- About the Book
- About the Author
- Title Page
- Copyright Page
- Chapter 1
- Chapter 2
- Chapter 3
- Chapter 4
- Chapter 5
- Chapter 6
- Chapter 7
- Chapter 8
- Chapter 9
- Chapter 10
- Looking for more suspense?
- Begin Reading
About the Book
Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov fights to stop a vendetta against the acrobats of the Moscow circus.
A drunk perches atop the statue of Nikolai Gogol in Arbat Square, and police inspector Porfiry Rostnikov sighs. After years fighting to become a top detective, he has suffered a demotion to the minor crimes unit, which means the lunatic on the statue is his responsibility. But the limping policeman fails to talk the distraught man down, and with a perfect somersault, acrobat Valerian Duznetzov makes the last leap of his storied career.
Across town, Duznetzov’s partner, Oleg, waits for him under the big top, practicing their trapeze routine high above the circus floor. After letting go of the bars and going into a perfect double flip, Oleg falls, realizing just before impact that the net was treacherously untied. As Rostnikov digs into this strange pair of deaths, he finds dark secrets inside the Moscow circus - secrets sure to grab the attention of his old friends at the KGB.
About the Author
Stuart M. Kaminsky (1934-2009) was one of the most prolific crime fiction authors of the last four decades. Born in Chicago, he spent his youth immersed in pulp fiction and classic cinema - two forms of popular entertainment which he would make his life’s work. After college and a stint in the army, Kaminsky wrote film criticism and biographies of the great actors and directors of Hollywood’s Golden Age. In 1977, when a planned biography of Charlton Heston fell through, Kaminsky wrote Bullet for a Star, his first Toby Peters novel, beginning a fiction career that would last the rest of his life.
Kaminsky penned twenty-four novels starring the detective, whom he described as “the anti-Philip Marlowe.” In 1981’s Death of a Dissident, Kaminsky debuted Moscow police detective Porfiry Rostnikov, whose stories were praised for their accurate depiction of Soviet life. His other two series starred Abe Lieberman, a hardened Chicago cop, and Lew Fonseca, a process server. In all, Kaminsky wrote more than sixty novels. He died in St. Louis in 2009.
A Fine Red Rain
An Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov Mystery
Stuart M. Kaminsky
JESSIE, ALICE, AND LEONARD MALTIN
—Nikolai Gogol, The Denouement of the Inspector General
THE MAN SITTING ON Gogol’s shoulders was weeping and shouting, but Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov couldn’t hear him. Rostnikov stood in Arbat Square across Gogol Boulevard, straining to hear the man’s words over the gentle bump-thump of the light September rain. It was very early on a Monday morning. Buses and cars crept up Suvorov Boulevard. People on their way to work on Arbat Street and on the New Arbat—or Kalinin Prospekt, as it was officially known—climbed off the buses or hurried out of the underground Arbatskaya Metro Station behind Rostnikov.
A few people, like Rostnikov, paused to watch the ranting man and wonder how he had climbed the statue, which stood tall and apparently unclimbable in the small park. People pressed their faces against the windows of the buses to catch a glimpse of the man on Gogol’s shoulders. A Volga stopped and the bespectacled driver stepped out, cupped his right hand over his eyes, squinted at the man and Gogol, and got back in shaking his head.
“Gogol looks amused, like it’s a game,” said an old man clutching a cloth bag. He had spoken to Rostnikov, who grunted in reply. Gogol did look amused. There was a small smile on the statue’s face, and the man who clung to it had his arms wrapped around the statue’s eyes so that it looked as if Gogol were trying to guess who the man might be.
“Gogol liked games,” the old man said.
Rostnikov grunted and looked around for a uniformed MVD police officer. Had he not made a routine stop to check on the possible sighting of a known pickpocket, Rostnikov would not now be standing in the rain. He looked again for a uniformed officer. Usually they were quite visible. Moscow is the center of the MVD, the national police responsible for minor law enforcement, initial crime inquiry, traffic, and drunks who climb public statues.
