Chapter Five

The good-looking young man with Yuri Kriskov had been a policeman, not a French investor. Valery Grachev was certain of that. He had expected no less. What pleased him, however, was that an attempt was being made to hide the fact that the police were involved.

Valery had been dismissed soon after Kriskov and the policeman left. There really wasn’t much to do, and so Svetlana had sent him into the city to pick up a package, a simple hand splicer to replace one that had lost its sharpness and was out of alignment. He had taken his scooter with the usual promise of reimbursement for gasoline, a promise that had led him to keep a small notebook of how much the company owed him.

He drove carefully toward the heart of the city inside the Inner Ring and planned two moves ahead. It would be what seemed like a bold gambit but would turn his opponent-no longer Yuri but the policeman who used the name Sasha-looking in the wrong direction. Already Valery had set the offense moving, very carefully.

He had kept his eyes open, planning for this day as he would for a tournament. It was never his intention to simply take the negatives, make the demand, collect the money, and walk away. That was what he wanted them to think, that it was simple, direct.

Valery had gone through the garbage for weeks, listened to phone calls, watched and mapped the house and neighborhood of Yuri Kriskov.

There was almost no chance that Kriskov could raise the two million American dollars in two days.

Valery parked, locked his scooter, and headed for the film-equipment warehouse near the Moscow Film School.

The police would begin checking the background of everyone in the company. He would not escape the scrutiny, but their search would yield nothing about him that would rouse suspicion. He had never committed a crime, never been arrested.

But they would find much to be suspicious of in Svetlana’s history. Mental illness, a massive breakdown two years earlier. A major confrontation with the producer of the last movie on which she worked. Wild shouting matches on two occasions with Yuri Kriskov. Complaints about being underpaid and even outbursts in front of Valery and others about not caring if the damn negative burned if she did not get what she deserved. Many years earlier, Valery had discovered, Svetlana had been arrested for firing a pistol in a department store. Were she not the famous editor, she would probably have been filled with drugs and sent into the streets to wander like the zombies in Dawn of the Dead.

And now the police would be watching her, certain that she had the negatives, waiting for her to make a mistake and lead them to the stolen reels. They would know from the voice of the man that Yuri had reported that she had an accomplice, but that was easy. They would deduce that the man was Svetlana’s common-law husband, a former screenwriter who had not worked in almost a decade. Even when he had worked, it had been in the days of the Soviet Union and he had made less than an old street-sweeper.

Valery picked up the new splicer, signed for it, put it in his backpack, and went back to his scooter.

He wondered if they had found the note yet. They probably had. If not, they soon would.

He wondered if the policeman would go running after Svetlana. He surely would.

The plan was nearly perfect, but the danger in a good game was overconfidence. Like the fat old man, Yuri had almost made the mistake of luring his opponent into early vulnerability by a seemingly innocuous one-space move of his bishop’s pawn. He had underestimated the fat man, though Valery had eventually won the game, but it was a lesson to be learned.

Perhaps he should not have left the note. It was a bold touch. He had twice crumpled it up and thrown it in a wastebasket. And twice he had retrieved it. It was dangerous to sneak into Kriskov’s office, but he had been unable to resist, to lure the police farther away from the truth. He had not been caught in the office or seen outside of it. He was not sure how good the police really were at tracing a note like this to a particular typewriter. He hoped they were very good. He had used the one in Svetlana’s little office.

Box under his arm, Valery moved to the nearby phone and made a call. When the phone on the other end was picked up and he recognized the voice, he gave the code, “Amlady?”

“No,” came the answer. “You have the wrong number.”

“I’m sorry,” he said and hung up.

Perfect, he thought. By this time tomorrow Yuri Kriskov would be quite dead, and Valery would be on the verge of being a very wealthy young man.

“I’m certain,” Kriskov had said, handing the sheet of notepaper to Sasha.

It had been in the middle of the conference table. No envelope. Thumbtacked and sure to leave a small scar in the polished wood.

Yuri had smoked and paced. Sasha had wanted to tell him to sit down.

