Chapter Ten

In the morning, Nadia Spectorski awoke to a fresh, vivid, and inexplicable vision that seemed to mean absolutely nothing. It was another overcast day. Somewhere north of the city clouds were rumbling. Her room was small, brightly decorated, small computer desk in the corner with a flowerpot and cactus next to the Compaq Presario 2240. Next to the cactus was a kaleidoscope that she looked through every morning for a few minutes, losing herself in the never-repeating meditation of changing colors.

The vision was just as vivid as the one in which she had seen the murder of Sergei Bolskanov through the eyes of the killer. Nadia had feared that she had simply remembered what she herself had done and that she was the killer, but there were too many details, little things that convinced her she had not done this thing.

This morning she was as sure that she had not done it as she was that Boris Adamovskovich had not committed the murder. She had looked down through the killer’s eyes at the shoes and remembered now that the shoes had not fit, had been too large. Yes, Adamoskovich’s shoes would have been too large for her, but the leg was not that of a woman. Nadia reached for her glasses. She needed them to think.

The vision had been brief, mundane.

In the vision a book lay in her lap. The book was thick and open, facedown. It was War and Peace. Had the person in her vision turned the book over, she was certain she would have been able to read the words before her.

Such things happened to Nadia less frequently than they had when she was younger. When she was a young teen, the visions had come so frequently that they disrupted her life, set her trembling, caused her parents, who were both physicians, to send her for medication and treatment. Almost none of the visions had any meaning. She had seen unfamiliar couples screaming at each other, a cat dying in a doorway, screaming in pain, a boy writing something obscene on the wall of a school or church, a woman with an enormous head smiling at her. Medication and hundreds of hours in therapy, coupled with the passing of time, had kept the visions from lining up and leaping out. Her experiences and her curiosity had led her to her lifetime career and the hope, so far unrealized, that such phenomena could be understood in a scientific context.

Yes, Jung, Freud, and others had noted that what they called hysteria seemed particularly powerful in young girls reaching puberty. Witches, who were probably hysterical girls, began their calling early. She herself had concentrated much of her research on girls in their teens, many of whom had been considered extreme neurotics and borderline psychotics. She had taken them off of drugs and also taken them seriously. She had been one of them.

Occasionally, a man would turn up who had some of the psychic characteristics, someone like the not-too-bright, gentle slouching policeman who was afraid of his ability, wanted to deny it.

Nadia, wearing an extra-large plain-white T-shirt, got out of bed, deciding to get a copy of War and Peace. She had read it only once, when she was a brilliant, nearsighted girl who was being given drugs to help control her supposed deliriums. The book had absorbed her, helped calm her. She had been particularly fascinated by Tolstoy’s Napoleon, a tormented, overly confident creature moved more by chance and the inevitability of history than by his own design. But she had soon moved from fiction and for more than a decade now had read none at all.

But now … she suddenly felt weak. Her knees threatened to abandon her. A vision. Brief. A computer monitor with a file open on the screen. The file had a name. She could read the name. Sergei Bolskanov. The name was suddenly deleted. The vision was gone.

Nadia put one hand on the bed, adjusted her glasses with the other, and moved to the window to whisper to her cactus and look through her kaleidoscope.

In the morning, Iosef awakened and looked at his watch. It was after seven. He had stayed up late, reading. When he had been a soldier, for three years Iosef had gone to bed early and been awakened early. When he had left the army and become a self-employed and not-successful playwright and actor, he had gone to bed late and awakened well after eleven. And now he found himself caught between two routines. He went to bed late and got up early.

The sun was up. The day was slightly overcast.

He got out of bed, rubbed his stomach to be sure it hadn’t ballooned to a grotesque size, and walked across the small room in his underpants to put on his trousers. On top of his trousers, someone had placed a towel and a very small bar of soap. He picked them up and went in search of somewhere to shave.

On the narrow landing he saw that the door to his fathers room and that of the man who called himself Primazon were open. Iosef looked into both rooms. They were empty. A woman was in Porfiry Petrovich’s room making the bed. He had noticed her the day before. With the sun behind her through the window, she reminded Iosef of a painting by Vermeer. The illusion was shattered when she sensed him watching her and turned to face him with a smile. It was a good smile but one in need of serious orthodontia.

