Chapter Eleven

Yuri Kriskov had readily agreed to stay in his home and be guarded for as long as was necessary. But the two policemen, he decided, were too young and did not appear particularly interested, except for the younger of the two, who was definitely interested in Vera.

Therefore, the night before, Yuri had made a decision and a phone call. A little after midnight, four burly men heavily armed with automatic weapons had appeared at the door. The confrontation with the two young policemen was brief and surly. The policemen had called their chief at Petrovka, who said he didn’t give a shit about Kriskov. If he wanted to pay bodyguards, let him. He ordered the two young policemen to end their vigil. The two policemen departed.

The four armed men wore uniforms complete with badges and stripes on their arms. The uniforms were decidedly more expensive and official-looking than those of the police. The bodyguards quickly and politely checked the house and the view from each window as soon as dawn broke.

In Russia there are forty-five hundred security firms, or krysha, “roofs,” with seventy thousand legally armed and very well paid operatives, many of them former police, KGB, and soldiers. These private armies, which protect businesses, banks, and wealthy individuals who have reason to believe their lives may be in danger, outnumber the police.

After several years with one of these security firms, hundreds of bodyguards leave to join the enemy, Mafias and bandit groups, which pay even better. The security guards are quickly replaced by policemen, who defect for the reality of hard cash.

“Is this really necessary? Do we really need these men in the house with guns?” Vera said softly in the kitchen to her husband.

Yuri had not ceased smoking and looking over his shoulder.

“They are better than the police,” he said. “The police didn’t tell me to cover the windows. The police didn’t tell me to stay away from windows. The police didn’t patrol the house and go down the streets and behind the other houses and knock at doors to ask questions. Let the police concentrate on finding this lunatic and my negative. This army will protect me till then.”

“They will frighten the children,” Vera said.

“The children are at school.”

“What if this madman kidnaps our children?” she asked.

“What has that to do with these men’ guarding me? And why would he do that? Why would he take the children? Tell me. Why would he do something like that?”

“To get you to give him the money,” she said.

“I have no money to give him,” he answered between clenched teeth.

“You have enough to pay a private army. But you wouldn’t have enough to save the lives of your children.”

“No one is kidnapping the children,” he said. “You want me to pay for more bodyguards to go to the school, fine. You want to go out, fine. Leave me alone. I will conduct business by phone. I will try to believe that I am safe and that there is a chance the negative will be returned and this lunatic found. Do you realize we could lose everything?”

Vera had taken extra time to select a proper dress and put on her makeup. She was now making an extra effort to continue to play the concerned and dutiful wife. She would keep up the show until Valery found a way to make his move. The big men with big guns complicated everything. Yuri was right. It would have been easier if the police were still in charge, but Yuri was not to be moved.

Her husband’s behavior had kept her up during the night while Yuri, in spite of his fear, had managed a snoring sleep. She had even smoked a cigarette for the first time in two years. She wanted to call Valery, to make him come to his senses, to be careful, perhaps to wait a few days or even weeks. But she dared not go to the phone. She was beginning to think it possible that the police would find him, that he would fail to end Yuri Kriskov’s life, and she would be denounced by this animal who loved her. And Yuri would live. No. She could not live another week with the reeking, unfaithful, lying coward whose existence made her feel dirty. Living a lie was something she no longer could do.

During the night she heard the security guards moving around the inside and outside of the house. She had moved to the room of each child, wondering how much of this they were absorbing. Neither child had asked many questions and both had seemingly been content to hear that a bad man was trying to get their father to give him money and the men with guns were going to find the man and put him in jail.

The truth now was that the men with guns would almost certainly kill Valery Grachev if they found him. The truth now was that this would suit Vera very well. It would be even better if it happened after Valery killed her husband. However, she now had little faith that Valery would have the skill, sanity, or patience to complete his part of the plan.

She looked at her husband, forced herself to touch his arm and try to act the concerned, loving wife. Yuri was showing definite signs of losing control.