Rostnikov’s left leg began to ache and he knew that he should get out of the rain. The leg had been injured when Rostnikov was a fifteen-year-old boy fighting the Germans outside Rostov. He had been labeled a hero then, had been made a policeman—one of the youngest policemen in the Soviet Union—despite his handicapped leg, had been honored with medals that made his father proud and his mother weep. Rostnikov had married, had fathered a son, had been promoted to inspector in the Procurator General’s Office in Moscow. The Procurator General, appointed for seven-year terms, the longest term of any Soviet official, was responsible for sanctioning arrests, supervising investigations, execution of sentences, and supervision of trials. As an inspector in the office of the Procurator General, Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov had earned a reputation as a determined, intelligent investigator. But that was all in the past.
Rostnikov had recently been transferred “on temporary but open-ended duty” to the MVD—the police, uniformed and ununiformed, who directed traffic, faced the public, and were the front line of defense against crime and for maintenance of order. It was clearly a demotion for Rostnikov’s too-frequent clashes with the Komityet Gospudarstvennoy Besapasnosti, the State Security Agency, the KGB. It wasn’t that Rostnikov was a troublemaker. Far from it. It was simply a matter of the KGB’s being involved in so much that it was difficult to avoid them.
Rostnikov was now assigned to central MVD headquarters, serving directly under Colonel Snitkonoy, the Gray Wolfhound. Rostnikov’s job was to handle assignments from the Wolfhound on less-than-important cases. After the investigations, if the doznaniye, or inquiry, indicated it, the cases might be turned over to the Procurator’s Office for further investigation and prosecution, provided, of course, that the KGB did not label the cases political. Since the KGB could label as political everything from sabotage to driving over the thirty-five-mile-per-hour speed limit, every investigation had to be cleared with the KGB. Still, important cases of theft, robbery, and murder usually went to the Procurator’s Office. Until August, Rostnikov had been a chief inspector in that office, pursuing the investigations of such important cases.
At the moment, however, Rostnikov was getting wet as he engaged in a literary debate with an old man.
“Jews and cossacks,” the old man next to Rostnikov said with a smile. The old man wore a soggy workman’s cap and a faded gray jacket. A soppy cigarette that had long ago been stilled by the rain still sat in the corner of his mouth. “Gogol was obsessed with Jews and cossacks,” the man explained.
“He was a Ukrainian,” said Rostnikov, straining to hear what the man who had now climbed onto Gogol’s head was shouting. It was probably Rostnikov’s responsibility to try to get the man down. It was a responsibility he preferred to deal with only if no other solution could be found. He had faced drunks and madmen throughout his career. It was always a disaster. Now, at fifty-five, Porfiry Petrovich wanted no more disasters. What he wanted was a young uniformed MVD officer or two who would gain valuable experience from dealing with this ranter and the traffic jam he was creating.
“Gogol was greater than Pushkin,” challenged the old man at Rostnikov’s side. “You know that.”
The crowd under Gogol’s statue was growing and would soon spill into the street, tying up traffic.
“Pushkin praised Gogol’s depth of feeling and poetry. Tolstoy called Gogol a genius,” said Rostnikov.
“I’m not questioning his genius,” insisted the old man. “Who’s questioning the genius of Gogol? Did I question his genius?” the old man asked. “What I said was—”
“Who is a genius?” interrupted a portly, well-dressed woman with a little mesh bag full of vegetables. “That one’s a genius?” She nodded at the ranting man perched on the statue.
“We’re not talking about him,” corrected the old man. “We’re talking about Gogol.”
“Of course he was a genius,” said the woman. “Who said he wasn’t?”
The old man pointed at Rostnikov. “He did.”
Rostnikov made up his mind and sighed. “I’m a policeman,” he said.
“Then that’s different,” said the old man, walking in one direction while the well-dressed woman with the vegetables headed toward the metro station.
The word fly came wailing from the man on the statue through the sound of gentle morning rain, heavy traffic, and the gathering curious. Rostnikov watched a young uniformed MVD officer push his way through the small, but growing, crowd. If the rain were to stop, the crowd would become a circus. The young policeman called out something official sounding to the man on Gogol’s head, but the man laughed. The police officer looked confused, and someone called advice from the crowd. Rostnikov sighed and trudged across the square and Gogol Boulevard, holding out his hand to stop an advancing Moscova sedan that seemed determined to roll over him. At the fringe of the crowd, in spite of the rain, an enterprising man with a sad face badly needing a shave had set up a makeshift fold-out stand and was selling, or trying to sell, vegetable seeds.
“Five for a kopeck,” he shouted. “All from Africa. They’ll grow as big as your fist.”