The note was simple:

You have told too many people about this. This is between you and me. It must be settled tomorrow or I will do as I have told you I would. I know you have the money. Let us keep this between ourselves. I …

Sasha and Elena sat in the office of Porfiry Petrovich, who looked at the sheet of paper and ate a radish-and-tomato sandwich with butter on thick, dark bread from the bakery of Sasha’s mother. He had offered to cut the second sandwich in half and share it with them. Sasha had accepted. Elena had politely declined. There would have been a third sandwich, but Rostnikov had eaten it hours earlier.

Rostnikov had excused himself for eating while they talked and was sharing his bag of overly salty potato chips with the two detectives. Rostnikov looked at his watch, a birthday gift from his wife. The face of the watch was large and simple.

“And Kriskov is certain that the note was written by his editor, Svetlana …”

“Gorchinova,” said Elena.

Rostnikov took another bite and continued to look at the note. “Why,” he asked, “does the note appear to have been crumpled up? Is this the way you found it, open?”

“Open and flat,” said Sasha. “A thumbtack through it. Perhaps the thief had it crumpled in his pocket and flattened it when he came in.”

Rostnikov took a large satisfying bite. Elena did her best not to reach for the open bag of chips. She didn’t even like chips, but the tempting fat called out to her.

“No,” Rostnikov said, reaching down to scratch his itching artificial leg. “It is a small note. It could simply have been folded once and put in a pocket. And why does the note stop with the word I?”

“I do not know,” said Sasha. “Kriskov says that Svetlana Gorchinova has a history of mental illness.”

“Apparently an attribute that does not interfere with her ability to edit films,” said Rostnikov, eyes on the note, chewing.

“Perhaps it contributes to her creativity,” said Elena. “Freud believed that the most creative people were neurotic or even borderline psychotic.”

Rostnikov thought of the house of Lermontov and wondered if the great poet had been neurotic. He would have to get a biography.

“Was Lermontov neurotic?” he asked.

“Lermontov?” asked Elena.

She did not fully understand this washtub of a man who was going to be her father-in-law in the not-distant future. She respected him, admired him, but found it difficult to follow his leaps and musings.

“Lermontov,” he repeated. “Have you ever visited his boyhood home?”

“No,” said Elena, puzzled but trying not to show it.

“I have,” said Sasha. “Maya wanted to see it. It is bleak.”

“This is an old note, probably crumpled and thrown into a wastebasket,” said Rostnikov. “It is unfinished. The I is the beginning of another thought.”

“So,” said Elena, “she kept the note, brooded, and decided to send her message to Kriskov after she took the negative. If Kriskov and Freud are right, she may be a bit mad.”

“She would write a new note, I think,” said Rostnikov. “But who knows? Madness has its own reasons. Did anyone see someone enter the room where the note was found?”

“No,” said Sasha. “But I really couldn’t make inquiries. I’m a French film executive from Gaumont. Kriskov asked a few people.”

“Conclusions?” asked Rostnikov.

“Someone is trying to make it look as if Svetlana is the thief,” said Elena.

“And I would guess that this note was written on her typewriter, if she has one,” added Sasha.

“Our thief thinks he is very clever,” said Elena.

“Playing a game,” said Sasha.

“More chips?”

“No, thank you,” said Sasha.

Rostnikov shrugged and finished off the last few salty pieces.

“I’ll take a few,” said Elena.

Why was the sight of the chips making her feel suddenly fat? Why was she worrying about her weight? Before Iosef had besieged her, Elena had lived in relative culinary contentment, aware of her weight and mildly cautious, exercising each morning till she worked up a sweat, checking the scale in the corner of her aunt’s bedroom. But now …

“Do you agree, Elena Timofeyeva?” Rostnikov asked.

She had been aware that Rostnikov had said something after he finished his final bite of sandwich but she wasn’t quite sure of what it had been. Her mind had wandered to her waistline.

