Chapter Nine

There were three rooms for guests above the shop of Alexander Podgorny. They were all small bedrooms that had belonged to the Podgorny children, who had moved to St. Petersburg and Moscow years before. In one room, the man who called himself Anatoli Ivanovich Primazon was supposedly sleeping. In the center room, Iosef lay in bed, reading the mystery his father had given him. He was not particularly enjoying it, not because he thought it bad, but because his thoughts were with Elena and the man who his father had labeled a murderer, the man in the room next to his. Iosef’s gun was on the small table next to the bed. The light was too dim and the bed too soft.

Porfiry Petrovich was not in the third room. He had quietly asked if Podgorny had a telephone. The storekeeper had said that there was one in the shop, right outside the two rooms behind the shop area where Podgorny lived with his wife.

Rostnikov paid him generously in advance for the call and volunteered to pay now for the room.

“For the phone, yes,” said Podgorny. “For the room, no. You are our guests.”

Rostnikov asked for a receipt that he could hand to Pankov for reimbursement, which might take weeks and might never come.

It took him ten minutes to complete the call to Elena and Sasha, who were in her cubicle at Petrovka. Neither had reason to go home. For Elena, Iosef was eighty miles outside of St. Petersburg. For Sasha, his family was in the Ukraine. They spoke, knowing the conversation was being recorded for later listening by the Yak.

ROSTNIKOV: I have a window in my room. There is a moon and nothing as far as I can see but flat fields and a single tractor. Melancholy and quite beautiful. And Iosef is fine.

ELENA: We did not get the negatives back. I-we, Sasha and I-think that the thief expected a trap. But he did make a mistake. He made a strange call, talked about chess. We questioned some of the players in the park by the chess bench where the exchange was to take place.

ROSTNIKOV:-A name? Description?

ELENA: Perhaps from a beggar at the metro station. An agitated man gave her some coins, the most she has ever been given. He did not wait for thanks but hurried away. Normally, she would have gone back to the business of begging, but the amount had been so much that she watched him hurry to the phone. Her description of him is quite good. That is the description we gave to the chess players in the park. Most did not want to talk. A few said they thought it was a young man they knew only as Kon, who sometimes plays in the park. They said he is a nervous type, good player but impatient. The way to beat him is to wait him out, take your time until he makes a mistake.

ROSTNIKOV: Then that is what you should do. Have you given the description to Kriskov?

ELENA: Yes. He had no idea of who it might be. Nor, apparently, does his wife.

SASHA: Porfiry Petrovich, our Elena has a few other ideas, one of which makes sense, the other … I leave to you.

ROSTNIKOV: Have you? …

SASHA: I’ll call Maya and the children tonight, when I get home. I shall probably wake them and she will probably comment on my bad timing and insensitivity.

ROSTNIKOV: You do not sound concerned, Sasha.

ELENA (in English): He is in a state of inexplicable euphoria. I don’t know which is worse. This near-Buddhist placidity or the old morose and sullen Sasha.

ROSTNIKOV (in English): This too shall pass.

SASHA: You are talking about me.

ROSTNIKOV: Yes, but it is with concern. I have learned that one can be manic and depressive at the same time. It is a paradox, but it is true. The problem is that one will eventually dominate if you do not deal with Maya.

SASHA: Perhaps Elena will tell you now, in Russian, what she feels intuitively.

ELENA: I think it possible that the money was just a ruse to deter us from the real purpose of this theft. I think it possible that the real goal was to find an excuse for murdering Yuri Kriskov and make it look as if it were being done because he failed to deliver the demanded money. The threat was always there.

ROSTNIKOV: And why would our thief want to kill Kriskov and make it look like retaliation?

ELENA: Possibly, and I add that it is only possible, to conceal the real reason for killing him.

ROSTNIKOV: And what might that be?

ELENA (after a very long pause): Yuri Kriskov is not a very pleasant man. He abuses those who work for him and keeps a mistress, about whom everyone around him knows. His wife has been at his side, consoling, attentive, holding his hand, touching his shoulder, bringing him tea. She is nearly a saint.

ROSTNIKOV: And so?

ELENA: I think she is acting. She was an actress. I don’t see love and concern in her eyes. I see someone acting.

ROSTNIKOV: You believe she is conspiring to kill her husband.