Business was bad, but not terrible. A family—man, woman, and two young boys—that seemed to be from the country began to talk to the seed salesman without taking their eyes off the man on the statue. Rostnikov lumbered past them and made his way through the crowd.
“Don’t shove,” said a young man with long hair. He, was wearing American jeans and holding the hand of an equally young girl with practically no breasts who was also wearing jeans—and a white T-shirt that had “The Police” written on it in English. Rostnikov momentarily pondered the meaning of the message. Was it in support of the police? A subtle challenge? Why was it in English?
The rain had slowed, but not stopped, as Rostnikov pushed through the front row of the crowd and heard the police officer shout up at the man blasphemously atop Gogol, “You are disrupting traffic and failing to display proper respect to a national monument. Come down now.”
The man moved down to sit on Gogol’s shoulders and hugged Gogol’s neck and laughed at the sky and the rain.
“Come down?” he shouted, the rain dripping down his dark face. “I can fly down. I flew up here and I can fly down. I am a flyer.”
Rostnikov examined the man above him. He seemed familiar, not familiar like a friend, or even like the driver of a bus one sees over and over, but like a face one has encountered, examined. He was in his forties, wearing neat, wet-dark pants, a heavy gray shirt, and a jacket that almost matched the pants. He was well built, like an athlete. He seemed to have some secret that he shared only with the sky and the ear of the statue, which he leaned over to whisper into.
“Officer …” Rostnikov said to the policeman.
He responded, “Back, stay back.”
“I’m Inspector Rostnikov,” Rostnikov explained, wiping rain from his brow.
The police officer turned quickly, came to attention, and then relaxed openly, pleased to have a superior take over a situation that was beyond him. The officer, hardly more than a boy, had reddish cheeks and a pouty lower lip.
“Yes, Comrade Rostnikov, I recognize you,” he said. “This man …”
“Timis Korostyava,” the officer said.
“Korostyava,” Rostnikov said, looking up at the man above them, “get some help and move the crowd back. Tell them they’ll be late for work. I’ll deal with the man who flies on statues.”
“Yes, Comrade,” Korostyava said with a relieved smile as he turned with great zeal to order the reluctant crowd back. The crowd argued, Korostyava insisted, and as far as Rostnikov could tell, the policeman did an adequate job. From the corner of his eye, Rostnikov saw two more uniformed officers making their way down the sidewalk. The crowd seemed to have grown to more than a hundred as Rostnikov took another step toward Gogol.
“I am Inspector Rostnikov,” Rostnikov called up to the man.
“Gospodin, Comrade,” the man called down with a smile. Then the smile turned to a frown. “I don’t care who you are. I am here to talk to Gogol, to cheer him up, to ask his advice.”
“Then,” said Rostnikov, “you have chosen the wrong Gogol. The one you are on is the smiling Gogol, the standing Gogol. He was put here in 1952 after the war to replace the seated, sad Gogol. The Gogol you want is down there.” Rostnikov pointed over his shoulder down Suvorov Boulevard. “Just on the other side of the underpass,” he continued, “in the courtyard on the left, number 7a Suvorov Boulevard, right in front of the house where Gogol lived in Moscow, where he wrote. You can’t see him from the street. Why don’t you come down and we’ll go talk to him, cheer him up?”
The man leaned forward, almost falling. From the crowd behind him Rostnikov heard a woman gasp in fear, anticipation of tragedy.
“You hear that, Nikolai?” the man whispered loudly into the statue’s ear. “This fire hydrant of a policeman who knows so much thinks I should abandon you.”
The man leaned dangerously forward to examine the face of the statue and then sat back again.
“Gogol is amused,” he announced.
“I was a young policeman when this statue went up,” Rostnikov explained. “I helped to keep traffic back then as the young men behind me are doing now. It was even raining that morning.”
“History repeats itself,” the man said, shaking his head wisely.
“As Marx said,” Rostnikov continued. “Where I now stand and you sit once stood the walls of the White City. This is where the Arbat Gate stood and where in 1812 Napoleon’s army entered the city, set up their cannons, and destroyed the Troitskaya Gate of the Kremlin.”
“The 1812 Overture?” asked the man, letting go with one hand to clean his face of rain.
Rostnikov wasn’t sure, but he nodded.
“You know history,” the man on the statue said.
“Some,” agreed Rostnikov conversationally.
