Chapter Fourteen

Director Igor Yaklovev was sitting at the end of the conference table in his office when Rostnikov arrived with his writing pad, a neatly typed stack of reports, some notes, and a small box in his hands. The Yak motioned the chief inspector to his usual spot, and Rostnikov nodded as he moved to take his seat and place his bundle in front of him.

The Yak said nothing, sat with hands folded before him on the wooden table. There was nothing in front of him. In a few moments there was a knock at the door.

“Come in,” called Yaklovev, and the diminutive Pankov entered, juggling a small tray with two cups.

Pankov moved slowly, afraid of dropping the coffee, and placed a cup before the director and another before the chief inspector. The Yak’s was black. The chief inspector’s was white with two sugars. Pankov took the small tray and departed.

“He is learning to make better coffee,” said the Yak after taking a sip.

“Much better,” Rostnikov agreed.

“Progress?” asked Yaklovev.

“Closure on all three current investigations,” said Porfiry Petrovich, handing the director three reports in clean manila folders.

His leg was definitely bothering him. He would have to see Leon, his wife’s cousin, for an adjustment to his prosthesis. The park competition was coming soon. With any pain it would be difficult to lift.

“Andrei Vanga, director of the Center for the Study of Technical Parapsychology, has been arrested for the murder of Sergei Bolskanov,” said Rostnikov, taking a sip of coffee and opening his pad.

“The motive?”

“The theft of Bolskanov’s research. Vanga had produced nothing of note in almost two decades. He was afraid of losing his job and his reputation.”

“And now he has lost both,” said Yaklovev. “He has friends and enemies.”

“Bolskanov’s research paper is contained on a computer disk in the report before you,” said Rostnikov, beginning to draw.

If the research was worth theft and murder, thought Yaklovev, it might well be of value to certain prominent people behind the center. They would definitely be grateful for the swift conclusion of the investigation and for the disk, of which Igor Yaklovev would make a copy.

“And Kriskov is dead?”

“Yes,” said Rostnikov. “We did not succeed in protecting him.”

“But the stolen negative has been recovered.”

“Sasha Tkach and Elena Timofeyeva recovered it,” said Rostnikov, letting his fingers mindlessly create the image on the pad.

“They are to be commended,” said the Yak.

“Some time off with pay for Sasha Tkach would be …”

“He is a hero,” said the Yak. “His picture was on television, in the newspaper. He generated very positive promotion for our office. He risked his life to save a boy. He can have a week.”

“Three would be better,” said Rostnikov.

“Three,” Yaklovev agreed.

“Elena Timofeyeva believes Kriskov’s wife was a party to the crime,” said Rostnikov.

“Is there any evidence of this?”

“None. Valery Grachev died insisting he acted alone.”

“Then tell Elena Timofeyeva that she will be commended and the issue dropped.”

Rostnikov nodded.

“And the cosmonaut?”

“Vladovka is dead,” said Rostnikov.

“And so is a State Security operative who was assigned to protect him,” said the Yak. “Died in a St. Petersburg alley, apparently the victim of a random mugging.”

“I have heard something of that,” said Rostnikov. “Others will be sent to investigate, I presume.”

“It is a reasonable presumption, Chief Inspector.”

“It would be better if they did not,” said Rostnikov.

The Yak finished his coffee, patted the reports before him, and took the small package being handed to him by Rostnikov.

“You might prefer that Konstantin Vladovka, the brother of Tsimion Vladovka the cosmonaut, not be bothered,” said Rostnikov.

Rostnikov looked over at the package that lay before the director.

Yaklovev opened the package and found a cassette.

“That will explain,” said Rostnikov.

“I am sure you did your best to save Vladovka,” said the Yak.

“While I would far prefer that he remain buried, if it becomes essential for him to be resurrected, it might be a good idea that the resurrection take place when the dead man is somewhere safe, perhaps France or the United States. I would like to think that what is on that tape will protect a dead man.”

The Yak nodded and played with the cassette.

“If what is on the tape is of value, I believe I have the power to keep State Security and Mikhail Stoltz from the village of Kiro-Stovitsk. One more question and you may leave. I’ll give you new assignments tomorrow.”

