Valery Grachev was halfway home when the boy in the park began to signal that there was no money in the gym bag in front of Elena Timofeyeva. He knew the bag contained paper and nothing else. Vera had confirmed it. The wooded areas, he was sure, were streaming with police moments after the boy signaled. While Sasha Tkach was rushing madly through the park searching for him, Valery was on the metro going to work, where he had parked his motor scooter very early in the morning. Valery smiled at a woman across from him. She was well dressed, a black suit, short hair, made-up, and carrying a black handbag. She was reasonably pretty but not nearly a match for Vera Kriskov.
Valery was under no illusions. Well, perhaps he was under one illusion. He knew Vera did not love him for his looks, but he thought she did because he was both smart and a satisfying lover who was eager to do what she wished done.
What she wished done now was to have him kill her husband, a task he had been quite willing to accept. He had even purchased a weapon through someone he had met in the same park from which he was now traveling. The man, a very bad chess player with very bad teeth and a smoker’s cough, though he was no more than thirty, had bragged that he “had connections.” He knew Valery only by his nickname, Kon, and when Kon had expressed an interest in purchasing a particular kind of weapon, a rifle he could fire accurately from a distance of two hundred yards, the man with bad teeth had confidently and confidentially said that it could be arranged for the right price.
Valery, with money given to him by Vera, had paid that price, and the weapon was now in the rented closet of a bicycle shop, alongside the two sets of negatives he had taken, plus a pistol he had also purchased from the man in the park with bad teeth. The pistol was clean but it looked a bit old to Valery, who knew little about firearms.
“It’s a classic,” the man had confided, using his back to shield the weapon from the view of anyone who might be approaching. “Put it in your pocket. Here’s a box of ammunition. It’s a nine-millimeter Makarov. Powerful. Simple to fire. Effective. I won’t lie to you. It is not the perfect weapon for long distance, but you have the rifle for that, complete with the best scope that can be had.”
Valery had learned to distrust anyone who said, “I won’t lie to you” or “trust me.”
The train was full. It was rush hour, but through the standing bodies, Valery’s eyes met those of the woman in black. She glared at him. He smiled back.
Vera had left to him how Yuri Kriskov was to be killed. She didn’t care, as long as it was soon.
She had urged him to be careful. He wanted to think that she was concerned about him. He knew that, at least in part, she was afraid that if he were caught, she too would be caught. It was understandable. The queen had to be protected. The game would end when the black king was dead.
It was hot in the metro car. Valery was standing, holding a metal pole, crunched between people. An old man with bad breath was almost staring him in the face. A woman pressing into his side made grunting sounds whenever the train jostled or stopped. He felt warm, very warm. Perhaps he was coming down with a fever.
He suddenly decided to get off at the next stop and forced his way through the crowd. He was short and powerful and well equipped for entrance to and from train cars.
On the platform of the Novoslobodskaya station he stood on the floor of black-and-green marble rectangles, breathing deeply. It was cool deep underground on the platform, but he was perspiring. People jostled past him as he stood looking without seeing at the familiar stained-glass illuminated panels depicting traditional themes and life rather than the revolutionary artwork that decorated many of the other familiar platforms. He didn’t know quite why but he felt an impulse to run up the stairs. He paused for an instant in front of the panels where a stained-glass man in a stained-glass black suit, wearing a red tie, sat at a desk looking at a large document in his hands. A globe with Russia in the center stood on the man’s desk. Rows of books faced him. The man’s stained-glass brown wooden chair supported him, and squares of windows floated in an eerie green-white light. The man’s office was neat, permanent. Valery was fascinated. The man reminded him of Kriskov. In fact, Kriskov could have been the model for this encircled depiction.
It was like being in a church.
Valery had to get somewhere, do something. Was he doubting his enterprise? Was the promise of Vera Kriskov an illusion? No. He turned from the panel. A feeling of power, almost of flight, ran through him. He pushed past people, slowed, still moving, to drop a few kopeks into the hand of a begging old woman sitting cross-legged at the entrance, and then ran to the phone.
He dropped in a coin and dialed.