“I’m sorry, I …”

“If the thief is someone trying to put the blame on Svetlana Gorchinova, then he or she is someone inside the company. The thief would very likely know that Kriskov cannot raise two million American dollars in one day.”

“Then why? …” Sasha began.

“Ah, yes, a puzzle, a conundrum,” said Porfiry Petrovich, handing the note to Sasha. “Work on it. I think the solution may lead you to a thief with an agenda we do not yet know. And now I must clean my desk and turn my thoughts to outer space and distant villages.”

Elena and Sasha went into the hall. They stood silently for a moment and then looked at each other and the note in Sasha’s hand.

“You know what we must do,” he said.

“Yes.”

The trip was brief, four flights down to the ground and two below that to Paulinin’s den. Neither of them looked forward to it, but it was the quickest way to get an answer.

Sasha knocked. They thought they heard someone behind the door and in the distance answer, but the words were unclear. Sasha opened the door. At the end of the room, Paulinin looked up over the naked male body before him. The dead man was an almost bleached white, young, handsome.

The two detectives wended their way through the maze of tables, benches, specimens, debris, and books. Paulinin was wearing rubber gloves. His hair was in desperate need of attention.

“What?” he asked impatiently, eyeing Elena. Paulinin did not welcome living women visitors. “I’m busy. Two corpses. Seven boxes of shoes to examine. I’m busy.”

Sasha had dealt with Paulinin before, had watched Rostnikov deal with him. “This should take you but a minute, perhaps a few seconds,” said Sasha with his best smile. “You are the only one who can help us.”

“Quick then,” Paulinin said. “Quick, quick, people are waiting. Shoes are waiting, and I haven’t had my lunch.”

Sasha reached across the corpse and handed Paulinin the note. Paulinin looked at it and placed it on the chest of the corpse of Vladimir Kinotskin.

“What about it?” he asked.

“How long ago was it written?”

“Weeks, maybe months,” said Paulinin. “One need only look at the absorption of the ink, the small flecking, the … This does not even require magnification. Is that all?”

“That is all,” said Sasha. “Thank you.”

Elena and Sasha exchanged a look which made it clear that both now knew the theft of the negative had been planned long ago.

Paulinin returned the note and, ignoring his visitors, whispered something to the corpse.

Sasha and Elena left quickly.

On the way out, they had to avoid the seven cartons of shoes Paulinin had mentioned.

Vera Kriskov would be thirty-seven years old next month. She was looking forward to the day. She felt like celebrating. Her mirror told her she was still capable, if she chose, of returning to modeling for catalogues, magazines, perhaps even on television, but she really didn’t wish to do so and Yuri would not have permitted it. The bedroom mirror, in front of which she stood quite naked, told her clearly once again that having children had not destroyed her figure, though it had taken enormous exercise and diet restraint to remain the way she looked now. Her trademark long, soft, natural amber hair was as flowing and bright as ever.

Yuri wasn’t quite rich, but they lived comfortably in a dacha with three bedrooms just beyond the Outer Ring. She had her own car, a cream-colored Lada, and plenty of time and spending money.

She also had a husband who hadn’t made love to her in four months, a fact that only bothered her because she wanted to be wanted. Actually, she had no desire to spend time with her husband grunting and moaning in bed and smelling of stale cigarettes. He was, at his best, a conventional lover and certainly a frightened and indifferent one. His absence from bed was matched only by his absence from home. That absence too was not unwelcome.

She began to dress, nothing striking, nothing that would draw special attention, but something that would show her figure and draw attention to her face and hair. She moved, now wearing underpants and a bra, to the bathroom to put on her makeup. Even up close and with magnification her skin was smooth.

Vera had seen her husband’s new mistress, an actress, very young and definitely not as pretty as the face in the mirror before her. The girl was part of the act, Yuri’s pose as a creative, virile, philandering movie producer.

When she was satisfied with the face in the mirror, she got down a simple blue dress of cotton and put on comfortable white shoes with very low heels. Vera was tall, five-feet nine-inches tall, as tall as her husband when she wore even moderate heels.

