FOURTEEN

Justice

The man who had been following Karpo for two days was very good. There were many reasons why Karpo might be followed, but the most likely one was that the man was connected to the information on the computer disk Karpo carried in his pocket and the printout of that disk he carried in his hand. Karpo guessed that the man had been in military intelligence, the KGB, or the Ministry of the Interior central office. He also guessed that the man was now working for the mafia that had been responsible for the death of Mathilde Verson.

The man had been waiting when Karpo came out of Petrovka early in the morning. He was across Petrovka Street talking to a street vendor and drinking something from a paper cup. The man was wearing a blue pea jacket and a dark knit cap. He did not look at Karpo. When Karpo got to the metro station, he did not see the man, but he was certain that he was there.

When Karpo got off at the Oktyabrskaya station, he spotted the man among the throng of morning workers hurrying to jobs in the district. Karpo walked down Dmitrov Street past the French Embassy at Number 43. The French had kept the original Igumnov House, a late eighteenth-century red-brick building, and in the 1980s erected a modern building beside it. Moscow, like the French Embassy, is a bizarre contrast of periods, a splatter of old architecture, new construction, and crumbling Soviet concrete. Karpo knew every street.

He walked slowly to the statue of Georgi Dmitrov, a hero of the Bulgarian workers’ union. Dmitrov stood above him, supposedly calling on his audience to join the now-dead Revolution. When he was a young policeman, in his early twenties, Karpo had been at the unveiling of this statue. It had been one of the many affirmations in his life that the Revolution, in spite of its failures and the corruption of its bureaucrats, would succeed-tall, passionate, solid. No one but tourists paid any attention to the statue now.

Karpo turned down Ulitsa Bolshaya Polyank, Big Plank Street, and crossed the Maly Kamenniy Most, the Small Stone Bridge, over the Obvodny Canal, the twisting canal. The man had to be well behind Karpo now, and there were few people crossing the bridge. The man had no choice, if he were not to lose his quarry, but to cross the bridge as well.

Karpo looked toward the Udarnik Cinema, the hard worker cinema, on his left and then entered the square on his right, moving directly to a garden facing Lavrushinsky Lane. There was a bench under the statue of the artist Ilya Repin. Karpo sat and for the first time looked directly at the man who was following him. The man was a good fifty yards away, pretending to read a book after he checked his watch and looked down the street for an imaginary ride. When the man did glance in Karpo’s direction, he saw the pale policeman in black staring at him. The man pretended not to notice and returned to his book. When next he glanced at the man on the bench, Karpo was motioning for him to come.

The man’s confusion was brief. He was a professional. He had been in the KGB and had spent hundreds of hours following people. He tucked the book under his arm and walked over to Karpo on the bench. The man paused in front of the detective and then sat.

“What are you reading?” Karpo asked.

“A bad book about some fools who hijack a train in Germany,” said the man. He was at least fifty and had a stocky build and a flat, blocky face.

“You have something to say to me?” the man said, standing in front of Karpo.

“I have something to say to the man or men who employ your services,” said Karpo. “I wish to make a trade with them.”

Karpo took the printout of the disk out of his cloth bag and handed it to the man, who took it and read the first page. When he was done, he handed it back to Karpo.

“It was prepared by Igor Kuzen, who was murdered yesterday,” Karpo said.

The man nodded in understanding and left in search of a phone. He returned five minutes later and sat next to Karpo.

“A car will be here in about five minutes,” he said.

Karpo nodded. No more was said even after a black Buick with darkly tinted windows pulled up to the curb. Karpo followed the man and got into the backseat. The driver did not turn around. He had a tattoo of a green snake encircling his neck.

The car pulled up in front of the Sofia Restaurant across from the Pekin Hotel. On the sidewalk, in spite of the temperature, a man was playing the accordion while another man joined him with a violin. They had a single cap laid out for contributions. Karpo and the man who had followed him got out of the car. The car pulled away.