“Can I ask you something, policeman who knows history?” the man said in a loud whisper no more than fifty or sixty people in the crowd behind Rostnikov could hear. Rostnikov nodded for the man to ask. Again he had the feeling that he had seen this man, even that the man looked appropriate clinging to the statue.
“What’s a man to do? He works. His whole life he works until he can fly. And then he discovers that he can fly over the city, over the country, over the ocean. Would you like to fly over an ocean, Comrade Rostov?”
“Rostnikov,” Rostnikov corrected. “Yes, I would like to fly,” he said, thinking of his own failed attempts to get out of the country with his wife, Sarah. “But I have a bad leg and I am too old to fly. You need a special passport, special papers, to fly.”
“No, you don’t,” the man said, leaning dangerously forward. He held the pointing finger of his right hand up to his lips to indicate that he was about to tell a secret. His lone, clutching hand almost failed him, but he balanced expertly and didn’t fall. A smattering of applause from the crowd drew a small smile and a nod of the head from the man on the statue.
“I could tell you how to fly if you had property, money, not Soviet money, but money from the dirty”—the man spat into the wind and rain at the thought—“countries.”
“I would like to have you tell me,” said Rostnikov. “But look,” he turned and pointed at the crowd, at the traffic, “you are stopping people from going to work. I’m standing here soaking. I have only two suits and can’t afford to lose one to the weather. I’m not such a young man and I have a leg—”
“What do you take me for, a fool? May your father choke on half-cooked jelly if you take me for a fool,” the man said, and then, loudly to the crowd, “He takes me for a fool.”
“Don’t take him for a fool,” a young male voice called out, followed by a ripple of laughter.
“You’re not a fool,” Rostnikov said gently. “You are a little drunk, a little confused, a little unhappy, a—”
“Of course I am!” cried the man. “I’m a Russian. But the important question is, Do you like me?”
“At the moment.” Rostnikov sighed. “But I will probably begin to grow impatient and have to call in a truck and ladder.”
“If you do,” the man announced, “I will simply fly from here.” With this he let go with both hands, and Rostnikov leaped forward awkwardly to try to anticipate and possibly break his fall. But the man didn’t fall. He clung to the neck of the statue with his feet, leaned backward, and then sat up, arms out, dripping with rain, as the crowd applauded.
Rostnikov turned, found Korostyava, and beckoned for him to come forward. The young officer came at a run, his black boots splashing in puddles.
“You and the others clear the area, break up the crowd,” he whispered. “This man is playing to them. He might even jump.”
Korostyava nodded, turned, and hurried toward his fellow officers to begin clearing the street if they could.
“What’s your name, Comrade?” Rostnikov called up to the man, who watched as the police started to disperse the crowd behind Rostnikov.
“What? My name? Duznetzov, Valerian Duznetzov.”
“Duznetzov, what do you do when you are not tying up traffic and whispering to statues?”
“I told you,” Duznetzov said. “I fly. I leap. I fly. I bend. I spring. And sometimes, when I can, I drink. Gogol is not answering. You are not helping. It is time for me to fly.”
The man began to rise. Keeping his balance with one hand, and in spite of a definite drunken swaying, he managed to stand on the shoulders of the statue. A good wind would send him tumbling backward. In the street a bus or car driver hit a horn, though it was prohibited by law inside the city. Duznetzov touched his forehead in salute to the warning horn and looked down at Rostnikov. The rain had begun to fall harder, sending a chill through Rostnikov, a familiar ache through his leg.
“Why are you doing this, Duznetzov?” Rostnikov asked.
“Because I can neither go nor stay. It’s very simple. They give me no choice. They never did.”
“They?” shouted Rostnikov. “Who are they?”
“One is the man who sees thunder.” Duznetzov laughed as he spoke into the falling rain. “My body can fly but my soul is weak. I shall miss vodka and ice cream, Rostnikov. It would be better if the sun were out. I think I could like you.”
“Perhaps we could be friends?” Rostnikov suggested.
“Too late,” said Duznetzov with a shrug. “I should have shaved.”
Rostnikov was never sure whether it was a gust of wind or a determined leap that sent Duznetzov into a midair somersault off Gogol. Screams cut through the rain behind Rostnikov, who hurled himself forward in a useless attempt to get below Duznetzov, to possibly catch him, cushion his fall. Even with two good legs, Rostnikov knew, he could never have made it, but he tried and almost instantly wished he had not. He splashed behind the statue just in time to witness the leaping man land headfirst on the concrete walkway. Rostnikov stopped, closed his eyes. But he closed them too late. He added the image, of Duznetzov’s crushed skull to a mosaic of terrible memories from the war and years of dealing with victims and madmen.