“What have I done to deserve this?” he said. “Don’t answer. I’ve done nothing. Absolutely …”

“Nothing,” Vera confirmed.

“Nothing, exactly. I know it doesn’t matter if I deserve this or don’t deserve this. There is no justice. There is no God.”

“And this you learned from your Tolstoy research,” she said, drinking a very hot cup of tea, knowing that Yuri had done none of the research on the missing film, had read no Tolstoy biographies, none of Tolstoy’s stories or novels. Yuri was a hypocrite. Yuri was a producer.

“Perhaps,” he said. “From Tolstoy and from experience.”

One of the armed security men, weapon cradled in his arms, entered the kitchen. The man’s eyes were hooded like those of a boxer who had developed scar tissue from too many punches. He nodded and looked around.

“Would you like tea?” Vera asked.

The man said no and left the room.

“Prisoners,” she said. “Yuri, we are prisoners in our own home.”

“Yes, but not prisoners of these men,” he answered. “We are prisoners of a madman. I’m going upstairs to make some calls. I need privacy.”

You need, Vera thought, to call your mistress and explain why you aren’t coming to see her today. Vera didn’t care. She continued sitting and drinking and thinking as he left the room, pausing only to light yet another cigarette.

Yuri walked through his living room. One of the security guards followed him. The guard’s name was Yevgeny. He was a former military policeman trained in weapons, martial arts, and surveillance. He knew he was good at his job, but he also knew what all bodyguards knew: that a capable, determined assassin cannot be stopped. He may fail to kill. He may be killed after his attack, but stopping him required great luck or a serious mistake on the part of the attacker. Yevgeny had been at the side of a publisher who was shot as they stepped out of the elevator in his office building. The killer, who stood no more than a dozen feet away, had dropped his weapon and run. Yevgeny recovered quickly and fired at the fleeing man in spite of the other five bystanders in the lobby. Yevgeny thought he hit him, but he never knew. The man got away.

Yuri stepped into his bedroom and indicated that he wanted Yevgeny to wait on the landing outside the room. Before the door closed on him, Yevgeny checked the room and adjusted the curtains over the window. Only then did he leave. Yuri locked the door and went for the white portable phone near the bed.

As he talked to Katya, who was very understanding, he wandered absentmindedly to the window and played with the curtains. “I cannot explain,” he said. “And I cannot talk long. You must be patient.”

“I will be patient,” she said, actually quite pleased that she would be without his oppressive presence and massive ego for a few days. She was sure that when he did come he would bring a present of appeasement.

Yuri was, in some ways, a perfect lover. He didn’t like sex and he came to see her infrequently. He talked, expected and received great but feigned sympathy, and demanded nothing more than to be seen with her at the proper clubs and restaurants. Katya was very young, a dark, slender beauty who had perfected her walk and voice. She exuded sexuality. She trafficked in it.

“It won’t be long,” he reassured her, opening the curtains just enough to look out onto the street.

The street was empty.

It then, very quickly, occurred to him that he had probably been leaning too hard against the window and that it had suddenly shattered. He let the curtains close.

“What was that?” Katya said.

“The window broke,” he said.

He didn’t move. A second bullet came through the now-shattered window. This one missed him as had the first. And yet Yuri simply stood talking on the phone, not believing what was happening.

“I think someone is shooting at me. He is shooting at me.”

The bedroom door was kicked open. Yuri turned his head as Yevgeny rushed toward him, yelling, “Get down. Get down.”

“Shooting at you?” asked Katya, hearing the noise.

Yuri didn’t get down. He held the phone, fingers and knuckles turning white. The next two bullets tore through the curtains. The first hit him solidly in the chest. The second entered just below his right eye and exited through the top rear of his skull.

He went down, still clutching the phone.