The musical duo was playing an old Russian dance. Six people stood around watching and listening. The man who had followed Karpo went to the restaurant, opened the door, and stood back so that Karpo could enter. There were no waiters, no settings on the tables. The restaurant would not open for hours. At the rear of the room, lighted at the moment by one small track of lights, a man sat at a table smoking and looking at Karpo.

The man who had followed him motioned for Karpo to go to the rear of the restaurant. Karpo walked toward the man at the table. The man who had followed him did not go with the detective.

When he approached the table, the seated man pointed to the chair across from him. Karpo sat and placed the printout on the table.

“Drink?” asked the man, leaning forward. “Coffee, tea, juice, a little Baileys?”

“No,” said Karpo.

The man across from him was dressed like a businessman-well-pressed suit with a colorful Italian tie. He was a big man, a broad man, with a pleasant, slightly pink face and long hair that was tied in a ponytail. He smoked assiduously, pausing only to drink from what looked like a large mug of tea. When the man reached for the mug, Karpo saw the tattoos that crept down his arms and the backs of both hands.

“Do you know who I am?” the man asked.

“I presume you are Lev Semionov,” said Karpo.

“And how did you arrive at this assumption?” asked Semionov.

Karpo looked at the thick computer printout. Semionov reached for it, placed it before him on the table, and began to read. His name was at the top. He stopped reading after a page and began to flip through the rest of the pages. He did this quickly and then pushed the printout back to Karpo.

“I’ve read it,” said Semionov. “It seems that Igor Kuzen, the late Igor Kuzen, fooled me after all. He said that he had this disk and that he had sent a copy to a friend with instructions to mail it to the minister of the interior himself if Kuzen didn’t call for three days. He did not, of course, give us the name of this friend. It took us five days to find everyone Kuzen had been close to since he was a boy. On the fifth day we found Katerina Molensaya, a cousin of Kuzen’s in Minsk. She confessed almost immediately and turned over her disk. She died of the shock and a bullet.”

“We also erased Kuzen’s file on his hard drive,” Semionov said. “But it appears there was still another copy. There may even be more.”

“What happened three days ago-the killing on the street?” asked Karpo.

“Well,” said the man, “as you know from reading this report of Kuzen’s, we have no nuclear weapons or material. We have already received vast amounts of money from North Korea to deliver weapons and material we do not have and do not yet know if we can get.”

“What happened Tuesday morning?” asked Karpo.

Semionov laughed, a small, bitter laugh. “The German worked for the North Koreans. Actually, he was a middleman, a counterpart of our Igor Kuzen, but much, much better. I could see on his face after he met with Kuzen that the German knew we had nothing. We followed him to the caf? where he met the prostitute, and we killed him before he could pass on information about the inadequacies of our famous scientist. I regret that your friend was killed, but … look, it’s early. I’ve ordered a little something to eat.”

“The bullets that killed Mathilde Verson did not come from the gun found near the body of Mikhail Sivak,” Karpo said.

“The other gun,” Semionov said with a shrug.

“There was no other weapon found at the scene except that of the dead German,” said Karpo.

A man came to the table bearing a tray of rolls, butter, a coffeepot, and two cups. He placed the tray on the table and left immediately.

“I have no explanation,” said Semionov.

“One more question,” Karpo said as Semionov poured a cup of coffee. “Why are you telling me this?”

“Ah,” said Semionov, putting down his cigarette. “I am confident that you did make copies of the disk, which includes information not only on our nuclear deception but on the crimes of all but a few of our more important members. Killing a policeman at this point will accomplish nothing. You have a list of names. A list of names means nothing.”

Semionov handed a full cup to Karpo, who took it. Semionov’s hand remained out. Karpo gave him the copy of the disk.

“See?” said Semionov, pocketing the disk. “If this were your only copy, you would not have handed it over so readily.”

“And now?” asked Karpo.

“And now?” Semionov poured himself coffee. “We will have to find ways to neutralize this information.”

Karpo nodded. “Bribes? Blackmail? Threats?”

