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Blood and Rubles


  1. Cover
  2. About the Book
  3. About the Author
  4. Title Page
  5. Copyright Page
  6. Dedication
  1. Chapter 1 A Day Not Unlike Other Days
  2. Chapter 2 Morning Meeting
  3. Chapter 3 The Grieving Family
  4. Chapter 4 Money, Money, Money
  5. Chapter 5 The Silence of Children
  6. Chapter 6 Moonlight on the Golden Spire
  7. Chapter 7 Flowers
  8. Chapter 8 Nights and Tides
  9. Chapter 9 Night
  10. Chapter 10 Footsteps
  11. Chapter 11 Weary Men
  12. Chapter 12 Lies
  13. Chapter 13 Night
  14. Chapter 14 Justice
  15. Chapter 15 Family
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About the Book

In post-Cold War Moscow, business is booming and crime pays.

Capitalism has come to Russia, and money is raining from the sky. As the trickle of cash turns to a torrent, bureaucrats become oligarchs, and the brutal Russian mafia consolidates its power. In the center of this madness is police inspector Porfiry Rostnikov, a thoughtful detective who is struggling to adjust to life in these turbulent times.

A prominent businessman is kidnapped in broad daylight, minutes after finishing the paperwork to start his latest business venture. Three children, as innocent-looking as they are savage, terrorize a slum. And tax collectors discover a cache of historic Russian treasures dating to before the Revolution, but the trove vanishes overnight. As his country races into the future, the limping policeman will have to run to keep up.

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.

Blood and Rubles

An Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov Mystery

Stuart M. Kaminsky


To Yukimasa and Setsuko Kusumoto, with whom we share a true family

You’ll remember me before you die! You think you’ve brought peace and quiet? You believe you’ll live like squires from now on? Well, I see different things in store for you.

—Taras Bulba, in Taras Bulba

by Nikolai Gogol

Chapter 1
A Day Not Unlike Other Days

OLEG MAKMUNOV KNEW IT WAS NIGHT. There was no sun. He knew he must be somewhere off of Gorky Street, for that was where he had started. The rest was a drunken blur. Even though he was dressed only in shoes, worn socks, threadbare pants, and a yellow and red American flannel shirt, Oleg Makmunov couldn’t even have told a policeman if it was winter or summer.

Alexei Chazov and his two brothers had followed the drunkard for about five blocks. They had stayed back in the darkness, though it was unlikely the drunken man would see them unless they were in his face.

The street was narrow and empty. Well, not completely empty. The Chazovs had seen a young man and woman with their arms around each other in a doorway.

The drunkard had wandered far since he had been thrown out of the New Hampshire Café with its blaring American music. He had stumbled, seemingly without knowing it, in the general direction of the Strogino District, a neighborhood of cement tenements. When he entered the Strogino, the Chazovs spotted him.

The drunk stopped, but Alexei held his brothers back.

In front of them, sitting on a low stoop, a man smoked a pipe. The man seemed big, but it was hard to tell because most of the lights on the small street were out, and the ones that were on were dim.

Oleg slumped into a doorway and searched his pockets for the small bottle of vodka he had tucked away, but found nothing. Another search, this time for money, produced enough rubles to buy a small bottle should he stumble on someone who might have one to sell. He repocketed the money and tried to decide which way led back to Gorky Street. He guessed left and took his first few steps in that direction.

The big man on the stoop finished his pipe. He tapped the ashes out on the sidewalk, rose, turned, and went through the door behind him.

Now the Chazovs could move. As they neared the drunkard, Alexei supposed that the man was old, at least fifty.

In fact, Oleg was thirty-three. He had given up most of his teeth to drink and dissolute living. He was known to the down and the drunk as Smiling Oleg, not because he smiled so much but because he looked so incredibly funny when he smiled his near-toothless grin.

“One small step for Oleg,” he said to the man who’d been smoking across the street, but now the man was nowhere to be seen. Oleg shrugged and took another step. “And one more step for the glorious future of Mother Russia.”

Before he took another step, he tottered. Almost certainly he would fall to the pavement. It had happened to him before. And so many times he had rolled over on the street to look up at whoever had pushed him and saw no one. This time he did not fall.

