The director of the Center for the Study of Technical Parapsychology, Andrei Vanga, was clean shaven, white haired, and wearing a rather rumpled brown suit and a tie that was no match for it. He was a slight, nervous man who habitually played with the gold band on the small finger of his left hand. His office was large. The furniture was well-polished wood with comfortable chairs and even a small brown leather couch. The paintings on the wall were originals, though a close examination would reveal that the artists were not particularly well known.
Nadia Spectorski had left them to return to her work. Zelach and Karpo had been guided to the sofa by the director, who took Zelach’s arm.
“We would prefer the chairs,” Karpo said.
“As you wish,” said Vanga, backing off and moving three of the four chairs in the room into a mini circle so they could face each other.
Vanga’s face was pink and solemn. He leaned forward attentively, playing with his gold band, ready to help.
“Do you have any ideas about why someone might kill Sergei Bolskanov?”
“None,” said the director.
“No enemies?” asked Karpo.
“None,” said the director sadly.
“Everyone liked him?”
“Everyone,” said the director. “He was a quiet, pleasant, hardworking scientist. We all admired him.”
“We have heard otherwise,” said Karpo.
“Well,” said the director with a knowing smile. “He could be a bit … how shall I say? A bit gruff, but just a bit.”
“Someone hit him repeatedly with a hammer,” said Karpo.
“I know,” said the director.
“It is possible that it was done by someone who did not like him.”
“Of course,” the director said with a shrug.
Zelach was paying close attention and had concluded that they were going to get little from Vanga, but Karpo persisted.
“Could someone profit from stealing the results of Bolskanov’s work?”
“Profit? Make money?”
“Make money, win acclaim, respect.”
“I don’t know. Maybe. We don’t think like that. We’re afraid to. Someone around here might read our minds,” said the director with a smile.
Neither of the detectives returned the smile.
“It was just a joke,” said the director earnestly, “an attempt to lighten … I spend much of my time raising money. I sometimes use that …”
“And your research?” asked Karpo.
“Psychic phenomena during dream states,” he said. “I have written forty papers presented at conferences all over the world. I’ve written two books. I’d give you both copies but they are a bit old and I have only a few left. But I’m working on a new article which I believe will be modestly important in the field. I …”
“Bolskanov also did dream research,” said Karpo.
“Correct,” said Vanga. “I brought him into the center. We worked together on many projects. He often came to me for advice, to review his findings, to …”
“We would like your shoes,” said Karpo.
“My … I beg your pardon.”
“Your shoes,” Karpo repeated.
“You will get them back before the end of the day,” said Karpo. “Please take them off and give them to Inspector Zelach.”
A bewildered director began removing his well-polished brown patent-leather shoes.
“I’ll have to wear my spare pair,” he said. “They are black and …”
“We will take those also,” said Karpo.
“I’ll have to walk around all day in my stockinged feet.”
“You will not be alone,” said Karpo.
Vladimir Kinotskin had been warned that policemen were coming to talk to him. He had been told that it could not be avoided. He had been informed that it was about Tsimion Vladovka, who was, as he well knew, missing.
Vladimir had changed greatly since he had returned to earth. He had lost weight and his once-blond hair was almost completely white. His youthful handsome face had darkened too and taken on several rigid lines. He did not smile. His ambition had, for good reason, deserted him. He had no goal beyond continuing his routine work and keeping to himself. He had given up all hope of marriage and family. He could not imagine subjecting a woman to his moodiness, and he knew he could not pretend to be happy or even content. All he hoped for was an eventual truce with his memories, a fragile peace of mind with which he could live, but he doubted he would achieve it.
Perhaps he should have run like Vladovka, if that is what Vladovka had done. They had seen each other infrequently since the moment the shuttle had landed. They never spoke when they passed.
Vladimir had two hours before the police arrived. He had decided to walk, to walk aimlessly, to think about how he would answer the questions Mikhail Stoltz had posed to him.
“Just tell the truth,” Stoltz had said.
“You want me to tell the truth?”
“The truth,” Stoltz had repeated.
The boyish exuberance that might once have been enough to protect Vladimir was gone. The confrontation would be difficult. Stoltz had put a hand on his shoulder and told him he would be just fine. Then Stoltz had him driven from Star City to the Moscow office of the space program.