“Actually,” said Semionov, “you have done us a great favor. You have bought us some time to act instead of surprising us with a series of arrests. Or letting our North Korean partners find out before we do. Have a roll. Fresh. Smell them.”

Semionov himself smelled one of the rolls, tore it open, and slathered it with butter. He offered it to Karpo, who declined it.

“She would be alive if you had not murdered the German,” Karpo said.

“Oh, yes, I see your point,” said Semionov, popping the roll into his mouth and chewing for a few moments. “But there is little more you can do. You’ve turned in the disk. Are you going to start killing us all? There are more than eighty of us,” he said, tapping the printout in front of him. “And you don’t even have the most important names. Kuzen didn’t know them. Look at it this way. Had your system not fallen, we could not exist. If we did not exist, your … What was her name?”

“Mathilde Verson.”

“Mathilde Verson,” Semionov acknowledged with a wave of his hand, “would be alive today. Blame Yeltsin. Go shoot Yeltsin. Or if your fucking Revolution had not been corrupted by lunatics like Stalin and the fat thieves and alcoholics who followed him, there would have been no need to overthrow Communism. Go dig up Stalin, and Brezhnev, and … You see my point?”

“I see,” said Karpo. “Everyone is responsible.”

Semionov nodded in agreement, chewing amiably. “Now, I’m sorry,” he said, “but I’ve got a lot of work to do to try to contain this. I’m not fool enough to offer you money or to threaten you. You’ve studied me. I’ve learned a bit about you.”

“Responsibility rests with the one who commits the act and the one who orders it,” said Karpo.

“Is that a quote?” asked Semionov, reaching for a second roll.

“Lenin,” said Karpo.

Semionov shook his head sadly. “Yes, I heard you were one of those. When I was in prison, I read Lenin, Marx, Engels, Gorky, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Gogol, Moliere, Shakespeare, Nietzsche. I read. I thought. And you know what I concluded?”

“I do not,” said Karpo.

Semionov waved the fresh roll in front of Karpo. “I concluded that I had no power, but that power was essential to me. It was as important as the blood that flowed through my veins. I concluded that life is short and meaningless and that killing neither damned me nor made me feel remorse. I concluded that all that would satisfy me was power. Not women, not a big house, not food. Only power. To tell people to act and have them obey without question. There is nothing more worthwhile in life. All else is lies to keep the system working.”

“Though they could not express it so well,” said Karpo, “that is just what most of the criminals we question believe.”

“Yes,” said Semionov with a smile. “But they do not understand why they want this or how this need has pervaded human history. I understand.”

“And therefore,” said Karpo, “you are far more dangerous.”

“Precisely,” said Semionov.

They sat silently for a few moments while Semionov ate and drank and thought and looked across the table at the rigid detective.

“I’ve changed my mind about you,” said Semionov. “I think I shall have to have you killed. I think you are determined to kill me. Am I right?”

“You are right,” said Karpo.

“There are tribes, those of New Guinea, who believe that you take on the power of the warrior you kill, especially if you eat his heart and liver. Perhaps I will eat your heart and liver, though I think they will be rather bitter. Leave now. You are depressing me.”

Karpo turned and found himself facing the man who had followed him. The man was shaking his head no.

“You know what that shake means?” asked Semionov. “It means no one but Panushkin has followed you. And of this, Panushkin is certain, for it would mean his life if he were not.”

Semionov placed a gun on the table, a gun that had probably rested in his lap during their entire conversation.

Karpo slowly put his hand to the lapel of his jacket and turned it over. A metal pin about the size of a kopeck was attached to the back of the lapel.

Semionov smiled and shook his head.

“Hubris,” he said. “That feeling of power that makes you miss things. Who is on the other end of what we have been saying?”

“Does it matter?” asked Karpo.

Semionov shrugged, lit a fresh cigarette, and said, “If this is still private, we still have room to negotiate.”

“There was never room to negotiate,” said Karpo.