Yevgeny crawled cautiously to the body, knew immediately that the man whom he was supposed to protect was quite dead, and very carefully made his way to the window. A fifth shot entered the room and shattered something against the far wall. The gunman could see nothing through the curtains. He fired once more. And then there was silence.

Yevgeny cursed his luck but did his job. He went to the window, peeked out carefully, and scanned the street. There were not many places to hide. There was no high ground, no real cover from trees, only houses which had been checked the night before.

A second guard entered the room and Yevgeny shouted, “He’s dead.”

“Shit,” the man shouted back.

“Shot came from low, not close. Go.”

When the man had rushed out of the room, Yevgeny pulled the small rectangular cell phone from his belt and pressed a button.

“No car,” he said. “Nothing is moving. The houses across the street. There’s a sight line from two houses on the street beyond, a gray house and a white one next to it.”

He sensed someone in the doorway behind him and turned, aiming his weapon. It was Vera. She looked at her husband and began to shake. She did not have to act. It was one thing to wish him dead and quite another to see his head blown apart.

“Get down,” Yevgeny shouted. “Now. Down.”

Vera, her eyes fixed on Yuri, sank to her knees as if in prayer.

Yevgeny took another look out the window and moved to her, placing his weapon on the floor. He put his arm around her, knowing she was going into shock. He had trained for this but had never had to do it before.

She looked over her shoulder as he started to lead her from the room. His hand accidentally touched her breast. She didn’t notice, but he felt a stir and damned himself.

“Wait,” she said, pulling away from him and moving to the body of her husband. She took the phone from his reluctant fingers and spoke to the woman on the other end.

“He is dead,” Vera said.

“Dead?” asked Katya. “You killed him?”

Vera hung up the phone. Yevgeny took it from her, put it down on the bed, and led her onto the landing and down the stairs.

The suggestion by Andrei Vanga that he accompany Karpo and Zelach to the apartment of Sergei Bolskanov was noted by Karpo with interest. Karpo had no belief in intuition and little faith in his own ability to detect the underlying feelings and motives of others. He tried to deal only in evidence based on a long career as a criminal investigator.

That experience reminded him of the many other instances in which people in major cases, often involving murder, had volunteered to assist in some aspect of the investigation. The morbid, the guilty, and occasionally the few who for emotional reasons wanted the crime solved and the guilty punished were the ones who volunteered. Occasionally, a person with a vested interest in the investigation would also cooperate. In Karpo’s experience, there had been no other reasons.

The likely conclusion in this situation was that Vanga had a vested interest. It might simply be that he wanted to do what he could to find the killer and return the center to some level of normalcy so that he could return to raising money and supporting research. Karpo entertained the other possibilities and did not dismiss that Vanga might, in fact, be the murderer.

Karpo did not worry about motive. That would come if Vanga was guilty.

The conversation had taken place at the Center for the Study of Technical Parapsychology after Karpo and Zelach had returned with a dour little man named Tikon Tayumvat, who could well have been ninety years old. He grunted. He grumbled. Tayumvat was a well-known name in the field of parapsychology. Vanga had been impressed when he was introduced to the man, who simply grunted. Not only was Tikon Tayumvat, who was no more than five feet tall, an expert in the field, he also knew the technology and how to use computers. But what was of special interest to Karpo, who had found the man through Paulinin, was that Tayumvat was a skeptic. His scrutiny of the research, according to Paulinin, was well known and much feared.

Vanga had shown the little man to Bolskanov’s laboratory and office and stood watching, offering suggestions, especially when the little man had moved to the computer.

Tikon Tayumvat, in turn, had looked at the director, pursed his lips, and said, “I will accomplish more if you take him away. I am old and will die soon. I would like it to be sometime after I complete this investigation.”

And with that, Karpo and Zelach had accompanied the director back to his office.

“I thought Tikon Tayumvat was dead,” said Vanga. “Everyone thought he was dead.”

“I believe his family, though he seems to be quite estranged from them, are very aware that he is alive,” said Karpo.