He took another step and was shoved hard from behind. His hands went out to protect his battered face from smashing into the pavement. At that he was successful. He was aware of more than one person above him as he rolled over on his elbows and looked up with his loopy smile that usually brought a laugh. The three faces hovering over him did not laugh. Oleg was trying to rise when something hit him, something hard, something heavy, just above his left eye. It wasn’t quite pain he felt but surprise. He slipped back down.

The second blow caught him flush in the face, and he was aware of his nose being smashed once again, probably along with his cheekbone. When something crushed his chest, cracking ribs, he found it very difficult to breathe.

He tried to speak when something cracked his skull, and he was vaguely aware that he must be dying. He made some attempt to breathe and think, but failed.

The three brothers continued picking up pieces of concrete and throwing them at the bloody mutilated head of Oleg Makmunov. When they were certain he was dead, the one who had jumped on his chest went through Oleg’s pockets where he found his few rubles, two keys, a piece of smooth stone, the color of which they could not see, and a stub of a pencil.

It was enough. The Chazovs expected no more. They walked down the narrow street, saying nothing, in no great hurry.

Alexei Chazov was eleven. His brothers, Boris and Mark, were nine and seven.

Porvinovich stood in line reading a book at the Registration Chamber. The book was in Russian, a rather boring novel about a family that could not make a living in the new Moscow.

Making a living was not a problem for Alexei Porvinovich. He was a wealthy man with a weekly income, after payoffs to all including the tax police, of twenty-four million rubles a week, approximately twelve thousand dollars.

He owned three companies—a lamp factory, a cigarette factory, and a movie company. The lamps were flimsy things with green shades that sat on tables and would take no more than a 30-watt bulb. The cigarette factory was actually a packaging plant where the Turkish cigarettes Alexei bought for practically nothing were repackaged and sold at a profit of five hundred percent. The movie company was new. Alexei knew nothing about movies, but he had discovered that American, French, German, English, and Japanese producers wanted to make movies in Russia. Alexei’s job, for a very high fee, was to get the foreign filmmakers through the new bureaucracy. Alexei was a master of proizvol, the exploitation of a system in confusion; the wielding of power to make rubles, and rubles to give power; the use of his power to further his own ends. He had been masterful at it when the bureaucrats were Communists, and he was an even greater master now that the bureaucrats were working for themselves. Capitalism had come with a typically Russian slant.

In addition to wealth, he had acquired a beautiful, intelligent wife who could speak five languages she had learned during her early years as a prostitute, and he supported his brother, who was little more than a lokhl, a simpleton.

The line moved up. Alexei could read the book no longer. He offered it to a lean, coughing man behind him. The man took it with no sign of thanks or gratitude. Alexei expected none.

Finally, it was Alexei’s turn to sit in the metal folding chair across the desk from the man with many chins. Alexei had dressed for the occasion—a conservative definitely-not-new gray suit, a slightly rumpled white shirt open at the collar, a gray tie with little blue lightning bolts. He put his black vinyl briefcase on the desk and smiled wearily as he handed over the papers. The man took them in his swollen fingers.

“Let’s see,” the man said.

He was dressed more formally than Alexei, in the near-uniform of dark suit and dark tie at the tightly buttoned collar.

“Protokal Sobradi is in order, addresses are … Is this a seven?”

Alexei leaned over and confirmed that it was indeed a seven. The man nodded his head seriously, the opening move to inform Alexei that there would be a price to pay for this problem and others he would surely find.

“Your ustav, charter, seems to be correct. You are requesting a limited-liability charter. What will you be making or selling?”

“Books and other related items,” said Alexei.

The other items included computers and apartment sublets.

The fat man did not pursue this. He turned the page to the financial statement, the heart of the matter.

“You have the twenty million rubles to start this venture?”

“As is stated on the forms, which are all certified,” said Alexei. “All dues and charges have been paid, as the documents show.”

“Good, good,” the man said, moistening his finger and slowly turning the page to the landlord guaranty letters. “You will maintain your business at Forty-five Pushkin Lane?”

“I will,” said Alexei.

The document before the fat man was signed by Alexei’s wife, who was officially the owner of the office building where all of Alexei’s businesses rented space.

Behind Alexei, the line waiting for permission to open a new business was long. Everyone waited patiently. They had waited patiently all their lives, and most of them fully expected that their requests to open businesses would be rejected and that they would be sent to some other office to have their documents “corrected.”

“Temporary registration also in order,” said the fat man, looking at the card before him.

It had cost Alexei five hundred thousand rubles to the lawyer appointed by the Registration Chamber to be sure the registration forms were in order so that he could be issued the card.