The door to the restaurant opened behind Karpo. The man who had followed him turned quickly, and two men came out of the darkness near the kitchen. Semionov sat patiently.

“We’ve got it,” said Craig Hamilton evenly.

The men who had come out of the darkness raised their hands above their heads. Karpo turned to face the FBI agent and six heavily armed plainclothesmen.

“Karpo,” Hamilton cried suddenly, looking past Karpo at Semionov.

Karpo’s gun was out and he turned in a crouch, aiming at Semionov and firing. The gun still sat in front of the startled gangster, who had started to reach for it when Karpo’s bullet tore into his chest.

The hands of the other gangsters went up even higher.

“He was reaching for the gun,” said Hamilton behind Karpo.

Semionov had bounced back against his chair and then slumped forward, overturning coffee, rolls, butter, and a full ashtray. Hamilton, an automatic weapon in one hand, moved forward quickly to the table and touched Semionov’s neck.

“Dead,” he said.

Karpo put his gun away under his jacket and looked at the FBI man, who said, “He was definitely going for the weapon.”

There was no surge of power for Karpo. No sense of justice. No particular feeling. A man was dead. Mathilde was dead. Karpo turned, brushed past the man who had followed him less than an hour earlier, and walked to the door of the restaurant and out into the early winter.

There were twenty-seven criminal hearings set that day for this room in the House of Justice. That meant that the hearing boards had about fifteen minutes to decide if each case should go to trial. Eleven of the cases involved murder. The early cases would be heard by a board of three judges, none of whom was professionally trained in the law. By the afternoon wear and tear reduced the number of judges to one or two. The room was barely larger than a closet.

The eighth hearing took place slightly before noon. It was held before a panel of two men and one woman. The men were both around sixty. One was stoop-shouldered and tall. The other was short and thin and sat reasonably erect. The woman was much younger, perhaps as young as thirty or thirty-five. She was wearing a suit not much different from her colleagues, who sat on each side of her. Though he could not see her clearly, Sasha thought she was good-looking, dark, and a bit too thin for his taste.

Sasha’s mouth was dry. Upon advice from the Procurator’s Office, he had dressed but not changed the bandage on his head. There was a distinct patch of blood, and it was evident to anyone who looked his way that the nice-looking young man with the bandage was having trouble focusing.

“Are you all right?” asked Zelach, who sat next to him in the hearing room full of police and the accused.

“No,” said Sasha, “but I will make it.”

Two cases were called after Sasha arrived. Both were taken care of quickly. Two resulted in the accused being turned over for trial on cases of assault and vehicle theft. The third, a girl accused of theft and prostitution, was allowed to go because there was no evidence other than the testimony of the policeman. The victim had refused to appear. In the old days the word of a policeman would have been enough. Times had changed.

The Chazovs were called forward. They were wearing identical heavy brown trousers, white shirts, and plain brown sweaters. Their hair had been cut and they stood in a row, heads up facing the woman behind the bench. Their faces were clean. Behind the three boys stood the lawyer Lermonov and Elvira Chazova, apparently pregnant and carrying a small, sleeping child in her arms.

“Witnesses?” the woman justice called, looking at the complaint that lay in front of her. Her colleagues did the same with little interest or enthusiasm.

“Two,” the man with the stooped shoulders said. “Officers Zelach and Tkach.”

“Step forward,” the woman said.

Zelach helped Sasha forward next to the three boys, who kept their eyes focused on the judges.

“Speak,” the woman said.

“May I sit?” Sasha asked.

The justice nodded, and Zelach brought a chair forward.

“Thank you. We were staking out the apartment building of the Chazov boys. We had reason to believe they had murdered and robbed a man two … no, three days ago. We also had reason to believe they had robbed and murdered others.”

The justices looked at the Chazovs and their mother and then back at the policeman.

“My partner was watching from an apartment across the street,” Sasha went on dryly. “It was midnight and I was coming to relieve him. As I was about to enter the apartment building where he was watching from the window, I was attacked by these three.” He pointed at the Chazov boys.