Rostnikov looked up.

“What have you just drawn?”

Rostnikov turned the pad and slid it across the table to Yaklovev, who looked down at it.

“It looks like two fat worms,” he said.

“The tape will explain,” said Rostnikov, getting up, deciding that he would see Leon that very day.

When the chief inspector had left the room, Yaklovev rose, tapping the cassette against the palm of his open hand, and moved to his desk where he kept his tape recorder.

He pulled the tape recorder from his desk drawer, placed it on his desk, inserted the tape, and pressed the play button.

“Fat worms,” he said, shaking his head and wondering if his eccentric chief inspector might be going mad.

“My name is Tsimion Vladovka,” came a voice with an echo behind it. “I was a cosmonaut and I have kept a terrible secret about my last flight.”

Before the tape was over, Igor Yaklovev had decided that his chief inspector was not mad and that what he was listening to might well be the most valuable possession in his collection of well-protected secrets.

He would make his usual three copies, as he did of all documents and tapes for his private file, and while he was doing so would decide how best to make use of what he had. He was fairly certain that he would soon be having a talk with Mikhail Stoltz.

And that afternoon-

“You have a body for me?” asked Paulinin as Emil Karpo made his way through the tables and specimens.

“I have lunch for you,” said Karpo.

“Lunch is fine. A corpse would make it better. They’ve taken my scientist and cosmonaut. I have no one to talk to now except the living. I prefer to talk to you and the dead.”

“I accept the compliment,” said Karpo.

“It is simply the truth,” said Paulinin.

Paulinin had what appeared to be a rusty automobile part in front of him. He was working at it with a fine-haired brush. Karpo opened the bag in his hand and stood across the table, lit by the bright overhead light casting black shadows.

“Do you think I am mad because I talk to the dead, Emil Karpo? Do you ever talk to the dead?”

“Yes,” Karpo said. “I talk to the dead.”

“Do they answer you as they answer me when I probe and explore them?”

“No,” said Karpo. “I talk to only one dead person. She does not answer. For me it must simply suffice that I talk to her.”

“I understand,” said Paulinin. “In many ways we are alike, you and I. In many ways. That is why we are friends.”

“Yes,” said Karpo. “I must acknowledge that. If it were not so, I would not be talking to you as I am, telling you things that I do not even tell Porfiry Petrovich and do not even tell myself.”

“What did you bring?”

“Cheese, bread, water. And two apples.”

Paulinin looked up from the rusty metal, still holding the brush, wiped his chin with his sleeve, and adjusted his glasses.

“Let us eat.”

A knock at her door brought Anna Timofeyeva out of her near slumber. She had been sitting at her window with her cat, Baku, in her ample lap, looking out on the concrete courtyard where children played, mothers and grandmothers sat on benches and talked, and a regular group of jobless men gathered in a far corner to smoke, complain, and make weak jokes about those who were better or worse off than they were.

The door was locked, as were all apartment doors in Moscow, so she had to rouse herself, place Baku on the floor, and make her way across the room. The first step made her dizzy and irritable. Not long ago, before two heart attacks sent her into retirement, Anna had been a procurator, a rising and respected figure in the Soviet Union. Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov had worked under her. They had all worked under her, and she had worked tirelessly to enforce the law, to bring those who offended the State to judgment.

And now, at the age of fifty-seven, she watched women and children from her window and grew dizzy when she rose. Illness did not become her. There was a rage within her which she quelled with dreams, medication, and reading, because the rage did her no good and could, according to the doctors, actually kill her.

“We must talk,” shouted Lydia Tkach as soon as Anna opened the door.

The wiry, nearly deaf woman carried a plastic shopping bag from which a very pleasant odor reached out and struck the now-awake Anna. Lydia moved into the room, and Anna considered leaving the door open so that she could shoo the loud gnat from her presence, but experience told her that such would not be the case. Anna closed the door and turned.

“Did you see him?” Lydia shouted, moving to the kitchen area and the small table to her right.

“See? …”

“Sasha, on the television. My son, the hero.”

There was a bite to the word hero that required no special acumen to discern.