“Yes, of course. I meant in the profession. What has he been doing for … what is it … what has he been doing for the past thirty years?”

“He says he has been thinking,” said Karpo.

“Well, what now? Has Boris Adamovskovich confessed? I mean, I can’t believe he is guilty of anything, but someone did it and … Has he?”

“No,” said Karpo.

“Then, what now?”

“We are going to Sergei Bolskanov’s apartment again,” said Karpo, standing next to Zelach, who would have liked very much to sit. “Dr. Tayumvat has agreed to see if there is anything there that might interest us.”

“I can’t imagine there would be,” said Vanga, standing behind his desk and looking from one detective to the other.

“Why?” asked Karpo.

“Well … because … I don’t know. This is all very, very difficult,” said Vanga, starting to sit and then standing. “You know, Bolskanov and I were involved in the same area of research, sleep studies, dream states. Perhaps if I were to come with you, I might see something you would overlook.”

“Dr. Tayumvat is knowledgeable,” said Karpo.

“Of course, of course. He is a legend. Would you like some coffee, tea, Pepsi? He is a legend. But he is old. He might miss something important, very important. You want something to drink?”

“No, thank you,” said Karpo for both of them, though Zelach would have loved a Pepsi.

Zelach kept listening for the door behind them to open. He wanted the ancient scientist to return so they could escape from the center before Nadia Spectorski found him.

“Yes, but this is new material, a new direction, don’t you see,” said Vanga. “And personal things. There might be some things of special interest that you and Tikon Tayumvat might miss.”

“Such as?” asked Karpo.

“Such as? I don’t know such as till I see it. It would hurt nothing if I joined you, and it might yield something,” Vanga said earnestly. “I wish to help.”

It was at that point Karpo had agreed. It was a moment later that Tayumvat entered the office and said, “Nothing in his office or his laboratory that will help you find a murderer. He appears to have been engaged in some interesting though probably flawed research. Some of his notes are in his computer, though they tell little. He was working on whatever it was for several years, though I see no evidence that he has written anything. I’ve read his other articles. He is not one to delay. I’d say he is, or was, one to publish a bit before it was prudent to do so. And yet … nothing.”

“He had changed his way of thinking about publishing,” said Vanga. “He didn’t want to write anything till he was certain. He thought he might be two years from even beginning to write. He consulted me frequently. I assured him that support for his work would continue.”

“He may have something written at his home,” said Karpo. “You will accompany us to examine his papers?”

Tayumvat nodded and said, “Vanga … Andrei Vanga? You are Andrei Vanga.”

“Yes,” said Vanga.

“I read your article on dream states among the mentally ill. Journal of Psychic Research.

Vanga smiled.

“That was twenty years ago at least,” said the old man. “It stunk. You write stinking articles with flawed research and results, and they put you in charge of all this. What have you written since? Something better, I hope, or better nothing at all.”

“I’ve been busy keeping this facility alive, raising money, finding …”

“You burned out,” said Tayumvat.

“No,” Vanga shot back. “In fact, I am almost ready to present a new and, I believe, major report on my research.”

“I hope it’s better than the last one,” said Tayumvat.

“I believe it is,” said Vanga. “Shall we go?”

“You are going?” asked the old man.

“He is going,” said Karpo.

“Then see to it that he stays out of my way and touches nothing,” said Tayumvat, turning toward the door. “Let’s go. Time is something I, Tikon, will not knowingly waste.”

They had barely opened the door when Nadia Spectorski appeared, arms folded over her white lab coat. “I would like a few minutes of Akardy’s time,” she said.

“I must …” Zelach began, feeling the panic he had anticipated.

“We have been told to cooperate with your research,” Karpo said. “Zelach will stay, Nadia Spectorski.”

Tayumvat, who had been walking slowly in front of them down the corridor, turned and looked at her. “Spectorski? Image projection?”

“Yes,” she said.