“Yes?” answered Yuri Kriskov tentatively.
“You made a wrong move,” said Valery in his disguised voice. “You are now in check. End game.”
“Look,” said Yuri. “I can …”
“Say nothing or I call checkmate,” said Valery, hanging up.
He didn’t run, but he did move quickly past people heading away from the metro entrance. The police would be converging on the phone within a few minutes. He wanted to draw no attention by hurrying. He walked past the begging woman and reentered the station, now able to breathe. He got on the first train and by the time he got to work he was ten minutes late.
“Do we have the negative back?” he asked Nikita Kolodny as he entered the door of the editing room and breathed in the celluloid smell.
“I don’t know,” said Nikita. “Svetlana Gorchinova is looking for you. She is more crazy than usual. Be careful.”
With that, Svetlana entered the room, looked at him and glared.
“You are late,” she said.
Valery smiled and Nikita stepped back in near terror. No one smiled at Svetlana Gorchinova when she chastised, not even Levich or Kriskov.
“I have a fever,” said Valery, still smiling.
Svetlana looked at his pink face and the drops of moisture on his upper lip.
“Then why are you grinning like a fool?” she said.
“Am I grinning? I didn’t know. Perhaps I have a secret,” he said.
“Perhaps you are delirious,” she said, moving to her chair in front of the Avid editing machine.
“Perhaps,” he agreed. “You know, you look like the pilot of a Klingon warship, sitting in front of the editor. The light hits your face eerily. You look determined and formidable.”
She turned in her chair and looked at him. “Go home,” she said. “You are sick. You are talking like an idiot.”
“I’m perfectly fine,” he responded.
Nikita had turned his back and moved to a corner, where he pretended to examine a long-nosed pliers.
“Well,” she said. “I am not perfectly fine having you here. There isn’t that much to do until … there isn’t that much and I don’t want to go through the day with you acting like a maniac.”
“I am perfectly sane,” he said. “A bit feverish perhaps, but …”
“Go home,” she shouted. “Or don’t go home. But go.”
Valery shook his head knowingly and said, “I’ll go.”
“Then go, you fool, and don’t return until and unless you can behave, be quiet, and take orders.”
Valery shrugged and moved to the door. “When I return,” he said, “it will not be as a pawn to take orders, but as a king.” And out the door he went.
Svetlana muttered something and ignored Valery’s parting words.
Nikita Kolodny did not. Nikita suspected that Valery Grachev had taken the negatives. This behavior had made him more than suspicious. But Nikita was a coward. He had come from a long, long line of cowards who rose no higher than their intelligence or lack of it and their desire for safe anonymity would permit. There was no way Nikita would risk his safety and job by reporting what he believed. There were no rewards to be gained and, even if there were, risking Valery’s wrath would not be worth stepping forward. No, Nikita would stand back in the corners of his life, watching, listening. Perhaps if Valery were caught, Nikita might move up to first assistant. That was as far as he aspired to. It would be enough.
Vera Kriskov comforted her husband with no success while the two policemen made calls and tried to trace the man who had just telephoned. The children were at school and, thank God, she thought, they didn’t have to see their father nearly hysterical.
“He’s mad,” said Kriskov, reaching for a cigarette, unable to light it with his shaking hands. Vera helped. “What was he talking about? Chess games? This isn’t a chess game. That bastard is going to destroy my negatives, destroy me. He is going to kill me.
“He is not going to kill you,” Vera said, knowing that the younger of the two policemen in the room had been admiring her since he came into the house. “He will stay away. The police will not let him get close.”
“Like they were going to catch him with the bag of strips of paper,” Yuri said, leaning over to put his head in his hands. “He’s probably burning the negatives now, right now.”
“Why would he do that?” she said. “He’d have to be mad. The negatives are worth money to him. He will call back. He will make a deal.”
“He is mad, Vera,” said Yuri, looking up. “Crazy, crazy mad.” He pounded the sides of his head with the heels of his hands. “A lunatic.”