There was no use now in hurrying to the body. He let the uniformed police run past him, heard their boots hit the walk as he stood forgetting the rain.
“Keep them back,” he ordered, and two of the policemen halted. One, the young one who had been first on the scene, looked at the body and then turned and faced Rostnikov. His face was pale, his mouth open.
“Are you going to be sick?” Rostnikov asked softly so the other two officers couldn’t hear.
“I don’t know,” Korostyava said. “I … he was just drunk.”
“Go. Go take care of the crowd,” Rostnikov said, and the young policeman began to walk slowly away from the scene without looking back. “And be sure to write your report and turn it in. Include everything that man said. Everything, even if it made no sense.”
Korostyava’s back was turned, but he nodded like a drunk about to drop into a stupor.
“He’s dead, Comrade Inspector,” shouted one of the policeman—an older, heavyset sergeant—at the body.
“Thank you,” answered Rostnikov.
The rain suddenly let up. It didn’t quite stop, but it ceased applauding madly against the pavement. Rostnikov checked his watch. It was nearly seven and he should have been back at the Petrovka Station for the morning meeting with the Gray Wolfhound’s staff. The street had now been reasonably cleared of pedestrians by six or seven police officers. Had it not been raining, Rostnikov was sure, it would have taken at least two dozen to keep the street clear.
“His name is Duznetzov,” the older officer at the body shouted to Rostnikov, who forced himself to turn and look at the policeman, who held up a limp wallet, “He’s with the circus.”
“Not anymore,” Rostnikov said, but he said it to himself and to the smiling Gogol.
At the moment Valerian Duznetzov flew into the morning rain, Oleg Pesknoko, who was rumored to have had a Mongol grandmother, dipped his hands in chalk, rubbed them together, and wondered why Duznetzov was late. Pesknoko rubbed his shaved head and took off his warm-up jacket and placed it carefully on the bench. Then Pesknoko adjusted his blue practice tights, rubbed his stomach (telling himself that he would have to lose at least fifteen pounds), and stepped into the small, silent circus ring.
Duznetzov was probably drunk again, thought Pesknoko as he strode across the ring and shivered. He rubbed his shoulders and did a series of limbering-up exercises. Each year the exercises took longer. Each year it became harder to think up new routines, to find ways to justify them to the political committee. Neither he nor Duznetzov was very good at thinking up the routines or at finding some reason why their aerial act fulfilled the conditions of Marxist/Leninist ideology. Oleg was still considered the best catcher in the circus in spite of his fifty-nine years, and Duznetzov was considered the most daring flyer in the business. But Oleg’s Katya was the brain. She was the youngest. She was pretty. She could smile and she could fly, perhaps not with the best, but she was good enough when she was backed by Oleg and Valerian. And, Oleg realized without quite admitting it consciously, Katya was the only one of the trio with a brain.
But now, with the new director out looking for young talent, Oleg, Valerian, and Katya would have to work twice as hard, be doubly inventive, if they were to stay with the circus. They had a protector with a vested interest in the act, but even the protector could not guarantee their jobs. And, Oleg thought as he began to climb the rope ladder, it was essential that they not lose their position, not yet, not with the Lithuanian and Latvian trip scheduled for October. No, he thought, coming to the top of the ladder, they would have to do something sensational, something so daring that the new director could not possibly consider replacing them.
Oleg stood on the platform and looked down at the net below him, at the empty, dark corners of the arena. They had talked, the three of them, of what they might have to do if they were unable to secure their place in the troupe. It was a desperate second choice, one that none of them wanted to take, for one could never be sure of the reaction of the Komisol representative if he were told that certain counterrevolutionary transactions were going on in the circus. It wasn’t something Oleg wanted to do, but they had decided to consider it. The possibility had sent Duznetzov into a deep gloom. But what could you expect from a flyer, Oleg thought, loosening the rope that held his trapeze. Flyers lived on applause, on their nerves. Catchers had to be strong, unappreciated by all but their fellow professionals. It was the difference between himself and Duznetzov. Valerian needed an audience even to practice. Oleg needed only his own approval and Katya’s admiration.