Vladimir Kinotskin was not sure he would be fine, but he thought he could be good enough.
It was growing humid and hot after the morning rain, and Vladimir had left his jacket on the back of a chair in the office that had temporarily been assigned to him. He had sweated through the white shirt he was wearing. He had loosened his tie and he had gone out to walk and try not to think.
Now he found himself before the Church of Simeon Stylites. He remembered something, something Vladovka had mentioned during the long flight. Vladovka had read some poems to him, poems by Mikhail Lermontov, who had lived more than a century ago. Lermontov, whom Kinotskin had read but not remembered, was also an artist. Vladovka had read but Vladimir had not really listened. Now he remembered.
He went around the church down to Vorovskogo Street and into the small alley which is Malaya Molchanovka Street. The house was there. Now a museum, the house where Lermontov lived with his grandmother stood, restored, modest. Nine windows downstairs, three up, a small gable. Perhaps Vladimir was paying homage. He wasn’t sure to what he was paying homage, but it felt right, the proper preparation for the interrogation he would soon undergo.
There was no one in front of the wooden house. After all, one had to know it was there and wend one’s way back to it to find the unassuming structure.
As he moved along the white fence toward the entrance, he sensed a movement behind him. He started to turn. He felt no more than the sting of a bee, the prick of a pin. It was in his lower back, somewhere near his liver. An irritation. He finished turning and found himself looking at a bare-headed man with curly black hair. The man was walking away from him. The man was carrying an umbrella.
Vladimir turned back toward the house and wondered why the man had come up behind him and then turned away when Vladimir turned. The sting. No, he told himself. It couldn’t be. But he knew that it could. He felt fine, but that meant nothing. It wouldn’t end like this. They wouldn’t … but he knew they could.
He made it as far as the front door and then he fell to his knees. No one was around. It would, he knew, make no difference. It was too late. The ground was moist from the morning rain. He didn’t want to die here.
The door of the house opened and an old woman stepped out, covered her mouth with her hand, and leaned over to him. She had a look of horror in her eyes. Vladimir did not know that his eyes and mouth were streaming blood. He felt nothing but weakness. He was suddenly very sleepy.
Maybe he should try to say something to the woman, write something in the dirt, but he couldn’t think what he might write or say. He fell forward on his face before the woman, who screamed and ran back into Lermontov’s house.
When an ambulance arrived fifteen minutes later they found the body of the young man, whose head was encircled by a large pool of deep-red blood. The two men who had come out of the ambulance had seen sights like this before. They could take the vision. What they couldn’t grow accustomed to was the stench of the dead man, who had befouled himself in a last spasm of indignity.
Since Elena was to play the niece, she could not return for the tour of Yuri Kriskov’s editing facility. The chances were more than good that the negative-napper worked for Kriskov. The trip from the office to the production center just outside the outer ring on Durova Prospekt, not far from Mira Prospekt, was taken with Yuri Kriskov, who drove, explaining the list he had prepared of employees who had access to the negative.
Though Kriskov maintained an office in the heart of the city, the production facility, including a small studio, was a long, traffic-jammed ride away. On the way Kriskov said, “Normally I go to the production building from home. I live not far away, but sometimes …”
“Stop,” shouted Sasha.
Kriskov hit the brake and Sasha lurched forward, hands against the dashboard. Kriskov had come very close to ramming into the rear of a very large, rusting blue truck.
“I am more than a bit upset,” Kriskov explained.
You are more than a bad driver, Sasha thought.
Traffic was slow. It usually was, but Yuri Kriskov wove his blue Volga with tinted windows through the narrow, momentary spaces between buses, trucks, and cars.
The list Kriskov had prepared was long and, Sasha decided, probably useless at this stage. Besides, he couldn’t concentrate on it with Kriskov, who chain-smoked and challenged sanity as he sped past cars, trucks, buses, and an occasional bicycle. There wasn’t enough time to check out each name. Yuri had done his work. There were forty-two names on the list and it was possible none of them was the right one. If the thief was not trapped tomorrow, Sasha and Elena would go to Porfiry Petrovich and ask for additional help in checking the people on the list.