ELENA: I believe it is one possibility that should not be overlooked. I could well be wrong. I am probably wrong, but it is what I …

SASHA: If you could speak French, Porfiry Petrovich, I would say this in French so that Elena Timofeyeva would not understand, but I say it in Russian, knowing the consequences when we hang up. Vera Kriskov is a very beautiful woman. Perhaps Elena is suspicious of Kriskov’s wife because she is a bit-

ELENA: No. And, I repeat, no. I may be wrong, but it is not-

ROSTNIKOV: It will not hurt to follow her. See what happens. You are getting an artist’s sketch of the chess player, Kon?

SASHA: It is being done. I saw the first crude sketch. It is a bit, I don’t know, generic. It could be almost anyone we see on the street. He looks like a Russian. We know he is short, young, built, as the beggar put it, like a small bear.

ROSTNIKOV: Find him. Hope that he has not destroyed the negatives. It is unlikely that he will give up that possibility of wealth even if his plan is murder, but one never knows. Now, hang up, have your inevitable argument, and go home to bed.

ELENA: And how does it go with you?

ROSTNIKOV: The czar and his family were buried today in St. Petersburg. I have been told that it was a moving ceremony. I should like to have seen it. I was told that it was something to tell one’s grandchildren. Iosef is well. He may be sleeping or reading or thinking.

SASHA: I believe Inspector Timofeyeva is blushing.

ROSTNIKOV: Hang up. Fight. It will do you good, Sasha.

SASHA: I don’t feel like fighting.

ROSTNIKOV: Try it.

They hung up.

There was no problem finding Emil Karpo. Rostnikov could imagine him in his room, a room he had seen only twice, sitting in front of his computer, notebooks behind it, a single light over his shoulder.

ROSTNIKOV: Emil Karpo, how was your day?

KARPO: We have a suspect. We have evidence.

ROSTNIKOV: A suspect?

KARPO: A scientist, a specialist in dreams: Boris Adamovskovich.

ROSTNIKOV: And you have discovered why he committed this murder? Was he walking in his sleep? Did he use one of his experimental subjects to move in a somnambulistic state to commit murder, like Cesare in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari?

KARPO: Am I to take that as one of your humorous attempts?

ROSTNIKOV: No, only a flight of fancy and fantasy. The full moon brings it out in me. Sometimes you remind me of that somnambulist, the one in the German movie. You even look a bit like him.

KARPO: I gather that is not a compliment.

ROSTNIKOV: It is an observation. Did you do anything you enjoyed today? What about tomorrow?

KARPO: I am having lunch with Paulinin.

ROSTNIKOV: The epitome of a good time. Will you do something for me, Emil?

KARPO: Whatever you wish.

ROSTNIKOV: Turn your head to the left and look at the painting of Mathilde Verson.

KARPO: I would prefer to discuss the case at hand.

ROSTNIKOV: I asked. You said you would do as I asked.

KARPO: I am looking at the painting.

ROSTNIKOV: What are you feeling?

KARPO: I don’t understand.

ROSTNIKOV: When I hang up, look at the painting as if it were just placed on the wall.

KARPO: I look at it frequently.

ROSTNIKOV: I know, but this time with fresh eyes. Let her teach you. Don’t lose the lesson of life, the gift she gave you.

KARPO: You are being especially whimsical tonight.

ROSTNIKOV: Yes, I have learned that I cannot and do not wish to deny my sentimental nature. I think it is this wilderness that brings it out in me.

KARPO: Adamovskovich denies his guilt.

ROSTNIKOV: And?

KARPO: The evidence condemns him, but I think he may be innocent.

ROSTNIKOV: Intuition?

KARPO: Intuition is simply a conclusion drawn from experience, both environmental and genetically guided. His shoes had the victim’s blood on them. He disliked the victim, but then almost everyone at the center disliked him. He suggests that someone came into his laboratory when he was in a deep sleep and wore his shoes to commit the murder.

ROSTNIKOV: And you find that plausible?

KARPO: I find it possible. We have both seen far stranger things, and the people who work in that center are quite strange.

ROSTNIKOV: And that, Emil Karpo, is why I gave you this assignment. You recognize the strange. You are not taken in by it. Imagination does not get in your way. That is your strength and weakness.

KARPO: You have more than sufficient imagination for both of us.

ROSTNIKOV: Humor, Emil. A touch of irony?

KARPO: An observation.

ROSTNIKOV: Is Zelach of any help?

KARPO: Zelach has become an object of great interest on the part of one whom I consider a suspect, a Nadia Spectorski. She believes Akardy Zelach has psychic powers.