“No, I have not watched television today.”

The smaller woman was taking things from the plastic bag she had set on the table. There was a small cake, some croissants, and a large white cylinder carton with the unmistakable smell of coffee.

“I wish I had not,” said Lydia, going to the cupboard behind her to bring out two plates, two forks, a large knife, and two cups. “Sit.”

Anna, who had spent a lifetime giving orders, knew it was useless to argue with the woman. Besides, the confections and coffee drew her to the table. Listening to Lydia Tkach was the price she would have to pay for the guilty pleasure. “He was there, on the riverbank, right across from the Kremlin,” said Lydia, sitting and reaching over immediately to cut the cake. “Right in front, or almost, of the Hotel Baltschug Kempinski Moskau. You know?”

“I know where the-” Anna Timofeyeva began but was cut short by her guest, who served her a slice of wondrously aromatic lemon cake.

“Sitting there next to a madman with a gun. Hundreds of people watching, and thousands and thousands on television. He saved the life of a child. A madman-he had this child throwing moving-picture film into the river, as if the river is not dirty enough.”

“Sasha had a child throw moving-picture film into the Moscow River?”

The cake was delicious. The coffee was hot.

“No, the madman had the child throw the film in the river.”

“Why?”

“Why? Why? Why? Because he was a madman. He’s dead now. Sasha is a hero. The madman had already killed someone in a dacha outside of the city. You like the cake? I have a new baker. The old one left his family and ran away to Lithuania or someplace with one of my clerks. Why would anyone run away to Lithuania? But it was a blessing. The new baker is better, a Greek, and the new clerk is his daughter.”

“Sasha,” Anna said, considering the wisdom of having yet another slice of cake after she finished the one before her.

“And your Elena,” said Lydia, who had consumed a croissant and now sliced herself a generous portion of cake. “She was on television, too. Looking down from the embankment. You wouldn’t see her if you weren’t looking, but she was there.”

Lydia Tkach consumed enormous quantities of food without apparent joy in the process. She remained pole-thin. Anything Anna ate turned to instant fat, which was a danger to her. Normally she dieted according to the order of her doctor, but at the moment she told herself that she needed to fortify herself against the intruder. Anna had gotten Lydia into an apartment on the other side of the one-story building.

“He could have been killed,” Lydia said. “I have one son and he could have been killed. More cake?”

“A very thin slice, and then I want you to take the cake and croissants away,” said Anna.

“We’ll leave the rest for Elena,” said Lydia, putting an even larger slice of cake than the first on Anna’s plate.

Infinite are the ways this woman can be my death, thought Anna, unable to resist the call of lemon and the white sugar frosting. The new baker was very good indeed.

“So? …” Anna began.

“It is enough,” shouted Lydia, whose outburst was certainly being listened to by the pensioner and his wife who lived on the other side of the thin wall of Anna Timofeyeva’s apartment. “I want him safe. I want him out. Sometimes I think he is suicidal. That’s what I think sometimes.”

It was something which Anna also thought but not nearly as often as his mother. When she had been a procurator, Sasha had been a brooding young man, a prot?g? of Porfiry Petrovich. He had a promising career ahead of him, but Sasha could be difficult and on more than one occasion he had been drawn from his course not by bribery but by women who found the boyish brooding young man irresistible.

“I want you to talk to Porfiry Petrovich,” Lydia said, her eyes meeting Anna’s.

“To …”

“To insist that he get my son off the streets. Sasha is a hero now. Heroes deserve to be protected whether they wish to be or not. You agree?”

“Well, I think …”

“You can’t talk to Sasha. I’ve thought of that. Sasha is on his way to Kiev, on an airplane. I don’t trust airplanes. I’ve never been on one. I think they crash all the time and no one tells us. They keep it secret. Sasha has been strange lately. Happy … he even took me to a movie about men who for no apparent reason take off their clothes. And then he is back to feeling sorry for himself. I want my grandchildren back. I made him take airplane money to bring them back. I told him the only way to get Maya to come back with him would be to get off the streets, have normal hours and a normal job where he wouldn’t get into trouble.”