“Don’t trust the English,” he said. “They find what they want to find. You find what you want to find. You rely too much on the English in your articles. To know someone can play card tricks is not to know how they play these tricks, and the real question is, When is a trick not a trick?”

“I agree,” she said as Zelach stood listening, hoping that they would return with evidence from the dead man’s apartment that Nadia was the murderer.

“Then write better articles,” said Tayumvat, resuming his walk down the hall.

That had been an hour ago. They had been driven in the unmarked car Karpo had asked the Yak to sign for.

The first impression was that the dead scientist’s apartment on Petro Street had been ransacked, but even a cursory examination by Karpo confirmed that the man had simply lived like a child. Papers were piled on the floor. Books were scattered about. Every chair was full of books and papers. The air was heavy with dust, and two open boxes of raisins sat on the table on which a computer rested.

“Stay out of my way,” the old man said, surveying the chaos. “It will go faster.”

“I would like to help,” said Vanga.

“And I would like you not to help,” said Tayumvat, pronouncing each word slowly and distinctly as if he were giving orders to a child who was being told what to do for the third time.

The old scientist started in one corner of the room, picking up books, examining them, riffling through the pages, and making comments to Karpo and Vanga.

Unidentified Flying Objects,” he said at one point, looking at a paperback book. “I wrote about this. Carl Jung wrote about this. Do you know what I wrote?”

“That the objects were not aliens but humans from the future,” said Vanga.

Tayumvat paused and looked at Vanga. “Yes, yes,” he said. “So, I am not completely forgotten. It is common sense. The ships come in two forms, saucers and cigar-shaped objects. My conclusion …”

“… is that they come from two different periods in the future. The cigar-shaped ones are not as far advanced as the saucers,” said Vanga.

“Correct. And why do these creatures have two arms, two legs, two eyes? Because they are evolved humans. Why would creatures from some distant galaxy look like us? Answer,” he said, looking at a pile of papers, “they would not. And why do they abduct humans and examine them? Because they want to find out about their ancestors, us. And,” he continued, going through more books, papers, and journals, “why do they avoid contact with humans?”

“Because they do not wish to alter history,” said Vanga.

“No,” said Tayumvat. “Don’t you understand Einstein? Time is already determined. Even if they were to come back and destroy us all, the time that is already in motion would continue. The time they affect would go on separately. If I can figure this, out, they can.”

“You believe this?” asked Karpo, watching Vanga carefully.

“No, I do not believe we have visitors from the future,” said Tayumvat. “I believe, however, that if these creatures do exist, my explanation is infinitely better than the theory of alien visitors. My great-grandson has one of those T-shirts, hideous, black with white letters. It says, Star Trek Is Right. What’s this?”

The old man was examining a notebook with the spirals on top. Vanga took a step toward him. Karpo held out a hand to stop him. Vanga stopped.

“Notes about people whose dreams have been scientifically proved to foretell the future,” said Tayumvat, flipping through the pages. “Interesting, the future foretold is not necessarily their own.”

“Yes,” said Vanga. “He was working with me on such a project.”

“All anecdotal,” said the old man, flipping quickly.

“We have hard research results,” said Vanga.

“I’d be interesting in seeing it,” said Tikon Tayumvat, with undisguised skepticism.

“I’ll be ready to publish soon,” he said.

“And the dead man? …”

“Bolskanov,” Karpo supplied.

“Bolskanov,” Tayumvat continued. “Your publication will include his name as co-author?”

Vanga had not considered this. He looked at the old man and then at Karpo. “He just did some of the research, under my direction. He has done none of the writing. Of course I will give him credit. I will dedicate the paper to him.”

“Let’s ask him for his side of this tale, which I have heard all too often,” said the old man, turning his back on Vanga now and continuing his search. “Oh, yes. This Bolskanov is dead. He cannot speak for himself. But perhaps I can speak for him.”

“What are you suggesting?” asked Vanga with great indignation.