She was ready. She would meet Yuri for dinner, as he had asked. She would listen to him bemoan his fate. She would be sympathetic, might even pat his hand. She would watch him smoke and eat and fret.

She would be a good wife, but she would also be a good actress, showing deep sympathy and close to tears, while she enjoyed his torment. She had married him because of his energy, money, connections to vibrant people, and the opportunity to become an actress.

Vera had appeared in a secondary role in one of Yuri’s low-budget comedies about a Bulgarian who becomes a Moscow taxi driver and can’t find any address. In addition, the other cab drivers make the Bulgarian’s life a nightmare. Vera played a model who has to get to a photo session. The part was small, but Yuri had told her she had been very good though the director was drunk during Vera’s three scenes.

Then Vera had gotten pregnant. Yuri wanted children. Yuri forced himself to work at it. Yuri worried that he could not create babies. Doctors helped. They worked out a schedule. There was no joy in the process. But Vera did find pleasure in her children. Ivan was almost ten and she prayed that he would not grow up to look like his father. He was a good-looking boy hovering between the image of his mother and father. Even if he grew to look like Yuri, she would love him. And Alla, Alla was four, beautiful, happy, definitely her mother’s child.

Though the children spent most of their time with friends or being watched by a frail young nanny from Odessa, Vera saw to it that she was with them most nights, read to them, bought them clothes and ice cream, took them to the circus and movies.

Yuri, on the other hand, spent no time with their children and was usually thinking of something else when Ivan tried to talk to him or Alla climbed into his lap.

Vera was ready now. She examined herself one last time in the mirror. Her mouth could, possibly, stand a bit more moisture, a bit more sympathetic red, but there was no time.

This was to be the first sequence in a dramatic unfilmed movie called The Death of Yuri Kriskov. It was arranged. She would see to it that it was done. Valery would play out the game they had planned and then, with the promise of having Vera, Valery would kill Yuri.

When Yuri was dead, his widow would inherit. The negative would be returned. The film would go to Cannes and make money. With luck Vera would be wealthy.

Valery was a very different lover from Yuri, but in his way almost as bad. Four inches shorter than she, homely and hairy as a bear, he would make wild sounds, cling to her till welts formed, lick her body in a way that both excited and repulsed her. He had tremendous staying power and was still many minutes away when she had long finished. And when it was over, he did not want her to leave whatever hotel room they were in. He usually wanted to talk about chess, about how life was a game of chess, a Russian game.

Yuri was a weakling. Valery was a bore.

Vera would gently get rid of Valery when all was over. She would see to it that he became an editor on a small picture and then she would set him up as a producer with his own very small independent company. She would invest heavily in the company and live up to her agreement to share in the profit and estate. She would guide Valery to other women, girls, and she would wait for him to break off their relationship. Before that, however, she could keep him at a distance, claiming that they could not do anything to draw suspicion. And then she would produce a movie of her own, a big movie, in which she would star.

Yes, she was ready for Yuri. She could stand her husband for another day.

The Yak was seated at the conference table when Porfiry Petrovich entered the office. Yaklovev waited while the chief inspector sat, opened his pad, and took out a pencil.

“Porfiry Petrovich, you are trying to find a missing cosmonaut.”

Rostnikov nodded, head down, examining the blank page before him, a bit curious about what images his pencil might find on the pale whiteness.

“You are not to pursue the unfortunate death of another cosmonaut this afternoon.”

“Murder. The two are connected,” said Rostnikov, drawing a straight line. “We began our investigation, requested a meeting with Vladimir Kinotskin, and hours later he is murdered.” Rostnikov began to draw something, a straight line.

“The murder is not ours, Porfiry Petrovich.”

There were many things Rostnikov wanted to say, but the director would know all of them. Something else was going on, and Rostnikov had no choice but to say yes.

“Then your pursuit of this death will not continue?”

“It will not,” said Rostnikov, seeing something come to meaning in the drawing.