“Official police stamp,” the man said. “Code number assigned by State Statistics Committee. The stamp is a bit underinked.”

Alexei let out a small sigh.

“And your company stamp looks a bit too much like that of several others who have applied in the last month,” the fat man said, shaking his head at the incompetence of those who did such things. “Signature card in order and notarized,” he went on. “Three names. Partners?”

“Yes,” Alexei said.

The fat man went to the next document.

“Bank account for the business seems to be fine.” The fat man looked directly at Alexei for the first time.

“We are fortunate enough to have raised sufficient money for this venture,” Alexei said softly.

“Good, good, good,” said the fat man. “Let’s see if we can move this along. Pension-fund papers are signed and stamped, and you have the form from the Tax Inspectorate.”

The man flipped through the documents, once more shaking his head.

“I would like to issue you a permanent registration certificate,” the man said, “but there are some minor discrepancies, words crossed out, stamps too faint. I would like to …” He shrugged his shoulders to show that he would like to help.

“I have one more document that might help,” Alexei said, handing the fat man a small brown envelope.

The man opened the envelope and looked in, careful to keep anyone waiting in line or the registrar at the next desk from seeing. There were five one-hundred-dollar bills. The fat man slipped the envelope into the drawer of his desk and stamped the final certificate that would permit Alexei Porvinovich to open his new business. Alexei accepted the document, shook the man’s flabby hand, and put all of his papers back in his briefcase.

Alexei relinquished the folding chair to the thin, nervous man who was next in line, the one to whom Alexei had given the book.

Success. It had taken only three weeks of waiting and bribing to get the document. He had two more envelopes in his briefcase, each with five hundred dollars. He had been prepared to give them all to the fat registrar. The man had sold his approval well below the going rate.

Swinging his briefcase, Alexei left the bureau building. Outside, he looked at the sky. It was early October. The first night frosts had already come, and soon the first snow would follow. Within a month the Moscow River would freeze and the city would be covered in snow. Good.

It was early, just before two in the afternoon, and Alexei decided to stop at the Grand Hotel for a drink and perhaps a sandwich before he went to his office.

He hurried down Nikloskaya Street—formerly Twenty-fifth of October Street—a street as old as the city of Moscow itself. The street was crowded with people. Alexei paused in front of the Old Printing House at Number 15. With its pale blue facade and neo-Gothic working of white stone, sundials, spires, and the prancing lion and unicorn above the main entrance, it was a building Alexei much admired. The first Russian book was printed there in 1564 by Ivan Fedorov. Alexei was confident that in time he would own this building.

He was looking up at the unicorn when the black Mercedes-Benz pulled up at the curb and two men stepped out of the car, both wearing ski masks and holding automatic weapons. People ran, fell to the ground, and screamed.

Alexei turned, saw the men, started to go to the ground, and then quickly realized that the weapons were aimed at him.

“In the car,” one of the men ordered.

Alexei was stunned. A mistake was being made.

“I’m not—” he began but was cut off by the blow from a steel barrel against his face.

His cheekbone broke and he spat blood. The kidnapper repeated, “In the car.”

Alexei staggered into the backseat of the car, followed by one of the masked men. The driver took off his mask as the car sped down the street, and his partner in the backseat screamed, “What are you doing? You want him to recognize you?”

“I can’t drive down the street wearing a mask,” the driver answered reasonably.

The kidnapper in the backseat still wore his mask. He let out a grunt of nervous acceptance.

“Try not to bleed all over the car,” he said, taking off his own mask and handing it to Alexei, “it’s not mine.”

Alexei took the mask and put it to his throbbing cheek. Then he looked up and recognized the man who had given him the mask. The man’s hair was a wild frenzy and he was panting.

Alexei was certain that he was going to die very soon.

A few short blocks from the Neva River, not far from Saint Isaac’s Square, a tall, lean man in black slacks, shoes, shirt, and jacket stood watching uniformed men pile efficiently out of two vans. At the side of the tall man—who some passersby thought resembled a vampire—stood a pretty, slightly plump young woman wearing an efficient gray suit. They were an odd and serious couple.

The men coming out of the vans carried standard-issue AK-47s and wore dark blue uniforms with helmets. Over their uniforms they wore bulletproof jackets that would have done little good against the automatic weapons that had been circulating in Moscow since well before the rise of Yeltsin’s democracy.