Anna sipped her coffee, which she should not be drinking. It was excellent coffee. She would resist a second cup.

“I think you are right,” said Anna.

“You think I am right? You never think I am right.”

“This time,” said Anna, “I think you are right.”

“And what will you do about it?” Lydia asked insistently.

Anna felt like saying, “I’ll consult the neighbors and get their opinion,” but instead she said, “I will give Baku the rest of what I have on my plate and then I will call Porfiry Petrovich and ask him to stop by for a talk. I have never asked him to come visit me. He will come.”

Lydia said nothing and then opened her mouth to speak. Nothing came out. She began to weep. As loud as her voice had been, her weeping was nearly silent. Her thin shoulders shook and she leaned her head forward. Anna had no experience comforting people. People, even her niece, had never really looked to her for comfort. Anna was large, serious, stern in appearance. When she was procurator, she always wore her dark uniform. One did not go to such a woman for solace.

“I will do what I can, Lydia,” she said. “I will do what I can.”

“You are going out?” asked Rostnikov, sitting across the table from his wife.

Galina and the two little girls were watching television. The woman sat between the children, who were completely absorbed in the young men and women on very tall unicycles speeding around on a television-studio floor. The television was black and white. They could only imagine the spectrum of colorful glitter.

“Yes,” said Sarah, finishing her coffee.

“I know where you go each Friday,” he said softly as circus music vibrated excitedly from the television set.

“You are a detective, Porfiry Petrovich,” Sarah said with a smile, reaching over to touch his hand. “I thought you would have figured it out long ago.”

“I did,” he said, picking up crumbs from the remains of the pastry on the plate between them and popping them into his mouth.

“And you want to know why?” she asked.

“It seems a logical question,” he said.

“And an emotional one.”

“And an emotional one,” he agreed. “Is there any more cake?”

“No more cake,” she said. “I don’t believe in God, Porfiry Petrovich. Maybe sometime. Maybe never. I feel the need to make a connection to my history. It’s … more a meditation than a worship. I can lose myself in the ritual, the prayers, the chants. I feel as if I’m making a connection and on good days I can walk away feeling a little better.”

“Avrum Belinsky is good?”

“Very good,” she said.

“He is very young.”

“But he has studied much and been through much,” she said. “Are you bothered by my going?”

“No,” he said. “If you want to read the Bible or something at home, I don’t mind.”

“No,” she said, still touching his hand. “I don’t want to read the Bible at home. Porfiry, maybe someday I’ll believe in a god, some kind of god. We have talked about this very little. What do you believe in?”

The crowd on the television set roared. Nina giggled. Laura clapped.

“You,” he said. “Nature. Benches and spaceships and people who can move objects very slightly with their minds and dreams that sometimes become reality. Mystery. People who are not all good or all evil. Common sense.”

“You are not really answering the question,” Sarah said.

Rostnikov nodded and said, “You are going to be late. Would you like me to come with you?”

“No,” she said, getting up. “I won’t be late.”

“All right,” he said. “When the circus is over and the applause has died, I have a sink to fix.”

“She did it,” Elena said.

Iosef and Elena were sitting in his apartment. With the afternoon off, they were supposed to be making the final plans for their wedding. Iosef had hoped that she would be filled with ideas and that they might end the afternoon with something to eat and, perhaps, an hour or so in bed, just being together without their clothes. Iosef loved her smooth, full body. But it was clear that Elena was in no mood for food or love. She pushed her hair back, a sign, Iosef had learned, that she was agitated. This time he needed no sign.

“I would like to go back, confront her,” Elena said, her arms folded.

“You’ve been ordered to forget about her,” said Iosef. “Yaklovev will handle it.”

“You know how he will handle it,” she said. “He’ll find some way to get something from the widow Vera Kriskov. He’ll probably have the movie dedicated to him.”

“That is not the kind of thing the Yak wants,” said Iosef. “I know. Remember when …”

“Yes, and he doesn’t want sex,” Elena went on. “Vera Kriskov is very beautiful, you know?”

“As are you.”

“I am not beautiful,” she said. “I have a higher opinion of my looks than I once had, but I am not beautiful.”