The car was thick with smoke. Yuri made no effort to apologize or open a window more than a crack. The car was specially equipped with air conditioning, but it did little and was noisy.
Sasha had the list in his lap.
“I trust everyone on that list,” said Kriskov between nervous puffs. “And, at the same time, I don’t trust anyone on the list. This is maddening. How can I look at them. Kolya I have known since we were children in Rostov. And his sons I have known since they were babies. Forfonov, Blesskovich, Valentina Spopchek nursed me through the flu, and … I may reach out and strangle one of them if they show the slightest hint of deception.”
“You won’t,” said Sasha, opening his window as they nearly missed a rickety little yellow Yugo whose driver cursed and managed to get out of the way, almost hitting a pickup truck in the next lane.
Yuri paid no attention. “We are almost there,” he said.
A few minutes later Yuri turned off the highway, sped down Mira Prospekt, made a sharp left onto Durova Prospekt, and drove until they came to a newly paved narrow road. At the end of the road stood a five-story building, white with a dome that looked as if it had been designed for a science-fiction movie. The structure stood alone in an open field of tall weeds. Yuri drove to the building and parked in a space marked by a black-on-white sign nailed to the concrete wall, stating that this was the space, of “Y. Kriskoff.”
Kriskov threw away what remained of his latest cigarette and got out of the car. Sasha followed him to the large gold-painted double doors.
“My name,” Sasha reminded him, “is Sasha Honor?-Baptiste, from Gaumont.”
“I remember. I remember,” said Yuri impatiently. “I know my lines. I started as an actor. What if someone says something to you in French?”
“My French is fine.”
They were passing the empty reception desk in the tiled lobby and heading for a door with a red light over it. The light was on.
“You speak it like a native?”
“I have been told. Relax, Yuri Kriskov,” said Sasha. “I know what I am doing.”
“Of course,” said Kriskov, looking at the young man at his side, decidedly unconvinced at this point in his life of the wisdom of this or any enterprise.
They paused at the door and the light went off. The producer opened the door.
“This is a re-recording studio,” said Yuri. “The director works with the actors and sound people to go over lines, repeat, change, make them clearer, or just put them in. In this case they appear to be working on a film that may not exist.”
Three people were in the small, tile-walled room. A bearded man, in jeans and a gray T-shirt that displayed a picture of Michael Jordan smiling, was introduced as Peotor Levich, “the famous director.” Sasha had never heard of the famous director but he shook his hand warmly and said, “I very much admire your work.” Sasha did his best to speak with a French accent.
Levich was big-shouldered and going to fat. He was perhaps forty at most. “Sasha Honor?-Baptiste,” he said and they shook hands. “I know you.”
“Impossible,” said Yuri Kriskov quickly. “Monsieur Honor?-Baptiste has been in Moscow for only a few days and …”
“From the movies,” said Levich, examining Sasha with a knowing grin. “Policeman. Policeman. Ah, you are an actor. I remember you played a policeman in those two movies with the actor. What is his name? What is his name? Sad face he has. But his name …”
“I’m an investor now,” said Sasha. “The hours are shorter but it pays better.”
“Where did you learn Russian?” asked Levich.
“My mother is Russian. She taught me. My father is a jeweler. He has traveled to Russia many times.”
“I saw you in those movies,” Levich said. “I greatly admire French movies. What was it? Something about some stolen drugs. You played Belmondo’s son and there was that actor.”
He looked at Sasha for an answer and then supplied his own.
“Philippe Noiret. I would have loved him for Tolstoy. I would have traded my arm. Both arms.”
Sasha smiled and shrugged, unable to deny the man’s fantasy.
Levich stepped back, examined Sasha, and said, “Yuri, he is our Montov when we do
“He is not an actor any longer,” said Yuri, showing his impatience. “He has told you.”
“You would play opposite Leonora Vukolonya,” Levich went on. “It’s not a huge role. You could do it in a week. You would make love to Leonora Vukolonya. Do you know how many men would cut off their right testicle to make love to Leonora Vukolonya?”
“Six,” said Sasha to the director, who seemed to have a penchant for cutting off appendages. “And they would all be lunatics.”
Levich laughed. “A sense of humor. Think about it.”