He smiled back as she brushed her hair from her eyes and examined his bare upper body.

Gdyeh tooahlyeht? ‘Toilet?’ ‘Wash room?’” he asked.

“Downstairs,” she said.

He nodded, took his towel, soap, toothbrush, and razor and walked barefoot down the wooden stairs, following now the sound of voices. The shop was empty. The voices came from behind a curtain. Iosef followed them and found himself in a large room, surrounded by cabinets containing dishes, pots, books, candlesticks, and children’s board games.

In the center of the room was a round table with six chairs. Only three of the chairs were occupied. Porfiry Petrovich, fully dressed and shaved, sat in one chair, drinking tea. In another chair, also fully dressed, sat Anatoli Primazon, tearing pieces of bread from a loaf in the center of the table and popping them into his mouth. The third person at the table was Boris Vladovka, who looked somber and pale and was neither eating nor drinking.

“Bathroom?” asked Iosef.

Primazon pointed deeper into the room to another curtain.

Whatever they had been talking about, they had stopped when Iosef entered.

Iosef looked at his father, who turned his head to face his son.

“There is a pot of tea in the other room,” Rostnikov said. “And a refrigerator. Alexander Podgorny’s wife has been kind enough to also make some noodle soup.”

“From a can,” the umbrella man, who did not have his umbrella at the moment, said with a smile. “A bit too salty for me. High blood pressure. I take pills. Little round brown pills.”

Iosef nodded. “Then I better …” he began.

“Boris Vladovka has just told us something of great importance,” said Porfiry Petrovich.

Iosef looked at the large man and understood that the expression on his face was not simply somber but one of grief.

“Something about Tsimion Vladovka,” said Primazon, looking at the somber man.

“My son,” said Vladovka, holding back tears, “is dead.”

“Dead?” asked Iosef, glancing at his father and then at Primazon.

“Natural causes,” said the umbrella man.

“When?” asked Iosef.

“A week ago,” said Vladovka. “He had been ill for a long time. Liver disease. He had kept it a secret. He wanted to die at home. We buried him four days ago.”

“Why didn’t you tell us?” asked Iosef, looking to his father for help and receiving none.

“Before he died, he asked us not to,” said Boris. “He was afraid someone would be coming from Moscow and want to dig him up.”

Iosef was confused. He felt suddenly naked. He draped the towel over his shoulder.

“Why would anyone want to dig him up?”

“Tsimion had been in outer space. He had heard that other cosmonauts had been cut open when they died, cut open to see what, if anything, flying around the earth had done to their bodies.”

“And so …” Iosef tried.

“And so,” Boris went on, “here you are, from Moscow.”

“I am afraid we will have to see the body,” said Primazon, chewing on a piece of bread. “It will take only a few moments. We need identification.”

“Identification?” asked Boris, looking at the umbrella man.

“Verification,” Primazon said. “That he is dead.”

“Doctor Verushkin from Yerkistanitza gave me this,” Boris said, reaching into his pocket. “I’m sure you can talk to him. He is new in the area. We don’t really know him, but the old doctor, Feydov, he died. Feydov delivered both my sons and …”

Boris Vladovka’s voice trailed off. He started to raise his hands as if in a prelude to a new thought, but none came.

Primazon wiped his hands on the napkin in his lap and looked at the death certificate witnessed by a nurse and a deputy mayor.

“Liver disease,” Primazon confirmed. “Still …”

“I anticipated someone like you. My remaining son and his friends have dug up the coffin. It is next to the grave. The sky is clear but it has been raining. The clouds rush in from the east and …”

“We’re coming,” said Primazon. “Inspector Rostnikov?”

Rostnikov nodded, put down his tea, and got up along with Boris Vladovka.

“I’ll hurry,” said Iosef. “I can wash and shave later.”

“You saw the cemetery when you came in?” asked Boris.

“Yes,” said Iosef.

“We will be there.”

Iosef ran up the stairs, listening to the three men below him heading through the shop toward the front door. There was no mistaking his father’s footsteps, the sound of the slight limp.

The young woman was still in his room, making up his bed. She looked up at him and smiled again as he pulled a fresh shirt from his bag, put it on quickly, slipped on his socks and shoes, and grabbed his blue zipper jacket.