“I am entitled to my opinion,” he said with a smile she did not return.

“She will get away with the murder of her husband.”

“She will join the legions, the thousands, who have gotten away with murder and continue to do so,” he said. “Why does this woman obsess you?”

“She doesn’t. She …”

Elena stopped. A realization struck her, one she could not quite put into words. “She has wealth, two children, beauty, and …”

“You would like the same,” Iosef said, watching her face.

“Perhaps, yes,” she said with a sigh. “He loved her.”

“Her husband?”

Elena smiled. “Grachev. He loved her. He died protecting her.”

“Let us leave it as a tragic romance,” said Iosef.

“You think like a playwright,” Elena said.

“It is an ending out of Tolstoy. If she has guilt, she will have to live with it.”

“Then she will live,” said Elena.

“Feel better?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“Good.”

He leaned over to kiss her. She returned the kiss with a passion and hunger he had not expected.

Winter was still months away in Winnipeg.

It had taken Misha and Ivan only an hour to find a room they could share in the house of an old couple who spoke Ukrainian-accented Russian and who welcomed them as recent immigrants. They had stopped at a small restaurant and asked if there were places they might find a room. The incredibly thin man behind the counter had served them cherry pie and directed them to the old couple.

“We need new blood here,” the old woman had said when they carried their luggage in. “New blood that won’t freeze in the winter.

“People come from the United States. They say they love it here. They take deep breaths. The winter comes. They go home, usually at night. If they can get their car started or a ride to the airport.”

“But,” said the old woman, “you are Russians. Are you married?”

“No,” said Misha.

“Then maybe … what is your work?” the man asked.

“We are mechanics,” Ivan said.

“Mechanics? Like cars?” said the old man.

“Yes,” said Misha. “Like cars.”

The old woman motioned for them to pick up their luggage. They did and followed her to a wooden stairway.

The old man came after them and said, “My nephew, Frank. He has a garage. He is looking for help. You have papers?”

They were at the top of the stairs now. There was something familiar about the house. Ivan thought he might be comfortable. At the moment, he simply wanted to lie down on his stomach and hope that the pain in his back and behind would lose some of its anger.

“No,” said Misha.

“I understand,” said the old man. “I understand. Political?”

“Yes,” said Misha. “We are merchant marines. We jumped from our ship in Nova Scotia.”

“The water was cold,” said the man. “Even in the summer. The water was cold.”

“It was cold,” Ivan agreed, following the old woman into the room.

There were two beds. Ivan felt both relief and guilt. Knowing now about Misha’s sexual preference, he was relieved that they would not have to share a bed. Knowing that Misha had saved his life, Ivan felt guilt.

The room was large, furnished in old-country style, very simple. Ivan thought he could like it here.

“There are snowshoes downstairs for the winter,” said the old man. “The snow comes right up to the window over there sometimes. Well … should I talk to Frank?”

“Yes, please,” said Misha.

“He has friends, knows people. He can get you papers, but let me talk to him first.”

“Leave them alone to settle,” said the old woman, touching her husband’s sleeve and guiding him toward the door.

“Yes, yes. Of course. Come down when you are ready. My wife will give you something to eat.”

When they were gone and the door closed, Ivan moved in agony to the nearest bed, kicked off his shoes, and lay carefully on his stomach.

“I’ll go to a drugstore, get you something for your bruises,” said Misha.

“I-” Ivan began.

“I won’t try to seduce you,” Misha said. “Are we friends?”

“Yes,” said Ivan. “I owe you my life.”

“Then we shall be just friends,” said Misha. “I have a feeling I will not lack companionship here when I feel the need.”

“I’m too much in pain to think about sex,” said Ivan.

Misha looked around the room and moved to the window. “I think we may like it here,” he said.

“Misha?”

“I think I shall now be Casmir,” said Misha. “Who would you like to be?”

“Ivan. There are probably thousands of Ivans here. Do you think we will ever get back to Russia?”

“Do you want to go back?” asked Misha, sitting on the second bed.

“I don’t know. I can’t think beyond my pain. Tomorrow I’ll think. Maybe the day after. Maybe the week after. We are rather overtrained to be automobile mechanics.”