ROSTNIKOV: Our Zelach has abilities that lie below the surface. Iosef tells me that he can also kick a soccer ball seventy yards. Perhaps he missed his calling. The Russian national team might well use a psychic fullback.

KARPO: Another joke? They are wasted on me, Porfiry Petrovich.

ROSTNIKOV: I don’t think so. Allow me to keep trying.

KARPO: You do not need my permission.

ROSTNIKOV: Good night, Emil. I’m going to call my wife now. Is there anything you want me to say?

KARPO (after a long pause): Please tell the young girls that I wish them a good night.

ROSTNIKOV: I will do so. You know I like you, Emil Karpo.

KARPO: I do not understand why. I am not a likable person.

ROSTNIKOV: You sell yourself short. Good night again.

Getting through to home was relatively easy. Sarah answered the phone.

SARAH: Porfiry.

ROSTNIKOV: You are psychic, like Zelach?

SARAH: Who else would be calling at this hour? I’ve been expecting the phone to ring. What about Zelach being psychic?

ROSTNIKOV: I’ll explain when I am back in Moscow. Before I forget, Emil Karpo and I say good night to Laura, Nina, and Galina Paniskoya.

SARAH: They are already asleep.

ROSTNIKOV: Then tell them we say good morning when you see them. You are well?

SARAH: I am well. Iosef?

ROSTNIKOV: Well. I have been thinking about grandchildren.

SARAH: As have I.

ROSTNIKOV: It would be best if they looked like you and Iosef.

SARAH: I would be happy if they looked like you.

ROSTNIKOV: But you would be happier if they looked like you and Iosef.

SARAH: Perhaps, but it is also possible that they will resemble Elena.

ROSTNIKOV: I think that would be an acceptable compromise.

SARAH: What will happen, will happen. Will you be back tomorrow?

ROSTNIKOV: Or the next day. There was a service for Nicholas and his family, or at least what remains of their bones.

SARAH: I know.

ROSTNIKOV: They were murdered only miles from where I am now standing. History has power for Russians, does it not?

SARAH: Yes.

ROSTNIKOV: And your day?

SARAH: I worked. One customer wanted an old Beatles album we had on display. He was an Englishman. He paid in dollars. Six hundred. I did nothing but make the transaction. Bulnanova praised me, promised a bonus at the end of the month. She will forget.

ROSTNIKOV: You had a headache today?

SARAH: No. Get some sleep, Porfiry Petrovich. And come home to me soon. Good night.

ROSTNIKOV: Good night. Look at the moon if you can before you go to bed. It is full and clear where we are.

SARAH: It is obscured by the pollution of Moscow, but I see it. Good night.

They both hung up. Porfiry Petrovich knew she had lied about the headache and she knew that he knew. Perhaps he should not have asked her so that she would have had no need to lie. Her cousin Leon the doctor had said that she was doing well, that she did not need more surgery, but the surgeon who operated on Sarah for the tumor five years ago predicted that she would continue to have painful headaches, probably for the rest of her life, and the headaches might well get worse. They would watch her. Leon, who was in love with Sarah and had been all of their lives, would take special care of her.

Rostnikov hung up the phone. Podgorny had left him alone in the shop to make his calls. Porfiry Petrovich made his way up the narrow wooden stairs. He moved slowly, not relying on his alien leg. There was no light under the door of the man who called himself Primazon and who Rostnikov had recognized as a former KGB agent whose name was something like Disiverski. The name would come. Porfiry Petrovich and Iosef were safe from him. He wanted them to lead him to Tsimion Vladovka, almost certainly to kill him and preserve whatever the secret was.

There was a light under Iosef’s door. Rostnikov hoped that his son would soon turn out his light and move to his window. He imagined that father and son would be looking at the moon at the same time, thinking of dead czars, of Ivan the Terrible, of Catherine the Great, of men who rode in small spheres circling the earth and looking at that full moon. He could not see Mir, but there was a secret about it that he would like to know. Perhaps a cosmonaut or two were now circling in the sky, looking at the same full moon, thinking about dead royalty.

The murderer of Sergei Bolskanov was Andrei Vanga, the director of the Center for Technical Parapsychology. He acted in rage, out of jealousy of Bolskanov, who had come into his office to tell the director of the lengthy article he had just completed. Bolskanov had been ecstatic, jubilant-perhaps, Vanga had thought, he had been gloating a bit, because the director, who worked in the same area, had published nothing for over a decade. There was an implication that the director lacked the imagination to make such a research breakthrough.