Vera thought her husband might well be right. Valery Grachev had not done what they had agreed upon. The second call was not just a mistake, it was an act of madness. There was no point to it. Perhaps she should cut her losses, kill Valery, let the police discover the negative, drop the whole idea.
But there were two reasons why she could not seriously consider this. First, she could not imagine killing Valery or anyone else. What would she use? A gun? There were two in the house, but she couldn’t. And then there was Yuri sniveling next to her. She put her arm around him soothingly under the eye of the envious young policeman.
“Shh,” she said. “It will work out.”
Yuri simply shook his head.
He had to die. She could not live with this lying, worthless thing next to her for another week. Valery would have to kill him and kill him soon. She would have to find a way to get in touch with him, to urge him to move quickly. Maybe she would threaten him, tell him that he would lose her if he didn’t act, tell him that his mad phone call was giving her second thoughts about him and the whole plan.
“Can I get you anything?” the young policeman asked.
“No, thank you,” said Vera with a sad smile.
“A drink,” said Yuri. “I’ll die if I don’t have a drink.”
You will die with or without a drink if Valery Grachev keeps from going completely insane, Vera thought. “Brandy, in the cabinet over there,” she told the policeman, nodding toward the large wooden antique in the corner.
“They’ve traced the second call and a car was there in less than two minutes,” said the older policeman from the phone. “A public phone just outside a metro station.”
“And?” asked Yuri hopefully.
“Nothing,” said the older policeman. “They’re asking questions. Trying to find if someone saw …”
The front door opened. Sasha and Elena came in.
“Doesn’t anyone knock?” Yuri shouted, accepting an overly large and welcome brandy snifter from the young policeman. “Knock. Knock. Knock. That lunatic could walk right in here with a … an automatic weapon and kill me. You failed.”
“Not completely,” said Elena, looking at him and then at Vera.
“Not? …” Yuri said, looking up from the drink he held in two hands.
“The second call,” said Sasha. “The chess allusion.”
“He sent us to a chess table in the park,” Elena went on. “It is possible he has played at that table.”
“Thousands of people must have played at that table,” groaned Yuri.
“We have officers talking to people at the metro stop and near the telephone,” said Elena. “Perhaps we can get a description of whoever used the phone.”
“But people just rush by,” said Vera. “Anyone who might have seen him has long gone.”
“No, perhaps,” said Sasha. “Someone running a kiosk or some pensioner who might have been strolling by with nothing to do or walking his dog, or … maybe someone will be able to come up with a description we can take to the regular chess players in the park.”
“No,” said Yuri. “He will kill me. That is that.”
“He won’t kill you, Yuri,” Vera said soothingly, beginning to worry now that Valery might, in fact, fail, and deciding that she would have to find a way to get rid of Valery when Yuri was gone.
Elena watched the beautiful woman soothe her frantic husband. She watched and she felt that it was not love she was seeing. But what of it? Many women did not love the men to whom they had found themselves married. And, besides, perhaps it was the woman’s beauty to which Elena was reacting. It made no difference. What was important was the tugging feeling that the man with the negatives somehow knew that the money would not be delivered.
Elena was more and more certain that the real goal in this was not ransom but an excuse to kill Yuri Kriskov. But who would want Kriskov dead? She had no intention of sharing this intuition with Sasha Tkach, who would, in his present state, humor her. Had he been as he had before this inexplicable euphoria, he would have ridiculed her feelings and they would have fought. Elena would have to talk to Porfiry Petrovich.
At the same moment Elena was deciding that she had to talk to Rostnikov, a twenty-four-year-old uniformed policeman named Yakov Pierta, his second week on the force, was talking to a beggar woman just inside the entrance of the Novoslobodskaya metro station, within sight of the phone from which Valery had made his call to Yuri Kriskov. He leaned in front of her, gave her some coins, and asked her if she had seen anyone making a call on the phone to which he now pointed. She looked at the coins and then at the phone. Then she looked at the policeman and said, “Ten rubles.”
Emil Karpo patiently questioned Boris Adamovskovich in a small, white-walled, windowless room on the fourth floor of Petrovka. There was a table in the room with four chairs. Adamovskovich had been directed to sit in one of the chairs. Zelach had taken a position behind the scientist. Karpo stood across the table before the man they were questioning. It was routine procedure. Zelach did his best to pay attention, but it was still early and much had already happened.