Yuri introduced Sasha to the other people in the small room, an older man and woman who stood before a dark machine. Behind them was a movie screen. Before them was a glass panel with a projector behind it.
Yuri introduced them and then moved out of the room with Sasha in tow.
“Think about it, Honor?,” said Levich as they left.
“Levich is a Jew,” said Yuri. “Very talented. Would he be talking about making another movie if he were about to destroy the entire company? He is not that good of an actor … we can’t smoke in here. Too many things here, film, burn too easily. Too volatile.”
Sasha had no intention of smoking then, there, or anywhere.
The tour moved quickly. The editor, who sat working in a narrow room with a wall-to-wall table filled with machines, looked up when they entered. She was a bit dumpy, with dirty-blond hair a bit unkempt, probably nearing fifty. Two young men were in the room with her. All three were hovered over machines with cranks on which reels of film hung. Strips of film hung from clips all over the room, like black decorations to fit the clearly somber mood.
“We can’t work, Yuri,” the woman said. “We can’t pretend. We have nothing to work with here. Bits, pieces. I hold you responsible.”
Yuri put a finger to his lips behind Sasha’s back and said, “This is Sasha Honor?-Baptiste from Gaumont in France. They are thinking of investing in us. Monsieur Honor?-Baptiste, this is Svetlana Gorchinova, the deservedly honored editor, the greatest editor in all of Russia.”
Yuri beamed. Svetlana did not.
“We are busy,” she said after shaking Sasha’s hand with a quick jerk. “We are busily engaged in the task of putting together enough pieces of film to make a trailer for a movie that doesn’t exist.”
“Perhaps you could just introduce Monsieur Honor?-Baptiste to your assistants and we can leave you.”
She turned in her high swivel chair and looked at the two young men behind her. The taller and younger of the two had long hair, a large nose, and very crooked teeth.
“Nikita Kolodny,” she said.
The young man tried to grin but the mood of the room was too funereal.
“And this,” she said, pointing to the very short, stocky young man in the back of the room, “is Valery Grachev.”
“Any news?” Svetlana Gorchinova said.
“I think we should not talk business before our guest,” said Yuri.
The woman shrugged. She made no effort to hide her depression. “No news,” she said.
“We must go now,” Yuri said, touching Sasha’s arm.
“It is a pleasure to meet you,” Sasha said.
The two young men nodded. Svetlana turned back to whatever she was editing or pretending to edit and said and did nothing to acknowledge the departure of a possible investor.
Back in the hall with the door closed, Yuri whispered, “She did it. I can tell. You could see. She is not just eccentric. Everyone says she is eccentric because she is a great editor. But she is really just a crazy woman. Crazy women do anything. Believe me. I have known women as crazy as that one. She will do anything.”
“She plans to destroy her own work?” asked Sasha.
“For two million dollars,” Yuri said, fishing out his cigarettes and lighting one in spite of his earlier warning about not smoking in the building.
“She is well paid? She is in demand?”
“Very much so.”
“Then why? …”
“She hates me. Can’t you see? She hates me. And two million American dollars. Maybe she’ll just pretend to destroy the film and then she’ll keep it to herself, treasure it like those Japanese who buy Renoir originals and then hide them in vaults.”
“Where do we go next?” asked Sasha.
“Deeper into the hell over which I have lost all control,” said Yuri Kriskov.
Rostnikov stood, hands behind his back, feet apart, twenty feet away from Paulinin, who leaned over the body of Vladimir Kinotskin, which still lay in front of Lermontov’s home. Uniformed guards were at work keeping the inevitable crowd away. It wasn’t a large crowd but it was large enough to require half-a-dozen officers. Iosef directed the crowd control while Paulinin, his fishing-tackle box open, his hair wild, looked at the body, ignored the stench, and grumbled.
Paulinin took the dead man’s temperature, touched his ankles, took samples of blood and liquid feces, and examined the body as best he could. Finally, he closed the tackle box, picked it up, and moved toward Rostnikov.
“You know what Kaminskov or Pashinski or one of the other dolts who call themselves pathologists would say?”