A crowd was quickly gathering, most with nothing better to do, some with a curiosity that demanded satisfaction.

“Terrorists,” one old babushka said with assurance to the plump, pretty woman. No one dared talk to the forbidding and somber Tatar.

The pretty woman, whose name was Elena Timofeyeva, nodded her head. This encouraged the babushka, who shifted a heavy cloth bag from her right hand to her left and said, “Afghans.”

A murmur ran through the crowd, some accepting this conjecture, others declaring it garbage.

“Chechens. It was Chechens. I saw them,” someone shouted.

There were now more than twenty uniformed men arranging themselves at even intervals in front of the ancient two-story wooden apartment building. They reminded Elena of the men she had once seen in an old American horror movie, The Thing, where the scientists circled a giant flying saucer buried beneath the ice.

There was no ice this morning, just the first cold nip of winter.

Elena had taken the number 3 bus down Nevsky Prospekt and walked another two blocks to get there. Deputy Inspector Emil Karpo, the gaunt man at her side, had arrived by metro at the Gostinniy Dvor stop.

Someone gave a sharp command and the uniformed men pulled out long lines of rope with grappling hooks.

Cameramen madly clicked away. Journalists frantically made notes in their pads.

“If they are trying to surprise the terrorists,” grunted a one-legged old man with crutches and a two-day growth of white beard, “they are idiots.”

“Not terrorists,” said another man with a voice of weary knowledge. “Mafia.”

“Mafia,” ran voices through the crowd.

Elena Timofeyeva knew why the men in uniform were hurling their grappling lines to the roof of the two-story building, lines that were as likely to pull down the ancient bricks of the roof as to support the weight of overarmed men wearing supposedly bulletproof vests.

This was a show. Elena and Karpo had been assigned to the show as representatives of the Office of Special Investigation. They were to work, according to Colonel Snitkonoy, as liaison with the tax police, who were now scurrying up the sides of the building to the applause of the crowd. It was not the Moscow Circus, but it was quite a spectacle and cost nothing.

Karpo and Elena knew that there was no need for this show. The tax police could simply have knocked down the door. This was not a raid on a dangerous group or individual, but a follow-up on a tip from a reliable informant. The old man who owned the building had recently died. He had accumulated valuable jewelry and other items subject to taxation.

It was the job of the tax police to enforce the new tax laws that would bring in many billions of rubles from individual citizens, businesses, and foreigners doing business in a new but more than slightly frayed Russia. It was also the job of the tax police to strike fear into the people so that they would pay their taxes. Daytime raids featuring fully armed men were now common. The media were always informed when raids would take place. It was common now to see bewildered businessmen led out of their offices with their hands cuffed behind their backs.

A position in the tax police was much desired, for the tax police received not only their salaries but also a small percentage of what they recovered. Karpo doubted that such rampant capitalism had ever been practiced even in the United States.

The crowd had grown larger as the tax police officers scampered to the rooftop or crashed through windows on their way up the lines. As glass shattered and sprayed the crowd below, the onlookers jumped back and covered their heads.

Captain Sergei Valarov of the tax police, an ex-Soviet army officer, strode to Elena and Karpo and said, “The building is secure.” Valarov looked like a captain—trim, efficient, with dark straight hair and the hint of a mustache.

No bullhorn had been brought forth to order the occupants out. No one had knocked on the door of the two-story house. It struck Elena that the front door might very well be open or that a knock might have resulted in a reluctant invitation from the building’s occupant to come in.

“Thank you,” said Emil Karpo. He followed the captain across the street and through the door of the house, which had been opened by one of the uniformed men who had scaled the building.

The crowd followed the captain, the vampire, and the young woman across the street, where they were stopped by two dozen uniformed police.

“As you know,” the captain said as he strode past the saluting officer at the door, “we have been observing this house for some time.”

Both Elena and Karpo were well aware of this.

“And,” Captain Valarov added as he walked down a dark, narrow passageway with photographers behind him snapping and flashing madly, “we had reason to believe that a hoard of artifacts of historical significance was being kept by an old man named Dokorov. These artifacts—and we had reason to believe that it was a substantial collection—had never been taxed. In addition to which, some of them might be protected artworks. In that case they would belong to the state.”

Both Karpo and Elena were certain that Captain Valarov had more than “reason to believe” the house was worth raiding. Otherwise he would not have been instructed to stage the elaborate invasion that would certainly be the highlight of the evening news on television.