He found the driver, Ivan Laminski, standing next to the Mustang, reading a St. Petersburg newspaper. Laminski was still wearing his blue uniform, but Iosef noticed that the shirt under his open jacket was definitely wrinkled. Laminski looked up and nodded soberly.

Iosef trotted toward the cemetery just outside of town. He could see a very small group: his father, Boris, Primazon, Konstantin Vladovka, and another man holding a shovel.

Iosef slowed down and walked up to the open coffin in time to hear Porfiry Petrovich say, “It is him.”

Primazon looked at the dead man and then at Boris and said, “Yes, but I have a request. I would rather not make it, but it is essential. I was supposed to protect your son from harm. Now I would like to protect myself from the censure of my superiors. I would like a copy of the death certificate and I would like to take a photograph of your son.”

Boris Vladovka took a step toward Primazon, who was now carrying his umbrella, but his son stepped between them.

“It can do no harm, Father.”

“Take your photograph,” said Boris, turning away and heading back to the village.

Primazon tucked the umbrella under his arm and awkwardly reached into his pocket to produce a very small camera.

“Important in my work,” he explained.

They stood watching as Primazon took three photographs, zooming in for one head shot. Iosef, for the first time, looked at the dead man. His hands were folded. He was the pale white of death and wore a suit and tie. His hair was brushed back. The dead man looked like a ghastly version of the cosmonaut in the photograph in Porfiry Petrovich’s file. The quest for Tsimion Vladovka was over.

“Enough,” said Primazon, pocketing the camera. “I am sorry, but …”

“Let us leave so that-” Rostnikov began.

“Of course,” said Primazon with a sad smile, looking at the bearded brother of the dead man and at the man with the shovel. “It’s time to leave.”

When they got back, Podgorny’s shop was open and the shopkeeper was reaching up to take something from a shelf. “You’ll be leaving now?” he asked.

“Shortly,” said Rostnikov. “You knew about-”

“We all knew,” said Podgorny, carefully lifting a carton with a slight grunt. “The whole village. We did as Boris asked us.”

“I am leaving, Inspector Rostnikov,” said Primazon with a sigh, as the three headed up the stairs.

“No point in remaining,” said Rostnikov. “Perhaps we will encounter each other in Moscow.”

“It is possible,” said Primazon. “It is possible.”

Porfiry Petrovich was moving slowly, more slowly than usual. Primazon went into his room and closed the door. Iosef was about to do the same but his father motioned to him and Iosef followed Porfiry Petrovich into his room, where Rostnikov closed the door behind them.

“Pack quickly and then meet me in the hall when you hear our umbrella man coming out of his room,” Rostnikov whispered. “I will be waiting. I am already packed. In his presence, you will ask me if we have time to visit a farm before we leave. You have never seen a real farm.”

“I haven’t?” Iosef whispered back.

“You have not. I will say that it is all right to visit a farm, but we should do so quickly because we must get back to Moscow. You understand?”

“Not in the least,” said Iosef, “but I will certainly do it.”

“You were an actor.”

“I was a mediocre actor.”

“Mediocrity is all that is necessary in this situation.”

“May I ask why?” said Iosef.

“Because while I do know who killed the cosmonauts, I do not yet know why.”

“Primazon killed Vladovka?”

“No, I am convinced that Vladovka died of liver disease.”

“And you think you will find in this village the reason why the others were killed?”

“I am certain of it,” said Rostnikov.

In the morning Sasha Tkach sat up suddenly.

“I know who it is,” he said aloud.

“American cereal,” said Lydia, who was fully dressed and standing next to the kitchen table across the room with a box of Froot Loops in her hand.

“I’ve got to go,” said Sasha, getting up quickly and reaching for his pants. “No, maybe I should phone Elena.”

“You should eat your American cereal,” Lydia said. “There are all kinds of things about how healthy it is for you on the side of the box. That’s what the man I got it from said. All I can see are numbers. Take a look.”

“I can’t read English,” he said, looking for his socks.

“Then just eat them. I opened the box. Very pretty colors. Look. A red one.”

“Mother, I am thirty-four years old,” Sasha said, finding his socks. “You can talk to me like an adult.”