“You saw this?” asked the woman behind the table.

“I saw two of the boys in front of me. The other hit me with something. I turned. The boy was holding a piece of wood. It was covered with blood, my blood. Then something hit me again. I tried to turn and pull out my gun, but I went down and was unconscious for a minute or so.”

“So,” said the woman, “you did not actually see the boy hit you?”

“There was no one else there but the boy holding a piece of bloody wood.”

“And then?”

“When I opened my eyes, the boys were handcuffed around a lamppost, and I thought I heard an ambulance coming.”

“Officer Zelach, precisely what did you see and do?”

Zelach tried not to shift his weight from foot to foot as he met the eyes of the three justices behind the bench. It took a great deal of effort, but he managed. He also managed to look extremely nervous.

“I heard voices outside the window where I was watching for the Chazovs to return. I heard Inspector Tkach’s voice. I ran out as quickly as I could. That boy …”

Zelach pointed at Boris.

“That boy held a rock in his hand and was about to bring it down on the head of Inspector Tkach, who was lying on the ground. That other boy held the piece of bloody wood in his hand.”

“Did you see anyone else but your partner and the three boys?” asked the woman.

“No,” said Zelach.

“And what did you do?” she asked.

“I … I knocked them down. I hit them. I handcuffed them to the lamppost.”

The full courtroom sat restlessly, thinking about their own cases, trying to determine if there was some pattern, something they should say, some way they should act.

“Officer Zelach,” said the stooped man. “You are a big man. Much bigger than these boys. Why did you have to hit them to subdue them? Each boy has bruises, even the little one.”

“I was trying to protect Sasha Tkach,” Zelach said.

“But,” said the small justice, who was sitting erect and pointing a pencil at Zelach, “they were not beating Inspector Tkach when you arrived?”

“No,” said Zelach. “But I could see they were going to hit him again.”

“So you beat and kicked them?” asked the woman.

“I …” Zelach stammered.

“You were not just protecting your partner,” said the woman. “You were taking out your anger on the boys who you believed had injured him?”

“I … They had almost killed Sasha Tkach. I was-”

“Angry? Out of control?” asked the woman. “Did you ask the boys what had happened before you started beating and kicking them?”

“No,” said Zelach.

“Alexei Chazov,” the woman said, turning her eyes to the tallest and oldest of the three accused. “Did you and your brothers beat Inspector Tkach?”

“No,” said Alexei, firmly shaking his head.

“Who did?” asked the stoop-shouldered justice.

“Two older boys,” said Alexei. “Boys I’ve never seen. We saw them hitting this man from behind and we ran over to help. I hit one of the boys with a piece of wood, made him bleed. My brother Boris picked up a rock and threatened to throw it at them. The two boys ducked into the building right behind us. Then the big policeman came out and started to hit and kick us. We tried to tell him about the two boys who had gone into the building. We thought he might still be able to catch them, but he wouldn’t listen.”

“Mark Chazov,” asked the woman justice, “is this what happened?”

“Yes,” said the youngest and smallest brother, whose face had been scrubbed almost sore.

Lermonov patted Mark on the shoulder, and Sasha, through his dizziness, was sure he had seen nearly imperceptible nods exchanged between the lawyer and the woman justice.

“Any other witnesses? Any more evidence?” asked the woman justice.

“We are poor but good people,” said Elvira Chazova, rocking her sleeping child. “That policeman would be dead if my boys hadn’t run to help him. They took on killers bigger than they were. Instead of thanks they get beaten and put on trial.”

“This is not a trial,” the woman justice said. “This is a hearing to determine if there should be a trial.”

The woman turned to the other justices, and each spoke in her ear. She wrote on the declaration before her and then looked up.

“There is insufficient reason to hold these children for the attack on Inspector Tkach,” she said. “There will be a notice of reprimand placed in the file of Officer Zelach for his thoughtless attack on these children. There is some reason to believe that these children actually saved the inspector’s life. Instead of trying to get them incarcerated, he should be thanking them.”