The captain’s step was certain. Elena, Karpo, and a select group of hand-chosen press representatives, some juggling video cameras, struggled through the narrow passageway for a better view.

What they saw through the next door was beyond what they had imagined, beyond what Valarov and probably his superiors had imagined. The interior of the house had been gutted. They stood in a large storage space with shelves piled almost two stories high, their upper reaches accessible only by the long ladder that leaned against the wall to their left.

Flashbulbs went wild. Captain Sergei Valarov stood flat-footed looking at the museum before him: rows of books, jewelry, a chandelier, paintings, serving dishes, wooden boxes marked MICROSCOPES, MANUSCRIPTS, and SMALL ICONS, and much more.

Karpo reached forward and touched the shoulder of the posing Valarov, who showed only the slightest trace of tightening in his cheeks to indicate that this was much more than he had expected to find inside the house.

“It might be best if the press were taken outside and told that you will be out in several minutes with a full report. Meanwhile I suggest you contact your superiors for instruction.”

The captain nodded, blew out some air, and turned with the help of three of his men to urge the complaining crowd into the passageway. When they were gone, Karpo motioned to Elena, who closed the door. The two police officers were alone in the room.

“Notes,” Karpo said, and Elena took out her notebook and a white pen that had BARNES & NOBLE printed in red on its side.

He walked slowly down an aisle. The noise of demanding reporters could be heard beyond the closed door.

“Preliminary report,” he said. “Random observations. Family painting of the Romanovs, official. If the date is to be believed, it is the last such portrait of the family. Shelves full of books are held in place by gold- and silver-framed icons.”

He opened one book and went on. “First edition, Bible, dated 1639, signed ‘To Ilya, Ivan Fyodorov.’”

Elena touched the book. She knew that Fedorov was the Russian Gutenberg. There appeared to be a dozen similar-looking volumes.

“There are hundreds of books,” Elena could not stop herself from saying.

“Several thousand,” Karpo amended, and opened a wooden box on the shelf before him.

Inside were tiny, fragile magnifying glasses, each in a separate compartment protected by cotton. Lying on top of the glasses was a yellowing page torn from a book. Karpo scanned the page and handed it to Elena, who read, “The microscope was invented by a Dutch oculist in the seventeenth century. It was a simple thing. He made each one himself. They worked surprisingly well. Most have disappeared into private collections or simply been lost. In 1923 a complete box of Leeuwenhoek microscopes was reportedly discovered in a pharmacy in Belgrade. The box had disappeared by the time the police arrived. The pharmacist was ordered to undergo psychiatric examination.”

“And this … ?” Elena began.

“… may well be that box,” said Karpo, holding one of the glass and wire objects in his palm.

“This room,” she said, looking around, “it must have more treasures than the Kremlin museum.”

A mouse scampered across an old piece of paper somewhere in a dark corner.

“Not more, perhaps, but different,” said Karpo.

“My God,” said Elena.

Since Karpo believed in neither God nor blasphemy, he continued randomly selecting items, some of which he was unable to identify, but jewelry from the various courts of Russia was certain, including one very ancient ornate gold crown that, if Karpo read the worn inscription properly, had belonged to Ivan the Terrible.

“We will have to call in the experts on this,” he finally said.

Elena put her notebook away and touched the crown of Ivan the Terrible. It was, like the room they were in, cool, damp, and smelled of mildew.

“Millions,” she muttered. “Worth millions.”

“In rubles,” Karpo said, examining the portrait of a beautiful and quite regal woman, “billions upon billions.”

“American dollars?” she asked.

Karpo looked around. “Beyond price. Billions.”

“But who … ?” Elena asked, just as a frail old woman in a badly worn dress stepped out from behind a set of shelves and said, “Get out.”

“We are the police,” said Elena.

The woman advanced on them. She was carrying what looked like a silver scepter embedded with red and green jewels.

“Out,” she cried.

“Is all this yours?” asked Karpo.

“My brother’s and before him my father’s,” the little woman said, holding up her scepter as if to strike. “All purchased honestly, piece by piece, from before the Revolution, until Pavel died.”

“Your father died?” asked Elena.

“My brother, Pavel,” the woman said. “Just last week. So now it is mine. All those … those parasites in the street who knew that my family collected, one of them went to the tax police.” The woman spat dryly in the general direction of the front door. “Pavel never bothered anyone. He was a poor electrician for government cafeterias. We didn’t live fancy. He loved … this.”