“Which means,” said Misha with a grin, “we will be the best automobile mechanics in Winnipeg. Think of it, Ivan. Perhaps in a few years we will have our own garage. Land of opportunity.”

“And no rubles,” said Ivan.

“And no rubles,” Misha agreed. “I’ll go get something for your wounds.”

Misha rose and started for the door.

“Will they come for us, here?” asked Ivan.

“I don’t know.”

“The one bent over like a V. With the notches on both ends. The seat wrench,” Rostnikov said.

Nina searched through the gray-metal toolbox and held up the wrench.

“This one?” she asked.

Rostnikov looked down from the faucet on which he was working. Bending down to the toolbox was more than difficult, though he could have done it had it been necessary. The child, however, made the maneuver unnecessary. Nina handed the tool to Rostnikov, who smiled and looked at it as if she had handed him a wonderful treasure.

She was eight years old, a pleasant-looking child though no beauty. Yet her face, like that of her older sister, showed an intelligence and curiosity that made Rostnikov think they were capable of great things. No, neither he nor Sarah wanted Galina Panishkoya and her granddaughters to move to their own apartment. Sarah had suggested that with his recent promotion, somewhat higher salary, and his connections, they might all move to an apartment with two bedrooms.

Porfiry Petrovich had been giving this idea serious thought. At the moment, however, he was trying to ignore the irritating minor pain in his leg at the very point where it was inserted neatly into the prosthesis with which he had been trying to form a friendship.

They were in the apartment two floors down from that of the Rostnikovs. The apartment was being rented by an American journalist who was writing about Russia for several magazines. The journalist had been in the apartment for six months. He planned to remain for a year.

The journalist, whose name was Schwartz, had been pleased to find a neighbor who could both speak English and fix his badly leaking sink. Schwartz had heard of Porfiry Petrovich from another neighbor, a Rumanian, who lived next door, and it was the Rumanian who had come to see Rostnikov about the American’s problem.

This was the first time Rostnikov had been in the American’s apartment. He had taken it all in without letting his curiosity show, and now, as he worked on the sink, the American sat at his desk in the other room, working at his computer.

“Why do you fix toilets and sinks and drains?” Nina asked.

Rostnikov inserted the wrench in the pitted seat of the faucet. He had already used his seat cutter on the problem and now began working with the wrench.

“Because,” he told the eight year old, “plumbing presents a problem that always has a solution. During the day I must deal with people, and problems that almost never have a clear solution. Plumbing, on the other hand, can always, with the right tools, be taken care of. There is a satisfaction to this. Do you understand?”

“I think so,” said Nina, who was now seated on the closed toilet next to the sink. “Yes, I think so. Laura and I like to watch you fix plumbing and lift weights.”

“Ah, the lifting is another story,” Rostnikov said, removing the wrench and looking down at his work. “Lifting is a meditation. Plumbing presents problems. The weights are a friendly challenge. When I lift the weights I am absorbed by the challenge, and the world disappears so that there is only the action and the music. Do you understand?”

“No, but I am young. I will understand when I am older, older than Laura. Now, I just like watching.”

“Good,” he said, reaching over to touch the girl’s cheek.

He left a smudge of grease. He unrolled some toilet paper, moistened it with the water from the faucet on which he was not working, and removed the smudge from the little girl’s face. She giggled. When the girl and her sister had come to the Rostnikovs, their grandmother was in jail, their mother had left them, and they did not smile or talk. That had changed; gradually, that had changed.

Rostnikov had now repacked the faucet and replaced the washer. He put the handle back in place, tightened the screw, and tapped in the escutcheon.

“Finished,” he said, turning the handle.

Water rushed into the sink. The faucet was fixed.

The child helped Rostnikov put the tools back and clean the sink.

On the way out, Rostnikov would ask the American writer if he knew Ed McBain or had read his books. Perhaps he would ask the American if he played chess. He was an American. He probably played badly, which was what Rostnikov needed. Porfiry Petrovich was not a great player of chess, but he liked to play.

He picked up the closed toolbox as the girl stood up.

“Enough,” he said. “We have done enough this day.”

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