with a smile. “I’ve been working long hours on the play-writing, directing, building sets, begging for props and money, learning my lines, making decisions.”

“You owed me no call,” she said. “You owe me no apology.”

“You are definitely upset with me and uneasy in my presence,” he said.

“No,” she said.

“You hide it well,” he said. “But I know acting when I see it. I know two things. First, how to shoot all kinds of weapons, because I was a soldier, and second, I know when people are acting, because I have been an actor. I have three great hopes. Would you like to hear them?”

Elena shrugged. They had stopped walking and were facing each other not far from the elevator. Their voices were low. A man pushing an empty gurney and softly humming something that sounded like Mozart moved past them.

“I hope that I make a better policeman than I did a soldier, playwright, or actor,” he said. “That’s one. Two, I hope my parents stay well and safe.”

“And third?” she asked, pushing aside a strand of hair that had fallen across her cheek.

“Third,” he said, “and most difficult to achieve, I hope that you will marry me.”

Elena shook her head as if she were dealing with a comic who had told one too many for the evening.

“We went out three times,” she said.

“Four,” he corrected. “I’m counting the birthday party.”

“Four,” she conceded. “We went out four times. We got … close. And then for almost a month I hear nothing from you. And now a marriage proposal?”

“It is odd, isn’t it?” Iosef said. “But that doesn’t make it any the less sincere.”

“You need a shave,” Elena responded.

Iosef touched his cheek and said, “I loved you from the second I saw you at the birthday party at my parents’ apartment. You walked across the room, ate a cracker, pushed a strand of hair from your face the way you did just now, and I loved you.”

“Are you mad, Iosef?”

“No,” he said. “I have gone without sleep for two days and I am probably a bit strange, but that does not alter the fact that I wish to marry you.”

“Get some sleep,” she said, stepping into the elevator, which had finally arrived and opened its doors.

A fat woman carrying a tray of medicine stepped out, and Elena moved around her to enter the elevator. Iosef jumped into the elevator just as the doors began to close. They both faced forward, not looking at each other.

“Will you come to the opening of the show Friday?” he asked.

“Perhaps,” she said. “Perhaps not.”

“We can go out afterward for some coffee,” he said. “If you like, I promise not to propose again that night.”

“Iosef,” she said as the elevator slowly descended. “You do not know enough about me. I don’t know enough about you. If it weren’t that I know your parents, I would think you a lunatic.”

“I spent three long years in the army being quite mad and killing people who struck me as being equally mad,” he said. “Sanity is gradually coming back to me. Slowly, yes, but coming back. Come to the show.”

The elevator door opened. A man and two women got on. They were arguing about someone named Eichen.

“I’ll come,” Elena said.

Iosef and Elena got off the elevator. She started to move across the small lobby of the hospital. A formidable-looking woman in her fifties sat behind the reception desk watching. Iosef took Elena’s hand and stopped her. She turned and looked at him.

“My approach may be ill advised, coming as it does from an exhausted fool,” he said, “but my words are sincere. My feelings are sincere. The only thing standing in the way of all this is what you think of me.”

“I’m still considering that,” Elena said, aware of the eyes of the receptionist.

“Good,” he said. “How are you getting home?”

“Metro,” she answered.

“I have a friend’s car,” he said.

Elena nodded her acceptance. There was much for her to think about. She had been depressed at his long period of inattention. Now his approach was bold and he spoke of marriage. Elena didn’t know what she thought of marriage. She was fairly certain she didn’t want it, not now. There was much for her to think about.


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