The woman stood in front of Karpo, who did not blink, though the heavy scepter was waving before his eyes.

“There were people—speculators in homes, weapons, rare goods,” said Karpo. “When the Revolution began, they bought these things for a few rubles from the members of the czar’s court and from rich merchants fleeing the Soviet Union who couldn’t carry everything they had stolen from the people. I have heard of such collections smuggled out of the country and sold to dealers, collectors, museums. I have never heard of one this size.”

Unable to intimidate the pale man, the frail woman looked at Elena, who forced herself to wear a mask of determination. Defeated, the woman put the scepter on a nearby shelf.

“What were you going to do with all this?” Elena asked as the woman leaned back against a bookcase. Then, suddenly, the woman pushed away from the books and ran down an aisle screaming, “They are mine.”

Elena started after the woman, but Karpo held out his hand to stop her.

“It is not the woman we want,” he said, looking around the room.

Elena, too, looked around at the roomful of treasures. “This is wonderful,” she said.

Karpo did not answer. The tax police were outside and would make their claims in the name of the new state. Karpo was certain that whoever controlled this cavern of riches would have enormous political power.

Karpo picked up a small icon. The dead Jesus, wearing a blanket that covered his head, was surrounded by his disciples, all of whom were wreathed, like Jesus, and clothed in what appeared to be ancient gold.

Valarov strode back into the huge room, his confidence returned, and announced to Elena and Karpo, “Experts will come in the morning to begin cataloging everything in this room. Meanwhile the old woman will be confined here with guards posted at the doors. I have been instructed to tell the press this much.”

Karpo, now holding an ancient leather-bound book in his hands, nodded without looking at the captain. Valarov departed quickly, wondering if he might be entitled to a small percentage of what looked like the biggest tax recovery in the history of the tax police. Karpo closed the book gently and placed it back on the shelf, intending to return the next day.

But the next morning, when the three antique dealers and four professors from Moscow State University entered the room accompanied by Valarov and his men, they found it quite empty.

The man lay sprawled on his back over the front hood of the blue Lada, his arms extended out wide as if he had been frozen in the middle of a rather intricate Olympic high dive. At least that was Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov’s first impression, an impression dispelled by the fact that the man was fully clothed, certainly dead, and staring wide-eyed, open-mouthed, and upside down at him. The body on the car fascinated Rostnikov. The man’s head was bald and covered with a minutely perfect tattoo of a flying eagle carrying something in its talons.

From the position of the body, the line of bloody holes in the man’s black shirt, and the Kalashnikov automatic weapon lying on the ground a few feet away, Rostnikov concluded that he had probably been shot at close range on the sidewalk and blown backward over the hood of the Lada.

The Lada was the only car parked on the block. Other cars had certainly been there, but in the four or five minutes it took for the police to arrive, their owners had hurried to move them before they could be impounded as evidence.

The body of another man, clothed in a leather jacket identical to that of the bald man, lay in the street on his face. There was no weapon near him.

The glass of a telephone kiosk on the sidewalk not far from the Lada was shattered, as were the windows of two small shops, a pharmacy and a café, on this side of the street, a few feet from the dead man on the car. Inside the pharmacy a woman was being treated for a gunshot wound to her right shoulder. She whimpered and looked around for a friend or relative. Her eyes met those of Rostnikov.

In the café there were three dead people: a foreign-looking little round man and a woman, who had been seated at the same table, and their waiter. In his right hand the dead man at the table clutched a Freedom Arms Casull .454, capable of bringing down an elk at one hundred yards.

Uniformed police had roped off the street for twenty yards in both directions, stopping afternoon traffic. Cars were backed up for half a block; their drivers, unaware of the slaughter in front of them, were angrily and uselessly honking their horns. Two men, one thin and marked by a large mole on his face and one quite old and marked by an apoplectic anger that might threaten his life, were being held back by two policemen across the street from Rostnikov and the man with the tattooed head.

“Who is that crippled lunatic staring at the dead man?” asked Irina Smetenova of no one in particular.

Irina, who had been standing in a long line waiting for bread at what might be a nearly sane price, had been present just after the shooting and well before the police drove up and began sending would-be looters scurrying away. Now she was surrounded by others, men in jackets and open collars, babushkas and businessmen, smartly dressed women carrying boxes of certainly expensive things, which they tried to hide in plain plastic bags marked PEPSI-COLA or ORANGINA.