Oh, yes, Vanga, as director, would get some of the credit. He could use the findings to raise more money, but his success would come as an administrator, not as a scientist. It would be the insufferable Bolskanov, whom no one liked and many hated, who would be quoted, mentioned in the literature, go down in the history of psychic research for his findings.

It was at this point that Bolskanov had said that Vanga was the first to know, that he did not plan to tell anyone else till the next morning.

If it were done when it is done, thought Vanga at that very moment, then better it were done quickly.

The murder had not been planned, but in executing it Vanga had demonstrated, if only to himself, that he had imagination. It might be an imagination better suited to murder than to scientific research, but an imagination of no small proportion nevertheless.

He had worn an old lab coat that he had disposed of after the murder, in the small incinerator on the research floor. It existed to dispose of items of clothing or papers that might contain evidence or information about ongoing research which should not get into the hands of those who could use it-the Bulgarians, the Latvians, the Japanese, the English, the Americans.

But Andrei Vanga’s triumph was the shoes. He had carefully crept into the sleep-research lab where Adamovskovich was napping. The instruments glowed with the information that the man was in deep REM sleep. Andrei did not have to be particularly quiet, but he was. Adamovskovich, the sarcastic bastard, the smug, superior bastard who was no better than the man he was about to kill, would remain asleep long enough, if Vanga hurried.

The shoes were too large but not so much that he could not walk in them. The murder had gone quite well. Andrei Vanga, who had never harmed another human in his life, found the act particularly satisfying. As a scientist, he found the release of violence surprising, leading to the conclusion, even as he searched for the paper Bolskanov had written, that everyone probably had great power within him, that there existed a core, perhaps even a spiritual core, which did not reside in the brain, that accounted for psychic powers.

He had found the printed copy of the paper quickly, on the chair next to the murdered man. There were a few drops of blood on the cover page, but that didn’t matter. He would, and did, incinerate that page along with the lab coat. But before he did that he found on the dead man’s computer the file which contained the paper he now possessed. He also found the backup disk. He erased the file on the hard disk, put the shoes back near the sleeping Adamovskovich, went back to his office after retrieving his own shoes from his laboratory. He transferred the file on the disk to the hard drive of his own office computer, making the necessary changes to erase any sign that the paper belonged to Sergei Bolskanov, the dead, gloating son of a bitch. Only then did he incinerate the lab coat, cover page of the paper, and the backup disk.

When he had closed the door of the incinerator, he had a sudden thought. What if Bolskanov had printed more copies? He had been careful, had seen no one else, though he was sure others were in the building. There had been a risk, but it had been slight. He could have run into someone, but what of it? He had taken the bloody lab coat off before leaving the lab. With shaking hands he had folded the thin coat and plunged it under his shirt. It showed only as a bulge. He had put his own shoes on immediately after the murder.

But now he would have to take the chance. His mind had worked quickly. If he heard someone coming to Bolskanov’s laboratory, he could shout out for help and claim to be discovering the corpse.

His luck had remained. There was no other copy in the laboratory. He looked carefully, thoroughly. He was certain. He moved downstairs to the dead man’s office. Drawers, files, top of the desk, nothing. He was sure. He even checked to see if there was a second backup disk. This had been the most dangerous part of the evolving plan. If he were found in the dead man’s office he would make an excuse, but his presence would be noted. He would surely be a suspect, a secondary one to be sure, but a suspect. Again he was certain. Nothing there.

He went back to his office, checked everything, put the report in his briefcase, signed out, and went home.

That night, at home, in bed, certain that he would sleep well and be ready for the chaos that would come during the night or in the morning when the body was discovered, a new thought came and Vanga suddenly realized that he was a fool.

He sat up in panic. What if Bolskanov had a copy of the research in his home? On a home computer? A hard copy? Maybe several copies, just lying in the open? Vanga had never been to Bolskanov’s apartment, didn’t know where it was, though he could have found out simply by looking at the … wait, he had a copy of the two-sheet directory in the top drawer of his desk, which stood in a corner of his bedroom. He rose quickly, found the address, and stood thinking.

He rejected the idea of dressing, going to the man’s apartment, breaking in, searching. Far too dangerous, even more dangerous than going back to the lab, finding the dead man’s keys and attempting to sneak into the apartment, search, and get the keys back before the body was discovered, if it had not already been discovered.