Less than an hour earlier he had walked behind Nadia Spectorski down the hall of the psychic research center and into the same room where she had tortured him with playing cards. He had little hope of outwitting the scientist, so he had a battle plan to name the cards based on a simple pattern he had worked out the night before with his mother.
Eagerly, Nadia Spectorski had sat him at the table and said, “We are going to do something different today, Inspector Zelach. Here is a pad of paper and a pencil.”
He adjusted his glasses and looked at the pad and pencil.
“I am going to draw six things on the pad before me,” she said. “This screen will prevent you from seeing what I am drawing.”
The screen was simple, a tall brown piece of plastic with two hinged sides.
“I will draw first, nod to you, and you will draw,” she said.
“What will I draw?” he asked.
“Whatever you wish to draw,” she answered. “Simple drawings.”
“I can’t draw,” he said.
“Keep it very simple,” she said. “This isn’t an art class. It won’t take long. Trust me. There are no grades. Just draw.”
Ten minutes later Zelach was breathing hard. The experiment was over. He put down his pencil. Nadia Spectorski reached for his pad and took it behind her screen.
Zelach watched her eyes compare what she had done with what he had drawn. She made a sound, made some notes on a separate pad, and looked up at him.
“Would you like to see?” she said.
“What you did.”
“No,” he said. “I would like to go now.”
“Look,” she said, folding the screen and turning the pads toward him. “This is my first drawing and this is yours.”
Nadia Spectorski’s drawing was a circle with a small square inside it. Zelach’s drawing was a circle with a squiggle inside it. She went through the six drawings. Her number-two drawing was a crude man. His was a stick figure of a man. Her third drawing was an automobile. His third drawing was a cart with wheels. Her fourth drawing was the letter
“Nothing alike,” he said, peering at the pads through his glasses.
“On the contrary,” she said. “The match is remarkable. Another test.”
“No,” he said, rising.
“I understood that you were asked to cooperate, Akardy Zelach.”
“Another time,” he said. “I cannot …”
“Yes, I understand,” she said. “Talk to your mother.”
“The woman at the table last night. That is your mother?”
“Yes,” he said.
“Don’t worry. Tell her not to worry. I won’t make trouble for you. I’ll keep it to myself.”
That was no more than an hour ago. Now he stood behind the big scientist named Boris, who was being questioned by Emil Karpo.
“… the blood of Sergei Bolskanov,” Karpo said.
“I don’t know,” said Adamovskovich, shaking his head.
“You were there,” said Karpo.
“In the center, yes. I was there, but I didn’t kill Bolskanov. I was in my office and then in my sleep laboratory, working.”
“Your shoes,” said Karpo.
Boris looked up, clearly unnerved by the situation and the pale, unemotional man before him.
“My shoes,” Boris said almost to himself. “I don’t … I took them off for a while. I slept. Sometimes I work for two, three days without sleep and then I nap for an hour or two. I must have been asleep when Sergei was murdered.”
“In your laboratory?”
“You took your shoes off?”
“When I sleep, yes. I took my shoes off. Put them on the floor next to the bed.”
Karpo looked down at him for what may have been a minute. Zelach stood quietly. Boris turned to look at Zelach for sympathy. Zelach did not return his look.
“You are suggesting that someone came into the sleep laboratory while you were napping, took your shoes, put them on, murdered Sergei Bolskanov, made an attempt to clean the shoes, and then put them back where you had left them,” said Karpo.
“I … I suppose. Yes, that is what I must be saying. Though I don’t …”
“That someone took your shoes, wore them, murdered, and returned them,” said Karpo.
“I don’t … yes, that must be.”
“Perhaps you walked in your sleep and killed Sergei Bolskanov without knowing it,” said Karpo.
“No,” said Boris. “That is not possible. I do not walk in my sleep.”
“It would explain the blood,” said Karpo. “Possibly give you an excuse for what took place.”