No one answered Irina’s question, though others had noticed the boxy man in a dark jacket, his weight decidedly on his right leg as he moved. Now the man was standing still, hands in pockets, while police hurried to cover bodies, find witnesses, seek evidence, and make phone calls. Irina shifted her heavy shopping bag from her right hand to her left and her little white dog from her left to her right.

Rostnikov, the crippled lunatic, had been a boy soldier who got his leg run over by a tank in 1941. The fool of a boy, whom the adult Rostnikov could not clearly remember, had stepped into a street in Rostov not much different from the one in which he stood now. The boy had stepped out of a doorway and, with a lucky grenade and a hail of bullets from the machine pistol he had taken from a dead German, had destroyed the tank. The cost had been a nearly destroyed left leg, which he would have to drag slowly and often painfully behind him throughout the rest of his life.

But that was not the event that caused the boy to become the man who now somewhat resembled the German tank he had destroyed. When he was a young policeman, he had caught a drunken thief named Gremko assaulting a young woman outside the Kursk railway terminal. The drunk had nearly killed Rostnikov with his bare hands, but a well-placed knee to the groin had turned the tables.

It was after that incident that Rostnikov began lifting weights, first in the hope of building the muscle that a policeman’s life on the street seemed to require and later as a routine he could not and did not wish to break, a meditation of sweat and determination and—he had long ago admitted to himself without benefit of a state psychiatrist—a way to compensate for the nearly useless leg. A few years ago he had quietly entered the annual competition for men and women fifty and over in Sokolniki Recreation Park. He had easily won the competition and a gold-painted aluminum statue, which rested, the gilt already chipping in spite of his care, on a bookshelf in his living room. The June afternoon when he had been presented with the trophy by the great Alexeyev himself had been one of the great memories of Rostnikov’s life.

Long before he was assigned as chief inspector in the Office of Special Investigation, he had earned a variety of nicknames including “the Refrigerator,” “the Kiosk,” and “the Washtub.”

Behind Rostnikov, each body was being uncovered and photographed. Overworked police shouted at one another. The crowd warmed itself with speculation.

“Inspector,” said someone at his side.

Rostnikov nodded, still fascinated by the tattoo.

“Inspector,” Sergeant Popovich repeated, just a touch louder. Popovich had recently been promoted. He was thirty, had a child on the way, and hoped one day for yet another promotion. With a salary of less than ninety thousand rubles a month, about ninety dollars or less at current rates, it would have been impossible to feed his family if he, like most of the 100,000 police officers in Moscow who had the opportunity, did not take bribes ranging from sweet juices from street vendors to serious rubles from gangs large and small.

This time Rostnikov grunted. Popovich took this as a signal to report.

“Five dead. One, the pharmacist, injured. She saw nothing. Just heard guns going off. Appears to be a battle between two mafias.”

“Witnesses?” asked Rostnikov.

“They don’t want to admit it,” said Popovich, “but …”

“Bring a witness over,” said Rostnikov.

Popovich nodded and headed toward a police car whose lights were flashing across the street.

Rostnikov looked away from the upside-down dead man with the tattoo on his head and over at the café whose windows had been blown out by gunfire. Cloth sheets covered the bodies of the man and woman that were still half-supported by the table. A wisp of the dead woman’s hair showed from under the cloth. Rostnikov had recognized the woman. Perhaps he was wrong, but still he put off finding out.

“A witness, Chief Inspector,” Popovich said.

Rostnikov barely heard, so intently was he reexamining the head of the dead man who looked at him upside down with eyes as defiant as they must have been in life.

“Popovich, what is your first name?”

“Vladimir. Vladimir Andreyevich Popovich.”

“Vladimir Andreyevich,” Rostnikov said, shifting his weight slightly to remind his left leg to retain some semblance of life. “Have you ever seen Snegourotchka (The Snow Maiden)?”

“I …” Popovich began in confusion.

“It’s an opera by Rimsky-Korsakov, taken from a children’s story,” said Rostnikov. He looked toward the dead woman in the window of the café. “After finally succeeding, by the last act, in getting her beloved Miskar to fall in love with her, the Snow Maiden steps forward before dawn to receive the blessing of the czar. In her joy and happiness she has forgotten the warning of the fairies, and as the first rays of sun touch her beautiful face, she melts away forever, and Miskar in his anguish throws himself into the lake and drowns.”