This morning he had planned to try Katya’s idea for the one-legged catch and the flip to a hand-in-hand. Oleg was not sure they could do it. Five years ago he would have felt confident, but their reflexes were not the same. They were, however, highly motivated.
Without Valerian, there was little Oleg could do. He had left Katya sleeping in their apartment, knowing she would come in an hour or two when she awakened and found his note, would come and criticize, advise, encourage. Oleg sighed, checked his hands, grabbed the bar, and swung out over the net below. The rush of freedom he always felt when he swung above the net pulsed through him and made his muscles ripple. He pulled himself up on the swinging bar, forcing himself not to grunt with the effort, and hooked his legs around the bar and the swing ropes. As he swung, he let go of his thoughts, stretched out his arms, imagined the catch, the throw, Valerian’s flip, and the split second he would have to grasp the ankle. He swung and imagined. Yes, he decided. He could do it.
Something slipped. He felt or sensed the slip. It was very slight at first. Oleg was upside down. He seldom looked up to the ceiling; there was no need to do so. But this time he sensed that there was a need. He craned his thick neck up toward the darkness where the ropes were attached. There was someone up there.
“What are you doing?” he called.
The figure continued to maneuver in the darkness, and Oleg definitely felt the trapeze begin to loosen. It made no sense. Oleg would simply release his legs and fall to the net below. He couldn’t see who the person working at the ropes was, but he had no doubt that he knew who it was. It could be no one else.
Oleg took one long swing as the trapeze rope began to slip and did a double flip as he released the bar. He hadn’t tried a double flip in at least ten years, but he had something to prove to the man above him: that he was capable, that he was not to be frightened, not to be threatened, not to be taken lightly. It was a beautiful double-flip descent that would certainly have brought applause from any audience, but the breaking of the net as he hit it after his thirty-foot drop would have brought gasps of horror. As he struck the net, Oleg understood. The net was not tied down. It was not going to catch him, was not going to break his fall. Just before he struck the blue concrete of the ring floor and broke his neck, Oleg, tangled in netting, was sure that he heard the echo of applause from a solitary figure high above him.
Hours earlier, before the two circus performers had plunged to their separate deaths, before Rostnikov had failed to find his pickpocket, before the first faint light of dawn had tried to let the city know that it was waiting behind the clouds, a tall, gaunt man dressed in black had made his way to the records room of the Petrovka Station, had carefully collected notes in a black notebook, and had left the building to walk to the Marx Prospekt Metro Station, where he had climbed onto an arriving train and stood throughout his journey even though there were several seats available. Early-morning travelers avoided the man with the notebook. A pair of young women huddled together and whispered that the man looked like a vampire or, at best, a pale Tatar. Then, when he slowly turned toward them, they decided to change the subject completely. At the Komsomolskaya Station the man in black got off, his left arm stiffly at his side, the notebook clutched in his right hand. Through the window the two girls who were on their way to work looked out at the dark figure and decided that he was a murderer. As if hearing their words, the man turned his head and looked at them without expression. One of the girls let out a gasp as the train pulled away.
Emil Karpo had seen this reaction to him before, had heard criminals, policemen, whisper things about his frightening pallor or his almost religious zeal. He had heard the nicknames and he had not been bothered. In fact, he had felt that such nicknames helped to establish the relationship he wanted to have with the rest of the world. Rostnikov, whom Karpo admired with reservations, was known only as the Washtub, which somewhat accurately described the chief inspector’s body but did not account for his strength or his puzzling attitude.
Karpo moved resolutely through the station without looking around at the decadent upturned glass chandeliers, the arched columns, and the curved white roof with decorative designs. He had seen the station thousands of times on his way from or to his small apartment and had long since decided that he preferred the more modern, efficient stations of the outer metro lines to this reminder of an earlier decadence. To Karpo, Russia meant sacrifice. The revolution was far from over, might never be over. There was only the struggle, the dedication, the small part one could play in the bigger picture. There wasn’t necessarily a victory to be achieved. Life was a series of tests, challenges that one was either prepared for or would be worn away by. Since hardship was inevitable, it was best to condition oneself to it. Discomfort was welcome. Pain was the ultimate test. A weak individual could not function. There was a way in which one lived, as Lenin had lived. Emil Karpo was intelligent, unimaginative, determined, a zealous Marxist and an investigator in the Office of the Procurator General whom criminals feared with good reason.