“You are thirty-four years old, which is why you need a shave before you go anywhere.”

“Yes,” he said.

“And some American cereal. I have milk. It’s sweet like candy. How can something sweet like candy be good for you?”

“A miracle of American technology and artificial ingredients,” said Sasha.

“Do not be sarcastic, Sasha.”

“I apologize. I must go.”

“What is the hurry?” she asked, looking at the picture of a big-billed bird on the front of the box.

“I have to prevent a murder,” he said.

“Then go,” she said. “Why is there a bird on the box? Do they put chicken or something in the cereal? I prefer kasha.”

“Then why did you get American cereal?” he asked, regretting it even before the question was finished.

“I thought you would like it,” she said. “I know our little Pulcharia would like it.”

Sasha nodded and looked again at the drawing lying on the table. Yes, it was him. Sasha scooped his papers into the briefcase, reached over and took a handful of Froot Loops from the box his mother was holding, and began putting them into his mouth as he moved to the door.

“Very good,” he said.

“Shave,” she said.

“When I get where I’m going. I have one of those disposable razors in my briefcase.”

He had the door open.

“Sasha,” she commanded. “I want to see the rest of that movie, the one where the men were taking off their clothes.”

“Mother …”

“You made me leave. You are an adult. I am an adult.”

“Yes, all right. We will see it again. Under one condition. You may not talk during the movie.”

“I will be quiet as death,” she said, arms folded. “As quiet as I will soon be when I am dead.”

He didn’t believe it for a moment. “You are only sixty years old. You are, with the exception of your hearing, in perfect health.”

“All I want to do is live long enough to see my grandchildren again, just one more time.”

“I am confident that you will see them again. I have an idea. You go to Kiev.”

“Maybe I will. And I’ll bring with me boxes of sweet American cereal.”

He closed the door. If he moved quickly, they might still be able to recover the negative and keep Yuri Kriskov from being murdered. At least that is what he thought.

Sasha Tkach was wrong.

In the morning, very early in the morning, after little sleep, Valery Grachev awoke covered in sweat. There was no doubt. He was feverish, some virus or flu. He should spend the day in bed.

Maybe tomorrow if everything went well. He dressed, was out of the apartment before he had to talk to his uncle. The sun was battling the cloud cover as he walked past a street-cleaning truck that was noisily brushing away the filth of the night before.

The apartment of Valery’s uncle was on the fifth floor, a block of concrete with thin walls, rusted radiators, peopled by pensioners with nothing to do but complain about the landlady, who made excuses and no repairs.

In less than an hour, the men with caps, cigarettes, and the weary faces of resignation would congregate in the doorway of the building. The doorway reeked of years of tobacco smoke. Valery’s uncle would trudge off to work, nodding to Yakov, Panushkin, and the others, trudge off to a day of scrubbing subway stations and counting himself lucky to have a job.

When Valery had money, he would give his uncle a job. Valery did not particularly like his uncle, who spoke little, provided meager food in the apartment, and played such awful chess that his nephew had long given up wasting his time in front of the board with the grizzled, grunting man who had no passion for the game. Where was the satisfaction of defeating an opponent who did not care?

The key in Valery’s pocket was small. He checked again to be sure it hadn’t fallen through a forgotten hole or been flung onto the street when Valery had taken out his other keys or change for the bus. Since he’d gotten the key, he had checked to be sure it was there at least a hundred times a day. He had considered taking his scooter, but he decided to come back for it later, to leave as much of the morning as he could to concentrating on what he had to do, and not on traffic.

The walk was long, the summer morning hot. Valery felt dizzy with anticipation and possibly with fever. He wiped his damp forehead with his sleeve. Others walking with and past him were not yet affected by the heat. They walked as they always walked unless they were with someone. They walked, heads down, clutching the bag, briefcase, book, or whatever they were carrying.

Valery walked with his head up this day. He was Kon. He was not afraid of beggars or of the mad woman who spent her mornings and most of the day in front of the Sokol metro station. Her hair was as wild as her words. She wore a series of solid-colored dresses-blue, green, black, but never red-and could have been any age. A fire raged in her eyes. She never seemed to grow tired of berating the passersby, who pretended that she did not exist. On the sidewalk each morning, in white chalk, she wrote a new message. Today’s was “You are destroying the air we breathe.”