Sasha’s eyes may have betrayed him, but he thought he saw another instant of eye contact between the woman justice and the lawyer.

“Your Honor,” Sasha said, standing. “These are the boys who beat me. These are the boys who murdered a man only a day before. To let them-”

“The case has been presented and a decision made. You are out of order, Inspector, but the court will overlook this because of your condition. Alexei, Boris, and Mark Chazov are free to go,” the woman went on. “The justices strongly recommend that their mother enforce a curfew of ten o’clock for her sons to keep them from further trouble.”

“I will,” said Elvira sincerely.

“Next,” said the justice.

Zelach looked down at Sasha in confusion. Sasha tried to focus on the Chazovs as they passed him. Each boy had a touch of a smile on his face. The lawyer grinned and the mother paused, baby in her arms, to whisper something to Sasha.

The justices were reading the summary of the next case as Zelach helped Sasha to his feet.

“What did she say?” asked Zelach, looking at the retreating back of Elvira Chazova.

“She told me my home address,” said Sasha.

The twenty-first of that day’s hearing took place late in the afternoon. This one was much shorter, and there was but one justice and only a handful of people in the hearing room.

The single justice was a stout, bullish man in his forties with a short military haircut. He wore a brown suit and a tie that did not come close to matching.

Anna Porvinovich and Yevgeniy Porvinovich stood to the right of the table. Anna’s dark eyes caught those of the justice and he looked away. Rostnikov stood to the left of the table with Alexei Porvinovich, who, with the help of the therapist and drugs prescribed by Sarah’s doctor cousin, had managed to approach a semblance of composure. He was immaculately dressed and his hair perfectly trimmed. His face had an overall discolored puffiness, and his broken jaw had been wired shut so that he could only speak between his teeth like a poor ventriloquist.

“The wrong people are standing before me accused of a crime,” said the judge. “Facts. Two men kidnap Alexei Porvinovich from the street and take him to an apartment. The two men work in the garage where the Porvinoviches take their automobile for repair. One of the two men, according to the distraught victim, claims that the kidnapping was planned by the victim’s wife and brother and that he was the wife’s lover. Was the kidnapper lying, perhaps to torment his victim? We do not know. Did the victim create a fantasy of his betrayal by his automobile mechanic, his brother, and his wife? This, too, we do not know. It has been known to happen to distraught victims who fear for their lives. We have only the victim’s word for all of this, since he managed to disarm one of the kidnappers, shoot him, and, by his own words, calmly or not so calmly wait till the other kidnapper returned and then shoot him. His next action was to return home in a state of near madness. Had not a police inspector been present, he may well have murdered his wife and brother. What we have here is an unfortunate situation. It is my understanding that Alexei Porvinovich is under psychiatric care, which he certainly needs. There is no case here. All persons who are part of this unfortunate circumstance are free to go.”

Alexei Porvinovich laughed through his teeth as his wife and brother walked past him and Rostnikov.

“Porvinovich,” Rostnikov whispered.

Porvinovich could not stop laughing.

Rostnikov took his arm.

“You see how well they have learned from me,” Porvinovich said, trying to control his laughter, his lips barely moving. “They’ve bribed the right people.”

The justice looked up from his papers and glared at Porvinovich.

“Clear the hearing room,” the justice said.

Rostnikov led Porvinovich from the room.

“You promised me justice,” said Porvinovich.

“I was wrong,” said Rostnikov.

“I could have shot them, but you stopped me,” said Porvinovich.

Rostnikov had turned the tape of Mrs. Porvinovich’s conversation with Artiom Solovyov over to the justice’s office the day before. He had also indicated that both he and the FBI man were prepared to testify. The justice had made no mention of the tape and did not ask for Rostnikov’s or Hamilton’s testimony.

It was difficult to escape Porvinovich’s accusation of bribery, but, to give the judge his due, he may simply have felt that there was not a sufficient case to bring to trial and that Rostnikov’s and Hamilton’s testimony and the tape would simply further clog the already confused judicial system.