Karpo walked slowly, deliberately clenching and unclenching his left fist as the surgeon who had operated on the arm had told him to do. The arm was, after three weeks, beginning to respond, and the doctor, a Jew named Alex who was related to Rostnikov’s wife, had announced only the day before that Karpo would be using the arm and hand normally within four months. The entire incident had puzzled Karpo. The initial injury to the arm had been sustained after a fall from a ladder in pursuit of a minor confidence man. It had been reinjured in a terrorist explosion and dealt a further blow in a rooftop scuffle. Soviet doctors, three of them, had declared that Emil Karpo would never use his hand and arm again. He had resigned himself to this, considered his alternative values in Soviet society, and rejected Rostnikov’s urging him to see Alex. But Alex had seen him, had promised results, had delivered. Karpo knew the system was not without its incompetents and fools. After all, that was why the police existed. But to have the medical system fail him so completely had given him some brooding hours.
A short walk later Karpo entered his apartment building. Though it was less than thirty years old, it smelled of mold and mildew and was not properly maintained. Karpo walked up the five flights of stairs. He would have done so even if there had been an elevator in the building, which there was not. As he always did, Karpo paused in the fifth-floor hallway, listened, waited, and then approached his door. Though he had no reason to expect intrusion, he checked the thin hair at the corner of the door just above the hinge to be sure no one had entered the room while he was out. Satisfied, Karpo inserted his key and stepped into the darkness.
It would have been dark in the room even if it were not a rainy morning, for Karpo always kept the black shade drawn. There was nothing out there he wanted to see. Out there was only another building across the courtyard. Windows, people, distractions.
Karpo moved to the center of the room in darkness and willed his left arm to reach up for the light cord. His arm told him that it was ridiculous, that the pain was not worth the satisfaction, but Karpo had dealt with the reluctance of his body before. In the darkness he clenched his teeth gently, held tightly to his notebook, and willed his left arm up. And up it went, feeling as if it had been dipped in hot metal. Slowly, up, up, and Karpo felt the cord on his fingers. He closed the fingers and demanded that his arm come down slowly, slowly, and it obeyed until the light came on, revealing the small room, nearly a cell, where Emil Karpo slept, worked, and occasionally ate. His brow was damp from his effort, but Karpo did not wipe it. He moved to the solid table desk in the corner, put down the black notebook, and turned on the desk lamp. Behind him was his bed, little more than a cot, neatly made. Next to the bed was a small table with a hot plate. Flat against one wall was a rough oak dresser. And that was it except for the bookshelves filled with black notebooks just like the one Karpo had placed on the desk. Each notebook was filled with reports, details on every case he had ever investigated or been part of. At night, when others slept, played, wept, drank, or laughed, Karpo went over his notebooks, studied the still-open cases.
It was Karpo’s goal, though he knew he could never achieve it, to close every case in those black books, to catch and turn over for punishment every criminal. He reached up, took down a series of notebooks, placed them in a neat pile next to the one he had brought in, and removed a sheet of paper from the desk drawer, a sheet on which he had neatly ruled lines and filled in dates. It was not only his method, it was also his comfort. The room was a cool tomb where he could lose himself in his work, will himself to put everything in order. The books in front of him told Karpo that there was a killer on the streets of Moscow, a killer who had struck eight women in a little less than six years. The books told him that there was a pattern. Perhaps he did not have enough of the pattern yet to act, but a pattern was there, and tonight—or next month, or next year, or in ten years—he would find that pattern and find the killer.
He sat up straight, closed his eyes, concentrated on the moon he imagined, concentrated on nothing but the moon, watched it grow small as it moved away from him, and when it disappeared in the distance of his imagination, Karpo opened his eyes and went to work.
THE BABY WAS CRYING. Sasha Tkach rolled over and looked at the small crib next to his and Maya’s bed. Then he groped on the nearby table for his watch. His right hand touched it and knocked it to the bare wooden floor, where it hit with a thunk barely heard over the baby’s crying.
“What time?” Maya mumbled sleepily.
Sasha found the watch and tried to turn it so that he could read its face by the dim street light coming through the open window.
“I think it’s two-twenty or maybe three-twenty,” he said.
This revelation, or the sound of its parents’ voices, made the baby cry a bit louder.