“I did not commit murder while asleep. I did not commit murder while awake. If there is blood on those shoes, someone else wore them.”
“Why?” asked Karpo.
“I do not know,” said Adamovskovich, pounding the table with both fists. “I do not know.”
“I am sorry I’m late,” said the man with the umbrella, standing in the middle of the muddy street of Kiro-Stovitsk. “I was fortunate in having the opportunity to attend the annual services for the burial of Czar Nicholas and his family in St. Petersburg.”
The people of the town were lined up as the lean man in a business suit, umbrella tucked under his left arm, walked directly up to Rostnikov and held out his right hand.
“Primazon,” he said. “Anatoli Ivanovich Primazon.”
“Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov” Rostnikov replied, taking the man’s hand.
Primazon’s face was pink and smooth, his hair freshly barbered and white. His smile was of a man hoping for a reaction. “And this,” said Primazon, “is your son, Iosef.”
Primazon’s hand went out again. Iosef took it.
Rostnikov did not ask how the man with the umbrella knew his son’s name. He did not have to ask.
“And …” Primazon went on looking around at the small gathering. “Which one is Vladovka’s father?”
Boris stepped forward. He did not extend his hand, but he did introduce his son and Alexander Podgorny.
Primazon nodded politely and said, “Porfiry Petrovich, is there somewhere we can talk?”
Rostnikov looked at Boris Vladovka, who nodded toward the meeting hall they had just left.
“Thank you,” Primazon said with sincerity to Vladovka. “Official business. It shouldn’t take long.”
The man with the umbrella led the way into the former church, and the Rostnikovs followed. Iosef closed the doors and there immediately came the sound of people outside talking. It was likely, thought Iosef, that this was the singularly most interesting event they had witnessed in years, possibly in their lifetimes.
Primazon looked around with approval.
“They probably show movies here,” he said. “Old movies. I love old movies. I collect videotapes. Mostly American, but I like the Russian biographies. The admirals, scientists. All long, ponderous. You can live a lifetime watching one of those old biographies. Shall we sit?”
Primazon had taken over, serving as host, smiling genially.
Porfiry Petrovich moved back to the table where they had sat and joined Anatoli Primazon, who had already sat and placed his umbrella on the table. Iosef chose to stand.
“I must thank you, Porfiry Petrovich,” he said, leaning forward and, for no reason Iosef could discern, speaking in a whisper. “If you had not come to St. Petersburg, I would not have had the opportunity to attend the burial services. You know Putin was there? He spoke, apologized for the murders, more than eighty years ago, all murdered. Official Russian Orthodox service. Priests with those tall white hats with the crosses pinned in the center. Everyone stood. The service was, as you may have guessed, long. Have you ever been inside St. Peter and Paul Cathedral?”
“No,” said Rostnikov.
“No? You should stop on your way back. Beautiful. Glass chandeliers. High-domed ceilings, Pink-and-blue walls. And pomp? Gold-robed priests, black-suited descendants of the Romanovs, all holding the thin candles. A choir sang the Orthodox requiem for the dead, priests filled the air with incense. At the original burial several years ago, royalty from all over the world, the English sent the Prince of Kent. And the nineteen-gun salute when they lowered Nicholas’s coffin. Only nineteen instead of twenty because he had abdicated. An irony there? We force him to abdicate and then when we repent we fire only nineteen shots. The shots echoed off the buildings, frightened birds flew, thousands watched. The Neva wept. I exaggerate, but it was a scene to remember, to tell one’s grandchildren. Unfortunately, I have no grandchildren, but I do have a son, a teacher in Minsk.”
“It sounds as if it was a moving experience,” said Rostnikov, adjusting his leg.
“I did not kill Vladimir Kinotskin,” Primazon said, suddenly quite serious. “As you can tell, I have great reverence for history, for the past. History is my passion. What else is there but family and history? I would not kill a man before the house of Lermontov.”
“Would the lobby of the Russia Hotel be an acceptable location for murder?” asked Rostnikov.
“Oh yes, certainly. It has no history, not yet. We will all be long gone like the czar and his family before it deserves such reverence,” said Primazon.