In the corridor outside the hearing room Anna Porvinovich stood waiting. Yevgeniy stood nervously on her right. A tall, good-looking man with teeth as perfect as those of an American movie star stood on her left. Rostnikov thought she looked especially beautiful in her triumph.

“Alexei Porvinovich,” the good-looking man said. “You have two days to remove your belongings from the apartment in which you and your wife have resided. She will meanwhile move to a hotel that will be billed to you. Anna Ivanovna Porvinovich has filed papers of divorce, and we have obtained a court order that does not permit you to come within one hundred yards of your wife or your brother.”

The man handed a confused Porvinovich a substantial folder full of papers.

“Do you understand?” asked the man.

Alexei looked at his wife, whose face revealed nothing. His brother looked down.

Alexei began to laugh again and held up the folder.

The good-looking man guided Anna through the crowd with Yevgeniy a few paces behind.

People looked at the laughing Alexei, but no one stopped.

“Alexei Porvinovich,” Rostnikov said firmly.

“Ah,” said Porvinovich, his eyes wet with tears of laughter. “First she tries to kill me and then she takes everything away from me. I’ve always underestimated her.”

“Let’s go,” said Rostnikov, leading Porvinovich toward the door of the building. “We’ll get some tea and talk about Russian irony. It should take us a century or two.”

“It won’t do them any good,” said Porvinovich, controlling his laughter.

“Why?” asked Rostnikov, wishing they could sit somewhere, anywhere.

“Because I plan to have them killed,” Porvinovich whispered.

And Rostnikov knew that, madness or no madness, the man meant what he was saying.

The twenty-seventh case of the day was heard by the stoop-shouldered justice, who could now barely keep his eyes open. Neither lawyers nor litigants had approached the justice in an attempt to secure a favorable decision. They were poor people quarreling over who had started the fight that resulted in both of them being arrested for assaulting the other. The women screamed at each other before the justice, who checked his watch and decided the day of work had ended. He told the women, both of whom were well over sixty, that since their injuries seemed more or less equal and that it was impossible to determine what the battle was about, there would be no trial recommendation and that they were ordered not to speak to each other again or come within one hundred yards of each other. Though the two women were sisters and lived across the hall from each other, they nodded obediently and left the courtroom quickly.

The justice stood up. Outside the closed courtroom door he could hear the two women arguing as they moved away. The few remaining spectators left. The justice took off his glasses and leaned forward to look at the handwritten decisions of the day. Of the twenty-seven hearings, twenty-two had been dismissed. Four had resulted in pleas of guilt and one, a lunatic who had run amok with a butcher knife in Red Square seeking out foreigners, had been turned over for trial.

At a nearby coffee stand, Rostnikov pushed a cup of something hot and dark to Porvinovich, who drank in thirsty, angry gulps.

“In the 1860s,” Rostnikov said, guiding Porvinovich away from the stand so that others could make their purchases of hot water with the hint of tea or coffee, “Czar Nicholas the First freed the serfs and reformed the courts. No longer were decisions simply handed down by judges who were themselves on the fringes of nobility. There were juries of different sizes with now-free and illiterate serfs and merchants pulled from offices, street markets, and shops. The trials were mad. Jurors screamed out questions about the defendant’s family and political beliefs. Spectators often howled or laughed, and the judges carefully guided the juries when possible to the correct decision.”

Porvinovich seemed to be paying no attention, but Rostnikov went on.

“The system eventually collapsed of its own corruption, to be replaced by a judicial system equally corrupt, and later by the Soviet system, which seemed to return to that of the 1860s. Now … It’s part of a cycle. You were born in the wrong century, Alexei Porvinovich.”

“I should have bribed the justice more than they did,” said Porvinovich.

“You got away with murder,” Rostnikov said.

“Execution, retribution,” said Porvinovich wildly. “But where was justice?”

Rostnikov knew the answer, but he was not about to give it to this man who could not listen.

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