“They would say your young man had a stroke and a seizure,” said Paulinin. “It would all be over. They wouldn’t have looked for the small puncture in his lower back, even though the hole, grant you it is very small, went right through his shirt. All the symptoms of a massive stroke and seizure, and in one sense they would be right, but the cause of the stroke and seizure they would miss. I will need to talk to the young man in my laboratory.”
“Murdered,” said Rostnikov, who had fully expected this finding.
“Just as clearly as the other one I looked at this morning with his head crushed by a hammer,” said Paulinin. “And I could tell you more, much more about the killer, if the ground were not so trampled by the usual idiots. The ground is perfect, perfect for prints, but … look at it. It looks as if a World Cup game has been played here.”
“Thank you for coming, Paulinin,” said Rostnikov.
“Uhh,” said Paulinin, looking back at the body. “You can bring him to Petrovka now, down to my laboratory. Don’t let the idiots clean him. I don’t care how he smells. He comes as he is. I will clean him when it is right. I will apologize to him for the indignities he is suffering and will have to suffer further. I have, as you know, learned to talk gently to the dead.”
“I have observed,” said Rostnikov. “I’ll have you driven back to Petrovka.”
“Good. My lunch is waiting.”
When Paulinin was gone, Rostnikov waved to his son and Iosef walked over to him.
“What do we conclude from this?” asked Porfiry Petrovich.
“That three cosmonauts were on that mission,” said Iosef. “Two are dead and one is missing.”
“Three cosmonauts relieved them,” said Iosef. “Perhaps we should talk to them about what they saw and heard, since Mikhail Stoltz appears unwilling or unable to provide answers.”
“So you are convinced that Tsimion Vladovka’s disappearance and the murder of Vladimir Kinotskin are connected to the
“I am inclined to agree. Then perhaps we should move quickly before someone tells us that this murder belongs to MVD and not to our office.”
“Or before the Yak tells us to mind our business.”
Rostnikov touched his son’s arm and nodded his head. “Come, let us break the bad news to Stoltz, though I feel it will not come as a great surprise. Are you hungry?”
Iosef looked at the body. “No. We had cheeseburgers only an hour or so ago, remember?”
“Then later, perhaps. Your mother made me sandwiches. I wonder what it must be like to be weightless in a metal sphere circling in silence,” said Rostnikov, looking at the body and then at the sky as they walked away from the scene. “It must be difficult to remind oneself that one is not dreaming, floating, awake but asleep.”
“‘A giant will come in the darkness under a cloud,’” said Iosef as they reached the street and stamped their feet to remove some of the mud.
“Lermontov?” asked Rostnikov, looking back at the scene of death behind them and at the gawking, silent little crowd.
Iosef nodded. “More or less.”
“Go on,” said Rostnikov.
“‘You will know him and the sword he carries,’” Iosef continued. “‘Your doom has come. You beg and weep. He laughs. And then he will stop laughing and will be a sight of horror, a sight as black as his cloak and eyes.’ Shall I go on?”
“No,” said Porfiry Petrovich. “That is enough.”
“The curse of having been in the theater,” said Iosef. “One thinks of lines, passages, monologues, the poetry of Lermontov usually distorted by one’s needs and memory. Lermontov was only twenty-seven when he died in a duel. Did you know that?”
“Yes,” said Rostnikov.
“According to the papers in his wallet, Vladimir Kinotskin was twenty-seven when he died today,” said Iosef.
“Perhaps he was making a pilgrimage.”
“Perhaps,” said Rostnikov, glancing over his shoulder at the crowd behind them.
A man in the crowd, one of several carrying umbrellas, watched not the dead man and those now moving the corpse into a black plastic bag but the two detectives who talked on the street. The man was lean, well dressed, and looked foreign, perhaps English or Dutch. His eyes were quite blue. That morning he had nicked himself shaving. His hand went up to the healing wound, and as the detectives walked away, the man with the umbrella moved through the small crowd to follow them at a very safe and professional distance.
Karpo had been unable to find Rostnikov, who was, at the moment he called, out watching Paulinin examining the body of the dead cosmonaut. And so Emil Karpo took it upon himself to make the decision. Not only did he take the shoes of all those who had signed in to work when Sergei Bolskanov had, but those of all the people in the building. Everyone in the building except the police were walking around in stockinged feet.