“But you know who did kill Kinotskin?” asked Rostnikov.
“I know why,” the man said with a smile, “and I am waiting for you to find out
“Then,” said Rostnikov, “let us now ask
“Splendid,” said Primazon, sitting back, still whispering. “Then that will leave us only
“Perhaps,” agreed Rostnikov.
“My task is not to kill cosmonauts but to protect them,” he said. “My small group is part of the Space Security Organization. We protect the launch sites and villages where cosmonauts and visiting astronauts and others are trained and housed. My small group is assigned to the present and past cosmonauts.”
“Who would want to harm cosmonauts?” asked Iosef.
Primazon looked up as if he had forgotten the younger “presence.
“Who? I think we have ample evidence that someone would, don’t we? We have a murdered cosmonaut and others who have died under some suspicion. Why would one want to harm cosmonauts? Terrorism? Insanity? Revenge?”
“Revenge for what?” asked Iosef.
Primazon shrugged. “We have a list of hundreds in the space-exploration program, a list that goes back before 1957. Hundreds have been terminated for incompetence, mental illness, as scapegoats for missions or experiments that went wrong. See, I am being honest with you.”
“I appreciate that, Anatoli Ivanovich,” said Rostnikov.
“Then I will be even more honest,” the umbrella man said, still whispering. “I have not done a particularly good job in the current situation. Only one cosmonaut remains in Russia of the six involved in that troubled mission. The two who are out of the country are being protected by my colleagues.”
With this, Primazon reached into his jacket pocket and dramatically pulled out a photograph, which he turned toward Porfiry Petrovich.
“Tsimion Vladovka,” said Primazon.
Rostnikov had the same photograph in his small suitcase. He had looked at it, memorized each feature and detail. Primazon turned the photo to look at it himself as if for the first time and said, examining the picture, “I must save him, you must find him. There is none better than you for such a task, or so I have heard. I’ll be honest again. If something were to happen to Tsimion Vladovka, I might well end my career by cleaning the statues of poets and authors in the squares of Moscow.”
“And since you could not hide in such a small village as Kiro-Stovitsk …” Rostnikov began.
“… I decided to face you honestly,” finished Primazon, patting his umbrella.
“And at some time, if we find Vladovka and he is safely back in Moscow and under your protection, and I tell you who killed Vladimir Kinotskin? …” Rostnikov tried again.
“Then perhaps I will be in a position to tell you
“Instinct,” said Rostnikov.
Primazon nodded in understanding.
“Instinct and a belief that Vladovka would not disappear forever, if the choice of disappearance were his own, without making some contact with his family,” said Rostnikov.
“Yes, yes,” said the umbrella man, nodding his head. “He is such a man. I understand. It might be dangerous to see them in person, but such a man … Well, is there some place we can spend the night here? It’s getting late and you have work to do.”
“I don’t know,” said Rostnikov. “Perhaps Iosef could …”
“No, no,” said Primazon, rising and holding out his hand, palm open and facing down to keep father and son in place. “I will take that responsibility. I am, after all, the intruder, and I owe them some explanation.”
“And what will that be?” asked Rostnikov.
“Something novel, unexpected,” the man said, tucking his umbrella under his arm. “I shall tell them the truth. Are you coming?
“We will be there in a moment,” said Rostnikov. “My leg is causing me a bit of difficulty. Iosef can help.”
“Your leg? Oh, yes, I had forgotten. War injury. You have medals?”
“I have medals,” said Rostnikov. “Everyone has medals.”
Primazon nodded again and went down the short aisle and out the doors, closing them behind him.
“There is nothing wrong with your leg?” said Iosef.
“Nothing,” said Rostnikov, still sitting.
“I wanted to talk to you briefly before we join our new friend on the street as he charms the populace.”
“You have some idea of where Tsimion Vladovka might be?”
“And,” Iosef continued, looking at his father, who was now rising, “you know who killed Vladimir Kinotskin?”
“Oh, yes,” said Rostnikov, patting his son on the cheek. “The killer just walked out of here with a smile on his face and an umbrella under his arm.”