“That it is convenient for you that the man is dead.”

“And you are suggesting that I killed him because I wanted to steal his work?”

“I had not considered it quite that way,” said the old man, turning again to face Vanga, “but it makes sense. It is a hypothesis. And what do you do with a reasonable hypothesis? You test it. We will test your hypothesis.”

“Inspector, I do not wish to stand here and be insulted,” Vanga said to Karpo, who stood close by his side.

“Then you may leave,” said Karpo.

“Or,” said Tayumvat, flipping through another book of notes which had been on top of a teetering pile, “you may sit.”

“But I can’t leave. I may be needed. I can check the computer.”

Vanga moved to the computer. Leaning forward he slipped the disk he had brought with him into the hard drive, hoping neither of the other two men had seen him. It was a desperate act but one he could not avoid.

“Do not turn that on,” Karpo commanded, taking Vanga’s arm.

Vanga straightened up immediately. “Yes, if you wish. I won’t turn it on. But … I just want to help.”

Tayumvat dropped the notebook in his hand on the floor and wove through the debris toward the desk. “Yes,” he said. “By all means. If this is so important to our friend, let us open it now.”

Karpo guided Vanga a few steps back while the old man sat and turned on the computer. The black screen went blue and then a series of icons began to appear, but the appearance was brief. The icons began to lose their clarity and fade.

“A virus,” said Tayumvat. “It is destroying all the information, all the files on the hard disk.”

“Can you stop it?”

“No. What is this? What is this?”

He moved the mouse to the words put away, and the disk Vanga had inserted popped out. Tayumvat reached for it.

“Don’t touch it,” said Karpo.

The old man’s hand stopped inches from the protruding disk.

“It’s not a booby trap,” Tayumvat said.

“But it may have fingerprints,” said Karpo.

Vanga had not really considered that.

Ivan Laminski drove the tan Mustang down the bumpy dirt road in the direction he had been given by the shopkeeper Podgorny. Next to Ivan sat the younger Moscow detective. Ivan wanted to talk, but it was clear that the man next to him did not. There was nothing on the radio. They were too far from any station to be able to pick one up on the Mustang’s radio.

In the back, the one-legged older Moscow detective sat looking out the window at the fields that extended back into forever.

“In the field is standing a birch tree,” Rostnikov said. “You know that song? The birch tree song?”

“No,” said Iosef.

“I think that’s it,” said Ivan, pointing to a house in a field in front of them and to the right.

Neither detective responded. Porfiry Petrovich was thinking of birch trees. Iosef was wondering what they were searching for and why.

Ivan found a smaller road to the right that seemed to head toward the house. He took it and drove slowly. When they pulled up next to the one-story wooden house, five people were standing in wait.

“Podgorny called to tell us you were coming,” said Boris Vladovka as Iosef and Porfiry Petrovich got out of the car.

“You are friends,” said Rostnikov. “I assumed he would do so if you had a telephone.”

“There are only two telephones in our town. Podgorny has one. We have one. If people wish to call outside, they know they are welcome at either of our houses.”

Rostnikov smiled at Boris Vladovka and his wife. A handsome dark woman, whose face showed the hard life she had lived, stood to the right, her hand clasping that of a small girl, no more than three, blond hair, clear skin. All were dressed cleanly but ready for a day’s work.

“Your son?” asked Rostnikov.

“Konstantin is there,” Boris said, pointing to a tractor in the distance. “We have work to do, but I understand you want to see a farm. We are happy to show you ours.”

Ivan, the driver, got out of the car, said hello to the Vladovka family, and declined an invitation to see the farm. He had seen many farms. He had no need of another.

Iosef and Porfiry Petrovich followed the family into the house and politely moved into the large living room, which held surreal-looking paintings.

“Tsimion’s work,” explained Boris. “I don’t understand what it means. Tsimion always said that it didn’t have to be put into words, explanations. The paintings, his poems, were just there to be felt. What was it he said?”