“The newspapers, as you may know, and the television are being told that Vladimir Kinotskin appears to have suffered a stroke while standing before the boyhood home of his favorite poet and artist. The media has been told that his body will be handled with dignity and that there is no connection with his time in space and the tragedy. It seems there is a history of stroke in his family. It has been noted in his records.”

“The inescapability of revised genetic history,” said Rostnikov.

The Yak looked at him for a sign of sarcasm. There was none. Perhaps resignation, but not sarcasm.

“What is your next step?” asked Yaklovev.

The drawing was now clearly that of a man walking a tightrope, pole in hand to maintain his balance. The man had no face and was wearing a bathing suit. The task of the imaginary man was rendered impossible by the fact that he had only one leg.

“We would like to interview the three cosmonauts who brought Vladovka, Kinotskin, and Baklunov back from Mir,” said Rostnikov.

“You think they confided in each other on a brief shuttle to the earth?” asked Yaklovev.

“No, perhaps, but something took place on Mir, something that probably accounts for this afternoon’s death, the disappearance of Tsimion Vladovka, and quite possibly the death of the third cosmonaut, Rodya Baklunov.”

“You think Vladovka is dead?”

Rostnikov shrugged. The drawing lacked something, something essential. “Iosef has made inquiries,” said Rostnikov, drawing wings on the one-legged man, large wings, the fingerlike black wings of a predatory bird. “Two of the cosmonauts on the rescue mission are in America learning English, preparing for a flight to the new space station when it is built and some shuttle missions in the meantime. They will not be back in Russia for at least a year.”

“You will interview the third cosmonaut,” said the Yak.

“I cannot,” said Rostnikov. “He is dead. An accident. He was visiting the small farm he had purchased for his father. While out alone in the nearby city of Vologda, he had a heart attack. He was thirty-two years old.”

“The Russian death rate is among the highest in the world,” said the Yak.

“Primarily resulting from smoking, drinking, poor diet, and family rage,” answered Rostnikov. “It seems the mortality rate for this group of cosmonauts exceeds the national average and that their demise came not in space but on the earth. But, I will cease to follow leads in the space program.”

“And so?”

“And so,” said Rostnikov. “I have read through our missing hero’s file and come to the conclusion that Iosef and I should go to Kiro-Stovitsk.”

“Kiro-Stovitsk?”

“The town near Pikolovo not far from St. Petersburg where our missing cosmonaut was raised, where his parents, brother, cousins still live, farm, work.”

“You think he is there?”

“Perhaps, perhaps not. It is probably where I would go if I wanted to be with people I trusted, if only for a little while before continuing to run, continuing to find a place to hide.”

The drawing was complete. The one-legged man would surely fall, but his wings were strong. Rostnikov wondered if the winged man were Vladovka, Porfiry Petrovich, or a combination of both. He closed the notebook.

“Then,” said Yaklovev, “go to Kiro-Stovitsk, find him and find him quickly. And remember, no interrogation. You simply and quietly bring him to me. You will probably be followed by State Security, Military Intelligence, and others.”

“Strangers will stand out in Kiro-Stovitsk. The town, I understand, is very small and there are no hotels.”

“Good, go quickly and succeed,” said the Yak, rising. “Pankov will see to an advance for your expenses. Take what you need. I know I need not worry about your spending more than is necessary.”

“There is a flight to St. Petersburg early in the morning,” said Rostnikov, getting up. What remained of his left leg had fallen asleep. He could feel nothing but tingling. He almost fell. He steadied himself on the table and the Yak moved away, pretending not to have seen.