Popovich had heard of the chief inspector’s eccentricities, but telling fairy stories to a witness in the midst of this bloody madness went beyond eccentricity.

“You know what we must do, Vladimir?” Rostnikov said, putting his hand on the young policeman’s shoulder.

“I believe I know the proper procedure.”

“We must keep Miskar from drowning himself,” Rostnikov said. He walked around the rear of the Lada and headed for the devastated café. He didn’t bother to avoid stepping on the broken glass, though he did avoid the spatters of blood on the sidewalk in front of the shop.

“Witness,” said Rostnikov, walking through the broken window of the café to the table where the dead man and woman sat under the cloth, their heads down as if they were taking a slight nap.

“I saw it all,” said a man eagerly.

Rostnikov kept looking down at the dead couple.

“I saw it all,” the man repeated eagerly. “I saw it. Lots of them saw it. The guy with the little table, the Napyerstochnik, the thimbler who plays that three-card game with the fools across the street. He saw it. He’s out in the crowd somewhere, I think.”

Rostnikov glanced at the talking man. He was skinny, wild-haired, wearing a coat too long for him and a look on his face of confident madness. He could have been thirty. He could have been fifty. He was certainly crazy.

“What did you see?” asked Rostnikov.

“Nazis,” the man said, looking around to be sure no Nazis were listening. “Nazis,” he repeated. “Dozens. Black pants. Brown shirts. Armbands with swastikas. They shot everyone and shouted, ‘Heil Zhirinovsky, Heil Hitler.’ They put out their hands in a Nazi salute like this, and then they all climbed into their SS armored cars and drove away. They didn’t give a damn if anyone saw them.”

“Thank you,” said Rostnikov. “I assume Officer Popovich has your address. We will contact you.”

“Just said ‘Heil,’” the man repeated.

A uniformed officer came forward and led the man away.

“Other witnesses?” asked Rostnikov.

“Just getting them together,” said Popovich. “Owner of this shop. Owner of the car on which the bald man is lying. A few people in the crowd who claim to have heard something.”

“All old people,” said Rostnikov, looking at the cloth covering the dead woman.

“Yes,” said Popovich.

“The ones with lives left recognize a mafia killing and run. The old ones seeking attention stay,” said Rostnikov. He pulled back the cloth and looked down at the face of the dead woman. Her eyes were closed. A very slight trickle of blood came from the left corner of her mouth. It was nearly dry. Rostnikov covered her again and closed his eyes for a long time.

Finally the chief inspector opened his eyes and turned to Popovich. “What do you conclude about this event?” he asked, rubbing his eyes as if he had just awakened from a short nap.

“Definitely mafias,” Popovich said with relief now that he was on known territory. “Or perhaps a single mafia in some kind of internal battle.”

“Why this conclusion?” Rostnikov asked, still rubbing his eyes.

“The dead man is covered with tattoos, which means he was probably in prison,” said Popovich. “I don’t know what the tattoos mean, but there is one that appears on both of the dead men. In the case of the man on the car, it is on his head. It is on the buttocks of the other one, the one in the street.”

“You rolled him over and pulled down his pants?” asked Rostnikov, now looking at the sergeant with eyes rubbed red.

“He had fallen dead on his face,” said Popovich. “His pants had slipped down. He had defecated on himself, but I could still see the eagle.”

“What else?” asked Rostnikov.


“The eagle was carrying something in its claws. What was it?”

“It looked like a bomb of some sort.”

“It was a bomb,” Rostnikov said. “Did he have a weapon?”

“The eagle?”

“The dead man.”


“I’m going to get myself a glass of tea. Would you like one?”

“No, Chief Inspector,” said Popovich, though he would truly have welcomed something for his dry mouth.

“Bring in the witnesses one at a time,” Rostnikov said. He moved toward the rear of the café, where there was a shining metal urn, its spigot slowly dripping tea into a saucer that had overflowed. “When you come back in, I’ll have a glass of tea poured for you.”

Unsure of what to do, Popovich saluted and stepped back out onto the street, where he waved at the two policemen who were detaining a group of men. He held up a single finger to indicate that he wanted one of the men sent over. One of the policemen ushered a thin man across the street. The crowd, assuming that the man was a suspect, began pelting him with a few bits of glass from the broken café window, the odd stone, and a piece or two of rotten fruit.

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