“True meaning comes from feeling, not from words,” Boris’s wife said, looking at one small painting that suggested to Rostnikov a sky on fire.

The room was spare but comfortable, the furniture basic and wood with one old, patterned and upholstered sofa. There was a large radio on a table near the window but no television. Television stations were too far away.

They moved through the rooms and Boris explained that they had originally built two bedrooms. A third had been added. Everything was on one floor, so adding rooms was not a problem. Boris and his wife had one bedroom, which was small and neat with a free-standing wooden closet in one corner, the bed, covered by a colorful quilt, next to the window, and what Boris described as his wife’s pride, a dresser with a mirror on top. The dresser was dark wood and elaborate, covered with carved flowers and leaves.

“It is an antique,” Boris said. “Two, three hundred years old.”

“Tsimion loved it,” his wife said. “He liked to run his fingers over the flowers.”

The room of Konstantin and his wife was the same size as the first bedroom. This room was furnished with a bed, closet, and a rocking chair. A trunk stood in the corner. It was open and filled with toys. On the walls were scribble drawings of a small child. The dresser was plain and large with six drawers. A small bookcase stood next to the dresser. It was filled with children’s books.

The final bedroom was a duplicate of the other two except this had only a single-size bed. A desk stood at the window with a wooden chair before it. A dresser, almost a duplicate of the one in the last bedroom, stood in the corner. A large simple bookcase filled with books and magazines took up most of one wall.

“This was Tsimion’s room,” said Boris. “It was here if he ever wanted to return. Now it belongs to my granddaughter, Petya, my little one.”

He reached down to touch the head of the little blond girl who was clinging to his leg.

“Now,” Boris said, gently prying his granddaughter loose and guiding her toward his wife, “the barn and some of the fields. The tour, I’m afraid, is short because there really is not much to see.

“We can forgo the barn,” said Rostnikov, “and I would like to look at the fields myself. I want to know what it feels like to be alone in such a vast sea of green and yellow.”

“It feels … comforting,” said Boris solemnly. “And when there is a breeze, the vines and leaves sound as if they are talking a soft, foreign tongue.”

“I see where your son got his sense of poetry,” said Rostnikov.

“No,” said Boris. “He listened to his own silence in the darkness of the skies.”

Outside the house in which they left the family, Iosef said, “You want to go for a walk in a potato field?”

“I must,” Rostnikov said, looking around. “Wait here. I won’t be long.”

“I thought we were here to get some answers,” said Iosef, following his father’s gaze.

“We are,” said Rostnikov. “Go back inside. Ask about farming. Tell them of your life and mine, of your engagement to Elena. Talk to them of dead czars and dark, silent skies.”

“Now you are trying to be a poet.”

“It’s an infection,” said Rostnikov. “Highly communicable.”

With that, Porfiry Petrovich set off into the field.

The rows were even, but navigating them with one healthy and one independent leg was difficult. After a hundred yards, Rostnikov knew that what Boris had told him of the fields was true. There was a rustling calm. But growing potatoes was certainly not always romantic. In fact, Rostnikov was sure, such idyllic moments were probably reserved for visitors who did not have to work the fields, or men like Boris Vladovka who held on to their dreams and passed them on to their children and grandchildren.

It took Porfiry Petrovich twelve minutes to catch up to the tractor. The bearded driver saw him coming, turned off the engine, and waited as Rostnikov approached.

“Vladovka, when we have finished talking I would be very grateful for a ride back to the car.”

Rostnikov looked up at the man and shielded his eyes from the sun.

“You have a question for me?”

“Yes, several. First, I would like to know what it feels like to be weightless and alone in the darkness of outer space.”

“How would I know?” he said with a shrug, wiping his forehead with his sleeve.

“Because,” said Rostnikov, “you are not Konstantin Vladovka. He is dead and buried. You are his brother, Tsimion.”


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