When Rostnikov was out the door, Yaklovev went over the reports on the other two cases now underway by the Office of Special Investigation. The missing film negative had not yet been found. It was of great importance to the government. Yaklovev had the power, with a phone call, to obtain the two million American dollars for the return of the negatives. The problem, however, was that if he did so, he would be obligated to the powerful advisor to the president. As it stood now, the powerful advisor was deeply obligated to Igor Yaklovev. A time would come when the Yak would pick up the phone and arrange a meeting with the powerful advisor, a member of the duma. That time would have to come soon and the favor asked would have to justify itself. Timing was everything. The powerful advisor might become president in the not-distant future, but then again, Russia being as dourly manic as it was, the advisor might be just another citizen within the historical change of a single day. And what if Yaklovev did ask for a two-million-dollar favor and the negative was not returned or was destroyed? No, in that direction lay a greater danger. Elena Timofeyeva and Sasha Tkach would have to succeed without the money. If they failed, Yaklovev would accept responsibility for the failure. There were more successes than failures. He could weather a few such failures and tolerate the gloating satisfaction of his enemies. While his enemies gloated with self-satisfaction, Igor Yaklovev would find a way to leap ahead of them.

The second case underway was less clear but more likely to come to a satisfying conclusion. Psychic research was an up-and-down issue. With money short, a murder could cause a shock to the system, could be disastrous. Yaklovev did not believe in ghosts, telepathy, telekinesis, or anything else that these scientists were wasting time and money on. On the other hand, he didn’t disbelieve. He simply didn’t care. What he did care about was the good will of the wealthy, very wealthy businessmen who were funding such research and wanted it to continue. Such men had arranged for the case to go to the Office of Special Investigation.

Yaklovev read the preliminary autopsy report and the trail to the shoes. There was nothing in Emil Karpo’s report about the supposed psychic powers of Akardy Zelach.

The investigation, Yaklovev decided, was going well.

He looked at the plain, white-faced clock with large numerals on the wall. He sat at his desk and touched a button that opened the line to the microphone in the outer office. There was no sound, a sign that Rostnikov had made his arrangements with Pankov for the trip.

The Yak flipped the switch off, rose, and moved to the outer office where Pankov sat, suddenly at sweating attention.

“Pankov,” the Yak said. “You know the notebook Chief Inspector Rostnikov carries?”

“The larger one or the one in his pocket?” asked Pankov, to show that he was indeed observant.

“The larger one. You know where the chief inspector keeps it when he goes out?”

“In his drawer, the middle one, or he just leaves it on his desk,” said Pankov, trying mightily not to show any curiosity about the curious questions from the director.

“In five minutes, you will call the chief inspector and tell him he is to go down to Section Seven to sign papers for his trip. You will then call our friend in Section Seven and tell him to keep Inspector Rostnikov busy signing papers for fifteen minutes,” said Yaklovev. “When he is signing papers, I want you to enter the chief inspector’s office, find his notebook, copy every page quickly on our machine, and return the notebook to the exact place where you took it from.”

Pankov wanted to plead, weep, beg. Rostnikov might come back, find him, break him to pieces. And what of the others across the hall? What if the Vampire caught him?

“I understand,” said Pankov.

“Good.”

And with that the Yak went back into his office, leaving Pankov to wonder what might be of interest or importance enough to merit this errand, an errand filled with danger for the frightened assistant.

Had he been able to ask the director, and had the director been willing to give an honest answer, that answer would have been “I don’t know.” But at a deeper level, the real answer the Yak barely acknowledged was “I want to know this man in whom I put so much trust.”

The sky was clear and the day warm as Maya Tkach crossed the Paton Bridge over the Dnieper River. She walked without thinking about where she was going, letting her body take her as it had more than a decade earlier when she had been a very young woman in Kiev.

People, cars, and buses passed her in both directions. She looked neither at them nor at the water to her right. She knew she was heading for the heart of the city, where she would probably wind up on Kreschatik, the busiest street in Kiev, where she would go into the Kreschatik metro station and head for the house of her brother and her sister-in-law.

Young men and old men glanced at the pretty, dark woman who appeared to be lost in thought or grief. Maya was vaguely aware of the glances, as she had been since she was a girl of fifteen.

Her sister-in-law would watch the children and her own till three. If Maya was back by then, there would be no problem. In truth, Rita would probably not grumble even if she were quite late. Rita had welcomed Maya and the children and refrained from commenting on her situation or making negative comments about Sasha, though Maya’s brother had told her at least something of Sasha’s behavior and the reasons for Maya’s coming to Kiev.