“Dignity is lost but comfort may offer compensation,” said Karpo.
Zelach nodded and blinked. He had not only rounded up all the shoes, which were contained in three cardboard boxes at the front door of the center, but he had obtained the addresses of everyone and, starting with the sign-ins, was about to go to each house and collect every pair of shoes he could find.
“Emil Karpo,” he said, standing in the doorway, looking down at the boxes, “what if the murderer has thrown the shoes away?”
“Unlikely but possible. It makes no difference.”
“It will take days,” said Zelach.
“I have ordered a car and driver with the approval of Director Yaklovev, to whom I have just spoken. The driver will help you. If you move quickly you can get to all thirty-seven locations before six.”
“They will have to go home barefoot in any case,” said Zelach.
“I will send an officer out to buy thirty-seven pairs of very cheap sandals,” said Karpo. “Now, I think you should begin your collection.”
Zelach adjusted his glasses. They had begun to hurt just behind the right ear but he was afraid to fool with the thin wire. There was no chance now that he would get to the lunch on his desk in the damp brown bag.
When Zelach had left, Karpo motioned to one of the two uniformed men. “No one comes in. No one goes out.”
The officer, who was twenty-three, very large and undertrained, knew the Vampire by reputation. He said nothing as he stood before the door. Even if Putin himself or the mayor of Moscow would appear, the officer, whose name was Dimitri, would not let him pass. He had no intention of using the Kalishnikov rifle in his hands on anyone of real importance and he was confident that he could handle most who tried to pass him, but he decided instantly that faced with the possibility of failure he would either have to shoot himself or the person who was giving him trouble. He could not imagine telling Inspector Karpo that he had failed.
Nadia Spectorski caught up with Karpo in the hall. She was clearly excited, breathing quickly.
“Where is the other officer?”
“Yes, I must speak to him,” she said.
“Whatever you might wish to tell him, you can tell me. I am the senior officer.”
“This is not about Sergei’s murder,” she said. “It is far more important.”
“More important?” asked Karpo, wondering if the barefoot woman before him had gone mad.
“Follow me,” she said. “Come.”
He followed her as she hurried down the corridor to her small office. The offices had windows. None of the rooms upstairs had windows, though there were windows at the ends of the corridor. The view from this window was of a small concrete square with bolted-down wooden fences facing each other.
She went behind her desk, where Karpo saw six decks of cards, a pad of paper with many notes, and a small electronic instrument.
“You remember when I said that the other officer had no guesses that were correct? And I said that was very odd?”
“Yes,” said Karpo.
“Do you have an open mind?” she said, looking up.
“Good. I was wrong about your friend.”
“Colleague then, fellow officer, what does it matter? He guessed forty-eight out of fifty-two cards correctly when I looked at each card, but all forty-eight were exactly two cards
“You said …”
“Yes, yes, yes, but I remembered the farmer in England,” she said.
Karpo refused to be confused, and he refused to sit. He was not here to talk about cards. He was here to find a murderer.
“A farmer in England. Koestler wrote of him in his book
Karpo’s expression, as always, remained the same. “If he so chooses,” he said.
“He will choose,” she said. “He will be afraid. He will talk to his mother and she’ll tell him to cooperate.”
“What do you know of Akardy Zelach’s mother?”
Nadia looked up.
“I’ve seen her in her room,” she said. “I know what she believes. Remember, I’m a subject here too. Is your mind still open to what you do not understand?”
Karpo did not answer for a long time, and the excitement in Nadia faded at the sight of the ghostly figure looking down at her, deep in thought.
“You claim you can see Akardy’s mother. You claimed you saw Mathilde Verson. Did you see the murder of Sergei Bolskanov?”
Nadia met his eyes and started to say no, but she could not. Instead she shook her head.
“Would you like something to eat or drink?” he said. “I can accompany you someplace nearby where we can talk, outside these walls.”
“I have no shoes,” she said. “And I want to work on this data, this amazing data which …”
“I will find you shoes,” he said.
Defeated, she nodded.
It would take much more to convince Emil Karpo that people could move objects with their minds, see through cards, or talk to the dead, but it took no more at the moment to convince him that the woman before him might well be mad and might well be capable, in a state of excitement, of a raging murder.