For the first time Valery paused in front of the woman, who looked him in the eyes and lowered her voice to say, “You are destroying the air we breathe.” Her face was red from months of shouting and the summer sun.

“You should wear a hat,” he said.

“You are destroying the air we breathe,” she said again, her voice a bit louder.

“We are all destroying the air we breathe. What would you have me do about it?” he asked.

“Stop,” she said.

“Stop what?”

“Creating filth, smoking, driving cars, running factories, making bombs and biological weapons.”

A few passersby glanced at the odd pair, the thin ranting woman and the short block of a hairy young man, standing face to face.

“I do none of those things,” Valery said.

“You allow others to do them.”

“And what am I to do?”

“Stop them,” she said, pointing down the street at some vague them.

“Are you trying to stop them?”

“Yes, by being here each day.”

“You think you are successful?”

“No,” she said. “But that is no reason not to try.”

“People think you are crazy,” Valery said. “They don’t listen to you because you rant and scream your messages.”

“I tried to be more reasonable,” she said, suddenly transformed and calm. “I tried. I dressed well, talked reasonably, went to meetings protesting this, that, everything, was even elected to committees to lead marches. Nothing was accomplished. And so I began to scream. My husband left me. My mother will not let me come to her house. I have nothing left but to try, to scream.”

“And to fail?” Valery asked.

“Possibly, probably, but I cannot live without trying,” she said. “Do you understand?”

“Yes,” he said, “but that means little. I am in a fever and I fear that I may be going mad.”

“You too have a mission?”

“I have a mission.”

“Then do it,” she said, touching his shoulder. “Do it and fight the taxes, the people who kill animals and wear them, the Nazis who have infiltrated our economy and our government, the people who make artificial sugar that is killing us. Don’t eat artificial sugars. Don’t let your children eat them.”

“I won’t,” Valery said. “And I will complete my mission.”

He walked on. Behind him the woman resumed her screaming. Valery wiped his damp hands on his trousers.

When he arrived at the bicycle-repair shop on a small street just off Gorky, the owner, a man who resembled a long-necked chicken, was just opening for business. He looked over at Valery, who nodded to him, and Valery followed the man into the shop where the chicken man turned on the lights.

“You do not look well,” the man said.

“I am well,” Valery answered.

The chicken man who sold and repaired bicycles shrugged. It was not his business.

Valery walked past the racks of bicycles and through the smell of oil and grease to the back of the shop where he had rented a closet.

Valery paused to be sure the owner was not watching him. He heard the man in the front of the store. Valery opened the closet door. In the dark closet were the cans containing the negatives, the case containing the rifle, and the small pouch containing the pistol. The cans were in a sealed cardboard box. He knew that they would have to be stored somewhere reasonably cool within the next few days. The rifle was inside a separate long cardboard box, which had once held curtain rods. He took the box with the rifle, locked the closet, and tucked the box under his arm. It was not particularly heavy. Valery thought of it as a black rook. He was going to move this rook into checkmate position within the hour.

In the morning, well before dawn, Igor Yaklovev sat in his living room drinking coffee, being very careful not to drop any of the thick dark liquid on the notes neatly arranged before him on the square work table.

The Yak had few indulgences but he took great pleasure in his coffee, which he prepared each morning by selecting an appropriate bean from the collection of eighteen that sat in glass containers on the counter in his kitchen. The appropriate coffee for each day depended on his mood. Sometimes he wanted a coffee that was thick, dark, and even somewhat bitter, a Sumatra. Other times he went for a lighter Colombian or African blend. He ground his own beans and kept his coffeepot spotless.

The Yak lived alone in an apartment building on Kalinin that had once been reserved for Party officials. It was more space than he really needed, but it was conveniently located. He could and did walk to Petrovka almost every morning for exercise, uninterrupted thought, and scheming. He was a solitary, pensive figure with a determined, marchlike step. He was lean, dark haired, and had only one really distinctive feature, his bushy eyebrows.

Once he had a wife. She had conveniently died. He had not disliked her. On the contrary, she was decent company, but she wanted more of him than he was willing to give. He was willing to give nothing.