No, he would not reveal the paper as his own till he was certain. He would suggest that he go with the police to search Bolskanov’s apartment for anything that might shed light on his murder. If they said no, he might suggest that when the investigation was done he would like to look for some notes he and Bolskanov had been working on. He had to remain calm. There would be no reason for the police to bring anyone else to the dead scientist’s apartment, and the police would not understand what the paper meant even if they found a copy. Vanga would work that out.

The shoes, the shoes. What if they were too stupid to check the shoes? Then, somehow, he would have to suggest it to them, subtly. He hoped that would not be necessary. As it had turned out, it wasn’t.

But hours after he had committed murder, Andrei Vanga could not sleep. His mind was racing. He had to slow it down.

He got back in bed and picked up the copy of War and Peace that rested on his night table. Perhaps once every month or so he would read a bit of it. He had never actually finished the book and felt guilty about it. Tonight he would read. He would read till he fell asleep.

He remembered reading somewhere or hearing on the radio or the television that a movie was being made about the life of Tolstoy. Though he seldom went to the movies, he would make it a point to see this one.

He read: “The day after his initiation into the lodge Pierre was sitting at home reading a book and trying to fathom the significance of the square …”

It was after midnight. Lydia was snoring in the bedroom and Sasha sat at the table in the tiny kitchen, cutting slices from the block of yellow cheese his mother had left out for him along with a small loaf of bread. He sat in his shorts, not wanting to get into the bed on the floor. He continued to feel free, able to do anything, full of good will, and, at the same time, wanting desperately for Maya and the children to come back. It was a contradiction Porfiry Petrovich had pointed out and that Sasha could not comprehend and was not certain that he wished to, though he knew the contradiction would haunt him.

The television, a small black-and-white on the table before him, was tuned to a station showing a documentary about bears in the Ural Mountains. He had the sound turned down very low so that Lydia would not wake up, come in, and complain. She was almost deaf, yet she could hear a television through a door even if the sound was nearly off. It was a gift granted only to mothers who in spite of failed eyesight could see the hint of a frown on a child’s face, or despite deafness hear the whisper of an aside across a room full of people, providing the aside was made by their son or daughter.

The table was cluttered. Sasha decided that it was time to clean up, which meant putting the bread back in the bag, covering the cheese with plastic wrap, putting them in the refrigerator, and consolidating the papers he had spread out to look at. He would brush his teeth in the small kitchen sink so he wouldn’t have to go past Lydia to the bathroom. That meant he would have to go down the hall to use the community toilet for the three apartments on the floor which had no private toilets. It was worth it.

A bear was standing tall on its rear legs in front of a woman with a very wide-brimmed hat. She looked skinny, English or American, but she could have been Russian. Russian women with a bit of money had learned how to look like people who spoke English or French. She was very pretty in a healthy kind of way. Sasha paused, cheese in one hand, bread in the other.

The woman was smiling at the bear. The bear was showing its teeth. The woman reached over and scratched the bear’s chest. Sasha was fascinated. The documentary was on film, so he knew the woman would not be torn apart on television. And yet there was a tension. If he could not have Maya in bed tonight, the woman with the hat … The bear turned its head sideways in ecstasy. It would have been nice to be that bear instead of a tired policeman whose wife had left him, and who stood holding a plate of cheese.

The scene changed. A sincere, thin man with white hair, wearing a suit, was sitting behind a desk. Behind him was a map of the Ural region. Sasha looked at the pile of papers he had to put away. If he didn’t organize anything, and he didn’t plan to do so, he could simply push it all together, shove it in his briefcase, and worry about it in the morning.

His eyes fell once again on his copy of the artist’s sketch of the man the beggar had described and the chess players had identified. Kon. It looked like many sketches, but something … the description-stocky, homely-and the drawing. Sasha, for just a moment, felt that he may have seen the man somewhere. He stood dreamily trying to put a living face to the drawing. His memory was normally very good, not as good as Emil Karpo’s but better than Elena’s.

No, it didn’t come. He turned off the television set, felt the stubble on his chin, put the food away, and gathered the papers into a pile with the sketch on top.

Then he went to bed.

In the dark, the baby did not turn restlessly or cry, Pulcharia did not come in and ask for water or to climb into bed with her parents. Maya did not reach over in her sleep to touch his bare bottom.

As he went to sleep, he felt the inexplicable euphoria of the past days begin to slip away.

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