Maya had said she was going to an afternoon concert and she had fully intended to do just that, but as she had approached Philharmonia Hall, she knew she could not possibly sit through even a short afternoon concert of light baroque works.

Instead she had wandered.

Maya was the only one who really knew why she had left her husband in Moscow. Yes, he had betrayed her with other women at least five times since their marriage, but she also knew that Sasha was very vulnerable. It was his prolonged depressions that were more responsible for her decision to leave him than were his indiscretions.

Those were the reasons for which he himself was responsible.

Her own responsibility was the real secret. He had entered into his encounters with women impulsively. Maya had entered into her one affair with calculation and determination. She had first told herself that she had begun the affair with the Japanese executive who dealt with her office to get even with Sasha. Then she had told herself that she had done so because she was lonely and beginning to feel unwanted. Then she told herself that she had begun the relationship to escape from the deadening blanket of Sasha’s depression. Finally she had concluded that it was all these things and a simple desire to be desired. It had gone on for a long time, far longer than all of Sasha’s encounters put together.

So, one important reason for her fleeting was a deep sense of guilt.

But something now had to be done, had to be decided. Sasha had called. She had chosen not to carry on a conversation. Lydia Tkach had called. Maya had been polite and let her talk to the children, though the baby knew nothing of what was going on and had no more than a few words to say, prompted by Maya’s mother and sister.

A decision had to be made soon. Maya would have to get work or consider returning to Sasha. If she returned, should she confess? No, she decided, no. She would live with her guilt. But returning to Sasha would require more than her willingness to try. For her sake, for the sake of the children, she would need to truly believe that Sasha would and could change, that he had made a beginning.

Time was running out. Maya had heard quiet conversations in Moscow about Kiev and Chernobyl, which was a short ride away. Kiev, she had been told officially, was a safe city to visit for as much as four months or even longer. Unofficially, she had been told that it would take a century for the entire region to be safe.

Stories had come from her brother about sickness in the family, aunts, uncles, cousins with cancers and other illnesses. All were explained away, but now Maya had seen with her own eyes. More than a decade after the nuclear disaster there were sick people on the streets, sickness that could not simply be explained by heavy smoking and alcoholism that matched that of Russia and caused a death rate equal to that of the poorest African countries.

She had to get her children someplace safer. She knew of no other place but Moscow.

As she crossed Leipzig Street, she willed her husband to call tonight. She willed him to sound genuinely different, not just guilty and contrite. She was no longer really interested in guilt. They had more than enough between them to last a lifetime.

He will call, she thought. Sasha will call. If not tonight, tomorrow. And then what will I say? She really had no idea.

She remembered that there was something she had to do before she went back to the apartment. Something … oh, yes. She would stop at the sweet shop near the Tchaikovsky Conservatory and bring something back for her children and her brother.

“A great chain of being,” Mikhail Stoltz said, sitting in his small office behind his desk. “An action begets another action which begets two reactions and …”

He leaned forward and looked around his office. There were photographs of him with astronauts, cosmonauts, visiting dignitaries, and members of the current government. He had other photographs with now-discredited leaders. They were in a drawer in the desk behind which he sat looking at the man across from him.

The man sat back, his umbrella between his legs. The umbrella was upright on the floor. The man had both hands on the curved handle. He said nothing. Stoltz would say what he had to say and the man with the umbrella would do what he had to do.

Stoltz sighed. “How many will we have to eliminate before this is ended?” he asked.

Since the question was not really being asked to the man with the umbrella, he did not answer.

“There are some secrets too big to conceal forever,” said Stoltz. “For such secrets there is only the possibility of delay.”

The man with the umbrella nodded in agreement.

“The two in America?” Stoltz asked.

“It is being taken care of,” said the umbrella man.

“The one in China?”

“Done,” said the umbrella man.

“Then …”

“There is just Vladovka,” said the man with the umbrella. “And I will find him.”

“Rostnikov.”

“Rostnikov.”

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