Now he was fifty years old, director of the Office of Special Investigation, preparing for his next move upward. To do so required careful planning and all of his time. Idle conversation, music, theater, movies, restaurants, were a distraction. There were risks. A need to be constantly alert, prepared. There were always risks when one chose to make use of the mistakes and secrets of others. The papers before him and the documents and tapes he had safely stored were going to be used with great care, if at all.

Igor Yaklovev was ambitious. He lived for power, intrigue. He did not question his need. He had a few theories about why this was so, but he didn’t waste his time thinking about his father’s fall from grace in the Party and his eventual suicide. His father had been weak. His father had not planned, as his son was doing. His father did not gather evidence and secrets that could have not only kept him in his position but allowed him to move up and keep his family in comfort and prestige. So, perhaps the lesson of his father’s failure had been a factor in the decision of Igor Yaklovev to become what he had become.

Igor had a brother and a sister. The brother was a low-level postal worker who had inherited the low intelligence of their mother. His sister was married to a relatively successful owner of a children’s clothing store near the Kremlin. She had two children. Both were probably grown by now. Igor never saw or talked to his siblings, though his sister lived no more than five miles from the Yak’s apartment. Their mother had died ten years earlier. He had not attended the funeral.

The papers were in five piles laid out neatly before him, three relating to current investigations and two relating to past investigations that had yielded information Yaklovev was deciding how to use.

A small blue stick-em note was pressed onto the document at the top of each pile.

The stick-em on pile one read: “Mikhail Stoltz. What is the secret of Mir?”

The stick-em on pile two read: “More than gratitude to be gained from duma for saving Tolstoy film?”

The stick-em on pile three read: “Who supports psychic research center? Is there a secret? Why the high priority to solving the murder of the scientist quickly?”

The other two piles carried only single names. The people named were powerful. Others would call what Yaklovev was going to do blackmail, but if nothing was openly said and no overt pressure took place, it was simply a matter of one person doing a favor for another whom he respects or who has done him a favor. One of the piles was urgent. The man named on the stick-em was quickly drinking himself to death and his chances of eventually succeeding Putin were all but gone. Igor had a great investment of his time in this well-meaning alcoholic. He had tapes, documents that demanded favors, but what good were obligations and favors if the man was dead? Still, if Igor Yaklovev moved quickly, there was possibly still something to be gained from him.

He sat back, looked at the five piles with satisfaction, and considered when he would make his move. This was his favorite time of each day. Coffee within reach, papers and files before him to be studied, considered, manipulated. He was satisfied for now serving as director of the Office of Special Investigation. Rostnikov was the ideal partner to serve Yaklovev’s needs. Rostnikov was interested in solving crimes. In the process, he fed Yaklovev golden data. It was a perfect relationship, and Yaklovev showed his appreciation of his chief investigator by giving Rostnikov what he needed and providing protection for Rostnikov or his people when they were in trouble. Yaklovev was loyal to those who worked for and with him. He had never betrayed those who worked in his KGB unit and he would never betray his present investigators, but in a year or two, possibly three at the most, he would humbly accept a major promotion, possibly even to Minister of the Interior. He would see to it that Rostnikov and the others were in good hands. He wanted to leave no enemies behind him. He did not want to be liked. He wanted to be respected. Had his father learned this lesson … but that was in the past. The present and future lay before him in neat piles.

He finished his coffee, cleaned the cup and dried it, and then went back to gather the papers. They were all copies. The original documents and reports were well hidden in a well-protected, large steel safe-deposit box in a bank in Korov.

The director of the bank owed Igor Yaklovev a very large favor. The director owed Yaklovev his very life. He had learned that paranoia was essential to his survival. Still, these piles had to be returned to the wall safe in the bedroom. While there were ways of getting into the safe in the apartment other than by using the proper combination, there was no way someone could get into the safe without leaving clear signs that a theft or even attempted theft had taken place. Igor had been a KGB field director for fourteen years.

A fleeting, pleasant memory of his wife almost came to life, but, as was usually the case, it faded before it could take shape.

He had much to do.

When the papers had been tucked away in the large safe, Igor Yaklovev looked out the bedroom window at the sky. It might rain. He could always hail a cab on the way to Petrovka. He hoped the rain would hold off for an hour or so. He had much to think about. He would prefer the long walk.

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